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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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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Running Away From The Comfort Zone

I meet a lot of people who tell me they’d like to start running but can’t – for various reasons. They’re mostly wrong, just lacking in confidence. So I asked lovely local lass Claire Streeton, who only took up running late last year, to write me a guest post about her running journey so far. As it turned out, a lot of it sounded very familiar from when I first started running! I hope it will inspire others to take the plunge.

 The memory is still etched in my head… going back to school for summer term and seeing those fresh white chalk lines circling the green field. Cue panic at the thought of having to spend the next few weeks of ‘attempting’ athletics during PE and consistently being picked last in teams. The one big fear though was the running, any running; it was not my thing at all. As the years whizzed past I still pushed the whole running malarkey out the way. I used to see runners (who never looked happy) and wondered why they did it. Then a combination of two babies and a pretty sedentary lifestyle resulted in the rising of the muffin belt and extra inches. I didn’t feel good emotionally or mentally. I was quite honestly a mess. Over the years I became a serial gym member. I shimmied with best of them in Zumba and kicked ass in body combat; but the weight and self-esteem issues continued. Any attempt at running usually involved a treadmill or a feeble jog for all of a minute before I got bored and breathless, jelly thighs wobbling, and returned home. My head was still resigned to the fact that I’m not a born runner, it’s not my thing, I am useless, blah blah blah.

Then, cue an unexpected house move away from the big city of York to a cottage in the Wolds countryside. Something changed, something shifted. The open spaces helped me to relax, and I knew deep down that if I wanted to tone up, get fit and lose weight, now was the time. Again, I never set my mind on running, even with the beautiful scenery and abundance of running routes on my doorstep, so a home exercise DVD was the start. I went straight for the big guns, we are talking INSANITY! Let’s just say the fit test alone nearly killed me, but I followed the plan every day for twelve weeks. I was supported by my husband and children, who sometimes did the DVD with me. It was the first time I had ever committed myself to exercise and I started to see results. I was getting fitter and losing inches; it was slow, but it was happening. I began to gain a mental clarity that I hadn’t had for a long time. It felt good. I felt proud – whoa, that was a new feeling!

One of my friends in the village had started running and asked if I wanted to join her. I chickened out; I was so fearful of looking like an idiot gasping for breath and not getting any further than the end of the road. She continued to ask and I continued to chicken out, but eventually last October I decided to try a run by myself; a dummy run, if you like, to prepare for a run with someone else. To my surprise my feet keep moving, my legs were working and my breathing was good. I actually managed to run 3K without stopping! Whoa Nelly, what happened there? Maybe it was a fluke. I tried again the next day and it happened again. I was actually able to run far enough to be comfortable to go running with someone else. I put this down to twelve weeks of increasing my fitness with Shaun T and Insanity.

So, the running with someone else turned out to be the best thing ever. Ruth was supportive yet helped me push myself at the same time. She is what I would call a proper ‘runner’; she is quick and makes it look effortless (unlike me). We ran together in rain, wind and ice, and it still felt good. The distances increased and the times got a little better. We had another friend join us too. Marcelle was also really supportive if we were running without Ruth. We enjoyed plenty of good conversation (whilst we could talk) and one day this turned to the subject of maybe signing up for a race. Panic stations! Race? What, me?! Nah… don’t think I could do that. We decided to wait another few weeks to make a decision.

One of Claire’s favourite running trails.

I hit a bit of a low point over Christmas when my running plateaued and I just couldn’t do it. I was struggling with my IBS and had no energy to run or push myself because of my diet. I did a little research and signed up for some kinesiology sessions to help. I needed to be better, I wanted to keep running. Who’d have thought it! After a few sessions the running slowly came back and I was able to get the distances in without struggling. We were currently hitting 7.5K at this point. We had some great routes to run, both on and off road and including hills. I decided that I love to run in the rain! I was able to join my husband for a run which was great, although he pushed me a little further than I liked! The conversation loomed again about the race. I really wanted to do it, but we were looking at going straight for 10K, no 5K practice. How on earth would I do a 10K? But we went for it and signed up. On Easter Sunday we would be running a 10K undulating course in Helmsley which had 2.5 miles of hill! I continued to panic over the next few weeks. How would I ever accomplish this? We upped the distances. We didn’t follow a plan, we just got out as often as we could, including rolling out of bed at 7am to go hill training and mixing it up with a bit of cycling. Never in a million years did I think I would be willing to do that! We completed our first 10K distance, then our second. I tried not to get hooked on times, I just wanted to complete them. I still refused to believe that I would make it round the ‘real’ course with other ‘proper runners’. I would soon find out.

