Monday 31 December 2012

What a trophy!

Yesterday, I ran my 21st (and last) race of the year, the Buntingford Year End 10 Miler. It was my second time at the event, which is a relatively hilly, looped course around a bit of housing estate and then the Hertfordshire country lanes.

It's pretty well organised, and although it was a bit cold, for a December run we were really lucky with the weather. I didn't know how I was going to get on, but as it turned out, my lack of recent mileage was very obvious (as was my lack of speedwork since the spring) and I found it more challenging than expected, adding about 5 minutes to last year's time, finishing in a gun time of 1:28:14. However, my slower time wasn't just as a result of poor training - I was definitely hampered by the excruciating pain that returned in my hip for the last couple of miles! :(

The finish time recorded on my (brand new Christmas present) Garmin 610 was 1:27:57 over 10.1 miles, and I was particularly pleased with mile 7 which I ran in 8:04 but regardless of times, it was a great race to kick me back into serious training, what with the 10in10 just 19 weeks away!!

I expect I'll be back to have another go at this race at the end of 2013, not only because it's nice to have a race over Christmas, but also because of the amazing memento everyone gets for finishing..

Last year we were given a silver shoe, and the photo is of the trophy we all received this year! It does seem a bit excessive for a 10 mile race, but I'm taking it as a trophy to celebrate the whole year's achievement, and following on from my last blog post, I'm going to let myself accept it as well deserved.

Friday 28 December 2012

Did I really do all that?!

I have a provisional training schedule written up to the end of 2014, and that makes it very easy to spend all my time looking forward and planning for my next event. I make an effort not to do that too much, and to enjoy my successes as they happen, but as we come to the end of the year, I think it's important to look back and see how the year has gone.

I've spent some time looking through old blog posts including my 2011 review and my post about setting goals for 2012, which has helped me realise how far I've come, and although I've not achieved all of the goals I set myself, I've accomplished more in other areas than I had expected.

The goals I set myself at the beginning of the year are below, with the text taken from January's blog post:

1) Run a sub 4hr marathon
"...If I can run sub4hrs, I'll feel that I've made it as a marathon runner - it might not be good enough for Boston qualifying, but for me, it's a really significant time..."
 - Tick this one off the list! I ran 3:49 at Brighton, and 3:57 at Halstead. 

2) Complete my first ultra-marathon
"....I'm taking part in the ChallengeHub [52.4 mile ultra]....My target is to finish the full distance within 12 hours.  The training for this is going to be unlike anything I've experienced before, and will take my weekly mileage higher than I would have thought I was capable of - hopefully, I'll prove that I can do it!..."
 - Achieved this too, and loved it! Also blew my target time out of the water, finishing in 10hrs 41mins, and I know I'll be able to improve on this time in 2013.

3) Cover 2012 miles in 2012
"....I will be incredibly surprised if I actually manage it...if I have a week off sick or injured, or we go on another holiday where I can't run, it'll go out of the window!  However, I am still going to make it my goal to complete the distance...."
 - As expected, I didn't manage this one and was way off target from quite early on in the year as I didn't get out on the bike half as much as I had hoped and have had various holidays and injuries (excuses, excuses!). By 31st December, my total running and cycling mileage is likely to be 1,620 miles, of which I'll have run 1,457 miles. I'm aiming for 2013 miles in 2013!

4) Weight-loss
"....there's no reason why I can't keep going - losing weight means faster times and less stress on my joints, as well as looking better in the why wouldn't I do it?! Well, because when it comes to food I easily lose control and this is probably the hardest of all of my goals to complete...."
 - Didn't achieve this one either unfortunately. My weight has yo-yo'ed a bit this year, but I'm still back where I started. This is definitely the most challenging area for me...but I'll continue to try! 


Even though I only achieved two of those goals, it's still been an incredible year, and I can't imagine I'll ever have another quite like it. Whatever happens over the rest of my running career, I'm certain that 2012 is going to be a highlight!

So, what made it such a good year? 
  • For the first time, I'll have run pretty much every race distance in a year - a 5km, a 5 miler, a 10km, two 10 milers, three half marathons, a 20 miler, six marathons, and six ultras, and I took my trainers abroad for the first time and ran while on holiday.
  • I got a PB of 1:48 at the Reading Half Marathon in April where I ran with two friends I've known since I was a teenager, with other friends cheering us on around the course, followed a couple of weeks later by my PB of 3:49 at Brighton Marathon, which was good enough (by 11 seconds) to get me a Good for Age place in the 2013 London Marathon.  
  • I was offered (and accepted) a place in the 2013 Brathay 10in10 event, I ran a solo marathon leg of the RelayGB world record attempt event which was absolutely fantastic, I ran my first 30 miler ultra with the Enigma crew in July, followed by my first 52.4 mile ultra to celebrate my 30th birthday. 
  • I took part in my first multi-day event at the 90 mile Toad Challenge, where I was 4th lady, and won my first race (1st lady) at the Stort 30.

I'm so proud of my achievements on that list, and thinking back to those events makes me really emotional. Being involved in RelayGB was an absolute privilege and being welcomed into the world of ultra running has been...well, I think I'm running out of superlatives! 

  • Obviously, we had the most amazing "Summer of Sport" to inspire me too. The Tour de France, Wimbledon, the Olympics, The US Open, The Ryder Cup - what an indescribable time it was and I feel so lucky to have been a Games Maker at the Olympic Park and to a part of it. Absolutely unforgettable.
  • Oh, and of course, while we were on holiday in Croatia in October, Francis proposed, and we got engaged! :D

I certainly couldn't have asked for anything more.  I've learnt a lot about myself over the year, about my strengths and weaknesses, and about how much my (non-running) friends and family care about what I'm doing - even if they don't quite understand the madness of distance running, they're still interested and want to help me through it. I'm also making more friends on the running circuit, which makes a world of difference - I've always enjoyed races, but not half as much as I do when I know people there, and the support I've received on Facebook and Twitter from my running friends has been overwhelming. Without all of that encouragement from everyone, I know for a fact that I could never achieved half of what I have this year.

