Tag Archives: ultra running

10 things that happen during an Ultra


1.Your brain will not work: This started early on for me on my recent 50 miler on the North Downs Way, as I queued up in the wrong alphabet queue to pick up my bib. I then forgot to go to the toilet at aid station 2 as I had been planning to, and forgot to fill up my water bottle at aid station 3. Basically your brains will turn to mush, it will become difficult to make the most basic decisions, and you will find it difficult to form coherent sentences.

2. The Toilet Situation: At the race earlier in the month there were only toilets at mile 14/31 and then the finish at mile 50. I only peed once in 11 hours so was clearly very dehydrated, but I did manage to use an actual toilet at mile 31. I did need a comfort break of the other kind later in the race though, obviously once I had gone past the aid stations that had toilets. For miles I was dealing with needing to go, but struggling to find somewhere sheltered off trail as it turned into miles of open fields. Basically if you are going to run an ultra, you better get used to going in nature! Pack toilet paper/wet wipes in your pack- absolute essentials on the trail.


3. Weird Appetite: I wasn’t overly hungry at all during the race, dealing with a lot of nausea. You need to try to keep eating and drinking though against how your body is feeling, otherwise you will inevitably just run out of fuel. I am never hungry immediately after ultras, which is proper disappointing. My appetite post race has fluctuated from non-existent at times, to eating the entire contents of my kitchen, and craving and eating weird combinations of stuff, or not wanting to eat anything except cereal or pizza.

4. The Aftermath: You will not be able to walk for days, getting up and down from the floor requires some sort of furniture to pull yourself up and lower yourself down, and don’t even mention stairs. I would say it’s probably pretty rare to go through an event of this kind without suffering from blisters or chafe too, no matter how much you slather yourself in vaseline/sudocreme or body glide. My feet were not too bad at all, other than a sore little toe and a heel blister, but after SDW50 last year, my heels were a mess, I had to wear flip flops for a week, and every time I moved my foot the blister would crack open and weep- gross. Compeed are your best friend in this situation.


5. New Friends: You might spend all of your time training alone, in fact you may run for this reason, but you can turn up at any ultra event alone and leave with a load of new running mates. The atmosphere on the trails is great, and it’s nice to chat to people along the way, and meet some new running buddies, who just get it.

6. Low Moments: I felt pretty low for most of the second half on NDW50, it’s about riding those low moments and coming out the other side. Everything will pass, so it’s important to make the most of it while you are feeling good, and just suck it up and ride it out when you are feeling bad.

7. Slow Down: If you think you are going slow, you aren’t going slow enough. It’s cliche, but it rings true. I ran quite a lot of 9:something miles in the first half of the race, and I honestly think this was why I felt so shoddy in the second half. It’s hard not to get carried away at the beginning, particularly if the course is quite runnable, but you will pay so badly for it later on, so slow down.

8. Silence your Mind: Your mind will want to quit long before your body has had enough. It’s hard to silence the brain, especially when it’s trying to convince you that everything is an incline and should be walked, and is calculating at what point you would be safe to just walk it in and still make it under cut off. It’s good to have a mantra to think of during hard times.

9. Time Wasting: Aid stations though amazing places, filled with incredibly lovely people and all manner of delicious snacks are an easy place to lose time to on the day. I spent about 40 minutes total either in aid stations, or stopping to sort out my feet, which is quite a chunk of time. When there are 6 aid stations on course, you could easily lose an hour just spending 10 mins at each. I try to be efficient, going in knowing what I want (though difficult considering points 1 and 3), refilling flasks, grabbing food and heading straight off. I only stopped briefly at the first few, but later on had several lengthy stops, mostly down to gear malfunctioning, which could have saved me some time on the day.


10. Post Race Blues: You’ve spent 5-6 months training for an event, every spare moment going over training plans, gear, nutrition, and then it’s gone, that focus, drive and motivation all geared towards the big day, is over. I find I ride an endorphin wave for about 24 hours, completely wired on adrenaline and unable to sleep, and then crash really really hard. This is the time to just rest, enjoy your achievements, make some plans for races later in the year and do all the things you didn’t get to do while you were out running for 10+ hours a week. Though you may be in pain, and swearing to never run another ultra at the finish line, only a few days later you will be googling for your next challenge.

I hope this has given you an insight into the weird and wonderful world of ultra marathoning, and not put you off either. Honestly, it’s an amazing community, filled with incredible people, and I would highly recommend doing an ultra if you are considering one.

