Sunday, 18 November 2018

A Day At The Movies

The 'A Day At The Movies' race is a bit different.  It is organised by Phoenix Running as a charity run, raising money for Rays Of Sunshine.  Over the course of a year not everyone who enters a race actually shows up to the start line and this, along with a few more medals than absolutely necessary being ordered, means that there are left overs.... so Phoenix came up with the idea that a race could be put on where we could choose our own medal from the surplus supplies and the profit (more than normal because no medals or race numbers would need to be produced) would go to charity.  I signed up.  I mean, why wouldn't I?  On the entry form we had to choose our first three choices from a list of available medals.  I entered my choices, then did the same for Husbando and promptly forgot what I had chosen.  'A Day At The Movies' is a multilap event where you can complete as many 3.28 mile laps as you want within the 6 hour time limit.  Given the fact that it was less than a week since my last marathon I was pretty sure I would be running a half marathon at most.  

Saturday started well.  I didn't read the race instructions and assumed that the race started at 9am (as the Remembrance Day Marathon had last Sunday) and Husbando relied on me for timings, so we left quite early!  He'd also told a friend when we were leaving, so she left her house at a similar time.  We met up at a Starbucks en route, where I was becoming quite stressed about the time we were wasting, until someone checked and we had a whole extra thirty minutes to spare!  Plenty of time for coffee, visits to the loo and Christmas tree decoration shopping!  

We were still early when we arrived at the Xcel Centre in Walton On Thames, but not excessively so. We collected our numbers - all three of us had numbers from different races, which was exciting as none of us could really remember what we had chosen! We had another cup of coffee, another trip to the loo, caught up with some friends and chatted to a lady about the Disneyland Paris half marathon.    The run briefing was short and sweet, the weather was fantastic - bright autumn sunshine and, once I had put my bag in the gazebo - with my bananas easily accessible, we were raring to go!  We set off in the opposite direction to last week and the laps were half the distance, so four laps for a half marathon and eight for a full marathon.  Each lap would require crossing the dreaded blue bridge before going under Walton bridge and then enduring the longest every 400m to the turnaround point, and then having to go over that blue bridge again on the way back!   To be fair, the bridge isn't that bad, but it is the only incline on the whole route.  On the first few laps it took me 21 strides to get to the top of the bridge, one the last lap it took 24!  

Laps sound boring, and I know lots of people don't like them, or don't like the idea of them but there is a lot to see on this route.  There are boat houses, a pub, bridges, coffee shops, people rowing, cyclists, dog walkers, children on scooters, swans, geese and ducks - plenty to see!  There was also the temporary addition of Stella Point - not a peak on the way to the summit of Kilimanjaro, but a 3/4 full bottle of Stella that stood at the edge of the path for my first four laps before someone picked it up and put it in the bin... at least I hope they put it in the bin and didn't decide to drink it!  

I started too fast.  I haven't run a single step since the marathon last Sunday and my legs, while not 'fresh', were eager to run.  It didn't matter, at some point I'd decided that I would do that full marathon distance.  I am not in the habit of running marathons so close together (although a lot of my running friends think nothing of running 10 marathons in 10 days and more!) so I decided that if could run this one in about 4hrs 30mins I would be happy.  Knackered, but happy!  About 10 miles in I realised that my pace was still too fast and that I had completed the first 10 miles faster than I did last weekend.  I made a conscious effort to slow down.  I spoke briefly to Husbando at the end of my 4th lap - he had collected his 'Leon' medal at the end of a half marathon distance - grabbed a banana and carried on running.  It is quite hard to resist the vast array of sweet and savoury treats available at the aid station, but resist I did!  

As I carried on running I became aware that there were very few women ahead of me.  Just one or two I thought.  There was another lady about a quarter of a mile behind me (based on my marathon maths calculations this could be very wrong - I just estimated guessed on how far away from the turn around point I was when she was coming in the other direction) and I determined to keep her behind me, this might sound uncharitable - but I needed something to keep me motivated when any sane person would sit down and have a nice cup of tea!  This was turning out to be my best marathon in quite a long time.  I realised I could possibly run faster than I did last weekend... and I didn't take any walk breaks until the very last lap.  

As I crossed the finish line, 6 minutes faster than last week, I handed over my wrist bands (one for each lap) and declared that I was 'done' Rik informed me that I was the first female finisher for the marathon distance.... all the fast ladies had stayed at home today.  I am very glad they did - it is probably the only time it will ever happen!  In addition to my Mogwai medal (with googly eyes) every runner also received a collapsible cup for use during races and a ceramic Phoenix mug - so that we can think about running and entering more races while on a coffee break at work!  Thank you Rik!  The collapsible cups are part on an ongoing desire to reduce Phoenix's carbon footprint, any paper cups used by Phoenix are fully compostable and runners are encouraged to use the same cup throughout the race (numbered trays help here).

It was lovely to see so many familiar faces, and wonderful to run on such a crisp, clear day.  A huge thank you to all the volunteers.  You were cheerful, friendly and supportive - you guys (and Rik) make these events really special.  Thank you!










Sunday, 11 November 2018

Remembrance Day Marathon

I have a mountain of marking to do, 129 reports that need writing and I suppose I should be planning lessons for the coming week, but I cannot do any of these things until I write about today’s very special marathon.

I signed up ages ago, and decided I would, for a change, train properly for this one.  A broken toe and a 50 mile race put paid to any thought of a sensible training plan, in my normal style I would just have to wing it!   Whatever happened I was not going to miss this marathon.  

Not only does today mark the 100th anniversary of the end of ‘the war to end all wars’ it was also Phoenix Running’s 100th marathon.  This was obviously too awesome a coincidence to be allowed to pass without Rik organising something pretty amazing.  We knew he had planned a hard stop for 2 minutes at 11am, we knew that we would get a special commemorative medal for Phoenix’s 100th marathon, but Rik was uncharacteristically reticent when it came to revealing the race medal. 

