Sunday, 26 June 2022

What goes up must come down, and then go up again and again!

No blog posts in ages, then three in one month.  That's what happens when all the deferred races happen at once!  This weekend saw us leaving, straight from work on Friday afternoon, to head down to the picturesque village of Sydling St Nicholas in Dorset for the infamous Giant's Head Marathon.   My entry had been deferred from 2019 - when I'd had to postpone due to Founder's Day at school, two of my friends and deferred from 2020, another had got 'lucky' when a mutual acquaintance couldn't make the race, and Husbando was down to run the 10-ish kilometre race as he has vowed never to run Giant's Head Marathon again after having a nightmare there in 2018.  Luckily I'd booked an extra room at the local pub, so we all had places to stay that didn't involve camping in the rain!

The rain stopped as we were eating breakfast on Saturday morning - which is just as well, as a rain might just have been the straw that broke the camels back and resulted in me not starting!  I'd had an upset stomach all night and was feeling a little below par.  It was just as well our hotel was close to the start as it meant I did not have to brave the portaloos!  

Elevation profile
The start was slightly different this year, rather than running along the High Street we were off road from the start.  We still got the fantastic concrete hill - which makes for a slow first mile but miles two and three are downhill, the only thing you contend with here is the long grass and uneven ground underfoot.  As this isn't by any stretch of the imagination a PB course, and because I was feeling rough, I decided to take it easy.  I was going to walk all the hills.  Normally in this race I end up walking them anyway, but this time I had decided in advance which makes it a strategy rather than a response to inadequate training.  That said, it felt like I was travelling very slowly!  It is hard to move fast when the ground is uneven and you haven't done anywhere near enough off road running in recent months.  My hamstring was still playing up, so I didn't want to push anything too hard.

I'd also forgotten just how hilly this race is!  Over a thousand metres of elevation, with some steep downhill sections that required one to be very goat like to negotiate at anything faster than mincing pace! I ran on my own for much of the race, which was fine, occasionally chatting with other runners, but mostly just swearing under my breath at yet another hill and then admiring the view from the top.  The wind seemed almost constant - and almost always it was a headwind!  It was so noisy.  

Approaching the finish, down hill on a flinty track, I was thrilled to see a friend waiting at the final turn, that gave me just the boost I needed to pick up the pace for the final few metres.  I'd been quite surprised by how, well not easy, let's say 'comfortable' I had found the race.  I'd had no intention of running fast, or pushing myself and yet I managed to run my fastest Giant's Head Marathon and, alarm from a painful right leg, felt fine afterwards.  I certainly wasn't doing the post marathon stagger that had been a feature of my Stockholm, Boston and London!  On checking back through past results, it seems that this was a course PB by about 10 minutes!

As usual, the support from the villagers was fabulous.  The race, along with the 10k, the Bell Races and (new this year) the half marathon take over the village for an entire weekend.  They provide breakfast in the village hall on Saturday, an evening meal on Friday and Saturdays as well as teas and cakes all day.  The Greyhound Inn, with a new landlord who took over last week, was our base for the weekend - they rose to the challenge of runners who wanted early breakfasts.  We decided not to take part in the Bell Race on the Sunday, so had a long, leisurely breakfast instead.  

I think, despite saying on my journey down to Dorset on Friday, that I would not do this race again, I will be back. The hotel is booked....

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Round and round and round we go....

I've run at Endure24 on three previous occasions as a solo.  On those occasions solo runners were a rare breed of nutters who would rather endure running all by themselves than form a team or buddy up with a friend to run in a pair.  Even without a support crew, Endure24's laps make it a really good choice for solo runners as you are never are than 5 miles from the aid station and the temptation of your tent.  For teams there seems to be a party atmosphere with runners taking their turn to run laps while their teammates eat, drink and make merry.  It's a little different for pairs.  More of that later.

Way back in 2019, the last time Endure24 was at Wasing Park, one of my best friends (also running solo when not lazing around in an ambulance) suggested that we really should run together as a pair as we could just use our surnames as out team name.  It seemed like a great idea and we waited eagerly for entries to open so that we could book our place for 2020.

That obviously didn't happen due to Covid-19.  Virtual races became the norm, it was hard to imagine running with friends again.  We had high hopes for 2021, but for various reasons the event changed both date and location - this didn't work for us so we deferred our entry.  We talked about it occasionally but it was still a bit of a shock to check the calendar and realise that I was somehow due to run Stockholm Marathon, Endure24 and a hilly trail marathon all in the space of 22 days.   What could possibly go wrong?

