The Final Picnic Marathon 2018

The Final Picnic Marathon 2018

Apparently only mad dogs and English men go out in the midday sun….. but what about the idiots attempting Britain’s toughest marathon in 30 degree heat? Well they must be a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

With a leg destroying 6000ft of ascent/descent the Trionium Picnic marathon is billed as Britain’s toughest marathon. As someone who can quite happily bimble round a marathon without too much bother I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I liked the idea of something that would potentially chew me up and spit me out, something that would make me work hard for a finish and rather bizarrely, a carrot. This race sounded a little bit bonkers and was right up my street.

The view from Box Hill - the perfect location for, errr a picnic?!
Box Hill, Surrey – a nice location for a picnic

With UTMB training in full swing I should have been in peak mountain goat shape as I turned up at the start line, but I’m ridiculously clumsy and had managed to fall over and sprain my ankle just three weeks before. By race day it no longer hurt but it was still weak and lacking in flexibility, not ideal for running Britain’s toughest marathon. With a trip to the Alps and Lakeland 50 coming up I did briefly consider not starting….. but the ability to be sensible always seems to escape me. In the end I vowed to turn up, run carefully, and pray that I didn’t fall over again.

The stepping stones, probably the only flat bit of the entire race

Being a kindhearted wife I’d also signed up my husband. I did run it past him first, but suspect he’d just nodded in agreement without listening to a word I’d said. Anyway, we arrived at the top of Box Hill an hour before the 8am start and met up with fellow Brizzle crew member, Martin. He’d completed the race two years ago and had been stupid brave enough to come back for more, as had a fair few others judging by the number of previous picnic marathon finishers shirts on display. It appeared this race has a bit of a cult following and we were the two rookies surrounded by a load of hardcore runners.

Like lambs to the slaughter….

Waiting for the race briefing we joked about our general clumsiness and which of us would be the first to fall over. The Final Countdown played on a continuous loop before Race director Rob informed us about some changes to the route. As the last ever picnic marathon, this would be one to remember. Basically one of the only flat sections had been taken out and replaced with another bloody hill! Now I’m not one to complain about a bonus hill but this made me nervous. There was a 3 hour cut off at the half way point which in theory sounds plenty, but with well over 3000ft of elevation to cover in that distance it’s not quite as easy as it sounds. If I wasn’t sweating before the briefing, I definitely was after. No time to stress about it though, after a quick rendition of the national anthem we were on our way, and within the first 20 seconds, and no I’m not exaggerating, we found out who was going to be the first to fall over. It was Martin.

Yep, it really was that hilly!

If the elevation wasn’t bad enough it was the kind of course that can only be described as a total head f**k. Consisting of two out and backs you knew exactly what was coming, four ascents/descents of Box Hill steps for a start. If you’re having a nightmare out there, it would be all too easy to drop at the half way point rather than drag yourself out for another lap in the baking sun. Other than that it was total tree root carnage with the potential to trip and twist those poor ankles with every single step, and if that wasn’t bad enough, there was also plenty of small rocks and gravel to slip/trip/stub your toes on.

Down and then straight back up the first hill….

Basically the route went something like this…. Down massive hill in the baking sun, round a traffic cone and straight back up and past random man playing bag pipes. Down Box Hill steps (280 apparently) under shade but difficult to see tree roots/easy to fall over, short loop over the stepping stones (possibly the only flat bit in the race) and back up the steps. Down and back up two more massive hills before particularly nasty hill in the baking sun with another traffic cone to go round, and then straight back down. Up a million more steps, probably bigger/more uneven/steep than Box Hill, past another random man with bag pipes (or possibly the same one?) down ridiculously steep hill, grabbing onto trees to stop yourself flying down and into the road, then you’re half way through the first lap. Stop for molten jelly babies and jaffa cakes and do it all again in reverse, and if your legs/head will allow, repeat the whole lot again.

R
The second bag piper, and place I got lost on the second lap… should have gone to Specsavers

Knowing I’d be even closer to the cut offs than I’d initially thought, I decided to abandon my run sensibly plan. I pushed as hard as the heat would allow on the uphills, and ran as fast as was safe on the downs. Checking my Garmin what felt like every five minutes I was making very slow progress even with this strategy. I reached the turnaround point (just over 6.5 miles) in 1hr 23mins so knew I didn’t have much time to slow down or even stop for a wee. All I was thinking to myself was “please don’t get lost!” I could feel the sun getting hotter and hotter on the return leg and maintaining the same pace was starting to require a lot more effort.

Despite the course being a bit of a head f**k it had the advantage that you’d pass the other runners at numerous points so you could offer support/encouragement and there was a great sense of camaraderie. I could see Chris and Martin were suffering too, we all had our heads down and were doing our best to just grind it out. They were ahead by a few minutes but even they were cutting it fine for the halfway cut off. Going back down the first/last hill I could see it was going to be down to the wire so ran as fast as I could whilst praying for my ankle. I eventually made it up the hill and back to the start with just 6 minutes to spare, it had taken 2 hours 54 minutes to complete half marathon distance, (my slowest ever) and I’d had to work my backside off for it! This race was definitely living up to  my expectations.

Working my backside off to not get timed out

Not wanting to think about the second lap too much, I filled my bottles and got on my way. There weren’t any other cut offs so I knew I was safe to take my foot off the gas a bit and “enjoy” my second lap. With lots of runners still behind me I could see I was around the middle of the field, so either a lot of people would be timed out or were “just” doing the half marathon.

Lap two passed without incident, well except for the bonus hill I managed to go down (and back up) but its not a run unless I’ve got lost at least once. I’m just glad it happened on lap 2 or I probably would have been timed out. I really struggled with the heat in the later stages of the race as temperatures soared to 30 degrees but my legs felt strong the whole way round. Lugging 6kg of rice up and down the steps outside work on my lunch break is definitely paying off, even if my colleagues think I’m slightly nuts.

Box Hill steps for what felt like the 500th time

I’m pleased to report that after a much more relaxed second lap I finished with both ankles in tact and not a single cut or bruise that I didn’t already start with. I finished in 6:28:55 and 52nd place. Of the 140 that started, just 88 finished. A huge DNF rate for a marathon, something similar to what you’d see at a 100 mile ultra. My slowest ever marathon but as 7th of only 11 female finishers, its one that I’m pretty pleased with.

