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When I entered the Burn Valley Half a few weeks ago it seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought a hilly half marathon would be great training for the Hardmoors Rosedale Marathon in August and, ultimately, the Snowdonia Marathon in October. Also, the race starts and finishes in the Yorkshire Dales market town of Masham, famed for its breweries, and we’d been promised beer at the finish. But that was before the heatwave! And then the woman who runs the nearby campsite where we stayed the night before cheerfully told us she believed Burn Valley to be the hardest road half marathon in the UK. So when the day came I was kind of dreading running up and down hills under a scorching sun on baking Tarmac. Oh well, what doesn’t kill you etc…

 

I travelled to the start with my friend Colin, an age group duathlete who didn’t seem unduly bothered at the prospect of the hills or the heat; but then he is currently training for Rat Race’s City to Summit and knocking out brick sessions all the time. Obviously in a different league to yours truly! I’d heard a few days previously that over 300 people had entered, but there were only 227 finishers on the day, so clearly some people had been put off by the weather forecast. I approached it as a training exercise and decided I’d be happy to plod as slowly as necessary to avoid keeling over with heatstroke. Signing on at Masham Town Hall was quick and efficient, with minimal toilet queues.

After a race briefing including the news that an extra water point had been put on (thank God) we set off bang on time. After a circuit of the market place we ran out of town and started climbing up to Swinton Castle. That one wasn’t too bad on fresh legs. After dropping down from the castle the route winds through the Burn Valley, taking in several decent climbs along the way. The biggest of these comes at about halfway, with a gradual climb of about a mile up to a war memorial to the Leeds Pals. I must admit I wasn’t feeling too good at this point. Apart from being hellishly hot and sweaty, my belly felt a bit weird. But fortunately we then turned left and began a gentle descent down Colsterdale with beautiful views.

I’m not sure whether the second half was easier than the first or whether I just felt a bit better! We climbed up and down through the villages of Healey and Fearby. I’m sure all the runners were really glad of the numerous water points laid on by the lovely marshals. I drank a bit and poured some water over my head at pretty much each point. Locals also turned out to support, some of them spraying hoses across the road. It was then back up to Swinton Castle again, where I inflicted a rather sweaty hug on my friend Phil, who was marshalling there. From the castle it was downhill for about the last mile and a half back to Masham. I was pretty glad to see the 13 mile marker, and a shout of “Come on Knavesmire” powered me round the square to the finish, where my husband had cycled out to meet me. At the end we received a banana, some Yorkshire tea, a can of beer and a t-shirt.

My finish time was 2:16:44, reflecting the tough route and the heat. I was 169th out of 227 overall, 53rd out of 92 women and 13th out of 24 in the W50 category. I was a bit narked that there were only large t-shirts left when I finished. I wasn’t fast, but I was a long way from last. It’s not much use for me to wear, but at least it has the course profile handily printed on the back for future reference!

 

Overall I’d really recommend this event. It’s really well organised with a fun, challenging and very scenic course. I’m really surprised more people didn’t sign up for it. Masham also has some great pubs and cafés for cooling post-race beer and/or ice cream. I’d love to do it again next year. Hopefully it will be a bit less hot!

I love running. And I love wine. In fact, one of the reasons I started running was to work off some wine calories; although after a while running became more important to me than wine! So when I heard about the first Dove House Hospice Wine Dash it seemed like a bit of a no-brainer. Running, drinking and raising money for charity – I mean, why wouldn’t you? The event took place at Little Wold Vineyard at South Cave near Selby. I must admit, before I heard about this event I didn’t even know there was a vineyard there. It’s part of a farm and has apparently only been producing wine for a short time.

There were two different levels of entry fee – boozers and non-boozers. Fortunately I’d arranged for my OH to cycle out there and chauffeur me home! It was certainly a gorgeous day for the event as I drove over there to meet my friend Karen. Parking was on quite a rough field (good job I’d left the Ferrari at home!) and from there a short walk up a hill to registration. There were three start times: 11 am, 12 noon or 1pm, and we’d plumped for 11. In the start/finish area there was a really nice bar in a marquee, a coffee wagon, some toilets and some hay bales to sit on. There weren’t that many people waiting to start, but I guess the later times may have been more popular. One serious-looking chap lined up with a Camelbak and we wondered whether he was planning to fill it with wine!

The run was a 5K trail route with four wine stops on the way round, themed as different countries: France, Italy, Australia and Spain. Each station had appropriate wines and complementary snacks. At registration we were given a wristband and a card to get stamped as we had our refreshments – water was also available for non-boozers! The wines were all really nice and I believe had been donated by a local wine merchant. The matching snacks were an inspired touch; pizza and garlic bread at Italy, salami and olives at Spain, brioche at France etc.

The undulating trail took us on a scenic route through woods and fields. Most people were jogging very slowly or walking and just enjoying themselves.

Karen and I spent a while at the wine stations(!), chatted to various different folk and had a marvellous time. The weather was glorious, and the views from the top of the hills were fabulous.

We took about an hour and were kind of sad when it was over! At the finish we were given a glass of pink fizz produced at the vineyard, which was gorgeous. A percentage of the purchase price of this goes to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, so of course we had to buy some to take home! We also received a lovely wooden coaster as a memento and a tube of wine gums.

The Wine Dash was a well-organised, really fun event and I hope it raised lots of money for the hospice. Hopefully if they hold it again more people will attend and raise even more money!

