Its now six weeks since I returned home from the MYAU and it has been an interesting time! I was amazed that so many people wanted to hear about my MYUA adventure and success and I have now added some links to the MYAU page of this site, of some of the podcast interviews that I did following my return home. I have also added links to a few video clips that I made while out on the trail – I had completely forgotten about these until several weeks after I got home – I think I probably made them at times when I wanted to distract myself and telling the camera all about it was one way of doing this!
It took me a while to get back to running, though having the dog at home while Mike was away meant I did at least start going out walking a couple of times a day! I had started a new job just before heading to the MYAU and so getting up to speed and settling in to that has taken a lot of energy. I’m now back enjoying walking and running locally and gradually building the running up in terms of distance. It’s a great time to be out and about here in Derbyshire – Spring is definitely here and the wild garlic is in full growth mode along with the first of the bluebells, cowslips and primroses. In addition, the leaves on the trees are starting to burst open and the birds and wildlife are busy getting ready for the season ahead, making for lovely times out on the trails.
You can see my experience of the 300 mile race by clicking on the MYAU 2019 tab at the top of the page - it was an incredible challenge with a result that was better than I ever could have dreamed!
My entry to this event came about after a summer run with good running friend Wendy who was looking for an event later in the year and suggested we have a go at a multi-day staged race. For me, this would be a new challenge too – I have done long non-stop runs, but not ones with a set stage each day and an overnight stay in between, so I agreed and we got our entries in. This wold also be an opportunity to get some extra miles and hours in my legs in preparation for the MYAU in February.
We set about training with some longer runs and some running on consecutive days. My training consisted of a mix of runs and walks in order to fit in with life and, as usual, I fell a little behind on the plan I had initially drawn up. As the event drew closer I started to plan running kit and overnight gear to take with me (overnights would be on school hall floors) as well as food to carry on the run and things I might like to eat after completing each run.
Two weeks before the event we went out for a run and Wendy went over on her ankle badly spraining it. Initially she was posititve and thought it would be repaired enough for the race weekend, but then just a week before the event, she went on an orienteering event and again went over on her ankle, this time it was confirmed it was broken and she had to withdraw from the Druid Challenge. We were both hugely disappointed, but after giving it some thought I decided to go along on my own and have a go at the run, so I set about booking accommodation for before and after the event and revising my event plans.
I drove to the finish of the race at Swindon on the Thursday afternoon and checked in to the hotel there. A bus was provided the following morning to get to the start and I was ready and waiting nervously in the hotel foyer at 6:45 the next morning. Eventually, everyone was ticked off the list and we got all our overnight bags in the bus and got on ready for the journey to the registration point at Tring cricket club. Having arrived at registration at about 8:30am, there was a long time hanging around waiting there – I met a couple of other ladies who were there on their own and we chatted while we waited, one of these, Stephanie, finished just ahead of me each day and so we met at the overnigh and got set up together. By the time we were called for the briefing and mini-bus to the start it already seemed like it had been a long day… and there was still 29miles of running to do!
Day 1 – 29.3 miles
The start got underway at 11:15am from Ivinghoe Beacon, the weather was grey with a bit of drizzle which seemed to match my mood! The first checkpoint was 11miles in and I arrived in brighter weather having cheered myself up a little. I took some bits of food from the checkpoint and topped up my water and kept moving, walking as I ate. Soon I was jogging up the main road in Wendover and a familiar silhouette came in to view up ahead… Wendy had come to cheer me on! After a big hug and a few tears she handed over some chocolate and waved me off… what a great boost to my mood.
I ran most of the day on my own and often between checkpoints 1 and 3 I couldn’t see anyone ahead or behind, at one point I did take the wrong track and ran off down a hill the wrong direction, however, I soon realised I was wrong as I saw an unexpected road ahead so I checked the map and turned round and retraced my steps. On arriving back at the last junction, I realised I must have been dreaming, because the sign was quite clear… I suspect I just glanced and saw the style and colour of writing without reading the words (it was another named path crossing). I set off again this time on the correct path and started passing one or two people who had overtaken while I was on the wrong path, I arrived at checkpoint 2 at 16.8miles feeling good and quite jolly – I was further cheered up by the cheese and savoury crackers on offer at the checkpoint! Off again… some time later I hit a tough patch, this time struggling to push myself on and stay positive and starting to feel nauseous. I reached checkpoint 3 at 22.9miles feeling quite low and uncomfortable and I sat on the ground by the checkpoint feeling sorry for myself, however, the checkpoint team were soon there checking I was OK and giving me a big cup of warm coffee which was fantastic! In no time, I was back on my feet and off again, heading for the finish.
