Category Archives: Running

Photo of AM and Gemma

Canalathon – Bring Me Sunshine

So onto Canalathon itself. With the camper van loaded with enough food to feed a small army, we set off on a sunny Saturday afternoon from the Wirral. Ellie had driven up from Cardiff the night before and, after a stint at Birkenhead parkrun, we set off.

Our weekend base for the race

Photo of Littleborough Cottage

We almost didn’t do the race!

Ellie was our super star organiser and found us a fantastic cottage near Littleborough, about 25 minutes drive from the start of the race. I’ll have to try hard not to talk too much about this place as it really was beautiful. The views were spectacular and the house was luxurious. We had underfloor heating throughout the house with digital controls for the heating. Jon will no doubt do a better job than me of describing the ensuite bathrooms with built in TVs! My only complaint was that I wasn’t able to turn down the heating at night. I ended up waking in the night a few times because it was so hot.

We joked among us that we wouldn’t bother doing the race and we would just chill in the house and eat the mountain of food that we brought. As I had developed a cold that week, albeit a fairly minor one, I was seriously tempted!

The morning of the race

Photo of Team Green T shirts

Team Green Ultra Division reporting for duty

It was an early start and even earlier as the clocks went forward that day. The weather was promising. Cold but sunny and dry. Off we went to Sowerby Bridge where the Race HQ was stationed. We had opted to register here and catch the coach to Manchester from where we would run back to Sowerby Bridge.

I had a slight snag on registering to find that they didn’t have my pre-ordered T shirt. I was advised that one would be brought to the finish later and I could pick it up then. There was a bobble hat in my pack which I hadn’t ordered but I was told just to keep it. I was surprised later to find that my results hadn’t been recorded (later rectified with no issues). I was told that I had been recorded as a DNS and I think the marshals forgot to mark me as present because of the T shirt issues.

I have seen comments in other blogs that it seems a bit odd to be given your race pack with the medal in it before the race. I agree: I would much prefer that it was handed out at the end. It would be a nice touch if a marshal could put it round your neck at the end of the race.

The race

Photo of Team Green

Team green ready to start.

The race starts in a car park in Manchester before heading onto the canal. We didn’t have a long wait in the pre-race toilets and, quite quickly after that, we were off. What surprised me was that as soon as I started running, my cold seemed to dry up (I had spent most of the coach journey  trying to stifle my cough) and I felt quite good.

What also surprised me was that the first half was a gradual uphill. Not so much that you noticed it but once we reached “the Summit” it was noticeably easier. But I am getting ahead of myself as we have yet to reach the first checkpoint at 10.9 miles. A welcome sight, it had real food. I found myself rather partial to the ham wraps and the Jaffa Cakes, of course.

On paper the spacing of the aid stations looks ok with 4 stations in total but on the day, I found the gap between the aid station at Rochdale at 10.9 miles and Walsden at 20 miles too great. It was warming up by now and it would have been good to at least have a water station halfway between both.

Photo of Helen Bly and Adam

A sight for sore eyes (and tired feet)

This made the “sweet shop” set up by Helen Bly and Adam Jones, just past the Summit, all the more welcome. Helen saved us a can of proper Coca Cola. I don’t normally take caffeine as I have had palpitations and headaches in the past but I really wanted a drink so I took some. It may have been psychological and it was certainly a boost to see Helen and Adam. I felt ready to take on the rest of the race.

Walsden was a lovely aid station and the marshals there couldn’t have been nicer. They filled up our water bottles for us, encouraged us to eat and generally were very encouraging. I took on some more Coca Cola. I was in danger of developing an addiction, but it tasted really good. Some more ham wraps and Jaffa cakes and I felt ready for the last 11 miles.

A race full of surprises, I remember being surprised at 20 miles that nothing really hurt as it had when doing the Liverpool Rock and Roll marathon. It took until 26 miles before I felt that familiar ache in my hips and quads.

Photo of AM and Gemma

“Bring me sunshine in your smile, bring me laughter all the while”

Gemma and I were still running together.  As Gemma has done this race in 2016, we started chatting about her previous time. She had completed it in 6 hours 59 minutes. Looking at our times so far, I calculated we could beat that so after the last aid station (rocket fuelled by 3 cups of coca cola), we dug in. I am sure know for a fact that Gemma was tired of hearing me saying: let’s get it done!  And we got it done in 6 hours 43 minutes, a huge 16 minute PB for Gemma and a PB  over a new distance for me.

After the race

Photo of Team Green

We’ve all just run 50km and we’re still smiling!

It was welcome sight to see Brian and Jon at the finish, both having made it over the line around the 6 hour mark. I made it back to Race HQ to pick up my promised T shirt only to find that I had been given a 75k T shirt. By this time I was too tired to try to sort it out so I just took it rather than try to get the correct T shirt. Gemma had the same issue.

A reunion with Ellie soon followed, back in the camper van and off to our lovely cottage for the much anticipated roast dinner Ellie promised us. How she had the energy to cook, I do not know. It was a perfect end to a fantastic weekend.

Overall impressions

When the weather is kind, everything is so much nicer and so it was with Canalathon. There were a few glitches with the t shirt and hat and my results weren’t initially recorded. I think there could have been another water station in between miles 10 and 20. There doesn’t need to be a full blown aid station or timing mat but a water station would have been a great help. I’d prefer to be given my medal at the end of the race.

Ultimately though this is a well organised race, the marshals were great, the coach transfer went smoothly and the route is picturesque. For me, what made this race most enjoyable was sharing it with friends. The oft quoted African proverb rings true here: “If you want to run fast, go alone. If you want to run far, run together.” Given my illness, injury and doubts about my ability to complete this, this is what got me through.

The strange thing about doing ultras is that your mindset starts to change. I was adamant that I would never run anymore than 50km and now I wonder if I could do the 75k next year…I do need to earn that T shirt…

 

 

Prelude to Canalathon – Why does it always rain on me?

An ultra marathon is a BIG undertaking. The initial blog post I planned was also BIG! So I have split it in two. Here’s the details on the training and the run up to Canalathon. It didn’t all go to plan…

Training

I entered this race in July 2017. I can’t remember how it all came together but I planned to do the race with my team green friends (from UKrunchat on Twitter), Gemma, Jon, Brian and Ellie.

