Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Hey Mickey!

After an arduous week, we found ourselves at Disneyland Paris prepared for a weekend of fun at the House of Mouse.  It is amazing how  much more fun Disneyland is without small children in tow!  In lieu of small children we met up with friends who we had convinced that running at Disney was 'a good thing' for at least long enough for them to sign up to the races, book accommodation and hand over the money.  We arrived at the Expo to collect our race numbers late on Friday afternoon, the Expo was small, and the shop lacked such essentials as fridge magnets and mugs, but I still managed to spend an unreasonable amount of Husbando's money for him!  We signed up for a photopass - which I managed to lose within minutes and, despite having all the paperwork, was unable to cancel it...ho hum...that will teach me to try to multi task.  T-shirts were collected.  Quite a haul of t-shirts as we had entered all three races and this qualified us for two extra challenges, the 31k and the 36k challenge.  Learning from last year, when the 2XL ladies shirt was smaller than my SMALL Paris marathon shirt I had ordered XL - slightly roomy, but considering I normally wear a small they still haven't got their sizes right.  They don't seem to have sorted their starting pens out yet either - a friend of ours, who runs a 1.31 half - was put in pen D.  He was told that there was no way of changing pens, yet we later found out that other runners had been told a different story and had managed to change their pen allocation.

We had a quick dash to our room in the Newport Bay to change, put on Mickey Mouse ears (OK that was just me) and make out way to the starting pen.  We'd been told that the pens closed at 7.30, and as we made our way to pen A we saw some amazing costumes, my ears and my Kent Road Runner vest didn't really feel as though I had made enough effort.  We huddled in the pen, trying to keep warm and trying to get as close to the front as possible.  Our aim was to get away quickly and then slow down, so that we could avoid queues for photos with characters.  Paula Radcliffe was on the start line with her children, and as we moved forwards I realised we were going to start about 5 or 6 rows behind her.

First to leave, however, were the wheelchair athletes and runners with various other physical disabilities.  This is a good strategy in theory, if the athletes were all in racing chairs and propelling themselves faster than most runners can dream of running, but a lot of these chairs were being pushed by helpers and they went off at such a short time interval before the rest of the runners that it could have been dangerous - especially as there was a sharp right hand bend on a downhill slope immediately after the start!

Awesome costumes!
There was the usual 'rousing' pre race performance...I think it was Thor/Thanos based - but Friday is a long time ago and my memory is shot...and then we were off.  We set off as fast as we could, running out  through the Village and in through the Studios.  After a couple of days without running my legs were eager to go fast, so I let them, Husbando is much faster than me, so he let me set the pace.  Quite soon I spotted Paula just ahead of me, looking like she was taking a stroll in the park with her super speedy children!  I thought I could overtake her, so I did.  After all it isn't every day that you can say you overtook a World Champion!

My triumph lasted for a few minutes, possibly as many as 5, but probably less.  I was running as fast as I could, while still retaining the ability to talk!  We stopped for several character photos (Paula and her children weren't pulling *that* far away from us) and still managed to finish the 5k in 23mins 6 seconds.  Here we were lucky enough to grab a photo with Paula Radcliffe before collecting our medals and heading off to wait for our friends and enjoy a nice cold beer or two.  Because a cold beer or two is the perfect way to fuel for a 10k early the next morning....

The combination of beer, being every so slightly pumped at running my fastest 5k in a very long time, not enough food and getting properly cold meant that I found it hard to fall asleep.... so was not best pleased when the alarm went off just before 5am...

Taking it easy during the 10k
But one of the good things about an early morning race at Disney is that you get TWO breakfasts.  One before the race and another when you get back.  As we huddled in the cold in the starting pen we (again) decided that we would run fast at the start and then ease off so that we could get as many photos as possible while avoiding the queues. Well, the best laid plans and all that... after nearly wiping out a group of people walking around the corner at the start, we ended up running fast (for me) the whole way, stopping for photos with characters, a loo stop for Husbando and (most importantly) a photo with the pompiers.  All this, and we managed to finish in 50mins 10seconds - collecting another awesome medal in the process.

The rest of the day was spent in the parks, doing a few rides and a bit of shopping.  And a lot of walking!  We were woken in the night by the sound of the wind and rain outside - and were grateful that we had thought to acquire bin liners to wear to the start.  Running in the rain is one thing, but standing waiting in the rain is miserable!  We ate our first breakfast and headed off into the dark of the early morning - it was a lot warmer on Sunday than it had been on Saturday, but there was a persistent drizzle and it was very windy - there were waves on the lake!  Once again we worked out way steadily to the front of pen A, and chatted with people we had bumped into earlier in the weekend.  We repeatedly bumped into the same people over the weekend, and bumped into people who we knew from other races, but a friend from parkrun who I knew was there was proving elusive...

