No time, but no excuses. Debbie Martin-Consani talks to fellow team runner, Edwina Sutton who won silver at the British 100km Championship – only nine months after having her THIRD child.
Tell us a little bit about your running background?
I was a jack-of-all trades at school and represented the county at netball, hockey, athletics and cross-country. The 800m was my speciality, thanks to the geography teacher used to drag me to the track to train. I’m so glad he did, as I have never lost that bit of raw speed.
When I went to university I played hockey for three years and still ran, but just recreationally. Once I left university I realised I wasn’t going to play any better hockey, so started dabbling with triathlon. The dabble turned quite serious and I competed at a high level for a few years. Even from with a running background it was my bike leg that proved to be my strength, with not many women – or men - being able to match my power. The 25-30hrs a week of training plus a full time job as a PE teacher was a real juggle, but I loved being an inspiration to the kids I taught. Two of them who used to join me on recovery runs are now professional triathletes.
Practising time management from a 16-year old at school has stood me in good stead for having a family and trying to achieve my athletic dreams.
What would you say are your greatest sporting achievements?
Tricky, I think I have lots of ‘moments’ during races when I think ‘yes this is the best moment ever’: Paddling in the Pacific Ocean at the start of the Triathlon World Championships with 2,000 other athletes; dropping the ‘hammer’ along the canal during Country to Capital 2014 and reeling in all the boys; laughing my head off at Paul Navesey as we shoved cliff shots into our mouth at Downslink Ultra after he went the wrong way (it’s a straight path); and winning the SDW50 after spending the previous three weeks with my foot up.
DMC – I should also throw in that Eddie was 15th in her Age Group at the Ironman World Championships 2009 in Hawaii with an impressive time of 10:48. Her Ironman PB stands at 10:07.
Eddie Post Race with the Family
You got back into training quite quickly after having Evie in July. How did you physically cope with that?
Firstly I do not advocate getting back into training straight away after having a baby, but to listen to your body and getting proper advice from a qualified personal trainer.
With my first child I took much longer, but I was much more confident third time round. I knew what I was doing and how to mend my diastasis recti (split abdominals) and juggle feeding and exercise. I also committed to weekly osteopath and massage appointments. My body was very much a constant work in progress, but I listened to it very carefully. I can’t say I rested when I was tired, because I didn’t, but I didn’t push it and did heaps of easy running.
I also worked very hard on my core by myself and also with my osteopath. It wasn’t till the week before the ACP that I had my final appointment and she said my pelvis was level again. She pushed me hard and often 2-3 days after appointments I would feel absolutely battered, this did hamper training, but I have tried to constantly think of the long term project and that this year is really just about getting fit again and hopefully at the pointy end of races.
The first three months were brutal, as I felt so unfit and was carrying about 20kg of baby weight. It was slow progress, but it was always progress. Every session was part of the bigger jigsaw and I tried to not be overly concerned with one session, but take each week as another step forward.
I didn’t bother with dieting as I needed the energy and I knew the weight would have to come off in its own time.
How did you find training around feeding a baby, running after two exuberant boys (Finlay 5 and Rory 3) and working as a running coach?
There is literally not a moment in the day when I am not doing something. I breastfed the baby for seven months and that was even more a juggle as running had to be fitted in with her feeds, as she wouldn’t take a bottle.
I would have my kit on before she woke up, feed her, throw on back pack and run for three hours till she needed feeding again. Sometimes I would run around the block until she needed feeding again. I found it very tiring feeding a baby and looking after the boys. Although I am big advocator of breastfeeding and I think you can train and feed a baby at the same time, sometimes something has to give and it’s usually the Mother’s energy levels that are the first to go.
In the final month of feeding I was definitely starting to feel that I had given all I had to give. When Evie was weaned, the difference in my training and energy was huge. Plus I didn’t need two sports bras anymore, which saved me some washing too.
As for the boys, they are mad. Being boys, as long as they are fed and are out playing in the fresh air, they are happy. I am very lucky that they both love being active and also love watching me race.
I absolutely love being a running coach and personal trainer, after spending 12 years as a PE teacher. I have a real core of fantastic athletes. They are all different, all hard working and I feed off their enthusiasm and dedication. Often this means 2-3 hours of work in the evening after training and putting the kids to bed, but it keeps my brain active. I get to give back to the running community and seeing and helping others achieve their dreams is just as important to me as achieving my own.
