Back in the Game: Brighton Marathon

I’ve never really been interested in running the Brighton Marathon.  I always thought London was the only marathon worth running in the UK.  But, last April I found myself signing up for the 2015 race after failing to run a London GFA and realising my ballot chances were incredibly slim.  I knew my jealousy would know no bounds if I was the only one not training for a spring marathon.

Yesterday I realised how foolish and short sighted I had been because the Brighton Marathon is a well organised, high profile, worthy event in a vibrant seaside city with incredible crowd support.  It’s an all round bloody brilliant race and I’m sorry I ever thought otherwise!

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On the drive down to Brighton on Saturday the rain came down thick and fast and I was a bit concerned how the weather would pan out the next day. Heavy rain and inevitable wind on the coast would be challenging to say the least!  It seemed to clear by the time I arrived and I headed to the Brighton Centre to pick up my number.

The expo wasn’t too busy, it was quick and painless so I found myself doing the usual fossicking through the various stands. I came away with a bright pair of coral shorts, 3 pairs of socks, 5 protein bars and 3 bags of Honey Stingers. What are Honey Stingers? Well, they look like little jellies…

‘Are these like Shot Bloks?’, ‘Yes, but better’, ‘Oh, OK, I’ll have 3 packs then please’

I then made a swift exit before I bought anything else…

My Mum and Dad were coming to support and my Aunt and Uncle, who live in a nearby village, had kindly agreed to let us stay for a couple of nights.  I had my usual plain pasta for dinner and got an early night (despite my uncle trying to convince me to get on the wine!)

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The alarm went of at a painful 5.40am but I had already been awake a while, it was marathon day! Again!!! I forced down my porridge (and chia seed, new addition to mara day brekkie) and banana and hurried out the door. Because I’m so clever I didn’t read any of the emails I was sent in the lead up to the run (well, none of the boring bits anyway) so by the time it came to planning the journey to the start I realised that you were supposed to book parking 2 weeks ago. And I hadn’t.  Luckily my cousin lives not far from Madeira Drive and offered me a parking space for her awesomely located house.  Perfect, thanks Carol!

It was a short walk to Preston Park where the race started and the sun was starting to feel warm in a nearly cloudless sky…I guess I didn’t need to worry about driving rain!

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Marathon runners were milling around and there was the usual long queue for the toilets, but there was plenty of time to chow down some Honey Stingers and drop my bag off.  I hadn’t seen anyone I knew so was delighted to bump into my friend Jasmine who was doing a wonderful thing and pacing her (super) mum round all 26.2 miles, a friendly face was just what was needed.

I was in the red start which seemed to be the first wave (the sub 3.15 runners were starting somewhere else) so I was over the start line in a couple of minutes.  I was nervous.  I knew I wasn’t going to get a PB, and I was fine with that, but I desperately hoped I would be able to finish in a strong time and shake off the Amsterdam demons.  I didn’t know what was going to happen, what if I fell apart at mile 9 again?

The race was started by Jo Pavey and there was a fabulous atmosphere.  I made a really conscious effort NOT to start too fast so was pretty pleased not to be running my 10k pace which I often seem to do in all the excitement.  I tend to panic at the start and worry that the crowd will hold me back, but of course they don’t, I just go tearing off like a lunatic wasting a lot of energy stressing and weaving in and out.

Not today.  Today I felt like a marathon grown up, totally in control and calm.

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The pace felt comfortable.  It felt easy and quite slow so I was surprised that I was averaging under 8.30 which was faster than PB pace.  I tried to slow down as I knew there were a few hills on the way and wanted to hold the pace.  The hills are in the first half as it takes you round Preston Park, past the Pavilion, and away from the sea for a couple of miles before running past Kemp Town and the Marina.  There’s an almost continuous incline between mile 5.5 and 9 but there is a welcome decline for about half a mile or so.  A turnaround at mile 9 brings the course back to the seafront along a fast stretch.

The crowds were truly awesome.  I made a last minute decision to get my name printed on my Chaser top at the expo and was very glad I did because I’ve never had so many people cheering my name!  I wasn’t expecting such strong crowd support so it was a real lift.  I saw Mum and Dad at miles 3, 5 and 13 and I definitely heard some Chaser support along the route as well.

image The water stations were frequent and well marshalled, the organisers made the decision to use cups this year which I know some people weren’t keen on but I didn’t mind.  I think this change meant they could increase the frequency of the stations (which were almost every mile), I appreciated this on such a warm day.

At mile 16 the sun was getting to me and by mile 18 I had noticeably slowed…it was getting tough.  By mile 20 I was adamant I was pulling out of London later this month, I didn’t want to do it again.  Mile 20 to 23 were pretty dead miles as we ran towards Shoreham and past the power station, there weren’t many crowds around, just us runners focusing on the road.  Why was I doing this?

