Sunday, 12 November 2017

Dark Valley Half

I signed up for this race way back in the summer.  It sold out within a couple of hours in an internet frenzy in the running world that was reminiscent of the hype that surrounds ticket sales for a Stone Roses concert.  There was a 10k option but. when I signed up, a half marathon wasn't really what I considered to be a long run - so the half it was.  I didn't do anything as sensible as checking the start time, but for some reason had it in my head that we would be running late at night.  I blame British Summer Time!  It is hard to imagine that it can be dark by 5pm while sitting in the garden in full daylight at 9.30pm!

The race was organised by Andy and his excellent team at White Star Running.  There's nothing not to like about a WSR event, this view is shared by so many people that turning up feels a bit like turning up at a party where everyone knows your name.  The party atmosphere was much in evidence as we gathered at the start - fabulous fancy dress, tonnes of tutus, plenty of poppies and lots of fairy lights!  The start was at the visitor centre in Moors Valley Country Park and after a quick race briefing and a chef that we all had our head torches on we were off.  

It was very crowded at the start, but that was fine.  I got to listen to lots of conversations around me, which is often very amusing.  It also meant that I didn't set off too fast and took care with where I was putting my feet on the forest path.  One conversation, probably about 3 miles in, went as follows (-ish - my memory isn't great)

Runner 1:  I'll run with you - I don't want to run too fast
Runner 2: I'm actually enjoying running by myself, I wouldn't want to slow you down
Runner 1: Oh, that's fine, I need a slow run 
Runner 2: Er, I just find that when we run together you tend to run just a wee bit faster than I want to run, so I push myself to keep up
Runner 1: But it is good to push yourself a bit, anyway, I'm out for a slow one

How long this went on for I don't know, as I was running a wee bit faster than they were so was out of earshot, but Runner 2 was trying, so politely, to tell the other runner that they weren't interested in running together and Runner 1 wasn't having any of it!  

Just as I left The Lovestation (a most wonderful aid station with cake, beer and hugs) I heard my name being called - I turned round and saw a sea of head torches and had to ask who was there!  A group of 3 friends from Trotters Independent Trail Runners.  'We knew it was you,' said one of them, 'because of your running style and the funky leggings!'  (Tikkibo - you can see them here!) They are all really good runners, I ran with them for a bit, but felt that I was holding them back, so slowed down and let them go on, only to catch them up about half a mile later.  We ran as a loose group until I needed a wee stop (the queues at that start had been too long!)  I turned off my head torch and headed off the path.  I forgot that I had glow stick bracelets - and as I pulled up my leggings I looked up to see a group of runners waving at me!  
I ran with them for a bit, while we discussed places we had peed, before running on.  I caught up the Trotters guys again, we fell into conversation (predictably about bodily functions but also about Remembrance Day, the iPhone X and missed career opportunities), ran through and round puddles.  Some of the puddles were huge, and quite deep, there was plenty of mud and I heard of people who took tumbles.  At one point I was avoiding a puddle, while my running companion adopted a 'straight through the middle' approach.  I think I was wetter than he was as he splashed the entire contents of the puddle over me!  By this time, we'd split into two pairs rather than running as a four.  I could hear the other two chatting away behind us and was sure that we'd be back together again soon - especially as I was not even going to attempt running up the very steep, very off road (i.e. not even a proper path) hill!

We were so lucky with the weather.  The awful rain that had greeted us on Saturday morning had stopped during the afternoon, the ground was pleasingly soft and squishy underfoot. and when it did start to drizzle it felt refreshing and looked pretty in the beams of our head torches.

Coming to the end of the second lap we were delighted to peel off the course and onto the finish approach.  Due to a dip in the ground we could hear, but couldn't see, the finish until we were right on top of it.  Looking at watches for distance didn't help - the vagaries of GPS meant that we had 2 quite different distances recorded.  We crossed the line, were given our gorgeous medals and collected a packet of yummy biscuits (which I have hidden from the children) and a buff.  We reunited with friends, put on some extra layers - it gets cold really quickly at night - and then went off to eat chilli!  The cafe at the visitor centre had stayed open specially for us and we had pre-ordered our food.  We were delighted to find we could also buy a beer (Cocky Piddle is very nice).  The chilli was good, the company was great and it was lovely to get warm again.  

