Thursday, 31 December 2015

Saving the best 'til last.

Last night I did something I'd never done before.

No, it wasn't meeting up with a load of strangers that I only knew via the internet.  I first did that in 1999, obviously lived to tell the tale and made some some very good friends.

Last night I met up with a group of strangers I knew via the internet, in a forest, in the dark to go for a trail run.  Armed with a head torch, and accompanied by a friend, we arrived in the car park at Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP) in the pouring rain. I'd run at QECP before as it is the setting for one of the more challenging parkruns in the area, but I'd never run cross country in the dark before.  It seemed that the rain was here to stay, so after a few brief hellos and a head count (there were 12 of us) we set off.  We were led by Kiernan - who took us along the route of a race he is organising at the end of January - the Rubix Chilly Hilly.

The start, once we had run up hill from the car park to get there, was a gentle downhill, but that was soon to change, we went up hills, down hills that had become rivers in the rain, we slipped and ducked to avoid low branches.  At times we walked up the really steep bits and, at every corner, we stopped and waited to make sure that there were still 12 of us and that we were all still happy.  It was great fun. I am pretty sure that there were some stunning vistas from our run route, but it was dark and I was looking to see where the next firm(ish) bit of ground was.  It will be nice to come back in daylight and I've put in an order for dry weather!  The run wasn't fast - it would be silly to try to run too fast on such uneven ground in the dark, but it is the most fun I have had while running in a long time.

Back in the car park the runners dispersed fairly quickly.  My friend and I took rather longer.  She has a brand new car, so trailing mud into it would just be rude, and she was dropping me in Petersfield to meet Husbando and some friends for supper, so I figured I needed clean up a little bit.  Balancing on one leg in the light shining from the courtesy light of the car and trying to maintain as much modesty (dignity went out of the window a long time ago) I managed to change into clean running kit.  My feet were caked in the mud that had gone in over the top of my trainers, but clean socks and shoes felt fabulous.

Meeting friends for supper was one of those spur of the moment decisions we made while having coffee in the morning.  We made a couple of 'phone calls and soon there were 5 of us going for supper at Annie Jones' in Petersfield.  I'd been there twice before - once for tapas and once in the more formal restaurant.  I did have a few qualms when I discovered we'd booked the restaurant as, although I much preferred it to the tapas, I was worried that having one member of the group turning up half an hour later and looking like a drowned rat (there is only so much one can do in a carpark with a hand towel, a wet wipe, a hair brush and a can of deodorant) might be frowned upon.

But it was fine.  In fact it was more than fine.  It was excellent.  I had one of the best meals I have had in a very long time, in fact every single dish that came to the table was excellent, the waiter was attentive and helpful and didn't seem too put out by the bag of wet running gear I dumped on the floor under our table.  The company was excellent too.  We enjoyed a couple of bottles of wine, a fantastic meal and decided that we should do this more often.

All in all an excellent evening - a run that reminded me why I love running, and the company of good friends enjoying lovely food!  A pretty good way to round off 2015 really!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

This little piggy….

I like a race that is close to home.  It means that I get a bit of a lie in and reduces the stress involved when you don't know exactly where you are headed and are trusting to Google maps for a route and an estimated arrival time.  At 7am this morning I lay in bed thinking that this was the way to do it.  A nice mug of tea, provided by one of the children and no huge rush.  My friend was arriving at 7.45am and we knew that we would be at the venue before 8.15am.  This would give us oodles of time to pick up our numbers, queue for loos and get bored of waiting around for the race to start.  

Ha!  The traffic gods had other ideas.  We got to within a mile of the race start by about 8.10am and ground to a halt.  There was a solid line of traffic and it didn't seem to be moving at all.  Yes, Loseley Park does have a long drive, but it also has several car parks.  It got to the point where I worked out we had travelled less than a quarter of a mile in 25 minutes - at this point I suggested that my friend walked to the start - she could queue up for the race numbers and if the worst came to pass at least one of us would be at the start.  I still can't really work out why it took us so long to drive that last short section.  If there had been no one there directing the cars I don't think it could have been slower!  As it was I just  sat in the car getting more and more anxious.  I don't do 'late!'  I rarely do on time.  I am normally early.  Very early.  It is just too stressful not being on time.

I parked just before 9am.  The race was due to start at 9am.  I leapt out of the car… or rather I tried to leap out of the car, but my back had gone into spasm, so I climbed out gingerly and made my way to the registration desk to join the very long queue.  Thankfully the organisers decided to delay the start by 10 minutes, which was just enough time to pick up numbers and run to the loo before heading to the wrong start area.  Call me unimaginative if you will, but a big, inflatable arch with START on it looked pretty much like the start to me.  Luckily one of the race organisers spotted the gathering runners and directed us to the real start.  One that didn't have a great big, inflatable arch with START on it!  We got there just in time to hear the start being announced.  It did not worry me that I was right at the back - it was chip timed so I knew I'd get my actual running time.  Ha!  Wrong - this was one of those races where there is no timing mat at the start, just at the finish.  Ah well, after 3 weeks spent coughing for NATO, including a couple of days where I was so ill that, not only did I not go to work, I also didn't even consider going for a run, I wasn't expecting to run a fabulous race.

The start of this Hog shaped race was a lovely, gentle downhill.  3/4 of a mile into the race we passed the 1km marker.  Even allowing for the notorious inaccuracy of Garmins, it struck me that if every kilometre was this this long it would be a very long 11.7km!  The first hill was short, but steep.   I will admit to walking the last 100m of the hill as I just couldn't get enough breath in to keep me going and was coughing like a 40 a day smoker!  This was followed by an ominous downhill, after all what goes down must go up.  This climb, which took us from Guildford up to the Hog's Back was 2 miles long!  A 2 mile climb in a race that is only just over 7 miles seems a little excessive! This climbing part of the Hog's Back Road also included just over a mile of muddy, puddly track.  There may have been views along the way, but if I wasn't looking at the floor the sky was grey and cloudy!  The marshals were lovely, encouraging and enthusiastic.

After that it was pretty much downhill all the way until the 3/4 mile - which was uphill again!  Not hugely steep, but obviously a bridge too far for some of the runners.  I overtook lots of people who had overtaken me earlier and at 11k I could see the finish!  It was a straight run on farm track down a slight incline.  I could not wait to finish - so put on a burst of speed.  I know I didn't work hard today. I have felt more exhausted at the end of a training run than I did today, but it is another race finished and a cute medal added to the collection.

The coffee van in the finish area could not cope with the volume of business, (and we are both getting old so found the music a bit loud!) so we retired to Cote for breakfast and fun playing with our medals.

This is a lovely little race, but the lack of organisation let it down.  We were lucky with the weather - although blowy the wind had died down significantly and it stayed dry.  I came home saying 'never again,' but predictably my feelings have softened somewhat.  If if doesn't clash with anything more appealing next year you will no doubt find me at the start line again!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

A birthday bimble or two.

What does one do to celebrate a birthday?  A long lie in followed by a  leisurely day of pampering?  That sounds nice, but a bit conventional.  I booked a race.  Races on a Saturday normally mean missing parkrun - but as a birthday treat this race started at the same place as Kingston parkrun and the timings worked out.   

I ran the Thames Meander Half last year in glorious sunshine.  I went home with tan lines.  Today it is safe to say that sunglasses were not necessary.  I managed to keep my feet relatively dry during the parkrun by playing dodge the puddles.  It was lovely to chat with people I haven't seen for a long time, and with people I'd not met before, and it didn't rain too much.  

