Thursday, 22 December 2011


Hmm, an entire calendar month with no running. Well, no races or events anyway. I did stumble out for a few desultory short jogs, trying to ignore my variously screaming feet and lungs. I'm not sure if the orthotics are doing any good - my heels are still very sore. Apparently definitely not a chest infection though. Had a couple of tests at the hospital, so hoping the results of those might shed some light on the cause of my inability to breathe properly.

I wouldn't say I'm defined by running, but it's certainly an important part of me. I guess when it's taken away, it means I get more time to explore what else there is. While trying to fend off the inevitably encroaching stress and insanity. Also, I hadn't really thought about the fundraising thing, but recently was contacted by the charity I usually support - I won't be able to commit to helping them next year, as I have no idea if I'll be doing any ultra events, let alone the sort that are good for sponsoring. Seems a shame.

But I remain optimistic that it will all sort itself out soon and normal service will be resumed. I like winter and there are plenty of reasons to be happy.

Saturday, 10 December 2011


Since running a couple of road marathons gave me very sore heels, I've hardly run at all. Morning runs at this time of year are on hard surfaces (no well-lit trails locally), so I've only intermittently done a few miles here and there. Plus I seem to have been knocked down by a lingering virus that's just annoying enough to make me feel rough, but simply won't go away.

I did try a couple of trail runs in early November - the 36 mile Marriotts Way ultra in Norwich was a lovely low-key event. I shouldn't have done it on my tender feet, but I knew from past experience it would be an easy out-and-back trot along an old disused rail line. And it was lovely.

Then there was the first day of the Druid ultra. This was just 29 miles along the Ridgeway. Seemed odd to be doing just part of this trail and in the autumn - it all looked different from when it is just the start of doing the full 85 in August. That was on a Friday, which was a rare day off from college (to make up for having done a Saturday Open Day the previous week). I enjoyed it, but was feeling really quite unwell. Nice to be out in the fresh air though.

The day after that was a 10K with 26 students. It was the Movember run in Greenwich Park so plenty of silliness ensued. I even managed to win the fancy dress prize! It was great to see the teenagers out doing it, plus they raised well over £1000 between them for various charities.But I haven't really run much since then. Saw a foot specialist though and am trying orthotics now. Early days but it might be working. I'm hoping to do the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon next weekend, but not too sure yet.

On the upside, while the lack of running is getting me down, I did have a fantastic birthday. Jim got me a brilliant selection of shiny presents, including a Kindle.

Having just read that, I realise I really need to cheer up! Off to Brighton tomorrow which might do the trick.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Venice, St Ives, Essex...

That felt like a really well deserved half term break. After a busy few weeks at college, it was great to get away and get refreshed.

I flew to Venice for the first weekend of the holiday. A very pretty city, with the sunshine reflecting off all the water, making for many glittering, squint-inducing scenes (should have taken sun glasses). The water boat service worked a lot like the tube, but with superior views. I stayed in nearby Mestre, but went over to Venice each day, including for the Marathon on Sunday (a point to point route into the city, including going over may board-walked bridges and a trot around the historic Piazza San Marco). Another sub 4 run, but the road surface has wrecked my feet - I had very sore heels afterwards and didn't run for the rest of the week.I got home on Monday afternoon, then took the luxury of a berth on the sleeper train down to the Cornish coast, arriving in St Ives on Tuesday morning, where Jim already had camp set up. I'd missed the deluge of rain and enjoyed some sunny days with fantastic views and fresh air. The colours in St Ives are always impressive. It's just sand and sea, but somehow better than it should be.And to round off the week, I did the Brentwood Marathon in Essex. My feet couldn't have taken a road course, but the dozen laps on a hilly grass and woodland trail through a country park were just about okay. And it was another top event with a superb atmosphere, put on by the fantastic folk at GoBeyond Ultra.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Quickest marathon this year...

Nothing to brag about at 3:58, but after all the illness and injury this year, it was a welcome return to the world of sub-4.

I hadn't entered many events after missing such a lot over the summer, but fortunately Simon Redfern offered me his unneeded place at the notoriously fast Abingdon. I popped up on the train last night and stayed about 3 miles from the start, which made for a beautiful warm-up walk along pretty and misty country lanes this morning.

There were loads of mates there, so great to catch up with people and it was perfect running weather (sunny & cool). It was Paul's 100th marathon - always good to have a new member in the club. He ran a PB today and was really chuffed.

I enjoyed the run and had a fantastic day out. Nice wicky T shirt and a chunky medal, as shown below with Tommy, who nearly thwarted my plan to run by involving me in a "nearly falling down the stairs tripping over black cat in the dark" incident. Fortunately he was fine and I just suffered a stubbed toe (which is now rather larger than it should be, and a bit purple).

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

UK Ultra Champs

This weekend I went to the last round of the ULTRArace UK Ultra Championships. It's a series of 9 races, of which the best 5 score. After a year with an unusual amount of illness and injury, I only just managed to do 5.

The first was the Northampton-Tring double in January, at 45 miles each day. I ran these with a chest infection, which didn't exactly help, but that was the first two races completed in reasonably decent times. Annoyingly I picked up anterior compartment syndrome on the second day (effectively a painful lump on my shin which made me limp badly and have to take a complete break from running for a couple of weeks).

