Saturday, 27 December 2014

Putting it into context.

I have a list of things I dislike.  It is quite a long list and, to avoid causing offence to too many people, I won't mention all my pet hates here.  I'll try to keep them relevant to today's run!  I dislike, in no particular order, running on grass, running in mud, through puddles and with wet feet.  I hate driving into or around or through Reading.  I have nothing against the people of Reading - but the roads are just too confusing - give me straight forward London driving any day.  And I really, really hate being late.

So today didn't start well when I woke up to discover that Husbando had gone out and taken the car.  I sent him a tex, reminding him that I needed to leave at 7.30am, and made myself a cup of tea - not realising that the text was not delivered until I went to pick up  my phone again.  Argh!  Panic!   Husbando hove into view at ten to eight.  TEN TO EIGHT!  Google maps said it would take me 55 minutes to drive to Thames Valley Park, and I have a history of getting lost in one way systems in Reading.  Adding to that I'd have to find parking and the start of Reading parkrun.  I was a little bit stressed by this state of affairs.

Luckily the traffic was good and I only took one wrong turn in Reading, and Google maps lied a bit (or I drove too fast - who can say?) and I had arrived and parked by 8.35am, phew!  Reading parkrun's course info page told me that 'regular road running shore should certainly suffice in most weathers' but I decided, on advice of other parkrun tourists, to wear my trail shoes.  This was the right choice - although in retrospect mud claws would have been a better choice… not that I own any because, as has already been stated, I don't like running on mud!

Having picked my way between muddy patches to the start area, I bumped into friends I know via the parkrun show and lovely Gary - with whom I have run a couple of marathons in the past.  Soon we were on the start line and raring to go.

And then… squelchy, squishy, slippery, slidey mud.  And lots of it!  I didn't know what my feet were doing half the time.  I revised my hoped for finish time and concentrated on staying upright!  The views along the Thames were lovely - but I couldn't look up and see them as I was terrified of ending up flat on my face in the mud.  And kicking myself for not bringing an entire change of clothing with me just in case of such an eventuality!  Part of each lap was on gravel paths - sheer heaven after the mud, and a chance to claw back a few seconds, but with paths came puddles and there were choices to be made.  Pick one's way gingerly around the puddle, through the mud, losing time or plough straight through the middle.  I went for the latter option.  Once your feet are wet they can't get much wetter (but it was bitterly cold and a bit of a shock to the tootsies!)  The last 600m are back across grass, just when I wanted to put on a bit of a sprint I found I was struggling like Bambi on ice (but far less graceful).  I overtook someone, then realised I could not work out where the finish funnel was - there were loads of people but I couldn't spot the tape, so I let him overtake me again (having established he knew where he was heading) and managed to get across the line in 24.59.

I was disappointed with my time.  It had been hard work and I always want to take advantage of my child free parkruns to run as hard as I can.  I chalked it up to experience, met up with friends and went for coffee.  We left our very muddy trainers outside the doorway to the David Lloyd gym and had a very nice coffee and a natter.  Putting ice cold, wet trainers back on is somewhat unpleasant, but it didn mean that the pleasure I felt at changing into warm and dry socks and trainers when I got back to the car was immense!

Back at home, looking at the results page, I realised that I was 4th lady to finish - I've only bettered that at Pymmes parkrun (very small field) and first in my age category.  So maybe it wasn't such a bad run after all.  And, at the end of the day, I was out there doing something I love, with people who share my passion.  There are thousands of people who couldn't run if they wanted to. Thousands of people who go for days and days without any meaningful interaction with other people.   I get to do this every single week.

And today I came home to madeleines made by my 10 year old son...

Thursday, 25 December 2014

A merry parkrun Christmas.

In the words of one of my favourite performers "I am hardly religious, I'd rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu, to be honest."  And I am not a huge fan of Christmas.  It generates a huge amount of stress just a couple of days after the end of a long and stress filled term at school so I tend to feel a growing resentment towards the whole shebang.  Why, I ask anyone who has the misfortune to be in my vicinity, should I be expected to spend a small fortune on presents after the stress of trying to decide what would constitute a suitable gift for someone who already has everything that they could possibly need?  Believe me, when you get to trying to buy an original gift for your 5th child it takes more imagination than I can muster after a 16 week term when I still have a pile of marking and planning hanging over my head.

So, this Christmas I resolved to keep things a little more low key, a little less excessive, with a little more focus on what really matters.  I am not convinced that we succeeded.  There was still a huge pile of presents under the tree, but I had only purchased things that the children actually needed - so the youngest girl got a new coat, middle child got jeans and a hoody, that type of thing.

Some Christmas traditions couldn't be ignored.  One relatively new tradition is parkrun.  And on a beautiful, crisp morning like today it was no hardship to go for a run with 327 other people.  For me it is a lovely way to break up the morning - a pause between stocking presents and tree presents, and a very social interlude at that.  I got to run with one of my best friends this morning.  I've never run with her before although she is responsible for me starting to run.  My husband and two of my boys ran with me and my older daughter volunteered as a time keeper.   Afterwards we had cakes and crisps and prosecco and sloe gin as we chatted with friends before heading off home to continue our day.

But I was reminded of an edition of Woman's Hour I half listened to last week about people who are lonely at Christmas, and the latest episode of the parkrun show.  I thought about those people for whom parkrun might be their only contact with other people over the holiday period.  And then I thought about the man who walks with his dog in the park every Saturday and never interacts with anyone unless it is to moan about us.  He was there again this morning, I wished him a merry Christmas as  passed him - in much the same day that I always say good morning to him, and got exactly the same response - which was no reply!  I love my parkrun family.  I love the welcome I get when I visit new parkruns from people I have met via the parkrun Facebook pages.    I can't imagine a better way to start a day that is, for me, all about connecting with people we love.

I hope that, whatever you did today, you had the day that suited you.  I guess for me parkrun gives me the sense of community that other people get from being part of a religious/church community.  I meet up with people once a week to pursue a shared interest and mark successes and failures along the way.  And that is a good thing.  So thank you parkrun, and merry Christmas to you all.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

This one was for you...

For the last two and a half years I have been running most parkruns  with the Fredster.  It is lovely that he enjoys running but it does mean that I have put my own parkrun journey on the back burner.  One of the many joys of parkrun is that you can use it to see where your fitness is on a weekly basis and, if you are too lazy to do speed work on your own, you can use it as a weekly speed session.  But last Saturday the Fredster earned his 100 shirt and I decreed that he should have this week off.

There have been a few other parkruns I have done without him recently but I have always been a bit disappointed with my performance.  My parkrun PB was set at my home run, Basingstoke, on 17th September 2011.  Over three years ago - and since then my solo parkruns had been somewhat mediocre.  I'd got close a couple of times, but normally ended up running around the 24 or 25 minute mark.  I'd got within a minute of my PB when running at Fulham Palace parkrun just over a year ago (I ran 23.58 against a PB of 23.16) so when the chance came for a return visit I didn't hesitate - despite the fact that it was going to involve leaving the house at 5.30am.

My previous visit had been for a very special occasion.  parkrun is a wonderful community that brings so many people together, and it was through parkrun that I met a lovely couple called Steve and Zoe.  I met them first in Basingstoke and warmed to them instantly.  Zoe's smile would light up the greyest of days.  What I didn't know then was that Zoe was dying.  You don't expect people younger than yourself to be dying do you?  But such was her personality that she wasn't going to let this fact ruin what was left of her life.  She set herself goals she wanted to achieve, one of them was to run 50 parkruns and receive her coveted 50 tshirt.  That Saturday at the end of November last year was the day that her tshirt was going to be presented to her.  parkrunners who knew Zoe turned up to support her and cheer her on as she completed what was to be her last parkrun.  It was chilly warming, but full of love and friendship and there was much laughter in the beautiful cafe inside the Bishop's Palace after our run.

