Trust your gut: when stepping back can be a step forward.

In her latest – and very important – book, ‘In Her Nature’, Rachel Hewitt writes about what sport really is. The true meaning of sport is not the one we attribute to it today, where people compete  in standardised competition for time, trophies and kudos. There are many definitions of the word but originally, it was something along the lines of ‘an individual or group activity pursued for exercise or pleasure’. The competition element came later and, for many, meant exclusion from sport altogether. If you haven’t already got it, please, buy Rachel’s book and dig in – it is fascinating stuff. So why am I writing about this? Because this was one of many signs that I have been getting lately that I need to reframe the way I see myself taking part in the sport that I love, trail running. I pay attention to signs now, rather than just ploughing ahead with plans simply because they were written down, paid for and anticipated. That’s a whole other blog though 😊Reading about how women used to participate in sport really resonated with me: theirs was a time of exploration, adventure and testing personal limits, not of watching a clock, agonising over pacing and feeling like they shouldn’t be on a start line. To be clear, I have never felt that I didn’t belong in trail running. It is a welcoming and inclusive community in my experience and one I have always felt comfortable in. The growing shift I have been feeling lately is towards the competition element of my sport. And that is why, after a crappy long run, where all the ‘shoulds’ were creeping in, I decided that I wouldn’t be starting the upcoming Hardwolds 40. Hardly a world changing revelation I know, but it was a decision that I am proud of, and one that I think needs highlighting, just in case others are feeling the same way as me.

For context, I was not a sporty child or teenager. My family has no background in taking part in any organised sport. I was into music, drama, reading and writing, and was encouraged in these areas. I only started running after deciding, depressingly, as most teenaged girls do, that I wanted to try and lose weight and even then, I was jogging on a treadmill and building towards a 5k Race For Life. Off road and distance running only appeared on my radar in my late 20s after I joined Pickering Running Club. We would go on trail runs in the summer, with no agenda except being outdoors in one another’s company and I loved it. As it always does, the obsession grew and I started doing longer events, again, never considering how fast I would do them. This is where things changed though. I started to ‘do well’ at these low key events, often placing or doing a ‘good’ time, even though that was never my intention. The more it was confirmed that I was a competitive runner, the more I felt that I had to keep doing well. Training became more focused and it was mostly about the outcome, a target race  where I had a goal time in mind. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this process, working  hard, having a clear focus and then performing on the day. And it really is a lovely thing to win a prize! But, as an avid overthinker and self-critic, when things didn’t go to plan, it really got to me. What did it mean if I didn’t get the time or the outcome I wanted on that one random day? Had I not worked hard enough? Was I not a good enough runner? Maybe this was the start of the downward spiral in fitness?

During this period, the UTMB was always in my mind. It was the biggest target I had and for many years, I entered races just so that I had the points to get in. I could have applied in 2016 but didn’t feel ready, so kept building the points and experience up. The pandemic put paid to the dream for a couple of years but last year, I finally bit the bullet and put my name in the hat. When I found out that I was in, I cried, with joy, fear, relief and trepidation. It all led to this point. After a couple of years feeling rudderless and unfit and a winter with little running and lots of strength work, I set about planning my build up. We would be in the Alps for three months prior to it, so all I had to do until July was get fitter and maybe a bit quicker again. But I had lost confidence. The me from five or six years ago was ‘better’ at this; now I wasn’t even sure if I could run as I wanted to at 50 miles let alone 100+. So I entered the Hardwolds 40, a route that would see me finishing five minutes from my house and that I knew would be lovely because it was Hardmoors. But to feel that I was capable, I wanted to go under 8 hours which would likely put me on the podium. That external validation of a ‘good’ time seemed important and the only way that I would know that I was fit again. But in reality, I hadn’t been training for that. I had done the London marathon at a jog, the Yorkshire Three Peaks at a crawl and UTS50k  was essentially a long mountain walk. There was nothing to suggest that this magic sub 8 would be feasible, but still I wanted it. Plus, the race is at the end of June, meaning that I would be heading to the Alps to train for the biggest race of my life still recovering from an almost 50 mile race. The tester would be how I felt on my last long run.

The start line of the CCC in 2016: so glad I didn’t go for the Big One!

Running the first section of the Hardwolds 40 on a very hot day, I knew that I wouldn’t do this race after about an hour. I had planned a 4ish hour out and back, learning the first 11 or 12 miles then turning round and coming back. But you know that when you are fighting with yourself not to turn round 5 miles in, you’re not going to have a good day! Even what ‘should’ have been an easy pace felt rubbish; I was clearly still suffering a little from a head cold the week before, with a high heart rate and slightly too hard breathing. This is where Rachel’s book came into my head. Why was I pushing myself to be what I was five years ago when I was clearly in a very different place? Why was I risking the race that I have wanted to do for a decade  just to feel like a ‘good’ runner again? Since when did time or competition really actually matter to me so much that I was risking my health and wellbeing? Running a 46 mile race is never a small thing. Something that I am acutely aware of in the niche ultra world, is that we often forget how much it can take out of you to run an ultra, especially when you want a certain result. No matter who you are, it will deplete all of your systems and, even if you come out of it physically okay, the nervous, immune and endocrine systems can take months to come back to normal. These distances have to be respected and so too does your health. To me, now, this running thing is what it was when I was in that honeymoon phase, the pleasure of being outdoors, moving myself through nature, sometimes with like-minded people. It felt very freeing to recognise that about myself, to decide that I would not start in that moment. I ran back to the car feeling lighter and happier.

It feels quite self-important or indulgent to write something like this, but in coaching, we see this exact battle all the time so it’s worth exploring. This world puts value on numbers, we like to quantify things because it is simple. But many people don’t work that way. What is meant to be a pleasurable pursuit, can become a way to self-punish, to see yourself as less than you are. When we assign our identity and value as a human to something that at its core is a way to stay physically and mentally healthy, it loses that power and can actually go the opposite way. I am not for a second saying that having time goals is a bad thing: some of my proudest achievements are just that. Still holding the record in the Hardmoors 60 after eight years in a time that honestly now, blows my mind a bit, and going under nine hours at the Lakeland 50, something only a handful of women have done are two standouts that I am exceptionally proud of and that can never be taken away. But, the me in 2023 is done with all the words that I put in inverted commas (sorry if that was a bit OTT, I was labouring the point!) I am more proud now that I know myself and trust my gut enough to know when to say no, to step away and to refocus. It’s a process and I am sure the road will be a wiggly one, but the path to UTMB is clear now.

Running happy with Egg Cameron at Lockton Limping!


  • Shaun fisher on June 12, 2023

    What a an interesting personal in depth read kim, which I can resonate with many aspects of this, I’m really just happy to be back running on the trails again, which a couple of years ago I didn’t think possible, I look forward to hearing your future blogs on how things are going for you with this new approach to your trail running journey,

  • Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn on June 12, 2023

    A really lovely read, Kim <3
    Can’t wait to see you do the big loop ⛰️ xx

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The Road to London: my second road marathon.UTMB: The long and winding road to the blue carpet.