Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Hen Do parkrun

I know I know, getting up early on your Hen Do to go and run 5k is not a normal thing to do. I do know this! However when my lovely sisters asked what I wanted to do during my big send off before getting married in July, my only request was that we didn't do anything we wouldn't want to do during a normal weekend. I have zero interest in decorating a pineapple, sewing my own pants or painting pottery (all legit Hen Do activities folks) on any normal weekends, so why would I want to do it on my Hen Do and make all my friends suffer along with me? No thanks. So I decided that we would all suffer by running with raging hangovers instead! Much better!


Doing a parkrun meant that we were doing one of my favourite ever things - running! And doing this with my best pals who might not have run one before, and potentially introducing some of them to the wonder that is parkrun, was just the icing on the cake. The early morning start also meant we weren't lying around festering in our hangovers all morning. No, we were warriors, sweating out last night's booze instead.

Dressed in obligatory matching t-shirts and wearing a rather fetching sash, badges and a beautiful and not-at-all-tacky veil, we arrived via minibus at Bath Skyline parkrun. Everyone was SO friendly there and loads of volunteers came to ask me about the wedding and wish me congratulations. Out of 14 of us, 8 did the parkrun while the others supported. I'm not going to lie, I don't even remember getting to bed the previous night so waking up early to go run I was feeling more than delicate. I had no plans to run fast and my only goal for this particular parkrun was to not vom at any point.

The course was beautiful, starting off under a canopy of trees and incorporating lots of trails through fields, paths and with a stunning view of Bath at points. As always, the marshals were really friendly and encouraging. I ran the whole way with my sister Katie, which was great as we had a lovely chat the whole way and I was able to watch out while she did a nature wee and narrowly avoided getting stung on the bum by stingy nettles. Sisterly love eh?

After we finished my mum was jsut behind us, so I ran back to find her and finish together. She was amazing - this was the furthest she's ever run and she did brilliantly! As did everyone.

Run done, we went straight for some classic post run re-hydration - strong bloody mary's and a bottomless brunch. The early start meant we were home by midday for a lovely nap before the shenanigans continued. This is probably my favourite parkrun experience EVER and one of the best parts of my hen do! Thanks for coming ladies!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The London Marathon 2018

It is no secret the I love the London Marathon. Like, really really love it. I've done it three times now and it is just the best! I love the circus that surrounds it, the TV coverage, the anticipation and of course, the amazing crowds. Last year it gave me my first Boston Qualifier time, but I knew I could run faster, so this year I decided to try something I'd been toying with for a while: I decided to run two marathons in two weeks.

My plan was to get the time I'd been working for at Manchester Marathon, and then use my GFA place to also run London! A type of celebratory victory lap if it all went well in Manchester. So after securing a PB of 3.30 two weeks ago, my aim for Sunday in *that* heat was to just enjoy myself. Something I had to keep reminding myself of mid run.

So how was it? Well in one word HOT. In two, hot and hard. Really really hard. Definitely the hardest race I've ever done.
High fives all round at mile 20ish
Running for fun is great and Saturday night before the big day I felt really chilled. The only stress I really felt was when I realised how relaxed and unfocused on the marathon I was. Sunday morning, I made my way to the Green start and found some shade to stand in while I waited to get into my pen. I knew I'd be in the sun for far longer than I'd like whilst running, so didn't want to be in it waiting to set off too. Even walking across Blackheath before 9am I was warm, and was dressed just in the shorts and vest I was running in. Certainly no need for extra clothes to keep warm at the start this time. I made my way into my pen and bumped in to Sarah of Goldilocks running. Having chatted back and forth all week we suddenly realised we were stood right next to each other waiting to set off. We had a little chat and before we knew it the Queen was on the big screen and pressing that button to get us started.

As always it was busy, but the heat was there even from the start. I was so glad I'd made the last minute decision to stick my visor on. At 4 miles I thought, 'there is still 22 to go!' This was remarkably different to Manchester when I couldn't believe we were already at the 18 mile mark. That seemed a looong way away this time.

