Monday 30 December 2013

My last race of the year and a look back at 2013

Yesterday, I ran my last race of 2013…the Buntingford Year End 10 Miler, put on by the Royston Runners. It’s a bit tough with a fair few hills, but it’s all on road, was a beautiful day, very well organised and I’m pleased to have got through it without stopping or walking at all. I made a conscious decision not to take my Garmin and just to run on feel, and after the first half, which always feels like a warm up on these shorter races, I know I put in a decent amount of effort and am pretty certain I ran a negative split. It was my slowest attempt at this race though (my 3rd time) and so not particularly pleased with my finish of 1:30:27, but I probably still had the Portsmouth marathon in my legs from last week…and I’ve definitely eaten too many mince pies this Christmas, so I’m not going to let myself be too disappointed. I got a lovely boxed medal for my efforts which always helps too ;) 

So thinking about this being my last race of the year makes me look back on the rest of 2013. In January, I’d set a target of running 2,013 miles in the 12 months, but from very early on I realised I just didn't have the commitment to get to that sort of number – I have been frustratingly undisciplined with my training plan, and just haven’t done the mileage I needed to. I've realised that in fact, this year I've run fewer total miles than I did in 2012! I have to make sure that isn’t a pattern that repeats itself – I’m meant to be becoming a better runner, not a lazier one!

My 2013 bling haul
However, I've run 25 races this year, including 21 marathons or ultras (more than ever before), which has taken my total marathon number to 38. It seems absolutely ridiculous that I've done that many this year, but it's definitely happened, and I'm going to let myself be proud of that. 

The first few months of 2013 were incredible, with Francis and I getting married in April and then heading off on our wonderful honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast, which was where I heard the sickening news about the Boston Marathon bombing. We came back from honeymoon on Saturday night so I could run London the next day which was incredibly emotional. You can see in the photo I've kept the black ribbon I wore during London, pinned to my medal, in memory of those affected by the bombing. 

Then there was my completion of the 10in10 in May, achieving my target of finishing every marathon in under 5 hours, and with an average time of 4:39. What a brilliant experience it was, with an incredible group of people, and even seven months later, it still feels like it had a profound effect on me, and Brathay will always hold a very special place in my heart. Here are a few of my favourite photos from the last day of the 10in10:

However, as exciting as the 10in10 was, I’ve not beaten any PBs this year, and have been very conscious of my continued loss of pace as the year has progressed. I think this was really caused by having to deal with my first significant injury which resulted in many weeks of not running, and then a subsequent drop in my motivation – doing even less running than I was doing at the beginning of the year has inevitably meant I'm just getting slower!

So, if I have one main goal for next year, it’s to be more dedicated – to actually stick to my schedule and really put in the effort during training - to run faster and not churn out junk miles week after week that don’t really improve my fitness. It will make such a difference to how much I enjoy events, how quickly I recover, and whether I can actually fulfil my other ambitions for 2014:- completing the Thames Path 100 in May, and running my 50th marathon and so achieving my Associate (aka wannabe) membership of the 100 Marathon Club!

In August next year, Francis and I are planning on going backpacking for a few months around South America, and so I have to achieve as much as I can between now and then - realistically my training is going to stop for a few months while we’re away, and when I get back, I imagine it’ll take me the rest of the year to rebuild my marathon fitness. So, for the next 8 months, I’ve got a lot to pack in, and I’ve already organised my race calendar. I’ve booked a half marathon, 4 marathons, a 30 miler,  2x 45 milers, a 100km, a 57 miler over 2 days, a 66 miler over 2 days, a 24 hour event that I’ll be doing as half of a pair and the big one, my A Race, the Thames Path 100! 

Now I just need to drop some weight, focus my mind, and do the training I know I need to do, to make completing all of those events achievable!

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas everyone

Went for a quick 3.5 miles this morning in the woods. Was even muddier than Portsmouth, but at least I was wearing the right shoes ;) I was also wearing my very fetching santa hat! Not sure if the people I saw were laughing with me or at me but at least I brought them some Christmas cheer  Hope you all have a fabulous day. Merry Christmas! x

Monday 23 December 2013

Portsmouth Marathon

Things have been a bit strange recently – for the last two weeks, I haven’t done any training, at all. 

My new job has been really busy, there have been a lot of Christmas parties, I’ve been drinking more than I usually would, preparing for Christmas, eating mince pies, staying warm ‘n’ cosy on the sofa when it’s been cold and miserable outside. You get the desire to run has just evaporated. 

I’ve got Country to Capital coming up on 11th January (45 miles self-navigation from Wendover to London, using just an OS map!) and I'm concerned about being fit for it, and so decided I needed to kick-start my training again, and rediscover my enthusiasm.

