Event 30 - The Grand Finale

A whole year since I started thirty4thirty I would be finishing the challenge. 30 endurance events in one year was something I did not even know was possible. I may only achieve one event or just handful before injury would prevail. However, it seemed that my body was holding up and although tired and progressively getting slower it was still moving forward. 

With a couple of months to push I thought I should start planning the very last event of the year. I wanted it to be on New Years Eve, I was hopeful that I would find an organized endurance event that would be suitable for the challenge. However, it seems on New Years Eve most people only fancy a 5km fun run before donning the glad-rags and drinking bubbles. I knew that I was going to have to create something epic instead. Hopefully, this would get people to come along and join in and then finish in a prominent place that a decent celebration could be had by all. Therefore thirty4thirty topsy-turvy triathlon was created. Using the Thames as a mechanism to get me into London before dark so I could see the fireworks go off. 

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It would firstly encompass a 30mile mountain bike from Caversham in Reading to Windsor. Starting at 7am with my friend Adelaide and brother-in-law, Simon we were off and the challenge had begun. The ride was not too strenuous but fun, with rolling hills, varied terrain and some urban navigation. Most of the bike ride followed Nation cycle route 4 which is the Thames valley link. The first couple of hours flew by, it is always great to have friends to ride with and chat to. The challenge didn’t seem really yet; I definitely did not feel to be on top form, a heavy cold was on its way and I could feel the tiredness already seeping onto my bones. However, out we popped into Windsor and were greeted by the view of Windsor castle. It is such a stunning location and that view really is breathtaking. A couple of miles further to ride over the river and we would be at the leisure centre and ready to swim. 

I was not looking forward to the swim; I hadn’t trained for a long distance swim since doing the Ironman in October. I especially don’t like swimming lengths up and down a pool. I find it very dull. I had set myself the challenge of swimming 4km, which is 160 lengths of the 25m pool. The cut off I gave myself was 1.5hours, if I didn’t complete the distance in that time it means I would be running into London way after it turned dark. 

I got into the pool. Up and down, up and down, up and down I swam getting hotter and hotter. It felt like I was swimming in a bath, my face was bright red, my head felt like it was going to explode and I was starting to feel sick. To say the least this swim was not a good experience for me. An hour and a half felt like an eternity. The lengths and the kilometres were slowly being ticked off. My band of merry support crew were also spectating, cheering me on and doing Mexican waves. This cheered me up immensely considering it was a public swimming session all of the other swimmers thought they were insane. Swimming is actually a very anti-social sport but it was nice to know that my friend Adelaide was also in the pool, also suffering with the heat and swimming up and down. 

Yay, the swim was done, I made the 4km just in time. A quick turn around and shower before getting into running kit and smashing down a peanut butter and banana jam (yes, banana jam…try it!) sarnie and I was off on a 22mile run to get to Bushy Park along the Thames Path. This time my husband, Will ran with me for the first Half marathon. It felt so nice to be running, running to me is very pure, it was lovely to be in the fresh air and back on my feet. The sickness quickly subsided as we ran through Windsor and up to the Castle. Suddenly everything felt very loose and bouncy, my sports bra had completely exploded! All straps seemed to come off and everything was jiggling all over the place. In a fit of giggles and strange looks on Windsor high street Will had to try and put my bra back together again whilst trying not to show everyone my boobs. After about 10minutes we managed to create some kind of makeshift bra and continue running. 

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The running section of this triathlon was meant to be 30km (18miles), I created it to run 22miles. Why! I have always wanted to run the Longwalk from Windsor Castle, it has been a little bucket list item since I saw people running along it on the Windsor half marathon. I am so glad I added the extra miles, it was just absolutely stunning addition. I had imagined the run to be tourist free and on a crisp and dry morning, however a very busy sweaty run would do just nicely. The long walk and Windsor estate were beautiful and before I realized it we were back on the Thames Path and had already covered 8miles. I was super chuffed and having a great time. It hadn’t yet clicked in that this was my very very last event, the emotions and the crying had not yet started but I warned myself that it would soon happen. 

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After about 10miles my sister-in-law, Ruth join us on the run. It was really lovely to run as a three. I don’t think I was the best company, I think the reflection had started and I was very quiet. Still having a half marathon to push at this point was also playing on my mind. I was struggling to keep at the pace but was also really determined to finish before 4pm. The Thames Path is a lovely place to run, it is well maintained, it wasn’t muddy and was a beautiful path getting me closer and closer to my final destination. With about 5miles to go I realized that I was running on part of the Thames that I had already run on the Dinosaur Dash (a 3 mile loop for 30miles!), that shows how much running I have completed this year, now that I am covering the same parts over and over! 

With 2miles to the end, Ruth got picked up to head to the finish and cheer me in and also give me a couple of miles to run by myself and reflect on the year. I was trying to hold all of my emotions in at this point, the tears were just about to fall but I wanted to send some videos of thank to all of the amazing donators and support throughout the year. With this done my pace increased, it was a lovely feeling to know I only had two miles to go and if I chose to I will never have to run again (unlikely, I know). I saw Hampton Court Palace which put a smile on my face as I was so close to Bushy park and the Diana fountain; just two more corners to turn and I was there. 

I entered Bushy Park and could see the fountain, the lump in my throat was massive, the feeling of relief was huge and the tears of joy started to flow. The traffic around the fountain was pretty heavy, however my amazing family were all there to cheer and spray champagne in celebration. One lovely vehicle stopped all of the traffic so that I could run to the fountain undisturbed and so there would be no cars in the photos (what a legend). 

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With champagne sprayed, tears shed and extra cuddles from everyone it was done. It was a lovely and perfect ending to a crazy year. An unbelievable year of ups and downs, happiness and pain, awareness and openness. 

I am still overwhelmed by the generosity of people, both for their support and motivation but also the donations to YoungMinds. It is staggering. Thank you. 

