Sunday, 10 June 2018

Phoenix Explorer

This weekend last year saw me running around Wasing Park at Endure24.  I wasn't having a great time.  My friend wasn't having a great time, having to stop running after 20 miles.  Somehow we managed to talk each other into entering again this year... and then when injury and illness got in the way and we both decided to be sensible and grown up and defer, which I was absolutely fine with.  Honestly.  I was looking forward to a weekend of not running, I wasn't going to feel at all jealous when I saw the updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Not at all.

And then a few things happened.  I completed my 12 marathons in 12 months challenge some time ago, but hadn't run at any Phoenix Running events for a while so hadn't been able to collect my certificate and medal, and ten extra places were announced in the Phoenix Explorer marathon.  Just ten places, and demand would be huge because the medal was going to be very special - so a ballot was organised - and I got a place!  At least I wouldn't be sitting around doing nothing while all my friends were running.

And what a day it was!  We had World Record Holding twins (the most marathons run by twins) and a couple of  milestone marathons announced before we started our race, but other than that it was the shortest race briefing ever!  I did almost miss the briefing though -the last time I'd run a Phoenix event at Walton On Thames registration and the briefing had been down on the tow path.  I was happily chatting with a couple of people, wondering where every one was, down by the river having not read my race instructions at all!

The marathon was 4 out and backs, each of just over 6 miles, from Walton towards Hampton Court.  I decided, fearful of the wheels coming off the bus again as they had at Dorchester, that I would just aim to get around without feeling the need to cry at any point.  I chatted with various people at the start but have to admit that I was feeling a bit 'peopled out!'  I was more than happy to plod along (run 9 minutes, walk 1 for as long as I could) with my own thoughts for company.  I dropped in and out of conversations with other runners and there were faces I looked forward to seeing as they came running towards me on the out and backs and was more than happy to stop for a chat at the aid stations at either end of the route but for the most part I was happy on my own.

I watched the rowers going up and down the river, saw ducklings with their parents, avoided getting run over by bikes and tripping up young children.  I even managed to put on a bit of a sprint in order to avoid a dog that thought my legs looked tasty.  The conditions for the first half of the marathon were ideal - nice and cool with a light breeze, but it soon got rather warm and sunny.  I was enjoying the run, but was aware that my pace had slipped.  I didn't really care - because I was still going to finish faster than I had at Dorchester!  

Despite the fact that I was enjoying the run, I was very glad to get to the finish - the tow path is a mixture of hard packed gravel and tarmac, in the dry conditions it felt as hard as a road marathon and my knees were feeling a bit achey towards the end, I managed to pick up the pace at the very end to ensure I finished under 4hrs45mins.  Then it was bling time!

And when I say 'bling time' I mean "BLING TIME!"  The medal is epic.  It weighs in at 3.66kg and comes with a custom build stand.  The ribbon has the names of the 120 runners entered in the race when it was first launched, it is the World's biggest finishers medal.  I beg all race directors not to seek to break this record as carrying it back to the car was rather tricky!    I also collected my 12 in 12 medal.  Rik normally does these presentations before the race, but on this occasion there were so many to be awarded it would have delayed the start (and possibly felt a bit like a production line or a school speech day with prizes for everyone) so he awarded them as we crossed the finish line - which made it feel a bit more special.

Thanks for a great day out.  I was still a little jealous of all the Endure24 posts, but I will be back there next year.  In the meantime, I have at least one more Phoenix Marathon this year - The Remembrance Day Marathon which means I'll get to see this route in the winter too, and I have Giants Head Marathon in a couple of weeks.  It seems that I am back up and running again!

Sunday, 27 May 2018

I've taken so long to run this race I've finished in a different age category!