Chuffed to have earned our carrots, except Chris, who forgot to pick his up

So, is this really Britain’s toughest marathon? Well, I’m not really qualified to answer that, but of the 50 trail marathons I’ve completed it was the hardest by a considerable margin. Having completed marathons in the Brecon Beacons, Exmoor and Jurassic coast before I was skeptical as I turned up but it definitely lived up to its reputation. Never before have I had to work so hard to meet a cut off in a marathon. A combination of the heat, 6800ft of elevation, time pressure and a recently sprained ankle made for a really brutal race but I’ve been buzzing ever since. Its a real shame this race will never be held again, it’s unique and bonkers, unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I really hope that one day it will be back, but if not, I’ve found another of Trioniums suitably crazy races I quite like the sound of, just let me run it past my husband first…….

http://www.trionium.com/wife/

The hard earned bling

Thanks to Trionium and their volunteers for putting on a truly memorable race. Please consider bringing it back one day.

Steve Rencontre for the fab photos.

Likeys and Rockstar for their ongoing support with these crazy races.

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Back on track – Crawley 24hrs

Back on track – Crawley 24hrs

Lets get this straight, running around an athletics track for 24 hours is not my idea of fun, in fact, its the stuff of nightmares. Race week I found myself waking up in the middle of the night stressing. It was the early hours of the morning and I could see myself trudging round and round in circles in the pissing rain, I was cold, miserable, and I was going insane with boredom. How the hell was I going to manage it?

I don’t have a great history with these kind of events, the last time I set foot on an athletics track was back in November 2013 when I attempted a 6 hour race. Running in circles wasn’t as easy as I’d imagined, it really hurt, and aside from that I was bored out of my brain. It probably didn’t help that I’d drunk 1.5 bottles of wine the night before and ended up puking. In the end the misery was just too much, I bailed at marathon distance after 4 hours and 20 minutes, swearing I’d never attempt another track race ever again.

So why did I enter?

Basically I wanted a Spartathlon qualifier.

To be eligible to enter the lottery for a place I needed to either, run a 100 mile race in under 22 hours or cover 170km (105.6 miles) in a 24hr race.

This needed to be done early enough in the year to give myself enough time to recover and then train for UTMB. Ideally I’d have attempted this at TP100 but I was too slow off the mark and the race sold out before I could enter. Crawley it was then.

I seem to do better at flat stuff, I had a strong run at TP100 in 2016 finishing as 4th lady in 21hrs 42mins. This had included a few bonus miles, tantrums and cow related incidents, so with the navigation and cows out of the equation (surely even I couldn’t get lost on a track?) I was quite confident in my ability to run the 105.6 miles. I know nothing is a given in long races but I honestly thought it would be pretty straightforward……. and it probably would have been had I not got ill.

The race I nearly never started

At the beginning of February my fitness was at an all time low, I could only run one mile at 8:30 minute mile, my old marathon pace, and following my DNF at the Arc of Attrition my confidence was in tatters. I had 8 weeks until Crawley but I just couldn’t see myself getting fit enough to get the qualifier, and I wasn’t prepared to spend 24 hours trudging round a track for nothing. I decided this one would be a DNS. Trying and failing to get fit for the Arc was so mentally draining and upsetting that I just couldn’t bear to put myself through it all again…. but, I don’t like to quit and eventually I came to the conclusion that giving up without trying would be even more depressing than failing. Crawley was back on.

Blood tests the week of the Arc had shown my hormone levels were back within the reference range but my energy levels were still low and I was still sleeping at least 11 hours a night. Training would be limited by this so I knew I needed focused approach if I wanted to be race fit in 7 weeks. For that reason I decided to enlist the help of a coach, fellow Likey’s ambassador Sarah Sawyer was an obvious first choice, she has progressed over the years into an incredible athlete and from following her training on Strava, I knew she’d set me an interesting and challenging plan.

7 weeks to get fit…….

During this time I had another increase in Levothyroxine which always makes me feel worse for a couple of weeks. This meant my weekly mileage totals were low at 29m, 42m, 43m, 50m, 55m, 50m and 32m but we focused on quality and consistency rather than quantity. There were speed sessions each week and lots of running laps to get me used to dealing with the boredom, which I actually ended up enjoying! By the end of my seven week training block I was able to run 6 miles at my old 8:30 minute mile marathon pace and was starting to feel real improvements in my fitness levels. I wasn’t sure it was enough for the qualifier but spurred on by my recent failures I knew I’d give it my best shot.

The plan

Basically start at 10:30 pace, run for 55 minutes then walk for 5 minutes while eating, repeat for 24 hours. I wanted to hang on to this for as long as possible but realistically knew I’d have to drop down to a 25 minute run, 5 minute walk at some point. It was all rather fluid though, I’d made the mistake of overthinking things at the Arc and didn’t want to make the same mistake here. Even though I’d set the bar low at the Arc, i.e the slowest times needed to make the cut offs, when I fell behind schedule my head imploded and I quit before I was even timed out. Luckily I’d started my new job the week before the race and was so preoccupied with that I didn’t have the time to sit around obsessing over paces/times. In fact, I was so disorganised I was still packing/faffing with kit at 9pm the night before the race.

Race day

For some strange reason Chris couldn’t be talked into crewing for the whole of this one, I did however manage to convince him that Crawley would be a good place to take his daughter for the weekend and found a Go Ape nearby to keep them occupied. We arrived with plenty of time before the midday start so I set up my table at the side of the track with hopefully everything I’d need for the next 24 hours.

My table – notice my clever use of a wine glass box. Sadly this had disintegrated by the end of the race following 14 hours worth of rain.
Before Chris and Rosie disappeared off to Go Ape

The tortoise and the hare race strategy

The 24 hour race set off with the 6 hour race so the pace upfront was fast. I’d been lapped by the race leaders Dan Lawson and Paul Ali before I’d even finished my second lap! It would have been easy to get swept along faster than I’d have liked so made a real effort to stick to my plan. I find long races a bit like The tortoise and the Hare, I’m clearly no hare and my slow and consistent chugging means I’m always at the back at the start but that’s fine by me. My patience usually pays off and I tend to make up places towards the end. After the first hour of chugging away nicely the tortoise was right at the back as expected and in 25th place.

Boredom

I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but at no point in the race did I ever feel completely bored! There was a great sense of camaraderie between the runners and seeing the 6hr and 12hr races unfold and then finish was great to watch, there really were some phenomenal performances on the track that day and it inspired me to keep going.

I put my iPod on after 6 hours and just got on with it. I think I’d accepted my fate for the 24 hours that lay ahead so instead of whinging about it I focused on the small things, a 5 minute walk break every hour and then changing directions every 4 hours were things I really looked forward to. Watching the seagull stealing a packet of Roz’s mini cheddars before pecking them open and eating them was one of the most exciting things I witnessed my entire race!

