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!

Cheers!

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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Berlin Marathon Training and the Vale of York Half Marathon 2014

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Great North Run. I must do, I’ve run it four times! I love the big occasion, the running with top athletes even though I’m miles behind them, the Red Arrows, the Tyne Bridge, the amazing crowd support and the fantastic final mile along the sea front. What I don’t love is the super early start, the being penned up for ages before the gun and the long journey home. So this year, with the trip to Berlin only three weeks away, I decided to take the stress-free, low-key option of the inaugural Vale of York Half Marathon, being held at Sherburn Aero Club on the same day.

GNR Fun!

I’ve been very lucky with my Berlin Marathon training so far (touches wood). It’s pretty much gone to plan, apart from having a bit of a cold last weekend. I didn’t feel great, but as it was all ‘above the neck’ I went out and still managed to grind out 20 slow miles on Sunday 31st August. I blasted the cold with a three pronged attack of echinacea, vitamin C and green tea, so fortunately it didn’t last very long and it was pretty much business as usual. I didn’t taper for the Vale of York Half. I did consider it, but thought “Which is more important to you – a sub 4 at Berlin or a PB at the Vale of York?” and Berlin won hands down, so it was just a case of suck it and see how it goes yesterday.

 Getting to the Vale of York couldn’t have been easier really – Sherburn-in-Elmet is less than half an hour’s drive from York and there was plenty of well-organised parking at the Aero Club. I’d allowed plenty of time because we had to pick up race numbers on the day and I wasn’t sure whether there would be queues, but it was all very fast and efficient. There could have been a few more portaloos, but isn’t that always the case?! The weather was perfect, fine and sunny but not too warm. With around 1,100 runners in the field there were enough people to make it feel like an event, but not so many that things got crowded. After a warm-up jog along the runway we were off just a few minutes after 9.30. There was even an impressive aerobatics display just after the gun went off – who needs those fancy Red Arrows?!

The course itself is fantastic for a serious PB attempt, pretty much flat all the way round except for going over a railway bridge on the way out and again on the way back. Almost all the roads were closed, which was great, and there were three water stations on the route. Being a very rural course there wasn’t much in the way of crowd support or atmosphere, but it was a beautiful day to just take in the countryside and get into the zone. I finished in 1:54, about a minute outside my PB, but wasn’t too disappointed as this event wasn’t a major target for me, more of a 13.1 mile threshold training run!

In our goody bags at the end were both a medal and a really nice technical t-shirt (and for once the small size wasn’t just a man’s small!) as well as a High 5 energy gel. I thought this was a really well-run event, especially as it was the first time it had been held, so well done to Race Best for their smooth organisation. The date of next year’s event has already been provisionally set as 6th September (GNR day again) and I for one will definitely be back.

It’s only three weeks until Berlin now (eek!) so I’m now beginning my taper. Time to run less, eat well, sleep lots and give up wine and cake! I’m kind of nervous and excited at the same time. I hope the weather will be as perfect as it was yesterday, but Children with Cancer have sent me a very fetching plastic rain poncho just in case! I hope everyone else’s autumn marathon training is going well.

 If anyone would like to donate to my Children with Cancer charity page you can do so here.

Thank you!

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Berlin Marathon Training and the Run For All York 10K

It seems like ages since I’ve blogged – probably because it is! A combination of work and various domestic commitments has meant I haven’t had much free time recently, but I just want to post a few words about how my Berlin Marathon training is going.

I decided I needed a new training plan this time around. I’ve previously used the Women’s Running beginner plan for my first marathon (Manchester 2013), then their intermediate one for York (October 2013) and Milton Keynes (May 2014). I felt that if I pushed myself a bit more in training I might come closer to achieving my dream goal of four hours, which would be a Good For Age time. My current PB is 4:07, so I keep telling myself it must be possible! After considering several schedules I eventually settled on the Garmin intermediate plan and have been really enjoying it. Sunday runs start to get longer sooner than on previous schedules, and there is also more speed work. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be up to it, but at just over the halfway point it seems to be going OK so far – fingers crossed, I never get complacent as I know that injury could strike at any time! Post-Milton Keynes I had a little niggle on the top of my left foot that a sports therapist diagnosed as a strained joint. After couple of weeks with just a few short recovery runs it went away and hasn’t reared its head again since, so I hope it stays that way! I’ve been going to Pilates for my core work as there is a class near me on a Monday, which is when my schedule says I should do core stuff. I must admit I do miss my previous Tuesday flow yoga class, but the Garmin plan usually has me doing speed work on a Tuesday and I don’t think my poor old legs could cope with both on the same day as the flow class is quite intense! I have an actual piece of the Berlin Wall on my desk to keep me motivated. My parents lived in Berlin in the 80s and snagged some bits of the wall when it came down.

