Race Review – Calderdale Way Ultra 2015

Last Saturday was a big day for me – I ran further than 26.2 miles for the first time, so am no longer an ultra virgin! I did this at the Calderdale Way Ultra. It took me a while to decide which ultra to enter as my first. I eventually settled on Calderdale because it’s not too far away from home and, at 28.5 miles, the short version is billed as ‘a great introduction for runners looking to make the step-up into running and competing in ultra-marathons’. Spot on! I knew the course would be very hilly, so after completing the Manchester marathon in April I tried to do a bit more hill work. We aren’t exactly over blessed with hills in York, but I did some hill rep sessions at Holgate Windmill and also took part in the Ravenscar Coastal Half Marathon about a month ago to get in some practice. Probably not enough to prepare me properly for the inclines of Calderdale, but the best I could do under the circumstances! As the day approached I realised that the thing that was worrying me most was not so much the distance or the profile of the course, but navigation and the possibility of getting lost. Still, nothing ventured… I like to get out of my comfort zone now and again!

You can view the route map here.

The long version of this event (50.5 miles) is a circular route starting and finishing in Todmorden, beginning at 6am. For the short version you sign on at Todmorden, then decamp to the village of Shelf, which is about halfway along the course, to set off at 12:15pm and finish back in Todmorden. A bus service from Todmorden to Shelf is provided for those who need it. Around 30 of us lined up at the start. I thought there would be more – I don’t really know why! I believe there were about 48 entrants in the long version, but by this point they were almost all in front of we ‘short’ runners. Weather conditions were dry, but there was a really strong wind blowing. A friend who lives in Shelf came to see me off and warned that there would be quite a wind chill on the tops of the hills. After a short race briefing we were away bang on time. Aware of my rookie status, I started at the back, not wanting to get in the way of other runners, who mostly looked like hardcore trail folk! After a mile or so I settled into a group of half a dozen or so people all running at around the same pace. It was nice to have some company.

 The first section of the course is a good warm up, with some downhill and gentle undulations; but after a while there are some BIG hills! It’s certainly not an event for the faint-hearted. The first checkpoint is at around eight miles, and it was well stocked with sweet and savoury snacks, Coke and water. I filled my bottle, ate some flapjack and took a couple of Jaffa Cakes for the road. I saw a guy who’d been leading our little group using a map setting off fairly quickly, so I decided to leave too and stick with him for as long as I could to minimise my chances of getting lost! Of course I had a map with me, but to read it I would have had to get out my reading glasses too, which I can’t run in, so this just seemed like an easier option. This lovely man, who I later discovered was called Paul Feasey, was an Absolutely Top Bloke who assured me he didn’t mind me tagging along with him and actually quite liked navigating as it gave him something to think about along the way. Last week I read somewhere that your aim for your first ultra should just be to enjoy it, and I must say if I hadn’t found Paul on Saturday my race wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable as it was. With only 30 folk in the field we were very spread out, and it could have been a very lonely day – but perhaps that’s just part of ultra running?

The short course profile – eek!

 After some long climbing and welcome descending we arrived at the second checkpoint at just over 14 miles. I must admit I was feeling a bit tired already by this point. We’d had a cross wind to start with, but now it was hitting us full on, and it was hard work to move against it! Obviously we’d done some walking on the steep bits, but at times even that was tough. Moving in a predominantly westerly direction, the wind would be against us all the way to the finish. However, it’s amazing what a difference a couple of minutes’ rest with some Jaffa Cakes and flat Coke can do to revive you! It was brilliant to have Paul for company, chatting on the hard bits where we had to walk and trotting along in silence where the terrain and wind allowed. Paul had done around 30 ultras, so it was great to benefit from his experience and interesting to note that he considered this one quite hard. Just after halfway it started to rain, and continued to do so on and off until the finish. I was really glad of my jacket; as my friend had warmed, it was indeed quite chilly up on the moors in the wind and rain.

