This is Part 2 of a look at running while pregnant and running after birth – my version, anyway.  You can read Part 1 here if you missed it.

I think it’s really important to emphasise that everyone’s experience is different. Just like how some friends ran much more than I did through pregnancy, and others had to stop – same goes for after childbirth. I have some friends who returned to running almost immediately and with hardly any impact on their speed and endurance, and other friends who have found the journey back much more difficult. I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky with a fairly uncomplicated return.. but it was still very hard!

THE FIRST 3 MONTHS

Weeks 0-6

There is no way to soften it – these first six weeks were pretty terrible for me. I had a fairly straightforward natural (no epidural) birth but was on Pitocin which makes contractions more intense, more frequent, and more painful, and I also tore while pushing (I wrote about the birth here). I think I was going through some PTSD after the birth and postpartum depression. I think it didn’t help that I was used to daily exercise endorphins right up until the birth and then BAM, they stopped completely while I recovered. Most doctors recommend holding off on any exercise until 6 weeks after birth, but I had naively envisioned at least being able to go on walks. I couldn’t. I was too sore, too leaking milk, too hot, too incapable of venturing out into the Florida summer. It was bad. Oh, and of course – no sleep! These first 6 weeks were a haze of fatigue, pain, and tears.

Total miles run: 0

12 days old. So, so tired.

Weeks 6-12

At 7 weeks postpartum, my doctor gave me the nod to start some gentle exercise. Things weren’t exactly all healed up, but he knew how important it was for me to start moving again and he gave me a prescription for some numbing gel and some oestrogen healing cream, both of which helped a lot.

My friend Lara (who had her baby 8 weeks ahead of me) suggested we do MuTu together. MuTu (embarrassingly, it’s short for “mummy tummy”), is a 12 week program to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, mostly focusing on exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor and the core. I’ve never been good at doing core work at the best of times, but, like 70% of women post childbirth, I had diastasis recti. That’s where the abdominal muscles move apart to make space for the baby, but then can leave a gap afterwards which can cause all sorts of pelvic floor disfunction, not to mention cause of things like incontinence or post-pregnancy belly pooch.

Diastasis recti is incredibly interesting because:

  • 70% of women have it after pregnancy, and don’t know anything about it
  • it causes REAL problems like incontinence, body shame, uterus and rectal prolapse, core weakness, and can persist for the rest of your life if not dealt with
  • hardly anybody talks about it or even knows about it!

If you want to read more about it, professional runner Stephanie Bruce wrote a lot about it on her blog and became a minor celebrity outside of running for “daring” to go public with photos of her belly after having two babies just 16 months apart. Start with this: My abs are separated, contemplating divorce, or her article My Stomach is All over the Internet in Runner’s World. (She has since gone on to qualify for the Olympic Trials for the marathon, so she is still plenty fast, no matter what her belly may look like.)

I met with a pelvic floor physiotherapist in Toronto when we were visiting my parents when Eva was 8 weeks old. The plus side was that I had no obvious symptoms – no incontinence, no pain – but on the downside, she confirmed that I had a 3-finger abs separation and that I had lost the ability to connect my core muscles with my pelvic floor. The solution: endless kegels, and the MuTu core workout every day. I have since recommended the MuTu plan, or the equivalent, to countless friends postpartum, and especially to runners who are experiencing pain or incontinence while running.

Mutu involved a daily 15 min core workout that was fairly simple, plus as the weeks progressed, an additional cardio and weights based workout three to four times a week, which took about half an hour. So the time investment was around 45 minutes four times a week and 15 minutes the other three days. This wasn’t easy to fit in with a little baby who was still learning to sleep and who was breastfeeding constantly. Once I started running regularly again, it was even harder to fit in because I would need to feed Eva first thing, go for a short run, come back and do the MuTu workout in a race against her waking up from her nap, and then feed her again – most days before I’d even had a chance to shower (and not showering post-run in Florida is GROSS).

BEFORE and AFTER MUTU:  Left photos are taken at 8 weeks postpartum, right photos taken at 20 weeks postpartum. 12 weeks of MuTu workouts in-between, 12 lbs lost. Still carrying an extra 5 lbs at 20 weeks postpartum.

At 7 weeks postpartum exactly, I went for my very first run. It felt amazing. Just 1.5 miles, and at 10:15 min/mile – but the first run without the bump just felt so so good, so liberating, so happy. I think it was maybe only my second time getting out of the house by myself at all, and all 16 minutes of it felt like a tiny reclamation of my life. I ran 1.5 to 2 miles for the first two weeks, every other day, and then brought it up to 3 miles with a tiny bit more speed – not much. I was slow, so, so slow. Depressing. Again, I had naively thought that running throughout my pregnancy might keep me somewhat fit for my return. In reality, I’m sure it did. But struggling to run an 8 minute mile at 3 months postpartum felt pretty terrible. At 11 weeks postpartum, I ran my first race back, a local 5K (and wrote about it here), and another 5K race at twelve weeks postpartum. I was very slow for both, and felt like I was dying. There is a saying…”It doesn’t get easier; you just get faster.” I felt like it didn’t get easier… I just got a whole lot slower!

Total miles run: 48 miles

I was happy to be running again, but I was still running very low mileage, was still carrying extra weight, and was still running excruciatingly slowly.  I felt disheartened and like I may never be back to my “normal”.

I needed to feel more like myself. I needed a goal. I decided it was time to start training for a spring marathon. I would be 8 months postpartum for the London Marathon… time to get busy!

 

Next up: postpartum marathon training.

08. November 2016 · Comments Off on Zombie Mums’ Run · Categories: Race Report, Run, Sportlight on.... · Tags: , ,

I’ve just had a wonderful visit with my friend Juliane, her 2 year old son Joey, and her friend Barbara. They flew in for the weekend from the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

Tom and I first met Juliane in 2005, when we were all working in the BVI. She forced me to run back then, and I hated it – as detailed here. In 2013, I went out to visit Juliane and her family in the BVI, and together we ran a BVI Athletics Association 5K race on Tortola:

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I’m wearing the long socks. Juliane has a pink bra and a grey cap.

As it happened, this was Juliane’s very first race (first of many!), and it was also my first race in the heat (also the first of many!).

After Juliane heard that I ran a 5K race last weekend, she asked if I could find a race for the two of us to do together again. A quick google and I found the Phantom 5K held at the Palm Beach Outlets. Juliane was arriving on Friday late in the evening and the race was early Saturday morning, but it would work.

