Originally posted on Runner’s World

Can an average runner take on 53-miles in the Scottish highlands? Our Online News Ed Rhalou starts the first week of her training.

West Highland Way

Week one of my official training for the Hoka Highland Fling and admittedly I didn’t fling myself into my running with wild abandon. Having completed a marathon in November, I was hoping I’d maintain the momentum from my training and segue comfortably into ultra miles, but sadly it’s never that simple. After pounding 26.2 miles of pavement in Istanbul, my glutes decided to stage a mini protest and demand a couple of weeks rest. I then cut my mileage down significantly over the Christmas holidays in favour of cheese and wine, and so I entered week one of my 53-mile schedule feeling slightly unprepared.

My training plan called for 35 minutes easy running, a 6-8 miler, a 60-minute run and then an 8 miler at the weekend, which sounds easy enough. I managed the 35 easy minutes without a hitch, but during my midweek run my entire right leg started to ache after just four miles, which knocked my confidence. With 53 miles on the horizon this was not a good start, so I called upon the experts for a bit of a leg up.

A seasoned triathlete, marathoner and level 2 BTA coach, Chris from Bodylab sounded like the perfect sports massage therapist to help with my weary legs. He incorporates different techniques including trigger point massage and examining the way the body moves. With his experience and enthusiasm for extreme sports, Chris instantly put my mind at ease.

After an examination and thorough rub down I was relieved to learn that there was no good reason why I shouldn’t fling myself head first into ultra training. Chris taught me a couple of glute strengthening exercises and sent me on my merry way feeling considerably more confident about the task ahead. Like most runners, I tend to seek help when I’m injured rather than as a regular MOT, so as part of my training I’m aiming to get regularly massaged so I stay in good enough shape to conquer 53 miles.

A couple of days later I hit the park with my friend Ruth with renewed enthusiasm. My legs felt fine and even when it started to bucket it down I was unperturbed and kept on running. What’s a bit of rain when you’re planning to run an ultra over the West Highland Way in Scotland? Now all I need to do is increase the miles and replicate those hills. Route suggestions gratefully received, tweet me @Rhalou.

 

Originally posted on Runner’s World

Can an average runner take on 53-miles in the Scottish highlands? We put our Online News Ed Rhalou to the test.

Rhalou Allerhand

As an average runner with fairly good endurance and just the right amount of madness, I’ve been harbouring a secret desire to advance to ultra running for a while now. Having run one official 28-mile ultra marathon and a few DIY extreme distance runs I do have an inkling of what I’m letting myself in for, but I have yet to dip my toe in the 50+ mile whirlpool.

After reading an article in the October 2014 issue of Runner’s World UK featuring a 50-mile training plan, I’ve decided it’s time to stop daydreaming and take the plunge. The article in question includes a seemingly straightforward training plan that breaks 50 miles down into bite size chunks and makes it sound doable.

The Highland Fling

I’ve since signed up to my first proper ultra marathon, the Hoka Highland Fling. A 53-mile unsupported trail race set over the Southern part of the West Highland Way in Scotland, the fling is not for the faint-hearted. But having heard excellent things about the race from die-hard ultra friends, it feels like the perfect ultra to cut my teeth on.

Make a plan

It’s easy to sign up to a race and read a training plan, but actually stepping outside the door to start training for 53 miles is a whole different ballgame. But reluctant to opt for my usual wing it approach (largely because the chance of me actually dying out there is rather high) I realise, perhaps for the first time in my running career, I have to take my training seriously. To that end, I will be following the training plan to a T and speaking to as many long distance experts as I can get my hands on.

Follow my journey

Over the coming weeks I’ll be blogging regularly for Runner’s World and sharing my training schedule, race preparation and the highs and lows of taking on an ultra marathon. From finding adequate trails down south that match the Scottish mountains to nutrition, kit and mindset, I’ll be covering everything it takes to get a city girl from 0-53 miles. Keep your eye out for upcoming blogs and follow my journey on Twitter@Rhalou.

 

As the one year anniversary of my return to London rolls around and having recently turned 35, here is some stuff I learned about life:-

Tiger

1. Enter races that you haven’t trained enough for, run with people that are faster than you and embark on adventures that put you outside your comfort zone. You will have fun and unless your legs fall off there is no good reason why you shouldn’t. Stop worrying and get out there and do stuff while you’re still young and have all your teeth.