Roll forward just over 12 months, and I find myself walking from the tube station to the park in the coldest weather of the year so far.  The thermometer read minus 2 and there was ice on the paths.  My Garmin strap was broken, I didn't know a single person there and did I mention it was cold?  I had 5 layers on and was still too cold.  It was very different to the party atmosphere of my previous visit.  I chatted to a few people, went for a warm up jog, almost falling on an icy patch and decided that a PB attempt would be a bit silly.

Fulham Palace parkrun is nearly 3 laps of the park, it is as flat as a pancake, although you do have to keep your wits about you as there are several sharp corners.  I set off, with my Garmin in a pocket, and just ran.  I fell into a pace and noted that I was about 10m behind a dad who was coaching his son around the course.  I felt comfortable and, using my wrist watch and the fact that I knew how long the laps were, calculated that I was running 'about 8min/mile pace' - that felt about right for the effort I was putting in, and decided that I would just enjoy myself.  As I ran down the bank of the Thames, I thought about Zoe and how proud she had been to wear her 50 club tshirt.  I couldn't help but grin at the thought.

Passing the start line for the final time I decided that, if I could run 8 min/miles in the dying stages of a half marathon I could certainly run a bit faster for the final three quarters of a mile in a 5k.  I passed the boy and his dad and pushed on for the finish, thanking the marshals (they must have been so cold) as I passed them for the last time and even lapping a fair few people.  I threw myself across the finish line (which is painted onto the tarmac) and fumbled to stop my Garmin.

I was stunned to see the time - 22:43!  The man who finished behind me came up and congratulated me on an excellent run, the father of the boy commented that I had run really well.  He'd been aware of me on their tail, and said that he'd watched me as I'd sped up - I'd just noticeably lengthened my stride as I'd glided past them.  After that at I couldn't get my extra layers back on fast enough and, after thanking the volunteers, I made my way into the Bishop's Palace to get warm and have a coffee.

Thank you to all the volunteers who stood in sub zero conditions just to allow us to run.  And Zoe, this run was for you.  You may no longer be with us in body, but your spirit lives on in many forms.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Just saying...

This is not a blog about running.

I will not be posting a link on my Facebook page.

It is just something I need to get off my chest.

Today, at work I spoke with a student about how no one should make her feel uncomfortable and outlined the steps she should take, given that someone she worked with was repeatedly sending her unwanted text messages.

I spoke to the whole group (boys and girls) about what it meant to respect oneself and to stand up to sexist/racist/homophobic behaviour.

I patted myself on the back as I drove home.  I told myself I was making a difference.  I was helping the next generation become stronger, helping them to realise that belittling women was wrong.  I was feeling smug.

A few hours later I was at the pub.  It was one of those 'class parents get together' type events where you are supposed to be on best behaviour while enjoying indifferent food and overpriced alcohol.  And to add to the fun a 'sporting activity' (well, okay - skittles) was added to the mix.

It was all going well until my second attempt at knocking down the skittles.  As I bent over to pick up the balls one of the dads groped my arse.  It wasn't accidental.  I was horrified, I was mortified.  I said and did nothing.  I was embarrassed.  I watched him for the rest of the evening.  His wife was in the same room.  I wasn't the sole recipient of his attentions.  I couldn't believe that I was the only person who had noticed his behaviour.

I started to listen to my inner monologue.  'I can't say anything because his wife is so lovely and she'd be horrified.'  'I wouldn't have been upset if it had been X as we always have  a bit of risqué banter going on.'  'Oh, heavens - he's just smacked her bum as well - how is no one else noticing?'

How damning is it that a loud mouthed woman in her mid forties does not feel comfortable about saying stop to a man who doesn't respect boundaries?   How unacceptable would a man's behaviour have to be for me (or one of the other women there this evening) to have turned around and asked him to stop?

What hope is there for teenagers who are only just coming to terms with their own identities?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Three Molehills

There is a reason I don't do team sports.  I don't want to be the person who lets the team down by being, you know, a bit crap.  This is the reason I like running.  The only person who I am letting down if I have a bad day is myself.  Running is perfect.  So obviously when I saw a Facebook post asking if anyone was free to make up a relay team I ignored it didn't I?  Obviously… not!

Part of the appeal was that it meant I didn't have to get out at sparrow fart to travel up to London with Husbando - one of my team mates offered to pick me up at 8am, which gave me a lie in.  A group of runners had arranged to take part in The Three Molehills and a member of one of the teams had dropped out through injury.  The upshot was that I found myself travelling to Dorking to meet a load of new people.  What could be better?  Hills and people I don't know - two things I find stressful.  Just to add to the sense of joy it was raining.  Not a gentle drizzle or a light misting of rain, but proper miserable rain.

We arrived at Denbies near Dorking and were directed to park on a muddy field and walked up the road to the race HQ in the restaurant/cafe/conference place.  One huge benefit of this venue is the proper loos and the restaurant right near the start. We collected race numbers, drank tea, had nervous wees, made impulse purchases (see later) etc. before going outside to listen to the run brief - we sheltered under an overhang to listen to this and to be honest I didn't really listen as I was trying to keep warm.  There were course changes mentioned - due to flooding on the route - and I decided to stick with my road shoes as my leg was on road for all bar 600m.

After this our first runner was off, and the rest of us vanished back into the warm.  I had bought a pair of sleeves after having a bit of a wardrobe crisis.  It was cold out there - too cold for setting off in short sleeves, but I knew I would get too warm if I wore layers.  I've never owned 'sleeves' before and they are a revelation!  I love them.   Hanging around was a bit odd.  You normally turn up for a race and just run… I had to wait for the other 2 members of my team to finish before I got my turn.   I stood under the overhang to watch for my team mate while mentally calculating the shortest possible route to the transition area avoiding as many puddles as possible.

My leg was billed as 2 miles out and 2 miles back - up hill all the way out and down hill on the way back.  It was odd to start a race all by myself.  I found it hard to settle into a rhythm, and boy, was it ever going to stop raining?  I ran up through the vineyard overtaking (yes really) people even though I ran the fist mile in 9.30min/mile pace!  I looked at my Garmin just once and saw how slow I was running and decided not to look again and just do my best.  The course was twisty and turny, not overly steep but relentlessly up hill.  It was almost all on roads or hard paths, and there were some stunning views over Dorking, or would have been if we hadn't been peering through clouds!  We ran past a pretty church where I had to avoid being ploughed down by a shiny black Range Rover whose driver obviously didn't trust his car's ability to deviate from the centre of the road at all!   Then there was the 600m on 'grass!' It wasn't grass, it wasn't even mud - it was a swamp!  I had to walk - in road shoes there was no grip at all!  Then we turned around and it was downhill all the way.  Lovely!

Lovely to encourage all the other runners as they trudged up the hill.  I couldn't really let fly down the hill - wet concrete paths, covered with wet fallen leaves and a fair amount of mud made for treacherous conditions - add into that some really tight turns and a bit of caution was called for.  That said I made up a lot of time on the downhill bringing my overall pace down to 8.20min/mile.  (6.18min/mile for the last half mile must have brought the average down a bit!)  The marshals were so cheerful and encouraging, it must be really miserable standing for hours in the rain but they just kept smiling.

