Saturday, 31 May 2014

How can you run your worst marathon ever but have the best running day of your life?

The answer to that question is quite simple.  Run a race organised by the amazing team at tzruns!  Brilliant pre race organisation which featured, but was not limited to, informative emails, choice of running number and booking of good weather, was complimented by an excellent venue, the friendliest and most welcoming volunteers at the start.  

I pitched up at the start to collect my race number and set up my personal drinks station.  I don't really know why I felt that I needed to do this as the food stations at tzruns events are excellent.  I didn't eat any of my bananas and only had a few sips of (warm) Lucozade, but it does make one feel a little bit like an elite athlete to have a bottle with your name and number on it.    After getting that sorted, pinning my number to my vest and going to the loo (twice) I passed some time chatting with friends.  Every race I go to seems to add a few more friends to my circle.  When I think back to my first race in 2010 where I knew no one I can't help but wonder why I ever went back for another race.  I turned up, ran and went home.  Now I seem to know so many people that it is a bit like going to a party!  I am, however, useless with names - so if I forgot anyone's name today, or looked a bit blank, just put it down to my aged brain not being able to cope with the sheer number of names I have to learn at work every year!  

At the start I felt fantastic.  I hadn't got any firm  goals for the day when I arrived, I was just going to see how it went.  The first few laps (of the 17) were great.   I was  ahead of where I needed to be to get a PB, well ahead.  I was smiling, confident and enjoying being back at  the Cyclopark.   I was eating up the laps, and really feeling for once as though I was born to run.    At 13 miles I was  still motoring.  It did briefly cross my mind that I had gone off too quickly - but I  still felt good, my legs felt fresh.    

Then something happened.  I couldn't feel my right foot or, I realised a bit later, the outside of my lower right leg.  I hadn't fallen, twisted it, or done anything that I could think might have caused the problem.  I slowed down a bit.  I got to the start/finish zone and sought out a running friend who was volunteering.  I wanted to get some reassurance.  MrB suggested that my shoe laces might be too tight, so I loosened them.  I could move my toes, I could feel if I applied pressure to my foot, it was just oddly numb, and was affecting my running.  I considered stopping, convinced I had injured it somehow.  I asked MrB what I should do.  He asked me what I wanted to do, I wanted to finish the race and get that bloody big medal!  "Well, get out there, but take it easy!"  We'd already worked out that I could walk the rest of the race and still not be the last finisher.  

I walked for a bit.  It was incredibly hard to walk when the rest of me felt so fresh and eager to run. I had a wee bit of a dip emotionally at this point, so gave myself a talking to.  I was kissing goodbye to a PB, so did it really matter now how long I took?  I realised that I could now approach this with a different mindset.  I could now chat to friends, pause and hug people and generally have fun.  And I did have fun.  When I managed to run my pace was still fast (for me!)  I still hated walking, but I soon realised that the heat had got to loads of people and there were many more walkers than runners in the final few laps.    

With 5 (I think) laps to go my walk a bit, run a bit, chat a lot strategy was working well.  Then my foot started to throb and itch.  I took my shoe off, expecting to find a putrid foot, or a the least some impressive bruising.  Nothing.  I looked again, and found a bite mark on the bottom of my foot and some swelling.  I can only think that something crawled into my shoe before I put it on and bit me part way through the race.  The relief at knowing I hadn't injured the foot I'd damaged 2 years ago  was great, but I was worried about causing any further injury with my strange running style.  As I got to the start area at the end of this lap I bumped into Sandra and asked if it was OK to leave the track to go and get some antihistamines, that was fine, so that's what I did.  Locating and rootling through my bag to get some drugs.  Sitting down part way through a marathon is not a good idea, getting going again was tough.  

I finished in 4hrs 48 minutes.  My slowest marathon ever but I still feel really positive about the whole day.  The first half of the marathon went so much better than I had hoped. I ran with some great friends,  the volunteers were supportive and enthusiastic, the organisation was faultless, the supporters were vocal and the bling is AMAZING!   I have no hesitation about signing up to run this again next year - in fact I am stalking the tzruns website so that I can sign up as soon as possible.   It is a real 'runners' marathon' - the support and camaraderie from all the runners, from the front runners to us slow coaches at the back is second to none, it shows the running community at its very best!

