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.
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!
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.
The other goal was to get a sub 4 at the Yorkshire Marathon. I’d done this once before, at Manchester last year, but when the course was later found out to be short all the official records were wiped, so I wanted to re-establish my Good For Age time. I was really happy to do that, and am now harbouring fantasies about applying to run Boston in 2018, but it would probably be a bit too expensive. My final goal for the year was to run a sub 50 10K at the Leeds Abbey Dash, but this wasn’t to be. My plan after the Yorkshire Marathon (a month before) was to take a week off and then do some speedwork in preparation, but in the middle of October I felt a bit rubbish for some reason and didn’t really do enough training. I did get a PB of 50:27 however, so I’m not a million miles off and will definitely have another crack at that next year!
Back in April I ran the Paris Marathon – not with the aim of a PB, as I was still coming back from injury – and really enjoyed it, although it was a very warm day. The breakfast run the day before was also fun. You can read my review of that here. Other events I’ve done and enjoyed this year have been the Snake Lane 10, the Vale of York 10, the Mont Blanc 10K, the Yorkshire Wolds Half, the York 10K and the Vale of York Half.
I’ve been doing a bit less running, more yoga and some turbo training over the last few weeks, but I’ve entered the Brass Monkey Half in January, so will try and sharpen up a bit before then. I don’t think I’ll be PB-worthy straight after Christmas, but the thought of running there does mean I’ll probably consume a few less mince pies than otherwise!
My two big events for next year are the London Marathon, which I finally got into after several unsuccessful ballot entries by running my Good for Age time, and the Race to the Stones 100K next July, which I entered a couple of weeks ago in a moment of madness! I’ve wanted to have a go at a long ultra for a while, and this looks like a great event – I’ve certainly heard lots of good reports about it. I know I’ll need to do some specific preparation for that. I don’t know if I can do it, but I thought that the first time I ever ran a 10K! I want to try and do as many local, hilly off-road events as I can in the first half of next year to help me prepare for RTTS and am really looking forward to getting into the trail/ultra runner mindset – especially the cake part!
So that’s me for now as we hit the inevitable slide towards Christmas. How was 2016 for you and what do you have planned for 2017? I’d love to know.
Last year at the Yorkshire Wolds Half I was a DNS for the most random of reasons. I’d had a wisdom tooth removed with a general anaesthetic the weekend before and thought I’d be over it in time; but when I went for an experimental jog a couple of days before it I felt dizzy after about 30 seconds, so thought I’d better give it a miss. I was gutted, as I really wanted the handmade pottery mug given out at the end!
Fast forward a year and I’d signed up for the Wolds again, thinking it would be a great marathon training exercise. The event is part of Bishop Wilton Show, starting and finishing at the showground. This is on a farm some way outside the village of Bishop Wilton, with a very civilised starting time of 10 am. Traffic was well managed, and I got parked up really easily. Online entry to the race was £15, including free admission to the show, but it was also possible to enter on the day by paying to get into the show and then getting the cost of that knocked off your race entrance fee.
I had a little wander round the showground whilst waiting for the off. It was a beautiful, sunny day. A bit warmer than I’d like for running, but a great day for a country show! I was well impressed with the very posh Portaloos and had two wees before kick-off just to make the most of them. As we lined up at the start I noticed that a) there weren’t that many of us and b) most of the other runners were very skinny and wearing club vests. So this is obviously an event that attracts mostly serious rather than fun runners! I began to wonder if I’d actually be last, then spotted a few other less elite-looking people and felt a bit less apprehensive.
The course is an undulating route through the local countryside, with some stunning views along the way. It’s mostly on road, apart from a couple of miles near the start, which is on decent trail, so road shoes are best. The first half seemed to have quite a bit of downhill, with some gentle undulations, and the hard work really began in the second half. The route is well-marshalled, so you can’t get lost, and there were five water points. As the temperature rose and the sun beat down on us we were really grateful for the sponges on offer too! All the helpers were really lovely and encouraging. There wasn’t much else in the way of support – it’s more about enjoying the countryside than being cheered on by crowds – but that wasn’t a problem for me.
