The Montane Spine Race – My biggest challenge so far

Trying not to look nervous by being an idiot!! With Geoff Partridge at Registration

It is so hard to know where to start with this one! I was meant to run this race in 2021 but covid ended the 2021 dream. So I had 2 years of winter Spine training. This is a race starting in Edale along the entire 268 miles of the Pennine Way to Kirk Yetholm. Kim Collison, (my amazingly patient and understanding coach!) knew the blow of doing all the training and then not being able to finish with the race as he was also entered into this race. The thought of another winter of Spine hikes did not fill me with joy but it happened and it got done and the day arrived to finally travel up to Edale for the start of the race.

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My nerves were off the scale. I always get nervous before races but this was something else. Poor Jean, my husband, he had a lot to cope with leading up to that race! We drove up from work on the Friday so that i was away from home and couldn’t pack and repack anymore – well try not to anyway! We stayed in Gloucester and just had a relaxing evening. We headed off to our place in Buxton the next day. Registration wasn’t until 6pm. What a wait that was! It was good to finally get my drop handed in, to be told my mandatory kit was all good and get my race number. I saw Geoff Partridge and Lindley Chambers which was a welcome bit of familiarity.

We also took Wiebke Lammers, a friend of ours, to register together which was lovely to ease the nerves. She has helped me so much with this race, a real fount of knowledge and experience and i’ve been so lucky to have her input into my race planning. I actually had one of my most valuable learning experiences with Wiebke when the Cheviot Goat was cancelled and we decided to recce the last 30 miles of the Spine route instead, as we were already up that way. The day started with blue skies but ended in snow up to our knees!! It taught me so much – and really tested my kit before the actual race.

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With my lovely friend Wiebke – nerves jangling!

So off we headed to the start of the race. I had managed 2 pieces of toast and had about 7 hours sleep thank goodness! I was worried I would not sleep at all. We picked up Wiebke and headed to the start for around 7.15, to get our trackers fitted. The actual start was 8am. The nerves were tangible. And I was so excited too. I couldn’t believe I was finally here. But to leave my husband and my children for what could be a week felt, really scary. I was terribly emotional. The weather was a bit wetter than expected and we were all deciding on starting with full waterproofs, which I did, as I knew I didn’t want to get wet, it’s a long way! The next dilemma – poles out of bag or in bag! I went with them in the bag but regretted that! So take note!

I said goodbye to Jean and headed to the start. I did not know where to place myself so just stood there behind a few men! The nerves were really there now. Then Kim appeared! Was so reassuring to see him. We hugged, wished each other luck and then he headed to the front. The right place for him to be!

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So nervous here

And we were off, finally. I was so relieved to just get going. However, I soon realised that my poles would be very useful – it was very snowy as we got up the top of Jacobs Ladder and I just wanted my poles for reassurance – i fell within the first few miles and ripped my waterproof trousers! Oh well, lesson number one learnt! The weather was not great and the wind was making the snow hurt – some people had their goggles on and I was debating it – I thought wow this really is the Spine then! I was trying not to go too fast and get carried away. I noticed Anna Troup and Sabrina Verjee and thought maybe I am too fast and eased a bit but I felt good and it felt easy. So I was aware and being careful. It was great to settle into some good first few miles. Then there was a tent with tea which was so lovely to see – I had a coffee and got my poles out – huge relief! Not sure how many miles in this was but over 20 i’m pretty sure! This is when I saw the lovely Debbie Martin-Consani and shared a couple of lovely miles with her before she headed off in her incredible form and of course went on to win it. Unfortunately I witnessed Anna fall over and she said she had to retire. I felt so bad for her as she is so good at this race but she will be back and do what she does best again.

My kit was holding out well in the snow – I hate being cold so I go for heavy duty definitely keep me warm clothes! I had my Innov8 waterproof jacket on and the innov8 waterproof trousers. I had dexshell thermal waterprooof socks and Sealskin waterproof gloves. All were doing a great job. I was very aware though, that after a while nothing is totally waterproof and my big problem is if my hands get cold so i knew i would need to change gloves before long. I had packed so many thick waterprooof gloves about 5 pairs – they come at a price but so worth it. My hands never got cold.

I had done a lot of training with my heavy pack which weighed around 9kg. However, with three children and a job my long training runs with the pack were only every other weekend because I only like to do them when the children are with their dad so as not to disturb our time together. I do feel now that maybe I should have worn my pack more on shorter runs as well as the most I had ever done in it was 30 miles and although I did this many times, at around 50 miles my back was feeling the strain of running with the extra weight. I kept thinking how on earth am I going to be able to run 200 plus more miles in this pain. I tried not to worry and kept moving forwards thinking of getting to Hebden and the first checkpoint where I could change my kit and take the pack off and feel the relief of that for a bit. It seemed to take ages to get there! But eventually I was at the first checkpoint. I felt like I had slowed a lot already and it was bothering me. I saw Debbie was eating and looked pretty much ready to go. I tried to be efficient but realise this is not my strong point from the race! I was a bit tired it was dark now and I was not going to sleep this first night. I was aware I had been struggling to eat any of the food I had with me. Just gels going down and I was forcing cereal bars and supernatural pouches down but not enough. I made time to change all my clothes so I was nice and dry but the checkpoint was so cold with nowhere to dry clothes. I hoped this wouldn’t be the same the whole way. Everyone was so kind. I had a list of what to do at each checkpoint in my drop bag and made sure I charged all that needed charging (except my watch – silly me) and made my way to have some pasta. It went down really well but unfortunately kept repeating on me after that and getting anything else down was very tricky for a long time.

I am not sure how long I was here for but it felt a bit too long. I carried on in the dark and wet and my watch died! What an idiot! not being the best at navigation I rely on my watch so I had to get all my chargers out and rig it up for when I was running. It was fine but just annoyed I’d had to stop and start my watch. I don’t really remember much of this first night apart from back pain and doubts that I could complete this beast of a race. I had always doubted that I had the ability to complete this. I always feel I am not good enough and that this sort of race, in particular, is for the really good ones and I don’t stand a chance. I have watched this race for years with my husband and dreamt of being here and now I was I felt like I was trying to do the impossible. I got to Lothersdale where the Tri club had set up a lovely tent for people to rest and get warm and eat. It was such a welcome sight but by this point I was in so much pain in my back I was in tears. I really doubted I could do this now. I was only about 75 miles in and in extreme pain. So frustrating as everything else felt fine, my legs felt strong and ready to race but my back just wanted to curl up and go to sleep! This is where I first saw Mike, he was running with Nicola Sommers and I had seen her earlier, very strong. They were taking a little nap in there. Nicola was lovely and gave me a hug to try to help the tears stop and to make me feel better. She was so kind. I tried to eat some rice pudding but nothing would go down. They headed off – I tried to rest a bit but knew it was pointless, on went the pack and on I went.

I was getting frustrated as I wanted to run. There was a tarmac section and I was feeling good apart from my back but it was just so hard to run. I did, but not very fast! I started to feel a bit better as daylight came and I entered Gargrave. I was so aware I hadn’t eaten much so tried to eat one of my rehydrated meals, I had put hot water in earlier – but this was such a struggle. I managed about 4 mouthfuls and then it would not go down. Tried knocking it back with water but it just wouldn’t go. Gel it is then.

This section was fine but my back still was very sore. I met a few lovely men along this section and I felt slow as they were catching me up. Relieved some had stopped at the coop to get food. One was Bill Johnson, he was so lovely to chat to and cheered me up. We had a lovely chat about family and then Gary Chapman joined us and I heard some fantastic Spine stories which really put fire in my belly to finish and believe again. We started up to Malham Cove. It was really beautiful, a long climb but lovely. I nearly went wrong at the top! But saw Bill and Gary so corrected myself. It was on the way up that I saw a lovely camera man. He asked to chat for a bit and follow us and I excitedly said will this be out tonight my children will be so excited to see me. To which he said yes say hi to them. Well that got me all emotional and I said hi to my children, how tough it was but that I would get it done for them. First proper emotional moment about the kids, I missed them. But this moment was seen by all my family and they loved it.

Just before checkpoint 1.5 I met Kevin Robinson. He said he had not run any of it and had a really strong hike – he gave me the best tip for my back, a stretch which helped a lot and redistributed the load a bit. I got to Malham Tarn and tried to have a rehydrated meal, promptly wishing that I had got ones that were ready instantly rather than taking 15 mins. I just wanted to crack on. But also wanted to rest my back. I tried to eat some of the meal but again it just would not go down. So frustrating. I had trained with these and loved them but on race day they did not agree. This is the first time I saw Lizzie Faithfull-Davies, I really thought she was Nicola Sommers at first! They had the same coat and I guess I was tired! But poor Lizzie was suffering with her back too. I made my way out and this is where my watch played up. It was trying to send me in completely the wrong direction. Thankfully I realised and turned it off and on. So relieved I noticed with my poor sleep deprived brain! A few people had said they wanted to try to get to Pen-y-Ghent before it got dark so I had this in my head too. I am so glad I managed to get there because it was diverted later on due to high winds I believe and also doing it in the dark would have been tough! It was a hard scramble to the top and I had Lizzie behind me. It was nice to have her company but I couldn’t help thinking I must have slowed to be being caught and this really bothered me. I didn’t want it to but it did. I never intended to properly race this I just wanted to complete it but I also wanted to do my best and with the back issue I knew I wasn’t doing my best that really bothered me.

Lizzie and I descended well and thankfully I had put my headtorch on heading up to Pen-y-Ghent assisted by some lovely passers by who said could we get anything out your pack or do anything for you. So kind. Lizzie and I were talking and it was lovely to have her company, she seemed so strong and together. Then I tripped and face planted the floor just before Horton. Thankfully there was a little checkpoint and my friend Geoff Partridge there. He got me seen by a medic who cleaned my face and i had bitten both lips but it wasn’t too horrific. I just didn’t need it! It knocked me. Bless Lizzie, she stayed with me as we made our way to Hawes, checkpoint 2, as she was worried I was concussed. I had to tell her to go on, her hike pace was much faster than mine and I was feeling a bit fragile. I didn’t want to hold her back. She reluctantly went off. I had also learnt now that Kim had had to retire from the race which just felt awful. I was gutted for him – he had ran so well, it was a real low moment. So Sabrina, Kim and Anna all out….

Now was the stretch of High Cam Road in the dark and very wet. I was feeling the affects of being in my second with no sleep. I had been told earlier by a lovely person when I said I did not think i could carry on because of the back pain, that I must get to Hawes, have a sleep and reassess. Just get to Hawes. So this was very much on my radar. I was feeling lonely and it was foggy and wet and I just wasn’t moving very fast. My back was agony, I had a sore face and I was feeling very sorry for myself! I then saw an alien ship and recoiled backwards so as not to hit it with my head – then promptly realised i was hallucinating! And with that I stood on my pole. I thought phew that was close I could have snapped it, then looked down and of course it was snapped! Bloody hell! Could things get any worse?! Well yes actually, I then made a wrong turn after seeing some headtorches approaching, and I so wanted company I was so excited to see anyone. Then I saw them go off above me as I took a detour! I promptly turned and made my way back onto the route. By the time I got to Hawes I was a mess, soaked wet through, tired, hallucinating (dead guinea pigs mainly!!), broken pole, unable to eat and my back was agony. I phoned Jean as I approached Hawes and he didn’t answer. But I told him I just couldn’t do this I was in agony, I was going to have to quit i knew it. I got to the checkpoint in a state. I sat down and someone said she needs food she’s going to pass out. I knew I was going white as sheet, something I used to be good at at the end of 100 mile races – promptly pass out as I used to not be able to eat. Kim has worked hard on me with that and eating was much better but not today! The lovely Spine team got me two luke warm hot chocolates to down. I felt instantly better. They then said what do you want us to dry – music to my ears – a drying room. So I had loads to give them! I was taken to a sofa and given my drop bag. I decided to sleep here, allow myself 3 hours to try to reset myself. This was not my plan at all. I had planned not to sleep until checkpoint 3!! How wrong you can get it. I saw Lizzie who said she was going to sleep for 3 hours too. By this point racing was so out of my mind. Self management and whether i could continue were on my mind. I had a lovely meal, can’t remember what though! Sorry! And actually had a shower. It made me feel so much more human and brushed my teeth. I was given a room on my own and I slept so well. It was hard to get up. I look at my phone and I had a message from my eldest son – a turning point for me. He is 14, finds my races a bit weird – ‘why do you want to go that far and put yourself through all that?’ is what I usually get! His message said ‘My friends and I are all watching your dot and willing you on. Every day at school we follow you and can’t believe what you are doing. We are all so impressed everyone believes in you, so take this as a boost during a tough time, I love you – we know you can do this’. That message just turned a switch in me. It doesn’t matter how I do it, how long it takes, where I am placed but I have to finish this race for my children. It was just what I needed.

Open photo

Now I was warm, had fresh clothes on – all changed socks too. I then saw the medics about my back. They were so kind, strapped it, and my collar bones and back bone which were beginning to chafe – (I don’t have much covering these areas, not a good thing about not carrying much weight on me!). They also gave me a codeine to ease the pain. I forced some toast down and had a coffee. All my things were charged, i had dry clothes, it would not be long until daylight. I was reset and ready to go. This is where my journey with Mike Maxwell begins.

I had taken forever in Hawes, never imagined I would take so long. Maybe 5 hours!! Mike had been about 6.5hours! He was laying on a sofa and looked in no rush to get out. I said I was going to the Spine team, who had looked after me so well. Then I heard, hey you want some company? That was Mike, I have to admit I wanted to say no thank you, I feel like shit and want to carry on on my own being a miserable cow moaning about my back! But instead I said okay, but i’m not great company! I asked him if he wanted to start running. So we did for about 100 yards and then said sod that! It is so unfortunate but from Hawes I barely ran. Not my intention or plan but nor was my back. It was all about just getting to that wall in Kirk Yetholm now. Taking that medal back to my kids.

So Mike and I got chatting. I told him how awful my back was. He had awful blisters so we both had a little moan. I then said to him, I am doing so badly, I won’t be finished until Sunday. I’ll be chasing cut offs. To which he said, what?! No we will be in by Friday at this rate. I said are you mad, we are so slow no way. Friday was always like a B goal for me. I never knew how fast I could do this race but I thought a Thursday finish would be A goal but most likely totally out of reach but Friday – well Shelli Gordon finished at this time and many other great runners it seemed like a respectable time to finish, not my A goal but respectable and I was certain Mike was wrong as I was being so rubbish. But he was good at Maths and he assured me. He instantly lifted my spirits. The sun came up and we were faced with a most perfect day. It was beautifully sunny. We were heading to Tan Hill Inn – I couldn’t believe it – the pub I’ve seen on all the Spine videos a real famous spot, the highest pub in England, I started to feel the adventure and soak it all up. I felt good. Yes my back hurt but I could bear it, Mike distracted me. We talked about everything and nothing! Silence was comfortable, we just hit it off, it was easy and we were good companions moving at the same pace with the same goal – soak up this adventure and get to the end, don’t risk not finishing.

Making our way to Tan Hill Inn

I told Mike I just couldn’t eat and had no money! He offered to buy me soup at the pub. What a gent. We got there and saw Geoff again – such a welcome sight. We had hot chocolate and ordered chilli and butternut squash soup and Mike had cheesie chips. It was so lovely and warm in there and I just started to feel so much better. The soup went down so well and I felt 100 times better. We then made our way across the bogs and Moorland – so boggy! But manageable. A few dodgy turnings here and walls to climb! But we were feeling good and positive – this day being so much shorter on miles than the day before. We were making good progress, slow but progress, consistent. As darkness started to come again we found a little tuck shop at a farm and lovely Mike brought me a can of coke and a whisper gold. We said we would have our coke on the top of Cross Fell. It was so lovely to have a goal and someone to share it with. I am normally a very solitary runner, it was just luck that we just got on and it was easy. However I was struck by another very unfortunate event. My period was due the following week and I am regular as clockwork but I imagine the strain I put on my body prompted it to come early. So there I was in the middle of moorland doing a nature wee with poor Mike on his poles back to me giving me space! And I look down and see blood everywhere (sorry guys!). What next?! Seriously….! I had nothing with me, I didn’t know Mike well enough to spurt this out yet. So I just pretended to myself that all was okay! Having no money with me either, I couldn’t even buy anything. Bloody useless. Onwards was the only option.

