Written by Janette Cross - https://janettecross.wordpress.com

It’s 9.45pm, the night before SDW50 and I’m snuggling down under the duvet.

“Hey, Siri”

“Hello, Janette”

“Wake me at 3.55”

“OK, I’ve set your alarm for 15.55”

Wait. What? No! You silly, sexy voiced, machine thing. Don’t you second guess me (my own fault for having Siri be a man ;-))

“Hey, Siri”

“I’m listening”

“I should ruddy well hope you are. Turn off alarm”

“I turned off your 15.55 alarm”

“Wake me at 3.55 A M!”

So, my alarm went off at 3.55 am and I caught a bus to East Croydon and headed down to Worthing, where it was raining. Quite hard.

There followed a blur of kit check, registration, faffing about what to wear, getting a hug from Leila Rose who was helping at the start, more than one visit to the ladies, meeting up with David Mould (not in the Ladies!) – the man who paced me too my marathon PB –  and then there we were, on the start line.

Ah yes, the start line. This was my 3rd SDW50 and I stood on that start line feeling the least prepared for the race than I have before. Training and fitness have been erratic since the SDW100 last year. I spent 6 months battling with PF (which I *think* I have under control), developed a high hamstring “extremely ouchy when I’m sitting down or climbing hills or stairs” thing at the end of January (which refuses to go away) and, 4 weeks ago on a training run I managed to fall twice in the space of the first 3 miles and cracked my ribs. Yes, again! *rolls eyes at self* I have history with ribs…

ribs

I first cracked a rib when wrestling with my son when he was about 7 years old. Since then I have done them damage on several occasions; three times by falling on a training run, once turning over in bed (! – and, yes, I was alone :-P), once after an over enthusiastic hug (the person was REALLY pleased to see me), and, most memorably, when I tripped over thin air at QECP on the SDW100.

Enough with the excuses, though. I felt good. The ribs had healed, I had tapered well and only the hamstring was likely to cause a problem. Still, given all of the above, I decided that my dream goal of sub-9 hours was a non-starter and that I should aim to enjoy the day and maybe hope for a PB (sub 9:14).

I’ll admit I didn’t totally let go of the sub 9 dream. I went on climbers.net (a website that uses stats from past races to tell you where you need to be and when you need to be there in order to achieve a certain time – factoring in your “demise” as the race progresses) and I *might* have keyed in 8:55 as a finish time and I *might* have made a note of what time I needed to be where and popped it in the pocket of my race vest.

I had a race plan…

Enjoy it, have fun, but don’t hang about.

I decided not to look at my Garmin at all apart from the 3 points that climbers.net gave times for: Housedean 26.6 miles, Southease 33.9 miles and Jevington 45.7 miles. The rest of the time I would just run – thinking about form, running the hills where I possibly could and wearing a smile.

The rain had stopped and I was feeling peppy. I bravely made my way nearer to the front than usual and then, bang on time, we were off.

The first few miles flew by and, before I knew it, I was at Pig Alley. There were lots of piggy noises and that unmistakable piggy smell. Pig Alley always reminds me of two things: bacon sandwiches and Fiona Stacey. I first ran cross country when I started secondary school and the route went through a pig farm (yep, there was pig farm in Wigan). The very first time we ran the route I found myself battling for first place with Fiona Stacey. I desperately wanted to be Fiona. She was tall and beautiful with impressive breasts that seemed to come round the corner a full minute before she did. Me – less so on all fronts (so to speak).  We decided to cross the line together that day (much to the disgust of our PE teacher).

CP1 at Botolphs came and went.  I always have extra admiration for the volunteers here.  Spending your day in a windy lay by alongside a busy main road can’t be much fun but, as always, I was greeted with a smile and nothing was too much trouble.  My CP plan is always the same – drink coke, top up water, put food in doggy bag, don’t hang about – and that’s exactly what I did.

I peed behind a bush just before the drop down into Saddlescombe.  I could have waited a bit longer but didn’t want the effect of that downhill on a full bladder.  I have been working on my downhill technique.  Well, when I say “working on” I mean I watched a 4 minute video on the Kinetic Revolution website.  That said, it worked like a charm:-)

The miles ticked over.  On the flatter bits (yes, there are some) I thought about form and was either towing my cowboy or being tall and rangy and relaxed.  I chatted to a couple of other runners but, for the most part, I was happy in my own little world.

It was a wonderful and most welcome surprise to see my friend Brioni pop up twice at random points on the course.  A hug works wonders when you have a hill to climb.  And she held a gate open:-)

CP3 is Housedean.  I knew Leila would be there helping out and I was excited to think that this would be my first opportunity to see how I was doing time wise.  As I ran into the farm, James Elson was there and greeted me with “Hey Janette, looking strong” :-)  I managed to quash my initial reaction of “Oh wow, the race director knows my name and he thinks I’m looking strong and he must know because he is a proper runner and he wouldn’t lie because he’s a nice chap” Instead, cool as the proverbial, I just grinned and said, “I’m feeling strong”

A quick hello from Leila, coke, food in the doggy bag and I was on my way again.  Time to look at my watch for the first time in the race.  Climbers.net said I needed to be at Housedean at 13.19.  It was 13.39.  Twenty minutes down.  I wasn’t especially surprised or disappointed.  It wasn’t a good thing or a bad thing.  It was just a thing.  Sub 9 might be off but, if I stayed running strong then a PB was still possible.

Onwards and upwards.  Literally. :-)

I looked at my watch for the second time that day as I started up the big climb out of Southease.  Still exactly 20 minutes down on where I needed to be for sub 9.  I hadn’t gained any time but I hadn’t lost any either and there were some big climbs a-comin’ and I love hills, me.

The plan for the hills was to run them as much as I could – walking when it was more sensible to walk but working hard and not walking when I didn’t need to.  It’s an easy trap to fall into especially when other people are walking.  It’s like someone has given you permission to take your foot off the gas.  It’s the same as remembering not to go off like a bat out of hell at the start of the race.

meatloaf

Play your own game.  Stick to the race plan.  Don’t hang about.  No naughty walking.  Only sensible walking and, even then, walking like you mean it.  I had to work.  And I did.  I ran more in this race than I have either of the 2 times and I have run it before and definitely more than I have on recce and training runs.  I even ran a little bit of that climb out of Southease. *plumps feathers and preens*

The race seemed to fly by. The weather was kind to me and I only had to pop my waterproof on once and even then I took it off 3 minutes later.   There were highs and lows as always but the lows were few and far between.

Coming out of the CP at Alfriston I passed another runner. It was Tim Cox (a lovely man who looked a little bit like a pirate – not a rough pirate – a dapper one that probably hasn’t been to sea much and has a barber in Jermyn Street).  We had a little chat but I kept moving – a little while later he passed me (having worked his way through his trough and found another peak) and then became something of a beacon for me for the rest of the race.  Seeing him ahead kept me focused.  I was proud to shake his hand when I arrived in Eastbourne.

Jevington was the last CP of the race and also the last time check point on the climbers.net site. For an 8:55:00 finish I needed to be here at 17:00.  Out of interest, I checked my watch as I started up the last hill.  17:03

Ooooh ‘ello:-)

I start doing mental maths. Not my strong point at the best of times.  57 minutes to do less than 5 miles.  That’s doable.  Surely that’s doable.  Let’s work this hill, baby.  So I worked that hill.  From here on in, I checked my watch every time it beeped to mark the passing of another mile.  I whooped when I spotted the trig point and set off down the gully of death, desperately wanting to give it some welly but also keen to keep my ribs intact for once.  I did pass a couple of people and it was slippy underfoot but I managed to stay upright.  Just!

