Virgin Money London Marathon, 24th April
Stephen Jackson ...
The day before I travelled to London I was informed, via Facebook, that my 2015 PB from the Greater Manchester Marathon was no longer recognised by England Athletics as an official marathon time. Suddenly, the trip to the Capital had a little more pressure attached to it.
Fastforward three days, and I'm inside a portable toilet in the Blackwall tunnel, about fourteen miles into the Virgin Money London Marathon, again cursing my luck as my dreamof emulating that time from Manchester isslipping away before my very eyes.
There is undoubtedly a metaphor I could shoehorn into this report (hopes and dreams down the toilet related), but I won't. Safe to say my race plan did not involve a portaloo stop (*other portable toilets are available).
However, I emerged from that tunnel with a new focus, running a sub 02:45 marathon - slightly slower than my 'dream' time for London - but enough to earn a Championship place for the following year and a symbolic two fingered salute to the organisers of the Greater Manchester Marathon.
Just after the toilet stop I passed Alyson Dixon, leading the charge for the GB women, going in the opposite direction; this lifted my spirits as I was able to manage a "go on Aly" as she flew by me. Not long after that I saw my lovely wife Vics, our two girls and my Mam and Dad who'd made the trip to London to again meet the newest member of our family, my Nephew Seb.
Before long I was again hitting on or around 03:53 per km (06:15 minute miles) and things were, sort of, back on course. I felt better at 16 miles than I did at 6, I felt like I was back in control. 19 - 23 miles were, as expected, a struggle. My pace dropped off slightly and I really needed to dig deep to keep the dream alive. That said, I was passing people, I wasn't thriving but I was struggling less than those around me. At 24 miles, I started to work towards the finish line. I had a wrong to right from Manchester, I wanted my Championship place back.
The last two miles were everything I hoped they would be, I didn't really give a monkeys about the iconic landscape, I was more interested in the fact I was finishing strongly. I did the maths in my head with 1km to go and new it was in my grasp, only just.
02:44:06 - 54 seconds to spare; maybe I didn't need to rush that toilet stop after all. I have unfinished business at this distance; I can and will go faster, no doubt about it. But the feeling as I crossed the finish line was as satisfying as I've had in my short running career.
I'd barely paused for breath and I saw Michael Littlewood heading towards me - a HUGE PB for him on the day, taking 12 minutes off in 12 months - impressive to say the least. I only mention Michael by name as we've travelled the length and breadth of the UK together over the last 9 weeks, united in a common goal under the stewardship of coach Allan Seheult. We were in this together and I got just as much pleasure out of Michael's time as I did my own.
All the Elvet Striders in London did the club and the North East proud.Now, I have a taste for the Marathon majors; what to do next?
... Elaine BissonDriven by the excitement surrounding last years VMLM, I gained a place with a GFA entry. The hotel and train tickets were booked months in advance. I travelled down on friday, staying in Lewisham (ideal 20min walk from the start line at Blackheath). Registration was at Custom Excel VMLM Expo, here there was a buzz of excitement from fellow marathoners and stewards.
I spent the remainder of the Saturday being very lazy and finishing off my carb loading. That night was the first in a long time when I slept until the buzz of my alarm clock heralded the start of race day. Fuelled up with porridge heavily soaked with maple syrup, I made my way through the magnificent surroundings of Lewisham to locate the green blip in the sky, marking the start for the GFA and celebs! By the Hare and Billet Road there was no doubt in my mind that I had found the right place, it was absolutely teaming with runners as they too made their way to the start.
A highlight for me was running into some fellow striders and being sneaked into the Virgin tent, with its warmth, bean bags, chairs, pre race fuelling, and most importantly pristine toilets with no queue (thank you!)
Baggage buses were loaded by 9:25, we headed to the start pens with 10 minutes to spare. 10am and we were off. Our route collides with the blue and then the red masses and the paths get busier and busier. So busy I narrowly escaped being tripped many, many times over as runners pushed to get past, or to stick strictly to the thin blue line marking the shortest route, or to dash in front to grab water. It felt like mayhem. I did not like it. I cursed a lot.
Honestly, I don't remember much. If you asked me about Kielder or of Windermere, I could tell you so much about the surroundings, the rise and fall of the road, this was very different. It was an assault on all of my senses.
The noise from the spectators was incredible, throughout the entire 26.2 miles, and as the day wore on the voices seemed to get louder and louder. There were numerous bands along the route, pubs playing music, an insane 100m stretch filled with people in blue frantically ringing bells.
The smells were pungent from takeaways preparing food, beer, smoke... The sights of thousands of people shouting, the Cutty Sark, miles upon miles of roads that could be anywhere in the UK, the dark grotty tunnel, the shard, no. 10, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and the most amazing finish line ever. We experienced all seasons, from a cold chilly start, hot sun, hailstones, rain, wind.
With 5miles to go, I had had enough. The buildings were encroaching on the sky, the spectators were becoming more raucous as the pubs were drunk dry. My ears were ringing and my heart no longer singing. The wheels were quickly falling off, I tried to imagine running along the quiet road to the finish line at windermere, I summoned all my strength to get this thing over. I clung to two women and forced my legs to keep in time with theirs, finally the mall was in sight and my heart began to leap, 1000m to go, 800, 600, I round the bend and see the finish line, with its 3 entrance ways and large clocks tick, tick, ticking. It was quite spectacular, I should have enjoyed it more. Expertly herded through to receive the biggest, heaviest gold medal (sorry, no, i hadn't won), to get a picture taken (and try to smile and stand upright while my legs start to cramp), along to pick up my bags and then out of the barriers and into even more mayhem.
I tackle my way as quickly as I can through the masses swarming St James Park, up and then down a footbridge to find Victoria Station...then the long journey back to my hotel to pick up my bags, back to Kings Cross to fill a waitrose bag with utter rubbish and then on the train home. My phone turned on and there is pandemonium as it beeps and buzzes signalling facebook conversations, messages and voice mail from friends and family who have excitably followed my small red running figure on a computer screen and watched trying to spot my purple vest on TV...I wonder if they have had more fun than me.