As we soon realised, checkpoints seem to take an age to get to. As we approached Middleton, it just seemed to go on forever and ever to get there! It was so good to get there finally. You are so looked after. I felt positive but I had to go to a lovely lady and explain my problem. She instantly brought me back some tampons. Such a relief. We decided to allow ourselves 2.5 hours sleep, we were exhausted and it was all self management now, get to the finish, no risks. So faffed far too long with kit – it’s amazing how long it can take, with a tired mind, to sort your kit, get changed, charge everything, eat, sleep, get up eat again, sort final bits of kit, have a kit check – I was just not efficient here, so much I could improve on and save so much time. I did also have another shower here because I was a mess from my period popping along for the ride. This is also a time waster but necessary – i would have chafed badly. So probably another 5 hour stop – so frustrating and trying not to panic about it. I also met a lovely medic who gave me more codeine and got me to roll my back, told me to not worry about the time – i needed to make sure I could get to the end by taking time here. Poor Mike had his blisters all seen to which were everywhere on his feet. And we were ready to go again. Must say I had the most amazing lentil soup here – it was so so good! And I was given shower gel and a toothbrush as I couldn’t find mine – so much kindness all around – did i mention I am not very efficient or organised?! So many lessons learnt.

The routine foot taping

So on we went. We had this kind of silent agreement that we were sticking together – or maybe we made that agreement I can’t remember! But I wasn’t going to leave him behind and knew he wouldn’t leave me. In my head, I was thinking should I be racing this more but I just knew it wasn’t in me this day – it was not an option for how I felt. Now was the time to take it all in and enjoy the adventure with my new mate! I just hoped I could cope with that when I finished, as I always beat myself up after races when I feel I have not done as well as I should have. We decided we had a good system, a little sleep in the dark at the major checkpoints and a good meal, then foot and back management and up and out in the dark so only a few hours of darkness before daylight again and just push to exciting parts of the course and the checkpoints and keep chipping away at the miles. It was working and we were making progress. This section was miserable though. There was a detour from Cauldron Snout because of ice. It wasn’t that clear especially when so sleep deprived! And it was a lot on the road. Normally i’d think yay get some miles ticked off running but no I just couldn’t. So we walked on an on up this hill that never seemed to end. Oh all the way up to High Cup Nick it was neverending in the dark. We were both not enjoying this it was so windy and cold too. Although I was so lovely and warm with all my layers and the right kit. We were at High Cup Nick in the dark so no lovely views for us but on the fell the light came and it was so nice to have daylight again. I screamed ‘oh Mike look there’s civilisation, cars and people’ To which he said, no Laura we are in the middle of a fell they are rocks! A hallucination by 8 am pretty good going!

We made our way to Dufton. By this point I was bleeding heavily and had to share it with Mike! He was so lovely. I had to ask at Dufton for more assistance with this but the lovely lady didn’t have anything – I soon became the lady needing tampons – but how lovely that the Spine team were all trying to get something sorted for me. And yes, I should have prepped for this just in case, a very very important lesson learnt. So I had to cope until the next major checkpoint. Something I really want to point out is that these mini checkpoints are so lovely but there is no food. Hot water and a hot drink, Dufton did have lovely mince pies! And there was a cafe there but I had no money. I, for some reason, expected crisps and chocolate or something but nothing. Which is probably very clear in the race instructions but I just hadn’t appreciated there would be nothing. I was getting hungry now. But I didn’t want any of my food. It had become apparent that Mike had all the bad food and that’s what I wanted! I had proper survival food but he had, twinkies, mars bars, milky ways, cream eggs! That is what I craved but didn’t want to eat all Mike’s food. He was great and shared a lot with me but it’s never like having your own. So again, a huge lesson learnt, no rehydrated meals or cereal bars – cream eggs and crisps! At Dufton there was a lovely lady called Mel, who when I told her my back was in agony, said I am a chiropractor – what can i do! Oh music to my ears. She lay me on the floor and cracked my back three times. It felt so much better after this. I am so grateful to her. This is also where we learnt that my pack was way heavier than Mike’s and I soon realised my emergency clothing had got wet and i was carrying loads of heavy wet clothes with me. So the next checkpoint I was going to sort this out. At Dufton we also had the pleasure of meeting Mark Caldwell – the legend that was one of the very first people to complete the Spine. He was so strong and focussed. A real honour to meet him.

Now we carried on to Cross Fell. I was excited about this section – the weather was beautiful – tricky underfoot from all the previous rain but that didn’t matter with this gorgeous sunshine. I knew Greg’s hut wasn’t far from here too and it was all so exciting. This was the best my back had felt. We moved well up to Knock Fell and Great Dunn. It was so windy but so beautiful. We were trying not to slip on the ice on the flagstones. I was so looking forward to the can of coke reward! When we finally got up there we found a wind block and sat down for our coke. Well it didn’t go to plan – we froze! And had to get up and move on, we were really really cold and falling all over the place. Not quite the lovely coke break I had imagined! But it made getting to Greg’s Hut even more incredible. It looked closed and my heart sank. But there we were welcomed by John Bamber and his team. Oh what a moment. I felt like I was not really thee. I was a bit star struck, poor John – I kept taking pictures or him preparing his famous noodles! They were so good. Appetite was fully back. A few others joined us in there so we got up and carried on. Headtorches on and loads of layers – i had two fleece coats on, it was so cold up there. What a day that had been – we made our way to Alston. Again, this checkpoint seemed to take ages to come – it’s like someone moves them further away!!! Here we saw Liam Vines, who we had seen a few times on our journey. He was moving so well and always so encouraging and made me laugh a lot. He too, was fed up with the checkpoints seeming to move further away from us with every step forward!

Gregs Hut and the wonderful John Bamber

I got to Alston and was immediately met with the most wonderful lady who told me she had been to the shops to get me some tampons. What a woman – she was so kind. I was so embarrassed at seeming to unprepared. I had also left my towel behind! Oh dear oh dear. But I as so looked after. I was given a towel by another lovely lady and some shower gel and I felt so much better for this. We had another 2.5 hour sleep. Maybe this was too much, yes in hindsight I think I should have had less to be really racing but as I keep saying it was all about managing ourselves now and getting to the end. My drop bag was becoming such a mess but I was too tired to care. And it had ripped. I ate well here lovely veggie lasagne. The whole team were so lovely. I also took the time to have my feet taped like Mike’s as I had a couple of cuts on them, no blisters though. After my sleep my feet had swollen to a massive size. I was so glad to have fresh waterproof socks and brand new Hoka mafates half a size up. They felt amazing. I knew I had been saving these for the later stages and was so pleased I did. My feet wouldn’t have fit in my others.

Off we went again for what I consider the worst section of the race! Mike and I had had so many laughs – we were literally delirious and I found the smallest thing hilarious at times. I would just laugh for no reason and then we would laugh until we cried – literally about nothing! But it was great for the soul! We had many pole stretches by now. They were so great – such a treat! And of course very funny! We would hike for a bit then stop, lean over our poles and stretch out our backs! It was dreamy! It’s amazing how you such condensed time with a total stranger you become just so at ease. Farting, laughing, talking periods, getting angry, crying, grumpy – we did it all!! But laughing was a major one we did. My tummy still hurts now from laughing so much.

However this next section was not so funny! Mike had his grump over all the Moorland – he couldn’t understand why all the stiles and the just nothingness! But I felt so amused and kept laughing – sure that didn’t help! He threw his poles had a mini meltdown and then we got on with it. I think it is Walltown where we met a lovely couple who were manning a mini checkpoint with coffee – it was so lovely and we had a nice chat a laugh with them. And i ate two packets of crisps I had got from the checkpoint before. They went down so well. I was so aware I didn’t have enough food I wanted, and still none of mine would go down. So calories were not good enough.

Neverending Hadrian’s Wall

After this we hit Hadrian’s Wall. This is where I just had the biggest low. For hours, poor Mike. It was just hill after hill, my Achilles on my left was starting to really hurt and my feet were burning. And 16 miles to Bellingham seemed like forever at our pace. I was missing my family and I just wanted my normal life back. I couldn’t see the light. Mike tried and tried to distract me with guess the song, guess the film – singing to me! Until he went delirious for hours singing to himself whilst I was totally silent. It was hard on both of us. It got dark and my feet were still killing me, it was so hardgoing underfoot and I just couldn’t shake my mood, miles seemed to take forever to tick over. Then I fell in a bog and I cried. It all came out and Mike gave me a hug. With that I kind of pulled myself together – it was now about 8 miles to go but we were told that there was Honeystead Farm where a lovely farmer had refreshments and a warm welcome a few miles away. This helped to have a closer target. And just before this we were met by some lovely people who came out to give us flapjacks! Human kindness really shines in this race.

We stumbled our way to the farm in the dark – through lots of wetness and mud. But we got there and what a welcome we had. I had a lovely cuppa soup as I am vegetarian and the lovely smelling homemade soup unfortunately was not. The lady was so kind and welcoming. We were soon joined by Gary, who I had met earlier and this was his 7th Spine, amazing. And by a few other men who we had been tooing and froing with. Adam Marcinowicz, being one of the loveliest. So kind and encouraging. It was getting busy so we cracked on 5.5 miles to Bellingham – then it was just a marathon to go. That felt good. Again the checkpoint took forever to get to which we were now in hysterics about! Back to our old selves!

We decided just an hour sleep here to make sure we could get to the end fairly okay! I was like a zombie and trying not to fall asleep having my feet taped. I had veggie sausage casserole. It was freezing in the room to sleep in but I fell asleep so easily. I changed to my last pair of dry waterproof socks, got all our things together and there we were ready to make our way to Kirk Yetholm. I couldn’t believe it. But I still couldn’t be convinced we would make it. It’s still a long way on what i now called elephant feet and my achilles was absolutely screaming at me. My body had had enough. It is amazing how far you can push it when you ordinarily would feel there is nothing left.

We had to get bussed to the start of the Cheviots this year because of the damage Storm Arwen had caused. It was too dangerous to go through any areas of forestry as trees were still unstable. So we did not go to Byrness from Bellingham. This meant a nice warm 20 min extra nap which i welcomed by this point. We got the bus with Gary and had a lovely walk up the hill to the Cheviots with him. We both felt so good and again couldn’t stop talking and laughing! I again, found everything very amusing. Gary was so strong and great to see him have such a good finish. We had a little group of men that we were back and forth with all the way along, all lovely. I knew they slept more than us but were faster at hiking so were likely to overtake us on this last stretch. I couldn’t let it worry me. My achilles was so bad and I had to get to the end. As the sun came up it was a glorious day on the Cheviots. Absolutely stunning. We got to Hut 1 and had a coffee. Also Mike kindly gave me a cream egg for breakfast! He had given me so much food now, all chocolate and some amazing strawberry sandwich thing – oh so good! I saw the lovely medic, Harrison, who had helped me with my back earlier on. I told him of my achilles and he kindly strapped it for me. He also gave me more codeine. This was such a help. On we went to Hut 2, passed by Adam here who was desperate to get back to see his 12 week old little girl. This made us both very emotional. I couldn’t wait to see my kids. I had had some lovely messages from them and Jean had left me two notes for when times got tough with pictures of them willing me on. I had so much support and love. I didn’t check my messages all the time but could see things popping up – knowing my colleagues at work were following my dot, so many friends and of course my family and even people I never met – willing me on it felt incredible.

I said I couldn’t stop at Hut 2 my achilles was too bad and i worried i wouldn’t be able to get going again. So we said hi and bye! We also saw the lovely cameraman from Malham Cove, who interviewed us again and made me cry again when asking about what’s kept us going. My kids of course! and my husband. The views were breathtaking – I felt so humbled by the beauty up there and the silence – so privileged to be there. Hills went on and on the Schil neverending! But then we came to the 4.5 mile sign to Kirk Yetholm! I think now I knew this was it we were going to make it. A huge wave of emotion hit us both. Mike turned to me and said lets get this emotion out the way here! Thank you so much for such an incredible adventure. We had shared 150 miles or more together. And gone through all the emotions and pain you possibly can. At times it felt like torture – unable to stop because the upset of stopping was not worth it but continuing caused inevitable pain and the urge to stop and sleep was incredible. Mike and i shared times of taking the lead where I would follow and watch his shoes in a trance and vice versa we called that napping! Almost like sleeping on the move! We had an incredible journey together and we had made it. I started to read out messages as we were coming towards Kirk Yetholm, my sister had messaged me continuously and it was such a boost each and every message of support and willing us on meant so much, amazing how it gives you more strength, you find something extra to push on not just for yourself now but for someone following your little dot on the map.


We tried to run a bit into Kirk Yetholm. I couldn’t believe we were here, both of us crying we made our way under the finishing arch to so much support and i saw Jean, emotions truly out now! I touched that wall and I felt like I was dreaming. We were lucky enough to be handed our medals by the legend, Eoin Keith, such an honour and he asked us a few questions but I was a bit of a crying mess by now! I got to finally wrap my arms round Jean and we both just sobbed! It was done. I still can’t believe it!

We made it

What a rollercoaster of emotions this race puts you through. All the way I was saying we must finish I am never ever doing this again. I said to Jean never ever again that’s it it’s done. I can’t put myself through that again. And now here I sit plotting my return. I know I have to go back. This experience was incredible. I learnt so much that I want to take with me to my next experience. The first time I just wanted to complete it but I can’t stop thinking what could I do with this new found knowledge and taking a few more risks now I have completed it once. So it’s gone from never ever to when can I do it. Who knows what next time will bring. But I am so excited to go back armed with cream eggs!

That Wall

I am truly grateful for the the support and words of praise I have received during this race and since completing it. I am honestly overwhelmed by it. I have to admit I am not overly happy with the time I achieved but this was what I was capable of at this time – what my body could allow with all that was thrown at it this time round. Who knows, maybe this is the best time I will ever achieve but I must go back and see just one more time!

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The incredible finish

There is so much that goes into a race like this not just on race day and I’m incredibly lucky to have amazing support from my husband, children and entire family, who spur me on to complete these crazy things I get in my head. My husband just gets it as he is an ultra runner too and is desperate to have a go at this race himself. We are currently debating who has the next go! I guess it has to be him….! I am also lucky to have such an incredible coach in Kim, who just understands me (not an easy task!) and my anxiety, lack of confidence in my ability and just always pushes me to believe I can do it and achieve what I want. Always available when I need support and i’ve learnt so much from him.

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The husband! He’s looked after me so well

I am recovering fairly well but it’s taking a lot of time compared to any race i’ve done previously – my achilles is still very sore and so is my back and I have never experienced such tiredness. My left foot is still completely numb over a week on. But I look at that medal and it’s all worth it!


Dexshell Thermal waterproof socks – incredible

Sealskin knee high waterproof socks – good for when feet swell bigger around toes

Hoka Mafate shoes – no blisters at all, comfy and grippy

Innov8 waterproof jacket – same as Jasmine Paris’ – I got it half price and it was amazing

Innov8 waterproof trousers – so warm and dry so quickly

Runderwear hotpants – no chafing

Skins thermal tights – really warm

La Sportiva long sleeved mid layer and base layer – just never felt cold in my body

Cream eggs, crisps and lots of coffee!

Learning the hard way – Not quite the end of Season I hoped for – but probably what I needed…

So I have been a bit rubbish at keeping up with my blog the last few months so I shall give a quick update! I do blame planning a wedding on this! Which is a pretty good reason to have.

The Last One Standing

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At Last One Standing – last woman standing!

So since i last posted about Devon Coast to Coast I completed the Last one Standing in Sussex, just three weeks after Devon Coast to Coast.  I thought this may be a bit silly but Jean and I both went to compete in this 4.2 mile lapped course just a no pressure fun thing to do.  The idea being you do 4.2 miles every hour for as long as you can manage – basically to be the last one standing.  It was incredibly hard mentally and actually after what i have learned since I can see why I was feeling so sick too.  But yes I was quite unwell but managed to finish as last lady standing and completing 105 miles.  I was happy with that being so unwell and so soon after Coast to Coast and as i promptly threw up the contents of my stomach at the end!  But with more rest between races I know i could have done a lot better.  The real bonus of that race is that Jean asked me to marry him.  I just couldn’t believe it! A total dream come true.  And now we have three weeks until our wedding day, hence my blogs have been a bit neglected!!

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At Last One Standing

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Just after Jean proposed! I look a little shocked!

So after Last one Standing I was meant to do The Plague, a race by my club, Mudcrew, that I have always wanted to do but i decided that it wasn’t going to fit well with Tooting 24 hour track race in September as they were completely different races.  Tooting on track, The Plague on rugged Cornish coast path.  So I decided to try a race more like Tooting.  I entered The Madness of King George by Bys Vyken Events.  I was so lucky they let me enter quite late.  This was a 12 hour lapped course, consisting of 1.06 mile loops – an out on tarmac, back on gravel path, see how much you can do in that time.  There was also a 36 hour option and 24 hour option.  But I went for 12 hour as didn’t want to break myself before Tooting.  Although looking back with just 5 weeks before Tooting I am now not sure this was even a great plan.  I went for it and managed 76 miles and that’s with walking for the last 40 mins! I had hit the course record for men and women and was back to feeling sick so allowed myself the walk but obviously now regret that! Anyway I hit a 50 mile pb and 100k pb on that course.  The 50 mile in 7 hours 22 and 100k in 9 hrs 20 i believe.  I felt great until the last few miles of nausea and it was boiling hot that day.  It was a great event and really got my head in the Tooting way of thinking.  The support from marshals and the race director and other runners was something i will always remember I just had such a great time and that is what running these events is all about – smiling and having fun whilst hopefully achieving what you want to.

