Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Southend Pier Marathon

Francis is on sabbatical at the moment and is looking after the girls full time, while I'm at work. This means that when I race I tend to feel really guilty that Francis is with the girls on his own for yet another day. I'm incredibly grateful for his support so I can carry on taking part in events...but it means that I tend to focus on very local races at the moment. So when I saw there was a marathon being held up and down the Southend Pier, just 15 minutes from my house, I thought I should take advantage and sign up. Not only that, this would be a world's first - the first marathon over the sea, along the world's longest pleasure pier. Exciting stuff!

Before we started running - the start of the Southend Pier Marathon
Photo by Jon Lavis https://www.flickr.com/photos/jel183/

Except it wasn't really.

Just crossed the start line. Still smiling at this stage
Photo by Jon Lavis https://www.flickr.com/photos/jel183/
From social media reviews I think most people seemed to love the marathon, and will be returning next year, but I struggled. It was lovely to catch up with friends, and towards the end of the race in particular there was a developing camaraderie between those of us who were a bit slower and still out there, but after the first three laps which were quite fun, I stopped enjoying myself. I knew before I started though that this wouldn't be a race I'd be repeating - I'm not a fan of laps, especially really short ones (1.34miles up the pier, 1.34 miles down the pier) and the weather wasn't up to much - a bit cold, a bit drizzly.

The pier isn't very inspiring either, and although the train that was running along beside us was a bit of a novelty, all in all I'd say it was a dull five hours. I envied the faster runners and it was great to see them as they lapped me (frequently!). The winner crossed the line in 2:48, an incredible 6:26/mile - inspiring to see proper running! The weather did improve though - by the time I finished it was glorious blue skies and sunshine...and in hindsight, maybe I'm so grumpy about the race because I was feeling so unfit. I hadn't run a step since the St Peter's Way two weeks earlier and by mid-way through I was hurting. Nothing really hurt at SPW, well not really and not for long, but my body was aching and creaking and generally I was pretty uncomfortable after only 15 miles on the pier. No undulation, no change to pace or rhythm unless I walked, and a lot of very solid wooden boards that at times made it feel like we were running on concrete were not the best combination for someone who really wasn't fit enough to be there. "Must do some training" needs to be my new mantra if I'm going to fare better at my next race!

Leaving my grumpiness aside, the organisation and the event team couldn't be faulted - excellent aid station, beautiful medal, really friendly marshals. Added to which, because it was local, and laps, Francis drove down to see me with the girls and it was a lovely surprise to see him walking up the pier as I ran down.

So, race #97 done (officially marathon/ultra #94) so another one down and closer to my 100th, and the bigger achievement of 100 official marathons that will earn me my 100 Marathon Club shirt. Hopefully that'll be October at Centurion's Autumn 100 miler. Now for that, I really am going to have to do some training: 207 days to go and counting!

Sunday, 18 March 2018

My fifth St Peter's Way ultra

I ran the St Peter's Way ultra again a few weeks ago and it was probably the best year yet.

It's obviously an event I love (why else would I run it five times?!) but was really nervous about this one as I'd barely run at all for a few weeks before the race, and wasn't entirely sure I'd be able to finish the distance. I'd struggled a bit just running a marathon distance in December at a GBC event, and so 43 miles on no training was a big ask. I was very close to pulling out, but as the day got closer, with the prospect of seeing friends I hadn't seen for months combined with a day out in some beautiful countryside, I decided that even if I DNF'ed, I would go along, and just enjoy however long I managed to stay out on the course.

The night before I started to get kit together, only to realize just how long it'd been since I ran any distance. This was my first proper ultra since falling pregnant (the 30 miler I did last year was lots of laps and needed no kit or navigation so in my mind it didn't really "count" as an ultra).  I'd forgotten how I used to pack my racevest, my soft bottles had leaked and I'd thrown them away, and the zips on both my race vests had corroded and no longer did up! My shoes were also in a pretty bad way - I've been meaning to replace them for months as the holes in the sides have been getting bigger and bigger. But not to worry. I managed to stuff my things into a vest, I used safety pins instead of the zip, I bought a couple of lucozade bottles to use, and I was pretty sure that my shoes would survive one last race...