We had a brief strategy meeting at a post parkrun coffee but that was really limited to 'as you've got the day off on Friday can you grab a space for us to set up camp?' and a brief agreement that a lap per hour was acheivable.  I was still frantically packing late on Friday evening so that I could set out bright and early on Saturday morning.  Friday was a blisteringly hot day, the forecast suggested that it might be a little cooler, with an outside chance of the odd, brief shower.  I threw in a waterproof jacket, and, as an afterthought, a coat. 

Saturday morning dawned warm and sunny.  I grabbed a bottle of factor 50 sunscreen, threw it into the car and set off.  Of course I arrived before John, but thanks to the photos he'd sent and a friend of his telling me that I couldn't park there because John was saving the space, I managed to locate his tent! As we had to arrive by 9am if we wanted to drive to the camping area we then had to hang around for three hours.  So we decided that food would be a good idea.  We'd both bought enough food to feed a small army, but a bacon roll seemed like a better plan.

The race village was less busy than in previous years, but we still had quite a queue at the catering tent - we wondered how they would cope when things got busy.  Only having one person able to take payment seemed like it might slow things down a lot, but we weren't too worried - we'd be too busy running and eating our own food to need to use the catering tent.  

John ran the odd numbered laps and I took the even ones.  The course was basically the same as in previous years, with a few of the more technical areas smoothed out, and an extra loop around the camping field to make up the distance.  We used a white board to communicate and keep track of lap times.  We were visited by one of John's children and his wife.  Strange to think that when we booked to do this event John had yet to meet his future wife!  On paper it all looked to be going rather well.  We were ahead of our schedule.  The weather had cooled down considerably and there had been a  few showers of rain.  But I was in pain.   I found the fact that someone was waiting for me so they could run quite stressful.  I could ignore it for the first couple of laps, but the stop/start nature of running as a pair seemed to make things worse.  I'd run my lap, get a drink, stretch a bit, sit down and just as I was starting to relax it was time to start again.  After four laps I left a note saying I was going to run/walk my fifth lap and then consider my options.  And at the end of my fifth lap I left a message saying that I was going to have a cup of tea then toddle  off to the massage tent and would not be running again.  I had a little cry and felt a bit sorry for myself while drinking my tea but it was pissing down with rain so I don't think anyone will have realised!
At the massage tent I was met by Shelley's smiling face and bionic fingers.  The thought of anyone touching my leg  made me feel a bit nauseous - but it helped a lot.  While I was on Shelley's table John appeared in the tent.  He booked the next slot with Shelley, and I laughed about the fact that I had apologised for not waxing my legs! It was probably about 9.30pm when John, still on the table said 'I'm done, I'm not going out again!'  I could have jumped for joy - if I'd had any energy left. 

We set off to investigate the hot food situation.  John joined the very long queue, I went to the beer tent to get us a drink.  He was still queuing when I got back.  The queues were exacerbated because they kept running out of food - we eventually got our food just before 11pm!  We were happy with out decision to stop, the weather was cold, wet and windy, we were both suffering, we had nothing to gain by carrying on.  We weren't enjoying ourselves so we decided to get some sleep and see how things looked in the morning.  
It looked sunnier!  After a cup of tea and some porridge I decided to do another lap, to even up the distances between us.  It was sunny but still chilly so I went out in my leggings intending to walk.  It got warm rather quickly and I regretted the leggings!  John did another, rather speedy, lap followed by one more form me to take us both to 35 miles. We handed out timing chips in there and then so that we wouldn't be tempted by 'just one more' lap!

The benefit of not following our plan is that we actually got to spend some time with each other and we, hopefully, haven't totally wrecked our bodies for next weekend.  I think we both felt that running as a pair could be our least favourite way of doing Endure, having said that I have never been part of a larger team, maybe I can rectify that next year.  

As always it was good to see running friends, some of whom I don't think I've seen since pre pandemic days.  It was amazing to see some of the truly amazing running going on around us and to chat to other runners.  Our running vests got lots of comments, even if we only got one mention from the commentator - who sounded as though he had bitten off more than he could chew when he realised what he was announcing that Team Bigg Dick was about to cross the line. 

Overall it was a good event, different to previous years which is inevitable as the management has changed.  I am not convinced all the changes were for the better.  Charges for supporters were new this year, but I am not sure how rigorously this rule was enforced.  In the past solo places have always sold out really quickly and solo runners were the exception rather than the rule out on the course.  This year it seemed like most runners were solo and the large teams were the exception.  I haven't looked at the results and compared them to previous years - so it may just be my perception.  And the catering was a nightmare!  I pity anyone who, based on the efficient service offered in previous years. opted to rely on it this year. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Stockholm Marathon

Having managed to persuade a friend to run a second marathon the search was on to find a suitable destination to tempt him out to play.  We needed somewhere 'interesting', preferably somewhere we hadn't been before and definitely somewhere that was easy to get to.  Stockholm seemed to fit the bill.  It had the advantage of being held on a Saturday rather than a Sunday, which meant that we could have a day to relax, post marathon, before flying home. 