I was just about back to running again when the next round came along with another canal double, this time at Grantham, 29 miles each day. I did a bit better there.

Then there was the summer with the groin strain: no running and missing out on lots of events. I finally got back some of my fitness over the last few weeks, enough to do the Nottingham 50K on Sunday. A beautiful route through lots of woods and fields, along the Robin Hood Trail, finishing at the Castle in the city. I was pleased with 5:13 - not particularly quick, but better than I'd expected after all the time off.

And those 5 were enough to put me in third place in the championships. I got a big box of energy bars, a huge glass trophy and a cheque for £50. Shiny!So, same again next year? A brilliant series organised by Rory and Jen at ULTRArace - those guys rock!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Back to school, back to running...

So the new term has seemed a bit manic at work. Not sure why it should seem busier than usual, but it does. Fortunately this has been pleasantly balanced with the ability to run again. I'm still at the slow end but my fitness is gradually returning. And I'm really appreciating every run. (Picture grinning like an idiot at 5am running around the Heath...)

The Green Chain Marathon was hot but very scenic, following the Green Chain path which links up lots of pretty sections of woods and a stretch along the Thames in South East London. Quite hilly in places, but a delightful day out with great company.

The New Forest Marathon is always held on the last weekend of the year that our favourite campsite is open. It would be churlish not to go. Another sunny weekend, with donkeys and blackberries being the best nature around. Always good to get out of the city for a couple of days. And they'd changed the marathon route a bit, running some of it in reverse (though not actually backwards - that would be more challenging) making it more interesting. And at 4:20 for me, it was a bit faster than of late.

The Flower of Suffolk on Sunday covered some beautiful (and flat) trails along the coast, in blazing hot sunshine. I stayed overnight before the event in Lowestoft. I'd taken some work with me and sat on the beach in the evening doing some Maths - most enjoyable! It was an LDWA thing, the first I'd done for ages. Oh, how I'd missed the stiles, kissing gates, boardwalks, footbridges, filed edges - even a tiny patch of mud. I set off early to avoid the worst of the heat with Gil, a 60 year old 100 club member, who's done well over 400 marathons and ultras. We chatted the whole way round and had a good laugh.

The "enrichment" sessions at college have started up again too, so I've been running in the local park with a bunch of teenagers each week, training them up for a 10K (Greenwich in November). We have a really enthusiastic group, with nearly 40 of them this term!

Apart from the whole being-ridiculously-busy thing, I'm finally feeling back to normal. Nice.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

A long summer

It's been a while since I last wrote here. Mainly because I finally did the sensible thing and stopped running for long enough to let my injury have a chance at healing. Which it now finally is, I think, fingers crossed and all that.

I went to see an osteopath who diagnosed a groin strain. Over the summer I saw him many more times. The treatment involved rest, lots of painful prodding/poking/massaging, some dry needle therapy, spinal manipulation, lots of exercises (squats and lunges in every direction) and stretches, hot baths in Epsom salts and taking flax seed oil. There was about a month of no running at all (!!!) then gentle jogs of increasing length were gradually reintroduced.

I was surprised at quite how disproportionately I was affected by not being able to run. I had joked before about how I'd go mental if I couldn't run, but hadn't realised that actually it would expose a major personality defect in that my mood is governed so thoroughly by my ability to go for a jog in the morning. Feeling unfit is not good for me. And yet stupidly I kept eating as normal for too long, resulting in weight gain that means I'm fatter so have extra weight making the return to fitness all the more hard work.

But it felt very good when I finally got to run again, albeit very slow and only a 3 miler at first. My first 10 miler was lovely and I eventually got to do a marathon on 20th August. It was fantastic to see all my running mates again, who'd been wondering where I'd been.
The event was the Thames Meander: a great route through Richmond Park, along the Thames to Putney Bridge, then turn around and run back again. It was very well organised by Dave and Mel Ross. I did my patented returning-from-injury walk:run and managed 4:34, which seemed pretty respectable.
The joy was short lived as my knee became really painful the following day and I had to have another week of no running. But then I quickly got back into it and managed a 32 miler (run:walk again) along the Thames from Moulsford to Marlow. My first event organised by Xnrg, whom I now rate very highly. There were more folk there that I hadn't seen for weeks and it was a small event with a real feel-good factor.

After a full-on week at college, I was happy to spend Saturday running the One-to-go marathon along the canal from Hackney Marshes up to the Lee Valley Water Sports Centre (we got to see some great kayaking and white-water rafting) and back again past the Olympic Stadium. And there were yet more people I hadn't seen all summer. It was far too hot (a really muggy, oppressive sort of heat) but I was happy to be there. I was much slower than at the previous couple of runs, but really enjoyed the day. My hip felt a bit dodgy - not painful but it didn't feel quite right. I'm hoping everything's okay, but will go back to get checked out by the osteo before doing too much more I think.

So, annoyingly, I haven't been able to return to fitness enough to be able to do the Spartathlon. That's extremely disappointing, but I suppose it will be there in future years.

The summer did have some very good bits of course - a brilliant trip to Paris with Jim and lots of other days out here and there. Plus I got to meet my new nephew, Rory, and see the rest of my family too.

