Ten things you learn by running 100 miles

1. Hard work pays off. It doesn’t have to be 100, or even 60 or 70 mile weeks. But it has to be consistent and most importantly, it has to be enjoyable. I broke my self-imposed ‘one 100 per year’ rule after recovering quicker than expected following the SDW100, and wanted another crack at running 100 miles, ideally a bit faster. I had a great block of training leading up to the A100 and enjoyed every run. There’s absolutely no shame in putting your heart and soul into something you love doing.

2. You have to run your own race. Always. I knew it was unlikely I’d be able to keep pace with leading ladies Susie and Jess (who finished in an incredible 15:22 and 16:42 respectively). But I knew that if I raced smart, didn’t go out too fast and didn’t lose too much time at aid stations, I’d be OK. My crew were brilliant – as I approached them I’d hold out my empties and swap them with my Dad for full water bottles and food. I think it’s fair to say that we nailed the F1 pitstop style hand over.

3. Always have a plan. I went in with a similar race plan to the SDW100. I secretly wanted a finish time starting with an 18, which was a scary prospect, but I figured if I ran the first 50 miles in 8:30 it would be achievable. Running out to the Ridgeway from race HQ at Goring on the third spur of the race, as my watch clicked over to 50 miles in 7:57 (nearly a 40 minute PB!), I knew I was well on target and deep down a 17-something finisher time also seemed like a possibility.

4. Stuart March takes the best race photos.

5. 100 milers inevitably hurt, but personally the first bit is always the toughest. Regardless of the distance, whether it’s a marathon, 50 or 100 miler, I always find the initial onset of fatigue and soreness in my legs at the 15 or so mile point stresses me out every time and makes me doubt my prep and the race ahead.

6. Falling over while running downhill on the Ridgeway at mile 70 was predictably messy but didn’t hurt as much as I expected. It did result in some impressive war wounds on return to race HQ at Goring and a nice big stratch on the casing of my new Suunto Ambit though.

7. Feeling a bit nauseous is inevable and not necessarily a cause for concern; running 100 miles fuelled by baby food, some fruit and few mars bars could be the reason for that. But it doesn’t mean you’re actually going to be sick, it just means you have to count from one to 100 (and keep on running, of course) and have faith in your fuelling plan.

8. It’s just running all day. And eating. I love doing both these things. Once I realised this the nerves melted away on race morning.

9. Out and back races were you can see and cheer on the rest of the field are also a fantastic experience, and it was incredibly inspiring crossing paths with Susie and Jess on each spur and realising that I was sharing the experience with some phenomenal runners.

10. I couldn’t have run a 100 mile PB of 17:24, coming 3rd lady and 11th overall, without the help of my amazing Dad. Thanks also to my brother who crewed for the first 50 and to James, Nici and all the other staff and volunteers.

All photos by Stuart March and my Dad.

Adventure tales: Cairngorms, Scotland

Scotland

We were friends seeking solace from London’s familiar concrete paths. Runners, united by an adventurous spirit and a desire to run on new, crooked paths and up mountains rising into and above the clouds. With minimal kit, via a plane, bus and train, we arrived in Aviemore, gateway to the Cairngorms National Park. No frills: just enough gear for the three day trip. Youth hostel beds. Haggis and chips. Rough plans and a handful of routes to explore.

Day one. Steep climbs, fresh snow, panoramic views across the local mountains. After an evening drinking locally brewed beer, we set off to Glenmore, stopping only to eat, drink and soak up the views. On day three, we run to local Loch an Eilein. Thawing snow. A soft carpet of pine needles underfoot. The morning sun streams through the trees and reflects off the water. When we reluctantly return to London we vow to make more time in our busy lives for these unique experiences.

Originally written for Bowndling Adventurewear

Race report: The London Marathon

I ran the London Marathon last week. My legs weren’t really very happy about that. It was only a week after the South Downs Way 50 miler and they were in unimaginable pain for a couple of days after the race. I couldn’t physically lift them into my standard ‘legs up against the wall’ recovery position. When walking they occasionally buckled underneath me, which made for an interesting few days in Paris when I joined Jon after he ran the marathon, the day following the SDW50.