Six of us, five runners and a solo support team, flew out on Wednesday of half term, we spent the first few days doing 'tourist stuff' of which there is plenty.  We barely scratched the surface of this beautiful city.  We had factored in an afternoon to 'do the expo' based on Boston, Paris and London marathon expos we thought that this would be just about enough. I think we spent about 30 minutes there - and that was only because I was so cold that I went back to buy a long sleeved top at the last minute.  

Saturday morning dawned bright, sunny and much warmer than the previous few days.  We had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel.  Just what does one eat, and when, for a marathon that starts at noon?  Noon, for heaven's sake!  Right when we should be thinking about finding somewhere to eat lunch was when they were expecting us to start running! Sunglasses were retrieved from bags, sunscreen was liberally applied to exposed skin and we headed to the start.  We'd been told that all bags must be checked by 11am and so, along with everyone else, we decided to arrive just before 11am to start the fun, pre marathon warmup of standing in queues - the bag drop one wasn't too bad, but the queues for the portaloos were HUGE as there did not seem to be enough portaloos for such a big crowd.  We then waited, in the sun (24c) on the astroturf, trying to understand the announcements over the tannoy, before deciding that we might as well try to make our way to the start.  

The Swedish national anthem was sung at the start line, and then we were off.  It was very crowded at the start and there were a lot of people who had optimistically predicted times much faster than they were going to achieve as they were walking within the first kilometre!  Quite near the start the course split - without any warning - this was a bit alarming, even more so when we later heard that the winner of the marathon had been sent the wrong way TWICE during the race.  He ran an extra 1.1k and despite this extra distance he missed breaking the course record by less than one minute.  

Poor signage was a feature of this race.  The kilometre markers were few and far between, the water stations were frequent, but most of the volunteers tended to stand behind the tables (which were only on one side of the road) rather than in front of them handing out cups.  This meant that if you wanted to grab water you had to slow right down and pick a cup off the table - it got quite congested!  

The route was beautiful - we were taken round lots of beautiful buildings, over lots of bridges as we hopped from island to island.  It is just as well that the scenery was stunning because the crowds were somewhat muted.  It felt as though they were waiting for the person they knew to run past - they would cheer them and then fall silent again. 

I'd run the first few miles with Husbando, but knew that he would want to run faster than me.  I was in some discomfort with Morten's Neuroma and hadn't really trained for this race.  I wasn't overly worried as I was just doing this one 'for fun!'  I wanted to get home in under four hours, but that was it.  Husbando wanted to get a BQ (Boston Qualifying) time.  Given that his target was four minutes faster than my PB I'd have been silly to try to keep up!

The route is far from flat, that and the surprisingly warm weather, seemed to take their toll on a lot of runners.  There were lots of walkers from the halfway point onwards.  You generally get one or two people who have blown up having gone out too fast, but this was different, I was running past people who were walking all the time.   

The finish line was in the Olympic Stadium.  Here there was a little more crowd support, but I think I was oblivious to it!  Monday night track training kicked in, I moved to the inside lane and picked up the pace!  Not sure how fast I ran that last 300m, but it bought my pace for the last half mile down to 8.15min/mile (overall for the marathon was something like 8.42min/mile and I'd slowed down for the previous few miles).  

The rest of the gang had run well - PBs for two of them, including a BQ for Husbando.  Post race faffing occurred.  Funny how hard it is to even walk the minute you stop.  Husbando is now eagerly awaiting the opening of the Boston marathon registration process, the other PB has told us to shoot him if he ever mentions running a third marathon.  

Would I run Stockholm marathon again?  Probably not, it felt a little disorganised at times, but I would definitely come back to Stockholm.  I would very probably run a half marathon.  In fact I think that foreign half marathons might be the way forward.  They don't take over the whole trip the way a marathon does!  My other regret about this trip is that I didn't get to do a Swedish parkrun.  It wasn't sensible, or practical given the timings, to run one on Saturday and, because I had to be back in school on Monday, we couldn't stay to run the extra 'Sweden Day' parkrun on Monday.  Hopefully we can go back to Sweden soon...

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

It's all about the jacket.