I didn't pay much attention to the clock as I crossed the line - but knew it was around 1hr 56mins (actually 1hr 56mins 32sec) which isn't too shabby for 15 hilly miles.  I crossed the line, picked up my medal, chocolate bar and bottle of wine before rejoining the everyone in the restaurant, drinking a cup of tea, getting changed into dry clothes and sharing war stories.  The first leg, up and down Box Hill, sounded brutal - with 270 steps to be negotiated.

After every one of my new friends was back in, warmed through and photographs had been taken we went our separate ways.  Four of us stopping for a pub lunch (roast pork with all the trimmings which included Yorkshire pudding) on the way home.

A great day out.  Definitely one I'd consider doing next year - maybe even the individual challenge rather than the relay.  Although if the weather is anything like it was today I may well stay in bed!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Slippy, slidey mud sections

Last night I went out for supper with friends to celebrate my birthday.  Not just any birthday, but a birthday that takes me into a new age category for parkrun.  My intention had been to run as fast as I could at parkrun to mark this momentous occasion, but I scuppered that idea last night by eating more than I normally eat in a week and drinking enough alcohol to constitute what government guidelines would probably deem binge drinking if I'd shared it with the five other diners… but I didn't share.  I wanted nothing more than to roll over and go back to sleep when the alarm went at 6.30am.  But parkrun beckoned, and I'd made arrangements to go to Horsham parkrun with a friend to meet up with some other friends.  And The Fredster needed run if he was to make his 100th parkrun on target.

So off we set.  Thankfully I was not driving and navigating was enough of a challenge for me.  We got to Horsham Park with plenty of time to spare, parked our car and found the loos and then made our way to the start.  The weather was dry, but the wind was chilly and we tried to keep warm while the small boys climbed a tree.  TheFredster planned to 'run' with a friend who was planning to walk as he is recovering from knee surgery, which freed me up to run.  Great, I thought, what a wasted opportunity - I felt sick and a wee bit fragile!  We listened to the run brief - there were about 200 runners, not bad for the 10th event, and then made our way to the start, where we observed a minute's silence for Remembrance Day.

The start was on a fairly narrow path, which made for a bit of congestion, but we were soon underway with a gentle downhill on a tarmac path.  And then we were off the path and on the grass.  Well, I say 'grass' but it was more of a bog in sections, which made for heavy going and much slipping and sliding!  There was one short, muddy, uphill section that was particularly challenging, with my feet just slipping backwards as I made my way up it.  It was tough going.  I looked at my watch and realised that the pace I was struggling to maintain was the same pace I'd found so easy to maintain for a half marathon last weekend!  Part of this was due to the conditions underfoot, but a lot of it was self inflicted!

Hearing that a parkrun is a three lapper normally fills me with dread, but there was so much going on in the park that it was a really interesting run.  There were children playing football, people being beasted by ex-army PT instructors (who on Earth wants to pay to be shouted at and do press-ups in a wet field?) people riding bikes and a silver sculpture thing!  And each lap seemed shorter than the last - which is odd, because I them all at the same pace!  As I ran I realised that TheFredster was not with the person I thought he'd be with, or his wife, it was only about half a mile from the finish that I caught up with him running with my other friend and her son.  

I ran past them and tried to pick up the pace a bit to make it to the finish.  I still felt ghastly and wanted to stop running more than anything on the planet.  I threw myself through the finish funnel and was convinced that I was about to chunder.  I staggered to a nearby fence and leaned on it while I regained my composure and checked my watch.  24.17 - not bad,  second fastest time this year!

Post run coffee (and breakfast for the boys) was taken at The Conservatory Cafe.  It was lovely to see so many parkrunners chatting and getting to know each other.  The food looked pretty good too!

The results came through pretty quickly - I was thrilled to see that I was first in my new age category, which was a nice start.  I am sure that I will be back to run at Horsham again sometime soon - but maybe I will wait until it is dryer underfoot.  And when I am a little less fragile!

Thank you to the Horsham parkrun team for a lovely event.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Thames Meander

This time last week I had no races planned until February.  That suited me just fine.  I'd run a good half marathon and was quite happy just to bimble through the rest of the year, having a nice slow start to my training for next year's marathons.  Then someone mentioned that they were running a half marathon in Kingston, and as I had nothing planned I thought I'd look into it.  I almost got no further than that.  The Fredster is due to run his 100th parkrun on 29th November - it has to happen then as a Facebook 'event' has been set up, and that means he couldn't miss a Saturday.  But, but, but… the race started at the same place as parkrun…. could we do this?  Yes we could!  
So, having left it too late to enter online, I emailed the race organisers to check that there would be plenty of availability to enter on the day, persuaded my reluctant 15 year old to a) get up early on the last Saturday of half term and b) run with her 10 year old brother.  I thought it might be possible for me to run both parkrun and the race, but really didn't want to risk having to make a mad dash from the finish of one to the start of another.  We set off this morning with loads of time to spare.  I'd forgotten how hopelessly lost I'd got the last time I tried to get to the venue (Kingston parkrun back in March this year or maybe last year).  Sat nav is great, but not infallible.  I ended up doing a couple of loops of a Kingston before finding the right turning.  Getting lost is stressful.  Being late is stressful. I hate getting lost and I hate being late.  Trying to work out how to get where I need to be at the time I need to be there with two children in the car is very stressful.  Needless to say we got there in the end, and we weren't late but the car park was full, so we had to find somewhere to park on the street and then barrel along the towpath to the Hawker Centre where I registered for the race and bumped into lots of friends.  

I saw the children off on their parkrun, then chatted with people while I waited for them to come back.  It started to rain.  It had been seasonably chilly since we'd woken up and now it was raining.  I patted myself on the back for remembering to bring my hat with me and was a little cross with myself for thinking I would be happy in a vest top and shorts!  While we waited of the parkrunners to return, the Thames Meander Marathon runners set off - to the accompaniment of bag pipes!  

The half marathoners set off at 10am.  It was still overcast and drizzling and, for the first time in a long time, it was cold!  We set off down the towpath from Kingston towards Kew.  This was a flat marathon and it should have been really easy - but the towpaths were uneven - think compacted gravel paths, hugely degraded tarmac paths and sections that were muddy with tree roots and that was most of the path - interspersed with short sections of 'proper pavement' and cobbles!  It was the sort of terrain the looks as though you can just run without thinking, but actually you needed to concentrate to make sure that you don't trip.  Within the first few miles I'd seen someone face plant spectacularly in front of me!   The path was narrow which meant that going was slow at the start unit the field spread out a bit.  It was lovely to chat to other runners and enjoy what was rapidly becoming a very warm and sunny day!  While I was chatting with some other runners (@777epic - who are planning to run 7 marathons in 7 days in 7 continents) I heard another runner mutter 'I won't be beaten by a mother of 5!'  Hmmm… more of that later!
At the halfway/turnaround point I managed to mess up the turn and found myself running through a garden, then scrambling through a hedge to get back on the towpath.   The return leg was  a great opportunity to encourage fellow runners as I saw them.  This return half was much busier in terms of avoiding other towpath users.  Cyclists, walkers, scooter users and dogs (on and off leads) were in abundance.  I'm not a huge fan of dogs - especially when I don't know them and they aren't on a lead - I could feel myself pulling up short every time one got close.    
At around 7 miles I was aware of the man who didn't want to be beaten by an old bird on my shoulder. He was working hard, breathing heavily, as he tried to keep up.  I wasn't working hard.  I decided to change gear and put some distance between us.  Even stopping for a drink at the drink station didn't allow him enough time to catch up with me.  

