Category Archives: Races

Race Report – Heckington 10 Mile – 26 July 2008

The day was absolutely perfect in every way…for the beach. For a 10 mile run – my first race since the marathon – it wasn’t quite as perfect. For my readers over in Australia, when I say it was 27 degrees celcius, you may scoff, but my goodness it was HOT! It took me back to London Marathon day 2007 although the temeperature was even higher. Still, it was wonderful to be racing again and I had a fantastic day.

I parked up not far from the delightfully atmospheric hay cart.

The race was in Heckington in Lincolnshire. Why I was racing that far away from home is a long story which I won’t bore you with here, but actually, it wasn’t too bad. I will be comfortable looking for races which take me more than 100 miles from home again after this one. I left home at around 7.15am for an 11.00 start. It was already warm at that time so it was fairly obvious the day was only going to get hotter.  Despite both sat navs telling me different routes, 20 minutes of confusion as I found myself on a new road which neither of the sat navs had any idea about (according to both of them I was driving through a field) and sciatic problems (solved by some strong Neurofen), I made it to the Heckington Show by 10.00am. The run was part of the local agricultural show which was a pretty impressive event. I parked up, put on lots of suncream and went to find the start line and the toilets.

Because it was so warm, my normal loo loop didn’t happen. Obviously my body was determined to retain every bit of moisture I put in it. I was glad, I needed it. When the starting gun went off for two circuits of the main arena before heading out to the two loop route around the country lanes, it was clear that the weather wasn’t going to produce any stellar race times.

Nevertheless, with walking and trying to cool off, I still finished in 1:27.11. Imagine what a time one could have produced if it hadn’t have been so hot! This is because the course was flat and fast, and you know my liking for two loop routes. Anyway, here it is again…the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

  1. The scenery: The Lincolnshire countryside is glorious. Coming from London, I can just drink in the English countryside endlessly. From the hay carts and hay bales to the endless fields, it reminded me why I love the countryside so much.
  2. The marshalls, especially the wonderful lady at 5 miles: As I came to the end of my first loop, one of marshalls saw how hot I was. She asked whether she could take my hat to look after it. Of course, this is my lucky hat with tiger ears so to hand it over was a bit scary, but I was just so hot. I gave her my hat and my Shuffle and oh! what a relief. I was so grateful to her. And better still, just as I was coming to the end of my race, she retrieved my belongings and gave them back to me with a huge smile and word of encouragement. She, and all of the other marshalls were truly fantastic.
  3. The trophy: That’s two 10 ton laser cut glass trophies I have now! Both Heckington and Leith Hill are now sitting proudly on my dressing table. Much as I love medals, these are really very cool.
  4. Two loops: I do like these and out and back runs, simply because it is a lot easier to anticipate how close you are to the end. Of course, it also means that the front runners go past you well into their second loop before you have even come close to finishing your first, but I didn’t get lapped so it was fine.
  5. The Heckington Show: This was just like the Royal Adelaide Show on a small scale! I adored the Show when I was a kid – we would save for it for months. Wandering around Heckington, I looked at the chickens and the baking competitions, the draught horses and the dog show, the embroidery, the nik nak stalls, the sheep and the farrier. Honestly, if it wasn’t so hot and if I hadn’t promised Bachi I would be back in London for 6.00 I would have stayed all afternoon.

Horses! This made me very happy after my long hot run.

The Bad

  1. The heat: I have gained a new level of respect for Ethiopian runners.
  2. The lack of shade: The route was along a series of country lanes, most of which went through fields and lacked any kind of overhanging shade. All you could do was put your head down and plod on, promising yourself you would stop for a breather at the next bend or the next fence post. Fortunately I had covered myself with suncream before the race so I didn’t burn too badly, despite the amount of sweat and water I poured over my head.
  3. Not enough water: One can’t expect the organisers of this fabulous little local event to anticipate the kind of temperatures we had, and with only 175 odd runners, water at 2, 4, 6 and 8 should have been plenty. But I am not sure whether it was and I am grateful to the tiny little additional water station which seem to have been set up between 3 and 4.

