Running London to Bristol
In May, I was out for drinks at work, and my then head of department told me about some guys in one of our other offices who were planning on organising a run from London to Bristol. Ultra-running is not the sort of thing that appeals to me. I’ve run five marathons and numerous half marathons, and that’s always been enough.
However, a few weeks later one of my colleagues sent me an email about this run and I rather foolishly got in touch with one of the organisers, Sam Hunt, to find out more. Before I knew it, I found myself working with Sam, Tom, Edd and Ben on the organising of a charity run from London to Bristol (135 miles, well actually 140!) or 5 marathons over 5 days. And what’s more we were going to do it at the end of October.
My role was to look after the training side of things, so I immediately called on Simon Barnes, to see if he could help us prepare, and he did an initial training / guidance session with those of us running the full 5 days.
So how do you train for a 100+ mile run? Well, there are plenty of training plans on the internet and I unashamedly downloaded a few of these to share with the team. I also had to make sure that we had training plans and guidance available for those joining us on the first and last days, either doing a full or half marathon distance. I also gathered together information on strength training, nutrition, medical issues and stretching.
I decided to follow the plan for a 100 mile ultra, granted that would normally be done in a 24-48 hour stint. However the basic training guidance of building up long back-to-back runs mixed with shorter intervals, hills or tempo runs were still valid.
However starting training at the beginning of June meant that we only had 21 weeks to train. For those of us who chose to do the full event we had a mix of abilities. There were some half- marathon and marathon runners and some Iron Man competitors, and we needed to fit in training as best we could around our work and family lives.
I committed to train five days a week – Tuesday and Thursday on club runs, Wednesday (mid-week longer run) and then back to back runs on Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes this meant me running and meeting the club’s Sunday run, other times I’d join people for their Saturday runs, but more often than not, I’d be doing the long runs by myself. Fortunately, living in Stroud, meant that there were plenty of wonderful places to run through, though often it would also mean conquering a hill or two.
My fellow club runners will know that once I have a plan I stick to it and I religiously followed my training plan. There were the odd days that I dropped a run – either too tired or life getting in the way, but my goal was to build up those runs so eventually I would feel comfortable running 20 and 30 mile runs back to back. I also started strength training. (Runners are apparently rather bad at this.) I went to a personal training session one day a week and I genuinely believe it has improved my running. I also went to Pilates classes once a week.
As part of the build up to the main event I did two half marathons – Severn Bridge Half Marathon which was on the August Bank Holiday – I managed to take two minutes off my PB, and then Cheltenham Half Marathon at the end of September, where I managed to take a further four minutes off my PB going to 1hr51. This really surprised me, as all my distance running had been at a relatively slow pace (between 10m30 and 12m miles). Other than intervals, I wasn’t doing any speed sessions, so to then go and race successfully shows the impact of those endurance sessions.
The organising of such an event is a huge undertaking. Sorting out the logistics of travel and accommodation, making sure everyone is keeping on top of their training, organising physio and medical support, as well as keeping people motivated with fundraising and publicity. Our organising team worked really hard to pull together this event and make sure that everyone taking part was fully briefed on what was expected of them.
I stayed in London the night before the event and had a bit of a coaching call with Simon. His words were around focussing on how I wanted to run and just letting the training pay off.
And then the day arrived…..
….Thursday 25 October, we met at London Wall in the City of London to start our run. We were joined by a number of other runners who were going to run either a half or full marathon distance with us. The first five miles took us through the centre of London to Paddington basin. It was a relatively slow run, crossing roads and keeping the group together. I had decided to run at the back of the pack, mainly so I didn’t get carried away with running, but also to ensure the safety and welfare of those first time half marathon runners. Once we got on to the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal path, we followed the route out to Greenford and our half marathon stop was at the Black Horse Pub. On the way one of the runners had to pull out due to bad blisters and I and one of the other organisers, Tom, slowed our pace to support one of the other first time half marathon runners.