I found the second half of the course quite hard, but then I’m not that used to running up big hills. The hot weather didn’t make things any easier though, and I certainly wasn’t the only one taking short walk breaks towards the end. There’s a lot of uphill in the last few miles, although it does level out a bit near the finish. I had a few nice little chats with other runners along the way and really enjoyed it, despite the toughness. My PB in a flat road half is just under 1:50, but my time here was 2:08, so that gives an idea of the extra effort involved! There was no chip timing, but the official time I was given agreed with my Garmin, so that was fine. In the end I came 102nd out of 152 (so few!) and I was happy with that considering the quality of the field. Typically, the sun went in as soon as we’d finished! The souvenir mug makes a nice change from the usual t-shirts and medals and complements the ones I have from the Snake Lane 10.
All in all I thought this was a brilliant event; well-organised, great value at £15, and a challenging course with beautiful views to distract you from the pain. I can’t imagine why it isn’t more popular. Plus afterwards at the show you can get burgers, sausages, pies, cake, ice cream and beer, then go and pet some very impressive fancy sheep. What more could you possibly want? I’ll definitely be back next year!
I only entered the Mont Blanc 10K by virtue of a happy coincidence. We were going on holiday to the French Alps, where Steve was taking part in a cyclosportive called La Grand Bo, so I just Googled to see if there happened to be any running events going on at around the same time… and lo and behold, it turned out to be at the same time as the Mont Blanc running festival at Chamonix! This goes on for a whole weekend, with an 80K ultra and a vertical kilometre time trial(!) on the Friday, the 10K and a 23K on the Saturday and a marathon on the Sunday. Having not done any hill work since my injury last summer, I didn’t feel up to a long route with lots of climbing, so thought I’d give the 10K a go. It was billed as a kind of trail running taster – just the job for a holiday fun run! I had about six weeks to prepare, so it was also a good opportunity to reintroduce some hill work into my running and see how it went. Luckily the troublesome hamstring tendon seemed to take it pretty well.
We were staying just over an hour’s drive from Chamonix, and the race had a very civilised starting time of 1pm. However, clouds started to gather in the sky on the way over, and as we approached Chamonix the heavens opened – with a bit of thunder and lightning thrown in for good measure. Gotta love the mountains! I really felt for all the 23K participants who were out on the course. It took me quite a while in the battering rain to find out where sign-on was (right at the back of the trade exhibition, of course!), and was then faced with an enormous, snaking queue. Lots of people were there to sign on for the next day’s marathon. It would have made sense to me to have a separate line for 10K participants, but there wasn’t one. With only about an hour to go until the start I was panicking slightly! However, the queue moved faster than I’d thought and it only took me about ten minutes to get to the front. I handed over my confirmation email. “What’s your bib number?” asked the girl on the desk. I’d thought it was on the email. “Oh no”, she said, “you were supposed to get it from the board outside before you joined the queue.” Aaargh! I hadn’t seen anything anywhere telling me to do this. I explained to her in rusty French that if I went back outside and then had to join the queue again I probably wouldn’t make the start, so she allowed me to hop the barrier, get the number and come straight back to the desk. Oh, and I’d forgotten to bring my specs with me, so couldn’t actually read the print on the board and had to get someone else to read it for me! All quite stressful. Anyhow, at least I had a number now!
I went to get ready in the van. It was still raining quite heavily. I could see 23K finishers coming in, many looking very wet and miserable. For a brief moment I considered not running – especially as I now had the t-shirt anyway – but then I remembered I’m from Yorkshire and decided to man up! Waterproof on, I headed for the start, about ten minutes’ walk away… and as we walked, the rain stopped and the sun came out! The start was on a big field next to Chamonix sports club and featured some very attractive chalet-style eco-friendly portaloos – and plenty of them, so the queues for the all-important pre-race wee were pleasingly short. When I’d entered online there were three starting waves to choose from, based on predicted time, so I’d put myself in the middle one. On the day there were actually four, and I was in wave three, but I wasn’t bothered – I was here to run for fun, not time. Looking around as we waited to set off, the vast majority of runners seemed to be French, but I did also spot a few Brits, Italians and Swiss. The announcing was (conveniently) all in English though.
