August 2017, Saturday morning, 8am, The North Face Store, Regents Street
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus on, shorts, a t-shirt, a backpack containing a few snacks and a change of clothes (as directed), I headed to the The North Face Store, to meet the rest of the team.
“Hi, I’m Katie!” I said to the friendly lady with the clipboard. “Hi Katie,” she said. “Some people are grabbing coffee and breakfast from Pret, then we’ll be getting on the coach. Feel free to do the same.”
“I’ve already eaten,” I told her, smug that I’d fuelled up with my porridge already. So I got straight onto the coach. I wish I could tell you what I was feeling at the time. But honestly, I can’t remember. Looking back on it now, I am just so proud that I took myself out of my comfort zone. I came a long way from the girl who ran age 17.
Conversation was easy on the coach. Everyone was incredibly friendly, especially Jana (the one with the clipboard) – we’re still friends now.
We piled out of the coach, stretched out our legs and got running. There must have been about 30 of us, with roughly 3-4 leaders. The pace was slow and we stopped regularly. The trails didn’t feel too dissimilar to what I used to run back home, in Alice Holt Forest – compact gravel if you stick to the paths. I started to wonder why the sign-up website had said ‘TRAIL SHOES ARE A MUST’. I mean, I was doing just fine in my Nike road shoes…
We talked, we ran, we shared snacks. Everyone was so nice. Are all runners this nice? (I can confirm, after the last three years of meeting lots of new runners, yes, runners are just wonderful people).
By this time, I had upgraded to a Garmin Forerunner 235 watch. By 15k I was watching the screen, then jumped with joy as I easily slipped into my longest run ever. “This is the furthest you have ever run?” Jana and her colleague Jack asked me. “Yes” I said proudly. “Wow, you’re a natural!” Still, no one had commented on my shoes.
At the pub afterwards, I asked why everyone carried water and snacks in these special vests. Soon, I found out most people on the run were either complete beginners or using this as training for longer runs. “How long are we talking?” I asked them. “Oh, anything from marathons to ultras”. Ultras, this was a term I hadn’t heard before. “You know, anything over a marathon,” said Jana.
I soon found out that many of them regularly ran ultras, up to 100k or even 100 miles! Suddenly, I was full of questions. “But what do you eat, how do you go to the toilet?” I’ll never forget Jana telling me she eats baby food on the way around, as it’s easy to digest, along with snacks like fruit, nuts, gels and energy bars.
I was hooked. I went along the next month too, and the next. I joined the social groups and very quickly became part of the community. I finally felt like I belonged somewhere; I finally felt like I had found a balance. I was no longer escaping. I was happy, feeding off the endorphins, hungry for more.
After sliding down a hill and straight into barbed wire on my second run, I soon invested in some cheap trail shoes. They did the job until winter came.