T-3 months

Pushing the button

So, I pushed the button and set the date. There’s no going back now. I am giddy with excitement and nervous with apprehension. I have often found myself in life changing situations, not quite knowing how I have got there.

I have created opportunities, sometimes life events have happened to me and others, I have had the good fortune to be presented with an opportunity that I have then chosen to take. Itโ€™s these series of events that have led me to where I am and the person I am today.

Growing up as a tomboy. Being bullied at school. Having great childhood best friends who kept me sane. Knowing I was loved. My mother and father divorcing when I was 11. My mum working full time bringing up my brother and I. My motherโ€™s unconditional love and unwavering faith in me. My father dying when I was 14. My mum ensuring I got to know my Greek fathers family by taking us on holiday there every year. My mum being a strong role model.
Deciding not to go to college and university but instead to start working at the age of 16 and then getting my professional qualification in my spare time to become an accountant. Leaving private practice to go into industry. Moving away on my own from the place I grew up to further my career. My mum getting sick from cancer, surviving through 2 separate operations of lung cancer and then brain cancer before then finally dying of bone cancer. Of witnessing her fighting to the very end because she didnโ€™t want to leave me, her love for me giving her the strength to hold on longer than she should have had.

Moving industries after working in retail for 10 years. Embarking on my first solo travel adventure, touring South America for a month. Buying my own home. Learning how to teach English as a foreign language. Selling my own home. Moving abroad to Hong Kong on my own. Being promoted to Chief Financial Officer. Quitting my job. Investing in myself by embarking on a journey of self discovery. Trying to overcome my fear of heights by first paragliding, then skydiving and then bungee jumping off the tallest bungee bridge in the world. Training for a marathon after doing very little physical activity for the better part of my adult life. Deciding to change my life habits and lead a healthier lifestyle.

Moving to Greece on my own. Learning Greek. Becoming a qualified sports nutritional advisor. Learning to ride a scooter. Attending a trail running camp even though I had never run on trails. Moving to America on my own. Running my first Ultra. Fighting to stay in America despite the system fighting against me, not helping me to stay here. Choosing to integrate myself as part of the community and donating as much of my time as possible to helping local businesses and non profits. Setting up my own blog. Running 100 miles.

Right now, I have committed to running 803.5 miles (yes those 3.5 miles are important!) covering the entire length of the Arizona Trail (AZT) as fast I can over sometimes steep and technical terrain in the hope that I can do it in the fastest known time (which means running it in less than 15 days, 13 hours and 10 minutes). To give you some perspective… for my Greek friends that’s 5 times the width of the island of Crete; for my British friends that’s nearly the entire length of Great Britain (which is 838 miles, top to bottom). This means that I will need to cover at least on average 50 miles per day, just under 31 marathons, across 15 consecutive days. With 110,000 feet of vertical gain and loss, this is the equivalent of climbing up and down the Empire State building 88 times or Mount Everest 4 times.

How did I get here?????

When deciding on this challenge, I needed to ask myself “Is this something I am actually capable of doing?”; “Can I do this?” or “Am I just stark raving mad?”

My reasoning for a yes, was as follows:

  • I seem to recover well from my races
  • My Dad gave me good genes, my Mum gave me strength of heart
  • I walk/bike 6-12 miles every day to commute here, there and everywhere as I don’t own a car, so I’m used to being on my feet
  • My mind is strong
  • I am ferociously loyal & trustworthy, so when I say I am going to do something, I bloody well intend on doing it.
  • “Failure” is not in my vocabulary
  • I had just run 100 miles, so really, what was 700 more??
  • I wanted to do this
  • Yes, I am quite probably at least a little bit mad

Whilst, obviously, without having done something exactly like this before I could never be totally sure I could do this, if I put in the hard work training, it felt within reach, achievable…. time will tell!

The next question I had to ask myself was, “why”?

This is probably the more important question to answer as this will be the one that keeps me moving forward; even when everything is hurting, even when my body is screaming for me to stop because I am so damned tired.

  1. I like to push my limits
  2. I like being part of a community and want to inspire others
  3. I like to run free in the mountains, outdoors, to be close to nature

Let’s take each one in turn.

I like to push my limits

I have found that when I do things that are uncomfortable, outside of my comfort zone and force myself into situations I do not find easy, I am invariably rewarded for it. Either I find I am far more capable than I have given myself credit for, I make new friends, I learn something, either about myself or just learn something new, my horizons have been broadened, I grow as a person or my mindset has been adjusted.

By allowing myself to be vulnerable, I let people in and my world has suddenly got bigger and richer.

I like being part of a community

This takes me onto why I chose this particular trail, not only for me but also for my community.

To feel you are part of something is very powerful. Making connections and feeling like you belong is a reason to live. For so many years, I felt like there was something missing from my life and after allowing my career to dictate my life choices for so long, I wanted to embark on a journey of self discovery to understand what I enjoyed, who I was and what I wanted.  With my parents passing away early in life I had used my career as a way to give me purpose to deal with that loss.

It wasn’t until I quit the corporate world at the age of 38 that I realised there was more to life than just that one aspect of working. Up until that point, I was defining myself by my career. What is the first question that people tend to ask you when you meet them for the first time? “What do you do?” So, it was no wonder that I felt a little lost when I first stopped working. “Who was I?” Armed with a blank piece of paper, it was a very daunting prospect trying to figure out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be.