Several hours in….. still chugging

I’m not going to describe every detail of my race, but essentially I continued to move up the leader board. I went through 50 miles in around 9hrs 15mins and 100 miles in a new PB time of around 20hrs 20mins. By this time I was pretty much broken so walked another 10 miles to make sure I got my Spartathlon qualifier and had enough miles banked to finish as third lady and 5th overall! I didn’t complete the full 24 hours but I was happy to have achieved what I’d set out to do and to go home with a trophy was the icing on the cake.

The tortoise moving up the leader board

What went wrong

Don’t get me wrong, I’m over the moon with my result but many things derailed my 55 minute run, 5 minute walk plan. I’m sure without these issues then I’d have completed well over 110 miles but I did the best I could given the circumstances and managed to avoid any meltdowns.

  1. Nutrition – I’ve been following a gluten free diet since Christmas as its supposed to help thyroid problems. In everyday life this is fine, in races I’ve found out its not. The cheese and ketchup sandwiches that have always fueled me so well in ultras when made with gluten free bread just don’t work. Aside from being dry and disgusting they just don’t give me the same energy. I ate mainly Nakd bars however these upset my stomach so badly that even immodium didn’t help. I wasted a ridiculous amount of time going in and out of the toilet before eventually giving up and surviving mainly on water from mile 80. By morning I felt so awful I relented and ate some porridge which probably contained gluten but I felt like I was going to pass out without some real food.
  2. Palpitations – A side effect of my thyroid problems which aren’t very pleasant and reduced me to a walk every time I had an episode.
  3. Old injuries – If you’ve got any slight issues then running in circles for 24 hours will seek them out and magnify them. I’d pretty much forgotten about my old ITB issues but after 6 hours I started to feel that all too familiar stabbing pain in the side of my right knee. I stopped to tape it and it seemed to help but on changing directions at 8 hours it started in my left knee. Again I stopped to tape it but it was there annoying me for the rest of the race. I also had issues with my left hamstring which basically tightened up so much it ended my race. I kept stopping to roll it out which helped for a short while but it eventually tightened up so much that it reduced me to a shuffle.
  4. Getting cold – It started raining at about 8pm and continued all night and through to the finish at midday. Those nights I’d woke up dreaming about the race weren’t nightmares, they were in fact premonitions! The rain was fine when I was able to run, but after 100 miles I was mainly walking and despite wearing every item of clothing I had with me I couldn’t get warm. I stopped every couple of laps and drank hot sweet tea but I reached a point at 23 hours where I just needed to stop so called it a day.

Reflections

I’m not going to lie, I’m absolutely over the moon with this result. Its been just over a year since I started feeling ill and finally I feel like I’m getting myself back on track. The last few months have been really tough, I’d started to believe that I’d never be able to do the things I used to and so many times I felt like giving up. I’m glad I persevered though, it was worth it in the end.

Will I do another 24 hour event?

I can’t believe I’m saying this but yes! I know I can do much better than this so I’ll have to go back and give it another go one day!

Thanks

To Pam Storey and her volunteers for putting on a brilliant race.

The other runners for their support, camaraderie and making it more fun than I’d expected.

Lindley and Maxine for looking after me in the medical tent.

Chris and Rosie for coming with me and popping back to support every few hours.

Sarah Sawyer for her fantastic coaching and getting me back on track.

Likeys for their ongoing support

 

The Arc of Attrition – preparation

The Arc of Attrition – preparation

Apologies in advance if this is a bit of a pity party, that’s not my intention, but my physical and mental heath over the past few months have had a huge impact on my running and go a long way to explaining the outcome of this race. Obviously you never really know whats going to happen in a race of that distance, 100 miles is a bloody long way, but when I signed up in June 2017 I was confident I had the ability to finish. In fact I thought I was capable of earning the sub 30 buckle if the weather was kind.

At the time I’d been experiencing a few issues, nothing major just palpitations, light headedness and after walking upstairs I’d need a rest to recover. I’d been training hard though and not taking my iron tablets so just dismissed it as being a bit knackered and a bit anaemic. I started taking my tablets again and just assumed things would be fine….

They weren’t fine though and I started to feel really unwell, I was constantly exhausted and training had dropped off to around 30 miles per week, I physically couldn’t manage any more. I finished the Cotswold Way Century in September but I knew something was wrong. by this point I could barely even walk uphill, my legs constantly felt like lead and I’d lost the little speed I had. Every single step was a struggle.

Aside from this my brain just seemed to pack up, I couldn’t remember what I was saying or doing, it was so bad I was convinced I had Alzheimer’s. I’d become clumsy, I couldn’t get warm, my skin was splitting open and bleeding, my vision was so bad I was avoiding driving because I was scared I’d crash. It also seemed that no matter how little I ate, I was getting fatter and fatter and my face was swollen and bloated. My hair was falling out in handfuls and according to my hairdresser, I’d lost 25% of my hair in the last couple of months. I’d look in the mirror and was totally unrecognisable from the person I once was, I couldn’t understand what was happening to me and as a result I became more and more depressed.

Two days after an absolute shocker at the Wendover Woods 50 in November, a blood test showed I had an under active thyroid. It seemed to explain every symptom I’d been suffering and I felt relieved. Rather naively I thought medication would sort me out and I’d be back to where I was in no time but things weren’t quite that simple. I seemed to get more unwell to the point that I was signed off work at the beginning of January. At that time, I was spending approximately 80% of my life asleep, I just couldn’t function. Blood tests revealed my TSH was still rising but the doctors wouldn’t increase my Levothyroxine. I felt hopeless and frustrated, I worried I’d never feel well again. As the weeks passed I could see the Arc was slipping further and further away, I cried endless tears of frustration.

I had up until the end of December to defer my entry and it probably would have been the most sensible thing to do but I’d had my heart set on this race for so long I just couldn’t bring myself to do it and I was still hoping for some sort of miraculous recovery.

Two weeks out from race day I finally started feeling some improvements, clarity in thinking and enough energy to attempt a long run. I managed a very slow 20 miler, it was a struggle, but it was enough to give me hope. I decided I’d rather give it a shot than stay at home moping so less than 2 weeks out, my final decision was made, I’d be on that start line.

I like to be well prepared for long races and with my shocking navigation skills I wanted to recce the entire route to give myself the best chance possible. I didn’t manage it all but in the months leading up to race day I’d managed to cover approximately 70 miles of the route. It was good to know the pace I was capable of, to experience the mud situation out on the course and I’d also worked out that I needed at least 2hrs in the bank at Lands End to have any chance of making the final cut off at St Ives…… I knew my chances were slim and I’d have no time for navigational errors but there was still a small chance I’d make it and that was good enough for me.

