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?

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Preston Park parkrun

 79 miles is a long way to go for a parkrun.  I am not in the habit of touring for the sake of touring, I like my Saturday lie ins far too much, but today I needed to go to Brighton to pick up race numbers for tomorrow's 10k.  70 miles is a long way to go for a 10k, but my daughter is running her first marathon and as I am not marathon fit then the 10k is as much as I can manage to support her.

Anyway, back to parkrun.  I checked that it was going ahead, the marathon and 10k start in Preston Park, and read up about parking on the course page and then set out at daft o'clock to make sure I got there in plenty of time.  I did, but then had a bit of a parking nightmare, as I couldn't park in the park and had to find on street parking that wasn't 'permit holders only' and that was big enough for me to incompetently parallel park my hire car.  Then there was a stress filled 10 minutes where I had to work out how to pay - downloading an app on my smartphone as this seemed to be the only way to pay and making my way to the start just in time to listen to the first time runners' briefing.  

We were soon on the start line, the mist that had plagued my drive down had cleared and it was starting to get quite warm.  The course is a three lapper, all on tarmac paths with the added excitement this week of running through inflatable arches.   There is an out and back section - I always love an out and back section so I can people spot.  I spotted a bloke with a beard (I know - how unusual and in Brighton too?) and thought 'Oh, he looks a bit like Paul Sinton-Hewitt,' and didn't think much more about it until looking at the results.  It had been PSH, I should have said hello, but I didn't get the chance.

I didn't go for an all out effort today.  I finished in 26.19, trying to save something for tomorrow, but it felt quite comfortable and I managed a sneaky sprint finish to overtake someone just before the finish line.  The volunteers on the course were super, really vocal in their encouragement and support - thank you to all of them!

I didn't hang around afterwards, as I had to get to the Event Village to pick up race packs, a four mile round trip with the deadline of pre-paid parking hanging over me!   It is another early start tomorrow morning as we return to Brighton.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Netley Abbey parkrun

Yesterday afternoon I had no idea where I would be parkrunning this morning.  Then we invited friends over for supper and a plot was hatched, by two of us, to go to Netley Abbey parkrun.  I had a sleepless night, my oldest child had friends over in advance of his 21st birthday today and, while they were very quiet, I was aware of them moving around.  Added to that, Husbando was up at 4.30am to go to a book fair in Bath.  Despite this I managed to be awake and ready to leave at 7.45am, having checked the forecast when my friend arrived.  The forecast for Southampton promised that it would be dry until 10am.  

I was not impressed to arrive in the rain, but there was little we could do, and after we parked, paid for our parking ticket and debated trail or road shoes - one of the volunteers said trail - the rain had eased off and we joined the regulars near the finish.  Today's tail runner came and said hello and pointed out where the first timers' briefing was - we listened attentively - although left and right as JB will testify are a mystery to me at the best of times let alone while running.  All I needed to do was remember that it was three laps, with two hills in each lap, and to follow the person in front.

At the start line I put myself in the middle of the pack, but was actually behind the 30 (and possibly the 32) minute pacer!  The start was a quite slow, the field soon spread out.  The winter course at Netley Abbey is an 'out and back with loopy bits!'  I do like a run where I can see other runners coming towards me.  There were two uphill sections on the first half of each lap, followed by a long downhill section.  The course was mainly on tarmac, with lots of puddles, and a short section on grass.  We went through 'Bluebell Woods' and along the shoreline.   Trail shoes were not really necessary.  

Towards the end of the second lap I lapped the tail walker and was lapped by the first finisher - at the same time!  The first finisher completed the run in 16:58 - nearly two minutes faster than the next runner.  I finished in just over 26 minutes - I might have been faster if I hadn't almost lost my barcode wrist band when taking off my running jacket.  I was thrilled to get my first top 100 finish time in a very long time.

