Thursday, 11 August 2016

A New Life

We sleep with the window open, we can hear the river running, the cow bells, the occasional dog barking, a bat rustling in the eaves and that's it. Silence. Silence for some can be frightening. Time to be with your thoughts, to face your fears. I love it. Days in our house our loud, voices shout over each other to be heard, the mountains take no notice, at night we are shrouded in peace. 

The sun rises behind the mountains on our left and when I set out early for training  the valley is shrouded in mist, low lying clouds offering a glance of a glorious day to come. Straight out of our door I can climb up 1,500ft within a mile. My legs often feel tired, my calves especially have had a brutal introduction to the alps. As I begin the switch backs through the forest I break cobwebs, listening to the dog bustling around as slowly my breathing steadies and I get into a rhythm as we rise and rise up to the first summit of the day, feeling the sun touch my skin as we rise through the trees, sweat beginning to drip off my face, down my arms, 1,2,1,2 I count as I switch to a hike.  Running here is not easy, its brutal. My feet feel battered from the rocks and stones, my knees ache from descending, sometimes my shoulders and even fingers hurt from climbing up rocks, but I love it. I never thought this move would intoxicate me so much. The air. The water. The people. The space. The peace. The simplicity of life and training. Most of all the unrelenting mountains. The unjudging mountains. They beat me every day. But they are becoming friends, I am beginning to know their curves, their undulations, where to stop to gather my breath, to have a moment to think without a child. I tell them my worries and they reassure me that the world continues to turn, the seasons will come and go, stop your worries I hear them whisper. Enjoy this time, embrace life, stop, look, feel, take a moment, don't rush, breathe, breathe, breathe.  They are helping me to get stronger both physically and mentally and both as a runner and as a mum. If I can do this I think, I can do anything. My boys love nothing better than pointing up the mountains and saying 'My mum runs up that! Soon she is taking us too!' (No rush I think!!)

I have already learnt so much from living and running in the mountains. I feel like a completely different runner from the one that ran the ACP in March. I wont lie, the training and the constant race broke my spirit a little. It was so so hard to get fit for that race with a newborn, I focused so hard on that one outcome that when it was over I felt a bit lost and that I had given up a lot of time and effort for not much reward apart from being really tired, sore and disheartened. It took me about 2 months to feel my energy levels rise again and to even think about running over a couple of hours. The thought of following a training programme, counting the miles, watching the pace, fitting it all in alongside a busy life just didn't excite me. I was offered a chance to race 100km aboard, but I couldn't face it. Somehow that 100km had stolen my love for running which had never happened before. Alongside this we were selling our house, moving our whole family to a new country which wasn't just a new life, it was a new life in the mountains with all the challenges that brings. So much learning, so much moments of huge doubt, of fear, of sadness, but alongside that the epic thrill that we are doing something so exciting. Many times I thought why are we doing this. This is too hard, this is too unsettling, but just like running, I focused on the end goal. Took it lap by lap, mile by mile. The journey is never easy, even harder with three small children in tow. But we both felt very much that this was right for our family, for the life we wanted to live- teaching our children to understand the seasons, to read the weather, to move in the mountains with ease and respect, to be strong, healthy and confident. So much of what running has already given me I wanted to give to my children. 

In the last few months we have often felt like we have 'escaped' reality, are we 'cheating' our way out of life, by hiding behind the hills? But more and more now I think this is the real world, this is not man made, computer generated entertainment. Life here is simple, its quiet, its content. No one cares who you are, what you look like, what you do. The children are embraced as part of life. Being outside, running up hills, sitting at a cafe sipping a cafe au lait, its all normal. 

So the summer time is passing, the sun is rising a little later over the ridge, the chill in the air lingers a little longer, the paths are well worn from hikers, I can bound up climbs now that I struggled to walk up a few months ago, I feel content in the mountains rather than out of place. I still have so much to learn, but feel I am a different athlete already. Every morning I take a breath, listen to the mountains and turn up the trail. I feel the strength seeping into my spirit  This is real life, its hard, its relentless, its breathtaking, but the view at the top is always always worth the effort. I take a breath, pat the dog, turn and head down the trail. I am truly happy. We already call this place home.