I actually felt a bit better as time went on. After the third checkpoint at 21 miles the finish seemed quite close, even though we weren’t actually moving that quickly due to the energy-sapping wind! My fastest mile split time for the day was 9:30 and the slowest was over 18 minutes, which tells a tale in itself! The course plays a cruel trick near the end, taking you into Todmorden and then out again, up and down a massive hill that’s a bit like a fell run – harsh on tired legs! But at least you know you’re nearly there at this point. I thought I’d finish in about six hours, but in the end it was 6:39. I’m sure we’d have cracked six hours without that wind though! Boy, was I pleased to be back. However, I did enjoy it, which was the aim and – as a bonus – I wasn’t last! In the end I was 20th out of 25 finishers, less than an hour behind the winning lady and the only V50 woman to finish – I’m happy with that for this particular event! As another bonus, I got a t-shirt that is actually girl-sized, rather than just a men’s small.

Battered but happy!

So, was the Calderdale Way a good introduction to ultra running? I’d say it was more a baptism of fire! If you’re considering it then make sure you  a) do lots of hill training and  b) are good with a map. There are parts of the route that aren’t particularly well marked, especially through towns, and you will need to orientate yourself – unless, like me, you’re lucky enough to be with a Paul, but you can’t really rely on that. I am so thankful to Paul for all his help and encouragement, and would have loved to buy him a pint at the end, but he had to drive home. Would I do Calderdale again? I’m not sure, as there are so many other events to try and my old legs can only take so much. I actually quite fancy trying another ultra that’s a bit longer but maybe not quite so hilly, perhaps in September. Am I glad I did the Calderdale Way Ultra? Definitely! Even though my quads are still hurting so much I’m considering moving into a bungalow…

 

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Race Review – Dukeries Ultra 2015

As you may know, I’m undertaking my first event of beyond marathon distance this weekend, the short version of the Calderdale Way Ultra. I’ve been feeling slightly apprehensive about it – not so much the distance as the navigational aspect and the possibility of getting lost! Whatever happens, I’m sure it will be a big learning curve. So to inspire me (and maybe others) here’s a guest blog from my friend and super-runner Kirsty Harvey – a review of the recent Dukeries Ultra in Nottinghamshire. Enjoy!

Under new management this year Dukeries offers a choice of three distances: 10, 30 or 40 miles and I chose to do the 40 – partly for the challenge but also because I’m doing a multi-day in July where the long day is 42 miles, so I felt that this would be great practice. My race started at 7.30 so I stayed in a nearby Travelodge (so I didn’t have to get up too early) and with a surprisingly sunny morning (why do I ever check the forecasts?). Everyone was in very good spirits on the start line.

The circular course meanders through Sherwood Forest, where you get a glimpse of the famous Major Oak tree, visits the beautiful Cresswell Crags and also goes through Clumber Park before working its way back to the start/finish at Walesby Sports Club. There were checkpoints at 7, 18, 24 and 34 miles with snacks, water and juice available and lovely helpful marshals. The weather remained perfect for running and I found myself enjoying the run and gradually catching up and even overtaking several runners who had set off quite a bit quicker than me which was a lovely boost. Whenever I saw someone in front it encouraged me to try a bit harder to catch them – it wasn’t always successful but you can always hope! The course was very dry but with about 13 miles to go I took a little detour round the only bit of mud on the path and promptly fell over a tree root, stubbing my toe very hard at the same time. Fortunately it didn’t stop me running although the air was a bit blue! After the last checkpoint at 34 miles I realised I was slowing down a bit and despite my best efforts it took me a bit longer than I hoped to do the final few miles, finally finishing in 7:15 – about 30 minutes faster than last year, so I was still happy with the time.

The new organiser Ronnie had promised a well marked course with no navigation issues, and he certainly delivered – I missed one turning which added about five minutes but it was entirely my fault as once I retraced my steps there was the red and white tape, clear as day! There were also marshals on some of the less obvious turns just in case. The race is changing its name next year and will come under Hobo Pace I understand, but if you fancy a very scenic tour of Nottinghamshire then choose your distance and give it a go next year.

