Sunday, 28 October 2012

You live and learn

(Or to quote the late, great Douglas Adams; 'You live and learn.  At any rate you live.')

I signed up for the Great South Run about this time last year, just after I'd run it.  Looking back I don't seem to have had a good time then, and I'd been ill when I'd run it the year before that in 2010.  It seems that I can do the living bit but not the learning!

Of course, when I signed up for this, and forked over my hard earned cash, I hadn't also signed up for a marathon and a half marathon in the same month.  A sensible person would have looked at her calendar, worked out which races she really didn't want to miss and given a place in one race away.  But I've never really been accused of being sensible.

Having decided to go ahead with all three races a sensible person would have factored in some rest time.  I did taper for the marathon, as in my mind my first marathon was very much the 'A' race, but I did not rest afterwards.  Admittedly I did not run on the Monday after the marathon (I tend not to run on a Monday) and I had a sports massage instead, but I did run on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, clocking up 13 miles in total.   This was a mistake.  I would normally take it easy before any race, and while 13 miles in a week is 'light mileage' compared to recent months it was far too much on the back of a marathon!

I was very glad of the extra hour in bed this morning - even if I did have to faff around with the clock in the car - and even though I had seriously contemplated rolling over and going back to sleep when the alarm went, I decided I had to run this race.  I'd been sponsored to do it for UNICEF and so I had no choice!  The forecast was for cold, wet weather, so I grabbed a t-shirt and capri length tights rather than my usual vest and shorts, ate some porridge, drank some tea and jumped into the car to set off for Portsmouth.  I got there early, because I don't know Portsmouth and hate getting stuck in traffic and panicking about where to park!  Soon after I arrived, armed with some marking to pass the time, I got a call from friends saying there were there too and suggesting we met up.  Much more fun to chat and gossip in the back of the CPRC minibus than mark year 11 biology papers on my own!

It was cold at the start, and we suffered the madness of an organised warm-up session.  When you have over 22,000 people crowded together in the road getting them to jump about is a bit comical!   Luckily I was in the orange wave, so didn't have to wait too long to start.

The race was as crowded as last year, with bottlenecks close to the beginning.  I think I lost my timing chip around this time.  Someone stepped on my foot - it hurt - and I think the chip came off then.  I didn't notice it was missing until much later, around the 8 mile mark so I can't be sure.  I started slow, and stayed slow!  Hitting the perfect pace that would have seen my do much better at the marathon last week!  I knew that this was not going to be a PB race for me, but I was disappointed at just how slowly I was running.  I couldn't run faster, or rather I was very aware that I could run faster but that if I did I was really going to pay for it, either in the later stages of the race or later this week.  And it is half term - I don't want to be suffering during my holiday!  It did seem nice and short.  Once I'd settled into a pace the miles seemed to slip by relatively quickly.  I was at the 5 mile marker before I felt we'd really got going, it was a relief to know I wasn't going to have to run for hours and hours with my tired legs!

The support was amazing!  I hi-fived every child I could manage, almost falling into the crowd as I jumped to hi-5 as toddler on her daddy's shoulders!  Such a difference from last week - there I was running on my own for miles at a time, this week I was dodging other runners for the entire ten miles.

We were lucky with the weather.  The threatened rain held off and it was warm enough once we got going.  Even as we came onto the seafront for the last 1.75 miles it was alright.  This is the third time I've done this race and I've been very lucky.  Seasoned Great South Runners talk about the 'icy blast' that comes off the sea, but I've not noticed it!  I'd noticed by now that my chip was gone, and was a bit cross, this meant that I would be marked DNF (did not finish) in the results, and I wouldn't get an official time.  I must have looked a bit despondent, at around 800m a supporter of the Chase Hospice team shouted 'Come on UNICEF!' and that gave me the boost I needed to pick up the pace for the last few hundred metres.

As I crossed the line I looked up and saw that the time was 1hr 35mins (and some seconds), I think it had taken me a good couple of minutes to get across the line at the start, so my time should be about 1hr 33mins.  Spookily, I do have a chip time recorded.  Someone must have picked it up and carried it across the line for me - it crossed the line in 1hr 34 min 04 seconds!

After the race and the collection of medals and goodie bags I met up briefly with friends before heading back to the car with its lovely warm heater!

Lots of good running by my friends to day, well done to you all!  Will I run this race again?  Probably, although I haven't signed up for it yet......

Sunday, 21 October 2012

I am a marathon runner!

This morning I had a lie in, compared to last week, but I was still out of bed  by 6am.  A quick cup of tea and a bowl of porridge while checking emails  before I collected my carefully organised kit and jumped into the car.  I'd left my race number on the keyboard last night so that there was no way I'd forget it, which is logical, until I moved it to send an email.  I'd only got 5 miles from home before I remembered and headed back.  No matter, I arrived at my friend's house at the right time, and was welcomed by his gorgeous little boy who had made us paper flowers for luck!

