Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Vitruvian Triathlon

I think I owe my readers an update - it's about time!  Things have been really busy lately so not got round to updating as much as I'd have liked, so got quite a lot to catch up on!  

Done a couple of "big" races lately - another half-ironman (the Vitruvian Triathlon), the Berlin marathon, and my first 50k run - the Royal Parks Ultra.  Certainly haven't put my feet up.  I'll talk about the Vitruvian here.

This triathlon was the main race I'd been training for all summer.  My second half-iron, but I wanted a better time than Marlow as I was feeling much more confident.  The race took place at Rutland Water, a lovely part of Leicestershire, and included a 1900m swim, an 85km bike ride, and a 21km run.  It's a very popular race, selling out within a day or two (I'd signed up a year ago to get a spot, and now it has become a reality!) and had a good mix of standards (i.e. slow ones at the back like me).

It involved a ridiculously early start, so I stayed overnight in a local B&B - although it was right above a pub and with music and loud shouting going on until past midnight, I didn't get a whole load of sleep!  I was fine on the day though, and got to the race start for about 5am (having already racked my bike and got registered the day before).  

The race went well - it was not easy but it was fine.  The swim wasn't my best though, and I ended up swimming too far at an angle about 1500m in, not heading for the next buoy - meaning I wasted time going slightly off course and having to "curve" back towards the correct heading.  The eerils of open water swimming!  There was a really odd bit were we had to get out of the water half way round, run (stagger) back through the start line, and then get back in the lake for a second lap.  That wasn't nice - it was by no means a restfrom swimming as it was very disorientating trying when you've still got goggles on and bare feet on the shore - I'd rather have just kept on going!

Bike was tough but went ok.  It was better than the Marlow half as there were three main hills that you did twice each (each very challenging but at least they were fairly short) and then the rest of the route was flat or slightly undulating.  Unlike the Marlow half route which was essential three times up a long, drag of a hill for several miles getting steeper and steeper, then speed down and do it all over again!  The road surface was very good too!  I get excited by good road surfaces as I am too used to potholes in my neck of the woods!  I was happy to finish the bike stage though as it was the longest and most difficult - so I was relieved to have finished the bike leaving plenty of time to do the half marathon at a steady (i.e. extra slow shuffle) pace. More importantly was now confident about finishing the race before the 8 hour cut off even if I had to walk most of the run stage.

The run was great - two out and back loops around the lake.  Despite many athletes now hobbling and looking very worse for wear, there was a brilliant atmosphere as the runners were very supportive of each other, and you could hear the finish line music and organisers over the speaker shouting "You are a Vitruvian!" each time someone crossed the line!  Mind you I did get a bit fed up of hearing that given that I still had a long way to go!  I felt fine though, ran at a slow pace and took walking/stretching breaks at some of the water stations, but it wasn't that much slower than some of my average (stand alone) half marathon finish times.

Finally completed my race though - and became a Vitruvian myself!  My finish time was 7 hours 22 mins and I have the medal and finisher's tee-shirt to prove it!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Marlow Half Iron Distance Triathlon

A couple of weeks ago I did my biggest challenge to date – the Marlow Half-Iron Distance Triathlon, at the end of July.  I was feeling reasonably confident that I could do it, although what finishing time I would achieve would remain to be seen!  The main goal was just to do it, within the 8 hour time limit.  At least I’d be going down with another Tri-Forcer – Dawn – so we could keep each other company before we set off!

I’d done the Marlow Olympic distance triathlon three weeks before, (did it last year as well) which was great as it helped me remind myself of the course, transition, the run etc.  The Half was slightly shorter than an “Ironman 70.3” race, as the half marathon at the end was in fact 20km (4 x 5km laps) instead of the regular 21.1km/13.1 miles.  Not that a few minutes difference would make much off my time over 7-plus hours!

We had to register in Marlow the day before (Saturday), but not rack the bikes which was a bit of a pain as it involved two 50 miles drives.  I went with my parents for the afternoon – may as well make a day of it - and after picking up my race pack we had a nice coffee by the river.  It was a scorching hot day, and I did hope it would be slightly cooler on the Sunday!  We also had an athlete’s briefing that evening, and it was surprising how many people there were doing their first HI – nearly all of them!  Although I did talk to a couple of people who were doing their first Half, but had in fact already done a full Iron that year anyway so were “working backwards”.  Seems to be a bit of a trend among new triathletes who wish their Ironman to be their first of everything – first open water race, first marathon, and first triathlon.  I think I would rather work “upwards” although I did do a super sprint tri after I’d done an Olympic, and 5k run after I was doing half marathons!!

During the briefing we learned that the bike route had changed from the original plan – instead of several out-and-back laps, it would now consist of a ride out to Henley, then three 20km loops round the villages, and then the ride back to Marlow.  The three loops were essential 10km long slog uphill (that gradually got steeper and steeper!), then 10km downhill!  Not quite sure I was looking forward to that, while distance wise there was equal parts up and down hill, the ups would take much longer and therefore constitute far more to the race, time-wise!  I can just about do hills, apart from very sleep, long ones such as Ditchling Beacon on the London-Brighton route, but I do prefer mainly flat!

Anyway that evening I went to Harvester for my favour pre-race carb dinner of goats cheese pasta, packed my gear then attempted a very early night.  Alarm went off stupidly early, at 3am, and it felt like I had only just got to sleep.  I had breakfast then set off, picking up Dawn on the way.  Neither of us wanted to think about how early it was or what we had planned ahead!  It didn’t take long to get to Marlow at 4.30am, so we were there over an hour before the race start and took our bikes and gear to transition.  Lots of obsessing and triple-checking everything, then it’s wetsuits on and head on down to the river.