By Thursday, they were starting to feel better. On Friday, I went along to the tenth anniversary of Nike Free, did a five kilometre jog led by Paula Radcliffe (which I’ll report on separately, as I quizzed her about ultras and had an interesting response), and thought, ‘this marathon thing will be fine’. After heading to the expo in the evening, picking up my stuff and eating all the Clif bar samples, I started to feel very excited about running London again, but this time without heaping lots of pressure on myself and trying to run ridiculously fast.

The goal was to run a sub-four hour marathon. Somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00 seemed realistic, considering I’ve run marathons (and more) under tough conditions in the past. Like three 30-ish mile races over three days at The Toad Challenge and a 3:33 marathon two weeks after running 44 miles at The Country to Capital ultra in January. Just saying to put things into context – while running on tired, damaged legs isn’t something I’d advise, the plan was to take London easy, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the experience.

VLM2

After meeting Laura and Cathy at the green zone and a very understated race start, we shuffled along through the masses for the first three miles, before getting split up. I spied Jon and my Dad at mile eight, ducking across the path of runners to stop and say hi (note to self and others doing London in future – ask your supporters what side of the road they’ll be on).

Everything held up pretty well for the first 12 miles, but after that point it all got a bit painful – a loo stop after seeing Liz and her megaphone at 12 miles (the two events weren’t in any way connected) and a painful stitch after that for the rest of the race. The crowds were great, and I tried to smile and thank those that shouted encouragement when I switched from running to walking in parts. But, to be honest, I missed the peaceful tranquility of running out on the South Downs with just myself and the occasional other runner for company. London was a bit claustrophobic in comparison.

There were many, many moments when sub-four hung in the balance, but I genuinely think the prospect of getting to the twenty five mile mark on the Embankment, where my brother was waiting with a beer for me, spurred me on after the 3:45 pacer overtook. Beer makes a lot of things more fun and I’ve known that for a long time, but only recently discovered that it makes the prospect of running a marathon in a lot of pain more bearable.

Photo via my brother, Edward

So there you have it. Another marathon (which I finished in 3:54), another lesson learnt and passed on. A massive well done to all my pals that ran (Laura, Cathy, Kathleen, Melissa, Soph, Lorna x2, Sarah, and many, many more). See you again next year (although I might be cheering this time instead)!

Team RTTS100 x The North Face take on Race to the Stones!

I blogged a while back about an exciting ultra project I was involved in with Soph at Pretty Fit and global mega brand The North Face.  Fast forward a month or so and the team has been selected. A colourful but slightly scary looking training plan has been put together with running coach Karen Weir. We’ve got a blog and are on twitter, and the very exciting journey to Race to the Stones in July has begun!
Here’s a bit more information about our team members, who will be regularly blogging about training and stuff, and giving an insight into what it’s like to train for a 100 kilometre race. It’s the furthest I’ll have ever run in a single stage event too, so I really am thrilled to be involved in something that will hopefully open up ultra running and other endurance sports to more women, and show they’re more accessible, less scary and a lot of actual fun!
Susie Chan
Susie
My name is Susie Chan, and I am an endurance runner. I have been running since 2011, when I got talked into a half marathon by my brother. I had never run before, did modest training, and managed to stumble over the finish line in quite considerable pain. Since that first medal went round my neck I have been running more and more and further and further. I run because I love it, and I love the people – they are my sort of people, and because I like eating crisps.
My race CV highlight is the Marathon des Sables, and 2014 sees me tackling Boston Marathon and Thames Path 100.
My favorite races are Multistage races, spending days with like minded people, doing the thing I love.
I have never attempted a 100K before or raced as part of a team, so I am very much looking forward to doing both!
You can find me warbling on about all of this and more on twitter @starterfour10

Kabuki Snyder 

Kabuki

Born in Ghana, Kabuki has travelled around the world since the age of 16 for her education, work, and recreation.

To keep healthy and tame her monkey mind, Kabuki actively took to running in 2008.

During this journey, she was inspired by a friend’s courage to run (and complete) the 4deserts and this provided the motivation to sign-up for two ultra’s in 2013: the London to Brighton 100km and The Thames Path 50km. Training and competing helped her to discover peace and mental space that was vital to keeping life balance in check and the distance forced a welcome focus on how to respect the body.

Kabuki’s dream now is to extend her running to ultra distance challenges around the world and to fully embrace the tranquility that she’s found in endurance activities.

