Sunday, 18 November 2018

A Day At The Movies

The 'A Day At The Movies' race is a bit different.  It is organised by Phoenix Running as a charity run, raising money for Rays Of Sunshine.  Over the course of a year not everyone who enters a race actually shows up to the start line and this, along with a few more medals than absolutely necessary being ordered, means that there are left overs.... so Phoenix came up with the idea that a race could be put on where we could choose our own medal from the surplus supplies and the profit (more than normal because no medals or race numbers would need to be produced) would go to charity.  I signed up.  I mean, why wouldn't I?  On the entry form we had to choose our first three choices from a list of available medals.  I entered my choices, then did the same for Husbando and promptly forgot what I had chosen.  'A Day At The Movies' is a multilap event where you can complete as many 3.28 mile laps as you want within the 6 hour time limit.  Given the fact that it was less than a week since my last marathon I was pretty sure I would be running a half marathon at most.  

Saturday started well.  I didn't read the race instructions and assumed that the race started at 9am (as the Remembrance Day Marathon had last Sunday) and Husbando relied on me for timings, so we left quite early!  He'd also told a friend when we were leaving, so she left her house at a similar time.  We met up at a Starbucks en route, where I was becoming quite stressed about the time we were wasting, until someone checked and we had a whole extra thirty minutes to spare!  Plenty of time for coffee, visits to the loo and Christmas tree decoration shopping!  

We were still early when we arrived at the Xcel Centre in Walton On Thames, but not excessively so. We collected our numbers - all three of us had numbers from different races, which was exciting as none of us could really remember what we had chosen! We had another cup of coffee, another trip to the loo, caught up with some friends and chatted to a lady about the Disneyland Paris half marathon.    The run briefing was short and sweet, the weather was fantastic - bright autumn sunshine and, once I had put my bag in the gazebo - with my bananas easily accessible, we were raring to go!  We set off in the opposite direction to last week and the laps were half the distance, so four laps for a half marathon and eight for a full marathon.  Each lap would require crossing the dreaded blue bridge before going under Walton bridge and then enduring the longest every 400m to the turnaround point, and then having to go over that blue bridge again on the way back!   To be fair, the bridge isn't that bad, but it is the only incline on the whole route.  On the first few laps it took me 21 strides to get to the top of the bridge, one the last lap it took 24!  

Laps sound boring, and I know lots of people don't like them, or don't like the idea of them but there is a lot to see on this route.  There are boat houses, a pub, bridges, coffee shops, people rowing, cyclists, dog walkers, children on scooters, swans, geese and ducks - plenty to see!  There was also the temporary addition of Stella Point - not a peak on the way to the summit of Kilimanjaro, but a 3/4 full bottle of Stella that stood at the edge of the path for my first four laps before someone picked it up and put it in the bin... at least I hope they put it in the bin and didn't decide to drink it!  

I started too fast.  I haven't run a single step since the marathon last Sunday and my legs, while not 'fresh', were eager to run.  It didn't matter, at some point I'd decided that I would do that full marathon distance.  I am not in the habit of running marathons so close together (although a lot of my running friends think nothing of running 10 marathons in 10 days and more!) so I decided that if could run this one in about 4hrs 30mins I would be happy.  Knackered, but happy!  About 10 miles in I realised that my pace was still too fast and that I had completed the first 10 miles faster than I did last weekend.  I made a conscious effort to slow down.  I spoke briefly to Husbando at the end of my 4th lap - he had collected his 'Leon' medal at the end of a half marathon distance - grabbed a banana and carried on running.  It is quite hard to resist the vast array of sweet and savoury treats available at the aid station, but resist I did!  

As I carried on running I became aware that there were very few women ahead of me.  Just one or two I thought.  There was another lady about a quarter of a mile behind me (based on my marathon maths calculations this could be very wrong - I just estimated guessed on how far away from the turn around point I was when she was coming in the other direction) and I determined to keep her behind me, this might sound uncharitable - but I needed something to keep me motivated when any sane person would sit down and have a nice cup of tea!  This was turning out to be my best marathon in quite a long time.  I realised I could possibly run faster than I did last weekend... and I didn't take any walk breaks until the very last lap.  

As I crossed the finish line, 6 minutes faster than last week, I handed over my wrist bands (one for each lap) and declared that I was 'done' Rik informed me that I was the first female finisher for the marathon distance.... all the fast ladies had stayed at home today.  I am very glad they did - it is probably the only time it will ever happen!  In addition to my Mogwai medal (with googly eyes) every runner also received a collapsible cup for use during races and a ceramic Phoenix mug - so that we can think about running and entering more races while on a coffee break at work!  Thank you Rik!  The collapsible cups are part on an ongoing desire to reduce Phoenix's carbon footprint, any paper cups used by Phoenix are fully compostable and runners are encouraged to use the same cup throughout the race (numbered trays help here).

