SEPTEMBER 2016: Lisa Smith-Wallace is one of those runners who seems to get a huge kick out of supporting and encouraging others, particularly those complete beginners who are daunted at the prospect of taking up their newfound sport.
And she still seems to find time to fit in the training required to prepare for races significantly over marathon distance.
But, more importantly, she’s great at baking cakes!
Lisa, what’s your first running memory?
Having asthma as a child, I didn’t really enjoy sport at school, but, in 2008, whilst I was watching and supporting a friend of mine at Race for Life, I felt so emotional and inspired that I decided I would attempt the race the following year. I started ‘training’ for my race on March 1st 2009. I waited until it was dark before putting on some cheap trainers, and did a kind of warm-up in my front room so no one would see me. I was ready to go, and off I went on my first run in perhaps 20 years. I got as far as the first lamp post and contemplated calling for a taxi to get me home… or dying!
Did you find yourself getting hooked soon after that, keen to have a crack at really long distances?
Ha ha, no, it was extremely gradual. When I look back, though, it was inevitable, albeit with a sensible build-up to the ultra distance.
At the finish line of the 5k Race for Life in the July of 2009, there were a team of marshals asking people to sign up for a 10k Cancer Research event on Hove Prom in October. I must have been on an absolute ‘runner’s high’, as I expressed my interest and signed up. After that race, I decided to try a half marathon before I was 40. Unfortunately, Grounded Events then announced that the first Brighton Marathon was happening in 2010, and a friend of mine, Paula, told me it would be churlish not to enter. So we did!
I had no idea that people could or would attempt to run further than marathon distance until RunBrighton ambassador Brigitte invited me to marshal at an aid station for the South Downs Way 100-miler. I couldn’t believe that it was possible, and was once more inspired by some amazing athletes. I really enjoyed helping those runners on their way from Winchester towards the finish line in Eastbourne.
The front runners made it look so easy, but the tail-end runners made me realise that it was definitely not for me to attempt anything that would cause me so much pain and suffering.
For the next few years, I went back to marshal at the aid station and found myself quizzing the runners about their kit, and their race techniques and strategies, and eventually decided to take up a place on the South Downs Way 50-miler in 2015. To train for this, I upped my distance from marathons and entered several 50k events.
Being injured in January 2015 made me realise how much I wanted to do the SDW50, and not being able to run for 6 weeks was torture. I got to the start line with good friends Brigitte and Anne, and we stuck together to finish the race within the cut-off time. The following June, I was back on aid-station duties and decided to enter the SDW100 this year.
I’ve done it now and have no desire to run further than this distance. Yes, there are even longer races out there but I have certainly found my limit.
Your completion of the SDW100 was an awesome achievement, of which you must be very proud. What aspect of that experience stands out for you the most?
That is such a hard question as I am still constantly remembering little things that happened along the way. Now, as I run along that national trail, I have little flashbacks to June 11th / 12th. Some of them are funny, some are funnier and some are just plain miserable!
I think having an experienced and calm support crew was what got me through.
I didn’t think about the whole distance, but broke the journey up into sections. There were 15 aid stations and plenty of crew points, so I used those to focus on. I only ever had to run to the next point, which was perhaps 7 or 8 miles away, where I would see the amazing marshals or the crew-mobile with anything that I might have wanted or needed.
Brigitte and Anne were my crew and were totally brilliant. It takes a certain person to be able to take care of the manky, blistered feet of a runner at 50-plus miles.
What would you say were the main components of your preparation for it?
Rest and recovery. Learning to listen to my body was key to my training. This was especially apparent after the 50-miler in April, as I could have slept on a clothes line during my working week. Whatever distance you’re training for, missing a run because you’re tired will benefit, not hinder, your training.
Training on the terrain. I noticed in the SDW50 last year that I was losing time on the hills, so spent the next year practising hiking up the hills and gaining time by learning to run downhill properly. I feel like I’m at home on the second half of the SDW now, as I’ve spent so much time there.
Nutrition on the go. Although I always have a pack of Clif Shot Bloks in my backpack, I think they’re two or three years out of date now, as I needed to practise using real food to complete the longer distance. I quite often have hummus or cheese wraps, cherry tomatoes, salted new potatoes, etc, with me on a long run. It was good to practise with a variety of foods as, on the actual day, everything apart from watermelon tastes like cardboard.
