Burnage parkrun

Early January is a good time to get a few parkruns in, with events taking place on New Year’s Day (with staggered start times meaning you can sometimes manage two!) as well as all the Saturdays. This Saturday could have been my fifth parkrun of 2017 – however it was my first, as I’ve been lazy and ill and demotivated.

My good friend Maria has recently taken up running again and went to her first parkrun before Christmas. I’d promised that the next time I came to stay, we’d go to parkrun together. So we did!

The nearest event is in a park not too far from Maria’s house, where I’ve run a few times on my own. However it’s closed due to work going on in the park, so we had to head quite far out of town (lucky Maria and her husband have a car – big thanks to Joaquin for driving!).

We pulled into the carpark of a rugby club. I couldn’t see any signs for a parkrun but followed Maria down the side of a field, to a path along the river. A steady stream of people showed up until eventually there were over 200 runners.

The river path was concrete but fairly narrow, and a few people were running two abreast so it was hard to pass. After about 400 metres we took a sharp left onto a muddy path, passing through a field before being funnelled through a narrow path looping back to the start point. This bit was super narrow and almost at walking speed! Then we did that lap again.

After the second lap, we took a right along the side of the field towards the carpark, before crossing the carpark and turning left into the woods. I got elbowed by a woman who wanted to overtake but wanted me to move out of her way, rather than her going around me. Up ahead I saw people slowing to a halt and saw a set of stairs! I’ve never done a parkrun with stairs before. The top of the stairs was extremely slippery but there was gravel after that, leading back to the river path. Then we did the first lap again, a third time through the muddy field.

The final lap went to the carpark and into the woods again. By this point I was very conscious that I needed the loo! At the top of the stairs I took the long way round to try to avoid the worst of the mud, and then it was nearly done.

I rounded the corner into the finishing field and spotted Joaquin and Lucia. It was pretty muddy and I’m really unconfident in mud, so I didn’t sprint for the finish.

Maria wasn’t far behind, she was wearing a striking colour combination so we could spot her from a distance, and we gave her a big cheer as she crossed the line. She got a PB, despite the mud and the crowds (Burnage’s biggest ever attendance).

Immediately afterwards, it started raining – good timing to miss it! We got our barcodes scanned and then jumped in the car and headed home for cups of tea, toast and showers.

August running

Another month is over and I’m finally getting back into running.

2016 got off to a good start, with monthly km’s of 130, 134, 151 and 142 – the final, April, would have been higher if I hadn’t sprained my ankle on the 21st. In May I ran 70km, including an attempt at a marathon and another ankle sprain. June was a halfhearted 73km and July covered 87km.

I started August keen to turn things around. Matt decided he wants to take up running, with a 10k planned for the 1st October. He wanted to run every day, so I decided I’d do the same. I managed 12 days before I got home from work and fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the next morning.

I signed Matt up for parkrun and printed out his barcode, then forced him out of bed early on a Saturday morning, his 13th day of running. He didn’t seem convinced by the prospect (maybe a little nervous) but the lovely atmosphere at Southwark parkrun, and brunch afterwards, won him round. I paced him around to 29:04, a fantastic four minute PB.

Then Matt hurt his ankle and took a break from running.

I did a half ironman triathlon, and found the first ¾ of the run to not actually be that bad.wp-image-999633084jpg.jpg

Despite living really close to several parkruns, I’ve been quite lax about attending them, but decided to change this. On the 27th August it was the nation’s biggest sports day, and Dulwich parkrun were hoping for their largest ever attendance. I cycled over and ran, pacing really badly and running nearly 40 seconds slower than last time I went to Dulwich.


I finished the month on 123km – nowhere near where I’d like to be but an improvement on May/June/July.

Aims for next month:

Monster Middle triathlon: race report

I’d had my eye on the Monster series of races for a while. They’re based in Ely so when I was living in Cambridge it seemed ideal, and even now I live in London, it’s nice to race somewhere that is familiar, and I can combine it with visiting my parents.

