Thursday, 23 December 2010

Sleepy - 2010 is nearly finished.

The year is nearly at an end. I should have just one marathon left, but it's not likely that I'll be able to get there. The last couple were good though. A couple of weeks ago was the Portsmouth Coastal. This did what it said on the tin: a very pleasant jaunt along the coast with sea views. Admittedly I am easily pleased, but it was good to be out running (I took this one gently with Rob as I had been feeling poorly all week and he had dodgy achilles). It was an out and back course and it was surprising how many of the other folk I knew. There really are a lot of peopled who keep turning up at these things week in, week out. A very colourful medal at the end plus free food too.

Then after the snow, I did the Bournemouth track marathon. That's 105 laps plus an extra 195 metres. It was rather good, well organised by Steff and not such a tough mental challenge as I'd thought (though I still think I prefer 100 miles to 100 laps) with lots of lapping going on, so plenty of chances to chat, albeit briefly, with other runners. The snow underfoot made it quite hard going, plus the antibiotics for the chest infection didn't really seem to be having any effect, but it was great to see people and the track was quite open so there were almost kind of country park views. One chap said he was going a bit slowly as it was his 20th this year. (I did the quick mental calcuation - it was my 59th this year. I didn't tell him that.)

On the way home, I met a rather good snowman at the end of my road.I'm still hopeful of one more long run this year, but there are plenty for next year anyway. Happy running everyone.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

3 weekends

I haven't blogged (blug?) for ages, for no good reason since the last 3 weekends have all been most enjoyable.

On Friday 19th November we took the train up to Newcastle to spend a weekend with my parents. Always good and we went for a pleasant (if damp) walk near Rothbury, finishing in a bizarre little pub that seemed to be in someone's living room. There was another room off to one side where they sold postcards, save-the-squirrel pencils and reindeer sparkle. On the Sunday was the Town Moor Marathon (it would have been churlish not to, since we were in the area...) which I ran the first 7 miles with Paul (who is blind - we used a dog-chew-toy-like thing) but I managed to let him fall over and he had to pull out after the first lap and a half. I ran the last few laps catching up with various people so it was all quite social really. Meanwhile Jim went with my folks to the HMS Ark Royal (as it was conveniently docked at South Shields before being decommissioned).On Friday 26th we went down to Brighton. It was possibly the best weekend this year (and there have been some excellent ones). Jim had decided to whisk me away for a birthday treat and he kept producing gifts (from entertaining novelties to some seriously cool and shiny stuff) throughout the weekend. I really like being by the sea and have always liked Brighton. We spent the whole time grinning like idiots, while also eating and drinking lots, strolling along the pier, visiting the museum, getting lots of, er, exercise, enjoying the light snow, running along the prom on the Sunday morning and just generally being happy.

On my actual birthday it was the first day we had snow in London, so my run around the Heath was extra pretty. A nice bonus.

The weekend just gone was supposed to involve the Luton Marathon, but it was cancelled. Fortunately a friend organised an alternative event for those of us needing our fix. So the Bletchley Enigma Marathon was 7 laps around a lake on a beautiful crisp and sunny morning, with all the usual suspects in attendance (nearly 40 in all). I don't suppose I'd have finished 2nd lady at Luton.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Sunday Silliness

Back to usual today with a trail marathon. My first LDWA event for ages, which came with all the expected mud, hills, stiles, footbridges, fields, steps, kissing gates... and a variety of animals including sheep, llamas, curly-haired cows, turkeys, a cockerel and a very cute muntjack deer.

I ran (and admittedly walked a fair bit too) with Rob who is excellent company. He did his first marathon at Edinburgh last year and today's was his 56th! We were both in the mood for a slow one, enjoying the autumn countryside views and generally being easily pleased at what a lovely route it was (apart from the very heavy mud in some of the fields and the surprisingly cold rain for the last 5 miles).

And there were plenty of the usual suspects there today making it great for catching up with folk I hadn't seen for a few weeks.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Super Saturday Silliness

It's that time of year again, when I take a bunch of sixth formers that I've been coaching to run a 10K. For the past three years we've done Brighton in November, but this year that clashed with the Newcastle marathon (more on the toon next week). So we did the Mo 10K in Greenwich park - handily local at least. It's part of Movember (where men around the world sport a moustache throughout November to raise money - in the UK they're affiliated with the Prostate Cancer Charity).

The students mostly wore Pudsey-bear-style headbands, a few went with a mo too and I ran in fancy dress as Supergirl. Just for my own amusement. It was a very convulted course, lapping around the park and taking in a few small (though surprisingly knackering) hills. It was well organised and quite a feel-good event. I certainly enjoyed it and it's always good to see the students being all chuffed with themselves. Nice to have the Vice Principal along too, joining in the silliness.Particularly impressive were the guy who ran the whole thing in bike leathers and helmet and the chap who ran it all backwards - in under an hour!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Taking a break

So, I usually blog after a running event and haven't blogged for over three weeks. Yup - I just had two whole weekends without a race in them. And I didn't run very much either, but enjoyed taking a break to let my legs recover from putting in a fair few miles this year. We went camping in St Ives for the half term week. It was fantastically relaxing. Lots of eating, sleeping and drinking, a couple of beautiful coastal walks, lots of wandering along the beach watching the surf and moseying around the town. We visited our favourite cafe (the Yellow Canary on Fore Street) and pub (the Sloop) every day. And ok, I did go running a bit while we were there too, as well as doing lots of, er, other exercise for cross training too.

This weekend I had to go to college for Open Day on Saturday (very odd for a teacher to be working on a Saturday, but it's only once a year). Then I took the train up to Norwich for the Marriotts Way Ultra on Sunday. It's a fairly low key trail run, which goes out of Norwich for 18 miles on a disused railway line, then we can refill water at the turnaround point before heading back the way we came. The trail has seats at mile intervals, each made from bits of old railway track. I thoroughly enjoyed it, spending a lot of time chatting with various people on the way out and lost in my own thoughts on the way back. Surprisingly, the reason for the lone return was that I was in the lead (out of everyone, not just the ladies) and was actually the first to finish. Not fast at 5:42, but a really pleasant day. It felt good to run all of it without taking any walk breaks, but a bit sad that it's the last ultra for me this year - no more now till January. Fortunately there are plenty of marathons to keep me out of trouble in the meantime.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

3:53 again

When I entered Abingdon (albeit late) I was thinking I might try for a PB, since it's notoriously a fast flat course. After being told Iwas 57th on the waiting list, I assumed I wouldn't get in, so was pleasantly surprised when my race number arrived a couple of weeks ago. But having finally had my poorly lungs diagnosed as a chest infection last week, I figured I wasn't going to push it after all.

There were loads of people I know there so it was always going to be a pleasant day out. I actually started off at 8 minute miling for a few miles, but then realised that, while my lungs feel like they're on the mend (a relief that the antibiotics seem to be kicking in at last), I just wasn't in the mood for a fast one. So I eased off and ran at a far more enjoyable jog for the rest of the course. (Final time was 3:53, which is the same as last week.)

There was a brilliant Fetchpoint, which we went through twice. I wasn't in Fetch colours today, but saw their balloons before being loudly cheered through by name. (One advantage of being current member of the month on Fetch is that they recognise me even in my Vegan club vest.) The course had some reallly cute villages, a couple of short stretches of trail (I missed nice long trail runs!) and some less attractive industrial estate sections. Fantastic marshaling though and a great atmosphere. I was super-proud of Heather for running a sub 3:30 and there were a lot of other excellent performances today too. I was very surprised to find Dick Kearn jogging along - a road marathon?

