Thunder Run: All day, all night…

It was around 1.30am on Sunday morning when I was running through the woods with only my head torch to light the way, jumping over tree routes and skidding in the mud, that I wasn’t sure if I understood myself anymore.  Trying not to think about what was lurking in the bushes, or if I was going to knock myself out by running into a tree, I realised this was a new level of crazy.  This weekend I both loved and hated running in equal measures.

On Friday night I met 15 Chasers in Clapham Junction to jump on a minibus to Derbyshire.  This weekend we were taking 4 teams to Thunder Run, a 24 hour off-road relay on a 10k loop.  The first challenge was to get everyone and everything on the minibus…with 16 seats, 16 people and 16 people’s camping stuff, it was a bit of a jigsaw.

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It had been absolutely chucking it down all day, with no signs of it stopping, so we were in for a soggy and muddy night.  However, no amount of rain can ever dampen the Chaser spirit so we cracked open the M&S G&Ts and turned up the music.  As our driver took us on the most convoluted way out of London, and refused to go above 55 on the motorway (Gemma & Martin had to swap seats so Martin didn’t kill him…), we realised we wouldn’t be arriving until quite late.  But it was OK, because I was sat next to a drunk Frankie and we were singing along to Oasis at top volume.  There would be no sleeping on the party bus!

We arrived at  the campsite in Catton Park at around 11pm.  It was dark, raining, and we (OK, some of us) were a little drunk.  Ross took charge and found us a place to pitch up, we didn’t really know where we were but it would have to do.  Thanks to help from Barry and Paul, I eventually got my tent up and it was time to bed down for a cold and uncomfortable night just after midnight.

The next morning brought sunshine, friendly people and tired, but excited Chasers.  We put our flags up, got Ingrid ready for support duties, and checked out the campsite.  Somehow we had managed to secure an ideal camping spot, we were a short walk from everything we needed and were directly on the race route just after the 2k marker, perfect!

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We had 2 teams of 5, Frankie & the Clap Claps (going for the win) and the Clapham Beasts, a team of 6, Frenchie’s Midnight Runners, and a team of 8, Thunder Honks (nobody was up for the solo option…).  I was in a team with Gemma, Barry, Ross, and the 2 Pauls which actually turned out to be an ideal number of people.

Having a schedule was absolutely key – with 6 runners, running day and night, we needed to know when to be ready so we didn’t miss the changeover or have to hang around unnecessarily.  After forecasting everyone’s run time and allowing for the nature of the course, night runs and increasing tiredness, we had a target of 26 laps over 24 hours.  This would mean that the 2 runners who were most up for it at the end would need to run 50k with the others 40k.

The race kicked off at 12 so we all headed down to cheer on the first runners, Paul W was up first for us, before heading back to camp to see them fly past at 2k from our camping spot!

imageBryn was first back off leg 1 and we knew immediately that the course was a lot tougher than any of us had anticipated, made worse by the heavy rain which had left some sections a complete mud bath.  I was on the 3rd leg after Paul G so, as soon as we cheered him past us I started to get ready.  Being located at 2k turned out to be invaluable for forward planning!

The transition area was busy and there was only a short section of 200m where you could see the runners come in so you had to be ready to move quickly.  Paul saw me straight away, he slapped the baton on my wrist and I was off.

The course starts by taking you through the campsite and I ran straight past the Thunder Honks, it was great to get a huge cheer to send me on my way!  The grass path continued out of the camp and turned up a sharp hill into the woods.  It was muddy, narrow, and hilly and my pace dropped as we twisted round the trees.  As the course opened out it became even muddier, really squelchy mud that was impossible to get any grip on, if the whole course was like this I was going to be way off my expected finish time.

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Eventually it became a bit drier and I saw the 2k sign as we turned back into the campsite, I was going to see the Chasers! They spotted me coming before I got there and I could hear the cheers, it was just what I needed!  The first 5k was pretty hideous, tough hills, severe muddy sections and blazing sun, at 5k my watch said 31 minutes, I was on for a huge personal worst in a team event. Brilliant.

We came to another hill which had been sectioned off with chip mats for a sprint competition (probs wouldn’t win that), then headed back into the woods for a windy section round the trees that involved a lot of ankle busting tree roots (ideal).  At 8k we headed downhill onto a firm path that would lead to a lake and back into the campsite for the last kilometre, my favourite bit!  The ground was firm, the support was good and I was relieved the end was near.  Turning the corner I could see the finish and Gemma yelling at me with a big smile, I gave her the baton and wished her luck!

It had taken me 59 sodding minutes to run 10k and there wasn’t a single bit of it I had found easy.  The course was muddy, hilly, technical and uncomfortable, even the flat bits were lumpy underfoot.  I think it’s the toughest 10k course I’ve ever run and all I could think about was how the hell I was going to get round in the pitch black at 1am??? I needed a cuppa tea…

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Back at camp I had to quietly admit my time, there was no hiding it, it needed to go on the spreadsheet of declaration!  It was only 4 minutes off target so it could have been worse, but I couldn’t see myself getting any faster.  I had some food and hung out with a cheerful Ingrid watching everyone run past.

After Gemma and Barry had ran their first legs we were around 10 minutes behind schedule before Ross set off.  Ross is supposed to be taking it easy so, despite being a fast runner, we set him an easy target.  However, Ross being Ross he smashed it 12 minutes quicker than planned and put us straight back on track!  If Ross was going to be quicker than planned, which looked likely, it gave us some flex so we could still hit our target 26 laps even if some of us were struggling to hit the right times.  Phew!

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My 2nd leg was scheduled for 19:10 and we were on target, the changeover was smooth and I was off again.  As I reached the 1k mark I was pleased to find the mud had dried out and I was finding it a lot easier.  The run was much more comfortable, the Chaser cheers were louder and the air was slightly cooler – those hills hadn’t changed though!  I only ran about 30 seconds quicker than the first lap but I wasn’t too worried anymore.

At the end, I took advantage of the hot showers, but the food queues were huge so I just had some snacks before trying to get a couple of hours sleep in my freezing tent.  My night run would start at about 00:45 so Paul W made sure I was awake when he came back of his 3rd leg so I had enough time to get ready.

Heading down to transition I bumped into Diana from the Thunder Honks, they’d had a few drop outs so she was on a night-double, I didn’t envy her but was grateful for the company.  It was evident that other teams were starting to miss their changovers (someone called Ruth was in BIG trouble!), clearly they didn’t have a spreadsheet and a flawless buddy-waking-system!  Through all the head torch’s it’s difficult to see people’s faces but I heard Paul yelling my name and I was off on lap 3.  The night one…

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This was the lap I was really worried about, I couldn’t see a thing other than what the beam from my torch would allow and the cold air had made the grass a little slippy.  I decided to take it steady and just get round.

Running through the woods in the dark was a surreal experience, although there were other runners around, it felt a lot quieter than during the day.  I ran the whole way, quietly cheering the solo runners as I passed, it was actually quite exciting!  There were some sections where I felt completely alone and I wondered if there were any mentalists in the bushes waiting to kill me.  There weren’t.

