Friday, 7 May 2021

Every second counts.

 In the great scheme of things that have happened over the last 14 crazy months one specific race being cancelled is not a big deal.  Or shouldn’t be a big deal, not to a normal, well adjusted adult.  But I am obviously not a normal, well adjusted adult.  When the 124th Boston Marathon was postponed and then transformed to a ‘virtual marathon’ I was far more upset than I should have been. Maybe I am not as normal and well adjusted as I like to believe!

When I started running, back in 2010/2011, the idea of running a marathon was incredible.  I did not believe that it was something I was capable of achieving, I'd always been remarkably adept at avoiding physical activity while growing up and hated 'games' at school.  Even when I had got my head around the idea of running 26.2 miles all in one go I remember saying to a friend ‘Oh, to run Boston would be a dream – but there is no way I will ever be a good enough runner to do that!’  Their reply was quite simple; ‘Not with that attitude you won’t!’ And that was it, a seed was planted, I had a goal - to qualify to run a marathon in my favourite American city.  

As I ran more marathons my time seemed to be settling at around the four hour mark, but annoyingly it was just the wrong side of the four hours.  Midway through 2018 I set myself a goal of running a sub 4hr marathon before my 50thbirthday.  I had no set event in mind, and managed to run my first sub 4 at a low key marathon with Phoenix on the banks of the Thames in February.  I hadn't set out to run fast - it was just one of those days where, with the support of friends, everything just worked out for the best. The pressure was now off as far as I was concerned.  We still joked about the possibility of running a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time, but the gap between 3hrs 58mins and 50 seconds and the sub 3hrs 50mins needed (I was in the 45-49 category then) seemed insurmountable.  

Then, in April, we had a trip to Paris to eat steak frites, drink red wine and run a marathon.  It was an 'interesting trip' that resulted in me smashing through the 3hr50min barrier and getting a BQ time. Another important thing happened -  I got older or, and this sounds much nicer, I 'aged up!'  Meaning that despite running as a 49 year old, the race I was entering would happen when I was 50 - which put me into a higher age category giving me a 5 minute slower target time.  My Paris time of 3.47.12 was 7mins and 48 seconds faster than I needed.  Happy days!  I registered for Boston, waited a couple of weeks, was told my time was fast enough, booked hotel and aeroplane tickets and looked forward to April 2020 and the 124th Boston Marathon.

Then Covid happened.  Along with every other race, Boston was postponed and then transformed into a virtual event.  I ran it on the same course with the same people as I ran my first sub 4 and I hated every minute of it.  And there were a lot of minutes of it!  But, I got the job done and have the medal to prove it. The only silver lining was that the Boston Athletic Association changed the dates for qualifying marathons so that my Paris marathon would still count for the 2021 marathon. But, and it is a huge but, the field size was cut by a third.  I applied anyway, encouraged my very fast friend to apply too so we could have a nice jolly trip, and waited.  Normally a buffer of 7mins 48seconds would mean I was sure of a place, the buffer for 2020 had been 1min 39, this year the speculation was rife that at least 10 minutes would be needed.  I was trying to prepare my 'happy face' so that when my friend got in and I didn't I could at least not disgrace myself by screaming and crying in public.  

On Tuesday 4th May social media posts kept popping up - runners saying 'I'm in with a buffer of 20mins' - I didn't see a single post with a buffer of less than 10 minutes.  I began to despair.  But I couldn't stop scrolling through the feeds.  And then I saw it.  A post on the official BAA instagram site announcing that the buffer was 7mins 47 seconds.  I ran from the bedroom to the kitchen, threw the phone and the piece of paper with my Paris time on it at Husbando and squeaked at him incomprehensibly.  Was it true? Had I read the numbers properly?  My heart was pounding.  I checked, he checked, we called one of the boys in to check too.  It seemed I might be in - but I wouldn't believe it until the email arrived. The one that had this heading:

I may well have checked my email every half hour overnight waiting for that! 

I can't believe I got into the Boston Marathon with just one second to spare - if I'd slowed down to talk to a friend I'd passed in Paris I wouldn't be going to Boston in October. The heart ache that must be felt by those who were one second the other side of the cut off must be huge.  In any other year they would have been safely into the race. 

