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.