Monday, 29 April 2019

Nohtaram Eht

Photo by Craig Wilson of Impact Marathons
We all know that there is only one marathon that counts.  Only one marathon that is 26.2 miles long, and being that long is the longest and toughest race in the whole entire history of the World.  It is a fact, universally acknowledged that London Marathon is the only marathon that matters... or so it seems at times.  It is invariably the one you get asked about the minute anyone knows you have run a marathon.  In fact this morning I was put on the spot in staff briefing when the head asked me to tell the assembled staff how I had got on in 'The Marathon!'  I had to explain that I had taken part in something far more esoteric... Honestly, the lengths I will go to to avoid having to put up with Husbando's pre-race faffing have reached a whole new level!  He did have a place and I was thrilled for him, if a little (lot?) jealous.  I'd run the race in 2017 and have fond memories of the amazing crowds, seeing friends on the route and chatting to lots of other runners and, while I was happy to be there to support other runners I didn't want to totally miss out on the running fun.

I remembered hearing about groups of runners who ran the route in reverse before the official race started.  In previous years this sounded like the stupidest of stupid ideas but not this year.  I had one friend who also thought it might be fun, be we didn't want to run by ourselves - we might get lost or, possibly worse, run out of things to say to each other! I asked some running friends who had heard of such madness but didn't know about anyone doing it this year, so I resorted to Google and Facebook and stumbled across a Facebook group set up by Impact Marathons.  I'd never heard of them, I didn't have time to do much research and what was the worst that could happen if I arranged to meet a group of total strangers in the middle of the night in central London?

After an early supper and a second gin and tonic (a nightcap obviously) M and I retired to our beds at about 8.30pm, telling Husbando to be quiet when he returned to the hotel room and setting our alarms for 1am.  I am not sure about M, but I was still wide awake at 11pm and think I probably fell asleep about 20 minutes before the alarm went.  At which point I was very glad I had gone to sleep in my running kit - it saved a lot of thought.  A quick 'breakfast' and a cup of tea and then we laced up our running shoes, grabbed our ultra vests (stuffed with snacks and water) and headed off along The Strand to meet 'everyone' by Nelson's Column.  What surprised me is that our group included at least two people who had never run a marathon before.

It was cold, bitterly so in the wind, so it was a relief to move towards the finish line on The Mall after a brief welcome from Nick (from Impact Marathons).  We were reminded that this was an informal, unofficial event, that we should respect the security measures in place, not be idiots and to have run (I paraphrase - but that was the gist!)  On The Mall the finish gantry and barriers were in place and I thought that this would be the case for the whole 26.2 miles and that getting lost would be impossible.  We set off at a fair old pace, considering that as a group we were supposed to be aiming for between 5 and 6hrs!  We passed nightclubs where people queuing to get in at 3am - they thought we were mad to be out running.  Our part of the group were probably going a little too fast, hitting 6miles in under an hour and then realising we couldn't see the 'thin blue line' anywhere.  To be fair a broken dark blue paint line is rather tricky to spot on a wet tarmac road at night, but we had no idea where to go now,  no amount of looking at maps on phones seemed to help, so we waited for the others to catch up and then got ourselves pointed in the right direction again.

About this time it started raining.  It was fairly persistent and not terribly pleasant when combined with the remnants of the wind from Storm Hannah, I was very glad of my oversized, cheap as chips, Primark jacket!  The mood was upbeat, there were lots of new people to chat to, lots of interesting stories to hear, for me there were lots of day dreams about traveling to run marathons in exotic locations as I learnt more about the way Impact Marathons work, the pace, being slower than my recent marathon, felt easy and my legs felt good.    My stomach was another matter!  It was not happy about being asked to deal with food and exercise in the middle of the night.

We got properly lost in Canary Wharf...we managed to add an extra two miles to our journey, obviously we were very keen to get our money's worth out of a free event.  Once back on track we were rather more cautious about the route and I managed to stay on track from then on.  We met up with more runners at the half way point, just before crossing Tower Bridge - an opportunity for photos that could not be missed.  The roads were surprisingly busy, but the pavements were quiet!  We saw the occasional reveller wobble their way back to the night bus, had several shouts of 'You're going the wrong way' and 'You're too early' from passing cars and, from time to time, saw other groups of runners who were also enjoying the novelty of running in London at night.

