blog 19: an ultra good summer
In Blog 13, I shared with you that this summer I would be focusing on some ultras so I thought it was about time I updated you on how it’s all gone.
I will always consider myself a ‘marathon runner’ as opposed to an ‘ultramarathon runner’ but I have already done a small number of the latter. These include traditional ones, such as the 35-mile Two Oceans in Cape Town, as well as the more unusual 100km Pharaonic race in Egypt which finished at the pyramids and a 24-hour race around Gosforth Park near Newcastle where I covered 105 miles – both of which I won.
In 2017 I really enjoyed Action Challenge’s 100km Thames Path Challenge which I completed in 10 hours 17 minutes. After winning World Marathon Challenge I decided my next target would be to see if I can could run the same 100km course in under 10 hours. This was refreshingly different to running more marathons and seemed a realistically achievable target.
Things didn’t get off to the best start. I found Race to the Tower, a double marathon (52.4 miles), very tough due to the wet condition and big hills and finished in what I considered a disappointing 9 hours 35 minutes. I clearly wasn’t quite in an ‘ultra mindset’ yet.
On a bit of a whim I decided to take on the 100km Race to the Stones in July as I had heard it was a great route. I was not disappointed and ran a much more respectable 10 hours 21 minutes over the hilly route on a glorious summer’s day. However, I took a big tumble at the 20km mark and hit my nose and knees pretty hard which left me a bit dazed and must have slowed me down a bit.
In August, I tackled the Bath Festival of Running Marathon which I won, giving me a free entry into the Two Tunnels 50km race later in the month which seemed too good to pass up. This was a fast, flat course but I felt very tired and had a sore stomach for the first 30km. It improved in the latter stages and I managed second place in 4 hours and 12 minutes. This was the sort of pace I was going to need to run in the first half of a 100km race if I was to go under 10 hours.
The 7th September dawned bright and cool and I had a good feeling about the Thames Path Challenge. Although it had been a busy week at work, my resting Heart Rate was down to 44 beats per minute and I had eaten well in preparation. The route is an ideal one for a PB attempt as it’s flat all the way between Putney and Henley with only a few sharp turns, bridges and gates to navigate.
The race went very smoothly. My hamstrings and glutes started to ache after 30km but weirdly this pleased me as it meant my running technique was holding up well and I was using my big strong muscles to power me along. Crucially, the ache didn’t get any worse and everything felt strong. Coach Mike had text me at I was getting ready to say ‘remember the arms’ (see previous blog below for context) which really helped as I made sure to use my arms to set the rhythm and power me along the tow path.
I went through half way in 4 hours 18 minutes so knew I was nicely on target. For the second half I dropped the pace to an even 10km per hour. I fell into stride with another runner after the last check point with 12km to go and we both agreed we could make it home in under 9 hours 30 minutes. So, I put the burners on and ran really hard for the next 6km meaning I was able to cruise into Henley, over the bridge and into the field next to the station to cross the line in 9 hours 27 minutes.
This made me the first woman and 7th overall, and faster than any of the other winners engraved on the Thames Path Challenge shield, which included my 2017 time.
As ever, on achieving a self-set target I just felt relieved rather than actually happy. In the evening I had an ice bath and ate a massive pizza which meant I felt good enough for a gentle 30-minute treadmill run the next day – now that did make happy!
So, it really was an ultra-good summer. I shall now be returning to marathons with Chester on 6th October, before heading out to Chicago the following weekend to hopefully tick off my 4th World Major.
BLOG 18: ARMS RACE
Running is all about our legs, right? Not quite.
If you want to run faster or further your secret weapon is actually your arms.
Try this when you’re next running – while cruising along at the steady pace pump your arms backwards and forwards in a faster tempo and see what happens to your legs. As if by magic your legs will pick up the new rhythm set by your arms and you will go faster.
This is all to do with the biomechanics of the body and it’s very useful to be aware of as it can really help in the latter stages of the race when you start to get tired. It doesn’t matter how tired your legs are they will follow your arms.
When I started running, I don’t think I gave any thought at all to what my arms were doing. Yet now, along with my heel circle, my arms are probably the main thing I focus on when working on my technique with The Running School team.
Ideally you want to carry your arms with a 90-degree bend in and have them working like pistons by your side – back and forward, back and forward. It sounds so simple, but it takes a lot of practice to do this consistently well.
Interestingly, our arms do not always work as a pair. My right arm is fairly well behaved and consistent, but my left arm likes to do its own thing which leads to my elbow sticking out and a much more inefficient action. This is perfectly demonstrated in the picture with this blog which was taken during a recent 50km race.
So, if you want to go faster it really is an arms race.
BLOG 17: WHY DO WE RUN?
After all the miles I’ve covered on my own two feet I still find myself asking the very basic question: why do we run?
On Sunday I got up at 4.30am to drive to Bath to run the Relish Running Two Tunnels 50km Ultra. On my way back to London I got to thinking what is it is about running which makes me voluntarily get up at silly o’clock in the morning?
This was particularly relevant as it had not been an easy run on Sunday. I felt pretty awful for the first 30km with tired legs and a sore stomach before my body decided to get back to ‘normal’ and produce a very solid last 20km to finish in 4 hours 12 minutes for 2nd place (the winner was over 12 minutes ahead of me).
Even though it was a long way from my best race I was still incredibly glad I’d run and I’m already looking forward to my next race – Woldingham marathon – this Sunday. Why is this?