It I have raised awareness and helped one young person seeks the help and support they need it has all been worth it.

x

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Event 29 - Portsmouth Coastal Marathon

Who thought dressing up as a reindeer and running 26.2 miles was a good idea? Me, that is who! When the initial plan came together I was thinking of a cold, crisp December where a herd of fit reindeer pranced along the shores of Portsmouth. This was not to be. The herd of 8 did look fabulous and we got a lot of attention and support from other runners before the start line. It was clear that we wouldn’t be able to run the whole way together due to different running styles and marathon times. It makes it less stressful to know friends are running with you but no-one has the added pressure of trying to keep up or slow down. Most of us stuck together for the first mile along the promenade. The sweat was already starting to pour down my face and I am not normally a very sweaty person, I looked down and only 7 minutes of running had past! Oh my, not even a mile! I had vowed to myself that I was going to wear my reindeer outfit in all of its glory with the hood up for the duration on the run. I regretted this choice instantly but I am very stubborn, so continued. Most of the other deer had undressed themselves within 2miles and were running along with a half-hitch reindeer costume.

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The Portsmouth Coastal marathon is an out and back event. 13.1 miles East and then 13.1 miles back West. At the half way point some people and some reindeers swapped with their relay buddy. The route is different to a standard marathon as it has very varied terrain, a slippery beach section, very muddy single track trails, road, country lanes, promenade, woodland trails and 4x4 sections. It is great it you like cross-country but it is definitely not a fast course if hoping for a personal best.

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For the first half I was running well and maybe slightly too quickly with another reindeer called Ross. Ross was fantastic company for the first half and breezed along. He was switching with his relay buddy (my husband) at the half way point. Therefore we were storming along, I felt strong and in a good rhythm. The reindeers were switched and I was on my way back home. Only a half-marathon to go.

A half marathon suddenly seemed like a very long way. My pace slowed slightly but I still felt strong. Then with about 10miles to go it felt like a tap had been turned on and all of my energy was drained. My brain was still positive, I knew I could finish and I was trying to focus on all of the previous events but my body is now just tired and is in real need to rest and recover. The last 8 miles were very slow, it felt like there was a 300mph headwind and my reindeer hood was a huge windbreak attached to my head. I felt very sorry for Will at this point as I don’t think I was great company and I was pretty annoyed that my body was hurting so much with only 8miles to push and only one more event to go.

Will helping me stand!

Will helping me stand!

Just one step at a time…on the return leg the route was slightly different due to the incoming tide. This meant that we were diverted through some housing estates. I nearly lost it at this point as all I wanted to see was the sea and the final promenade where I would know I had only 2 miles to push. It felt like an eternity to get to the promenade and then an added eternity to see the finish line. I could hear the cheering of the supporters by this point and think I was able to put in a very slight sprint (faster hobble) finish.

It was the most painful marathon I have ever done. My body was so tired and my emotions were going wild. I am so glad I was running with Will as he was a able to help me stay standing once I had finished. I also had the best hug ever from a random stranger who was dressed up a a christmas tree at the finish line. She saw I was upset and the hug was a magic remedy to the pain. She also directed me to the free beer stand which probably helped.

My incredible Brother and Sister-in-Law

My incredible Brother and Sister-in-Law

Jenni and Keith thank you for being reindeer

Jenni and Keith thank you for being reindeer

As usual my incredible support crew were standing cheer at the end. It was my chance to join them and cheer in the rest of the herd. Everyone had done absolutely amazingly, it was a tough race for us all. A huge thank you for the full 8 reindeer that ran the marathon/half-marathon with me. We all smashed it. Also a massive well done to my friend Chris who joined in the marathon as a whim after never having run that distance before and smashed in it just over 4 hours. By the time I reached the finished he had definitely enjoyed the free beer. Nice one Chris!

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Event number 29 complete!

Event number 29 complete!

Event 28 - Race the Light

What a day! I was quite excited to be doing a race that was in the afternoon. This would mean a lie-in, something that hasn’t really happened over any weekend for the whole year. Waking up all snuggly in bed, slowly poking my head around the curtain in the hope of a cold, crisp winters day with blue skies. I realised I was kidding myself and the Met office weather warning had come true. Torrential rain and 50-70mph winds had arrived. I have everything crossed that it would blow over quickly before race start at 3:30pm.

After filling up on a lovely brunch, we drove to the event start in very poor conditions. Lots of flooding and sadly a few cars that had crashed due to the weather. The start had minimum marquees or space to cower or change as everything had blown away in the wind. Luckily in Mothecombe there is a lovely cafe called the School House where we had a coffee and soup before the start.

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The race starts is down on the beach, all runners were huddling like penguins from the wind. On a positive note the rain had stopped. Looking over the beach we could see the estuary that we will have to cross within 200m from the start line. During the race briefing it was made clear that the water would reach most peoples waists. Many of the shorter runners look very nervous by this point!

The race started with a a very short countdown and we were off. As the race was only 8.5 wet and hilly miles my tactics were to run as fast as I could manage and still have a good time. The first 200m were quick and then we hit the estuary, it was so much deeper and the current stronger than I had expected. It definitely came up to my waist. It also made me want to run faster as the return journey would be in even higher due to the incoming tide. Getting out of the water to run up a hill into the woods was a challenge my feet were completely numb and felt like a had little trotters to run on.

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Meeting friends in the water!

Meeting friends in the water!

Even with the hills the course was fast and straight forward, there were lots of runners to follow and the track through the mud was obvious. The track was obvious until you wanted to overtake another runner, I was then slipping and sliding all over the place. The course through the woods was beautiful, the first 3miles flew by. It was starting to get dimmer and the sun was defiantly setting. At this point I started to see the fast runner on their return back to the estuary. Everyone was very supportive of each other and in good spirits. Seeing the fast runners always makes me run stronger and soon I was turning around on my return journey.

The light was really fading now, but I was being stubborn and not putting on my head-torch until it was really needed. The course on the way back was similar with a couple of added secret trails. I was loving running through the woods and the mud an even up the big hills. Due to all of the ultra-training I haven’t run up big hills fo ages, it felt hard but good to get the legs and lungs moving upwards. Having reached the brow of the hill it was all down into the estuary. My head torch was now on, the light had 100% beaten me and the estuary was lit up like a christmas tree by the event organisers.

The water was deeper and stronger on the way back. It was scary at points. If I fell I think I would have been swept out to sea never to return. Again my trotters got me up the hill on the other side to the finish line. A very chilled finish as everyone was hiding from the weather and getting warm again.

