Tallinn Marathon: The one that wasn’t

  • At mile 8 I was still hopeful
  • But at mile 9 my right leg really wasn’t so sure
  • By mile 11 my jog had turned to a distinctive shuffle
  • At mile 12 I was walking…
  • …and at mile 13.1 I was well and truly OUT

Just 2 and a half hours after I had started the Tallinn Marathon, I was back in my hotel room, physically and emotionally broken, having only completed half of the course.  I wasn’t sure how much cider and wine I was going to need to deal with the situation.

It turned out to be a lot, luckily I had good company…

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It was never going to end well.  I was undertrained and injured.  But my head was in a different place to my body, in fact, it was so far away, it may as well have been on a different planet.  Through a combination of really not wanting to go running, being too busy, and carrying some kind of leg injury that quickly shut down my late attempt to get marathon ready, it really should have been the one I never started.

But I did start.

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Tallinn is actually a very beautiful city, and with the weather bright and sunny, and some Chaser buddies around me, it really could have been a lot worse.  After a lot of thinking, and trying to figure out how I felt about the situation, I realised that although I didn’t run the full marathon, and I didn’t get my BQ (which was the reason for signing up in the first place), I still ran half of it and had a really good weekend in a place I had never been before.

The marathon is part of a weekend of events that consists of a kids 5k on the Friday evening, a 10k on the Saturday, and the marathon and half on the Sunday.  The marathon is 2 laps of the half, which starts later in the day.

The kids 5k in full swing

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Beginning in Freedom Square, the route takes you around the city and heads out along the coastline for around 7 miles, before switching back to the city again.  It was actually better supported than I expected, I thought it would be quite low key with less than 2,000 runners in the full and around 3,000 in the half, but there were people cheering along the route and a few bands making some noise.

It’s pretty flat, and a great course for a PB, although it could get quite windy by the sea in different conditions.  There’s also a smell, a kind of putrid dead fish type of smell that gets worse as the day goes on and really puts you off your caramel macchiato caffeine gels.  Be warned.

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I was feeling OK for the first 8 or so miles, I was running slowly, but I felt OK and was even enjoying running again.  But somewhere on the way back to the city, my right leg started to hurt and my hip flexors felt tight, I was getting slower and slower.  It was frustrating, and I was trying to calculate how I could adopt a run-walk strategy to the finish but, by 12 miles run-walk was more walk-walk.  It wasn’t happening.

As Freedom Square got closer and closer, I had to make a decision.  And I knew what the decision needed to be, I just didn’t want to admit it.  I could have carried on and shuffled around, but I really didn’t see the point, I was injured, I was going to be painfully slow, and I was already back near the hotel.  As my watch hit 13.1 miles, I pulled out.

Tallinn is a well organised event, I can’t take that away from them, but I wasn’t impressed that they wouldn’t let me get off the course very easily, and they wouldn’t give me any water despite having run 13 miles in warm conditions.  It didn’t help my mood.  Plus, as I hadn’t officially downgraded to the half, I didn’t even get rewarded for my efforts despite having run the half course.

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Well yes actually, I do. And I deserved one. So I got one.  And I wore it allll night.  Thank you to Paul and Lorraine, who managed to sweet talk the Estonian medal police into letting me have one, it made my day!

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Although Mike unfortunately couldn’t run due to injury, the rest of the Chasers ran really well with a sub 3 PB for Paul, a sold BQ for Rob, a great run from Emma despite hurting her back 2 days before, and an awesome PB for Lorraine in the half.

What then followed were a lot of drinks, some dinner, some more drinks, some silliness and some music.

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There’ll be other marathons, and other opportunities to get a PB and a BQ but, right now, I’m a little bit over 26.2.  I’ll face up to the fact I’ve signed up to a mountainous marathon in Gran Canaria next year a little later…

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Nothing to prove. Not a damn thing

In just 11 sleeps time I’ll be heading to Estonia to run the Tallinn Marathon.  Tallinn is the last chance to get a BQ for next year, which is one of the reasons why I entered.  So, how’s training gone?  Well, it’s been pretty non existent to be honest.  And I’m not sure I care.

Genuinely, I haven’t run more than 12 miles in one go since London and I haven’t done any training of significance over the last few months.  Again, don’t care.