Husbando has booked flights and a hotel room, I've spoken to my head teacher, who seems thrilled at the prospect of getting rid of me for a few days so now I just have the small matter of nursing my dodgy knee back to good health and getting my tired old 'aged up' body back into marathon shape! Oh, and planning just how much merchandise I will buy.



 

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Grade inflation, or why teachers always get the blame.

Sorry for a non running post on a normally running related blog, but this is too long for a Tweet of a Facebook status update, and I haven't exactly been jetting around the world running exciting races.  

Picture the scene, or rather the markbook.  If there was a fire at school I reckon every single teacher would risk life, limb and the lovely new set of pens that they treated themselves to last week in order to dash back in and grab their markbook - that is if they had been foolish enough to become separated from it in the first place.  Yes, the data is all recorded on the school system - unless it crashed as every teacher tried to meet the deadline for inputting half term test - but the system records raw numbers.  It doesn't have any of the squiggles and annotations that serve to put our results into context (e.g. 'J got 75% despite missing out a q because the pages stuck together' or 'C struggled as just moved to school and hadn't covered this topic fully' or 'D's gran was rushed to hospital last night').   Over the course of a student's school career we get to know these young people really well.  We went into teaching because we wanted to work with young people. We are interested in them, invested in their future and we work really hard to make sure that they have the best possible chance of doing as well as they possibly can.  

So now we are faced with the situation, for a second year running, that we get to 'decide' (according to the media) what grades our students will get at GCSE and A'level.  And we are being told, again according to the media, that this will result in grade inflation.  We'll just ignore the fact that the thorny topic of grade inflation has reared its head every August for as long as I have been teaching - i.e. even when there have been externally set exams.  

This is what will probably happen, and I will concentrate on two groups of students here to illustrate my point.  

The first is a group of really hardworking students who have been hitting grade 9 (old A*) throughout the year, with the odd wobble down to a B if they have had a bad day/their cat has died/their romantic life has gone off the rails.  Let's say I've got six of them in one of my classes working pretty consistently at that level, they all got 9s or very high 8s in the mock - which was an previously unseen past paper, and every topic test and homework supports the fact that these are bright, hard working children who could each and every one of them go on to get a 9 in their GCSE.  But, and it is a BIG BUT, I know from years of experience that one of them will come out of the exam hall in floods of tears and sob 'But, Miss, I had a total 'mare! I messed it up totally because (insert reason here.'  I will feel utterly helpless and murmur soothing words.  On results day five of my six students with a grade 9 target will be celebrating and one will be sobbing.  What should I do with my centre assessed grades (CAGs)?  All six of them are capable of the top grade, but I know there is a good chance one will 'mess up' (in their mind) and get an 8 or even a 7, but I have no way of knowing which one.  Do I role a dice to choose?  Of course not, I award them all the grade that every assessed piece of work they have done throughout the two year course informs me that they are capable of achieving.  Hence the grades will appear to be 'inflated.'

The second group are on what used to be known as the C/D borderline.  These are the students we want to get from D up to C (and not just because that looks far better on school league tables).  In 'new money' we are looking at a 4 being roughly where the C used to be.  Note the word 'roughly' - I know it isn't exactly the same but it is, for the purposes of this blog, close enough.  Imagine I have five or six students working at this level.  Some of them will be working hard, but still struggling.  Others, despite me using every trick in my tool box, just haven't managed to fall in love with Physics (yet), and the rest will be, for the want of a better phrase, a little bit lazy - no amount of Haribo bribes or detentions for incomplete work have motivated them to hand in homework on time.  In the mocks, they all got a 3 (a D in old money).  Some didn't care, let's say half of them didn't care.  They are never going to do Physics again and to be honest can't wait until the day that they can leave my lab safe in the knowledge that they will never have to listen to me bang on about electromagnetic induction and Fleming's Left Hand Rule ever again.  The other half of the group react differently.  They may realise that they are so close to the magical 4 that they put in a bit of work and manage to get that 4 in the actual GCSE exam, in doing so one of them will realise that actually, with a bit of consistent work and practice, Physics is really quite straightforward and, shh, don't tell anyone, they actually quite enjoy it.  They work hard and bump up their eventual grade from a 3 (in the mock) to a 5 or even a 6 in the actual exam.  

