Despite suffering from a chronic knee injury and having to have physio and cortisone injections prior to the start, Elizabeth D'Andrea still managed to run a fantastic race in London and finish her first marathon. Here's how she got on.
I did it. I'm a marathon runner.
On the Saturday before the race, I got the DLR over to Greenwich to time how long it would take me to get to the start line. It was a glorious day so my husband and I picked up some lunch on the way and sat on a bench on the path that I knew less than 24 hours later I would be walking up to the start line of my first ever marathon. As I had a walk around the start area, I saw a fence with a sign on it saying “female urinals” and curiosity got the better of me so I went to take a look. I walked out mouth agape! Does anyone actually use those?!
The rest of Saturday went by in a blur; a quick walk around the Cutty Sark, then a large plate of pasta, set my running kit out, pinned on my number, attached my timing chip to my shoe and got an early night.
My alarm was set for 6:15 and I awoke at 6:05. I forced down some Weetabix and a banana but I felt totally sick, it was the hardest meal I have ever eaten. My groin was hurting so I did some last minute foam rolling and tried to keep calm. At this point, all I kept thinking was that over the last 2 weeks, all I had managed was a 2 mile walk/jog and a very slow painful 3 mile jog - and I’m about to go to the start line of a marathon! Part of me was getting very excited – I knew I had put all the hard work in training-wise over the last 9 months, so as long as it wasn’t so painful that I couldn’t actually run at all I’d be fine. Another part of me was petrified I was making a huge mistake.
I got my kit on and my husband took the obligatory photos. We got outside – wow what a glorious day! More photos. Right – let’s do this. There were not many other runners on the train to the start, I was feeling quite proud in my kit with my red bag. Each stop on the DLR more and more lycra-clad, red bag-carrying runners got on. There was lots of nervous chatter but I just sat in quiet contemplation sipping my water.
We walked to the start line, and just before saying goodbye – disaster – I turned my ankle on the kerb! What an idiot! There were gasps from all the people around me and I burst out crying, but luckily no damage done! Phew. Must pay more attention from here on in!
I said good bye to my husband; he had been by my side for the whole of my preparation for this, but from here on in I must go it alone.
I dropped my bag off and headed straight for the toilet queue. I got into my starting pen quite near the 4:30 pacers, my initial target time, but I knew I was no longer going to be able to keep to this pace.
The gun went off and we slowly started edging forward. My thigh was really hurting and I was trying to stretch it out as much as possible. Edging forward, it took 20 minutes until the start line was in sight. Oh god, here we go. I started my running watch and that was it – I was running a marathon.
I took it very slowly, aiming to go no faster than 11 minute miles. I was moving forward, I wasn't in pain! The support from the very start was incredible. After a mere 5 minutes it suddenly dawned on me that I would now have to keep going for a full 26.2 miles.
The first few miles went by in a blur; I was being overtaken by people of all shapes and sizes and plenty of fancy dress costumes, but I didn’t care. This was just me against the clock and I knew my game plan was to go slow and steady.
I finished my first 5km in 34:04, not the fastest, but in line with my new target time. It started getting hot. Very hot! Just keep moving forward, soak up the atmosphere. 10km – 33:21 – I’d sped up! I knew I had some friends waiting by the Cutty Sark so that gave me a boost – although the crowds were so immense that I didn’t see them, I’d hoped they’d seen me; they later told me they didn’t see me either.
Keep going. I felt a tap on my back. A guy in a fairy costume asked if I wouldn’t mind keeping to a straight line – sorry mate, I thought I was! Then I heard lots of jingling bells – what on earth is that? Oh – a Morris Dancer! He ran off ahead of me.
I knew my husband and my mum, dad, aunt and uncle were somewhere around mile 9. I saw the Hollywood Bowl come into sight – I’d run round this section on every long training run so I knew it well. There were my family – right next to Pizza Hut! “I’M TOO HOT! IT’S SO HOT!” I yelled. They looked so proud. I was surprised at this point at how many people were already walking, but I still felt strong. I knew exactly how much further there was to Tower Bridge. I was over taken by a camel and shepherd. As it happened, we would overtake each other about 5 times in total – the last time I saw them, they were walking through the Blackfriars underpass – I’m still not sure who made it to the finish line first!
