Well it’s just about a fortnight now since Race to the Stones and I’ve had some time to a) process what happened and b) recover (just about)! I still find it a bit hard to believe that I covered 62 miles (yes, I know it was really 100K, but I’m old) on my own actual feet, but I have the medal to prove it!
I felt a lot better after the event than I thought I would. Obviously I had DOMS of Doom for a few days afterwards, but nothing really hurt or seemed to be injured. The only lasting effects are on my heels, which still feel a bit stiff when I first get up in the morning. Maybe it’s a touch of Achilles strain? I’m not sure, but it seems to be easing day by day so I’m not too worried about it. I’ve taken it very easy over the last couple of weeks, just having a couple of very short, gentle recovery runs, but I’m planning to ease myself back into proper training from next week. I think it’s important to be kind to yourself after a hard event, especially when you’re no spring chicken. Training needs to work in cycles, including periods of rest, if you don’t want to end up injured.
So, what’s next? I’ve made very few plans for the autumn so far because I wasn’t sure how I’d feel after RTTS. I genuinely thought I might be broken for a while! But it was important to really push myself to raise money for Cancer Research UK for the personal reasons I explained here. The York 10K is coming up in just over a week. I don’t think I’ll be gunning for a PB there as I haven’t done any real speed work since the spring, but I always love to do this event for sentimental reasons because it’s the first one I ever entered back in 2009. I’ve also entered the Vale of York Half on 10th September, but that’s it so far. I’d really love to crack a sub-50 minute 10K before I retire from the road (which I keep threatening to do, but hasn’t actually happened so far!). I came very close at the Leeds Abbey Dash last year, finishing in an annoying 50:26. It was a PB, but not quite good enough. I know I must be able to find those extra few seconds in my legs with a bit of appropriate training. I’ve never actually trained specifically for a 10K before, so it might be interesting to do that and maybe enter a couple of races to sharpen up before this year’s Abbey Dash. Some 10K events I’m considering for this over the next couple of months are Escrick, Richmond Castle and Tholthorpe. I’m deliberately not doing the Yorkshire Marathon this autumn to concentrate on the shorter distance, but I might be tempted by the Yorkshire 10 Miles on the same day!
Having said all that, I’ve really grown to love trail running this year. Ideally I’d love to do a couple of shorter trail runs over the autumn. Trail events currently tempting me include the Forest and Moors at Dalby Forest (10K, half or full marathon), the Hardmoors Princess Challenge (8.5, 17.5 or 31 miles) and the North York Moors Coastal Trail (10K, half, full or ultra marathon). There’s no way I can do all these road and trail events, due to both time and financial constraints, but I’d love to try and combine a bit of each.
I also have a huge decision to make this autumn regarding next spring. My Good For Age time gained at last year’s Yorkshire Marathon not only gets me into the London Marathon, but also counts as a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. So I’m thinking should I apply for that and defer my London place until 2019? I say apply rather than enter, because achieving the qualifying time doesn’t automatically get you into Boston; it also depends how many other people enter, and the better you are the more chance you have of being accepted! Obviously Boston is a race that every marathoner dreams of running, and this might be my only chance; but, as well as being expensive to enter, it would involve a transatlantic plane fare and a few nights in a hotel at the least. Would it be worth it? The idea of getting the special Boston Athletics Association unicorn medal and jacket is very tempting! It’s a real bucket list event. I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s run Boston. I have until September (when entry opens) to think that one through.
So that’s me for now. What are you up to this autumn? I’d love to know.
If anyone would like to make a donation to my Just Giving page for CRUK it’s still open here 🙂
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!
Last time I wrote about training for Race to the Stones I was worried because I was a bit behind schedule. I’d had a hamstring niggle after the London Marathon that didn’t seem to be going away. I was also having a bit of pain from time to time in my right calf and felt like my high hamstring tendon problem might be coming back. But instead of panicking I decided to try a new physio and booked in to see Dave Baxter at Tadcaster Physiotherapy. I noticed on his website that Dave was an ultra runner himself, so felt he’d understand where I was coming from! I’ve seen Dave’s colleague Millie for sports massage before and always felt it’s done me good.
