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
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!!
At Last One Standing
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.
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!
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
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Photo by No Limits Photography – Arc of Attrition 100 this year – with my ‘Beam’