…and then her flight was rerouted to Orlando due to a fire at Fort Lauderdale, so it ended up being after midnight by the time she got to our house. With her two year old. I asked if she was sure she wanted to race early the next day – “absolutely!” she said.

Just to make sure we were well and truly exhausted, our babies both picked that night as the one to be difficult.  Eva needed feeding at 4am and it wasn’t long before I heard Joey up too. So, 3.5 hours sleep before the race. When we arrived at the race venue in the dark and saw all the Halloween decorations, we declared it the Zombie Mums’ Run rather than the Phantom 5K. We did a half-hearted lap around the car park to warm up and both declared ourselves spent. Juliane couldn’t stop shivering in the “cold” 26 deg / 79 F (that’s what so many years in the tropics will do to you!) and bounded off as soon as the gun went. I tried to run steady and managed pretty even splits, as slow as I was (now at 12 weeks postpartum). The course was two laps around the Palm Beach Outlets car park, not the most glamorous of runs.

Juliane finished in 23:11 and came second in our age group, her best time since Joey’s birth, and I ran 25:01, which was a good improvement over last weekend’s race and enough for third in the age group. It’s going to be a long road back to fitness….but I’m taking it day by day.

The next day, Juliane, Barbara and I enjoyed a 10km easy run through the local bird sanctuary – my longest run since Eva’s birth. It feels so good to be back out there.

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Eva: for photo purposes only

 

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Finishing my first ever triathlon, the Nuffield Health Tri Challenge sprint at Eton Dorney Lake

I love racing. From the moment I finished my first race, a sprint triathlon at Eton Dorney Lake, I wanted that feeling again, and again, and again. I love pushing myself and I just love the ambience at races. The feeling of everyone coming together to do the same thing, the nervous tension, the fun, the effort involved from the person sprinting across the finish in first place to the person walking across the finish line last.

 

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It’s not always about going fast. I just love to take part, even when I am not racing.  Which is why I did a couple of races while pregnant, my last one a 5K at 30 weeks.  I like looking for a challenge in any circumstances. Racing while pregnant was great because I had a very visible excuse as to why I was slow. I had so many people waving at me and telling me how wonderful it was that I was out there.

 

 

Post-partum, it’s a different story.  I don’t have anything on me that tells the random bystander “Hey, I just had a baby, cut me some slack!“, but really the only person who needs to know that I need that slack is myself.

2014

This past weekend I ran the Wellington 10 Miler & Sebastian’s 5K (I only did the 5K!) as my very first race since having Eva 11 weeks ago. This race holds a special place in my heart.  When Tom and I first moved to Wellington two years ago, we noticed signs up in our neighbourhood stating that a race would be held on the roads that weekend.  I immediately investigated further and discovered that the Wellington Runners Club was holding its annual race. Clearly a perfect introduction to our new home – I entered it immediately.

Three days after moving countries and continents, I lined up at the start of the 10 mile course. I had never run a 10 mile race before so wasn’t sure how to pace it.  2014 was a huge year for me – I had come off of many endurance events, including Ironman Lanzarote, the Anglesey Ultramarathon, the London Marathon, the Sierra Leone Marathon, and the SVP100, a 100km ultra marathon. I hadn’t done any speed workouts since the Ironman in May. But, as I’ve already stated, I love to race and I definitely wasn’t going to miss a race in my new neighbourhood.

At the start of the 2014 race

At the start of the 2014 race and 20 lbs lighter!

Unsurprisingly, I went out too fast. I wasn’t used to the Florida heat, I wasn’t really trained for speed, and by mile 7 I was losing ground. I was overtaken by a girl with long dark hair in a plait who ran a very steady pace. I finished 5th woman, and as I gasped at the finish line, I saw the girl again and congratulated her on much smarter running that I had done.  She was wearing a Wellington Runners Club vest and she told me about the club and invited me to the track workouts. That girl was Benjamine.

Meeting Ben immediately brought us into the inner folds of Palm Beach County’s running community. I joined the club and started running the track sessions to try to find some speed again. Ben and I were almost perfectly paced for each other and ended up training for our spring marathons together (London for me, Boston for her). We also ran the Leadville Marathon in Colorado together, along with our husbands Tom and Travis, went skiing,  and spent hours running through swamps all last summer preparing for our respective ultra marathons (Laugavegur in Iceland for us, Trans-Alps for them). We also ran many other local races together, from half marathons to 5Ks to triathlons. Sometimes she beat me, sometimes I beat her, but we always had fun and enjoyed a big brunch afterwards with our men.

2016

Last year I was all set to run the Wellington 10 Miler again when I was hit by the car the day before the race. I didn’t make it to the start line. This year, at 11 weeks postpartum, I wasn’t ready for the 10 Miler, but the 5K looked like a perfect goal.  I’d been back running (or should I say jogging) for around 4 weeks, although hardly anything much – 1.5 to 3 miles max, 3 times a week, plus swimming and daily core exercises. A small slow start, as it should be. Returning to running after a baby is no joke. It’s almost like starting over as a complete beginner, except your brain is light years ahead of your body and gets frustrated that the body can’t keep up. It’s okay to be slow right now. It’s okay to need to take walk breaks. This is normal. This is what I keep telling myself.

My friend Carly – who is 14 weeks pregnant –  was running with her two young girls in her double pram. I think we calculated at one point that the total weight she pushes is well over 100lbs?! She is a hell of a runner. So with her triple handicap, we ran together for the first three kilometres and chatted pregnancy, birth, sport, babies. We kept a nice steady pace and she was the perfect companion to stop me from getting ahead of myself.

[Side note: Carly ran hill repeats while in labour. She was the inspiration behind my 5K run after my waters broke.]

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Carly, Travis and Ben, with Molly and Skylar in the pram. Molly was very upset she wasn’t being allowed out to run the race herself.

With two kilometres to go, and Carly being blocked by her wide-load pram from overtaking runners in front, I said goodbye and tried to find any remnants of speed in my legs, heart, lungs. There wasn’t much, but I managed to get to my old marathon pace (!) and finished with a sprint when another lady tried to overtake me.

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Ben won it.

Just like any other race, I had to sit down gasping at the finish line. My goal for the race had been to beat my 30 week pregnant 5K time of 26:59, and I succeeded with 25:37. Not a time I would be proud of normally, but at 11 weeks postpartum I was pleased.

