Couch to Ultra - My Journey Into The World Of Ultra Running!
Yemaya has had such an amazing past 9 months since launch, and there are now a few new faces around here! Many of you know me as an ocean addict (which is most definitely true!), but lately I have been exploring the world adventuring via long distance trail running! (Yes many people have told me I am crazy!)
A while ago I was lucky enough to have an article published in Intrepid Magazine - a totally fab magazine for women adventurers - about my journey. So here it is - I thought I would share an insight into the adventure side of my life :)
Ultra-marathon. The word or just the thought seems totally unachievable and incomprehensible to so many people. To me it just seemed ridiculous. But as I write, I have races under my belt, more on the horizon & am now considered an 'ultra runner'! Not bad considering just over 2 years ago I couldn’t even run 5km! This is the story of my journey and how I ended up here.
My name is Amelia. I’m an active, outdoor loving lady about to hit the big 3-0 in a couple of weeks. I have always been quite fit; a keen surfer, swimmer and hiker, but never a runner. I am not a super model and like many ladies I have always had a love hate relationship with my body.
This journey from couch to ultra started in June 2017 when my two brothers (who are quite accomplished runners) persuaded me to enter the Bristol half marathon that September.
Fuelled by determination, training for the half started and was really quite fun! Having the Cornish coast path on my doorstep definitely helped and my miles and confidence started to gradually build.
Race day was a different matter. It was horrific! Running on tarmac for all those miles along long, flat straight roads was not for me. I hated it. I loathed every single minute. I felt slow, sluggish and unmotivated. I finished in 2hrs 20, not the time I had hoped for but I finished! It was done, box ticked and that was the end of my running journey for now. I vowed never to race again!
The winter came and so did some epic hiking trips. A trip in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and then a 5 week stint in the Patagonian mountains with my partner Tony. These trips were amazing. I hiked further and higher than I thought I ever could, I achieved things I never thought my body was capable of and loved every minute of it. So what next? An ultra? I knew I liked running on trails and I loved the idea of trying to push my body and see what I was capable of.
Once back in the UK research started! Where was I going to race? What sort of distance? When? How was I going to train? After much back and forth I settled on the Gower Ultra Bach, a 55km race along the coast path in the Gower peninsula in Wales. This seemed perfect as I could train on the coast path at home and the terrain would be similar.
Having never tackled this distance before I knew that I needed a training plan in place. After our Patagonia trip I was fitter than I had been for a while and knew I had a good endurance base, but that wasn’t going to be enough. Added complications of working abroad for a stint or two had to fit in as well.
After much research I decided to approach it differently to my half marathon approach of just running and hoping for the best. The plan was to run 3 or 4 times a week with some strength training in between. Running would involve one long run a week, intervals, hill sprints and more gentle shorter runs, all mixed up to keep me interested as I get bored easily. I must admit I found some cracking HIIT workouts on Youtube that I could do in my kitchen!
Training that much is really hard if like me you aren’t used to it. It’s a big adjustment to your life and can be quite tricky to fit it in! If like me you are also a bit of a fair weather runner, the thought of going out in the wind and rain for a couple of hours getting soaked and running is not appealing, but it’s surprising how much you actually start to look forward to this!
Like most people training for something it didn’t always go to plan. Life, work and other commitments would get in the way and some weeks I would be down on miles, some weeks up, other weeks I would need to incorporate a lot more stretching. They key I found was to listen to my body and do what it needed. Some days were really hard. My motive was often questioned, but the further I got into training and the further I progressed, the easier it became.
Training also really helped me reconnect and start to love my body again. Instead of focusing on the wobbly bits, my big surfer shoulders and all of the other imperfections I had, I started to feel proud that my body could take me on these journeys and cover these distances. Instead of calorie counting, I focused on efficient fuelling and eating food that would help energise and strengthen my body.
Everything finally started to fall into place. Nutrition and on the go fuelling was working, miles increasing and most importantly my confidence growing. My first 20 miler was a tough one! About 15 miles in, during the middle of a very hilly section I called Tony in tears when self doubt hit me in mammoth proportions. But that’s the thing about this long distance journey, you go through big highs and big lows and if you push through the rewards are magical.
Then 6 weeks before the big day, just as I was peaking in my training, one afternoon my dad died very suddenly and unexpectedly. This was crushing in so many ways and of course my life went into turmoil. I moved back home to be with my family and training fell completely by the wayside.
As race day approached I felt very under trained and nerves hit me like a tonne of bricks. I knew I was going to at least start the race, and for me at this point just having the courage to start was an achievement. I knew the Gower well, and it had huge sentimental value as I had spent a lot of time there in the waves with my dad.
Although tough, the race was amazing and I loved every minute of it! I met the most amazing people, made new friends, laughed, cried and had every other emotion in between.
But I finished! It was a long day, but I finished with a huge smile and in the top 20 women. I was in disbelief as 15 months previous I couldn’t even run 5km!
The whole journey was amazing; I learnt so much and pushed my body further than I ever thought I could.
For me, ultra running is a team sport. You might be the runner, but without the amazing marshals cheering you on and your crew it would be a lot harder. Having Tony at every check point keeping me on track and a surprise visit from my brother Dom on route just as I was about to hit a really tough section meant the world.
So what have I learnt?
Firstly you don’t have to be a superstar runner to do an ultra. It’s a massive mental game, fitness is just half of the equation. Secondly you don’t have to do crazy weekly mileage during training. You have to listen to your body and combine your mileage with strength training to help prevent injury. Lastly my view on running has totally changed. I no longer view it as a means for fitness or enter races to tick boxes.
It’s now a means for some time to myself, to discover new places and simply feel thankful for my body, that it allows me to do these crazy, stupid things.
So there it is! I'm not sure where this journey will take me next. I am working towards some big challenges & I am lucky to now work with one of the most amazing and inspirational coaches Tracey Waite. As long as I stay healthy and keep enjoying it that's all that matters.
Do you fancy hitting the trails & product testing some Yemaya pieces in the process? I would love to hear from you! Get in touch and we can hit the trails!