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The last 3 miles were thick with screaming crowds.  They lined either side of us as we trudged along the sea front to the finish line and it was the only thing holding me together as I desperately tried to keep jogging.  I saw Alex with the Chaser flag at mile 24 which gave me a boost and Mum and Dad saw me again at around 25 but I didn’t see them.  I tried to smile at everyone cheering me but it was getting harder…and harder.

Finally, with the finish line in sight, I tried to calculate if I could finish in under 4 hours. It would be close.  As I approached the mile 26 marker I picked up the pace, my god it hurt, why was it 100 degrees?  The clock was ticking and I wasn’t going to make it, I couldn’t run any faster.

I crossed the line in a happy 4:00:12, certainly not a PB but definitely a time I could be proud of.  I’d worked hard to get back here and it was a huge improvement on my performance 6 months ago, I was pleased.

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Shuffling along, I picked up my medal and goody bag and headed to the Beach Village to meet my parents. It hurt. Everything hurt.  I really wanted to sit down, to lie down, maybe to cry.  That means I worked hard right??

Mum and Dad dragged me through the crowds and we made it to the pub with my cousin for a cold cider and a little sit down.  Marathon number 8 was done!  I didn’t want to do another one.  I really didn’t.

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But in the car on the way back to my aunt and uncles house I thought it might be silly not to do London…I could just jog round and enjoy the experience, I didn’t have to race did I?  Yes, maybe I would do London if I recovered well.

That evening my Auntie Mareline cooked up a a delicious roast chicken with all the trimmings and Uncle Ken made sure my glass was always topped up with some kind of booze.  Perfect recovery 🙂

It was an all round brilliant weekend seeing family, jogging round Brighton and collecting some more race bling.

Brighton Marathon. 4 hours dead. What did I learn? I’m baaacccccckkkk!

The Brighton Marathon 2106 is open for entries. I kinda want to sign up. SOMEBODY STOP ME. Please. Please?

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Amsterdam Marathon. The one that broke me

“Cause sometimes you just feel tired.  You feel weak.   And when you feel weak you feel like you wanna just give up.  But you gotta search within you.  You gotta find that inner strength and just pull that s**t out of you, and get that motivation to NOT give up, and NOT be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just  fall flat on your face and collapse”

Eminem

The Marathon is a relentless, unforgiving, gruelling event.  The second you show just a moment of weakness it will turn on you, digging its painful claws deep into your soul draining you of everything you have, punishing you, willing you to fail, laughing at you.

It hurts. Then everything gets a bit fuzzy.

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The Amsterdam Marathon broke me.  It broke me early and it broke me hard.  I genuinely started to wonder how I was going to make it to the finish line in one piece and I’ve honestly never felt like that before.

When I arrived in Amsterdam the concept of running 26.2 miles still didn’t feel very real.  Training had been anything but perfect, but that’s nothing new, getting to the start line of a marathon injury free having nailed every training run would put you in a very small minority.

I had started well, ticking off the miles and sticking to my plan, but my lazy bum triggered an injury that I struggled to come back from.  On the plus side, the injury has gone and didn’t flare up on the day, but the consequence of 4 solid weeks of bum exercises meant that the muscles I’m using when I run have changed, and 4 weeks is not long enough to get them used to the kinds of distances I was running.

My physio was brilliant, I did everything she told me and she spent hours painfully ramming her elbows into my leg so I could run without pain, but I was running very slowly.  I just couldn’t do any of my speed sessions, my legs seemed to be tiring much quicker than usual and on my last 20 mile run I stopped several times (in the pouring rain…)

Alex and I feeling hopeful at the start (he totally nailed it and got a new PB)

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My Mum & Dad had come over to support me so we all went to the Expo on Saturday morning to register followed by some lunch.  I then went back to the hotel for an obligatory day-before-the-marathon-afternoon-nap before going out for a huge bowl of pasta and then back to bed for an early night.

The next morning I went through my usual ritual of force feeding myself porridge and a banana (not easy at 6.30am) and drank tea, tea and more tea (never again will I let caffeine withdrawal get me!) and we went to the station to meet my friend Alex.

The start was at the 1928 Olympic Stadium on the other side of town, which made for a great atmosphere, and Mum & Dad went off to find a seat in the stands.  Alex and I were in the same start pen which I was grateful for as I think I would have mentally crumbled on my own.

We chatted through our pre-race nerves, discussing toilet strategy (standard) and wondering if the dudes dressed head to toe in a weird silver outfit (we thought they were penises, Mum thought they were silver bullets…) would beat us (they beat me, Alex took them down) and then the elites were away and it was time to run!

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The start was great, I wasn’t sure how I felt about having to run through the finish line to get to the start line, but it was fun to run round the 86 year old track for about 200m before getting onto the road.