I had an initial assessment with Dave where we went through some range of motion exercises. He also popped me on his treadmill for a bit and had me doing lots of one-legged bridges on his couch! For some reason it appears my right hand side is weaker than the left, so Dave gave me some exercises to do at home to try and help with this. He used an app to film me doing them and emailed this to me, which was really useful. He also advised me to use hiking poles for the hills on my long run to give my legs a bit of support, which I did on my next Sunday outing along the Yorkshire Wolds Way.
I went back to see Dave two weeks later and felt that things had definitely improved in the meantime. I’ve done some long, hilly runs and felt OK afterwards, and also did some speed intervals for the first time in ages last week. On the last two weekends I’ve done back to back long runs and feel pretty much normal now – although getting hungrier than usual! I’m really glad I went to see Dave; apart from his physiotherapy he’s also a great source of ultra running advice, and suggested I get some shoes with more cushioning than my Inov-8 Trail Talons for covering 100K on hard trails. I’ve ordered some Altra Lone Peaks to see how they compare. Seeing Dave has really brought home to me the importance of doing strength work to support my running; something I’ve not been very good with in the past, but will definitely do more in the future.
I’ve been experimenting with different sorts of food in training recently. I find it quite hard to eat and run, but I know I’m going to have to eat some real food to get round Race to the Stones, so have tried various things over the past few weeks, including homemade flapjack, salty crackers and baby food pouches! Flapjack seems OK if I chew it really well; I thought salty snacks might be good if it’s a hot day; the fruity baby food was nice, but I’d have to eat (and so carry) quite a lot to get enough carbs. The best thing I tried was a Tribe Infinity bar, which I got in a sample box I ordered a while ago. When I opened it I thought it looked like MDF and was a bit dubious, but it tasted fine and (most importantly) was really easy to eat and sat well in the belly. I think I’ll have to order some more of those!
It’s now less than six weeks until Race to the Stones (eek!). I’ve just started a three week period of what’s called ‘Peak’ training on the plan, followed by a three week taper. This weekend I’m taking part in my first ever Hardmoors event, the Wainstones Half. I’ve fancied trying one of these events, held on the North York Moors, for ages, and thought this would be a good training exercise. Then we’re off on holiday to the Pyrenees at the end of next week, where the OH is taking part in the Ariégeoise cyclosportive and I’m hoping to be able to take to the mountainous trails to get some good training done. I’m already finding hills a lot easier than I used to, so hopefully those French mountains will make my legs even stronger. Also: I’ll need to work off all the fabulous French pastries, cheese and wine!
The London Marathon was a fantastic event, but Race to the Stones is now looming on the horizon, so I need to start preparing for that. I’ve already been including hills in some of my long marathon training runs, and also completed a couple of hilly events, like the Temple Newsam Trails half marathon. Hopefully that will have set me off to a good start, but I know that I now need to do as many hills as possible and work on building strength rather than focusing on pace and speed. My post-London plan was to have an easy week immediately afterwards, then start to follow the training plan on the Race to the Stones website, which looks like this:
So after just a short recovery run mid-week I headed to my new favourite training ground, Temple Newsam, for a few easy trail miles a week later. And midway through the run I felt a little niggle in my right hamstring – the same side as I had my hamstring tendon injury nearly two years ago. I gave it a little massage and a stretch and hoped it would settle down. But during a short run on Monday it felt no better, so I took myself off to see Jeroen at Jorvik Physiotherapy. After a bit of poking around Jeroen told me it was the muscle on the outside edge of the hamstring group that was the culprit (the one on the right in this picture) and that it was good news as it didn’t seem to be the tendon this time; it was just a bit tired and sore post-marathon.
