2017: The year without a marathon

Enjoying the Devon country lanes…

When I pulled out of Vienna marathon back in the spring, I told myself that it was just a case of life getting in the way of my training, that it was just a temporary blip, that my motivation would come back soon enough. I told myself that I could start over in the summer, make the most of the sunshine, hit some of my time goals and finish with a sub-5 in Berlin to end the year.

But work got busy, that crazy heatwave happened, and somehow my motivation didn’t come back. I was struggling to even finish my 5ks, and my pace plummeted. For the first training cycle ever, I found myself dreading my long runs to the point of making excuses not to do them. And my carefully planned buffer of cut-back weeks dwindled, the mileage stayed low, and I found myself in complete denial of my September marathon as the weeks ticked by.

In theory, at this point I still have 3 more long runs on the schedule. I could still ramp up the mileage and make my way round those 26.2 miles in September. But the tough question I’ve had to ask myself recently is: ‘do you still want this?’

On paper, of course I do. I’ve been SO lucky to secure a Berlin ballot place and I feel awful at the idea of giving that up when there are others out there who would love my spot. I love marathons, I love the satisfaction of hitting those increasingly high miles on my weekend long runs, of feeling my body getting stronger, seeing the shorter runs get faster and faster. I love the atmosphere on race weekend; feeling like a bit of a celebrity wandering round a new city with my race bag, and with my bib and medal on race day.

But right now, at this point in time, I don’t want it enough.

It’s true what they say about 90% of marathon training being in the mind. Since mentally giving up (and that’s exactly what the issue has been) I’ve been struggling with not just motivation, but with the miles. I’ve found myself taking walking breaks on 5k recovery runs, and I’ve been struggling to get my pace back down into the 9s even over that distance. I haven’t been to parkrun all year. I’ve only hit double digits ONCE since my last half marathon back in the spring.

How running SHOULD make you feel.

I know that deep down, I still love the sport. I still want to get my sub-2 half, my sub-5 full, and to push myself on the shorter distances. I want to explore some more off road trails, to try new events and to work harder with my cross training, my running form, and to feel strong again.

In the past I’ve always seen a goal race as a way to motivate myself. Counting down the weeks has got me out the door, and having a plan gives my sessions a purpose, and smaller goals to hit along the way. But this year, for some reason each event I’ve done has only led to increasing worry, anxiety, and a lack of confidence in my fitness, my ability, and my commitment.

I’ve run 3 half marathons this year. Whilst yes, I managed to complete each one, I was left feeling flat at the finish line. I’ve always thought that a DNS was a sign of weakness, of giving up, of laziness… But this year, I’ve learnt that it’s far better for me personally than finishing for the sake of it. It’s not worth pushing through the miles when your heart isn’t in it.

So in short, I’ve decided to DNS Berlin. I’ve also decided that I’m not going to book a spring marathon – or any other races in the meantime – until I can get out of this rut and find that joy again. I need to build back my weekly routine, to finally look forward to those short mid-week runs, the cross-training sessions, and to building my mileage on the trails at the weekends.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of races in my diary next year. I just want to do them justice. And in the meantime, I’m still looking forward to a weekend in Berlin – and I’ll be cheering all of you lovely runners on from the sidelines!

– – –

Have you ever DNS’d a big race? How did you feel?

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How running helped to save my Dad’s life

Some of you might have noticed that I’ve been a bit AWOL for the past few weeks.

On Sunday 10th May, my Dad collapsed at the Bideford 10k after suffering a major heart attack, resulting in cardiac arrest.

He survived.

The heart attack came as a complete shock to all of us. Anyone who knows my Dad can tell you that he’s healthy; he eats well; he storms through hilly coastal walks and can handle even the toughest hikes across Exmoor without batting an eyelid; he’s a great runner (his marathon and half marathon PBs are better than mine!) and he cycles to and from the station for work every day. He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink much, doesn’t eat takeaways or sit in front of the TV for hours, or any of those other unhealthy clichés.

Unfortunately, it turns out that he suffered from undiagnosed heart disease, and probably had done for decades. The symptoms are easy to brush off – feeling tired and achey, a bit of indigestion and some chest pain, breathlessness. It’s easy to tell yourself that you’ve just had a few hard weeks at work, are staying up too late, or training too hard. Some even blame age – though at 56, my Dad’s certainly not old.