So what about the race itself? The first couple of miles were really not that hard – good trails with a slight incline in places, but nothing too taxing. Nicely undulating. After that we started to climb a bit more steeply, and just as I thought I might have to walk a bit… we did anyway, as it became impossible to run! Just due to sheer congestion I think. My pace for this middle mile was about 22 minutes, which tells the tale. This was the high point of the race, and after we’d got over it the remaining couple of miles was mostly downhill – quite technical in places, but OK so long as you weren’t aiming to run at breakneck speed. There was rock, but the surface was gritty rather than slippery, so it wasn’t too difficult to deal with – and I say that as someone with no fell running experience whatsoever. I was wearing my Brooks Cascadia, and they seemed fine for the job. If you really wanted to go for it (and the leaders did) you might want a more grippy shoe. I really enjoyed the last couple of miles; the sun shone, I could see big, snowy mountains, there were people cheering en route and it was simply just a huge pleasure to be there. It really made me want to do more trail running in the future.
At the finish we got a fantastic piece of souvenir bling, and there were some typically French refreshments of fruit, cheese, cake and coffee. The atmosphere was really chilled and friendly.
There was a cool Salomon technical t-shirt too. Being used to UK race t-shirts, where small means a man’s small, that’s what I’d ordered. Here it turned out to be an actual woman’s small – and a French woman’s small at that – so it’s quite a snug fit, but I’m determined to wear it anyway!
And obviously the temptation to get a photo on the Chamonix Winter Olympics podium was too great to resist!
I’d really recommend this event if you’re ever in the area, so long as you aren’t going to be frustrated by the course congestion – just allow lots of time for signing on! In the end my time was 1:15 (almost exactly halfway down the field) and I was 16th in my age category (V2 Female), so I’m happy with that. I reckon it would have been about ten minutes less if I hadn’t had to walk so much, but time wasn’t important to me anyway.
I also did some other great runs on holiday – along the Voie Verte in the Vosges area on the way down to the Alps, a great trail along the river in Le Grand Bornand (which usually took place before breakfast and ended at the bakery!) and also along the river in Epernay on the way back up north. I love holiday running – but now it’s time to stop eating croissants and get back into marathon training for York in October!
I’d really been looking forward to the North Lincs Half. Not just because the organisers promised cake at the finish line (although that was obviously a factor!) but also because it’s over a year since I’ve done a half marathon properly. I sadly had to miss out on both the Yorkshire Wolds Half and the Vale of York Half last year when I was injured. I did the Brass Monkey Half in January, but was only just getting back to proper running at the time and took it very steadily. Now, off the back of training for the Paris Marathon followed by the Vale of York 10, with a few Parkruns thrown in to sharpen up the legs, I was finally feeling a lot fitter.
The weather forecast for race day was perfect – sunny but cool – and I set off (solo on this occasion) from York to Scunthorpe at about 6.30 am. I wasn’t 100% per cent sure how long it would take me to get there, and we’d been warned that the car park wasn’t big enough for everyone, so I wanted to allow plenty of time. In the end I got there in about an hour and parked up with no problem at all. The race HQ and finish is at Scunthorpe United‘s ground, Glandford Park, which is perfectly situated just off the motorway so really easy to get to. The facilities were great (lots of loos!) and it was nice to be able to wait around inside, out of the early morning chill.
The actual start of the race is about three quarters of a mile from Race HQ, and we were encouraged to make our way down there from about 8.30 for the 9 am kick-off. It’s a pleasant walk down a footpath through some fields, but you wouldn’t want to leave it until the last minute, as the path is narrow and progress was quite slow! On the wide, tree-lined road where the start is located there’s plenty of room to have a bit of a warm-up, and there are also a couple of portaloos for any last-minute calls of nature. Everything seemed very low-key and relaxed, which was really nice.
I’d got my half marathon PB of 1:52:37 at the Brass Monkey in 2015 on a very cold day where we had to walk over a few icy stretches of road. I reckoned with a bit of work I could have a fair crack at sub 1:50 and was planning to give it a go at the Vale of York Half in September this year. I reckoned that would be about 8:20 pace. My plan for North Lincs was to run at about 8:30 and see how things went. Then I noticed two 1:50 pacers, with a pace of 8:24 noted on their flags. Thinking that didn’t seem much faster than 8:30, I decided on the spot to set off with them and see how long I could hold on!