The problem is that every member of this second group has the potential to surprise me, pull out the stops, work their socks off during study leave, and leave me grinning from ear to ear on results day as we fist bump the air in celebration.  But they are a much more difficult, less homogenous group that the first group of quiet, hardworking students.  It could be anyone of them.  It is, despite having done this for years, still difficult to predict which student/s will end up covered in glory. Awarding all of this group a high CAG is obviously not the way to go, but awarding them all a 3 doesn't sit well with my experience of what happens in real life.  In a normal year, out of this group of six I would expect four to get a 4, one to get a 3 and the final one to get a 5 or better.  But how to decide which ones?  I suspect, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that most teachers would play it safe and award a 4.  Again, it looks like grade inflation, but it is actually just an attempt to be fair. 



Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Virtual races... why bother?

I had always been somewhat sceptical about the concept of 'virtual races.'  It seemed to me to be a bit of a con, pay over your hard earned cash, go out for a run that you were very likely going to do anyway, send your Strave/Garmin evidence to the organiser and receive a tacky medal in return.  I have enough bloody medals as it is without adding more to the pile just for the hell of it

And then Covid-19 happened.  I saw race after race that I was due to complete this year cancelled/postponed (did I mention that I qualified for Boston and London this year?) I know that there are much bigger disasters than a middle aged woman not being able to run around a city with a few thousand other people and then blog about it afterwards but I, like many others, had worked hard, planned hard and saved up the air fare for these races and they left a huge hole in my calendar.  Almost worse though was the lack of a fixed date in the future to aim for, I'm all for running for the sake of running - but it is lovely to be able to have an event that looms large that everything is building towards.

And I missed people!  I missed the sound of thousands of pairs of trainers pounding the streets, I missed listening to snatches of conversations (and making up the rest in my head) and the bizarre conversations with strangers - some of whom I would never see again and others who, via the magic of social media, would become friends who I would see again on line and at races over the years to come.

As the implications of Covid-19 became apparent the number of virtual race opportunities hitting my in box grew.  I ignored them.  For quite a long time.  Then a couple of races I was running with Phoenix Running offered me the opportunity to 'go virtual' and I thought, what the hell!  The medals are awesome, the race organiser is an utter legend (google Rik Vercoe) who really goes the extra mile for his runners and there is an excellent online community that has sprung up around his races.  Oh - and the inclusion of a Freddo or packet of Haribos with every medal has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with my desire to run his virtual events.  It still felt a bit odd to be claiming a medal for what was essentially a training run... but the chocolate Freddos are delicious!

Then a friend sent me a link about 'The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee' - a four month long, 635 mile challenge to run, virtually, across Tennessee.  And yes, I know that it is not the same as being in Tennessee (it is flatter out there than it is where I live for one thing), but I have learnt a lot about Tennessee from people posting details in the Facebook page, runners from all around the world have shared pictures and stories about the places they live.  The basic run across Tennessee involves averaging 5 miles a day for 4 months, something that, when I started seemed manageable.  As the days went by and I logged my miles I realised that I could, if I applied myself run back across Tennessee too.  I finished my 635miles at the weekend and have started making my way back to the virtual start to look for my car in the car park, high fiving all the other runners on the way back (and there are a lot of them, over 19,000 runners entered this event, far more than Laz Lake of Barclay Marathons fame ever anticipated when he first proposed this event).

At the same time as I was finishing my trek across Tennessee I was taking part in Phoenix Running's 'P24 Longest Day' virtual event. The format was deceptively simple.  Go for a run of at least one mile on Saturday at 8am, repeat every hour on the hour for 24 hours.  This was a virtual event that felt a lot more 'real' than most.  We had a pre race briefing (in the comfort of my kitchen) via Facebook live, virtual marshals who posted messages throughout the 24 hours to keep us motivated, and runners posted updates and photos as they finished their miles.  It almost made waking up to run at 2am in the rain bearable!  

I sneakily used the miles from P24 to complete the Hampshire Hoppit marathon - normally a small, low key, trail marathon with plenty of hills!  I signed up for this one purely because I wanted to support a local business - one that would have paid out significant expenses prior to the cancellation being announced.  I think that is a pretty good reason to run a virtual too.

