Bump, Bike & Baby: Endurance Woman Author

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Mum to Aran four, and Cahal two, Moire O’Sullivan, 42 is author of Bump, Bike & Baby. She lives in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland and is married to Pete Power, 48. Fiona Bugler met her to talk about being an endurance woman, an author and mum of two.

Tell us about youR life pre kids?

‘I’ve always been an advendurer. Before having children, I worked in the charity sector, and lived and worked full-time in Kenya for seven years before picking up employment in Vietnam, Nepal, and Cambodia. Even when I was technically living at home in Ireland, I ended up travelling on assignment to places as far flung as Afghanistan, Rwanda, Bangladesh, and East Timor.

‘I took up mountain running at the age of 30. As well as winning Ireland’s Mountain Running Championship in 2007 and 2008, in 2009 I became the first person to complete the Wicklow Round (after a failed attempt in 2008), a 100K circuit of Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains covering twenty-six summits to be completed within 24 hours. I subsequently wrote about my Wicklow Round battles in the book, ‘Mud, Sweat and Tears – An Irish Woman’s Journey of Self-Discovery.’

And then you had kids… how does the story progress?

‘When Pete, my husband, and I suggested to others that we wanted to start a family, everyone was sceptical that we could pull it off. We had such busy lives already that no one could figure out how we would find the time to fit in kids also.

‘Having children changed life. In three small words – an awful lot.  Though initially I thought I would go back to work, I didn’t in the end. My husband and I did the sums, we discussed how we ultimately wanted to raise our two children, and in the end we decided that I would stay at home to mind our two boys. I never thought I would be a stay-at-home mum, but I must admit it’s worked out well in the end.

‘Because I have a lot less free time on my hands now with two boys to take care of, I am much more focused when it comes to training and racing. Before I might hear about a Saturday event during the week and decide spontaneously to do it. Now I plan all my races at the beginning of the year for the coming 12 months.

‘Straight after my first child, Aran, was born, I also started working with a coach, Eamonn Tilley, to help me get back in shape. Having a coach means that all my training now has a specific purpose and is designed to reach my racing goals. Gone are the days when I go for a run or a bike just for a bit of fun and a wander.’

How did you manage sport through pregnancy?

‘During my first pregnancy, I forced myself to keep going as long as I could. I bought a new road bike when I was 12 weeks pregnant and joined a new cycling club. I competed in a five-hour adventure race when I was nearly five months gone. I kept running until my third trimester when I got a horrible stitch and gave myself a scare. I even went orienteering when I had only a month left. I was effectively in denial, desperate to do as much as I could before the baby came along.

‘Second time around I was much more sensible. I listened to my coach Eamonn and did the gentler sessions he suggested. The most racing I did this time around was a 5k at 25  weeks. I was also far too tired to be doing any crazy training or racing. I was too busy running after Aran, who was by then an active toddler. Having a toddler in the house while pregnant can sometimes feel like competing in an arduous endurance race!’

You clearly love the great outdoors – what is it you most enjoy?

‘I love the solitude that I only seem to find in the mountains, the fact that I can have the whole place to myself within a few minutes of leaving the nearest car park. I love the challenge of being in the wilderness, of finding my way using just a map and compass so that I end up in places few frequent. I also enjoy the chance to learn humility when the great outdoors decide that they don’t want me around, chasing me away with bad weather or inclement terrain.’

What are your sporting-career highlights?

‘I am really proud of winning Ireland’s National Adventure Race Series three times. My two children, Aran and Cahal, were born in 2013 and 2015, and I won the series in the intervening years, in 2014 and 2016, while I was still breastfeeding both of them. Curious to see how fast I could go when not breastfeeding, I lined up again in 2017 and managed to retain the title, winning four races out of four in the process.’

What’s been your biggest challenge in sport?

‘Self-belief was an issue for years. When I saw how long a race was, or the type of elite athletes who had registered, I often told myself that I wasn’t good enough to participate. I was very lucky, however, in that I had friends who, at critical junctures, told me to stop being ridiculous and encouraged me to at least have a go. Of course, there were times I crashed and burned, but I learned a lot from turning up and giving it my best.

‘I’ve been mountain running now for over a decade, so self-belief is less of an issue. Now it’s more a case of battling with the fact that I know how much a race is going to hurt. I realize that, back when I started mountain running, ignorance was actually bliss.’

Tell us about writing and your inspiration?

