St Illtyds Ultra (or What Goes Up Must Come Down…. Eventually)

I entered St Illtyds 50k trail race in September last year, long before the saga of the arm. I had thought this would be one of the races I wouldn’t make it to. I certainly wouldn’t make it if I didn’t finish Manchester Marathon (I had decided that St Illtyds would be DNS if I didn’t finish Manchester). But I finished Manchester. So Sunday 6 May came around, and there I was, collecting my race number from two very nice ladies in Burry Port yacht club on a very misty May morning. It was chilly but that would soon prove to be deceptive for how hot a day it would become.

A race briefing from Nathan and Tori and off we went. But not before Adam came out with the best line ever – “There are so many happy people here but this just isn’t a happy occasion”. Henceforth to be used on all start lines the country over.

The first four or so miles were fairly flat. Another deception. Then we started to climb, up through a beautiful bluebell wood.


At this point I slipped on a step and landed on my bum, on the wooden edge of the step. An instinct for self-preservation clearly kicked in as my left arm flew up in the air to protect itself. I suspect I have a big bruise on my right bottom (I haven’t checked).

My first experiences of an ultra checkpoint was good, where I discovered a hankering for cheese and Pom Bears. I also discovered that they gave me good energy and didn’t upset my stomach, so them (and chipstick crisps) were my go-to at the aid stations. I really fancied some of the sweets but decided to limit those in case the sugar had an adverse effect. Saying that, a few fizzy sweets were consumed because they’re my favourite thing.


Onwards and up and down, and up and down. When you thought it could continue going up, it did. And the downs were no help because it’s an out and back course so we knew we’d have to climb up them on the return leg.

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See, told you there were hills!


Checkpoint two done and then there were tears. You didn’t really expect there to be no tears, did you? Don’t you know me at all? We had been warned about a field of cows that we should have run through, but the better option was to run through the next door field as the cows had been attacking people. However there was no stile into the second field and we had to climb over a fence, which meant putting your weight in your left arm on a fence pole. Which I can’t currently do. So I dealt with it in my finest way by crying and saying “I can’t do that”. With a bit of encouragement, I managed to get to the top of the fence then the only way down was for Brian to lift me off. Poor Bri. Thanks, Bri.

I’m not going to go over the race itself in too much detail. It was over 30 miles and that would be really boring and I think I might have also blocked a lot of it out because there’s a lot I don’t remember. The summary, however, is:

  • Hilly
  • Very hot (luckily the checkpoints had sun cream!)
  • Lots of animals – alpacas, sheep, cows and horses
  • Stunning scenery
  • Checkpoints with fabulous fabulous volunteers
  • Hilly

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I’m now a big fan of checkpoints. Well stocked, with very friendly volunteers helping to refill water bottles and feed us. Crisps, sweets, bread, sausage rolls, fruit, and best of all, Coke! Big fan of checkpoints (did I already say that?) Also a big fan of the volunteers. It only strikes me now how brilliant they were. I mean, I knew they were great. But they clearly recognised when you were getting to the point where you just needed help. They simply took my bottles from me, sorted them out and gave them back to me, no fuss, no drama, but just lots and lots of help.

The utterly fabulous Kat from Racecheck popped up in a couple of places for what I’m sure were incredibly sweaty hugs. So lovely to see a friendly face on the way! I hope she realises how much of a boost it was seeing her there.
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Where there were houses a few residents were in garden cheering us on, and one lady asked if we wanted to come in and have a glass of squash. She said if she’d known about the run she’d have set a table out for everyone. She would have had a lot of visitors. Staying hydrated was tough in that weather. I had a 1 litre bladder of water and two 350ml bottles of Tailwind which all needed refilling at most of the checkpoints. I also made sure I had a good drink of water and Coke at all of the stations. The difficulty with the bladder was because it was on my (hot) back, it wasn’t long before the water went warm and was really disgusting to drink.

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The Reservoir at the half way turnaround point

I met up with Rach and Graham somewhere along the way back and walked pretty much the whole of the last 10 miles with them. Tiny bits of jogging but not much by then. I was struggling with my feet but otherwise felt OK. We got lost, going up a huge (unnecessary) hill then having to go back down it. We also got lost and took a detour on the last mile or so back into Burry Port. I don’t know whether we missed the marker tape or if it had been taken down. Having to walk past our hotel and carry on to the finish was tough.