Monday, 26 May 2014

A weekend of runnning

On Saturday morning we set off to London nice and early so that Husbando could get to  his book fair .  We dropped small children off with various friends as we would be staying over night in the big, bad city and made our way into London along the A3.  This made Wimbledon Common parkrun a logical event for me to attend.  I had done very little research into what the parkrun was like, other than noting the postcode we should aim the sat nav towards, but in my mind I was thinking it would be similar to Bushy Park and Richmond parkruns in terms of the ground underfoot.  

We got there nice and early, and Husbando dropped me off before heading into London.  I found the start and wielded a mallet to help get the poles for the finish funnel into the ground while sheltering under an umbrella.  I chatted with a few regulars and mentioned that I needed directions to the nearest bus stop or station after the run - only to be offered a lift.  The run briefing commenced with much talk of people being put off by the weather and 'jokes' (or so I thought) about snorkels and swimming costumes being necessary.  I picked my way around some sizeable puddles on the way to the start, but thought that it couldn't be too bad.  Anyway, once your feet are wet it is just as easy to go through puddles as it is to go around them.  As is often the case in a new parkrun, I found it hard to know where in the mass of runners I should start, and on Saturday I think I put myself too near the back as I spent the first hundred metres trying to get past people.   I soon settled into a rhythm though, or as much of one as the ground would allow.  We went from a rough path with big puddles to mud with big puddles and tree routes, to puddles and tree routes with a little bit of soggy mud around the edges.  It was great fun if you like that kind of thing.  For the record, I don't! Especially when I had been planning to remain 'parkrun fresh' until we checked into our hotel room later in the afternoon.  I was just thinking about this when I stepped in a puddle that was knee deep!  Sod's law said it had to be my weak right foot - but at least I was icing it instantly! I carried on, making a mental note to avoid that particular puddle on the second lap.  Not a fast time for me - 26.22, but I think to try and go faster in road shoes on that ground would have been suicidal!

The state of my clothing meant that I had to make my way to Sweatshop, armed with Husbando's credit card, to acquire new running tights and socks.  I had clean and dry trainers in my bag so avoided having to buy a new pair of those too.  Given the awful weather (well, it is a Bank Holiday weekend) I didn't think that I'd want to spend the rest of the day in shorts, and was beginning to think  might need capri length tights for Sunday too.

Our hotel was just off Southampton Row.  In fact Husbando proposed to my outside that building (which used to be a Barclays Bank) 21 years ago!  We checked in, tried to decide what we wanted to do that evening, went out for supper, came back to the room and I fell asleep at about 8.30pm.  At around 2am I was woken as two other guests were talking rather loudly as they passed our door.  I was convinced that having had as much sleep as I ever normally get in a night I would not be able to get to sleep again, but the next thing I knew was that Husbando was getting up to go to work!  I had the luxury of not needing to get up for another hour, so went back to sleep until 7.30am.   We had breakfast together and then he headed back to work, and I made my way to Green Park.

The weather was lovely.  I was very glad of this as it meant I could wear my shades.  I was almost in tears as I walked to the start.  It was my baby girl's eighth birthday and  I wasn't there.  I'd never been away from any of them for a birthday, and here I was making my way to a race I couldn't run as well as I wanted to because of poor training on my part and a painful ankle.  I knew that my daughter would be having a whale of a time - she was staying with her best friend, someone she rarely sees since she has moved away from our area and with whom she shares a birthday.  But I still missed her very much.

As I passed the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus I saw a 'Fetch' shirt was soon chatting away to the lovely Lully.  We bumped into another Fetchie, philthet, outside the Ritz but we failed to locate the other Fetchies.  I made my way to the UNICEF flag and said hello to the lovely people there.  I've run several races to raise money for them, and they are very supportive of their runners.  On the way to the start I saw some super speedy runners I know,  in their Basingstoke and Mid Hants Athletics Club strip making their way to the first starting pen (Red A, I was in Red D).  The race was started by Mo Farah - who had pulled out of running the race, this will be the only time that I can say that I left him standing on the start line!  

