Chicago Marathon: World Major #3

My Chicago Marathon adventure was eventful from the start.  It’s the one that almost didn’t happen after making an almost fatal flight choice.  But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending!

The Journey:

I booked a flight to Chicago that connected in Barcelona, rather than the direct flight, for the single reason that it arrived 2 hours earlier.  I though that time would be precious.  I was wrong.

I was already worried when a time change left us just 45 minutes to make the connection, but after a late boarding which made it clear we wouldn’t take off on time I knew I shouldn’t have got on the plane.  My fears became a reality when the captain announced we’d be sat on the runway for another 25 minutes.  With no other flights to Chicago from Barcelona that day, the options were to get off the plane that had already been sealed…or miss the marathon and ruin my life.

No wasn’t really an option so after absolutely insisting we get off, they let us depart, got our luggage off the plane and transferred us to the later direct flight.  We even took 6 other passengers with us, I have no idea how they thought they were going to make the connection..  So, we were still at Gatwick and had got up at 5:30am for nothing but I was going to make it to Chicago.  I needed a large glass of wine.

With no other travel dramas (although separated from Steve, I lucked out with an exit row seat with loads of leg room), the rest of the journey was smooth and we arrived at the hotel late on the Friday night.  Despite being awake for 24 hours we awoke at 6am (body clocks are funny things) which gave us time to catch up on Kipchoge’s epic run before heading to the Expo.

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The day before:

It was cold in Chicago, colder than I had anticipated, but it was dry and sunny.  The Expo was only a short walk from the hotel and I was getting excited, it was my first marathon outside of Europe!

The Expo was large but easy to navigate and it was quick and easy to pick up my race bib. I made more purchases than necessary, met a 2 x Olympian who had a company called Reckless Running with some great running gear, and had a look round everywhere in about 2 hours.  It’s big…there’s lots to buy…save up!  By this time the queues to get in were quite long (everyone is security searched) so was grateful to have arrived early.

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We had planned to take a river cruise in the afternoon but after the Expo and heading into town for some lunch we were both exhausted so picked up some supplies and got back to the hotel at about 5pm to chill out and get an early night.  The race starts EARLY, the first wave is off at 7:30am and my wave started at 8 with a recommended arrival time of 6am!  An early night was a necessity but the jet lag made that very easy.

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Two hours hanging around at the start seemed like a long time but I had also heard the start area was chaotic so I was a little wary of being blasé.  To save some stress and buy a little extra sleep, I made a late decision to not use the bag drop.  I had an old jumper to drop at the start anyway and I planned to start in my arm warmers, gloves and buff as I knew it would be cold.  Steve was going to be at mile 5 so I could give him what I didn’t want.

Marathon Day:

No bag drop meant a nice long lie in until 4:45am…although I awoke easily having gone to sleep before 9. The hotel had made me a ‘sprinters special’ marathon breakfast (maybe they thought everyone ran like Kipchoge?) so I had my bagel, banana and yogurt topped with blueberries & granola, it was actually quite perfect!  The hotel was also running a shuttle service to the start in Grant Park which was helpful (and warm!).

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I think I arrived about 6:45am which left an hour before the wave closed.  I started to understand why they advised people to get there early because everyone was searched (both bags and body) before being allowed into the park so there was a queue.  As I didn’t have a bag to drop off I wasn’t worried, all I had to do was get in and use the toilet, sorry, port-a-potty.

I actually think the start area was well organised, after Boston it’s understandable why they want to search people and, with 45,000 runners it will take some time which is why they suggest arriving 2 hours early.  There are several different start gates to break people up and the queue was moving.  After getting into the park I made it to the toilet (ahem, port-a-potty) and my start zone with time to spare.  Obviously there were queues for the toilets but I’ve certainly had to wait a lot longer, the wait in Berlin was at least twice as long.

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The National Anthem was sung, the race started promptly at 7:30 and it didn’t seem long until our 8am wave was crossing the start line.  I was only bloody running the Chicago Marathon!!  It was cold but could have been worse, I was grateful for the arm warmers and gloves.

I didn’t have a time in mind, I simply wanted to get to the finish and have fun and I think this attitude added to my enjoyment of the day.  It’s easy to get swept up by the people around you in races but I stuck to my plan of 9 minutes running, 1 minute walking right from the start (don’t worry, I stayed out of the way!) and I felt good until at least 16 miles.

The course takes you through 29 neighbourhoods starting from Grant Park.  It wasn’t long before we went through the first tunnel and it was clear that, along with the skyscrapers, the GPS was going to be no help whatsoever.  I saw Steve at mile 5 (I made him wear my Chaser hat so I could spot him from afar!) but I was only just ready to give up my arm warmers and gloves.  I saw a girl from Fulham running club who took a mid-race selfie (I wish I knew who she was!) and stopped at the port-a-potty in Lincoln Park where there there wasn’t a queue.