So, 2012 has been absolutely, unbelievably, awesome! 

But now, I have to start looking forward again.  Although I'm taking a bit of a break from intense training at the moment (over the last few weeks my mileage has been minimal to say the least!) next week will see the start of making my plans for 2013 a reality, and I'm going to get serious again about my training and...this nutrition too.

I have lots of races already scheduled - over the next 12 months, I'm planning to run 24 marathons or ultras, including my GFA place at London, my first marathon abroad, in Berlin, and of course, most significantly, the Brathay 10 marathons in 10 days event, which also involves me raising at least another £1,840 to add to the money I've already raised for Brathay Trust. 

I'm also planning our wedding, as we're getting married in April! :D

It's going to be very busy, very intense, and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to fit everything in, along with work and normal life too, but I'm certainly relishing the challenge - here's to 2013 being my best year yet! :D

Thursday 13 December 2012

The Enigma marathon that wasn't

Yesterday, was the 12th day of the 12th month of 2012 (12/12/12). So what better way of commemorating that than by running a marathon put on especially for the occasion?! That was what I thought, as I signed up for my 13th marathon of 2012, the Dirty Dozen put on by Enigma Running... although clearly I should have planned it better and made it my 12th of the year.

Anyway, I'd booked a day off work for this unusual midweek marathon. The night before, I sorted out most of my "stuff" although didn't get round to packing a kit bag or putting my things in the car like I usually do the night before a race, although I did spent the best part of an hour sorting out a new playlist for my i-pod ;)

I got up at 6am the next morning and was greeted by the most incredible view - there had a been a very thick, heavy freezing fog over night, and the trees and the fields were absolutely covered in thick frost - it looked like Narnia out there! It was as cold too... the car told me it was -5oC when I left the house but I had layers, gloves, warm tights and I was ready for the conditions so was really looking forward to my last marathon of the year, and earning the special Christmas medal that went with it!

The race was being held in Milton Keynes which is a 90 minute drive from my house, without any traffic, so at least a 2 hour drive in the rush hour. I was quite happy in the car though, listening to my new marathon playlist and admiring the scenery as I was sat in another section of traffic jam.  About an hour into the drive, I suddenly, sickeningly, realised what I'd forgotten to bring with me. I didn't have my trainers.

As soon as I could, I pulled over and frantically searched the boot of the car to see if, by chance, I had a spare pair hidden in there. I didn't. I thought about whether there was anywhere I could buy a new pair, or whether I could borrow some from anyone, but I was already really tight on the time and this close to Christmas I certainly hadn't budgeted for new trainers! I quickly realised that there really was nothing for it but to turn back and go home.  If there was ever going to be a time to have my first go at barefoot running, 26.2 miles in sub-zero temperatures certainly wasn't it!

As I drove back, I knew that despite not making it to the marathon, I was still going to have to run the distance. I hadn't run for nearly a fortnight...not a mile since my last marathon on 1st December, and this was to be the day that I got my brain back in gear, got over whatever it was that had been stopping me running, and start training again. If I didn't run now, I was a bit scared I wasn't going to start again.....

By the time I got home I was decided. As soon as I got in, I let people on twitter and facebook know what an absolute idiot I was, and what a bad start to the day I'd had, before swapping my flipflops for socks and trainers, and headed out at (just after) 9:12am. When everyone else was starting the Enigma Dirty Dozen Marathon, I wanted to be starting too.

I didn't have a route planned, I was just going to run and see where it took me, but I was determined to get through the distance - despite not having run for so long, it felt pretty good, and I was enjoying myself, especially in light of how very beautiful the countryside was looking in the frost.

All I had with me was a bottle of Powerade, and I soon realised I was going to start flagging before the full distance. I hadn't had my customary banana before I started, and have become used to races with food at aid stations, and so after 14 miles, I decided to split my run into two, and headed home for a refuelling stop.

I had some lunch, got changed into some fresh clothes, and after a bit of a TV break, headed back out into the cold to finish off.  It was incredibly hard work starting again...I was freezing cold, my knees ached, my hip hurt, and I'd eaten too much and got a stitch within about 2 minutes! This certainly was not fun...this was horrendous! I struggled on though, and after about 6 miles, finally felt like I had warmed up again, started settling into the run and I knew I was going to get through it...and get through it I did. I finally made it home again, having covered a total of 26.54 miles in 4hrs 16mins (not counting my 2.5 hour lunch break).

I'm really proud of myself that I ran my unofficial solo (two-part) marathon.

It was very much harder than running with other people, and I was constantly battling against that little voice in my head that kept telling me that I didn't have to do it. There was no medal waiting at the end, it wasn't going to count towards my 100 Club tally, but I knew that everyone else running the Enigma was going to complete the distance, and I was damn well going to do it too - so I did!

My two runs are below:

Sunday 2 December 2012

Saxon Shore Marathon

I'm still on a bit of a high after yesterday's Saxon Shore Marathon, which may well put a bias on anything I write about it, but it was sooooo very good. I had a fantastic day, in many ways, and really enjoyed myself - this is what running marathons for fun is all about.  This was my 12th marathon of 2012, and my 17th overall (including the ultras) and my 42nd race of any distance. Although it was bitterly cold (I really felt for the marshals having to be out in such wintery temperatures) and I had to get up at 5am to arrive on time, I can't remember running a race I've enjoyed more.
(from left to right...Karen, Traviss, Elenar & Rachel.
Photo taken by Ellen Cottom)
It felt like a community run - everyone seemed to know other people there (as I did) which definitely makes a difference and we were all waving and smiling as we passed each other along the route (although towards the end this was much more subdued!), and it was so relaxed. I just loved how friendly the atmosphere was.