It truly was a great and low-key event. I would highly recommend it. Pure trails organisation and planning was spot on (even with the estuary!).

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Event number 26 complete

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Event 27 - Winter Race to the castle ultra-marathon

I am 100% in love with Wales. Having spent my university years on the West Coast of Wales I somehow feel like I am returning home on each visit. I therefore didn’t resent the 5 hour drive through the valleys, over the Mountains, through the town of Machynlleth to the tiny little village of Corris. We (Husand and I) hired a tiny little ex-mining cottage to stay in for the weekend, it was only 15mins from the race start line in Aberdovey. We reached the cottage in the dark and it was obviously pouring it down and the wind was at hurricane strength.

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We managed to batten down the hatches, make a high carb meal and get set for the following day. My plan to stay close to the start was completed useless when we discovered that the trains back from the finish at Harlech were cancelled. This meant an extremely early morning to walk the dog, eat porridge and drive to the end of the race to get on a train to the start at Aberdovey!

The train arrived in Aberdovey full of other Ultra-runners. Everyone looked sleepy and wrapped up against the elements. All of the runners seemed to be very experienced and were either local or had run a good few Ultras before. I mean who else would run a 42miles ultra-marathon along the West coast of Wales in December!? The trains late arrival gave us 15minutes to register and then start the race. With only about 80 runners (half of which were running the marathon distant) in total, there seemed to be plenty of time. A very low-key and short race briefing in the sand dunes and we were off!

Foam Party!

Foam Party!

The first few miles heading towards Tywyn were along the beach. This is hard going as a warm up and the sidewind made running tough. As soon as possible all runners headed over the dunes to try and get some shelter from the wind. This however meant we were off track and were self navigating. The runners seemed to spread out quickly, there were some very speedy individuals in the pack. We got slightly lost within the the first few miles but so did many others, we all muddled through and just headed back to the direction of the sea and onto Tywyn beach front. It looked like we were running though snow but it was just mass’s of foam from the sea. No-one told me there would be a foam party, I would have dressed more appropriately in some neon rave gear!

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Originally the race seemed to be quite easy on the route description. Keep the sea on your left and head North up the coast following the Wales Coast Path. However, there were many diversions in place. The race organisers had put yellow correx arrows and spray painted arrows on the ground, but when they were really needed they seemed to be few and far between. I am very glad that we carried maps and can navigate! From Tywyn we headed inland and up onto the hills. Again this wasn’t really described in the race description. The hills were extremely muddy due to the torrential rain and the visibility was little to zero. The going was pretty tough but I was enjoying all of the variations of terrain. It was already clear to me that it wasn’t going to be fast course, the weather was terrible, it was muddy and slippy and to be honest my legs and body are now feeling pretty sluggish. Most probably due to the other 26 endurance events I have done previously this year!

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The hill section defiantly made miles 10-22 go quickly but were tough on the legs and on the mind. There had also only been 1 rest stop by this point that provided any food, the quality of the food was appalling, a bowl of onion ring crisps and a packet of chocolate digestives is not really the standard I am use to. Luckily I was carrying quite a lot of my own food so I could fuel myself.

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I was pretty cold on the hills and soaked through even running with full waterproofs on. I was glad to start descending through the the woods and in the direction of Barmouth Bridge. The bridge was stunning but a tough run. The end of Barmouth promenade marked the marathon point where a large majority of the runners were stopping and receiving their marathon medals, many ultra runners also decided to stop at that point due to the weather. It is hard to carry on when everyone is stopping. At the marathon point there was a big bucket of cheese and onion rolls; I think I must of inhaled about 10 rolls!

Only 16miles to push at this point. The following 3miles were mainly flat and along a road. This gave us chance to get into a rhythm and tick off some miles before hitting the 4mile beach section. It is a stunning section of running and it had stopped raining, yay. However, the headwind was so strong. We were intermittently power walking and running as it didn’t seem to change our average speed. It was a real struggle but we managed to finish the beach section just before it got dark and we had to put head torches on. The last 6miles took some navigation; it was dark, no signs or arrows could be found and bogs had to be crossed. It made it all very slow going. We eventually hit the main road in Harlech and could see the famous castle which marked the finish line. Well I say marked the finish line, the actually finish line was about 2oom passed the castle in an abandoned carpark with a guy giving us medals out the back of his van. Not quite the finish you want when having just run 42miles.

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This event was tough, not only because of the physical and mental endurance but because the race was a big let down. The Welsh coast path is absolutely stunning ad I would go back and walk/run the route in a heartbeat but it cost £135 for Will and I to enter the race and I felt like I didn’t get anything for that money. We had to navigate ourselves, I was glad to have carried my own food else I don’t think I would have made it with the nutrition they provided, there was absolutely no atmosphere and most people because they were local runners didn’t actually run the ultra-marathon route, instead they headed to Harlech castle the shortest way possible cutting off about 10miles! The race director at the finish told me that it was fine people made their own route to the end! Disappointing. What I will give them credit for however is the medals, they are pretty great.

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Event 26 - The Grim Challenge

It was so cold waiting for the start line…

It was so cold waiting for the start line…

The organisers of the Grim Challenge must have been jumping around in glee. For a full week before the Grim it had been raining. The Grim Challenge was one of the original organised mud runs. It started 2002 and has kept pretty much the same format ever since. This doesn’t make it boring it just means they got it right the first time around. The course is run at the military 4x4 training ground in Aldershot. It doesn’t have any fancy obstacles, it is just an 8mile, very muddy and hilly run around the 4x4 track. This years pre-rain had definitely made it a tricky run. I am very glad I had cross-country trainers on, other runners were falling around all over the place.

To be honest mud runs and obstacle races are not my thing. If you have not read the trauma I faced doing the Nuts run for event number 5 check it out, I still think I am suffering from post-traumatic stress because of it and it has taken me all summer to warm up!

However, the Grim Challenge has a nice couple of miles to run without being dunked into a huge pool of freezing water. This gave my body time to warm up and I felt I recovered in between each water wade after. There is also never a full body submersion which is so much better. Therefore the Grim is a great fast muddy run where I didn’t get hypothermia. Bonus. I would definatly recommend this event to anyone who fancy pushing themselves and getting muddy at the same time.