The Ugly

  1. Trying to get changed after the race: picture this – stinkingly hot car, without much room to manoevre. Soaking wet Nancy from a combination of sweat and water over the head. Busy car parking area with very little privacy and a need to replace the running gear with something a little more respectable to wander around the show in. Fortunately, the car has tinted windows at the back, so with the help of a towel, I did manage to finally remove the nasty soggy running gear and put on a pair of shorts and a singlet top. But I think I was sweating more by the time the exercise had been completed than I had been finishing the race.

Fortunately for these chaps, they were only doing a bit of marching – not setting off for a 10 mile jaunt.

Race Report (Part 1): Flora London Marathon – 13th April 2008

The race was so incredible that I simply have to spread my report over several days, otherwise the posts will simply be too long – so do bear with me. I am in a lot of pain still. My quads are protesting very loudly every time I attempt to sit down, stand up or try and climb or descend stairs. My emotions are still all over the place. And I am still pinching myself because I can’t believe it is over.

But the question on everyone’s lips is…

Did I do it?

Did I break my 4 hour barrier?

I contemplated leaving everyone in suspense until I had done my good, bad and ugly, but I just can’t. I crossed the line, whipping almost 7 minutes off my previous time, in a scorching 3:58.25. It was all I could do to sprint that last 800 metres through the haze of pain and exhaustion, when I knew I was so close and my watch was telling me that if I kept up the speed I would do it. But I have achieved a marathon time with a “3” in front of it. I still almost can’t believe it.

The race, as usual, was fantastic. The crowds were huge, despite the unpredictable weather. We started in the cool sunshine. By mile 8 we were sloshing through a deluge – soaked to the skin from the rain with water dripping off our noses and hat brims. The Embankment was run in sunshine, and the rain hit again just after I had crossed the finish line. At least it meant the temperature was far more manageable than it was last year (which is clearly reflected in my finishing time).

I am thrilled to say that I didn’t walk once, unless you count getting trapped in one of the bottlenecks as walking. At one point around mile 22 I had that odd sensation where your mind suddenly gets a mind of its own (so to speak) and my legs nearly stopped running. I am sure the people around me must have jumped in surprise (or they would have if they weren’t so exhausted themselves) when I shouted ‘NO! COME ON NANCY! GET MOVING!” at the top of my voice which snapped my mind out of it and kept me going. I had hit that mental wall at 20 when you suddenly feel you can’t go on, but still managed to keep a steady 9 mile a minute pace going until around 24 when all the world felt like it was going to end and I was sure I was going to drop dead on the spot. But by that time I had stored up enough ‘spare time’, even with the two 10 minute miles at the beginning thanks to the crowds, to still cross the line within than magical 4 hour barrier.

I will do the ‘bad and the ugly’ tomorrow and then the ‘good’ on Wednesday because the race is so monumental I feel that finishing it on a low note would be doing it a disservice. But I have my 2008 medal, and I can’t wait until 2009…

Long Runs with Drinks Included

I went to the pre-London Marathon Expo at the Excel Centre yesterday to collect my race number and spend some requisite ££’s on socks and shirts and other stuff (it’s all part of the ritual), and I was stopped by a friendly chap at the SIA Stand (Spinal Injuries Association) and we started to chat. Of course we began with the standard “are you running on Sunday?” and “what time are you hoping for?” but when we began to talk about how many marathons I had run, he told me a story…

“I have a friend” he said “who is just about to run his 450th marathon”

My jaw literally dropped.

“He started off just like you, in his 30’s, thinking he would do a couple. Then he did 10. Then he saw there was a club for people who had run 100 marathons, so he aimed for that. Then he decided to find out how many marathons he could run in a year. He’s now just about to turn 50 and he is still going strong”

I was speechless, although I managed to stutter out…”what kind of times is he getting?”

“Oh, he used to average around 3:15 although he is finding now it is more like 3:30”

I couldn’t help but be so utterly impressed. Wow! What an inspiration. Here we are getting ourselves all nervous about what is a big race, and this chap does them as training runs. The funny thing was, as I thought about him, I realised that nerves are good (I get nervous before every race, no matter how big or small) but that this race isn’t the be all and end all. If I don’t make my 4 hours on Sunday, then I’ll do it next time, or the time after, or even the time after that.

“If you think of it this way”, the SIA gentleman continued “it is like doing your long training run, but someone very kindly provides you with drinks along the way”.

