As many of you will know, the last couple of years have been a tough battle with my back. I dnf’d all ultras in 2017 despite seeking help from doctors, osteopaths, chiropractors, physiotherapists and even an acupuncturist. Throughout all of this I went to a gym and had a private coach for 6 months doing strength training with me. None of it worked.
However, towards the end of 2017 there was a glimmer of hope as I finished the South2North 2 day Peak District race which was 30 miles on day one and 25 on day two. With some gentle but consistent training over winter, I successfully completed my local Peddar’s Way Ultra which was 48 miles. South Downs Way 50 was also successful, as was a 30 miler 2 weeks after that, recceing a new course with a friend. But this hopeful start was dashed by an epic DNF at Skye Trails Ultra in May but then a successful SVP100 finish in August. There is no rhyme nor reason. The cause is muscular and if I catch it early I am able to fend off the pain by focusing on lengthening my spine, keeping my pelvis at the right angle. When I am tired I tend to arch my back and logically one can see the added pressure this brings to bear over distance.
Then a friend helped me with a completely new training plan leading up to Hardwolds 80 in November last year. Rather than just running randomly, he suggested an 12 week plan which included two blocks of 60 miles a week for three weeks, with one rest week in between. I had never done this mileage before but was up for giving it a go and the difference I felt in myself was amazing. Perhaps there is an element of psychology here as I’ve always felt getting the miles in was important but being a single mother has made consistent running hard. But having the 60 mile weeks as a goal not only got my miles up but ensured I was running consistently, every day except Mondays as a rest day.
At the end of the last block of high miles weeks, I ran the Beachy Head Marathon as my last long run before tapering for Hardwolds. I was feeling so good, so fit and lacking in any pain, I decided to run it hard. I had a great race, felt strong and hammered the hills, up and down. But the following week, going out on a normal run, my back seized and I was forced to walk home. It continued to spasm over the next few days, forcing my decision to DNS Hardwolds 80 that weekend.
Despite this, however, I was feeling decidedly optimistic. The training had gone really well – being strong and fit clearly helps me control my back. It was a stupid mistake to go so hard at the marathon, and I clearly need to improve my form going up and down hills, but I felt no disappointment at missing out at Hardwolds.
Last September the same friend suggested I enter the Lavaredo ballot. To me, going abroad for a race was a whole new level and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it but I thought there was no harm in entering the ballot. To my amazement, when I received the email confirming my entry in October, the excitement I felt at doing this race surpassed any feelings of wanting to go back to finish a race I had failed at before (I had entered Hardmoors 110 too). Having been to Chamonix, running with friends for a few days last August, I realised that I love those technical mountain trails and even the climbs and actually I’ve had enough of English winter mud.
So not doing Hardwolds was no issue for me and my plans for 2019 took place; with every run and training week planned, leading up to Lavaredo at the end of June.
So, here we are. Hardmoors 50 is this weekend. I’ve done some good training although I feel it has slightly lacked long runs. But that is what this coming race is for – getting my endurance up gradually over the next few months. I am happy to endure the English mud for the benefit of training and getting stronger and I am looking forward to starting this race for a 3rd time. In 2016 I ran this race the opposite way with friends, and did it in 11 hours 48 minutes. You can see how happy we all are above 😉 but I shall be aiming for the same time, albeit over a supposedly shorter course and going from Guisborough to Helmsley is technically easier as the big climbs are in the first half of the race, with the last 10 miles being generally downhill.
Will my back go? I have no idea. But I have done everything I can to prepare myself and as this weekend’s race is merely a stepping stone, I won’t be devastated if it doesn’t go to plan. I am looking forward to running with my best mate and other friends who have all been so supportive to me over the last, very hard, year.
Carpe diem :0)
Feature photo credit: Conrad Wild