Edinburgh Marathon, 29th May
This was my second marathon. I was supposed to do this last year but developed a chest infection in the week before and had to pull out. My punishment for missing out was to take part in Kielder. Kielder is a beautiful but hilly marathon. I managed to get around that one in 3 hours 36. Not bad for a first attempt. My garmin logged that effort at 42.1 km! Frustratingly I didn’t have a marathon distance to my name on Endomondo or Strava.
My training is split between running, cycling and swimming as I try to keep my hand in with all three. I guess I was hoping that some of the fitness from the other disciplines would be transferable as I probably hadn’t done as much training for this as I should (and certainly nowhere near the Herculean training efforts that Matt, Michael and Stephen put in lately). I’d done two long runs of about 2 hours along with the regular striders training nights, parkruns and a couple of 10k’s here and there. I guess I was hoping that the atmosphere of the race day and support of the crowd would get me through those added miles that I hadn’t trained for.
Organisationally, I’d made a bit of mess of it. I tried to book hotels about 6 weeks beforehand and there was literally nothing left in Edinburgh. All of my old Uni mates have either moved on from Edinburgh or didn’t have room to put me up. Also, there were no trains departing on Sunday morning that would have got me to the start in time. (Either that or they were all full up?)
As luck would have it, I managed to bag a single room in a lovely hotel called Carberry Tower near Musselburgh where the marathon finishes. This place was picture postcard pretty and my single bed was really comfortable. It’s been a really long time since I slept in a single bed. It felt really decadent having a little bed all to myself. Is that weird? Anyroad, I slept really well. I woke a bit early when my watch buzzed at about 630 with Graeme W wishing me good luck. He’s away in Florida so presumably was having a late one ;)
Breakfast was great, muesli, bacon, eggs, a Swedish style cinnamon roll and loads of coffee!!! My old uni mate kindly came and picked me up. I was really worried about how to get from this rather isolated hotel to the start. Thankfully I arrived at London Road in good time. I met another old Uni mate in the starting pen. I knew he’d be there and was looking out for him.
We discussed strategy. He’s done about 7 marathons and had ran them in different ways according to the conditions. “How will you run it?” He asked. “I’m going to start off a bit faster than my ‘M’ pace and keep going for as long as I can – just try and hold on at the end”
The marathon started and I stuck to my plan. Holyrood park came and went. The descent through Leith. Turning onto the coast and running past the crowds at Portobello. I got a nice shout out there from my uni mate who gave me the lift, along with his family.
‘M’ pace for me is 4.40/km. My first 10k all came in below 4.30/km. So far so good. I was up to 19km before my pace slackened to my ‘M’ pace. I was approaching Musselburgh by this point. I thought ‘I could bag a half marathon PB here if I get my finger out’ – so I put on a bit of a burst and beat my last GNR time.
21km – 4 more Parkruns to do – ‘you can do that’. I’d decided to run without music this time. Don’t know why really. I really liked running with music at Kielder. I think I just wanted to enjoy the atmosphere from the sidelines and I didn’t want to miss any shout-outs if I got any. Anyway, I’d been thinking I may turn the music on at half way if I needed a boost, but I didn’t bother in the end.
I started to see the slower finishers from the half marathon on the other side of the road. A big shout out from Jacqui Robson! Her and Alister were there in the tough bit of Kielder and gave me encouragement then. Is there anyone that does more for running locally? I doubt it...
14miles gone - 12 more to go. ‘Bugger – this is a long way’, ‘why am I doing this again?’ ‘When is the turning point?’
A mile or two more. Police outriders on the other side of the road. There go the race leaders. 3 Africans then a chap with Polish looking name. Shortly afterwards the first female.
30km – ‘Two more parkruns to go. You can do this!... Err, no – it’s two more parkruns to go when you get to 32km’. ‘You weren’t forgetting about those last 2km were you?’ ‘Did you think you’d just breeze home on the crest of a pb wave?....’
Finally, the turning point. I don’t know why this was important but it felt like it was another checkpoint to be reached. I passed a grand old stately building – no idea what it was. The macmillan support there was noisy and welcome. Oh no! The ground underfoot is a bit loose now. Any pebbles are excruciating. I’m bothered at times with ‘hot toes’ – ‘They’ve been ok so far. Hope this doesn’t set them off’. An African looking lady overtakes me. Her bum looks like it’s carved from marble.’ I’ll follow her for a bit..’ Bugger she’s too quick for me...
