Sunday, 27 October 2019

What a week

The first half of the autumn term is always the longest half term.  A nasty shock after the carefree weeks of summer, but the end was in sight, we were on countdown for the half term holiday.  Even picking up a cover lesson in my free on Tuesday didn't dampen my spirits.  Whilst sorting out the cover work I sat down on the chair at the teacher's desk, only to find myself on the floor instead.  The chair was dodgy and I was now on the floor in front of a whole class of students and a teacher who had come in to check that I had everything I needed!  The students were amazing, two of them dashed off to get a first aider and the rest were 'vanished' by a colleague.  I was in pain.  I slipped a disk several years ago and knew that this pain wasn't as bad as that had been, but it still hurt.  I wanted to go and lie down somewhere, but an ambulance had been called and I was told to stay where I was (standing with my back against the wall).    The ambulance crew were lovely, checked me out thoroughly, agreed with my self diagnosis that it was just muscle spasm and told me to go home and rest.  I, of course, asked if they thought I'd be able to run at the weekend and was told that so long as I rested properly and felt as if I could then it would be ok.  I know from experience that keeping moving is better for my back so I was (very) cautiously optimistic.
At the start - weather for ducks

Three days at home led to a certain degree of cabin fever and a 'sod it, I'm going to do it anyway!' mentality, so on Friday afternoon I set off to catch a train to North Wales.  I'd been bullied into entering the Snowdonia Marathon to the extent that I didn't even do the entry myself.  Everyone I know who has run this one raves about it, I was sceptical.  I booked my travel in advance, I couldn't travel up with anyone as they were all driving up early on Friday and I was supposed to be in school. The first after school train would get me to the nearest station at 10.15pm and because I booking in advance it was only a few pounds more for first class - free drinks, snacks and an evening meal would be very welcome.

Up into the hills we go!
I got to Euston just before the shut the doors and stopped letting anyone else in.  There were no trains going in or out of the station due to trespassers on the line.  We were advised that our tickets would be valid on Saturday - but that was no use to me.  The information available seemed to rely on an in-depth knowledge of the rail routes around the UK.  I was somewhat out of my comfort zone.  I hate being late, I'm not a huge fan of relying on other people or of that horrible feeling that you are messing the people you are relying on for a lift at the end of the journey around.  There was a lot of frantic Googling, texting and phoning to work out the best course of action.  When the station reopened I thought that it would be plain sailing, but the first few trains all seemed to be going to Wolverhampton - I am sure it is a perfectly pleasant place but I did not want to go there.   I got on the first train to Crewe, found myself a seat in First Class and then gave up my seat to a frail looking old lady who didn't have a seat.  First Class service was suspended, so no complimentary drinks and snacks, and all the carriages were rammed to the gunnels.

Scenery!  Lots of it!
I was confident that it would be simple from now on.  The guard announced that we would get to Crewe at 22.17 giving me 6 minutes to make a connection to Chester which would connect to the Holyhead service.  At 22.10 the guard announced that we would arrive at Crewe 'in twenty minutes!'  I very nearly had a full on melt down!  The train crew told me that whatever happened I would get to my destination - even if they had to put me in a taxi, as it was the connection was delayed at Crewe.  I threw myself on to the overcrowded train just as the doors were shutting and welcomed the announcement that the train I was on would become the Holyhead train, so I didn't need to navigate my way around another station.  I also got a seat at Chester!  I don't think anyone has ever been quite so relieved to get to Bangor in their lives - and at least, at half past midnight, the roads to Llanberis were empty.

Me, actually running
Thankfully a friend had checked into the hotel on my behalf and collected my race number.  All I needed to do was go to sleep, this proved to be easier said than done, but at least my back felt better it was just my hip that was hurting, I think I must have bashed it as I fell as it was somewhat bruised.  I set the alarm for 7.15am, met up with a load of friends for breakfast at 8am and asked basic questions like 'Where is the start?' Answer: 'Just follow us.'  Q: 'What about the bag drop?' A: 'The reason we stay here is that it is closer to the start than the bag drop.'  You can see that I'd really done my homework!