My training plan included Conwy Half Marathon in November, Cakeathon in January 2018 as a marathon and then, the big one, Canalathon 50k in March 2018.

Photo of AM on Great Orme

I went back to pain face after this was taken!

Conwy was a great race. The weather was beautiful and the views across the Great Orme were spectacular.  The medal was one of my favourites of the 12 medals I earned during 2017. I had a niggly calf during the race though which developed into full blown calf strain about a week later during one of my run group sessions. I had only just recovered from that and managed one run when I came down with flu. Proper flu, the kind where you can’t fathom how people manage to get dressed and get out of the house type flu. Christmas was a write off as we all came down with it.

I did Wepre parkrun on New year’s day thinking I was much better but I was wrong! I wheezed and puffed my way round the course and felt only slightly better when I learned that it has the second hardest elevation of any parkrun in the UK.

I was trying to build up the mileage ready for Cakeathon at the end of January. I had wanted to do this race for a while. I had seen so many tweets from people brandishing this absolutely enormous medal and, as I like a nice piece of bling, I was intrigued. When I heard the race was coming to Yorkshire (it’s normally in Kent which is a 5 hour drive for me!), I signed up immediately.

Also my calf strain returned when I tried to increase my running. It didn’t bode well for doing a full marathon at Cakeathon at the end of January. I was lucky enough to win a free physiotherapy treatment in a Twitter competition, though, so I got some treatment and felt much better.

Photo of cakes

Cake table groaning with yummy cakes.

I drove over the night before and stayed in a local pub near the start. It was a fairly low key event with about 300 taking part. We congregated in the community centre in Peniston for the race briefing and to ogle all the cakes. I had brought a marble cake for the cake competition but no prizes for me on that front. It was great to see Helen Bly, Colin and Keith Johnstone and to meet a few others for the first time.

The course was straight forward laps of 4.37 miles along the Penine Way which ran behind the community centre.  3 laps made for a half marathon and 6 for a marathon. I had really wanted to do a marathon here but I just wasn’t fit. I was determined to do a half marathon and in fact managed 4 laps or about 17 miles.

Photo of AM

How many more laps before I can eat some more rocky road?

Running up and down the path was not the most interesting after a while but it meant that you constantly saw other runners so it wasn’t as isolating if you were a slower runner like me (especially slow that day!). We managed most of the race in the dry with some rain showers towards the end of my last lap.

The aid station was back at the community centre so when you completed a lap, you had your card stamped and helped yourself to plenty of crisps and cake. I was drawn to the rocky road which I later learned was made by Rachel, the race organiser. She reckoned that the secret of its success is that she adds a bit extra salt.

 

Photo of Cakeathon medal

The medal is as big as my kettle!

I was happy with 17 miles on the day as I remember just being really perplexed as to how unfit I felt for all of January. Flu is a horrible illness and really takes it out of you. I didn’t feel properly well until the week before Cakeathon, when I finally shook the annoying little cough. I  seriously considered pulling out of Canalathon as I wouldn’t have been able to prepare properly and with 50km at stake, you really have to respect the distance.

Although I came down with yet another cold and missed Mad Dog 10K, after that, things went a bit better and I recorded my highest ever mileage month in February at 166.2 km, including at 32 km run around the northern half of the Wirral.

Photo of AM in Oban

Feeling the runner’s high once I reached Oban!

My favourite training run was what felt like an epic point to point run from my in-laws in Port Appin to Oban, a total of 34.5km. I followed the cycle path all the way to Oban (although it disappears in some places and I had cut through a camp site at one stage!). It was quite magical too because I also saw a red squirrel, a deer and an eagle all in the space of 10 minutes about halfway through the run. They all disappeared before I could get my camera out, of course!  It was much more hilly than I expected, especially the last 10km but on the final downhill into Oban, I felt invincible and on a real runner’s high.

This was a turning point for me as I finally felt that I was as ready as I would ever be for the ultra. The cloud had lifted.

 

Photo of Race Angels

Angels with Sweaty Faces

It all started with an innocuous message on Messenger. “Hiya! What’s your diary like 8th April?”  A quick check of the family calendar on the wall revealed that it was currently clear but it was in the middle of the kids’ Easter holidays so there was always the possibility that we would go to Scotland.

So I replied: “Intriguing…should I clear my diary?” Well, came the reply, I’m looking for a Race Angel to help out at Manchester Marathon that day…

Now let’s rewind and explain a bit more before we go on. I had seen the Race Angels at races before. I had even been offered some help from a lovely lady in their trademark orange T shirts during the Wirral half marathon (yes, the one I did in 2 hours and 4 seconds – still gutted about those 5 seconds!) I saw them more recently at Conwy Half Marathon but thankfully didn’t need their help.

Race Angels is the brainchild of Adrienne Hall. She did her first marathon at Chester in 2013 and was a couple of miles from the end, finding the going a bit tough when she asked a spectator how far she had to go. Despite not being in running clothes or shoes, he ran with Adrienne for a little bit and told her she didn’t have far to go. Adrienne then repaid the favour at the Dublin Rock and Roll half marathon by encouraging someone to finish. He told her she was his angel and the concept was born.

I decided that it was too good an opportunity to turn down and the diary now had a very important event in it. Arrangements were made to share a lift with Peter (another Race Angel virgin!) and Julie (her second outing as a Race Angel). As we discussed after, because we hadn’t met before, it was like a weird blind date, but with it being the running community, we all got on famously and a big thanks to Julie for doing all the driving with an extra early start.

I joked beforehand that I would get all the race atmosphere without any of the performance nerves. However I still got the night before nerves that I would miss my alarm and kept waking up during the night. When the alarm went off at 5.15 am, I was very bleary eyed.

Race Angels in Warrington

The T shirt handing over ceremony!

We met up with Adrienne and Geoff in Liverpool and travelled in convoy to Warrington to meet Darren, Clare and Stephen, making up the entire team of 8 for the day. Race Angel T shirts were handed over in the car park of a Warrington hotel and then we were on our way to Manchester.