Once south of the river following the route was much more straightforward.  It was starting to get lighter and towards the very end the stewards were starting to populate their marshal points.  Some of them looked at us with utter bewilderment, others cheered us on, and I must mention that at one point on the route (I think on the Isle of Dogs) two ladies were out with Jelly Babies supporting runners at 4am!  Was possibly the most delicious Jelly Baby ever!

We saw foxes in Beckton - the bravest foxes that I have ever seen, they were only a couple of feet away from us and totally unperturbed by our presence and listened to the dawn chorus, it was all rather surreal!  I had forgotten that the first few miles of the London Marathon are downhill.  This meant that the last few miles of our run were decidedly up hill.  There was a little less chat going on now as we were all knuckling down to get the run finished.  I felt more awake than I have done for a long time, and enjoyed chatting to a lovely lady called Rachel (and eating her crystallised ginger) as we chased down the final couple of miles.  We were so eager to finish that we managed to pull a 7.30min/mile out of somewhere for the last mile!

We couldn't quite get to the start line.  The officials at the start were very pleasant and friendly, but on that they were not budging.  We had to stop about 50m short of the line, it is just as well we had some extra distance in the bank from earlier, I'm not sure running out and backs to make up the distance would have been much fun!  A lot of our group were going on for breakfast after the run, we couldn't join them due to needing to get back into central London and the fact that a breakfast would be wasted on me so soon after running that far!  I was amazed that so many runners were already assembling at the start area.  My friends and family always ridicule me for getting everywhere far too early, but even I wouldn't show up at 7.15am for a race that starts at 10am!  This flow of runners from the station was very useful as we used them to find our way to Blackheath Station, via Costa for a much needed cup of tea.

The small world of running was in evidence again.  We bumped into one friend in the coffee shop and another (who lives in my tiny village) on the way back to the station.

Would I do this again?  Yesterday my answer would have been 'Hell no!'  I was glad that I had done it, but it really brought home to me that a big part of 'the London Marathon experience' is the crowd support.  Running at night was fun, enjoyable, a great way to meet people, but it struck me that vast sections of the route are a bit dull!  Today I am not so sure... I could probably be tempted to give it another go.  It was nice to run with no time pressure, where everyone was happy to stop and wait while we worked out which portaloos weren't locked, and the main aim was to get to the start in one piece!  

Thank you to Impact Marathons for giving me the opportunity to do this mad, mad run.  I'll be looking at your website when I get a few spare minutes and dreaming/planning to join you again I hope.  Thanks also to M for your company.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Eastleigh parkrun

At supper the other night, one of our many 'planning' meetings where nothing gets planned as we get too engrossed in food and conversation so have to convene another planning meeting and another one before resorting to a series of WhatsApp messages to actually firm up arrangements, MrB and I decided to go to Eastleigh this parkrun day.  We had talked about Portsmouth Lakeside, which could be why I tried to override the sat nav and send us towards Portsmouth.  Luckily MrB and the sat nav won and we headed off down the the M3 arriving at Fleming Park with plenty of time to comment on how windy it was!

Fleming Park was a golf course until 2008 with the parkrun taking place up and down some of the old fairways. The park is now home to a leisure centre and Pavilion on the Park which is where the start and finish of the parkrun can be found.  There is some parking right net to the Pavilion and more by the leisure centre.  The parking by the Pavilion was free - we hope!  We didn't see any machines or signs for payment.  There are loos at the cafe that were open before the start and we decided to take shelter from the wind in the Blackbird Cafe, while reading the menu to plan our post run treats.

After a quick first timers' briefing and a slightly longer run brief (where I had to use my teacher voice because too many people were talking - sorry!) we were off.  I like to listen to the run brief.  In addition to important safety announcements there is often information about upcoming local events - it only takes a few minutes and is just the polite thing to do!  I don't think I could do the role of run director - as a teacher I would want to wait for silence before I started the briefing.... it could make for a very late start.

The course is three fairly flat laps, MrB and I set off at a nice easy pace - he is running that there big marathon thing in London tomorrow and I am running the route in reverse overnight tonight.  We had a chatty run.  I suspect that we were that annoying pair that seems to breeze past you without pausing in conversation or appearing out of breath - sorry for that.  A year ago I would have been thrilled to run 3 miles at the pace I ran today, thanks to weight loss and training it now represents an easy paced run!  The course is just what you'd imagine an old golf course to be... wide open spaces, wooded areas and gently undulating.  It is all on grass or mud paths, I can imagine that it can get very soft underfoot in wet weather, but it was firm today.  You need to watch out for slightly uneven ground though.