We drove down to Dorchester in rain so heavy that we couldn't hear the radio.  I snoozed in the back seat - I have never been a fan of early starts - only waking when we had to stop suddenly.  Our early start wasn't too early, which meant we arrived 15 minutes prior to the race briefing.  This is an excellent time to arrive, even though I would normally arrive much earlier, because it doesn't give you time to fret too much - just enough time for a quick run to the loo.  The weather was AWFUL!  The rain was coming down in stair rods so I left my sunglasses in the car and grabbed a hat instead.  And why would anyone cover themselves in suncream that was just going to be washed off in the rain?

There wasn't much time to chat with people at the start, but I did catch up with a few people I hadn't seen for a while.  At 8.15am, as the race brief started, and when it was too late to go back to the car, the sun started to shine.  I wasn't too worried, the last forecast I had seen said that it would rain for most of the day.  How wrong was that forecast?

I wasn't sure what I expected from this race.  I ran it last year, but I was much fitter then.  I has sort of decided to adopt a run/walk strategy,  so set off running for 9mins and then walking for 1min.  That was great(ish) for the first relatively flat half of the race.  We went though some very picturesque villages, past houses that looked as though they were straight out of Country Living magazine, it was hilly but it would have been fine if not for my dodgy guts!  No idea what was going on but I spent rather a lot of time dodging behind hedges.   I considered pulling out.  At the aid station at 15 miles I spent a long time hiding in the village hall (very nice loos!) considering whether it was sensible to carry on.  I may have cried a bit.  I may have needed a bit of TLC from the people there, but I decided  to carry on.

I was greatly helped by the company of 'Cupcake' from Itchin Spitfires - we'd been doing that leapfrogging thing for a while, but soon after 15 miles started chatting, deciding that we were having a bit of a shit time - who knew it was going to be so hot? - and what was necessary was a bit of common sense and just bloody finishing this thing.  We decided to walk the up hills, run the downhills and take the flat bits under consideration - we didn't need to think too hard about the flat bits as they were few and far between!  He'd been aiming for sub 5 hrs - but there was no way we were going to hit that goal!

The aid stations were great!  Portsmouth Joggers had one manned by blue haired mermaids, the love station was awesome - one of the best love stations, and there was a brilliant super hero aid station at around 17 miles.  All the aid stations were fantastic, many of them stocked with lots of great stuff to eat and always with friendly people to look after us all.  There were also a couple of unofficial aid stations - local residents who had decided that we all needed a drink/banana/spraying with water.

The hills in the second half were relentless, including the totally unnecessary entirely uphill mile 23 (or thereabouts - my frequent trips into the hedges seemed to have added considerably to my mileage) so we were walking rather more than we were running, but we were still, just about, capable of running. It was hot an humid, even when there was a breeze it was a warm and totally un refreshing one, but we were going to finish this marathon.  It felt as though we had been running for a very long time - days or weeks seemed to have passed since we had set out which led to the every so slightly hyperbolic comment that is the title of this blog post.

The 25 mile marker was a beautiful thing to behold!  'Not as nice as the 26 mile marker would be' grumbled the two people I was running with!  It was downhill from here, until the last 200m that were flat, so when we got close to the finish we went for it.  We may have looked like extras from a zombie movie, but in our minds we were sprinting!  Crossing the line was a huge relief, thank heavens we didn't have to run again!  Medals were collected - along with a t-shirt and a hug - all part of the WSR service!

It was my slowest road marathon - possibly my slowest ever marathon actually.  However considering I was going to pull out at 15 miles a finish is a win in my book! The race was well organised, the marshals were brilliant and the race village had a lovely atmosphere as everyone relaxed in the hot sunshine after the race.  I am hoping that I will soon stop looking like a lobster!

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Wormwood Scrubs parkrun and a bit of family history.

I was supposed to be tail walking at Alice Holt today, but events conspired against me.  It ended up being easier to get to London than 9 miles up the road so I looked for volunteering opportunities in West London.  Wormwood Scrubs needed a tail walker and I needed to tail walk as I have a marathon tomorrow.