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At Madness of King George with incredible medal and trophy!

Tooting 24 hour

So 5 weeks later it was Tooting 24 hour track event.  I was so unsure about this race and now realise I really did not give it the training and respect it deserved especially as my reason for doing it was to aim for a GB vest and a possible Spartathlon auto qualifier.  Both of these I knew were pretty high aims and pretty out of my reach but i felt on a really good day I could get the GB vest maybe just maybe.  Unfortunately, leading up to race day on the Thursday night I couldn’t sleep for having a sore throat.  I couldn’t believe it.  All the training and preparation and I was getting ill.  I work at a hospital and have three children so it is impossible to avoid colds! But this was bad.  I dosed myself up and thought it’ll be okay.  Jean and I stayed in a dodgy B&B! the night before and I was feeling pretty rough but kept pushing it away he was giving me special tea to help push the virus away and I woke up thinking i’m okay.  How wrong I could be! It was a really hot day, the race started at 12 midday.  There was such a buzz at the track and so many lovely familiar faces – Wendy Whearity and Alex Whearity, Andrew Smith who I did Last one Standing with and who actually won it! and many others.  It was exciting and scary.  I thought how will i cope running round in circles for 24 hours.  Just keep my head together and think of what i am aiming for.  Jean had everything ready for me and I even had music for when I got bored!

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At Tooting 24 hour start

We set off and for the first 5 hours I felt great – moving well, on a good pace where I wanted to be.  Then all changed, I felt so so sick, extreme nausea.  I had got used to feeling sick at races it had become a new thing i had to deal with but this was different it was so much more intense.  I even said to Jean then I just want to stop.  I really had to battle with what was right to do.  I couldn’t even take on Tailwind which is my go to fuel as I can’t eat during races.  So I was getting nothing in which was making it worse.  I had the lovely Alex and Wendy really encouraging me telling me if i quite I would feel worse.  Jean didn’t know what to do it was awful for him as I was crying then being sick then managing to run again then crying, being sick, running, walking! It was awful.  I decided to just carry on, we were there, I wasn’t going to hit my goal at all but if i could go through the self transcendence the race names itself after then I would feel I had achieved something mentally and emotionally.  I could tough it out.  So I adjusted my goals and aimed to hit 100 miles and once I did that I was allowed to rest.  So for 19 hours I battled on.  I got to 100 miles in 21,30 it had been so hard I was delighted to reach it.  Then I lay by the car and slept for 2 hours! And got up for the last half hour completing just 102 miles in the 24 hours.  Nowhere near what I had intended.  I was so lucky to have the support I had there and Wendy and Alex were incredible giving me anything they could think of to try to curb the sickness.  S-caps are now my new thing! And the encouragement from others, including the race director – was just humbling.  I also met the lovely Alison Walker, who had told me before the race that i was her idol, a title I didn’t feel worthy of at all especially at the end of that race.  I’m happy to say she absolutely smashed her race completing 115 miles and getting many Malaysian records – such an achievement and such a lovely lady.  I felt so deflated after that race – it had gone so wrong, I felt there was so much expectation and I really felt I had let everyone down.  It was horrible.  After the season going so well I just felt so depressed about it and like a failure.

After the race, Jean told me it was just awful seeing me put myself through that, he was nearly in tears himself.  He asked how much I smiled in that race.  He was not sure I should have continued.  I am not sure myself now apart from knowing that I have the strength to battle on when all is against you.  However, after it I was ill for nearly 2 weeks and knowing i had the A100 3 weeks after it may have been best to just say I am ill I need to stop, im not going to achieve what i set out to so give A100 a good go.  A100 was meant to be just a simple Western States entry, no pressure after Tooting but it became so much more when Tooting went wrong.

I certainly learned that I should have given Tooting more respect than I did and my training should have been focused on that for a lot longer rather than just muddling through.  But without a coach, I find it hard to really know what is the right thing to do especially with such a different race as this.  I felt i was prepared but I was ill going into it and i should probably not have even started it but I am not a quitter and would have beaten myself up for not giving it a go.  But that probably isn’t the wisest thing to do and would it really be quitting if you are poorly and going to make yourself really poorly for putting your body through that? Also I was miserable afterwards, couldn’t look at anything to do with Tooting, still haven’t looked at the results! I was absolutely gutted and worried people would think you aren’t actually that good are you Laura.  And lose faith in me.  And this will lead nicely onto A100 – where now the pressure was immense – I couldn’t possibly let this one go wrong now could i? After such a great season i couldn’t let the last two races go wrong could i? No one would believe in me then… no pressure….I only won this one last year…!

Photo by Stuart March – finishing and winning A100 in 2018

Autumn 100

So this race was the one I won last year, my first Centurion win – it felt absolutely incredible – and it was the end of my Grand Slam year which i came first in and third overall – 2018 was just a fantastic year of racing – i loved every second and the A100 topped it all off.  I felt incredible winning that and will never forget that moment.

However, that brought untold pressure on this race, when my legs were not fully recovered from Tooting and I was still not fully recovered emotionally and mentally.  I thought I was, Jean kept saying you know you are still recovering just take it easy don’t worry what anyone thinks go and enjoy it.  But I just said I failed at Tooting, I only did 102 miles when I was meant to do 134 miles so I must be recovered (how stupid!!).  It was still 102 miles whilst vomiting and then being really unwell for 2 weeks after.  I even felt I was getting another cold 2 days before A100.  I was clearly run down.  But I wouldn’t admit it.  I just wanted to get rid of the feeling of failure at Tooting and wipe it away with a good result at A100.  I now realise how stupid this was and incredibly naive.

So Jean and I had a wonderful relaxing day the day before A100.  We have been doing so much wedding planning and obviously having lovely times with my three children – but we hadn’t had much down time at all for us.  So we had a day away doing not a lot but being together, chatting and being silly.  I even managed to forget the race for a bit! Saturday morning I woke and I did think, as nuts as this sounds, I just hadn’t been able to visualise the end of the A100.  Whenever I race I use visualisation leading up to it.  I picture what I want to happen and what i truly believe I can achieve if all goes well.  It’s amazing how this has come true in many if not all events.  However, with Tooting and A100 I just couldn’t visualise the end of those races and as nuts as I sound this did bother me.  But I pushed it away.

It was raining hard and i knew it was going to be a tough day out there with bad conditions.  Jean was telling me no pressure.  I just kept saying but i was crap at Tooting and people will think I am just a crap runner if I don’t go and make amends with this race.  As you can probably tell, I worry far too much about what others think of me.  A total lack of confidence and self belief.  This is what running gives me – a confidence in myself that i have never had before.  I realise now, that I have become far too dependent on it.  When things go right its incredible but when they go wrong I am totally lost and destroy myself, feeling worthless and like everyone thinks oh she is actually quite shit! When actually it is just a race, just running and it does not define me and who I actually am.  These are valuable lessons that I am learning and coming to terms with and which A100 and Tooting taught me – the hard way.

So I was nervous – feeling sick with nerves.  But so lovely to see the Centurion family, such special events.  Jean was marshaling so I knew I would see loads of him which would boost me and I knew lots of people there.  So many hugs and well wishes it felt amazing but of course I just kept saying well Tooting was crap wasn’t it! That really helped my mental preparation!! Oh dear Laura oh dear, just let it go!

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Race briefing with James Elson

The director (Fergy) of the Ultra Team I run for was there as a friend of his, Ellie, was running her first 100.  These two I just love and was so nice to see them both.  Fergy led me down to the start, i kissed Jean goodbye and off we went.  I wore a lot of clothes as I get so cold in the rain and it proved to be right, i never felt too hot even on the first leg when my running was pretty quick for the conditions.  I ran with Amy Sarkies the whole of the first leg – chatting and it was just so nice.  But I thought a bit quick.  I also noticed that after only 13 miles my legs were hurting, they were not recovered from Tooting,  I tried to push that thought away.  We were both in the lead and when i got into Goring after the first leg – Jean said you are just 2 mins off last year’s time.  I was surprised as knew I didn’t have the legs I had last year and conditions were so bad underfoot.  I was wearing Hoka mafates, which were just perfect, no slipping and sliding, great grip and so comfortable.  I had a coke and Tailwind given to me by the lovely Nici Griffin, and then headed back out as did Amy.

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Me with Fergy before the start of A100

Amy was running strong and I knew I was going to have to let her go.  But it was hard.  I knew already it wasn’t my day.  Yes i was up there in the placings and my timing of the first leg looked good but inside I knew my body was not ready after Tooting.  Shit.  So off we went on leg 2, Amy went off ahead and I tried to calm down.  Shortly into leg 2 i even tried phoning Jean as I felt so awful, my legs were really hurting already! Not even 30 miles in, oh god, I had really messed up and knew I had asked myself too much.  I was thinking about stopping and even saying it out loud.  Jean didn’t answer he was busy marshaling.  He sent me an encouraging message and I carried on and found my stride again.

I knew it was Eddie Suttons first 100 and that she is a great runner, amazing.  Fergy had introduced her to me at the start and she seemed so lovely just like Amy.  So I kind of felt she would appear at some point.  On the way back from leg 2 I saw she was not far behind at all, my heart sank a bit as I saw another lady too Caroline Abid not far back as well.  But I thought it’s okay just run.  The lovely Eddie passed me on a hill and was so kind.  Told me i was just in a hole.  I said i was already in pain and it was too soon after Tooting, but i had never dnf’d and i couldn’t bear the thought of it.  She just said it happens to all of us and she had had to quit many but it’s okay you get back up again and learn and get stronger.  But keep going and see how you feel back at Goring at least there they would give you lots of tea!!! She was so kind.  Then Caroline went passed and was also lovely.  My race was slipping away and I felt so sad and like a failure..again…

I told myself to get a grip and carry on suck it up just get the job done stop worrying about placing and just get your western states entry.  I then bumped into Ellie who was on her way out on leg 2 and she had an injury and was having to stop.  I was absolutely gutted for her, gave her a massive hug and thought right she is injured you are just tired and hurting but you can do this she is unable to which is gutting for her and if she could carry on she would so i kicked myself up the arse and got on with it.  I took 2 paracetamol at about 40 miles and also should say I had been taking s-caps as a new thing to prevent sickness.  Any slight twinge i felt of sickness i took one and it worked! The paracetamol and s-cap seemed to do the trick.  I came into Goring feeling a bit rubbish but like i could do this grit it out.  And to my surprise Amy had just left and Eddie and Catherine were still there.  I changed my coat to a dry one and my top.  Tailwind and coke, some strong loving words from Jean and off I went on leg 3.

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Just a little bit muddy!

I love this leg – I really got my mojo back! It has proper hills that go on and on and I just started to enjoy it and didn’t mind about my placing at all.  I started to really run well and without discomfort it was so lovely! The darkness was coming now and I was about 55 miles in.  I got to the first checkpoint about 6 miles into leg 3 and at the top of the hill I could see 3rd lady (Caroline) and 2nd (Eddie) just in front.  I was so shocked.  I had let all that go.  So this really surprised me.  I thought just see just keep enjoying it. A little way on I passed Caroline who said she as having trouble with her back, little did i know at the time what was to face me but I felt so sorry for her – she was still moving quite well but having to walk a lot more than she wanted.  So at the turnaround point i was in 3rd place and Eddie wasn’t that far ahead.  I was so surprised and happy it was starting to become the race i wanted and needed. However, this unfortunately didn’t last long…

Just before the last checkpoint on the way back on leg 3 – my back started to ache.  I couldn’t believe it after what Caroline had said about her back.  I tried to ignore it but it wouldn’t go away.  I took more paracetamol which didn’t touch it.  It got to the point where i was having to walk a lot more than i wanted as running was so painful.  Then i felt unbalanced and realised I was totally tilted to the left side.  When I ran I was having to hold my coat down at the back to keep me from falling on my face.  Sounds exaggerated but it was totally like that.  I could not believe it, i had started to enjoy the race and feel really in it and then just like that my back went.  I have never suffered such pain in a race. But I thought you are too close to the end to stop now.  You just have to get through it. I tried to straighten myself up but I just couldn’t hold that position.  I am not bad with pain – i would say i have a high pain threshold so for this to be affecting me so much I knew it was bad.  I just went with it running in immense pain whilst pulling my jacket back to keep me from falling and when I got back to Goring I was totally bent over on my left side. Jean was in shock when he saw me.  I asked Nici and James what I could do.  They said to try to stretch it out.  So Jean and I tried and it helped a bit.  By this point I did not care about placings I just wanted to finish the race 25 miles to go and i had rallied and got to 75 miles when I really felt at 30 that was impossible today so I couldn’t let it go now.  I battled with what was right to do but ended up saying to Jean I have no choice I am too close I have to get this done now.

Off I went on leg 4.  The final leg, nearly done.  It was pouring down by this point.  I was already cold as I couldn’t move very fast.  I couldn’t run I tried but it was too painful and I could feel myself tilting to the left more and more.  Then Vladimir joined me.  He is a lovely Russian friend who does many Centurion races – he ran most of TP100 with Jean and has run parts of many with me! He was such a welcome sight.  He said he didn’t care about time and was not going to leave me.  I could cry just writing that.  The amount of times I told him to go and he wouldn’t! He said lets try a little jog as you are going to freeze like this in these conditions.  My run was so slow he was leaving me doing a tiny jog.  And it was so painful so I started walking again.  Even that hurt.  I asked him if I was tilted to one side and he said you are and it is not right.  But you are a tough cookie i know if it is possible you will do this but what damage are you doing and how long will it take and how will the cold affect you.  I couldn’t give up so close to the end I couldn’t.  What about western states, what about everyone judging me thinking i’m actually rubbish after Tooting and my first DNF.  So I carried on.  People passing us all the time, Vladimir still by my side.  Then I finally said – just 2 miles into leg 4 I can’t do this what am I doing.  I am in agony I am totally lopsided when i run i feel like i will fall over and it’s agonising.  I cried and cried with Vladimir and said I am stopping it is not worth it – i could do permanent damage and for what? I knew he agreed but i needed to come to that decision myself.  He did not leave me until i had spoken to Jean to get him to pick me up I couldn’t even face 2 miles walk back as the pain was too much how could i think 23 miles was possible!

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Photo by Stuart March – Vladimir, his wife and me and Jean after their incredible finish at TP100 this year

I said bye to Vladimir and made my way back to meet Jean.  He parked up somewhere on the Thames path and ran to meet me he was so worried.  I was freezing and soaked through and in agony.  I sobbed my heart out just writing this I am again! It’s such a painful process to go through – quitting is not in my agenda it’s not what i do and there I was with absolutely no choice.  It hurt so much to come to that decision, but I know it was right. Jean wrapped me in warm clothes and let me use him as a crutch back to the car.  We then took the painful walk into Goring village hall to tell James Elson and Nici Griffin i had to DNF.  My god they were so lovely.  I told James I have never done this before and i sobbed.  He gave me the biggest hug and said you have nothing to prove Laura, you won this last year we know what you are capable of – you need to rest it is just a race and you can only be classed as a true ultra runner when you have been through the lows to get to the highs and then you appreciate them so much more.  Then Nici gave me the biggest hug and told me to please be kind to myself, to give myself time to rest and recover properly.  And the lovely Sarah Sawyer who was there pacing a friend.  She has become such a wonderful supportive friend who along with Sarah Cameron (both incredible ultra runners) have supported me through the highs and the lows and have made getting through the failings of Tooting and A100 so much more bearable.

Jean got me changed and we drove home.  Me crying most of the way, poor Jean! I have to say i have never been looked after so well.  He has been incredible even crying with me! He felt it so much too – he has said to me for a while now you are not invincible Laura you need to rest more and you need to do races further apart.  I now can see why.  He said it’s been painful to watch me as he can see i am beat and put myself under too much pressure, my beam and smile has not been at the last two races nor in my training.