Bright and early on race morning, I drove off, leaving Francis to look after the girls. THANK YOU FRANCIS!!

It was bitterly cold when I arrived, but as soon as I'd got out of the car, I saw some familiar faces, and knew I'd make the right decision to start. After welcome hugs and lots of chats, we were soon stood waiting for Lindley (the RD) to finish his pre-race briefing, so we could get on our way...

The St Peters Way race is usually ridiculously muddy. Freshly ploughed furrows, churned up horse enclosures and flooded fields have seen me losing a shoe in a previous race. It takes a certain amount of bravado and foolishness to run across all of that - luckily I have both and have always loved the muddy element of SPW. However, this year, everything (at least for most of the day) was frozen. With the ground hard under foot it felt like a different race, and there were some great finish times posted. It was certainly much easier going than it's been in previous years, if not quite the same challenge, although towards the end there were a few fields that you emerged from carrying half your body weight in sticky mud on your shoes...you could see on the path were everyone had stopped to try and scrape some of it away!

It was obviously cold, but generally glorious. As usual I ran on my own, but towards the end there were a few of us leapfrogging each other - I often find that a bit frustrating, but on this occasion it was motivating, and quite nice to have some familiar faces around. I was amazed at how good I felt throughout. I had a few niggles, and a few bad patches, as you generally do on these races, and a couple of times, particularly early on, I wondered what on earth I was doing, but after about 20 miles I really settled into the run, and just loved it. The route felt familiar, and as we got further along, I realized that I might just make an earlier mini-bus back to the start than I'd previously expected...but that at the rate I was going I was probably going to miss it by about 10 minutes, which would then result in a 2hour wait for the next one! There was no way I could let that happen, so tried to stop faffing about and walking quite so much and started to run with a bit more focus.

The last couple of miles of SPW can be hideous, along an incredibly exposed sea wall, with a icy biting wind, where you can see the finish but find yourself turning away from it as you follow the wall out to sea. It's pretty cruel...but the sun was low in the sky, and the view in-land was absolutely spectacular.

Amazingly, I made the finish with about 5 minutes to spare until the bus, in an incredibly surprising time of 9hrs 9 minutes. My second slowest time, but with my lack of training that was no surprise at all. I was so happy to finish feeling strong and in control - no death march for me!

Lindley gave me a spot-prize to celebrate my return to ultra running...my last ultra before falling pregnant was SPW, and this was my first proper one afterwards, and I got yet another SPW medal and tshirt combo! We headed off to the bus, and then I had a great 50 minute chat with a fellow runner all the way back to the start.

It was a perfect day. Absolutely perfect. I was slower than I wanted to be, but much faster than I deserved to be and I had so much fun. I will be back again, next year.

Monday, 23 October 2017

My new normal

It's nearly the end of October, the girls are nearly a year old, and I'm finally feeling great about my running again.

It'll still take a while longer to get back to being as fit as I was before I fell pregnant, but after a surprisingly good run at the Chelmsford marathon yesterday, I am so positive about my progress so far, and I know I will get faster and stronger as the months pass. I finished the marathon in 4:32...my second fastest time of the three Chelmsford marathons I've run, and although the two halves weren't quite even, I wasn't far off a negative split! It was pretty hilly, but I didn't use the hills as an excuse to walk, I didn't faff about at aid stations, and was really focused throughout. I've taken about an hour off my marathon times from the summer, and I definitely feel like a proper runner again which makes me so happy.

I'm also 23 days into Ronhill's October runstreak challenge "#runeveryday" which is a celebration of Ron Hill's world record runstreak of 52 years and 39 days! Sometimes it's hard work to get out, like tonight, doing a very slow recovery run after yesterday's marathon, and when I'm so tired too, but generally I'm enjoying it and it's definitely contributed to my improved fitness. I've run more with the girls in the buggy, I've done some decent tempo runs and a bit of speedwork, and it's been great to get my weekly mileage totals back into numbers I recognise. I'm considering trying to continue the streak past October as it really has been nothing but positive. Oh, except that my achilles is pretty sore these days, but hopefully that will go away! I'm buying another magic boot so have to see if that will work again.

