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Monday, November 24, 2014

10 Reasons to Start Running You Never Considered ... Zombie Attacks & Moving Picnics ...

1. Zombie Apocalypse.
When the zombie apocalypse comes you’ll be glad you dragged your arse out for all those runs. You may not have any toenails, but you’re not going to be a snack for the groaning undead. Cardio, cardio, cardio. Oh and double-tap. Remember to practise your intervals though. They’ll eat the slow ones first.


2. Party Preparation.
Should there be a last minute 80s party, you’ve already got all the lycra and neon you’ll ever need. And we know you listen to the Fame soundtrack while you’re running. Don’t deny it.

3. Concentration.
Running makes you really, really focused. Nothing focuses the mind more than the thought of a really cold pint at the end of a really hot marathon.

4. It hurts less when you stub your toe.
There are less toenails to actually knock off and quite frankly your toes have lost all sensitivity by the time you actually get around to kicking the doorframe. Likewise standing on Lego will never hurt quite the same again.

5. Stat Attack
You know how boring spreadsheets are? Well when they show your run in great details including cadence, heart rates and teeny tiny hills you won’t be able to get enough information. Trust me. AND you’ll be able to prove it was all the fault of that energy gel you had at 8.67 miles that you started feeling nauseous and had to stop running. And definitely not the bottle of wine the night before. Cough.

6. Open Season at Buffet Bar
People won’t judge when you go back for 4ths and 5ths at the buffet. They’ll just assume you ran a marathon the day before.

7. Recovery, Recovery
You can pass off drinking gallons of chocolate milkshake as ‘recovery fuel’.

8. Moving Picnic.
Ultra marathons have CAKE stops. And no-one judges you for eating an entire pizza en-route. And you walk up the hills. Basically they’re a massive buffet with a bit of jogging thrown in.

9. Maths Mastermind
Your maths becomes amazing. You know exactly what pace you have to do to hit that personal best and be able to calculate kilometres per hour into minute miles in seconds. It’s like being an idiot savant. Unable to add up the groceries in the trolley but with the ability to tell anyone your 5k pace when asked.

10. MI5? Pah ...
You can talk a whole new language with other runners. Negative splits? Yasso 800s? Kenyan Hills? It’s like being a secret agent. But one dressed entirely in neon lycra.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fuelify: Running Snacks! Through the Post!

When I first heard about Fuelify, I was intrigued. A monthly box of 6-8 different fitness goodies tailored to your requirements and sent through the post straight to your doormat. And for less than the price of a cup of coffee a week ... It sounded too good to be true.

There is an enormous variety of gels and bars and shakes and fitness goodies out there that I want to try ... but unless I fancy paying a fortune for postage for just one or two items or if I’m absolutely sure I’ll use an entire pack, I don’t really get to experiment.

So when Fuelify contacted me to ask if I’d review one of their boxes if they sent me one I immediately said YES! Snacks? Specifically fitness snacks? I can try for free? Hell yeah!

When the box hit my doormat, I immediately opened it carefully and gently. Well ... ripped it open and started ingesting running fuel at the speed of Usain Bolt.


When I came out of my sugar-induced coma, I sat back and considered.

The sports nutrition snacks were packed well and although there were some well known brands such as Clif Bar and High 5, there were some other products I hadn’t heard of such as the Mule Bar. And I certainly hadn’t known Lucozade made jelly beans.

I was also impressed that an Osmo ‘Active Hydration for Women’ product had been included. This was another aspect of the Fuelify box that was interesting. The boxes are tailored to YOU.

And not only to gender, but to the specific type of training that you do. You can choose from Cardio Training, Weight Training, High Intensity Circuits and Muscle Endurance packages.
There are also 3 options depending on how often you want to treat yourself: a one-off box, a fortnightly box or a monthly box.

  • Nice long expiry dates. Even if I don’t use all of the products in a specific cycle, thanks to the long expiry dates, they’ll keep.
  • Packed well. Well packed in shredded paper, everything was in perfect condition when it arrived - no squished gels!
  • Good value. For a monthly package, it will cost you less than a cup of coffee a week.
  • My treat to myself. Sports goodies every month? Yes please!
  • Compact package. The box is small enough to come through the letterbox. No traipsing to pick it up from the post office.

  • Stockpile. I’m not sure that I’ll use each product I’ve been sent this month, so the treats might pile up a bit. But, thanks to the long expiry dates I can keep them for winter training.
  • Allergy Problems. There doesn’t appear to be an options to say if you have an allergy or intolerances e.g. gluten or if there are products you can’t or wouldn’t use.
I really enjoyed getting the box and suspect I’ll be signing myself up for one every month. Do you fancy some fitness treats every month? Sign up here:

And because I’m nice, here’s a 50% discount code for your first box: DOF50

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Run with a Friend. And a Biscuit.

