RideLondon: 100 miles on 2 wheels

At 2am on Sunday morning I was staring out of the window watching the rain come down in sheets.  It was so loud it woke me up.  It was the worst rain I had seen in a very long time and it was far from ideal.

Just two hours later my alarm went off, but my heavy heart subsided with a quick glance outside.  The rain had stopped and it looked fairly promising.  It was going to be a good day.

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Just before 5am, after forcing some porridge down, I hopped on my bike and set off into the sunrise towards the Olympic Park.  I didn’t really know where I was going but I soon saw plenty of other cyclists heading the same way.  Following everyone else, I made the 12 mile journey to the start line taking in an eerily quiet Rotherhithe tunnel which was closed to cars.

Getting into the start area was easy, there were loads of signs, loads of toilets and plenty of space.  Luckily I bumped into my friend Laura so I had a pal to share my last minute worries with.  She had sandwiches and chicken nuggets…I did not.  Our start time was 7:24am and, although we still had an hour to go, it flew by.

Early Risers

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With credit to the organisers, the start was a military operation with each wave going off bang on time, I don’t know how many waves there were, but c.30,000 riders left the park at roughly 6 minute intervals over 4 hours.  It was an impressive set up.

Stage 1: Miles 1-25: The Jolly Bit

For the first 25 miles I felt great.  The air was cool and dry, everyone was in great spirits and I was pleasantly surprised that, not only was there more space around me than I was expecting, people were (mostly) riding considerately.  There were even some Rider Safety Captains.

After riding through London, I got a big cheer from Darren in Richmond Park, and we headed to the first ‘hub’ near Hampton Court.  As I’m really bad at drinking and riding at the same time, let alone eating, I took the opportunity to stop.

The hubs exceeded my expectations, there were tables and tables piled with bananas, Cliff Bars, gels, Shot Bloks and Graze snack boxes, as well as loads of water and electrolyte tablets.  There were toilets aplenty, and medical and mechanical help if needed.  The volunteers were all super friendly and happy, especially given the fact they had an earlier start than me!

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Stage 2: Miles 26-48: The Learning Curve Bit

The next section posed some challenges.  I hadn’t been eating anywhere near enough and I was feeling it.  Ruth had told me repeatedly that I needed to constantly scoff my face but I didn’t realise that meant literally.  A Cliff bar at the start line and a gel at the hub just wasn’t enough.  Somewhere around 40 miles I was feeling ropey and decided that if I had to stop every few miles to make sure I ate something, that was what needed to happen.

The Surrey countryside, with its beautiful views, was upon us now, and just before the second hub at mile 48 there was a fairly short, but fairly steep climb.  I was glad I had taken on some extra fuel (GU Stroopwafles for the win by the way).

At the hub at Newlands Corner, I took a longer time out, ate some proper food and had a little sit down with views over Surrey.  I was feeling much better. Onwards.

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Stage 3: Miles 48-75. The Hilly Bit

The next section brought the dreaded Surrey Hills.  Leith Hill came first, it was new to me, it was the the steepest on the course, and it was bloody hard.  People were getting a little narky with each other as the course narrowed and I eventually caved somewhere near(ish) the top and got off the bike.  I was far from the only one.

Finally at the top, with 58 miles on the clock, I got back on my bike and enjoyed some downhill rolling towards Dorking.  Soon after, we were at the bottom of Box Hill, I had already conquered this one recently and I have to say I quite enjoyed it!  There were some signs every 250m or so telling you how far you had come and some motivational words of wisdom such as ‘don’t fear the granny gear‘ and, of course, ‘shut up legs‘.

I had stuck to my new fueling plan but, as we neared the third hub at Leatherhead, I was looking forward to another break.

Thanks Buxton!

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Stage 4: Miles 75-86. The Blurry Bit

The next few miles rolled by in a bit of a blur.  I was tired, my quads were complaining, and my hands were sore.  I didn’t really know where I was and I couldn’t tell you what I saw, but we were heading back to London and that was all I could focus on.

Just as I was planning to pull over for more food, I saw a sign for hub 4.  There was a HUB 4??