We set up shop at around mile 24. There was a water station opposite a pub where we stationed ourselves. We ran to the start to see the runners go off and lend our support.

A much needed coffee on our way back to our position at mile 24 and we were ready to put our halos on and spring into action. It felt quite privileged to see the front runners, not something I normally see in a race. It was astonishing to watch them running at a pace I would be hard pushed to sustain during a parkrun.

Photo of Race Angels

We always wanted to be on the stage!

Peter would not forgive me if I didn’t mention this: among the front runners, there were so many men with bleeding nipples, it was unbelievable. I grimaced every time I saw one and Peter thought this was hilarious so I started to laugh too. But honestly there were so many. Have they not heard of Vaseline? The pain must have been unreal.

Finally I was summoned to help. A lady in a Knowsley Harriers vest (I think) asked me to run with her as she was trying to get Good For Age qualification. Luckily I was on fresh legs so I managed to pull out my best 10K pace and saw her to mile 25 when she ran on, hopefully a bit revitalised, although I don’t know how she managed that pace at that point in the race.

From there on in, I barely stopped for the next 4 hours. I lost count of the number of people I helped but I remember that I ran with 7 people who were very emotional. Much like myself at Liverpool Rock and Roll marathon last year, the whole experience can be a bit overwhelming and I think that it’s the body’s way of releasing that tension and allowing you to get on with the job. I used that experience and tried to make them feel that it was not silly to be emotional at this point, that loads of us had got emotional during a marathon and, more importantly, they were now at mile 25 and only just over a mile to go. Other people were not so emotional but were perhaps tired and if their race had not gone to plan, maybe a bit disappointed so hopefully a friendly chat and a walk alongside them would be a pick me up.

#Visorclub rules!

I really enjoyed seeing a lot of my Twitter buddies. It was like a who’s who of the UKrunchat group! Colin and Keith Johnstone, Helen Bly, Anthony Hughes, Michele Taylor, Paul Addicott and Phil Jeffries doing their sterling work as pacers, and Michele Whiffen, and who took this great pic of us. Others waved as they went past, too many of you to mention.

All the Race Angels were working equally hard and I barely saw any of them until I stopped around 3pm. When I checked my Garmin, including the run to the start and back, I had covered nearly 16 miles! No wonder I felt tired. Nothing that a late lunch wouldn’t sort though as we watched the (rather luxurious!) sweeper bus come through.

When I said yes to Adrienne’s message, hand on heart, I didn’t really think it through. I like running, and I like meeting people so it seemed a good fit for me. So the icing on the cake came when, that evening, my social media went into overdrive with lovely comments from runners who we had helped. It felt very rewarding to hear that we had made a difference to someone’s race experience.

Hats off to Adrienne for creating a wonderful concept; proof that the running community is stuffed full of amazing people. I’ll be back at Liverpool Rock and Roll marathon proudly wearing my orange T shirt. Check out the Race Angels page on Facebook and on Twitter @RaceAngels to see if they will be at your next race!

Book review- Fat Girls’ Guide to Marathon Running by Julie Creffield

Book cover

You all know already that I love running. Most of you will know that I love reading books. Books about running combine two of my passions and are my favourite thing! So when I was kindly offered a pre-print copy of Julie Creffield’s book – Fat Girls Guide to Marathon Running for review, I was one of the first in the queue.

You might think that the book is not all that relevant to me as I am not overweight. I have been at the top end of my healthy BMI on occasion but could never be described as a plus size runner. However, regardless of your size, you will find that we are all runners here and a lot of the advice is true for all runners. Having done my first marathon this year, I was curious to see if there was anything in there that I would have liked to have known before I raced (the answer is yes, how does it really feel after mile 20?)

Running a marathon is not easy as we all know. If you are plus sized, it seems to be even more of a difficult task due to the comments that such runners have to put up with. Thankfully I have never been subjected to any of that (other than the usual: isn’t it bad for your knees? *eye roll*). Such a revelation that people can be so blinkered and prejudicial. Wouldn’t we be better using that energy to applaud anyone who gets off the sofa and decides to do something about their health?

So let’s talk a bit more about the book itself. Julie’s refreshing honesty is what makes this book special. It’s a bit like sitting down and having a chat with a good friend or a wise sage from your running club. Someone who has been there and done that and got the race T shirt to prove it.

Julie covers things to think about before signing up to the marathon – discovering why you want to run this marathon and discusses some of the logistics of actually signing up. She talks candidly about the training that will be required. Then you need to “sign up or shut up” to the marathon. Give yourself plenty of time to train, especially if you are starting from scratch.

Training and creating your own running plan is also covered and, if you are new to running, a guide to running terms is very handy. What on earth is a Yasso 800? Julie covers it.

I found it interesting to have a view from the back of the race, dealing with the dreaded sweeper bus. Most marathons have a cut-off point to allow the roads to be re-opened. Julie provides some very sensible advice about planning your pacing to make sure you aren’t caught by the sweeper bus. There is no sugar coating it: you will need to run a fair proportion of the race to ensure that you are not scooped up by the bus.

If you are expecting detailed marathon training plans, this is not the book for you. It is probably best for beginner runners or for those making the transition up to marathons. Where this book exels is covering the kind of detail that no-one else does, what does a race day actually feel like, what goes on your head while running, how to deal with others and their reactions to your running.

It seems to me to be a great motivator to be the best runner you can be, to help you adopt an athlete mindset and to help you ignore the naysayers, regardless of the size of your body.  Make 2018 the year you finally take the plunge towards fulfilling any long held marathon dreams.

 

AM finishing the marathon

42.2 kilometres – the answer to life, the universe and everything?

The roller coaster ride is over. The race is done and I have returned to walking normally – DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) has a lot to answer for! So how do I feel now about the Liverpool Rock and Roll marathon a few weeks (actually now months) on?

First, shall we go back to the start of the race? Having stayed at my sister’s the night before, (she lives within walking distance of the start), I got a great night’s sleep and did not suffer any nerves on race morning. The one good thing about doing triathlon is that when you come to do “just” a running race, there is much less to think about. So I walked along to the start to see off my cousin who was doing her very first half marathon. The race start was delayed by 15 minutes or so because the Manchester bombing the week before meant that the security at the bag drop had been more stringent. It didn’t seem to dampen the spirits and eventually with a loud cheer they were all off.

