Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Thoosa Gear Review - Update

You may remember that we discovered Thoosa running gear last November, after meeting the company founder at the Broadway Tower Marathon.  She kindly provided a pair of ¾ length tights, a t-shirt, a skort and a long-sleeved top for Nic to test on the trails.  After months of wear, here's an update on how it's gone.

I’ve worn all the gear now, some more than others during the winter and long, cold spring.  The weather has been so poor, I haven’t had much opportunity to wear the summer gear yet.  However, the ¾ length tights and the long-sleeved top have been well worn!  Here are some of my conclusions:
Thoosa gear is in general really good quality.  The fabrics feel soft and hang well.  The colours are attractive and the cut is flattering.  I am a UK size 8, pretty short at 5ft tall and I do have curves.  I feel good in Thoosa clothing - it seems like a great deal of thought has gone into designing this range of clothing, which is great because running gear should look good as well as function perfectly.
My favourite item is the ¾ length tights – the Swifts.  I have worn them over and over again, clocking up at least 300 miles in them.  Most recently, I wore them for about 16-17 hours of a 24 hour trail running endurance event and like all the best pieces of running apparel, they didn’t cause me any problems whatsoever.  They are incredibly comfy yet supportive.  They have a fairly high waist and a wide waist band, so they never cut in and they never chafe.  The high waist is also flattering on me, as it doesn’t cut into my belly and show off my spare tyre too badly – always a bonus!!  One of the other fabulous features is the spacious pocket in the back of the tights – it is big enough to fit an average smartphone, which is great if you like listening to music or podcasts on your phone while on the move.  This was a particularly good thing for me during the wee small hours of my recent overnight race, allowing me to distract myself from the pain by listening to podcasts, without needing to carry anything extra to house my phone.  I’ve worn the Swifts with a waist-pack, again with no ill-effects.  And despite many, many hours of muddy running and the following washes they are showing very little sign of wear.  In short, they are a fantastic piece of kit.

After 16 hours in the Swift 3/4 Tights and 11 in the Chill top, no hint of  discomfort.

I’ve worn my Chill Half Zip long-sleeved top nearly as much as my capris this winter/spring!  It is made with bamboo, so it is incredibly soft and comfortable to wear.  It is pretty windproof, but I haven’t often over-heated in it.  It has long cuffs which you can also use to stick your fingers in instead of wearing gloves, which is pretty convenient on a chilly day.  Again, the pockets are great – it has two large pockets on the sides, which are the perfect size for a smartphone.  Last weekend, during Endure 24, I stopped to take a break at about 1am, as I was very tired.  After about 20 minutes of sitting still, I was freezing, so pulled on my Thoosa top.  A short run later, I was snug and warm again, but not over-heated, and the top didn’t come off until the finish eleven hours later, after the morning dawned cool and breezy.

I love the look of the City skort.  Being short, I often find that shorts, skorts and capris look silly on me as the length just isn’t right.  This skort is a lovely fit on me though.  The fabric feels really high quality – the shorts are light-weight, soft and snug-fitting, and the skirt feels heavier and hangs beautifully.

UPDATE: July 2013
I've finally found some hot and humid weather to give my skort a proper test.  I’ve never been able to wear a skort for a long period of time without suffering from chafed thighs, so I needed to see if this would be any different.  The shorts part certainly seems slightly longer than other skorts I’ve worn.  After a 2.5 hour trail run that had me dripping with sweat and a tough 10K road race in mist and drizzle, I'm pretty confident that the City skort won't leave me walking like John Wayne.  The skirt's light fabric didn't hold much moisture, and the shorts are just long enough to protect without ruining the nice appearance.  

Happy on trails

Failing to get a decent action still, Kurt decided to capture some video of me running in the City Skort and Swift Zip Tee.

I was really attracted to this tee because it has a collar.  I often run with a backpack, so a collar provides neck protection.  Not enough tee-shirts have collars, in my opinion!  I’ve worn the tee a few times, with and without a backpack, and like the rest of the range, it is well-fitting and comfortable.

Out for 4 hours of hilly pack training in  the Swift Zip Tee

It is very light-weight so I think it is great even in hot weather.  Now, if Thoosa can make a sleeveless version I'll be even happier.  My only criticism of this piece is that it does tend to crinkle after washing so doesn’t look as good as the other gear straight from the drawer.  I don’t intend to start ironing my running gear!

All in all, my Thoosa gear is what I wear over and over again, as not many other pieces of running clothing I own can match it for comfort and look.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Gear Review: Halo Sport Hat

I've been looking for a new hat ever since the Highland Fling, where my Inov-8 hat jumped ship in the woods, never to be seen again (at least not by me).  That hat had been with me for quite a few races, including my first trail marathon over 3 years ago, and although it wasn't my best running hat, and I have a few others, it was one I knew well.  So, as I set about finding a replacement, I considered all of the things I want out of a hat - decent bald-patch cover, light mesh, quick-dry, good visor, good sweatband.  Then, while Nic & I were wandering around the sponsors' stalls at Endure 24, I hit the nail on the head when we entered the Halo tent.  My dad tends to wear a Halo when cycling, as it fits nicely under a bike helmet, and I'd been moaning that it's hard to get a decent sweatband now that we've left the great sweatband era of the 1970s, so he presented us each with one when we went hiking in the Appalachians a few years ago.