I do love a parkrun with a cafe at the finish - and Eastleigh didn't disappoint!  I still think that post parkrun coffee is the most important bit of the morning.  I must remember to pack my reusable coffee mug in my kit bag though as discounts for using your own mug are becoming more common and it is much better for the environment.

Thank you to all the volunteers at Eastleigh today - we had a lovely morning.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Post Paris Prospect parkrun

 It seems like years since I was standing, shivering in the Bois de Boulogne last weekend.  A lot has happened in one short week, not least of which is a total change in the weather.  Today called for shorts, t-shirts, sunnies and sunscreen!  I'm not entirely sure how we decided on today's venue, but Prospect parkrun was chosen, probably because it was fairly nearby and none of us had run it before.

We found our way easily enough, parking in the carpark at a nearby Asda (two hours free parking if you are a customer, so we had to buy some Easter eggs!) and walking/jogging to the start in the middle of Prospect Park.  The park is Reading's largest open space, the name deriving from the views across the Kennet Valley.  These views are best seen from the highest point of the park - the Mansion House - which is now a Harvester.  There are loos available near the start, and should you wish to have a post parkrun game of bowls there is a bowling green for your pleasure.

The first timers'  briefing and the main run brief all take part near the start.  I was surprised to bump into a friend I hadn't seen for ages and ages - a reminder of how small the parkrun world really is.  As you might discern from the photo we wore our Paris finisher shirts with pride, the man in the background in the 250 shirt with the beard had also run the Paris Marathon last Sunday.  The start was wide allowing us to set off at a fine pace....up hill!

The course is two laps, all on grass, neatly squashed into the lower half of the park.  This is fine, as the other half of the park is up hill!  I set off way too fast, so the second and third miles were a case of just hanging on and hoping that the wheels didn't fall off totally.   I know that all parkruns are the same length, but some of them seem much longer than others.  Today was a long one!  Whether it was being tired after last weekend and an emotional week I don't know, but a part of me thinks that parkruns when you can see just how much of the park there is still to run though seems to make it even longer.  On the plus side, it is all relatively flat and, in this weather, nice and firm under foot.  A few bits of uneven ground but nothing to worry about.  I can only imagine how muddy it can get in the wet winter weather - I don't think I'll be back to visit then!  The marshals were friendly and encouraging - especially another friend who called out my name as I ran past!

I didn't realise that Husbando was seconds behind me all the way around.  He was just a bit too far away for me to be able to hear his breathing, and too close for me to spot him behind me as we ran around the corners.  Apparently he tried to catch me, but didn't have it today.  We finished in 29th and 30th places,  I was first in my age category and third lady, just 11 seconds slower than my overall parkrun PB.

After we'd had our barcodes scanned we walked up to the Mansion House for post parkrun tea and coffee.  How lovely to be able to sit outside in the sunshine, and what lovely views!  Thank you to all the volunteers for another super parkrun!

Sunday, 14 April 2019

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

(It strikes me that I may well have used this blog title before, but recycling is all the rage these days!)

This year sees Husbando and I celebrating surviving 25 years of married bliss and me hitting yet another landmark birthday.  What started as a daft idea, around the kitchen table over one too many bottles of wine, became a plan for 6 of us to travel to Paris, do some running, eat some food and see some sights.  Two members of our party had never run a marathon, one swore he'd never run a marathon, but was fairly easily persuaded that it would be great fun.  His wife, the sensible half of the partnership, declared that there was no danger of her ever running more than a 10k, but that she was more than happy to be our bag lady!

As it happened, our non running friend didn't make the trip as her father was unwell, but the rest of us set out on Friday in high spirits, arriving in time to collect our race numbers from the Expo and do a little shopping for 'essential' running kit before heading off for supper at one of our favourite restaurants.  

I'd brought my park run barcode with me and was determined to complete a French park run.  After a week that was light on running there was always a risk that I would run too fast at parkrun, so I was pleased to meet up with an old university friend and enjoy a sedate, but chatty, 29 minute run around Bois de Boulogne parkrun.  The attendance was vastly inflated by the number of tourists, but we were made to feel very welcome by the volunteers and locals.  This is a fabulous parkrun - it has the potential to be really fast, hopefully I can come back one day and run it for a time.

