Wednesday 27 February 2013

The St Peter's Way Ultra race report

Since the beginning of the year, my training has been pretty sporadic and I really haven't been as motivated or consistent as I need to be.  I had a couple of slow marathon runs, then my attempt at the cross country marathon where I DNF'ed and injured my knee, 9 days totally off running, a weekend of really wasn't the best preparation for a 45 mile self-navigation cross country run on a freezing Sunday in February.

As a result of all of this, I really was in two minds as to whether I should turn up at all to run the St Peter's Way ultra on Sunday, Challenge Running's second event after last year's Stort know, that race where I was first lady ;) Anyway, I thought that marshalling was probably a much better option than trying to run for 45 miles only to get another DNF, which would sap my confidence even further.  But I bought my new Salomen's, just in case, and kept thinking about everyone who was expecting me to be there and how many people at work I'd told I would be running the distance! As silly as it is, I was also thinking about my bio on twitter and my blog - I call myself an ultra runner, and I really need to run some ultras if I'm going to let myself keep that title!

However, because I wasn't 100% committed to taking part in the event, I didn't properly prepare in the days leading up to it - I wasn't running because my knee was still hurting (but I suppose we could call that tapering) and I wasn't carb loading because I'm still trying to lose weight for the wedding.  I wasn't drinking enough, I didn't even manage to sort out my kit or pack anything on Saturday, and after watching far too much of a film, didn't get to bed until after midnight...and then had to get up again when I realised that of course I was running in the morning, who was I kidding that I was going to pull out or marshal, but I still had to charge my Garmin, which I incidentally couldn't find, so charged up my old 405CX instead! 

On Sunday morning, I rushed around manically trying to sort out my kit, making sure I had the compulsory stuff that was listed online. I couldn't find a pair of gloves, so ended up wearing odd ones, I couldn't find my 2XU tights, I forgot to pack a banana or any was all just a bit of a nightmare! Francis was very kindly giving me a lift to the start despite having to get up in the middle of the night (for him!) to do so, and once he woke up, we quickly bundled out of the door and into the car, quite stressed about the whole thing, but just hoping it was all going to be ok....

As soon as I arrived at the start, I totally relaxed into it as I saw so many runners I know. I met a couple of people I'm friends with online for the first time in person - my mentor Jerry Smallwood, who's supported me through massive changes in my running in the last couple of years (and who was sweeping the event with the lovely Allan Rumbles, who I consider my other mentor) and also met Morgan Pinkett who lives in Billericay too, and who's been a friend on twitter for a while now. It definitely makes a difference to meet people in real life! After sorting out numbers, dropping off bags and listening to the quick briefing from Race Director Lindley, we were all ready to go. I'd made my excuses to everyone about how I was going to get to the marathon distance, and then decide whether I was going to continue or drop out. People nodded heads, and agreed I should see how I got on...little did I know there was a conspiracy brewing to make sure I didn't drop out unless I absolutely had to - Lindley knew my head wasn't in the best place and that was going to be the biggest risk to my finishing.

With a couple of seconds to go, I suddenly remembered my Garmin was still in my organised as ever! I scrabbled about trying to get my rucksack off, the watch on, the rucksack back on and the Garmin set-up to find satellites....and then we were off. I was at the back of the pack (where I pretty much stayed for the whole day!) but I was there, and running my second long distance ultra.

I was running with Conrad Wild, who I know through twitter but who I also ran with for 10 miles or so at the Stort 30. We had talked before the race about running together, and I was pretty worried about it, as I knew I wasn't particularly fit for the distance, and didn't want to hold him back. As we got to the first ploughed field and he bounded over it like some mountain goat while I walked tentatively over the rough terrain, I was even more concerned, especially when I saw he'd waited, but stay with me he did, and I will be forever grateful!