2. Don’t do anything for money or fame or critical acclaim. Do it all for yourself in 50 years’ time, so you’ll have cool stories to tell your grandchildren when you look back at your fabled life.

3. Be brave and take risks. If you fall madly love with a tall dark handsome stranger and he asks you to move to the wilderness with him, do it. It might suck immeasurably, but it will be worth it. You will come home stronger.

4. Take this strength and apply it to positive things, like cycling to France, or building flat-packed furniture, or loving yourself, or running naked through the zoo.

5. Tell your friends and family you love them, frequently and with sincerity, in case you get hit by a car tomorrow.

6. If your boyfriend takes his phone to the toilet with him, he’s probably cheating on you. Or he has IBS.

7. If a friend or a loved one puts your down, criticises you, belittles you or tries to change you, be sympathetic and kind to them. They are probably miserable. Then block their phone number and walk away.

8. Approach eating, running, climbing, singing, dancing, love and sex with enthusiasm and you will never fail.

9. Wear your hair grips with the wriggly side up so your hair won’t get bent.

10. Never give up, but don’t be afraid to let go.

As featured on Findarace.com

Runner, writer and occasional breaststroker, Rhalou, dons the Lycra and tries her hand at triathlon.

As a running fanatic, I’ve always been loyal to my favourite sport and thought triathlons sounded a bit daft (sorry tri friends). But, mostly because I wanted the hot body that training for all three pursuits seems to produce, I also secretly toyed with the idea of entering one. Spurred on by my desire to look sexy in hotpants, earlier in the year I entered the Shock Absorber WomenOnly Triathlon with my friend Susie.

Although I knew what triathlons entailed, I hadn’t considered the implications of taking on a sport that requires so much bloody kit. As a runner, I’m used to slinging on my trainers and dashing out the door. Triathlons are ridiculously complicated. Not only do you need a wetsuit alongside your running kit, but you have to acquire a bicycle and a helmet too; ludicrous.

Rhalou and Susie tri girls

After taking my usual lackadaisical approach to training, a couple of months before race day I suddenly panicked and set about honing my pins to trisexual perfection. Determined not die on my first tri, I even got myself a swim coach. Although I love running and I’m confident on a bike, swimming is a whole different ballgame. I could just about summon up breast stroke, but I was incapable of submerging my head without crying (I hate to ruin good make up) and the temptation to drop out was strong.

A couple of swimming sessions at Swim4tri put an end to my fears and I even managed to master the art of front crawl. After running to the pool a few times, I discovered that swimming really benefits my overworked leg muscles. I also borrowed a tri suit off my cool friend Katie and felt surprisingly sexy in the Lycra onesie.

When race day finally rolled around, Susie and her ace boyfriend Shaun picked me up from Windsor and we set off for Eton Dorney Lake. Upon arrival the tri waves were already well under way. With precariously balanced bike racks, mountains of kit and hundreds of other women queuing up to get involved, it all seemed like a massive ball ache and I wandered if it was worth it. But as we approached the bag drop, I was struck by the incredibly laid back atmosphere. Although my fellow competitors were clearly busting their guts out, everyone seemed relaxed and I felt instantly at ease.

Katie, Rhalou and Susie

While dropping off my bike and dumping my gear in the transition section, I chatted with fellow competitors. There was a real sense of camaraderie, which I suspect might have had something to do with the lack of male competitors. We were all in this together and no one was going to elbow each other in the face to get the top spot. Feeling slightly more confident, I waded into the water in my onesie and prayed for forgiveness from the tri Gods.

Even with swimming lessons and the aforementioned prayers, the first stage still sucked. Flapping around in the water I swallowed so much of the lake, that I quickly gave up on the front crawl I had worked so hard to master and stuck to breast stroke. But when a floating race marshal threatened to make the last one out the water buy him lunch, I mysteriously sped up, beating a few knackered ladies in the process, and finished in 12:29.

Next up was the cycle; four times anti-clockwise around the lake on a reassuringly flat path. Despite riding a hybrid, I felt confident and happy whizzing around the water and enjoyed picking off competitors on much fancier road bikes. It was great to see Shaun cheering in the crowd as I cycled round (I knew boys were useful for something). I could have happily kept going and finished in a comfortable 56:55.