The route was pretty, it took us through and around the City, including the heart of the Rijksmuseum (the famous passage which connects Amsterdam city centre with the south of Amsterdam), and along the Amstel River.  I think this was my favourite part as it felt very calming running past stately mansions and windmills, quintessentially Dutch!  As we neared the finish we ran through a very green Vondelpark taking in the trees and ponds, before heading back to the stadium for the big track finish!

Looking pretty cheery at about 4 miles

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At 7.5 miles I heard someone come up behind me shouting ‘Go Chasers!!’ before realising it was fellow running buddy Ryan.  We had a quick chat, and, even at that point, I admitted I was starting to struggle.

I wasn’t feeling like myself, running felt like such an effort, it was laboured and difficult and tiring.  I think it was around mile 9 when I started to fall apart – I don’t know why, I just wanted to stop running.  So I did…and walked.  When the wheels are falling off at mile 9 you know you’re in for a very tough run.

Unfortunately it all went downhill from there, I tried to enjoy the scenery and take in the atmosphere but I was totally overcome by the need to take regular walking breaks which I normally wouldn’t tolerate.  I felt like such a failure, I was in the Amsterdam Marathon, my parents had come to support me and I couldn’t even run!

Giving up was never an option for me.  The task ahead was daunting, there were still a lot of miles left to cover, I knew people were tracking me online and I knew I was going to finish in a time that would crush me.  But giving up was not an option.

Of course that would have been the easiest thing to do, pulling out would have been the easiest thing in the world.  But it would also have been weak.  To give up on something because it’s tough, because you’re scared of failure, is weak.  I wasn’t ill, I wasn’t injured and I wasn’t weak, I was going to get to the finish line somehow.

My hardest earned medal. Ever.

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I started a run/walk strategy based on distance and I think sticking to this was the only thing that got me through the last 6 miles.  My watch was ticking away with the time going up and up, my mile splits getting slower and slower and every half a mile feeling like the most difficult thing ever.  I had no idea how long it would take me to finish but I did know it would be my slowest marathon by a long way.

The support was the best spectator support I’ve experienced outside the UK and I fed off it.  Twice someone from the crowd took my hand when I was walking and jogged with me for a few metres, I love those 2 people.  People lined the streets in the last several miles and a lot of people cheered me by name, there was even a ‘free energy’ station where a group of people were having a little street party with a tannoy lifting everyone’s spirits.

Other runners were also very supportive, this really helped as everyone seemed to be struggling so we cheered each other on.  An old boy from Sleaford Striders was a big inspiration for me, he was running with a limp and a bit of a hunch but he was still running!

Eventually I made it through the park and could see the stadium ahead of me.  I was determined to run the last bit and enjoy the track finish – this is were the Olympics were held 86 years ago!  The seats were filled with people cheering us round and I could see the finish!  I tried to spot Mum & Dad in the crowd but there were just too many people to pick them out.

I crossed the finish line, got my medal and just wanted to collapse, I was exhausted!

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Marathons demand nothing but 101%.  26.2 miles is quite a long way and it’s not easy whatever time you finish in.  Somewhere along the way I seem to have become desensitised to the distance and the challenges it brings.  26.2 miles is actually a bloody long way!

I’m aware I can be quite hard on myself, people tell me that all the time, I expect a lot and it’s disappointing when I don’t meet my own expectations.  Yes, I had a bad race, but one bad race does not make you a bad runner, you can’t run strong and get a PB every time.  Anything can happen in running and these things can and do happen, it’s how you deal with it that can make you stronger.

So I finished the Amsterdam Marathon in 4 hours 50 minutes.  All that really matters is that I finished and had a great weekend in a great city.   As my boss said when I went back to work and quietly admitted my time ‘Who cares? You did it and you were in Amsterdam, well done!’

It wasn’t lucky number 7.  Could it be lucky number 8?

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Who’s Harry Hawkes?

Harry Hawkes was a real life man who lived in Thames Ditton in the early 1900’s and had a really cool name.  His Dad ran a bottling factory producing Ginger Beer and mineral water, and Harry was the captain of the Thames Ditton Cricket Club 2nd Eleven for 10 years.

Why is this important?

Well, in 1984, back when I found Button Moon more interesting than lycra, the cricket club launched an 8 mile race and named it after Harry (his really cool name probably had a lot to do with it).  It was a race that quickly established itself and ran (excuse the pun) for 26 years.  Even my Dad had heard about the Harry Hawkes race and he lives over 100 miles away!

After a 2 year break, the race was re-launched as a 10 mile event and a few of the Chasers found ourselves entering this year.  10 miles is a great distance, possibly my favourite.  By the time you even think about flagging there’s only a couple of miles left anyway, there’s none of that ‘no mans land’ you get in a half marathon.

