Ultra Recovery

I can’t believe it’s been 3 weeks since Race to the Stones. Yesterday I went for my first run (or any sort of activity) since race day, as I took a long break to let everything recover properly. I’ve solidly trained this year from my run streak in Dec/Jan, to marathon training until March and then RTTS from April onwards, with just the odd week off here and there, I knew (and I felt) I was in need of some time out.

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Credit to Rhianon

The first 7-10 days after the race I was still in such a happy bubble, the endorphins were still there, I was feeling pretty good, I could of probably even attempted a run, but I knew it was a false state of feeling good, and so decided to just rest. After the initial amazing high, I had a few days where I just absolutely crashed, I felt extremely drained, and a little bit of the ultra blues set in. I then came down with the flu which has been doing the rounds in my work, so that laid me up for a bit longer- not a bad thing as it ensured I would be adequately rested before attempting to get back to running.

Post race, I’ve kept an eye on my resting heart rate, for the last few weeks of training and first week or two post race, it was very high for me (mid 50’s-60) which reflected the impact the race had had on my body and perhaps that I was on the verge of burn out. I’ve been waiting for it to drop back to my normal range (low 40’s), before starting back to any kind of activity.

I think it’s important to remember that while your legs may feel good enough to run again post race, there are many other bodily systems that are effected which may be easy to forget about or ignore-things like endocrine system, adrenal health, thyroid- these things can take months to recover from such an event, so for me personally I didn’t feel comfortable jumping straight back into running although I felt like I could have done so . I like to think I am now pretty in tune with my body, and I know it’s not been happy with me for the last few months, the signs have been there that I needed this break, and I’m hoping it will have really helped to reset a lot of bodily systems that were put under immense strain during training and the race.

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I haven’t really missed running all that much over the last few weeks, so a break was definitely needed. Usually I’m getting antsy and climbing the walls when I can’t run, but I think I’ve put things in perspective this time and realised that it’s only 3 weeks, out of hopefully a long future of opportunities to run. I also got a puppy last weekend, so I have had absolutely no opportunity to run at all over the last week, I’ve barely had time to cook/eat/work to be honest! We’ve been sharing the puppy load, but it puts everything in it’s place, and things become perhaps less vitally important than they once were.

Not that running is no longer important to me, it’s just it’s no longer the be all and end all of my day, and not going for a run no longer affects my mood, and day which is not a healthy relationship to have anyway. I’ve been training solidly for a few years, and actually as much as I love it, it’s nice to loosen the grip every once in a while, relax and have time to do everything I haven’t been able to do for months on end.

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I’m hoping to return recovered, refreshed and ready to run. I’ve got nothing on the agenda to train for-I actually turned down a Berlin marathon bib, who am I?!-so I’m just going to head out when I want, to run as far as I want, wherever I want. Listening to my body, enjoying my running again, and enjoying being back outside, but also remembering to keep everything in balance.

How to:Make Your Own Energy Balls

If there was one thing that was consistent through my ultra training it was the runger. All.the.time. I was hungry when I woke, sometimes during a workout, always after, even on days off. Constant runger. One way I dealt with this was to make huge batches of homemade energy balls and protein bars to have on hand to grab when I needed.

There are several advantages to making your own:

1) They can be incredibly cost-effective. You are looking at 2 quid a pop for a store bought one, when you can make a whole batch for probably not much more than that.

2)They often taste way better, having not sat in a package on a shelf for god knows how long

3) They can have much better nutritional value. You can control what goes into them, and if you want them higher in carbs/fat/protein, or want to add any other nutrient boosters you can!

4) Shorter ingredients list. Some of the lists of ingredients on bars out there are bloody frightening, incredibly long, half the stuff you have no idea what it is, and is probably an alternative name for sugar- some bars have sugar disguised under about 4 different names!

I’m all for grabbing a bar when out and about, I’m a particularly big fan of Pulsin’ and Nakd bars but if I don’t want to bankrupt myself with my bar addiction, I’ve found making my own is a good option

Basically for any bars, I use a base of 2 cups of oats, a sweetener- usually medjool dates, but sometimes a banana/maple syrup/other dried fruit, 1/2 cup of protein powder if needed, and then whatever other add in’s I want: maca/cacao/cacao nibs/seeds/nuts/spices/coconut oil/nut butter. You just need a food processor to blitz them together and you are set. It’s pretty simple!

