Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Trips, slips and trails - Round Sheffield Run Race Report

My running club love a good post run celebration so when one of us suggested we ran the Round Sheffield Run - a 15 mile event over 11 stages with local beer at the end, we didn't waste any time in entering.

After a-way-too-early-for-a-Sunday alarm, we met bleary eyed at the station, armed with coffee and flapjacks and began our journey to Sheffield. Even the scenery on the train journey out there was lovely so it was looking like we would be treated to some gorgeous views, and we weren't disappointed.

The route starts and ends at Endcliffe Park and uses the Round Sheffield Walk route. The 15 miles (ish) are divided into 11 stages of varying length, with the longest being 2.8km and the shortest being 0.8km. You then have a set amount of time to get from the end of one stage to the next, with the time being generous enough for a leisurely walk. Confused? Me too! I couldn't quite get my head around this 'staged' race, but figured it would all become clear on the day, and to be honest, it did!

It is your responsibility to clock in and out of each stage to record your time, which you do by dipping a little plastic fob into a scanner at the start and end points. At the end of the race you're then given a print out with your running time. We were given our fobs with our race numbers on check in and after a brief start line photo shoot we were ready to go. The race was started in waves with the earliest being around 0815 and the latest being 1015-1030. Even during your designated wave they start you off in groups of 4 so that you each have time to dip your fob and get your timing started. This meant that the course wasn't too congested and you could run with your pals as solo runners, or in teams, or as pairs. Slower runners were encouraged to start earlier and this seemed to work really well, with one of us Harriers opting for the earlier wave and finishing not too far in front of us.

Harriers between stages

Crandon Runs at Round Sheffield Run

The overriding feeling of this race was how inclusive and accessible it was. Breaking the distance into stages means its less daunting if you're not used to running that far, and it also means you can regroup with your mates at the end of each stage. It was great and ridiculously well organised! The first two stages were STEEP uphills but then they did provide lovely views so I will forgive them (just). Brutal though! The rest of the stages were a mix of ups and downs, through parks, trails and forests. It was beautiful and really really fun.

The only draw back was that the stop-start of the stages, combined with the brutal uphills, meant my legs kept turning to jelly when getting back to running. Towards the end I was getting tired and then, with only 3.5km to go disaster struck!

Stage 8 was a narrow gravel trail and I flung myself on the downhill, only to lose my footing and go cartwheeling head over heels. I bashed my entire left side of my body on the ground and eventually came to a stop with my face in the gravel and dirt in my mouth. OUCH. I must admit I shouted a very loud 'f' word here. Luckily a lady behind me helped me up and Hannah and Kev who were running with me were just behind. Hannah patched me up and we kept on moving to the end of the stage to get some water to wash my wounds. Urgh. With only 2 stages left to go I decided to just keep going and get to the end and sort myself out then. The next stage was the one I was most looking forward to - 800m of downhill - but after my fall Hannah and I took it very very steadily. By this point I was really really tired and sore, and couldn't wait to get to the finish line. And then soon enough we were running back through Endcliffe park and towards the finish line and a brilliant large medal come bottle opener!

On return of your fob you immediately receive a print out telling you your overall running time and your current standings. I came 17th lady with a running (and falling) time of 1.39 which I was pleased with. I spent a whopping 1 hour 17 minutes between stages!

The end of the race was like a mini festival, with a bar full of delicious (and strong) local craft beer, a pizza tent, deckchairs and music. It was ace and an absolutely brilliant atmosphere. I also bumped in to Bibi from the Veggie Runners which was great, and who had also really enjoyed this race with a difference - we were both so excited at the end! You truly meet some fab people through running.

We continued with beers and pizza for the rest of the afternoon and had a very jolly train ride home. It was a really fun race, despite the hills and the road rash I collected on the way, and would recommend it in a heartbeat. We're already plotting next years return.

After party


Friday, 23 June 2017

NYRR Central Park Mini 10k - Race review

My only real regret in life is not taking up running until AFTER I lived in New York for a year. Had I been a runner back then, I would have entered the New York marathon and have already ticked this off my race bucket list, as well as been able to explore all the fun of NYC during many running adventures. What a fool I was - too busy eating and taking part in happy hours instead...although this was also very very fun.