Spot the Chasers!

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The race started on Giggs Green by the cricket club (which I think is 175 years old, one of the oldest in the country) and looped round Thames Ditton (adding the extra 2 miles) before continuing along the towpath by the river, crossing Kingston Bridge and heading back along Hampton Court Towpath, past the Palace, and back on the 2 mile loop to the finish on the Green.

The route is on mixed terrain but is flat and fast and very pretty along the river, I wish I had a camera!

It was smiles all round as Andy took the win (by over 3 mines) AND the course record by over 4 minutes, and the boys took the team prize for the top 4.  There were also some PBs despite the warm, sunny weather.  I, however, was so far behind everyone I actually missed the team photo at the end…I fully intend to be faster in the next race and photobomb at every opportunity I find!

Winners and more winners

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Although I was slower than usual, I’m attempting to follow the P&D marathon plan (in preparation for Amsterdam) which meant Sunday’s run was a mix of marathon pace and an easy pace rather than running as fast as possible.  Not only did I achieve that, but it meant I very much enjoyed the run too!

It was a beautiful sunny day so we hung around afterwards for the post race BBQ the cricket club put on (although, disappointingly, there were no vegetarian options, only burgers and bacon) and enjoyed the atmosphere.

The Harry Hawkes 10 is highly recommended.  It’s well organised, on a lovely course, with fantastic marshals and has a great local feel about it – if you fancy a flat, fast and scenic 10 miler in the Summer make sure you join us next year.

Cheers Harry!

http://www.harryhawkes10.com/

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Cheers to the Marshals!

You’ve been running for hours,…it’s hot…you’re tired..there’s no shade and the sun is beating down on you…you’re desperate for a gentle breeze…you’re thirsty, so thirsty your mouth feels like sandpaper…

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…then, like an oasis in the desert you see a water station up ahead. WATER!!!! The marshal hands you a cup of the best water you’ve ever tasted in your life, gives you a big smile and tells you how well you’re doing. What do you do?  THANK THE MARSHAL!

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On Saturday I marshaled an event called HellRider.  It’s a non-stop 8 hour off road duathalon where participants complete as many laps as they can alternating between a 5k run and 7k cycle. – you can participate alone or as part of a team.

As a marshal, I had to be in Henley on Thames for 8.30am and wouldn’t finish until 7pm.  I was paid a nominal fee, and I’m aware a lot of marshals aren’t, but, having left my house at 7 and got back at 9pm it was a very long and tiring day!

I arrived on site to heavy rain and lightning – it didn’t look like the best day to be outside with no shelter but I remembered the huge brolly I kept in the boot – knew I put it there for a reason!

Pre-race briefing and piles of goody bags

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When the event was set off (still in very heavy rain) 5 people were taken to marshal different points on the course whilst a couple of us stayed at headquarters.  I was stationed on the run/bike finish line to make sure people were OK, went over the correct chip mat and went through transition smoothly.  Other marshals were out on the course on their own with people zooming past them so I was quite lucky.

As a marshal the events of the day included, but were not limited, to the following:

  • I got lost on the way there…yes, with a satnav
  • I helped pack over 200 goody bags
  • I wore a fetching neon yellow marshal jacket
  • I got wet
  • I got sunburnt
  • I got hungry
  • I ate too many Cliff bars and Drumstick Squashies to curb the hunger (plus came home with another 13 packets left over from the goody bags…)
  • I shouted over and over again at people that were coming towards me on the wrong side of the chip mat after ignoring the neon signs
  • I used portaloos all day
  • I clapped, cheered and shouted ‘good running’, ‘well done’, ‘awesome work’ etc to everyone coming over the run/bike finish line
  • I was thanked at least 337 times
  • I got jealous that I was’t participating
  • I danced to the same songs that were played round and round on a loop…
  • I took a mans wet/sweaty/muddy running shoes back to transition and swapped them for the equally wet/sweaty/muddy cycling shoes after he went over the chip mat and forgot to change them
  • I ran the buff (used as a baton in the teams) over to a guy’s team who could barely walk at the end of a run leg (shusshhhh)
  • I sort some first aid for a man with a chunk of skin missing off his arm after coming off the bike (he soldiered on)
  • I was told I was one of the real heroes of the day (I really wasn’t)
  • I reassured a woman in a pink top with a bad back and walked with her to the finish line
  • My feet hurt
  • I was offered jelly beans by a man that had spent 8 hours running & cycling…I thought he needed them more than me
  • I witnessed some true strength, grit and determination
  • I was a designated ‘Gate Angel’ who had to stop people starting another lap when the 8 hours on the clock reached zero
  • I didn’t get to use my Gate Angel powers
  • I helped clear up all the crap at the end
  • I have a car boot full of bottled water
  • I was given a pretty awesome purple Buff
  • I got a goody bag (yayyyyy!)
  • I got stuck in traffic on the way home because apparently no one has anything better to do on a Saturday night than drive around London
  • I went to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow

I know what it’s like to be out there racing, running as hard as you can, and when I was new to races I didn’t always thank the marshals because I didn’t quite appreciate the role they play.  But marshals do a bloody brilliant job making sure the event runs smoothly, water is readily available, and people get the help they need.