Here are some I made during my ultra taper- these were obviously the reason why the day went so well! Ultra Fuel.

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Coconut and Macadamia Nut Energy Balls

2 cups Oats
200g Macadamia Nuts
200g Shredded Coconut
2 Tbsp Chia Seeds
12 Medjool Dates
1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
Cinnamon
Pinch of Himalayan Salt
Drizzle of Water

Pit the Medjool Dates and blitz them in a food processor until they come together in one big gooey mess. Add the other ingredients (if you want to add protein powder, add 1/2 cup and adjust the water content). Pulse together, adding a drizzle of water if needed to bring the mixture together, it should be sticky enough to hold together but not too moist (I know-sorry!). Roll the mixture into balls- I can’t remember how many I got out of this, maybe 15 or so, but you can make them as big or small as you like- bitesize ones are great pre workout, or a larger ball for a snack in-between meals or post workout to refuel. Sorry there is far too much innuendo in this post.

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Store in the fridge, or freezer where they keep for longer- well as long as it takes until you get through them all, which when you are ultra training- is not very long!Enjoy!

What’s your favourite homemade energy ball/bar?

How I trained to run 100km

I delved into the world of ultra running last year, with the 56km half distance of London to Brighton, I thoroughly enjoyed it other than the torrential rain for 31 miles! Ultra running is becoming more and more popular, it’s a hugely growing sector and one of the sports/fitness trends to really look out for over the next few years, as more people take up the challenge and see how far they can push themselves. This year I really stepped up my training, and headed into uncharted territory as I prepared to run my first 100km race.

Why did I want to run 100km?

I still can’t really put this into words, but I just got an instinct in my gut, that it was exactly what I needed to do. As soon as I first heard about Wmnrun100, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was a challenge, a step up, but it was so much more than that, that I can’t even explain. It was about testing yourself, pushing to your limits and further, and actually seeing what the human body is truly capable of. Life is fleeting, I don’t want to go through the motions and not actually use my body to it’s full potential. During the race I just felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing.

Training

I followed a training plan, although I was flexible about it, changing weeks around, missing the odd session, or took the week off due to niggles, but mostly I hit the long runs, I did hill sessions (other than the last 4-6 weeks to protect my ITB), I did the long slow back to backs, I did a little bit of tempo. I’m quite determined-read stubborn-which I think is a good quality to have, when you have to get a lot of miles in on a consistent basis. Mostly all my running was done at a slow, comfortable pace, getting used to spending a lot of time on my feet, speed work was firmly out the window!

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I ran 530 miles over the 14 weeks of training for the race, I ran my longest ever training runs (28.5, 31 miles), I ran a marathon at Richmond Park, I ran 60 mile weeks, my recovery weeks were 30 miles, basically I ran more than I have ever run in my life. Before training for race to the stones 50 miles a week was about my limit in terms of staying fit and niggle free, but I managed to get to around 60 miles a week during training, any more than that and I felt niggles coming on and just felt too drained in general.

I tried to keep things interesting, by running in new places wherever possible- although I did a lot of running in Greenwich Park and on the Thames path-adding the odd tempo/hill session to mix things up, running with others, running to podcasts/music/nothing at all. It’s easy to get into a rut when you are training so much, and I did have weeks where I didn’t really want to go out the door. I just listened to my body, and if I didn’t think I was going to gain anything from pushing my body when it didn’t want to be pushed then I didn’t run.IMG_5394

Strength

This was key, I did 2 sessions a week, one upper and one lower body, and some core work in both sessions. Once my ITB really started to bother me, I stepped up my stretching, specific strength work, and foam rolling game. For the last month or so I was doing minimum 30 minutes a day of strength (in particular glutes), rolling, yoga/stretching- I was really struggling with my ITB, and just the daily commitment to doing this stuff, not only got me to the start, but saw me right through the race to the finish.

Nutrition

I believe my plant based diet helped me to recover incredibly quickly between sessions, I was able to do high mileage weeks and back to back long slow runs and feel pretty decent on the second day. Lots of fruit/veggies/whole grains/beans/nuts saw me through. I was hungry all of the time- and have been the complete opposite since! I also believe it enabled me to stay healthy throughout training, I haven’t been sick since February, despite the incredible strain I have been putting my body under, my immune system seems to be in good nick.

