Tag Archives: Running

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 excels 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.  Add it to your Christmas list and make 2018 the year you finally take the plunge towards fulfilling any long held marathon dreams.

 

Planning

Last December, while planning my 2017 race calendar, I came across the Deva Divas Quadrathlon. This was a new addition to the famous Deva Divas triathlon run by Chester Tri Club. When I hit the enter button, I have no doubt it was one of those windy and rainy days where you are grateful to be tucked up inside and you are dreaming of the gloriously long summer days where running and multi-sport glory is yours for the taking.

Photo of the River Dee

Tranquil view from the steps of Chester Canoe Club

You might remember that Adventurous Dad is a keen canoeist, having built his own sea kayak, so I maintain that it is mainly his fault that that I signed up for this. I cannot deny I was intrigued at making history with the world’s first woman only quadrathlon. I really wasn’t sure about my canoe skills having struggled with the beginner’s pool course. So thankfully the wonderful Jean Ashley arranged a temporary membership of Chester Canoe Club for all quadrathletes with coached sessions on Saturday mornings (we were also able to go to the club nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays) for the three months leading up to the race.

Training

Photo of AM at canoe club

All gear, no idea!

A group of very warm and friendly ladies turned up for the first session on 22 April, which was a gloriously sunny day. For me it really was the case of “all gear and no idea” because Adventurous Husband lent me his kit so I really looked the part  in his canoeing top and buoyancy aid. I even managed to get in the canoe without falling in the water but then it became apparent that I was rubbish at going in a straight line. I became the plucky straggler at the back of the group.

Like my first attempt at open water swimming, (in freezing cold Windermere) I did my usual thought process after that session: I am so rubbish at this, why did I think I could do this? Then I got a grip and told myself that I had 3 months to practice. I wasn’t keen to come last but, if I had to, I kept telling myself it wasn’t the end of the world if I did. I was trying something new and getting out of my comfort zone.

Eventually we progressed to racing canoes. I missed a few sessions due to family commitments and the marathon training but when I went back everyone had moved on to sleek racing canoes and they were all raving about the boat called Bertha! I had to have a go.  Bertha is a racing canoe but slightly more stable than some of the other boats. It was a revelation for me as there was a skeg which helped to make the canoe go straight. Turning in it took forever but I didn’t care, I could finally go a lot straighter!

We had coaching also from John and Carol from the Canoe club who were very patient with us. We practiced our transitions on the banks of the Dee and, as race day got closer, I began to think that I might just be able to do this without looking like a complete idiot in the canoe leg (and perhaps not finish last?)

Photo of AM at Chester bridge

Glorious day for the recce of the bike course .

I also managed to head out with Hannah and Hilary for a recce of the bike course. Hilary is a keen cyclist and her idea of a gentle cycle (the day before doing the Chris Hoy 100 miler) was a bit of an all out cycle for me! I had swum in West Kirby marine lake that morning, drove straight to Chester for the canoe training and then we headed out onto the bike. I planned to go for a quick run when I got home but I was exhausted and did not move much off the sofa that night.

The best bit of having signed up for this race was no doubt meeting, and training with, all the amazing women. We all remained really supportive of each other. There was a real excitement in the air the day before the race when we all gathered to sort out our canoes and paddles for the race and to get them to the transition area. Plans were made for a picnic following the race the next day.

The Race

At the beginning of July, 2 weeks away from the race, I had my doubts as to whether I was going to make the start line. I had just gone off sick from work with stress and anxiety. Should I really put myself under further pressure? Would work consider that I wasn’t really ill if I took part? My GP had advised me to keep exercising throughout so that’s what I did.

Photo of transition

Transition is slightly more complicated than usual!

I decided to go ahead because it seemed a waste of 3 months of canoe training. Triathlon is my “happy place” and I thought I would feel even more of a failure if I didn’t do the race. The sense of achievement of completing the race would hopefully give me a boost.

The morning of the race was grey and drizzly. I didn’t have the family with me as Adventurous Daughter was grading for her judo belt which is probably just as well for them as the weather was so miserable. The camper van was all loaded up with kit and picnic items and I was ready to go at the crack of dawn.

Jean had provided us all with a checklist for transition; useful because there was even more to think about. Our paddles, buoyancy aids (we all had a giggle that we had to wear buoyancy aids on the canoe leg, given that we had swum in the water prior to that!) and canoe shoes all had to be there with the usual bike and run gear.

The race started with a walk across the Meadows in Chester to the start of the swim. It was the first time I have ever been in the first wave of the swim as we quadrathletes were set off first before the triathlon waves. I felt like royalty as the announcer kept saying that we were making history with the world’s first women only quadrathlon.

