Hackney Half: The one that was a little bit shambolic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprisingly upbeat at mile 10

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

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

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

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

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What’s good about it?

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

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

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What’s bad about it?

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

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

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

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A Sunny Hampton Court Half

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

London a few days earlier

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

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

Tower of London

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

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

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

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

Cutty Sark

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Big Half, you were special.

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Reading Half Training Day

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

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

Selfie with the Townsend Twins

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

Glute Bridges

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

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

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

Cold, cold cold!

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

Blue skies at the Madejski Stadium

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

Before you run:

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

Looks a little odd but it works!

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

After you run:

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

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

Green Park’s Foudry Brook

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone

They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone and, when it comes to fitness, I can definitely concur.  I’m not sure how much time I had off from running, but I think it was a good 3 months of doing very little, including an entire month off exercise completely, whilst recovering from foot surgery.  If nothing else, I’ve learned that I genuinely had no idea how fit I actually was.

When you constantly surround yourself with people who do more exercise, and more running, and more EVERYTHING, than you do, it’s easy to forget that what you’re doing yourself is actually far from ordinary.  I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t, at the very least, half marathon fit, if not marathon fit, and be able to not only run the distance, but race it in a time that was better than average, even though I was never happy with my time!

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Coming back from an injury that has set me right back to square one has been challenging on many levels.  How exactly do you motivate yourself to do something that has become so difficult and laboured unenjoyable and, quite frankly, hard work?  It’s a bit like dragging yourself to a hardcore tempo session that you know you need to do, but the difference is, there’s no reward.  There’s no reward to sending yourself out on a run that’s not only half the distance than you’re used to, but takes you 90 seconds per mile longer than you’re used to and leaves you more knackered than you’re used to.  No reward, just a lot of AAAARRRGGGGHHHHHHHH.

I’ve had a lot of arguments with myself.

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Undeniably, I’m getting fitter and stronger.  I can feel it.  Especially with the strength work I’ve been doing – Monday nights burning at the Barre in a ballet inspired strength class are becoming my favourite!

While I know I’m still fitter than most, I’m still not ‘me fit’ and I’m not ‘my friends fit’ and that means I still can’t run with them.  That’s right, I can’t play with my friends and I’m miserable about it.  (Fair play to Gemma though, she has offered to run with me but I fear she doesn’t quite know what she’s letting herself in for…)

As I plod on with my slow runs home from work, attempting tempo at Parkrun because I can’t join in at actual tempo, and slowly increasing my mileage, I’ve found a new found awe for my former self.  She was tougher than I thought.  In light of that I thought it was time to set myself a new goal and, being lucky enough to get a place in Great North Run, I thought it would be a good opportunity to finally try and beat my half marathon PB of 01.40.50. Gulp.

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Confessions of a Runner

1.We’re obsessed with Strava

  • Who ran what, where, when and HOW fast?!  No way, the GPS must be wrong…oh yes, that complicated zig zag, that’s not right is it?
  • Errrr, excuse me, I’ve just run a Parkrun PB, why hasn’t the random-guy-I’ve-never-met-but-stalks-my-every-move given me kudos yet??
  • It really looks like that guy sprinted the last half mile of their run to improve their average pace.  That’s just silly.  I would never do that.

Yep, we spend much more time stalking Strava than any other social network. Because we have to. Kudos.

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2. When people ask us how far our next marathon is we want to jab them in the eye with a pencil

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  AAARRGHHHHHHHH.

When we don’t quite know someone well enough to poke them in the eye with a blunt object, and we have to smile politely and explain how marathons work, a little part of us dies inside.

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3. When we get drunk we sign up to all the races

Most people get drunk and do stupid things. But when we get drunk, our stupid thing is to sign up to all the races.  It doesn’t really matter what distance they are, or how far away they are, or if we have to race against wild horses, or trains, or jump into freezing bogs in the middle of them (all actual races by the way). No, one bottle of prosecco and we sign up to all the races that exist in the whole wide world.

Then we wake up and wonder why we’re poor.

THEN we realise what we’ve done and that we actually have to run the damn things.

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4. We Lie

Not all the time.  But sometimes.  You know when we tell you we can’t go for a drink on a Friday night because it’s our neighbours, cousin’s, best mates annual BBQ and we promised to look after their pet tortoise Jimmy?  Well, that’s not strictly true.  It’s actually because we know one drink leads to 16 and we can’t possibly risk having a Parkrun hangover.  In our defense, it’s not just Parkrun…there’s usually brunch and cake and stuff…

Sadly, little Jimmy the Tortoise does not exist in real life.  Well he might do, but we don’t care if he gets fed or not.

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5. We own more pairs of trainers than any other type of shoe

And we need all of them. Don’t ask questions.

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6. We suffer extraordinary things to make sure a run goes to plan

Not long ago I was getting ready to run to my tempo session from work when I realised I didn’t have any socks. None at all.  After begging everyone who was left in the office for the socks they were still wearing, I finally came up trumps with a pair of colleagues gym socks…that he had already worn to the gym earlier that day…and were still sweaty.

I see no problem with that.

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7. We don’t always have time to wash our hair

Running can take up a lot of time, what with having to do muggle activities like working and sleeping as well.  It  means we don’t always have time to partake in life’s little luxuries such as washing our hair.  Sometimes, just sometimes, we’ll take a hairdryer and just dry the sweat right out.

Ironically, these always seem to be the days when people politely comment ‘your hair looks good today, have you done something different?’ Yeah, it’s sweat mate, 8 miles of pure sweat.

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8. Post long run pain is our favourite

When we’ve run a long way it hurts.  It hurts during the run, and it definitely hurts after.  We put our legs up against the wall, waddle up stairs, climb down them backwards and shuffle along the street. But we like that pain, it means we worked hard, and it will make us stronger.  In fact, that pain just means we’re winning at life.  So giggle all you want, we don’t care.

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9. Injuries make us angry. Like, really angry

You need to understand that, when we’re run-injured  and we can’t run, it is the end of the actual world.  And you can’t help in any way.  In fact, you can only really make it worse.

I know it was only a few days ago we were moaning about our training schedule and how tired we were.  But that was when we could run.  And now we can’t run.  So that means the only thing in the world we want to do is run.

No it’s not ‘nice to have a rest’, it’s not ‘good to take a break’, and it’s definitely not ‘fun to go for a swim instead’.  JUST. BACK. OFF.

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10. We don’t understand why you recoil in horror at our ‘easy 10 miler’

Because an easy 10 miler is simply that, we’re running 10 miles and we’re keeping it easy.  OK, maybe running 10 miles isn’t ‘easy’ but, what we mean is, we won’t be adding any strides, fartleks, tempo or MP (I know, I know, I lost you).

The problem is, our concept of distance is completely distorted, we think nothing of our 15 mile weekend run and, for that reason, it’s never wise to ask us if we think somewhere is close enough to walk.  We only know how long it takes to run there.  And therefore the answer is always yes.

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11. We don’t always WANT to go for a run

Despite everything I’ve said, we’re not always filled with joy at the prospect of going for another run.  Sometimes running is hard, and it hurts, and we would much rather sit on the sofa with a box of Lindt balls and watch back to back Friends episodes we’ve already seen 100 times.  But we run anyway. Because running is life.  And it’s the only life we know.  We don’t expect you to understand.

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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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