This time it was easier to stick to our plan.  My legs were tired, it was easy to run the first kilometre fairly fast and then slow down because my quads kept complaining!  We didn't have to queue for long to get character photos (I'll add some to the blog when I work out how the PhotoPass thing works), and we took advantage of the loos in the parks before we headed on out into the world beyond Disney.  The atmosphere in the park was lovely - although being smacked in the face by a runner who decided to barge between Husbando and me caused me to have a temporary sense of humour failure and use some very un-Disney friendly language.

Some people don't like the bit of the run outside Disneyland, but I quite like it.  Despite the wind and rain we were cheered on by lots of bands, and I love the section through a housing estate and through a park with a lake.  There were two groups of cheerleaders in the park this year braving the horrible weather to encourage us!  On one of the out and back sections I saw Paula again - looking relaxed and chatting with a group of friends as she went on to finish as first lady!  On another I saw my elusive parkrun friend - I do love an out and back for this very reason!

There seemed to be more aid stations this year, still rather bizarrely offering water first then a dry snack, but that was OK as I was carrying a banana!  There was also a very conveniently placed portaloo.  I was running along, up a slight incline thinking 'Dammit, *now* I need a poo!'  I mentioned this poor timing and Husbando pointed out that we were right next to a block of portaloos!   And they were clean and relatively sweet smelling!  There are some advantages to being near the front of the pack...

Although we were nowhere near as fast as we had been in the previous two races we were having fun, it didn't feel too much like hard work at 18km in I began to really look forward to my second breakfast as my tummy was rumbling.  At 19km (just outside McDonald's) my ham string twinged making me pull up short and do a bit of stretching.  There were loads of spectators here and I felt really daft, but it did the trick and we ran on to the finish.  The finish, as for the other two races, was in the Studios.  As we approached the finish we were closing on a man ahead of us.  We had a brief discussion about whether we should try to overtake him, but decided that we would rather try to get a good finish photo of just the two of us (there was no one else near us at the time) so we slowed down a bit so that we could cross the line together in a few seconds over 2hrs.

Post race re-fuelling
At the end of the race we collected our third medal of the weekend, a space blanket (essential as the weather was grim), water, a banana, snack box and Powerade.  We had some photos taken and made out way back to the Expo to collect our challenge medals.  As we walked into the Expo all the people working there started clapping.  This made me cry!  I have never cried at the end of a race before - but for some reason I got all emotional.

After a massage, school French does not equip one to explain that one cannot remove one's running shorts in a vast hall because one is not wearing underwear - thankfully his English was better than my French, we went back to the hotel for second breakfast (which must be the best meal of the day) before packing up our room, having another wander around the parks and shops, eating lunch, dodging torrential rain and finding out way back to the station for our train home.

We had a fabulous time.  The organisation leaves a lot to be desired, but it is improving year on year.    Yes it is expensive, but it is definitely an experience that you won't forget in a hurry!

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Heartwood Forest parkrun

It has been an exhausting week!  The first week of term is always tiring but it is especially so when one is at a new school.  You might have thought that I would value a lie in on Saturday morning and that I'd choose a parkrun close to home rather than choose to travel for over an hour and a quarter, but this mad parkrunner chose to get up at exactly the same time as on a school day.  Why?  Because I wanted to run Heartwood Forest parkrun before it ceases to exist (in its current form) on 6th October this year.  I arranged to travel over there with friends and we wondered, as we drove, how many runners from Basingstoke we would bump into this week!

Heartwood Forest parkrun has been running (no pun intended) since July 2017 and is located Forest, this is a huge new forest which includes pockets of ancient woodland and wildflower meadows.  It us gently undulating and has some lovely views.  I suspect that the decision to stop parkrun at this venue is so that the forest can become properly established without the regular influx of parkrunners every week!

Love this sign!
Being bad parkrun tourists we hadn't read the course page properly.  To be honest, after the week I'd had I was struggling to remember the name of the parkrun we were heading towards, so was utterly reliant on my travel companions.  We hadn't noted the instruction that parkrunners were not allowed to park at the start, but should have parked in the village hall.  As we thought we might be cutting it fine we parked on a side road and walked to the start.  Had we read the information properly I'd have known that there were loos at the village hall, this would have been very welcome knowledge as I'd enjoyed a delicious curry on Friday evening.....  We walked to start area in drizzle.  