Photo of AM in canoe

Canoe leg, poised to overtake…

I managed to make a good start on the 750 metre swim for a change and I came out of the water in 17 minutes and 20 seconds. Members of the canoe club were on hand to help us with carrying our canoes down to the water.  So off I went, noting that I wasn’t last out of the water for the swim so I had a good chance of not being last on the canoe leg which was now my number one goal for the race!  I even managed to overtake another woman (sorry Helen!) in the canoe.

Buoyed up (no pun intended!) by not being last in the canoe leg, I was off onto the bike. The drizzle was quite heavy by now if that is not a contradiction in terms. I was really glad of the recce of the course as I knew when to power on and when I had to ease back. I had to stop for roadworks but there were marshals making a note of anyone stopped and my time was adjusted by 30 seconds later to take account of the stoppage. It was a nice relatively flat out and back course so I actually enjoyed the bike leg for once!

Photo of AM running

Digging in for a great run time, only 24 secs off my PB

And then finally onto my favourite discipline, the run. Two laps of the Meadows stood between me and my Quadrathlon bling so I dug in and got it done in 24 minutes 54 seconds; the 6th best run time in the quadrathlon.

As I crossed the line, Jean was there with a special quadrathlon medal to place around my neck. As she hugged me, I burst into tears. The relief of not being last out of the canoe nor indeed last overall was too great. Combined with the stress I had been suffering, it was just a bit too overwhelming for me.  Eating the yummy cake given out at the end soon put me right. In fact, I finished 17th out of 27 quadrathletes in a time of 2 hours 28 and 34 seconds. I was very pleased with that in the end.

I was feeling torn about getting home to see Adventurous Daughter who passed her judo grading and staying for the picnic but in the end the sun came out quite suddenly and who would not want to stay and celebrate such an amazing event?

So if you are looking to add literally another dimension to your multi-sport endeavours, I cannot recommend quadrathlon enough. Deva Divas do have another quadrathlon next year but be quick as I understand that all 50 places are nearly taken. I am looking for different challenges next year so I won’t be doing it again (and, let’s face it, I’m not that good at canoeing!) but I may be there cheering on or marshaling.

Jean Ashley

Jean, aka the Fairy Quadmother, presenting the prizes at the end of the Quadrathlon.

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?

 

I have tried to write this blog post several times.  I went on holiday to Scotland shortly after Liverpool Tri and I had every good intention of writing a post. However, the technical problems of uploading photos to the blog continued to plague me and the lure of the outdoor life in Bonnie Scotland scuppered all my plans.

I then started to write this post several times in the last week or so and have been wondering if anyone wants to read about the ancient history that is Liverpool Tri on 14th August? Heck,  can I even remember the details of the day?  But because it was a great race , I can remember. So here we are, a quick recap of Liverpool Tri.

Despite being my local Tri, this was my first time in the race. I was super excited about the transition being right inside the Echo Arena (I am always seeking the elite treatment), less excited about the swim in the docks and relieved to know that the bike and runs courses were pretty flat.

Echo Arena

Liverpool Echo Arena as you’ve never seen it before

Events kicked off on Saturday 13 August as we had to rack our bikes the day before in the Echo Arena. Although it can be stressful leaving your bike behind, having done the majority of the preparation the night before does take the stress out of race morning. I wasn’t sure how much to leave and ended up leaving most of my kit there with a view to just bringing my water bottles in the morning with fresh electrolytes. Some of my friends just left their bikes.

On race morning, the weather was looking good in Triathlon terms: cool, dry, not much wind (always a bonus on the bike, especially near the coast) with the prospect of sun towards the end. I took our trusty camper van over to Liverpool early and had breakfast in the van. Then I made my way up to the Echo Arena to finish off the transition preparations and meet some Mersey Tri Friends. We had quite a walk from the arena to where the swim would start so I was glad of my flip flops. Sadly that was the last I saw of them because I forgot to go back and retrieve them at the end of the race!

When I went in the water, I took a moment to lie on my back and look up at the sky and, corny as it sounds, I was grateful for being in the position to be able to do this triathlon. I was healthy, financially secure enough to afford it and free to do it, not something to take for granted when so many women across the world don’t have the basic freedoms we have here in Britain.

Stepping off my metaphorical soap box, and back in the race, the swim was fairly uneventful; it just seemed to go on forever! When I got out, I realised why, it had taken me 37 minutes and 3 seconds! I had managed 32 minutes in the Midsummer Dock Swim so must confess to being a little disappointed with that time after the race. At the time, I was too busy trying to get my wetsuit off over my Garmin and failing miserably to be worried about a slow swim. You were not allowed to run into the Echo Arena with your wetsuit on; it had to be in a plastic bag provided by the marshals. The concrete floor was slippy enough!