Luckily the original 10 hour cut off wasn’t in place any longer because of the weather. I say luckily because it took nearly an hour longer than that for me to finish.

10 hours 54 minutes, 70,725 steps, 4,314 calories, 32.75 miles, two “detours”, two lots of crying, rather a lot of swearing and I was finished. It still hasn’t sunk in yet. An utterly brutal course (Nathan said at the briefing that if you can do St Illtyds you can do any 50k and we all laughed nervously – I suspect he’s right), amazing scenery, and great company.
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However, my advice for you from the race is this – put your fruit pastilles where you can easily reach them then you won’t have a big tantrum two miles from the finish because you can’t reach them. You’re welcome.

Thank you, St Illtyd, whoever you are. Your race is a stonker. As is this medal.
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Manchester Marathon – the race I thought I wouldn’t make

I entered Manchester Marathon 2018 in June 2017. It was to be my first marathon and definitely my 2018 A race. Then, as many of you will know by now, I broke my arm on 10 December, so I assume that Manchester was therefore not going to be an option. I never imagined that 17 weeks later I’d be standing on that start line ready to go. Or as ready as I’d ever be, anyway. I’d been “back” from the broken arm for about five weeks at this point. I’d done lots of gym work, two parkruns and Limassol half marathon, but other than that I’d had 14 weeks off running with just walks and the chair bike to keep my legs ticking over.

I travelled to Manchester on the Saturday and stayed in the Premier Inn which is right beside the start line. Colin and Keith Johnstone were also staying there, so Colin and I met up on Saturday night to walk over to Salford Quays to meet some of the others for pre-race pizza/pasta. I managed a fairly early night and slept until 4am, at which point I woke needing the loo and then didn’t get back to sleep properly again.

6am alarm call and I was up and getting ready. I decided I’d run in my arm brace – I probably don’t need it by now but it was a psychological/comfort thing. I also thought that testing whether I did need it was probably best done on a slightly shorter run.

I met up with some of the @ukrunchat gang at bag drop, then we all walked to Hotel Football for the #visorclub meet up and photo.

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We walked to the start line and hung around for a bit with Phil Jefferies and his pacing group. He was pacing 5:30 and had gathered quite a crowd around him. I was going to run with Ants and Dave, and our aims were 1) to finish and 2) to not get swept by the sweeper bus. We met Abby Hussain by the start line, so a quick chat with him, a photo, and we were off.

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We managed to keep up with Phil for a little while but couldn’t keep that pace up for very long. One of the odd things about this marathon is that I suddenly realised today that I hadn’t been aware of my watch buzzing the miles at me. It must have been, maybe I was aware of so many other things that I just didn’t notice that.

We trotted along for a few miles and eventually started walking a bit in between runs. Eventually the walks would be longer and the runs (which became known as Shuffles!) shorter.

I’d got a message from my 4 year old niece of what she’d say to me if she saw me running, so I’d written this in Sharpie on my arm. I did look at it a lot and it made me smile.

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The support along the course was fantastic, and whilst it would be a lie to say that the miles flew by, it certainly helped. We saw Carl, and Rach and Helen although I didn’t realise it was them until we’d passed them.

Mile 13 is as good a place as any for a photo of the three musketeers! It was definitely becoming uncomfortable at this point but I wasn’t stopping for love nor money. I sent a whats app message to a friend, who told me he was proud of me, and this really spurred me on.

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We trotted on a while longer then the lovely local folk were offering out bags of jelly babies (which I can’t stand so gave a miss)…….

 

…. Wispas and hot dogs. I must remember chocolate for future races, just the taste of something lovely really helped.

I found miles 13-16 really hard, because I was then into my longest ever run, as I’d only ever done half marathon distance before. Once we were at this distance, I didn’t know that I could do this. The walking was becoming more and the shuffle was becoming more. And harder to start off the shuffle each time. I had pains in my feet, my hips, my calves, my thighs. The only bit which didn’t hurt was my right hamstring which my sports therapist had taped up for me. I decided that for future races I’d get her to wrap the whole of me in tape like a mummy. The pains surprised me because they kept moving around. It wasn’t everything all at once. My left foot hurt, then my right hip, then my right foot, then my left hamstring, etc etc. I’d expected everything to hurt at once so was intrigued by the moving pain! I messaged my friend again “Mile 18 and everything hurts”. He said “Keep moving forward. Little bits at a time”. Wise advice.

