Product Review – Soreen Malt Loaf

I have a friend who recently ran his first marathon in under four hours. As someone who’s been chasing the elusive sub 4 for a couple of years now I was a) very jealous and b) eager to know how he’d done it. What training plan did he follow? How did he hydrate and fuel for the race? His answer regarding fuelling surprised me somewhat – buttered malt loaf. “Malt loaf?” I thought. “Running at nine minute mile pace? Is he having a laugh? Did he take a flask of tea too?!” Now I’m not averse to a bit of malt loaf. My dear old Irish nana was a great fan of the stuff, so I was weaned on it as a nipper, and it’s still often my go-to afternoon tea snack of choice (unbuttered) instead of proper fatty cake. I love its squidgy fruitiness, which goes down a treat with a big mug of Yorkshire Tea. But I’d never considered eating it on the run – couldn’t imagine coping with anything other than gels during a marathon.

However, when I recently entered my first ultra I realised I was going to have to suck it up and find some real food I could eat en route, because your stomach can only take so many gels before it starts to rebel. Then by sheer coincidence the lovely people at Soreen sent me a hamper of their wares to test and review. It was a sign – a sign that I should go forth and fuel a long run with its fruity goodness.

The Soreen box of delights contained various types of loaf, as well as a Soreen pen and notebook, plus something that looked like a house brick on legs wearing pants, but which turned out to be a replica of the Soreen Loveable Loaf mascot. It feels a bit like a stress toy, so now I keep it on my computer and squeeze it very hard when I see people on social media running sub 4 marathons.

My husband, who like most cyclists, is a total cake monster, couldn’t get into the box quickly enough. We tested the Orange Fruit Loaf and Apple & Sultana Fruit Loaf, which were both really tasty and made a change from the classic Original. The orange one has a nice tang to it, and the Soreen website recommends having it toasted with chocolate spread. With my love of Nutella this was a must-try and turned out to be divine! The apple one is really nice and cinnamony, great with coffee. However, for my run I stuck to good old Original, wrapping a chunk in greaseproof paper and tucking it into the front of my Camelbak.

 I had a long slow run of 18 miles to do, so thought that would be a good opportunity to test eating on the hoof. The Soreen actually went down really well and I had no digestive repercussions. I’ve since heard that quite a few ultra runners eat malt loaf because they find it gentler on the stomach than ordinary bread, and it gives slow release energy due to the dried fruit and fibre. A tenth of a loaf (a smallish slice) apparently contains about 15g of carbohydrate, so I guess a couple of slices an hour would be enough to keep someone of my size ticking over. Depending on what’s on offer at the Calderdale Way Ultra I’ll certainly consider taking some Soreen with me – possibly the lunchbox loaves, which are conveniently wrapped in small portions. I must say I’d never thought of Soreen as food for athletes before, but it seems to fit the bill nicely.

I would love to know what real foods other people eat on long runs, so please let me know if you have your favourites.

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Introducing Nature’s Sunshine

If you’re reading this chances are that, like me, you’re interested in healthy living and try to eat well most of the time. In an ideal world we’d get all the nutrients we need from our food; but sometimes we aren’t always able to manage that. Busy lifestyles and the occasional need for extra or special nutritional requirements mean that supplements can sometimes be a good idea. For this reason I wanted to track down a good range of supplements and other nutritional products that I could offer to clients – and use myself – if necessary. After much research into different brands I’ve settled on Nature’s Sunshine because I’m satisfied that they are top quality, and they are also organically formulated wherever possible. As well as a range of supplements for everyday nutrition, Nature’s Sunshine also offers a variety of sports and fitness products that may be of use to those of us with an active lifestyle.

People sometimes ask me if I take supplements myself. I obviously prefer to get my nutrition from my diet if possible, but even a healthy diet is rarely perfect, so I occasionally take the following.

  • If I’ve had a day when I haven’t eaten any foods with omega fats, I take an omega supplement.
  • When marathon training I take a magnesium supplement, as this helps with recovery.
  • After a long run I take an antioxidant, as hard training can suppress the immune system.
  • If I feel a cold coming on I take echinacea and vitamin C to help fight it off!

The Nature’s Sunshine range has over a hundred products. Some of the ones I like best are:

I could go on! Of course supplements are never a substitute for healthy eating; but there are time when we need a little extra help. You can browse or buy any of the Nature’s Sunshine products here on my website, and also take a lifestyle test to see which supplements might be of benefit to you personally. Feel free to contact me if you’d like any information or advice.