Soon after leaving checkpoint 3 it got dark and head torches were needed for the remainder of the run. The organisers had put glow-sticks out along the route which was great – I had a little smile at every one as it felt like I was getting closer to the finish. I was really happy to see the school and the finish line and again the team were so helpful and friendly showing where hot drinks and cake were available, then helping with my overnight bag and showing me where the hall for sleeping and the showers were.
I set up my bed, went and got showered and then had a lie down before going for dinner – a delicious chicken casserole with rice followed by berry cheesecake. Drinks and food were available at all times at the overnight stops which was fantastic, there was also speakers to listen to if you wanted to, though I opted to have a relax and read my book instead. At lights out we lay in our sleeping bags listening to the torrential rain clattering on the gym roof and hoping it would pass over in the night.
Day 2 – 26.6 miles
The start for day 2 was from the school and I was in the main start at 8am, I had sorted everything and packed my rucksack the night before so felt comfortable having a relaxed breakfast and being ready to go when the time came. Generally, the run went well – it took a little while for my legs to get going and they let me know that they were not entirely happy about what I was asking them to do! The first checkpoint was 7.5miles in and again I moved through, topping up water and picking up some bits of food. Soon after this the route came down to the river and there was a long flat section which my legs and my head really did not like at all, but with much arguing with myself, I managed to keep trotting and eventually came to the end of the flat section and started to climb through Goring. Once again, to my surprise, Wendy appeared and after another hug, she gave me some grapes and a pre-peeled Satsuma to keep me going… it did that and kept me smiling!
Back up on the exposed Ridgeway path, just before checkpoint 3 at 22.8 miles, the sky grew dark and we were pelted with hailstones head on, this then turned to torrential rain and by the time the checkpoint arrived the rain had poured down my legs and filled my shoes! The checkpoint was protected by an event shelter and we managed to squeeze a good number of soggy runners under there with the checkpoint team… who remained so welcoming and upbeat handing out coffee and snacks and topping up water bottles, despite us all being in their way! I headed off again in to the rain, knowing that the finish was now only a few miles away. The flags of the finish could be seen from some distance away up on top of the Ridgeway Path and with some effort I managed to put one leg go in front of the other until I finally crossed the finish line for the day, feeling soggy and tired but very happy!
This time we were bussed to the overnight stay, but there was shelter and hot drinks available at the finish just in case there was a wait for a bus. Again, everyone was very friendly and helpful on arrival and we were even provided with newspaper to stuff in to our shoes to help them dry out. Again I set up my bed and got showered before relaxing with hot drinks and food before dinner which was a very tasty lasagne and salad and a variety of puddings to choose from.
Day 3 – 28.3 miles
I got up on day three after another night of very little sleep (no complaints, just a fact of sleeping on gym floors with lots of other people, all with aching muscles and joints!) and feeling quite grumpy. I went through the process of getting breakfast, getting ready, putting my overnight bag on the van and getting on to the minibus to the start. There had been more rain overnight and it finally stopped just before we arrived at the start line, I stood for the briefing feeling miserable, legs aching and wondering what I was doing and why… at the end of briefing the last instruction was…’and smile!’, so I’m guessing it wasn’t just me who was grumpy that morning!!
On setting off I was pleasantly surprised to find that my legs eventually co-operated and allowed me to trot along the flat and downhill sections and walk strongly on the up hills… I can’t say it was comfortable, but it was manageable! Checkpoint 1 at 7.7 miles, came sooner than expected and this cheered me up and kept me moving… only 2 more checkpoints before the final finish line! There were a number of people who were moving at a similar pace to me and we kept passing each other throughout the day having short conversations and helping the miles to pass. On the exposed sections all day, the wind was strong and often head on and I grumbled to myself about how this made progress so much harder than it needed to be, often stopping to walk before telling myself to stop moaning and get running!