Also, most of the faster runners tend to run the 10 Miler rather than the 5K, so it also meant I won my age group and received a handy pint glass for it. Ben was jealous. She and her husband only got trophies for first woman and first masters…!

With Jen Leeds, the head off the Wellington Runners Club, the race director, and overall just an amazing person

With Jen Leeds, the head off the Wellington Runners Club, the race director, and overall just an amazing person

I have a long way to go on the road back to fitness, but I loved being back on the running scene, back in the race, and yes, as embarrassing as it is to say it, back on the occasional podium.

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This is New

I’ve done a lot of running races and triathlons in the last 4 years. This was my first time having to figure out how to do it with the complexities of a small baby. Here is how it worked out:

  • Tom wanted to run the 10 miler, and I wanted to run the 5K. Someone had to watch Eva.  I won. Tom had to stay home with the baby. This does make me sad. I especially love racing with him.
  • I had to feed Eva before the race. Eva is starting to sleep through the night. She WAS sleeping through the night before the race. I had to wake her at 5am to feed.  Do you have any idea how wrong it is to WAKE an 11 week old baby who is sleeping through the night?! WRONG!!!
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Waking the sleeping baby at 5am. NOT COOL.

  • I had to figure out running with boobs filled with milk. Needless to say, this was not something I ever had to think of before. 1) Empty them as close to run time as possible. 2) Wear the most supportive bra you own even though it chafes terribly. 3) Scream when you have a shower afterwards and the water hits your raw chafed back.
  • Remember to wear black. Because I’ve read enough blogs about leaking milk and leaking wee when running postpartum. Neither happened, thankfully. But better to be prepared….
  • I wasn’t sure if I had time to stay for the awards ceremony or if I had to rush back to feed Eva again. Tom confirmed – she remained asleep and I stuck around for my pint glass.

 

I’ve been touched by the outpouring of congratulations and support after my Pregnant Pause post last week. I was in Canada for a short visit with my parents / escape from Florida heat and unsurprisingly I discovered that I could run much better in the cooler temperatures.

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The half marathon in 2013

I enjoyed a couple of cooler runs (16-19° C/ 61-66° F) at the cottage, including a mighty 9 km (5.6 miles) which is the longest run I’ve managed to do since I think about 21 weeks of pregnancy. I felt good!  I felt great! So what to do but enter a race over the weekend? Of course!

Tom and I ran the Toronto Women’s Half Marathon in 2013 when visiting Toronto for our friends’ wedding. It was conveniently the same weekend that we were in town and it takes place every year in Sunnybrook Park, which is very near to where my parents live.

So I was pleased to discover that I happened to be in Toronto yet again for the event. Now, don’t think I’m so foolish or crazy to try to jump to a half marathon at 30 weeks’ pregnant after doing one 9km run… no, but they offer a 5K too!

So I entered.

Cue the heat wave!

Forget the ideal running temperatures of the previous mornings. By the weekend, it was hitting highs of 32°C/90°F. I was lucky enough to be coming from a hot place with plenty of heat acclimatisation, but all the runners here were training over a cold winter and it actually snowed just two weeks ago.  From snow to sweltering!

My father had kindly accompanied me to the race, and we had nearly a mile hike on steep trails from the car park to the start of the race. My heart rate was already far too high. When we got to the start, I jogged a 1 km warm up and my heart rate was hitting 180 (that’s nearly exploding, if numbers are less meaningful to you). I thought, well, it was a nice try, but today is not going to be my day.  Oh well, let’s jog it and see….

Meanwhile the half marathon was shortened to a 12km race in an effort to prevent people from fainting on course. Always a good sign!

I started at the very back of the first corral. Pregnant running is very strange… you just can’t have any expectations. Some days I don’t make it to 500m before I have to walk. Other days, I feel great. What would it be today? Especially in the unexpected heat?

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I won’t bore you with a blow by blow of a slow 5K, but I surprised myself, staying even paced and slowly overtaking the overly keen runners in front of me. I had to take two short walk breaks to get my heart rate down from the heavens (190s), especially after a couple of the little hills, and I grabbed the proffered water that I would normally fly by on a regular day. I did ignore the chocolate station…yes, they have a chocolate station, all melting oozy in the heat, I am sure.

I had lots of support on course from other runners, including the winning lady as she streaked by me after the turnaround point. And lots of looks of outright surprised looks!

2016-05-29 | 2016 Toronto Womens Half Marathon and 5K

And there it was, the finishing arch! I had made it through, and in a better time than I had expected, given the heat (uh and the bump), 26:59.  I was aiming for under 30 min and felt like I’d given it the best shot that I could.

2016-05-29 | 2016 Toronto Womens Half Marathon and 5K

imageI was surprised and pleased to find out that I actually finished 7th in my age group out of 111 people, and 62nd overall out of 772 runners.

imageMy poor father looked slightly worried as I collapsed onto the grass after the race, catching my breath. “Are you feeling okay?” he asked. I had to explain that this was my typical posture after any 5K race and had nothing to do with pregnancy!

I hope to keep running for as long as I can, IF I can. And now that I’ve resigned myself not to care about finishing times, well, I might just keep an eye out for another 5K race in the next few weeks…..

I know some people don’t approve at all of my running/cycling at this stage, but more and more, doctors are saying that exercise during pregnancy is only a good thing:

  • This study showed that female mice who exercised during pregnancy were more likely to have offspring who actively sought out exercise. Where exercise-loving mice were prevented from carrying out exercise during pregnancy, their offspring did not show a love for exercise.

 

  • On Monday, the BBC published this article debunking myths that women shouldn’t exercise during pregnancy, stating, “For a long time exercise was simply thought to conflict with a woman’s reproductive ability. The roots of this feeling were unscientific, and more to do with gender roles than with the health of mother or baby.”

 

  • A number of elite athletes have continued to train throughout pregnancy with amazing results, including most recently: Stephanie Bruce (who ran an Olympic standard 10K just 6 months post-partum, yes, that’s a 32 minute 10K – read her blog about it here); Julia Webb; and Alysia Montaño (made famous in non-running circles for this EPIC photo of her racing 800m on the track at 8 months pregnant).  And of course the fact that Jo Pavey won the gold medal at the European Games for the 10K at 40 years old 10 months after giving birth.