When my Dad collapsed, the first person on the scene was another runner, who began CPR. It was a second runner who took over the CPR, which gave the paramedics time to get to my Dad with a defibrillator to restart his heart. Bideford 10k is a small, club-run, low-key event, but the fantastic organisation on the day and the actions of the runners, marshals, and event organisers meant that my Dad was able to be transferred to the Devon Air Ambulance helicopter and stabilized enough to be taken to hospital.

The doctors told us that the reason he remained stable and handled the surgery so well is because he’s been fit and healthy for a number of years now – and that’s largely thanks to his decision to start running! The running caused him to rethink his diet, and the training helped to strengthen his heart, despite the damage having been done decades before.

The fact that the attack happened at Bideford 10k meant he was able to get the medical attention he needed at the time. Amazingly, the runner who began the CPR just happened to be a GP – and the second runner just happened to have completed an advanced first aid course the week before! Talk about amazing coincidences.

I’ll be forever grateful to that race, and to those runners, as they kept him alive long enough for the ambulance to get to him.

The air ambulance took him straight from Bideford to Exeter hospital. From there, he was then transferred to London where he underwent a triple bypass operation, and thanks to all this he is now at home and recovering well.

Without the air ambulance, he might not have made it this far. It was their incredibly fast response (they were already waiting for him by the time the ambulance got him back into town) that meant he was able to be stabilised quickly enough and transferred to hospital before any lasting damage was done.

I was amazed to learn that the Devon Air Ambulance Trust (DAAT) only have 2 helicopters for the huge area they cover – and scarily, the first was already out on call when my Dad collapsed.

DAAT is a recognised charity, and needs to raise a huge £4.5 million every year just to keep their service going. They also need to raise an additional £1 million to meet their maintenance and repair costs, and to extend their operating hours. Without our help, they can’t do their job – and that job is essential. You can find out more about their service here.

Whilst we’ve tracked down the runners and marshals and race organisers to express our thanks for what they did, it’s hard to know how to really thank someone for saving the life of a loved one. I mean, what on earth can you possibly offer to repay something that big?

Whilst I’m still trying to answer that, what I can do in the meantime is support the DAAT charity so that they can keep their amazing service going. But I can’t do that alone!

I’m going to be cycling the Prudential Ride 100 (yep, that’s 100 MILES) in August to raise money for the Devon Air Ambulance, and I would be so grateful if you could spare even a few pennies. Donations can be made either online or by text:

Online, via my JustGiving page: JustGiving – Cycling 100 miles for the DAAT
By texting PTLA58 and your donation amount (£1, £2, £3, £4, £5, or £10) to 70070

I just want to end this by saying a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart to the DAAT, the Bideford 10k runners, marshals and organisers, the staff at Exeter and Hammersmith hospitals and all of the other wonderful people that have helped and supported us over the last few weeks. We couldn’t have got through this without you.

I love you, Dad.

– – –

There are some brilliant resources on the British Heart Foundation website on risk factors and how to keep your heart healthy: www.bhf.org.uk.

Know the warning signs: How healthy is your heart?

Bit of a lull

I don’t know about you, but ever since the marathon, my motivation for running has taken a nosedive and a half.

Sure, I’ve squeezed in the odd 5k – but my pace hasn’t been great and I just haven’t really been feeling it.

So I eventually decided that enough was enough. For now, I’ve put running on the backburner, and have been trying out other exercise options. The key: I’m doing it just for fun. No training plan, no targets to meet or PBs to get or minimum weekly mileage. Just what I feel like, when I feel like it – which is a bit of a novelty!

By taking the pressure off, I’ve had a chance to get back into other sports that I love. For one, I’ve started swimming again, albeit pretty slowly! I’ve been getting up and to the pool for 7am once a week before work, for a half hour lanes session, and I’m feeling great as a result. I used to swim in clubs, for yeeears and years, but since Uni I don’t think I’ve swum at all until now. It’ll take me a while (!) to get back to my old shape, but I’m looking forward to a new challenge!

I’ve also managed to fit in some lovely bike rides. I haven’t been cycling to work recently (I’ve been waiting for some new tyres to arrive – those will be fun to fit, given I’ve never even touched a tyre lever before …) but I’ve been getting out at the weekends and exploring. I went down to Devon last week with my boyfriend to visit my family, and on the one day of (glorious) sunshine we got, we cycled 7 miles to the coast for ice-cream and back:

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Granted, not the longest or toughest cycle in the world. But it was fun, and the scenery was gooorgeous:

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I really miss living in Devon sometimes!