Millions of words have been written about running but for me the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has nailed it when he talks about ‘a state of flow’ being the secret to happiness. His TED Talk on the subject is worth a watch.
Running is hard work, but it is essentially doable for most people. This accessibility makes it so enticing as it’s something we can all engage with. From a two-and-a-half-hour marathon to a five-and-a-half-hour marathon, it’s all just running, and it creates a state of flow in all of us. We are deeply involved in the activity and it’s challenging us, but we know that if we stick to it, then the end goal (of completing the run/race) is feasible which entices us to keep moving forward.
John Kay, the economist, puts it succinctly in an article on obliquity:
“Although we crave time for passive leisure, people engaged in watching television reported low levels of contentment. Csikszentmihalyi’s systematic finding is that the activities that yield the highest for satisfaction with life require the successful performance of challenging tasks. These moments are encountered as frequently in work as outside it, and they constitute the state of mind which Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow. “Flow tends to occur when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable.”
I think this absolutely nails it. Running creates a state of flow. A state of flow makes us happy.
This is why we run.
blog 16: running on a knee to know basis
This week marks three years since I had surgery on my right knee. If someone had said to me then ‘don’t worry, your biggest and best runs are still ahead of you’ I would most definitely not have believed them.
I hope my story can give hope to anyone who has experienced knee issues.
Given the impact going through the joint on every stride, running gets a bad rap for how it can damage knees. However, the body is tough and completely built to withstand, and indeed benefit, from running, on one important proviso – the weight being put through the knee joint is done so in the way nature intended it.
Alas, I had a fairly terrible running technique before I worked with the Running School. I would lean forward, almost dragging myself along, with my quads doing most of the work while my glute and hamstring muscles didn’t do much at all. I also allowed by feet to cross over which meant my knee joints were working at an angle as I did not put my feet down directly under my hips (which is also a superb way of tripping yourself up!)
My body coped with more years of running in this style than I deserved it to, but inevitably I eventually broke. In the 2015 London marathon I broke 3 hours for the first time while also damaging my right knee to the point I could no longer run, and on some days even walking was painful.
This turned into a drawn-out saga but let’s cut to the good news. An MRI scan revealed I had damaged the cartilage in my knee with the little bits of cartilage left floating around the joint causing pain and leaving the bones to rub on each other. This is such a common running problem it’s often called ‘runners’ knee’.
Under the guidance of the brilliant team at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital I had keyhole surgery (formally called an arthroscopy) in July 2016 and have been pain free ever since.
Along with the surgery, the major reason I am still running is that I now have a far more solid technique which is all down to the Running School. I am more upright in my body, powering myself along with my glutes and hamstrings, combined with a solid and more reliable arm swing to set the tempo.
It’s hard to explain the transformation in words but this 30 second video does a pretty good job in illustrating it (still from video below).
I am so enormously grateful to our amazing NHS for mending me and Mike Antoniades (@MikeAntoniades) and the team at the Running School (@RunningSchool) for showing me how to run.
So, after all if this, my conclusion is that running is not bad for knees, bad running is bad for knees. This can be avoided with appropriate advice on technique and training which is all you really knee to know to keep running!!
BLOG 15: NEVER STOP LEARNING
I’ve learnt a lot since winning World Marathon Challenge and one of the most important lessons for me is that we should never stop learning.
As a world record holder people often think you know it all, or at the very least you know more than they do. But I feel like I’m only just starting to know anything about running. It simply doesn’t matter how many races you have trained for and completed, there are always things you can get better at and improvements you can make to your performance.
My heart will always be with the road marathon. I love the randomness of the number 26.2 coming to dominate the running community. It is even the number being used as the frontier for testing the capabilities of the human body as we explore if it’s possible to go under two hours for a marathon – all eyes on Eliud Kipchoge as he attempts to break the two-hour barrier in Venice on 12th October.
However, sometimes it’s good to push your boundaries. Last weekend I ran the 100km Race to the Stones ultra which runs along the Ridgeway, the oldest path in Great Britain, starting in Oxfordshire and finishing at the Avebury Stone Circle in Wiltshire. It was a perfect day for running (be it with factor 50 sun cream on) and I was happy with my finishing time of 10 hours 21 minutes for 5th place.
I’m no pro at ultras but I enjoy the outlook they give you. The freedom to run a big distance and not fixate on the time (too much). There’s simply something rather liberating about running all day. The rest of life melts away and things because clear and much simpler in your mind (mainly caused by all the lovely endorphins the brain produces during exercise).
When it comes to ultras my learning curve is still steep so here’s a few things I learnt from Saturday for anyone else on an ultra-mission this summer:
Finding the perfect pack: I feel like I have finally found this with the Salomon pack. It’s easy to wear and never rubs. I have experimented with waistbands but will now be loyal to my Salomon.
Getting kit just right: It’s so important that anything that touches your skin is comfortable and is not going to irritate. My Hilly TwinSkin socks prevent blisters brilliantly. I changed my Gore Headband at the 60km mark which made me feel much fresher and less sweaty. The small things really do help.
Get chatting: If you fall into stride with anyone for any amount of time getting chatting as it always lifts your mood and makes the miles whizz by.