Friday, 8 April 2016

An Interview for Centurion Ultra Running Team after ACP 2016


No time, but no excuses.  Debbie Martin-Consani talks to fellow team runner, Edwina Sutton who won silver at the British 100km Championship – only nine months after having her THIRD child.
Tell us a little bit about your running background? 
I was a jack-of-all trades at school and represented the county at netball, hockey, athletics and cross-country.  The 800m was my speciality, thanks to the geography teacher used to drag me to the track to train. I’m so glad he did, as I have never lost that bit of raw speed.
When I went to university I played hockey for three years and still ran, but just recreationally. Once I left university I realised I wasn’t going to play any better hockey, so started dabbling with triathlon. The dabble turned quite serious and I competed at a high level for a few years. Even from with a running background it was my bike leg that proved to be my strength, with not many women – or men - being able to match my power.  The 25-30hrs a week of training plus a full time job as a PE teacher was a real juggle, but I loved being an inspiration to the kids I taught. Two of them who used to join me on recovery runs are now professional triathletes.
Practising time management from a 16-year old at school has stood me in good stead for having a family and trying to achieve my athletic dreams.
What would you say are your greatest sporting achievements?
Tricky, I think I have lots of ‘moments’ during races when I think ‘yes this is the best moment ever’: Paddling in the Pacific Ocean at the start of the Triathlon World Championships with 2,000 other athletes;  dropping the ‘hammer’ along the canal during Country to Capital 2014 and reeling in all the boys; laughing my head off at Paul Navesey as we shoved cliff shots into our mouth at Downslink Ultra after he went the wrong way (it’s a straight path); and winning the SDW50 after spending the previous three weeks with my foot up. 
DMC – I should also throw in that Eddie was 15th in her Age Group at the Ironman World Championships 2009 in Hawaii with an impressive time of 10:48.   Her Ironman PB stands at 10:07. 
Eddie Post Race with the Family
You got back into training quite quickly after having Evie in July.  How did you physically cope with that?
Firstly I do not advocate getting back into training straight away after having a baby, but to listen to your body and getting proper advice from a qualified personal trainer.
With my first child I took much longer, but I was much more confident third time round.  I knew what I was doing and how to mend my diastasis recti (split abdominals) and juggle feeding and exercise.  I also committed to weekly osteopath and massage appointments. My body was very much a constant work in progress, but I listened to it very carefully.  I can’t say I rested when I was tired, because I didn’t, but I didn’t push it and did heaps of easy running.
I also worked very hard on my core by myself and also with my osteopath. It wasn’t till the week before the ACP that I had my final appointment and she said my pelvis was level again. She pushed me hard and often 2-3 days after appointments I would feel absolutely battered, this did hamper training, but I have tried to constantly think of the long term project and that this year is really just about getting fit again and hopefully at the pointy end of races.
The first three months were brutal, as I felt so unfit and was carrying about 20kg of baby weight. It was slow progress, but it was always progress. Every session was part of the bigger jigsaw and I tried to not be overly concerned with one session, but take each week as another step forward.
I didn’t bother with dieting as I needed the energy and I knew the weight would have to come off in its own time. 
How did you find training around feeding a baby, running after two exuberant boys (Finlay 5 and Rory 3) and working as a running coach?
There is literally not a moment in the day when I am not doing something. I breastfed the baby for seven months and that was even more a juggle as running had to be fitted in with her feeds, as she wouldn’t take a bottle.
I would have my kit on before she woke up, feed her, throw on back pack and run for three hours till she needed feeding again. Sometimes I would run around the block until she needed feeding again. I found it very tiring feeding a baby and looking after the boys.  Although I am big advocator of breastfeeding and I think you can train and feed a baby at the same time, sometimes something has to give and it’s usually the Mother’s energy levels that are the first to go. 
In the final month of feeding I was definitely starting to feel that I had given all I had to give. When Evie was weaned, the difference in my training and energy was huge. Plus I didn’t need two sports bras anymore, which saved me some washing too.
As for the boys, they are mad.  Being boys, as long as they are fed and are out playing in the fresh air, they are happy.  I am very lucky that they both love being active and also love watching me race.
I absolutely love being a running coach and personal trainer, after spending 12 years as a PE teacher.  I have a real core of fantastic athletes. They are all different, all hard working and I feed off their enthusiasm and dedication. Often this means 2-3 hours of work in the evening after training and putting the kids to bed, but it keeps my brain active.  I get to give back to the running community and seeing and helping others achieve their dreams is just as important to me as achieving my own. 