There was about 700 people taking part, so it took a while to get everyone into the water but once in we had plenty of time to do a warm up.  I always need this, and also just to adjust my wetsuit as the thing never seems to fit properly when it’s dry.  My Garmin was taking ages to get a satellite signal though – I should have started it before we got in and then simply “paused” it until we were ready to go as it did miss off the first few seconds!  Soon – we were off.

The swim went well, although it did take a while to get settled due to there only being two waves (male then female) and all starting at once.  It wasn’t cold, and once I got going I didn’t mind it – as long as I stayed to the side and let the faster swimmers (who lapped us slow swimmers!) go past without kicking me!  I always end up with a song in my head during swimming, which had the same beat as my breathing, and this time was no different.  The whole time I had “Auld Lang Syne” going round and round in my mind!  Now, whenever I hear the song, I think about the half iron!

Next up was the bike course, the longest of the disciplines.  Knowing I had about 4 hours of riding ahead of me, I did not rush back to transition but took my time a bit more and make sure I was ready – as anything annoying such as hair not tied back properly, or Garmin too loose around my wrist, would just irritate me for the next 54 miles.  Better deal with that now than try and faff around on the bike halfway up a hill!  Half iron transitions are SO much more relaxed then the sprint triathlons – well, unless you’re in it for a trophy which I most definitely was not.  Anyway, soon I was on the bike and ready for the next 54 miles.

The bike course was quite tough – the long ride up the first half of the loop seemed to go on forever.  Even when it felt fairly flat, my times were at least 30-60 seconds slower than my usual “flat” mile splits so I was either really slow and tired, or like I expected - it was all uphill!  The downhill sections were quite fun though, long and straight, not too many tight turns to worry about.  Then it was do it all over again – twice!  By the time I reached the top of the hill during the second loop, I was really needing some energy, so I took some banana at the feed station and an energy gel – that helped a lot.  Finally I completed the last lap of the hill, there were very few riders left now and only a few people behind me.  The rear marshal on the motorbike was riding up and down between myself and a few of us, so although I know I was slow, at least I was not on my own!  It was still another 8 or so miles back to transition though, at least half an hour of riding and I was starting to hurt.  The thought of a half marathon after all of this was almost too much!

Made it back to transition and racked my bike (virtually all the bikes were back in now!) and it was so nice to get off and stretch.  My back and shoulders were really stiff from being hunched over for almost 4 hours.  No rest for the wicked though – helmet, gloves and jersey off, pick up water bottle and head out for the half marathon.  I started out really slow, my legs felt like jelly and it had become very hot.  Once I got going though, I found I could keep it up, just at a very slow, shuffling pace.  The first couple of laps were quite fun, there were still loads of people around – although most were on their third or final lap!  There was loads of banter and camaraderie among the runners, with everyone really encouraging each other along.  There were a lot of people out on the paths too, as it was all open to the public, and some were very encouraging, although many totally ignored us.  I tried to say “good morning” when I could, although I then realised it was in fact afternoon by this point – but “morning” is easier to say than “afternoon” when knackered!  It was very warm though by now and the two water stops on each lap were very much needed (I walked through these and ease the cramping muscles).  As I carried my own bottle, I gave some water to another girl who was on her final lap and really needing some liquid.  We encouraged each other on and then she finally peeled off the finish line.  We both got lots of cheers as we went back into the race village, but unfortunately for me I had to run straight past the finish line and back out the other side for a final 5k!

At long last though, I was finishing my final lap with just a few people behind me, and at last I too could turn off into the finish.  7 hours and 30 minutes after I had set off and finally it was done!  I got a lovely big medal, and collapsed on a bean bag with my energy drink and water.  It was bliss just lying there in the sun – I was finally a half-ironman!  We all clapped as the final few finishers made it through, then a started the drive back home ready for a huge pizza, ice cream and a warm bath!  I didn't see Dawn afterwards - she had other plans for afterwards, but she got a fantastic time almost two hours faster then me!

TOTAL 07:30:11

Run Lap 1
Run Lap 2
Run Lap 3
Run total

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

BHF London to Brighton Bike Ride

On Sunday I took part in one of my favourite cycling events – the London to Brighton Bike Ride organised by the British Heart Foundation.  It’s the second year I’ve ridden the 54 mile route, and is a great event, fun and well organised.

There were four of us this year, and because we’d raised over £150 for the charity last year, we were entitled to the 6am start time, the earliest set off from Clapham Common in London.  Perhaps not the most sociable hour, but if you want any chance at all of getting a good time, the earlier the better.  Otherwise the roads become too busy, you get caught up at traffic lights, and the sheer number of other cyclists (27,000) make it very crowded and congested, especially up the hills.  We got to Clapham around 5.30am (this involved a 3am wake up call, and a 4.20am set off from St Albans in the car!!) and joined the queue in front of the 6am starting line.  It was already busy!  There were going to be several waves, every half-hour, until 9am (I think).  No way would I have wanted to be in the 9am start, it would probably have taken us hours just to get out of London!  Mind you most people do take the day quite leisurely and as it’s a ride, not a race, and all for charity – plus the number of pubs along the route make it tempting to stop off several times for a quite drink or lunch!

My aim was to beat last year’s time of 4.08, and hopefully get in under 4 hours.  I just prayed I wouldn’t get a puncture!  We set off, and the first few miles were very easy – it was all flat and downhill and not too crowded so it was a gentle warm up.  There were quite a few traffic lights but we didn’t get held up for too long.  The weather was good, chilly at the start but fine when we set off, although the week’s heatwave had certainly come to an end.  I was wearing my long-distance trisuit (mainly as a test ride before the half iron), along with a sleeveless jersey and arm warmers.  I didn’t work very hard in these first miles, and my times for each mile were quite fast without much effort.  Knew it would not last though! 