‘My first book, Mud, Sweat and Tearswas written in 2009, the same year that I did the Wicklow Round. Completing the Round taught so much about myself that I wanted others to know how amazing mountain running is and how much you can grow personally through the sport. As I said in the book, ‘I’m proud that I’m not someone who says, “I can’t do that.” I’m someone who says, “I won’t know until I try”… I hope that more women learn to believe in themselves, because when we dig deep, it’s amazing what lies inside.’ I looked for publishers for two years before finally deciding to self-publish in 2011.’

‘Six years on, when I decided to write Bump, Bike and Baby, I sent a submission to the Scottish publisher, Sandstone Press. By then, I had only written the first two chapters. On the basis of these six-thousand words, they gave me a contract and I finished the book within three months. Bump, Bike and Baby is the book I’d have liked to have read before becoming pregnant. It is a warts and all account of pregnancy and becoming a mum. In it, I admit that, though indeed becoming a parent is an incredible experience, the whole process can really test you to the core. For example, there is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique. Neither of my kids slept through the night until they were eighteen months old. Women athletes also need to know that they may suffer from various childbirth-related side effects such as stress incontinence and mastitis, both of which hit me hard while racing post-childbirth.’

Do you always have a goaL?

‘I’ve always got something I’m aiming for, whether it is to race or write a book or raise a family. Training-wise, I’m preparing to do the Denis Rankin Round this summer. This is a mountain running challenge like the Bob Graham Round or Wicklow Round but is set in the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland. It is a ninety-kilometer course with 6,500 metres of ascent covering 39 peaks that must be completed within 24 hours.

‘I’ve also written another book entitled the Asian Adventures of Tom the Dog that I’m currently submitting to publishers. It’s about our dog, Tom, who we rescued from certain death in Hanoi, Vietnam while my husband and I were working there. Tom then joined us on a whirlwind tour of Asia, where he dodged rabid street-dogs in Cambodia, blood sucking leeches in Nepal, and corrupt customs officials at various borders before finally returning home with us to Ireland in 2012.’

When do you find time to write/train – what’s a typical day like for Moire?

‘I get up when my youngest Cahal decides to get up, which can be anything from a 4am to a lie-in at 7am. Household duties fill my time until I drop Aran to playgroup and Cahal to a wonderful local childminder at 9am. I then have the rest of the morning to do my training, whether that is a bike ride, run, or time on the rowing machine. I collect the kids around noon and bring them home for lunch. By 2pm, we’re out again, this time to the beautiful nearby Kilbroney Park, which was the inspiration for C.S. Lewis’s Narnia in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. There we walk Tom our dog while the boys ride their bikes. If there is time, we’ll pop into the playground for a while.

‘When we get home, Cahal might have dropped off to sleep, which gives me an hour or two to do some writing or marketing for my current book. Before I know it, it’s time to cook dinner and do the usual bath, book, and bed routine before we’re all in bed by 9 pm.’

Do you focus on nutrition/health in general – if so what do you do? 

‘It’s really important for me to eat properly if I want to train and race competitively. Occasionally my coach gets me to keep a full week’s food diary to make sure I’m getting enough calories, consuming the right kinds of food, and that I’m eating frequently (at least every three hours) throughout the day. I also make sure that I cook everything from scratch so I know exactly what I’m eating.

‘My other agenda is to create good healthy eating habits in the house so that my two boys eat well too. I don’t think there is a parent who isn’t worried about the current obesity crisis. I know, however, that if I want the boys to enjoy broccoli, sweet potatoes, and chicken, then they have to see me eating them as well. Of course, there is room for the occasional ice-cream, but that is definitely only an occasional treat!

Do you use any mental tricks for endurance?

‘For challenges like the 24 hour Rounds, it would wreck your head if you thought about the enormity of the course. Such a thought would probably prevent me from even attempting! It therefore becomes a case of breaking it down to each mountain top and getting into a rhythm of: one, go uphill; two, eat something while ascending; three, check the map and compass before the summit; four, hit the summit; five, run down other side in the right direction, and doing this over and over again until you’re finished.

‘If things get tough I just think that, if I keep going, at least I’ll be closer to the finish and one step closer to home. The idea of going home, having a cup of tea and hanging out with the family is enough to keep me going.

What does a typical training week look like?