There was then an hour to wait before the start of the half marathon.  I chatted with friends, watched the marathon runners set off and nervously eyed the dark clouds.  And then we were off.  The route, in my memory, was mainly on tarmac paths.  Which shows how useless my memory is!  It was muddy and puddly for much of the way with quite a lot of uneven ground underfoot.  And it was raining,  and windy - really windy!  

I caught up with a friend who was running the marathon when I got to about 2.5 miles and ran with her for a while.  Lovely to chat with her - she is such a supportive and wonderful person.  Just before the turn around point for the half I bumped into one of the guys I ran with for much of The Cakeathon.   It rained a lot on that day too.  I may just check entry lists in future and only run races he has entered if it is in a drought ridden area - say New South Wales or California!  Seeing friendly faces does make such a difference when the weather is miserable and the pub seems infinitely more inviting than running the next few miles.   And boy, the weather was miserable at times.  The wind managed to be in our faces on the way out and back.   The poor people manning the aid stations must have been so miserable. 

My quad was playing up from the start, so I didn't push too hard - it was my birthday after all!  I crossed the line soaked to the skin - I had cleverly brought a complete change of clothes, but stupidly left spare shoes at home.  Putting wet trainers on is not fun!  I was very glad to finish and retreat to the pub for a pint and fish and chips with friends.  

An emergency purchase of new running shoes followed and now all is right with the world! 

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Deary, deary me!

For months and months I have been parkrunning with children.  I love running with children, I really do, but I do miss my weekly 'me against the clock, all out blast of (almost) speed.'  From time to time I do get to run by myself.  This normally happens when Husbando and I are away by ourselves at a book fair or some other such excitement.

The last weekend of October saw us venturing to North Wales for a reunion at my old school.  The school closed a couple of years ago and has recently been bought and will reopen with a new name in 2016.  We were tempted north with the promise of food and fireworks!  We stayed on Thursday night in a former boarding house  - possibly the most luxurious B&B I have ever stayed in - ready for a quick run around the old cross country course in the morning.   We had a lovely day at the school, followed by a civilised dinner in the dining hall and some stunning fireworks.  Then we sat in the rec in our former sixth form boarding house and made a pretty good attempt at drinking all the alcohol in Wales!  It was all good fun, and great to catch up with friends I haven't seen for years, but at the back of my mind I knew I had to get up in the morning and get to parkrun.  

I'd done my research.  I knew that there were two parkruns in North Wales, I knew which one was closest and I knew the route to get there.  But when the alarm went off at 7am all I wanted to do was stop the infernal noise that was ripping my eardrums into shreds.  I did manage to throw my running kit on and Husbando and I crept out of the sixth form boarding house, into the car and we were on our way - until I called for an emergency stop at the edge of the A55!  Surely all athletes prepare by trying to consume their body mass in wine the evening before a run? Our second stop was at a McDonald's in Abergele for coffee and hash browns (the athlete's breakfast of choice).  I spent a few years living in Abergele - the idea that it has anything as cosmopolitan as a McDonald's is still something of a surprise to me!  

Conwy parkrun is dead easy to find.  You just drive along the A55 to junction 18 and follow the signs for the RSPB reserve.  Or that is what I am told - I had my eye's closed and was whimpering quietly to myself.  When I opened my eyes, to bright sunlight, we were in the car park right next to the start, a few steps away from the loos and the cafe.  Perfect.  And the views were stunning - across the River Conwy.  There were people in halloween costumes, so with my hungover pallor I probably didn't look too out of place.  Husbando said he would run with me.  I told him to run by himself as I didn't want to slow him down.  

The course was a flat out and back, running towards the castle (it is a beautiful castle) beyond it and then back again.  The only elevation was over a railway bridge.  It should have been a lovely, fast run.  Husbando had a lovely run, not pushing himself too hard but achieving a very good time.  Me?  Well, every time I put my foot on the floor my head screamed.  All I wanted to do was finish the damned run.  I could see it was beautiful, I even appreciated the smell of the sea, but I was sweating pure alcohol.  I struggled to keep going.  All the time I was cursing myself for throwing away a good running opportunity.  I managed to pull a little bit of pace out of the bag in the last few metres of the run to overtake a woman I had been following for ages.  Husbando was waiting at the end of the finish funnel (I had the barcodes in my pocket) and declared himself surprised that I had managed to run at all, let alone scrape in under 27 minutes (26.44).  I was just glad to stop running.

I am cross with myself.  Conwy parkrun is lovely, stunning scenery, flat paths, lovely cafe, great volunteer team and yet I wasted the chance for a good run by over indulging the night before.  I would love to think that I could come back and run this one again, but the realist in me knows that the likelihood of me being back in North Wales again is slim.  This is a shame.  I had forgotten how beautiful it is up there, but it is a long way away!  

Sunday, 11 October 2015

I am a human hurdle!

Another early start for another race!  We hitched a lift with Husbando and were in London and eating breakfast at Pret a Manger by 6.15am.  We were barely awake but we made our way safely to Hyde Park for my 5th consecutive Royal Parks Half Marathon.   The atmosphere in the race village was great, it seemed busier than in previous years and I do wonder if there were more runners this year.  The queues for the baggage tent were much longer than I remember in previous years, this meant I cut it fine getting to the start line - this had the knock on effect of meaning that I had no time to avail myself of the portaloos , so that was a bonus!

I'd met up with a couple of friends before the race, including another lady from the village who I hadn't known would be there, but I found myself on my own in the start pen.  I chatted with a French couple in their Paris Marathon finishers's t shirts and waited for 9am.   It was a little bit chilly, but the sky was clear and it looked as though we would have great running weather.  

The course this year took a slightly different route, due to work on the cycle lanes on the Embankment, but the best bits of the 'non park' section were still there.  Running through Admiralty Arch and down the Mall in the sunshine is hard to beat.  Apparently the lovely people at UNICEF have a photo of me running through the Arch in the rain during my first Royal Parks Half.  I remember emailing them the photo - but can't find it anywhere on my computer!  

From the first, my right quad was painful, so I didn't push it too hard.  I saw a parkrun friend between mile 3 and 4 (at Aldwych) and mentioned it to him as a reason why I would not be even trying to keep up with him (he finished in 1hr 34mins!) but I was happy pootling along at my own pace.  There were many more supporters than in previous years and the roar as we reentered Hyde Park was immense.  We weaved our way backwards and forwards through the park and it was all going well.  Yes my leg hurt, but it was nothing I couldn't put up with.  Then, shortly before 7 miles we turned a corner, I put my right foot down and my leg sort of crumpled underneath me.  A couple of runners hurdled over me. I am sure they had no option as stopping would have caused a pile up, but it was unnerving!  I pulled myself to the barrier and sat and sobbed.  I hadn't done any damage, but my leg was sore and I was a bit shocked at having gone to moving forward to flat on the ground in no time at all.  A couple of runners asked if I was OK.  I replied that I was fine, then told myself that I had to get up and finish - so I did just that.  Soon after I ran past the UNICEF supporters - such a boost to hear them all calling out to me, and a few minutes later I ran past a lady who had called out my name much earlier in the race - she said 'Hello again!' and instantly became my new best friend!  