Nailing the nutrition: Traditionally I have always seemed to stick with sweet things and ended up eating way too much chocolate which provides energy but gets a bit sickly after 6+ hours. On Saturday I changed this approach completely and only ate salty carb-based foods, including peanut butter sandwiches, salt and vinegar crisps and salted peanuts along with squash, flat coke and loads of water. I felt much better fuelled than usual and the salt also encouraged me to keep hydrated and it made me feel thirsty.
Sadly, there is one thing I still need to learn for ultras, and that he how to avoid falling over! I seem to always take a tumble at some point. It’s normally well into the second half of the race when I lose concentration and might be getting a bit tired.
But just to mix it up, on Saturday I fell over the tiniest of tree roots while flying along at the 20km marker. It was very annoying as I hit my nose and both my knees which definitely made me slow down a bit.
The only positive to take from another tumble is it’s the perfect excuse to run another ultra! My focus is now on the Action Challenge Thames Path Challenge on 7th September. I won it in 10 hours 17 minutes in 2017 and would love to go faster this year…. and not fall over during it!
Happy summer running everyone.
blog 14: go go gadget
The other day I accidently left my Garmin at the Running School after one of my weekly training sessions.
Why had I even taken your Garmin off I hear you ask? No one does that!
As part of my training, I do shoulder mobility exercises which involve moving my arms up and down a wall and I find my Garmin catches which annoys me. Having tossed it on to the floor I forgot to put it back on, having to go without it until my next session the following week.
The reason I bring this up is that I was surprised by my reaction. I felt oddly lost without my Garmin. I could no longer check my resting heart rate on waking (normally a steady 46-47, only rising if I’m stressed, tired or ill). Nor could register my heart rate after a steady run along the river. For reasons I can’t really explain I suddenly missed knowing how many steps I’d taken in a day.
This is all particularly odd given I had not wanted to wear a Garmin in the first place. When Mike Antoniades and I embarked on World Marathon Challenge together, with the ambition of getting me to run 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents, I said I didn’t go gadgets and watches. I liked the freedom of leaving my phone at home and just going off to run. I liked the numbers on the screen of a treadmill but had never monitored miles, calories or my heart rate.
This didn’t wash with Mike. He said it was essential for him to know how I responded to certain training sessions and the programme as a whole. Without monitoring my heart rate before, during and after exercise we wouldn’t know if I was getting fitter which was absolutely fundamental to getting ready for the challenge ahead.
And so, I listened to Mike and ordered a Garmin. At first, I didn’t like it much as it felt chunky and not at all part of me. However, the curiosity of the data it could provide was instantly appealing.
Once I started doing tough interval sessions the Garmin became an invaluable tool.
It was fascinating to see how my heart rate responded to a session involving 20 x 90 second sprints with 90 seconds rest in between. During week 14 of training at the start of December I did a really tough 20 x 90 second session and jotted this down in my notes:
“Heart rate stayed low today (max. at 150, compared to 160+) even though the speed was slightly higher in the second half than two weeks ago.”
When I passed this information on to Mike he smiled and said “excellent, that’s what I have been waiting for.” Apparently, it was the signal I was getting fit. The session had felt just as hard and sweaty as it normally did so without the empirical data provided by my Garmin, I would have had no idea at all that the training was making a real difference.
This was the moment that I completely gave in to gadgets. I will never be someone that needs the latest watch or to track absolutely every run I do. However, gadgets will always have a place in my training – and perhaps they should do in yours as well, but that’s a personal decision I’ll leave to you.
BLOG 13: THE MARATHON V THE ULTRA
Running is running right? Wrong.
How far you choose to run and over what terrain defines what type of ‘runner’ you are.
This is crystallised in the debate: The Marathon v The Ultra.
I’ve been thinking about this as I consider what races I want to take on after World Marathon Challenge. I’ve already ticked off a few more marathons, including Manchester and London, but felt it was time for something a bit different, so the ultra is returning to my life.
I’m sure you know this, but for clarity an ultra is anything above 26.2 miles. It can be a distance you take on in one go, such as the oldest of all ultras the 153-mile Spartathlon in Greece, or a multi-day stage race where you rest in between sections, like the famous Marathon Des Sables.
I took on my first ultra – a mere 40-mile race – in 2011. My only reason for doing so was I thought I couldn’t improve on my 3:33 marathon time so I would try and go a bit further instead. By going further, I felt less intimidated by the marathon distance and my marathon times started to fall as I could race the marathon, rather than simply survive it.
I find marathons and ultras have a very different atmosphere and are very different to run. With a marathon you tend to know what to expect. There is a very clear beginning, middle and end to the race. If it’s a road marathon a lot of fellow runners will be chasing a specific time. If it’s off road, you know that, however tough the terrain, you’ve covered the distance before so it will hopefully be ok.
When I stand on the start line of an ultra I feel much less certain about how things are going to pan out. For once, finishing time is a secondary factor, and it really is just about getting to the finish line in one piece. I never know if I have the right kit on as conditions can vary so much during the much longer race and over such varied terrain. Eating and fuelling your body is a much bigger issue given you can probably get away with not eating much for a marathon, but you definitely can’t for an ultra when you’re going to be out running for anywhere from 6 hours to several days.
Pro ultra-runners also seem different to me. There is a calmness on the start that doesn’t exist for a marathon. Everyone knows they are going to be running for a long time and so nothing seems too hurried. The best ultra-runners are so efficient in how they move, never using more energy than they need to get from A to B.
