Beach Body vs Mountain Legs

Oh no, it’s that time of year again – when about half the women I know are getting ready for their summer holiday, working hard in pursuit of the Beach Body. This seems mostly to involve drinking a protein shake for breakfast and eating a ‘light’ yoghurt for lunch, before caving in mid-afternoon and having a Kit Kat, then going to the gym to work it off. I can only wonder how things pan out in the evening. I’m exaggerating slightly, but you get the picture. We all know them. You might even be one of them if you’re a woman. If you’re a man your holiday prep probably consists of little more than buying some board shorts and Euros, which is great. You don’t feel the same media pressure to look like Gwyneth Paltrow in a bikini.

I’ve made my feelings on the Beach Body known in the past – that we should eat well and exercise all year round and not just when we’re about to get on a plane to somewhere hot. Despite this, I am currently preparing my own body for my summer holiday. But don’t worry, I am attempting to create not a Beach Body, but a Mountain Body! Or, more specifically, Mountain Legs. Next weekend we are going away to the Haute Savoie area of the French Alps and taking our bikes. Plus, in a rash moment a few weeks ago (possibly under the influence of Pinot Noir) I entered the Mont Blanc 10K, which is coincidentally taking place while we’re there. It would probably have been a good idea to look at the course profile beforehand, because it appears that the first half is pretty much all uphill (who would have guessed?!), but the deed is done. If I come last, so be it – at least I’ll have plenty of time to admire the scenery.

Hoping it will be something like this!

Hoping it will be something like this!

 

So I’ve been preparing my Mountain Legs by cycling and running up and down as many hills as possible, which hasn’t exactly been easy. For those of you not familiar with the topography of Yorkshire’s capital city, it’s as flat as the proverbial pancake round these parts. We pretty much have one hill within striking distance of where I live – which, admittedly, is a great one, with a working windmill on top of it – but that’s about it. So for running purposes it’s been reps up and down there lots of times, plus some work on the treadmill with the incline set to Quite Steep. I’ve also been trying to get out of town on the bike as much as possible in search of more and longer hills. Actually, my problem on the bike isn’t so much climbing as descending – I’m scared of it and therefore absolutely hopeless at it! Probably because I don’t do enough proper cycling. Steve, who is a really great cyclist, is very patient with his wimpy wife, although we usually part company at the top of a big hill; he swoops gracefully down like a bird of prey, tucking in and taking the curves like a pro, and I… let’s just say I sometimes stop to rest my hands! Then we meet up again at the bottom. But I am determined to tackle an Alpine col or two on holiday. If only someone could pop up to the summit in a car to take me back down again!

OK, where's the bus back down?!

OK, where’s the bus back down?!

 

Incidentally, I’m sure some of my friends think I’m completely mad for being in training to go away. The idea that a holiday should consist of more than lying on a beach with a book and a cocktail seems crazy to them – and they could be right! Perhaps if I was the sort of person who’s willing/able to lie on a beach all day and not an easily bored/easily burned ginger I’d feel more need to have a Beach Body – but I’m not. Each to his or her own I say.

So, do any of you cyclists out there have any tips for helping me become a better and less fearful descender? I’d love to hear them!

 

Race Review – North Lincolnshire Half Marathon 2016

I’d really been looking forward to the North Lincs Half. Not just because the organisers promised cake at the finish line (although that was obviously a factor!) but also because it’s over a year since I’ve done a half marathon properly. I sadly had to miss out on both the Yorkshire Wolds Half and the Vale of York Half last year when I was injured. I did the Brass Monkey Half in January, but was only just getting back to proper running at the time and took it very steadily. Now, off the back of training for the Paris Marathon followed by the Vale of York 10, with a few Parkruns thrown in to sharpen up the legs, I was finally feeling a lot fitter.