My new normal is starting to feel pretty amazing.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

The Darnley Challenge

Well I did it. Marathon number 93 at Friday's Darnley Challenge in Kent.

Although I was close to giving up at 18 miles, and it was my slowest ever marathon, at least I managed to finish despite it being incredibly hard work.

It was a beautiful course, and I did love being out on the trails, but it's just so demoralising when it feels so tough. I will get fitter though, and I know marathons will become truly enjoyable again for me - I just need to try and find the time to put some work in and do some training. Sadly that's easier said than done sometimes.

Luckily I had company for many of the miles as I ran with Foxy and Paul, even for a bonus mile or two as we went wrong, and it was lovely to catch up with friends I haven't seen for absolutely ages. It was a gorgeous day too - a bit too hot sometimes when out of the shade - but shouldn't complain. Race entries are definitely great birthday presents.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

A return to racing without being fit to race

Over six months since my last blog! The girls are 9 months old next week and looking after them is intense (they're crawling, standing, into everything and I can't take my eyes off them for a second!) but they're also very entertaining and although it's taken me a long time, I'm finally feeling happy, able to cope and I think we're all managing really well.

At the Olympic Stadium
We've been making the most of the summer with lots of outings - the Village Green festival, picnics, a Ferrari parade, Leeds Castle, visiting family and yesterday, we went to the Olympic Stadium to watch the IAAF World Championships - they absolutely loved it and we had a wonderful time!

Unless you follow me on twitter, you'd be forgiven for assuming that I had let my running fall by the wayside now I'm so busy with the girls, but I have been able to keep up a bit of training. I find it's been absolutely essential for my mental health and maintaining some sense of self, as well as genuinely enjoying getting out on the trails. I've not done as much as I'd like - time is so limited - but I've been getting out on average two or three times a week, usually between 4 to 6 miles, often in the woods with Chewie, or occasionally with the twins in our awesome running buggy, along the Southend seafront, where there's a wide flat promenade.

I'd hoped to be able to get out with them more, but with the weather hasn't helped, and timing is difficult as I need to have both girls ready to nap at the same time for us to go! I'm hoping this will be become less of an issue as they get older, because I have absolutely loved the runs we've had so far.

Anyway...on this very limited mileage, I've managed to take part in two local races, with Francis looking after the girls for a few hours.

In March, I ran (and walked) a half marathon at the Hockley Woods Trail Challenge - a very hilly and quite muddy race - in 2:50. I felt incredibly slow, and I found it such hard work, but I really enjoyed myself and loved being out in the woods, and am so proud to have got that distance done just four months after the girls were born. It was lovely to catch up with some friends there after so long out of the running scene!

In June, I went to the HARP 24 hour race, and gave myself six hours to run as many of the 4.2 laps as I could, hoping for at least a marathon distance finish. I was feeling relatively confident but once I started I realised how unfit I still was, and how very far away I was from my levels of pre-pregnancy endurance. By about 5 miles I was run/walking, and by about 8 miles my legs felt shot. 8 MILES!! I just kept thinking about how far I used to run comfortably...  There was another runner who was wearing his GUCR t-shirt from this year's race. Once I would have felt a camaraderie with him but I felt a bit of a fraud even being at the race, as he ran past me when I was going so slowly.

Looking at some of the photos from the day (other than the start line picture) I see how hard I'm finding it - the grimace on my face tells it all. But I was determined that I would not give up, and I would cover a good distance. I walked a lot, generally alone, and felt so absolutely shattered I was seriously considering going and lying down in a field for a nap. I was very miserable for much of the day, although it was an absolutely lovely course which looked beautiful on such a sunny day, and I wish I could have enjoyed it more. Through sheer bloody mindedness, I dragged myself through seven laps, completing 30 miles. I spent the last lap with Ian, a fellow ultra runner, who I've not seen for years, but chatting with him for those 45 minutes was brilliant. I ran more than I'd done for the whole day! Had I not seen Ian, I may well have left the race thinking I should just throw in the towel and give up on my attempt to reach my 100th marathon until the girls are older, but actually I came away reminded why I love running, and confident that I can keep going!