Saturday saw torrential rain virtually all day and through most of the night.  Rain was forecast for most of Sunday too.  I dragged out my only pair of plain black running tights so that I wouldn’t be wearing too many clashing patterns, packed my race bag full of spare clothes and rain jackets, completed my pre race ablutions and set off for Walton On Thames.  IT was still raining - and there was so much surface water on the roads I had to take it quite easy, but I arrived in good time.  There were far more runners than normal - Rik had organised 420 race places - meaning that the total distance covered by the runners would be as close to 11,000 miles as possible.  I'm not good with crowds so tried to find a friendly face - and luckily I did. The weather fairies were being kind and, by the time we assembled outside for the race brief, the Sun was shining.

Rik's race briefing was poignant as he explained why this race was so important to him - I apologise for having to use my teacher voice to ask people to be quiet!  Off we went to the start - no huge dash to cross the line as the race was chip timed.  

I wasn't sure what my race strategy would be.  All I knew was that I'd quite like to get a course PB.  I wasn't confident though as my right knee has been a bit (that's an understatement) painful since the Leviathan 50 back at the beginning of October.  As we all set off though everything felt OK, so I just ran at a pace that felt comfortable.  A fair bit of puddle jumping was involved - this was not always successful and my feet were soaked before the end of the first lap.  We were running 6ish mile out and back laps between Walton On Thames and Hampton Court Bridge.   The foot path is lovely in dry weather, but prone to mud in the rain... and there was lots of mud - but that seems only fitting for a marathon marking the anniversary of the end of the war! 

The running was going well, despite the increasingly slippery mud.  I ran the first 10 miles in just under an hour and a half.  The weather was great, as 11am approached we could hear church bells ringing up and down the river, we could watch swans swimming, rowers rowing and chat with other runners as we ran up and down the foot path.  At 11am the marshals, who were positioned at 500m intervals along the route, sounded their air horns and all the runners stopped.  I was at the apex of a bend so couldn't see any other runners or members of public, but other runners report that cyclists dismounted, parents hushed their children and everyone joined in.  It was quite a surreal experience and I have to admit that I shed a tear.  It was so quiet that I am convinced I could hear the RHA firing their salute in Central London.  The only human generated noise was the ever present hum of traffic.  At the end of the two minutes, three short blasts on the air horn signalled the restart of the race - it wasn't easy to get moving again. I'd stopped my Garmin and miraculously remembered to restart it again!

I'd left bananas at the aid station, so that I wouldn't be tempted by the wonderful selection of sweets and savoury snacks.  I haven't eaten a Haribo since July and am happy to keep it that way!  I took the time it took me to eat a banana as a walk break at the start of laps 2, 3 and 4.  Rik has moved over to compostable cups at all his race, but I carried my own water bottle, just getting it refilled at the aid station.  The volunteers there were amazing - so cheerful and encouraging.   Huge thanks to you all.  

I was slowing down a little, but still making good progress until suddenly my right knee and my right foot both decided to kick up a fuss.  I walked a little but realised, that with 9 miles to go, if I walked it was going to take an awful long time to finish the race.  I considered pulling out altogether - then decided against it - the soldiers in WW1 had much more than a sightly sore leg and a bit of mud to put up with.  I found that if I didn't put my foot flat on the floor it didn't hurt too much - I shall probably pay for that with a very tight Achilles tomorrow.   My pace dropped off a bit, but I realised I could probably complete the marathon at an average of 10 min/mile pace.  

I had to throw a couple of walk breaks in during the last lap, but as I approached the finish I managed to pick up the pace to snag a time of just under 4hrs 20mins.  I also managed to avoid the rain!  It was just starting as I crossed the finish line.  I was covered in mud but smiling like mad as I was presented with two medals.  One HUMUNGOUS, fantastically detailed one that I could very easily use as a paper work, the other small but perfectly formed serving as a memento of Phonenix's 100th marathon.  I grabbed some water, a handful of pretzels and was starting to collect my stuff when I was told that I had something to collect from 'the art tent!'  Lisa Smith had been at Carry on up the towpath (where Husbando face planted) to make sketches and take photos of runners - she painted the picture of me below and Husbando had bought it for me!

Thank you Rik and team for a great day.  I really hope it lived up to all your hopes and dreams - I loved it!  

PS - lots of photos of the medals below!

PPS - strangely the pile of marking and the report writing still needs doing!
  










Saturday, 3 November 2018

Last minute plans

Some of you may remember the I ran a stupidly long distance off the back of not enough training at the beginning of October.  I survived that, but have suffered from it somewhat since.  My right knee has been a wee bit dodgy, resulting in a few aborted long runs and whole weeks where I haven't even put my trainers on during the week. It has made me a wee bit grumpy, particularly when combined with the fact that it is getting dark so early now!

I've been pitching up at parkrun, I even managed to bag three course PBs in a row, and last Sunday I managed to run 13 miles - although I did suffer for that for the next few days.  I have a marathon next weekend, so hopefully I will be able to get myself from start to finish in one piece...

Anyway, back to today.  Last night saw me make a mad post work dash up to London to see Husbando, number one son and number one son's significant other.  Husbando was exhibiting at the Chelsea book fair and as he would need to be there on Saturday too we were staying over.  We'd planned a trip to Fulham Palace parkrun.  I'd been there before (twice in fact) but I had an ulterior motive for not wanting to add to my tourist tally this weekend.  As of Friday I had run at 68 different parkruns, many of you know that I think 69 is the best number on the planet and I wanted to run my 69th parkrun as an 'arbitrary number celebration' complete with cake, fizz, friends and (I hoped) a smutty sounding parkrun.

