Saturday, 31 January 2015

Just when it was all going so well.

In the staffroom on Thursday a colleague and I looked forward to today.  I say 'looked forward' but what we were doing was discussing how much we would pay *not* to run today's G3 cross country race. We wondered how much snow would be needed for the organisers to cancel the race, which was a bit of an academic debate as there was no snow forecast.    That said, I had bought new, super grippy cross country shoes and I was keen to try them out.  To register my apathy towards cross country and trail running I wore my Kent Road Runner t shirt!  Having learnt from last time, I   checked my bag at the baggage drop as we made our short way to the start chatting with people we'd met back on the 10th.
The roads were not too bad and we arrived without  incident, registered and sat in the car waiting for 8.30am.  

The ground underfoot felt firmer as we set off, the route was a different one to the first race and I anticipated that it would be a much harder run.  I was running 'naked' (i.e. without my Garmin) and was just taking it easy,  I found the flurries of snow quite distracting as I ran.  It seemed really hard to focus with the constant flecks of white all around!  I find this sort of terrain requires a lot of concentration, I am constantly looking down at my feet to make sure I know where I am going, so there isn't a lot of time to admire the views and I certainly never get to that mindless, mediative state that occurs when road running.  All this concentration meant that I seemed to pass the kilometre markers sooner than I expected - some of this may be due to rather arbitrary placement of said markers.  I decided to err on the side of caution and to regard the 6km marker as the halfway point.  

Just before this marker we turned sharply left, and I could see the dreaded 'Martha's Back Passage' rising up ahead.  It was dotted with brightly coloured, lycra clad runners that looked like a string of fairly lights.  When I got to the base of the hill it was a relief not to have to decide whether I was going to attempt to run up the hill!  It was a narrow track and everyone ahead of me was walking, so I walked too.  Even that was tough - by the time I got to the top my calves were screaming at me and I was breathing heavily, as was everyone else around me!  From then on it was easier - still lots of uphill bits, but nothing of the magnitude of that monster of a hill.

It was all going really well, I was even beginning to think that this cross country stuff wasn't quite as bad as I'd made out.  I passed the water station and the St John's Ambulance people at the 8km marker, this stretch was flat and the path was smooth.  I didn't trip, I didn't stumble, but suddenly my foot was going totally the wrong way underneath me and I was on my hands an knees on the floor!  Several other runners stopped to help - shouting back to the St John's Ambulance guys.  I was just swearing and crying a little bit.  I hobbled back with the first aiders and wondered what to do.  I was able to put a bit of weight on my foot, but it was very ouchy!  I hate not finishing things, and thought that I might as well collect the second medal in the series.  I lost about 10 minutes faffing around and deciding what to do.  

It hurt, and I took it very easy.  I heard my name being called behind me, so stopped and waited while my friend caught up with me.  We ran together for a while until we got to an uphill section across a field. The track here was smooth, I could put my foot down with relative confidence and not having to bend it too much meant that it didn't hurt as much as it did when I put it down on the uneven ground.  Plus the pain took my mind off the hill.  I somehow pulled away from my friend - I don't think he'll forgive me for that!  I just kept plodding on.  

I crossed the finish line and made it as far as the table where the timing chips were being collected.  I couldn't go any further.  I stood there and fought back the tears while the first aiders were summoned.  My head of department finished a few seconds behind me and came to see if I was OK.  She even went to fetch my medal for me as I wasn't going anywhere fast!  I got myself checked out by the St John's Ambulance people who advised me to go to A&E at some point.  I decided to have breakfast first.  I was in urgent need of several cups of tea!  

After a couple of hours at A&E I was released with no bones broken but a lovely purple bruise and ligament damage.  It seems that crutches are in order for a while - plus a trip to the GP and physio.  The timing couldn't be worse in terms of training for upcoming marathons - but there isn't a lot I can do about that now.  As it was I came home and spent the afternoon snoozing, only waking up when I moved my foot and it hurt, rather than getting on with the marking I needed to do!  Ah well - I won't be running tomorrow so I can mark those mocks then!

A big thank you to everyone who helped me today.  Especially the nameless runner who stayed with me when I fell.  It has made me realise how daft I have been in the past to run on similar terrain on my own.  

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Did they name this park after me?

A couple of Sundays ago I happened to be running around Battersea Park at about 7am.  I noticed kilometre markers on some lamp posts and decided that, if there was a race going on I'd pay to join in.  I ran a few more laps around the park looking for a race HQ, but couldn't see one, so surmised that the race had been held on Saturday.  I was wrong, as I later found out when friends posted pictures of gorgeous medals in the shape of Battersea Power Station.  I was gutted.  I made a decision to look for races that were happening in London on the Sundays where I would normally be up in town with Husbando.  The aim being to incorporate the 'race' into my long run for the week.  And to add to my bling collection.

