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?


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.’

Next Saturday I turn 35. I do not have a salary, a proper job, a house, a baby, a boyfriend, a pension or a clue. I’m not even really sure how I’m going to pay my rent next month. But I do have legs, and I can run!

To celebrate turning 35 and to improve on last year’s birthday, which was really shit, I have decided to set myself a challenge. I am going to run my age.


With the help of some lovely friends and race support provided by my superhero sports massage therapist Six Seconds High, on 26th July I am going to run from Royston to London via Ware, and even if it takes me all day, I am going to win.

If you fancy running a section of the inaugural Rhalultra with me, drop me a line @Rhalou or meet me at the finish line The Faltering Fullback for a post race pint. I aim to cross the pub threshold before 3pm.

I love you in secret special ways.

#Rhalultra xx

Arguably one of the greatest aspects of participating in a race is being cheered on by total strangers. Medals, PBs, killer thighs and a sense of accomplishment all have their merits. But once you become a grownup, unless you’re a rock star or really good at public speaking, race day is pretty much the only time you’re going to get publicly applauded by complete strangers willing you to succeed.

The mothership cheering machine. Photo credit: Cara Conquest

The mothership cheering machine. Photo credit: Cara Conquest

As a wannabe disco superstar with the musical talents of a hamster, race day is the only opportunity I get to revel in my (imagined) adoring public, and I bloody love it. But despite my lust for the cheering limelight I must confess, until recently I wasn’t much of a race spectator and rarely returned the favour.

The truth is I found it a bit like PE swimming lessons at school, when I pretended I had my period so I didn’t have to get naked in front of the other girls (times have changed). Within seconds of sitting by the pool inhaling the heady scent of chlorine and watching my classmates happily splashing around, I always desperately regretted skiving and longed to jump into the inviting looking water. Until recently I saw race day as a similar torture and couldn’t bear watching happy runners without breaking into a run.

During my ultra widow days I was certainly dragged around enough cold wet hill races in the Scottish mountains to cheer. But the audience participation doesn’t count when it’s just you, Hamish the tea maker and a bunch of bored looking sheep huddled under a wet tarpaulin waiting for 12 gnarly old runners to whizz by.

Rhalou run sexy

My attitude to race spectating changed dramatically when my mum recently came to stay. Although the woman is arguably the embodiment of joy, she was the one that wrote the letters to my PE teachers at school so I could skive, and has never really been one for sport. I’ve tried countless times over the years to persuade her to come and cheer for me during a race and she’s always made excuses. But then I forced her to come to mile 21 at the London Marathon a few weeks ago and suddenly everything changed.

Within two minutes of seeing the first wheelchair racers whizz by my mum was in floods of tears and over the next six hours I watched her morph into a one-woman cheering machine. Together we laughed, sang, wept and screamed our heads off, cheering every single runner on as if they were our best friends. It was the most fun I’ve ever had not running in my entire life. With multiple sound systems competing for air space, thousands of spectators and an electric atmosphere, cheering for the London Marathon is like taking ten ecstasy pills at a giant happy rave minus the comedown.

There’s something almost primal about the instinct to cheer during a sporting event. Joining the sea of people and collectively encouraging runners you will never meet to succeed is good for the soul and made me feel elated for days afterwards. The following week my mum called to tell me she’d already booked tickets to come and cheer me on at the Istanbul Marathon in November and hoped it would be as much fun as mile 21 amidst the mighty Run Dem Crew. I haven’t got the heart to tell her it might be a little bit less crowded.

Susie Chan and Graham Kelly 31/100 Thames Path 100

Rhalou, Susie, Graham, chips and booze.

Last weekend I decided to take my newfound cheering skills to the next level and meet my gorgeous friend the insatiable Susie Chan and my new Scottish buddy the bearded warrior Graham Kelly at mile 31 of the Thames Path 100. I figured 100 miles was a slog worthy of extra special cheering, so I bought them a bag of chips, several miniature bottles of whisky and a smile.

With just my friend Simon Lamb and I applauding the exhausted looking running field as they stopped for sandwiches at the checkpoint (yes, you get sandwiches during ultras, how cool is that) it wasn’t a full on race spectator experience. But I felt the same infectious joy for encouraging complete strangers as I did during the London Marathon, and bloody loved every second of it. Enthusiastically encouraging strangers to succeed feels fantastic, but when a runner you know and love appears on the horizon, it is nothing short of euphoric. Just knowing that I gave them enough hugs and whisky to keep going for a few more miles made me smile all the way home.

