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I continued to train at a lower rate, starting the month with Rudolphs Romp (24 miles), and then sticking at the shorter stuff until my problem could be diagnosed. Dr Martyn Speight measured my drop in performance from similar races such as 10 miles and 5km from a year previous and the rate of slowing was in the region of 14% with similar training mileages. This drop off could not be simply attributed to age and a batch of blood tests were done. The results soon arrived and only one imbalance could be found that was believed could be the problem. A trip to my GP gave me some medication to correct this, the initial lower doses not having any impact, but on doubling the dose around Christmas there was almost an immediate effect and could not believe the difference. I finished the year in cold and windy conditions with the Winter Wonderland Marathon.
I did a few events, but mainly in very poor weather. The month started with the Guisborough Moors Race, the following week was the Kilburn Kanter (24 miles) in very heavy rain and the week after was the Wensleydale Wedge (23 miles). This event had a big diversion due to the floods and after much knee deep water in the first 6 miles I was not brave enough to risk running off road in potentially deeper streams and bits of debris blown around in the strong winds and returned to base, Bill has already done this before I stopped. The notable differences in my performance were not just my lack of speed but also my lack of endurance now where I seemed to be stiffening up quite early and felt as though I had lost much muscle mass and a trip to the sports medicine doctor in Guisely was needed to see Dr Martyn Speight.
I have had an easy month with much strengthening and very little running. My hip needs to strengthen and be pain free to start my next training block. My planned event for December is taking a back seat for a while until I am strong enough to complete some longer ultras and good blocks of periodised training. The only good news is that I can now cycle again. Something that I had not been able to do for a couple of years since damaging my knee cap.
The main event for this month was Tooting Bec 24 hours. My hope was to break some British V50 records and went in with confidence. Barely 2 hours into the race while keeping the pace as slow as possible a small niggle in my hip returned that I had experienced in late July and early August. This niggle had allowed me to continue hard training and didnít think it was escalate, but it was my gluteus medius and it didnít like track running. By 6 hours it was steadily getting worse and stopped for some treatment soon after. It was apparent this was only going to get worse and could be out for a long time if I continued and there was little option but to retire. This race had been my focus for some time and was a disappointing event not to finish. The top ladies has some amazing results like last year, so it is disappointing that there will not be a Wolrd 24 hour event next year for them to shine.
I recovered quickly after Pantano and I was back training and racing within days and had another great month of performances in both long and short distances. I had a reasonable run around our local Hanging Stone Leap 24 miles after some very hard weeks of training. At the end of the month the plan was to run a 12 hour race, but with Bill having to work at the last minute it was a long drive to Boston, Lincs to run for 12 hours and drive home. I deliberately ran as slow as possible and soon the rain began to fall. This was a last long run to judge my fitness and pace for the impending 24 hour race in September. After 7 hours I was beginning to slow and had my answer and so called it a day soon after to rest up for the 24 hours.
We loved the 6 days of Pantano. It wasnít a good performance but we both thoroughly enjoyed the trip. The route is nearly 6km around lake Pantano. We camped in the bird sanctuary of Oasis, most athletes were accommodated in the log cabins. The food was plentiful and perfect for such as event. Much pasta and bread and fresh fruit. The temperature was scorching, but loved every mimute of it.
The race started well for me, but went rapidly downhill on day 2 and needed an extended break. Bill decided he would have a crack at the event as it looked so easy! I was astonished but bowed to his wishes and duly supported Bill with his run. Not surprisingly he called it a day after a respectful distance and vowed ďnever againĒ, and after a good nightís sleep I resumed running again and moved up the leader board. I had another brilliant day before heading downhill again and just enjoyed the rest of the event, running, walking, eating and sleeping and heading back down the leader board again. We learned much about the 6 days during the event and is an event I would love to return to.
A few days after arriving home it was then my turn to be an adjudicator for Sam Wakeling as he broke the 100 mile world record on a unicycle at Croft Circuit. A truly impressive feat and much respect for this tough sport! I was time keeper and lap recorder.
The last 4 weeks of the training programme have seen some improvements and as I near the end of the month the tapering has had an effect and pleased with my latest short races that are again giving me a little boost of confidence ahead of one big challenge. My dear friend and determined ultrarunner, Laurent Locke, has sponsored me with Hoka shoes and a brilliant Raidlight pack with front pouch that will be put to good use. Thanks Laurent.