 

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Race Review – Ravenscar Coastal Half Marathon 2015

I must admit I was a bit apprehensive about the Ravenscar Half, which is an off-road event on the Yorkshire coast. I’d entered because I thought it would be good training for the Calderdale Way Ultra, but as it was only three weeks after the Manchester Marathon I wasn’t quite sure how to prepare for it. In the end I decided to take it easy for a couple of weeks, then took myself out for eleven miles the Sunday before just to make sure I could still cover the distance! My main concern was the hills, as I’d spent the last four months training for a flat road marathon. The event website says Ravenscar is ‘not for the faint hearted’ and the second half features a ‘killer of a down and uphill section that will make your legs and lungs burn’, so my main aim was just to enjoy it and not be last!

This was probably the smallest event I’ve ever entered, with around 160 runners of all abilities taking part. It’s organised by the Scarborough & Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team, and all proceeds go to them. The race starts and finishes at Ravenscar Village Hall. Parking was really well-organised (Harewood House Half, take note!) and there were plenty of toilets. I was dithering about what to wear as it seemed a bit cold, despite predictions of up to 16 degrees from the weather forecast. In the end I plumped for capris rather than shorts and even took a top layer, as did many other people. Luckily you can wait inside the hall before starting, which was nice, as a bit of a chilly wind was blowing. I perused a giant OS map of the route and noted a place called Beast Cliff, which did nothing to make me feel any less nervous!

Race HQ

We set off at 9.30 sharp, heading straight to the Cleveland Way along the cliff edge. Many years ago I walked the Cleveland Way over several days, and couldn’t quite believe I was now running along it! The views for most of the route are absolutely spectacular, but as you’re running on trails you do also need to keep an eye on your footing.

Spectacular scenery

After a while we turned onto a disused railway line for a couple of miles. The first half is actually pretty easy, on good trails with a lot of downhill. The fun starts in the second half! We turned back towards the coast and it was up and downhill all the way home – but great fun! There were a couple of places where most of us had to walk a bit, but I coped better than I thought I would. I actually feel better going uphill than downhill, as I’m not very good on steep, technical descents, and there were some sections with smooth, slippery stones that were a bit dicey! I definitely need to get better at that. I felt stronger than I’d expected towards the end – although the last half mile, uphill into a headwind, was a bit of a killer! I finished in 2:13 and was 96th overall (out of 165). It’s certainly made me feel more optimistic about Calderdale.

Looking windswept, but having a great time! Photo courtesy of the official race photographer, Chris at Reaction Photography.

At just £10 for entry this was certainly the best value event I’ve ever taken part in – no unnecessary bling or t-shirt, but some very welcome tea and flapjack in the village hall at the end! It was also really well marshalled by the mountain rescue folk. There were even running marshals carrying first aid kits, so we really did feel pretty safe despite the sometimes tricky terrain. All in all I’d highly recommend Ravenscar if you like a bit of trail, and I’ll definitely be back next year.

So next up is my first ultra, the Calderdale Way, on 6th June… just over three weeks away – eeeek!

 

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How To Deal With IBS (Naturally!)

I seem to meet a lot of people who suffer with IBS with varying degrees of severity, and they sometimes find it very difficult to deal with. This guest post from Carly Trigg of My Well Being Journal has some great advice on dealing with IBS naturally – including running! You can read more from Carly at www.mywellbeingjournal.com and follow her on Twitter at @MWBJournal.

Who needs supplements, probiotics and tablets when you’ve got the great outdoors, good food and a great mindset? After trialling everything known to man for dealing with my IBS, I’ve found that doing it naturally is always the best way.  So take a look at my top 5 ways to deal with IBS and see how easy it is to implement it into your own lifestyle.