 

  • There is some evidence that women can become even faster and stronger after giving birth.  For example,  Paula Radcliffe‘s unbeaten world record for the women’s marathon (still standing since 2003!) of 2:15:25 was set 3 years after the birth of her second child, or again Jo Pavey as above.

Of course lots of women would like to be active during their pregnancies, but can’t, due to various complications or even just plain and simple pain and discomfort. I’ve had to dip in and out of it myself due to the latter so I certainly sympathise with those who are experiencing more limited options. I consider every run I do now to be savoured and appreciated, as I never know which run might be my last! This morning’s 6km jog was a complete disaster!

 

It has been six months since my last post, and I apologise for the lost momentum.  I hadn’t raced since Ironman Florida and it seems I am slightly lost without races to train for and concrete goals to pursue. I realised after the Ironman that I needed a break, both body and mind.  I was still sore from the hit & run and after a full year of racing, my motivation was waning.  The need for a pause was cemented when I found out shortly after the Ironman that I was pregnant!

I was very sad to defer my place in the London Marathon and to give up my place in the Tokyo Marathon, to which I had received semi-elite entry. Hopefully I will qualify again in the next few years. Always good to have goals!

So… races are have been on hold for a little while. I’m still running and cycling, a little bit of swimming. Earlier in the pregnancy saw me doing a lot of yoga and some weights classes. Oh, and cooking.  It feels weird not to have a plan or a dream but there will be time for all of that again later. And of course, it goes without saying, we have a whole lot of new stuff to look forward to!

A brief catch up of the last few months, from 1 to 10:

  1.  A lot of yoga, then a little of yoga.
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Me doing one of the very few arm balances in my repertoire.

IMG_1357I really suck at yoga. But I try. I’ve been to around 80 classes in the last 16 months. In December I went nearly every day for the whole month.  I definitely improved. Now I’m not going as much, and I’ve regressed.

I try to attend classes with my superstar yoga friend Nancy (also a superstar cyclist and runner), who continues to inspire me as she turns herself upside down and inside out.

Now I’m getting bigger and the yoga stuff is getting a bit more challenging. I’ve given up on any sort of vinyasa for the next little while….

 

 

 

 

2. Some FUN bike rides

It was nice after all that Ironman to go out for some nice short rides with friends and go for a coffee afterwards. No looking at mileage or the clock. Of course I was pregnant during these rides but still very early on, so I was having to work pretty hard to keep up!

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3.  A trip home to the UK for Christmas

We enjoyed a wonderful 10 days in the UK for the Christmas holidays. It was so nice to be home, to enjoy the cold, to be with family and friends, and finally to get to meet my nephew Finn who was born in late April.

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We got lots of cold-weather runs in. I used to yearn for spring back when we ran through the cold dark winter, but I can tell you now, you sure learn to appreciate the cold after sweltering in the heat for ages.  Oh, and hills too. I have a new love for hills.

4. Running with Haile 

I’ve said it before – Haile loves to run. We try to take him running on the trails at least 2-3 times a week, and he happily does 10-12 miles with us (I’m sure he would go further, but this is our off season!).
IMG_2723We also try to take him for a barefoot run on the beach regularly. It’s a good strengthening session for our feet and legs, and he loves playing with the IMG_3028other dogs and galloping in and out of the surf.

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5. Sewing

I have the nerdy hobby of sewing quilts. I don’t sew anything else – just quilts. Here are some recent projects:

6.  Skiing!

We went on an amazing ski trip to Breckenridge, Colorado, with friends. It snowed for the first two days and then we had two days of sunshine. It was a perfect trip from start to finish.  We had great intentions of getting in some cold weather runs too while we were out there, but we were having too much fun on the mountain. We skied, we ate, we skied, we ate. I was 16 weeks pregnant at the time and just about managed to fit into my ski kit with the flies left unzipped.

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7. Cooking

Back when I was at law school, I used to cook a lot. I even had grand ideas of making my own cookbook.IMG_4095
That never came to fruition, and over the years I got stuck in the same rut of recipes. My New Year’s resolution this year was to get back to cooking and to make new stuff more often. I stuck to it pretty well for the first few months, although as I’ve been suffering more from various pregnancy symptoms, it’s not always my first priority.

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8.  Working

Our bike fitting and triathlon shop Magnum Multisport is now open for appointments! It’s been a learning process on how to get the ball rolling properly in the USA/ Florida/ Palm Beach County/ Wellington (yes, each of those has an impact and its own red tape), but we are getting there and it won’t be long before we are open full-time. We now have awesome Argon 18 tri and road bikes in stock and some very slick Lynskey titanium road and gravel bikes. We also have beautiful Lake Cycling shoes and make fully custom moulded foot beds and custom cleats for the ultimate fit. And of course a plethora of other bike gear too, including Shimano, Profile Design, Foot Balance, Cobb, ISM, Fi’z’k, and more signing up with us every day.  Tom is a fully trained F.I.S.T and BikeFit bike fitter and also has a degree in sport science. I know I’m biased but I can tell you he knows what he is doing!

Our website is still a work in progress, but you can check it out here: www.magnummultisport.com.

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9. (Trying to) stay fit

I’m currently 3/4 through the pregnancy (7 months) and I’ve been very lucky so far – I have been feeling good and been able to stay active, for the most part.  I ran nearly as normal until 21 weeks, including doing my club track workouts. Then I had some trouble with shin splints which meant taking time off running and more time on the bike. Now I’m back to running again but it really varies day by day what I’m able to do.

I’ve been loving Sufferfest videos on our Kickr computrainer. I trained for Ironman Lanzarote in 2014 solely via Sufferfest videos on the indoor trainer and I had forgotten how convenient it is to jump on the bike without ever leaving the house. And I work much harder than I generally do on a ride outside.  It’s win win! Tom did a bike fit for me on the bike fitting rig we offer at Magnum Multisport in order to get me more comfortable on the bike with my belly – the result included turning my handlebars upside down, which, while looking crazy, makes a huge difference in accommodating the ever-growing bump.

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Note the upside-down handlebars!

10. Racing!

I know I said my racing was on hiatus… well, I thought it was when I started writing this! But I did a couple of 5Ks for fun.  I ran the Shamrock 5K at 19 weeks. I wasn’t expecting much, but it went better than I had hoped and I won my age group.

