Tag Archives: Running

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?

Running with and guiding a blind runner

Adventurous Mum asked me to write a guest blog about what it is like to guide and run with a blind person. My name is Phillip Stanley, an average runner and novice triathlete. (Adventurous Mum says: Phil is being modest here as he can run a sub 47 min 10k. And he’s a 2nd Dan Black belt in Tae Kwon Do where we first met!)

Phil and Ben at parkrun

All smiles before parkrun

My friend, Ben Darby lost his sight when he was 3 years old although he does retain a little vision. The first thing to say is that running with Ben is a pleasure and, while it comes with responsibilities, it has many benefits for me. Ben is approaching his mid-30s and I am moving too quickly towards my mid-50s. He is stronger and faster – and has run all distances including two marathons.

Ben estimates that through training and races he’s had 30+ guides, including a number of attractive ladies – what an operator! Ben likes running with me because he trusts that I will keep him safe and give him the space and support to do what he loves most doing – running. Building that level of trust, helped by constant communication provides the foundations of guiding.

We are both members of Run Wirral, and use routes very familiar to Ben so he has computed road layouts and potential hazards. My job is to remind him of kerbsides, wheelie bins, overhanging branches, lamp posts, animals, and what people are doing around him. He holds onto my elbow so that as necessary I can pull him the right direction (well most of the time). Along the way I describe the route or street name. This is vital when it is dark.

At races, his main worry is making sure that we meet in good time so that he can drop off his bag, go to the toilet and get into the runners’ corral. I let him know when we are about to go and as we approach the start line to start his watch. He obsesses about times like most runners.

Phil and Ben at Liverpool HM

Phil and Ben at mile 9 of the Liverpool Half Marathon

The first part of any race is to find space and get into a rhythm, and of course it is crowded, so we could take about 10 minutes to get settled. Apart from alerting Ben to any potential dangers, I describe landmarks we pass or people we know just to say hello. We are easily recognisable with our names on the front of our vests along with Ben’s ‘Blind Runner’. We hear lots of encouraging remarks, and Ben laughs when people say how wonderful it is he can run – little knowing how fast he can be.

Apart from the business end of being a guide, the friendship has developed by the things we talk about when we are running. Ben is a warm, caring person but has a mischievous sense of humour. We cover everything from sports; family; the people we know; or what we have been up to in the past week. Since I love the sound of my voice, Ben listens patiently to my long stories which go off on tangents – and my stressful day at work. It’s good to share stuff and the time passes. You really get to know a person when running with them. As we approach the finishing line and I see space, it’s like letting a dog off the lead as he sprints to the finish – and that lad can run quickly.

Ben and I have made a lot of friends through running. We are a community. He has helped me to get stronger and his encouragement has meant I have achieved some great times. He keeps me going when I feel tired, as pictures of us show – him, smiling, happy to be running; me grimacing, digging in at times. What did I say earlier? There are mutual benefits to this relationship. I am the type of runner who thrives better on reacting to external stimuli and as I run past scenery, fellow runners or act as a guide, I perform better.

In my life, I meet negative people who moan about things. I would like to introduce them to Ben to show how he has to overcome barriers every day. He is happy when he can run and I am happy to guide him. Long may it continue – and hopefully more PBs along the way.

Chirk Triathlon – A Tale of the Unexpected

Chirk Triathlon is a favourite race among the North West triathlon community. It’s an early season pool triathlon in picturesque North Wales.

I did this triathlon waaay back. The exact year is lost in the mists of time (and probably my race number with the finishing time scrawled on the back is lost in our attic – imagine the last scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark where the box containing the Ark is stored away- that’s our attic) but it was probably 2003 or 2004. I did the race on my mountain bike fitted with road tyres and a swimsuit with a T shirt over it. Not so much as a sniff of a high tech watch in those days!

Photo of Chirk Buff and race belt

The answer to my transition prayers (and a useful buff!)

I also did the race last year and had so much fun with my Mersey Tri buddies that we all entered again. I always like to try and improve but my main aims were better transitions and a better bike time. For some reason I didn’t use my Tri race belt last year and pinned my number to my top. Big mistake!  I forgot that you have to display the number on the back during the cycle leg and turn it round to the front during the run. I wasted valuable minutes in transition unpinning the numbers.

Not this year. Although I took my race belt with me, Wrecsam Tri gave out race belts and a buff as part of the goody bag in registration. Theirs was much easier to use than my existing one so it was the race belt of choice.

There was a change to the registration process this year too. We were given a time to register and once you had done that and put your bike in transition, you had to be at the pool side within 30 min ready to start.

I had an early ish start time of 9.57 by the time I joined the queue at the poolside.  I managed a nice solid swim of 9 minutes and 13 seconds (includes running out to the timing mat) and into T1 to collect my bike. All went smoothly so I was feeling good as I headed out.

Photo of AM on bike at Chirk Tri

A genuine smile – relieved to be finished the bike leg!

From last year’s experience, I knew that the bike leg is an out and back run of 23km. It is a little deceptive because it looks as if you are going downhill when in fact it is an slight uphill all the way out to Glyn Ceiriog and then a nice solid downhill ride back apart from the final hill back into Chirk. I was a bit disappointed to get held up by some cars at the roundabout at the top of said hill. However, worse was to come because I noticed an air ambulance in the field as I approached the town and then lots of blue lights from about 3 ambulances and 2 police cars. I had to slow right down and, further down the road, avoid a tanker that was parked part of the way across the road. I later learned that one of the competitors, who was said to be 72, had had a cardiac arrest and was airlifted to hospital. While he was being treated, the race was stopped.