The field quickly spread out, and most of the runners in front of us disappeared from view before too long. Conrad and I were a bit perturbed - I was happy with our conservative pace and we were keeping pretty much to plan, but everyone else just seemed to be very fast - a great field of runners indeed! We plodded on though, enjoying ourselves and following the instructions which were, by and large, very clear.  A few detours, and moments of confusion, even getting a bit lost a couple of times but to get us to 45 miles for the race, we had to built in a bit of extra distance, as if you followed the SPW properly I think it's only 42 miles or so!
My knee wasn't great, and at the first checkpoint I'd put on my support, and at the second, rubbed in some ibuprofen gel to try and alleviate the pain. Got to say that the food provision was excellent at the checkpoints - I was very impressed! I really felt for everyone who was manning them though - it was bitterly cold and I can't imagine how unpleasant it must have been standing around for hours waiting for us runners at the back of the pack. My appreciation for marshals grows with every event I do!!

By the time we were getting close to the third checkpoint at just before 26 miles, I'd started talking to Conrad (and Ralph, another runner who we'd picked up) about dropping out because of my knee. It hurt, but not enough to stop me running, but I was worried about how I was going to manage to's true, it's all in the mind! I just kept thinking about how on earth could I tell people at work I'd dropped out of another race, about how I wouldn't get to have that amazing medal that Lindley had sorted out, how I'd have failed...again! But I wasn't convinced that I had the strength to keep going and was scared of it turning into an absolute disaster. As soon as we arrived at checkpoint three, I had a big hug from Karen, whose first words were "Lindley told me I'm not allowed to let you drop out". There we go then....the decision had been taken out of my hands, and to be honest I was relieved. I didn't have to think about it any more - I was going to finish this event one way or another and that was that.

We stood chatting for too long, enjoying Karen's baking and the still impressive food selection that was available, but started to get cold and stiff and on suddenly realising, we were quick to get moving again, leaving Ralph with his wife, and the peanut butter sandwiches and tomato soup she was transporting to every checkpoint for him! He soon caught us up though.

I don't remember much about the details of the actual run to be was straight across lots of barren fields in a bitterly cold wind that felt like it was searing your skin, through paddocks filled with "possibly friendly" horses according to the race instructions, clambering over too-high rickety stiles, along tree-lined tracks, over a gate into a sheep pen, pushing through hedges and at one point we were jumping across a stream - maybe this was one of the bits where we were lost? Not sure, but it really was all a great adventure and I loved it. There were centuries old churches, quaint villages, a Sunday morning football match, and I remember the stupid woman with her rat-like mini dog on a long lead that jumped up at me trying to bite my knee at some point in the day. I think it got a mouthful of my knee support instead.  "Oh, he doesn't usually do's because you're running" she told me. The last section was a bit different as we got to the coast. The farmer's fields gave way to marshes, mud-flats, flocks of geese, and the boats in the harbour.

Photo "borrowed" from Paul Ali's blog post about the race

The latter part of the race was definitely the most agonising time I've ever had as the pain in my knee went from occasional stabbing each time I bent it, to a bread knife being permanently embedded and twisting in the bottom of my knee cap each time it moved. Had Conrad not been determined to keep us to a schedule of running (25 minutes) and walking (5 minutes) and timing us through it, I think I could have walked the rest of the way.  He did relent when I was noticeably limping as I walked, and we ran 5, walked 5 until I had worked out how to deal with the pain and we could carry on running properly.

Reaching the sea wall was a real marker for me. We were nearly at the finish which 20 miles ago had really been inconceivable and that was a massive boost. The light was waning and I wanted to finish without the torch, but didn't manage it - it quite quickly seemed to get very dark, and in the end I was too worried about missing my footing and falling over the edge! 

So, light in hand, buff pulled up over my face, head down, desperately ignoring my knee, the wind and the bitter cold, and willing Conrad on through the pain he was suffering, onwards we went for the last few miles. We were going to complete it.