Supplements

I supported my training with a decent whack of supplementation, these are the main ones I was taking on a regular basis:

  • Pumpkin seed protein powder: Recovery
  • Cherry active: Anti-inflammatory
  • Glutamine: Recovery/Immune system,
  • Pukka Active: Anti-inflammatory
  • Beetroot juice: Vasodilator
  • Probiotic: Digestion/Immunity
  • Adaptogenic herbs: Stress Response

Rest

Probably something I didn’t do enough of, I had my final exam of the year and lots of deadlines in the run up to race day- which meant sleep was really sacrificed at times. I think I’m paying for it post-race with a bit of burn out, and I’m taking some time off to let my endocrine system recover, as I was getting a lot of symptoms during training-digestive issues, hormonal issues, weight gain which I think were related and I need to address post race. I’ve just looked back at my training diary, and there were about 2 weeks out of the whole period where I had put that I actually felt good, all the rest were either- felt tired, or legs felt like shit- I wasn’t aware of this at the time at all.

I’ve had no desire to run at all since the race, I’m still wrapped up in post-race nostalgia, and I don’t want to push or force my return to running, I’ll be back when I’m ready!

What’s next?

No idea, absolutely no idea. How can I top a day where everything went so perfectly. Anything else is going to pale in comparison. As I mentioned I’ll be taking some time off to let my body recover, and I’ll assess things in a few weeks, at the moment an Autumn marathon isn’t on the cards, and I think I’ll be focusing on some shorter stuff and getting back to weight training over the autumn/winter. I have no idea what 2016 holds, there are races that tempt me, but I need to be sensible with what I can truly commit to. Ultra running is no joke, and the commitment required, support of my nearest and dearest and the time drain as well as the effect on my body need to be considered.

Race day and the training as a whole has been a life changing experience, I can’t see how you could do something like this, and not come out the other side a different person. I’ve learnt more about myself during these last 4 months than I have in the previous 27 years, it’s been an incredible ride, and now I have to sit back and process it!

 

 

Disclaimer: This post is association with Simply Health and contains a link to their blog. I received no compensation for this post, although I will receive a gift in return.

16 things I learned during 100km

This was supposed to be a list of 10 things but I kept thinking of others, there are also probably things I have forgotten about, but these points stand out to me as things I’ve learnt over the training period and racing 100km!

1. Respect the distance: I worked my arse off to train for this race. I was already in pretty decent endurance nick having come off a marathon PB in March, so I just built up from there. I feel like my running over the last five years built up to this year, and each year I was laying more solid foundations that would see me through this race.

2. You need to have an iron stomach: I ate a lot of food during training, but nowhere near as much as during the race, and thankfully everything agreed with me. I even ate things I hadn’t trained with and wouldn’t normally eat/drink at all like squash, coke, and white pasta, but it all went down well. I find eating small bits at a time helps, I tend to drip feed and have a little bite of something frequently.

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3. Respect the course: Race to the Stones was almost completely on trail, some of it was quite technical, and it places very different demands on your body to road running. I did not do enough trail running at all during training, so I was lucky to get away unscathed on the day, other than my fall.

4. Don’t carry too much weight: I packed an entire picnic as I was worried about vegan options on the way, but I needn’t have bothered, there was loads I could eat. I ended up carrying half of the stuff I brought with me for the entire 63 miles. I also didn’t use my long sleeve top, or headtorch but felt safer having them with me. I chose not to carry a waterproof as the forecast was fine.

5. Listen to your body not your mind: Your mind will want to quit long before your body, thankfully I never had to cross that bridge, but it’s important to focus on what your body is telling you, not your mind. If it’s telling you to run then run, if it’s telling you to walk then walk.

6. Have a buddy: I do a lot of my running alone, but I’ve really enjoyed training with WMNRUN100, and I enjoyed buddying up with Dave who asked if he could run with me at 40 miles. Honestly I believe this was the reason why I never suffered any dips or low points, as it was nice to have company, and distract yourself from the miles ahead. If you can’t buddy up-then chat to everyone you pass or who passes you anyway, it makes the miles fly by!