I took on Race to the Tower yesterday (#RTTT2019) and it was an intriguing experience. This is a double marathon (52.4 miles) along the Cotswold Way finishing at the beautiful Broadway Tower. It was even hillier than I was expecting, and wet conditions the day before made it really hard work as the paths in the wood were slippy and the mud in the open areas acted like suckers on your feet, slowing you down on every stride. I came home as the 4th woman, 16th overall, in a time of 9:35 – about an hour longer than I thought it was going to take me.
The toughest part of the race was setting out on the second half as it came as a complete surprise to my mind and body to go above 26.2 miles. Since last September I have done 24 marathons, including the 7 in a week which made up World Marathon Challenge, but I have not taken a step beyond that distance. When I got to halfway in Race to the Tower my brain thought it was job done. The second half gave it a big surprise!
So, it seems the ultra mindset is most definitely different to a marathon mindset.
I have already done 100km, 100 mile and 24-hour races so I know I have an ultra mindset when needed, but it needs to be rediscovered. I hope I can do this while not losing my Marathon mindset, as my heart will always be with the marathon.
I shall start out on my ultramarathon journey by remembering the well-known saying: If you start to feel good in an ultra you will get over it.
blog 12: what to look for in a race
I’ve had a bit of a break from competing in races since World Marathon Challenge in February, followed by Manchester and London marathons in April, but I can feel it’s time to get competitive again!
As I plan for the coming months this got me thinking about what I look for in a race and I thought I’d share, should it be of use to readers of this blog.
Over the years I have run a lot of races. This includes 56 marathons and ultras and more half marathons than I have ever bothered to count. Interestingly the half marathon is the most popular distance for runners, the perfect test of endurance while also enabling most runners to still be able to walk the next day!
I gave some thought as to why this was and here are the six factors which I consider important when signing up to a race:
Distance from home: This has to be practical. I am more than happy to travel along way for a big marathon or special ultra but sometimes it’s good to not be too far from home and have to get up super early or give up the whole day for a race.
Distance of the race: This is of course vital and will be dependent on your level of fitness and the goals you’re working towards. It’s important to be sensible but also not to limit your boundaries as we all improve by testing ourselves.
Racing surface: Everyone will have a preference as to whether they enjoy tarmac, off-road trails or even the more extreme muddy routes. The key is to know what you’re signing up for, so you get your footwear and kit right.
Profile of the race: If a race says it’s ‘undulating’ you can bet there will be some good hills. This is good for fitness but probably not for PBs. I love a fast and flat run where I can get into a strong rhythm, but hills will get you fit.
Size of race and atmosphere: Races vary greatly from low key 10kms or half marathons for a couple of hundred people through to the London marathon which hosts over 40,000 people on the streets of the capital. The buzz of bigger races no doubt helps bring out the fast times in all of us, but they are also more stressful in terms of final preparations (long loo queues!) and potentially crowded first miles. Sometimes there’s nothing more fun than turning up somewhere you’ve never been, enjoying a low-key friendly welcome and just running which is really what it’s all about.
Price: I think the majority of races are good value, but they do vary. Typically, a half marathon is anywhere between £20 and £40 although I have just paid £48 to run Ealing Half in September as it’s said to be one of the best. Meanwhile, there’s an emerging debate about whether we all want t-shirts and medals or simply to just pay less for races. Personally, unless I am running a marathon, I would go for paying less as I simply don’t need another bright logo-covered t-shirt or bizarrely shaped medal but that’s just me!
I’ve got a great mix of races coming up, including the inaugural Bridgnorth marathon on Bank Holiday Monday, Race to the Tower (a double marathon) on 8th June, Thames Path Challenge (100km) on 7th September, and then a busy October with Chester marathon on 6th and Chicago marathon on 13th October.
Wherever you choose to race I hope you have an amazing time!
BLOG 11: FOOD GLORIOUS FUEL!
Although we spend more and more time talking about food, we seem to be developing a less and less healthy relationship with it.
But as with most things in life I think running can help!
Let’s go back to basics: why do we consume food? We consume food to provide our body with the energy it needs to operate. We should eat a wide range of foods made up of carbohydrates (including sugars), protein, fat, fibre and plenty of fruit and vegetables. The quantity of food consumed (measured in calories) should balance against energy expenditure which will be dependent on how intensely we our bodies to move and how much we ask our brain to think (our brains use up a lot of energy).
So far so simple. But where does this go wrong? Why do so many people find this so difficult to make this equation work in modern life?
There are many theories, but I think it’s because we have forgotten the basic reason why we eat. Food needs to be enjoyable, but it also needs to be treated as fuel. We wouldn’t put the wrong fuel in our cars so why do we put the wrong type of fuel, in the wrong quantities, in our amazing bodies?
This is where running and exercise can help. Once you start asking your body to work hard, you really start to realise just how amazing it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re running, swimming, cycling, dancing, skipping, trampolining, or any other of the other ways you can move your body, you start to really appreciate what it can do. It’s this appreciation which makes me want to look after it a bit better and I can’t believe I am the only one who thinks like this.
In saying this, I absolutely do not claim to get my nutrition right all the time!
I’m lazy and tend to for quick options, always preferring a veggie wrap over having to turn on the oven. I consistently eat more sugar than I should and probably not enough protein. I eat too late at night given I am rarely home before 8.30pm. I’m always trying to drink more water.
However, I do treat food as fuel and I try and give my body what it needs to perform. I hope this means I have a healthy relationship with food which is all we should be aiming for. Food is fuel after all.