AM at the start

Fresh faced at the start. Kids with cow bells ready for cheering!

I then made my way to my allocated Corral for the start of the marathon and bumped into my parkrun/Twitter/sometime running buddy, Brian. We started in waves which is a great idea so that you can find space to run in at the start. The first band at Pier Head was fantastic. Perhaps it was the adrenaline of finally having started but their rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “You can go your own way” changed to “You can run your own way” was very stirring. Unfortunately, they were easily the best band on the course and the music went a bit downhill after that (unlike the course!)

I caught up with the 4 hours 30 minute pacer and stuck with them for a good part of the way. Both pacers were great; keeping up a running commentary and banter. We ran past both football stadiums of Everton and Liverpool with Stanley Park sandwiched between them. I have never been in Stanley park before – what a revelation! The newly restored glass house was gorgeous and I marvelled at the craftmanship in the red sandstone bandstand.

I was glad of the pacer’s advice for short steps going up hill as there were plenty at this stage! It treated us to great views of the city but I was glad to be heading back down Islington to the City Centre and the flatter part of the course.

It was at this point I needed to make a toilet stop, roughly 8-9 miles in. I heeded advice (relayed to me by Brian) from a friend who ran the London Marathon. I decided to go to the toilet at that point rather than hanging on. I believe it is rather more difficult to get off the toilet at the later stages of the marathon when one’s legs may have started to seize up! I noticed an empty toilet on Islington and seized the opportunity. I waved goodbye to the pacer for now but astonishingly managed to catch them up on the water front, just as we were passing the Albert Dock.

When I emerged from the toilet, I started to run with another runner who had come up from London but who was originally from South Africa. We chatted a little but we were both quite content to run alongside each other in silence. We parted ways in Sefton Park when he said that he couldn’t quite keep up the pace. I had also crossed paths a few times with Lisa from Huddersfield who was also doing her first marathon and chatted with her. The great thing about a marathon is the opportunity to chat to people as you are on your feet for a long time (especially at my pace) and anything helps to break up the monotony.

As we left Sefton Park, about the 17 mile mark, I was beginning to tire and the pacers were starting to drift away from me. Although I was keen to hit 4 hours 30 minutes, I surprised myself by being fairly philosophical about this and I held onto the thought that this was my first marathon and just to finish was an achievement.

At mile 18, we hit Penny Lane and yes, the Beatles song of the same name was playing on repeat at this point. I am not sure why but this was the first of two points during the race that I began to sob. I had been warned that this might happen and I think it is just a little release of tension! I saw Gemma, another parkrun/Twitter buddy at this point and got myself together just in time for a high five.

I thought that would be it but no, I had another little cry at mile 20. This time, I think, was actual disappointment as we had run round the back roads in the Mossley Hill Drive area and emerged a lot further back on Aigburth Road than I anticipated. I really was making a lot of noise by this stage and I apologise now to two male runners who I startled with my sobbing and heavy breathing as I tried to keep running!

I got a bit of relief on the downhill section to Otterspool Promenade but by the time I turned onto the prom itself my hips were beginning to complain. I knew it was nothing serious, just the effort of running 22 miles had caught up with me. I had to grit my teeth and get on with it. I stopped for a few walking breaks for the first time in the whole race. There wasn’t much music left at this stage (even though there was supposed to be a band every mile) and the support had thinned out too. One man did spur me on as I started to run again after a walking break and he said “That’s it, Mersey Tri, we will pretend you never took that walking break!” Typical Scouse humour to get me through and I loved it.

AM finishing the marathon

My imaginary sandwich photo!

Just as I turned into the last mile, I saw Jon Rumley, Mr Birkenhead parkrun himself. He wasn’t running but doing a grand job of supporting with supplies of Jaffa Cakes and Fruit Pastilles. Had I not been in so much pain in my hips and legs, I would have gladly stopped, but I just wanted it to be over and for the pain to stop so I waved feebly and ran/hobbled on.

Finally the finish gantry was in sight. All thoughts on my finishing time were gone, I just needed to finish now. Somehow I managed to pick up the pace in the finish chute, although it took all my effort and an imaginary sandwich(!) as you can see from the photo.

AM and twins at finish

Smiles and bling at the finish. The kids did the mile race for a yellow submarine medal!

The overwhelming emotion I felt as I crossed the line was relief. Relief that it was over and I could stop running; relief that I had achieved a lifelong aim of completing a marathon; relief that it was a respectable time of 4 hours 37 minutes and relief to be reunited with my family, after collecting my bling and goody bag. No more tears at this stage although I did have a wobble in my voice as I was talking to another runner at the end of the race as we walked through the Echo Arena picking up our post race goodies.

My final thoughts on the race are:

  1. The wave starts are a great idea because it meant you could get running at your own pace relatively quicker.
  2. The route around Liverpool was great, taking in all the major sights. Effectively a running tour of the city.
  3. Apart from the band at Pier Head, the promised bands/music every mile were not great. Some were not playing when we ran past and by the end of the race, most had packed up and gone home! There should at least be music playing even if it was not live.
  4. The bling was amazing. I didn’t really like the design of the medal but there’s no denying its weight and “blinginess”.
  5. I was disappointed that the finisher’s T shirt was the same for the half marathon and marathon. I want people to know that I ran the full 26.2!
  6. Overall a great race and I would do it again, save for the fact that I want to do different challenges next year.

So here’s the thing. I started this blog post about 3 weeks after the marathon. I was going through a particularly stressful time at work and I never finished writing it. My thoughts at the time were that I felt great having done the marathon but I didn’t suddenly become invincible because I had run 26 miles all in one go. I still had to go back to work with all its stress. Running was no panacea to life’s ills. Those were my thoughts at the time (and still are) hence the headline for this post.  

At the beginning of July, I was signed off work with stress and anxiety by my very understanding GP. I haven’t been back to work since and have now resigned from my job. If you know me, follow my Twitter or my Adventurous Mum page, you will know that I went onto do my quadrathlon and Coniston End to End swim (spoiler alert!). I even amazed myself that I was able to keep training and contemplate completing the events. The thing is that it was my training that kept me afloat; it was my stress relief; it was fresh air and sunshine; it was socialising with my tri and running buddies and all of that prevented me from sliding into a heap in the corner. I am grateful that my family understood this and continued to support me.