As we approached the start it was obvious that we were not the only people making an effort to complete this parkrun while they still could.  The new runners' briefing seemed to have almost as many people as the run brief.  

The start was uphill, and I started near the back of the group but at least it had stopped raining.  It wasn't a steep hill, but is went of for quite a long time.  We ran on a mixture of hard packed gravel paths and grass.  That grass would probably become mud pretty quickly in the winter. After running up hill, there was a gloriously long, gentle downhill.  I relaxed into the down hill, lengthened my stride and overtook a fair few people.  I do love a downhill!  As it was a two lap course, we got to do the up hill and down hill all over again, this was fine as it meant we got to see all the sculptures of animals again, I got to overtake people on the uphill (that virtually never happens) and I managed to grab a photo of a wooden arch that we ran through twice.    

The approach to the finish was at the end of the long downhill, which made for a fast finish - although I misjudged the final turn somewhat as I was concentrating on overtaking someone and nearly missed the finish funnel!  I finished 60th overall, 6th lady and 1st in my age category.  My time of 24.52 represent the first time I have seen 24 at the start of a parkrun result since April!

Once I'd got my breath back, had my barcode scanned, chatted to a few people I knew, and one who recognised me from last week's Dinton Pastures parkrun and the old 'the parkrun show' we made our way into Sandridge Village to find the Heartwood Tea Room.  For once we hadn't bumped into any other runners from Basingstoke parkrun.   The Tea Room was tiny, but managed to accommodate a surprising number of people.  I enjoyed a cup of tea, while my friends tucked in to bacon sandwiches.  The food looked excellent - the scrambled eggs in particular looked fabulous and as though you could feed a family of four from one portion!  It occurred to me that the cafe will miss parkrun when it stops, and  the locals we met said that they thought it was a shame that it was stopping.  I believe that the event's core team is looking for alternative venues - I hope they find one soon!

Thank you to all the marshals and volunteers.  You were all so helpful and friendly, the course is delightful and I wish I could come back to see if I could improve on my time.  



Sunday, 2 September 2018

The one where Husbando took a tumble.

The training plan, such as it is, called for a 13 mile run today.  I could run to the next town and have breakfast but, it being the last Sunday of the summer holidays I thought that a bit of bling would be nice.  Phoenix Running had a four day event taking place in West Byfleet so I decided to enter the last day's event.  Husbando came too.  I hadn't run at this venue before and being just 45 minutes away by car we even managed a little bit of a lie in.  The race HQ was at Fulbrook School where we collected race numbers in the school's dining room before walking to the start.  The familiar Phoenix gazebo was ready and waiting for us, but this time with totally compostable paper cups rather than plastic.  I usually bring my own water bottle with me but it is brilliant to see race directors making an effort to minimise the impact that races have on the environment.

Within about 10 metres of the start a runner took a tumble.  He seems to have been made of rubber and bounced straight back up!  Given that he, and a lot of the other runners, had already run marathons (and further) on each of the previous three days I was amazed at how sprightly they all looked.  My aim was to run a half marathon and then see how I felt, maybe run walking the second half to get another marathon under my belt.  Husbando was there to run a half, but said he would be happy to wait if I wanted to run further.  

The course was lovely!  Canal and river tow paths in lovely dappled sunshine.  There was a bridge. With Phoenix there is always a bridge!  This one was black and was really tricky to run up and down as it had ridges on the slopes - despite crossing it many times I never quite got it right!  Most of the path was tarmac with just a short (800m) section on hard packed earth.  The turn around point was by a boat house and, as always with an out and back course, it was lovely to see people coming towards me in the opposite direction. 

The aid station was well stocked.  I was good and ignored all those lovely Haribos in favour of the bananas I had brought with me, one after the second lap and one after the third lap.  I'd only brought two with me so I have no idea what I'd have done had I decided to carry on further.  The running was going well, I felt comfortable and was enjoying myself, chatting with other runners, counting the number of boats we passed (there were 42) that sort of thing.  

Just before I got to half way through my fourth lap, L ran towards me and said 'You're Husbando's wife - he's fallen over!' They'd been running together for the last few laps and I did wonder if she'd tripped him on purpose to get away from him!  As I passed other runners they said the same thing.  I began to wonder if we were talking ambulances, broken limbs and where on Earth were the life insurance documents any way?  I found him, sitting on the edge of the canal, being looked after by the runners in the photo to the left!  They had found a plastic chair and a first aid kit in the boat house and were patching him up brilliantly.  I felt slightly surplus to requirements, so having checked and checked again I ran on.  