Finally, in case it’s helpful, he’s a just few things I have learnt over the last decade of marathon running – based mainly on getting it wrong a few times:
· Before exercise it’s essential to eat some slow-burning carbohydrates so your body has the baseline fuel it needs for several hours, as opposed to consuming anything too sugary which gives you a spike of energy and then leave you flat. After ten years of running I should know better but one of my first long training runs for World Marathon Challenge last year was done on a bowl of Coco Pops and the last hour was miserable. I now always have a couple of slices of thick brown toast with peanut butter and marmite.
· If you’re exercising for less than an hour you do not need to consume any extra calories. As long as you’ve eaten some slow burning carbohydrates beforehand your body will have the energy it needs, there no need to slurp energy drink or gels (see next point).
· It’s essential to find foods you can consume while exercising which you will enjoy eating so you can keep fuelled. For example, I cannot abide energy gels as they make me feel sick, so I use Lucozade Glucose tablets, jelly babies or bananas. Find what works for you and stick to it.
· “Carb-loading” before a marathon or other endurance event is a bit of a myth. Like “eating for two” when pregnant (which means in practice an extra 350 calories in the third trimester) this is a concept that seems to have got out of control. You certainly need carbohydrates in the days running up to your event but think of it in terms of eating around 20% more, which simply means a slightly bigger helping of pasta or one more piece of toast for breakfast. Too much “carb-loading” will just make you feel heavy and increase your chance of experiencing a dodgy tummy during exercise.
· Post-event eating is great fun – just enjoy it! I really enjoy letting myself have whatever I want after a marathon. Rather boringly it’s nearly always just a big Margaretta pizza.
Food is fuel. It really is that simple.
blog 10: hooray for London! but what next?
This year was another amazing London Marathon. Somehow London always delivers!
This was my 11th London Marathon and 11th marathon of the year, and after a PB in Manchester marathon three weeks ago I genuinely intended to just relax and enjoy the run.
I ran off the yellow start which is for ‘Fast Good for Age’. I was only about four runners back from the start line which meant no hold ups and saw me go through the first mile in 6:02. This was two seconds quicker than Manchester which surprised me somewhat.
I ticked along on my PB pace until just passed half way but somehow knew I just wasn’t up for the physical or, just as crucially, the mental battle which is needed if you’re going to run your best time over 26.2 miles. The legs felt strong and I was always on for under three-hours (finishing in 2:58:56 in the end) but it still didn’t make the last few miles any easier. I think you start to really understand marathon running when you realise that it will simply never be easy.
For so many runners the London marathon is the pinnacle of the year, or indeed their running experience. I really hope everyone who ran on Sunday is still on the most wonderful endorphin high having completed the best marathon in the world.
The tricky subject now is to think: what next?
I consider myself a fairly sensible person but there’s something about running which makes me think with my heart not my head. That’s the only logical way to explain why I voluntarily – indeed willingly – signed up to run the 777 challenge.
Training has been a mental and physical process of preparation. When not running I have been reading about how to keep running; eating a lot of food (especially toffee crisps!) and sleeping incredibly deeply as my body recovers from the physical impact of all the miles.
It was all a secret to begin with, when last September under the guidance of Mike Antoniades, founder of The Running School, I set about equipping myself for this incredible challenge. Rather than going out for a nice head-clearing post-work run, I found myself having to do 20 x 90 second sprints (horrid!) or 8 x 4 minutes pieces of work on the treadmill (really horrid!). But it all worked as by November I could run back-to-back marathons and still be sound the next day.
SportsAid an inspiration
As I stepped up the training, I started to confess to family, friends and colleagues that I had signed up. I also decided I wanted to raise money for SportsAid, which supports our next generation of athletes. We all get such a thrill from watching Team GB’s superstars but without SportsAid’s backing many of them would never get the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
The 777 challenge seemed a perfect fit with SportsAid’s work, which is to give equality of opportunity for the next generation of Great Britain’s athletes.
Even the great Paula Radcliffe MBE acknowledges what the charity did for her career: “I was helped by SportsAid when I was starting out. Receiving a SportsAid award makes you feel valued and that you can keep going forward and do better in your sport. I’ve never forgotten that.”
SportsAid is over 40 years’ old and has supported tens of thousands of athletes during the critical early stages of their careers, including Sir Mo Farah, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Baroness Grey-Thompson, Dame Sarah Storey, Sir Steve Redgrave, Dame Katherine Grainger and Daley Thompson CBE among its extensive alumni. Some list!
Everyone’s support will keep me going
I hope to come back in one piece but just in case… here’s a few thank yous. My colleagues at Alizeti have been incredibly supportive: I have promised not to bore them about it all on my return – and my family and friends have been curious and understanding in equal measure.
I would like to finish by saying a massive thank you to everyone who has been donating to my Just Giving page – my details are below. It’s a wonderful reminder of the generous and supportive nature of everyone across British racing.
If you’ve trained hard it may well be necessary to have a break and you should definitely do that. But once the endorphins have faded and the legs have recovered it’s good to think about a new challenge. It’s so much easier and more fun to run with a purpose. Whether you want to run a 10km or trek 100km off road and up hills, there are so many great races available to us all. I find www.findarace.com and www.runnersworld.com/uk are really useful websites for finding my next race(s).