And I'm running now and mentally feeling like myself again. :-)

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Walking in the Saturday sunshine

After nearly a fortnight of no running at all (trying to let the hip injury recover) I could feel a creeping insanity building. After spending a couple of days wandering on the North Downs with some Duke of Edinburgh students, I decided I could safely walk a marathon, hopefully without causing more damage. I'd already entered an Ultra (30 miles) on Saturday afternoon, which was part of the Enigma festival of running, but I switched to the morning Enigma marathon, which meant getting up to Bletchley for an 8 am start.

It was a gorgeous sunny day and an opportunity to hang out with lots of running mates. I could tell the day would be good for my mental health if nothing else. The route included a couple of laps of the lake, plus a trot along the canal towards Leighton Buzzard. This was a section that I had traversed in darkness during the GUCR 5 weeks ago: it looked very different in the sunshine and with lots of cygnets swimming about and a fearless Heron perched regally on the bank.

I walked most of it and put in some jogging here and there, trying to listen out for the uneven footfalls that indicate limping. I expected to be right at the back of the field, but even at nearly 5 and a half hours, there were still half a dozen people behind me. I chatted with lots of people en route, and was happy that there were other folk taking it as easy as I was, providing entertaining company.

At the end, another runner described having had the exact same hip flexor pain (and related foot pain) symptoms I've been suffering from. After several months of enduring this, the cure had come quickly, in the form of a physio's elbow harshly prodded into and rolled around the offending area. Apparently it hurt while being done and was worse the next day, but then after that the hip was cured. Sounded too good to be true. But Trin was there doing massage and she offered her elbow. It certainly hurt while she was doing it. I mean really really owwy ouch! And today it feels as if a small explosion has taken place inside my hip. So I am tentatively hopeful that this is the wizard cure and tomorrow I shall be able to run again. That would be more than shiny.

So, another great day with the Fox, whose Enigma events keep us addicts sated. Looking at my stats, I notice that my 99th, 149th, 159th and 169th marathons have all been Enigmas. (That would be more interesting if there weren't also at least another 3 not ending in ...9th) Huge thanks to Dave and all his merry helpers, who make these such wonderful days to be a part of.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

A half marathon?!

The Picnic Marathon is billed as the UK's toughest, mainly as it's set on the North Downs and involves a convoluted route going over Box Hill and the adjacent White Hill several times. Including going up the steps by the stepping stones a few times (you'll know the ones if you've climbed them).

When I entered, I hadn't already arranged to do the Enduroman 100 miler the previous weekend. And my lingering special needs right hip flexor and left foot meant that I probably shouldn't have even ventured down to Surrey. But they allow the option of stopping half way (which is enforced if the first half takes over 3 hours), where you can pick up a T-shirt, mug and medal for the Midsummer Munro ("the UK's toughest half marathon"!) so I figured I might as well go for an interesting training run.Within a couple of miles I could tell that my injuries were slowing me a lot on the steps, but even on the more friendly, flatter sections I also had a very lethargic (and limpy) pace. So I figured I'd just do the half and enjoy the afternoon (we started at 2pm). It was intermittently hot-sunshiney and thunder-showery. The stepping stones were ankle-deep in fast-flowing water (unlike in the picture above, which was clearly taken at a more tranquil time). There was a fantastic atmosphere with lashings of encouragement from the marshals and the other runners. I had a great time, not at all disappointed at not finishing the Picnic, glad of the opportunity to be sensible and avoid further damage to my legs and feet. I still took in six ascents of Box Hill and went twice over the neighbouring and equally tough White Hill. Plus the Munro T-shirt is a decent wicky one that I'll actually use. And actually I really enjoyed the course, so am keen to go back in 2013 (they only do it every couple of years) to finish the Picnic properly when I'm fit. Another top event to go on the to-do list then.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Just 100 miles

Last year while at an ultra in Norwich, I first heard about the Enduroman "Deca", which is the almost impossible sounding triathlon event of 10 full Ironmans (Ironmen?) in 10 days. This year's event was to take place in the New Forest, so I thought about combining a weekend's camping with a little spectating. But then I was told that the more obvious way for me to watch it would be to run The Enduroman 100 Ultra, which takes place on the triathletes' run course, but with a few extra laps.

And so it was that I took the train down to the New Forest on Saturday morning, arriving just as the Doubles were in their swim stage. The Doubles? Well, it turns out that in addition to the Deca, which had started a week last Friday, there was also a Quintuple starting on the Wednesday (5 Ironmans in 5 days), a Triple starting on the following Friday (but this isn't 3 in 3 - it's the full 7.2 mile swim, followed by 336 miles out on the bike, then a 78.6 mile run to round it off), then the Double started on Saturday (same format as the triple, but two thirds of the distance), with a mere single Ironman starting on the Sunday morning. The idea being that all the events would finish with some running on Sunday. The 100 mile run seemed like the lightweight option, starting on Saturday afternoon. And it was odd that when asked "which race are you doing?" the reply had to be "oh, just the run". When did running 100 miles become "just" running 100 miles?!