The sound of bagpipes meant that I was approaching the finish line.  Bagpipes can carry a long distance, but I had lots of energy left, so I out on a burst of speed to finish strongly.   I was looking out for the children as I threw myself towards the line, but didn't see them!  I crossed the line in a chip time of 1hr 48mins 41 secs.  I'd have been thrilled with that a few weeks ago - but today I felt I could have done better.  I didn't need to stop at both the water stations to drink as I had a water bottle with me, messing up the turn about cost me time, as did my trepidation about the uneven ground.  I was gratified to find that I was the 18th woman to finish.  And it is another sub 1hr50 half time so I should be very happy.

There was a little bit of drama after the finish - we couldn't find The Fredster!  He'd gone off to cheer me at the finish, while the 15 year old had stayed in the cafe being a 15 year old grumpy girl!  I hadn't seen him and he had not seen me, so he just stayed where he was, about 300 m from the finish cheering in all the other runners while he wondered where I was!  It was only when a friend from Hatch Warren Runners finished and told us where he was that we managed to locate him!  

The bling is lovely.  There was also lots of cake and biscuits at the finish - which was enjoyed in the sunshine before heading off home.  The event organisation was fantastic!  This is my first Hermes Running event, but it will not be my last.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A walk in the park.

Up early again this morning for the journey to London, I have to say that getting up for work at 5.45am is going to be something a lie in tomorrow!  After last Sunday's trip to the marathon that wasn't I had double checked all the race documentation and then checked again.  Because Husbando was going to a book fair all I had to do was snooze in the passenger seat, it also meant that we arrived in London in time to have a second breakfast and I got to practice trying to look cool and relaxed trying to take a selfie.  I am not much good at taking selfies but my darling daughter caught me trying!

On the tube from Russell Square to Knightsbridge I marvelled at how I could possibly have been daft enough to have made a similar journey last weekend and not realised much sooner that I had the wrong date.  It was standing room only, and ram packed with runners.  I chatted with a runner about to embark on her first half marathon and to another runner who was taking part in the Ultra.  The race village is huge - as it incorporates a food festival as well as all the charity marquees.  The weather was better than had been forecast, so I decided to drop my bag off at the bag check and threw on an old tshirt to keep out the chill.  It was almost up to the job.  With time to kill, and not seeing anyone around that I recognised, I made my way to the UNICEF stand.  UNICEF are amazingly supportive of their runners and I was thrilled to be able to support them by running on a ballot place rather than using a charity place this year.

Last night Husbando and I were talking about Paris-Versailles and what I should aim to do today.  I knew that the hill had been my downfall in Paris, but the Royal Parks Half is (almost) as flat as a pancake.  I knew I wanted to try for a PB (set in March 2013 at Reading: 1hr 52mins 19seconds).  Husbando had some daft notion that I should go for 1hr 45 mins.  Bonkers.  That would require me to run at 8min/mile pace ALL THE WAY!  Bonkers.  I stood, shivering in the starting area and decided with about 30 seconds to go that yes, I was desperate for a wee.  I knew that this was highly improbably - being as I'd availed myself of the lovely portaloos only a few minutes earlier - but the idea took hold and reasserted itself every time I saw a 'Toilets ahead' sign for the next 13.1 miles! 

There were two pace runners running 1hr 50mins - I started near the one furthest back and my race plan was nothing more sophisticated than staying ahead of the pace runners to ensure I got my PB.  I decided that, to give my self the best chance of getting my time, I would catch up with the one further forward, overtake her and then just hold on.  I caught her quite easily, and then just kept on going.  I kept thinking 'Oh, this is good, I'm running well, I can't keep it up, but it is fun while it lasts!'   I thanked as many marshals as I could, chatted to a runner in a gorilla suit (I suggested that he could at least have shaved his legs), cheered the Combat Stress team running with a stretcher and thanked everyone who called out my name as I ran past.  It is only good manners after all!  Although one of the other runners did comment that they'd never heard anyone thanking the marshals before - maybe that is something that doesn't normally happen at 'big' races?  

Running up the Mall I realised that I had run my fastest 5 miles ever.  Entering Hyde Park, and being hit with the wall of noise I was loving my run.  I hit 10k in my PB time - maybe a smidge faster and in the time it good me to run 10 miles in Paris I ran just over 11 miles today.  At some point I realised that I was definitely going to get a PB and I eased off a little bit.  Then I did a few calculations (not easy - my 12 x table had totally deserted me) and realised there was a chance I could get a time under one hour fifty.  That, I decided, would be amazing.  I was still chatting to people around me, keeping my eyes open for familiar faces - but not seeing any and just enjoying the fantastic weather and fabulous surroundings.  

Approaching the finish I, yet again, metaphorically kicked myself for not doing any track running.  I looked at my watch as I got to the '800m to go' sign, saw that it said 1:41 and some change and had no idea if that meant I could finish in 1:45.  I looked at my watch as I got to the '400m to go' sign and couldn't work out how long I'd taken as my brain was just refusing to do any form of simple mathematics (although it was allowing me to nag some poor man who desperately wanted to walk the last 500m!)   There really was nothing for it other than to throw myself towards the finish line as fast as I could.   So that's what I did.  I crossed the line, stopped my Garmin and could barely believe my eyes.  I swore.  I was in shock - one lovely marshal put his arm round me and asked if I was OK, 'I can't run that fast - I don't believe it!'  I replied.  'Oh, but you have done it darlin'!' he replied.  
After that it was all medals, bananas, water bottles and goody bags (one of the best goody bags around) as I made my way back to the race village and the UNICEF stand.  A quick massage of my quads was most welcome as were the congratulations of the support team.  I bought myself a celebratory hoodie and was thrilled that I had to put the small back and get an extra small!  
Split times

Lunch with friends from San Francisco, who we haven't seen for about 8 or 9 years, served to refuel and refresh.  Lovely to catch up with all their news!  All in all a fantastic day.  I still can't believe I have run a half marathon in less than an hour and three quarters.  I may get DOMS of the face from smiling so much!  I'll definitely be back next year - this race is just so pretty and so well organised.  Hopefully I will get lucky in the ballot - if not I'll be after everyone for sponsorship.

This blog post has been brought to you by a cup of tea and a salted caramel chocolate pot! 


This post vanished overnight - no idea how or why! Thanks to kind friends who still had it open on their computers I have managed to get the text back - but the formatting and the links have gone. I don't have time to add those back in now - sorry!

I'm not quite sure when I took leave of my senses and decided that, after a busy week at work and no more than four and a half hours sleep in any one night, it would be a good idea to get up early on a Saturday morning so that I could get down to Bath for parkrun. I think that such madness has overtaken me before and no doubt will do so again in the future, but leaving the house at 6am this morning was very hard work! Thankfully Husbando was on his way to the Bath Bookfair so I could snooze while he did all the driving.

After dropping Husbando and number one daughter in the centre of Bath, the Fredster and I headed on up to the new Bath Skyline parkrun. When I heard that Bath was getting a parkrun my first thought was 'hills.' When I heard that it was to be at Claverton Down I was sure that there would be hills. Husbando did part of his MSc at the University of Bath so walking (staggering?) up Bathwick Hill is hardly a novel experience! With a little bit of trepidation I parked the car and we made our way to the start. Wearing my 100 club jacket meant that several people asked me which way to go to get to the start - I had not idea but we found our way by following the signs that said 'To the Start!' When we got there we immediately spotted two gorgeous huskies. Even while I was thinking 'They look like Ian & Sandra's huskies,' I recognised Ian and Sandra standing with them - it was good to catch up with them briefly, the Fredster was very enamoured by the huskies and spent the rest of the day trying to convince me we should get a dog. I did try to play the 'But I'm allergic to dogs' card - but it would be acceptable to him for me to move out and a dog to move in!