 I've blogged before about my long journey to run the Boston Marathon.  For those who haven't already heard more than enough about the on again, off again saga these posts may be a good place to start: Every Second Counts and The Dream Is Over.  If you are up to speed already please get yourself comfortable for the next instalment!

I love Boston, it is a fabulous city, small and friendly.  We used to spend a lot of time over there with work - but in those days I wasn't a runner and the words 'Boston Marathon' meant nothing to me.  That changed when I started running, and the quest to qualify for this iconic race began.  I went from being comfortably below the cut off in 2020 (race cancelled)  to a 'squeaker' in 2021 - the same time, with a reduced field due to Covid, meant I was 1 second under the cut off - but we couldn't travel to the USA in October 2021 due to Covid restrictions.  I was 15 minutes under the qualifying time for 2022 (thanks to running London Marathon), a very comfortable margin in the year that allowed all those with a qualifying time run.  It looked like we were on our way at last.  It was nerve wracking taking the pre flight Covid tests.  It was still possible that everything could fall apart if a pesky second line appeared.  

We flew into Boston on Wednesday, travelling with friends, three of us running the marathon and two supporters.  It was wonderful to be flying again, fantastic to be back in Boston - especially as Wednesday afternoon was beautifully warm and sunny - so we wandered around the Public Gardens, Boston Common taking in the sights and grabbing a quick beer or two at the wonderful Democracy Brewing - we need to go back as we need to buy one of their beer glasses as a souvenir.  Thursday saw more mooching about, eating huge portions of food and half heartedly following the Freedom Trail, we were easily distracted by retail opportunities, and a trip to watch an ice hockey game in the evening.  Boston was clearly getting ready for the marathon.  A gantry had appeared across Boylston Street to mark the finish line and people were walking around in 'celebration jackets' from previous years.  There were lots of 'Are you here to run the marathon? Where are you from?' conversations with strangers in queues.  

And then, on Friday, the expo opened.  Runners and supporters began to arrive in force!  The queues were long, but moved quickly, I'd opted to sign up to the Unicorn Club (Boston Athletic Association considered me have run 'consecutive marathons' despite my previous two being virtual), which meant a separate bib collection and some extra goodies.  We played 'spot the jackets' trying to see find the oldest jacket.  I saw one for 1994,  which is the year we got married.  The TV news talked about the marathon, the bar tender talked about the marathon, we talked about the marathon and we bought so much merchandise that a new suitcase was deemed essential. 

Saturday is, of course, parkrun day.  When I'd first qualified for the 2020 marathon I'd volunteered to tail walk at Jamaica Pond parkrun and eventually I was going to get to do this too.  Jamaica Pond is gorgeous, the core team were friendly and coped well with the influx of marathon runners who swelled their numbers from around 100 to a US record attendance of 363!  We woke up on Sunday ready to run a marathon, but of course Boston Marathon is run on Patriots' Day which is a Monday.  It felt a bit odd, we dashed around getting a few more essential souvenirs, had pizza for supper, and compulsively checked the weather forecast.  I met up with fellow 'squeakers' at the finish line and we got to see the marathon trophy.

My Unicorn Club membership entitled me to a separate gear check, pre-race breakfast, and luxury coaches to the start.  I was also bumped up to Wave 1 (of 4) for the start.  This was mildly terrifying as I would be starting with runners who had a qualifying time of under three hours!  Luckily we were put in the last corral of that wave - so people wouldn't be tripping over us.  The coach to the start in Hopkinton took about 30 minutes and we were accompanied by police motorcycles before being dropped very close to the start - so we didn't get to experience the Athletes' Village.  The sun was shining, it wasn't too cold, the portaloos were plentiful and people were friendly.  There were hundreds of volunteers making sure that discarded clothing was collected for charity and that we all went, roughly, in the right direction.  

 The start line is marked by a banner, no high tech gantry here - just a banner stretched across the street.  The national anthem was sung, there was a flypast of two C-130s and very soon we were on our way.  I crossed the start line crying a little bit.  I couldn't believe I was actually about to run the Boston Marathon!

I'd spent months thinking about this race.  I'd listened to so many people tell me that the downhill at the start would kill my quads, to be careful not to go to fast, to save energy for the infamous Newton Hills.  Did I pay any attention?  Well, a little bit, but I rationalised that live in a hilly area, and that I'd be fine.  And for the first half I was fine.  I was loving it.  I was using the downhills (the first downhill stretch is surprisingly steep) to lengthen my stride and felt really comfortable.  My first 10k wasn't quite as fast as my London marathon in October, but the first half of the race was a fraction faster - despite bursting into tears in the Wellesley Scream Tunnel - an overwhelming wall of noise from the local college girls.  The route was really interesting. We ran from small town to small town.  At the start these were interspersed with rural sections - including a beautiful lake.  The support from the locals was amazing!  When I got to Framingham I heard my name and turned to see Husbando and a friend cheering me on.