Running towards our destination of the St Peter-on-the-Wall chapel seemed to take an absolute age - you can see it from miles away but it just didn't seem to get any closer.  All of a sudden though, the directions sent us down a bank, round the corner, and that's the finish!  There was a building, but it was shrouded in darkness and apparently deserted, so we weren't 100% certain we were in the right place! We ran over to the closest wall and suddenly came across the finish sign flapping in the wind....that icy, biting, hypothermia inducing wind that we'd been running through ;)  I couldn't believe we'd finished but indeed we had. 

Before too long we were inside the chapel, being congratulated and having more food. Got to love an extra checkpoint at the end of a race to refuel! :D We'd taken 10 hours and 7 minutes - longer than I'd hoped for, for the distance, but in the circumstances, I'm happy with our time - the cut off was 13 hours so we were well within that.

There's no electricity in the chapel, but a few of us had headtorches so there was some light, and it was pretty atmospheric. It's really ancient - built on the ruins of a Roman fort by St Cedd in 654AD and doesn't seem to have changed much since then. Since it was built all of those hundreds of years ago, St Peter's chapel has been a site of pilgrimage to many, as now it was to us - we might not have been on a religious journey, but it was certainly one of self-discovery and dedication! 

I'd phoned Francis at the last checkpoint, and by the time we'd got ourselves changed and sorted out, and then trudged up to the car park a mile along a muddy track from the chapel, he was waiting in the warm car. We gave Conrad a lift back to the start where he'd left his car....and then it was done, all over, and you know what, I'm not sure I've ever felt more pleased with myself after an event, except perhaps my marathon PB race...because for the first time, I felt like I'd run a real ultra.

The 52 miles I did in July was a safe event, really closely managed, and laps of 6 miles each.  The St Peter's Way race was totally different - I had a rucksack, I had to carry provisions, I had to follow directions, it was absolutely bloody freezing, and I was in a world of pain for a lot of the distance, and I certainly wasn't very well prepared for it. But I finished. Although this was, in part, down to sharing the hard work with Conrad and for some of the way with Ralph, and to the support from Lindley, Sue, Karen, Jerry, Morgan, Allan, the other all made a real difference.

I don't think I could have done it on my own, and I'm hugely grateful I didn't have to try.

Monday 25 February 2013

Not so shiny new shoes

Yesterday, I ran (and more importantly and surprisingly finished) the St Peter's Way 45 mile ultra brand new shoes! I know it was a stupid and risky thing to do, but I had to wear trail shoes to cope with the cross country route, didn't have any, bought a pair of Salomon Speedcross, and then didn't get a chance to break them in.

So I wore them anyway but luckily they were absolutely fine and I got away with it, with just a tiny blister on the side of my big toe!

The event itself was brilliant, and I'm going to write a decent blog post about the whole thing, but for the time being will leave you with the pictures of my shoes. One photo was taken on Wednesday when I bought them, the other, 45 miles later, after the race....

Monday 11 February 2013

My first DNF

Yesterday was the Braintree Boggle Marathon, a small affair organised by a few members of the Springfield Striders and the Mid-Essex Casuals running clubs. It's a cross-country run around Braintree, and totally self-navigated, which I was very nervous about, with only marshals at the four checkpoints out on the course. The forecast had been terrible too - heavy rain for most of the morning followed by heavy snow. It didn't look like it was going to be much fun!

However, I sent off bright and early on Sunday morning, despite my trepidation and was looking forward to trying out a different sort of race which I thought would be a great training run in advance of the St Peter's Way ultra which I have in a few weeks.

We started well - gripping the four sides of A4 route instructions in a plastic pouch, 100 or so of us ran off up the road and soon got to the fields. I don't think it'd started raining at that point, although it was definitely very cold, but the weather certainly wasn't as bad as I'd expected - unfortunately though, an awful lot of rain had already fallen, and the ground was either flooded or very muddy and slippery with the Essex clay! My feet were quickly drenched from the puddles, but soon afterwards my shoes filled with mud which at least helped to keep my feet warm ;)

Before too long the field started to thin out, and although I ran for a fair while with a lovely guy (who's name unfortunately has escaped me) who was running his (i think) 280ish marathon that day, there were also lots of miles run on my own, when I had to put my navigational skills to the test where there wasn't another soul in sight! I was pretty pleased with how I managed to be honest - although those instructions look scary to start with, once you start getting through them, they made sense and were pretty each to follow.  What was less easy, was staying upright!