If you have yet to cheer for an event, I implore you to get your butt down to the running route and scream your head off at strangers with wild abandon (or come join my mum in Istanbul!) Not only does cheering ensure the runners have a better time, but it will fill your heart with happiness and refill your karma tanks to boot. Those runners out there have not only trained their asses off for months to get there, but many of them have raised massive amounts of money for charity and they deserve to be celebrated. And you never know, when it’s your race day and chance to shine, they might just return the favour.

Having discovered the delight in race spectating, I have now decided to quit all my jobs and become a professional race spectator. If you need a shouty redhead, call me. I’m also available for weddings, Barmitzvahs and cocktail parties.

For runners, athletes, foot models or anyone who makes good use of their limbs, injury is like a dirty black cloud. It haunts you, gently goading you with unexpected shin splints or sore toes like droplets of rain, while you do your upmost to avoid the downpour. Every day you stretch, worry, wriggle and try to stay in optimum condition to avoid any damage that might prevent you from hitting the streets.

With most new runners, as your obsession gradually begins to consume your every waking thought, so does your health. You start cancelling big nights out on the piss with your mates in favour of cosy nights in front of the telly, so you don’t suffer on your morning run.

Before long, body preservation reaches a crescendo. Despite your other half’s protestations, you start rubbing exotic oils that smell like old ladies into your sore limbs and sleeping in compression gear that makes you look like a giant Lycra sausage. But like it or not, pounding the pavements in excess comes with its drawbacks and if you don’t take good care of yourself, runners are prone to injury.

running is sexy

When I first discovered running, I thought I was invincible. I annoyed the shit out of the Women’s Running gang, as while they all struggled with various aches and pains, I glided smugly from 5K to 28-miles without so much as a blister. Running meant so much to me; it slowly began to shape my entire life. But being a bit of a party animal, I tried to maintain my former life and balance partying like a rock star with an ever-increasing training regime.

A burgeoning obsession with speed also silently began to take over, and runs stopped being about enjoyment and more about punishment. I was so desperate to hit targets and keep up with the fast kids that I forgot why I started running in the first place. Despite starting to feel exhausted, I continued to power on regardless and unsurprisingly my lack of insurance in my legs eventually took its toll.

At the Edinburgh Marathon 2012 I tore a muscle in my leg. I kept on running (okay limping, like a miserable old trout) because I was a fool and determined to finish. This happened two weeks before I moved to Scotland to start a new life in the Borders. Needless to say, moving to the mountains without a working leg was a real bitch. Plus finding a decent physiotherapist in the wilderness was a whole new challenge.

I eventually found a lovely massage therapist who rubbed racing greyhounds on the side. He was very nice, but told me to stop doing any exercise, at all. I quickly became stagnant, lost 100 per cent of my fitness and my muscles turned into burnt steak. I was living in the most beautiful corner of the world and I sat on my arse watching it through a window.

Seeing my friends pursue their running dreams on Twitter was torturous. I badly wanted to be out running, but I was terrified of further injuring myself. One of the reasons I relocated to Scotland was to focus on endurance as opposed to the increasing obsession with speed. And where I was living, short runs weren’t an option. You either set off for a 20 miler in the mountains, or not at all. It was hard to take half measures. I tried several times but repeatedly tore the muscle and eventually resigned myself to hiking.

For reasons unrelated to running, after 15 months I came home. I suspect not being able to run didn’t help, but that’s life. Being injured taught me some valuable lessons that I will never forget. You can’t ever take what you have for granted and if you do, the universe will drop kick you in the nuts to remind you. Also, stop giving a rat’s arse about speed.6a01053637118a970c012876dab28e970c-800wiSince moving back to London in September, I’ve been under the pneumatic thumbs of Mr Simon Lamb, a highly-skilled sports massage therapist who views the body holistically. He’s not a cloud head; the man has thumbs of granite and pummels me to within an inch of my life. But he understands the emotional aspects of running. My brain is part of my body, it’s inside my head. It’s a vital tool in my running, my injury and my recovery. It turns out that, now my torn muscle has recovered, there is no reason why I can’t run again. My body just needed a bit of love. And the one person who wasn’t giving it the love it needed; was me.

Now I’m back running with my old friends Run Dem Crew and skipping around Hampstead Heath at a speed slightly slower than a sausage dog and I couldn’t be happier. I’m glad I got drop kicked by the running gods. It made me realise why I fell in love with running in the first place. I don’t run for PBs or to keep up with the cool kids. I don’t give a shit about distance or speed or punishing myself in gruelling regimes that impact negatively on the rest of my life. I run because it makes me feel good. And then I go and have a nice cold beer and a (veggie) sausage.