At about 12km, we came to the first hill in Sutton, a grade 3 listed climb.  It was fine – although it did warm me up a lot so I took off my arm sleeves when I got to the top!  That certainly got the blood pumping and heart rate going, so now there was no excuse for any more gentle riding, it was time to get a bit more serious.  The next 20km or so we quite undulating, with some short sharp climbs and fast descents.  I am not too experienced on either hills or descents so I was huffing and puffing on the up-hills, and then freaking out and hands over the brakes on the downhills!  There was a good mixture of riders though, with many faster club riders coming through and overtaking, and myself overtaking others.  I did a lot of bike-watching, and if anyone overtook me I would check out their bike!  If they were riding a mountain bike I was a bit annoyed that they were going faster than I was!  The other thing I noticed was it was mostly men around me.  If another women went by, I noticed, and we usually said hello. 

There were plenty of official refreshment/check-in points along the way, all offering a good choice of drinks, food, bike equipment, energy gels, and I believe they all had mechanics on board as well to help fix minor repairs, free of charge.  I didn’t stop at any of these in the end, as I wanted to try and beat my time, and by sipping water and taking energy gels I had no need to stop.  Plenty of people stop regularly though, and it is all part of the fun!  Especially when you reach the top of a hill and there’s a pub with a beer garden!

The second part of the ride is quite fast, there are loads of flat and downhills where you can get the pace going.  Although I was separated from the rest of our group, I joined a few other groups of riders and tried to stick with them rather than being on my own.  It was much better motivation and gave me a reason to push on and not be lazy on the flats.  There really are some quite steep descents with sharp turns, and I dread to think what the roads are like a few hours later when thousands of people are coming down them, many of them with little road/group experience.  I was nervous of them, and that was with plenty of space around me!  Sadly there were two quite serious accidents that day, two crashes both resulting in quite serious injuries for the riders.  The ride is very well organised, with hundreds of marshals, but I am surprised there are not more accidents.  A huge pile up round a steep corner almost seems inevitable.  I guess they trust the earlier fast/club riders to look after themselves and know what they are doing, but I imagine that they are extremely strict after 9am when the later start masses are coming through.

The famous part of the ride that everyone talks about is the absolute beast that is Ditchling Beacon.  It is about 10km from the finish and is about 4 times as long as any previous hill on the ride and steep, too.  You can see it looking about an hour beforehand stretching out over the horizon and wonder how on earth you will manage to get up it!  Last year I had to walk up it all, but this year I was determined to try and cycle as much of it as I could.  I took the flat few miles before Ditchling village easy, and had my energy gels and some water, ready for the climb.  Every few minutes, round every corner, I’d wonder if this was it!  Soon I was slowing right down, and was the lowest granny gear possible, but I did not actually realise I was cycling up it due to a weird optical illusion with the hill in front, that makes you think you are still on the flat and not at the hill yet!  I even had to stop as I assumed I had a puncture, but hadn’t!  Then I realised this was definitely the start of the Beacon.  So I went for it, for as long as I could.  There was still plenty of space around me, and I over took people walking, and other faster riders over took me.  I can’t believe how easy some –people made it look!  The cleats on my shoes certainly made it much easier than last year, but sadly I did not manage to make it up all the way.  I wasn’t really making any progress and was weaving left and right to try and make the gradient less steep, but it was very tough.  I had to get off and walk the rest of the way, I was totally spent.

Getting to the top is still a great part of the route though, when you walk or ride, or a bit of both.  The views across the Downs and on to Brighton and the sea are amazing.  It’s a real treat to get there and many people take advantage of the final refreshment stop to relax and take in the view and sea air.  Not for me though – it was back on the bike, a swig of water and no more excuses – onwards to Brighton!  Luckily the combination of recovering quickly and the downhills meant for a fun last few miles.  You really do feel like a bit of a pro as you come in at speeds of around 30mph, riding alongside others but without the huge crowds to worry about, when else am I going to be able to hit those speeds for that amount of time!!  Again the down hills are risky, with a clear road and fewer sharp turns they were just pure fun, but I do wonder how much you could enjoy them and hour or two later with hundreds of other riders next to you!  The final part coming into the city centre and out onto the sea front was great, it was well under 4 hours, the crowds were brilliant and it reminded me of the Brighton Marathon which finishes in the same place.  The guy on the PA was great and the atmosphere was electric coming over the finish line.  I looked at my Garmin – 3.48!  Well within 4 hours and 20 minutes off last year’s time so a massive PB!

After collecting my medal and drink, I rested my bike down and ate a huge breakfast roll and piece of chocolate, and chatted to some other riders.  It was pretty cool to think that it wasn’t even 10am and here we were in Brighton already when many people were only just getting up!  It wasn’t too warm, so I pulled on the jacket and leg warmers I had brought with me.  I then went to meet up with the others and had a nice mug of hot chocolate and slice of cake at a beachside café.  We spent a few hours there, while Ray came in at around 12.30pm, just relaxing and enjoying the atmosphere.   

Took the coach back to London and finally got home at about 5.20pm, so a very long day and was exhausted by the time I got in, but well worth it!  Just enough time for a shower and lie on the sofa before I headed off to the pub with family to celebrate Father’s Day.

Next year – to try and cycle up all (or at least more!) of Ditchling Beacon, so I can buy a “I beat the Beacon” tee-shirt!

I suggest if you do want to do this, do everything you can to get an early start, get at the front of your wave, or just take the day easy and have the odd stop at a pub - as it does get really overcrowded even from 6.30am which means a heck of a lot of hold-ups and you could still be out there after 7+ hours.  But it's a good fun day though, well worth it!

