Anna-Marie Watson is one inspiring woman. A performance coach, ultra runner and Ironman athlete, over the last year not only has she won the Extreme Energy Cotswold Way Ultra Marathon and Round the Island races, but she also set the new ladies record for The Oner (130km) (finishing just one second behind the lead male), and placed second at Marathon Des Sables. Here, she recounts fond memories of her local ultra, the Cotswold Way.
‘During the Cotswold Way, I had one of those perfect moments when my body and mind are intricately balanced, and everything falls into place. I wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else in the world, it was pretty special.’
In 2015, Anna-Marie won the Cotswold Way Ultra, a multi-day race that covers 57 miles (92km) and 2,750m of climbing through rolling farmlands and the ancient beech woodlands of Bronze Age Britain. ‘I raced alongside two friends, together we traversed undulating hillsides, under sun-dappled trees and past stunning views over Cheltenham and Gloucester.’
A seasoned ultra-runner, Anna-Marie won the race in 9 hours 39 minutes, just 37 minutes after the leading man, Chris Brookman.
Anna-Marie says that, although focusing on preparation for day two in a multi-stage race is vital, she enjoys the social nature of events. ‘I love ultra races. For me, it’s all about the community and meeting new people, hearing stories of what they’ve been through, where they began, their aspirations. It inspires me to keep going and do more.’
‘After day one there are hot showers and massages, a beer if you’re feeling brave, and an evening talk, so it’s all about balancing having a good time with recovery for the next day. To prepare, I listen to music, meditate and get onto the foam roller.’
Anna-Marie has been running ultras for nine years all over the world, but she says that competing on home turf is special. ‘It fits in easily with work, training schedules and travel; there are no logistical headaches. The Extreme Energy team look after everything, including the amazing chocolate cake at the finish line!’
Although Anna-Marie won the Cotswold Way Ultra in 2015, she hasn’t always been a running enthusiast. ‘I hated PE at school, I preferred playing piano, but in my 20s I joined the Army, which meant moving around a lot, so running became a great release for me.’ Anna-Marie completed her first ultra race in 2007, and has since won three ultras and, impressively, placed second (in the top 50 overall) at Marathon Des Sables.
‘I still don’t get it - I’m amazed by how well I do in these races. But it’s incredible what you can achieve if you try. Preparation is key, though, I can’t control others, but I can ensure that I turn up to each race having trained, eaten and rested well. Once that’s all done, I say to myself “let’s enjoy this!”’
‘You have to go for it and try new things,’ Anna says. ‘I believe that anyone can run, you just have to ask yourself “what’s stopping me?” You can talk yourself into, or out of, anything.’
If it’s your first ultra, try to ensure you go into the race well rested and as mentally prepared as possible. It’s helpful to check out the course profile, and plan your estimated pace and stick to it - it’s just too easy to get swept along, especially at the start.
Take the race one day at a time, and be flexible with yourself. Extreme Energy races are welcoming for beginners and have fantastic atmospheres, but the Cotswold Way has a sting in its tail; it’s deceptively hilly! That said, this is not a gnarly hardcore fell race in the middle of Scotland, and there’s the amazing cake to look forward to at the finish line!
My top tip? Enjoy it and don’t put any pressure on yourself. Go with the flow, and just learn from the experience.
Extreme Energy events are fully supported and fully inclusive, so whether this is your first ultra or your one hundredth, you’ll find yourself in good company and in safe hands.
The Cotswold Way Challenge Multistage Ultra, part of the Sealskinz ultra trail series is on 24th-25th September 2016.