I spent a year living in Acton while I was a student and passed Wormwood Scrubs prison on my way too and from university on the tube but I had never noticed Wormwood Scrubs Park before.  My first impression was how big it was!  Then there was the added excitement of a pony on the loose.  The pony appeared to have been abandoned, but whoever left it in the park probably knew that there was a pony centre nearby and the pony was soon captured and taken off to the centre.

We gathered at the parkrun pop up flag thingy, chatted with regular Wormwood Scrubs runners and other visitors while we waited for 9am.  95 runners ran two laps of the park.  The route is all on grass, today the ground was hard packed but I should imagine it is fairly muddy in the winter.  It is also pretty flat.  A brisk walk with the occasional short jog kept me just behind the last runner.  That last runner ran every step of the way and managed a burst of speed as she approached the finish line - the lengths people will go to in order to avoid talking to me are quite extreme!  I think we finished in just under 42 minutes.

After the run we popped into the Thames Valley Harriers club house for coffee.  My father in law ran with Thames Valley Harriers in the 1940s/50s, Husbando mentioned this to one of the coaches who pointed him in the direction of some photos on the wall.  There are no names with this picture but the man in the glasses in the middle of the photo looks so like photos of my father in law, and the resemblance to Husbando is uncanny.  Originally I was planning to parkrun without Husbando.  He was working in London this weekend and didn't even have his barcode with him.  He decided that he had time to run while we were eating breakfast, so we had to ask the hotel to print off a barcode for him.  Had I gone alone I would not have remembered the TVH connection (if in fact I ever knew about it) and would have missed this little bit of family history.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Wickham Whistler III

When I looked at the race calendar and the family calendar earlier this year it appeared that I would not be able to take part in this fabulous little event.  I thought I'd be spending child no. 4's birthday ferrying him up to Staines to complete his scuba open water diving training.  I was gutted as I'd run the previous two Wickham Whistlers and love supporting On The Whistle.  On Wednesday last week a lift share was organised for the boy - but the race had sold out. I asked the very accommodating organisers if they could keep me in mind if anyone dropped out.... and my luck was in.  They even made sure I got my favourite number!

The Whistler is a 6hr challenge event - run as many laps as you like within the cut off to get your medal.  I only needed to run a half marathon and, realistically, only had time to run a half marathon.  This meant I would need to complete four laps.  I arrived early, paid my money, picked up my number and then retreated to my car because I wasn't feeling terribly sociable!  My stomach was feeling very dodgy - I've spotted a bit of a pattern here, I don't eat much meat during the week, and the food I eat tends to be fairly simple.  Lunch is often a bowl of ramen, supper is a bit of cheese and some crackers.  Then at the weekend on a Saturday evening we invite friends over and BBQ enough meat to feed a small army and the next day I feel ghastly!  I eventually emerged from the car and chatted with friends.  

After our race briefing we were off.  It was a lot muddier than I anticipated.  The conditions underfoot have got wetter every year - next year I predict we will have a swimming section!  The route is out an and back along a disused railway track, the bluebells were visible in the woods to either side, we ran under bridges and past rivers - it was all very pleasant if a little chilly.  Each lap is 3.3 miles.   I ran the first lap, listening in to conversations of those around me.  My tummy was grumbling and my head wasn't really where I needed to be.  It was going to be a long four laps.  The second lap nearly broke me.  The running wasn't hard, but I got it into my head that I had run this route so many times and I really didn't want to run it again.  I considered finishing at the end of the lap and completing another 6.5 miles on my own.   I got to the aid station, filled my water bottle(*) and considered my options.  While I was pondering a familiar face came up to the aid station.  We share a mutual friend and see each other at lots of events, but have never really done much more than say hello to each other.  I asked if I could run with her for a lap.  She protested that she was slower than me, and I said I'd rather run slower than nor run at all, so we grabbed some snacks (sausages and fudge are an odd combination but do hit the spot)  and set off for lap number three.