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Race Review – Snake Lane 10 2015

Last Sunday I was supposed to run 17 miles as part of my marathon training plan – but I’d heard such good things about the Snake Lane 10 I couldn’t resist going a bit off-piste and entering it! Organised by Pocklington Runners, it’s really convenient for me, being only about half an hour from York. And I figured I could always do my 17 mile run the following Sunday, when I was supposed to be having a cut-back week and only had eight miles on the plan – so basically just swapping the two Sundays around.

Race HQ was Pocklington Rugby Club, which had plenty of parking and portaloos – and also a very tempting bacon butty stall! The event starts at a very civilised 11am, and after assembling at the Rugby Club for 10.45 we were all walked out to the start in a nearby residential area. Never having done a ten mile race before I wasn’t 100% sure how to approach the Snake. I guessed I should probably aim at somewhere between 10K and half marathon pace and see what happened, so that’s what I did.

After a mile or so somebody said hello to me and I was delighted to see Katie Holmes – no, not the Hollywood star, but my fellow Tweeter @RunYoung50! We’d never met in real life before, so it was great to see her. We chatted for a couple of minutes and trotted along at around the same pace. The Snake course is billed as flat, but I’d say it’s more gently undulating. I guess how you perceive it depends on what the terrain is like where you come from! It’s a fairly straightforward out and back course, turning around at the village of Bishop Wilton – you can see the route here. That’s when we all realised that the wind had been behind us for the first half and we’d have to fight it all the way back! It was challenging, but I felt quite good and fairly strong – I suppose the marathon training must be paying off a bit. My finishing time was 1:24, but I felt afterwards I’d been a bit cautious in the first half and would have gone a bit faster if I’d realised I’d been wind-assisted. Lesson for next time: check on the wind direction!

The best thing about the whole event was the ‘prize’ at the end – a lovely hand-made pottery mug. It made a refreshing change from the usual t-shirt or medal. Oh, and I got a Snickers bar too – bonus!

Ooh look, I got a Snickers!

 I’d really recommend the Snake Lane 10. It’s well-organised, a great course and a fab bit of marathon threshold training. Thank you Pocklington Runners, I’ll definitely be back next year!

Worth the wind!

So that’s my last event now until the Manchester Marathon on 19th April. Only seven and a half weeks away now – hello Monster Month!

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Race Review – British Heart Foundation Harewood House Half Marathon 2015

I’d been looking forward to the British Heart Foundation‘s inaugural Harewood House Half for ages. Not only was it a promising-looking new event only half an hour from home, but it was to be my first off-road jaunt. I’ve been wanting to do some proper trail running for ages, so this seemed the perfect opportunity to give it a go. I’d been doing some of my marathon training runs in my trail shoes off-road in an attempt to acclimatise a bit. The course profile looked a bit hilly – and unfortunately hills are something we’re a bit short of in York – so I guess I was a bit ‘in at the deep end’, but nothing ventured nothing gained!

The Harewood estate provided a fabulous backdrop to the event – just travelling up the drive towards the house makes you feel a bit Downton Abbey! Parking was nice and close to the starting area, which was very compact and had plenty of all-important portaloos. In fact I was so impressed with the loos I had two wees, just to be on the safe side! There were around a thousand runners, and we really couldn’t have asked for better weather. The day was cold, dry and sunny – perfect racing conditions. My friend and sports therapist Colin Hawxby of Muscle Management was also taking part, although as a top-notch duathlete he is a lot faster than me!

Me and Mr Muscle Management

 Off we set, with a gently undulating first couple of miles, including some tarmac, to get us going.  

After a while I heard a bloke behind me say to his mate “The ground’s a bit uneven, isn’t it?”, making me wonder what he’d been expecting. Lord knows what he thought a little while later when we had some big hills to deal with! I soon learned that you can’t approach this type of event in the same way as a road race, i.e. having the mentality of running at x minutes per mile, because the terrain just won’t allow you to do that. On the flat and downhill bits you can run really well, but your final time all depends on how well you manage the climbs. It was reassuring to see a lot of people (including me!) walking some of the steeper sections. My mile split times ranged from 8:30 to 11 minutes, and my lack of hill training was sadly apparent. This is something I definitely need to work on if I’m going to do more of this kind of thing!