Checkpoint 2 arrived 15.9 miles in… now over half way, another top up of water, a few more nibbles in my hand and off again. Having checked the profile I knew there was a climb following the checkpoint and then a flatter section before a steep descent to the third and final check point at 22.5 miles, I was able to let my legs go all the way down the descent to the final checkpoint… one last top up with coffee and snacks, then off… or rather a wait some time for a gap in the very fast traffic so I could cross the road (thanks to the marshall making sure we were all safe here)... and off again, climbing steadily, eventually coming to open fields where the path could be seen climbing in to the distance, this was a long stretch but knowing we were so close to the end pushed us on… then off the Ridgeway path and to a really cruel steep downhill on the road, thankfully short, but enough to cause some real pain in already aching legs. A stretch on the road followed and eventually it turned in to the hotel entrance and the final finish line – on the last stretch Tony, who I had seen regularly through the day suggested we stick together for the finish, so we ran in and across the line together, me with a huge smile on my face in complete contrast to my expression at the start of the day!
At the finish we were shown where to leave shoes and go in to the room where chairs, hot drinks and more cake were available (showers were also available, but as I had a room booked at the hotel I didn't need this). I sat here for some time in a bit of daze, with a strange feeling of being really happy to have completed the challenge, but a bit lost knowing there was no running tomorrow!
My overall experience of the event was really positive, I thought the organisation was great and the whole crew were fantastic, always happy, friendly and helpful, so a big thank you goes to the whole team - your enthusiasm and support makes the event what it is! The food, both in terms of quality and quantity was excellent as was the checkpoint food with loads of variety – I was a particular fan of the cheese and cheesy biscuits as well as having a coffee opportunity at the last checkpoint each day. I wouldn’t hesitate to do another multi-day stage race with XNRG and maybe I’ll be back next year – this time with Wendy!
It was around Christmas 2017 that I received an email from Nicole in Germany (friend from the YAU) suggesting that we might like to go over to Austria and run the Karwendelmarsch in August which she would be taking part in. The route is 32miles with 7500ft of climbing, we thought this would be a great way to catch up with friends and kick off our winter race training, so we entered the run and booked accommodation at the start.
Training didn’t go as planned, as the summer was so hot which doesn’t suit me for running at all, however, I was fairly confident that I could cover the distance and climb even if I had to walk more of it than planned. Before leaving home we received messages to bring extra kit as the weather forecast was showing a break in the summer weather and a wet weekend. We arrived in Scharnitz two days before the run in gentle rain and cooler temperatures, much better for me for running. We met up with Nicole and registered for the event, picking up numbers, bag tags and other information; then after coffee and cake we went back to our accommodation to get out rucksacks packed ready for the run the following day. The rain was heavy and steady through the night, but by the start at 6am it was just damp.
The run itself was great – tough but picturesque – we didn’t get the best of the views as we were in the cloud and drizzle at higher levels. We all got separated at the start as we thought we might, the plan being to find each other at the end if this happened, however, about an hour in I heard Nicole call my name and we ended up sticking together for the rest of the run. This was a real bonus for me – chatting and catching up the whole way. As often happens, I struggled to swallow any food during the first part of the race and managed to get half a banana and a bit of water down. At the top of the second climb I decided to stop for a few minutes and have a cup of warm mint tea and eat one of the bars I had brought with me – Nicole waited for me and we set off again, me now feeling much better than I had. I found the third climb quite challenging and a few people got in between myself and Nicole, however, we set off down the other side together and after a long flat section we came in to the finish, quicker than I was expecting… with an added bonus of being given wheat beer on crossing the finish line! A great day out and definitely worth travelling for!
The following day we were collected from Sharnitz and spent a couple of days catching up with Robert (MYAU Race Director) and walking in the mountains close to his home – an added bonus of the trip!
