Week 6: Blustery brutals

  • Hours on the run: 4:31
  • Kilometres: 48
  • Calories burned: 10 flapjacks
  • Times I felt like stopping: 3
  • Runs in the rain: 2
  • Endorphins: 1,5 million
  • Flying distance: 10 metres
  • Soundtrack: Bang my head – David Guetta + Sia

Wind! Lots and lots of wind this week. Too many lentils!

Sorry, just kidding. I’m talking about that relentless 50km/hour earthly type of wind. The kind that, in the right direction, has you sailing along, flying without trying. Turn a corner and bam! Earphones angrily ripped from your ears; invisible walls to punch through; saliva whipped out of your mouth and plastered to your chin. Delightful.

On days like this, the only thing you can do is go with it. And try not to run backwards. I tell myself that it’s the Dutch version of hill training, and I should embrace it. I also tell myself it takes less effort to breathe when the wind is slammed into your airways. That’s got to count for something?

Retail therapy and dark nights

This week saw a new addition to my running wardrobe (doesn’t happen often – running gear is ridiculously expensive!). I’ve kept my one and only pair of running tights going faithfully for seven Dutch winters but before the hole in the butt gets any more offensive, I thought I’d treat myself to a new pair. It seems running tights have come on a long way in seven years! These New Balance beauties feel just like a second skin – so silky smooth, I couldn’t stop stroking my legs the first time I put them on! Plus they have the right sized pockets in all the right places – a runner definitely designed these!

Taking them out for their first spin, I’d like to think it wasn’t just the tailwind that had me cruising along effortlessly but my newfound aerodynamics…. oooh yeah they’re a keeper!

New Tights!
Happy Feet – First new pair of running tights in 7 years!

Week-night runs are still dark at the moment, with little in the way of visual entertainment:

Interval training
Lamppost spotters heaven!

Still, it’s the ideal time for interval training – no distractions! This long stretch of path is perfect for breaking out a sweat – no corners, curbs or uneven patches to trip you up. Nothing else to do on a path like this except ramp up that speed and get those lungs burning!

Confidence boost

The week ended with a half marathon in the dunes north of Amsterdam, where there are actual hills: the Groet uit Schoorl Run (nope, still can’t pronounce it!). Although my training schedule doesn’t have me doing a half marathon for another couple of weeks yet, I signed up for this one months ago (it’s a really scenic course), so I thought I’d try my luck.

That of course led to a lot of nerves yesterday, a sleepless night, and huge doubts that I was ready for the distance…

Well, I was amazed. It was one of the most enjoyable half marathons I’ve ever run. Perhaps it was the new energy gels (love them!), the new running gear (love it!), or the music: there was no hitting of any walls, and no point at which I thought, woah… how much further?! And that was despite the pouring rain at the start!

Groet uit Schoorl Run 2019

I also discovered one of the advantages of running in the Netherlands: Tall Dutch men – fantastic wind breakers! Just tuck yourself in behind a couple of them, and cruise when it all gets a bit blustery. Thanks guys!

During organised races like this, most of my concentration is on keeping a steady pace and the people around me – either overtaking people who have slowed down, or being overtaken by faster runners. There isn’t really a time when I’m thinking about things going on in my own life (like I would on runs by myself). That’s why it was quite a powerful moment when, around the 17km mark, my Dad suddenly came into my mind, so clearly, out of seemingly nowhere. It was really as if he was communicating with me – telling me he was watching and cheering me on. That really gave me a boost to speed up over those final kilometres, and to finish strong.

This race definitely lifted my running confidence, although I’m still unbelievably daunted by the distance I’ll need to cover in 76 days’ time. Best get back out there training… but first a much needed rest day. Yes!

Groet-uit-Schoorl Half Marathon 2019
Smiley orange guy managed to smile in every single picture. Happy chappy!
Groet-uit-Schoorl Half Marathon 2019
The girl in front of me showing so much emotion 800 metres before the end… Me – just an awkward hand wave!
Groet uit Schoorl Run 2019
How cute is this guy making a little heart to someone in the crowd. Bless!