As we made our way back to the car there were still runners crossing the finish line - in an ideal world I'd have liked to stay around and cheer them all over the line, but it was getting colder now, and getting cold in damp clothing is not a good idea.  

All in all a great event.  Not a fast one, trail running in the dark was never going to be fast, but very enjoyable with great company, awesome bling, tasty food and beer!  


Saturday, 4 November 2017

Playing away again!

Having said in my last post that I don't get to indulge in much parkrun tourism, here comes another blog post about me going to a different parkrun!

This weekend Husbando had to be in London overnight for a book fair in Chelsea.  No. 1 son was popping down from university in Manchester to help him, so I hopped on the train after school on Friday and spent a very pleasant evening with the two of them.

On Saturday morning I had a huge number of parkruns I could choose from.  I used the excellent Tourist Tool to narrow down the choices to Burgess parkrun and Southwark parkrun - both were within 3 miles of where we were staying, but the route to Burgess Park looked simpler, and with my capacity to get lost while running that can only be a good thing.  Just as well - Southwark parkrun was cancelled today due to setting up for a fireworks display later in the day.

I've never run to a parkrun before.  I've had a mad panic sprint from a tube station to the start line, but  I have never set out to run to a parkrun and back again before.  Three miles there, pretty much in a straight line - simples!  Shame about the rain.  It wasn't really part of my plan to arrive at the start line soaking wet - but never mind - skin is waterproof.

The start was easy to find.  Wearing my 250 shirt guarantees that someone will say hello to you at a parkrun (in my experience anyway).  Most of the time they want to know where the start is/where they can leave the bags/where the loos are - none of which I can help them with as I've not been there either!

Just before 9am the 'new runners' briefing was announced and I dutifully went along.  I was pleased to hear that this was a one lap course - I like a one lapper!  The new runner briefing was held at the back of the starting pack.  A word of advice to  any tourists wanting to run a fast time would be 'skip the briefing!'  Unless you are planning to be the very fastest person there you know the drill and can follow the person in front.  In fact even if you are planning to be the first finisher the marshals will point you in the right direction!  I did go the briefing, and so had to start at the back of 350+ runners!  I wasn't too worried - I'd already run 3 miles and was just wanting to have a pleasant run in the park.

Unbeknownst to me, the runners were assemble on paths either side of a flower bed and there was a fine array of park furniture and bins to negotiate - I felt as though I was in a game of Super Mario Bros as I tried to go over or round the benches!  Once clear of this - it was plain sailing.  Relatively flat, on paths around a really interesting park.  There was a lovely fishing lake, complete with fishermen, a bridge to nowhere and intriguing glimpses of various buildings.  If the weather had been nicer I'd have hung around to explore a bit! I was surprised at how easy it felt to run today.  I ran the first mile faster than I expected to, and sped up a bit faster each mile.   I chatted with fellow runners as we ran, enjoyed the feeling over overtaking a fair few people as I ran to the finish funnel.  The funnel manager managed to congratulate every runner as they came through to collect their finish token!

After getting my token scanned, and chatting with some tourists from Fulham Palace parkrun, I started off back to the hotel.  It was raining properly now, there were a lot more pedestrians and puddles to negotiate and I managed to take a wrong turn somewhere along the way but got back eventually for a very welcome hot shower!  Soon after I got back to the hotel, while I was sitting with a cup of tea and a couple of slices of buttered toast, my results text came through.  I'd finished first in my age category - for the first time in a very long time!

I think I may have caught the tourism bug.  I may have lived in London for years, but Burgess Park is 'south of the river' and in an area that I have never been to before.  I wonder where my next 'new' parkrun will be....