What did your training week look like? How did you manage to find the time?
Every week is different. I normally set out with a plan and then mix it around as the day/hour dictates. Being flexible is absolutely key. Don’t get me wrong I always get all my training done, but sometimes that means two runs a day, going out super early, going out at lunch time, getting someone to watch the baby for 45 minutes and running on the treadmill whilst the kids play around me. My biggest training saviour is my running pram.
About 25-30 miles of my easy running Monday to Thursday is done pushing the pram. Not very easy, but I just wouldn’t be able to fit it all in otherwise. I have run with all my babies and do enjoy it. Everyone I meet in our village calls me “The crazy lady who runs with the pram”.
I run with boys the mile up to school and nursery every morning and go from there. It’s a set in stone routine, which means I get my first run of the day done. I have thought this often means my recovery runs aren’t very easy, but I like to think none of my competitors are pushing their babies around whilst they are training. Marginal gains people.
After having Evie, it took a while just to get my weekly mileage back up to a decent level. I managed about 60-65 miles whist I was feeding and held 75 miles for a couple of months before ACP. I also did 3-4 strength sessions a week, which really helped my running form and power without adding in extra mileage.
I was able to introduce one tempo/interval session into this. Sometimes two, plus a long run. But I found I was still adapting to the mileage and the long run was still causing some muscle damage even as close to four weeks out from the ACP.
In a normal week - and how my training will go into May - will be one rest day a week, two interval sessions (one long rep marathon type effort and one shorter paced effort) a long run of up to 3-4hrs and the rest all easy running. I probably won’t go over 85 miles a week, as I don’t have the time and don’t see the benefit. It’s all about quality.
Eddie Mid Race at ACP
You a big advocator of strength training – and planking. Do you think that helps with endurance running?
Absolutely. There is no way I could have got through the 100km on my cardiovascular fitness alone. At 50km it came down to strength and form. Holding myself correctly from the tip of my head down to my toes allowed my body to work at its most efficiently. Plus when the wheels started to come off, I had my strength to fall back on. I concentrated on holding myself correctly, driving the knees and using my arms to propel forward. Focussing on this killed time over another three miles.
I am very proud that I got my body back strong, functioning well and injury free. I do mainly body weight movements and exercises, which mean means I can do them around the kids. Heaps of squat, lunges, holding my body weight in movements and kettle bell work to mix it up. I think runners who don’t do strength work leave themselves susceptible to injury.
Your first post-baby A-race was last weekend’s Anglo Celtic Plate. Was that always the plan?
Yes I looked at the ultra-calendar during labour, counted forward 8-9 months and there it was. It also helped we knew Perth well, as my in- laws live just up the road. It excited me as a distance and I thought the relentless pace would pay towards my strengths.
You hadn’t run a qualifying race, so how did you make the team?
I entered the open race, thinking I wouldn’t get selected. I almost didn’t want to, as I knew it was a big ask to get fit again in the tight timeframe. I also knew every week I was making huge gains in fitness and there would be a big difference between my running at end of Jan and end of March.
However I got an email from the selectors saying they were going to announce the team, which I had been provisionally selected for, but had to prove my fitness in a 50km road race by the end of February.
Of course there aren’t any road races of that distance in the depth of winter so Walter Hill, the England selector, offered to come and watch me run up and down outside my house on a 2.5 mile loop. I toyed with this, but decided I would regret it if I turned it down so I agreed.
Walter set a target time of 3.50 and I cruised it round in 3.38 and got my selection. In hindsight I ran it too hard. Who wouldn’t? It was the furthest I had ran in two years and my legs were destroyed for 10 days after. But we live and learn. It did give me a good confidence boost and was very thankful for the special treatment and my personal makeshift race.
How did the race go? You were leading for quite some time.
In my head the race was a massive disaster, but in my heart I am so proud with what I achieved. I think I am capable of something with a 7hrs in, but looking back I just didn’t have that back end of endurance training to maintain the pace that I could hold for 5-6hrs.
I made a catalogue of errors, which I’m not ashamed to share with you. I’m not perfect. To start with I hadn’t left the baby for the night before and I didn’t sleep a wink the night before worrying about what I was doing. Could I run 62 miles? Should I be running? Shouldn’t I be at home with my children? What sort of mother was I?