That said, I'm not hugely looking forward to running Boston as a virtual marathon...

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

What's in a name?

Maybe I have just been locked in my house for too long, but I really think that today's events would have angered me whenever they had happened.

It is really very simple.  Way back in April I heard that ProDirect Running were allowing people to personalise their range of parkrun apricot t-shirts.  What a brilliant idea, I thought, a way to show my support for parkrun during the lockdown closure of all parkruns and to support them financially.  I ordered a t-shirt for my 16 year old (personalisation 'I still hate running') and one for me, the personalisation is shown in the photo below 'running dick'. i.e. one of my favourite hobbies and my surname.  The shirts arrived, we loved them.  We got to thinking about how we could justify buying more.  They aren't cheap - but they are good quality, so you are getting what you pay for.



Chatting online with a running buddy one evening we were bemoaning the fact that every single race we have entered is cancelled, including the wonderful Endure24 which, having taken part in as solo runners in the past, we were entering as a pair for the first time and now won't get the chance to run until June 2021.  Our team name, because we couldn't think of anything better, was just our surnames.  Team Bigg Dick. We were talking about getting team kit organised when I had what I thought was a good idea, we could support parkrun and get good quality kit at the same time.

I did the order.  I waited a few days, far longer than I waited for my first order, but that's fine, they are busy, delivery services are working overtime at the moment.  What I didn't expect was this email:

I am contacting you today in regards to your parkrun order. 

Unfortunately, we are unable to personalize your request due to the offensive language that has been used. Can you please provide an alternative and we will be happy to update this for you.  

If you have any further queries, please feel free to contact us via Pro:Direct Live Chat or via a reply to this email.

Best Regards,

​Phoenix 

I emailed back.  I was cross. For years we have had to fight automated systems because of our surname.  My daughter was blocked from her own school's computer system for using her surname when trying to set up a folder to save her work, my oldest son was bullied at school because of his name and suffered long term consequences - but the people telling him his name was offensive were children, not adults.  I pointed out that they had already printed my name on a t-shirt, but just got a reply saying they 'were not able to personalise the item with the current choice of word.'  I realised that I hadn't actually been told which word they objected to... maybe I had jumped to conclusions... maybe it was the other shirt I had ordered for Husbando ('I'd rather be in Vegas') that was the sticking point.  So I asked for clarification.  Apparently they are not able to print 'team bigg dick' on a shirt.  Clearly they are 'able' to - they just choose not to.   ProDirectRunning  still have not explained what the actual problem is.  I have reminded them that they are simply our surnames, one of which appears on the order and which they had no problem in printing on an address label.

I am livid.  If my name was anything else it wouldn't be an issue.  And I really don't understand why my name wasn't offensive in May but has suddenly become so in June.  It is ridiculous not to allow me to have my own name printed on an item.  Probably just as well I am such a mediocre runner - imagine if I was a successful runner and ran with my name on my bib rather than a number - would I be banned from races.   I am surprised the BBC allow Cressida Dick to have her name come up on the screen... and the sci-fi author Philip K Dick ('Do androids dream of electric sheep?/Bladerunner') must worry about having his name scrubbed off his book covers.  Heck, I'm pretty sure I have name badges with my 'offensive' name on them that I've worn when dealing with the public... whatever were my employers thinking?

All we wanted was our names on a shirt and to support parkrun... instead I just feel really upset and angry.  It isn't very nice to be told that your name is offensive.  I'm a Dick and proud of it.







Wednesday, 18 March 2020

What's next?

When running events started cancelling, it seemed that anyone who dared to mention that they were upset or disappointed was subject to criticism on Facebook and Twitter (and probably real life, but I don't get out much so don't get to experience that).  I can see both sides... you've trained for something, planned for something and then it is taken away.  On the other side, Covid-19 is a big deal.  I've lost count of the number of races I have had cancelled - but the only one that really matters is Boston.  Hopefully I'll get to run the rescheduled race in September.

But the cancellation of races, and today the cancellation of parkrun hits hard because it is symptomatic of the fact that so much of what we take for granted is no longer available for us.  This is happening at a time when many of us are losing our normal routine of work.

