Sunday, 29 April 2018

Wickham Whistler III

When I looked at the race calendar and the family calendar earlier this year it appeared that I would not be able to take part in this fabulous little event.  I thought I'd be spending child no. 4's birthday ferrying him up to Staines to complete his scuba open water diving training.  I was gutted as I'd run the previous two Wickham Whistlers and love supporting On The Whistle.  On Wednesday last week a lift share was organised for the boy - but the race had sold out. I asked the very accommodating organisers if they could keep me in mind if anyone dropped out.... and my luck was in.  They even made sure I got my favourite number!

The Whistler is a 6hr challenge event - run as many laps as you like within the cut off to get your medal.  I only needed to run a half marathon and, realistically, only had time to run a half marathon.  This meant I would need to complete four laps.  I arrived early, paid my money, picked up my number and then retreated to my car because I wasn't feeling terribly sociable!  My stomach was feeling very dodgy - I've spotted a bit of a pattern here, I don't eat much meat during the week, and the food I eat tends to be fairly simple.  Lunch is often a bowl of ramen, supper is a bit of cheese and some crackers.  Then at the weekend on a Saturday evening we invite friends over and BBQ enough meat to feed a small army and the next day I feel ghastly!  I eventually emerged from the car and chatted with friends.  

After our race briefing we were off.  It was a lot muddier than I anticipated.  The conditions underfoot have got wetter every year - next year I predict we will have a swimming section!  The route is out an and back along a disused railway track, the bluebells were visible in the woods to either side, we ran under bridges and past rivers - it was all very pleasant if a little chilly.  Each lap is 3.3 miles.   I ran the first lap, listening in to conversations of those around me.  My tummy was grumbling and my head wasn't really where I needed to be.  It was going to be a long four laps.  The second lap nearly broke me.  The running wasn't hard, but I got it into my head that I had run this route so many times and I really didn't want to run it again.  I considered finishing at the end of the lap and completing another 6.5 miles on my own.   I got to the aid station, filled my water bottle(*) and considered my options.  While I was pondering a familiar face came up to the aid station.  We share a mutual friend and see each other at lots of events, but have never really done much more than say hello to each other.  I asked if I could run with her for a lap.  She protested that she was slower than me, and I said I'd rather run slower than nor run at all, so we grabbed some snacks (sausages and fudge are an odd combination but do hit the spot)  and set off for lap number three.

Talking certainly made the time pass faster.  We chatted about all sorts of things - discovering that we are both members of FetchEveryone and both post on the same forum. To be fair, she had worked out who I was ages ago - but I'm not very quick on the uptake!  At the end of lap three I saw a familiar face at the aid station - he'd run to Wickham to run a lap with me.  We'd met at various On The Whistle events but haven't seen each other for ages.  He graciously slowed his speedy pace to plod along with me.  We walked a bit when I really thought my guts were going to revolt - if I could have made myself throw up I would have done, but I managed to hold everything together and muster a bit of speed towards the end.  

I rang the bell to signal I was done, and collected my medal - and a raffle prize from the Chilly Hilly back in January.  I may or may not have told someone that it was a prize for the being the coolest person at the race.....   I am glad I stuck it out - this week's training miles are in the bag and I can take it easy until Tuesday now!   

Thank you to everyone at On The Whistle for a great morning - the hugs, encouragement and laughter are much appreciated!

(*) Hats off to On The Whistle - they are encouraging everyone to bring their own water bottle to reduce the number of plastic cups being used.  

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Portsmouth Lakeside parkrun

For someone who doesn't really do 'parkrun touring' I seem to have visited a fair few parkruns over the last month or so!  I like to take advantage of being in the area for something else rather than making a special journey if that makes sense.  This Saturday morning I had to drop my youngest son off in Petersfield at 8am (to go SCUBA diving), so had plenty of time to get to a new to me parkrun.  I decided Portsmouth Lakeside parkrun looked like a good option - it also gave me the option of visiting Shit Weasel (you may remember him from adventures in Tanzania) afterwards.  I did no more research than to ask a friend for a postcode to point my sat nav towards - in my defence last week was somewhat hectic - and that was a mistake!

Portsmouth Lakeside parkrun is very easy to find, there is plenty of parking and friendly marshals to point you in the right direction.  The first marshal I saw was wearing a cape, which is when I got an inkling that maybe I should have done a bit of research, but the second one I encountered was just wearing a hi-viz vest (over their clothes -obviously) so I was willing to put the cape down to mild eccentricity.  On parking the car I spotted two Wonder Women, some Super Men and various other caped crusaders.  Oh dear!  I had pitched up for Super Hero Day without a costume! It was also their second birthday and all this combined with a graduating Couch to 5K course made for a very busy parkrun.