7. Break the race into smaller chunks: My aim was to get to the next checkpoint whether that was 12km away or 6km, each checkpoint marked a little way closer to the end goal. I was also aware of being halfway, having a marathon left, a half marathon left- these little milestones really propel you forward! Also when I was running, I would always try and run until I reached an incline (however small), or keep running until that bend in the trail, that sign, that bunch of wild flowers. It kinds your mind occupied too.

8. Slow your pace: I ran the entire race at an easy comfortable pace, I don’t ever remember being out of breath-other than trying to walk fast up hills! You have to realise that pace is out the window, the terrain and length of time you are out there for, means you just need to go at whatever feels comfortable to you at that point- you will have dips, so it’s making the most of the times when you feel good.

9. Do some walking in training: I do a lot of walking generally, but I didn’t do any specific walking training for this race and it really showed. I was so much slower than anyone else when I started walking as people who I was running with would drift off into the distance. I would recommend doing some power walking as training, and also doing some hill walking. You are going to save the most time if you can improve your walking as it’s ultimately what you are going to be spending a lot of time doing.

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10. Test your kit: I wore kit that I am very comfortable in, a Nike t-shirt, tempo shorts, x-socks, trusty Asics Kayanos, and my ultimate direction ultra vest and I was comfortable the entire time. No chafe, no sore spots, no stiffness or pain, and my feet don’t even look like they’ve run a half let alone 100km. Train in your race day kit, and go with comfort on the day.

11.Have a goal: I had a rough goal of finishing anywhere between 12-14 hours, I knew 14 was around where I wanted to finish as I wanted to get in before it got dark. Although I wasn’t strict about hitting paces or anything, I knew at half way if I carried on as I had done already I would make it. It was a very loose goal but I feel if I hadn’t had anything in mind I might have got adrift somewhere in the mid section.

12. Disappointing Runger: I was so looking forward to the insane runger that I thought would descend post race, but it never arrived. I have never been so disappointed. I completely lost my appetite for days, was off loads of foods, got full very quickly and I didn’t even have dinner one day- naughty! It was so unlike me, I’ve been hungrier after a routine 4 miles!

13. Ride the endorphin high: I’ve been in a happy endorphin bubble for the entire time since the race, I’ve yet to come down, so I can already imagine that I am going to crash hard when I do, but while it lasts I shall enjoy this dream like state.

14. Rest Hard: “When is your next race?” “February…” I am planning on taking a fairly decent chunk of time out away from running, to process everything that has happened and let my body heal. My legs are already feeling almost back to normal, but it can take months for the endocrine system to repair itself, and as I had a lot of issues during training that were endocrine related, I’m giving my body a chance to relax and my thyroid/adrenals and immune system the chance to recover. Yes there are a million and one races I want to sign up for, but if I want to continue running long term, I need to make a short term sacrifice and try to reset.

15. Capacity for boredom: I ran for 14 hours, with no stimulation, no music, and other than the last 23 miles that I ran with Dave and first 4 with Amelia, I was largely on my own, in my own head. I honestly think my daily meditation practice helped me massively here, as it just helped me to be in the moment, and once I got in a zone, time seemed to just pass by.

16. Look around you: I don’t get out of the city very often, and had never been to the Ridgeway, so often I was stopped in my tracks at the beauty on offer, some of the views were fantastic, and I took some time to soak them in, and appreciate, the sights/sounds/smells of the country!

 

Race to the Stones 2015

“Do you mind if I run with you for a bit?”- Dave at mile 40. I’d never met Dave before, other than exchanging the odd “Hi, how’s it going earlier” in the race. At just after 10pm on Saturday evening, we crossed the finish line of Race to the Stones, having run the last 23 miles of the 63 mile race together- we ran together, we walked together, we snacked together, we chatted, we high fived, he held the gates open for me, and we got each other through the hard yards of this race.

The day before the race I felt nauseous all day. I had my final nutrition exam of the year in the morning, so I think it was a combination of nerves about that and the race that led to me feeling sick-I just wanted to get to the race and get started. I don’t even really know how to put into words how I feel about the race, and it still feels like a bit of a dream- so this will probably be a long ramble!