NDW50 2017

I hadn’t slept well all week in the run up to the event, my mind had been racing with a million thoughts about the race. After another restless night in the Premier Inn I headed the short way to the start at Farnham, where I showed how half asleep I was by queuing in the T-Z group for my race bib (my surname begins with an R!). After catching up with a few people and meeting a few faces from Twitter, we headed off to the trailhead and were underway promptly at 8am.


The first few miles were fairly congested, we had some lengthy pauses for queues for stiles and gates, but after a few miles it started to spread out a bit more. I have never run the first half of the course before, and it was really beautiful, especially from around mile 12 onwards. There were a few changes in terrain, most notably a few sandy sections thanks to all the dry weather we’ve been having.


It was drizzling at the start, but other than a few tiny spots of drizzle, the weather was good all the way, 17 degrees and sunny, although the humidity was tough, and I was really struggling with it for the first half of the run, I was sweating a lot and felt like I had a headache due to the humidity right from the start.

The first section to Puttenham aid station is fairly flat and runnable, I was feeling strong and moving through at a decent pace. I filled up my 250ml Ultimate Direction hard flask and grabbed a handful of raisins and nuts and was on my way, trying not to linger too long at the early stations.

The first real challenging climbs came around 12-13 miles in, at some point on this section I went offtrack and lost the course marking, luckily a man followed me and asked if we were going the right way, which we definitely weren’t, and we managed to cut across a path and found our way back onto the trail. I ran with Su for a few miles, and actually most of the race we seemed to be very close together, it was nice to have some company and hear all about his running.

The second aid station was at nearly 15 miles at Newlands corner, I was going to go to the toilet here but completely forgot once I got there. My brain was totally not working on the day. I refilled my flask with water again, and grabbed some more trail mix and headed straight off. I was still making good pace up to this point. I knew the first half was a lot flatter and runnable than the second so I wanted to try and bank some time, and then cling on in the second “half”.


The next stretch was a long one, and the longest between aid stations all day, but I knew my brother was going to be at Box Hill to cheer me on, so it gave me something to target. I wanted to get to the stepping stones which were at 24 miles within 4hr 30, as I thought the second half would take me around 2 hours longer than this. I was still moving OK during this stretch, though slowing a little, and getting tired of long straight flat sections, I definitely started to walk a lot more from here on out on anything that resembled a slight incline.

At mile 23/24 I ran with a lovely lady called Tania, and these were actually 2 of my quickest miles of the day, including that horrible out and back bit under the A24 to get to the stepping stones carpark. I love meeting people during ultras, and hearing all about their lives, running, past races and future goals. We got to the Boxhill aid station together, around 4.22 and after I quickly filled up with some tailwind in my flask, and grabbed a bit of watermelon I was on my way up the steps to find my brother.


This section of the course I was familiar with having run it 3 weeks ago on my recce run. The steps were even tougher than I remember, with the legs already battered and it hurt like hell going up. After a quick stop, chat and hugs at the top, I was on my way on what felt like a very long way to go, especially as I knew what was to come.


My pace started to slow dramatically over the next few miles as the hills just kept on coming. Colley hill I found even harder than Boxhill, it is so steep, and goes on forever. The section from Boxhill to Reigate aid station is only 7ish miles, but it took me almost 2 hours, it’s so punishing, brutal climbs, horrid descents and just really not nice terrain to run on at all. This I think is where my real lack of training on this terrain started to show.

It was lovely to see familiar faces at Reigate, and the aid station was really busy at the time. I had a quick chat with Steph, grabbed some cherry tomatoes, and a massive strawberry jam filled vegan flapjack, which was all I managed to eat for the rest of the race, nibbling a bit every few miles.

I didn’t manage to eat a lot during the race, and ended up with most of the food I had taken with me still in my pack. I also had hydration issues from here on out, I was so distracted in the buzz of the station I forgot to fill up my flask, and realised shortly after leaving that my camelbak which had 1.2litres in at the start was almost empty. Luckily it was only 5 miles to the next aid station so it wasn’t catastrophic. I was getting a bit fed up of running, and my head just didn’t seem in the zone, the thought of still having 20 miles to go at mile 31, was not encouragingIMG_9029

I ran a lot of this section with another lady called Sydnee, we would stop/start in-sync, kind of motivating each other to keep pushing on. I think at this point we were both starting to count down the miles, and growing tired of running, there was a really long concrete section and we just couldn’t motivate ourselves to run it at all.