‘My coach thankfully takes all the thinking out of my training. He develops plans based on my suggested races and then uploads them to a shared spreadsheet that I fill in on a daily basis. I typically train two hours in the morning with fifteen to thirty minutes of strength and conditioning in the evening. I rest on Saturdays, and on Sundays I’ll do a maximum of three hours. I very rarely skip training unless I have an injury or no one to mind the kids. Having a coach who’s checking up on my Garmin data means I daren’t skip a session!’


An Interview With Marvellous Mimi Anderson

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Mimi Anderson, 55, is an ultra runner and a phenomenon – the very definition of endurance woman. She doesn’t give up. She finds opportunities when things change. At the start of this week, she tweeted: ‘I’ve had 18 years of running around the world it’s been AMAZING but I stay positive that new & exciting adventures will happen with my cycling & swimming: When one door closes another opens. There’s always another door we just need to search for it!’

I don’t have the space to  list the multiple record holder’s achievements and fortunately she’s selected her highlights on her own blog, which include running double versions of ‘hard to get your head around’ ultra races such as, Badwater, the Grand Union Canal 145 mile race and Spartathlon. Mimi’s recently documented her running life in a book, Beyond Impossible: From Reluctant Runner to Guinness World Record BreakerI spoke to her (interestingly, my longest interview to date) about her life as a runner and how she’s adapting after a recent run-stopping injury…

‘I’ve bought myself a turbo, and I’m having swimming lessons,’ Mimi tells me as we start to chat. ‘I promised myself I’d learn how to do front crawl.’ She started learning to swim on the 5th January, by blowing bubbles in the water. As a child she’d seen her sister nearly drown and had she says subconsciously it turned her against swimming. But now she’s up to swimming one length without stopping, and although she finds it frustrating she’s feeling determined. But why is the record-breaking ultra runner swimming?

In 2017, Mimi ran 2, 217.2 miles across the USA, that’s three quarters of the way across the third largest Continent in just 40 days. She was aiming to run 2,850 miles in 53 days but the excruciating pain of serious knee injury that if she’d carried on running would have left her in wheelchair meant the end of the challenge – and for now, it seems an end to her running career. ‘Bone was rubbing against bone and the pain levels were unbearable, even for me,’ she says.

‘At first I felt like I’d lost my identity,’ says Mimi, who’s been running big challenges for 18 years. ‘It’s been like grieving. But, I’ve shaken myself up and I’m focussed on looking forward. I’m thinking about maybe doing a half Ironman and I’ve entered a big bike ride. I can’t think small,’ she adds laughing.

The Start

Mimi’s running career did, however, start with a small idea. ‘I wanted thinner legs,’ she admits. ‘I hadn’t done any sport since school and when I first went to the gym and got on the treadmill, I felt very self-conscious. My first goal was to run a mile.’

Before her 18-year relationship with running, she’d had almost the same amount of time caught up in a far less healthy battle, with the eating disorder, anorexia nervosa. ‘Like lots of girls it started off at school when someone called me fat. I was at a boarding school which I loved and in sports was quite competitive.  The weight loss began by cutting down on second helpings, then puddings until eventually I was skipping meals. But I’m an addictive type and I soon became obsessed with losing weight and keeping it off.’

Mimi managed her anorexia and in 1985 gave birth to Emma and had her second child Ruariadh in 1987 but after each birth the cycle would start again. Mimi was weighing herself about 10 times a day, taking over 100 laxatives and vomiting when she did eat food – this had to stop. She eventually plucked up the courage to go and see her doctor to ask for help and was treated as an outpatient at St George’s hospital.  Part of the treatment was having to consume 3,000 calories a day, ‘This was terrifying,’ she says. ‘But I continued to lose weight. By the time my third child, Harry came along in 1993, I was weighing myself up to 10 times a day.’

‘After eight weeks of treatment at St George’s it was obvious it wasn’t working so it was decided that Mimi should be admitted as an impatient at an eating disorder unit.  With children to care for Mimi decided she had to find an alternative way of overcoming her anorexia and a friend recommended she tried hypnotherapy.

‘At first, I’d hear the traffic, all the noises around me, but couldn’t open my eyes.  I was certain I couldn’t be hypnotised, and would sometimes be naughty and scratch my nose or twitch my face to show I wasn’t hypnotised. But eventually, stuff came out, things I’d forgotten and had planted deep within myself. After one year, I knew I was free of my eating disorder.’