After a very short time spent Googling, I found a 10k in Victoria Park organised by The Race Organiser.   I lived briefly in Bethnal Green and have fond memories of a vegetarian Thai restaurant where far too many bottles of wine were consumed on a regular basis, but I wasn't a runner in those days so knew very little of the area apart from the route from the Underground to our flat (past the Fire Station!) and pubs.  The plan was that I would run 3 and a bit miles to the start, run 10k and then run 3 miles back to meet Husbando for lunch. I hadn't factored in a slightly later start time to our journey, which combined with my need to get everywhere too early meant that I'd be 'cutting it fine' (i.e. arriving as registration started rather than 5 minutes before hand!) if I ran to the start.  Never mind - this meant I could take a bag with me, so that I could have warm clothes to wear while waiting.

The start area was well organised, but the start itself was a bit delayed as people were still collecting their race numbers at 9.30am - which is why it is important to allow lots of time to get such things sorted out as most people seemed to turn up at about 9.20am.  The race director managed this with good humour - encouraging us to put our iPhones away and talk to people around us!  We were soon underway.  A little congested at the start - as you can see by my face in the photo above as I try to get past other runners!  I had no plan other than to get round, I knew the course was flat so I was hopeful of getting round in about 50 minutes.  I'd run twice yesterday, parkrun plus a speedy 2 miles, so I certainly wasn't approaching this as anything other than a training run.  I ran the first mile in 7.13mins.  Oops!  I decided that 8min/miles was the pace to aim for, but couldn't make my legs go slow enough for that, so threw caution to the wind and just…er…. ran!  I didn't feel as though I was running well, it didn't feel particularly hard work, and I chatted to various other runners as our paths crossed.  I had a lovely chat with a young lass from Exeter University OTC Harriers, we worked out that she was born about 7 years after I left University of London OTC - I thought this might spur her on, but I am pleased to say that it is ULOTC:1 EUOTC nil!  Three laps meant that there was a good chance I would be lapped, and I was, on my second lap the first two runners flew past - moving so quickly that I felt as though I was standing still.  They finished in 31.16 and 32.00 respectively.

As ever I was doing running maths in my head.  'If I run 8 min/miles for the rest of the race I might get a PB.'  Later this changed to 'Crumbs, I could do 9 min/miles and still get a PB, maybe my maths is out…' Then at the very end I realised I could walk the last couple of hundred meters and still beat my PB.  But I didn't.  The thought did cross my mind - but I knew that I would feel I was cheating in order to make a subsequent PB easier to achieve.  There were three mats at the start and finish - so I started my watch before I crossed the first one and stopped it after I had crossed the last one at the end.  This meant that my chip time was even better!  47.18!  A whole 118 seconds faster than my last PB, making me 24th lady and 4th in my age category (151st overall).  Results were published quickly, and photos were available for viewing and downloading by the time I got home (having run another 6 miles and had lunch etc.) for a very reasonable £3.  The goody bag was descent - water, a juice drink, nature valley bar and some jelly bean type things, plus a medal.  All in al this was a great 10k for a very reasonable price (£13 for UKAA members).

Special thanks must go to the race photographer Basil Thornton who emailed the first picture in this blog to me as a bonus when I ordered some others.  I would never have found it as the number isn't visible and I really like it!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Now I remember why I love road running!

What was I thinking?  I must have signed up for this under the influence of alcohol because I really don't like cross country.  I particularly don't like cross country when it is cold, wet, windy and muddy.  And yet somehow I had signed up for a whole series of cross country races!  The G3 series to be exact.      These are billed as three tough and hilly races of about 10km.  I decided that 10km was just about as far as I'd want to run cross country at the moment, and how 'tough and hilly' could it be?

The answer to that question is: very!  We arrived at Newlands Corner while it was still dark, parked, registered and made use of the loos (not portaloos so that was a bonus!) and then sat in the car to keep warm.  The car park was right next to the start so we waited until very near the 8.30am start time before emerging to shiver with all the other runners.  Today was one of the very few times that I haven't arrived a race and bumped into loads of people I have met before either at other races or in online running communities.  I knew 2 people today, my chauffeur for the morning and my head of department who lives nearby and was running with her running club.

And then we were off.  Downhill  at first, which was nice, but thick, squishy mud from the outset made for slow going even here.  My chauffeur fell over quite early on, but was OK.  I ploughed on, swearing rather a lot!  It was impossible to go faster than a snails pace a lot of the time due to the mud, the narrowness of some of the paths.  For taller runners, low hanging branches may also have hampered their progress.  And then came Martha's Hill for the first time.  Running up that steep hill on sand (yes, really, deep yellow sand that would be lovely on a beach in the sunshine type sand) was a challenge.  I ran, albeit very slowly at times to the very top where a photographer was waiting to capture our red faces for posterity next to the very pretty St Martha's on the Hill Church .

The next section proved to be my downfall - quite literally!  On the steep downhill section my ankle hit the ground at a strange angle and oh boy how it hurt!  The irony was that because I was going down hill and couldn't put too much weight on that poor foot I couldn't stop!  I had to just keep going until I got to the bottom.  It hurt if I ran, but it hurt just as much if I walked - so given that I was half way around it seemed sensible to carry on.  But I slowed right down and walked the steepest uphills and the very steep downhills (running downhill on sand is a bit scary!)  We had to go up Martha's Hill a second time, what joy!  The views, even in the cloudy weather, were stunning.  The marshals on this very well marked out course were friendly and helpful - as were the several bemused dog walkers we encountered!  The distance markers were fairly arbitrarily placed.  I passed the 9km marker as my Garmin pinged to tell me I'd run 6miles (and yes, I know GPS is sometimes a bit off, but that is quite a difference!)