The marshals were limited to Traviss Willcox (world record holder for number of marathons run in one year) who puts on the race, his family (Rachel and Elanor) and Karen, RD for Enigma Running, and marathon supporter extrordinaire...lots of people stayed over at Karen's the night before rather than staying in a hotel and she made everyone who wanted one bacon butties for before or after the race!.

The aid station on the course was the blue tent
The course was very simple...out and back four times along the sea wall, starting at the aid station which was in the sand dunes (thankfully which have been covered in grass over the years). We ran a mile on the sand-dunes, a mile on the sea wall path, which was covered in loose stones or "shingle, ruts and rock" as described by another runner, Lisa, and which was pretty difficult and a bit painful to run on (wish I'd had trail shoes) through a kissing gate, and then a mile on tarmac, before getting to a gate marking the entrance to the golf club, where we turned round and ran back to the aid station. That's it. But it wasn't boring at all - on one side was the beautiful coastal view and in the early part of the morning, the sun coming up over the sea created the most beautiful reflections and it made it feel like I was on holiday somewhere, and on the other side of the path were fields, the golf course, or the most enormous houses. The varying terrain was also great as although at the time I was cursing the section with the stones it was great to have the next section to aim for, and it really broke down the distance, making the four hours pass very quickly.

Towards the end, a guy that I'd been running within a few minutes of, throughout the race, was walking, having problems with his knee. We'd been at the aid station together earlier on (when I stopped for a couple of minutes because there was so much food and friendly chat I just couldn't run straight on past) and found out he was trying to get a PB of sub 4:14.  We ran together for the last mile and a half or so, with me encouraging him (I hope it didn't come across as yelling) to keep going as we were going to get a sub 4:10 if he stayed with me. We stormed that last section, and our official finish time was 4:08:53 - am so pleased for him that he got the PB he really wanted and I was able to help him to it! I'm pretty pleased with the time too, my third fastest ever, although still 20 minutes off my PB...but then that seems to be the effect of running ultras and I'll never regret those.

Anyway, comparing my races photos from the Luton Marathon a couple of weeks ago with the photos from Saxon Shore is interesting...I look so happy in all of the pictures from yesterday!! I suppose it helped that despite a few twinges, my hip is pretty much back to normal, so I wasn't dealing with the pain on every step, as well as thoroughly enjoying this marathon so much more.

Love this photo. I'm looking at the AMAZING array
of sweets, chocolates, mince pies & other snacks at the aid station

Special mention also needs to be made of the medal and the goody-bag which is without doubt the best I've ever had. Travis has said that he tries to make the Saxon Shore Marathon like his ideal race...he's run so many, I guess he knows all the things that are the most important to a runner, even down to Elenar putting the medal over my neck when I'd finished, rather than handing it to's the little touches that made it special.

Finisher's magnet for the fridge (although I had the option of a badge too), enormous medal,
a bag I can actually use, loads of food & even a can of Strongbow!

Friday 30 November 2012

Looking for a new stand for your race medals?

If you're trying to come up with a new way to display your running medals, it doesn't get any better than this, at least for Christmas! ;)

Photo pinched from an article on Runners World, and originally from someone very cool (I expect) called Amanda Jones! 

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Monday 26 November 2012

A hip replacement?

Today is the 16th day since my hip really blew up, and the 16th day it's been painful.

Since then, I've run just 11 miles in training, had two sessions in the gym with the personal trainer, completed the Luton Marathon, and gone through half a roll of rock tape.

The pain is getting better, slowly but surely, and today I had my third session with the physio.

She's given me some more exercises to do, and prescribed them twice a day to try and further build up the strength in my core, pelvis and hips.  The exercises are all very easy on the face of it, but doing them with the physio made me realise how difficult they are when they're done really slowly while properly engaging the muscles, and maintaining good form! I trust the physio, and am going to carry on doing what she's told me, in the hope that not only does my hip recover, but that the extra strength I gain from the exercises will help to protect me in the future.

Unfortunately, I've started to put on loads of weight because I'm eating as much as I usually do (if not more) but barely doing any exercise! Today I have recommited to sorting myself out, and if I can't run, I need to swim or head down to the gym to maintain my fitness, and I need to sort out my portion sizes. In other news, we've set a date for the wedding now, and so I have to start thinking about dropping a few lbs for that reason, as well as just to help my running!

I have the Saxon Shore Marathon on Saturday, put on by Traviss Willcox, which is an event I've been looking forward to for ages as it seems that lots of the usual suspects are going to be there, and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone! As I got through Luton, I know I'll be able to get through this one, but will take exactly the same approach. No watch, take it slow and easy, and just see how I go. Let's just hope it's doesn't make things worse!

Monday 19 November 2012

The key to recovery is more running

I got myself to the start line at the Luton Marathon yesterday and very pleased that I also managed to get all the way to the finish! It was definitely one of the hardest marathons I've done as the pain in my hip really kicked in from about half a mile and lasted pretty much every step until I crossed the finish line 4 hours 12 minutes after starting.  I kept telling myself it was like I was running the second half of a 50 miler, and it was good practise to run through the pain.

Fuelling/hydration all worked out really well though, and I'm pleased with how I got on in the circumstances. I didn't run with a watch, as I wanted to run in line with how I felt, instead of trying to maintain a pace and although it was a little disconcerting I'm relieved I didn't have the pressure of trying to get a time.

