Thursday, 27 April 2017

BQing at the London Marathon 2017

I bloody love the London Marathon. I love the circus that goes with it; that everyone knows someone running it, that it's all over the radio, TV and twitter and that there's this huge nationwide build up. And so it was a privilege to run it again this weekend, finishing in 3.34.17, getting a Boston Qualifying time (sub 3.35) and a 6 minute PB to boot!

I've been working towards getting a 3.30 marathon and a BQ since last year, and after 635 training miles, 4 months and over 90 hours of training, I finally achieved the holy grail of a BQ. Sure, it wasn't the 3.30 I was hoping for but a PB is a PB and an actual BQ is nothing to be sniffed at! These are times I've only ever dreamed of achieving.

What a day. It was AMAZING!

Mile 23 

Arriving at the Green start, I bumped in to Cathy who calmed me down with some great advice about not panicking if the running congestion slowed me down in the first few miles, and then I was almost ready to go. Stood in my pen I chatted to some girls near me and ignored the ones sprouting about how you will never get a PB in London. Hey people, don't do this. A marathon start line is no place for this kind of negative chat thank you very much. For the record I've now run London twice and both times managed a PB by 8 and 6 minutes respectively. So there.

Then before I knew it we were off! I couldn't actually believe all those months of training were coming together today and I was actually running my goal race. I kept my targets in mind and kept on trucking. It was congested, but not as bad as I thought it would be. But that was until we merged with the runners from the Red start at approx mile 3. Woah! It was then that it got really busy.

Just before mile 6 I got a terrible stitch which felt like my stomach was going to tear in two. I never get stitches so was kicking myself for skipping over the advice I'd seen on twitter the night before, about what to do when you get one. Worried how I was going to keep going for 20 miles I did what I always do when Im stuck - deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth. (Thanks yoga!)
I couldn't believe mile 6 was my slowest of the race! Anyway, that soon passed and I concentrated on getting to where my boyfriend Jamie and our friends were waiting to see me in Greenwich. It's around here that the atmosphere REALLY kicks in. The crowds at the Cutty Sark are insane and then this support just keeps going for the rest of the run. At mile 11 I had the biggest grin and actually said out loud, 'this is AMAZING'.

On to tower bridge and swallowing back tears. Running over it was even better than I remembered. We clapped as the elite men passed us on the other side of the road and then I heard Hannah from Running club screaming and waving at me from the other side of the road. It was great!

At mile 15 -16 I had a bit of a dip. It was hot, much hotter than anticipated and the crowds were a bit thinner here. By this time I'd already realised I wasn't going to get 3.30 but was happy with the 3.32 time I was on for. But I needed to give myself a pep talk, I'd run 5 different 20 milers in training so why was I grumbling at mile 15?! I focused on getting to to Jamie's next spot and again the crowds picked me up. Blowing kisses to my supporters at mile 17 I was feeling happier. Until a man kicked me right in the knee! More pals, high 5's and cheers at miles 20 and 23 kept me going and I partied my way through the Run Dem Crew cheer spot at mile 21 - those guys KNOW how to cheer a marathon.

Then I  realised if I wanted a sub 3.35 and a BQ I had better put my foot down. And I did - miles 24 and 25 were my fastest of the whole race! A kilometer to go and the road became really narrow and busy with people slowing down. 'Keep going' I yelled as I got caught up in a group. Then the 800 meters sign, then 400, then I was at the Mall and sprinting my heart out. By brain was go go go but my body could only try it's best to speed up.

And that was it, arms in the air and over the finish line in 3.34.17. I'd just made it, that BQ was finally mine.

I've now had a few days to reflect on the race and take it all in. I was a little slower than I'd hoped and this could have been down to any numbers of factors; the sun, the congestion on course or maybe it was because I was a little afraid to go faster early on in case I blew up at the end. Even on your fifth marathon it still feels like you're going in to the unknown. Maybe I held back a little too much. But in the end, I gave all that I could on the day and absolutely loved running it, and you can't ask for more than that.

It was an absolute privilege to run the London Marathon this year and I just had the best time. Watching the highlights show the next day I was ready to do it all over again. The crowds and support are like no other. London is just the best.

For all the messages of good luck, support and love on and off the course on Sunday, thank you from the bottom of my heart. It means more than you will ever know.

Classic Crandon finish line sob fest

Thursday, 9 March 2017

BQ Chasing - The Story so far

I was really happy with my new PB at Manchester Marathon last year, but I knew that this year I was on a mission to get that elusive Boston Qualifier and ready to work for it like I've never done before. So 10 weeks in to my training I thought I'd look at how it's going.