Of course, it was all pre-race massive jitters, but 4am came round with no sleep and I was literally sick to my stomach with fatigue and worry. I managed a few mouthfuls of soaked oats. Normally I eat a massive bowl of porridge, but every mouthful was coming back up.
Then I got my period. Sorry guys - skip the next few sentences - but it’s a major issue for us ladies. It was truly awful. I had cramps, portaloo dramas and my legs just didn’t have any spark. When I knew I was going to get my period on race day I did seriously think about not starting the race. I always run terrible at this time, but I tried to convince myself it would be ok and I do think I managed it the best I could.
The first four hours of the race went to plan. I didn’t feel particularly great, but I was trying to just trot along and enjoy the scenery/headwind/seeing Bryn/three step incline and then simply repeat.
After probably 4.5 hours my quads just blew apart. I have felt that pain before in ironman marathons and it didn’t scare me, but I had hoped it would be 6-7hrs into the race when I had to battle down the hatches and work hard, but it was 35 miles or so into the race. The prospect of almost 30 miles of that pain made me want to weep.
Through all my training, I had focused so hard on getting to the start line that I don’t think I had allowed myself to face the truth that I just didn’t quite have the endurance to perform at the level I wanted to. Having an international vest on was a huge pressure and in hindsight meant the race probably became more important in my head than in the long term it really is.
I spent the rest of the race thinking about my kids and concentrating on moving, when all I wanted to do was lie down on that sweet soft grass. I went back to basics and repeated left-foot-right-foot and for the last 10 miles, I simply counted to 100. Literally not thinking about anything but counting to 100.
Melissa Venables crept up on me and went on to win. I knew she was coming, but I was so scared that my legs would just give in completely, so I just concentrated on getting myself to the end.
I was bitterly disappointed, but I didn’t deserve to win that race. Mel ran the better race.
Eddie and Mel at the Finish
How did you deal with mental aspect of running 42 loops of a park?
The laps didn’t bother me. I almost enjoyed it. I totally zoned out of the lap number and concentrated on my splits and pace. Although in the last couple of hours, I wasn’t really comfortable with everyone seeing me suffering every 12 minutes, but James Elson kept shouting at me, “one lap at a time” and that’s what I did. I just focussed on one lap at a time. Though the moment my lap counter shouted: “one lap to go, Edwina”, I could have kissed her.
It looked like your support (Husband Bryn) was struggling to get you to eat. Do you think that effected your race?
I wasn’t struggling to, I just wasn’t. I guess as my race plan went out the window, I lost where I was with my feeding. Not having a proper breakfast set me into a negative balance to start with and although I tried to shove in more calories at the start, I started feeling hungry within about 30 minutes.
My stomach cramps meant solid food wasn’t working and really all I wanted was coke. By 50 miles I was literally downing litres of the stuff. Bryn still hasn’t recovered from every lap trying to make me take a gel and me just shouting ‘COKE’ in his face like our 3yr old. So many errors, but we both learnt a lot from the experience and that is invaluable for going forward.
And we now have a new term in our household for anyone having a major tantrum. It’s called a lap 32-er.
Do you have a recovery plan?
With the kids there is no recovery. It’s brutal, but it’s life. The week after an ultra I massively fail at parenting as I struggle to change nappies, cook meals and household chores take forever. But being busy and active – carrying scooters, pushing swings, lugging about car seats and walking the dog – get the blood flow going. A lie in past 5.30am would be nice, but I try and focus on the controllable things in my life - lots and lots of good food and water, early to bed, family walks and fresh air.
What’s next for 2016?
The million dollar question. Obviously when a race doesn’t quite go to plan then you immediately want to set another goal, have another crack at it and get training again, but I am mighty aware of the big picture and know I need a bit of down time. As do the family.
I don’t have any other races entered, but will either head back onto the trails and have a go at getting selected for the GB world trail team or will focus on running a decent 100km. Though I didn’t put the race together I thought I could on Sunday, I definitely enjoyed the distance and think six months down the line I would be in much better shape probably both mentally and physically to put in a decent performance.
Though I am desperately disappointed with the outcome of the race, I am very proud of the process it took to get me there and so grateful to my husband and the Centurion family for all their help. I’ll take a deep breath, let the race and all I have learned from the experienced sink in and go from there.
Would you like to have another go at 100km?
Watch this space.
What are your top three would-love-to-do races for the future?
UTMB, Comrades and Western States