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Breaking Down the Race to the King ultra marathon: A Training Diary by Ciara Davies (Part I)

Training with friends - stronger together

I am a 41 year old tax advisor who lives in Castle Combe in Wiltshire, with my husband Nigel and our three children, Nia, 15, Seren, 9, and James, 7.

I have the fantastic good fortune have Kerry Sutton training me to run my first ultra marathon, the Race to the King, in June.

My Illustrious Athletic Career So Far (or lack thereof)

I started running with a friend in 2013, using the couch potato to 5K app. Running for one minute at a time was a challenge at that stage. We built it up very gradually from there. I ran a couple of half marathons back in 2014. I don’t LOVE running in races, but I find that having a goal in the diary acts as a motivator to get out and run on days when I would otherwise find any excuse not to. I have tended to mix up my fitness regime, with a bit of swimming, some gym classes and then weekly circuits and run group with Kerry.

What I have learned from Kerry is that everything fitness related begins as an act of faith. If I push myself today, it will be easier and I will go further the next time. There is a core of self-belief in everybody. If you can find it and nurture it, you can’t help but get caught up in a virtuous cycle.

Most mornings, I remember this and find it easy to get on board with Kerry’s favorite mantra of “I can. I will”. Truthfully, though, I do still regularly find myself more in the vein of “I can’t, I can’t, OK then I’ll try but I am stopping if it hurts or I need a wee, Oh what the hell, I am nearly there. Wow, I actually did it!,” Whichever way it starts, the feeling of euphoria at having finished is just the same.

The Planting of the Seed

Kerry casually suggested to me at one of our sessions that I might enjoy doing an ultra-marathon. My initial reaction was to laugh this off as frankly, I saw these as the preserve of super-fit athletic types and other hardcore individuals and not really anything I could relate to. I can’t quite explain what happened next, but I found myself reading online articles about ultra-marathons. Perhaps my inner badass hijacked my brain in a moment of weakness. The first article I read pretty much had me. Admittedly, this may be because it mentioned the possibility of taking frequent stops to eat cake, rather than because a Titan within me was awakening.

Thinking about it rationally, I like the sound of an ultra more than a marathon, because I see myself as more of an endurance person than a speed person. I have enough pressure in my life already so persistent clock-watching is a total turn off. The more I read about ultras, the more I feel that this is a world where I actually do have a place. I particularly like this quote from Kirk Johnson:

“The farther you go, the more the world equals out. The inherent advantages of youth and strength are diminished; gender equality becomes real and concrete”

If this is true (as all the science behind the sport seems to suggest), it seems like exactly the sort of arena in which a 41-year-old woman should be celebrating her existence.

Team Davies

Nigel and I have three children. Nia, Nigel’s daughter from a previous marriage is 15 and either the perfect teenager or far more cunning than we ever were. Seren, 9, is a bouncing, arty, Chinese-speaking whirlwind of constant activity. They are both amazing sisters to James, who is now 7. We found out soon after he was born that he is deaf and gradually discovered that he has severe global developmental delays, quadriplegic cerebral palsy and epilepsy, which thankfully after a few terrifying seizures is now well controlled by medication. I have often wished that I studied medicine or engineering so that I would have had some sort of head start on understanding all of the medical issues, therapies and equipment that have become part of our daily lives. The thing we have grappled with most is the difficulty that he has with sleep. There is a lot of tiredness and frayed nerves but none of us feel anything but blessed to have this wondrous little person in our lives, who takes everything thrown at him with good humour and grace, who sees the beauty in the world and appreciates all of the best and simplest things. Granted, he is also a thoroughly spoiled little tyrant, but (mostly) rules with such charm and panache that no one really begrudges it.

So generally speaking I am short on time and sleep-deprived and depending on how any given day is going, I am either running for the sheer joy of it, or because I am giving two fingers to the universe. Either way, it is the most effective way to boost my mood and make me feel positive about the world. Also, running induced awesomeness lasts indefinitely, unlike any beneficial effects of some of my other loves (gin, chocolate, wine etc.).

What the??

If this is a journey of discovery, I have probably learned most from other people’s reactions to my grand plan.

My husband’s response was to say “I am concerned because I know that if you say you will do this, then you will”. I am not sure how to take this, but for the sake of marital harmony, I choose to accept it as an expression of his unshakeable belief in my strength and courage. He is probably really thinking “My stubborn, crazy ass wife is going to put herself and everyone else through hell”. To his credit, though, he never gives me anything other than total support, partly because he loves me but mainly because he is a man who appreciates a well-toned buttock.

Others express concern about my need to prove myself, as well as potential adverse consequences for my knees/toe nails/nipples. I find myself going into TMI mode explaining that I have given birth twice and was in labour for 3 days the first time and that this, plus breastfeeding a “barracuda baby” for 12 months means that I am pretty unlikely to balk at the loss of the occasional toe nail (most people have discreetly sidled away before I actually make my point . . .)

The many wonderful women in my life have reacted with a massive rush of support and encouragement. My gorgeous daughter and chief cheerleader’s instant response to the idea a simple; “Go, Iron Mamma!” I don’t have to explain my reasons for doing this to any of them. A 9-year-old girl instinctively knows how important it is to push boundaries and do something just because it sounds fabulous and you can. The others, beginning to emerge as I am from the melee of bringing up young children, while sustaining a career, while trying to stop one’s body falling into total decrepitude, while . . . you get the picture, are realizing how important it is not to let life knock that instinct out of you.

And so off I go, a woman with a wardrobe so messy I am lucky to find my running gear never mind put it on and use it, whose secret goal in life is really to stay in bed for the longest possible time undiscovered (preferably with a huge stash of crisps) and whose to-do list is already so long that even the thought of it sparks panic attacks, determined to attempt a 52 mile run and brazenly advertising this to the world. Even I have to admit that it sounds a bit mad.

My Training Plan

I am lucky to have had a plan tailored for me by someone who has incredible experience at training for events like this. If Kerry, who is already well acquainted with my strengths as well as my flaws, thinks I can do it, then I definitely can.

Here is my training plan (this can be attached if you like and Kerry is happy).

I am aiming to complete my sessions first thing in the morning after dropping the kids at school. The further into the day I get, the more likely it is that life will take over, or excuses will creep in.

I am excited to see what I can achieve!


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