Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Equinox 24 - Race Report

One 24 hour race, one 10k route, 8 team members, very little sleep, countless brownies and bags of fun, is basically the best way to describe my weekend at Equinox 24.
Starting at 12pm Saturday and running, literally, right through to 12pm Sunday, Equinox is a race where you run as many 10k laps as you can during the course of 24 hours. You can enter as a solo runner (if you’re mad), in pairs (see previous), a small team up to four, or a large team up to eight members.

Our team of eight was mostly made up of YMCA Harriers and we were definitely in it for the ‘fun’ aspect. But you can’t help get caught up in the friendly competition and we soon found ourselves discussing tactics, midnight running and tactical running orders.

We decided to try and have someone on the course throughout the whole 24 hours which we did, and we were excited about running at night in the pitch black. Well, excited and a little unnerved.

The course, camping and race HQ is all set in the grounds of the beautiful Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire and as team captain I was chosen to get us underway at the 12pm race start. The atmosphere was brilliant, with a separate 10k race also starting, as well as all the soloists, pairs and different teams for the mass start. I heard my team cheering me on as I went over the mat, and we had finally begun our 24 hours of non stop running! It was exciting!

Lap 1 - 12pm

But that first lap was my least favourite – the course was challenging with a long incline, another very steep hill labelled ‘THAT HILL’ and a mixed terrain of uneven fields and roads. But it was mostly the heat that I didn’t like, it was SO hot! But this was a good thing for the rest of the event. It would have been pretty miserable in the rain.

I packed so much running kit to make sure I always had a new clean clothes to run in, as well as dry trainers in case of rain, and many (many) possibilities so I was covered for all weathers.

After that first lap I developed a little routine which saw me through the rest of the race. Hand ‘baton’ over to Mark who was next in line and waiting in a little area along with all other waiting runners just after the finish line. The ‘baton’ was a very retro 90’s style slapband. Brilliant. After heading back to the tent, I’d shower (or wet wipe wash!) then change into my next clean kit all ready to go for my next lap. This seemed like a good time to get some food in me and then we'd carry on cheering for all the runners.

Lap 2 - 6.30pm
It was an incredible atmosphere and the next cycle soon came around again. The second lap was my absolute favourite. I managed to get the sunset lap and it was pretty special running around such a beautiful location as the sun went down. I also preferred running the course once I knew what to expect, and the cooler temperature made me a much happier runner. The only thing which ruined this lap was a girl singing 'Don't stop believing' at the top of her lungs, so I ran quicker to get away from her. There was also a wedding going on within the grounds that day, so after catching a glimpse of the bride and groom and yelling a very sweaty ‘congratulations’ at them as I ran past, it was back to the finish to hand over to Mark again and before more food and even a beer.

I managed to get about an hours sleep before my next run at 1.30am. It was such as odd feeling, waking up to go and run in the dark. Our team worked really well as there was usually always at least three people up and around; one who had just finished a lap, one out running and one who was next on the course. It was nice to always have someone around to keep you company before you set off and to have someone there when you returned feeling all excited and giddy from your momentous run. The atmosphere was still great during the wee hours with people milling around near the finish line waiting for their change over or returning triumphantly. Back at base you could hear other people waking up their team members in their tents. 

Lap 3 - 1.30am
Although I've been out running in the dark before, I was a little apprehensive about my night run. But hearing good reports from my team mates after they'd already experienced it put me at ease a little and soon enough I was off venturing into the dark fields. Little glowsticks marked the way but it was still pretty alienating and felt like a whole new route. Often you were by yourself but you could always see a little glimpse of a headtorch up ahead and the course looped back on itself so you never felt totally alone. The steep downhill was a little scary in the dark and you simply had to run at a slower pace as you weren't as confident. I really enjoyed the experience though and was really glad I'd done it. 

Lap 4 - 8.20am
At about 4am I managed to get to sleep for about 2.5 hours before waking up again for my morning run. We had worked out we'd need four of us to do a fourth lap and I was really keen to run again. I felt like I needed to run during the day on Sunday to complete my experience and liked knowing I'd run just 2k short of a marathon over the 24 hours. The last lap I was shattered, but knowing it would be the last one I wanted to enjoy it one last time and soak it all up. The last handover to Mark was brilliant with him dancing around the waiting area beckoning me in, and then that was me done! I celebrated with a shower, a massage and an almighty bagel loaded with peanut butter and banana while cheering on the rest of the runners. Followed by another beer. It was great.

You can't really put into words how good the event was, or describe the atmosphere. Out on the course the camaraderie among the runners was great: everyone said well done to each other, and the support for the soloists throughout the event was great, as we all thought they were mad and were in awe of them in equal measure. With Chris setting out on our final leg at about 11.40am we all cheered our heads off as he came in. That was it - 24 hours and 29 laps later and it was over! But not before learning we'd come in 9th in our category!

The organisation was brilliant. There were just the right number of portaloos and showers and they were crucially, really well maintained and cleaned often. There was a bar on site and loads of different food offerings, including pizza, jacket potatoes, fish and chips and a much needed and lovely coffee stand as well as others.  We also chose the 'glamping' option which meant no need for wrestling with tent pegs and dealing with leaky tents in the middle of the night. 

All in all it was one of the best weekends of running I've had. Brilliant atmosphere, great organisation and truly loads and loads of fun. 

