Green Belt Relay – Round 3!

Last weekend was the annual Green Belt Relay, it’s one of the Chasers favourite events of the year and never fails to be an awesome weekend away.

At the start line

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The Facts:

  • GBR is a 220 mile running relay around London’s scenic Green Belt
  • The race is made up of 22 stages over 2 days
  • Stages differ in length, terrain, elevation, and navigational difficulty to allow everyone to participate
  • Teams of 11 race 1 leg per day across the 2 days
  • A record 40 teams entered the GBR this year, Chasers made up 3 of them
  • Although the routes are marked, you are reliant on your own navigation to make sure you don’t get lost
  • The smooth running of the event relies on participation from all teams to help marshal each stage and provide water stations
  • It is not flat!

Marshaling duties – Chasers this way, Serpies, errr, that way…image

The Highs:

  • Chasers took 9 stage wins in total
  • Bryn smashed the leg 17 course record by over 3 whole minutes!
  • Leg 3 and Leg 14 were lovely routes
  • There was a pub right next to where Graham and I were marshaling (phew)
  • We got to stay at the high class Miami hotel in Essex again
  • I got to spend the whole weekend with Gemma
  • I didn’t crash a minibus!
  • It was Nathalie’s 30th birthday so there was lots and lots of cake
  • We rescued 2 injured runners from leg 10 and safely got them back to their friends and relations

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The Lows:

  • I had a bit of a breakdown on not just one, but both of my stages
  • My legs didn’t work
  • My lungs didn’t work
  • I was a little bit sick in a bush near the River Lea
  • We accidentally forgot to pick up the leg 10 runners at the end of their run – sorry 😦
  • Sleep. There was none
  • A Serpie on leg 17 rudely told our helpful marshals to ‘get out the way, I know where I’m going’ – Simon Barrett, shameful & unnecessary, you give Serpies a bad name

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The Learnings:

  • There’s a possibility I still haven’t fully recovered from the London Marathon
  • It’s easier to write the route on your hand than look at a map
  • No matter how many times Gemma tells you how pathetic you are, it won’t make your legs move faster
  • No matter how pathetic you actually are, Gemma will never leave you
  • It’s much more fun to cartwheel and pirouette at the finish line than run sensibly
  • No one can beat Bryn
  • You can always count on Ross to run an extra leg if there’s an injury
  • You can also always count on Ross to wear very tight shorts
  • No one enjoys Ross’s very tight shorts as much as our Barry. He even has a special dance
  • You can’t wash your hair with a bar of soap no matter how hard you try (and Jenn really did try)
  • The Green Belt Relay was, as it always has been, a very well organised, fun and all-round brilliant event

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Huge thanks to the Stragglers, and everyone else involved in organising the GBR, and Bryn for organising the Chasers.  Until next year!

The Finish Line

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The only real trouble with the Green Belt Relay is that there is no down time, no time for a drink, and definitely no time to pop into a cactus fair…

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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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Hampton Court Half & Project Boston

On Sunday I ran the Hampton Court Half Marathon.  I always think a half during marathon training gives you a real indication of how it’s going, it lets you know if you’re on track to hit your target, or if you need to re-evaluate your goal.  For this reason I was nervous, more nervous than I had been about a race for a while.

In October I ran a 1:50 and a 1:49 half but, according to the McMillan race calculator, I needed to be running 1:42:30 to get a comfortable BQ in the marathon.  It felt like a lot to shave off…

It was a pretty early start to get over to Esher for an 8:30am race start but I was pleased to bump into some other Chasers.  They operated a wave start system but, rather than using coloured zones and policing it, people could start where they wanted so it wasn’t ideal.  It also started late, 16 minutes late to be exact, which was quite frustrating when you’re stood in the cold in just a vest.  Apparently there were issues with the park & ride system where they wanted people to pay £6 and get on a bus to the start – I ignored this and parked near the start for free, looks like that was a good idea all round.  Definitely room for improvement on the organisational front.

I made the bold decision to start with the 1:40 pacer, or rather hang just behind the 1:40 pacer and see what happened.  The plan was to hang onto him for as long as I could, but I didn’t want to let go until at least 7 miles…ideally.

The route was on a lot of pavements along open roads which I think made it difficult for the pacer to keep an even pace, add in  weaving around people who had started in the wrong place and I felt like I was all over the place! Every time we sped up I thought I was going to lose him, then we settled down again and it felt comfortable.  This went on until around 6.5 miles when he started to disappear as we ran along the river.

