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:
You can book in for Coaching with Carla by visiting her website: www.carlamolinaro.com/coaching
If you haven’t heard the name Sabrina Verjee this week, you have clearly not read the news. Among other amazing feats in endurance events that have occurred in the past 2 weeks, Sabrina’s does stand out. However, the 39 year old vet who now resides in the Langdales, has shocked many in her claim that she is not viewing her amazing achievement as a record.
Sabrina set out with her sights on the record for completing all 214 Wainwright summits in the Lake District in the fastest time. Paul Tierney took the record from Steve Birkenshaw last year taking just 6 days, 6 hours, and 5 minutes to complete the 318mile route. With elevation gain equivalent of 4 times the ascent of Everest, the challenge is not for the faint-hearted and has never been completed consecutively by a woman.
So all eyes were on Sabrina’s attempt last week, with high expectations. Completing the Gruelling Montane Spine Winter race early this year (First Female, and 5th Overall), she was bound to produce something special… and she did not disappoint, even if her own perceptions can be somewhat modest.
Despite completing the round in the 3rd fastest ever known time (including that of legend Jos Naylor), she is not classing her attempt as a record. In fact, she has been outspoken in the fell running forums in recent days clearly stating “It is not a record”. Her reasoning for this is due to a knee injury during her attempt, she head to lean on some of her support runners to get down the hills safely. Due to this assist, she felt she could not in good conscience take a record, especially from others who have achieved this feat with no apparent support.
In spite of this, she is still the first woman to complete the Wainwrights round in this manner in an impressive time of 6 days, 17 hours, and 51 minutes. Sinead from Her Outdoors caught up with her 3 days after her attempt and seemingly in between naps and work!
Q. First of all, saying “Well done” does not seem to satisfy the enormous effort and accomplishment of your attempt. Are you recovering well and what does your post-attempt recovery look like?
Ha, recovery is going ok. I cannot remember much about Sunday evening but managed to get some sleep and Monday was hobbling around a little. By Monday night though, I had to take a few painkillers to settle. I even went to work on Tuesday! Luckily, due to the pandemic, there wasn’t the normal volume of appointments. I also have a bed there so managed to get a few naps in between appointments. Becky, the receptionist at our practice and my personal caretaker, has been absolutely brilliant. Last night (Tuesday) was a bad night as the body is starting to go into repair. Hot flashes, burning up, etc. The main thing though was fluid retention, both on and after the attempt. I look at some of the photos from the round and think “Look at my legs”. It was a lot of extra weight to carry around and took a few days to clear out! Overall, with the exception of my knee, I would say it’s going well.
Q. You have had a great few years in terms of endurance-based events, with a 5th place overall on this year’s grueling Spine event. It is reported that originally you looked to do this attempt in May, when did you decide that this is something you wanted to do?
6 years ago, when Steve Birkenshaw took the record from Jos Naylor. I didn’t know him well at the time but I have got to know him well over the past few years. My husband supported his attempt at the time, and frustratingly, I couldn’t as I at work. I remember feeling it was something I would love to do one day. Funnily enough, I was not even a long-distance runner at the time, I was more into Adventure Racing.
Q. How did a change of date from May to July affect how you approached your training?
It was hard. I felt “Ready to go, ready to go” but with the current situation, waiting for the rules to change, watching the weather turn, I started to come to terms with the attempt not happening at all this year. As things started to ease, I had the 3rd July as a start in mind, however, the constant rain over the beginning of July was making the ground saturated which was a little bit of a concern.
Q. You are undoubtedly one of the best endurance runners in the UK. Where did your running career start?
I wasn’t a sporty child especially, and it wasn’t until University that I got into the Modern Pentathlon. I have no idea how that happened, apart from they needed a representative for the sport and I was able to ride a horse. I competed for both Oxford and Cambridge and as the Modern Pentathlon contains a 3km run, I suppose it started from there.