I hit the track and, as I set out on that final lap I took one last look at my watch.

15 minutes to do 400m

*grins*

I think I might have got this.

8:47:06

Poor Mimi Anderson! An absolute heroine of mine, she got the biggest hug and an incoherent grinning woman yelling “It starts with an 8” as she popped that lovely medal round my neck.

And there was Leila again. She brought me tea and a sausage sandwich and it was so good to have someone to share my ridiculous excitement.

As I left the finish to shuffle my way to Eastbourne station, I spotted Mr Mould approaching the track and grinning. A fantastic PB for him:-)

So, in summary, I ran 50 miles. Faster than I thought I could.  I didn’t fall, all ribs remained in one piece, and the only hurty bit was what my son saw and called a Nasty Canasta blister under my toenail.  I won’t post a photo of the blister (I’m thoughtful like that) but here’s a picture of Nasty Canasta instead.

Nasty Canasta

Written by Katrin Silva - http://runkat.com

“Hug me. Time to get comfortable getting uncomfortable.” My favorite aid station sign, and sound advice for finishing Wasatch

The Wasatch 100 is the last race of the Grand Slam of ultra running, and the toughest by far. Back in January, running four 100-milers between June 23 and September 8 had seemed like a brilliant idea, but by the time I line up in darkness on a dirt road in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains  near Salt Lake City, I am plagued by serious doubts about the wisdom of my decision, and about my sanity in general. With Leadville just 19 days behind me, I feel lingering fatigue in my bones and lingering soreness in my hamstrings. The Wasatch elevation profile looks daunting: it starts with a steep, long climb, then continues going up and down, but more up than down  – 25 000 feet of up. Leadville and Western States rack up about 18 000 feet of elevation gain, Vermont only 17000.  Wasatch is definitely the hardest course of the four. Its only saving grace is the generous 36-hour final cutoff. I hope I won’t need all of those 36 hours, but it’s reassuring to know I could if I had to. The other thing I’m happy about is the weather forecast: after running a cold, rainy Leadville, and after reading piles of Wasatch race reports full of  dire warnings about freezing conditions, I look forward to a hot day.

4:45 am

On Friday morning, I know won’t see my crew, i.e. ultra husband David and ultra BFF Tammy, for several hours because the first crew-accessible station is over 30 miles away. We huddle in a group hug just before I find my place in the middle of the pack. At 5 am, we take off, leaving the lights of Salt Lake City behind us, and below us, on our way to the finish line near the Deer Creek Reservoir, 100 steep, rocky miles south of here. Wasatch is affectionately nicknamed “100 Miles of Heaven and Hell.” We look forward to the joy and the pain of the next 30-plus hours, to the highs and lows we will experience while putting one foot in front of the other. It sounds like a reasonable plan to this crowd of 300 hardy ultra runners and their crews. It may sound like insanity to our non-running friends, but we know they’re just jealous.

I settle into the conga line on the steep, narrow single track up Bair Canyon, climbing at a steady pace. It’s still pitch dark. I feel relaxed, mentally preparing for all the tough miles ahead, when a disembodied voice somewhere ahead of me starts screaming “Run!” Wasp attack! The only problem is, there’s nowhere to go. I’m trapped, sandwiched between runners in front and behind me, a steep drop to my right, a nearly vertical uphill on my left, running through a swarm of angry insects.

A sharp pain on my left wrist makes me yelp, even before I remember I’m allergic. Last time I got stung by a wasp,  my face looked like a cauliflower. I can feel my hand swell up already. Others around me suffer, too. We compare, we curse, but we keep moving because there’s nothing else we can do. I take off my wedding ring and loosen my Garmin, but I don’t stop. Up, and up some more, we climb into the first hint of daylight, which allows me to see that my hand has ballooned to about three times its normal size. It’s a good thing I don’t need it for running

A study in contrast

Finally, I reach the top and see Salt Lake City from far above in the pink glow of early morning, a view worth the climb, even worth the pain from the wasp sting. At the first aid sttion, mile 11, the volunteers take a look at my grotesquely swollen hand. They  sound concerned, but agree that, since I got stung two hours ago have not died yet, I likely won’t. Thankfully, ultra runners treat medical issues with a lot of common sense. I run on, happy that the evil wasp who tried to sabotage my grand slam finish failed. Mission not accomplished, you stupid insect!

Views lie this one make Wasatch heaven. The climbs make it hell.

On the downhill section that follows, I catch up to Sean Bearden, host of The Science of Ultra, which happens to be one of my favorite podcasts. He and his buddy Isaac let me join their animated conversation. I enjoy their company, but these two run 8 minute miles, which is way too fast for me, so I eventually let them go ahead

I could have taken hundreds of glorious view pictures, but they don’t dod this course justice. You just have to run it!

By mile 30, I fall in step with my old friend David Hayes, who is back to running 100s after heart surgery and looking strong. We haven’t seen each other in a long time, so time flies in deep conversation as we run along a beautiful ridge trail and into Big Mountain. My hand looks like one of the pink balloon sculptures that point the way to the aid station. David and Tammy are as happy to see me as I am to see them. They look at my sausage-like fingers with alarm, but try to sound like everything is normal, which is exactly what I need. Best crew ever!

Balloon sculptures that look like my hand

The sun is high in the sky by then. It’s getting warm, though not nearly as hot as it did at Western States. I know what to do: time for ice on my hand, under my hat and in my bra, time for cold ginger ale, and watermelon dipped in salt. After so many 100 mile races, the three of us are a dependable team. David and Tammy cool me down, then send me on my way.

Ultra BFF Tammy. Words can’t express how grateful I feel to know her.

I reach Lambs Canyon, mile 46, in the late afternoon. I pick up my lights, but it’s still early, still sunny, still too warm for long pants. I figure I have an extra pair at Big Water, so I stuff a half zip into my pack and go on The trail leads up another long climb. My legs feel heavy. Time to pull out my head phones for the first time. Slow, acoustic tunes for a slow pace keep me company as I make my way up the mountain in lengthening shadows under the canopy of an old forest. I feel serenity wash over me, from that deep well 100 mile races uncover inside many of us. Left foot, right foot, breathe in, breathe out, to the soundtrack of Mark Knopfler’s guitar, Ryan Bingham’s haunting lyrics, and rustling leaves. Here and now is just where I want to be until my bubble of quiet joy bursts when I catch up to a pig-tailed figure in a blue skirt. It’s fellow grand slammer Bibo Gao, who is usually hours faster than me. My competitive instinct opens one sleepy eye, then wakes up with a jolt. Here and now is no longer good enough – I want to pass Bibo, so I switch my playlist to faster rhythms, kick my feet into a quicker gear, and pull ahead.

At Big Water, mile 54, it’s getting dark and chilly. Time for warmer layers. Digging through my drop bag, I realize it contains no long pants. I must have taken them out during one of my last minute reshuffle sessions. Before I can panic, a volunteer named Kathy finds an extra pair in her car, which she graciously lends me. This type of kindness is common in the ultra crowd and one the biggest reasons I love running these races. On I go, thankful beyond words, through the dark mountains, toward Brighton, where my crew is waiting.