What did your training week look like?  How did you manage to find the time?
Every week is different. I normally set out with a plan and then mix it around as the day/hour dictates. Being flexible is absolutely key.  Don’t get me wrong I always get all my training done, but sometimes that means two runs a day, going out super early, going out at lunch time, getting someone to watch the baby for 45 minutes and running on the treadmill whilst the kids play around me.  My biggest training saviour is my running pram.
About 25-30 miles of my easy running Monday to Thursday is done pushing the pram. Not very easy, but I just wouldn’t be able to fit it all in otherwise. I have run with all my babies and do enjoy it. Everyone I meet in our village calls me “The crazy lady who runs with the pram”.
I run with boys the mile up to school and nursery every morning and go from there. It’s a set in stone routine,  which means I get my first run of the day done. I have thought this often means my recovery runs aren’t very easy, but I like to think none of my competitors are pushing their babies around whilst they are training. Marginal gains people.
After having Evie, it took a while just to get my weekly mileage back up to a decent level. I managed about 60-65 miles whist I was feeding and held 75 miles for a couple of months before ACP. I also did 3-4 strength sessions a week, which really helped my running form and power without adding in extra mileage.
I was able to introduce one tempo/interval session into this. Sometimes two, plus a long run.  But I found I was still adapting to the mileage and the long run was still causing some muscle damage even as close to four weeks out from the ACP.
In a normal week - and how my training will go into May - will be one rest day a week, two interval sessions (one long rep marathon type effort and one shorter paced effort) a long run of up to 3-4hrs and the rest all easy running. I probably won’t go over 85 miles a week, as I don’t have the time and don’t see the benefit.  It’s all about quality.  
Eddie Mid Race at ACP
You a big advocator of strength training – and planking.  Do you think that helps with endurance running?
Absolutely.  There is no way I could have got through the 100km on my cardiovascular fitness alone. At 50km it came down to strength and form. Holding myself correctly from the tip of my head down to my toes allowed my body to work at its most efficiently.   Plus when the wheels started to come off, I had my strength to fall back on.   I concentrated on holding myself correctly, driving the knees and using my arms to propel forward.  Focussing on this killed time over another three miles.
I am very proud that I got my body back strong, functioning well and injury free. I do mainly body weight movements and exercises, which mean means I can do them around the kids.  Heaps of squat, lunges, holding my body weight in movements and kettle bell work to mix it up.  I think runners who don’t do strength work leave themselves susceptible to injury.
 Your first post-baby A-race was last weekend’s Anglo Celtic Plate.  Was that always the plan?
Yes I looked at the ultra-calendar during labour, counted forward 8-9 months and there it was.  It also helped we knew Perth well, as my in- laws live just up the road. It excited me as a distance and I thought the relentless pace would pay towards my strengths. 
You hadn’t run a qualifying race, so how did you make the team? 
I entered the open race, thinking I wouldn’t get selected.  I almost didn’t want to, as I knew it was a big ask to get fit again in the tight timeframe.  I also knew every week I was making huge gains in fitness and there would be a big difference between my running at end of Jan and end of March.  
However I got an email from the selectors saying they were going to announce the team, which I had been provisionally selected for, but had to prove my fitness in a 50km road race by the end of February.
Of course there aren’t any road races of that distance in the depth of winter so Walter Hill, the England selector, offered to come and watch me run up and down outside my house on a 2.5 mile loop.  I toyed with this, but decided I would regret it if I turned it down so I agreed.
Walter set a target time of 3.50 and I cruised it round in 3.38 and got my selection. In hindsight I ran it too hard. Who wouldn’t?  It was the furthest I had ran in two years and my legs were destroyed for 10 days after. But we live and learn.  It did give me a good confidence boost and was very thankful for the special treatment and my personal makeshift race.
How did the race go?  You were leading for quite some time.
In my head the race was a massive disaster, but in my heart I am so proud with what I achieved. I think I am capable of something with a 7hrs in, but looking back I just didn’t have that back end of endurance training to maintain the pace that I could hold for 5-6hrs.
I made a catalogue of errors, which I’m not ashamed to share with you.  I’m not perfect.  To start with I hadn’t left the baby for the night before and I didn’t sleep a wink the night before worrying about what I was doing.  Could I run 62 miles? Should I be running? Shouldn’t I be at home with my children? What sort of mother was I?