1.  Exercise early

If you suffer with IBS-C, you’ll notice that your body likes the digest food in your gut continually throughout the day, but the end product is just never there. You might then notice you become a VERY regular person (such that the only time you CAN do anything in the toilet, it’s first thing in the morning). This is because your body is given ample time without food to break down everything eaten in the day, given more time to properly come together and form more evenly. This makes morning my favourite part of the day. So, whilst you’re in high spirits with a great level of digestion going on, it’s worthwhile to fit in your exercise now. If you leave it til later you might find that the foods you’ve eaten have caused tummy problems and bloating and you won’t want to exert your body any more. Get up earlier, go for a run, feel the burn, and forget about the IBS.

 

2.  Eat your breakfast

After your early morning run, you’ll be feeling pretty good. You might not feel that hungry though, or if you may not feel you have any spare time if you’re heading quickly out of the door for work. But making the time, even if it’s a quick 10 minutes, is necessary if you want to start your bowel movements right. You’ve been to the toilet and you’ve done your exercise, and now you need fuel, even if you don’t crave it yet. Otherwise you’ll be ravenous after an hour or so and your metabolism won’t be working half as fast as it does first thing in the morning, or after a workout.

 

3.       Avoid meal-skipping

When you have IBS, a lot of the time you’re suffering with so much abdominal discomfort after food you consumed several hours ago that you really don’t want to do it again. You decide you’d rather skip the meal and let your bowels churn away privately without any interruption. This sounds fine in theory, but the ‘churn’ doesn’t stop. And, although it might usurp your appetite, your body still needs vital nutrients to keep going. Plus, you’ll probably be making up this lost eating time with drinking more, which needs to be digested anyway too. So don’t let the abdominal discomfort put you off your eating three basic meals throughout the day (minimum) and always keep a watchful eye on the ingredients in your foods.

 

4.       Walk more

Because strenuous exercise can be a torturous feat when you have painful abdominal cramps, doing lots of walking can be really beneficial to your digestion, easing your stomach and seeing that you get outside and get moving. Rather than getting the bus, take a brisk walk. Go for a wander on your lunch break. Do it all and get your feet moving!

 

5.       Stretch often

This might sound like a strange one (because who walks down the street, stops, and does a lunge?) but stretching is necessary for IBS sufferers, especially if you’re sat crouched in front of a computer all day. All that’s going in your stomach can continue to feel tight and unpleasant the more the day goes on, so make it a priority to stretch whenever you go to the toilet – this way you’re doing it privately and not provoking suspicion! By simply raising your arms above your head and tensing your stomach, holding your hands behind your back and pushing your tummy out, and twisting from side to side can ease your discomfort ten-fold.

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Race Review – Asics Greater Manchester Marathon 2015

Yesterday I ran a sub 4 hour marathon for the first time. I say this not to show off, but because I surprised myself by doing it. Sure, I’ve been chasing this for a couple of years, but I really didn’t expect to do it this time at Manchester – not least because I’d had a cold last week! But somehow, yesterday was The Day It Finally All Went Right.

Regular readers will know that each time I’ve tried to do this before, something went wrong.

1.  Manchester 2013 – going well, then got calf cramp at mile 23.

2.  York 2013 – got a stitch at mile 18 that just wouldn’t go away.

3.  Manchester 2014 – DNS, due to getting a tummy bug the day before.

4.  Milton Keynes 2014 – just seemed to run out of steam on a very warm day.

5.  Berlin 2014 – severe attack of runner’s trots, resulting in three loo stops!

6.  York 2014 – only two weeks after Berlin, this was never meant to be a sub 4 attempt.

So it’s not for want of trying!

In the middle of last week I was wondering whether I should run at all. I came down with the cold on Tuesday and felt rubbish on Wednesday and Thursday. However, I took all the echinacea and vitamin C I felt I could handle and managed to get the worst of it over quite quickly. By Friday I was still pretty snotty, but feeling OK. Echinacea is wonderful stuff! On Saturday I ran for a slow couple of miles and decided to go for it – invoking the above/below the neck rule – but thinking I probably wouldn’t perform at my best.