I admit that when I enthusiastically entered, I hadn't really noticed that it was only a fortnight after the GUCR. And I'd figured that being in the New Forest, the run would be flat. Oops. At least I had acknowledged that it would be laps (of 1.04 miles it turned out, so we did 97 laps, making a course a little over the 100 miles stated). So, still barely able to run after aggravating a hip flexor injury at GUCR (and my attempt when I did run being a slow comedy limp) I actually thought about not doing it. But I really wanted to see the Deca and everything, so thought I might as well give it a try. And it was well worth it.

It was a glorious sunny Saturday morning and the Doubles had been in the water since 9am for their 4.8 mile swim. The lake was beautiful and there was a great atmosphere, with crews and supporters cheering as each athlete finished that section and made their way up the hill to their bikes for their first transition. The bike course (which sounded very hilly, pot-holey and fraught with dangers such as traffic and wayward donkeys) was apparently very tough. There was an 11.1 mile loop they repeated, with a turnaround up by the stately home. The run route was neatly designed with a section that went round the edge of the bike turnaround, so we got to see some cyclists most times as we passed through that section, where there were also crews and an aid station and music playing the whole time (which was especially welcome through the middle of the night - there wasn't a huge variety, but I remember hearing a lot of Queen). It also went round a couple of lakes, one of which was the one the triathletes all swam in. We had a race briefing at noon, then set off at 2pm.

I had kind of skim-read the info about the run course. Enough to know that it was trail and I'd need a good head torch for the bits through the trees at night. I'd seen that it said something about flat, but not taken in where it mentioned the fact that what could be (and wishful-thinkingly was by me) mistaken for a pleasantly flat loop around the lakes, along a field and round a stately home, was in fact set on a hill with the lakes at the bottom and the home at the top. And the pretty bit through the woods round the lake was on a narrow trail strewn with many trip hazardish roots and stones, lots of uppy-downyness and a particularly dodgy steep downhill with a barbed wire fence just off to one side. Some of the roots were spray-painted with orange fluorescent paint, which was really helpful, particularly at night when they glowed effectively under the headtorch light. The uphills were steep in parts, but that was ok as they suggested ideal walking sections on each lap, but the long downhill from the house towards the lake was just the wrong gradient for my battered feeling legs.I had the comedy limp at the start, which actually eased off after a while (at 80 miles someone told me I was looking far smoother than I had in the first lap). I took it easy (well, I couldn't muster much speed to set off too fast even if I'd wanted to) and really got into it after about 20 laps. The weather held up right through the moonlit night and we were joined on the course at various times by triathletes from their different events. It was awe-inspiring watching how well they could run after so many hours (or days) of tough activity already completed. I was a bit sore and achy, but kept well motivated by all these amazing athletes around me. It was great to watch the swim of day 10 of the Deca (and the single Ironman) starting at 6am. Shortly after that, the rain arrived, and from then on it was all very wet, cold, and at times exceedingly windy. (And the tricky path round the lake was not made any easier when it became a tricky and extremely muddy path.) Yet despite the weather, the crews, marshals and supporters were all still there, enthusiastic and helpful, making this unbelievable atmosphere. There was an aid station near the finish, where we could refill drinks bottles and grab food whenever we needed it. At night, a couple of the marshals were wearing cow costumes. I'm nearly sure I didn't just imagine that anyway.I had people encouraging me at lots of points along the way, with the fact that I was the only female left in the ultra (after one other pulled out at 50 miles) possibly making it easier for them to know my name. I felt a bit guilty for being so slow, but given the circumstances, I was pleased with being able to finish this unexpectedly tough event. The last lap was run in reverse, which made it clear whenever someone was nearly finished, and meant we got to see all the other competitors still out on the course. There was high-fiving and wishing all the best to those still going. It was indeed very slow, taking me just under 26 and a half hours. I think I came in third place, and technically I suppose first lady.

The goody bags were full of, erm, goodies! Including a Superman-styled Enduroman T-shirt, a box of gels, a hat, a buff, a drinks bottle and more. Then there was also a good wicky T-shirt and a medal for finishing.It was a great event, with huge thanks due to Steve the organiser and his team of helpers. They, together with the other competitors, their crews and the supporters, made it a fantastic weekend and it felt a privilege to be a part of it.

It made it feel extra odd to be back in the classroom teaching again today, when our lower sixth students returned from study leave. As far as they knew, I probably spent the weekend watching telly or shopping.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

GUCR - the Return

It was a year ago that I first completed the Grand Union Canal Race, but was very disappointed that injury forced me to walk most of it. (And caused blisters that left me unable to walk for two days.) This year, I had higher hopes. I figured that if I was fit and uninjured, then 36 hours would be a reasonable time to aim for. Well, I'm not as fit as this time last year - I've had 3 chest infections since September that have meant a lack of quality training, plus my right hip flexor spent the last fortnight being very hurty (and even making me a bit limpy), to the point that I considered deferring GUCR till next year. But I was in the mood for a long run (and 145 miles, or 232 km, is quite long) and figured thirty-something hours would do just fine. Also, at the last count, this year I've raised £23 576 for the charity Animal Aid, so there was added incentive to go the distance.

