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!