5.45am at Clapham Common - an early start!

Obviously ready to go...happy happy happy!

At the finish!  Madeira Drive, Brighton, 54 miles later.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Kent Roadrunner Race Report

Just six days after running the Liverpool Rock & Roll Marathon, it was finally time to run the fifth marathon of the spring streak of races I’d signed up for.  The second of two back-to-back weekends of marathoning!  And – my 10th overall!

Liverpool was tough, and by this point my body was telling me it was having enough of the long distances, so it was obvious this wasn’t going to be a fast one and it was just about fun and finishing it.  Oh, and the medal!  Did I mention that?  Kent RR has one of the biggest medals around – biggest I’ve heard of in the UK – very impressive!  It’s very unique, as it’s round a 2.5km cycling track, of which you run 17 laps!  My plan was just to finish in under 6 hours, and if possible, don’t get a personal worst!  This meant I’d try to finish in 5.48 or under.  Sounded easy, for a PB-potential road race, but not after running 104.8 miles of marathon racing in under two months!

I arrived at the Cyclopark in Kent, the venue of the race, early on the Sunday morning and made my way to the start.  I picked up my bib, 16 wristbands (for counting your laps – once you’ve taken off your final wristband it means you are on your last lap) and others picked up their very cool tee-shirts that they had ordered.  The venue was fantastic, really modern with a café, great changing rooms, lockers, showers, plenty of loos.  I put my valuables in the locker and then took my bag to the area marked “personal drinks”.  Here is a great aspect of the race – you can set up your own table with drinks and supplies, and you get to pass it every 1.7 miles.  I’d brought a folding chair, and then a selection of different drinks, energy gels and snacks.  The great thing about passing your station so often was that there was no need to carry too much, so although I’d bought my hydration pack with me, I just placed it by my chair as a backup and took my mini 330ml water bottle instead as it was a very hot day and I knew I would want to sip little and often.  Some runners had really gone to town, with a huge range of snacks, drinks, all laid out in order and marked with the lap number they should be taken.  The best was 17 individual water bottles with a parasol over them to keep them cool.  There was also a normal water station just after the start/finish/lap line which had plenty of treats – including Clif blocks, gels, jaffa cakes, crisps, cake, energy drink, squash and water.

It was a small field of around 450 or so but very friendly.  I recognised May Chan from Twitter and said hello.  She introduced me to some of her friends.  It was great to get to know them and have some company on the start line!  There was an interesting mix of people, this is obviously a great “bucket list” race to do due to its atmosphere, excellent organisation, unique laps, and of course who doesn’t want one of those huge shiny medals!  So there was everyone from newbies (I was definitely a newbie, even though this was my 10th marathon) to members of the 100 Marathon Club.  In fact I have never seen more of those blue and yellow club vests in any other race!

Off we went, and it was the first of 17 laps.  It sounded better than 26 mile-laps, or 42 kilometre laps anyway.  The first lap was a bit shorter than the next 16 to get the distance exact.  It was warm already, and there was really no shade at all from the sun.  The route was gently undulating, with some nice flat parts and gentle declines, but that hill just before the start/lap line was steep and I knew that after 5 or 6 laps it would feel like a mountain!  A few minutes in I recognised another familiar face – Andy from the Race Your Pace Half!  We’d chatted most of the way round Dorney Lake during that windy half marathon in February and he’d remembered I’d gone on to do another half (Brighton) the following day!  We had a great catch up, but I had to let him go on when I realised I’d done my first mile in 11.20 - faster than marathon-PB pace, so too quick for a 5.40 or more marathon.  I had to slow down, as I was still aching and tired from the previous Sunday.

The laps passed by, slowly but surely.  Every time I went through the start line, I took off a wristband and threw it into the bucket, and then when you passed “go”, your name and how many laps you had done flashed up on a screen.  The collection of bands never seemed to get any smaller though!  I thought it might be mentally hellish, but in fact I found the laps quite reassuring.  After 3 or 4 laps, I always knew where I was, what was coming up next, when I knew there was a decline, and when I could plan a walking break.  The views were nice too, out over the countryside – although we did get a prime view of the A2 and a huge traffic jam, the Eurostar trains, and the Dartford Crossing in the distance.  I would not help but notice one of the overhead road signs that stated a particular town being 26 miles away and thought we were running the same distance round and round this track!  What was good was the water station and personal drinks area.  With just my small bottle, I was able carry that instead of the hydration pack, and refilled the bottle every 2-3 laps.  I got quite practised at this and soon the marshals knew I was about to stop by with an unscrewed bottle top, and they kindly refilled it for me.  The snacks were a welcome treat too, especially the crisps.  I don’t really eat crisps, but the saltiness was much needed on this really hot day.  About half way through, I was thinking about taking my electrolyte drink.  The problem was that I had not mixed the drink up before hand as I was not sure I would want that or the powered energy drink, and there was only do many bottles of water I could carry.  So on the next lap, I stopped and dropped the electrolyte tablet into the water bottle, and then carried on running.  By the time I had come back round, it was all diluted and mixed in nicely!  So I could now take a swig every lap.  Might sound like a lot of faffing, but it wasn’t too bad (it was just like sorting our your transition area in Triathlon!) and I was not looking for a decent time anyway so could afford to do this.  The only things I could have improved were I will bring a bucket of water and sponges next time to cool myself off at each lap, and I could have worn a racer-back vest as I was not wearing the backpack (which sometimes rubs my back if not protected by a vest covering all of my upper back).