Luton's a 3 lap marathon, and I started with the idea that if I needed to, I would pull out early at the end of a lap as the physio had instructed. It was strange to go into a race with a potential plan to DNF but luckily once I started running, I knew I couldn't seriously consider dropping out unless my leg dropped off! Anyway, it was a good day all in all, with perfect running conditions, and the event was incredibly well organised.  Particularly mention too for the many, many marshals who were, without exception, unrelentingly enthusiastic around the whole course.

I had my second physio appointment today - apparently my hip is actually better than it was last week even after the trauma of the marathon. I think the key to recovery is definitely running more!

Tuesday 13 November 2012

My trip to the physio

Norsey Wood. Photo from
My last run was on Saturday, and it was a good one.

Weather was cold but it was dry and fresh. I was mostly on the roads, but took a mile detour through the beautifully autumnal Norsey Wood where the path was covered in fallen leaves so you couldn't see where all the muddy puddles were - I nearly lost my trainer in a particularly sticky puddle of mud and my legs got covered - all good fun..  I started in daylight, watched the beautiful sunset, got home in the dark...

Perfect. Except that half way through, the aching in my hip that I've had for a couple of weeks developed into an acute and definite pain.  The rest of Saturday night saw the pain developing until I was barely able to move without being in agony.

Sunday the pain was still pretty bad when I walked. Monday, I called up my health insurance company and they put me in touch with a local physio clinic. I had a phone consultation (when they assured me it didn't sound like a stress fracture or anything wrong with the joint) and then, although it's been definitely feeling better than it was yesterday, I went to the Nuffield West End clinic around the corner from work, earlier on today.

I was full of nerves about what the physio was going to say. As part of the initial questioning, she asked me what I thought was wrong - I said it felt like an overuse injury but I didn't see how it could be, because after the Stort30, I've had lots of time off and my mileage has been lower than I'm used to, so in essence I've been resting! Therein though, apparently, may lie the problem.

Her advise was that with the type of training and running I've been doing, taking that time off may well have been a bad idea - muscle strength starts reducing incredibly quickly (didn't know that) and after a week or so of doing nothing, you can't just start running again and expect to pick up from where you left off.

She said by all means take a break from running, but if you're planning to start again after your rest, reduce the distances slowly over a period of weeks and then build up again slowly - it's all about gradual change. Everyone talks about increasing weekly distance by that magic 10%, but I've never thought about reducing slowly too - she said the only way you should really take a week off from running, after being used to 40 mile weeks, if you want to start up again the next week, is to replace the runs with strength work to maintain muscle condition. Now I know why the runstreak is the best way to go! ;)

Anyway, the outcome is that I have inflammation of my various muscles around my hip - the root cause is probably the imbalance in the strength of my core and legs between my left and right side that the physio identified.

So, I have some specific exercises she's told me to perform daily and I'm to go back next week. She also said I should carry on with gym work, but make sure I don't aggravate the area, and remember the difference between muscle fatigue and pain!  My insurance company has authorised 6 physio sessions which should be enough to really see some real improvement, as long as I make sure I actually do these specific exercises every day.

The best bit was at the end of the session when the physio asked if I had any other questions - I only had one..."would you say I could run a marathon this weekend?!"

She didn't say no, in fact she said I could...because experience had taught her there was no point in saying no. As long as I was prepared for it to hurt a lot, the area would become inflamed again, and that it would significantly hurt afterwards until the inflammation went down again, I wouldn't do any long lasting damage. However, she also just cautioned me not to be too disappointed if I had to pull out of the race.  But in my book, a DNF is better than a DNS, so guess what I'm planning for Sunday?!

Monday 5 November 2012

And i'm back...

My lack of motivation over the last couple of weeks has been pretty disconcerting, and on Saturday, the evening before the Billericay 10km, I was feeling it acutely - to be honest, I wasn't sure if I was going to turn up at the start line. However, I didn't burn my bridges - before going to bed, I set my alarm and plugged in my Garmin, deciding to see how I felt in the morning.

When I got up on Sunday, the rain was torrential...biblical even! It was very cold, windy and decidedly miserable.  I was seriously considering a DNS for the race. I sat on the sofa, looking out of the windows onto the garden for a bit, and had a good hard think. I've only had two DNS's for a half marathon because I had bronchitis, and for the Kent Roadrunner marathon which was 17 laps - after recceing the route the weekend before, decided that many laps of that course would drive me insane ;)  These were, in my mind, legitimate reasons for not running those two races.

I considered what my reasons would be for a DNS at the Billericay 10km. I couldn't think of a single good one - I just didn't really fancy it and couldn't be bothered with it - but I knew that if I didn't go, especially after not having run for a while, it could be the beginning of things going very wrong with my running. I knew I had to just pull myself together, and run.

So, I got on with it.  I dug out some kit, checked where the race HQ was, and jogged down there, arriving about 15 minutes before the start, already absolutely drenched to the skin. I  picked up my number and timing chip, and then went and stood in the rain just to get a bit more wet, jumping up and down to try and keep warm, until the starter hooter sounded and we were off.

This is the report I wrote on dailymile:

My first mile was very slow (9:38) partly because of the crowd and partly because my legs just didn't seem to remember what it was all about. The second mile wasn't great either but I was faster, and after getting beyond a stretch of narrow path where we were single file, I felt I was able to get a bit more into my stride and my legs seemed to realise that it was a race! ;) The rain was still torrential and as we got into the country lanes near the River Wid, it turned out that the road was flooded in lots of places - in the first place it came as a surprise, and the water was up to mid-calf...but we all ran through it, with shrieks and giggles at the shock of the cold! On we went though, and eventually found a bit of pace, and did the last half a km in an average pace of 6:43. Shame it was only a 10km, I think I could have done with a half marathon today, but I do think having a race was exactly what I needed, and I'm hoping that next week my training will get back to normal and my mojo will have returned!