One little highlight was watching the inspirational head teacher, Mick Mingstones of West Denton Primary School, start a 24 hour run and cycle with the children in support around the purpose built mountain bike trail in the school field. It was wonderful to watch such young children enjoy the exercise outdoors with their superb role model in action. The Olympic torch also did a good few laps with the children carrying it.
My work finished later this year working in Darlington until the end of term and had less than a week from finishing marking my last assignment to flying out to Italy and am very relieved to have the summer months free from work commitments now (but also no wages!). The event is the 6 days of Pantano and do hope to bring home a record or two, the small advantages of being a veteran runner. Bill will hopefully put a few facebook updates out and the odd tweet and the official website should also give updates on the progress of runners (http://www.6giornidelpantano.com/).
There were a couple of long runs this month, neither of which I tapered for and both were completed after a stressful week of work and long drives. For the Ridgeway 40 I ran far better than expected and finished strong after a 7 hour drive and only a few hours sleep. I finished first lady with only a handful of men ahead.
Next up was the Foxton 24 hours at Preston on the bank holiday weekend and travelling was again hard work. This was a first event for Stan Jewell at a superb venue with chip timing. My performance wasnít so good though. The Ridgeway 40 had given my confidence a much needed boost but lack of sleep and up early every morning to beat the rush hour traffic had left me tired and lacked concentration to keep moving. I never sleep in 24 hour races but early on was battling tiredness and with the goal simply to finish that is what I did, with a good break of 4 hours to rest. This also avoided the worst of the rain and came out to walk to finish the event with an incredibly poor distance which was somehow enough to finish as the first lady. I finished tired but injury free and only needed a couple of good nights sleep to recover and continue to build up for the next event.
The serious training started again with a 12 week programme, including all my usual components to try to improve and aim towards a goal at the end of June for a 6 day race. I did long runs every weekend up to marathon distance, but only did one trail marathon at Druridge Bay where I started very tired but completed this happy.
The challenge for this month was another treadmill run in the Spring break from University. I had been full on since the start of the year holding down 2 part time jobs, one at Darlington replacing the one in Edinburgh after Christmas for a term and reduced much of my travelling. Training had been going well despite much poor weather and snow, but there was still much work to do before getting back to my pre 2014 status.
At the beginning of the month I did the Barry 40 track race to see where I was at. My performance was pretty disappointing, hoping to maintain 9 minute miles for 6 hours to complete this. I did not taper for the event, did the usual parkrun the day before and after 3 hours the pace began to drop. I continued on happy in myself to be running but not pushing to my limits and completing the event easily in just under 6 hrs 30 minutes.
At the end of the month I was to attempt to run on the treadmill to try and break the 12 and 48 hour records and over 200 miles was needed for this. Despite having a few new fantastic crew on board it was something totally unexpected that ruined the performance. When I ran for 7 days on the treadmill I had regular break for testing and eating, the plan for the 48 hours was a non-stop performance similar to how 24 hours are run. This was to be my downfall. Running on a treadmill is a unique experience and knew previously I was always unstable on my feet every time I dismounted the treadmill. The cumulative effect of running continuously gave me motion sickness. I am never a great traveller and do get sea sick on rough crossings but had not anticipated this. I ran well and above my schedule for 9 hours until the sickness began and then struggled on by walking to narrowly take the 12 hour record. That completed I had a short break but was unable to run and relieve the sickness and the 48 hour record was slipping away. At 4am time was called and it was time to admit defeat. Yet more unfinished business!
Teesside University is a perfect venue for such an attempt, and the support of the technicians and crew absolutely faultless. Although it was disappointing not to complete the event, this has overshadowed the fact this I did exceed the existing Guinness World Record distance for 12 hours that will be submitted for ratification in the female discipline. I can (and will) do better. Thanks to all those involved and Teesside University.
The LIWA Challenge was exactly that, a real challenge. I thought that the soft sand would make this far tougher than other desert races and certainly got that right. After arriving at United Arab Emirates it was a few hours on a coach to the camp arriving in the early hours of the morning. There were lights everywhere and a burger van for dinner, yes, burgers! The camp was fantastic; big, spacious tents with proper beds and a light quilt and pillow. I was tired, forewent the burger and went straight to bed.
The next morning there were hot showers and proper toilets and went for a stroll with Paul Humphries, the only other British athlete, to the distant dunes in the direction the race would run in. The dunes were stunning, the sand very soft, the weather hot and windy.
