After my first ultra in June 2014, the Classic Quarter on the Cornish coast path, I looked up what the UTMB points were that I’d gained after the race. I was captivated by the enormity of this week-long series of races circulating the Mont Blanc massive in various clockwise and anti-clockwise routes. It seemed way beyond my reach so I blocked it out for a year or so. I wasn’t sure how I could turn myself into a mountain goat, but now after years of coaching athletes through tough ultras and huge amounts of research and reading that view has changed a lot.
Through 2014 and 2015 I’d raced several more ultras over longer distances and had gained the required UTMB points for the shorter event the CCC (Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix), by short we are talking 101km and 6,000+M of elevation over technical Alpine terrain. I entered the ballot, only to get the email in January saying quite bluntly ‘refused’. It meant the following year I could enter the ballot again with a coefficient of 2, as long as I had the required 8 points from recent races. In 2016 I entered again, ‘refused’ again! I wondered what it would take to get an elite entry as I was doing well at races, winning and usually getting a podium at smaller races and a top 10 at Lakeland 50. My ITRA ranking is Expert 1, just below the Elite 3, so not good enough, but it seemed I was getting a priority entry for 2018 anyway so in December 2017 I plugged in my details and BOOM! I was in! OMG!
Everyone who knows me, knows how I love the trail, after years of being road fairy, and long days out running, however they also know how absolutely rubbish I am at running technical downhill, and about my rather debilitating fear of heights. I can coach downhill till I’m blue in the face, but actually ‘letting go’ as my husband so delightfully sings to me, is not easy when you’re a control freak like me!
The journey begins
Manchester marathon was my A goal for the Spring, my training however involved a lot of winter trail, short fast cross country races and some longer trail races as steady runs. I ran the Beacons Ultra again knocking 18 minutes off my time from 2016. I also cycled all winter inside on the Watt Bike and outside with friends and swam once a week. I totally believe that mixing up my training has helped stave off serious injuries that I’m prone too and kept me mentally enjoying the running I did do. Manchester went better than we thought, and I felt strong and fast heading into my summer training blocks. My physical preparation was building up too, with lots of balance work, agility, weighted squats, lunges, hiking and plyometrics a big part of the plan. I have also been doing plenty of yoga at home to help with mobility issues in my left ankle especially. Athletes I coach know just how strongly I feel about this element of training!
I won the Jurassic Quarter in May, coming 3rd overall. 46 miles with 7,500ft of elevation over technical terrain and steep descents, perfect training. I ran 30 minutes quicker than I’d run two years ago, so knew I was feeling fit. The recovery from this race took longer than I thought and I was side lined a couple of weeks, but decided to enter the Velothon Wales and did loads of hill work and long bikes. I am sure this also helped my leg strength for the Alpine mountains too.
Following the Velothon, which was the most amazing experience, I fully recommend to anyone keen on cycling, I turned to running big hills, big gym work, weighted hiking and some tempo running. My training for the last 6 weeks has been big hill reps, e.g. 10 x 6 minutes (300ft), steady up and legging it down; 4 trips to the Brecon Beacons around school hours, up and down Pen Y Fan, Fan Y Big, Cribyn and Corn Du, around 5-6,000ft over 15-22 miles each trip; Cotswold Way running, and then 6 big runs on holiday in the Alps on holiday from Thonon Station, Samoëns and Vallorcine, the latter along 15 miles of the actual CCC route.
Going into race week, I felt strong and happy. Anxieties were building though and I have amazing friends that did their best to keep me calm; were my poles going to make it in the hold bag on the plane, were we going to make it as all a bit tight with flight times, and registration slot, then lastly the weekend before a poor hiker was killed on the last stretch of the route I had recced only two weeks before from Col de Montets up to Tete aux Vents, a landslide. This section was incredibly steep, rocky and involved scrambling at times, with a lot of loose rock, I was worried about doing this in the dark. They closed the path until they could clear it and make it safe. I hadn’t recced the new route and was concerned it would involve the ladders I’d refused to go up on a walk with the kids the previous summer!! Then on Wednesday morning, feeling a bit anxious as only two days to go, I reached across to turn off the alarm clock and my back went into total spasm, I could barely move. Absolute disaster! My anxieties switched from the silly worries to this major set back…