The first couple of miles seemed slightly downhill to me – or maybe I was just feeling good! The pace felt very comfortable. The course is generally very flat along some really long, straight roads – at times it seemed as if you could see runners for miles into the distance! It’s mostly rural, and it was certainly a gorgeous day to run through the countryside. There were a couple of stretches of quite narrow lane where it might have been tricky to pass people, but I was just focussed on sticking close to the pacers. There are five water points along the course – generous for a half marathon – plus stations with jelly babies and sponges around halfway. At this point I still felt OK and was cautiously optimistic about getting a PB. In the third quarter of the race things started to feel slightly harder and my belly felt a bit uncomfortable. I usually take Clif Shot Bloks during long runs, but they seemed to be laying a bit heavy today, so I didn’t take any more after about eight miles. The pacers, who I believe were called Barry and Mat, were brilliant, shouting out motivation and warning us when water stations were coming up. From about mile ten I was finding it harder and harder to keep up, but sheer bloody-mindedness made me attempt to cling on as best I could! I’m sure I would have slackened off sooner without the pacers to help.
Towards the end I looked at my watch and thought “Yes, only half a mile to go” and then… a hill! Only a short one, but as I started up it I felt my left calf beginning to twitch and knew I’d have to walk it. How disappointing – losing the pacer at 12.5 miles! One of the girls in our group kindly touched me on the shoulder and said “Come on!” encouragingly, but I didn’t want to risk full-blown cramp. As I got to the top of the hill I could see spectators cheering near the finish and a sign that said 800m to go, so decided to try for a final push. From somewhere I managed to find a bit of speed, and the roadside encouragement really helped. The final stretch round the football pitch to the finish line was great. I could see the pacers finishing some way ahead of me, but didn’t dare look at my watch until I crossed the line… when I was astonished to find that I’d somehow still managed to sneak in just under 1:50 at 1:49:48! I was chuffed to bits, as I hadn’t planned or expected to do that at all. I was completely cream crackered though, but not too tired to go and thank Barry and Mat, as I certainly wouldn’t have run as fast as I did without their help. The race swag was pretty good; a t-shirt and a trainer-shaped medal, plus a goody bag with crisps, Haribo and a Penguin – oh, and the cake of course! After collecting all this I went and sat on the grass for a while, ate my crisps and did a bit of stretching with a big smile on my face! I was amazed to find out later that I’d come 8th in the V50 women’s category. Perhaps there were only eight V50 women there!
I really would recommend the North Lincs Half to anyone. There were runners of all abilities there, and the organisation and communication were great. The course is really PB-friendly, and obviously the pacers are a Godsend! There’s also a family fun run as part of the occasion. Perhaps best of all, it only costs about half as much to enter as the Leeds Half the week before. Getting away at the end was smooth too, with no traffic hold-ups. A top event all round!
So now I’ve ticked off one of my major goals for the year four months early what’s next? I feel I need to officially re-establish my sub 4 marathon status after the Manchester fiasco, so the Yorkshire Marathon in October is probably my main goal. I’d also love to do a sub 50 minute 10K, but I’m not sure that’s possible. Still, never say never!
When I heard about the new Vale of York 10 (miles rather than kilometres) I just knew I had to enter. Not only was it being held a mere three miles from where I live, I knew it would also be a great training exercise for the North Lincs Half four weeks later. The event was being organised by Racebest. I’d done their Vale of York Half when it was held for the first time in 2014 (you can read my review of that here) and really enjoyed it, so things looked promising.
The VoY 10 started and finished at an airfield at Rufforth, a village west of York. The VoY Half has a similar venue at Sherburn airfield. When you think about it, an airfield is a great place to hold a running event – loads of flat, open space! There was plenty of parking, and by sheer chance I ended up parked virtually next to the start line, which was very handy. Race numbers weren’t posted out in advance, but sign-on was very quick and efficient. Safety pins were included in the race packs too, which was good as it’s probably easy to forget them if you haven’t received a number in advance. There were plenty of toilets in the sign-on area – a bit of queuing, but nothing too long. Everything was very close together, with a nice relaxed atmosphere.