Thankfully, my DOMS were minimal and I didn't have any lasting problems as a result of the 30 miles, and I think my struggles during the race were as much as a result of my chronic lack of sleep, as my reduced fitness. Turns out 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night for months isn't the best preparation for ultra running! As the girls get older, and sleep better hopefully this will get easier...

So, now onto my next race - the self-navigation Darnley Challenge in 5 days time, which Francis bought me entry to as part of my birthday present, where I'm hoping to run two laps, completing the marathon distance. Francis is taking the day off work to look after the girls, and I really want to make the most of it! However, I'm still feeling incredibly unfit and overweight. I struggle to fit in any long runs, and haven't run further than 6 miles in 6 weeks since the 30 miler. It's not making me feel confident in the slightest, but the race has a limit of 8 hours (it took me 5hrs 30mins to run/walk 26.2miles at HARP) and so even if I walk more I should be ok, but there's an option to drop to a half marathon distance if I need to. That wont help my "Quest for the Vest"...but hopefully I can just enjoy my day out and come away feeling positive again!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Why I'm running and not sleeping

I had a great run yesterday, albeit on road not trail - nearly 6 miles at a pace of 9:51min/mile. I'm still nowhere near the level of fitness I had before my pregnancy, but I'm very proud of the distance and the pace. I didn't let myself walk the hills (well, inclines!) and am so pleased with my progress, just 10 weeks after our wonderful Eleanor and Florence were born.

I posted about my efforts on Facebook, and a friend's reply got me thinking about why I'm doing it. I'm so busy with the twins - it's absolutely non-stop when I'm with them - and sleep is very limited. Why, on the odd occasion that I can snatch an hour or two for myself while Francis or my mum are looking after the girls, am I spending this precious time running, instead of, say, sleeping!

This is what I replied to my friend:

"Running's always been so important for my mental health but I absolutely couldn't have coped without it since having the twins. It reduces my stress levels, I get all those endorphins, has given me time out of the house away from the babies' constant demands, and it's allowed me to establish that I'm still "me" despite now also being a mum. Over the years, through my running I've also made friends and become part of a brilliant community - I needed to run again so I can really feel that I'm still part of it. Oh, and then there's my inherent love of running stupidly long distances out in the countryside and I need to get fit enough to be able to do that again! I couldn't let having the girls take all of that away from me". 

I thought I'd share...

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Returning to running after having the twins

People say having children is life changing. It's a massive understatement.

I struggled through the later stages of my pregnancy (as I was so enormous, uncomfortable and unable to walk more than a few meters at a time) but on Thursday, 10th November, after 15 hours in labour, I gave birth to our twin daughters - Eleanor Katharine Tilley and Florence Elizabeth Tilley.

Thankfully I managed to avoid a cesarean section, and Ella and Ren (that's how we're shortening the names) avoided all but the briefest of treatment in Special Care. We came home from hospital two days later and they're now nearly 7 weeks old and are doing incredibly well.

Those 7 weeks have been a mixture of emotions, but it's fair to say it's been really tough at times, and although it's also been wonderful too, I don't think anything could have prepared me for the impact of becoming a parent. Nothing I read came close to exposing the reality of it. My mum stayed with us for the first 10 days which was the only reason I think i managed to retain my sanity at the beginning, and Francis has been brilliant and is such a natural! We've totally shared the work, we've slept in shifts, and have now got to a stage where I'm relatively confident looking after the twins.

As hard as it is, sometimes it's absolutely lovely
I've had one particularly bad day that will stay in my mind and prompted my earlier than planned return to running. Ella and Ren were five weeks old and suffering with colds. The idea that I was now a parent was still sinking in and I still felt that I had no idea what I was doing. On this particular day there were tears - a lot of tears - and I don't think any of them were from the babies. I was still finding it overwhelming and to be honest, scary, looking after the twins on my own all day with Francis at work. I found trying to deal with the needs of both of them at the same time too much, and was also struck by the feeling of "Is this it now? Is this my life?" Looking after newborn twins comprises of crying (all of you), feeding them (not yourself), brief cuddling, changing nappies, changing clothes (theirs, not yours even though you may be covered in milk), lots of laundry. It's constant and although you know it isn't true, it feels like that's all there will ever be.

