Wimbledon Half: The search for Wombles & my usual self

The weekend before last was my birthday.  I ran a grand total of 5 miles across the whole Bank Holiday and drank all the alcohol and ate all the food.  I had a great birthday, I really did, I had an amazing time with some amazing people but it left me a shadow of my usual self.

By Monday, after 3 nights out, I was hungover, tired and fat…I hated myself, and I mean I absolutely loathed myself.  I realise that sounds a tad dramatic, it’s really a really difficult feeling to describe and might not make sense, but that Monday was really not a happy day.

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On Monday evening I decided my goal for the week was to get to next Sunday feeling my usual healthy and annoyingly energetic self.  I made a commitment to spinach and my trainers – everything was going to be OK. Probably.

So, I had spinach, orange, banana and chai seed smoothies for breakfast everyday, and kept my promise to my trainers, squeezing in a workout around my job and seeing friends:

  • Tuesday – 5 mile run
  • Wednesday – SOFunctional Athletic class at the gym – it was a high intensity class with lots of squats and lunges and jumping and punching and stuff…
  • Thursday – Spinning
  • Friday – Spinning
  • Saturday – 5 mile run
  • Sunday – Wimbledon Half – just so we’re clear, this had absolutely nothing to do with a Womble medal. Cause that would be silly.

On Thursday, a post from Run Through popped up in my Facebook newsfeed advertising the Wimbledon half on Sunday.  I’ve done some Run Through events before, they’re fairly low key but very well organised, cheap to enter and offer a t-shirt and pretty awesome medal to finishers, definitely value for money.  So, on a whim, I entered 2 hours before it closed – this would make sure I stayed out of trouble this weekend (ie. no booze, no dancing on tables) and force me to run further than I would have by myself (ie. more than 5 miles)

I haven’t really run much since the London Marathon 5 weeks ago.  Partly because back to back marathons left me in a desperate need for a little break from running and partly because I pulled my hamstring a few weeks ago and would have done anything to make sure it was better for Green Belt.  Also, partly because life just got in the way…sometimes that’s OK you know.

I then started to wonder if I could actually run 13 whole miles…without stopping??  The furthest I’d run since London was during the Green Belt Relay which was just under 10 on the Saturday and 9 on the Sunday – what if I couldn’t do it?

The race would be 2 laps of the Common, it was all off road, there were some hills, and the forecast was heavy rain.  I decided my only goal for the race was to just run the 13 miles, enjoy the route and, ahem, add a Womble to my medal collection.

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Sunday morning was grey and dreary, but it wasn’t raining.  I live down the road from Wimbledon so it didn’t take long to get to the start on the NW side of the Common.  Registration was very quick which left some time to visit the free Lucozade stand (they have a new flavour, mango & passion fruit, it tastes like Um Bongo!) and loosen up my legs with the music booming over the loudspeaker.

Today, all I wanted was to be just another anonymous runner so I left the Chaser vest at home and wore a black t-shirt.  I didn’t want anyone to recognise me, I didn’t want to race, I just wanted to go for a jog.  I think this has been the first event I’ve been to in 2 years where I haven’t worn my club vest and it felt a lot stranger than I thought it would, but I just didn’t feel worthy of the vest today.

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The race started on time at 9.30 and we ran up the grass for about 200m before turning off onto the trail path.  It was a 2 lap course and we were warned that the first 1.5 miles or so would be up a hill before hitting the flat and a coming back down a hill for the last mile.  Everyone started off quite fast but I held back, determined to stick to my jog pace and enjoy the run, especially if we were about to head uphill!

The course was lovely, all off-road along the trail paths around the common, we ran through trees, jumped puddles, ran past the windmill and the golf course and barely saw any cars, perfect!  Despite being so close to home, Wimbledon Common is fairly uncharted territory for me, I know Richmond Park inside out but Wimbledon seems much more closed in and therefore easier to get lost!