So here are some of the things I hope you will take away from this post:

  1. Don’t believe that everyone on social media has a perfect life. Had you looked at any of my online profiles, it looked as though it was business as usual for me. I couldn’t share this until now as I was still employed and also, I am not one to seek out online sympathy (I did plenty of that off line!). I share it now because I am now able to, and if it makes one person feel better about their troubles, then it has been worthwhile.
  2. There are so many inspirational people out there sharing amazing stories of how running has changed their life because they lost a lot of weight, got fitter and met wonderful people in the running community. Everyone likes a Cinderella type story and I got sucked in too. I believed that once I had run the marathon, I would develop a shield against the things that were troubling me: stress at work in my case.
  3. What is important though is that running/exercise can help you cope with those stresses.  It cannot take the life events and stress away but it can help how you respond to the stress. I have no doubt that had I not stuck with my training, I would be in a worse state now and not able to contemplate going back to work (in a different job obviously) at this stage.
  4. Don’t underestimate the healing power of your friends and family. There are so many wonderful people out there in the running and tri communities. My tri buddies got me out on my bike and to keep up my swimming.  Some of you may not have known my circumstances this summer but it helped just to be out socialising and talking normal running stuff. Running may not necessarily change your life but meeting some fantastic people along the way has got to be one of the best benefits.

 

I blame my sister for all this. If she hadn’t done the Glasgow marathon in the early 1980’s when I was an impressionable teenager, I may not be in this situation.  I remember running some of the last few miles with her. Heck, I even remember her Hi Tec Silver Shadow trainers! For years, I have looked at her finisher’s photo sitting in her hall and said to myself, I’m going to do a marathon one day. I’m not sure why I waited until the ripe old age of 47 to do it other than it is a VERY HARD THING TO DO. Only 1% of the population has done a marathon.

As you read this post, I’ll ask you to bear in mind that I have been lucky in the last 3 years and have been relatively injury free. The problem seems to stem from the fact that Asics have changed their Cumulus 18 (my preferred trainer) slightly. The toe box is much narrower which caused me problems at the beginning of the marathon training plan.  A cold on week 1 of the plan didn’t help. Neither did blisters at Wrexham Half marathon (did you know I got blisters at that race??)  A calf tear at around week 4 of the plan and I began to despair that I would ever get started on the training “proper.”

I wasn’t feeling the marathon love and wondered if I had taken on too much. It didn’t help that I was extremely busy at work. I didn’t actually realise how much I wanted to do the marathon until that point. I thought that it was just something for my bucket list, to tick off the endurance athlete’s list. But my sister’s photo was always there at the back of my mind and it slowly began to dawn on me that I wanted to do the marathon very badly. I find that, when you want to do something badly, the fear of failing at it can be strong. I had never grown up wanting to do a triathlon so never really thought too much about it! I resolved to “feel the fear and do it anyway.”

Photo of Garmin 920 XT

Longest ever run (until the following week when I managed 32 km!)

Finally the calf tear healed and I was able to start building up the mileage towards the end of March. Into April and three consecutive weeks of following the plan and building up the long runs through 16 miles (26 km), then 18 (29 km) and finally the hallowed grail of a 20 mile (32km) training run, the last one done on my own in 3 hours 28 minutes. Woo hoo! The roller coaster was in the ascendant.

I had been very careful about my recovery from the long runs too. Stretching as soon as I got in; eating within 30 minutes; a nice hot shower; compression leggings on after and even some afternoon naps! I really thought I was on course to complete the training without further problems.

I had reverted to my old trainers for long runs, using my new ones for Short Runs during the week. This week I succumbed to buying a new pair of Asics Dinaflyte, not for wearing in the marathon, but for the shorter runs. I was absolutely gutted in their first outing that I suffered calf pain.

Photo of Asics Dynaflyte

New kicks – in Mersey tri colours!

Another trip to the sports massage therapist told me that I had strained my tibilas posterior muscle. i don’t have much pain in normal everyday life but it hurts a lot when I try to run. Cycling and swimming are fine. I will have to go back for more treatment this week and to have it strapped up.

I am calm at the moment as I still have 3 weeks and 6 days to go to the Liverpool Rock and Roll marathon. On the other hand, I am able to say, I am doing my first marathon this month! I am due to do one more 20 mile run before the race but it’s unclear if I will get that in.

Like life itself, in marathon training, you have to take the rough with the smooth. Patience is needed in abundance (a muscle of mine that needs more exercise!) And you just have to hope for the best otherwise what’s the point? Hopefully I will be able to display my finisher’s photo in the hall at the end of May…Wish me luck!

Any advice from seasoned marathoners? How is everyone else’s training going?

 

A new race on my doorstep? On a route on which I regularly train? Flat course? Loads of my running friends doing it too? Sounded good to me. Which explains why on a Friday night at the end of September I found myself signing up for the inaugural Wirral Way Half Marathon on 8 January 2017 and joining in on lots of excited chatter on social media.

I have done a January half marathon before – see my related blog post below for my review of the 4 Villages half marathon last year which I loved doing. I felt I couldn’t do both (although I wish I had now!) so I thought to myself that the Wirral Way Half Marathon had better be pretty special. I signed up to an ASICS plan (you can find them online) which tailors the training to your goals and time available and I started training at the end of October (once I had recovered from the Metric Marathon).

Photo of Loch Creran

Scotland – a place where the scenery is good for the soul

Training was going pretty well until the week before Christmas when I came down with a cold. Luckily it wasn’t a truly nasty cold. I was able to carry on with the preparations for Christmas and I “only” lost a week’s training. We also went to Scotland for Christmas and Storms Barbara and Connor meant that I lost a little bit more time. On the plus side, I enjoyed a long run on the Oban to Fort William cycle path. There’s nothing like running in very picturesque surroundings to boost the spirit.