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After heading uptown and past the zoo until about mile 8, we started to run south again where I saw Steve just before half way.  I took a cup of jelly beans from a nice lady (not just any ol jelly beans, Jelly Belly beans) which went down a treat. The route takes you west out to the United Centre (home of the Chicago Bulls) where there were people dressed up, and then down to china town where I saw Steve for the last time just after mile 21 and debated whether I could run another 5 miles.  The girl next to him told me to keep going as there was beer just up the road, she was right and at mile 23 I knocked back a beer from the friendly Goose Island people!  Only a parkrun to go…

There was in fact a lot of beer being offered by various people along the route from about the halfway point onwards, they love a street party!  At some point I gladly took a cup of full fat Coke from a spectator, it was the best thing ever!

After mile 23 we headed north back to Grant Park, somewhere, I think it was just before mile 26, there was an actual hill.  I had been warned but it was still an unpleasant sight so close to the finish.  Luckily it was a decline from there all the way to the finish line.  And there it was, world marathon major number 3 completed!

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I absolutely loved the Chicago Marathon and genuinely cannot fault it.  The route gives you a fantastic tour of the city, it’s very well organised and there are lots of aid stations.  It’s also very well supported with 1.7 million spectators and a lot of supportive signs (there were a fair few that said ‘1:59:40 is the goal!’ and ‘Kipchoge is already in the pub’).

The marathon is flat and on wide roads so a good time is possible as long as you can pace it without GPS.  There are more pace groups than I’ve ever seen at a marathon so take advantage of them if you want a particular time.

The finish area is well managed, you get water and your medal quickly and then they’re wrapping in in a foil blanket making sure you’re ok. It starts early but I actually quite like that, it gives you more time for post race celebrations!

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Marathon tips:

  • Arrive in plenty of time, everyone is searched on the way into the park and if you miss your wave close time you’ll be at the back of that zone
  • Don’t rely on GPS.  At all. As pleasant as it was to see I’d clocked a 6 minute mile at mile 19 I was slightly suspicious it was a tad out.  Either know your own speed or join a pace group if you have a target time
  • As a minimum, take a spare jumper to wear at the start.  It’s cold in Chicago in October and the race starts early
  • It’s a large event (c.45,000 runners) so be prepared to queue for everything, to get into the start area, the toilets and (most likely) the bag drop.  There were even queues for the toilets on the course
  • Consider not using the bag drop if possible, it’s one less thing to worry about and you’ll get a little longer in bed
  • Keep the foil blanket on even after you’ve got your jumpers, coats, hats, gloves, scarves on, I didn’t and ended up with blue lips…it wasn’t great
  • Remember the water comes after the Gatorade.  I kept going for the first cups I saw and Gatorade can make me feel a bit sick if I have too much. There is always water, it just comes after the Gatorade and there are loads of drink stations so you won’t be thirsty
  • Smile at the man with his pants round his ankles holding the sign saying ‘if you don’t smile I’ll drop the sign’.  You don’t want him getting arrested
  • Remember to soak up the atmosphere, it’s obvious but sometimes you can forget where you are and what you’re doing!
  • Take the beer from the Goose Island van, it makes you run faster, but avoid the woman with the fireball whiskey because, well, because it’s fireball whiskey
  • The jel-o shots have vodka in them – you can make your own mind up on that one
  • If you’re meeting people at the finish line they will not be allowed into the park with a bag.  It’s understandable that security is tight but this wasn’t made at all clear and left some frustrated people at the gate

When to arrive:

If I did it again travelling west (like I will when I do New York & Boston…) I would arrive on the Thursday.  This would have given me more time to rest after travelling but still let the jet lag work in my favour.

Where to stay:

We stayed at the Chicago South Loop Hotel.  This was more than perfect for us, a short walk to the Expo, a shuttle service to the start for $5, easy to get home to and there’s a bus stop right outside that takes you pretty much anywhere you’d want to go.  It was slightly cheaper than some of the hotels directly in the centre (although Chicago hotels in general are expensive over marathon weekend), super comfortable with spacious rooms and still in the ‘safe’ area.  Wherever you stay, book early as the City gets full.

What to eat:

The day before the marathon we had lunch at Eataly which is like an Italian food market with small restaurants.  It was recommended before we went and didn’t disappoint. I had a bowl of pasta and Steve and I shared a pizza (which I was glad about because the pasta wasn’t huge, at least not pre-marathon huge).  Later in the evening I had a bagel at the hotel so I could get an early night.

Post marathon you want to check out the famous Chicago deep dish pizza (we went to Giordano’s), it’s a cheese lovers dream!