Most of the last year has been spent ‘ticking over’ with no winter race planed in 2018 there was no big training push through the autumn and, in fact, we spent the first part of our autumn training season having a fantastic relaxing holiday in Mauritius! I did once again take part in the Equinox 24 in September 2017, once again with the aim of running 100k which I completed by 4am.
In both November and January we had long weekend breaks in Yorkshire – the first in a motorhome, which was successful despite the frosty weather! The second was in a cottage which was perfect for us with the dog – having a very wet start to the break made us realise how difficult and uncomfortable a small motorhome would be in such wet conditions, so despite a good trial we decided to stick with cottage breaks for now! Both of these trips provided some great walks and we noted the second cottage as being ideal for winter race training and have booked a break there in November 2018 for that purpose.
In March 2018 I once again took part in the Four Inns – the team from last year got back together having been running together many times since last years race. It was an eventful start to the event as we managed to miss the start altogether – we were turned around by roadworks and the alternative route took us so far round that when we arrived all the other teams had left. Luckily, we were allowed to start late, and we soon started to catch up with and overtake the slower teams. For the first time in a number of years I wasn’t nauseous or vomiting over Bleaklow, which was a bonus! I even managed to enjoy a hot-dog at the Doctors Gate checkpoint… where, rather embarrassingly, they remembered me throwing up the year before. It was a slow one this year taking almost an hour longer than the previous, but we made it to the end in good spirits and had another great day out.
While training for and taking part in the 4 Inns, the three of us decided we would like to have a go at the Lyke Wake Walk – a 41mile route across the North Yorkshire Moors to the coast. Unfortunately, we were not able to do it the weekend that the official run was organised in July, so instead, the three of us set out to do it in June, with Edwina’s partner Jon as our support and check points. We loaded up the boot of the car with a variety of food and drinks to tuck in to each checkpoint and set out early in the morning. We were extremely lucky with the weather and we had another great day out, finishing at the Lyke Wake stone at the coast where Jon met us with Prosecco and glasses to celebrate our finish – Wendy had been wanting to do the LLW for 40 years, so it really was worth celebrating!
I don't know where the time has gone since getting back from Alaska and the ITI, almost four months have passed and I haven't published my ITI report yet - I'll put that right very soon as its been ready to go for some time. The experience of the ITI was something I'll never forget, it is a unique event with some amazing (some legendary) and friendly peopleit was a great start to the year despite not having the outcome I was hoping for.
Soon after returning home I once again took part in the Four Inns (65K over the highest peaks in the Peak District), again with team captain Edwina and with another new team member, Wendy. As seems to have become a tradition now, I suffered with nausea and vomiting over Bleaklow and at Doctors Gate, but was able to keep going and by the time we reached Edale I was enjoying cheese sandwiches and various other goodies on offer. Despite being a little slower than last year, and again largely due to navigation and a lack of other all female teams, we won the Falcon trophy. Having got on well on the event we have kept in touch and Wendy and I have since had a go at a mini-mountain marathon which was something new to us and great fun.
We had a spring break in sunny Cyprus and found some fantastic and deserted walking trails right from our accomodation in the hills.
The rest of the time, I have simply been enjoying going out running and walking on the trails in Derbyshire with Mike and our dog, Tahra.
It will seem strange to approach Autumn without a big winter race to spend every weekend training for, however, it will be nice to have more time an to just enjoy being out and about on the trails keeping the fitness ticking over in readiness for the next big adventure…
Wow, what an adventure - new experiences that will never be forgotten!
The decision to turn around and give up on the ITI was made with great disappointment (and while trying to hold a conversation on a totally exposed plateau in the Alaska Range with a -50 wind chill howling around us), but tackling Hells Gate was too big a risk for us and we opted for safety first.
We are both fine (Mike has a stomach bug which started shortly after we turned around, but he is recovering quickly now), we were feeling strong and had no problems which adds to the disappointment. However, the flight out by bush plane was a spectacular consolation.
Thank you all for you support and concern - it is very much appreciated. More tales from the trail later...
The race starts at 2pm tomorrow... that's just over 24hrs from now! I don't know if I'm more nervous or excited, but I do know I'm now ready to get out there and get started. There's just a few last minute decisions to make, and one final check and labelling of everything on my sled.