From there, my attention turned to Triathlon, building right up to the Half Ironman, but strangely, I wasn’t especially strong at running, in fact, it was my worse discipline. From there, I moved to Adventure Racing, and because of this, myself and Ben were spending most of our weekends driving up to Cumbria to either train or compete, we finally made the move up 7 years ago and the running took form there!
Q. You have quite modestly declared “this is not a record” due to assistance in descents for your support team and that you wouldn’t take the record of another person in that way. This falls very much in line with what most associate with the sport, a support of others, a humble approach, and respect for others efforts. How important do you feel that this is maintained and protected in this sport and could other sports learn from this?
When you are in the mountains you look after each other. This is the nature of this sport and what brings us together as a strong community. You want to see each other succeed, even if that person is trying to achieve your record. Having said this, there are unwritten rules of sportsmanship that I suppose comes down to your own ethics as there are no set rules for these record attempts. I felt as I was supported on the descents, I could not claim a record when I was technically helped. Some of the support team didn’t feel this was breaking any rules. I and others felt it wasn’t appropriate. Coming off Clough Head and down the Coach Road, with the aid of Dave, I came to terms that the record attempt was no longer an option and from there on out, I forgot there was a record to take, I went into survival mode.
I wouldn’t want to take a record from someone in an illegitimate way. If the next lady to attack this challenge completes without assistance then she will deserve the record.
The other side of things is safety in the hills. I wouldn’t like people to be out in dubious conditions and not lend a hand because they feel they are jeopardising an attempt, safety is paramount. This sport is made up of people who understand this and have this respect for each other.
Q. As a vet, you are no stranger to long work hours. Did you find training for such an epic route was difficult to fit around your job?
You make time for things you want to do, if you look at the rest of my life, it’s all I do. I rarely go to the pubs to socialise, I socialise while running. I have 3 cats that need little care, so when I get a day off, I take myself off for a full day in the Mountains. When I get bored, I come home. I feel a bit sorry for Ben. He might often ask “but are you coming home for tea?”.
Q. How much of the route have you recced both as part of training and from living in the area over the years?
Living here for 7 years, I have Recced the whole lot at least once. The summits I knew I wouldn’t see in the daylight, I made sure I recced in the daylight. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on a view.
Q. What parts of the route did you highlight as concerns that may cost you time in your attempt and why.
I am not strong on technical rocky descents and there are a few sections – particularly in the Langdales (home territory!) that I am weak on and I had to give myself double the time that Paul and Steve took across theses summits in my schedule.
Going into the attempt, I was always concerned about the decent of Carlside due to the steep gradient and this proved to be the hardest descent when my knee was at its worst.
Q. You were strong and on target all week, but knee issues seemed to be the cost of actually setting a new record. At what point did you notice this as a very real factor and mentally, how did you deal with this to keep yourself motivated?
Clough head descent was when my knee really started hurting. However, prior to coming into Glenridding, I noticed some niggles. Paul (Tierney) took a quick look at this checkpoint and I think he felt it was to be expected so I just got on with it
Heading back up the Dodds, it swelled so much. I needed some painkillers which I would never normally take. They kicked in and managed to pretty much forget about my knee until the descent off Clough Head. It was agony, I had to lean on Dave to get me down to the Old Coach Road. Usually, I would fly along that section, but it seemed to take forever to get to Dockray. Steve Birkenshaw was running the next leg with me and came to meet us for the end of this leg. I felt bad for Steve, as by this stage I was a bit down in the dumps realising the Record was not on any longer.
Despite this, I was generally in good form. I was in the outdoors, in the hills with some great people, what is not to love about that.
Q. There seemed to be a number of deviations on elements of the planned route, one noticeable one appeared to be at Hartsop Dodd and Rest Dodd. How were these decisions being made, was it by yourself, as a team, due to weather or route choice, or was this always the plan?
