So half marathon training is going well. After 6 miles on roads on Monday, I rewarded myself with the promise of 3.5 miles back on lanes and footpaths.
Everything is much more overgrown than last time I ran here, but the lushness of last month has turned into a seedyness that speaks of cooler, damper days and the reminder that autumn is on its way. The field of wild flowers has been cut and bailed, which led to great relief when I realised the large brown things on the other side of the field were bails and not cows.
As I headed up the last, steep hill home I was greeted by a small face with a loud meow. Convinced I was hallucinating I looked more closely – nope, definitely a cat. I have never seen a cat here, certainly not such a loud and pretty cat that was so demanding of my affection.
What followed involved dithering and cat cuddling whilst I tried to work out the best thing to do. I decided to head home (just over a mile), encourage the cat to come too, so I could feed it and take it to a vets to see if it had a chip.
After a couple of minutes I changed my mind, turned around and headed back down the steep hill to see if the cat lived in the house at the bottom. Nope, apparently he didn’t, but the nice man I accosted suggested it was a farm cat and probably perfectly fine where it was.
I headed back up the steep hill, found the cat again, and explained it should go home because that was what I was doing. I think he understood.
What followed next shows that social media can be a force for good, as I posted on our local community page about the cat. Through various posts, pages and messages I found his owners who lived several miles away.
I jumped in the shower, jumped into clean clothes, rang the cat’s owners, told them where I’d seen their cat, and then shot back out the door to walk back down to see if he was still there. He was, but wandered off when I didn’t have any food. His owners turned up, and after about 10 minutes of calling we heard a loud meow and the cat appeared! He swerved his owners (obviously didn’t want his big adventure to end) so I grabbed him as he rubbed against my legs and handed him over.
Turns out he did this a few weeks ago, and ended up further up the lane in one of my neighbour’s gardens. I shall be keeping my eyes open for the beautiful Simba in future, and his owners will be trying to attach another GPS tracker to him to keep an eye on where he goes. Wonder if he’s on Strava??
I hate road running. It’s boring, too many chances for altercations with other road users, and fewer opportunities to take photos. And it’s boring – did I mention that?
Now I’ve got that out of the way, the reason I was road running this morning was that yesterday I had an email from the organisers of the Bournemouth Half excitedly telling me it was “8 weeks to go!!!” Ah yes – 8 weeks to go until a half marathon I entered early last year, as a push to do something a little different towards the end of 2020. Naturally it was deferred, and I have been in complete denial since then about it.
Now I have 2 courses of action. I can wimp out, lose the money on the race place and the coach ticket I’ve already purchased and continue pootling around our lanes and footpaths. Or I can pull my big-girl-running pants* on, do some training, and run this thing.
Okay – let’s unenthusiastically do this thing!
I set off to run 6 miles purely on road. No sneaky footpaths, no little puddles of mud to splash in, no stiles to hang around on- just roads. I can report that my fears were confirmed and it was mind numbingly boring. And hard. Tarmac is hard underfoot.
I actually pushed on to 6.23 miles so at least I could say I’d run 10K, and I surprised myself by running it in 64 minutes. Not bad off very little training. Maybe I can run a half marathon again …
* Running pants are built for comfort, so it’s goes without saying that they are generally huge!
White Star Running events are legendary in this part of the world. Off road trail races, in beautiful countryside, organised with a light touch of madness, and notoriously hard. Distances are in “country miles” with one last-minute-rerouted half marathon coming in last year at 16 miles!* The Dorset Invader races took place in the last weekend of May, based on a farm in the deepest darkest part of Dorset. A weekend of camping and running (and eating if you were in my party!).
On Sunday morning, I got up to see the marathoners set off. They were to do 2 laps of the course, whilst the half-ers were only doing 1. I scared myself doing this, because these runners all looked super organised and extremely well prepared (and incredible fit) with running poles, hydration vests and muscles. When I turned up for our start, two hours later, I felt reassured- here were my people! Still looking prepared but also looking like they were prepared for a fun trip through the countryside.
I was running with my running buddy Liz, who had been signed up for the marathon but was still feeling very tired after her previous marathon so had decided to drop down to the half. We squeezed in towards the back and with very little ceremony were off.
Dorset is hilly. Dorset is REALLY hilly. I don’t think we had any level ground at all – it was all either up or (you guessed it) down. We were sent up the second highest hill in the county and then – yes you guessed it again – up the highest. Fortunately it was so pretty, and the views spectacular from the top, that I’ve almost forgiven them.