It was lovely to see so many familiar faces, and wonderful to run on such a crisp, clear day.  A huge thank you to all the volunteers.  You were cheerful, friendly and supportive - you guys (and Rik) make these events really special.  Thank you!

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Remembrance Day Marathon

I have a mountain of marking to do, 129 reports that need writing and I suppose I should be planning lessons for the coming week, but I cannot do any of these things until I write about today’s very special marathon.

I signed up ages ago, and decided I would, for a change, train properly for this one.  A broken toe and a 50 mile race put paid to any thought of a sensible training plan, in my normal style I would just have to wing it!   Whatever happened I was not going to miss this marathon.  

Not only does today mark the 100th anniversary of the end of ‘the war to end all wars’ it was also Phoenix Running’s 100th marathon.  This was obviously too awesome a coincidence to be allowed to pass without Rik organising something pretty amazing.  We knew he had planned a hard stop for 2 minutes at 11am, we knew that we would get a special commemorative medal for Phoenix’s 100th marathon, but Rik was uncharacteristically reticent when it came to revealing the race medal. 

Saturday saw torrential rain virtually all day and through most of the night.  Rain was forecast for most of Sunday too.  I dragged out my only pair of plain black running tights so that I wouldn’t be wearing too many clashing patterns, packed my race bag full of spare clothes and rain jackets, completed my pre race ablutions and set off for Walton On Thames.  IT was still raining - and there was so much surface water on the roads I had to take it quite easy, but I arrived in good time.  There were far more runners than normal - Rik had organised 420 race places - meaning that the total distance covered by the runners would be as close to 11,000 miles as possible.  I'm not good with crowds so tried to find a friendly face - and luckily I did. The weather fairies were being kind and, by the time we assembled outside for the race brief, the Sun was shining.

Rik's race briefing was poignant as he explained why this race was so important to him - I apologise for having to use my teacher voice to ask people to be quiet!  Off we went to the start - no huge dash to cross the line as the race was chip timed.  

I wasn't sure what my race strategy would be.  All I knew was that I'd quite like to get a course PB.  I wasn't confident though as my right knee has been a bit (that's an understatement) painful since the Leviathan 50 back at the beginning of October.  As we all set off though everything felt OK, so I just ran at a pace that felt comfortable.  A fair bit of puddle jumping was involved - this was not always successful and my feet were soaked before the end of the first lap.  We were running 6ish mile out and back laps between Walton On Thames and Hampton Court Bridge.   The foot path is lovely in dry weather, but prone to mud in the rain... and there was lots of mud - but that seems only fitting for a marathon marking the anniversary of the end of the war! 

The running was going well, despite the increasingly slippery mud.  I ran the first 10 miles in just under an hour and a half.  The weather was great, as 11am approached we could hear church bells ringing up and down the river, we could watch swans swimming, rowers rowing and chat with other runners as we ran up and down the foot path.  At 11am the marshals, who were positioned at 500m intervals along the route, sounded their air horns and all the runners stopped.  I was at the apex of a bend so couldn't see any other runners or members of public, but other runners report that cyclists dismounted, parents hushed their children and everyone joined in.  It was quite a surreal experience and I have to admit that I shed a tear.  It was so quiet that I am convinced I could hear the RHA firing their salute in Central London.  The only human generated noise was the ever present hum of traffic.  At the end of the two minutes, three short blasts on the air horn signalled the restart of the race - it wasn't easy to get moving again. I'd stopped my Garmin and miraculously remembered to restart it again!

I'd left bananas at the aid station, so that I wouldn't be tempted by the wonderful selection of sweets and savoury snacks.  I haven't eaten a Haribo since July and am happy to keep it that way!  I took the time it took me to eat a banana as a walk break at the start of laps 2, 3 and 4.  Rik has moved over to compostable cups at all his race, but I carried my own water bottle, just getting it refilled at the aid station.  The volunteers there were amazing - so cheerful and encouraging.   Huge thanks to you all.  

I was slowing down a little, but still making good progress until suddenly my right knee and my right foot both decided to kick up a fuss.  I walked a little but realised, that with 9 miles to go, if I walked it was going to take an awful long time to finish the race.  I considered pulling out altogether - then decided against it - the soldiers in WW1 had much more than a sightly sore leg and a bit of mud to put up with.  I found that if I didn't put my foot flat on the floor it didn't hurt too much - I shall probably pay for that with a very tight Achilles tomorrow.   My pace dropped off a bit, but I realised I could probably complete the marathon at an average of 10 min/mile pace.  

I had to throw a couple of walk breaks in during the last lap, but as I approached the finish I managed to pick up the pace to snag a time of just under 4hrs 20mins.  I also managed to avoid the rain!  It was just starting as I crossed the finish line.  I was covered in mud but smiling like mad as I was presented with two medals.  One HUMUNGOUS, fantastically detailed one that I could very easily use as a paper work, the other small but perfectly formed serving as a memento of Phonenix's 100th marathon.  I grabbed some water, a handful of pretzels and was starting to collect my stuff when I was told that I had something to collect from 'the art tent!'  Lisa Smith had been at Carry on up the towpath (where Husbando face planted) to make sketches and take photos of runners - she painted the picture of me below and Husbando had bought it for me!