Pulling into the stop at Kingston I have never been so happy to see a bag of salt & vinegar crisps.  I was less happy to see yet another banana, but I ate it anyway.  After a short mental battle with myself I got back on the bike again and set off on the last 14 miles. Shut up legs.

Stage 5: Miles 86-100. The Bloody Awesome Bit

The last section was the best.  The crowds were thicker, the roads were flatter, we were back in London and the finish was near.  I found a new lease of life and powered through the last few miles, not even Wimbledon Hill could get me down now.

The miles were ticking down quickly, I got a cheer from Jen at Parsons Green, and we were soon riding along the Embankment.  It wasn’t long before we were heading up Whitehall and swinging round for a pretty spectacular finish on The Mall.  The 100 mile finish line was in sight!!

I couldn’t help but grin like a lunatic as I flew down the final few metres and over the finish line, I even made it on the telly!

I’m in the background, I’m not the man being interviewed:

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And that was that, I had completed 100 miles on two wheels and I loved it!  It actually turned out to be 119 miles in total what with cycling there and back, no wonder I was a little sleepy…

The Reflection Bit

In my opinion, Ride London was organised pretty flawlessly.  Sure, there will always be some hiccups with the complexities of an event so big, but I was really impressed with everything, it couldn’t have been easy.

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I’m aware, although disappointed, that cycling generally, and this event in particular, attracts a lot of haters, especially from those who live along the route.  Sure, it’s an inconvenience, but it’s just one weekend a year.  One weekend that not only brings a lot of positivity towards sport and fitness and inspires people to get active, but keeps the legacy of the London Olympics alive and raises millions for charity.

The Best Bits:

  • Riding on closed roads. A privilege
  • The atmosphere. Electric
  • The cheery volunteers. Incredible
  • Box Hill. It’s Fun
  • Hitting a new max speed of 38.3 mph. Weeeeee
  • The Mile 86 salt and vinegar crisps. Godsend
  • The last 5 miles. Unreal
  • The finish along the Mall towards Buckingham Palace. Epic
  • In fact, almost everything. Fan-flippin-tastic

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The Worst Bits:

  • The 4 o’clock alarm. Zzzzzz
  • Having to stop to eat and drink. Such a newb
  • Leith Hill. Ouch
  • The dude who overtook me on a Boris Bike. Really
  • My sore hands. Hurty
  • Cycling through London traffic to get home. Wobbly

The Thank Yous:

  • Thank you to all the volunteers that made it possible, there were a lot of you, your constant enthusiasm and kind words gave me strength
  • Thank you to the emergency services who responded quickly to incidents
  • Thank you to the roadside angels who were offering mechanical help to those in need, you made me worry less
  • And thank you to everyone who wholeheartedly embraced the event and lined the streets in thousands to cheer and shout at us, you made the dark times brighter

Like the London Marathon, Ride London is a true testament to the spirit of this City and I can’t wait to be part of it again.  It was tough, it was challenging, it was rewarding, and it was a whole lot of fun!

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WeTRAIN: A New Fitness Concept in London

It was hot, muggy and humid at a sweaty Brixton warehouse, in a stifling 31 degree London, when WeTRAIN hosted their WePLAY Launch Party.  I wasn’t entirely sure what was in-store, but I was promised an evening of HIIT, Barre and Yoga so I was prepared for a tough workout!

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WeTRAIN is a new fitness concept to launch in Clapham and Brixton that brings you a range of classes, from Insanity and HIIT, to Sunrise Vinyasa Flow, Rocket Yoga and even ballet inspired Barre, in small groups of 8.  They call it ‘The Shared Personal Training Co’.

The idea is that you mix socialising with your workout to give you a personal training experience, without the extravagant cost or commitment of a series of sessions.  You’re free to go to any session you fancy, when you fancy, and just pay as you go. Just make sure you book first as I have a feeling this is about to take off!

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When we arrived we were greeted with Strawberry Serotonin Smoothies and Energy Chickpea Blondies courtesy of  The Thinking Kitchen which was just the kickstart we needed (and both tasted AMAZING, I need that blondie recipe!)

I started off with a Power Yoga session and quickly realised my stiff limbs have been missing their weekly downward dogs and pigeons!  We went through a series of postures and stretches, with hip openers and strength poses, before a very welcome savasana.

