Three races in recent weeks – it’s all or nothing here! Back at the end of June I wrote about the Great Chalfield 10K, a race I’ll stagger round even if I can’t race it because it’s just such a great event. It was definitely a staggering run this year, and as I wrote in my race report a huge highlight for me was spotting a deer watching us climb the last hill.
I love seeing deer, and I’ve spotted more when running than at any other time. I’m always amazed that a wild animal of such a size can live along side us, relatively invisibly. I always think if you see a deer, it means it’s a GOOD day.
On 2nd August I ran the Stripped Back Bustard 5 (miles), and wrote about it here. On the longand soggy drive home, in a car that now resembled a sauna on wheels, I thought I saw a deer-shaped thing at the side of the road going down Bowden Hill. It wasn’t moving, so I wondered if it was a model. I slowed right down, eventually stopped, and a fallow deer leapt out and trotted across the road right in front of me. Magical. Another good day!
Last week, I had another race, the last in this season’s Heddington 5K series. I was idly thinking of trotting around at about 9:30 minute mile pace which would get me in under 30 minutes, when I bumped into Nikki. I ran June’s Heddington 5K with Nikki when we were very disciplined and ran at a steady 10 minute mile pace together. (Read about it here). It turned out that she was thinking of running at about 9:30 pace because she was desperate to finally go sub-30 for a 5K. Again we agreed to run together, and started near the back. The first mile was fine (it’s mostly downhill!), the next half mile to the halfway point was still okay, we were passing a few runners and just keeping going.
At 2 miles though, the chatter stopped and we were working hard to keep to our pace. At about 2 and a half miles I could sense Nikki starting to drop back slightly, so I nagged and verbally pushed her to just keep her legs moving. We made it to 3 miles. As we came to the “200 metres to go” sign we both glanced at our watches, gave an excited squeak, and Nikki pushed off on her finish line sprint (how do people do that??!) I crossed the line in 29:21 and Nikki in 29:17. She was so happy – and I’m glad its not just me who cries when they set a new PB that they’ve been wanting to hit for a long time. Well done Nikki – superb gritty running!
I left straight after the prize giving as I’d left my son with cooking instructions and wanted to make sure he hadn’t burnt the house down. As I came back down Bowden Hill again, I thought about the deer and wondered if I’d see it again. I looked and looked, but no such luck. As I headed along the road to Corsham though, I could see something moving at the edge of the road. A cyclist with no lights? A runner ill-advisedly wearing brown at dusk? No, of course on a special day like today it had to be another deer. As I slowed down it cautiously crossed the road in front of me and disappeared through the hedge. I *knew* it had been a good day!
After starting a long and dull race report (you know the sort – just look at some of my early reports!) I decided I was even boring myself and I’d better start again. Here goes.
The amazing thing about the Bristol to Bath marathon wasn’t the start, or the finish, or the support between the two. It wasn’t the number of Portaloos or water stations, or the weather or even the medal. It was the sum of all these things, and a little something extra – how I felt on the day.
As I’ve already written, I loved every minute of this race. I didn’t look upon it as a race, but as a last long run. Bizarrely unlike most people I read about, I love the long runs in my marathon training – all on my own, carrying my stuff, really feeling like I’m travelling around where I live. I took this attitude into last Sunday with me, and it did me proud.
I had some lucky breaks, like finding 2 Portaloos with no queue just when I needed them, at mile 3 and mile 17-ish. Also you know that moment when you’ve just taken a gel and your mouth is really sticky and you really really need some water but you had wrongly guessed where the next water station was? Well, imagine at just that point hearing your name called, and seeing a friend offering you some water (Thanks Nat!).
I had considered taking my ipod along for the tough bits where I had anticipated little support (between the two cities, including the two big hills). I was glad I abandoned this idea, because the support was amazing. Plenty of people around me were listening to stuff, which was really annoying when I was talking to them, only to be ignored. I was running at one point in Bristol next to a man who was wearing a running top emblazoned with the Welsh dragon. A spectator started loudly singing the Welsh national anthem at him – but as the Welshman had earphones in he completely missed it. What a waste. I, on the other hand, stayed completely in the present listening to the cheers and applause, and enjoying reading people’s banners. My particular favourite was held by a bored looking teenager and read “IT WASN’T EASY GETTING UP EARLY TO MAKE THIS BANNER, EITHER”.
