I knew the Hardmoors White Horse Marathon was going to be tough. I’d done a couple of their half marathons (you can read my reviews of Saltburn here and Wainstones here), and they were pretty hard – as the name suggests! But that’s kind of the point of these events. For the uninitiated, Hardmoors runs take place in the area covering the North York Moors and the adjoining coastline, and are organised by the awesome couple Jon and Shirley Steele. Each event in the Hardmoors marathon series includes a 10K, a half and a full marathon – although distances are always a bit more than the standard. They’re really popular and sell out fast. Hardmoors also put on some pretty awesome ultra events of up to 200 miles. The Hardmoors mantra is basically Suffering = Fun, which pretty much tells you all you need to know! I thought doing a couple of these marathons at a steady pace would be good training for Snowdonia in October.
The White Horse starts and finishes at the visitor centre at the top of Sutton Bank; from here you can see all the way across to the Yorkshire Dales, a view that vet, author and local legend James Herriot described as ‘the finest in England’. The weather was a bit misty as I drove across from York in the early morning, but forecast to brighten up later. There was plenty of parking when I arrived and no queues at either registration or the loos. There is a mandatory kit list for these events, and your kit is checked before you can pick up your race number. As this was a daytime event in fine weather, the only kit required was a waterproof, a map of the course, a phone and the means to carry some drink. I also took arm warmers, a spare pair of socks, some plasters and a couple of gels just in case. I had a bit of a shoe dilemma beforehand; I thought if I wore my minimal Inov-8 trail shoes my dodgy ankle tendon might kick off, so took a chance with my Hoka road shoes as the weather had been dry for the whole week before the race.
About 120 runners lined up for the marathon. My main aim for the day was just to get round and hopefully not be last! The course is about 28 miles long. Does that make it technically an ultra?! I had no idea how long it would take me, but hoped maybe about six hours. After a race briefing from Jon we set off at 9 am (the half started at 10 and the 10K at 10.30). The mist was clearing a bit and we were nice and high up – but the route starts with a pretty much immediate steep descent down from the Cleveland Way to run around Gormire Lake and then climb (i.e. walk) straight back up again. So your legs have had a good test before you even really get started! Luckily the next few miles are gently undulating and really runnable. After about five miles we turned off the Cleveland Way and set out over the moors. You can check out the route map here.
Hardmoors events are a bit low tech. There’s no chip timing, but old school checkpoints, where your number is noted by a marshal as you pass through. These are all manned by lovely people who are mostly Hardmoors runners themselves, with water, coke, snacks and sweets available. I was helped along by some very good homemade flapjack and a fair few jelly babies!
The first half included a couple of big climbs that really tested most of us. My descending (never my greatest skill!) was slightly compromised by being in road shoes, but overall I think I made the right shoe choice. However, after about ten miles I began to feel my shoes pressing slightly on the inside of the balls of my feet. I’d no idea why, as I’ve worn them for over four hours on the road before with no discomfort. So at one of the checkpoints I stopped and changed socks to see if it would help.
The real beast of the day was a climb called Hawnby Ridge, which seemed to go on forever. The sun had come out by then and it was really warm. As I hauled myself upwards, sweat was literally running down my face and into my eyes. But the view at the top was spectacular. We ran along the ridge for a bit, then descended to a checkpoint that was almost at the halfway point. A few of us missed the path here and ended up wading through heather, but soon got back on track. Fortunately navigation at Hardmoors events is quite easy, with yellow tape at strategic points to show the way and marshals at significant points. Just as well, as my sense of direction isn’t up to much!
My feet were still bothering me, so I stopped again and put some plaster on them, which seemed to do the trick. I got to halfway in about three hours ten minutes, so realised this was going to take a bit longer than anticipated! A couple of miles after this there was a really long drag on the road up out of the village of Hawnby. My husband Steve was cycling out from home to see me a couple of miles from the end of the route, so I rang him and said I’d probably be later than we’d planned to meet! I ploughed on up the hill, jogging as much as I could, but it was hard work in the heat. Luckily after this there were quite a few miles that were easier going, so I managed to run most of that. There was just one more climb after the village of Rievaulx, not far from the finish, then I saw Steve in Cold Kirby, which gave me a nice boost. From there it was just a couple of miles over fields and through some woods to the finish. And boy, was I glad to finish! I did enjoy it though. At the end we all received a really cool technical t-shirt and a nice piece of bling. More snacks and drinks were also on hand.