Nic sporting her pink Halo sweatband on the Appalachian Trail.
We were discussing the merits of the sweatbands with Halo rep, Sarah, when Nic spotted the hats.  To be fair, her favourite hat is pretty beat up, and will never be "white" again, so she probably needed a replacement more than me.  Her interest gave me an excuse to have a good look, and I could tell immediately from the feel that I had found my replacement.  We bought one each - and here's why:

The Hat

The hat itself is very lightweight.  The synthetic fabric is a fine mesh throughout.  It's not loose enough  a weave to encourage insects to get stuck in it, but sufficiently open to allow descent airflow.  Adjustment is with a velcro strap, which is fairly standard.  On the visor, there isn't a lot of fabric, so when you pour water on your head, sweat loads, get rained on, or dip it in some runoff, you won't end up with a heavy hat.  This is a big improvement on my lost and beloved Inov-8 hat, which could get a bit weighty at the front.

The Sweatband

The sweatband is, after all, what makes this hat different from everything else.  Built into the hat, rather than a standard terry band that saturates after an hour or so, is a Halo headband.  The front of the headband has Halo's Sweatblock seal, which prevents fluids from dripping from the front of the headband.  Those living in hot countries will appreciate that this keeps sweat from dripping into their eyes.  Even when saturated, the headband only releases sweat from the sides of the seal.  I've occasionally (rarely) been sweaty enough to have any problems with a normal headband just from sweat saturation.

For me, the headband comes into its own when water is added to the hat - either because I pour a bit on my head or dip the hat in water to help cool down, or because my hot sunny British Summer's run includes an hour of rain.  I hate rain dripping down my face, so having a visor to keep it off my glasses  (when I'm not in contacts) and a sweatband that keeps it from dripping down the front makes an ideal sunshine & showers hat.

The front of the headband is independent from the visor, which makes for a  very comfortable fit.
Another great aspect of the internal headband is that it's not attached to the visor.  So, when you flex the visor to get a good fit, you don't end up with a bunched, gappy headband.  It also means you can push the visor back a bit if you want, but the headband stays in place.

Wear Test

After spending a bit of time looking at the hat in the tent, I decided to wear it during the 1st day of the race, which meant it got about 8 hours (~45mi) of wear before I got took it off to let the evening breeze blow through my hair.  Nic wore hers for around 9 hours, before replacing it with something warmer for the night run.  Her old hat is now firmly on the reserves shelf.

Two happy new hat-owners.

The headband, as expected, was comfortable throughout the run.  I'd worn the hat a bit in the morning to make sure I had the visor flexed like I wanted and the strap at a comfortable tension, and didn't need to do any adjusting on the run.

I went off a bit quicker than I probably should have, given the relatively warm weather, which meant that I was running hot after around 10 miles.  To cool back down, I had two options - slow right down, or get some cold water on my skin.  I did slow down a little, but I preferred the option of pouring cold water onto my head.  It worked very well - I cooled down quickly, the water stayed off my face, and the hat dried within a mile or so.

The only potential drawback I can see comes when in deep woods or woody single tracks.  Typically, in that situation I would turn the hat around so I have total visibility of branches at forehead level.  I've not tried this with the Halo hat yet, to see if there are any comfort problems with the Sweatblock strip on the back of my head.  I don't foresee any issues, but I won't know until I try it.

I've now had around 10 hours of hot & humid woodland hiking and running, with sweat dripping from pretty much every pore. I didn't suffer any discomfort with the hat on backwards.  An added bonus is that the adjustable strap is made from the sweatband fabric, so it kept the sweat at bay and dried quickly when I got into a breeze.


Simply put, it's a great hat for running.  I am confident it will keep sweat and rain out of my eyes.  It's cool, comfortable, and it looks good.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Endure 24: Chapter 2 - Food Enough and Time

Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
(From Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress")

Once upon a time, in a town far, far away, I used to ride 100-mile cycle races.  I also read a lot of westerns as a kid, and had read that in the dim and distant past, one of the tribes of the Great Plains had a “coming of age” trial for its warriors to run what we now know as roughly 100 miles in a single day.  Knowing how short a distance 100 miles actually is from my cycling and believing that running it should be possible, I’ve had a not-very-burning ambition to run 100 miles for about 25 years.  Since that first cycle century, ultra running has become a bit more mainstream, drawing me into its web.  Having enjoyed my Highland Fling experience, I decided to see if I really could move up to 100.  Not too far away from home, Endure 24 offered the chance to see just how far I could go in 24 hours. It also had the bonus of being held on a five mile trail loop, rather than the more traditional track or 1km road loop. Knowing I'm not really in the best shape (perhaps recovering from one race before running the next would help!), I knew the century would be around what I could do on the trails.

