A day in the life of ….

A Foxy Ultra runner By Amanda Williams

This is about my journey to the South Downs Way 50 and the day itself. Its a long one so you may need a cuppa!

Centurion events are sort after and held in high regard, they specialise in 100- and 50-mile races over tough courses usually with high elevation. The South Downs way is very popular and one of the best routes with amazing views over the county but to get to these views you must climb 5,700 ft. With only 590 places available at registration you must be quick, once its full there are no second chances to get a place. In April 2019 I managed to get a place when registration opened, I had the qualifying criteria of a sub 6-hour marathon. I would have a good base trail marathon level by the end of the year with all 4 Sussex trail river marathons the goal by December for 2019. I completed the final one “Mouth to Mouth” on 8th December 2019.

 I could then focus on my training for South Downs Way 50 “SDW50” and build on what mileage I had already covered.

Unfortunately the next day I was in a car accident, which sent my back into shock. I was in a lot of pain, having time off work as well as running. With the help of Lynsey – my sports physio I was in a position to do gentle runs within a couple of weeks but needed to be careful and take it easy no mixing of disciplines – no speed work and no hills. It was good to be back running and steadily the mileage was climbing back up. I hit a run of bad luck and came down with a nasty viral infection that knocked me for six and affected my breathing. I was signed off work by the doctor and told to rest …. anyone that knows me knows I don’t do rest!!

With SDW50 now less than 2 months away it was coming round fast. It was still doable IF and only IF I was sensible. I had 5 weeks until Steyning Stinger marathon with its 3000ft elevation on the 1st March, a training run. I obviously took advice and listened to what Lynsey said. It was achievable with my base level of fitness and it would be a case of just finishing and trying to get in before the 13-hour cut off. My job as a Postie helped as part of the training and time on my feet, this would be vital to getting me to the finish line. My running moto of “Believe Achieve” would need to be really strong to get me through. I got to the start and finish line of Steyning Stinger; it went better than expected even though a coughing fit at mile 20 kept me at an aid station until the marshal’s declared me fit to leave. Working on the time and how I ran I knew could get SDW50 done under the cut off. Just as I was starting to believe that I could be ready Covid19 struck, the Corona virus turned everything upside down and the race was postponed to 25th October 2020.

I don’t mind admitting that I didn’t cope very well at the beginning of lockdown and didn’t want to run. Being a Postie our workload doubled, with people off sick or isolating and the sheer amount of mail/parcels we were having to deliver, it was worse than the Christmas!

Centurion Events put on a virtual event in May, you could pick your distance and you had a week to cover it …. do it in one go or break it up over the week. I chose to do a 50-mile week to kick started my training again for SDW50, the key is to keep it consistent. After that I planned on doing 40 miles weeks, with long runs getting longer as the weeks progressed. I would also try to do back to back long runs to get used to running on tired legs or long run Sunday and 1 on my day off. I listened to my body and when it was tired I took some time to rest, but didn’t drop my mileage below 32 miles per week. I also looked at any races that I could possibly run to give me a marathon distance for a long run.

I entered the virtual Marathon in a day which was to raise money for Mind this was on 27th September. I ran 28 ½ miles all up the Downs. Then a week later the Isle of Wight Marathon (an actual race) in hideous weather conditions on the 4th October. I was happy with how I ran and recovered well. SDW50 was now 3 weeks away and would go ahead. It was starting to get real. Training was done, now it was time to ease off and rest the legs but keep them ticking over to get ready for race day. I also worked on my mind, ultra running is not just about being physically ready its also very necessary to be mentally ready. I start visualising the finish line and how that would feel. I look back at my training and drew from the positives and what I have already achieved, no point dwelling on the negatives because you can’t change them, but you can learn from them. I don’t do self-praise very well, but it is important to be kind to yourself. You can only do your best with what you have to work with. You are going to be asking a hell of a lot of yourself so need to look after you. Getting enough sleep is vital to help your body repair and recover. I usually survive on 6 hours sleep but this is not enough, I tired to get 8hours sleep as much as possible in the weeks coming up to the race and made myself go to bed early.