A very enjoyable one. A good thing too, as I'm not running an event at all for the next two weekends... will I remain sane?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

A run is fun but in Leicester it's bester

Disclaimer - the title of this blog was chosen by Jim.

A very pleasant weekend. Actually, I felt really rough on Saturday, but am seeing a doctor on Monday in the hope that they might be able to sort out my custard lungs (which still prevent me from breathing while doing mundane sitting-about tasks, yet allow me to run - seems odd).

Anyhoo, I took the train up to Leicester on Saturday evening where I stayed with a fellow Vegan Runner and her very cute cat. It was her first race (no, not the cat's) and she was doing the half marathon. We headed to the park this morning in nice cool weather and found loads of familiar faces there. It's a pretty big event though the vast majority seemed to be doing the half route. A very good atmosphere and a well marked course with clapping, cheering marshals at every turn.

I was watchless. My Garmin is actually Jim's (to replace the one I carelessly tossed in canal earlier this year) and I'd left it with him for his training run (that's right - Jim is training - for next year's London Marathon no less!). Needless to say I have ordered a Garmin for myself, but it hasn't arrived yet and I forgot to take any sort of watch with me. That was fine as, given how dodgy I was feeling, I had no intentions of worrying about pacing. The start is downhill which always encourages a foolishly fast first couple of miles. Then it's mostly flat with some undules. It stopped being so pleasantly cool and warmed up quite a bit in the sunshine. Past some pretty lakes in a park and the Space Centre (which looks like a rocket sitting in a weirdly-shaped transparent bouncy castle). I enjoyed the run and managed to get my first sub 4 marathon since the 10 in 10 back in May. Nice, but I'll take a slower countryside ultra for preference any day!

I met some Fetchies that I'd heard of but never previously met in the flesh, always good. Also met a follower of my blog, who I ran a few miles with - how did you get on today John? And there were a fair few 100 club folk in attendance, with it being Bob's 100th today.

And I was home while it was still sunny and early. I like running. I might have mentioned that before?

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Happy Trails

Last weekend we went to the Cartoon Museum in London - we only heard of it recently and it's worth a visit, even if it's not quite as good as the one in Brussels.

Then on Sunday I ran the Great Clarendon Way Marathon. It actually was pretty great too. Lovely trail course from Salisbury to Winchester, with lots of signs and friendly marshals to guide the way. Always a good atmosphere. It rained for the first 15 miles (yay!) but unfortunately I'm still not feeling well so found it hard. Managed to enjoy the scenery (and lots of mud) all the same. I even got a special little plate thing at the finish for having completed the event 5 times. Definitely one to keep on the calendar.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Run - Forest run

The last weekend of the year that our favourite New Forest campsite is open usually coincides with the New Forest Marathon. Which is nice.

So we spent a top weekend in the forest, stuffing ourselves with the delicious ripe blackberries, finding many varieties of mushrooms (that we didn't consume) and being amazed at the almost impossibly big and bright moon. Admittedly it was a bit chilly overnight, but we were entertained by several peculiar wildlife noises - deer we suspect, among others.

The marathon itself is always lovely, though I found it very tough. My cold apparently hasn't gone away yet after all, but is lingering maliciously. It was pretty windy out too. Lots of really enthusiastic marshals and great company made for a superb day. A bit annoying to get rained on as I rode home on the motorway, but at least it wasn't too heavy.

Why are weekends only two days long? I really enjoy them, but would enjoy longer ones even more...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Canaltastic - day 2

Another pleasant jaunt along the canal today. It finally feels like my cold is easing off, but I was still pretty tired this morning. There was less sun and a brisk headwind, but I managed to be only 9 minutes slower than yesterday. Good enough for 3rd lady (another trophy!) - though the woman who won hadn't done the previous day - seemed almost like cheating, starting the race with fresh legs. ;-)

Still, I was chuffed to come in 6th overall for the 58.6 mile double. Not bad recovery from last week's exertion.

We got room 132 at the hotel on Saturday night. After my 132nd marathon/ultra coincidentally. But then the room wasn't ready so we got moved to 125. (A prime cubed, so I was happy enough with that.)

Another most enjoyable weekend organised by the jolly nice Rory & Jen at ULTRArace.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Shouldn't canals be wet?

I've had enough of this stoopid fecking cold now. But at least I still seem to be able to run with it. Today was the first day of a double. 29.3 miles along a canal from Cotgrave to Grantham. We stay in a rather nice hotel tonight, then run the course in reverse tomorrow. Not backwards - that would be quite tough. Actually, it's a nice easy flat route, though the grassy bits are harder on the legs. I like running by water, but lots of sections of this canal were disappointingly dry.

After last week I assumed I'd be very slow today. So 4:30 was a bit of a surprise. And a trophy for second lady too. Shiny. Although it being glass,
It barely shows up in the photo...



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, 13 September 2010

No blisters - maybe I'm getting the hang of this ultra lark?

When Jen (my best friend from primary school, whom I didn't see from when I was 11, till last year when we met up again after reconnecting through the Fetcheveryone running website) first mentioned wanting to set up a 100+ mile ultra along the entire hilly length of the South Downs Way, I thought she was a bit mad. Then I began running a bit more and really started looking forward to the event. That is, until last Tuesday when I felt really not-very-well and should, in retrospect, probably have taken time off work, but I didn't and so still felt pretty rough on Saturday morning. I almost didn't go to the race, but I usually go along with that saying about regretting the things you didn't do more than the things you did, so I took the train down to Eastbourne and headed to the Bandstand on the prom where the registration was set up.There were plenty of Fetchies around (both running and supporting) though only actually 33 starters in total. I had kept getting out of breath just sitting down at work on Friday, so with a heavy cold still very present on Saturday, I was not expecting much of myself in terms of getting a fast time or even completing the distance. The South Downs Way is a 102 mile trail between Eastbourne and Winchester and we began the race at 10am with a mile along the seafront, before getting onto the trail. A mile in pouring rain and a brisk headwind.

But at least the first few miles took my mind off feeling dodgy. There was the not insignificant matter of the steep climbs over Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters, whilst concentrating on not falling off the slippy coastal path or getting blown over by the battering headwind. I really can't exaggerate the amount of wind - there were walkers out on the cliff tops enjoying doing that thing where you can lean into the wind at a seemingly impossible angle. I suspect there would have been great views if the rain and fog would allow them to be seen. I managed to get hit in the face by my map case a few times before I found an appropriate way to carry the map (appropriate in that it didn't hit me and was handy for navigating, but not so good in that it has resulted in my right shoulder not allowing my arm to move properly now - I was having to gimpily support it with the other arm while writing on the top third of the whiteboard at college today). I ran with Tony for a bit along this section, chatting away as I usually do, then was on my own for a long time (a field of only 33 gets pretty spread out) until well past half way.

After heading inland, the wind continued but the rain eased off and I just enjoyed the fact that I seemed to be able to run without my lungs complaining too much. It was 19 miles to the first checkpoint and I hadn't seen this part of the route before: always nice to explore somewhere new. It's a good trail and mostly well signposted. The checkpoint set the tone for all that were to come - full of smiling, helpful volunteers, mostly Fetchies, keen to tend to our every need. I never demand much - I refill the Camelbak bladder (adding a couple of Nuun electrolyte tablets) and grab a banana or something - but it's good to see that there is loads of food on offer along with the friendly support.