Of course, it was all pre-race massive jitters, but 4am came round with no sleep and I was literally sick to my stomach with fatigue and worry. I managed a few mouthfuls of soaked oats. Normally I eat a massive bowl of porridge, but every mouthful was coming back up.  
Then I got my period. Sorry guys - skip the next few sentences - but it’s a major issue for us ladies.  It was truly awful.  I had cramps, portaloo dramas and my legs just didn’t have any spark. When I knew I was going to get my period on race day I did seriously think about not starting the race.  I always run terrible at this time, but I tried to convince myself it would be ok and I do think I managed it the best I could.
The first four hours of the race went to plan.  I didn’t feel particularly great, but I was trying to just trot along and enjoy the scenery/headwind/seeing Bryn/three step incline and then simply repeat.
After probably 4.5 hours my quads just blew apart. I have felt that pain before in ironman marathons and it didn’t scare me, but I had hoped it would be 6-7hrs into the race when I had to battle down the hatches and work hard, but it was 35 miles or so into the race. The prospect of almost 30 miles of that pain made me want to weep.
Through all my training, I had focused so hard on getting to the start line that I don’t think I had allowed myself to face the truth that I just didn’t quite have the endurance to perform at the level I wanted to.  Having an international vest on was a huge pressure and in hindsight meant the race probably became more important in my head than in the long term it really is. 
I spent the rest of the race thinking about my kids and concentrating on moving, when all I wanted to do was lie down on that sweet soft grass. I went back to basics and repeated left-foot-right-foot and for the last 10 miles, I simply counted to 100.  Literally not thinking about anything but counting to 100.  
Melissa Venables crept up on me and went on to win. I knew she was coming, but I was so scared that my legs would just give in completely, so I just concentrated on getting myself to the end.
I was bitterly disappointed, but I didn’t deserve to win that race. Mel ran the better race.  
Eddie and Mel at the Finish
How did you deal with mental aspect of running 42 loops of a park?
The laps didn’t bother me. I almost enjoyed it.  I totally zoned out of the lap number and concentrated on my splits and pace.   Although in the last couple of hours, I wasn’t really comfortable with everyone seeing me suffering every 12 minutes, but James Elson kept shouting at me, “one lap at a time” and that’s what I did.  I just focussed on one lap at a time.   Though the moment my lap counter shouted: “one lap to go, Edwina”, I could have kissed her. 
It looked like your support (Husband Bryn) was struggling to get you to eat.  Do you think that effected your race?
I wasn’t struggling to, I just wasn’t.  I guess as my race plan went out the window, I lost where I was with my feeding.  Not having a proper breakfast set me into a negative balance to start with and although I tried to shove in more calories at the start, I started feeling hungry within about 30 minutes. 
My stomach cramps meant solid food wasn’t working and really all I wanted was coke. By 50 miles I was literally downing litres of the stuff. Bryn still hasn’t recovered from every lap trying to make me take a gel and me just shouting ‘COKE’ in his face like our 3yr old.  So many errors, but we both learnt a lot from the experience and that is invaluable for going forward. 
And we now have a new term in our household for anyone having a major tantrum.  It’s called a lap 32-er.
Do you have a recovery plan?
With the kids there is no recovery.  It’s brutal, but it’s life. The week after an ultra I massively fail at parenting as I struggle to change nappies, cook meals and household chores take forever. But being busy and active – carrying scooters, pushing swings, lugging about car seats and walking the dog – get the blood flow going.     A lie in past 5.30am would be nice, but I try and focus on the controllable things in my life - lots and lots of good food and water, early to bed, family walks and fresh air.
What’s next for 2016?
The million dollar question.  Obviously when a race doesn’t quite go to plan then you immediately want to set another goal, have another crack at it and get training again, but I am mighty aware of the big picture and know I need a bit of down time. As do the family.
I don’t have any other races entered, but will either head back onto the trails and have a go at getting selected for the GB world trail team or will focus on running a decent 100km. Though I didn’t put the race together I thought I could on Sunday, I definitely enjoyed the distance and think six months down the line I would be in much better shape probably both mentally and physically to put in a decent performance.
Though I am desperately disappointed with the outcome of the race, I am very proud of the process it took to get me there and so grateful to my husband and the Centurion family for all their help. I’ll take a deep breath, let the race and all I have learned from the experienced sink in and go from there. 
Would you like to have another go at 100km?
Watch this space.
What are your top three would-love-to-do races for the future?
UTMB, Comrades and Western States 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Bringing home the bacon