Proof we weren't hallucinating!
The weather looked bloody awful.  I decided to start off with a waterproof jacket.  We made our way to the start, bumping into people we knew, including a couple of fellow Fetcheveryone members I haven't seen since the start of the York Marathon seven years ago!  The first couple of miles went well, although it was undeniably painful.  A pain that intensified when we hit the first hill.  I am not sure that I was believed when I said that I didn't think I would be able to finish this (at 4 miles), but for the first time ever I was seriously considering just stopping.  The consensus was that we should just walk up the hill and see how it felt at the top.  Well, it still bloody hurt, but going down was easier and the scenery was just fabulous.  The support from the locals was terrific and we were now on a 7(ish) mile flat(ish) section that was a mixture of road and farm track.  When we were running we weren't too shabby in respect to speed, but it would get to a point where I just couldn't take the impact any more so we used every single hill as a walk break... and at times I was praying for the next hill!  There are only really three hills, but they are all, with the last one at 22 miles lasting for over two miles.

Possibly the best cup of tea ever!
At the top of the last hill we found the best aid station in the World ever!  A Mad Hatter's Tea Party was in full swing with jam tarts, biscuits, cakes, sandwiches and CUPS OF TEA IN PROPER CUPS! Yes I am shouting!  It was the best thing ever and as we had kissed goodbye to any idea of running a decent time we stopped for tea before hurling ourselves down the hill to the finish.

There had been a lot of rain, and despite the fact that it did stop during the race and the sun even came out briefly, at times it felt as though we were running through a river.  This made running down a steep hill somewhat challenging, but the end was in sight.  I tried to remind myself that I am good at running down hill and that I only had just over a mile of pain left.  As we turned on to the high street and the finish line, while not quite in sight, was just around the corner, we picked up our pace - still in our running jackets as we had never quite warmed up - and got lots of comments about a 'strong finish!'  Let me tell you, it hurt like hell, but I wasn't going to slow down in front of a crowd.

Striding out for the finish line!
We crossed the line in 4hrs 41mins and 53 seconds.  A lot slower than I had planned but, given I was ready to give up at four miles in, I suppose it is an achievement of sorts.  My friends had booked their hotel rooms for next year when they had checked in on Friday afternoon.  I had thought they were mad, but at 6 miles into the race I knew I wanted to come back.  I booked hotel rooms for next year as soon as I got back to the hotel.  I say 'rooms' because I am planning to bully some friends to come too.

This is a stupendously fabulous marathon, brilliantly organised and wonderfully supported by the locals.  The atmosphere amongst the runners was awesome.  At one point I complained that my left leg was fine and I was just fed up of the right side of my body.  It was suggested that I hop on the left leg.... we were on the final up hill.... but I gave it a go.  And a couple of kind people caught up with us to ask if I was OK!  The views are epic, even in cloudy wet weather!  I think there were 12 of us out for supper that evening, all in good spirits reliving our epic day, celebrating three first marathons in our little group and catching up with a friend I haven't seen for far too long before toddling off to our beds.  A beer or two and a gin and tonic or three may well have been consumed.   And the good thing about taking it easy yesterday?  Well, apart from the painful hip/back thing the rest of me feels fine!

Monday, 21 October 2019


I don’t remember when we signed up for Amsterdam, or even really why we signed up for Amsterdam – but we must have thought, at one of our many hugely unproductive ‘planning meetings’ that it was a good idea!  Initially all five of us had signed up for the half marathon, as some of us were already committed to a marathon just a week later, but one of our number had decided to bite the bullet and bag the bigger bit of bling on offer for the full marathon.  We booked flights and hotels, worked out the logistics of how we would get to the airport etc. and then pretty much forgot about the whole enterprise until about a week beforehand!  
JB, carb loading
I waved Husbando off at 4.30am on Friday morning as he and three friends made their way to the airport and happily went back to sleep for an hour, only to wake up with the worst headache ever!  I survived two whole lessons at school before admitting defeat, as I felt so sick, and coming home.  I was panicking about the fact I had an evening flight from Gatwick.  I could barely keep my eyes open as the light drilled into my head, how on Earth could I negotiate a train journey?  I went home, took a load of drugs and went to bed for a couple of hours.  Thankfully I woke up feeling a lot better, not 100% - in fact I still have a headache now (Monday lunchtime), so set off to the airport.
An uneventful journey and a very easy train journey into central Amsterdam saw me arriving just before last orders in the hotel bar.  A surprise ‘extra’ friend was waiting there too – he was over for the marathon and came to meet us in the evening before returning to his hotel.  