It was 15 miles to the next CP, along a section of trail that I had run in both the Downlands ultra and the Brighton trail marathon. It was reassuring to know the route and not have to rely on the map so much. This part goes over Ditchling Beacon (familiar to fans of the London to Brighton Bike ride) and past a pair of cute windmills, called Jack and Jill. While walking up one of the many steep hills I took the opportunity to call Jim and let him know that I was enjoying a pleasant day out and confident that I'd finish, albeit most likely at sometime in the late afternoon of the following day.
The following 15 miles to CP3 were on unfamiliar territory. I had to keep a close eye on the navigation (whilst the signposting is quite good along the trail, not every turn is marked so you have to know exactly where you are on the map to avoid easy lostness). There was one small section I remembered, having walked along it in howling wind and rain while looking for lost Duke of Edinburgh students back in July. This time it was dry, with golden near-dusk lighting and the wind was not too strong. Soon after that stretch I turned for a welcome downhill to the CP, where Noel had made some vegan jam sandwiches just for me. Fantastic!

It was after 8pm and starting to get dark, so headtorch out for the next section. A nice short one at only 7 miles. And it never seems as odd as I think it will, being out in the middle of nowhere, alone in the dark, trotting along trying not to fall over badly or get lost. There were quite a few times where I had to stop and make sure I was on the right route: I was as it turned out - not a single detour off route for the whole 103 miles - but it was definitely worth checking. Being lost isn't much fun at the best of times. There were plenty of good wildlife noises (I recognised the hooting of owls, but there was a lot of other strange squawking and squealing that I couldn't put a name to). The eyes of the sheep and cows glowed yellow. I suppose it was almost spooky. But I don't really do spooky. At this stage there was a clear sky and no streetlights to be seen - so the stars were amazing. And a really clear Milky Way on display along with a shiny bright Jupiter. Brilliant. CP4 was in the garden of a pub in Amberley. It was great to see Jen here, along with the other helpers. I felt proud of how good a race director she is and she was pleased that I was currently in the lead of the women's race (I assumed the whole way that I would be overtaken soon, as there was a very good standard of runners taking part). There was the choice of clambering over a wall, or walking right round to reach the drop bags, food and drinks. I clambered. Some people stopped here for a long time, taking in a hot meal and having a sit down. I thought stopping would not be wise as it would make starting again harder, so I just had a quick coffee, restocked my food supplies (salted nuts, bombay mix, muesli bars, caffeinated gels) and headed on my way.

The trail briefly followed a river (very close to one of the D of E campsites, though it looked completely different in the dark), then went up a long hill. Near the top, I got to a fork that could have been the one I needed to turn left at, though I thought I shouldn't quite be there yet. While pondering this, I saw a couple of lights approaching. They could only really be other competitors, so I waited a bit for them to catch up to see if they agreed about my routefinding. They knew this section and confirmed that it was the next fork we'd turn at. I stuck with Graham and Euan to CP5. It made a change to have someone to talk to (other than myself). We soon came to part of the South Downs Marathon route so I felt I knew the way again for a while. It does look very different without the sunshine though. The path here is chalky and was alternately slippery and sticky. At a slippery part I managed to slip and fall. It made my right hip flexor twinge and I landed with a thud on my left side. Not too painful, though I have some great bruising on my left hip and scratches on the calf. The right leg was more of a problem - I could still run fine, but it wouldn't lift properly, which would be fine if there were no stiles (more on that later...).

I parted company with the boys after CP5, but that meant that without the chatting, I began to feel very sleepy. It was a huge struggle to stay awake from about 3am to half past 4 or so when I arrived at CP6 in Queen Elizabeth park (where the South Downs marathon finishes). I experimented with different methods of avoiding drifting into slumber, none very successful. Singing along to the iPod wasn't good as I was too tired to make noises even approaching being tuneful. I tried waving my arms about a bit, but the shoulder was very sore and it didn't help much anyway. The sugar rush from some jelly beans was the best I could do. I was very much looking forward to sunrise, but that was a couple of hours away at least.

After CP6 the extreme difficulty of navigation kept me alert. I was going up a grassy hill with no marked track. There were signposts about halfway up and at the top, which would probably be quite useful on a clear day. But it was foggy. The light from my headtorch reflected off the fog. I tried all the settings on both torches, but about 2 metres visiblity was the best I could achieve. I tried switching the light off, thinking there may be a little residual light in the sky. Nope: no moonlight and just inky dark pitch blackness. So, torch back on, I was relying on my map and compass and going by feel as I knew it had to be uphill. I proceeded quite slowly and felt almost euphoric on seeing each of the signposts with their little acorn symbols, indicating I was still on the right route. Progress was slow, even on a good downhill section (where the track was rough and I was being careful not to fall), until dawn gradually brought the much needed light. It was very nice to finally arrive at CP7 with only 12 miles to go and a beautiful sunny day beginning.

What was not so nice was that the next section involved steep hills with over half a dozen stiles. One very angry right leg complained loudly at me. I tried to placate it with ibuprofen which reduced it to more of a whinge. This section was only 5 miles and the time zipped by. The 'running' was pretty slow, but still happening on the downhills at least and even on some of the flat bits. The final section was 7 miles. The home stretch. No steep hills, but some definite undulations. I had an eye on the time now. The 24 hour 100 was clearly never going to happen this time, but I was certainly looking at sub-25 and maybe even sub 24 and a half. So I kept pushing right through to Winchester.

Where I arrived with a time of 24:24:10. First lady and 8th place overall. Got to be happy with that. Jen presented me with the trophy and we were both delighted. A really enjoyable event and hats off to all who made it so. Huge thanks to Jen and all the Fetchies and other volunteers who made it special. The inaugural South Downs Way Race rocked - one of the best ultras in the UK.

Morris dancing by the sea

I forgot to write about last weekend's marathon (Sunday 5th September). It was the week after the Ridgeway 85, so I was planning a gentle trot along the coast (which I ran with Heather so wasn't nearly as slow as I'd anticipated, at 4:15).

The Kent Coastal Marathon is a really friendly, well organised event (thanks Thanet Roadrunners!) by the sea from Margate, with loads of 100 club folk in attendance this year as it was Les's 100th. He, along with Jim and Merv, turned up in full Morris dancing costumes. They jingled their way around the course, pausing a couple of times en route to perform a dance to some bemused onlookers. By the time they crossed the finish line (in well under 6 hours), Merv had picked up a euphonium from somewhereand Les had a pint of beer in hand. Then it was champagne all round by way of celebration.

Roger (pictured here with Les) didn't realise till later in the week that it was actually his 600th marathon. Makes my 130 seem a bit inadequate...

Monday, 30 August 2010

New PB (85 miles) - the Ridgeway rocks!

Last year, the Ridgeway 85 was the longest race I'd ever done and was rightly a bit nervous. A year more experience makes a big difference and this time I was just really looking forward to it. My main thoughts were "oh yeah, this one has a fantastic atmosphere, Grim's Ditch which is a great bit of trail, plus it's pretty well signposted so no real navigation required. I like this event - I wonder if I can knock over an hour off last year's time to go sub 20."

I wasn't feeling 100% on Saturday, but not ill enough to consider dropping out. It was another beautiful sunny day and we were treated to the sight of three large deer running across the hill near the noon start at Ivinghoe Beacon, just North of Tring. There were about 120 starters this year: a much bigger field than before. We set off and I enjoyed the trail, remembering lots of forgotten bits as we went. I'd forgotten how hilly the route is - but they do mention that there's over 9 000 feet of ascent on the entry form. I knew lots of people there and ran with a friend (Helen) who hadn't done anything longer than London to Brighton before. It felt nice to be kind of pacing someone in such a long ultra.

