Photo by Rob Sara
By John Lenehan
‘My legs were destroyed but I kept running and didn’t give up.’
Edinburgh AC athlete Amanda Woodrow has won battles with anorexia and sepsis in the past, so when the going got tough at the 2023 Anglo-Celtic Plate 100km road race, nothing was going to stop her . . .
The ACP event, seen by many as the pinnacle of UK and Irish ultra-endurance running, features international-level teams from Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The annual event rotates around different venues in the UK and Ireland, and was held this year in Craigavon, Northern Ireland, in April.
Woodrow, a 34-year old psychology researcher and qualified athletics coach, originally from Fife, long-time resident of Edinburgh, and now based in the Borders, was making her debut at the 100k distance and representing Scotland for the first time.
She completed the race in a time of 8 hours and 39 minutes, finishing fifth overall and second Scottish female.
Along with her Scottish team-mates Emma Murray (8:26) from jogscotland Kintore, and Portobello RC’s Catherine Cowie (8:52), the Scotland women’s team were triumphant, returning home with the famous ACP trophy.
Selection for the Scotland team followed Woodrow winning the 2022 Scottish 50k road race championships, clocking an impressive time of 3 hours and 47 minutes.
Amanda had also competed successfully in several other ultra-marathons, run the West Highland Way three times, and completed an epic Land’s End to John O’Groats running challenge.
Amanda with team-mates Catherine Cowie and Emma Murray celebrate ACP trophy success
However, the 100km Anglo-Celtic Plate race didn’t go exactly to plan for Woodrow, in what were unusually warm conditions in Northern Ireland.
‘It was an early start and the first half of the race was fine, I went through halfway in under 4 hours,’ she said.
‘But in the second 50k, when it warmed up, I got a bit of heatstroke and sunburn. I started being sick and couldn’t keep any nutrition down. With 15k to go I was destroyed, but I kept running and didn’t give up.
‘It wasn’t the performance I had trained for and hoped for, but I’m delighted to have finished. It was an incredible experience, and to win the Anglo-Celtic Plate with my Scotland team-mates was amazing!’
No stranger to adversity, Amanda has battled back from a number of difficult and life-threatening situations, making it all the more remarkable that she is now ultra-running at international level.
She started out as a promising 800m and 1500m track runner as a Junior and young adult and competed all over the UK and Europe.
But in the early years of her athletics career, Woodrow suffered from anorexia which subsequently brought on a number of serious injuries. Sadly, she was eventually hospitalised.
‘I realise now that back then I was over-training and under-fuelling myself,’ she reflected, with admirable candour.
‘It wasn’t sustainable, my body and mind were gradually deteriorating, and eventually I reached breaking point.
‘Building back to health was a tough journey. I know now that it’s vital for athletes of all ages, but particularly for young and developing athletes, to fuel their bodies well.
‘It’s good to see that nowadays there is much more awareness about eating disorders and RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport). Sports clubs and coaches seem to be a lot more mindful of the issue. It’s so important.’
Woodrow battled back from anorexia and RED-S, and got her life and athletics career back on track, taking to road racing as well as track running.
She also became an ambassador and volunteer for Beat (an eating disorders charity), began a PhD, and continued with her athletics coaching role.
But this hard-won stability was shattered by a freak case of sepsis, brought on by a routine injection, which left her fighting for her life in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
‘Sepsis happens when your body’s immune system over-reacts to an infection, causing serious damage to your organs and tissues,’ explained Amanda.
‘Generally, people don’t realise how serious sepsis is. You deteriorate very quickly and it’s life-threatening. It completely destroyed one of my glute muscles, there’s not much left of it now, but I consider myself lucky.
‘I had a lot of rehabilitation work to do, but I was so determined to get back to running, it’s what I love to do and it really gave my recovery a focus.’
Woodrow persevered with her recovery and rehabilitation, and duly completed her PhD.
But she could never have imagined that within a few years she would be representing Scotland at the 100k distance.
‘I was left with a massive imbalance because the sepsis basically ravaged my entire left glute and I soon realised my body wouldn’t be able to handle the intensity of track running and shorter road races,’ she said.
‘So I started back running slowly, I gradually built up my strength, and I found I was enjoying building up to longer distances. But running for Scotland in the Anglo-Celtic Plate 100km race is beyond anything I thought I could achieve in athletics!’
Amanda’s story is told across a double page spread in the current edition of PB magazine
Edinburgh AC coach Alex MacEwen has spoken highly of Woodrow’s achievements and contribution to athletics in Scotland.
Alex said: ‘Amanda has been with our club for nearly 20 years and has competed at every distance, on the track, road, trails and hills, from local parkruns to European track championships to international 100k events.
‘She doesn’t just win medals but also wins total respect from everyone.
‘Amanda has built up a great knowledge of the sport which she passes on to others through her coaching and contributions to discussions on diet and body image. And she’ll always give you a smile and a wave as she runs gracefully past!’
Woodrow has proven her resilience many times, but could be forgiven for putting her feet up for a while in the aftermath of her ACP exploits.
However, she is already looking to the future, intending to run the 42-mile ‘Devil o’ the Highlands’ race in August, and then the Valencia Marathon in December.
Amanda also has unfinished business with the 100km distance.
‘I know I can do better in the 100k. I learned a lot from my first attempt, and I know I am capable of a much faster time. So I would really love to go back and give the distance another go, and do myself justice.
‘I also hope that my first Scotland vest won’t be my last!’
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Photo via Adrian Stott