The route was flat and hilly. The first half was mostly pancake-like, with everyone I spoke to anxious about the second half. I was mentally prepared to walk up the hills if I needed to (I was expecting to if I’m honest) but in the spirit of just taking everything as it came when I actually got to the hills I felt fine and just carried on running.
All the way around I could see the flags of the 5 hour pacers just ahead of me. This was perfect as my ‘Gold medal’ goal was to finish in 5:15 (which means averaging around 12 minute miles) and if I kept them in sight I knew I was on track without having to keep on looking at my Garmin. My ‘Silver medal’ was to beat my Brighton time of 5:25, and ‘Bronze’ was to finish with a smile on my face. With the prospect of the hilly second half I told my family I expected to take around 5:30, so they could plan getting into Bath without having to hang around for too long.
As we hit the long Kelston Hill at mile 20 I slowed to a walk to pull out my sports beans (not a euphemism) and then ploughed on up the hill slowly running and chewing. I tried visualising the hill as actually going down rather than up to see if it helped. Actually it did – don’t know what was in those sports beans! I could see the now much smaller group of people with the 5 hour pacers were walking up the hill. I gradually caught up with them until we all reached the top of the hill and we started running together.
For the first time there were the most amazing views of Bath from the top of the hill. We could see it! It was only about 4 miles from here. I overtook the 5 hour group and caught up with a couple of Run Mummy Run friends who had been run-walking from the start. At the next hill I left them behind as they walked and I ran. I smiled, and ran, and smiled, and ran a bit more, and realised I was actually feeling sad that this amazing run was coming to an end.
The downhills were sore on my right knee by now but I was excited to be back in Bath. Running down streets I usually go shopping along was an amazing experience, as was seeing the bemused foreign tourists taking photos of exhausted runners against the backdrop of Bath Abbey.
The sneaky hill just before we entered Victoria Park was cruel, but seeing the mile 26 marker was enough to make my throat tighten with emotion “Don’t cry yet!” I sternly told myself. A glance at my Garmin told me I was definitely on for an amazing time, which made a sob rise inside me again. “DON’T CRY YET!!!” Into the park, crowds of people lining the barriers, spotting the finish line ahead, “Still don’t cry”, suddenly hearing “LUUUUUCCCCYYYY!”, turning and seeing my daughter waving frantically at me. She was the only member of my family who had made it to the finish before I did, despite initially not being able to find the park on the way from work. Amazing!
As the sobs threatened to escape, I roared over the finish line, for the first time ever feeling justified in raising my arms to the sky. My official photos of this moment might not be pretty, but they’re the ones that best tell the story of this run.
Thankfully my daughter took a slightly less deranged photo.
Fabulous. I beat even my Gold medal target, so I guess I won Platinum. I finally felt like I’d run the marathon I should have been capable of for a long time. Nothing else to say, just more smiling.
So yesterday was my third marathon – the Bristol to Bath. Just some quick thoughts on what was a fantastic day.
My first marathon I ran in 2012 after missing 5 weeks of training through injury and with a longest run of 14 miles. I finished in a time of 6:07.
My second was run in 2013 after great training, but I never really felt right in the race. I had a huge wobble at mile 14, another at mile 17, really struggled after that but was pleased to finish in 5:25.
Yesterday’s was a strange one. I couldn’t really get psyched up for it beforehand, so I decided to think of it as just another long training run. It was a training run with people applauding me and telling me how well I was doing. What an ego boost! I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute of it, even the hills and after overtaking the 5 hour pacers I finished in 4:56:54. This is 29 minutes faster than my time at Brighton. Amazing!
It was fantastic to meet so many lovely ladies from the Run Mummy Run group before and during the race, but I mostly ran on my own and just enjoyed the route and the sights.
I’ll post more when I’ve digested it all and found some more photos.