I finally sneaked in just under six and a half hours. At first I didn’t think I’d done very well, but when the results came out a couple of days later (low tech, remember!) I turned out to be 64th out of 116 finishers overall and second FV50, so I’m happy with that. I can highly recommend the White Horse if you like a testing trail run; although don’t expect to see the actual famous White Horse of Kilburn en route!
The good news is that the White Horse actually has more ascent at 1,220 metres (just under 4,000 feet in old money) than Snowdonia, so I now know that I’ll at least be able to get round that one! It was certainly a brilliant training exercise – although my quads still feel like they’ve been run over by a train three days later! It was well worth it though. I’ve also entered the Hardmoors Rosedale Marathon in August, but luckily that only has about half the ascent of the White Horse – a mere walk in the park in comparison!
I recently decided that I have two goals for the autumn; to have a last attempt at a sub 50 10K, and the Snowdonia Marathon. The first is because I figure if I don’t have a proper crack at sub 50 now it will be too late because I’ll be too old. The second is because I’ve heard such good things about Snowdonia that I decided to do that instead of an autumn road marathon. Besides, I’ve started to find road marathons a bit boring and have also realised that many hours of pounding on Tarmac doesn’t do my dodgy hamstring tendon any good. So I’ve decided that to prepare for these two goals I need to run more 10Ks and lots of hills; the Top of the Wolds Challenge seemed a good way to do both at the same time! I love the Yorkshire Wolds Way, and did quite a bit of my Race to the Stones training there last year.
Organised by the Yorkshire Wolds Runners, this race starts and finishes at a village called Warter and is basically a tour of Nunburnholme Wold. It’s a fairly bijou affair and has only about 300 places available. With a very civilised starting time of 10 am, I left home in York at 8.30 and got there with plenty of time to spare. Number pick-up was on the day, and signing on at race HQ, Warter Community Centre, was very efficient. There was ample parking on the field next door, and plenty of toilets, some in the hall and some temporary ones outside. I paid a visit, warmed up, then went to the loo again just because I could. I must admit when I entered I didn’t realise how seriously people take this race and, looking round, realised I should probably have worn my club vest. We were started by the town crier of Pocklington, which was a novel touch!
The route is a mixture of road and trail. I’d plumped for road shoes, as there didn’t seem to be any technical terrain on the route map, and that worked out fine. The first couple of miles were on undulating Tarmac – a couple of inclines, but nothing too testing. Then we got to The Hill. Nunburnholme Hill is what this race is all about really – I think that’s why it’s called a Challenge rather than just a 10K! It goes on for about a mile (although it feels more like about three when you’re going up it) and is quite steep in places. After a while everyone runs out of steam and adopts a walk/jog approach for the rest of the climb. I say everyone – I’m sure there were some super fit types at the head of the field who ran all the way up, but nobody in the middle of the pack with me! Luckily there were some motivational signs like this to help us along.
The weather certainly wasn’t helping us – so warm and humid, I was actually wishing for a bit of rain before I got to the top. In typically cruel fashion, the race photographer, Tom Flynn, was lying in wait at the top of the hill and captured my best tomato face! The view was spectacular though.
Fortunately what goes up must come down, and the overall trajectory for the second half of the race was downhill. It also involved a lovely bit of trail, through some woods and across some fields, with two water points en route.
There was a final vicious little uphill as we came back into the village, then ran round a field to the finish, by which time I was a proper sweaty mess. I really had no idea how long this race would take me, but was very happy to squeak in just under the hour at 59:06; 151st overall and 16th out of 48 in the F45 category – another event where there is a V50 category for men but not for women. Why?!
After crossing the line we were given a fab medal and a ticket for some tea and cake in the community centre. I think the cake was provided by a local deli, and it was fantastic!
Overall this event was brilliant – excellent value, well organised and marshalled by lots of lovely, friendly people. I’d definitely do it again. Also great training for my next event this weekend – my first Hardmoors marathon, the White Horse. Eek!
Now that the feat of endurance that was the London Marathon is just a distant memory I’ve had some time to think about the running I’ll be doing over the summer. I have both road and trail action lined up and I’m really looking forward to it!
A big step for me this spring was finally joining a club, York Knavesmire Harriers, after nearly ten years of running. I did this mainly because I want to improve my 10K time this year if possible – more on this in a later post. I reasoned that the only way to get better at running 10Ks is to do more of them, and joining the Harriers allows me to participate in the York & District Summer Road Race League, which consists of a 10K race once a fortnight from May to July. I’ve done two races so far and, although I get surprisingly nervous beforehand, I’ve really enjoyed them. I’m some way off my PB at the moment, but I’m determined to see if I can break 50 minutes before the end of the year. We’ll see!