I think the big lesson I have learned from my first DNF and things not going to plan at Tooting, is that with this sport you can’t just keep going and going without recovering properly.  I get such a high from the incredible words I get when a race goes to plan that I have almost become addicted to it.  From a totally honest point of view, I have never had much self believe or confidence.  I never thought I would be a runner that won stuff! I dreamed of things like that of being on the podium.  When I started to win and podium, it gave me something I never felt before, I started to think i may be alright at something.  I love reading everyone’s comments and the buzz i get from it is like nothing else.  I just think I wanted more and more of it – until running started to define me.  But you can’t keep racing these long ultras you can’t do race, recover, taper, race on and on! You won’t get the most out of yourself like that and simply burn out.  Also as incredible as the love and congratulations are after a good race, it doesn’t mean that those that matter don’t still love and congratulate me for battling on through a bad race.  I run because I love it, it is a huge part of me but it doesn’t make me.  As Jean said, I am more than just a runner, I am a mother, a wife to be, a best friend, a daughter so much more and I need to realise winning a race does not make me who i am or make people love me just a a race going wrong doesn’t make me who i am or a failure or stop people loving me and making them think i am actually rubbish! In other words running certainly does not define me.

So now I am back home 2 days after the A100, I am feeling a bit battered and broken.  My back is very sore, my legs are not too bad actually.  But my back has been bad.  I think what if you had done 25 more miles on that! I know i did the right thing to stop.  And I used to say how could anyone stop in 100 miles so close to the end.  Well now I know, and totally understand.  It’s a very long race with so many parts to it.  This is why we do it, because it is a real battle so when it goes well it makes that high even greater.  If it was easy everyone would do it and the appeal would not be there to us nutters! I had so many highs and lows in that race.  My body just finally said, enough Laura, enough I need to recover properly.. no more.

I have totally learned from Tooting and A100.  And I am going to take these forwards with me.  If anyone thinks I am now a rubbish runner for my last two races not going so well, what does that matter? Are they important to me? Do they define me or make me the person I am? The people I love and care about think i am amazing no matter how I do.  My children will be so proud of what i did at A100, I know Jean is incredibly proud i battled on as long as I did and that i had the courage to stop when i knew the pain and risk was too much.  My lovely friends ‘the two Sarah’s’! have encouraged me so much and highlighted what to take out from this.  Next year I will pick my A races and will not be doing so many of them so my body can have time to recover and I can have proper time to train for each individual race.  As both Sarah’s told me if I want to just complete ultras (which is fine if that’s what you want) then do one after the other but if you want to compete in ultras then choose your A races and no more than 2-3 a year (maybe i’ll allow 4!!).  And also to do something i have been longing to do but too afraid to in case I look crap – but I am going to do shorter races inbetween, use these as fun no pressure races who cares what people think if i don’t do what they expect at them? They will be a fun way to train and mix things up for me to get my smile back when running and racing.  I have also learned (thank you Wendy and Jean) that s-caps stop my nausea! If i can take anything from my failing at A100 that is a great thing to take, as it was becoming a real concern.  No sickness at all at A100 well just the beginnings then i would take an s-cap and my stomach was fine.  And Tailwind and coke are still the best nutrition for me during an ultra!

So to everyone who completed the A100 this weekend well done – it was such tough conditions – I think many people suffered with legs and back in the conditions underfoot and cut offs were hard to stick to for lots.  But well done all who gave it a go – it takes so much just to get to that start line.  And to all the DNF’s god it’s so hard I feel your pain but as I have said many times as hard as the pain feels for not completing what we set out to – this race does not define you as a person nor does running.  Most people are in awe of you for even attempting it and from one who has certainly learned the hard way, we need to respect these races and our amazing bodies for getting us through them. Rest and recovery is as important as the training and racing itself so be kind to yourselves, rest and recover and come back and conquer that next race.

So what next? 

Rest and recovery and getting married! Under three weeks to go which is so exciting! And shows me what is really important.  Not just running which has taken over a lot of my life.  I certainly won’t ever give up on running, quite the opposite – i just have realised to really get out of it what i want I need to be more sensible and kinder to myself, not let it rule me and to stop caring what others think of me.  To get my confidence and self belief from within me not from the nice comments i may get from a good race, they will always be amazing and boost me but they should boost a good self belief already within in me not give me my self belief and self worth.  So that is what is next is working on better training and treating each race individually with structured training and recovery.  And most importantly getting my beam back in my running – it’s meant to be fun after all! So I can’t wait to go and find it again – maybe I will find it on the Cornish Coast path at the end of January!

Thanks to everyone as always for the support and belief even through the races that don’t go to plan.  It really does mean more than you could imagine. And Jean you really are the very best thank you for always being there through the highs and the deepest lows couldn’t do it without you by my side.

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Happy times ahead!

Next race is Arc of Attrition – the rest of the 2020 I am just about to plan! And I will be Mrs Laura Swanton-Rouvelin by then – how lucky am I!

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Photo by No Limits Photography – Arc of Attrition 100 this year – with my ‘Beam’

The Devon Coast to Coast – 117 miles (ish!!) 18th May 2019

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Sarah Salt and I finding it funny what we are about to put ourselves through!

So, my last race was the Arc of Attrition in February.  This race had been a step up for me in Ultra running.  I knew it would be tough and I felt I needed to prove to myself I could do a hilly winter 100 miler and survive! I absolutely loved it but found it extremely tough.  So happy to have managed to finish first lady and in a time I was happy with.  The next race I had booked was the Devon Coast to Coast and I knew I needed to let my body recover properly to be ready to take this one on 3 months later.  This would be the longest race I had done – meant to be 117 miles but more like 112 miles from last year’s finishers.  This was another step up – many many hills on the unpredictable Moors of Exmoor and Dartmoor and I wanted to be able to do a good job at it.  So after my recovery from the Arc I started to train again.

I learnt from the Arc that I really do drop off at the end of a 100 miler.  I know this is pretty normal, it’s hard to maintain pace as fatigue sets in and all the aches and pains but I really wanted to try to finish my 100 milers a bit stronger and not drop off so much.  I felt with the Arc that maybe my time could have been a bit better if I had been a bit stronger in the last 20 miles.  I have felt this with all my 100’s to be honest and am trying to work out a way to not lose the pace quite so much.  So I decided to up my weekly mileage to try to give me extra strength in my legs.  It is all trial and error for me.  I don’t have a coach so I just have to try and see if it works! So I decided I would have a long stretch of over 70 mile weeks which is normal for me when training for 100 miles.  But this time instead of a 6-7 week stretch I would do 9 weeks and instead of 70 mile weeks I aimed mainly for over 80 mile weeks with one 95 mile week.  I just wanted to see if this would make my legs feel stronger to the end.  It did – I have to say although, annoyingly my pace dropped a lot again, my legs felt the best they have felt in the last 20 miles of a 100 mile race and this was the longest race I had done and the best my legs had felt.  They didn’t cause me any problems or make me want to slow but unfortunately it was absolutely awful blisters that made me slow.  Which I will go into later! And which is entirely my own fault!

The night before Race Day

I was nervous as always but particularly nervous this time.  I don’t know – I always feel I have to prove myself to me more than anyone else.  I know if I have a bad race I will struggle to be kind to myself for a while and feel I am no good at this.  I struggle to believe in myself and having good results has really helped my confidence in all areas of my life.  So the pressure is always there for me.  But also I want to do well for my Club – Mudcrew – as I think it is a really special club run by such lovely genuine people – friends.  And the usual, I want to make my boyfriend and family proud it’s so important to me.  Having won the Arc, should I be winning this one? If I don’t am I not as good as some people say? pressure pressure! I know I am no elite but I just want to keep doing as well as I can and do the best I can and improve all the time.  That is pressure but i know I put it on myself.  And it is not a bad pressure to have! So we ate a tonne of pasta all week leading up to the race because I know I cannot eat throughout so it is important to bulk eat in the lead up so I can cope.  I went through the race with my partner who was crewing for me.  We knew our friends were going to be there Dan and Sarah Salt. Sarah won it last year in hideous conditions and we had recce’d a the first half with them.  Dan had crew points listed for Jean to make it easier for him.  So we didn’t have a lot to prepare really.  I worked all day then got my bags packed – Tailwind was my main nutrition source i didn’t even bother packing any other food apart from custard and rice pudding (which of course i didn’t touch!).  I packed a few SIS gels and Clif Bloks.  And of course coke.

So the night before it was nice to be able to sleep in our own bed as the race was only an hour away.  My nerves were really high still though! But I managed to have a really good sleep and also managed to eat a moderate and usual pre race breakfast of toast honey and marmalade! Not great but my tummy starts resisting food the morning of the race – nervous wreck that I am! So I double checked we had everything.  I knew my kids were all fine and off to their dad’s so just to make sure I had all i needed and set off.  I had no idea what to wear as the weather was not boiling hot but not freezing cold – so had a minor battle with my mind about shorts or tights! This went on a considerable amount of time – in fact right up to the start of the race!! I did, however go with shorts, as Jean and Sarah recommended numerous times – and they were actually very right!

Race Time

So we got to registration where we were greeted by Sarah and Dan Salt (Sarah was first lady last year and is a really good friend) which was lovely and eased my nerves.  And then saw the lovely Justin Nicholas, race director.  We both ran the Arc this year and actually spent quite a lot of time out on the course together so was really nice to see him again.  My nerves were immense now! Poor Jean! But I just wanted to get going.  It was really well organised.  I saw Michael Robinson who is part of the Climb South West team and who I also spent some time on the Arc with.  He helped get me all checked in and then it was the pre race briefing.  I had no plan – just keep going and do my best but what did I want to do.  Only I had a little idea in my head but it was hard to know.  I knew the conditions under foot were awful last year and as the race was in March but now in May I knew we would have better conditions.  However, Alex Lockett ran a superb race last year in just over 26 hours and that would be hard to beat but I guess I had that a little in mind as an aim it would be nice to get around that time.  But other than that I had no idea! And like always just see what happens, run my own race and never look at pace.

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Me with the lovely Sarah Salt – showing my mascot from my children!

So Jean drove me down to the start.  We had a few photos – Justin then said can anyone get a sub 24 hour or beat Alex’s FKT.  Nerves really kicked in again! I didn’t know where to stand for the start either and no one really went up the front so there I found myself heading off at the front – not where i wanted to be! As soon as I started I said to the guy just behind me – i don’t want to be here you go in front! Which thankfully he did and little did I then know what a massive part of my race he would be – that was the first time I met Adam.  And we would spend a lot of the race together.  Beside him was a fellow Mudcrew member, Sy Powell who I knew of from my team but mainly from him running the Arc when Jean ran it.  He was also to play a massive part in my race.  Then behind him was another guy called Rob.  We set off and it seemed to be just us for the first mile or so.  We were in good spirits and then we came to a field and my watch told me we were going wrong so i decided to go back and met Justin Montague – the others carried on (cleverly!).  From now Justin and I made some ridiculous navigational errors! It’s probably the worst start I have ever had to a race! In the first 10 miles I went wrong 3 times! I was nearly crying it was so frustrating.  I really wanted to do well at this and I kept making stupid errors.  Following my watch and missing a gate then going round and round a field! Twice I ended up behind 4th, 3rd and 2nd lady! One being Sarah Salt who couldn’t believe my errors especially as we had recce’d this bit! It was truly awful and I even managed to go behind 2nd lady (Justin Montague’s wife!) 3 times! It was so embarrassing but she was super lovely about my uselessness! It was maybe nerves, maybe looking down at the wrong point and a bit of being a sheep and following when I should have looked at my watch with the route on.  I won’t go into it too much but it was so frustrating.  I thought I had blown the race really and then ran my heart out to make back the places I had lost.  So actually my first 30 miles wasn’t too slow.  I was constantly thinking why didn’t I just stick with Adam, Sy and Rob and I was desperate to find them so I knew I hadn’t lost anything! It took me just under 30 miles to find Sy! And I was worried I had run too hard and would struggle with the rest of the race.  I just had to relax now and see what happened.

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At the start with Sarah and Justin Nicholas (race director)

So before I found Sy – I got to the first checkpoint where Jean was and Justin Nicholas was there too.  I said my god I have gone wrong so many times! They reassured me and said the leaders were only 5-10 mins up ahead and Justin Monague had caught up with them.  I knew now I could just let the race start and try to put the bad start behind me and the wasted energy and just use it to spur me on.  I had coke and tailwind – it was lovely to see Jean and be reassured.  Then I met a lovely guy who was walking up onto the Moor to encourage people.  Was great to chat to him as I walked – the hill out of Ivybridge onto the Moor was immense! This was good for getting myself together and stop thinking about my mistakes! I got up to the Moor, which is a place I always feel calm wash over me and it did have this effect.  The space and the views it’s just mesmerisingly beautiful.  I let the space and the clean country air wash over me as I headed out over the puffing billy track which is a very slight incline but very runnable of about 7 miles – it’s actually quite hard work but I just pushed hard here to get it done.   I could see Justin in the distance and that felt good.  I knew I was making good progress now and actually felt good and started to really enjoy it.  It’s such a stunning route.  At the end of the puffing billy track (an old tramway)  I saw the lovely sight of Jean who had run up there and delivered me coke and tailwind.  Perfect.  He said I was running really strong and just was so encouraging.  This area is a place we know well as Jean used to live here and we ran a lot near Avon Dam so it was nice to be here.  So I went on my way and as we dropped down into Holne that is where I saw Sy.  It was so nice to see him finally! We ran in together to the checkpoint.  I think I left on my own.  I didn’t eat as I simply can’t! So had coke and went on my way.

As I headed back to the Moor there was another pop up checkpoint and this is where I saw Adam and Rob – finally! Not sure how many miles in that was maybe just over 30.  It was so good to see them.  They left just before me and walked up a very long hill which i did too but we all finally joined together back on the Moor and then it was lovely that Sy joined us too! This was the beginning of a really special journey with Sy and Adam.  We were all chugging along quite nicely now and it was nice to have some company and the nerves of getting lost and wasting time were now easing.  We knew Justin Montague had gone off ahead now – brilliant running by him to hold his nerve after all our slip ups in the first 10 miles! The views were absolutely stunning on Dartmoor and I always feel a sense of freedom and peace when I am on the Moor and this really helped with me mentally.   We had ascended 260m over 3.5km! It was a tough section beautiful – passing four Tors in the Dart Valley.  This section was so stunning and such beautiful running and I was feeling good – my tummy wasn’t that happy but I felt good about how I was running.  We reached the highest part of the route at Hameldown Tor at 529m! Simply amazing views which now I was more relaxed I was taking in more although I have to say I have a habit of falling over so had to keep looking down a lot!!

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The beautiful Moor – thanks Kate Stone for the photo!

We reached our next checkpoint on the Moor which I think was called Metheral – we had to go back on ourselves and as we did so we were amazed to see Justin heading off.  He wasn’t that far in front and that felt good.  I never stop long so neither did Sy or Adam.  We cracked on and came to a section of easier running now.  Off the actual Moor and onto country lanes and fields – more runnable.  We were heading towards Chagford which is where I knew my mum and my step dad would be.  This was so exciting! They are such incredible supporters and used to come to all my races but since they have become ultras it hasn’t been as easy for them to come.  But as this was so near to home mum could come along.  I said to Sy and Adam that I was going to get emotional when I saw mum which of course I did.  I think we were at about 45 miles here roughly and this was just the boost I needed.  I always find that between miles 35 – 50 of a 100 mile race I have a dark time.  This is because you start to feel aches in your body but you know you have more than half the race to go.  The aches go and you get used to them but in that time it is hard to remember that.  With this race I knew there was even further to go as this could be 117 miles! And I have to admit that this did mess with my head a lot.  So we crossed the field and in the distance I could make out my mum and my step dad! I got emotional immediately! At the time Sy, Adam and myself were in second place and running really well.  It was so nice to see my mum and give her a hug and it gave me a real boost – Jean was there too and I had more coke and Tailwind and then we headed off straight away.  We were going much faster than I thought we would reaching 50 miles under 10 hours which I knew for that course was pretty good going we were in Hittisleigh in 10.04 hours which was about 55 miles in.   At Hittisleigh Village Hall Justin was there, he told us we were ahead of last year’s first place time.  Which was encouraging.  This is where we also found Justin who was eating.  Jean said you are altogether now.  It felt good to know we were running well but my tummy was not being kind to me.  My mum also met us here too which was such a treat and boost.  I tried to eat a potato wedge but had to spit it out – nice! Then I managed to eat a slice of water melon which was caught on camera!!