Having had our barcodes scanned, we asked the friendly volunteers for directions to the cafe - just a few minutes walk away - where we had a quick coffee while finding out that Royal Victoria Country Park was the sight of the first purpose built military hospital (Royal Victoria or Netley Hospital) which opened in 1863.  At one time it was the largest hospital in the world.  Now only the chapel remains.   There is also a railway in the park - the Royal Victoria Railway.  I'd spotted the tracks while we were running - but was doubting myself as JB had not seen them.

This is definitely a parkrun that deserves a second visit - I'd love to go back when the bluebells are out and it would be good to run their summer course too.  Thanks to all the volunteers and to my driver for the day - sorry for my dodgy left/right directions!

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Portobello parkrun and beyond.

 It has been one of those weeks.  Weeks where, no matter what you do, nothing quite works out right.  It involves car crashes and insurance companies, database failures at work (the number of time I have had to re-enter the same data is now beyond funny) all added to the madness of the last week of term, a visit from my father in law and a trip to Edinburgh.

The last of these was definitely something to look forward to, but it was not without stress inducing factors of its own.  Husbando had to be there on Thursday, while I was still at school until Friday lunch time.  He pootled off on an aeroplane on Thursday, I followed by train, having begged a lift from school to the nearest train station, on Friday.  My train was delayed, so I didn't get in until nearly 9pm - just enough time for a quick walk up to see the Castle before bed time!

Scottish parkruns start at 9.30am, not 9am - which meant a little bit of a lie in, although Husbando doesn't do lie ins - he was awake from about 5.30am!  We helped our taxi driver find the Figgate Park, using the map from the very excellent Tourist Tool, and got there, a little later than I'd have liked so missed the first timers' briefing.    We did hear the main run brief, so knew to stay on the paths, stay on the left and to be nice to each other.  I really like that last instruction - we could all do well to follow that one, at parkrun and in every other part of our lives!

Figgate Park looked beautiful in the spring sunshine - it must be gorgeous in the summer.  The course is three laps which are narrow enough for much of the time to see runners running in the opposite direction.  There are plenty of friendly marshals to make sure you don't get lost and to offer encouragement!  It is pretty much flat as a pancake and all on tarmac, with a few bridges to run under and over and lots of twists and turns.  Because of the requirement to stay on the path, it took a bit of time to get over the start line, we'd put ourselves with the 26 min runners even though I didn't think for a minute I'd be able to keep up that pace.  

The field soon started to spread out, I wasn't looking at my watch, just enjoying the run, I wasn't being overtaken too much and seemed to keeping up with all those around me, even passing some people.  Husbando ran with me for just over one and a half laps which was lovely, then we went our separate - not ways - paces!  He, in a mad dash for the finish line, managed to miss the finish funnel totally and run straight past it (there were a lot of people standing around there and it was quite confusing - but really!)  With the support of the RD we got around this, because I pointed out that the person in front of me was a funnel ducker, so Husbando took that token and just had a slower time recorded.  Meanwhile  I was still plodding around.  My 250 shirt got a bit of attention, and a lovely chap started talking to me.  Sadly, since being ill, I can't manage talking and running at the same time (actually - some of you are probably quite happy about that!) and my pace dropped off considerably.  I had to apologise and explain that I wasn't being rude, but I just couldn't keep running and hold a conversation.

212 steps to go!
I plodded on to the end.  I didn't miss the finish funnel and was thrilled to record my fastest time in months and months (25.43), still a long way to go, but I wasn't gasping for breath at the end and my legs weren't threatening to never work again, so it is all good!

We tried to come down here..
After getting our barcodes scanned we decided to head back into Edinburgh, so we asked for directions, which we promptly forgot, and set off.  Our intention was to have a nice gentle run, but with all the stopping for directions and the hills that wasn't really what happened.  You can see a little video if you click this link.  We'd definitely have been better off in trail shoes, and knowing where we were going would have been helpful.   The views were worth the effort though.  212 steps didn't take us anywhere near to the top, but as we'd come so far we had to carry on (and on!)  The steep side we went up was deserted - it was quite a shock to get to the top and see scores of people at the top of Arthur's Seat.  I think we totalled about 7 miles 'running' this morning!  To be fair, the last 4 miles involved quite a lot of walking and clambering up steep bits - it would have been far more sensible to follow a path - and stopping to ask directions, but it was fun and the Sun was shining!
The sensible path down.

