Running for Wales
Jessica is the founder of Run3D and currently holds the world record for pushing a double buggy over a marathon. Recently she was selected to run for Wales in a trail race championship in France, but her race didn't go to plan. Read how Jessica handles her training with two kids in tow, her experience from this event and what's on the cards for her in the future!
The Welsh trail championships this year were incorporated into the Red Kite challenge near Aberystwyth, which we were conveniently able to schedule into a trip to visit my parents over the May Bank holiday. Racing is a relatively rare occurrence for husband Dave and I these days and so we welcome opportunities such as this, where a good race slots nicely into our diaries and complements as opposed to defines our weekend.
I had learnt on entering the race six weeks previously that it was the Welsh trail championships and I also knew that the winner would be selected to represent Wales. I therefore decided to make it a target race and to train for the event as best as circumstances would allow. Bearing in mind that at least 90% of my running is done pushing a buggy, “as best as circumstances would allow” turned out to be something like this:
Monday: 6 – 8 mile easy recovery run with my two children, Daniel (3) and Emi (1) in the double buggy.
Tuesday: Hill Session of 5 x 4 min uphill with just Emi in the single buggy + 2 x 3 min flat effort. Total = 10 miles.
Wednesday: 6 – 10 miles easy recovery run, either with the single or double buggy.
Thursday: 6 – 8 miles tempo run, either with the single or double buggy. Total = 12 miles
Friday: 6 – 8 miles easy recovery run with the double buggy.
Saturday: Parkrun, with or without a buggy dependent on whether we had visitors (we could leave the children at home with them) or Dave wanted a lie-in (I could escape for my one buggy-free run of the week!) Total = 13 miles including run there and back.
Sunday: Family long run along the Bristol-Bath cycle way with one single buggy each and meticulously times to coincide with nap-time and seeing the steam train! Total = 17 miles
WEEKLY TOTAL = 70 ish
A ‘real’ runner may look at this training schedule and laugh, but the most important thing was that it worked for us and fitted around family life. I took rest days when my body told me I needed them or when running simply didn’t fit into my schedule! Bear in mind also that it is very easy to plod with a buggy and so if I was tired, my easy runs simply became ‘wogs’ – the term I used to describe a combination of jogging and walking!
The following week I received a call from Dic Evans of Welsh Athletics to ask if I would like to represent Wales at the Trail de Guerlédan in Brittany, France the following weekend. As you can imagine, the relative short-notice of this invitation wasn’t ideal, but I was proud to have been asked to represent my country and set about making the necessary arrangements to be able to accept this fantastic invitation. I didn’t want to leave Dave, Daniel and Emi for the weekend and so we decided to go en famille, taking the over-night ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff on the Friday night, racing on the Saturday afternoon and returning on the Sunday. It turned out that this worked best for the rest of the Welsh team and so we were able to travel together.
The party atmosphere at the start of the race when we arrived on the Saturday afternoon was something I will never forget. This was running at its very best. Thousands of excited runners ready to race and and thousands more happy supporters simply enjoying the entertainment, food and drink in the afternoon sun. It was a festival with running at its core, and certainly something to aspire to in the UK.
We were competing in the 26 km (16.5 mile, 2500 ft climbing) event, which started at 3 pm and had 1200 entrants. The course itself was amazing with spectacular views, friendly runners, difficult climbs and (sadly for me) challenging descents.
Unfortunately, my run turned out to be at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to my race experience two weeks previously and instead of everything going right, everything started to go rather wrong.
I hit the wall at Mile 12. This rarely happens to me. I usually pride myself on being able to judge my pace well and even if I do go through a bad patch in a race, I usually pull through within a mile or two. Not today. I dropped from third to around fifteenth place in the last six miles and my mental goal quickly deteriorated from race mode to survival mode.
In trail running, both mind and body have to function at the best of their abilities in order to perform well. The physical demands are obvious, less obvious is the mental requirement of complete concentration in order to successfully navigate the treacherous conditions underfoot. If either mind or body begins to struggle, then the other soon follows, marking the beginning of an often irrecoverable downward spiral. In my case, it was the physical element that suffered first, my legs began to fatigue, my pace began to drop and people started coming past me. The increasing physical pain and growing fatigue had a negative impact on my ability to focus, I began to stumble, trip and in numerous cases fall-over completely. The trips and falls serve only to worsen the existing physical fatigue, and the cycle continues. By the last few miles it was a struggle to put one foot in front of the other without falling over and a feeling of pure relief swept over me when I finally crossed the finish line!
I’ve thought a lot in the past few days about what makes a good race and what makes a bad one? How did I have two such different races within two weeks? Was it the excitement of running in a Welsh vest, the heat, all the travel? Had I recovered properly from the first race? Had I eaten properly and drunk enough for such a difficult race at such an unusual time of day?
The reality is that it’s probably a combination of many factors and whilst we do our best to minimise the risk of it happening and learn from our own mistakes, it can happen to everyone – remember Callum Hawkins and Mary Keitany at this year’s Commonwealth Games and London Marathon respectively? It goes to show that even professional athletes, those whose careers depend on their performances, are not immune to disastrous race performances.
For me, I’ll set my sights on the next challenge … there’s a double-buggy half-marathon world-record of 1:39 that I’ve had my eyes on for a while!
Written by Jessica Leitch, Run3D Founder and Director
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