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100km (or 102km!) is a long way, so you can’t think of it in those terms during the race. My aim was break the race down into the distances between the pit stops, each pit stop became the next goal. I wore my Garmin 305 (which incredibly lasted for 56 miles!) but turned it onto map mode, occasionally glancing to see what time of day it was.

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I ran the first 4 miles with Amelia, which was nice to get into a rhythm and settle into the race, we had a good chat before she zoomed off, and I reigned in the pace a little bit- long way ahead! The initial sections of the course were nicely shaded, I was hoping it would be like that later on- spoiler…it wasn’t! It was hillier than I thought it would be (that’s London for you!), and there were some real stingers, from the start I walked up anything resembling a slight incline to save my legs. I couldn’t believe how slow I was at walking, I was really trying, but everyone was moving so much faster than me- I should of done more fast walking during training!

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As well as hilly, the course in places was also quite technical, a lot of the initial sections were quite tough single track over tricky terrain. At mile 11, I was slightly hesitant on a downhill section, I tripped, and couldn’t stop myself as I completely stacked it and skidded downhill- thankfully it was a dirt path section rather than one of the more unforgiving sections. 2 guys helped me up and checked I was OK- I was fine, I just felt like an idiot, and had cut my hand. I’ve only fell over when running once before about 4 years ago so I couldn’t believe I had done it, and so early on in the race as well. I decided to head to the next aid station to sort myself out.

Not long after this I could see Bec’s up ahead of me, which I thought was weird as she is speedy, and I am not! She had also fallen, and thought she had dislocated her shoulder, she was in a lot of pain and moving slowly towards the next aid station. I carried on after checking in with her for a bit, and had no idea what happened to her- until the next day when I found out she had finished with a fractured arm- complete and total hero!!

I got to the second aid station a few miles after my fall, and realized not only had I cut my hand, but I’d also cut my elbow, both knees and my leg!! Adrenaline in the moment meant I had missed that completely- I used some antiseptic wipes to clean the wounds-ouch!- and the medic sprayed some savlon spray on and I was good to go. A bit battered, and filthy but it could have been worse!

I started eating quite early during the race, and continued eating for the entire 14 hours. I ate so much food, I had absolutely no appetite after I finished, and it hasn’t returned 3 days on!! I was worried about what would be at the aid stations so I carried loads with me, but I needn’t have bothered- there was loads of Vegan friendly options-fruit, porridge, soup, pasta, snack bars, nuts, dried fruit etc. I was sweating a lot, it was extremely hot and humid, and most of the course was fully exposed to the sun. I drank to thirst, but I was extremely thirsty the whole way. I filled up my camelbak a few times on the way, and I had two cups of fluid at each pit stop too (Including…shock horror…squash and coke!). I also had some cherry active juice for it’s anti-inflammatory effects, and I took Living Nutrition’s Keflamex three times during the day, and I really think it helped.

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The distance never felt overly daunting, if you think too much about it or get wrapped up in it then I suppose it could. I just focused on enjoying the beautiful course, being out of the city, in the fresh air, touching the wild flowers as I went.

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As I neared 30 miles I knew I was getting close to the half way point. At about 32 miles the tent came into view, and I ran up and through the half way chip point. I wasn’t sure whether to stop here, my tactic had been in and out at all of the pit stops- loo break/water fill up/grab snacks and go-but here I headed in to see if I could see any of the 50k runners. I could hear my name being called, and headed over to catch up with Cat and Rhianon- who came 1st and 3rd ladies in the 50k, legends!-we had a quick chat, Rhianon gave me some wet wipes which was fantastic, considering I was still covered in dirt from the fall, I also took some electrolyte tabs, as it was very hot and I was sweating a lot! I grabbed a swig of Cats cider which was lush- wish I could of had a full one! I ran to the food tent, had a quick plate of plain white pasta and was on my way- I think for all the pit stops combined I stopped for about 40-50 mins total which wasn’t bad, and this was my longest stop at probably around 15 mins or so. I felt rejuvenated having seen the girls, and was actually feeling pretty good for the next few miles as I headed out, energy levels were good, legs felt OK. I think I went through halfway in about 6.45 so I was just about on for a daylight finish! I had walked a lot in the first half, so I didn’t think the second half would be much slower, as long as it wasn’t too hilly…spoiler…it was undulating!