I didn’t know this at the time though and I was therefore confused when I got back to transition and my friend Lisa came over to talk to me. She should have been out on her bike leg but as the race had stopped, she had to hang around (wet and cold) until it re-started. I was lucky enough that I could carry on the run leg as it was away from the accident scene.

Photo of AM finishing

Grimacing this time…

It’s a really hilly run to test your mettle. I managed not to stop running last year but this year, I just couldn’t make it up the really steep hill towards the end of the run and resorted to walking.

Despite that, I was convinced that I was about to shave a few seconds off my time from last year but, in fact, I was 17 seconds slower. My bike time was 1 minute slower than last year although much of that would have been down to the accident. I was happy with my transitions though, 2 mins 13 sec for T1 and 1 min 40 secs for T2.  Got to take the positives where you find them!

With hindsight, I wasn’t really all that well either. I had been suffering from a mildly sore throat and headache for the 3 days before the race but I had felt better that morning so decided to go for it. I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t improved if I am being honest but it was tempered with a sense of relief that my race went smoothly and that I was alive and well and healthy enough to complete a triathlon, unlike the competitor who had the accident on his bike leg.

The accident caused the race to stop for an hour and half in the end. No doubt, this was a bit frustrating for those waiting to start but safety first. The marshals did a good job in difficult circumstances.  I haven’t heard how the triathlete is but I hope he makes a good recovery. He was described as being in a serious condition.

Although there was an unexpected twist to this year’s race, it’s still a race that we all enjoy doing: well organised, nice scenic bike course, nice race goodies and great camaraderie between the competitors. I will be back next year to challenge my time yet again!

The Long and Winding Road

Since I completed Wirral Half marathon last year in 2 hours and 4 seconds and having become obsessed with the notion of “breaking” 2 hours, Liverpool Half Marathon was an important race for me. I felt I had a good shot at it because the course was reasonably flat with only one major hill at the start. Would the weather co-operate? I was in Liverpool last year when the half marathon was on and it was pouring with rain and blowing a gale. There were a lot of bedraggled runners in the cafe and I was glad I was not running! However the weather this year was looking really good and most importantly no real wind to contend with.

So everything was in place…apart from being sick in the week before the race. I will spare you the details, suffice to say it was a stomach bug which set off a reflux problem that reared its head last summer during Ripon Triathlon (but that’s another story). I was a lot better by Saturday morning so I thought I was ready to go.

The Liver Building

The famous Liver Building

The start was in the shadow of the famous Three Graces on the waterfront. It was busy with 6,500 runners taking part. Thankfully there were plenty of toilets and although I waited for about 10 minutes, I was still ready in plenty of time for the start and made my way to the 2 hour point. I took it as a good omen that this was right in front of the Liver Building. I was feeling good as we headed off and even the hill on Upper Parliament Street didn’t faze me. I noticed the 2 hour pacer was starting to pull away but wasn’t too concerned as I thought he was going too fast and that I would pace myself using my Garmin.

After completing 10km in 55 min 57 seconds, I was still on course for sub 2 hours. My inner critic was wondering if I had gone out too fast but I convinced myself that it was fine and that this was the time I needed to reach my goal. I was enjoying running round Sefton Park; it really is a jewel in Liverpool’s crown. It is a reminder of Liverpool’s rich heritage with the beautiful Palm House, vast expanse of open space and grand Victorian houses surrounding the park.

Heading away from Sefton Park, my troubles began. We had to run under an underpass and up and over to the Otterspool Promenade to start the last 4-5 miles back to the finish. I felt really dizzy as we came out of the underpass. When I got onto the prom, I started to feel really sick. It subsided if I stopped to walk and got worse when I tried to run. I also looked at my fingers and they had swollen up like fat sausages.  I later wasn’t able to get my wedding ring off and it is normally loose on my fingers.

AM at Half Marathon

Still smiling through the pain for the camera…thanks to Jon Fairhurst at Mersey Tri for the photo

By this time, it was truly hot and I was regretting wearing my long leggings so I pulled them up to my mid-calf. But nothing was helping; I just couldn’t power through the sickness. Even when I got to 10 miles and my Garmin said 1 hour 33 minutes, I was still thinking that I could do it so tried again to push to no avail.

There were some lovely people urging me to “come on we are nearly there” and some friends gave me a boost at 12 miles so that I managed to run a bit longer.  Eventually the finish appeared and there was my family with a big cheer. I finished in 2 hours, 7 minutes and 50 seconds.

I cannot pretend I was anything other than disappointed. I have examined my training regime (did I skip one training run too many?), my state of mind (I felt that it was positive on the whole), my fuelling (I was drinking an electrolyte drink through the race) but in the end I can only conclude that I was simply not well. I cannot fault the race organisation or the route which were both excellent and I would recommend this race to anyone.

Liverpool HM medal

More race bling! I need to get a medal hanger for Easter…hint, hint!

I have to chalk that one up to experience and consider the other reasons why I run. Chasing PBs is only one aspect of it. I love running because I like to be outside feeling the sun on my face (rain and wind are less welcome but come with the territory); I enjoy exploring new places through running; I like feeling strong and fit and able to cope with what life can throw at you and I like meeting up with like-minded people. Races make you feel that you are part of a bigger community and I like that too.

Edinburgh Half Marathon is next at the end of May (just the small matter of Chirk Triathlon before then). One of my friends said to me this morning, perhaps you are saving the moment that you break 2 hours until you are on home soil. It will be all the sweeter when the moment does come.