The first quarter mile was very crowded, but I wasn't worried, I wasn't aiming for a specific time. I just wanted to get around without damaging my ankle too much, and to try to enjoy myself.  There was just enough breeze to keep the heat down without feeling as though one was running in a wind tunnel, the crowds along The Embankment were vocal and encouraging.  Just as we approached the underpass the front runners were coming back in the opposite direction.  They had started 8 minutes ahead of us, but there were moving seriously quickly!  I grabbed a dinky bottle of water from the water station and carried on.  I slowed slightly as I scanned the runners passing in the opposite direction hoping to catch a  glimpse of people I knew, and wanting to shout encouragement.  I saw two or three and cheered them on. 
The supporters in The City are always a bit more sparse than along The Embankment and Birdcage Walk, which is actually something of a relief.  A chance to settle into a pace and concentrate on running rather than watching the crowds.  There was a band in Leadenhall Market, and another one near Blackfriars Underpass (I think) that was playing 'Tainted Love' as I ran past.  As I came back onto the Embankment a girl running in front of me was obviously struggling - I ran with her for a while reminding her to breath deeply, not to push too hard, but when she stopped to 'chuck her cookies' I checked that she was OK (ish) found a marshall to look after her, and then we parted company.  2 years ago, on a blisteringly hot day it was me throwing up due to sun stroke, then carrying on to run the rest of the race shivering as I felt so cold!    I wasn't watching my Garmin, and knew that I was way off PB pace, but when I hit the '800m to go' point I thought I would time how ling it took me to run 800m.  I've never timed myself over that distance and was curious.  It took me 3mins 51seconds.  If I'd been able to run a straight line rather than trying to run around people (and traffic signs) it might have been a bit faster.   I crossed the line in front of Buckingham Palace in glorious sunshine, feeling better about running than I have all month.  When I looked at my watch I saw that I'd run a respectable 52.31, and even with the time I'd slowed down and stopped to help the other runner, I'd managed a negative split.    

 I didn't have as much time as I'd have liked afterwards to hang around and see other runners I knew - but I did say hello to a few people.  I had a hotel room to get back to and the bliss of a shower!  The goody bag was much better than in recent years - a nice tshirt, and enough samples of snacks and drinks to keep my children happy for a while.  This year's medal is lovely too - with the route on the reverse side.

All in all, a good day.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Jingly jangly runner

It isn't often that I don't feel like parkrunning.  There are many weeks when I would quite happily do an extra parkrun or two every week, but this morning was different.  It had been a very long week at work, I'd had emergency dental work done, I'd dealt with all my exam classes going into stratospheric levels of stress and just about managed to get out and run all my scheduled runs.  I am still suffering the effects of the 50k race I did and my training runs had been at a pace that would not have worried a snail.  Added to this, three of the children had to be at a school open day, so I wouldn't have my son with me and therefore no excuse for a slow run.  The temptation to stay in bed was very real.

But, I did get out of bed and I did parkrun.  Three weeks ago a new parkrun started locally: Rushmore parkrun.  I couldn't go as I was doing this instead, so decided to go today instead.  I went with a friend.  I still find it much easier to go along with someone rather than on my own, and we found our way to the start without too much problem.  We did miss the very clearly signposted carpark, but we do know where it is for next time!  Hanging around at the start someone came up to me and said 'Are you MrsBridgewater?  You must meet our Event Director!'  I was a little taken aback - turns out that this was someone who read my blog and said lots of nice things about it.  The event director, Chris, was lovely and very welcoming.  I am sure he is far more relaxed now than he was three weeks ago.

