The London Marathon was a fantastic event, but Race to the Stones is now looming on the horizon, so I need to start preparing for that. I’ve already been including hills in some of my long marathon training runs, and also completed a couple of hilly events, like the Temple Newsam Trails half marathon. Hopefully that will have set me off to a good start, but I know that I now need to do as many hills as possible and work on building strength rather than focusing on pace and speed. My post-London plan was to have an easy week immediately afterwards, then start to follow the training plan on the Race to the Stones website, which looks like this:
So after just a short recovery run mid-week I headed to my new favourite training ground, Temple Newsam, for a few easy trail miles a week later. And midway through the run I felt a little niggle in my right hamstring – the same side as I had my hamstring tendon injury nearly two years ago. I gave it a little massage and a stretch and hoped it would settle down. But during a short run on Monday it felt no better, so I took myself off to see Jeroen at Jorvik Physiotherapy. After a bit of poking around Jeroen told me it was the muscle on the outside edge of the hamstring group that was the culprit (the one on the right in this picture) and that it was good news as it didn’t seem to be the tendon this time; it was just a bit tired and sore post-marathon.
Jeroen gave me some ultrasound treatment and told me to take it easy for a couple of weeks, which basically means no speed work, no hills and no racing. Thankfully I can still run, but if the muscle starts to play up I’ll have to back off and rest it. I can cycle if I want to, but I’d rather not if I can run. This isn’t great news training-wise, but it could have been worse, and I have to do everything I can to ensure I reach the start of Race to the Stones injury-free – especially as many people have now kindly donated to my Just Giving page for Cancer Research UK.
I was really disappointed to have to miss the North Lincolnshire Half on Sunday. I did this race for the first time and it’s fab – you can read my review of it here. I managed to achieve sub 1:50 for the first time thanks to their brilliant pacers, and was looking forward to having another go (and getting cake at the end again!) but it would have been stupid of me to dose up on ibuprofen and do that – I might have put myself out of action completely. But I still have the Vale of York Half in September to look forward to. Instead I went out for a very slow, flat two hour trot. I’m going to practise eating various foods on the hoof over the next few weeks, especially savoury ones, as I think I’ll get sick of sweet stuff over the course of 100K. Yesterday it was salty crackers, which went down really well – easy to digest and I think the salt would be useful on a warm day in July. Isn’t ultra running all about the eating?! Anyway, here I am chomping one down – my selfie skills don’t get any better!
So that’s where I am for now. This week I’m planning to do just a couple of very short, gentle runs to keep my legs turning, but also go to flow yoga twice to try and build some extra strength and flexibility. Then I’ll see how I feel next weekend. It’s frustrating and a bit worrying not to be training completely how I should be for now, but I’m hoping my cycle of marathon training will stand me in good stead fitness-wise. I don’t need to get any faster, just stronger!
In the past I’ve done quite a bit of running for charity; the first time was back in 2009 when I first started running and the OH and I both did the first ever Run for All York 10K in aid of the Jane Tomlinson Appeal. That was a big deal at the time! I also did the Great North Run for Martin House Hospice. Then, as I started to do more and more running, I realised that I couldn’t expect people to cough up every time I took part in an event.
So I thought I should give it another go; but as nobody is that impressed when I run a marathon any more (and rightly so!) I knew I’d have to go the extra mile this time to get people to part with their hard-earned cash. Actually, quite a few extra miles…
I’ve been tempted to enter Race to the Stones ever since I heard about it last year. It’s a hilly ultra of 100K (or 62 miles in old money) that takes place in July and follows the Ridgeway trail from Lewknor to the ancient stone circle at Avebury. Not only does it look like a great event, but Cancer Research UK have charity places, so it was an ideal opportunity to take on my first 100K and support a cause that’s very close to my heart at the same time. Here’s why I’m running for CRUK.
There’s always been quite a lot of cancer on my mum’s side of the family. She and her two sisters (my aunties) all had breast cancer at a relatively early age, and her brother (my uncle) had prostate cancer. When my cousin also developed breast cancer recently she was offered BRCA2 genetic testing because it was suspected that we might have it in the family. Unfortunately her result came back positive, so we knew for sure that BRCA2 was around and that there was a 50% chance others would have it. That left me and my siblings and cousins with a decision to make. Should we also get tested and find out if we had the gene? For me it wasn’t a hard decision to make. I try to live (mostly) healthily to reduce my risk of developing long term health conditions. We all know that you’re less likely to get cancer if you don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight and exercise. But you can’t fight genetics. Having the BRCA2 gene seriously increases your risk of developing breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. However, women with the BRCA2 gene have the option of undergoing risk-reducing surgery that ultimately makes them less likely than the general population to develop breast cancer. For men it’s a bit trickier as there isn’t much you can do to prevent prostate cancer apart from keep an eye on things.