Chicago: My Kind of Town

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What else to do in Chicago:

  • An architectural river cruise (a nice activity the day before if you have time)
  • Walk around Navy Pier
  • A trip to the 103rd floor Skydeck at the Willis Tower (Sears Tower to the locals!)
  • A tour of Soldier Field, home to American Football team the Chicago Bears
  • Get some Garrett popcorn – a classic mix of cheese and caramel is the Chicago way (hey, I don’t make the rules!)
  • The Chicago Riverwalk
  • Public House Chicago for a sports bar experience (get the boozy cake shake!)
  • Buddy Guy’s Legends for an evening of traditional blues music
  • Catch a Bulls game if they’re playing at home
  • Try an Italian Beef sandwich, apparently the best food in Chicago (shame I don’t eat beef really!)

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Ride 100. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

You have to question some of your life choices when your alarm is going off at 3:15am on a Sunday morning so you can hop on your bike and cycle into the darkness, ducking and diving around Claphams drunk and disorderly who could neither stand up, nor make sense.  Ironically that would be me several hours later but for very different reasons.  It was Ride100 day and we were off to the Olympic Park at an offensively early 4:15.

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We only got 2 minutes down the road before Jen picked up a puncture, I’m sure it was because of the broken glass scattered around but it wasn’t a great start for her.  Zoe, Ellie & I continued our journey as we were in an earlier start wave, fingers crossed all would be OK.  Thankfully it was and everyone made it to the start pens in time.

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The sun started to rise on the 11 mile journey to the start and it was almost light by the time we got there.  Our pen closed at 6:20 before our start time of 7am.  Just enough time for a chat and a snack before we were on the move.

Ellie and I bumped into Olivia in our start wave as Zoe headed off to her orange zone, it was 26 miles to the first feed hub and we had arranged to meet there.  With impeccable organisation, we crossed the start line bang on 7am.  There are 48 start waves in total setting off from 5:44 through to 8:52 to space people out.

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The first 26 miles are pretty flat through London taking in Canary Wharf, the Tower of London and the Natural History Museum before heading west to Richmond Park for the first (easy) hill.  This led to Hampton Courst for the first ‘hub’.  The hubs were where you could stop for a rest, toilet, water re-fill and some food.  The food was pretty rubbish but I had a banana and some pretzels.

I met up with Zoe and some other Chasers and we headed off on leg 2.  Most of the Chasers were pretty speedy so Sophie & I held back and chatted on the way round.  This made the next 20 odd miles go really quickly as we caught up cycling through Weybridge and Ripley and tackled the first proper hill at Newlands Corner (thank you!).  Thankfully the top led to the next hub  where we re-grouped and I had some crisps (where was the sugar?!)

Ellie and I at the Olympic Park

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At this point I realised I had made a mistake by not bringing enough of my own food.  Two years ago the food stations had so much choice I was overloaded, this year they were disappointing and not entirely fit for purpose.  The next section was the toughest, it would see us take on both Leith Hill and Box Hill.  I had a confidence crisis and a few stern words from the girls, we agreed to meet at the top of Box.

I took it easy and tried not to think about Leith.  The course quickly slowed to a standstill, I’m not sure if there was an accident or they were moderating the traffic on the hill but we had to queue a short while before heading up.  This didn’t help my momentum and, somewhere half way up, I took my bike for a walk.  I didn’t feel great, I totally bonked and knew I needed more food.  I ate the Cliff bar I brought with me and was saving for an emergency.

After the descent was Box Hill and I believe there was another bottleneck (it’s all a bit hazy) and I was relieved to see the top as this meant we were nearly 70 miles in and it was all pretty much downhill to the finish.  I felt bad the guys were waiting for me but they were there with smiles and words of encouragement.

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We skipped the next hub and rode straight through Leatherhead, Oxshott and Esher to mile 86 at Kingston.  I was on my own at this point as I was finding it really hard and didn’t want them to have to wait again.  After a brief stop and some more bloody crisps and a banana I headed off for the final section.

There was the final hill at Wimbledon and then we were in Putney where there was a Chaser marshal spot. BEST SECTION EVER.  Nothing turns an ‘I can’t’ into an ‘of course I bloody can’ like a Chaser cheer.  I was surprised to see Jen at this point who had not only finished but headed back for marshalling duties, for a brief moment I was convinced I was hallucinating.

Around this point a lot of people started cheering for me, I like to think it’s more because it’s close to Clapham than because I looked like I was going to fall off my bike and die but either way it was hugely appreciated.

The last bit along the river was a bit blurry and then I was headed up the mall on the home straight to the finish.  The actual finish was a tad underwhelming this year, I wasn’t even 100% sure I had crossed the finish line but everyone had dismounted so I assumed so.

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The finish area was anther big backlog of people and chaos but I eventually made it out of the park and met Zoe to get the train home.  After an 11 mile ride to the start and 100 miles on the road I was ready to see a train!