There was another big climb heading into the aid station at Caterham which couldn’t come soon enough at mile 38. I had quite a lengthy stop here as I needed to refill my camelbak bladder, once I had got it out of my pack and had it filled with a litre of tailwind, I did it up and went to put it back in my pack to realise I had done the opening up incorrectly and the liquid was pouring out of it everywhere. When I went to undo the opening, it was completely jammed, and several people at the aid station couldn’t undo it, so I had to abandon it and leave it there- luckily I had a 250ml soft-flask as well as my harder flask, so I could fill both of these up, I felt like I had stopped for a very long time here, much longer than I had wanted to. I grabbed some grapes and a few other bits of fruit and headed off.

As the miles ticked down I could start to think about the finish, though 10 miles still seemed like a long way. I didn’t want to run anymore, and my mind was trying to convince me not to- working out that if I walked from there I could still make it under the cut off. I would say in general I felt pretty low for a lot of the second half, I don’t know if it was the humidity, having run the first half quite quickly or just the brutality of the second half of the course, but I did find it really hard going mentally, which is something I’ve not really struggled with in an ultra before.


I started to feel quite nauseous with about 12 miles to go, so I ate a few ginger chews and had to walk quite a bit to settle my stomach, and wait for the nausea to pass. I also really needed the toilet but there was no sheltered areas, as it’s quite open in the section on the way to Botley hill.

I think Botley is the worst hill of the lot, so I was glad to reach the aid station at the top.  I had a friend Sarah volunteering here and it was lovely to see her. They had peanut butter and jam sandwiches so I grabbed 2 triangles which gave me a real boost for the next section and the home stretch.

We were counting down the miles, and every step was taking me closer to home.  I found the last section really hard going, running round dry, hard, rutted fields is really monotonous and draining. I finally found a sheltered spot so stopped to go to the toilet, and not long after this I had a very lengthy stop as I had an extremely sharp pain in my little toe which left me unable to walk. I took my shoe off and couldn’t see anything wrong so I put it back on, but I couldn’t run, so I took it off again, took my socks off and put a plaster on it, unfortunately it was a really gravelly section, and my sock and shoe filled up with bits of stick and stones so I took ages sorting this out, all a bit annoying as I was feeling quite decent before that happened. The toe was still hurting, but it took my mind off other things that were hurting like a heel blister, and really bad chafe. At this point Su caught up with me again, and we kind of shuffled along together.

The last 3 miles of the course were unknown to me, and it was hillier than I thought it would be. I also wasn’t sure how far the finish was as I thought it was going to be closer to 51 miles than 50. At one point we went through a fields of cows, I walked past skirting the edge of the field as there were loads of calves and bulls, and one of the calves tried to follow me which was a bit scary. I was trying to motivate myself to run, but the need to walk was overwhelming at this point and the miles were passing so slowly.


Suddenly we passed a sign that said Knockholt Pound 1 1/4 miles, I wasn’t sure if this was exactly where the finish was, but not long after we could see the finish gantry, and you have to do this horrible out and back for a mile or so with the finish in sight the whole way. I realised at this point I had 15 mins left to get in under 11 hours, so if I ran the last mile I could dip under this barrier. I think I managed my first mile beginning with a 10 since before Boxhill at mile 24, and finally crossed the finish line after 10 hours 55 minutes and 17 seconds.

Another Centurion run done, and 35 minutes knocked off my time from the SDW50 which is a shorter and in my opinion easier course (I really struggled with the mud last year). I was really considering one of the 100’s for next year, but this has put me off entirely. It was the hardest race I’ve ever done (even though Race to the Stones was 13 miles longer), the second half is savage, and I just struggled to hang on. I felt a bit broken physically and mentally at the end, and need a good break to recover.


I met some amazing people along the way, the volunteers and everyone at Centurion were amazing as always, and these are definitely the events to go for if you want to do an ultra.

Ultra Training Month 4: Dealing with Sickness

The positivity and high mileage of March sadly didn’t continue into April, as I got struck down with a terrible chest cold. I was feeling really ropey on a 27 mile run after flying back from Amsterdam and a couple of days later I came down with a sore throat and chesty cough which lasted about a week before turning into an awful cold. All I could do was rest and be sensible about my training, but it came at the worst possible timing around peak week, and was annoying having already missed a week earlier in the training cycle due to a stomach bug. It has taken me a while to recover and feel normal again, but towards the end of this month I have managed to get some more solid training in, though I am feeling that week has set me back a bit.