There was a briefing for new runners, a pre run brief near the start line and then we were off.  I had been concerned that this would be a 'twice round a sports field' type of run (which always reminds me of being punished for being naughty or skiving games at school) but it was much more interesting than that!  Yes we did run across a sports field, but we also ran along a path at the edge of the road, down and along a canal tow path and through a wooded area and underneath a tree lined avenue to the finish.  Part of the route was on tarmac - sweet! Some of it was on grass and on (what could be had it not been hot) a muddy towpath - to be expected on a sports field, but there did seem to be quite a bit of gravel.  I HATE gravel.   I really do dislike it!  My friend, who was running with her son, said she thought of me when they got to the gravel bits!  Still - it could be avoided quite easily by running on the grass - so that's what I did.  The course was brilliantly marshalled by friendly volunteers.  There are 2 short downhill sections, but no noticeable uphills - which make this a course with great PB potential.

One thing I hate about as much as gravel is running near someone who has jangly keys in their pockets.   I ran too fast in the first mile trying to get away from the pillock who was running near me with keys jangling.  It was only when I found myself running on my own and I could still hear the jangling that I realised I was the culprit!  Normally I give my car key to my older daughter to look after while she volunteers, but she was at school and I'd shoved the keys in my pocket with my barcode tags and a ten pound note!  I took the key out of my pocket and things were much better after that, if a bit slower!  I was pleased that I maintain a reasonable pace, not too concerned that it was way off PB pace as I haven't set myself an insurmountable target to beat next time I run at Rushmore.  I was the 5th lady home - been a long time since I've finished that high in the rankings.  I'm quite pleased with that, even if I only achieved it by summoning everything I had left to overtake a lovely lady in the final 150m!  My guilt at this is made worse on discovering that she is a teacher at my middle child's school!  Oops!

Sadly the coffee van man failed to materialise again.  A huge shame as with over 150 people there (runners, volunteers, supporters) on a lovely sunny morning he'd have sold a few drinks!  There are plenty of park benches near the start/finish too for those of us who are too old to sit on the floor (or too old to get up again once we've sat down on the floor).  If anyone local has a coffee van or knows someone who has one, why not get in touch via the Rushmore parkrun page and see if you can offer your services?

Thanks to all the team for a great run!  You even laid on fantastic weather.  I'll be back with a short person soon!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Alton 10.

I entered this race by mistake!  A few months ago a friend said that the race was full already.  This sounded odd as historically it has been possible to enter on the morning of the race.  So, just to check I clicked through the site and found myself entered in to the race.  Not a problem, I thought, I like this race, it is on my doorstep, why wouldn't I want to enter it?  Well, there was the matter of that little race I ran last week, and the fact that I had a ball, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of my children's school, the night before.

I dithered for a while.  I've run this race every year bar one since 2010.  I missed one year because I had a hurty hip, that year I went along with my camera and took photos - I reckon I must have got a picture of every single runner, it was a lot of fun supporting so many people I know.  This was an option for today.  It was an attractive option, but.... well, I need to run today.  I may have just done a big race but I still have to train for a marathon.  If  was going to have to run I might as well run with lots of other people.

I woke up at about 7am, my calves were tight from dancing in stupidly high heeled (but very lovely) shoes the night before.  I moved my head from side to side - I didn't seem to have a hangover - which was a bonus, so I flexed my calves a bit and went back to sleep, setting the alarm for 9am.  An utter luxury on a race day.  I bravely dressed in shorts and a vest top, deciding that it couldn't really be as cold and windy as the forecast predicted.

I arrived at Eggar's with loads of time to spare, collected my number, checked my bag in, realised that I had forgotten my sweat band, queued for the loo, chatted with friends and made my way to the start line.  This race isn't chip timed, and as the numbers taking part in the race seem to have grown over the years, it was going to take me a while to get over the start line (30 seconds).  I wasn't too worried.  I was aiming for around 1hr 35 to 1hr 45mins so a few seconds lost at the start wasn't a concern.  