Jeroen gave me some ultrasound treatment and told me to take it easy for a couple of weeks, which basically means no speed work, no hills and no racing. Thankfully I can still run, but if the muscle starts to play up I’ll have to back off and rest it. I can cycle if I want to, but I’d rather not if I can run. This isn’t great news training-wise, but it could have been worse, and I have to do everything I can to ensure I reach the start of Race to the Stones injury-free – especially as many people have now kindly donated to my Just Giving page for Cancer Research UK.
I was really disappointed to have to miss the North Lincolnshire Half on Sunday. I did this race for the first time and it’s fab – you can read my review of it here. I managed to achieve sub 1:50 for the first time thanks to their brilliant pacers, and was looking forward to having another go (and getting cake at the end again!) but it would have been stupid of me to dose up on ibuprofen and do that – I might have put myself out of action completely. But I still have the Vale of York Half in September to look forward to. Instead I went out for a very slow, flat two hour trot. I’m going to practise eating various foods on the hoof over the next few weeks, especially savoury ones, as I think I’ll get sick of sweet stuff over the course of 100K. Yesterday it was salty crackers, which went down really well – easy to digest and I think the salt would be useful on a warm day in July. Isn’t ultra running all about the eating?! Anyway, here I am chomping one down – my selfie skills don’t get any better!
So that’s where I am for now. This week I’m planning to do just a couple of very short, gentle runs to keep my legs turning, but also go to flow yoga twice to try and build some extra strength and flexibility. Then I’ll see how I feel next weekend. It’s frustrating and a bit worrying not to be training completely how I should be for now, but I’m hoping my cycle of marathon training will stand me in good stead fitness-wise. I don’t need to get any faster, just stronger!
In the past I’ve done quite a bit of running for charity; the first time was back in 2009 when I first started running and the OH and I both did the first ever Run for All York 10K in aid of the Jane Tomlinson Appeal. That was a big deal at the time! I also did the Great North Run for Martin House Hospice. Then, as I started to do more and more running, I realised that I couldn’t expect people to cough up every time I took part in an event.
So I thought I should give it another go; but as nobody is that impressed when I run a marathon any more (and rightly so!) I knew I’d have to go the extra mile this time to get people to part with their hard-earned cash. Actually, quite a few extra miles…
I’ve been tempted to enter Race to the Stones ever since I heard about it last year. It’s a hilly ultra of 100K (or 62 miles in old money) that takes place in July and follows the Ridgeway trail from Lewknor to the ancient stone circle at Avebury. Not only does it look like a great event, but Cancer Research UK have charity places, so it was an ideal opportunity to take on my first 100K and support a cause that’s very close to my heart at the same time. Here’s why I’m running for CRUK.
There’s always been quite a lot of cancer on my mum’s side of the family. She and her two sisters (my aunties) all had breast cancer at a relatively early age, and her brother (my uncle) had prostate cancer. When my cousin also developed breast cancer recently she was offered BRCA2 genetic testing because it was suspected that we might have it in the family. Unfortunately her result came back positive, so we knew for sure that BRCA2 was around and that there was a 50% chance others would have it. That left me and my siblings and cousins with a decision to make. Should we also get tested and find out if we had the gene? For me it wasn’t a hard decision to make. I try to live (mostly) healthily to reduce my risk of developing long term health conditions. We all know that you’re less likely to get cancer if you don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight and exercise. But you can’t fight genetics. Having the BRCA2 gene seriously increases your risk of developing breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. However, women with the BRCA2 gene have the option of undergoing risk-reducing surgery that ultimately makes them less likely than the general population to develop breast cancer. For men it’s a bit trickier as there isn’t much you can do to prevent prostate cancer apart from keep an eye on things.