The course is very flat, on tarmac and hard packed gravel - with a fair few puddles due to all the April showers.  If you like a course with lots of out and back bits where you can see other runners - which I do - then you'll love this course.  There were loads of opportunities to spot friends - and I am always amazed at the number of people I know at parkrun - and offer encouragement.  I loved the fact that you can't see too far ahead at any point on the route - there is always a corner or a turn coming up soon.  I am not sure I actually saw the lake - although I did see tents with people fishing from them - so I must have been a bit daft to miss it!  The main landmark I spotted was the Porshe garage!  I spent quite a lot of time avoiding puddles rather than running in a straight line (no clean trainers in the car - school girl error!) and that, combined with feeling as though I have been beaten up after trying yoga for the first time earlier this week, meant my time wasn't as fast as last week or as fast as I'd like on such a flat course, but 25:28 and 14th lady (86th overall) is OK considering I need to run at least 13 miles tomorrow.  I was also somewhat hampered by the fact that my running tights kept falling down!

After the run, everyone retires to the Starbucks near the start.  I chatted to a few people, but dashed off fairly sharpish to meet SW.  Lovely to see him and his fiancĂ© again.  We went out to breakfast at the Southwick Tea Rooms in the gorgeous village of Southwick.  You can't buy a house in this village as they are all part of the Southwick estate - it is beautiful and charming and the Tea Rooms are excellent.  Possibly the best post parkrun breakfast I have ever had (eggs Benedict with a pot of tea and a slice of coffee cake to bring home).

So that was Portsmouth Lakeside parkrun.  Huge thank you to all the volunteers as always!   I may break my non touring rules next week to go and see a friend who is running near this space!

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Victoria Dock - or total and utter bollards!

What a beautiful parkrun!  I haven't done many London parkruns - but this one must be up there in terms of scenery - but before I wax lyrical about Victoria Dock parkrun let's just back pedal a bit to explain why I found myself leaving the house at 6am on a Saturday morning.

This is, of course, the marathon weekend.  Apparently there are other marathons, but London is the only one that seems to count.  This results in thousands of runners and supporters converging at the Excel for the expo to collect their race numbers and try to resist the pressure to spend money on yet more running kit.  The local parkruns see a huge surge in numbers and, when looking at social media, it became clear that a fair few people I know but don't see often enough were planning to visit the relatively new event in Royal Victoria Dock.  I had no reason to be in London.  I had less desire for an early start, but somehow my wish to see people again won out and I found myself setting the alarm for 5.30am!

I chose to 'let the train take the strain' (I seem to think that this catch phrase may have been used in an advertising campaign featuring the late, unlamented, Jimmy Savile - but I have no desire to Google him and find out).  I'd planned this after nearly falling asleep driving to Brighton last week - and then stayed wide awake all the way to Waterloo!  The day started to look up when the lady in Pret A Manger  gave me a free coffee which I drank on the Tube.  Walking up onto the DLR platform at Canning Town I spotted a familiar pair of legs and a 250 top.  I tentatively called her name - not 100% sure I had the right person as I haven't seen her in years as she's been in New Zealand for ages now.  It was her - possibly the speediest female runner I can claim to know, but so supportive to plodders like me.  She'd made a bit of a schoolgirl error though, and left her barcode in her hotel room - so I offered take her bag to the start while she jogged back to grab it.  

The start was easy to find - at the end of the dock!  There was a sea of apricot t-shirts and a smattering of familiar faces.  VD parkrun (and if anyone is qualified to abbreviate the name it is I!) have use of a 'community hut' which is a brilliant place to store kit, leave bags and there is a loo too!  Just the one - which on a normal week is more than sufficient, this week I figure there were more people queuing for the loo than ran there last week.  Being British I joined the queue! 

The dock is underneath the flight path for the City Airport and the cable car - the closest public transport to the start line is the Emirates cable car stop.  We had clear skies and warm weather, the beds near the the start were beginning to bloom, the views along the dock were stunning.  

We massed at the start - behind a line of bollards and were soon off.  The first part of the route featured a lot of bollards, and much hilarity about bollards ensued.  The route is U shaped, starting and finishing at the base of the U, which means that you get to see lots of runners coming back towards you.  It is all on paths - with a variety of surfaces, possibly more cobbles than there were in the Paris marathon and definitely more than in the London marathon!  It is as flat a pancake, which made for lots of speedy runs today - my first sub 25 minute parkrun for ages included!  The geography here means that you are going to get some lovely headwinds here - but only for half the run - the breeze today was quite welcome as it was warm this morning.  And the views!  Wonderful!  We ran past a floating hotel, warehouses converted to flats, a couple of utilitarian hotels and the old dockside cranes as well as the newly landscaped area near the start, but all the time we were by the water and there were aeroplanes flying overhead and cable cars bobbing backwards and forwards.  Stunning!