After a run briefing we assembled in the finish funnel to await the count down and then we were off. The course is a single lap made up of two loops, mainly on paths and across and a few fields. In contrast to my expectations, the course is remarkably flat taking in part of The National Trust's Bath Skyline walk. There was one short section of steps, probably about 15 in total - the rustic sort of steps you find cut into steep hills in the countryside. They weren't particularly arduous, but the uneven length of them would make it hard to get into any sort of rhythm when running up them. I wasn't running though - we were in a group who were all walking and it was too tricky to get past them safely. We weren't particularly worried about time though - if we had been we wouldn't have stopped to take photos! One of the advantages of running slowly is that you notice more. The views were absolutely stunning - this has to be the most scenic parkrun I have ever run. And even when you can't see these an amazing view the route is varied enough to keep you interested; woodland, rugby pitches, open fields and some gentle down hill slopes - just lovely.

I will definitely be back to run this again. Freddy loved it too although he had his slowest parkrun for a long time as we were so busy looking around. It was lovely to visit another new baby parkrun. There were 129 runners today and a cheerful band of volunteers. 49 of the runners were first time parkrunners - which augers well for the success of this fabulous event.

Post parkrun we didn't hang around for coffee, but went back to Bath and grabbed a brownie from The Bertinet Bakery - I figure that a quarter of a very good brownie is allowed if one is running a half marathon the next day! We did some sightseeing - Freddy wanted to see Bath as he has been learning about the bombs that were dropped on the city during the war. When Husbando was at University in Bath the bomb damaged area was much more obvious - with the 1960s shopping mall near the station being a real eyesore. The redevelopment of that part of the city centre is a huge improvement!

I must mention our lunch venue! We went to The Circus (Fred stayed with number one daughter at the book fair) and had an amazing lunch with a friend. Really good food, excellent service and only £40 for the three of us! I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

A lovely day for a half marathon.

There were several half marathons I could have run this  morning, including the, very local  and easy to get to,  Basingstoke Half Marathon.  I've never run the Basingstoke Half as it has always coincided with another race that I have wanted to run, some years it has been Paris to Versailles, other years it has been the Royal Parks Half Marathon, and that was the case, as far as I was concerned, this year.  Indeed I remembered way back when the ballot for the Royal Parks Half opened saying 'If I don't get a ballot place this year, I won't use a UNICEF place, I'll run Basingstoke instead.' And that was that.  As it was I got a ballot place and thought no more about it.  

Given that we live in commuter land, just over an hour from Waterloo, you'd think getting to London for a 9am race on a Sunday would be a piece of cake, wouldn't you?  You'd be wrong.  The only way I could do it was to get a train from a station 40 minutes away, which left at 7am.  I do not like being late or even rushing a bit to make sure I am on time, so this meant that the wonderful Husbando had to leave the house at 6am to drive me to the station.  The station was freezing, but the coffee shop opened and a hot cup of coffee soon warmed me up.  Lots of lycra clad people started to fill up the platform, most of them (in retrospect pretty much all of them) had bikes with them.  Amongst them was a friend of mine, so we boarded the train together and chatted as we made our way to  the big city!  
We parted at Waterloo, and I went down to the Underground.  Despite the early hour of the train I was cutting it fine to get to the race village, but I was somewhat surprised not to see other runners on the tube with me.  On getting out at Hyde Park Corner I actually began to panic that I was really late and that everyone else was on the start line.  It was so quiet….. then I realised that it was too quiet.  There was no rave village, there was no starting area, there were no runners, no spectators.  Just a few, lone runners enjoying the early morning sunshine.  I got out my 'phone and googled…  

I may hate being late, and have a bit of a reputation for getting everywhere too early, but I have excelled myself this time. I was a whole week too early!  I made my way back to Waterloo, pondering what to do.  I decided to go for a run anyway, and left my race bag at left luggage on the station and set out for a steady 10 miles along the Thames.  Having started off heading West, I remembered that I wanted to look at the poppies at the Tower of London, so crossed a bridge and turned back to run East. It was a wee bit later than when I normally run in London, and there were far more people around, but it was fun.  The poppies were glorious, well worth a trip up to London!  

Looking on the bright side, as one has to, better a week early than a week late, at least I didn't make this mistake with an overseas race and I won't need to get the train up to London next Sunday as Husbando is driving up to the book fair to exhibit his wares - I can snooze in the car and arrive early enough to eat breakfast before I go to the race.  I ate too early this morning and was getting very hungry towards the end of my run, so a later breakfast may well be in order next week.   My race bag is packed and ready to go, so there should be no problem finding things at the last minute.  All I have to do is decide on my race strategy.  I ran Paris to Versailles at an average pace of 8.38min/mile, which included lots of running around slower runners and that hill.  My half marathon PB saw me running with an average pace of 8.33min/mile, so I'd need to hit a pace of 8.30min/mile in order to ensure I get a PB.  Realistically I would have to aim for a slightly faster pace than that as an insurance policy against Garmin error.  Can I do it?  I don't know.  Will I go for it?  Yes, I think I will.      

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Cranleigh parkrun

Today is the 10th anniversary of parkrun.  10 years ago the notion that I would get out of bed at 7am on a Saturday morning to go running would have been laughable.  I am still a bit bemused by the transformation that running has wrought in my life, but can only assume that it is generally a good thing to be more active.  Not only has parkrun increased my enjoyment of running, and the number of races I have entered, it has also greatly increased my circle of friends and acquaintances.  It was a bit of a shock last weekend to turn up to a race and not recognise anyone at the start.  In the UK I am more likely than not to bump into someone I have met before, or know online.  These friends have enriched my life more than I would have thought possible when I first, rather nervously, made my way to my first parkrun.

Today I considered going to the birthplace of parkrun - Bushy Park to celebrate with many other parkrun friends.  Then I thought about the numbers of people who would be there.  On an 'average' parkrun day there are about 1000 runners.  Today was looking as though it would be closer to 2000.  I don't like crowds.  I get a bit stressed about going to parties where there will be more than a handful of people - especially if I don't know everyone.  To be fair, I normally go to the party anyway and either have a miserable time not talking to anyone because I get a crippling attack of nerves, or I anaesthetise the inner social nerd with enough alcohol to take out a small village and have an awesome time - or at a least the bits I remember are great!  Alcohol doesn't mix well with a 5k run, especially if you have to drive to the start line, so I started to look for somewhere smaller.

A few weeks ago some running friends had mentioned that there was a parkrun starting near them.  In fact they had organised their holiday flight to ensure that they could make the inaugural Cranleigh parkrun.  Now inaugural parkruns normally attract quite a crowd.  But the canny bods who make parkrun magic happen had planned quite a few for this morning.  This, I assume, was to take some of the pressure off Bushy, but which also had the effect of reducing numbers at all the first time events.  And even a 'bumper turnout' for an inaugural is 'only' about 300 runners.  I can cope with that!

Cranleigh, according to my sat nav, was 55 minutes away from home.  I bundled the running child into the car (resplendent in our anniversary tees), picked up a friend and set off.  It took us 35 minutes (less time than it takes me to get to work most mornings - and we almost drove past my school) and a swear I don't drive that fast!  We found some free parking and some loos.  I had a minor contact lens disaster (had to remove one, decide it was too overcast to wear my prescription sunglasses so the only option was to run with one good eye and one blurry eye) and then we set off across some football pitches and a road to the start.