 

arc1.JPG
Penzance to Lands End recce in December 
The Arc of Attrition – DNF

The Arc of Attrition – DNF

The Arc of Attrition is a point-to-point, 100 mile race held on the South West Coast Paths of Cornwall. Starting at Coverack and finishing in Porthtowan it covers technical terrain in remote, inaccessible areas. There are only 4 checkpoints, and they’re approximately 20 miles apart, so you’re on you own, battling the elements for long periods of time. There’s a 36.5 hour time limit, which in theory sounds plenty, but when you take in to account the 5100m of elevation gain, tricky navigation and underfoot conditions (its usually a quagmire) then you begin to realise just how hard this race is going to be.

As you can imagine, there is an extensive kit list, you know its serious shit when you’ve got to carry a bivvy bag. At registration you’re fitted with a tracker with an emergency button that once pressed, will send helicopters to your rescue. It sounds scary, and it is, that’s part of its appeal, but being a MudCrew event, I knew the organisation would be spot on and I was in good hands.

I’m not a total beginner when it comes to ultra running, I’ve completed races longer than 100 miles, races with more vertical elevation and I’ve finished races in atrocious weather conditions before. That said, as a stand alone 100 mile race this would be the toughest one I’d ever attempted. My slowest ever 100 mile race to date was the Cotswold Way century, with over 4000m of elevation its not an easy one but it took just under 26.5hrs, here I had an extra 10hrs so in theory I had a good chance of finishing.

If I enter a race I take it seriously and train and prepare properly, however, as explained in my earlier post, The Arc of Attrition – preparation my training had been pretty much non existent and by the time race day arrived I was the most unfit I’d been for many years. It wasn’t ideal but there really wasn’t anything I could have done about it. I considered not starting but that would have pissed me off more than a DNF so I made the decision to go out there and enjoy every last second.

Race plan

I wasn’t able to train but spent hours obsessing over the race instead, reading blogs and analysing previous results. I thought it would have helped me to prepare mentally but looking back it was a big mistake, one that ultimately led to my downfall.

The first cut offs seemed achievable but for some reason I decided I needed at least two hours in the bank to have any chance of making the last cut off at St Ives, and from that I worked out the following timings, the latest I could possibly arrive at the checkpoints to have any chance of finishing. Having been out and recce’d most of the route I knew the mud situation, the terrain and the pace I was capable of at my current level of fitness. I knew it would be close and I had no time for getting lost but it was worth a shot.

CP1 – Porthleven (24.5 miles) arrive by 7:00pm (cut off 8:00pm)

CP2 – Penzance (38.5miles) arrive by 11:15pm (cut off 12:15pm)

CP3 – Lands End (55 miles) leave by 5:00am at the latest (cut off 7:00am)

CP4 – St Ives (78 miles) cut off 2:30pm

Finish – Porthtowan 12:30am

At Porthtowan, before the mud

Coverack to Porthleven

At midday around 150 of us were set on our way. I had many expectations leading up to this race but heading off on a beautiful sunny day wasn’t one of them. As someone who is constantly cold I was dressed in full thermal gear, several layers and waterproof jacket. Needless to say, by the time I’d covered the the first couple of miles I was absolutely boiling, which never happens so it did make me laugh. The mud totally lived up to my expectations though, I lost count of the amount of times I fell over, I slid down one particularly steep hill on my knees much to the amusement of Phil Bradburn who was out crewing, and at one point lost my trainer complete with gaiter in one of the bogs. It was great fun though and I was loving every minute.


As a result of recent weather conditions there were several areas of coast path erosion meaning we’d have to be diverted inland, a couple of bonus miles were inevitable. MudCrew had made sure these were really well marshaled and had given us an extra 30 minutes on the cut offs though so I wasn’t bothered until the last one just after the Loe Bar. I already had more than two extra miles at that point and I’d completely forgotten about it. It took us inland on a nice path for about a mile before heading back to the coast on the most slippery mud ever. Running was completely out of the question, it was difficult to remain on two feet, and whilst it was fun for a while I was becoming increasingly aware of how much extra time it was adding, it was well over the allotted 30 minutes.

Up until that point I was moving well and slightly quicker than I’d hoped, but by the time I reached checkpoint 1 at Porthleven I’d clocked over 29 miles (an extra 4.5 miles) and it was dead on 7pm, the latest possible time I’d wanted to arrive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, you often end up with a few extra miles here and there and that’s fine, I just could have done without the extra pressure when it was already going to be tight. I’d previously run this section back in November and it had taken me 5hrs 40mins, so you can see the of loss of fitness, bonus miles and mud had made a massive difference. Upon arriving at the checkpoint the Arc Angels were amazing, escorting us in and handing us a menu, it was brilliant, I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Sadly I didn’t have time to hang around and enjoy being pampered so I refueled as quicky as I could and was gone within 14 minutes.

Porthleven to Penzance

At this point I was starting to feel the pressure but managed to stay calm. I did however struggle with the navigation in the dark and had to keep stopping to check the GPS, all the while I aware the pace was dropping below where it needed to be. I was on my own for a fair bit but ended up running with another guy, we didn’t talk much because we were both concentrating and I didn’t get his name. Anyway, we made a few minor errors but on the whole worked well together up until that dreaded beach just before Marazion.

Where it all went wrong

I’d recce’d this section and was aware that I needed to take some steps off the beach at some point but couldn’t remember how far along they were. The beach was rocky and seemed to go on forever, I just couldn’t seem to find the steps. Feeling unsure I turned round to ask my companion what he thought but he wasn’t there anymore, it was just me on the beach alone.

By this point I was convinced I’d gone the wrong way but thought if I carried on I’d be able to get off the beach somehow, so I trudged on a while longer…. but then I started to worry. What if the tide came in and I got stuck? Trying not to panic I looked up and that’s when I saw the torch lights of the runners above me, I was definitely in the wrong place. I was so far along the beach I decided I’d try and climb the bank off the beach, but half way up I decided it was too steep and being a clumsy idiot I decided it was safer to retrace my steps instead.

That stupid mistake
Eventually I bumped into a group of runners and found the steps, typically they were right at the start of the beach and I’d walked straight past them, but what was more annoying was that we eventually dropped back on to the beach, just past the point I decided to turn around….. Annoyed at the whole kerfuffle I had a bit of a tantrum, and that’s where Tim Lambert appeared out of the darkness saying “is that you Dawn?” I think he’d probably recognised me from the Bristolian swearing.