Talking certainly made the time pass faster.  We chatted about all sorts of things - discovering that we are both members of FetchEveryone and both post on the same forum. To be fair, she had worked out who I was ages ago - but I'm not very quick on the uptake!  At the end of lap three I saw a familiar face at the aid station - he'd run to Wickham to run a lap with me.  We'd met at various On The Whistle events but haven't seen each other for ages.  He graciously slowed his speedy pace to plod along with me.  We walked a bit when I really thought my guts were going to revolt - if I could have made myself throw up I would have done, but I managed to hold everything together and muster a bit of speed towards the end.  

I rang the bell to signal I was done, and collected my medal - and a raffle prize from the Chilly Hilly back in January.  I may or may not have told someone that it was a prize for the being the coolest person at the race.....   I am glad I stuck it out - this week's training miles are in the bag and I can take it easy until Tuesday now!   

Thank you to everyone at On The Whistle for a great morning - the hugs, encouragement and laughter are much appreciated!

(*) Hats off to On The Whistle - they are encouraging everyone to bring their own water bottle to reduce the number of plastic cups being used.  

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Portsmouth Lakeside parkrun

For someone who doesn't really do 'parkrun touring' I seem to have visited a fair few parkruns over the last month or so!  I like to take advantage of being in the area for something else rather than making a special journey if that makes sense.  This Saturday morning I had to drop my youngest son off in Petersfield at 8am (to go SCUBA diving), so had plenty of time to get to a new to me parkrun.  I decided Portsmouth Lakeside parkrun looked like a good option - it also gave me the option of visiting Shit Weasel (you may remember him from adventures in Tanzania) afterwards.  I did no more research than to ask a friend for a postcode to point my sat nav towards - in my defence last week was somewhat hectic - and that was a mistake!

Portsmouth Lakeside parkrun is very easy to find, there is plenty of parking and friendly marshals to point you in the right direction.  The first marshal I saw was wearing a cape, which is when I got an inkling that maybe I should have done a bit of research, but the second one I encountered was just wearing a hi-viz vest (over their clothes -obviously) so I was willing to put the cape down to mild eccentricity.  On parking the car I spotted two Wonder Women, some Super Men and various other caped crusaders.  Oh dear!  I had pitched up for Super Hero Day without a costume! It was also their second birthday and all this combined with a graduating Couch to 5K course made for a very busy parkrun.

The course is very flat, on tarmac and hard packed gravel - with a fair few puddles due to all the April showers.  If you like a course with lots of out and back bits where you can see other runners - which I do - then you'll love this course.  There were loads of opportunities to spot friends - and I am always amazed at the number of people I know at parkrun - and offer encouragement.  I loved the fact that you can't see too far ahead at any point on the route - there is always a corner or a turn coming up soon.  I am not sure I actually saw the lake - although I did see tents with people fishing from them - so I must have been a bit daft to miss it!  The main landmark I spotted was the Porshe garage!  I spent quite a lot of time avoiding puddles rather than running in a straight line (no clean trainers in the car - school girl error!) and that, combined with feeling as though I have been beaten up after trying yoga for the first time earlier this week, meant my time wasn't as fast as last week or as fast as I'd like on such a flat course, but 25:28 and 14th lady (86th overall) is OK considering I need to run at least 13 miles tomorrow.  I was also somewhat hampered by the fact that my running tights kept falling down!

After the run, everyone retires to the Starbucks near the start.  I chatted to a few people, but dashed off fairly sharpish to meet SW.  Lovely to see him and his fiancĂ© again.  We went out to breakfast at the Southwick Tea Rooms in the gorgeous village of Southwick.  You can't buy a house in this village as they are all part of the Southwick estate - it is beautiful and charming and the Tea Rooms are excellent.  Possibly the best post parkrun breakfast I have ever had (eggs Benedict with a pot of tea and a slice of coffee cake to bring home).

So that was Portsmouth Lakeside parkrun.  Huge thank you to all the volunteers as always!   I may break my non touring rules next week to go and see a friend who is running near this space!

