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.