Saturday, 21 October 2017

Pomphrey Hill

It has been a long time since I have written about visiting a different parkrun, purely because I haven't visited any new to me parkruns for ages.  I love a bit of parkrun tourism but I try to resist the temptation to travel miles and miles on a Saturday morning just to visit a parkrun I haven't been to before.  I try to save tourism for if I happen to be somewhere new on a Saturday morning.

Today was such a morning.  Husbando had to be in Bath for a book fair so I looked for a nearby parkrun that I hadn't yet visited.  I'd done Bath Sky Line a couple of times in the past (back in 2014)- it has fantastic views, so plumped for a short drive over to Bristol to visit Pomphrey Hill parkrun.  I was somewhat concerned about the word 'Hill' in the name, more concerned about having to get up at 4.30am at the weekend, but decided to give it a go.

What a great parkrun it is!  I don't normally like three lap courses, but this one is so varied and is twisty turny enough to maintain interest.  The hill is short and sharp, but compensated for by plenty of gentle downhills.  The finish is on an uphill slope - which makes a sprint finish that bit more challenging.  The start and finish area is right next to a sports pavilion - so loos are really convenient. Teas, coffees, flap jacks and bacon rolls are available at the pavilion too.  This meant that there were loads of people hanging around after they had finished their run to support the other runners.

I was very grateful of the support today.  About three quarters of a mile into the run my calf really started to hurt.  Not the sort of dull ache I've had over the last few days but a really painful, tear inducing type of hurt!  I walked for a bit, I considered not finishing the run - but when was I going to get back down to Bristol to run here again?  I shuffled around the second two laps.  The marshals were very supportive - mostly with lovely west country accents.  I managed to put on a bit of pace as I approached the finish - and then could barely walk through the finish funnel!  I got my barcode scanned and chatted with a few people, bought a drink, signed the visitor book (what a lovely idea - I had a leaf through it and saw messages from people I know) before heading back to Bath.

Huge thanks to all the volunteers and the regular runners who made me feel so welcome.

I am going to have to get my legs sorted out.  Luckily it is half term, so hopefully I can get to see my wonderful chiropracter and sports physiotherapist.  So pain and marking is what I have to look forward to this week!  Happy half term everyone!

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Royal Parks Half

This race defies my law of threes.  In general I have found that revisiting any race for a third time greatly reduces my enjoyment of the event.  This has happened at several races - I won't name them here as it isn't the race organisers' fault it is just one of those things.  But the Royal Parks Half defies this rule.  I've run it every year since it was my first half marathon back in 2011 and have loved it every year.

This year I was approaching it with trepidation.  I have something wrong with my leg.  I'm not sure what.  It just fails to work properly sometimes, normally after I have been sitting down for a while.  The other evening I stood up and could not walk across the sitting room - I think it may be a trapped nerve and I will need to get it sorted at some point soon.  This, added to my general lack of fitness, meant that I didn't hold out much hope for this race.  But deferrals aren't possible and the ballot is quite hard to get into so I thought that I might as well pitch up.  And it was the 10th anniversary of this race.

So, up early to get a lift into London with Husbando.  We left the house at 4.45am, which left plenty of time for a second breakfast when we got into London, plenty of time for pre race faffing around before heading to Hyde Park.  This race has grown a lot since I first ran it and there were long queues for loos and the baggage drop, but I had loads of time.  I had enough time to buy a packet of Shot Blocks to replace the ones I'd left on the kitchen table.  I was looking around for familiar faces.  I didn't see anyone I knew - which is quite unusual!  I didn't even spot the one person I knew who was running the race.

I made my way to my starting pen with a target of 2hrs in my mind.  Scarily near the front.  Just the super fast runners in the tiny pen in front of us.  This may not have been the wisest idea in terms of race strategy - but there wasn't much I could really do about that!  We set off a couple of minutes after 9am - just as the Sun decided to poke out from the clouds.

About 30 seconds later I needed the loo!  I tried to convince myself that it was psychological - because I never need to pee during races - and ran past the first set of loos.  By the time I got to Buckingham Palace I knew that I really did need a wee, thankfully there were loos at the Horseguards end of Birdcage walk!  It was a double blessing, because that minute meant I was with slightly slower runners and was not quite so tempted to try to keep pace with them.