Last year I did sprint, olympic and middle distance triathlons. So far this year I’ve done a few running races (including 5 half marathons) but no triathlons, so I jumped straight into a middle distance. Was this to be a big mistake?!

Pre-race

At 04:45 my mum very kindly drove me to Ely, where it was dark and rainy. I registered and stuck the requisite stickers on my bike and helmet, then said goodbye to mum and went into transition. Once I’d laid out my stuff I wriggled half into my wetsuit and queued for the loos, feeling nervous, then walked to the swim start, about a mile downstream.

On the walk I got chatting to a man doing his 59th race. He was super inspirational and good conversation, which helped take my mind off my nerves. We chatted to his club mates and another random they’d picked up along the way, a young guy who’d signed up the night before.

Briefing done, the first wave (inc. me!) were told to get into the water, which wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be.

pre swim2

Swim

Although I’m not a terrible swimmer, I’m not confident in open water swims, and I’m also not at all well-trained. This year I have swum five times: 1) with a sprained ankle, just before the marathon, 2) the day after that, 3) one 1km swim a few weeks ago, 4) at a spa with my mum, where I mainly did handstands, and 5) at the lido last week but I decided it was a bit chilly and didn’t stay in long.

I therefore didn’t have high hopes, and when the swim got underway I felt the beginnings of panic. But amazingly, I was able to ignore it! I swam along and felt quite relaxed. I focused on breathing, although I did a lot of breaststroke (my front crawl sighting is pretty bad) swimming towards town.

I have no concept of time when swimming, but knew that the second wave were starting ten minutes behind, so tried to work out when I might get overtaken, hoping that it wouldn’t be until near-ish town. I enjoyed the cheers of people on the river bank and watched a family of swans swimming imperiously through the wetsuit-clad swimmers. People on boats were watching – it must have been surreal for them.

The course went upstream for 1.5km, past the exit, around a buoy and back 400m. By this point I was looking forward to getting out, and although I’d been kicked a few times, I was still calm and happy that I had survived the swim. At the exit, I reached up a hand and a man pulled me out. I then staggered about a bit and another man caught me, and then another, with me ricocheting around the slipway like a pinball, trying to shake the water out of my ears.

T1

There was a walk back to transition from the swim exit and I struggled to get my wetsuit off my arms. Once I had it down to my waist I jogged to transition and then struggled to get the stupid wetsuit off my legs. I chucked it on top of my bag (containing my post-race dry clothes, doh) and toweled myself down. Garmin on, jersey, hat, helmet, gloves, shoes, glug of water and off I went. Somehow this took four minutes? I definitely didn’t feel like I was rushing, maybe I should have been.

Bike

I’m more of a cyclist than a swimmer or runner, and normally, the bike is the thing I don’t worry about in a triathlon. But I was worried about this one. I’ve not ridden my bike much this year – two days in Wales (less than 100km each day), a ride from Bath to Andover, and two trips to Regent’s Park, where I was shocked to discover how slow I am. I have been finding cycling nerve wracking of late, something I’m yet to get to the bottom of.

The forecast was for strong wind – 15-18 mph – and this was correct. We cycled north with massive crosswinds, then west directly into the wind, south with crosswinds from the other side, and then finally a tailwind for the final stretch (the course wasn’t a perfect square so this bit was, of course, the shortest bit). It was really grim. I hate cycling in strong winds, I’m always convinced I’m going to get knocked off. And every time I was overtaken (which was a lot) I lost more confidence and motivation.

My legs had no power and while everyone else sped past, hardly affected by the wind, I was locked in a battle, my (slightly too big) mass against the force of the wind.

Halfway round the first lap I thought I might not do the second lap, partly because I was worried about not making the time cut off (which is incredibly depressing) and also because I was just not enjoying it. I was eventually lapped at the very end of the first lap, which added an extra layer of depression. But I went on to the second lap.

It was slightly better on the second lap but my hands were numb from gripping my handlebars too tightly and I stopped every half hour to shake them out. I managed to eat one peanut butter bar and one gel.