On Saturday morning - while dealing with water pouring in from the hotel room above us - I found out that Fulham Palace was cancelled.  We looked at the options and linked them to our transport choices and decided to jump on the train from Kensington Olympia to Clapham Junction, from there it was less than a mile to jog to the start of the relatively new Clapham Common parkrun.   The start was easy to spot - myriad lycra clad people milling around and chatting - including some familiar faces from Basingstoke parkrun and others I have met while at various other events.

Clapham Common may be a newish parkrun but it has very quickly developed a strong following - there were so many people!  The weather was perfect and we lined up at the start.  It is a fairly narrow start and, to aid an orderly start, there were volunteers holding up finish times - so that we could position ourselves with similarly speedy runners.  Knowing that my preferred running style is to go off as fast as I can and see how long I can last, I started near the 22 minute sign.  Even with this organisation it took a while to cross the line.  The course is a two lapper around the Common, it is mainly on footpaths,  there are some areas where there are tree roots to avoid.  I can imagine it will become quite muddy in places in the winter.

Husbando and I had got separated between the run brief and the start (I think he went to find the loos) so he started some way behind me.  That didn't last long though - I soon heard him and we chatted for a while before he ran on ahead of me.  I was aiming for around 25 minutes, I really didn't want to push it too hard on my dodgy knee and, if I'm totally honest, I'd had a few alcoholic beverages the night before and was feeling a little below par!  But running felt good this morning, the Common is almost as flat as a pancake and the weather was perfect.   At the end of the first mile I thought 'Hmm, that was a bit fast... Oh well, let's just see if I can keep going.' And I did.  Although I did stop, along with other runners to allow a lorry to cross the path.  The second lap was easier because it was less crowded at the narrow points, and the approach to the finish funnel was slightly downhill - so good for a fast finish, although I did have to stop a couple of paces short of the finish as the funnel was absolutely rammed full of runners!

213 people finished ahead of me, amazingly I was first in my age category which supports my impression that Clapham Common parkrunners are on the young side.  At my 69th different parkrun I ran 5k in 23mins 39seconds and achieved an age grading of 69%.  This is my 4th fastest parkrun ever, and my fastest time for years.  It is a real boost  to run well for a change - running around home can be very demoralising as there are so many hills!

We didn't have time to go for coffee afterwards - as we had to get back to the hotel to try to sort out our soggy room, which was a shame but I suppose that it will give me an excuse to return in the future.  It is an area of London I know very little about.  I lived, briefly, just down the road in Tooting Bec, but Clapham was just a couple of stops on the Northern Line that I passed by without thinking.  Husbando has more of a connection with the area - he was a resident at Halliday Hall (or was that Holiday Hall?) for two years in the 1980s.  Halliday Hall was a hall of residence for King's College London located on Clapham Common South Side, but has since been sold, pulled down and redeveloped.  I managed to find a photo - but not many more details.    Husbando declares that, in his day, the Common was a no go area after dark, something that former MP Ron Davis might have done well to take into consideration!  These days the common boasts 3 ponds and a band stand - I saw the band stand as we ran past it twice, but failed to spot the ponds!

Thank you to all the volunteers for their enthusiastic support, I loved my unexpected visit to Clapham Common - dead easy to get to, fast, flat and friendly!  Thank you!

Sunday, 7 October 2018

It seemed like a good idea at the time....


I have no idea what was going on in my head when I signed up to run a 50 mile ultra marathon on the Thames Tow Path.  I haven't run a marathon since June and since then the furthest I have run is 15 miles.  I am training for a marathon in November and somehow managed to convince myself that an ultra could comprise part of the training for this.  Oh, and the medals were pretty!  Phoenix are good at medals, but this time they have really excelled themselves.

Leviathon 50 had the added attraction that one could, should one so wish, drop down to the marathon distance on the day, while actually running.  What could possibly go wrong?  We've had weeks and weeks of perfect running weather, but suddenly the forecast had a little rain cloud over Saturday.  Just Saturday, Friday had been lovely, Sunday promised to be sunny and dry, so this little rain cloud couldn't be more than a bit of light drizzle could it?

I drove up to Walton On Thames in a light drizzle, that had cleared by the time I arrived, I was hopeful that it would remain so during the day.  I grabbed my number and a coffee from the Xcel Leisure Centre and listened to the run briefing.  I am always in awe of the people who get awards for multiple marathons - and today was no exception!  Walking to the start I chatted with other runners - one of the things that we talked about was the cost, 100 marathons (to join the 100 Marathon Club or to do 100 in 100 weeks) is going to cost in the region fo £4,000 in race entries alone!  I left my bag of spare clothes and snacks in the gazebo at the start and off we went.

There was no blue bridge on today's route (regulars of Rik's races will be in two minds as to whether this is a good thing!) as we went the other way.  The marathon distance was 4 out and back laps, the 50 mile route was 7 long laps and 1 short lap. I set off too fast, always a danger after a week where work got in the way of any significant running, and had to force myself to slow down as I knew that I was going to suffer later.  The weather stayed dry for the first two laps and then the heavens opened.  Miserable, cold, driving rain with a chilly wind coming off the river.  By the end of the marathon distance (that I clocked at 4hrs 27 mins) I was absolutely soaked, so paused for a change of running tops and to put on my waterproof.

I hate running in a waterproof, despite the fact that I shelled out a small fortune for a lovely goretex one, I can't bear the noise they make, and the fact that I end up feeling like I am a boil in the bag meal.  It says a lot about the weather that I kept in on for the rest of the race.  I also shoved a £10 note into the pocket as I had spied a cafe at the turnaround point and fancied a cup of tea.  I made a deal with myself that if I ran the entire 3.3 miles to the turnaround I could have a cup of tea.  To say that I had a sense of humour failure when I got there to find that they had closed would be a slight understatement.  I set off back along the river, only to spot a sign outside the Moseley Boat Club about their cafe upstairs.  Now, I didn't want to go all the way up a flight of stairs only to find that they didn't do take out cups, so I asked one of the club members who was doing something technical with a boat and was reassured that they did and told that I was obviously a bit of a nutter for running so far in the rain!

