Written in the back of a ‘colour away stress’ book is a wish list. Words across a page of black and white waves written in the winter after our first West Highland Way in 2016. Written in a cold, damp and dark rental property in Cambridge, on that list is a van.
I came back to running about two weeks after the West Highland Way Race, racing for a sub 24min at the Cambridge parkrun and then the next day took part in a 2.5km river swim. Looking back on Strava, I came back to training far too quickly, despite 2 weeks off running I had been road cycling over 100km just 1 week post race. Open water swimming 2 weeks out from such a large ultramarthon was a huge mistake. My immune system would have taken an absolute beating from the race. Both Max and I caught a bug from the river and were subsequently ill for 2 weeks, all training stopped and I was wiped out.
From our own gardens to the remote highland mountains, from city parks and forest schools to the coasts, and beyond to the islands, Scotland’s nature is that of a national pride and international wonder. The Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) aims to further conserve, facilitate enjoyment and advise on sustainable management of Scotland’s nature and land. The SNH vision is to establish Scotland as a recognised world leader for looking after and improving nature by 2030.
I have given a full blow-by-blow race report on John Kynaston’s final podcast; you can find it here.
I completed the 96mile race in 33hrs and 5mins. I am under no assumptions, my finishing was part of a team effort. Without my crew, Neil Scott, Kristin and Jason Main, Susan Barley and my husband Max Holloway I could still be out there somewhere! I cannot thank each of them enough for helping me accomplish this goal, all were absolute heroes. Thank you also to everyone who supported me in the lead up including my family, but also a huge thank you to Liz Bennett. Liz sponsored me, keeping me injury free through my training and had my legs feeling their absolute best come race day. Thank you to the race organisers, volunteers, medics, marshels and supporters. You put on an immense race in every sense. I entered the race to understand myself better, to know how I would react come second sunset, and when the nausea and sleep deprivation hit. Here are some of my insights (the take away parts are in bold) as a first time West Highland Way Race runner and first time running an ultra distance past 53miles.
Now I am less than 3 weeks out from the the West Highland Way Race. The work, however much I managed, is done.
I have been thinking about this race for about a year, it has been in my mind daily since then. I started ‘pre-training’ in mid October, 1 month after the Ring of Steall Skyrace, and began 100 mile training the first week of January 2018.
I had a huge wobble. I had an amazing March where training was going perfectly to plan, then in April work and travel caused havoc for my schedule. In hindsight, Max being injured was also a factor. Without my running buddy I was skimping unintentionally on my long runs and back to backs. I missed spending time with him. The Fling had gone great, but I had tapered so lost out on WHW training. Then a brief injury post Fling meant the following 3 weeks were sub par seeing two thirds less running than was planned. I never completed a peak phase in my training as I was wiped out.
I have never written on here about this, but in 2011 I had glandular fever, which in itself was not much of a big deal. Unfortunately, I was unaware at the time how close to burnout I was, which meant I never recovered from the post viral fatigue and developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E). I look back at this time in three parts, the acute post viral phase, the chronic M.E phase and the recovery phase. Recovery took me years, I would say I am recovered now, but the fear that should I forget myself, is ever present. I want to discuss a method I leant from my recovery that I still apply to daily life now as a healthy person. In particular, how to mitigate the risk of overtraining and injury through a holistic approach to viewing how we spend energy, pace ourselves and what stress is.
I had not intended to enter the 2018 Fling, with the West Highland Way race in the same year. Back in 2016 it took me 6 weeks to recover enough to even want to run again. I was scared I could not recover in time for the WHWrace, just 8 weeks later. Neil my Chief Crewman, however, advised I run the Fling as my longest training run for the WHWrace. Against my better judgment, I entered and got a ballot place. So the race was not a race, but a dress rehearsal for June 23rd. I am so glad I listened to Neil.
My longest training run will be the Highland Fling on Saturday at 53miles (eep!). I will use the race to practise my WHW race pacing so it will not be a PB (must put my ego away and not race!!). Racing at WHWrace pace will allow me to estimate realistically my splits for my crew to meet me and work out what I will need from them at different stages and know where my low points might come. So now just about to pack and already seen the amazing Liz Bennet of Body Balance Sport massage who supporting me this year and has massaged my legs which now feel awesome and ready for fast hiking/slow running across Scotland!
The Fling is an unsupported race so here is my race plan!
A couple months ago Robbie Britton caused a stir on the ultra-running facebook group with his article on Fast Running blog ‘Should female runners get double lottery chances in male dominated races?’ A lot of people, all of whom were ultra-runners and the majority of which were men, gave their opinion on both, why women were not entering and how and should this be solved. Anyway, I thought we should just ask women why they were not entering! So I posted the text below onto the Adventure Queens all women outdoor adventure group to find some answers, and hopefully solutions.