15km: 33:49 – still keeping pace! I was a few minutes ahead of the 4:50 pacers. Hoorah! Oh – there’s that Morris Dancer again! “I’ve caught up with you!” I shouted “It’s only taken me 4 miles”. He laughed.
Running up Jamaica Road, wow the crowds really were immense. Lots of “go Lizzy” being shouted. “ I am going!” I shouted back. I turned the corner and Tower Bridge came into sight. I gave a wave up to the balcony of International House where my husband's colleagues were. I turned off the bridge and saw the elites going in the opposite direction towards the finish– wow they really looked like they were suffering! A few people limping, but they must have been on target for a sub 3 hour finish!
My patch I thought, a stone’s throw from my flat! Yet I was really starting to struggle. It was just so hot. My arms were getting pink from sunburn. I knew the friends that I missed at the Cutty Sark would also be here, but alas I didn’t see them again! 20km: 33:51 – well I’m still going! Half way: 2:22:38.
Running from Limehouse to Westferry I suddenly got some energy back – lots of people walking – but I was still going. COME ON! I did a few fist pumps. Turning right at Westferry, through the underpass. Suddenly feeling really hot and really fatigued. I need some lucozade – where is the next station? I poured lots of water over my head and face....aaaaah precious water. Mistake – what am I going to drink now?!
Mile 16 was a real battle. I really didn’t want to walk and I didn’t. I knew my family would be at mile 17 and I was not going to let them see me walk! THERE THEY WERE! And by pure coincidence, the group of friends that I had missed at the Cutty Sark and mile 13! “IM SO HOT!” I yelled again, “Where’s the next water station?” My husband ran up along the side of the road with me behind the spectators for a good half a mile until the next water point, cheering me on, if it wasn’t for that I do think I would have stopped. At this point it suddenly dawned on me that maybe I was out of my depth.
More water. Yes, a little downhill bit. Let’s go!
At mile 18 I was jogging so slowly that walkers were overtaking me. It dawned on me that I could probably go quicker if I power-walked. It was a real mental battle to allow myself to start walking, I felt like I was failing. I worried if I started walking I would not start running again. But without even realising I stopped jogging and started walking. I started crying. I felt like I’d let myself and my husband down. A guy in a bright orange t-shirt with Clive written on it who was also walking put his arm on my shoulder and said “come on”. I then realised that actually this was helping and that my legs were still moving and I felt much better. At this point I knew I could get to the end, even if I walked the rest of the way. 25km: 36:38, 30km: 38:48
5 miles to go. I was marching as fast as I could and I saw the 4:58 pace makers go past – I jogged to catch up – “how long did it take you cross the start line?” I asked – 16.5 minutes. Right – must keep up with them. I jogged ahead and then walked, they caught up. This happened 5 times until finally I couldn’t keep the pace. “Come on, you can do it” they said with a friendly pat on the shoulder. But at this point I couldn’t.
The last 4 miles went in a blur of walking and jogging. That darn camel again! Come on you can do this!
200 meters to go. My running watch said I had already run 26.2 miles, 4:55 – I’m going to make sub 5 hours after all! I sped up as much as I could. I crossed the line. I saw the two 4:58 pace makers and rather over-animatedly showed them my watch– 4:57:19 – I DID IT, I BEAT YOU! They both smiled and shook my hand. I’ll be back, I told them, to achieve the time I had initially set out to do.
A woman named Lisa gave me my medal. I told her I loved her. I’m a marathon runner.
Oh, and as it’s my first marathon – that’s a PB!
Race To The Stones is a trail ultra marathon that takes place on the stunning, historic trails between Oxford and Swindon every July.
I can’t explain the meaning of this race to me; I find I am drawn to the lure of the combination of stunning scenery and brutal distance and terrain and the challenge of going as fast as I can for as long as I can.
I did this race for the first time in 2016, shortly after the realisation that doctors could do nothing more to help my mum with her cancer which had spread from her bowel to her liver. This cancer had been diagnosed after emergency surgery in 2012 around the time of the Queen’s Jubilee. So we had endured 4 long years of chemotherapy and surgery and never any remission, but my mum battled on and was so strong.
I used running to deal with my pain and could easily do back to back long runs, so I signed up for this ultra marathon even though I had not run more than marathon distance.
In 2016, at just past the 90km (55-mile) mark, I was feeling great and was first lady. Sadly, by 60 miles, I realised I was hopelessly lost and had a DNF by the side of a busy main road.