Hear hear to that. Mr. 450+ Marathons whoever and wherever you are, I take my hat with ears off to you. You are truly and inspiration.

Thankyou Clean Wal-Mart for the image

The Guilt of the Taper

I have had so many ideas for posts over the past week whilst I have been running which I have noted down for future days, but I wanted to talk specifically about the feeling which I and I am sure around 39,000 other people are currently experiencing as we head towards the big day this Sunday. That is the guilt we feel about the taper.

It is always this last week where every good book recommends you take it easy. Do a reasonable run a week before the marathon (I did a 12 miler), and then spend the next week looking after yourself, getting plenty of sleep, cutting the running down to a minimum and carbo-loading. I know it is the right thing to do, but you can’t help but worry. If you don’t taper, you can exhaust yourself before the start of the marathon, but if you do, then you are probably feeling the same as I.

I’m going to stack on pounds…

It’s pasta week for me. By Sunday, I won’t want to see another plate of pasta ever. The meals planned for this week are pasta and tuna, pasta and salmon, pasta and vegetables, pasta and chicken, lots of water, lots of fruit and vegetables and lots of pasta. We all know nowadays that eating a lot of carbohydrate isn’t so good for your waist line if you aren’t burning it off so, although I know it is psychological, this carbo-loading period still makes me feel like I am piling on the kilograms and I won’t fit into my running shorts by Sunday.

My fitness is going to vanish…

Of course it isn’t. In fact, I have read studies which say that easing up significantly on the miles before the marathon actually helps your fitness (don’t ask me how, the physiological part isn’t really my area). But that doesn’t stop us feeling like we are being lazy and minute by minute, the fitness is draining away.

All my injuries are getting worse…

Purely psychological again, but as worry begins to build leading up to the race, you start to become more aware of it. I have discovered that my so-called hamstring problem isn’t a hamstring at all. I have somehow managed to inflame a disc in my lower back which is causing a great deal of pain to my sciatic nerve which runs all the way down my right leg to my ankle. The irony is the injury doesn’t come from running – it comes from sitting too much!! I have several appointments with an osteopath to try and help it (it hasn’t helped so far) but because I know the race is coming up, it just seems to be getting worse and worse…

Anxiety dreams…

I always used to get them before exams – dreams that you forgot to show up or when you arrived you had studied for the wrong exam. Well, I now have them about marathons. I have already dreamed that I lost the ability to run, that I forgot to go the expo to get my race number and that I forgot what day it is and missed it…

Nerves…

The marathon is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical. When your body no longer wants to keep going, the only thing that will push you forward is your mind. What we should be doing is picturing ourselves getting through the wall, and picturing ourselves crossing the line. What we are actually doing is remembering how painful that wall is, and wondering how the hell we are ever going to make it to the 26 mile mark.

But overall?

Overall, I am so excited. I love this. Yes, I know I am going to be in pain. Yes, I know I am going to want to give up at mile 18 (and I won’t give up). Yes, I know I am going to be questioning my sanity as I run along the Embankment. But this is what I run for. Good luck to everyone on Sunday 13th who is running the London Marathon (or any other marathon for that matter). We’re in it together and it is going to be amazing.

Race Report – Kingston Breakfast 16 Mile Run – 30 March 2008

A Dark morning

The day started early – very, very early considering the race started between 8.00am and 8.30am and the clocks had gone forward overnight leaving us  with one hour less sleep than normal. It was pretty dark (and raining) when I got into the car, but the day was due to brighten up. I only live a 15 minute drive from Kingston but I am so glad I got there early. I made it into the allocated multi-storey car park without queueing (by the time I had walked downstairs, the queues had already started) and I made my first toilet visit without queueing (but boy, that was a miracle). It was cold, but knowing the route was flat, I was looking forward to a fast run.

The race started at 8.00 (for the 8.2miler), 8.24 (for the elite women) 8.25 (for the men) and 8.35 (for the women). Don’t worry, everyone else was confused too. And unfortunately, the lack of toilets left a 30 minute toilet queue so when I got to the back of the line at 8.10 for my last visit, it was touch and go whether I was going to make the start. As it turned out, I ran from the toilets around the corner and just made it to the back of the starting pack as the starting gun went for the women.