I suggested to Nic that she might like to enter with some friends as part of a relay (see how that idea worked out) and before I knew it the entries were in.  Mitch had already entered, as a bit of a fitness test, and I tried to get together a relay team from all the volunteers from our races.  I'm always amazed at how many people are willing to set aside their day to help make a race possible.  Somehow, though, they all had other places to be (several were doing more normal length races).  As it turns out, only Glenn had the combination of no injuries and available time.  Rather than a relay team, we ended up with a team of 4 solo runners.  Mitch aimed to finish at the front, Nic would keep going until she ran out of time or was dragged off the course, I wanted to reach that magic century, and Glenn was going to take his first step into the 30+ mile range.

The run up to the race was a bit odd.  My feet have been bothering me since before the Fling - something to do with repeatedly twisting my ankles, I expect.  Two weeks ago, I decided to do something totally radical and took a full week off running.  A little light hiking around Nic's birthday kept the legs moving, but a bit of recovery goes a long way.  With a few short runs in the final preparation week failing to ease my mind, I headed to Wasing Park wondering if I would be able to make it past the first lap before something snapped.

What are the chances of them ending up like this? (Nic painted hers blue in anticipation)

One of the great aspects of this race is the campground that suddenly appears around the start/finish.  Although the footing in the field was unpleasant, running past all the other competitors meant fantastic support as we wound about the tents.  Nic and I set up our tent just after the finish line, along the route among the other solo runners, where it was easy to create our own miniature aid station.  Being inexperienced at such distances, we had a buffet that was actually longer than the table set aside for all of the solo runners to use.  I think we had at least one of everything we've ever seen in anyone's drop bags and plenty of the stuff we normally eat on shorter ultras.  We both knew that a favourite food can suddenly taste awful on any given run, and wanted plenty of variety available.  After setting everything up on Friday, we relaxed into the evening, ready for Saturday's big event.  When I say relaxed, I talked non-stop and Nic tried womanfully to avoid wringing my neck to get me to shut up.  Glenn and Mitch were due to arrive on Saturday morning so they could set up in plenty of time before the noon start.

When Saturday finally arrived, sunny and warm with a steady northerly breeze, we were ready.  I had finally sunk into a terrified silence while I worked through the last-minute prep list.  It was Glenn's turn to gabble his nerves away for a few hours.  Mitch had a fairly strained look about him, let's politely call it his "game face".  Nic seemed nearly calm, the weeks of waiting were past.  We were all pretty happy to have a dry and sunny start.  Temperature control can be a bit of an issue, but we've seen so little sun  over the winter that it cheered the heart even as we applied the factor 30 and hoped to avoid those painful red stripes that happen when you're a bit slapdash.

Team Cotswold Running - Glenn, Nic, Kurt, and Mitch (Photo: Charmaine Mitchell)

The start area was a bit unusual as the solo runners politely "jostled" for position (who could get furthest to the back).  After the safety briefing which I was too nervous to properly take in (did I correctly hear something along the lines of "relay runners, try not to knock over the solo runners if they're in your way"?), we had the obligatory inspirational music to keep us going for a couple of minutes until noon, and then we strolled off on our way.  I was in such a non-hurry that it took me 20 seconds to get to the timing mat on the start/finish line - and I was towards the front of the solo runners.

Some of these folks were in a bit of a hurry.  Note the lack of green numbers for the solo runners.
(Photo: Charmaine Mitchell)

Ah, the running bit.  That's what you've been skimming along to get to, isn't it?  Lap 1, nice and easy in the sunshine.  It was fairly chatty, with plenty of "come here often?" kind of exchanges.  I ran the second half of the lap with Glenn, who was keeping half an eye on his heart rate to avoid blowing up.  Thankfully, he then left me behind.  It's very easy to jog along chatting with someone you train with regularly, but it could have been quite dangerous since we were effectively running different events - he would stop and take a break after his ultra and then do the odd lap towards the end with whichever of us needed some company.

Me & Glenn finishing the first lap

At the end of the lap I started what became an amusing trend.  I stopped at the tent to pick up a sandwich that I would eat over the first mile.  Sometimes I had a drink in hand - mostly during the first 5 laps due to the heat.  I only got to the 1km marker once or twice without food in hand.

Eat, run, eat, run, ad nauseum (Photo: Charmaine Mitchell)
After my second lap, I remembered there was a water station at the start line as well as the one at the half way point.  This station was just off the route behind a few ranks of waiting relay runners, so was easy to miss as I concentrated on deciding just what culinary delights would carry me through the next lap.  Mitch's wife Charmaine and daughter Hannah were taking some great pictures, but it seemed like every time I saw them I had my hands (and squirrel cheeks) full of food.

Charmaine had to do some walking to find me without food.
The running from there on, by and large, was uneventful and repetitive.  Jog along the road eating, walk up the hill (still eating), head onto the tracks and jog along to the next hill a few km away, get some water at the half way point, walk the hill eating anything I'd carried from the start, etc.  There were enough people to chat with as we passed and were passed, but very few that were going the same pace as me for any length of time.  So, although I had quite a sociable run with plenty of chit-chat with both relay and solo runners, I spent most of the race in my head.  There wasn't much going on in there, to be fair, so it wasn't a stressful place to be.

