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/