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Annoyingly I had forgotten to turn the mile alerts back on my watch after my last track session so I didn’t really know how much time I was losing, but I felt like I was plodding.  Often during the back half of a race I mentally give up, I allow myself to slow down and tell myself I don’t care about the clock, but that didn’t happen, I just kept pushing as much as I could.

The last mile seemed to drag but eventually the crowds thickened and I crossed the line in 1:44:01…90 seconds off the pace but slightly better than I thought towards the end.  I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it, I’m still not.

The route itself wasn’t particularly scenic, apart from a small section where we ran past Hampton Court, it was quite dull.  It was fast and flat with great PB potential, but it took you on a lot of pavements along open roads which wasn’t ideal, together with the disappointing start I think the only reason I would do it again would be for convenience rather than anything else.  That said, you got a  great medal and the goody bag was well stocked!

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In summary

The Good:

  • I’m pretty sure Hampton Court was my second fastest half marathon ever
  • I finished in the top 8% of women
  • I couldn’t have given it anymore.  I honestly never stopped pushing which shows my mental strength is back on track
  • It was windy in the 2nd half…that may have made me a bit slower…
  • There are still 9 whole weeks until the London Marathon
  • My Run Britain handicap is heading in the right direction
  • I’m not giving up yet and, if all else fails, I’m bang on track for a PB

The Bad:

  • The splits aren’t great – I fell off the pace and it hurt
  • I was about 90 seconds away from where I needed to be to be on track for a BQ.  That’s actually quite a lot
  • It’s only 7 weeks until the taper…

The Ugly:

  • The outlook for project Boston is looking distinctly grey and cloudy
  • I know I won’t be happy simply with a PB in London

Project Boston – to be continued…

On the plus side, I think I made back my race entry fee in Vita Coco, my favourite!

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Marathon Training: Feeling Good

It’s been about 2 months since I fell out of love with running and I would rather have stuck a pencil in my eye than put my trainers on and jog round London.  However, I’ve always been a bit fickle and since then, I seem to have remembered exactly why I love running so much and I even rather enjoyed my run commute despite the -5 degrees temperature this week!

I think it was a slightly hazy time somewhere between the 4th and 5th cocktail at the Chaser Christmas party when I fell in love with running again.  It was at this time when the ballot was drawn for the Chasers club places in the London Marathon and my name was the first name out!  Of course, I missed the actual event having been in the toilet/at the bar/chatting about life with complete strangers/some or all of the above, which I was pretty gutted about, but I was SO EXCITED to get a place!

Since then, I’ve been firmly back in training for the last 5 weeks and, in a surprising turn of events, it actually seems to be going well…  I’m not entirely sure what’s happened to me, or if I’ve simply been spurred on by the pretty punchy target I’ve set myself, but I’ve been running better than I have for a long time and it feels great!

New Year’s Day double Parkrun crew. A very muddy Wimbledon followed by a chilly Fulham!

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Generally, I’ve learned that really high mileage plans don’t work for me.  I’ve tried it, I got tired, I got injured, I resented having to go for a run, and, importantly, I did not run well on marathon day.  5 runs a week is enough for me, it allow me to run 40+ miles, do all my key sessions, a recovery run, and I still have time for a spinning class or 2 and my favourite Tuesday morning yoga class.  I’m definitely not planning any 70 mile weeks any time soon!

Running just seems to be a bit easier at the moment, I’ve been doing my track sessions at an even, or progressive, pace without vomiting on the 400m line and I’ll even admit to possibly, maybe, enjoying it this week which I don’t think has ever happened before!

Tempo sessions have also been going well (ie I finish them without feeling like I’m going to drop dead) and I’m so happy to be running with Ruth again.  Ruth and I used to run together a lot when we were training for the Rome Marathon, then she got quicker and I got slower and she became a little dot on the horizon.  Ruth is still speedier than me but I enjoy chasing her, and the other speedy girls Jenna and Kristy, round a cold dark Battersea Park.  Throw in some long runs at a pace I’m happy with and I’m actually feeling quite positive.

All I have to do now is keep it up for the next 13 weeks without getting injured, errrrm, should be fine if I go to yoga every week right…??

I hope your Spring marathon training is going well too!

Post long run coffee last Sunday

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2016: Goals

I don’t really believe in new years resolutions, if you want to change something just do it, you don’t need to wait until the 1st January.  That said, I think it’s important to set goals and challenge yourself.  Sharing goals is a bit scary, whilst it doesn’t necessarily matter if you don’t achieve them, I think it does matter if you don’t give them an honest effort.  So, as we’re about to head into a new year, these are my 2016 goals…

1. Run 3.30 – 3.35 in the London Marathon

Yep, I said it, my Spring marathon goal is a PB, a GFA and a BQ, all the acronyms!  My current PB is 3:47 so I’m looking to knock about 15 minutes off it which I don’t think will come easily.  I know there are a lot of people who think I can’t do this one, but I’m going to give it everything I’ve got and I believe I can do it, you’ve got to at least believe in yourself right?