Great scenery made for an enjoyable Saturday afternoon

The route had an excellent variety that made it very easy to chunk.  All of my pre-race organisation was broken into 5-lap blocks - roughly marathons, but on the run I tried to think in laps.  I enjoyed one of the early laps (maybe lap 2, possibly 3), chatting with Jim Seaton who had only returned from a long-haul business trip the day before.  For most of the first daylight section after that, we crossed paths as our refueling stops varied.  Eventually he left me behind to finish 2nd, lapping me twice.  I also enjoyed regular exchanges with Janine, who was power walking wearing a duck outfit as part of her fundraising, and had a great chat with a relay runner named Steve (I think, it was late and I was tired) whose team had enjoyed lager and pizza for dinner.  So many runners, so many good chats, so many people whose names I can't remember!  I'd have loved a pepperoni pizza at 2am, but we never could figure out logistics for enjoying it either fresh and hot or properly next-day cold, so it was one food item that never made it into the buffet.

With no watch, it was hard to tell if I was keeping a consistent pace or not.  My stops at the buffet table were fairly short unless I needed a kit change or comfort break.  The longest stop in this first marathon block was a quick chat with Nic after my 5th lap.  It was great to see her, if only to tell her about the water station at the start line.  Being petite, she had only seen the wall of relay runners and was managing her hydration based solely on the half-way water stop.  The half-way "watering hole in the woods" was a real highlight of the route.  The jolly couple who worked it for the entire event kept the cups coming and were a source of cheer at all hours.  It was a welcome oasis, but I saw the inviting stop as a danger to momentum and just grabbed some water and walked up the nice hill around the corner.  It was an ideal spot for eating crisps, as the hill was close enough to the water stop, so I did in fact carry crisps for 2.5 miles just to eat them on that hill (more than once).  It's amazing how concentrating on not smashing your food helps you keep your hands relaxed!

Nic testing out the chairs at the Watering Hole on our pre-race walk

Running only on feel, with a time check every 5 miles, was surprisingly not a problem.  I knew the first lap was going to be a little too fast, and hoped to keep it slower than 45 minutes.  After that, I hoped to be in the 50-55 minute range for a few laps, and to not drop below 70 minute laps until after dark.

As the second block started, I ticked off the actual marathon (approximately 4:30), and was feeling decidedly knackered.  The heat was taking its toll.  In reality, the weather was stunning and perfect walking and camping weather.  I'd say it got up to all of 23C.  Given the extended cold Spring, though, the effect was as though it was actually a hot day.  I had my first bottle of TORQ Energy on this 6th lap, quite a bit earlier than I'd hoped to.  It was scheduled for morning, when I was likely to be running on sugary things rather than food.  I normally run long races on water and get my salts/sugars through food, because that way I don't have to worry about my pack bladder getting all manky if I forget to clean it out when I get home.  But, with the amount of water I was drinking, I felt it would be a good idea to have some thicker fluids to keep from getting a "sloshy" belly.  It seemed to work well, so I decided to have some salt tablets when I got to the end of the lap.

By this time, I was starting feel pretty rubbish, to be honest.  I started to think about what a good idea giving up would be.  After all, my feet had been sore for so many weeks that I was surely going to end up seriously injured and unable to run for months, so wouldn't crawling into my sleeping bag be the best in the long-term?  During this point in an ultra, as the body reaches the marathon distance, I'm pretty sure most of the muscles are sending messages to the brain along the lines of "we got you through a marathon, now go have a beer and talk about it while we rest, you idiot".  So, with all this whinging from feet, legs, back, hips, etc., the brain starts to justify stopping.  I had just agreed with myself to have an extra little walk when I saw Glenn and Nic about half a mile behind me as we all wound our way around the field.  We cheered each other on, and then I saw the one thing that I'd hoped not to at that point - Mitch.  He was bombing along at a ridiculously fast pace (9:30/mi looks fast when you're doing 12).  We shouted a bit of "encouragement" to each other and I quietly swore.  There would be no walking on the flats with Mitch in view - he would give me some serious grief (deservedly) when he finally caught up to me.  A few salt tablets and yet more food at the tent and I shuffled off.  By the time Mitch caught me I was feeling less bad and settled into a fairly consistent pace that would hold for the next 40ish miles.

Mitch on the move (Photo: Charmaine Mitchell)

The start of lap 8 broke the pattern of several years of racing.  My feet and ankles were killing me, but the rest of my body was feeling pretty good, so I took a couple of paracetemol (Tylenol) and headed out.  I haven't taken painkillers before or during a race of any distance since I recovered from an achilles injury in 2008.  After spending many weeks managing inflammation and pain from that injury,  I generally prefer to know what hurts and work with it or around it.  But, with 17 hours left to go, I figured it was a good time to break that rule.  I washed them down with a cup of instant coffee and proceeded to have two of the best laps of the race - they weren't the fastest, but they felt good compared with the two before.   It was also finally starting to cool down as the sun set, which helped a great deal.