Outside of running and walking their dog, Kabuki loves cooking, photography and experiencing the creativity of chefs around the world. Her holidays are spent travelling with her husband Ken to destinations for runs coupled with some food- based exploration.

Professionally, Kabuki works for Universal Music Group International where she is a Senior Vice President responsible for digital distribution of UMG owned and distributed content for all territories outside of North America and Mexico.

You can follow Kabuki on twitter @kabukisnyder

Lucja

With a fairly new found love of ultra running, or just running for that matter, I have also found a confidence and competitive streak that I didn’t know existed previously.

I’ve been running for about 6 years taking it up originally as part of a weight loss plan and now addicted to the endorphins & awesome experiences I get through running.  I built up from 10km to my first marathon in Amsterdam in 2010, and I could never have imagined that I would ever call myself an ultra runner, I hadn’t even heard of it! Now with a couple of ultras in the bag and with a highlight of coming 2nd lady (and 16th overall) in South Africa’s Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (250km self sufficient race over 6 stages) in 2013, I’m off to compete in the 29th Marathon Des Sables. It doesn’t stop there, with my 2014 plans including Edinburgh marathon in May, my first non-stop 100 mile race over in Ohio in June; Mohican 100, Race to the Stones 100km in July, Clyde Stride 40 mile in September and perhaps a return to the Kalahari desert in November.
I’m so excited to be selected to be part of the North Face ultra team with a group of fantastic & inspiring ladies, some of whom I’ve already had the pleasure of getting to know through the power of twitter, and even run with already.  It will be great to learn from the awe inspiring Lizzy Hawker and share training plans and stories with the gang, all supported by the great North Face brand.
Read more about me & my stories at my blog www.runningdutchie.wordpress.com and follow me on twitter @runningdutchie.

Hannah

Hannah is a 23 year-old self-professed mathematician and former Newcastle University graduate, who is now lucky enough to call London her home.

Prior to University, she spent 5 years with the Air Training Corps where weekends were spent roaming the Scottish Highlands and developing a love for the outdoors. Whilst studying she started rowing, practiced yoga and trained with the AXC Club whilst dipping in and out of running. Since summiting Kilimanjaro her most recent challenges include Tough Mudder and completing her first half marathon.

When not on board the Buying Team to the UK’s largest Specialist Running Retailer, Hannah will mostly be found in the kitchen. A creative and aspiring foodie, she is incredibly passionate about holistic wellbeing and a firm believer that the first step in fuelling the strongest most healthy body and mind is eating organic wholesome foods.

You can follow Hannah over at @iamhannahwalsh

 

Louise

Name: Louise Ayling
City: London
Occupation: Teacher

Years running: 4
Years running ultras: 1
PBs: Marathon 4:24, parkrun 24:56

Favourite running surface: Woodland trail.
Running achievement I am most proud of: Earning my parkrun 50 club t-shirt within 12 months of running my first parkrun.
Typical training week: 5 running days, 2 rest days, 40 miles.
Injury history: Stress fracture of foot due to gross stupidity.

Favourite running food: Jaffa Cakes
Favourite running drink: Water
Things I like most about running: The people
Things I hate most about running: The chafing
What got me started running: I thought it would an activity I could fit in during my commute.
What kept me running: My parkrun addiction.
What made me want to do ultras: I wanted to get to the point where it was “only a marathon”.
Go hard or go home: Go home.

Sorrell

My name is Sorrell, and I’m a 23 year old Mancunian living in London. I co-lead the Manchester based running crew Still Waters Run Deep, love a good pint, cake, and running running running.

After being inspired by my brother for completing the London Marathon, and wanting to lose some lingering mince pie pounds, I started running regularly in 2010. I signed up to a 20 mile race the following year, and haven’t thought about stopping since. From my first marathon in 2013, to joining the Run Dem Crew Elites in summer, I found myself running my first ultra-marathon in January, and loved every minute of it.

I’m continually inspired by running as a route of progression. People might think it’s a bit mental when you choose to run so much, or so often, but for me it’s a way to gain balance. It’s a way to focus, and it’s a way to set yourself goals that then thread into other areas of your life, and the more people that feel this, the better.