Rather than living with uncertainty, I felt I had to know. I saw a genetic counsellor at York Hospital, who was lovely, and had a simple blood test. Fortunately for me the result came back negative. I felt a strange mixture of emotions at hearing the news; obviously happy and relieved, but at the same time a bit guilty that I’d ‘got away with it’ when my cousin hadn’t – although the good news is that she had the surgery and is doing really well, and another of my female cousins has, like me, tested negative. The bad news is I won’t get a free ‘Angelina’ boob job on the NHS! Others in my family haven’t yet taken the plunge to find out. It’s a difficult decision to make, so I respect their choice, but obviously it affects future generations as well as yourself.
So that’s my very personal reason for supporting CRUK, although I’ve been lucky so far. Well known for their ground-breaking research – the BRCA2 gene was actually discovered by a CRUK-funded team – it also does a lot of brilliant work to support those affected by cancer, as well as educating people about cancer, which is why I’m supporting them. Even though you can’t change your genes, educating people about how to avoid cancer is so important. CRUK also has a wealth of useful resources on its website that anyone can access.
Thanks for reading this far if you have! I’ll be blogging a bit about my ultra training between now and Race to the Stones on 15th July. If you’d like to donate to my Just Giving page and help CRUK you can do so here. We’d both really appreciate it!
The London Marathon – considered by many to be the greatest long distance event in the world – is probably on most runners’ bucket list. It took me a while to get there though! Having been unsuccessful in the ballot a couple of times I decided to have a go at Good For Age qualification, which I achieved at the Manchester Marathon in 2015. However, the week before Manchester I’d entered the Paris Marathon for 2016, and because I thought it might be a bit daft (and expensive) to do both Paris and London in the same month, I deferred London until 2017.
So it was almost two years after entering that I finally headed down to London last Saturday to take part. I almost couldn’t believe it was happening after all this time! First stop was the expo to pick up my race number. The lovely man on the registration desk said to me “Well done Angela, Good For Age”, which was great. I also picked up a goody bag that seemed to consist mostly of healthy snacks – no complaints there! I didn’t hang around long at the expo, as I was trying to minimise time on my feet, and I find events like that really energy-draining. Instead I headed off for some carb-loading coffee and carrot cake and a bit of a rest at the hotel. I’d booked a Travelodge just near Cannon Street station, which was really handily placed for travelling to Greenwich. The weather forecast was quite warm, so I pre-hydrated with lots of water and some High 5 Zero electrolyte drink. After some more carbs at possibly the most scenic branch of Strada in the country, overlooking Tower Bridge, it was time for an early night.
Obviously I woke up before the alarm next morning, so got on with the job of drinking more High 5 and forcing down two porridge pots. I always find this a hard (but essential) part of race preparation! I expected the trains to be chaotic, so set off in good time just before 8am, but they were fine, and it only took about 20 minutes to get to Maze Hill. From there it’s about a ten minute walk to the Green start, which is much smaller than the Red and Blue areas, and where participants are mostly Good For Age runners and celebs. Not that I recognised many of them – although I was delighted to meet comedians Paul Tonkinson and Rob Deering (who produce the podcast Running Commentary) at the entrance. I love Paul’s column in Runners World, so I hope they didn’t mind a bit of ageing fangirl gushing! They were both lovely anyway, although I’m always too shy to ask celebs for photos. Queues for the portaloos were pretty lengthy – it took me about half an hour to get to the front, but at least I didn’t need to go again after that! I tried to warm up a bit on the grassy area, but space was pretty tight. I got into my pen at about 9.45 and was delighted to see Bibi from Veggie Runners. We chatted until gun time, then I looked for the four hour pacer. My plan was to hang on to him as long as I could and see what happened!
The weather was sunny but cool with hardly any wind – perfect. I felt really comfortable as we set off. After a short while we Green runners merged with the Blue, and I could see the amazing Susie Chan pacing four hours. Well I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to run with Susie, so I joined her pace group instead. I was stunned that one of the guys with us didn’t know who she was, so had to tell him he was running with a living legend! The course was quite crowded, especially in the first 10K or so, with quite a bit of shoving and jostling, but this eased a bit as we spread out later on.
