The Runner’s Journey – Chloe’s Story

Image of Chloe Sellwood
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In today’s article, I want to share with you Chloe’s story and how she overcame adversity to complete a 100-mile race. I worked with Chloe as part of her career development plan to help her gain further clarity on what she enjoyed with work and what else she wanted to do moving forward. 
Coaching also benefitted her in other ways.
Here’s what Chloe had to say about her runner’s journey….

Something I didn’t expect to gain from coaching was a different perspective on myself AND my running. I’m an NHS emergency planner, so my natural state is one where I think about the worst case scenario, but despite this I had never considered how my running world could be turned on its head in 2016 and how I’d need to draw on what I’d learnt through coaching to get me to the end of the biggest race of my life to date.

My husband and I had decided 2016 was ‘the year of the 100 miler’ aiming for the Centurion Autumn100 on 15 October (our wedding anniversary). With my planning head on, this called for a colour-coded spreadsheet covering training runs, intermediary races and other key events.

Training started in January and proceeded nicely for a good few months. In late May we planned a recce of the end of the Ridgeway from Ashbury Hill to Avebury, ahead of the Ridgeway 86mile Challenge on the August bank holiday weekend. It was a very enjoyable run through beautiful countryside, with the only negative being a painful foot that meant we walked the last mile to Avebury. By morning the pain had reached epic proportions so I took a trip to Guy’s Hospital near Tower Bridge. Where I was x-rayed and told I had a fractured fourth metatarsal, would need a cast, and wouldn’t be running for at about three months.

Well, that’s Plan A out of the window. Three months without running is a long time for me. I’m not obsessed with mileage or speed, but I run to manage stress, to think about things and solve problems.

So, onto Plan B:

  • cancel all race entries up to the August bank holiday Ridgeway86
  • turn myself into an uber volunteer so I’d still be involved
  • cycle to maintain cardio fitness without risking further damage to my foot

As it turns out, marshalling can be as much fun as running, and I had some great experiences supporting and volunteering at races that I had planned to run. Cycling however is dull and definitely not for me.

Getting back into running was tentative at the end of the summer. I managed a couple of slow 5ks in late July, and then put in only two real distance efforts: 30miles of the Jersey coast in early August, and 34miles sweeping the back of a race in mid-August. These gave me some time on feet but not the confidence I could handle 86 miles. So, onto Plan C: have a crack at the Ridgeway86 and try not to get timed out and get the confidence to do the 100miler in October. With a 28 hour cut-off this should be possible…

Race day! We’re up early for the 1000am start, two hours ahead of the 1200noon start of the concurrent UK Trail Association National Championships. We lined up to collect our numbers, but a quick check with Race Director confirmed we were in the later start. This was devastating news and I experienced renewed panic: that my broken foot wouldn’t hold up, that I’d not done enough training, that I was about to try to run 86 miles, and that I now had two hours less than planned!

So, time for Plan D: to complete the 86miles in 26 hours. We break the day into chunky aims: a marathon (should be easy enough for us), 34 miles (furthest this year, did it the week before), 50 miles (nice round number and furthest I’d run in a point to point race), 60 miles (furthest distance ever, but over 24hours), and finish within the cut off (a mere marathon further than my longest race to date).

At noon we start with the UK’s elite ultra-runners and within the first mile are comfortably near the back. The first third went really well. We were chatting to other runners, doing some nicely paced running, and snacking and drinking sensibly. After a few hours on your feet, a nice downhill can look very inviting and at some point we were sucked in by one and went totally off course. A quick word with a local farmer located us quite a long way from the route… So, on to Plan E: just try to reach the next check point without being timed out. With the last of the light and seven minutes to spare we saw the volunteers’ high vis jackets. We had made the cut off.

The next stop was the half way point, and was time for a much needed appraisal of the situation. Three cups of tea can do wonders for morale and we were soon off again. With our little detour earlier, this put us dead last but we thought we could make the next cut off. The next few checkpoints were in the dark. It was surreal: falling asleep whilst trying to run, watching the light from head-torches bounce off the reflexive tape on our packs, and listening to the wildlife. The pace dropped considerably but we kept moving forward. By check point seven, the sun was making an appearance and the pace picked up with renewed effort. We were continuing to make the checkpoints with a bit of spare time. We even overtook a couple of people.

We were making best guesses at distance covered and after crossing the M4, we convinced ourselves we were close to the last checkpoint, only to see a sign for three miles to go! Next followed a dejected march through the biggest field I have ever seen. The top revealed the cheeriest bunch of volunteers you could hope to find! Our mood swung full circle and I was convinced we were going to finish. On the way down the other side of the hill I was followed by a small dog which I took as a good omen. Ten or so miles to go: totally achievable and positive head back on.

Although I had broken my foot somewhere on the last few miles of this trail almost exactly three months ago, having been over it before proved to be a massive bonus. The last mile to Avebury seemed to take forever but we knew we were going to make it. With the finish line in sight we walked to the tape and felt fantastic: all goals achieved within 25 ½ hours! A full ½ hour to spare. Awesome. We got our finisher medals and sat down with a cup of tea to wait for the two people behind us to come in. That’s when the biggest surprise of the day happened as I was presented with a silver medal in my age group for the UK trail championships. There had been a high dropout rate, and by just finishing I had got the silver place!

Lessons I learnt from the experience of breaking my foot to completing the 86miles?

  • there are other ways to be involved if your normal way is blocked (ie volunteering and supporting)
  • breaking something big into manageable chunks is immensely helpful
  • things will always be better when the sun comes up
  • be kind to yourself; berating yourself in your head doesn’t have any benefit whatsoever to anyone, least of all yourself

And the 100miler on our anniversary six weeks later? We did that too. In 26 ½ hours. Covering much of the same ground as the Ridgeway86 it was like running with an old friend, especially when the sun came up. And how I got through the 100? We talked more or less constantly, made plans for our future and laughed as much as we could. We enjoyed all the small wins along the journey: each half marathon and marathon crossed off towards the 100 mile total. And I regularly looked at the words ‘be kind to yourself that I had written in marker pen on the inside of my wrist.

The Ridgeway Challenge incorporates the UK Ultra Distance Trail Running Championships. It’s a point to point 86 mile race from Ivinghoe Beacon near Tring to Avebury Stone Circle. Entries for 2017 are open.

The Friends of the Ridgeway help to preserve this beautiful path. Check them out at www.ridgewayfriends.org.uk

If you would like to find out more about coaching with Jules, feel free to get in touch.

 

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