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I’ve committed to a marathon training schedule for the last 7 seasons in a row and I forgot what it was like to just do whatever the hell I wanted.  Stay in bed on a Sunday morning, get drunk and dance on tables on a Friday night (not my fault), fall off said tables on a Friday night (definitely not my fault), go out for dinner with my friends on a Tuesday instead of going to track.  Just to say yes to things I would normally say no to..

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Sometimes, life happens.  And life did happen.  Sometimes you just have to go a little crazy to get through it.  Sometimes you realise how lucky you are to have some pretty awesome friends to be crazy with.  Because they’re friends with you because you’re you, not because of how many miles you’ve run.  Sometimes you realise there are more important things in life than running.  Yeah, I said it.

I was never sure if I really wanted to run Tallinn, purely because I just didn’t want to do the training.  But somewhere along the line I entered anyway and just decided I would see what happened.  I got sucked into the idea of a weekend in Estonia and the promise of a post race party, it gets me every time.

Of course, I’m not one to sit still for 5 minutes so I’ve still been sweating it out in my lycra at 7am with the best of them, I’ve just been doing different things, a bit of running sure, but mostly anything but running.

I could, and probably should, downgrade myself to the half, but I just can’t bring myself to do that.  I know I’m not going to run a half PB anyway, and the half doesn’t start until midday, so I may as well just spend the morning jogging round Tallinn…

Being so underprepared is strangely liberating because there are absolutely no expectations at all.  I almost broke myself training through the winter for the London Marathon, I was bang on form and still managed to f**k it up.  This time there’s nothing to lose.

So, I’m going to Estonia, I’m going to run a marathon, I’m going to get drunk and I’m going to try not to miss my 6am flight to Croatia.  And I don’t care how long it takes me. Because I really have nothing to prove this time. Not a damn thing.

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London Marathon #4: The One That Got Away

I got the feeling early on I wasn’t going to hold the pace.  I just knew it.  By the time mile 18 rolled around I had reduced myself to a walking break and everything felt a little fuzzy.  Despite Chris telling me we could still make it, and quite literally pushing me along, I could feel the A plan, the B plan and the C plan slowly slipping away.  The London Marathon dream was over and all I could do was simply finish.

The thing with the marathon is that it is unpredictable, and no matter how experienced you are, and how prepared you are for every eventuality you can control, there is still a lot you can’t control and you have to be a little lucky on the day for everything to go your way.

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I’m not sure I could have been much more prepared for my 4th attempt at the London Marathon.  I got a lot of things right, I felt good, and I knew I was in good shape, but something just didn’t quite go my way.  Instead of bringing home a new shiny PB to be proud of, and the BQ I desperately wanted, I trundled over the finish line in 3 hours 53.  Not a bad time I know, but it wasn’t the day I wanted and it wasn’t the race I’d trained for.  It was, however, the race I got.

I met some of the Chasers at the tube station bright & early on Sunday morning but it wasn’t long before Alex had to leg it back home again to pick up his forgotten timing chip (ohhhh, Alex!!).  We arrived in good time and I met Chris who had once again offered to pace me, despite having just run both Manchester and Brighton marathons in the last 2 weeks! Due to my poor pacing skills and self-doubt, I lept at this chance and was really pleased to be able to avoid the official pace groups (which get very busy) and have someone I knew by my side.

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It was a perfect day for running, cool, dry and not too sunny.  I had 4 plans, the A plan was to finish in under 3:35, the B plan was a guaranteed BQ and the C plan was a GFA, and the D plan was to never run a marathon ever again.

The start was crowded as usual but, as we were in a start pen further back than we wanted, there was a lot of weaving in and out of people and the first mile was slow. I tried not to panic and Chris stopped me tearing off at a silly pace to make up the difference. We soon settled into a good pace around 8mm, the crowds lined the streets, I saw Barry screaming at me at mile 6, and I remembered why I love the London Marathon so much!

Without Chris I most definitely would have ran the first few miles too fast so I just concentrated on following him.  The weather stayed perfect and, apart from a brief spot of hail, it was dry and the sun wasn’t too warm when it did come out.  Around mile 9/10 I had the distinct feeling I wasn’t going to keep up, I voiced my concerns but Chris wasn’t having any of it and we cracked on.