I ran slightly slower now because my leg hurt.  I listened in to conversations of those running around me and cheered as one of the runners managed to throw his water bottle over the heads of runners and into a bin!  The water bottles were given out without their 'sports caps' which seemed odd.  It meant that you couldn't easily carry an open bottle, so most people took a few sips and then dumped them, which seems a huge waste.   Suddenly we were nearly at the finish.  Such a contrast to the Two Tunnels Half a couple of weeks ago which seemed to go on and on and on.  We ran past the Albert Memorial towards the finish and I was overtaking people all the way.  There were people who were walking in the last 800m, which made for a few interesting manoeuvres as I hadn't anticipated them - but I crossed the finish line with a huge grin on my face.  It hadn't been *that* bad!  I'd finished and not in too slow a time (1hr 50mins 16 secs), my leg was sore but not painful anymore, the sun was shining, I had a new medal and a full goody bag and I was going to have lunch with Husbando and some friends!  
I waited for my friends at the UNICEF stand where I ate Haribos and got a massage while chatting to the people from UNICEF and the other runners.  I do love this race, but I think I lucked out when I chose to run it for UNICEF back in 2011.  The support they have given over the years is wonderful and it is lovely to be able to raise a bit of money for such a good cause.  I've said before, and will probably say it again, the fundraising is probably the hardest part.  If you feel at all inclined to make a difference to the lives of children in danger please click HERE!

I'll be back next year to do the whole thing over again - apart from the falling over I hope!  As half marathons go this one is really hard to beat in terms of atmosphere, organisation, scenery and PB potential.  

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Two Tunnels Half Marathon

I had been looking forward to this race since I booked it back in July.  Husbando wanted to run too as it involved running through tunnels.  He decided that he was going to do the 10k and I would run the half marathon.  I could not work out the timings of the races from the website but signed up anyway and was informed, in my confirmation email that an email would be sent out a week before the race.  It wasn't. And the website wasn't the most intuitive thing to navigate, but I got there in the end.  
Goody bag.
The races, as it turned out, started quite late.  10.10am for the 10k and 11am for the half marathon.  As we hadn't known the start times we'd booked a hotel in Bath for the night before - but in retrospect we could easily have driven down in the morning.  

We arrived at the race venue in plenty of time, and bumped into several running friends who now know that Husbando is not a figment of my imagination!  Being ever so slightly OCD about getting to races early and knowing where I need to be, I had looked up our wave numbers and memorised them.  But being in the wave one for the half marathon meant I had to go to the bib collection point labelled 'wave 9' and Husbando had to go somewhere entirely different for wave 1 of the 10k.  Totally illogical!  

Waves started at 10 minute intervals, I saw Husbando off and hung around waiting to watch runners finish.  I did feel for the finishers at this stage as they were having to cross a field with people milling around aimlessly.  I was hoping to see Husbando finish - but had to go to the start for my own race.  As I waited there I heard him shouting my name - he'd got back in time to see me off and to warn me that it was 'not flat!'  

The 10k had been an out and back, and the half marathon followed the 'out'  bit before carrying on.  This bit was quite sociable, there were plenty of runners running in both directions and plenty of people to see, although I have to say that running through the tunnels was really not my cup of tea!  The second tunnel was a mile long, and I could not wait for it to be over!  And then we were on our own.  Running through some country lanes, along miles and miles of canal tow paths and back into Bath.  I ran for many of those mile on my own - and I really did not have a good time.  The scenery was pretty and the canal was busy - which was lovely to see - but this meant lots of dodging cyclists, hikers, dog walkers etc.   The marshals were lovely, very friendly and encouraging, and the aid stations were well stocked with lots of yummy food.

But this race could have been so much better.  Chip timing would have been nice (given the entry fee), the organisation could have been better and I can't help thinking that an earlier start time would have made for a less congested run - hundreds of runners, cyclists and pedestrians in a narrow tunnel was a bit hairy at times!   Some of the mile markers were very randomly placed.  I had expected some discrepancy due to the tunnels, but that didn't seem too bad - I passed the 3 mile marker just as my Garmin beeped to tell me that I'd run 3 miles, but the 5 mile marker appeared at 4.6miles, we were back on track by the 12 mile marker, and then way off again as the last 1.1miles was closer to 1.5miles.  Uphill for the last part of that too!  Husband was there at the finish.  I'd taken so long to run that he'd had time to walk back to the hotel, have a shower, and drive back to pick me up.  

I would like to say that I am glad I ran this race, but I'm really not!  There are so many races with better organisation, both small quirky races and big races that the world and his brother take part in - I'd have to think very hard about taking part in races by this organisation again.  

Sunday, 13 September 2015

I rather like this park!

Olympic Stadium from the start line
Last time I was in Victoria Park it was cold.  I've just looked at the blog post I wrote back then and I am wearing long running tights and a long sleeved top in the photos.  Today may have been overcast at times, but it was certainly vest and shorts weather!  I hadn't realised quite how close Victoria Park is to the Olympic Stadium until today.  I spotted The Orbit as I walked up from the tube station, and the Stadium itself was visible - just - from the start line.

I'd entered this event at the last minute.  I registered online last night.  Run Through organise loads of events around the capital.  I've done two of their events before, Greenwich Park 10k (cute medal with a clock on it) and Battersea Park 10k (cute medal with Battersea Power Station on it) and I had loved the relaxed yet organised feel of the events.  You can choose on the morning whether you want to run 5 or 10k (more of that later) and there is no messing about with goody bags.  A medal, a flapjack, a banana and bottled water are what you get - and let's face it, most races (there are exceptions) fill up the bags with junk that ends up in the bin!

I arrived in plenty of time, warmed up, and was heading back to the start area when I saw a woman in a Kent Road Runner vest at the registration desk collecting her number.  I ran up behind her and smacked her on the bum - it running through my mind only briefly that there could be another person who looked similar with the same top - she screamed with shock, but no one took a blind bit of notice!  She is a regular at these events, so it was a reasonably safe bet that it was her.  I believe she has a season ticket for these events - something I may consider investing in next year.

We assembled at the start.  At Battersea the 5k runners had a 10 minute head start, but today we all started together.   This meant that there would be a temptation to jack it in at 5k.  I haven't been running well since April, so I had no expectations today, I thought it would be nice to get a time of around 52 mins.  I just wanted to get past all the slow people at the start.  The park is flat, one slight incline, but not really anything to write home about, and we were running 1.5 laps for a 5k and 3 for a 10k.   I didn't feel as though I was running fast, I felt like there was more in the tank (but I am basically a bit lazy and pushing hard doesn't come naturally), but when I got to 4k I looked at my watch and thought I could be on for a 5k PB.  I picked up the pace (pushing a bit hard for a while), thinking a 5K PB was much more fun than an indifferent 10k time.  I lost my nerve at the point where I would have to commit to the 5k as the finish looked a long way off, bending back around a corner.  I eased off and ran past the 5k marker in a smidge over my PB time - I'd probably have got a PB if I'd gone for it.   I ran the next 2 miles (can't think in kilometres as I am too old) quite slowly.  I knew I had no chance of a PB, so there was no point in killing myself.  But I couldn't help myself from picking up the pace towards the end.  I'd been overtaking, and lapping, people throughout the third lap which is amazingly good for the ego, and as I crossed the line my Garmin said 48:00:95 - that came down to an official chip time of 47:59, 68th overall, 14th lady and for the first time ever the first in my age category!  I am very happy with that - and the medal is lovely too!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Let them eat cake!