Race to the Stones will be my longest distance yet, and I’m proud to say that I’ll be part of a team of 10 strong women.  #Elevatewomensrunning

You can follow Sorrell on twitter @sorrellve

 

 

 

Maja

I used to play basketball. A lot. I hated running anything longer than the length of the court and preferred short sprints over anything else. I’m not sure how that led me to long distance running – but here I am.

Since struggling to run a 10km race in 2008 (I had to stop 3 times to get through), I have gone on to find a capacity reaching far beyond what I ever thought possible. It’s safe to say that running is more than just exercise, it’s a way to let my mind breathe and recover and find energy for the other things in my life. I love the peace that sets in when body and mind get into sync and movement was never more natural.

Over the last 6 years I have run longer distances, smashed PBs and found a joy in sharing runs with close friends and complete strangers. But I have never run farther than a marathon, and my only longer distance foray was a crazy plan to walk from London to Brighton in a day without training for it. We made it to 65km or so and returned some weeks later to complete, teaching me a fair bit on the respect-the-distance front.

And now I’ve only gone and signed up for a 100km race.

I love finding space and calm by getting out into nature and nothing beats exerting myself in the fresh air of woods, meadows and seasides. I’m looking forward to what I might find on the journey towards RTTS and on the day itself…

Come run with me on www.runurb.tumblr.com and talk to me on twitter: @runurb.

image

Cat

Hi I’m Cat, and I’m a seasoned runner with a penchant for overseas race trips. I’ve run races in many cities around the world (including Marrakech, Istanbul and Berlin), getting the bug four years ago after joining my husband (who has run 97 marathons) on one of his many foreign races, and have completed 14 marathons and four ultras to date.

I recently got into trail ultras after running The Toad Challenge last year, a three day, 90 mile race along the Thames path. Since then, I’ve completed a couple of longer, single stage events, and most recently ran the Centurion South Downs Way 50 miler, up and down the hills on the south coast. Running lets me take stock of everyday life, spend time outdoors in beautiful places, and hang out with amazing, inspiring people that do epic shit like run across deserts and up mountains.

I’m gradually working my way through my race bucket list and will be doing the 4 Deserts Atacama Crossing in October, and hopefully one of the UTMB races next year (probably the CCC). I’m so excited to be part of this team of ridiculously talented runners taking on Race to the Stones and cannot wait for July!

 

Karen

Karen trained for and ran her first marathon in 2003. She then swore never to run again! However a seed had been sown and gradually running became a habit she couldn’t kick. Over the next 11 years the habit turned into an obsession and she began taking on ever more challenging endurance events including the Comrades ultra-marathon and the Jurassic Coast Challenge multi-stage event. Six years ago she incorporated swimming and cycling into her training and completed the Arch to Arc Enduro Challenge as part of a 6 man relay team and became an Ironman (twice!)

Karen’s own personal experiences from running and participating in endurance challenges were life changing and when she was made redundant from a city job in 2008, her passion for running and helping others achieve their own endurance goals led her to set up Run with Karen, a running coaching and consultancy business with the sole purpose of bringing running to as many people as possible. (www.runwithkaren.com)

Karen has coached over 75 athletes, including some famous faces; many of whom were new to running and helped them go on to achieve their goals and experience their own life changing events. She is also a volunteer Event Director for the massively popular parkrun, having started the Richmond parkrun in 2007. Karen is also a parkrun pioneer as she was one of the 13 runners that ran the very first parkrun back in October 2004. Karen is really looking forward to the challenge of Race to the Stones, 100km non-stop will be a whole new experience and sharing it with a fabulous group of ladies will make it even more memorable and rewarding.

Soph

Hello, my name is Soph. I am 24 years old and I love running. I also love marshmallows and coffee. I live in London and by day (and night, and sometimes weekends) I work as a lawyer.

My relationship with running started a few years back while I was studying at university. I was suffering with an eating disorder and started running as a way to burn up the minimal calories I was eating and whittle myself away. Somewhere along the line my love for running overtook the hatred I had for my body; I wanted to run further and faster and knew I couldn’t do that if I couldn’t get better. Running taught me to love and respect my body and I have been hooked ever since. I have now completed three marathons and 10 half marathons and don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

I am so excited about the RTTS100 project and am particularly thrilled to have the support of endurance running experts The North Face, and to be running with a group of such amazing women. This will be my first ultra and I couldn’t ask for better support to take on such an amazing challenge.