With the foot pain alleviated, I just concentrated on my impending 50mi PB.  Considering my only other 50 was the Highland Fling, and the hills on this course weren't really even big enough to use as hill training, it would have been a travesty for me not to set a new PB.  Finishing 50 in 9:26 was made even better by seeing Nic at the end of the lap.  She was about to start the lap that would take her past her previous furthest run of 41 miles.  From that lap forwards, we would both be enjoying that "wow, I've never run this far before" feeling with every step.  Unfortunately, Glenn's body hadn't been enjoying all the rough underfoot in the field, and he'd had to slowly hobble his 7th lap to get to his minimum target. On the plus side, he stopped before totally ruining himself and has now run an ultra.

My next target was 100km.  To me, that was "just another couple of laps and I'll have a 100km PB".  At some point, I realised that, without a watch, I wouldn't actually know what the time was when I got to 100km.  I also celebrated reaching the milestone twice - once at 2km into the 13th lap (60mi + 2km = 100km, right?) and once when I got half way around and was a bit clearer in my head (60mi + 2.5mi = 62.5mi, 100km~62.5mi).  Running sucks blood away from your brain, making basic arithmetic somewhat difficult.  I'm hopeful that I'm not going to be permanently more stupid than I was last week as a result of this race, but only time (and my next race entry) will tell.  Anyway, I reached 100km in approximately 12:20, so I now have a target for the future.

Towards the end of the lap, Mitch caught me up again, but wasn't his usual bubbly self.  He'd picked up an injury that was bad enough to make him think seriously of stopping.  He was struggling to the extent that after a short chat he stopped for a walk and started to drop back again.  I knew he was in trouble because he was very quiet, and was walking on a flat.  I've only ever known Mitch to walk anything other than the steepest of hills when he was keeping someone company or was about to pass out, so when we regrouped at the tent I didn't push him to keep going.  As we chatted about his ailing leg, Nic appeared from the tent where she'd been having a short break to stop the ground from wobbling about so much.  I was stopping to add some luke-warm water to dried noodles, and felt pretty wobbly myself, so suggested we walk together for a bit.  As she tried to make a cup of tea, I could see she was shivering pretty badly.  I left Mitch to his own devices and ordered Nic to go put on another top and then to get walking to get her body warm again.  I caught her up once I'd filled my waistband with some more food for the second half of the lap and got her jogging until she was warm again.  By this time, we'd reached my feeding station (the first hill), but my noodles were still rather crunchy, so we kept walking at a reasonable pace and chatting by torchlight.  I eventually got to eat my "dinner" and Nic was again in good spirits, so I carried on jogging and she kept a good speed walk going.

By this time, we were well into the night run.  I quite enjoyed the light being thrown by my head torch, and never really felt like I was running in the dark.  I did, though, struggle to regulate my temperature.  The baking hot field had become cold and windswept, while the woods were sheltered and a gentle cool.  I added a long-sleeve baselayer for the dark hours, and had the sleeves and zip up and down repeatedly in response to the little microclimate changes along the course.

Cool and dark, must be time for some malt loaf (Photo: Charmaine Mitchell)

The wee small hours were, as I expected, a bit of a trial.  I was starting to get tired and by 2am was finding it a little hard to concentrate.  Trail running requires at least a basic constant awareness of the ground ahead, and at night this can be particularly difficult.  I had plenty of light, but my brain wasn't processing images as quickly as it ought to and I tripped on a stone that I had thus far managed to avoid 13 times.  I managed somehow not to face-plant on the rocky path, but the trip jarred my least-good toe, reawakening all of the nerves I had pummelled into submission over the previous 67 miles.  By the time I got back to the start, my feet were again shouting at me.  As the hours wore on, I felt the wheels starting to come off.  In the final dark lap, I finally dropped below 4mph and I took an extended stop before the sunrise lap to add some layers because I had decided that I needed to walk a lap.

The extra rest of a walking lap must have done some good for my body, but the brain was no more useful than it had been before the walk.  When I got back to the start I was ready to start lap 18, I had a quick check with the relay runners who were looking at the computer with live updates on it (I wasn't going to walk an extra 30 feet just for that!), and they kindly informed me that I was about to embark on lap number 17.  In my head, I'd just finished 17, but wasn't too surprised that I'd lost count.  It was 5:30am and I was tired, so I shrugged it off, changed shoes, dropped some layers, and headed out to run lap 17 again.

The shoe change was something I'd been thinking about for a while.  I had been wearing my trusty Inov-8 Roclite 295, but my feet were in mutiny. I'd actually meant to change the lap before, but forgot by the time I got to the tent.  I needed extra cushion and different pressure points.  I changed socks as well, because I had to take them off to check for external damage.  The skin was in pretty good condition, with no significant blistering or tenderness.  It felt nice to put on some cold socks, and the pair of Brooks Cascadia 7 needed to be loosened a bit but overall felt fine - it was only their second run, but they worked out well on their first outing so they got to make the trip as first reserve.