I'd signed up for this year's Portsmouth marathon, which was on 22nd December, and although for the last fortnight I was half considering a DNS, I knew all the usual suspects would be there, I’d told everyone I was running it, and as it would be my last marathon of the year (number 21 of 2013) I'd have been disappointed if I didn’t make the effort. So, with just 4 hours sleep after another Christmas party, and after a 2 hour drive from Billericay, yesterday morning in the pouring rain I arrived in Portsmouth, wondering what the hell I was doing but hoping it would all be ok….

I was even more haphazard about getting ready for the run than usual, I think because I was so tired – I forgot to tape my toes or Vaseline anywhere, and so chafing and blisters were the order of the day, and as I rushed around trying to collect my number in time, I also forgot to eat my pre-race banana. But I got to the start line…just…and then we were off.

I’ve not run Portsmouth before and for some reason (entirely my own fault) I thought there was a short section across the beach, and the rest was on the road. I really had no idea that it was more of a 50/50 between path and trail, and so wore my new Kayanos which weren’t the best choice. Not only were they wholly unsuitable for the slippery mud, path-wide puddles, and boggy fields, I’ve been trying to keep them clean and yesterday they got absolutely filthy. 

It really does pay to do some research and read a bit about a forthcoming race so you don’t have that sort of surprise on the day...I do love trails but it just wasn't what I was expecting, and it was a strange kind of very urban trail - a path squished between the town or the motorway and the sea!

Some of the route was absolutely stunning though, which made up for my frustrations a bit – after a torrential rain storm at the start line the weather improved, and it was got really sunny and the view across the glittering water was absolutely gorgeous. Some of the aid stations were ridiculously well stocked for Christmas too – mince pies and mulled wine would you believe - and there were lots of runners in Christmas fancy dress which was lovely.  Unfortunately though, it didn’t work for me - I just didn’t really enjoy myself. To be fair though, if I was feeling a bit fitter, and less tired to start off with, maybe I’d have had a better time! We did get a lovely medal at the end too and that’s always a bonus.

One of the beach sections before they diverted
the course from @Running_Reviews

So, my overall opinion of the Portsmouth Marathon? I know there are a lot of people who really love this race, but I doubt I'll do it again.

Photo of me! Thanks to Nozza Wales
The HQ area was poorly organised, there weren’t enough toilets, and it just felt like there were far too many runners for the course. There were many sections which dictated you ran in single file, which is frustrating when you’re stuck behind a group of slower runners, and there were places where everyone had to walk because it was bottle-necked. I also struggled throughout the whole race to find clear ground to run for any period of time, I just always felt like there was someone very close by, and although that’s fine in a road race when you’re just going in a straight line, when everyone’s trying to find a runnable path, it becomes a real pain! 

It was great to see so many friends, both out on the course and at the finish, and I was disappointed not to be able to hang around and stay longer at the end to chat, but I was already tired from my late night, and needed to start the 2 hour drive home before I starting falling asleep.

I’m not sure if the race has helped me rediscover my love of running, but it has reminded me that a marathon is a lot more painful when you’ve not put the training in, and maybe that will be enough to get me out during the week and to log some miles, so I can start to have a bit more fun at the races I’ve got booked for 2014!

Some of the mud.....
Photo borrowed from the lovely Jo

Monday 2 December 2013

Saxon Shore Marathon

On Saturday, I ran the Saxon Shore Marathon. I hadn't really thought about it too much in the run up over the last week, but work was very busy and I hadn't managed to run as much as I'd hoped so you could say I'd had a taper ;) I also made sure I carb loaded the day before with pasta for lunch and a dinner of fish and chips!

I had to get up in what felt like the middle of the night on Saturday to get ready and down to Deal in Kent in time for an unusually early 8am race start. I made it in good time though, parked up and went to collect my number, seeing lots of familiar faces on the way – Saxon Shore really is a marathon full of the usual suspects from the circuit and it has a brilliant, supportive atmosphere because of that – everyone’s very friendly and chatty.

The description for the route of the marathon, paraphrased from the website, is:
“Starting from the remains of Sandown Castle, runners will complete a short 0.6 mile loop before heading out to the Saxon Shore Way for 4x 6.42 out and back loops arriving back at base camp. The initial part of the trail is a wide grassy/sandy track. The path then veers onto the sea wall. This is a raised bank of solid earth, topped with compacted sand, gravel and shingle. There is then a straight, well tarmacked road before reaching the white gate – this is the turn-around point."

The weather when I arrived was pleasant enough, in that it wasn’t raining, but it was bitterly cold and windy and we were all commenting on it.  I think everyone was a bit worried at how much worse the wind would be when we were running along the exposed ridge of the sea wall!