I love running when I'm on holiday and my running kit is always the first thing I pack. So when we booked a week long trip to NYC I was on the lookout for a race to run while I was there and came across the NYRR Mini 10k - the original woman's only race through Central Park. BINGO.

Finisher - NYC RUNNING!
I was so excited. I had to collect my race number and race t-shirt (as an aside why do overseas races always give these to you before you run? I find this so odd - why not get it at the end?!) from NYRR HQ on West 57th St - or as I like to think of it, 'Runner's Mecca'. This was a very slick process and took all of 3 minutes to get my top and bib. Also at HQ was a full route info, a shop, lockers to leave your stuff in while you go for a run (brilliant idea) and a full display of all the NYC Marathon medals to date. Awesome! It was also pretty interesting as a Q&A with the elites was going on while I was there. That's right, this wasn't some little piddly race, no this was circa 9,000 ladies running through Central Park led by a horde of Olympians and elites including Mary Keitany, Edna Kiplagat and our very own Jo Pavey.
Jo Pavey on the home straight - look at that stride!
The race started at 8am which I was pleased about not only because this meant minimal holiday interruption and the promise of a post race breakfast, but also due to the heat. We had inadvertently stumbled across a New York heat wave and it was hot. Like REALLY Hot. One day it was over 35 degrees when we were there. Sheesh! I'd previously read that there were usually a healthy amount of portaloos at US race starts, and I was not disappointed. No queuing and worrying that you'd still be in the loo as the gun went off. No no no! This is America folks, toilets for everyone! You literally just walked up to a bank, opened the door and hallelujah! Welcome to the cleanest porta-potty you've ever seen. Take note UK races. Seriously.

Mandatory loo stop done, I waved goodbye to Jamie and walked into pen B which was located right outside Trump Hotel on Central Park. Urgh, oh well you can't have everything I suppose. This starting pen was really rather daunting. Over 8500 women completed the race that day and I was only seven rows behind Jo Pavey on the start line. I could literally see her face and pro elite running pants. So that was scary. However there was a really friendly atmosphere at the start, with everyone chatting away to each other and looking forward to the run. After a speech from the first winner of the race in 1972, followed by a rendition of the National Anthem, we were off!

Course map at NYRR HQ
The course runs up Central Park West until 91st Street when you then turn right and do a huge lap of Central Park. Running on the quiet closed New York streets was great, and I saw loads of museums and galleries I'd not seen before. It was quiet as it was so early but once into the park the opposite side of the road was scattered with folks running, cycling and cheering us on, for a lot of the route. It was great! But hard. I hate a 10k usually as they are so long to run so fast! But this was also hilly. I hadn't really realised Central Park contained so many lumps and bumps and this combined with the heat made it really hard work. But, I couldn't stop thinking how brilliant it was that I was running through CENTRAL PARK! How terribly exciting! The atmosphere around the course was great with everyone shouting words of encouragement - 'You got this', 'Great stride' - all very american. I was pretty near the front at the beginning of the race and could see the timing car until it turned into the park, so the course wasn't at all congested where I was and I had plenty of room to struggle up the hills and fling myself down the descents, with just a few ladies around me.

The miles ticked by really quickly and soon I was on the home straight, with Jamie waving and shouting my name! Then it was over the finish line with a shout out over the tannoy in 43.10 and 80th place. Not bad. I was given a hug and my medal along with a flower (random), some pretzels (genius) and a big pink bagel (perfect). All in all it was a brilliant race and I would definitely do it was a really fun part of my holiday and running through Central Park was just brilliant.

Flower, medal, apple, pretzels and a pink bagel

Champion supporter

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Coniston Half Marathon Trail race

When my mates Craig and Jill suggested I join them for the Coniston Half Trail race this weekend, I was tempted by the promise of beers and lunch in the Lakes after a nice morning on the trails. I kind of forgot about the running bit. And totally forgot I'd never run a trail race before...

The Lakeland Trails series had some good reviews within my running club and I can see why. There were many different options for races on the day, a 10k, a half marathon and a marathon, with all distances having a 'challenge' option for slower runners or walkers which started an hour before the 'race' option.  After some oversharing toilet chat (standard) we were all set to go and lined up with about 250 others to head out on the trails. It was a small race, smaller than our local parkrun, but the atmosphere was really friendly.