Whenever my brother visits from the North (land of pies) he always comments on how many more uncomfortably large people he sees here in Wiltshire compared with at home. I’ve lived here for too long to notice either way, but I think I might have found the reason why. My brother was popping over today with my Mum and Dad for a quick cup of tea, and I realised I didn’t have any cake or nice biscuits to offer. Fortunately our local pub has the loveliest owners and they happily agreed to package me up what was basically a takeaway cream tea. They even popped the scones into the oven so they were warm and included cartons of jam and cream. These were delicious, but what was amazing was the scones were as big as my head.* I’m thinking maybe this explains the size of people in Wiltshire?!
After such an enormous elevenses I couldn’t manage my lunch until about 4pm, but this was perfect pre-race food timing so actually worked out very well. I then headed out to the first in this year’s series of the Heddington 5K races. These races are quite informal, you can only enter on the night, you park and finish opposite a pub, they have chip timing and only £3. Last night was full of club runners because it’s basically a downhill, PB course. At one time this would have been intimidating, but for the first time ever I too was a club runner, proudly sporting my (borrowed) Chippenham Harriers shirt. ** It was so different to my usual race experiences to be with a big group of people, and to have lots of runners to chat to both before and after the race. *** It was also a novelty to hear people shout “go Chippenham!” and realise they were shouting at me!
A scary downhill charge of a start**** led to a fast race and a new 5k PB of 25:27. There are two more races in this series so with a warm up, and less wind on the night, my goal of going sub-25 looks like it could be achievable. I think eating a pre-race scone-as-big-as-my-head is going on my list of ideal race prep as this was obviously what made the difference.
Whilst I’m talking about weight, a top tip. If you have any concerns about your own size, hide them by making your brother look like he’s heavier than he actually is by ‘helping’ with the scale.
*There is no photographic evidence of this because I didn’t want to let the scones go cold.
**Thank you for the loan of the shirt, Lucy!
***To quote Luna Lovegood “It was like having friends” 😉
**** I’ve never had a mile split beginning with a 7 before which is amazing
Phew, well that’s been a busy time. Our building work is really nearly finished, which has meant much last minute ordering of stuff, lots of snap decisions and a fair bit of painting. Our daughter is sliding towards her GCSEs so needs plenty of poking, gently reminding to work (i.e. nagging), and general supporting. Husband is spending more and more time cycling, and my son requires regular winkling out of his room and away from his computer before he becomes a totally stereotypical teenaged boy. So, all in all, busy times in the B&T household.
Despite all this I have been getting out running, just not as far or as often as I would have liked. Nothing spectacular, and no interesting photos hence no blogging. I did spend a happy few hours writing out a list of upcoming races, and am still dithering over which to enter.
It was pointed out to me this week that it was my local parkrun’s first birthday on Saturday, so as husband was getting up at stupid o’clock to cycle a ridiculous distance* I thought I’d set my alarm as well and go along to parkrun for a short and hopefully speedy 5K.
Conscious that only first timers and tourists get to parkrun early, I managed to get there rather late, just as the run director was giving his pre run talk. Yes, I was the one still tying my shoe laces as everyone else was applauding the first timers and visitors. (Sorry!) I was also the one who had to run back to my jacket to grab my bar code just as the run director mentioned not forgetting your bar code. Sigh.
These hiccups aside, I enjoyed my third official parkrun. I pushed when I could, but did find myself just trotting along behind a couple of blokes for a while rather than over taking them straight away. (It’s not a race, you see). Anyway I was very pleased when I stopped my Garmin to see I had a new parkrun PB of 26:26. I was impressed when I got home and saw this was actually a new all time 5K PB, and I was delighted when I got my official email from parkrun confirming my time, and telling me I was position 1 in my age category**. If it’s not a race, I can still be a winner, can’t I?***
*300K is a ridiculous distance to cycle in one day. Fact.
** on telling him I was first in my age category, my son promptly asked if I was the only one in my age category.
*** the correct answer to this is YES. It’s the first time I’ve ever come first in anything that didn’t involve sitting exams, so I’m pinning an unofficial winner’s badge on myself.