I knew the Hardmoors White Horse Marathon was going to be tough. I’d done a couple of their half marathons (you can read my reviews of Saltburn here and Wainstones here), and they were pretty hard – as the name suggests! But that’s kind of the point of these events. For the uninitiated, Hardmoors runs take place in the area covering the North York Moors and the adjoining coastline, and are organised by the awesome couple Jon and Shirley Steele. Each event in the Hardmoors marathon series includes a 10K, a half and a full marathon – although distances are always a bit more than the standard. They’re really popular and sell out fast. Hardmoors also put on some pretty awesome ultra events of up to 200 miles. The Hardmoors mantra is basically Suffering = Fun, which pretty much tells you all you need to know! I thought doing a couple of these marathons at a steady pace would be good training for Snowdonia in October.

The White Horse starts and finishes at the visitor centre at the top of Sutton Bank; from here you can see all the way across to the Yorkshire Dales, a view that vet, author and local legend James Herriot described as ‘the finest in England’. The weather was a bit misty as I drove across from York in the early morning, but forecast to brighten up later. There was plenty of parking when I arrived and no queues at either registration or the loos. There is a mandatory kit list for these events, and your kit is checked before you can pick up your race number. As this was a daytime event in fine weather, the only kit required was a waterproof, a map of the course, a phone and the means to carry some drink. I also took arm warmers, a spare pair of socks, some plasters and a couple of gels just in case. I had a bit of a shoe dilemma beforehand; I thought if I wore my minimal Inov-8 trail shoes my dodgy ankle tendon might kick off, so took a chance with my Hoka road shoes as the weather had been dry for the whole week before the race.

About 120 runners lined up for the marathon. My main aim for the day was just to get round and hopefully not be last! The course is about 28 miles long. Does that make it technically an ultra?! I had no idea how long it would take me, but hoped maybe about six hours. After a race briefing from Jon we set off at 9 am (the half started at 10 and the 10K at 10.30). The mist was clearing a bit and we were nice and high up – but the route starts with a pretty much immediate steep descent down from the Cleveland Way to run around Gormire Lake and then climb (i.e. walk) straight back up again. So your legs have had a good test before you even really get started! Luckily the next few miles are gently undulating and really runnable. After about five miles we turned off the Cleveland Way and set out over the moors. You can check out the route map here.

Hardmoors events are a bit low tech. There’s no chip timing, but old school checkpoints, where your number is noted by a marshal as you pass through. These are all manned by lovely people who are mostly Hardmoors runners themselves, with water, coke, snacks and sweets available. I was helped along by some very good homemade flapjack and a fair few jelly babies!

The first half included a couple of big climbs that really tested most of us. My descending (never my greatest skill!) was slightly compromised by being in road shoes, but overall I think I made the right shoe choice. However, after about ten miles I began to feel my shoes pressing slightly on the inside of the balls of my feet. I’d no idea why, as I’ve worn them for over four hours on the road before with no discomfort. So at one of the checkpoints I stopped and changed socks to see if it would help.

The real beast of the day was a climb called Hawnby Ridge, which seemed to go on forever. The sun had come out by then and it was really warm. As I hauled myself upwards, sweat was literally running down my face and into my eyes. But the view at the top was spectacular. We ran along the ridge for a bit, then descended to a checkpoint that was almost at the halfway point. A few of us missed the path here and ended up wading through heather, but soon got back on track. Fortunately navigation at Hardmoors events is quite easy, with yellow tape at strategic points to show the way and marshals at significant points. Just as well, as my sense of direction isn’t up to much!

My feet were still bothering me, so I stopped again and put some plaster on them, which seemed to do the trick. I got to halfway in about three hours ten minutes, so realised this was going to take a bit longer than anticipated! A couple of miles after this there was a really long drag on the road up out of the village of Hawnby. My husband Steve was cycling out from home to see me a couple of miles from the end of the route, so I rang him and said I’d probably be later than we’d planned to meet! I ploughed on up the hill, jogging as much as I could, but it was hard work in the heat. Luckily after this there were quite a few miles that were easier going, so I managed to run most of that. There was just one more climb after the village of Rievaulx, not far from the finish, then I saw Steve in Cold Kirby, which gave me a nice boost. From there it was just a couple of miles over fields and through some woods to the finish. And boy, was I glad to finish! I did enjoy it though. At the end we all received a really cool technical t-shirt and a nice piece of bling. More snacks and drinks were also on hand.

I finally sneaked in just under six and a half hours. At first I didn’t think I’d done very well, but when the results came out a couple of days later (low tech, remember!) I turned out to be 64th out of 116 finishers overall and second FV50, so I’m happy with that. I can highly recommend the White Horse if you like a testing trail run; although don’t expect to see the actual famous White Horse of Kilburn en route!

The good news is that the White Horse actually has more ascent at 1,220 metres (just under 4,000 feet in old money) than Snowdonia, so I now know that I’ll at least be able to get round that one! It was certainly a brilliant training exercise – although my quads still feel like they’ve been run over by a train three days later! It was well worth it though. I’ve also entered the Hardmoors Rosedale Marathon in August, but luckily that only has about half the ascent of the White Horse – a mere walk in the park in comparison!