Thank you Rik and team for a great day.  I really hope it lived up to all your hopes and dreams - I loved it!  

PS - lots of photos of the medals below!

PPS - strangely the pile of marking and the report writing still needs doing!

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Last minute plans

Some of you may remember the I ran a stupidly long distance off the back of not enough training at the beginning of October.  I survived that, but have suffered from it somewhat since.  My right knee has been a wee bit dodgy, resulting in a few aborted long runs and whole weeks where I haven't even put my trainers on during the week. It has made me a wee bit grumpy, particularly when combined with the fact that it is getting dark so early now!

I've been pitching up at parkrun, I even managed to bag three course PBs in a row, and last Sunday I managed to run 13 miles - although I did suffer for that for the next few days.  I have a marathon next weekend, so hopefully I will be able to get myself from start to finish in one piece...

Anyway, back to today.  Last night saw me make a mad post work dash up to London to see Husbando, number one son and number one son's significant other.  Husbando was exhibiting at the Chelsea book fair and as he would need to be there on Saturday too we were staying over.  We'd planned a trip to Fulham Palace parkrun.  I'd been there before (twice in fact) but I had an ulterior motive for not wanting to add to my tourist tally this weekend.  As of Friday I had run at 68 different parkruns, many of you know that I think 69 is the best number on the planet and I wanted to run my 69th parkrun as an 'arbitrary number celebration' complete with cake, fizz, friends and (I hoped) a smutty sounding parkrun.

On Saturday morning - while dealing with water pouring in from the hotel room above us - I found out that Fulham Palace was cancelled.  We looked at the options and linked them to our transport choices and decided to jump on the train from Kensington Olympia to Clapham Junction, from there it was less than a mile to jog to the start of the relatively new Clapham Common parkrun.   The start was easy to spot - myriad lycra clad people milling around and chatting - including some familiar faces from Basingstoke parkrun and others I have met while at various other events.

Clapham Common may be a newish parkrun but it has very quickly developed a strong following - there were so many people!  The weather was perfect and we lined up at the start.  It is a fairly narrow start and, to aid an orderly start, there were volunteers holding up finish times - so that we could position ourselves with similarly speedy runners.  Knowing that my preferred running style is to go off as fast as I can and see how long I can last, I started near the 22 minute sign.  Even with this organisation it took a while to cross the line.  The course is a two lapper around the Common, it is mainly on footpaths,  there are some areas where there are tree roots to avoid.  I can imagine it will become quite muddy in places in the winter.

Husbando and I had got separated between the run brief and the start (I think he went to find the loos) so he started some way behind me.  That didn't last long though - I soon heard him and we chatted for a while before he ran on ahead of me.  I was aiming for around 25 minutes, I really didn't want to push it too hard on my dodgy knee and, if I'm totally honest, I'd had a few alcoholic beverages the night before and was feeling a little below par!  But running felt good this morning, the Common is almost as flat as a pancake and the weather was perfect.   At the end of the first mile I thought 'Hmm, that was a bit fast... Oh well, let's just see if I can keep going.' And I did.  Although I did stop, along with other runners to allow a lorry to cross the path.  The second lap was easier because it was less crowded at the narrow points, and the approach to the finish funnel was slightly downhill - so good for a fast finish, although I did have to stop a couple of paces short of the finish as the funnel was absolutely rammed full of runners!

213 people finished ahead of me, amazingly I was first in my age category which supports my impression that Clapham Common parkrunners are on the young side.  At my 69th different parkrun I ran 5k in 23mins 39seconds and achieved an age grading of 69%.  This is my 4th fastest parkrun ever, and my fastest time for years.  It is a real boost  to run well for a change - running around home can be very demoralising as there are so many hills!

We didn't have time to go for coffee afterwards - as we had to get back to the hotel to try to sort out our soggy room, which was a shame but I suppose that it will give me an excuse to return in the future.  It is an area of London I know very little about.  I lived, briefly, just down the road in Tooting Bec, but Clapham was just a couple of stops on the Northern Line that I passed by without thinking.  Husbando has more of a connection with the area - he was a resident at Halliday Hall (or was that Holiday Hall?) for two years in the 1980s.  Halliday Hall was a hall of residence for King's College London located on Clapham Common South Side, but has since been sold, pulled down and redeveloped.  I managed to find a photo - but not many more details.    Husbando declares that, in his day, the Common was a no go area after dark, something that former MP Ron Davis might have done well to take into consideration!  These days the common boasts 3 ponds and a band stand - I saw the band stand as we ran past it twice, but failed to spot the ponds!

Thank you to all the volunteers for their enthusiastic support, I loved my unexpected visit to Clapham Common - dead easy to get to, fast, flat and friendly!  Thank you!