In May 2020, when there was much uncertainty around races,I decided to take things into my hands and set my own challenges. After my first challenge – to cycle 200km, the second was the triathlon ironman distance over 3 days; it was time to take on the third, and I decided to run an ultramarathon. When I set this, I wondered if there would be the opportunity to take part in an in person event but, as time went on, it was clear that it would be another solo effort.
I thrive and love my training when I have a goal. This is the reason for setting myself these challenges.
For this particular challenge, I worked with coach Celia from Love The Rain Coaching. I really find having the right person for the job is very important. She set about writing my programme that also had to incorporate swimming and cycling, so I would be ready for the summer’s triathlons. It also had the advantage of using biking to take on some of the endurance, so it was not just the full impact of running.
Six years ago, I ran my last and only ultramarathon, which was 33 miles (approx 53km), so I felt if I was going long, I needed to run more than I had done before, this is why I picked a 60km distance. (an ultra marathon is a run longer than a marathon)
As I already had run a marathon in the summer, and the fact that I was cycling for endurance meant I didn’t run as much as I had for my last ultra marathon. However, Celia did give me some runs when my legs were already tired. They were seriously tough.
First, I had to drag myself out the front door and then, even when the run was 30-60 minutes, I was just willing it to be over. But, it is definitely a good way to prepare yourself for the feeling you will experience during such a long run. The toughest part of the training was the weekend I cycled more than 2 hours, followed by a 1hr10 run that included some 1 minute 5-10km pace intervals on the Saturday. That was followed by 3 hours of running on Sunday. That almost felt like an event on its own. This is when training during a pandemic makes it easier, as I really didn’t want to see anyone or do anything over this weekend.
The big day!
And then the day of the challenge came. I was met at the front door by my supporters Jennifer, Jane and Robbie, who cycled the start along with my hubbie Brian. Then Jane (unexpectedly) and Brian joined on their bikes for the whole run. It was a very windy day (I found out after it was code yellow, glad I hadn’t found that out in advance). The run towards the beach was a bit of a side/headwind, but not too awful. I knew the route well because I have cycled there many times. Jane was in charge of the social media while Brian was looking after the food. I tried my best to fuel every 20 minutes. The first 2 hours with peanut and jam sandwiches, 3 hours on Clif bars, and my last hour with Jelly Babies but, by then, I somehow seemed to slow down on keeping on top of the food. I also had some Nuun Endurance in my pack to drink; the last hour was planned to have a caffeine drink. I came home with the drink still in my pack, which meant I probably hadn’t drunk enough.
Back to the run.
We got to the beach and I used the toilet there (because there is always someone who asks if I needed to go). It was so windy I needed Jane to close the door because there was no handle to pull. We then ran from Bloemendaal Beach to Zaandvoort Beach facing the strongest headwind. There were parts I walked; you could feel the sand wip off the beach and, at one point, we had some hailstones. Just to make the experience more fun.
Brian and Jane equally had their work cut out cycling into the wind. Once at Zaandvoort, we needed to go back inland. This was a part I didn’t know well, so while pushing into the wind, we missed the turn off. Quickly sorted, I ran through the town and entered the National Park Zuid-Kennermerland. After the beach and town, here was an oasis of calm and the wind was finally behind us. Despite the rolling nature of the dunes, and a few short slightly challenging slopes up, it was nice to have a little assist in this section pushing us on forwards after the headwind. We made another little route mistake, but it was easily corrected and then we were back on the road, back through Haarlem towards Halfweg. We had to stop crossing a railway crossing because a train was coming through and this was where it got hard. Having stopped to wait, my legs struggled to get going again. They had stiffened up and it was more difficult to convince my legs to move one in front of the other.
A few turns and then we were into a side wind which was so challenging. Jane was pushed into cycling along the grass verge. Luckily, she could right herself and keep going. At this point I kept looking ahead, waiting for a turn in the road that would mean the wind would be in our backs again. It couldn’t come quickly enough. And then the next dream was to see the windmill that was the final turn off back to Amsterdam. Again, it seemed like it took forever to come.
That turn off signified just 5 more km to go and I started to feel my right foot hurting, along with my left knee. This is when I had to really concentrate to put one foot in front of the other. I never had to fight the desire to stop though. I knew that one of my friends, Chloe, was going to be cheering when we went past close to where she lived. I kept looking for her and for a split second, I felt sad that she wasn’t there, until I saw her and her family on the other side of the road. They gave me a big cheer and that little lift of support helped me to forget my pain and spurred me on to the end. She then cycled on ahead with her kids and gave us another cheer and then I had about 2km to go.
A quick turn to the left and then it was the last kilometer. Brian had bet me to do a 5:25 min/km for the last one so together, with a little up in pace, I spent the time focusing on pace and waiting for the number of my watch to turn to 60km. I managed to keep a 5:29 pace. We finished along a quiet road, without a finish line nor cheers from the side lines. But I had done it and in seconds Jennifer was with us to congratulate me (she’d been following us online)!
I was hoping to finish in 6 hours. Given the windy conditions, I was delighted with running 60km in 6 hours and 7 minutes. We found out later our friend Rodrigo had tried to find us en route and hadn’t managed to. Many thanks to him, to Jane, Brian, Jennifer (who also cooked my post run dinner), Robbie, Chloe, Ina and Soren (who came with flowers at the end) and coach Celia, who wrote my programme while homeschooling and having to coach clients in the UK who have no swimming pools at all. Also to Daniel, a fellow runner who had planned to come but the lockdown rules prevented him from coming. Without them it wouldn’t have been the same experience.
The recovery in the days after was quite tough. I was slow in body and mind and couldn’t even demonstrate a lunge to my clients for a couple of days. By Wednesday I felt better because I had slept so well. I therefore decided to go for a short jog round the local park. Thursday I was quite high energy. By today (sunday – 8 days later), I feel more able to think about some easy training in the coming week.
I am really glad I did this. As well as the need for a challenge, I do think the training has enhanced how I have felt during this second lockdown. I feel like I am a more positive person during this tough period and can focus on achieving something I could do rather than what I couldn’t.
If you want to see what my day looked like, here is a video by Jane and Robbie of Yellow Global (https://www.makeityellow.global).
Training for something is tough, but I avoid injury with smart training (using a coach), strength training and Biomechanics exercises. If you want help with the last two feel free to get in touch.
Author: Lorna Wilson
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