The biggest difference I've made to my training is the mileage. I'm currently averaging around 50 miles per week which is WAY more than last year or any other marathon cycle I've done, where the highest mileage was about 38 miles, maybe once.

But the way I'm training is different too. For all of my 4 marathons I have seen the mileage due on my training calendar that day, and just gone out and done it - without any thought of speed other than trying to run at marathon pace, like all the bloody time. WRONG. This cycle has been much more focused, with tempo runs, progressions runs, intervals, and most importantly the long slooooooooow run. I am making sure I listen to the experts and running my long runs about a minute slower than goal pace. Laura aka Lazy Girl Running explains the science behind this much better than I can - see here.

Training with these more focused sessions has made it much more enjoyable too. Im not just out logging the miles, but constantly thinking about pace, time and speed and its much more fun. Running fast is HARD. Running slow is HARD. It's all HARD. But it's much better. I've also noticed that slowing my pace on the long runs leaves me with much more energy to complete my fast sessions during the week, and I'm no where near as tired. Bonus. But I am hungry. Very very hungry. And I am making conscious efforts to keep the Food Mood at bay but have had to say 'sorry for what I said when I was hungry', a couple of times...Oh and I've also given up booze. '?' I hear you cry! 'You've changed!' Yep, yep yep. I figured lent coincided nicely with the marathon so no booze til the finish line. That will keep me going if nothing

I have no idea if all the extra training will pay off come April 23rd, and I had a massive confidence wobble after following a long run with a way too hilly recovery run earlier this week. My legs just about gave up on me and I thought there was absolutely no way I could run a marathon at goal pace. My confidence was low but after a bath, some foam rolling and a big ol' pep talk to myself, I'm feeling better. Whether it pays off and I get the 3.30 time Im looking for or not, at least I know I will have worked much harder and given all I have to the training.

London, Im ready for you. Well, almost - I still need the next 6 weeks actually.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Running in the Scottish Highlands

With marathon training in full swing, my trainers were one of the first things I packed for a few days away in the Scottish highlands this weekend (second to wine obviously).

Staying in a pretty remote, middle of nowhere cottage I was at a bit of a loss as to where to run on my first morning, but a chance encounter with the owners of our little hideaway meant they gave me some directions away from a boring old B road and on to a little hidden trail route straight from my front door. Lovely.

After a hilly mile or so, breathing in clean beautiful fresh air and admiring the view, my off road running attempt was somewhat thwarted by a flock of inquisitive sheep blocking my path. I know, I know I'm such a city girl. But there were loads of them, with demon eyes all starting at me....ahem... I continued my run back towards the road and still had a great time enjoying running somewhere new.

Determined not to be defeated by some livestock, a couple of days later I attempted my run again into the trails. And I was so pleased I did. I was rewarded with the most beautiful scenery; snow capped mountains, babbling brooks and nothing to hear but the sound of my breathe, the 'thud thud thud' of my feet and a whole lot of pheasants. It was breathtaking and not just because of the steep hills. Undeterred by a sign on a fence warning of 'shooting in progress' - clearly I'm more scared of sheep than being shot - I continued until I got to a river and could go no more.

I loved exploring somewhere new, running in the stillness of the countryside and having so much to look at. It was a stark contrast to running around grimy Manchester, if only all marathon training runs could be like this.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Manchester Half Marathon - Race report

After the baggage issues at Manchester Marathon earlier this year, I was in two minds about running the inaugral Manchester Half Marathon this weekend. But as it's on my doorstep, and the final race in my running club's Summer championships, I thought I'd still give it a go despite my reservations. And boy am I glad I did!

Having had a good run a couple of weeks ago at the Disneyland Paris half, finishing close to my best half marathon time, a little seed had been planted and I decided I was going for a PB. I have been running pretty well recently and running faster and longer in training than I'd really realised, so I thought I'd try and go out with a bang at the last road race of the season. And if I didn't get it, I had nothing to lose.

An early alarm gave us a gorgeous sunrise, but this wasn't to last. I checked my stuff into the bag drop, met up with my running buddies and we made our way to the start line. Just as the race began, the rain started to fall and in true Manchester style it didn't let up for about 6 or 7 miles. It was WET! But this didn't deter the crowds and I felt more sorry for them than us runners - as least we were moving and keeping warm! The race was well supported throughout with choirs and bands along the route. An out and back section towards the end also meant you saw supporters twice which was great.