The rain that greeted us we arrived at Fowlmead Country Park was interesting, to sat the least!  I didn't want to get out of the car.  If I hadn't driven for over 2 hours the day before and paid for a hotel I think I would have turned around and gone straight home.  But I had driven a very long way, because I'd booked this race with no real idea where Deal was, and I'd paid for a Premier Inn room, with scenic views over the McDonald's Drive Through, so I reasoned there was nothing for it but to get out there and run.  

The Cakeathon challenge is unlike any other race I have entered.  If I enter a marathon then I train for a marathon.  But this was a 6 hour challenge.  Run as many 3 and a bit mile laps as you want within the time limit to qualify for a finishing time, a rather stunning medal and a generous goody bag.  I had not run more than 15 miles since the Giants Head Marathon at the end of June and in no way did I consider myself 'marathon ready.'  And did I mention that the weather was awful?  I put on my Goretex jacket, pinned on my race number and made my way, dodging puddles, to the start.  These are small events, approx. 100 runners, where everyone seems to know lots of other runners and if you don't know anyone at the start you are bound to have made a friend or two by the end!

It was a low key start.  The first lap was uneventful, the rain had eased off to a light drizzle and I was baking in my jacket.  At the aid station at the end of the first lap I stowed my jacket in a friend's bag, collected my first wristband (used to count the laps) and set off again.  At this point I was thinking 'I'll go for a half, but if it starts raining again I am quitting.'  Well it did start raining. With the added bonus of thunder and lightening.  I was thoroughly soaked by the time I got back to the aid station and thought 'Oh, what the hell - I can't get any wetter!'  The route was varied enough to keep me interested, 2 short, sharp uphills and fairly good paths underfoot - although they got more and more muddy and the puddles got deeper and deeper as the morning wore on.  There was one long, flat stretch which should have been wonderful with great views, but I found it very tedious.  Lots of puddles, views obscured by clouds and no shelter from the wind.  

I completed the first four laps (half marathon) in about 2 hours.  Not fast by many people's standards, but it would have been faster if I hadn't stopped for a chat every time I got to the aid station.  And now I had a decision to make.  I had 4 hours of the challenge left, at that point the rain had eased off a little, so carried on.  I almost immediately regretted my choice.  I ran most of that lap on my own.  I'd seen the route four times already, it was raining hard again, I could have stopped and got a medal and been on my way home by now.  Why on Earth had I paid good money for this mental and physical torture?  My mood was improved slightly by a bit of banter on the half mile 'out and back' section to the aid station and I decided to carry on.  One reason I hadn't stopped was because if you want to stop and have your time written down you have to ring a bell.  This reminded me of the bell US Marines have to ring if they want to quit training - and that felt a lot like failure!  This lap was where my whole attitude to the challenge changed.  I caught up with Greg and Phillip, I knew Greg a little from a previous race.  They were taking a walk break, so I walked with them.  I said I was considering walking the rest of the race - but that walking would be boring (by which I obviously meant walking by myself would be boring).  Greg said he had run the first half (in a similar time to me) and the rest of the challenge was an endurance training session.  A bit of running, a bit of walking and a lot of chat!  That seemed like a good idea and we ran, walked and gossiped our way through the next lap and a half before going our separate ways.  

I carried on this strategy and suddenly I was on my 8th lap.  8 laps was marathon distance and I had plenty of time left.  I pondered an extra lap to make it an ultra, but decided that I couldn't face the long boring stretch again.  Somehow when I got to the aid station and everyone was telling me that I still looked really strong I forgot about that and set out again.  Madness!  I was so pleased to complete the 9th lap that I briefly considered lap 10 before coming to my senses and ringing the finishing bell.  I am stunned that I could cover nearly 30 miles on so little training.  It was lovely to spend a day with so many friends all doing something we love.  The weather could have been better - but if it had been I don't think it would stick in my mind as such an achievement!  

Huge thanks to Traviss & Rachel, aka Saxons, Normans & Vikings.  This was the first of their events I have run, but I am sure that it won't be the last.  I won't be at Cakeathon next year though, as it opened for entries last night and has sold out already!   

Now that is a goody bag!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Oh I do like to parkrun by the seaside!

Catching their breath after the run.
 With Basingstoke parkrun relocating to its alternate venue - Crabtree Plantation - this weekend, I decided to indulge in a little parkrun tourism.  Both the 100 boy and the 10 boy have told me that they will *never* run Crabtree again!  I cast my eye about for somewhere fairly local that we hadn't run before and Lee-on-the-Solent seemed to be an excellent choice.  I knew vaguely where it was and put my trust in the Sat Nav to get me there.  As we got closer I realised that it looked a bit familiar, it took a while to realise that it was fairly near Gosport Half Marathon territory!

Parking was a breeze - getting out of the car we were almost blown away by the wind!  I joked that we could see the Isle of Wight - the children laughed at me, but it seems I was right!  I spotted a runner with a White Star Running t shirt - so asked him which idiotic race he'd run with them!  (The Ox)  and found a sheltered spot to wait for the run briefing.  The boys availed themselves of the loos, which are close to the start.

100boy threatens to swim to Isle of Wight!
The course is almost entirely flat and almost entirely on tarmac.  There is an up and down bit at one point (I think it goes over the start of the old pier but would have to check on that) and there is a short section on the very top of the stony beach.  You run about 3/4 of a mile (with the wind behind you) to a turnaround point, then 1.5miles back past the start (wind in your face!) and then turn again to run the final 3/4 of a mile with the wind helping you along.  Nice and simple - with lots of opportunity to pass other runners.  I ran the first mile with the boys, then I left them to their own devices.   100 boy fell over, 10 boy took a detour to the loo, meaning that when I finished I felt duty bound to go back and run in with them.  I scooped up 100 boy and ran him to the finish and then went back for 10 boy.  10 boy does not like distance running, but does like anything up to and including 1500m.  I don't think he pushed himself at all until the last 400m when he just wound up the speed and fairly flew across the finish line.

After we had our barcodes scanned we made our way to Leon's Bistro for a drink and brunch for the boys, making use of the 10% discount offered to parkrunners.  Lovely to sit in the sun and relax!

All in all, a lovely new (this was the 4th event) parkrun!  I hope to come back soon - not sure I will enjoy it quite so much in the winter though!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Giants Head Marathon

Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes will know that trail running and I do not get on.  I have a knack for finding every rabbit hole and sticking my foot down them with disastrous consequences.  It is still something of a mystery to me that I entered an off road marathon and not just any off road marathon but one that has been described by friends as 'tortuous!'  But I had entered the Giants Head Marathon and so found myself driving down to Dorset on Friday with a friend.  We had decided against camping in the race village because a) I am too old and soft and b) I had spent Friday on a sponsored walk with 800 teenagers and was in desperate need of a shower, but we made our way to the race HQ to pick up numbers and join the pasta and jacket potato party and partake of a couple of Dorset Knobs.   For a while it looked as though I may have escaped the upcoming ordeal as there was no race number for me.  Sadly all I needed to do was show proof that I had paid my entry fee and they made up another number.

Due to a certain music festival  and my belated decision not to camp, getting a hotel room was neither easy nor cheap.   We ended up in a Travelodge near Yeovil so our race day planning had to factor in the 30 minute drive back to Sydling St Nicholas.  Arriving in the village we parked the car and made our way to the start area where I bumped into a friend I haven't seen for over a year and several other running friends, including the wonderful lady acting as sweeper for the day - she had a witch's broom with her.