I had no idea how much time I’d lost but it felt like forever, and when I looked down at my watch, it was already past 11:15pm and as simply as that my race was over. I knew I’d make the Penzance and Lands End cut offs but in my head I wouldn’t have enough time in the bank to make St Ives, and for that reason saw no point continuing.

Tim was in really good spirits and moving well, he tried to convince me we still had time but I was absolutely convinced it just wasn’t possible. The stretch of tarmac that led to the aid station was utterly depressing and I beat myself up for being fat/unfit/crap at navigation and generally rubbish. Arriving at Penzance at just before 11:30pm with an extra 9 miles on the clock, my Arc dream was over.

As I sat there crying and being generally pathetic the Arc Angels and medics did their best to talk me round. Not wanting to let everyone down I eventually left the checkpoint over half hour later and continued with Lee Scott for a short while but it was too late, my mind was made up.

 

The miserable slog into Penzance

Why?

The fitness wasn’t there but the real problem was in my head. I’m not the fastest runner but I don’t normally have a problem with cut offs, this race was different. I’d over analysed the race completely and got myself worked up into a state about the Lands End to St Ives section. I put myself under too much pressure to build up a certain time buffer at each cut off and I didn’t cope with it well, my head just caved in at the first sign of a problem.

Seeing my health, fitness (and hair) disappearing down the drain over the last few months has hit me really hard. I’d struggle to run at my old marathon pace for more than a mile, it was incredibly frustrating and soul destroying. I pushed and pushed as hard as I could but it was futile. This was only compounded by the weight gain, I’d look in the mirror and was disgusted by my reflection “its your own fault, you’re just too fat”

Weight gain is one of the symptoms of an under active thyroid, it was out of my control but that didn’t stop me from beating myself up about it. I’m aware that it probably sounds like a complete over reaction to a few extra pounds, and it is, but that’s just the way my head works. Its not something I talk openly about but I have had “issues” in the past and although I eat normally now, I’ve never really recovered from the mental side.

The combination of these problems that had been steadily building in the months preceding the race meant that by the time I stood on the start line I’d totally lost sight of who I was. I no longer felt or looked like the same person, my fitness and most critically my confidence was at an all time low.

I’ve done enough of these races to know how important the mental aspect is, I’d tried to psych myself up in the week leading up to race day but I failed. I just didn’t believe in myself anymore. All the races I’d previously completed, the years of experience, it just didn’t matter or count, I wasn’t that person anymore and didn’t feel like I belonged on that start line.

With hindsight I probably should have deferred my entry when I received my diagnosis and given myself time to get better, but that would have been far too sensible. I’m glad I turned up and gave it a go though, I really enjoyed the race, the miles I covered I absolutely loved, well with the exception of the extra few on the beach. Aside from that it was good to catch up with friends I’d not seen for ages and meet those I’d only ever spoken to online before. It sounds strange but despite the DNF I had a great weekend and came away feeling much happier. Maybe I knew the DNF was coming and I just needed to get it out the way.

Admittedly I am a bit disappointed, mainly because it was my head that went rather than my body. Maybe I could have made it to St Ives in time after all? There’s a lesson to learn from all this, don’t over analyse things, just bloody run! Anyway, I’m not going to dwell on it, time to draw a line under it a move on. It wasn’t my first DNF and I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last, in fact I’m pretty sure I’ve got another one coming in December!

Overall 65% of those who started did not finish. It’s an absolutely brutal race and truly lives up to its name. Aside from the distance of 100 miles, there are so many more obstacles to overcome if you want that buckle. Its got never ending, unrunable mud, more than 5000m of elevation gain, mainly over slippery wet rock, you’ll be battered by wind and rain, and if you’re a numpty like me, tricky navigation. Its a race you need to be 100% both physically and mentally for, and I was neither. It just means I’ll have to come back next year stronger and fitter and that’s what I’ll do. Well, that’s providing I can get a place, I predict it will sell out almost immediately.

Looking forward

Thankfully I started feeling a few signs of improvement a week before the race and blood test results I got back just today have confirmed this. It’s a shame it couldn’t have happened a couple of months earlier, but better late than never.

…..and so now begins the process of rebuilding my fitness, and of course my confidence.

DNFs are never nice but you can always take something positive away from them, this one has made me more determined than ever. My next big race is UTMB. I’ve waited three years for this place and there’s no way I’m going to throw it down the drain too, and for that reason I’ve enlisted the help of a coach. I’ve also got Crawley 24hr in April and before all this happened I was hoping to get a Spartathlon qualifier. After the arc my initial thoughts were “no chance, just bin it” but my coach is confident.I managed nearly 50 miles at the arc on no training so maybe its achievable after all…. 106 miles in 24hrs is the goal, so lets see what the next seven weeks bring!

Thanks (and apologies)

Fergie, Jane and the rest of MudCrew, the Arc Angels and medics for putting on one of the best events I’ve ever been to, this race has well and truly got under my skin. Please can I come back next year for my buckle?

Tim and Lee, massive thanks for trying to get me going again and apologies for being a miserable bitch.

Likeys for their support, advice and kit, everything they’d recommended was spot on. Massive thanks especially to Adam and Nick for spending hours trying to sort out my Garmin!

The long suffering Chris. I’ve been a total nightmare the last few months but he never loses his patience. He definitely deserves a medal/buckle for putting up with me.

No Limits Photography for the photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The highs, lows and lessons of 2017

The highs, lows and lessons of 2017

In many ways 2017 was a total disaster. I started the year with one injury, and finished it with another. I ran most of my races held together by KT tape, praying that various bits wouldn’t fall off. To add to that I found myself feeling progressively more unwell throughout the year only to eventually find out that my thyroid has gone AWOL. However, against all odds I somehow off achieved the best results of my life, podium positions in my two A races, the stuff that as a distinctly average runner I could only ever dream of. It was the year that in the face of adversity, sheer stubbornness (and maybe a bit of stupidity) prevailed.

The highs….

The Grand Union Canal Race (145 miles) – 3rd lady.

The first race over 100 miles I’ve managed to complete. This race had it all, tears, tantrums, diarrhoea, puking, and feet that just seemed to disintegrate after 110 miles. Not much running after that point but “power mincing” got me to Little Venice in 35hrs 40mins. Of the 107 starters, 66 finished and I was 18th overall. My best result ever. Unfortunately it would seem I’m suited to the really long, really painful stuff and I’ve now set the Thames Ring 250 mile race as my goal for 2019…..