The route took us down Whitehall, as we drew level with Downing Street there was a sign saying 'U-turn ahead.'  It is a measure of the youth of all those around me that I had to explain the irony of this! It was a very much younger crowd than I encounter at most races!   And it was a crowd!  It was always busy but most of the runners were good natured and there was very little jostling.   After a quick jog around the Alwych, Trafalgar Square and up Pall Mall we were back in Hyde Park.  The wall of noise here was phenomenal!  This is always a well supported section of the race, but it was even louder than normal, and the support in the park was much better than in previous years where there has been a dead zone around the 11 mile point.  The support more than mitigated the aggravation caused by people trying to cross the path of the runners with toddlers, buggies, dogs etc.

If I wanted to hit my 2hr target I had to run 9 minute miles.  I was doing that. In fact I was doing a bit better than that, but my goodness it was really hard work.  I haven't run many races entirely on 'road' for a long time, and my undertrained legs really felt the impact.  I think I worked harder for this race than I have in any race in a very long time.  The course is pretty flat, but there were a few welcome downhills, which means there must have been corresponding uphills but I didn't notice those!  Unusually for me I ran pretty consistently - and was overtaking people in the second half who had over taken me in the early stages.  Nevertheless,  I was really glad to turn the final corner and run past the Albert Memorial towards the finish line.

My finish time is over 10 minutes slower than my PB, but I don't think my legs could have taken me any faster today.  My Garmin tells me that my recovery time is 67hours!  I started this recovery after I had collected my bag from the bag tent... I was waiting for a friend who had started in a later pen, so I took advantage of the sunny weather, plonked my back pack on the ground to use as a pillow and had a snooze in the sunshine before we met up for a well earned lunch and a glass of wine.   The lovely waiter gave us free coffees!

I've already registered my interest for next year's race....



Sunday, 1 October 2017

Too much trail for road shoes, too much road for trail shoes!

We had nothing booked this weekend.  I'd like to say it was because I am taking the taper for the Royal Parks Half seriously but in reality it is because I just hadn't got around to thinking about races for the autumn!  Part way through last week a friend told me that Basingstoke Half Marathon was on today and that it was possible to sign up on the day.  I was tempted.  But, getting there and back again would be a pain (they close the road from our house to Basingstoke) and the route is reputed to be very hilly (853ft of elevation in 13.1 miles).  I also know that the minute you stick a race number on my shirt I tend to get a bit competitive - especially if it is a road race.   I could happily run my 1hr 31 min training run on my own.

And then... I saw on Facebook that the Alton 10k Downland Challenge was on today.   Again, we could enter on the day and the start line was a 10 minute drive from our front door.  OK, so it was only 10k, and I needed to run for an hour and a half, but that meant I could just carry on after the finish.  Husbando was up for it too, as were several people we know from the children's school.

We left the house at 9.40am for a race that started at 10.30am - bliss!  Parking was easy and well signposted, signing up for the race was hassle free and we got to watch the children's races while we were waiting to start our race.  The Mayor blew the horn to start the race on the dot of 10.30 and we were off, across the park and then onto the pavement for the first 2k through Holybourne before turning off onto tracks across the Bonham Estate.  A lot of these tracks were tarmac - which was hard going in trail shoes, a steady drag up to 2 miles followed by a brief respite of gentle downhill slopes.  We were then off the roads and onto the trails, the muddy trails!

I do love a bit of trail running, and was just thinking 'It has been a long time since I've fallen over while running down muddy hills!' when I did just that!  No serious damage was done - just rather a lot of mud and a rather more cautious approach for the rest of the race, which was probably just as well - I'd gone off a bit faster than I'd wanted to at the start and needed to be a bit mindful of the extra time I'd need to run after the race.