The weather forecast for race day was perfect – sunny but cool – and I set off (solo on this occasion) from York to Scunthorpe at about 6.30 am. I wasn’t 100% per cent sure how long it would take me to get there, and we’d been warned that the car park wasn’t big enough for everyone, so I wanted to allow plenty of time. In the end I got there in about an hour and parked up with no problem at all. The race HQ and finish is at Scunthorpe United‘s ground, Glandford Park, which is perfectly situated just off the motorway so really easy to get to. The facilities were great (lots of loos!) and it was nice to be able to wait around inside, out of the early morning chill.

The actual start of the race is about three quarters of a mile from Race HQ, and we were encouraged to make our way down there from about 8.30 for the 9 am kick-off. It’s a pleasant walk down a footpath through some fields, but you wouldn’t want to leave it until the last minute, as the path is narrow and progress was quite slow! On the wide, tree-lined road where the start is located there’s plenty of room to have a bit of a warm-up, and there are also a couple of portaloos for any last-minute calls of nature. Everything seemed very low-key and relaxed, which was really nice.

start-2016

And we’re off!

 

I’d got my half marathon PB of 1:52:37 at the Brass Monkey in 2015 on a very cold day where we had to walk over a few icy stretches of road. I reckoned with a bit of work I could have a fair crack at sub 1:50 and was planning to give it a go at the Vale of York Half in September this year. I reckoned that would be about 8:20 pace. My plan for North Lincs was to run at about 8:30 and see how things went. Then I noticed two 1:50 pacers, with a pace of 8:24 noted on their flags. Thinking that didn’t seem much faster than 8:30, I decided on the spot to set off with them and see how long I could hold on!

The fabulous pacers

The fabulous pacers

 

The first couple of miles seemed slightly downhill to me – or maybe I was just feeling good! The pace felt very comfortable. The course is generally very flat along some really long, straight roads – at times it seemed as if you could see runners for miles into the distance! It’s mostly rural, and it was certainly a gorgeous day to run through the countryside. There were a couple of stretches of quite narrow lane where it might have been tricky to pass people, but I was just focussed on sticking close to the pacers. There are five water points along the course – generous for a half marathon – plus stations with jelly babies and sponges around halfway. At this point I still felt OK and was cautiously optimistic about getting a PB. In the third quarter of the race things started to feel slightly harder and my belly felt a bit uncomfortable. I usually take Clif Shot Bloks during long runs, but they seemed to be laying a bit heavy today, so I didn’t take any more after about eight miles. The pacers, who I believe were called Barry and Mat, were brilliant, shouting out motivation and warning us when water stations were coming up. From about mile ten I was finding it harder and harder to keep up, but sheer bloody-mindedness made me attempt to cling on as best I could! I’m sure I would have slackened off sooner without the pacers to help.

Trying hard to keep it going near the end!

Trying hard to keep it going near the end!

Towards the end I looked at my watch and thought “Yes, only half a mile to go” and then… a hill! Only a short one, but as I started up it I felt my left calf beginning to twitch and knew I’d have to walk it. How disappointing – losing the pacer at 12.5 miles! One of the girls in our group kindly touched me on the shoulder and said “Come on!” encouragingly, but I didn’t want to risk full-blown cramp. As I got to the top of the hill I could see spectators cheering near the finish and a sign that said 800m to go, so decided to try for a final push. From somewhere I managed to find a bit of speed, and the roadside encouragement really helped. The final stretch round the football pitch to the finish line was great. I could see the pacers finishing some way ahead of me, but didn’t dare look at my watch until I crossed the line… when I was astonished to find that I’d somehow still managed to sneak in just under 1:50 at 1:49:48! I was chuffed to bits, as I hadn’t planned or expected to do that at all. I was completely cream crackered though, but not too tired to go and thank Barry and Mat, as I certainly wouldn’t have run as fast as I did without their help. The race swag was pretty good; a t-shirt and a trainer-shaped medal, plus a goody bag with crisps, Haribo and a Penguin – oh, and the cake of course! After collecting all this I went and sat on the grass for a while, ate my crisps and did a bit of stretching with a big smile on my face! I was amazed to find out later that I’d come 8th in the V50 women’s category. Perhaps there were only eight V50 women there!