‘There is a debate happening on the ultra-running FB group at the moment about helping get more women into ultra-running. I thought we could actually ask some women instead of guessing. Can I ask any runners, especially those who have ran half and full marathons; What stops you from entering an ultra-marathon? And do you have any ideas what may inspire or help more women get into the sport? Thanks!’
One assumption made by the ultra-runners, was that women in general, do not want to run an ultra and that is why they do not enter. However, the majority of the responses we received (around 40 women commented) began with ‘I would love to do an ultra, but….’
Below I have grouped the responses into to four categories in order of frequency mentioned.
- Lack of knowledge of races.
A general perception of ultra-running was how long it would take to train for an ultra, that this endeavour would be greater than that needed to run a marathon.
‘Definitely to do with time. Training for a half or full marathon is easier time wise. You have to be pretty focused for an ultra!’
Comments included lack of discipline to train, being the wrong body shape. Being too slow was a common barrier for women as was fear of injury, not being strong enough and not having the right mind set.
‘Hi there, I’ve run several marathons and half marathons, and entered two ultras and pulled out as I worry about being timed out of an ultra. My marathon pb is 4.45 and half marathon pb is 2.00.’
3. Time and logistics
A big barrier for women was time to train or race due to family and work commitments. Other logistic issues included not having a support crew, cost of races and not wanting to run alone.
‘But an ultra seems like a whole different ball game!
4. Lack of knowledge of races.
Another recurring theme was simply, women did not know where to find out about smaller local ultras, or even trail races. This also included not knowing how to find cheaper races.
As women were writing about what holds them back, other women began providing advice, support and motivation. It became clear that for the majority of these women, who had proclaimed they would ‘love’ to enter an ultra, were held back from entering due to their perception of an ultra-marathon and what it would take to complete one. The reasons given were all very valid and real, yet on revealing some truths about the reality of the back of the pack ultra-runner several women began to consider, that in fact ultra could be for them. In some cases it was a lack of self-belief, this was greatly helped by supportive comments from other women – the role models.
To answer my proposed question – what stops you from entering? From this group of women, it was a perception of ultra-running that did not match up with their perception of themselves. We can through media and race coverage and through roles models address both of these. There were undeniably the time limitation barriers experienced by women, especially for women with a family.
So here to smash some myths and tear down those misleading perceptions!
If it is longer than a marathon, it is an ultra-marathon! So, training for a 30miler is no different to training for a marathon.
In fact, training for a 50miler does not require any more training than that for a marathon.
Ultra-running is slow. If you are a sub 5hour marathon runner, you are going to be fine. The longer the race, the slower you can go!
Ultra-runners walk. We walk a lot and walk up hills.
For ultras under 50miles you will not need a crew. If you do need a crew ask about. People, even strangers will be willing to crew for you. Ask the race organisers for help finding a crew.
An ultra-marathon is not just a long marathon. There are a lot of stops, eating, talking and making new friends.
Ultra-runners come in many shapes and sizes and there is a huge range in ages. Turn up at a race and see for yourself. Never judge a book by its cover!
Most ultras are on trails, risk of tripping may be higher, but risk of injury from repetitive running is lower.
Ultras come in many formats, pick the race for you. Timed event, lap courses, small and large number of competitors. See LDWA challenge events.
Join an ultra running facebook group and scroll through past questions or contact a race director and ask to volunteer. It is a great community and you will learn loads and come part of the family 🙂
And for more info on where the races are, check out https://www.runultra.co.uk and http://fellrunner.org.uk/races.php
Note: I have been asked if I should repeat this asking a group of men, I agree you may get similar results. I did ask as an open question on twitter to all genders. From men I mainly got the reply ‘nothing stops me.’ One transgender person replied to say anxiety stopped them from entering any races.
On my longest training run so far I had the distant and quiet thoughts of quitting. Dropping out of the WHWrace, for surely I could not succeed, or I would hurt myself trying. I cannot shut off these voices, they are natural for survival and as I get closer to the event, and deeper into the event itself, the negative voices telling me to stop will grow louder.
I need a clear motivation that is greater than the voices telling me to stop. My chances of success rely on this. I need to know why I am doing this race. What bigger reason to keep going despite pain, discomfort and fear. There are reassurances I can utter to myself like ‘it is only pain’ or ‘you are privileged to feel this pain,’ and I will not be alone in the latter stages of the race which will be an immense comfort, but these alone are not enough. I need to fully understand why I am running.