Start line selfie
The course was really challenging and technical, with a whole load of different type surfaces to run on including trails, big rocks and lots of slate, which kept you on your toes and kept the miles ticking over. It was so different to the usual road races I'm used to. By mile 4 my legs were screaming at me, and looking at the profile afterwards I see why! The climbs were quite big at times and then leveled out before sending you up again. This continued until about mile 9 when the downhill was so steep you couldn't hold yourself back even if you tried. I loved the variety of the run and made sure I kept looking up at the scenery (and taking photos whilst on the move). I wanted to just enjoy the run so whilst I glanced at my watch when it buzzed each mile, it was more of a 'oh look at that' rather than with a time goal in mind. My miles ranged from 7.30 minutes to 10.30 and you can probably guess where these were from the pic below. It was really quite liberating running without any time pressure.

Course Elevation profile
Stunning scenery (taken on the move!)
The marshals were really friendly and the sheer amount of races taking place meant that there were a few people out on the course, but sometimes I was running alone which was also nice. The water stations I passed seemed really well stocked for the marathon runners, with enormous flapjacks, coke, water and squash. The route was well marked for the most part although there were a couple of occasions where we had no idea where to go! At one point there was an unmarked fork in the road which really irked some of the pro trail runners near me - but I just chose to keep running and took the down option rather than going up an unnecessary hill - if in doubt, go DOWN! Turns out I was right and I was free to fling myself down the downhills with no one in my way! The route markings could have been a little clearer though from halfway onwards.

Photographer at the TOP of a hill - 8 miles in
My goal for the race was to have fun and not stop even on the hills, and I was pleased I managed both. The last mile or so was back on flat road and grass which is more of my usual preference so I was able to take a couple of ladies in the last 500 metres and cross the finish line as 11th lady and a shout out over the tannoy!

The scenery was beautiful, the atmosphere was great, and we all agreed it was a cracking race. The post run beers in the sunshine weren't too bad either. I think I will be adding more trail races to my calendar pretty soon...


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Swim for Restoration at Victoria Baths

I've been meaning to go on a visit to the famous Victoria Baths for ages, but for one reason or another never quite got around to it. So I was really excited when I heard they were filling the gala pool and opening it for swimming to the public for the first time since it closed in 1993. Tickets for this 'one day only' event were hard to come by and sold out faster than Glastonbury, so I was pleased I'd been poised and ready to spring into action.

Victoria Baths holds a special place in people's hearts here in Manchester, and when you're there you can see why. Opened in 1906 it was described as a 'water palace' and since it's closure 24 years ago, has been under restoration with the ultimate aim to reopen it for swimming and public use.

I've neglected my swimming somewhat since my triathlon almost 2 years ago (!) and only managed one open water swim last year. I know, terrible. So this year I am hoping to get back in the water with a bit more dedication.

We arrived a little before our swim time, had a wander around the gorgeous building and booked ourselves on a post-swim tour, before heading up into the spectators gallery and watching the swimmers in the first session. The atmosphere throughout the whole day was great; painters and sketchers were on the balcony capturing the day, the media was there in full force, and some swimmers even arrived dressed to the nines in old fashioned Victorian swimming costumes complete with straw boaters (which yes, they swam in!) Everyone was just really happy and excited to be there and the atmosphere was so infectious.

10 minutes before our swim time we entered the gala pool area and were shown to the old fashioned poolside cubicles to change. We were told we couldn't enter the pool until the whistle blew. Everyone was pretty giddy! We messed around taking photos and then all stood on the side of the pool waiting for the 3, 2, 1 countdown. The whistle blew and in we all jumped together. It was so fun.


There were some serious swimmers doing their lengths and we mixed it up with a bit of lane swimming (500 metres for us in total - ha!) and a bit of leisurely swimming taking the whole thing in (read; playing with flamingo inflatables and beach balls.) It was a but chilly but totally worth it. I even earned my first swimming certificate in over 25 years! What a brilliant day, a great cause and a lovely way to get back into my swimming. If only every swim could be in such a pretty and inspiring setting.

You can read more about the restoration of the baths here.

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.