Monday, 30 May 2016

The one where I started too fast and just kept going.

So, what does one do after running a marathon?  Rest, get a massage, eat all the food in the county?  I did the second and third, in fact I am continuing to do the third item on that list as I type, but I was also signed up for a race today.  I've done the Bupa 10,000m every year for the last six so I wasn't going to let a little thing like change of sponsors stop me running it again.  Despite the fact that it is now the Vitality 10,000m most people (me included) still seem to be calling it by its old name!

After a beautifully warm day yesterday, with no running (don't Sunday's seem very long with no running and no prep work for school the next day?) this morning was cold and grey.  I hastily shoved a pair of long tights into my race bag and headed off to London town.  Every station saw more lycra clad bodies embark.  I snoozed and faffed around on my phone, I groaned as I stepped down from the train as my quads screamed at me, groaned some more (ok, lots more) as I struggled down the steps to the ladies' loos and was instantly cheered when I saw that the barrier had been propped open so that I could just walk in rather than paying 30p to spend a penny!  And there was loo roll!  The day was looking up!
The lovely Caz being photo bummed

Thence, on the underground, to Green Park.  To say it was congested would be an understatement.  I suspect that the situation wasn't helped by the inability of the vast majority of the runners to walk up the escalator!  The Jubilee Line isn't a deep station.  Arriving in Green Park the feeling of congestion continued - it was very busy.  By chance I bumped into some friends and saw some sights that can't be unseen!  Still - we had a giggle, proving that we are totally mature and respectable.   It was jolly chilly as we hung around, so pretty quickly we decided to stow our bags and think about warming up.  We got separated on the way to the bag drop - as I spotted another friend and went over to say hello, so I dropped my bag and joined the loo queue.  It was a HUGE queue and there were only 25 minutes until the start of the race.  I wasn't convinced I would make it to the front of the queue before I needed to start running - so when I saw yet another friend I left the queue and went with them to the start, convincing myself I really didn't need that last nervous wee!

John in a moonlit Green Park
In previous years each starting pen has been separated into three zones: A, B and C.  That was not the case this year so each pen contained runners with vastly different anticipated finish times.  I was in the front starting pen - a first for me - and feeling far from confident.  I was pointed in the direction of 'my friend' and looked over to see another brave soul/total idiot in a Kent Roadrunner vest.  I must have seen him several times on Saturday - but we hadn't actually met before.  We chatted, had a photo taken, agreed that we were both as mad as a box of frogs.  I explained that I was going to try to maintain my marathon pace (about 9min/mile) and see if I could survive.

And then we were off.  After about 400m I looked at my watch and though 'Woah lady!  Ease off!' so I did, only managing to slow down to 7.57 for the first mile.  It hurt, it hurt a lot, but I was able to move.  I clicked through the miles (I don't do kilometres!) and they were all under 8min/mile.  I was astounded.  I kept waiting for the wheels to come off, but they didn't.  I passed a runner with a shirt that said 'Race official - do not pass' on the back.  I got to the 5km mark in about 24.50 and though - I can do 10 minute miles now and still be under an hour! But I just carried on running.  Back along the Strand, down past the Houses of Parliament and then round to Birdcage Walk and the '800m to go' sign.  That was when the wheels really started to wobble.   I was not going to slow down now, but I really struggled to keep going.  I swear that the gap between the 800m and the 400m signs was well over 700m.  At the 400m sign I could see the 200m sign, and by the time I got to the 100m sign I could see the wonderful, beautiful finish.  I didn't care about the scenic backdrop of Buckingham Palace - all I had eyes for was that finish mat!  I was done.  And in under 50 minutes.  Far better than I'd anticipated!

The medal is quite nice - double sided, and the goody bag wasn't too shabby.  I still think the old route, through Leadenhall Market and along the Embankment, was better, but to be honest I was too busy concentrating on running to take in the sights!  Next year is the 10th running of this race - so no doubt I'll be back again.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

A tale of sacrificial buffs and over reliance on technology.