Laps 17-19 were pretty good.  I had switched from food to gels as I got tired of chewing.  At some point in this early morning run, the phrase "world enough and time" popped into my head.  I couldn't remember where it came from, but it seemed to suit the context and it's been on my mind ever since (I now know it was Andrew Marvell, who's literary extension of "life's too short" includes some lovely turns of phrase).  I took my final round of painkillers (2 paracetemol + 2 ibuprofen) at the start of lap 18 and was able to happily knock out a 1:09 (nearly 14min/mi felt like sprinting), my fastest lap for 30 miles.  When I got to the end of lap 19, I thought I would just double-check I hadn't miscounted again and was told I had just completed my 18th lap.

To say I was distraught would be an understatement.  I had time to get in 2 more laps, but the analgesia was hardly touching the pain in my feet now, and I wasn't about to take any more pills.  I got back to the tent and saw that both Glenn and Mitch had decamped and headed home.  Considering neither could walk particularly well enough to stay warm and that the campsite was now cold, windy and not the place to be with injuries, I could understand the decision (to be honest, I was amazed they hadn't packed off earlier), but it meant that the debate I'd been having in my head when feeling good an hour before was easily decided.  I was not about to have Nic finish her race with nobody at the line to cheer her in, there would be no extra lap.

I swore all the way up the hill back into the woods, venting my frustration at my inability to tell time and count while running, as well as berating my fickle feet and pretty much everything else that had been bothering me in recent weeks.  After about a mile, I finally accepted that I had everything I needed to do yet another lap if I wanted to except for willpower.  This would be the last one, and I would have to settle for 95 miles.  I was broken, and that was that.

As I continued with lap 19 (again!) I chatted with other soloists and the volunteers on my farewell lap of the route I had come to know better than some of my regular training routes.  By the time I got back to the field, the relay teams were all up and about, taking down tents, and cheering everyone who came through.  Donnington Way 105 winner Peter Heald and his friends had staked out a vantage point at the end of the field and had been cheering and doing the wave and goodness knows what else to keep spirits high, so I stopped very briefly for a final chat.  I carried on along the campsite and thanked all the people who had been encouraging me through every lap, and tried not to cry - I really didn't need to lose a contact lens at this stage.  With about half a mile to go, I saw Nic enter the field.  I cheered her on and as soon as she was out of sight promptly slapped myself to stop the tears running down my face (it worked).  Then I got a bit of a shuffle on so I could get to the car in time to get my phone out and get back to the finish to take a picture of her crossing the line.  Race training kicked in and I noticed another soloist not far behind me, and I broke into a proper run.  I had no idea how many laps he'd done, but I knew I wasn't going to lose a place just 200m from the finish.  It felt great to put on some speed, and even better to know I was nearly finished.

I crossed the finish line with plenty of time to start another lap if I wanted to, and promptly exchanged my timing chip for a finisher's medal.  I expect I had quite a happy if somewhat shattered look on my face.  I managed to get some pictures of Nic and gave her a big hug and we were both hugely relieved to have made it to the end.  In hindsight (you know, when the pain is less and the beer has kicked in), we thought it would have been great to do one last slow walking lap together to get me that 100 miles.  I spend much of the afternoon and evening wondering how I'd screwed up the time calculations even more badly than usual, and chalked it up to being tired.

On Monday, when the official results came out (I'd checked Nic's results on-site but stupidly didn't check mine), I found out that I had, in fact, only miscounted the first time and had completed the 100 miles.  I also learned I'd finished in 8th place - and that doing another lap would have still had me in 8th place, so stopping when I did was just fine and dandy.

Having started the race just hoping to complete (Plan C), I am pleased to have achieved Plan B (100mi).  Plan A will just have to wait for another day.  Now, it's time for the first planned non-running week since 2011.  If I can cope, I may even make it 2 weeks.

3 out of 4 ain't bad, and the 4th will recover in a day or two.

Food and Drink (that I can remember):
2.5 turkey & mustard sandwiches
1.5 peanut butter & banana sandwich
1 houmus sandwich
1/2 a malt loaf (with butter)
handful of pretzels
3 lunch-sized bags of Squares (a particular kind of salt and vinegar potato chips for the non-UK readers)
1 pot of strawberry rice pudding (if only I'd remembered it earlier!!)
2 homemade oatmeal raisin cookies
3 fig rolls (aka fig Newtons for the US readers)
1 luke-warm spicy chicken mug-shot
handful of breaded chicken nuggets
3 small cups of coffee
5 TORQ Ginger & Pineapple bars
2 TORQ Energy uncaffeinated gels
2 TORQ Energy caffeinated gels
1.5 litres TORQ Energy Lemon-Lime flavoured drink
.5 litre TORQ Recovery Strawberry & Cream flavoured drink
.5 litre chocolate milk
gallons of water
3 salt tablets
2 ibuprofen
6 paracetemol

Monday, 10 June 2013

Endure 24: Chapter 1 - Believe and It Will Happen!

Nic has been off to the races again, and her view of the Endure 24 is below.  If she keeps having this much fun I'm going to have to make her a page of her own!