My last mile and a half were my fastest.  I wanted to get to the end so that I could make sure Husbando was OK and see if, despite stopping to check he was OK, I could still beat my previous half marathon time from this year.  A mile with an 8 at the end of a run was quite gratifying as was hearing from Rik that Husbando was fine and was walking the rest of his final lap.  I collected my medal and walked back to meet him.  He'd bashed up his face, shoulder and knee - he is going to be a wee bit achey tomorrow - and I suspect he is going to look worse before he looks better!   Thank you to everyone who looked after him today.  It really does say a lot about you all that you stopped and looked after him!  I have horrible memories of falling over at the Royal Parks Half at a really busy part of the course and being unable to get up for what felt like an eternity because people were stepping over me without breaking their pace!  
Thanks to Rik and team for the superb organisation, I love this venue!  The medal is awesome with a detachable section that becomes a fridge magnet.  A fridge magnet and a medal! Amazing!

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Dinton Pastures parkrun

Is it just me or does this parkrun look like a sad dog?  If that wasn't reason enough for a little bit of tourism on a Saturday morning it also has a White Swan Lake, a Black Swan Lake and a Tuffty's Corner!  What is not to love?  

Dinton Pastures Country Park used to be a gravel extraction site and prior to that it was a farm - the old farm buildings are still in use today as the cafe, toilets and various other businesses.  It opened as a country park in 1979 after 14 years of gravel extraction had been landscaped to create eight lakes.  As the  lakes and wetland areas were created the area was colonised by wildlife, with rarer birds, such as bitterns and smew being sighted as well as swans, coots, mallards and gulls.  There have been many species of dragon flies spotted in the area and the ponds are home to great crested newts.   

The weather today was perfect for parkrun, beautiful blue skies and a gentle breeze.  We picked up a friend en route and arrived at Dinton Pastures in good time.  There is loads of parking (£1.50 per hour pay and display or RingGo) and loos just a short walk from the start.  While faffing in the carpark we spotted familiar faces from Basingstoke parkrun!  Some of the faces were the same as the faces we bumped into down at Severn Bridge parkrun last weekend!  More than 50% of the runners were running at Dinton Pastures for the first time this morning and about 5% of the all the runners were running their first ever parkrun today.

After a first timers briefing and a run brief, I did not use my teacher voice but I was very tempted due to persistent chattering, we made our way to the start.  The course is run on hard packed gravel paths, which in this weather were puddle and mud free but could get quite muddy in the winter.  We'd been told that the course was two laps, asked not to fall over (apparently at all bar one event somebody has) and warned about a 'short, sharp downhill.'  I spent the entire run looking for the short, sharp downhill and am still none the wiser!  The route felt as though it was almost entirely ever so slightly downhill!  I kept waiting for the up hill bit but it never came.  My Strava has the elevation gain as 7ft - but other people running today have the gain being as high as 33ft!  

I had put my 'phone in the pocket of my running shorts, normally this doesn't cause any problems, but having lost a bit of weight recently the 'phone was just heavy enough to cause me to have to keep yanking my shorts back up, I'd like to think that this slowed me down by a few seconds but I was pleased with my time (25.13, 4th female and 1st old lady) as I'd also had to contend with a runner close to me intent on taking the 'racing line' even if it meant elbowing other runners out of the way as he cut in front of them!  He also very helpfully pinged bramble branches back at face height - pulling thorns out of my face at the end of a run isn't something I have had to do before.  I've got used to running with runners who helpfully warn those behind them of upcoming hazards - it isn't hard to do and it seems to be the safe and sensible way to act as you cannot clearly see things like tree roots if you are following another runner.

Out of focus swan on Swan Lake! 
We weaved around the White Swan and Black Swan Lakes cheered on by marshals.  Without the marshals there is at least one point where I would have happily turned left instead of right.   I took a fuzzy photo to prove that is was a swan lake and very soon we were approaching the finish funnel.  A quick burst of speed (that is a relative term) saw me overtake someone just before the finish line and be given my shiny new style token, before I doubled back to find my youngest child and chivvy her along.  She was happily run/walking with one of the volunteers who was pacing a 2min run/1min walk group so my fears about her making the tailwalker's morning excessively long were unfounded!

We all reassembled in the cafe for coffee, tea, Fanta (my youngest is only 12!) and breakfasts.  Husbando and I couldn't stay long as work beckoned, but I have it on good authority, from people who have sampled breakfasts at lots of parkruns, that today's food was very good indeed!

Thank you to all the volunteers and the parkrun weather fairies for making today's run so much fun.  It is hard to believe that it is the first day of autumn today!