August 2015Eclectic Cake: August 2015

Monday, 17 August 2015

6 Signs You’re Training for an Ultra Marathon

My first ultra marathon is in under three weeks and I've pretty much done all I can to be ready for my 35-mile adventure round the beautiful island of Tiree. And after (fewer than is probably advisable) months of preparation, I've noticed a few things. I guess they're pretty standard signs of an ultra running in training but they're fairly new to me.

1. You convert all driving distances to running times

As I've gradually increased my running distance, my brain has slowly become filled with numbers. I now know roughly how long it takes me to run all sorts of mileage, from 5-miles full of intervals to a casual 26.2. None of the times are fast but it puts into perspective the distances I normally drive. A trip to the nearest climbing wall is a 2.5-hour run, trotting from my home in Hertfordshire to central London would take around 5-hours, travelling by foot to my parents' in South Devon would possibly take days...

2. You're always on the lookout for running routes

Mid-conversation on the train, my mind has wondered towards the window. Whizzing through Hertfordshire fields, I've spotted a footpath and now I'm wondering how I'd get to it and how far it goes on for. My company understands, this has been a common occurrence. With four runs a week and some big miles to squeeze in, I've almost exhausted my local running routes. I'm keen to not get bored of my local trails, so whenever I pass what looks like a runnable route I'll take note.

3. You start running in your sleep

If it wasn't already, running is on my mind all day every day and this apparently includes in my dreams. I'm not sure my sleep miles count as training but I've been woken with a shove many a night because I've kicked my husband whilst trying to run in bed. I'll put this down to mental preparation.

4. You use the word 'just' in front of most digits

Running any amount of mileage is an achievement but as I've dialled up the miles in my legs, the shorter distances seem less impressive. So I'll 'just' run 6-miles at lunch or 'just' have 15-miles on the plan for a Saturday. Even when I did my first marathon distance run, it didn't seem that huge an achievement. I'm proud, of course but when my goal is to run nine-miles further, 26-miles suddenly seems small.

5. You use less shampoo

When it's a toss between washing hair that will only get sweaty again on that night's training session and getting ten minutes more sleep, there's no contest. Rest is important, clean hair very much less so. The same goes for dish washing. Why spend valuable minutes cleaning a pan, when you can just throw in new food and hide the remains of last night's meal, so this runner can eat sooner.

6. Anything seems possible

I started running about four years ago. In that time I've gone from struggling to finish a 900-meter loop to happily running for hours on end. It's amazing to see how I've improved and what a body is capable of if you just give it the chance. I'm interested more than ever to see what I'm capable of, so crossing the finish line at Tiree will not be the end, more the beginning of an adventure.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Race Report: Adidas Thunder Run, 2015

WHAT: 24-hour relay race
WHERE: Catton Park, Derbyshire
WHEN: 25–26th July 2015

When you gather together runners and give them time to talk, there will inevitably be a favoured topic. After all, we've been cooped up in homes and offices full of rolling eyes when we mention our favourite pastime...again. I always find the stories fascinating, from a first run to a greatest challenge, there's always a unique tale.

So when I was invited to join the Like the Wind x Adidas team at the Adidas Thunder Run, I knew there would be some good stories shared – the magazine is full of them, after all and I'd be surrounded by thousands of runners at an event which is less race, more running festival.

Beginning team bonding by introducing ourselves in true runner style, I have no idea what most of the team do for a living but I do know the ins and outs of their PBs and training goals. I quickly worked out that I was the slowest among the group, something I was far more hung up on than any one else in the team. We were all there to have fun, lap time or position weren't things we'd even spoken about, yet knowing there was a bit of a gap in abilities made me push to run my fastest.

Having done the event last year, I knew the route was a brilliant mix of winding, hilly trail. But after piling on the pressure, I only remembered to enjoy it over half way round. I was the last runner of eight in the team order and each before me had come back exhausted with tales of tough runs. Whilst I do push myself, the key thing for me is to enjoy every run, otherwise what's the point? Forcing my legs to run fast after a tough couple of weeks training wasn't enjoyable. My first lap story would be different to the others.

Middle way through a drowsy dream, my phone buzzed. In the old days, I might be considering going home at this time in the morning, now I was waking up to force feed myself breakfast before a second 10k lap. I'd only really ever run in the dark twice before and each time I'd felt a little disorientated and unsteady. I'd be lying if I said I was looking forward to running into the pitch black.