I ran my first ultra last September and loved the experience of running long.  If I hadn’t had so many other commitments in the winter of 2013, I probably would have entered another, but I didn’t have enough time to fit in the training.  A few months ago, Kurt started talking about an event called Endure 24, an event where runners would complete as many 5 mile laps of a trail as possible in 24 hours.  He wanted to try and run 100 miles.  At first, I wasn’t particularly interested, until I saw an old friend in March.  He was asking about my running and I made a throwaway comment that kept coming back to me – I said “I’ll never be a fast runner, but if I’m running the right pace I could run for 24 hours.”  This got me thinking… could I really keep going for 24 hours?  Not long after, I had an evening out with my friend Claire Parry, who has MS and is trying to raise funds to get to India for a radical treatment called HSCT.  I’d only had a glass of wine or two so I was fully compus mentus when I suggested that I could help with the fundraising effort by entering Endure 24.  I thought it would be pretty unlikely that anyone would sponsor me to do a marathon, as I’ve done quite a few already.  People would be more likely to give me money for doing something which most of them think is quite bonkers.

So, I set up a fundraising page and upped the ante on my training.  I didn’t really go out and do super-long runs.  The furthest I went was 20 miles.  But I did lots of back-to-back running, where I’d do a long run, followed the next day by another longish run and then try to run again the next day.  I needed to know I could run on tired legs.  I’ve never been brilliant at training – the highest mileage week I managed was 37 miles.  So as the weeks ticked by, I started to feel a little anxious about how I was going to cope with running for 24 hours.  I didn’t set myself a mileage goal, I simply wanted to keep going, keep moving forward, to endure for 24 hours, whether running or walking.  I hoped I would be able to reach in the region of 60 miles.  Not thinking about mileage too much kept it manageable.  I’ve worked enough nightshifts and done enough long-haul travel to know that I can keep going for a very long time.  I would just need to draw on this experience.

Endure 24 takes place at Wasing Park, which is near Aldermaston in Berkshire.  We drove down on Friday, my little car fully loaded with our camping gear and lots of food.  We set up our tent, then sat in it for an hour or so listening to the rain.  I did feel a bit despondent at this stage.  I was in a very bad mood and poor Kurt had to bear the brunt of it as usual!  Where is the fun in camping and running in the rain?  However, soon the rain cleared to bright sunshine and my mood lifted with the clouds.  I was feeling ready!  We walked the five mile loop that afternoon and were quite surprised to find a few hills:  a long drag at the start to 1 km, a short sharp climb between 2 and 3km and another steepish climb at just after 4km.  It was a very pretty course though, mostly through beautiful woodlands, where the rhododendrons were in full bloom.  The final mile was a wiggly loop of the start-finish / camping field that was pretty unpleasant underfoot – very hard and rutted, great for spraining ankles if you’re unlucky.  We tried to relax for the rest of the day, chatting to those around us and doing the most important thing:  eating!  Endure 24 had put on some nice live music, which we enjoyed from the sunny spot in front of our tent while sipping a nice glass of wine.

Small lake with big carp

Rhodies galore

Ankle-breaker Field

I slept pretty well considering.  Race day dawned bright and breezy.  Our friends Glenn and Mitch arrived, Mitch with his wife Charmaine and kids Hannah and Adam.  Glenn was aiming to do his first ultra and Mitch was running to win.  After multiple warm-up trips across the field to the portaloos (ah the glamour) and lots of eating, lubing and organising of food and kit, noon finally arrived and we lined up.  Most of the field was made up of team runners – there were only 73 solo runners and we were competing to get closest to the back of the field!  My aim was simply to run at a comfortable pace for as long as I could and to keep moving forward as long as I could.  I ran a couple of laps with a nice lady called Clara.  We thought we would try and stick together and keep each other going as we seemed to be about the same place.  But after two laps, she was struggling and I wasn’t so I kept going on my own.  I actually revelled in running alone.  It was beautiful in the woods, just hearing the crunch of gravel underfoot and the birds singing, occasionally passing the time of day with other runners.  I continued in this vein for a long time, keeping a nice easy steady pace.  I was regularly passed by the super-speedy relay runners, and also by Mitch and Kurt which was lovely.  Glenn also caught up to me at about 20 miles and we ran a lap together.  Unfortunately, he’d suffered a knee injury early on and was struggling.  He did manage to pull out his first ultra though, doing 35 miles.

Team Cotswold Running - Glenn, Nic, Kurt, & Mitch (Photo Charmaine Mitchell)

I felt great until about 30 miles.  It was a warm sunny day.  Great for spectating, and in the woods the temperature was pleasant.  But the long lap in the open field which felt like a furnace was taking its toll and I was getting tired.  I was eating at the end of each lap, but I started to struggle and feel a bit negative.  I was only a quarter of the way through the 24 hours – I couldn’t imagine ever getting to the end.  I had to really focus on the reason why I was running in the first place – to raise money for my friend – to keep me going.  After 30 miles, I sat down for the first time and had a chat to Glenn and Charmaine.  I’d also just been passed by Mitch, who was also suffering, but who was now in first place!  I had some food and got going again.  A little sit down worked a treat and I felt fine and positive again.  I started Facebooking at 30 miles, which was a great boost as my friends had left so many messages of support on my page and I got a huge response to my status updates.  They really kept me going and made me smile.  The next milestone was 40 miles, as this was my previous furthest run.  I don’t remember much about this part of the run, aside from relief that the heat had gone out of the sun.  I put on some extra layers and donned my headtorch.  I was looking forward to experiencing running in the dark and enjoying the peacefulness of the woods.  I did really love the first lap I did in the darkness.  It was such a different experience and I felt quite intrepid.  The route was marked with glowsticks and looked very pretty.  Other runners continued to speed past me – so impressive that the relay runners maintained such high speeds in the dark.