So, next time you’re in a race, remember there wouldn’t be a race at all without the marshals and give them a smile or a nod, they really do appreciate it!

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HellRider is organised by Trail Plus, the same company that organise HellRunner, and it looks like a lot of fun!

 

 

 

Owning the Night

Last year Nike’s We Own The Night 10k was one of my favourite events ever.  Unfortunately, as with all good things, this year didn’t quite match 2013 but I still had a wicked night with some booze, some dancing, some pampering and some running!

The organisers had clearly taken on board feedback from last year and changed the Victoria Park course to make it wider as well as introducing guest wrist bands to allow supporters into the race village.

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The weather wasn’t on our side and Gemma and I arrived at Bethnal Green to heavy but sporadic showers – quite a difference to lazing around on beanbags in the sunshine last year!  We quickly put our names down for a manicure in the Elle tent (we could only get a post race appointment even though we were there early) but there was no free copies of the mag.

New this year was a hair section where you could sit and use some dry shampoo or styling products – we took some flower clips for our hair!

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We went to explore the other areas of the race village, where we got a back massage, before heading to the bar for a quick pint of cider before the run….well, I was under instructions to take it easy after a lot of racing so I thought what the hell?!

We did get a few peculiar looks from other runners…

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The start area was much better this year with 6 different zones rather than 3 – no one was checking the wristbands though so you could have gone anywhere really (Gemma had lost hers and had no problems getting to the front).  They had a separate VIP line at the very front so there was no starting with Paula this time but we scooted our way forwards!

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The route was 2 laps – the first 5k was fine after some people dodging in the first few minutes and there was plenty of music and bands on the way round including 2 party tunnels with flashing lights and music.  Run Dem Crew were there in force and, in the absence of a Chaser crowd, they are definitely the next best thing!

Run Dem Crew sharing the love and the party tunnels

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The second lap didn’t run quite so smoothly.  As soon as I passed the 5k marker the course became very congested.  They had obviously decided to set the groups off in waves with gaps inbetween which makes sense…unless it’s not a 2 lap course!

The second half of the race was hard work with a lot of weaving & diving and running on the grass to get through.  I’m sure it was just as annoying to have people continuously brush past you as it was for those on the second lap. Definite area of improvement.

At about 8k I had most definitely decided drinking a pint of cider before running was a very bad idea, I felt a bit queasy…  The finish line came around and there was a big sign saying ‘the party starts here!’  We were given a goody bag and there was a table of Vita Coconut water so I stocked up on a few boxes.  I saw Gemma (who was delighted with her PB – cider made her run faster!) and we made our way out to collect our Alex Monroe finishers necklace – a nice touch for a women’s only race.

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We went back to the Elle tent to have our manicure (Nails Inc, teal, very nice!) and spent the rest of the evening dancing in a festival atmosphere where Nick Grimshaw was the DJ.  Disappointingly, they issued a token in the goody bag for a glass of prosecco this year, rather than an unlimited supply, so we made sure we went back to the pub for last orders before panicking we had missed the last tube home!

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I’m not really sure about what I think of women’s only events, I prefer running in mixed races (where I can pick the men off one by one as I run past them…) but Nike do a good job with this one and, with the guest passes, it was definitely more inclusive this year even if I did have to compromise on the prosecco!

Good job Nike – maybe change the course to a single lap next year though?

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Why I Ran 2 Marathons in 2 Weeks

People say I’m impulsive.  They say that I rush into things.

Two days after I returned home from the Rome Marathon I entered the Manchester Marathon…and I would be running it a week later, so they may very well be right!

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I didn’t peak in Rome, I knew that much for sure, and I felt like I had wasted months of training – I was looking for redemption and I still wanted a sub 3.45 to qualify for London GFA.  Physically I felt OK, sure I felt like I had been on a long run but I definitely didn’t feel like I had after previous marathons and, given my pace was a fair bit slower than my training runs, I guess this wasn’t surprising.  Most importantly I didn’t have any injury niggles, if I did I wouldn’t have even considered it as I knew it was a risk to run a marathon so soon anyway.

I was aware the Manchester Marathon was 2 weeks after Rome and I was pleasantly surprised/scared they were still taking entries so late.  Claiming to be the flattest marathon in the UK (I’m not entirely sure about that but we’ll come to that later!) I couldn’t help but sign up, surely it was an opportunity that I just couldn’t miss?!