By the end of the bike course my legs felt tired, every pedal stroke had been an effort. The end of the course had a little uphill and a sharp turn around a mini roundabout, which I nearly toppled off at, to the disgust of a motorbike behind me. Then downhill and weaving through traffic to transition, where I could finally ditch the bike…

T2

Again I took my time. Bike racked, helmet, gloves, jersey off. Tshirt, sunglasses, hat, fuel belt on. Bike shoes off and socks and trainers on. Sitting down, because why not. And then off again.

Run

By now it was very warm, although I probably just noticed it more as it was less windy. My legs had felt tired on the bike but when I started running I felt alright; my feet had been sore while cycling but I was surprised that they didn’t really bother me. Could this last?

I set off on a meandering route through parks and woods, eventually joining up with the rest of the route, where we would run laps through the town, picking up a wristband at the end of each lap. In my head I heard “four wristbands” and thought I had to run four laps, so I was a bit put out when I finally worked out that actually there were five laps (one without a wristband, four with increasing numbers of wristbands). Gah.

I had a fuel belt with Shotbloks, two gels and a packet of jelly beans but it was bouncy and annoying, so when I saw my mum (she went home after dropping me off, but came back for the run) outside the cathedral I decided to leave it with her. She didn’t spot me running towards her and eventually I yelled out “HELLO!” so loudly that it made some tourists jump. Then I posed for some pictures and went on my way.

Although my legs felt alright, I walked up the hills and ran everything else – which meant three walks per lap (one of the hills was probably more of a slope, but these were my rules!!). It was a relief to get my first wristband.

The course went past the cathedral twice per lap, which was cool. The people of Ely were all friendly and there were quite a few retired couples who’d stumbled across the race and were enjoying cheering. Lots of confused looking tourists.

Ely is very pretty, with the exception of the bit past Sainsbury’s, which still isn’t that bad. I went past my brother’s old school. I waved to my mum on each lap. I petted a small dog (who looked like a teddy bear!). I got in an argument with a lorry driver who nearly ran over me and the guy I was running with.

By the fourth lap I was starting to feel tired, it was so hot and there were fewer people still running to chat to. I was drinking lots of water but had only eaten a packet of Shotbloks. At one of the water points I picked up a gel but it was horrible, granular and really thick. Mum drove past me as I ran down the hill towards the start of my final lap and heckled me from the car.

Mum thought the run was 4 laps so once she’d parked, she went to the finish. When she didn’t find me there, she thought something must have happened, so got the marshals all looking for me, radioing each other to report on me. Embarrassing – but also quite funny.

I broke my rule of only walking uphill on the final lap as I was knackered, my knees and hips ached. I said thanks to all the marshals and as I jogged down the hill in the final kilometre I thought to myself: wow, you’ve gone and done it, you’ve finished a half ironman with no training and barely any food – you total moron.

I ran into the park, and turned left to the finish line. At last! My running form was totally pants by this point but I had four wristbands and I was coming for my medal!

run finish

Swim (1.9km): 00:45:55

T1: 00:06:49 (including run from swim exit)

Bike (92.8km): 04:06:46

T2: 00:04:06

Run (21km): 02:20:47

TOTAL: 07:24:23

 

A banana and some water later, I got changed in the carpark toilets and went for lunch with my mum – a massive salad with a heap of bread, followed up by a 99 with a flake.

I’m pleased that the swim went better than expected (actually faster than last year, and no panicking!) and I inexplicably ran faster than the last two half marathons I’ve done (Richmond and Ashridge) – I actually felt pretty good on the run, apart from the final 5km and when I thought I might be sick in a bin after eating that gel. But the bike… I’m shocked at how bad I was. As I struggled around, I promised myself that I would cycle more and get my cycling legs back, which I’m determined to do.

I’m glad I did the race, though it was maybe a bit silly to do without training. I would really like to improve on my time. Perhaps I should join another club…

Richmond Park Half Marathon

“Maybe we did the third lap twice?”