Friday will be my last normal day at work.  I don't know when we will be back at school and, if I am honest, it is a terrifying prospect.  Logistically it is going to be a nightmare delivering lessons remotely, trying to engage, enthuse and educate children via a laptop in my kitchen, while trying to chivvy my own children into getting on with their school work and not devouring the contents of the fridge within minutes of me getting back from the supermarket.  My first hurdle is getting to grips with Microsoft Team and then scanning all the material so that I can share it...

But the bigger problem is relationships.  I love the teaching part of my job - being in front of a class, doing whatever it takes to get a room full of students to understand the Krebs cycle... I love my colleagues too.  I work with a group of highly motivated professionals who are all committed to the same thing that I am committed to - educating the next generation.  Yes, we may moan about the behaviour of a certain class, whinge about the ever increasing demands from management and have collective a collective grump fest about having to write eleventy billion reports before the end of the week, but on the whole we love it... there is no way we'd do it for the money we are on if we didn't.  I made the mistake of telling a non teacher friend how much I earned the other day... after teaching for 10 years.... I think they are still laughing....

I don't know what the next few weeks will bring.  I know that I am going to miss my students, the drive to work, the routine, the banter in the staff room and the friendships. While we are all working remotely I think it is imperative that we keep in contact, I'm not sure what that contact will look like.  I am concerned that working from home will allow work to take over my life in the way it did when I first qualified as a teacher.  I must strive to remember that the kitchen is still the place where I sit with friends and family to share a few drinks and laughs, it is only temporarily my workplace.  Social isolation cannot last forever.

But first, we have two more days... two days in which we need to calm the younger children down and remind them that it is not a holiday, hold the hands of the yr11 and yr13 students as we wait to find out what will happen with regard to GCSEs and A'levels and spend hours scanning worksheets...

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Oink oink!

I've started a couple of blog posts about races recently but not finished them.  No idea why, but life is somewhat hectic so maybe I was doing something grown up like the laundry, marking books or cooking meals!  Let's see how this one goes...

Those of you who know me in real life will know that I rather like to be on time.  And by 'on time' I mean 'there in plenty of time.'  And by 'there in plenty of time' I really mean 'there so long before the appointed hour that all my friends officially hate me and and, if I am honest, I am a little bit bored too!'  This is the reason that I didn't rush back to sign up for the Hogs Back Road Race - I was still suffering from the trauma of almost not making it to the start line due to the nightmare parking scenario!

However, after 3 days away with my fledgling CCF contingent I needed something to look forward to and my partner in crime had put the idea into my head.  The race was cheap(ish) and local(ish) and as I'd fallen into the exhausted sleep that anyone who has been a lead teacher on a school residential trip will recognise before 8.30pm I was up early enough to get there in plenty of time.  They must have sorted out the parking in the 4 years since I'd last run this event.

They hadn't.  The last quarter of a mile took AGES!  For a big venue (Loseley Park) that must have lots of carparks, getting all the race entrants to park on the muddy crass either side of the drive made for very slow going.  I get that the venue might want to keep its carparks free for the regular patrons, but with a 9am start most of us would be leaving before the Sunday morning rush started.  I gingerly parked my car on the grass, offered a quick prayer to the parking gods that my car wouldn't get stuck in the mud (we'd seen a few people pushing cars that had got stuck already) and made our way to collect our numbers.  I was keen to get to the front of the port-a-loo queue.  I say keen, but really I was suffering after 3 days of army catering - otherwise known as 'how many fried meals can I throw down my throat in 3 days!'  They queues for the loos weren't too bad, mainly because most people were still queuing to park!

The wind was bitter at the start, I kept my fleece on.  There was no pre race brief, no count down, we were milling around near the start and then suddenly we were off!  The first bit was downhill, on the estate roads and then we were on country lanes and it became a bit more undulating.  I used one short, sharp, steep section halfway up a long steady climb as an excuse to walk a few paces and remove my fleece.   The first half is the tougher half of the race, as you can see by the graph below, and I will admit that I may have walked for a few brief sections on that two mile hill climb.

