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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!

 

I first heard about the Hardmoors events a couple of years ago when I started trail running, and to be honest I thought they sounded pretty scary. Just look at the name! Hard. Moors. Scary! I imagined wiry fell runners in vests and tiny shorts bounding up and down vicious hills like mountain goats. Not for the likes of me! But then a couple of friends assured me that they weren’t scary events at all; in fact they were very inclusive and varied in distance from 10K to ultra, so there was something for everyone. So when I started preparing for Race to the Stones I thought I’d give one a go for hill training purposes and entered the Hardmoors Wainstones Marathon. I thought it would be a good dress rehearsal for the big day. However, when my dodgy hamstring started playing up after the London Marathon I decided to play it cautiously and downsized to the half marathon.

The Wainstones events (10K, half and full marathon) all start and finish at Chop Gate near Helmsley. The drive over there from York on a sunny Sunday morning was beautiful and I was really looking forward to it. There was plenty of parking and I wandered over to the village hall to sign on. The marathon runners had just set off at 9 am. Participants had to carry mandatory kit of a waterproof jacket, hat or buff, a route map and the means to carry 500ml of fluid. Everyone’s kit was duly checked before they were allowed to pick up their number. This was all very quick, so I had plenty of time to get ready and went to the loo about three times, just because I could! The weather was perfect – dry but not too warm. We set off on time at 10 am.

We’d run no more than about 100m when we came to a stile that everyone had to climb over, so that held things up quite a bit! “Never mind”, I thought, “It’s not a road race – time and pace don’t really matter”. After the stile we started to climb up a massive hill straight away and everyone slowed to a walk. The track was quite narrow and lots of people seemed happy to stroll up, chatting and taking photos as they went. This was a bit frustrating, as one of the things I’ve been practising is walking uphill as fast as I can, so I wished I’d placed myself a bit further up the field at the start! But I tried to chill and take it all in. We gained a lot of height in a short distance, and some people seemed to be struggling a bit even at this early stage. We eventually got to the top and the track widened out so we could start running. I clocked the first mile at around 25 minutes! The descent from the first hill was great, a gentle gritty trail that gave me some time to take in the amazing view.

It wasn’t long before we were climbing up another hill. In fact there were five hills in all, so not much flat on the course. It was tough going at times, with a couple of rocky, technical descents as well as testing uphill gradients, and it was really windy on the tops! One of the hills had the Wainstones themselves perched at the summit, through which we scrambled with a gale force wind blowing us along – great fun!

The route went along some of the Cleveland Way, which skirts the edge of the North York Moors and is paved in parts. The views were quite spectacular, but there wasn’t much time to take them in going downhill, as you had to be really careful where you placed your feet. The last thing I wanted was to sprain my ankle – or worse – so I was super cautious. I wished I was better at descending as I stood aside to let various people fly past me. I guess it takes practice! But I did notice that I passed quite a few people walking uphill, so I must be getting better at that.

I went through halfway in 1:37 and couldn’t help thinking that if this was a road half I’d be nearly finished – but I know I have to lose that kind of mentality on the trails. There were two checkpoints en route offering water, Pepsi, jelly babies, peanuts and Jaffa Cakes. I took a couple of Jaffa Cakes at each point and they went down really well. I’d brought a piece of homemade flapjack with me, but the Jaffa Cakes actually sat better on my stomach. We had to check in at each point, and I kind of liked the old-schoolness of a marshal shouting out people’s numbers as they approached. For the last few miles we were on moorland trails, which were quite boggy. I tried to keep my feet as dry as possible, but at about ten miles we had to go through a stream, so that was that! The last mile or so was a really nice descent back down to Cop Gate, finishing actually inside the village hall to give our numbers to the time keepers.

We received a really nice t-shirt and medal, and there were savoury snacks, cakes and drinks on offer. Cracking! I haven’t seen any official results yet, but I timed myself at about 3:12 (I think – I forgot to stop my Garmin when I finished – possibly because I was distracted by the sight of cake!).

Just after I’d arrived back the first lady marathoner finished in what must have been about four and a half hours. This really impressed me, not least because the marathon course was actually 28 miles long! Apparently long courses are a Thing with Hardmoors events. That day’s 10K was actually ten miles(!), although the half was pretty close to normal at 13.2 miles. All in all it was fab event. People I’ve spoken to have all said they think Wainstones is the toughest of the Hardmoors courses – one described it as ‘brutal’! It was certainly very testing terrain, and my legs are still feeling it two days later; but it was great training for Race to the Stones. Hardmoors events do fill up quickly, so don’t delay entry if you fancy doing one. I’d really recommend it, and I’d definitely like to do more in future. Recovery fish and chips in Helmsley were a must on the way home!

 

This weekend I’m off on holiday to France for a fortnight, spending a week of that in the Pyrenees. Hopefully I’ll find some more great hilly trails to train on!

I’m running Race to the Stones in aid of Cancer Research UK. You can read why here. If you’d like to make a donation my Just Giving page is here.

 

 

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!

 

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.

North Lincs Half 2016

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!

Paris Marathon Finish

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.

Snake Katie

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!

Brass Monkey 2016

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.