Start line
I set off pretty fast, too quickly really, but I'd decided to run without my running watch after I'd enjoyed it so much in Paris, so I didn't really know how fast I was going. I liked running on feel and realised that the 1 hour 35 pacer hadn't yet overtaken me which was both nice and worrying in equal measure. Then right at the 9 mile mark, just as the going got tough, that pacer effortlessly glided past me. Although this was much faster than I was aiming for it was still really disheartening and I thought I'd totally lost my chance of a PB. I tackled the rest of the race just trying to run as fast as I could. There were a few little inclines which were not what I needed after 12 miles of running hard, and I felt like a lot of people were overtaking me towards the end, probably because I'd started in a faster group than I should have. But I just kept telling myself to keep going.

Soon enough I could see the finish line, but it was AGES away and took me forever to get to. I was happy with my run and felt like I was giving it my total all. I couldn't go any faster - until I saw the clock. It was SO close to my PB time that I couldn't not pick up the pace. Feeling sick and really going for the last 100 metres I finally ran over the line with a new PB of 1.36.59!

It was tough, and the course wasn't the most scenic, but the atmosphere was great despite the weather and the organisation was really good (apart from the lack of portaloos at the start!)

A good run, well organised race and a shiny new PB - not bad for a Sunday morning's work.

Obligatory beer and medal shot

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon - Race Report

Another weekend, another early alarm where I wake up asking myself  'what am I doing?!' I always said I would never wear fancy dress to run a race, but this all changed when I entered the Disneyland Paris Inaugural Half marathon. If there is ever a race to dress up for, one through Disneyland is surely it?!

With Ariel from The Little Mermaid decided on,  I chucked a shell bra and some mermaid print leggings into my bag for a weekend in Paris, and off we went!

Mermaid kit throw down
The race started at 7am with corrals closing at 6.30 - pretty early but no additional buses were put on to transfer those staying outside of the Disney parks. We ended up getting an extortionate taxi but saw plenty of runners walking the 30 min+ route bleary eyed through the dark towards the start line. Thank goodness for Starbucks! Stood at the start in the dark with the search lights going was pretty exciting, but I was glad I'd had some middle-of-the-night running practice at Equinox24 the week before!

It was late starting and despite being in the first corral we ended up crossing the line at about 7.15. They did however stagger the start in about 2 or 3 minute intervals, which I thought was great as it meant that the course was never congested and everyone had plenty of room to run. This was brilliant for us at the front, but looking at social media this strategy meant that people further back didn't start until gone 8am, and were then rushed through the race and not allowed to take photos or stop because the park was opening! Not cool Disney, not cool.
Start line selfie - Ariel & Captain America

The route wound its way through the two Disney parks for the first 5k, with plenty of support from Disney workers and characters on course. There was music playing and the atmosphere was just really really FUN. Loads of runners would dash over to a character stop on the course, have a quick snap, then race off - it was pretty hilarious to watch. Turning on to 'Main Street USA' was pretty cool and we even ran through the castle itself. I didn't think I'd actually like it all as much as I did!
Mid run blurry Main St USA shot 
I'd checked out the route online so knew that after the first 5k we would exit the parks and run on roads around the french countryside. I was dreading this and thought it would be pretty boring, but there were still bands and lots of support on course, especially from the marshalls at the water stations and the fun fun fun atmosphere continued. There were also some spectators out and watching the sun rise while running was pretty bloody lovely. The course was quite hilly in places with a couple of out and backs which I like, especially on this course as you could look at everyone elses costumes! I also kept an eye out for Paula Radcliffe who was leading the pack and I yelled a very energetic 'GO PAULA!' at her which made her laugh. I bet she's not had a mermaid cheer for her before...

After a couple of long road stretches, we made our way around a lovely lake and then back towards the park and through it again for the last 3k. These last kilometers were the hardest as the route back inside the park was really windy and twisty with lots of turns. Then for some reason we were taken out onto an empty car park for the finish, where Donald and Daffy Duck were cheering you over the line.

I was so glad I wore a costume for this race, as there were loads of 'Go Ariel' and 'I love your outfit' which really made me laugh. I basically had a great run and really enjoyed it. I had decided that I wasn't aiming for a PB and so didn't wear my running watch which meant no pressure and no constant checking of distance or pace. My aim was to enjoy myself and I really really did. I thought I'd be happy with a time of 1.45 but on course I thought I was on for 1.50 so was very surprised and happy when I finished with a time of 1.38 - just a minute away from my PB! I think the lack of self inflicted pressure really helped me and made for a much more enjoyable race. Im thinking I might do this more often...we'll see!
'Go Ariel!'
All in all I'm really glad I ran this race, although there were faults with it. The bus situation at the start; spectators had to get special bands from the expo which wasn't made clear and could only watch at certain limited spots (and were also at the mercy of the travel situation); the results were not available until 3 days after the event (3 days!!); and who knows what's happening with the official photos - they are no where to be seen! For £60 I think these things need to be ironed out for future races.