I really enjoyed it, especially since I'd learnt about wearing more cushioned shoes to avoid the battered and blistered feet that could result from running on the Ridgeway's rocky and rootsy surfaces. We arrived at Goring for a hot meal in daylight, then set off as it began to get dark for the second half. I ran a lot more of the night section than last year and was pleased to find fellow Vegan Runner Maria at the 61.5 mile checkpoint. This meant I was supplied with coffee with soya milk and some tasty vegan sandwiches (hummus and golden syrup - not both at the same time as I thought when she first told me what she'd brought!).Then onwards into the dark until past Barbury Castle, where it finally got light during the final few miles of the run (it was a shame that the sunrise was behind us). We arrived at the finish just before 7am, making my time 18:49 - over two hours faster than my previous best. The race is the UK Trail Running Championships and though I only got 5th place lady (or 16th overall), Helen won the 'Vet 40 lady' category so I was really pleased. Breakfast in Avebury was most welcome, before we were taken to Swindon to catch a train home.

This a superbly well organised event and one that will continue to grow. I'll certainly be back again to enjoy this national trail.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Robin Hood didn't get a trophy did he?

For some reason I wasn't expecting much from the Nottingham ULTRArace 50K. I don't know why that was. Still, it turned out to be a brilliant day out.

I got the train up yesterday afternoon and stayed in a good hotel (mercifully cheap as booked online) though didn't get much sleep due to it being fairly central and the loud drunk types also being fairly central.

But it dawned sunny and we took a coach North to the start. The course was nearly all trail and very pretty. It was well marked and we had route maps too. So how did I manage to get lost and run over a mile extra before the first checkpoint? Let's just put it down to muppetry. Actually, I was really enjoying it, feeling fitter than I have for a while, got carried away & was going too fast to notice one of the arrows...

But in a way that was good as I kept up the pace and passed lots of people. I'm not usually a 'racer' but I felt annoyed at myself for dropping back so many places and that kept me moving - to eventually finish in 3rd place (female) where I got a shiny glass trophy. Yay!(There was also a finishers' medal and towel for everyone.)

A super day out, really well organised by the lovely Rory and Jen at ULTRArace and a great atmosphere. I'll be back next year.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

What day is it again?

I love it when, during the long summer holidays, I get to the point where I have no real idea of what day it is and that doesn't matter at all, as there are plenty more days off till it'll be time to go back to work. A very relaxing feeling.

I got that very much with having 7 days that went - 50K in Salisbury on Sunday, Monday-Friday in Paris, then a 54 miler on the Saturday. Then yesterday (a Tuesday, no less) I did another marathon. Actually, I've just checked and it was my third Tuesday marathon, so they're not quite as rare as I'd suspected.

It was the Evening Enigma Marathon, starting at 4pm, with a couple of laps around the lake in Bletchley Park and a jaunt along the Grand Union Canal. And very enjoyable it was too. I ran with Heather and we were joined by Rory for a lot of the second half. So plenty of good conversation (and admittedly we picked Rory's brains for some training tips from a top coach) and it zipped by (much quicker than expected at 4:16:29). Happy days.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Paris and, er, Hertfordshire

Another fantastic week spent in Paris. Actually only five days, but it seemed like longer as we packed a lot in.

Partly because we made good use of the Velib' (free bike) system - only €5 for a week's riding, as long as you redock your bike at one of the many stations each half hour. Many docking stations all over the place, unless you're actually looking for them that is. Then they all cunningly skulk into hiding.

We rode out to the Bois de Vincennes (which I had only previously visited during the marathon) along the Canal St Martin and also up the Champs Elysees - those Tour de France boys would find it much harder up the cobbles on hire bikes.

We went to some museums, including seeing some Monet (his lilies are much larger than I'd realised) and Rodin's Thinker and The Kiss. The Paris Plages was also on (where they close the road by the Seine and ship in some sand to make a pseudo beach by the river).

The cemetary at Montmartre was really cool, though not quite as striking as the one at Pere Lachaise. It did have a very cute chat de la cimetiere though.And of course I had some lovely runs along the Seine, round the park at the base of the Eiffel Tower and through the Tuileries. And we went on the cheesy big wheel and a big swing chair fariground ride thing near the Louvre. So, five days of being easily pleased zipped by with us both permanently grinning like idiots.

Then yesterday I did the Herts Stroller, which was an LDWA 54 miler in Hertfordshire. It was weird because it didn't feel like an ultra: it was just like any other LDWA event, only longer. All the usual elements of (8 pages of) instructions, well-stocked checkpoints, hills, mud, rain, sun, woods, fields, footbridges, stiles, kissing gates, lostness, views, great company. Heather and I sauntered round in a little under 12 hours. The only thing that made it different from other LDWA events was the last hour or so being in the dark with headtorches. A top day out.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Summer holdiays always good and still plenty more left...

We had a lovely week camping in the New Forest. Unfortunately I didn't feel too well most of the week and was struggling when I ran - but at least my runs involved spotting deer, ponies, donkeys, rabbits and cows, so I was happy enough.

Oh, before that we had a go on the new Boris Bikes in town: which I really liked, as I'd forgotten the simple pleasure of riding a bike. And we saw City of Lost Children at the NFT with a Q & A session with director Marc Caro afterwards. Not nearly as pretentious as we feared it may be, but a great evening out.

We then took a train to Salisbury yesterday and stayed in a stupidly hot (even with the fan on all night) hotel. Salisbury always seems like it should be nicer than it actually is. The Cathedral is alright and there are some good bits of old buildings dotted around, but somehow it's never quite as enjoyable as I think it should be. However, at least the pizza was great.

The 5-4-3-2-1 trail marathon has always been a pretty one though. Slightly misnamed as a lot of it is on road, but there are some good bits: my favourite being where you follow some string tied among the trees through the woods. It feels like being in a fairy tale. This year they added a 50K run to the other distances available (10, 20, 30, 40 and 42K) so I opted for the long one. I was still feeling a bit knackered, but luckily Heather was there to keep me moving cheerily at a reasonable pace, though we still did a fair amount of walking up the hills. A slow one at about 5:17, but another good day out in the countryside.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Lapping it up

The Faversham marathon yesterday was surprisingly enjoyable (it involved 40 laps around a park, so not the most exciting of courses). There were loads of 100 marathon club folk in attendance so it was extremely sociable, both before, during (as we all lapped each other many times) and after. They have a policiy of "everyone's a winner" so we all got a ridiculously big trophy at the finish (my actual position was 5th lady I think). The goody bag also contained a lotto ticket, beer and an energy drink.After Lakeland last week, then donating blood on Thursday (I think they say no strenuous exercise for 24 hours, so a marathon a day and a half later is fine, no?) I wasn't sure if I'd have any energy at all. So a sedate trot round in 4:16:49 was more than acceptable.

This morning's 10 miler was hard though - I really felt like I was running on empty. I had to have two breakfasts to feel right again.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Warp speed Wainwright - Lakeland 100

UTLD, the Lakeland 100 mile race is a fantastic event. It began three years ago when Mark Laithwaite (one of the race directors) had a friend who did the UTMB (100 miles around Mont Blanc, starting in Chamonix - yes: it's on my to-do list) and thought it would be great to have something similar in the Lake District. It first ran in 2008 (before I was really aware of what ultra running is), then in 2009 I popped along to have a go at the Lakeland 50 (the second half of the 100 course). It was the toughest event I'd ever done and remained so until this weekend. I knew that even considering the full 100 would be really silly (especially as the first half of the course is harder than the second). So that's the one I entered this year. A lot of people are calling it the UK's toughest ultra and probably the toughest 100 miler in Europe. They might be right.