Soundtrack to this week: Bang your head by David Guetta and Sia. Sums up that wind!

Please consider sponsoring me for the London Marathon. I’m running for Chance for Childhood, a charity that protects children from the devastating consequences of extreme poverty, conflict and disability.

Week 5: Sunday frosties

  • Hours on the run: 4:06
  • Kilometres: 45
  • Calories burned: 27 bananas
  • Times I felt like stopping: 1.5
  • Runs in the rain: 1
  • Endorphins: 1 million and 6
  • Wildlife: 2 lesser-spotted lampposts, lots of ducks, swans, and an eagle-type bird
  • Soundtrack: Santu Paulu-Finale by Ludovico Einaudi

This week’s highlight has to be the beautiful long run on Sunday morning. The elusive sun of past weeks shone in full glory, enticing runners across the land out of their beds to claim a slice of winter paradise laced with morning endorphins. Dazzling frost-covered paths still slippy in places made for greater adventure as eager running shoes etched out fresh tracks under that beautiful azure-blue sky.

Frosty Sundays

A long run in weather like this is the ultimate reward for those week-day kilometres notched up on dark winter nights. Your field of vision no longer restricted to lampposts; your main form of entertainment no longer chasing shadows. Now, there’s an infinite backdrop to your run, a full spectrum of colour greedily soaked up by thirsty vision. Birds of prey to spot, a songbird’s soundtrack to tune in to, and crisp, golden air to fuel up on. And that gentle winter sun warming your skin, igniting dreams of Spring.

In short, a runner’s paradise.

Runners paradise

That being said, my 17 kilometres were still tough! As was the 07:30 Sunday start. When you begin to increase your distance, there’s a bit more to take into account than simply getting out of the door and running. Breakfast is a must for me ahead of a run like this, yet it’s not a good idea to run on a full stomach. So to successfully complete an early morning run, I need to wake up at least 2 hours earlier to fuel up.

Since the actual marathon will start at 10:00, I’m trying to complete all of my long runs at the same time, to get used to that morning routine. It can be quite an art working out what breakfast you perform best on, how much of it, and of course, how much coffee to allow yourself before heading out the door. If you don’t get the balance right, you could be in quite some discomfort, and potentially in need of a few bushes (can be a challenge in these winter landscapes!).

Winter landscapes - no bushes here!
My kind of treadmill!

These longer runs are also a good way of testing out refuelling strategies. While it’s definitely possible to run a half-marathon, or longer, without any fuel, for many people, taking energy gels or drinks can help to replace some of the energy and minerals lost and give you a much needed boost. For runs of up to 80 minutes, I wouldn’t bother with anything except water, but for longer than that, I tend to take one gel every 45-50 minutes.

I ordered a set of GU gels to inject some variety into the regular orange and apple flavours available at my local running store. Birthday cake anyone?! I’ll save that one for next month 🙂


Completing my long run and returning home with the sun still shining in full glory made for some relaxing post-run stretches, soaking up those rays to the max. The satisfaction of knowing you got yourself out there and through your intended distance (the longest run of the year so far!) – and the buzz from all those endorphins and fresh air – that’s the addiction that keeps you lacing up for more.

Post run stretching in the sun

The soundtrack to this beautifully sunny run has to be Santu Paulu-Finale by Ludovico Einaudi. I have absolutely no idea what they are singing, but it all just sounds so sunny and makes me want to jump up and down shaking a tambourine! (I set it to start after the intro which is a bit slow, in case you’re wondering!).

Please consider sponsoring me for the London Marathon. I’m running for Chance for Childhood, a charity that protects children from the devastating consequences of extreme poverty, conflict and disability.