Lets be honest, it does look pretty Grim!

Lets be honest, it does look pretty Grim!

The last lake to cross. At least it got all of the mud off.

The last lake to cross. At least it got all of the mud off.

The Grim Challenge marks the first month in December and the last month of thirty4thirty. This year has been the most rewarding but on of the hardest years of my life. Training and doing all of the events as well as a full time very physical job has been a struggle. I want to thank you all for supporting me throughout and if you are new to thirty4thirty I thank you for reading and catching up.

These 30 endurance events have all been in aid of the Charity Young Minds UK and to raise awareness of mental health in the young. It is such a fantastic charity, they mean so much to me and it has been a privilege raise money for them.

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Event number 26 complete

Event number 26 complete

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Thank you so much x

Event 25 - The Dinosaur Dash

If you ever want to do an event that gives you the biggest bling at the finish line then complete any of the Phoenix events. They are by far the best medals I have ever seen and they pride themselves on how good they are. Phoenix running is an all inclusive company that just loves to see people running, they don’t mind how far you run or how fast you do it, they just want everyone to get a stonking great big medal at the end having eaten a whole host of amazing sweets and chocolates at the aid stations.

These leggings have a dinosaur fighting a unicorn. Therefore highly appropriate for a dino dash!

These leggings have a dinosaur fighting a unicorn. Therefore highly appropriate for a dino dash!

The dinosaur dash was not my usual type of event, but it had been added as one of my 30 endurance events of the year to replace a self created multistage event from the Coast to Coast of Devon. I decided to change the event due to illness from the Himalayan 100 ultra which finished only 5 days prior to this. The Devon coast to coast is a pilgrimage for me and I felt it needed more time, focus and appreciation then what I could have given it feeling so ill.

I was not particularly looking forward to the Dinosaur dash. It started in Walton-on-Thames and followed a 3.3mile loop of the Thames for as many loops as you wanted to complete in a 6hour period. As mentioned some people competed one loop and still received one of the incredible medals. Most people completed a half marathon, others a marathon and a couple of us crazy people completed an ultra-marathon.

The morning was bright and sunny, this was a huge bonus considering it had been raining constantly for two days before the event. The 3.3mile loop was beautiful, flat, muddy due to the rain, travelling past rowing clubs and nice pubs and past large houses. Amazingly some of my family members decided that they would take part in the event therefore the first couple of laps seemed to go by quite quickly. My Sister-in-Law (Ruth), husband (Will) and I were chatting away, and the first couple of laps felt like a bit of a discovery process. It then started to dawn on me that I still had 7 more laps to go!

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A lap race seems to be a double edge sword. There are both positives and negatives to laps. Positively, laps mean you know the course and the terrain, there are no unknown quantities, you are never far from the end if you wanted to stop, you are never far from aid, water and sweets. Negatively, it can be quite boring doing laps, if you are starting to hurt 3.3miles is actually quite a long way to push and mentally knowing how many laps you need to do can be difficult.

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As a little team we kept ticking off the laps, Ruth knew that she wanted to run a half marathon, (4 laps). Just before the 4th lap point Ruth decided to push herself and do an extra lap for luck, she did amazingly; it is always great to run as a little squad and she ended up completing 16.5miles, a medal well deserved. Ruths finished marked a half way point for me, mentally it became easier as I was on the countdown. Will and I did another lap, that went smoothly, picking up another handful of sweets at the aid station my Mum surprised us and decided to run a lap. It was great to have her running with us and it is amazing that she is also fit enough to do so. It was a fun lap. Now only two more to go. All participants were giving each other high-fives and cheering each other on, it really did feel like a team event.

I was starting to hurt now, I was very bored of the laps and had just completed 27miles. Just one lap to go. Most people were finishing at a marathon so the final lap was quite lonely. I had just remarked to Will how amazing it was not to be rained on throughout the day and then it started to absolutely bucket it down. We got absolutely soaked. If only we had decided to stop at a marathon and not do an ultra-marathon; I think there is a lesson in that!

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I was pretty cold when we finished. 9laps and 30miles in 5.5hours. The magnetic dinosaur medal is just fantastic, Phoenix running are a great company and I would recommend taking part in one of their events especially if you are training for a marathon.

A quick dash to the pub for a cup of tea and some food marked the end of event number 25 of 30 endurance events this year. Phew.

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Thank you so much x

Event 24 - The Himalayan 100 Multistage Race

For anyone who hasn’t travelled to India before even getting off the plane is an assault of the senses. The heat and the smell are overwhelming, a concoction of spices, sewage, incense, dirt and sweat. We landed in Delhi very late at night. We had a worrying couple of hours where we thought our bags had been lost. Once they had been found again we were taken on a joy ride through the busy honking traffic before reaching our hotel in the embassy area.

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The Himalayan 100mile multistage race is set up by the Himalayan Run and Trek company. The company is run by a family and headed up by Mr C.S Pandey. Mr Pandey becomes part of the experience from the very point of signing up to the challenge. I read about this event over a decade ago after reading an article in a women running magazine. It has been on my bucket list ever since. Therefore to actually sign up with my husband to do the challenge was a dream come true. From the moment of signing your email box will be filled with very upbeat, overly organised and therefore highly confusing extremely long emails from Mr Pandey congratulating you for joining in with the “most beautiful trail race in the world”. The event has be going for 28 years, each year it has about 50 participants. Trail running, ultra events and multistage races are becoming more and more popular, I therefore could not understand why this event isn’t more famous and doesn’t have bigger participation numbers. Throughout the race it became clear why higher numbers would be a huge problem and the charm of the event would be completely lost.

After a couple of hours sleep on a lovely soft mattress with clean sheets we were picked up to head off on another flight to Bagdogra. The time we were picked up with lots of other runners, it was nice to finally be able to meet some of the follow participants. People had travelled from all over the world to be part of the event. Over the next couple of hours the bus wound it way higher into the hills and past hundreds of tea plantations of West Bengal. Again we didn’t arrive to Mirik until late afternoon, giving us just enough time to get a “snack” of curry and see our rooms before the full race briefing.

