Sunday, 20 October 2013

The first York marathon

I've been to York lots of times, but I always seem to forget just how far away it is from my house in Hampshire.  This was definitely the case when entries for the inaugural York Marathon opened back in January.  Luckily I remembered soon enough that I would need to book a hotel room.  That was all done way back at the beginning of the year and then, what with changing jobs and a million and one other things to do, I put it to the back of my mind.  When you have five children going away overnight is not a simple matter.  Taking them with you makes any hotel stay rather pricy (especially as all the hotels in York seemed to have hiked up their prices for this weekend), you can't leave a 16 year old in charge of his siblings for that long, so arrangements must be made.  Our arrangements this time saw the two youngest going to stay with my mum (who we met at a service station on the M1 for the handover), the two oldest ones staying with friends, and the middle one coming with Husbando and I.

The journey up on Saturday afternoon was uneventful, and we checked in to a Travelodge near the University campus where the race was to start.  I'm a Premier Inn girl myself, but there was no availability so Travelodge it was.  The beds aren't as comfy in a Travelodge.  After a final carb load at Pizza Express we returned to the room for an early night.  This was a marathon where I'd actually be able to get a lie in as my alarm was set for 7.30am.

We got to the campus at about 8.30am.  It was somewhat confusing walking in as the signage seemed to be set up for the shuttle buses and drivers rather than pedestrians.  We walked through a warren of university buildings, along the way we found a very rare thing - a ladies' toilet with no queue!  Then through a few more warren like bits and we joined the baggage queue - possibly the longest queue I have ever been in and moving so slowly.  I did a rough calculation that there was no way I'd get to the baggage drop before the starting pens closed, luckily I had Husbando and middle child with me, so they could take my bag.  I said goodbye to them and then joined the masses at the start.

I bumped into two fellow Fetchies there - lovely to put faces to names.  I have yet to meet anyone wearing a 'Fetch' shirt who wasn't friendly and happy to chat.  The 9.30am start was a little delayed and took me a few minutes to get across the start line, but it was good to be moving!  The first stretch was down hill.  Quite a steep downhill, which was worrying because I knew we had to come back up that road at the finish.  I tried not to think about it.  We ran into the city centre, through the main shopping centre, passed Betty's Tearooms and York Minster before heading out into the countryside.

The support was amazing.  Not just in the city centre but in all the villages (it isn't every race where you get to high 5 a lady vicar who is standing outside her church in her Sunday best) and at random points on country lanes.  You'd be running along, hoping that you'd reach a point where you could die quietly around the next corner (or dip behind a hedge for a comfort break) only to find a group of people cheering!

This marathon was billed as being a flat marathon.  It is the hilliest 'flat' race around!  The hills were accompanied by unexpectedly dry weather, but it was very windy in places; especially as we ran up a hill past a garden centre called 'Breezy Knees Garden Centre!'  At 20 miles I was starting to wilt.  I had a brief walking break, but it was so hard start running again that I decided not to bother with that again. I did have to slow down to text Husbando so that he knew when to get to a spectator point, much hilarity ensued amongst spectators in the village at 23 miles about me texting while shuffling along.  I said I was calling for a taxi.

It was around this point that I realised I could get a PB if I pushed a bit.  I'd turned up at the start line thinking that this race was about just getting round.  That I'd be happy with 4hrs30mins.  I was only going through with it because I was doing it in Ali's memory and because it was the first.  I was frankly shocked.  I started to push myself a bit more, and was overtaking people all over the place, including people who'd overtaken me when I walked and when I had a 'comfort stop!'

At about 25.4miles I got to 'the hill.'  I was desperate now to get this bloody run over and done with, so I just kept on running,  I don't think my pace dropped at all in that mile, but I was overtaking people left, right and centre, which felt great!  And then we were at the top of the hill and it was about 0.3miles to go.  It was a gentle downhill, but my knees were tired and there was no way I was going to throw myself down the hill at full pace.  I'm glad I didn't as I might have missed seeing Husbando and my son in the crowd.  I did manage a fairly strong finish - concentrating on form as I crossed the line.  One lady near me did one better - crossing the line with a cartwheel!  I'd seen her do several cartwheels as we'd run around the route.  I have no idea how anyone could manage that after 26.2 miles - I can't do one at all!

I'd crossed the line in 4hrs 11mins 40secs.  A new PB!  We filtered through to the finish and collected our goodie bags (medals, tech t-shirt and various other bits and pieces) and I met up with Husbando for the LONG walk back to the car (parked at the Travelodge).