Was I mad?

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I didn’t keep it a secret but I didn’t tell  lot of people, mostly because I didn’t want to hear that it was a bad idea and I shouldn’t do it!  I took advice from some more experienced runners in the Chasers and was happy that they didn’t tell me it was a stupid idea –  instead they told me to focus on rest and recovery.  So I did.

A couple of Chasers were also running  Manchester and they invited me to post race lunch.  I was pleased to have some friends to celebrate with at the finish, a lonely marathon runner is a sad marathon runner after all.

I was aware that achieving the ultimate goal would be somewhat unlikely after Rome but I figured I had nothing to lose and running 2 marathons in 2 weeks would be a new achievement anyway. Win win?!

So Saturday came around and, questioning my sanity again, I headed to Manchester with just a backpack and bag full of food (travelling light is a challenge it itself for me, what do you mean I can’t take 4 pairs of shoes?!).  I made my way to Old Trafford to pick up my number from the race village which was in the car park.  It was most definitely the smallest race village/expo I’ve ever seen…

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However, there was no queuing, the staff were friendly and it did the job!  I headed to my hotel to put my feet up and eat more food.

The hotel was in a fairly quiet area so I was glad I had planned ahead and made a big tub of tuna pasta for dinner, it also meant I could relax and not leave the room for the rest of the day.  Having learnt from Rome I took a big pot of tea bags & milk and proceeded to drink 2 cups of tea at a time to ensure my caffeine intake was up  (well, the cups were small!)

Arriving at the race village the next morning (with Martin Yelling no less) there was a lot more going on and I picked up a pace band from the Asics tent.  Whilst I was queuing I gave my parents a call to let them know what I was up to as I hadn’t told them my plans.  They were a tad surprised!  The bag drop was quick and fuss free and, whilst there was a queue, there were a lot more toilets than in Rome, phew!  Heading for the start line I made my way through the crowd to get to the 3.45 pacer, Ben.

I believe the race was started by Ron Hill but I didn’t see him.  A group us us ran with Ben and the pace felt OK, I most definitely would have gone off too fast without him.  If I’m honest I didn’t really notice much of the course, I simply concentrated on running, so I couldn’t tell you what I saw.  I did notice the course wasn’t as flat as I thought it would be though!  It wasn’t hilly but I’m sure there were more inclines than in London…

There were a couple of switchbacks early on and I shouted out to Keith and Matt in their Chasers vests.  At mile 9 I saw my friend Kim who had come to support Keith, she cheered and shouted and I was pleased to see a friendly face.

I was impressed with the water stations, rather than bottles (that are a hazard when discarded), or cups (which are difficult to drink from whilst moving), they supplied pouches which were very easy to carry and water only came out when you squeezed it.   They’re also much less of a problem when on the race course as if you tread on them they simply squirt out any left over water.  Why don’t all races have these?

At half way I was still feeling good but I wasn’t convinced my legs could go the whole way at the pace I wanted them to.  At mile 16 I started to drop back and I saw Kim again.  She jogged alongside me whilst I started chatting.  She told me to stop talking and get on with running – fair enough!

Mile 16…still smiling!

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From about mile 18 I knew I wouldn’t finish under 3.45 but I kept pushing.  I think the last 6 miles were more challenging than any other marathon I’ve run (and I’m sure it was all on a gentle incline!) but mentally I was feeling tough and I kept going.

The crowd support was great, unfortunately as a late entrant my name wasn’t printed on my number but  everyone still cheered me on, it really does help!

As I ran back towards Old Trafford the crowds lined the street and I crossed the line in 3.56.  The finish was smooth and quick and I got my medal, water and goody bag in minutes.  In fact I got 2 goody bags because whilst I was debating if I wanted the small or extra small t-shirt (always difficult to know with unisex sizes) the man gave me both!

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I saw Kim and Keith waving and was very grateful they waited for me (for an hour!!), as I didn’t think I would find my way to the pub for lunch by myself.  We shuffled along to Salford Quays where I refueled on a chicken burger and cider (Kopperberg, which apparently is wanky London stuff…)

I eventually got home at 8pm and was absolutely exhausted (although Liam Gallagher was on my train so that made it more interesting, shame I both looked and smelt like a tramp).  I ate 2 bagels and went to bed, yes, 2!

I thought the Manchester Marathon was very well organised, especially after Rome.  The only small thing I would change would be to add some kind of sports drink at some of the stations.  I never drink a lot of this but I often get a craving for it in the later stages.  They did give out Shot Bloks though which I’m a big fan of (a bit strange to hear people shouting out ‘shots’ in the middle of a marathon!)