I’ve really grown to love trail running over the last couple of years, and took part in my first Hardmoors event last year, the Wainstones Half. I also did the Saltburn Half in February. Both tough but fab events! So I’ve gone a step further and entered two Hardmoors marathons this year; the White Horse in June and Rosedale in August. The White Horse is less than three weeks away now, so last weekend I did the Ravenscar Half to get some hills in my legs, and at the beginning of June I have the Top of the Wolds 10K for some more. My aim for the White Horse: finish in one piece!
In July we’re hoping to go on holiday to the Alps in our camper van for a bit of trail running, cycling and Tour de France watching. Always a great opportunity to get some big hills in the legs, alongside the patisserie and wine! Hopefully this will prepare me for Rosedale. There are a few great running events going on close to home when I’ll be away, like the Yorkshire Wolds Half; but hey, you can’t do everything – unfortunately!
The Hardmoors marathons are a major part of my preparation for my autumn marathon, Snowdonia in October. I’ve heard such good things about this event I couldn’t resist entering, so I’m doing that instead of a road marathon. To be honest I’m struggling a bit to feel the love for road marathons these days, increasingly finding them a bit boring and very hard work; although having said that I am very tempted to enter the ballot for next year’s Tokyo Marathon. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan and love a runcation! And then I want to have my last go at that sub 50 10K at the Leeds Abbey Dash in November because it’s a great PB course.
And just for a bit of fun, me and a few friends are doing a Wine Dash in June. It’s a 5K event in aid of a local hospice, set in a local vineyard with ‘refreshment’ stops on the way round. Running under the influence will definitely be a first anyway!
What are your summer running plans? I’d love to hear about them.
How much water do you drink? I’m guessing more than the average Joe/Jo, because if you’re reading this you’re probably a healthy(ish) sort. Do you drink bottled water? Or are you (like my Other Half) the sort of person who thinks all water is basically the same, so why pay for something that’s no different/better than what Yorkshire Water sends out of our taps?
Personally I like to drink at least a couple of pints of water every day in addition to any other drinks I have – which are, admittedly, mostly coffee and tea. I find I start to feel a bit tired and headachey by lunchtime if I don’t. I generally drink tap water at home. At work we have a fancy thing that does either boiling or filtered chilled water, which is fine. But I like some mineral waters and I do buy them occasionally. I use cheap Morrison’s Yorkshire Vale water to make a fizzy drink with fruit juice. I love Evian, but usually only drink it when I’m on holiday in France, where it’s much cheaper than the UK. If I need a still, bottled water in this country I choose Harrogate Spring Water if I can because it’s local (and nice) And I like to drink Badoit, which has a slightly savoury tang, with a nice meal if I’m not having wine. My OH thinks Badoit tastes “like farts”, but each to their own! Then again, Vichy water, which many French people swear by for its health properties, is a salty step too far even for me. So when I was sent some new Aqua Carpatica to try I was interested to see how it compared to waters I’m familiar with. Because when you start to dig down into the detail, all waters are not created equal by any means – it’s the varying mineral content of the different waters that makes some taste sweet and others like farts!
Aqua Carpatica comes from the Carpathain mountains in Romania, a rugged and romantic forest landscape full of wolves and bears – proper fairly tale stuff! It’s produced by many years of volcanic action, much like other popular waters such as Evian and Volvic. So far, so standard. But the USP of Aqua Carpatica is that it’s extremely low in sodium and nitrates, both of which are issues for some people. Personally I don’t worry too much about sodium as I have low blood pressure, but obviously if you’ve been advised to follow a low sodium diet you wouldn’t want to drink water that contains lots of it. And if you’re concerned about environmental toxins you presumably don’t want to be consuming nitrates. So from that point of view Aqua Carpatica has a lot going for it.
This stuff certainly tastes good; very clean and sweet – much like Evian in fact. And it comes in a very cool square bottle, which wouldn’t look out of place at a dinner party or in a fancy restaurant. However, I was interested to see how Aqua Carpatica’s mineral content (mg per litre) stacked up against my usual waters, so did a little comparison.
I’d never bothered doing this in any detail before and found it quite interesting. I got the analysis of my tap water by simply typing my postcode into the Yorkshire Water website – you may be able to do the same with your water provider. It seems that different waters are good for different things – depending on what you’re looking for!
So how do the scores stack up? Personally I Iike a water that has a good 2:1 balance of calcium and magnesium – hence my preference for Harrogate and Badoit. Aqua Carpatica has a lot of calcium in it, which I guess may appeal to some people. The still version apparently has the lowest sodium level of any bottled water. My cheapo Yorkshire Vale doesn’t have much calcium or magnesium in it – but it’s also low in sodum and nitrates. The tap water certainly has the highest level of nitrates, whilst Aqua Carpatica obviously has the lowest. Incidentally, you can’t remove nitrates from tap water by using a simple jug filter such as a Brita; you need a fancy reverse osmosis system to do that.