Rather than living with uncertainty, I felt I had to know. I saw a genetic counsellor at York Hospital, who was lovely, and had a simple blood test. Fortunately for me the result came back negative. I felt a strange mixture of emotions at hearing the news; obviously happy and relieved, but at the same time a bit guilty that I’d ‘got away with it’ when my cousin hadn’t – although the good news is that she had the surgery and is doing really well, and another of my female cousins has, like me, tested negative. The bad news is I won’t get a free ‘Angelina’ boob job on the NHS! Others in my family haven’t yet taken the plunge to find out. It’s a difficult decision to make, so I respect their choice, but obviously it affects future generations as well as yourself.
So that’s my very personal reason for supporting CRUK, although I’ve been lucky so far. Well known for their ground-breaking research – the BRCA2 gene was actually discovered by a CRUK-funded team – it also does a lot of brilliant work to support those affected by cancer, as well as educating people about cancer, which is why I’m supporting them. Even though you can’t change your genes, educating people about how to avoid cancer is so important. CRUK also has a wealth of useful resources on its website that anyone can access.
Thanks for reading this far if you have! I’ll be blogging a bit about my ultra training between now and Race to the Stones on 15th July. If you’d like to donate to my Just Giving page and help CRUK you can do so here. We’d both really appreciate it!
The London Marathon – considered by many to be the greatest long distance event in the world – is probably on most runners’ bucket list. It took me a while to get there though! Having been unsuccessful in the ballot a couple of times I decided to have a go at Good For Age qualification, which I achieved at the Manchester Marathon in 2015. However, the week before Manchester I’d entered the Paris Marathon for 2016, and because I thought it might be a bit daft (and expensive) to do both Paris and London in the same month, I deferred London until 2017.
So it was almost two years after entering that I finally headed down to London last Saturday to take part. I almost couldn’t believe it was happening after all this time! First stop was the expo to pick up my race number. The lovely man on the registration desk said to me “Well done Angela, Good For Age”, which was great. I also picked up a goody bag that seemed to consist mostly of healthy snacks – no complaints there! I didn’t hang around long at the expo, as I was trying to minimise time on my feet, and I find events like that really energy-draining. Instead I headed off for some carb-loading coffee and carrot cake and a bit of a rest at the hotel. I’d booked a Travelodge just near Cannon Street station, which was really handily placed for travelling to Greenwich. The weather forecast was quite warm, so I pre-hydrated with lots of water and some High 5 Zero electrolyte drink. After some more carbs at possibly the most scenic branch of Strada in the country, overlooking Tower Bridge, it was time for an early night.
Obviously I woke up before the alarm next morning, so got on with the job of drinking more High 5 and forcing down two porridge pots. I always find this a hard (but essential) part of race preparation! I expected the trains to be chaotic, so set off in good time just before 8am, but they were fine, and it only took about 20 minutes to get to Maze Hill. From there it’s about a ten minute walk to the Green start, which is much smaller than the Red and Blue areas, and where participants are mostly Good For Age runners and celebs. Not that I recognised many of them – although I was delighted to meet comedians Paul Tonkinson and Rob Deering (who produce the podcast Running Commentary) at the entrance. I love Paul’s column in Runners World, so I hope they didn’t mind a bit of ageing fangirl gushing! They were both lovely anyway, although I’m always too shy to ask celebs for photos. Queues for the portaloos were pretty lengthy – it took me about half an hour to get to the front, but at least I didn’t need to go again after that! I tried to warm up a bit on the grassy area, but space was pretty tight. I got into my pen at about 9.45 and was delighted to see Bibi from Veggie Runners. We chatted until gun time, then I looked for the four hour pacer. My plan was to hang on to him as long as I could and see what happened!
The weather was sunny but cool with hardly any wind – perfect. I felt really comfortable as we set off. After a short while we Green runners merged with the Blue, and I could see the amazing Susie Chan pacing four hours. Well I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to run with Susie, so I joined her pace group instead. I was stunned that one of the guys with us didn’t know who she was, so had to tell him he was running with a living legend! The course was quite crowded, especially in the first 10K or so, with quite a bit of shoving and jostling, but this eased a bit as we spread out later on.