Back home to the Wirral to the pre-race information or in my case, the lack of it. I had to rely on my parkrun buddies to forward it to me. As other people noted, it didn’t fill me with confidence because it was full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors (so I had better make sure this blog post is perfect on both fronts!).  The race organisers weren’t able to secure closure of the roads at the crossing points so that meant that these were being manned by marshals and we may have to stop. I wouldn’t have put my safety over a PB but I really wanted that sub 2 hour half marathon.

Photo of AM and parkrun buddies

Parkrun buddies Brian and Gemma looking good at the start of the race

Surprisingly the race day weather was good. Very little wind, about 6 degrees and only very light rain was forecast.  The absence of wind was a decisive factor in my decision on the morning of the race to push for the PB even with the road crossings.

The nice thing about racing locally is knowing a lot of people also doing the race. So there were lots of familiar faces in the car park at Hooton station where the race was to start. The difference with this race was that the start times were staggered as the start of the course was very narrow. There were quite a few people I knew in my 9.30am wave start so was happy to chat to them as we waited to start. I did get hemmed in at the beginning so that my first kilometre was 6.26 minutes but after that I managed to get clear and started to pass people. Much more satisfying to pick people off in a race than being passed anyway.

Photo of AM at Wirral Way HM

4 miles in and feeling good…(photo credit to Paul Avison)

The “southern” parts of the Wirral way were not entirely unknown to me as I have been on every part of it before at some point. However, I haven’t been on them for a long time so they were “fresh” to me and I enjoyed this element of the race. At 4 miles in, I was feeling pretty good, doing a reasonable pace and felt that I could run all day.

The light rain started soon after and I regretted my decision not to wear my peaked cap. But it was quite cooling so I pushed on. I thought that I might struggle going past the finish at around 9-10 miles but as there were loads of friends out supporting, it was quite a boost. Only 3 miles to go and still on course for sub 2 hours!

Just one and half miles later, I nearly lost the plot at Cubbins Green. I thought we were just turning round there but staying on the path. So when we had to run down onto the Green itself with its bumpy grass and muddy climb up back to the path, I lost precious time and my inner critic (my chimp!) told me that it was no good and to abandon all hope of a sub 2 hour finish.  I really had to pull it together and told that little voice to shut up, that we were doing this or else! Sheer determination got me to the finish in 1 hour 59 minutes and 38 seconds. Finally achieved the goal, and it felt good.

Photo of medal from Wirral way Half Marathon

First bling of 2017

Great to see so many people at the finish and I was able to share out my yummy cupcakes I had arranged for my birthday (it was the day before). Most people were tucking into the hog roast laid on at the finish but I stuck to cake. The medal was pretty ,if a little small, and the red T shirt made a nice change although my only small gripe with this was that it didn’t refer specifically to the Wirral Way so please take note race organisers if you read this! Otherwise I thought this was a great race which surpassed initial expectations. Most of my friends had a positive experience too.

The great thing about the running community is how supportive it is and this race was no exception. Thanks to my Mersey Tri friends Collette and Sue for picking me up and taking me to the start, thanks to my parkrun buddies for support before the race, thanks to my running group friends for their support on the course and, most of all, thanks to my family, who would rather be doing other stuff than coming out on cold January morning to support a mad woman who is obsessed with running 13.1 miles in under 2 hours!

Photo of AM and family

At the finish with Adventurous Son and Daughter – “Euuw mummy you’re all wet!”

 

 

 

 

 

Despite it being almost December, (how did that happen so quickly?) I am still very much in catch up mode with all my races so wanted to round up all the running I did in September and early October in one handy blog post.

I started September by having one of those “you know you’re a runner when” moments. In this case “you know you’re a runner when you get on a plane to do a race!” Probably something that lots of people do all the time but it was a new experience for me. I combined it with seeing my extended family most of whom live in Donegal, Ireland (where my parents came from) but some in Derry/Londonderry (I’m just going to call it Derry from here on in) where I was going to run the half marathon. As my cousins pointed out I didn’t need to do a half marathon to come and see them but it sounded a great route so why not do both?

Photo of AM in Derry

About to start the race with the Peace Bridge behind me

One of the benefits of doing a race away from home is that I could take it relatively easy the date before the race. My sister and niece came with me and we spent most of Saturday sat around catching up with our cousins!

Race day was the usual Irish weather, sunshine and showers but not too much wind. The start of the race was delayed by 1 hour though because there had been a fatal accident on the route the night before and the police were still conducting their investigations. The announcements kept putting the race off by 15 minutes so we couldn’t head off anywhere. I did wonder about fuelling up. I had brought an extra cereal bar so I managed to get that in me but I hadn’t brought anything else to eat en route and you will see later that this was a fateful decision.

Just before the start at 11am, the heavens opened and continued to rain until I had finished the first mile when, in typical Irish fashion, the sun came out and a rainbow appeared.

Photo of AM with Guinness

The Guinness was the best I’d ever had!

The route took us over the Foyle Bridge, a steep murderous ascent which seemed to go on for a very long time. I kept running (no walking) but was very grateful to see the downhill stretch. From there, the rest of route was flat so I tried to pick up the pace again to try to break my elusive sub 2 hours for a half marathon. I was still on track at 10 miles but  (you knew there was a but on its way), at this point, you could see the faster runners who had nearly completed the race head over the Peace Bridge towards the finish on the other side of the river. I found it soul destroying that I still had 3 miles to go and, on top of that, those 3 miles seemed to take forever! I think the delayed start and my lack of fuelling was having an effect as I really did start to slow down. Another runner saw me struggling and offered me some jelly beans which were a life saver allowing me to push on. Possibly only a psychological effect but it worked so I didn’t care what it was!

Finally I got back to the bridge and to the finish line in 2 hours and 6 minutes and 26 seconds…still chasing that sub 2 hour finish time…one of these days! I enjoyed the race overall with its stunning route but enjoyed my post run Sunday lunch with Guinness and the craic with my cousins even more.

The very next weekend, I was doing a race closer to home , the Wirral 10K allegedly helping my cousin who was doing her first 10k with her pacing. I say allegedly because my own Garmin decided to “die” about 1 km into the race. I am not sure what happened as I had charged it the night before. Possibly I had overcharged it?