One large cup of tea (only £1.65) later I was enjoying a walk in the rain and thawing out my hands!  The large cup meant a longer walk break!  I decided to stop for a cup of tea here until they closed at 4pm. Throughout the race I was constantly doing mental arithmetic to make sure I could make the 12 hour cut off.  After the first couple of laps I had been running for 9mins and walking for 1min - with longer walking breaks to eat as I left the aid stations.  When I got to the stage when I worked out that 3 miles per hour would see me home before the cut off I felt so relieved.  I could just 'relax' and get on with it!

The path was getting very wet, the muddy bits were slippery and there were puddles the size of swimming pools, but one of the advantages of the appalling weather was that there was virtually no one else on the tow path!  Runners coming towards me were weaving, as though drunk, around the puddles.  The number of runners reduced dramatically as the day went on.  I think that only about 25 people did the 50 miles, and when you spread those out over 3.3 miles, it is possible to run for quite long periods of time without seeing anyone else.  I tried to acknowledge every runner I passed, lots of them were too focussed on what they were doing and/or what ever was playing on their iPods to respond, but to those who chatted for a while and offered words of encouragement I must say a huge thank you!  Likewise the marshals - standing in the rain and wind for hours at a time, making sure that we were all safe and encouraging us onwards - thank you!

As the hours went on I regretted forgetting my headphones.  I don't tend to listen to music or audio books during races, but the combination of aching legs, miserable rain and many, many miles meant that a distraction would have been very welcome.  It would have helped me displace my ear worm (a single line from The Schuyler Sisters from Hamilton) and made the miles pass a little more quickly.  As it was I put together a little plan that might just work to get our sixth formers running a half marathon sometime soon.  This will involve a lot of paperwork - but I hope that it works out!

At the end of the 7th lap I grabbed the last slice of cold pizza from my bag, got my head torch out, put the head torch on the table and ran off with out it!  Bother!  It was getting dark - it must have been  just after 6pm when I set off for this last 'short' lap, but by the time I'd realised I was not going to add the extra distance to go back and get it.  I ran the 'light' bits and walked the dark bits - it wasn't worth tripping over a tree route at this late stage.  But, a bit of mental maths told me that sub 10hrs might just be possible.  Due to the rain, it was difficult to see my watch, I walked as fast as I could, ran as fast as I could and hoped and prayed that it would be enough.  The finish involves running past the last aid station and doubling back to the finish - so I shouted out to ask if I was going to make sub 10 and was assure that I would.  In my mind I was sprinting but I probably looked more like this:

via GIPHY

I did manage a sub 10hr - 9hrs 54mins which, given the lack of training and the awful weather, I am thrilled with - that's an average of just under 12 minutes per mile.  The medal is awesome, the organisation was brilliant, I cannot thank Rik and his team of marshals enough.  I even got to ring the PB gong!

I did manage to leave my favourite running top behind (I hope that I am reunited with it soon) and the  entire malt loaf that I lovingly buttered on Friday evening got forgotten about (how?  I'd been looking forward to this for days) and my feet and legs absolutely hate me, (I may regret having my tutor base on the second floor tomorrow morning) but the good things do outweigh these drawbacks.   Not sure I'll rush to do another 50mile race soon, but I am booked in to do Endure 24 again next year.  Surely I can go further than my 70 mile sticking point next year?

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Hey Mickey!

After an arduous week, we found ourselves at Disneyland Paris prepared for a weekend of fun at the House of Mouse.  It is amazing how  much more fun Disneyland is without small children in tow!  In lieu of small children we met up with friends who we had convinced that running at Disney was 'a good thing' for at least long enough for them to sign up to the races, book accommodation and hand over the money.  We arrived at the Expo to collect our race numbers late on Friday afternoon, the Expo was small, and the shop lacked such essentials as fridge magnets and mugs, but I still managed to spend an unreasonable amount of Husbando's money for him!  We signed up for a photopass - which I managed to lose within minutes and, despite having all the paperwork, was unable to cancel it...ho hum...that will teach me to try to multi task.  T-shirts were collected.  Quite a haul of t-shirts as we had entered all three races and this qualified us for two extra challenges, the 31k and the 36k challenge.  Learning from last year, when the 2XL ladies shirt was smaller than my SMALL Paris marathon shirt I had ordered XL - slightly roomy, but considering I normally wear a small they still haven't got their sizes right.  They don't seem to have sorted their starting pens out yet either - a friend of ours, who runs a 1.31 half - was put in pen D.  He was told that there was no way of changing pens, yet we later found out that other runners had been told a different story and had managed to change their pen allocation.

We had a quick dash to our room in the Newport Bay to change, put on Mickey Mouse ears (OK that was just me) and make out way to the starting pen.  We'd been told that the pens closed at 7.30, and as we made our way to pen A we saw some amazing costumes, my ears and my Kent Road Runner vest didn't really feel as though I had made enough effort.  We huddled in the pen, trying to keep warm and trying to get as close to the front as possible.  Our aim was to get away quickly and then slow down, so that we could avoid queues for photos with characters.  Paula Radcliffe was on the start line with her children, and as we moved forwards I realised we were going to start about 5 or 6 rows behind her.

First to leave, however, were the wheelchair athletes and runners with various other physical disabilities.  This is a good strategy in theory, if the athletes were all in racing chairs and propelling themselves faster than most runners can dream of running, but a lot of these chairs were being pushed by helpers and they went off at such a short time interval before the rest of the runners that it could have been dangerous - especially as there was a sharp right hand bend on a downhill slope immediately after the start!

