Vicky and her 24 hour race!

My friend Vicky is an ultra runner and a pretty damn good one at that! Not only is she good at running them, she’s good at writing about them afterwards. Vicky doesn’t have a blog of her own YET, though she definitely should – in the meantime I’m really pleased to be sharing this post on LearnerMother for her. Enjoy!

The Hope 24 – Vicky Luffrum, Plympton, Devon. 9th & 10th May 2015

As usual, and for most participants of any event, it all begins in earnest the moment I leave the house to travel to the venue. Public transport from Cardiff to Plympton is amazingly straightforward with one train change at Bristol to continue the change south. It is no surprise to many of those who know me that my sense of direction and observational skills leave something to be desired but “south” is obvious enough. Isn’t it?!

I hugged my huge red hold-all close to me in my reserved seat on the train– no girlie bag this, a peek inside would reveal an ultrarunner’s survival kit and more, weighing in at about a third of my body weight. Big, thick and cumbersome to handle!

“The train shortly departing from platform 4 is the 12.30 pm express from Cardiff to Dundee”.
In too many seconds my brain reasoned that Dundee was north…and certainly not south..in a scene not unlike that in the film “Clockwise” I had mere seconds to disembark. Using my big red bag as a battering ram to push aside the hoards of Scots travelling north to celebrate their nation’s SNP victory in the General Election the day before I was still able to spill enough choice words to startle those who hitherto would have been my traveling companions!

By the time I had fled the train I was as breathless as if I had done an interval session around the fields adjoining the Aspire Gym!
If ever there was a case for using alcohol as a relaxant this could well have been the day!!I arrived at my B&B four hours later to view a mass of scaffolding around the building and several burly men drilling the rendering from the walls..but “Thank God It’s Friday” chorused in my head as their 5pm finish heralded a downing of tools, the evening was to be quietly mine with thoughts and strategies for the weekend to eventually lull me off into a restless pre-event sleep.

Hardly any need for an alarm clock then, the dawn chorus was barely at the end of its first verse when I looked out at what was a rainy start to the day. Let’s face it, it is seldom “just perfect”- being either too hot, too cold, too windy, too wet, too humid but as the next few hours past by a much better day emerged. Arriving at Race HQ the atmosphere was buzzing with general excitement: music, competitors, supporters (loads of them!) and tents pitched randomly as if waiting for the main act on a Saturday night at Glastonbury. “Hope 24” already had the makings of an event to be celebrated.

I didn’t know though whether to laugh or cry when a novice looking competitor asked me how long I thought it was going to take me to do 24 miles! He surely was in the real Hope category! Luckily I was able to drift off into the throng as Danny Sly(the Race Director) began his race briefing; he informed us all that in order to spice things up this year the five mile laps were to be run in reverse, hmm..in my mind I knew that it was still going to involve two steep hills! Who cares in what direction we go? (er…no comments about me at this point please!). For those who are unfamiliar with the principles of such events the aim is to complete as many laps of the course within the twenty four hour period; at any point a competitor can chose to call it a day..or a night..or even stop to sleep or eat! The chipped times and distances recorded included data from solo runners like myself as well as teams (varying from 2-8 members) doing their laps in relays. The obvious conclusion to draw from this is that yes, there were team runners relatively sprinting along and passing many solo runners who had to ensure a discipline so as not to crash out having exceeded their long distance pace ability. After a 12 noon start reaching the end of the first lap in 51 minutes proved not to have been at all bad, my self-talk of “not bad Vicks” a purposeful attempt at self-hypnosis and a denial of the impact of the hills climbed just the once! The impact though of the 600 ft elevations, lap after lap soon resulted in them feeling like the climb up Pen y Fan (for those geographically disinclined…yes…a deliberate pun… this is the highest mountain in South Wales). We walked them!