I was going really well until about 15 miles, then started to feel the pace a bit. For some reason I was finding it really hard to eat my usual Clif Shot Bloks. I forced some down, but it seemed like hard work, and it was starting to get a lot warmer too. I passed a point where Lucozade gels were being given out, and took one because it would be easy to get down – but shortly after wished I hadn’t, as it didn’t seem to agree with my belly! My fuelling strategy definitely went to pot and I felt myself starting to slow down a bit. But then I remembered that my objective for the day was to enjoy the ride rather than get a PB, and settled into it. I even walked a couple of the water points, because I knew I’d probably only run London once and didn’t want my memory of it to be painful! There were some great sights on the way round the course; Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge in the first half, then Big Ben and many of the city’s landmarks towards the end. The glorious weather made everything look brilliant.
Meanwhile, my husband Steve had been dashing round town and managed to spot me in three places – although I didn’t manage to spot him at the first two! There was so much crowd support and noise around almost all of the course, which was amazing, but meant I missed him; but the thought that thousands of people had come out to support runners they didn’t even know was so touching and really spurred me on – as did the thought that various friends and family were tracking me online! I eventually saw Steve in the last mile, just before turning onto the Mall. My left calf was starting to twinge a bit with cramp, so I was pleased to be nearly finished – but the final stretch down The Mall was really special. I ran it deliberatey slowly because I wanted to savour it. The palace and all the flags looked fantastic in the sunshine. The speakers were blasting out YMCA, and I think I even did the actions as I approached the finish line. I had finally run London! My finish time was 4:05:07; not Good For Age, but my third fastest marathon, and I was happy with that considering how things had panned out. A lovely woman hung my medal round my neck and I remember saying to her “I’m so pleased to see you!”.
I picked up a goody bag with more snacks and a really nice t-shirt. The finish area seems to go on forever – a long walk after running 26.2 miles! But at least it was in the direction of the tube.
Am I glad I ran London? Definitely! It’s an epic event and I’d recommend any marathon runner does it at least once. Despite being vast it’s really well organised and the atmosphere is amazing. Would I do it again? Well on Sunday, at about mile 18, when things felt tough, I convinced myself that this was going to be my last ever road marathon. But then on Monday I realised I could qualify for next year with the time I ran at the Yorkshire Marathon last October. So let’s just say we’ll see when Good For Age entry opens!
As part of my recent marathon/ultra training I’ve been trying to run up and down as many hills as possible. When I did the Calderdale Ultra nearly two years ago it became clear to me that I was sadly lacking in hill experience; we don’t really have any in York apart from Windmill Rise, where I sometimes do hill reps, but which isn’t very long. So I know hill running is something I need to do regularly if I’m going to make it through Race to the Stones in one piece! With this in mind I did the Temple Newsam Ten (miles) in January and the Harewood House Half in February, and have also been out and about in Yearsley Woods near Ampleforth (where I managed to get lost!), Dalby Forest and along the Yorkshire Wolds Way as often as I can.
The Temple Newsam Trail Races is a new event organised by It’s Grim Up North Running. It’s basically a 6.7 mile loop around the estate, so you can run one lap for approximately 10K, two laps for a half marathon, three for 20 miles and four for a marathon. It was one of the most low-key but enjoyable events I’ve ever done. Firstly, it started at a very civilised time of 10.30, so as it only takes me about half an hour to get to Leeds I didn’t even have to get up at the crack of dawn. As only about 200 people were taking part there was no queue at all at sign-on or the toilets – fantastic! Just before kick-off we had a race briefing, then we were away.
There was no messing here, as the course started with a run up a hill to the front of the big house, but the incline wasn’t too steep. The course then followed an undulating route through the beautiful grounds of the house, featuring woodland, gardens and even a bit of a muddy descent. I really enjoyed it – I’d only entered the half as I had 15 easy miles on my marathon schedule for that weekend, but kind of wished I was doing the whole thing in the end! The only thing that was a bit disappointing was the weather – it rained for nearly all of my half – but improved as the day went on. I chatted to several people who, like me, were running the London Marathon in three weeks and using this event as their last long training run, and I think we all had a great time. There was no chip timing, but that doesn’t really bother me in trail events, where distances and PBs don’t seem to matter as much, but results were posted online anyway.