This was a smidge over halfway, and my hamstring was starting to play up.  I was also keeping my eyes open for the next block of portaloos - my body clock had not overcome jet lag sufficiently well to schedule my pre race poo efficiently! I also felt a bit queasy - probably from the pain in my leg.  I used the loo, came out and turned straight round again to throw up.  I sent a quick text to friends so that they would know why my tracking times had gone to hell in a handcart and, I hoped, elicit some sympathy.  I was told that reducing my weight would facilitate a negative split! 

From there, my race was a bit of a disaster.  I couldn't keep water or any nutrients down, my leg hurt and I knew that the toughest bit of the course was ahead.  The Newton Hills aren't particularly steep, they just come late enough in the marathon that you feel them.  And they go on and on and on!  The most famous hill is 'Heartbreak Hill.'  I was conscious that I needed to save some energy for the big one, so was rather surprised when I got to the top of a long, steady, uphill drag to see a sign that said 'Congratulations on summiting Heartbreak Hill!'  I might have survived the hills but I still had about 6 or 7 miles to go.  I still couldn't even keep water down, I was thirsty, hungry and running (if we can call it running) on pure will power.  I walked a lot in the last few miles, all the time doing mental maths about possible finish times in my head.  

I set out to run 'about 4hrs' and was pleased to calculate that I could still do that.  I wanted to run, but as we came into Boston I was taking frequent walk breaks.  I was adamant that I would run from the moment I turned right on Hereford and then left on Boylston.  We'd walked this section frequently over the preceding few days, it really wasn't very far at all, and the bit on Boylston was slightly down hill.  However, over night someone had put a massive up hill section on the stretch of Hereford Street between Commonwealth and Boylston.  I swear crampons would have been useful.  I think I sort of ran up it, and then someone had added an extra three or four miles to the previously short section of Boylston Street.  I knew Husbando was in the stands at the finish, and the crowds were roaring us home, so there was only one thing for it; to grit my teeth, pick up the pace and run.  

I crossed the line, burst into tears and gave Husbando a hug across the barrier rail before making my way shakily to the VIP tent, a worried looking medic insisted on walking with me until he was sure I wasn't going to do anything daft like pass out in the street!  Loads of goodies were available, but I couldn't face them.  I went straight back to the function room in the nearby hotel where a veritable feast had been laid on for Unicon Club runners and their supporters.  Husbando ate enough for both of us, I think I tried a beer.  

Looking back, a time of 3.52.39 is a one I would have thought impossible 4 years ago.  It is a Boston Qualifying time and, given how awful I felt in the second half, I am very happy with it.  The run up to the race was plagued with niggling injuries, a stressful term at work and not enough long training runs.  All things to bear in mind for the future.  Boston may be a net downhill course - but it is not an easy marathon.  It is an amazing marathon - I hope to be back to run it again!

Sunday, 3 October 2021

Imagine what I could do if I trained properly!

After a busy week, culminating in a rainy soaked Open Morning at school, we jumped in the car to get up to London.  It was possible to locate petrol stations on Sat Nav by looking at the congestion and added time on the map - each petrol station was adding between 4 and 15 minutes to our journey.  It was all rather stressful as I needed to get to the Expo to pick up my race number. As we passed Battersea Power Station tube station I jumped out of the car and into the shiny new tube station and took the tube and DLR arriving at the expo at 2.45pm.  

And then the fun began.  To be more 'covid secure' we had been told that we had to leave our kit bags at the expo, so I wandered off to find the queue, which ended outside the ExCeL centre.  It then snaked, Disney style, through the central plaza and then into one of the exhibition halls for some more queueing!  I  eventually handed my bag in shortly after 3pm and set off to join another, thankfully shorter, queue to pick up my race bibs.  I had two to wear this year - the standard race bib, and an extra one that I still don't fully understand - it seems that all us oldies who got a good for age place were entered into the WANDA age ranking championships.  There is no danger of me breaking the record for my category - that stands at 2.31.05 - but it came with the promise of an extra medal!  It was only at this point we were asked for evidence of reporting a negative LFT.  