It was a good race with excellent support and beautiful scenery.  If it wasn't so far away (it took 6hrs to drive home) then I'd definitely consider doing it next year.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Royal Parks Half

I very nearly didn't bother.  Travel arrangements were a nightmare, I was tired due to a new job and marathon training, but when you've paid £46 to enter a race you may as well make the effort to run the thing!

It was chilly when I set out at 6.30am.  The first chilly morning in a long time, but by the time I got to Hyde Park, having parked my car outside a hotel in Hammersmith and cheekily ducked in to use their loos, it was getting warm.  I'd taken the tube up to Knightsbridge, and at one stop a group of 6 Italians got into my carriage.  They had lined up at the start with me either last year or the year before.  I was hoping/planning to meet up with a friend, with a view to running together, but while I managed to bump into Italian strangers I failed to track down my friend before the race.  Facebook/Twitter/text and mobile 'phone messages were just not getting through as 16,000 runners and their supporters were all Tweeting and texting.

I queued to drop of my baggage, I queued for the loo - the nastiest, smelliest, gag inducing loo I have used in a very long time, and then made my way to the start.   It felt like perfect running weather, a slight nip in the air and clear, blue skies.  I had a plan in my head, this was a training run not a target race, and I planned to run 9min/mile pace and finish in 2hrs - 8 minutes slower than my PB time, and, I thought, a bit ambitious given how exhausted I felt as I stood at the start.

Once we crossed the start line I realised I had made the mistake of starting among faster runners.  But I felt good, and the first few miles felt really easy and comfortable, so I just ran.  At around 3 miles I gave myself a strict talking to and made myself slow down a bit, but if felt good to be running well.  Running around London, not having to watch out for traffic is fantastic, especially on a bright Autumn morning. As we came around the bottom of Trafalgar Square before heading through Admiralty Arch to go up The Mall on our way back to Hyde Park the bells at St Martin's in the Field were ringing - truly magical.

The supporters were fantastic.  I ran for UNICEF again this year, and they had teams of supporters at various points - normally just when I was flagging.  They cheered so loudly and enthusiastically that they must have been exhausted by the end of the morning.  As you run back into Hyde Park you hit a wall of noise, with supporters lining both sides of the route - if feels as though they should be cheering you over the finish line, but this is only the 6mile point!   Once back in the park it is a case of looping around to make up the mileage!  I know this park well having lived nearby for years, but if you stopped me at any point in the last 7 miles I'd have been hard pushed to tell you where we were.

The weather had got much warmer.  So much so that it was a relief to find a bit of shade - although I did get hit on the head by a falling conker a one point.  At around 10 miles I got bit disheartened.  I realised that although I was going to come in well under 2 hours I was going to be way over my PB.  I hadn't been planning on getting a PB, but that didn't seem to enter my head at that point.  I wondered if I could up the pace enough to get close - but a brief attempt at sustaining a faster pace soon convinced me that this wasn't going to be possible.   I missed the mile marker at 12 miles, my Garmin was measuring too long so I couldn't rely on that to calculate how far I had left to go and given that a marshall* had told us at 2 miles in that we were 'nearly there' I didn't really trust the marshall who was telling us that we had less than a mile to go!  (*I didn't shove his megaphone up his arse for such a silly comment!) But soon we were making that sharp left hand turn to run back past the Albert Memorial to the finish.  This bit always seems interminable.  You go from running lots of 'twisty turny bits' to a long straight 1km run.  In my mind the race should stop at Alexandra Gate, but it probably goes on for about 700-800m after that.  I saw 3 people collapsed in the last 800m, including one in the last 20m.  So gutting to have got so far and then not to finish.  I guess the weather was just so much warmer than anyone had anticipated.

I didn't have much energy for a final sprint, mainly because I'd upped the pace for the last kilometre, but I did get over the line in, more or less, on piece.  It was the longest distance I had run without any stopping for a very long time, so I was pleased with that.  I clocked in at 1hr 54mins 32 secs, and I was 690th woman to finish (out of 7192 women), not sure where I was in my age category, but I did overtake some pretty young things.

After the race I managed to meet up with my friend.  We'd first met a couple of years ago at the start of the Bupa 10,000m, and hadn't seen each other in person since then.  It was great to chat and have lunch, and laugh at her exploded voltarol tube.  We talked about our race, our children, our jobs, our running shoes - all that girly stuff, over a lovely lunch before she headed back up to the North East.  Hopefully we'll meet up again soon at the York Marathon.

I want to run this race again.  It is a hugely popular race for very good reason (best goodie bag, interesting medal, great race village and food festival in addition to a stunning route) and entry is by ballot.  I've entered three times and not got a ballot place, so have had to run for charity.  Maybe next year I will get lucky.