Why it sucks to be a non-marathon running marathon runner during marathon season

Sooooo, it’s that time of year again.  London, Boston, Manchester, Paris, Brighton, Rome, Hamburg…  All the big cities are hosting their annual Spring marathons with hundreds of thousands of people putting months of hard graft to the test and crossing those finish lines with pride and glee.  Wonderful.

And it truly is a wonderful, magical and pretty remarkable thing.  But not being one of them? Without any particular good reason (I can’t blame a broken foot this year).  Well, that totally sucks.  It sucks on every level.

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1. You just can’t escape it

No matter how hard you try, if you have friends that are runners, it’s everywhere.  I even tried deleting my Facebook account.  But then there was Instagram…and Strava…and Twitter…and, well. the news and, errrm,, the actual outdoors.

I’ve already switched it back on again.  So that went well.

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2. The FOMO is real

It’s difficult to put into words, and to get any normal person to understand, why exactly it pains you so much to miss out on putting your body through the wars and your mind through hell just to run 26.2 miles.  For fun.  So just take my word for it.

There is no greater pain that being on the spectator side of those barriers.

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3. You feel like the laziest person on earth

It doesn’t really matter how much exercise you do, even if you workout out daily, if you’re not running 20 miles on a Sunday when everyone else in the whole world is, then you feel like the Mayor of Slobtown.

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4. It makes you grumpy and unreasonable

Yes, more grumpy than usual.  Yes more unreasonable than usual. No, I can’t control it.  Yes, I’m sorry.  No, I don’t wanna talk about it.

It’s best to just stay away from me really.

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5. You’re just another muggle

This one is probably the worst for me.  Marathon running is magical.  It’s magical because it’s made of a unique combination of a strong body, a strong(er) mind, and a lot of  bloody hard work that only comes with resilience, dedication and willpower .  It’s impossible to understand unless you’ve been there.  And when you’re not there, you’re just a regular ol nothing-special kinda muggle on the sidelines.  And that sucks.

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Putting my jealousy aside, I wish nothing but the best of luck and positive, strong thoughts to everyone running over the next few weeks and, if you’re running London, I’ll be in the usual Chaser spot with a can of cider throwing jelly babies at you.  You’re welcome.

I want to be special again by the end of the year.  And I’m going all out for Berlin in September because, this time, I do have something to prove.  In fact I have everything to prove.

But only to myself.

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Runners Connect: An online running coach

When I joined the Clapham Chasers five years ago, I quickly developed a network of friends who love running, and talking about running, as much as I do, and who know the science bit behind making you a faster and more efficient runner.  They also like a drink (or seven) so it worked out rather well really.

I’ve been lucky to have people around me who have been incredibly supportive through the highs and the lows, by putting training plans together for me and pacing me to PB’s.  However, I can’t help but feel like a burden and, more often than not, I feel like I let them down when I miss my goals (which happens A LOT).

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Recently, I’ve been introduced to Runners Connect who offer runners bespoke online coaching programmes within a community of people who simply love to run.  Based on the principle that runners tend to do their best when supported by others, they created a community that connects people with other runners across the globe, to motivate and inspire, however you may be feeling.

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How does it work?

Founded in 2011, Runners Connect have a team of expert coaches that help you to train smarter, stay healthy and run faster based on your current running ability and your goals.

There are three options you can choose to get you started:

  1. Just a schedule
    • This is the basic package that gives you a customised training schedule without the coaching support, or community access
  2. Team coaching
    • The next level up, this offers a custom training plan, plus access to a supportive community and team of coaches to get feedback, answer questions, and help you adjust your schedule
  3. 1 on 1 coaching
    • This is the premium and most comprehensive package that allows you to work exclusively with one of the coaches. Your coach will write your training plan in 3-4 week blocks which is adjusted based on your feedback

Once you’ve chosen your package, you’re asked to give as much information as possible about your running history, experience, current level of fitness and your goals.  The more you can tell them, the better your experience will be.  I’ve already learned it’s best to be honest about your current training if you want to get the most out of it, they really don’t judge you at all!

Basically, don’t claim to be like this…

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…if you’re currently running more like this….like me

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Your training plan is built around your preferences, lifestyle, and other commitments.  So, if you prefer your long run on a Friday, and you always do weight training on a Monday, your coach will build this into your plan.  This is my favourite aspect because my life doesn’t always work to a schedule and I really need that flexibility without feeling like I’m having to compromise.

When you log into your account you’re taken to your dashboard where you’re given your training plan for the week and can upload your activity either manually, or by linking to Strava.  You also have the option to add comments if you were feeling good/tired/strong etc which gives the coaches some added insight into how your training is going.