I was going really well until about 15 miles, then started to feel the pace a bit. For some reason I was finding it really hard to eat my usual Clif Shot Bloks. I forced some down, but it seemed like hard work, and it was starting to get a lot warmer too. I passed a point where Lucozade gels were being given out, and took one because it would be easy to get down – but shortly after wished I hadn’t, as it didn’t seem to agree with my belly! My fuelling strategy definitely went to pot and I felt myself starting to slow down a bit. But then I remembered that my objective for the day was to enjoy the ride rather than get a PB, and settled into it. I even walked a couple of the water points, because I knew I’d probably only run London once and didn’t want my memory of it to be painful! There were some great sights on the way round the course; Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge in the first half, then Big Ben and many of the city’s landmarks towards the end. The glorious weather made everything look brilliant.
Meanwhile, my husband Steve had been dashing round town and managed to spot me in three places – although I didn’t manage to spot him at the first two! There was so much crowd support and noise around almost all of the course, which was amazing, but meant I missed him; but the thought that thousands of people had come out to support runners they didn’t even know was so touching and really spurred me on – as did the thought that various friends and family were tracking me online! I eventually saw Steve in the last mile, just before turning onto the Mall. My left calf was starting to twinge a bit with cramp, so I was pleased to be nearly finished – but the final stretch down The Mall was really special. I ran it deliberatey slowly because I wanted to savour it. The palace and all the flags looked fantastic in the sunshine. The speakers were blasting out YMCA, and I think I even did the actions as I approached the finish line. I had finally run London! My finish time was 4:05:07; not Good For Age, but my third fastest marathon, and I was happy with that considering how things had panned out. A lovely woman hung my medal round my neck and I remember saying to her “I’m so pleased to see you!”.
I picked up a goody bag with more snacks and a really nice t-shirt. The finish area seems to go on forever – a long walk after running 26.2 miles! But at least it was in the direction of the tube.
Am I glad I ran London? Definitely! It’s an epic event and I’d recommend any marathon runner does it at least once. Despite being vast it’s really well organised and the atmosphere is amazing. Would I do it again? Well on Sunday, at about mile 18, when things felt tough, I convinced myself that this was going to be my last ever road marathon. But then on Monday I realised I could qualify for next year with the time I ran at the Yorkshire Marathon last October. So let’s just say we’ll see when Good For Age entry opens!
As part of my recent marathon/ultra training I’ve been trying to run up and down as many hills as possible. When I did the Calderdale Ultra nearly two years ago it became clear to me that I was sadly lacking in hill experience; we don’t really have any in York apart from Windmill Rise, where I sometimes do hill reps, but which isn’t very long. So I know hill running is something I need to do regularly if I’m going to make it through Race to the Stones in one piece! With this in mind I did the Temple Newsam Ten (miles) in January and the Harewood House Half in February, and have also been out and about in Yearsley Woods near Ampleforth (where I managed to get lost!), Dalby Forest and along the Yorkshire Wolds Way as often as I can.
The Temple Newsam Trail Races is a new event organised by It’s Grim Up North Running. It’s basically a 6.7 mile loop around the estate, so you can run one lap for approximately 10K, two laps for a half marathon, three for 20 miles and four for a marathon. It was one of the most low-key but enjoyable events I’ve ever done. Firstly, it started at a very civilised time of 10.30, so as it only takes me about half an hour to get to Leeds I didn’t even have to get up at the crack of dawn. As only about 200 people were taking part there was no queue at all at sign-on or the toilets – fantastic! Just before kick-off we had a race briefing, then we were away.
There was no messing here, as the course started with a run up a hill to the front of the big house, but the incline wasn’t too steep. The course then followed an undulating route through the beautiful grounds of the house, featuring woodland, gardens and even a bit of a muddy descent. I really enjoyed it – I’d only entered the half as I had 15 easy miles on my marathon schedule for that weekend, but kind of wished I was doing the whole thing in the end! The only thing that was a bit disappointing was the weather – it rained for nearly all of my half – but improved as the day went on. I chatted to several people who, like me, were running the London Marathon in three weeks and using this event as their last long training run, and I think we all had a great time. There was no chip timing, but that doesn’t really bother me in trail events, where distances and PBs don’t seem to matter as much, but results were posted online anyway.
Refreshments were provided at two points along the loop, with water, cola, jelly babies, crisps and energy gels on offer. At the end there was the most fantastic array of cake – always a welcome sight to runners. And the goody bag was epic, containing some great race bling, an Easter egg, beer and a bunch of daffodils! I thought this event was great value and great fun. I’d be happy to do it again, and I think it probably has scope to get bigger. In the meantime I’ll keep looking for hills to run up and down.
Next stop – London, baby!
Here are just some of the thoughts that passed through my mind during my 20 mile run on Sunday.
