Finding adventure on the Lost Island

The warm breeze brush over my skin while I admire the breathtaking sunset that surrounds me. On one side there are vast Pacific Ocean and on the other side lush green rugged mountains and jungle of Nadi, Fiji. This is the start line for the first Lost Island Ultra (www.lostislandultra.com). A 220km five day stage race crossing the Nadi island in Fiji. Over the next few days runners from thirteen different counties are going to race and explore this island like no one has done before. Well, except for the race directors and his support crew who was constantly making the routes to ensure everything is safe for the runners.

The Lost Island Ultra has five stages:

Stage 1: Degei “Serpent God” 40km – Snaking its way around the Nakauvadra Range which is associated with the Serpent God.

Stage 2: Rerevaka “Fear” 50km – Tropical Forest and untouched single tracks.

Stage 3: Bulu “World of Spirits” 35km – A mysterious stage of single track and wild grassy hills.

Stage 4: Bati “Warrior” 80km – heading down river through the highlands and on to your camp on the hill fort overlooking Sigatoka River.

Stage 5: Baravi “Beach” 15km – Railway tracks, grass hills and sand dunes

Or at least that was what I signed up for. The weather gods had something else up there sleeves. The race got postpone by one day due to cyclone Jose hitting the island causing widespread flooding and causing access issues for the race organisers.

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Day one, the sun beams prick the back of my arms while we battle up the steep grassy hills and slipping down the muddy paths to get rewarded with a cool stream meandering it’s way though the mountains. It was a tough opening stage but the constant changing scenery and  my company was distracting me from the hard work.

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Tonight a local village was going to house us in the village hall so no need for tents! Staying in the village was amazing.

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After cooling down in the river and prepping our stuff for the next day we joined the villagers dressed in our Sulu’s (similar to a sarong) to respect their culture for dinner, fruit, rice, pasta and whatever you brought with you. That was dinner every night followed by porridge if you could stomach it. I took baby food to camouflage the monotony of the oats.

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Day two was technical jungle trails and my favourite part of the race.

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The locals was asked to sweep the race and make sure we cross safely. Simi, one of the locals decided to turn himself into our personal tour guide.

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He was a local farmer and told us about how to plant and harvest grog (turmeric), sugar cane and Kava a local root used for the Kava ceremony. The Kava ceremony is a local tradition where the Kava root is presented to the head of the village when visiting them. He also gave us these “fat bananas” which he called “watta” which was a welcome snack after a long muddy jungle section.

Simi was a true gentleman trying to catch me every time I fell and trying to pull me out of the knee dept mud. It was interesting to listen to him talking about the land and how they have this fine balance between humans and nature as well as his total inability to grasp why we would come to their land just to run across it.

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The jungle opened up to endless steps and the promise of one of the most amazing waterfalls in the world. The cool spray of the water rushing over the rugged mountains brought inner peace.

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Emotions washed away while we all restored our energy.

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Every stage had to be shortened because of reduced access due to flooding. Stage three has started with a four hour cut off at checkpoint three. In normal conditions running 23km in four hours would not even bother me but over mountains, through jungle and knee depth mud I knew that I had no time to chat to locals and stop for scenic pictures.

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What’s very striking is the vast contrast on this island. On one mountain we could be battling our way through a recently cut jungle foot path only to find vast grass land on the next.

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The high humidity and rain fall ensures that everything stays lush. I would describe the Fiji jungle as a “friendly jungle”. There’s no poisonous animals or insects. The vegetation is thick but only a few days plants has sharp edges and thorns. It’s a jungle that shows off its beauty and thee friendly people that lives there!

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Unfortunately the long stage was also cut short due to bridges being washed away which would have left us with out support.

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This was a test to the organisers. Transporting runners, support crew and all their baggage safely for one side of the island to the other side plus remarking new routes was evidence of how well thought through this race was. But even though we didn’t follow the original route at the top of each mountain we had breathtaking views and amazing support crew that would shower you in river water to help you cool down.

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Day four has finished on the beach. It wasn’t the perfect white beach with blue sky which I imagined but it was the perfect ending to the stage with the ability to float in the warm tropical sea.