By mile 67, my legs feel like bricks and my eyelids are drooping. I have a hard time finding the Brighton aid station, hidden in a small town. I stumble around paved streets and dimly lit parking lots until I finally see someone with a head lamp move into a building. I follow. A good decision! Once inside, it’s a warm piece of heaven, with my smiling, saintly crew, real bathrooms and volunteers handing out disposable toothbrushes. I remember hearing that it’s easy to spend way too much time here, and can see why. It’s a good thing I can depend on David and Tammy, who  know they have to kick me out of my chair in five minutes max. I change into a slightly warmer pair of tights, eat a quesadilla, and it’s time to go. Tammy will pace me from here to mile 90, a welcome change from the many solitary miles behind me. We take off in a happy mood

Dressing a little too warm through the night is better than hypothermia

Soon, I regret the warmer tights. The night is not as cold as I thought it would be. I feel overdressed, but otherwise pretty good as we hike through an old forest, darkness wrapped around us like a velvet blanket. Next to a huge old pine tree, we stop and turn off our lights.  I hug the tree. I hug Tammy. We look up at the stars, filled with wonder and gratitude.

(No picture can capture that sort of moment. You just have to imagine it.)

After that little break, more climbing lies ahead – steep, rocky climbing, for several miles. I remember this part form the elevation chart, which doesn’t make it any easier. My glutes tell me they’re done for the day. My hamstrings threaten to cramp. The urge to whimper and complain becomes almost overwhelming, but I keep it in check while I keep putting one foot in front of the other. “This is the last climb” becomes my anti-whining mantra.

At the top, near mile 70, we reach the highest point of the course and finally begin descending. Soon after that, the smell of bacon greets us. Am I hallucinating? No, it’s the Pole Line Pass aid station, where all sorts of goodies sizzle on a grill. What a welcome sight! Munching on a rolled up pancake, I believe that the worst is over. Tammy and the saintly aid station volunteers reassure me that it’s all downhill from here

How I imagined the rest of the course. Wishful thinking!

I take off,  expecting an easy cruise to the finish. Instead, I see another steep, technical climb rise before me. My hopes are crushed. The aid station volunteers are not saints, but cruel, vindictive sadists! Tammy is not really my friend – she lied to me! I start crying. I yell at the mountain. It does not care. Tammy tries to push me up the rocky incline, nicknamed “The Grunt” as I find out later. I tell her that I won’t go up there, that she can’t make me.  Oh, what pacers have to put up with. “Come on, small steps . . . We’re almost there!” she coaxes, like I’m a skittish horse. “You don’t know that. You’re lying to me!” I mutter, but I do start climbing, in spite of my loudly protesting leg muscles. We pass another runner who sits on a rock next to the trail, head in her hands, sobbing. Shared misery makes this tough stretch a little easier. At least I’m not the only this course has reduced to tears! Tammy tries to get both of us to move, but succeeds only with me. After just a few more agonizing steps, we reach the top of The Grunt. I breathe sigh of relief as I apologize to Tammy for my meltdown, thankful that everything that goes down on the trail between a runner and her pacer stays on the trail.

Downhill, at last.

Finally, the last major climb is over, this time for real. Finally, this beast of a course goes downhill, but it’s not the kind of downhill I had envisioned during the endless uphills of the last 80 miles or so. No, It’s a steep, quad-busting downhill, decorated with loose rocks the size of watermelons. I have twenty more miles to go until I’m an official grand slammer. I don’t want to miss the goal I’ve worked so hard for because of a busted knee or twisted ankle. On the other hand, super pacer and Wasatch veteran Tammy now mentions casually that sub-30 hour finishers earn a blue buckle, shinier and prettier than the standard sub-36 one. The sudden, irrational desire to win that particular piece of belt jewelry now burns in my gut with an intensity only ultra runners and rodeo cowboys can understand. My hamstrings are too sore to move uphill at anything faster than a turtle-like pace, but I still can run downhill, so I do, trying hard to stay vertical

New day, new energy from morning light and good music

Tammy soon falls behind my suddenly energized pace. She encourages me to go on ahead, which I eventually do, in hot pursuit of that shiny buckle. At the Pot Hollow aid station, Mile 85, it’s getting light already. I look at my Garmin. It’s dead. I look at my phone. It’s 6:30 am. I freak out for a moment, calculating that I have not that much time to spare for a sub-30 hour finish. My brain is too mushy for exact calculations, but I know it’s time to dig deep! For the second time in this race, I put on my headphones, this time blasting my power playlist. I’m glad I saved my performance-enhancing music for mile 85. With help from Freddie Mercury, Chris Ledoux, and the first hint of a glorious sunrise, I scrape up  enough energy to powerhike the uphills, then run the a non-technical, dirt road downhill all the way to mile 90.

Home stretch, mile 90: new socks, sunlight, and smiley faces on my leg. David has a sense of ultra humor.

David meets me at the aid station, full of energy and ready to pace me to the finish line. What a welcome sight! It’s getting warm. I change back into the running skirt from my drop bag, drop off my lights, put on a hat and sunglasses, and off we go, ready to dig deep for the last ten miles.

Almost there!

Ten more miles, mostly smooth and downhill, between me and the eagle trophy. We run a couple of sub-10 minute miles. One last aid station, one last slice of watermelon. Some white-faced Herefords stare at us through a barbed wire fence. We cross railroad tracks, then the trail tuns left, along a lake, which seems to go on forever. I fantasize about what I want most right now: a comfortable bed, a shower, a belt buckle, an eagle trophy. How much do I want these things? Enough to keep moving. Not enough to keep running.

The reward for 400 tough miles

Another 5k or so. I’m convinced this race will never end. My legs feel wobbly, my brain like a bowl of mashed potatoes. I put my headphones back on for the last time, blasting Don’t Stop Me Now on autorepeat, three times, five times. Thank you, Freddie Mercury! A last loop through a park, then half a mile up a paved road, then, finally, the finish line! I did it! The clock says 28:34, good enough for 5th woman.

Done! Nothing feels more amazing than finishing a 100 miler, except, maybe, finishing the Grand Slam.

17 of us, from many different walks of life, united for an epic summer

We go back to the hotel for a brief nap, but then decide to return to the finish line for the last hour, the golden hour. It’s the best place in the world to hang out. Our friends, Our people. My -our – eagle trophy, finally, after 101 hours and 48 minutes of running. Only 187 of the 300 Wasatch starters persevere to the end, but all 17 of the grand slammers who started reach the finish, a remarkable feat. We are exhausted and dirty, but beaming.  Seven of us are women, which must be a record. In 2017, not a single woman finished the slam.

My Grand Slam feet.

The Wasatch 100 is a tough beast. A curmudgeonly old 100, with a down to earth vibe. It made me cry, but it also made me tougher. Thank you, RD John Grobben and all of the amazing organizers and volunteers who spent so much of their time keeping us safe, motivated, and hydrated. Thank you, Tammy, for your wisdom, your support, your friendship, and most of all for putting up with my whining on that evil last climb. Thank you, most of all, to ultra husband David Silva, without whom I would not be an ultra runner, much less a grand slam finisher. You mean the world to me!

Worth all the blood, sweat, tears, and entry fees.

My once in a lifetime adventure is over. I already look forward to new challenges in 2019. Suggestions are welcome!

Postscript:

There’s a reason this race report is almost three months late. A week after the Wasatch 100, ultra husband David Silva had brain surgery for a subdural hematoma. He was extremely lucky. Now he is back to running and to planning the next season of ultras, but it took me a while to get my PTSD under control and my groove back.

Lessons learned:

David, best ultra husband ever.

  1. Please take head injuries seriously, even if they don’t seem like a big deal at the time they actually happen.
  2. Live well. Love well. Life is fragile, and shorter than we like to think. It’s definitely too short for regrets.

Written by Mimi Anderson - http://marvellousmimi.com

11 to 15 July 2011

My first taste of the Badwater Ultra Marathon was in 2005 when my goal was to try and complete the race in less than 48 hours to get the coveted Badwater Buckle and if that was out of my reach I would have been very happy to finish the race.   Thankfully I completed the race in 41hours 5 mins.

