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1000 miles January - An ultra a day
Vic Owens, aka The Happy Runner only started running in 2016, but has quickly become a prolific ultra runner, taking on challenges so tough that no one else would dream of doing them! Vic currently holds the FKT for The Monarch's Way, running 625 miles. In January 2021 she took on one of her most daunting challenges yet: running 32 miles every single day of January. In this blog Vic explains how she managed throughout the month, dealing with all sorts of challenges including Covid-19!
I'd never intended to run 1000 miles in January, in fact two weeks before it wasn't even a consideration.
The plan was to run Mark Cockbain's Frozen Accumulator. This was an event that anyone who wanted to attempt, could. There was no sign-up fee, no pressure, just everyone running routes of their choice from their own locations and uploading required milage logs as proof. You could run the event forwards or backwards. Forwards meant you ran the miles of the day, so on the 1st you'd run one mile, on the 2nd you'd run two miles and so on. Running it backwards meant you'd do the calendar in reverse, on the 1st you'd run 31 miles, on the 2nd, 30miles and countdown to 1 mile gradually each day.
I decided I wanted a pop at this event, I was conditioning my feet to more road running in training for Lon Las in October, and I'd decided this was going to be a good way to up my road miles gradually without my feet getting too sore. I run in zero drop, zero conditioned shoes, and I am always out on the trails. Conditioning my feet to road for Lon Las (250 miles of hard underfooting) was going to be vital so what better way than to slowly increase my daily milage and let my feet adapt. But then about a week before it started Mark threw a spanner in the works. He announced a News Flash in his Facebook group "The Hard Stuff" (no clues for why it's named that!).
"News Flash: Frozen Accumulator. Can anyone complete BOTH directions at the same time? I.e. a month of 32 a day (992)!" I stared at those words for ages.. could I? I responded with a feeble.. "Both? What even? Pls explain" in a hope I'd misread it. I hadn't.. and very stupidly without much thinking I said "I'm in". So there it was. I was going to run the Frozen Accumulator both ways, running the mileage of the month up whilst adding the mileage of the month down.. basically put I had just signed up to run 32 miles every single day of January and it had to be one logged run, the 32 miles could not be split into multiple runs during the day.
I waited a few more days to tell my husband.. I recall him shaking his head as I tried to causally slip it into conversation. Next I told my dad, the brains behind a lot of my long runs. We worked out I could definitely complete 14 days, I had that experience under my belt already. 2 more would probably follow. 16 days, that's how far we planned for. Whatever happened after that would be a bonus.
The 1st January came. I woke up excited and eager to get the 32 miles under my belt.
I got a 6am start and the miles flew by. I was full of adrenaline and hope. I was finished by lunch and feeling rather smug with myself. The next four days also flew by. The 5th of January was slightly more tricky.
On the 5th my husband Rob returned to work. This complicated things. Both our children Sophie (13) and Olly (10) are home schooled. My younger brother Alexander, who suffers from severe brain damage, also lives with us and as a family we help care for him. With Rob back at work, time was no longer my friend. This was when the idea of running round our garden came into the equation.
We have quite a nice sized patch of garden to the side of the children's play area, which we have been cultivating and growing our own food on. I decided that day I'd run round it. This would allow me to be at home with the children and my brother and get my miles in. Whilst they played on their scooters and enjoyed a picnic brunch, I ran. I ran 240 laps round the plantation patch to get my 32 miles of the day. When I started running it was grassy underfoot. By halfway that grass had been trod and the grass had turned into muddy slush. By the time 32 miles came, there was a very clear trod track to be seen.
Day 7 my left leg swelled up. This wasn't the best result only one week in. There wasn't any pain so I didn't feel overly concerned. The garden loops had very likely taken a toll, the constant turning in a small area. I decided to take the next two days slightly easier, doing longer stretches down the main part of our village, no tight corner turns involved, and made sure I got my leg up as much as possible during the rest of the day. This seemed to do the trick. Within 48 hours the swelling was gone.
The next week brought snow, this was quite a challenge. It was quite literally freezing outside and my hands were constantly numb. It still amazes me how my feet managed to keep warm. I wore socks those days in my Vibram Five Fingers for some added warmth and that certainly helped. With the snow turning swiftly to ice I was rather concerned about slipping and hurting myself which made me extra cautious. Thankfully I managed to keep both feet on the ground.
Another thing I had to be cautious of was the fact we were currently in lockdown and had been asked to stay close to home. This presented a challenge when wanting to run 32 miles a day. I'd decided I'd abide by the lockdown rules by ensuring I was always close to home and at no point would I leave our village, Denbigh. This meant at no point when I was out running, was I ever more than two miles from my house.