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It was our last night and tropical storm Keni was on its way. There was no break in the rain and a decision was made to start the race an hour later. The thought of sleeping in a soft bed and not in a village hall gave us all the motivation to run. Until we reached the railway bridges. That’s if you can call them bridges.

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Slippery sleepers with missing sections crossings over storm fed rushing rivers was enough to give us all an adrenaline boost until we reached our surprise: sand dunes!

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From a distance you could see the footprints climbing up to the top to reveal the beach, a sent of the home straight, or so we thought… but the course markings meandered back into the grass hills, a last bit of forest and then onto the beach.

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Thought the rain we reached storm battered beach to reach the finish line hundred meters into the sea.

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An amazing finish to a race who brought people together to create friends for life.

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That’s why I love stage racing. Not to win but like the Fijians say: “To find your happiness!”

To find out more about the Lost Island Ultra visit their website www.lostislandultra.com

Thanks to Rob Rickman from RawFiji for his amazing photos www.facebook.com/FijiPhoto

 

 

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The rain in Fiji…

The rain is thundering down and it has been since I arrived in Fiji. It’s 4am I haven’t adjusted to the new time zone yet. It started raining harder… how is that even possible. My stomach turns. In two days time I will sleep in a tent… I know it has a very good waterproof rating but will it cope when Mother Nature lashes out! I don’t mind rain ☔️ but this much makes me scared 😧

I thought that I would be spending my first few days acclimatising running on the beach and swimming but I found myself walking through the soggy well maintained gardens of the hotel. The beauty of the this tropical garden gets over shadowed by by my thoughts of how I should pitch my tent ⛺️ everywhere I walk my feet sinks away. How on earth do I keep everything dry in a place where everything is waterlogged?

But despite this feelings I know that this is part of ultra running. You train, you prepare and then you have to believe. Believe in yourself, your abilities. Just put one foot in front of the other. Deal with the problem when you are in that situation. Never over think, never over plan! Look at the beauty around you and enjoy the experience of a lifetime! 😀

Illness 😷vs Racing 🏃‍♀️

For the last two weeks I’ve done no running 😭 because of a cough. It’s not that bad but I wasn’t going to risk getting worse because I have my first ultra for the year. It’s the Thames Trot 50. A 50 mile race from Oxford to Henley following the Thames Path. Although it’s a flat race the footpaths are slippery mud baths which doesn’t allow for speed and the weather this time of the year is helping. Two years ago I stopped after 27miles because mentally I was struggling. It wasn’t just that race it was all my running at that stage. I know with my constant coughing and lack of training completing 50 miles in the 11 hour cut off is going to be tricky.

Last week was all about preparations. I’ve only done strength work and is lacking miles on my legs so the goal for this race is to test my mental stamina and fitness and to see where my weaknesses are for Fiji. Realistically I’m just going to trot and enjoy the race. No killing my self and chasing times.

Race planning is very important so let me show you how I mentally prepared for a 50 mile race.

It all start on paper 📝 If I think of the race as 50 miles my brain 🧠 will just protest… who on earth wants to run 50miles!!! So I cheat my brain! There are five checkpoints and a finish line

The distances between each checkpoint are 15.5km, 15.5km, 13km, 11km, 12km and 9km. Looking at these distances, it seems so much more achievable! You see it’s fairly easy cheat my brain. 😂

I now look at all my data which I collect during my training runs to come up with an estimate time for each distance taking in consideration the weather, fatigue, feeling poorly, lack of training and darkness towards the end of the race. This then get written up in an easy to follow race guide.

Now that I have all the details from the race as well as my times. I like to work on clock time thus the race starts at 8:30am. I need to be at checkpoint 1 at 10:30am, checkpoint 2 at 12:30pm, checkpoint 3 at 2:30pm, checkpoint 4 at 4pm, checkpoint 5 at 5:40pm and finish at 7:10. This gives me 20 minutes to play with when things doesn’t go according to plan.

It’s always important to keep an eye on the weather for the week leading up to your race. The weather forecast wasn’t great but I’m just hoping that it doesn’t rain ☔️ and wind for 11 hours!

The last thing on my to do list is kit preparation. It’s important to wear clothing that you know works. I will be trying out a new running bra which I want to use in Fiji. I’ve tried it on shorter runs so it should be fine but it’s only until you get into the shower after a run when you realised if you’ve lost any skin or not 😵

I’m also using the backpack that I’m planning to use in Fiji and the same nutrition. Everything I’m using I’ve used before so again it should be fine!