 I had a score to settle with this race.  Last year I had an awful time and had sworn that I would never enter it again.  That resolve lasted all of about 5 minutes as a friend threatened to snag my number if I didn't do it!  I wanted to run this year's event for fun.  At Paris in April  I had put myself under enormous pressure to run a sub 4 marathon, which for various reasons did not happen.  I was despondent and very self critical for a while.  Yesterday I decided that I was just going to go out and run - I gave myself permission to walk from the cones on 'Tourette's Hill' to the fence at the top if I wanted to.  I did not print a pace band as I did not want to feel I had a target to meet.

It was cold and raining when we arrived at the Cyclopark.  When I'd packed my bag I had relied on the BBC Weather forecast so had no rain jacket, thankfully I'd thrown a cap in at the very last minute, so it was sunglasses off and cap on.  I set off with the friend I ran with last year.  We chatted and ran, ran and chatted and, for me, the time was passing very pleasantly.  Not so for her unfortunately.  It turned out to be a reversal of last year - we parted company at about 11 miles again, having averaged around 8.50 min/miles, I left my friend by the personal drink station table we had set up and ran on alone.  It had stopped raining just before the start of the race and had become warm and humid but still overcast.  On one of the slight inclines of the lapped course there was a slight breeze which was lovely, after that it was a downhill towards two of the most amazing marshals ever - Neil and Les - I asked them to keep a look out for my friend and next time round was reassured that she was doing OK.  After this, on 20 consecutive laps, came Tourette's Hill.  Let me assure you, it is wisely named!  The stretch up to the finish area is slightly uphill - but enlivened by two aid stations, loads of supporters, including the most energetic, loud, curly haired girl on the bridge who was cheering and shouting out names as we passed below.

I was feeling good, I'd settled into a steady 9min/mile pace (according to my watch) that I was more than happy with and just settled down to keep on until the end.  In my mind I knew that 9 min/mile pace would give me just sub 4hrs, just enough sub 4hrs to allow, I hoped, for Garmin's notorious inaccuracy on lapped courses.  I slowed down a few times to check that other runners were OK - a friend from Basingstoke parkrun had lapped me a couple of times, so I was shocked when I lapped him.  We had a brief chat then, and I seem to recall that, later on, I walked backwards up a hill while asking him if he was ok!  I slowed again to help a lady who felt sick.  I say 'help,' what I actually did was stop, ask if she was OK, ask if she would like some water, gave her my water bottle and then ran on.  Half a lap later I remembered that it was my favourite water bottle and I had no idea who she was!

At some point the heaven't opened and we got a proper drenching!  I felt sorry for the supporters then as standing around in the rain is far more miserable than running in it.  I don't think it lasted longand after the rain we had bright, hot sunshine and a lot less humidity!  This is where having a personal drinks station was great - it meant I could change from cap to sunnies and back again without deviating from the route.  I was running and chatting and smiling and running - having a great time.  My right quad, which had been tight all week, was still tight, but that was more than countered by the pain in my left foot from the Morton's neuroma, so at least I was fairly balanced!   The new course, shorter laps but more of them, was great, the laps seemed to tick by very quickly.

There's a saying amongst long distance runners, 'Never trust a fart after 20 miles.'  With this in mind I took advantage of the conveniently located, track side, portaloos.   Too late I realised that there was no loo roll!  This was a bit of a catastrophe. I had a £10 note in my pocket (although I'd forgotten about that at the time) but there wasn't a scrap of anything remotely loo roll like anywhere to hand.  I considered sacrificing a sock - but with about 6 miles to go that seemed like the way to ensure blisters.  Then I saw my lovely, lovely White Star Running buff around my wrist.  Needs must etc.  I can buy a new one.  I have long thought that some one should make a buff which has a perforated strip along one end for just this sort of situation.

Back out on the road again, I found my legs had started to stiffen up a little during my comfort break.  I looked at my watch and figured I should be able to get sub 4 if I could just maintain my pace.  I realised too late (i.e. the end of my penultimate lap) that my Garmin was way off the mark and that I wouldn't be able to get back enough time in one lap!  According to Garmin, I passed the 26.2 mark in 3hrs 57min - but I still had a way to go.  I eventually got to the finish line in 4hrs 4mins and some seconds with my lying Garmin reading 26.9 miles.