I have the most hilarious trip home, filling my tummy full of goodies, and sharing prosecco and daft stories with an actress who is off to dress as a cyborg for her next movie. I fall out of the station with legs unwilling to move and perhaps having had a little too much bubbles. The taxis are all taken. As I stumble towards the hill that I will have to climb to get home, the wonderful Simon saves me and gives me a lift (another highlight of my day!)
So, what did I think? I wonder if I've missed something. I'm not sure how much I enjoyed it, if at all. There were parts that made me grin, but when I thought the cheers would spur me on, I longed for the solitude, for countryside, for air that I wanted to inhale, for the sound of my breathing and of my own trainers tapping the floor.
However, I also know I have unfinished business. With every marathon under my belt, I learn more about how my mind and body work, Ill come back stronger and smash that PB next time...
Blackpool Half Marathon, 24th April
This is the 2nd time I've raced at Blackpool but my first over the 13.1 miles distance. It's a good 2 1/2 hours drive away so requires a hotel stop a large commitment to do it justice. My road to Blackpool started last year when my body fell apart in the build up to the Yorkshire marathon for a second year. I decided after that big disappointment, committing to a marathon again the following year was not for me, instead I decided to make 2016 a racing marathon free zone to allow for some real speed work and recover from the demands marathon training requires.
A surprise come back 1/2 marathon PB at brass monkey was the boost I needed, so I started looking round for a fast flat 1/2 that I could target. Due to work and other commitments I was left with Blackpool as the best option. A course I sort of knew after racing the 10k there last year, the dates worked and the chance of making a weekend of it meant it was the perfect choice.
So with the help of our club super coach Allan, we drew up a training plan with Blackpool being the end goal. It was based on the marathon program but allowed for exciting distractions and other races along the way without the pressure that the formal marathon program brings. One such adventure being the kielder dark skies marathon with my secret training weapon and number one fan/coach/supporter and most colour coordinated strider, Catherine. I strongly believe the long and short runs we have done together have helped improve my running in countless ways. This is something I would never have done before, heading out for a run well below my slow calculated recovery pace or spending 5 hours 10 mins time on feet round kielder.
Training had gone really well with a sub 17 Sunderland parkrun and a 10k PB at the sand dancer in the build up. With a current 1:17:30 pb I was hoping for at least sub 1:17 and ideally a top 3 finish if the last few years results were anything to go by. But as always it depends who shows up on the day, as the coach said, concentrate on my running and the race result will take care of itself.
I felt really relaxed at the start line, confident and waving to Catherine who was still suffering from the kielder race and had to pull out of the 10k also on at the same time as the half. The target pace was 5:50 min miles but I knew I was capable of more if I felt good. So after the first couple of splits at 5:30 and 5:34 I tried not to panic too much. I deliberately slowed my pace but still well below goal pace. What worried me was how far back I placed in the field, only just top 10 after 4 miles and the leaders well ahead. You run past all the Blackpool piers, to to the roller coaster then loop back past the start at about mile 8. This is when the fast pace, slight climb and wind started affecting me. Thankfully I had Catherine shouting me on at this point from the tram tracks sidelines and I snapped back into life.
I had slowly picked my way back to 5th after dropping the 6th place runner who wanted me as a wind breaker. The only time I clocked my race time was at the 10 mile point - it read 58 something which was a really pleasant surprise (shock). Either side of that I just concentrated on trying to close the gap to the next runners. The last 3 miles were back along the coast, away from the wind and 3 miles of mad racing I won't forget any time soon. The feeling was amazing as I caught 4th 3rd then 2nd placed runners and just kept going. This last 5k was the fastest of the race for me and a total dream. As the finish line came into sight I knew 2nd place was mine and the joy just exploded as I did a crazy hand dance to the end. My number one supporter cheered me home and I had some how achieved it, 2nd in a major half marathon race. Only then did I check my watch which read 1:15:15. I just assumed it was wrong and still did not quite believe it till the official results come out online.
For me this was the perfect race with a fantastic flat course, a really good training plan and the best support from so many people within our club. A special feeling I felt privileged to be able to share with them all.
The only slight disappointment came with the prize for 2nd place being another t shirt and that's about it. Nothing for the mantlepiece, nothing to display leaving 3 very confused and disappointed runners at the so called 'prize giving ceremony'. A shame after what was without doubt my best ever race and a running highlight I may never top.
Now onto the next challenge.....
It's a marathon Jules but not as you know it!
Allendale Challenge, North Pennines, 9th April
about 25 miles
Described in the 'blurb' as a "must do event for any keen fell runner" with a route "covering some of the finest peat bogs in the North Pennines" the Allendale Challenge is 26 miles long with 4,000ft of ascent. From that you'll realise that this 'marathon' is significantly different from 'the norm'.
This year was its 27th running and my 13th. I've always enjoyed the race, always run it on my own and tend to treat it as some weird form of meditation. Gone are the days when I used to run it in around four and a quarter hours with a top ten finish, but with some long days out on the Lakeland fells recently, topped up by regular long off-road runs from home, I was hopeful of running sub 5 hours this year. The weather was dry and fine if a little cool at the start and it remained that way all day. Bad weather usually works to my advantage but as it had been somewhat wet of late those "finest peat bogs" would be in peak condition and so it turned out! Five Striders lined up for the start: me, Mudwoman, Mike Hughes, Mandy and Jules (her first time).
I started steadily along the first two miles or so of road chatting occasionally to one or two fell running club mates. I like to keep my breathing nice and easy during these early miles saving as much energy as possible for the challenges to come and so allowed Mike to forge ahead. Once on the first 'fell' section I increased the pace a bit and passed four or five runners before the road resumed and I settled into a steady climb prior to commencing the 12 or so miles of really tough, wet and boggy terrain.
Once on this section it really is 'game on' although again my priority was energy preservation - pick the best lines, avoid the deepest bogs (where possible) and keep those jumps across the bogs to a minimum. By doing that I could ensure I had enough energy left for the last gruelling six or seven miles. I managed to run most of this tough section although I had to walk a couple of the ups but took the opportunity to eat and drink when I did. I caught Mike just before half way when he took the opportunity of having a cup of tea at the check point while I just continued on. I was still in a meditative state so let Mike go on alone across the peat hags of Killhope Law - possibly the toughest section of the course. This year they were particularly wet and resembled a peaty, undulating moonscape waiting to trap the unwary and to suck the energy from tired legs. If you allow this to happen 'you're doomed' and running those last miles will seem like purgatory! I know because it's happened to me - more than once!