The Cotswold Way Century (102 miles) –  joint 3rd lady

 After running the last 60 miles with my good friend and training partner Heather, we finished her first 100 mile race together, holding hands as we crossed the line at Bath Abbey. We’d both DNF’d with injury last year so this was a really special moment and getting the 3rd lady trophy was the icing on the cake. We finished in 26hrs 28mins and joint 27th place. Of the 107 that started, 62 finished.

The Double Green Man, 90ish miles – second double woodwose

Completing two continuous loops of the Green Man ultra route had been done once before by Bristol’s ultra running legend, Roz Glover. For some strange reason, traipsing through 90 miles of mud in the freezing cold sounded like fun so I thought I’d have a go too. Unlike Roz I wanted to incorporate my attempt into the race so completed a “warm up” lap the night before, arriving back at Ashton Court 25 minutes before the race start. I was injured and it took a lot longer than I’d hoped but I was pleased to get round the two laps in just under 24hrs.

The lows….

Injury

I’ve been injured pretty much all year. Nothing that’s stopped me running for more than a few weeks at a time, just annoying things that have meant I’ve not been able to train consistently, and as a result I’ve felt unprepared as I stood on the start line of all my big races. With the help of my brilliant physiotherapist, Ian Reinge, I managed to sort my ITB issues just before GUCR but picked up an annoying foot injury in August. Initially it looked like plantar fasciitis but it was actually pain referred from a problem with my hip. Its not fixed yet but I’m working on it.

Illness

Looking back I really started to struggle in April, the palpitations I’d always experienced had become far more frequent and I felt utterly exhausted all the time. I remember one particular day when I was 17 miles into my long run, having to lie down on the path because I was so tired I thought I was about to collapse. I’d been hitting some pretty big miles at the time, around 80-100 per week so thought I was just knackered and dismissed it. As the months passed things got worse, I could barely walk up hills, had to drop my mileage right down and I’d lost the little speed I had. After an absolute nightmare at Wendover Woods 50 I’d resigned myself to the fact that I was just too old for this shit…. Until two days later a blood test revealed hypothyroidism. It’s going to take a while to get sorted and my Arc of Attrition place is currently hanging in the balance but I’m hoping to feel some improvements soon.

The lessons

Bend the rules, take risks, but know when to stop.

I turned up to my physio appointment three weeks before the double Green Man with a flare up of ITB syndrome, I was in pain just walking downstairs so assumed my attempt would be off. Much to my surprise I was told I could still go ahead, but was under strict instruction not to run at all before the day, and to stop immediately if I had to. Testing out an injury with a 90 mile run seemed absolutely ridiculous even by my standards but I felt it was worth a try. As I turned up at Ashton Court I honestly didn’t know if i’d make it three miles let alone 90 but I gave it a go and unbelievably, it paid off. The double Green Man taught me that no matter how impossible things seem, its always worth a try as long as you know when to stop.

When it comes to long races, tenacity makes up for a lack of training

My training for GUCR was doomed from the start, I’d hoped to be running consistent 80+ mile weeks but it never really happened. By the time I’d sorted my ITB issues I had just six weeks to train but in an act of pure stupidity I ran out of the house in a rush without my shoes on, dropped my phone on my foot and broke my toe. No training for another week….. As I stood on the start line of that race, surrounded by experienced runners I felt totally out of my depth, but at the same time I’d never felt more determined in my life. I had many issues during the race, the most excruciating blisters on the soles of my feet that reduced me to a shuffle for the last 35 miles, but I’d invested so much time and effort into sorting my injuries that nothing would have stopped me. Even if my legs had fallen off, I’d have got to Little Venice somehow. Obviously it’s not ideal turning up to a long race on limited training but as long as you’re relatively fit, you’ll make it round if you’re determined.

Almost there… 5 marathons done, just a half left

If you can’t run, it’s not the end of the world

When foot pain stopped me running during the three weeks before the Cotswold Way Century, I decided that rather than sit at home and whinge about it as I had done earlier in the year, I’d find something more positive to fill my time. I signed up for the Serpentine two mile swim, an event I had just two weeks to train for. It took my mind off my injury completely and I really enjoyed doing something different.

And finally, a few pearls of wisdom from my numpty mistakes throughout the year….

  1. Sort your footwear before race day
    • Borrowing your mates trainers and attempting to run 100 miles in them will end in tears (Cotswold Way Century)
    • Running 90 miles in trainers that are too narrow will give you black toes as well as black toenails (The double Green Man)
  2. Make sure your crew vehicle has an adequate supply of sick bags before attempting a motorway journey home. Dog poo bags work well, paper plates don’t, Crispy Crème donut bags disintegrate when full (GUCR)
  3. A rowdy pub, advertised to have karaoke past midnight doesn’t make ideal pre-race accommodation (Endurancelife Dorset)
  4. Don’t leave your husband in charge of booking accommodation (see 3)
  5. Colour coordination shouldn’t be top of your list of priorities when picking an outfit for a winter ultra (Wendover Woods 50)
  6. Sainsbury’s delivery drivers will not give you a lift home, no matter how lost you are and how much it’s raining. Fluttering your eyelashes when mascara is running down your face will not help the situation (Cotswold Way recce)
  7. Sometimes it’s easier to MTFU and go past the cows instead of taking a detour (see 6)
Still haven’t quite sorted my issues with cows

So that’s my year in review, challenging from start to finish, lots of lows and lessons along the way but ultimately worth it. Here’s to more adventures next year…….

2300+ miles, 6 ultras, 4 trail marathons, 2 road marathons, 2 fun runs, a 2 mile swim… and a partridge in a pear tree

Thanks to my friends and family who have given up their time to support me at my races this year, to Chris for not killing me, Ian Reinge for fixing me, and Likeys and Rockstar sportswear for their continued support.

Final thoughts….

Wendover Woods 50

Wendover Woods 50

Wendover Woods 50 is the fourth and final event in the Centurion 50 mile slam. I absolutely love centurion events but if I’m honest, the 5 x 10 mile lap format put me off this one slightly. Chris wanted to enter though, and after realising it had nearly 10,000ft of elevation, I was sold. I’ve always been useless at hills but with The Arc of Attrition booked for February I needed the practice and thought this would make the perfect training run.

ww501
There’s not a lot of flat in this race!

 

From looking at the course profile I knew this race would be tough, even if I was in good shape, but after being ill and injured for several months beforehand I was feeling far from fit as I rolled up to the start line.