After the safely briefing, during which we were reminded that this is a tough race but that it was a running event and that it was possible to walk the event before the cut off time, there was a brief interlude where a marriage proposal was made and accepted - in fancy dress naturally!

The moment of truth - we were off.  And then, within the first mile, we were walking.  There may have been one or two people who ran up that first hill, but I didn't see them.  I got about halfway up before I realised that my 'run' was barely any faster than the walkers around me and was using far more energy!  The second mile was lovely.  A gentle decent on reasonably even pathways (passed the naked farmer ringing his bell) that lulled me into a false sense of security.  I could put up with the vicious uphills if the payback was runnable downhill sections.  That was not to be.  And if I am totally honest, by 5 miles in I was ready to give up.  Brutal up hills followed by downhill sections so steep, and with conditions underfoot so unstable, that I found it impossible to do much more than mince gingerly down them!  I'm really bad at giving up though, so on I went.  The day was enlivened by the great company and the awesome aid stations.   It is quite possible that I put on weight as the food on offer at each station was so tempting.  Salt and vinegar crisps and watermelon slices are my new favourite race food.  I was very glad of the excellent provisions as I had forgotten to eat my second breakfast prior to the start!

The aid stations were either totally bereft of runners, in which case it would have been churlish to just grab and run rather than chatting with the lovely volunteers, or totally crowded with hungry runners, so a prolonged stop was in order to queue up, have a moan and/or a laugh about the insanity of what we were doing.  Either way, there were a fantastic boost both in terms of nutrition and morale.

At around 8 miles a sign told up to 'Look right to see a 35 foot phallus' - that's not an offer a girl gets every day!  There were other points where a sign told us to 'Turn around and look at the view' (*) - the views were amazing.  The countryside just goes on and on and on.  But a lot of the time saw me with my head down watching where I was putting my feet!  I was determined not to injure myself as I wanted to be able to dance at a party my friends were having that evening!  Dorset rural is a lot more rural than Hampshire rural and I found the unevenness of the paths and the camber very hard to cope with.  In retrospect road shoes may have been a better choice than trail as they would have cushioned my feet more against jagged stones (of which there were plenty - more later!) Through one section a machete would have been handy - I have a lovely collection of scratches on my arms and nettle rash on my legs from that part, but at least it was flat so that was something!   Although, having said that, it did get to the stage where I'd look forward to an uphill so that I could walk for a while.

(* We also had signs telling us to 'Hurry up FFS,' 'Don't sweat on the flora and fauna,' and 'Run faster you fools!')

At the ante-penultimate aid station I bumped into a lovely friend I made while on a Chemistry course at the University of Southampton.  We ran together to just beyond the penultimate aid station - we actually ran the whole way with out having to walk up a hill or slow down for a killer downhill section!  We can't have been running terribly fast as we were chatting 19 to the dozen but it was probably my favourite section of the race.  We parted company soon after that and I pootled along on my own, chatting with other people as we walked/ran/hobbled and cursed!  The social side of this race made it just about bearable.   I had a lovely chat with an agnostic RE teacher from Taunton, caught up with a member of the 100 marathon club  I'd run with at the National 50/100k championships and Kent Roadrunner amongst other conversations with people who I'd never met before!

At 24 miles came this:

Each of those bits of stone is about 4-5" in diameter - they made up the path for at least a fifth of a mile.  Avoiding them would have involved battling through thistles that came up to my head - so I did what everyone else seemed to be doing - walking gingerly across this treacherous surface.  People complain about cobbles in Paris…. this was a whole different league, tired legs found it hard to walk on them, let alone run.
At 26.02 miles (by my Garmin which I know isn't the most accurate way of measuring distance) came the final aid station.  'How much further?' I asked, while stuffing my face with watermelon.  "3/4 of a mile all downhill," I was told.  I took this with a pinch of salt and although there was only a tiny hill left there was another mile to run.  
A 'FINISH' arch has never been more welcome.  The finish was on the village green and was the loveliest finish I have ever seen.  Helped by the glorious (sun burn inducing) weather which saw finishers and their families relaxing on the grass, there was a really summer fete atmosphere.  I slight downhill to the finish enabled me, I hope, to appear as though I am actually a runner as I threw myself through the finishing arch.  I did nearly knock over one of the volunteers handing out medals - but he was very gracious about that!  I was given a lovely buff by an adorable little girl.  Buffs are always useful and this one is certainly distinctive! Oh, and a tech t shirt with that fabulous image on the back!  I collapsed onto the grass to wait for my friends to finish.  
The ice cream van was doing a roaring trade so I joined the queue just after putting my name on the list for a free massage.  99's came in small, medium and large - we went for 'small' having seen the size of the enormous medium.  Even after running a marathon I would have struggled to eat that much ice cream!  It took us so long to eat the small ones that we missed our place in the massage queue and had to let people go in front of us. 
After the race it was a mad dash back home as I had a party to go to in the evening.  I hadn't realised quite how far away we were going to be when I said that I'd be back in time.  We had a brief stop on en route as the idea of chips was all consuming and we talked ourselves into a sneaky McDonalds that no one need ever know about and I arrived home with half an hour to spare before leaving for the party.  

I made it - just!  If ever there is a time to be grateful for not wearing make up it is in this sort of time pressured situation.  A shower, thrown on a dress, put on high heels and I was good to go.  An evening of food, drink, bumper cars, carousels and THREE HOURS of dancing in high heels followed.  I felt sure that all this dancing would mean that my muscles would be nicely loosened up and pain free this morning.  I was wrong.  Very wrong.  I may be able to walk normally again one day, but I'm not holding my breath!

All in all, an excellent day, but not one I have any desire to repeat.  I am glad to be able to say I completed the marathon but I will not be back again next year.  If you like trails then give it a go but don't expect a fast time!  Last year there were only 9 runners who finished in a faster time than my PB - and I am not a fast runner.  

Sunday, 14 June 2015

What's the catch?

It isn't often that you get something for nothing, so when I first heard of the AMBA City of London Mile I was sceptical.  Surely there was a catch?  How can anyone offer a free race, in the centre of one of the more expensive cities in the world, that offered chip timing, medals, closed roads etc. etc?  Were we going to be expected to donate an organ after crossing the finish line?  Would we be subjected to three hours of hard sell that would result in me becoming the proud owner of a time share apartment in some far flung part of the globe that I have no wish to visit?

It seemed not.  So I signed up.  What did I have to lose?  I couldn't find a timetable of the races on the website, so to be on the safe side I signed up to run two miles.  One based on the time I thought I would complete in (I guestimated 7 minutes) and the other was the women's mile.  That way I doubled my chances of getting there on time.   And it wasn't as though it was costing me any extra!

With my tendency for arriving slightly early, I found myself at the race village before the race village had arrived!  Pret still wasn't open, so I had a nose around the area, which has changed considerably since I worked in the City!  One New Change offered lovely loos part of the City of London Community Toilet Scheme, it shows how early I arrived because I am now fully informed about this excellent scheme - more communities should adopt it!  Having educated myself I emerged into rain, bumped into a strange man who told me, apropos of nothing at all, that he was aiming to run sub 5 mins, he then looked me up and down and told me that there was no way I'd run it in less than 8mins 30!  Cheek.  But not exactly a confidence builder!  I collected my race numbers, grabbed a coffee and croissant at Pret and planned how I would get from the end of one race to the beginning of the next one and change my number and timing chip.  I figured I had about 30mins.

