Although she did some cross country running at school, there was not a lot of ‘exercise’ for 10 years after than.
After meeting Jon, who was on a mission to run 100 marathons, she started travelling with him to his runs, hence the initial title of her blog ‘Diariesofamarathonwidow’. However she soon become inspired by his running and felt she was missing out somewhat on the overseas trips so she started running herself.
I was there to watch her finish her first marathon, achieving her sub 4 target, in Munich in 2009.
More marathons followed over the next few years, but she then felt she needed more of a challenge.
Her first ultra, 30 miles (she ended up running 32) was in Croydon, in July 2013 on one of the hottest days of the year (when Murray won Wimbledon), and I was there for that.
Her next four ultras gradually increased the daily distance and difficulty.
- The Toad Challenge; a 3 day 90 mile run from along the Thames tow-path from Oxford to Walton-on-Thames in September. She grew stronger as the race progressed and came home 1st lady
- Country to Capital followed in January this year; at 43 miles the BIG race was already on her mind; “With the longest stretch of the Atacama Crossing being a similar distance” the first half across the muddy Berkshire fields from Wendover (remember the rain we had in January!) , the rest along the Grand Union Canal.
- The SDW50 (the 50 is the number of miles, SDW is South Downs Way) had hills aplenty and was in April.
- Race to the Stones was in July, 100k along The Ridgeway, where Cat helped organise an all female team that won the event.
I followed all of these races (by car) usually with Jon. It gave me great pleasure, and not a little pride to see Cat’s progression. In all of these it was clear that Cat was there to compete, not just complete.
Less than a week ago Cat completed The Atacama Crossing, 7 days, 155 miles across the highest, driest desert in the world. Runners who have completed this, and the more well known Marathon de Sable, suggest that Atacama is more difficult. There was oxygen deprivation, temperatures of 40+°C and running surfaces that vary extremely from day to day (sand dunes so steep that it is necessary to climb them on all 4s, salts flats, cracked mud, and undergrowth like frozen broccoli).
Once again Cat did not travel out to Chile just to complete the race, in the back her mind a top 3 place in the ladies race was an aim; this was incredible ambitious taking account the pedigrees of the other runners. All of the serious competitors had much more experience, having completed other similar races in other deserts, over a number of years, and Cat was the youngest of ones that would be ‘going for it’. Certainly none of them would have known of Cat before the race started or considered her to be someone to fear.
The adventure started before the race. She travelled alone to Chile, she doesn’t have a lot (any?) Spanish, then up to San Pedro de Atacama to give herself a week to get some altitude acclimatisation, it is at 2400m.
I am not going to give a blow by blow description of the race, Cat will produce her own blog with the details.
But this was the first of her big races I had to ‘watch’ on-line. I was constantly refreshed the breaking news page on the 4 Deserts web site until the early hours of the morning every day. All of the time in my mind was the mantra that you only regret the things in your life you could have done but didn’t, rather than the things you did do. This wasn’t with reference to Cat, but myself. However all I could have realistically done was to be there at the finish line, and when I read the update “…families and friends have gathered to the town square along with staff and volunteers to cheer competitors in…) I did think again I should be there. But I realised it would be better for Cat to spend the hours after the race celebrating with the other amazing athletes who had completed this amazing challenge.
Cat did achieve her aim, with interest, coming in 2nd lady and 13th overall. As she looks back at race now, she will be as proud as I am at her stunning performance. No matter what she does in the future this should not diminish. Over the past 12 months I have been aware of her insistence that mental toughness is at least as important as physical ability. Competing at this level is impossible without the ability to push through whatever barriers your body throws at you. When you cross that finish line all of these obstacles are forgotten and the enormity of what you have achieved can begin to sink in.