The question of “Shall we shuffle?” was becoming less enthusiastically received and it was harder and harder to start shuffling instead of walking. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t whine but I did a bit.

We got to 24 miles and I cried. To be honest I’d expected tears, and long before 24 miles but it didn’t happen. But we got to the 24 mile marker and I suddenly realised that (barring disaster) we only had two and a bit miles to go. And that I could do two and a bit miles. I’d done 24, after all. It hit me at that point that, within the next hour, I’d complete a marathon.

Another photo at the 40km point, and on we trotted…..

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Incidentally, we had seen a number of ambulances, blue lights flashing, heading down the course at this point. Dave, one of my partners in crime, had collapsed at a race last year and had been resuscitated then had heart surgery. This was his first race back. I’d had more than enough of hospitals. I think every time we saw one of those ambulances we were thinking back to our own experiences of needing the medics at a race, and thinking of the people who were needing them at that point.  I’m grateful that there are people who give up their weekends to be medics and volunteers at races.

The last stretch was tough. Over a big road bridge, a right turn, and then the mirage that is the finish line. It’s a long straight home run and you never seem to get there. We saw Carl and Martin as we ran down. I couldn’t go and give them a hug, I need to keep going, keep shuffling, keep trotting, or I’d never get there.

And then – we finished. I’d run a marathon. What do you mean, did I cry? Don’t you know me at all? Of course I cried!

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Fracture Clinic

I’m in the fracture clinic waiting area. It’s six weeks since I was here and yet it’s oh so familiar.

Lots of broken people sitting around waiting for their name to be called. If you’re unlucky, your name is called only for you to be told that you have to go to X-ray first.

We wait. We read three year old magazines. And we wait.

People go in and out of the plaster room. Some come out having acquired new casts, others appear having had casts removed. They hold limbs gingerly, as if they’ll fall off. I know this feeling.

“Katherine Richards”

Here I go.

The Comeback Kid

I’m writing this on the plane home from Cyprus. I’m a little bit sunburned, and a little more freckled and a lot more relaxed than when I flew out.

I booked the Run Limassol half marathon in July last year. Little did I know it would become such a significant race.

I promise that one day soon I will stop mentioning my broken arm in every tweet and every blog, but equally I don’t want to assume that people reading this know the history. So I’ll do the short version, which is that, on 10 December, at a race, I broke my arm. Pretty spectacularly. I spent 11 weeks recovering in Nottinghamshire with my parents and returned home to London and to work just under three weeks ago.

The doctors sucked their teeth and looked at me like I was stark staring mad when, at every fracture clinic appointment, I asked when I could run again. Week after week the answer was no. Then eventually, at week 11, it was “gentle and short” runs are fine. I didn’t ask the definition of “short” – in my experience, when you ask questions like that, you get answers you don’t want.

And so I assumed Limassol was OK for holiday but off for running. But then the doc came up trumps and said I could run it as long as I felt comfortable, and the travel insurance company were happy to cover me to run on that proviso. Result.

A group of us from @ukrunchat flew out from Gatwick on what was dubbed the “party plane” at 7:10am on Friday 16 March.

Baggage duly collected at Paphos airport and we were off to the hotel, where some of the others had arrived earlier. It was lovely to see friends who I’d missed seeing in recent weeks and meeting new folk.

Saturday was the 5k corporate race and I decided that, if I had any chance of running the half marathon on Sunday, I needed to give my arm (and legs) a good rest. I went down to the marina to cheer the gang on so had a lovely time seeing them cross the finish line.

Supporting at the 5k

After a lovely afternoon by the pool….

….. it was decision time. Would I run tomorrow? I was hugely undertrained but I had to do this. I was scared. My head was telling me I was going to fall again. Ridiculous head. I got my kit ready but didn’t dare tweet it in case it all went wrong. I’d be ashamed, embarrassed that I’d failed. I nearly didn’t include my arm brace on my kit flat lay photo but it would be a key piece of my race kit the next day.

Sunday was a 5:30am alarm call to be up and out for the coach pick up at 6:15. I forced mini malt loaves down my neck on the coach and felt sick. I’d forgotten what pre race nerves were like.

Pre race photo with #visorclub

I stood and chatted to Jo in the start pen and soon we were off. I set off too fast as usual and had to slow to a steadier trot. The miles started to tick by but the lack of support on the route was taking its toll. Then I was half way!

It was great to see Sally and Keely outside the hotel and it seems their photos are better than the official pics!