The toilet queue

Despite my hamstring issue (or whatever it is. I am wondering now whether actually it is another muscle back there), the course was flat, fast and fabulous. Two loops again which had the delightful result of you knowing exactly how far you had to go and what was coming up, and with my first ever negative split, I finished in an unbelievably fast 2:20.33. That is faster than 9 minutes a mile and a very comfortable race. And best of all, I felt pretty good and although I couldn’t have done another 10 miles at that pace, I could have done another 10 miles. So all set for two weeks time.

Anyway, as usual, here is the good, bad and ugly rundown of the day.

Good

  1. Weather: It started off raining, but as the morning arrived, so, eventually did the sunshine. Although handing my fleece in at the bag room was a difficult thing at the start (it was rather cold!) by the end of the second mile, I had already warmed up and was congratulating myself on my pre-race resilience. So many others were toting coats, jumpers and long sleeve T-shirts while I was feeling just right in the spring sunshine.
  2. Flat course: Ah, the best thing about a river route is that it is flat! And flat routes mean fast times. In contrast to my last race, it was a pleasure to be able to concentrate on speed rather than saving whatever you had left to get up the next hill. And because this is my usual training haunt, it was even better.
  3. Personal Best and negative split: I never thought I would manage a negative split. I ran the first 8 miles in 1:11.48 which meant the second half was run in 1:08:12! Granted I did really push myself for the last mile, but even so. When I passed the 9 mile pacer, I knew that it was going to be a good race for me. As for personal best, well, I am saying it is because the truth is I have never run a 16 miler before so in fact it is the only time I have. But I won’t tell if you don’t.
  4. Marshals: The marshals were friendly and ready with a smile and a clap. I always try and save a little bit of energy to thank them and smile at them as I run past. I think – they have given up their morning to stand in one place for several hours and argue with impatient drivers, so I am pretty grateful. A smile and a thanks is the least they deserve.
  5. Close to home: No long drive back – I was lying in a bath eating a naughty chocolate bar within an hour of finishing the race. It doesn’t get enormously better than that.
Me feeling jolly pleased with myself
Sorry about the endless picture of me taking pictures of myself, but there isn’t anyone else there to snap me!

Bad

  1. Start times and slow men: The start times were a bit of a shambles. Most people who were waiting in the toilet queue didn’t have a clue when they were due to start. And I am not sure what the purpose of starting the men 10 minutes before the women was. I started passing the trailing men at about 6 miles and then spent the rest of the race trying to dodge around them. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the paths weren’t narrow, but they were and overtaking manoeuvres weren’t always easy.
  2. Crowd support: Crowd? What crowd? Yes, it was an early start and with the time change, most people in their right mind wouldn’t have been up at that hour on a Sunday morning, but the race was pretty lonely from a support point of view. What crowd there was congregated at the finish line, and there might have been one or two pockets of people on the way (and a big thank you to them). It made it feel like a rather busy training run.
  3. Bag room attitude: Yes, there were a lot of runners. Yes, there were plenty of people to get through. But I have been to plenty of races where the bag room was free (it cost £1.00 here), the bag volunteers both took and retrieved bags (here, you had to get your own bag at the end), and they did it with a smile, a congratulations and a delightful attitude. I don’t want to be unfair – some of the people in the bag room were fine, but several appeared to resent the fact they were there and weren’t going to raise a smile or a friendly word for anyone.

Ugly

  1. The toilet queues: This was by far the biggest ugly. There were simply not enough toilets. There were half the number of toilets available as were available at Tunbridge Wells, and there were more runners. And, the toilets had been planted right in the middle of a very muddy patch of grass which made the whole experience even more unpleasant. As the race start(s) approached, the queues got longer and longer. I timed my wait – just under 30 minutes to get to the toilet. As I said, I only just made the start, so there were probably 20 or 30 people who missed it. And as this race didn’t have timing chips (why not?) then those people would have been relying solely on their own watches to get any kind of accurate time. I hate to say it, but it just wasn’t good enough. With the number of sponsors they had for this race, and the cost of entry, then surely they could have afforded a few more porta-loos. Judging by the queues, toilets are possibly the most important thing at a race and whether there are adequate ones or not will really affect one’s experience.