I want to go to Boston.  It’s Boston or bust.

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2. Do more Parkruns

I don’t run nearly enough Parkruns and that needs to change.  I both love and hate Parkrun, I love pushing myself, I love the atmosphere and I love getting that little text message but I can get a bit worked up about it beforehand.  In 2016 I want to try 5 new Parkruns and run my first sub 22 5k…ermm, I may need a pacer…please?!

This one will be starting bright and early tomorrow with a New Years Day Parkrun double!

Pre-Christmas party Chasers outing to Brockwell

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3. A new 10k PB

This one might be one to focus on later in the year given I can’t even run 5k at my 10k PB pace at the moment!  Still, it was 2011 when I somehow managed to run 45:24 round Poole Park and it’s about time I make a serious effort to duck under 45…given my shocking pacing skills, I may need a pacer for this one too…anyone?!

4. Up the strength & conditioning work

Just over a year ago I took up a weekly yoga class and I’ve really noticed the difference, it definitely helps long run recovery and I’m sure it’s helped on the injury front.  I’m even getting better at it, I can very almost, nearly, sorta do a headstand and everything!

In recent weeks I’ve also been adding a weights session into my routine, I was quite shocked at how strong my legs were in some places and embarrassingly weak in others.  2016 will be the year of yoga, weights and core…as well as all the running of course.  I may need to quit my job…

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5. Stop being so hard on myself

In all honesty, this might be the most difficult for me, especially as I don’t even realise I’m doing it until someone points it out (usually Clare, thanks Clare!)  The problem is, I run in a club where I am one of the slowest runners and it makes it very easy feel inadequate even when I get a PB.  I’m never going to be the best runner but that doesn’t make my achievements less worthy of other peoples, they’re just different.

The last time I remember feeling genuinely elated with a run was at the Frankfurt marathon, next year I’m going to make sure I celebrate the way I celebrated in Frankfurt, be happy when I make progress and stop comparing myself to other people.

So, these are my 2016 goals and every one of them scares me.  Can I do it? Errm, in the spirit of the above I’m going to say a big fat yes!

Happy New Year x

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CTS Dorset: The Wind Battle

It probably won’t surprise you that the thought of a DNS next to my name horrifies me.  It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, or how sensible it might be, I don’t cope well with the mental anguish of feeling like I failed before I’ve even started.  When I woke up on Saturday I felt dizzy, sick and completely drained, but, worse than the thought of dragging my arse out of bed and into the gale force winds, was the thought of a DNS, I couldn’t be a DNS in the motherland.

Saturday was the Dorset CTS, one of the races in the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series.  There are 10 in total around the country, but Dorset is only one of 2 labelled ‘extreme’, meaning it’s utterly brutal on the heart, lungs, legs and, potentially, the soul.  Dorset also happens to be my home county, and World Heritage site Lulworth, on the Jurassic Coast, is one of the most stunning locations in the UK.

Durdle Door on a sunny day!

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Home to both Lulworth Cove, a remarkable landform that attracts swarms of tourists, and Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch that juts out in the sea, as well as rolling hills, coastal walks and cosy pubs, it’s a trail lovers dream.  As you know, I’m undecided on my love of the trails, but I do love Lulworth, Chaser weekends away and cosy pubs!

There are 4 choices of distance, a 10k, 16 miles (they call this a half), full marathon, 33 miles and a whopping 45 miles for the clinically insane (Russ did this one last year…)  I had entered the half but, having not run for 3 weeks due to a calf injury, I wasn’t sure how that would go…

I headed down with the usual suspects, Frankie, Albro, Russell and Lorraine, and the train journey was full of the usual banter, G&Ts and crisps.  Russ thoughtfully broke out the Scorpion Chilli Death Chocolate because, well, what else would you eat before an extreme trail race?

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On arrival in Wool, we dutifully headed to the pub to disturb the locals on a quiet Friday afternoon.  Frankie was running the marathon the next day but was still successfully sinking an impressive amount of beer!  However, after a pub dinner with the rest of the Chaser crew I started to feel really sick…

I’ll hold my hands up and say the alcohol probably didn’t help, but it usually takes a lot more than that to make me sick, and it certainly doesn’t make me shiver.  I sadly took myself home to bed whilst the others stayed in the pub of many ciders.