And that was another 100 mile sportive done!  It was hard, really hard, and I struggled.  I bonked early, didn’t eat enough food and didn’t do enough training rides over 50 miles.  Lessons learnt but mission complete.  Huge thanks to the Chaser girls who didn’t entertain my negative thoughts and everone who cheered me and tracked me on the way.  I might never ride a bike again.  But I might give it another go.  To be continued…

The Good:

  • Riding 100 miles on closed roads is a privilege
  • The course is challenging but achievable
  • Some impacable marshalling, it’s not easy to get pedestrains safely across a cycle course
  • The aid station volunteers were (mostly) super helpful
  • The Chaser cheers in Putney
  • A well organised start

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The Bad:

  • The feed stations were pretty rubbish, I think this is because of a change in sponsor but I’m sure there was a lot more choice two years ago where they had a range of fruit, Cliff Bars, biscuits, salty snacks, Shot Bloks and gels.  This year there was just bananas and crisps, plus some kind of High5 energy bar which weren’t particularly pleasant and not a patch on an energy boosting Cliff Bar.  Disappointing.
  • I believe the hills were closed earlier than scheduled so those who wanted to take them on had to divert.  I think it was because accidents had caused backlogs (we came to a standstill a couple of times) and I also heard a tree had fallen down on Leith Hill
  • I’m baffled by the person who decided it was a good idea to let the 19 mile riders onto the course with the tired 100 mile riders, I almost got knocked off by a few kids. It would have been better to do it on the Saturday
  • They ran out of medals because a pallet had gone missing.  Not ideal but may not be their fault if they were stolen and we were promised they would be sent via post.  There has been a lot of criticism about the missing medals but, whilst I understand the disappointment because I was one of them, a medal serves as a reminder of your achievement and everyone will still get one.  I don’t know about anyone else but I’ve woken up with plenty of reminders in the form of stiff legs and aching muscles so that will suffice for now!

The Ugly

  • I saw a fair few accidents on the course with a couple of people in a bad way.  Again, the organisers came under fire for this because of the amount of people on the course.  Cycling in a group can be dangerous (both the men’s and women’s peleton in the pro race went down) but cycling in a group with people who have no experience of riding in a group is more dangerous.  It really should be part of your training, the Chasers don’t even let you join a Saturday ride until you’ve been on a course.  I really hope everyone is OK.
  • The Surrey & London residents who STILL continue to complain about the roads closing for one day with ample notice. Get over yourselves.  I actually read one post that claimed shutting the roads for cyclists created MORE pollution because people who went out in their cars were stuck in traffic. Genius.

To sum up, Ride London is a well organised sportive that gives you the rare opportunity to cycle on closed roads.  It’s a wonderful thing.  Yes, improvements can and should be made, and yes there is an element of danger, but if everyone took responsibility for their own cycling skills and looked out for one another it would go some way to helping.

The 2020 ballot is now open…(not for me though, cause obvioulsy I’m never getting on a bike again)

Borrowed medal!

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Hackney Half: The one that was a little bit shambolic

It wasn’t that long ago that London didn’t really have many big half marathons.  There was Run to the Beat, which died an embarassing death after a few fiascos and loosing their sponsors, and there’s the Royal Parks Half who insist on a ballot only entry system which I find frustrating.

Anyway, more recently there seems to have been an explosion of high profile halfs in the city and one of them is Hackney.  I entered back in November mainly because I hadn’t run it before and it’s was one of the biggies.  At £52 though, it ain’t cheap and I believe that included an early bird discount.

The first fail was realising that, although I had opted to pick my race pack up rather than have it posted (because the £52 price tag isn’t enough they charged you for posting and it annoyed me) you couldn’t actually pick it up on the day of the race.  The race village is a good 3 hour round trip from where I live but luckily I managed to rope a pal at work to collect it on my behalf.

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I was meeting Lee with my race pack at 8:30, this meant a 5:30 alarm and I was still late.  Hackney Marshes is a real trek from Stratford station but it does mean you can use the nice toilets in Westfield, I highly recommend this ’cause there ain’t enough at the race village…

The race started at 9am but I didn’t cross the start line until 9:18 despite waiting in the pen for some time.  I already knew I was going to have to use one of the on-course toilets because I never would have made the start if I’d tried queuing – I don’t think I have ever had to do that before.  They came up just before the 3 mile mark.  I had to queue.

I was also desperately thirsty, not helped by the warm weather, but hadn’t studied the course to see where the stations were.  I think it was just after 3 miles but when I got there it was a total shambles, there weren’t enough people and there were too many thirsty runners.  I had to queue…and a little bit fight..for my tiny cup of water.  I was still thirsty.

Surprisingly upbeat at mile 10

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The course takes you around Hackney, Dalston and Victoria Park.  It’s all on closed roads but it’s pretty twisty and narrows in quite a few places.  It’s not flat but not exactly hilly, I guess it’s what you call undulating.  There aren’t a great deal of water stations which is probably why every runner wanted water at every station, they just didn’t seem prepared for it at all.

The support and atmosphere was brilliant, as the course is on residential roads there were plenty of people who had come out of their houses to cheer and hand out bananas and sweets.  It was much appreciated and, for me, these people were the only thing I loved about this race.