I was feeling pretty fit after lots of running this year. The distance doesn't scare me - 100 miles is a long way, but perfectly doable. My knees have been a bit dodgy so I wondered how they'd cope with lots of steep hills and rough terrain. The time limit (40 hours total, with cut offs at some of the checkpoints, such as 9.5 hours for the first 25.3 miles) looks quite slack, but there are no marshalls or signs on the course, so it's a case of using map and compass and reading the 'road book' carefully in an attempt not to get lost. My navigation is usually ok, but in the dark it's always tricksy, especially once the fatigue kicks in. Plus I knew that well over half the starters have dropped out in the previous years. I was more nervous than I have been for any event before. And also really excited about it.

I took a 9:30 train up to Windermere on Friday (or tried to - it was delayed and I ended up being collected from Oxenholme) and got a lift from Lindley (a great Fetchie I have run with before, similar pace to me - he finished both London to Brighton trail and the Boddington 100K within about half an hour of my times) to Coniston for registration. We got there early afternoon and had to be weighed, have our compulsory kit checked (waterproofs, spare base layers, foil blanket, first aid kit, emergency food, compass, whistle, head torch, spare batteries), get a dibber (timing device) attached to a wrist strap and collect our race numbers to be pinned to our packs. This didn't take too long and there was plenty of time to kill before the 4pm race briefing. So I had a relaxing massage. And more food. The race briefing was entertainingly presented by Mark and Terry. They gave us info of a course change (due to a river being uncrossably high at one point) and some final tips and advice. Joss Naylor also gave a short speech and wished us well. There were over 100 competitors and the atmosphere was positive, but with an apprehensive vibe too. We then had to wait till 5:30pm for the start. It seemed a little cruel starting so late, as those of us at the slow end of the pack would have to run through the night, all of Saturday, then overnight again into Sunday morning.Picture shows Lindley, Katie, Darren & me before the start (four Fetchies). That shirt is actually red, not the pink it appears to be!

It was quite a relief to finally get going. As with most sections of the course, we started by heading up a big hill of variable steepness, on rocky, slate-strewn tracks, with scree sections and through streams and several gates. The descent into Seathwaite was down a very stony, shingly track that, even with fresh legs, was hard to get down. It was only 6.4 miles to the first checkpoint, but with over 2100 feet of ascent it gave us a fair idea of what we were in for. The views from the tops in the evening sunshine were beautiful. That section took me an hour and a half. I chatted with several runners along the way, including Carlos (who I'd run most of Caesar's Camp 100 with) and his brother. I also first met Alec just before the checkpoint. He hadn't run more than 100K before and was a bit concerned at how jellylike his legs were after only the first big downhill. We dibbed in at the checkpoint and the times were instantly relayed to the website, where people could track our progress online. The checkpoint at Seathwaite was manned by very supportive volunteers, providing us with cheery words, food and drink and brief shelter. These great people really added to the atmosphere of the event and we looked forward to each checkpoint very much. Not that we stayed very long - it's all about making progress.

So onto the next section to Boot. This was the first place we encountered very boggy ground (though only ankle deep if we were careful). And lots of roots. And stiles. Alec was going at about my pace and we got chatting some more. He had a very good GPS that showed both the route and where we had gone very clearly. That added extra confidence, as while the road book and map were clear, it would still be easy to get lost. We did manage to miss one turn and ended up at stepping stones instead of a bridge. This was another high river and the stones were not actually sticking out of the water, but clearly visible just below the surface. I took the lead and went across anyway, enjoying the cool flowing water on my already battered feeling feet. At the next checkpoint the volunteers excitedly told me I was second lady. I didn't feel like racing though. It's like Mark said - UTLD is more than just a 'race', it's an 'event'. I didn't want to be worried about how far in front and behind me the other competitors were. I just wanted to enjoy a day or so out in the Lake District. Completing the event was challenge enough - racing it wasn't something I was interested in. I think Britta passed me after checkpoint 3 or 4 and I was more than happy to see her go strongly ahead (she went on to win). Alec and I seemed to be sticking together and he later said he liked that he could tell I was going to finish, matter-of-fact. I figured I could definitely make sure he completed his first 100 miler and he would be good company, particularly important through the night (and I admit his GPS was greatly reassuring too!). I think I was a bit fitter, so there was no pressure to keep up - I felt veryy comfortable with the steady pace. My walking was faster but we ran at the same pace so it worked well. He needed maybe a few more walk breaks than I would have had otherwise, but then maybe if I'd run more I would have been more fatigued later.

The fourth section from Wasdale Head to Buttermere was the first of the real biggies, with nearly 2500 feet of climbing. It was also where it got dark. The ascent went steeply on and on and felt really hard, until we started the technical descent which was even harder. The 'path' was slippy as the shingle slid around beneath our feet and rocky too. Even with a good headtorch it was easy to misplace my sore feet. My legs were tired but feeling strong and my knees were holding up very well. I wasn't sleepy and really enjoyed the night section. It was only dark for about 6 hours. I like the way sheep eyes seem to glow yellow in torchlight. Buttermere was the first place with a cutoff time, which we were well inside by more than two hours. That was quite a boost. The following section had just as much uphill, including a relentless 1km steep scree slope that came at the end of one of the climbs. My hamstrings and calves were burning, finally to be relieved when the quads took the strain on the next steep downhill. We were very glad to have those two sections out the way and enjoyed some hot pasta at Brathwaite. The weather had been very kind to us too: it was a clear, dry night with a nearly full moon and not cold at all.

The next section took us past Keswick, where I'd had many happy childhood holidays and more recently have been to stay in my parents' flat there. It was nice to know the route for a while, as the track took us up round the back of Latrigg, a path I'd walked a couple of times in the last year or so. It made me realise that doing a route recce would be wise - not just for knowing where to go, but because actually knowing what the course is like adds a lot of reassurance. There was only about 1500 feet ascent and it got light at about quarter past 4, making this a very pleasant section. We'd hooked up with another couple of runners, Dick and Gary, overnight and were all in good spirits as it dawned and we approached the Blencathra checkpoint. It was strange that we got to know Dick and Gary quite well after running together for hours in the dark, but I had no idea what they looked like until we were all indoors at one of the checkpoints. They didn't look like they sounded.

The four of us stuck together to Dockray. Alec was finding it tough but kept moving on (not that there was another option). I was happy enough walking for a while and enjoying chatting and admiring the views. Dockray was almost halfway and we all felt a bit more awake after the check there. A good thing as the following section to Dalemain, up past Aira Force then higher up to get stunning views across Ullswater, went on forever it seemed. Dalemain is where the 50 mile runners start (though they do a little loop there - we've actually done about 60 miles by that point) and there were plenty of people around cheering us on, including Alec's dad and brother. We were also allowed to have a kit bag there, so I changed into clean socks and shoes and restocked some food in my pack. It was very good to be well past halfway and on the home stretch. I knew there were some very tough bits still to come, but having done them before made them less daunting. Only the leading three 50 milers overtook us on the section to Howtown.
Flip (ultra-running but currently injured Fetchie) took this at about 65 miles, shortly before Howtown. That's Alec just behind me.