After a quick stop at the Black Horse (for Tom and I, others had been there a while), we carried on the Grand Union canal to our marathon stop point of Slough. As there were only nine of us running this leg, we managed to get a good consistent pace going (for me about a minute a mile faster). However, we all ran into one hazard of a flock of swans blocking the canal path, which took some gentle manoeuvring. It’s fair to say that when we turned onto the final five miles (the Slough arm of the Grand Union) that was not the most exciting stretch of canal and we were all very glad to finish that. I ended up doing 29 miles as I clocked up a few extra going back and picking up the tail runners during the first half of the day. We then had a short walk back to the hotel to meet our physio, Charlie McCall. Charlie turned out to be a huge blessing on this run, she supported the eight of us doing the main event from the evening of day 1 until the evening of day 4. Not only doing physio, but also acting as support crew at key stopping points along the route.
On day 1 we had various marshals out along the first part of the route, but on days 2 – 4 our support team consisted primarily of Edd, Charlie and Fiona. No one should underestimate the value of having a good support crew. Not only do they feed you and water you, but they are there to help direct you, keep you motivated, make you laugh or even give you a hug when you breakdown!
The other bit of motivational advice came from my old head of department, Rich Carpenter. He has run the Marathon des Sables twice, so knows a thing or two about endurance running. His advice was keep the first two days very slow, eat and drink based on time not distance (I actually ignored this and did do it on distance…), and probably the thing that most stuck with me was that he told me one lady on MDS had written on her arm….’don’t be shit’…..I thought I could do that! He also told me to chunk up the miles.
What I did realise though about eating, was the need to eat a really good meal in the evening. I didn’t do so well on the evening of day 1 but definitely aimed not to make the same mistake on the other evenings – you need to replenish as many calories as possible.
Day 2 was the longest run, just over 33 miles according to my watch. We travelled to Windsor to join the Grand Union Canal there and ran towards Maidenhead, where we then had a stretch on the road. We then joined the canal again at Reading, and went onto the Kennet & Avon Canal. It was raining when we set off from Windsor, but fortunately the weather cleared up after that. I met a few colleagues from an agency I work with at Maidenhead; it was great to see them. On the road stretch, one of the team, George, started to have some difficulties, so slowed his pace down. At Reading, some of the guys stopped for a lunch break, but I had come fully equipped with my Camelback carrying water, gels, salted nuts, chocolate, etc – I had made the decision to eat / drink little and often and I found the easiest way to do that was to carry my own supplies, and top up from the support vehicle as and when I needed it.
The second part of the run from Reading to Woolhampton was not completely clear cut and I took the odd wrong turn and needed to retrace my steps. However, I just kept plodding on, singing Mr Blue Skies and counting down the miles. As I was approaching what I hoped was the end, I asked someone walking the other way if the Rowbarge was up ahead – yes – it was just through the gate.
When I went through the gate at the end of the canal path I saw James and Ross (our two ultra-fit Iron Men) waiting at the pub. Rather unladylike, I said a few expletives and gave them both a hug. I was delighted to have the long run finished. We then waited for the rest of the team to come in.
Day 3, I decided to try and chunk up the miles, as this was another long 30 miler. We went from Woolhampton to Wilcot in Wiltshire. My other motivation on this day was I knew my youngest son and better half were going to be at the end, but also that Simon and his wife Dawn were going to be popping up in places along the route.
I chunked my run into 10 sections (10 lots of 3 miles) and counted down the sections. This worked reasonably well. One of our runners, Sam, had got a swollen knee, but that was not stopping him going off at a reasonable pace. James and Ross, the Iron Men, were just phenomenal across every day – they were long gone and put in some fantastic marathon times. For the other runners, Tom, George, Drew and Ben, niggles had started to set in and cause them to slow in places.
