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 needed...beer! 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.

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 again...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...