So 2013 is nearly up. At the end of a year, before starting to think up new goals and resolutions for the year ahead, it’s always good to look back on how far you’ve come this year. Personally 2013 has been great for my running and had turned out to be the year of the PB, which feels fantastic. I have set new PBs at 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon distance, and I have the data from my Garmin to prove it.
I’m also delighted to see that I’ve doing more running this year than any other. 747.93 miles run over 137 hours 37 minutes 17 seconds. Phew -I feel the need for a sit down and a restorative glad* of wine just thinking about it.
Now whilst I’m comfortable, let me think about new goals for 2014…
*this of course should be glass of wine. Although I was very glad of it as well
A cold, misty, drizzly, Autumn Sunday morning – what better than to get up early for a race? A 10K race (a distance I’ve not run for a few months) with the chance to meet up with some online friends from Runner’s World. It was one of those complicated mornings – daughter staying in London for the weekend, husband already out cycling in Somerset, and son to be dropped off at grandparents. I hadn’t registered for the race, but the instructions said you could sign up on the day by 10.45, with the race starting at 11.
10 o’clock saw me throwing my son out of the car at my parents’ house (because we were already running a bit late), belatedly followed by me sneaking in to use their loo (race day morning – I don’t need to say any more). Then a quick read of the directions to the race HQ and I was off again. Although the race is called ‘Swindon 10K’ its actually in Wroughton – a few miles south of Swindon, at the edge of a disused airfield. I always feel anxious heading off to new places, and instructions like “don’t use a sat nav because our postcode will take you to the wrong side of the airfield” don’t help.
Driving through North Wiltshire following the directions all was going well until the HQ (a large ex-aircraft hangar) came into sight – just beyond a large queue of cars waiting to park. As I crawled forward I was trying not to clock watch as I knew time was tight. At a quarter to eleven, I was still queuing to park and desperately trying not to imagine being told I was too late to register. I was finally directed to a lumpy bit of grass to park on, grabbed my pre-filled form and cheque and sprinted inside the hangar. Fortunately I was still allowed to register, and holding onto my race number I shot back outside to find the loos.
Between queuing for a portaloo and walking to the start I’d managed to meet up with all of my online friends. We all agreed that far from being a small race like we’d expected, there were over 500 runners and it was busy. One friend, Yvonne, said she was hoping to beat 55 minutes, which was my target as well, so we lined up together. Before I’d left that morning I’d scrawled my last 10K PB time and pace onto my hand so I could keep an eye on it as I ran.
The man with the megaphone summoned us all to the start, explained how we had to complete a short turn round the car park, then two laps of a bigger loop (turning left at the end of loop 1, and right at the end of loop 2 to head for the finish line), then a sprint for the finish. These race instructions always sound complicated but I always have plenty of runners to follow so I don’t worry about it. The race wasn’t chip timed, so although we didn’t hear a starting whistle, air horn or even someone shouting “GO!” we just started shuffling forward when everyone else did, and started our Garmins as we crossed the line.
The first little loop was quite narrrow, and we found ourseves running slower than the pace on my hand. With some “excuse me!”s and some wriggling we found ourselves some space to run. Running the main loop for the first time it was discouraging to see a “3K” marker, swiftly followed by a “7K” marker, and knowing we had all this to run again. My friend was running strongly, and it was only at this point that she told me that although she wanted a sub 55 time, in her recent half marathons (4 in 4 weeks!) she’d been passing the 10K point at around 53 minutes. Our pace was around 8:30 minutes per mile (and faster) and I was starting to wonder if I could keep that pace up.
I took my mind off it by looking around me. Part of the route was a fairly busy road, with cars trying to overtake us whilst dodging vehicles coming the other way. Not quite the quiet country lanes we’d been promised. We turned off from this road after a kilometre or two and then we were on smaller lanes. Much more peaceful, but the misty drizzle meant it was hard to take in any views. I bet its isolated up there in the midst of Winter!
The 5K mark had a water station, and much like in the Devizes Half this was in a muddy farmyard, but the water was still very welcome. At this point I realised we were running at faster than my 5K PB pace, and I was starting to feel a stitch after glugging some cold water. I told Yvonne to push on ahead as I had to slow down a little.