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I saw Mum & Dad on the opposite side of the road around the half way point and my friends Rick & Merissa cheering very loudly.  The Chasers were at mile 14.5, I was really looking forward to seeing them but for some reason I didn’t know they were there until we’d past.

By the time we were around mile 18 I had to stop and walk, I felt dizzy and all I remember was Chris saying ‘you’re better than this, come on’.  I tried to negotiate some walking breaks and we agreed we’d have one at 20 miles but I didn’t even make it that far until I was walking again.

After that, everything is a bit hazy and it became a cycle of me stopping to walk, Chris giving me some tough love and pushing me on, and each mile rolling by.  The Chasers were just after the 20 mile mark and there was no missing them this time, it was just what I needed!  Run Dem Crew were at mile 21, who always deliver on support, and Mum & Dad at 22.5.  I know there were other people out there shouting at me, sorry if I missed you!

I wasn’t feeling at all good, I felt sick and a bit out of it but I really couldn’t tell you why.  Chris dutifully picked up water whenever I wanted it and offered non-stop encouragement, but I knew I wasn’t getting a BQ and was increasingly unlikely to get a PB.  I tried to soak in the atmosphere that only the London Marathon offers, look at the sites and do as I was told, the miles were still ticking by.

With just 1km to go I still found myself walking and bumped into fellow Chaser Dorcas, she saw me walking and came back for me.  We finished the Frankfurt Marathon in exactly the same time so she said we would finish this one together too! Plodding down the home straight, it was a 3:53 finish, a comfortable sub-4, but no where near what it should have been.  I had executed a perfect D plan (no more marathons).

No BQ, no GFA and no PB. Gutted.

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All I really wanted was to sit down, but sitting down on the finish line is often frowned upon, so, with Chris holding me up, I shuffled, and shuffled, and eventually made it to my bag and my parents.

Chris was, yet again, a total star. He said all the right things, pushed me when I needed it and was even the water boy!  I think I would have easily come in a lot slower without him there, but he didn’t take any of my babbling, nonsensical crap and made sure I didn’t give up, I was all ready to have a little sit down on the side of the road at one point.  I’m just sorry I couldn’t quite achieve this time, or do what I said I was going to do, sorry Chris!

I’m obviously disappointed with my performance, but I’m not nearly as upset as I thought I would be.  Maybe it’s because I still got to run the London Marathon, and the London Marathon truly is the greatest marathon on earth, and I even got to run it with Chris.

I don’t know what went wrong, I was ready and I was prepared, I even had a personal pacer, but it just wasn’t to be.  Right now I’m completely torn between:

  • Flying to Latvia in a couple of weeks to try again (perfect timing but I don’t speak the language)
  • Heading to Liverpool at the end of May (much closer, but not so perfect timing and I don’t speak the language)
  • Heading to Estonia in September for the last chance before Boston opens (more time to recover, but the thought of  another marathon season makes me want to throw all my trainers away)
  • Honestly never running another marathon again (the best idea I’ve ever had but I’m going to need some new friends)

Even I don’t know what I’m going to do next but I’m definitely looking forward to a summer of shorter races and post run ciders in the sunshine!

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Hey London. I’m Ready!

On Saturday morning I smashed my Parkrun PB, knocking 19 seconds off my previous best and a whopping 1 minute 13 seconds of my PB this year!  My PB now stands at 21:50, it’s the confidence booster I desperately needed AND one of my 2016 goals achieved!

I didn’t do it alone though.  One of the best things about being a Chaser is the support you get from others and I was lucky to have not 1, but 2 Chasers pacing me round Dulwich Park.  I wanted a sub 22, but I didn’t know if I could do it, I really didn’t, and I was a bit worried Rob and Nick would be annoyed if they had gone out of my way to help me and I failed.  A sub 22 always seemed so out of reach.

With some strong words from Gemma beforehand, I set off determined to block out everything around me other than what the guys were telling me, they knew exactly which line to take, I drafted when it was breezy and I kept on their heels.  I always, always set off too fast so it felt surprisingly comfortable until the last half a mile or so…I thought I was slowing down a lot but I didn’t want to look at the pace.  When we hit the last 200m both Rob and Nick were shouting ‘come on, come on’ and I thought I’d missed it, I could barely believe it when I saw the time, it was a comfortable sub 22!