As well as the hills and the views of course we encountered cows. As a line of runners carefully trouped through a field, the bullocks were all gather in one corner at the top of the field watching us. We made our way past them without incident (no bogs to fall in) and climbed over a massive gate into a farmyard. We breathed a sigh of relief at braving the bovines, then a runner behind us pointed out that the cows had been hiding the sign showing us a different stile and the correct route out of the field. Sneaky!
Whilst leading the way through a wood, Liz suddenly shouted out. On the path in front of us was a slowworm. It’s very rare to see one of these, so I quickly took a photo before we encouraged it off the path into the safety of the undergrowth.
Apparently some people can run past the official photographer without acting up for the camera. Apparently I’m not one of those people
Of course we finished this tough course – we’re tough (if rather tired) women. It was definitely a PW for me, but that wasn’t really the point of this race. The bling at the end – that’s what it’s about. A medal, a pint glass and a drink to put in it – what’s not to like!
Oh – it was also about exploring an amazing part of the world, and about running with a friend both encouraging and in turn being encouraged. Liz told me that she was so glad she wasn’t doing the marathon approximately every 10 minutes or so, and being a good running buddy I didn’t tell her to shut up. (Truthfully, I really enjoyed running with Liz – although we both love our running and take it seriously, we don’t take ourselves too seriously). She’s a perfect running partner!
It was brilliant, and as soon as I can feel my legs again I’ll be back out in our Wiltshire countryside.
* There was a last minute problem with the course that meant it had to be so much longer – but basically you have to be prepared for anything
Sunday was a beautiful day – a cold start which turned into blue skies and brilliant sunshine. A great day to be out and about, but probably not the best day for running a half marathon, nor for marshaling said race.
The Chippenham Half Marathon is a fantastic race, and I say that as someone who has run it twice previously. It has an interesting route that goes from the town out into the countryside on little lanes and then back into the town, friendly locals, amazing marshals, a great medal and t-shirt, and it’s not expensive to enter. A couple of years ago, the race was voted in the top 5 half marathons in the country by readers of Runner’s World. With all this in mind, I felt under just a tiny bit of pressure to be an amazing marshal. As the race is organised by my running club, Chippenham Harriers, we were all press ganged into helping.
Those of us with bikes were given a section near the start, and then a section near the end (with a speedy short cut bike transfer between the two). I was at just over 1 mile, and then at about 12.5 miles which meant I saw everyone at the start when they were still fresh (well -most of them), and then nearly at the top of a sneaky hill just before a final downhill stagger to the finish.
Having frozen on the ride into town, I then baked in sunshine for nearly 3 hours (thank heavens I fight to slap sun cream on). Honestly, the way the runners were complaining you’d think they had it hard. They just didn’t think of me standing there, with sore hands from constant clapping and little voice left from shouting encouragement. They probably never consisted the danger I was putting myself in by lying so blatantly on a Sunday – I was expecting a thunderbolt from above each time I shouted “looking fresh!” at a staggering runner. I was also a little worried a really hacked off runner might just come over and punch me. Well, when you’re suffering, being told how fabulous you look might just be the final straw.
I did have one large, sweaty runner ask me to hold him up whilst he stretched out his hip. That was surprising and rather unpleasant, but apparently all in a day’s work for a marshal.
Despite working so hard, I had a fabulous day. I really was tired as I cycled home, but maybe not quite as worn out as the runners.
I needed a long run, set off without a planned route, and ended up running a half marathon today. I ran where I felt like it, incorporated parts of routes run by my running club, stopped to find a geocache, failed to resist a set of steps I’d never noticed before, and took lots of photos.
Best bit of this run though was running through town and having an old man say in his broad Wiltshire accent “Oi loike your daps*!”
Yes -I’m not surprised. I like them too.
* if you’re not familiar with this Westcountry word, ‘daps’ are what people from the north west would call ‘pumps’, and other people would call plimsolls. Caused no end of confusion first time I had to buy some for my daughter.
The morning of the Cricklade half marathon, 2014. A lack of pre-race nerves meant minimal pre-race “night before” preparation, which led to me dashing around the kitchen on Sunday morning, eating porridge with one hand whilst grabbing drinks and snacks with the other. The half full box of gels I’d been saving turned out to be mostly out of date, but the two I’d managed to salvage had completely disappeared overnight. As a last resort I grabbed the remains of a bag of Veggie Percy Pigs as I shot out of the house.