I always set out with some subtle changes made to Steve’s original route. One of the big things to the navigation was to adjust the route via Dale Head farm, there is no public access so I re-routed this section as I didn’t feel comfortable going through Dale Head Farm especially during the current pandemic and to be honest I would hope that all future Wainwright challengers will adopt the detour I took. Hartsop Dodd to the Tarn was craggy and when I recced this section, I chose the option to go straight across rather than out and back. However, on the day, the weather forced us to take a safer option.
Q. You were really mindful in your attempt of the current pandemic and asked for minimal support. Having done long challenges before, would you say this made things easier or more difficult in terms of motivation?
I am pretty self-motivated so not having people dotted around the route didn’t really affect me. However, I was overwhelmed with some efforts people went to offer their support. People climbed to some hard to reach places to leave little cards and notes of support for me. I would be running along in the darkness, then as I would approach the summit, I could see a glimmer, and there it would be. That was really special and so motivating.
Q. Did you have any moments of doubt of completing during the week, and if so, how did you overcome these to change your mindset.
The descents were getting harder with my knee. Skiddaw and Carlside were particularly low. I couldn’t get down without assistance and it was really depressing. When it is harder to go downhill than uphill, it’s a really difficult thing to not feel down about. Normally, I would tank down the fire road, I literally had to crawl, all I could do was limp. Once I got to the car park, I decided to take some time out and sleep. My slower pace was getting to me, I mean, there is a point where 0.5km per hour is silly. I felt much more positive after resting.
Q. There must have been many amazing moments on your attempt, were there any that really stood out?
I just had the best time all the way around. The people I got to share this with were just such a pleasure to be with. However, the last leg was so comical. I was just going so slowly, I just had to take the piss out of myself. My descents at that stage were just so pitiful. The guys supporting me were just so great! I tried to run and always ended in disaster. Everyone was taking the Mickey out of me and each other, it was just too funny.
Q. Thanks to women like yourself and some research starting to highlight women’s endurance at longer distances, we are seeing a rise in women being competitive with men at the same distances. In your experience, do you feel this is the case?
Yes! longer the better, totally feel that myself when racing. Take, for example, If I challenged some of the men in the Lakeland 100 in a 10k race, they will always beat me, but put me against them on a 100 mile race and I will have a better chance of beating them.
Q. More and more women are enjoying the fells, whether it is running or walking. However, some may still feel uncomfortable going out alone. What is a key bit of advice you could give them?
It is always important to be safe on the fell. I would always say learn the skills first, then your confidence will follow. I think that’s the key. Get yourself out with others, learn from more experienced people, and start smaller on trips out on your own.
Q. Some women feel they might not be safe alone on the hills. What are your thoughts on this?
While living in the city, I was always scared to be out on my own, especially in the evening. On a night, on my own, on the fell, I feel at my safest. No one is going to be up there that would cause you harm.
Q. A lot of women would read this and say “I can’t run a mile never mind for 6 days”, what would you say to them?
One step at a time, there was a time I couldn’t run a mile either!
Q. So, whats next?
Well, with the current pandemic, most races I was hoping to look have been cancelled. Hopefully, the Cheviot Goat will still be on in December. Otherwise, I will be focusing on the Winter Spine race in January and once again trying to get a record next May on the Wainwrights
Speaking to Sabrina, was a personal privilege. I am constantly impressed with the outright modesty and respect that the Ultra and Fell running community display. Speaking to her did not dispel any of this. She was appreciative of the people who helped her achieve this goal, who got her through the days, but more importantly, she hasn’t lost sight of her own moral compass in favour of claiming (what most would actually think she is entitled to) a record. The respect she has for others who have been on the same hills, run in the same direction and experienced the same highs and lows is why women like her should be adulated and emulated as positive role models in sport.