I am absolutely elated with my new PB and hugely grateful to Rob and Nick for helping me achieve it, thank you!

As an aside, I think it’s incredibly sad, and shameful, that Stoke council have voted to charge runners for Little Stoke Parkrun because, apparantly, they need to replace the path (a path that is no doubt used by a whole range of people throughout the week, not just Parkrunners).  In a society where we should be actively encouraging people to eat less and move move, Parkrun has been instrumental in getting a huge number of people off the sofa and into their trainers.  It really has revoluntioned Saturday mornings and this is a massive blow to the Parkrun community who’s ethos has always been about providing free, safe events that are accessible to all.

If you want to support Little Stoke, you can sign the petition here  #LoveParkrun

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Of course, I know that a 5k PB doesn’t mean a marathon PB, but it has made me realise I can achieve things I thought were beyond me, especially with a little help.

It’s the final few days before London and I’ve been testing the carb-depletion diet.  The science behind it is, by spending a few days eating a low carb diet, you deplete your muscles of their glycogen stores so when you begin the carb loading process they can store more glycogen than they could before, and more glycogen in the muscles means more fuel on race day.

I’ve read mixed reviews, and I don’t know if it will make a difference, but some people swear by it and I had nothing to lose by giving it a go, marginal gains and all that.  Honestly, I can’t wait for all the carbs on Thursday though, there’s only so much fish, chicken, avocado, eggs and courgettes you can eat and I’m not really a ‘no-bread sandwich and hold the fries’ kind of girl!

Looking back over my training plans I’ve had some really strong runs, I know I’m in good shape and I know I can do it.  I just have to actually do it.  Plus, if I needed any more motivation, I have a bet with my friend Martin that I can beat him with a 55 minute handicap.  Loser buys the drinks all night.  I don’t want to be the loser.

I’m ready for you London, I’m ready.

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When the taper brings nothing but self-doubt

There’s less than 2 weeks to go until the London Marathon.  The day when the last 18 weeks of training are put to the test, the day when you realise if all the hard work and sacrifice was worth it, the day when you bask in glory…or crash and burn in a devastating fall from grace, the day when everyone else knows whether you succeeded, or whether you failed…

There’s less than 2 weeks to go until the London Marathon and that means it’s time for the taper to slowly chip away at every ounce of confidence you ever had.

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The taper’s a funny thing, you spend all winter looking forward to those 2/3 weeks at the end of your plan when the intensity drops back and the long runs look easy, but when it gets here it’s not quite as much fun as you thought.  By the time the taper arrives you know it’s too late to change anything, there’s absolutely nothing more you can do to make yourself fitter, stronger, or faster except wind down, rest and eat well.  It’s terrifying!

On Saturday I went for a Parkrun PB, I actually wanted more than a PB, I wanted a confidence boosting 21:59.  Having gone to bed early, and dragging myself out in the pouring rain on a Saturday morning, I fell off the pace quickly and finished in a disappointing 22:23.  Rubbish.

However, it was my 2nd best Parkrun time ever, and this time last year I could only dream of anything starting with a 22, surely that’s a positive thing and a sign that the hard work is paying off?  So, this Saturday I’ll be trying again, one last shot at sub 22 before judgement day.

It’s difficult not to question every decision I’ve made over the last few weeks.  Should I have picked up the pace a bit more in my long runs?  Could I have tried just a bit harder in the Hampton Court half?  Should I have pushed through the last 2k at track last week when my legs didn’t work rather than bowing out?  Did I run too fast at tempo?  Was 3 x 20 milers enough?  Could I have done more, run further, tried harder???

Once you throw in the phantom injuries, imaginary niggles and overwhelming paranoia you realise the taper is anything but fun.  You’re convinced you’re going to get sick from the snotty nosed teenager that just sneezed on you, or you’re going to accidentally fall off a bridge into the Thames and break your leg, or Snoopy, the crazy dog who lives down the road, is going to bite your arm off and tear you limb from limb.  Convinced. (Snoopy really is a nutter you know).

I really don’t know what race day will bring this time.  I do know that I’ve run more miles (yes, I’ve counted), and put in more effort (yes, I’ve calculated) than I have for any other marathon, but I really don’t know if I’ve done enough.  I do know that I’m not ready for this taper, not ready at all.

