Keep on keeping on

So, in lieu of my reticent efforts to write a BRAND NEW blog (why is this so hard all of a sudden – blank page and I just don’t know where to start??), here is a little tale I wrote a couple of years ago about our one day journey in Scotland down the beautiful Great Glen. Posted on our JDW Fitness website (www.jdw-fitness.co.uk) so I am regurgitating old material – but it seems a good place to start. I think the challenges I present myself are my therapy. Simple as that. In fact, I know they are what keep me [marginally] sane. Started with a little running race, a sprint triathlon, and before you know it…..

“Last weekend I took on the most difficult and demanding race I’ve ever done. The Rat Race Coast to Coast is a gruelling event; 100 miles down The Great Glen in one day (#Expert) – running, cycling and kayaking. But I am a firm believer that you get out of these events whatever you put in; a bit like life really.

I went as prepared as I possibly could be, but never having done an event of this magnitude, it is impossible to imagine what you are about to put your body (and mind) through. I had messed about with nutrition quite a bit in training sessions, especially after having issues with hydration on some of the longer runs (I sweat a lot and therefore lose a lot of salt).  When doing these kinds of events it’s important to understand what your body needs – and that’s YOUR body. What works for one person does not necessarily work for another.  Prior to the event I had received some sound advice from a couple of old experienced mountain goats I know. Eat real food and eat food that you like. If you rely solely on gels and sugar over that length of time (we were 12.5 hours on the go in total) your stomach can end up in bits. So in the back pack went Salt & Vinegar Pringles, party sausages, Babybels, mini pork pies, sausage rolls and peanut butter and jam bread rolls (bread rolls are easier to consume than sliced bread as they take less chewing – another awesome suggestion). Not quite the healthy stuff we would normally have – but importantly full of salt and easy to eat! It’s a 10,000 calorie day (as in what you burn – not what we ate) and the energy from the carbs is well needed. We also took flapjack, Haribo, Torq gels (these are amazing, the best we’ve found yet), Shot Bloks and Chia Charge bars for the moments when we needed a sugar hit (and believe me you do). Most important rule of thumb – don’t try anything new on race day.

I was also as mentally prepped as I could be – aware of the enormity of the task ahead – but nervous too that I wasn’t capable of completing it.

I won’t go into too much detail about the route – but it’s stunning, breath taking and incredibly tough. The terrain lends itself so well to such an enormous challenge – I’ve never been up and down so many hills in all my life – got to love the Scottish Highlands!!

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The day was amazing, totally unreal. It was full of comical moments – such as when John pointed out that I was using my paddles the wrong way round on the kayak (hence why we started a little slow and I ended up covered in water – who knew they had two sides?) and also me falling off my bike into a bush (in slow motion fashion – feet still clipped onto the pedals) whilst coming down some of the more technical off-road descent. Thankfully no-one else witnessed this event. #novice

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There were also some rather painful moments – issues with my piriformis on the bike – which led to horrible muscle spasms right down into my glutes and hamstrings and made the up-hills much more uncomfortable than they should’ve been.  Thankfully John has the all the right knowledge and a good 10min stretch was giving me about 2 hours relief at a time. The downside of this was that we had to have a few lengthy stops on the way, and the more we stopped, the more we were eating into time. There was a cut off time at Fort William that we had to reach – get there late and they won’t let you over the West Highland Way for the final 14 mile run. Neither of us was sure we’d make it but we just “kept on keeping on” (more sound advice and our motto for the day). We rocked up with 10 minutes to spare so it was a very dramatic and speedy change over. Cycle shoes to fell shoes, shoved a sausage roll in the mouth, dumped the bikes, filled up the drinks bottles, and we were off!

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Well sort of… If you’ve ever seen anyone who’s cycled a distance (80 miles in this case) and then tried to run, you will understand the amusement. It’s not so much a run but an awkward shuffle and you feel like you’re running through treacle for some time until your legs get moving properly again.

But at this point in time, it didn’t matter, because I knew that whatever happened, we had done it. There was no way we were not making it to the other side – in whatever fashion – we were going to get to the finish line – and finally I could relax a little and start to fully enjoy it.

We were only running/shuffling/shambling for a short while as we soon met our first large ascent. Our rules for the West Highland Way – walk the up-hills and run the down-hills and the flat bits. So as we started to march up the very big hill, my legs began to loosen off and we started passing people who were walking a lot slower than us. Some looked like they were prepared for a weeks’ camping expedition! The weather had come in with crazy wind and rain, but there’s something about Mother Nature at its worst like that – can really make you feel wild and truly alive, if you appreciate it for what it is. After a steep climb and passing a lonely looking marshal, we hit a lovely sweeping downhill trail section where we got some real pace going and then something odd happened. I don’t know if it was the sugar from the Haribo I consumed on the way up or the Torq gel, but I was absolutely buzzing. I guess this is where doing the event as a pair really has its bonuses. John had managed to keep me upbeat all the way round when I was in pain and struggling, and now it was my turn.

Anyone who knows John thinks he is a running/endurance machine (personal trainer with a difference), just to clarify; he is human.  He works really hard to be in the shape he’s in, wasn’t born that way and he deserves an enormous amount of credit for completing such an event in the style that he did. In fact there is decidedly more pressure the more accomplished you get at these things. Also worth noting, which may offer some comfort and reassurance, is that even the best are the same as the rest of us. Meaning? – It is impossible not to have some kind of mind fart at some point during an event of this enormity. We all have our own little mental wobbles; it’s just how you deal with them that makes the difference.

As we got a bit further along the West Highland Way (still passing plenty of people as we were running and they were walking) we started to hit some really rocky, slippy and rather tricky terrain. A couple of wrong footings created some issues in John’s knee, and I could see he was struggling. However, at this point I think my upbeat demeanour was slightly infectious and with a little wincing but sheer determination on John’s part, we ploughed on in good form, finally finishing, but finishing strong and with HUGE, big grins on our faces. That elation of crossing that finish line is second to none.

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You learn a lot about yourself from taking part in an event like this. I love the buzz you get after doing an obstacle race, but this is different. It’s much longer lasting and potentially life changing, psychologically that is. John promised me pre-race that I would surprise myself but I was mostly worried that I would disappoint. There were definitely times throughout where I felt that I had taken on far too big a challenge and I also wondered what the hell I was doing there. Expert? I’m no Expert! But in reality, I had no idea I could be so tough and strong or that I could put my body through all of that (with no aches and pains the next day surprisingly enough). I learned that I’m determined, stubborn and strong willed and also capable of a lot more than I give myself credit for (and usually with a smile on my face too). I also learned that I’m shit at the off road cycling (especially the technical stuff), Scottish midges bite really well and kayak paddles have a right way and a wrong way round. Every day’s a school day.

For those mad few of you who have an interest in taking part in this event, I would highly recommend it. The route is well sign posted and marked, the marshals were all absolutely fantastic and Rat Race had great contingency plans in place for the inclement weather.  You can even do it over 2 days if you like (though where is the challenge in that?).

Out of 170 competitors on the one day challenge (#Experts) there were a mere 25 females, only 17 of those women finished, of which I was number 10. Plenty of room for improvement still – and we will be back again some time, raring to go – armed with the knowledge, a little more practice at the off-road bike stuff and lots of party snacks in our back packs again, down the 100 miles of the beautiful Great Glen, we’ll be there, just keeping on keeping on.”

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