34km – pace has dropped to 4.50/km. Not much I can do about it. Time to try and hang on.
37km – An African looking lady is receiving treatment on the verge by paramedics – wrapped up in foil like a banana on a barbeque. ‘Hope that wasn’t the same lady’.... 1 more Parkrun to go. How hard can that be? 1 Parkrun in just under 25 minutes and you’ll bag a 3h 15 finish. Come on!!
Err – no. Come back when you’re fitter...
Ashamed to say I walked a few times in the last 5k. I’ll have to admit it. I was caught doing it by Alister and David. “go-on – get it finished! You’ve done the hard part!” I guess he was right but I was really spent.
The last 5k was purgatory. The end couldn’t come soon enough. I rounded the last corner. The crowd was noisy and vociferous. The finish was about 200m away. I felt like 2000! Come on – keep going...
I can stop. 3h 18m 53s. An 18 minute improvement on Kielder on an easier course. Honours even? The chap I met in the pen had overtaken me in the last kilometre and finished about 40 seconds in front of me. Damn! Tortoise wins this time.
I pick up my medal and goody bag. It’s pretty hot and sunny now. I need to sit down. My god – that seems impossible. How do I sit down? I do some stretches and buy some porridge from a porridge van (who knew?)
Sitting down is agony. Standing up is agony. Don’t get me started on stairs right now. I just had to use the lift at home to get me up one flight!
After a rest I need to walk the 2-3 miles back to the hotel. ‘This isn’t easy but it’ll do me good’ I think.
Halfway to my destination a car pulls up ‘Do you want a lift?’ ‘Do I ever!’ The kind of altruistic act that reaffirms your faith in humanity!
Just the small matter of the drive back now. Will I get cramp? Nah. It was fine...
Keswick Mountain Festival
Salomon Trail 10K, 22nd May
A few months ago I received an invitation to a wedding in the lake district and the groom (a fellow runner) mentioned the wedding was taking place the same weekend as the Keswick Mountain Festival so I might want to get a race in whilst I was there. It struck me as slightly unwise to race the day after a wedding but once the idea had been planted I couldn’t resist booking myself in. However at 1am on Sunday morning after too many drinks to count and 4 hours in my dancing shoes I (for once) agreed with my husband that maybe racing wasn’t a great idea.
Sunday morning arrived and due to road closures we had to get up early to drive from Hawkshead to Keswick. My head and feet were sore but it was shaping up to be a beautiful day and when we arrived at the festival village there was a lovely atmosphere with plenty of coffee and porridge on sale (thankfully). The festival included a massive range of sporting events including triathlons, ultras, open water swimming and more. It was great to see some of the other competitors taking part and crossing the finishing line but before long it was time for me to set off for the 10k. The race was slightly unusual in that there were multiple starts across the day with each heat only around 100-200. But part of its appeal had been the fact that you have to get a boat from Keswick to Low Brandelhow to get to the start. The boat was bustling with nervous and excited runners and I finally started to feel like I was there to run rather than nurse my hangover.
I’d read up a little on the route and knew that the first half was harder than the second and they weren’t kidding. After about a mile of lovely lakeside trails we turned sharply up some monster hills to then contour the side of Catbells. Views were fabulous and the terrain rocky and uneven but dry so fairly easy to run on. The paths undulated up and down and eventually we were back on easier lakeside paths which I recognised from many holidays around Keswick. The last mile or so included some road I knew well through Portinscale and then onto a footpath into Keswick. We were close to the 10k mark and I knew the quickest way back but the race organisers decided to give us an extra bit of fun by taking us off road for a couple more twists and turns before returning to the festival village a lot closer to 7 miles than 10k… The finish was fabulous with crowds cheering you in and especially special for me as I got to see my kids for the first time in over 24 hours.
Due to the race being run in heats I was unable to be absolutely confident of my position but I knew I was first lady in my heat and that I’d run a good race so I celebrated with a cider ice lolly whilst cheering my brother in law in from a 1500m swim in Derwent water. Later in the day I found out I’d won first place for the ladies overall and even broken the course record for women (although I think the race has only been running a couple of years!). I’m now wondering whether I need to drink heavily and dance for hours the night before every race….
Pier to Pier, South Shields to Sunderland, 22nd May
Purple to Pier? Perhaps we need to request a new name for this race; 71 strong, we were a formidable purple army on the beach at South Shields!