Once into the expo it was relatively quiet - I reckon most people felt they'd spent too much time standing around already and just wanted to get back to hotels/homes etc!  I tweeted about the long queues and was told that I should have come earlier in the week if I wanted a less stressful experience, which is not helpful to anyone who can't get time off work and/or can't afford an extended stay in London.  I toddled off back into central London for supper (I'd missed lunch with the travel and queue chaos), a whole load of cold medication and an early night.

The weather on Sunday was much more promising than the torrential rain of the day before.  I donned my 'throwaway' sweatshirt and made my way to the yellow start.  The yellow start was tiny, I didn't see any familiar faces amongst the runners, but one of the volunteers was the very excellent Danny from the (also very excellent) podcast With Me Now.  And then, a few minutes later, my friend John arrived and we posed for a photo because I am, at heart, a teenager and never get tired of having a comedy surname!  

It was surprisingly cold at the start.  I began to wish I'd bought an old pair of pyjamas to wear too as I was starting to shiver so much that I couldn't use my phone.  I just about managed to reply to a message from a friend asking what my plan was, I said 'Put one foot in front of another and repeat until someone tells me to stop!'  In reality I had no plan.  My training has been less than ideal, I lost my motivation somewhat when I found that I couldn't get to Boston, and the preceding week at school had been rather busy.  I'd run a couple of reasonable half marathons, but nothing close to a PB.  Husbando and my friends were encouraging me to go for a Boston Qualifying time (3hrs 55 for my age group) but that seemed totally out of the question as I stood at the start line.  

I started fast.  It was hard not to when starting with a group of fast runners, one clue that I was going faster than I possibly should was when I went through 5k in 23mins 30 secs - faster than I have run a parkrun in a long time.  I tried to slow down, but it wasn't happening so I decided to just see what happened.  I grabbed water at all the water stations, high fived all the children I could get to on the edge of the course and chatted with my fellow runners.  I may have sworn at the anti vaxxers who thought that their idiotic placards would encourage runners.  I was delighted to see Husbando just before Tower Bridge - he enlisted the help of fellow supporters to yell out my name!  

I went through the halfway mark about 2 minutes slower than my half marathon PB.  This was madness!  I had a quick loo stop and hoped this might make me run slower when I restarted - it did not!  I still felt pretty good at that point, and was doing all sorts of mental maths in my head.  I was using my Garmin to keep an eye on my pace, which was fine until we hit Canary Wharf and my Garmin recorded a 6.07 and a 5.43 minute mile!  I think, but the time I got to the 19 mile marker, my Garmin said I'd run over 20 miles, so it was back to trying to manually calculate pace.  

It was during these mental gymnastics that I worked out that I was on for a sub 4 pace and a PB.  I wasn't confident enough of my numbers to be sure, but it did seem likely.  Which was good because I felt like I was working rather hard at this running thing!  At 24 miles I reckoned I could probably walk the last couple of miles and still just about get a PB.  It was very tempting because everything was hurting, but I knew that one of my friends was somewhere on the Embankment and Husbando and my youngest child were on Birdcage Walk - I didn't want them to see me walking!  But good lord it was hard work!  It was messing with my head knowing I could slow down if I wanted to!  

The noise on Birdcage Walk was immense.  It was almost a relief to turn at the top of St James Park where there were no supporters and onto The Mall where the supporters in the stands were not quite as raucous as those at street level.  I could see the finish.  I could see the time of 3.39 and some seconds as I ran towards it, I could hardly believe it!  Would I be able to get there before the time went over to 3.40?  I'd started about 30 seconds after the clock started so knew I had a little bit of leeway.  I couldn't see the clock as I passed under it but my watch told me I'd done it.  A new PB of 3h 39n 21s - about 8 minutes faster than my previous PB and 15m 39s faster than the qualifying time I'd need for Boston.

I staggered down The Mall, desperately thirsty - but the water bottles had been placed in our kit bags so I had to wait.  It never ceases to amaze me how different the runners look on each side of the finish line.  Looking at the zombies who were trying to read the little number on their bib to work out where to collect their bag, it is hard to imagine them running anywhere!  

Husbando met me by Admiralty Arch - I foisted my bags on him and we walked along Whitehall to meet up with friends (John ran a 3hr 2min marathon and Helen had completed the virtual) for lunch - burgers and beer!  I never eat burgers but it was just what was needed!  

I'm still in shock!  My body hates me for pushing it so hard but I am also so incredibly happy with my time - it is beyond anything I thought I was capable of achieving.  

Huge thanks to all the volunteers on the course!

Monday, 20 September 2021

The dream is over.