As expected though, the sunshine disappeared as suddenly as it appeared, and for the rest of the week it was grey and gloomy. But we were determined to get out to the coast – the coast paths are amazing, and there are SO many walks to do. So we grabbed our boots, wrapped up in waterproofs and headed out! At the start it was almost dry, which meant I got to snap some pictures:

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Definitely worth the rain! The hills were a bit tough (little out of shape right now!), and the steps got pretty slippery as the rain got heavier, but being able to stop and look out at views like these made me so happy 🙂 It was enough to make you forget the rain for a bit!

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This weekend, we were lucky enough to get a bit more sunshine in Surrey, so we headed out on the bikes again and cycled from Guildford to Cranleigh and back, via the River Wey and Shalford. I think most of the track was the Downs Link? Whatever the exact route was, it was warm and sunny and beautiful!

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I think we ended up doing around 18 miles in the end that day (but no ice-cream stops, unfortunately). Our next challenge is to cycle to Hampton Court! Once I find a route, that is.

Whilst I do miss running, I think I’m going to leave it a while before I throw myself back into it. My next half – the Thames Meander – is in August, so I’ve got plenty of time to build up the distance again! In the meantime, I’ll be working on my front crawl and bike maintenance skills ..

A stroll over the moors

This year, for the second time, I attempted the full Exmoor Perambulation route. Last time, we got to the final checkpoint – 26.5 miles in – when the event was called off due to dangerous weather conditions, and we were sent back to the start in a bus, 4.5 miles short of the finish.

(To see the full mapped route and elevation graph, click here).

My parents tried it the year before, and were stopped at the same place, again due to dangerous weather conditions. It still shocks me at just how quickly things can deteriorate up on the moors – you can go from almost clear skies to rain, wind and heavy fog in SUCH a short amount of time.

We got to the start at about 7:30. It was cold, windy and raining fairly heavily, but we felt pretty positive – and determined to see it through to the end this time! We had water and weatherproof jackets, gaiters, walking poles, hats, gloves and sturdy walking shoes. We had plenty of energy drinks, shot blocks, and snacks for refuelling on the go. I even remembered my neckwarmer:

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Yes, it’s the end of June. Summer doesn’t seem to be happening this year.

The first half went ok, with the rain easing off every now and then, but the wind stayed around 30-40mph, with some stronger gusts on the higher ground. Just before half way, we got to our favourite (!) part – Green Mountain:

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Crazy, crazy steep. So steep, in fact, that we couldn’t stand upright whilst climbing it, or we’d have fallen backwards! After 15 miles of hiking over hills, through boggy fields and streams, over fences and uneven terrain, an ascent like this – nearly 500 feet in less than a mile – is the last thing you need!

At the half way point, we stopped for bacon sandwiches. Man, bacon has never tasted so good! It was pretty pricey, but SO worth it.

In the second half, we got to a fast-running stream with no stepping stones, and nothing to shimmy across (as there was in some of the earlier streams) .. So we had to simply wade through:

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Whilst some walkers removed their shoes and socks to cross, we were wary of sharp rocks and stones so kept ours on. Unfortunately, shoes are pretty much impossible to wring the water out of (unlike socks) .. But on the plus side, my feet couldn’t get any wetter, so as the rain got heavier over the following ten miles, it made no difference!

By the time we got to the final checkpoint – along an exposed ridge at the highest point on the route – the rain was torrential, and the fog had rolled in, bringing our visibility down to nearly nothing:

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Needless to say, for the last few miles the camera stayed in my pocket – though by the end, even our waterproof jackets didn’t keep out all of the rain. I suppose in those conditions, nothing is going to stay waterproof for long!

We got to the finish line in 12 hours and 2 minutes, including our 25-minute bacon sandwich break in the middle. I have to say, this event really pushed me to my limits. Not just the physical side – though everything hurt by the end, and I don’t know how I’m going to cycle to work tomorrow morning – but the mental side. My parents agreed that this event was harder than their marathon, and I can see why. The conditions yesterday made it particularly challenging, but even on a sunny day, I imagine it would be extremely difficult. Whilst 3 miles an hour isn’t exactly a fast pace (though we reached the half way point 1h15 quicker than last year!), I think that the time spent on my feet took more of a toll on my body than my 3-hour training runs earlier in the year.