I recently decided that I have two goals for the autumn; to have a last attempt at a sub 50 10K, and the Snowdonia Marathon. The first is because I figure if I don’t have a proper crack at sub 50 now it will be too late because I’ll be too old. The second is because I’ve heard such good things about Snowdonia that I decided to do that instead of an autumn road marathon. Besides, I’ve started to find road marathons a bit boring and have also realised that many hours of pounding on Tarmac doesn’t do my dodgy hamstring tendon any good. So I’ve decided that to prepare for these two goals I need to run more 10Ks and lots of hills; the Top of the Wolds Challenge seemed a good way to do both at the same time! I love the Yorkshire Wolds Way, and did quite a bit of my Race to the Stones training there last year.

Organised by the Yorkshire Wolds Runners, this race starts and finishes at a village called Warter and is basically a tour of Nunburnholme Wold. It’s a fairly bijou affair and has only about 300 places available. With a very civilised starting time of 10 am, I left home in York at 8.30 and got there with plenty of time to spare. Number pick-up was on the day, and signing on at race HQ, Warter Community Centre, was very efficient. There was ample parking on the field next door, and plenty of toilets, some in the hall and some temporary ones outside. I paid a visit, warmed up, then went to the loo again just because I could. I must admit when I entered I didn’t realise how seriously people take this race and, looking round, realised I should probably have worn my club vest. We were started by the town crier of Pocklington, which was a novel touch!

The route is a mixture of road and trail. I’d plumped for road shoes, as there didn’t seem to be any technical terrain on the route map, and that worked out fine. The first couple of miles were on undulating Tarmac – a couple of inclines, but nothing too testing. Then we got to The Hill. Nunburnholme Hill is what this race is all about really – I think that’s why it’s called a Challenge rather than just a 10K! It goes on for about a mile (although it feels more like about three when you’re going up it) and is quite steep in places. After a while everyone runs out of steam and adopts a walk/jog approach for the rest of the climb. I say everyone – I’m sure there were some super fit types at the head of the field who ran all the way up, but nobody in the middle of the pack with me! Luckily there were some motivational signs like this to help us along.

The weather certainly wasn’t helping us – so warm and humid, I was actually wishing for a bit of rain before I got to the top. In typically cruel fashion, the race photographer, Tom Flynn, was lying in wait at the top of the hill and captured my best tomato face! The view was spectacular though.

Fortunately what goes up must come down, and the overall trajectory for the second half of the race was downhill. It also involved a lovely bit of trail, through some woods and across some fields, with two water points en route.

There was a final vicious little uphill as we came back into the village, then ran round a field to the finish, by which time I was a proper sweaty mess. I really had no idea how long this race would take me, but was very happy to squeak in just under the hour at 59:06; 151st overall and 16th out of 48 in the F45 category – another event where there is a V50 category for men but not for women. Why?!

After crossing the line we were given a fab medal and a ticket for some tea and cake in the community centre. I think the cake was provided by a local deli, and it was fantastic!

Overall this event was brilliant – excellent value, well organised and marshalled by lots of lovely, friendly people. I’d definitely do it again. Also great training for my next event this weekend – my first Hardmoors marathon, the White Horse. Eek!

 

I must admit, I wasn’t the best prepared I’d ever been for the London Marathon. Injured for the second half of last year, and only starting proper running again in January, I was a long way off being fully fit. Then, a couple of weeks before London, I developed a horrible cold. I didn’t run for ten days before the marathon, and even considered deferring. But as it turned out, I don’t think anything short of a Kenyan training camp could have prepared us all for the conditions on the day anyway!

I travelled down from York on Saturday and went straight to the expo to sign on; a feat of endurance almost as challenging as the marathon itself! It’s a long, energy-sapping walk in a mass of people from the station to the bib pick-up and back. I didn’t spend much time looking around the stands as I didn’t want to be on my feet for ages. The weather was really warm, and with the forecast for Sunday the same I focussed on keeping well hydrated all day, drinking lots of water and High 5 Zero, as well as adding some salt to my food. After a pasta dinner in a restaurant near my hotel I got an earlyish night and actually managed to sleep quite well.

When I ran London last year I stayed in a hotel near Cannon Street railway station, jumped straight onto a train at 8 am and was at Maze Hill in no time. This year I was near Kings Cross, so the journey took longer. I had to take a tube from there to London Bridge, then transfer to a train. This took ages! There was a massive crush of people at London Bridge, with trains only about every 15 minutes. In the end I didn’t get to the Green start area until about 9.30. If I ever run London again I’ll definitely revert to the Cannon Street option! Luckily I didn’t have a bag to drop, so got straight into the toilet queue. It took me about 20 minutes to get to the front, by which time people were mostly in the starting pens. I had no time for a proper warm-up; I tried to do a few exercises in the queue, but it wasn’t ideal.

The Queen set us off bang on time at 10. The Green start is much smaller than the Red or Blue, so you’re over the line in just a few minutes. The weather was already warm, with the full sun blazing down and not a cloud in the sky. I was sweating in no time! I knew it wasn’t going to be a day for a PB, and was fine with that, but set off at my usual nine minute mile pace just to see how it felt. After the first 5K it became clear that wasn’t going to be sustainable in the heat, so I backed off a bit, figuring I’d be happy with anything under 4:30 on a day like this.

I’d never run a marathon in hot weather before, and found it hard to put a finger on exactly how or why running seemed much harder in the heat. Nothing really hurt, everything just felt like a massive effort. I was drinking and pouring water over my head at every water station, but the cooling effect didn’t seem to last long. As I took my first gel at an hour in, I realised I’d lost one somehow, so had to reassess my nutrition plan – not the biggest deal as it turned out, as my whole race plan went belly up anyway! I’m sure it felt the same for everyone; we’d all trained for months in the freezing cold and were then presented with what turned out to be the hottest London Marathon day ever! The air temperature rose to 24 degrees, but the crowds and the heat rising off the Tarmac made it seem like more.

