Sunday, 22 February 2009

Draycote Water Marathon

It turns out that snowboarding is pretty good cross training. Or maybe it was the altitude training of the morning runs in the mountains that helped.

Either way, after returning from Austria on Friday and a day of shopping in town (including going for pizza - yum!) on Saturday, I headed up to Rugby last night to do the Draycote Water Marathon this morning.

The marathon is run around a big lake in the Draycote water Country Park and involves five and a bit laps. It's all on road surface and mostly flat, with just a bit of undulation. I felt pretty good most of the way, though I got a worrying twinge in my right leg during the third lap which slowed me down for a bit: fortunately it seemed to go away after half a mile or so.

I finished in just over four hours, one minute, 18 seconds - my third fastest marathon ever. And 10th place female. Nice.

Snowboarding in Austria

As a result of the Head of PE at college being on maternity leave, I ended up organising the ski trip this year. Several hours of work went into it and it was a relief to finally set off on what turned out to be a 21 hour coach journey to Austria, leaving London on Friday 13th Feb.

When we arrived, we were told about how this time was a bit crazy in Imst (the town our hotel was in), as we’d got there just in time for the two-day, once-every-4-years festival of ‘Fasnacht’. This involved lots of interestingly-costumed Austrians parading through the town, with a carnival of some amazing floats. I got pictures of a couple of floats, but they were taken in the morning when they were parked and empty. During the carnival all the floats became travelling bars serving various types of alcohol to anyone who wanted to jump on board. The festival is supposedly about chasing out the winter spirits and welcoming spring, but that seemed a bit premature given the lovely big dump of snow we had on our third day on the slopes.

The snow was fantastic. The mountains looked gorgeous from our hotel and the views from up on the tops were stunning. We spent the first two and last days in the small resort of Oetz, with the middle two days at the larger Solden resort. The snow was great every day, with sunshine on all but one day (the first day in Solden was very snowy, reducing visibility but making great conditions for boarding). The students seemed to enjoy themselves and made good progress on the slopes. Jim and I loved it, zooming down as many runs as we could. It was a bit chilly most days with temps as low as -15 degrees C at times apparently!

In the evenings the students and some staff mostly went out to bars, one night there was a successful quiz (including Hungarian folk dancing for bonus points, won by a deserving student doing his thing on a tabletop) and we also went curling. Well, it was sold to us as curling, but it didn’t involve brooms and it was on a freezing outdoor court, with wind blowing icy snow across the proceedings. Great fun all the same.

I managed to run every morning, with distances of 6, 6, 3, 4 and 2 miles, always including at least one tough hill (worth it for the view of the valley on the way back down). It was surprisingly noticeable how the altitude affects fitness (Imst is at 827m), though the runs did become easier each day. Plus I experienced eyelash icicles a couple of days as it was so cold! The stream in the picture is a cute place I found on my first morning out running.

I didn’t get any decent action shots on the slopes, hence the pics of Jim being of him with a ginger tom we found in Solden and one leaning nonchalantly against a fire hydrant!

The coach drivers were great, with Janos skiing with Jim and me most days, while Andy did his bit on the nights out. Our hotel manager was also lovely, making things run very smoothly for us. Our rep, Claudia, was very good considering she was only 20 and doing this during her short holiday from studying for an archaeology degree. We had no serious injuries, with just one student being skidooed off the slopes to hospital for an Xray, but it was only a twisted knee and she was back on skis the following day.

The 22 hour coach journey home dragged a bit, but we were too knackered to care much. Nice to be back safely though and the cats were definitely very pleased to see us.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Charity, 2009

I wasn’t going to do any charity stuff for a while, preferring (perhaps slightly selfishly) to just enjoy getting back into running after losing a lot of fitness last year (I don’t know if my small operation at the end of ’07 had an effect, but for the first half of ’08 I didn’t manage to run more than 6 miles at a stretch).

At the start of the summer holiday last year I began to build up the miles until I was back to marathon fitness by October, then with the encouragement of folk on the brilliant FetchEveryone website, I continued to extend my training ready for my first ultra.

But I got a phone call in January from Richard at Animal Aid (a charity that promotes a cruelty-free lifestyle, an appropriate cause for a vegan!). The club secretary of Vegan Runners UK (my running club) had been asked if he knew anyone who’d be up for getting sponsored to do some extreme activities and he suggested that I had a few marathons lined up so maybe I could help.

It turned out that my plans included 10 Marathons in the first 5 months of the year, finishing with the Edinburgh Marathon May 31st. To make it more challenging and sponsor-worthy, I would include at least a couple of ultras. (It may even end up being a dozen races in total, but after the cancellation of Luton Marathon last year, I don’t like to count my Marathons until they’ve hatched!)

Hence I’m featured on the Animal Aid website, under the heading “10 Marathons!” and the sponsor form was sent out with their magazine to all the members of Animal Aid.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Charity and fame in 2007

I thought it might be an idea to write about the Seven Suns thing I did for KEF in 2007 (mainly for me, but also because new friends won't know about this).

So, I was asked by a colleague if I’d like to raise some funds for the Kashmir Education Foundation, to help them build high quality schools and train teachers in Kashmir and Northern Pakistan. It turned into a thing called ‘Seven Runs on Seven Suns’ (7 marathons on consecutive weekends) and I raised over £3000 through sponsorship. The money went towards building the school at Banjosa in Kashmir. The KEF schools teach an English curriculum to underprivileged children who end up with strings of A* grade GCSEs and progress to go on to study at good universities.