I ran on feel and started off at about 7.45 minute miles which I knew was too fast but I knew I'd slow down in the heat and so figured if I wanted to run at that pace at that moment I could! I was glad to get to Cutty Sark and see Jamie at our designated lamppost in Greenwich around 7 miles, but after that Tower Bridge seemed like a lifetime away. I usually find the first half of the marathon fun and passes quickly, but I really found myself mentally challenged from around this point. In a way running without a 'goal' other than to enjoy it, was really tough especially on a baking hot day. At times I wondered why I was doing it. Although there was no time pressure, this also meant there was nothing to focus on and dig deep for. I found this really hard. I decided my goal was to get a GFA time in sub 3.45. During the race my goal varied depending on how hard it got. Other goals included: finish without stopping, finish in one piece and just GET THAT MEDAL. I'm glad to say I managed them all.

As we turned the corner to Tower Bridge my spirits soared. It's always just so amazing running over it and always gives me goosebumps. I figured this was the race to get a selfie on Tower Bridge so I whipped out my phone and soaked up the cheers from the crowds. It was brilliant as always. There really is no other feeling like it, it's like you're a running rockstar and everyone is there just for you!
Tower Bridge
People were really affected by the heat and I saw a lot of runners needing help and support on course. It was hard to keep your head in it all and really worrying too. My tactic was to grab a bottle at every water stop and either take a sip or swill my mouth out, and then drench myself with water all over. Whenever a little patch of shade appeared everyone ran over to that side of the road, and I was glad I had slapped on my factor 50. Sunburn AND marathon legs the following day would be too awful!

I knew my Harrier pals were on the course at around mile 14 so I focused on getting to them. They were leaning over the barriers screaming their heads off and I soaked it up, waving and blowing them kisses! Seriously anything to get you through! The race then became 'just get to your next supporters'. I was once again so thankful to have Jamie at all our usual spots on the course. I really wanted to walk and thought I would get to mile 17 and stop and see Jamie and our friend Catherine and tell them how hard it was. 'Just get there and you can walk' I promised myself. But then I realised that they wouldn't allow that and would urge me on, and if I did walk it would just prolong the race. So many people were walking in the heat and the buildings of Canary Wharf offered little shade.  The run became a real battle but my spirits were high-ish.  I ran through every shower rainbow, waved at everyone who called my name and smiled at all the cameras I saw. The miles took ages and even at mile 24 knowing there were just 2 more miles to go didn't help. The support as always was amazing though. I smiled and waved and thumbed up at everyone who cheered for me. I read somewhere that smiling when you're in pain really helps and I did this A LOT on Sunday and I can confirm that it works - it does lift your spirits! The crowds always help push you on in a marathon but on Sunday they were a lifeline and I was so lucky to have supporters all along the course.

Finally I was at mile 24, 25 then I saw Big Ben and soon there was just 800m to go. I pushed as much as I could, raised my hands in the air and ran over the finish line. A medal was hung around my neck and as usual I burst into tears. It was done. I was elated with a GFA of 3.44.04 especially in the heat and just two weeks after PBing at Manchester.

London you were amazing as always, but goodness you were a hot little challenge this year.

Crossing the finish line

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Manchester Marathon and Finally Achieving 3.30

After last year's London Marathon I knew I wanted to run Manchester this year. I was still searching for that elusive 3.30 time and was hoping the flat course and smaller running field would help me get it, before running London Marathon with my Good For Age time for 'fun' a couple of weeks later.

The day was absolutely brilliant! I kept trying to channel positivity and not get too stressed before hand and it seemed to work. Having run Manchester a few years ago I really thought this would be a head down and get on with it type race, but the support was amazing and the atmosphere on course was much better than in other years. It was just great. 

Teamwork makes the dream work
My training had been quite different to last year. I'd logged fewer miles but ran with more purpose - thinking quality not quantity was the aim of the game. I also started doing more strength training (hello early morning Kettlebells) and I even wrote a race plan the day before which I really thought about and stuck to. This was quite a revelation for me and really helped me focus and stick to my guns during the race. My plan was go out steady at 8ish minute miles until 20 miles. Then see how I felt and push it if I felt strong. I used the Compete training journal which has loads of good advice and tips for competing and racing. I read how racing with integrity means racing to your plan and that really stuck with me on the day. I also didn't drink for over 8 (loooong) weeks and really concentrated on my nutrition and sleep the two weeks before the race.