Anyway, my cousin had her own watch so we ended up relying on it and I just kept chatting the whole way round as a distraction technique. It certainly worked for me because it seemed to take no time at all to get to New Brighton and the finish line. My cousin did amazingly well for her first 10k coming in at 56:33 (with me a second behind at 56:34) and we were 8th and 9th in our age category. I think she must have enjoyed it as she has entered 2 more 10Ks since then and is even to be heard muttering about the Liverpool Rock n Roll half marathon!

And finally, possibly my favourite race of the year, the Chester Metric Marathon on 2 October. What is a metric marathon I hear you ask. 26.2km or about 16.3 miles. I don’t think there is anywhere else in the country that does this distance. It seemed to me to be a nice step up from a half marathon to test myself to see if I was capable of stepping up to a marathon distance.

Things got a little bit complicated when I won the Chester marathon’s competition for an overnight stay in a local hotel the night before the race but was told Adventurous Twins couldn’t come. As Adventurous Daughter was running in the Mini marathon, this was a bit disappointing. Even more frustrating was checking in and being told that we had a family room after all! We had arranged for two of my wonderful friends to have the twins to stay and one of them even brought my daughter to the hotel in the morning to meet us.

Photo of AM and Tamsin

I know my place…

It was a gorgeous sunny morning and we decided to get a taxi to get us as close as possible to the Chester racecourse where the start was. Loads of toilets meant that the queue was not quite as nervy as usual. Having learnt my lesson from Derry, my pockets were stuffed with jelly beans and a Soreen bar!

There were lots of elements to make this a great race. Adventurous Daughter enjoyed her mile race and got the same size medal as me in a different colour so she rated the race too! The weather probably helped a lot to colour it as a great race because the sunshine was glorious and yet it wasn’t too hot. I drank a lot of water to be on the safe side. The course itself took us round most of the sights in Chester and out into the nearby country lanes for an out and back course with a loop round a very picturesque village called Aldford. The residents were out in force to support and all jelly babies were gratefully received.

Photo of AM and Tamsin

All smiles as Adventurous Daughter joins me for the finish

I hooked up with a lady from another running club (I honestly can’t remember if it was Blackburn or Burnley but it was in that general area!) and we must have run together for about 5 or 6 miles. We talked a little but actually  we were quite happy running alongside each other. When we reached the 13 mile mark, she looked at her watch and said that she had beaten her previous PB for the half marathon so she was really happy. Another kilometre after that, after she had been kind enough to get some more jelly babies and pass them onto me, I decided that I had a bit more speed in me so I told her that it had been a pleasure to run with her and I pushed on.  I managed up the last hill at a reasonable pace and finally it was a slight downhill into town, back to the racecourse and onto the track. I had a lovely surprise as my daughter was waiting for me and was allowed to run down the finish chute with me!  A lovely chunky piece of bling around my neck and I was even happier.

Photo of AM at finish of Chester

Bling! Really nice solid medal.

I finished the race in 2 hour 38 minutes and 31 seconds. I managed an average pace of 6.01 minute kilometres and I was happy that I managed to drop below that for the last 5-6 kilometres.  Overall my pace was reasonably consistent over the full 26.2 kilometres. I am hoping that this will stand in me in good stead for my big challenge of 2017 – the Liverpool Rock and Roll Marathon – the full 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometres)!

That’s all my races for 2016 done (apart from the West Kirby Santa Dash this weekend!). I look forward to the challenges that 2017 will bring.

What plans have you made for 2017? What was your favourite race of 2016?

 

My blog is feeling a little neglected these days.  It’s been a busy old time with Adventurous Twins’ birthday, some overtime at work, a few more visits to the doctors for the rest of the family and I have been stepping up my training again.  Although becoming a distant memory, it’s time to go back to Leeds Tri on 12 June and share that experience with you.

You may remember that I had a chest infection and sinusitis and had to pull out of Edinburgh Half Marathon. Leeds Tri was 2 weeks after that and, while I had managed a few runs and swims, I hadn’t really trained as much as I had planned or would have liked. I still felt a bit tired and under par. Thankfully I was “only” doing the sprint distance as I had calculated previously that it would be too tricky to train for a triathlon after a Half marathon.

I had entered this race last August though and I was determined to share the stage (well, the same race route with the elites!) I was promised a pontoon start for the swim, a blue carpet finish and the chance to watch the elites in action. I suppose 2 out of 3 isn’t bad but the chance to watch the elites was denied to many for reasons you will see later in this post.

Adventurous twins were not keen to come so my sister said she would look after them. Adventurous Dad came with me and I was glad of his support. The arrangements for setting up were complicated! We arrived in Leeds at 4pm on the Saturday before the race and had to register in one of the University buildings. No quibbles there; some very nice volunteers trying hard to find out for me if there was a goody bag and a race T shirt (the answer was a disappointing no). Then, as this was a split transition, we headed first to Transition 2 (T2) in the city centre. This was on some rough waste ground not far from the law courts. I was fortunate enough to be allocated a spot near the entrance so didn’t have far to run in my bike shoes. I didn’t envy anyone who was going to leave their bike shoes attached and try to run in bare feet…

Photo of T1 at leeds

The world’s largest transition area ever?

Then off to Roundhay Park to the north of Leeds where Transition 1 (T1) was. By this time it was nearly 6pm so parking was relatively easy. This transition was huge! Easily the largest I have ever seen (not all that surprising as this is the largest triathlon I have ever taken part in). I felt nervous about leaving my bike overnight but then I realised thieves would be more interested in the shiny carbon fibre bikes than my trusty steel bike!
Finally, I got all set up by 7pm, 3 hours after arriving in Leeds. I was a bit late for dinner with friends who were not best pleased. (Yummy food though so I am eternally grateful!) I felt a bit drained just setting up. The nerves were beginning to kick in so I struggled to get to sleep; tired but wired describes it best.

Swim Start Leeds Tri

Pontoon Swim start – I am the one waving!