Race HQ, a marquee in a field somewhere

Numpty mistake #1 – clothing

I’d checked the weather forecast in the days leading up to the race but I’d somehow forgotten just how cold 0-4 degrees is. As I arrived at Trig Point Field for registration at 7am I realised I probably didn’t have enough warm clothes with me. Not ideal as I’d estimated I’d be out traipsing through the woods for 12-13 hours. Obviously I’d packed the essential kit list but I’m ashamed to admit, my outfit for the day was based purely on colour coordination. The flimsy pink headband I’d chosen to wear matched my base layer perfectly but did little to keep my head warm. Similarly, the thinnest pair of leggings I owned didn’t make my bum look too big under my skirt, but did nothing to keep my legs warm.

By the time we’d made the short walk down to the start line my feet were completely numb and I was shivering badly. Luckily I had Chris to cuddle into for the short race briefing or I may have frozen to the spot.

Yet another poor outfit choice

Lap 1 – “isn’t this lovely”

I quickly realised this was going to be a pretty spectacular route, one that would be anything but boring, even if I had to repeat it five times. There was a real mixture of trails, some easily runnable, some tough climbs and steep descents, lots of twists and turns, lots of roots to try and trip you up and a bit of mud thrown in for good measure. There were marked Strava segments including “Hells Road” and “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, a Go Ape to negotiate and even a giant Gruffalo, perfect for a mid race selfie. As with all Centurion events the course markings were impeccable, making it impossible for even the most navigationally challenged to get lost (yes I’m talking about myself).

Still haven’t mastered the art of taking a good selfie

The sun was low in the sky and as it shone through the trees, the woods looked magnificent. It was one of those moments where you truly appreciate how lucky you are to be able to do the things you love. The warning about the last two miles of the lap had disappeared to the back of my mind and I remembered thinking to myself I was in for a thoroughly lovely day out…….

At around 8 miles the “Gnarking around” ascent brought me crashing back to reality. For me, it was the steepest and toughest ascent on the course, it was hands on knees, lung busting stuff and if it wasn’t for one particular tree near the top, then I might still be sat at the bottom crying. The tree with the centurion arrow was my target as I crawled my way up the hill, when in touching distance I flung myself at it, used it to pull myself up before clinging to it trying to regain some sort of composure. After finally catching my breath, I wobbled down the descent on the other side slowly with legs like jelly that simply refused to cooperate. Possibly not the most elegant hill climbing technique ever but i’ll take it.

Shortly after came “railing in the years” another seemingly endless climb which included a load of steps. I thought they’d been kind when I spotted the handrail but annoyingly it was too low to be of any use. After a bit more climbing, race HQ was in sight but you’re not quite there yet. After a lap around the outside of the field you climb over the stile before being directed through the marquee. There wasn’t a great deal of running in the last two miles so I felt I’d completed it at a sensible pace.

Time taken – 2:00:03 (135th)

Lap 2 – running with Chris – aka numpty mistake #2

Chris caught me up just after leaving for lap 2. He’s a much faster runner than me but had another ultra booked the following week and was trying to run at a sensible pace. He decided to stick with me, and although it was nice to share the miles with him I ended up getting dragged along at a faster pace than I could cope with. I was a lot slower up the hills and I could see he was getting cold waiting for me, I started getting annoyed at myself for being slow and annoyed at him for not going on.

Time taken – 4:16:18 (137th)

All smiles…. not for long!

Lap 3 – losing the will to live

A couple of miles into the third lap my legs really started to complain, I could feel myself getting slower and was trailing further and further behind Chris. As the miles slowly passed I could feel myself disappearing into my own little bubble of misery. Eventually Chris agreed to go on ahead and I was alone with my thoughts, trying to analyse why things were going so badly wrong.

In recent months I’d been forced to drop my weekly mileage down to around 30 miles, if anyone asked why I’d blamed my foot injury, saying I was trying to give it a bit of a break to heal but if I’m honest, physically I just couldn’t do any more. I’d been getting progressively more exhausted over the year, every run was a struggle and I’d lost the little speed I had. To make things worse I’d also put on around half a stone that I just couldn’t shift.

I’ve done a lot of races this year and tried to reason with myself that I was just burnt out but my head was repeating the same thing over and over….

“It’s your own fault, you’ve been lazy and you’ve eaten too many chocolate buttons”

By the time I’d reached the checkpoint 5.5 miles into the lap I’d totally lost the will to live. I knew the remaining 25 miles would be a pitiful death march but I just didn’t care enough to try and go any faster, I was defeated.

Time taken – 6:50:09 (131st)

Lap 4 – more misery

Basically more of the same. Trudging through the woods slowly while beating myself up, mainly for being fat and lazy but I also started questioning future races….

“You’re struggling with a hilly 50, there’s no way you’ll be fit enough for a hilly 100”

“You’re never going to be good enough for the Arc of Attrition, there’s no point in even turning up”

“You need to face facts, you just can’t cope with these distances anymore”

Physically and mentally I was so tired I just wanted it all to stop, I felt like I was running through treacle and with all these negative thoughts spinning round in my mind all I wanted to do was sit down on the floor and cry. It was possibly the most misery I have ever felt in a race before…. but despite all this I was too stubborn to consider quitting. I knew I’d get the five laps done even if I was timed out.

Thankfully there were a couple of distractions from from my internal misery, the words of encouragement as I was lapped by the faster runners and the beautiful sunset.

Time taken 9:40:08 (122nd)

A welcome distraction after 35+ miles

Lap 5 – getting the job done

The marquee at the end of lap 4 was warm and inviting but I made the decision to get in and out as quickly as possible. I was already freezing and couldn’t afford to cool down further as I wasn’t moving fast enough to generate any heat. Heading out onto that last lap I wondered if this would be the race where I actually got to use my foil blanket.

There isn’t much to say about this lap other than it was a long and painfully slow slog, my legs had completely given up and I made it round on mental strength alone. I was close to tears as I finished and received my medal which apparently was handed to me by Radio 2’s ultra running legend Vassos Alexander, but I was having too much of a pity party to notice. I didn’t hang around, just grabbed my stuff and left.

Total time – 12:40:49

125th of 185 finishers (242 started)

Pure relief to have finished!

Thoughts on the race

This may have been a total misery fest for me but the event itself was faultless, from the organisation and route marking, to the fantastic volunteers and checkpoints. The route itself was challenging and beautiful, don’t let the laps put you off, this race is far from boring.

