Lessons in recovery

A bit of a ‘nuts and bolts’ post this one. Now I’ve had a bit of time to recover I thought I’d go through some of the kit I used, things that I thought worked well, things that went a bit wrong, and what I’ve learnt about the recovery process. This is mainly meant to be an aide memoire for next time, but hopefully some people might find it a useful resource too.

Kit

Obviously I’m not going to go through every single thing I took or wore, but here are the things that come to mind:

Trainers: I chose my trusty Merrell Bare Access Trail shoes for this race. They’re not amazingly grippy as trail shoes go, but they are amazingly comfortable… and I thought for my first 50 at least, that comfort had to be paramount. It was a decent decision; my feet were in perfect nick at the finish with no blisters or hotspots, but I do feel that they lacked support in the latter stages, and particularly on some of the more technical parts of the trail. These ones are due for retirement anyway, so I’ll be finding and breaking in a suitable replacement pair before SVP and Ladybower later this year.

Race Vest: I used my Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest (5l capacity). I left the bottles at home and used a 1l reservoir in the pack itself, which worked decently well, but the bladder was a pain to fill and if I’d had to take more mandatory kit (waterproof jackets were taken off the kit list on the morning in light of the great weather forecast), then I think it would have been too small. For SVP at least I think I’ll be using my Salomon vest with the easier-to-fill soft bottles at the front and the 1l bladder in the back. It’s got more easily accessible pockets and more room too, so probably a better choice, even if the 12l capacity is overkill.

Pants (yes, it’s important!): Minor bikini line chafing. That is all. Will be wearing undershorts next time.

Compression socks: I wore my well-trusted CEP ones. I’m still not convinced that these are necessary and I’m vain enough not to want knee-high tan lines… I just don’t want to find out that they really do work 40+miles into a race, when I have no chance of getting them on without losing half an hour and a major amount of swearing.

Shorts: I just wore some bog-standard running shorts, but given the battering my quads took, I’m contemplating a pair of compression shorts for future races.

GPS: Forerunner 220. The battery died at 47.3 miles. Given that I can’t afford a Fenix 3, and Garmin have now not been able to cope with 100% of the ultras I’ve run, it’s time for a change. I’ll be picking up a Suunto Ambit Peak 3 later on today – all I need now is to be recovered enough to play with it!

Recovery

The last two weeks have been rather a steep learning curve, not only in terms of the race itself, but also how I’m recovering from it. One of the things I find slightly intimidating about the ultra community is just how many runners there are out there who run a 50 mile race and are back out on the trails again within a few days. I know I’m not able to do this – it’s not how my body works, but it can be easy to get sucked into that mindset and I find it takes a fair amount of pig-headedness to trust that I know what works for me in spite of what everyone else seems to be doing.

It took 3-4 days for the DOMS to wear off, and 5-6 days for the20160515_120447 swelling round my knee to go down. I had a massage with Magic Megan on the third day after the race, and this was a good time to have it – I could just about stand to have someone touching my legs but it was still relatively soon after the race.

During this time I tried to eat well, take some magnesium baths, and walk it out as much as I could bear. I also iced my knee as often as possible. I expected to feel constantly hungry, but I found that I wasn’t. The onset of hunger was intense, though; 0- to-hangry in about 90 seconds flat.

It’s 11 days post-race now, and I still have a little bit of inflammation in the quadriceps tendon, but nothing that should be too bad going forward. I tried cycling on Monday – my legs felt ready but it left me feeling hugely fatigued, to the point where I was barely coherent on Monday evening. And that has been the most surprising thing; the biomechanical recovery seems to be the least part of it. Mentally and emotionally, this week has been really tough. I’ve felt foggy and tired, down, and have really, REALLY needed to sleep. So that’s what I’ve prioritised and it seems to be working. I’m still not ready to run – I have very little desire to – I just have to trust that that will come back, and when it does it’ll be the green light I need to know that I’m ready to go again.