Somewhere in the windy tree section I heard someone yell ‘Frenchieeeee’ and Martin flew past, it was hugely reassuring to see a friendly face.  Not long after, I heard some music and another call of ‘Frenchieeee’ before Matt flew past me.  I don’t know how either of them recognised me but I was grateful they did, I may have been running through the woods in the dark but I had friends and I was nearly finished!

Running into the finish area I could only see headlights so I yelled GEMMAAAA and was delighted she was there. Job bloody done!  My next run was at 6:40 so I really needed to get some sleep but I was absolutely buzzing, I think I sort of enjoyed it!  I took a cuppa back to my tent, checked that Barry was awake, ‘yeahhh, but I wish I wasn’t’ came the reply, and tried to sleep.

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It was just gone 2am so, if I fell asleep straight away (unlikely), I would have 3 odd hours sleep before the alarm.  I hate running as soon as I wake up, so I wanted to allow some snoozes to wake up gradually.  I’m not sure if my system worked, or I was running off adrenaline, but I somehow managed to to be wide awake and ready for lap 4.

I was tired and my legs were heavy but I knew this would be my last lap so I just wanted to get it done.  As I ran (ran, not walked…) past the Thunder Honks Kevin yelled ‘come on Frenchie, it’s called Thunder Run not Thunder Walk!’, so I swore at the cheeky git.  The kilometres rolled by but the hills were killing me so I walked a couple of them and hoped I didn’t get spotted by another Chaser (especially Kev!)

The thing I found most difficult about this run was that I was running on empty, I’d had a few snacks after the 2nd lap and a handful of pretzels after the 3rd, but it wasn’t enough.  Drained and tired, I pushed through the last km, Martin flew past again yelling some encouragement and I crossed the finish line and into the face of a smiley Gemma for the last time.  40k. I was done!

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I had a shower, got some proper food and a cuppa and settled down to enjoy the rest of the race.  We were running about 10 minutes behind schedule by this point but only Paul G was up for a 5th lap so we were happy to call it quits at 25 laps (or so I thought!)

It started to rain.  It was chilly and miserable and the rain got harder and harder, everyone was tired and achey and really not looking forward to their last laps.  I have huge respect to everyone who was knocking out their 5th, 6th and even 7th laps!  Collectively we agreed it had been a great experience but we had done it now and wouldn’t be back next year.

After Paul passed the tents we headed down to the finish to welcome him home and go to the bar!  Paul W and I waited at the finish for Paul G to come home but we didn’t know where the others were.  With around 23:48 on the clock, a very muddy Paul rounded the corner and came into the finish.  25 laps done, we had finished!!!

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We waited for the others to finish their final laps, Katie, Gemma and Frankie were still out on the course.  Frankie & the Clap Claps were on for the mixed team win so it would be a big moment for them, as Frankie came in Martin and Alex jumped over to run the final stretch with her – WINNERS!!!

We all headed to the bar for some much deserved beer/cider…in the rain…and the cold.  People were still coming into the finish and I happened to turn around and saw someone coming into the finish line that I recognised…  It was Barry.  What? Barrry? Barry’s running?  BAARRRRRYYYYY!!!  And there was our final team member coming into the soaking wet finish to bring us up to 26 laps and hit our goal, and we didn’t even know!  I was completely gutted to have nearly missed him, I genuinely had no idea.  Baz was the star of the team!

Exhausted, happy, and a little emotional. 6 people. 24 hours. 26 laps. 260k. Thunder Run done!

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The presentation ceremony wasn’t happening until 2 so we killed some time at the bar as everyone around us disappeared, I think it was only the winners that were actually left by this point.

Frankie & the Clap Claps.  33 laps, 330k.  Team of 5, mixed WINNNNERRRRSSSSSS

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Back on the soggy minibus everyone fell asleep, we were completely shattered, but when I got home it wasn’t long before the group messages started.  Maybe we should do it again…maybe we should be more prepared…maybe Thunder Run 2016 is on!

They say:

Thunder Run will test your tactics, endurance, speed and team work. It’s an exhilarating, rewarding and tiring race with a great atmosphere. You’ll find TR24 physically challenging and mentally tough but an experience not to be missed.

I say, that’s bang on.  I didn’t think it would make much difference who you were in a team with, but that wasn’t the case at all.  You need to be with people who have the same expectations and are willing to work together.  We knew we weren’t going to win, but we had a goal, we took it seriously, planned ahead and looked after each other, it resulted in a goal well and truly achieved and a successful weekend.

Thanks to the most fantastic teammates, especially Paul and Barry who willingly took on an additional lap in torrential rain, and thanks to all the Chasers for another epic weekend!

Pretty much all the photos courtesy of Ross McLeod and Gemma Brierley (thanks!)

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Sometimes the most inspirational people are right in front of you

Like many people, I’m hugely inspired by those who achieve outstanding things, the likes of Paula Radcliffe, Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton, Kelly Holmes (the list goes on) are phenomenal athletes.  But they are professional athletes, and, for clarity, I am not one!

I often think real inspiration comes from much closer to home.  I only started running because my Mum and Dad were runners and, without that, I probably wouldn’t have much interest in the achievements of our nations elite to start with.

Mum & Dad coming to watch me run round the Olympic track

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David was always the sporty one when we were younger, I was quite the opposite.  Over the years, I was dragged out to all sorts of local races on a Sunday morning, rain or shine, and watched from the sidelines as he would take the outright win and come home with excessively large trophies.  I had no trophies.

 

I was always encouraged to take part as well, it would take me 15 minutes to run a mile and I would absolutely hate it (in fact, the only thing I hated more than running was shepherds pie, I still hate shepherds pie, there’s nothing to like there) but I enjoyed the sense of achievement afterwards and David would sometimes let me hold his trophies…

Actually, I have my own trophy now…that time when I came 2nd!

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Anyway, without that early support and encouragement I never would have taken up running more obsessively seriously when I was older and would never have even met the people who inspire me to push myself further and take on new challenges today.  In turn, I’m proud to have inspired several friends to take up running who have watched me progress from plodding round a 5k to breaking myself in marathon training (I mean, who isn’t inspired by a friend who refuses to wear anything but compression tights and Ugg boots to the supermarket after a long run?!)

The Clapham Chasers have introduced me to people who have inspired me and given me the confidence to tackle things I wouldn’t have even considered before, from Tuesday night track to trail running in North Wales to an ultramarathon in a few weeks (errr, maybe..)

A couple of months ago when Cat organised an evening of training advice for the girls, 3 of our very own Chasers bravely got up in front of the group and shared their experiences and words of wisdom.

Gemma

Gemma is one of my favourite people and when I met her I didn’t realise how relatively new she was to running because she was always so excited about it!  Within 3 years she went from a life of heavy drinking & smoking with just a pair of Converse for trainers to 3 x marathon runner.

Inspired by her boyfriends keen interest in running, Gemma invested in a real pair of trainers and went for a run. Red faced and out of breath she realised it was tougher that it looked and only made it up the road. Not one to give up, she persevered until she eventually fell in love with running.