Can you tell we’d just had a bit of downhill here?!

Colin (white top) looking the business!

 There’s no doubt this was a tough course – I even heard some of the leading runners saying this afterwards – and maybe a bit of a baptism of fire for a first off-road experience, but really enjoyable too. The views as we crested some of the hills were fantastic, helped by the fact that it was such a beautiful winter’s day. The final climb up to the house just before the end was a bit cruel, but no doubt made for good marathon training! The atmosphere was really friendly and the numerous marshals were all brilliant, often warning us of upcoming uneven or muddy areas. There were also three water points en route.

I’m in there somewhere!

 I came in at 2:11, which is by far my slowest ever half marathon time, but pretty much what I was expecting under the circumstances. Mind you, my Garmin did measure the course at 13.4 miles! Colin finished in 1:36, very impressive. Unfortunately the results are published only as chip times with no positions, so I don’t know how I compared to others – not really important to me in the grand scheme of things, but I guess other, better runners might have liked to know. I was pleased that in the finishing funnel we weren’t given a ‘goody’ bag of rubbish, but were just handed a medal, a bottle of water and a granola bar. There was also a really nice t-shirt, collected before the start.

It was lovely to see Darran Bilton doing really well in the race. When I started running, about six years ago, Darran did the gait analysis when I bought first ever pair of shoes at Up and Running in York. We settled on Brooks Adrenaline, and they’ve served me well ever since, with never a blister or lost toenail in four rounds of marathon training – although I do sometimes wear Brooks Pure Cadence for road races these days too. Darran doesn’t work there any more, but is still very much involved in running, organising the annual Dalby Dash 10K in November in aid of Help for Heroes. I really should enter that, especially as my brother is in the RAF.

Darran showing us all how it’s done!

 The only downer on the day was leaving at the end. Steve, who’d been supporting me, was cycling home, so I had to drive myself back, and it took me almost an hour and a half to get off the site! Cars from all directions were funnelling onto one exit road, which was crossed by the course, and as some runners were still finishing it made for very slow progress. It was a bit annoying when I’m sure everyone just wanted to get home and have a shower! Apparently the organisers are looking into improving this for next year, which would be good. On the whole though I’d really recommend this event – challenging but fun – although my legs felt a bit jelly-like for a couple of days afterwards!

 Next up for me is the Snake Lane 10, back on the road at Pocklington near York on 22nd February. Hopefully my quads will have recovered by then!


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Running Plans 2015

It may seem a bit late for a post about running plans for the year when we’re already almost a month into it (Eek! Where did that go?) but it’s taken me until now to make my mind up about a couple of events.

Brrr, it’s the Brass Monkey!

My first event of 2015, the Brass Monkey Half Marathon in York, has already been and gone, and I was quite pleased to get a PB there despite some tricky conditions; you can read my report on that here. I’ve now moved onto my training plan for the Manchester Marathon in April. Last year my training for Manchester went really well, then I got ill the night before, which was so frustrating; hopefully that won’t happen again! You may remember that just before Christmas I was selected to take part in the Runner’s World Asics Target 26.2 bootcamp for a chance to win a trip to the Paris Marathon; more on that here. Unfortunately I didn’t win, but I have decided to follow the Asics sub 4 hour marathon plan this time to see if it can finally get me there. Time will tell!

The Asics Bootcamp track session

Along the way I’ve also entered a couple of other events just for fun. The first is the Harewood House Half on 8th February, a trail half marathon that will be the first off-road event I’ve ever done – should be interesting! I’ve been wanting to do some trail stuff for a while now, so this is the first step. Then later in February I’m doing my first ever ten mile event, the Snake Lane 10, which is a road race at Pocklington near York. I’m not really sure how to pace this – somewhere between 10K and half marathon speed I suppose! It’s a really popular event, so I’m looking forward to it.

A great backdrop for a half marathon!

Later in the year I’ve entered the For All Events York 10K in August, just because it’s in my home town and I’ve always done it, and also couldn’t resist the Yorkshire Marathon again in October. But the most exciting thing for me is that I’ve finally taken the plunge and entered my first ultra – the Calderdale Way Ultra in June. It’s just the short version (to ease myself in) but it does apparently have some big hills in it! I’ve been wanting to have a crack at an ultra for a while now, so can’t wait to see how it will go. Frankly I’m more worried about the navigation than the distance, but I guess that’s all part of the ultra experience isn’t it? I have no expectations here other than finishing within the time limit and having fun.