2017 saw me complete the 50km route which I did with confidence and crossed the line second overall and first female having run a few other ultras in between Race to the Stones 2016 and 2017. I was determined my failure in 2016 was not my final chapter.
Roll on 2018 and the challenge was finding a way to train whilst also being a single mum with no support, so babysitters and taking the kids with me to training was the only option. I was not intending to do the race as I thought I couldn’t get anyone to look after the children, but my friend said she would look after them for me... Amazing!
For the 2018 race, it was a hot day and the heat was relentless. Thankfully, I love the heat! I was running well and I thought I was hydrating well as I had my hydration vest and I was sipping on water and taking electrolyte tablets regularly. However, after leading the whole race and being 2nd/3rd overall for most of the run, at 80km I started to feel unbalanced. Something wasn’t right.
Running suddenly felt much more of an effort, my chest started to hurt, and I felt a bit light headed, so being sensible I slowed my pace. I then got a stitch and had to slow for that and so getting from 80km to 90km was a real struggle and seemed to be mostly uphill.
After 90km, I tried to push on (this time the signs were a lot better and I went the right way!) I was determined to finish but my mental strength was starting to fade and I had a few grumbles to myself, but I thought, "Come on you’re nearly there." Time was slipping off what I had hoped to run and I felt very uncomfortable; each step felt like an eternity to the finish.
But, I did it! After finishing some electrolytes that were given to me by the medics, I felt a lot better and drove back home to collect my children and put them to bed.
I felt a sense of achievement that I had finally done the whole 100km. The only thing is, I went out to win it and did not achieve that so I’ll have to try again!
About the author: Sophie Carter is a personal trainer, ultra runner, and Sundried ambassador.
Lulworth Cove Ultra Marathon was not only my first ultra marathon, it was my first time doing trail running. I had signed up for a different team event but it was cancelled at the last minute due to safety reasons. I was determined not to let my training go to waste so I went on the hunt for a replacement race. A friend of mine introduced me to the Trail Events Co Lulworth Cove Ultra Marathon trail running race and without hesitation I signed up! Registering very late (three days before the race) meant that there was no time to get apprehensive about it. I just packed my stuff and got down to the south coast.
As the horn sounded at the start of the race, my naivety shone through and I hit the front with another chap, albeit at a pretty modest pace. By about 5km we had settled into a rhythm and a group of about 5 or 6 of us had formed and broken away, inter-changing positions with each km that passed.
By 8am the sun was already beating strong and the air temperature was climbing. I had slapped on a load of sun cream before I left but I wasn’t sure it was going to be enough.
As soon as the race started, we were into the climbing. I remember laughing out loud at a scramble up from the beach. “I thought this was supposed to be a trail run,” I said to the guy in front of me when we got to the top. He asked me if this was my first trail ultra and when I said that it was, he simply smiled and said “you sure picked a good one to begin with!” I took that to mean I was in for a hard day and he wasn’t wrong!
The route itself was varied, from coastal path, beach (sand and stone), steps, steep climbs and descents to forest and open country, it had it all! By 21km I felt good and was in about 6th position, which was totally unexpected and I was just waiting for something to go wrong. I didn’t have to wait long!
At about 25km something didn’t feel right. I had planned on fuelling with solids as they had worked in training and out cycling so I thought I would stick to what I knew. However, in the heat, I just couldn’t face the dry oat and energy bars. So I stuck to blocks and gels which is not an unusual fuel source for me and I was used to them, but something wasn’t quite right. Whether it was the direct sunlight, high air temperature, or something else, my stomach was in turmoil by 30km from which point I couldn’t keep anything other than water and electrolytes down. But as long as one foot went in front of the other, I kept moving forward: walking up the hills and jogging down and on the flat.
And so the kilometres ticked by, unrelenting inclines and unrelenting declines, the downs hurting as much as the ups. Being passed by a few other runners along the course went to both demoralise and spur me on in equal measure.
Aside from a couple of navigation errors, the finish line was quickly approaching and with 55km (34 miles) and 2,050m of cumulative climbing complete, I crossed the line and felt an incredible rush of both exhaustion and elation. I haven’t felt that sensation since my first Ironman back in 2014 and the sense of achievement still hasn’t faded... I want more of this!
