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!