Do any of them sound familiar?
20 miles. I haven’t run that far since the York Marathon five months ago. Eek. But it’s meant to be slow today though. Ten minute miles. Three hours and twenty minutes. Eek!
They said it might rain. It doesn’t look like rain. Of course it won’t rain because I’ve brought my hat in case it rains.
Yeah, my legs feel OK today. Well maybe my calves are a bit tight. But that normally goes off after a couple of miles. I should probably have rolled them before I set off.
Right, so I’ll eat a bit of flapjack after about an hour and a half, then every half hour after that. Got to practice eating on the hoof for Race to the Stones. No gel because I’m only running slowly today.
My calves are still tight. There’s a bench over there. I’ll stop there and squeeze them a bit. Yeah, that’s better.
Oh, thanks for coming out when you weren’t supposed to, sun. When I’ve left my sunnies at home. Because it was supposed to be raining. Now I’ll be squinting for the next two and a half hours! I suppose I could put my rain hat on, but then I’d probably sweat to death.
Bloody hell, it’s really warm. I don’t remember the weatherman saying it was going to be this warm. He only mentioned the rain that isn’t actually happening. I’m so overdressed. Why is everyone wearing coats? Are they aliens or something?
Six miles in exactly an hour. That’s good. Only another two hours and twenty minutes to go. That’s hilarious!
Look at all these people walking to the shops. On a sunny day like this. They need to get a life.
Jesus, what makes some dog owners think I’d love it if their mutt jumps up at me. Yank the bloody thing in! It’s always the little yappy ones. Big dogs are so much more chilled.
Five miles, that’s a quarter.
Must slow down a bit. Train body to use fat as fuel. I always speed up in the middle bit, after I’ve warmed up and before I start to get tired.
It’s better now I’m out of town. Nice by the river. Blossom out, that’s pretty. Springtime.
Oh, there’s Neil on his bike. Haven’t seen him for ages. I’ll stop for a quick chat.
I’m boiling now. Sweating like a beast. But at least nothing’s chafing. Nice one, Shock Absorber.
What fraction of this run have I done now? Over half anyway. Soon be two thirds.
Fed up of flapjack. Should have brought something salty. What though? Peanuts? They were giving out peanuts at that race. Yeah, I might bring some peanuts next time.
How much drink have I got left? Hard to tell in the Camelbak. Feels quite light though.
There is virtually no wind today. Typical. I want a breeze!
Should I enter the Boston ballot for next year? I bet it would cost a fortune to go to Boston. Am I that bothered? What if I entered, booked flights and that and then got injured? Remember that time you spent the night before Manchester in the hotel loo and couldn’t run? Hmm.
Why is that woman running in a jacket? Is she training for the Marathon des Sables? Or just insane?!
I want a wee. I’ve clearly drunk too much. There’s some bushes. Just stop the Garmin for a mo…
What shall I have for lunch when I get back? Fish finger sarnie? No, you had that yesterday. What about eggs? Yeah, scrambled eggs. Eggs are good. On toast. Protein and carbs.
Feeling a bit tired now. Oh yeah? Well suck it up, because if this was Race to the Stones you wouldn’t even be a third of the way through it. Jesus! Yeah, but I’d be running slower and with walking breaks. But still. God, how will I ever cover 100K! How? It isn’t remotely possible! WHY THE HELL DID I ENTER THAT?
Why is the Garmin bleeping? Powering down? FFS, I must have forgotten to restart it after I stopped for that wee! How far back was that? Brilliant, that’s totally buggered up my route. Well I’m not stopping til the Garmin says 20. I’ll have to do a bit extra. Bollocks.
I’m knackered now. I wish I’d brought a gel. Why didn’t you bring an emergency gel? Idiot!
Why am I doing this? I’m 53 years old. I should be in a garden centre buying a Cath Kidston trowel or something. Or shopping. Or sitting outside a pub. This is the last time I’m ever training for a marathon. Probably.
How did I ever run 26.2 miles faster than this? Actually I did it twice. Hard to believe now. But it’s on the internet so it must be true. Unless it’s Fake News – haha!
I’d really rather be walking now. Shall I have a little walk? I could walk in an ultra. Yeah, but only up the hills. This isn’t a hill. And anyway, this is London training. For the road. No stopping. Yay, these traffic lights are against me! A few seconds rest. There is a God!
Nearly home. This bit’s downhill. Flying I am. Yeah, right!
Aren’t chairs great? I need milk. Cold chocolate milk… drink of champions.
Just a few of my long run thoughts. I love it really!
What do you think during a long run?