So those are my plans for the year so far. I’d love to hear about yours.


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Race Review – York Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2015

I love the Brass Monkey for two reasons. Firstly, it’s soon after Christmas, so it helps to keep me from consuming my own weight in trifle over the holidays – well some of the time, anyway! And secondly it’s a brilliant half marathon to take part in – fast, (nearly all) flat and friendly. It took me a couple of years after I started running longer distances to pluck up the courage to enter the Monkey. It’s a really popular race that attracts serious club runners from all over the country, and I didn’t think I was worthy of it – I didn’t want to come last! It was only when I was pretty sure I could finish in under two hours that I took the plunge for 2013 – and then it was cancelled for the first time in its 30 year history due to bad weather. So I ran it for the first time last year. Not a great performance on my part – five minutes outside my PB at 1:58 on a gloomy, wet day. I was determined to do better this year! We couldn’t have asked for better running weather on Sunday. The day was cold but sunny with barely a trace of wind – great PB conditions. I met my Council colleague Jason at the start and we both felt pretty positive.

I set off pretty fast (for me), running at around eight minute mile pace and felt really good. The course goes out south from York through the village of Bishopthorpe, along quiet rural roads towards Appleton Roebuck, reached just after halfway. Unfortunately after about three miles we found ourselves skittering about like Bambi on patches of ice in shady parts that the sun hadn’t yet reached. For about the next three miles there were intermittent stretches of road that was OK and road that was like an ice rink! The race marshals were wonderful, warning us of upcoming icy bits and aiming us at the less slippery parts. But unfortunately at times we were reduced to a very slow jog or even a walk that obviously slowed us all down quite a bit. I for one wasn’t prepared to take the risk of running over ice, possibly breaking my leg and not running for months, and most others seemed to feel the same! All the stopping and starting did break up our rhythm a bit, so it was good to see the back of the ice at around halfway.

Luckily there were no further incidents, icy or otherwise, in the second half. The course isn’t the most exciting in terms of features, but it was fabulous just to be out running in the lovely countryside with everyone else on such a glorious day. I didn’t manage to get back up to eight minute mile pace, but was still pleased to get a PB of 1:52:37 – almost a minute off my previous best. It was a little frustrating to think I could have done better without the ice, as I would love to break 1:50, but that will have to wait for another day. Jason also got a PB of 2:02 in what was only his second half marathon, so the positive vibes were justified! Funniest moment of the day: walking alongside two other women on an icy patch when we hear a gun going off three times. “What was that?” says one. “Oh”, says the other, “they shoot the ones at the back that don’t make the cut-off time”!

 I also found time for a bit of celebrity stalking at the end, bumping into Nicola Rees, who Yorkshire readers will recognise from our local BBC News programme, Look North. Taking part in her first ever half marathon she’d done really well, coming in at well under two hours, and was lovely when I asked her for a photo. She also managed to look annoyingly glamorous after having run 13.1 miles – must be something they teach you how to do in Telly Land. Tell us your secret, Nicola!

I would really recommend the Brass Monkey as an event, whatever level of runner you are. The cut-off time is 2:45 so don’t be afraid to enter (or that you’ll get shot!) if you aren’t Speedy Gonzales, as I was. It’s very well organised by York Knavesmire Harriers, the marshals are really helpful and supportive and you get a nice long-sleeved technical top at the end. You need to be quick off the mark to enter though, as places are gone within a few hours of going on sale in the autumn!

 I’m just in the process of finalising my running event plans for this year and will blog about that next week; but spring-wise it’s all about the run-up to my sub 4 attempt at the Manchester Marathon. Watch this space!


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New Year, New Me? No Thanks!

Hands up who’s feeling a bit rubbish after the festive break? I certainly am. I like to think I’m a pretty healthy eater most of the time, but the Christmas holidays are a hard test of anyone’s resolve! Christmas dinner itself isn’t really the problem; at the end of the day that’s just a roast dinner with a few pigs in blankets on the side. It’s all the other food that causes the problem… and the booze, of course! You could just say no to all of it, and I’m sure a few very disciplined people do; but everywhere you go at Christmas and New Year people want to feed you, and it’s usually hard to refuse! Things I’ve indulged in include mince pies, After Eights, trifle, Bailey’s, Pringles and wine. Plus I’ve been for a couple of meals at people’s houses where they’ve been to a lot of trouble and it would be rude to say no. I’m sure most of you will have had a similar couple of weeks. The only thing that’s counted in my favour is that I haven’t stopped runnning – even with a bit of a hangover on a couple of occasions!