At about 8km we were back on the road again, I had no goal for this race because I hadn't done any research into how hilly/muddy it would be, but at this point I realised that I'd have to get my skates on if I wanted to finish in under an hour.  I picked up my pace a little and started picking off runners.  The last section of the race was one of those soul destroying circuits of a park (Anstey Park) where you can see the finish line but you have to run all the way around the park, past all the children playing rugby, over long, muddy grass (and I am always watchful for doggy land mines!) until, eventually, you get to the finish.  I overtook 5 or 6 people in the park, I was on a mission for my sub 60!  I made it, just, crossing the line in 59:56!

A brief stop to drink some water, collect my medal and goodie bag (a lovely 'Alton Runners' buff and some vouchers that are actually useful!) and then I was off for another 30 minutes of running around Alton.  You can see the video of the run here - I quite like these 'Relive' videos as it helps me to work out where I have actually been!

The race was well organised, low key and enjoyable.  A lovely opportunity to run on land that is normally not open to the public.  The hills were challenging - I may have found the Basingstoke Half less taxing as at least they were on roads!  In 6.2 miles we clocked up 538 ft of elevation gain, that's 94ft for every mile as opposed to 65ft for every mile at Basingstoke - which makes a bit of a nonsense of me choosing to do an 'easier' route!  Still I am glad to have supported a local race and it was great to bump into some friends I haven't seen for a wee while.

Next Sunday is the Royal Parks Half Marathon.  The only race I have done repeatedly and still enjoyed it as much each time as the first time.  It is where I have my half marathon PB (1hr 43mins), that PB is not under threat this year!  I've been lucky enough to get a ballot place for the last 2 years, the race is massively oversubscribed, not quite on a London Marathon scale but not far off and, while charity places are always available, it is lovely to be able to just turn up and run without having to struggle to get sponsorship.


Sunday, 10 September 2017

Woodland Way

Embracing my TrainAsOne training programme did wonders for encouraging me to get out and run again.  I loved the variety - it got me out of the routine I had been in for a while and made me run honestly, by which I mean that I ran the distance the programme told me to run without stopping, rather than making excuses to stop and take photos!

I am not nearly back to where I was before I went away. In my mind I didn't need to worry as I hadn't entered any races until mid October... so it was something of a shock when a friend pointed out that I had entered an On The Whistle event.  In fact, on checking, it transpired that I had been so keen to do the Woodland Way Challenge that I had entered twice.  This was soon rectified - one of the entries was changed to a later event, and I didn't think much more about it.

I love On The Whistle events and not just because I love the people behind the name!  The events are small, low key and loads of my running family take part.  The out and back or looping nature means that you get to see people again and again - so if you don't know anyone at the start you will by the finish.

But today I wasn't feeling the love for going out and running 'a race.'  Technically this wasn't a race - it was a six hour challenge, I only needed to complete one of the 3.8 mile laps to get a medal, but at every other On The Whistle event I had clocked up at least a marathon distance.  I didn't think I could  run a marathon - not when I hadn't run more than 9.25 miles since Endure 24 back in early June.  I wondered if I could get my mum to write a note to say I was off PE - heck - I was pretty sure I could forge her signature.  I decided that I would run a half marathon, then come home and make some jam.  In a choice between lesson planning and jam making it is nearly always jam that wins!

Arriving at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park I realised that although I knew a lot of people, two of the On The Whistle regulars whose company I really enjoy were not there.  I don't see them often as they live the other side of the county - but we've nattered our way through many a mile.  To be honest, due to his speed I normally have to resort to throwing insults at RH as he passes me, but poor PJ is probably sick of my company after running with me at Endure24!    We assembled and waited for the whistle.

The first 2/3rds of a mile is uphill.  Not hugely steep, but nowhere near flat.  I made a decision that I would run it at least once without stopping or walking - so off I went.  It hasn't got any flatter since last year!  We were all pretty bunched up at the start but the hill soon ensured that we spread out a bit!  The route was lollipop shaped, along gravel and chalk paths through the woodland areas of QECP, the sun was shining and I should have been having a great time.  But it was such hard work.