Gemma stays motivated by picking out other runners in a race and trying and stick with them as long as possible to get to the finish line quicker.  She says you need to think about how you’ll feel when you’ve finished, when you’ve achieved it, and that’s what keeps her going.

And then Gemma said something that captures her spirit perfectly:

What’s the worst that will happen? If I don’t finish I’ll just get up and try again

Always smiling, always positive and rarely letting anything get to her, there aren’t enough Gemma’s in this world.

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Naomi

Next up was one of our successful GB Triathlon Age-Groupers, who started by saying, ‘when you’ve got your name across your boobs (of your trisuit) it’s a really cool feeling!’

Naomi believes women can achieve anything they set their minds to. She recognises that women can be defeatist, a trait not so common in men, and offered us her top tips for staying strong.

  • Surround yourself by ladies who inspire you, not only will you find it motivating but you’ll find you really want to please them with your own achievements
  • Get used to the pain in training so you know what to expect on race day
  • Have a carrot in front of you, whether it’s finishing your fist 10k or a new PB, dangle the carrot and go get it.
  • Make public declarations so you can’t back out if you get scared!
  • You’ll be surprised what you achieve when you don’t think you can so don’t say you can’t, just do it anyway.

Mel

Finally we had super-speedy marathon runner Mel.  Mel has run 4 really bloody fast marathons with her last one coming in under 3 hours, a phenomenal achievement she worked really hard for.  This is her advice:

  • Be brave enough to set goals that are challenging
  • Pressure in training, and on race day, can make you do crazy things like run through illness & injury…think about what you’re doing
  • Marathon training leaves you fatigued, try to benchmark progress against how you feel during a session rather than the numbers on your watch
  • Give your target finish time a range so you have a contingency to fall back on, flexible goals allow you to manage negative thoughts
  • When your legs hurt shift your focus to your breathing, remember you are actually OK and you can keep going!
  • Try to get excited about your race! Be nervous but use that nervous energy, don’t be fearful of racing
  • Be prepared to make decisions during the race, plan ahead and imagine what you would do if…
  • Finally, importantly, imagine yourself being successful!

I think it’s really important to surround yourself with people who inspire you, whether it’s Olympic champions, your best mate or your Dad.  Hearing such motivational speeches from my friends made something I’ve known for some time crystal clear: The fabulous people who surround me inspire me every single day.

Chasers at the post London Marathon party. Photo: Shamir Patel

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Naomi finished with a quote she keeps with her and reads on race day, I think it sums up everything perfectly:

20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Mark Twain

Summer Evenings & Mid-Week Races

I love summer.  Doesn’t everyone?  Long sunny days, warm evenings (OK…warm-er) and everyone just seems just a little bit happier.  Amazing what a bit of vitamin D will do.

For me, there’s nothing better than throwing on my trainers for a post-work run in the sunshine, the sun is out but it’s not too hot, you can wear shorts and you don’t feel like the kind of crazy person you feel like when you’re training through the bitter winter.  It reminds me why I love this hobby of mine.

The summer months also bring a flurry of mid-week races.  They tend to be fairly low key, informal affairs but it’s a great opportunity to get people together for an early evening run and a late evening vodka.  The Chasers love a mid-week race almost as much as they love a mid-week pub session.

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About a month ago we took a record number of Chasers to the annual Thames Hare & Hounds Parkland Relays in Richmond Park.  Parklands was my first ever race for the Chasers in 2013 so I think of it as my anniversary run.  It takes place on a Wednesday evening in May and attracts a lot of local clubs for a lung burning 2.8 mile off-road loop near the south end of the park.

It’s a tough run and it’s hilly but, hey, it’s Richy P and it’s pretty damn good looking so you just have to suck it up.  We’ve been lucky with the weather for the last 3 years so it’s always been a fabulous evening with friendly people, and we even won both the girls and the boys races this year!

Last night 50 Chasers, in a field of 600, represented at the London Business Houses Bridges Relay.  Organised by Stock Exchange AC, teams of 4 for men or mixed, and 3 women, raced a 2.3 mile loop along the Embankment opposite the Houses of Parliament, over Vauxhall Bridge and back along the river to Lambeth Bridge before coming back on the home stretch.  Short, sharp and over quick right?  Pleasant easy peasy run right?  Errrr, no.

Me, I was in a team with this fabulous bunch.  Diana who is making a sterling return from a lengthy injury, Hannah who slaves away around the track with me and Phil, Phil loves being a Chaser and we absolutely love him for his infectious excitable energy!  Team of little runner dreams.

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Everyone congregated outside St Thomas’s Hospital for the start.  It was very busy and I wasn’t convinced it wouldn’t be complete chaos.  Looking around it looked like the standard would be high, and that was before I clocked the international team.  I decided my race strategy would have to be run-as-fast-as-you-bloody-can-and-hold-on-as-long-as-you-can.  A necessary approach.

The leg A runners set off and it wasn’t as much chaos as I thought, however, I was on the 2nd leg so had to hang around in a big crowd and hope I would spot Phil as he came in.  Luckily the Chasers t-shirt is fairly easy to spot so as soon as I saw him I shoved my way to the front and pegged it.

I was running too fast and it hurt, probably not helped by my track session the night before, but something happened I’m not sure has ever happened before.  I started overtaking lots of other runners!  Spurred on, I just kept running as fast as I could, hugely appreciated the support from 3 Chaser marshals en route, and hoped I wouldn’t start to slow just as I ran past the crowds on the way back.

This is me, errr, pegging it.  Many thanks to Liz Milsom for the photo!

imageI waved at Hannah to make sure she saw me and she headed out on the 3rd leg whilst I tried not to die, I finished in 17:34 so was quite pleased.  Once I was sure I’d survive, I found Phil and the other Chasers and waited for the team to finish.  Hannah put in a strong effort, also off the back of track the night before, and Diana brought us home with a sprint finish so fast the picture was blurry!  I think she’s back from injury 🙂

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I have to say this wasn’t the most friendly bunch, Clare was snubbed for simply asking a question and Phil got told off for cheering too loud, maybe that’s the difference between corporate running clubs and ‘ordinary running clubs’ as we were referred to.  As if there’s anything ordinary about the Chasers!

Everyone home, we headed to the pub where Phil treated his team to a post race drink.  Thanks Phil!

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Green Belt Relay: The one where we ran round the M25

When you’re in the pub on a Friday night, how exactly do you explain to your colleagues you have to go home because you’re getting up at 5am to spend the weekend in a 220 mile running relay round the M25, spending most of the time in a sweaty minibus, before spending the night in a classy Essex hotel called the Miami, then getting up at 6am on Sunday to do it all over again….and you’re just soooooo excited?

My colleagues think I’M WEIRD

Luckily for me I know a fair few other weird people, 46 to be exact, so at 6.45am last Saturday morning we all met in Clapham Junction to head over to Hampton Court to start our 220 mile journey around London’s Green Belt…

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The Green Belt Relay is a fantastic event and is made even more fantastic by the fact it’s the Chasers annual weekend away, we’ve all been embarrassingly excited about this for weeks!  In short, it’s an 11 person relay ran across 22 legs over 2 days around 220 miles of London’s green belt.  There’s lots of river running, greenery, a fair few hills and brambles to negotiate and you need to be familiar with the route to avoid getting lost but the course is pretty and scenic.