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I ate something! Thanks for the photo Justin Nicholas

I felt in good spirits but it was still very much on my mind that we had more than 100 miles to go.  This I will have to work on if I want to go further.  I have got used to 100 milers now and can break them down easier now.  Anything over really messes with my mind.  So I was feeling a bit low about that.  I left the checkpoint first and couldn’t believe I could see Justin not too far ahead.  However, I had not been able to have a wee up to this point as I don’t like wasting time on this so normally go on route but with 2 guys with me this hadn’t been possible yet! So i quickly dashed behind a bush!! Quite funny when I look back I didn’t have much time before Sy joined me! And then Adam.  We were feeling good we had all seen our families and Sy’s cute son! All our families encouraging us all.  It was so lovely.  We could see Justin around each corner but he was brilliant at just chugging on up the hills where we took the opportunity to walk and recover he still ran.  We thought he may pay for that but he clearly didn’t.  Amazing really.  This section was a lot of road but i quite liked the change and not needing to think too much.  Apart from when we tried to cross a field of cows! Now I never normally worry about cows so thank god I had the boys with me.  There were about 400 of them no exaggeration! And they were very excited.  We had to cross the field to continue.  So Sy and Adam said lets go round the edge and stupid me said let’s just go straight through, cows are harmless! Little did I know! I did my usual clapping of my hands and Sy and Adam just said Laura please come behind us we have poles to protect you – what gents.  I finally saw I didn’t stand a chance as they came towards me bucking and rearing and we all screamed ‘run’!! We literally found our fresh legs there and then and ran for our lives and made it just in time under an electric fence to the road leaving 100’s of cows screeching to a halt right behind us!! Unfortunately during this Sy rolled his ankle.  He was in a state thinking his race may be over.  I told him no way – I had done the same just before the Arc but it wouldn’t stop him it would just hurt for a bit whilst we walked it off and then he would be okay but it would not be pretty after! Maybe not good advice but he was thankfully okay.

So Adam called Justin the race director who then diverted everyone onto the road for this section! We always wondered how Justin Montague got through! Shortly after this excitement we met with Jean – I was feeling it a bit now – my tummy hurt a lot and there was a lot of road and I hate to not run when it is so runnable so it felt a lot of hard work.  I was so happy to have Adam and Sy with me as I just feel we all brought our own qualities to each other.  Adam was just always fine and never complained! they were both total gents holding gates open for me, we had a system where with their poles they were far quicker uphill than me so I would push myself harder up the hills and run the end part to be with them again and I would always push us to run again when maybe we weren’t feeling like it! It worked well for us and as night came it was even nicer to know I had these companions.  It made navigation so much easier too as we could simply check we were all in agreement and not over think or waste time.  A long shot for me had been in my head that I would like to not put my headtorch on until 70 miles in and I believe it was actually at around that time that we got them out! I knew we were making good time far better than I had anticipated so this felt good.

We had another encounter with some slightly friendlier cows and headed to Witheridge village hall checkpoint.  Justin was probably here again as he was so good at being everywhere! And Jean I was struggling with anything really and just wanted lemonade.  It is so difficult when you are running so far and being unable to eat.  Tailwind is my go to source of help but for some reason my tummy was not happy for a long time on this race.  I think about this time it had started to ease as I had stopped having anything apart from water and a bit of lemonade kindly got my Jean.  I had that for about 40 miles.  Then I tried Tailwind and coke again after my tummy felt more empty and less upset.  This seemed to work thankfully.  Adam was great at eating and his lovely mum was offering me his food too which was so kind.  Sy was better than me at eating but he struggled I seem to remember him taking ages to chew anything it would be in his mouth for miles!!

So here is what not to do.  Because I wasted time so early on by going wrong, I felt on a total mission to not lose anymore time.  I wanted to keep my position as first lady and I wanted to do as well as I could overall.  So I refused to change my shoes or socks, not once and maybe I changed top once.  So stupid of me, because during the Arc I changed my shoes twice maybe three times and got fresh socks.  Changing my shoes stopped any hot spots developing further and I had no blisters at all after the Arc.  So as you can imagine, running on Dartmoor, getting wet feet and mud, grit etc and not changing shoes or socks at all, by 80 miles my feet were in bits.  I had the most awful blisters and rubs on my toes but now it was too late I didn’t want to disturb them so i just carried on.  I also had a foil pack as mandatory kit in my backpack rubbing against my back and still refused to do anything about it.  My back was raw at the end! I just hate wasting time but i feel now my time may have been improved if I had taken the time to change my shoes and not be in such pain for the latter stages of the race.  Big lesson learned.

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Drinking coke and Tailwind again!

I have to say there was great food available at checkpoints and hot food at various ones but I just am not mentioning much about it as I just couldn’t eat! So I am afraid I don’t have much detail (could be a relief after this waffle!) for this section as I was so tired and it has all become a bit of a blur! I know I kept asking Jean along the way how close second lady was and I did feel panicked as always! But everyone kept telling us we had nothing to worry about second lady was now over an hour away but there was a man that had been not far all along but was making up time.  I felt bad for Sy as it would have been so lovely for him to podium and I didn’t want it to slip away but we were all starting to fatigue and hurt.  And in the dark over rocks etc we slowed a bit.  Howard John overtook us at some point in the dark but not much before daylight I think.  He was on a mission and apparently to catch first place! So cracking effort by him.  We had slowed now and I was worried I didn’t want to walk it in ever.  We got to about West Anstey in 17,13 hours which was about 87 miles in and it was very much still dark and the middle of the night.  As we headed up on to Exmoor at about 88 miles it was actually nice to get in the Moor again and we knew that the end was getting closer.  It just messed with my mind again as we weren’t sure how long it was until the end – we knew it was more likely to be 112 miles than 117 as that is what a lot of people from last year had but we just weren’t sure so not knowing when the end was was a bit difficult! As I said this bit is all a bit blurry! I know we did the lovely Tarr Steps near Withypool on Exmoor but it was dark which was great for time but not so great for pictures and views! Although none of us took any photos we kept saying this is so stunning but we just couldn’t muster the energy to get our phones out to take a picture! I know that we were looking forward to the light coming and seeing our crew each time – it was lovely they were all our little unit of loveliness and lifted us all.  So to whizz on through the night and I have to say poor Sy had had to say goodbye to his family as his son needed to sleep for the night but we were greeted by them as a surprise very early morning – I wish I could remember where but it was so lovely Sy was so happy to see them! 

So the final checkpoint was Simonsbath.  This was in daylight! Our crews were there and we knew the end was near now.  Poor Sy was in a lot of pain, my feet were killing me (my own fault!) and Adam was just quietly getting on with it! This aid station in the daylight (lovely!) had vegan banana cake and wow that was so good i actually ate! Took about 100 miles but wow that was good! So it should be about 9 miles from here I think. That seems such a long way at this point! It’s mad you think you run all that way and this bit should seem easy but my god it was so hard! I loved how the three of us every now and then would say you okay? Or well done guys you’re doing great.  We were all so supportive of each other.  I did think we may cross that line together in 3rd but the next last few miles panned out differently and we just had to go with it.  Adam had a walk of a man on a mission! And Sy and I were holding him back.  What a gent he was holding gates for us and waiting at the top of hills but we had to tell him to go.  It was his race and he was wrecking it for himself he could finish stronger so we told him to go get that podium place.  Sy and I were hurting my feet just were so sore.  So annoyed with myself for this.  But I wasn’t going to walk it in.  We shuffled on but by this point Sy was really struggling with downhill which was where I was really able to get some pace again my legs were still pretty good.  So I really feel my extra high mileage weeks had helped me get stronger and had it not been for blisters I would have had a much stronger finish, easy to say now I guess.  I so wanted to stay with Sy and I was battling so much about what was right to do.  He was telling me to go on when I waited at the bottom of hills.  I wanted to finish together but the next hill I did I didn’t see Sy for a while but saw Jean with 2.5 miles left to go.  I just wanted it done, I was hurting and I know me if I hang around too long I get like I do at the end of races and pass out! So I had to keep going.  I told Jean to tell Sy he would catch me on the many uphills we had coming and truly believed I would see him there but that wasn’t to be.

My god the hills – I had been warned about them but nothing could prepare you for them after 110 miles! They were switchbacks so you just kept going up and up!! To be honest the views were truly incredible at the top and Lynmouth is a place we used to go to for family holidays so it was an emotional view at the top.  It brought back so many happy memories and I couldn’t believe I was here.  I could see the finish and I just wanted to get down and shake that statues hand! So I went down a switchback and another lovely surprise had to go back up again!!! It was relentless but an interesting finish!! I finally made it to the bottom and to Lynmouth.  I saw Sy’s dad and hugged him saying how sorry I was that we weren’t together.  He was so lovely.  I saw Jean and Adam and all their families it was so lovely and there was Justin and the statue! I had made it I was so so happy I can’t tell you.  That was probably the toughest race I had done unless I have just forgotten how tough the Arc was! But I did absolutely love it – such a challenge.  I managed 25 hours 12, first placed female and 4th overall with the new women’s FKT (fastest known time) for that route, which I am absolutely delighted about.

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This race is one I thoroughly recommend.  It was so tough but just so beautiful.  The hills are pretty incredible! But still doable and what an incredible journey you go on.  It is so well organised and had a really special vibe to it.  It really did push me to the brink at times but partly through my own stubbornness and fear of not achieving what I want to.  Well done to Sarah Salt on another incredible race and knocking about 4 hours off her previous time and special thanks to my running partners Adam and Sy – it was an absolute pleasure running all those miles with you both.  Adam finished in 3rd place in 24,36 and Sy in 5th place in 25, 30.  Huge congratulations to Justin Montague too on a new FKT and sub 24 hours in 23,22.

Thank you everyone for all your support, to Climb South West for putting on such a special event and looking after us so well.  And thank you Jean for being the best support, boyfriend and crew I could wish for.  It may be his turn next!

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Me with my partner Jean – the best crew ever!

Thanks also to Tailwind for keeping me going when I can’t eat.

Next race is just 3 weeks away – Jean and I will be doing the Last One Standing in Suffolk on the 8th June

The Arc of Attrition 2019

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I have been meaning to write a blog about my training leading up to this race, after the Centurion Grand Slam ended but with finishing my post graduate studies, training and looking after my three children it just hasn’t happened! So I shall start by giving a quick update since the Grand Slam

The lead up to Race Day

So after the Grand Slam ended I was really happy to have the focus of the Arc of Attrition as the Grand Slam had been a focus all year and I was so elated that it had gone so well and then to be nothing was quite a scary thought! So I thought recover and then plan for the Arc.  I gave myself more recovery time after the A100 because I knew my body had served me well to keep up with 4 100 milers in really 6/7 months rather than a year! And I had not really allowed it to recover enough between them, so panicked that I should get back to training like others I could see around me.  This did actually prompt me to get off Strava, well, only use it for me – so no following others or being followed so I didn’t let my training be affected by others.  This was a really good move for me.  So I actually had 3.5 weeks off running after the Grand Slam with just two 4 milers somewhere in there.  I had a little niggle in my left hamstring and this had been for quite some time and I wanted to try to give it time to recover so I could prevent an injury.  I also felt this would be good for my body.  Not good for me mentally, as I tend to be a bit of a nightmare when I don’t run – as it is my emotional and mental stabiliser so without it I become rather unbalanced or unhinged should i say!! But it was worth it not to be out for potentially months with an injury, that would not be good for me or anyone around me!!

So mid November, I started to look to the Arc and think about training.  I don’t have a coach and I don’t have a training plan.  This is mainly due to finances but I have found that I just run on feel.  I try to get long runs in where possible and on the terrain the race is on and include runs with hills in and on days I am feeling great I will up the pace.  I am sure my training plan could be a lot better but this is just what I have been doing so far.  So I decided 8 weeks of 70+ mile weeks mixed with some recce’s of the Arc course and then a 3 week taper 50 miles, down to 35 miles down to just 6 miles on race week.  I know the course is really tough so those recce’s were really important.

The Arc of Attrition is a 100 mile race along the Cornish Coast from Coverack to Porthtowan.  It is known to be a pretty brutal race as it is in the middle of winter along some of the trickiest terrain in the country with 13 hours of darkness to contend with, hills that go on forever and whatever weather you could imagine possibly being thrown at you!  Why did i want to do this?! Well when I met my partner at the end of 2016, he was planning his first Arc of Attrition in February 2017.  I had never done an ultra then and I remember thinking it sounded totally crazy and unimaginable! I ended up joining his crew for that and I was totally inspired to try ultra running and I knew one day I had to do the Arc.  I crewed for him for the Arc, again, in 2018 with the same other crew members and it didn’t disappoint! It has everything and my passion for it grew further.  So I finally said I have to do this one.  After being asked to join the Mudcrew Ultra Team in 2018, which was something I felt so honoured to be asked to be a part of, this made me feel even more drawn to the race.  I knew it would be a totally different 100 miler for me with the different terrain and in winter the time on my feet would be something I had never experienced and it would be a real challenge.  Also, after seeing the incredible performances my partner put in and finishing in amazing times, but what he endured to get there I just felt I needed to push myself and see if I could cope with this sort of race too.  There’s many races I look at and think I want to give that a go, even the Spine these days! But could I actually cope with one such as this….I really had no idea!

Training had gone well, and my legs were feeling good.  During taper time I was getting eager to run and go for it so I knew I was ready and resting well.  In the week leading up to the race I spoke to one of the Race Directors, Andrew Ferguson (Fergy!) who told me it was the strongest field of female runners they had had at the event, which did absolutely nothing for my nerves!!  He also told me I had Number 1 on my bib because of seeding and my Grand Slam result, which although, I felt hugely honoured to be given it, it made me feel unimaginable nerves!  Now I really do not consider myself up there with the top runners and I really do struggle with nerves leading up to a race! So this was an interesting feeling leading up to race day.  I have always dreamed of being one who makes it to the podium and of being at the top – so anything like this just makes me feel in total disbelief and well really have they made a mistake! I knew of the other female runners and the amazing achievements they had previously and I didn’t want to put added pressure on myself.  I always make the decision before a race to just do my own thing – don’t worry about those around you, or it could mess up your entire race so I decided that is what I would do.  Just run, do my own thing and see what happens and what I can do on this course.  No one will think any less of you if you don’t do so well, most important thing is to enjoy it.

The Journey to the Race

I live in Devon with my partner, Jean and my three children, Finley, Archie and Lola, so we were not too far from race registration.  We decided to work on the Thursday with the race starting at 12 midday on the Friday.  We both did half a day of work and then headed off around 3.30pm.  This was a great plan to register the night before the race, but unfortunately the weather was not our friend! As we approached the A30 I could see on my phone a few comments about the snow in Cornwall.  I thought this can’t be right there was nothing in Exeter.  So we carried on.  As we saw lorries coming the other way with snow all over them we started to worry.  We soon were hit with heavy snow and to our disbelief it turned into total mayhem.

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I couldn’t believe what was happening.  We ended up in a stand still for about 3 hours.  I was frantically looking on Facebook to see what other participants of the race were doing.  The A38 was bad but not as bad.  People were up ahead of us stuck in the same conditions.  I was starting to think after all this training am I not even going to make the start line.  My lovely planned calm relaxing evening was not going to happen! That i can cope with but not making the start that would be awful.  So my partner, Jean, decided to take his chances and turn around onto the other side of the dual carriageway – there happened to be a gap in the barrier and we managed to get through the snow and start going the other way following the sat nav.  It ended up being the best decision ever! But it was the most frightening drive of my life.  We even went up onto Bodmin Moor with overturned cars and could barely make it up the hills without skidding all over the place.  But we got there after 7.5 hours of driving! We were there by 11.15pm.  I was so relieved and felt so awful for the people still stuck where we had been, some still there in the morning who never actually made the start of the race.  So sad.

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We were staying in a lovely holiday let ‘It’ll do’, in Porthtowan.  The owners were so kind to us even offered to go and get us food on our arrival after our awful journey! We had come prepared and had a late dinner.  I prepared my bag and what I was going to wear and we would now head to registration in the morning.  I was just so relieved to be able to get to the start, I felt incredibly lucky to get six hours sleep in a comfortable bed.

Getting to the Start Line

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Image by No Limits Photography – Nerves from us all at start line – stood with Matt Hart and Kim Collinson

So that morning we went to register.  I was greeted by the lovely Jane Stephens, Race Director (and now friend) who helped me get organised.  I collected my race number, my tracker in case of emergency this must be on at all times and I had my mandatory kit checked.  It was all getting very real now.  Thankfully then our good friends Sarah and Dan Salt arrived.  This was lovely, Sarah is someone I train with and always eases my nerves, she’s a fantastic ultra runner.  We listened to the race briefing and then made our way to the bus to take us to the start 1.5 hours away.  I had to say goodbye to Jean here and still couldn’t believe I was actually doing this, after crewing for him two years in a row I knew this was going to be tough and I knew the weather may throw anything at us.

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Image by No Limits Photography – Nerves!