I went through my roughest patch just before halfway. If there had been a car for me to stop and climb into I would have been really tempted! At ten miles I saw a man lying on a stretcher at the side of the road and realised pace didn’t matter any more because I didn’t want to end up like that; it was just a question of getting to the end and trying to enjoy it. The one benefit of the good weather was that it brought out loads of spectators. I was amazed by the numbers last year, but this year was just insane – there were huge crowds and a total wall of noise pretty much all the way round the course. This really does give you a boost, especially the points with bands or music, like the amazing Run Dem Crew and Run Mummy Run areas, as well as the many lovely local people giving out sweets, fruit and even ice pops. The downside to the chaos was that I had absolutely no chance of spotting Steve at Canary Wharf!

As the miles progressed, just putting one foot in front of another and keeping going turned into a massive challenge. I was literally jogging between water stations, then walking through them, then trying to get going again. I did enjoy it in a way, but was also very glad when it was over! As I turned into the Mall I could see Kathrine Switzer being interviewed on the big screen and suddenly wondered whether she was at the finish line. To my amazement, she was! I couldn’t believe it when I came face-to-face with one of my idols. Kathrine looked immaculate, and not at all as if she’d just run 26 miles in blazing heat. Exhausted as I was, I certainly wasn’t going to miss the chance to speak to a living running legend. I approached Kathrine when her interview was finished. All I could think of to say in my heat-fuddled state was “Thank you for making this possible for all women”. Kathrine was so lovely, it totally made my day. Unfortunately I didn’t have my phone with me, so there’s no celebrity selfie! I actually felt quite emotional at the time – I think partly because I was overawed to meet Kathrine, and partly sheer relief that I’d finished running!

Initially I was really disappointed with my time. I’d normally expect to take about four hours to complete a marathon, but eventually finished in 4:46. However, when I caught up with friends who’d also taken part, I realised that everyone had performed way below their best. Having trained for months in the freezing cold, we just weren’t prepared for what turned out to be the hottest London Marathon ever. Obviously the sad death of Matt Campbell has since overshadowed pretty much anything else to do with the day. When I thought about it later on, I came to the conclusion that everyone who’d managed to keep going and just finish will have become mentally stronger because of it; something we can all take into future events.

Did you run London last week? If so, how was it for you? I’d love to know.

 

 

I did my first Hardmoors event, the Wainstones Half, last summer and really enjoyed it. When I entered Hardmoors Saltburn I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to run it, as I was still suffering with my ankle tendon problems after Race to the Stones; but Hardmoors events are very popular – if you don’t act quickly when entry opens you don’t get in – so I took a chance, and I’m very glad I did.

The Hardmoors trail races take place throughout the year and usually feature a 10K, a half marathon and a full marathon. They’re famed for being tough and a bit longer than the standard distances – but that’s all part of the fun! On this occasion I’d gone for the half, as I knew I wouldn’t be fit enough at this point to tackle a hilly marathon. There was quite a bit of rain in the couple of days beforehand, so we were warned to be prepared for muddy conditions. The weather on race day was cold and windy, but gloriously sunny – unlike last year, when conditions were apparently Baltic! I was prepared for a tough day out, as I’m far from fully fit at the moment, but knew it would be great marathon training.

The races started and finished at Saltburn Leisure Centre, which also offered a good place to shelter from the biting wind before setting off. There is a mandatory kit list for the half and full marathons, and kit is checked and approved before you can pick up your race number. Spot checks apparently also take place at the end, so don’t think you can check in and then leave half your stuff in the car! The marathon started at 9 am, with the half at 10 and the 10K at 10.30.

We started with a pleasant trot through the Valley Gardens in Saltburn, then it was down to the sea front before the first climb up Cat Nab. Everyone walked this! Up on the cliff top – the Cleveland Way – the view was spectacular, with super-blue sky and sea; and the wind wasn’t too bad, coming from the right hand side.

At this point I felt hopeful that I might finish in about three hours, as the Wainstones half had taken me about 3:15. But the path gradually turned very muddy underfoot, and stayed that way for most of the race. It was quite deep and wet in places, really taking a lot of energy to get through and slowing us all down. There were some grassy and Tarmac sections, but the real challenge of the day turned out to be remaining upright. Somehow I managed not to end up on my backside, but it was a close call a few times!

After nearly 5 miles the route went downhill into the village of Skinningrove, where the first checkpoint was. There were three checkpoints along the way, each stocked with water, Coke, jelly sweets, peanuts and marshmallows – which are now my new favourite race food, by the way, so easy to eat! There were also Jaffa Cakes at the final checkpoint. After Skinningrove there was a huge climb that seemed to go on forever. Everyone I could see was walking this one too. I imagine only the top athletes ran it! Proper leg-busting stuff. At around the halfway point the route left the Cleveland Way and turned inland (although we could still see the sea in places) and we started to head back towards Saltburn along a path called Cleveland Street. We were now running into a headwind, which made things even harder! A few of us took a slight detour just before the second checkpoint, having missed one of the yellow markers – probably about half a mile in all – but in general the course is very well marked and marshalled, and all the marshals were lovely and encouraging.