I didn’t sleep the night before the race. I had stressed the whole day before about what to eat and what the weather would be like, praying it would be raining and not sunny; after all, I run a little better in the rain. Race day loomed and we arrived with families in tow. To say I was nervous is an understatement. I am in no way competitive, I have never had an inclination to race so why was I here? What if I cry at the end? I don’t want to cry! A few supportive words from my husband and Ruth and I was kind of OK. I decided I was going to achieve something that I never thought I would be able to… oh, yes and to get an Easter Egg and a mug for my effort!

Claire (left) at the Helmsley 10K.

 I was prepped for the race. I had uploaded all my music to help me run. I discovered over the past few months that if I have music to listen to (in one ear for safety) it stops my head getting in the way and making negative comments. I tried to visualise finishing, whether that was walking or running, and told myself it was OK if I had to walk. The weather was dry – a little windy, but actually was perfect to run in. Looking back on it now the race seems a bit of a blur. It felt almost surreal; I still question whether it was me who took part in it! The worst bit was the start, straight into ‘that hill’ – I honestly thought I would die! I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like if we hadn’t done any hill training. We got to the top and the track got better, off road terrain just like we were used to. I felt comfortable; slower than I wanted to be, but still moving. We hit 7K and my chest was hurting, but Ruth kept me going. 8K passed – not far to go! I imagine most people would be thrilled to see the markers and know they were almost home, but oh no, not me, I would rather not have seen the distances. The 1K sign was the worst –  only 1K left, but it was the hardest kilometre I’ve ever done. I wanted to give up, it was torture, my chest was hurting so much (later realised that I was suffering from exercise induced asthma) but Ruth kept me going, over the last hill and nearly home. I didn’t want to embarrass my family, I wanted my kids to be proud of their mum for finishing. I don’t think I was smiling when I finished, but I did! Our time was 1 hour 8 minutes; by no means fast, but I got my Easter egg, a mug and my first 10K under my belt.

 I spent the next week in meltdown. It sounds ridiculous, but I didn’t know how to deal with the accomplishment. I have never competed in anything before. Then I started to feel angry at myself for being so slow and not good enough, and resigned myself to not racing again, deciding that it wasn’t for me. I would keep running but nothing else. We had a 5K fun race looming, but that was fine; there was no pressure or serious runners at this, so all was OK. The Colour Me Rad 5K at Harewood House in Leeds was the complete opposite of Helmsley. Full of giggling, music, tutus, cool sunglasses and getting paint bombed – it was such a fun experience. But I realised that even though we didn’t have to get a personal best, we still ran and were easily able to run the distance. 5K used to be such a long way for me to think about running; now it’s our short run during the week. We will definitely do Colour Me Rad again!

Claire and friends at Colour Me Rad.

 So, here I am having completed my first 10K and 5K races, all in the space of six months. It just shows that it is possible for anyone. I have had wonderful support from my husband and friends; my husband especially knows how hard I have worked and how far I have come, and for that I am grateful. At this point you may be wondering if I want to increase my distance and sign up for a half marathon; the answer is no. I am more than happy to keep at my 10K distance. I didn’t think I would want to run another race, but now that my chest pain has been resolved and I am able to run better with the help of my inhaler it has made me want to push myself and get a better time. I have lost inches, toned up and a few pounds have disappeared, which is a bonus; but the strange thing is I am now more interested in the running than the weight loss. I feel so much healthier and more focused. It’s an ongoing lifestyle change and hard work, but I am not going back. I will keep moving forwards and maybe one day it will involve a half marathon, or a 50 minute 10K. We have even talked about an obstacle-style course like the Spartan Sprint or Tough Mudder, so watch this space!

 Claire’s Top Tips for Beginners

  • Run with others if you’re able to. It’s much more sociable and you can push each other (not literally!).
  • Get proper trainers and running clothes. I refused to put on Lycra running tights to start with, but it makes for a much more comfortable run.
  • Make sure you have rest days; recovery is important. I still feel guilty for having rest days, but I know I need them. Heck, sometimes I even have two rest days!
  • Whatever distance and time you run feel proud that you have accomplished something.
  • Eat well and healthily. Don’t scrimp on food portions, it won’t help.

Good luck with your running journey!

A runner!

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Team Shepherd for Children with Cancer UK

It’s a long time since I’ve done a run for charity, mainly because I discovered that you can only ask your friends for money so many times before they start to cross the road to avoid you! But as me and Himself are both now in the year of our half century we thought we should do something special to mark it – and make it worthwhile at the same time.

In July Steve will be taking on L’Étape du Tour, the amateur stage of the Tour de France. The 148km route incorporates two huge classic Tour climbs, the Col du Tourmalet and the Hautacam. I like cycling, but rather him than me on this occasion – I’ll be following in the camper van! In September I’ll be doing the Berlin Marathon, which is (happily) completely flat and probably the best shot I’ll ever get at a sub-4 attempt. We thought we’d like to combine our efforts for charity – but which one to choose?