After that it was the normal pre race routine, nervous wees, bag drops and warm up.  We assembled 10 minutes before our start time and were walked to the start, right in front of St Paul's Cathedral.  The starting gun was loud!  So loud that on both occasions I was shocked into starting my Garmin on the gun.  A few seconds after crossing the line I heard a quieter 'gun' - was this the echo?  I tried to calculate what the sound could be reflecting from and how far away it might be - but my physics brain was not playing ball!  I did make a note to listen again next time to see if it really had been an echo - not just a distant car misfiring.

The roads were slippery, but I still went off too fast.  It was just a case of hanging on, and on, and on!  It did seem a very long way until we got to the sign saying we were half way. It was then just a case of keeping going until the finish line.  As I approached the line the clock said 6:58 and I instinctively dipped to cross the line - daft really as that put the timing chip further back.  I was desperate to run faster than 6:58, but I had no time to wait and check as I had to get to the baggage check, retrieve my bag, swap my number over etc. and get back to the start.  In the queue my phone chirped at me - a text with my official time!  6:54:48!  A new PB.  Only 4 seconds - but a PB non the less.

The women's mile had a very different atmosphere.  Lots of women who were taking part in their first ever race, lots of nervous faces amongst a smattering of club vests and race t-shirts.  Hopefully they all had a fantastic time.  I decided to run this one for fun.  While I think I could run faster than 6.54, I don't think I could do it on the same morning as I had just run 6.54!  I listened out for the echo - yes, definitely there - and chatted to a few people as I ran round (and pulled silly faces for the photographers!)

As this wave wasn't based on predicted times, the start was a bit bunched up with trying to get past slower runners, but pretty soon it became a lot more spread out.  I was overtaking people constantly, which was lovely.  I finished 20 seconds slower (7.13.58) than the first mile and those 20 seconds made a huge difference to the way I felt!   After my first mile it was all I could do to stagger to the railing, hang on and gasp for breath, snatching a brief conversation with a fellow Fetchie before ambling to the baggage tent.  After the second race I was a little bit out of breath, but perfectly capable of nattering away to a lady from the Wimbledon Windmilers!

Again, my results text came through within minutes.  Not only did we each get a medal we also got a goodie bag!  The organisation was amazing.  There really was no catch.  I still have all my organs and don't own a timeshare apartment anywhere.  I would definitely do this race again.

So, what's next?  I seem to have signed up for a very early start next Sunday, but it isn't every day that you get to run on a runway, then on the 26th June I have the Giant's Head Marathon.  After that, the diary is a little bit empty, but I am open to suggestions….  I'm also plotting fundraising ideas for The Royal Parks Half Marathon which I will be running for my favourite charity, UNICEF.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Salisbury parkrun inaugural

One week after gutting it out, quite literally, at the Kent Roadrunner Marathon I found myself at the inaugural Salisbury parkrun.  I had completed four short (3 - 4 miles) runs since the marathon and none of them had been enjoyable, comfortable or anything that could be described as speedy.  In a fit of madness I had even attempted to run up Brockham Hill.  The relief I felt when I reached the top was short lived when I realised how painful running down such a steep hill would be!  

Saturday, however, means parkrun day.  There was no option but to lace up my trainers and get on out there and try to run.  And Salisbury is relatively nearby - who needs a lie in on a Saturday morning when one could be gallivanting around the country for a 5k run?  I picked up two friends on the way and had left the short people behind so not only was I going to parkrun, I was going to have to actually make an effort.  

The weather was gorgeous.  Sunny, but with a bit of a breeze. We found the car park easily, met up with other parkrun tourists, found the loos, found the start, listened to a run briefing, made a rude comment to the race director from last weekend's marathon (OK, that was just me, my friends are lovely, well behaved and very polite).  

The course is three laps of Churchill Gardens, zigging and zagging around - there is no way I could retrace my steps again!  My legs hated all the corners and weren't too keen on all the grass either.  Those three laps seemed so hard, but we were supported by fabulous marshals,  including a large group of volunteers who waited near the start/finish to cheer the runners on.   Amazingly I managed not to get lapped, and was very relieved on my final lap to see the turn off for the finish.  I even put on a tiny bit of effort to get to the finish line - I regretted this as I had to try to maintain it over a longer than anticipated distance!   

The finish funnel was long and narrow - which meant that there was less chance of people overtaking each other after the finish.  The message about staying in order had obviously been taken to heart by some of the runners who were panicking about staying in order in the queue for scanning barcodes!  

Coffee afterwards was in the cloisters of Salisbury Cathedral.  To say that the view was better than my regular post parkrun coffee would be an understatement!  The coffee was good and the croissants were excellent.   I said the words 'penis' and 'vagina' and shocked an elderly couple walking past our table, which added to the general mayhem.  In my defence, it was a perfectly innocent discussion of when Yr7 should be taught the reproduction module of the KS3 science curriculum - I maintain that the first half term of year 7, when they don't know each other well enough to say these words out loud, is not the right time.  

All in all, a lovely event.  Flat as a pancake, but twisty and turny enough to make it interesting.  Go along and see for yourselves!  Huge thank you to the event team and all the volunteers who made this parkrun possible.  

Saturday, 30 May 2015

The best laid plans!

I love my friends at tzruns!  They put on the best races, and I've had lots of fun running at their events at the Cyclopark, I've run races that I've been thrilled with  and races that I've been thrilled that I've managed to finish.  I know that, whatever the outcome, I have never regretted the decision to enter one of these superbly organised events.   Everything from the option to choose your own number to the random fancy dress, showboating competitions and professional photography included in the race entry adds to the fun and enjoyment.  This really is a race organised by runners for runners.

Arriving at the venue, I felt calm and relaxed and enjoyed chatting with friends.  The weather was warmish with a bit of a breeze and I couldn't wait to get going.  I had been feeling pretty ropey all week -  half term will do that to a teacher - and wasn't sure what to expect, but I set off with a friend and we ran at a pace where we were able to chat comfortably.  It was lovely to chat to her as I don't see that much of her as she live in the shadow of the Angel of the North!  We chatted and ran and ran and chatted and it was all going rather well.  We were averaging 8.44min/mile pace, it felt good, it felt easy.  It felt like I could run like this forever.

And then… And then something happened.  I have no idea what.  Was it the sun?  Was it nerves - I used to suffer from awful nerves to the extent that I would throw up before I had to speak to a group of people?  We may never know.  We were at about 11 miles in and I needed to be sick.  So I parted company with my friend and a pretty miserable time ensued!  I was sick a lot.  Even when there was nothing left to throw up my body tried to get rid of my stomach lining!  It seemed that if I tried to do more than take the smallest sips of liquid the result was catastrophic!

I am so grateful for the support of many friends.  I sat and cried with the support team from CPRC  who told me to remember that it was just one race.  I adopted a walk/run strategy, still throwing up with alarming regularity, but on a point of principle I decided that I would run up Tourette's Hill on all 17 laps!  (As an aside, I suggested a group of supporters who were just along from the top of the hill that their support might be more useful on the hill.  They were an amazingly vocal group of supporters and I can't thank them enough!)  I was astounded by the generosity and kindness of my fellow runners and supporters.  I burst into tears when people were nice to me!   I'd love to mention them all, but I'd forget someone!