I came to the event carrying an injury which emanated from my glute muscle and causing piriformis syndrome. However, having tested it out before race day and having had some physio work carried out it seemed likely that I would be able to perform reasonably well– I felt sure that I could more than survive without using up my whole prescription of pain – killers! Pain after all is part and parcel of ultra running (what a strange delight!). It wasn’t long before the discomfort reared its ugly head, I hadn’t anticipated or planned for this happening quite so soon it was going to be a long period of… well…acceptance! I ran the event as a non crewed solo runner; running as planned with Ernie- the aim was that we would support each-other for the duration of the event. We discovered that we wasted a lot of time queuing for drinks, water and food at the “food bus” and where we ended up in line with supporters and friends queuing up as well. As positive as one can be in such situations we used these periods as “rest times” before starting the laps again and again!

Thirty miles and six laps completed, hot food beckoned. Who would imagine that you could enjoy spicy potatoes and curry before jogging (jogging?!!) off into the evening sunshine? The smell of veggie burgers wafted through the air and even though fancying one we had to make our way onward into the evening, the ten minute wait was just too long to take out. I carried the thought for another five miles or more while thinking about cheesey jacket potatoes, soup..who says you can’t eat when you run?! The intake of calories on ultra runs is a priority, even though gels and electrolytes reach some necessary spaces they simply don’t cut it when day turns to evening turns to night!

Somewhere around midnight my body was indicating that it was not a happy chappy; some parts were beginning to complain. Ernie, my running mate as well as being a physiotherapist and trainer taped my nagging calf before elbowing firmly the glute, the site of my injury, while I sat uncomfortably on a rock! Imagine the scene and what it looked like to passing runners! “It’s just a piriformis” shouted Ernie. Hmm!!

The goal of the race was to complete 45 miles in the first twelve hours and to have achieved this in just eleven hours indicated that the overall goal of eighty miles was well within grasp. I felt that I was really in my element despite the earlier discomforts; I always say that I feel at my best when I am running well. At this stage the calls of the resident peacocks had ceased while they settled down with pe- hens for the night (!!), head-torches had been lighting up the route for about two hours, bobbing lights and beams behind and in front of us, my favourite time had arrived, running through the night.

Despite increasing physical discomfort the atmosphere carried me along as each lap was ticked off. As well as the darkness a fairly dense fog had fallen on the course and surrounding countryside but which was lit with coloured lighting at every five mile mark, flashing across the grass raising everyone’s spirits in such a small but in the event, a meaningful way.

The hours awake have never particularly bothered me in ultra races, sleep deprivation being something I have been well able to handle–the only difficulty comes in trying to calculate miles done, laps completed and so on when the faithful Garmin has ultimately and inevitably run out of gas quicker than a runner! On this occasion at 3am, fifteen hours into the run, things took a turn for the worse when I began to feel nauseous and began to wobble uncontrollably as if I was intoxicated! Knowledge has taught me it’s important to act upon such situations sooner rather than later..heck..I hope I’m selling Ultra’s to you here! Ernie was suffering from extreme tiredness too, leading us to the decision to take a tent rest..spiders or no spiders! (yes, I just don’t like them!). Lying down proved to be the most painful thing for my injury and I couldn’t relax so, while Ernie literally hit the sack, sleeping for an hour, I sucked and chewed on ten wine gums until we were off once again.

The downhills that had previously been a blessing now became something of a curse. It had been possible to fairly sprint down them making up precious time during the early miles, but no more, the up hills and the chance to walk to what seemed like a summit at this stage almost…almost..became something to relish. Mentally I continued to be up for the challenge and doing what I feel I do best. Until a few weeks before the event I had been struggling with low energy, mood and motivation yet now I was again at a high point and felt that my training and involvements in races had come full circle. Happy Days!