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This was followed by a Barre class. What’s Barre?  Well, I didn’t know either, but it’s a mix of ballet, pilates and yoga, all set to a hip hop soundtrack, I loved it!  The class was made even better by the instructor, Hillary Cannon, who has a refreshing approach to teaching where twerking midway through Fiddy’s Candy Shop is not only acceptable, but actively encouraged…

It challenges you by working each muscle to the point of exhaustion, in a full body workout, to build tone, core stability and strength.  Think push ups, planks, tricep dips, plies, clam shells, and everything else that hurts like hell.

There were actually quite a few exercises I was ordered to do by my physio last time I was injured with my lazy arse (true story), so I really think it’s the perfect session for a runner. Don’t expect not to wake up the next day in a world of pain though, as Hilary says ‘pulses hurt like a mother f**ker!’

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As the classes were small, it was easy to follow what was going on and the instructors could make sure we were doing the moves correctly, always helpful when muscles start to tire and form drops (and, err, what’s a plie again?!)

After the oh-so sweaty workouts, we re-hydrated with (ahem) prosecco and re-fueled with salad tubs from Gym Bites whilst WeTRAIN CEO, Adrian Mooney, explained to us a little more about how WeTRAIN works.

Finally, GB triple jumper Julien Allwood talked to us about how WeTRAIN donate a percentage of their fees to the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, a charity that empowers disadvantaged young people, so you can be sure your workout is doing more more than just keeping you fit!

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I genuinely think WeTRAIN is a great concept and a welcome addition to the London fitness scene, there are even plans to expand their offering into other areas of London next year.

For people who are looking for a bit of flexibility, and some bang-on-trend classes, without the monthly spend commitments, this is definitely for you.  I’ve already done another Yoga and Barre class and I’m booked into Fit for Function (with the lovely Elle from Keep it simpELLE) and, yep, more Barre!

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Classes are just £12 a session and with only 8 people (max) per class, you can be sure you’re getting a much more personal experience than in a gym.

I was invited to the WeTRAIN launch party to try out some of the sessions on offer.  All views are my own.

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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Where Dreams Came True: Following In the Footsteps of Legends

When you run into an Olympic stadium with thousands of people cheering as you pound the very same track that saw Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis & Usain Bolt achieve Olympic Gold Medals you get goosebumps.  My Sunday morning was incredible.

 The alarm went off at 6am and all I really wanted to do was turn over & ignore it, but it was race day…again.  Not just any race day however, but the National Lottery Anniversary Run which would take me on a 5 mile journey around the Olympic Park and finish with the last 300m on the track in the stadium.  The race sold out in hours and I was only lucky enough to get a place because my Twitter buddies were frantically talking about it.  Thank you!
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Each participant received 2 spectator passes for the stadium so Mum & Dad had come up to London for the weekend to watch.  We arrived early to soak up the atmosphere and get a good seat.
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As I walked to my start pen I spotted Paula getting mobbed by fans wanting photos.  I was excited now!  I darted into the pen and found a spot in the middle where it was warmer, it was actually quite chilly early on in the day. They introduced Mel C (she does triathlons now apparently!), Victoria Pendleton and Paula, who were all running, and then Sir Chris Hoy who was there to start the race.
 

The race was fun!  It’s fair to say the first mile was carnage – narrow paths, too many people and a couple of points where we were forced to stop & walk due to congestion.  However, after the first mile or so the pace & course sorted itself out and I had expected it to be busy anyway.  It wasn’t a great view, if I’m honest, we’re talking tractors, diggers and a lot of what resembled a building site, but it was still the Olympic park and we all knew where it would finish.  The course weaved around the Park and we passed the Velodrome, the Copper Box and the Orbit.  There were several points where you could see people running in the other direction, I shouted out to a super speedy guy in a Chaser vest and he waved at me, everyone was in great spirits.
 

After about 4.5 miles we rounded a corner to the outside of the stadium and there was a glimpse of the track through the gap.  I turned to the guy next to me and said ‘wow, just look at that’, he simply agreed.  However, we would have to wait a bit longer as the course took us through the tunnel that ran under the stadium.  It seemed to go on and on but the organisers were playing Chariots of Fire into the tunnel to get us excited and the anticipation was rising.  Nice touch!
 