Day 12 was another day I needed to maximize time by staying home, but I didn't fancy running around the garden again, the temperature was still very low and the track I'd trod up hadn't recovered, instead it had become hard and clumpy, and rather frozen. This left the driveway as the only other option. Our driveway is L shaped. It runs along the side of the house and round to the front. The shingly gravel meant it wasn't too slippery and I thought it would be my best bet if I had to tackle my miles at home. However I also knew in such a small area it was unlikely my Garmin would pick up the distance accurately as I ran it and I would in fact be doing more mileage than my watch managed to record. I put this thought to the back of my mind and started my driveway ultra. Mentally, it was a tough day, but I pushed through regardless reminding myself constantly the only numbers that mattered where the ones on my watch. 458 laps later and my watch ticked over to 32 miles. Relief is an understatement of how I felt at that moment.
Day 15 was the first day I struggled to get out the door.
Mother nature came to visit, whispering doubts into my ear.. "You've not got the energy today" "Cramps are only gonna hurt more if you run" "You can't KTape a period away"! It took everything I had to get out the door that day, it was a day that the miles dragged out, it was one of the first days I put music into my ears for the entire duration and attempted to zone out and just run. Day 16 was a celebration! I wasn't entirely sure how I had made it half way, but somehow I had! On the flip side it was remarkably daunting. I was ONLY half way.. everything I'd done, I had to do all over again. Every day that I continued was a day I hadn't expected to achieve. Mentally it was a mind game, one half of me surged on by what I'd accomplished so far, the other half daunted by how far I had to go.
I had expected to get marginally slower as each day passed, however I managed to stay quite constant. By the third week in, things were starting to get mentally tough. I'd talked a close friend Brian into doing the Accumulator with me and even though he resisted the temptation to take on the double, we swapped daily messages, photos and mind games to keep each other motivated. My best friend Gavin was also doing the Accumulator, again quite possibly on my encouragement and we often ran at the same time and over the phone talked some miles away. All these little things helped pass the time and kept me focused.
Some very early starts, like the 4am ones, were tough on my stomach. It was too early to eat any solid food and I generally struggle with early morning nausea. Those were the days I relied solely on Active Root to fuel me through the miles. One thing I didn't do that month was take any gels. I was very conscious of never getting too much of a spurt on and very rarely found myself in a situation when I felt like I had nothing left in the tank.
I tended to refuel up on solid foods after a run, and use my Active Root throughout my run with a small snack added which I'd take little bites of during the miles. This allowed me to stay fuelled without putting too much pressure on my stomach having to process and digest big solid foods and it worked really well for me. Foot wise, my feet started to feel sore from the pounding of the pavements during that third week and I can't say I blame them. They held out a lot longer than I expected before the soreness came.
It wasn't until day 21 with just 10 days left that it dawned on me.. I might just finish this! I began to count down each day and excitement crept in. I recall one day my mum phoned me when I was running and told me she was going to run with me virtually whilst on the phone. She ran round her kitchen and through her hallway for over an hour to support me. When I stopped because I had finished my miles for the day, she continued until she had run the same amount I had run whilst on the phone to her. I'm not sure she was able to move very well the next day.
Finally day 31 came. It was a Sunday, and I had planned to start at midday. Leading up to this final day Mark had again thrown another spanner in the works. He'd proposed I run 40 miles the last day to round up the month’s total up to 1000 miles. Of course I obliged.
On Sunday the 31st of January I set out to complete my Double Frozen Accumulator. I ran my fastest 32 of the month and completed the 40 miles in 7hrs 17mins. I finished the last mile in my garden, accompanied by my family as they ran laps round the garden with me. On finishing I had the biggest smile on my face. I had done it!
1000 miles, total time of 204hr 33m, the equivalent of 8 and a half days solid.
3 out of the 31 days I spent entirely in my garden. I did 2 front garden ultras, and 1 drive way ultra (that one was interesting!)
Out of the 1000 miles, I racked up 306 in my garden and the other 694 I spent round my little village Denbigh, and even at my furthest point, I was never more than 2miles from home.
I'm a trail runner, I feast in the climbs which bring me to the most stunning views and the feel of the soft ground under my barefoot shoes. This month, and 694 miles on road, was an immense challenge for me mentally. I was surprised and amazed just how quickly my body adapted.
The human body is incredibly resilient, and when we listen to it and treat it with the utmost respect, we can experience the most incredible adventures.