Liverpool Tri - bike

Support from Adventurous Daughter (on the right)

Be prepared for a long transition they said. Well, it was long, but not as long as Leeds so it was a piece of cake for me. We had to run in one side of the Echo Arena and out the other. Out on the bike, this was the most fun I had ever had on a bike in a triathlon! Nice flat fast course along the front. The 4 laps meant that there was always someone around and support from fellow Mersey Tri buddies was great.  I have always said that the bike is sadly one of my weakest areas so I was pleased to come in at 1 hour 32 minutes 47 seconds.

Photo of AM at Liverpool Tri

Definitely a grimace, not a smile…

The downside to giving a good effort on the bike was that my quads were burning as I set off on the 10km run. Triathletes are all familiar with that feeling and I am reasonably experienced to know that it usually subsides after 3-4 km. On this occasion, it never really went away. I spent most of the run cursing and swearing that I was never doing triathlon again! I was even berating myself for daring to think that I could do a half Ironman! Luckily the run was also 2 flat loops of the Albert Dock and finally I got over the line after 55 minutes 51 seconds for the run and 3 hours 15 minutes 54 seconds in total. Not a fast time, but a whole 9 minutes off my previous PB over Olympic distance. Of course, the minute that I was over the line and someone put a medal round my neck, the pain subsided and I was wondering why I had made such a fuss (although I found it difficult to walk for the next few days!).

Photo of AM at Liverpool tri

My quads beg me never ever to do that again!

My verdict on the race is that it is definitely a good one for PB hunters even with the long transitions in and out of the Echo Arena. The support from the people on the course was great. I especially enjoyed the support from my Mersey Tri buddies. I am not sure if I will do the race again simply because I am thinking about different challenges next year. But, unlike Leeds Tri, I would not rule it out because it is a well organised race on a great course in a fabulous city.

Did you take part in Liverpool Tri?  What did you think of the race?

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.

Music to my ears

When Phil and I were discussing the possibility that he might do a blog post for me, he mentioned that there are two types of runner; one who responds to external stimuli and takes their cue from the world around them and the other who retreats within themselves to get through the run. Phil is obviously the first type as he likes to run with others and chat with them. I am very much the second type as I prefer to run alone, plugged into my headphones, lost in thought (usually planning my next blog post or thinking about what to eat for dinner!). That’s not to say that I don’t look around me; I like spotting wildlife and looking at nice views. I reckon it’s a 70:30 split for me internal/external.

Photo of AM at Worral 10k

No headphones at Wirral 10k in 2014 – note both feet in the air!

I don’t wear headphones when I am racing as most races don’t permit it for safety reasons (you need to be able to hear the marshals and not all races are on closed roads). When it comes to a race, I like soaking up the race atmosphere.  That’s when it is useful to at least be partly an external runner and perhaps do some training runs without headphones.

With my hearing loss, I do have a great pair of headphones. They hook round my ear and when I put my hearing aids to the T setting (the loop system that you often see in theatres), I can hear the music right in my hearing aid. It’s much safer as I can hear some background noise such as cars and people talking to me. The miracle is that there is no sound for others to hear, it seems to be right inside my hearing aid.

 

photo of ipod

My old skool ipod and miraculous headphones

So, definitely for me, one of life’s little pleasures is going for a run with your favourite music. I have always loved my pop music, from buying Smash Hits (I am giving my age away now!) to going to HMV to buy the latest 12 inch single. My taste is fairly mainstream but it is at the pop and rock end of the spectrum. So my running playlist simply has up tempo songs from my favourite bands.  Songs like Dog Days by Florence and the Machine, Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen and Beautiful Day by U2 are fairly obvious choices for running but I also have Take On Me by A-ha, Wages Day by Deacon Blue and The Way I Tend To Be by Frank Turner. I have just added Magnetised by Tom Odell, Payphone by Maroon 5 and Ghost by Ella Henderson.

Keep your head up by Ben Howard is another less obvious choice but it was out around the time I was going for my black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I was told repeatedly to look up by my instructor so I downloaded this song to remind me! I love the lyrics which are a good mantra for life; “keep your head up, keep your heart strong.” I always think of my weekend in Bristol grading for my black belt when I hear it.

Interestingly, after I wrote the first draft of this post, I forgot to take my Ipod on a run, and I noted that despite the lack of music, I am still mainly an internal runner as I focused on my breathing and I still retreated into my thoughts (what’s for dinner? and I need to amend that blog post now!)

I’d love to broaden my running playlist so if you have any tracks you like running to please share them in the comments below or we could start a conversation on my Facebook page. What do you run to?