You can follow me on twitter @BePrettyFit and over on my blog, beprettyfit.com.

New running adventures and Parkrun tourism

I live in the best part of London to be a runner. I’m not biased or nothin’, but living a mile from the Thames towpath, two kilometres from Richmond Park and a couple of hundred metres from Wimbledon Common, when I lose my running mojo I can hardly blame it on lack of inspiration for running routes. Granted, when it’s winter and dark in the evening not all these places are accessible, but for long weekend runs I’m spoilt for routes.

The Thames Path served me really well last year when training for flat ultras and Richmond Park will always be my spiritual home, but I must confess that running multiple laps of it in an attempt to simulate the hilly conditions of the South Downs Way 50 miler has been driving me a bit mad recently. Although the park initially seems huge, the seven or so miles around the circumference can start to drag. 

So on Saturday I headed out on a new running route, along the Wandle Trail. My Dad invited me down to his local Parkrun for their 150th event, and with the last long run planned before big race day on 5 April (and as someone adverse to public transport), it made perfect sense to run there. Kill two birds with one stone, I thought as I ran there. There’ll be cake and beer, my Dad said, and with these words ringing in my ears I set out with a map, guided by my stomach and a questionable sense of direction.

‘A local parkrun for local people’ also rang in my ears (in a Tubbs from The League of Gentleman voice, of course) as I ran there: Dad runs or volunteers nearly every week and has often spoken about the great community spirit and friendly people (not because everyone is married to their siblings or just generally a bit strange, as in the TV series). And he was right. The journey took longer than expected – despite setting off at 6:15am I only just made the 9:00am start. A couple of wild toilet stops, orientation wobbles and a great big hill to climb at the end all added up and the 16 miles took much longer than they should have.

I arrived at 8:59 on the nose, with dead legs after climbing said hill, and proceeded to run my slowest Parkrun to date, in 26 minutes and 35 seconds. The weather was grey and blustery, but being perched up on one of the highest vantage points in the area with spectacular views across the Surrey countryside, it felt like an exciting sky-running adventure (albeit that the actual Parkrun route was pretty flat).

Afterwards we headed to the pub, as promised, for cake and a pint (although it was before 11am, having got up at 5am it felt like late afternoon). It was great to get involved in a new Parkrun community, and I’ll hopefully be joining the Riddlesdown gang again when my Dad runs his 50th event in a few weeks.

For anyone looking for a new running route, the Wandle Trail follows the river of the same name for about 14 miles from Wandsworth to Waddon (near Croydon). It’s a flat route on 50:50 tarmac/packed trails, which isn’t the most scenic and parts are a bit industrial, but it’s peaceful and well signed. For a map see here: http://www.merton.gov.uk/leisure/visiting/attractions/wandle_trail-4.pdf

Riddlesdown Parkrun’s website is here: http://www.parkrun.org.uk/riddlesdown/

Photo credit: Dad (http://notjustanotherrunningblog.wordpress.com/)

Race report: The Seville Marathon

When you’ve run all your quick marathon times paced by fast boys, it’s nice to finally be able to say that you’ve held your own. It’s reassuring to know that, when things get tough, you’ve been able to find the strength to dig deep and push the pace more than you thought you were capable of.

The plan for Seville was to use it as a training run for the South Downs Way 50 miler in April. Jon and I flew out the day before; he’s run the event three times so we didn’t bother to check details like where the expo was. On autopilot we trekked out to the Cartuja sports stadium west of the city where it had been previously, only to find it had moved to an exhibition centre ten kilometres away in the north east of Seville. Great start.

After navigating the local bus system across the city, we arrived just in time for the pasta party which was extremely generous and practically worth the €30 entry fee alone. The goody bag was also substantial and included a vest (that actually fitted) and a (very short) pair of shorts; both New Balance and good quality. We forced down a second dinner a couple of hours later and went to bed feeling bloated, but that’s all part of the pre-race experience, right?

Race morning came and we walked to the start, cutting things a bit fine, but the less time hanging around the better; February mornings in Seville are chilly affairs. We squeezed into our start pen with not a moment to spare, surrounded by runners in an array of bright kit. European runners, particularly Italian and Spanish, seem to have a penchant for techy running gear, and for the first few miles I was swept along in a sea of compression socks.