There were people at the start - but not the masses we get at Basingstoke ever week.  There were familiar faces and new people, there were 100, 50 and 10 t shirts and a smattering of anniversary t shirts too.  We chatted to people we knew (and a few we didn't), had a warm up lap of a field, listened to the run briefing, made our way to the start and then we were off.

Two grassy laps of a fairly convoluted course starting at Bruce McKenzie Memorial Field with some stunning views over the surrounding countryside.   There is one significant climb - which isn't too bad as it is fairly short, at the top of which the most amazing views were to be had, and also some amazing echoes.  I would like to apologise to any residents of Knowle Park Nursing Home who were trying to have a lie in - my booming voice echoed impressively back to me as I encouraged Freddy (and other runners) at the top of the hill and the start of the steep decent!   Freddy was a wee bit too enthusiastic on the downhill, and did an impressive head over heels tumble.  Where is a camera man when you need them?  He cried a bit - through shock more than anything - and on we went, Freddy covered in grass and mud!

We chatted with several other runners as we completed our last lap.  I started singing to encourage Freddy to get a wiggle on, he hates my singing (the boy has taste) and so put on a spurt towards the end.  As ran through the finish funnel and collected our finishing tokens we were congratulated by the Mayor, who, wearing her chain of office, shook hands with every finisher.

There were 111 finishers - a lovely number for this venue.  We got to chat to people and get a feel for what this event will be like over the next few months.  There was coffee and cake at the finish, provided by the local leisure centre and the volunteers.  The sun shone while we ran - although the heavens opened on the way home.  Thank you to everyone involved in this lovely event.  I am sure I'll be back to run with you all again someday soon.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Paris to Versailles

I'm not enjoying getting old!  My memory is playing tricks on me!  I was sure I'd last run Paris-Versailles in 2012 - I was so sure that I spent ages trying to look for my time in the 2012 results listing (tricky anyway on a mobile 'phone!)  I knew it was 1hr 26 mins and some change, and I also  knew I wasn't anywhere near fit enough to come close to that time at the moment.  When I ran that time, in 2011 it turns out, I was running really well!  I got PBs at every distance I ran that year.  I think the fact that I only started working at the beginning of September that year may have had something to do with me being more focussed on training!  

So, after a longer break than I remembered we were going back to Paris for the race with that hill!  We travelled to Paris on Saturday morning, arriving with plenty of time to pick up our race numbers and look at the stalls at the expo.  I was beginning to have doubts about my choice of running kit.  It was really warm in Paris and I had brought a t shirt to run in.  I had a look at the clothing on offer, and while it was possibly to buy obscenely short running shorts there was not one single running vest on offer because they were all showing off their autumn and winter stock.  So I would be wearing my lovely Kent Roadrunner top, as would Husbando!    Neil, who were were staying with and who had hoped to run with me in 2011 but ended up running by himself in 2013, was running with us - he had to make do with the rather nice, but much more subdued, official adidas race shirt!  My KRR top was admired by a French lady - who informed me that I must be American because I was wearing 'such a shirt.'  No amount of denial by me would convince her that I was English!

Race morning dawned bright and sunny, we had breakfast, got our stuff sorted out and headed for the station to get the train to central Paris.  In contrast to 2011 my mood was good - we chatted and laughed and talked about our goals.  Neil wanted to do better than last time, Husbando was planning to run with me, and was hoping we could run sub 1hr 30.  My A goal was sub 1hr 30, my B goal was getting round in one piece.  We were joined by a growing throng of runners - always reassuring to know that we were going in the right direction.  At Champ de Mars I sent the boys off to check the bags while I queued for one of those 'tardis loos' - the ones that self clean between each user.  I reckoned that, by the time I got to the end of the queue I might need a wee!  From there we made our way towards the start and took some photos with a famous Paris landmark in the background.  

There are no starting pens at this race, and with 25,000 entrants we thought we ought to make our way to the start areas where runners were gathering.  There was a constant commentary from the, very loud, PA system.  I understood about 60% of what he was saying.  I didn't think we were too far back from the start.  We tried to chat over the PA, and ignored the nonsensical warm up ("Jump up and down on the spot to raise your heart rate").  I was struck by the number of runners who were kitted out as though they were about to embark on an ultra.  Whilst a 10 mile race might be a good time to try out kit that you are considering using on a much longer race I don't think that it is possible that all the people we saw with Camelbaks were ultra runners, and nearly every other runner was wearing a race belt stacked with enough gel packs to feed an army.  One bloke had 12 gel sachets (yes, I am that sad, I did count them!)  TWELVE!  That is more than one per mile!  I can't imagine eating that much gel without wanting to throw up at some point.  

At 10.00am the elite runners went off, followed by waves of us mere mortals going off at 1 minute intervals.  We crossed the line at 10.17!  The first male was nearly half way through his race by then (he finished in 47mins 42 seconds).  While I was waiting I looked up and took a photo of the Eiffel Tower - I note that I took an almost identical photo last time I was here.  We were the last to be allowed through in our wave - Husbando had to say, in his best school boy French, that I was his wife in order to be allowed in.  We crossed the line and suddenly all my nerves and uncertainties faded away, I forgot my niggling sore throat and remembered why I was here.  I love to run!  I really just do.  Off I went with a huge smile on my face.  I knew I was going too fast but I didn't care!  I knew that I'd slow down later, but it felt fantastic to be moving!

Husbando had been talking about a wee stop from before the start - the queues had been to long before the start, so he joined a row of men peeing against a wall before we got the the first kilometre marker.  I carried on.  It was crowded and I had to constantly change direction to plot my way through.  Husbando caught me up at about 3k in.  It is very flat for this section, but in the back of my mind I knew that the hill was coming!

The hill came.  Husbando is much better at hills than I am, I told him to go on ahead - as to be honest the thought of him stopping every so often to wait for me to catch up was very depressing.  I plodded on.  The hill isn't hugely steep but it is very long.  At several points you think you much be at the top, but you aren't - there is more, and some of it is on cobbles.  I may have been slow, but I kept going and was even overtaking people.  A new addition to the signage this year was one saying that we were at the highest point of the run.  Lovely, there was still another uphill section that I could recall, but for now it was time to recover, get my breath back, get my legs moving again and fly down hill.

It was never easy going.  There were so many slow runners in the 16 start waves ahead of me that it was a constant case of weaving in and out.  There was a distinct lack of running etiquette - no moving to one side before slowing down, people just stopped in the middle of the road!  And faster runners used their elbows to warn that they were approaching!  The water stations, however, were well placed and the volunteers cheerful and friendly.

At around 14km I had a real conversation, in French, with some fellow runners.  There was one of those traffic signs that calculates the speed of approaching vehicles and it was picking up the speed of the runners.  It was fluctuating between 9, 10 and 11kph,  I announced that I wanted to get it to 12 - and with lots of cheers and encouragement from those around me I did it!  A much needed burst of speed!

Soon I was approaching Versailles along the Avenue de Paris, looking left and right to see if Husbando was watching.  I knew I had my sub 1:30 in the bag, so now I was just seeing how fast I could get to the end.  I crossed the line, stopped my Garmin, and saw Husbando waiting for me.  I'd run 1:26:41 - I was amazed.  Was it a PB?  It would be close…. Checking my records I found I had missed a PB by 20 seconds.  Which is gutting, but there are positives to be drawn.

When I do this race again I will get there earlier and hopefully get a clearer run.  When I ran my 10m  PB there in 2011 I was having an amazing year, this year has been a bit naff really and I don't feel anywhere near as fit as I did then - so hopefully I can take a few more seconds off my time.   And above all, we had a great time.  We spent time with friends, we ran in the sunshine and collected a medal.  What more could one ask for?