The rollercoaster journey to get to the start line of the Boston Marathon is over.  I'd been putting off cancelling flights and hotel rooms in the hope that suddenly, miraculously the USA would open up its borders and allow UK citizens to enter the country in October,  but today's news finally means that any glimmer of hope is over.  

I suppose I should be proud that I qualified with a fast enough time to deserve a place two years running.  For someone who spent the first 39 years of her life avoiding running anything other than a bath that has to count for something.  When I started running the very idea of running a marathon, 26.2 miles, seemed utterly unthinkable, and the idea of qualifying for the iconic Boston Marathon was beyond my wildest dreams.  

But, at the moment, I just feel deflated. 

People keep telling me that, if I qualified once, I can qualify again.  I'm not so sure.  To say that qualifying the first time round was hard work would be an understatement.  It was considerably easier when there were lots of races happening that helped to focus my training.  I'm also less than impressed with the communications from Boston Athletic Association.  Up until today the message, when I have emailed BAA,  has been you can transfer to the virtual 'at no additional cost' (virtual is $70, actual race is about $290) without any indication of the date that the decision needs to be made.  At last, today, an email has been sent to all entrants saying that the difference in price will be refunded and that the decision needs to be made by Friday.  So at least there is come clarity. 

I think I have fallen a little bit out of love with the whole idea of the Boston Marathon. I know that the the friend I was travelling over to Boston with has a qualifying time (with a huge buffer) for the 2022 race, and my other running buddy will qualify easily.  The chances of me qualifying within the window available are about as good as a snowball's on Venus and, while I wish them well, I am a little bit envious of them.   So maybe I do still want to do Boston?  

For now I have the 'consolation prize' of running London in two weeks time instead of Boston in three.  TI had my head so deep in the sand about Boston being cancelled that my training, such as it was, was focussed on 11th October not 3rd October, so my taper will be slightly shorter than is ideal, and I won't do justice to my good for age place.  There is also the small matter of having to run 26.2 miles the following weekend to qualify for my 'virtual Boston' medal. That was about as much fun as having root canal surgery last year.  

On the plus side, there is a two day course I need to do for work which clashed with the Monday and Tuesday that my head had very kindly given me off work for the marathon.  I'm sure a course, via Zoom, will be more than enough to take my mind off the missing all the fun in Boston. 

Monday, 6 September 2021

A weekend in Paris!

 What a fantastic few days!  This summer has been...different.  I spent too much time in school, a week away on a course and never really felt I'd had a break from work.  So the few days we'd planned away were just what I needed.  

We decided, way back in January/February when it looked as though all travel restrictions would be over, that we would travel to Paris to run the Semi-Marathon.  There were five runners and one supporter in our group, and we followed the ups and downs of the Covid travel restrictions carefully over the following months.  We planned as much as we could and had the inevitable mad scramble to sort out tests and certificates and, eventually, early on Thursday morning we were on our way.   Paris was warm and sunny when we arrived at lunchtime, we did touristy stuff that was great fun but not really the subject of this blog, went out for dinner, drank red wine - all that good stuff.  

Friday morning was BEAUTIFUL so, of course, we went for a run - a 5 mile gentle sight seeing trot and photo shoot.  There may have been a little grumbling about 'food babies' and slightly sore heads but the run certainly sorted us out and we headed back to the hotel for a hearty breakfast.

Saturday is parkrun day.  I'd already run the parkrun in Bois de Boulogne prior to the 2019 Paris Marathon so I was keen to go somewhere new.  And if I am totally honest I am not 100% convinced that I could have found the start of that one again - which would have been embarrassing when travelling with friends.  Luckily there is another Paris parkrun: parkrun de Montsouris and after some research we realised that there was a bus route that took us right from our hotel to the park. 

We arrived at the park in good time, which is just as well as we weren't quite sure where the start was, luckily it was near to the toilets that we were also looking for.  parkrun in France is a lot more low key than parkrun in England so it is sometimes a little unnerving to be standing in the middle of a park at 8.45am, wondering if you are in the right place, tentatively approaching a stranger and starting a conversation in school girl French, often the stranger will be a fellow Bri (either expat or tourist) who is also looking for the start.  Then at about 8.55am parkrun appears by magic!  

The welcome from the event team was warm, the course was explained to us and we walked to the start.  I'd arranged to meet up with an old friend of mine who lives in Paris and to run with him - Covid has meant that we haven't seen each other for a very long time.   I chattered away as we ran around the park three and a bit times.  There was a short (quarter mile) uphill section on each lap but the rest was down hill all the way.  And the park is gorgeous.  If you had dropped me into the park and told me I was in Kew Gardens or RHS Wisley I would have believed you.  We also went over and under a railway track  - which the boys loved!  There was so much to look at as we trotted round, interesting buildings, pretty plantings and attractive vistas, unsurprisingly the park was being well used by locals - lots of other runners, yoga, boot camps, children playing, dog walking etc.   It was so very different to my expectations of an urban park - probably the prettiest park I have ever seen.