I haven’t drawn any major conclusion here, apart from it’s probably worth looking into the composition of any water you’re drinking to see what’s in it; and if you’re looking for a low sodium option Aqua Carpatica seems like a good bet. If you’re interested in trying it, it’s available at Tesco and Ocado.
What do you think about water? I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on how much you drink, what type and why.
I must admit, I wasn’t the best prepared I’d ever been for the London Marathon. Injured for the second half of last year, and only starting proper running again in January, I was a long way off being fully fit. Then, a couple of weeks before London, I developed a horrible cold. I didn’t run for ten days before the marathon, and even considered deferring. But as it turned out, I don’t think anything short of a Kenyan training camp could have prepared us all for the conditions on the day anyway!
I travelled down from York on Saturday and went straight to the expo to sign on; a feat of endurance almost as challenging as the marathon itself! It’s a long, energy-sapping walk in a mass of people from the station to the bib pick-up and back. I didn’t spend much time looking around the stands as I didn’t want to be on my feet for ages. The weather was really warm, and with the forecast for Sunday the same I focussed on keeping well hydrated all day, drinking lots of water and High 5 Zero, as well as adding some salt to my food. After a pasta dinner in a restaurant near my hotel I got an earlyish night and actually managed to sleep quite well.
When I ran London last year I stayed in a hotel near Cannon Street railway station, jumped straight onto a train at 8 am and was at Maze Hill in no time. This year I was near Kings Cross, so the journey took longer. I had to take a tube from there to London Bridge, then transfer to a train. This took ages! There was a massive crush of people at London Bridge, with trains only about every 15 minutes. In the end I didn’t get to the Green start area until about 9.30. If I ever run London again I’ll definitely revert to the Cannon Street option! Luckily I didn’t have a bag to drop, so got straight into the toilet queue. It took me about 20 minutes to get to the front, by which time people were mostly in the starting pens. I had no time for a proper warm-up; I tried to do a few exercises in the queue, but it wasn’t ideal.
The Queen set us off bang on time at 10. The Green start is much smaller than the Red or Blue, so you’re over the line in just a few minutes. The weather was already warm, with the full sun blazing down and not a cloud in the sky. I was sweating in no time! I knew it wasn’t going to be a day for a PB, and was fine with that, but set off at my usual nine minute mile pace just to see how it felt. After the first 5K it became clear that wasn’t going to be sustainable in the heat, so I backed off a bit, figuring I’d be happy with anything under 4:30 on a day like this.
I’d never run a marathon in hot weather before, and found it hard to put a finger on exactly how or why running seemed much harder in the heat. Nothing really hurt, everything just felt like a massive effort. I was drinking and pouring water over my head at every water station, but the cooling effect didn’t seem to last long. As I took my first gel at an hour in, I realised I’d lost one somehow, so had to reassess my nutrition plan – not the biggest deal as it turned out, as my whole race plan went belly up anyway! I’m sure it felt the same for everyone; we’d all trained for months in the freezing cold and were then presented with what turned out to be the hottest London Marathon day ever! The air temperature rose to 24 degrees, but the crowds and the heat rising off the Tarmac made it seem like more.
I went through my roughest patch just before halfway. If there had been a car for me to stop and climb into I would have been really tempted! At ten miles I saw a man lying on a stretcher at the side of the road and realised pace didn’t matter any more because I didn’t want to end up like that; it was just a question of getting to the end and trying to enjoy it. The one benefit of the good weather was that it brought out loads of spectators. I was amazed by the numbers last year, but this year was just insane – there were huge crowds and a total wall of noise pretty much all the way round the course. This really does give you a boost, especially the points with bands or music, like the amazing Run Dem Crew and Run Mummy Run areas, as well as the many lovely local people giving out sweets, fruit and even ice pops. The downside to the chaos was that I had absolutely no chance of spotting Steve at Canary Wharf!