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There’s clear guidance on the pace you should be targeting depending on what type of run is scheduled for the day such as ‘easy’ or general’, and why you should be running at that pace.  You also get regular contact from your coach and they soon get in touch if you haven’t been logging your runs to make sure everything is OK (so, no hiding…)

Depending on your membership, you also get access to a ‘newsfeed’ which allows you to see what your fellow runners are up to and what they’re thinking & feeling so you can share your experiences and support each other.

It’s worth having a good look round the site too as there are lots of blog articles and podcasts to listen to on all things running!

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If you’ve found yourself in a bit of a training rut, or are unsure as to how to get fitter or faster or achieve your goals, I can recommend giving this a try.  I always find that a good motivational technique for me is to tell other people what my goals are, that way I’m more accountable, and Runners Connect is a great way to do this within a supportive environment.

No matter what your current fitness level is or what you want to achieve, they have the right people to help you get there.  I’ve been impressed!

I was invited to try Runners Connect as a guest, as always, all views are my own.

London’s Big Half: The ‘time on feet’ one

In fact, we’ll call it the LOT of time on feet one.  But that’s OK.  It’s allllll just part of playing the long game….the really long game.

After the Beast from the East hit London last week it was touch and go whether the first ever Big Half would actually go ahead, but a combination of slick organisation and snow-thaw meant it was full steam ahead.

London a few days earlier

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Sunday morning was actually beautifully sunny when I headed to the start at Tower Hill, positively warm in fact after the arctic blast.  As the race is point to point, finishing in front of Cutty Sark in Greenwich, all baggage had to be dropped off by 8.25.  I was in a later start wave than usual which meant I had over an hour to wait in my race gear before running.  I took advantage of a sunny London whilst I waited, I mean, who would even know we were blanked in snow just a couple of days before?!

The Big Half is run by London Marathon Events, so organisation was pretty smooth with the 15,000 runners setting off across 8 waves at 5 minute intervals.  I started at around 9.30.

Tower of London

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I’ve had the Big Half in the diary for some time now, but I still managed to go into it undercooked (by which I actually mean totes raw…) with my longest run in preparation clocking in at 7.3 miles.  Not my usual preparation by a long shot.  However, the route looked awesome and I really wanted that medal to add to my collection so bowing out was never an option.

In stark contrast to my usual race day strategy (ie suicide pace until I vomit), I took the more sensible* approach of not really giving a damn.  Genuinely, I had no expectations other than to get to the finish and it was really refreshing.  I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t worried, and I didn’t have a target pace.

*As sensible as running a half marathon on no training can be.  Don’t try this at home kids.

Starting further back in the field meant I couldn’t start too fast even if I wanted to, so I just jogged, and looked around, and high-fived some kids, and jogged some more.  The only real plan I had was to switch a a purposeful run / walk strategy when I needed to.  And I was totally OK with that.

Cutty Sark

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The route is actually pretty cool and takes in a lot of the same roads as the London Marathon.  Running on closed roads, it starts near Tower Bridge by the Tower of London, and goes east to Canary Wharf before doubling back to cross Tower Bridge and follow the river and finish in Greenwich.

Given my lack of training, I only expected to get to about 5 miles before running out of run-love but I surprised myself by making it to nearer 9 (small wins right?!).  I learned a long time ago that the key to a run/walk strategy is to make a deal with yourself and stick to it, without that deal it all goes to s**t (trust me!).  My deal was to run for five minutes and walk for one, which I honoured until the last mile when I was struggling and all I really wanted was for it all to be over and a Lucozade.

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Running down the home straight did nothing but remind me why I love this stupid, wonderful, heart breaking, glouroius and painful hobby of mine.  With the crowds lining the street either side, the commentator cheering people by name, runners giving it their all in the final push and the finish line in sight, I was in a happy place.

There it was. The first race of 2018. Done and did.  And I had absolutely qualms about my time.

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Generally I though this was a well organised race with huge potential to become a solid fixture in the race calendar, attracting a strong field of all abilities.  Finishers got a fun medal, which I really like, a technical t-shirt, and a goody bag of drinks and snacks.  My only negative comment is that it was a nightmare to get on the DLR to get home because you had to cross the race course to get to it…maybe a consideration for next year.

It wasn’t pretty (my run, not the course), it wasn’t fast, and it wasn’t even in the same league as my PB, but it was a half marathon.  And it was my first half marathon in 18 months.  And I loved it.  And, more importantly, I loved the people that were running around me, the people that got out there and did it, the people that were supporting each other on the way round, the people that reminded me that us runners stick together.  You guys are just brilliant.