The summit of Killhope Law (673m) is about half way and I reached there in three hours reasonably contented (this is a perfect race for achieving a negative split!). Mike was there at the check point and we began the rough & boggy descent together. Conditions under foot eased part way down then became tortuous as large granite chippings, on a land rover track, proved challenging for soaking wet, tired, but as yet unblistered, feet. At the end of the long descent from Killhope the route becomes almost benign for two or three miles and follows a riverside track. Crossing the many stiles proved challenging for stiff legs but so far I was managing to hold the cramp at bay.
Mike and I reached the start of the aptly named 'Drag' still together with 6.5 miles to go. The Drag is a four mile long rough track most of which is up hill. This section is responsible for many broken fell runners' hearts, including my own, and only once have I managed to run the whole thing! I usually get through it by running 50 paces then power walking the next fifty and so on and so on until the gradient eases and running becomes less problematic. I repeated this tactic and took the opportunity to get down a mini pork pie as well (not easy). Mike was content to remain with me in spite of me frequently urging him to 'press on'. Seeing one or two other runners ahead kept us motivated and we reached the checkpoint at the end of the Drag at the same time as one of these who had been about half a mile ahead of us at the start of the Drag. However, we stopped for tea and he didn't!
We now turned onto a heathery moorland not as tough as the 'bogs' but tough enough after 23 miles! A couple of runners started to 'come back' to us including the one from the Drag. As I was closing in on him I heard Mike behind me utter an 'exclamation'. I knew the cramp had got him as I had been having my own personal battle with it for the last mile or so. As Mike was perfectly safe and in good fettle, apart from cramp, I pressed on overtaking the 'Drag runner' plus two others before the moorland gave way to the final mile on the road. And it was here that cramp almost brought me to a halt as I hobbled along with a left foot deformed by pain. The end couldn't come quick enough and I 'crossed the line' in 4hrs 52 mins and 17th place - highly satisfactory. Mike came in a couple of minutes later for a race pb while Jules sauntered round with Tynedale friend Marcus to finish as 3rd woman! Susan and Mandy kept each other company for the whole race finishing together in under 6 hours and in good fettle.
Refreshed by pie and peas and two pints of Guinness I felt quite pleased with my performance after what had been a winter of running marred by a number of injuries. With the longer days upon us and spring fast approaching life was good.
Jules 3rd woman
The Grizedale Marathon, Cumbria, 7th February
The day before the race
The waterfall coming down from Easedale Tarn was a raging, white torrent! Even though we were about a mile away, from our windy vantage point on the top of a small knoll, we could see the water moving; jets of white falling water. The beautiful surrounding bracken of the hillside was deep red, dotted with a few windswept trees, and higher up the tops of the fells had a light dusting of snow. It had been raining heavily all day. After driving over to Grasmere from Durham this morning, and a café lunch in Grasmere village we had put the kids in wellies and full waterproofs and splashed/waded our way a mile along the path towards Easedale Tarn in the heavy rain and blustery wind. The path was more of a stream, the adjacent fast-flowing stream having burst its banks in several places! This was the day before the Grizedale marathon, and although I was now enjoying being out in the rain, I would prefer it not to rain during the event tomorrow!
Race Day!At 7am, still dark outside, and after a rough nights sleep in the youth hostel (I'm not a good sleeper away from home) the high energy 1980's disco alarm went off on my mobile. The kids jumped out of the bunk beds and started dancing. (How do kids do this when they were snoring 3 seconds ago?!). ...I moved the curtain and took a peak out of the window..it had stopped raining! Yes! ..I felt excited!
My plan was to use the Grizedale marathon as a long training run for the Manchester marathon in April. A change from running my usual long run routes around Durham, and a good excuse for a family weekend break in the Lakes! So I was planning to run at an easy-steady pace. Chill a bit and enjoy the scenery and the social aspect.
We were all assembled at the start at the Grizedale Visitor Centre. 5,4,3,2,1 GO! boomed the loudspeaker! We were off! The crowd of runners moved forwards through the inflatable start-line arch! The route wound up and up and up into the deep Grizedale forest! The track was lined with tall dark green branchy conifers. The pine smelt fresh. I found myself in a group going at a nice steady pace, just the sound of our breathing and our feet on the forest track. This was nice. Relaxing! Peace and quiet from the noise of the kids in the car earlier! At around 6 miles ish the track turned into a deeply rutted path on the top of the moor above the treeline, with puddles and bog. I found myself behind a group of 5 lads. They kept leaping from side to side to avoid puddles/rocks/mud, as did I. Everytime I jumped to one side there was a guy who jumped right in front of me. He knew I was there but was just trying to find the best route. However it made me want to get past him. As soon as the path widened I waited for a gap and ran hard past them. Suddenly it felt fantastic going fast on the top of the moor! ..And also now I was past them I wasn't going to let them catch me! I increased my speed to make sure of this and ran up and down, up and down along the very undulating narrow ridge path with a view the high snow topped mountains across the valley. Who-hoo! I kept going fast and passed another girl, then no-one for a while. The route went back downhill through the forest, great to keep up speed. After a quick jaffa cake at the first check point I caught up with 2 guys. We chatted a bit. One was from Yorkshire. He said he supposed the view was ok but it wasnt Yorkshire! Ha ha. Then 'Marathon Man' caught us up. He was doing 52 marathons in 52 days! After talking he bade us farewell and sped off into the distance!! ..Nearly half way now. Mentally this marathon is a fantastic route, two loops of 13.1 miles each, so you know exactly where half way is. As a neared the half way point a couple came towards me peddling uphill on their bikes. They shouted out that I was the second lady that had passed them! ...Well, if that was the case, I was going to race! I needed to keep the pace up in the second loop. Not let the girl I passed earlier catch me up. The pressure was on!