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Victoria Dock - or total and utter bollards!

What a beautiful parkrun!  I haven't done many London parkruns - but this one must be up there in terms of scenery - but before I wax lyrical about Victoria Dock parkrun let's just back pedal a bit to explain why I found myself leaving the house at 6am on a Saturday morning.

This is, of course, the marathon weekend.  Apparently there are other marathons, but London is the only one that seems to count.  This results in thousands of runners and supporters converging at the Excel for the expo to collect their race numbers and try to resist the pressure to spend money on yet more running kit.  The local parkruns see a huge surge in numbers and, when looking at social media, it became clear that a fair few people I know but don't see often enough were planning to visit the relatively new event in Royal Victoria Dock.  I had no reason to be in London.  I had less desire for an early start, but somehow my wish to see people again won out and I found myself setting the alarm for 5.30am!

I chose to 'let the train take the strain' (I seem to think that this catch phrase may have been used in an advertising campaign featuring the late, unlamented, Jimmy Savile - but I have no desire to Google him and find out).  I'd planned this after nearly falling asleep driving to Brighton last week - and then stayed wide awake all the way to Waterloo!  The day started to look up when the lady in Pret A Manger  gave me a free coffee which I drank on the Tube.  Walking up onto the DLR platform at Canning Town I spotted a familiar pair of legs and a 250 top.  I tentatively called her name - not 100% sure I had the right person as I haven't seen her in years as she's been in New Zealand for ages now.  It was her - possibly the speediest female runner I can claim to know, but so supportive to plodders like me.  She'd made a bit of a schoolgirl error though, and left her barcode in her hotel room - so I offered take her bag to the start while she jogged back to grab it.  

The start was easy to find - at the end of the dock!  There was a sea of apricot t-shirts and a smattering of familiar faces.  VD parkrun (and if anyone is qualified to abbreviate the name it is I!) have use of a 'community hut' which is a brilliant place to store kit, leave bags and there is a loo too!  Just the one - which on a normal week is more than sufficient, this week I figure there were more people queuing for the loo than ran there last week.  Being British I joined the queue! 

The dock is underneath the flight path for the City Airport and the cable car - the closest public transport to the start line is the Emirates cable car stop.  We had clear skies and warm weather, the beds near the the start were beginning to bloom, the views along the dock were stunning.  

We massed at the start - behind a line of bollards and were soon off.  The first part of the route featured a lot of bollards, and much hilarity about bollards ensued.  The route is U shaped, starting and finishing at the base of the U, which means that you get to see lots of runners coming back towards you.  It is all on paths - with a variety of surfaces, possibly more cobbles than there were in the Paris marathon and definitely more than in the London marathon!  It is as flat a pancake, which made for lots of speedy runs today - my first sub 25 minute parkrun for ages included!  The geography here means that you are going to get some lovely headwinds here - but only for half the run - the breeze today was quite welcome as it was warm this morning.  And the views!  Wonderful!  We ran past a floating hotel, warehouses converted to flats, a couple of utilitarian hotels and the old dockside cranes as well as the newly landscaped area near the start, but all the time we were by the water and there were aeroplanes flying overhead and cable cars bobbing backwards and forwards.  Stunning!

Hats off to all the volunteers today.  This was their sixth event and they coped brilliantly with the surge in numbers (93 last week, 252 this week).  The marshals were friendly and encouraging.  Free coffee was available at the finish - a lovely touch as the local cafes didn't seem to be open yet and my results email came in before I finished my train journey home.  For those interested in tri training, I noted that there was hut where you could hire wetsuits to swim in the dock.  Even as a non swimmer I have to admit that this looked tempting today.   All in all a lovely morning out - lovely to see so many parkrun friends and meet new people.  

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Brighton 10k and marathon supporting.