I watched as she pulled ahead but tried to make sure I kept my pace up. At the end of the first loop we approached a large sign telling us to turn left for the second loop. This time around passing the “3K” marker I felt smug as the “7K” marker was the important one here. Off the busier road again and onto the narrow lane I could tell there was a very slight incline this time. My legs were feeling heavy and I was paying for my fast start.
A few runners passed me at this point which is always disheartening, but I also passed a some runners which made me feel better. The kilometres passed quickly and soon I reached the 9K mark, by the water station. “Time to turn it up!” I thought. Sadly, my legs were pretending they couldn’t hear me and carried on at the same pace. I could see the final turn in the course ahead leading onto the last hundred metres or so to the finish, and I did manage a short sprint finish. Well, it felt like a sprint finish to me – I expect it didn’t look like one (other than in a ‘bionic woman slo-mo” style). I was so greatful to cross the line I almost missed collecting my medal, which would have been a shame as its a great medal.
I caught up with Yvonne at the end. I’d been abale to see her all the way around but couldn’t catch her. She was pleased with a new PB, and I checked my watch to discover I also had my new PB – of 54:02. If I’d known I was so close to sub-54 I’d have persuaded my legs to find an extra 3 seconds!
I finally met up with the rest of my friends to find the two other PB hunters were happy as well, including my friend Mel who managed his first ever sub-60 10K. Whoo ho! He beat the 10K PB he’s had for a few years since we last ran a 10K together and he beat me on the final straight.
Often at races I’ve not even finished when they have the prize presentations. The once or twice I have been, not many people have hung around. Fair enough when you’re getting cold and wet at the end of a race. At the Swindon 10k they had a great way to ensure as many people as possible stayed for the prize giving. They had two vouchers for running shoes from a local running shop and they chose the winners by a draw of race numbers. If they pulled your number and you weren’t there, you missed out. It was exciting, but sadly neither I nor my friends won anything. However as they presented the age-related prizes, Mel realised that he only needs to stick to his current pace for another 9 years and he could win the over 70’s prize!
Flushed with success after another PB I belatedly drove back to my parents for a roast dinner. It was delicious and highly recommended as recovery fuel. After having to stay for the prize giving I was late getting there so didn’t have time for a shower before lunch. Bless my parents who said they didn’t mind, and just sat me nearest the open kitchen door 🙂
So after a summer of irregular training, last minute upsets and two emergency training plans, the morning of Sunday 15th September 2013 finally arrived. It was in the middle of a very busy weekend involving various family members staying with us, and a trip up to London for a family get-together of around 35 of my husband’s family. Getting to bed at 2am on race morning is not ideal, but I told myself I never sleep well before a race anyway.
When the alarm went off, adrenaline kicked in straightaway. I shot out of bed, and tiptoed down to the kitchen for my traditional pre-race porridge. This was followed by a hastily remembered beetroot shot for stamina, a banana for energy, and a cup of tea to wash this strange mixture down. Feeling slightly queasy I sidestepped the early rising visiting children and finished getting ready.
My kind husband had offered to drop me off at the start, and I was surprised to see him in full cycling gear, loading his bike into the car. Turns out he was planning on being a mobile cheerleader-cum-photographer. This is good news, because he’s very good at both of these roles. (I think he may have set a new world record at the London Marathon, when he and the children managed to see me running 6 times!)
As we arrived I walked down to the start area and immediately joined the portaloo queue. I was hoping to meet up with a lady I’d chatted with on an internet runner’s forum, so as I queued I was scanning the other runners to see if I could see any one who looked like they were looking for someone as well. She’d texted me what she was wearing so I approached someone matching her description with fingers crossed, and nervously asked “Dee?!” Thankfully it was her, so we queued together, chatting and trying to hide our nerves. Sorting out our bags, Dee pulled out her bottle of Lucozade and somehow managed to squeeze it open and shower a man standing to the side of us. Fortunately he saw the funny side and declared he’d rather it was champagne she was spraying him with after he’d won the race.