There were ups and downs in the last few miles of the route, but nothing like the two big climbs in the first half. We approached Saltburn through the village of Skelton, and then headed back to the Leisure Centre with a climb up and down Valley Gardens again. We ran right into the sports hall to finish, where our times were clocked at the desk. My official time was 3:29:43 (including the little detour!) and I was 101st out of 187 finishers. I was fairly pleased with that, considering I’ve only really been running properly again since about Christmas. There was a great medal, and as a bonus the t-shirt is in my favourite colour!

There was some food provided at the end, but it wasn’t up to much. Maybe it would have been better if I’d finished quicker, but there were just a few cheese sarnies and some little bits of cake by the time I got there. But hey, it’s not about the food – Hardmoors events in general seem to be great value for money and well organised. I’ve already signed up for two more events later this year: the White Horse marathon in June and the Rosedale one in August. Entry for the Hardmoors 60 in September opens soon and I’m so, so tempted to enter, as I seem to have overcome my injury now (touch wood).

This was a tough but fab day, and (considering how much my legs hurt the next day) great  marathon preparation. Onwards to London!

 

Happy new running year – hope yours is going well so far! My running year started with Week 1 of training for the London Marathon. Having been injured for pretty much the whole of the second half of last year, and not doing nearly as much running as usual, I feel distinctly unfit coming into this and am still unable to run much on Tarmac due to my tendonitis, but I’m giving it a go for now, as I can feel some improvement. I’m still doing all my runs on either the treadmill or trails for now, which isn’t exactly great preparation for a road event! I’ll see how things progress over the next few weeks and will defer my London place if necessary, as I don’t want to go there to just pootle round.

Normally the Brass Monkey Half Marathon would be my first event of the year, but last Sunday I had ten easy miles on my marathon schedule, so the Temple Newsam Ten on the same day seemed like a perfect training exercise. It was the first time I’d done any event – or indeed run up and down any hills – for about three months, so I rocked up with no expectations other than to plod round and enjoy it.

 

The TNT is organised by Leeds-based St Theresa’s Athletics Club. There are about 1,000 places available and the event was sold out. For those not familiar with Temple Newsam, it’s a country estate between Leeds and York consisting of a 17th century house set in around 1,500 acres of parkland including gardens landscaped by Capability Brown – a fabulous location to stage a race. Even though it’s about a half hour drive from where I live I do sometimes go and run there, as the undulating trails make for great training. However, because I’m horribly navigationally challenged I usually run an ‘out and back’ route, so was looking forward to running a ten mile circular route with direction along the way.

Running at Temple Newsam last year

 

Race day weather was dry but cold, with a nasty chilly wind. The event starts at the very civilised time of 9.30, and there is plenty of parking on site. Race numbers are picked up on the day, and I was a bit concerned when I saw the length of the queue for this, but luckily it moved very quickly. The toilet queue wasn’t bad either considering we were just using the estate facilities rather than portable race loos. With both of these important duties out of the way I retired to the car to keep warm until about ten minutes before kick off; fortunately I’d managed to park very close to the start/finish area. At the start I met a couple of women I’d only previously known ‘virtually’, so it was great to meet them in the flesh and have a quick chat.

The route sets off round a huge flat, grassy area in front of the big house, then winds its way around the estate, with a mixture of trail, grass and a few short bits of Tarmac. The first couple of miles are pretty easy, then things get steadily harder. There are some stretches of single track, so don’t bank on gunning for a PB here unless you’re at the front, but as I was just using this for training I wasn’t bothered, and chatted to some lovely folk en route. There are a couple of long, draggy hills in the second half and a short, cruel one just half a mile from the finish. I’d made the mistake of wearing my Hardmoors t-shirt, and some random spectator shouted at me “Come on Hardmoors, this isn’t a hill to you!”. Harsh but fair – I was a lot fitter when I earned that t-shirt last summer!

The many course marshals were all cheerful and enthusiastic, and St Theresa’s had also provided ‘run buddies’ near the end, who offered support and encouragement as people started to flag – a great idea. There was just one water point at around halfway, but it was such a cold day we didn’t really need any more. I was pretty slow, averaging just over ten minute miles, but considering the terrain and my current state of fitness I was happy with that. At least I had plenty of time to admire the scenery!

There was a great knapsack-style goody bag at the finish, containing a really nice technical t-shirt and a fab medal (bling lovers take note), as well as crisps, chocolate and Haribo. I really like the TNT motto – Tough Not Timid! The whole event was well-organised and brilliant value and I’d highly recommend it. You have to get in early if you want to take part though, as it sells out fast. I’ll definitely be back next year!

This has definitely been a year of highs and lows for me in running terms. I planned for my main events of 2017 to be the London Marathon, Race to the Stones 100K and the Leeds Abbey Dash 10K.

I followed my usual Asics Sub 4 training plan for London. I wasn’t massively bothered about achieving sub 4, as I’d already done that, gaining a Good For Age time in the process, at the Yorkshire Marathon in October 2016. However, on the day I had a good crack at it, but struggled to take on fuel in the second half and paid the price, coming in at 4:05. It was still an amazing day though. You can read my review of London here.

Race to the Stones in July was EPIC! Having only ever run half of that distance before, I had absolutely no idea how it would pan out. It was hard work towards the end, but I was satisfied with my time of 13:36 and amazed to be third V50 woman. My review of RTTS is here. I also raised £1,000 for Cancer Research UK; you can read why I was running for them here.