I was in my road shoes (I only own road shoes) and the route really was very hard work - without a shadow of a doubt I should have been in trail shoes and I think I was the only person who wasn't. I was slipping and sliding all over the place, and it was slow jogging or walking for most of it, as I couldn't get up any pace on that terrain. There were a few sections of concrete track, tarmac path and even country road, and although they were few and far between, they were absolute god-sends for me as I really was struggling!

By about 15 miles, I had something else to content with...the niggling knee pain that I've had for the last few weeks really started to develop, and soon because agonising to the extent that I couldn't run on it at all and could only walk. I initially thought I'd walk for maybe 5 or 10 minutes, but each time I started trying to run again, I'd find myself yelping in pain.  So, I resigned myself to walking.

So, walking.  Not that much fun to be honest. I was dressed for running and in the incredibly cold conditions and with a biting wind I soon started to lose heat, particularly in my hands. I was lucky I had a buff to protect my face but wished I had another layer to put on.  Anyway, walk I did, on my own, for three freezing miles until the checkpoint, where I declared that I'd had enough and I was pulling out. My first DNF.

The ladies at the checkpoint were lovely, with offers of coffee, and homemade flapjack, which was very gratefully received. I sat in their car until someone was able to give me a lift back to the start, and although I had a blanket, I unfortunately started to get incredibly cold, shivering quite violently. But as soon as I got into the heat of the car on the way back to the start, with the heated seats (wow - bliss!) I soon felt much better...although my knee was still complaining and I was limping now even when I was walking.

But I made it home. RICE followed with lots of ibuprofen gel. This morning though I'm really not able to walk without significant pain, never mind run. Not good, and so for the first time in a couple of years, I called in sick (well, injured) to work, and am spending the day resting my knee and will hopefully get to see the physio in the next day or so to find out what's wrong.

I feel a bit weird about not finishing the race but I know it was the right decision. I couldn't run, and there would have been absolutely no point at all in walking another 8 miles, even if I did have the mental strength to do that, which I don't think I did.  Besides, walking a third of the course just isn't what the marathon is about. I always told myself I would never have a DNF on my record, but you can't control injury, and sometimes, you've just got to be sensible.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Me, David Weir, some food & football

This week I've had a couple of pretty unusual but awesome days. On Tuesday, it was Franc's birthday, and after work we went to the Rhodes 24 restaurant at Tower 42, which was a real experience. We had a lovely time, with amazing views across London at night with all the twinkling lights and fantastic service! He had lots of presents and loads of cards from friends and family, and I think he really enjoyed his birthday.

On Wednesday, though, I easily topped Tuesday, with the most brilliant day. One I'll remember for ever.

CNN run a programme in the US called Fit Nation, to help people get involved in sporting events they would never have considered they would be capable of. CNN is part of Time Warner, who decided they wanted to launch the same programme in the UK for Time Warner staff, where people would be encouraged to make a life change, and to start getting fit, by signing up for a running, walking or triathlon event with the Fit Nation team who would provide the same education, support and training programmes as they do in the US.

Wednesday was their launch day, and there was an event held in a hotel in London, attended by Time Warner staff. The event was led by Dr. Sanjay Gupta who is CNN's chief medical correspondent and a neuro-surgeon, who talked to the audience about the Fit Nation programme, and then hosted a panel of guests who were there to inspire the audience.

So, who were the guests on the panel? A sorts psychologist whose name I can't remember, CNN correspondent Nic Robertson, the amazing Paralympic wheelchair racing champion, David Weir CBE!!