We soon got underway without too much standing about, and everything was great to start with – I was running with Heather, and we stayed together, and later ran with another friend Andrew, for the first 6 miles. It was lovely to catch up :)

Unfortunately as soon as we got up to the sea wall, as we’d feared, the wind really did turn into an absolute menace. Someone told me later that the winds were about 20mph and we were running right into them. It was incredibly hard work.  However, once we got to the turn around after 3.5 miles of running into the wind, the difference running in the opposite direction made was fantastic – not only was it warmer without the windchill, it was just so much easier to run, and you could start to appreciate the view of the sun rising across the sea because for a few miles your head wasn’t bowed down into the wind!

At the other turn around point, back at base station, was great support and an incredible array of snacks and drinks – each time it was a joy to arrive there. On the first passing I only stopped very briefly to grab a drink and a handful of food but as the morning progressed, and I got more disenchanted with running into the wind, I spent more time chatting and eating ;)

Finally though, the end was in sight and I was on my final lap. I was walking much more than I’d hoped to…a couple of weeks ago I was talking about matching last year's time for the race…but in the relentless, energy sapping wind, my time really was the least of my worries. I also didn't have a very clear idea of my pace, as although my Garmin had been running as a stop watch, it'd failed to find any GPS signal, and wasn't much use at all. As I got to the last section of the trail though, I could see I was likely to get a sub 4:30 if I made a bit more of an effort, and so ran for that, ending up crossing the line in 4:28:02 which I was quite happy with. It wasn't comparable conditions to last year, or to the Enigma marathon a few weeks ago, so i'm not going to worry about comparing my times.

Saxon Shore is famous for the goody bags you get after the race – there’s a giant toblerone, crisps, biscuits, more chocolate…even a can of cider! It’s incredible, and the medal is a stunner too. Absolutely worth running 26 miles for! Unfortunately though, I couldn’t hang around at the end enjoying my goody bag and watching the other runners finish as I'd planned – it was just too cold – and so I soon retreated to the warmth of my car and headed back home.

The best news is that I woke up the next day without an ache or any stiffness – felt absolutely fine. It took me a few days to recover after the last one, so I’m really pleased that my fitness is coming back and is demonstrable in that way. Now I’m really looking forward to the Portsmouth marathon which is in 3 weeks’ time – I haven’t run Portsmouth before and it’ll be great to try something new! 

Thursday 28 November 2013

Blogs with Buzz

A few weeks ago, I posted about doing a photo-shoot for the magazine Top Sant√©, as I had been asked to be part of a feature they were doing on bloggers…yesterday I had an email to tell me that the magazine is now on the shelves!

I unashamedly rushed out to buy a copy at lunch, and immediately flicked through to find the article, entitled “Blogs with Buzz”. There was my photo on the glossy pages, although, unfortunately, as I often am, I was disappointed with the picture that they’d chosen to use. 

But never mind the photo…I’m considering it a real honour that out of all the awesome fitness bloggers there are out there, they chose me to be included in the feature, that they considered this blog worthy of the publicity, and that they wanted to tell my story. it is...and if can actually want to read the article there's a larger version here:

Friday 22 November 2013

A very busy schedule

I've been really enthusiastic about my running this week - I've been enjoying my training and my diet has been good too. Despite what everyone probably thinks, I've not had any new road shoes since May, and so I've bought some new ones (these lovely Kayano 20s) and I even went for a morning and evening run for Wednesday . Happy days!

As a result, I've been reviewing my plan that's going to prepare me for the Thames Path 100 as it's starting to feel a little bit more real now. I've realised that the massive number of long runs I have scheduled during training is going to be a nightmare to try and do on my own - I'm sure that as I get tired and life starts in get in the way, I'll be easily swayed from my schedule. So, I've booked in a few more events so I can get some long runs done with other people, and with a bit of bling encouragement  - if there's a medal at the end of it, I'll be there ;)

So...which races have I got booked in? All of these ones:

Confirmed entries:
Saxon Shore
10 miles
Buntingford Year End
Enigma Winter
Ultra: 45 miles
Country to Capital
Ultra: 66 miles/2 days
Pilgrim’s Challenge
Ultra: 45 miles
St. Peter’s Way
Half Marathon
Buttons for Brathay
Ultra: 57 miles/2 days
Cotswold Way Challenge
Enigma Good Friday
Ultra: 100 miles
Thames Path

Not all of them are strictly part of the training schedule - for instance the Brentwood Half Marathon was my first ever race and is local for me, and so decided it was just one I wanted to do this year. To make it into something a bit more useful, I'll run to and from the race. 

I only booked the two back to back races this week, and am really looking forward to them. XNRG put them both on...the same people who arranged The Toad that I did last year (90 miles in 3 days) which was such a success. Ideally I'd get a few more races in the schedule but there just aren't that many others that I've been able to find that work logistically...and I need to try and balance it with home life too so this will probably have to do.