Having no real benchmark to hit for that type of run as it was my first, and knowing that I wasn’t going to be competitive, I wasn’t too fussed about my result. I finished in a touch over 7 hours and was told I should be pretty happy with that. As it turns out, of the 74 starters I came 11th... I was over the moon!
Overall, this is a brutal race with some very hard climbing and descending, over a great course through beautiful countryside. I would recommend this race to anyone wanting to really challenge themselves. I know I will be again!
Collecting the race number, mainly to be somewhere dry! Monte Pelmo in the picture.
So here I am at 8am on my holiday sat in our car in the campsite. It’s uncomfortably cold, grey and absolutely hammering it down, and had been since we set up camp yesterday afternoon. Palafavera so far had not screamed ‘holiday’ instead a little eerie, misty, and deserted. The ‘Transpelmo’ signs around the campsite and looming mountains seen during the odd break in the thick cloud reminded me of why I was here.
Our drizzly camp just before the rain and cloud really came in.
In that moment looking out the car I had lots of feelings:
Why did I sign up to a race on my holiday?
Maybe I’ll just sit this race out; it’s my holiday after all.
But I’ve paid for it and I never back out!
There might be a break in the rain...
But even then do I really want to run up a mountain after 2 days solid of hiking and via ferrata, my legs are already tired!
Wait is that blue sky….
And out of nowhere blue sky started to roll in and the rain started to ease off. It was a miracle. The last time that had happened was when we went to scatter my dads ashes, but that's another story.
I had already read last night that the course had been changed from 18km to 13km (turned out to be 15km) to ensure the safety of athletes and staff. I was disappointed I wouldn’t do what I had set out to, but I had said from the start I was doing this race for the views and experience and I just wasn't going to get the views today. There was still thick cloud up high where the race would come into its own.
So I headed to the start line for a delayed 10.30am start. By the time I had got there I had stripped off my buff, gloves, hat and waterproof jacket. It was warming up. I became acutely aware that I could be the only English person there as the commentator jabbered away in, what sounded to me, his very passionate Italian.
At the start line before the jacket came off.
I was looking around at everyone wondering if I was wearing the right thing, was I carrying too much, where would I end up in this pack when I crossed the finish line? I was very happy my boyfriend was there to smile at me and look at me with utter confidence. I could do this, and I wouldn't be last.
And we were off! I started at a decent pace running through tonnes of mud on the start line, onto a road, through the campsite, and straight up a very steep trail. Looking ahead I could see everyone was hiking not running. It was single file with the occasional 2-3 wide. Through the trees it was wet, muddy, slippery. Tough. And this continued for around 2.5km. I hadn't had chance to study the alternative route so all I could think was when I get to 6.5km then it will be mostly downhill. During this 2.5km there were times when I thought ‘I don't think I can do this’ but I never stopped. My head wouldn't let that happen. My legs were screaming from being put to the test for the third day in a row. (You can't taper when in Cortina, too much to do and see!) But it was temporary, pain is temporary.
Finally the terrain started to ease off, we popped out of the trees and we had a couple of kilometers of fun running! I got into my stride and we were on a path. I seemed to be running at a similar pace to one green-striped guy whether we were going up or down, and he had a good running style so I decided that I would do everything I could to stick with him. The incline came again but this time I didn't mind as we were almost at the 6.5km mark and what I thought would be halfway. All I had to do was stick with my green-striped guy. I started to enjoy the mix of terrain, leaping across rivers, mud skating across wooden bridges, jumping over rocks. My head was entertained, even if my body hurt. There would have been some spectacular views at points along here. But whilst mother nature had spared us from getting wet (bar our feet and legs), the mountain would not share her views with us today.
One photo I had to take when there was a pocket of sky in the cloud.
And then suddenly we were going down hill. Boy were we going down hill. I had managed to hold my own in the pack on the uphills and undulations, but tearing down grassy banks, muddy trails with tree roots I was not mad keen on. An injury here would put an end to the rest of our holiday plans. Seeing a guy get carried through the woods back to safety was a stark reminder of this. Don't get me wrong I went for it, even going for a slide at one point, but I stuck to my race and my green-striped guy disappeared. The pack had thinned by now and I just started to have the best time. I felt so alive dodging, side stepping, everything was happening so fast all I could do was be in the moment and react to what lay before me. This is what living is. This is what makes trail running so special.