The start was incredible.  Such a show.  There was music, the banging of drums, blue smoke! Amazing such an atmosphere.  Before we headed off Andrew Ferguson (Fergy), another of the three Race Directors, asked for the top 10 numbers to come forwards.  This was so scary – a lovely way to enhance the race and build it up but I stood with Matt Hart, a brilliant runner who went on to finish in an incredible time and position.  He was just as nervous as me and we both felt like should we be standing up here with all these amazing runners!   My nerves were eased when Fergy introduced me he had to whisper in my ear that he had momentarily forgotten my name!!  Think sleep deprivation had got to us all!! I said goodbye to Sarah at this point and we both just hoped to stay warm.

The countdown started and we were off….

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Image by No Limits Photography

The Race

So I had to start from right up at the front which was quite intense but then quite useful for not getting stuck on any of the single tracks to start with.  The atmosphere was incredible, the sun came out and I felt really good.  It was amazing to see all the support and to just be there I felt incredibly lucky.  I knew I had been stood with Anna Troup, an incredible ultra runner who completed the UTMB in an amazing time of 32 hours.  And Kim Collinson went off ahead at great pace as did Matt Hart.  From this moment I decided to just run my race and not worry about those behind me and as I had started at the front try very hard not to go off too fast.  This was difficult!

The first section from Porthtowan to Lizard Point was so lovely.  Really runnable and the underfoot conditions were lovely.  I was worried about if it would be really slippery after the snow and wet conditions but I was wearing Hoka Mafates and these have incredible grip as well as cushioning so they felt just right.  Last year it had rained for months leading up to the race and my partner had really found the conditions underfoot quite unbearable as did many runners.  Just so muddy and hard to run through so I felt really lucky that we hadn’t had much rain leading up to race day.  It was wet underfoot but not horrendous.  I was trying to take in the scenery as well as trying not to fall over, which I am very good at doing so i looked down a lot!

Image by No Limits Photography

I got to Lizard Point in 2hrs 6 this is 10 ish miles in.  I was met with the most wonderful cheer of support which made me totally emotional! It was so lovely to be met with such support and cheers.  I knew I was first lady at this point because of how the race had started.  For me this is hard to put out of my head! I didn’t want to put pressure on myself but I also couldn’t help thinking how lovely it would be to finish in that position.  But the race was long, I just had to keep going and see what happened.  At this point I was met by my partner and his friend Don, he had very kindly come to support and crew too which was great and so much nicer for Jean.  They would also be joined by another friend, Nick, later on.  These are Jean’s friends who crewed with me for him for both years he completed the Arc and I found it totally overwhelming that they wanted to join me for my race too.  This gave me a real boost.  I didn’t stop long, I just wanted my usual, a coke followed by Tailwind.  I struggle to eat at these races.  So I heavily rely on Tailwind, which I am proud to be Ambassador for this year.  It got me through all my 100 milers of the grand slam last year and I know as long as I make myself have a cup of that at every aid station and crew stop my body can cope with no food.  Amazing really to have something that works so well for me.

So I left Lizard Point pretty quickly.  I was not taking in at all when I would next see my crew.  I am not sure why, but I felt on a mission from the very start, i had a job to do! But I knew it wouldn’t be long until I saw them because I knew we saw Jean a lot last year.

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Image by David Miller at Mullion Cove

I was very aware of navigation and how easy it is to go wrong on this course.  I am not the best at navigation anyway – I had done two recce’s of the course but just along the most tricky section at Zennor and one from Cape Cornwall to Godrevy.  Otherwise I didn’t know really if I could get it right.  I had the route on my watch and tried to remember to keep looking at it and not just follow others.  All advice from Jean which i found to be very useful.  I was running with a few men at this point and we shared a lot of jokes about the pressure of my race number and how it is like a target! I tried to put it out my mind, ‘just run your own race Laura’.  I think i managed this once I eased into the race.  I saw a few familiar faces at this point – Michael Robinson and Justin Nicholas, Race Director for Climb South West, who passed by with ease but it didn’t bother me I was happy to see them and know their friendly faces were around.  They ran it last year and I was excited to see what they would do this year.

I was feeling good, actually a little hot which surprised me.  But I decided not to take any clothes off I didn’t want the wind to get to me as I know a risk for me is getting cold.  So I just kept going.  The miles seemed to fly by and I loved that whole first section to Porthleven.  I did see my crew at a few stops between Lizard Point and Porthleven but it was just quick stops for coke and Tailwind.  I thought about getting changed at Porthleven into a dry base layer and changing my socks but on entering the check point I found it really hot in there.  It was again, lovely to reach that checkpoint to a wonderful cheering crowd and the lovely Jane Stephens, who wanted to get me chips but I knew i couldn’t stomach any.  So Jean came with many clothes and all I did was get out of the checkpoint quickly as i was feeling dodgy in the heat and have a Tailwind and head off! I did see Justin and Michael at the checkpoint and thought i would most likely see them again very soon, I wasn’t wrong.

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Image by No Limits Photography

I don’t like to stay in checkpoints for too long as I know it can be a huge time waster (although I would if I needed to) but also because I can’t eat it always seems pointless.  I maybe am a bit silly at times, when I can feel something rubbing me and I don’t take the time to sort it out.  So I did end up with a massive chafe on my back from the foil body bag rubbing against me for 100 miles! Another lesson learnt.  I must say I also got my headtorch out at this point as the light was fading.  I was looking forward to the change up with a bit of darkness but 13 hours was going to be the longest I had ever run in the dark and that i was not looking forward to and I felt I would be on my own during a very tricky section at Zennor. I tried to put these thoughts out my mind.

I can’t remember this section that well for some reason – but I know Justin came passed me again and then Michael, we ran together for a bit I think it was this section! I know Michael had issues with his ankle I think but he was running really well and I wasn’t sure I would see him and Justin again.  I think it is at around this point that I met Stephen Mitchell properly but we had run a bit together in daylight as well.   He proved to be a brilliant running companion for a lot of my race.  Stephen aka pole man! He had poles and it was at a point when him, Michael and Justin would go off up hills with ease ahead of me that i thought should i have tried poles! We kind of yo yo’d back and forth all of us but the poles on the hills seemed to help a lot and I was quite envious of them but only on the up hill, something I will consider for next time.

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Image by No Limits Photography – Me with Stephen

So I found myself alone again in the dark.  I knew that I would see my crew at Marazion as Jean had advised I change to my road shoes, Hoka Cliftons – i love these shoes and there was a 6-7 mile stretch of road and gravel paths coming up all the way to Mousehole from Marazion.  So Jean changed my shoes and socks, another item of clothing i can’t recommend enough – Stance Socks – just the best running sock I have had.  It was so so nice to put on my road shoes and new dry socks – thank you Jean for that tip! I was worried to waste time but it was so worth it.  I actually felt the miles ticking away on this section – easy road running.  I got to Penzance – checkpoint 2.  There I saw Stephen and I am not sure if anyone else was there that I had been running with.  I felt like a hot chocolate which is odd for me! So I had one which was lovely.  The wind now was bitterly cold and blowing hard, it was nice to have a bit of relief from it.  But I was so aware of not wanting to lose my position now that i wanted to push on.  I went off on my own and did enjoy the simple running for a bit more of road.  When I got to Mousehole my crew quickly pulled up beside me on the road! They had been ordering a curry and had to leave it as i had passed by quicker than they thought – that was a real boost.  Jean changed my shoes again back to the now dry Mafates for the tricky section coming up.  I had rolled my ankle twice in the last 2 months and badly and it was a bit swollen but no pain at all and it didn’t really worry me i Just remember seeing it and Don commenting on it but strangely no pain at all!

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Image by No Limits Photography

I do now know Michael and Justin were behind me at this point and caught me up a bit later on.  The stretch at Mousehole was really technical and rocky and a bit annoying as i found it difficult to get any pace up.  My legs were feeling really good and I remember being really happy about this but I couldnt run much here, the terrain was just too technical to get the pace up much. As I passed Minack Theatre Stephen’s lovely crew, Mark, was there and I was running out of water – I asked if he had any which he didn’t but he had some Tailwind the remainder of Stephen’s from his last bottle, so he gave me that which was like nectar! So thank you so much for that! Coming up to Lands End I don’t remember that well apart from it being really really windy and bitterly cold.  I believe Justin and Stephen had gone off and I was with Michael coming up to Lands End but he headed in before me I just found the wind such a force and hard to stand up against.  I was so happy to see Lands End though.  Although i was feeling good, I know I always feel a lull between miles 35 and 50 you start to feel things in your body but know you have more than half the race to go and it is always a darker time for me.  I also knew Lands End was a big point to get to, over half way.  I did however feel like I was running so slowly.  I kept saying this to my crew, Jean kept reassuring me but I just felt like I was super slow and felt chased.  I am not sure why, maybe i was just realising how important this race was for me.  Also leading into this race I felt immense pressure like i needed to prove to myself that i could do a tougher 100 miler not that the Centurion ones aren’t tough but they are very different – different time of year, different terrain.  This one was known for how tough it is and i needed to prove to myself I could cope with that.  And I guess I wanted to prove to myself that the A100 wasn’t the only 100 mile win I could do.  I was feeling pressure and trying so hard not to as I didn’t want to affect my race.

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Image by No Limits Photography – lights of runners leading up to Lands End

At Land End I was greeted by lovely marshals – I should have mentioned all these lovely marshals before – the incredible Arc Angels.  They honestly are like Angels! They meet you before the checkpoint, show you where to go have a little chat with you to make sure you are okay and try to take a food order from you! I let the side down with the food order although I did have another hot chocolate at Lands End – and it was delicious.  I had such a lovely round of applause as i entered Lands End.  Michael was there and he was having trouble with his leg and I knew he was going to try to get a massage.  It had been great running with him for a bit as he had been showing me sites in the dark which amused me.  He told me about St Michael’s Mount – that dark blob over there, you know a bit darker than everything else around us!! This makes me laugh when I look back but it’s great distraction from the task you are pushing yourself through.   I remember thinking I want to get out and get on with this section now.  I knew what was coming as this section was what I had recce’d a couple of times and I knew it was tough especially at Zennor.  I wanted to get it done.  I am afraid I always feel this at these long races from the moment I start it is like I have a job to do and I am always pushing forwards to the end maybe that is the point I don’t no! Or maybe I think of the end goal too much.  For sure, by Lands End I was certain I did not want to lose my first position female, it really had become very important to me to keep it.  I wonder if it was the thought of Jane and how it would make her feel, doing it for my children it’s always so nice to bring a trophy back to them, for my partner who introduced me to ultra running and this race, for my club, Mudcrew and really for me to try to prove to myself that I can do this sort of race the more technical stuff I can do it and hopefully I can do it quite well. So I was asking where second lady was and Jean said not to worry but about 2 miles away that felt close and I did feel a bit panicked but I had a slow section coming up so I just had to grind on and do my best.

I left Lands End and was hit with strong wind.  It was so strong and so so cold.  But I was warm in my body just my hands were cold.  Thankfully my lovely friend Sarah Salt, on a training run had given me hand warmers to put in my gloves when I was cold.  It was amazing.  Having cold hands can cripple me on a run so to be able to keep them warm made the rest of me feel okay.  So Jean had given me some and they felt amazing.  And when I changed them I had a genius idea of stuffing the other used pair down my bra for added body warmth! This is a new top tip everyone!!

Now I am not sure if I left Lands End with Stephen or if I caught up with him but we were together again.  Is this the point he told me I was relentless!! I am not sure but we were together and I was so grateful for this for the night time.  I do love running in the dark but it was so much of darkness and mixed with the cold and the wind that became relentless.  I was sure before I did the race that I would be doing Zennor by myself and i wasn’t looking forward to it.  You have a lot of rock climbing to do and incredibly technical sections where you can barely run.  It feels slow and frustrating for about 14 miles before St Ives and you feel quite vulnerable out on the coast path edge in the dark being battered by wind and later on by massive hail stones! To have Stephen with me was so nice.  Now this bit is all a bit blurry but somehow I found myself with Stephen and Dan Masters.  I didn’t realise it was Dan at all.  But I felt so bad for him as he was suffering with stomach issues.  He couldn’t be sick but he felt sick and it’s just so crippling on your race when it’s like that.  Dan is such an incredible runner and I just felt for him, to not be able to run like I know he can.  We all got a bit confused at a section here and I nearly went up a cliff I shouldn’t.  But thankfully we got back on track.  The hills were a bit relentless here and nothing was fast.  I kept thinking am I going to be caught soon.  My legs were starting to feel tired and I was longing for daylight.  I did have very happy memories of this section as I had run it with a friend, Steph Wade, and her daughter so she could complete her Arc journey from 2018 which sadly ended for her at Cape Cornwall.  So we had all gone out to finish it off and it was such a great day.  So I was filling my mind with these good thoughts and thinking of Steph willing me on as I knew she would be.

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Image by No Limits Photography – With Justin Nicholas

Stephen and I carried on together and I warned him about Zennor.  I said we will be slow now and there’s not a lot we can do about it.  It got really tough now – my wonderful crew came out to see us on a section just before Zennor in the hail and freezing cold wind.  I didn’t want anything but was so happy to see them it was a real boost.  My partner knew this section – he’s better at this bit than me really! – and i knew he understood what we were feeling.  One foot in front of the other and just keep moving forwards.  That’s what we did.  The hail kept coming and it was brutal.  Massive hail stones hit my face and i was trying to cover it up and my hood wouldn’t stay up which really annoyed me! Poor Stephen fell over a couple of times, which is normally my job! And we were both feeling battered, cold and tired and longing for daylight and a runnable section.  I think i was a bit annoying by this point I kept saying St Ives will be here soon.  It took bloody ages for it to appear! Daylight came first and that was just wonderful.  We kept saying it looks like the sky is getting lighter and then there it was light! After 13 hours of darkness it felt amazing.  Still no St Ives – just over this hill – oh no it’s not there! Poor Stephen! Now a funny thing happened which has never happened to me before; I hallucinated! I saw two lovely marshals dangerously close to the cliff edge just waving at us.  I then saw Jean up on another cliff, wondered what he was doing there to be honest but he was happily waving at us too!! I told Stephen who promptly told me he had also seen some marshals a while back but they weren’t real and we were simply hallucinating – very matter of fact which amuses me now at the time I did feel slightly concerned but decided to just not think too much about it.  At this point it hailed again and the wind was so strong I think this is what then made me lose proper sight in my right eye.  Now this did scare me a bit.  I kept rubbing it but it was all blurred.  I told Stephen and he had similar in his left eye so we thought between us we would have perfect vision!! Again I felt so grateful to have Stephen’s company.  I made the decision not to worry about my eye nothing was going to stop me getting to the end of this race so I just had to put up with it.  I admit now, it worried me and I told Jean at St Ives and said please don’t say anything as I don’t want to get pulled off the course.  I knew I was okay and Jean did ask a medic who believed it was the cold wind and in future I should wear protective goggles.  Shows how bitter the wind was and how strong it was.

So we did finally get to St Ives – the lovely big stones i remembered that led to St Ives, appeared before us and I was so happy to be there.  I knew now that the rest of the course was pretty runnable if I could just keep my legs moving.  Jean met me and showed me to the checkpoint.  I didn’t want to stay long at all.  I know what I am like at the end of races – I tend to pass out.  And I didn’t want this happening prematurely with getting comfortable in the warmth of the checkpoint.  So I had another hot chocolate, more Tailwind and Jean changed my shoes.  I had decided it would be lovely to wear my favourite Hoka’s for the last section.  I knew my pace would have slowed and that it was less slippy for this section and that my Challengers would feel so lovely after all those miles.  So we changed my socks again.  I was panicking again about being caught Jean was trying to find exact times for me.  He believed second lady, the lovely, Anna Troup, was about 4 miles back now and everyone was saying you are fine.  I never believe that until i am near that finish line! Stephen and I left at about the same time I think.  He had got to St Ives just before me as I had been faffing with my dodgy hood and dodgy eye! So about 25 miles to go I thought.  Just keep moving run as much as I can.  So that’s what I did.

My new socks and shoes felt incredible.  I think I had new hand warmers too, my body felt warm – I still hadn’t changed any item of clothing apart from socks and shoes.  Stephen and I ran sections together here and I loved the Dunes of Doom! I found them such a distraction from any pain or my eye or the terribly strong wind (I think it was up to 45mph!!).  It was like a treasure hunt looking for the next piece of slate to direct us.  I found it really runnable here too and kind on the body.  It was in this section that Stephen went on one side and I went on another and then I bumped into Justin who appeared out of the dunes! He always had a smile on his face and looked so strong.  He told me it’s only about 13 miles now and that we could make it in under 26 hours.  Now, probably stupidly,  I make a point of never looking at my time or pace on races so I was feeling I was going so slowly that i was going to go over 30 hours.  I couldn’t believe what he said.  Of course I knew I couldn’t do that distance after the mileage we had covered in just over 2 hours but I was happy that I was making relatively good time from what I thought I was at.  It did make me think should i have checked my time before now and tried for the female course record seriously.  But I just didn’t think, I didn’t know what to expect or how I would cope with the course and I didn’t want to scare myself with targets so I guess I left it a bit late for all that.