Through the gate and past the horses, our feet flying across the wet grass. Enjoying the rain against our faces. The horses come towards us but we run away, on through the field. No carrots today, horses.

Jump the electric fence – over in one leap, fence and grass sailing beneath me – and down on the grass the other side. She jumps after me in an ungainly way almost catching her feet in the fence. We run on. On to the bottom of the field.

Through the gate and out into the muddy rutted earth on the other side, wide puddles made by massive tractor tyres. The water is dark and murky, raindrops making ripples.

Splash – through the puddles at top speed! Splash! Jump the thick mud! This is great fun! Why can’t all my runs be like this? The water and mud make patterns up my legs.

On, on! Run, run!

Under the railway bridge, my feet and breathing echoing harshly back from the dark dripping stones as we pass.

Across the field ... and cows! I’ve avoided cows since a recent incident and subsequent cow chase – with me at the front - which ended in a dash and slide under a fence. Quick! But the cows watch us, their faces bovine and dull. They don’t move towards us, don’t think about chasing us, just turn their heavy heads to watch our progress.

Uh-oh. A kissing gate. I HATE these. I try to get under the fence but am called back and we go through the kissing gate together.

The mud is up to my knees now, brown splashes on my face. 

Through a ploughed field, a single smooth path through the middle, worn flat by other feet than ours. I take the lead and she follows on behind, running, her feet kicking up clods of earth.

Pheasants clatter up in front of us. Over the hedge and gone before I have a chance to react.

Ugh. Another kissing gate, another pause to get through it before we can run again.

2 tall grey birds in the field, standing tall. They flap away slowly and ponderously as we come towards them. So slowly, I think I could catch one.

We run towards the woods, the long wet grass washing the mud from my legs and we are up to (another!) kissing gate and into the dark of the woods. The path is covered by fallen autumn leaves, damp and slick and I want to run along the banks, where the grip is better and there are no paths but I cannot. I stay on the path and run, run hard, jumping the fallen branches and looking for the next trail.

The rain is dripping on my face from the tree canopy overhead, the ground slick under my feet. I feel alive and I am running. Running fast. This is how running should be. The dimness of the woods all around me, the falling leaves flickering between branches, the rain making everything smell fresh and earthy.

I start as a squirrel runs across the path and disappears into the undergrowth. Squirrel! I love squirrels! I want to follow it, to chase it, to find it! But I am aware that she is behind me and would not be happy about going through the undergrowth. I have to share my run today so I stay on the path.

Out of the woods and down a paved road, wide enough for us to run side by side. Around the corner, under the apple trees. I know she wants to stop and scrump an apple but she does not, can not as a group of walkers are clustered at the corner. We exchange greetings and run past. I put my nose in the air. I am RUNNING not walking today.

Through – sigh, would you believe another kissing gate? – and across the fields, the sheep are scattering before us, but I resist the temptation to scare them, to make them run properly. They scatter and come back, staring at us, running through their field. Their plump woolly bodies quivering with indignation at the interlopers, running across THEIR grass.

Another gate, I wait for her - these things are complicated – and up a hill. The grass is short here, rabbit-nibbled and scattered with leaves from the oak trees. We run a bit, walk a bit. The steepness of the hill and the mud has robbed her legs of the strength they had earlier. Me? I could run for miles. Miles and miles.

Through another gate and down a narrow trail. It’s muddy and slippery and there’s only room for moving in single-file here. She follows behind, running but treading carefully. I’m fine. My feet are sure and steady.


A rabbit! A rabbit! Across the path! I jump forward and almost knock her off her feet.

“Wait!” I wait but I REALLY want to run faster. Through the woods, through the puddles and the drifts of leaves. But I wait.

We run together, our feet making hardly any sound on the leaves and we quicken our pace through the woods. It’s spooky here, there’s the remains of a path between the dark shadowy trees but it doesn’t feel nice here. There were buildings here once but the trees have grown up since making dark places and shadows. We move faster and we are soon out into the sunshine.

A view of the town, the houses small and doll-like in the distance and we are running down the hill, down the trail, the grass growing through the middle of the road. The hill sharpens and our legs take us fast down to the fields, past the hunting lodge. Down the sweeping hills with gravel underfoot, past the castle and the lake gleaming dimly silver under the dark grey skies. We run together and it’s nice. Nice to run, nice to have company.

The final grassy uphill is waterlogged and muddy. Our feet splash in the puddles and the mud. It’s slippery and our legs are filthy again.

Onto the road, I stay on the pavement between her and the hedge. She is in bright neon yellow and is easy to see. In my cream coat I am not so visible so I stay in, tight. I hate the cars coming past, the blast of damp air into my face and the spray from the road. We are still running, but next to a busy road is not the same as the soft trails and the calm of the fields and woods.