Short chat over a few drinks - how romantic (Photo Charmaine Mitchell)

The next bad patch came at about 50 miles, or around midnight.  The fatigue was really setting in and I wanted so badly to stop.  I decided to take a short break in the tent.  Glenn and Charmaine had gone to bed, so there was no one to talk to.  I set the clock on my phone for 30 mins in case I fell asleep and closed my eyes.  I don’t think I slept, just rested.  After about 20 mins, I started to get really cold, so roused myself and prepared to move again.  Just then, Kurt and Mitch arrived at the tent.  I was so pleased to see them!  Kurt was doing well, Mitch not so much, having picked up an injury.  We left him sat down, wondering whether to continue.  After standing outside the tent waiting for Kurt to make himself some instant pasta, I had got very cold and was shivering uncontrollably.  Kurt ordered me to run up the first hill, which I did and soon got warmed up.  Hypothermia was a real possibility at this point, but thankfully I was ok.  We walked/jogged together for a little while before he left me alone again.  I just kept going, listening to podcasts, having the odd chat, but mostly I was in my own little world, with only the beam of my headtorch to look at.  I decided to walk the next lap, as I was so sleepy I didn’t feel safe to keep running.  I was worried about tripping and falling and walking seemed a less risky option.  I knew I only had another lap before daylight and hopefully a new lease of life.  A lovely lady team runner from Reading Roadrunners, called Kim, came up behind me and we got chatting.  She was very talkative and asked me lots of questions which was exactly what I needed.  She was walking due to an injury, so we walked the lap together and I was totally lifted out of my fatigue.  Thank you so much Kim!  She handed over the next runner and I started running again.  I hadn’t set myself a mileage goal, but I’d hoped to reach 60 miles in 24 hours.  I had done it!  And I was still going!

Getting plugged in and ready for the night shift (Photo Charmaine Mitchell)

Day had dawned, and I was glad to ditch the headtorch.  I was tired but ok and still able to run.  Glenn was up and about again so I had someone to chat to during my short breaks.  I was gleaning a huge amount of strength from my friends on Facebook.  Sadly, Mitch had had to pull out after 15 laps, with a very healthy lead, due to injury.  Kurt was still going strong.  I knew I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, I was in the last phase of the 24 hours and I started to truly believe I could do it.  At just under 70 miles, there was an almost disaster as my Achilles tendon started to object.  I had a huge pain and then another and I thought something had popped.  Shit.  I walked along gingerly and it was sore but I could keep going.  I tried to jog on it and felt ok so I kept going.  When I reached Ankle Breaking Field, I did stop and walk to try and minimise the stress on it.  I sat down in the car at the tent and seriously considered whether to continue.  I’d completed 20 hours, 70 miles, a fantastic achievement but I would have felt a failure.  I had a long discussion with Glenn and Mitch.  The tendon felt tender but I could still move.  While I could still move, I had to keep going.  I took some ibuprofen, had some more food and carried on.  I started at a jog, and before long, my lovely Kurt caught me up.  He was in good spirits and we had a nice chat.  Seeing him gave me another huge boost.  He had one more lap to do to make it to 100 miles – I was bursting with pride for him.  I decided at this point that the best strategy was to walk for the rest of the race.  I could make it to 80 miles, or 16 laps.  I would finish under 24 hours, but not with enough time to justifiably do a 17th lap.  I probably could have run a bit more of lap 15, but I didn’t.  By lap 16, I was exhausted but felt elated knowing it was my last lap.  The cheers from the relay teams and supporters around Ankle-breaker Field in the last mile was amazing and I kept crying.  Writing this now makes me cry.  I saw Kurt ahead of me across the field, about ¼ of a mile ahead of me, waving and blowing me kisses.  It was all I could do not to sob!  With joy, obviously.  I ran over the line having done 80 miles, 16 laps, in 23 hours 27 mins.  Kurt was there waiting for me with a big sweaty hug, and I think we both had a few sobs in between the delirious laughter.  He was a little disappointed as he thought he’d run 20 laps, but in fact he’d lost count and the computer said he’d ‘only’ run 19 laps, or 95 miles.  He chose not to do another lap as he felt quite broken and just needed to finish.  This morning, with the official results online, it turns out he was right and he did run his 100 miles – I’m so thrilled for him!  Thankfully, I did manage to keep count correctly – 80 miles, 6th place lady!

That was fun, right!?

I’m feeling pretty sore today, but not that much worse than after 40 miles.  I am quite astounded by it all.  Probably the most dangerous realisation is that I know now I can run 100 miles – if I want to.  Something tells me it will only be a matter of time….  I have raised more than £1000 for my friend Claire’s cause.  And the support and encouragement I’ve had from my family and friends has been incredible.  One very happy girl today!