The goal was to run roughly a 3:30 marathon, with the first half paced slightly faster to allow for an emergency loo stop. At the eight kilometre mark we ran under a flying camera snapping away just above runners’ heads. Jon and I laughed at the novelty of having a drone race photo, then a couple of minutes later he upped the pace and sped off into the distance.

For the next 13k I maintained a steady but comfortable pace, passing the half way point in 1:41, feeling strong and grateful my stomach was behaving. With this extra time in the bank and a faster finish time a possibility, my head said ease off and be sensible, considering the long-term goal at stake. But with the opportunity to practice mentally digging deep and holding on to a faster pace, I ran the final half with absolute conviction. All that mattered was getting to the stadium where the race finished in under three hours and 25 minutes.

I made a promise to myself not to have a single negative thought and ran with tunnel vision, through streets crowded with cheering supporters, past the Plaza de España, into the stadium, speeding up around the track to just dip in under my goal time, finishing in 3:24:54. I can honestly say I ran 100% with my heart and it was my proudest marathon achievement to date, running a predominantly solo race at a 7.44 minute mile pace over 26.2 (26.5, according to my Garmin) miles and maintaining a metronomic pace for both halves (consistent pacing isn’t my forte).

Post-race celebrations were a bit of a write-off: Jon and I were both exhausted (he finished in 3:17) and after a few beers and plates of tapas sat out in the afternoon sun on Alameda de Hercules, we were ready for bed by 8pm. But it was worth it, to go into my longest race yet with belief in my heart I can run strong and the mantra, ‘remember, Seville’ guiding the way.

 

The North Face ultra team – join us!!

Today I’ve got some really big news to announce. Since getting into ultra running in the last year, it’s been such a blast that I really wanted to share the love. So me and my pal Sophie, over at Pretty Fit, have teamed up with mega-brand The North Face and are putting together a race team to run an ultra marathon. Weeeeee!

In July, we’ll be taking on Race to the Stones, an epic 100 kilometre race that follows the iconic Ridgeway route, and are looking for eight female runners to join us on this amazing adventure.

You’ll be kitted out by the North Face and receive training tips from the one and only Lizzy Hawker. We’ll train together (mostly virtually, with a couple of real-life meet ups before the big day), blog together and you’ll get all the support, high fives and cake you need to take on this heroic feat of endurance. You’ll also have a training plan to follow from a running coach and get fuel and nutrition support.

You’re probably thinking, ‘what an amazing opportunity, how do I apply to be part of this?’ We know, we know, we’ve been planning it for months and are super-excited to be finally announcing it. To apply to be part of our race team, please drop an email to TNFultrateam@gmail.com,with the following details:

Your name
Your blog (if applicable)
Your twitter handle
Distance running experience
A little bit about you and why you’d like to be part of the team (200 words max)

The deadline for entries is 23 February 2014

Cat and Soph x

The small print stuff: We will be running the 100k non-stop course over one day. Entrants will be expected to pay for their own race entry (£99) as well as travel and accommodation. You don’t have to have a blog to enter, but you will be required contribute to the project on social media.

Race report: The Marrakech marathon

Entering a marathon two weeks after a 43 mile ultra probably wasn’t my best idea ever. Despite having spent the last couple of weeks resting pretty hard, by mile eight of the Marrakech marathon my legs were already starting to feel a bit sore.

But mentally, I was flying. You see, Morocco has always held a special place in my heart and this was no less than my fifth visit to Marrakech (two of these were to run the half marathon). There’s just something about it that keeps drawing me back.

To be honest, the race is pretty shoddily organised. The expo is awful, there’s no bag drop or portaloos at the race start, or energy drinks on the course (just water, oranges and dates). For the €70 entry fee (€50 for the half), that’s pretty piss-poor. But if you can forgive these shortcomings then Marrakech really does make the perfect race-cation and minibreak. After all where else, for a three hour Easyjet flight, can you run through orange groves, palmeries and see camels against a backdrop of the Atlas mountains and terrocotta walls? Magical.

The race started early at 8am to avoid the heat of the sun. I’d read Sophie’s blog about the Dubai marathon while getting ready and, with mosques on every street corner in Marrakech, #mosquewatch seemed like a fun game to play. But the route took us out of the city and into the surrounding countryside, where mosques weren’t quite so ubiquitous, so Jon and I reverted to playing #camelwatch instead. I counted 131 in total and even stopped for a quick camel selfie at mile 18. I’m not normally a fan of selfies, but it was too good an opportunity to miss.

