2016 My Year – Part 3 “no one is better than your best, but your best will make you better”
The following week I participated in Man vs Lakes, and I’m so glad I did, because it is my favourite race to date. This is a marathon length trail run set in the beautiful Lake District with a couple of obstacles thrown in, but the best part was the start. We started by running across Morecombe Bay - through the sand and mini rivers that form - and then headed up the vertical kilometre (which had a couple of vertical miles preceding it making the vertical kilometre a little redundant IMO!). The race was on lots of different terrain but all of it gorgeous. It didn’t matter how much it hurt running, because looking up at the scenery instantly took your mind off of the pain. We even overtook lots of runners towards the end because we were buzzing so much, right when everyone else was slowing down. I would do this race again in a heartbeat.
The following weekend I was supposed to have off, but at the last min on Friday afternoon I got a message from Team JD asking if I was interested in joining them for a one-off doing a 12hr team relay event? Well my answer was definitely YES! This race was called Endure 12/50. It was set up similar to Brutal, but was laps of 5 miles for 12 hrs. The team relay format meant that each team member took it in turns to run a lap, then tag the next person. Team JD had two teams entered and I was in a team of 4, this meant that we each had a couple of hours rest between laps, and we could also run the laps pretty quick because of it. It started at 7pm and went on until 7am. It was a lovely night. It didn’t get cold at all, and I managed to run in the dark with my head torch fine. I did 5 laps, so once again a marathon distance. I went from having done 1 marathon in my life, to another 5 within two months! This was definitely my summer.
The following weekend was the epic trip to Snowdon with the Mudd Queens. This was epic in many ways; Having my OCR family and MQ sisters with me the whole weekend having fun, but also because I ran up the mountain….twice.
Having been to Snowdon earlier in the year I had some idea what I was getting myself in for with my plan was to run up Snowdon, but even so, I was still nervous before we started. I mean, most of the training I’d done this year meant saving energy and walking up all the hills, and now I wanted to run up a mountain? Madness! But I put my mind gremlins to one side and went for it anyway. The route up was Miners. I had no idea where I was going so I was relying solely on the arrows marked along the route. The first part starts off actually really flat, you run to and around a gorgeous lake and then you have to go up! Literally you need to scramble for this leg of the path. I was completely lost and couldn’t see a route, but eventually figured it out and got back on track. It was super fun. I arrived at the top in about an hour and twenty minutes. The place was empty bar a few early walkers and the view was amazing. I waited for my fellow Mudd Queens to arrive and we had some food and a photo, but I wanted to get going again soon. I was pumped. Not all Mudd Queens had made it to the top yet but I made the decision to head on down. I took the Pyg path down and I’m glad I did - there wasn’t any scrambling on this path which, whilst is super fun, isn’t great for running. I’m usually no good at running down-hill but today I was flying! I couldn’t believe it. Bounding down past people trekking up; saluting my friends as I saw them. Wicked fun.
Understandably I reached the bottom in no time at all, and I was wondering what I should do whilst I waited for everyone. Then I thought, well I’m doing so well why don’t I just run back up to meet them and then come back down from wherever they are? It was a plan, so I head back up Pyg so I could find everyone coming down. It was priceless seeing everyone’s faces as I reappeared for the second time that day. Everyone was so supportive though, and as I got higher and higher I thought, why don’t I just go right back to the top again? How cool would that be to say you ran Snowdon twice in one day? And so I did! There were so many Mudd Queens on that trip and they had spread right the way out across the mountain. The highest Mudd Queen was pretty much at the top anyway, and it would have been a shame not to summit again. The second summit though was RAMMED! Like claustrophobic busy. A complete contrast to my morning adventure, I couldn’t wait to leave the top that time! Unfortunately I had run out of water (as I hadn’t planned to do it twice) but handily I had my network of chums nicely spaced out along the way down, so every time I spotted a UKMQ I stopped and politely asked them for a swig of water, to which they of course obliged.