The question is, what do we do to get rid of this horrible, bloaty feeling and lose the couple of pounds we’ve all probably put on? The media are currently full of the usual ‘new year, new you’ stuff they always pump out just after Christmas. This mostly seems to focus on articles about radical, expensive detoxes and abstaining from everything. ‘Give yourself a good purge and you will magically become a bright, shiny, thin new person’ is the general message. There will also be a mad rush of people joining gyms in January, planning to go five times a week for ever. But the reality is that most people will only stick to their new regimes for a couple of weeks – or maybe even a month – before they revert to their old ways. The change is just too radical to be sustainable. The truth is that a few simple changes will soon have you feeling a lot better – and you’ll save a lot of money too! You don’t need to be a whole new you, just a slightly better version of the current you. So here’s what I recommend for a ‘New Year, Slightly Better You’ approach.

·         First thing, there’s no need to ‘detox’ with special powders, juices or pills. Your liver and kidneys are fantastic organs and can actually cope with an awful lot. Unless you’ve been drinking a bottle of vodka a day they’ll deal with your festive excess just fine. Having said that, there’s no harm in giving them a bit of a rest from processing huge amounts of booze and rich food for a little while.

·         Stop eating junk now. You may have leftover goodies or foodie gifts such as Christmas cake/boxes of chocolates and biscuits/cheese footballs lying around the house. Put them away somewhere out of sight, take them into work, offer them to visitors or give them away to thin friends. Most chocolates have really long use-by dates, so you could always regift them at some point! Some things, like cheese, freeze really well too. Don’t feel you have to eat all the bad things in the house before you can start being good.

·         Focus on eating simple, healthy, unprocessed foods. Things like chicken, fish, pulses, vegetables and Greek yoghurt. Snack on fruit and nuts instead of biscuits and crisps. You know the score here really, so I won’t ramble on about it today.

·         Drink lots of water. You may well be quite dehyrated after two weeks of boozing and scoffing sugary/salty foods. If you don’t normally drink plenty of water you’ll be surprised what a difference this makes to how good you feel.

·         Do some exercise. If you usually do exercise, get back on it after the Christmas break. If you don’t, start now but be kind to yourself. No need to crush it in the gym. Go for a long walk on a lovely sunny, frosty day. Have a kickabout in the park with your kids. Go to a yoga or Pilates class. Get that bike out of the garage and have a gentle pedal for half an hour. The more of this kind of thing you do, the more you’ll want to do, I promise.

·         Get plenty of sleep. Most of us don’t get enough. Go to bed a bit earlier than usual. Your body will repair and restore itself while you snooze.

That’s all you need to do. That’s what I’ll be doing. In a couple of weeks we’ll all be feeling much better and I’ll have to run the Brass Monkey half marathon – eek! And if you really want to go to the gym, wait until February – it’ll be a lot quieter then.


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Runner’s World Magazine Asics Target 26.2 Competition Bootcamp

Did you enter this competition? I did. Did you expect to get any further? I didn’t. So when I got a call last week to say I’d been selected as one of the 50 runners to attend Asics 26.2 Bootcamp I nearly fell off my chair! Especially as I’d entered twice before and got nowhere. For those not familiar with Asics Target 26.2, it’s a competition in Runner’s World magazine with a prize that money just can’t buy – a VIP trip to the Paris Marathon with elite-style treatment along the way including top-level coaching, advice on physio, nutrition and psychology, lots of fab Asics kit and much more. The week between that phone call and Bootcamp Day seemed like the longest ever. I was filled with nervous excitement, not really knowing what to expect. What would the other runners in my group (sub 4) be like? Would they all be fitter and faster than me? All I knew was that there would be running on a track. A track! I hadn’t run on a track since I was about twelve – and that was a very long time ago!

I arrived at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium, home of the famous Birchfield Harriers, to join the queue of runners waiting to register and was somewhat relieved that many of them looked as ‘normal’ as me and weren’t in fact all lithe, cheetah-like beings! We were all issued with a number and a special bootcamp Asics running top – a great souvenir. As number 26 I was momentarily tempted to tag .2 onto the end with a marker pen, but thought better of it!