Awesome costumes!
There was the usual 'rousing' pre race performance...I think it was Thor/Thanos based - but Friday is a long time ago and my memory is shot...and then we were off.  We set off as fast as we could, running out  through the Village and in through the Studios.  After a couple of days without running my legs were eager to go fast, so I let them, Husbando is much faster than me, so he let me set the pace.  Quite soon I spotted Paula just ahead of me, looking like she was taking a stroll in the park with her super speedy children!  I thought I could overtake her, so I did.  After all it isn't every day that you can say you overtook a World Champion!

My triumph lasted for a few minutes, possibly as many as 5, but probably less.  I was running as fast as I could, while still retaining the ability to talk!  We stopped for several character photos (Paula and her children weren't pulling *that* far away from us) and still managed to finish the 5k in 23mins 6 seconds.  Here we were lucky enough to grab a photo with Paula Radcliffe before collecting our medals and heading off to wait for our friends and enjoy a nice cold beer or two.  Because a cold beer or two is the perfect way to fuel for a 10k early the next morning....

The combination of beer, being every so slightly pumped at running my fastest 5k in a very long time, not enough food and getting properly cold meant that I found it hard to fall asleep.... so was not best pleased when the alarm went off just before 5am...

Taking it easy during the 10k
But one of the good things about an early morning race at Disney is that you get TWO breakfasts.  One before the race and another when you get back.  As we huddled in the cold in the starting pen we (again) decided that we would run fast at the start and then ease off so that we could get as many photos as possible while avoiding the queues. Well, the best laid plans and all that... after nearly wiping out a group of people walking around the corner at the start, we ended up running fast (for me) the whole way, stopping for photos with characters, a loo stop for Husbando and (most importantly) a photo with the pompiers.  All this, and we managed to finish in 50mins 10seconds - collecting another awesome medal in the process.

The rest of the day was spent in the parks, doing a few rides and a bit of shopping.  And a lot of walking!  We were woken in the night by the sound of the wind and rain outside - and were grateful that we had thought to acquire bin liners to wear to the start.  Running in the rain is one thing, but standing waiting in the rain is miserable!  We ate our first breakfast and headed off into the dark of the early morning - it was a lot warmer on Sunday than it had been on Saturday, but there was a persistent drizzle and it was very windy - there were waves on the lake!  Once again we worked out way steadily to the front of pen A, and chatted with people we had bumped into earlier in the weekend.  We repeatedly bumped into the same people over the weekend, and bumped into people who we knew from other races, but a friend from parkrun who I knew was there was proving elusive...

This time it was easier to stick to our plan.  My legs were tired, it was easy to run the first kilometre fairly fast and then slow down because my quads kept complaining!  We didn't have to queue for long to get character photos (I'll add some to the blog when I work out how the PhotoPass thing works), and we took advantage of the loos in the parks before we headed on out into the world beyond Disney.  The atmosphere in the park was lovely - although being smacked in the face by a runner who decided to barge between Husbando and me caused me to have a temporary sense of humour failure and use some very un-Disney friendly language.

Some people don't like the bit of the run outside Disneyland, but I quite like it.  Despite the wind and rain we were cheered on by lots of bands, and I love the section through a housing estate and through a park with a lake.  There were two groups of cheerleaders in the park this year braving the horrible weather to encourage us!  On one of the out and back sections I saw Paula again - looking relaxed and chatting with a group of friends as she went on to finish as first lady!  On another I saw my elusive parkrun friend - I do love an out and back for this very reason!

There seemed to be more aid stations this year, still rather bizarrely offering water first then a dry snack, but that was OK as I was carrying a banana!  There was also a very conveniently placed portaloo.  I was running along, up a slight incline thinking 'Dammit, *now* I need a poo!'  I mentioned this poor timing and Husbando pointed out that we were right next to a block of portaloos!   And they were clean and relatively sweet smelling!  There are some advantages to being near the front of the pack...

Although we were nowhere near as fast as we had been in the previous two races we were having fun, it didn't feel too much like hard work at 18km in I began to really look forward to my second breakfast as my tummy was rumbling.  At 19km (just outside McDonald's) my ham string twinged making me pull up short and do a bit of stretching.  There were loads of spectators here and I felt really daft, but it did the trick and we ran on to the finish.  The finish, as for the other two races, was in the Studios.  As we approached the finish we were closing on a man ahead of us.  We had a brief discussion about whether we should try to overtake him, but decided that we would rather try to get a good finish photo of just the two of us (there was no one else near us at the time) so we slowed down a bit so that we could cross the line together in a few seconds over 2hrs.

Post race re-fuelling
At the end of the race we collected our third medal of the weekend, a space blanket (essential as the weather was grim), water, a banana, snack box and Powerade.  We had some photos taken and made out way back to the Expo to collect our challenge medals.  As we walked into the Expo all the people working there started clapping.  This made me cry!  I have never cried at the end of a race before - but for some reason I got all emotional.

After a massage, school French does not equip one to explain that one cannot remove one's running shorts in a vast hall because one is not wearing underwear - thankfully his English was better than my French, we went back to the hotel for second breakfast (which must be the best meal of the day) before packing up our room, having another wander around the parks and shops, eating lunch, dodging torrential rain and finding out way back to the station for our train home.

We had a fabulous time.  The organisation leaves a lot to be desired, but it is improving year on year.    Yes it is expensive, but it is definitely an experience that you won't forget in a hurry!














Saturday, 8 September 2018

Heartwood Forest parkrun


It has been an exhausting week!  The first week of term is always tiring but it is especially so when one is at a new school.  You might have thought that I would value a lie in on Saturday morning and that I'd choose a parkrun close to home rather than choose to travel for over an hour and a quarter, but this mad parkrunner chose to get up at exactly the same time as on a school day.  Why?  Because I wanted to run Heartwood Forest parkrun before it ceases to exist (in its current form) on 6th October this year.  I arranged to travel over there with friends and we wondered, as we drove, how many runners from Basingstoke we would bump into this week!