Last year we entered 3 teams but word spread about how much fun it was so there was enough demand for 4 teams this year, that’s a lot of Chasers on tour!  Rather than putting all our fast runners in one team and competing for the outright win, we were mixed into teams of weighted ability to create a bit of banter between ourselves (much more fun!).  We had Blue, Simply Red, Deep Purple and Green Day…

The banter started early, which was mostly Alex demonstrating he clearly has too much free time at work during the day…but it succeed in getting everyone even more excited!

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The race starts at 8.30 from Hampton Court (although not actually within the grounds because they wanted to charge a shameful amount of money) so we all headed over to cheer off the leg 1 runners, there were 30 teams in total.

Everyone runs 1 leg on Saturday and 1 on Sunday of various lengths from 6.6 miles to 13.5 miles.  Each leg is given a difficulty level of 1 to 10 which combines distance, course profile and navigation so a 10 means there’s a fairly high probability of getting lost if you haven’t done your homework!

Organising an event like this is hugely challenging both for the Stragglers, who run the event, and for the clubs that participate (in our case Bryn, who does an outstanding job of ensuring everything runs smoothly which we are all massively grateful for).  We had 4 minibuses, each with a clear schedule for the day and list of people who needed to be on it at different times.  You get dropped off at the start of your leg by one minibus and picked up at the end by another before heading off to the next location.  If that wasn’t enough to plan, the event is also self-marshaled so each team has several marshaling duties to make sure other runners get round safely.  It’s a logistical nightmare, and that’s if everything goes to plan!

Can you spot Ingrid…?

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The course is marked with sawdust and orange stickers but locals find it hilarious to tamper with them so, if you haven’t studied the route, or foolishly follow someone else, you could be in trouble.  Naively, I failed miserably to memorise my route last year, relying on on-the-go navigation so this year I spent some time learning my legs and writing myself step by step instructions!

Although Green Belt is a relay, it wouldn’t be practical to run the event in the traditional sense and wait for your runner to come in (the first day is already quite lengthy) so each leg starts at the time of the previous leg’s course record.  This means, unless someone breaks the course record, you will start before the runners arrive.  Each runner is still timed individually for a cumulative team time.

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I was on the 2nd leg on Saturday, a 9.64 mile stretch from Staines to Boveney through Windsor, I also ran this leg last year so I was already vaguely familiar with it (plus it only had a difficulty level of 3!).  My minibus headed over to Staines to drop Ruth, Natalie, Hannah and myself off for our 9.42am start and pick up the leg 1 runners who would be finishing around the same time.

After injuring my hamstring I hadn’t actually run for 10 days and was really worried I wouldn’t be able to do it, it definitely felt dodgy.  We had quite a few people pull out due to injury and had struggled to fill the places at short notice so I knew I had to run, plus there was no way I was missing this weekend! I just had to hope I wouldn’t be limping my way round.

Green Belt Relay Leg 2

We headed across Staines Bridge and along the river on the towpath but within the first mile my hamstring was getting tighter, I’d only just started!  Trying not to panic, I made a conscious effort to slow down and hoped it would ease off…if I could at least make it to 7 miles it would be fine right?  Luckily, I think a combination of slowing down and warming up worked and I actually started to enjoy the route at my slower pace.

I even sort of knew where I was going…right at the fork…across the bridge…away from the river…so I didn’t need to follow anyone else.  I was a bit confused at the end but, relying on memory from last year, and asking the odd random if they had seen runners, I made it to the finish.  I saw Adam and Alex a few metres from the end and tried to give Alex a high-5 (I missed and it was more of a high-1 but encouraging all the same!)

It feels a bit odd finishing the leg.  Unlike other races, because there’s only 30 of you, you’re likely to be running on your own and finishing on your own with a crowd of people waiting for you. Everyone cheers and claps (and no one makes a noise like the Chasers!) but it’s hard not to feel a bit self-conscious.

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Our bus had a bit of spare time before we needed to drop anyone off for their leg so we headed to Great Kingshill to cheer on the leg 4 runners coming in and leg 5 heading off.  Leg 4 is one of the hardest at 12.2 miles and rated a 10 so it was pretty awesome to see Cat come in on a head-to-head sprint finish against a man, she totally nailed it!  Sorry mate, you’re chicked.

We then headed off to St Albans to send off James, Steve, Dan and Louise and pick up those running leg 6.  We were really lucky with the weather considering how much wind and rain we’d had so we got to enjoy some sunshine while we waited.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, we ended up staying in St Albans a little longer than planned, we’ll call  this ‘nameless blameless incident’ to protect the identity of those involved…but eventually we were on our way to drop some people off for marshaling duties.

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Finally it was time to drop off Rob, Simon, Ellie & James for the final leg of the day (which didn’t even start until 6.58!) before heading over to the finish to meet everyone else and cheer everyone home.  There were some very drunk Chasers to be met (case in point, see above…)

It had been a looooong day and was time to head to the grand Miami hotel for dinner, drinks and a couple of hours sleep.  Perhaps the best part of the evening was an appearance from a VERY special guest.  Yep, we only had Spiderman (ACTUAL Spiderman) pop along to present some fetching gold spoon awards for various achievements throughout the day such as Drama Queen, Loose Women, LAD!, Least Likely to be a Getaway Driver… around midnight, it was time to sleeeeppp.

Welcome to Miami…

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Not for long though, the alarm went off at 6, we were out the door by 7 and leg 13 was off at 8!  Sunday saw much of the same with each bus heading to various legs to drop people off, pick up those coming in and completing our marshaling duties.

For some reason I thought it would be a great idea to sign up for the very last leg, aka the glory leg, but this would mean I wouldn’t be running until 5pm and I was starting to get nervous about finishing in front of absolutely everybody.  The finish is at the Hawker Centre in Ham and is also where the end of event BBQ is held and everyone meets back up again, there were going to be a lot if people!

My hamstring was tight, and my legs ached in general, so I was glad of the maximum recovery period, but as the day wore on I was getting more and more nervous.  Instead I focused on helping Gemma navigate our way around for most of the day (Gemma was also on the last leg so we tried not to think about it).

Eventually, after travelling round a lot of narrow country lanes, it was time to head to Walton Bridge for the start of leg 22.  Our leg was 9.15 miles and was apparently the easiest route to navigate, but I was worried about my leg giving out, worried about being too slow, and worried about finishing in front of 300 odd people when I knew I was likely to be running alone.  Stupid glory leg.

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I was running with Gemma, Hannah and Nikki and we had a bit of a team huddle pep talk before we started.  Alex had also been trying to tell us calming stories (inbetween singing Oasis and rapping Fresh Prince) about how everything would be just wonderful but all I remembered was something about seaweed.