Weeks 1 – 4: Snow, ice & a monster cold

  • Hours on the run: Not enough!
  • Kilometres: Still not enough!
  • Calories burned: 15 lemsips?!
  • Tissues sneezed into: 300
  • Snow: Yes!
  • Soundrack: Dog days are over – Florence + The Machine

The first of January 2019 should have marked the start of my 17-week training, kicking off with a 30-minute run. Instead, I was coughing and spluttering on the sofa, amidst a sea of tissues. No worries – in a few days I’ll kick this and will be back out there getting stuck in to that plan…

Longest cold of my life! Week 2 started and still no improvement. I forced myself out for a few 30 minute slow jogs (breathing very laboured), but it wasn’t until Week 3 that I was able to start following the schedule properly (and even then still spluttering!).

Week 4 brought us many beautiful scenes like this (crunch crunch):


This freshly-fallen snow is actually fine for running on, you still have a good grip, and it makes a really satisfying sound. It’s usually the following day after a night of frost that it becomes slippery and not so fun for running.

Thankfully, the Dutch authorities are fantastic at keeping the country on their bikes in wintery weather, so all of the major bike paths get cleared regularly after any snowfall – much to the gratitude of winter runners.

Week 4 culminated in a 1.5 hour run on English soil as I was over there for the weekend. I almost quit after 45 minutes! I’m not sure whether it was a lack of fuel before the run, or simply the hills that took it out of me…. but it was exhausting!

Each time I run in the UK I find it so much tougher than in the Netherlands. In Holland, I’m actually running below sea level (check the graphs below!). In the UK, the hills just feel brutal, and I often feel like I’m running through treacle, using so much energy and still moving at a snail’s pace. I much prefer running with the fishes!

UK Running Stats
UK Running Stats
Netherlands Running Stats
NL Running Stats

This is why I feel this London Marathon is going to be so tough. I’m due to run a half marathon in the UK in a few weeks’ time, so that will be a really good test of how slow and sticky things are likely to be!

Still, I’m happy now I finally seem to be on track with the schedule and I know I’m building strength with every step. Just no more colds please (or hills!)!

The soundtrack for these build-up weeks is a good reflection of my progress: starting out slow but definitely building! Dog days are over by Florence + The Machine. Yeah!

Please consider sponsoring me for the London Marathon. I’m running for Chance for Childhood, a charity that protects children from the devastating consequences of extreme poverty, conflict and disability.

All going to plan? The schedule!

I’m putting all my faith in the folks at the Virgin London Marathon and using their intermediate training plan to (hopefully!) get me to London. Four running days per week just seems a lot less daunting than the five listed in their advanced plan!

I have it sitting on my coffee table as a constant reminder of my journey (lest I forget while relaxing on the sofa with a tub of ice-cream!).


As with all marathon training plans, this 17-week plan includes one long run each week  – the most important run that you really shouldn’t skip – and then a mixture of shorter runs during the week (which you also shouldn’t skip…. but, you know…!). It’s quite refreshing mixing up the runs and alternating the speed – it keeps you focused and is far better for your fitness development (apparently!).

If I’m able to follow this plan diligently, I’ll be running substantially more ‘longer’ runs than I have in past training. Looking over the distances ahead of me: 22.5km, 26km, 29km, 32km, another 32km, and finaly 35km before the full 42km on the day – it’s all quite daunting. Let’s hope I don’t run out of bike paths!

In addition to the four days of running, at least one day each week should be dedicated to these torturous activities (cat participation is not recommended):


Torturous exercise one: Foam rolling. That’s what the orange tube is for (the ridges in this one make it extra hardcore!), and the handheld black one. The idea is you literally roll out the knots and tension in your legs. Supple legs mean less chance of a dreaded injury. The more tense everything is, the more painful it will be when using these. Grown men have been known to scream. Honestly, if you’re partial to a bit of pain, get yourself one of these. You won’t regret it!

Torturous exercise two: Planking. When I first started running, I kept getting injured. Runners’ knee, aggravated IT band, tendonitis… I went through the lot! During my first visit to the physio, the guy was astonished that I was expecting to run a half marathon yet I didn’t do any work on my core. Leaving his office slightly humiliated, but armed with a new arsenal against my recurring injuries, I was determined to locate those abs (and the rest!) and give them a bit of a thrashing. I still don’t enjoy core work, or do it often enough, but I know how vital it is if you want to increase your chances of running injury-free. It also helps running efficiency – when the middle part of you is (somewhat) toned and not wobbling around, more of your energy is directed to your legs which need it the most.