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The rain mostly held off and the cool air was nice to run in, the marshals were friendly, there was plenty of water and I even high-5d a real life Womble (fact!)  The miles ticked by and I tried not to look at my watch, I was going to put some tape over it so I couldn’t see but I forgot!  I felt comfortable and knew I was running slowly but I was fine with that, I was just another anonymous runner right?!

The last mile was mostly downhill, I saw my Womble mate again and then there was a small section on an incline before we turned back onto the grass to finish where we started.  I didn’t even pick up the pace for the finish, I really was happy just to jog.  Over the finish line and I got my hands on my Womble medal and t-shirt – I was sooo pleased that I could still run 13 miles, order had been restored.

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The power of a good run never ceases to amaze me, I wish more people knew.  Just the woods, fresh air, my own thoughts and a few other runners around me.  With a familiar stiffness in my legs I feel like me again, and I don’t hate myself so much anymore. Thanks Wimbledon.

Womble Medal!!

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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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10 Things I wish I knew before I ran my first Marathon…

1. It will hurt

Obvious? Maybe. But what I didn’t know was how much it was going to hurt long before race day.

Running more miles than you ever have before hurts.  Speed sessions hurt, long runs hurt, short runs hurt, even rest days hurt…when you  go to bed, when you wake up, when your alarm goes off at 7am at the weekend. It all hurts.

But trumping them all is when your friends stay in the pub for a late one on the jagerbombs, and you trundle off home with your tail between your legs because you need to knock out 9 miles in the morning.  Nothing hurts quite like that.

It’s gonna hurt. Get used to it.

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2. You will have bad days

There will probably be quite a few, marathon training is never plain sailing.  When I was training for Paris I attempted a 15 mile run after work on a Friday night.  I was under prepared, mentally and physically, I was in a rush and I underestimated the distance.  I couldn’t do it.

That night I ran 12 miles.  I came home in tears wailing ‘I had to cut my run short by 3 MILES and I’ve only run 12, whhaaaaa’.  I thought it was the end of the world, my housemate thought I was mental.  I probably was…I probably am…

If you have a bad day, or even a bad week, move on, don’t worry about it and definitely don’t give up.

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3. You may never have a good hair day ever again

I’m afraid this one is serious.  Morning runs will leave little time for a perfect blow dry and, by the time you’ve finished your run of an evening, you’re likely to be more concerned with filling the void in your tummy than sorting your hair out.

Unless you have a personal stylist on tap it’s gonna be a rough few months for your locks.  Sorry

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4. You will become really boring to your non-running friends

I mean, really boring.  There you are, living, breathing, even dreaming about running and it’s all you can do to stop talking about all the miles you’ve run, the ache in your calf, the new gel flavour you’ve discovered, your new Sweaty Betty top…but the harsh truth is, the only people that will be vaguely interested are other runners.

Whilst your friends and family will be endlessly supportive…they really don’t care.  They don’t care that you knocked 53 seconds off your Parkrun PB or that you ran your longest run ever, or that your toenail just fell off…

WHAT! You went for another run? Really?! Guess what…

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5. You need to have a little faith in you

There will be many times over the 16 odd weeks you’re training when you will think you just can’t do it.  I still think that all the time!  My friend Mike is always telling me I need to trust my training and he’s right, you need to trust all the hard work you’ve put in during the build up, it will pay off and it will see you through.

When I was struggling in the run up to Amsterdam Keith told me look back and write down my top 5 runs.  What was good about them? Remember the positives (all negatives are banned…)

Most importantly, you need to have a little faith in yourself

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6. You’ll talk about poo more than is socially acceptable

When you start running long distances you get to know your body very well and you’ll soon have a mental map of all the accessible toilets within a 20 mile radius.  Tennis courts, pubs, coffee shops, churches, bushes-where-dogs-can’t-find-you, you’ll know them all.

Whilst it’s fine to talk stomach cramps and Imodium with other runners, your friends won’t understand and your work colleagues just won’t get it, so when you bust out the poo strategy chat on a Tuesday afternoon after a conference call…well…don’t.

