In four weeks time I am hoping to take part in my second ultra marathon. Last year, I was lucky enough to complete the beautiful Race to the King on the South Downs Way. This was 53.5 miles of painful, exciting, brutal and ultimately incredibly rewarding steps. This year, I am hoping to complete the sister event, the Race to the Stones, on the Ridgeway in the Chilterns. It is a longer distance – 62 miles or 100km – but equally hilly. Over the 100km, I’ll be climbing 1,000m.
As I completed the second of my very long training runs on Saturday, I was oddly excited about what lay ahead. I also had lots of time to reflect upon why I was excited and how I was preparing myself for the challenge.
So, why am I excited about doing this? Many people kindly ask me what my next challenge is and when I tell them I am planning to run 100km, they look at me mainly with bemusement. ‘Amazing but mad’ is the phrase that usually comes next!
I like to do things that challenge me – to help me to hopefully become a better person. I love running for the feeling of freedom, for the mental space it gives me to relax from a job that I love but one that can be stressful and for enabling me to be outside in our beautiful world. I’ve never been someone to do things simply for the pleasure of doing them – I wish I was sometimes but I like to have a goal. And I like to set those goals ever higher. After being privileged to complete a number of marathons, I ran my first ultra marathon last year and loved the experience.
This year, I am excited but daunted about pushing myself even further. I don’t know if I can achieve it and that is part of the attraction. Knowing I am pushing myself further than I know is possible for me motivates me and frees me from the expectations that I put on myself. I will train as much as I can, both physically and importantly mentally, and will give it my absolute best. I hope it will be enough.
And, how am I preparing myself for the challenge?
I have spent the last two Saturdays doing training runs of 23 miles and then 28 miles along the South Downs Way which is beautiful but very hilly. Up until now, my training runs have been on the roads near where I live or on my treadmill, but I knew I needed to head out onto the trails as the experience is very different.
The terrain is softer under foot but far more uneven and so it takes more mental energy as I have to be alert to avoid tripping on something. I am very clumsy – my mum used to say when I was a little girl that I could fall over a matchstick and that remains true today!
The terrain is also very hilly and so on the steeper hills, I tend to walk up to save energy, and, to be honest, I’m not sure I could run up some of them! This mixture of running and walking requires a different mental approach to the day.
I also have to make sure that I eat and drink enough during the run to avoid losing energy at the end, which would be very challenging over such a long distance.
So, it’s quite a different experience from the long runs on the road.
I was excited about pushing myself over these two weekends. The last very long run I did was the inspirational Boston marathon and since then I have been following the training programme for the ultra marathon which has involved a lot of middle distance runs. What I didn’t expect when I arrived on the South Downs last Saturday was a 25mph wind in my face for 23 miles. I had my music up to full volume and for some of the route, I couldn’t even hear it due to the ferocity of the wind! This weekend the challenge was driving rain which arrived after 18 miles of running! I was proud of myself as I didn’t allow myself to get down about it but instead told myself that this was great training and that I was lucky to be able to be out in the fresh air doing something that I love. This positive thinking worked for most (but it has to be said, not quite all) of the runs!
Whilst I thought that my 23 miles was a challenge, running in the opposite direction last weekend were amazing runners taking part in a 100 mile race. I started to pass the front runners at their half way point and they looked so fresh! I cheered them on and exchanged smiles and thumbs up with each one of them and they all inspired me.
Both runs were, oddly, enjoyable. I was tired but elated afterwards and only had three blisters and some sore hips – not a bad return on hilly, rainy and windy miles! Next weekend I will be running 34 miles, on top of weekday evening runs. It’s a tough schedule and I’m hoping that my legs and mind continue to give me the strength I need. I’ll keep you updated over the coming weeks.
I am doing this to raise money for the wonderful charity, Cancer Research. Everyone knows someone who has been impacted by this cruel disease and this year, one of our good friends has been through their own Cancer experience. It has, once again, brought home how terrible this disease can be and has renewed my desire to play a small part in helping those suffering now and in helping to find a cure so that others don’t have to suffer in the future. This is my way of doing that. Thank you for all your generous support, particularly as I have asked for a lot of support in the last few years.