Finally WE WERE THERE, we were only bloody well running through the arch onto the Olympic track!!  It was phenomenal.   The stadium was full of spectators cheering, shouting, making noise and wanting you to run faster, what a sight – you can just imagine what it might have been like on Super Saturday.  That last 300m all went a bit too quickly, I tried to look for mum & dad in the crowd but couldn’t spot them, then the last 100m came around and the only thing left to do was put my foot down and run like Mo!
 

     Action shot, just casually keeping up with the boys…
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I crossed the finish line and felt a little sad.  It was over.  I knew I’d definitely be back if they repeated the event next year.  I got my goody bag and medal and it didn’t take long to find my way back to where Mum & Dad were.  It was great to sit there and take in the atmosphere, just watching people run round the track enjoying themselves.All the runners were buzzing, massive smiles, people whooping at the crowd, dancing, taking photos and videos, everyone was loving it!  It was a lot of runners first time in a race environment and I hope they enjoyed it as much as me.   We stayed to watch some of the entertainment, the sun was now out and Little Mix went on stage to perform some songs.

 Paula coming back to high five some of the quicker runners, what a ledge!
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In conclusion, the race was superbly organised, everything went smoothly, it was a lot of fun and, yes maybe the race t-shirts were a bit big, but it was value for money and I got to run round the Olympic track!  On the last 100m stretch I was even thinking to myself, I wonder who was running in this lane last year…
I’ll never know what it was like to be Mo or Jess or Greg on that night that will go down in history as one of greatest nights in British sport EVER but I did get a teeny weeny glimpse into what they experienced and that was enough to blow me away.
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The Happiest 5k on the Planet!

It was messy, it was colourful, it was gloriously sunny and it was a whole lot of fun!  On Sunday Wembley marked the first Color Run in the UK (it’s American, they don’t use the ‘u’, you have to get over it).

It’s an un-timed 5km run where you get attacked with different coloured powder paint at each kilometer.  They call it a ‘run’, there was very little running done by anyone but, as they say themselves, it’s ‘less about your 10 minute miles and more about having the time of your life’!  The only rule is that you have to wear white.

It’s fair to say I’ve never participated in a running event that hasn’t had nervous anticipation (vomiting, panic attacks, sheer terror…) built into the excitement but, with my Garmin safely at home, I was nothing but excited.  Zoe and I had customised our t-shirts on Saturday night over a couple of glasses of wine and a chick flick (she even got me sewing blanket stitch with pink wool…) and we customised our faces with some neon paint.  With my ‘Color Run’ tattoo on my arm, sweatband in place, and phone wrapped safely in cling film (advisable) we were ready to roll.

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Wembley was buzzing with excited ‘Color Runners’ when we arrived and they were pumping out some tunes while everyone was getting into the spirit of things.  We met up with Kate and a couple of her running buddies and had a bit of a dance.  The start was fairly disorganised, they were letting people off in waves of 1,000 at a time but it was a bit of a free for all getting to the start and, with 15,000 participants and 30 degree temperatures, it was crowded & sweaty.  Some sort of allocated wave system would have made this a lot smoother.

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We jogged along the course, which was fairly well spaced out with people, and before we knew it we were at the first ‘color station’, it was pink!  The ‘color dudes’ (made up term) literally throw powdered color all over you, front, back, face, head…there were even people rolling around on the floor!  At this point I realised why they advised you to wear sunglasses and was glad I had taken that advice, pink paint in the eye wasn’t the look I was going for.

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And off we went again…to the purple zone… then the yellow zone…and finally the orange zone, absorbing new color and dancing around every chance we got.   Despite the gentle jogging, Kate & I made it a sprint finish, hand in hand across the line, and that was the best moment of the day!  Kate’s long been a running buddy having done everything from 10ks, halves, bogs of doom and marathons together but this was our first Porridge-Frenchy run of 2013 and that makes me so happy!

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It all seemed to be over quite quickly and I remain unconvinced that the course was 5k but it was FUN.  At the finish line they give you a packet of ‘color’ to carry on the color party.  With the DJ still banging out the tunes on the stage the atmosphere had a festival feel about it and everyone was dancing and jumping and throwing their color in the air (it really was as surreal as it sounds).