As the miles progressed, just putting one foot in front of another and keeping going turned into a massive challenge. I was literally jogging between water stations, then walking through them, then trying to get going again. I did enjoy it in a way, but was also very glad when it was over! As I turned into the Mall I could see Kathrine Switzer being interviewed on the big screen and suddenly wondered whether she was at the finish line. To my amazement, she was! I couldn’t believe it when I came face-to-face with one of my idols. Kathrine looked immaculate, and not at all as if she’d just run 26 miles in blazing heat. Exhausted as I was, I certainly wasn’t going to miss the chance to speak to a living running legend. I approached Kathrine when her interview was finished. All I could think of to say in my heat-fuddled state was “Thank you for making this possible for all women”. Kathrine was so lovely, it totally made my day. Unfortunately I didn’t have my phone with me, so there’s no celebrity selfie! I actually felt quite emotional at the time – I think partly because I was overawed to meet Kathrine, and partly sheer relief that I’d finished running!
Initially I was really disappointed with my time. I’d normally expect to take about four hours to complete a marathon, but eventually finished in 4:46. However, when I caught up with friends who’d also taken part, I realised that everyone had performed way below their best. Having trained for months in the freezing cold, we just weren’t prepared for what turned out to be the hottest London Marathon ever. Obviously the sad death of Matt Campbell has since overshadowed pretty much anything else to do with the day. When I thought about it later on, I came to the conclusion that everyone who’d managed to keep going and just finish will have become mentally stronger because of it; something we can all take into future events.
Did you run London last week? If so, how was it for you? I’d love to know.
I recently reviewed some Decathlon running and yoga gear and was pleasantly surprised by the quality it offered at a relatively low price compared to some of the bigger sports brands. Now Decathlon has offered me the opportunity to give away a pair of shoes as a competition prize.
Decathlon’s latest media campaign focuses on how people get fit, so to enter this competition they want to see how you get fit! Just post on Twitter or Instagram to let everyone know, tagging me (Twitter @ilovelivingwell or Insta @lovelivingwell) and using the hashtags #decathlon and #howigetfit. Do feel free to add any photos or videos you like! The winner will be selected on May 7th and can choose any pair of Decathlon Kalenji running shoes as their prize. You can check out the range here.
You’ve got two weeks to enter, so get creative with your social media to impress the folks at Decathlon.
I look forward to seeing your posts!
When I talk to people about physical activity – in both work and personal capacities – lots of them tell me they either don’t have time to exercise or can’t afford to. So when I was asked by Decathlon to review some of their sportswear and blog about how to exercise at home, it seemed like a great chance to offer a few tips for busy and/or cash-strapped people who’d like to get a bit fitter.
It may come as a surprise to hear that – wait for it – I have never been to a gym! The main reason is probably that I’m just not organised enough. But I also think it can be quite expensive and time-consuming. There’s the membership fee for a start; and by the time you’ve got in the car, driven there, done a session and driven back that’s probably about two hours of your day taken care of. One of the many reasons I love running is that it’s a very simple sport and you don’t need to go anywhere special to do it – you just get changed and go! So it’s the ideal cardio exercise to do from home. I often run past a gym where I live, and on beautiful, sunny days I see people running indoors on treadmills. I wonder why they pay to do that when they could be outside in the fresh air! Of course if the weather is bad it’s a tempting option, but if you’re properly kitted out with a decent running jacket and hat there isn’t much weather that can stop you. And it’s free!
“Aha!” you may say, “but running isn’t free – you need expensive shoes and clothes”. Not so! Obviously it’s possible to spend a fortune on fancy sports kit, but you certainly don’t have to. I’ve been really surprised at the quality of Decathlon’s Kalenji running range, and the prices represent amazing value. I have a couple of French running friends who’ve been using Decathlon stuff for years and rate it very highly. So don’t feel you have to go top end to buy gear that does the job! The jacket I’m wearing in these pics is really cool; a fab, bright colour, with some great features like a ventilation flap across the top of the back. The tights are a nice snug fit, made of very soft, breathable material with ventilation panels down the side and have a handy key pocket on the leg.
This base layer is super-warm. With its thumb holes and high neck it’s perfect for winter trail running. It would also be great for winter cycling or walking. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of use out of it!
Sometimes I run to work, which is a great way to build exercise into your day if you’re short of time. It’s only a couple of miles, so I often take a longer route home to fit in a few more. I realise I’m very lucky to have showers and a drying room where I work, but it’s also amazing what you can achieve with a few wet wipes, some deodorant and a pony tail! Cycling or walking can be less sweaty options. If your workplace is far away, try taking the bus or train instead of driving, getting off a few stops early and running or walking the rest of the way. Every little helps, and you might save some bus/train fare too. Active commuting does require a bit of organisation – ensuring you’ve got things like work clothes and shoes where you need them – but it’s an easy way to make exercise part of your regular routine. When you exercise early in the morning you can also feel smug for the rest of the day!