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The next section was reasonably flat to undulating, so I made some good progress and kept moving forward. I had a nice chat with one lady for a while, who gave me some tips on fast walking which I think helped as I just felt like I was moving backwards compared to everyone else! I kept wishing for the clouds to come over, because it was so hot. My stomach was completely fine for the whole race which I was delighted about, despite eating a lot the whole way round. I was concerned about the complete lack of needing to pee (I think I went two/three times in 14 hours!), but I was sweating so much I figured I was losing a lot of water that way, and continued to drink to thirst- holding back whenever my stomach felt a bit sloshy.

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After mile 36 I was into uncharted territory as my longest ever run! At mile 40, Dave asked if he could run with me, and we chatted as the miles past, running on the flats, and walking any inclines- although it was hard to tell what was an incline at this point!! As we passed mile 46 I knew we had a quarter to go, although a quarter still seemed like a long way, we were getting there! The miles were ticking by, and milestones were passing, a marathon to go, 20 miles to go, a quarter to go. There was a huge hill at mile 47 which was a toughie, but it flattened out a bit after and we made some more progress. As long as we were moving forward we were heading towards home! There was great banter out on the course, and I chatted to some incredible and inspiring people.

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50 miles was a big milestone, and as we headed into the evening. I was relieved to see the sun go down, although it was still very humid, but there was a nice breeze on the more exposed sections. The penultimate pitstop marked about a half marathon to go, and I knew we were cutting it tight with the light, at this point I let my parents know I was closing in, so they could leave Wales to come and watch the finish.

I never sat down other than for about a minute to wolf some pasta down, and I had absolutely no issues at all with my legs, thankfully my ITB was well behaved. My quads were pretty ruined on the downhills later on, I had to walk the one at mile 53 as it was so steep and I just felt like I was going to fall over. My feet were also totally fine, one toe was getting a little sore later on in the race but they are in perfect condition right now- they don’t look like they have run at all!

At nearly 57 miles my Garmin ran out, which in one way was a blessing, as it was probably going to feel like the hardest and longest part- but also the not knowing perhaps made it seem more drawn out. The night was drawing in fast, but we made pretty good headway, and I am most proud about miles 58-61 where we really pushed on- I say pushed on, we were doing like 11 minute miling- but it felt fast with 60 odd miles in the legs, and it was probably the longest consistent period of running we had done in the second half of the race- I actually felt really good and was determined to get the job done, and barring disaster we would be done very shortly.

We could see the lights and hear the cheers of the finish, but we had to go to the stones on an out and back first- I can honestly say this was the longest mile of my life, it was getting quite dark, and the section seemed to go on forever, this is the first time in the entire race, where I didn’t want to-or couldn’t- run anymore, so we settled into a walk, found the stones, and headed back towards the finish. When you expect something to be 62 miles, and it’s longer, that extra bit seems never-ending! We walked though the farm field as it was pretty dark at this point and the course wasn’t the best in this section, it was quite rutted. As we turned the final corner, we broke into a little jog to finish just after 10pm, in 14.07.17.

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My parents and brother were there, which was lovely, and then I caught up with Sorrell-who came 2nd lady, superstar!- and some of the other WMNRUN100 team. I bundled into the car, and headed back to Wales for some much needed rest, completely high on life and adrenaline, so much so I only slept for 2 hours that night!

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It’s three days on and it still feels like it didn’t happen. So much work went into this race, but anything can happen on the day, and luck was on my side to ensure there were no issues. I never had any moments where I didn’t think I could do it, where I questioned what I was doing, where I was really struggling- I might have blacked them out, but honestly I just didn’t really have any tough moments other than that last section to the stones. I thought I was really going to be quite emotional, and I was going to have to dig very deep and go through some pretty tough times but I was very in control- some lady at around 50 miles told me I didn’t even look like I had been running! I was just astounded at how incredible the human body is, and what we can achieve if we really set our minds to it.

Finally, well done to everyone who completed or even started the race-most of all my fellow WMNRun100 team- it takes a lot just to rock up on the start line, and as I said before, it’s not about the race, it’s about the journey as a whole. I will bask in the glory of this one for a while, and I am so proud of all the incredible women, who I have trained with, run with, and who started or finished the races over the weekend. You are all amazing.

The Stats

235/862 Overall
44/263 Women
28/131 Sen Female