We skulked off at this point before Dee sprayed anyone less forgiving and made our way to the start. At Chippenham it’s a bit of a narrow route onto the road for the start, but we squeezed through and made our way to the back. We were both hoping for a time of around 2:15 (having both had disrupted training over the last few weeks). I had been thinking of pacing at around 10:30 and then speeding up towards the end if my legs would let me, however Dee confidently said “so, around 10 minute miles then, yes?” and I gulped and squeeked “okay – but I reserve the right to slow down if I need to!” We were still chatting as an air horn shattered the Sunday morning peace, and then a very loud firework made us jump again. I hastily set my Garmin to finding some satellites and Dee sorted her phone out as we started shuffling toward the start line. Chippenham is a relatively small race, compared with our neighbouring races at Bath, Bristol and Swindon, so two minutes later we were running over the line and our race had begun.
The first mile took us up Chippenham High Street where we saw Mr B&T for the first time with his bike (and camera). We carried on out of town and then turned onto a small country lane. There were plenty of people out clapping, but not as many as previous years. Maybe the threatened wind and rain had kept everyone indoors, despite the fact that the weather was actually perfect for running – dry and cool.
By the first water station at mile 3 we were running well, had both got into the pace and were chatting as we ran. I always talk when I’m nervous, so poor Dee got quite an ear bashing! I won’t mention the fact that she barged me into the hedge at one point as I’m sure it was accidental and not at all just to shut me up.
By the second water station at mile 6 we were glad to think we were close to the half way mark as to be honest we were both starting to find it hard going. At mile 7 Dee confessed that this was the point her mind started playing games with her, and I knew exactly what she meant. My legs were feeling tired, and my lack of sleep meant my head was fatigued as well. By mile 8 I was telling both of us we were nearly two thirds of the way, so were effectively on the home straight. I might have mentioned the nasty hill at mile 12 at this point once or twice, only because I had bad memories of having to walk up it one previous year. I think I had Dee worried about it, as she kept mentioning it. At mile 9 we saw Mr B&T again and he took another attractive photo of us. My legs were really feeling tired now, and I remember telling Dee I’d forgotten quite how long a half marathon really was.
Our pace had slowed but we were still on target for a 2:15 finish. Both of us had stopped chattering by now as we had no spare breath. Dee’s phone app was telling her she’d completed each mile nearly half a mile before we got there, and my Garmin was ‘beeping’ for the next mile when the marker was only just in sight, so it was amazing we were believing anything these pieces of technology were telling us. I think we were both suffering by this point (I know I was), but neither of us wanted to be the one to say “I need to slow down!” I was thinking, through gritted teeth, that I had no idea how I was still pushing on at this point when Dee said she’d have slowed down miles before if she were running on her own. I think it’s known as peer pressure, in the nicest possible way. Apart from the low points at Brightom Marathon this year’s marathon, these were the hardest miles I’ve ever run in any race.
After mile 10 the course is very slightly uphill, the sort of incline you only notice when running. Dee did ask if this was ‘the hill’ and I wasn’t sure if it was kinder to warn her that ‘that hill’ was steeper than this, or to leave her in blissful ignorance until we got there. As it was I didn’t have the breath to grunt anymore than “not yet!” Bang on 12 miles we hit the short downhill which was followed by the mile 12 hill. To be honest, it’s not that bad, but it felt like a mountain to tired, undertrained legs.
As Dee gasped that we must be nearly at the top, I was happy to tell her it was just found the corner, and then downhill all the way to the finish. As we staggered down the hill back into Chippenham I joked that I felt like I had blinkers on, as I could only focus straight ahead. We turned into the residential streets that lead to the back way into the sports field and right on cue we passed a house playing the Chariots of Fire music. Staggering onto the grass we could see the finish line ahead, just as my roving cheerleader and photographer popped up again. I half expected Dee to pull away in a sprint finish, something I’ve never managed to do, but we stayed running at the same pace and crossed the line together, absolutely rung out, finished, nothing more to give.
I remember standing, gasping, zombie-like as my husband snapped another photo – sometimes I wish he wasn’t quite so keen. I shuffled towards my medal, t-shirt, banana and goody bag, and met up with Dee again. The clock had said 2:15 as we crossed the line, but my Garmin was saying 2:13, so we’d actually beaten our target, and had both beaten our previous PBs. I said good bye and thank you to Dee and we staggered off home.