Ready to rock!

Bootcamp began with the screening of a video showing the journey of this year’s 26.2 team, which was quite emotional and only served to make us all want the top prize even more than we already did! You can view the video here if you want to be inspired. We were also told that there had been a record 3,500 entries to the competition this year, and that we should feel proud just to have got this far.

We then split into our time category groups for the rest of the day. Everyone in our group seemed lovely and friendly, and in fact one of the best things about the day was that we could all talk about running as much as we liked without boring anyone! After gait analysis we had a session on strength work, stretching and injury prevention with top sports physio Sarah Connors, which was really useful and tested our balance quite a bit! Unfortunately our group’s track session was immediately after lunch, so we couldn’t really eat much. I usually like to leave a couple of hours between eating and running, so just nibbled on a sandwich, hoping they would still be there afterwards!

Meeting coaches Steve Smythe and Sam Murphy in the flesh after reading their pearls of wisdom in Runners World for years was great. And running on the track was brilliant – it felt much bouncier than Tarmac! After a warm-up the main part of our session was a 5K time trial, run as an interval session. Being an old bird, speed is not really my forte, so I was pleased to get a PB, as Steve predicted most of us would. Sadly I don’t have a record of it as we were running without watches, but it’s given me a new target to aim for at Parkrun. And luckily we were still able to snaffle a few leftover sarnies at the end!

Warming up before our time trial. Spot me lurking near the back!

The final part of the day was a Q&A session with elite Asics-sponsored ultra runner Holly Rush. Not only is Holly an amazing athlete, but she apparently loves pie and beer – top girl! It was a rare opportunity to put any questions we liked to a proper athlete in a friendly and informal setting. Holly was lovely and happy to discuss anything at all, so topics ranged from pork pie to poo and everything in between! After an amazing day it was then time to collect our fantastic goody bags and leave.

The excellent swag bag!

 The next stage of the competition will see five runners from each time category put to the public vote later this week – eek! Although the final decision is apparently not based entirely on voting numbers. I’m not sure that any of us really know what the judges are looking for, we’ll just have to wait and hope! But whatever happens I’m sure we all feel grateful to have been involved in bootcamp. From a personal point of view I’d love to complete a sub 4 marathon mainly because it would be a Good For Age time for me, so I’d really feel I’d achieved something. I think with a bit of expert help I could make it! And Paris would be such a beautiful place to do it, as I have such happy memories of working there years ago. Thank you Runners World and Asics, bootcamp was a brilliant experience. I just wish we could all go to Paris!

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Race Review – Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon 2014

I wasn’t even supposed to be at the Yorkshire Marathon. Sure, I did it last year and thought it a great event, but when I was successful in the Berlin Marathon ballot I thought there was no way my poor old legs could do two marathons just a fortnight apart. So I didn’t enter. I thought I’d volunteer to be a marshal instead. The one evening I was on Facebook and noticed that York Sport were running a competition to win a Yorkshire Marathon place. I entered thinking I’d never win it – possibly under the influence of a couple of glasses of wine. But lo and behold I did win it, so the challenge was on! I planned to make Berlin my main target, aiming to have a crack at the elusive sub-4 on the flat, world record-breaking course, then just do York for fun and jog round nice and slowly. Well, Berlin didn’t quite go to plan – if you don’t know why you can read about it here. When I got back from Berlin I got a cold. I never usually get colds! So with legs still not really recovered from Berlin and the tail end of sniffles, I stood on the start line at York with no expectations whatsoever – my only aim was to enjoy the day.

It was a chilly, foggy start, but everyone around me seemed to be in high spirits. There were fears the start could be delayed due to the weather, but thankfully we got off bang on time. I spied a 3:56 pacer whose banner said they’d be running nine minute miles, and as I felt OK I thought “What the hell, I’ll hang on there as long as I can and see what happens”. I managed to do this until about halfway, then my legs started to complain slightly, so I just slowed down a bit. I wasn’t too bothered as I hadn’t expected to keep up for that long anyway! The atmosphere out on the course was brilliant, despite the miserable weather. I’d expected the fog to lift after a while, but it didn’t, and my arms actually felt a bit chilly at times – but still better than being too warm! All the marshals were fantastic, and the people in the villages along the route were amazing, especially in Stamford Bridge, Dunnington and Murton.