The next morning I truly felt dreadful and had zero energy, I had barely slept all night and could only manage a cup of tea and half a slice of toast.  I made a sensible decision to downgrade from the 16 miles to the 10k.  It’s one thing to push yourself through a few miles but 16 is actually quite a long way, the winds were crazy and the course was tough, as much as it hurt, 10k was more than enough today.

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Heading down to the start I realised just how windy it was, apparently the winds were up to 50+ mph when you got up to the exposed areas along the front.  I had made the right choice.  It was easy to downgrade at registration and, unsurprisingly, I wasn’t the only one and bumped into a fair few other Chasers doing the same!

I met Mum and Dad who had come along for spectating duties and we watched the start of the half, the Ultra and Marathon had already started so Cat and Frankie were long gone.  I spotted Chris at about 12 miles in his 33 mile race looking, err, windswept, but strong!

The 10k got started after a race briefing at at 11.30 and the course took us straight up a stoney hill of steps, I started off jogging but quickly dropped to a walk, as did everyone else.  It got windier and windier as we reached the top and I spotted Albro, Russell and Claire taking photos, not sure how they didn’t get blown away…

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At the top the view opened up over the sea and Durdle Door and you could see the hills that were to come!  The first 3 miles is made up of 4 hills but, although the descents are more than runable (even for me!) it was a real struggle against the winds and you had to throw a lot of force into carrying yourself forwards.

On one descent down towards the sea, the wind was so strong it was blowing all the gravel straight into my face, I couldn’t see but, hey, free facial?!  The battle against the wind became comically funny as it literally blew you across the course, I was too scared to take any photos in case my phone blew away!

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At the 3 mile point, the course turned around and headed back on a pretty much continual slow descent.  Slightly more inland than the completely exposed front, and with the wind behind us, it became much easier to actually run, in fact, it became pretty much impossible to walk as the wind threw you forward.  We ran through a caravan park and onto the final descent down to the finish line, it was quite steep in places which was a hairy experience in the wind!

I got a big cheer as I rounded to the finish line and was really pleased to have finished my first run in 3 weeks, albeit with a slightly sore calf and out of control hair!

The folks were glad I dragged them out on a blustery day!

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I was a little sad I hadn’t been able to do the 16 miler, but I really don’t think I would have got through it and there’s always next year right?!  We had the usual Chaser success with a win in the half and numerous top 10 finishes as well as Chris facing his previous Dorset CTS demons with an impressive 11th paces in the 33 mile ultra!

In the evening nearly 40 of us descended on a wonderful little pub in Wool for celebrations, unfortunately I was still feeling a little under the weather so I missed the after party but I heard it was a success!

Dorset CTS is a fantastic event, it really is worth it for the views alone, it’s a beautiful place.  If you get the chance to go I would definitely recommend it, just don’t underestimate the challenge, it’s a tough course so choose your distance wisely!

The next day a few of us attempted a cultural day out with a trip to Lulworth Castle, which we did, but Frankie, Albro, Russ and I accidentally ended up spending the next 12 hours in the pub.  In our defense, it was a really, really great pub…

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A summary of important run-related learnings

  • It’s probably best to avoid alcohol the day before a 16 mile extreme trail race
  • It’s probably best to avoid Albro, Russ & Frankie the day before a 16 mile extreme trail race
  • It’s wise to eat 3 proper meals before an event
  • It is not wise to sub one of those meals for G&T and Scorpion Death Chilli Chocolate
  • Beautiful locations make even the toughest runs worth it
  • You should laugh hysterically in the face of 50 mph winds as you scramble up and down hills
  • It doesn’t count as falling over if the wind knocks you off your feet
  • You cannot walk with stormy winds in your back, you can only fly
  • Chaser support is rivaled by nothing

A summary of non run-related learnings (bonus life lessons if you will)

  • If you spend 12 hours in the same pub, you will name the barman Bubble Butt and he will let you choose the music
  • When Albro is choosing the music everything gets a little bit punk and a little bit weird
  • When the bar closes at 10.30 but you’re still there at 12.30 Bubble Butt will drive you home
  • In fact, he will insist on it…
  • And let you take another drink for the journey
  • And give you half a pint of milk for your morning cuppa because there are no shops open in Lulworth, ever
  • And let you keep the best pint glass in the world with a dinosaur etched on it
  • Bubble Butt is the best barman in Dorset

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Bournemouth Marathon Festival: Just the Half

I was really excited when Bournemouth announced they were launching a ‘Marathon Festival’.  Since I moved to London, I haven’t been short of local races to participate in, of any distance, but there’s always something special about doing your favourite thing in the place you still kinda call home.  Especially when it looks like this.