We all got an early night last night.  Our hotel put on an early breakfast for the marathon runners and we discussed how bitterly cold it was outside as we ate our porridge.  Two years ago it had been 26C in the shade at 8am, this year it was 1C!  We were wearing just about all the extra layers we could and procrastinating for as long as we could.  Eventually we could wait no longer.  Off we set.  We were walking down the stairs from the reception of the hotel at 7.15am local time (so 6.15am at home) when Husbando's phone rang.  He answered it to hear that his father had died. Not the news we expected to hear at all.  Husbando was poleaxed - one minute walking down the stairs, the next he was sitting on the floor.  Very quickly we knew that we would go ahead and run - what good would going home do?  We spent most of the journey in to the race start trying to get in touch with family and friends.

We still arrived at the start with plenty of time, dropped off our bags and made our way to the starting pens.  And here there was a HUGE issue.  We could not get in to the pen.  The pavement was packed with runners but they wouldn't open the pen (recommended time to arrive was 8.10am, we were there at 8.10am).  The crowds were huge.  We'd been told that entry to the pen closed at 8.25am (for an 8.40am race start) but at 8.25 we were still waiting to get in.  Eventually a tiny gap was opened in the fence with one person checking race numbers.  It was truly terrifying.  At one point I got pushed over from behind, and as I fell to the floor I could feel the crowd surging forward.  It was really easy to see how things could go very badly wrong very quickly.  I was very lucky, I didn't realise how badly I'd bashed my shoulder until after the marathon and the bruises on my legs will heal, but I was very shaken by the experience.

Once we got running things improved.  We started off together, but a wee stop for me at about 4 miles saw us split up pretty quickly.  Husbando waited for me, but the others went on.  We were making good time and it felt easy.  We made some gallows humour jokes (as one does) and enjoyed the cool weather - I say 'enjoyed' but in reality I was whinging about the fact I couldn't feel my fingers! We ran on together into the Bois de Vincennes, when he decided to take a wee break.  He said that I should carry on and he would catch up.  So on I ran.  We were both on our 'phones a lot as we tried to contact friends and family, and I got a text from Husband saying he thought he'd run past me, so I tried to catch him up.  Further 'phone calls and texts followed and we established that I was probably ahead of him.   Ah well, I eased off the pace a little and kept my eyes open.  The pace felt good, the weather was lovely, the Soreen Mini Malt Loaves were delicious.  The runners were plentiful, the course was crowded - and to be honest when the supporters are on the green 'racing line' you know that the course is considerably narrowed!

From about 20km my tummy was really painful.  I managed to hold it together until I saw some portaloos at 30km.  I trust that the portaloo I used will never be used again.  I was not a well bunny!  While I was 'otherwise engaged' Husbando texted me to say that he had just passed the 30km mark, so it was up to me to catch him up again.  We were obviously both running well as it took me nearly 10km to do this!

I hadn't for one moment thought that getting a good time was on the cards today.  I just wanted to clock a sub 4hr time to prove that February's time wasn't a fluke, but with about 6 miles to go I realised that I could get a good for age time for London if I didn't let the pace slip.  The last 6 miles of a marathon are the longest 6 miles, but I still felt fairly chipper so decided to ignore the voice in my head telling me that I am not capable of running well and just bloody well get on with it!  The course changes meant that the final stages included some long, steady, uphill sections that were really rather tough, but I refused to give up.  With about a mile and a half to go I spotted Husbando ahead and 'sprinted' to catch him up.  We had a little chat and he told me to go on as he was feeling a bit blown, so on I went over all the sodding cobbles!

Running up Ave Foch, glancing at my watch, I found it hard to believe I was actually going to do it.  I was going to get a GFA time for London and Boston.  How did an 'okayish' runner manage this?  Diet and training played a HUGE part!  But if I can do it so can anyone!

There were many tears at the finish.  The four of us who had set out together all ran really well, three PBs and a first marathon time (the first marathon time being faster than any of our PBs!) I had a wobbly moment which involved me thinking I was going to throw up, faint and poop my pants at the same time!  I ended up crouched by the railings crying while the first aiders tried to work out what on Earth the mad old woman was on about!