I was a lucky late entrant to Pier to Pier and a first timer. Reveille at 0630hrs provided time for some pre-race sustenance, and then on the road to drop our three children off and shatter the Sunday morning tranquillity for the in-laws.
Trained in the model of 5 P's, I had studied well the many options that would see me navigate the road network, to arrive around 0845hrs at Roker seafront. The excellent execution of Pier to Pier started here, with a marshall stationed on the roundabout, directing cars into the car-park adjacent to Sunderland Yacht Club. Parking was free! A short walk saw me queue for only a few moments with some other eager participants, and having pre-paid for the bus shuttle to the start, a minibus whisked us away, to arrive at the car park adjacent to the South Pier at South Shields.
After a bit of chat with some other early Striders, and some last minute lace adjustment, the remainder of the Purple posse arrived by coach, including my Minister for Home Affairs, who must have enjoyed some respite from the kids (and me!). Having had some debate about the athletic fit of men's vests (I shall avoid disclosing more!), and after pointing a few folk in the direction of the loo queues, we proceeded onto the beach.
We assembled on the beach for a team photo. This ended up being a series of photos as more and more Striders appeared over the hill, and perhaps the final shot may not have captured the full might of the Purple army? Tactics for a fast start fell to Mike Parker, who advised that the premier racing line would start from the furthest point at/in the water! A race briefing ensued and having confirmed Bill Ford had a satellite fix, we were off!
Across the beach, through the water, through more water towards the Sand Dancer pub, I decided to abort the beach invasion option to re-join the main throng. With feet feeling a kilo heavier from the sand and water, we climbed onto the top, following part of the Sand Dancer route, climbing gradually towards Souter Lighthouse and enjoying the sea views. The path was part gravel, part grass and fairly flat with a couple of interesting choices, resulting in a temporarily split pack at a couple of points (I'm not sure if there was any merit to any particular diversion but my ploy was to follow the fittest looking runner in front of me!). Souter Lighthouse was just past the 5km point and water was served on the grass just past the wall enclosure. Shouts of encouragement emanated from the play area in front of the lighthouse and by the inclusion of, Striders, and Purple I deduced they were familiar supporters but did not delay to acquaint myself further!
Continuing on, we rounded the headland at Whitburn around which point I remember seeing a pier, and looking at my watch which confirmed around 8km. I subsequently realised this was not the pier I was headed for and mentally dealt with the reality that I had a bit more distance to run. Not long after this point, I remember seeing the welcome sight of Allan Seheult on the coastal path in his Striders t-shirt, encouraging us onward.
The finish flags in sight, we passed benches and people eating ice cream, dropping down onto the beach, to traverse the clumps of seaweed which cleared to pretty clear and firm sand for a bit of an increase in heart rate and a sprint finish. I remember hearing Alister Robson shout, keep the arms going and my head told me to also ensure my legs kept going too.
Across the line, I joined those already finished and our supporters to cheer others on. Having managed to snap a decent action shot of Lesley and her flying feet, I then went to claim my race bag. The handcrafted glass finisher ornament was a really nice touch and the contents of the race bag of high quality but in my rush to see the last few Striders home, I missed the free crisps on offer.
We assembled at the promenade nearby for essential rehydration and calorie replenishment activities, marvelling at the light lunch ordered by Kelly Collier (I'm not sure if they provide step-ladders for those burgers but I did notice that Ally Dixon opted for an alternate menu choice). The proximity of our car allowed us to escape without much delay to recover our children, whilst the others waited for the bus return.
I thoroughly enjoyed the scenic aspect of this race and the weather conditions were kind being warm and fairly still. The organisation of the race by Sunderland Strollers was faultless and should provide a template for others to follow. We should all be proud of the camaraderie of our club, which was a great boost throughout the day, and an evident source of encouragement to the many first timers and more experienced participants alike.