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At around 10 miles I spotted Steve on the sidelines cheering me on which also gave me a huge lift.  I was worried he’d be bored waiting around for me but the race village had plenty of bacon sarnies, coffee and entertainment and apparantly the app was tracking my progress well so they did get some things right.

The finish took you back to Hackney Marshes which was,  you guessed it, a shambles.  The race village is pretty awesome though, it has a mini festival feel, lots of food stalls and entertainment (although I didn’t see any of it) which is great for supporters and a post race little lie down.

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What’s good about it?

  • The atmosphere
  • The crowd support – Hackney you were brilliant
  • It’s Run Dem Crews home turf and they know just how to give you a boost
  • East London is pretty cool

Ermmm, I think that’s it and, sadly, these things aren’t really anything to do with Virgin Sport’s organisation

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What’s bad about it?

  • The race pack collection – they either charge you extra or make you trek over to the village in the days before the event
  • The water stations – not enough of them and not enough people on them.  You don’t ever want to QUEUE at a water station but you had to. Every. Single. Time
  • The course is undulating, not bad in itslef but does mean PB potential is slim to none
  • The course also narrows quite sharply in places
  • Did I mention the water situation? Yeah, I was thirsty…
  • The finish area was chaos – why don’t you want your runners to have any WATER?!
  • The t-shirt – it’s just too short
  • The medal is chunky but I don’t love it I’m afraid

Virgin Sport – If you had put more effort into the end to end experience of your runners than who the DJ’s were going to be you may have delivered a much better event.

If you’re looking for a London Half I would give this one a swerve…

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Adidas 1 Hour City Run

It’s fair to assume that most people wouldn’t be enthralled at the idea of running round and round in a one mile circle.  But there’s a certain charm about doing it in the City centre of London, on closed roads, with music being pumped into the streets, random people lining up to high-five your sweaty hand and large timer ticking down the seconds as you race against  the clock…even if it is dull and grey while the rest of the country apparantly basks in sunshine.

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Sunday was the Adidas 1 hour city run, part of a series of City Run events that take place across the capital but, rather than running a set distance, this race challenges you to run as far as you can in an hour. One Hour. No Limits.

I was going to sign up to this a while ago but, in all honesty, the £40 price tag put me off for such a short race…however, my incessant Instagram competition entering habit finally came up trumps and, not only did I win a place, but I was also treated to a pair of the brand new Ultraboost 19 by Runners Need!  Not a bad win considering these are one of my trainers of choice and I was tempted to enter the race anyway!

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I’d already met some of the winners at a Runners Need event the week before so I recognised some of the gang when I arrived at the event village near St Pauls Cathedral but, if in doubt, we were all wearing the same kicks so they was easy to spot!

We were introduced to 400m hurdler Lina Nielson, who took us through a warm up before heading to the start line.  There was a little bit of hanging around but we were soon off on the first lap.

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The course starts at Mansion House going up to Bank, then past the Guildhall and St Mary-le-Bow church and there are chip mats every 0.1 miles to track your distance.  It was a bit twisty, but not overcrowded, and there were a great group of spectators just after the 0.2 mile mat who went wild if you gave them a sweaty high-five, it was worth taking the bend wide just for that!

There are large digital clocks on the course so you can see how much time you have left and, when the hour is up, a hooter sounds and you make your way back to the event villiage, which isn’t very far no matter where you finish.

Start line selfie with the Ultraboost crew

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There’s something mentally challenging about knowing that it doesn’t matter how fast you run, or how much effort you put in, you won’t actually finish any quicker…which is unfortunate because that’s usually how I sweet talk myself to keep moving forwards…

So, what’s good about it?

  • However fast your friends may be, they will never be able to finish the race before you!
  • The T-Shirts are pretty good quality and a good length (I hate short t-shirts!)
  • The medal is chunky if you’re into the bling  thing
  • FREE race day photos – you don’t have to bankrupt yourself if you find a gooden’ (I didnt but ‘ere you go anyway)

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  • Grenade Carb Killa protein bars are given at the end, none of this apple nonsense
  • There is no ‘front’ or ‘back’ so you’re never out on your own no matter where you are in the field
  • There are four start waves if early Sunday mornings aren’t your thing
  • The course wasn’t over crowded (at least not in my 11:30 wave)
  • There are chip mats every 0.1 miles to give you an accurate finish distance (although I did weep internally when I missed my final one by 5 seconds)
  • There are plenty of clocks (four I believe) round the loop so you know how long you have left
  • They went plastic free on the water – paper cups on the course and cans at the finish (now if only they could get rid of the unnecessary plastic wrapping on the t-shirts…)
  • I ran past Ted Baker so many times I now know what top I want to buy next 🙂

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What’s not so good about it?