This time was different, though. I kept my beam of light ahead of me and put trust in my feet. Despite wanting to do my best for the team, I promised myself it was ok to walk on the technical bits if I needed to but that moment never came. I felt like I was flying along the course, just tickling the trail with my toes, enjoying every twist and turn. The hardest part was taming my high as I crept back to a sleeping camp and saving my story for the morning.

End of my third lap, round the corner from the finish, I gritted my teeth and forced myself to run. Very little rest and minimal stretching between laps had caused my body to stiffen. My final lap was painful and I was forced to power-walk hills rather than run them as I had previously, fearing injury was inevitable. Having my teammates cheer me in to the finish immediately eased the pain.

I'd felt honoured to have spent a brilliant weekend with such a great bunch of runners, soaking up their stories, advice and encouragement. In 24 hours, we'd run 27 laps, 270km and each gained seven friends.

Disclaimer: I was kindly given free entry to the Adidas Thunder Run by Adidas

Tuesday, 11 August 2015


I’ve been told by many a marathon runner, when you hit 20-miles, something happens. The wheels fall off, you hit the wall and the rest is a mental battle. So when I saw 21-miles written on my ultra marathon plan, I approached this unknown distance with caution. 

At least I’d planned to. Instead, I woke up late on one of the hottest days of the year, after fuelling on wedding cake and gin. I'd spent the previous day celebrating and dancing in heels and went to bed at 2am. Let’s just say I wasn’t quite feeling my best the morning after the night before. But I've been desperately trying to stick to my plan, so after force-feeding myself breakfast and downing electrolytes, I stumbled outside, immediately vowing to not drink a drop of alcohol until I’ve crossed the finish line of my ultra.

I staggered around my usual 5km loop, keeping the public toilets in sight in case my breakfast made a reappearance. As soon as I felt settled, and when I couldn’t stand the boredom of the same trail over and over anymore, I headed to get lost in the local woods with a plan to trick my legs into covering the distance by running one mile, then four lots of five but that proved difficult.

Only four miles in, I was already struggling. I didn't even expect to reach ten.

Surprised at reaching eight miles, I lost concentration and rolled my ankle.

At eleven miles, I got completely lost and had to crawl through a bush.

I was given reason to regret the high dose of pre-run caffeine at twelve miles.

After 16-miles, I forgot how to count and was convinced I only had three miles left.

At 17-miles, I realised I still had more than three miles left.

A glance at my watch told me I had run the fastest 18-miles of my life.

19-miles celebrated the furthest I'd ever run in one go.

I watched the distance climb with caution as the number reached the big two-oh...

And then boom! Everyone had been right, something really did happen at 20-miles – I decided to run 6.2 more.

I'd been half-arsed at chasing marathon distance all year. After booking an ultra, I wanted to get 26.2 miles under my belt for peace of mind before I attempted 35. I'd eyeballed many races but injury, life, work and fear had all got in the way and I'd failed to commit. But right in the middle of the woods, with no one around and without anyone knowing, I decided to run one there and then.

I suddenly felt a surge of energy. Excitement at the thought of taking on this extended challenge. I left the woods and headed through the town, gleeful that onlookers might still think I was just out for another run when in fact I was on a secret mission. The remaining miles peeled off with ease – except a suspected exploded toe, which turned out to be a minute blister pop.

My worried husband sent a message to check I was still alive – I was an hour late. I revealed I'd run 25-miles and that I was just over a mile away. He immediately knew what I was up to. And as I finally appeared at the end of our road, a big smile spread across my face.

I'd finished my first marathon. There was no medal, no official time, no bib number and no crowds, just a big hug to welcome me home. It was perfect!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Always Be Prepared

What do they say? Always be prepared. For me, that usually means carrying plenty of snacks to avoid any hangry incidents – I've been known to be a little Hulk-like when I've not been fed. But as I plan more and more adventures, it also means making sure I'm prepared for whatever the great outdoors can throw at me.

Trust me, I've learned from plenty of mistakes. In the past I've been drenched after trusting a blue sky and leaving my waterproof at home. I've had uncomfortable nights spent tossing and turning on a rocky floor, after not packing my roll mat. I've frozen up a mountain, after not thinking to bring warmer clothes for the cooler climes at altitude. I've begged, borrowed and stolen tent pegs, after failing to bring any of my own. I've sunk into shin-deep mud in brand new white trainers.

So now, I bring everything. For just a weekend break, I'll fill the car to the brim to make sure I've accounted for all weather, terrain and activities. I'll pack a wooly bobble hat alongside a bikini because you just never know! That's why I (and the suspension on my car) am pleased to at least only have to pack a couple of pairs of shoes – one for running, one for climbing and one for absolutely everything else.