But what if you find it hard to leave the house to exercise? For example, if you have young children and no childcare? It can be difficult to get outside if that’s the case. I know a couple of mums who swap childcare sessions so they can go running – one looks after the kids while the other goes out and vice versa. Or you could consider getting a treadmill. Yes, they can be expensive, but there are often second hand bargains available from people who bought them with good intentions but then gave up – that’s how I got mine, although I only use it as a last resort! Or why not go halves with a nearby friend? If that’s not an option, there are lots of fitness sessions available online that you can take part in at home. Just Google ‘exercise at home’ and loads of options pop up! The NHS and BBC Get Inspired websites both have great short workouts that are the perfect introduction to exercising at home, and you don’t need any special equipment to do them; just a bit of space and some comfy clothes. Why not get a couple of friends round, do it together and have a coffee or healthy juice and a chat afterwards? Or you could simply go for a brisk group walk – with babies in pushchairs if needs be! Much cheaper and more sociable than the gym.
I love going to yoga as a complement to running, but if I can’t get to my favourite vinyasa flow class at York Yoga Studio I try to do a training session at home; usually a combination of some yoga, strength work and stretching. I’m not very good at yoga, but I do love it!
Decathlon also sent me some of their Domyos yoga wear to try. It’s really comfortable and colourful – perfect for this kind of activity – and much of the range is made from super-soft organic cotton. I was very impressed by these breathable yoga leggings, which have clearly been well thought through in the design. The material is really soft and doesn’t go see though when you bend over. There’s a nice high waistband (essential for yoga) with a tiny key pocket, plus a seamless crotch. I love the colour too. Best of all, they only cost £19.99! You’d usually pay much more for this level of quality. The vest is really light and airy – great for a dynamic flow practice – and the t-shirt is so soft and stylish I’d happily use it as normal leisure wear.
I’m not saying nobody should ever go to the gym – far from it! I’m sure there are lots of people who attend regularly and get good value from their membership. But for anyone with little time or money, it’s good to know that you can go a long way to keeping yourself fit without leaving home or spending lots of cash.
Do you have any top fitness tips for saving time and money? I’d love to know.
Ooh, there’s less than a month to go now til the London Marathon. Are you excited? Nervous? Terrified? Any (or indeed all) of those three are acceptable and quite understandable. I ran London for the first time last year. It was my ninth marathon and, although never terrified, I did alternate between excited and nervous in the run-up. After several unsuccessful ballot applications I’d worked really hard to get my Good For Age place, and I think I was worried I wouldn’t do it justice on the day. I really wanted to get another sub 4, but in the end I didn’t quite make it; you can read how it went here. I thought I’d only do London once, but when I realised my Good For Age was still valid for 2018 I couldn’t resist coming back on unfinished business!
To be honest, running the actual marathon was the least of my concerns as the big day approached last year. I was more worried about transport and logistics. Being a simple northern lass I am unused to the ways of the Big Smoke, so had to plan everything to the nth degree. I find I feel less nervous if I’m well organised. So here are my top tips for the VLM if you’re running it for the first time, and especially if you aren’t a local.
If you need to book transport and accommodation and haven’t done it yet, DO IT NOW! Otherwise there probably won’t be any hotel rooms left. And be prepared to pay upward of £150 for a Travelodge/Premier Inn room that would normally cost about a third of that. That’s just how it is I’m afraid. I must say, when I ran Paris and Berlin accommodation wasn’t the massive rip-off at marathon time that it seems to be in London. If you’re wondering whether to stay near the start or the finish, there’s no perfect solution. My advice would be to stay near a tube or railway station that makes your journey to the start as stress-free as possible. Last year I stayed at a Premier Inn near Cannon Street station, which was perfect. This year I’m going straight back up north afterwards, so I’m staying near Kings Cross, then I can pick up my bags and make a swift getaway when I’ve finished. And, of course, train tickets cost more the closer to travel time you buy them.
You might also want to consider booking somewhere to eat on Saturday evening in advance. Obviously there are no end of restaurants in London, but if you want Italian (for carb loading purposes) near your hotel at a particular time, I say you might as well find one and book it. One less thing to worry about.
You’ll need to pick up your bib number at the race expo at ExCeL before Sunday. This may sound obvious, but someone I know who’s running London for the first time this year recently asked me “When do they post out the numbers?”. They then had to change their train ticket to allow time to get to the expo before it closes on Saturday! So I’m just putting it out there to be on the safe side, because under no circumstances will you be able to pick it up on the day. The earlier in the week you visit, the less busy it will be. And while we’re on the subject of the expo, think very carefully about whether you really need to spend loads of time there looking at stuff, especially if you’re visiting on Saturday. It’s a fair schlep out there to start with, and you really need to be resting your legs as much as possible the day before. It’s great to browse all the lovely, shiny running kit, but think about why you’re there. Same with sightseeing; it’s tempting to do loads of walking around town, especially if you’re there with non-running family/friends, but you really shouldn’t if you want to be at your best on Sunday. Something to consider.