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Then at 21 weeks, I ran the Race Against Invasives 5K trail race in our old trails stomping grounds, the Apoxee Wilderness Trail. This was the first time I felt the full force of carrying a baby while trying to maintain any type of pace and it wasn’t pretty… but I got through it and still managed a sprint finish. My friend Ben was first woman, of course!

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More updates to follow!

Meanwhile… today’s 4 mile very happy run in Georgian Bay at 29 weeks. It’s like running while carrying a bowling ball:image

I’m not going to lie – at this stage, some days I feel great running, other days I don’t even make it to half a mile. It really seems to vary from day to day.

Did you stay active through your pregnancy? I’d love to hear what worked for you and what didn’t.

After being hit by a car while out cycling just 3 weeks out from Ironman Florida, I didn’t expect to be able to race Ironman Florida. I was thankful to be alive, to be mostly in one piece, but I was also extremely bruised, swollen, and bloodied.  I could barely walk – surely it was ridiculous to put any more thoughts towards the Ironman.

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But I am stubborn, and I didn’t want to give up yet. I said I would take it day by day and make no decisions until the day, and that’s what I did.  After 4 days of complete rest, I started seeing an excellent physio, Hillary Hamer, herself a strong triathlete and ultra runner so she knew where I was coming from and she didn’t flinch when I said that I still had hopes of making it to the start line.

Instead, Hillary put me to work, forcing me raise my left arm above my head – a move that I had tried to avoid since the crash, due to road rash all over my shoulder and a deep puncture wound on my elbow, and just general hurt.  She made me do hip and glute strengthening exercises despite the massive bruising (or rather, because of it), she made me use all the things that were hurting rather than continuing to baby them, and she ultrasounded, massaged, iced and taped all my bruised and swollen bits.  My bum – where I was hit directly by the car – was just a black and purple mess of bruising.

The irony was that I had gone through all this last year – when I crashed my bike just four weeks out from Ironman Lanzarote.  This time I had one week fewer and more serious injuries (last year I had severe bruising but no road rash or open wounds), but it seems I’ve got the recovery routine down pretty well – unfortunately! After a week of rest, icing, and phyio, Tom set up my bike in the living room on the turbo trainer and on I climbed for my first 30 minutes of cardio.  My bruised hip/glute hurt with every pedal stroke. But I was told that as long as the pain was not intolerable, it wasn’t a bad thing.

imageThe next day I did an hour on the turbo trainer, just easy spinning.  Same pain, no worse, no better. I thought to myself – I can handle this. What was more worrying was the puncture wound on my elbow, which was directly where I would put my full weight onto the aero bars in a race.  But again, take it a day at a time, make no decisions.  10 days after the crash, I rode my bike outside again for the first time, with my friend Nancy.  Nancy had also suffered a terrible bike crash this summer, and after extensive surgery and physio it was also her first time back on the bike outside. We were a sorry pair and a great team.  My bruised hip/bum still hurt, but no worse than before.

And then it was time to run. It didn’t matter at all if I could cycle if I couldn’t run.  And so after nearly 2 weeks of convalescence, I did my first 30 min jog.  Same old story – it was painful but it was manageable. And although it looked nasty and was very sore to the touch, my bruised ankle didn’t seem to mind jogging.

And so the week of Ironman was upon us.  I had done a couple of gentle rides and a few short trots.  No swimming, so that my wounds could continue to heal. My friend Will had flown all the way from London with his fiancée Malgosia to race with Tom and me. We had been planning for over a year to race this Ironman together.

My options:

  1. Do Ironman Florida, knowing it would be a sub-par race, given injury and extended time off.
  2. Skip Ironman Florida, and do Ironman Cozumel instead (3 weeks later).
  3. Forget about Ironman this year.

I discussed these options with Tom and friends ad nauseam (sorry guys).  And although really options 2 and 3 were the more logical choices, I was still keen on doing Ironman Florida, providing I wasn’t going to do any long-term damage to my body.  The visible bruising was gone, but I was still very sore and with limited range of movement. I didn’t mind if my time was slower than I had originally been training for. I wanted to do the Ironman.  To do, not to race.

IMG_0385We made the 8 hour drive up to Panama City on Wednesday. I packed as if I were racing, although I still wasn’t certain I would be. Every day counted as another day for my injuries to heal. We bought yet more expensive bandages for my wounds for the race. We went to the expo.  And as I stood in line to register, I thought, that’s it – once I pick up my bib packet, it looks like I’m doing it. I still hadn’t made a definitive decision, although “yes” was the likely answer. Despite injury and nearly 3 weeks off everything… I wanted to swim, to bike, to run.

Nancy texted me that night, asking how I was feeling. I told her – nervous and unsure. She told me to do a headstand to drain the boogiemen out of my brain. I liked her way of thought, so I did what she said.  She was right. It helped.

We racked our bikes the next day. My bike, racked. This race was looking pretty likely. But until my timing chip on my ankle passed over the starting line, I could still pull out. Meanwhile, we were hearing more and more mutterings that the swim was going to be non-wetsuit legal, something which made my situation even more complicated with a slew of bandages to put on my still-open wounds in transition.

I didn’t get much sleep that night. Was I being foolish to race – or melodramatic not to race? Was I being too hard on myself – or at risk of being too easy on myself?

 

My Race Report is continued HERE.

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My friend Zoe took this photo of graffiti on the Parkland Walk, an amazingly beautiful and somewhat hidden away woodland trail in north London, minutes from our house. It was one of my absolute favourite places to run, with or without Zoe. I remember running by this graffiti and the words sticking in my head.  What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

Zoe posted this photo 115 weeks ago, some 2 years 3 months – around the time that I raced my very first half Ironman, Ironman 70.3 Haugesund, in Norway. That was already a huge leap for me. When I contemplated doing a full Ironman, I thought to myself, it’s not fear holding me back – it’s just common sense. I can’t do an Ironman. That’s not fear, that’s just being rational.

But it stuck in my head. What would I do if I weren’t afraid? What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

I’ve talked about Kathrine Switzer before, the first woman in the world to race a marathon, in my Thanks Paula, Thanks Kathrine post about running the London Marathon this year. Kathrine talks about the fear she felt when the race officials attacked her mid-race, trying to drag her off course:

That was how scared I felt, as well as deeply humiliated, and for just a tiny moment, I wondered if I should step off the course. I did not want to mess up this prestigious race. But the thought was only a flicker. I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward.