Crazy, uneven 'steps!'
Huge thanks to all the volunteers at Portobello parkrun  - a really pretty parkrun and you made us feel very welcome.  Hopefully we will be back again one day.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Hogmoor Inclosure parkrun

I've been to Hogmore Inclosure before for On The Whistle's Batty Bimble, but this morning was the first time I visited to parkrun.  This very new parkrun (second event today) had asked of a low key start, without too many inaugural chasers.  I was happy to oblige, not only because I was busy elsewhere but also because I was slightly scared by the memories of running through snow melt and sandy slurry.  As this morning approached I knew I couldn't wimp out as we had arranged to meet a friend there and I comforted myself that it hadn't snowed recently and that the route wouldn't be exactly the same.

We woke up to snow.  Great.  Too late to change plans so we threw a few extra layers of clothes in the car and off we went.  Parking at the Hogmoor Inclosure is plentiful and we arrived in good time to meet you with our friend and so many other parkrun friends, some of whom I haven't seen for ages!  Lots of hugs all round.  I hope that those new to parkrun make as many friends through their regular Saturday morning run as I have.

Being good parkrunners, we listened to the first timers' briefing and then to the run director's pre-run brief.  I admit to using my teacher voice in order to ask people to be quiet as there was quite a bit of chatter - sorry if I deafened anyone standing close to me.  I know what it is like to try to talk to a group of people who aren't listening - not fun!

The start of this parkrun is probably the muddiest start to any parkrun I have done.  It is a nice wide start though, so we got off to a speedy, if slidey, start.  The course is two laps with no tarmac at all.  Thankfully the sandy slurry from the Batty Bimble had dried to a good, solid surface, and I managed to keep my feet fairly dry by avoiding some monstrous puddles.  It is all trail, gently undulating, but I suspect that the sand will cause it to be quite challenging in the summer.

Husbando, who had taken an important 'phone call at the start line, caught me up early in the second lap and we ran together for the remainder of the run.  The cold air and the dampness, it was snowing by now, are hard on my poorly chest.  I can talk or run, but not both - so it was nice and easy on his ears today!  Sadly I can't even run that well.

At the end I was so busy admiring the new style finish tokens that I handed my son's barcode to be scanned rather than my own!  Oops!  He was safely tucked up in bed when we left home.  Hopefully the event team can sort this out.  I guess this was always going to happen as I have 7 barcodes in my pocket at anyone time.

Sadly the coffee van wasn't in attendance today, and the weather was so cold I doubt that many people would have hung around (although the marshals may well have appreciated a cup of coffee to warm their hands on), so we didn't hang around at the end.  We will be back though, if only to have a play on the fabulous play equipment.

Huge thanks to all the volunteers, especially those who stood around in the cold today.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

More mud than Bovington! And we got to do it twice!

I'm not sure whose bright idea this weekend was!  Our plans were certainly formulated before I got ill , when the idea of running 22+ miles in one day seemed like child's play.  In the past I have run the 20 mile and the marathon events at Larmer Tree Gardens.  Both these events have beautiful medals, but every time I saw someone showing off their half marathon medal I had been just a tad jealous - it is the nicest of the lot as far as I am concerned.  I'd also heard a rumour that White Star Running are revamping the Larmer medals for next year, so if I wanted to get my hands on a half marathon medal it was now or never.   

And then a Dark Larmer race was announced.  How could I say no?  We'd be down in the area already, we'd had lovely weather for the last few years, so it would be pleasant to spend an afternoon wandering around the gardens and spotting peacocks.  And it was only 8 miles..... We signed up.  