A new beginning

In 1999, Mimi took her running outside. ‘The significance of the distance I ran didn’t occur to me. I just loved the freedom, and very quickly I was running five miles out and five miles back. It felt natural to me.’

With long distance running Mimi had found her peace. A 10K was quickly followed by the Hastings Half Marathon in 2000. Next she had entered and completed the Thames Path Meander – ‘I wasn’t frightened by the distance, I saw it as an adventure’ – and then in 2001, she was one of just 12 women (now there are 40 plus women) who took on the race described as the ‘toughest footrace on the earth’, the Marathon Des Sables, a multi-stage 251K ultra marathon, held in the Sahara desert and run over six days. ‘I was one of a team of three, called Tuff Muthers. We were very lucky in that we managed to get sponsorship and were able to pay for a week’s training in Lanzarote. We turned up at the gym in our heels and the trainer looked at us as if were mad, and said, in disbelief you really think you can run in a desert? By the time we’d finished the week’s training, he said he’d never seen anyone work so hard and had no doubts were up for the challenge.’

The Marathon Des Sables

But, when it did come to the race, Mimi hit an unexpected barrier. ‘I was put on a drip for dehydration and felt awful. It had never occurred to me that I may not come home with a medal, that I may not complete the race, but on the day before the longest day of the race, it was looking like some far-off dream.’ A hug and some words from her friend reminded her why she would complete the race. ‘Just think of all the people expecting you to fail,’ she’d said. ‘As I watched the runners ahead of me pouring over the Dunes like ants, tears rolled down my cheeks, and I promised myself I’d finish.

‘It was such a fantastic feeling. I’d proven I wasn’t some dumb blonde on a long holiday, I felt as though I could achieve anything. As for the medal, I slept with it for the whole week after the race!’

Let the Good Times Roll

From then on Mimi’s achievements continued with one or more big races every year. It seems strange to not mention all of her challenges, one of them, for example, coming third in the Marathon of Britain, a 175-mile run done over six days, would be enough for most of us to dine out on for a lifetime, but for Mimi there are so many epic achievements, that it has to be edited highlights.

‘I’d heard about Badwater around the end of 2003. Back then not so much was shared online so I was gleaning bits of information. I knew not many Brits had done it and that to run it you had to qualify by running 100 miles in under 40 hours. I set my sights on the Grand Union Canal race, and everyone told me I was mad to go for sub 40 hours. I ran it in 39’39.

Badwater covers 135 miles (217km) non-stop, starting in Badwater Basin, Death Valley, at the lowest elevation in North America at 280’ (85m) below sea level and finishing at Whitney Portal at 8,300’ (2530m), which is the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit, the highest point in the contiguous United States. The course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600’ (4450m) of cumulative vertical ascent and 6,100’ (1859m) of cumulative descent. ‘It’s held in July, it’s very hot and there was a time limit of 60 hours,(now it’s 48 hours)’ explains Mimi. ‘It was a must-do,’ she adds. Mimi first ran the race in 2005 and managed to run under 48 hours (41 hours and five mins) which meant she was awarded the much coveted ‘Buckle’. You can read her blog here. Then in 2011, Mimi went on to a far greater challenge, running the race twice. She became the female course record holder, completing the 292 miles in 108 hrs 10 mins 24 seconds (at the time the third fastest ever crossing). Read more about that race here.

Mimi’s Training

So how did Mimi, a mum of three fit in the training and commitment required to complete these challenges? ‘Running became my full-time job,’ she says. ‘But I still made sure it fitted around family life, running a baseline of five sessions a week on Monday to Friday, and then doing nothing at all on Sunday as this was family time.’ Like many of the elite, long distance athletes I’ve spoken to, Mimi avoided getting too hung up with stats. ‘I had no idea how many miles I ran. I never kept a journal or logs. I had no phone, no watch, no GPS and when I did have a plan it had to be very flexible, especially when racing. I had to listen to my body and realise I could only run as fast as it would allow me to (I’m not naturally fast but I can go long!).’ But setting a clear goal was vital. ‘Without a goal race I would just be floating along,’ explains Mimi.

Mind Power

What about the mind? Do long distance runners in particular need to focus their attention on training their mind? ‘I believe the mind plays a huge part in my ability to run long and keep going. I’m someone who is happy to put myself out there. I’m determined, and I don’t like to fail.