After the run we went to Chin Chin cafe.  I've been to lots of post parkrun coffees, but I have never felt so welcome as I did on Saturday, it was great to talk to the team and to other runners - results were processed so speedily we were able to thank the volunteer before we left. One of our group got a parkrun PB so we were all in high spirits for the journey back to the hotel.

Of course, the main reason we were in Paris on this particular weekend was to run a half marathon and I'd be lying if I said that the fact that the French call a half marathon a 'semi' didn't elicit some childish sniggering!  When we booked the race we had no idea of what mass races in a Covid era would look like.  We'd put in accurate time predictions for finish times and not thought too much about it.  The final race instructions put us into something of a panic.  The start times were spread out over much longer than we had anticipated, While four of us were due to start at 9.18am one of our group was not timetabled to set off until 11.05am.   We had a 5.15pm train to catch and we'd all quite like to be able to shower first.  Another consideration was the heat, Paris was, in comparison to Hampshire, roasting hot!  The thought of having to run from 11am until 1pm didn't appeal.  We began to consider how we could smuggle  our friend into our starting pen with us but, just on the off chance I thought I would ask at the expo.  I was amazed at how easy it was - I just explained that we were worried about missing our train and asked if a change of starting pen was possible 'Mais bien sur!' was the answer much to our relief.  Trying to change t-shirt sizes was a whole different story!

We arrived at Place de la Bastille on Sunday morning to a seething mass of runners.  Paris races don't seem to have an army of volunteer marshals, so it can be a little daunting trying to work out where you need to go! We showed out blue armbands that proved that we had been vaccinated so that we could get to the baggage drop, some of us braved the portaloos and are forever scarred by the experience, and made our way to the start.  There didn't seem to be any designated pens - we all sort of wandered towards the start line and were released in waves - I think we crossed the line at about 9.35am.  

The route was, very roughly, the first half of the Paris marathon but in reverse.  Shade was at a premium as the sun beat down.  I ran the first 5k with Husbando before we went out separate ways.  I wanted to run this as a 'teensy bit faster than marathon pace' run - but I am useless at pacing so just ran.  I looked forward to the shade of the Bois de Vincennes - forgetting that the roads were so wide that there was barely any shade. 

I'd forgotten that there is so little 'crowd control' on races in Paris.  In London races the the whole route is pretty much lined with volunteer marshals, often with loads of railings to stop pedestrians wandering into the route of the runners and crossing points would be manned.  On Sunday we often had to avoid people darting across the road (with or without children in tow), cyclists and electric scooters on the route.  I think these were slightly less dangerous when they were coming towards the runners as we could see them approach - when they tried to overtake us it was terrifying!  One lady, very smartly dressed, got quite upset at the runners trying to pass her as she stood in the middle of the road with her five, large, German Shepherd type dogs - one of whom was relieving himself in the middle of the road! 

Music and cheerleaders along the route provided entertainment, and I spent most of my time doing the mental maths needed to convert kilometres in to miles.  The maths gets harder the further I run.  I even forgot that a half marathon is 21(and a bit)k - I managed to convince myself for a while that it was 22k, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that people were shouting that there was 1k to go as we got to 20k!  It was really hot by now, and I don't think I have ever seen so many people in trouble at a race before.  At one point one of the race photographers stopped taking photos to help someone.  With so few marshals on the route it really was down to everyone to look out for everyone else.  

The last 500m seemed never ending.  It went on for miles as we ran around the monument in the Place de la Bastille, but suddenly the end was in sight.  And our one woman support crew was there to cheer me on!  I knew three of my friends were ahead of me - turns out we finished at roughly two minute intervals.  I was pretty please with being 21st in my age category, until the first finisher in our group announced that not only did he get a PB but he was also 3rd in his age category! 

I dashed off back to our hotel rather than hanging around - I wasn't braving those portaloos again - and I swear that the 450m walk to the Metro station took me far less time to walk than it took me to run the last 500m of the race!  

It was a fabulous weekend!  Great friends, great food and great to be running abroad again (even if we seem to have spent hours doing covid tests and completing forms).  I enjoyed the race, loved my post race hydration and was thrilled to be able to run a half, have a fabulous lunch and be back home in Hampshire by 9pm that evening all ready for the start of a new term on Monday.