There were a few moments where I was convinced the race gods had been sent to test me; the first involving the dreaded runner’s tummy. Despite having hung around in the riad until the last possible moment to make the most of having a toilet (there were none at the race start or on the course), four miles into the race my stomach felt a bit churny and I knew there was no way I could last another three-plus hours without stopping. Fortunately, we were passing through some orange groves at the time so I was able to duck behind a tree. Not great, but I felt much better for it.

The race continued on long, flat stretches of road which felt great, psychologically, and I was really able to get into my running groove. But around the ten mile mark I started running alongside a guy with his Garmin on that setting where it does a little tune if you’re running above or below your target pace. It was excrutiatingly annoying, and to make matters worse he was wearing headphones so couldn’t even hear the damn thing. I tried to imagine what Sakyong Miphan, the zen master and author of Running With the Mind of Meditation would do. He’d probably manage to feel kindness rather than rage towards the dude. But I failed miserably and ended up angrily gesturing to him as I sped up to overtake. I’d make a really shit Buddhist.

The temperature had picked up by this point and had probably reached the mid 20s. There were a lot of (relative) downhill stretches in the second half and I overtook lots of people, getting my usual second wind around the 16 to 22 mile mark. I was fuelling on a hotch-potch of shot bloks left over from C2C, fruit-based jellies from the Venice marathon and a salted caramel Gu (tasty, but I find Gu gels way too thick). I was aiming for a sub 3:30 time and thought this was in the bag until the last few miles. But if I’d known I wasn’t going to run this sooner on in the race I’d probably have taken my foot off the gas much sooner, and as I crossed the line in 3:33 (AKA a half Satan), I was pretty damn chuffed all the same.

There was a serious lack of water at the end of the race, but plenty of satsumas, which tasted heavenly. Hobbling back to our riad, we grabbed a load of 3 Dirrham (about 25p) chocolate milks. In the afternoon we managed to find a roof terrace bar for well earned beers (in a country where it’s easier to buy hash than booze, that’s quite an achievement).

Marrakech is definitely a race I can recommend, with a few caveats, like bring your own fuel supplies. A visor or cap and/or sunglasses come in handy, as the sun is pretty strong. And don’t be too proud about having to crap behind bushes.

(No) need for speed

Long distance runners still need to do speedwork, right? Yes and no, I think. While I feel speedwork is beneficial , I’m going to put it out there that it’s by no means a quick fix solution to getting faster.

I’m not overly enamoured with speedwork and hate the ‘go hard or go home’ rhetoric that comes with it even more. All that one-upmanship can do one; in my opinion, that’s just not what running’s about for me. Save your motivational bullying for someone else that likes that sort of thing.

As I’ve started running longer distances, I’ve tried to maintain an element of speed in my training. I suck at doing traditional speedwork, but I’ve stopped beating myself up about it and started putting this negative energy into actually making running work better for me. Yes, training at the same pace all the time gets terribly boring and I wouldn’t recommend it. What works for me is sneaking tougher sessions in in other ways, such as pushing the pace on the bike when I cycle to work, partly because it means I can spend more time in bed, but also because being outside with the wind rushing by wakes me up and makes me feel alive. When I run to work I sometimes challenge myself to beating my previous times, which breaks the monotony of running the same route repeatedly.

I do speedwork with my weekly beginners’ running group too. Their objective is to be able to run 5k without stopping, and understandably, they sometimes question why they need to do faster sessions. I explain it will ultimately help them to run more easily over a longer distance, and while I realise this probably sounds a bit vague, I don’t want to confuse they by talking about lactate threshold or wade into an area that, to be honest, I’m not an expert in.

But I feel that too many coaches use speedwork as a sticking plaster on training plans that don’t pay enough attention to a client’s individual needs and preferences, and too often, factoring in longer sessions at race pace is neglected.