On race day, the weather was pretty good for a triathlon. Overcast, not too cold, not too warm. I had a later start at 10.04am. I was really looking forward to the swim on the pontoon. We were not allowed to dive in but it did mean that we were all spaced out nicely and there was none of the usual scrum at the beginning of the race. One of the problems with being hard of hearing was not being able to hear the klaxon on this occasion (not normally a problem for me) and losing a few seconds relying on watching for others setting off.  The lake was beautifully clear. I had a reasonable swim but my time was much the same as previous swims over this distance. I also felt dizzy when I got out so had to take a minute to recover.

Then I had to face the world’s longest ever transition! The run from the lake to entrance of T1 was 400 metres. I then had to retrieve my bike, make sure my wetsuit kit was in the special T1 bag and run out of transition with my bike and the kit bag. The kit bag was to be handed to the marshals at the mount line. By this time, I had run nearly a kilometre. I am almost embarrassed to publish my transition time of 10 minutes and 18 seconds but I really didn’t hang around; it was the sheer size of the transition, honest! I must have run a fair distance in my bike shoes because my cleats were wrecked at the end of the race.

Photo of AM on bike

This lady is for turning…

The mount line was at the bottom of a hill but thankfully it wasn’t as bad as it looked and I was soon away on one of my fastest ever bike legs at 52 minutes 38 seconds. I will admit that a lot of it was downhill but it was also a test of my bike skills to embrace the speed! I like some of the photos from this leg especially this one as I performed the U turn.

Thankfully my run shoes were still were I left them in the wasteland that was T2.  There were a lot of crowds gathering by this time ready for the elite race so the support was great as we ran round Leeds City Centre. The pre race info suggested that it was 2 laps for my 5km run but when I got to the blue carpet, this was the start of my first lap and then it said I had to pass through 2 more times. It was a bit confusing and I couldn’t get it straight in my head so I relied on my Garmin to tell me I had done 5km when approaching the finish. I believe it was even more confusing if you were running 10km and a lot of competitors didn’t do the correct distance and ended up with the dreaded DNF…

I was finally over the line and got my blue carpet finish 1 hour 51 minutes 38 seconds after starting. I felt a mixture of relief that it was over and that, although I hadn’t put in my best time, I seemed to be over the worst of my illness. I choked back some tears of relief, smiled for the camera and soon had some shiny race bling round my neck.

AM at finish of Leeds

Blue carpet finish… at last!

If I had thought that the pre race set up was a palaver, it was nothing as to what was to come next. I queued to pick up my T1 bag but as the queue was quite long we decided to go and get lunch and retrieve my bike from T2. Luckily I had Adventurous Dad with me as he had my warm clothes, money and phone. Suitably refuelled, we returned to get my bag to find the bag drop in chaos. There were lots of angry people who had been in the earlier waves who still hadn’t got their bags. Some had been racing alone so were relying on their kit being transported to the finish. I read later on Twitter, that some people reported waiting for up to 7 hours for their bags. Some people had no phone to contact loved ones to say why they were going to be late and someone said their ticket for the grandstand to watch the elites was in their bag and they missed it all. We had planned not to stay for the elites race as we had to get back to our twins.
In the end, we probably only waited about 30 mins to be told that we had best get to Roundhay Park and get our stuff from there. As our van was there, it was not a disaster, merely an inconvenience. We jumped on our bikes (Adventurous Dad had brought his Brompton which drew a few stares!) and made it to the park. It was a bit chaotic there too but I found my bag and all’s well that ended well for me anyway.

I thought my assessment of the race might have changed with the passage of time but it remains the same, the race itself was great with the swim pontoon and nice swim, exciting bike ride and a city centre run was quite special. The organisation let it all down. The split transition was maybe too challenging for an open race of this size or maybe there was too much emphasis on the elites race.

This race going ahead again next year in Leeds but I won’t be back. I felt I earned my medal more for dealing with the problems with the race! I hope the race directors learn from their mistakes and put on a truly magnificent race next year. They have a lot of triathletes to win over.

Photo of race number

DNS

Photo of race number

My EMF race number that will not see any action😔

This is my race number for Edinburgh half marathon which I am not now going to be pinning to my Mersey Tri top and not lining up with a host of other runners on Regent Road in Edinburgh. After much soul searching and time spent trying to make a decision whether to run or not, I have concluded that I am just not well enough nor am I race ready with all the demands that the race will bring.

So how did we end up here? If you remember my post about Liverpool Half Marathon, I was keen to put my woes at not going under 2 hours behind me and focus on Edinburgh half marathon where I thought I had a good chance of finally attaining the sub 2 hours that has eluded me in 4 half marathons to date. Missing out on that time by 4 seconds at Wirral half marathon last September was particularly disappointing.

At Chirk Tri, I had some low level virus which affected my performance. I then had a period of about 3 weeks where I felt back on form and running felt free and easy; like running with the  brakes off. I picked up the mileage in preparation for the half marathon. Just as I was building up to my last long run of 12-13 miles before Edinburgh, I developed a cold. No matter, I thought, I will skip this run so as not to make the cold worse. The cold went on to develop into a right nasty stinker without any help from me!

Next thing I develop a nasty cough (which I don’t have very often) but also some of the signs of sinusitis (which I am prone to). The doctor gave me  antibiotics to help with clearing both. I had a few days where I felt dreadful and could barely go to work. By this time, I hadn’t exercised for nearly 2 weeks and was getting a bit anxious about losing fitness but I told myself to be patient and it would all be ok. I got my hopes up on Thursday afternoon as I definitely felt a lot better.

This morning I put on my running gear for the first time in 2 weeks and went for a gentle 3.5 km run to see how it would feel. While running I didn’t feel too bad but I knew I wasn’t on best form. Since then I have had a terrible headache. The sun is now shining in Edinburgh so we went out for a walk. I saw a few people with their finishers T shirts and medals from the 5k and 10k races earlier today and I felt a real stab of jealousy and then a wobbly chin.

I entered this race a long time ago and it was part of my challenge to myself to do a half marathon in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. I may have to rethink my challenge. So the disappointment is high and feels worse because I feel so unwell.

So to look on the positive, in hopefully getting some more rest, I will be fit and ready to take on Leeds Triathlon in 2 weeks. I really want to do a pontoon swim start and run on the same blue carpet at the finish as the elites do!

So I will curl up In front of the TV tonight, have a long lie tomorrow and chalk this one up to experience: my first ever Did Not Start.