During this challenge, the KEF website was updated each week with pictures and a short report on how the events were going. [You can still see all this by going to, clicking on ‘News’ then ‘Update’ next to Seven Runs…]

The marathons went very well, if a little slow in the heat, and I especially enjoyed the fancy dress event (with my ‘SuperMath’ costume designed by pupils from my school). To raise the profile of the charity, I also w
ent on a couple of local radio shows and even managed a quick chat with Colin Jackson on Tower Bridge during the London marathon, which was broadcast on BBC (also linked to on the KEF website). I was a featured ‘runner of the week’ on the Nike+ website too, where I shared a page with Paula Radcliffe! In the end I completed 8 marathons in 50 days, which I was proud of, but even better was the trip to Kashmir and Pakistan in April 2008 to visit the KEF schools and to officially open the ‘Anna Finn Library’ at Pearl Valley Public School. Jim got to come too as he had been chief photographer for the enterprise. It was a fascinating trip.

In order, the photos in this post are of:

1. Banjosa School in the process of being built (Kashmir, April 2008)
2. Me relaxing before the Shakespeare Marathon 3. Jim said I had to include this one of me running the London Marathon. He says the man behind me can see my reflection in a window… 4. The SuperMath costume. It had a geeky sigma-mu symbol on the front, but that fell off before the end of the run. 5. The Pearl Valley School, Pakistan (where ‘my’ library is) 6. Opening the library 7. Being read to in the library 8. Sharing a webpage with Miss Radcliffe 9. If you clicked on me it linked to my interview.10. Recent picture of Banjosa School (opening very soon)

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Thames Trot 50 mile Ultra

Oh dear: as I suspected, this blog is turning into a commentary on my running. Then again, I'm off snowboarding at half term, so that'll give me something else to talk about for a change.

So, I did my third ultra in 22 days yesterday. I think an extra day of recovery between the last two would have been welcome, but the TT was going to be tough regardless of any lingering tiredness in my legs, given the conditions. Now, I saw the map beforehand and the route did indeed follow the Thames Path for 50 miles from Oxford to Henley. But somehow that conjured up an image of a relatively nice trail to run on. And maybe it would have been if it hadn't been snowed on so much last week.

As it turned out, it was the toughest terrain I've ever run on. There were fields of snow, mostly of the hard, crunchy, ankle-turning variety, as well as other bits of softer snow (still hard work for the legs) and then where the snow had melted there was mud! Thick, shoe-sucking mud alternating with extremely slippery mud. Also cold streams and puddles to be run through and some icy areas. There were a couple of bits of relief where the path leaves the river to pass through a village, where the tarmac made a welcome change of surface, though I then had to watch out for the icy patches (I managed to only slip over once on the ice though).

I found it very challenging mentally to summon the strength to keep going. Fortunately, after about 20 miles, I met up with a runner called Ade (who happens to be a running coach) and he was doing 25 minute jogs with 5 minute walk breaks in between. He persuaded me to join him and we remained together to the finish. He was very encouraging and I'm sure there would have been a lot more walking involved if he wasn't there. We mostly kept up the 25/5 thing, though on the few road sections we made ourselves keep running, but at other times the thick snow or slippery mud forced us to walk again. It got dark between the last two checkpoints which made it hard, especially as there were some large rocks and roots in with the mud on the path. We actually appreciated the snow then as it made the path more visible. From the last checkpoint we ran nearly all the way, just stopping when it got ridiculously slippy. We were casting shadows in the moonlight. It really was a beautiful course, most of which we barely appreciated due to having to focus on the terrain underfoot. It was a gorgeous sunny day too, which I'm sure helped - conditions could have been far worse.

We finished in 10 hours 5 minutes, which I was really pleased with (especially given that we actually did 51 miles as we got lost at one point). I was the 4th placed woman - just one position behind the trophies!

I slept well last night and went for a gentle 4 mile jog this morning. My legs are feeling surprisingly good - far less achy than after the 40 miler last weekend. Today my job is mainly to rest and eat - fantastic! (Curry later, mmm...)

Monday, 2 February 2009


So, this morning I opened the door to a snowy world, awaiting my 4 mile recovery run. I initially didn't really want the extra effort that running on snow incurs, but I admit I really enjoyed it and ended up doing 4 1/2 miles in about 40 minutes. My legs feel fine, although the right knee is still a bit sore (and rather swollen). One pic is the view from the front door, the other is looking down the road in the direction I started my run. (Needless to say they were taken by Jim while I was out.)

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Tring 2 Town - I still like ultras!

So, just a quick post now that I'm home after my second ultra. It was 40 miles along towpaths form Tring to Kew, though apparently the course was under-measured: I'm not sure by how much, but maybe up to a mile or two. That's annoying. 

It wasn't quite as much fun as the cross country route a fortnight ago, but it was surprisingly fast for me (even taking into account the short course). I don't have my official time yet, but it was around 6 hours 5 minutes I think, putting me in third place (female) and twelth overall, out of 40-something starters.

The photo isn't very flattering, but it was taken within minutes of me finishing, so what should I expect?!

Oh and I fell over. Twice! The first time (at about 14 miles) was quite hard and drew blood on my right knee and elbow, both of which had two layers of clothes on. But I got up, limped a bit to check I was ok, then got straight back into my rhythm. The second fall was onto a bigger surface area of me and a softer landing, so not so bad. This was only a couple of miles later! I've got a good bruise developing on my knee now.

And I still like this ultra lark. Roll on my first 50 miler on Saturday...