Then we were off running along the river.  We’d only got up the road before Gemma was chatting away about how she was going to shove me in the river and I started to doubt how genuine her pep talk was… Anyway, my hamstring didn’t feel too bad and after a couple of miles I picked up the pace and caught the girl ahead that I had been chasing.  All I could think as I passed was ‘yes, my seaweed is greener than yours!’, but then she offered me some encouragement and I felt bad about my greener seaweed.

The route was lovely and there was another girl not far in front that I was trying to keep up with so I had a reason to keep pushing.  As the miles ticked by I started to feel nervous again about coming into the finish so I slowed down a bit to conserve some energy for a sprint finish, I had to finish strong!

At 9 miles I could see the big yellow finish line and see everyone up ahead, stomach churning I just ran as fast as I could and didn’t make eye contact with anyone, I don’t even think I smiled (sorry!)

Finishing on the glory leg was amazing, although I was nervous having all those people cheer me home was the most fabulous end to the weekend I could have asked for.

And that was that, my 2nd Green Belt relay done! When everyone was across the line we headed back to Clapham for a well earned drink, everyone was shattered!

So….in summary

  • 46 Chasers (2 of which couldn’t run due to injury but didn’t want to miss out!)
  • 880 miles run
  • 6 leg wins
  • 1 course record smashed by our leader (Bryn, if you weren’t sure)
  • Several sprint finishes
  • 1 furious Alice after Marcus sent her the wrong way then casually ran the right way himself…
  • 1 sweaty Adam insistent that he had no moral responsibility to call back a runner who had taken a wrong turning a couple of metres ahead of him (we all thought Adam was a nice guy)
  • Several surprised guests at the Miami hotel who had smelly Chasers walk in on them after being given the wrong key
  • 1 surprise visit from the best superhero ever
  • 1 ever so slightly dented minibus (nameless blameless)
  • 46 completely exhausted people

Once again, Green Belt weekend was bloody ace!  Thanks to the Stragglers, thanks to Bryn, thanks to all our drivers, and thanks to everyone who made it such a great weekend. See you next year!

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London Marathon: The Big Jog

I was disappointed not to run a London Good For Age qualifier last year but I was over the moon to be successful in in the ballot, it’s a rare occurance!  Last Spring, the Rome Marathon didn’t quite go my way so I made a last minute decision to enter Manchester 2 weeks later.  I ran better in Manchester, but it was tough knocking out that kind of distance again so soon and I believed myself when I swore I’d never attempt such a thing again.

Not expecting a place in London I had already entered the Brighton Marathon, but October rolled around and I came home to the coveted ‘You’re In’ magazine on my doormat…pain and consequence long forgotten, I wanted to do both.  Obviously.  Why It's Like A Dream

The London Marathon is hands down the best day of the year and if I’m not running, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than cheering on the sidelines.  I first ran London in 2011, it was my first ever marathon and is completely responsible for giving me the bug.  In 2013 I qualified for a GFA entry, I went off way too fast and suffered in the later miles, it was a tough run.

This year I really wanted to enjoy London for the spectacular 26.2 mile street party it is and I didn’t want my over ambitious dreams to ruin my enjoyment. The only way I could guarantee that was to make Brighton my A race because I really can’t be trusted!

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I’ve been in limbo the last 2 weeks, it’s odd trying to strike a balance between recovery and taper and in a shockingly sensible approach I simply listened to my body. There was a bit of running, a lot of rest, a lot of early nights and a lot of hand sanitizer, I was really fun to be around.

On Sunday I woke up to the best good luck message ever!  It immediately put me in a good mood despite the 5.45am alarm, how could it not be a good day? I was sooooo excited!

My new little niece Chloe. She’s going to be a runner 🙂

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The weather was pretty damn perfect.  It’s been getting warmer over the last few weeks and London Marathon day nearly always ends up just a bit too hot.  But it was grey and drizzly on Sunday morning, it looked ideal!  Zoe, my housemate, was running her first marathon this year so she was an excitable bundle of nerves, we made our way to the start at Blackheath in a sensible, calm manner…

It was actually pretty cold when we got there but there wasn’t too much waiting around after a couple of trips to the toilet and dropping off our bags. I met up with Laura who was in the same start pen as me and then it was time to line up. Whhhaaaaa, good luck!!

Me and Zoe before her first marathon

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I usually know exactly what I’m going to do on marathon day – what my goal is, what my back-up goal is, what pace I’m going to start at, what I’m going to do if, if, if… What was different about today was that I didn’t have a game plan. I really didn’t.  Today I was going to turn up at the start line and see what my legs would let me do.

Could I pull off another 4 hour marathon 2 weeks after Brighton? Maybe 4:15?  4:30? A bit slower?  In my heart I knew I’d be disappointed at anything over 4:15 but I needed to be realistic that it was a very real possibility, especially if I was going to achieve my ultimate goal of enjoying every second.  I wasn’t entirely sure how I would deal with a disappointment though.

Suddenly, the gun went off and we were moving forwards!  It only took about 2 minutes to get across the line and there we were, running the greatest marathon in the whole world!!

The first few miles are always quite congested but not so much that you can’t run, if anything, being held back slightly is a good thing.  I just went with flow and enjoyed the atmosphere, we’d only got up the road before someone was shouting, ‘3 cheers for Paula, hip hip…hooray!’

I didn’t want to go off as fast as I did in Brighton, I wouldn’t be able to hold it and I knew I’d be in for a tough ride later, but, although today was about having fun, I still wanted to do justice to all the winter miles.  As Paula said:

You can’t come to the London Marathon and not give it an honest effort

With the image of little Chloe in her ‘Go Auntie Katherine’ outfit firmly in my head, all I knew was that I needed to be able walk away today knowing I did the best I possibly could.  I didn’t want to feel like I let myself down and I didn’t want to be embarrassed by my effort.

I started off comfortably, I was running under 9mm but wasn’t pushing it.  After a few miles I  could tell my legs weren’t fresh, but I was still hitting a fairly good pace and I was happy.  I remembered to high-5 a few kids and smiled at everyone who cheered me by name. Fun, remember, FUN!

By mile 10 I knew I was running slower but it felt much slower than the 9mm pace my Garmin was telling me so I was quite pleased. 9.04, 9.02, 9.04, they kept ticking by consistently, hey, I was doing OK and I was enjoying it!

The crowd support is pretty good in the first half, but it really thickens when you get to Tower Bridge between 12 and 13, you really know you’re in London when you turn the corner and see that Bridge!  Running across the river is freggin awesome, the atmosphere is buzzing and I remembered to look up and take it all in, I almost forgot we were nearly half way already.  My legs hadn’t forgotten though, they were starting to ache earlier than I would have liked…I ignored them.

I knew the Chasers would be somewhere around 15 miles and I couldn’t wait to see them, there’s nothing like a Chaser Cheer to give you a boost and I really needed a boost.  Luckily there’s so many of them you can’t miss them and they let out a huge roar as I trotted past.

Chaser Support Crew…complete with Ingrid the inflatable Chaser (I find it best not to ask…)

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Before I knew it I was at mile 16 and I re-evaluated how I felt, it was getting harder but I was still OK, it was the the flippin London Marathon!  I was a bit slower by 18 miles but I told myself I absolutely needed to get to 20 before I could even consider a walk…I kept going.