Justin went on – looking super strong and I didn’t think I would see him again.  I ran with Stephen some more.  We saw our crew I think just passed Godrevy and they said see you at Portreath.  Every time I saw my crew I could feel the energy of them knowing the end was near.  I saw the lovely Anna Hatton who told me I was first lady and safe in that position and was so encouraging and lovely.  I saw my lovely crew lots throughout this section just popping up and saying come on nearly there – it felt great and I felt really buzzing.  They did, however, think I seemed a bit drunk! And i look back at video and think I do sound drunk too! Even felt it – i was a bit delirious.  This was the longest I had been on my feet for a run the second longest 100 i’ve done was 23.5 hours so I was concerned how I would cope with that extra time, knowing I can’t eat as well.  So I think I was in an odd place! But I felt good so happy the end was near and I knew I was going to make it now.  Still doubting i could hold onto first place! At Portreath I think it was just after then – well Stephen had told me to go on he couldn’t run anymore and would walk it in.  I was still trying to keep running – a sort of shuffling jog i suppose! And that is when I caught up with Justin who was walking it in too.  He still was smiling and looking super strong.  The wind at this point was so harsh I was leaning into it with my full body weight and struggling to stay upright! I carried on and knew I had these brutal steps to face before Porthtowan.  Oh for poles then!! As I came to the second ones I saw Alex Lockett ahead, an incredibly talented ultra runner.  We were all suffering now.  He jogged a bit and let me pass – i just wanted it done, it was lovely to see him and congratulate him as I knew he had made it too.  Then those final steps they went on forever.  I had to haul myself up them literally!! But then I hit Porthtowan.  I have never been so happy to see a village before! And also never wished for the previous year’s finish so much! I had to run passed that Blue Bar at the bottom of the lovely down hill to go onto to face this mammoth last hill up to the Eco Park! It was such a tough hill which I know Fergy would have been proud of!

At this point I was nearly crying I saw my crew all cheering me at the top – I couldn’t move any faster! But got to the top and this time I knew I had made it!! I was so happy to see my partner and crew and in the now glorious sunshine I ran into the finish line to be greeted by my friend and race director Jane Stephens.  Two years previously I had witnessed my partner get that famous finisher’s hug from Jane and I had not contemplated running ultras at that time.  It totally grabbed me, this race, that buzz at the end that hideous pain you go through the wondering why you are doing this, feeling you will never do something this ridiculous again! I remember Jean going through it all, the tears the doubt, the fear of not finishing – pushing through unimaginable pain to push your body to extremes you never thought possible – to get to that finish line and get that hug.  I couldn’t believe I was there and I couldn’t believe I was first lady, 7th overall, with a gold buckle and in 26 hours 48 minutes.  I hugged Jane as tight as my weary arms would let me and then my partner – without him I just couldn’t have achieved all those things.  I may have shed a tear or two now! Then I promptly lay on the floor for a long time trying not to pass out! This is fairly standard for me after 100 miles of running.  The lovely medics checked I was okay and thought my eye problem was the cold wind.  After about 20 minutes and a cup of tea it was fine again.

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At the top of the hill of hell!!

Reflecting on the race.  It is so easy to think oh I could have saved time here I could have done this or that and to be hard on yourself.  But I feel so happy with how it went.  It was not the easiest of conditions in fact the weather was really challenging.  The course, although absolutely stunning is really very brutal! I loved it, loved the challenge and loved that I was actually able to complete this monster of a race.  I still can’t quite believe it.  I can’t believe I got that beautiful slate trophy to take home to my children (they love it by the way!) and I just can’t believe my body allowed me to do this race.  We were able to stay for the incredible awards ceremony the next day because a wonderful man Chris Walker and Jane Stephens made it possible for us to have a bed for the night.  Being called up to collect my trophy and stand on that podium is a feeling I can’t find enough words for.  These moments are honestly moments I thought I could only dream of.  After the Centurion Grand Slam and winning at the A100 I really thought I must just have been lucky maybe, enjoy this it may never happen again.  To go out and complete the Arc and win it i just can’t believe it. When I started running I said to my sister imagine being one of those runners up there on the podium – that is something I can only dream about.  To be stood there living that dream – well I will never ever take it for granted and appreciate every single second up there and of that moment crossing that finish line.  And I thank everyone of you who played a part in getting me there.  It is such a special race and I will most definitely be back.  I also want to thank Tailwind for making it possible for me not to pass out during the race through having no food for nearly 27 hours!!

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Pictured here at the end so happy to see Jean

Congratulations to everyone who took part in this race.  To get to the start line after months of training for something like this is a big ask – if you didn’t finish you gave it a good go, it was tough out there so be proud of what you achieved.  Kim Collinson got an incredible course record under 21 hours which is just amazing.  My friend Matt Hart who did this race last year in around 28 hours completed it in just over 23 hours!! Getting a black buckle which is amazing.  There are so many people I could mention but everyone who managed to complete this epic race congratulations.  To the Arc Angels thank you so much for standing the conditions and always being there to smile and do anything for any of us.  Stephen thanks for the company! To my crew you were amazing the best crew ever! My partner, Jean, you started this journey for me and I couldn’t be more grateful for everything you do for me in every race and for helping me find my passion for ultra running and for believing in me.  And my amazing children who encourage me to train as they know what this means to me and are always so proud.

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My super crew – Don at the front, Nick and then Jean and a really healthy looking me with my cup of tea!

If you ever consider doing this race – go for it.  It is so well organised, Mudcrew put on such great races.  The checkpoints are amazing – although I can’t eat I have seen the menus and they supply everything you could imagine and you are so well looked after.  There is just a truly magical vibe about this race and it is an absolutely stunning course – it’s certainly one I feel pulling me back for another go.

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Image by No Limits Photography – I love this photo of my hug with Jane Stephens

This is very waffley I know but it is very much an account from the heart, if you make it to the end of this I think that deserves a medal! My next big race is the Climb South West Devon Coast to Coast in May, which I am really excited about.


Image may contain: 3 people, including Andrew Ferguson, people smiling, outdoor and textPhoto by No Limits Photograpy – The awards Ceremony with second place lady Anna Troup – what a genuine and lovely lady she is

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Jean caught me being a little bit happy to have that trophy!!

Well here it is – First Blog – Finally! The A100 Race Report and Finish to The Centurion Grand 100 mile Grand Slam

The lead up to the race.

This race felt like it had been a long time coming but yet it was upon me really quickly.  This was the last race of the Centurion 100 mile Grand Slam and one that I couldn’t wait to get to as I knew it would mean I had completed all the others and this would be the final journey towards that great big buckle.  What started as a dream in my head over a year before, at my first 100 mile event, the North Downs Way 100 in 2017, was soon to become a reality.  I was so incredibly excited but also incredibly nervous.

I always get nervous before races, to the point where the night before I struggle to eat, but with this one a week before, every time I thought of the race I felt sickness and lost my appetite.  This was not good for someone who relies heavily on carb loading and extra fueling the week leading up to a 100 mile race because I cannot eat anything during the race!  I managed to eat a lot more than I would normally though and even forced some meals down! The nerves were huge for this race, more than ever, it showed me how much it meant to me.  There were many reasons for it being so important.  I only started ultra running last year and after doing my first Centurion event the NDW100 I said to my partner, I need to do the Grand Slam – I want that big buckle! That was the main aim here but along the journey to this buckle more targets came into play and I wanted to finish with as many of them as possible.  I didn’t know if I was setting my targets too high, I have never been one for being too confident in myself but I had met so many people along this incredible ultra running journey that gave me this new belief and I started to wonder if things that I thought were never possible could be.

My partner, Jean, and I stayed in a b&b near Goring the night before – we live in Devon with my three children.  So we dropped them at their father’s with the call of my eldest following us as we drove off ‘you are going to win this one mummy I know it’! If only, I thought if only I could come back home with that trophy for you.  I have looked at that trophy since last year and said to Jean can you imagine winning that – what an incredible feeling that must be – something I could only dream of, along with podiuming at one of these events.  Something that seemed totally out of my reach but that did come true – I came 3rd at NDW100 last year in a time of 23,31.   At the TP100 I wanted to beat my 100 mile pb I did in 19,36 and was 2nd lady, 2nd lady at SDW 100 in 18,45 and 3rd lady at the NDW100 this year in 21,08 I had podiumed and each time I had to pinch myself that that dream had come true, could I ever actually be top of the podium though? I thought that was impossible – that trophy felt just out of reach but every single training run I went on between NDW100 and A100 I visualised it and tried to find this belief I kept getting told to find.

So that night in the b&b we went for dinner and we talked of my aims for the race the targets I had – from most important to more out of reach and not to focus on too much but wonderful if they came true – it was like this:

  1. Get that big buckle – that was what this journey started from – that was the main goal – finish the race and get that buckle
  2. I was amazingly, first lady on the grand slam standings – keep that position – it was one i felt really proud of and in shock to be in so keep it
  3. Get a 100 mile pb – at the moment it was 18,46 from SDW100 – maybe I could better that if I had a good day
  4. Get a podium place – I knew this would be tough – there were many good female runners at the A100 – Hoka sponsored Mari Mauland who won the Grand slam in an incredible time last year, Wendy Whearity and Sharon Law GB runners, a very experienced runner Annabelle Stearns, Rachel Fawcett – a real strong female runner and other strong contenders. I knew being on the podium would be tough this race.
  5. To keep my position over the whole grand slam table – I was second overall but knew that would be difficult to maintain as Alexander Whearity was wanting to get his position back!
  6. To be first lady – a dream come true this would be and low on my list as I knew the competition I was high but it was one very much in my mind.
  7. To get a Spartathlon auto qualifier – this is only on here from the sheer belief my wonderful new friends had in me – Sarah Sawyer and Ian Hammett – they will be mentioned a lot in this! I have met them on my grand slam journey and believed I could join them at Sparta next year by getting an auto qualifier of 17,36 for 100 miles!! One I knew I was not ready for but a tiny little hope I had because of their belief in me so it has to go on here!


So Jean and I had the plan – stop panicking Laura, you just need to finish – main aim get that buckle the rest is a bonus.  So we had dinner and got an early night – after I packed my bag.  Jean is a great grounder for me and my pre race panic! He totally gets it as he is an ultra runner too, in fact he introduced me to it.  He knows how anxious I get pre race.  He lets me go through mandatory kit over and over and checks the list with me.  I also had to pack a drop bag for the first time, Jean could not crew at the A100 as there are no crew allowed due to it being an out and back route and getting too congested.  So he had volunteered to help out and would do that for the first 10 hours then spectate.   I was extra nervous due to this, as he is such a support and knowing I would not see him at every checkpoint and crewing station scared me.  He would be on the second leg at miles 29 and 46 at North Stoke aid station.  This was helpful as I always have a low at miles 35-50.  He told me not to worry too much about my drop bag as I never have any food, never stop to change and I would not need anything but I still packed a load of stuff ‘just in case’!! So all was packed and ready to go – weather checked 100 times – and we went to sleep.  I slept an incredible 8 hours – and woke refreshed – quite amazing for me pre-race!

Race Day

I woke up so relieved that I had slept so well.  I felt nervous but I also felt calm.  It was a new feeling of calm, I can’t really explain.  But then I looked out the window, rain – lots of it and lots of wind! Compared to the scorching other 100 milers of the grand slam, this was going to be so different, would I cope okay with this change? What to wear now?! I put on my running tights and long sleeved top.  Thank god when we got to Goring I decided to change as I felt too hot and put on shorts and tshirt.  It turned out to be 24 degrees that day and 18 degrees at night.  I had made the right decision to change.  Jean dropped me as it was raining and went to park the car.  I immediately bumped into Jane Stephens, who is Race Director of Mudcrew who have incredible running events in the South West of England and are also a running club and who, earlier this year, invited me to be part of their Ultra Running Team which was such a great honour.  I always feel proud putting on my Ultra Team running kit. Jane has become a good friend this year, she is so kind and always makes me feel at ease.  I really felt for her, as she had attempted the Grand Slam and we had been on this journey together but unfortunately, the heat had prevented Jane from completing the NDW100 – as it had done with so many, it had been brutal conditions and she had done the right thing to stop but that doesn’t make it any easier.  It was so nice to see her and have one of her legendary hugs before I had my bag checked for mandatory kit.  And this was done by the wonderful Ian Hammett, another person I feel lucky to call a friend – who I have met along this grand slam journey.  He has been such a support at these races and helped me at the end where I do suffer greatly – i will go into that more later! Ian is such a kind person, has had a bad injury and yet has been helping out at these events all year and puts 100% into it.  Nothing is too much trouble.  I have talked to him a lot about my nerves, and wanting to believe in myself and he has given me so much advice.  I had even considered a pacer for the first time – always been too nervous to have one in case it didn’t work for me and would only have had my partner but he was injured unfortunately.  But I felt that Ian would understand all my mood swings and really push me to finish as fast as I could.  Unfortunately he was already taken! But understandably! And he helped his friend finish in amazing style, so I am really happy it worked out this way.  It was great to see Ian and he told me to just focus and run my own race and that I could do this. I felt really positive after seeing him.  I just seemed to bump into everyone I need to before this race – it just gave me the most wonderful positive feeling on a day I was so nervous about.  The next person I saw was Sarah Sawyer.  I had not even met her before we had just started chatting after she paced Sarah Cameron to a wonderful victory at the SDW100 this year, where I was second.  I just could not close that gap.  Both Sarah’s have become friends and are such lovely ladies.  Sarah Sawyer is so humble and such an incredible runner who has also given me such helpful advice.  I think we are quite similar.  And it has taken us both a while to find belief in ourselves.  It was so lovely to meet Sarah properly and she was such a support this whole race, I can’t thank her enough.  She was there supporting her husband and would  pace him later.  Little did I know he would be a big part of my race too.  I also bumped into Sarah Salt, a really wonderful friend from Devon and her husband Dan – both fantastic runners and Sarah is someone I love to run with – we have shared some lovely training runs on Dartmoor.  Jean joined Sarah, Dan and I and we listened to the race briefing from James Elson.

I couldn’t believe I was here and he was asking who was doing the Grand Slam – it was such a lovely feeling – the last one – I had to do this, it had to be completed no option.  I knew I had a slight niggle from so much training and in all honesty probably not enough recovery after each 100 miler.  So my left hamstring has been bothering me.  But I have kept it under control and stuck to off road.  It was just a slight niggle but was in my head – but nothing was going to stop me finishing this race, but I wanted to finish it in good style.  We set off for the start line some 300 metres from Goring Village Hall.  I was near the back at this point and I don’t like to start near the back as I knew there were places we could be held up so I walked quickly to get near the front not getting to say bye to Jean properly but I tried to put this out of my head knowing I would see him soon.

At the start line I saw Rachel Fawcett, who I have also become good friends with.  She won the CW50 last year and is such a strong runner.  She has been plagued with injury this year but has toughed every race out, some in a lot of pain, but still she has finished strong in 4th place and in great time – she is so determined and such a lovely person.  Always willing me on and here she was again telling me to go and get this – she wanted me to win! She was second on the grand slam standings for the women – so impressive with an injury too.  I saw Wendy Whearity and her new husband Alexander Whearity, both incredible runners and Alex was the one who wanted his place back on the grand slam standings and told me he was out to get me! This was funny and eased my nerves.  It was only once we started that I realised I had not really looked around for Mari Mauland or any other women – that must surely mean I was more relaxed than normal – I had not thought about where I was standing or who was in front of me.  I would never have started in front of Mari, knowing how strong she is but I had done so without meaning to. I knew with this race that the pace can start really fast and that I needed to be careful.  I didn’t want to blow up, also the rain had stopped and the sun was out and it was a lot hotter than we had imagined for October.  I felt very aware of everything.  I was wearing Hoka challengers for the first time during a race, a shoe i wished I had found before as they proved to be amazing for the whole race.  They have totally changed my ability to run for longer without pain and blisters – like running on springs! I was thinking of my hamstring which I could feel immediately.  I knew I would just have to block out the pain if it increased.  Remember the goal.  We went off quite fast – I don’t know how fast as I do not have pace on my watch I like to run on feel and don’t like to know what pace I am running at as it can put me off or make me run out of my comfort zone.  But I think it must have been around 8 min miling as we set off – that was too fast and I let Rachel go ahead – It was then that I saw Mari pass me I had not noticed her until this point.  That was less than a mile in.  I decided her pace was good and to stick with her I imagine it was around 8,30 min miling but can’t be sure.  Peter Windross was with Mari too and I knew he was a super fast runner, the first in the grand slam some 8-9 hours ahead of me! So I didn’t want to go any faster than them.  Rachel eased off and we went passed her, her always telling me to go for it.  Soon Wendy Whearity came passed and she made a bit of a gap but after about a mile or so she eased off and let us pass.  I think we were all just trying to gauge our pace and not go too fast but it was so hard not to.