Hats off to all the volunteers today.  This was their sixth event and they coped brilliantly with the surge in numbers (93 last week, 252 this week).  The marshals were friendly and encouraging.  Free coffee was available at the finish - a lovely touch as the local cafes didn't seem to be open yet and my results email came in before I finished my train journey home.  For those interested in tri training, I noted that there was hut where you could hire wetsuits to swim in the dock.  Even as a non swimmer I have to admit that this looked tempting today.   All in all a lovely morning out - lovely to see so many parkrun friends and meet new people.  

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Brighton 10k and marathon supporting.

Up even earlier than yesterday to return to Preston Park for the start of the 10k. The traffic was heavier than yesterday, due to road closures and the whole world seemingly trying to get to the start line.  Thankfully I wasn't driving today, four of us were travelling together and one of our number knows Brighton well.  He wasn't phased by the diversions and got us to the parking he had arranged safely.  We grabbed a coffee and used the loos in a nearby Starbucks, probably lingering a bit too long there as we then had to route march to the park.  

We arrived just 15 minutes before the start, then had to run through the thronging marathon runners across the park to the bag drop, then back across the park to the 10k start.  By this point Husbando and I had become separated from our friends, so headed on into the red starting pen.  There were just two pens, one for those anticipating finishing in 60 mins or under and another for those who were going to take longer.  We were late joining the pen - just a minute before the start time, so were pretty close to the back of the pen 'up to 60 minutes' pen.  The race was started by Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE (founder of parkrun and all round good egg), who was still on the starting line waving and greeting runners as we passed the start.  

I ran with Husbando for the first mile.  His natural pace is much faster than mine and, even when he is slowing down to run with me, it is a bit faster than I feel comfortable with at the moment.  We spent the first mile overtaking people, loads of people.  There were so many people wearing headphones - blissfully unaware of the runners around them - making it really hard for people to overtake them.   I don't know why people run races with headphones in.  I train with music (or an audio book) but part of the buzz of a race is soaking up the atmosphere, listening to the bands, striking up conversations with strangers etc. Anyway, each to their own I suppose.   After the first mile Husbando went on at his own pace while I settled in to 'just get round.'  It is a long time since I ran a 10k or a road race, and after a winter of ill health I had no idea what to expect.  I'd set myself a goal of 54 minutes - which required me to run just under 9min/mile pace I was running faster than that,  I ran the first 5k faster than I have run any parkrun this year (despite a short, sharp hill at about 3.5k in).    

The route was interesting, running past parks and through residential areas before returning to the sea front with a nice out and back section.  I ran the out section looking out for Husbando eventually spotting him shortly before the turnaround point.  We tried for a high-5 but I ended up slapping him in the chest.  I spent the 'back' section looking for our other friends... they must have been there but I missed them.  This part of the race was lovely - a nice straight line, ever so slightly downhill and the end was in sight, well not exactly in sight, but I knew it was there!  I'd spent the entire race overtaking people, but put on an extra bit of pace, only belatedly spotting the photographers when it was too late to pull in my stomach and smile, in a sudden desire to cross the line in front of a few more people.  I stopped my watch after I crossed the final timing mat - and noted that it read 53 mins and a few seconds.  I was thrilled.  Even more thrilled when I got the official time.  It is still a long way off my PB, but faster than I'd anticipated.  Husbando ran a tad over 49minutes - his dodgy knee holding out well.

We collected out medals, our alcohol free beer (tasted nice but left a strange after taste best taken away with real beer) and posed for photos before collecting our bags and wandering back along the beach where we, eventually, met up with our friends.  Lunch followed (pizzas and beers at Franco Manco) then coffee at the very excellent Marwoods (a place we would never have ventured in to if it had not been recommended by one of our group).  We met one of the owners and had some of the best coffee I have ever drunk.  

Then it was back outside to try to spot my daughter.  The whole reason we were in Brighton was to see her and cheer her on.  We missed her at the first place we wanted to see her (a glitch in the tracking app meant we were off with time) so we headed to the 25 mile marker and spent an hour and a bit shouting at random strangers, and a few familiar faces, before we saw her coming around the corner.  She looked amazing, and a bit cross!  'Where the f*cking f*ck were you?' was her greeting before she powered off towards the finish line!  She finished in just over 5hrs.  I am incredibly proud of her!  She ran for Mind and has raised over £1000 for them already.  I won't say too much about her race - mainly because she is off drinking with her friends now, and it is her race to talk about if she wishes, but if you want to donate to Mind you can donate by going to her Just Giving page.