On top of the running miles and postie walking miles, I also did yoga every Tuesday and HIIT class on a Thursday and core & strength work at home. This makes a massive difference and something I should have worked hard on.

Fuel and hydration as we all know are also important. I would try to drink at least 2 litres of water a day, quite difficult when on a postie round and there are no toilets to use!! You also have to make sure your electrolyte levels are good, so your body uses the water efficiently. The best way to take in water is little and often. I make sure my diet is balanced and healthy, quite plain too so nothing that will upset the stomach. I don’t increase my carbs but eat more slow release carbs to build up stores. I am not a pasta lover, eat more rice, quinoa etc these are some of the meals I might eat;

  • Mushroom quinoa asparagus, spinach, avocado and chicken    
  • Brown rice, chicken and roasted veg        
  • Lasagne and salad    
  • Spaghetti Bolognaise
  • Jacket Potato ,beans and cheese        
  • Chicken and mushroom Risotto and roasted broccoli
  •  Omelettes with sweet potato wedges                                   
  • Porridge and blueberries or banana for breakfast or over night oats.  
  • Snacks – humus and carrot stick and pitta, granola square, smashed avocado on toast.                                                                                                                                                                                                

The week before and running is kept to a minimum, a couple of little runs, stretching, yoga and some strength and core work. The day before race day is all about getting prepared and making sure everything is ready.

We had to carry a mandatory kit in case of an emergency and for our safety. In the 2013 race it saved some ones life when the fog came in and they unfortunately had a fall. Usually there is a kit check at the start but due to Covid safety rules there was to be stop checks to make sure we had the required kit, if we didn’t, we could incur a time penalty.

Kit List : base layer in a water proof bag, survival blanket, head torch, back up head torch, a cup, at least 1 litre of fluid to be carried, a waterproof jacket with sealed seams, hat, gloves and a fully charged mobile phone. We had to be self sufficient between aid stations. All this had to fit into my hydration vest, so it was comfortable and laid as flat as possible. I got my friend Rob to help me fit it all in neatly. Clothes that I would be wearing checked and laid out number attached to the front, again time penalty for it not being visible, you get checked at every aid station. I also packed two crew bags (my mum was going to be following me from half way to the finish line) one with food and one with spare clothes just in case as well as a bag of warm dry clothes for the finish.

I wrote the 7 aid stations down on a piece of paper with the miles and distances between each one on a piece of paper and put it in the back of my phone case. This is how I broke the race down so you just concentrate on getting to the next aid a station rather than the 50 miles as a whole. It is easier to visualise and get your head round. Checked the ever changing weather which was looking grim and read the race instructions again as well as watched the video of the last few miles so I had an idea of where I was going when I got to Eastbourne. Tried to stay calm…. easier said than done! I always do about an hour of stretches and yoga before a big race, helps open the hip flexors as well as helps the muscles and joints and is quite calming too.

Dinner was humus and pitta then salmon filet with zesty bean quinoa, spinach and vegetables. Then try to get some sleep!!

RACE DAY!!!!! 5 am wake up call stomach is churning I feel sick … race day nervous have kicked in big timed. “Try to stay calm and pull yourself together Amanda!” First things first toilet got to get that out of the way!! Can’t be doing with running without going. Next step lemon and ginger tea and breakfast porridge with blueberries – amazed I managed to eat it without gagging bonus. Took electrolyte tablet and cherry active. Time to get dressed and kitted up before this I applied very liberally runners rub to all the areas that things may chaff or rub. With the weather looking very unsettled and due to have quite a bit of rain I just applied it everywhere. It was getting close to the time we needed to leave “oh me oh my oh S**T, what am I doing!! “Calm down chicken it’s all good, come on sort yourself out” stomach turning big time …. ran up stairs to go to the toilet before leaving – gagged, got downstairs and gagged again then threw up, mainly liquid – first time I ever thrown up before a race, shaken and teary. Got in the car, Molly was taking me to race start so she put the tunes on. Ate a granola square on the way. Molly could only drop me off and was not allowed to stay with me to see me start due to COVID-19 restrictions. We had a big hug and off she went. I was on my own with all these other runners that look like they know what they are doing HELP…..