Week 13 was where I came down with the cold, at first I thought it was really terrible hayfever, as I was really struggling with the pollen on a hill session, but then it just went full blown and all I could do was rest up. I wasn’t risking running too soon especially as the cold was on my chest, so I ended up taking 9 days off running or any exercise completely.

I started running again towards the back end of week 14, and rather than cram in my scheduled long runs, I decided to continue where I had left off with week 13’s drop week miles and then get back onto plan the following week. I think it’s easy to get carried away, and push too hard too soon after illness, worried about missing sessions, but I just wanted to ease back in and not risk making it worse. I was still struggling with my chest, and also a constant running nose on those first few runs back, so I have taken quite a chunk of time to feel half decent on runs again.


During week 15 I got back to my training plan, and aimed to complete my peak week- and I think possible my highest mileage week ever. I was suffering with heavy legs and quite a lot of fatigue after being ill, so I just focused on taking it easy, and avoiding any hard sessions like speed/hills. I did a back to back 25/20 mile run that week, those kind of miles are always going to feel tough, but it felt really difficult coming back from illness and having had a bit of break from the longer stuff. It was nice to do them in Cardiff over Easter though, always good to long run somewhere different as it gets a bit dull and monotonous doing the same routes at this point in training.


Week 16 was another decent mileage week, and the first time I got out to the NDW to recce some of the route. In hindsight I’m thinking maybe going into the race blind might have been better as I now know how horrendous that second half will be, and I don’t want to be dreading it on race day. I did 25 miles starting in Dorking and finishing about 3 miles from Knockholt- I couldn’t continue as the police had closed off part of the route and wouldn’t let me go that way, I then had to walk up a treacherous country lane to get to the nearest bus stop and head home. The hills were great training, but I did find it incredibly tough going. The thought of doing that after 25 miles, is not that enticing! I’ve learnt that the NDW and SDW are very very different, and I found the terrain and ascents of the NDW far more challenging than the SDW, it’s also nowhere near as pretty! I followed the run with 11 miles the next day, and my legs felt surprisingly OK, which has continued into this week too.



I’ve still been continuing with my 3 gym sessions a week other than the time off for illness, but I will probably drop these from next week heading into the taper, as I want to feel as fresh as can be on race day. I have been terrible at going to yoga again but might try and get some sessions in during the taper. Overall my body is feeling OK right now, and it’s just about keeping it fit, healthy and injury and illness free before race day. Kind of frustrating that I’ve managed to stay injury free but have been sick on two occasions which has set me back a bit, I’m glad I built a spare 2 weeks into my training plan for this kind of thing.


My nutrition has been pretty good over the last few weeks. We were on holiday in Amsterdam in March and we had my family visit then we had Easter where we were in Wales, so there was quite a lot of eating out, but since then I’ve really focused on nutrient density, with big smoothies, salads and going with my appetite and whatever my body wants or doesn’t want after long runs.

The focus for the final few weeks is a final higher mileage week and then 2 weeks of taper. I can’t believe the race is only 2 and a half weeks away now- it has really come around so soon. My biggest fear is that my period is due right around the time of the race, and after having to pull out of the marathon in March with period pain, I know that if that happens it is unlikely I will be able to run, so I just have to keep everything crossed that it either comes early, or very late and doesn’t ruin my race!

Week 13: 14m (Drop week and illness)
Week 14: 22m (Illness and finishing drop week)
Week 15: 62m
Week 16: 51m


Building the base

I haven’t updated here in ages, I wasn’t sure whether to let the blog go, as I am currently in the process of setting up a site for my nutritional therapy business and planning on a much more nutrition focused blog over there. I haven’t felt like writing here for a while, I think perhaps I’ll keep this blog and just focus on my training (when there is any), without any pressure to blog to a schedule or hammer out a certain amount of content per week.


I haven’t run a race since the SDW50 last April, which feels kind of insane to me. I’ve been through a few years of  signing up for and running a lot of races, so last year was definitely on the sparse side. I have a few dates in the diary for some ‘training’ races in Feb/March so I’m looking forward to being part of that race environment again. I do miss the feeling of race day, and even pre-race day excitement, and I’m going to be properly nervous come end of Feb when it’s time for my first race in around 10 months.