‘Before I race I like to reccy the course and familiarise myself with the hills, the flats, the hard and easy parts. I like to look at photos of others who’ve done the race. When I’m running I keep looking forward at what’s ahead, and avoid looking around. Running for 30-plus hours requires me to empty my head of all thoughts. I listen to music – and I cry. Crying is a great way to release pent-up emotions. I also use visualisation and picture my family at the finish line.’

After the initial disappointment about her injury and having to abandon her run across America, it’s clear that Mimi has applied all she’s learnt as a runner to his next chapter, where she’s learning to swim, discovering Zwift and even buying brightly coloured socks for cycling! Mimi went from ordinary mum to extraordinary athlete, inspiring others along the way. Now as she heads off on the journey to be a triathlete, this extraordinary grandmother is a trail blazer in true endurance woman-style showing 50 plus women what’s possible. Take a leaf out of Mimi’s book and put yourself out there. You never know what’s ahead until you try.

Follow Mimi on Social Media:

Twitter: @MarvellousMimi

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/marvellousmimi/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mimi.anderson.526



Junior Doctor Takes on Spartathlon

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Last week I chatted with fellow Brighton Triathlon Club Member, Kat Ganly, 33, about her real passion, ultra running. In May 2017 she ran the legendary Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ which follows the mountainous spine of Wales from north to south. “This incredible five-day journey is 315KM  long with 15,500 metres of ascent across wild, trackless, remote and mountainous terrain” states the website. Kat says: ‘it’s tough’. Continuing her epic year, in October 2017, she took on the 250K (153-mile) Spartathlon, an iconic race and a bucket-list event for any ultra runner  (for those who can qualify. Last year, well known sports presenter and ultra runner  Vassos Alexander from BBC Radio 2 also took part).

Kat is a junior doctor and trainee anaesthetist, and yes, that means long hours, study and shifts at ungodly hours. She kind of makes a mockery of the ‘I haven’t got time excuse’! She’s under-stated and a fine example of someone living a life of just doing it. She counts time on her feet, not miles and pushes her boundaries every year.

Kat started running a decade ago when she gave up smoking. She started with a half marathon, then she moved onto ultra running.  In her 10-year running career she’s fitted in a 40 and 50 miler ultra, then four 100 mile races, The Grand Union Canal 145-mile run and the Marathon des Sables as well as the two big races in 2017.

She loves running on the trails. She loves the solitude and the space she gets from running. Running has changed her life. It’s given her confidence and with each boundary she’s broken, she grows in strength – and it’s taught her that she can do more than she ever thought she could.

Kat’s takeaway:

Set small goals that you can  reach – and then you keep going forward.

Listen to what she’s got to say as we chat in a noisy Brighton pub!

Guest Blog: Seven Years to go from Zero To 100-mile Ultra Runner

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Victoria Fraser, a 42 year-old pharmacy technician and ultra runner from Oxfordshire  sent me her blog. She’s single and has one daughter, Heidi, age 15.  She started running with a five-mile race in 2010. Seven years later she’d completed a 100-mile off-road race. And her appetite for distance hasn’t waned…

“Did I find ultra running or did running find me?  It was like a calling, one of those things that fitted into my life, without me really trying to fit it in. Only twice before in my life has that happened. The first time, when I was a dancer, and the second, when I started my pharmacy career.

’And my introduction to running was accidental. I never planned to do it  Some people have a  bucket list in life often including running a marathon, I never had this and I really had no wish to run big distances, or even a Parkrun. It just happened!

‘It began at work when a colleague’s daughter was running a five-mile charity fun run at Blenheim Palace, I said I’d sponsor her. Then without thinking, I said I’d do it too. ‘What? Why did I say that?’ I hadn’t run since school. I certainly wasn’t unfit – I’d been a dancer up to the age of 20 and then did a lot of cycling to keep fit – but since becoming a mum I lived in a whirl of crazy activity and hadn’t followed a structured fitness regime.

‘So, the five-mile fun run day arrived April 2010 Because it was only five miles I didn’t train – no need right? Only five miles? Ouch!  No proper training and not wearing the right running shoes taught me the hard way. My lungs were screaming after the first mile, but I still finished in just over an hour and was buzzing that I’d done it. When I got home, still aching, I was looking for more…

‘The next step was to enter an off-road 10K, the Candleford Canter, organised by Alchester Running Club in Bicester. Every weekend I increased the mileage by just half to one mile usually running twice at weekends . I completed the 10k in just over an hour.  Without a great master plan I just started to run more. Gradually, as I ran further, and continued to refine my training, I felt confident to set bigger goals, and very soon , six months later  I ran  an off-road half marathon.