There is a part of me that's a bit nervous about the races I've got booked though. I always run harder during an event than in a training run, and I'm really not as fit as I was this time last year - but there's only one way to improve that and it's running more so I'm sure things will work out ;) The Cotswold Challenge in April is one I'm particularly worried about - it's very hilly (2750m of ascent) and I'm really not great  at climbing - but if everything comes together by April it should be more than achievable. Let's hope so, because if I'm not strong enough to run 27 and 30 milers on consecutive days, regardless of how hilly they are, I'll have no chance of finishing the TP100 ;)

Wednesday 13 November 2013

More new shoes

A few weeks ago I was offered the chance to try out a new pair of trainers...any trainers...from, a site that sells a huge array of sports gear - not just running stuff, but clothes and accessories for biking, skiing, surfing, skating and generally being outdoors!

I've been thinking of getting some new Merrells recently as my Access Arcs as getting a bit worse for wear, so had a look through the Merrell selection and chose the Lithe Gloves in this gorgeous colourway, which are another style in the Merrell barefoot running shoe family.

I was very excited to try them out, and to see if they looked as good as they did in real life as they did in the picture. Luckily, they arrived really quickly...and they are beautiful looking shoes!

Unfortunately, I think I should have stuck with my Access Arc's as they are incredibly comfortable and fit me really well. The Lithe Gloves seem to feel totally different and I've only been able to wear they once despite loving how they look, as they're just not a good fit for my feet.

Although they have the expected spacious, wide toe-box, for some reason they are very deep, and after wearing them for just a couple of hours, walking around, they creased badly across the top and into my foot. The other problem is the fit around the heel - they rubbed badly and gave me blisters! I was really surprised, as I've expected the fit to be similar to my other Barefoot Merrells, but they just don't seem to suit my foot.

However, always nice to be able to try out some different shoes, and I really appreciate the trial...and just wish I'd picked another of the many shoes that were available to me from the website. Hey ho...we live and learn. It's probably not a bad thing...I think the house is a bit overwhelmed by the number of trainers I'm using at the moment, and not sure I have room for another pair in the hall!

Sunday 10 November 2013

Getting faster at Enigma

Twelve weeks ago, after doing minimal training since May's 10in10 injury, I ran the Enigma Gold marathon - a 7.5 lap course around Caldecotte lake in Milton Keynes. I wasn't ready - my lack of training was very evident and I finished in a disappointed but unsurprising 4:54 and in quite a bit of pain from my ankle which still hadn't properly healed. Then we went on holiday to the US, and I got back to find my running mojo had totally vanished, the weight had piled on, and I couldn't fathom how I was going to sort myself out.

However, six and a half weeks ago, the mojo returned, I started training again...and what a difference it's made! :)

Runners, Foxy and Karen just before the start of the Enigma Fireworks marathon, and Lisa's 100th marathon

Yesterday, I ran the Enigma Fireworks marathon - the same course as in August - and I finished in 4:17. Thirty-seven minutes faster! I did have to push for it, and my back was quite painful towards the end, but my legs were ok, and today I feel absolutely fine - no DOMS - and so I know that although I'm not quite there yet, I'm well on my way to regaining the fitness I lost over the summer, even if the weight hasn't really started dropping yet.

Me, Karen & Emily on the front row!
Needless to same, I'm very pleased with my improvement since the last Enigma marathon, and it really gives me hope for what I can achieve if I continue training to my plan, and putting the effort in.  I think last week's 10km race helped too, and I'll definitely be introducing some speedwork into my weekly schedule from now on, even as I concentrate on getting enough miles done, in preparation for the ultras I have coming up next year.

Although my result (for me) was fab, there were a few other great things about yesterday's race. There were PBs set by Heather, Traviss, Ellen, and Tinu which is awesome, but it was also Lisa's 100th marathon and we had all the celebrations that go along with that - the presentation of her 100 Marathon Club shirt, medal, delicious cakes, presents. Loads of friends stayed after the race to be a part of those celebrations in the pub, and it was a particularly special afternoon that I was very glad to be a part of...I'm really looking forward to seeing the many photos that were taken, as they appear on Facebook! :)

I've got three weeks until my next marathon, the Saxon Shore, and I'm wondering if it's too much to hope that I could match the time I ran on that course last year. I did a 4:08 then, so it'd be a big ask to improve that much in a few weeks - yesterday, my average pace was 9:49 mins/mile, so I'd need to bring that down to 09:29 mins/mile if I was to equal my time - but I've decided that I need a goal, and that's what I'm going to aim for.

Friday 8 November 2013

Smile for the camera

Top Sant√© is a women's health, fitness and well-being magazine. A few weeks ago, their features editor got in touch with me via twitter, to ask if I'd be interested in being involved with a feature they were doing on bloggers....yep, they wanted me to be in their magazine!

The opportunity to be in a national magazine is incredible, and I couldn't believe they'd asked me...but obviously I said yes! :)

Yesterday, I was invited to the Latern Studios in Battersea for a photoshoot, along with the other bloggers involved, to get some pictures done to appear in the article. I was pretty nervous - I'm not a big fan of getting my photo taken  - but decided to embrace it as a new experience.