To be clear: Poo talk is fine with other runners, but at work? NO

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7. Respect the rest day

Would you disrespect the long run? No. So don’t disrespect the rest day!  Rest days are when the magic happens, it’s when the body adapts and improves and gets stronger.  Don’t try and make up for missed sessions by compromising rest days, just let it go.

Your days off are hard earned, put your feet up, put the kettle on and chill out. Enjoy it!

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8. It’s Emotional

Nothing can quite prepare you for the immense euphoria, relief and triumphant joy you feel when you cross the marathon finish line.  Weeks and weeks of blood, sweat, and tears all comes down to this very this moment and you’ve done it!  Add to that the sheer exhaustion, more pain and raging thirst and you may very well just cry. But that’s OK…just don’t ruin your brand new shiny medal!

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9. You’ll get the blues

What goes up must come down and after the high of finishing your first marathon there’s a fair ol way to come back down.  When the celebrations are over and you’ve caught up on life it’s normal to feel like there’s a bit of a hole in your life.  You spent so much time, energy and focus preparing for one day it feels a bit like when Christmas is over when you’re a kid.

I’m afraid the post-marathon blues are very real

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There’s only one way I’ve found of picking myself back up again, and that leads us on nicely to…

10. It’s an addiction

Sure, you might not believe me now and you sure as hell won’t believe me just after you’ve crossed that finish line, but give it a week…maybe less…and you’ll be carefully dusting off your trainers secretly plotting when your next marathon will be.  All of a sudden it’s not so secret and you’re lining up marathons like you used to line up sambuka on a Friday night.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Before you know it people will be all like…

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And it is a problem.  It’s a really big frigging problem…so good luck with that 🙂

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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Race Review: Brighton Half

It’s fair to say the weather has been pretty wild.  As I drove down to Brighton on Saturday afternoon my car swayed in the wind and the rain came down so hard I could barely see the road…it could be a tough run along the seafront in the morning.  However, there were no signs of the event being called off despite the promenade looking like this…

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The organisers promised to clear the stones and the weather even promised all day sunshine – we would be very lucky if conditions were favourable.

My alarm went off at 6 and I sneaked downstairs for porridge and tea trying not to wake my cousin who I had stayed with.  She fed me a big plate of pasta and salmon the night before, complete with some go-faster sticky toffee pudding (I’m sure that’s what it was called…), so  I was fueled and ready to go.

The Brighton Half has been on my list for a while – I know there have been problems in the past, in 2012 the race came under fire for coming in long at 13.42 miles.  They blamed ‘human error’ but it didn’t go down well with PB hunters.  Learning from mistakes, they seemed to turn it around last year and, following winning the title of ‘Most Improved Race’ in Runners World 2013 Personal Best Awards, the 2014 race sold out in June.  I had fairly high expectations for a good race and a fun day.

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I had’t really thought through the logistics when I entered last year but, when the race pack arrived, I realised I needed to be down at Madeira Drive, where the race started, at 8am.  I live in London.  That would be an early/middle of the night start then!  Luckily my cousin lives down the road and didn’t mind me staying the night before so I could get up a a reasonable time.

My other cousin (also a local!) walked me down to the start bright and early and wished me luck before I headed off to find the baggage area…I walked…and walked…where was it?!  I started to panic that I would have time to hand my bag in and go to the loo before the start.  I have to say some signs wouldn’t have gone amiss, but I made it to the start line in good time bumped into a few Chasers.  A friendly smile and matching vest is always good to see!

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The route took us up to the Royal Pavilion and St Peter’s Church, then headed east along the front towards the Marina which involved a steady incline to the cliff top.  It was a glorious day, the sun was out and I was feeling warm but managed to keep a steady pace despite the hill.

We then turned back on ourselves towards the pier which offered some stunning sea views.  Although the incline wasn’t particularly steep, the decline was welcome by this point.  We ran past Brighton Pier and the West Pier, with great crowd support, but by mile 8 I was really starting to feel it.  I think I was too hot and dehydrated – long sleeves were definitely an error.