Couldn't believe they'd asked me to be on a panel with David Weir, but the 10in10 and all my marathon running was enough of a story to make them want me to be there and I'm absolutely honoured to have been involved. I was terribly nervous beforehand, but once we got going on the panel, I really enjoyed it, and meeting David Weir was incredible! They showed a clip of him winning the 800m race which was spectacular and he also brought his gold medals from the 2012 Paralympics. It was fantastic to actually touch one, they're beautiful! :)

After the launch event was over, someone asked to take a picture of me and David together, which was surreal to say the least, and that's the photo below - I asked her to send it onto me!

I'm still waiting for the official photos to come through, pleased to have these ones as a memory for the time being. It really was a fantastic experience.

To top off the day, that afternoon I was taken out for lunch by a contractor of ours, to Sushi Samba restaurant in Heron Tower - it's on floor 38 and again, amazing views across London and absolutely delicious food! As if that wasn't enough though, that evening, Francis and I went to Wembley to see the England v Brazil football game!!

It really was a ridiculously awesome day, even without any running! ;)

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Watford Half Marathon

On Sunday, I ran the Watford Half Marathon, which was the first half I've run since last summer.  I was sure this was a race I'd run before, but on Saturday night I realised that I'd been thinking of a totally different race, and had no idea what it was going to be like, so turned up without any real expectations.

It's a decent enough race, and one I might do again...although not sure how I much I like a half anymore - it's just short enough that I seem to spend half the race warming up and as soon as I hit my stride it's finished ;)

The start (and finish) is in a local park in Watford. Local parking was a bit of a nightmare, but otherwise it was very well organised with changing areas, loads of toilets, efficient baggage drop and even massage available! However, I was totally perturbed by the fact that there were two starting points - one for men, and one for vets and women! What on earth was that about?! Not impressed.  Fair enough have two starts divided by your anticipated finish time but such incredible and blatant sexism and ageism was a surprise.

Anyway, once both groups get going, you spend the first 3 miles running through a housing estate. It's a pretty big race (1699 people finished) and the more of the smaller races I do, the more annoying I find it running in a crowd, and I wasn't impressed with the suburban route - I was starting to get very worried that this was what the whole run was going to be like and that I wouldn't enjoy it. Thankfully though, after those three miles, the rest of the route was lovely and we all started to space out. Running through country lanes that were closed to traffic for the race was an absolute delight - it's been ages since I've run on traffic free roads in a race! Then the last couple of miles were through a track in the woods which was fantastic.

There are a few challenging hills on the course, but as I ran them, I just kept thinking about how much hillier it is at Windermere and that kept me going and was pleased not to stop. I had decided to try and run at 9 min/miles and when I started, and found myself running at about 8min/miles so quickly reined myself in and slowed down as I didn't want to blow up later. As it turned out, this was very effective, as towards the mid-way point, once I was warmed up, I still felt really strong, and reminded myself just how much fun it was to run fast! Seeing 7min/mile pace on my watch always really makes me smile!! :D

I certainly didn't maintain that though, especially with the uphills, but was happy with my average pace of 8:45min/mile, giving me a chip finish time of 1:55:32. I'd been aiming for a sub 2hr training run and it worked out well - 7 minutes off a PB time but more than enough for how things are going at the moment! However, the one thing I was moaning about on Sunday, and that I'm still a bit annoyed about, is not getting a medal. For £20 entry fee, I honestly think there should be a medal for the finishers - I don't need t-shirts that I'll never wear - I want a medal to hang up in the hall! Oh well....mustn't grumble....

Next up is the Braintree Boggle Marathon on Sunday which is going to be an entirely different race. Only about 100 of us I think, all cross country trail and probably very muddy, and we get route instructions when we pick up our numbers.  This only cost £8 to enter, so I'm not going to moan about not getting  a medal for this one...assuming I actually finish it! ;)