Oddly, given how upset I was after Paris, I was not at all disappointed.  I'd set out to have a good time, not to run a good time.  I'd had a great time running with amazing people, supported by yet more amazing people and my time wasn't too shabby either!  It had been my most evenly paced marathon to date too, not perfect by any means - but there is no 18 mile dip in pace (this is normally where I get bored with the idea of running and my pace plummets).  So all in all a good day at the office.  I was given my humungous medal, my quirky goody bag, brand new and gorgeous buff (that will never be sacrificed!) bottle of beer and went to have my photo taken by the amazing Stuart, who can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear and me look halfway decent after a 26.2 miles.  Then it was time for a quick, painful, sports massage with a lovely student from the University of Kent before going back outside to chat and cheer and support other runners.

This is such a lovely race for chatting with and getting to know other people.  You see the supporters every time you go around the track, they feel like members of your family by the end.  If you are suffering they will give you a hug and a few words of encouragement to spur you on your way.  I remember thinking that the runners were all really considerate and polite.  There was lots of lapping going on, but there runners seemed to pass each other without any of the agro you sometimes see in big city races and, dare I say it, parkrun.

So, a HUGE thank you to all at tzruns, and to all the marshals and supporters, especially the girl with curly hair on the bridge.  You are all amazing and I had a great time.  Same again next year?   I can't wait that long, so will be back in Kent for the first Kent Coyote marathon in September.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

A day of firsts.

I don't really know where to start with this blog entry.  I have so much that I want to write and I know I will forget to say something or muddle things up.  So grab yourself a cup of tea, because I think this might be a long one!

Yesterday was the inaugural 'Wickham Whistler,'  the first race organised by On The Whistle.  It was a timed challenge event rather than a traditional race.  The basic premise is that you have 6 hrs to complete as many laps (3.5 miles each) as you want.  You can complete one lap and still get a fantastic medal or you can carry on (and on).   This type of event is an awesome way for runners of all abilities to take part - everyone is a winner!  The venue was a winner too, taking place on the Meon Valley Trail which is a discussed railway line and very scenic.

We pitched up to the start area at about 8.30am, collected our numbers, 69 for me, 70 for Husbando (who quipped that he wants more than 69), and wandered into Wickham to grab some breakfast.  The Village Bakery was open so we grabbed a cheese and bacon pastry and a cup of coffee each and sat in the sun commenting on the fact that this probably wasn't the best pre-race nutrition strategy, but it was very tasty, and as we had some coffee left it might be a good idea to grab a Belgian bun too.  Having removed tell tale crumbs from our clothing we wandered back to the start area, said hello to a few people we recognised and waited for the race brief.  It was great to talk to Steve from Film My Run - I've seen him at several races, but this was the first time I'd actually 'met' him (his film of the race can be seen here).  The race was started, obviously, with the blowing of a whistle.

We ran out...
Husbando, having decided that he will run his first marathon in Paris next spring, decided that this would be the first time he had run a half marathon since he was 17!  Off we went with 148 other runners, on a lovely sunny morning.  The outward leg was ever so slightly up hill, the inbound leg ever so slightly down hill - not so much that, in the early stages, it had any noticeable impact on pace. When approaching an ultra my normal approach is to start slow, and get slower slowly.  But we were running a half marathon.  We set off at a comfortable pace - somewhere around the 8.40min/mile pace, chatting with runners near us, and generally having a lovely time.  I did a strip tease part way through the first lap - it was far too hot to be wearing a long sleeved top under my tshirt - thankfully I seem to have done this well away from anyone with a camera.  Back at 'base camp' we grabbed a drink and some sweets and then went out and did it all again (minus the strip tease)!
…and we ran back

I've been suffering with Morton's Neuroma, mainly in my left foot, but sometimes in the right one too.  This was a two footed pain day.  As long as I am careful, and stick to fairly smooth ground under my foot the pain is manageable, it is when I stand on a bumpy stone that it gets 'owy'!  This meant that, on a packed gravel path, I had to tread carefully.

At the end of lap 2 we realised we had covered 7 miles - so the laps were longer than advertised.  Suddenly Husbando wasn't just running his first marathon since he was a teenager (i.e. a very long time ago), he was also running his longest run ever.  We hit 10 miles in 1hr 25(ish) minutes, and the half marathon (13.1 miles) distance in 1hr 53mins - not a bad time, but not a great start to an ultra!  Husbando found the last lap tough going - groin pain was complained about at one point - but we still managed to pick up a bit of pace at the end of the lap to finish the '14 mile half marathon' in 2.01.23.  He rang the bell, and received his medal - I hung around for a few minutes for hugs and celebratory photos and another handful of Haribos before setting off on my own.
He's done it!