What I loved most about this race was that it reminded me of my first ever ultra back in 2012, Caesars Camp. A truly bonkers race that sadly no longer exists. I completed the 50 miler but never got chance to go back for the 100…. It may sound crazy after my shocking run but if Centurion ever decided to make this a 100 miler then I’d be back like a shot.

Making sense of it all

I know we all have good races and bad races, life would be boring if everything went to plan but for a long time I’d been feeling that maybe I just can’t do this any more. That no matter how hard I tried I was only ever going backwards, easing off hadn’t helped, I’d started to think that maybe I was just getting too old for this shit?

Anyway, following a blood test for something totally unrelated I had a phone call from the doctor on Tuesday telling me I had an under active thyroid gland. Finally it all started to make sense, the tiredness, weight gain, depression, brain fog and feeling constantly cold, I wasn’t lazy, I was ill.

Looking back, I really started to struggle around April but because I was running 80-100 mile weeks training for GUCR I dismissed it thinking I was just knackered. I kept trying to push myself but eventually my body started to say no. I’ve probably felt this way for 10+ years though so I’m amazed at how much I’ve managed to get done.

I know most people would be shocked or upset to find out they’ll need lifelong medication but for me it feels like the best news ever. The impact on my running was the least of my worries, I’d been struggling to work and was truly worried I’d end up losing my job. Now I have medication I’m feeling a lot more positive and happier, not just about the Arc of Attrition next year, but about life in general. I know it may take many months to feel well but just knowing I’m on the right track now helps.

Thanks to…..

Centurion and their army of volunteers for putting on another great event. I’ve no idea how they managed to stand out in the cold all day but their efforts were very much appreciated. The chips at the half way aid station on lap 5 were amazing so many thanks to whoever went to the chip shop!

Likeys for my La Sportiva Mutants, I didn’t fall over once so they were definitely a success. Also for my lovely warm kit, the stuff I left at home because I didn’t think it would be cold enough to wear!

Final thoughts….

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The Sodbury Slog

The Sodbury Slog

At just ten miles the Sodbury Slog is much shorter than any of the races I usually enter, but every year without fail, you’ll find me on the start line. It’s a firm favourite on my race calendar, so I thought it deserves a few words.

This superbly organised event by The Bitton Road Runners is not for the faint-hearted. It’s quite accurately described as a lung busting, trainer ruining, hill climbing, multi-terrain challenge, but if I had to pick one word to sum it up, it would have to be MUDFEST. Be warned, if you like to keep your trainers clean, then this is not the race for you!

This years pre race photo with my Strava friends

It’s action packed from start to finish and guaranteed to put a smile on your face, whether you’re running, marshalling or out on the course spectating. The fun starts at Chipping Sodbury School with a warm up led by the aptly named Terry the Tornado. Nearly 1300 people, many in fancy dress attempting to copy the dance moves of a guy leaping around on the back of a van means you’re laughing before you’ve even hit the mud. The race is held on Remembrance Sunday so the madness stops briefly at 11:00am for the runners to observe a two minutes silence. The Last Post is then played before the runners are set on their way to battle the muddy trenches of Sodbury Common.

The mud

After a fast mile through Chipping Sodbury high street you reach the mud and that’s where the fun really begins. Having taken part in this race several times I’ve concluded there are three types of mud encountered during the slog.

  1. Slippery mud – The kind of mud that’s solid and compact but impossible to get any traction on. It doesn’t matter how big the lugs on your trainers are, you’re guaranteed to be slipping and sliding all over the place.
  2. Sticky mud – Thick in consistency, sticks to your trainers and weighs you down. Often found in deep ditches and will suck the trainers off your feet if you’ve not tied your laces tight enough. You can often spot the slog rookies in the early miles trying to dig their trainers out of it.
  3. Sloppy mud – the runny stuff that’s found in “soggy bottom”, The Sheep Dip and The Pig Trough. Its the most fun kind of mud for dunking your mates in. It’s also good for washing the sticky mud off your trainers that’s made you feel like you’re running with bricks on your feet. A word of warning though, this mud is wet and will weigh down any fancy dress costumes you may be wearing.

The best bits

The race is fun from start to finish but there are three bits that everyone looks forward to….

Soggy bottom

Basically water logged fields and a stream of sloppy mud to run through. The ground is uneven and churned up, you can’t see where you’re putting your feet so you’ll fall over a lot. This is the best bit for getting wet, splashing people and dunking your mates. Sometimes you’ll fall over and laugh so much you won’t be able to get back up, occasionally random strangers will drag you through the stream by your arms while you laugh hysterically.

The sheep dip

A ditch of sloppy mud that’s somewhere between waist and chest deep. There are ropes to help drag yourself along but some people opt to swim. Its another good opportunity for dunking and splashing but be warned, you probably don’t want to swallow whats in this ditch so keep your mouth shut!

The pig trough

A long, narrow ditch of sloppy mud with nettles either side to sting your hands when you inevitably fall over. There’s usually loads of spectators here and occasionally a couple of sharks! Sometimes there’s a bit of a queue to get in but it’s worth the wait, this year the mud was particularly deep towards the end.

Holding up the pig trough. Thanks to Christine Stephenson for the photo
As happy as pigs in s**t. Thanks to Easy Runner for the photo

Fancy dress

Fancy dress is of course optional but it’s something I’d definitely recommend. My favourite Slogs have been completed in fancy dress, rolling around in mud seems so much more fun in a silly costume. One word of advice though, choose your costume wisely, they do get heavy when wet and muddy. Your costume may also need to go straight in the bin afterwards!

The year I convinced half of my running club to dress as Oompa Loompas (we even had a Willy Wonka!)
A sea of Oompa Loompas charging through Chipping Sodbury high street
Needless to say, the costumes didn’t stay white very long!

I’ve also tried to be different but ended up bumping into people with the same idea….

Don’t you just hate it when someone copies your outfit?!
Where’s Wally?

I may have focused on the fun aspect but the slog really is a race for everyone. It also attracts some serious runners and those at the sharp end of the field seem to glide over the mud and finish around the one hour mark. I’m not entirely sure if there’s a cut off but the last runners finish at around three hours so there’s plenty of time to enjoy the mud!

Back at Chipping Sodbury school you’re welcomed over the finish line by local legend Ira Rainey (author of Fat Man to Green Man and Still Not Bionic) before receiving your t-shirt. Its a decent technical shirt which continues with the Remembrance day theme and always features a poppy. All in all a brilliant race, one I definitely recommend if you like a bit of mud!

If you want a place, you need to be quick though, it’s now become so popular it sells out within a couple of hours. Keep an eye on the Facebook page here for more details.