Thanks Big Half, you were special.

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Review: Sole Footbeds

I’ve never worn insoles in my running shoes before, I’ve always been a bit wary of anything that interferes with the running shoes I know and love, but when I was given the opportunity to try out some Sole Footbeds (they’re a Canadian company, I think that’s what they call insoles…) I was intrigued to find out more.

Sole are a peformance footwear specialist and claim they can help minimise your risk of injury.  Given I’ve had a fair few injuries over the last 12 months, I thought they would definitely be worth trying out.

The footbeds I tried are the Active Medium, which is part of their signature range, and they’re quite unique in that they’re heat moulded to your feet to give a bespoke fit.   After trimming them to fit your trainers (which may not be needed as they come in standard shoe sizes), you pop them in the oven for a couple of minutes and then immediately position them in your trainers and put them on your feet.  It’s dead cosy!

In the oven!

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The science bit:

The mouldable base layer is orthopaedic and adapts to your foot to give a customised fit.  This means the foodbeds can:

  • Reduce plantar fascia strain
  • Encourage good alignment of the feet and lower legs
  • Improve balance and provide natural, shock-absorbing heel support (ideal for someone who literally falls over their own feet, ahem)
  • Gently lift your arch into its optimal position

These ones are perfect for active types because they have the added benefit of Polygiene odor control technology (no smelly feet), Softec shock-absorbing cushioning (a bouncy feel) and a moisture-wicking topsheet (dry tootsies).

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My thoughts:

So far I’ve been impressed with these insoles, my feet have quite high arches so I’ve really noticed the additional support and they’re really comfy.  There was a brief moment of panic when I realised I had the oven on wayyyyy too high (watch that cause it’s inadvisable to set your house on fire), but after successfully heating and installing them into my trainers they really do fit like a glove.  It’s a bit soon to tell if they will offer added protection against injury but I really them, they gave my trainers a new lease of life, and will be getting another pair when they wear out.

I was kindly given a pair of Sole Footbeds to try out, all views are my own

 

Cycling Skillz

I haven’t been on my bike since September.  I had full intentions of a leisurely New Years Eve ride with some of the Chaser girls but I discovered I had a puncture (I tried for an hour to get the bloody tyre off but it wouldn’t budge) so I didn’t make it.

The problem is, the more time I spend not riding, the more I find my confidence drops and my bike seems like a big scary monster.

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On Saturday, I went to a Surrey League ‘Race Preparation Training Session’.  In all honesty I had absolutely no idea what I was in for but it was positioned as being suitable for all levels and a session to improve group riding skills so I thought it would be perfect, especially as it took place on a circuit with no cars.  Despite being ‘suitable for all levels’, I was by far the most novice rider in our group as I made my way to Ardingly with some of the most speedy and experienced Chasers on earth.  The very thought of this made me so nervous that I almost didn’t turn up, but I reasoned with myself that the best way to gain cycling confidence is to surround myself with confident cyclists and, anyway, they’re all lovely people so there was nothing to be scared of.

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I almost fell at the first hurdle when I arrived at the train station and discovered I had another sodding puncture (and yes, I rode the 2 miles from home on a flat without noticing…)  I knew I couldn’t fix it on my own so was very grateful when Warbo said he would fix it on the train, it was as good as new by the time we got off (THANK YOU).

The next ‘hurdle’ was the 4 mile ride from the station to Ardingly showground.  How exactly do you keep up with the most experienced and speedy Chasers on earth when they’re riding at ‘an easy pace’, in the rain?  Well.  You don’t.  But, as I said, they’re a lovely bunch so they didn’t leave me behind (THANK YOU!)

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When we arrived (soaking wet and freezing cold I might add) I was surprised at how few women there were, maybe about 8 of 45-ish, I always thought cycling was a much more mixed sport but it would appear not.   The first thing I learned was that there’s a difference between a cycling ‘sportive’ and ‘race’.  A sportive is a mass participation cycling event which, although use timing chips, is a non-competitive event and attracts riders of all levels.  A race on the other hand, is exactly that, a race, and requires you to be a member of the British Cycling Federation as well as attending two of these Race Preparation Sessions.  For the record, I have no intention of competing in a race anytime soon.

The session, which was run by cycling coach Paul Butler, was split into two sessions with an indoor theory bit and an outdoor practical bit.  It was still raining and it was still cold.  It did not being rainy or cold allllll day.  Luckily Anna gave me a spare pair of tootsie covers (is that what they’re called?) which kept my tootsies warm and my shoes clean (THANK YOU!)