During my first lap I was thrilled to see PJ running towards me.  He wasn't taking part in the event, but was running around the route just to check it was properly marked before going to spend the rest of the day doing something more constructive.  We stopped and had a bit of a chat.  When I shouted that 'seeing him had made my day' I wasn't lying.

Halfway through the second lap I felt a blister develop on my left foot.  I've never really been prone to running blisters.  I've had awful blisters from silly high heeled shoes - but not from trainers.  At the end of the lap I changed my trainers and taped up the blister, but it was still rather painful to run on.  I set off up the hill adopting a walk 40 run 50 strides strategy.  I caught up with a few runners this way, but felt very sorry for the poor person behind me who kept almost catching me up when I was walking, only for me to pull away as I started running.  I can't count and talk at the same time - so couldn't explain that I wasn't really waiting for her to be on my shoulder just to start running!

Mid way through lap 3 (fuelled by Haribos, fudge and cocktail sausages no doubt) I began to think I could probably run the 7 laps needed for a marathon.  Heck, I could probably walk a couple of laps and still make it in under 6hrs.  Thankfully it then began to rain and I decided running in the rain for 3+ more hours was not fun.  The rain didn't last long, but my mind was made up.  I had other things to do, and I wasn't so desperate to run a marathon that I was going to spend over 6hrs doing it on untrained legs.  I wanted to be able to walk tomorrow - meeting new parents at school while looking as though I need a walking stick is not likely to inspire confidence.  I was doing 4 laps and that was that!

Once that decision was made it seemed much easier.  I could put a bit of effort in as I wouldn't be running for too much longer.  The last downhill was glorious!  My legs weren't shredded the way they would be at the end of a marathon or an ultra and I could really run down to the finish.  I rang the bell and finished the race - clocking up 15.5 miles.  I hung around for a while to stuff my face with more Haribos and see some friends finish/wish them well as they continued on for another 3+hrs.

I came home and made plum jam!

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Back to school resolutions

Back to school takes a while in this house.  We are 'multi schooled,' even if we had just one child we would have to tie up two school calendars as I can't see me teaching my own child, but currently we have four different schools to consider.  Five educational establishments if you consider the eldest at university - just as well my older daughter is taking a gap year, we won't have to contend with six different places until next year!   So the back to school madness started on Monday, but doesn't finish until tomorrow.  I'm not 100% sure when the university student goes back... but he is, at least in the right city!

This year has seen my youngest start secondary school.  She had her first day today and seems very happy.  For the first time ever, I am the last one to go back to work.  This meant that I could go with her and watch her march off, heavily laden with her back pack and PE kit, to embark on the next stage of her life.  I also got to pick up a very happy girl who had made new friends and is excited about going back tomorrow.  It hasn't been a big change for her - she has been at the same school since she was 2yrs and 4mths old, but there have been just enough differences to make it an occasion.

It has been lovely to be at home when they get home from school and to talk about their day and their homework.  It has also been lovely to be at home with an ever reducing number of people demanding lifts and snacks.

Tonight the two youngest were sitting at the kitchen table and one of them said 'Oh no - Mum's going back to work tomorrow!' and the other replied 'She'll be all stressy and tired in the evenings.'  I nearly cried.  I wanted to cry, I wanted to say 'I won't go back, I'll stay home.'  There is certainly enough to keep me occupied around the house and garden there, but I like my job.

I love my job.  I always knew that I would miss some things that my children did.  Sometimes a parents' evening for my students would clash with a school play at one of my children's schools.  Sometimes I'd end up sitting at a parents' evening, trying to remain resolutely positive and upbeat about my students' performance while worrying about what my children's teachers were telling Husband about them at their parent - teacher review....

I love my job.  But I wish it didn't take over so much of my life.  Maybe part time teaching is the long term solution, but at the moment finances dictate that we beed both the incomes.  So my resolution this school year is to work harder on getting the work-life balance right.  I will try to work more efficiently at school and not bring as much work home with me.  But more importantly I need to learn to leave emotional load at work.

It is either that or win the lottery.....