I did run really slowly, and ended up walking a lot of it too.  It was really, really tough, and at one point I was not even sure I’d make it in under 6 hours. Everything hurt – my hip, ankle, calves, all sore and more and more painful.  I was walking nearly every hill and a when I did run I felt slow and my legs like lead.  The heat and lack of shade was not great either.  I just kept thinking about the medal at the end, and listened to my music.  Kate Perry’s Tiger song was on repeat for about half an hour after the half way point, as it was the only song that I seemed to keep me motivated!  The other runners really did a lot to keep my spirits up though, as for the first 3-4 hours there are still loads of people out on the course so you are always with someone, and see the same faces over and over.  One guys even ran the race backwards, and was continuously saying well done to everyone his passed!  Awesome work! 

After about 4.5 hours, it did get quieter, but finished runners were all gathered along the 500 meters or so by the start line so they were now providing support as spectators.  The weirdest thing is that normally, if you are at the same point in a road race as someone else, it’s highly likely they have done the exact same distance as you.  But not here.  At one point, I think I had done about 18 miles, and I chatted to a guy as we both took a walking break.  He said this was his 24th mile.  This was really bizarre!  Both on the same part of the course, but he was 6 miles further ahead of me!  I couldn’t get my head around it (although the sun and generally weariness was stopping me get my head round a lot of things!).  When I had almost finished my 14th lap, I got really confused about how many laps I still had to do.  I knew I had to run my 17th lap with no wristband, and was on my 14th lap, so I must have 4 to do.  But this did not add up as that meant I had 10km to do, but I had done over 21 miles, so that did not add up to 26.2.  Bear in mind my marathon-maths goes out the window especially after 5 hours of running in the hot midday sun!!  It was only when I realised I had almost finished my 14th lap and had to drop one wristband that I was relieved to discover I only had 3 more laps to do!  Because I did not wear the wristbands round my wrist like most people, but tucked them into my running belt, some people assumed I was always on my last lap!  It was a bit demoralising to keep saying, “ah, still have 3 to go”! 

Finally though, I was on my last lap.  I had been walking so much by this point, but with less than 2 miles to go I wanted to try and run as much as I could.  There was nothing more to lose, so I went for it as well as I could.  I can’t say the last lap was fast, but it was a lot quicker than any of them after about lap 8 or 9 at least!  At long last, I was allowed to bare to the left, for the finisher’s funnel, rather than to the right for the last lap, and the spectator support was great!  I was given a beautiful, chunky medal, a box containing some great goodies (mostly food, which is the best), and some water.  The box also contained a ruler, to measure the size of your medal which I thought was a great idea.

After the race, I said goodbye to the others, hobbled over to the personal drinks station to collect my chair and water bottles, then watched some of the final finishers for a bit.  Some people were having cake to celebrate someone’s 100th marathon!  I went and had a shower, which was bliss after being so hot and sweaty since 9am!  I found out my time – 5.45.02.  This was my second slowest (after Eden, in 5.48!) but hey I did it!  I was slightly annoyed about those 2 seconds as a 5.44.xx sounded better than a 5.45 but never mind!  I was just glad to have finished my 10th marathon in about 18 months and 5th marathon that year!  I would also like to say thanks to the tzruns team and the fantastic volunteers who put on such a brilliant event!  Needless to say I am already signed up for next year!

Me on the course!

Personal Drinks Station


Friday, 30 May 2014

MK and Liverpool Marathons done!

Ok, been a while since my last post, but that's not to say I haven't been busy!  I've done 4 marathons so far this spring, and tomorrow is my final one of the streak - the Kent Roadrunner Marathon.

I did the Milton Keynes Marathon on the early Ma bank holiday, it was a hot day and it was hard work.  It felt like I was walking a lot, but was actually quite pleased with my time of 5.20, as it was 8 minutes faster than London this year, and faster than last year's London time too by a minute.

Liverpool, on 25th May, was much harder, it wasn't so warm but I was just knackered.  I seriously though I'd have to walk virtually all of the second half and my legs just didn't want to go.  I got round in 5.39, so still actually faster than last year's Eden and Prague.  I was trying to follow the 5.30 hr pacer and chatted along quite happily in the group for the first 10k or so, but the hill at 8 miles almost killed me.  I even got interviewed by the local radio station at 12 miles, but I was really embarrassed and can't really remember what I said!

Tonight I'm carb loading by having a meal out with my mum.  It will be nice to spend some time together and I am looking forward to my favourite goats cheese pasta.  Will then have a bath and a very early night, so I can be in Kent for about 8am.

It's 17 laps of a cycling race track, I have no idea how I will cope with this but I will be picturing the medal at the end!  It's a whopper, possibly the biggest in Europe!  I got to see a sneak peak of it at this year's VMLM Expo and I am very impressed.

The Liverpool medal was awesome too, very thick (7mm!) and chunky, full colour satin ribbon and it has excellent colour and detail.  The bling has been amazing recently, I hope my upcoming races all impress too hehehe.

I just can't believe it was only 5 days ago and I've got to run another one....!!

Since I have a lot of half's coming up, I have made the decision to change my entry for the St Albans Half which is next weekend, to the Walker category.  As there is an official category for power walkers, it means I can not only try for a good walking time but also will not actually be permitted to run and therefore save my poor, smashed up legs a little!  Throughout the summer, the half's will mainly just be for fun and I don't really intend to get good times in any of them.  I will concentrate on recovering and then training for the half ironman in Marlow.

Below - Liverpool Rock 'n' Roll and MK Marathon medals - Epic BLING! 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

London Marathon 2014 Race Report

Part two - The Race

I woke up ridiculously early on the Sunday morning, well before my 5.30am alarm went off.  It took a few seconds to remember why I would wake up at 4-something-am on a Sunday morning, then remember it was of course Marathon Day.  I ended up doing exactly what I had done a week earlier, and lie in bed with my iphone on Twitter, joining the conversations with other London runners who were clearly also unable to sleep.  Eventually I got up, had my pre-marathon pain au chocolates and cup of tea, got dressed and then had another sort out of my gear to make sure I had not forgotten anything.