For a road race, I ended up with an awful lot of mud on the back of my legs!  There are two off road sections and the recent rain had ensured that there were plenty of lovely muddy puddles to splash through.  But at least it was predominantly downhill for the second half.  At 9km my shoe lace decided to come undone.  That has never happened before and I know I double tied it as normal.  Trying to tie a shoelace with gloves on is tricky, but I double knotted it, cursed about the fact that two women I had worked hard to past had snuck past me again and set out to run the last 2.4km.  I managed to catch both those women up again, so all was no lost.  I finished about 7 minutes faster than the last time I ran this event, which given the lack of sleep and shockingly bad nutrition I am happy with.

I spent most of the race trying to do the mental maths involved in converting 11.4k (or whatever portion I had left to run) into miles.  And failing.  

At 11k I spotted a school friend (as in a friend I was at school with rather than a friend from my current school) who was there to support her husband and some friends.  Just 0.4k to go... I over took a few people on the way and threw myself over the finish line, collecting my medal and getting my chip removed.  The Sun was shining and it was quite pleasant waiting at the finish, until the clouds rolled over!  It took ages to get out of the 'car park' - post race faffing and getting out of the car park took longer than the actual race!  

This is a great race, but it is let down by the poor organisation of the parking. 


Sunday, 27 October 2019

What a week

The first half of the autumn term is always the longest half term.  A nasty shock after the carefree weeks of summer, but the end was in sight, we were on countdown for the half term holiday.  Even picking up a cover lesson in my free on Tuesday didn't dampen my spirits.  Whilst sorting out the cover work I sat down on the chair at the teacher's desk, only to find myself on the floor instead.  The chair was dodgy and I was now on the floor in front of a whole class of students and a teacher who had come in to check that I had everything I needed!  The students were amazing, two of them dashed off to get a first aider and the rest were 'vanished' by a colleague.  I was in pain.  I slipped a disk several years ago and knew that this pain wasn't as bad as that had been, but it still hurt.  I wanted to go and lie down somewhere, but an ambulance had been called and I was told to stay where I was (standing with my back against the wall).    The ambulance crew were lovely, checked me out thoroughly, agreed with my self diagnosis that it was just muscle spasm and told me to go home and rest.  I, of course, asked if they thought I'd be able to run at the weekend and was told that so long as I rested properly and felt as if I could then it would be ok.  I know from experience that keeping moving is better for my back so I was (very) cautiously optimistic.
At the start - weather for ducks

Three days at home led to a certain degree of cabin fever and a 'sod it, I'm going to do it anyway!' mentality, so on Friday afternoon I set off to catch a train to North Wales.  I'd been bullied into entering the Snowdonia Marathon to the extent that I didn't even do the entry myself.  Everyone I know who has run this one raves about it, I was sceptical.  I booked my travel in advance, I couldn't travel up with anyone as they were all driving up early on Friday and I was supposed to be in school. The first after school train would get me to the nearest station at 10.15pm and because I booking in advance it was only a few pounds more for first class - free drinks, snacks and an evening meal would be very welcome.

Up into the hills we go!
I got to Euston just before the shut the doors and stopped letting anyone else in.  There were no trains going in or out of the station due to trespassers on the line.  We were advised that our tickets would be valid on Saturday - but that was no use to me.  The information available seemed to rely on an in-depth knowledge of the rail routes around the UK.  I was somewhat out of my comfort zone.  I hate being late, I'm not a huge fan of relying on other people or of that horrible feeling that you are messing the people you are relying on for a lift at the end of the journey around.  There was a lot of frantic Googling, texting and phoning to work out the best course of action.  When the station reopened I thought that it would be plain sailing, but the first few trains all seemed to be going to Wolverhampton - I am sure it is a perfectly pleasant place but I did not want to go there.   I got on the first train to Crewe, found myself a seat in First Class and then gave up my seat to a frail looking old lady who didn't have a seat.  First Class service was suspended, so no complimentary drinks and snacks, and all the carriages were rammed to the gunnels.