Sunday, 21 September 2014

He, who would valiant be...

I am not entirely sure how I ended up entering this event again.    Indeed, if look at my blog from last year,  I find I am at pretty much the same stage in this year, new job - great but still in the rabbit in the headlights stage, tired, losing my voice etc.  At least I'm not training for an imminent marathon.  I think that I entered because I decided to do the Giant's Head Marathon next year and thought I'd need to get some trail experience.  I'm only doing the Giant's Head for the medal (go on, have a look, you know you want to!)  26.2 miles on trail is a long way for a confirmed road runner so today I was only taking on the half.  
The weather was fantastic.  I'd obviously misread the weather forecast as I'd thought the sunny, warm weather was over, but the sun was shining and clouds were scudding by as we waited for the start.  We got their early enough to see the full marathon runners off, and I caught up with friends.  I have since discovered, via Facebook, that there were several other people I know there and I am sorry to have missed them.  As they set off they were told to 'watch out for tyre girl' who had set out early for the marathon pulling a tyre behind her.  I prefer to carry my tyre around my middle!  As we had time we had lovely coffee from at the back of a Citroen van.  This of course meant a queue of the loos!  

Soon we were off, having just managed to get to the end of the loo queue and back to the start line in time to sort out  my Garmin.  As we left the start area we passed through the open gate, and my race almost ended there.  I was chatting to a fellow runner and did not see the thin, grey end of the gate pointing towards me (see photo).  I hit it hard with my left shoulder!  It wasn't marked and with loads of people all around it was not easy to spot.  Still, onwards and briefly downwards I went.  Running on the road was easy, nice and wide, easy to pass people.  I'd decided to just see how I felt and not force the pace as I have another race next weekend (and the weekend after).  Which idiot enters 4 races in the first 5 weeks of a new job, with one of them being in another country?  So I pootled along, chatting with people I knew, people I'd never met before.  I made a huge effort to catch up with one lady who I thought was someone I knew only to find she was a total stranger!  I caught up with someone I know from CPRC briefly and was introduced to his running companion.  Only in England would one turn and shake hands with someone one was introduced to while running a race!   

Once off the road it got a bit more serious.  The paths were narrow in places which resulted in having to walk for some sections and during other sections I just concentrated on keeping up with the person in front.  The hills were as sapping as last year, but I think that the weight loss has helped as I recovered much faster.  Not that you could speed down lots of the hills as they were steep and, well, trailey!  I stopped completely to check on two runners who fell spectacularly!  My automatic reaction to stopping running was to stop my Garmin, luckily I didn't stop it for long and the runners were both OK.  The highest point of the run offered absolutely stunning views, I'd say they were breathtaking, but I didn't have much breath left to take!  There was less haze this year and I could see much further.  If I can work out where it was I would love to go back and spend some time there.  

The water stations were well placed, just when I thought I was too thirsty (it was warmer than I'd anticipated) a water station appeared!  The marshals were friendly and cheerful.  I think I managed to thank most of them as I plodded past.  At one point, in the last couple of miles, I overtook someone and realised that I couldn't see anyone ahead of me.  I panicked a bit and called over my shoulder 'Are we going the right way?' and sped up so that I had someone in view.  Soon we were back on the road.  Running past the golf course and up hill to the gate to the field.  I spotted a man in a purple shirt who had passed me way back at mile 4 (in Puttenham).  I caught him up, overtaking several people in the process.  Then I carried on overtaking people as I knew that the finish beckoned.  At one point I overtook a car - shouting 'I'm faster than a car!'  Then it was round the corner and down the hill to the finish.  I heard my name called and I think I waved - but I was intent on catching just one more person.  I threw myself over the line and heard my number and name over the tannoy - a nice touch that.  I'd done it!  And 11 minutes faster than last year!  
The CPRC guys I'd caught up with briefly had finished ahead of me (it was they who had shouted as I came in), so I went to join them.  Apparently they didn't realise I was so fast.  I said I wasn't really, more a case of being too stubborn to give it!  

As I waited for my friend to come in I collected my medal and my tech t-shirt.  Then I totally messed up sorting out my 'phone to take a photo of her as she sprinted to the finish!  Sorry!   After that we went for lunch!  Steak frites and a glass of wine.  Lovely.

So, how many trail races will I have to do before I feel the love?  This was a very well organised event, the views were stunning, there was plenty of cake for afterwards (I was good and did not partake), and I am very glad I did it.  But to say I enjoyed it would be an overstatement!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Run The Vyne

I think I must have signed up for this race pretty much as soon as I heard about it.  That would account for me getting bib number 14.  I obviously didn't read the web page too closely because I really hate trail running.  When I did realise it was a trail run I thought that, as it was on National Trust property it would be the sort of paths that would be suitable for elderly ladies in wheelchairs and yummy mummies with their buggies and not 'proper' trail.  So it was with a degree of trepidation that I laced up my trail shoes and set off for The Vyne this morning.   
I got there far too early of course - I always do, but I'd much rather be early than late.  Arriving early gave me a chance to get my bearings, work out where the loos were - all those important things!  Registration was in front of the house - and seemed to work smoothly with Chineham Park Running Club members manning the desks and greeting all the eager runners.

Shortly before 10am we made our way to the start and after a short run briefing we were off.  I immediately remembered why I don't like trails.  I like to put my foot down on the floor with a degree of confidence that it isn't going to wobble and twist!  I like to run without thinking about where the safest path is going to be.  We ran across a bumpy field, through a gate and into the woods.  The tree roots were clearly marked, but this did not stop me taking a tumble before we got to the first kilometre marker.  I felt a bit stupid, so got up and carried on!  Soon there was a lovely bit of concrete path - but it didn't last long.  I was aware that we seemed to be running downhill for a large proportion of the time.   This worried me a little as we'd have to get back up to the start at some point - but I decided to put that out of my mind and enjoy the amazing marshalling stations!  We had Scots' Corner, Halloween Hill, Teddy Bears' Picnics, Legoland and what I am naming Valentine's Corner - complete with pink flamingoes and fairy lights.  I wish I'd had time to take photos and thank each marshal personally for such an amazing effort!

I didn't take in much of the scenery I'm afraid.  I was too busy concentrating on staying upright.  At the water station I decided it was prudent to stop and drink rather than trying to run down hill while drinking from an open cup!  I never take water with me on a 10k run, but somehow running past a water station always makes me feel terribly thirsty!  

There was one short, sharp steep hill - where a parkrun friend and CPRC member stood capturing photographic evidence of how hard we were working - and another longer, less steep hill.  For those of us running the 10k we had to do these twice.  I spent most of the second lap trying to remember where the hills were and failing miserably!    At the end of the second lap we turned right and were back in the field, as we did this I overtook a man from Bramley Trail Runners, thinking that we were just a short sprint from the finish line.  Funny how the mind can play tricks on you - it was quite a long haul over the uneven ground and mainly up hill too.  I managed to hold my place until we crossed the line - he managed to nose ahead of me but only just!  
I stopped my Garmin at 54:26.  My road PB is 49:16 and I haven't been close to that all this year, so I am happy with my time.  I had no expectations of how I would get on this morning, and after taking an early tumble I definitely erred on the side of caution - especially on the steep downhill sections.  I am not a convert to trail running - it requires far too much concentration for me, but I would definitely run this one again, just for…er…fun...  

I met up at the finish with various running friends.  It was a pleasure to run a race with the woman who got me into running.  She was completing her first 5k race today, and has decided that she will enter the Bupa 10,000m next year!  It was lovely to cheer people over the finish line and watch the prize ceremony for the top finishers.  That done we made our way back to collect our bags and enjoy a post race massage thanks to the guys at North Hampshire Sports Massage - they kindly plonked my sore foot in an icy boot thingy while I waited for my friends to have their turn on the massage tables.  