They were all really encouraging, taking the time to say hello despite their speed and focus on their race. At the checkpoint at Howtown, more friendly helpers commented on how fresh we looked and said we were far more coherent than some of the others who'd been through. We had food and coffee in preparation for the huge hill that was looming before us. It began raining as we left Howtown, so I got the chance to try out my new OMM Kamleika waterproof smock, which turns out to be a fantastic bit of kit.

The climb went on for a very long time, up to High Kop (at 665m it's the highest point on the route). We were passed by many 50 milers, all of whom respectfully wished us well. They were struggling with the climb themselves, but appreciated how much harder it would be with nearly 70 miles in the legs already. The way down is through bracken with no clear path. It was quite a sight seeing the top halves of people all over the hillside, making their way through a sea of green down to the lake. The last bit is a scramble down slippery rocks, before the path by Haweswater begins. It's described as a 'good undulating path' in the road book. Well, I suppose it's good in that it's clear, unlike some of the very indistinct paths elsewhere. But it's not good in that it's very narrow, slippery, has a steep drop off to one side and has many rocks to be clambered over. And it goes on for 4 miles. To the next checkpoint which is a van in a carpark. By this time it was getting very windy, the sky was very grey and the persistent rain was getting heavier. A nice dry and warm village hall or even a barn like some of the other checks would have been most welcome.

So, onward and upwards. It was pissing down, howling wind and we were heading up into a black cloud. Alec remarked that he was glad we were getting to experience some proper Lake District weather. We were actually both quite happy to be out on the hills - it's all about having the right clothes I guess. Another steep climb up to Gatesgarth Pass and over to a really horrible track down. Very steep in parts, but also covered in rocks and slippery slate that made it very hard to get down. It would have been a struggle in walking boots. I think I only slipped once - but my thighs really didn't enjoy getting up again. It did make me more aware that my legs were actually generally feeling quite ok though, which was pleasing at this stage in the race. Another long climb followed, but we knew that the next check was indeed an indoor one, with lots of food. It was lovely to arrive at Kentmere, which was full of people from both the 50 and the 100. Some were having a full massage, others eating and drinking. I had two bowls of pasta and coffee and biscuits. And it was warm and dry and just had a brilliant atmosphere. Alec had his feet seen to so we were there for quite a while. I put on my waterproof pants (Inov-8 - more good kit).

Another large hill out of the checkpoint, followed by a nasty bumpy track down - there's a pattern here, isn't there? - then up again with a view over Windermere. I remember seeing it last year and thinking about how I'd be running round it 10 times in May. It was good to be looking at it again and thinking how well those ten laps had gone and what a great experience the 10in10 was. A trot down through some very dark woods, again a really rough surface and very slippery as everything was wet, hard to see in the torchlight. We were getting tired and sleepy and Alec was starting to lapse into dreams a bit, so we were keen to get to the next check to wake us up. There was a stretch of tarmac road which allowed us a jog (ok, shuffle) that helped kick the fatigue to some extent. We were nearly at Ambleside, where the checkpoint is in the Lakesrunner shop and was another buzzing place to be. Alec's dad and brother were there too which was good.

Only three sections to go. We were worried about how sleepy we were getting, but the fact that Alec's GPS was running low on batteries and he didn't have spares (and I'd already used my spares in my headtorch) was a bit of a concern and that helped us stay focused. As I said, my navigation is pretty good, but when you're knackered and it's dark, everything gets a bit harder, so knowing we were on the right route meant a lot to us. I realised that the batteries in my Garmin were quite fresh, so we used those and they had enough juice to last us past the last checkpoint. It was good to see those little dots on the GPS confirming our way, especially when we got to a hilltop and everything was just white in the clouds. We couldn't see anything. The headtorch light just reflects off the moist air and it's all quite surreal. Having said that, none of the people I was with at any point were hallucinating, which often happens on ultras. At the end we heard of one guy who hallucinated a letter T. He was having a conversation with it. Apparently it was a capital T in Times New Roman font. Other people saw trains and monsters and frogs and all manner of things. There's a really boggy section before the last checkpoint, where we all went at least knee deep several times. (There was me and Alec and a runner from Durham at this stage.) There was no clear path and there were lots of sharp rocks, mostly hidden beneath thigh-deep bracken. And it was still very blackly dark. But after that bit we finally found the road we were looking for and then got onto a clear track to the last checkpoint.

It felt very good to be at Tilberthwaite. The final checkpoint (just another van in a carpark, but we didn't plan to stop long anyway). And it was just getting light too. I knew what was in store for the last 3.5 miles. Namely, another big hill of course. This one starts with steep stone steps, then steep rocky bits that you have to climb up using hands as well as feet. Then just more uphill until finally getting to the 'notch in the sky' at the top. Then comes possibly the worst descent of the whole course. It's stupidly steep and rocky and with loose shingle and stones the whole way down. Plus it was all wet and slippery. But we got to the last track down (where a mixed pair overtook us - I could have run past them to be the third woman to finish, but it seemed like it would be better to finish with Alec after we'd shared such a long time together) which finally became tarmac and then we were in Coniston. We saw that it was nearly 6:30am, so put a bit of a sprint on (tee hee - I can only imagine what our 'sprint' must have looked like to anyone watching) to make it in under 37 hours. Which we did - 36:57:15. (We dibbed in and instantly got a 'receipt' showing all our splits.)
There were plenty of folk around at the finish and we were cheered in like heroes. I loved being around at the finish then, cheering on the next people to arrive. We noticed that while the road book said the route was 103.9 miles, it seemed to have been under-measured. That plus a couple of detours we made, meant we ended up clocking 110 miles.

There was veggie chili for us at the finish. I sat there eating and it felt very much like afternoon or evening, certainly not 6:30am. I got several congratulatory texts from friends who'd been tracking me online. There had been a lot of chat on the Lakeland thread on Fetch, as there were quite a few Fetchies between the 50 and the 100. Darren and Katie and Lindley were around, having pulled out on Saturday. (Katie's knee was injured and Lindley was just not quite fast enough to be sure of meeting the cut-offs.) Some of the 50 milers had finished shortly before and it was great chatting about how it had been for everyone. After food it was fantastic to get a shower. And then a massage. I was tired but not really sleepy, so I just hung around socialising and enjoying the atmosphere until the presentation at 1pm.

As it turned out, I was awarded the prize for 3rd female in the solo category. I got a great shiny trophy, a Petzl bag and headtorch, running socks, visor and a voucher for £75 of Montane gear. Not bad for someone who wasn't racing I guess. UTLD really is a brilliant event. Yesterday I was sure I didn't need or want to do it again. But already, I'm thinking maybe...
Britta gave me a lift back to Windermere and I got the chance to chat to her about UTMB and the use of poles. She had finished in 32 hours, winning with style. I got some food at Booths at the station, but didn't eat much as the train journey quickly lulled me asleep.

I was home by 7pm. It was great to see Jim, who is now also on summer holiday. Sweet. I iced my feet (only two blisters and a generally battered feeling, but not really painful) and watched the Tour de France highlights. I fell asleep sometime after 9 and was awake and feeling good at 6ish this morning. My ankles are puffy, feet a little sore, but my legs feel good. I did a gentle 2.5 miles recovery run which felt great. Might go for another in a bit. Especially as it looks like it might rain on me...

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Pleasant Valley Sunday

Another Beautiful day out in the countryside. The Fairlands Valley Challenge is one of those marathons I'd heard of years ago, but never got around to doing before now. There was a huge 100 club presence today - some of them ran the course starting at midnight so that they could help out at the checkpoints for the main event today. [Hopefully I'll do that next year - this year I decided it was more important to get a good night's sleep with Lakeland looming ever closer.]