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This was the first time we got to meet Mr Pandey in the flesh. It can be seen instantly that he is very passionate about the race, the Himalayas and the natural environment. This race briefing went on for hours! It was a very confusing brief and I think most of the runners were more confused then when it started. After the runners conferred with each other we worked out where we needed to be, with what kit, at what time. The hardest bit of the whole race is understanding the baggage logistics, if you can manage to understand that you can put one foot in front of the other and run 100miles. After a very strong beer we had an early night. We were still confused with the time zone change and weren’t actually very tired.

The next day was spent acclimatising in Darjeeling itself. Darjeeling is beautiful. It is surrounded by huge mountains, it is precariously balanced on the steep side of a hill. We got a ride on the famous toy train and went to visit the mountaineering museum and zoo. The activities were organised for us and I would have liked to have gone into the centre of Darjeeling to find some tea shops rather an go to a zoo; however I did see a snow leopard.

Day 1 of race:

4:30am wake up. A two hour drive to the start line. 24miles of running and over 2000m of ascent.

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This was a seriously hard day, Probably the hardest 24miles I have ever ran. I say the word run in the loosest of terms. The gradient was mainly uphill and most of that was over 20%. Within the first 30mins my legs were screaming at me and my calf muscles felt like they were going to explode. It probably didn’t help that we had been travelling or sitting for three days and then boom! Get up that hill. At the start we had a prayer ceremony and a fun start line with bagpipes and local musicians. Mr Pandey was there and being hilarious as normal.

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The hills were brutal and relentless, I was completely out of breathe from the offset. Many people headed off to quickly but Will and I gradually overtook a few. The views were stunning and the weather was a dream; just the up up up that made it so hard. Whenever there was a slight down I wished for it to stop as I knew that would mean more of an up to run. Will and I both found different points in the day difficult; we were pretty slow for the last 10km as the hills were so steep and the altitude was getting to us. We could finally see the finish at Sandakphu but it seemed like such a long way away. Music was needed and slowly but surely we reached the top of the hill and ran through the finish banner holding hands. A wash, soup, coffee, sort out, dinner and a very very early night ready for the next day. Sandakphu is at a height of 3600metres, it is very cold at night and the facilities are very basic, long drop toilets and and a bucket of warm water to wash in; however it was a beautiful place to be. I was glad to have my thick down jacket and sleeping bag.

Running time: 7:00hrs

Day 2 of race:

5am wake up to see the sun rise on 4 of the 5 highest mountains in the world. 20miles of running out and back to Sandakphu. 10miles down hill and 10miles back up.

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Today felt like uphill all day. How does that work? Today I struggled with energy, I felt like I didn’t have any energy and could not take on enough fuel. Throughout the run I did start to get into more of a rhythm and managed to feel really good by the last 5km. The views throughout the day were utterly unbelievable, each day the scenery was getting better and better. As it was an out and back run, we were able to see both the faster and slower runners, everyone gave each other encouragement and high fives. It really felt like a team effort whether you were at the front or at the back.

We had a free afternoon to chill and have a nap; we also managed to find a tiny little tuck shop to by soft drinks and chocolate, an absolute bonus. The race briefing was lead by the Niece of Mr Pandey, Mansi. It was clear and concise and everyone understood what the plan was for tomorrow Everest Challenge Marathon.

Running time: 4hrs 56mins.

Day 3 of race:

4am wake up. 26miles of running. 15miles at 3800metres and then down down down down to 1800metres!

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The Everest Challenge Marathon certainly lived up to its name. It was a serious challenge. My body was already very tired from two days of very hard running, not much sleep, cold conditions and not enough calories, so to run a marathon at nearly 4000m is super tough. The plan was to take it steady all day, enjoy the views of Everest and try and smile our way around. We re-traced our first 10miles of yesterday to get to Molle point, we then took an 4mile out and back off-shoot. It was by far the best trail run I have ever done. It was beyond beautiful; if the altitude didn’t take my breathe away that view would. I would run that 8mile stretch everyday for the rest of my life and never get bored of it. After reaching Molle for the second time it meant a 10mile very steep downhill run through the forests to the finish. Will and I were having a blast running downhill, it was nice to get the legs moving from a shuffle and start to breath better as we gradually moved downhill. The path was very technical and needed 100% concentration at all times. I sadly had a fall and lost my whole packet of M&M’s on the floor, I was more upset by that than the fact I hit my knee! The steep path kept heading down the hill, it seemed to go on for a long time but gradually small huts, houses and the villages came into view. We reached Shrekola bridge, the bridge marked the last of the down hill, this meant just 5 more miles of the marathon and we would be done for the day. Those last miles were undulating road, it was hard to get into a rhythm as we had been running downhill for so long, we were shuffling forward at this point listening to tunes and saying hello and waving to all of the local people as we ran through their small villages. We finally reached the town of Rimbik, the finish line was in the melee of a very busy market. It was great to be finished for the day and even nicer to find a lovely lawn, beer and chips to relax on for a couple of hours.

Running time: 7hours 29mins (The slowest marathon I have ever run).

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Day 4 of race:

13miles on road. Down hill for 4.5miles, flat for 4.5miles, up hill for 4.5miles.

Potatoes with Salt were a great snack at each aid station

Potatoes with Salt were a great snack at each aid station

This day I was sadly dreading. Only having to run 13miles was fantastic however it was a full day of road running. Road running is not really my preferred option of running. Within the group there were some amazing road runners so they were taking it very seriously and the start line actually felt quite competitive. The majority of the group started off like rockets, I had never seen people run down all so quickly. I this point I thought Will and I would be finishing the day at the back of the group. It was nice to be able to run faster than normal but once again pacing ourselves was key. When we got to the flat section the heat was extreme, people were really starting to slow down and we just overtook people one by one. After the 4.5miles of flat we reached the hill, it was to steep to run so the power walk came back out, I was in a happy place and felt good, the hill provided shade and the miles were being ticked off. With about a mile still to push I saw the finish line. What? That can’t be. The finish was at a distance of just over 12 miles. Will and I even managed a little sprint finish.