I awoke early last Sunday for my lift to the Steyning Stinger marathon. All my kit was ready on the table, oats soaked, gels packed. On top of my bag was a Mother's Day card, inside was written- "Bring Home the Bacon Mum" and three kisses from my three children. No pressure then. 8 months pretty much to the day I had stood in the same place feeling very uncomfortable, feeling that something wasnt right and anxiously waiting for my husband to come home so I could go to hospital to have my third baby. I was in a lot of pain. Things escalated very quickly and within 3hrs I was holding my little baby girl. I was right to feel worried. My womb was rupturing and was being held together by a thread, had I left it any longer neither of us might still be here. After some heavy blood loss, I was left feeling very very battered, shaken and weak. A complete and utter shell of my former self.  So from there, here I was 8 months later, fit, healthy, strong and happy with the hopes of my little family behind me off to do what I LOVE doing.

Its been a long and bumpy road back.  But I am where I am and that is all I can ask right now. I am happy, injury free, strong and have a great base in which to go forward. Its not been easy.  Anyone who looks at my strava page can see how I have to juggle life and mileage. Day in, day out running with three kids to look after, feed, wash, keep alive, plus run a business, occasionally clean the house and also just keep 'life' going is relentless. You have to want it badly, take a few risks, a few knocks, set backs and a massive swallow of your ego.  Fitness is not something you acquire overnight, it takes weeks, months even years to get. Throw in having an injury from April 2014 and having a baby in June 2015 and I felt very out of shape and very rusty coming back from baby 3. However, just like anything, our body and mind doesnt forget and though its taken me a long time to get back into 'running' shape I have been amazed how quickly the body took to being hammered on the road and trails again. I suppose third time round it knows the ropes, you settle into feeding the baby a little quicker and of course Dad at home is an old pro by now so can be thrown the baby with no instructions or manual required.

If you would like to read a little more detailed and emotional (!) report on my coming back into fitness have a look at this great publication which I wrote a piece for in this issue

But if you are just coming back from a baby or have a young family at home or just a high maintenance husband/wife/ partner here are my handy tips on how I managed to get my running back in gear whilst not losing my sanity or husband (sort of- the sanity, not the husband he a keeper):

1) COMMIT - commit to something, anything. Breathe. Take a step in the direction you want to go and keep taking steps till you reach your goal. Sometimes the steps are forwards, sometimes backwards, sometimes you are not sure if you are going the right way. But fortune favours the brave, you want it enough, you'll get it. And if you dont, you either didnt want it that bad or it wasnt yours for the taking. Harsh, but true. Right from the offset I wanted to run the 100km in Perth as my first 'race' after baby. 9 months post natal was going to be a push, it meant training all winter, it meant running between feeds, whilst the baby napped, to and from school drop offs, late in the evening, before dawn, A juggle, all day every day. But I wanted it, so I made it work.  I wont lie, sometimes I have stretched myself very thin. But it has worked, just taken some gumption and more energy than I often even knew I had. Thats often the case with motherhood though isnt it? Finding the strength you never knew you had.