I arrived and changed into some running gear, before having my hair and make-up done which was fabulous, and then went to see the photographer. I was hardly a natural (left a bit, right a bit, chin up, chin dowm, smile less, smile more etc) but I did have fun and everyone was very friendly. I had absolutely no ideas on what to do in the photos but they asked me to go into a "start line" position, do some stretches, and various other odd poses ;) No idea how they'll come out but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

I don't know which issue the article will appear in, but I'm really looking forward to seeing how it all looks in print!

Monday 4 November 2013

Pushing the pace

Throughout my running career, I've not really embraced the 10km race distance - my first 10km was in July 2010, I ran three of them in 2011, and then just one in 2012, the Billericay Striders race, which starts just 2 miles from my front door - a real bonus and probably the only reason why I signed up.

This year, I seem to have followed the same pattern - the only 10km on my schedule was the Billericay Striders again, which I ran on Sunday. I'm not a huge fan of the route and don't really enjoy the first mile or so (uphill and some of it is single file along the main road) and it could do with a few more road closures throughout but it's well organised and many people do really seem to love it...and it's great that I can run to the race from home and back.

However, the thing I really enjoyed about the Striders 10km this year, was it reminded me what it was like to race. To push myself hard, to pass people, and to put in a level of effort that's very different to the effort I need to run long distances.

Obviously if I was fitter I could properly race long distances too, but I'm not and I don't - long runs are purely against myself and that's fine, but I enjoyed my legs waking up during the 10km and realising I was meant to actually run rather than plod through.  A short distance race really is a totally different type of event to a marathon or ultra and I was surprised that I enjoyed that difference so much.

I know I'm not as fast as I once PB marathon pace from last year was only a bit slower than my average pace for the 10km....but that's because I haven't done any speedwork for absolutely ages, and I'm heavier these days, but it doesn't change how much fun it was to feel a bit speedier than usual! I'm thinking that although I'm concentrating on my endurance and getting miles in my legs in preparation for the longer races I've got coming up, it wouldn't hurt to include some speedwork in my training again, or to sign up for a few more 10km events.

P.S - Last year, we got a pen for a memento of the race, so I was very pleased with this year's lovely medal :)

Friday 1 November 2013

The Stort 30 - race report

What an absolutely brilliant day. That sums up my experience of the Stort 30 this year - it was awesome, I loved it and from the various reviews and blogs I've seen from other runners, I think everyone pretty much agrees :)

This is Jerry at mile 15
I arrived in good time at the clubhouse where the race starts in Bishop's Stortford, and said hello to a couple of friends before settling myself in a corner to tape and vaseline my feet...only to be rudely interrupted by a flying banana as my long time mentor Jerry (who was sweeping the course) made his presence known ;) 

I chatted with Jerry, and with everyone, about being a bit nervous but looking forward to the run...I think in hindsight there's a part of me that wants to make excuses before a race starts just in case anything does go wrong. I did the same at the St Peter's Way 45 miler earlier in the year, telling people I might drop out at halfway. I have to stop doing this - even when I'm nervous, I must focus on the positives!

Anyway, I think I managed to catch everyone and say hello before Lindley, Race Director at Challenge Running, called us all to the start line to get ready for the off....and then away we went.

Despite there being a much larger field of runners than last year, there was more than enough room for everyone and the pack quickly thinned out as the faster runners pulled away, and we all settled into our places. As I always do, I ran the first mile far too fast, in slightly under 9 minutes (my plan had been to try and run consistent 11 minute miles all the way through plus time at the checkpoints) only having to stop when a gust of wind blew my hat off! I calmed down after that first mile though, and found a more relaxed pace.

I didn't stop at the first checkpoint - we'd been told we didn't have to, I didn't need anything and I knew how much time I'd waste there. So, I carried onto the next checkpoint at 10 miles where I was very pleased to see that one of the marshals was fellow runner and friend, Liz and her lovely husband Albi who is recovering from a stroke - great to see him up and about again.

On I went.

The course really is lovely. Although I probably missed a lot of it as I spent most of my time looking at the path making sure I knew where my feet were going, the bits I did see were very picturesque ;) I wish I'd taken some photos.

There's a mile of tarmac path to start with until you get to the river, and once you're on the trail course, it's a mix of hard packed trail path, grassy fields, a bit more tarmac and for a few miles, just mud! I was so impressed by how my Salomon Speedcross dealt with the mud - I was incredibly pleased that I'd decided to wear them, along with my Dirty Girl gaiters which worked perfectly. The mud didn't actually seem as deep or a as slippery as last year, but I'm pretty sure my judgement was skewed by the just didn't seem that different running over the mud as running the rest of the course. The other difference in the course this year is that Lindley had put lots of route markers (blue paint arrows) down , and so I didn't need to look at the route instructions at all, and was confident of where I was going.