The second loop began with a steep climb up a boldery rain eroded path. It went over another ridge, down to and around the head of Esthwaite Water, past Beatrix potter, up into the wilds again over another ridge, this one a bit more exposed and windy (thanks Debbie for the buff!) then down through beautiful forest to the shore of Lake Windermere. The sun came out for a moment and the glimpses of sparkling water and moored boats could be seen through gaps in the trees. The regular rushing lapping of waves on the shore from the brisk wind could be heard. I spotted some runners ahead. One was tall and thin, and wearing a pink cap and top. Could this be the first lady?! I needed to find out! I Increased my speed! They were going fast and the path kept going over hillocks and round corners around the lake-side so they kept going out of sight! They stopped at the final check-point. It was a guy. Oh well! The final check point was amazing! A table with a large spread of cakes, peanuts, jelly babies and drinks! The marshall proudly declared he had made the flapjack himself and that it contained so much fat and sugar It would keep you going for 2 weeks!:) I thanked him and ate as much of it as I could in 2 minutes, then ran on up the hill. The final part of the route wound back over the ridges back towards Grizedale forest. With two miles to go I suddenly felt really tired! I tried as best as I could to keep up the pace but a few runners past me. There were a few fun stream crossings in the forest, ..but back on the forest track it seemed to stretch on and on! I must not let her catch me! She could be just behind me ! Finally a steep hill and the joyous sight of the roof of the visitor centre!! Just back down the boldery hill, onto the road, round the corner….and there was the finishing arch! Yippee! 2nd place was mine! ...and literally 2 minutes later the girl behind ran through the arch! … ha ha ha I had been right to keep on the pace!
There was a small presentation in the visitor centre cafe afterwards. Everyone was very friendly and chatty. The first lady had finished 30minutes ahead of me, super speedy! My husband and kids arrived, the kids full of excitement as they had also had a good morning leaping about at the outdoor treetop adventure course at Brockholes. We were all hungry and enjoyed a hot lunch of juicy sausage bread buns with oinions and hot chocolate in the warm cafe!
Göteborg Running Club Training Session, 12th April
Sweden has given the world ABBA, Volvo and Ikea. For runners, we can also include the Fartlek. However, I learnt another new thing from Sweden during my recent trip to Gothenburg.
I was standing in the shadow of an ancient Swedish fort at the top of a steep hill with a couple of hundred lycra clad runners. We were listening intently to the instructions of our head coach Johan. The crowd nodded from time to time, I followed suit, not knowing a word of Swedish. My plan was to follow everyone and hoped it would work.
We started off with 10 minutes of light jogging and active stretching. This was followed by a form of circuit training for runners. There would be short but intense uphill sprints interspersed by pyelometrics or on-the-spot exercises. The exercises could be anything from squats and lunges to "falling knives" and "mountain climber". My favourite was the resistance exercise where you'd run whilst a fellow runner held you back by a belt (see video). There was minimal recovery periods and my heart rate hardly had a chance to slow down. We ran round this circuit for approximately 40 minutes before finishing off with a couple of uphill sprints.
Though I consider myself a seasoned runner, I found this session to be intense, and though we only covered 4 miles, I could truly say I had a "proper" workout. Although this session all took place within a small area, it easily accommodated 200 runners of different abilities. Everyone could run uphills at their own pace and beginners could do less repetitions during exercises. Perhaps this is a session we could try one day at The club? Happy to help if anyone needs more details.
Finally, I must Thank the coaches and fellow runners for a warm welcome and allowing me to bumble along.
[Video link in links below. No Facebook login required. - Ed.]
Paris Marathon, 3rd April
So we rocked up in Paris at 16:00 on Friday afternoon, the weather was cool and the sun was nowhere to be seen. We (Matt and Tee) checked in to the hotel and then headed to the expo to pick up my race number, Tee's breakfast run t-shirt and most importantly my solar panel powered lamp that I had won courtesy of the Paris Marathon app (it is epic, I can now recharge lots of appliances via the power of the sun!). Back to the job in hand... pizza was consumed before getting a good night's sleep ready for Tee to run in the morning.
Saturday arrived and we headed out to the start. I wrapped up warm as the sun was nowhere to be seen and the temperature was low. Tee stormed the run covering the 5km faster than the Paris Metro. I met her at the finish where she was already tucking in to her pain aux chocolate and banana. The rest of the day was spent chilling with my legs being used as little as possible, as I perused my Met office app for a look where I discovered that the outlook was good - little wind, cloudy until the middle of the day and highs of 18-19C to only be reached by 15:00.
Sunday dawned, the skies were grey and the temperature were low. The morning alarm sounded at 5.45, I rose, boiled the kettle and tucked in to two porridge pots. Kit was donned and then off to the metro to get to the Champs - Elysees, dressed in many layers, a woolly hat and a pair of gloves. In case you were wondering it was a little bit chilly!!
The race was officially underway at 8.45, the pros and the sub 3 hour pen disappeared. Being in the 3h15 pen we were walked to the start line and waited for 3mins for the traffic to clear. The atmosphere was crackling with anticipation and before we knew it the right hand side of the pen were set away, it was allowed to empty before we were released, my dreams of a traffic free course lay dashed.
Eventually we were off into the rising sun, the pace was good, the legs felt fresh and all seemed right with the world. Soon the sweat began to form on my brow and thoughts turned to the water stop at 5km, the big red signs appeared on the horizon and I got ready to grab a bottle and replenish some of the lost fluids, a sharp hair pin bend appeared and I spied water on the outside of the bend, obviously with it being such a big event there will be water on both sides of the course so I take the fast line and take the opportunity to pass runners. The bend was taken but no more water was available, the temperature was rising and panic started to creep in, no more water until 10km.
The distance disappeared nicely, water stops came and went, copious amounts were consumed and the sun burnt down on the runners. The halfway point was reached and we headed towards the River Seine. The first underpass approached with the promise of a surprise. Down we went and suddenly tropical sounds started to drift in our direction, these were followed by large posters depicting a tropical beach. Soon the road rose in front of us and as we started to climb the only solace was that we were out of the sun.
The kms started to drag, the legs became heavy and the stomach became upset...this was not in my 'race plan'! The river passed, as did the Eiffel Tower although my memory of this feature is very limited. We were heading towards the park and the eventual end of the race. Fellow competitors were dropping like flies, respirators were out in force, comforting those laid out by the side of the road. The pace dropped as the wheels started to come off; the finish couldn't come soon enough, but the the pull of the t-shirt at the end kept me going. Eventually a corner was turned and the end was in sight, I stumbled on, completely missing the cries of encouragement from the wife who had occupied a spot near the final straight. The finish line was crossed and respite from the sun was calling. The journey along the longest finishing area had begun.