Refreshments were provided at two points along the loop, with water, cola, jelly babies, crisps and energy gels on offer. At the end there was the most fantastic array of cake – always a welcome sight to runners. And the goody bag was epic, containing some great race bling, an Easter egg, beer and a bunch of daffodils! I thought this event was great value and great fun. I’d be happy to do it again, and I think it probably has scope to get bigger. In the meantime I’ll keep looking for hills to run up and down.
Next stop – London, baby!
Here are just some of the thoughts that passed through my mind during my 20 mile run on Sunday.
Do any of them sound familiar?
20 miles. I haven’t run that far since the York Marathon five months ago. Eek. But it’s meant to be slow today though. Ten minute miles. Three hours and twenty minutes. Eek!
They said it might rain. It doesn’t look like rain. Of course it won’t rain because I’ve brought my hat in case it rains.
Yeah, my legs feel OK today. Well maybe my calves are a bit tight. But that normally goes off after a couple of miles. I should probably have rolled them before I set off.
Right, so I’ll eat a bit of flapjack after about an hour and a half, then every half hour after that. Got to practice eating on the hoof for Race to the Stones. No gel because I’m only running slowly today.
My calves are still tight. There’s a bench over there. I’ll stop there and squeeze them a bit. Yeah, that’s better.
Oh, thanks for coming out when you weren’t supposed to, sun. When I’ve left my sunnies at home. Because it was supposed to be raining. Now I’ll be squinting for the next two and a half hours! I suppose I could put my rain hat on, but then I’d probably sweat to death.
Bloody hell, it’s really warm. I don’t remember the weatherman saying it was going to be this warm. He only mentioned the rain that isn’t actually happening. I’m so overdressed. Why is everyone wearing coats? Are they aliens or something?
Six miles in exactly an hour. That’s good. Only another two hours and twenty minutes to go. That’s hilarious!
Look at all these people walking to the shops. On a sunny day like this. They need to get a life.
Jesus, what makes some dog owners think I’d love it if their mutt jumps up at me. Yank the bloody thing in! It’s always the little yappy ones. Big dogs are so much more chilled.
Five miles, that’s a quarter.
Must slow down a bit. Train body to use fat as fuel. I always speed up in the middle bit, after I’ve warmed up and before I start to get tired.
It’s better now I’m out of town. Nice by the river. Blossom out, that’s pretty. Springtime.
Oh, there’s Neil on his bike. Haven’t seen him for ages. I’ll stop for a quick chat.
I’m boiling now. Sweating like a beast. But at least nothing’s chafing. Nice one, Shock Absorber.
What fraction of this run have I done now? Over half anyway. Soon be two thirds.
Fed up of flapjack. Should have brought something salty. What though? Peanuts? They were giving out peanuts at that race. Yeah, I might bring some peanuts next time.
How much drink have I got left? Hard to tell in the Camelbak. Feels quite light though.
There is virtually no wind today. Typical. I want a breeze!
Should I enter the Boston ballot for next year? I bet it would cost a fortune to go to Boston. Am I that bothered? What if I entered, booked flights and that and then got injured? Remember that time you spent the night before Manchester in the hotel loo and couldn’t run? Hmm.
Why is that woman running in a jacket? Is she training for the Marathon des Sables? Or just insane?!
I want a wee. I’ve clearly drunk too much. There’s some bushes. Just stop the Garmin for a mo…
What shall I have for lunch when I get back? Fish finger sarnie? No, you had that yesterday. What about eggs? Yeah, scrambled eggs. Eggs are good. On toast. Protein and carbs.