Who run the world?
But by far the biggest change in this years marathon was running with my pals Hannah and Heather from my running club. Hannah and I had talked about running together a few weeks before and were glad when Heather joined us too on the day. We also had fellow Harrier Anne join us mid race who absolutely stormed her run! She kept saying how relaxed we were and we were like, 'but Anne, you're running with us!' Having such strong ladies around me meant I didn't let myself off the hook at any point as I needed to keep up pace with them. I also didn't have any of the negative thoughts which usually plague me during the marathon and I just kept believing I was going to do it. 

Three or four ladies running together in the same vest really has its advantages and at about the 16 mile mark I noticed we were getting loads of attention from the crowds. People kept yelling 'Looking strong ladies' and giving us loads of support. It was brilliant. Running together also meant we had each others' supporters to look out for along the course, as well as our own. I had prearranged with Jamie where he would be and I managed to see him at three different spots which was brilliant. Supporters are such a huge part of the day, as well as being really understanding and supportive throughout the the whole training cycle. We were also lucky enough to have a few fellow harriers cheering us all on too.

Running together meant we could have a bit of a chat and the miles seemed to fly by. Then came the 'quiet' miles where it was head down time. I could see Hannah was focused and she pushed on at mile 18 but I knew I wasn't ready to do that yet and thought of my plan. So I stuck to it and waited until about 21 miles until I pushed on. Mile 25 was torture but the crowd were brilliant, really calling your name and pushing you onwards. I could feel cramp threatening but managed to keep it at bay until then end. I thought I had time in the bank but not quite enough. Finally mile 26 came and then I could see the finish. I pushed as much as I could with my legs screaming at me and trotted over the line in 3.30.06 - exactly what I'd aimed for. It took over three years but I finally got there. A new PB, my second BQ and another London GFA. ELATED! I didn't even care about those 6 seconds...

I definitely could not have done it without all the support on course and without Hannah, Heather and Anne. We were a right little badass group and this is one marathon with memories I will savour for a long long time. 

Manchester you were BRILLIANT.

Now, to London!

Finish line hugs

The best running club in the world

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Royal Parks Half Marathon

I've been wanting to run the Royal Parks Half marathon since I started running! 6 years and 22 half marathons later, I finally got the wooden leaf medal I have been coveting, after receiving an unexpected ballot place earlier this year.

Back when I entered I'd thought this race would be a good 'end of season' run to try and get a PB. But whilst I have been running over the Summer, I haven't been doing it with any great focus. I've been clocking up the miles sure, including a very slow and very fun marathon, but have been running for fun rather than to nail a PB. I've mostly been enjoying some off time after the marathon which extended all through Summer, knowing that marathon season will be once again looming on the horizon pretty soon.

So with all that in mind, I knew a PB wasn't in order and rather than killing myself to try and get a time I wouldn't achieve, nor deserved, I decided to just have fun and enjoy the race I've been wanting to be run for so long.

It's a pretty big race with around 16000 entrants and as we walked into Hyde Park towards the start, the day was looking great weather wise - sunny with a little chill. Perfect. The start was HEAVING and as always there were not enough portaloos. There was a great atmosphere though with lots of food stalls, charity tent and hundreds of thousands of runners milling about. After queuing for ages for a wee I made it to my start pen with just minutes to go - with a wave off from Jamie, I scaled the fence to get me into my correct pen and within minutes we were off!