And I don’t know if I can do it.

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Marathon du Medoc: The Boozy One

You don’t need to be an experienced runner to know there are a few basic rules to marathon running.  Stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, get a good nights sleep, eat a hearty breakfast and make sure you’ve trained in your race kit.  Pretty simple.  So, when I turned up on the start line of my 12th marathon with a hangover, on 4 hours sleep, an empty stomach and a leopard print skirt, I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the finish line in one piece…

Marathon du Medoc claims to be ‘le marathon le plus long du monde’ (the longest marathon in the world).  And now I know why…

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Medoc is one of those races on every marathoners’ bucket list, quite simply, it’s the craziest marathon on earth.  Rather than the usual water and electrolyte stops, there are around 20 wine stations hosted by different châteaus around the beautiful Medoc region in France, proudly waiting to let you sample their finest red whilst you have a dance to a live band before you run along to the next one!

Gourmet food stops including oysters, steak, cheese and croissants line the route, as well as the usual banquet of fruit, crisps, crackers and fig rolls you seem to get at every European marathon, and everyone is in fancy dress.  Fancy dress is the Marathon du Medoc law.

Whilst it’s certainly a race with a difference, it’s now so successful, this year was the 31st event and it sold out within 24 hours!  In all credit to the organisers, despite its huge popularity they still limit entries to 8,500 to avoid compromising the race experience.

Gemma, Martin and I had been excited for months, we flew to Bordeaux (the nearest main City where we were staying) on the Wednesday, which would give our bodies a chance to get used to the toxic levels of wine that would be necessary for success (sensible training approach).

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Friday was registration day, so we headed to race HQ in Pauillac where they had set up a little race village with a few stalls and a bar (obvs).  Registration was a little chaotic but the queue was short so could have been worse!

We had a few beers (and maybe a champagne…hey, we were on holiday!) and walked along the river where there was some wine tasting and various food on offer (the snails did not look happy).  Martin and Gemma had a plate of oysters (my previous history with oysters is that they always make me throw up, today was no different but I tried) and we enjoyed the sunshine.

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Part of our race package included a pasta dinner party and, this year, it was hosted at Château Senilhac.  On arrival we were greeted with a live band and several tables of wine and crisps before being invited into the marquee for dinner.  The best way to describe the whole look and feel of it is exactly like a wedding!

Dinner was chorizo pasta to start and duck and pasta for main (not ideal if you don’t eat chorizo or duck but I worked around it!), and some kind of foamy meringue thing for dessert.  By this point, we’d made some new friends and all had way too much red wine (to add to the white wine, beer and champagne…) so Martin decided it would be an awesome idea to have a few games of ‘who can inhale their dessert the fastest?’. 5 desserts each, another magnum of wine, and a fireworks display later, it was definitely time to go home.

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It was a pretty long drive back to Bordeaux which meant we didn’t stumble into bed, a little worse for wear, until 1.30am.  With a 5.30 alarm it wasn’t ideal.  The next morning was a bit hazy and a bit rushed but we headed out in the dark and rain to get the coach back to Pauillac for the start.  The coach was 40 minutes late. The driver was lost. It was raining. We were not impressed, especially as we’d rushed out without taking breakfast (5 deserts might not have been a bad idea after all).

Finally, the rain had stopped and we managed to arrive hour before the 9.30 start.  We quickly realised our hangovers weren’t alone, but the atmosphere was thick with excitement as people buzzed around all smiley and wide eyed in their fancy dress outfits, it was a far cry from the solemn seriousness that usually graces marathon day morning.

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This year the theme was ‘dressed to the nines’ but there were a real mix of outfits from dresses, shirts and bow ties to a full on Moulin Rouge cart, if you were in regular running clothes, you really hadn’t understood the spirit of the event!

The entertainment started early – a giant silver ball suspended over the start line dangled acrobats on aerial silks as they twirled above the crowd and, before we knew it, we were off!  The start was slow going but we weren’t in any rush.  The official cut off time is 6 hours 30 so, for those who are serious about it, the ideal finish time is 6:29:59!

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It wasn’t long before we reached the breakfast stop at 2k, tables of mini croissants and pastries, I was starving!  Buttery pastries aren’t my usual choice of marathon day brekkie so I conservatively picked up 2 mini croissants and we ran on, I didn’t want to be sick in the first 30 minutes!