I took a slow train up to Birmingham on Friday night. It's an odd feeling buying a one-way ticket that far, knowing that one shall be making the return journey on foot. I checked into a hostel, far enough out of the centre of town to be relatively quiet (cheap, but with the luxury of a double room to myself) for an early night. Then was up before half past four to walk to the Gas Street Basin in time to register and drop off my kit bags, before the 6am start. I collected my GUCR 2011 sweatshirt - Dick had had a black one made specially for me - brilliant!There were a lot of folk I knew there, including some who've finished several times, others who'd tried but never made it to the end and some GUCR virgins. This race has a very special atmosphere and it felt great to be a part of it again. I felt very happy as we set off, though I was noticeably limping as my hip flexor gently moaned at me. Fortunately my breathing was ok - the course of antibiotics I was on last week seemed to have worked. I chatted with other runners a bit here and there, though spent most of the route on my own. There were some friends crewing for others at a similar pace to me, so I kept seeing them throughout the race and they were always encouraging. I had chosen to be "unsupported" again. This actually means that rather than bringing my own crew to cater for my every whim, I used the checkpoints which are manned by volunteers, who have food and drinks and kind words for the fifty unsupported runners. Also we have access to our kit bags at these points. As a vegan, I don't expect there to be much food that's suitable for me, so my kit bag is mainly just a food bag. I carry a rucksack all the way with some spare layers of clothes, a Camelbak bladder full of at least a couple of litres of water (I get thirsty!) and enough food to get me to the next checkoint (they vary from 11 to 20 miles apart). My food supply included a range of muesli bars, Torq energy gels, salted nuts, bombay mix, japanese rice crackers, vegan sausages and hot cross buns.

As the day went on, my legs didn't get any worse. I was moving a lot more slowly than usual, but seemed to be moving pretty smoothly considering. I stuck to the 25:5, run:walk thing for the first 5 hours, then my Garmin inexplicably ran out of juice. I had a spare in my kit bag, but actually just decided to wear a normal watch, as I realised I could get the distance from the route map. Reading this to see what bridge number would mean I'd covered another mile provided a good distraction from the aches and pains that were developing - nothing too bad though, and no blisters for most of the way.

There was plenty of wildlife. I watched a small common coot charging beak-down at a swan, which seemed a bit scared and actually swam backwards in retreat! An odd sight - I didn't know they had a reverse gear. Presumably nobody told the coot that thing about swans being able to break your leg. There were several majestic herons, lots of bats, especially at dusk, several geese that hissed at me as they watched over their goslings, a huge pretty butterfly, some irritating midgies, a nonchalant rabbit and three black barge cats.After last year's enforced walking, I was very pleased to be able to keep putting in sections of jogging throughout, but found that actually at night my running pace was slower than my walking! I kept alternating between the two in an attempt to ward off blisters, which seemed to work. I didn't get too sleepy during the night and enjoyed the sunrise a few miles out from the 100 mile point, which I reached in under 23 hours. I felt rather fatigued later in the morning, but continued to stay in good spirits and enjoy the journey. I was still running (well, doing the ultra-shuffle at least) between walking, and managed to keep the blisters away until the final turn onto the Paddington arm, about 13 miles from the finish. The surface of the canal path is very stony a lot of the way, which makes for sore feet, so the grassy sections were always welcome (except when they were on a camber).

Timewise it didn't look like being much faster than last year after all, with me being just over a couple of hours up at the 100 mile point. When I got to 3 miles to go though, I realised that I might just squeeze in with the sub-36 I'd really wanted. So I switched up a gear despite the blisters which had just started to scream at me within the last few miles. A finish in daylight would be lovely.

And I made it in 35 hours and 43 minutes. Nice. Not nearly as fast as I'd aimed for last year, but I'm well chuffed with it this time. Dick was at the finish along with others, runners and helpers, who cheered me in. A fantastic feeling. And a big shiny medal. I placed 19th out of 53 finishers (there were 92 starters) and 3rd female.

I hung around for a bit and saw a few more folk finish before wandering slowly home (two tubes, then a bus to the end of my street). The damage? Only 3 proper blisters, probably 3 toenails to come off eventually too. But the soles of my feet, while a little sore, were still stand-on-able. And my hip flexor was sore, but not much worse than it had been. I couldn't lift my leg properly, but could still walk pretty well. Today is Tuesday and we've been out shopping and to a museum, including going up and down lots of steps with no problems. I'll take at least a couple more days off running to let my legs heal properly, but I'm looking forward to getting back out again. I might want another go at this one sometime, but I don't feel the need to run GUCR next year. I'm hoping to go along and help out at the checkpoints though.

A brilliant event - the logistics of organising it are mind-boggling, but Dick Kearn does it every year in good humour. He's a true ultra hero. And his team, along with the other runners and their crews, make this a top weekend to be part of.

Sandstone Trail Saturday

On Saturday 21st May I went for my last long run pre-GUCR. Well, I didn't really have any intention of running much of it - I just wanted to get out and stretch my legs in a leisurely fashion, with some good views. The Sandstone Trail was perfect. It's a 33 mile route over the Cheshire countryside, fairly well signposted most of the way
(though the race rules included carrying a map). There were more stiles than I'd wanted, especially as my right hip flexor had been pretty painful all week, but lots of fields, woods, hills, red stone, great panoramic views and wildlife to distract my attention. I ran with Rob who was also in the mood for a realaxed pace, so we took it very steady and enjoyed a grand day out. Definitely one to go back to next year.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Make Mine a Triple

The bank holiday weekend with the extra day off while a prince got married was a great treat. As it turned out, Jim was away for three days, so I found three runs to keep me out of trouble. I'd never done a triple before (apart from within the 10in10) and it was a rather hot weekend to choose for such shenanigans.