Buck Palace in the distance
Running down The Mall

The route was brilliant! You start and finish in Hyde Park, with the beginning of the run leading you out to the sites of London. Through Green Park you run past Buckingham Palace, around St James' Park with Big Ben standing proudly in the distance, past Horse Guards Parade and through Admiralty Arch. Basically tick tick ticking off all the London sites - this route is a tourist's dream. From here you run out towards Downing Street (which you totally miss because lets be honest it's just a street which is difficult to see when you're not face up against the gates), then back on yourself and up the Strand. Here again you do a little out and back before running around Trafalgar Square and back through Admiralty Arch up The Mall. It was here I got a little over excited and noticed I was running at 6.50 minute mile pace! Ooops - it was because I was absolutely loving running around London on nice quiet streets and seeing all the sites, and also because I could see the Palace! Running down The Mall in a reverse of the London Marathon finish was giving me all kinds of feels and making me feel quite emotional. It was GREAT. Back past the Palace and waving to the runners on the other side of the road, we ran back through Green Park, round a very aptly named road called 'Achilles Way' and back into Hyde Park. By now we were just under the 6 mile mark and I was a little apprehensive that the sites had all been and gone, and the rest of the route would just be weaving around the park. But I needn't have worried. The support as we came back into the park was unreal with loads of charities out supporting and just unbelievable cheers. I was loving it. I also managed to see Jamie here which was unexpected (I don't know why, he's a total pro supporter so of course he would make sure we saw each other en route!)

At about mile 6 - 'Hi, Hi Hi!'
By halfway I was feeling great and really enjoying the run which is just what I wanted, but also feeling pretty pleased with the time on the clock so far. I had turned the mile buzzer off my watch so was just enjoying running at a pace which suited me. Running past the Serpentine in the glorious Autumn sun was just lovely and the atmosphere just continued to be great. I kept on running and soon we were at 10 miles, then 11 then 12. Before I knew it I could see the finish line in sight and just kept pushing, running over the finish in a very respectable 1.38.18 with a heart full of love for running and London.
Royal Parks Finisher!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

What happened when I did yoga every day for a month?

I'm not usually one for 'monthly challenges', mostly because they all seem to be a little too unobtainable and I know I won't stick to doing 5 million sit ups every day, or planking for three hours when there is wine to drink and tasty food to eat. So when my sister tagged me in a post to do yoga every day throughout September, my reaction was my usual - 'no thanks.'

But then the 1st September came around and I saw my sister's post online and thought, 'actually, how lovely to have an excuse to do at least 5 mins of yoga and carve out a little me time every day for 30 days.' I've also been trying to find a yoga class that I love but which also fits into my weekly schedule, especially with marathon training looming on the horizon. I thought this might be the kick up the bum I needed to find a good class if nothing else.

The challenge was to do at least 5 mins of yoga every day in September and post on Instagram about it using hashtags #yogagirlchallenge and #yogaeverydamnday. Posting a pic every single day was definitely the worst thing about this challenge! My sister and I would text each other daily to moan about how stupid we felt putting pics of us on a yoga mat online EVERY SINGLE DAY! If you follow me on Instagram - apologies.  It also turns out that as I am not your usual Instagram-yogi, (ie stick thin and able to get into every single mad looking twist and pose, and who bangs on about 'wellness') the amount of interesting pics you can take on your mat is pretty limited. I did enjoy however putting a video of me online attempting and failing to do headstands - just to counteract these images of yoga perfection which I most definitely do not embody.

I mostly did my yoga at home using online classes - hands down the best thing to come out of this challenge was finally sorting my spare room from 'laundry room' and changing it to 'yoga studio'! (read: spare room with yoga mat, but without the mound of washing)

spare room turned yoga studio

I started the challenge with some Runners World 'Yoga for Runners', but through posting every day was recommended by blogger Sarah to try Cat Meffan's YouTube vids. These were amazing and would highly recommend if you want to do some yoga yourself at home - they are set out by duration and class intention so you can really choose what suits you that day and how much time you have. Some are as little as 10 mins and all are really varied.

I also managed to get to some new classes to see if these would be a good fit for me and my weekly routine. I really enjoyed all of them and it's so nice to practice at a class and be led by a real teacher to mix things up a bit. I also find classes much more challenging as they push you further into your practice. I will definitely be fitting in a weekly yin class once I get deep into marathon training in the winter. I also used the challenge as an excuse to sack off running one night and treated myself to one of my all time favourite yoga teacher's classes - 1.5 hours of Yin and mandala flow. Eirian of Cariad Yoga is a great teacher, but I only manage to get to her classes sporadically due to running club clashes. So that was lovely and as always I left feeling all zen and glowy.