So we did it, undertrained and sleep deprived. Official time had me in at 2:13 :35, and Dee at 2:13:34. Not sure where she sneaked that extra second from as I’m sure we crossed both lines together, but I don’t mind as I have a shiny new PB and I’m very happy. It was great to run with Dee, to run at the same pace, to both be pushing ourselves equally hard and to be suffering together towards the end. The DOMS I had for the next 3 days were worse than for a marathon, but it was worth it.
My once-a-year 5K race has rolled around again, on 3rd July 2013. I really should get around to doing a Parkrun and then I wouldn’t feel the ridiculous pressure of it being my ‘once-a-year’ chance to get a PB.
Fortunately I had read something just that morning about pre-race nerves. It said something like “if you’re feeling nervous, remember you’re the only person putting the pressure on yourself. If you really don’t want to do it, then go home!” It was quite a liberating thought and made me feel much better. In my mind I wanted to beat last year’s time of 27:45, and my 10K time from the previous week suggested I could run 5K in 26:39. I confess, I had 27:45 written on my hand in biro so I could check my time as soon as I finished
It was a warm and sunny evening as I arrived at the Olympiad sports centre, and I collected my number without issue. I made my way to the start area, and milled around with the other runners. There were a number of groups of runners from local running clubs and I did feel rather on my own. I think I was missing my running partner from the last 2 years.
I had a little warmup jogette and found a railing to hang onto to swing my legs around in some dynamic stretches. I always feel rather silly and very self conscious doing these so I naughtily skimped on them and made my way to the start mêlée. A friend spotted me at this point and we had a little chat as we waited. The course goes right past her house, which must be a very strange feeling!
We heard the race director shouting “3 – 2 – 1 …” We never heard “Go” but the masses pushing forward told us it was the start. As in previous years it was a mad rush for the first corner, where the course narrows from open grass to a single track path. I think I timed it just right this year as although the first dash felt way too fast, as I settled in line on the narrow path I was running with runners all going at the same pace as myself. It felt fast but do-able so I basically just hung on. At the slope where the route zig-zags up to the cycle path we all slowed down, and the guy in front of me actually slipped as he turned the gravelly corner. I slowed down even more as I’m a coward and I did not want to end up on the floor as well.
The cycle path was slightly shady which was a relief as the evening was proving to be very warm and muggy, and then we were off the path and on the streets heading downhill back towards the start. I was starting to feel tired and hot at this point, and had to keep giving myself updates to keep going. I was telling myself I was half way, I only had a mile to go, just round the corner….
We left the road and headed back on the ‘single carriageway’ path. I unfortunately found myself behind a handful of runners who slowed down at this point. I was torn between gnashing my teeth in frustration, and being grateful for a chance to catch my breath. I managed to squeeze past them as soon as the path was wide enough, and headed over the grass to the finish line. My legs were shouting loudly at me, my heart was pumping, sweat was pouring off me, but did my best approximation of a sprint finish and made it to the line.
As I stopped my Garmin, I saw the time – 26:45. I’d taken a whole minute off last year’s time. Another new PB? YES PLEASE!
As part of my preparations for Brighton Marathon, I booked myself in to run the John Austin Half Marathon, a small race raising money for charity, down in the New Forest.
Sunday morning saw us up very early – 6.30am, and I was eating my porridge before 7.00am. The rest of the Black and Tabby clan had decided to come with me and cycle whilst I ran, meaning I had company on the journey, but also meant I had to organise sandwiches etc for them as well as getting myself ready.We finally left the house a little later than planned at 7.30am but still in good time. Even with an unscheduled stop at a services for a nervous-tummy-loo-stop we arrived after 2 hours just in time at Brockenhurst College.
Husband unpacked the bikes whilst I went and registered, collected my number, queued for the loo (again!) and generally got myself ready. It was a mile walk to the start line, and I could hear the PA telling runners to start making their way. I left bicycle repair man still putting bikes back together so I could follow the crowds to the start (as I had no idea where I was going!) I thought I’d slowly jog to the start, as a little warm up, but we were walking en masse along a narrow pavement with cars whizzing by, so I could only follow the crowd and hope walking would be enough.