The weather was near perfect. It was a bit blustery...I remember one point where the wind literally blew me hard enough to make me worry I would have ended up in the river had the path not been as wide...but otherwise the temperature was cool, there were periods of sunshine and blue skies and so generally we had great running conditions.

As I got closer to the turn around point (mile 15), I started to get passed by lots of runners on their return trip, and took the opportunity to cheer on everyone I could. I love the camaraderie of the ultras but hope I didn't annoy anyone with my regular "well done" that I shouted out! A particular highlight of that section was being high-fived by Paul Ali as he ran past me...there was a boat load of people on the river just there and I remember thinking, I hope they can see what fun we're having!

I got to 15 miles in decent time and was feeling great. I stopped for a brief chat with fabulous Karen, and made sure I sampled some of her famous baking, before heading back along the way I'd come, still cheering on the other runners making their way down to the turn around. Was great to see Nici, who is a Twitter friend I hadn't met before, who was completing her first ultra and I made sure I cheered her on too. Looking at my Garmin stats, I was averaging just over 10 minute miles .for the first 20 miles of the race, and I really did enjoy pretty much every step of it.

The last 10 miles though were much more of a struggle, and my lack of training started to tell. I suppose I should have taken it slower for the first 20 and tried to be more consistent throughout the race, but I was enjoying myself so I'm not going to regret that. I stopped for ages at the last checkpoint, and the final 6 miles were very hard as I totally lost my focus - my back particularly started to ache, I started walking for long periods of time, stretching, and generally faffing about, instead of running.

Another friend, Rosemary, was running and needs a particular mention - the day before she'd run Beachy Head marathon and she stormed past me at about 28 miles, finishing incredibly strongly - I was very impressed with that.

Eventually I made it to the end where the course takes you along the side of the club house but you then have to run what is quickly becoming a quite infamous lap of the sports field before crossing the finish line. Seriously, having to do that lap is just cruel at the end of 30 miles - it always reminds me of being at school and having to run the 1,500m around the field when I was about 13 which was always torture, and I think it's that memory that makes it feel so tough as opposed to the 30 miles already in my legs!

Anyway, race finished, I got the fabulous Stort 30 medal, a technical T-Shirt, and a hug from Karen. If I was disappointed not to get a medal last year, this one definitely made up for it - a replica of a piece of art that is out on the course, totally unique and as good in real life as it had looked on the internet! I love it :D

I was also very pleased to see friends Conrad and Morgan at the end, who had both finished in their target times of sub-5hrs, and also to meet for the first time, Paul (who is running the 10in10 next year), his girlfriend Caroline and friend from Twitter, Dan, if only briefly.

Sue, who's part of Challenge Running, was also taking part in the race and prior to the big day we'd both been bemoaning our lack of training and worrying about how we'd get on - unfortunately Sue suffered with stomach issues, and even threw up but still finished in just under 6 hours - brilliant strength of character to keep going :D

I came across the line in 5:23:59 (against last year's time of 4:57:38) but knowing how well the first 20 miles went, and knowing I'd only had 5 weeks training, I'm really pleased with the result and am taking it as a real positive...especially because I didn't have any trouble with my ankle, and so I am declaring the injury resolved!

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Getting ready for the next race

It's been a fortnight since my hyperbolic and overly enthusiastic blog post about inspiration and my return to how am I doing now? Well, actually, pretty well.

My run streak didn't last - I got to 20 days and 116 miles and decided that the extreme tightness in my leg muscles and 24/7 pain from rapidly developing shin splints wasn't worth the glory of a streak, and so took a couple of days off. It was a good decision, and I came back to training physically refreshed. Although I wasn't waxing quite as lyrically about every run after the streak ended, and I've had a few real shockers, I'm still pleased with my progress and in the last month (since 23rd September when I started running again) have racked up 162 miles.

I think that the change in my mood has come about because for the first few weeks of my return, it was all about rediscovering my love for the trails, but recently my focus has changed as I've been starting to prepare for my next race, the Stort 30, which is this weekend. The race is organised by Challenge Running and it's an out and back along the River Stort in Essex, starting from Bishop's Stortford. I absolutely loved it last year, especially as I managed to finish as first lady - I was lucky that it was a very small field (it was the inaugural event) and an excellent female runner who was meant to be coming didn't turn up! ;) 

Me, finishing the Stort 30 in 2012
The route is mostly trail, along some some pretty countryside, and the support from Challenge Running is excellent - the only downside last year was the section that was incredibly muddy...and I'd turned up in road shoes. How I didn't end up on the floor or in the river was a miracle ;) This year, I will be in trail shoes, probably my Salomon Speedcross. 