 Our local paper, the York Press, has recently featured several stories like this one about young children who’ve sadly died after battling rare forms of cancer. Apparently around 3,600 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK. This touched a chord, so we’ve decided to raise money for Children with Cancer UK, the leading national children’s charity dedicated to the fight against all childhood cancers. CwC aims to help find cures and provide care for young people suffering from cancer. Every year it invests millions of pounds in essential research, welfare and campaigning programmes to save young lives. We think it’s a really worthwhile cause.

 Steve’s already well into his training for the Étape, and my training programme for Berlin will begin properly on 9th June. The thought of raising money for Children with Cancer will definitely motivate Team Shepherd to do as well as we possibly can! You can find out more about CwC’s work and read some really inspiring stories about how they’ve helped sick children on their website. If you’d like to support us (and them) by making a donation you can do this on our Virgin Money Giving page.

Thanks for reading and watch this space for training updates!


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Race Report – Milton Keynes Marathon 2014

I wasn’t really supposed to be at the Milton Keynes Marathon. As some of you will know, I was meant to take part in Manchester in April, but succumbed to a nasty tummy bug the day before – the story of that nightmare is here. But after all my training I still wanted to do a spring marathon, and Milton Keynes seemed to fit the bill, being just four weeks after Manchester. I wasn’t really sure what to do to prepare in the month between the two events, but in the end settled for another two weeks of training followed by a two week taper.

Definitely not built for sun!

The bank holiday weather forecast was glorious, which made me a little apprehensive as I’ve never run a marathon in warm conditions before. We gingers tend to perform better in the cold! I did my best to keep well hydrated in the few days leading up to the event and applied plenty of sunscreen. The start of the race was a pleasantly chilled affair – a relief not to have the usual manic mass-start warm-up where they attempt to get people with cold muscles to do static stretching. I found the four hour pace man, and my plan was to stick with him for as long as I could and see what happened.

 The first few miles seemed quite fast for four hour pace, which should be 9:09. The pacer was a little ahead of me, but not getting any further away, yet the mile split times on my Garmin kept coming up at under nine minutes. I felt slightly uneasy when I remembered what had happened when I set off too fast at the Yorkshire Marathon (I got a stitch around mile 18), but felt OK so decided to stick with it. The sun was blazing down, but I didn’t feel overly hot and tried to drink as much as possible. We were certainly well provided for drinks-wise, with water every three miles and Gatorade Perform energy drink at three stations. There were also two High 5 gel stations at miles 12 and 18. I’d tested both of these in training and had also taken an SiS Go gel of my own at six miles.

I saw Steve at mile 8 and felt great. However, a couple of miles later my belly began to feel a bit odd – I’m not sure why. It’s something that’s never happened to me before and felt really uncomfortable. Perhaps it was the combination of all the different energy products! I started to slow down a bit and the four hour man began to recede from sight. I still thought he was going a bit fast though! “OK”, I thought, “I can only do my best now. Maybe I can still get a PB”. The next few miles were a bit tough, especially as the course was much more undulating than I’d expected; however, the scenery was lovely. Milton Keynes is a very green place, and the course took us through some beautiful parks and along off-road tracks and paths. Crowd support was fantastic in the second half, with people cheering us on and offering water, orange slices, jelly babies, flapjack and cooling hosepipes.

 When the sun went in for a while I began to feel a bit better and rallied slightly from about mile 20 onwards. I had to stop once to stretch a bit of cramp out of my calves towards the end, but otherwise felt OK. The final part of the race in the MK Dons stadium was fantastic! Running in through the tunnel and around the track to the finish was brilliant, with people in the stands clapping and shouting encouragement. It was almost worth going just for that – I felt like a proper athlete! In the end I was a couple of minutes outside my PB at 4:09, but still really enjoyed the event.

Sweaty and dishevelled but happy!

 I’d really recommend this marathon to anyone who isn’t a PB-chaser. For those who find road marathons boring, the course is more interesting than most, especially in the second half. Everything seemed really well organised, with efficient bag drop and changing facilities in the stadium – and plenty of toilets! Quite a nice bit of bling too, for those who like that sort of thing. My only very small gripe is that the four hour pacer finished in 3:55. Not that it mattered to me in the end, but it might have to some, especially on such a warm day. For anyone for whom time really matters I would say Manchester is the better course for a PB. But on the whole I had a great time – thank you Milton Keynes!

I’ll be taking things a bit easier running-wise and doing more cycling until mid-June, when I start training for the Berlin Marathon. Hopefully that one will be a bit cooler and flatter!

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