I ran 11.1km and my chip time was 1:01:50 - lets see if next year I manage to break 1 hour! I'd recommend Pier to Pier to anyone and road shoes are fine!
|1||862||Andy Burn (Jarrow & Hebburn AC)||m||men||37:15|
|14||1111||Alyson Dixon (Sunderland Strollers)||w||Women||41:29|
|22||293||Michael Littlewood||m||Seniors M40||43:05|
|38||767||Simon Gardner||m||Seniors M40||45:25|
|89||208||Paul Swinburne||m||Seniors M40||48:30|
|198||324||John Hutchinson||m||Seniors M60||52:42|
|212||768||Shaun Roberts||m||Seniors M50||53:09|
|296||755||Sarah Davies||w||Seniors W40||55:37|
|343||134||Lesley Charman||w||Seniors W40||57:24|
|388||444||Peter McGowan||m||Seniors M50||58:19|
|397||91||Craig Walker||m||Seniors M50||58:32|
|434||26||Andrew Davies||m||Seniors M40||59:23|
|436||78||Tim Matthews||m||Seniors M50||59:25|
|449||783||Douglas Nisbet||m||Seniors M50||59:44|
|464||553||Stephen Ellis||m||Seniors M60||1:00:13|
|486||3||David Spence||m||Seniors M60||1:00:46|
|534||917||Jonathan Hamill||m||Seniors M40||1:01:50|
|557||245||Mike Parker||m||Seniors M40||1:02:29|
|591||31||Karen Metters||w||Seniors W40||1:03:37|
|651||1124||Claire Hunt||w||Seniors W50||1:05:21|
|727||96||Lesley Hamill||w||Seniors W40||1:07:28|
|756||361||Catherine Smith||w||Seniors W40||1:08:22|
|769||116||Angela Robson||w||Seniors W40||1:08:48|
|783||1093||Stan White||m||Seniors M50||1:09:17|
|794||248||Gareth Cardus||m||Seniors M40||1:09:28|
|796||223||George Nicholson||m||Seniors M60||1:09:29|
|837||128||David Beacham||m||Seniors M50||1:10:53|
|852||939||Jane Dowsett||w||Seniors W40||1:11:34|
|859||1114||Karen Chalkley||w||Seniors W50||1:11:53|
|860||554||Janet Ellis||w||Seniors W50||1:11:58|
|865||1002||Debra Thompson||w||Seniors W50||1:12:11|
|872||125||Christine Farnsworth||w||Seniors W60||1:12:22|
|881||592||Andrew Thurston||m||Seniors M50||1:12:47|
|903||260||Aileen Scott||w||Seniors W40||1:13:23|
|909||473||Alison Heslop||w||Seniors W40||1:13:36|
|924||30||Helen Thomas||w||Seniors W40||1:13:57|
|930||7||Andy James||m||Seniors M60||1:14:10|
|958||439||Louise Simpson||w||Seniors W40||1:15:29|
|1012||567||David Arnott||m||Seniors M60||1:19:21|
|1027||780||Alison Simms||w||Seniors W40||1:20:00|
|1066||1033||Diane Soulsby||w||Seniors W50||1:23:10|
|1094||784||Pauline Elliott||w||Seniors W50||1:27:56|
|1107||776||Karen Middlemiss||w||Seniors W40||1:30:37|
|1121||234||Neil Jennings||m||Seniors M50||1:35:27|
|1127||235||Elaine Jennings||w||Seniors W50||1:41:34|
Clive Cookson 10K, 18th May
This was a very well organised, two-lap race on a relatively flat course, with great PB potential; what’s not to like. The atmosphere was very friendly, from the GB international at the front to the 90 minute plus 10k runner towards the rear – everyone was given a warm welcome. Add to this a mild, early summer evening with little or no wind and I was in my element – I fancied a new 10km PB.
The race started at 7.15pm prompt and it was tight at the beginning, even though I’d managed to position myself fairly close to the start line. However, it didn’t take long to find a rhythm as the lead pack(s) quickly broke. What I hadn’t quite appreciated is that the beginning of the race is on a slight incline, nothing too severe, but certainly noticeable on the second lap when the legs are slightly less fresh. The upshot of this is after 2km the road gently rolls back downhill and the pace naturally quickens.
I’d planned to run quite sensibly, split halfway at approximately 17:30 and increase the pace, if possible, towards the end – and so it was to be.
I went through 5km in 17:24, I think, and then had to dig in between 5km and 7km, I was passing people even though I was running slightly slower – I had no one at that point to drag me along. I then got in a small group which carried me through towards the finish, gradually feeling stronger; I knew I was going to be somewhere close to my sub 35 minute target.
I finished a second ahead of Jason Auld of Crook AC for the second time in a week, no mean feat as he’s one of the better Vets in the North East.
So, a new PB of 34.44 (chip time), a nice new t-shirt (albeit orange) and home in half an hour whilst the sun was still shining.