But I loved the atmosphere and the route way more than I thought I would; the race t-shirt is great and actually fits and the medal is amazingly chunky. It was a great experience and really good fun, and a wonderful excuse to spend the rest of the day screaming our heads of on roller coasters.

RunDisney medal

Friday, 5 August 2016

London 2017 here I come!

I wouldn't usually appreciate anyone describing me as being 'good for my age', but when it comes from the people at London Marathon, it's actually really nice to finally, finally, hear!

In April I ran the Manchester Marathon in 3.40. I was really happy with my new 11 min PB, despite it being 5 minutes later than the Boston Qualifying time I'd been hoping for (currently 3.35 and under for my age group). I was disappointed that I'd not achieved a BQ but soon realised that missing this goal meant I had something to aim for next year. Every cloud and all that.

But I did begin to wonder whether it would ever be a realistic goal...could I ever really run that fast?

Then I remembered my first marathon in Berlin back in 2012. I was ecstatic to finish in under 4 hours (I scraped in with just 20 seconds to spare) and really really wanted to run the London marathon. Unsuccessful in the ballot, I ran it for charity in 2014 and it was the most fun I'd ever had running. It was brilliant. And I wanted to do it again.

I always looked at the Good For Age qualifying times but dismissed them as unachievable by little old me. But with a few years of solid running under my belt I finally did just that. In the midst of trying for a BQ in Manchester, I'd almost forgotten that I could potentially get a GFA for London. Just because I missed one goal didn't mean I didn't get another. So I was ecstatic when I received the holy grail of emails from London Marathon telling me that my GFA application was successful and I would be standing at the start line in 2017, having got there under my own hard work.

So it just goes to show, goals might take time to achieve, but it doesn't mean they're impossible. So maybe, just maybe, that Boston Qualifier time isn't so inconceivable after all.

Get ready London, I'm coming for you!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Finishing first and returning to my running roots

This morning, five years after running my first ever race, I came first in the Race for Life 10k in Cardiff!

I'd entered that first race (also a Race for Life) to raise money for cancer research when my mum was ill, so it felt nice running well on her birthday today. I wouldn't usually enter the RfL but I wanted to run while I was home for the weekend, and do a run with my sister who is in training for her second half marathon in Oct. So we ran while her husband and kids were our supporters.

Sisters doing it for themselves
In a sea of pink I made my way towards the front and set off. These runs are non chipped and the emphasis is on taking part and raising money - as it should be. There are plenty of other races to get your competitive spirit on! That's not to say I wasn't running hard though.

As we set off, two girls were ahead of me and totally pegging it. As I was admiring their strength and running clobber (a distraction tactic I often employ) I thought they must also be doing the 10k option and looked forward to running the rest of the race with them. But just as I was about to take the 10k turn off, they sped on straight through, leaving me with no company other than the bike leader who was waiting for some 10k runners, but was greeted by just little old me. He mounted his bike and off we went, him thankfully guiding my way through a very twisty turny and confusing route, whilst I pretended I was Paula Radcliffe leading the marathon.

I usually hate a 10k, it's too long a distance to go hell for leather but it's too short to run more comfortably. But I enjoyed today, despite the long sections of running on grass and running the whole course alone.

As I hit an out and back section I kept my eyes peeled for my sister - not easy when everyone is dressed the same. But I saw her! We did a high five and both kept going. Then I was soon running towards the finish as the bike in front radioed in to say the first 10ker was coming through. I couldn't believe it - I laughed as I saw my time (42.20!) and then collected my medal before meeting up with our support crew.

Katie had told me to run without her but I said I'd run back and find her after I was done, so we could finish together. I met her at about 8k, and as we ran towards the finish we laughed about me finishing first and celebrated Katie achieving her goal of not stopping. Just before the finish line, my little nephew joined us to run the rest, while Gav ran alongside us with my little niece in the buggy. It was a right old family affair and a good laugh.

It was the longest Katie has run since before having her first baby, and the only time I've ever crossed a finish line first - so it was only right that we celebrated with some prosecco at Mum's for lunch.