The race village, marshaling, water stations, crowd support and even the finish area were fantastic.

I would definitely recommend the Manchester Marathon but would I recommend running it 2 weeks after Rome? Only if you’re as tough as me!

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What I learnt from this marathon is that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.  Last year I thought running 2 marathons in a year would be too much for me but now I’ve run 4 in the last 12 months including 2 in the last 2 weeks!  I’ve also been overwhelmed by the support I received from everyone offering advice, encouragement and, most importantly, their faith.  Thank you.

The only problem now of course is that I have a double dose of the post marathon blues…

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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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26.2 on the streets of Frankfurt

Watching the wind whip the German flag outside the hotel round and round its own pole, and the street sign across the road move back and forth whilst we ate breakfast, it was clear that it was going to be a blustery day.  There was a storm approaching and we were about to run a marathon.  Perfect.

Arriving in Frankfurt on the Friday the weather was quite mild and pleasant, pretty damn good running conditions if it had stayed that way.  The hotel was ideally located less than a 10 minute walk from the Expo and the start line so it didn’t take long to collect our race numbers and goody bags of German magazines, dry pasta and a car air freshener (not the best goody bag…)

The rest of the day was spent taking a stroll through the fairly seedy red light district (apparently one of the largest in the world) and around the City past the Old Opera House and having a coffee in the main square, Romerberg.  It’s fair to say Frankfurt is fairly dull and uninspiring, which was probably a good thing as I didn’t really want to be caught up in being a tourist when I should have been saving energy.  However, the company of my Chaser buddies more than made up for it.

On the Saturday we took part in the 5k Pretzel Breakfast Run.  I’ve never run the day before a marathon before so I was a bit apprehensive but I was ready to try a new tactic and remind myself that I knew how to run.  It was actually enjoyable, despite the very heavy rain before it started which almost made me change my mind – in hindsight I was actually more worried about ‘jogging’ to the start with the boys than the 5k itself (their idea of jogging is my idea of a tempo run…) but they kept it easy!

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I spent the rest of Saturday pretty much with my feet up until it was time for dinner.  We’d found a great little Italian that served massive bowls of pasta the night before but they wouldn’t take us.  Who knew finding an Italian to cater for 12 on a Saturday night before a marathon in Germany would be a challenge?!  We convinced another restaurant we would be quick and they let us in – the highlight was James ordering pasta…and a pizza on the side just in case the pasta wasn’t big enough…

I slept pretty well despite the slight stress of the clocks changing, even a full on thunder storm failed to disturb me, and I didn’t wake until 4.30 which is pretty good for the night before a big race.  I had my porridge, worried futilely about the wind and rain and then it was time to go.

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As the hotel was so close we didn’t need to leave until an hour before the race started, all we had to do was drop off our bags and line up which was a refreshing change from usual pre-marathon travel panic.

Ruth & I ready to go!

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The start area wasn’t as well organised as I expected, it was pretty much a free for all.  It didn’t make much difference to me as I didn’t want to risk going off too fast (lesson learnt!) but the faster runners struggled to get near the front.

We were let off in waves to help congestion but as I crossed the start line the worst thing that could possibly happen at that moment happened.  Despite checking and double checking, my Garmin had gone onto standby.  Panic!!!  I had now started running and my watch was trying to locate satellites in an area of tall buildings whilst I was moving.  Luckily it didn’t take too long, I guessed I lost about 30 seconds before pressing start but I was more worried about my mile splits at that point anyway.

Despite being a fast and flat course, the same course in fact that Kipsang very nearly took the world record on 2 years earlier, fierce winds were going to be a problem. Then there was the rain, rain was forecast from 1.30 and with a late 10.30 start time I would be heading into the tough later miles at this point.  I don’t mind rain but I didn’t really fancy an additional challenge at mile 20!

The first 10k or so winded round the City centre, with crowds of supporters on the street, before heading out along the river Main and back along some kind of duel carriageway(?!) then heading through the City centre again.  Somewhere in that first 10K it started raining, luckily it didn’t last long but the stormy winds were to follow.

There’s a lack of water in the early stages – this made me quite thirsty later on so I had to really slow down at the water stations to be able to drink enough from the paper cups.  I know bottles can be a hazard but at least you can carry them with you and drink more than a couple of sips.  There was also some kind of fizzy drink and cola available, apparently it was flat, but it really wasn’t what I wanted at that point!

I paced well, I went off faster than goal pace but I held it quite steady until 22 miles so I don’t think it was an error.  I saw Ruth at around 26k which really lifted my spirits but we parted ways a few kilometers later.  After 22 miles the wind and fatigue got me, I was too tired to fight the gusts that were pushing me the wrong way.  By this point I knew I was going to miss my 3.45 goal and none of my mental tactics were working to keep me going.  I was sure it was going to end badly.