After some time I found myself at a feed station. Having not eaten anything yet I took some chopped up banana and at a slice of apple. After all we were 9km in, only 4km to go and all downhill, or so I thought. Back up hill we went. It felt relentless. A few guys shared some words with me which I assumed was something along the lines of ‘what are we all doing here?’. But choose to do it we did, so finish it we will! Unlike the first incline, this one I was able to deal with better with it being close to the end. I even started to overtake people by running whenever the incline tapered. I caught up with my green-striped guy. I'd given up guessing how far the race would actually be and just focussed on making it to the finish as soon as possible.
3km later we descended back into the trees much like the terrain at the start of the race. Very steep, muddy and single track. I could sense we were nearing camp. I was getting tired when I popped out of the trees and saw my boyfriend. He quickly warned me of a particular muddy trap which I skirted. I stifled the tiredness and started to hit the accelerator. There was a girl about 100m away and I wanted to catch her. My legs pushed harder, my breathing got heavier, and the gap was closing. On the final U-turn up and over the tunnel to the finish she saw me right on her tale and she kicked. Whilst I didn't make it past her, I love the feeling of leaving nothing in the tank at the finish line and mentally thanked her for the chase.
I couldn’t help smiling ear to ear when the commenter shouted “Sophie Kennedy!!!” in a wonderful Italian accent as I ran under the clock. I had made it! My first race overseas at elevation. And guess what happened 15 minutes later.... It started to rain.
Over the finish line.
- Because of the weather right up to the start of the race, I carried my buff, gloves, hat and waterproof in my running vest. I didn't need any of them. I could say I shouldn't have taken them, but I saw how quickly the weather changed and how cold it had been. With more experience of the mountains and knowing my pace I may have been able to make a more informed decision.
- My legs were so tired at the start of the race from previous days’ activities. I wouldn’t have not done these activities, but I would avoid this again if possible!
- Less ‘learnt’ more ‘confirmed’ - I love the trails! (And sometimes the weather is on your side.)
Why was I contemplating running 100km nonstop?
Before I booked Race to the Stones I had only run marathon distance (42.2km) so why did I book it and what made me think I could do it?
Honestly, my main 2018 goal was a Middle Distance Triathlon (70.3) in June so I didn’t feel like I particularly needed a new one (in July) but my boyfriend wanted to sign up and the simple answer is... I find it really hard to say no! This trait has led me to getting involved in lots of challenging and amazing experiences, and this was one of them.
When I actually planned out my year, I figured if I could squeeze in an of-road marathon before my triathlon and a couple of long runs following it, I’d probably be alright. The down side is it would give me no rest after my triathlon and I’d miss out on a lot of run training because of the time I needed to spend on the bike and in the water.
From what I’d heard, the biggest part of an ultra marathon is the mental game and this actually gave me confidence rather than put me off. The more time you spend out of your comfort zone, the better you are in it and it’s is something I like to test.
When you spend time outdoors you are dealing with things out of your comfort zone: the weather, the terrain, nonexistent health and safety, food and water shortages, creative sleeping arrangements. I’m lucky that my life has been filled with weekends camping, sleeping in the back of a car, traditional climbing, big wall climbing, parents getting us lost on long walks/rides as kids, but I had also battled darker challenges such as mental health (anorexia) and loss of a parent. Most challenges will make you stronger, make the next challenge easier and offer life fulfilment. Hold on to your achievements and learn from life’s tests.
What is Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones (RTTS)?
The Route is 100km and can be split across two days. I thought if I’m going to do it, I may as well get it done in a day. The route is from Lewknor along The Ridgeway, the oldest path in the UK, to Avebury where lies the largest Neolithic stone circle in Europe.
My boyfriend and I chose RTTS as some of the ultra running community who we had become friendly with advised it was a good first ultra: the event was well organised, well supported and the route was interesting and scenic. What else was there to worry about! (And where did worrying ever get anyone!) Turns out my boyfriend got injured but my mind was made up, I’d do it anyway.
Triathlon training towards an ultramarathon
My training mainly consisted of cycling, swimming, and some running - consistent with a triathlon training plan! Once my triathlon was done on 10th June, I cut the cycling and swimming and had 2 weeks of running before I had to start thinking about the taper. I was cautious about staying injury-free, so on the long runs I focused on keeping going rather than pace, running technique (bad form can do a lot more damage across many miles), staying positive, working the mental strength and not worrying about how long I was out for. I figured time spent on my feet was a good thing. Day to day I tried to stand rather than sit which may seem a small alternative, but every little helps.