Next time I would like to:

  • Have a magnesium bath on the evening of the race (not possible this time)
  • Wear some compression leggings post-race for a couple of days (even sleeping)
  • Sleep A LOT more in the week after the race, and if possible have a couple of days off work (again, not possible this time)
  • Be a little more in tune with my diet
  • Stay patient

I have been reading some interesting articles on the effects of ultra running on the Endocrine system (and subsequent hormone imbalances), and have come to the conclusion that this aspect is really not to underestimated. The bottom line here is to listen to your body and ignore what everyone else is doing, but this can be so much easier said than done. All-in-all, I set aside two weeks for recovery,¬† and I’m certainly going to be using all that time. I hope to go on some long walks at the weekend, and get back into running gently sometime next week along with a bit of cycling. I found this article about recovery useful and reassuring – it’s well worth a read.

NDW50

 

CR16-NDW50-Finish-153

The Race

So. The dust is slowly settling, the endorphin high is waning, and I’m finally feeling ready to write about the amazing experience I had running the North Downs Way last weekend. Sitting here at my desk, three days on, I still feel like I can’t fully comprehend what I did. I mean, I DID IT! I actually ran 50 miles. But in some ways I’m still coming to terms with it.

I don’t intend this to be a blow-by-blow account of every aspect of the race – there are plenty of accounts out there to satisfy curiosity on that score. But I will record here the things that struck me most; the highs, the lows, what worked, what didn’t, and what it felt like, to me, to run 50 miles for the first time ever.

The race itself still has a strange dream-like quality to me. I remember woods full of bluebells, one patch of woodland completely carpeted in flowering wild garlic – the smell of which was incredible, ridges with spectacular views out over local towns and villages, stepping stones across a swirling river, and the steps up Box Hill… Queuing¬† for the gates as everyone got started, but later miles and miles covered in solitude and sunshine – my favourite kind of running.

The course itself was unlike anything I’d encountered before: relentlessly undulating with a few more memorable hills thrown in for good measure. From a flatlander’s perspective, it was pretty brutal. 5500ft of elevation – probably more than I’d managed the entire year so far.

By mile 17 I wanted to cry. My legs felt heavy and fatigued, and I got sucked into thinking about the distance as a whole; how could I possibly be finding it this hard already? I was only a 1/3 of the way through, and the first half was supposed to be the easy bit. I wanted to stop. Rich was meeting me at the crewing point at 20 miles – if it had been any earlier I think I might have crumbled, but fortunately I caught the mental slide and asked myself why the hell I was dwelling on how hard it was instead of all the training I’d done, how strong I was, and what an amazing adventure I was on. By the time I got to Ranmore Common and saw Rich ready and waiting with fresh fuel, a handful of chocolate raisins, a pep-talk, and details of what was going on in front of me, I’d already started to turn it around. Five miles of gentle downhill followed, and the combination of the two altered the race for me.

The seven miles from the stepping stones to Aid Station 4, including both Box Hill and Reigate Hill, are a bit of a killer, but I strangely enjoyed it. I picked up ‘lunch’ (half a banana, a slice of watermelon, two handfuls of crisps, and a cup of flat coke) at the stepping stones, and ate on the march. I really felt like a I got my teeth into the race in this section, and far from being demoralised, I felt invigorated by the challenge (and probably the food!). I’m not going to lie – it hurt significantly – but I felt as though I’d reached a level of pain I could accept and work with. All I had to do was persuade my legs back into a trot at the top of every incline, and I’d be home and dry. And so it turned out to be.

One of the most uplifting moments of the race came at the top of Box Hill. Emerging into the sunlight at the top of the 300-odd steps, I broke back into a run to the cheers and applause from all the picnic-ers out enjoying their day. It made me feel like a hero, running through their midst, and it was such a massive lift to the spirits. The miles melted away and I kept trotting on. Usually passing people, and rarely getting passed.

Mile 40 was the second rendezvous with Rich – I was in 7th and 6th was in my sights. A fresh t-shirt and cap, another handful of raisins and a ‘hunt her down’, and it was game-face on – I was tired but feeling strong and I wanted that extra place. 10 miles to go. I hiked hard up the hill to the last aid station, gaining on her all the time, she ran out of the water stop as I ran in, and I knew that I would get her. In those last 10 miles I reeled in at least 10 other runners. The terrain was exactly like my run-commute to work and it felt familiar and achievable. CR16-NDW50-Finish-151

Suddenly I turned the corner and the finish gantry was there. I’d done it. I ran tall and proud across the line, posed with my medal, and promptly dissolved into tears when Rich informed me I was 5th lady due to a drop further up the field.