London marathon week had so many incredible moments for me which only competitive running can deliver. I once again loved putting on my Sports Aid running vest which I had last worn in Miami to set to the World Record for World Marathon Challenge. On Thursday evening I was honoured to pick up the Inspiration Award at the National Running Awards and then the next day I met up with Becca Pizzi (@Becpizzi and www.beccapizzi.com/) who was such a support to me when I ran World Marathon Challenge.
It really is just a big hooray for London!
BLOG 9: AMAZING LONDON!
Like nearly 40,000 other runners I will be taking to the streets of London on Sunday 28th April 2019 for the Virgin Money London Marathon.
London made me a marathon runner. When I signed up for my first London marathon back in 2009 my only aim was to complete it (once) and that would be it, marathon running done. On the eve of my 11th consecutive London marathon it’s safe to say London got me addicted to running.
Any marathon is about being part of something much bigger than yourself. Nowhere is this more the case than London. I love everything about the London marathon. Every other runner feels like a friend. Every volunteer is a hero. Every person cheering helps runners achieve more than we ever know we are capable of.
I am so happy for anyone setting out on their first London marathon on Sunday as they’re about to have the most amazing experience. My only advice to anyone running would be to just try and enjoy every moment of it, especially the bit when a kind volunteer puts a medal over your head after you’ve crossed the finish line. There are few better feelings than the sense of complete happy exhaustion that a marathon induces.
This year I am especially excited as the organisers have kindly asked me to be part of the Expo which every runner attends at the Excel Centre in order to collect their number and timing chip.
I will be on the Inspire and Inform Stage which London Marathon runs in partnership with Runner’s World on Friday 26th April at 1:30pm to talk about World Marathon Challenge. I’ll be getting there early to listen to Mimi Anderson (@MarvellousMimi and www.marvellousmimi.com/) at 12.35pm as she is a complete legend (there’s not enough room in this blog to go into why but look her up!) The full line up of amazing speakers is here: https://www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.com/en-gb/event-info/virgin-money-london-marathon-expo/inspire-inform-stage/.
I will be running this year’s race in my SportsAid vest, just as I did in Antarctica and Miami when winning World Marathon Challenge.
Last week SportsAid announced their plans for SportsAid Week 2019 and I am absolutely delighted to be joining the team as an ambassador. SportsAid Week is taking place between Monday 23rd September and Sunday 29th September and I will be getting involved with the #MyMiles Challenge and everyone is welcome to get involved. You can read more about how to get involved in SportsAid Week 2019 here: http://bit.ly/1Vcs0P0.
Another bonus for this year’s London Marathon is going to be meeting Becca Pizzi (@Becpizzi and www.beccapizzi.com/). She is the previous World Marathon Challenge World Record holder and a total inspiration to me. I hope she will have a great time running her first London Marathon and I just can’t wait to compare notes with her.
London really is just an amazing marathon!
BLOG 8: THE PAIN BARRIER: MENTAL OR PHYSICAL?
“Whether you are running a 2:30 marathon or a 5:30 marathon, it’s going to hurt, and it’s about what you do at that moment that it starts to hurt. Do you say, ‘it hurts, I’m not enjoying this’ or, as I do, grit your teeth and say, ‘come on, this is what I trained for’.
When I took up marathon running, I heard and read about ‘the pain barrier’. Often referred to as ‘the wall’, I thought it was this thing I would meet at some point, a feature of marathon running in the same way the White Cliffs of Dover are a feature of Britain’s south coast.
Ten years and over 50 marathons and ultras later, I’m still not absolutely sure if I have actually met the pain barrier/wall. I do know that every marathon has hurt, without exception. I also know that for me running marathons seems to fall in to 3 phases. I have no idea if other runners experience a similar pattern to their 26.2 miles races, but this is what happens to me:
Phase 1: This is normally between the start and miles 7 or 8. I get going and my brain is racing, probably faster than my legs. Life seems to whizz through my brain from things I need to remember to do, TV programmes I’ve watched, books I’ve read or conversations I’ve had. With all of this going on there’s limited time to think about how fast I am actually running but hopefully these are my quickest miles so I’m in a good rhythm for the middle part of the race.
Phase 2: At some point, normally about the 8-9mile/1 hour mark my brain seems to switch off. The endorphins take over, the fast thinking slows down, and I just enjoy running. At this stage if things are going well, I am in a strong rhythm and every part of the body is swinging along smoothly. My hope is that this phase can last forever…. which is sadly always just a dream.
Phase 3: Anywhere between 16 to 21 miles there comes a moment when I realise over the course of maybe 100 paces that it hurts. Every stride hurts. The glutes ache a little, the hamstring tighten, and I realise I will be working hard all the way home in order to try and maintain stride length and pace. On the best days this moment doesn’t arrive until after the 19 or 20-mile mark, but on the tougher days it’s there at 16 which makes it a long 10 miles home. Whenever it arrives, it’s time to dig in.
Perhaps this moment that I have just described in phase 3 is the pain barrier, or at least it’s my pain barrier. It’s the nearest I’ve come to understanding it.
Crucially, if this is the - or my - pain barrier, then it’s nothing to be intimated about because it can be overcome, as every person who completes a marathon physically demonstrates as they cross the finish line.
What we have come to understand so well in recent years is that the key to overcoming the pain barrier is mental. It’s our brains which keep our bodies going.