Sadly, speedwork isn’t magic, and to use a popular office phrase, it’s all about focussing on the bigger picture. If you want to run a sub-4 hour marathon then it’s going to be a lot easier if you’re doing the majority of your training at this pace. I’ve recently run several marathons in around 3 hour 30 minutes and done so fairly comfortably, which is something I largely put down to doing *plucks arbitrary figure from the air* 90% of my training at this pace (you get the gist though). I do my long mileage weekly runs at this pace and I know I can maintain it for a long period without burning out. I’m no pacing expert and see every race as a learning curve, but take it from me, I’ve set out on marathons too fast and had to hang on in there for the last 10 miles as a consequence, which ain’t fun. Sure, so there are some people that relish the burn of pushing the pace over a sustained period and can tolerate it when their whole body is hurting, but that’s not the norm.

It’s also no great secret that the health and fitness industry is largely built on false hopes of cutting corners and taking an easy route to success. So I suppose it’s no great surprise to see that a lot of runners expect the answer to getting faster at long distance running is by knocking out a few interval sessions (I’ve certainly fallen into that trap in the past). But the more I run, the more I realise that there is no magic bullet. It’s about shifting all your training to a faster pace over a longer period of time. It’s about consistency, balance and not taking shortcuts. It’s about playing the long game, taking a sustainable approach and working pretty damn hard.

This is an opinion piece and I’d really love to hear what works for everyone else.

Race Report: Country to Capital ultra

Entering an ultra race a couple of weeks after over-indulging during the festive period is a great idea, right? I’m sure there were others questioning their decision to sign up for a 43-ish mile race as we gathered in a pub car park in Wendover, ready to tackle what was expected to be a very muddy course.

And it was. I spent most of the journey to the start trying to make an informed decision about footwear. The 7:12am country to capital express from Marylebone station was packed out with runners and smelt of deep heat, and after several changes between road and trail shoes, I opted for what I thought would be comfiest – road shoes. Plus, with so much mud anticipated, trail shoes would probably still be slippy and not best suited for the second half of the race along a canal path.

I had some vague race goals, mainly don’t face-plant in the mud or fall in the canal, but also:

A goal – run roughly 9 minute miles and finish in about 6 hours 30 minutes (after a 35 mile training run in 8:40 min/miles this didn’t seem wildly optimistic)

B goal – finish before it gets dark in around 7 hours 30 minutes

C goal – finish in time to have a quick shower in Paddington station, next door to the race finish, before heading over to a comedy night in Camden at 7:30pm – 8-plus hours

The race can be split quite nicely into two parts. The first half was hilly, across fields and trails through the Buckinghamshire countryside. There was a lot of sliding around in the mud, running through waterlogged fields and a couple of flooded roads. This served the purpose of washing the mud off my trainers, ready for the second half of the race along the Grand Union canal into London. Very nice.

Photo credit: Dad

I didn’t get lost on the first half of the race, which wasn’t due to any skills on my part, but by just happening to follow people that knew where they were going. I’m pretty sure I could have navigated if I wanted to though. Honest. The hills made it hard to maintain a steady pace and some really muddy stretches meant putting in double the effort. But overall, walking up them probably helped save my legs for the second half, which was  along a flat, straight canal path. It was impossible to get lost on this, although slidey in parts and I nearly fell in a couple of times.  When I tired towards the end, I wondered if that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, as I’d have a valid excuse to DNF, which seems a little extreme now.

It was easier to get into a rhythm and zone out for this part of the race. At the 35 mile point, when the runner ahead of me took a phone call (as you do while you’re running an ultra) and told the person on the other end that he’d be another hour and a half, a part of me died inside: I was feeling tired and was in denial about how far was left.

But fortunately, it didn’t take that much longer. There were a couple of killer bridges just before the end, which I walked over. My Garmin decided its laps database was full and wouldn’t show me the time for the last few miles. So it wasn’t until I crossed the finish line, when someone handed me a piece of paper with my time and position on it, that I realised I’d finished in 6 hours 56 minutes, in seventh female position (that was after getting a bear hug from my sports masseuse extraordinaire Simon Lamb and nearly breaking down in tears out of relief that I’d made it).

And what a long, fun, slightly painful journey it was. It was great to finally meet internet buds like Paul, not to mention other familiar faces on the ultra circuit. With the longest stretch of the Atacama Crossing being a similar distance, it was also good to get a feel for this. And while it felt pretty effing painful, if it was easy then the beer waiting at the end wouldn’t have tasted quite so good.