A section of the Stort 30 route...when it's been dry!
I'm really looking forward to the race, particularly because a lot of friends are going to be there and it'll be lovely to see people, in person, who most of the time I only talk to online. The problem is that I'm going to be attempting to run 30 miles with just 5 weeks of training in my legs! But that's ok - I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm going to be way off last year's time, and my sole aim is to finish...but I'm also realistic that just finishing 30 miles on so little training is going to be painful, and very hard work.

I've done two long runs over the last two weeks, both of 19 miles. Both were much more difficult than I ever expected a 19 mile run to be. My ankle hurt, my knees hurt, and I even found my mental strength waning, especially as the weather was atrocious for both of them. I'm just starting to appreciate how very fit and focused I must have been this time last year, and in the run up to the 10in10. I had no idea and it makes me a bit sad that I've lost that level of endurance, strength and psychological resolve! Determined to get them back...although obviously that's not going to happen by Sunday ;)

Anyway, for my taper week, I had a speedy 5 miler last night, ran a slow 6 miles this morning before work, and I've got a massage booked for this afternoon. If I thought my 19 mile training runs were painful, I have a feeling my massage will give me a new sense of perspective! To round off the week, on Friday I'm taking part in a Poppy Run - a 5km charity run around Battersea Park, in aid of the Poppy Appeal for the British Legion, and then it's the big day on Sunday.  

The next time you'll hear from me, I'll either be in pieces because my ankle didn't hold out in the race, because I didn't make the cut off time, or some other disaster befell me (like slipping on the muddy river bank and falling in the water maybe!) or absolutely over the moon because I'll have done it - I'll have finished and will be the owner of one of these: the fabulous 2013 Stort 30 medal!

Wednesday 9 October 2013

True inspiration

I'm still maintaining my run-streak. I didn't plan to, and I'm not thinking about how long it'll continue, but I just seem to keep going out for a run. Today was day 14. I don't always run very far, (I've done a couple of 2 milers) but I am absolutely loving it. I'm starting to feel fitter, and am taking the opportunity to discover new paths and explore woodland I haven't run through before, even though I've lived here for over 4 years now! Most surprisingly, I've also embraced early morning running...getting my runs done before work and not having to worry about it late at night when I'm starting to get comfy on the sofa has been wonderful and seeing the sunrise is a spectacular start to the day.

I've also bought some new Salomon XR Missions which I'm just getting used to - I'll do a review on the fit and ride of them at some point, but at the moment I think they're the most beautiful shoes I've ever owned...although it wont be long before they're covered in mud ;) There is definitely motivation to be found in new gear!

To add to my recent enthusiasm, on Monday evening, I got some extra inspiration from attending an interview, Q&A and then book signing with Scott Jurek, who is one of my ultra-running heroes...I've read his book "Eat and Run" a few times and have an interview he did in Time magazine pinned by my desk, which I look at most days. So, after work, I joined a small audience gathered at the Bloomsbury Institute, and waited expectantly....before too long, we were joined by the man himself, and his interviewer, Richard Moore. It was great to be in the same room as Jurek and listen to him talking about his experiences growing up and becoming a runner, although a lot of the interview just went over things in his book. The Q&A was where it got really interesting, where Jurek gave advice, and talked about all sorts of different (ultra running related) topics - what he thinks about up-and-coming runners, the barefoot craze, why he lives in Boulder, how he fuels through a race - all sorts of things. At the end of the talk, Jurek hung around for ages, signing copies of his book...we could either buy a copy there, or he would sign our own, which is a good job because I think 9/10 people had well-thumbed copies they pulled out of their bags!

I was surprised at how nervous I was as my turn came to shake the legendary Scott Jurek's hand, pass him my book, and exchange a few words. I mentioned I was training for my first 100 miler, but to be honest I can't really remember else what we said - I just vividly recall walking away with a stupid grin on my face. 

Here's my signed copy of Eat and Run which I'll treasure... I think Dig Deep might become a new mantra!


Wednesday 2 October 2013

Miraculous motivation

It was like someone flicked a switch in my brain and turned my running mojo back on, and now I can feel it coursing through my veins.

After months of really not being into this running lark at all and struggling to successfully recover from my ankle injury, I woke up on Thursday last week at 6am, and completely out of the blue, went for a seven mile run. I’ve followed that up with an early morning run every day since then; today was day 7 of this totally unexpected and unplanned run streak and I’ve clocked up a respectable 36.5 miles.  This is from someone who for years has generally trained at 10pm at night, and I was so useless at dragging myself from my bed before work! I’ve had a look through my training spreadsheets – I haven’t done this sort of training mileage in 7 days (without including race mileage) since June 2012!

For some reason, getting up early hasn’t felt like a chore this past week, and I’ve been rewarded with some beautiful sun rises. It’s been a pleasure to be out in the countryside, running through the woods and fields at dawn, and even the tarmac sections of my runs through town didn't feel too dull ;) Today was a little different as it was my first run in torrential rain – but I still headed out into the cold and dark morning, and ran the route through the woods that I’d planned, splashing through the puddles as I went.