During training for these two goals I took part in a few events for fun; The Temple Newsam 10, Brass Monkey Half Marathon, Harewood House Half, Temple Newsam  Daffodil Dash and the Hardmoors Wainstones Half. I also ran up and down as many big hills as I could on holiday in France in June as training for RTTS!

So those were the highs. Unfortunately since RTTS I’ve been suffering with tendonitis in my ankles – tibialis posterior to be exact – so the second half of the year has been a bit less exciting! I shuffled round the Run For All York 10K in August and did the Cancer Research UK Tough 10 in Leeds as I was an ambassador for the event; but I also had to miss a couple of events I’d really been hoping to do, like the Yorkshire 10 Mile in September and the Leeds Abbey Dash. I’d really been hoping to knock a few seconds off my 10K PB there to go under 50 minutes for the first time, but it wasn’t to be this year. For the last few months I’ve been in rehab, doing some turbo training on the bike and yoga as well as some short runs. I’m now at the stage where I can run OK on grass or the treadmill, but stepping onto Tarmac seems to set my ankles off again. I’m really missing running longer distances at the moment!

So what’s on the agenda for next year? I have a Good For Age place in the London Marathon – but will I be able to train for it if I can’t run on the road? I guess I might have to defer, which would be disappointing – I want to run London with Mo! I’ve entered the Hardmoors Saltburn Half in February and also their White Horse Marathon in June, as well as the Snowdonia Marathon in October – all trail events. I would really love to do another ultra next year, but first need to work out how to do that without getting injured again. More strength work? Different shoes? I’m thinking of consulting a podiatrist for advice. I have enough UTMB points from RTTS to enter the ballot for the OCC, the (relatively) short race that’s part of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc festival in August. The course looks brutal but beautiful! I’m considering it, but only have a short time to decide.

So things are a bit up in the air for me at the moment. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see how things develop over the next couple of months. I hope 2017 has been a good year for you. Happy Christmas and happy running in 2018!

 

I haven’t blogged about running for a while, and there’s a good reason for that; I haven’t done much running! I’ve had a niggling problem with my foot since I did the Race to the Stones 100K in July. Every time I’ve tried to run since then I’ve  had pain in the arch of my left foot after about half a mile, and also around my left ankle. I was told it was plantar fasciitis and had been doing loads of rolling and stretching to try and relieve it, but it just wasn’t getting any better and I couldn’t run at all. I’ve been doing some turbo training on the bike to try and retain a bit of cardio fitness and slowly getting more and more frustrated. The thing that annoyed me most was that Cancer Research UK had asked me to be an ambassador for their Tough 10 event in Leeds after the fundraising I did for them in the summer and, while I was persuading other people to take part, I wasn’t actually sure if I’d be able to do so myself!

Then last Friday I went to see another physio (recommended by a friend), who finally diagnosed me with tendonitis. It’s in the tibialis posterior tendon, which apparently runs from somewhere behind the shin, round the ankle bone and along the bottom of the foot. I had some ultrasound therapy and was given a special stretch to do, which I could feel working the exact bits that hurt!

Apparently it’s OK for me to do a little running, as some light loading can actually help with recovery… so obviously I took myself off to Tough 10 the very next day! I reasoned that if my foot started hurting, I’d simply start walking. I just really wanted to complete the event for CRUK. The good news is that my foot was absolutely fine. Maybe it was the time off, maybe it was the magic ultrasound, or a combination of both. I don’t know, but I was a very happy bunny!

So what was Tough 10 like? Well, it certainly was quite tough (unsurprisingly), but I really enjoyed it. It probably felt harder than it should, as it was my first run for over two months! The event was in beautiful Roundhay Park in Leed. The course was a mixture of tarmac, woodland trail and grass, and featured some great scenery – and, of course, lots of hills! It was pretty wild and windy on the tops too. Participants included runners of all abilities, from speedsters who finished in well under an hour, right through to those who were clearly doing it for fun – a really inclusive event. And it was great to see and chat to various friends who I’d signed up as part of my CRUK ambassador activity, including the lovely Run with Rachel.

The last bit of the course was particularly harsh – up and down the same hill three times. I’ve never finished a race with hill reps before! But I didn’t mind walking a bit, and was entertained by a group of lads just ahead of me all running together in various hats. “Are they a stag party?” I asked a spectator who obviously knew them. “No, just idiots!” he replied. Great fun anyway. It felt sooo good to be running again, even though I could feel I’d lost some fitness. Inclines I would have run up three months ago during Race to the Stones were a bit of a challenge! But I was delighted just to trot round and finish pain-free. At the end we received the all-important bling, an energy bar and a bottle of water. Even though I was pretty slow I wanted to cheer and punch the air, I was so relieved!

I feel a lot more positive about running now. I’ve been injured before and I know now I’ll be back in action soon. I still need to be a bit careful for a while, but the only Christmas present I really want is to be able to start proper training for the London Marathon in the new year.

Wow. Race to the Stones. I’d been looking forward to this one for so long and it didn’t disappoint! This is quite a long post, but lots of people have asked me questions about RTTS because they’re thinking of entering, so I don’t want to leave anything out. I’ve been interested in RTTS ever since I became aware of it two years ago. It’s a 100K ultra that starts in Lewknor in Berkshire and follows the Ridgeway path, finishing at the ancient stone circle at Avebury in Wiltshire. Some people do it in one day and some do it over two days, camping at the halfway point. Some run and some walk. I had no idea whether I could run 100K – if I could keep going for the amount of time that would take –  but I became a bit obssessed with it; the rolling hills, the Field of Dreams… it looked amazing! I took a charity place with Cancer Research UK, partly because it’s a great cause, but also because I thought I’d be more likely to keep going if people had sponsored me to do it. You can read about my training in previous posts. After all the months since I’d entered last December it was hard to believe the big day was finally happening!