The very cool medal

The very cool medal

I really would recommend the North Lincs Half to anyone. There were runners of all abilities there, and the organisation and communication were great. The course is really PB-friendly, and obviously the pacers are a Godsend! There’s also a family fun run as part of the occasion. Perhaps best of all, it only costs about half as much to enter as the Leeds Half the week before. Getting away at the end was smooth too, with no traffic hold-ups. A top event all round!

So now I’ve ticked off one of my major goals for the year four months early what’s next? I feel I need to officially re-establish my sub 4 marathon status after the Manchester fiasco, so the Yorkshire Marathon in October is probably my main goal. I’d also love to do a sub 50 minute 10K, but I’m not sure that’s possible. Still, never say never!

Lincs T-Shirt

Race Review – Racebest Vale of York 10 2016

When I heard about the new Vale of York 10 (miles rather than kilometres) I just knew I had to enter. Not only was it being held a mere three miles from where I live, I knew it would also be a great training exercise for the North Lincs Half four weeks later. The event was being organised by Racebest. I’d done their Vale of York Half when it was held for the first time in 2014 (you can read my review of that here) and really enjoyed it, so things looked promising.

The VoY 10 started and finished at an airfield at Rufforth, a village west of York. The VoY Half has a similar venue at Sherburn airfield. When you think about it, an airfield is a great place to hold a running event – loads of flat, open space! There was plenty of parking, and by sheer chance I ended up parked virtually next to the start line, which was very handy. Race numbers weren’t posted out in advance, but sign-on was very quick and efficient. Safety pins were included in the race packs too, which was good as it’s probably easy to forget them if you haven’t received a number in advance. There were plenty of toilets in the sign-on area – a bit of queuing, but nothing too long. Everything was very close together, with a nice relaxed atmosphere.

VoY Start

 

The weather couldn’t have been better; cold but sunny with hardly any wind. As we stood on the start line I regretted wearing gloves and wondered whether I had time to go back to the car and leave them. I decided I hadn’t. In the end the start was delayed by a few minutes, so I probably could have done. I’m not sure why we were late starting – a tannoy announcement was made, but nobody could tell what was being said! Anyway, suddenly a hooter sounded and we were off. The first mile or so consists of an out and back stretch along the airfield, which is quite good as you can see all the super-fast folk speeding off in the opposite direction. Speaking of super-fast (for me), I clocked my first mile at just a couple of seconds over eight minutes, then told myself “Don’t be ridiculous, this isn’t sustainable!” and slowed down to aim for a pace of about 8:30.

We emerged from the airfield onto the public road at about 1.5 miles. It was at around this point that I decided my hands were boiling and the gloves had to come off, so I stuffed one up each sleeve! The route has closed roads all the way round, which is great, and is very rural, passing through a couple of villages along the way. I’m more used to cycling round these roads, and it did feel a bit odd to be running on them instead! But it’s a lovely, scenic route with some undulations to keep things interesting, and on such a clear day there were great long distance views at the high points. There wasn’t much in the way of crowd support apart from at the start and finish, but the lovely countryside more than made up for that.

VoY Runners

At one point, between the villages of Catterton and Bilbrough, a horsebox appeared on the course from somewhere, driving through the runners. It was too far ahead to be a problem for me, but I can see that it might have bothered some of the runners further in front. I guess there’s always someone who thinks the closed road doesn’t apply to them! Fortunately it turned off our route after a while. There were water points at 3.5 and 7.5 miles, and the marshals all along the route were brilliant. I believe many of them came from St Theresa’s Athletics Club in Leeds, so big thanks to them for their support. As I was approaching this as a half marathon training exercise I was satisfied with my finishing time of 1:25:50. This was about a minute faster than when I did the Snake Lane 10 in February, but about a minute slower than my ten mile PB achieved at last year’s Snake. After all the marathon training I’ve done I definitely need to do more half marathon-type speed work! But I’m still grateful just to be injury-free so far this year.