This morning I'm feeling pretty good about the race. I'm a bit disappointed to have got a pen instead of a medal (yep...a pen - what's that about?!) and my trainers are still wet, but I can't tell you how glad I am that I went. I would have felt so awful if I'd not turned up, and I'm not sure how I would have made myself get back into training mode, but when I finally found my legs at the end of the race and got a bit of speed up, I really felt that I'd remembered that I love to run :) Roll on the Luton Marathon in two weeks....

Thursday 1 November 2012

Bloody wombats

For as long as I've been running, this has happened every so often but I wasn't expecting it at all this time...out of the blue it's happened again...I've totally lost my running mojo! :(

Morning after morning, and night after night I'm not going out to run. My schedule has gone out of the window, with only 23 miles banked last week, and only a gym session this week - no running at all so far!  I came home early from work yesterday because I felt so out of sorts, probably not helped but the fact that I'm eating terribly at the moment which is also making me totally lethargic and exhausted, which then turns the situation into a vicious circle.

Every day that passes I know I'm getting further away from managing a good performance at the Luton marathon that i'm due to be running in a couple of weeks.

I know this will pass - it always does - and tomorrow morning I will try again to get up, out and to shake this off...I'm still calling myself a runner, but to make that true, I do actually have to do a bit of running!

Wednesday 24 October 2012

The photos

The photos from the Stort30 race are up now and you can see the full gallery here:

Here are a few of me from my new favourite race! :)

My prize for first woman home.
Can not believe I have my eyes closed!! Typical

Monday 22 October 2012

I only went and won it!

I ran Challenge Running's inaugural Stort 30 race yesterday... a very pretty out and back 30 miler along the River Stort, with some lovely tree-covered sections, views across fields, lots of locks, and a bit of street running at the beginning and end.

I had been really looking forward to this race for ages, and when I heard about it thought it'd be a good one because of the route and location, and because the race director was Lindley Chambers who's a very experienced ultra runner. I was so enthusiastic, I was the first person to sign up!! This afforded me the privilege of wearing number 1 for the day but also of having everyone joking with me that I'd have to win it now because of my number! ;)

I told Lindley that I was going for a sub 4:45 (a 5 minute PB for me at 30 miles) and so he could forget about me placing anywhere near my race number! 

The night before the race, I'd been reading the twitter reports about that day's route recce that had been done by Allan Rumbles (who'd supported me at the Challenge Hub 50 miler in the summer) - he said it was slippery in the muddy sections from all the rain there'd been and someone was likely to end up in the river! ;)  Unfortunately it then proceeded to rain pretty much all night, so by the time I got to the race I was ruing not having any trail shoes & convinced I'd be the one who'd be taking a swim! Nevertheless, my trusty Brooks road shoes were going to have to do as they are all I have!

The thing I'm really enjoying about running these small ultras is the community aspect of it...and it's really nice that I'm starting to recognise and know people at the races.  I hadn't met them before, as I know them through Twitter but I caught up with Conrad and Kate before we started who were both running their first ultras - so nice to put a face to the name and meet people in real life!  I ended up running the first 5 miles with Conrad and it really does make such a difference running with someone - definitely makes it easier! Unfortunately we went out much faster than we'd planned. In my mind, I'd decided to keep my pace below 9:30min/miles, and Conrad had planned on 10min/miles but I think we did those first few at about 9min/miles which goes some way to explain why the wheels came off a bit for both of us during the latter part of the race! 

Anyway, despite forecasts to the contrary, the weather held for us all day, and it was cool and cloudy but with no rain. As expected though, it was ridiculously muddy in a few sections, and I lost my feet from under me many times where it had got very slippery...I am amazed that I didn't fall over or end up in the river. I had one ankle turn but only very minor and after hopping about for a few seconds, the pain disappeared quickly.  A lot of the race was on hard path with a couple of sections on tarmac thankfully, so it wasn't all hard work! I definitely felt the effect of the mud though - I found my legs and back aching much more than I'd expected, and think it was because of all the sliding about and zigzagging!  

There were 5 checkpoints out on the course, and the marshals were all lovely - really enjoyed my brief chat with them, and the food and drink provision was excellent.  The morale boosters from them all was even more appreciated...I passed the second checkpoint to be told I was second woman! Never happened before (the benefit of the Stort 30 being such a small race with so few female entrants) and unlikely to happen again, but I was very pleased.  After that, at each checkpoint, I was reminded I was second woman.  At mile 20, they told me I was still in second, but I should go after 1st place.  I told them I was slowing down, and it was getting hard, and the girl in front just seemed to be disappearing from me, but they were very persuasive and confident, and told me to go for it. So I did.

At some point, I managed to catch up to the girl in 1st, who stood to the side and wished me luck as I passed. How awesome is ultra one would do that in a marathon!! She was running with (I'm assuming) her boyfriend - we had a chat after we'd finished, and it turns out he runs 100 milers and she's an Ironman, training for a double Ironman next year - incredible! This was her first ultra though so she did incredibly well.

Anyway, after catching up, I carried on, but was getting slower and slower, seeing my time goal slip further and further away :( I kept walking when I should have been running, and stopping to stretch when I know I didn't need to. I'm not sure what was going on in my head, but it certainly wasn't my best performance in that respect.

Unfortunately as I slowed, I got overtaken by lots of guys coming up through the field who had been able to maintain their pace, and I was definitely disappointed with my last 10 miles, but I finally made it to the finish line...1st LADY!!!! Yep, I won (the women's race) and it's the first time that's ever happened! 