My quote at the start of this blog is taken from an interview with World Marathon Majors which you can read here: https://www.worldmarathonmajors.com/news-media/latest-news/seven-the-magic-number-for-susannah/
BLOG 7: MAGIC MANCHesTER!
When I took on World Marathon Challenge, I knew I would need something to get me back running once I had (hopefully) completed it. Every runner needs their next race.
Manchester Marathon got rave reviews with a flat course, a great atmosphere and the likelihood of decent weather in early April. This was good enough for me to sign up and I am so glad I did!
It’s been tougher than I thought it would be focusing on training since World Marathon Challenge. Once the endorphins wore off, I had an odd few weeks where I wondered how I would ever match or exceed such an amazing experience (see previous blog about why World Marathon Challenge is so special). I would imagine it’s a little bit like being an Olympian who exceeds their expectations at the Games and then wonders what happens next?
I decided my ‘what next?’ would be to see if I could run a marathon a bit faster and so Manchester Marathon fitted the bill.
The organisers have big ambitions to make the race the most inclusive marathon possible and it shows. The #MarathonEve event the evening before in the city centre has huge potential and I was delighted to be a small part along with a number of special speakers.
Here’s why Manchester is magic:
The raceday organisation is superb with easy transport to Old Trafford and then efficient bag drop and collection. Even the dreaded porter loo queue is not too stressful.
The first mile is slightly downhill so you can get into a great rhythm from the get-go – I clocked 6:03 which is about as fast as I can run!
There are signs welcoming runners to each district of Manchester which means you feel like you really see the whole city and get a good sense of progress throughout the race.
The crowd support builds throughout the race, with lots of local people giving out jelly babies and other treats (which I helped myself to!).
Running is not all about the numbers, but Manchester is the perfect marathon for running a PB, whether you’re aiming for 5:30 or 2:30.
So how did my race go?....
My race was nearly blown off course by fighting a cold in the preceding 36-hours but with a hot shower, paracetamol and a cheese sandwich (all I had available at 6.30am) along with tea, I was ready to race come 9am.
My race started well covering the first 9 miles in 59 minutes and the first half in 1:26. Then I held it together nicely through the second half for a new PB of 2:56:52 which put me in 19th position! This exceeded my expectation but I’m still not happy with my miles between 21 and 25 as I slowed more than I should have…. but it’s always good to have something to work on.
As with every marathon, I had to tackle ‘the pain barrier’, and this will be the subject of my next blog once I’ve fully recovered from Magic Manchester!
BLOG 6: WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT WORLD MARATHON CHALLENGE?
"All ages and abilities have been united with World Marathon Challenge. It's the most extraordinary experience, it's unique and I loved it."
This is what I said to the BBC’s Frank Keogh (@HonestFrank), the first journalist I spoke to after finishing World Marathon Challenge. It was genuine and heart felt as I’d had no time to think or plan what I would say in a situation which I never dared imagine could happen.
I knew Frank through my day job working in communications in horseracing and betting and so when he messaged at 2am Miami time (7am in London) to ask if we could speak, I immediately replied, “I’m grand now – haven’t got another race to plan for!!!”. The endorphins were clearly flowing.
Frank and I must have spoken for about 15 minutes as I sat on a wall by the finish on South Beach cheering home fellow competitors. It was a great chat as Frank is a true sports fan and really understands his topic. It was the first time I talked about what the World Marathon Challenge experience meant to me.
It was all a bit of a blur in the following days. Now I’ve had time look back and reflect a bit, the thing that strikes me most is how I don’t see it as my experience but as a shared experience. While I happy to talk about the World Record, I would much rather talk about how great it was a race and compete against the other top women, notably Kristina Schou Madsen and Stephanie Gicquel, who pushed me very hard, and all the other runners who crossed the line in Miami to achieve something we’d all dreamed about for months and years.
The best experiences in life are shared ones and World Marathon Challenge is the ultimate shared experience. When I signed up it was because I wanted to do it but the memories of it are built around the people I shared it with. Isn’t that what sport is all about? It’s certainly what makes World Marathon Challenge so special.
You can read my interview with Frank on Thursday 7th February 2019 here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/47154857
blog 5: the importance of coaching and support
I am writing this having just completed a tough training session which included sprint intervals. As a marathon runner these are not my favourite sessions, but I know they do me a lot of good!
Why have I have just done this session? It was not because I especially wanted to. The truthful answer is……. because my coach told me to.
Left to my own devices I would probably have done a half hour treadmill run, some time on the cross trainer and a few light weights. As it is, I’ve done 40 minutes on the treadmill, with the second half at full marathon pace, followed by 10 x 1-minute sprints at 16/17km an hour which is lung burning stuff, but at least better than having to do 20 of them! Later today I’ll go outside and do a fast 5km to test my speed.
I only started having coaching with the Running School because I got injured. It was clear without professional help my running days were going to be severely limited. Proper coaching improved my technique and completely changed by outlook. Mike Antoniades, Founder of the Running School, played a very large part in my World Marathon Challenge World Record which I will write about on another occasion.
Coaching sounds rather professional and perhaps a bit scary but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not about having someone with you 24/7 or planning every session for you. It’s more about having someone there to guide your training so you can continue to progress, and crucially to be there to chat things through so you can figure out what works best for you. This person might be a Personal Trainer at your local gym, a contact at a running club or someone you find on the internet (as I did the Running School).
Whatever your level, from fun runner to Olympian, we all benefit from a bit of coaching and support….and crucially it will make you do those tough sessions!