Steve and I travelled down from Yorkshire the day before the event and stayed nearby at Stokenchurch, about five minutes’ drive from the start at Field Farm in Lewknor. There was a great chippy nearby, perfect for carb loading! I was too nervous/excited to sleep well and woke up at about 4am. I had a tin of rice pudding for breakfast and we headed to Lewknor at about 6.45. Participants were started in waves to ease congestion, and I was in the second one at 7.45. There were no queues at registration and hardly any at the portaloos. Unlike most ultras RTTS doesn’t have a mandatory kit list, so it’s up to you what you carry. The weather forecast was dry, but ominous grey clouds were looming, so I did take my rain jacket and hat. There was a great atmosphere at the start. I couldn’t quite believe I was actually about to attempt to run 62 miles, twice as far as I’d ever run before. I decided just to approach it as a big day out and take it one mile at a time. We set off on time in a blaze of coloured smoke!

The first couple of miles were pretty flat, which was a good warm up. But there are lots of hills! There were pit stops approximately every 10K on the course, and all were really well stocked with a wide variety of snacks and drinks. I’d only brought one emergency Clif Shotblok in my backpack and I didn’t even need that. There were High 5 gels and electrolyte or energy drinks at each stop too. When I arrived at each pit stop I had a cup of Coke and made a High 5 Zero drink to take with me, because it was a warm day and I wanted to minimise the chance of getting cramp. I had in mind Nicky Spinks‘ advice on ultra eating, which is to eat lots and start early, so at Pit Stop 1 I had half a banana and took a Perkier quinoa bar to eat on the move. I’d heard many tales of how it gets harder to eat as time goes on, so I made an effort. I had various snacks along the way, including Mini Cheddars and chocolate, but I found that crisps, Perkier bars and Jelly Babies worked best for me. My strategy was to eat something whenever I was walking uphill.

The weather forecast turned out to be wrong and it actually rained quite a bit in the first half. I put my hat on but not my jacket, as it was really warm. The route flattened out a bit as we ran alongside the Thames for a while and also went through a couple of villages. People say that in ultras you go through good phases and bad ones, and that both pass. I felt great in the first quarter of RTTS, but towards the end of the first half I started to feel a bit nauseous. I think it was because I’d taken a couple of High 5 gels and they didn’t agree with me. But I focussed on the beautiful scenery and was grateful that my legs and feet felt fine; and I knew that Steve was waiting for me at the halfway point and that give me a boost. Just before halfway I also saw Shona from Run Mummy Run, who was out supporting, and she gave me hug even though I must have been very smelly, which was lovely!

I arrived at halfway after six and a half hours and couldn’t imagine how I was going to cover that distance again, almost certainly taking even longer. I saw a huge inflatable gantry with Finish on it, thought “But I’m not finishing yet” and ran around it, then had to be directed back through it to cross the halfway timing mat! I took a break here of around ten minutes. You can actually have a proper hot meal at halfway, but I couldn’t face that and certainly didn’t want it jiggling around in my belly throughout the second half. To be honest I didn’t really want to eat anything. There was a huge table of cakes (one of the event sponsors is Ministry of Cake), which I would normally have been all over, but I just didn’t fancy any of them, even though there was carrot cake, my favourite! But Steve told me (quite rightly) that if I didn’t eat something I’d bonk and practically forced me to eat a slice of Victoria sponge, which I actually think did me a lot of good. I also changed my top and socks, which had become a bit damp with the rain. I set off feeling refreshed, more optimistic and no longer nauseous.

After the halfway stop I felt good for quite a long time. I’m not saying it was easy by any means, but it was less hard than I’d imagined for about 20 miles. At mile 36 my Garmin bleeped and I thought “Only a marathon to go now” and then laughed because that seemed so ridiculous! I mentioned it to another runner and we both wondered how, over the course of a few years, we’d both gone from doing a bit of jogging for weight loss to running 100K for ‘fun’. It is bizarre really. Anyway, it seemed to me that there were more short, steep hills in the first half and more gradual inclines and tough terrain in the second half. A lot of the Ridgeway consists of hard, stony path that’s very harsh on the feet and more likely to cause underfoot problems than softer trail. Gentler inclines may seem easier on the face of it, but whereas you’d walk a steep climb you’re more likely to run a gentle one, which becomes quite energy-sapping after a long time.