It’s been a while since I did a race – the last race I entered was the disastrous Halstead Marathon, and the last race I actually finished was the Kingston Breakfast Run back at the beginning of April (where is the year going?). I’ve done one parkrun since but it was a bit pants. A friend suggested signing up for the Richmond Park Half – the race is organised by Run Through, whose Wimbledon races I have done, so I knew it would have a nice relaxed vibe. And Richmond Park is lovely.

I prepped for the race by cycling to Thorpe Park the day before, and spending the day standing in queues and going on rollercoasters. Probably not ideal. I had a late night and had to squeeze myself out of the sheets in the morning, leaving Matt asleep. I had some train disasters on the way but it worked out in the end.

It was already a nice morning when I got to the park, and after picking up my number I headed to join the portaloo queue. By the time I got out the queue was much longer than when I’d joined it, so I definitely made the right call. I’m not sure if all those people will have made it to the loo before the race started! I went back to the start line and met up with Tibbs and Ciq, and we compared Garmins. I commented that mine took a long time to find reception, and got it started searching with a few minutes to go.

We got into starting positions. My watch still hadn’t found reception. The countdown went. I looked at my watch – come on!! Nothing. We set off, and my watch struggled onwards, still no reception.

Lap 1

Tibbs surged ahead and left Ciq and I jostling in the crowds. We tried to chat but kept getting separated by people, but did have a good laugh at someone running the other direction who complained that we didn’t all move out of his way (I’m all for sharing a path, but asking 300 people to move for one person seems a bit topsy-turvy, especially as 299 of those people were following the person in front). After nearly 1km I finally got signal on my Garmin. Thanks, technology.

The course headed to the north edge of the park and along the path following it round, which had some steep ups and downs. As we rounded the corner towards the road, we saw one of Ciq’s friends off to the side and he went to check up on her, catching me up as I ran down Sawyers Hill. This part of the course was good as there were cyclists to watch, but bad because it’s long, straight and boring.

We headed up towards the start/finish line and realised there was a massive dogleg stretching into the distance. Urgh. Ciq nearly stood in a giant deer poo. We plodded on.

Lap 2

I grabbed some water and tried to drink it slowly – made easier by the bottle still being sealed and difficult to open while running. We were barely talking, and we both admitted afterwards that we were contemplating not finishing the race. I felt extremely tired and achey. We walked for a minute half way round the lap and managed to get going again.

It was very warm and although Ciq tells me that it rained at one point, I don’t remember this. I was glad I had sunblock on.

Towards the end of the lap I started to feel queasy, feeling like I might throw up and had a few danger burps. My stomach felt pretty unsettled and I decided to take a detour to the portaloos, which turned out to be a good idea as while I lost a lot of time, I felt a hell of a lot better. Ciq waited for me, at a safe distance from the loos.

Lap 3

We ploughed on, trudging a bit now. We weren’t having fun and I tripped on a stone (but caught myself), which made me worry a lot about the ground underfoot and my recent ankle problems. I don’t really remember what we talked about for most of this lap, maybe this was the one where we shouted at the cyclist? Who designs a 4 lap race, anyway?

By the second half of the lap I was feeling in better spirits, and a short walk energised me enough to spend at least a mile talking about dogs. Sorry Ciq. We told ourselves that we just had to get onto the final lap before Tibbs lapped us, which we managed.

Lap 4

Ciq’s friend with the sore back was at the water stop, so we had a little chat and invited her to run with us (she declined as she wanted to zone out to music). I managed some water and also a couple of shot bloks as my stomach was feeling better, and this perked me up a little. Seeing all the people finishing the race was a little demoralising though.

We continued on, but I can’t say we were really trying by this point. It was mainly chatting and arguing about where the flags were. Ciq had spent at least 2.5 laps working out how many downhill sections we had before the finish, and I finally realised that he thought that we were on an entirely downhill course, like an Escher painting of Richmond Park.

Ciq suggested walking up the final uphill, “so we can finish strong… well, not strong, but y’know”. Yes, I know. We set off, past a horse, dodged the deer poo, rounded ridiculous doglegs towards the finish. Finally it looked like we were close enough that a sprint finish wouldn’t end up with me puking 100m from the end, so I told Ciq to RUN and we legged it over the line.