I did promise I’d reveal what my pre-race aims were… well, a top 5 rank… and a finish between 8 and 9 hours. 9 hours and 51 seconds was my official time, but what’s 52 seconds between friends? I think I’ll take the moral victory there. And the top five finish? In my first 50 miler, in the year when the women’s course record was smashed by nearly 40 minutes, I am hugely proud of that. I’ll definitely be back for an assault on the top 3 at some point in the future.

 

Recovery

One of my friends asked me on Saturday evening what my legs felt like after running that distance. The answer I gave was ‘like they’ve been run over repeatedly by a car’, and still that’s the best way I can describe it. Yesterday was the worst DOMS day ever. I was back at work (no rest for the wicked) and I could barely walk. Stairs are still proving a challenge – but at least I don’t have to hold on any more. I’ve been icing my swollen left knee, taking magnesium and bicarb baths, and concentrating as much as possible on eating well and resting up. I have a visit to my physio this evening and the aches are abating, so maybe in a few days some gentle cycling will be on the cards.

I don’t feel like running at all. I left everything I had out there on Saturday, and I simply don’t have anything to give at the moment. It’ll come back, but I promised myself a couple of weeks away from running after this race, and I plan to stick to that. That doesn’t mean that I can’t start planning the next adventure, but for the moment I need the space to recover both inwardly and outwardly before I hit the trails again.

And finally…

It simply wouldn’t be right to complete this post without thanking Rich for his incredible support out on the course; Nev for his company during the first section of the race and doing all the driving; and everyone who showed an interest in following our progress throughout the day. I have read and re-read all the messages of support and congratulation that appeared on my facebook wall over the weekend – every single one of them makes me feel so proud, and that really does makes a difference.

 

Here goes!

We’re nearly there. Considerably less than 24hours to go until I toe the line on the North Downs Way. My excitement is gradually being tempered by a small amount of pre-race nervousness – I have done all I can; I’m pretty much packed, my training is all done and dusted, and I have contingency plans for as many eventualities as possible without getting ridiculous about it. The thing I’m most worried about is forgetting to put my trainers in the car!

This week I have had six lists on the go in a bid not forget some small but vital part of my kit. The Plan (race day) and The Plan (rest of the weekend) has satisfied my need to be in control of as many things as possible, and I’m feeling pretty organised. I’ve been eating and tapering well, had some acupuncture, and even booked myself in for what I anticipate will be the most painful post-race rub down ever with Magic Megan next week. There’s nothing more to do now except get on with it (oh, and remember to put my trainers in the car).

I felt pretty tearful as I dropped my little girl off at nursery this morning. For her, this weekend will be no different from any other weekend she spends at Daddy’s house; I’ve spent this much time away from her before… but somehow this feels different. As though when I return I’ll be altered in some way. I’ll be pushing my physical and mental limits further than I’ve ever done before – I’m excited to find out what the challenges of this distance are, but I’m also a little bit scared to step into the unknown and test my limits so thoroughly. I have high expectations of how far I can take my ultrarunning, and I guess I’m scared I might find out that I’ve misjudged myself, that what I can actually do is trailing massively behind what I think I can do. Most of all I want to enjoy it.

I’ll be running alongside some pretty spectacular athletes (see Centurion Running’s race preview for the low-down) and the forecast couldn’t be better – I’m expecting it to be an inspiring day and a revealing journey.

If you want to see how I’m doing tomorrow, then the wonderful guys over at Centurion provide live tracking through the Aid Stations. Link here I’m number 254. Huge thanks to everyone for their kind words of belief and support over the last few days – I’ll do my best to do you all proud.

See you on the flip side!

 

 

On censure and intimidation

I had intended this week’s posts to be all about my prep for Saturday’s NDW50, but something occurred on my run into work this morning that got me wanting to write about something entirely different.

The thing that happened? I got beeped at. Again. This in itself is not so unusual – I got beeped at yesterday too, unfortunately. During the winter I get this, on average, maybe three times a week. But it’s summer, and if I choose to run down the path along the road into town wearing shorts and a t-shirt, then once or twice per day becomes a distressing norm.