We spent the next couple of hours on the bus heading back to Rimbik. Some of the quick athletes could have run back faster. However we all enjoyed being finished for the day before lunch. The rest of the afternoon and evening was then taken up by a cultural exchange. It was really fun, lots of dancing and singing. All nations had to stand up and show off part of their culture, the Brits decided that the Can-Can and the Hokey-Cokey were more then appropriate.

Running time: 2hours 18minutes

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Day 5 of race:

17miles starting where we left off yesterday at Palmajua and finishing where we started 5 days ago at Maneybhajang.

The day had to start with the bus journey back to the finish of yesterday run. The start was a daunting 6miles up. The hill didn’t seem to be as steep as the previous day and we managed a walk-run routine. We headed up through the forest to crest a hill at 2012m, our last big hill of the whole 5days, it was a sad thought. It was the last sight of the 8000metre mountains, I took some final pictures and waved goodbye ready for the final 11miles gradually winding down to the town of Maneybhajang where it all began.

Running time: 3hours 21minutes

I was so glad to cross the finish line and for it all to be over but it was also so sad to think that it was complete. The decade long dream of completing the race was done. I was very proud of the fact it was part of this years thirty4thirty challenge but I was also proud that Will and I had completed the event together and ran with each other the whole way. Experiences like that can never be taken away, the words that I write will never explain what an incredible race it is and how unique the running is. I have never completed a multistage ultra race before but I truly loved it. It is amazing what your body can achieve and how much you can ask of it day by day.

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I would not have been able to add this event to the thirty4thirty list if it wasn’t for a few companies that helped pay for the deposit and flights to India. A huge thank you goes to these sponsors; BG Pearce Ltd, MMK Engineering and Woodwarm Stoves.

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Event 23 - Ironman Barcelona

An Ironman has alway been in my mind as something the super humans do; people with the sheer toughness to get through the event itself but also the determination and dedication to train for months and years before the events itself. The ‘Ironman’ brand is covered with a mist of mystery and elitism and that hurdle is hard to battle if you are a mortal. But it is a battle that can be won and I honestly believe that anyone who wants to do an Ironman can achieve it.

Doing 30 endurance events this year help in my decision to add an Ironman to the list; it would mean I wouldn’t have to train for the Ironman only and could just incorporate all of the training together. The metal resilience needed to be in such a long event was also at my highest level as I would have already completed a few ultra marathons this year. I knew I wanted to do a early Autumn Ironman, I just had to pick one. Ironman has a european tour and a world tour, therefore some really great holidays and fun places can be explored if the right Ironman is chosen. I was thinking warm rather and cold and also not to far away. Barcelona was a perfect option.

My Parents decided to make a holiday of it in there camper van and headed out a week earlier with all of my kit. This was a huge weight off my shoulders, not having to drag my bike and kit through the airports was great. (Thank you once again amazing support crew). Will and I were picked up from the airport on the Thursday before the Ironman on the Sunday, having a few days would give me time to get use to the heat, acclimatise, find out where everything is and listen to all of the briefings and compulsory kit checks along with eat as much Tapas as possible.

I was really excited as it felt like a little holiday, we set up camp just outside Calella, all other campers and tents seemed to house other Ironman athletes from all over the world. Some were very friendly and some not so much. During the first evening we walked down to the beach front to find a restaurant for dinner, lots of the restaurants were putting on deals for the athletes which was good. This walk was the first time I saw the famous Red Carpet. The red carpet is a 100metre Ironman banded finish shoot, this would be the moment of dreams for many athletes and it did give me butterflies. I tried to visualise myself running down the red carpet on Sunday evening with a smile on my face and the feeling of utter relief that I was now an Ironman.

The finish area was followed by a huge registration and merchandise marquee. The merchandise was packed full of people all spending money on new kit. I was trying to go incognito walking around on the lead up to the Ironman, no branded or sporty clothing. My husband kept being asked if he was competing and then when it was mentioned that I was, not Will, people seemed to be very shocked! Maybe I just don’t look like a triathlete, or maybe it was because out of 4000 competitors only 400 of those were women.

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My undercover approach wasn’t really helping my nerves, I could not switch off and got really fixated on others peoples equipment, I kept comparing their bikes to mine, their shining shoes, their aerodynamic helmets. I expect that most peoples helmets cost more than my bike. I kept going through waves of self doubt and feeling stupid that I was even attempting to do this. I very nearly pulled out of the race altogether when I saw the buoys being put out to sea that would mark the 3.8km swim, oh my word it seemed like a long way.

Due to my nerves starting to get the better of me it was decided that we would spend all day on Friday on the beach relaxing, reading and I was going to do some swim seasons to get used to the water temperature and get my body in swim mode. This was such a great choice as it took my mind off the pressure and away from the Ironman clad triathletes stomping around. By Friday evening I felt like I had had a little mini break and was ready to tackle the next days briefings, equipment checks and transition organisation.

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Saturday was a busy day. My race briefing was in the morning, it was well done and very well organised, the race director made it fun and also pointed out how many peoples first Ironman it was. This made me feel a little more at ease. Due to my low race number (591) I was able to sort out my transition area first. It was all very well organised, labelled location for bikes and also labelled hooks for both biking and running bags. Once all of my kit was in place I felt there was nothing more I could do other than eat and rest before the big day.

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Later on the Saturday evening we were joined by my friend Alice to join the support crew, she had recently moved to Barcelona and it was great to see her. She is very level headed in race situations so we all had a lovely evening eating more Spanish goodness before I had an early night.

Throughout the night a storm raged. The thunder was right over my tent and the rain kept pouring down. A early wake up revealed the storm still over the sea and fork lightning showing off the waves. A thought went through my mind that they would have to cancel the swim in the storm was still raging at 8am. “Luckily” it stopped before the elites headed off in to the water. The rest of us swimmers were self-seeded into swim pens. I estimated it would take me about 1hour 25minutes to complete the swim. The tension was drowning and all of the athletes were quiet watching the elite swimmers getting thrown around in the waves like matchsticks. The very loud Gladiator music was meant to get us all going but felt like we were all being sent off to our doom. It was over 30minutes waiting in the swimming pen before I was allowed to head to the start line; the elite swimmers were nearly out of the water at this point and I was just about to start. I tried to imagine that I had a surf board under my arm and that I would be totally cool with the waves if this were the case.