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Cornering

After going through the basics and importance of a good warm up, we learnt about cornering, when to break, the correct position of your pedals and where your body weight should be.  Out on the road, we went in a rectangular circuit (well, a circle would be no good for cornering would it…) and practised taking the corners, more in the correct position that at any speed, on the drop bars (I rode the drop bars and didn’t fall off!)

One Handed Riding

I still haven’t mastered the art of drinking and cycling at the same time, and signalling right is somewhat an issue, so when we were told to pair up and ride with one hand on someone elses shoulder I wasn’t overjoyed.  Luckily Ruth was a rock and we got through it without me hurting anyone!

Peloton

Next we had to form a peloton and the rider at the back had to make their way through the middle of the group to the front, not round the outside, straight through the middle.  This was my least favourite bit of the day, shouting at people that I was coming through whilst trying not to knock myself or anyone else off their bike AND trying and ride fast enough to get to the front was a tad stressful.  I was happy when that bit was over.  Plus I could no longer feel my fingers.

Chain Gang & Paceline

After another short theory bit we were back out practising how to ride in chain gangs and pacelines in small groups.  After a few hiccups (such as Dude A who insisted we had the push the pace so the group fell apart, and Dude B who rode straight into a cone…) we totally nailed this part.

The Puncture Crew

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Despite the rain, the wet muddy lycra, the mud on my face, and the frozen limbs, I had a really good day out.  I learned A LOT, gained some confidence, and had fun.  Even though I have no intention of participating in a race, this is a really worthwhile session for anyone looking to improve their group riding skills, if nothing else it will make you safer.

Also, I don’t want to show off or anything, but I can pretty much ride like this now…but I wouldn’t…cause that would be silly…and the very opposite of safe.

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Review: Flyte Energy Drink

It’s no secret that I’m pretty passionate about healthy living.  I don’t believe in diets, they’re not good for you physically or mentally, (as a general rule) and, in any case, life’s too short.   However, I do believe in balance, about making sensible, wholesome, choices most of the time and having the freggin pizza and cider (or four) when you want to, just not everyday.

As part of those healthy choices I make a conscious effort to ‘eat clean’ most (not all) of the time.  Fresh, whole foods bursting with vitamins, minerals and flavour genuinely make you feel much better and energetic than heavily processed convenience foods (plus it makes much better Instagram pictures, yes I do that).

When I was approached by Flyte, who describe themselves as a ‘clean energy drink’, I admit I was skeptical.  Energy drinks have a reputation for being highly processed and full of sugar and chemicals, so much so that some brands have been a source of controversy on a global level…I’m really not keen.  However, after being promised it was 100% natural I was willing to give it a go!

What is it?

Flyte is a lightly carbonated energy drink that contains only natural ingredients. Its energy comes from 100mg of caffeine which is extracted from green coffee, rather than being synthetically produced, and is sweetened with extract from the Stevia leaf rather than sugar (a South American plant don’t you know).

In addition, the drink contains what they call ‘natural actives’ such as:

  • Schizandra Berry extract for vitality
  • Griffonia Seed extract for alertness
  • Maca root extract for focus
  • Vitamin B complex for energy
  • A touch of vitamin C – an antioxidant 

It comes in four flavours, Red Berries, Green Mango, Citrus Lemon, Orange Clemantine and each bottle contains less than 60Kcals.

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I have now tried all four flavours and put them to the test, these are my thoughts:

  • Fresh ‘clean’ tasting flavours that aren’t super sweet or overly powerful
  • I’m not a big fizzy drink fan but this is only lightly carbonated and pleasant to drink
  • I often suffer from the typical mid-afternoon slump at work, which isn’t ideal when I have a post-work run planned, so I’ve been drinking these when I need an extra energy hit.  They definitely help me feel much perkier and ready to tackle my workout.
  • Sleek packaging, I love that they come in a recyclable glass bottle so no horrid ring pulls or nasty plastics
  • This is a new brand that is genuinely committed, not only to being healthy and natural, but also to the environment (they are a carbon positive company)
  • My favourite flavour is Green Mango!

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Overall I was impressed with these drinks, they did what they said they would and gave me a pretty instant energy hit, and I love the natural approach.  If you’re keen to give them a try, you can purchase them in packs of six on the website here.

Obviously, if you’re sensitive to caffeine these may not be for you, but if you’re looking for an energy drink without all the usual sugar and chemical crap, keep an eye out for this new kid on the block! Green Mango people, Green Mango…

I was kindly given some Flyte drinks to try out. All views are unbiased and my own.