The weather couldn’t have been better; cold but sunny with hardly any wind. As we stood on the start line I regretted wearing gloves and wondered whether I had time to go back to the car and leave them. I decided I hadn’t. In the end the start was delayed by a few minutes, so I probably could have done. I’m not sure why we were late starting – a tannoy announcement was made, but nobody could tell what was being said! Anyway, suddenly a hooter sounded and we were off. The first mile or so consists of an out and back stretch along the airfield, which is quite good as you can see all the super-fast folk speeding off in the opposite direction. Speaking of super-fast (for me), I clocked my first mile at just a couple of seconds over eight minutes, then told myself “Don’t be ridiculous, this isn’t sustainable!” and slowed down to aim for a pace of about 8:30.
We emerged from the airfield onto the public road at about 1.5 miles. It was at around this point that I decided my hands were boiling and the gloves had to come off, so I stuffed one up each sleeve! The route has closed roads all the way round, which is great, and is very rural, passing through a couple of villages along the way. I’m more used to cycling round these roads, and it did feel a bit odd to be running on them instead! But it’s a lovely, scenic route with some undulations to keep things interesting, and on such a clear day there were great long distance views at the high points. There wasn’t much in the way of crowd support apart from at the start and finish, but the lovely countryside more than made up for that.
At one point, between the villages of Catterton and Bilbrough, a horsebox appeared on the course from somewhere, driving through the runners. It was too far ahead to be a problem for me, but I can see that it might have bothered some of the runners further in front. I guess there’s always someone who thinks the closed road doesn’t apply to them! Fortunately it turned off our route after a while. There were water points at 3.5 and 7.5 miles, and the marshals all along the route were brilliant. I believe many of them came from St Theresa’s Athletics Club in Leeds, so big thanks to them for their support. As I was approaching this as a half marathon training exercise I was satisfied with my finishing time of 1:25:50. This was about a minute faster than when I did the Snake Lane 10 in February, but about a minute slower than my ten mile PB achieved at last year’s Snake. After all the marathon training I’ve done I definitely need to do more half marathon-type speed work! But I’m still grateful just to be injury-free so far this year.
There was a great goody bag at the end, containing a medal, t-shirt, High 5 energy gel, water and a Toffee Crisp. The medal and t-shirt are certainly a bit different from the norm – I’ve never had a race memento with a glider on it before! I didn’t hang around too long at the finish as I was a bit sweaty and cold. It took me a few minutes of queuing to get off the site and onto the road. Others who left later told me it took them about 15 minutes, but that’s no great hardship for such a good event, especially when you have a Toffee Crisp with you!
All in all this was a great event that I’d highly recommend. There were certainly a lot of very fast club runners there, but also many less speedy folk such as myself, with some people finishing at over two hours. I believe the Vale of York Half is on 11th September this year – I’ll certainly be entering!
First things first; I didn’t travel to Paris expecting to set the course on fire. Due to my hamstring tendon injury I hadn’t taken part in a marathon for a year and had done hardly any running at all between June and Christmas, so had taken things really cautiously this time by following a beginner’s training plan. Obviously when I got my PB at Manchester last year I was a lot fitter, having followed a specific Asics sub four hour plan. This time my aim was just to complete 26.2 miles (or 42.1 kilometres!) without my injury flaring up. Steve and I decided to make a long weekend minibreak of it, and I’d booked a studio apartment that was a convenient 5-10 minute walk from the marathon start and finish areas.
I registered at the Salon du Running on the Friday morning – a good time to go as it was fairly quiet. This was all very efficient, and participants were given a very cool souvenir nylon rucksack. I’d also registered for the Saturday breakfast run, which cost €10 but included a really nice Asics technical t-shirt and a tiny flag of your nation to carry, which I thought was a nice touch.
The breakfast run was at 9am on the Saturday morning, starting where the marathon finishes on Avenue Foch near the Arc de Triomphe. The sight of hundreds of runners all in the same t-shirt was certainly quite impressive! The atmosphere was really relaxed and friendly, and the tiny flags made it easy to spot fellow Brits, so I got chatting to a lovely woman called Ruth from Cirencester as we jogged along. The 5K route passed by the Eiffel Tower and finished on the nearby Champ de Mars, where an ample supply of coffee, croissants, bananas and water awaited. Carb loading was obviously no hardship in a country famed for its pastry and I probably consumed my own weight in boulangerie produce over the course of the weekend!