I talked to anyone and everyone trying to settle myself, had a laugh and a joke in the toilet queue as you do.  Just as I was about to head to the start line saw my friend Deb so chatted with her, she was as nervous as me. I could not put it off any longer it was time to get going. Weird to just head to the start line when you wanted and start in an empty field, no mass start. My friend Rob had already started he is the most calming person on a start line so was gutted not to be with him. He is my running hero and has helped me massively along my marathon/Ultra running journey. I thought about him a lot on route, where he might be and advice he has given me, and what he might say to me at that moment if he was there, it helped keep me moving.

I headed over with about 5 other runners, staggered start 30 seconds apart. Temperature taken and I heard “Amanda have a good run you are good to start!” Oh heck ….. here we go. “Come on you can do this, its going to be alright,” my legs started moving and I was off heading for Cardiac hill the first hill of many. Deb came up behind me and we chatted going up to the top and ended up yo-yoing the whole race supporting each other and finished 4 minutes apart. Amazing to see Heidi at Nepcote car park and Sam who screeched to a holt as I ran past. 5 minutes later the first torrential downpour came, and it was cold… wet feet and socks from here on in! The next climb was up to Chanctonbury and as I had it in my sights I took my eye of the ball so to speak, tripped on a stone couldn’t save myself and took a tumble at 6 miles in, winded and shaken with a scrapped bruised knee. The runner behind me checked I was ok, I got up and carried on. “oh rubbish (my language was probably stronger!) right its ok, its ok, knee sore but you can do this, just keep it steady and put one foot in front of the other. You can do this. Aim for the pig farm, you like the pigs lets go see the pigs…”

The sight of Carly, Trudi, Justine and Sarah B was beautiful. With blood now dripping down my leg and still a bit shaken I thank you for your support ladies at that point it was so needed. Off to see the pigs and it was feeding time. Just before I reached the river I saw KP and Karly. Mummy KP got her wipes out and cleaned me up, the first aid station was very close now just across the bridge and 11.2 miles in. We had to check in at every aid stations so we were accounted for, hand sanitised and waited for an aid station section to be available, top up on water and gels and ate some water melon, my favourite thing on long runs. With Truille hill next I took a Soreen bar to eat on the way up. I took GU gels (sponsor for the event and gels I had used in training) every 5 miles think I took 9 in total as at one point I lost count of when I took the last one, as well as eating small amounts at most aid stations.

 The next aid station was 5.4 miles away at Saddlescombe, before this I saw KP and Karly again, aiding me across a road and making sure I was safely across as I headed up to Devils Dyke, the miles were ticking by nicely 15 of them. I saw a lady running and waving “aww thats nice they have come out to support their friends!” It was the lovely Julia aka the boss, Mez and Michelle they had come to run a bit with me. Foxies were popping up everywhere, had also had a video call from Katey and Sinead (best dressed supporter in her leopard print dress and dry robe!) who were waiting at Devils Dyke for me. The weather was starting to close in again as the wind was picking up and the rain was coming, I also needed a wee! Just before aid station 2 another trio of Foxies Sam, Issy and Vicky an offering of hot coffee was a little warm hug inside – amazing. Checked in to aid station 2 and straight back out again, didn’t need to take anything on board. No toilet so found a bush to hide behind, as the rain came. A long gap to the next aid station now 10 miles to Housedean, but my family would be before then at the Jack ‘n’ Jill windmills, Sam, Issy and Vicky were there too, sadly I missed KP and Michelle but they saw my family. I chatted to Steve another runner on route to the windmill and we ran the last few miles together which was nice, his family were also waiting at the windmills too.

Ultra-runners are always really friendly and supportive of each other. I ran on with Steve for a little bit more after the windmills until I saw a friend of mine Darren, he should have been running today but due to illness and injury he had pulled out. We had run quite a few events together was nice of him to come out and find me with his little dog, he told me I was looking strong and that I had to finish it for him too.