I was so chuffed with my accomplishment this weekend. Going from being apprehensive and scared, to simply annihilating the mission. I do know though that it was perfect timing for my body, as my testosterone levels were at their peak. I’ve been tracking my hormones for a while now, and at around 14 days after your menstrual cycle starts is when you ovulate; it’s also when your testosterone levels are at their peak, and many women will excel during this phase and can often hit personal bests. Snowdon was day 14 and I felt it; and it felt good. It makes a change having something to celebrate about your body when so often women are cursing themselves for being in pain with menstrual cramps etc. If you are aware of your hormone changes you can time your training to co-inside with your peaks and troughs, and I think that can give you a massive advantage.
My next big weekend was a double race weekend, on the Saturday was the 18km Dirty Dozen race, and on the Sunday was Tough Mudder; but why do one lap of TM when you could do two?
It was also my birthday weekend so I booked a hotel that had a swimming pool and we took full advantage of that between races. Unfortunately, the Dirty Dozen race did not go to plan and they had to close all the signature obstacles. This meant we were pretty much just running around a field all morning. Not that fun; but the Tough Mudder the following day was immense, so all in all a great weekend. At Tough Mudder I got to try out Blockness Monster for the first time – SO MUCH FUN – and also experience what it’s like to multi lap a TM event. It was great, at the end of lap two we felt like we could go for a third (great sign), but the timings wouldn’t allow it on that day.
My next challenge was Nuts, and I'd signed up to do four laps. This race was also a UK OCR Champs qualifier, and despite my many races this year I'd not actually run a UK qualifier yet. I'd decided not to go to World Champs, so this was my chance to get in the rankings for the UK. I even decided to fly back from WTM a day earlier so that I could run UK Champs (despite not yet having qualified), so it meant a lot to me to be able to do Nuts well.
I've done Nuts a few times so I knew what was coming, and with my lapping experience I'd gained this year I was all set. To qualify you needed to successfully complete 4 specific obstacles at least once & get that obstacles band. The first two I completed no problem, it was the rope traverse, & jumping up & over very high bars with feet touching the ground between each. The other two obstacles however, were slightly more challenging. The hang tough rings and the monkey bar ladder.
It was wet that day and I have issues with grip strength when wet. In the dry I'm ace at these obstacles, I've done them many times before, but at Nuts I just kept slipping off. Knowing I had more laps to do and limited time to do them in I decided to take the penalty and try again next lap; but lap after lap I kept failing these last two obstacles. My dream was slowly fading away. I was on the last lap and it was my last chance saloon, now or never, do or die. Ok maybe not die but you get the idea. Having already covered a vast distance and being many hours (most likely around 6) already into the race, you can imagine that I was a bit tired. But this lap was different. It had stopped raining. I had a chance! I got to the rings and tried, and tried, and tried. I kept failing. I think I actually gave up and did the penalty loop, then went back and tried again. I can't tell you how many times I attempted it, but with the support of some friends and the marshals, I eventually did it. I couldn't believe it. What a boost. But it wasn't over yet, I still had the monkey bar ladder to do. I definitely had a spring in my step to get to the finish, and when I did I knew it was going to be my day. I'd made my mind up. I approached the ladder and this time I tried a sideways technique to shuffle along the ladder. I couldn't believe it but I did it on the first go! The dryness definitely helped. As I completed the obstacle I screamed like a little girl, I was so happy. After running four laps of Nuts I managed to do what I needed to do. It felt good. I qualified for Champs, and not only that, I managed to qualify for elite! I was hoping for age group so this was an awesome surprise.
Finally after a long year of training I came to my first 24hr event. Equinox 24. I was very excited about this. This was going to show me what I was capable of. My plan, to keep going. Just keep moving. Don't stop. Don't sleep. If I couldn't do that for a trail run there was no way I could do it for WTM. I was set, I was prepped, my hormones were in check too as they were for Snowdon. What could go wrong? Well, I didn't achieve my goal unfortunately. Despite running slowly and walking all the hills from the start, I just didn't feel right. I got to 60K on the Sat and had to stop. I was tired, I was in pain, but it felt different. The thought of doing another lap at that point made me feel very anxious, so I took the decision to go to sleep. I woke up a few hours later and felt a million times better so headed out again for three more laps making 90k in total. I was very tired, walking was an effort. I had the opportunity to get another lap in but I was done. I've since seen the photos from that final lap and my whole body is just slouched over, there is no energy left to even hold my body upright whilst walking. I was sad to not have achieved my 24hr goal, but actually I learned so much about me from that race. I learned what my body is capable of, which of course was the intention. Because of this race my expectations for WTM have changed and I feel I am so much stronger because of it.