I feel almost the same as when I was recovering from those long training runs a few months back. All of my muscles hurt, my joints (and left shin, randomly) are in pain, and I have severe tightness behind my right knee, which makes walking extremely difficult and painful! To be fair, I kind of brought it upon myself, as I was too tired by the time I got home (nearly 9pm) to stretch and foam roll..

But it was a good way to kick-start my marathon training again, after 2 weeks off for a holiday this month. I’m definitely out of shape, but this event has made me hopeful that I have the mental strength to get through my training and the marathon next April, especially when things get tough (as any runner knows, they inevitably do). As for my fitness – I’m going to have to work pretty hard to get into shape!

My parents were inspirational. My Dad pulled something in his knee quite badly just before the half way point – and despite every single downhill being agonizingly painful, he refused to quit. He gritted his teeth and carried on, ignoring the option of being driven back to the start at every. single. checkpoint. (There were 7 in total). How is that for willpower? Mum hurt as badly as I did, but never once even considered quitting. And if they were going to push on through the wind, rain and fog, how could I not?

It’s thanks to their support, encouragement and unfailing positivity that I got to the finish. I couldn’t have done it without you guys, so thank you.

A little wander over the moors

There are endless training plans for running 26.2 miles; endless resources for ways to build up the distance, manage your hydration and nutrition, kit and everything else.

But what about training for a 31 mile hike across the moors?

According to the organisers:

This circular long distance walk, the Exmoor Perambulation, is a traditional walk dating back over 725 years. It’s one of the most challenging walks in the Exmoor annual calendar and during the 31 miles of cross country walking you will be taking in breathtaking views and accessing parts of the National Park not normally open to the public. You will also be participating in a bit of history! Every June hundreds of people from around the country come together to tread the boundary of the old Royal Forest of Exmoor and pass through some unique areas of Exmoor not normally accessible to the public.’

Granted, I’ll be walking it. But with a notorious hill dubbed ‘Green Mountain’, streams and rivers to cross, stiles and boggy fields to navigate, it’s not exactly a gentle Sunday stroll.

I’ve tried this event twice before. The first time, in 2010, my parents and I did the half distance. Not realising just how serious the event was, I turned up in a vest top and cardigan, with cheap trainers on my feet:

Surrounded by serious and seasoned hikers, and completely unprepared.


If it hadn’t been dry that year, there’s no way I would ever have made it to the end. Somehow, I did – and it was brilliant.

Last year, we decided to try the full distance. My parents had attempted it the year before, but severe weather conditions meant that they were stopped at the final checkpoint, with just 5 miles to go.

It was a bit grey and misty when we set off, but the skies cleared, and we enjoyed a little bit of sunshine as we passed the half-way point. We were in high spirits, and this time I was wearing sensible walking shoes, various layers, and had a waterproof coat in my rucksack (yes, I even had a rucksack that year). Unfortunately, the weather decided to shake things up a bit, and as we passed the checkpoint just before the FINAL checkpoint, the heavens opened. The volunteers asked if we wanted to get a lift back to the start, but being so close to the final checkpoint and those elusive five miles to the finish, we pushed on.

We soon realised that our waterproof jackets weren’t waterproof. We shuffled along an endless road, visibility decreasing by the minute as the fog rolled in, a bitter wind pressing our wet clothes against us and making us shiver. My legs had never felt so stiff. We never made it to that final checkpoint; instead, one of the organisers’ buses pulled up alongside us to pick us up, telling us that the event had once again been cancelled due to dangerous weather conditions.

Psychologically, it felt as difficult as I expect a marathon to feel towards the end – my whole body hurt, I was stiffening up, I was tired and miserable and wanted to give up. My legs ached for days afterwards. My parents had run Brighton a few months before, and agreed that both events were on a similar level.

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When the sun came out, the views on the moors were spectacular.
You can just make out a few teeny people on the bottom right of the left-hand image!

But we refused to be defeated, and signed up once again to try the full distance. This summer, we’re determined to get to the finish line – this time, with waterproof jackets that are actually waterproof.

And preferably, without the torrential rain, bitter wind, and crazy amounts of fog.

Third time lucky, right!?