Steve was off in the distance by this point as I got to Ditchling Beacon, missing KP and Michelle again and my family unfortunately – I was too quick apparently! The sun had come out and the views over the Downs were stunning in all directions, we are so lucky to have these amazing places to run, simple beautiful. Aid Station 3, Housedean and 26.6 miles in over half way, feeling happy and relaxed and the miles were ticking away nicely. Only concern was damp socks, I had wet feet since mile 5, they had not really had chance to dry out so possible blisters which I suffer from unfortunately. Would possibly look to change them when I saw my crew at Firle Beacon. Filled up with water, gels, a mini scotch egg and had some grapes, loving grapes so refreshing. Everything at the aid stations was individually packed and ready to just take. Just after the aid station we crossed over the A23 and just as I was about to go up another lovely hill I had a video call from Julia to check in on me and make sure I was ok. Julia told me that the page was full of everyone’s support, the support was amazing and meant the world to me, giving me a real boost.

Aid station number 4 was 7.3 miles away at Southsea I took in the trails and the views just enjoyed what was around me. One step in front of the other and keep going. The aid station was approaching but there was a train track before it and the gates were down …. had to climb the stairs and go over the railway bridge, slightly harsh!!

Billy a fellow postie and Centurion (he had done the 50 and the 100 races) was there nearly didn’t recognise him out of his postie uniform. He was there to pick up Jay who was the sweeper and check Deb was ok, nice to see him he had also given me some good advice before the race. Checked in and filled up on supplies everyone at the aid stations were very supportive and friendly always good to have some banter along the way. Had a mini sausage roll and some flat coke (tops up on sugars and gives a boost, offered on long endurance races) took more grapes for the hill climb …. a very large hill with lots of cows was coming up the view would obviously be worth it. I had a video chat with the lovely Katey Rae and shared the views and cows. I was heading towards Firle Beacon where I would see my mum, Jazz, Nathan and Hugo. The lovely Issy and Sam were also there to see me. The sun was still shining, and it was beautiful, I was in top spirits and loving what I was achieving. I was now at 39 miles. Knee was a bit sore but was doing ok, toes starting to be tender but I decided rightly or wrongly not to change my socks and keep going 11 miles to go. This would be the last support I would have until the finish, except the aid stations. Come on lets do this, I was positive on a real buzz and loving it. Don’t get me wrong it was tough and hard, but my mindset was good and nothing was going to stop me finishing. I didn’t hit the wall at any point.

We took on part of the Seaford half that I had done previously, after a steep downhill I was in Alfriston at Aid station 5  – 41.6 miles. The toilet was my first port of call I didn’t want to sit too long I had everything I needed so carried on to Jevington which was just over 4 miles away. We ran part of the Beachy head route and over the bridge at Alfriston running up the hill (that Beachy head marathon had run down the day before) it was a tad muddy and churned up. There was also a slippery down hill the other side, putting pressure on my toes.

Checked into Jevington didn’t want to stop but felt my stomach churning a little so did another toilet stop … just a bit of wind but would you trust a fart at 45 miles?! Light was fading and we were told to put our head torches on, just over 4 miles to the finish line, exciting. After the last hill climb, we reached the Trig point it was all down hill from here it was getting pretty dark. I had watched a video of the finishing few miles but that was obviously in day light it looked so different in the dark. It was a gully muddy path that split I remember the video saying you could take either path as they lead to the same place. I took the top path, but the markers were on the lower path. This played tricks on my mind and I felt that I had to be on the bottom path even though I knew it would be ok, so had a little argument with myself. The bank between the paths was steep I found a gap that looked as if it would be ok so i decided to head down it. Much to my toes disgust, they screamed as they hit the front of my shoes. I reached the bottom path pushed my feet to the back of my shoes and had a discussion with my feet. “Right I know you hurt but we are going to finish this and I would rather you didn’t scream all the way!” so we came to an agreement and they kept it to a dull scream until we got to the road and were once again on the flat they were better.