Less tortuous exercise three: Therabands. These oversized elastic bands are great for strengthening your hips and lateral leg muscles. Since running consists of forward motion only, if your main or only form of exercise is running, it won’t be long before the muscles in the front and back of your legs will be a lot stronger than those down the sides. These imbalances can easily lead to injury, so strengthening them with therabands is a great prevention.

Torturous exercise four: The cold shower. While there are conflicting opinions about this, taking a cold shower after a long run certainly won’t do you any harm, and can be truly invigorating. I also do think it helps speed up recovery. Plus, it’s great for enhancing your mood and chasing away those blues. Win-win! It also secretly makes you feel like a bit of an Andy Murray pro (maybe that’s just me though…).

Best exercise of all: Rest! This is, hands-down, my favourite exercise. It’s during the rest days that your body rebuilds your muscles, repairing all those little tears that occur during exercise, making you stronger. If only every day could be a rest day!

The motivational song that just has to go with these training exercises: Stronger by Kanye West. Na na na na that don’t kill me…..(sometimes it feels like it might)… can only make me stronger…

Please consider sponsoring me for the London Marathon. I’m running for Chance for Childhood, a charity that protects children from the devastating consequences of extreme poverty, conflict and disability.

1 million steps to London


I’m out of the saddle in these next blog posts and chronicling my journey to the London Marathon. All going well, I’ll be lining up with 40,000 other crazies on 28 April 2019, poised for the run of my life.

Nervousness and excitement simmer in equal measure as I envisage that moment. While I have run the distance before, it was on the flatter-than-flat streets of Rotterdam, where speed bumps felt like mountains, and my fitness was on a whole other level.

And while London is no Everest, it will certainly be more challenging, and unquestionably more emotional than Rotterdam. A marathon on home soil. 26 miles to shed the tears of a tough year. A journey from loss to light. A spark of hope, and new beginnings.

Below is a short video I filmed for the charity I’m running for, explaining my motivation.

As I write this, 82 days lie between me and the starting line on Blackheath. The furthest I’ve run this year is 17 km (just over 10 miles). That was last weekend, and a struggle. The emotional toll of countless trips between the Netherlands and the UK last year as my Dad bravely battled an aggressive form of cancer, is still making itself known. The ever-present anxiety, the desperate search for a miracle cure, and finally, the inevitable goodbye: I need to transform those deep caverns of pain into fierce mountains of power. Melt the shackles of grief and sadness into rivers of inspiration and hope. In short, I need to shed my 2018 skin and make peace with my lot.

This marathon journey is also a reminder that my struggles pale in comparison to millions of others around the world. As I sit in my comfortable home at 35 years old and feel the deep loss of both parents, I can’t even begin to imagine what a street child in Rwanda feels like, unsure of when the next meal or hug will come; or a girl in Ghana facing a life of prostitution. That’s why, in running the race of my own life, I’m also raising money for Chance for Childhood. A small UK charity, with a big heart, dedicated to changing the lives of those living in desperate poverty and unimaginable hardship.

Over the next three months I’m going to share the trials and tribulations, the emotions, the milestones, the inspirations and the songs that I discover on this journey to London. If at any point you feel compelled to donate to the cause I’m dedicating this all to, you can do so here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/sarah-fencott

Today’s motivational song: Running Man by Ollie Gabriel. It just gets me itching to break out those running shoes!


Please consider sponsoring me for the London Marathon. I’m running for Chance for Childhood, a charity that protects children from the devastating consequences of extreme poverty, conflict and disability.

St James’ Cycle Route

In late September 2014, I cycled part of the St James’ cycle route (St Jacob’s Fietsroute) (Camino  de Santiago) from Almere in the north of the Netherlands, to St Privat des Pres in southern France.

Here you can find a summary and pictures from the 10-day journey. I used the maps from Clemens Sweerman (in Dutch) as my guide.