It’s just an incredible change in me. If I were religious, which I'm not, I’d think it was miraculous…

I’m feeling fitter with every run, mixing up my pace, I’m losing some of the weight I’ve gained over the last few months, and generally loving being a runner again. Is it too “hippie” to say I’ve found myself? Probably, but on some level it does feel true. 

I don’t know if this new found enthusiasm will last, or if my body will cope with a runstreak, but while I’m feeling this good about training, I’m going to embrace it.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Is running any good for overweight and obese people?

Today I've got a guest post for you, from Alan Jackson MSc, FCIMSPA, who is the Founder of Discovery Learning & Weight Management Centre

Is running any good for overweight and obese people?

I have been a weight management practitioner for 20 years now and as you would imagine, I frequently come across people that want to lose weight but are uncertain as to which activity would suit them best.  More often than not they don’t seem too keen on the idea of running. Furthermore most people (me included at one time) would suggest to these people that running would be a bad idea and that perhaps walking or some gentle swimming might be a better bet.
That is until I met people like Phil, who was a smoker, heavy drinker and clinically obese.  There would have been many health professionals (me included) that would have tried to dissuade Phil from running and used our professional prowess and clinical judgement to justify our advice.  Phil was a definite case of giving the health professional the run around.  We were worrying about his obesity, his CVD risk factors such as smoking and blood pressure, but Phil was focussing on the goal and his route out of his destructive lifestyle. He knew what was right for him and as in all such cases, people know what is best for them. He knew he had to run.
Phil has subsequently completed many endurance runs and successfully ran the Snowdon Marathon in 2006; which has to be said is no mean feat for anyone. Phil is now a healthy and fit individual that is enjoying life to the full and his life has turned around.  If you are overweight or unfit and would like some inspiration, if you think that you can’t do it, you may wish to visit Phil’s excellent running blog. When you do, remember Phil’s starting point for his journey Phil’s Blog  
This really interested me and I have since had the pleasure of meeting many people like Phil that were very overweight or clinically obese and didn’t think they were capable of doing any exercise.  I subsequently set about building up a movement that would appeal to these people, in particular those that believed that their days of vigorous physical activity, running and sport in general were long behind them.  I spoke to football, rugby, running and martial arts clubs to see if they could help and before long FitFans was born.  FitFans aims to help people like Phil to make a start at doing something active that they thought they would never do again.  Once again if you are looking for some motivation to start running or getting fit, you could do a lot worse than taking a look at the FitFans project .
SWOT analysis
So let’s do a quick SWOT of running as an exercise for obese people, is it really a mainstream starter or does it just suit the hard cases and nutters that want to do it the tough way?
  • Can be done most anyplace – no membership fees required
  • Ideal for varying the intensity, duration and frequency to suit your fitness and objectives
  • Low outlay on equipment (though  decent running shoes are essential)
  • Not too time consuming - in the early phases!
  • Excellent for cardiovascular fitness and endurance
  • Excellent for weight loss
  • Suits the social animal or the recluse – run in clubs or run alone
  • Can be tough on joints (particularly knees) of overweight people
  • Not too much fun in winter or in blazing heat
  • May present a risk for those running alone if they have cardiovascular risk factors already
  • Discover your inner fitness and strength
  • Meet a whole new community of people – at the park or in clubs and events
  • Runners usually think carefully about diet and this is key for weight loss
  • Great for self-esteem and improving self-belief
  • May be a springboard for engaging in many other activities and sports
  • May be too hard and you could fall at the first (only if you go about it in the wrong way)
  • May further damage already impaired joints
  • May be embarrassing as I am so big
It will be up to each individual to undertake their own SWOT and determine if indeed running is for them.  All I can say at this point is that I have seen sufficient numbers of overweight and obese people take up running recently and providing they have gone about it the right way, they have outperformed other more sedentary weight loss clients by a country mile. I’m not sure if it is the running itself, or what it takes to be an obese runner that provides the effect (or maybe a bit of both) but either way the difference is stark.  
All that I can say is that I have been really stunned by the difference in those that do and those that don’t undertake vigorous physical activities such as running with respect to weight loss, diet and self-belief - which underpins all weight loss. I have come 360° with respect to running as a suitable exercise for weight loss and now I simply ask the client: “Would you like to see yourself running a few miles every day?”  They laugh and say:  “That will be the day!”  When that day does come however, they are utterly transformed. The confidence, belief and motivation that they exude makes them unrecognisable from their former self.  I love it when that day comes for my clients.
I hope that this article will help people that want to lose weight to consider running as a platform to achieve their weight loss goals.  Not all runners are ultra-fit psycho endurance masochists. Most are just ordinary folk, just like you or I.  So give running another look.
Alan Jackson is the Founder of Discovery Learning and Weight Management Centre which are health and fitness and wellness educational organisations for gym and fitness professionals and personal trainers.