True to my word, my legs made it to 20 miles and I rewarded them with a timed 2 minute walk, trying not to make eye contact with the crowd.  They wanted me to run, they didn’t know about the deal I made with my legs, they didn’t understand, ohhh the shame!

I saw the Chasers again around mile 21 and they had split into smaller groups so there were more cheers (except Gary, Gary ignored me to talk about bananas with a stranger, even Ingrid gave me more attention…)

It’s all mind games after 20 miles.  I don’t like 20 miles, it means there’s still 10 whole kilometers to go, I like 21 miles because there’s only 5 miles left…make sense? Of course not!  But, by the time I’ve worked out in my head how exactly I feel about having 5 miles left I’m at 22, and, today, that meant another teeny little walk.  Don’t judge me.

The walk didn’t last long, the crowds just wouldn’t have it, ‘you can do it Katherine, you’re nearly there!’, they didn’t come out to stand on the streets all day to watch me walk.  People at home were tracking me, they’ll see my splits.  Chloe’s wearing a special outfit, don’t let her down.  There’s a sodding TV camera in my face, OK, MOVE.

The next few miles were a bit of a blur but I didn’t stop running, I couldn’t, not only was it too hard to get going again, at this point absolutely anyone I knew could be on the sidelines and I didn’t want to be seen walking, it’s the friggin London Marathon!  The crowds are totally wild by this point, they cheer and shout and yell ‘go on Katherine, you’re looking awesome!’  Errrm, I’m really not am I, I’ve probably never looked less awesome, but thanks!

It was really starting to hurt along the Embankment but my legs were ticking over and I was still enjoying the atmosphere, I just wasn’t sure why the miles were getting longer, why would they do that?!  Eventually I turned the corner to face the home stretch along The Mall, it was the best sight ever!

The flags were flying high, the crowds were roaring and I could actually see the finish line. Just. Keep. Running. I finally crossed the line in 4:05:52 and was totally overcome with emotion, I don’t know how I got through the last few miles, I just wanted to sit down.

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Collecting my medal and shuffling along I quietly reflected on what I had achieved. It was slower than Brighton but it was well within ‘you-can’t-be-disappointed-with…’ time.  So why was I a little sad?  I really didn’t know.  It wasn’t a bad time, especially after Brighton, but I have so many fast friends it’s hard not to think you’re a little bit rubbish.

I’d really enjoyed the run, enjoyed the atmosphere and loved the Chaser support, it had been a brilliant day.  Plus, I genuinely don’t think I could have put more effort in, I couldn’t have tried any harder today, I had to be pleased with that.

I slowly made my way to the finisher area to wait for Zoe and hoped she would come in under her target time. When I saw her she looked in much better shape than I did at the finish and was really pleased with her time. I reckon she’s hooked!

Then it was a quick turnaround and off to the pub for Chasers marathon celebrations with cider and some sensible sambuka.  Another weekend, another marathon and another London medal, that’s pretty awesome right?!

Whatever happens, the London Marathon is always a special day.  It won’t be the last time I run it, not a chance.

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A long run shared is a long run…halved?

The big 2-0 on the training plan is a daunting prospect to even the most seasoned marathon runner.  Not only is it a very long way, but it’s as much a mental challenge as a physical one.  It’s also the run that can give you the confidence that a marathon is actually achievable – if I can just get to 20 miles in training the last 10k will be fine…right?

Of course, it doesn’t actually work that way in real life because during last 10k of a marathon things can either miraculously come together, or spectacularly fall apart!  I’ve definitely experienced the latter more than the former but it doesn’t stop the 20 miler giving me some confidence before race day.

On Sunday the Clapham Chasers hosted their annual Thames Riverside 20 mile ‘race or pace’ event (TR20) which is geared up with Spring marathoners in mind.  We offer pacers from sub 7mm to 10mm so it’s the perfect training run to check you’re on track.  For me, I just love the fact that I can focus on running with my friends around me rather than worrying about the distance.

A sunny race HQ in Bishops Park at 7.30am

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It’s an out and back route from Putney Bridge to Richmond along the towpath which means you get to see some friendly faces as people start turning around and a friendly face can offer the same pick-me-up as a caffeinated salted caramel gel!

I find participating in an event like this really beneficial for several reasons:

  • There’s emotional strength to be found in not running alone.  Even if you don’t know the runners around you, even if  you don’t speak, they’re right there and going through the same thing you are (unless you’re Nathan who won the race in a new course record with a full 7 minute lead…but he’s pretty amazing).
  • Plenty of water stations mean you don’t have to carry your own
  • There are marshals all along the course to offer encouragement and a smile (and maybe a high-5 if you’re lucky)
  • When you’re wearing a race number other pedestrians seem more willing to let you past
  • If anything happens help is never far away
  • If it’s the TR20 there’s guaranteed to be a whole lot of cake at the finish!

Chaser Pacers, a happy Garmin & an almost empty cake table!

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I went off in the 9mm wave not really sure if I’d be able to hold it but, with Laura and Gemma by my side having a good ol chat, it felt surprisingly easy.  We were a bit ahead of target which worried me, but I managed to hold the pace even though we split up on the way back – I made friends with some South London Harriers instead!

As I rounded the corner to the finish line I was greeted by the Chaser Cheering Squad shouting my name and cheering, I couldn’t help but finish with a little sprint and a big smile!

The best thing about the TR20 is that all I had to concentrate on was getting out of bed (at 5.45am!) and getting to the start rather than planning a route, carrying fluids and being mentally strong on my own.

Maybe sharing a 20 mile run won’t make it any shorter, but it’ll sure make it happier.  I’ve got 18 miles to knock out this weekend and I’m more than grateful to have some Chaser ladies lined up to share it with!

Laura & I looking surprisingly perky post run.

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Track FEAR

Every week Tuesday rolls around and it’s time.  With sweaty palms and a sickening feeling deep in my stomach, it’s time to check the Chasers website and see what track session is lined up for the evening.  Peaking through my fingers I slowly scroll down to find the right date and what’s in store…

THE HORROR

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I hate track.  No matter what the session involves, track is the one thing that always makes me giddy with nerves long before I even get to Battersea…and then the nightmare unfolds.

As soon as I wake up on Tuesday I’m trying to find excuses to skip it.  Maybe I’m ill, am I ill? I’m not ill…  Is that a twinge in my leg? Maybe I’ll have to work late?  Maybe, just maybe I’ll have something better to do?  But it’s a Tuesday and, sadly, I really don’t have anything better to do.  I’m scared.

When I first started going to track 2 years ago I was always last.  I wasn’t last a little bit, I was last by a LOT.  Everyone was just faster than me so I would have to beast myself on every rep, come in last, and then get killed on the recovery, which would obviously be shorter than everyone elses.

Basically I spent the whole session running like this desperately trying to hang off the back of someone else.

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My problem was I always, always ran off too fast, I would literally run as fast as I could until I realised pretty quickly I couldn’t keep it up for longer than 100m.  I ran off too fast because I was trying to keep up, but it was a strategy doomed for failure.  Track Fear was born.