If I could apply ‘endurance’ Sophie to ‘life’ Sophie, how I treat myself and cope with adversity, ‘life’ Sophie would be more confident and self-assured and life would be pretty stress-free. Note to self to keep working on that!
Race week - it’s a holiday!
A well-timed family holiday in Southbourne meant that race week consisted of an exhilarating day out at Pepper Pig World, a dip in the sea, coastal walks and a massive night out for the World Cup semi final. I think the lack of focus on the ultra and general family entertainment meant that I was well on the way to being so relaxed I’d forget how to tie my shoelaces. But what was there to actually worry about? I’d done all the training I could so I now just needed to get it done.
I’d slept the best I ever had pre-race in a lovely B&B near the race start of Lewknor and woke up without the usual butterflies and stomach rumblings. This was going to be a good day. Though it was set to be a hot day (up to 30 degrees) with no rain. The positive was that the wind was pretty calm and steady.
I wore shorts, t-shirt, a running vest with two 500ml soft water bottles (plus on empty spare), trail shoes, running socks and bra, sunglasses and my Suunto Ambit 3 Sport watch. I also carried a blister care kit, spare hair bobble, a buff (read on to hear why), a couple of energy gels (which I didn’t use due to excellent feed stations), electrolyte tablets, phone (which died), and a head torch (which I didn’t end up needing).
Lessons from the start
I’d chosen 12-14 hours for completion when I’d booked it many months before with no idea of what I was capable of. At the start line I hung at the back of the pack as thoughts were on being surrounded by a pack of ultra-runners who were faster and lighter than me with mindsets akin to Forrest Gump. If I had my chance again I would have had more confidence in those few moments as what I didn’t know was that the first 20km is through small trail paths and forests and uphill. I spent the first 20km waiting for spaces to overtake. I just had to stay happy and think ‘it's probably doing you good to take it a little easier’.
I had discovered in my training research the rule of walking the steep hills. The key is to walk fast. You do so much work running the lesser inclines, flats and down hills, it feels like you're undoing the hard work by taking the uphills too easy. This would also be my advice to those training for their first ultra.
George of the jungle, watch out for that...
The second thing I’d do differently is not fall over a tree root. One second I’m running, the next I'm flat on the floor. The next second I was back on my feet shouting back to some kind men ‘I’m OK’ and ‘nothing to worry about here!’ I don’t mind feeling a bit of a clumsy joker, however I did mind the niggling pain that started in my knee.
By 25km I was hobbling and the downhills were pretty unbearable. My boyfriend-turned-cheerleader was carrying an old knee support that I hadn’t needed for years so I called him, but unfortunately he couldn’t get to me for another 15km. So that became my next focus: getting through the pain to the 40km mark. So that was it. All I had to do for now.
Once I got the knee support (and took some painkillers, which I never do normally) it was a bit of a mental boost, but I really had to focus on my running form and my downhill running was completely affected. I managed to work out a sort of limp run for the downhills which put a lot of pressure through my good leg but more forgiving on the other knee and more forgiving in terms of losing pace.
The next hurdle then was getting to 50km where I was so happy to see two friends and their new baby with my boyfriend! The fact that they had come out in this heat to see me for a few moments whilst I did this meant a lot. It was great just to chat normally with them and have a bit of a laugh in the food tent. They also provided me with a mango ice-cream which was the best, most satisfying, thirst-quenching, cooling thing I experienced all day. If you have on-the-day support, I highly recommend you request one!
My friends told me how surprisingly good I looked (we camp together often so they had clearly seen me in much worse states!) and I told them the ultra was in the bag. How could I be sure I would finish when I still had 50km to go and a painful knee? My knee was painful but not broken. I already hurt so what was a bit more pain? All I had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. And as bizarre as it sounds, the first half really didn’t seem that long.
I didn’t realise that I already knew what mental strength was before I started looking into it the last year or so. The things that kept coming up I was already doing and I thought everyone else was too. I say ‘come on Sophie’ to myself regularly. I think about the positives of how the event is going not the negatives. I deal with the pain in the present and not worry about the rest of it to come. I think the biggest one is thriving in the situation and enjoying it – after all you’re the one that put yourself there!