Got the first train from St Albans, and there were already other runners waiting there!  I chatted to a few of them – all very sociable for 6.50am! – and we talked about the different marathons we’d run and what our plans for today were.  It was a nice train journey down to London as we were joined but some of the early spectators who were going to set up spots as early as possible along the best parts of the route, such as Tower Bridge and Westminster.  I changed at London Bridge, and joined a full train of runners down to Greenwich for the red start zone.  It was great fun, and bought back memories of arriving at Blackheath last year and all piling off the train and platform and towards the start.  One of my favourite memories from last year was walking up the street with helicopters already buzzing overhead, past cafes and pubs which had opened early, filled with runners having a quick coffee or nipping in to use the loos.  It was similar this year, although as most of the walk was through Greenwich Park we did not go past cafes and pubs.  We had to show our race numbers before being allowed into the starting area, and it was quite familiar as I had done the Run To The Beat half marathon which started from the same place back in September.  I also recognised the famous gates through which the runners pass just before crossing the start line.  Almost time!

It was only about 8.30am, so I killed time by sorting my gear out, phoning my parents to see where they planned to watch me, queuing for the loos (very long queues as normal!) and putting my bag on the baggage lorries.  It was a great atmosphere and there were huge TV screens up so we could watch the BBC show the live action from the elite’s tents and other start zones.  Got to see coverage of the Wheelchairs, IPC and Women’s elite races set off, that was good, then finally made my way towards the start.  There was music playing, and at one point they were playing Starlight by Slash, one of my favourite songs.  I got me a quite emotional as this song has always reminded me of a friend who died a few years ago very suddenly.  I had that song somewhere on my iPod so if that came on I decided I would run that mile in his memory.   

I was in pen 9, which I think was the biggest pen, and was at the back for the not-quite-so-elite runners.  It was a beautiful Sunday morning, very mild and sunny.  Great for a day outdoors, but I hoped it would not get too hot for running 26 miles.  I chatted to another lady, Liz, who was running for the same charity that I did last year (Shelter).  She was aiming for 5 hours, I said I was just aiming to get round having just done Brighton!  Around us were loads of crazy fancy dress outfits, including rhinos and a very feathery Big Bird.  Mostly people wore charity vests.  I’d not got a charity vest as Look UK are very small, but instead I’d printed out and laminated two signs to wear on my front and back, so everyone could see the charity I was running for.  At 10am, the gun went, and way, way ahead of us, the first runners crossed the line!

It took a while to shuffle forward, and it was about 25 minutes before we finally came out of the gates and there it was, the start line, just in front of us!  I said good luck to Liz, tuned on my iPod (I took it, but I didn’t listen to it much as the crowds are so loud and motivating), made sure my Garmin has picked up the GPS, and set my spare stopwatch (yes I bought two plus a 5.45 pace band) then shuffled forwards some more…. before finally crossing the start line!  It was every bit as electric as last year, the crowds we great as we set off from Greenwich, and even better this year, we could see down the hill towards the green and blue starts at Blackheath – us running down Charlton Way, and the blues and greens down Shooter’s Hill Road.  I tried not to go too fast in the first mile – I was still stiff from Brighton but it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement!  Around me people were sprinting past in various degrees of fancy dress and brightly coloured charity tee-shirts, and I wondered at what point they would crash and hit the wall.  I couldn’t believe when I passed the first mile marker – a huge arch made up of hundreds of red and white balloons – I’d been running for just eleven minutes already yet it felt I had literally just began!

The first few miles were more undulating than last year, and it felt strange to be running a slightly different route.  I’d heard about this though, and I knew it would be very flat from 3 miles onwards.  Soon we joined up with the blue/greens and I vaguely recognised the route.  Having been right at the back of the biggest start zone, there weren’t many people left of on the blue route now so there wasn’t as much of the good-natured booing and hissing that there was last year when the slower blues joined up with the middle masses of the reds.  Still good fun though!

For the next few miles, I just ran slowly to shake out my legs and make sure they were not going to start cramping.  I hadn’t run at all since the Brighton Marathon and with my hamstrings having been so tight the day before I hoped they would hold out.  This part of the route was mainly through residential areas, so most of the spectators were locals who were out in their gardens or walking to the shops.  I recognised some of the route, but not all.  We passed the Vineyard Church – I remembered them from last year! – they were playing loud, upbeat music and dancing outside!  Plus every pub seemed to be packed with people, with those right on the route having posters, banners and balloons up outside as they were “official pubs” of the marathon.  Hope they were having a few pints on us – they certainly had the perfect weather for watching, but us runners were getting a bit hot in the late morning heat by not!

The first big sight – and crowd-puller – was Cutty Sark, just after 10k.  Definitely one of my favourite parts from last year but a drawback too.  I remember coming up to about 6 miles last year and realising I had gone out much too fast, and falling way behind the 4.58 pacer, never to be seen again.  It was still a great part of the route though, and it was even better this year as I had no target time in mind so could just enjoy it.  Just before the crowds got really big, I found a song on my iPod to play as I remember hearing that song being played at a pub along this part of the course last year, and now I always associate it with the Greenwich section of the marathon (Bonfire by Knife Party), and I wanted to hear it again, while I was actually running it a second time.  Of course in no time, the crowds were so loud I couldn’t hear the music, but that was good.  We ran all the way round Cutty Sark, it looked spectacular in the bright sunlight and the crowds were bigger than last year.  Everyone was waving to the television cameras here, too!