The day after Equinox I got ill. I still have no idea what I had, either a viral thing (which might explain why I felt wrong during the race) or maybe a strained muscle in my chest. I woke up with an intense pressure in my throat, and laying down or leaning forward made the pain so much worse. I tried to get it checked out but the hospital dismissed me incredibly rudely saying I had a sore throat. So I went to work the next day and just felt so awful. Then at 3am I woke up in more intense pain as the feeling had moved down from my throat to my chest. Back to the hospital where this time they checked me out properly but alas found nothing wrong. I took the rest of the week off work and recovered from the race properly, but after this happened I found it hard to get my training motivations back properly. I had to cancel the race that weekend which unfortunately was a Tough Mudder where I was going to attempt three laps, but health comes first, and there was no way I'd risk making my self ill this late in the game, no matter how good training it would have been.
So I took it easy for a few weeks, and like I said I found it hard to get my mojo back after this, but I'm certain it happened for a reason. As you can see my year has been busy as hell, and maybe my body was saying ‘hey! Just chill out for a sec would you?’ So I did. I switched two Crossfit classes for yoga and dropped the two work outs a day. I also stopped my running club which I wish I hadn't, but when you lose your mojo there's not much you can do except put everything you have into the things you are still doing (and I can tell you that this yoga is bloody hard!).
The Spartan Beast was my next event, and this gave me an opportunity to remember why I love OCR and what all my training has been about (and hopefully kick start my mojo again). It was a long old slog and I did ok. I believe that I qualified for World Champs again, but despite this I still couldn't switch my brain back into gear. Maybe I just liked having my evenings back again! Who knows, but I stopped worrying about it and just did what I could.
The last OCR I did before WTM was Reaper day and night races. The Reaper course is a great one and I finally had the chance to run an OCR at night time. I ran the day race in the elite wave and tried for a good position. I think I came fifth - so not bad. Then I covered the night race slowly with a fellow Mudd Queen (again, no way I'm injuring myself this late in the game by running hell for leather in the dark with a head torch). It was a great race and I got to test out some more kit for WTM.
But this wasn't my last race before WTM. I knew I wanted to something big three weeks before (but not too big that I'd hurt myself) and I came across a free 50k ultra race in Tring just outside of London. Win! So I signed up and headed out. This was my first ultra run not on a lapped course. I was a little apprehensive, at least with laps it doesn't matter how slow you go, but with this I could be left behind for miles. It was a nice little crowd of ultra runners, not a fellow OCR friend in sight, but everyone was friendly. We set off and I'm certain I was going too fast, but it's so easy to get caught up! Besides, I wanted to push myself. Quite soon I was aching, but I kept going. The check points were well stocked up, and the crew were lovely. I enjoyed most of the race but at one point we were running along a canal for SO LONG, I wanted to shoot myself for the boredom. I kept running though. For the last mile I started to literally shout at myself out loud to keep running, I certainly startled some other runners! It was a hard race and yet again I was completely done when I finished.
This race once again gave me an indication of my ability levels and what that meant for WTM. I'm not where I want to be but then who is? There is always more that you can do, but is there? I've done a lot! I've come so far! I've hit so many personal bests this year, I’ve achieved so many goals. I got my first pull up this year! - I've been training that for a long time - then I got 2 pull ups and then 3! I’ve pushed myself to its limit, I've tried new things, I've made new friends. I don't think there is anything I would or could have done differently, things take time and I'm happy with where I am right now. I obviously have goals for Worlds Toughest Mudder, but if I don't achieve them then that's ok. I've proved I can go out there and do my best and still do well. There is a quote from the start line of WTM that says “no one is better than your best, but your best will make you better”. I can't stop thinking about it. I'm here and I’m ready. I'm scared and I'm excited. I'm going to do my best and I'm going to love it. I'm going to be in pain but I'm going to push through, and when I'm at that edge I'll know. I know what I've done and what I think I'm capable of, but what I'm actually capable of? I'll find that out on Sunday.