My bike is a Koga Signature (hand-made in the Netherlands, specifically made for long distance touring  – very similar to this one. I bought it from a wonderful bike shop in Amsterdam, De Vakantiefietser – experts in long distance touring , with the owner Eric having cycled around the world numerous times!

In the top navigation you can access the posts I made for each day of the trip. If you have any questions or just want a bit of advice, feel free to reach out to me at only_sez@hotmail.com.

Below you can find an approximation of the route I took (I mapped it retrospectively, so don’t follow it street for street!)


Provisions for the journey

Here’s a list of the things I took for the 10 day trip:


  • 2 jars of peanut butter (both finished)
  • 1 pack of 500g porridge oats (almost finished)
  • 1 packet of dark chocolate (finished and at least one other bar consumed too)
  • Huge pack of peanuts and dried fruit
  • Tea bags (black tea and herbal for sleeping)
  • 1 pack of 500g pasta (not finished)
  • 3 instant adventure food meals (most of them double servings so actually 6) (I really recommend the cashew nasi… mmm so good!)
  • A few stock cubes (for adding to the pasta)
  • Tin of sweetcorn (replaced along the way) – great for adding to the plain pasta
  • Protein powder (I added this to tea at when I stopped cycling at the end of the day to give my muscles a boost)
  • A couple of emergency energy gels and bars
  • I always carried at least 2-3 litres of water on the bike, refilling wherever I could

I also stopped at a supermarket once a day (whenever I happened to by cycling past one) to stock up on fruit (bananas, apples, couscous, bread, and shredded carrots). And stopped at the odd bakery for a croissant! 🙂

Other items:

  • Tent (Nordisk Svalbard 1)
  • Sleeping bag (15+ years old!)
  • Sleeping mat (on this trip I used a standard  cheap foam one but have since bought an amazing self inflating one which provides so much more comfort and still folds down really small: Therm-a-rest rest trail pro
  • Cooking stove (just the smallest one from an outdoors store)
  • 2 small tins of butane gas (used just one of them for the trip)
  • Two saucepans  plus lids (used just one of them)
  • Sharp knife
  • Regular knife, fork and spoon (lost the spoon!)
  • Tongs (for the saucepans)
  • Waterproof matches
  • Tin opener
  • Re-chargable battery pack
  • iPhone
  • Head torch
  • Padlock (for tent zipper and bike)
  • 1 roll toilet paper (just enough!)
  • Sanitising hand gel
  • Small container of washing up liquid
  • Water purifying tablets/liquid
  • Mug (no plates, I ate out of the saucepan)
  • Yellow high vis jacket (a legal requirement in France)
  • Pepper spray (an illegal addition, but gave me a bit more peace at night!)

Nice to have (for next time)

  • Mini solar lamp to hang in the tent at night
  • Cloth or scrub to clean the saucepan
  • Plastic sacks for rubbish
  • Second pair of shoes (if it rains!)

Day 10: I made it! End of the adventure!

Date: 1 October 2014
Route: Naunteuil en Vallee – St Privat des Pres
In the saddle: 08:00 – 16:00
Distance:  100 km ish

Well the hills seemed to get even bigger today! The morning started off very misty:


So I got some nice eerie photos:



I also met some cuties on the way:


And I passed through this famous place (thankfully it didn’t smell like its namesake):


It must have been around 26 degrees today and the sun felt so strong, I kept having to stop and put sun cream on.

I didn’t stop for any lunch as I was so close now, I just wanted to push on, so I fuelled on my nuts and dried fruit all day instead.

It was at this point that I knew I was close (and then proceeded to get lost!):


And finally, the last hill of the entire trip (one I know very well!):


And I made it! 9.5 days of cycling, something like 1,100 km, 6 nights camping, 3 nights b&b, thousands and thousands of calories consumed and a very exhausted but happy cyclist! Dad had even made a sign to welcome me!