In 2006 I went back to Badwater but this time to crew for a good friend of mine Neil Kapoor, it was very interesting seeing it from the other side of the fence, but nevertheless a fantastic experience.  Neil planted the seed in my head by suggesting that we should come back and do the Double!

What is Double Badwater? 

In order to complete the Double I first had to run the race which is a 135 miles non-stop starting in Badwater (Death Valley) 282 feet below sea level and finishing in the Portals of Mt. Whitney 8,400 feet above sea level, all in temperatures of approximately 130 degrees; this year they had changed the finish time from 60 hours to 48 hours.

During the race I ran through three mountain ranges, have 69 miles of flat, 46 miles of up and 20 of down! Once I have completed the race I then climb up to the top of Mt. Whitney 14,505 feet (the highest mountain in Contiguous USA) once at the top I have to run all the way back down to the start 282 feet below sea level a total distance of 292 miles.

To add to the challenge I wanted to try and beat the female record, which stands at just over 129 hours.

Myself, Becky and Katherine flew to Las Vegas where we met up with the boys, popping into a Walmart and managed to overfill 5 large shopping trolleys with everything we needed for the race.  The list was endless but here are a few of the items we required.  Over 80 gallons of water, ice boxes, one large enough for me to sit in, food for 6 of us, sleeping bags, medical kit, clothes, towels, sponges, foot bath, fold up chairs, shall I go on!! All this was packed up into the two-crew cars and we headed off to our hotel at Furnace Creek.

Saturday was a leisurely day doing a bit of sightseeing, having lunch then going down to Badwater Basin to take photos for my Sponsors.  Sunday was registration day.  Matt and I went up to get my number and goodie bag and most importantly get my books signed by Marshall Ulrich.  The official race photo and our race briefing took up a lot of the afternoon.

Once all that was done the crew set about sorting out the two cars.  The rules on support cars was changed this year, runners had to have one designated support vehicle and the second one had to be 5 miles ahead, they were however allowed to drop off supplies etc.

During the actual race I was taking part in a survey by Essex University.  This meant swallowing a very large pill which enabled my body temperature to be taken by a machine as I ran and every few miles my crew would hold up a chart with funny faces on and ask me how I was feeling and how hot I felt – sounds easy!  Dom, the man in charge would be with us for the first 17.4 miles to Furnace Creek to show the crew what they had to do. The pill I had to swallow was HUGE!

Race day finally arrived.  There were three starts, 6am, 8am and 10am, I was in the 8am start which meant I had to be at the start line by about 7am in order to get weighed, photos etc. The girls sorted my breakfast while I got my running kit on which I had laid out the night before.  After a last minute dash to the loo, Matt, Becky, Dom and myself got into the car and drove to the start, cheering the 6am runners on as we past them coming up the hill.

After being weighed (118lbs) and the group photo taken it was time to stand on the start line and wait for the off.  I always get nervous at the beginning of a race so this one was no different; this is where I go quiet and concentrate on what I have to do.  After the American National Anthem I plugged my music in, 3,2,1 and we were off – 292 mile to go!!! Ha, is that all!!

I set off at a comfortable pace and managed to get ahead of everyone, I needed to do this just to calm my nerves down and get into my own space, I knew it wouldn’t be long before people over took me but that didn’t bother me, for now I had no-one in front of me and I was feeling calm.

My crew met me every mile to spray me and change drinks if I needed them.  I was feeling good, although the wind, which was supposed to be a tail wind, had changed direction to become a head wind, just to make running harder!  Coming up to mile 14 I was feeling rather hungry and as if Becky had read my mind she met me with half a banana, fantastic! Somewhere between here and Furnace Creek I took my iPod off, the music was annoying me and I wanted to soak up the atmosphere and beautiful surroundings I was running in.

I made the first timed CP at Furnace Creek 17.4 miles in good time, which I was happy about, but I was feeling the heat at this stage it was after all 124 degrees. From this point I was allowed to have a member of my crew run with me, they weren’t allowed to pace me but could run just behind me and on the left, the only time they could run in front of me was if they were handing me fluids or food.

The next timed CP was at Stovepipe Wells, 24.6 miles away.  According to the Race Director the route from the start to Stovepipe Wells was flat! Such a funny man!!!  Compared to the hills we had to come I suppose it was, but I would call it undulatingly hilly!

Brad and Will took it in turns to run 5 miles at a time with me, it was great to have the company even if I didn’t want to talk all the time.  The temperature was creeping up and I believe the hottest it got was 138 degrees!  I was finding the heat tough going but the boys were carrying a sprayer with them, which made such a difference – water on-tap! Eating is something I always struggle with during races, especially when its hot, so the crew were finding it difficult to get food down me – thankfully I had a very bossy crew who would just tell me to eat, but I could only manage very small amounts at a time.  I loved the scenery on the way to Stovepipe it’s stunning with beautiful Sand Dunes going for miles and miles.

I arrived at Stovepipe Wells 42 miles feeling strong and going at a steady pace, another CP to throw away, the next section was going to be tough as there was 18-miles up hill! At some stage along this lovely hill Mike Wardian and Ian Sharman passed me, Ian was carrying the Spiderman mask they had both broken a World Record with, apparently this was to be used for motivation if needed!

The ball of my left foot had developed a hotspot, I decided to stop and let Matt sort it out for me at mile 48, I hate stopping to get feet sorted, but it was the right decision considering I was doing the double! Apparently I had a blister forming under a hard bit of skin, which meant Matt stabbing me with a syringe to try and get the fluid out, OUCH! Plaster on and I was sent on my way again feeling much better and with a spring in my step.

I finally arrived at Townes Pass summit 4,956 feet feeling marvellous, now for the 9-mile downhill section to Panamint Spring Resort.  I enjoyed this part, looking down into the valley and seeing all the car lights as they drove up towards Panamint Springs was an amazing sight. Matt was running with me during this stage and from nowhere this vision that was Iris my wonderful Swiss friend appeared belting down the hill, she was going so fast she could have been mistaken for the roadrunner! We exchanged a brief “hi – looking good” and she was gone! At about 11pm I was beginning to feel tired which I suppose isn’t surprising, even coffee didn’t seem to wake me up! By the time I reached Panamint Springs at 72.3 miles I was very tired and according to my crew I looked as though I had consumed far too much of the old amber nectar as I was swaying rather a lot!

To be quite honest I don’t really remember much of the next uphill section (15 miles) I just knew that I had to keep moving. I was still in good spirits and my crew were fantastic at knowing what I needed and when without me having to say anything. I’m not sure what time it was but I do remember it was dark when the Japanese lady, Sumie Inaqaki, ran passed me…she was going like the clappers.  Will who was running with me and I couldn’t believe her pace, I remember her blue flashing headlight disappearing up the hill never to be seen again …by me anyway!

Seeing the sunrise, made all the difference, a new day and I was nearing the 100-mile point.  The next timed CP was at Darwin at 90.1miles, I was in good spirits here and remember this section from last time.  We stopped and looked at the list of runners that had gone through ahead of me, only about 23 so I was more than happy with that and not really expecting to be that far up the field.

The next 12 miles were down hill, my blister was causing me a bit of grief so had it looked at again, change of socks and sent on my way.  The views running down this road were wonderful, finally leveling out at Owens Valley.