A few more miles through Deptford, not the most interesting part of the route, and annoying here I felt a bit of a blister coming on.  I couldn’t believe it – I was wearing trainers I’d worn well in and no new gear, so why now!?  I had to stop three times to sort it out, firstly to loosen the laces, then to tighten them up again, and finally to remove the shoe and check there wasn’t a stone in there, so all that faffing about used up time and meant bending down having run 8 miles.  Luckily after that, the blister did not develop any further and it didn’t really bother me after that.

I was looking forward to the 9-11 mile point, as somewhere along this section my friends from skydiving would be watching.  It was also where I’d gone to watch the 2012 London Marathon with them, when I’d decided I really wanted to run it next year.  My parents might also be watching somewhere around here as well – I’d told them to go to Canada Water station and  watch from either outside the Decathlon store or the church that gave our free drinks to spectators.  I was looking out for Dennis’s Union jack flag, and at about 11 miles (I think!) I saw them!  The first people I knew, spotted!  I was really happy, and high fived them all as I ran passed.  I think it may have been easier for me to spot them by now, as the crowds had thinned out a lot, with most of the masses having already passed through with the 4 to 5 hour pacers.

At mile 12, I knew that one of the best parts was coming up – Tower Bridge!  I’d remembered being totally taken by surprise last year, having done a very sharp right and suddenly, there it was in front of us!  This year I knew it roughly where it was, and as we rounded the corner, yes – there is was, looking amazing!  It was basically just a wall of noise, with hundreds of people on both sides of the bridge and leading up to it, mostly charities hoping flags and banners.  I definitely couldn’t hear my music at this point, so I took my iPod off and enjoyed the full atmosphere.  There was a BBC TV camera up ahead, interviewing someone, and I ran passed wondering if I too would get on TV (I did!!  I saw the coverage later and there was about two seconds of my running passed Karaoke Guy!).  Even better, as we came over Tower Bridge and towards the half-way point, I suddenly saw my parents out of nowhere.  They weren’t close to the barriers, so I couldn’t high-5 or hug them, but I waved and shouted hi to them.  They told me later it was by total luck they had seen me hear as they had got trapped between two huge crowds  unable to get back to the Tube easily, and had only just decided at the last second to go up onto a platform to see if they could spot me – which they did, almost immediately!  That was really good to know. 

At half way, I still felt good, although aching quite a lot by now and took a minute to walk at the drinks stations.  Although slower than last year, my pacing was far better, as in 2013 I’d been feeling totally worn out by this point and knew I’d screwed up any chance of getting a sub-5 hour.  This year I still had plenty of energy and could just enjoy it a lot more.  I watched the faster runners on the other side of the road go by, they were already up to 21 miles – nearly done!  Mo Farah was long finished though.  The miles between 13 and 16 did seem to drag a bit though, plus it was really heating up now and I had to pour water on myself to cool down.  Lots of people around me seemed to be struggling.  I was glad I’d made sure to do some long runs at midday this year to help acclimatize.  I was having the dilemma of what to do with my iPod; the earphones were bouncing around after taking them off at Tower Bridge and were annoying me.  But I didn’t have the energy to try and take it off completely, wind up the cords and find somewhere in my pockets to stuff it.  So I decided to leave them on, in my ears, with the music playing but fairly low so I could still enjoy the cheers.  When things got really painful (or if people started saying that old chestnut, “not far to go now!” with still 10 miles left!) I could just turn the music up and zone out.

 Somewhere around 16- 17 miles, on the Isle of Dogs, I saw Mary from work and waved.  This was a real boost, as I was feeling the miles seemed to be getting longer and longer, and I was having to have more short walking breaks.  Annoyingly, my Garmin battery was getting very low, again!  This happened in Brighton, when it totally died at mile 21.  It is meant to last at least 5 hours and it generally lasts closer to 6!  Must contact them about this!  I decided to stop the GPS at mile 17 and just use the timer instead so at least, it wouldn’t run out completely and I still had an idea of my time.  I’d got my second stopwatch anyway just in case.  The 18 mile point was good, as you run through Canary Wharf, which is quite spectacular and filled with spectators.  It’s all a bit twisty-turny, so I was quite disorientated and wasn’t sure how far was left before we got back out on the final 6 mile stretch to Westminster.  I was glad I hadn’t put my iPod away now, as there were some times were I really needed music as a distraction from the pain.

Finally, at 21 miles, we were back on The Highway, where the route turns back on itself.  Here I saw my parents again!  This time they were right at the front of the barrier and I got close enough to give them a hug.  My dad even ran alongside me for a very short distance while my mum took photos!  That was awesome.  There were virtually no runners at the half way point any more, just sweeper trucks clearing up the road and one person who looked like they were still taking part – just very, very slowly.  I picked up a couple of Lucozade energy gels here for the final hour.  I’d taken a few already of my own, but good to have a couple spare in case I crashed.  We passed Tower Bridge (I think, it’s a bit of a blur now!) and the Tower of London (which I do remember seeing) and finally came up to the Embankment, whoohoo – on the home straight!  Last year this part seemed to take forever, and I’d totally forgotten that you don’t come right onto the Embankment, next to the Thames particularly early.  We were running parallel for a while, with building between us and the river, but all I kept thinking was “when are we going to reach the Embankment!”.  Eventually I started seeing signed we were coming up – first, the mile 23 arch.  Then, the start of the Mini London Marathon (if the kids can run this – so can I!).  Just a parkrun to go…. I was determined to run the last bit and not walk any more.  I was also looking out for the tunnel soon afterwards, which is a very weird, surreal section that Lucozade totally take over, I think it was called the “Lucozade Tunnel of Yes” last year although I think it was shortened to just #mile23 now, presumably so you can tweet a selfie halfway through and hashtag it.  And then I reached it – you leave the crowds behind for a few minutes as it’s runners only down here, so you finally get a bit of privacy and most people but this point were walking (or peeing up against the wall!).  I carried on running as best as I could.  They play Eye Of The Tiger here and have these huge glowing balls with motivating words on them (i.e. the tunnel of YES), and with the darkness, glowing balls and the smell of thousands of sweaty runners, it’s all a bit trippy.  Even coming out the other side is bizarre, back into the bright sunlight and hundreds of screaming spectators, it takes a few moments to readjust and work out where you are.  I am sure people come out really disorientated!