I really wasn’t sure about the mile makers and several other people also mentioned this.  Mile 1 popped up with 7.05 on my watch and I knew I wasn’t running that fast, then mile 5 appeared when my watch said 5.16 miles.  I was starting  to wonder if the distance would be wrong again…

Past the piers, the route headed into Hove along the Kings Road and up to Hove Lagoon before turning left onto the seafront.  The organisers had done a brilliant job of clearing the stones and the path was relatively clear.  By mile 10 I was really thirsty and woozy and thought it was a good idea to down half a bottle of Lucozade.  It wasn’t.  Of course it wasn’t.

After that I readjusted my goal from ‘finish under 1.45’ to ‘get to mile 12 without puking and you’ll be fine’.   Maybe it was the heavy marathon mileage in my legs, or last Sundays 19 miler, it could have even been the sun, but I was finding the last few miles really tough.  This was my shortest long run in ages and my pace was fairly controlled (mostly because the incline stopped me speeding off!) so I wasn’t sure why.

My pace slowed as we headed back to Madeira Drive, where the finish line was, but not as much as I thought at the time.  The crowds were lining the street either side and, despite really wanting to stop and walk, it obviously wasn’t an option so I pushed on.  Heading into the last half mile the screaming crowds got thicker and they spurred me right to the finish.  Thanks Brighton!

I finished in 1.46.49 but, despite missing my goal, it was a pretty good tempo run in preparation for Rome which is now less than 5 weeks away!

With Nick & James at the finish.  They beat me!

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After the race I took a short walk back to my cousins where she had laid out a buffet lunch.  I wasn’t expecting to be fed so I was more than excited by the homemade bread, chicken fresh from the oven, salad and strawberries!  After some family time I popped in to see a friend on the way home and made it back to London at about 7.  I was exhausted, totally exhausted!

Yesterday hurt, I could definitely feel it.  In fact, it hurt more than 19 miles the week before.  But that just means I was working hard right?!

In summary, the Brighton Half is a glorious race along the seafront with PB potential if conditions are favourable.  It’s well oraganised with a great atmosphere and awesome crowds.  Although I can’t remember how much the entry was, it was no more than any other big race, with a decent medal and a goody bag full of food!

Would I do the Brighton Half again? Definitely.  If you’re keen I would enter quickly when registration opens!

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Race Review: Down Tow Up Flow Half

Yesterday I swapped the busy, polluted, noisey streets of London for the quiet and scenic trails of Marlow & Windsor.  What a great idea that was!

With 13 weeks left until the Frankfurt Marathon the weekly long runs have picked up and I had my eyes on the Purple Patch Down Tow Up Flow Half Marathon.  It’s a point to point race which changes direction each year, this year it was Down Tow starting in Marlow and finishing in Windsor.  Windsor only took 40 minutes to get to then I got one of the organised coaches to the start so my car would be waiting for me at the end, that’s a quicker journey than my last 2 London races!

The course was described as ‘multi-terrain’, I quickly learnt that meant it was 95% off road, not that that was a problem but there would be no PB’s today!  There was also a bit on congestion at the start where the paths narrowed but the organisers had set us off in 3 waves to make it less disruptive.  It was, however, flat and a beautiful course, we ran from Marlow through Maidenhead, Cookham & Bourne End to Windsor and it looked a bit like this…

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and this…

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There were boats on the river with people clapping and waving at us and there were a couple of areas with pedestrians lining the street to give us a cheer and a smile, everyone was lovely!

There were several shady areas through the trees but the sun was out and the heat was rising, together with the trail underneath my feet, I was starting to find it tough but I still felt fairly strong and found the power to overtake several people in the last couple of miles.  The finish came around and a couple of people shouted ‘go Clapham’ in the final stretch.  I finished in 1.50 and was tired & thirsty (sooooo thirsty!) but still felt pretty good which makes me less nervous about my impending 15 miler on Saturday.

 

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I highly recommend this race – fantastic organisation, a beautiful course and a lovely medal, what more could you want?!  I had forgotten how much trail races take it out of you though…I’m back to the penguin walk today…

Look at my really cool medal!

 

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