For once in my life I started at the pace I intended to start at, and stuck with it.  I'd like to say that this was through choice, but in reality my legs were tired and the thought of running any faster was enough to make me feel a bit sick!  The route was well marshalled, but there were very few supporters out there - more thoughts about this later!  I still have to learn how to drink water from an open cup while running though.  The weather was relatively kind to us.  Drizzle, sunshine and wind.  Lots of wind.  At one point the wind blew my sunglasses off the top of my head.  If I'd been going for a PB I'd have noted where in the field they'd landed and come back later in the day but, as I was just getting round, I thought that losing a pair of Oakley sunglasses was not an option!

I overtook loads of people in the last 2 miles, I hadn't picked up my pace very much at all, just kept going steadily.  I run this route so often, but I always run facing oncoming traffic rather than on the left hand side as mandated by race regulations.  Coming down the last hill I drifted across to the 'normal' side of the road as I came around the bend at the bottom and managed to get myself boxed in by cars that were waiting for runners to pass!   It is always hard to run past the end of my road but there were a few people ahead of me that I thought I could overtake if I pushed a bit harder.  

I was so glad to see the finish line.  It seems to have moved further back as the years have gone on.  I couldn't see the timing clock as I approached the finish so can only go from my Garmin time of 1hr 32 - eight minutes slower than my time last year.   I collected my medal - quite a change from previous years when the medals have all been similar to the one shown here, i.e specific to Alton 10 and with the Alton Runners' club colours on the ribbon.

This is a great little race, although the organisation felt a bit more haphazard than normal this year.  I didn't hear any pre race announcements at all.  It always surprises me that it isn't better supported.  I live in the village the race passes through, but if I wasn't a runner I wouldn't know about the race at all.  And as a village that likes a bit of a fete, has a very active cricket club and so on I am sure that we could get a few more people out to make some noise to support the runners.   We also have quite a few local and not so local businesses that I am sure could be persuaded to provide freebies for goody bags.  I think I've been spoilt by races that, while small in terms of numbers taking part, are big on support and big on medals.

Today is officially the start of my taper for the Kent Roadrunner Marathon - perfect timing for me to get tooth ache!  It wasn't too bad this morning, but has got steadily worse as the day has gone on.  I have to get an emergency dentist appointment in the morning - seems I could be staring in my own remake of the Marathon Man!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Biting off more than I can chew?

Apparently it is good to challenge oneself from time to time.  I am not a huge fan of pushing myself too hard, or doing things that I don't think I'll be very good at so I spend a lot of my life playing it safe.  Until yesterday I had never entered a race having no idea if I would be able to finish or not, and this should have been the same.  It should have come almost midway between two marathons and represented a challenge, but not a mountain that I wouldn't be able to climb.  So what was this race?  Well, there were several races happening at the same time, the National 50k and 100k and the 2014 Anglo-Celtic Plate competition all superbly organised by the wonderful team at tzruns.  I wanted to run the 50k, but being a total novice and having no idea how long this would take me I entered the 100k with the knowledge that I could drop down to 50k on the day.  This gave me a longer cut off time, and a much earlier start time.

My running this year has not been great.  I dropped out of the Brighton marathon as I was just too tired.  Not injured, not unwell, just well and truly worn out at the end of a long school term.  The thought of getting to Brighton was exhausting enough without having to run 26.2 miles once I got there.  I've struggled with anything approaching speed work, and my long slow runs have been shockingly slow and not actually that long.  The furthest run I'd done this year was a horrible run at Bramley and I was about to set out to run 31miles.  I felt entirely unprepared, unsure of what to expect, almost certain that I would make an utter fool of myself.

Husbando drove me to the Cyclopark in Gravesend early on Saturday morning.  I was somewhat intimidated when I saw the England, Wales and Scotland teams, resplendent in their national strips, getting ready for the race.  Who on Earth was I to think I could run with these athletes?   There were friendly faces to meet and greet, not least 'Team Brassington' and the amazing race organiser Ian Berry and the inspirational Sandra Bowers.  But, boy, was I nervous!  I set up my drinks and snacks in the designated area, used to loos, pinned on my race number, and made my way to the start.  I was starting with people who were planning to run 100k.  This made me feel even more of a fraud.