The night before the race wasn’t great because I kept coughing. The sensible part of my brain said that I shouldn’t run but I choose to ignore it and went running in anyway 😲

Well…the route was still just a big mud slide like it was before and I realised that running trough mud at a slope while coughing is the perfect recipe for falling. People pay lots of money 💰 for mud baths and I’m having it for free!

Considering the run – cough rhythm combined with getting lost twice and falling three times I reached checkpoint three only 15-minutes over my estimated time. Despite taking some medication I was still coughing but I was happy that mentally I was fine and the only muscle hurting was my biceps 💪 (note to self: add more upper body strength training for Fiji 😁).

I reached checkpoint 4 at 4:35. According to the race info the cut off was 4:40 but I was informed by the staff that it was 4:30 and I that we missed the cut off. It was annoying! I know I can do the rest but there was a part of me saying that stopping now is probably the wiser choice.

In the comfort of my warm bed I reflect on a cold muddy race.

Muscular my body coped well as I can still easily climb stairs

Mentally I’m in a much better place to deal with the ups and downs of ultras

Running while constantly coughing was a bad idea 😢

BUT I feel much better in my preparation for Fiji. I just need to stop coughing!!! 😷

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http://www.lostislandultra.com

Lurking in the dark

I mentioned night running in my blog and I had a few requests to write a post on how I prepare for running in the dark.

It took a very scary experience to make me rethink my night time race strategy. I always comply with race regulations: you need to carry a head torch 🔦 and a extra set of batteries with you. Perfect! I have that! These days head torches are slightly easier to open to replace the batteries but when I started you still needed a coin to open the back of the light to replace the batteries.

It wasn’t until during one of my 24-hour races when I came upon a runner struggling in darkness trying to find a battery that dropped out of his cold hands in the ankle depth mud at 2am that made me think… what if that was me? What would I do? What if there is no one around to help me?

But I change little to my lights.

Until my first UTMB! I needed to have two lights and I decided to go for lite weight over brightness. I had my normal trusted head torch 🔦 which I’ve used for numerous events where I was running in the dark and I ran with it on every early morning run. I know it and trusted it but unfortunately the foggy, rainy weather conditions up Mont Blanc was outside of my lights comfort zone and mine! I could barely see the ground in front of me while winding up this single track footpath. I had an even smaller light in my backpack because let’s face it I wasn’t planning on using it an I didn’t wanted to carry the weight. I strapped this tiny light around my wrist to lit the way for my feet so I could use my head torch to lit the path. I progressed through the night but unfortunately not fast enough and missed the cut off point.

That scared 😧 feeling made me change. I now run with two lights. One around my waist and one on my head. The one around my waist lit the ground in front of my feet and the one on my head the route in front. I now don’t have to worry about changing batteries and it helped me to run my night time races much faster because I can see 👀

Despite my lights there are a few other things to remember when you venture out into the darkness.

1. Always run with your phone 📱 You never know where you might need to phone someone for help or to inform someone that you might be out longer than expected.

2. Always tell someone that you will be running in the dark🌚. Let them know where you are planning to run and for how long.

3. Make sure that your clothing is reflective so that 🚗 cars can see you!

Running in can be scary when you start but like everything else the more you do it, the more you get used to it. I 💖 love running in the dark. It’s peaceful and I get to see amazing sunrise…

The true colours of the Lost Islands Ultra

The Final Stage list for 2018 was published. Reading through the description my mind is working in over drive. What do I need to work on for each stage.

Stage 1: Degei “Serpent God” 40km

Snaking its way around the Nakauvadra Range which is associated with the Serpent God, a tough opening stage!

It will be day 1 what more can I say. Probably still jet lagged, excited, nervous and thinking to myself why did I sign up to do this? I could be laying on the beach 🏖 with the family! My best advice to myself is just to put the one foot in front of the other, don’t think too much and enjoy the view!

Stage 2: Rerevaka “Fear” 50km Tropical Forest and untouched single track will push you to your limits on this, what has to be the toughest second stage of any race in the world. You will feel the fear.