Humph! So speaks me! And judging by the ratings on the Runners World website I am not alone in this sentiment. Nevertheless, I was pretty pleased with the run and settled down that afternoon with a coffee in my finishers mug.
Would I do it again? For the personal best potential, most definitely. I would like to see a few changes in the race perhaps, but otherwise why not, seeing it is on my doorstep?

Race Report: Leith Hill Half Marathon – 9th March 2008

It was dubbed as ‘pretty tough’. Personally, I would think it leant more towards murderously tough, but then that is just me. But the Leith Hill Half Marathon was an experience and a half and despite scaling hills which could stop you in your tracks even walking, it was a much fun as you could have with your running shoes on.

A lovely cool day

As usual, I arrived early at The Priory School in Dorking, Surrey. It was cold – the expected temperature was 9 degrees Celsius – but although cloudy and although quite a bit of rain had fallen the night before, it wasn’t raining and it didn’t look like it would for a while. The school was…well, a school – the toilets were pretty awful and there weren’t very many of them, but because there were only about 90 women out of 300 runners, there were no queues for us. Not so for the men though! It was rather satisfying seeing them queue whilst we virtually walked straight in!

The race started…on a hill…so within the first mile you were panting and aching already. I think, because I normally run with an iPod, I don’t hear how hard I breathe so I was quite surprised at how much noise I make! In fact, one gentleman commented on it toward the end of the race, suggesting perhaps I should reset my heart (in a very friendly way, mind)! Strangely enough, I felt a lot better than I sounded! Perhaps it is the relic of my broken nose from back in my university days which means I do struggle to breathe through my nose, making me sound like I am almost dying.

I had estimated between 2 hours 10 minutes and 2 hours 20 minutes, taking the hills into consideration. So I was well pleased to finish in a super time of 2:05.44. Not at all bad for a very hilly, very muddy trail run!

Anyway, I was composing this blog post in my head as I ran, so once again, here is the good, the bad and the ugly of the Leith Hill Half, 2008

Hail storm

The Good

  1. Friendly Marshals: the organisation and the marshals were absolutely fantastic. Especially the lovely chap at the last water station who unwrapped and thrust a mini Mars Bar into my hand as I struggled past heading into the last 2 miles. They all cheered you on and gave you a clap as you went past – really lovely people.
  2. The Rain: the good about the rain, or should I say the hail, was that it held off. Well, for me at least! An absolute deluge came down when I was hobbling through the school to go to the loo at the end. I think you can see the hailstones in the photographs – but the heavens certainly opened and I was glad I wasn’t still on the muddy track.
  3. The downhills: oh the relief on your legs when the uphill turned to down. There is no doubt that downhill running can be tough on the knees, but in comparison, it was just glorious. Thank goodness the second half was mostly down, and not the other way around.
  4. The view from the top: Leith Hill is the highest point in the south of England I believe. Despite gasping for breath after the final climb to the top, I turned my head to the left and was met with a spectacular view of the Surrey countryside spread out before me. It was just magnificent.
  5. Out and back: I like out and back races because when you hit that turnaround point, every bit you pass is familiar and you subconsciously know that you are getting closer to the end. Of course, it was rather demoralising to see the front runners go flying past before I had even reached the second drinks station but, as I said to one of my fellow mid-pack strugglers ‘that takes fitness and focus which I simply don’t have’!
  6. My shoes: I was in two minds whether to wear my old trainers, which I know gave me blisters and really weren’t the best for my feet, or my 150 mile old ones which I want to wear for London. Fortunately, I opted for the former and they were completely destroyed by the mud and puddles. So, I have a couple of blisters this morning, but at least they can finally go in the recycling bin having done their duty.
  7. The T-Shirt and finishers memento: the T-shirt is great – a neon yellow technical T-shirt with our names printed on the back to commemorate the inaugural race! And, we also received a laser cut glass trophy which felt like it weighed 100kg when you collected it at the end, but looks lovely on my windowsill.

The Bad

  1. The uphills, especially those on the way down: the hills were what set this race apart from any other. Those on the way up were incredibly difficult, especially the last climb to Leith Hill Tower. They were so steep, they had to be walked (it was quicker) but even then they were gut wrenchingly tough. But, despite the fact the return was almost all downhill, there were still a few uphills to get past. The worst of the lot was a set of stairs some mile before the finish. I had appreciated them on the way out, but on the way back, they looked and felt like they were vertical.
  2. The mad cyclist: I know that in order to run most of these smaller races, we have to share the roads and paths with other users. And most of the walkers or cyclists on this path were quite good. However, there was one who, without warning that he was coming, whizzed past me at a rate of knots going down hill, making me jump about 2 feet in the air and spraying me with mud. A warning might have been nice?