The pavement ends, but I can see our house at the top of the hill. The road is narrow, the houses widely spaced. We dash from gateway to gateway avoiding the traffic speeding past and a final sprint brings us to the 5-barred-gate and home, off the road. Safe from the traffic. Home.

She looks down at me and pats me. “Good dog.”

AND I get a biscuit.

Today has been a good day.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Pattingham Bell & a weekend of PBs ... but not for me!

Today was Rach’s race. I’d run my ultra last weekend, had a swim in the dark last night. Today was about chatting to friends and enjoying the hills and trails of a scenic run. And trying not to weep as my ill-used legs were being asked to run again for the first time since Saltmarsh 75.

The drive to the village of Pattingham had been through lanes, winding and misty. Under ancient oak trees and hemmed in by high hedges. Rabbits darting into hedges and squawking pheasants flying up in alarm as I passed.

I met Rach at the village hall and we were told by a marshal to look out for the mass exodus a few minutes before the start. With about 10 minutes to go, the runners, drawn by some lemming-like instinct started to move forward. There didn’t appear to be any signal or sign, but the people in front of us started moving and we followed them. And the ones behind us followed Rach’s socks:

Left Leg            Right Leg
DO                   ES
M                     Y
BU                   M
LO                   OK
BI                     G
I                       N
THE                 SE?

We followed the crowd through the field, down the lane and into the mist. There were lots of club vests and fast-looking racing snakes, but today, Rach and I were going to be enjoying the running. If we weren’t talking, we were running too fast.

We spotted another friend, Frank, in the crowd at the start and had a quick chat before he disappeared up front and off into the mist. He was running this one hard. I was relieved to be with my friend. Today wasn’t a day for racing, but enjoying. For laughing at jokes, catching up with news, not eyeballing the competition and worrying about pacing. Not for us. Not today.

At the noise of the gun, the pack surged off into the mist, we couldn’t see far ahead – just bobbing heads and colourful club vests disappearing off into the mist. The ground beneath our feet was long grass and uneven mud, trampled by the runners ahead but wet and dewy. Soaking our feet. There were plenty of large puddles and I laughed at Rach, the open water swimming coach avoiding these.

Splash! She’d taken the bait and jumped with 2 feet into the largest, soaking everyone in the vicinity. We may have damp feet ... and damp legs ... and mud splashes on our faces, but we were having fun!


The route was gorgeous, twisting over different terrain and up hills which made it interesting. It wound around fields, up gravelled hills, over sandy paths and past lakes and secret pools.
The trails were soft under our feet and as the bright Autumn sun burned off the mist, the views across the fields opened up. It was a beautiful day. How lucky we were to have this as our running route this Sunday morning.

We passed a scout camp, tents up and a pow-wow circle under the trees, rows of logs. I remembered being sent to a camp while younger and being given a pan, a lump of lard and some raw sausages. Our small camping stove had burst into flames so we’d sat there eating raw sausages. I was 11. Old enough to know better but not knowing what else to do. Not convinced my cooking has improved much since. Anyone fancy coming over for dinner?

Running through one of the fields we met Debs who was running her first race. She’d not run further than 5 miles previously so this was to be a great achievement. She was doing brilliantly and chatting as she ran. We ran together, all three of us, enjoying the scenery.  

The route circled the village, up a final hill and came back to the playing fields to finish to applause, a beautiful horse brass, a welcome cup of coffee and a 7 mile race PB for Rach.

A weekend of two halves

I’d also promised to take The Bear out for a run. The weather on the Monday was appalling, a complete contrast to the Pattingham Bells Run the previous day. Sideways rain, wind, horrendous. My choice of route wasn’t much better especially not for someone with a recently dislocated ankle.

We splashed through the mud.

We’d aimed for a pace of about 8 min/miles but had got carried away running. The quicker we finished these 3 miles, the quicker we’d be out of the rain.

“We’re going too fast!” I shouted through the wind. “I know!” He shouted back. Rach was following behind on the mountain bike, rain dripping down her neck.

 We got to the first kissing gate, The Bear was through it, splashing across the puddles, I followed and then realised that Rach would have to get the bike through. I paused until she came into sight, letting Bear go on ahead. I waved and pointed the direction we were going.

Over a bridge, through the mud, over another bridge, through a kissing gate ... I paused ... Sorry Rach!

I kept running, across the field, to be met by another kissing gate. Rach was going to KILL me ... and end up with massively strong arms lifting my bike over this lot. My route choice was NOT looking good.

The Hill. Capitals deserved. I followed The Bear up the hill almost catching him on the climb, keeping an eye behind us for Rach. No sign. He got to the top of the road. “Turn right!” I bellowed! “WHAT?” “Right!” I howled through the wind. He turned right.