A few days ago I noticed a plug on Facebook for a new 20 mile running event to be held in Nidderdale this May. Run Nidderdale, organised by the Rotary Club of Harrogate, describes itself as being ‘for serious runners only’. I guess they mean they only want entries from sub-elite skinny minnies in running club vests who post super-fast times, but it got me to thinking about what constitutes a serious runner. Does it depend on your ability? Or can it just be about your attitude?
I have friends who are runners at all levels, from those just starting out with Couch to 5K to others who can run a marathon in less than three hours, and everything in between. They are almost all taking their training seriously: setting a goal, following a plan, trying to eat healthily and doing their best to improve, sometimes at the expense of other things like holidays or even a social life. But if someone happens to be older or slower than that person who can run a marathon in three hours, does that mean they aren’t taking running seriously? That their efforts count for nothing?
To look at things another way… when I’m out running I always say hello to other runners. I guess I feel an affinity with them, whoever they are. Some reciprocate, but others totally blank me. Am I not worthy of their acknowledgement if I’m clearly not clocking sub six minute miles? If I smile and say hi does it mean I’m not taking things seriously enough? Are they the serious runners, too po-faced to offer a friendly greeting? Being snooty/serious doesn’t necessarily make them any faster than friends of mine who are super speedy and dedicated, yet also some of the most cheerful people I know; people who’ve encouraged me throughout my running journey and don’t feel the need to be so up themselves.
So where does that leave me? Am I a serious runner? I’m never going to trouble the podium in any event, but I always want to do the best I can. Even though I’m no spring chicken I’m still trying to improve. I didn’t become a Good For Age marathoner by not taking my training seriously. I haven’t yet given up on trying to shave those last few seconds off that elusive sub 50 10K. But I feel the good Rotarians of Harrogate wouldn’t classify me as a serious runner because I’m never at the head of the field.
Interestingly, the aim of this new run is to give people (and I quote) ‘the opportunity to raise money for their favourite charity’. But is running 20 miles a challenge for a serious runner? It’s far more of a stretch for those of us lower down the food chain. You know, the ones who sometimes wear tights when it’s a bit chilly, have fun while we’re running and are probably more likely to run for charity anyway.
If the organisers of the Rotary run want only fast runners to enter, then that’s what they should say, not insult the rest of us by implying we don’t take our sport seriously. Personally I don’t ever want to be serious enough not to say hi to another runner. I prefer to be in the middle of the pack. Smiling.
What do you think makes a ‘serious’ runner? I’d love to know.
Ooh, it’s been a while since I blogged about running. What have I been up to recently? Well, I took it easy for a while after the Leeds Abbey Dash in November and also did some cross training during November and December – mostly turbo training on the bike, plus a bit more yoga than usual. I think it’s good to do this a couple of times a year to give the legs and feet a bit of a break from pounding out the miles. I also find it helps my running mojo to keep working; when I’ve had a break from ‘proper’ running I find I can’t wait to get back on it!
I’m now four weeks into my training schedule for the London Marathon. I’m following the Asics Sub 4 plan again, which has worked well for me both times I’ve used it in the past – for the Manchester Marathon in 2015 and York last year. I know some people think you should try different plans, but as I enjoy this one my view is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”. I’m not massively bothered about running a PB at London, because having finally got in via Good For Age I really want to savour and enjoy the whole experience and not beat myself up if I find the pace slacking a bit from sub 4. Just as well really, as I came down with a stinking cold this last weekend and didn’t do any running at all! I was so excited to hear last week that Jo Pavey is doing London this year too. She’s such a hero and inspiration of mine that it really gave me a boost to know we’d be running in the same race – even though we’ll be miles apart!
A couple of weeks ago I ran the York Brass Monkey Half Marathon, which has become a bit of an annual tradition now. I’m never at my best form so early in the season, straight after the Christmas holidays (who is?!) but it’s a fab event that I love to take part in – and you always get a really useful long-sleeved technical top at the end. I was a few minutes off my PB at 1:53, but if nothing else the Monkey is always a good wake-up call! I’ve also entered the North Lincs Half in May, which I did last year and really enjoyed – not least because I ran sub 1:50 for the first time thanks to the brilliant pacers! Coming two weeks after London I hope the fact that I’ll have trained for a marathon and then recovered for two weeks will mean I have another shot at a PB. Oh, and they give you cake at the end!