Wine was served from the 5k marker, it may have only been 10am but it was delicious! We knocked it back and jogged on.  The wine stations came thick and fast for the first 9 miles and we revelled in the novelty of legitimately boozing whilst running, what was technically, a race.

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Each station came with well dressed waiters in the château grounds, some with live bands, but all with plenty wine and snacks as we guzzled back glass after glass.  There was a section in the middle with fewer wine stops and this is when the rain hit us, there was a LOT of rain!  It was around this time we realised that a marathon is still, errr, a marathon and it’s still a bloody long way!

Around the half way mark I started to feel quite sick, probably not surprising, but I was seriously weighing up the risk of splattering the vineyards with the very grapes that had once grown there.  Luckily, the feeling passed!  The second half saw more fabulous châteaus, amazing red wine, entertainment and beautiful vineyards, but the rain wasn’t going anywhere.

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Our paced slowed as we spent more and more time at each wine station, we started having 2 or 3 glasses each time and, at 20 miles, we were even given a healthy shot of whiskey…when in France right?!  The gourmet food came in the last 4 miles, I guess they didn’t want too many people feeling sick when there was still a fair way to go.

We dined on oysters (kept this one down), cheese, steak (not me), more crisps, and (if they hadn’t run out by the time we got there), ice cream!

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I’m not sure whether it was the wine, lack of sleep or my post ultra legs (can I still use that excuse?!) but, by this point, my legs were feeling pretty stiff and all I wanted to do was walk.  Martin insisted we run so, giving it my best shot, I broke into a jog, but all I heard were fits of giggles behind me…apparently what I thought was an elegant jog was actually a very stiff shuffle. Drunk, soaking wet, and slightly broken, it looked like the Marathon du Medoc had got me exactly where it wanted me, a bit of a mess.

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We managed to jog the last mile or so and crossed the finish line together in 6:28:59, couldn’t have timed it better!  Tired and happy we headed to the finishers tent, obviously it was time for our free beer!  The beer tent brought more carnage as we bumped into a fellow Chaser, and we inadvertently got ourselves involved in one too many rounds of drink downing with a big group of rugby lads. Well, what else would you do right after you finished a marathon?!

The evening brought more wine, more champagne, more live music and a pretty spectacular fireworks display.  Another very late and drunken night, but an exhilarating experience with 2 of my favourite people!

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Despite the nature of the event, we only actually saw one person in need of medical attention which is far fewer than any other marathon I’ve run.  There’s plenty of water when you want it and, as long as you’re marathon fit and in good health, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a really enjoyable run and take advantage of everything on offer.  Do it with friends, do it in fancy dress, do it with a smile on your face and do it with a glass of wine in your hand, but make sure you do it.

It’s clear Medoc are very proud of their marathon and they certainly should be, it’s a beautifully extraordinary and unique event and they’ve found the winning formula.  We absolutely loved every minute of it (well, almost, Martin got stroppy in the rain at 15 miles) and I’ve already decided it won’t be my last time.

Medoc, you were glorious, until next time, merci et bonne nuit.

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Vanguard Way Marathon: Just a training run

With only 4 weeks to go until my first ultramarathon it’s probably an appropriate time to panic.  Since the London Marathon (over 3 months ago) I have only managed 3 runs over 13 miles with the longest at 17…and they were all on the road.  Ideal prep for a 36 mile off road ultra, right?!

Yesterday was the Vanguard Way Marathon, an out and back trail route in Surrey from Lloyd Park to Limpsfield.  I realised this would be an ideal opportunity to get some more trail experience and force myself to cover a good distance so, somewhat reluctantly, I signed up a few days before.

I was quite apprehensive about the distance, 26.2 miles is a long way and I had only run up to 17 in recent weeks, could I actually cover that distance?  After a very restless night, we were on our way to Lloyd Park where I would attempt marathon #10 and my first ever trail marathon…

Bryn (enjoying a day out with the ladies) me, Daisie (who was on her 2nd marathon of the weekend), Jasmine, Cat & Frankie

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It was a small field of around 100 people so registration was simple and we were on our way pretty swiftly.  Luckily for me, Jasmine had made a last minute decision to join us and, as she’s preparing for the NDW100 next week (errr, yep, that’s a 100 mile run along the North Downs Way) she was happy to take it easy and we agreed to run together.  This was the very best thing that could have happened!