Turning around, there was no sign of Rach. Crap. She hadn’t visited before and didn’t know the area. Who do I let get lost? Rach or Bear? I waited for Rach. I would have to put on a burst of speed to try and catch Bear before he got to the bottom of the hill and the drop down onto the canal. Where was Rach? Peering through the wind and rain, she finally appeared. I jumped up and down to get her attention and pointed right.

Sprinting to the road edge, I waited for the cars and crossed, putting on a burst of speed down the hill. No sign of Bear. I kept going expecting him to pop up any moment. No Bear.

Rach caught me up on the bike and we moved down the hill. At the bottom, where we had to turn right, there was no sign of Bear. Split up – he’ll have gone one of these ways: I went right on the canal and Rach went right on the road. One of us would catch him.

We met at the end. No sign of Bear.

He’s got a good sense of direction. He’ll probably be waiting for us at the house looking smug and asking us where we’d been, we told ourselves.

At the house. No sign of Bear.

We were a bit worried now. He’d dislocated his ankle about 2 weeks previously, had a nasty virus and now I’d taken him for a cross country run and promptly lost him.

Rach went into the house to put the kettle on and keep an eye on her phone and I got onto the bike to retrace the route. Rach suggested she drive around but there was no point losing both of them in Rugby and if we did that the house would be locked if he returned.

Cycling around in the rain, I retraced the route in reverse. No Bear. Then back the other way. Still no Bear. Then around the town. It was Bear-less.

Called Rach. He hadn’t turned up.

The rain dripping into my eyes and running down my neck I cycled on. A cross country run and now a bike ride in what was practically a river. I was TOTALLY counting this as a triathlon.

Phone beeped. He’s back. Cycled home and there was a smiling Rach and Bear drinking coffee in the house.

Smug git had netted himself a PB.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Night Swimming Race Report: Alien Impersonators and Not Following thePoo

The water was as black as tar and it was a dark night. Stars peppered the sky overhead, emphasising the darkness.

“I knew I shouldn’t have brought my tinted goggles” said Lozza.

We were at a night swim organised by Brutal Events. It was cold, although thanks to the amount of swimmers in the water it was now warming up slightly. I didn’t like to think why. My wetsuit hadn't been wee-ed in, but was probably now being wee-ed ON. Sigh.

The sunset that evening had been beautiful, like petrol poured onto a puddle but it was a cold night. I thought longingly of the soft shoes, I’d seen some of the other swimmers wearing – my feet were freezing. The marshal we’d spoken to had confirmed the water temperature at about 9 degrees but it felt much colder.

We had all been given glowsticks to hang onto our goggle straps so we would be visible. It had been a challenge trying to position them so we wouldn’t lose them in the lake or get smacked in the eye by them every time we took a stroke. Blinded by the light ...

We finally got them positioned and took a photo of us all lit up. However, rather than the encouragement we’d hoped for, it was suggested that the finished result with our swimming caps on made us look remarkably like the poster for the original Alien film. 

The water of the lake, while dark was beautifully clear. I had done my usual thing of bobbing underwater as soon as I climbed into the lake. It’s like a tradition. I start practising my breathing and blow bubbles underwater. It keeps me occupied and focuses my attention. The clarity of the water was startling, I could see my hand in the water, glowing dimly green, like a corpse hand.

This wasn’t to be a race for Liz, Lozza and myself, but a celebration and finale of a successful season of openwater swimming. We’d achieved so much this season and this would be a great close to it. As a result, we’d decided to swim around together and enjoy the novelty of swimming in a lake at night.

As the start was very crowded, we decided to start near the back so the pack would thin out and we could keep an eye on each other and swim together without blocking other swimmers. However, despite our good intentions, we soon found this was a mistake. We were stuck behind The Breaststrokers. Now out of the water, I’m sure a Breastroker is a lovely person. Warm and generous, probably with a love of dogs and children and kind to old people.  But in the water they’re a bloody menace. A menace with the kick of a mule and the same compassion as a rattlesnake. A grumpy one.

I got kicked in the head, in the face and twice hard in the side intentionally. Luckily they soon disappeared behind us as we were swimming faster and I restrained myself from any revenge kickings. They’d probably have drowned and eaten me.

As we swam, I started to warm up and enjoy the sensation of swimming in the dark. It was impossible to tell which swimmers were Lozza and Liz, but we were used to swimming at a similar speed so we managed to stay together, although every now and then our voices would drift over the inky water checking, “Liz?” “Lozza?” “Sarah?”