Last weekend brought snow, this weekend was supposed to be mild.  And then to forecast changed to say that it was going to rain.  Lovely.  We decided to take two cars down with us, so that we could have some flexibility.  We had one runner who definitely wanted to come home, one who was uncertain and me.  I was pretty sure I was going to stay.    As I drove down I kept thinking I could see patches of blue sky - but that was just the shading at the top of the windscreen of the car.  It was grey and ever so slightly damp.  I parked the car in a field, worrying a little about the sogginess of the grass as the car next to me slid to a stop next to me.  I collected my race numbers, did a bit of retail therapy - who can resist a bag that says 'I love willies' on it?  

I bumped into a couple of friends running the 10 mile race, saw the start of the dogs' race (you had to have a dog to run with to enter that one) and the 10 mile race, had a cup of tea, avoided the portaloos and waited for the start.  The beginning of the route is different to the marathon, but I swear that Andy has managed to fit all the hills from the marathon into the half!  Pretty soon the weather went from 'threatening to rain' to 'raining!'  The ground was soft anyway from the melting snow, the addition of rain and hundreds of runners made it into a mud bath!  Running downhill was impossible in lots of sections - mincing was the order of the day, and even then I was nearly taken out by a runner who slipped behind me and grabbed me with a flaying arm as he tumbled to the ground!    

I'm still struggling with breathing, especially when the air is cold and damp, so I knew I had to take it easy.  I also knew I had to save something for the last mile - which is all uphill but thankfully on a fairly made up section of track.  I overtook loads of people in this last mile by just plodding along and refusing to walk.  I like to think I managed a sprint finish - but although it was marginally faster than my previous pace I probably looked like a zombie!  
The finish area lacked the atmosphere of previous years.  Strangely, runners and supporters were not hanging around in the rain and wind (such a cold wind that always seemed to be blowing in our faces) to cheer other runners over the line.  I was no exception - I went straight back to the car to change into dry clothes before meeting my friends for some food.  There was no goody bag with this race we got a voucher for food instead.  I had a lovely macaroni cheese.  

In the end, two of us decided to stay for the evening's 'fun!'  We decided we needed to find somewhere we could sit in the warm, get something to eat (if we felt like it) and drink and that had proper toilets.  The nearest McDonalds seemed like the best bet as, even after changing into clean clothes, neither of us looked terribly respectable! The nearest McDs was actually quite a long drive away along Dorset's country lanes but the car was warm and driving is easier than running!

We got back to Larmer Tree Gardens in good time and were told to park on tarmac this time.  The weather seemed to be more favourable now - the Sun was going down, but we could see it at last!  Off we went, ground that had been muddy in the morning was even more muddy now!  As it got dark a mist rolled it - reflecting light off the beams of our head torches so that it looked like we were running into cotton wool.  We went up some hills, slid down some hills, laughed and joked about the madness that is a White Star event.  At the race briefing, Andy said we looked like 'A shit fetish party!'  Fairy lights, tutus and peacock feathers were everywhere!  The Love Station was much more fun in the dark than it had been in the pissing rain earlier in the day - people had a bit of a break, maybe a small beer to wash down the snacks before heading on out into the mud.  

It was just after the Love Station that I remembered why I don't wear my Salomon SpeedCross trainers very often.  I can't get them to fasten tightly enough around my ankles.  They felt as though they were going to be pulled off by the mud even when I was walking, more mincing through the mud was required to ensure I finished this section without losing a shoe, my dignity or both!

The last two miles were the same as the last two miles of the half.  With the pungent smell of wild garlic in my nostrils I caught up with, and overtook, the same couple I had caught up and overtaken at a similar point in the morning!  The finish was much more lively this time - the weather was better and fairy lights make everything nicer!  I collected my medal and a hug, followed by biscuits and a beer and headed off to the car for the journey home.  

Huge thanks to Andy and all the WSR team for another excellent event.  I hope the marathoners and twenty milers had a great time today too.