The medal is... minimalist... but actually not as bad as it looks in the photo.  We made our way back to the hotel (how many stairs are there on the metro?) showered, made yet more 'phone calls before heading out to eat our body weight in steak frites!

As road marathons go, Paris is beautiful -but the arrangements at the start this year would make me think very carefully about whether I would do it again!

Saturday, 6 April 2019

The CurlyWurly One!

School is now out for Easter and time is doing that weird thing where it seems like only yesterday that we were on half term, but last weekend (and my trip to Edinburgh) seems like a lifetime ago!  Finishing school at lunchtime on Friday meant that I could head down to Bath with Husbando (who was on his way to a book fair) and still arrive in daylight - much nicer than arriving in Edinburgh at nearly midnight!I've done a fair few parkruns around Bath over the years, so this weekend we had decided on the relatively new Somerdale Pavilion parkrun.  When I say 'we' I don't mean Husbando and me, I mean the motley crew in the photo above!  It was John's 50th different parkrun location and our fancy dress co-ordinator had organised supplies of John's club vest and glasses so we could all be John in the photo - we even had barcodes to prove it!  I did draw the line at wearing the cow bobble hat though!

Somerdale Pavilion is the site of the old Cadbury's chocolate factory (that was closed by Kraft in 2010 and production moved to a factory in Poland), the factory has been sold to a housing developer and lots of houses have been built where previously Cadbury's Creme Eggs and Crunchies were made.The developers have gone some way to maintaining the character of the original site - the central factory has, I assume, been converted to apartments with some food/retail outlets to come soon, and the surrounding housing development looks well planned with lots of open spaces, and this all backs on to sports fields and golf ranges.  It is also now home to the Sham Cross Cyclecross course - which is where parkrun happens!    
I was the first of our group to arrive.  In fact I think I arrived before anyone from parkrun - which gave me plenty of time to worry about which car park I should be parking in, go for a warm up jog, re park my car etc. etc.  I investigated the start location, the cafe and the loos - very nice loos inside the pavilion itself. It was a wee bit chilly and the course is quite exposed, so I wasn't looking forward to running in a vest top!  
Soon we were all assembled at the start as the run director described the course and announced several milestone runs.  The course can only really be described as 'bonkers!'  It is marked out for the cyclocross so there is little chance of getting lost on the 2 lap route, although you do tend to lose all sense of direction as you turn left and right with alarming regularity around some very tight bends!  The famous 'curly curly' comes towards the end of each lap and I must admit to being very glad when we got to the centre and reversed direction to come out again - I was beginning to get a bit dizzy!  

I set off a bit too fast, nearly good a tumble on the uneven ground at the first sharp corner, completing my first mile in a smidge over 7 minutes.  The wind was evil!  And the twists and turns meant that it was only a matter of seconds before it was going to be full in your face again!  I thought I might be first female, but wasn't sure as it was impossible to keep track of who was where!  I thought there were two women close behind me and tried to keep track of whether they were gaining on me or not.  The ground underfoot was uneven but, thankfully, not too muddy.  As I passed my friend who was tailwalking she confirmed that I was first lady, but I had no idea if I could hold on to the lead until the end, so I just kept going.  I didn't look at my watch, I didn't trust myself to look at my wrist and not fall over!  As I crossed the finish line I did look at my watch 22:39 it said - which would not only be a PB( by 2 seconds), but the last number I need for stopwatch bingo.  When the official results came in (very speedily) I think I was more upset to miss out on the stopwatch bingo than a new parkrun PB!  (Official time 22:42).  I was first lady to finish, coming in 11th overall, John finished 4th overall and as we waited for the others I went to fetch the shortbread and ginger cake from my car and John poured the fizz!  

Once we had all finished and after John had been reunited with his car key (that had fallen out near the start) we made our way to the cafe in the Pavilion, breakfast looked good and was very reasonably priced.  We also ate cake and some people had CurlyWurlys too before we all had to go our separate ways.  What was lovely to see was the number of parkrunners enjoying a post run coffee and chat.  This has always been such an important part of the morning to me, but at a few parkruns recently not many people seem to go for coffee.  
As always, a huge thank you to all the volunteers who made this morning possible!  A great parkrun - very unique!  I'd love to have been a fly on the wall when the route was originally proposed - it is utterly bonkers, harder to run than you'd imagine for a flat course, but great fun!  Thank you!