Let’s ignore the words fear and toughest. I’m race director of Ultrabug a 100km sage race in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. My race day one is 42km and day two is 50km. So all I need to focus on is previous experience. These races give you the opportunity to see and experience different countries and cultures so enjoy the journey! After all what’s the worst that can happen?

Stage 3: Bulu “World of Spirits” 35km

A mysterious stage of single track and wild grassy hills, finished with a steep decline and climb back to your home for the night.

This doesn’t sound too bad but looking at this stages amazing picture going up and down grassy hill on tired legs will make you dig deep before resting and preparing for the long day!

Stage 4: Bati “Warrior” 80km

You must find the warrior from within, heading down river through the highlands and on to your camp on the hill fort overlooking Sigatoka River.

Amazing, I like rivers! After my race though the Amazon I realised that I quite enjoy running in water. Let’s hope it’s similar to that. The distance is going to be challenging despite the fact that I’ve done it so many times. On this stage I will probably be running into the night so planning for night time running is going to be essentially! The good thing is that the next day is a rest day thus the quicker I do it the more rest I’ll have before the final stage!

Stage 5: Baravi “Beach” 15km Just 15km between you and glory, what you face will remain a secret until you’re there. Expect the unexpected.

Only one more day! I’m sure I’ll have mixed emotions. Happy to have made it to the end but also sad that it will be over. Beach?! Well I’ve trained really hard in South Africa on the beach so let’s hope that that’s enough to deal with the unexpected.

Every step of an ultra is challenging but your mindset is the best tool you have to get you through the ups and downs of an ultra. Train for the unexpected, except that things will probably not go according to plan and enjoy every step! That’s the best advice I can give anyone training for an ultra or any endurance event!

Training for the Lost Island Ultra

Why run an ultra? Where do you even start? How do you fit all the training in?

I run not because I have to but because I want to. I have so many different reasons: I run to clear my mind, I run to plan my work, I run to come up with new ideas and I run to experience new places, cultures and meet new people.

The first question people normally ask is how much do you run ever week? Now this is where it gets interesting. I don’t run as much as you think I should and if you compare it to “the average ultra training programme” mine is almost the exact opposite. Now if you have ever trained for a marathon you would know that it is easy to let it take over your life. Ultra running is a lifestyle not just following a training programme. Confused? Let me explain.

My ultra running goal for most of my races is fun, enjoyment (despite the pain) and meeting new people not winning. Thus the training is less stressful. Training should be fun! Those long runs should be something you look forward too not dreading it! So let me show you who my average training week looks:

📆Monday: Prehab: This is training to prevent injuries due to the bad habits we as runners develop and is never the same. What ever was hurt during the previous week’s training is what I work on. Stretching, mobility or strength. Due to work this session is either a couple of minutes here and there or if possible a half an hour. <

Tuesday: Running. I have to run early in the morning before everyone’s day start. I normally leave at 5:45am for a 12-15km run. The longer I want to run the earlier I have to start in order to be back to wake everyone up and do the school run before going to work at 9am. 📆Wednesday: Strength training and running technique in the pool. On a Wednesday I start work at 6:30am thus I add my strength training during the day. Either in blocks of different exercises or an hour at a time. This helps me to work on time on feet rather than just running distance. 📆Thursday: Running. Like a Tuesday it’s normally 12-20km but as I get closer to my event I use a pyramid running programme. A pyramid running programme is where your running distance increases over four weeks period and then drop down again. 📆Friday: This is my lucky dip day! It all depends on how I feel! Remember I train for fun. I might run, I might go to the gym to do strength training or I might just go to the spa to do heat acclimatisation. A great excuse for some pampering 😇 📆Saturday: This is my long run day! And yes I still get up at 5:15 for an early run in order to have a two to three hour run and still be back in time for my husband to go to park run at 9am. As the race gets closer I will a few longer runs or if possible a race. 📆Sunday: This is my rest day! No training except when I get closer to an event and I have to do back to back training in my pyramid training programme but that’s normally only once or twice or months before events. It’s not your typical ultra marathon training programme but it fits into my life and I enjoy my training and staying injury free! Join my running community on Facebook https://m.facebook.com/runningcommunityadvice free training videos and advice #marathon #ultramarathonwww.lostislandultra.com

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