All in all, this was a great event.  If I wasn't already booked on 14th April next year I would be signing up for the marathon.  The atmosphere was excellent and the organisation was good.  What's not to like?

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Preston Park parkrun

 79 miles is a long way to go for a parkrun.  I am not in the habit of touring for the sake of touring, I like my Saturday lie ins far too much, but today I needed to go to Brighton to pick up race numbers for tomorrow's 10k.  70 miles is a long way to go for a 10k, but my daughter is running her first marathon and as I am not marathon fit then the 10k is as much as I can manage to support her.

Anyway, back to parkrun.  I checked that it was going ahead, the marathon and 10k start in Preston Park, and read up about parking on the course page and then set out at daft o'clock to make sure I got there in plenty of time.  I did, but then had a bit of a parking nightmare, as I couldn't park in the park and had to find on street parking that wasn't 'permit holders only' and that was big enough for me to incompetently parallel park my hire car.  Then there was a stress filled 10 minutes where I had to work out how to pay - downloading an app on my smartphone as this seemed to be the only way to pay and making my way to the start just in time to listen to the first time runners' briefing.  

We were soon on the start line, the mist that had plagued my drive down had cleared and it was starting to get quite warm.  The course is a three lapper, all on tarmac paths with the added excitement this week of running through inflatable arches.   There is an out and back section - I always love an out and back section so I can people spot.  I spotted a bloke with a beard (I know - how unusual and in Brighton too?) and thought 'Oh, he looks a bit like Paul Sinton-Hewitt,' and didn't think much more about it until looking at the results.  It had been PSH, I should have said hello, but I didn't get the chance.

I didn't go for an all out effort today.  I finished in 26.19, trying to save something for tomorrow, but it felt quite comfortable and I managed a sneaky sprint finish to overtake someone just before the finish line.  The volunteers on the course were super, really vocal in their encouragement and support - thank you to all of them!

I didn't hang around afterwards, as I had to get to the Event Village to pick up race packs, a four mile round trip with the deadline of pre-paid parking hanging over me!   It is another early start tomorrow morning as we return to Brighton.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Netley Abbey parkrun

Yesterday afternoon I had no idea where I would be parkrunning this morning.  Then we invited friends over for supper and a plot was hatched, by two of us, to go to Netley Abbey parkrun.  I had a sleepless night, my oldest child had friends over in advance of his 21st birthday today and, while they were very quiet, I was aware of them moving around.  Added to that, Husbando was up at 4.30am to go to a book fair in Bath.  Despite this I managed to be awake and ready to leave at 7.45am, having checked the forecast when my friend arrived.  The forecast for Southampton promised that it would be dry until 10am.  

I was not impressed to arrive in the rain, but there was little we could do, and after we parked, paid for our parking ticket and debated trail or road shoes - one of the volunteers said trail - the rain had eased off and we joined the regulars near the finish.  Today's tail runner came and said hello and pointed out where the first timers' briefing was - we listened attentively - although left and right as JB will testify are a mystery to me at the best of times let alone while running.  All I needed to do was remember that it was three laps, with two hills in each lap, and to follow the person in front.

At the start line I put myself in the middle of the pack, but was actually behind the 30 (and possibly the 32) minute pacer!  The start was a quite slow, the field soon spread out.  The winter course at Netley Abbey is an 'out and back with loopy bits!'  I do like a run where I can see other runners coming towards me.  There were two uphill sections on the first half of each lap, followed by a long downhill section.  The course was mainly on tarmac, with lots of puddles, and a short section on grass.  We went through 'Bluebell Woods' and along the shoreline.   Trail shoes were not really necessary.  

Towards the end of the second lap I lapped the tail walker and was lapped by the first finisher - at the same time!  The first finisher completed the run in 16:58 - nearly two minutes faster than the next runner.  I finished in just over 26 minutes - I might have been faster if I hadn't almost lost my barcode wrist band when taking off my running jacket.  I was thrilled to get my first top 100 finish time in a very long time.

Having had our barcodes scanned, we asked the friendly volunteers for directions to the cafe - just a few minutes walk away - where we had a quick coffee while finding out that Royal Victoria Country Park was the sight of the first purpose built military hospital (Royal Victoria or Netley Hospital) which opened in 1863.  At one time it was the largest hospital in the world.  Now only the chapel remains.   There is also a railway in the park - the Royal Victoria Railway.  I'd spotted the tracks while we were running - but was doubting myself as JB had not seen them.

This is definitely a parkrun that deserves a second visit - I'd love to go back when the bluebells are out and it would be good to run their summer course too.  Thanks to all the volunteers and to my driver for the day - sorry for my dodgy left/right directions!