Roll on 2016.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Cycle to work (every) day!

Today is Cycle to Work day!

Not that long ago cycling to me was something other people did - reserved for Lycra-clad men wearing odd shoes, and people who liked to hug trees and wear clothes made of hemp. Oh foolish me - how wrong I was!

Inspired by a couple of friends who cycled to work, and fed up of waiting in the Manchester rain for a slower than slow tram, I decided I would give it a go to see what the fuss was about. As well as hopefully cutting commuting time, I thought cycling might also be a good thing to help my running, but mostly I'd seen my pretty Bobbins bike and really wanted her to be mine...

A friend kindly let me borrow her bike for two weeks while she was on holiday to see what I thought and I couldn't believe how easy it was, and how much I liked it. Sure, I was nervous at first but without a car, the freedom it gave me was amazing.

Here are some things I previously thought about cycling to work, which I was totally wrong about.

1)  Riding on the road? So scary. What about all the traffic?
Wrong! I thought all the drivers would hate me and I'd be all slow and in the way. How do I make a right turn? Where do I sit on the road? All these questions and worries were really what was putting me off getting on my bike. Someone told me that Manchester Council ran various cycling sessions for free, including riding on the road so I gave it a go. A nice lady met me at home and after a bit of theory off we went on a route of my choosing. We worked out the best route for my commute to work and then we went and cycled it. She led the way there and then it was my turn on the way back. It's not a long distance but there are a couple of major roads involved so having someone take me through the ways of the road was really good for my confidence. So if you're worried, check out your local council and see what they offer.

2) What a faff! All that changing must take ages in the morning!
Wrong! It's really not a faff at all. Get ready for work. Get on bike. Get to work. DONE.

3) I'd be so sweaty and gross all day.
Wrong! My commute is only 3 miles away so unless I'm running really late for work I'm not sweaty enough to warrant a shower when I arrive. I sometimes take a change of clothes, sometimes not depending on what I'm wearing that day and how easy it is to cycle in. None of my colleagues seem to think I stink, but then maybe they do! Obviously if you live further away and cycle faster than I do then a bit of a spruce up pre-work might be required, but most work places have showers these days and you just need to change your morning routine to incorporate a wash at work rather than at home.

4) It must be so tiring!
Wrong! It's actually a really nice way to wake up first thing, but the best is the cycle home. After a long stressful day cooped up in the office, a nice ride home helps me unwind and forget about the day at work as well as let me be outside in the fresh air. Hooray!

5) Sunshine is fine but I surely I wouldn't cycle in the rain?! No thanks!
Wrong! Granted rain is not my favourite weather to cycle in. But once you've got yourself some sexy waterproof trousers and jacket then you're really fine. And I always think a 15 min ride in the rain is way more appealing than a rainy 10 min schlep to the tram, a 20 min tram ride and then a walk at the other end. Plus I always think about how much quicker I'll get home after work, which helps. Although Manchester, if you could stop raining quite so much I'd appreciate it. The wind on the other hand is a whole other issue. Urgh. Just be sensible and don't cycle in a cyclone.

So there we are! I love my cycle commute now, and it definitely gave me the groundwork and confidence to give my recent triathlon a go. Not only that, cycling to and form work saves me at least £50 a month - that's £600 a year and an hour a day travelling. That's five hours a week all for me!

If you're toying with the idea don't be put off by any thoughts similar to mine above. Give it a go and you'll be surprised how wrong you were! It's quick, free (once you've bought the bike) and it gives you so much freedom.

No more waiting at the tram stop in the wind and rain for me - I'm already at home, de-stressed with a nice warm cuppa.

Cycle commuting!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

New season: Looking ahead

Since the Triathlon, I've been feeling a bit of a mix of emotions when it comes to training. Part of me has been relishing the freedom of doing whatever work out I feel like, whenever I like! Running as usual, has been featuring a lot but I've found myself longing for a bit of yoga and so have often sacked off a run or cycle in favour of a good old stretch amid the rooftops of Manchester, (with cariad yoga, my new favourite class) or some hot yoga. And only doing a little bit of swimming and cycling as and when I feel like it. Bad triathlete.

Rooftop yoga
But alongside this feeling of freedom, I've felt a little bit lost with no big goal race in sight. With no marathon on the cards this year, the triathlon was something totally new and different to work towards. So what now?

But with the beginning of September, along with the whiff of new pencil cases, comes the feeling of possibilities, and my mind has been turning to Spring marathons. I've been thinking a lot about which marathon to run come April: Paris, Manchester or London (Ballot permitting)?

I also seem to have forgotten in all the excitement of Summer, that I do in fact have a pretty exciting and challenging race coming up - the Equinox 24 hour relay. Our team of eight, made up mostly from the Manchester YMCA Harriers, will run as many 10k laps as we can from midday Saturday to midday Sunday at the end of the month. Eek! It's not far away and in a bid to get used to running on already tired legs, yesterday I tried my first double run day: a few morning miles followed by my first Tuesday Track session with the club, and a lot of cycle commuting in between for good measure.

It made me feel tired. But it also felt OK! I'll try and do a few more double day sessions in the next two weeks to hopefully help me get ready for the big day.

I'm excited about the unknown, but mostly looking forward to a whole weekend, camping, running and having fun with the club. Can't wait!

Tuesday Track