I was just trying to maintain that same constant pace around the 10m30s per mile mark. I had to say that day 3 was probably my strongest day and I generally felt that I had got into a good running rhythm. Near the end of the run, I saw Steve (my partner) and Dan (my youngest) at Pewsey, just a couple of miles from the end and I felt good. I arrived at Wilcot feeling really strong and I could have carried on running. It was great having the support today.
Day 4 was the shortest run (just over 20 miles). However, for some reason it felt like the toughest. A number of the team were battling niggles. My right knee on occasion wanted to give out but I just kept running through it, and my left hip started to ache. This day we went from Wilcot through to Hilperton near Trowbridge and down the Caen Hill flight of locks. The start of this day the towpath was quite tricky, it had rained overnight, we had large stretches of grassy, slightly boggy path and I wished I’d put my trail shoes on. I think the constantly changing terrain of the canal path on both days 3 and 4 did take its toll.
Again I was just plodding on at my speed. At Devizes I was running with Tom, Drew and Tom’s Dad Michael. Michael was only supposed to run 10KM with us, in the end he ran the whole 20 miles, including running the last six miles with me.
I was delighted to be running with Michael, and I have to say when we were on the last two miles, every bend we went round, we were saying we must be there, we must be there. It was definitely one of those runs which we thought would never end. When we did turn the last corner and I saw a group of people waiting for us, I did somehow manage to find the energy to sprint to the end. Where did that come from? But all credit to Michael, I can’t believe he ran those 20 miles with us.
Physio on day 4 was definitely welcome, as my hip was really annoying. Charlie did work her magic on it, and day 5 started well.
So, here we were on the last day. Just a marathon (actually 27.5 miles) from Hilperton to Bristol. I knew the first half quite well, as we’d done a canal barge holiday on this stretch. So it was lovely going through Bradford-on-Avon, Avoncliff and the Limpley Stoke Valley. I was in a really bouyant mood.
That morning two of our runners George and Ben had set off early as they had injuries that were causing them to struggle. The rest of us set off about 9.30am. We were joined by some other runners for the last day.
We were going to meet more runners in Bath for the last half marathon (more like 15 miles) back to Bristol. I knew the runners were leaving Bath at 12noon. I arrived at the departure point at 11.50am only to be told by Edd and Fiona that they’d set everyone off early. I was gutted. Unfortunately, that blackened my mood.
The next stretch took us along the Bristol & Bath Railway path – this was a bit boring and very slightly uphill. Towards the end of that stretch I came across Ben who had gathered a bit of an entourage or supporters running with him. I just kept going. At the end of the path, Edd directed me where to go next. However, rookie mistake, I’d not checked the map for this section, which was new to me. There was quite a bit on the road and going uphill, cutting out the canal path. I wasted a good 10 mins faffing around, calling Edd, checking if I was right. Eventually, when I got to Fiona at the next checkpoint, I burst into tears – that was it, I’d had enough. I didn’t know where I was, it all got too much. A quick hug from Fi and I went on my way, down a short stretch to get back on the canal path. At this point I was familiar with the route back to Bristol. I then came across George who was doing a mix of running and stretching in order to get through this last section. There were about six miles left to go.
I had recce’d this stretch a few times, so I knew some of the landmarks to look out for and this helped me get through this final bit. As I was approaching Temple Meads station in Bristol I could see another runner up ahead. I caught up with one runner who had started the day with us, but had developed cramp, we ended up running to the end together. I was so pleased to see various work colleagues directing us through the final mile or so.
We finished at the Hole in the Wall and waited for the rest of our runners. Once everyone arrived, we slowly ran the final short stint to our offices on the harbourside where we were greeted by lots of applause, a finishing tape and Prosecco!
And to cap it all we had raised £35K for Mental Health UK. Amazing!
The overwhelming support and words of wisdom / motivation from the Cotswold Allrunners throughout my training and the event has been phenomenal. Everyone has been so supportive, I can’t thank you all enough.