My main goal for this year is going to be my biggest challenge yet – the Race to the Stones 100K in July. I’ve watched this event with interest over the past couple of years, not daring to enter. But then I thought to myself “Hell girl, you’re not getting any younger – if not now, then when?” and finally took the plunge! My training strategy for this (based on nothing more scientific than instinct!) will be to follow my marathon schedule until London and then (all being well) switch to the ultra training plan that’s on the Race to the Stones website. I’m also aiming to do more core work than usual to build strength, plus run up and down as many hills as possible. This can be a challenge living in York! I’m trying to enter one hilly event a month to help with training, the first being the Harewood House Half on 26th February. I did this two years ago and it was great fun.
I’ve been running a couple of times recently in the grounds of Temple Newsam House near Leeds and am planning to use the nearby Cleveland Way and Yorkshire Wolds Way for some training routes. I’ve also started walking the two miles to work and back instead of cycling, as I figure the more time I spend on my feet the better! And in June I’ve entered my first ever Hardmoors event, the Wainstones Marathon. I thought this would be a good dress rehearsal for RTTS – I hope it won’t put me off as it’s allegedly very hilly!
I’m really excited but also a bit scared about the prospect of running 100K – I just hope my poor old legs will hold out! What are your running plans for 2017? I’d love to hear about them.
I always think just before Christmas is a great time to reflect on how my running has gone over the last twelve months and make some plans for the new year. 2016 has been a pretty good year on the whole, especially considering that this time last year I seriously thought I might never be able to run a long distance ever again. I achieved two of my long-term time goals this year. The first was getting a sub 1:50 half marathon for the first time ever at the North Lincs Half; it’s a great event that I’d really recommend if you want to go for a PB, as it’s nice and flat and has pacers. The weather was also perfect on the day, which always helps, and they also give you cake at the end! I hadn’t intended to go for a PB that day – I was planning to do that at the Vale of York Half in September – but felt good, so just went with it! You can read my review of that here.
The other goal was to get a sub 4 at the Yorkshire Marathon. I’d done this once before, at Manchester last year, but when the course was later found out to be short all the official records were wiped, so I wanted to re-establish my Good For Age time. I was really happy to do that, and am now harbouring fantasies about applying to run Boston in 2018, but it would probably be a bit too expensive. My final goal for the year was to run a sub 50 10K at the Leeds Abbey Dash, but this wasn’t to be. My plan after the Yorkshire Marathon (a month before) was to take a week off and then do some speedwork in preparation, but in the middle of October I felt a bit rubbish for some reason and didn’t really do enough training. I did get a PB of 50:27 however, so I’m not a million miles off and will definitely have another crack at that next year!
Back in April I ran the Paris Marathon – not with the aim of a PB, as I was still coming back from injury – and really enjoyed it, although it was a very warm day. The breakfast run the day before was also fun. You can read my review of that here. Other events I’ve done and enjoyed this year have been the Snake Lane 10, the Vale of York 10, the Mont Blanc 10K, the Yorkshire Wolds Half, the York 10K and the Vale of York Half.
I’ve been doing a bit less running, more yoga and some turbo training over the last few weeks, but I’ve entered the Brass Monkey Half in January, so will try and sharpen up a bit before then. I don’t think I’ll be PB-worthy straight after Christmas, but the thought of running there does mean I’ll probably consume a few less mince pies than otherwise!
My two big events for next year are the London Marathon, which I finally got into after several unsuccessful ballot entries by running my Good for Age time, and the Race to the Stones 100K next July, which I entered a couple of weeks ago in a moment of madness! I’ve wanted to have a go at a long ultra for a while, and this looks like a great event – I’ve certainly heard lots of good reports about it. I know I’ll need to do some specific preparation for that. I don’t know if I can do it, but I thought that the first time I ever ran a 10K! I want to try and do as many local, hilly off-road events as I can in the first half of next year to help me prepare for RTTS and am really looking forward to getting into the trail/ultra runner mindset – especially the cake part!
So that’s me for now as we hit the inevitable slide towards Christmas. How was 2016 for you and what do you have planned for 2017? I’d love to know.
Last weekend I went on a yoga retreat. I’d never done anything like that before and really enjoyed it. This post is a bit longer than usual because I had such a great time and want to describe it in detail for anyone who’s interested in yoga and/or healthy food. Feel free to bail out at any point!
Many years ago, when I worked in marketing in a big office in Leeds, I had a colleague called Jenni. One day Jenni discovered yoga, decided she didn’t to be on the corporate hamster wheel any more and took herself off to India to become a yogi. To be honest, we mostly thought she was a bit mad at the time – giving up a good job and a nice life to leap into the unknown. But it paid off – Jenni became a fantastic yoga teacher and has worked all over the world, mostly recently at Kaliyoga retreats in France and Italy. At the moment she’s back in God’s Own County for a few weeks, so organised a weekend retreat for friends and family in the Dales.