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Reading Half Training Day

Saturday morning was COLD, the kind of cold that made me ignore the offensively early weekend alarm and roll over.  But it was also the morning of the Reading Half Training Day so I  HAD to get up.  Unfortunately my unscheduled alarm-ignoring meant I didn’t have time for porridge and had to make do with breakfast in the car…

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We started the morning off with an overview of the day ahead and the race itself, which will be on the 18th March.  The Reading Half has been going since 1983 and has since evolved to a rather prestigious race that attracts a wide field of athletes with a pretty magnificent finish in the Madejski Stadium.  I haven’t run this one before so I’m really excited to be part of it this year, especially now I know about the secret wine and beer  hydration’ station at 8.5 miles (unofficial, obvs).  Hey, I ran a marathon drunk so a swig or two of wine will do me no harm whatsoever!

Selfie with the Townsend Twins

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Then came the fun bit, a 30 minute strength and cardio workout with the Townsend Twins, who are the official warm up partners for the Reading Half.  After loosening up, we were put through our paces with several rounds of exercises including squat jumps, lunges, ski jumps, dead lifts, planks, V sit-ups (yes, ouch), glute bridges, cycle sit-ups and back extensions.  It actually got pretty sweaty…and we hadn’t even been for a run yet.

Glute Bridges

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After re-hydrating, we then had a session with Ali, one of the official Reading Half pacers, who took us through all the key elements of pacing your perfect race.  He had lots of top tips to remember on the day:

  • Plan ahead and be prepared, especially on race day.  You don’t want to turn up late and not know where the toilets are (for the record, it’s unacceptable to pee in the bushes…)
  • Don’t panic at the start off the race and let adrenaline take over, you’ll only bonk before you finish.  Easier said than done that one!
  • Don’t weave in and out of people, it just wastes energy.  I’m definitely guilty of this and it makes a real difference when I have the self control not to do it.
  • Break the race down into bite-size chunks, instead of thinking of it as one long 13.1 mile run, think of it in sections
    • Miles 1-3 – get yourself settled into the race
    • Miles 3-11 – keep checking in on yourself to see how you’re feeling and adjust your pace and/or goal accordingly
    • Miles 11-13.1 – take it home and bask in the glory

If you’re interested, Reading will be offering pacers at 5 minute intervals from 1:20 all the way up to 2:30 so make sure you latch on to one of them and let them do all the hard work for you (OK, almost all of the hard work, I mean, they don’t offer piggybacks).

Cold, cold cold!

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Then it was time to run!  After a warm up in the very chilly but sunny air, we were off on a 3 mile loop that took us through the start of the race course in Green Park, and round to the Madejski Stadium where we would be finishing on the track.  Unfortunately it was match day, so we couldn’t go in, but we could loiter suspiciously and peak through the gates imagining ourselves crossing the finish line to the roar of the crowds in the stadium!

Blue skies at the Madejski Stadium

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Back at base, it was onto the serious business of warm up exercises and post-run stretching.  You know, all the things we know we should do but tend to skimp on, or is that just me??  There were a few key things I took from this session:

Before you run:

  • Loosen tight hamstrings with The Slump Test (a new one on me!):
    • Sit on the edge of a table with your legs hanging off and hands behind your back
    • Slump your back so you fall slightly forwards with your head down
    • With a flexed foot, kick your leg vigorously upwards
    • Keep going until they feel looser!

Looks a little odd but it works!

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  • Another one for the hammys –  Heel Kicks.  A good way to do this is to stand arms length from a wall and kick vigourously towards the bum with your knees in line
  • Activate the glutes, yes, every time.  Donkey kicks are great for this

After you run:

  • Make sure you stretch the calves, hamstrings and quads!

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We finished with a Q&A and more info on the day itself.  In addition to the unofficial beer stop, there will be water stations supplied in pouches every 3 miles.  I LOVE the pouches because they are much easier to carry and are less of an injury risk if you accidentally step on one.

Green Park’s Foudry Brook

 

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I thought the Reading Half Training Day was brilliant for both new and experienced runners and I definitely learnt a thing or two about warming up properly!

The Reading Half Marathon is on 18th March and there are still spaces available here if you would like to come and join us.  There’s also a January competition to win some running goodies, including some wireless headphones, a foam roller, a Ron Hill LED light High 5 recovery pack, so make sure you enter!

Note: I will be taking part in the Reading Half as a race ambassador, all views are my own.