On the Friday I headed to Berkshire for the Royal Berkshire track marathon, excellently organised by Ian Berry. There were loads of the usual faces there, including some TiTs I hadn't seen since last year, as well as some of this year's contenders. So, 105 and a half laps, which passed by pretty smoothly. Either I or my lap counter miscounted, so that when I thought I was easily on for a sub-4 (which would be my first this year), I was surprised to hear I still had 5 laps to do (I thought it was only 4) in under 10 minutes to make that time. 8-minute-miling might not sound fast, but I was feeling a bit poorly on the day and it took a big effort to pick up the pace. It felt good to do it, but I was really knackered afterwards. Oh, and I placed third female so I won a bottle of beer!

On the Saturday was the Oxon 40, based around Henley. This is a lovely LDWA event so I felt perfectly justified in taking it at a very relaxed pace. Mucho walking and some beautiful views, including many woods carpeted with bluebells.

I stayed overnight in Amesbury then wandered over to Stonehenge in the morning to catch the bus to the start of the Neolithic Marathon. This feels like an old favourite (I've now done it 5 times) and it was yet again a great day out.

Since then there was the delightful Halstead marathon on the 8th (around the country lanes in Essex, always a much better event than I expect it to be) and then Richmond Park marathon on the weekend just gone, which took in 3 and a half laps of the park, with the fantastic scenery and wildlife show that entails. I've been struggling to run with a cold and dodgy breathing for weeks now, so it was kind of a relief to find out I actually have a chest infection (again - the third time this year!) and I'm hoping the antibiotics will sort me out soon.

Morning runs have been very pleasant recently, as the sun gets up around the same time as I head out. Summer is good like that.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A tale of two cities

That would be Paris and London. But as April has been full running-wise, there's another three events to mention too (with yet another two to go before the month is out).

So, I watched the highlights of the London Marathon on telly and they kept claiming it's the world's greatest marathon. Now, I'm not really a fan of city marathons, but I would rate Paris way above London. (I think I've also done three other capital cities and London might get pushed down to fourth or fifth place on my list.) The atmosphere at London is great, but it's very crowded and the route isn't particularly inspiring. It makes for a good day out and I do enjoy it, but it's not a favourite for me. Plus I still had a heavy cold on the day and found that there is no way to discretely expel copious quantities of snot when watched by those crowds. Sorry - over-sharing I know. I really liked going out for dinner with my sister (& bro-in-law & Jim) afterwards though, so it was a lovely afternoon!

We had gone to Paris for the first four days of the school holidays, the marathon being on the Sunday. Despite my annoying cold (my eyes were streaming as I stood hacking like a 60-a-day smoker on the Champs Elysees at the start) I had a very pleasant run around the city and parks, enjoying the sights and the huge feel-good factor of the event. A good T shirt at the end too (a proper wicky one, red with Parisian pictures on the front, that I will actually use). We spent the afternoon in the Marais, and the rest of the time in Paris doing all the things we like to do in our favourite city.

The weekend before Paris I'd popped down to Battle, near Hastings, for the first Sussex Marathon. This was a hilly run, mainly through country lanes. I ran guiding Paul, a blind running friend. I managed to keep him out of the potholes and avoided thwacking him into any lamposts/trees, so was pleased that we both finished without incident. The actual guiding bit is not physically hard (using a dog-chew-toy, swapping sides every 3 miles or so) but a lot of extra concentration is required. It does make the run feel a bit different and we could both claim it was the other who wanted to walk so many of the steeper hills.

Towards the end of the holiday came the Easter weekend. For me this included an Enigma marathon (round the lake in the park near Bletchley, top event that Foxy Davy organises) where I managed to get rather sunburnt on the Friday. Then I went up to Goring for the Compton Downland 40 miler on the Sunday. I liked this one before when it had been muddy, but this time it was stunningly beautiful in parts. The scenery was extra pretty in the sunshine and the timing meant that the woods were full of bluebells and we passed through a huge field of shoulder-high bright yellow rape. And later there were four hares frolicking in a field. Brilliant organisation by Dick Kearn and his merry team.

There was more entertaining wildlife as we picnicked in Richmond Park, as well as lots of other day trips to keep us grinning all the was through the holidays. And this 3-day-week followed by a 4-day-week to ease us back into work is most welcome. Now, I really should try to shake this stupid lingering cold so I can fully enjoy all this gorgeous springtime running...

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Trail Ultra - a la francaise

My first trail ultra outside the UK was a brilliant experience. I know I'm easily pleased and can usually be found grinning like an idiot throughout most of the running events I do, but this was really something else. The Ecotrail de Paris 80km simply rocks!