One problem about swimming together at night is that there aren’t many visual cues as to how close you all are together. Lozza, swimming in the middle, between Liz and me, was getting pinballed off of both of us and I developed a fear response to seeing a glowstick on my left – Lozza’s - as it meant her right arm would be coming up and I was about to get smacked in the face. However, we were quite possibly the most polite open water swimmers ever. “Sorry!” “Soz!” “Sorry!” We could tell where the others were by the echoes of the apologies across the water.

The course was marked by buoys, which were of course invisible against the black water at night. The organisers had countered this by hanging glowsticks from the tops of the buoys so we would be able to see the corners of the course by the dim green glow of these.

The glowsticks on top of the buoys had been a great idea while all of the swimmers were on the bank waiting to enter the water. The green lights glowed brightly on the bobbing buoys, clear against the black water. However as soon as 300 swimmers were in the water, each sporting their own glowstick, the distinction had become less clear. It became a case of following the pack and hoping the swimmer at the front was heading for the next buoy rather than going for a sneaky poo.

Luckily, we all appeared to be heading in the same direction and no unidentified objects had been felt in the water – apart from some poor blokes bum which I accidentally poked quite hard when he crossed in front of me – and before we knew it, we’d finished the first lap and were passing the first buoy again. Or at least the dark shape against the water where we assumed the buoy to be.

The lake cleared after the first lap and we were able to do our second circuit with more space. I was really enjoying this. Despite how slowly we were swimming, the time was flying past and it was a joy to be swimming in the inky water under the wide dark sky. And with the glowsticks gleaming on each swimmer, the effect was ephemeral, like we were aqueous fireflies.

We rounded the final marker, spotting the glowsticks looped on the apex and knew we were nearly finished, that our night adventure was nearly over.

We heard the voices of the marshals and felt the lake floor under our feet, then a strong hand helping us onto the pontoon, the lake water draining from our wetsuits. We were done.

Our first night swim, our last open water swim of 2014.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

13 Reasons to Recommend Saltmarsh 75

  • It’s flat. You don’t have to worry about hill training. Although there are some speed bumps. Only enter this if you're confident about being able to climb these.
  • Marshals are brilliant, enthusiastic and helpful. And will keep as close eye on your kit.
  • You can’t get lost so long as you keep the sea on your right. Unless you walk the wrong way out of the checkpoint and back the way you’ve come. No-one would do that. Cough.
  • Day two had some beautiful scenery. And some more sea wall.

If you see this view, you're going the wrong way ...
  • You get to laugh at your friend’s inability to climb over stiles without making creaking and groaning noises. This was still amusing after the 50th time.
  • It’s 77 miles along a seawall. Excellent for mental strength as it’s the outdoor equivalent of a treadmill.
  • It’s dead flat so you’re using the same muscles over and over. Think how strong those muscles will be. Like Popeye but without the spinach.
  • Free parking all weekend and kit transported to halfway point, checkpoints and finish.
  • The trail is just wide enough for one foot and cambered to the left. But this is good if you’re shaped like a hermit crab and want one massively muscled side.
  • I took photos. They’re ALL the same. You can save on film.

Hurry up Sarah or I'll eat your snacks ...

  • Excellent for boredom threshold training. The sea wall winds (in straight lines) in and out of the marsh and mud areas so you can see places in the distance - an occasional bush or pole sticking out of the sea - but don’t get there for an hour. I never knew how exciting passing a bush could be.
  • You get to camp at a pub halfway. Pub is awesome. 5am cockerel is not. Take earplugs. Drink cider.
  • You get to appreciate the little things. I never knew how amazing a lukewarm shower, a tub of Vaseline or a plate of chips and beans could be. Pretty damn amazing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reclaiming ‘running like a girl’

I watched short clip recently on what it meant to run like a girl. It felt like it broke my heart.

What does ‘running like a girl’ mean to you?

I asked my daughter, my brave smart 5 year old how to run like a girl. She zoomed off, little arms pumping and legs pounding, fast as she could. “That’s how you run like a girl.” And it was. Fast and strong, feeling your heart pumping in your chest.

Being a girl is great. When did we lose the surety of the 5 year old? Every 5 year old girl knows that being a girl is great, that boys are not stronger, not better. Running like a girl is something to be proud of; it means trying hard, being yourself, enjoying moving, plaits bobbing as you run.

Mummy runs like a girl, she runs far and fast. Wanting her 5 year old daughter to ALWAYS be proud of running like a girl.

We’re reclaiming the phrase. From now on in our house, to run like a girl means to be awesome, to be proud of being like a girl, of running like a girl. It’s a positive phrase, a strong phrase.

Daddy wishes he could run like a girl too. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Saltmarsh 75 Race Report: Day 2 - Bloody Cockerels, Dancing at 70 miles & More Sea Wall

At 5:33am I woke suddenly. What the hell was that? It sounded as though someone had trodden on a cat. The creature cleared its throat and tried again.

Cock a doodle DOO.