The atmosphere on the start line was very friendly, vaseline was passed around, people were chatting about other races etc. etc.  The horn went and we were off.  I repeated my 'start slow' mantra in my head, but pretty much ignored that!  I'd planned on starting out at 10min/mile pace, but fell into step with 2 blokes and we were running 9min/miles and just under, but it felt comfortable.  We were chatting away and enjoying the early morning (8am start) sunshine.  We were lapped at the end of our second lap by the amazing Steve Way and Pieter Vermeesch.  They looked as though they were out for a gentle jog - making it look so easy.  The second time Steve lapped me I said 'Two' under (I thought) my breath.  Steve laughed and I said I intended to keep count.  When I missed a number he commented and I admitted that I'd lost count, but that I was now more familiar with his backside than my own!  (And it was an amazing backside!)  He laughed and after that didn't fail to make a comment every time he lapped me on his way to breaking the British 100k road record.  What a lovely man.

The support was amazing.  Running laps means that you pass the finish area a lot - and the supporters really worked hard, handing out drinks, snacks and encouragement.   I can't believe how many people were cheering little old me on!  How did they all know my name? I'd love to be able to thank each and every one of them!  At one point a new face appeared in the crowd, cheering me on!  One of my online running buddies from Fetch Everyone had popped by to see how I was getting on.  That was an amazing boost.   I'd love to publicly thank every single marshall and supporter - you were amazing yesterday.

The running itself was going surprisingly well.  I felt no pressure to run in a certain time, I'd set myself an a, b and c target, but knew that I'd be happy to finish the 50k.  At 12 miles I was running past the feed stations and saw that the people who were running the 50k had started to arrive.  I was relieved to see the friend who a) bullied me into doing the race and b) was going to drive me home!  I stopped for a minute or two to grab something to eat and say hello.  My right hamstring felt a bit tight, but nothing that I couldn't cope with and I felt comfortable and happy.  

I set off again making a concerted effort to run more slowly.  I'd run over 18 miles before the main 50k runners started.  It was somewhat disconcerting to be overtaken at such speed by those on fresh legs, but it meant that there were new people to chat with!  At 21 miles I started to get awful stomach cramps.  I grabbed some salty crisps to try to counter this, but at 25 miles the world fell out of my bottom (thank heavens for the loos on the course!) Still, I'd got this far and a little bit of runner's tummy was not going to stop me now.  I thought back to the last time I'd run at the Cyclopark - last year's Kent Roadrunner Marathon,  that had felt a lot harder.  I'd ended up walking up Tourettes Hill after about the 13 lap, and yesterday I ran up it every time.  I was also aware (not just because everyone kept telling me, but also because my face ached) that I was smiling a lot!  I couldn't believe that I was actually doing it!

That said, there was an amazing sense of relief when I started my last lap (24 laps in total). I tried to put on a bit of a sprint finish, but I think I was just about out of energy by then - I did have a huge smile on my face though - as you can see from this short video clip, and the cheesy grin in this photo!  I finished in 5hrs 17mins and some seconds.  Ahead of my a) target of 5hrs 30.  My c) target was that I wanted to finish my 50k before Steve Way finished the 100k!  

After a quick shower and inspection of the rather alarming tan lines I was back at the finish area to cheer on the rest of the runners.  Such amazing runs from so many people.  I also got to put names (and voices!) to faces that I only know via the internet, which was lovely.   I got to see one of the guys I had run with at the very start finish too.  He dropped back to 50k after having 'a bit of a shite run' (as he put it). 

So, what a day!  Would I do it again?  I don't think so.  It was fun, but I am completely and utterly drained today.  I haven't even got the energy to feel hungry.  But then again, never say never!  My legs feel better today than I thought they would - I'm about to test them by assembling the new lawn mower and having a go at taming the savannah like grass in the front garden... if you don't hear from me for a while please do send a search party.

Thanks to everyone at tzruns who made it happen, to every single supporter and marshall and to all the other runners who made this such a special day.