Friends on Fetch pointed me in the direction of the race website, and when I read that this event involves running 82km along pretty trails through French countryside, with a finish on the first level of the Eiffel Tower, I didn't hesitate to sign up.Admittedly I hadn't sussed out the logistics very well. The first Eurostar on Saturday morning allowed me only a frantic half hour in which to cross the city from Gard du Nord to the Eiffel Tower, find the marquee and pick up my race number, then get to the RER station in order to catch the last train to the start. It was tight, involving a taxi and spurts of running here and there, but I made it.

The train was packed with runners - the first sign that this was different to most UK ultras. A 50 miler may attract a couple of hundred here (usually less, though the sport is rapidly gaining popularity), but there were well over 3000 doing this one. This meant that there were other people around for the entire course, with bottlenecks still occurring on sections of singletrack well after halfway. Plus of course most were French, so conversation was a bit limited, but I managed enough chat, including a tiny spot of Japanese and I even coped with some chirpy banter in German after about 40 miles.

Another strange but welcome touch was that the course was marked throughout. There were orange arrows spray-painted on the ground and red and white Ecotrail-branded tape hanging from trees, with the addition of reflective tape too from halfway, which worked really effectively through the woods later. I'm used to having to navigate with a map and/or written route instructions for anything of 30 miles or more, so it was great to be able to appreciate the scenery that bit more.

And the scenery was beautiful. We started in a park, across a field then round a lake. We followed trails and went into woodland, mostly flat for the first 6 miles. The first hill brought us up to a gorgeous view over a large lake. The trail descended gently through the trees down to the water. This set the pattern for the majority of the route, with many more woodland climbs and descents. The trail was runable, but very rocky and rootsy in places. I jarred myself and nearly went flying several times. Fortunately I only actually fell twice - first at about 8 miles, not too bad, then a much harder fall by the Seine with just over 4 miles to go. (I'm still amazed I didn't take a tumble in the woods in the dark.)

The first check point at 22km was a lively affair in a small village, with an enthusiastic band and plenty of food & drink, including bananas, dark chocolate and pots of apple compote (along with an assorted selection of cheese, salami, cakes & biscuits for the non-vegan folk).

At about 30 miles we crested a hill at an old stately home, which offered a view over Paris, with the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur and the goldy-looking roof of Les Invalides all on display. Shiny. And slightly surreal as the ascent up through the trees had felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. We turned and ran in the opposite direction as there was a lot of ground to cover yet.

Unfortunately I had been feeling decidedly unwell until this point. The midday heat at the start didn't help, with this being my sweatiest run in ages, but I just didn't feel right. Very heavy legs and extreme tiredness. Then the rain that had been threatening (there was some dramatic sounding thunder throughout the afternoon) finally poured down for a good twenty minutes. It really cooled me off and made me feel a lot more like me. I still wasn't quite running normally, but I began to need to walk less and less. Occasionally we'd cross a road or come to some other sort of civilisation where people had gathered to shout support. I'll have to check if there weren't many women in the race, as I got extra-special encouragement for being female, it seemed.

At 46km there was a control point, where they did a random kit check, asking us to show them our head torch and survival blanket ("blonket of life"). After the second checkpoint (56km - they weren't exactly evenly spread) it was dark. The sight of a string of headtorches glaring behind and the pools of light ahead of those in front is pretty magical. It was eerily quiet in the woods, with no road noise and just the sound of other runners and a few owls hooting breaking the silence. It was good to have a bit of night running in a relatively short race.

From about 40 miles onwards I really got into my stride, helped by the first six miles of this section being predominantly downhill, winding our way to the Seine. The last stretch along the river was great. Some of it still on trails of sorts (where I took my second fall at some speed, causing nasty knee & elbow grazing, but nothing too major as ouchies & booboos go) then bits on the road, where people cheered us on from their cars.

I approached the Tower near 11pm, when they switched its lights to super-sparkly-twinkly mode. There were crowds cheering us in at the base of the tower, then it was through a security arch and pick up a ticket (!) to ascend the steps. You'd think the trek up to the first floor would seem tough, after over 51 miles on the sort of trails that force you to expend a lot of extra energy picking up your feet to avoid falls. But actually there were not as many steps as I remembered and I made it up in less than 3 minutes. Crossing the finish line felt very good. And offered more great views of the city.

I was extremely grateful that we could take the lift back down. And It was still early enough for me to take the Metro up north to my hotel. I was very glad of a hot and powerful shower.

This morning I spent my time mooching around Saint Germaine and along the Seine, pausing for coffee a few times, where I took the opportunity to start writing an article for a green NY-based website I've been ask to be a contributor for. It's a good life.

And it's only a fortnight till I come back for the Marathon de Paris...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, 24 March 2011

A different type of clanger

I'm a fan of Oliver Postgate's Clangers, but apparently in Bedfordshire a "clanger" refers to a particular type of pie. I think it usually contains a combination of meat and fruit, but they made a special vegan version just for me, with veg and apples. An odd but tasty treat. Thanks Sylvia! This was eaten after the Bedford Clanger run, which was a pleasant marathon looping around Bedford, predominantly off-road. Really well organised by Noel, who's raising funds for Brathay as he's running the 10in10 this year.