We have just had the race briefing - handing out of trackers and jackets and a lot of information about the checkpoints and the spot trackers. Mike has had to go off in search of a hardware store as it seems he will need to carry a small screwdriver to change the batteries in his tracker while on the trail. We do have to cross open water along the route, but hopefully it shouldn't be more than knee deep; there's also some glaciation we may need to go round as it on a slope and has open water at the bottom, it likely if we try to cross that our sled will pull us down the ice in to the water. Of course, as is always the case with these races, things can change quickly, so we just have to keep aware and react to whatever is there as we travel.
The time here in Anchorage has been spent preparing, exploring, eating and resting! Preparations have gone well - a few unexpected additions such as my watch battery giving up the day of arrival (sorted following a trip to 'quick fix'), and now Mike finding out he needs a screwdriver and additional lithium batteries. The eating has been going well - lots of very nice meals here, great breakfasts both the home made granola, yogurt and fruit and the eggs and hash browns type; also good evening meals including fresh Alaskan fish. Rest has been less easy, its always difficult adjusting to the time difference, so while trying to go to bed at 'normal' times, I'm always awake several times during the night and up early in the mornings.
The Fur Rendezvous is on in Anchorage at the moment, so we have been watching the dog sled teams set off and this morning we watched the frostbite 5k run set off; there's a lot of festivities today as its Saturday. All this is a welcome distraction from the race preparations, its great seeing the excitement of the dogs as they wait for the countdown and set off full of enthusiasm!
We have now met a number of other competitors - some of them who Mike met two years ago when he was here to do the 350mile race. Its great to chat to them and hear their stories - some of them have done this race a number of times before and have a lot of stories to tell... some including my brother Andy who has taken part multiple times over many years.
This will be my last post before tomorrows start, more when I return! You can track the race at www.trackleaders.com
28hours after leaving home early on Tuesday morning we arrived in Anchorage, Alaska. Snow was falling as we came in to land and the temperature was -10C. We arrived at the hotel just after 1am, exhausted!
Having had a good nights sleep we were having breakfast at the Snow City Café soon after 8am... and it was a fantastic breakfast, we'll be going back tomorrow! From there we set off to do the 'big shop' for food supplies, gas, batteries and other trail essentials, we walked out to REI and then on to Walmart, arriving back at the hotel. with a taxi full of shopping at 5pm, once again exhausted! The evening was spent sorting the contents of Mikes drop bags which he will need to post to the remote pick up locations tomorrow.
Although exhausted, sleep was not so easy and at 2am we were both up reading and making notes of things still to do. By 6am, having been lying awake for some time I decided to get up and put the time to better use, so I made the first batch of energy balls. (how many people go on holiday and buy mixing bowl, wooden spoon, measuring spoons and ingredients??). The first batch of 30 are now chilling on the balcony and our room has a strong aroma of peanut butter!
Now its time to head to Snow City Café again and get stoked up for the tasks on todays list... I already know what I'm having for breakfast as it was one of the many things I planned while lying awake last night!!
It seems like a long time since training began in September last year, the winter has been damp, grey and muddy a lot of the time, but training has gone pretty much to plan and now with 5 days to go before setting off its too late to worry about that aspect.
Preparation is a different story, so much to do and get ready, so much to think about and a few unexpected changes to think through and plan for...
See the ITI tab for more detail on my training and preparations for the race.
Marianne Heading discovered winter endurance racing in 2007, while working as a volunteer for the Yukon Arctic Ultra. This experience inspired her to take up running and go back to the Yukon as a competitor. Since 2007 she has been back to the YAU 6 times, completing both the 100 and 300mile versions. In 2011 she became the first European female to complete the 300mile YAU! Events are not a regular feature, but other races she has taken part in, include the Semi-Raid Reunion, Roveaneimi150, Four Inns and a number of LDWA and other local events - recoding those taken part in since 2015 here. Being outdoors and enjoying the countryside and wildlife are a higher priority than being fast... luckily! Training runs and walks are often prolonged by a break to do some foraging or to take in the scenery!