I'm very pleased, and am really looking forward to seeing the photos from the race as I think there will be quite a few and without a doubt, this race is now going to have a special place in my heart, even though the time was way off what I'd hoped for - 4:57:38. I will be back next year and I'm determined to do much, much better - I doubt I'll be able to place again, but I'm will get a time I can be proud of!

I stayed at the finish for an hour or so, having some of the lovely cake and supplies that were provided at what was essentially a final check point but with hot drinks too (why don't more races do this?!) chatting to people.  I got presented with my prize for first lady (still totally unbelievable) and waited to see Kate finish which was brilliant, and then made my way home.

It was a very good day! :D
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Tuesday 9 October 2012

Reflections on my running

I find myself in a reflective mood about my running at the moment, and this is, I'm afraid, a bit of a self-indulgent post.

I've been spending quite a lot of time tinkering with my training schedule and race plans for the next 12 months, as I work out how to best prepare myself for the 10in10 and beyond, but it's struck me that I'm getting so involved in my schedule, planning for the next race and filling in spreadsheets, that I've lost touch with what I've actually been doing.

I've had a brilliant six months - better than I think I'd hoped for - with PBs at the half marathon and marathon distances, carrying the baton for a solo-marathon stage of the RelayGB world record attempt, and then discovering the wonderful world of running ultras, with 30 miles in July at my first Enigma race, followed a couple of weeks later with the Challenge Hub 50 miler, and then completing 90 miles along the Thames Path at the Toad two months after that.

I'm also really lucky to have been able to share the success and progress of so many of my friends as they've taken on their first attempts at distances, achieved fantastic PBs, set records and recovered from injury. It's been a privilege and a joy to hear about how everyone has got on in their most recent endeavours, and I hope I've been able to support those who have had set-backs too.

All in all, it's been fantastic and I can't quite believe what I've achieved recently.

So, just for once, I'm going to take a moment to really remember those awesome races, the people I've met through them and the friends I've made, and how much I'm really loving being a runner at the moment!

Monday 8 October 2012

Learning lessons from Eat & Run

Far too long ago, I got sent a copy of Scott Jurek's "Eat & Run" book to review.  It has taken me forever to get around to reading it, but I took it with me on the Toad for some evening entertainment and then finished it on holiday.

Scott Jurek is an extraordinary ultramarathon runner, who has won practically every race going - he's a bit of an inspiration of mine, and I have a Q&A article that he did for TIME this year, pinned on my desk - so I was really looking forward to reading Eat and Run.

I've stolen some blurb about it from Amazon in case you've not heard of the book:

In Eat and Run, Scott Jurek opens up about his life and career—as an elite athlete and a vegan—and inspires runners at every level. From his Midwestern childhood hunting, fishing, and cooking for his meat-and-potatoes family, to his early beginnings in running (he hated it), to his slow transition to ultrarunning and veganism, to his world-spanning, record-breaking races, Scott’s story shows the power of an iron will and blows apart all the stereotypes of what athletes should eat to fuel optimal performance. Chock-full of incredible, on-the-brink stories of endurance and competition, fascinating science, and accessible practical advice—including his own favorite plant-based recipes—Eat and Run will motivate everyone to “go the distance,” whether that means getting out for that first run, expanding your food horizons, or simply exploring the limits of your own potential.

So, did it live up to my expectations? Did I enjoy it?

Yes - I definitely did.  Jurek's story is incredible (at times heartbreaking) and his achievements definitely inspiring! Although I skipped all of the recipes in the book (I'm no cook and have no interest in reading about how he prepares his meals!) I enjoyed the structure that swung between narrative and sections of running advice, and although I'll never be a vegan, the message about clean eating, to someone who eats so much processed food, really hit home

I read a lot of books, and to be honest it's not many that I remember, but I have really taken on board Eat & Run and since finishing it, have continued to consider it.  The way that Jurek became a runner, the struggles he's had, the training he does...he's been on a fascinating and unique journey, and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to share that, but I have also come to the conclusion that I could learn a few lessons from him too.

Don't get me wrong though, I don't think the book is intended to preach about a way of life, or how to be a better runner. It's not written that way - it's just about Jurek's story - and the advise about training, races and nutrition, is just as a result of what he has found works best for him, but it all makes such sense, I've found myself keenly remembering four key messages.

  *  Experiment with different ways of living/eating/running. Pay attention to how you feel and react so you can identify what works best for you.
  *  You don't have to make drastic changes instantly. Gradual change will work just as well in the long run and you're more likely to stick with it.
  *  You are responsible for becoming the best person that you can be - it is entirely within your control - it just depends how hard you want to work.
  *  Clean eating really does make a difference. It's not about making a sacrifice - it's about looking after your body and giving yourself the best possible chance of succeeding and of being healthy.

These are probably not the key points that everyone would remember from the book. I can see that other people would learn more about specific training or race techniques, how to make healthy post race meals, or how to transform from a meat-eater to a vegan but that's the wonderful thing about reading books - like listening to poetry or admiring a piece of art - the meaning is whatever it means to you!

Saturday 6 October 2012

So how did the Toad go??

On the Wednesday after finishing the Toad challenge, we went on holiday to Croatia - had a wonderful time (managed to get a few fantastic runs in too, so glad I took my running gear!) and we got back late last night.

Unfortunately, I didn't manage to blog about the Toad before we went...every time I tried to write something it just didn't seem enough, but I did manage to put together a few words for the Brathay Trust's website where I have another blog, specific to next year's 10in10 challenge.