The second half was a hard slog but eventually I was turning in to the marina and onto the home straight.

I did it!

Happy tears!

It was slow – the slowest half marathon I’ve ever run. But I don’t care. There was a time not too long ago when I couldn’t see that I would ever do this again so, honestly, I’m chuffed to bits.

And if you’re going to make a comeback, Cyprus isn’t a bad place to do it. Not bad at all.

Back to life

I haven’t blogged for a while. Life has been hectic. My last blog was about coming back home, to London, after 11 weeks in Nottinghamshire with my parents.

I returned to London having had the verbal go-ahead from occupational health to go back to work, but not then official report, which meant I couldn’t go back to work.

I’m now at the end of my second week at work. I managed two days in the office before the snow came and I had to work from home for three days. I’ve managed a full week this week.

New headset!

It’s been an odd week, including having a visit from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. He wasn’t visiting me, of course.

There’s lots of catching up to do but I’m incredibly grateful to my lovely team for having held the fort and covered my (very busy, very full time) job between them. And it’s been great to catch up with colleagues and friends and meet new starters.

So what’s next?

I’ve joined the gym. The doc said I could run again but the physio pulled a face and said I was better on a treadmill. I don’t like the treadmill, am ambivalent about the bikes but discovered this week that I do like the Open Stride, where you can step. Metallica was a good hint to have on for that.

Next week I head for Limassol in Cyprus with a big group of the #ukrunchat crew. It’s sneaked up on me a bit but I’m excited.

Before I finish, I also want to thank the UKRunChat contingent for being so incredibly supportive during my broken arm period – especially the Notts contingent for looking after me so well in our get togethers. See you very soon!

#ukrunchat Notts crew ❤️

Home Sweet Home

And so, I’m home. The last four or so weeks have been very weird. I’ve been desperate to be home. Much as I love, and am incredibly grateful to, my parents, I’ve lived on my own for the last 17 years, bar a period of two years when I flat-shared when I first moved to London. Having a 10 week period living with my parents hasn’t been easy. I suspect they’d admit it too.

I’ve also been desperate to be back at work. One thing I never asked the hospital doctors and wish I had was why I had to be signed off work for so long. I sit at a desk all day. They never asked what I do for work. There was a lovely older lady I met in the x-ray queue, probably about 6 weeks ago now, whose own business had had to fold because she couldn’t run it any more because she had broken her arm in exactly the same place as I had. I saw her again, again in the x-ray queue, on Tuesday this week and she said she thought I’d have been back in London and back at work by now. So did we all. I was glad she was sitting in the fracture clinic waiting room when I came out from seeing the doctor, and I was able to tell her that I was going back!

So we travelled back to London yesterday, with my poor not-exactly-young parents towing the suitcases that I wasn’t allowed to tow. I was pretty knackered by the time we got to my flat and unpacked. Mum and Dad left and I cried. I’m a cryer anyway but I cry at the drop of a hat these days. I feel sorry for anyone around me. There could be waterworks at any given moment for no particular reason.

Saying that, a friend wisely told me yesterday that I’ve been through an awful lot and that I need to give myself a break. He’s right, of course. I think my brain has somehow blocked out some of just how bad it all was right at the beginning. I can’t really remember it (perhaps something to do with the painkillers….) And so I need to be kind to myself. Love myself a little bit. Push myself hard enough in my recovery but not too hard that I set myself back. If I need to DNS more races, this is what I will have to do if it’s better for me in the long term.st,small,215x235-pad,210x230,f8f8f8.lite-1 (2)

Preparing myself

I’ve now been off work for 9 weeks and I’m desperate to be back. Back in London, back in my flat, back in my life, and back at work.

But there’s a lot I have to prepare myself for.

The Consultant briefly removed the brace and my arm looks really weird. Squashed by the brace. Very dry. Weird. I cried when I saw it.

There’s a lot I still can’t do with my left arm. I’ll have to find work arounds when I’m living alone again. I tried to try a sports bra on today when I was alone in the house and then couldn’t get it off. I cried.

There is a lot of crying happening and I suspect there will be more once I’m back.

It’s a big step. But I’m hoping and praying it will happen soon.

Fluctuations

I was at the hospital again yesterday. Things still aren’t clear. It’s frustrating because I see a different doctor every time I go – the exception being the first doctor who I saw the second time and, for reasons I won’t go into here, I don’t really trust. Since seeing him I’ve had three appointments and three different registrars. And they all tell me different stories and timescales when I see them.

