Reflections on the Year 2019 & What’s Next

2019 is drawing to a close. I realised that I have neglected my blog somewhat this year, and I thought I’d share some reflections on the year that has gone and what’s next.

The past year was, to an extent, one of transition. Quite a few changes happened and ultimately those changes have seen me end up much happier and healthier than I might have been otherwise. It didn’t start this year and it hasn’t finished yet, but it has been an important year.

I kicked the year off with running trips / training camps to the Canary Islands (read more here and here). I love these trips because I thrive on being able to motivate and help people reach their goals, and to see others grow in confidence. Coaching is the part of running that I really enjoy and that gives me great fulfilment.

Running Trip to Gran Canaria

In February I moved from the UK to Norway. I had lived in the UK for 11 years but recently I had not been happy there. I was able to take a step back from one of my businesses and with a looming Brexit and an increasing feeling of not being as welcome as before as a EU citizen the timing was perfect. I was ready to leave.

Skiing in Norway

The move enabled me to slow down my pace and stress less. Being able to change environment was fundamental to continuing rebuilding my health and my life following hitting the wall in early 2018. As was my partner and now husband Sondre Amdahl. In him I have found a rock. He is a support who doesn’t try to change a bit of me but who gives me a reality check if I need it, whilst encouraging my ideas and plans. He is also exceptional at making me feel good about myself, something which more men should learn. He has taught me to really love myself which is a fantastic revelation in many ways and one which I wish all women should experience.

The best husband πŸ™‚

I celebrated one year (soon two) of adopting a plant based diet. This was something I chose for health reasons in February 2018 after extensive research. After having been 100% plant based for the first 8 months since adopting this way of eating, I now eat about 95% plant based with the occasional egg or local cheese depending on circumstances. I think that some flexibility makes life easier, especially when travelling. I also do not desire to be 100% strict about anything in life because I don’t believe it is a healthy way of going about things. The plant based way of eating has made a huge difference to my well-being and I will write about that separately in 2020. The reason I haven’t done it so much yet is that I felt I wanted to give it time. Also, whilst I now am a big believer in the power of plants for health, environment and animal welfare, I don’t want to push it down people’s throats (no pun intended!). I have my viewpoint and I know it is backed by extensive and solid research, but I respect other people’s choices.

Food shopping from the Souk in Agadir

In the spring I became stronger and bounced back to training. I had suffered an outdrawn cold after having been in Nepal (read about the Three Passes Trek here) and Oman in November in 2018, and finally it went, but it meant I had to defer my entry in Marathon des Sables due to missing out on important months of training. Sondre and I went to Tenerife in May for some great altitude trails before taking on the Trans Atlas Marathon in Morocco in June. This was a super technical race in the Atlas Mountains where we covered around 230 km in 6 days in remote mountains and often on trackless terrain. It was an incredible experience. I came back with the win but most importantly new friends and great memories. After the race we chilled for a few days in Taghazout, a relaxed coastal village north of Agadir, mostly frequented by surfers and yogis. This is a place where you can truly relax and immerse yourself in the soothing sound of the sea, watch the fishermen leave shore at dawn, walk on the beach, cook with local produce from the souk in Agadir, and enjoy a relaxed pace of life.

Enjoying volcanic trails in Tenerife above the clouds
Winning Trans Atlas Marathon in Morocco
Taghazout in Morocco

We then spent four weeks in Greece in July, on Meganisi and Lefkada. This brought some happy memories since we got engaged in Meganisi in the summer 2018. I love Greece for the climate, the food, the mellow pace and the running it offers. It is a very healthy way of life in so many ways.

Chilling in Greece…
…enjoying good food and wine…
…and running on winding roads in the mountains!

With the summer training in the bag I thought I was well prepared to tackle to the Ultra Mirage 100km in Tunisian Sahara last weekend of September. This is a race I won the year before. It has a fantastic and very passionate organisation which works tirelessly to build the race and put Tunisia on the map in terms of ultra running. I was very happy to return here. Unfortunately it wasn’t my day and I pulled out after 35km. My legs had nothing to give, the heat was extortionate, and it probably didn’t help my period was due on race day (though luckily for reasons mentioned below it didn’t arrive until a day late!). These things happen and sometimes it’s just not the day. On the topic of period I had stupidly made a mistake to forget to bring tampons and also wasn’t able to find any when transiting between flights. After having searched about six supermarkets, pharmacies and beauty shops in Tunis I gave up. One pharmacist looked at me in horror and firmly exclaimed a shocked “non” when I explained what I was looking for. I learned that in Tunisia, like in other countries in this part of the world, women are supposed to be virgins until they marry, and that hymen reconstructive surgery is common to “reverse” virginity in those who aren’t. Since a tampon effectively destroys the hymen I guess this explains the lack of availability. It struck me how such a small thing, that we in the western world take for granted, can be a really strong symbol of women’s rights and their freedom to own and decide over their own bodies and sexuality. I will never travel without tampons again…

The weekend before Tunisia Sondre and I got married. This was the highlight of my year. We returned to Swedish Lapland where we had run Kungsleden together in 2017. We were so blessed that our close friends and family wanted to make the long and arduous journey to join us in this remote wilderness. We had a beautiful day and one will cherish forever. It was cold but we narrowly escaped the snow and rain for our outside ceremony. I was also pleased that I had been able to be very relaxed about the planning of it and hadn’t resorted to enormous spreadsheets nor getting stressed out by micro managing every detail. I even picked the dress in just 2 hours in the first shop I visited. If you know me that is practically unheard of! I was only sad that my parents and uncle were unable to attend. My father passed away in 2010, my mum has advanced Alzheimers and is unable to travel, and sadly my uncle passed away in August after an outdrawn battle with cancer. I had lit three candles for them at our wedding dinner and I would like to believe they were there in spirit.