And now for some refuelling and a lot of relaxing before flying back to Amsterdam! What an unbelievable trip! And hopefully one day, I will have enough time to do the entire route from Haarlem down to Santiago de Compostella….. Watch this space! 🙂


Day 9: Penultimate day (and the hills are bigger!)

Date: 30 September 2014
Route: Pussigny – Naunteuil en Vallee
In the saddle: 08:30 – 19:00
Distance:  140 km 

I got up at 7 and had a not-so nutritious breakfast of bread, jam and croissants and headed off into heavy mist around 08:30. There were many hills today and I was feeling incredibly tired. The route took me through Chatellerault and on down through Poitiers.


I waited until I got to the other side of Poitiers to have my lunch, and eventually stopped in a lovely village called Nouaille Maupertuis. I should also say the French couscous has been a God-send on these long rides. I devour an entire (large) pack in one sitting!


The weather is definitely getting warmer as I’m heading south, and I’ve been so lucky to have such amazing sunny days!

It was at this point that I calculated I must have reached 1,000km so I made a little sign and asked a old French man (with another King Charles Spaniel!) to take a photo. He seemed a bit confused at first and thought I wanted to take a picture of him, until I showed him my sign and then he understood! Still, the dog managed to photo bomb it all the same! 🙂


I must been getting closer to my destination now as I’ve reached the sunflowers! Alas, they’ve all gone over at this time of year:


I also passed by one or two very odd monuments, this one being particular hilarious, just outside of Chateau Garnier:


And a more traditional sight at Le Peu:


I got to see some beautiful sunsets on my ride, like this one just outside of Naunteuil en Vallee:


This afternoon’s ride was certainly hilly! I made it to my intended campsite by 7pm but it had completely closed up for the year. Since it would be my last night before reaching St. Privat, I decided to pitch my tent anyway and forgo the shower. I had enough water with me to cook with, and there was a small stream nearby, so I could refill ready for the next day from there.

I didn’t get much sleep though, I felt quite vulnerable in my tent for some reason. I heard the village clock chime every hour throughout the night until 04:00. Then I drifted off to sleep and woke up at 06:30. I was eager to get going as today was (fingers crossed!) my final day!

Day 8: A long day along the river Loire!

Date: 29 September 2014
Route: Beaugency -Pussigny
In the saddle: 08:30 – 20:15
Distance:  150 km (at least)

I got up early as I just wanted to get out of the campsite! It was drizzling slightly as I packed everything up, and I had to put my bike lights and yellow safety jacket on as it was so misty.


It was a lovely easy route towards Blois (and later, Tours) following the river Loire. Being right next to the river also meant that the cycling was flat. Hurrah!


I also passed by my first vineyard of the trip! As I was going through the town, I was struggling to work out why the name sounded so familiar: Vouvray. Then I saw the vineyards, and wondered no more! 🙂


I stopped off in a lovely picnic area in Monteaux for my lunch (yes, that’s a LOT of bread, I know, but I would need it for today’s mammoth distance!):


I hit Tours in the early afternoon. My route took me right past the Cathedral so I managed to get a picture:


I reached my intended destination just as dusk was falling, but there was no campsite or youth hostel in the village contrary to what my book said. I cycled round and round hoping one would magically appear, and an old man walking his King Charles Spaniel stopped me and asked what I was looking for (in French).

I tried to explain I was looking for a place to stay (in diabolical French) but he said there was nothing in the village. Seeing my desperation, he suggested I could come and stay with him and his wife, which was incredibly kind. (All the while his dog would not stop licking my leg!) I politely declined (I didn’t want to be a burden), and he suggested I could also go and sleep in the church just down the road. I did seriously consider it (had a look around and it seemed pretty cosy) but I knew that all my battery packs and phone needed recharging otherwise I wouldn’t be able to use them tomorrow, so I went back to my book and looked up places in the next town. I called ahead, and luckily there was a room available in another chamber d’hôte so I pushed on (absolutely exhausted by this time) to Pussigny. Arrived there just after 8pm, meaning I’d been on the go almost 12 hours! After a hot shower and some stove-cooked dinner, I slept amazingly well, very thankful for my bed!