In our enthusiasm, whenever we’d booked this weekend, we had signed up for a 6k ‘city run’ on the Saturday morning.  On reviewing the information about the run we decided that a lie in would be better for us!  The city run was selling itself as a ‘fun’ activity, where we would run at a gentle pace in groups of 10-15 between various Amsterdam landmarks.  I’m not a fan of enforced fun plus, as we sat sipping complimentary champagne with our breakfast, it looked really cold and windy outside!  Much better to spend a lazy (ish) Saturday buying stuff at the expo, eating nice food and drinking cold beer!  
Sunday morning saw Monsieur Faffinage toddle off to the start of the full marathon (9.30am start) while four of us sat eating breakfast (no champagne today – we thought that would be silly).  The half marathon start time was 1.20pm – which put us all in a bit of a quandary about what to eat and when and had necessitated Husbando getting the hotel to agree to a very late checkout.  At the start we posed for photos, did a bit of a warm up, grumbled (I did anyway – I still had a headache and now felt a bit sick again) thanked whatever deity we cared to thank for the dry weather.  My target was to run sub 1.50 – I haven’t run that time since 2015.  A little bit of me hoped I might be able to get close to my PB (1:44).  JB ‘joked’ about running it in 1:43 – which is silly because I would need to run 7:50min/mile pace.  That is about my average parkrun pace!  
Can we get any closer to the start
It was crowded at the start, but we were in the first starting pen, so got over the line fairly quickly. I started ‘too fast.’  I kept telling myself to ‘slow down.’  I ran the first couple of miles with Husbando, JB meeting up with us just before the 5k marker at just under 24 minutes.  At around this time we started to overtake the occasional marathon runner.  Not an issue at this point, more of an issue was the sheer number of runners who had just enough speed to overtake and then immediately cut in front of us.  I may have sworn rather loudly at some of them…
We ran together (in our matching vests!) for a few miles, before Husbando pulled slightly ahead.  I said that I would like them to be waiting for me with a beer at the end.  JB wasn’t falling for it.  And I knew he wasn’t going to fall for it anytime soon.  If I dropped the pace (in an effort to get away from having to work so hard) he eased off too and then gradually picked up the pace so that we were back where we needed to be.  He is very good at this pacing lark, realising that trying to distract me with conversation would probably end up with me biting his head off!  He fetched my water at each water station (Eliud K couldn’t have asked for better) although this was rather ruined by my inability to drink from open cups while running – it was more of an exercise in repeatedly waterboarding myself!
The route was almost pancake flat, with a couple of gentle inclines going over bridges.  It wasn’t the most scenic race I’ve run, but running over the Amstel, past the Rijks museum and through the Vondelpark was really lovely, and there was plenty of music along the route.  As we got further along the route we encountered more and more marathoners and avoiding them became a bit of an issue – especially on the narrower parts of the route.   It had been announced that there were 250 British runners taking part – I think we saw all of them, including overtaking someone I knew who was doing the marathon. 
JB wasn’t letting up on the pace.  I was trying to do running maths in my head so knew I was on for my target of sub 1.50, but couldn’t get the maths straight in my head to work out if I was on for a PB.  I said at one point, ‘If I do 10 minute miles now I’ll get sub 1.50’ but I wasn’t allowed to ease off.  The fact that I couldn’t feel my right arm and my vision was a bit screwy (I may not have mentioned that to JB) wasn’t an excuse.  He set me a target of overtaking a woman in red shorts and a black top, and to be fair I was slowly gaining on her until I tried to scupper the whole deal by hitting a tram track at just the wrong angle, the angle that meant my right foot slid right away from underneath me as I pushed off resulting in me nearly hitting the floor!  This was at about 18k, but it shook my confidence and hurt a bit.