Honestly, it was overpriced at £30 for a 5k without chip timing or a bag drop but all in all it was a fabulous afternoon and the event had a great feel about it.  I’m not sure how it would have worked if it was raining but we were lucky with the weather and that made it all the more enjoyable.

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to screw the time, screw the pace, screw the pressure and just bloody well enjoy it – so get involved, apparently it’s the single largest event series on the planet!  Do be warned though, I still have vaguely pink arms and a purple tummy…

I shall now be resuming the use of ‘u’ in colour for the foreseeable future.

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The Night Paula Radcliffe Ate My Dust – We Own The Night

Nike’s women’s only night time race, We Own The Night, was one of the best races I’ve ever run and most definitely the best 10k I’ve ever run. I cannot fault the organisation, enthusiasm, location, value for money, sponsor freebies, entertainment or facilities. Respect Nike, I’ll be back.

Turning up at Victoria Park at 6pm we immediately felt a festival atmosphere. Tents were set up around the park with various things going and there was stage complete with Kiss FM DJs knocking out some tunes.  The place was buzzing.

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They were handing out wristbands for different start zones but this was a bit odd as no one seemed to know what finish times the zones represented.  Blue was for ‘professional athletes’ or people who ‘thought they might win’, orange was for people wanting a PB and pink for those who wanted to get round.  Obviously I’m not a professional athlete so so I took an orange band.  However, this bothered me, there were at least 3 people each with big bags of blue bands, seriously, how many professional athletes are you expecting? I stood there pondering for several minutes over which start zone I should go for, why did no one know what the expected finish times were? At this point I thought Zoe might get a bit cross with me. She didn’t, she simply told me to put the orange band in my pocket, go and get a blue band and then I could decide at my leisure. Fair point. I did just that.
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We went into the Elle tent where we were offered a free mag, coconut water and bags of various dried fruit.  Then someone asked if we would like a free Nails Inc manicure? Ermm, yes, yes please! We put our names down and went off to explore the rest of the ‘race village’. There was a caravan offering tea & crumpets, a delightful little meringue stall selling all sorts of different flavour meringues, including gin & tonic, cookies, coffee, more coconut water and a large tent selling Nike gear (obviously!) We took a seat on the large comfy bean bags and waited for our manicures. I went for a bright orange colour (because I needed to make sure my nails matched my race t-shirt), & we found out Paula Radcliffe had been in not long before us getting her nails done too, Paula was here!

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We headed to the bag drop off, participated in a little warm up and then it was race time! I stuck with the blue band but I was more than a little concerned that I had only seen one other person with a blue band and she was the rather fit looking girl being interviewed…in all fairness she looked like she could win it. Uh oh.
I have since found out the fit looking girl was Perri Shakes-Drayton!!  She didn’t run, she started the race but my quick evaluation of her was correct!

They asked people with the blue bands to wait behind and I was relieved there were at least 25-30 of us. We were then directed to a different area and I found myself walking to the very front of the race, on the start line, where you usually find the elites, how exciting! Whilst waiting there I spotted Paula and I was even more excited, I didn’t know she was going to run and, not only that, but I was literally on the start line with her, amazing!!

I have actually beaten Paula in a race before.  OK, it was the Battersea 5k Race for Life and she was doing it with her grandma, but she crossed the finish line after me, I beat her, and that’s fact!
In all seriousness, it was an honour & a privilege to line up next to Paula Radcliffe on the start line, when does that ever happen?! I mean, there was me, and there was the female marathon world record holder that no one has even come close to beating in over a decade. What a women, what an inspiration.

The countdown hit zero and we were off, I was expecting Paula to zoom straight off so was surprised to find myself immediately running around her. That was weird, I guess she wasn’t racing after all, laters Paula!

All in all I ran a good race, it was fantastic to have a clear start, there was great support from both marshalls & spectators and it was a beautiful evening in East London.  Special mention to Run Dem Crew who were owning their own night somewhere around 4 & 9k cheering everyone on. I felt the love, I high fived you, you were awesome and thank you!