It was great to see even more familiar faces than usual, with a pretty high Fetchie turnout too. There were also 12 and 18 mile runs as well as the option to start on the half hour from 9am to 10:30. A great value race, with food and drinks available at 6 checkpoints (all manned by friendly and supportive volunteers), a medal and certificate for finishing, then a free barbeque at the end too.

Actually I kind of lied about not having done this one - we ran the course in the winter when other events were canceled and Roger Biggs organised this at very short notice in the snow. When I say we, I ran with Heather again - always great. We spent yet another day gently jogging round chatting and grinning. We must have been pretty quick, as we had to stop to read the route instructions (no marshalls or arrows to point the way) and stop to refill water and get our cards stamped at each checkpoint, yet we still finished in 4:17. That'll do nicely.At one point I thought I had a stone in my shoe, but realised it was too painful for a stone and indeed it turned out that a sharp thorn had gone right through the sole of my shoe into the sole of my foot. Ouch. Then as we stood around at the finish, I thought I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. I was slightly puzzled as it wasn't set to vibrate mode. Putting my hand in my pocket to be stung by a bee explained that one. Even more scratches were added to my shins from brambles (I had a pretty impressive collection already, from walking and running on the South Downs on the D of E trip last week) and much nettle stingage meant I finished feeling a little battered, but very happy.

And so begins my taper. Friday at 5:30pm I'll be in Coniston for the start of the Lakeland 100. I am looking forward to it very much and also very aware that it will be immensely challenging. The Lakeland 50 last year remains the toughest event I have ever done so far...

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Nudity, new phone & of course a marathon

Don't worry - the nudity wasn't me. It was just some random fella I encountered while out for my pre-breakfast run on Thursday. It's not every day you find a chap running in the nip through the heath. I had a brief chat with him & discovered he just liked to run about with no clothes on every now & then. Fairy nuff.

I was planning to write this from my shiny new iPhone on the train on the way home from today's marathon, but I hadn't realised I needed an app for it first. Next time then.

So it was a very warm and pretty trail route through the Kent & East Sussex countryside in some top 100 club company. LDWA instructions including 'cross broken/listing footbridge' and 'cross dodgy stile' which I thought were nicely honest descriptions.And tomorrow I head off on another D of E jolly on the South Downs to round off the college term. My job is sweet.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Topping up my Tanners

Ah, summer time rocks - even before end of term. Jim usually calls my job teaching Maths at a sixth form college 'money for jam', so when I get to spend four weekdays camping and wandering through the beautiful Surrey countryside over the North Downs in the name of a Duke of Edinburgh trip, he's lost for words and more than a little envious.

I then returned to the area today for the last ever Tanners Hatch marathon (slightly misnamed as it's actually a 30 miler). I did this last year and it involved going over Box Hill twice, but the course changes each time and this year it only went over Leith Hill and some other smaller hills. Fantastic views, but not so challenging a route. Shiny. I moseyed round with Heather - top company as always. Under six hours in some pretty warm sunshine and yet again we spent the day grinning.There were loads of familiar faces there and it was great to see everyone. I had a good chat with James, who continues to tempt me with tales of the Spartathlon. He's off to do Badwater next weekend - some folk are nutters!

And of course the Tour de France started yesterday, so that's a minimum of one hour's entertainment (the highlights show) every day for the next three weeks. July was a great invention.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Herts Hobble in the Hot

Ah, it's been ages since I did an LDWA marathon. I think there must be a rule book somewhere that states that each run must include at least 5 each of enclosed footpaths, stiles, footbridges, kissing gates, fields, woods, hills, ... though the majority of these are given their two-letter abbreviations in the four pages of instructions of course.

It was ridiculously hot which made it tough going across the open fields, but there were some great shady woods that were lovely to run through too. I ran in the top company of Rob, who I've met at lots of races before, though we'd never run together previously. Well, I say run. There was a fair bit of walking in the hottest sunshine of the year so far.
I managed to fall over about 3 miles from the end. I wasn't hurt: just scratched and grazed. But I did get what I though was a splinter and turned out to be about two inches of twig inserted into my shin. It was very odd pulling it out and rather sore for the next mile or so.

We got very lost in a field a couple of miles from the finish, covering over 27 miles in the end. It took us over 5 hours, but we'd both done longer stuff last weekend so were more than happy to take it easy.

Another pleasant day out in the countryside.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

My first 100K

The Boddington 100K takes place on a 2.2 mile lap course on flat country roads in Gloucestershire. I entered it as it's a new distance for me, so it seemed churlish not to. I was very wary of the 11.5 hour time limit, especially as the race was just 3 weeks after GUCR (and 5 weeks after 10in10) and I had no idea if I'd be recovered enough from those to be quick enough.

When I arrived (with a lift from Riel and Helen - both pretty amazing runners) there were plenty of people I knew there. The Boddington Marathon and 50K were taking place simultaneously (Helen won the women's 50K in a might impressive 3:35). Lots of 100 club folk and Fetchies in attendance so it was great to catch up with people I hadn't seen for a while.

The organiser took me to one side when I was collecting my number. She asked if I'd done the distance before and what sort of time I could manage. I could have said that while I hadn't done 100K, I'd done 3 longer races, another 5 races of 50 miles or more and over 20 shorter ultras. But as I wasn't feeling too confident about getting round in time (mainly because my knees spent all of Friday feeling just plain wrong), I think I just mumbled something about having done a few long runs. My running friends, who overheard and had far more faith in my ability, found it hilarious - "doesn't she know who you are?!". It's a good thing they were there as it was otherwise a rather disconcerting way to start the day.

I needn't have worried. I wore compression bandages on my knees - possibly their main purpose was to act as security blankets - and my legs held up very well throughout. I ran a relaxed first marathon in 3:53, went through the double in 8:13 and finished in 9:56. I am very pleased with that. I actually ran the first 70K (stopping only to fill my water bottle and grab gels or food from the checkpoint) and even after that only had a short walk every couple of miles or so. I think I'd had more than enough walking at the canal, so was far more comfortable just to keep running.

I like laps. A good thing as there were 28 of them. As the marathon and 50K were on the same course, all starting at the same time, it meant that there were plenty of people around. I don't mind being lapped by faster runners - I enjoy watching people who are good at their sport. And for a change I actually lapped quite a few people myself too. I ran with Lindley, who'd I'd met at a couple of previous races, for a few miles at the start, but spent the majority of the race just pootling along on my own. It was pretty warm, but with a pleasant cooling breeze. The race memento was one of those laser etched paperweight thingies. The 100K race was a Celtic Plate team competition: England v Ireland v Scotland v Wales, with 3 from each country to count. It was won be the English men and the Scottish women. As it turned out, I was the only English girl there who finished. Seemed like a missed opportunity - if there had been a couple more, I could have said I competed on the England team. Better than the football.

A lovely day out all in all.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

GUCR - active recovery begins

After the GUCR, there followed 9 days with no running. It felt a lot longer. For the first two, I didn't even get downstairs, let alone outside. But by the Thursday I managed to get shoes on to go for a couple of very short slow walks, then by Saturday was ok for a most enjoyable day trip to sunny Brighton. On Wednesday I finally went for a run - 2 and a half miles, wearing a huge idiot grin throughout. I did a bit more on the next couple of days to make sure my knees weren't complaining and decided I was ok to do the South Downs Way Trail marathon yesterday.