During one session that left me gasping and almost in tears Bryn told me that it was much better to skip a lap, or walk the last 100m, to get the recovery I needed for the next rep than to slow down.  If you can’t do the full session at goal pace, cut the session, don’t drop the pace.  Since then I’ve stuck to that principle.

This week was a 10 x 800m Yasso session (yep that’s 5 miles in total).  The goal was to run each 800m in your target marathon time, so if you’re aiming for a 3 hour 45 marathon you should be aiming for a 3 min 45 sec 800m – whatever your goal, that’s actually a pretty achievable pace for track.

I had a good session this week, each rep came in just under target (although some were a tad fast) but I felt strong throughout so I was happy!

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I learned the hard way that track isn’t about running as fast as you possibly can, that will only leave you knackered and open to injury – I’m a long distance runner, not a sprinter.

Track is one session in my training week, an important session, but one session and the reason I go is to build upon and improve my speed.  Yes, it should be hard, it should be uncomfortable and it should leave you out of breath but it shouldn’t leave you in absolute bits.

I don’t hate track, not really, but I am scared of it and I do get so nervous my legs turn to jelly as soon as I step on that orange bouncy stuff.  But, every Tuesday around 8pm, I walk out into Battersea Park with a sense of achievement and relief.  It’s only a lil’ 400m loop after all, it’s not so bad is it?

Until Tuesday rolls around again…

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So this is Christmas…what have you done?

I’ve been mostly unimpressed with my running performance this year.  2014 was not the year of PB’s that I was hoping for and it’s been frustrating, challenging and exhausting trying to make it so.  But, hey, life is full of ups and downs and you just have to roll with it right?

The one thing I’ve learned is that the Chasers won’t let me give up on myself even if I do and if it wasn’t for them I probably would have hung up my trainers by now, succumbing to a life of excessive chocolate and cheese, drowning my sorrows and wondering how I got so fat…

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With that in mind, one of my New Years Resolutions is to offer the strength people have given me this year to others, because that’s what being a Chaser is all about.

But…2014 hasn’t been all bad and there have definitely been some highlights!

1. Representing at the South of England Road Relay Championships

That’s right, me, the girl who came last in cross country at school represented her club in the SEAA Road Relay Championships…and I did not come last!

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2. Rome Marathon

OK, so the Romans couldn’t organise a p**s up in a brewery (literally, when Ruth and I asked for a ‘nice glass of red’ they brought us some kind of shot, then when we asked for a glass of wine they simply poured said shot into a wine glass…) but they sure as hell can build a City.

Rome is quite simply stunning and possibly the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to and I got to soak up two and a half thousands of years worth of history in the best way possible – by running round it.

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3. A Running First

Flying high on post marathon endorphins and frustrated with my Rome performance I immediately entered the Manchester Marathon and ran it 2 weeks later.  I still didn’t get the time I was after but I did run it 10 minutes quicker and realised that I was capable of more than I ever thought possible.

I swore I’d never run 2 marathons in 2 weeks ever again but I’m already gearing up for another double this Spring…

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4. Green Belt Relay

Most people actively avoid the M25 at the best of times but some of my favourite memories this year are from one sunny weekend where 33 of us spent a solid 2 days driving/running around it.

Teams of 11 running 220 miles over 22 stages, navigational challenges, burning sun, a night in Essex still in sweaty running gear and a broken minibus (somewhat) affectionately named Phoenix.  Yep, Green Belt was bloody brilliant!

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5. Amsterdam Marathon

This was the most difficult and challenging run of my life but I crossed that finish line.  Amsterdam was my 4th marathon in a 12 month period and I think I finally understood that running 26.2 miles is quite hard work and a pretty big achievement.  Yes, it was my slowest marathon by a long way but that does not make me a bad runner, a bad runner is one who gives up when the going gets tough.

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6. Trail running in Gower 

Thanks to Cat I finally had the courage to enter my first event in the Coastal Trail Series.  Gower saw me scramble my way round 13/14 tough, hilly and beautiful offroad miles in the Welsh countryside and I (think) I loved it.

Trail running is quite new to me but it’s definitely something I plan to do more of next year, especially if it involves a weekend away with the Chasers (and wine…there’ll be wine right?!)

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2014 has challenged me in new ways and I’ve pushed boundaries that I wouldn’t have even considered before.  I hope you have as many awesome running memories as me!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight x

3 Molehills & a Bit of a Swim

The weather forecast was grim.  Unfortunately, it was also entirely accurate and we were about to take on a muddy 3-person relay event…as solo runners.  Because we don’t believe in taking the easy option.

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The 3 Molehills is a race that takes in the three hills of Moles Valley – Box Hill, Norbury Park & Ranmore.  Each leg starts and finishes at Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking and you can either run as a relay team, or all by yourself if you haven’t got any friends.  Turns out I haven’t got any friends so I was in for the solo, all 14.25 muddy, hilly miles of it.

When we arrived at Denbies on Sunday morning it was pouring with rain, soggy, muddy, cold and just a bit miserable.  Why wasn’t I still in bed?

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Denbies had opened up early for us which gave us a warm, dry place to get ready with proper cups of tea and real life proper toilets (a runners dream!). Frankie and I met up with some other Chasers and set up base on one of the tables.

Whilst Ross tucked into a pile of sandwiches (breakfast…I have no idea how he can eat so closely to running?!) we discussed the benefits of making a pact to sod the run and just tell everyone we had done it anyway – you know, throw some mud around, take a few snaps running around in the rain and then enjoy the rest of the morning having a chat and a nice cuppa….

Then we remembered how badass we are and badass runners don’t let the weather get in the way of race day fun.

The before shot…

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There wasn’t any chip timing but, as the race was quite small (141 solo runners and 82 relay teams), it wasn’t a problem.  It took me most of the morning to decide what to wear, trail shoes? road shoes? long sleeves? waterproof jacket? just a vest?, but I was quickly grateful for the waterproof jacket and gloves I settled for, it was the kind of rain that just wasn’t going to stop.

We set off up London Road for about a mile before turning offroad and heading up Box Hill (it was so wet and misty you couldn’t even see the top at this stage).  The route should have taken us across stepping stones over the River Mole but the water had risen so much you couldn’t see them so we were diverted over the bridge.

This then led to the bottom of 270 steps up to the top before a quick turnaround and down the Burford Slope to the bottom.  We were warned it would be very muddy and slippy and I skated around a fair bit whilst managing to stay upright.  The 1st leg should have been 4.5 miles but my Garmin clocked less than 4, this was dubbed the toughest leg so I didn’t mind!

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Back to race HQ and through the handover point we were off on the 2nd leg, Norbury Park.  I think this was my favourite, there was a good mix of road and trail and, whilst the hill was longer, it wasn’t as steep so I managed to keep up a jog for the most part.  At the top there was maybe 1.5 miles on the flat which went down a muddy path and I had a great time running through all the puddles!  I was a bit confused by the man desperately clinging onto the bush at the side of the path to avoid the puddles (maybe this event isn’t for you matey?!) so I powered past and showed him how it was done.