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Although the first festival was in 2013, marathon clashes left me cheering on the sidelines so this was the first year I had the opportunity to take part.  There is a Bournemouth Bay half marathon in April, but the timing is no good for people running spring marathons, and it’s been plagued by bad reviews more recently.  A Bournemouth Marathon Festival is just what the town needed to compete with the likes of Brighton and Portsmouth for running events.

The Festival spans over the weekend with a ‘Supersonic 10k’, ‘Supernova 5k’ and  junior races on Saturday afternoon, and the Half and Full Marathons on the Sunday.  There’s something for the whole family…unless you hate running of course…but we all know the sun always shines in Bournemouth so it’s worth a trip for cheering duties anyway!

I was in for the Half and the weather was looking mighty fine – sunny, dry, and maybe even a little too warm later in the day but, with a, err, sociable 8am start for my race I didn’t have to worry too much.

Mum & Dad dropped me off at Kings Park bright and early and I bumped into Chaser buddy Ed.  Ed was in the elite start and, after a quick chat, I was in no doubt he would finish in the top 10.  I dropped off my bag, headed to the toilet and started to panic…the queue was reeeaaally long and I only had about half an hour!

I ran into my friend Rick, who I hadn’t seen for ages, but didn’t even get a chance to speak to him because of the disturbing queue situation.  By the time it got to 7.45 I had to give up as the start was a bit of a walk away, I was promised there were plenty more toilets there…  After a jog over, I got into another queue, there definitely were not ‘plenty’, why was everyone taking soooo long?!  Sensing my increasing stress, 4 lovely ladies let me go in front of them, I made my start pen with 2 minutes to spare so I’m hugely grateful they did (thank you kind ladies!!)

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It was dry and sunny as promised, but it was too early to be very warm.  The course headed through a residential street before turning onto Overcliffe Drive towards Bournemouth and switching back towards Southbourne at 3.5 miles.  We could see the leaders coming in the other direction and I spotted Ed in 6th place so gave him a cheer.

I was feeling surprisingly good, I’d had a cold earlier in the week so thought I might find it tough but my watch said I was running faster than I felt I was so I was obviously in race mode.  I knew I would slow at some point but I didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard so found it difficult to slow down deliberately.

At 6 miles we ran down onto the beach front and switched back towards Bournemouth again along the promenade.  It was getting warmer but it was nice to be beside the sea again, even if there wasn’t a welcome wind.  At about 8.5 miles we came off  the promenade and back up to Overcliffe Drive, this involved a fairly short but pretty sharp hill, I plodded on up but something made me give up half way and I walked (ohhh the shame!).

I totally lost momentum at this point, but a mile later we headed back down to the promenade near the finish line and the crowds thickened.  I spotted Rick’s girlfriend, who gave me a cheer, and I rounded the corner to see Mum, Dad and my brother.  I smiled and sped off (well, sort of).

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The next section was tough, the course took us away from the crowds and the finish area and back along the front towards Boscombe again, the route is basically a giant zig zag.  My pace had slowed and I felt a bit rubbish.  I needed sugar, why didn’t I stick a gel in my pocket?  Always stick a gel in your pocket!  They were actually handing gels out at some point, stupidly I didn’t take one.  I was stupid and gel-less and struggling.

We ran to Boscombe Pier, along the Pier, turned around and started to head back.  I still felt rubbish with only a mile to go and I had a minute walking break which seemed a little ridiculous so close to the finish.  Of course, at this point I saw Rick coming towards me, whilst walking…busted!

As we got closer to the crowds I tried to go a little faster, I saw my family again, headed up Bournemouth Pier, turned around and ran straight over the finish line.  It was a 1:50:41 finish.  It was OK but it could have, and probably should have, been a little better… As for Ed, he smashed it and finished in 7th place!

All in all though, I loved racing back home by the beach and the best bit was I got to have post run cuddles with my little niece and a homemade dinner from Mum!

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My thoughts on the Bournemouth Marathon Festival Half:

  • Amazing location (obvs)
  • Fab weather (again, obvs)
  • Plenty of smiley marshals (probs local, Bournemouth-ians are the best!)
  • Plenty of water stations & a gel stop
  • Not enough toilets at the start
  • A speed-zapping stupid hill will, erm, zap your speed, so be prepared!
  • The last 7 miles are exposed on the beach front so has potential to be windy
  • The baggage truck isn’t in an ideal location at the finish, I don’t want to fight through spectators to get my stuff!
  • Fab t-shirt in a great colour (at least it wasn’t another blue one!)
  • Fab chunky medal
  • Probably PB potential…you can counteract the hill with the downward slopes (if you don’t walk the stupid hill)

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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

Clapham Chasers

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!

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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!

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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!

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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!