Kathrine finished that race, and many more since (in blistering times!), and most recently started up 261 Fearless, an organisation to promote women in sport. The organisation’s describes itself as “a global community of women, be she a walker, jogger, runner, or front of the pack racer, who have found strength, power and fearlessness from putting one foot in front of the other.”

There is no doubt that sport empowers us. A run in the rain is one of the best cures for a bad day at work, in my opinion – allowing you some ownership over your day. Some people take baby steps – I did. I started with a sprint triathlon, then an Olympic, then a half Ironman, and just when I thought I could go no further, I signed up for my first ultramarathon and my first Ironman.  My friend Karis didn’t need baby steps. She went from sprint tri to Ironman in one fell swoop. Some people will never do more than a 5K. The distance doesn’t matter. It’s learning to believe that you can do whatever you decide you want to do that does matter. And you learn this just one step at a time, one run at a time.

I’m not one for inspirational quotes and rah rah cheering. I like to get on with things and get the job done. But I do believe that every single person out there can do it if they believe they can do it, and for that reason I was honoured to be asked to be an ambassador for 261 Fearless to promote women in sport, to empower women through sport.

I now have a couple of ultramarathons under my belt and I’m currently training for my second full Ironman, which takes place in just 5 weeks. Training is really tough. I’m beginning to realise that I just don’t like being out on the bike for so long. Whether I race another Ironman distance after this one or not, however, I will know that the decision is based entirely on choice rather than fear.

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Pre-dawn swims, but the pool is much warmer here than in London!

 

As we crossed over the state line heading into Georgia from Florida, I received a text from my sister: “Going into hospital at 5pm to be induced.”

….

Laura was 39 weeks pregnant. We had booked Ironman 70.3 Augusta back before she was even pregnant, in November last year as part of the Ironman race package with Ironman Florida. We only realised the race was a week before her due date a month ago. But first babies are always late, right? And hey, there was no reason why she also couldn’t look after our dog while we were away….

We did arrange alternative dog-sitting, but we still didn’t really think the baby was going to come early. But Laura had had a tough pregnancy, with extreme back pain, nausea, and more recently was presenting with a dangerously high heart rate – 157 bpm while sitting down in the doctor’s office. Considering that’s nearing my Zone 4 heart rate on the bike… that wasn’t good.  Doctor said it was time to induce.

In a flurry of texts, we continued to drive (that is, Tom drove, I flurried the texts). Concerned friends were asking whether we were going to turn imagearound. Laura said keep going, there was nothing we could do. But another text said:  “I’m scared.”  I couldn’t believe I wasn’t there for her. But her husband Zach was going into hospital with her and she didn’t need more people taking up space while she laboured. And I needed the time on the drive to finish my baby quilt. Yes, I reckon out of the nearly 3000 athletes racing Ironman 70.3 Augusta, I was the only one frantically sewing the binding on a quilt on the way to the race. (Also yes, I have really nerdy hobbies.)

But what better way to take my mind off of the race? I always get bad pre-race nerves. To the point that every single time, I wonder why I put myself through so many races. (Because as much as I hate races before the start, I love them just as much after I finish. It’s a complicated twisted mindset.) On we drove to Augusta, Georgia.

Pre-race

Ironman Florida is our main goal this year, so we intended to treat this half as somewhat of a training race. We arrived early enough to get to to the Ironman Village to register and pick up our race packets, ate some dinner and went to bed for a night of no sleep, filled with anxiety for my poor sister in the throes of labour and me with the usual pre-race nerves.

imageSaturday morning we met up with my old friend Emily who lives in Augusta (my sister jokes that I know someone in every city everywhere in the world), enjoyed meeting her husband Andrew and her two kids that they had miraculously popped out since I last saw her 5 years ago, whilst also being an amazing trauma surgeon (yes, I feel intimidated!), and had a little walk along the Savannah River – the same river we would be swimming down the following morning.

 

A little bike ride to check out the bike course and a short run in the afternoon and we headed to the Bike Transition area to rack our bikes.  Ready to race!

But still no baby. The flurry of texts with Laura and Zach continued, mostly saying things weren’t going well and it looked like they might have to do a C-Section. Tom and I went to bed early and worried, but for once I wasn’t thinking about racing.image

Race Day

Our alarm was set for 5am so we could head to transition to pump our tyres and lay out our final gear for the race. But first things first. I woke up, looked at the phone, only to see some 52 messages from my family. Kylie Isabella Phillips had arrived safely during the night, a natural birth and a healthy baby girl. Well, if Laura could manage to deliver a baby naturally after 25 hours of labour, surely I could squeeze out a measly half Ironman? Time to race!

 

The Swim

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I had heard great things about the swim at this race – swimming with the current in a straight line down river, sounded good to me! It was a wave start and Tom’s wave was right before mine so we headed to the start together. It was very well organised. Wave by wave, we headed out onto a large pier and jumped into the water to swim 1900m downriver.

Photo thanks to http://www.pingjeffgreene.com

Photo thanks to http://www.pingjeffgreene.com

There were 220 in my age group, but we were well spread out across the pier and as soon as the horn sounded, I shot off to try to avoid any carnage. I needn’t have worried, as I was very quickly by myself, a few others within sight but nowhere near fighting distance. I knew this swim was going to be nice and short so I didn’t mind exerting a bit more effort than I might normally for 1900m. The current was ever-so-obliging and it wasn’t long before I was getting stuck into the pack of Tom’s orange-capped men ahead of me, trying to swim around them without wasting time.

I exited the water in 25:09, definitely a PB half Ironman swim for me but of course somewhat of an artificial time with that wonderful current. My swim had me 11th in my age group.

Bike

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Photo thanks to Podium Performance

It was drizzling gently as I headed off on the bike – hurrah! Training in Florida has been harsh with the extreme heat and humidity so I was really praying for a cooler day in Georgia. Although I couldn’t see out of my glasses for most of the ride, it was worth it for the lovely cooling effect.

The bike has always been my hardest/worst leg, and this race was no exception. The last half Ironman I did was HITS Naples back in January, where I had a massive PB of 5:01 with a 2:42 bike split (spoiler: I did not PB at Augusta). But that was on a dead flat course. While Augusta wasn’t crazy hilly when compared to some of the cycling I’d been doing in 2014 at Ironman Lanzarote, Yorkshire, and the Alps, including various Tour de France routes – it still had around 540m of climbing, which was a lot compared to the big fat ZERO of climbing I’ve been doing in Florida.