Race day soon arrived and I was fit and ready for the challenge ahead. The soft sand and dunes were absolutely energy zapping, but quite fun too, initially watching the different routes the runners took and following the curves and ridges of the dunes. There were a few flat bits in between but was staggered at how slow the kilometres seemed to pass. On arrival at the first checkpoint I was surprised to ask for two bottles of water to realise I could hardly talk and was completely hoarse. This was worrying but felt fine otherwise. I continued on to checkpoint 2 and walked much of the way realising my breathing felt very restricted and the goal here was to finish. The wind was getting stronger and the sun disappearing in the haze of sand. I crunched sand with every mouthful of water and on the last section of dunes before dropping to checkpoint 2 my breathing became very poor and was gasping for breath even walking. I took several puffs on my Ventolin but this didnít feel like asthma and what felt like a large swollen lump in my throat. This made me even more anxious and was feeling quite dizzy and in bad shape arriving at CP2.
I rested for a bit under good guidance of the medics there and gradually my breathing returned to normal, but my voice had gone completely. It was a difficult choice on what to do next; did I carry on risking another such breathing episode at night in the middle of a desert with my GPS for navigating or call it a day. My legs were in fine shape, I didnít feel ill but I did feel very anxious about continuing and could not understand what had gone wrong so quickly. The language barrier was a little difficult, the medics were not keen for me to carry on and I was in a quandary with what to do. The clock was ticking and a decision had to be made and it was a sensible one based on the conditions rather then what my heart wanted and so called it a day (with a few tears I might add).
It took a while to get back to camp and a pretty hair-raising rally drive back through the dunes to a road and then over 120 miles per hour on a single track road. It was great to watch other runners appear over the horizon and the times of the top runners indicated what a challenge this route was. This looks like the toughest desert race out there, far harder than the Marathon des Sables that is quite easy by comparison. There is unfinished business here and look forward to experiencing the whole route next time.
Back home there was not much to explain what happened. I did have a slight cold the week I travelled but this had nearly gone by the start of the race. I have been told this stays in the body for 3 weeks, and with the almost sand storm conditions this must have affected my throat to restrict my breathing. I certainly think I did become anxious due to this that probably made me worse. It was not until the end of April that my voice completely returned to itís pre-LIWA status, but I was able to continue normal training.
South Africa was a wonderful experience and loved the friendly atmosphere and camaraderie of the Festival of Running. The 6 day race didnít exactly go according to plan but the goal of finishing running 6 days healthy and happy was easily achieved. The results were first lady with 568km (a very poor distance by my standards) and second overall. I had an ankle problem on day two that meant an enforced rest and treatment for 10 hours where I lost the lead. A slower running pace, walking some of the corners and I thoroughly enjoyed being out and taking part again. I learned much about sleeping for either 20 minutes or 90 minute cycles and whether rest on the first day is important as I never sleep when I rest.
The trip had mixed fortunes for the pair of us. Bill was poorly the night before flying out and nearly didnít travel and a tooth out hours before leaving home didnít help when half the root was left in and a swollen face results. Bill endured a cold, cold sores on his lips and insect bites on top of the sickness bug immediately before leaving. We missed our connecting flight and spent 1-6am on the floor of Doha airport in Qatar. Not ideal preparation but the ice-cream Bill had to eat on a daily basis helped him feel better.
There was a big shopping complex opposite the event which gave us access to anything needed. The 10 day race was already underway when we arrived and was easy to see the set up for what I was about to do. We travelled back within hours of finishing the race to get thoroughly pampered by my sister Julie in Cambridge for Christmas.
Although the race finished on 22nd December we arrived in the UK on 23rd December. By Christmas day I was ready to run a parkrun and somehow managed to beat Bill. This meant that all was well and despite being a little tired it was good to prove that I had come home injury free and the knee that I had been rehabilitating all year had held up fine and gave me no issues at all. This gave me confidence that I can now start a much better build and get back to the levels I used to run at.
For now the next ultra-race has already been entered, a desert race called Liwa Challenge in the United Arab Emirates. This race is a self-sufficiency race, carrying all food and survival kit and is 200km using GPS for navigation. This is billed as all sand, as many underfoot conditions can be encountered in a desert and sounds pretty challenging. I canít wait for more heat and sunshine after a very cold and snowy January. I write this at the end of January with my bag already packed for this next adventure leaving the UK on 7th February. I am not sure how good the internet will be but the website is www.liwachallenge.com and there was an article including me in Abu Dhabi Weekly. http://bit.ly/1wsFFAc