I usually cross the finish line desperately looking for water and being made to wait,  today water was in my hands in seconds, followed by 2 bottles of coconut water then a glass of prosecco. Yeah, the water can wait, I want the bubbles! It was like walking into a party where the waiters greet you with glasses of champagne on a tray, except I wasn’t looking so glam, and the glasses were plastic. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous!

I finished in 47.06, not a PB but a good effort so close to the marathon, I was pleased.
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I got my bag back and found out Paula wasn’t planning on going the distance due to injury, so I had beat her, again!  In the last month I have raced Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe and beaten them both!

I found myself a comfy bean bag to kick back & relax on with my bubbles while I waited for Zoe. I had no idea what time the race had actually started in the end so I wasn’t sure when to expect her. She showed up pretty quickly with smiles and we sort out more prosecco which went down oh so very well.  Shall we get some more?  Yeah let’s do that!  I was drunk after 4 glasses so it was only wise to knock back 2 more.  Hey, give us a break we had just run 10k, it was Saturday and we owned the night!

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People seemed a bit confused as to why I was spending my Saturday night running…running?  Well, you know what,  I spent my Saturday night with one of my best mates, doing the thing I love the most, with a manicure thrown in, beating Paula Radcliffe and finishing off by knocking back several free prosecco’s. Yep, that was one of the best Saturdays nights in a long time.  Winner!

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Freebies!!

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The day I ran a marathon and beat Mo Farah. 21st April 2013

The alarm went off at 5.50am but I didn’t mind, it was Marathon Day, the day I had been waiting for and training hard for since Christmas and I was so excited!   Marathon day is a funny day, it’s a day of possibilities & hope, of nerves & excitement, anything can happen.

Mum & Dad had been staying with me so they were already up & getting ready for their day in the crowd to cheer me on.   My kit bag had been laid out the day before so a bowl of porridge & banana later and I was ready to go.  Final check of the important things, race number, timing chip, black ribbon, Garmin, gels and I was out the door.

Walking towards the start line, which incidentally was up a massive hill which didn’t seem to end, I got chatting to a couple of friendly girls who were clearly experienced marathon runners.  I asked them if they would be running with music and they both said no, they didn’t want to miss the atmosphere and the crowds.  That was my decision confirmed; I would be running my first marathon with only crowd noise for support…they were going to have to be good today!

I was in the green start, the smallest start reserved for GFA and celebrities.   It really was small, all the runners around me had also earned their place on the Good For Age start line and I felt privileged to be there.  Runners at the green start are given as clear a start as possible, without getting in the way of the elites, champs and fast GFA’s who were at a separate start area.  I kept an eager eye out for some celebs but didn’t catch sight of anyone, at least no one I recognised in lycra.  Myself and Marie, one of the girls I had been chatting too, queued up for the toilet, sorted out our kit and fuel belts and headed to the baggage lorries.  This was it, no turning back, nothing left to do but grab a bottle of water and head for the start line.  It was really happening, marathon round 3.

The start line itself was tiny, I’m not sure where I’ve seen a start line so small and I’ve run a lot of races!  I waited at the front of my pen for a while before spotting the RW 3.30 pacer, Matt Dunn, heading for the back of my pen.  Decision time; I had been toying with the idea of trying to run with him part of the way, I knew I couldn’t go the whole way with him but if I could at least get half way I would be in a strong position and could then drop off.  At this point I figured I didn’t have much to lose, if I couldn’t keep up I’d drop back, no problem.  I know it’s not an ideal strategy, and one that would not go down well with Paula, but this was my race and I had to do it my way, even if I failed.

Before I knew it they were introducing the elites on the big screen, starting with Mo.  There’s been a lot of controversy around Mo’s decision to run the first half of the marathon and my thoughts on this are probably worthy of seperate blog post, but in short, he’s a double Gold Olympic medallist, let him do what he wants, he’s earned that right.

Then there was the 30 second silence in memory of those who died at the Boston bombings just 6 days earlier.  The bombings hit everyone pretty hard, but it struck deepest with runners.  This was an attack on our community.  This was an attack on a day that should have been filled with happiness & achievement, of celebration & joy, a day that brings people together.  In the heart of runners, all around the world, we felt it, and it was still raw.