Make sure you know which start area you’re on and plan your journey there before the day itself. Trains and the Tube are free for runners, so it’s the obvious (and quickest) way to travel. And allow plenty of time to get there, as trains can get very crowded and it’s a bit of a walk from the stations to the start areas. When you get there, if you’re dropping a bag do that before you get in the toilet queue. I encountered several people last year who were in the loo queue with their bags when the final baggage call came; it’s quite a while before the start time. They then had to abandon the queue to drop their bags, then get back in it again! Bring an old fleece or jumper that you don’t mind throwing away to keep you warm before the start, then you can drop your bag straight away.
Don’t set off too fast! The whole atmosphere is really exciting, including seeing the elite start on the big screen, so the temptation to go for it like a greyhound is huge. Follow a pacer to keep you on track if it helps. If you don’t rein it in, you’ll really regret it later on. You should get to at least halfway feeling comfortable with your pace.
Don’t drink too much. It’s tempting to keep sipping at a drink when you’re hanging around in the start area just for something to do. From mile three there is a water point at every mile along the course, so there’s no need to overdo it before you set off. Unless it’s a really warm day you might not even need to drink at every station. Otherwise you’ll be slowed down by toilet stops!
People often say at races that ‘the crowd will get you round’. Nowhere is this more true than London! The crowds are huge, noisy and amazing, so there’s a wall of noise all along the course. Some people actually find this a bit oppressive, but I loved it. For this reason, don’t assume you’ll be able to see or hear your supporters en route. Last year my husband said I just ran straight past him at two separate points, even though he was shouting my name, simply because I couldn’t make him out amidst all the stuff going on! But at least there’s plenty to look at when you start to flag.
No matter how tired you are, enjoy that final stretch when you turn right at Buckingham Palace and run towards the finish line along the Mall. I deliberately slowed down last year to try and take it all in. Also: I was knackered! The crowds, the music, the commentary, the flags… it’s a unique experience that you might only have once in a lifetime. Don’t rush it, you’ve earned that big finish!
If you’re meeting people at the end, arrange a specific point to do that. There will be thousands of people milling about in the finish area, so it could take a while to find each other if you’re just randomly seeking each other out. You can’t totally rely on phone contact, as the network often gets overloaded with calls. There is an official meeting point, so make sure in advance you know where you’re going to be. Otherwise you might be like me and the OH the first time I did the Great North Run – wandering round for an hour and a half before you finally find each other!
Do you have any top tips for London? I’d love to hear them. Whatever you do, have a brilliant day!
If you (like me) are following a standard kind of 16-week raining plan for the London Marathon (or indeed any other marathon at around the same time) you’re probably now just into what’s known in running circles as ‘Monster Month’ – the four week period where you do your hardest block of work, before you start to taper. It’s a time when you can build on the previous nine weeks of training to give yourself a bit of a beasting before you start to back off a bit in the three week run-up to the big day.
It’s also a time when you might think either a) “I’m starting to feel really good now” or b) “Why in the wide world of sport did I ever sign up for this?” I’ve done quite a few cycles of marathon training now, and I’ve felt both ways at various points! But I haven’t run a road marathon since London last year, so feeling I’m slightly nervous about this year. I’m not a running expert by any means, but I have learnt that Monster Month is a time when you have to look after yourself if you want to make it to race day feeling on top form. So here are my top tips for surviving it!
Listen to your body and don’t be a complete slave to your training plan. If you pick up a niggle or feel ill, don’t try to push on through just because the plan says you have to run today. Better to take a couple of days off than have to give up completely because you aggravated something by ignoring it. Nobody gets through a whole plan without missing a few sessions – that’s just life.
If you do have a niggle that doesn’t go away after a couple of days, or gets worse when you run, see a physio. They’ll probably be able to help you find a way to manage it if it’s not serious. The longer you leave it and the worse it gets, the harder it will be to deal with.
Look after your immune system. Hard training puts a huge strain on it, and will make you more susceptible to any bugs floating around. I sometimes take an Omega 3 supplement after a long Sunday run for its anti-inflammatory properties. If I feel like I might be coming down with something I take some immune-boosting echinacea. Pay attention to hand hygiene too, which is how most bugs get passed on.
Get plenty of sleep. Sleepy time is when your body can rest and recover from all the stress you’ve put on it in training.