The following day my mum came to visit and I took the opportunity to get out of the house and to take Chewie for a walk. On a bit of a whim I wore clothes I might be able to run in...although didn't mention it to my mum. On arriving in the field at the start of the route I was taking, I decided I needed to try. I knew it was too early (you're meant wait for the 6 week post-natal check up) but I had recovered quickly from the birth, my stitches were healed, and the stress I was feeling was just too much. It'd been eight months since I last ran, and I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I needed to do it. And rather than thinking about it too much, I did.

My legs seemed to remember what to do. I remembered how to breathe. I didn't need to walk, and just carried on. Three miles later, I thought I should probably be sensible and stop. Absolutely elated, I walked back to the car.

It was brilliant! I certainly took it easy and I was very slow, averaging 11:57 along a pretty flat trail, but even so, I was surprised that I didn't find it as tough as I'd expected and seemed to have retained some level of fitness. I loved he sensation of being out there. I've been out for a few walks since 5 days after the birth, with the dog and the twins, gradually increasing the distance, and was happily walking for over an hour before the run, so didn't just do a 3 miler straight off the bat.

That first run was also a perfect reminder that just because I'm now a mum, there's no reason at all why I can't be a runner too. Possibly not an ultra runner for a while (as I doubt I'll be able to find the time to train) but I will definitely be able to get back to marathon fitness with the support that I have from Francis.

Christmas Day 
It also heralded a completely new, more relaxed approach to looking after the girls. I was no longer worried about having lost my identity, I felt less stressed and I'm not just trying to cope any more. I'm actually enjoying it now, although am aware that as Ella and Ren get older and their needs change and increase, there will be new challenges.

Yesterday, Boxing Day, I managed to get out for my second run. This time I did about 4 miles and it was so rewarding again! I'm just incredibly glad to be back.

I'm still an horrendous 26lbs heavier than I was before falling pregnant, and I'm conscious that it's going to take me ages to get back to proper fitness, but I'm just happy I can still run and that I've made a start. I'm confident that after the excesses of Christmas, and with regular runs in the New Year, I will start to drop the weight, and my fitness will improve.

With this in mind, I've also signed up for my first event of 2017!

The Hockley Woods Trail Challenge at the beginning of March. It's 5km laps, over 6 hours in my favourite local woods, and I can do as few laps as I like and still "count" as a finisher. Regardless of my fitness I wouldn't leave the twins for too long, but I'm hoping that I can do 15km. We shall see!

Monday, 27 June 2016

Life-changing times

It's been a strange few weeks...all rather unsettling, and I feel like I'm going through a bit of a personal crisis.

No, not being pregnant itself (I'm actually quite enjoying that, despite the various aches and pains and constant worry that's associated with it) but the ever increasing separation I feel from my life as a runner.

The last time I ran was nearly 10 weeks ago. Since then, I have manned check points at both the Thames Path 100 miler, and GUCR, and I absolutely loved both experiences. Both were overnight shifts in excess of 12 hours, and it was a privilege the help the runners as best I could, and to see some truly gritty performances as they battled through epic levels of pain to complete their goals. They were also great learning experiences as I had the chance the see lots of different race strategies and kit choices! However, I'm now too pregnant to be able to support at checkpoints - standing for long periods of time isn't really an option, and I get exhausted pretty easily. I would probably be more of a hindrance than a help.

So, although I'm still trying to remain active through walking, and I will soon be going for my first swim in my new maternity costume, I am starting to feel less and less like part of the community, as I no longer share the focus of training, recovery and commitment to the weekly mileage. I'm still following everyone's exploits on twitter and facebook, but I'm not seeing anyone in person at races, and I'm not finding myself as engaged as I was, feeling that I don't really have much to add to conversations about races, or kit, or injury... My focus is becoming more insular I suppose, as I start to prepare, emotionally and practically, for the arrive of our twins.

This scares me.

For the past 6 years I have defined myself as a runner. Running has changed me, for the better, in many ways, and the running community has been a wonderful support network and has enriched my life. I feel I have made true friends though my running, but that I am now starting to lose some of those connections, and some sense of myself. I know that inevitably I am going to become "mum" as well as "Naomi", but it's incredibly important to me that that the one doesn't cancel out the other.

