In April I ran the Hermannslauf 31km trail run in Germany, but didn’t have anything else in the calendar for the rest of the summer. After moving to Dorset in May, I found out there were lots of local trail races close to our new house, but unfortunately most of them were so popular they had already sold out! So, on a bit of a whim, I decided to enter the Dixon’s Carphone Race to the Stones. It’s a 100km race along the Ridgeway trail that can either be run or walked, in one go or split over two days. The race starts in Lewknor (Oxfordshire) and finishes by the Avebury Stone Circle (Wiltshire). Obviously me being me, I thought it would be a great idea to tackle the 100km race in one go. Not one of my brightest ideas.
Now, for full disclosure, this is not the first ultramarathon I’ve run. Back in March of last year (2016) I ran the Green Man Ultra (GMU45) 45-mile (72.4km) race that utilises the community forest path encircling Bristol. It was a cold, muddy but bright day, and it was the furthest I had ever run in my life! However, I’d trained well for it, and was running at least two half marathons a week, either as my commute to or from work (and occasionally running both ways in one day!). It took me 9 hours 41 minutes to clock a distance of 73.35km, and I was pretty broken at the end. Fortunately my parents were there to scoop me up into the car and drive me the 20 minutes home.
The Green Man Ultra 45 miler, March 2016
After I got home from the row (more on that in another post soon!), I decided that although I needed to give myself some time off exercise to recover properly, I equally needed to have a goal on the horizon, to make sure that the time off didn’t just turn into me being lazy. Since neither I nor my friend Jo had managed to get ballot places for the London Marathon this year, we instead opted for the Hermanslauf 31km trail run, held around Bielefeld in Germany. I should just point out that after we both lived in Oman, Jo moved back to Germany, and this was in fact a local race for her! As entries normally sell out within about 20 minutes of opening, Jo was on entry duty whilst I was bobbing around in a boat mid-Atlantic.
I got back to the UK midway through February, and after a week or so in the UK (trying to find a new house etc., all fun stuff to do!), I was straight back to the Middle East for a couple of weeks work in Oman and Qatar. I joined in with the usual club runs with Muscat Road Runners (our old running club in Oman), and even managed to sneak in a hot and hill half marathon (HETT – the Heat Equator Time Trial). My running was a bit slower than normal, but I managed the 21km with no problems, just under 2 hours, so I figured I’d probably be ok for the 30km in April, and that my residual fitness from the row would see me through
March training in Oman
Back in 2014 I set myself the aim of running a full, standalone, road marathon. I’ve run marathons before; my first was as part of Ironman UK back in 2012, an Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series marathon on the North York Moors left me rehabbing an ITB problem for 6 months following the race it was so hilly, with the long stage of the Oman Desert Marathon 2014 just falling short of a full marathon (40.8km) in the desert heat and sand. Like most amateur club runners, I’d always thought that getting a sub-4 hour marathon time would be a good goal, although it never really seemed hugely do-able. I ran 4:27 in my Ironman marathon, off the back of a 7 hour bike ride, so in theory it should have been possible to take 27 minutes off my time by focussing just on the running, resting well and preparing properly.
Ironman UK 2012, Endurancelife CTS North York Moors 2013, Oman Desert marathon 2014
Back in September, a friend came out to stay with us in Oman and over a pizza I interrogated her about some recent photos I’d seen on her Facebook page……. Something about her rowing the Atlantic?! Yes, it turns out that Sarah (along with 3 others) had signed up to row in the 2015 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge; labelled as the World’s Toughest Rowing Race. Starting in La Gomera in the Canaries, the crews row 3,000 nautical miles to reach English Harbour in Antigua. The crossing time varies from around 40 days to 90 days, depending on (amongst other things) the weather. They were entering an all-girls crew; team Atlantic Endeavour, with the aim of trying to break 2 world records and raise money for the mental health charity Mind in the process. Obviously I told Sarah that I was very jealous; what an awesome adventure!
Fast-forward a month or so, and I get an email from Sarah, asking if I would be interested in joining the crew; there was now a space in their team that needed filling. So I jumped at the chance….. who wouldn’t?! The first thing I did was Google “Has anyone died rowing the Atlantic”. Watching videos of previous years’ entrants battling waves and capsizes did not do anything to calm my fears. Over the next month I had a ‘trial’ period with the rest of the Atlantic Endeavour crew; being able to work as a team and getting on with each other were going to be very important further down the line when we’re stuck on a very small ocean rowing boat together, thousands of miles away from land. Regular crew meetings (thank goodness for Skype!) and admin sessions (and a lot of whatsapp banter) became the norm; before we knew it December had rolled around and we were organising where and when we were going to have our photoshoot. Continue reading