You will be able to read her account, maybe written while she relaxes for 2 weeks in South America (relax isn’t quite right, she is planning to run a marathon over there just 8 days after finishing Atacama) at http://www.escaperunning.com/
One of my aims for last year was to run a sub 1.50 half marathon. Full of confidence, in June ’13 I enlisted the help of my daughter and amazing ultra runner Cat, who at the time of writing this is undertaking The Atacama Crossing. She happily agreed to pace me at the Up Flow Down Tow, even though it meant a rather pedestrian run for her. Well I failed. Other halves came and went, running 2 with a stress fracture in my foot didn’t help, starting at the back of the Paddock Wood thus having to weave in and out for a few km was a mistake and it was never going to happen at this year’s Kent Coastal as Cat was running with a 6.5 kg backpack (having run 28 miles on the previous day with the same) for Atacama training, and we ran together to support her.
So the Brussels half came around; I should have run it last year but I was in the middle of stress fracture recovery so couldn’t. The organisers happily deferred the entry until this year and the thought of a ‘free’ run was too good to miss. So as to make the whole package as cheap as possible (I did still travel over last year as I had booked and paid for transport and accommodation prior to the injury) I took the mode of transport from London to Brussels guaranteed to provide the worst possible race preparation, the Saturday overnight coach at £17.50 – and the same coming back on Sunday night.) You won’t be surprised to hear I didn’t get much sleep.
Arriving just after 6.00am with 4½ hours before the start I made my way to the Holiday Inn. I had asked the race organisers if they could recommend where I could get my gluten free porridge prepared and this is where they suggested as it was the official race hotel; the first thing I saw there were the 3 Kenyan runners who were expected to be the ones to beat having breakfast! The chef couldn’t have been more helpful, besides happily microwaving my porridge he told me to help myself to anything else that I wanted. Thank you Holiday Inn.
I eventually went to collect my bib, and to see what I could do about getting the technical top I’d paid for and collected last year swapped for the 2014 edition. They were very accommodating giving me one of this year’s (no €15 charge) and let me keep last year’s. I found a few Brits to talk to; their major topic seemed to be about the undulating nature of the course, Brussels does have an unexpectedly hilly profile.
I had decided to do what was successful for me in the Düsseldorf marathon and run with the 4 hour pacer and as there was a 1.50 it seemed ideal. Running conditions were excellent, then had been some light rain and it was cool without sun or wind. The start was quite bizarre, the actually timing pads were a few 100m on from the inflatable start gate and we were into full stride by the time we reached them. But not a bad thing.
Everything went to plan for the first half of the race, the running was comfortable and I’m sure the 2 pacers and their green balloons were working well together keeping the group of 20 or so on what was needed. But as in Düsseldorf I lost them after a water station; I had changed from running just behind the balloons to running just in front and didn’t realise that I had slightly increased my pace (or the pacers had slowed!). The hills/undulations didn’t concern me, I have been purposely running up 2 local long hills at least twice a week so maybe that is working. As the kilometres ticked by my previous companions were noway to be seen and I was regularly overtaking runners. Still resisting the temptation to look at my gps, at the 20k marker a big timer was visible and I was a bit shocked, knowing that it was gun time and I wasn’t sure how many minutes after that I had crossed the start pad, I felt I must up my pace. The rest of the race was downhill or flat, although quite a lot of wet cobbles. Looking at my gps details now I averaged fractionally 15 km/h or 4 min/km over the last 1.1k. And it worked, the had timer showed me that the 1.50 was beat but at the finish line so was 1.45 was finishing in 1.44.26 giving me (what I consider to be) a massive 9m 10s PB. Absolute euphoria at the end I had never considered a sub 1.45 was ever likely, the thought of running at an average of more than 12 km/h over the distance never crossed my mind. It gave me an age graded time of 1:20:32 and age graded % of 73.53. It was my 2nd PB in just over a week, I broke my parkrun with 22.40 the previous weekend. As I also PBed in my last marathon in Guernsey at the end of August I am feel quite smug.
Overall I ended 1770 out of 7316 runners and 7/37 in my M65 category.
So thank you Brussels, because of you I have well and truly laid the 1.50 ghost.
My only complaint about the city is the beer…there is just too much choice. Despite having almost 12 hours after the finish before boarding the coach back I couldn’t even scratch the surface of the huge range in the amazing Délirium Café which I stumbled across.