Thankfully though, through a series of events, I discovered my passion for both running and the outdoors. Living in England most of my life, you would never have guessed and I am sure if you ask my friends from pre age 38 they would be flabbergasted to see what I am doing now and how I am living my life, as it is in stark contrast to back then. It wasn’t until I moved to Hong Kong, shedding society’s material necessities by selling or giving away all of my furniture and then living in sunshine & blue skies that I realised how much I love and need to be outside.

This discovery led me to Greece where the island of Crete healed me and I found peace and running, which then led me to Flagstaff where for the first time in my life I finally felt like I belonged. I had found my people and they had welcomed me with open arms.

So, getting back to the ‘Why’… If I can inspire even one person to push the boundaries even a little; make a change no matter how seemingly small; open up & embrace their communities; go outside and smell mother nature; find their happy place, their peace, it will bring a smile to my face.

I know everyone is on their own journey and the road is never easy or smooth but it is most definitely rewarding.

I like to run free in the mountains, outdoors, to be close to nature

How can I explain how I feel when I am running? Free. Fast or slow, climbing or descending, easy or difficult – just being outside with the sun beating down on me, or even with the elements fighting against me, I have found peace.

So with the ‘Why’ dealt with it, I had to start looking at the nuts and bolts of what this would actually mean. I needed to start the logistically planning. Recovering from Bighorn 100 was the perfect timing to start planning for the AZT, with time on my hands not running I could channel my pent up energy to focus on the challenge ahead. I signed up to become a member of the Arizona Trail Association (ATA) and reached out to them for support. They answered my call with enthusiasm and excitement and were delighted to hear that I wanted to raise money for their cause.

If you would like to donate, please do so here.

My first task was to pull together a high level plan based on what details I had uncovered from the ATA website about vehicle access points, terrain and water sources. This gave me my first look as to what mileage I would have to do each day to reach my goal of completing the trail in less than 15 days, 13 hours and 10 minutes.

I have to say this first step was quite overwhelming, seeing in black and white the task at hand, felt daunting. It only made me more determined to achieve it. I set the date and pushed the button, reaching out to my friends and the community to see who would like to support me and share in the fun.

Next step was to see what gear I would need. Ultralight would be key with that many miles but I also needed to be sensible and learn from my experiences in March. I had to plan for the unexpected and although my ideal scenario is to be fully supported, there may be days when I don’t have support or that my team can’t reach me. So, I would need to be self sufficient and may even need to plan on sleeping out on the trail some days.

My gear list includes: Trail Food, Sprinter Van & Gas, Garmin InReach devices & subscription, Spot device & subscription, Running wear, Poles, Camp Food, Support Crew Food & Gas, Running Packs, flasks & bladders, Socks, Ultralightweight Emergency Kit (Base Layers, sleeping bag, mat, puffy, bivy etc), Goretex Rain pants & wind proof jacket, 4 x running shoes, First Aid Kit, Gaiters, Compression wear, Vitamins

Gear, coupled with the cost of a van, gas, food….the numbers were adding up and I was getting a little worried.

Since moving to Flagstaff in 2017 I have tried valiantly to secure a work visa with no joy and while I have enjoyed donating much of my free time to support local businesses and non profits as my way of giving back,  (I am currently a board member for Girls on the Run and Willow Bend Environmental, I am on the Financial Committee for Sharon Manor, I provide English lessons for The Literacy Centre, technology, business & resume support in the library and most recently have joined SCORE as a mentor for local small/medium sized businesses), unfortunately these ventures don’t help my bank balance. So, I started reaching out to try to secure some sponsorship to hopefully gain some support in helping me reach this goal and inspire others. GU came through immediately and will be providing all of my ‘on the run’ fuel which is a tremendous help.

I have been overwhelmed by the response so far, especially by local businesses such as Summit Hut but also by friends and the community which has blown me away.

If you would like to support me on my adventure, please reach out. This could be through sharing my story, helping out with gear and funds, contributing knowledge or expertise, being part of my crew and of course, running some miles with me on the trail. I would love for you to share in this exciting challenge with me.

If you would like to sponsor me please do so here.

Next, I sat down with my coach, Rob Krar and Ryan Whited from Paragon Athletics to discuss what my training program would look like. The key to my success would be the durability of my body, coping with a sustained effort over a long period of time. I will share more of my training and nutrition in my next blog post.

3 weeks after my 100 mile race, I volunteered as a guide at Rob Krar’s Ultra & Trail running camp. These camps hold a very special place in my heart, as it was at this camp in 2017 that I discovered Flagstaff, trails and community. So I always jump at the chance to help out whenever I can. It was also the perfect segway to move from chill recovery runs (I could only use recovery as an excuse for so long!) into my new training block. We covered 56 miles with 9,000feet of vertical gain together….the switch was officially flipped.

Every camper has their own inspirational story to tell and I came away with a full heart, having made new friends sharing some of my favourite trails and feeling energised. It was the perfect start to kickstart my training and I am pumped and excited to get my little body ready and see where it takes me. I wish October 17th was tomorrow!

If you haven’t already, please join my Facebook Group as I will be providing regular updates here on training, nutrition and planning as I approach the big day.

A special thanks to Gore, Mountain Sports Flagstaff, Huppy Bars, Mountain Hardwear, HydraPak, Leki, The Ginger People, Deckers, Inside Tracker, Under Armour & Outdoor Research for your support and generosity.

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