At around 52 miles I was finding it hard to eat again. I took a mouthful of a peanut butter sandwich at a pit stop, just to have a change from crisps, but found it so hard to chew and swallow I had to bin the rest. And I love peanut butter! The going seemed to get a lot tougher after this point. I kept telling myself “It’s only ten miles now, only nine miles now, single figures now!”, but it became more and more a case of run/walk. At times, even though I wasn’t going uphill, I just had to take little walk breaks. A friend of mine who’s an Ironman had advised me to try and enjoy the whole thing, even the tough bits, and I did my best. When I got to the final pit stop I looked at the food and felt that all I could manage was a biscuit. I sighed and set off to cover the last eight miles. I rang Steve to let him know I was on the last leg, as we’d arranged. He was having his dinner in a pub and I so wished I was with him! It was 8pm by now. I knew this was the time I had to dig really deep. I reached into my Camelbak and got out my CRUK wristband. I put it on to remind myself of why I was really doing this and thought about all the lovely family and friends who’d generously donated to my fund or had been affected by cancer. The last few miles were definitely for them. The hills continued mercilessly for about the next five miles. On the plus side, the scenery was quite spectacular at this point. At around 95K my Garmin died so I had no further idea of time or pace. I was in the Twilight Zone. And then I binned it! I’m not sure how, but I managed to trip on one of the stones poking up through the path. In a split second I thought to myself “If I go down on this rocky bit now, this could be it. It could all be over so close to the end. I’m not having that”! I’ve no idea how, but I managed to launch myself onto the grassy verge at the side of the path for a soft landing. My left calf cramped up as I did so, but at least I wasn’t injured. A couple of other lovely runners stopped to see if I was OK and luckily I was. A bit of a stretch and I was off again.

Those last three miles were so hard. At that point I really wanted it to be over. It’s actually mostly downhill near the end, but the irony is that the path is like a really rutted cart track so you can hardly find a good line to run down. At least it was still light at this point – I can imagine it would be even harder in the dark. I told myself “It’s only a Parkrun now” but when you’ve been on the go for over 12 hours it’s a big ask. I felt like I might be getting a blister but couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it as the end was so close. Then you take a right turn and see the lights of the finishing area in the distance – yay! But, as a final cruel twist, when you run into Avebury village and through the stones, you haven’t actually finished – you have to run about another mile back the way you’ve just come, across a field and down another road to the end! I’d really had enough at that point. “Christ” said a man I was running near, “Nobody said it was Race to the Stones and back again”! I had to laugh, despite everything. I walked part of the field, but just managed to summon up my last bit of energy to trot down the road to the finish. It was a great welcome though; lots of people cheering, pumping music, and I could see Steve waiting as I approached. And suddenly it was all over! Someone hung a medal round my neck, someone else took a photo and the job was done. I was so happy just to stop moving forward.

 

The finish area was great. There was plenty of hot food and a place to sit. I still couldn’t really eat though. I took a sausage in a bun, but could only manage the sausage. I can’t believe I couldn’t even eat a doughnut! I went to get a printout of my results and my chip time was 13:36:21. I’d come 275th out of 961 overall, 48th woman and third in the V50 age category. That surprised me, as I’d felt pretty slow most of the time! I felt a bit dazed to be honest. It was dark by the time we left and we could see a procession of head torches up on the hill. It was only as I lay in the bath a bit later that it began to sink in that I’d covered 62 miles on my own two feet. It hurt (and it would hurt even more the next day!), but it was worth it – and, even better, donations were still coming in. I was a very tired but happy bunny.

So, would I do it again? Probably not, but only because it’s so far from Yorkshire. However, I would definitely recommend RTTS, especially as a first 100K, because it’s so well supported. Organisation and logistics are great. There are shuttles between the start and finish, and the halfway camp looked like a lovely spot to chill for the evening. Also, everyone is really friendly and helpful. At the last pit stop somebody even took my water bottle and filled it for me. I got the impression the people there were having a good look at everyone to make sure they were OK. I was asked at several pit stops how I felt. Everyone was fantastic. Although I did think playing Jump Around by House of Pain at one pit stop was taking the Mickey a bit! The countryside is fantastic, with amazing views throughout and the free photos that upload automatically to Facebook are a real bonus. If you’re wondering whether or not to do it, I’d say go for it. It’s amazing what you can pull out of the bag when you have to! Below is a geeky bit about kit etc for anyone who’s interested. If you have any questions about RTTS please feel free to give me a shout.

If anyone would like to donate to my CRUK Just Giving page it’s still here. Every little helps! 🙂

 

The Kit Bit

Shoes:  Inov8 Trail Talons. Cannot praise these highly enough. They are specially designed for hard trails and performed really well. They were recommended for me by Stuart at Accelerate in Sheffield, to whom I am very grateful. I did have one small blister on my right big toe, but that’s all. Toenails all present and correct as I type!

Socks:  Inov8 All Terrain. It was well worth changing them at half time.

Shorts:  Ronhill Aspiration Twin Shorts. So comfy! No chafing at all despite much sweating!

Tops:  Ronhill and Saucony sleeveless tops. I’ve had them so long I can’t remember what they’re called!

Bra:  Moving Comfort. I put a bit of K tape under my front strap as a precaution.

Backpack:  Camelbak Marathoner. I took out the bladder and put stuff in the space. It’s amazing how much you can get in there if you pack it carefully, and not a hint of chafing over the whole day. For drink I used my Camelbak soft bottle in my front pocket.

Waterproof:  Inov8 Race Ultra Shell. This is the most expensive but least used item of clothing I own apart from my wedding dress!

Head torch:  Petzl. Steve had bought this for me and was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t used it!

Watch:  Garmin Forerunner 35. I replaced my ancient 210 with this just a couple of weeks ago and it has a much longer life – it died at about 12:30.

Hat:  a Brooks sun hat I bought in a sale ages ago, but it did pretty well in the rain.

I also carried (but didn’t use) Saucony arm warmers, Compeed, a couple of strips of K tape, a tenner (just in case!), spare socks, spare top, ibuprofen and a spare hair elastic.

THE END!