Really? REALLY? I ran 39 miles yesterday and now I’m being woken up by a cockerel that can’t even tell the time? It’s not dawn and some of us have a full day ahead of us. I pulled my jumper over my head and tried to get back to sleep. It was no good. Now my bladder had woken up.

Great. Wet wellies and a torch and a hunt for the loos. Bloody cockerel. Bloody bladder. Bloody camping.

Bladder relieved I dragged myself back into my sleeping bag to wait for the alarm. Sigh. Why didn’t I book a hotel? Or check for cockerels before agreeing to camp? Camping had seemed like such a nice idea when I’d booked this race in my nice warm house.

My phone bleeped with a message from Angela: “I’m at breakfast. Where are you?” I dragged myself out of the tent and helped myself to scrambled eggs and beans for breakfast in the pub. In my pyjamas. It appeared to be the uniform of choice for the runners at that time of the morning.

Breakfast eaten, we registered for day 2. Still in our pyjamas. It is only 7:15am. An unholy hour after a long day running in the rain. Surely we could have had a bit of a lie in?

I left Angela and another runner chatting in the pub and went to tape my feet and de-pyjama myself. I sorted my kit and laid out my snacks to pack and was halfway through taping my right foot when the siren went for the race briefing. Huh?

I hopped out of the tent half-taped and listened in. Angela was there. I’d have to rely on her to catch any critical info. I hopped back to the tent and started shoving things panickedly into my ultra vest. Argh! I’d thought 45 minutes was plenty to de-tent and de-pyjama – rookie error!!

I started pulling out tent pegs like a loon, while trying to put trainers on and doing half a job of everything.

Argh!! People are leaving for the start!! Pull out tent pegs faster! Angela came over and we started de-tenting and her husband came over. I grovelled and he agreed to take the tent down – phew!!

Angela and I ran and caught the tail end of the walkers leaving down the road. She laughed at me – “Stop panicking! We have 37 miles to catch everyone up again.”

She was right. But I HATE being late.

We passed the walkers and caught up to the runners. There didn’t seem to be as many people as before. Maybe the rumours flying around of the 50% dropout rate for day one had been correct.

My hat and waterproof jacket were still drenched from the torrential rain yesterday. There had been no point in bringing them as they were sodden. I was going to have to rely on the weather forecast – which is a gamble in this country – and run today’s race in a base layer and run vest. Unfortunately my overpacking hadn’t included a wind proof jacket. Sarah – you idiot. I hope this doesn’t come back to bite you.

Checkpoint 1 was at Maylandsea but the first section of the run was back to the sea wall so we took full advantage of being able to get lost while we could. We took a wrong turning and saw wild peacocks in a field. Unafraid they looked at us and carried on pecking and sauntering.

Wild peacocks ...

This morning was a complete contrast to yesterday. There was mist in the fields and the sun was promising warmth. It was beautiful. A good-to-be-alive day. I took photos – I couldn’t resist. The sun was reflecting in the pools and everything looked so lovely. Even the broken stiles were something to laugh at as we clambered over them with our stiff muscles.

As we arrived at checkpoint one, I needed a loo stop and Vaseline – things I hadn’t been able to sort due to my late start.
Luckily the marshals could provide a loo but I wasn’t so lucky with the Vaseline. My previously-trusty capris, worn during other ultras had decided they wanted to chew my legs off. Thanks then. Unfortunately no Vaseline was available. I steeled myself for an unpleasant day 2. I was 3 miles in ...

The next section was on the sea wall proper. Long dew covered grass and a rough track underneath meant our feet were soon squelching and Angela’s calf started causing her problems. We dug out the rock tape and she was soon good as new and ready to start onwards again. Everything was beautiful in the morning sunshine and I couldn’t get over the contrast to yesterday. Now if only I could convince myself that my shorts weren’t trying to saw me in half ...

We could see Maldon in the distance for a long time and in the sunshine, it looked picturesque and beautiful. It always helps me to see the destination ... even if that destination is still several miles away on the mazelike seawall. We could tell we were getting closer now though as we were sharing the sea wall with dog walkers and families. Hurdling Labradors and avoiding toddlers took our minds off the sea wall and the path improved closer to the towns and villages.

As we came to the park, the runners in front went right. We checked the route instructions and followed the path around the left of a park despite a helpful elderly gent telling us to cut across – well that’s not playing by the rules is it? As we exited, we spotted the group of runners coming along the sea wall from our right. Looks as though the instructions gave us the shorter route.

We came down the promenade and spotted the now familiar Saltmarsh quill flag waving in the slight breeze. Angela spotted a couple of her friends, Laura and Soraya and her husband, David, cheering us in. It was lovely to meet them and Angela’s husband yet again proved his loveliness by handing me a massive tub of Vaseline. Angel.