Cricklade is a very pretty little town that I hadn’t visited before, and although I parked about fifteen minutes walk away from the race HQ I simply followed the other runners to find it. (Runners are easy to spot on race day). At the start I was spotted by a good friend of mine who was doing the 10K. It was lovely to have a hug and a ‘good luck’ when I’d travelled there on my own. I lined up by the start, and by the time I’d contemplated how adrenaline stops you feeling cold when you’re dressed in shorts and t-shirt in 7 degrees centigrade, we were off.
For a small half marathon it wasn’t surprising that the roads weren’t closed. What was surprising was how busy it was. Runners, cyclists, horses as well cars made for an interesting route. The 10K runners set off after the half marathoners, so we had a stream of faster runners passing us. Although distracting, it did mean I got to see my friend again and have another quick word.
The course was an out-and-back route with a couple of loops but despite this it wasn’t dull. We got to see the leaders heading back whilst we were still plodding out, and we got to run between the lakes of the Cotswold Water Park as well as through pretty villages and under autumnal trees. The water stations were at interesting places, coming add they did at 1.5 miles, 5.5 miles, 7.5 miles, 10.5 miles and then 11.5 miles. I knew I would need water to wash my Percy Pigs down, so from the 5.5 mile stop onwards as soon as I saw a sign saying ‘Drinks Ahead’ I grabbed a couple of Percies from my pocket, stuffed them in my mouth and chewed frantically whilst taking a cup of water. The disadvantage to eating sweets was that I really needed the water as my mouth felt so sticky, but sugar obviously helped because I was feeling strong, and only felt tired coming up to mile 9, a distance that I always struggle at. A good talking to myself soon sorted that out.
As I was finally heading back to Cricklade I could see the church spire above the trees and houses and I could feel it calling me to the finish. The slight incline up the High Street felt like an enormous hill coming as it did in the last mile, but really it was the only slope on the course. I knew my time was good, but I was amazed when I stopped my Garmin and saw 2:09:31.
I had finally beaten my PB from last year’s Devizes Half and taken 3 minutes and 33 seconds off my time.
As I slowly walked around the field at the finish line to stretch my legs I confess I had a little tear in my eye. I blinked hard, looked up, and saw a small plane performing acrobatics over my head.
Thanks for the celebration, and a huge “Well done” to me AND to Percy Pig!
It has not been a year of races. For once Mr B&T has earned more medals from cycling events than I have from running. Time to do something about that! So, this Sunday I’m running in the Cricklade Half. Online friends told me it was flat which sounded good to me. Then a ‘real’ friend told me because of the potential for a PB the race is full of speedy club runners. This didn’t sound so appealing. Then my electrician told me about the big hill near the end which was not good news. (I hope you like how I’m taking advice from so many people).
Normally I’m a bundle of nerves before a race. Frantically sorting out what to wear, planning how to get there, obsessively reading race reports to try and glean any sort of ‘insider info’ that might help, along with imaginery ailments really wears me out in the week beforehand.
I’ve not run a half marathon since October last year, when I ran the Devizes Half in torrential conditions. Funnily enough, I’m not feeling nervous about Sunday. Maybe my brain thinks I can always bail out like I did for the Chippenham Half four weeks ago. Maybe I’m in complete denial because I’ve forgotten just how hard a half marathon is. Maybe I’m finally pleased just to be making it to a race this year, knowing I’ll run the best I can on the day. Maybe.
When time is short, you have to squeeze in runs when you can. Last Sunday was a long run – 10 miles- which felt more like half marathon training should do. Twelve hour working days meant no more running in the week until Saturday. Obviously I needed to make this run count, so I opted for hill repeats. Leaving family* and visiting in-laws in bed, I grimly set off.
A 20% slope is tough, but as it’s only short I felt the need to run up it three times. It was hard work, I had to walk bits, but I did it. I took several selfies for the blog, and was thinking ofanything interesting to say, and failing dismally. It was only later when I was looking at the photos I saw the selfie below. Taken accidentally, unposed, I love it. Wonder if I can take more accidentally?
*I should add (before he does) that my husband was out on a 100 mile cycle ride, but everyone else was still asleep.
And certainly not pushing open lock gates on the canal. (No photos of that one -sorry).
I think it was the last one that particularly broke the arch support in my running shoes (although along with opening and closing the lock gate paddles it was a great upper body workout). All I know is my plans of running up and down the tow path never materialised, and my first couple of runs back home left me with knee and shin twinges. Getting injured just seems so stupid and such a waste of time, so I immediately ordered myself a new pair of trainers and didn’t run until they arrived.