Obviously I’d been keeping a close eye on the weather forecast. Friday and Saturday were actually pretty cold, and it was hard to believe that Sunday was predicted to be sunny and up to 20 degrees! But sure enough, it dawned bright and clear, and already felt a lot warmer than the previous two days when I set off for the start at 8.30 am. I was in the 3:45 – 4:00 pen, as I’d been on better form when I’d signed up a year ago. Lining up on the Champs Elysées was quite a Thing in itself, with the Arc de Triomphe framed by a bright blue sky behind us and one of the most beautiful streets in the world stretching ahead.
Despite not having any performance expectations before the event I obviously couldn’t resist setting off at around four hour pace, i.e. nine minute miles. The course (which you can see here) curved around the Place de la Concorde and headed down the very long, straight Rue de Rivoli towards the Place de la Bastille. It then made its way out towards the huge Bois de Vincennes on the eastern edge of the city. There were refreshment points every five kilometres with Vittel water, oranges, bananas, raisins and sugar cubes. I always think oranges are a bad idea as most people are seemingly too dumb to throw their rubbish to the side of the road, so the discarded skins just create a lethal slippery carpet, but there we go – they seem very popular in Europe!
Runners got a split time every 5K and could be tracked live via the Paris Marathon app. I’ve participated in other events where this hasn’t worked very well, but I know it did this time as my brother was stalking me from the UK! I set off really well and felt very comfortable, going through halfway in 2:01. I knew I wasn’t going to break four hours this time, but it didn’t bother me. However, in the second half I did begin to slow down. I think this was a combination of the heat, being a bit less fit than usual and needing a loo stop. Full sun had been beating down on us from the start, and as time went on many people seemed to be struggling with the heat. The firemen of Paris did their best to help, pointing their hoses over the road in various places to provide a fine, cooling spray, and there were also some sponge stations along the way but it was still hard work. It was great to see Steve popping up a couple of times en route with words of encouragement to keep me going!
The course went through two tunnels by the river, where my Garmin lost signal both times, but picked it up again a few minutes after coming out the other end. There were obviously some great sights to see as we went back through the city and out towards the Bois de Boulogne. It’s hard to beat running past the Eiffel Tower as a means of distracting your thoughts from tired legs! Crowd support was brilIiant too, with lots of bands along the route. But I found the last 10K very tough and gradually started to fade. In the last mile or so I actually thought my calves were going to cramp up and had to stop for a little stretch. I’m not sure if this was caused by dehydration or lack of fitness – probably a bit of both. Anyway, much as I’d enjoyed the event I was very glad to finish!
We were funnelled through the (extremely long) finishing area and received a t-shirt, rain cape and a huge, heavy medal! As I went to get a banana I got chatting to a chap from Doncaster who said he’d suffered horribly in the heat too – his marathon PB was apparently 3:43, but today he’d come in at around the same time as me at 4:16. My slowest marathon ever! However, it wasn’t all bad news – I came about halfway down the field, both overall and by gender, and 342nd out of 1,563 in my age category – which just goes to show everyone must have been finding it just as hard!
Would I do it again? Probably not, because there are so many other marathons to try, but I am glad I did it. It’s a beautiful event with a great atmosphere, but a northern lass like me obviously performs better in the familiar cold of Manchester!
My top tips if you’re considering Paris.
Bear in mind that you usually have to provide a medical certificate for French sporting events, stating that you are fit to participate; this is essential for the marathon. Some GPs will provide these for free, some make a nominal charge and some make you have a full private medical that costs a fortune; something you may want to check out before you make your decision.
Enter as early as you can, because prices go up as time goes on. Unlike London or Berlin there’s no ballot, but the event does sell out.
It’s not a great course if you’re attempting a PB. There are some undulations, and in some places the route was quite narrow and crowded. If you want to go European, Berlin is much better for this.
Allow plenty of time if you’re dropping a bag, as the baggage area is quite a walk from the start.
There are lots of toilets around the Place Charles de Gaulle (where the Arc de Triomphe is) but not many in the starting pens, so pay that vital last minute visit to the loo at the top of the road!
There were no sports energy products along the course apart from a small cup of Isostar drink at around 30K (I think!), so make sure you bring your own if you want them.
I do think accommodation was much better value than you’d pay in London during the marathon. The apartment we stayed in is here if anyone wants to check it out.
Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any Paris-related questions!