’I was becoming a runner, and it was now more part of my life. And soon I made running friends by joining Runners World online  community, and as runners do, chat about going further, and different races started. And it was in one of these chats the idea was planted to run a marathon. But I was quickly drawn to the ‘dark side’ of ultra running – it was like a magnet for me. My friend, Nick had talked about a 35-mile he had done and it captured my imagination. I knew I had to do it. I entered a marathon in January 2012, but only to use as a stepping stone to the world of ultras. I completed the marathon in January 2012, and was already looking ahead to the Northants Shires and Spires  35-mile race. With this done, the next goal, the Centurion North Downs Way 50 soon followed, it was taking place in August 2012.

‘I was gripped by distance, trails and hills. There was so much to take in, navigation, technical off-road running and nutrition but I was keen to learn and met the right people, asked the right questions and soon I’d become a fully fledged ultra runner.

‘As a mum,  fitting in training could be difficult. And the longer the races and the longer the training runs the more I needed to be organised. My daughter Heidi, who was just seven when I started running, and saw me going out for a short run and her being able to come and watch to mum going to an event and having to leave the night before and not re-appearing until Saturday night! Fitting in more miles has got easier as she’s got older  and early morning runs done before the day’s duties at weekends. Now she’s a teenager and having a mum that runs 100 miles is quite cool! I believe I’m teaching my daughter that there are no limits and if she really wants to do something then she can. Hard work, training, persistence and confidence in yourself will result in achievements.

‘I continued to race in 2013 and 2014 and my body grew stronger and confidently covered the distance. In 2015 I wanted to push it further and so I entered the 100K Race to the Stones. There was no time pressure and I just wanted to cover the distance,  and it felt good knowing I could still run further without injury or issue.

‘By this time I was getting good at knowing which kit worked for me, and how to get fuel,  hydration and pacing right. I’m not fast but I’m a consistent runner. I pace steadily and strongly. I was also learning to trust my mind,  and to respect the fine line between being blasé and thinking nothing will go wrong, and knowing how to push hard.

‘In 2016 I set myself my biggest goal to date, a grand slam of 50-mile races, adding up to 400 miles and 27,000 ft elevation in total. I had a step-by-step approach, and broke each race down into manageable chunks, not daring to think about the next race. It was an amazing year of running! And as I suspected once completed, my appetite to run further was still there.

‘So in 2017 I decide to reach for 100 miles in one go. This was another step up and now I had to consider crew, a pacer, and drop bags – I had to have a plan. I chose the South Downs Way 100 in June. Two months before I’d run the South Downs Way 50 and had knocked a lot of time off the previous race time, so I knew I was in good shape. The night run was fantastic. I knew the second half of the course which would be at night so this helped, and my trusted friend, James acted as my pacer and confidence builder, reminding me I could do it.

‘When it came to the night, it all went to plan. The weather was prefect, there was a full moon all night and I couldn’t have asked for more help than I had. There were tough moments – steep climbs and hallucinations – and there were beautiful moments – looking back over the hills at Southease to see tiny bobbing head torches in he distance!  I arrived in Eastbourne and crossed the line at 8am on Sunday morning, severely sleep-deprived but elated. Later, as I sat with my cup of tea in the sports hall, I smiled to myself as I looked at my 100-mile running buckle resting on my knee, and remembered it had all started with a five-mile run, and once again asked myself, did I find running, or did it find me?

‘As for what’s next. I want to keep seeing what I can do. I hope to complete the Centurion slam of four 100-mile races in 2018, and then I hope to progress into mountain ultras such as Tenerife Blue Trail or Transvulcania Ultra, both of which are on volcanic mountain terrain. The journey continues.’


Mum of three, a three hour marathoner & an ultra runner

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Hannah Turner, 39, from Harpenden, is married to Benjamin. She has three children aged 13, 11 and nine. Finding a group of like-minded women in her ante-natal group and starting running changed her life…

‘I was a sporty child, but when it came to running I was more of a sprinter than a long distance runner. I was forced to cross country by my teacher and though I hated it but I still made myself do it. And that’s true now! But like a lot of people, when I got to my teens I fell off the fitness wagon and found other more important things to do, like going to nightclubs. By my 20s I started a return to sport and joined a women-only gym. Then I met my husband,  Benjamin, a hockey fanatic, and we both joined the hockey club when we moved to Harpenden.