Wedding in Saltoluokta in Swedish Lapland. Photo by Ian Corless.
Photo by Ian Corless

We spent a couple of weeks in October in Gran Canaria to do a recce for our January 2020 training camps. Gran Canaria suffered a large wildfire in August and we couldn’t leave anything to chance. We experienced the island in a new light. The smell of ashes was still lingering in the air and the landscape was characterised by burnt, bright red and orange pine needles, in some places all black but with some green sprouts fighting to rise again from the black ashes and bring back life. It was beautiful in its own way and with some of the vegetation destroyed, as sad as it is, it opened up new views and made some trails even more stunning than before. Our participants should hopefully have a great experience in January and February of 2020.

Gran Canaria dressed in red
Life rises again through the ashes on Gran Canaria

As for racing I went back to the drawing board and decided to take up my deferred place in Marathon des Sables for 2020. This race has always had a special place in my heart. It is what led me to seek a new path in life in 2012 and what ultimately led me to a career change. Having now missed out in both 2018 and 1019 I look forward to going back for my fifth edition. I also look forward to running Ultra-X in the Azores and Jordan and I am thinking of a few other adventures, to be revealed in due course…:-)

Looking forward to returning to Marathon des Sables. Photo by Ian Corless.

As I look forward to 2020 I am also thinking about what else to do and communicate about. It strikes me that running paints a one-dimensional picture of me and doesn’t reflect who I am as a person. Whilst winning races enabled me to make a career out of running-related things and move away from my 9-5 city job, I feel it is not sustainable for me to practise running at this level for much longer. Let’s be real, running at elite level is not healthy for most people. You may not realise that when you observe it from the outside, but when you become more aware of what is happening behind the glorified instagram posts, it is apparent that many, especially women, suffer health issues of various kinds. Eating disorders, compulsive training regimens, self-imposed restrictions on life are a few things that can be mentioned. It makes me question whether I am motivated enough, and whether the physical and emotional cost is worthwhile. As someone who suffered eating disorders in my late teens and early twenties I am mindful this is not a pattern I want to risk falling back into, and running for enjoyment rather than standing on the top of the podium has much greater appeal to me. Some people may be able to combine the two but for me, when running becomes too much of a chore, I no longer enjoy it in the same way and I want to be able to continue to enjoy it.

Finding love in running when I get to experience new and beautiful places! Photo: Sondre Amdahl

I am passionate about many things. Among them is travelling and discovering new places & cultures; nutrition; cooking; enjoying good food and wine; well-being; and writing. I also want to encourage women to feel self-love, to be confident, to care less about what other people think, and to embrace and own their femininity and sexuality.

Sneaking in a “sexy” photo shoot after the wedding… πŸ˜‰ Photo by Ian Corless.

These are some topics I might decide to communicate about more in 2020. I also have some travels planned (of course!) including the Canary Islands, Morocco, Mexico (belated honeymoon!), and more.

I always keep in the back of my mind that life is short. You never know what is around the corner so don’t put off your plans. You can’t change yesterday, you don’t know if tomorrow will come, so make the most out of the present!

If you are interested in anything in particular of what I mentioned, do reach out to me. I love getting feedback, comments and suggestions or to just hear what’s on your mind. You can e-mail me on elisabet@ultra.coach if you don’t want to comment openly on the post.

I wish you much love and a happy, fulfilled 2020 and hopefully see you somewhere in the world!

8 Comments

  1. Fiona Hardy

    As a lady who has just turned 59 and heading for the MDS 2020, I love reading your blogs, you give me hope and inspiration to do what I want to do and to not doubt myself, I absolutely love a challenge, I train hard but don’t beat myself up if I have a few days off, life is about enjoyment and you ooze that message.
    Thank you x

  2. Leila

    Hi Elisabeth,
    Apologies about your negative experience in Tunisia, it is hard not to get hurt as organizers πŸ™ we did our best to make your stay comfortable, every chain grocery store has tampons in Tunisia, we would have brought you what you needed if you asked us! ultramirage remains an important gender sensitive race and our community and organizers are full of strong determined women.
    Leila for UltraMirage team πŸ™πŸΌ

    1. Elisabet Barnes

      Hi Leila! You are a fantastic group of people and I love what you are doing with this race and for Tunisia, and for women! The reality is that I couldn’t find any tampons in several larger grocery stores and pharmacies but I am very glad to hear they exist. Maybe I was just unlucky. Rest assured that this is by no means a reflection of the race. I have clarified in the text the positivity I feel for you guys and for the race. Happy New Year to you and I wish you continued success with Ultra Mirage! 😊

  3. Andrew White

    Wow – what a review and what a year you’ve had. In 2016/17 I visited your shop ahead of MDS, I distinctly remember buying everything at breakneck speed, terrified at the big challenge ahead and humbled at your kindness. I was in awe of you then, you were also so genuinely interested in others who’d been to the shop and so very kind to us all at the race – even when you had your focus on the win.

    Your love of coaching and nurturing was apparent then and all the more now. If only your spirit, honesty and integrity could be bottled.

    I’m in awe again of you – the way you kicked the uk in to touch and how you are now concentrating on people and actions that nourish your own self rather than the horror of a 24/7 online persona.

    I hope one day to get coached by you – for now I’m a bit hooked on Ironman competitions, but when my arms give up and I can’t swim – I know exactly who I want to help me get ultra ready. You’ve quite literally rejuvenated my spirit – thanks and congrats to you both

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