I did finish the marathon.  4hrs and 32 mins  and some change.  There were some lovely memories: one of the loveliest people on the planet ran her first marathon (I wanted to run the last few laps with her, but really could not manage that), the fastest woman I know lapped me several times in a cow hat and cow print tights didn't get cross with me calling her a 'Fast Cow.'  There were some truly awesome marshals on the course - special mention must go to (in my friend's words) 'the two lovely gentlemen in the far corner!' who were wonderful!

I'm home now.  Via a drive in to London to pick up a stack of books.  I've walked 2 miles to get a curry  and have investigated to contents of my goodie bag - there's beer in there.  Tomorrow morning I may even be able to lift my rather large medal!

So what's next?  Well I have a few things planned, an off road marathon (yes, I am mad!) and a couple of shorter races, but the next big thing I am focussing on is the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon. I had a cracking race there last year, and have always loved this one!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Not the fastest, but one of the funnest!

(And, yes, I know that 'funnest' isn't a word!)

This is one of the first races I ever entered, way back in May 2010 and I have run it every year since.  It seems to get bigger and busier every year, and Green Park felt much more frantic than it had done for the Mile yesterday, with huge queues everywhere!  I bumped into some fellow FetchEveryone runners and chatted with them before heading off to the start.  From my pen, at the back of the red wave, it took only 4 minutes to get across the start line.

The route has changed this year, due to roadworks on The Embankment.  I missed running along by the river, and this year there was no run through Leadenhall Market - which is one of the most enjoyable bits of the run.  To compensate we did run past my old college, King's, on The Strand, but it is something of a mystery to me as to how the wind can blow into one's face when one runs out along The Strand and on the way back!  We also ran past several places where I used to work.  Chancery Lane is a wee bit narrow for such a huge number of runners, but it was nice to see that one of my least favourite workplaces is no longer a bank, it is now a pub!  The new route had several sections where you could see runners coming in the other direction - I kept an eye out for runners I knew and shouted encouragement at the few I saw.

I had aimed to run a little faster than my ideal marathon pace, as I have a marathon on Saturday, but found that I was running around the 8.15 min/mile mark and I couldn't be bothered to slow down.  At one point an elderly lady appeared in front of me as she stepped out from the crowd with no warning causing me to use some choice language!  I was just shocked that the space that had been empty was suddenly full of a woman in tweed 2' away from me and stepping towards me - evasive action had to be taken!  Later, coming back along The Strand, a man stepped in front of me carrying 2 large cups of coffee - that could have been very nasty!   On the plus side - it was somewhere near here that I saw the UNICEF supporters - what a lovely lot they are - and they cheered me loudly!

When I got to the 8km marker I still felt comfortable, so picked the pace up a bit.  Just after the 9km we reached Birdcage Walk - this last half mile was the same as the last half mile of yesterday's race, so I knew exactly how far I had to go and knew that I could carry on pushing myself.  I achieved a negative split for this race purely on the basis of the last mile and a bit.

Afterwards I met up with friends, one of whom had just run her first ever 10k, so of course a celebration was in order!

I've never run a mile before!

On Saturday I was given the chance to run a mile.  A late entry in the BUPA Westminster mile parkrun wave became available and after sorting out the logistics I decided that it seemed like a pretty good way of spending a Sunday while Husbando was working.   I decided to run the night before the 'big day' and so had done no specific training at all.  I had never run a mile race before and had no idea what to expect.

The atmosphere in Green Park was very relaxed, bands were playing, there were yoga classes and no queues for the loos!  I met up with some parkrun friends, met some parkrun royalty for the first time and we made our way to the start on The Mall.

Just three right turns around St James' Park, down the Mall, along Horse Guards' Parade, up Birdcage Walk and then right again to finish in front of the Palace.  Less than 7 minutes later it was all over.  I think I could have pushed harder.  I don't think I have ever pushed really hard but think that a few more mile races might help me realise what it feels like to push myself really hard.

After we'd collected our bags we came back to the finish line to watch some of the other miles - the ex Olympians wave was amazing, and watching David Weir win the wheelchair mile was fantastic.

This was a great event, lovely to run with my parkrun friends.  Definitely something to do again next year.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

April in Paris

What's not to love about April in the city that believes itself to be the most beautiful in the World?   Admittedly it can sometimes be a trade off between looking at the pavement to avoid canine land and looking up to see the stunning architecture, but Paris is lovely and, on a warm spring day, it is a great city for walking, talking, eating and drinking.

I took the Eurostar out on Thursday, not because I wanted to get away from the children but because it was much cheaper to travel then.  I went straight from Gare du Nord to the Paris Marathon Expo at Versailles.  I've never done a marathon with an expo before, so I had no idea what to expect.  I thought that there would be a desk to pick up my race number and a few stalls selling stuff I didn't need, but the expo was HUGE! All the major sports kit manufacturers were there as well as several smaller ones selling interesting bits and pieces (I now own a FlipBelt) and, had I taken the time to visit all the stalls, I think I could have signed up to enough marathons to guarantee my entry into the 100 Marathon Club with events to spare!  Needless to say, common sense - or the fact that my back pack was heavy - meant that I didn't spend too long at the expo and didn't spend too much money and I didn't enter any races.

Friday was spent mooching around the Musee d'Orsay, looking at some of my favourite paintings and deciding that I really do not like many of Picasso's paintings!  From there it was a short walk over the river to the Musee de l'Orangerie for a long overdue to see Monet's Waterlilies.  I'd been meaning to go to this museum on several previous visits to Paris - but for some reason I've never managed to get there.  The galleries with the water lillies are stunning.  It was a very restful place to be - until a hoard of school children arrived and started to career around the two oval galleries.    It was a day for doing things in Paris that I hadn't done before.  I had lunch near the Grand Arche de la Défense - a structure I had only ever seen from a distance - with the friend I was staying with.  From there it was another first - a trip to Sacre Coeur.  All in all, I walked over 12 miles before heading back to my friend's house.

Saturday is normally parkrun day, but there are, as yet, no parkruns in France - so the Paris Marathon Breakfast 5k was the only alternative!  We set off from Avenue Foch with 3,000 other runners and finished by the Eifel Tower where we were treated to coffee and croissants.  I met with friends from other races and bumped into a runner from Basingstoke parkrun - I had no idea that he was going to be there!  It was lovely to run with my friend from my OTC days - as we ran with chatted with other runners, I even managed to chat in German with some runners from Barvaria.

Sunday… the big day.  Where Saturday had been chilly and overcast, Sunday dawned bright and sunny.  I packed my bag and headed for the start, dumped my bag on Avenue Foch and made my way to the start on the Champs Elysées, along with 54.000 other runners.  It was warm - which made a change from the start line of many recent races, but as it was only 9am I was aware that it was going to get warmer!

At 9.15am my wave went off.  A downhill start on cobbles in brilliant sunshine and a real party atmosphere.  It felt good to be running after the hell that is tapering!  I tried to stay in the shade as much as possible to avoid the heat and just soaked up the atmosphere.  Bands were plentiful - it seemed that the music was almost constant.  Water stations were plentiful, supplemented by the pompiers who had set up extra water stations and were spraying the runners with their hoses.