My slowest ever half marathon, but you know what, I don’t care. I haven’t run properly in so long, and it was hot (and I am too pale for this shit), and I spent the day before cycling/rollercoastering. We got ourselves a sweet deer medal and a tshirt (Matt will pleased to have more pyjama tops!) and a flapjack. And then another flapjack because they were going to waste. And then another. Tibbs had nailed a brand new PB, his first sub-2. Impressive!

After lounging in the sunshine in the park for a while, I went for a post-race snack: burrito and cheesecake. The diet can wait…

Writing about running

As if shouting into the ether here wasn’t enough, I’ve started blogging on the Running Stories website.

This is my latest piece, as usual I’m really working that positive mental attitude: http://www.therunningstories.com/pains-and-sprains/

I had lots of high hopes about things I was going to write about but it’s all fallen by the wayside a little.

Running Stories is an interesting website, though, and they have a podcast too, so that’s quite exciting.

Post-DNF

After spending the last 13 weeks training for a marathon that I didn’t complete, I feel a bit empty.

Apparently it’s quite normal to feel a bit flat after a marathon. But I’m pretty sure this is when you’ve actually finished it, and all your hard work has paid off and you don’t have a goal to aim for any more.

So, what happens if you DNF? I ran 18.4km on Sunday (which is 43% of a full marathon, stats fans). As a result, my legs haven’t really felt tired all week, and although my ankle has been sore, I – for obvious reasons – don’t feel like I ran a marathon. I don’t feel like I trained enough (partly due to injury, but also because I didn’t quite make the long runs) but I still feel like I trained and that the training has somewhat gone to waste.

The first day or so after Halstead, I looked up upcoming marathons and wanted to book something as soon as possible. I thought about doing a half marathon this coming weekend but I think I realised (deep down, at least) that this was a silly idea.

By Tuesday or Wednesday I’d decided that while I do want to have something to train for, it might be sensible to recover fully first and try and enjoy myself a bit before launching straight into another marathon.

I’ve decided that my plans for the next few months are as follows:

  • Let my ankle get better
  • Start eating better instead of snacking so much
  • Ride my bike more – I’ve barely ridden this year and I miss it
  • Focus on shorter distances until the end of summer, like:
    • Parkruns
    • Some 10k races
    • Maybe a half marathon, depending on dates
  • Triathlon! An olympic in June/July and a middle in August
  • An autumn marathon

It seems silly to say that I put a lot of pressure on myself as my times don’t really back that up. But I’m not very kind to myself for not being fast enough. I would love to find a balance where I’m training enough that I’m okay with my times in races, rather than always feeling that I could have pushed harder and not been defeated so easily – if I just felt that I had done my best I think I’d be happier with my times, whatever they were. I’m not sure when this was last the case… The Kevin Henry 5k last summer, maybe, as I kept pushing the whole way round. Maybe the Regents Park 10k last winter, as although I was slow and plodded around, I kept going instead of thinking about stopping or slowing down. I took a random day off work early last year and ran around in Regents Park and surprised myself by not doing any of my normal silly mind games. I need more runs like that… instead of always feeling such a let down…

Halstead & Essex Marathon 2016 – DNF

After I ran the London Marathon two years ago, I was disappointed with my time, and I vowed that I would beat it at this race. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t – I’d trained a lot more and was a better runner. I felt quietly confident.

Two weeks before the race I tripped and sprained my ankle. It swelled up and was very sore to walk on, with a big black bruise below the ligament. For the first couple of days I had to take a lot of painkillers and ibuprofen gel, but gentle walking as soon as possible made it a bit better. I managed four runs before the marathon, none of which were very satisfactory. My confidence dropped away a little.

On the Friday before the race I had my first ever migraine and had to go home from work as I couldn’t see anything, couldn’t remember any of my colleagues names and thought I might throw up everywhere. I wasn’t sure what the word “confidence” meant any more.