My Serena walking boots from Trespass are the champion multi-tasker of the footwear world, they really are prepared for anything. If it snowed in July, my feet would stay toasty. If it flooded on a hill, I'd still have dry toes. If I found myself in a Greek plate smashing party, my soles would be protected. If it was actually warm in August, my feet would be able to breathe and keep cool. It's a good job. I seem to have a tendency to wonder off and get lost or stuck in the name of adventure.

Although I was prepared with the right footwear, I planned far enough in advance to have worn in the new boots for my first explore with them. I stocked up on blister plasters and waited for the damage after their first outing but the boots were marshmallow soft. I later smugly handed out my plasters to sore-footed friends who were less prepared.

My feet felt so protected, I didn't think twice about stepping onto piles of sharp rocks for higher viewpoints, splashing through a stream to look at fish or kicking my way through brambles to a new path. When it rained, I felt so sure-footed, I happily climbed across logs and tree trunks without thinking I might slip. And I happily collected splashes of mud and the odd tiny plant leaf because, let's face it, they look much happier dirty and that way I can remember everything we've been through together.

DISCLOSURE: With thanks to Trespass for the walking boots to help me explore more.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Fast Friday

"If you have a body, you are an athlete." 

It's a wonderful thought, courtesy of Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman. The idea that anyone can become an athlete so long as they move is pretty inspiring. There are, however, a few differences between your everyday athlete and the pros – coaching, facilities, speed. Always intent on bridging that gap, though, Nike gave a handful of London runners the ultimate athlete experience that we'll never forget.

1. Don't go out too fast. Minimise your energy and take it all in. Use your pacers to control the first lap. 

I walked up to the hotel already knowing the day would lead up to running my fastest mile at the Olympic Stadium. But as I found myself surrounded by professional athletes and being given accreditation for the Diamond League event that day, I realised it would be even more special than first thought.

Guided by our pacers, we found our kit for the day in personalised bags and, even more excitingly, our names on the athlete list for the Anniversary Games. We wouldn't just be running a mile, we'd be racing each other just before the likes of Mo and Bolt step up to show us how it's done. We'd be the warm up act! I did my best to control the giddy-ness and stay calm – this was going to be an epic day.

2. Stay on pace and get through the first half.

Before I even got the chance to pinch myself, running legend Steve Cram was stood in front of our small crowd, introducing Mo Farah to talk through racing tips and their experience. Their advice was clear – don't go out too fast – and their experiences were similar – no matter how high up the ranks you get, no matter how often you race, you'll be nervous. My trembling legs just wanted to get started.

3. Commit. Increase effort to stay on pace. Now the race begins, it will hurt. 

Kitted up, we looked ready to race but how were we doing mentally? I was a bunch of nerves. Training for an ultra marathon had seen a lot of slow miles, I had no idea if my legs had any fast in them. On hand to help, British Athletics Endurance Coach, David Harmer, talked us through how we should approach each of our four laps. A four-step how-to guide to racing a mile.

We arrived at the Olympic Stadium and it started to get very real. David took us through a thorough warm up (next to the French women's 4x100 team) before an enthusiastic high-five as we walked to the call room to pin on our bibs. I was feeling fired up, there was no going back now.

4. Believe. Believe. Believe. 

It hit home when we saw ourselves next to our names on the giant stadium screens. I'm just a regular recreational runner but here I was lining up on the Olympic Stadium track ready to run one of the most memorable miles of my life. It was surreal.

I was quickly brought back down to earth with the bang of the start gun. Not knowing how much speed was in my legs, my only aim for the day was to not finish too far behind the pack. As the pacer pulled along my competition, suddenly coming absolute dead last by quite a way became a very real possibility. But I kept our coach's advice in mind. This was my tourist lap to suck in the atmosphere.

Sure enough, as I settled into a decent pace, I started to overtake others. A cheeky look up at the screen following our progress, showed I was mid-pack. All I had to do was stick with it. They were right. Lap three hurt. My legs were tiring, my lungs were tightening but I had to hold on in there. The noise from the growing crowd reminded me I couldn't possibly stop, not with one lap left. The ring of the bell brought relief and an extra boost. I'd make it, though I had no idea of my potential time – the clocks seemed a blur.

I finished my fastest mile in months. I staggered off the track, sweaty, a little delirious and wobbly with post-race giddy-ness. I've never felt more of an athlete.

If you want a taste of speed, you can sign up for Nike Milers sessions, here.