Rhalou and Susie

It was a blessing to complete the trilogy with my favourite pursuit; the running section. By the time I hit the road it was baking hot and my competitors looked exhausted, but I felt the strongest I had all day and skipped along the path grinning like an idiot. I had my doubts about the out and back route, but was glad of the chance to high-five my friend Katie running the opposite way, and whoop like a baboon when the amazing Susie lapped me to finish in seventh place overall. I didn’t cough up a lung or come close to Susie’s inspirational efforts, but I felt strong and comfortable, finishing in a not too shabby 28:55.

Having entered The Shock Absorber WomenOnly Triathlon on a whim with reservations about the sport and the concept of gender specific events, it was a pleasure to be proven wrong on both counts. I thoroughly enjoyed race day (apart from the swimming bit) and racing alongside so many lovely ladies was the perfect introduction to the sport. After such a great tri taster, I can’t wait to don a Lycra onesie and go back for more.

Why do people enter races? For the challenge, the adventure, the thrill of the ride, or the incredible sense of fulfilment running brings? Unless you’re an athlete, of all the reasons to enter races, running speedily is not the first thing that springs to mind. There are a million trillion more emotional, heart warming and life changing reasons to pit your legs against the open road. And yet, be it 5K or 50 miles, once you’ve completed your challenge, the one question people always ask is, ‘what was your time?’

It irks me that such a profound and integral aspect of my life is reduced to chunks of manageable time. Of course it feels good to run really fast, and yes it’s an accomplishment to get fitter and faster, but is speed really the ultimate barometer of race success?

rhALULTRAAA

If a running event was measured by enjoyment, laughter, weather, enthusiastic support, or most interesting people met en route, it would be a different story, and I’d be champion of the fucking world. My best most memorable races had nothing to do with time and everything to do with life experience. Last weekend was one such race.

To celebrate my 35th birthday, I decided to run my age. Partly because I wanted to improve on last year, which was an unbelievably sucky birthday because I got my heartbroken, but mostly because I had something to prove.

photo 2

Within me lies a well of incredible strength and endurance. I know this because I survived the last year in London town on a shoestring with a ruptured heart. But put me in a field of speedy runners and I feel like a failure. I just can’t help stopping to smell the flowers and admire the birds nesting in the trees. I love running passionately and I thrive off the spirit of racing. But I was born to dance to the beat of my own drum and formulaic road races suck out all the fun.

To prove to myself that anything was possible, and to have a laugh because I love running with friends, I decided to organise my own damn ultra marathon, and the Rhalultra was born. Because It was my race, I could do it my way, and still legitimately win. This meant approximate mileage, a vague route (because what is life without adventure?) and virtually no training. I run regularly, so I knew I could cover a long distance, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to follow a tedious training plan for six months when really all I want to do is have fun.

Most of my sane running friends would balk at the idea of running for a vague and indefinite time without a map or a fancy watch. But thankfully I have a few friends patient and willing enough to pander to my whimsical desires, and one particularly cool pal who is just as free-spirited as me when it comes to running in the great outdoors.

photo 5

Simon Lamb is a dude. He is my best man friend. I know this for a fact, because last weekend he ran beside me for ten whole hours and 41.3 miles in the searing heat, and only complained when I tried to make him do a sprint finish. (Yes that’s a little over 35 miles, but when you’re having so much fun, who cares about numbers?)

Speedy Claire Pepper, the Amazing Sarah Onions, Delicious Dom, Incredible Harriet, Heroic Nathaniel and the King of Hugs Lawrence Lartey are all Rhalultra runners worthy of praise. They made my birthday run so much fun and I love them all for it.

rha gang

If you’re interested in the logistics of the Rhalultra, check out my Runner’s World article here I won’t bore you with the stats. All I will say is, I ran 41.3 God damn miles on Saturday, and I did it incredibly slowly so I could stop for ice cream and flower sniffs, and I loved every bloody second of it, and if I can do it, then so can you.

And if anyone asks me if I ran a good time, I will reply, ‘Why yes, I had the best time in the whole fucking world.’