Heartwood Forest parkrun has been running (no pun intended) since July 2017 and is located in...er...Heartwood Forest, this is a huge new forest which includes pockets of ancient woodland and wildflower meadows.  It us gently undulating and has some lovely views.  I suspect that the decision to stop parkrun at this venue is so that the forest can become properly established without the regular influx of parkrunners every week!

Love this sign!
Being bad parkrun tourists we hadn't read the course page properly.  To be honest, after the week I'd had I was struggling to remember the name of the parkrun we were heading towards, so was utterly reliant on my travel companions.  We hadn't noted the instruction that parkrunners were not allowed to park at the start, but should have parked in the village hall.  As we thought we might be cutting it fine we parked on a side road and walked to the start.  Had we read the information properly I'd have known that there were loos at the village hall, this would have been very welcome knowledge as I'd enjoyed a delicious curry on Friday evening.....  We walked to start area in drizzle.  

As we approached the start it was obvious that we were not the only people making an effort to complete this parkrun while they still could.  The new runners' briefing seemed to have almost as many people as the run brief.  

The start was uphill, and I started near the back of the group but at least it had stopped raining.  It wasn't a steep hill, but is went of for quite a long time.  We ran on a mixture of hard packed gravel paths and grass.  That grass would probably become mud pretty quickly in the winter. After running up hill, there was a gloriously long, gentle downhill.  I relaxed into the down hill, lengthened my stride and overtook a fair few people.  I do love a downhill!  As it was a two lap course, we got to do the up hill and down hill all over again, this was fine as it meant we got to see all the sculptures of animals again, I got to overtake people on the uphill (that virtually never happens) and I managed to grab a photo of a wooden arch that we ran through twice.    

The approach to the finish was at the end of the long downhill, which made for a fast finish - although I misjudged the final turn somewhat as I was concentrating on overtaking someone and nearly missed the finish funnel!  I finished 60th overall, 6th lady and 1st in my age category.  My time of 24.52 represent the first time I have seen 24 at the start of a parkrun result since April!

Yum!
Once I'd got my breath back, had my barcode scanned, chatted to a few people I knew, and one who recognised me from last week's Dinton Pastures parkrun and the old 'the parkrun show' we made our way into Sandridge Village to find the Heartwood Tea Room.  For once we hadn't bumped into any other runners from Basingstoke parkrun.   The Tea Room was tiny, but managed to accommodate a surprising number of people.  I enjoyed a cup of tea, while my friends tucked in to bacon sandwiches.  The food looked excellent - the scrambled eggs in particular looked fabulous and as though you could feed a family of four from one portion!  It occurred to me that the cafe will miss parkrun when it stops, and  the locals we met said that they thought it was a shame that it was stopping.  I believe that the event's core team is looking for alternative venues - I hope they find one soon!

Thank you to all the marshals and volunteers.  You were all so helpful and friendly, the course is delightful and I wish I could come back to see if I could improve on my time.  

 



 




Sunday, 2 September 2018

The one where Husbando took a tumble.

The training plan, such as it is, called for a 13 mile run today.  I could run to the next town and have breakfast but, it being the last Sunday of the summer holidays I thought that a bit of bling would be nice.  Phoenix Running had a four day event taking place in West Byfleet so I decided to enter the last day's event.  Husbando came too.  I hadn't run at this venue before and being just 45 minutes away by car we even managed a little bit of a lie in.  The race HQ was at Fulbrook School where we collected race numbers in the school's dining room before walking to the start.  The familiar Phoenix gazebo was ready and waiting for us, but this time with totally compostable paper cups rather than plastic.  I usually bring my own water bottle with me but it is brilliant to see race directors making an effort to minimise the impact that races have on the environment.

Within about 10 metres of the start a runner took a tumble.  He seems to have been made of rubber and bounced straight back up!  Given that he, and a lot of the other runners, had already run marathons (and further) on each of the previous three days I was amazed at how sprightly they all looked.  My aim was to run a half marathon and then see how I felt, maybe run walking the second half to get another marathon under my belt.  Husbando was there to run a half, but said he would be happy to wait if I wanted to run further.  

The course was lovely!  Canal and river tow paths in lovely dappled sunshine.  There was a bridge. With Phoenix there is always a bridge!  This one was black and was really tricky to run up and down as it had ridges on the slopes - despite crossing it many times I never quite got it right!  Most of the path was tarmac with just a short (800m) section on hard packed earth.  The turn around point was by a boat house and, as always with an out and back course, it was lovely to see people coming towards me in the opposite direction. 

The aid station was well stocked.  I was good and ignored all those lovely Haribos in favour of the bananas I had brought with me, one after the second lap and one after the third lap.  I'd only brought two with me so I have no idea what I'd have done had I decided to carry on further.  The running was going well, I felt comfortable and was enjoying myself, chatting with other runners, counting the number of boats we passed (there were 42) that sort of thing.  

Just before I got to half way through my fourth lap, L ran towards me and said 'You're Husbando's wife - he's fallen over!' They'd been running together for the last few laps and I did wonder if she'd tripped him on purpose to get away from him!  As I passed other runners they said the same thing.  I began to wonder if we were talking ambulances, broken limbs and where on Earth were the life insurance documents any way?  I found him, sitting on the edge of the canal, being looked after by the runners in the photo to the left!  They had found a plastic chair and a first aid kit in the boat house and were patching him up brilliantly.  I felt slightly surplus to requirements, so having checked and checked again I ran on.  