After what felt like another mile the end was reached and Tee was met, her first job to guide me into some much needed shade to where it felt like I collapsed in a heap...assured by my wife that this in fact wasn't the case. At the time I swore I would never do another marathon ever again and Paris would be my first and last marathon... but since returning to England it may not surprise you that Paris most certainly won't be my last marathon; I've already found myself checking out race listings for distances of 26.2 miles, just a bit closer to home this time. Be assured however; Paris, you have not beaten me! I have some wrongs to write with that race and one day, I will do just that!!
There were some great performances from the other Striders on a very hot day with Mike Parker, Lesley Hamill and Caitlin Mooney all joining me in Paris being their first EVER marathon, well done! Greta and Karen Jones both ran really well and Kathryn Sygrove put in another solid marathon performance.
DT20, Reeth, Swaledale, 4th April
Thanks to Helen Allen transferring her "Grand Slam" entry to my name, and hoping to put the recent Harrier League experience of mud and hills to good use, I signed up for my first trail race, the Dales Trail 20 at Reeth in Swaledale.
I hadn't visited the Yorkshire Dales and took this opportunity to drive down to scout the route the day before the race. The limestone scenery on the hill road that connects Barnard Castle to Reeth is spectacular. I parked up to recce Calver Hill, at 487m the highest point on the course. The wind was so fierce on the summit that after a few minutes I was obliged to shelter by the cairn. Fortunately, the weather was less tempestuous on race day.
The Dales Trail series is so well organised and the hospitality of Reeth to runners so welcoming and genuine that camaraderie and trench humour triumphs over any anxiety that a novice feels tackling such a tough course. I was surprised to discover that I managed the opening ascent to Fremington Edge (475m) without too much discomfort, save for the fact that on the brow of the summit, a tall man with a loping walking stride kept pace with my arm and knee pumping attempts to run to the top. Once on Fremington Edge, I thought I would be distracted by panoramic views but by then I was focused on a tussle with my companions for the next 12 miles; one of the many ebbs and flows that rippled through a stream of 206 runners who started (and completed) the event.
On the steep rocky, technical descent from Fremington Edge I lost ground to experienced fell runners, but even more on the two occasions when those ahead of me took the wrong path and were not called back on track by those behind us who clearly knew the route well. These mishaps made me more determined to do battle with fell folk on the 5-mile circuitous climb up Calver Hill. At the start of the ascent we were offered a bowl of brightly coloured jelly babies and - for reasons still unclear to me - I grabbed a fistful like a starving man stumbling upon manna in the wilderness (I hope tail runners weren't left howling at an empty bowl).
By this point in the race, my efforts to move up the field were hampered by trying to negotiate the boggy, undulating terrain while trying to pop a jelly baby into my mouth. After the first sugared shape almost dropped whole down my windpipe and was aborted, I resolved to chew the next into submission. Yet the marshal who told me "you're doing brilliant!" was answered by coughs, then half digested jelly spewed over the Swaledale turf. My admiration for the endurance and skill of trail or fell runners extends to the art of high speed sweet swallowing (Tom Reeves, can you sort out a jelly baby interval session at Maiden Castle?).
The less technical descent into Reeth suited road runners and I was able to pick up a few places to finish in the top dozen, followed home by Jon Ayres, who knocked minutes off his time from the previous year. Hot on his heels was Elaine Bisson, who won a hard earned prize as the third place woman. Tim Skelton, Phil Connor, Malcolm Sygrove, (and Shaun Roberts, allegedly - Ed.) and a gutsy run from Steph Piper completed a strong Strider showing at Swaledale on a rainy but nonetheless exhilarating outing on the Yorkshire Dales.
World Half Marathon Championships 2016, Cardiff, 26th March
Ok, so Cardiff isn't exactly on the doorstep. But if you're going to do a half marathon four weeks before the Virgin London Marathon, you might as well do the World Half Marathon Championships.
I'd had no taper for this race, and the weather forecast wasn't good, but I still had a feeling I could run well in Cardiff; and that proved to be the case. It's always a good idea to mentally prepare for three outcomes, perfect, good and satisfactory.
The most important outcome of the day was an injury free run with the training benefit of 13.2 hard miles - not to lose sight of the fact that it was a training session for London; albeit the most high profile race I'd ever been a part of.
I managed three sub 18 minute 5k's to get me to 15km (just under 10 miles) at a pace that would have got me tantalisingly close to my 'perfect race' time of 01:15. Unfortunately, that is when I started to slow - possibly due to fatigue, or some minor 'stomach issues' but most likely due to the monsoon that engulfed Cardiff for the last quarter of the race. I have honestly left the bath drier than I left Cardiff that day.
I really had to dig in as others around me were starting to slow up a little too. I managed to get into a little group to work through the last few miles, courageously led by the female winner of the 2015 Greater Manchester Marathon, Georgie Bruinvels - who I later went on to pass. So, a PB of 01:16:03, and a fantastic weekend. I still have unfinished business at this distance, but that can wait until later in the year.
Finally, a mention to my partner in crime Michael Littlewood who ran a very strong time of 80 minutes on fatigued legs - all looking good for London.
Dark Skies Run, Kielder, 26th March
My First Marathon.... Or ultra depending on your stance on the 'anything over 26.2 miles....'
So having ran a few half marathons I, like many, thought that the next natural progression would be to go for the full marathon distance, but not just any old marathon, no no, I decided that it would be a good idea to do half of it at night & I chose Kielder, renowned for being flat! Not!
I was very impressed by Trail Outlaws when I marshalled for them at my local Washington trail race so I asked if I could have a place in their Dark Skies run in return & they confirmed there were spaces - just like that I was in! Eeeek! I then learnt it wasn't just a marathon - it was at least 26.5 miles! Double Eeek!
I invested in some 'long run' kit & started upping the mileage - usually incorporating a coffee shop refuel half way!