During this time I passed the 100-mile marker. When I did this race in 2005 I had wanted to get to the 100 mile point in under 24 hours but sadly didn’t manage to achieve it, I mumbled something to my crew saying I would like to try and do it this time, not having any idea what the time was or exactly how far off the 100 mile point we were, you can imagine my surprise when Matt told me I had 48 minutes to run just under 4 miles.  There was NO WAY I wasn’t going achieve this again so I picked up the pace, feeling fantastic and really motivated.  I kept on asking Matt if I was still on track, was I going to do it, do I need to run faster, poor man!  All the crew were there to see me get to the 100-mile point in 23 hours 50 minutes 5 seconds! I’d done it, hugs smiles all round, happy Pink person!  Time to keep moving though only 35 miles to go! (192 for the Double)

From the Valley floor to Lone Pine, the next timed CP was a long long straight stretch.  Lots of people don’t like this section because it is just endless. I don’t mind it.  The temperature was gradually increasing, as was the wind, I don’t remember the wind being like this last time, it just zaps every ounce of moisture from your body.  We went through a small very uninteresting mining town called Keeler at mile 107.8, huge salt flats on the left and you could see where they were taking the salt as there were long oblong patches which were blue in colour.

I was getting very bored of drinking water plus it didn’t seem to quench my thirst so every so often I would have some coke zero.  Becky who was concerned that I wasn’t eating enough came back with some chicken nuggets and chips from MacDonald’s (I thought of James Adams at this time as he loves MacDonald’s and they seem to be his staple diet as he ran across America!!!) I ate one Nugget and a couple of chips then promptly vomited – poor Will who was running with me was brilliant.  He was rather shocked to notice I had thrown up a lot of black stuff, but on closer inspection it was only the raisins I had been eating, obviously my body didn’t like something I had eaten because as soon as I had finished throwing up I felt fine.

It was a great feeling to finally turn right into Lone Pine and reach the CP at 122 miles, now all that was left was a 13 mile hike up the mountain road to the Portals of Mt. Whitney and the end of the race.

This last 13 miles was literally a case of head down and power walking up the road, along the switchbacks to the finish of the race.  The crew cars had gone on ahead and parked at the top ready for me to come in.  Where was the top? Each turn you think you are there!  Suddenly you can hear people and there are my crew waiting for me, the emotions start to build as we join hands and ran towards the finish line, the Union Jack and American flags flying behind us.  We crossed the line in a very respectable time of 34 hours and 25 minutes, finishing 24thoverall and 4th female – as always I burst into tears!!!

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After being awarded with the Buckle and my medal we headed back down the mountain road to our hotel in Lone Pine for a short sleep before starting on the next section of the Double – to climb Mt. Whitney.

The original plan had been to start climbing Mt Whitney at midnight but the mountain had been closed to hikers for a couple of days due to the snow and ice – we had been told that we might require crampons for the climb – I had had a quick lesson at Furnace Creek on how to use them by Katherine.

Scott D’Angelo was to be my guide for the summit as he had done this four times. Katherine would also come along as she was also an experienced mountaineer.  Scott had told Matt that he wasn’t happy to start at midnight but we could begin our ascent at about 4am.  There was no point worrying as I couldn’t do anything about it, Scott was the one with the experience and had to make the decisions.  We ordered Pizza, I had a bath and a massage, ate the food and then slept for a few hours.

At 4.30am Scott, Katherine and myself set off from the Portals of Mt. Whitney where the race had finished and headed up the trail.  The first few miles climbed pretty quickly, and I found myself feeling very out of breath, having to stop occasionally to get oxygen into my lungs!  We took a break approximately 4 miles up to eat and admire the view.

At 139 miles we passed the most beautiful lake known as Mirror Lake, quite stunning.  It was flat calm and the reflections of the trees on the water looked like a painting.

By the time we had reached the Trail Camp at 6 miles we had climbed up to 12,039 feet.  I was amazed at the amount of snow we encountered on our way up even Scott said that he had never seen it that low before.

We stopped here so Scott could refill the water bottles and we could get some food into us.  When you are at altitude your body uses up a huge amount of calories and fluids so its important to keep eating and drinking.  Again I was struggling with the eating part.  Katherine had made us a delicious picnic but I could only manage half a roll, I just wasn’t hungry and really couldn’t be bothered to force the food down me.  We had to watch our packs as if they were left alone for too long the Marmots would come along and start trying to get into them! They were rather sweet though.

Katherine wasn’t feeling very well and had been suffering from a bad headache since mile 4, however she seemed happy to continue saying she was sure it would disappear.

From the Campsite I looked up towards the next section of the climb, a series of 98 switchbacks!  My breathing seemed to be fine as we headed up the switchbacks and I was thoroughly enjoying the scenery, beautiful flowers that only grow above 5,000 feet and taking lots of photos.  We had to walk across a vast section of snow with a sheer drop below us, I didn’t really like this bit but it was the only way of getting to the summit so a case of one step at a time and try not to look down!

Katherine was really struggling, her pace had slowed and unfortunately the headache was getting worse.  She made the decision to stop, I really wasn’t happy about this, firstly leaving her and secondly the thought of not having her at the top with me was a huge disappointment, I didn’t know what to do – what was the right decision?  Scott was happy to leave her as she was experienced mountaineer, I still wasn’t happy, but left her in the capable hands of another lady who stayed with her for a couple of hours.  Once Katherine felt better she did climb a bit further but decided it wasn’t the right thing to do and went back down to where we had left her.

Scott and I continued on our journey still enjoying the most fantastic weather, we were so lucky.  We got to John Muir Trail at 13,480 feet here you continue up the mountain or go left down the John Muir Trail.  We passed several people coming down, we had two miles to go but it seemed to take forever.  Over the boulder field, more snow which actually made it easier and finally to the summit at 14,505 feet – WOW the view from the top was out of this world, I had done it, climbed my first mountain in a total accumulative time of 54 hours 52 minutes! 146 miles. It was very important for me to sign the book and take some photos to prove that I had summited the mountain, having done this and Scott had eaten some food we headed back down.

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I couldn’t get down fast enough, I was really worried about Katherine.  We found her exactly where we had left her but not in a good way so we had to get her off the mountain as fast as possibly.  Going back across the snow was pretty frightening but thankfully she started to be more compus mentus.  There were some funny moments when we asked what the code for her phone was and she replied “I don’t smoke!” daft woman! Then asking her what her husband’s name was she replied “Tim of course”, she hadn’t lost the plot completely then!

We were getting tired now and all tripping over the same root on the trail, lots of swearing going on as the toes got stubbed again and again.  Two miles seemed to go on forever and I knew the plan for me at the bottom was to then run down the mountain road to Lone Pine.  However, I had other plans and kept telling Katherine and Scott that whatever the crew said I was definitely NOT going to run down to Lone Pine tonight, I was going to put my foot down.

When we arrived back at the Portals we made sure that Katherine was looked after (although she seemed fine, I was worried).  I was all ready to be assertive, however Becky had other plans (the woman knows me far too well!) she told me that I was going to have something to eat, a 90 minute sleep in the back of the car, then run the 13 miles down to Lone Pine.  They had laid out a sleeping mat and bag for me.  After all my banging on about it as I came down the mountain that I wasn’t going to run the 13 miles I found myself sitting in the back of the car taking my trainers off!  Becky had given me some chicken soup which I didn’t really like and just wanted to go to sleep, she said that if I didn’t drink the soup I wouldn’t be allowed to go to sleep, the soup went down quicker than you could blink your eye, I lay down and I was out for the count. (I do seem to have the ability to crash very quickly!)

Being woken up has never been a problem for me, I treat racing like work, I know that when that alarm goes off there is no hanging around I just need to get moving, so when Becky woke me up with more food I changed my top, put on my trainers, head torch and reflective gear and we started the run down the road towards Lone Pine.