This was a great race, with excellent organisation and nice medals (not sure if you can call wood 'bling').  It was lovely to see so many people I know both amongst the runners and the marshals - it is such a boost to have someone call out your name as you run, and the marshals were very good at lying and saying that I was looking good!  

Thank you to everyone at CPRC and The National Trust who made it all happen.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Woking inaugural parkrun

In a radical break from tradition, and by prior arrangement with Elaine, I decided not to wear my 100 club tshirt to the inaugural Woking parkrun.  Instead we were pretty in pink!   Our 'Don't be sh*t!' tops were sold to celebrate the achievement of Steve Way and to raise money for Julia's House Hospice.  They come in many colours, but we'd both chosen pink.

Due to a rather late night on Friday I had not checked the directions to the start and decided to rely on my Sat Nav, which got up almost there.  We were less than quarter of a mile from where we needed to be, but the road was blocked by bollards!  Luckily we'd left enough time for such emergencies and were soon parking in the free carpark at Woking Leisure Centre.   My first impression was that there were hundreds of parkrun shirts! I then realised that I knew loads of people.  I think it is quite possible that I knew more people at Woking today than I know at my home parkrun.  parkrunners had descended on Woking from far and wide and it was lovely to see so many friendly faces.  I just wish that there had been more time to catch up with people.  

The run briefing took place at the start line.  I think the start line must boast the closest loos to a start line at any parkrun (although I am happy to be corrected) as they are just a couple of steps away from the start.  The briefing covered all that needed to be said, thanking volunteers, mentioning the sponsors etc. without going on too long.  And then we were off…. 

Three laps of the park sounds very simple and straightforward, but it was a twisty, turny route that wend its way into and out of woodland and over bridges.   Most of the course was on tarmac, with the bit through the woods being on trail.  The marshals were amazing, unfailingly cheerful and supportive as they cheered us on each and every lap.  I ran with the Fredster.  He wasn't happy as he was tired and grumpy following a very late night on Friday.  Still, thinking about how to cheer him up did take my mind off my hangover.   I got to chat to runners while I ran, meeting a lovely lady who was running her first 5k.  The twisty nature of the course meant I not only got to cheer on/hurl abuse at the the speedy runner as they lapped us, but also to see people I knew on various bits of the course as they ran around the convoluted loops.  

After scanning our barcodes and collecting bags, dealing with a fainting child and taking photos we made our way to the leisure centre for coffee.  I am not sure that the coffee shop there were quite prepared for an influx of parkrunners all in need of post run coffee, tea and cake!  

Thank you to all the organisers and volunteers who made this morning possible for me and 289 other runners.  I hope your event goes swimmingly and grows in popularity.  I'll be back soon I hope!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Chichester inaugural parkrun

'I'm doing a book fair in Lewes on the 2nd August, would you like to come along for the day?' asked Husbando about a week ago.  I thought about the two Brighton parkruns and said 'Yes!'  I haven't done either of those yet and this seemed like an ideal opportunity.   A couple of days later I remembered that Chichester's first parkrun was coming up soon….. And after a little bit of investigation I found that it was the same day.  I have probably mentioned before that I didn't do geography for O'level, and that I can at times be somewhat geographically challenged.  I thought that Chichester and Lewes were quite close together…..

No matter, Husbando needed to be in Lewes at 7am.  Lewes is about an hour and a half away from my home, which meant an early start for me, young Freddy and Husbando.  We had a quick coffee with Husbando in Lewes and then headed off along the A27 for the 50 minute long journey to Chichester.   The parkrun takes place in Oaklands Park, which is located just behind Chichester Festival Theatre.  Many years ago I saw an excellent production of 'When we are married' starring Dawn French and Roger Lloyd Pack at Chichester.   I recall that the theatre has excellent acoustics and good vision from all seats.  I must go back one day.  Anyway - back to parkrun… the Sat Nav took me directly to the free carpark at the Chichester Rugby club, and from there it was about a minute's walk to the starting/run brief area in front of the cricket pavilion.  The Fredster was desperate for a wee so I asked a volunteer where the loos were.  I was told that they were in the pavilion, but that they were mens's only, but that it was OK for women to use them too, as it was a cricket pavilion.  I did, jokingly, mutter something about the fact that women are allowed to play cricket too these days - and the England Women's team actually did rather well in The Ashes!

Pre run wees taken care of, we bumped into some familiar faces.  There were far fewer of the regular 'tourists' than usual, but it was lovely to see friends from Basingstoke, Queen Elizabeth, Reading and Roundshaw Downs parkruns as we waited for the run brief.  Event director Mike Houston struck just the right note with his briefing.  Thanking all those who needed to be thanked (sponsors, local supporters and volunteers), giving out all the necessary information and informing the many new new registrants of the procedure to follow at the finish with wit and humour and some oversized barcodes and finishing tokens.

Then we were off!  As you can see from the screenshot of my Garmin trace, it is not the simplest of circuits!  I ran to the bottom of the course (about half a mile) with the Fredster.  The Fredster was VERY TIRED, not just from his early start, but also because he had run four miles the day before.  I could sense that this was not going to be a fast run for him or a fun experience for me.  Luckily, for me if not for him, a friend had volunteered as tail runner for this event, and he was just starting the short out and back section as Freddy and I finished it - so I asked if Freddy could run with him and off I went.  I am not running well at the moment, due to carrying about a stone and a half more weight than I should be, but it was nice to be able to have a tiny bit of a burst of speed.  It was lovely to be able to work my way through the field a bit.

Most of the course is on grass, apart from the long straight bit you can see along the side of the A286 - lovely tarmac, but also a 400m long hill.  So swings and roundabouts there!   The second time up that hill was when we got lapped by the front runners.  I was doing my customary shouting of 'Fast runners coming through - keep left!' When someone asked 'Who is the girl with the lungs?'  It took me a moment to realise they were talking about me!  I guess you can take the girl out of the Artillery Regiment - but she doesn't lose the ability to run and shout loudly enough to be heard the length of a gun position easily.    By the third time round, the incline was starting to make itself felt, but I was spurred on by the sight of the tail runner and Freddy up ahead.  Not only had I worked myself a considerable way through the runners I was going to blooming well lap someone!  Hurrah!  I kept going, then slowed down a bit as I had run off with Fred's water bottle and he was hot and thirsty.  We had a bit of a chat, Fred was happy, the tail runner had to keep calling him back as he was faster than the last person, but all was good.  I left the water bottle and made my way to the finish.  Despite my slow start and slowing a few times to talk to people as we went around, I squeaked in under 30 minutes (29.19).

After collecting my token I looked up and saw that Freddy was just about to start his final lap.  I knew he could run faster than the pace being set by the final runner, so set off to run the last lap with him, because I really needed another 400m long incline!  He did pick up his pace, finishing 3 minutes ahead of the last runners, and still managing to put in a sprint to the line.  After sorting out barcodes etc. we made our way for a post run drink and natter at Bertie's Cafe.  Chichester parkrun is another of those lucky venues that have a cafe right near the finishing line - fabulous and brilliant for building a real community.  The cafe is on the first floor and has a terrace with fabulous views over the park - which was lovely, until it started to rain!  But at least the rain stayed away until well after parkrun finished.

Huge thanks to Mike and his team of volunteers for organising another brilliant parkrun!  I am sure I'll be back to run in Chichester again soon.  Oh, and I hope token number 8 found its way back to its rightful spot!