Conditions on Sunday were perfect for marathon running – cold and dry with barely any wind. I decided to set off with the 3:58 pacer and see how things went. I reckoned if I started to feel bad I could just slow down and treat it as an ultra training run with some goodies at the end! Off we set, and after a few miles I was surprised at how well I was feeling. The course at Manchester is fantastic, nice and flat, and the crowd support is amazing almost all the way round, which really helps. There’s a bit of an incline up to Altrincham at halfway, but as that’s an out and back section you get the benefit of it going downhill on the other side. I always like to take advantage of a bit of downhill, so sped up a bit there and overtook the pacer. I reasoned that if I started to tire later on I’d have a few bonus seconds in reserve. But that was the last I saw of the pacer! I ploughed steadily on through the second half and have never enjoyed a marathon more. I actually found myself smiling to myself at times! But I still couldn’t allow myself to think sub 4 was achievable until I’d passed the point where I got cramp two years ago. Then I really started to enjoy myself, even when a strong head wind seemed to appear from nowhere for the last mile. I eventually finished in 3:55:39 and was stunned – that’s 11 minutes off my previous PB. All through my training I thought I’d be more than happy with 3:59:59, so this was a real bonus!

After I’d crossed the finish line a man touched me on the shoulder and said “Thanks for pacing me home over the last mile or so. I was following you because you looked really strong”. Me? Strong? I suddenly realised I had felt strong, much stronger than in any other marathon I’d ever done. Why was that? What had made the difference this time? I believe it was these things.

  • Training – for the first time I’d followed a training plan for a specific time, the Asics Sub 4 plan, not just a plan that was aimed at general Beginners/Intermediates.
  • Core work. I’ve sometimes neglected this in the past, but over the last few months have been making a real effort to go to my flow yoga classes. I think having a strong core helps you to maintain better form when you get tired towards the end of a marathon, which in turn means you can keep running more efficiently.
  • Nutrition. I always eat quite healthily (despite my love of cake!) but I’m not sure I always ate enough before or during a marathon in the past. Having attended the Runners World Asics 26.2 bootcamp in December, I was interested to see that their nutritionist prescribed more carb loading than I was used to, so I ate more than I normally do before a marathon the day before Manchester and on the morning of the event. For the first time I also calculated how much carbohydrate I’d need per hour during the race. On a basis of 1g of carb per 1kg of body weight per hour, I decided that eating one Clif Shotblok bar per hour would just about do the job. As there are six cubes in a bar I ate a couple every 20 minutes, starting from just over an hour into the marathon – sooner than I would have done before. At no point did I ever feel I was going to hit the wall, and I think that’s due to better fuelling.

That’s all I can put it down to I think – although the perfect weather was certainly a bonus. Or maybe the running gods were just smiling on me yesterday. Either way I’m very happy, and am now officially Good For Age!

Blinded by the sun, but chuffed to bits!

Manchester is a great event and a perfect course for a PB. There’s also fantastic crowd support along the route and a pretty good haul of swag at the end – they even do an extra small t-shirt that actually fits!

Some of the top-notch swag!

Highlights of the day:

  • The Altrincham Children’s Choir, who were singing I Predict a Riot as I ran past them.
  • A great guy holding up a sign saying ‘Touch Here For The Power’ and high-fiving people.
  • Another sign saying ‘You’re Fit & U Know It’.
  • Fantastic Erdinger alcohol-free isotonic beer at the end!
  • The sun coming out while we were taking photos afterwards.
  • Going on to my little nephew’s first birthday party and eating practically my own weight in cake!

In short, a pretty perfect day and one I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while. I think it goes to show you should never give up on your dreams and goals, but try to keep finding new ways of working towards them. Good luck with your running aims this year, whatever they are – I’d love to know.

 Thank you Manchester, you were great!

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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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