At one point we ran along a little path separated from a road by a hedge and all I could think was 'There's a perfectly good bit of tarmac there, why am I running in mud?'  During the run I chatted with lots of other runners - so many friendly people - which passed the time.  A lovely German man who is returning to Canada next week (that's one way to get out of running the next to races, but a tad extreme) and lots of people who all seemed to know my boss!  The very final section saw us running back through the mud we'd run through at the start.  It was now ankle deep and churned up from all the feet that had been through it.  But the end was now in sight - thankfully!  Standing at the finish waiting for my chauffeur to finish was a wee bit chilly, as the wind picked up and it started to rain properly, but soon we were collecting medals (my first of the year) and a slice of flapjack (*) and making our way to Tillings for a well deserved cup of tea and breakfast.

There is a reason that you get a discount for signing up for all three races: if I hadn't signed up for all three at the start I very much doubt I'd be coming back for more.  That is no reflection on the race or the organisation (which was superb), I just don't enjoy cross country.  Maybe I'll find the love if I do a bit more (I do hope so as I have an off road marathon in June), after all there was a time when I hated running full stop!  By the time I'd finished breakfast I'd gone from 'never again' to 'next time I need to consider x, y and z' (One of those factors being my eyesight - I was struggling to see properly at some points!) so maybe by the end of 2015 I'll love the mud!

Huge thanks to my chauffeur and to my boss for inviting us to join the fitstuff gang for post run breakfast!  I think this is the toughest race I have ever run.

(*)  I loved not having a goody bag!  Much nice to get a selection of food to choose from (banana, brownies and flapjack) than a bag containing flyers and advertising bumf!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Doing the double.

The week between Christmas and New Year is always a strange one.  Days spent wondering what day of the week it is, staring into the fridge trying to work out what to feed the children as it surely can't be healthy for them to eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch and supper.  We have had the added drama this week of my mother in law being taken ill.  A massive stroke on Monday evening.  This has resulted in even more confusion about days of the week.

Running has, as so often, given me time to get away from it all.  Time to process ideas and think through plans.  It also helps to counter the excesses of the Christmas period.  Some people claim that a good run will get rid of a hangover.   I've never found this to be the case but I keep on trying.  

After an excellent night, which took in a 50th birthday party and then dinner with friends and rather a lot of alcohol, the idea of getting up to run seemed slightly less appealing than it had done when I had made my plans earlier in the day.  Husbando needed to pop into the antique fair at Winchester, so we'd do Winchester parkrun and then, because we could we'd go on to Southampton parkrun at 10.30am.  Husbando had run neither before, and Southampton would be a new one for me.  Luckily I sorted out my kit before going out for the night - trail shoes for Winchester and road shoes for Southampton, and clean socks just in case.   I slept in the car on the way there… I did not feel at my best… I wondered if I could volunteer as tail runner, but if I did that we might not have time for the drive between the two locations.  Strangely it didn't occur to me not to run!  

Winchester is three laps of playing fields.  It could be a fast course but, while the weather was infinitely better than last New Year's Day, it was still muddy and the course is predominantly on grass.  As we set off I remarked to Husbando that I didn't like running on grass.  'Well run on the mud then!' was the witty reply from another runner.  It felt like hard work.  My head was pounding, my stomach felt queasy and there was mud EVERYWHERE I looked!  I chatted to a runner as we struggled around the fields - I think he was one of the run directors, and watched as Husbando got further and further and further ahead of me!  I slid across the line in 25:20, got my barcode scanned, used the loos and then we got in the car and on to the M3.  

Parking at Southampton Common was straightforward and free!  I always panic about parking at new events so it is always a relief to find a space.  We walked to the start with one of the volunteers - a throng of runners, many covered in mud splatters from other local parkruns, were all making their way to the start.  I bumped into friends I have made at running events last year, which was lovely.  

After the run brief we found ourselves at the very back of the field.  This was a bit of a mistake as it took a long time to get up to a comfortable running pace.  Husbando ran with me most of the time and we chatted as we ran, both of us agreeing that it was a lovely course.  All on tarmac and a bit like an Escher painting in that we seemed to go downhill a lot more than we ran uphill.  In fact I barely noticed the uphill on the second lap.  I was beginning to feel a little more human and wishing that I could do this run some justice.  No matter - the joy of parkrun is that I can come back another time and have another go.  I haven't set myself an impossible target to beat - 24.59.  And the cafe looks nice too - but it was closed today, so a return visit is a must in 2015.

Thank you to all the volunteers, both those standing around in the cold and wind today and all the behind the scenes people who do some sort of technical wizardry that makes the results appear.  Happy New Year, may your parkruns always be full of friendship and your running shoes always dry.