My head is not in a good place at the moment. I’m out of my home and my job and my routine. I like structure and routine. I’ve been living with my parents for six weeks. I have no space or “me” time. Running is usually my me time when I’m visiting them.

I’m worrying about tiny things because I’ve got the time to do that. I’m worrying about things that I have no control over. I’m getting upset because people who said they’d be in touch haven’t been. In reality, I know that they’re busy, for them real life goes on. Just because I’m in this bubble of suspended time, doesn’t mean that everyone else has time on their hands. I know that I’m being totally unreasonable.

I’ve become short tempered, grumpy and crotchety. I don’t like this “me”. I’m worrying over ridiculous things like the likelihood that I’ll have to cut my hair short because I can’t tie it up myself.

I’m worrying that I won’t be able to run Manchester Marathon. I know that this is far from being the end of the world. I know that there are many many people out there in far worse situations than I am and who will be in that situation for far longer than I will be. So I don’t run Manchester? I’ll enter something else which I’ll run when I’ll have trained properly. I even know which race that will be.

The fluctuations in my emotions is crazy. I’ll burst into tears for no reason at all. I had a fabulous day out at the National Running Show on Saturday and now feel rather flat with little else planned.

I know that everything will be OK. I know that my health – and getting my arm fixed properly – is really the only thing that matters.

I’m incredibly grateful for the support I’m receiving and I’m starting physiotherapy tomorrow, so hopefully that will help.

This isn’t me, and I won’t let this be me.

My Left Arm

I’ve just posted this photo as my new profile pic on Twitter. It’s one of @bensnapsstuff’s fabulous photos and I love it.

But I can’t stop looking at my left arm. I’m running, my left arm is forward and looks fairly slim but strong. My eyes are drawn towards it.

I haven’t seen the top of my left arm for two weeks since before my brace was fitted, but really didn’t look at it for the two weeks before that after my accident because it was so bruised and swollen and painful.

Look, look at my left arm. To you it may just be a left arm, and so it is. But to me it looks almost mythical. I can’t remember taking any notice of it before.

Look, look at my left arm. One day (hopefully soon) I’ll be back to the badass runner who is in this photo. That’s me. That’s who I am.

Look, look at my left arm. I miss this me but I’ll be back, stronger and fitter.

See you then.

Being a Lizard

Apologies in advance if this reads as a “Poor me” blog. I really don’t mean it to be.

Many years ago, in a previous life, I was a student nurse (I’m not a nurse now – long story not for now). I remember one of my modules covering how important body image is, and how it affects how people feel and affects their mental health. Studying nursing, of course this was looked at in relation to illness/injury. Luckily for me, I’ve never had much experience of this until now. I wrote a blog on body image a few months ago, but that was from a weight perspective and this is a little different.

Many of you will know, but some may not, that I broke my arm – badly (not that any break is good!) – 3 weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been living with my parents and, for the most part, can’t do much. On top of feeling pretty helpless for a while, I hate what is happening to me physically.

I’m not allowed to shower. My skin is now dry and flaking off. I itch. Cream helps temporarily. But I take off a piece of clothing and there is a shower of skin. I’m a lizard.

My legs and under arms are the hairiest they’ve been since is started shaving them (approximately 30 years ago). I hate this. Now, I suspect there may be some out there saying that being hairy is fine. It’s a personal thing – I hate it.

I’m putting on weight because I’m not moving around much. And not only that, I’m swollen. Not just my broken arm but my legs, ankles and feet. I know that this will go when I can move around more but it looks and feels horrible.

I’m bruised. Some of you have been lucky enough to see that bruising.

I’m utterly exhausted from having to sleep sitting up and I know that this can’t be helping.

One small comfort is that we’ve found a way to wash my hair.

I found New Year’s Day incredibly hard. I hadn’t anticipated this. Everyone on Twitter was posting their 2018 running goals and this made me incredibly sad. I cried. A lot. For most of the day.

This is ridiculous, of course. My head tells me (rightly) that none of this matters. If I miss races it isn’t the end of the world. Others have done it and survived. What is important is that I heal properly.

It’s my heart that’s the problem – it’s always the case. I’m a “heart on your sleeve” kinda girl. You’ll always know how I feel. I’m a cryer – just can’t help it. And I’m struggling with how down all of this is making me feel.

But it’s OK to not be OK. And this is just me not being OK for a little while.