It’s genuine, honest!

Having said training is going OK, last Sunday I did the Run For All York 10K instead of a long run. I’ve done this event ever since it started in 2009 – my first ever race – and like to support it because it’s on my doorstep and the Jane Tomlinson Appeal is a great cause. I jogged the couple of miles to and from the start/finish to increase my mileage a bit, but it still wasn’t as much as I should have done. I guess it was a six mile threshold session though! I didn’t think I’d perform very well as I’d already done three speed sessions that week on the marathon schedule. It’s not a great course for a PB anyway, as it has lots of turns and is always pretty crowded, but it is a really scenic route, through the city and along the river. Anyway, I decided to go for it and see what happened, and surprised myself by coming in at 52:30, which isn’t a million miles away from my PB of 51:17, set at the Leeds Abbey Dash in 2012. I’m better at long and steady than short and fast!

A windy day!

 The goody bag was great this year – not only was there a technical t-shirt and a medal, but also some Muscle Milk Protein (as yet unconsumed, so I cannot vouch for its undoubted power) and a Cadbury’s Double Decker. Don’t think I’ve had one of those since about 1980!

Obviously I’ve eaten the Double Decker!

The marathon schedule has featured a welcome recovery week this week before things ramp up again next week for the start of Monster Month. Berlin is only seven weeks away on Sunday, a thought that fills me with excitement and nerves at the same time! Oh, and I almost forgot… a few weeks ago in a moment of madness I entered a Facebook competition run by York Sport to win a place in the Yorkshire Marathon. I never expected to win it, but did – and it’s only a fortnight after Berlin! What was I thinking? Now that one definitely won’t be an attempt on four hours, more like an attempt at staying upright!

And the other thing I almost forgot… I am running Berlin for Children with Cancer UK! If you’d like to make a donation to my charity fund you can do so here. Thanks for reading!

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Event Review – Etape du Tour 2014

The Etape du Tour is the annual stage of the Tour de France – typically a tough mountain one – in which amateurs can compete under the same conditions as the professionals will a few days later. My husband Steve did it this year as his half of the Team Shepherd charity effort for Children with Cancer UK. Here’s how it went in his own words…

It’s ten years since I lined up in Limoges to do my first Etape du Tour. That was a long day in the middle mountains of the Massif Central; this year’s Etape featured two Pyrenean monsters – the Col du Tourmalet and Hautacam; plus a forecast of wind and thunderstorms!

Ready for the off!

My training for the event started in February with increasingly long and hilly rides in the Yorkshire Wolds and Dales. I’ve done a few Alpine and Pyrenean climbs, so I know you can’t really replicate them in Britain, but you can still improve your climbing and endurance – and you’ll need plenty of that!

The course profile

At the start of the event in Pau the weather was perfect for riding, but what would it be like in the mountains? 13,000 of us were wondering and hoping the forecast would be wrong and fine weather would prevail. The start was well organised and we rolled out of town in waves of 1,000, a road full of bikes as far as the eye could see. With so many riders there was always someone to chat with and share the experience. A few easy kilometres clicked by, then the climbing started; a perfect warm up of two 3rd category climbs and rolling roads. Getting your feeding and drinking strategy right on a long day is essential for the tough stuff later, so taking on supplies at the early feed stations is a good move. It’s tempting to ride by as you’ve covered so little ground and expended little energy, but it’s a case of get it while you can. The Etape usually has plenty of well-placed and well-stocked feeding points, although they can resemble a road crash between two lorries carrying fruit!

 The weather was kind to us for a good distance into the event. The wind, if anything, was generally helpful and the rain held off. That must have helped to ensure we had such fantastic support at the side of the road, and the number of locals cheering for us early on a Sunday morning was amazing. Many villages along the route were already decorated for the Tour stage passing through a few days later, but that morning it was for us amateurs. As we neared the half way mark and the mountains loomed on the horizon to the right the weather deteriorated. It’s hard to say exactly when the rain started; light drizzle just got heavier as the climb to the Col du Tourmalet went on. I ignored it at first and rode on in my short sleeved jersey, but eventually I had to admit it was proper rain and time to stop and put on a jacket.

As expected, the Tourmalet climb was long and tough, and I was soon using some very low gears. With the gradient and the rain it was a case of getting into a rhythm and working away at knocking off the kilometres. There were still Brits to talk to, including one nutcase riding the whole thing on a Raleigh Chopper! The feed station in La Mongie, five kilometres from the top of Col du Tourmalet, was a welcome break, although stopping for too long is best avoided as the legs take some coaxing back into action. The top of the first climb and the sight of the giant steel sculpture of a cyclist marked the end of phase one of the hard work, and I was glad to see it. Although I felt it had gone well so far and I’d passed quite a few riders, my legs were hurting. Whether I was looking forward to the descent was another matter. Normally I’d be more than happy at the thought of a fast 35kms descent, but on slippery wet roads and with pouring rain it wasn’t a great prospect. I started at as easy pace, found it wasn’t too bad and gradually picked up the pace.