Other competitor’s crews and race organisers were phenomenal in cheering us on as we continued to surge onward, best foot forward into the dawn again. I have no recollection of what time I reached the sixty mile mark but all I know was that I was moving (rather than running!) and it certainly didn’t look pretty. God Bless the Mobile Phone! I was able to call Steve, my partner and George from Aspire Gym in Cardiff during my 70th mile lap to discuss the options for the remainder of the event..I like to think and it has been affirmed (!) that I sounded upbeat and focussed, I was mulling over the logistics of the distance left to be covered in relation to the time left available and having to travel home by public transport. It felt good that I knew that I was easily able to complete 75 miles…..

…and so it was that at 10.20am after 22 hours and twenty minutes I decided to call it a day. I felt more than content with my achievement having felt in control and fully able to walk away before the actual finish time, mentally and emotionally intact albeit with some physical soreness. I was easily able to walk the mile odd to the Gym and back the following day! Although I know that I could have reached the original goal of eighty miles (which Ernie DID achieve), on the day I did not feel as though I needed to; in the past I would have berated myself but now see a major change in my approaches and attitudes, I have definitely changed as a person.

I have to say a big thanks to everyone who has given me support in the approach to and during the event…of course, my family, staff of The Aspire Gym in Cardiff, Ernie Jewson and the Hope 24 organisers. I will be back to do it again in 2016!

Second star to the right and straight on till morning…

I’m afraid I have reached the grand old age of, uh, OLD, without ever making it to the second star to the right, let alone to an operatic performance. My knowledge of opera is limited to the oft-played set pieces that have accompanied various sporting events – Nessun Dorma transports me immediately back to my ‘A’ Level summer for example – but beyond that, I’ve got nothing. Nada, zero. zilch.

No more! Last night, my girl in the middle and I were treated to tickets to the UK premiere of Richard Ayre’s ‘Peter Pan’, performed by the Welsh National Opera at the Wales Millennium Centre. Of course we are both familiar with JM Barrie’s tale of the boy who never grew up, but beyond that, neither of us knew what to expect.

The WNO has really pulled out all the stops to make the experience welcoming to children (and slightly out-of-their-depth adults!) The performance started early, at 6.30pm, and beforehand the impressive public space at the Welsh Millennium Centre was busy with free pirate themed activities including treasure hunts, face painting and story telling. There are also surtitles (in both English and Welsh) which were a boon to our un-operatic ears, and for this reason I’d say that the WNO’s recommendation of 8 and above was spot on – being able to read the lyrics as they were sung made the performance much more accessible.

Fuelled with the obligatory special-treat trip to Nandos, we took our seats expectantly and waited for the performance to start. ‘Is this your daughter’s first trip to the opera?’ boomed a gentleman beside me. ‘Er, yes, and mine’ I answered slightly nervously. ‘We’ve got Wine Gums!’ interjected my girl proudly, and I rather thought that this might cause some raised operatic-type eyebrows from the real grownups around me. However the gentlemen seemed remarkably unfazed and couldn’t have been friendlier, pointing out composer Richard Ayres as he chatted to audience members across the way.

We had enough time to read the programme synopsis before the show started, and I would certainly recommend this if you are attending with children, at least for the first scene. This features a wordless romp through the Darlings’ lives as they transform from happy-go-lucky newly-weds to rather more careworn parents of three children; without having read the blurb I think this would have been tricky to grasp (though that might just be the voice of an uncultured 40-something speaking!)

After this visually and orchestrally impressive opener, the show moved to the more familiar nursery scene, where we met Wendy, John and Michael, and of course Nana the dog, caring for the children while Mr and Mrs Darling get ready for an important party. Needless to say their preparations are hindered by their children, and it was at this point that I could feel my daughter becoming drawn in to the story – ‘see Mum, kids liked winding their parents up even in the olden days!’

From this point on, she was totally absorbed. The aerial antics of Peter, Wendy, John and Michael as they flew to Neverland were a great hit, as was the ethereal Tink fluttering around the stage thanks to some incredibly clever animation. She also loved the busy scenes as Wendy was introduced to the Lost Boys who plead with her to be their mother – however it was the appearance of Captain Hook and his pirate ship that drew the biggest smile.