Bryn, Cat & Frankie were planning to run together but there was no chance I could keep up with them so I had assumed I’d be running alone.  I had also (wrongly) assumed that, as an out and back course, it would be pretty straightforward.  The race organisers had posted a map but, as I was unfamiliar with the area, it just looked like a map that went through some green areas.  Relying on course markings, I didn’t pay much attention to the map or the 5 pages of instructions they gave out.

We took a wrong turn early, there were at least 15 of us at this point, but we knew we were off course.  After talking to some locals we eventually found a marshal and were back on track.  The route was pretty, we headed through shaded woods, along gravelly paths, up hills, down (some very steep!) hills, over turnstiles and through fields, including a field full of bulls.  Kinda wished my hydration pack didn’t have any red on it…although maybe being charged at by a bull was a legit reason for a DNF…

This hill was a lot steeper than it looks!

Vanguard Way Marathon

It was quite challenging, the sun was very warm and it was tough.  We took it easy and walked a lot of the hills but I found it quite hard to get into a rhythm.  By mile 11 I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through at all.  Having Jasmine with me was a huge comfort.  She’s an experienced trail runner, tough as nails and familiar with some of the route, I honestly think I would have given up and turned around if she wasn’t there and I most definitely would have got hideously lost.

We reached the turnaround with 13.7 miles on the clock, this would mean we could reach 27.2 miles before the finish line, not what I wanted to know!

Unsurprisingly, I felt mentally stronger on the way back but the miles were ticking by slowly.  The steep downhills on the way out needed to be tackled the other way and it was a tough climb! Jasmine started to bribe me with sweets… ‘let’s just get to the top and we can stop for a drink and some sweets’, it worked and Shot Bloks never tasted so good!

Vanguard Way Marathon 2

Plodding along, we adopted a ‘little old lady jog’ approach which was better than walking but sounded very gentle and easy, it was all a mental game by this point!  It wasn’t until around 26 miles that we weren’t sure where to go anymore, there were no course markings and the instructions weren’t helpful.  I didn’t really know how far away we were from the finish but I just wanted to get back to Lloyd Park.  A local pointed us the right way and I didn’t even care if we were off course, we just ran in that direction.

Eventually, after wasting about 10 minutes, we saw the finish and ran straight for it.  We accidentally took a short cut across the field but I was way over 26.2 so I didn’t care.  Grabbing Jas’s hand we went for the finish into the cheers of the others.

26.6 miles and 4,439ft of elevation gain, first trail marathon, DONE!  Thanks Jas!

Vanguard Way Marathon Finish 3Vanguard Way Marathon Finish 2

The point of this run was to give me some confidence ahead of SBU, some more experience on the trails and to learn a little something.  So, what did I learn?

  • Do not worry about the time on your watch
  • Be prepared to get lost
  • Getting stressed when lost does not help the situation
  • Be prepared to run further than the race distance (due to point above…)
  • Talk to other runners, trail runners are friendly folk!
  • But trust no one…make your own decisions & don’t rely on others to guide the way
  • Take lots of sweeties – ideally plan ahead and place sweets at the top of hills, but this may not be practical…
  • It’s absolutely fine to walk the hills
  • It’s absolutely fine to be a little scared in a field full of bulls
  • Look forward to the aid stations, they have smiley people and sugar and Quavers and cola
  • Having a friend by your side is one of the most valuable pieces of kit you can take
  • Do NOT worry about the time on your watch
  • Do NOT give up
  • Give your all on the sprint finish – people will be watching you!
  • Do NOT give a s**t about your finish time, it’s pretty much irrelevant
  • Going to the pub after makes everything OK again

It’s less than 4 weeks until the SBU35 and I either become an ultrarunner, or crash & burn on the trails of the Lake District.  It’s OK to be petrified.

Vanguard Way Marathon Finish

The Vanguard Way Marathon is not only a lovely, scenic run with friendly marshals, but an absolute bargain at £20 with a medal and technical t-shirt at the end – I would definitely recommend it if you like a bit of off-road hilliness!