Having run approximately 50 miles in the last 24 hours I had lost all sense of shame and grabbed a handful of the greasy gold and liberally applied it. Relief. Blessed relief. We grabbed our jelly babies (I did wipe the Vaseline off first!) and I dragged poor Angela away and on towards our next destination, the road stretching onwards in front of us.

Angela was doing brilliantly, she was well past her longest distance run, but she was still smiling and chatting. There are extreme highs and lows in ultras as everything is magnified due to the distances. Small niggles become big ones, a small chafe becomes very uncomfortable very quickly and forgetting to eat or drink for just an hour can make for an uncomfortable latter part of a run. However we were here, running on a beautiful day and we were going to finish this.

As we ran on the smooth promenade, passing the tall ships and pretty buildings of Maldon, the church bells rang out from the church on the hill, encouraging us forwards.

We had been told to watch out for The Hill which was apparently a ”sharp climb up from Hythe Quay”. Again this was from the point of view of someone who lives at sea level. Even for me who lives in flat Warwickshire, this wasn’t a hill. It was a bump.

View across to Maldon
We had a bit of a moment about which road to take but Mark from Tiptree Runners caught us up and showed us the right way to go. We ran with him for a short time before he disappeared then caught him back up on a rocky footpath. He ran this route from work so was very familiar with it.

Our next checkpoint was just 3 miles away. It was a café next to the water at Heybridge Basin and operated by the world renowned Wilkin & Son jam makers. Unfortunately I didn’t get to taste any of the goodies although the ice cream sign had me wishing for a longer stop but we needed to keep moving.

As we left the checkpoint, I chatted to another lady leaving ... who I realised I recognised. It was Lucy who had run the Stour Valley Marathon in June at the same time as Angela and I. She had pipped me and Chris to the 2nd lady position due to her better grasp of LDWA instructions and map reading and I recognised her from congratulating her after that race. It was nice to have a quick chat with a familiar face and she carried on slightly in front of us when I stopped to add a plaster to my growing collection of plastered sections.

The next part was 4 miles to Goldhanger and a quiet section with views of Osea Island and Northey Islands and an endless succession of caravan parks. It was strange as the caravan parks were separated by massive houses ... and then more miles of caravans. We’d had a succession of short stops to checkpoints, with the final 2 sections being the longest of the day and making up 18 miles between them.

We came into the quiet checkpoint knowing that no matter what we would finish now. There was only 18 miles between us and the finish line of the 75 mile event. It was a hot day but we were staying hydrated and making sure we were eating every half an hour.

I went off to find the loo but Angela proved she could still race and beat me in there, casually announcing on her way out that she’d used the last of the loo roll. Thanks buddy. Huff. Luckily a search unearthed some more and I didn’t have to ask to borrow one of her socks.

I came out and started sorting out vest, and daubing more Vaseline on (it’s ALLLL glamour this ultra running) and noticed Angela had got herself comfy with a cup of coffee and some sweets on the grass. We started chatting to Lucy there who announced she was dropping out – she’d had enough. We very bossily told her she hadn’t and asked her if she could run 10 miles – the distance to the next checkpoint. She confirmed she could, so we told her she could run it then. Poor Lucy didn’t know what had hit her as she got caught up in the Sarah & Angela whirlwind and we all decided we’d run together using a 12 minute run, 3 minute walk strategy.

Angela offered me a sip of her coffee which I gratefully accepted before nearly spitting it out. She’d been drinking black tea and hadn’t even realised. Sigh. She’s lucky she’d got me around as snack and drink tester.

I was conscious we were spending too long in the checkpoints. We were running at a reasonable pace, but wasting time stopping and chatting and scoffing jelly babies rather than grabbing them and carrying on.

We set off along the sea wall, intent on running the 10 miles to Tollesbury, the ‘village of the plough and sail’. This section comprised mainly of sea wall, more seawall and broken stiles. It was a warm day and I was glad to be wearing just a vest and base layer under my back pack.

We passed Kevin, the Stour Valley RD on this section, he’d been running steadily but the benefit of our run 12 minutes, walk 3 minutes was that we could keep our running paces reasonably consistent while being able to take advantage of the rest breaks. He had been in the distance on the sea wall for about an hour (the joy of running on a zig-zagging wall) before we passed him and had a quick chat at the same time.

Angela and Lucy were running together but my running pace was slightly different to theirs so I carried on at mine and took an extra walk break while they caught up. I hate having to run at a pace that isn’t mine and this way I got an extra walk break. It seemed a win. Plus I could just enjoy the running and I could keep an earphone with music in while I listened for Angela’s bellowed ‘Walk!’, ‘Run!’ instructions. My other Garmin had died earlier today too so Angela was on timing duty.