2) MAKE A JOURNEY PLAN- you know what you want, now how you going to get it? I am a big believer in working backwards....start at your goal and work back from there, first by month, then week, then days and then the minutiae of those days. You just know with kids, family, life, work its all going to go tits up most of the time anyway, but by having a plan you know what you wanted to do and fitting in a session, core work or even, shock horror a rest will normally happen if its in the 'plan.' Almost every day something happens which means I have to change what I have planned, the timing, the session, the duration, but by keeping an eye on the overall plan and that end goal nearly always by the end of the week I have achieved what I set out to do running wise and everyone has been fed,watered, bathed once or twice and dressed, most days.

The A team- Dex and Baby, many miles together
3) RECRUIT YOUR PACK - Support is crucial if you are to achieve anything in life, in fact I have found that the bigger the solo adventure the more back up you need in the planning. Negative people can do one. I dont have time to hear or talk about why I am running again, or how I fit it all in or arent I too tired? Isnt 10km good enough for you?  I have surrounded myself by positive people,; from my amazing husband, who I know is the true unsung hero of my story, a wonderful friend who offered to push baby round the village in the morning so I can do speed work or run off road, the Centurion Team (and wannabe Rick Ashton) and especially James Elson who keeps me on the straight and narrow and tells me to slow down most days. Kelly who has accompanied me on many many muddy long run adventures and didnt laugh when I couldnt keep up and was 10kg overweight and was also the co founder of the St Piers Lane Ultra when the England Selectors asked me to prove fitness so I ran up and down the lane outside my house for 30 miles. Liz the osteo who has put me back together- its only taken 9 months to have a level pelvis again, Rachel who has battered my legs into working order most weeks. All who have been flexible around the baby, feeding and supportive. When you are doing something scary, treading that very fine line between pushing yourself to achieve and to the limit you need people who have got your back. Keeping a firm grip on where you are going when you lose your way, but most of all just being there. Its a very lonely experience being a long distance runner, you need their voices in your head and within your spirit when you doubt your own.

4) BELIEVE- If you have been out of competition for a while, havent been in shape for a long time you can begin to forget what it actually feels like to move pain free or with ease, to feel the nervous tension before a race, the exhaustion of a long run, the effort it takes to hold that top end speed for the 6th rep. When you think of the whole journey its terrifying. Putting on your trainers when you are wobbly and unfit, need three sports bras, none of your clothes fit and you cant hold even a jogging pace is the hardest step I have ever taken. Especially third time round. I know whats ahead of me. The hours and hours of blood and sweat its going to take. I cant do it. I cant. But I believe I can. I take each day, each moment as it comes. No one can see me out there on my own, working my butt off (literally) to get back in shape. I could stop, I could go home. But I dont. Because I believe, I believe in myself, I believe I can do this. Breathe. Take a step out the door and thats the hardest part done. No one else can achieve your goals and neither can you unless deep down, rooted in your heart is that little voice that believes in yourself. Hold onto it and listen to it.

5) BE KIND- And this is almost the hardest thing to do when you are a driven person, especially a first time mum or used to being successful in your chosen field. Having just had a baby not only is your body a train wreck, but there is the added factor of no sleep, hormones flying around the place, a few extra kgs and where you once had abs a flubbery mess. Dont punish yourself if your body doesnt do instantly what you want it to do, or is slow, unyielding. It will remember how to move, how it works, but it needs daily reminders and it needs kindness. If something hurts or niggles, stop, if tiredness overcomes you cut yourself some slack, those jeans dont fit quite yet, they will. Everything worth having takes time, patience and gentle perserverence. And thats something I learnt much more third time round, I let me body come back into shape at its own pace, I definitely put it on the right road, but I was a lot less bothered about how I looked or losing baby weight. I knew in the long run if I wanted my body to come back stronger I had to nurture it along the way. I feel much more in tune and relaxed about my shape post three babies than I did as a twenty year old triathlete! I have learnt that what you put into training and life is so much more important to how you look. Looks mean absolutely nothing once that race starts.

So I finished my first 'race' last Sunday with a huge huge smile on my face. My journey was almost complete. I was healthy, strong and happy. I now have to take a deep breathe ready for my England debut at the Anglo Celtic Plate next weekend in Perth. Nothing, nothing will be as hard as the last 6 months, and whatever happens on race day there is the knowledge in my heart that I did it. I committed, I worked and I believed. What better gifts to show my family, really the running is just the icing on the cake.