  • As well organised as it is, I don’t believe in a £40 price tag for anything shorter than a half marathon
  • The twisty course plays havoc with your GPS
  • You can’t wear your club vest…
  • There wasn’t any coconut water left for my wave which I was really disappointed about
  • I imagine there is a potential risk of dizziness if you’re super fast…but I wouldn’t know so that’s somewhat unconfirmed

It’s a simple idea, it’s a little bit different, it’s well organised, it’s smack bang in the middle of London and they put on a pretty good show. Is it £40 good? Probs not but there are worse things to spend £40 on.

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A Sunny Hampton Court Half

Around about 8pm on Saturday night, staring at my Chasers race vest on the floor and listening to Taylor Swift (low point, I know) I had a meltdown.  I had a meltdown over a half marathon.  A distance I used to fly around in a decent time with joyful boundless energy finishing with a skip and a smile (this may not entirely be true…but it’s how I remember it…). In the midst of that meltdown I vowed to finally resurrect that girl from the grave.  Might take a while though.

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Anyway, the unopened race pack I had left on the side (despite arriving in a timely manner a couple of weeks before) indicated I had been in denial.  I also hadn’t really read any of the event emails which turned out to be an error because there was a Park & Ride option I should have signed up to…which had since closed.  Luckily street parking was aplenty, just frowned upon (soz).

I went to bed wondering if I could still run 13.1 miles and I woke up thinking I was going to do it anyway.  It was an early rise for an 8.30am race start but I actually didn’t mind, waking up on race day is just waking up on race day and 30/40 mins here or there doesn’t really make much difference, it’s always going to be earlier than one would wish to rise on their day off…or in fact ever.  It was glouriously sunny (OK, it was dark at 05:50 but it turned into glourious sunshine) and it felt like Spring was on the way.

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The event is well organised and I seamlessly positioned myself towards the back of the start pen after downloading my self-lothing doubts to some Chaser pals.  They put me at ease – it’s funny how a sea of blue, green & white bobble hats will do that.  I actually felt a bit excited that I was going to run a half marathon and that a half marathon was actually quite a long way and I could totally do it, not do it well, but do it all the same.

The route is quite lovely, especially in the sunshine.  It starts at Giggs Hill Green in Thames Ditton and follows the river from about mile 3 taking you past Hampton Court at mile 10.  I even remebered to look around and take it all in rather than ploughing on obliviously like I often do.

They say it has PB potential but I’m somewhat doubtful as some of the course is on open roads and the pavements can narrow.  Given I’m no where near PB level I cannot confirm or deny PB potential-bility but I can confirm it’s a great event and there are always a few Royal celebs…

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My plan was to run slow and finish the race.  Not only did I successfully manage to execute the plan without getting swept up by the people around me, I felt better than anticipated and I actually enjoyed it.  Amazing what a bit of sunshine and a palace backdrop will do.  Sure, there was some walking near the end, but it was all methodically planned and under control.

Headphones were banned because of the open roads so I had a lot of time alone with my thoughts (and my inside singing voice which, whilst angelic, is somewhat like a broken record).  Anyway, a few things occured to me:

  • I love running
  • I love running in the sunshine
  • I love race day
  • Running makes me feel strong, even if it is slow
  • I’m still desensitised to distance if I think 9.98 miles to go isn’t very far because ‘it’s less than double figures…’
  • High-fiving Henry VIII flanked by a couple of his birds doesn’t give you super powers
  • I STILL haven’t mastered the art of smiling for the photographer
  • Seriously, there are 103 photos of me, there is only one half decent one

 

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So, the sub zero frost has subsided, the sun is out, spring is on its way and my happy running mojo is back.  The next goal? Knock 15 minutes off my time in May’s Hackney Half…

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#BeatBoxHill

Last Sunday I thought it would be a good idea to run up Box Hill.  Twice.  When my alarm went off on Sunday morning I wondered whether this was a horrible mistake.
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If you’re not familiar with Box Hill, it’s part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that offers stunning views for miles across Dorking.  I’ve cycled up it a few times and always been rewarded for my efforts.  But I’ve never run up it.  At least not the zig zag road bit that feels like it won’t end.  Because, why would you do such a thing?
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RunThrough debuted their Beat Box Hill 5k and 10k to offer a pretty unique opportunity to run up and down 2.5k long road that zig zags to the top and, if you’re in for the 10k, you get to do it twice! I know, what a treat!  I love me a unique opportunity and obviously I wasn’t going to get out of bed and go all that way for the 5k…so twice up the hill it was.
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The car park is at the bottom so the first task is to trek 1k to the start at the top, it’s steep, really steep, but the amuzing signs in typical RunThrough style made me chuckle.  It was a sunny but crisp morning so it was worth a bit of hanging around at the start, there was even a choir belting out a bit of Don’t Stop Believing so I had a little dance (obvs).