Let’s compare.

Ironman 70.3 Augusta bike:imageVs. HITS Naples Half Ironman bike:

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That Naples bike course is typical for most of my training rides in Florida, save for the occasional bridge. But I digress.  The Augusta bike course was great. We crossed the Savannah River downstream from where we had been swimming and set off into the South Carolina countryside and into the rolling hills. I love cycling on closed roads and the volunteers and police did a great job of keeping us riding safe and fast. I couldn’t see much through my wet glasses but I focused on keeping my heart rate in check, climbing steadily and descending safely. I had enough nutrition and drink on my bike to keep me going without needing to top up at any aid stations and I worked on picking off the men in front of me one by one. Of course, plenty of people were overtaking me too – including many of the fast women. Best of all was the weather. After the sweltering heat of Florida, the relatively cool temperatures (20°C / 68°F) and the drizzle meant I never felt hot on the bike. Amazing. Bliss.

Ironman Augusta 70.3 Julia bike

I arrived back at transition in 2:56:05, very pleased to have done sub-3 hours over the hilly course, with an average speed of 30.7 kph / 19.08 mph, with my bike leg placing me 24th in my age group.

Run

The race doesn’t really start until the run, does it – but uh oh, my legs were dead. This is going to be a disaster, I thought to myself, as I trudged up the (only) hill from the river to the city streets. Tom and I have been doing a lot of volume in the recent weeks and we didn’t taper for this race, and I could feel it in my legs. I had felt strong coming off the bike, but suddenly I felt like I had nothing left in me. Surely this triathlon business was pretty silly, wasn’t it? Did I really need to bother with this run?

But then I remembered Laura, 25 hours in labour, 25 hours of pain without knowing how or when it would stop… and I thought, I can do this. What’s a measly half marathon compared to what Laura went through? It’s amazing what a little perspective does for you. So I kept on plodding, trot trot trot, and when my watch beeped at the first mile and I saw that it was 8:12 (5:05 min/km), I realised it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I let myself walk the aid stations, which meant that I knew I never had to run for too long, keeping the walks to a maximum of 30 seconds.  The run course was two loops around downtown Augusta, with every single citizen out on the streets cheering for us by name – it was fabulous. I took a gel every half hour, I kept on trotting, and when I reached the halfway mark I told myself it was time to get a bit more serious and I upped the pace just that little bit more.

I soon noticed that I was overtaking the people who had dropped me back at the beginning when I had first started walking the aid stations. I wasn’t running fast, but I was running consistently and it slowly gained me ground as many of the others started to slow down. One of the great advantages of being a better runner than a cyclist is that you then get to overtake people in the run, and that’s what my run was from start to finish, just picking people off one by one.  I finished the race strong, with my last mile at 7:03 (4:22 min/km). In fact, in the overall rankings, I moved up 458 spots on the run.

Ironman Augusta 70.3 Julia run

I finished the run in 1:45:40, with an average pace of 8:03 min/mile / 5:00 min/km. Again, not my fastest run split (I did 1:40 at Naples) but I felt like I ran the best I could given the mileage in my legs and after those hills, and Tom was waiting for me at the finish line with a sweaty kiss.

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I placed 17th out of 220 in my age group, 67th woman and 432nd overall out of 2645 athletes, and most importantly, number one Auntie to Kylie.Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.55.09

I couldn’t stop smiling.

A beautiful summer’s day in the mountains in Iceland.  The snow crunched under our feet as we ran, and the sun warmed our faces as the wind blew across the mountains.  The footing wasn’t easy, so I was looking down a lot.  Every time I looked up around me, my joy was palpable.  The views of the lava fields, the multi-hued mountains, the steam rising from the hot springs, the drapings of snow and ice.  Every look in every direction was just spectacular.

I had found Nirvana in the Laugavegur Trail running the Laugavegur Ultra Marathon.  Trail runners’ paradise.

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Midnight Sun

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Not yet 4 in the morning!

Race day started with a 3:45 am alarm clock in order to catch the 4:30 am bus from Laugardalur in Reykjavik. But hey, it’s really not hard to get up that early when it’s nearly full daylight outside!

21-IMG_4217With a breakfast stop en-route to Landmannalaugar, we arrived at around 8:20, with our wave scheduled to start at 9:05. This meant a very cold 45 minutes of waiting at the start, marvelling at the hundreds of tents containing runners who opted for an icy night but a leisurely race morning.

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Some pre-race acrobatics in the vain hope of warming up

 

Did I mention it was cold?

The Laugavegur Trail starts in Landmannalaugar, going directly up into the mountains with around 600m of climbing to the top at Hrafntinnusker.  It then sharply descends down to Álftavatn, then up again to Emstrur and finally down to Húsadalur in Þórsmörk.  Hikers normally take 4 days to cross the 55km, camping along the way near the mountain huts.  The perfect setting for an ultra marathon!  This year there was the added challenge of unusual amounts of snow for this time of year.

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Going by the allocated race numbers, there were around 430 runners divided into three waves.  After the usual shuffling and shivering at the start line, our wave was called, and up we went!

Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker ~ 10km with 600m climbing, around 1:40

There was good reason for the wave start – we immediately headed up a single track mountain path, nose to tail.  We had been warned several times by the race organisers to take the whole of the first section very easy, not only because it was steep, but as we climbed higher into the mountains, the snow took over.

Startið

The start of the race – photo thanks to marathon.is (all other photos are ours unless specified)

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Landmannalaugur – photo by Mattias Klum

In retrospect, I think they perhaps overly emphasised the need to take the first section of the race easy, because it meant that 1/6th of the runners had the devastating consequence of not meeting the cut-offs imposed in the later stages of the race.  Our goal from the beginning was to enjoy the race and to get around it comfortably, without actually racing it.

And enjoy we did.  Tom took a few short videos of me running through the snow, complete with questionable commentary:

I’m originally from Canada so I grew up with snow as an integral part of my life, but I left the country when I was 19 and haven’t lived there since.  I didn’t get into running properly until I was in my 30s, so…. I am most certainly not used to running in snow.  The occasional light dusting in London never meant more than a bit of slippery footing and wet feet, and it never lasted long.  So Iceland was my first real time running, and racing, in the snow.  I loved it.  That crunch!  The bit of slip, the slide!  The views!