Anyway, apart from clearing out my spare room other benefits I noticed from practicing every day were better and clearer head space, sleeping better and more toned arms! I didn't feel at all stress free throughout the month, but I did find that taking even 15 mins to practice when I was stressed really helped. I loved carving out some time during the day to do this and having a kick up the bum to actually practice myself at home, which I dont usually do but I really hope to continue. I found I was improving and by week 3 I was noticing that I was able to take some deeper stretches and more advanced poses than usual. Although some days I did nearly forget, but a little pre-bed yoga routine was a nice way to round off the day! I'm amazed that I managed to complete the whole month, particularly during a boozy holiday and an even boozier hen do weekend away.

So all in all I really enjoyed it and really liked having a little month long yoga project and starting or finishing the day on the mat. I will definitely try and continue to do yoga more frequently - I do however promise to stop littering your Instagram feeds with annoying pics of me in yoga poses.

30 day yoga challenge complete

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Marathon du Medoc 2017

The Marathon du Medoc has been on my list of dream races for a long time. 26.2 miles running through the French vineyards, with 23 wine stops, cheese and even oysters en route - that's basically all my favourite things rolled in to one amazing event - what's not to love?!  This year we were ready and waiting for the entries to open and I managed to get a place, along with running pals Jill, Emma and her husband Jonathon, from the Harriers.

This race is like no other. Seriously, it is really difficult to describe. Forget everything you know about marathon running. We committed all the pre-race sins; wine and heavy food the night before, a mere 4 hours sleep, running in an outfit we'd not practiced in, and very very MINIMAL training (the most I ran in 'training' was 14 miles).

Annoying flight times and schedules meant we had a long drive the night before to race HQ in Pauillac, to collect race numbers and wristbands for the coaches the next morning. The long drive did however mean we got a glimpse of some of the Chateaux, vines and roads we would be running through the next day, and they were beautiful. Race HQ and the little town of Pauillac was teaming with runners and the atmosphere was already really fun.

5am the next morning I was waking up and putting on my Bowie face paint with very bleary eyes. Each year the race has a theme and as this was the 33rd event, this years' theme was 'Music in 33RPM' or vinyl music, or to a lot of people just 'music'. And to some people, just 'costume'! As well as Bowie, other costumes in our group were 80s Madonna (Emma), her gay boyfriend George Michael (Jonathon) and Jill stealing the show as Nirvana's 'Nevermind' album cover, complete with toy baby and dollar bill. Throughout the run people kept making sure her 'baby' was OK and needless to say we took lots of pics of the baby drinking wine! Brilliant.

As the town is so small we stayed in Bordeaux and pre-booked our coaches to take us to and from the race. These left at 0630 but did gave us a chance to eye up all the other costumes. Our bus had Elvis, The Beatles, and a VERY skimpy Cher to name but a few. That's another thing, prepare yourself for a lot of nudity in this race. I have never seen so many naked men in one day, one man even ran it nude apart from his race number covering his bits. Bold.

The start line was basically a giant street party. Everyone was really excited, checking out costumes, taking photos and dancing along to the live band who were playing from a hanging stage above the start line. It was great!

And then with a shower of confetti we were off, walking, running and chatting our way merrily onwards. A mere 1k in and the first wine stop arrived - a pour your own job that set us up for the rest of the race. About 2k saw a big bottleneck as an 8500 throng of runners attempted to make their way through the tiny french villages. Before the race we all had grand plans - 'no drinking until 25k' and 'stopping and dropping out at 10 miles' were just two from our group but in reality these would never happen. It was just too fun and there was no way you could actually run the first few miles without stopping, unless you made sure you were way up front - it was just too crowded and way way too much fun. I think running the whole thing and not getting in to the spirit of the event really defeats the whole object of the race. There are plenty of marathons to run for a good time on the clock, we were here for a good party!

We clocked 5k in a ridiculously slow time of 54 minutes, but by this time we were already two if not three wines down. It was 1045, the sun was shining and we were running through rows and rows and beautiful french vineyards. Life was good and we weren't even halfway. But take note, among all the fun there is no time to dilly dally in this race. The sweeper cart is always just over your shoulder, bringing up the last of the runners with their anxiety causing whistles and the 'brooms of doom'. This cart travels at the back of the race, sweeping up the late runners and basically makes sure no ones overstays their welcome at the numerous Chateaux wine stops. You have to stay ahead of the brooms and a word of warning, they are really strict on the time limit of sub 06:30:00. At the finish line, they scan you and if your chip time is over the cut off, no rewards for you!