As part of my pre race prep it seemed I managed to 'encourage' other purplies to either run it (some of them marathon Virgins like me) or marshal it so we could make an adventure out of the whole experience. One of them being Gareth, a fast lad who had never been on his feet longer than 3hrs! Not sure who had the biggest challenge ahead - what I do know is I would never have entered or completed this race without becoming part of the purple family!
Finally the big day arrived as did storm Katie! The forecast was for rain, rain and more rain, plus some wind! Great! Not only would we be unlikely to see any Dark Skies or Northern lights we were also probably going to be rained on heavily for most of the race! I felt bad for all those people I had roped into the crazy plan in one guise or another!
We arrived at the scout hut/HQ and got our numbers, passing the kit check easily, mine weighed 6lbs! I can assure you I had what we needed and then some!
We saw our purple support crew in action and welcomed the other purple posse runners as they arrived, the weather wasn't too bad at this point and we were all hopeful it might not be as predicted, until about 4.30pm, 30 mins before the start of the race when the heavens opened and pretty much didn't stop until about 10.30pm!
At around 5ish we were off! Wishing everyone good luck Gareth & I settled into our pace and the miles were ticking off nicely, despite the awful conditions I was enjoying the views & seeing the marshals and other runners along the way. Soon enough we were at the first checkpoint and it was lovely to see our purple support crew, they seemed a little surprised to see me / us so early, I took that as a compliment and with a spring in my step off we went again!
Soon it was dark enough to need our head torches - it was fab seeing all the lights moving through the trees and up and down the MANY hills!
We kept hydrated & filled up on the various (some soggy) treats at each of the checkpoints and all things considered we were doing great, on pace, running all the way (even up THOSE hills) and we even got to see some stars!! Wahooo!
I had only ever ran 20 miles max before however so it wasn't surprising that at about 22 miles I hit the wall, I was tired, my light was dimming and Gareth had said 'just a park run left' by accident - we were nearly one strider fast lad down at this point as I could have killed him when I realised it wasn't right! He was trying to distract me with chatter about Teresa Archer's lush chocolate cakes waiting for us with all our purple crew at the last checkpoint and I just wanted him to shut up! The thought of cake made me feel sick! I knew I needed to rally and regroup so I slammed the brakes on and explained I wanted to change my batteries (well the torch ones not mine! If only!!) I also had a gel and some trail mix and a little word with myself. We set off again with me and the light much brighter...
It wasn't long until it really was only a parkrun left and I knew in half that distance I would get my hugs from Kerry & co & Gareth would get his cake hit from Teresa! (These cakes are delicious and got us through Hardmoors half and Dark skies & should be available after every XC race! Might even help Gareth get round in the fast pack next season!!)
I practically fell into Kerry and Denise when we saw them, Flip was on a rescue mission and didn't even recognise us as we passed him! Kerry said 'you are doing great, only 2.5 miles to go' I think I practically screamed back at her '1.5, surely?!?! Please!' We were on 25+ miles by then - I showed her on my watch! She said 'oooops! Yes 1.5 then I've been telling everyone 2.5!' I was so relieved after my early distance confusion I couldn't face another!
After hugs all round and being pointed in the right direction for 'home' by ET Archer (aka Matthew) we set off on the last 1.5 miles, I felt emotional by this point, I knew then I was going to finish a tough first marathon in horrid conditions & I was suddenly a bit overwhelmed.
There were fairy lights guiding us back to race HQ where we fell through the door way and collected our fab medals - official times 5.10.05 for me - first and only time I'll beat Gareth at 5.10.06 - my watch gave the distance of 26.82 miles - Gareth's had 27+ from his toilet detours (race bag / bladder pressure situation going on there!)
I had done it! I was over the moon! 22nd lady and 14th in my age category! I was also so so proud of Mr P who helped me round and had achieved the longest time on his feet ever!!!!
Anita Clementson was in ahead of us with a new marathon PB and soon after us was Jane Ives.
We had a hot drink & freshened up & then waited for the rest of the gang to get back. Dave Toth & then Helen Allen were next, then Kathleen & her partner, followed by Sophie, Lyndsey, Julie and Emma who like me had never done a marathon before, they were followed by Sue (a week after her 55!!) and Rachel Toth - another marathon virgin - it was really emotional - I was so proud of us all completing a really challenging race. The marshals were back not long after so we all headed to the scout hut to celebrate and refuel / hydrate (on party tea and alcohol obvs!)
Jury is still out as to whether I will run another marathon or more distance wise but I would like to thank all those involved in making it an awesome first marathon (ultra) experience and I would highly recommend Trail Outlaws races to anyone fancying a new / different challenge - either to Marshal or Race or both!
STRIDERS STORM TO SUCCESS!
Harrier League, Wrekenton, 19th MarchSaturday's final NEHL x/c race of 2015-16 saw Striders men's team finish as Division 2 champions, after securing first place on the day, thereby achieving promotion to Division 1 for the first time in over twenty years! The Women's team, already in their Division 1, also achieved their highest placing for the season of 4th on the day and 6th for the season as a whole - a solid performance that bodes well for next year. Well done to you all!
Over 120 Striders took part in HL this year and each one of them has contributed to the club's success. They've done this not just by running their hearts out for Striders, but by creating a wonderfully friendly and inclusive atmosphere around the Striders' banner whereby everyone feels part of the team, is happy to give their all when competing over what can be challenging terrain and want to come back for more.
'They also serve who stand and cheer' and this year we've had some marvellous vocal support from Striders and their families out on the course. On occasions the volume of support has been almost overwhelming although absolutely invaluable to those running in finding that extra yard of pace and determination to finish well. So thanks again to one and all, I know I haven't been alone this season in feeling an enormous sense of pride in Striders and for what it stands.
And so to Saturday's race. The weather was fairly benign - cloudy and cool, but with little wind and no rain, and a dry fortnight had left the undulating course in a fast and runable condition. The Senior Women were first up and a returning Helen Tones was soon near the front of the field pursued quietly by Juliet with Mandy and Steph P not far behind. And that's how it finished as for once our medium and fast packers were unable to overhaul their slow pack club mates on the slightly shorter than normal course. Nonetheless Penny and Louise proved to be the fastest Striders on the day while Laura J ran well showing no ill effects from a very cold day at Alnwick. Jill Rudkin made her debut and displayed a very determined dash for the line and she was supported by a host of Striderettes enjoying the pleasant conditions underfoot. Among these were fellow debutant Rebecca Talbot, x/c enthusiast Catherine S, the evergreen and exuberant Jan, the regal Victoria and the bright but determined Jo R. Well done to all who ran - next season awaits with opportunities to do even better!