Scenery!  Lots of it!
I was confident that it would be simple from now on.  The guard announced that we would get to Crewe at 22.17 giving me 6 minutes to make a connection to Chester which would connect to the Holyhead service.  At 22.10 the guard announced that we would arrive at Crewe 'in twenty minutes!'  I very nearly had a full on melt down!  The train crew told me that whatever happened I would get to my destination - even if they had to put me in a taxi, as it was the connection was delayed at Crewe.  I threw myself on to the overcrowded train just as the doors were shutting and welcomed the announcement that the train I was on would become the Holyhead train, so I didn't need to navigate my way around another station.  I also got a seat at Chester!  I don't think anyone has ever been quite so relieved to get to Bangor in their lives - and at least, at half past midnight, the roads to Llanberis were empty.

Me, actually running
Thankfully a friend had checked into the hotel on my behalf and collected my race number.  All I needed to do was go to sleep, this proved to be easier said than done, but at least my back felt better it was just my hip that was hurting, I think I must have bashed it as I fell as it was somewhat bruised.  I set the alarm for 7.15am, met up with a load of friends for breakfast at 8am and asked basic questions like 'Where is the start?' Answer: 'Just follow us.'  Q: 'What about the bag drop?' A: 'The reason we stay here is that it is closer to the start than the bag drop.'  You can see that I'd really done my homework!

Proof we weren't hallucinating!
The weather looked bloody awful.  I decided to start off with a waterproof jacket.  We made our way to the start, bumping into people we knew, including a couple of fellow Fetcheveryone members I haven't seen since the start of the York Marathon seven years ago!  The first couple of miles went well, although it was undeniably painful.  A pain that intensified when we hit the first hill.  I am not sure that I was believed when I said that I didn't think I would be able to finish this (at 4 miles), but for the first time ever I was seriously considering just stopping.  The consensus was that we should just walk up the hill and see how it felt at the top.  Well, it still bloody hurt, but going down was easier and the scenery was just fabulous.  The support from the locals was terrific and we were now on a 7(ish) mile flat(ish) section that was a mixture of road and farm track.  When we were running we weren't too shabby in respect to speed, but it would get to a point where I just couldn't take the impact any more so we used every single hill as a walk break... and at times I was praying for the next hill!  There are only really three hills, but they are all quite...er...substantial, with the last one at 22 miles lasting for over two miles.

Possibly the best cup of tea ever!
At the top of the last hill we found the best aid station in the World ever!  A Mad Hatter's Tea Party was in full swing with jam tarts, biscuits, cakes, sandwiches and CUPS OF TEA IN PROPER CUPS! Yes I am shouting!  It was the best thing ever and as we had kissed goodbye to any idea of running a decent time we stopped for tea before hurling ourselves down the hill to the finish.

There had been a lot of rain, and despite the fact that it did stop during the race and the sun even came out briefly, at times it felt as though we were running through a river.  This made running down a steep hill somewhat challenging, but the end was in sight.  I tried to remind myself that I am good at running down hill and that I only had just over a mile of pain left.  As we turned on to the high street and the finish line, while not quite in sight, was just around the corner, we picked up our pace - still in our running jackets as we had never quite warmed up - and got lots of comments about a 'strong finish!'  Let me tell you, it hurt like hell, but I wasn't going to slow down in front of a crowd.

Striding out for the finish line!
We crossed the line in 4hrs 41mins and 53 seconds.  A lot slower than I had planned but, given I was ready to give up at four miles in, I suppose it is an achievement of sorts.  My friends had booked their hotel rooms for next year when they had checked in on Friday afternoon.  I had thought they were mad, but at 6 miles into the race I knew I wanted to come back.  I booked hotel rooms for next year as soon as I got back to the hotel.  I say 'rooms' because I am planning to bully some friends to come too.

This is a stupendously fabulous marathon, brilliantly organised and wonderfully supported by the locals.  The atmosphere amongst the runners was awesome.  At one point I complained that my left leg was fine and I was just fed up of the right side of my body.  It was suggested that I hop on the left leg.... we were on the final up hill.... but I gave it a go.  And a couple of kind people caught up with us to ask if I was OK!  The views are epic, even in cloudy wet weather!  I think there were 12 of us out for supper that evening, all in good spirits reliving our epic day, celebrating three first marathons in our little group and catching up with a friend I haven't seen for far too long before toddling off to our beds.  A beer or two and a gin and tonic or three may well have been consumed.   And the good thing about taking it easy yesterday?  Well, apart from the painful hip/back thing the rest of me feels fine!