The brooms of doom

Our group soon settled in to a rhythm with Emma and I trotting ahead to the wine stations to grab four glasses of wine ready to greet Jill and Jonathan with our arms and wine in the air. On arrival at the wine stop Jill would stick her baby in the air so we could spot them - seriously, this baby was brilliant, and soon became our mascot! We would meet up, drink wine, and go again. Occasionally we got too cocky, messing about in the vines, grabbing two maybe three glasses of wine at a stop, chatting too much, and basically messing around. Until we saw the brooms of doom on the horizon which prompted us to get a wriggle on!

Gorgeous Chateaux 

Vines vines vines
From about mile 16 the wine stops began to come thick and fast. By mile 19 we all agreed we were pretty drunk, but merrily marching onwards. The weather did it all, brilliant sunshine, rain storms and at one point a massive hailstorm which let me tell you is not easy to run through, uphill, in a catsuit, protecting your Bowie makeup whilst holding a glass of red. We chatted to runners on route and marveled at the amazing costumes and carts. We made friends with runners carrying and pouring their own wine (naturally) and had way too much fun with an oversized bottle of wine and photo frames hanging from trees. All along the route there were also water stops and loads of fruit, crisps, crackers and chocolate available. It was brilliant and although we all felt drunk, I didn't see anyone really hammered, apart from the naked man. Everyone was just in very high spirits enjoying the race.

Come mile 22 the stop-start running, the heat and the distance all began to take their toll and the last four miles were pretty much a death march to the finish line. Through oyster stops, ice cream and randomly, corn stops we trundled on and just could not wait to see that finish.

And finally as we came back along the water front in Pauillac we could finally see the red carpet and vinyl balloons leading us to the finish line. We crossed the line as a group together, drunk, tired but oh so happy. And I'm pleased to say we made it with a minute to spare in 06:28:54. Perfectly timed!

We grabbed our medals, record shaped marathon bags and of course commemorative boxed bottle of wine from one of the various Chateaux en route. We were elated, so of course celebrated with a much! No more wine for us for at least 12 hours.

My 6th marathon was my worst time in numbers, but undoubtedly the best time I will ever have running a marathon. Running with our little gang together was just so much fun and we are already planning our return trip.

Marathon du Medoc DONE.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

50 and Fabulous (parkrun that is)

This Saturday saw me run my 50th parkrun - 50!

My first ever parkrun was on the 3rd Jan 2015. I was a bit nervous before I went and had no idea how they actually managed the timing system! I ran there, worried I wouldn't be able to chain my bike up anywhere (doh!) and ran it alone. I loved it! Everyone was really friendly and it felt good to have done my run so early on Saturday morning and I knew I'd be back, despite having gone as a 'new year resolution'.

Two years on and a new parkrun has become my local, which in turn has become a bit of a social event in our running club's week. We often meet up there for a quick hello pre and post run; incorporate it into part of our individual long runs on the weekend, or use parkrun as an excuse to go for a team breakfast afterwards. Lovely.

My fiftieth run was really fun, despite being treated to typical Manchester August weather - it absolutely chucked it down on my run there. When I finally arrived, soaking, I was met by my running buddies including Chris who as also running his 50th and his lovely wife Jen who had '50th' balloons for us both. We ran together with more of our running club and had a nice chat and a catch up - it was really social and loads of people congratulated us on our 50ths on the way round. It was so nice. Running with a balloon in the soaking rain with your pals is actually pretty fun, and we all agreed that running at a sociable pace having a chat made a nice change to almost puking in the finish funnel after running your heart out trying to get a PB.

In a bizarre coincidence it turns out I ran my 50th in EXACTLY THE SAME TIME as I did my 1st two and a half years ago, with a time of 23:53. Insert spooky music here....

Post race most of the gang went for a celebratory coffee, but I continued on my long run as it has dawned on me I have a marathon to run in less than three weeks. Oops. Anyway more on that soon.

As always, parkrun was a great way to start the weekend and celebrating our 50ths was just fabulous.