About a kilometre from the end we could hear the crowds in the Olympic Stadium.  Apparently.  Or so I am told!  I was too busy cursing and swearing to hear anything!  There was a 500m to go sign, I couldn’t believe it and it did seem a long way from there to the track – then there were signs every 25m from 175m down to the finish.  I pondered slowing down and soaking up the atmosphere – for a nanosecond – all I wanted to do was get over the line so I could stop running.    
Hanging out at the airport
As I ‘sprinted’ down the finishing straight the clock was ticking up – I saw 1.44 on the clock and knew I safely had a new PB, but still pushed on – crossing the line in a gun time of 1.44.15 – a second  inside my PB, but I hadn’t taken into account the time it took me to get across the start line and our chip time was 1.42.34!  I was overjoyed and exhausted.  I told JB I was never talking to him again, said a brief hello to Husbando (who had also clocked a PB of 1.41.49) and then sat down before I fell down by the barrier.   I told the first aider who dashed over to check on me (did I really look that bad?) that I just needed 5 minutes… he told me that I had 5 seconds – so, swearing under my breath, I got up and moved on! And started talking to JB again.  I’m fickle like that!  I couldn’t believe he’d got me a PB, let alone by well over a minute.  I couldn’t believe his generosity in giving up his run to pace an irascible old fart with a tendency to talk herself out of putting maximum effort into anything around a half marathon.  I just hope that he doesn’t expect me to run that fast up a mountain next week!
Finishing in the 1928 Olympic Stadium was fabulous.  Unbeknownst to us a friend was watching from the stands and managed to snap some photos of us collecting plastic sheets and looking as though ‘we were shopping for bedlinen at the market!’  After collecting our bags we had some chips while we waited for the final member of the gang to finish before dashing back to the hotel for the quickest set of post race showers ever and thence to the airport – transport in Amsterdam is wonderfully easy!  Duty free was purchased, drinks and food were consumed in the airport lounge and we were all safely home and tucked up in bed in plenty of time to get a good night’s sleep before work on Monday.

It was, in my opinion, a brilliant weekend, one of the best running related trips ever.  I am so lucky to have such a great bunch of friends and a Husbando who are all as mad as I am!  Where are we going next?  I sense another ‘planning meeting’ may be necessary…..

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Muddy good fun at Havant parkrun

It has been a busy old week - my little sister has been all over the news as she decided to walk from Devon to Downing Street in protest at the way Thomas Cook has treated its former employees.  She covered the 200 miles in just 7 days, an utterly amazing feat!  She was supported by many people along the way who offered a bed for the night, a meal or a drink along the way.  She stayed with us on Thursday evening and we went up to London on Friday evening to meet up with her after she had delivered her letter to 10 Downing Street.  I've spent more time than usual on social media - helping to sort out beds for the night and making sure as many people as possible knew what she was up to! You can read a little bit about her walk here in one of the many articles about her. Work has also been a bit manic, who doesn't love a week with a parents' evening in it?  

Consequently I didn't really want to go too far for my weekly parkrun fix!  This weekend is the 15th birthday of parkrun, so one option would have been Bushy Park, a possible trip to Gravesend had also been mooted, but I didn't want to get up too early and I didn't want to spend all of my Saturday travelling to and from parkrun.  Havant however was reasonably close and I had never run there before.  JB picked me up at a very civilised 8am and we arrived in plenty of time to park and make our way to the start.  The parkrun is in Staunton Country Park - I've run there before during an On The Whistle event but I couldn't remember much about it, although I think there may have been firemen....  I didn't do a lot of research - we only decided on Havant on Wednesday evening and the last two days of the week are hugely busy at work, but I seemed to recall that it was trail and I thought, from comments I'd read on Facebook, that it was hilly.  

The first timers' briefing mentioned a hill and mud.  It is the first muddy run I have done this autumn as there was a short muddy section near the start that we ran through a couple of times.  The course is 1 short lap followed by 2 longer laps, it wasn't flat but the uphill sections were not at all arduous.  Had I been running at full speed I might have struggled with the short, sharp downhill on gravel.  As it was, JB was taking it easy because a) he has the Basingstoke Half tomorrow and b) he walked 30 miles with my sister on Thursday and has the blisters to prove it, I was happy to take it easy as I have to run 20 or 22 miles tomorrow.   I do like a chatty parkrun!  This parkrun is so pretty!  I would gladly come back and run it again.  The marshals were cheerful and friendly and I saw several familiar faces which is always lovely.

After we'd finished we grabbed a drink at the cafe.  It is £1 or a tea of coffee for parkrunners or 50p if you have a reusable cup with you - what a bargain!  Parking charges were steep though - £3.20 for the 2 hours we were there.  Thank you to all the volunteers for a wonderful morning.