My race number

The Ugly

  1. The chap in the fluorescent vest: And while we are talking about getting splattered, I come to the chap in the orange fluorescent vest. There were a lot of puddles on the way, and most of us went around them as best we could. But as I was going around one, a gentleman came pounding straight through the middle of the puddle next to me, literally covering me from head to foot in icy cold muddy water. What could I say? A runner next to me smiled at me sympathetically as the water dripped off my nose and said ‘well, if it wasn’t for the mud, I guess it wouldn’t be as much fun’.
  2. My poor ankle at the 1.5 hour mark: going downhill on muddy, rocky, uneven tracks is pretty hairy. You tend to keep your eyes down (which is sad seeing the scenery was so lovely), but that didn’t stop me at the 1 and a half hour mark going over on my ankle and hopping around in pain for a minute or two. Terrible visions of spraining my ankle flashed through my head, but fortunately I ran it off, with it settling to a minor ache within 15 minutes. Phew – no damage done and an icepack last night means it is one of the less achy parts of my body this morning.
  3. LACTIC ACID!: I have never experienced the agony of lactic acid in my legs going uphill like I did during this race. Take the worst you have ever felt, and double it. I am sure if I could have stilled my heavy panting to silence, you would have been able to hear my legs screaming all on their own.

All in all it was a race to be remembered. And before you ask – did I need to go to the toilet when I got to the start line? You bet. Did I need to go the entire race? Yep. And did my nose run? It certainly did – the whole way, without stopping, even when I did…

Wee tend to suffer from nerves…

The toilet queue

This Sunday I am doing my second half marathon in the lead up to London. It is at Leith Hill near Dorking, Surrey and it is the highest point in the south of England. The race goes up the hill…and then back down again. I am not expecting a particularly stellar time.

Nevertheless, I guarantee the usual problem is going to hit. If you have run a race, sat an exam, delivered a speech or done anything which makes you nervous, you may be nodding when I describe my affliction. No matter how many times I go, the minute I line up at the start…I suddenly need to go again.

Granted, I always do as I should and make sure to get plenty of fluid into me at the beginning of the race. I usually down a 500ml bottle of Lucozade or some such over a 2 hour period leading up to the race. But while I drink, I play the toilet queue game. Line up, go, come out of the cubicle, get back at the end of the line…repeat…I have yet to figure out just how many times I should go in order to avoid the start line discomfort. I haven’t managed to achieve it yet, so clearly it’s more than I have been.

When I ran the Barns Green Half-Marathon in 2006 I remember trying to ignore it hoping it might go away. I think I got to about mile 9 and I wasn’t having fun at all. In desperation, I pulled off the course behind a bush that couldn’t have been more than a twig an…oh…the relief. It happened again at Tunbridge Wells several weeks back, although this time I gave in at mile 1.5. Amusingly, I found the same bush as another lady who wryly commented that she was glad she wasn’t the only one.

It may sound disgusting to non-runners, but as evidenced by Mike Antonucci, it is a problem that even the best of runners suffer from. In fact ‘doing a Paula’ has become commonly used and understood lingo in the running community as we comfort ourselves with the fact that even the greatest have the same foibles as the rest of us. I can assure you, I would avoid ever having to do it anywhere other than woodland, park or uninhabited land, and my preference would be to duck into a cubicle, but sadly, the latter tend to be non-existent in the smaller events leaving a hedge as the only option. On my training runs, I know precisely where every public convenience is within a 10 mile radius of my house, just in case. But a race doesn’t give you that kind of familiarity. Unfortunately, when the nerves cause nature to call, nature is about the only place you can turn to.

Sunday’s race is a small one – the field is only 300 of which only about 90 are women so perhaps the loo queues might not be so daunting. But I bet, no matter how many times I queue up, soon after the starting gun goes off I’ll be scampering for the shrubbery…along with a fair number of my fellow competitors.

Frank-Bunny, I borrowed your picture. Thank you! It’s great…