Carla Molinaro smashes the LEJOG record by over 10 hours!
2020 has been a strange year, but the rise of the Ultrarunner has been unquestionable, with many names and challenges being thrust into the mainstream media for not only achieving amazing feats of endurance but bagging a world record over these mega distances. Carla Molinaro has to be one of the names that comes top of the list.
She is the latest in a long line of Fastest Known Times (or FKT) achieved on various routes in the UK this summer, having achieved a record-breaking 12 days, 30 minutes, and 14 seconds to complete the LEJOG (Lands end to John O’Groats) on foot on the 28th July 2020. This is one of the longest known record attempts of the summer, and as we all know, summer in the UK means changeable weather, blistering heat, and sideways rain.
Her Outdoors caught up with Carla, three days into her recovery to see how she was feeling, why she took this challenge on, and how the challenge had the flexibility it needed to keep her on record-breaking track.
Q. First of all, a HUGE well done! What an achievement. How is the recovery going?
OK, actually. My ankles are very swollen still but they are getting better and my hamstrings have tightened up a lot. I spoke to my physiotherapist today who has advised me to get on the bike and spin them out, so I will be doing that very slowly.
Q. So are you back home now?
Yes, although it took two days to drive back. I was like ‘Oh my God, how can it be this far…’
Q. ….. Even though you had just run it?
I know right? Dad was a star and drove me back while my feet just swelled in the car. We had to stop a lot so I could keep moving about.
Q. So how long has LEJOG been on the table?
Since the beginning of lockdown. I read Mimi Anderson’s book last year and thought, ‘That’s ridiculous...’ but something must have subconsciously stuck. I re-read it again at the beginning of lockdown and knew this was something I wanted to try. So I got the maps out and started planning.
Q. How do you prepare for something like this, both physically and mentally?
At the start of Lockdown, we were still in South Africa so we were there for five weeks in lockdown and unable to leave the house, so I had to start running up and down the 100m driveway. I suppose this started preparing me for the monotony of keeping going. Once I got back home, I started running with 2-speed sessions a week, then I would do 4 days back to back running. I started this with 15k each day and built this up by 5k per day each week until I hit 50k per day on those 4 days. For something this long, it is difficult to do any more. I didn’t have that much time to do much more and I didn’t want to run the risk of injury.
Q. Sharon Gayter was the previous record holder and ran and supported you on your attempt. How important was it to have her there?
It was really important. I contacted both herself and Mimi to tell them what I was doing and gain advice from them both. Mimi unfortunately could not make the attempt, but having Sharon meet me just north of Shap was great. She is the only person that could possibly know how I felt right at that moment. She was lovely, she ran 10k with me and bought me a cake and we had a really nice chat. That’s the great thing about this sport, people want to see you achieve.
Q. Did you set out with a plan per day and how much of this had to be adjusted on the route?
I set off on the first morning far too quickly. I started averaging 6min per KM and started feeling the DOMS effect by lunchtime that day. I realised I needed to slow down, especially as the route in Cornwall and Devon on those first two days was actually quite brutal!. The hills in Cornwall were largely 3k ups and 3k downs and the hills in Devon were really short and sharp. After day three, I realised I needed more recovery time in my days, so I decided to cut the day off by ten pm whether I had done the mileage or not. Luckily, I had a good 24-hour buffer on my schedule. By doing this, it meant I was in bed by eleven pm, up at four am and running from five am so the sleep deprivation wasn’t nearly as bad.
In the first five days, I was on track in terms of the distance then I fell behind by about thirty to forty km by day seven. I didn’t panic due to the twenty-four hour planned buffer on my schedule and was able to pick the pace back up after having two shorter days.
Q. What were your best and worst moments throughout the challenge?
The best moments had to be sharing this experience so closely with my family. My sister was there the whole time, supporting, sorting social media out, keeping me fed and watered. My brother was there for the first four days of running and helping. He then decided to be there for the last three days as I think he had Fear of Missing Out. My parents were also at the end and supporting me, which meant so much. I also had amazing support outside of my family. People of all abilities were running with me. Guinness World Records need so much evidence that you have covered the distance, so having people jump out and run with you solved that problem. It also let me meet some incredible people. Including one little boy called Lewis, just four years old, who ran by my side in his Dad’s running vest.
The worst moment probably was the daily slump. I went to a dark place daily and couldn’t talk to anyone, I just had to get my head down and get through it. I felt so awful to the people who would come and see me run, or run with me if I felt like this. We had to post out and ask people not to try to run with me between five pm and eight pm just so they weren’t seeing my grumpiness.
Q. So you are also a coach for UK Athletics as well as a Personal Trainer / Sports Massage Practitioner and a Science in Health Exercise and Sport. Do you feel this experience has given you any further insight into body mechanics and recovery?
I already knew how amazing your body can be, but to see just how far it can be pushed is amazing. Unless there is an actual physical injury, you can always run. I think it comes with the experience of knowing your own body and understanding what is a niggle and what is an injury. I am always asking my clients these questions. Are you really tired, or do you just not feel up to it. Get your kit ready the night before and just get up and get it done. Don’t overthink it, just go do it. You can talk yourself out of training so easy and you can use the injury excuse too readily.
Q. Some people love to round up their times especially when running longer distances. Was there any little bit of you that looked at the time you completed and thinks, ‘oooh, I was so close to going under twelve days…’?
Not at all! I couldn’t have run anymore and it didn’t even occur to me at the time. I literally couldn’t have run anymore in those last few hours.
Q. And what is next on the cards for you?
A little time off and a couple of months of gentle running. I would love to do the Western States so I will try to get into their ballot system this year. I was hoping to do the CCC this year after returning to the Comrades again, but everything got cancelled so I might look to try to do the CCC next year. I have done the UTMB course over a couple of days and feel the CCC is more of my kind of race. The comrades won’t be on the cards next year. It takes too much time out of my summer and I would love to give other things ago.
Some of Carla’s other Achievements:
- 1st + Course Record Capital to Country Ultra (2020) 69km
- 1st Magalisberg Challenge (2019) 32km
- 1st Garbies (2019) 32km
- 1st Pirates 21km (2019)
- Gold Medal 9th Comrades Ultra Marathon (2018) 90km
- 1st Maverick Night Time Rail Race (2017) 9 miles
- 1st + Course Record South of England Fell Running Championships (2017) 2.5 Miles, 8 Miles & 13 Miles
- 4th Brighton Marathon (2017)
- Silver Medal Comrades (2016) 89km
- 1st North Downs Way Marathon (2016)
- 1st Inter Services Long Course Championships (2011)
You can book in for Coaching with Carla by visiting her website: www.carlamolinaro.com/coaching