I’ve had an on/off relationship with yoga for a few years. I do love it, and often attend the flow class at York Yoga Studio. I think the dynamic nature of flow yoga is a great complement to running, building core strength and flexibility – also good for those of us who are getting on a bit and want to stay mobile! But what normally happens is that I go for a couple of months, something happens to make me miss a class and then it seems to take me a few weeks to get started again. I really want to do yoga more often, so signed up for Jenni’s retreat because I thought it might kick-start me into doing just that. It also seemed like a great way to relax and recharge at the end my running season.
So, last Friday afternoon twelve of us (all women) arrived at the Healthy Home on Cononley Moor near Skipton. It’s a fairly remote but apparently quite well-known place – an eco home designed by Gina Lazenby that has even had a book written about it! It’s all totally Feng Shui-ed, with Buddhas and angels in every room. I’m not sure I believe in all that sort of thing, but it’s certainly a very spacious and beautiful place – my bedroom was enormous! We were promised a weekend of yoga, hiking and healthy, veggie food, which sounded perfect. We were also encouraged not to use our ‘devices’, but to cut ourselves off from the outside world as much as possible to gain the full benefit of the experience. Personally I was more concerned about going without coffee!
Following an afternoon tea with some delicious raw cake, we had our first yoga session. All the yoga took place in an enormous conservatory, and during daylight hours we had the most amazing views of the surrounding countryside as we practised. To ease us in we started with an hour of ‘restorative’ yoga, which was really relaxing, and a great way of letting go of our outside lives for the weekend. Afterwards we had a light supper of red lentil and coconut soup with buckwheat flour soda bread and a huge side salad featuring sprouted beans. Feeling very chilled out, we mostly retired to our rooms at around 9pm. Sleep was an important part of the break for some, especially those with small children!
I was slightly disturbed that our schedule for Saturday started with two hours of yoga from 8am, with no breakfast until 10am. I do love my brekkie and wasn’t sure I’d manage without food until that time! But Jenni assured me that once we started I wouldn’t think about food, and she was right. This morning session consisted of a guided meditation followed by some dynamic flow yoga, perfect for waking up the body, and slightly challenging in places. The two hours seemed to whizz by in no time. Our breakfast was worth waiting for: fruit salad, chia seed porridge with goji berries and bee pollen, plus two kinds of fresh juice – beetroot, carrot, orange and ginger, and kale, lemon, banana, hemp, chlorella, moringa, almond and coconut water. Both were amazing! I’d never had chia porridge before, but will certainly be having a go at making it myself.
After breakfast some of us went out for a walk. Luckily the heavy overnight rain had stopped, and it felt good both mentally and physically to be out in the fresh air. It was also a great bonding exercise. I really enjoyed chatting to all the amazing women there, including one who had cycled with her husband from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego – a journey that took four years! The only member of the group I knew before the weekend was Jenni herself, and I had been a bit worried that everyone else would be about 25 and super-bendy, but there were plenty of older women of varying abilities and Jenni was able to cater to us all yoga-wise.
A late lunch was our main meal of the day, and on Saturday it was vegan lasagne made with sheets of celeriac instead of pasta. I absolutely love celeriac, but had never thought of using it in this way before. This was accompanied by sweet potato wedges and another massive salad. Then there was pudding – an amazing confection called Caramel Swirl, which tasted just like cheesecake but apparently consisted mostly of cashews and dates. There’s a link to the recipe here and I’m definitely going to make it soon! In the afternoon I just chilled for a couple of hours, reading, looking at the scenery and watching the sun set. I literally can’t remember the last time I did this, so it was lovely. I had brought some running kit with me (in case you were wondering!) and was tempted to go out, but in the end thought I could run any time, so should focus on why I’d come on the retreat.
At 5pm it was time for yoga again – another restorative session with just a bit of flow in it. I think it lasted for about an hour and a half, but in truth I was so blissed out at the end I can hardly remember! Our supper afterwards was another fab soup – butternut squash, with oatcakes and homemade nut butter on the side. After supper a few people went straight off to bed, but a few of us stayed up to have a go with some Angel Cards. I’m a little sceptical about this sort of new age stuff, but the card I pulled out was the Archangel Michael, which is a coincidence as my birthday is 29th September – Michaelmas Day! Apparently he’s always watching over me, which is good news. I lay in bed later thinking how dark and quiet it was – although the moon was huge and bright and I did hear an owl hooting – then slept like a baby.