The finish was pretty spectacular – it ends inside the Festhalle on a red carpet with flashing lights and loud music, it’s a party zone.  It was a shame it didn’t last longer as it was over in a few seconds.  They funnel you out of the hall to collect your medal and there’s tables with various food and drink.  They still weren’t supplying bottles of water though, just poxy cups, why didn’t they understand I was thirsty???

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I crossed the finish line in 3.47.29…it wasn’t what I wanted…but it was a PB by 2 minutes.  It’s difficult not to be pleased with a PB, or the fact that I paced pretty well up until the last 4 miles but I still have mixed emotions.

Will I ever actually improve my time?  Whilst it was only 3 minutes quicker than London 6 months ago It was a massive improvement on strategy – it was a 4.5 minute positive split, much better than the 12.5 in London – at least I had improved something.

The post race area wasn’t easy to navigate.  You had to collect your bag from one floor of the Festhalle, and then return your chip somewhere else so you didn’t get charged €25, and try to get through all the supporters who kept walking into me…OK maybe I was walking into them…

I had just crossed the finish line, everything hurt like hell, I was disorientated, I didn’t know where to go, I was thirsty and I was about to cry.  Luckily I bumped into fellow Chaser Adam and was hugely grateful he helped me out so I didn’t need to cry in the end!

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I guess you learn something new in every marathon – this time I learnt that I was capable of pacing well, I just had to man up in the last 4 miles.  But I also learnt that maybe I’ll never be as fast as I want to be – my last 3 marathons have been just a couple of minutes apart, maybe that’s as good as it gets.

Anyway, it was time to park that thought and eat…

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…and drink!

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So, that’s marathon number 4.  I have a new PB so I guess that’s a successful marathon number 4.  Don’t get me wrong, I still want to smash it, and I’m not the type to just give up, I’m just not convinced I’m good enough.

What next?  Probably a Spring marathon, maybe Rome, maybe Hamburg, maybe Vienna…

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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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10k’s are for wimps*…

…I’ve drawn this inevitable conclusion after finishing my 4th 10k race in 6 weeks and still not clocked a new PB.  10ks are stupid.

Sunday was the RunThrough Clapham Common 10k and it was the hottest day of the year so far.  The Metro reported temperatures of 27 degrees in London, quite a contrast to the wind and rain just 7 days earlier (where I also blamed the weather for my under par performance…)

Saturday was also a beaut of a day and I found myself in a beer garden with a craving for cider.  I never drink before a race so this surprised my friend who was more than happy to join me for some fruity pear goodness (practically one of your 5 a day anyway).  Staying sober and sensible hasn’t done me any favours in the speed stakes so I thought I’d try the ‘fluid & carbs’ approach.  3 seemed about right.

I also made a careful effort to match my nails to my trainers to see if that improved my speed…

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Conclusion?  Well, neither of these things worked but you can’t compromise on style just because you’re a big sweaty mess and fluid & carbs are as important as oxygen (this is a fact), so I stand by my race prep.

It really was a hot, hot, hot day and I was even beginning to feel the heat as I left the house at 8.30am.   The sun was scorching as we set off on the 2 lap course and it wasn’t going to let up.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the sun and I love the heat but running in it is HARD, I even took a cup of water at 5k which I wouldn’t usually bother doing.  I finished in 48.16 and couldn’t get my hands on a bottle of Lucozade quick enough.  I’ll just call it a training run then.

The best part of the day was spotting super speedy Cat in the crowd, who I met for the first time at the Richmond Relays and meeting  Hannah & Lorna who I hadn’t met before but were both fabulous.  It’s always great to meet up with people who think the same way as you and, despite all being amazing runners doing amazing things, they all had their own self-doubts and concerns.  I think they’re just bloody brilliant.

On my way home from work yesterday I was trying to draw some positives from my recent 10k attempts and it wasn’t actually as difficult as I thought:

Race 1: I beat Paula Radcliffe, ran a time I was more than happy with 4 weeks after VLM and had a fab evening with Zoe & free Prosecco.

Race 2: I only bloody well came 2nd and am now the proud owner of a badass trophy!

Race 3: I was the 3rd female Chaser in Richmond which officially makes me a Surrey Road League Race points scorer.

Race 4: I met some truly inspirational runner chicks who reminded me of the true spirit of running and that’s something no timing chip or Garmin stat can ever take away from us.

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On the plus side, I didn’t ache at all yesterday which meant I was totally up for the Club social run and weekly bants with the Chasers – winner!

*Obviously I don’t really think 10ks are for wimps.  I have nothing but respect, admiration and embarrassing amounts of jealously for anyone who can nail this git of a distance that’s too long to put the pedal to the floor from the off and too short to make excuses for. RESPECT