I know in my heart that in the grand scheme of things, the next six or seven months will pass incredibly quickly, and I shouldn't wish this very special time away. I know that my children are going to become the most important thing in my life, and that my priorities are inevitably going to be very different once they are born. This is as it should be and I'm realistic enough to realise that 145 mile ultras may be out of the question for the foreseeable future, but marathon training is much easier to schedule.

I just hope that by the time I am physically capable of a return to training, I haven't lost the desire, and I haven't forgotten that I'm a runner as well as a mum.

I have more that I want to achieve...there's more that I know I can achieve.

I want to set a great example to my children.

I need to do all I can to be healthy...in mind as well as body.

Running will give me all of those things, and I have to make sure I don't allow myself to forget how life-changing it was the first time I became a runner.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Ultra runners in training

My first baby purchase, to go with our first pictures from my scan yesterday, at 13 weeks 3 days.

It's going to be at least a year until our twins are big enough to wear these babygrows...but I just couldn't resist.

Many thanks to Centurion Running!!

Monday, 2 May 2016

A DNS at Viking Way to prepare for an even bigger challenge

Written on 10th April. 

For the last ten months, my goal race has been the 147 mile Viking Way ultra.

So many of you supported me in this most crazy of goals, seemingly equally impressed with the scale and challenge of the event and with my evident madness in wanting to take it on. I really appreciated the belief that everyone had in me! My training was going well, and I was feeling very confident about how I was going to do in the race.

View from the 50 mile checkpoint in Fulletby.
But, I decided not to run - I dropped out the week before the race.

I volunteered to crew instead, and spent the Saturday evening and night stood in the cold, the wind, and then the rain, following by a bright and sunny Sunday morning, thoroughly enjoying myself, trying as best I could to help some of the most incredible, hard-core runners I've ever had the pleasure to meet. It convinced me, that one day, I would go back to run the Viking. It is a truly epic race.

So, why didn't I run?

Well, here's the news...Francis and I found out that I'm pregnant!! :D We've been married for three years now but together for ten - we're so excited about this next adventure! But if that wasn't news enough...it gets more exciting...we're having twins!!

The beautiful peacock medal from
Larmer Tree
We now know that I ran my last race, the fabulous, best 26.6 miles I've ever run, beautiful Larmer Tree Marathon, while in the very early stages of my pregnancy, back in February. It was too early for a positive result on a pregnancy test at the time but I definitely suspected, and it was tough! It's quite a hilly race (2,433 feet elevation gain) but even on the flat sections I found myself a bit breathless, struggling more than I'd expected to, and walking a lot, finishing in 4:58. I loved it though and I am very happy with the concept that it was baby's first marathon! However, it showed me that never mind the inherent risk to the pregnancy, it would have been absolutely impossible for me to run 147 miles. Feeling sick and tired before you even start running really wouldn't have helped either!

Although incredibly happy about the double baby news, I'm disappointed to have missed Viking Way, and I've also pulled out from the other big races I'd planned for this year - GUCR and the Centurion 100 mile Grand Slam, and obviously wont be hitting my 100th marathon in 2016 as I'd planned. I doubt there are many who understand this but after so much thought, preparation and expectation, I've found it a bit hard to get my head around the fact that I'll not be running these races. I've volunteered to crew them instead, and will try to make sure I stay part of the race scene that has become such an important part of my life.

I've also found, that despite my strongest intention that when I fell pregnant I would be one of those women who ran all the way through, I have found myself unable to run these last few weeks. The exhaustion that seems to come with growing twins has left me wiped out after a day at work, and needing to rest after a walk, never mind anything more strenuous. I've decided though not to worry about that and just enjoy my pregnancy and see how things go over the next few weeks.

We had the first scan this week, and the babies are due at the end of November. We've started telling friends and family, and although I know it's earlier than most people would share the news (we still have weeks to go until the 12 week milestone), everything looked good on the scan, and hopefully all will be well with them both.

So, although I thought this year was going to be full of running challenges, now I need to start preparing myself for the biggest life challenge of all - becoming a mum, becoming a mum of two...and becoming a mum who runs!