Thank from Sabrina go to those in her support crew: Her husband Ben, Kim Collison, Jacob and Sabina Snochowski, Simon Mills, Sally Fawcett, Tim Miller, Steve Birkinshaw, Tom and Astrid Gibbs, Paul Tierney, Dave Cummins, Charlie Sproson, Jeff Powell Davies, Joe Faulkner, Helen Jackson, James Thurlow, Victoria Rose-Miller, Ben Abdelnour, Shane Ohly, Josh Hartley, John Knapp, Neil Talbott, Nicky Spinks, Mike and Hazel Robinson, Lou Roberts, Bruce Duncan, Dave Spence, Peter Sowerby, Rob Bond, Giles Ruck, Paul Wilson, Gaynor Prior, Wendy Dodds, Jonathan Whilock, Dan Duxbury and Howard Dracup.
Ahead of our Event in August, we thought we would write a little piece to give people more information about Shelli.
This year, Shelli took part in Britains most brutal of races, the 268mile Spine Race, that is a non-stop race over the Pennine way, in the bleakest of conditions. Not only did she finish 2nd Female, she did it while paying a rather emotional tribute to her late partner, who sadly, took his own life.
In Shelli’s own words:
In July this year I found myself part of a large family that previously i didn’t really know existed, this was not a family I chose to be a part of and I had no idea of the huge amount of people who were already a part of it by no choice of their own- the ones left behind.
That day now seems so surreal even with a background of a Psychology degree, Policing, and experience of mental health, nothing prepared me for finding Tony, and discovering he had taken his own life, i cut my arms as i smashed the window to get to him, although i knew already it was too late, I took him down and waited for help to arrive, sitting in the sunshine with the world continuing on as if nothing had happened, just waiting for the circus to begin, helpless to be able to change anything.
From Policing I knew the protocol but this time I was on the receiving end of the box filling and paperwork, I felt for the officers attending having to go through this, Tony being so young and a death that just seemed so pointless and preventable, this should not have occurred.
That day my life and my future changed, from planning my sons birthday and school holidays, to suddenly finding myself in a whole new world of grieving my partner our history and the future, running a still new business alone, running a home, being a parent to two children who were massively impacted, looking after my zoo of animals, comforting and speaking to people from all over the country and abroad, dealing with messages, cards, every known social media outlet (i’m not good with techy stuff), organising a funeral, and running out of vases for the flowers being sent, there weren’t enough hours in the day, sleep was a couple of restless hours per night and food unfaceable.
That day and in the following weeks I discovered the so much wider impact that the loss of one life has on so so many people and the communities it effects as well as the families involved.
Dedications were held across the Country at Race starts, from road races and trail races to fell races, and ultras to triathlons and local running groups, people ran with pictures of Tony with the hashtag runfortony at Lakeland along with numerous other events, the disbelief was felt unanimously.
Whilst all this was ongoing the reoccurring theme was ‘WHY’?
This was not just the reason being questioned, but a total disbelief and incomprehensibility as to how someone like Tony who on the outside had it all (and was very vocal in telling anyone who would listen the same), someone so happy and full of life, who exercised, and succeeded could possibly feel that their only option was suicide.
That someone who was so lively could hide it so well from those closest to him, nothing being said to friends the evening before, nothing said to me who lived and worked with him, how could this be disguised?
In the aftermath and since i’ve met so many people directly affected by suicide, the reoccurring theme is they weren’t the ‘typical’ candidate of suicide. There is no ‘typical’ candidate everyone is at risk when mental health takes over your brain, it doesn’t function the way it would normally, there isn’t any rationalisation, or thoughts of loved ones, no thought to how they will cope, or the impact of finding you, the sleepless nights with children that can’t sleep apart from in your bed, the nightmares and daytime flashbacks.
Taken from her Charity Page
I want to make changes and the only way to do that is to make mental health awareness visible to everyone to make sure that its ok to talk, and its ok to not be ok, to seek help, to support those needing help and to look out for each other. This is the only way to make this disease stop!!
We are so excited to be able to have this fantastic woman, come and speak at an event, to share her story, to run with us and to raise awareness for Men’s mental health.
As of time of writing this article, Shelli has raised over £28,000 for Campaign Against Living Miserably
We look forward to welcoming her to the Holme Valley Mountain Rescue centre in August 2019