It felt like I'd been out of the running scene for ages and it was great to be back out there. I realise how ridiculous that sounds. (After all, I had only missed one race.) There were loads of Fetchies and 100 club folk there and it was a beautiful sunny day, but not stupidly hot. I was running with Heather, who's still recovering from serious illness a few weeks ago. We planned to take it very slowly (vaguely hoping for a sub-6), with her special needs lungs making the uphills a struggle and my special needs feet and knees making the downhills tricksy: perhaps not the best pairing for a hilly off road course then. But Heather is fantastic running company and we were both just happy to be there and spent the majority of the day chatting and laughing, walking the steepest uphills, but actually running the majority of the route.
My knees coped with the downhills pleasingly well and only one foot had hurty blister shenanigans going on (when I finally took the sock off it later, it was a case of "what the ...? oh I see, eeugh, that explains it...). Heather stayed strong and despite declaring herself too tired for any more uphills at mile 19, we nevertheless did run several more of the inclines. And finished in 4:44 feeling very happy. It's good to be back.

Monday, 31 May 2010

GUCR

Phew, that was a very long way on foot. 145 miles. Longest race yet.

Having trained pretty thoroughly and feeling like I had the fitness, strength, stamina and mental whatnot to have a really good crack at GUCR this year, it was more than a little annoying that my right knee started to hurt last week. Injury is not something I'm familiar with. I iced and ibuprofened and thought it might have been ok.

There was quite a buzz at the start in Gas Street. A lot like the start of other events, but with an air of excitement mixed with fear among the 91 runners. There were plenty of familiar faces and I was feeling very positive, really looking forward to getting going. The first 20 miles zipped by and I felt fantastic and was making very good progress, sticking to a 25/5 run/walk strategy.

Then came the first canal tunnel, where the towpath is diverted up and over a hill. Up was fine, but on the way back down my knee started to complain. It got progressively worse over the next 15 miles or so, until it finally screamed at me in no uncertain terms that it was not going to do any more running. But it felt ok walking (on the flat at least - inclines and steps were not fun). So, I figured I could have pulled out at the 36 mile checkpoint. But I have never DNFed before and I had raised over £20k in sponsorship and besides, I really quite liked the idea of getting from Birmingham to London without taking a train or any of the other usual transport options. The alternative to quitting was to walk the remaining 110 miles. As a runner (or at least a very keen jogger) the idea of walking that far was not really appealing, but I figured it would be a shame to waste the opportunity of taking part in this event and it would at least provide some good mental training. Very frustrating but there was nothing I could do, so I just appreciated that I'm fit and healthy enough to be up for a long intercity mosey and got on with it.

So began a very long walk. The route was pretty if dull (the canal gets a bit samey after a while, though there are some interesting barges and a fair amount of wildlife - mostly herons and various other birds with their cute offspring). I found that while Asics GT2150s are great running shoes, they're not so good for long distance walking. The blisters started to make themselves known somewhere between 50 and 60 miles. I initially kept up a reasonable pace (a little over 4mph) and was not overtaken by many people for ages, until the blisters began to slow me down. Like my knee, I found that the blisters were actually quite bearably painful on the flat, but much worse on uneven surfaces or going up and down inclines (like at the locks), where my feet shifted in my trainers to make them hurt in an unpredictable way. I changed shoes and socks at the 70 mile station, where I saw that the blisters were looking rather angry already. At that point they were on both heels and the balls of of both feet, but not yet on my toes.

I found the night walking fine, with the sky light enough that I didn't bother to use my headtorch much. The 85 mile check was in the middle of the night for me. I didn't stop long at any of the feed stations - just enough to fill my Camelbak and stock up on more food. It was darkest from about half past 2 for a couple of hours, when I began to feel very sleepy and really wanted to have a kip. At 03:30 I passed some sort of noisy car race, which seemed a little surreal. As it got light (around Bletchley) I began to feel a bit more awake and the thought of the next checkpoint at Tring being the 100 mile marker was very encouraging.

Then came the longest section: 20 miles to the next checkpoint. I began to feel very fatigued and spacey at around 11am. I really wasn't sure I could keep going. There's only so much Red Bull and Pro Plus can do. Then the blister on my left heel popped. Or should I say exploded? For a few minutes the pain dramatically increased, but it had the welcome side effect of really waking me up. My spirits lifted and I was pleased to make the next checkpoint in plenty of time - I had been worried that I might have been slowing so much that I was in danger of not making the 45 hour cutoff for the race. As usual it was great to see friendly faces and get looked after, albeit for only a few minutes. With just 25 miles to go it felt like the start of the home stretch.

It was very hot and sunny, but fortunately there was tree cover for a lot of the route. It got more open as we came in towards London. This is a section of the canal I have run several times before in other ultras, but they were all in January or February - it looked almost unrecognisably different in the sunshine! At the final check with just over 12 miles to go, we were given a map and written description of a diversion. I found it really tough having to come off the towpath, especially as the route went through a hilly residential area. I was extremely glad to get back on the canal, especially when the next sign I saw stated that there was 7 3/4 miles to Paddington. Usually that would take just over an hour, but I knew it would be more like 3. The end was finally approaching.

I called Jim when I had 6 miles to go. He was already on his way to the finish and he walked along to meet me about 3 miles from the end. He valiantly tried to get a photo of me with my eyes open (not easy at the best of times) and it was great to have company after 40 hours predominantly spent alone. We chatted about how he'd watched Eurovision Song Contest and how Tommy (our cat) was enjoying the weekend. He'd been posting on Fetch throughout the two days, updating people on how I was getting on.

Finally the finish banner came into view. It was a huge relief for it to be over. Dick was there to present me with my medal (the hardest earned medal I own, without a doubt) and there were more friendly faces there too. I sat in a chair with a blanket and a cup of tea and waited for a taxi home.This morning I popped my blisters and have been icing the backs of both knees. (The left one is very sore - probably an overcompensating thing.) My legs don't really bend or straighten properly and I can only move in a very slow motion comedy walk style.My final time was 41 hours, 5 minutes and I came 29th out of 45 finishers. I think it was quite an achievement, even if not quite the good long run I had hoped for.
The race director, Dick Kearn, is a top bloke of the finest order and his team of helpers are truly fantastic. Huge thanks to all involved. This is one of those events that feels really special, with a brilliant atmosphere. I can hardly wait to do it again...

Sunday, 23 May 2010

White Heat

It's getting far too hot for running! I did the White Peak marathon yesterday, which follows the Tissington and High Peak trails in Derbyshire, to finish at Cromford, near Matlock. It started at 11am, which is late enough that it's easy to get there by public transport, but has the major disadvantage of causing us to run through the hottest part of the day. Which yesterday happened to be around 26 degrees. And there's very little in the way of trees or other cover to provide shelter from the rays.

I planned to take it easy as I'm not sure how much my legs have recovered from the 10 in 10. Also I'm officially tapering for GUCR. I decided that since I'm stronger and less fat than last time I ran a hot marathon, this time I wouldn't have to wilt into slow motion. I just about convinced myself, finishing in a sweaty but respectable 4:05:45. I've decided to call that a 26-degrees-PB.
As usual there was a high turnout of all the regulars, including a good dollop of both Fetchies and 100 club folk. Great to see them all. Plus I found out that I'd been voted 'member of the month' on Fetch. Shiny.

So I guess now I should just take it easy for the next few days, in preparation for setting off from Birmingham in the early hours of Saturday morning, with the aim of reaching Paddington some time on Sunday...