Mile 24 and well onto the Embankment now.  The crowds were epic, and I saw Ben, Wai Meng and Richard here!  Just 2.2 miles to go, it was well within sight.  I was just over 5 hours now, and I was really happy to see that I might get a reasonably respectable time of about 5 and a half hours, when the day before I’d have been happy with anything under 6.  I was still running – slowly – and passing just about everyone else.  Many people were waling the rest of the way now.  I found out later on the results page that I passed 979 people in the final 7km and only over took me!  I got loads of people shouting my name here which was great, I guess because I looked like I was still going strong but more likely because it was simply less crowded and there was no’one to hide behind anymore!  All good though, I was glad I had written my name on my vest after all.

At 25 miles I was actually, for a second, really disappointed that the race was almost over.  I only had less than 14 minutes left of running to do and then it would all be over.  I even caught myself wishing (just for a moment, mind you!) that the race was an ultra, so I could carry on for another couple of miles and make the most of the crowds!  But not for long, I now couldn’t wait to finish.  Soon Big Ben was well in sight, we passed the London Eye and turned a sharp right onto Bridge Street and Birdcage Walk.  Here, you are so close to the finish, and you expect to be able to see the finish line – but this road is deceptively long and seems to go on forever!  It’s actually a good half mile or more from when you go past Big Ben, which feels like another 5k after all the miles you’ve done so far.  I told myself this, and made sure I did not kid myself into thinking there was only a minute of running left, especially when passing the 800m To Go sign, which you assume is the 26 mile marker!  Or when you turn another right at the top of St James’s Park – I was nearly there, but not quite!  But I was loving it, and was taking in so much more than last year.  When I passed in front of Buckingham Palace, it felt like I was in the Olympics, the crowds were bigger than anything I’d seen until now.  Last year I’d barely noticed Buckingham Palace, but this year I knew it was there and just as you carry on turning to the right, there is the 385 Yards To Go sign.  26 miles done, could I manage a sprint finish?  Well not quite a sprint, but just about a slight quickening of pace, and over the finish line!  I looked at my watch – just gone 5 hours 28, I was so happy.  Two marathons in one week and they were within about 22 minutes of each other.

I hobbled through the finishing funnel, and had my timing chip removed.  Then, my medal!  Behold the beautiful, shiny bling.  It was very impressive this year, a huge, round medal with a very detailed engraving of London and Tower Bridge from the air on one side, and a route of the marathon and the Thames on the other.  I tried to keep walking, as my legs were so tired and they were starting to seize up.  I managed to pose for the finisher’s photo and then went to collect my goody bag and baggage.  The goody bag contained a few basic items, mostly I just want food so that was fine.  A finisher’s tee-shirt (great colour but about 5 sizes too big), an apple, a bottle of Lucozade, a bottle of water, can of adidas deodorant, an energy gel and some other bits and pieces.  I ate the food and drank the drinks, then stuffed everything else into my backpack.  Once out in St James’s park, I finally sat down on the grass – bliss!  It was really busy and extremely crowded so I text my parents to say I’d finished and to meet me at the J meet-up zone.  I then had to attempt to get back up again – with the help of a tree! – and make my way slowly to the changing tent where I got into clean clothes and felt a bit more human again.  Finally I met my parents and gave them a big (sore) hug.

After a rest – my parents needed it as well! – we wandered back along the Embankment watching the later runners.  There were still quite a few going, 6 or 7 hours later.  We had a cup of tea in a nearby café, then slowly made our way to Blackfriars to catch the train home.  It was really strange being back in the “real world” – with non-runners milling about everywhere, but got plenty of “well dones” from total strangers on the way home!  When I was finally home I ate a huge pizza, a chocolate milkshake and a glass of Bailey’s delicious!  Even better was having the day off work on the Monday, so I could enjoy a lovely long lie in, a bath and watch the high lights of both the Brighton and London Marathons on the TV with a huge bowl of Ben & Jerries ice cream.

What a day!  I really want to run London again, it's such an incredible race.  The ballot for the 2015 race opens next week, so I'll be setting my alarm to ensure I get my application in.  I would love another chance to run this excellent marathon again.  I'm also thrilled to have just hit my fundraising target for Look UK, so a huge thank you to anyone who has sponsored me.

Until then, there's just Milton Keynes, Liverpool, Kent, Berlin, the Royal Parks Ultra and another Brighton to go!

My race gear, laid out, ready to go

Marathon Breakfast

Selfie at 5am

At the Red Start

Lots of runners at Greenwich park

Starting zone selfie

Me and Liz at the start

Spotted on TV - on Tower Bridge in the background!

21 Miles in, Mum taking a photo at Limehouse

Mile 24, Wai Meng's photo

Still just about running at mile 24!

The Finish Line!

With my medal at the mile 25 marker

Beautiful day in London

Mum and me

Me and Dad

The medal!

London Marathon medals from 2013 (left) and 2014 (right)

Results showing my 5k splits, nice and even

Where I came in the race - at least I had a strong finish

Average Pace and speed for the race