VoY Finish

There was a great goody bag at the end, containing a medal, t-shirt, High 5 energy gel, water and a Toffee Crisp. The medal and t-shirt are certainly a bit different from the norm – I’ve never had a race memento with a glider on it before! I didn’t hang around too long at the finish as I was a bit sweaty and cold. It took me a few minutes of queuing to get off the site and onto the road. Others who left later told me it took them about 15 minutes, but that’s no great hardship for such a good event, especially when you have a Toffee Crisp with you!

VoY T-Shirt

All in all this was a great event that I’d highly recommend. There were certainly a lot of very fast club runners there, but also many less speedy folk such as myself, with some people finishing at over two hours. I believe the Vale of York Half is on 11th September this year – I’ll certainly be entering!

VoY Medal

 

Race Review – Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris 2016

First things first; I didn’t travel to Paris expecting to set the course on fire. Due to my hamstring tendon injury I hadn’t taken part in a marathon for a year and had done hardly any running at all between June and Christmas, so had taken things really cautiously this time by following a beginner’s training plan. Obviously when I got my PB at Manchester last year I was a lot fitter, having followed a specific Asics sub four hour plan. This time my aim was just to complete 26.2 miles (or 42.1 kilometres!) without my injury flaring up. Steve and I decided to make a long weekend minibreak of it, and I’d booked a studio apartment that was a convenient 5-10 minute walk from the marathon start and finish areas.

I registered at the Salon du Running on the Friday morning – a good time to go as it was fairly quiet. This was all very efficient, and participants were given a very cool souvenir nylon rucksack. I’d also registered for the Saturday breakfast run, which cost €10 but included a really nice Asics technical t-shirt and a tiny flag of your nation to carry, which I thought was a nice touch.

Signing on!

Signing on!

The breakfast run was at 9am on the Saturday morning, starting where the marathon finishes on Avenue Foch near the Arc de Triomphe. The sight of hundreds of runners all in the same t-shirt was certainly quite impressive! The atmosphere was really relaxed and friendly, and the tiny flags made it easy to spot fellow Brits, so I got chatting to a lovely woman called Ruth from Cirencester as we jogged along. The 5K route passed by the Eiffel Tower and finished on the nearby Champ de Mars, where an ample supply of coffee, croissants, bananas and water awaited. Carb loading was obviously no hardship in a country famed for its pastry and I probably consumed my own weight in boulangerie produce over the course of the weekend!

Flying the flag for Yorkshire at the breakfast run!

Flying the flag for Yorkshire at the breakfast run!

Obviously I’d been keeping a close eye on the weather forecast. Friday and Saturday were actually pretty cold, and it was hard to believe that Sunday was predicted to be sunny and up to 20 degrees! But sure enough, it dawned bright and clear, and already felt a lot warmer than the previous two days when I set off for the start at 8.30 am. I was in the 3:45 – 4:00 pen, as I’d been on better form when I’d signed up a year ago. Lining up on the Champs Elysées was quite a Thing in itself, with the Arc de Triomphe framed by a bright blue sky behind us and one of the most beautiful streets in the world stretching ahead.

Paris Marathon Start

 

Despite not having any performance expectations before the event I obviously couldn’t resist setting off at around four hour pace, i.e. nine minute miles. The course (which you can see here) curved around the Place de la Concorde and headed down the very long, straight Rue de Rivoli towards the Place de la Bastille. It then made its way out towards the huge Bois de Vincennes on the eastern edge of the city. There were refreshment points every five kilometres with Vittel water, oranges, bananas, raisins and sugar cubes. I always think oranges are a bad idea as most people are seemingly too dumb to throw their rubbish to the side of the road, so the discarded skins just create a lethal slippery carpet, but there we go – they seem very popular in Europe!

Runners got a split time every 5K and could be tracked live via the Paris Marathon app. I’ve participated in other events where this hasn’t worked very well, but I know it did this time as my brother was stalking me from the UK! I set off really well and felt very comfortable, going through halfway in 2:01. I knew I wasn’t going to break four hours this time, but it didn’t bother me. However, in the second half I did begin to slow down. I think this was a combination of the heat, being a bit less fit than usual and needing a loo stop. Full sun had been beating down on us from the start, and as time went on many people seemed to be struggling with the heat. The firemen of Paris did their best to help, pointing their hoses over the road in various places to provide a fine, cooling spray, and there were also some sponge stations along the way but it was still hard work. It was great to see Steve popping up a couple of times en route with words of encouragement to keep me going!