I owed a debt to Angela’s patience here. The urge to push me off the sea wall and into the marsh must have been almost overpowering as I asked her for the 23rd time that day how far we had to go to the next checkpoint, to run for, how far we’d been. She restrained herself. However, I suspect this may only because she was conserving energy.

For the sake of not being pushed into marshes or beaten to death with my own trainers, I think it might be time to start saving up for a new GPS watch.

We could see the Bradwell power station on the other side of the estuary. I was glad I hadn’t realised that it was here we would be running yesterday or I would definitely have called it a day. Especially if I’d known the other side was EXACTLY THE SAME.

But that I’d have less snacks left.

We could see the town of Tollesbury as we came towards it and it was exhiliarating knowing that we were nearly at the very last checkpoint. The paths became choked with dog walkers and families and we passed wooden houses on our left and what the instructions called an outdoor pool, but anyone else would have called a pond. We were on a smooth tarmac path winding down to the last checkpoint. Angela wanted to walk it but I checked with her and she was ok with me running into this one to get my water bladder refilled and jelly baby stash rejellied.

Angela’s husband had a pint which my beer radar quickly noticed. It smelled amazing. I decided we needed to finish quickly and get our own.

The marshals were pulling people off course and getting them checked by the paramedics due to sunstroke and we were warned not to proceed if we weren’t 100% as the difficulty of getting help to injured or ill runners on these sections would be high. What did they have out there? Bear traps?

We picked up our final snacks and grabbed our maps for the very last section of Saltmarsh 75. Lucy had completely overcome her down patch at the last checkpoint and was good to run. I could sympathise as had had the same thing on Day one. I dragged Angela and Lucy out of the checkpoint (I swear the jelly babies are magnetic) and we were onto our last section.

The last section was virtually identical to the 13 miles desolate stage on day 1. But with one difference. When we completed this 9 miles we could sit down. And not get up. And more importantly NOT have to run 38 miles the next day.

There were still a lot of stiles to climb over, but now Angela was making funny noises as she climbed over these and when started running after a break. I very kindly took a photo of her to remind her of how much she enjoyed these stiles. I’m nice like that.

This section also continued the 2-day theme of sea wall, more seawall and broken stiles. It was very desolate with the grassy mound winding between the marsh and the sea. It was difficult to see where our final destination was and there were no signs of life. We weren’t even seeing any other runners now and had no ideas whether we were last or first. There had been teams of relay runners flying past on both days early on but we hadn’t seen other runners for a long time now.

Despite the solitude and monotony of the surroundings, I was on a high. I broke open the sweets and chocolate coffee beans and started shovelling them into my mouth and dancing to my music while trotting along.

Lucy nudged Angela. “Is she always like this or is it the sugar?” Angela shrugged. “Think she’s always like this.”

We were on 70 miles and my legs had finally woken up. I had snacks, the sun was shining, nothing hurt and in about 5 miles I’d be at the final checkpoint and there would be coffee there.

Life was good.

A splash of white against the dark water and a pair of swans in the inlet moved serenely as we trotted through the Tollesbury Wick and Old Hall Marshes on the sea wall above them. We were nearly finished. Less than 5 miles of the route had been on surfaced paths - the rest had been grassed paths and across fields and it had been hard. Despite the flatness of the route, it had been a tough run.

We could see the sea wall winding on ahead of us, broken only by occasional stiles and we could see some people. It was Lucy’s family! They had come to run her into the finish. What a wonderful thing to do. Lucy’s husband had started the run with her and would now be finishing it with her, but as Lucy said, he just missed out the 50 miles in the middle.

Angela and I left her with her family and ran on towards the finish. And the sea wall ended.


We ran down a path through a ploughed field, my mouth was still running too and I told Angela I would be practising my finish photo and doing ‘this’ (waving my ‘jazz hands’) and ‘this’ (‘jumping in the air’) and while looking back and chatting, my finish photo was taken ... 200m before the finish line.


Never mind. We had seen the village hall which was the finish and I asked Angela if she wanted to run it in together with a final push. Angela didn’t and had spotted her husband by the finish. I left them together and ran it in.

I was done.

Angela arrived shortly after and we had the biggest hug. We’d made it through 2 tough days and come through it. Angela was smiling through her tears. She had done so well and I was so proud to run her first ultra with her.

Lucy and her family came in to big cheers from us all and more hugs all round. We’d all finished a 75 mile run, survived sideways rain, resisted temptation of 5am cockerel murder, restrained ourselves from pushing friends into ditches after their Garmins conked out and made new friends.

And now there was a massive jacket potato, a medal and multiple cups of coffee waiting for us.

This has been a successful weekend.

Medal (Pic)

Day 2: 37.73mi 

Total: 76.69 miles

Final distances: 38.96 & 37.73mi

Place: 3rd lady