My last mile and a half were my fastest.  I wanted to get to the end so that I could make sure Husbando was OK and see if, despite stopping to check he was OK, I could still beat my previous half marathon time from this year.  A mile with an 8 at the end of a run was quite gratifying as was hearing from Rik that Husbando was fine and was walking the rest of his final lap.  I collected my medal and walked back to meet him.  He'd bashed up his face, shoulder and knee - he is going to be a wee bit achey tomorrow - and I suspect he is going to look worse before he looks better!   Thank you to everyone who looked after him today.  It really does say a lot about you all that you stopped and looked after him!  I have horrible memories of falling over at the Royal Parks Half at a really busy part of the course and being unable to get up for what felt like an eternity because people were stepping over me without breaking their pace!  
Thanks to Rik and team for the superb organisation, I love this venue!  The medal is awesome with a detachable section that becomes a fridge magnet.  A fridge magnet and a medal! Amazing!



Saturday, 1 September 2018

Dinton Pastures parkrun

Is it just me or does this parkrun look like a sad dog?  If that wasn't reason enough for a little bit of tourism on a Saturday morning it also has a White Swan Lake, a Black Swan Lake and a Tuffty's Corner!  What is not to love?  

Dinton Pastures Country Park used to be a gravel extraction site and prior to that it was a farm - the old farm buildings are still in use today as the cafe, toilets and various other businesses.  It opened as a country park in 1979 after 14 years of gravel extraction had been landscaped to create eight lakes.  As the  lakes and wetland areas were created the area was colonised by wildlife, with rarer birds, such as bitterns and smew being sighted as well as swans, coots, mallards and gulls.  There have been many species of dragon flies spotted in the area and the ponds are home to great crested newts.   


The weather today was perfect for parkrun, beautiful blue skies and a gentle breeze.  We picked up a friend en route and arrived at Dinton Pastures in good time.  There is loads of parking (£1.50 per hour pay and display or RingGo) and loos just a short walk from the start.  While faffing in the carpark we spotted familiar faces from Basingstoke parkrun!  Some of the faces were the same as the faces we bumped into down at Severn Bridge parkrun last weekend!  More than 50% of the runners were running at Dinton Pastures for the first time this morning and about 5% of the all the runners were running their first ever parkrun today.

After a first timers briefing and a run brief, I did not use my teacher voice but I was very tempted due to persistent chattering, we made our way to the start.  The course is run on hard packed gravel paths, which in this weather were puddle and mud free but could get quite muddy in the winter.  We'd been told that the course was two laps, asked not to fall over (apparently at all bar one event somebody has) and warned about a 'short, sharp downhill.'  I spent the entire run looking for the short, sharp downhill and am still none the wiser!  The route felt as though it was almost entirely ever so slightly downhill!  I kept waiting for the up hill bit but it never came.  My Strava has the elevation gain as 7ft - but other people running today have the gain being as high as 33ft!  

I had put my 'phone in the pocket of my running shorts, normally this doesn't cause any problems, but having lost a bit of weight recently the 'phone was just heavy enough to cause me to have to keep yanking my shorts back up, I'd like to think that this slowed me down by a few seconds but I was pleased with my time (25.13, 4th female and 1st old lady) as I'd also had to contend with a runner close to me intent on taking the 'racing line' even if it meant elbowing other runners out of the way as he cut in front of them!  He also very helpfully pinged bramble branches back at face height - pulling thorns out of my face at the end of a run isn't something I have had to do before.  I've got used to running with runners who helpfully warn those behind them of upcoming hazards - it isn't hard to do and it seems to be the safe and sensible way to act as you cannot clearly see things like tree roots if you are following another runner.

Out of focus swan on Swan Lake! 
We weaved around the White Swan and Black Swan Lakes cheered on by marshals.  Without the marshals there is at least one point where I would have happily turned left instead of right.   I took a fuzzy photo to prove that is was a swan lake and very soon we were approaching the finish funnel.  A quick burst of speed (that is a relative term) saw me overtake someone just before the finish line and be given my shiny new style token, before I doubled back to find my youngest child and chivvy her along.  She was happily run/walking with one of the volunteers who was pacing a 2min run/1min walk group so my fears about her making the tailwalker's morning excessively long were unfounded!



We all reassembled in the cafe for coffee, tea, Fanta (my youngest is only 12!) and breakfasts.  Husbando and I couldn't stay long as work beckoned, but I have it on good authority, from people who have sampled breakfasts at lots of parkruns, that today's food was very good indeed!

Thank you to all the volunteers and the parkrun weather fairies for making today's run so much fun.  It is hard to believe that it is the first day of autumn today!

Saturday, 25 August 2018

The parkrun without a park.

As a rule I don't travel just to do a parkrun, but as with most rules there are exceptions!    This morning was one of those exceptions.  Severn Bridge parkrun is a relative newcomer to the parkrun family, this morning was only its third running.  Husbando and I decided that, having been home for all of 4 days, we needed a break, so booked a hotel in Bristol and drove down early on Friday afternoon - which is when, stuck in traffic on the M4, we remembered that it was Bank Holiday weekend.  Never mind.  We were excited enough by the prospect of running across the Severn Bridge to make the traffic worthwhile.    The Severn-Wye Bridge is an elegant suspension bridge that crosses both the Severn and the Wye (the clue's in the name!).  It was opened by the Queen on 8th September 1966 (just 18 days before Husbando was born) having taken three and a half years to build and costing £8,000,000 (the bridge, not Husbando - he took the standard 9 months to construct, but has probably cost a lot more over his lifetime).  For 30 years the bridge carried the M4 motorway, but when the newer Price of Wales Bridge was opened in 1996 (to carry the M4) the motorway was renamed the M48.  You can see the newer bridge from the old one - which makes me think that a run taking in both bridges would be rather lovely!    The Severn Bridge was granted Grade 1 listed status in 1999 - there can't be many parkruns where you run on a Grade 1 listed structure!  

The parkrun itself starts in Monmouthshire and the route is an out and back over the bridge.  Whilst running you cross the national border into England, and take in the counties of Gloucestershire and Avon, before turning around and heading back into Wales and finishing in a tunnel! 

