Here at YNM, we are blessed to have members who exhibit both talent and determination. However, just occasionally, these qualities are taken to entirely different levels and we are simply left in awe! What follows is one such account given to us by the amazing Colleen Colver. Enjoy the read, we certainly did!
Emma & Martin
Running has always been there for me, in some form. From racing childhood friends barefoot in the Aussie summer rain; track and field as a teen and twenty-something; bagging a place in the London Marathon when I was first finding my feet in the UK; to discovering the stunning trails of the South Downs that I now call home. It’s been a constant in an ever-changing life. I run for the pleasure of it, but in recent years it’s become a way of pushing boundaries, finding strength and rediscovering identity after becoming a mother. With a big birthday looming at the end of 2019, I decided this was the year to take on one of running’s ultimate challenges – the 100 mile trail race.
Never one to wing it, I dived into books, internet forums and podcasts for inspiration, creating a year-long training program that took me literally from couch to 100 miles (having had 9 months off with an Achilles tendon injury). Each week was a mixture of running, cross-training and of course fabulous YNM sessions for strength and speed. The training gradually built up to a consistent 50 miles per week – shorter mid-week runs and long slow solo efforts at the weekend, eventually doubling up with ‘back-to-back’ long runs to build endurance and get used to running on tired legs. I also ran a number of marathons and shorter ultras to test out race day clothing and nutrition plans.
Fitting all the hours of training in around full time work and family was my biggest challenge – but where there’s a will there’s a way! Lunch breaks became lunch runs. I learned to get myself up early and be friends with the hours before dawn while my family slept. Holidays became opportunities to explore new trails. Luckily I like running on my own – I find there is a peace, joy and freedom on the trails that can be elusive in day to day life – but it did feel lonely at times. YNM’s group sessions definitely helped to lend variety and much needed camaraderie/support throughout my race buildup. There’s also no way I’d have managed a much needed ‘wild wee’ after 82 miles without 2 years of squat holds under my belt! (I knew they must be good for something!)
Along with the physical training, I devoured books and podcasts on mindset, as being mentally strong is essential for a 100 mile race. (I recommend David Goggins – he’s super sweary, but tells it like it is and is the king of giving you a kick up the butt if you need one!) I told lots of people about my challenge and chose a charity I was passionate about to raise money for – this helped keep me accountable and on track throughout the training. I learned to look after myself properly, as well as my family – good nutrition, plenty of sleep and a monthly massage as a reward for all of the hard work. As a parent it can be easy to let self-care slip, or to feel guilty about taking time for yourself. I’ve struggled with this enormously since my son was born, but have come to believe that allowing yourself that privilege in turn helps you to be a better parent, and it’s never a bad thing to set the positive example of a healthy, active lifestyle.
As race day approached, training wound down and it all started to feel very real (and quite scary!). Work was hectic and everyone around me was getting ill! I washed my hands obsessively and avoided my snotty colleagues, but was horrified when the day before race day I woke up full of cold. I made my way up to Nottinghamshire anyway, determined to be on the start line even if it meant dosing up on cold and flu tablets as I ran. On race day morning I felt a little better, but certainly not 100%. I got a good breakfast in and headed to the start point to collect my number and allocated tracker. The nerves really kicked in as the reality of what I was about to undertake became clear.
At 8am around 140 of us gathered together and set off. Four laps around the village green to make up for a last minute course diversion, then we were off through farmland and along the canal. The day quickly warmed up, the course initially was flat but uneven and tricky underfoot. The mood of the runners was excited and positive as we made our way through the first 3 checkpoints toward Sherwood Forest. At 21 miles we hit the ‘forest loop’ and the main checkpoint where our bags were stored. I was feeling good at this point and quickly topped up my water, removed my long sleeve layer and carried on. The forest trails were undulating and scenic and the trees shielded us from the heat of the day.
Just before nightfall I made it back to the main checkpoint, 51 miles completed! I took the opportunity to have a short rest, a bowl of soup and to change into some fresh socks. I organised my head torch and night time kit and set off for my second lap of the forest. As darkness fell, owls started calling to each other from the trees surrounding the trail. It almost felt like they were cheering me on for the overnight effort ahead!
By now the field had spread out and I only saw fellow runners occasionally. Running by head torch in complete darkness proved to be quite difficult. I had a few near falls and my pace slowed dramatically between miles 60-70 as I tried to get to grips with safely navigating the trail. After the 70 mile checkpoint, the trees opened up to reveal the most amazing clear sky and full moon. It was absolutely magical and took my mind off the pain I was starting to experience in my feet and legs. I managed to get into a reasonable rhythm and chugged my way through the rest of the loop and back to the main checkpoint again.
Energy was seriously flagging at this point, but the lovely checkpoint volunteers fed me coffee and peanut butter sandwiches and ensured I got up and on my way again. With 81 miles complete, it was time to retrace my steps along the canal from the previous morning. As the sun came up and the dawn chorus started, I realised I was in trouble. My ITB’s were so tight that I could barely lift my feet off the ground. My feet were cramping, I had the beginnings of blisters and every step over the horrible, grassy, uneven ground was torture. I had 15 miles to go and needed to dig deep.
I think it’s at this point of the 100 miler that it helps to have clear, strong reason ‘why’ you want that finish line. My ‘why’ stems all the way back to 2011 when my son was born. We had a hugely traumatic experience – he was born 5 weeks premature by emergency C-section, and a week later I suffered a massive haemorrhage at home and came close to not making it. Thanks to quick actions of family and the wonderful staff of the NHS who put me back together, I was lucky. Life moved on but that feeling of utter powerlessness, weakness and lack of control over my own body stayed with me. Add to that a stressful job, the clueless feeling that comes with trying to keep a small human alive and post-natal depression that went undiagnosed for several years and I had fallen into a deep hole. Running (among other things) was my way out of this. First a half marathon, then a trail marathon, then a double marathon, and finally this. This 100 mile race was the final piece in the puzzle of putting myself back together again – and there was no way I was giving up.
I walked on, then shuffled, then walked some more. The final checkpoint came and went. Morning dog walkers and runners offered perky words of encouragement. Finally, just after 11am, I reached the finish line! I was a centurion, and I now know that there’s nothing I can’t do if I work hard and want it badly enough.
I would encourage everyone to challenge themselves. Bite off more than you can chew. Work hard at making yourself better and stronger than you were yesterday. There’s honestly no better feeling than getting out and achieving that goal.