The Abingdon Marathon starts (and finishes) on a track.  It is a smallish race, with only about 1,000 runners.  I had a couple of hopes for the race, one was to finish in a higher position than my race number.  Looking around the assembling runners I began to doubt that this would be possible.  Very fit and fast looking people were running around the track to warm up, while I huddled under my space blanket!  

The race started promptly and we were off.  My aim was to run 10 minute miles, in the hope of coming in at around 4 hours and 20 minutes.  As this was my first marathon, I also accepted that things might not go to plan, and that four and a half hours would be acceptable and, if I'm honest, I'd be happy to finish before the course cut off of 5 hours.

Running conditions were lovely.  Cool and cloudy.  I had only done one short run since last weekend, and I was raring to go.  10 minute miles were proving impossible to maintain.  At about 1 mile in, Rohan came up behind me and told me that I was running at 8.40 minute mile pace.  I knew this, but I couldn't make my legs go any slower.  I needed a hill or something to slow me down.  I ran the first 5k in a respectable parkrun pace, and the first 10k was a season's best time for me.  Oops.  This was not the plan!  I walked through all the water stations in an attempt to slow myself down, and fall back down the field a bit to be running with slower runners.  It worked a bit. 

Around 10 miles I started to get very bored and wondered whether I could be bothered to finish, my foot was sore, but no more so than normal.  With a few notable exceptions (the Fetcheveryone fetchpoint being one of them) there was very little on course support.  The marshals were plentiful and excellent, but compared to big London races, it was lonely out there!  I ran 3 or 4 mile stretches on my own.  As the roads weren't closed MP3 players weren't allowed so I sang a bit in my head to keep myself going.  I also did some tricky maths problems to pass the time.  

The fetchpoint at mile 12 was a huge boost.  I still felt great, but bored, bored, bored!  Here though I got to meet people I've only chatted to online, and two lovely people I don't see often enough!  I was so thrilled to see Colin that I ran across the road to give him a hug. He lifted me clean off the ground!  I also dallied a bit to chat to the lovely Elaine.  You'd be hard pushed to find two nicer people to bump into during a marathon.   I carried on invigorated, and remotivated, but slower.  Which was no bad thing.  

I don't really remember when it started to feel like hard work.  I do know that I was getting slower and slower, looking forward to the water stations as an excuse to slow down, but it was progressively harder to get going again.  At one point I was desperate for a loo.  There were no loos.  I was on an industrial estate, so had to look around for a suitable bush!  Not the high point of my day, especially when I suddenly thought that the industrial park might have more CCTV cameras than the leafy lanes of Hampshire!  The marshals were excellent, encouraging us every step of the way.  Even if they did say, at 22 miles, the finish was 'just around the corner!'

At 25 miles my Garmin battery died.  It was fully charged at the start.  Clearly I need to run faster or get my Garmin serviced.  I hadn't checked my watch for a while so I had no clear idea of what sort of time I was on for.  All I could do was listen to my legs - which were screaming!   My feet had been perfectly dry until I came into the park, where we had to run through a big muddy puddle!  The cold water felt lovely after the initial shock.  

The race ended with a partial lap round the track.  As I passed the '200m to go' sign I decided that I was not content to shuffle over the line and pushed hard for home - a moment that was caught on camera by Colin: 

I finished in 4hrs 23 minutes and 8 seconds, which I am reasonably happy with.  Definite room for improvement, but I feel I can run better and faster if I do this again. 

After the race we collected goodie bags, t-shirts and medals (see below) and had to walk up stairs to exit the track.  At the top of the stairs we were given tea and biscuits, which were very welcome.  The next task was to walk down stairs, carrying a polystyrene cup of tea, biscuit, bag, t-shirt, medal and (in my case) a water bottle!  I think running a marathon was easier than that!  

Meeting up with super speedy friends afterwards, it was reassuring to see the that they too were walking strangely!  We managed to navigate our way to a Pizza Express we had passed during our run where we discussed our war stories and demolished pizzas!

So now I can say that I have run a marathon.  Would I do it again?  Yes!  But I would do it differently. I need to work on getting the pacing right so that I can enjoy the latter stages more.  I am so glad I did do it though!  If anyone wants to sponsor me retrospectively for this (I am fundraising for UNICEF) please follow this link!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Sunday in the park with Toria

There was frost on the car when number one son and I left the house just before 7am this morning, but the clear skies boded well for a pleasant day ahead.  We had a clear run up to London, with the music being supplied by my son.  He has excellent taste in music, so we had an eclectic mix of old favourites and up to the minute music I hadn't heard before.  We were only driving because trains on Sunday don't start early enough to get into London, rather than try to find a parking space near Hyde Park we dumped the car at Hammersmith and took the tube in to Knightsbridge.