The middle section of a marathon is always the hardest part for me. I think it’s something to do with having run quite far and still having a long way to go! But when we got our High 5 gels at 21 miles I actually started to feel a bit better. I calculated that even if I only ran at ten minute pace for the last five miles I still might get a PB, which really surprised me. My Yorkshire Marathon last year was blighted by both a stitch and calf cramp, but I had none of that yesterday. I think the cramp problem might have been solved by changing my shoes from Brooks Adrenaline to Pure Cadence. I remember walking most of the wicked little hill just before the finish last year, but this time I ran up it – albeit not very quickly – and the sun even came out for the last mile! As I speeded up on the downhill I felt happier than I’ve ever felt before at the end of a marathon, even high fiving kids on the way to the finish line! In the end my time was 4:06:22, almost a minute off my PB. Not the biggest margin ever, but I was pretty happy with it as I thought I’d be coming in at more like 4:30.

Is that a cheesy grin or a grimance as my piriformis seizes up?!

The event was really well-organised and supported and I would really recommend it. The goody bag is fab too, with really nice t-shirt and medal, plus crisps and chocolate. I didn’t even know you could still get Double Deckers! I haven’t met anyone who’s had a bad word to say about the Yorkshire Marathon. From my own point of view, it was really ironic that I performed better at York than Berlin, but of course that’s because I had no unscheduled loo stops yesterday! Now, although my legs are hurting today, I feel I need to have just one more crack at sub-4 next spring. Anyone for Manchester?!

The swag!

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Race Report – Berlin Marathon 2014

Oh, the irony of getting a place in the Berlin Marathon. I’ve entered the ballot for London and received the infamous ‘Sorry’ magazine four times now, but it was a ‘ja’ from Berlin the first time they operated a ballot system earlier this year! It was the perfect opportunity for me to do my bit for the Team Shepherd Children with Cancer charity challenge. The course is pretty much flat as a pancake and has a reputation for being super-fast. The men’s marathon world record has been broken at Berlin many times, so the race attracts many serious PB chasers and elite athletes. I may not have been aiming to break the world record, but I was certainly hoping for a PB, and felt this would be my best shot at finally cracking the magical four hour mark. Plus I love Berlin and the race was the day before my birthday, so what better way to celebrate? My training had gone really well, so I felt pretty optimistic about the whole thing.

Signing on at Berlin is a feat of endurance in itself! Registration takes place at the former Tempelhof airport, a vast complex of buildings. You’re forced around the accompanying exhibition to get to sign-on, then through a maze-like queuing system to pick up your number. Seriously, I expected to find a piece of cheese at the end! You actually get your finisher’s t-shirt when you register. Call me superstitious, but this does seem a bit like tempting fate. And speaking of temptation, there certainly is plenty of it at the exhibition – a veritable paradise of running kit, most of which I managed to avoid!

Saturday morning sees the traditional warm-up breakfast run, which goes from Schloss Charlottenburg to the famous Olympic Stadium. It’s not every day you get to run on an Olympic track, so this was great! And at the end there’s as much coffee, ‘Berliner’ doughnuts and other carby delights as you can shake a stick at. A brilliant start to the day! Traditionally you’re supposed to wear things that show where you’re from so I donned my Yorkshire Marathon t-shirt. The weather was really warm and sunny; very pleasant for a 6k jog, but I hoped it would be a bit cooler for Sunday.

However, marathon day dawned just as sunny, and it was clear this was going to be a warm one. The start was huge but well-organised, with runners being set off in waves. This system works really well, avoiding all that jostling and shoving you sometimes get at mass participation events (Great North Run take note). There were lots of toilets by the starting pens with hardly any queue at all – bonus points for that! I encountered my first problem of the day here as my Garmin refused to lock onto satellites. This has happened to me once before, at last year’s Great North Run, and it’s massively annoying. The gun went off and it still hadn’t fired up. Music blared, people sang and clapped, helicopters circled overhead; it was all hugely exciting, but I just kept staring at my wrist and swearing! Our wave was started. Hundreds of runners trotted past me. Still no satellites. Then I saw the four hour pacer approaching and decided to set off anyway, reasoning that even if the Garmin didn’t work at least I’d know whether I was on track if I was with him. The weather was glorious and crowds cheered as we looped round the golden Siegessäule (victory column) as we got underway – the perfect start.

