Monday, 27 April 2009

My 50th Marathon and Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

This weekend in Stratford upon Avon there were celebrations going on for Shakespeare's birthday. This included various events such as a parade with marching bands and various acting groups and some morris dancers, as well as the marathon (run along with a half, for the semi-fit).

It was a beautiful sunny weekend and we stayed in a lovely B&B in a comfy room with a four-poster. Saturday involved a cafe, butterflies (see Jim's fantastic picture of a glasswing), rowing on the Avon (Jim rowed, I loaded up on food for the next day's run, we both sang silly rowing songs), wine on the large grassy area by the RSC theatre and a pizza dinner. A top day all in all.

The marathon itself was very good. Before the start I met up with a Fetchie, Naomi, who had chosen to run as Lara Croft. We had drinks with several other Fetchies after the race and it was great to put some more faces to the names of people I've been chatting online with recently. I've done this run a couple of times before so knew exactly what to expect from the two-lap course through country lanes and along a track. There are a couple of hills but nothing too bad. There are plenty of water stations and there was a cool breeze negating the effects of the sun. I got a little burnt, but not badly. I felt comfortable and enjoyed chatting with other runners on the way round. My time was 4:02:35, which is pretty good for me. I didn't really mind too much how long it took though, as just completing my 50th was enough achievement in itself.

As this was my tenth marathon/ultra of the year, it also marked the end of the challenge I was doing to raise funds for Animal aid. The challenge was '10 marathons in 5 months', but in my eagerness I completed it over a month early. I got an email from Richard at Animal Aid telling me that the sponsporship has amounted to over £15 000, which is a record as it's the most they've ever received for a sponsored event. Given the current economic climate of credit crunchiness, that's not bad, eh?

Monday, 20 April 2009

Bungay Marathon

I did the Bungay Marathon yesterday. I've run this a couple of times before and have a real soft spot for it. Not sure why exactly, but it's a really charming event. Bungay is a small village in Suffolk and the route is a two-lap road course taking in more cute villages where the locals come out to cheer us along. There are some undulations (I had remembered them as significant hills but was pleased to find them relatively undemanding this time). There are some great views from the higher parts of the route and then there's a mile and a half along a track through trees towards the end.

A half marathon starts 2 hours after the full and I arrived for the start of lap 2 just as they were setting off. This meant that I was surrounded by hundreds of runners from mile 13 to 14 before the field spread again. I briefly considered walking the last hill, but I saw Mick n Phil jogging up it ahead of me and was inspired to continue at a run. [Mick Curry has done hundreds of runs including lots of half and full marathons, always pushing his son Phil in a wheelchair.] I found myself overtaking runners in both the full and the half on my second lap, even though I was running at a comfortable and relaxed pace. I finished in 4:03:22 which is actually quite quick for me.

I stayed the previous night in a lovely B&B in Earsham, a nearby village, which meant I had a pleasant 3 mile walk from there to Bungay as a warm up in th morning. I met lots of people I knew at the run, including several of the '100 Club' runners and lots of Fetchies. I got a lift back to the train station with one, a lovely chap called John, which made the journey home far quicker and more interesting (and cheaper). There was a Fetchpoint at mile 20 which was great for extra encouragement too. A Fetchpoint is a place where some Fetchies set up to cheer us on and provide food etc, but this one also had the added attraction of cowbells!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Ultra #4 - 40 miles in the countryside

On Saturday I did my fourth ultra run. It was a lovely figure-of-8, off-road course starting at a school in Compton (about 6 miles from Goring & Streatley in Oxfordshire).

I took a train up on the Friday evening and got a lift from the station to the school from Jan, the race organiser's wife. The whole family were really friendly and helpful, as were all the marshalls along the way, helping make it an event with a fantastic atmosphere. I went to the pub where there were several other runners and we watched a DVD of the Grand Union Canal Race, another event put on by Dick Kearn. He's a keen ultra runner himself and certainly knows how to set up a super event! Accommodation was free - making use of the gym mats in the school hall.

The run started at 9am and there were competitors doing a 20 mile option all starting at the same time. I met up with several Fetchies and also a friend from primary school whom I hadn't seen since we were 11! It was all very friendly and sociable. We set off from the school field and followed trails and tracks, going through woods and over large steep hills. At 19.3 miles, you could choose whether to turn back for the 20 mile finish, or continue for the 40.

It wasn't a question for me, despite my stomach starting to play up a bit. At about 24 miles I was caught up by Phil - a friend of Ade's (the runner I did most of the Thames Trot with). We stayed together for the remainder of the race, chatting the miles away. It was good to have good company, especially when I had to walk quite a bit when my stomach got really painful, as well as in a couple of places when the instructions weren't totally clear so we could work out between us which way to turn! The route was generally well marked with some marshalls here and there, flour on the ground and a few arrow signs, plus we had written instructions. Fortunately I remembered I had ibuprofen with me, which enabled me to really enjoy running the last 6 miles or so. Wish I'd taken it earlier! At the checkpoint at 31 miles, the organiser's daughter (whom I'd chatted with the previous night and mentioned being vegan in passing) had saved me a banana, realising that I wouldn't want any of the Haribo sweets on offer. Like I said - a wonderful family!

At the finish we were each given a Creme Egg - Jim's face lit up when I presented him with mine that evening - and a long sleeved grey T shirt (as modelled in the picture).

It was a brilliant day and I'll definitely do it again, as well as hopefully some of the other events run by the same people.

I did my usual recovery 4 miler the next morning, before heading to Eastleigh to stay with my brother and his family for a couple of days. We got in a couple of lovely trail runs (7 and 4 miles), plenty of walking and a bit of a bounce on a trampoline - all good for recovering from a long run. Russ also took Jim out for a nice long cycle ride so everyone was happy.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Paris je t'aime!

The heading says it all. Four days in the beautiful city is a fantastic relaxing way to kick start the two week holiday from college. We left for the early Eurostar on Saturday and arrived in time for elevenses (at a cute street cafe) on the way to the hotel. A quick trip to the marathon expo, then back into town for some shopping and wandering around enjoying the sights. Pizza and red wine in the Quartier Latin for the now-traditional and ideal pre-marathon dinner.

After lots of smaller events, I'd forgotten how it can be fun to run with thousands of others (over thirty thousand starters lined up on the Champs Elysees) and I took the run at a relaxed pace, just drinking in the scenery (and a glass of red, courtesy of the Beaujolais Marathon organisers at mile 23 too!). The route takes in two parks and several of the major sights (Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower), with my favourite part being along the Seine. In one of the tunnels there were amazing accoustics, with the runners sending a kind of sonic Mexican wave through the dimly lit underpass. A comfortable finish in 4:14:22, then back to the hotel for lunch.

In the afternoon we went to a pub near Place de la C0ncorde to meet some of the Fetchies: runners that I'd been chatting with online in the preceeding weeks. It was great to finally meet these people in real life!

In the picture below I've got my copy of L'Equipe which has all the finishers' names and times printed in it. This is the paper that I keep hearing about as we watch the Tour de France every year so it's pretty cool to be in it!

We had a picnic on what we call the 'picnic bridge' - the Pont des Arts - including yet more red wine. A very civilized way to dine. There were some rather good buskers playing the sort of jazz that is used in the Jeeves & Wooster TV series.

On Monday and Tuesday we took in some museums, cafes, bars, shopping and general pootling about just being happy to be in Paris.

Like I said, Paris je t'aime!