As we drove to the carpark (in a local football club car park) I thought I spotted a familiar face, and then as we pulled into the carpark we saw a load of Basingstoke parkrunners getting out of their cars! The parkrun world is very small!  The run briefing was excellent - lots of pertinent information, but sadly I had to use my 'teacher voice' to ask people to be quiet as the noise levels were loud and exacerbated by the echos in the tunnel.   I haven't had to do that in a long time - I apologise to anyone I deafened!  Several people asked if I was teacher!  How did they guess?  Husbando said that they'd probably been able to hear me over the bridge in England!

We made our way up a path onto the bridge and assembled at the start.  I didn't realise how far back I was starting until I saw this photo (taken by Ian Nelson), so was in for a slow start as I weaved my way around other runners.  Once I found a little bit of space I thought I was running quite well, but my Garmin was telling me I was running at 10min/mile pace - I've done a fair few miles this week, but I didn't think I was as tired as my legs were telling me, so I pushed harder.  Nothing, the Garmin kept telling me I was running at around 10min/mile pace.  There was very little I could do but carry on running, when I hit one mile my Garmin decided to work properly and told me that I'd run the first mile in a smidge over 8 mins!  That felt a little more like it!  The outward leg is ever so slightly up hill, nothing to strenuous but enough to make you look forward to the return leg!  
The views are stunning!  We definitely wanted to run this one in good weather and we weren't disappointed this morning, even so there was a definite breeze to run into on the way back!  The finish is back in the tunnel, which seemed a very long way from the bridge by that point!  The echoes make for a great finish and will have the added bonus of keeping a lot of the volunteers warm and dry in inclement weather.  I do feel for the marshal at the turn around point in the winter - I hope there are some pennies in the budget for hand warmers for whoever has that role!  The volunteers were friendly and welcoming coping brilliantly with the 308 runners (a record attendance for this new event) and ensuring we all had a great run.  The event team had the added complication of one of the scanners failing - a fact that was evident from the huge number of 'unknown' runners initially listed in the results.  I was such a runner, but the event team dealt with it quickly and efficiently, and I was honest and claimed the position I had achieved (92nd and 25mins 07seconds) rather than claiming a much faster time!  

Barcode scanning
After the run we walked back to the football club where tea, coffee and bacon rolls were on sale.  We had a quick chat with friends, posed for a 'tourist photo' and had a cup of tea before carrying on with the rest of our day.  A perfect parkrun morning!  Huge thanks to the volunteers - I had a great time.  

Basingstoke on tour!

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Hasenheide parkrun - with the only hill in Berlin!


 We bumped into our first fellow tourists in the lobby of our hotel, they were on their way to breakfast and then a simple underground trip to Hasenheide, we decided to run/walk the three miles.  We have a limited amount of time in Berlin and I didn't want to spend too much time underground!  Berlin is very flat and we were looking forward to a welcome change from our regular Alice Holt hills.

As we entered the park we noted that it wasn't quite a pancake flat as the rest of Berlin, but the undulations were gradual.
Rose garden
We found the start location - always a good start and had few photos taken.  I love the 'visitors whiteboard'!  There are loos (basic - but they are there) and a large covered area with benches where you can leave your kit.

The park has some interesting associations, one of which I will mention later, but it was where the German gymnastic movement, headed by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn began when he opened to first gymnasium in Prussia - there is a monument to him by the north entrance to the park.  It is still popular with athletes today - there are a state park, a roller hockey court and baseball courts, there are wide open spaces for informal games of football.  I also spotted a small zoo and a dog exercise area along with a rose garden.  The park's name originates from 1678 and its use as a rabbit warren where the Great Elector came to hunt poor little fluffy bunnies.  It fell into disrepair/disuse but was rebuild for the Olympic Games by the National Socialists in 1936.

The run briefing started shortly before 9am, splitting into an English and a German version.  Most of the runners seemed to be tourists, but probably a quarter were locals.  I won't lie, the course sounded incredibly complicated (even though I'd looked at the map on the course page of the parkrun site) so I decided to just follow whoever was in front of me and hope for the best.  There was also mention of a hill!  On the start line a man asked me where my 'normal' parkrun was - turns out he thought he recognised me from Basingstoke - but wasn't sure because he hadn't seen me for ages, which is my fault because I've been running at Alice Holt or gadding about all over the country.

The course, not as complicated as it sounded is 2 and a bit laps of the park.  The 'and a bit' is the interesting bit!  Most/all of the course is on tarmac or hardpacked gravel, and has some very gentle slopes.  There were lots of other people using the park - walking dogs, cycling, running but not parkrunning (why?) the marshals warned where positioned at key points to ensure that we were all safe and didn't go the wrong way!

Part way through the second lap you get to do the 'and a bit' park!  We were told that this was up the hill.  It was quite interesting in that you run up the hill, go round it at the top and rejoin the main path before you left it (if that makes sense).  But what makes the hill really interesting (and which I only found out later when I thought about writing this blog) is its history.  It is a man made hill.  It is a 69 meter high 'pile of rubble' called Rixdorfe Höhe which was made from 700,000m2of rubble from the Second World War.  It is now landscaped, but it was build as a memorial to the 'debris women' but Katherine Szelinski-Singer in 1955 and commemorates the cleaning up work that was done, primarily by women, after the war.

That hill is short, but steep!  I had no idea how long it was going to go on for as it winds around in such a way that you can't see the top until you get there, so I didn't push it too hard!  I was happy with my time (25.40) and position, 5th woman and 1st in my age category.  After we'd had our bar codes scanned we pootled off to Cafe Blume, just outside the park to wait for it to open (at 10am) for coffee.  Several tables inside were reserved for parkrun and it was lovely to chat to other tourists from the UK and get to know the locals.  The coffee there was good and the cakes, especially the cheese cakes, looked awesome.

Thank you to all the volunteers for an excellent parkrun!