The rallying cry that had gone up around Striders in the preceding week was answered with gusto by no fewer than 32 senior men - one of the largest, and certainly our strongest, team in my seven seasons as x/c captain. The pre-race atmosphere was tense but optimistic as we gathered for a group photo. We knew if we finished in the top three teams we'd be promoted but, if we finished first on the day then we'd be champions - bring it on!
I felt a twinge of pride at the start as I looked around at war painted Striders both new to the club such as Jason, Andrews G&H, & Daniel and 'old-timers' like Keith, Mike B & Shaun the Sheep. I knew they were as determined as I was for Striders to get their 'just reward'. Part way round the first of the three laps I allowed myself the luxury of glancing up at the front of the field where I saw two purple vests among the first ten or so runners. These vests belonged to Andrew Hopkins (making his HL debut) and Jason Harding (in his second HL race) and they maintained that position until the end finishing in 6th and 8th place overall respectively - fantastic and exactly what we needed! They were soon followed in by x/c convert Gareth having probably his best ever run in mud and qualifying for the fast pack next season! Michael M was next with a magnificent run just missing out on fast pack qual. Then came another Michael (Littlewood) and fastest Strider on the day Stephen both of whom had chosen, unselfishly, to run for their club on Saturday and their contributions proved to be invaluable.
As ever, our counters were supported by a host of Striders each fighting to finish ahead of as many of our rivals as they could possibly catch - and how they succeeded! Brave debuts came from Daniel and Richard G while there were fighting come backs from Danny and David G. There were battle royals between Striders such as that between Matt, Tom and James and magnificent medium pack surges from Mark & Jack. But I know everyone who ran tried their hearts out from the youngest to the oldest and the fastest to the slowest. I can't tell you how proud I am of every single one of you. You are all part of this success and you all thoroughly deserve it - well done! The dark days of failing to field a full team and of relegation to Division 3 are now well behind us, we can look forward to competing in the 'sunny uplands' of Division 1 next season!
I hope you've managed to read this far because I'd also like to mention all those who came along to support on Saturday. The cheering from our purple clad spectators was very loud and inspiring not just from male / female clubmates who had, or who were about to run, but in particular from those who'd come along just to watch such as Chairman Paul, The Sage of Shincliffe (Allan S), Kate, Stan (taking photos), Conrad, Fiona K-J, Katy, Joan, Teresa & many Strider children - thanks to you all, your contributions were just as important as those who ran.
I'll leave you with some inspiring words stolen from the Minnesotan Master:
And I, I don't mind the pain
Don't mind the driving rain
I know I will sustain
'Cause I believe in Striders.
|position||bib||name||cat||pack||race time||actual time|
|1||1939||Abraham Tewelde (Saltwell Harriers)||Msen||M||33:17||30:47|
|position||bib||name||cat||pack||race time||actual time|
|1||1248||Beth Larby (Gosforth Harriers)||Fsen||S||26:08||26:08|
Coniston 14, 19th March
Peter Hart asked Mark Todman and me if we would like to run this one with him as he is currently in serious training for the Edinburgh Marathon. Fast forward a couple of months during which the training I had planned in my head to be ready for this distance did not really come to fruition, there we were the night before the race and I think both Mark and I were feeling a little nervous about it. Mark's wife looked at our faces and pointed out "you know, you don't HAVE to do it" and I must admit I was slightly tempted not to. "But, I've paid for it!" I said.
Ultimately, I was glad that I did do it. The weather was just right for running, for me at least, cloudy and cool with little wind. There was a great atmosphere in the village and we even had some unexpected cheery encouragement from a couple of Blackhill Bounders who passed us during the first couple of miles. Pete took off after about a minute and Mark got a bit ahead of me as I was worried I was going out too fast but then I realised we were doing the same speed more or less so caught up with him and we ran the rest of the race together. I know the road to Torver fairly well by car and had been worried about how the 'undulations' would take their toll. However, I seem to have improved a lot on hills in the last six months and at the six-mile marker all felt good.
There were plenty of water stations which were a welcome chance for a bit of recuperation and also broke up the distance a bit. We had planned to walk the mythical 'mega hill' we had spotted on the course profile between miles 11/12 but we ended up doing a bit of walking on some of the others as well during the second half in order to not be completely KOd before the end of the race. Some excellent support en-route, especially from cyclists, both those passing us, and the group parked up doing a loud and hilarious 'mexican wave' on the far side of the Lake.
Really, if you must run 14 miles you may as well do so in such a beautiful location as this. The sun even broke through around mile 11 which made for a lovely springtime feel. Pete met us at the finish where we were handed a slate coaster as a memento and offered water (plain or isotonic!) by some fantastic young volunteers who were working their socks off and giving congratulations to the runners as they did so. Food and cakes were available in the school at the finish. As I have never run 14 miles it was always going to be a PB for me, but also a half marathon PB by 2 mins according to my Garmin which I was very happy with especially for a hilly course that I hadn't really trained for. I may well be back for more in future years if my knee holds up (as I thought the pain might stop me in my tracks on the final big descent)
Serious kudos must go to Elaine Bisson on her excellent performance as 7th lady with a time of 1.37 and great runs from the other six Striders as well. A well-organised enjoyable race that I would thoroughly recommend.
|position||name||cat||cat pos||chip time|
|1||Sam Stead (Keswick AC)||MOPEN||1||01:16:27|
|27||Eleanor Fowler (Nuneaton Harriers)||FV35||1||01:28:16|
Dentdale Run, Dent, Cumbria, 12th March
14 miles 379 yards
A couple of years ago a friend of mine recommended I run the Dentdale race - "just your kind of thing" she said, so it was one that had been on my radar for a while. When I discovered I had a Saturday where I wasn't needed for ferrying to children's parties I elected to give it a go. It was a bit of a last minute decision and I had no thoughts on pace or race strategy - I decided I just wanted to enjoy it.