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I worked pretty hard through December on my running. I completed my third Advent Running challenge and fourth Marcothon, and achieved my goal of starting Jan with a solid base of training behind me. I started December running wise at somewhat of a low ebb, I had spent the previous 8 months falling in love with strength training again and running just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I think the love waned and as my cardiovascular fitness also took a nosedive, it became really difficult for me to want to get out and run. It was hard, so I wasn’t enjoying it, and I wasn’t willing to put the work in at the time to improve the situation. I felt like a beginner again, and it’s easy when you are regularly running higher mileage and longer runs to forget exactly how hard it can be to get out the door sometimes.

December streaking has been amazing for me for rediscovering my running love and improving my fitness. I ended December having run more miles than the previous 3 months combined, I felt fitness and running strength come back and day by day running became easier, breathing became easier, and just putting my trainers on and getting out the door became easier, I had found my running mojo again, I just had to put some work in to locate it.

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January has seen me following a training plan (currently on week 3) for the first time since April, it’s nice to add some loose structure to my running and it does force you to get out there whatever the weather may be. I still have motivation highs and lows, but I know that every session I put in, I’m getting stronger, I’m building the foundations for the next few months and I’m going to be increasing likely to want to get out there next time. It’s all about keeping on with routine and keeping the momentum going.

I’m still trying to maintain some strength work, and trying to get to the gym for 3 sessions a week (has dropped to two lately though), as well as following Kinetic Revolutions 30 day program which I just completed and will be repeating for some pre-hab.

2017 so far: The mileage is increasing, the hill-work is increasing, the endurance is increasing and most importantly the running love is increasing. Time to continue building the base.


My First DNF

Yesterday, I lined up to start the Endurancelife CTS Sussex ultra, I started the race, but I did not finish, I had to drop out at half way due to toe problems, my feet hurt a lot, but quitting hurt a lot more.


I was a little nervous about the hills and trails as I just hadn’t been able to do as much trail running as I would have liked during my training, hence why I signed up for the event to use it as my last long training run before SDW50 in 3 weeks time.


I felt decent at the start, and good for the first few miles despite the undulations. However by the time I got to 10 miles I knew something wasn’t right. I had chosen to wear Salomon Speedcross which I had only used a few times in training. Every step downhill, my toes were slamming into the end of the shoe, and in the end the trauma of this became too much for my feet. I couldn’t run downhill at all from about 10 miles on, and by the time I reached 16 miles I couldn’t run on the flat or uphill either- in fact I could barely walk. I was having a really tough time of it and just wanted to be at home with my other half and my puppy- it was my birthday too!


I had thought for the previous few miles I would drop down to marathon distance, but as the pain became greater and the finish point came into view (I did not know we would be passing it at this point), I decided to call it a day at 17.5 miles- I called my other half to talk through it, and knew I was making the right decision. I had a cry- not because of the dropping out, but because I was in a lot of pain. The course intersected with the 10k here, and a lot of people passed me with words of encouragement “come on”, “you can do it”, I wanted the ground to swallow me up, I was embarrassed and just wanted to get out of there.


I made the rather painful walk back to the race HQ, where people had finished the ultra, half, 10k. I just grabbed my stuff, and had to get out of there. The course and the finish are a lonely place to be, when you haven’t achieved what you set out to do. Thanks to everyone who stopped to ask if I was OK on the course. I was gutted to have to drop out, but knew it was the right decision with SDW50 in 3 weeks, and as I can’t walk this morning perhaps I should have stopped even sooner.I don’t know what’s going on with my feet, I’ve never had issues before, and now I have a shoe issue going into SDW50 as I have no idea what to wear.

I’ve got 3 weeks to sort my feet, and my head out too- this was a big dent in my confidence, and not the way I wanted to go into my goal race. I need to do a lot of thinking and pick myself up for the next one, but my head is full of doubts right now. I feel under-prepared due to my lack of trail prep, and I feel a bit foolish that I haven’t even been doing the basics like running in the gear I intended to wear.


Oh the irony.

This is all a bit negative, so I should point out that the course is beautiful, and it’s a stunning part of the country. It is a hilly beast though, and I found it tough going. It has as much elevation gain across 34 miles as SDW50 does across 50 miles. If I can take any positives, at least I got some hills in, and found that I can’t wear those shoes in future. Silver lining.

I think when you regularly sign up for long distances, there is a point that will come when you have to drop out of an event, I had just been lucky in that it hadn’t come until yesterday. I need to use this as a learning experience, and pick myself up and move on, there is always another race. The challenge that lies ahead is to get back on my feet and forget about the failure.