20 kms later I pulled in at a feed station, shivering and damp, but happy I’d stayed upright. After a quick hunt for yet another cheese sandwich and some water I continued with another 15 kms of descending into improving weather. By the time I reached the flat road just before the start of the climb to Hautacam the sun was out and any thoughts I had of turning left for home instead of right up the climb soon disappeared. My right knee had been gradually tweaking more and more on the climb and I felt I was doing some damage. I think I’d always have continued, but the reception at the start of the final climb made absolutely certain of it. There were so many people cheering, shouting and waving flags and banners it made the first few kilometres fly by. One van flying a Yorkshire flag had been parked by the road way back and its occupants gave me another big cheer as they recognised a British rider.

Unfortunately the improved weather didn’t last. As we climbed the rain started again and continued all the way to the top, making a hard climb tougher. The gradient went up from around 6% near the bottom to 11% towards the top, but thankfully easing in the last couple of kilometres. The boards announcing the average for the next kilometre seemed to alternate between good news (6%) and bad news (over 10%). By this time in the day, hard as the riding was, I had the finish line in sight, and neither a dodgy knee nor aching legs were going to stop me. There was no sprint finish, just clicking up a gear or two and overtaking a couple of people into the finishing funnel, but the feeling of crossing the line was fantastic!

Once over the timing mat at the top there was chance for one more feed – another cheese sandwich of course – before another wet descent to the finish village to collect my medal, goody bag and a bowl of pasta. Riding back down the mountain while others still toiled upwards was great, even though some of the later starters would have a better overall time than me. I was happy with the 7 hours 38 minutes it took me to complete the course; way longer than the professionals would take four days later, but a grand day out.

Damp but happy!

The goody bag was great incidentally; not only do you get a really cool rucksack and t-shirt when you sign on, but at the finish there’s also a substantial medal and a souvenir Buff.

Quality swag!

 Epic events like the Etape provide a challenge, a chance to raise some money for charity (as I did for Children With Cancer UK) and also great stories and memories. Watching the pros on TV on the same roads brings it all back and the possibility of planning for next year’s event!

 If you would like to make a donation to the Team Shepherd for Children with Cancer UK charity fund you can do so here.

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Salomon Citytrail and X-Scream Review

From time to time we all reassess our fitness goals, and recently I’ve been considering doing less road running and more trail running next year – taking a break from road marathons, thinking less about times and distances and more about just enjoying the ride. So when the lovely folks at Salomon kindly sent me a pair of their new X-Scream to try and invited me to their Citytrail event in York it was like serendipity – a perfect opportunity to dip a toe into trail! I have many trail and ultra running friends who are completely devoted to their various Salomons, so was really looking forward to trying them out.

My first impression of the X-Screams was that they were very pink – and I don’t normally subscribe to the ‘pink and shrink’ school of women’s sportswear. But I can make an exception for this pink, as it’s a bright, flouro one rather than a pale, girly one. And many of my friends were very jealous I’d received them, which was a bonus! X-Screams are the nearest thing Salomon has ever produced to a road shoe, designed for gentle off-road running on urban trails. The upper is very light and breathable (like a road shoe), but the sole is really supportive and grippy (like a trial shoe). It’s a kind of crossover shoe! The Salomon Sensifit/Sensiflex system combines with the unique Quicklace closure system to provide a really snug fit. I recently had a stressed joint in my upper foot, and my sports therapist said I should wear a shoe with plenty of arch support; the X-Scream certainly offered this and has felt really comfortable on the runs I’ve had in them.

Salomon’s Citytrail events are a brilliant way to try their shoes. Basically they come to a venue near you, spread out lots of different shoes and offer expert advice – then you can test the ones you like by going on a short guided run. It’s much better than just trying them on in a shop. The York event was held in association with Up & Running, which is coincidentally where I bought my first ever pair of proper running shoes about five years ago. The run was a lovely trot along the river in the city centre. 

York Parkrun

I would definitely recommend the X-Screams for anyone who does most of their runs on gentle, off-road trails – They’d be ideal for a parkrun too. The combination of comfort, support and grips is perfect for this sort of terrain. They are sized quite generously, so bear this in mind when trying or ordering them.  I also imagine I’ll be wearing them quite a bit when I’m not running too, as they also look great with ‘normal’ clothes! And I can’t wait to take them on my holidays to the Pyrenees in July. Steve is doing L’Etape du Tour, but I’m hoping to find lots of great mountain trails to fit in some Berlin Marathon training runs.

Happy trails…

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