This morning the beep happened fairly early on in the run. In such cases I usually let flow an internal stream of expletives directed at the driver, but show no outward sign of having noticed. Today was no different – I didn’t give the lorry driver the satisfaction of a reaction, but just carried on my way with not much of a second thought. Until, that is, I caught up with the inevitable backlog of traffic that builds up along that route. With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach I realised that I would soon catch up with the lorry in question, and have to pass it again. For a couple of minutes I fantasised about calling the lorry driver out on his behaviour; goading him into descending from his cab, kicking him hard in the nuts and then running away, leaving him crying in the road in the middle of the morning rush hour. But did I do that? No. I did what millions of women do every single day in situations where they’ve been made to feel uncomfortable by the behaviour of men; I practised de-escalation. I felt fairly sick as I closed the distance on the lorry; what would I encounter? Another beep? Something shouted from the window? The traffic started to move, and for a while I was able to run in his blind-spot hoping that I wouldn’t catch up after all. Then he slowed and I was level with the cab. He kept pace with me down the hill – I felt tense and uncomfortable, but refused to acknowledge that I’d clocked his earlier attention with either a look or a change of pace. Finally the traffic forced him to come to a standstill and I was able to pull away and round the corner at the bottom of the hill, turning away from the main road and any unwelcome gaze that may have followed me.

The rest of the run was a bit quicker than I’d intended; I was wound up by the encounter, and wound up with myself for letting it get to me. And yet this behaviour isn’t acceptable. Nobody should be made to feel intimidated by unwanted attention. By some idiot sitting in the safety of his cab who, if I’m charitable, presumably thought I’d see it as some sort of compliment. It’s not. It’s not a compliment if it makes someone feel intimidated, uncomfortable, self-conscious, and awful. Women so often can’t win in situations like this. If we happen to carry a bit more weight, or are struggling with fitness for whatever reason, then we’re censured for it. If we work hard, show dedication, and our physiology reflects that, or if we’re simply lucky with our physiology, then our ‘reward’ is putting up with the kind of shit detailed above.

I hate that I have to deal with it. I hate that women everywhere have to deal with this and much, much worse, every single day. I work really hard at my running; I’m in great shape, and I’m really proud of the fact. I don’t wear shorts in the summer for the edification of passing drivers – I wear them, surprisingly, to help regulate my temperature. What irks me most is that the driver(s) in question probably don’t give a monkeys about how strong I am, or the crazy distances I can cover under my own steam, they make a snap judgement based on my appearance and don’t give a second thought about how their actions, however small, might make me feel.

Unless the lorry driver was a fellow ultrarunner, and he was simply being supportive of my training. In which case, I apologise.

T-10 days…

We’re nearly there! Ten days left until my first ever attempt at running 50 miles, and my second ever attempt at this ultramarathon malarkey. To say I’m excited would be quite an understatement; it’s my first big race of the year, after niggles and sporadic training led me to withdraw from running in London three weeks ago. It was a good decision, I think – the ankle trouble I’ve struggled with on and off for nearly three months has finally been laid to rest, the training that I have done has been encouraging, and I’m now trying to get to the start line in as healthy a shape as possible.

The race in question? North Downs Way 50. I had been oscillating between excitement at the challenge, and disbelief that I could actually manage the distance. Until, that is, I followed the truly inspiring efforts of everyone running the Thames Path 100 last weekend, which quite frankly makes the small matter of 50 miles look like a walk in the park. So now I’m mostly excited, and entering full OCD / control-freak mode regarding logistics, packing, kit, and weather forecast checking. Oh, and food.

I’ve bought a new running t-shirt especially for the occasion, because none of the 24 million t-shirts that I already own are *exactly* right, and everyone knows that new kit makes you run faster anyway. I’ve just about resisted the temptation to follow this philosophy with new trainers. That might have been a bad idea, but I’ll admit it was a struggle. Maybe for the next one!

Because I am moderately competitive by nature, and an idiot, I naturally have aspirations regarding time and rank. But really, my aim is to have the best day running a beautiful trail in good company. If I manage that, then there’s every chance that I’ll get close to my dreams… but I genuinely have NO IDEA what this is going to feel like. I can’t wait! The whole process is being made far less intimidating by the company of fellow C&C runners Paula and Nev, and superstar crew, Rich. I would be bricking it if I had to do all this on my own. I’ll tell you afterwards what my hopes are for this race, and you can all judge for yourselves just how much of a crackpot I am!