I've decided to copy and paste that blog post below, as now two weeks have passed and I'm not sure I can really remember enough to write a decent detailed account of what happened at the Toad. I know that I learnt an enormous amount about myself and what I can achieve, that the countryside along the Thames is varied and gorgeous, that I found out on the last day that running with people can be much better than running on my own (thank-you to Ellen, Lesley and John for running with me for 20 miles, my favourite part of the weekend I think, wish I'd stuck with you to the end), and that I felt recovered from the 90-odd miles after just a couple of days. Really though I just have an overwhelming memory of it being awesome!!!

"This weekend, I took part in my first multi-day event, The Toad Challenge, which involved me running just over 90 miles in three days, along the Thames Path from Oxford to Walton-on-Thames.
I was incredibly nervous before it started...if it went wrong, or I really struggled, I knew it wouldn't bode well for the 10in10, but I needn't have worried - it was a fantastic event and as strange as it might sound, I really enjoyed myself, and ended up finishing the run in 16hrs 10minutes.

The Thames Path is mainly trail, and as I do 90% of my training on tarmac this was definitely a bit of a was having to negotiate numerous gates and herds of cows stood in my path, sinking into boggy marshland after spending the day running through a storm, and getting lost a couple of times! 

Regardless though, I loved it. The scenery was generally beautiful, the checkpoints well stocked with a fantastic selection of snacks (food is always very important to me!) and completing the 90 miles has made me feel so much more positive about how my training is going, especially as I seem to have recovered quickly too.

As well as the running though, spending the three days with like-minded ultra runners was wonderful. I met some inspiring, awesome people and for those few days, I was able to talk to them about the 10in10 without them thinking I was crazy (which is the usual reaction I get when I tell people about it!). For just a little while, I felt pretty doesn't happy often ;)

Anyway, it was a great event, and before the 10in10 I think I'll definitely sign up for a few more multi-day races. Not only is it good training, it's so much fun! :D"

Monday 17 September 2012

5miles in 39 mins & 90miles in 3 days

The 5x50 challenge has been going really well for me, and I have rediscovered a total enthusiasm for my enthusiasm I didn't even realise I'd lost. Today will be day 10 of my runstreak and as well as this new found motivation to actually pull on my trainers and go for my run, I've found that the quality of my training has really improved too, even though my mileage hasn't been that high.

Of my last 9 runs, 6 of them have been under 6 miles. As the runs have been shorter than usual, I've found myself wanting to ensure that I'm making the most out of them, so I'm generally running much faster, thinking about my form, concentrating on what I'm doing rather than daydreaming, and I feel that I'm benefiting from training more than I had been. This can only be a good thing!

On Sunday, I had the Ingatestone 5 mile race, in the (unexpectedly undulating) tree-lined country lanes around the village.  I didn't know whether I'd really enjoy a 5 miler - I've never raced the distance before, and am obviously more used to longer distances and had only signed up as it was very local to me, and thought it would encourage me to get my long run done in the morning, rather than wait until late afternoon!

It was a very small, understated, "clubby" race and I don't remember anyone who wasn't wearing a club vest, so I was relieved I'd worn mine although it all seemed pretty friendly. The route was lovely, there were enough hills to make it challenging, and I was pleased with how I ran, finishing in under 40 minutes which is what I was aiming for (Garmin time of 39:15, average pace of 7:52), with enough in the tank for a bit of a sprint finish...although unfortunately the guy I was racing finished ahead of me - doh! No medal at the end either, just a cotton t-shirt, which was a shame and had to pay for refreshments which I wasn't too impressed with, but nevertheless, a nice start to the day.

Anyway, after the race, I ran 9 miles home too (I'd caught a taxi there) taking my day's total to 14. I had planned to run 13 miles home, to give me 18 for the day, but my legs started to complain about the earlier race pace, and I didn't have any water (during or after the race) so by the time I got to the crossroads where I could choose to go home, or to add an extra 4 miles onto the route, I chose home!

So, overall, very satisfied with my efforts last week, but now concentrating on preparing for this weekend's exploits which are going to be entirely different - my first time doing back-to-back long runs. Still can't believe I'm doing it - 90 miles in 3 days just seems crazy, especially in the middle of a run streak. However, my pace doesn't matter, it's going to be along a flat course for a change, it's across beautiful scenery, and it's really just about experiencing what it's like to run back to back runs...and enjoying myself (mustn't forget that one!).

My beetroot juice!
Nevertheless, I'm still doing all I can this week to be as well prepared as possible. Although it probably wasn't that sensible to have a really heavy session at the gym this morning, I'm making sure my hydration levels are high and eating well - I'm even drinking beetroot juice every day as people say it helps with endurance, despite it being disgusting!! I've found mixing it with orange juice makes it more palatable but'd better make a difference ;)

So there we go, that's what I'm doing...27 miles on Friday, 33 miles on Saturday, 30 miles on Sunday. Wish me luck, the nerves are already starting to build!

Tuesday 11 September 2012

My 12 week plan

I took a minute this morning to review my race plans between now and the end of the year. I seem to have got a bit over-enthusiastic about filling in race entry forms and over the next 12 weeks, I've managed to get myself signed up for quite a few more races than is maybe sensible! ;)

Looking at the list has made me a bit nervous, but hey ho...this is what I'm doing:-

Currently taking part in the 5x50 challenge. Running at least 5km (or doing equivalent exercise) every day for 50 days. Today is day 4 of my run streak.
16th September - Ingatestone 5 miler. I've never done a 5 mile race before, but decided I needed to do something to remind me what it's like to run fast! It's very close to where I live, and I'm interested to see what I'll manage.
21st September - The Toad Challenge. 90 miles over three days. Voyage into the unknown. A bit terrified! Just trying to complete the distance.
21st October - The Stort 30 miler. Going to take this easy but would love to get a PB and run about 4:45. No time pressure though - this is going to fun :)
4th November - Billericay 10km. I haven't run a 10km since November last year!! Want to get about 52 minutes at this, my home town race.
18th November - Luton Marathon. After the Kent marathon a couple of weeks ago, I need to perform much better at Luton. I want to be back in sub4hr shape, ideally more like 3:55 & will be very disappointed if I don't have a good race.
1st December - Saxon Shore Marathon - this is going to be a much more relaxed affair and I'm even planning (shock horror!) to run without my Garmin.