Picture by Stuart March

It was at this point that I realised something was different – I had something new within me, I actually believed, I didn’t want to let Mari go too far ahead like I would normally do, I wanted to just stay with her as long as it felt comfortable.  I didn’t feel afraid to do this, like I was not good enough to do that, I felt I could and the pace felt right if it hadn’t I would have eased off.  But normally the sight of a better runner than myself would have made me ease off even if the pace felt okay.  This time I didn’t.  I went with it, I felt good and I wanted to finish this grand slam as best I could.  Tom Sawyer, Sarah’s husband, joined this little group of runners and I knew he had a pace chart for 17,15 hours and this did unnerve me a bit as I knew that was not my aim but I tried not to let it bother me, just go on feel and keep going – remember the goal.  Tom was lovely company and we would share much of the race together.  I chatted to Mari for a bit which was lovely and eased my nerves.  She has done the Western States this year, a dream of mine to complete.  It was great to hear her experience.  At the turn around point it was so lovely to see Ian Hammett there who knows I cannot eat anything and that I survive off a ‘coke and tailwind chaser’ at every checkpoint! It is just what works for me.  Food just doesn’t, it took a while to learn this but I have a good system now.  So Ian got the coke and followed it with tailwind so quickly – at which point this was feeling like a lot shorter distance than 100 miles as the pace wasn’t that slow and we all turned around so quickly to head back to Goring.  I didn’t want to let the distance get too much between Mari and I.  But I also knew it was early in a very long race and that I should concentrate on me and not worry about anyone else.  I thought it would be hard on the out and backs seeing who I was being chased by but actually it didn’t worry me too much I just thought focus on me – remember the goal.  Rachel wasn’t far behind and she just high fived me and told me to go for it.  Mari increased the space between us a bit – the wind was strong going back and Tom left me with Mari but I could always see them ahead but my hamstring was quite painful by now.  I think this was my worst stretch of the race mentally.  The wind was hard and I knew other women weren’t too far behind.  It was early in the race but I nearly lost a bit of belief here.  Then I just remembered this is my race not to worry about others.  It is a long race and to just keep going and not to doubt anything especially not now.  I also saw Jane Stephens and Sarah Salt who gave me a massive boost.  Plus Dave Brock who is also doing the Grand Slam and has struggled with his ankle.  It was great to see them all looking strong and happy and willing me on.


Picture by Stuart March – Feeling really great on the first leg out – enjoying the day

I didn’t stop at the aid station in the middle of the first leg – I just wanted to keep the momentum and didn’t feel I needed anything at this point, I just took a SIS gel instead.  I got back to Goring, I think about 3 mins back from Tom and Mari.  They were still there and left as I got my coke and tailwind.  Sarah Sawyer and Ian greeted me and were so supportive – I didn’t stay long.  I was running on the second leg and the Peter Windross came up beside me I didn’t realise he was behind me.  Oh dear, had I gone too fast.  He agreed the back route on leg 1 was horrid and windy and he had used a few people as wind shields! Clever tactics! He then told me a joke which amused me and said he would pick up the pace now and go have a chat with Mari who I could see up ahead.  He had such controlled pace and finished in an incredible 15,35 with what seemed like such ease – what an incredible runner.  4 miles later on the second leg I was met by Jean at his aid station.  It was so lovely to see him.  I told him my left hamstring hurt and I was worried about it but I would have to just put it to one side.  He rubbed the back of my leg for me and let others fill my drinks as he was on food duty.  I get such strength from seeing Jean and although my leg was hurting I got so much positivity from seeing him, I always want to make him proud – it spurs me on having this in my mind.  He told me to remember the main goal not to go too fast and just think of me and my race.  Wise words.  I had a coke and tailwind and carried on.  He told me to remember the main goal and just keep strong.  I would see him at 46 miles.  At this point I had gone into first lady position as Mari had stayed at that checkpoint a bit longer.  I left that checkpoint and found myself with Tom again.  I kind of felt I had Sarah with me a bit, having her husband with me, it was really comforting.  What was also nice was that we both said that we weren’t big talkers when running and we could both have a little chat and then be happy in silence – no awkwardness or forced conversations and what a gent he was running on to open gates for me, picking me up when I fell over (I am very clumsy!).   I told Tom I would make the most of this moment, I was first lady at a Centurion race and that hadn’t happened before so I would enjoy it whilst it lasted!

A few miles on, I suddenly felt really good again, the wind had gone and I loved the route on leg 2.  I felt really strong and just pushed forwards.  I thought Tom was with me but he was a bit further back now, so I found myself alone, which I did for the rest of the race.  I got to the turnaround point and just felt really great and realised my left hamstring pain had gone.  I was so relieved.  On the way back the next lady I saw was Rachel who told me to keep at it, always willing me on.  This leg back felt so good.  To see wonderful friends so happy that I was leading in the ladies race felt so incredible.  Even people I didn’t know, saying first lady and clapping me, it felt amazing – this was the dream.  Jane Stephens looked so proud and happy to see me in the lead which was so lovely, she looked strong and it was great to see her.  I didn’t think I could possibly keep this place but thought I would enjoy it whilst it lasted, continue to run my own race and see what happens.  I thought it would just be so nice to get back to Jean’s aid station and at least for him to see me first there would be great.  Just before getting there I saw Dave Brock – I had wondered where he was, he had slipped behind and I was worried about him.  He said his ankle injury was hurting as was his whole body but he had been kicked out the aid station by a French man (Jean!!) who he was grateful to for getting him to carry on.  I told him he could do this and to remember the main goal, get that big buckle – I was worried about him but Dave is strong and I just hoped he could stick with it.  I can say he did amazingly and did get his big buckle and an incredible negative split!  When I got to Jean’s aid station he was so happy to see me and that my leg was feeling better.  He told me second lady was about 12 minutes behind and that I was doing great.  I had a coke and tailwind, I had also had a couple of SIS gels by this point and a couple of Cliff Bloks to keep my energy up.  And had had my water filled at the turnaround point.  I felt really happy, I was not panicking and was loving the scenery.  Leg 2 was definitely my favourite leg.  I wouldn’t see Jean again until he had finished up at his aid station and could come and spectate that would be in the middle of leg 4, that felt a bit scary as I am so used to having his regular support.  I got back to Goring in 7 hours 57, a 50 mile pb for me.  I was really pleased with that, not that I knew it at the time – I was not focusing on time at all just still sticking with going on feel.

At Goring I saw the lovely Sarah Sawyer and Ian again, a lovely man always there ready with my drop bag too, which again I said I needed nothing from.  Ian ran to get my coke and tailwind.  I was asking how far the second lady was, Ian reminded me to not worry stick to my own race.  I think I was just starting to think – could I do this, could I?! They told me second lady was over 20 minutes behind now.  This really does mean nothing in a 100 mile race though and they were right I just needed to carry on and do what I was doing.  They were so supportive and it was just lovely to see them at Goring each time.

On to leg 3 – the hilliest leg.  By now light was starting to fade.  As I got into more wooded areas I put my headtorch on.  I forced another gel down – I start to not want gels after a while and only take about 5 during the whole race but I wanted to make sure I took some as without eating I know energy levels drop.  I was feeling good still, I knew the next checkpoint was bang in the middle of the 12.5 miles and that was a nice feeling.  I was met by a lovely aid station who were in the middle of nowhere it seemed! in a van.  They were so full of excitement and willing me on – taking a picture of me and saying keep going, I was doing great.  They would see me in a bit! It seemed to take a while to get to the next aid station – lots of hills passed but it was good to have an excuse to walk.  I don’t really like to walk unless I have a reason to, like a hill! Something I found tricky at TP100 as I didn’t walk until 75 miles because it was all flat and then I really felt it in my legs for the last 10 miles.  So walking at points is good but I still need an excuse to! Leg 3 gave me the most excuses!

At the end of leg 3 in the distance I could see some lovely, welcoming fairy lights and it looked like a disco in the middle of nowhere! It was great, a real boost and I turned around after my coke and tailwind and headed back to Goring.  It was great again to get back to the van in the middle of nowhere and see this lovely lady, Kate Hayden who took a picture of me (below) again giving me a massive boost, saying such lovely words of encouragement.  They told me 2nd lady was about 40 mins behind me and this did feel good.  I was trying not to make it a focus but the more miles went by the more belief I started to feel.  Just keep going, keep doing what you are doing.  It was odd in the dark as you couldn’t see who was coming towards you the other way – but I still managed to make out Sarah Salt who was having an incredible race, but I hadn’t seen Jane yet, I wondered where she was and I was a bit worried – I also hadn’t seen Dave.  I saw Tom who was lovely and encouraging as was Rachel, both running so well.  I also saw Ian pacing his friend, Michelle – it was so nice to see him out on the course, he really pushes me and gave me a massive hug and told me to keep at it, this was my day, what a boost.  I was just heading into Goring and saw lovely Jane heading out – she told me she had got heat stroke and had to stop – I was so gutted for her, that was a real low – she told me to go get it.  I swear this pushed me forwards I had another reason to do this now.  I wanted to win for so many reasons but Jane became another one.  At Goring I was greeted by Sarah again and I got a couple of gels from my drop bag – the only thing i touched from there! It was packed I had 3 pairs of shoes in there too!! I should have listened to Jean!  At this point they told me I had a good lead on second lady and to go and get that trophy.  James Elson was there and said, so are you going to go and turn second into first – I still said there’s still a lot of the race left but I want it so badly.  The feeling – I cannot describe, just to say everytime I thought of holding that trophy I would cry! Which is how I began leg 4.  The lovely Sharon Dickson lead me to the start of leg 4, i’ve seen her at lots of these races helping and she is always so kind.


Photo by Kate Hayden – I think I am looking a bit tired here!!

I had been told leg 4 was very flat which i didn’t want but actually there are a few little hills which in normal circumstances may not have felt like hills but 80 miles in felt like a good excuse to walk! I didn’t want to walk too much, I knew by this point my pace had slowed a lot.  My legs were tired and they ached a lot.  My hamstring was no problem at all thankfully.  But I had general pain.  I normally get blisters at about 40-50 miles but the Hokas kept my feet comfy until about 85 miles when I felt my first blister but this was nothing like normal.  What a relief.  But I was feeling the desperate urge to walk and slow down.  I was tired and I hurt.  The first checkpoint on leg 4 at Whitchurch was only 4.5 miles out from Goring which was great in one way but not so great to have 8 miles to the turnaround point.  It feels such a long way by this point in the race.  I was missing seeing Jean now too, it felt ages since I had seen him on leg 2 and I didn’t know when I would see him again.  The aid station was off the path and up a hill which I really felt on the way back! At the aid station 4.5 miles in I was greeted by some lovely people including Paul Spooner who was so encouraging.  I was forcing coke and tailwind down by now and actually went for some orange squash instead which was just what I needed.  I continued and just had to keep that trophy in my mind.  I was remembering the main goal but now I had a real chance at a total dream goal – one I never thought possible and I could not let it slip away.  This out route on leg 4 was so hard.  I saw Alex Whearity having an absolutely storming race – I am so pleased for him and he got his place on the grand slam back from me but it was so deserved.  He ran a massive 1.5 hour pb and finished in 16,21 hours – amazing.  It was nice to see him and it spurred me on.

My watch ran out of battery and I had to start it again so I could not check miles very easily and had no idea how I was doing on time, I am not sure if this helped or hindered me! I had the best surprise in that Jean suddenly appeared out of the dark, after this not incredibly nice section towards Reading in a built up housing estate where it had rained a bit and I put my coat on.  It was so nice to see him.  I am not sure he thought I felt that at the time! I cried and just wanted to stop and be held by this point.  I was so emotional, at the thought of possibly winning this incredible trophy and starting to imagine my children and their little faces seeing the trophy and how excited they would be.  Then seeing my man, total rock and support and him telling me I had my mum, sister, step brother and friends all following me – it was so overwhelming.  I couldn’t talk by this point and I think he thought I was grumpy! I just had not a lot left and knew I needed to turn around and that would spur me on.  He let me carry on and met me at the turnaround point.  I got to the turnaround checkpoint in Reading and I was greeted by a lovely lady who works for Runderwear who said she was so happy to see me in the lead after seeing me at a few races – ‘go and get it’ they were all saying.  I had more squash, maybe a tailwind and carried on my way back.  They told me second lady was just under an hour behind.  This was a real boost.  Jean walked with me as I finished my drink then told me this was it ‘you just have to finish this’.  I then found some speed within me.  It wasn’t that fast by this point but it felt fast. I was on my way back – I could do this.  I still felt I could get caught.  And I didn’t want to finish badly either, so I kept running, it was so nice to pass people going the other way as I had been running alone for so long, we were all willing each other on and that felt so good.  I saw Sarah pacing Tom she gave me a big hug, that was just what I needed.

I got to the last checkpoint back at Whitchurch and didn’t want to go in but had to, that’s when that out of the way checkpoint felt hugely out of the way.  Paul Spooner told me it was literally impossible to get caught now.  I still felt you never know! I don’t know if I had anything at that checkpoint I just wanted to get back.  I walked a tiny bit but kept running as much as possible.  I can’t even remember who I saw, I just know everything was starting to hurt and I just wanted to finish.  I am sure I saw Ian at this point or maybe it was earlier – Michelle was doing great and it was so lovely to see him again.  4.5 miles to go.  These tiny miles always feel like forever but finally I saw light, the light of the village hall.  I knew I was nearly there.  I could not believe it.  Had I actually done it – I had no idea at all what time I had done until I looked at the clock at the village hall – turning that corner to see everyone is a feeling I will never ever forget.  Jean came running towards me – he said you’ve done it, he was crying, everyone was clapping and cheering and I nearly went the wrong way – i had only retuned there 3 times already!!! Jean led me to the finish and I ran in to everyone clapping.  I just cried and cried in Jean’s arms! I could not believe it.  James gave me a massive hug and handed me my trophy – that trophy, the one I have seen as this untouchable goal something I was not worthy of.  I had said all that time ago imagine the feeling of getting that and there I was with it in my arms, I never wanted to let it go.  I think the picture Stuart March took shows it all – the relief of holding that is clear to see.


Photo by Stuart March – I think this says it all

I normally get really faint and quite ill at the end of a 100 mile race, it has happened at every one I have done.  It is like my body just shuts down and I go white and just need to lie down.  But for some reason, I was the best I have ever been at the end of this race – the relief of reaching so many goals, completing the Grand Slam, finally being first at a Centurion race? – I don’t know but it was so nice to be able to enjoy this moment without feeling like I was going to keel over!

So I had completed the Grand Slam and the goals reached go as follows:

  1. I got my big buckle
  2. I kept my first place lady in the grand slam in 77,57
  3. I got a 100 mile pb in 18,27
  4. I got a podium place
  5. I didn’t keep my second place overall in the Grand Slam but was 3rd overall and I can honestly say Alex deserved that place – what an amazing run he had
  6. I was first place lady – wow wee!
  7. I didn’t get my auto qualifier for Sparta but that was a real long shot! And hopefully one to work towards in the not too distant future


Photo by Stuart March – Grand Slam Buckle in hand

So I set many goals I didn’t think I would reach.  It was honestly the most amazing experience, this race and the entire Grand Slam.  I have learnt so much about me and my ability.  I have also learnt how important the mind is in all of this.  If you don’t believe you can do these things how can you make them happen.  But also if you don’t train hard it won’t happen either and I am lucky to have such incredible support around me, in people I have known for years and also in the lovely friends I have made recently.  They gave me that belief in their belief in me and I am so grateful for that.


Photo by Stuart March – The trophy belongs to Jean too, I couldn’t have done it without his support

Thank you Centurion for the most incredible experience.  And thank you Stuart March for capturing that moment so perfectly.  Thank you Jean for being my rock and putting up with me through it all and to my children who had unwavering belief in me always and totally understand my need to train.  If you are contemplating the Grand Slam go and do it, I never thought I could and I did and it’s such a wonderful experience and you can do it if you work for it and you believe.  As I have now told my very proud children, dreams really can come true and yes I am still hugging that trophy!


Photo by Stuart March

There are so many people I think I should mention as helping me out there – you amazing volunteers and I am so sorry if you are not mentioned but that certainly does not mean I am not incredibly grateful for your help along the way.