The water stations were on one side of the road only - which meant that if you didn't want water you had to run through people who were trying to cross the road to get to the water.  It was also a bit like running through a fruit salad at times - orange peel, raisins, banana and sugar cubes littered the road along with empty bottles.  We ran through the city and out into the Bois de Vincennes, here the crowds thinned out a bit, which meant that we had fewer bottle necks to slow us down.  At some points the supporters had been so enthusiastic that they took up half the road space.

My Kent Road Runner vest got loads of attention from the supporters, and quite a lot of jealousy from fellow runners.  I was lapping this up and having a ball!  I particularly remember the stretch between 12 and 13 kms where the supporters were particularly vocal.  I sang the Welsh national anthem to some supporters with a Welsh flag, high fived all the children and was laughing and smiling so much that there were tears running down my face.  I have never had so much fun running in my life.

At around 16 miles we went into a long tunnel.  The relief from the sunshine was nice, but it was muggy in the still air.  My Garmin lost satellite reception and when it found it again it said I was about 2 miles ahead of where I should be.  The pace info was also messed up.  There is no way I ran a 7 min/mile at that stage, the pace info never really sorted itself out for the rest of the run, so I covered my Garmin and just glanced at it when I passed the distance markers to try to work out where I was.

The last few miles were tough.  Not helped by my getting very confused.  At 36k I thought 'I've got 6k to go - that's 2 parkruns!'  (Because when I get to 20 miles I think that I've got 2 parkruns to go).  2 parkruns, at the pace I was going at would take me close to an hour - which meant that any chance of sub 4 was well out of my grasp so there was no point in pushing too hard.  By the time I'd realised my stupidity I had less than a mile to go, and couldn't possibly make up the time.  I did my best, overtaking people as I threw myself over the cobbles (horrible, hot, bumpy cobbles) towards the finish line on the Avenue Foch.  4hrs, 1minute and 17 seconds.  A 10 minute PB - but I was gutted and elated in equal measure!

All in all, I loved this race.  I would sign up for it again in an instant - but I worry that I might not enjoy it as much next year - especially as I would be going along with high expectations.  I think I will definitely investigate other city marathons in foreign countries.  A great way to see a city and to meet loads of other mad runners!

I am confident that I will get that sub 4 hour marathon time soon.  'All' that is required is that I run each mile 3 seconds faster than I did on Sunday.  Given the heat and the crowds, and my propensity to treat any run as a social event, I am sure that if I get some cooler weather, a clearer run and think more about running than having fun I can do it!

Sunday, 29 March 2015


The sharp eyed among you will realise that I ran a race last weekend and did not blog about it.  Shock horror!  Had I lost the ability to type?  Was my internet connection down?  No, I just had a bit of a duff race and didn't feel that I could write about it.  Reading Half Marathon had been marketed as having a 'new route' which was 'fast and flat.'  It didn't seem that different to previous years in terms of hilliness, but I had started the race feeling a bit nauseous and as I ran I felt worse.  I threw up 4 times in 13.1 miles - classy!  By the time I finished I was dehydrated, and I swayed across the finish lines with my vision blurring.  Luckily a friend spotted me and grabbed hold of me so that I didn't add passing out at the finish to puking my guts up around Reading!  My stomach muscles ached and I was disappointed with my time.

The fact that I was disappointed is silly.  This time last year I would have been thrilled with a half marathon time of 1hr 50mins 58secs.  And a bit selfish!  I have friends who can't run because they are ill and injured - I can run, and the weather was beautiful.  I even got a fabulous race photo!

However since Reading whenever I have run, or even thought about running, I have felt sick.  Even running parkrun (about which I want to say a lot so will probably do another blog post) with Freddy yesterday made me feel a bit icky.  There is nothing wrong with me, it is all in my mind - but that doesn't make it any less annoying.  So that's why there was no post Reading blog.

Fast forward to today.  In a fit of enthusiasm earlier in the year I entered the Combe Gibbet to Overton 16 mile cross country race.  "It'll be fun!" people told me.  So I signed up.  My record with cross country this year hasn't been great, I've only done two other races, G1 and G2 - and both of them have resulted in my hurting myself and swearing a lot.  Today, with the clocks going forward during the night, I was glad of an afternoon start.  I thought it might allow the weather to improve.  16 miles in the rain didn't really seem like fun.  We were bussed from Overton to Combe Gibbet, through chocolate box villages along winding roads and arrived at our starting point in a howling wind.  It was a struggle to walk up the hill from the car to the gibbet.  It was, to say the least a somewhat exposed location!  So exposed that a few of the boys, who didn't think to check the wind direction, ended up spraying themselves, and possibly their neighbours, when having a quick pre race pee.  It was funny to watch.

Thankfully we set off down the hill we had struggled up.  The wind was behind us and propelled us forward.  It was hilly but not too steep, the ground underfoot was varied.  We had been informed that the first 5 miles were wet, the second 5 were sticky and the last 5 were bone dry.  And it had, at last, stopped raining - or at least I think it had, the wind was so extreme that it was hard to notice anything else.  I wore a running jacket for the first few miles, then got too warm and tied it around my waist where it acted as an effective sail - sadly not always steering me in the direction I wished to travel.  I threw up twice before 7 miles.  Hmm.

Some of the paths were very uneven and slippery.  At 7.5miles I put my left foot down at a daft angle and it twisted under me.  This is the foot I damaged at the end of January.  It hurt.  It hurt a lot.  So much so that I thought I would have to quit.  I thought I would hobble on to the next marshal point and see how I felt.  I don't like quitting, so I was doing the maths in my head to see if I could make the cut off (get to 12 miles by 2hrs 30mins or be taken of the course).  I could, I thought, just.

I got to the next marshal point and found out that it was a mile and a half to the next one (on the other side of the A34 after going through an underpass).  My foot had eased off by some point by the time I got there and the ground here was smoother, so I though I'd carry on.  I was mostly walking at this point, but that was OK, this section was a long gradual hill and with the wind still blowing for NATO I was concentrating on staying upright.  I chatted with a few people as we walked/ran.  The weather was improving but the wind was here to stay!  I got to 12 miles well within the cut off time, and my foot was feeling a bit better.  Still painful, still sore but not agony.  I thought it was just about possible, if I could pick up the pace, to finish in 2hrs 40mins.  The last 4 miles were more downhill than uphill, but the downhill hurt my foot more.

I pushed on.  I was overtaking a lot of the people who had passed me back at 7.5miles - which was nice - and the last section was on road, which meant I didn't have to think about where I was putting my feet.  I ran as fast as I could to make sure I could get that sub 2.40.  As I ran into the finish field there were 2 men ahead of me running together, I picked up the pace and manage to finish between the two of them.  The man I chicked was Steven King - I don't think he was the author!

I crossed the line, collected my medal and swore my way across the field to a group of friends.  "If I ever talk about signing up for another f*cking cross country race you have my permission to f*cking shoot me!"  Apparently in the course of 30 minutes I uttered one sentence that did not contain any swearing.  I hope I was polite to the ladies serving tea and cakes!  But I had done it!  2hrs 39mins and (I think) 48 secs - nothing like cutting it fine!

Would I do this race again.  Hell no!  Would I recommend it to a friend - yes I would!  From the luxury coaches conveying us to the start to the tea and cakes at the end this was a brilliant little race.   I couldn't help but think what a lovely route this would be to walk along on a summer day.

Garmin link here - for anyone who wants a giggle at my comedy splits!