I felt great, Matt was driving the car and Becky was running with me, there were no rules to abide by now as regards pacing so we could run side by side and chat which was rather nice – poor Matt was so tired he had fallen asleep while parked up waiting for us to run past, Becky had to wake him up!  My legs felt great and I ran all the way to our hotel in Lone Pine where I was allowed another short sleep: this was to be my last in a bed until I finished.

The following morning I left the hotel at 7.30am it was supposed to be 7am but feet needed to be sorted and things always take longer than you think!  At this stage of the run I was 4 ½ hours behind schedule, mainly due to the delay in being able to climb the mountain, but I knew that I should be able to keep up a faster pace than was on schedule – I hoped anyway!

Will had the first stint of the day, we ran out of Lone Pine this time turning left heading back towards the mining town of Keeler.  I was feeling great and going at a steady pace.  After a few hours I had already made up 2 hours on my time – my head couldn’t take in the maths that went into working out my pace so I left that up to the crew!  Because of the pace I was running at I kept eating away at my time until eventually I was ahead of schedule!

The other competitors were going home today and as they drove past they tooted their horns, waved, shouted and sometimes even stopped to say “keep going, well done” it gave me a real boost and meant a lot to me that people were taking the effort to do this.

It was wonderful to finally have the whole crew together, this meant there was a real buzz coming from them which was fantastic.  They continued to meet me every mile and still took it in turns to run with me.  After running through Keeler, and a few more flatish miles I then had the 12 mile climb up hill towards Darwin.  There seemed to be quite a few jets flying overhead, god what a noise they made, everyone apart from myself got very excited by these machines!!  I was still feeling good and moving steadily, knocking off the miles, I now had less than 100 miles to go!

I’m afraid I’m not very clear about a lot of things that happened, who I was running with, what I ate etc, but I do remember running down the long 15 mile section towards Panamint Springs (which had been a timed CP during the race) feeling good and running with Will when Becky handed me some pasta, as always trying to get food down me.  I walked along eating this and had a moment when my toys were thrown out of the pram because I didn’t want to eat the carrots, you can just imagine what I sounded like, a spoilt child!!!  Becky was very good when I handed her back the bowl after a few mouthfuls saying it was disgusting.  I think Will had a bit of a giggle and I told him that she would keep giving it too me every mile until I had eaten it! Sure enough, a mile down the road the pasta got handed to me again, however I did notice that the carrots had been taken out but she had filled the bowl up – another slight sense of humour failure. Becky paid no attention to me and said that if I didn’t eat the food I would have to sit for 2 hours until it was gone (2 hours was the time I was ahead at this point in the race) grumpily I ate the food.  I did apologise to Becky at the next mile, she just smiled and said she always ignored me anyway!!!

In the original schedule I was going to have a rest at Panamint Lake, 223.9 miles, but because I was way ahead of my schedule I continued as the next section was 8 miles up hill to Townes Pass, this I definitely wanted to get out of the way as it was to be my last long hill!  Once again it was a case of head down and power walking.  My calves were feeling a bit tight and I was beginning to feel tired again, but continued going, knowing that at the top I could have a sleep.

It was fantastic to reach the top and see the cars waiting for me, I felt tired, not shattered but knew that a sleep would be good and keep me moving faster when I woke.  After something to eat I took off my trainers, snuggled up in my sleeping bag and had a 90 minute kip.

Becky woke me up, it was very cold outside and the wind had picked up. I got dressed, putting on several layers underneath my reflective gear to keep me warm.

I stopped at the next mile point as my blister on my left foot was causing me pain.  The blister had become full of fluid again so needed to be drained to help alleviate the pain.  This done off I went feeling much happier.  Next stop Stovepipe Wells!! All down hill!

I was getting extremely frustrated with myself as I kept on stopping, far too regularly to have a pee, when I did go it was painful and nothing or little came out.  This has happened to me before so Becky had brought along some cystitis sachets for me to take – after two sachets and a magic pill from Matt the problem seemed to improve! (took about 3 hours!)

I was given a real boost when Darren Fortney and his crew stopped to say hi on their way to Las Vegas, I don’t think they had any idea how much I appreciated what they did – thank you.

Becky and I continued on our way towards Stovepipe Wells, I was still running, albeit not very fast but running nevertheless.  The highlight of the morning was when Marshal Ulrich stopped in the middle of the road and came over to talk to me, he even introduced himself which made me giggle as everyone who runs Ultras knows who he is!  After he left I had an added spring in my step as we ran into Stovepipe for breakfast!

There are two things I remember about my breakfast stop, the first was my cereal, just delicious and the milk was ice cold, perfect.  The second was receiving a BBM from my husband to say that my eldest daughter’s other half had asked if he could marry her – well, you can imagine with the emotions already high I just burst into tears, but they were of joy!

Brad left Stovepipe Wells with me, but when I tried to run my body felt tired, Brad was great and told me to keep walking as I had just eaten and not to worry.  The wind had picked up and I was able to run for short distances but struggled against the wind, which the boys reckon was approx. 25 mph with gusts of 30-35 mph.  Running into this headwind felt like a hill session, really tough and I was using up too much energy so had to resort to power walking again.

The crew were fantastic, but I was feeling very frustrated that I had to power walk when it was all runnable.  The wind was like no other I have come across before, it zaps every ounce of fluid from your body, eyes dry out, throat goes dry and when sprayed down my shirt would dry in minutes, to be perfectly honest it wasn’t very pleasant!

The power walking continued and we were steadily heading towards Furnace Creek, the 1st timed CP at the race.  Will who had done a run with the boys before the race began kept on telling me that he was sure we would see Furnace Creek at the next corner, I didn’t mind it passed the time and made me smile!!

As Will and I walked past the Cheveron Gas Station we were met by a man from the Timbisha Shoshone tribe, he gave me some dried sage for safe passage and a cup of sage water to drink or rub on sore knees ankles, really lovely.  Apparently Will poured the water all over him once I left Furnace Creek!!

Eventually we could see the Furnace Creek, a sight for sore eyes.  I was asked what I wanted at the stop and I remember having a real desire for an iced coffee – why an iced coffee I will never know, it just popped into my head.

It was fantastic to arrive at Furnace Creek, now I only had 17.4 miles to go!  For me this had to be the best moment of the race – I sat down under a tree in my chair was given another wonderful bowl of cereal (grapenuts and cold milk) then Becky handed me a large cup of iced coffee, you should have seen my face! At first I thought they had made it, but in fact had bought it from the shop at Furnace Creek, either way it didn’t matter I had got what I’d asked for, at that moment in time it was better than any 5 star meal.

Matt came with me from Furnace Creek, the wind was still blowing, I was hoping that when we turned right heading down towards Badwater Basin it would die down and I could start running again.

Silly things were annoying me as we headed down towards the finish line, I was getting very confused with the distance I still had to run as I was being told different distances by everyone so eventually the boys drove down to the finish so that I would know exactly how far I had to go.  Everyone was taking it in turns to walk with me, I had become quite quiet which I always do when I just need to concentrate and get a job done. Matt found it very amusing that I had an iced coffee in my water bottle!  I also found at this stage that Perrier water was very thirst quenching. The route seemed to be very hill going in the reverse direction and the end never seemed to get any closer, keep going, one foot in front of the other and I would finish.

Although I was quiet I was still feeling good and was convinced that my crew had miscalculated my time.  In the original plan I would be finishing on Saturday (although I misread this and thought it was Friday)!!

With two miles to go the boys took the cars and drove to the finish line, they then ran back up to join us so we could all finish together.  With 1 mile to go the girls sorted me out for the finish – bit of lip gloss and we set off to meet the boys.