When I got to the pretty village of Dent I was happy to see a good number of Striders, discussing how many layers we needed and warning each other of the hills ahead. The race started at 1pm which caused me all sorts of quandaries with regards to eating. As we lined up to start I realised my stomach was already rumbling and asking for lunch but it was too late to do much about it. Whilst waiting for the gun I spotted a Swaledale runner who I knew was pretty speedy and has beaten me on a number of occasions but I'd just manage to squeeze past her at the Viking Chase last year so knew she was a good target for me. I decided to try and stick with her as far as I could.
The race starts with a deceptively speedy descent but before long the first of many climbs kicks in. I managed to tuck in behind my Swaledale friend and began to enjoy making my way through the beautiful countryside. The course is a kind of figure of 8 (without crossing at the centre) so at the half way mark I caught sight of my car in Dent. Much as I was enjoying the race I was beginning to tire and was aware of more hills approaching but I resisted the temptation to just jump in and drive home. Around this point my Swaledale friend slowed down to have a gel. I pulled up next to her and we chatted about other races we've done and plans for the future. After a couple of minutes she waved me on, saying she felt she'd started too fast. Not long before, one of the many fabulous local supporters had told us we were second and third ladies and I began to worry I too had gone off too fast.
The second half includes one very long climb and then you get lulled into a false sense of security as you approach the half marathon point with a nice descent. The 13 mile marker hails a killer little hill and the last mile seemed to go on for ever. Eventually we were back in the village and the crowds were fantastic shouting us in so I managed a bit of a sprint finish (ish). I was delighted to see Gareth and Jack who had both had great runs and after a bit of refreshment we cheered in the other Striders.
All in all an absolutely beautiful, runnable yet challenging race and definitely one I'd recommend. My friend was right it was definitely my sort of thing and I hope to be back!
Age UK Harewood Dash 2016, 13th March
My best racing is always done in my head, in the car (or in this case the van), on the way home. This is because, in my head, I would have worked a little harder up the hill in the middle of the race and managed to place third, in a slightly more satisfying time of 35 minutes and so many seconds.
It is, of course, so much easier racing in your head. In my head I was stronger than the young runner who 'out kicked' me with 200m to go and denied me a place on the podium.
The reality was that this was a really good day for my London marathon training, a 90 second improvement on last year and a good time, a whisker over 36 minutes, on a really challenging 'undulating' [read hilly] course.
Both myself and Michael Littlewood, who joined me for journey South, managed to place in the top 10. Most importantly, we got some good quality hard miles in our legs for forthcoming races in Cardiff and London.
There was time for a quick coffee and a bit craic at Scotch Corner and we were back in Durham in time for lunch.
I may return next year, I now have some unfinished business after all.
BTR Liverpool Half Marathon, 13th March
I entered the Liverpool Half Marathon shortly after the Brass Monkey, finishing 99 seconds away from the "dream time" (sub 90) I had cajoled myself into thinking that I could do it. I sold it to my husband as a fun trip back to Liverpool (we met there nearly 20 years ago), oh and there just happens to be a race that weekend too!
I set myself a plan and a few runs at target pace had me believing I could actually do it. As the race starts at 9am Sunday we travelled down on Saturday and had a good wander round all our old haunts, by 7pm I was ready for bed and wondering if the day on my feet would scupper my plans.
Race day, we arrive for 8am, park within a few minutes walk of the start. The race starts and finishes on Canada Boulevard in front of the Port of Liverpool Building. Race HQ were just near this area, there was a stall serving drinks and masses of portable toilets.
The hazy sun was gradually burning through the clouds promising a glorious day ahead, there was not even a hint of a breeze, perfect conditions for a PB. As my nerves started getting the better of me, my husband told me straight "today you will do this, now make it happen" (easy for him to say). There are 7000 runners, split between the HM and 10m race, all starting at the same time, the 10m route misses off the loops of Sefton Park. Having read reviews, I knew I needed to get into the start pen early, I "gracefully" jumped over the barrier and plonked myself right next to the 1.30 pacers...4 very fit men. Sophie, my loudest cheerleader, leant over the barrier and commented "mummy I don't think you'll keep up with these men"... nice to have good support!!
Finally the 10 seconds were counted down and we were off. The course is generally flat. Passing Albert Dock there is a gradual incline and then a sharp incline of 400m at Upper Parliament Street. Other than that, it undulates around and through Sefton Park. By this stage I had caught up some of the 10 milers which threw me...initially I thought a woman in her 70s had perhaps just gone off too fast?!
There are some slight and much welcome downhills along Devonshire Road and Aigburth Drive. There is a tight bend as you run down through the underpass and then come out the other side. By this point, around mile 8, I was still firmly stuck in the 1:30 pacer pack, they were slightly ahead of target pace. We then move immediately into more covered parkland through Otterspool Park, there is a final climb up to the promenade and the pacer tells us to "keep it steady up the hill then we'll pick up pace"....really?! The final four miles are flat following the Otterspool promenade along the waterfront to the finish line. I think this will be a welcome sight but it feels relentless, the 1.30 pacers having picked up pace, are gradually pulling away from me. I keep putting in efforts and keep their orange tops in sight but I feel like the dream is slipping out of reach. By mile 11 a quick calculation gives me a boost...I could still do this. I start to pass a lot of flagging runners. The docksides are lined now, I realise how close I am. I pass the Liverpool museum, the drum band and masses of spectators spur me on, the finish is in sight, the clock is in sight, 100m to go, the clock is ticking 1:29:42, 1:29:43...realisation dawns that I could do this now or within seconds mess it up entirely. With all my might I will my legs to move faster, the man calls out my name and I cross the line... I stop my watch and the glorious numbers pause on the screen 1:29:46....John and my three kids rush to meet me unsure that I pulled it off (the pacers being ahead of me was not a good sign) but from the manic grin on my face and my inability to not jump up and down, they know I've done it.
A gym 5 minutes walk away offered free access with prior login for runners, we head straight over and I dive into the lovely warm showers. We then drive over to Southport for tea, fish and chips, and to continue our reminiscing and celebrations!
A well organised, pretty run with good PB potential...highly recommended