The course went through two tunnels by the river, where my Garmin lost signal both times, but picked it up again a few minutes after coming out the other end. There were obviously some great sights to see as we went back through the city and out towards the Bois de Boulogne. It’s hard to beat running past the Eiffel Tower as a means of distracting your thoughts from tired legs! Crowd support was brilIiant too, with lots of bands along the route. But I found the last 10K very tough and gradually started to fade. In the last mile or so I actually thought my calves were going to cramp up and had to stop for a little stretch. I’m not sure if this was caused by dehydration or lack of fitness – probably a bit of both. Anyway, much as I’d enjoyed the event I was very glad to finish!

Swag

Top quality swag!

We were funnelled through the (extremely long) finishing area and received a t-shirt, rain cape and a huge, heavy medal! As I went to get a banana I got chatting to a chap from Doncaster who said he’d suffered horribly in the heat too – his marathon PB was apparently 3:43, but today he’d come in at around the same time as me at 4:16. My slowest marathon ever! However, it wasn’t all bad news – I came about halfway down the field, both overall and by gender, and 342nd out of 1,563 in my age category – which just goes to show everyone must have been finding it just as hard!

The bling!

The bling!

Would I do it again? Probably not, because there are so many other marathons to try, but I am glad I did it. It’s a beautiful event with a great atmosphere, but a northern lass like me obviously performs better in the familiar cold of Manchester!

Paris Marathon Finish

My top tips if you’re considering Paris.

Bear in mind that you usually have to provide a medical certificate for French sporting events, stating that you are fit to participate; this is essential for the marathon. Some GPs will provide these for free, some make a nominal charge and some make you have a full private medical that costs a fortune; something you may want to check out before you make your decision.

Enter as early as you can, because prices go up as time goes on. Unlike London or Berlin there’s no ballot, but the event does sell out.

It’s not a great course if you’re attempting a PB. There are some undulations, and in some places the route was quite narrow and crowded. If you want to go European, Berlin is much better for this.

Allow plenty of time if you’re dropping a bag, as the baggage area is quite a walk from the start.

There are lots of toilets around the Place Charles de Gaulle (where the Arc de Triomphe is) but not many in the starting pens, so pay that vital last minute visit to the loo at the top of the road!

There were no sports energy products along the course apart from a small cup of Isostar drink at around 30K (I think!), so make sure you bring your own if you want them.

Take sunscreen!

I do think accommodation was much better value than you’d pay in London during the marathon. The apartment we stayed in is here if anyone wants to check it out.

Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any Paris-related questions!

 

 

Holland & Barrett Flagship Store Opens in York

Last week I was invited to the opening of the new Holland & Barrett flagship concept store in York. I was working that day, so was unfortunately only able to pop in for a short time, but it certainly seems impressive! It’s a vast improvement on the old store which, although not very far away, was bursting at the seams and sometimes difficult to get round.

Holland  Barrett More York opening 3 03 16

 

This bright and airy new outlet is one of the largest in H&B’s portfolio, and is certainly the biggest health food shop I’ve ever seen! It stocks a much wider range of products than the old store, and it was good to see lots of healthy foods, some lovely ethical beauty brands and a great variety of sports nutrition products (although not my favourite Clif Shot Bloks!). Everything is on Buy One, Get One Half Price at the moment, so I duly stocked up on magnesium and iron to support my marathon training.

Healthy Pic n Mix

 

There are some novel concepts within the store such as an olive bar, a fruit/nut ‘pick and mix’ station and a bar where you can create your own protein shake to take away. You can also have a body analysis test to help you decide on health and fitness goals, and there are lots of qualified staff on hand to assist.

Body composition area

Sadly I didn’t have time to take advantage of the pampering treats on offer, but I will definitely be back soon for a proper mooch about when I have more time. It’s a great addition to York’s retail scene and well worth a visit.