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I managed to get into the water without being pushed back out like some people. The waves lifted you up as you were swimming and then dropped you. The only time that a marker buoy could be seen was at the crest of the wave, when you were in the trough of the waves all that could be seen in front of you was a wall of swimmers being picked up by the force of the water. This went on for 3.8km. I kept going the whole way, didn’t stop, didn’t do breast stroke and just concentrated. I thought in these conditions I must be much much slower than my predicted time but it turns out that I got out of the water at exactly 1hour 25minutes. Phew, stage one over.

I love being out on my bike so I was looking forward to getting on Bonnie. I could not believe now amazing the road surfaces were, Bonnie and I were just flying along. Being on my bike makes me smile; at this point most people are very serious but the Irish never failed to disappoint, they were all enthusiastic and friendly, one guy called Christopher and I kept over taking each other. He wasn’t so great on the uphills but was faster than me on the down. This back and forth lasted for nearly 100miles. The last 12miles he left me obviously keen to start running. The bike went very smoothly, I did have to stop twice to go to have a wee but this gave my back a chance to stretch out, it is very rare that you would ever ride for 112 miles with out stopping. So far my body felt good, I felt like I had been eating and drinking well on the bike and now just had a marathon to run!

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In transition 2 I stocked up on my favourite source of nutrients - watermelon! I tried to think about how tired my body felt and at what point to felt like this on the 100miler. I found it hard to compare but what I did realise it that I wasn’t in so much pain that I couldn’t run a marathon. I had at this point about 7hours to run the marathon before the 15hour 40minute cut off time. I could walk if I wanted to. This however is not in my nature so I just plodded on. This sun was out and the miles were ticking by. The run course was three very mentally hard laps, half of each lap was full of people and spectators as it was near the red carpet (you had to go past the finish three times before running down the carpet!). The second half of each lap was out in the sticks with no people around. The first lap I felt good, the second lap my husband tried to run along the pavement next to the race course shouting encouraging things at me which was helpful and funny at the same time. By this point it had started to pour down with rain. I was actually pretty cold. I had just one lap to go and I was still running, but this point there was hardly anyone running, most people were walking (Including the Fish chap, Christopher. We high fived.). This spurred me on. Just keep moving forward. My Parents had been at every lap cheering me on, it was tough for the spectators also, it was now 9pm and they had been standing in the rain and cold for hours. The last time I saw and heard them cheering I only had 200metres to run and the red carpet. If I am honest the feeling is like nothing I have experienced. The relief, the pride, the realisation, the appreciation it is over whelming. The crowd is so loud. Then you hear it, the words you have been dreaming of “Abbi you are an IRONMAN”.

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A medal got put over my head and tears started to flow, I had no idea of my completion time and to be honest it didn’t really matter. I then looked up on the screen to see my name and 12hours 55minutes beside it! I was so overwhelmed. I wanted to complete it in 14hours or before the cut-off but to have done it in under 13hours I was so chuffed with. I cried some more. Quickly picked up my t-shirt and clothes, found my family and cried more! This theme continued until I had a beer in my hand and I was warm again. I took one sip of my beer and couldn’t manage anymore but I had been dreaming about the beer and it had filled its purpose.

The rain was pouring down even more heavily for the next few hours. I cheered on the last of the runners whilst picking up my bike and kit and waddling back to now a very wet and soggy tent before falling into a deep sleep at around midnight.

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Event 22 - Exmoor 4km Open Water Swim

I thought it would be a fantastic idea to get to Wimbleball lake on Exmoor the evening before the swim to have a leisurely evening camping before getting up in the morning. A crazy busy Saturday prevented that from happening and me and my bestie dawn rocked up in the pitch-black to a field full of eerily quiet tents and vans. It was freezing outside, winter is on its way.

The tent went up in a flash but the comedy blow up mattress and hand pump left us in giggles. Trying to blow up a mattress quietly is never going to happen. We then managed to sneak around the camp site to find the rest of the support crew for this event who were much more sensible and got to the lake in the light. I stuffed my face full of pasta and then tried to get a good nights sleep in the cold. Nature wees’ prevailed as we could not find any facilities on the campsite.

The morning dawned very cloudy and pretty darn cold. The thought of getting in the reservoir didn’t really appeal to me. I had a few hours before my toes would be dipped in. I went to register before once again stuffing my face. The mornings food was all in practise for the Ironman coming up. Rice pudding, a banana and croissant went down the hatch nicely followed by a coffee! Pure athlete nutrition I am sure. My coach assured me this is what he eats so in it all went.

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I still had a couple of hours before I had to get the wetsuit on and head to the waters edge. I chilled for a long as I could but then went down to the start to watch the other waves of swimmers start, both the 6km swimmers and the 2km swimmers were heading off before my start time. It was fun to watch and the atmosphere was great. The sun was starting to come out and lots of families were around to support with their dogs. Another coffee later the nerves were starting to get to me. Before this year I could barely swim two lengths in a row without nearly drowning, this task now seemed far to daunting. I had been training hard but I just always feel so slow in the water.

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The butterflies were starting to make me feel sick, I really wanted to get in and get going. A few delays meant that my briefing and start wasn’t going to be until about 10:20. A long time to wait in a wetsuit. Finally we were all called to the start pen. I was ready, the briefing was short; basically ‘go around the reservoir anti-clockwise and keep the big yellow boys to the left’. It was a deep water start so all of us with the purple hats headed into the water. It was cold, really cold. I did all of my usual techniques to get my heart rate down and to get use to the cold water on my face and neck. The water tasted funny and muddy, very different then swimming in the sea like I usually do. I was in the first wave to head off for the 4km swim. This means I had stated I would take over 1hour 30mins. To be honest I had no clue what time I would do it in! 1hour 30Minutes meant we were the slowest of all of the swimmers.