Feeling a bit tired now. Oh yeah? Well suck it up, because if this was Race to the Stones you wouldn’t even be a third of the way through it. Jesus! Yeah, but I’d be running slower and with walking breaks. But still. God, how will I ever cover 100K! How? It isn’t remotely possible! WHY THE HELL DID I ENTER THAT?
Why is the Garmin bleeping? Powering down? FFS, I must have forgotten to restart it after I stopped for that wee! How far back was that? Brilliant, that’s totally buggered up my route. Well I’m not stopping til the Garmin says 20. I’ll have to do a bit extra. Bollocks.
I’m knackered now. I wish I’d brought a gel. Why didn’t you bring an emergency gel? Idiot!
Why am I doing this? I’m 53 years old. I should be in a garden centre buying a Cath Kidston trowel or something. Or shopping. Or sitting outside a pub. This is the last time I’m ever training for a marathon. Probably.
How did I ever run 26.2 miles faster than this? Actually I did it twice. Hard to believe now. But it’s on the internet so it must be true. Unless it’s Fake News – haha!
I’d really rather be walking now. Shall I have a little walk? I could walk in an ultra. Yeah, but only up the hills. This isn’t a hill. And anyway, this is London training. For the road. No stopping. Yay, these traffic lights are against me! A few seconds rest. There is a God!
Nearly home. This bit’s downhill. Flying I am. Yeah, right!
Aren’t chairs great? I need milk. Cold chocolate milk… drink of champions.
Just a few of my long run thoughts. I love it really!
What do you think during a long run?
A few days ago I noticed a plug on Facebook for a new 20 mile running event to be held in Nidderdale this May. Run Nidderdale, organised by the Rotary Club of Harrogate, describes itself as being ‘for serious runners only’. I guess they mean they only want entries from sub-elite skinny minnies in running club vests who post super-fast times, but it got me to thinking about what constitutes a serious runner. Does it depend on your ability? Or can it just be about your attitude?
I have friends who are runners at all levels, from those just starting out with Couch to 5K to others who can run a marathon in less than three hours, and everything in between. They are almost all taking their training seriously: setting a goal, following a plan, trying to eat healthily and doing their best to improve, sometimes at the expense of other things like holidays or even a social life. But if someone happens to be older or slower than that person who can run a marathon in three hours, does that mean they aren’t taking running seriously? That their efforts count for nothing?
To look at things another way… when I’m out running I always say hello to other runners. I guess I feel an affinity with them, whoever they are. Some reciprocate, but others totally blank me. Am I not worthy of their acknowledgement if I’m clearly not clocking sub six minute miles? If I smile and say hi does it mean I’m not taking things seriously enough? Are they the serious runners, too po-faced to offer a friendly greeting? Being snooty/serious doesn’t necessarily make them any faster than friends of mine who are super speedy and dedicated, yet also some of the most cheerful people I know; people who’ve encouraged me throughout my running journey and don’t feel the need to be so up themselves.
So where does that leave me? Am I a serious runner? I’m never going to trouble the podium in any event, but I always want to do the best I can. Even though I’m no spring chicken I’m still trying to improve. I didn’t become a Good For Age marathoner by not taking my training seriously. I haven’t yet given up on trying to shave those last few seconds off that elusive sub 50 10K. But I feel the good Rotarians of Harrogate wouldn’t classify me as a serious runner because I’m never at the head of the field.
Interestingly, the aim of this new run is to give people (and I quote) ‘the opportunity to raise money for their favourite charity’. But is running 20 miles a challenge for a serious runner? It’s far more of a stretch for those of us lower down the food chain. You know, the ones who sometimes wear tights when it’s a bit chilly, have fun while we’re running and are probably more likely to run for charity anyway.
If the organisers of the Rotary run want only fast runners to enter, then that’s what they should say, not insult the rest of us by implying we don’t take our sport seriously. Personally I don’t ever want to be serious enough not to say hi to another runner. I prefer to be in the middle of the pack. Smiling.
What do you think makes a ‘serious’ runner? I’d love to know.