I decided to do the marathon anyway, and headed to Halstead in Essex on Saturday afternoon. We stayed in a pub, in a wonky-floored room with big wooden beams. The room had two beds so one was commandeered for all my kit. I had some visual problems again on Saturday night but slept well anyway.
image

On Sunday morning I woke up, showered and got myself together. I ate a banana and a bagel with almond butter, and downed a coffee. I covered myself in sunblock and walked over to Halstead Leisure Centre, race HQ. I got my number, had a final toilet stop and queued up with the other runners. There were about 500 of us and the sun was beating down.

“I’m not supposed to say this”, said Matt. “But it’s going to be really hot!!”

He wished me luck and I listened to the final countdown with trepidation. We began the start-line shuffle and soon we were off. The course went out the leisure centre car park (where I tried to wave nonchalantly at Matt but got cut up by another runner) and turned left, down a hill and out of the village.

We turned onto a small road and up the first hill, towards the fields. It wasn’t steep, definitely undulating rather than killer. Coming down the hill was a classic car, although they were at a standstill as the narrow lane wasn’t wide enough for a few hundred runners plus a car. There were a surprising number of classic cars out – more than one would have been a surprise in itself I suppose, but there were five or six.

It was very, very warm and just before 5km there was the first water station. I necked a cup of water and carried on through the village of Pebmarsh. There were lots of people cheering who’d driven out there (clearly friends/family) but also locals out cheering. A farmer had driven out to the edge of his field and was watching from a good vantage point, relaxing in the sunshine.

halstead2

The scenery was stunning, and I genuinely enjoyed looking at the yellow fields of oilseed rape, the rolling hills and occasional animals. We went past a llama farm and there were also horses and cows, and birds circling lazily in the air. It was also quite fun to watch the snake of people ahead – every time there was any shade on the road, all the runners would head to that side of the road, and luckily the cars were few and far between.

By the 10km water station my right foot was cramping really badly, I guess because my ankle felt weak and my foot was trying to protect it. The strapping around my foot didn’t help. I started making bargains with myself to keep myself going but by about 15km I was yelping a bit when I ran and also when I walked, and I really didn’t think I could go on. I spoke to a man who was walking, who said he was going to drop out. “What’s the point in doing yourself a long term injury?” he said. I knew he was right but I also knew I’d feel like a total failure for giving in.

The marshals were all friendly and supportive. “Looking great!” said one, with a slightly sceptical look on his face. “At least you’re not sat on the sofa at home, anyway.”

Matt had said he’d be cheering at about 17km, but when I didn’t see him immediately I was upset and may have sworn a bit under my breath (okay, maybe a lot). For the last few kilometres I’d been thinking how if I *was* going to drop out then this would be the place to do it as at least we’d be together. My foot was really hurting a lot and I didn’t want to keep going as it would just get worse. And now I couldn’t see him – I didn’t know what to do. But there he was, on the other side of a water station, trying to take a picture of me.

I stopped and told him I was quitting. I took my shoe, sock, bandaging off and let my swollen foot out. I couldn’t move my toes, even staring at them. I drank some water and let Matt eat the last of my energy chews (he’d already started on the jelly beans I’d been saving for later in the race). It felt quite surreal.

My mum showed up and we jumped in the car and drove back to the leisure centre. We came up behind the first place runner and I wound the window down so I could lean out and cheer him. He didn’t seem to appreciate it but I like to think he gained some extra speed to get away from the hecklers in the car.

I had a shower, returned my timing chip, ate an ice cream and limped around. Matt went to the football and mum and I hung around in Braintree, eating scones in the sunshine and laughing at just how Essex it all was.

I am trying hard to think of the positives but it’s a struggle.

  • It’s weird not feeling at all tired post-marathon when I expected to.
  • It’s odd to leave a race without a medal.
  • It’s horrible feeling that you’ve let yourself/other people down.
  • It’s really strange thinking how I still haven’t run a marathon since London, and does this mean I was a better runner then than now?

(Will I ever run another marathon?)