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The race starts at the top of Box Hill, which means the hard bit comes later.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.  OK, I am sure.  Angry, confused and hurt is how I felt.  I mean, what the hell?!!  They tried to organise people in order of speed but that didn’t work because I overtook a lot of people on the first descent and I certainly wasn’t running particularly fast.  It was pretty annoying as it’s fairly narrow if you stick to the assigned half of the road but, as there was no one coming the other way I ignored the cones (soz).

Other people aside, the first 2.5k was fun!  Although you know it wont last, there’s something liberating about starting a race, on fresh legs, with a solid downhill section.  In other words…wwwweeeeeeeeeeee.

At the bottom, you run round a cone and start the 2.5k back up again.  It was tough but I took my time and Box Hill isn’t actually that steep, it just goes on a bit and you know walking isn’t an option because once you start walking up a hill it’s game over…that and the voice in your head won’t let you…or is that just me…?

Photo Credit: RunThrough
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I didn’t hate it, 2.5k isn’t that far and once you’re at the top you know you get to fly back down again.  The second loop was much quieter because I think the majority of people opted for the 5k so I preferred the second time down.  It was still really sunny and it was warm when there was no shade.  The marshals were fab, they yelled encouragement and asked for smiles and banged their tambourines.

The second time back up the hill wasn’t as bad as I expected, I think the marathon fitness is finally kicking in and, although I was by no means fast, I was consistent and didn’t have any intention of giving in to the burning legs.  Finally I was at the top and at the finish line.  I think my face says it all…

 

Photo Credit: RunThrough
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I loved the Box Hill 10k.  I really did. I came so close to staying in bed that morning and I’m so glad I didn’t, it was a lovely run, tough, but lovely.  Sunshine, green hills and running, what more could you want on a Sunday morning (apart from poached eggs and smashed avo but there’s always time for that after).  Genuinely, the worst bit was climbing back down the steep grassy hill to the car park, I hated that bit!

Word of warning though, hills will give you aches in places you forgot about…like your core and your glutes…it hurt to walk for a couple of days.  Doesn’t matter though, I’ve now beaten Box Hill both on wheels and on foot.
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Berlin Marathon

Training for the Berlin Marathon was hard.  Proper hard.  It was literally like starting from rock bottom and building back up to 26.2 miles.  My enjoyment was limited but I point blank refused to let another opportunity to run Berlin slip away because it was ‘too hard’.  I’m not that kinda girl.

I was supposed to run it last year but luck was against me and a string on injuries put me firmly on the sidelines.  I promised myself it would be me next time and I couldn’t let myself down because that would totally suck.

On the bright side, spending last year being a Berlin tourist meant that I could concentrate on all the important things this year such as laying down, eating carbs, napping and eating more carbs.  Luckily I found some pals who were up for doing the same and we got an apartment near Hermannplatz in the south of the city.

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The Expo: The Stressful Bit

Arriving on Friday afternoon meant I could head straight to the expo to maximise the opportunity for resting and napping on Saturday.  Situated in a disused airport, it was big and busy.

They’re quite hot on ID but, once you pass all the checks, you get given a wristband and sent on a mammouth trek to the opposite side of the airport to get your number.  Berlin gives you a choice of opting for a bag drop OR a poncho.  If you choose the poncho you can’t drop anything off on the day, but they will give you a poncho at the end of the race which promises to be both warming and multi-faceted.  Obviously I wasn’t that silly, but Charlotte and Cathryn seemed to think it was a brilliant idea and couldn’t stop raving about how jealous we would be…

It’s worth noting that if you want a finishers t-shirt you need to pay €30 and buy it in advance.  It’s a bit offensive on top of the €108 entry fee and a bit worrying if you’re not entirely sure you’ll finish but, for me, it wasn’t an option, I wanted a finishers t-shirt.  I also came away with an event jacket and a pint glass but I didn’t spend much time at the other stalls because I just wanted to get away from all the people.

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Hasenheide Parkrun: The Warm Up Bit

Our apartment was rather conveniently, and maybe a little bit on purpose, located next to Hasenheide Park which is home to one of the 10 parkruns in the whole of Germany.

Hasenheide usually attracts a field of less than 100 but a whopping 517 people turned up to run this weekend.  They were awesome.  Truly brilliant.  Although totally out of their comfort zone, they had put on a host of extra marshals and could not have been more welcoming or excited to have us.  Hasenheide was the epitome of running spirit and it was lovely to be a part of.

The course is pretty, especially under the morning German sunshine, winding around the park and including a short, but very sharp hill.  I loved it, thanks for having us!

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The rest of the day was spent as planned, sitting, and eating, and napping, and eating and laughing uncontrollably on the carb high.  For dinner we headed to a local Italian called Masaniello for a massive bowl of pasta with a side of garlic pizza bread and another side of, ermm, bread.  It ticked all the boxes – definitely recommended.

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Berlin Marathon: The Main Event

The marathon starts in Tiergarten Park where you will find some very long and unorganised queues for toilets (not your usual German style), some inconsistent bib checks (it’s easy to jump the fence if you’re so inclined) and some questionable starting corrals.  You’re placed into your start zone based on your marathon PB, no matter how old it is, and if it’s your first time you’ll be at the back.