And no wonder – Captain Hook (played by same the singer as played Mr Darling) was everything you could want from a dastardly Pirate Captain. He and his colourful crew kept us entertained every time they appeared, until their fun was curtailed by the sound of Captain Hook’s watch ticking away, indicating that the Crocodile was near…or perhaps someone pretending to be the crocodile!

The pirates stole the show, but Tiger Lily and her band of fighters were also a highlight for my girl. She giggled her way through Tiger Lily and Peter boasting about their escape from Captain Hook as a furious Wendy tried (and failed) to point out that it was in fact her cunning that effected the rescue – this was my favourite scene also, perhaps because it was reminiscent of the squabbles that take place daily in our house!

It’s occurred to me that I have not really mentioned the music at all so far. This isn’t because I didn’t enjoy it – quite the opposite – but more that I don’t really have the musical understanding or technical vocabulary to describe it, nor do I have the knowledge to place it in any sort of context. What I can say is that though it took me a while to get my head around the operatic singing style and pared-down dialogue, my daughter seemed to instantly feel at home; also the fact we’re both humming along to parts of the show this morning speaks for itself I think.

The story ends as we all know it will – despite the excitement of Neverland, and much to Peter’s disgust, the children fly back to Nana and the heartbroken Mr and Mrs Darling – accompanied by the Lost Boys, all welcomed with open arms. A happy ending for the Darlings, though as always, we are left to wonder about Peter and Tink as they return to Neverland….

Peter Pan is on at the Wales Millennium Centre on 23rd and 31st May, at the Birmingham Hippodrome on 11th June, and the Royal Opera House, London on July 24th and 25th.

**Disclosure – we were kindly invited to Peter Pan by the Welsh National Opera, in exchange for writing a review**

And so it starts….but where will it end?

I’ve been wending my way towards this point for four years or so. Saving the pennies, appointing and working with an architect, discussing plans, going through the Planning process, getting approval from Building Control, navigating the Party Wall Act, choosing a builder, and most recently installing a new hot water system in readiness (thanks Dad for that bit!)

Although all these tasks have been steps on the journey towards our loft conversion, I’ve never really believed that it will actually happen. I know that sounds weird, but I guess it’s at least partly due to the fact that however stressful the journey up until now has been, I know in my heart that the real stress is yet to come. And of course the best way to deal with impending doom is bury my head as far in the sand as possible.

Sand or not, here we are. The loft is cleared out ready; the materials are ordered; scaffolding is going up in a couple of weeks and it is *just* possible that we could move into the new room at the beginning of the summer holidays. I’ve even got a vague colour scheme in my head and have started spending a lot of time on Pinterest in search of ideas I can nick inspiration….though I know from the bitter experience of friends who’ve had loft conversions that this might be a little premature.

You’d think I’d be excited to have the end in sight, after all this preparation and planning. But I’m not. Mostly, I just feel sick. How can I project manage something like this on my own?  What if the house falls down or something really awful happens? How am I going to keep everyone on an even keel when things go wrong? How am I going to hold everything together for everyone when we can’t move for dust and boxes? How am I going to deal with the Husband’s stress levels, already stratospheric before we have even begun? How on earth did I think that I could manage all this on top of everything else?

My lovely friend Lottie who blogs at The Secret Divorcee wrote a post last week about the ‘pinch points’ we encounter in life. In it she says :

‘Things are a bit shit. But the glory of getting old is experience; I know that this melancholy won’t last forever. I’ve been here before, and the knots eventually untangle, revealing a simpler, happier time.  I’m lucky enough to recognise that, although the day-to-day me is on the floor at the moment, there are some good things going on too…’

I’m also getting old, and usually I’m not too bad at waiting for the knots to untangle. But right now, I’m at the very pointiest end of the pinch and I’m finding it hard to see past everything that could go wrong in the next few months. I’m sure that as Lottie says a simpler, happier time will reveal itself. I just have to batten down the hatches and wait.

Wish me luck.