This is the bit I hadn't been looking forward to.  We'd spent the first 4 laps chatting to each other and having brief conversations with other runners as they ran in the other direction, but I was now very conscious that I was all by myself.  And I had at least another 14 miles to run.  I made a conscious effort to slow down, at 16.35miles I was lapped for the first time - we had a little chat as he ran past me - and I was aware that one of the 2 ladies in front of me had stopped running.  This event was not about 'winning,' but the competitive part of me couldn't help but think I might be the second lady.  At the end of lap 5, having collected yet another hair band from the very helpful children handing them out, I saw the other lady sitting by the aid station with a medal around her neck.  She'd run 17 miles and decided to call it quits.  Now all I had to do was to keep running and not get lapped by any of the women and I could get my name closer to the top of a results table than ever before.

Last lap selfie!
Where did I put the lap bands?
Half way through lap 6 I met up with Ian and Helen, and asked if I could run with them.  They explained that they were run/walking - 9 minutes running/1 minute walking, but I was welcome to join them.  We had a great time, talking about everything from hypnobirthing to Everest Base Camp and the miles flew by.  We had 'lunch' at the end of lap 7 - an extended stop at the aid station, where I tried to inhale as many Haribos as possible (lots) and we chatted with other runners.  Back on the course, the other runners looked to be having as much fun as we were, there was lots of encouraging exchanges and friendly banter.  I hit 26.3miles in 4hrs 19 minutes - not bad for a 'for the fun of it/messing around and stopping to pig out marathon!'  I was a lap ahead of Ian and Helen and had told them that I was going to do a marathon (28 miles) and then a victory lap.  I said that I would let them go ahead at this point as I was going to take it slowly 5 mins running/5 mins walking.  In the end I got bored 2 minutes into a walk break so decided to run for 10mins at walk for 2!  During my 'victory lap' I had my first ever compliment on my running style.  The lovely man who finished a lap ahead of everyone said that he was glad to have caught up with me as he wanted to tell me that I had an 'amazing running style!'  He said I looked so 'relaxed and fluid and comfortable!'  That made my day as I approached what I thought would be my last turnaround point and kept me going as I flew (=hobbled, swore as feet landed on sticky up stones that I couldn't work out how to avoid) towards the 31.5 mile mark where I planned to finish (time on my watch 5hrs 14mins) and there was Husbando!

I had every intention of stopping, I honestly did, but the naughty race director told me that I had loads of time to do another lap. 31.5 miles would be my longest run so would have been a great achievement, but 35 miles is a more pleasing number, and 10 laps sounds so much better than 9.  Husbando was still in his running gear (he'd been off to do some work and came back to pick me up) so I said we should walk the last lap together.  I started my Garmin again and off we went.   We started walking and then tried to run - I think I had stopped/walked for too long to run easily again, and Husbando was feeling the miles he'd done that morning too.   It was lovely to do one final lap - this lap was so quiet compared to the the previous laps.  Husbando and I took our time and took some photos, I still managed what felt like a sprint finish, but was probably more of a ponderous wobble, to the finish line and, finally, rang the 'I quit' bell.  Sweaty hugs all round - followed by a medal, some Haribos and a drink!   My watch said 6hrs 01min - but I knew that the eventual time would be a bit longer as I'd stopped it before the last lap, the results table shows me finishing in 6hrs 03mins and 55secs - I am more than happy with that!

This was an amazing day out.  I had worried that the backwards and forwards laps would be mind numbingly dull, but the runners and marshals were all so friendly that time just flew.  Breaking a marathon down into laps makes it much more manageable than counting individual miles (even when that marathon is 28 miles long!)  I haven't had so much fun running for a long time.  Most people I saw were laughing and smiling and running well all the way through the event.  The organisation was brilliant - a lovely low key event that was run by runners for runners.   Sadly I am on holiday when On The Whistle will be holding their next event, The World Emoji Day Run, but it looks like fun and the medals are going to be awesome.  I reckon this one will be a sell out too, just like yesterday's race.

Turn around scarecrow!