‘But after my first child was born (13 years ago), both of us playing hockey on a Saturday was a no no. At the same time my friend Katie, suggested that our ante-natal group take it in turns to look after the babies and go for short runs. My initial response was no, I fancied going for coffee instead, but eventually I joined them.

‘The first run was one mile, I got stitch and was out of breath, but I stuck with it. Amazingly there were five or six of us in the one ante-natal group and we were all keen to run – and we’ve remained running friends ever since.

‘Running has changed my life. It’s the focus of everything I do now, and I’ve trained to be a personal trainer and an England athletics Coach in Running Fitness, so I can help others get as much out of running as I do. I plan all my running in the day around school hours (my husband works in London full time).

‘From that one-mile run, we got into a routine and after my second child was born, two years later, I decided to give the 10K a go. I ran the race in 48 minutes, and was comfortable, talking all the way round. Like many other runners, at each stage I said I’ll never do the next thing: ‘I’ll never do a race’, then I did; ‘I’ll never do a half’ and I did; and ‘I’ll never do a marathon’ and I did.

‘Training for my first marathon was time-pressured. I now had three young children. I stuck with three runs and one spin class a week.  If you want to run a marathon well, three times a week is not really enough, so I was delighted when I ran 3.21, and that included a walk at  finish. Encouraged by this I decided it was time to take my training a bit more seriously.

‘I committed to a proper training routine and ran five times a week, including speed work. I also took on a running coach, Robbie Britton. I wanted someone else to tell me what to do.

‘What followed were a lot of good races. I’d already started doing ultra running and  had come fourth in the 50K Royal Parks Ultra. I then had six months training for London. I got PBs across the board including  3.01 (although Strava did say 2.59) for the marathon. After the marathon I did the solo Thunder Run and I won it.

‘I’m pretty sure the reason it worked was because I had total faith in my training prescribed by Robbie. Was it different to what I would have planned? Maybe not. But the important thing is I believed in it.  I also make running a priority. I’m very organised. And I say to my personal training clients the same thing. In fact, I often plan my personal training client sessions around my running.

‘In practical terms, what helped me was pulling back a bit and doing less. I’m amazed at the amount of easy runs I do. And ultra training is not hugely different to marathon. I also did regular parkruns which helped me stay faster (especially as I was  trying to keep ahead of my 13 year old son). I didn’t do massive mileage, and peaked at 40 to 50 miles. I often ran with friends at their pace at 8 to 9 min mile pace, but then I go and do blocks at 6.50 pace near the end of the run when my legs are tired.

‘Eighteen months ago I started to get a pain in my foot. It felt like I had a stone in my shoe, and I wanted to spread my toes to relieve the discomfort. My friend Dawn, said, it sounds like Morton’s Neuroma (she knew because she’d had them!). So I took myself off to the doctor who referred me to a consultant. And lo and behold, I had a Morton’s neuroma. It’s a lump on the nerve in between the third and fourth toe (between other toes it’s just a neuroma).  I had steroid injections, then the other foot started to hurt. More injections followed and the pain got worse.

‘I was lined up to do run the Hampshire Hobbit Marathon and the 100K Race To the Stones, so I went to an osteopath who taped up my feet around the soles of my foot and on the sides. I won both races. It was brilliant!

‘But then I had lots of injuries, which I think was because I was running differently, so I took up biking. I did find doing cycling sessions harder, but I still managed a few duathlons and a 100-mile race. The pain was awful and I had to pull out of the Milton Keynes marathon after 16 miles. I then did the Birmingham marathon and I knew going into it that I’d get to 15 to 20 miles and be in a lot of pain – it was mind over matter, but when I got the end of the race, I was determined to do something about this. I took myself back to the consultant and the only option is surgery, where the nerve will be removed on both feet. I’ve got no specific goals, because I have to take a month off.

‘I’m a better mum and wife because of my running – it makes me happy. When I’m injured I’m grumpier, and just feel moodier. And as for my kids, it’s completely normal to see me in my training gear. I never remember seeing my parents like that. I hope I’m being a good role model. My children all go full in to whatever it is they’ve decided their path is going to be, so I think the dedication and discipline has rubbed off on them.

‘Next for me is to recover from my op, then in-mid January I’ll start again. I’ve still got my eye on that sub three hour marathon.’