Blog 4: a big thank you
I ran World Marathon Challenge because I wanted to take on a truly amazing experience.
But at the same time, it was a great opportunity to raise money for SportsAid.
SportsAid is wonderful charity which supports over 1,000 young athletes every year at the start of their careers - when it matters most - so they have the chance to fulfil their potential, whatever their background. At the Rio Olympics and Paralympics SportsAid alumni won 150 medals for Team GB!
I am so grateful to everyone who has donated and helped raise over £19,000 for SportsAid.
I was lucky enough to join some of the SportsAid team at the Cooper Box Stadium earlier this month and recoded this message which says it much better than I can…… #Thankyou #BeAmazing
If anyone stills wants to donate any funds will help make a difference:
Blog 3: Welcome to We Can All Be Amazing
Welcome to the We Can All Be Amazing Blog!
I hope this will be a place of inspiration.
When I set out on World Marathon Challenge in January 2019 I had no idea what a life changing adventure it would be.
I had always dreamed of running 7 marathons in 7 days on continents, but I had never contemplated winning and setting a new World Record with an average marathon time of 3 hours, 28 minutes and 9 seconds.
This has opened up a whole new world to me. I want to use it positively to share my experiences and show everyone that we are all capable of achieving amazing things. We just don’t know how amazing until we give it a go!
I will use this blog to share ideas, tips and things that I have learnt through my experiences. I hope will be useful to you and other readers. I also look forward to welcoming guest bloggers to share their inspirational stories.
I love to talk about running and hear from others about their experiences so please drop me a line if there is anything you want to ask or share with me. My contact details are in the ‘Contact Susannah’ tab on this website.
Thank you for visiting www.wecanbeamazing.com and I hope this website will be place of inspiration…because we can all be amazing!
BLOG 2: 7 races, 7 continents, 7 days….and one World Record!
As New Year resolutions go, a commitment to conquer an incredible feat that only a few hundred others can claim puts a new gym membership and a few alcohol-free weeks firmly into perspective. Emerging from seven marathons across seven continents in as many days, and as overall women’s winner and new world record holder, no less, racing’s Susannah Gill has pushed herself to the absolute limit and her beneficiary charity SportsAid to the fore.
As I said in part one of this blog – that seems a long time ago – I knew that taking on the World Marathon Challenge was going to be a unique experience, but it’s turned out to be more special than I could have ever dreamed.
I write these words from Miami, which is our last stop before heading home as the fastest woman to have ever run 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents. I am proud to be able to say that I beat the previous World Record of an average time of 3 hours 55 mins with these marathon performances:
Antarctica: 3 hours 53 minutes
Cape Town: 3 hours 21 minutes
Perth: 3 hours 19 minutes
Dubai: 3 hours 26 minutes
Madrid: 3 hours 11 minutes
Santiago: 3 hours 37 minutes
Miami: 3 hours 26 minutes
Camaraderie across the globe kept us going
Along the way I met some truly amazing people from dozens of countries; of all ages and with all sorts of reasons for wanting to take on this challenge. We had some tough times, but everyone succeeded, which is the most important thing – we all go home as successful World Marathon Challengers.
I could write about my experiences for hours but if I was to pick out a couple of highlights they would have to be the moment we all landed wide-eyed in Antarctica with the first race ahead of us. This feeling was only matched – and for different reasons – by the wonderful pizza the race organisers got us in Santiago in Chile, which we all enjoyed at 5am in the main park in the centre of the city after another 26.2 miles of running.
Beating fundraising target as important as race times
My motivation to support the charity SportsAid and future generations through the power of sport drove me on to perform the best I could, in a sport I love. Enjoying any sport brings benefits to us all and if my challenge might help encourage young people to follow their own and be inspired then this just adds to my incredible experience.
The support I have received from family, friends colleagues and across social media has been immense, along with the very generous donations so many have made to my Just Giving page. I’m about 40% ahead of my initial target, which is down to so many people across racing and elsewhere. I can’t thank everyone enough – it really did help keep me focused, especially on the seventh marathon in Miami when I was running on fumes but knew I could not stop!
A final thank you to everyone who helped me to make it to the start line and to all the other runners who shared my wanderlust and put one foot in front of another during our unforgettable global whirlwind.
BLOG 1: “The first four marathons should be okay, it’s the next three that are the mental challenge!”
So says racing’s Susannah Gill a week before supporting SportsAid by taking on the World Marathon 777 Challenge.
Susannah is Director of Communications and Corporate Affairs for Together for the Tote, also known as the Alizeti Consortium and is a committed marathoner more than able to live up to her twitter handle of ‘The Iron Lady Runs’. Come January 31st on a start line in Antartica, Susannah enters a new world as the first of seven marathons in seven days on seven continents gets underway!
183 miles on foot and 55,000 in the air
It all kicks off in Antarctica and from there, I will move through numerous time zones as I visit Cape Town; Perth; Dubai; Madrid and Santiago, before finishing in Miami on 6th February.
This is a challenge which fewer than 200 people have ever completed with Sir Ranulph Fiennes being the first in 2003. While I’ve run plenty of marathons, I have never done anything like this. The challenge will see me running 295km (183 miles) and travelling over 55,000 miles in 168 hours.
From what I have learnt it appears the training can get you through the first four races but marathons five to seven are very much a mental challenge…..so here goes!
Secret training and toffee crisps