Up even earlier than yesterday to return to Preston Park for the start of the 10k. The traffic was heavier than yesterday, due to road closures and the whole world seemingly trying to get to the start line.  Thankfully I wasn't driving today, four of us were travelling together and one of our number knows Brighton well.  He wasn't phased by the diversions and got us to the parking he had arranged safely.  We grabbed a coffee and used the loos in a nearby Starbucks, probably lingering a bit too long there as we then had to route march to the park.  

We arrived just 15 minutes before the start, then had to run through the thronging marathon runners across the park to the bag drop, then back across the park to the 10k start.  By this point Husbando and I had become separated from our friends, so headed on into the red starting pen.  There were just two pens, one for those anticipating finishing in 60 mins or under and another for those who were going to take longer.  We were late joining the pen - just a minute before the start time, so were pretty close to the back of the pen 'up to 60 minutes' pen.  The race was started by Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE (founder of parkrun and all round good egg), who was still on the starting line waving and greeting runners as we passed the start.  

I ran with Husbando for the first mile.  His natural pace is much faster than mine and, even when he is slowing down to run with me, it is a bit faster than I feel comfortable with at the moment.  We spent the first mile overtaking people, loads of people.  There were so many people wearing headphones - blissfully unaware of the runners around them - making it really hard for people to overtake them.   I don't know why people run races with headphones in.  I train with music (or an audio book) but part of the buzz of a race is soaking up the atmosphere, listening to the bands, striking up conversations with strangers etc. Anyway, each to their own I suppose.   After the first mile Husbando went on at his own pace while I settled in to 'just get round.'  It is a long time since I ran a 10k or a road race, and after a winter of ill health I had no idea what to expect.  I'd set myself a goal of 54 minutes - which required me to run just under 9min/mile pace I was running faster than that,  I ran the first 5k faster than I have run any parkrun this year (despite a short, sharp hill at about 3.5k in).    

The route was interesting, running past parks and through residential areas before returning to the sea front with a nice out and back section.  I ran the out section looking out for Husbando eventually spotting him shortly before the turnaround point.  We tried for a high-5 but I ended up slapping him in the chest.  I spent the 'back' section looking for our other friends... they must have been there but I missed them.  This part of the race was lovely - a nice straight line, ever so slightly downhill and the end was in sight, well not exactly in sight, but I knew it was there!  I'd spent the entire race overtaking people, but put on an extra bit of pace, only belatedly spotting the photographers when it was too late to pull in my stomach and smile, in a sudden desire to cross the line in front of a few more people.  I stopped my watch after I crossed the final timing mat - and noted that it read 53 mins and a few seconds.  I was thrilled.  Even more thrilled when I got the official time.  It is still a long way off my PB, but faster than I'd anticipated.  Husbando ran a tad over 49minutes - his dodgy knee holding out well.

We collected out medals, our alcohol free beer (tasted nice but left a strange after taste best taken away with real beer) and posed for photos before collecting our bags and wandering back along the beach where we, eventually, met up with our friends.  Lunch followed (pizzas and beers at Franco Manco) then coffee at the very excellent Marwoods (a place we would never have ventured in to if it had not been recommended by one of our group).  We met one of the owners and had some of the best coffee I have ever drunk.  

Then it was back outside to try to spot my daughter.  The whole reason we were in Brighton was to see her and cheer her on.  We missed her at the first place we wanted to see her (a glitch in the tracking app meant we were off with time) so we headed to the 25 mile marker and spent an hour and a bit shouting at random strangers, and a few familiar faces, before we saw her coming around the corner.  She looked amazing, and a bit cross!  'Where the f*cking f*ck were you?' was her greeting before she powered off towards the finish line!  She finished in just over 5hrs.  I am incredibly proud of her!  She ran for Mind and has raised over £1000 for them already.  I won't say too much about her race - mainly because she is off drinking with her friends now, and it is her race to talk about if she wishes, but if you want to donate to Mind you can donate by going to her Just Giving page.

All in all, this was a great event.  If I wasn't already booked on 14th April next year I would be signing up for the marathon.  The atmosphere was excellent and the organisation was good.  What's not to like?