 The Garmin eventually fired up at around 8K – then a couple of miles later said it had lost reception again and that was that for the rest of the race. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t have a record of the event, but not too sad as I was feeling pretty comfortable tucked in behind the four hour pacer. Drinks stations were plentiful, if a little chaotic. Water and PowerBar energy drink were served in cups, which obviously ended up all over the road in a pretty lethal fashion. Plus you can’t run and drink with a cup, but I guess it is a lot less wasteful than a bottle, so fair enough. Every few miles there was also a fruit station stocked with masses of bananas and apples. Personally I find it impossible to eat proper food whilst running, and although I can see the point of the bananas I can’t imagine stopping to eat an apple on the hoof! But I think that’s just me, as plenty of others were taking advantage of it. There was just one gel point at 28K.

Things were going pleasantly OK for me, well on track for four hours… until about mile 16. Gentle reader, if you are of a sensitive disposition you may wish to skip the rest of this paragraph, for I am about to relate how I suffered the dreaded ‘runner’s trots’ for the very first time. Quite simply, I suddenly needed the loo in a number two fashion very urgently! It was completely unexpected, as I’d never experienced it ever before. Surrounded by buildings, and with not a Portaloo in sight, I dived into some bushes and did what was necessary. When I emerged the four hour man was quite some way down the road. “Never mind” I thought “I’ve got miles to claw that gap back”. But a short time later I was obliged to do the same thing again. Residents of Berlin, if any of you saw me on either of those occasions, I apologise here and now! Of course this time Pacer Man was out of sight when I got back on the course. I was beginning to feel discouraged, feeling sub-4 slipping away, but thought I could still manage a PB. Then a couple of miles later the now-familiar urgent feeling welled up again. Only this time there were no bushes, just acres of concrete and thousands of spectators. I actually slowed to a walk and thought “What the hell am I going to do now?!”.

Then something amazing happened. I felt a hand on my shoulder, looked up and saw a man in a Children with Cancer vest. I had no idea who he was, but he just said “Come on” and we started jogging together. It seemed like fate! I still felt spectacularly uncomfortable, but at least I was moving. I dropped a little way behind him for a couple of kilometres, not wanting to hold him up, but I could tell he kept checking on me. I caught him up at a water station and explained what the problem was. And then, shining like Camelot, I spied a vacant Portaloo! Thanking my knight in shining armour and telling him not to wait for me I dashed inside. I was so relieved, but also shed a little tear of annoyance because I knew sub-4 was long gone. Not only had I lost time with the three loo stops, but it always takes a while to get back into your stride after an interruption like that. I’ve no idea why the trots happened. I’d been really careful with food and drunk mostly bottled water. Was it because I made up some electrolyte drink with tap water? I guess I’ll never know, but I really hope it never happens again.

Nearly there!

 I managed to cover the remaining distance without further incident. The course was indeed as flat as billed, with barely an incline, but until the final few kilometres it wasn’t as scenic as I’d imagined. However, the crowd support was fantastic all the way round, especially in lively Schöneberg and towards the end in the city centre. As we ran under the legendary Brandenburg Gate techno music blared, people made more noise than a football crowd and the atmosphere was amazing. I was accompanied along here by a man in a fluffy pink rabbit suit! When you crossed the finish line, the medal was placed round your neck with a “well done” rather than just being handed to you, which was a lovely touch. It was a long walk out of the finishing area, but there were plenty of refreshments, including more apples, warm sweet tea (which was surprisingly refreshing) and the most wonderful Erdinger alcohol-free isotonic beer, which really hit the spot. This should be given out at the end of every race by law!


My final time was 4:11, which isn’t a bad time as such, but wasn’t what I’d hoped for, so I was a bit disappointed. I felt I could have made sub-4 without the tummy troubles. But Berlin was incredible, and I would really recommend it to anyone who loves a big event. One thing that struck me on the way round the course was that there were hardly any charity runners. Almost all the people I saw promoting charities were British. Most runners were in club or national kit. Maybe running for charity isn’t such a big thing in Europe, I don’t know. But I was really pleased that at the Children with Cancer meeting point I got to thank and hug my saviour (who turned out to be called John) because without his motivation I would definitely have been even slower. Aren’t runners lovely people?

So now I have less than a fortnight until the Yorkshire Marathon. I was planning to run this really slowly after Berlin, but am now tempted to have another go at sub-4, despite the hills. I’ll see how my legs feel next week! If anyone would like to donate to the Team Shepherd Children with Cancer fund you can do so here.

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