The good news is that two runs in my new shoes and I’ve had no more twinges or aches. Also the oh-so-pink shoes that I’ve always hated have now been replaced by a very stylish black and purple great-for-winter pair.
The bad news is that I missed getting one last long run in before Chippenham Half Marathon on Sunday 7th September. I struggle with long runs in the Summer holidays but this year I played it safe and I decided not to run. Yes I could have run and made it round I’m sure, but my shins were saying “at what cost to us, eh?!”
So after last Sunday’s mud and bull filled Marshfield Mudlark, I’d been presuming that this weekend’s half marathon would be a straightforward road race. Starting and finishing in the small Wiltshire market town of Devizes, the route quickly heads out into the surrounding countryside. The elevation profile showed 4 hills, rave reports from last year had moaned about the hills, but after my extensive hill training for Marshfield (cough cough) I thought I’d be okay.
Race day dawned grey and damp. I was thankful to wake up from a dream about the race where I got lost in the town centre, so decided to pop into some public toilets, and when I came out the town was deserted, with no marshals or signs to be seen anywhere. Hoping it wasn’t a prophetic dream I set off in good time, managed to park just across the road from the start area and joined a very short queue for the portaloos. All was looking good so far. I managed to meet up with two online friends from Runner’s World (that I’ve met a couple of times before), and we shivered and chatted before we were summoned to the start line, half an hour before the race started. This was the perfect time for the heavens to open and the rain to start falling.
My friends were both aiming for sub 2 hours, whereas I was hoping to get somewhere close to my Chippenham time of 2:13:35, so I was aware that as we got closer to the start time I’d need to shuffle backwards. We couldn’t hear any of the pre-race briefing, we couldn’t see the Mayor who was supposed to be starting the race, but we did suddenly hear an air horn and felt everyone start moving forwards. Whoops – no time to head for the back, I just had to start running. We crossed the start line – surprisingly with no chip timing mat – started our Garmins, and we were off.
My friends disappeared off and I struggled to stick to my 10 minutes per mile planned pace. Runners streamed past me, as I was that annoying person who gets in the way by starting too far forward. As I’m used to starting at the back this was a depressing experience that I won’t be repeating. I was aware I was going off too fast, but decided the first hill would slow me down. The rain carried on falling as we headed out of Devizes on a main road. We headed up the hill, which wasn’t as steep as I’d thought it would be, but it did carry on around a corner which was too much for some people who started walking. The wind and rain was battering down on us now, but at least climbing the hill helped warm me up.
The views from the top of the hill would have been amazing if it hadn’t been smothered in cloud. I did see three White Horses (I think it was actually 2 Horses from three different angles), and we ran through some very pretty villages. Unfortunately the rain was getting heavier, and at one point it felt like hailstones. The side of the road that we were running along gave up being ‘full of puddles’ and moved into ‘small continuous stream’. One house we went past had two canoes outside – it was very tempting…
The rest of the race went swimmingly (sorry). I had a gel at four miles, just before the water stop, and planned to have another at mile 10. I only usually take one gel in a race but thought I’d try two and see if it helped with my stamina towards the end of the race. The next couple of hills were okay, I was soaked to the skin and my legs were feeling stiff. I really wasn’t feeling the love for running at this point, but knew the only way to keep warm was to carry on running.
The Mile 7 ‘Heart FM Cheer Point’ did make me smile. It was in a farmyard, with a Heart FM car with the radio turned up, a man with cups of water and a lady with a large foam hand and a tray of jelly babies. Very Wiltshire!
Eventually I reached mile 10 and took my second gel. Only a 5k to go. Mile 11 – less than one of my ‘short’ runs. One more water station, a sharp turn off the road onto a gravelly track and the last hill. Oh boy -they saved the best till last! This was a steep hill, made worse by the fact it now had a stream running down it making it slippy and very loose underfoot. I started off running but when the lady just in front of me started walking then of course my legs automatically started walking as well. At least there was a steep downhill on the otherside which gave me the impetus to carry on to the finish.
As I came back onto the field, which we had to run around to get to the finish line, suddenly I heard shouting and clapping. My friends had waited and were cheering me over the line. It gave me enough of a mental push to put in a sprint finish. I crossed the line, according to my Garmin, in 2:13:05, another PB by 30 seconds.
Although I was pleased that my friends had waited in the rain for me, I was even more impressed with the marshals who stood out there, in the rain, for hours and hours. They were all smiling and encouraging, and they made a huge difference. Thank you, Marshals, and thank you Devizes. I may well be back next year… as long as my trainers have dried out.