The park was heaving!  It seemed far busier than last year and despite the fact that it was raining last year and sunny this, it was very muddy in the race village.  Despite this, and horrendous queues for the loos, the organisation was great.  We checked our bags, arranged where we would meet up and I toddled off to the start of the half while my son went to wait for the start of the Pulse 3K.

My aim was to treat this as a training run with the added benefit of a medal and a goody bag (and the Royal Parks Half do the best goody bag I've ever had). I should have moved back a starting pen and not started with the 1hr 50min pace runner!  I ran the first 3 miles faster than any parkrun I have run since injuring my foot!

Then disaster struck.  My stomach started to cramp - I needed to find a loo, and I needed to find one pretty fast!  Luckily there were some convenient public loos on the Embankment with the coin operated barriers left open for the day.  There was the inevitable queue, but these loos were much nicer than the port-a-loos at the start of the race.  Sadly this was not the last comfort break I would need to make.  As we turned into The Mall I ducked into the Mall Galleries and cheekily asked to use their facilities, and there were two more stops needed in the park.

The running itself was tough.  My splits weren't great, I'd gone off far too fast and that dodgy tummy wasn't helping.  I was breaking in new(ish) trainers for the marathon and my feet did feel a bit odd.  They are the same make and model as last time, but it felt as though there was a seam across the ball of my foot.   Support on this run is generally great.  Lots of charities and lots of relatives cheering like mad, but there is a 'dead zone' in miles 9 through 11, which is made up of several, long, straight paths through the park.  This was tough last year, but was soul destroying this year.  To try to overcome my misery, I decided to talk to other people who looked like they were struggling even more than I was.  It worked, a bit!  After the race another UNICEF runner came up to me and said that me saying, as we went down a slight incline 'Let the hill do the work, you haven't got far to go!' really spurred him on when he was about to start walking.

My son, having completed his race 'in about 12 minutes', used the Royal Parks Half App to find out where I was and managed to see me in the final 800m.  With the end in sight, I did manage to up the pace a bit, running the final 450m in 8.12 minute mile pace.  My overall time was 2hrs 02mins and 57 secs - nearly 10 minutes slower than last year!

UNICEF, as ever, put on a great spread for their runners.  The massage was very welcome and much snacking was done by both of us!

I don't feel too achey this evening.  I think the many miles put in over the summer have helped.  Not sure whether it will be enough for the marathon.   I do know that if I have a dodgy tummy it will be impossible!  I don't think I'd even want to start!  I am gutted about my poor performance, while trying hard to be properly pleased (and not just a wee bit jealous) of all my local friends who ran the Basingstoke Half Marathon - they have all achieved FANTASTIC times on a really tough course!

Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me via my UNICEF fundraising page.  In two weeks time I will, hopefully, be tucked up in bed having completed my first marathon!

Friday, 5 October 2012


The thing about training for a marathon is that the hard work starts long, long before you turn up at the start line with butterflies in your stomach.  Every article I have read has stressed that there is no getting around the fact that if you want to run 26.2 miles, and still do something resembling walking the next day, you have to put in the miles in training.

Which sounds very simple.  And would be in an ideal world.

The reality is that your precious Sunday off work is taken up with a three and a half hour run in the rain and the wind.  You get home from work, fit to drop from the most trying of days to be faced, not only by the fact that your family needs feeding, helping with homework, talking to but also the fact that despite the fact that it is raining (again) and starting to get dark, you need to go out and run seven miles.  You fret about the one or two training runs you have missed because, having been on your feet until 9.30pm at work, you just could not face going out for a run in the dark and the rain.  Convincing yourself that if you blow up at 18 or 20 miles on 'the big day' it will because you were at Open Evening helping year six pupils make squeaky pops!  You worry even more when you have 'a bad run!'  One of those runs where everything hurts, you can't find a rhythm, you are slower than a snail and infinitely less graceful!

I am sure it will all be worth it when (note the optimisim!) I cross that finish line.  I do wish I was totally injury free, and had a chance of getting a decent time.  If I was to finish in about 4 hours (which is where I was aiming for before I hurt my foot) I think I might be happy to leave it at that and never run a marathon again.  I suspect that, if I get a poor time I will be tempted to prove I can do better.  We shall see!

In the meantime I have the Royal Parks Half on Sunday - the morning after a ball the night before!  Great planning!!  I'll be happy with 2 hours or thereabouts - much slower than last year, but I don't want to do too much damage!  If you want to sponsor me, and please please do because I am running for UNICEF, click HERE!!