Sunday obviously began with yoga again! It was a beautiful day and the sun poured into the conservatory, flooding it with light. I realised it was the first time I’d ever done sun salutations actually looking at the sun, which was fantastic. The session lasted for two and a half hours, but never felt too long or boring. It was great to have so much time to dedicate to practice without having to rush or think about real world stuff. Breakfast today was raw buckwheat granola with yoghurt and fruit, plus another amazing drink: banana, almond, cacao, maca, mesquite, flax, chia and coconut milk – like a healthy chocolate milkshake! Later in the morning I had a fantastic Ayurvedic back massage from Jenni’s friend Maria, who had just undergone the training and wanted bodies to practice on – there were plenty of willing volunteers! Another super-relaxing experience. As our breakfast had been quite late we had a little play with inversion postures in the yoga space before our main meal. I even attempted a headstand – not very successfully, but something to work on I guess!
Our final meal together was a black bean stew with lots of lovely veggies in it, served with quinoa and kale. Jenni had also made us all some raw chocolate energy balls for the journey home, which basically tasted like gorgeous luxury truffles! I’m aware I’ve probably used the words ‘amazing’ and ‘fantastic’ far too much with regard to the food, but it really was. It was so tempting to take photos and Instagram everything, but using phones and social media were off the menu. It was all so tasty, and I felt like I was bursting with goodness by Sunday teatime. There was also fruit and a huge range of herbal teas available all the time.
I left feeling looser, calmer and more relaxed than I have done for a long time – if ever – but also strangely energised. I’m totally inspired to do yoga more often and eat far more raw and veggie food. This might not be easy, living with a dedicated carnivore, but I’m determined to try. I might just have to ask Santa for a Nutribullet! The whole weekend was totally worthwhile. Jenni is the most talented and generous teacher as well as a brilliant chef! I would love to ‘retreat’ on a regular basis, but suspect time and resources will mean it’s more like once a year. I really would recommend this type of thing to anyone, especially if you’re feeling stressed or burnt out.
For more information on Jenni and her work you can read her blog here.
Did you get the ‘Sorry’ magazine or email from the London Marathon this week? I know how you feel – I’ve had a few of them myself! London is high on the bucket list of most marathon runners, and you get so excited at the prospect of getting a ballot place. But for most of us it’s a ‘no’, just because of the sheer volume of applications they receive. Apparently the odds of getting a ballot place are around 7-1, so they don’t stack in your favour. And it’s even more annoying when some people seem to get in year after year and others never get lucky.
Of course the ballot isn’t the only way into London. In the end I got a place via the Good For Age system. The only benefit of being old is that for V50 women the GFA qualifying time is sub four hours, and I finally managed to achieve that last year, so I’ll finally be lining up next April after years of bad luck in the ballot. I’m always surprised that many people don’t seem to know about Good For Age, but it’s worth checking out if you’re prepared to put in some effort to get there. Obviously you could get a charity place, but most of them have a very high minimum fundraising target for London, which is a lot of pressure for runners. I guess it’s an option if you have lots of generous friends!
And you know, London isn’t the only cool marathon. I’ve done a few other spring ones that have been really good. If you’re chasing a PB (or a Good For Age qualification!) I’d recommend Manchester, which has the flattest course in the UK; and apparently it’s even the right length these days! It’s where I got my first sub 4. This year there were some issues with baggage reclaim being very slow, but hopefully the organisers will have sorted that out for 2017. I’ve run and reviewed Manchester twice, in 2013 and 2015.
In 2014 I did the Milton Keynes Marathon, which is a bit later than London (in May) but a really good event. Well-organised, with an interesting course that takes in some lovely parkland, and a finish in the MK Dons football stadium where you can see yourself on the big screen! There’s also a half marathon option if you have friends/family who’d like a shorter challenge. You can read my review here. Although I didn’t get one in 2014, they apparently now do a very cool cow-shaped medal, so I may have to go back for that one day!
In April this year I ran the Paris Marathon, which was a great experience. The only problem (for me) was that it was really warm and sunny, which is apparently the norm at this event – I do much better in the cold! Although I didn’t perform particularly well, I did enjoy it, and there was also a really chilled and friendly breakfast warm-up run the day before. Running past many of the best-known sights in the city was fantastic, and there was even a rave tunnel! You don’t have to go through a ballot to get a place, but it does sell out, so get in soon if you fancy it – entry is already open. You can read my Paris review here.
So don’t despair if it was a ‘no’ from London this time. There are lots of other great marathons out there – these are just a few – and they’re all 26.2 miles long. I actually know a couple of people who’ve done London in the past and not really enjoyed it; they actually found it a bit overwhelming. Hopefully your turn will come one day – and if not, get training for that Good For Age!