My family turned up just as we were called to the start line and just in time for me to reluctantly take off my fleece jacket and hand it over for safe keeping. The wind was bitter, and I thought I smiled nicely for a start line photograph, but the evidence proves otherwise.
A klaxon sounded, and we were off. Starting at the back I took a little while to actually reach the start line, so I only started my Garmin then. Then I was off, trying not to start out too fast, but trying to make sure I didn’t slip into the slow pace I’ve been running my long training runs at. Within the first mile, my shoelace came undone. Not a good start!
After 3 miles of running through fairly sparse fir trees I was starting to wonder if this was going to be the lovely scenic race I had thought it would be. The gravel tracks were dusty, the wind was cold and I still hadn’t seen any of the famous Forest Wildlife. By mile 4 I was telling myself that that was my warm-up finished, now I had to knuckle down and run the middle third of the race, concentrating on keeping to my pace. This was more difficult than it sounded, as by the mile 5 marker my Garmin was only saying 4.8 miles. I was hoping that my ever-so-clever watch had simply lost the satellite signal under the trees and so mis-measured the route.
At this point we emerged from the forest trails onto Beaulieu Heath. Boy it was windy here – despite the route on the heath almost completing a circle the wind somehow seemed to be right in my face the whole way round. The phrase ‘the blasted heath’ kept springing to mind. I had a gel at mile 8 (or 7.8 on my Garmin) and dutifully handed my sticky packet to a marshal to avoid littering. It was a relief to come down off the heath and out of the wind, and see a water stop which helped wash the gel down.
From this point on we turned off the paths and tracks, and headed off road. We had been told that this section could be muddy, and even with a few weeks of dry weather there were some boggy sections. It was fairly lumpy and bumpy here, with the odd very muddy section. At one point, there was a huge section of ankle deep mud which you had to go through to get to the gate. The very helpful marshal gave me a hand over this bit, literally, helping me jump from a log in the middle onto the path. What a Gent – thank you Sir!
At mile 10 we were back on paths again, and suddenly we were in a really beautiful part of the forest. It was also sheltered from the wind which was a great relief. Little winding paths lined with daffodils, twittering birds, and some surprising undulations. At mile 11 there was a long uphill, and the group of runners I’d been chasing for most of the way round had all stopped to walk. I was delighted to plod past them.
The railway bridge with the concrete steps was a nasty surprise to my legs, but then I could see the college and knew we were nearly back. I came around the corner of the college, knowing the finish line was just there, but was directed to run around the field first. Curses! When I had nearly reached the last corner, the man just in front of me suddenly staggered and fell to the ground. I stopped to check he was okay, and encourage him to finish, and someone (who obviously knew him) came running out of the crowd shouting “He’s asthmatic”. He got to his feet and continued on to the finish line, with his friend shouting at him “just to the clock! Just make it to the clock!” He did make it to the clock and staggered over the line with his friend and myself behind him. The marshals had already alerted the St John’s Ambulance people, who seemed delighted to have a genuine emergency to deal with.
As I crossed the line behind him, I noticing the clock said 2:16 something. I collected my medal, got held up behind the marshals helping the wheezing man away in front of me, had my number taken and then made it into the blissful warmth of the hall.
Goody bag, hot drinks and cakes to buy, changing rooms to do the best I could with some wet wipes and fresh clothes, and then my wind swept family returning from their bike ride, all red and glowing in their faces. What more could you ask at the end of a race?
All in all, the final few miles really made this race. The marshals (who must have been frozen to the bone) were all cheerful and encouraging. The blasted heath was memorable for all the wrong reasons, but it may have been good training for a windswept ‘along the seaside’ Brighton Marathon (if the weather isn’t kind to us on 14th April). Oh – when she came in my daughter spotted the asthmatic man sitting on a seat wrapped in blankets, but looking fine, which was a great relief.
The other good news from the day? Taking my Garmin time, I have a new Half Marathon PB. Very happy with that!
Rest day today, as I think I’m going down with a cold, and spent the night awake and coughing. My muscles are feeling a little sore now – pass the echinacea and the foam roller!