To the end!
And so, with an iced body, ice cubes down my top and in my running vest, I set off on the final 50km. I ended up having a better second half than the first. There was more space with the crowds thinning and more open paths, and as I started to group with runners of a similar pace there was more opportunity to start conversations and run side by side with other interesting ultra-runners. One lady chatted about how the ultra was a ‘treat’ as she had a young family and had been given a ‘pass’ to sign up and spend the many hours training for it. With another gentleman we spoke about Ironman triathlons, getting older and going further and our technique of ‘getting to the next tree/sign/rock and then I’ll run/walk again’ as a way of pushing a little harder and keeping the mind in check.
The terrain was more testing, rocky and broken paths, painful on the knee downhills, a few long climbing slogs. But each step was a step in the right direction. I started to notice a few people running with sagging heads and caught a few disheartened conversations so I’d make a point of arms up physically cheering when I got to a point that I thought was worth celebrating - ‘20km to go!’ ‘another hill in the bag!’ ‘it’s not dark yet!’
I do wish I'd spent a little more time looking up, but with the early fall, my knee and the uneven terrain I did have to watch my feet. I also decided to take no photos on the run. Besides knowing there would be official event photos and not wanting to lose time, I knew it’s the feelings and lessons learnt that would stay with me long after the images mean anything.
The final few km
By 80km I knew I'd make it home in the light and beat the 14 hour mark. I usually love the downhills and make good time on them so it was a little frustrating I had to hold back as I felt I had more to give. But the feeling of getting to the Stones and the last km to the finish was simply great. ‘I’ve done it’ on repeat. My boyfriend’s face at the finish as he was allowed to present me with my medal was the thing that made me realise what I’d just achieved more than anything else. He collected my finisher's ticket and I was surprised to see I was the 102nd person to finish. It later transpired I was 19th female overall. Whenever I see results I'm always shocked and end up thinking ‘oh if I’d just done this or that I could have done better’ but at the end of the day, I didn’t, so be proud and get conjuring up the next challenge!
The pain I hadn’t heard about
Why did nobody tell me that the pain when you stop running is more than when you are running? I could deal with the pain when moving, but pain when sitting was quite unbearable! ‘My legs hurt’ was about the extent of my conversation on the drive home! This may sound crazy, but I recommend cycling to work (or similar) 2 days after the event, it really helped my legs get back to normal.
Fueling, hydration and blister strategies
I filled a litre of water at each of the 9 feed stations, which equates to a lot of sweat, so 1 electrolyte every other litre. I also soaked my buff in cold water and squeezed it over my head a few times before heading off with it soaked around my neck. That worked a treat - for 3 minutes. I ate some pasta and an ice cream at 50km, but apart from that I took 1 item (such as an energy bar) and 2 slices of fruit (deliciously amazing!) from each feed station to keep me going and found that was enough.
I lost my toenail to a toe-sized blister after a marathon in May so I was prepared to lose a few more. I took the time to tape up some hot spots and blisters at 50km, but after that they felt ok. I came off with at least one blister on every toe, but I honestly didn’t notice them on the day. A few other painful distractions to think about!
As I was running, I thought this is probably a tick box job and back to triathlons and shorter running events. Whilst I do love the variety from a triathlon, the sense of achievement and joy was pretty big after the ultra. Maybe a shorter but steeper ultra. Maybe doing this ultra will help me if and when I sign up to a full distance triathlon…TBC
- Anyone can do this race. If you want to do it enough, you can. The Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones really is a good first ultra-marathon.
- The more you look at the race as an exploration, adventure or fun day out the easy it is and the better you'll be. Embrace the discomfort and accept it’s going to be tough. Your mind has the most power to make or break your day.
- Keep it fun and injury-free!
- Staying injury-free is so important. If you decide to do an ultra, it’s because you really want to do it. Incorporate some strength and mobility work into your training. You can find videos to do this at home, attend a class, get a plan from a gym (many offer this for free), seek advice from friends/fitness groups with more knowledge, or find a personal trainer.
- Keep doing the things you love. If you’ve had a few weeks of your training plan and really fancy getting on the bike instead of running one day - go for it! Don’t automatically say no to things because you need to go for a run - can you do both? How can you make it work for you?
About the author: Sophie Kennedy is a personal trainer, runner, and Sundried ambassador.