Back into HQ again and nearing 10 miles, I was getting tired.  Little did I know at this point that Si had not only finished the whole thing but he had won the race!

This is Si collecting his winner’s prize whilst I was scrambling up the last hill in the rain trying not to cry.  It’s OK, because Si’s on my team… Well Done!

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The final leg, Ranmore Ramble, was a simple out and back, up and down, on the North Downs Way, it was mostly road with a short muddy stretch near the turnaround.  The most depressing thing was that all the quicker runners were coming past me on the descent and heading to the finish, but it did mean I got to see a lot of friendly faces (especially Frankie…I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her as happy as she was flying down that hill in the freezing rain in shorts…must have been the beer at the finish line…)

I ended up walking more of the hill than I should, it seemed to go on forever even though I knew it was only 2 miles before I got to come back down again.  I enjoyed the decline before heading back to Denbies for the final time to the finish.  It took me 2 hours 35 with 14.25 miles on my watch, not my quickest run but with hills, mud, slippy paths and the non stop rain I’ll take it.  I got my medal and was sent to get my beer and chocolate, just what I wanted to hear!

Back inside (I was the last Chaser to finish by a long way) I realised how cold I was when I couldn’t move my fingers to get my gloves off.  I went to get changed quickly before it got worse and noticed that Denbies had now opened to the public – it was full of little old ladies trying to enjoy a peaceful day at the craft fair – sorry!

….and the after shot, I love these guys!

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The 3 Molehills is a great little race with a good mix of on and off road, amazing views, fresh air, lung busting hills, enjoyable descents and, with a range of distances available, there’s something for everyone.

It was also superbly organised, with plenty of water stations stocked with sweets and Powerbar gels, and some of the friendliest and happiest marshals I’ve ever come across (much appreciated, THANK YOU).  I really felt for them having to stand still in that miserable weather for hours, they must have been colder than us.

Cheers Mole Valley, I might even be up for this one again 🙂

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Running the Trails in Wales

When you’re obligated to carry a list of items including a whistle, foil blanket, windproof jacket and first aid kit on a half marathon you know you could be in for a tough run…

One of my favourite Chasers, Cat, absolutely loves a trail run or 5.  Over the last year she has single handedly driven our running clubs participation in trail running from casual Sunday jaunts along the North Downs Way (if you can count 18 miles of tough running in the rain casual…) to organised events across the country.  One of these events is the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series (CTS) which, in their own words, promise the most amazing trail runs in the UK, bar none.

No lie – View of the beach at the top of (one of many) hills

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I’ve done a few trail runs but I was generally of the mindset that trail running really wasn’t for me.   You have to run slower, concentrate on what you’re doing, have some kind of technical running ability and the risk of spraining an ankle for a clumsy fool (like me) is pretty high.

Last year, groups of Chasers went on weekends away to pretty much all of the 10 locations on offer and I was more than a little jealous of all the fun they seemed to be having….

So, with Cat and Frankie’s bullying support and encouragement I found myself signing up for CTS Gower this year.  I was sold into a weekend in Wales with all my favourite things – friends, running, stunning views, fresh air, the beach, wine and an after party.  Sounded perfect.

A 6 hour road trip on Friday afternoon left us all pretty tired but, as Sainsburys failed to deliver the food shop (apparently the driver couldn’t be arsed to read a map leaving 16 hungry runners with no dinner or breakfast stuff), we had to head out again to the pub for dinner.

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The CTS offers 4 distances.  10k, Half, Marathon & Ultra but they don’t conform to road distances so all come up on the long side.  I went for the half but a fair few did the Marathon and Cat & Adam (both completely nuts when it comes to running) went for the Ultra (34 miles if you didn’t get lost…)

It was cold and sunny when we got to race HQ, very lucky considering the incessant rain that had hit us all week, and even the night before, and we collected our race numbers before the pre-race briefing.

Each event is graded from 1-5 in terms of difficulty with 5 being ‘extreme’.  Gower is graded 3 (strenuous) with 2,337ft of accent over the 14.4 mile half route so I was expecting some pretty steep hills, technical descents and tricky paths to navigate…

As soon as we started it was clear the course would be muddy and I was expecting the worst.  The route took us along a mix of cliff edges, up and down hills and along sandy beaches, with the recent rain creating some waterlogged areas in places.  A lot of areas were exposed to the wind but with the beautiful weather it actually got quite warm at times.

 

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Starting at the Rhossili Village Hall we ran along the rocky coastline overlooking the sea and started to climb some pretty steep hills, it wasn’t long before everyone slowed to a walk as all you could see was up, up, upness.  Eventually we came to a steep decent of grass, rocks and water from the heavy rain.  I carefully picked my way through the terrain but it was a bit like running through a stream, a slip & slide affair! I was glad to reach the bottom where there was the 1st checkpoint to dib our timing chip and grab some go-faster gummy bears.

We were then taken onto some soft sand that led down to the beach, the sand was much firmer here and it was nice to run a mile or so on the flat by the sea.  The beach was pretty empty, apart from the runners and some surfers, and with the sun shining brightly I think this was my favourite bit and definitely my quickest mile!

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Of course that had to come to an end and we proceeded to climb up and up and up more hills, there may have also been downs but I’m struggling to remember them…

There was mud, wet grass and rocks to navigate and each mile seemed to be getting slower.  We ran past sheep, horses, cows, a sheep’s skull(?!) but not so many other humans, luckily the course was well marked with red chevrons so I wasn’t worried about getting lost.  Unfortunately some wrong-uns took down some arrows on the marathon & ultra course which resulted in extra miles for some but I don’t think it’s a common problem.

I was surprised to see the ‘1 mile to go!’ sign at about 12.2 miles as I thought the course was going to be longer but I was happy to see it!  Through some fields, over some stiles, down a hill and then there was a flat road!  A fair few people were around at this point so I knew we were close to the finish.  I turned back into the field we started in and heard people shouting my name.  Finish line, whhhaaahoooo!

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There were some awesome performances from the team including Hamish winning the marathon and Pete coming 2nd in the half, there were also a lot of top 10 finishes across all distances.  Adam came 11th in the ultra despite adding on 2-3 miles after a wrong turn and Cat finished as 7th female.  I’ve always had a lot of respect for ultra runners but trail ultra runners?  An absolute inspiration!

It’s fair to say the Clapham Chasers dominated in Gower.

As for me?  Well I just about finished in one piece with a smile which is as much as I could of hoped for!

Post race dinner in the local…it went downhill from here

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There are more differences between trail and road running than I gave it credit for – not only is it really, really tough but it uses different muscle groups and skills as well as different etiquette. For me, road running is about speed and chasing PBs, trail running is more about running in the moment and enjoying where you are.  It’s perfectly acceptable to walk and take in the scenery and with views like this how could you not?

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I’m massively grateful to Cat for giving me the confidence and support to give trail running a proper shot as well as teaching me that, it’s not just OK, it’s expected to walk the tough hills!  She’s also promised lung busting trail running will give me gains on the road too and I have no doubt she’s right.

CTS Gower, you may not be for the faint hearted but you more than delivered on all your promises.  Next one?  Game on!

 

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