The whistle blew and everyones arms and legs started to fail around and cause loads of splashing. I made sure I gave myself lots of room from the other competitors and off I started. Soon I got into a rhythm and started to tick off the yellow buoys. I also seemed to be swimming in a straight line which is a bonus for me and something I have been training hard to archive for months. The first kilometre went by quickly, all of the supporters dog and family members were running beside the reservoir cheering everyone on. After about a kilometre and a half they all gave up and got bored; I am sure watching swimming is a pretty dull thing to do and we all look the same in the water. I was feeling quite calm and happy with my pace at this point, I could see the dam at the end of the lake which signified 1.8km complete. All of a sudden a wave of light blue and dark blue swim caps started to push past me, the first time of the swim that I had been barged by another swimmers was at 2km! The faster swimmers had caught up with the slower bunch and were trying to weave their way through. I am sure highly annoying for them and petrifying for us. For a short time this put me off my stroke. Going forward I would now check the small print of a swimming race to see if the start waves work in that order. I really think it is a ridiculous thing to do both for the steady and fast swimmers.

After about 10mins of these dark and light blue hats storming on past me we all started to spread out again, I got my stroke back and started to relax into the swim again, I felt that my pace was good and the songs were flowing freely in my mind. Before the last 600m there is a looooonnnnnng stretch of the lake, each yellow buoy seemed to be a long way away. I kept focusing on the next buoy, just getting to one at a time. I them turned the last corner, I knew I would make it, the finished seemed so close and yet so far to swim, I knew it would still be about a 15minute swim to get over the line. I was starting to hear the cheers from spectators every time I turned my head to breathe. That was the greatest feeling. I gradually got closer and closer and people started to get bigger, the finish arch was in sight and I could see other swimmers now standing and wobbling out of the water.

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Soon I would be one of those wobbly people, I tried to quickly think of a plan to look graceful and not a mess when coming out of the water. That did not happen, with a muddy face and jelly legs I took my first steps from swimming and into the mud. Luckily I didn’t feel dizzy so after a second I could happily run to cross the finish line.

Before this year of events I never ever would have thought I could swim that distance. It was something so out of reach for me. The unknown petrified me. Swimming is also a sport which I am not talented at, it was hard to push myself to train and work at something I find so difficult. However, it was a huge sense of achievement. Even if there wasn’t any medals!

After drying out and a delicious hot chocolate the tent was taken down and another event was successfully ticked off.

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Event 21 - DIY Triathlon

Maybe this event was doomed from the start. I had signed up for the Stand Up Paddle (SUP) Board triathlon after the Bath half marathon was cancelled due to the Beast from the East and all of the snow. By Thursday I was having suspicions that the event organisers were not happy with the weather forecast. Heavy rains and high winds were forecast. Not ideal conditions for SUP. These types of triathlons are designed for all; some participants would have never SUP’d before whilst others would have been pros. It was understandable that the organisers would have been cautious.

At 7am on Friday, an email popped up on my phone. The event had been cancelled and all entries would be automatically transferred to next year. Fine for some. The panic then set in. Doing 30 endurance events in one year doesn’t give me much time for movement and I don’t have a spare week now until January! The SUP triathlon was also one of the smaller events as my body would not be fully recovered from the 100mile Ultra-marathon last weekend.

A quick search on the internet brought up some other events. These event mostly revolved around running. I didn’t want my body to have to do a long run so quickly after the Ultra. Lots of other events were also cancelled due to the weather. My thinking cap had to be put on.

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Looking at the forecast there was going to be a lull in the weather on Saturday morning. Right, I will do the triathlon by myself. I don’t have a paddle board so had to change that for swimming. The DIY triathlon was created. Trying to stick with the event distances; a 2km sea swim, 10km mountain bike and a 5km run.

I posted my idea on the local swimming forum and had two other lovely but crazy people agree to join me. I was truly grateful for this.

Just before 9am on Saturday morning this tiny group of triathletes got ready to get into the sea. It was very windy and very choppy. Swimming is still petrifying for me and this would be the choppiest swim I would have ever done. Having two other experienced swimmers in the water with me was reassuring. The swim was quite an adventure and I had a good time, I was however, glad to get out! A quick transition onto the mountain bike. It was quite cold so I added a good few layers. The 10km ride went by in a flash only taking 22mins. Off the bike with numb feet to start the run. I was not sure how this was going to go. Only 6days before had I finished the 100mile run, my body felt good but I knew deep down I was not 100% recovered and all of the little micro-tares may cause me some issues.

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The first few kilometres sped past as we were going at a fast pace, my feet were still numb so that was a strange feeling. After 3km my feet started to come back to life and I felt more comfortable. At this point I was smiling to myself as I felt good, I felt strong and was quite shocked and proud of my body for coping with all the challenges I was putting it through.

The three of us ended up running for 7km altogether. I was glad for to to be over but also in shock about how good I felt. It was much easier having people taking part in the DIY triathlon with me. The power of support is huge and makes all of the difference.

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I have been thinking about my week of recovery and how my body has coped so well and thought I would share a few ideas with you all:

  • Loads of sleep. At least 8hours per night since the ultra marathon and naps if time has allowed.

  • Active recovery. Keeping the legs moving and not seizing up I think has really aided my recovery, the week following the ultra I have done some gentle bike rides at under 75% max heart rate to flush the lactic acid out. I have walked the dog daily, this has got easier throughout the week until it felt normal and I have also being doing yoga everyday, mainly stretching poses.

  • Food and rehydration. Eating little and often; listening to what my body wants as most of the time it will let me know. I have craved liquid type foods such as melon, soup, stew and yogurts. Drinking lots of fluid such as herbal tea and squash. Bodies rehydrate better if there is a flavour in the water.

  • Reflection. Sometimes I think it is easy to focus on the things that I should have done differently, but this time I have tried to be proud of myself and all of things I have achieved.

  • Being kind. Life stills goes on and there has still been stuff to do and work deadlines to reach. However, I have been slower than normal, my brain seems to be working slowly. This is due to being tired, even if my body feels fine it is working hard to repair itself. I have tried to remember this and not push myself to hard.

  • Days off. After completing a big event at least one day off is needed. For the 100miler I gave myself two days off work. I am so glad I did as it gave me time for me and also no pressures.

  • Sports massage. Throughout these 30 events I have had regular massages. I really think they have been key to keeping me subtle and injury free.

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