We were remarkably quiet as a group running the final stretch – perhaps we were all savouring this special moment. The ¼ of a mile to go Badwater sign appeared quicker than expected, here I started running much to the delight of my crew (and me I might add!!!) then I could see the car park and picked up the pace, all I had to do was reach the point in the road where my 292 mile journey had begun 4 days ago!  The Aspen team crossed the line in a total time of 108 hours 10 minutes and 24 seconds  and I became the first British female to complete the Double and beating the previous female record by over 21 hours!

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I would like to say thank you to the group of kids who were at the finish line, I think they got quite a shock when they saw us running in at 8pm!  Their enthusiasum was fantastic and they made what was already an incredible finish into an unforgettable one!

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A very special thank you goes to my wonderful, marvellous, outstanding, awesome crew, Matt Nelson, Becky Healey, Katherine Hay-Heddle, Brad Lombardi and Will Glover.  They never complained (not to me anyway!) supported me unquestionably, they seemed to know what I needed and when, made me feel relaxed and calm, which meant that all I had to do was run. We have had the most incredible journey together, leaving me with memories that I will cherish for years to come.

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Thank you to my Sponsors Aspen who believed in my ability and gave me the chance to make a long standing dream

Written by Nick Grahame

Dorset Ultra was the third Ultra race I've entered, having got bitten by the bug earlier in the year. The biggest draw for shoe-horning this in at the end of the year had been the opportunity of points in time to enter an application in December for the 2018 OCC, but it was also a good chance to familiarise myself with some of the challenges of the Jurassic Coast, having signed up for The Oner in April 2018.

I traveled down the night before, and arrived with just enough time to register in the evening before retiring back to the Castle Inn to get my kit ready for the morning, and set three alarms!

The weather forecast had been mixed in the run-up, but by race day it had settled to a prospect of cloudy, but dry, with a slight chance of a shower. I packed as light as I could, packing only one extra item of clothing - a waterproof jacket. I'd been advised that the checkpoints were a little more sparse than some events, so included an emergency malt loaf, along with my carefully planned selection of gels, jelly babies, and energy bars.

Parking by the start was good, and as the route went through the car park twice, as well as at start and finish, meant that I could run my own support from the boot, rather than relying on the bag drop.

One thing I hadn't trained for was standing around waiting for the event to start - psychologically, this kind of threw me, as I'm so used to stepping out of the front door and just heading off. When we did start, I was colder than I would have like to have been, but the route immediately started with a slog up the coast over to Durdle Door which warmed things up. Garmin was acting up, and wouldn't load the route, so it was nearly two miles before I started logging distance and pace - another psychological niggle, as I like my data en-route to gauge my progress.

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The next few miles continued west along the coast, with some brutal inclines. In terms of running, I'm pleased with my current fitness levels, and can knock out a consistent 9 or 10 minute mile for what almost feels like forever. What I was not physically prepared for was walking up steep inclines. Different muscle groups (particularly calves!) were screaming all the way up, to the point that early on I was wondering if I was going to manage all this - another mental blow. However, as the route turned inland to head back east, things levelled a little, and I was flying, and soon my confidence of carrying an average pace of 11 to 12 mins per mile returned. By the time we came through the car park again, everything was bang on track, and I felt good.

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The run round Lulworth Cove though was a bit gnarly, but I found firmer footing closer to the water. The route then headed up again, towards the military testing area. At this point I realised that the hills on the western stretch were just a warning. The rest of the run out east was breathtaking, both visually and and literally in that it knocked the wind out of you. I'd used poles on my first Ultra in July, but on balance I've not bothered with them since as they haven't offered much help, and the rest of the time are a faff. Man, I wish I'd brought them here! Calves burning again, I was less demoralised, and saw the humorous side of it with my fellow runners. I knew that, like before, the hills were about damage limitation, and that I could claw back the pace on the return west. Right...?

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The turn back west was where it all started to go south. The western return from the east loop is not forgiving. It's another combination of muscle burning ups and knee smashing downs. It was about 2 miles in when my old friend, ITBS, popped in to say hello. By the time we were pounding down the steps back to Lulworth Cove, I was having my "I'm never doing this again" moment. But the prospect of the looming car park, and the paracetamol I knew was in the glove box, was all I needed to get to the marathon check point. I've never medicated on a run before, but I had serious doubts about finishing, so I had a couple of paracetamol and, against the generally accepted wisdom, two ibuprofen, as I only had six miles to go.

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Mentally I was in a strange place. I knew that I had those three hills west to do again, but at least they were a known quantity, and the last stretch home would be pretty steady. I took the opportunity to enjoy the view, something I had missed first time round as a result of fiddling with my Garmin, and dug deep into the "every step is a step closer" mantra. By this time, I was just focused on finishing, and any targets had gone out of the window. My leg was in a great deal of pain, and I joked to some passing competitors as I hobbled that it on hurt on the uphills and the down hills - but there was some truth in that fact.

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As the route turned back east (at a different point to the first western loop), the course eased up, and I got into my stride again, and I hammered the last 3 miles, flying past other runners. Having struggled with some circa 20 min miles only a couple of miles ago, I was now knocking out 8 and 9 min miles. Mentally I was focused on at least getting that average pace back down into 12 mins "something", rather than the over-13 that was currently decorating my Garmin.

As I pounded down to the finish line, all the memory of "I'm never doing this again" was gone, and I received my medal with a smile. All things considered, I was pleased to complete in 7hrs and 5mins, although of course, the 5 mins is an annoyance!

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The big take away for me is that I need to do more strength training if I'm going to be prepared for The Oner!

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Written by Mimi Anderson - http://marvellousmimi.com

Comrades Marathon is arguably the greatest ultra marathon in the world where athletes come from all over the world to conquer the approx 90 kilometres between the cities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban. Each year the event alternates between an “up” year – Durban to Pietermaritzburg or a “down” year – Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

The Comrades route is well known for its “big five” hills – just in case you are under the misapprehension that there are ONLY five big hills, there are in fact nothing but hills, they obviously haven’t got round to giving them names yet!!!The race has a 12 hour cut-off with various cut-offs along the route.  These are enforced very strictly – as the cut-off gets nearer a man stands on the line with his back towards the runners holding a gun which he fires when the cut-off time is reached, any runner who hasn’t managed to get there is unfortunately pulled from the race – even if it’s by a second! – you’ll be glad to hear that the gun is fired into the air not at the runners!!

So, guess what I decided to have a go at? Yup, have a go at the “Double” or “back to back” as it’s otherwise known.   I first heard of the Comrades Marathon in 2006 when I ran the Kalahari Extreme Marathon, everyone was so enthusiastic about it and said that one day I must come and run it – I was also aware that only 2 men had ever completed the back to back and as far as I was aware no woman had even attempted it (Rosie Swale, I gather, did 2 up runs in 2000 with a nights sleep in between).

On the 19th May 2009 I flew out to South Africa for the start of another marvellous adventure.The build up to my Double Comrades didn’t exactly go to plan.

Everything was going well until the beginning of April – which of course is the main training month – when I got a stress fracture in my foot, it swelled up and walking on it was agony.  Thankfully I have an excellent team of people who look after me and I’m a great believer in positive thinking.  I did no running for the next week, then I started aqua jogging and spending endless hours in the gym, finally at the beginning of May I was able to start running again.  So you can understand why perhaps I was in a complete panic about the Double!

Organising an event like this from the other side of the world is not easy! I was going to need armed security guards, crew, informing the police, someone who knew the route, accommodation etc – the list was endless.