No surprise then that this first section was my favourite of the whole race.  As we neared Hrafntinnusker, we crossed around 8km of continuous snow.

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The depth of the snow is made evident as some nearby hot springs melt a cavern underneath! (me in black waving at the camera)

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After nearly an hour and a half, the mountain huts at Hrafntinnusker came into view – the very first aid station.  A quick loo break and we refilled our water, ate a banana and set off sliding down the snow.

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Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn ~ 12 km, with 180m climbing, 600m descending, 1:35

We continued to climb up into the snow, then slowly down the other side only to find the very best views yet. On one side we had dark mountains with a glacier in the background.

53-IMG_4334On the other side, spectacular sandy mountains with hues of red, orange, and brown and lacings of snow so beautiful and almost so unreal as to look like a painting.

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Further along, we could see the lake near Álftavatn, our next aid station and the first checkpoint.  We had to get there within 4 hours in order to be permitted to continue the race.  We began the sharp descent, and the air grew warmer until I was sweating heavily in my waterproof jacket.

And we eventually hit the valley, complete with a glacier-fed stream that we had to cross – the first of many.

We hit the checkpoint with about 50 minutes to spare, although we didn’t think much about it at the time. We refilled with water, sat down in the sunshine for a few minutes to eat another banana, stripped off a layer and headed off again.

Álftavatn to Emstrur ~ 16km, with 220m climbing, 280 descending, around 2:20

This was the hardest section of the race for me, although the terrain was perhaps the easiest.  I enjoyed crossing a few more glacial streams and rivers, and when we reached Bláfjallakvísl, we were able to change our shoes.  Given the heavy snow on the mountains, both Tom and I had opted for very heavy Salomon trail shoes, which did their job perfectly but were feeling pretty heavy on the feet after nearly 4.5 hours.  Mine were waterproof too, which had been great in the snow, but not so good once we started fording all the rivers (water goes into the shoe, but then doesn’t drain out unlike in a normal shoe).  So it was a very welcome to change to put on our minimalist trail shoes and to feel the trails beneath our feet again.  Although the new shoes didn’t stay dry for long!

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Soon we were heading across a great expanse of lava fields.  We could still see mountains around us, but the terrain was completely different from before.  The ground underneath was fine lava sand.  A moonscape.  I had read that NASA had come to Iceland to have its astronauts do a simulation moon-walk before they landed on the moon, and I could see why.  Were we really just in the snowy mountains the hour before?

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We had spent a good chunk of time at Bláfjallakvísl changing our shoes, and we were stopping frequently for photographs.  When we reached a mini aid station and refilled our water, we heard another runner ask how far it was to the next checkpoint – around 6km, they said.  I looked at my watch and realised that we were cutting it fine.  No more photographs until the checkpoint!  Time to get going!

And so we tried to pick up the pace as we headed across the lava fields, as best we could over 5 hours into a mountain ultra marathon.  We made it with just 15 minutes to spare – and what a huge relief.  I later found out that many runners were forced to retire from the race. I can’t imagine how disappointing that must have been.

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Reaching the mountain huts at Emstrur, so relieved to know that we had made the cut off.

Emstrur to Húsadalur in Þórsmörk ~17km with 380m climbing, 645m descending, 2:30

This last section of the race brought us down out of the mountains properly, although with plenty of uphill on the way down.  The pressure was off now that we knew we had made the cut offs and could just enjoy the rest of the race. Would you believe the terrain changed completely again? Suddenly we were running atop a big canyon with waterfalls and views spreading out before us that looked like a scene from the Lord of the Rings (or, New Zealand). Spectacular in a completely different way from the previous miles we had covered, and very hard to capture on my little camera.

How about this? Mountains, glacier, river, and just beyond, a waterfall…..

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Down begins to hurt as much as up, or even more, after a while.  As we headed down down down the mountains, we welcomed the occasional up as relief to our poor pounded quads.

We certainly hadn’t run this ultra fast by any stretch of the imagination, but our slow and steady approach meant that we overtook a lot of runners in this last section to Þórsmörk.  But first, more river crossings.

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Although not deep, the river had a fierce current and we were holding on for good reason.

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We knew the end was within reach.  We had enjoyed this race so much, but we were most definitely tired and ready to stop running.  Just a few more hills to go.  We grabbed some pieces of Snickers bars and gulped some flat Coke from the last aid station, and headed up the last few hills. Up the hills. Up, up, down, up, down, down. The grass grew red alongside us and we could see down into a valley full of nothing but the same short, fine red grass. Then through another river, then a stream, then a short tunnel of foliage that looked like it was straight out of England.

Then suddenly the path was littered with people cheering us on, shouting, and we could hear the finish line. Without comment, our pace increased. We came down the last hill, and we could see all the tents at the finish line. We ran together, as we had done the whole way, and passed through the finish line. Still smiling.

91-IMG_4879Total time: 8:29:07

Total distance:  55km, ~1900m climbing, 2200m descending

We placed 313th – nothing fancy, but we made it to the end, and we loved it from start to finish.

In fact….this was the best race I’ve done to date.  Most scenic, most beautiful, most enjoyable, most fun, most tremendous. If you’re thinking of running it and want more information (what? My thousands of photos here aren’t enough?) or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  I mean that wholeheartedly.

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NB – The 19th edition of the Laugavegur Ultra Marathon took place on July 18, 2015.  The winner, Þorbergur Ingi Jónsson, finished in an unfathomable 3:59:13, setting a new course record!

13. July 2015 · Comments Off on From Swamp to Snow · Categories: Run, Trails, Ultramarathons · Tags: , , ,

Laugavegur Ultra is in 5 days!

If you read my very woe-is-me post some 10 days ago, you’ll know I was very unwell following the Leadville Marathon and pre-Iceland ultra.  I’m pleased to say that I am now more or less recovered… and ready to hit the snow.

Yep, snow.

The good people organising the Laugavegur Ultra have been sending us updates on the current snow conditions.  It may be well into July, but when the snow is higher than the buildings, it takes a while to melt.  They tell us that there is still heavy snow for the first 20km of the race.

These photos were taken on the trail just a couple of weeks ago:

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We have been advised to dress accordingly:

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I did mention that we have been doing all our training in flat Florida, right?  From flat swampland to snowy mountains…. gulp!

imageWish us luck!