Look after your feet – they deserve a bit of pampering. I absolutely love the Body Shop’s Peppermint Intensive Foot Rescue Cream. And if you have any issues with your shoes, sort them out now – don’t wait til two weeks before the event to get new ones!
Eat well – plenty of protein, good carbs and lots of fruit and veggies. This really will help to fuel your training and recovery. Monster Month isn’t a time to diet, but neither is it an excuse to eat lots of junk, especially if you’re looking to lose a few pounds. Although I do like a bit of cake after my long Sunday run!
Keep booze to a minimum; it makes more difference than you might think, even if you don’t feel hung over. I know from personal experience this can be hard if you have the sort of friends who think it’s weird not to drink alcohol when you go out, but it really is worth it. I find if I drink on Friday and/or Saturday I don’t run as well on Sunday. Although I do like a glass of red with my post-run Sunday dinner. Well it’s got antioxidants, hasn’t it?!
Get a sports massage halfway through the month if you can. Your legs will deserve and appreciate it! And make sure you do plenty of stretching and foam rolling – but not too hard with the roller.
Most of all, enjoy it! I always think an event is as much about the training as the big day itself. Embrace the challenge and be proud of what you’re doing, especially if it’s your first time. Don’t look upon a long run as punishment. Get your tunes going (if you like) and settle in for the ride.
Monster Month is also a great time to experiment with different running fuels. The more I run long distances, the more convinced I am that keeping well fuelled is as important as training to success. Obviously different things work well for different people. Personally I’m happy to eat ‘real’ food in an ultra, when I’m running slowly, but I can’t do that in a faster road marathon. I used to always take Clif Shot Bloks in marathons, but struggled to eat them at London last year, and I think that’s why I slowed down near the end and didn’t quite hit my four hour target. This year I’m planning to take gels, although I’m not sure which ones yet. I like SiS isotonic gels, but find them really difficult to open on the run. Last weekend I tried an OTE gel, which was much easier to open and tasted good, so I might take those – but I’ll try some others in training first. One thing’s for sure, nailing your nutrition will definitely help you to avoid the dreaded Wall!
Do you have any top tips for Monster Month? I’d love to hear them. Good luck with it anyway!
I’m now halfway through my training plan for the London Marathon, so this seems a good time to take stock of where I am with my running at the moment.
After being injured for most of the second half of last year, I’ve only been back to what I’d term ‘proper’ running since I started marathon training on New Year’s Day (appropriately!). I usually follow an Asics Sub 4 plan, which has served me well in the past, and resulted in a sub 4 time twice; but coming back from injury I felt I should be a bit cautious and follow my beginner’s training plan, which is from Women’s Running magazine. However, I have been mixing things up a bit between the two. Possibly not the most scientific way to train, but it gives me options depending on how I’m feeling. I think it’s important to listen to your body when you’ve been injured to avoid a relapse, and bar the odd twinge I seem to be OK so far – fingers firmly crossed!
Despite turbo training, I definitely lost some cardio fitness and put on a few pounds while I was injured, so I’m trying to fix that in the run-up to London. I’ve done a few great events in January and February, which I think have definitely helped me to get a bit fitter and stronger; the Temple Newsam Ten, the Hardmoors Saltburn Half (a killer!) and the Harewood House Half – all hilly courses that I hope are building leg strength as well as fitness. I’m also paying a bit more attention to my diet, cutting out snacks and wine – well mostly anyway!
To help prevent my ankle injury returning as my mileage increases, I’ve invested in some super-cushiony road shoes – Hoka Claytons. They’re very different to my usual Brooks Pure Cadence in that they’re really bouncy, but they have a similarly small drop so have been easy to adapt to. I’ve always been put off maximal shoes in the past as I thought they’d make me look like an ageing Spice Girl(!), but I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised at how light and comfy they feel. Hopefully they’ll serve me well though marathon training and London.
I don’t have any more events on the cards until the end of March, when I’m doing the Daffodil Dash, organised by It’s Grim Up North Running. This is a great event held at Temple Newsam, where you can choose to do up to four laps of the course, with four laps being marathon distance. I’ve taken the 20 mile (three lap) option, as my training plan has a three hour run on it that weekend anyway, so it seemed a great way to do that run off-road in beautiful surroundings with support en route. And last year there was a fab goody bag too!
If you’re training for a spring marathon I hope it’s going well. I’d like to have a crack sub 4 (Good For Age) again at London, especially as I didn’t quite manage it last year, finishing in 4:05; but as I’m not at my best it currently seems a bit optimistic. I guess I’ll just have to see how I feel in a few weeks’ time. Never say never!