So, this is my 12 week plan.  Compared to some amazing runners I know who are running marathons quite literally every weekend (yes Heather, this means you!) I know this must seem like a pretty relaxed race schedule, but for me it's a bit crazy, especially with the mix of distances and paces.

I'm not sure how I'm going to get on, or whether I'll meet all my targets, but there's no doubt that all this running is going to be good training for the 10in10...just need to try and make sure I don't get injured along the way!

Monday 10 September 2012

5km (at least!) for 50 days

Yesterday was the first day of the 5x50 challenge that I've decided to take part in. It's not really aimed at me but I'm not going to let that put me off. 

The online blurb describes the 5x50 as "a charity challenge encouraging people to run, walk, jog or cycle 5km every day for 50 days with the aim of changing habits for a lifetime.  It started with a vision to make sport part of everyone's daily life. Not everyone will run a marathon, however anyone can complete the 5x50 challenge and experience the physical and psychological benefits that come from taking part".

That made me chuckle a bit, as I'll find it harder to keep a 50 day runstreak going than any marathon I've ever run, but there you go!

The reason I want to do this is that recently I've been finding it a bit difficult to find the enthusiasm to go out for my runs, and have been struggling to get as many miles in as I should.  This culminated in last week's planned mileage of 42 being reduced to an actual mileage of 29, including cutting short my long run yesterday to just 13 miles.

Part of me wonders if I just need a bit of a rest but there's another part of me that realises that's just an excuse, and I know that actually I need to rediscover my mojo and just get out there more! When I did the Runner's World Holiday Run Streak last Christmas, of 38 days, I found myself becoming really commited to my running and enjoying the feeling of accomplishment that came with maintaining the streak - I feel that's what I need again, and so this is the perfect challenge to get motivated.

As well as motivation though, I'm also hoping that by commiting to run every day, when we go on holiday (two weeks in the Dordoigne in France after the Toad Challenge is finished) I'll be able to maintain my fitness.  I'm running the Stort 30 mile race two weeks after we get back, and I know that if I spent the whole fortnight without any running, I'll find the ultra much harder than it needs to be!

So, that's what I'm doing.  Hopefully it'll be a great incentive for me, and I'll come out of it the other side much more dedicated to my training....I really need to - all of these races I've got lined up are going to be hell if I don't actually do the training in between! ;) 

Sunday 9 September 2012

Spot the difference...

Both are one half of a pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12s but with 15 weeks and 457 miles between them. 
Love getting new shoes :)

Thursday 6 September 2012

I'm going to run 90 miles in 3 days? Really?

In two weeks time, I will be packing my kitbags and getting ready for the start of my furthest event yet - the Toad Challenge. It's a 3 day run (or walk!) along the Thames Path from Oxford to Walton-on-Thames, and covers a distance of 90 miles, with each overnight stay spent in a school hall in a sleeping bag.  There will be about 80 of us taking part, and although it should be pretty straight forward (follow the river!) we do need to navigate the route.

It's fair to say I'm nervous - although I was scared about the 50 miler (which of course turned out well) this is going to be another totally different experience, and it's a trip into the unknown as I've never done a multi-day event before so really don't know how my body is going to cope. However, although I'm apprehensive, I'm positive that I will finish because I know that's my only option - I have to prove to myself that I can. If at this stage I couldn't do three flat stages along a river, I would lose all and any confidence that I have about being ready for the 10in10 by May next year!  However, as yet I really don't know how much I will end up running or walking, and haven't decided whether I'm going to aim for any particular finish-times.  I think I will see how my running goes over the next couple of weeks, and decide nearer the time but it's likely that finishing will be my only goal.

So, I have the sleeping bag, I think the kit, hopefully I've got the legs for it...all that's left is to actually do it! 
I was chatting the other day to Traviss Willcox, ultra-marathoner extraordinaire (he ran 114 marathons in 2011 alone) and he's run a couple of days of the Toad Challenge too. He emailed me some very useful advise about multi-day running, which I have copied for you below.  

Traviss also made two comments which weren't in his top 5 tips, but I thought were great and I will remember them both: carry some money with you as ice creams can be very tempting on a warm day and 75% of it is in the mind (at least), the most important thing is to wake up and think, "this is what I shall do today"

Top 5 Tips: Multi-day racing advise from Traviss Willcox

1) Make sure you get some protein in as quick as you can after the day's run. I prefer powders with creatine and HMB...but anything will do.

2) Wear more than one pair of shoes, my feet swell a little bit so I have day one trainers and day two trainers half a size or size bigger. Helps with blisters...and if your feet get soaked on day one, can be a right pain to get them dry by day two. 

3) Eat a bit more than you think you need and you need more than you think! If you eat too much probably the worst that happens is you feel a bit sick and throw up, if you eat too little you'll keel over and all sorts of trouble can ensue. Same with fluids, drink plenty...and electrolytes, salt...take plenty of stuff on board

4) Make friends with ibuprofen...and take them before soreness or pain gets bad as they'll likely prevent damage as well as mask the pain. Just make sure you eat something with them, even a jelly baby will do, they can be harsh on an empty stomach.

5) If you get a problem, fix it. With a marathon, you can do the last 5 miles with a stone in your shoe, 10 miles with a blister you know is forming etc. When you've got to do it again tomorrow you'd best sort it out straightaway or you'll regret it in the morning, nobody cares about times....