I was glad to be on the road, I had a bit of tunnel vision from the head torch and had black block at the bottom of my vision I thought it was from my cap but even adjusting it didn’t help. Once on the street it was better. I was on the home stretch, and buzzing, even more so when I recognised a car parked along the road it was my mums mini and Jazz was hanging out, “Hello mum I knew that was you, your head torch is so bright!!” I beamed and carried on as they drove past tooting. I followed the signs was crossing a road when two other runners passed me I had been on my own since the trig point I tucked in behind them and followed them to the stadium, it started to drizzle with rain. The weather was better than anticipated for the last leg, weather reports said rain from Alfriston but it had held off. It got a bit chilly going up the last hill I put a dry coat on which helped.

Jazz and Nath ran a little bit with me just before the stadium (they should have been able to finish round the track with me but due to COVID-19 no one was allowed in the stadium except the runners) which was so lovely bless them, the best support team a mum could ask for. I ran through the car park to enter the stadium and Rob was stood on the corner gave me a high five and I welled up I knew I had done it. I took to the track with the biggest smile on my face – I am tearing up writing this and feeling the emotion. One of the reasons I run and push myself to do these crazy things. The finish line was incredible, what a race, what a day, bloody loved it (well except that last down hill in the dark.)

50 miles in 10:24:06 with 5,700 foot of elevation, not bad at all even if I do say so myself. Well under the 13 hour cut off.

Collected my medal had my photo taken with the biggest smile on my face. Headed over to the food and drink table a hot dog was on offer and a very nice warm cup of coffee which was amazing. The heavens opened and there was torrential downpour. I stood under the canopy and chatted to a lady that I had run near, she complimented me on my run for my first 50. She was doing the 50 grand slam and had the Wendover woods 50 in 4 weeks.  I couldn’t really eat the hot dog but managed some chocolate milk I had bought. Good way to put in protein after a long run. A Quick video chat with Julia to let you lovely lot know I had finished and to thank you for the support today. Off to get changed into warm dry clothes. On inspection of my knee it was bruised and swollen, minimal chaffing which was amazing I usually suffer around my sports bra and especially when wet. Runners rub worked well; I did apply loads. Lost a toenail, when I took my socks off my feet were trashed, blisters under toes and I had a toenail floating in a blister – yeh not pleasant but would deal with them tomorrow. They will recover soon enough, part and parcel of ultra running.

Now time to get home, shower, have some food, a celebratory drink and to bask in the glory of what I had achieved. I just tried to eat mainly protein but really couldn’t eat much. I had hydrated well on the run sipping little and often but needed to recover lost electrolytes and fluids over the next few days. I didn’t sleep well that night. Couldn’t get my legs comfy and my toes were throbbing. I had the next day off luckily as not sure I would have been able to do my round. I was awake at 6 so was up by 7 walking like ninety-year-old. When I first woke body ached, knee was sore and still swollen. Once I was moving, I was fine just had to go gentle on the stairs. I soaked my feet and pampered them before heating a needle to pierce the blister behind my toe nail. They immediately felt so much better and fine to put shoes on. My lower back was really stiff and probably the main cause of me walking funny so I decided it would be a good idea to have a gentle stretch and then an ice bath to just settle everything down. I sat in an ice bath up to my mid back for 4 minutes on top of a better nights sleep I woke the next morning ready to go to work and tackle the stairs.

I didn’t run until the following Sunday and that run felt amazing. Proudly running in my Centurion T-shirt. Still buzzing from what I achieved and will be for quite sometime yet, until the next crazy adventure no doubt!

I can highly recommend the event if any one is tempted you get well looked after, the route is stunning, the views amazing and its just like a moving buffet.

Foxes are the best support crew ever; you are all amazing. Obviously after my gorgeous family. Thank you for supporting me in my crazy quest across the South Downs. Will I go for 100 never say never I have always been a NO … watch this space who knows what might happen. Here’s to the next adventure xxx

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