My crew were fantastic, Jane MacKinnon and Gary Roscoe, they organised, sorted and planned.  Jane and I had driven down in her Combi together from Jo’burg as that was to be our vehicle for the trip.  My security guys were provided by Rory Steyn and Tom Cottrell was another marvellous man who helped me.Jane packed the Combi up as she needed to know where everything was.  We had put a bike in the back just in case one of the security guys needed to be with me during the night.  I met Gary for the first time on Friday afternoon when he came to the flat to go through the route and plans etc – it really does make such a difference having an excellent, supportive and motivated crew.

Just after 3pm on the 23rd May we left the flat and headed off towards Durban picking up Neil Kapoor on our way, we arrived at the City Hall at about 4pm. The rest of the team arrived and we were ready to set off.  Gary had brought his own bike and guided us out of Durban and in fact cycled with us most of the way.We set off at 4.15pm from the City Hall in Durban and the plan was to go nice and slowly and get to Pietermaritzburg in 11 hours – my heart was going like the clappers, I couldn’t get my breathing right and spent the first 20 minutes running round people on the pavement – eventually I ran on the side of the road much easier, but was still struggling to relax.  Thankfully I gradually managed to get myself back in control and began to enjoy myself.  Having Gary on the bike in front of us made a huge difference , Jane & the security guys followed in the Combi, they would drive in such a way that the traffic had to go round them to miss us!

Gary was marvellous and would give us a running commentary as to which hill we were running up – I’m not sure whether this was a good idea or not but it passed the time and in my mind I was able to throw another hill away.By now I was feeling extremely relaxed and enjoying the run – Jane was in a slight panic that we were going too quickly and kept telling us to slow down – I did try to do as I was told, but each time I slowed down I would then go back to the original pace fairly quickly. Jane did a fantastic job of replenishing our drinks as and when we needed them.  Running through Westville (which is where Gary lives) we had lots of people out to support us as we ran past – big thank you to Gary’s better half for this!  Then more support and cheering in Pinetown.  Cowies Hill and Fields Hill seemed to go by without me evening noticing which was great – must have been talking too much!We had a couple of points along the route where we weren’t sure which way to go – although it seemed like ages it was in fact probably no longer than 5 minutes!

Running in the dark was great and as the evening went on it became foggier to the point where Jane was struggling to see us in front of the vehicle!The half way point at Drummond was reached in 4 hrs 35 minutes – not bad!  Going through the half way point was wonderful as the guys put on some music for us and gave a running commentary – how marvellous was that!  It was decided that we would have a 10 minute break just after the half way point – Neil needed to sort out some gels and I had a cup of coffee – with everything sorted we set off again for the final section of the up run.Along the route we came across groups of people who had set up camp in preparation for Comrades the following day – they were of course in party mood so waved us on saying “go Mimi” – I was very surprised they knew who I was.

Just after Drummond you have one of the Big Five hills known as Inchanga – this was the first hill that Neil and I did any walking on but still kept the walking to a minimum.  The temperature had dropped quite considerably and I was feeling cold so had put on a sweat shirt – this then had to come off again 10 minutes later as it was too hot – quick change into a long sleeved shirt – much better – although this was during the walking breaks I get very cross with myself when I can’t control my body temperature and feel that I’m faffing around.The next big hill that I was dreading was Polly Shortts – this is the one hill on the race that everyone talks about so my imagination was going wild!  Neil and I decided to walk up this hill which is 2km long to conserve our energy for the second half of our run later that day!  Any excuse for a chat!

The finish of the Up hill run is at the Pietermaritzburg Oval – we weren’t able to run into this but ran past the entrance and continued on until it was safe to stop – completing our first section of the Double in 9 hours 50 minutes which we were both thrilled with.

The start of Comrades is at the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg, so with excellent map reading skills from Jane we drove to the VIP parking area which was a two minute walk to the start.  After a massage, something to eat, a sort out of one little blister and a very big hug to all the crew Neil & I together with his girlfriend Clare who was running her first Comrades (like us!) headed off to the seeding pens ready for our second leg.  Although Neil had an A seeding he went with Clare into the D seeding pen, I said my good byes and vanished into my seeding pen – the nerves kicked in again.  The atmosphere was electric, people chatting, music playing all waiting for the start.  My legs were feeling fantastic so all I had to do was take it nice and easy and get myself to the finish back in Durban.

One of many traditions just before the start of Comrades is “chariots of fire” – well, how emotional is that – then the cockerel crowing and finally at exactly 5.30am the gun is fired and 13,000 runners set off on the 90km run to Durban.I remember seeing the 9 hr bus (pacing man) running just in front of me as the race started – I knew that there was no way I could keep up with them and just had to let them go – my aim was to stay in front of the 11 hr bus, I also knew that I had to beat the cut-offs so needed to try and keep a fairly steady pace.

Jane had arranged for some of my carbohydrate drinks to be left at her running clubs water stations – I had memorized where they were going to be but unfortunately missed the first 3! Luckily about 15km from the half way point at Drummond Jane spotted me and handed me a bottle.  I was going through a slight bad patch at this point – energy levels were low, so it was marvellous to see Jane and be given some encouragement, the best bit of news for me was that on my current pacing I was on for a 10 hour 15 minute finish – a well needed boost and I continued on my way knowing I could achieve this. The half way point at Drummond was reached in 4 hrs 53 minutes so still happy about my progress.  After half way my pace did slow and I found that I had to fast walk up some of the hills – not the whole way but just long enough to give my legs a change of pace.  Running down Fields Hill was a killer – this I took at a steady pace as it puts a huge amount of pressure on your quads.  To distract myself from my uncomfortable legs I started chatting to people and listening to their stories which was wonderful, I also entertained myself by looking at the various names on people’s race numbers – well, it passes the time!

Gary said that he would be at Westville cheering his friends on and would be there to encourage me along – it was MARVELLOUS to spot him, he gave me some much needed refreshment and sent me on my way.

The final cut-off was at Mayville – 7km to go until the finish – such a marvellous feeling until you go round the corner and OH LOOK another hill – this I walked up quite happy in the knowledge that I was going to finish.Coming into the final 2km of the race was a wonderful feeling.  I hooked up with another girl who was struggling so I suggested that we finished together – after all, that is what Comrades is all about?  As I ran into the finish at the Sahara Stadium in Durban you are given a real boost of energy by the crowds, they are clapping and cheering – then I spotted Jane and all I wanted to do was go over to her and give her a HUGE hug!  Guy, Wade and John were also there to cheer me on – but sadly I didn’t see them – probably just as well as I would have cried my way across the line!

Finally there was the famous finish line that I had read and heard so much about – I had done it – I crossed the line in 10 hours 40 minutes becoming the first woman to attempt and complete Back to Back Comrades.  Neil finished his epic run in 9 hours 28 minutes which is just outstanding becoming the 3rd man and first British man.

For anyone out there who has never thought about running Comrades Marathon give it a go – the support and atmosphere is fantastic and the encouragement you get from fellow runners is wonderful and South Africa is the most beautiful country.

Thank you to my marvellous wonderful crew, my husband who was keeping my blog going, My sponsors The Inkerman Group for my tracking system, my family & friends for their support and thank you to everyone else who helped me – events like this you simply couldn’t achieve without their support. I had a MARVELLOUS time and an outstanding adventure.

A quote from Bruce Fordyce in the South African Runners World:

Mimi Anderson’s Achievement – By Bruce Fordyce.
I was surprised that more was not made of the amazing run by Mimi Anderson. Her back-to-back Comrades on behalf of the Dave Rattray Foundation was simply astounding. On Saturday, she ran up to Pietermaritzburg in 9:50 and on race day she ran back down in 10:50. I think Paul Selby was awarded a spirit of Comrades award when he did that for cancer a few years ago. A huge fuss was made then. Mimi’s run seems to have slipped past almost unnoticed.