Monday, 14 July 2014

Saffron Trail Ultra and those three dreaded letters...

DNF three letters that mean so much... (Did not finish in case any non runners are mistakingly reading my blog!!) 
 So Saffron Trail didn't go how I was expecting and I have spent the last twenty four hours going through a range of emotions from crying to anger (at myself, not anyone else) and others in between. As I said last week I had trained so hard and felt more prepared for this race than any other so where did it all go wrong?

It started well, was a nice sunny evening, if a little warm and humid and I was ready for the challenge. I was finding it a little difficult to settle into a comfortable pace, felt I went out too fast, but often takes a while in an ultra to settle so wasn't concerned. I met Fiona and David early on in the race and we stuck together it was good to have some company and we had an enjoyable first leg and although at the back with the sweepers I was at the time I needed to be at for the finish time I wanted when we arrived at checkpoint one.

We didn't hang around for long and set out again, we had to deal with thunder, lightening and heavy rain, I decided against a waterproof as it was so hot and stuffy and I felt comfortable. Half way through leg two my heel started to hurt, it bothered me more than niggles normally do and even at that early stage I began to slow down. We arrived at Checkpoint 2 and was good to see my daughter Abbi and Kate who gave me some advice for dealing with the pain, took a couple of paracetamol and off we went again. 

Leg three was horrific and where it really started to go wrong for me, navigating and running in the dark was so much tougher than I had anticipated, trying to find overgrown footpaths proved impossible and a couple of times we ended up waist deep in stinging nettles! I had run this section in daylight but it was still tough and that coupled with my sore foot quickly sent me into a whirl of negative thinking.This was new to me on a race, I've had bad patches in races before, times where you question what you're doing, times when you just want to stop, but normally I can give myself a talking to, or talk to someone else and snap out of it. Nothing helped this time, pulling out and going home to bed went round and round in my head, I didn't say this to Fiona and David at this point and we reached checkpoint three fifteen minutes before the cut off, we knew we needed to speed up if we were going to make the next cut off, but it was doable. So off we went again. The creepy graveyard during leg 3 lifted my 'spirits' for a while!! 

     Fiona, David and myself in the Creepy Graveyard!! 

Leg 4 was more fields, woods and a run though Chelmsford in the early hours of Sunday morning, I couldn't manage a decent pace for any length of time, and was fully prepared to quit at the next checkpoint. It was good to see Maxine about a mile before the checkpoint. Checkpoint four had to be moved unexpectedly and she was there to give us water and new maps. I said I wasn't sure if I could go on but was talked into going the extra mile to the next checkpoint. In my head I was thinking 'ok one more mile then I stop.' 

The checkpoint staff had other ideas and although we were a little outside the cut off time we were allowed to go on, a sugary cup of tea was handed to me and I was told to keep moving, my feeble protests that I'd had enough were ignored and I was resigned to going another 10miles. I wasn't happy, I hated running, was never going to do an ultra again once this was finally over, and Lindley got called all sorts of things in my head!! I tried to keep my negativity to myself as Fiona and David seemed in good shape and I was starting to worry I was slowing them down. We plodded on towards checkpoint 5 but at Great Waltham I'd really had enough and spoke to Lindley telling him I'd had enough.
I think the conversation went like this
Lindley: What's wrong?
Me: My feet hurt, my legs hurt, I feel sick and I can't do this.
Lindley: All normal for an ultra then, are you still moving?
Me: Yes but very slowly
Lindley: Ok keep pushing then, get through this section then it's not far to go.

As you can imagine he wasn't my favourite person right then!! So I had two choices keep going or refuse to move! I kept going, there was a sign on the gate we were about to enter that said 'Warning, bull in field' and all I could think was I hope it tramples me so I can stop!! But then just for a while mentally I picked myself up, I could this...
It didn't last long and negativity crept back in, but I did have moments of thinking I could get to the end, so it wasn't going to be anywhere near the time I wanted but I could do it, it was supposed to be tough. So I resigned myself to the fact that no one was going to let me quit so I had to get the job done.
It seemed to take forever to get to Checkpoint 5 but the hours of darkness were over, so navigation became easier, it was Sunday morning, I felt awful but I was going to get this done. Then we reached checkpoint 5 way outside the cut off time and there we were told our race was over. It was totally the right decision. It still makes no sense to me that After spending so long wanting to stop when I was told I had to I was devastated. We'd run 50 miles overnight in pretty awful weather conditions, it was a tough, tough race and I'd got my first DNF. We were driven to the end at Saffron Walden, I didn't say much, I couldn't as didn't want to cry in front of everyone. Once we got out of the car I had a pain in my ankle, the opposite foot to the one that had been the problem! Maxine fed me tea and cake and iced my ankle, was great to get a hug from Abbi. I think Lindley and everyone else said kind things I wasn't really listening, I still can't put into words how completely gutted I am, I'm trying to put it in perspective, learn from the experience and refocus for the next one (there will be one!!).

This morning I was even annoyed that my legs are hurting, I didn't finish so I shouldn't ache, then I realised I had still run a tough 50 miles. The support and kind words I've had from friends and family has been amazing, I know 50 miles is a long way but it wasn't the 70 it should have been! 

I have lots to think about about, new plans to make because not finishing Saffron also means I am out of Challenge Running's Grand Slam, but still have two more races in the series to run and I will run them. I will take the positives from this experience and learn from the negatives and I will be back stronger and more determined. Lindley and Challenge Running will just have to put up with me at all their events again next year as I'm not one to leave things unfinished!!

There are some things that went well, think I've finally got hydration and nutrition sorted. My shoe, sock, gaiter combination is fab, two tiny blisters after hours of running with wet feet and I met some awesome people (love the ultra running community). 

I don't blame anyone or anything other than myself for not finishing this race, the dark, the weather, the navigation all made it tough (it's supposed to be tough that's why I do it!!) I didn't stick to my race plan, I let small things grow into big things in my mind and it was definitely what was going on in my head rather than my body that caused my DNF.

A massive, massive thank you to Fiona and David for your support and company on the route,  hope to see you both at events in the future. Thank you to all the volunteers at checkpoints for keeping us going on Saturday night, for not letting me quit early on, Maxine for looking after me at the finish. Lindley for being a great coach, putting on amazing events and not letting me give up at Great Watham, I plan to work even harder over the next six weeks and will give the Chilterns everything I've got. Finally thanks to everyone else for your support, kind messages and donations. 

Well done to the winners, finishers and all those that took part. 

Have a good week and happy running xxx 


  1. A really good description of your adventure and I am even more in awe of what u do on these crazy Ultra Runs having read this than I was before .

  2. agree with Richard. And you didn't quit - you got told to stop, otherwise suspect you'd have kept going despite everything. Well done - 50 is an awesome achievement

  3. I finished but way, way closer to the cut-off time than I ever expected to be. I did the MDS earlier in the year and I'm honestly not sure which was harder. Leg 3 was horrendous - although at least you didn't encounter Shotgun Man and his charming wife! I look forward to seeing you at the start and finish of the Saffron Trail next year :-)