Runners are set off in three waves, 20 minutes apart, which helps with crowding on the course, especially with over 40k runners, and you head straight through the park towards the Victory Column.

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As planned, I started off slow and tried not to get swept along, it wasn’t long before Cathryn trotted past me and it was nice to see a friendly face.  The race is well supported with spectators cheering on either side.

The water stations are plentiful and well stocked and they also supply some kind of warm herbal tea (slightly odd when you’re expecting a cold electrolyte drink) and a rather ‘interesting’ beetroot sports drink.  I don’t think I liked it but in the latter stages I knocked it back anyway. Needs must.

The miles ticked by and my first focus was to get to the halfway point.  My longest training run was only 18.5 miles and I only did that once.  It wasn’t my normal prep so I was a bit worried about how I was going to get to the end.  However, I knew people at home were tracking me and I kept thinking about the finishers t-shirt and jacket I had already bought…finishing was the only option really.

I kept progressing, half way came and went, and I took my planned walking breaks where I had mentally scheduled them.  If you’re going to walk, I really recommend having a structure to it (ie 0.1 mile walk, 0.9 mile run) so you don’t get disheartened, honestly, it works.

I didn’t take the gels they offered (there’s only one gel station), but I did take some pieces of banana towards the end.  I’ve never done this before but, as usual, I couldn’t face my last gel so opted for my pre-packed Haribo Smufs and banana.  It really seemed to do the trick so I’ll be doing that again!

The last few miles are a bit of a blur, everything hurt and it was hot, but I knew I was going to make it.  I took water at each station and plodded on until I finally turned the corner and saw the iconic Brandenburg Gate.  From then on I just kept running until I crossed the finish line.

It was a road marathon personal worst time, but I had already accepted that and was more relieved to finally complete my 14th marathon after 2.5 years out of the game.

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After I collected my bag the only thing I could do was plonk myself on the ground and not move.  It hurt.  I was just going to have to sleep right here.  Luckily a super perky Alice came and found me and scraped me off the floor before taking me to the group and bounding off to find me a goody bag which I had missed (where does she get the energy from?!)

We had a successful day all round with everyone finishing the race.  Alice and Sam got new PB’s, Ed smashed it as usual, Charlotte and Cathryn ran strong times and were awarded multi faceted ponchos, Ellie completed her 2nd marathon despite struggling with an injury over the last few weeks, and I completed my 2nd Marathon World Major.  Most importantly, I think everyone had enjoyed it.

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10 Things I learned from the Berlin Marathon

1.   You can’t blame the conditions for your poor performance when Kipchoge decides to totally obliterate the world record by a massive 78 seconds. You also can’t expect the UK to give this any kind of decent news coverage because apparently it’s not significant enough.

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2.   If you have any adverse feelings towards beetroot make sure you swerve the bright red sports drink on the course.  It won’t end well for anyone.

3.   If you forget to pack any pants and are forced to buy new ones at the expo, you will be at considerable risk of bankruptcy, but you’re highly likely to get a new PB.  Sam forgot all his pants.  Sam has a new PB.

4.   If you fancy running a sub 3 marathon, getting a new PB AND coming home as 6th Brit you should do as Alice does.  Alice likes to swop running for pilates, water for Aperol Spritz and excited race morning banter for solo quiet time.  If it works, it works…

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5.  When you’re faced with a pre-race portaloo without an inch of toilet paper in sight, you can always rely on tearing off strips of your pre-race foil blanket.  Almost as genius as actually remembering your own toilet paper right?!

6.  If you decide to have a little sit down after 25 miles like Ellie, be prepared for a friendly but persistent German lady called Brenda to repeatedly shout ‘nine’ and drag you on your merry way.  We like Brenda.  Ellie is undecided.

7.   The Berlin Marathon does NOT end and the Brandenburg Gate, there is still 400m to go.  If you’ve run this before you will know this.  Unless you’re Alice.  Who promptly stopped running and stopped her watch whilst wondering why everyone else was still powering past…and she still got a PB!

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8.   If you haphazardly opt for the warming and multi-faceted poncho over the traditional and sensible bag drop, be sure you’ve mastered the look of unequivocal joy on the outside to mask your deep, crushing disappointment on the inside.  Charlotte is available for advice on how to nail this…

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9.   Don’t expect four post marathon runners to agree on a post race cuisine in any less than 58 minutes.  Also do not expect Charlotte to even remotely tolerate a vegetarian menu, even if the restaurant has a cute name like ‘Burrito Baby’ and you’ve already conquered the challenge of sitting down.  After further debate, we ended up at Jimmy Woo’s.

10.  A personal worst marathon time on the clock does not equate to a personal worst marathon experience.  Far from it.  Marathons are about so much more than just the time, most importantly they’re about the people you share them with.  Thanks guys!

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