The silence was pretty moving with everyone falling completely still. There were some tears in peoples eyes.  A few moments after the clock struck 10, the gun went off and we were on the move, we were ON THE MOVE!!

We started off pretty easy, the course was crowded but not so much that you couldn’t move through people and I kept steady with the pacer.  By mile 2 we seemed to be dropping pace, I think he was having trouble getting through the crowd with the group around him so I started to just run at my own pace.  Looking back this was an error, I accidently clocked mile 3 at 7.44 and mile 4 at 7.52, what the hell was I thinking?!  I needed calm down.

I managed to keep a steady 8mm pace until around mile 10 when I felt a twinge in my right calf, I guess it was telling me to slow down but I wasn’t too worried, I hadn’t had a problem with this calf before so I had faith it could go the distance.  I wouldn’t say I was starting to flag at this point but I was fully aware there were still another 16 miles to go and I couldn’t go on at the current pace, I had to drop it.

Although I dropped my pace, I kept fairly steady and took in the sights.  One of my favourites was the magnificent view running across Tower Bridge just before the halfway point, especially as this is where the crowds start to thicken and are going crazy.  When I say crazy, the crowds were immense, absolutely fantastic.  There’s constant cheering, noise, whistles, ‘go on Kat, you can do it’.  Don’t ever underestimate the power of your words to a marathoner runner.  We hear you.  We’re listening.  You really do keep us going!

It wasn’t until mile 16 where my earlier miles came back to haunt me, I knew I was going to struggle. What a surprise.  The sun was out, it was too warm, my calf was aching and I was losing energy.  I tried not to be too hard on myself, I knew the risks going off at that pace and I was fully aware of the consequences, time to suck it up and power on.

The miles started to tick by quite slowly but people kept shouting my name, telling me I could do it, offering me jelly babies & smiles, telling me that I was nearly there, and all those things that you just want to believe at that moment.

Mile 20 was a welcome relief, it was just 10k from here, my family & housemate Zoe would be at mile 22, friends from work would be there with a big ‘Go Frenchy’, banner, other various people I knew would be in the crowd, and I knew the finish line would be there…somewhere.

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Mile 22 passed and I knew I had to keep on the right if I was to see my family, the mile went on and on, 22.1…22.2…22.3…finally, at 22.6 I saw them, they were there!  My Mum, Dad, Aunt, Uncle & Zoe had all got up at the crack of dawn and stood for hours on end just to see me run past, just to support me in this moment!  It’s an amazing feeling.

I remember Dad standing there with a camera pointed at me and Zoe shouting ‘you’re awesome’ and I grabbed her hand.  It’s such an unbelievable lift to see friendly faces when you’re so tired, struggling, wondering if you can actually do it.  After that I knew I was so close, the crowds were absolutely insane, relentless, loud, shouting, willing you to succeed, to get to the finish line, how can you not find strength in that?

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Finally I was almost there, mile 25 had passed and I’d even seen my friends Theresa & James in the crowd shouting at me which was a great surprise.  Then the finish line was in sight, I’d rounded the corner on The Mall and there was one final stretch to go.  Glancing at my watch I knew I’d missed my PB but I was already over it, it didn’t matter, it really didn’t matter, I was about to finish my third marathon!!  This didn’t stop me attempting a bit of a sprint finish though, there was no excuse for a weak finish in my mind.

I went over the finish line in 3.50.39 and ran straight into Dickie.  You know, Dickie B? OK, you might know him as Richard Branson but me & him are mates now you see.  He shook my hand, smiled  and I even thought of giving him a big sweaty hug…don’t worry, I didn’t!

The rest was pretty smooth, tag comes off your shoe, medal goes round your neck, goody bag, photo and then you find the baggage truck with your belongings.  It didn’t take long to find my fabulous supporters, they were waiting in the ‘F’ section, as promised, with hugs and smiles and we all went to the pub.  A champagne cocktail, a chicken salad, a massage and I was happy!

So that was it. I had run marathon number 3.  Not only that, but I has raised nearly £400 for my charity, The Stroke Association.

I ran for Boston.  I beat Mo Farah.  I had a bloody brilliant day.  And I knew there was more to come, I’m not hanging up my marathon shoes yet.

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