Time on Feet, and events. No stress about run routes to consider and much better than doing so many miles that you tire yourself out or get injured. It’s difficult to go for an 8-hour run on your own and to find people to join you for parts of a long, slow run of that distance; so, I entered lots of timed events that meant I could just keep running until the time was up. These were often looped runs, so I found them quite mentally challenging too, which was good.
Pacers and Crew. From mile 50, you’re allowed to have one person to pace you. I had Carol, from my running club, from Washington to Devil’s Dyke. Anne joined me through the night section to Southease. And then Brigitte endured my final miles in the ‘biblical’ rain to Eastboune.
And what drives and motivates you, as it can be difficult to commit to all the training required for a big event?
Back in 2009, I thought I was going to run/walk the 5k Race for Life, so I was very proud of myself to run most of the way. The confidence and self belief that I have gained from running is huge, and that is my motivation.
Only seven years ago, I couldn’t run around the block. I have learnt that anything you really want to do is possible.
I know you’re heavily involved with the organising team of Brighton & Hove Women’s Running Club. How did that come about? And what kind of runners do you cater for?
Yes, I’m on the BHWRC committee, in the role of Club Captain. I really enjoy it and am proud to be part of the management team of such a great club.
I joined the club when Brigitte and fellow ambassador Michele were joint club captains, and I was extremely flaky at first. I used to turn up with my friend and listen to the run options. If a scary running term such as ‘hill rep’, ‘threshold’, ‘interval’ or ‘tempo’, was mentioned, Paula and I quite often used to skulk away to do a flat, easy run on our own. Sorry, Brigitte and Michele!
One night, I turned up and thought I would just get on with it. I was surprised that I could actually keep up with others, but also that it didn’t matter if I couldn’t, because everyone was catered for. I’m pleased to pass on the support that I’ve received, over the years, to others.
Our 150-plus membership consists of a wide range of ability. As a club, we celebrate everyone who gets out to run each week. 18 of our newest members have completed the very successful 10-week beginners course that we run in May. And many of our members are competing at events most weekends. These events are usually 5k, 10k, or half or full marathons; longer distances or multi-day events are also popular but less frequent. Many of our members can be seen at parkrun each week and we have women who’ve achieved 50, 100 and even 250-plus parkruns.
When you’re not running, what do you do in your spare time? I understand you’re a Master Baker. Is this what you do for a living?
I don’t understand this question. Spare time? What is that?!
I was a patisserie chef in Knightsbridge, London, before I had my son, Jack, way back in 1999, so I’m very relaxed when I’m in the kitchen, baking. When we moved to Brighton in 2001, I didn’t want to return to the ridiculous, unsociable hours of catering, so registered with Ofsted as a childminder, which is now my main source of income. My husband, Kristian and I also set up a small food business from home, so that I can still be creative with my patisserie skills by making bespoke celebration cakes and other tasty treats. Last December, I made over 700 mince pies!!!
Lisa, I’m delighted that you’re up for being a RunBrighton ambassador again for our forthcoming winter season. What message might you have for any new runners who are anxious about taking on their first half or full marathon? Any reassurance you can offer to those who feel they might not cope with our group training?
Firstly, the long slow runs are much easier in a group. Stick with your group ambassador and chat with others to get used to the slower pace to build up your endurance. The groups motivate and encourage each other each week, which becomes more valuable in the latter stages of training.
If this is your first half or full marathon, don’t put yourself under any pressure to finish in a set time; just aim to finish and visualise yourself crossing the line and receiving your well-earned medal and a celebration treat.
Don’t forget that the Sunday group run is only part of your training. You’ll receive a weekly training plan and all the components are equally important, especially the rest days!
If you have questions about any part of the training or the race, and are afraid to ask because you think it’s silly, remember this… the RunBrighton ambassadors probably asked someone the same questions themselves before their first half or full marathon. Use their experiences and learn from their mistakes if they weren’t brave enough to ask the questions.
What’s next on the race calendar for yourself?
I’m training for Beachy Head Marathon in October; I’m also looking at 24-hour solo events for 2017, but am undecided. Another aim is to do a couple of 10k road races to see how my running has changed after the heavy mileage this year, such as Brooks 10k in November and, with training, I hope to see an improvement in the Worthing 10k next year.
Lisa, it’s been great chatting. Good luck in Beachy Head, and do feel free to bring along samples of your lovely cakes on the odd Sunday morning. There should be less than 200 of us. Hope that’s ok!
I would love to, if only I had some of that thing you call ‘spare time’!
By Mike Bannister