What could be better than that?
Summer Handicap, Round 1, 18th May
|position||bib||name||finish time||actual time||handicap for May (group)||handicap for June (group)|
|1 lap completed||136||John Greathead||18|
|1 lap completed||216||Carla Clarke||3|
Hardmoors 110, 30th April
I first started to run Hardmoors marathons in 2013 – I think Osmotherly was my first one. At the time, it nearly killed me – 29 miles and 5000 feet of climb taking me about 8 hours. I didn’t think that I would do another one but you soon forget the pain and get carried away with everyone else and before I knew it, I had entered a few more. In 2014 I first attempted the Hardmoors 60 which I didn’t manage to finish and I attempted it again in 2015 again not finishing. So you are probably thinking why would I then decide to enter the 110 miles?
Well it started when I was running around a muddy field on a dark, Monday night last November with Denise doing Tom’s grass session. Just very much in passing she told me that she was going to enter the Hardmoors Grand Slam in 2016 (the 30, 55, 60 and 110). I had never really aspired to the 110 or the Grand Slam even though I had seen others who I had met through Hardmoors achieving this and watched their immense satisfaction at what they had done. However I also knew that it would be much easier to do something like this if I had someone to train with so the next week, I entered the Grand Slam myself.
Denise and I decided that the best way to train for something as challenging as this was to follow a training plan and Denise found a 100 mile race training plan on the internet. She adapted it to fit the races that we were planning, starting with the Hardmoors Roseberry Topping marathon in the middle of December ...
Madrid Half Marathon, 24th April
This is a lovely road run in a smart, clean city! Marathon and 10k options are also available. My brother Tim lives with his wife and baby daughter just outside of Madrid. Tim got into running a year and a half ago, just after me, and had been training for this (his first) half marathon for a while. I was going to do it with him, combining it with a catch up. He had had problems with his knee on and off on the run up to the race so was hoping it would be OK. My sister and family were staying in the centre of Madrid and she was going to do her first 10k.
Race morning! We crept out the house at 6.30am, Tim laughing hysterically at my flamenco dress! He promised to dress up next time (I’ll get him a flamenco dress :). Outside the air was cool and the sun rising orange in a clear sky. Tim drove us into Madrid. His driving is more Spanish than it used to be! But we arrived alive and he parked down a side street that he knows of near to a metro station. The metro was packed with runners and the air was buzzing with excitement! We took the metro to the stop near the Retiro park where the races began. What an amazing atmosphere, runners everywhere and a Spanish rock band playing! And, now the sun had risen and was shining and the sky was clear blue! 20 degrees!
Just before the race started, 3 parachutists appeared holding huge Spanish flags! They parachuted down and landed at the start! Tim and I joined the crowds at the start of the half marathon. It seems the Spanish don’t do dressing up! - I was the only person I saw all day dressed up and at the start 5 other runners wanted their photo with me(!!).
The crowd started to move forwards, so I guessed we must have started! The pace increased and we were over the line! The route was lovely-a lovely way to sight-see a beautiful city! We went along wide tree-lined avenues, the tall buildings either side casting cooling shade. The city is clean and smart. The roundabouts had beautiful fountains on. There were pretty pedestrianised squares. The whole route was closed to traffic. It was not a flat course, many gradual inclines and declines but this added variety, plus the main uphill was at the start. And, a plus for me, the spectators were mainly only at the start and end (I didn’t like the noise at Manchester). There were a few rock bands along the course rocking out. Fantastic comraderie all the way round (didn’t understand a word of it but Spanish runners are extra enthusiastic and vocal! I just smiled back) As I approached the finish people cheered on Andalucia and Seville as I went past (Go me!, how Spanish do I look? Ha ha ha, ...so undercover). Then the finish ended in Retiro park-a beautiful lush green city park with formal gardens, lakes with boat hire and play areas for kids. After crossing the finish I was handed a lovely sparkly medal and bag of goodies :) I was pleased with my time of 1.43, and really chuffed as Tim finished it despite his knee and my sister did a fantastic 10k time of 1hr 1min :) It was great doing it with them both, must do it again!, .. ummm.. Amsterdam?, Paris? We celebrated with a top meal out.
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.
Hartlepool Marina 5M, 3rd April
|1||Dominic Shaw||New Marske Harriers Club||24:24|
|27||Joasia Zakrzewski||Durham City Harriers & AC||28:54|
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!