Last Saturday we went to see Rango. Fantastic! The best non-Pixar CGI film I've watched. I'm pretty sure we enjoyed it far more than any of the kids in the audience, as the owl mariachi band had us in fits right from the start, then again every time they appeared to narrate. Johnny Depp makes a very cool chameleon too. We followed this with exceedingly good pizza. A great way to spend the day.

On Sunday I was in Sevenoaks for a 30 mile run around the Kent countryside. It was sunny and pretty and had lots of my friends there, making for plenty of laughs and general tomfoolery. I suppose serious running very rarely happens to me anyway. No pressure for time, just gently trotting through fields, mud and woods, up hills, along tracks, over stiles... yep, it was an LDWA event. It made a perfect antidote to the current busyness at work.

All good training for a European jaunt this weekend, provided I can negotiate a speedy trip across Paris in order to catch a train to get to the start on time...

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Playing catch up

Long time, no blog, so here's an attempt to summarise the last month and a half.

My shin got really hurty after the canal double. Apparently it was probably Anterior Compartment Syndrome, but it manifested itself as an immensely painful squidgy lump that caused me to limp when walking and to be unable to run for about three weeks. I was gutted to miss the "Thames Trot", one of my favourite ultras, but lucky that it actually healed relatively quickly.

On February 12th I took the latest batch of students (and a couple of teachers) to run a 10K in Finsbury Park. They put in a great effort and all performed well, with those who had done a 10K before all getting PBs. They had raised money for charities and all got yellow T-shirts at the end of the race and looked really proud of their achievement. I have to admit I felt pretty proud of 'em too.As my shin had survived (the longest run I'd done for 3 weeks!) I decided to have a tentative attempt at one of Foxy's Enigma marathons in Bletchley on the Sunday. It was day 4 of the "Quadzilla" - some of the folk there had been doing a marathon a day for four days. It was really interesting to see how they were getting on, having experienced a similar event last year at the 10 in 10. Lots of people I knew were there so it was good to catch up. It was ok for the first 17 miles, then my leg hurt a lot, but I finished anyway, knowing that I'd need to follow it with a few more days rest. And that was fine as it turned out. I then had a fortnight to gradually build up some gentle running before the next marathon.

At half term Jim and I spent the week in St Ives. We usually camp there in October, so it was very different (and luxurious) to be staying in an apartment right in the centre (on Fore Street) in February. There is something magical about St Ives, with its vivid colours and fantastic views. We spent the week sitting about drinking at the Sloop or the Yellow Canary, wandering on the beaches, strolling by the harbour or along the coastal path, visiting a tin mine and just generally grinning like idiots. I liked the sign at a pottery shop I ran past on my morning jogs.On the Sunday when we got back I popped up to Cambridge for the Boundary marathon - a pleasant trail route circling the city. I took it at a relaxed 4-and-a-half-hour pace, chatting with various people along the way and was very happy that my legs felt absolutely fine.

So back to work, which seems really busy recently, but much better for getting back to my normal routine pre-breakfast runs. There was another (shorter) canal double at the weekend just gone. Another ULTRArace event, brilliantly organised and with a feel-good atmosphere. Lots of familiar faces there so mucho chatting again. I took it steady, wondering how much of my stamina and speed I'd have lost. As it turned out, I did both days in under 4:40 (for 29.3 miles), with the second day actually a couple of minutes faster than the first. And fast enough to pick up a trophy for third place lady. Nice.

And now the mornings are starting to get lighter and there are daffodils about. Spring is springing. Shiny.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

By the canal again

This weekend saw the start of the UK ULTRArace Championships. This is a series of, er, ultra races, which together form a championship. So, does what it says on the tin really. It's a pretty neat idea - you enter 5 or more in the series and your top 5 results count. I would have entered at least 5 of these anyway, but it might encourage people to enter more. Either way, it's great to see how rapidly ultra running is expanding in the UK. Rory and Jen do a fantastic job in organising such feel-good events.

Last year I plodded along the canal (46 miles each way: Northampton to Tring Saturday, the reverse on Sunday) and finished first lady, albeit very slowly. An hour quicker this year was only good enough for 5th place. That's fine with me - I'm not in it to compete, just to enjoy, but I do really like being surrounded by such talented runners, in a community that remains friendly and positive as it grows. I was very pleased that this year there was only 5 minutes difference between my times for the two days (8:41 and 8:46). Nicely consistent. And I'm still feeling that I'm very much taking things gently as I don't want my lungs to start complaining again. My shin got really painful though and has a lump on it. This happened at the 10in10 and they lasered and iced it for me. As a non-pampered-afleet now I'm doing the ice and ibuprofen thing instead. I even took a day off running this morning.

I found out this week that I didn't get a place at UTMB this year. A shame, but it can wait for another time. So, now I'm pondering whether or not I'm ready to tackle the Spartathlon. I feel slightly giddy just contemplating it...

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Getting better gradually

I've been taking it very easy and not running much, to try to allow my lungs get properly better from that annoying chest infection, which really left me feeling knackered for weeks. Fingers crossed and all that, but it seems to be working.

The 100 Marathon Club AGM marathon was a great social event. I knew nearly everyone there. It's a handicap race (we each started at the-average-time-of-our-last-5-road-marathons before 2:30pm) run on a 5 lap course in Bromley. I started at 10:21 and saw plenty of others out on the course, either lapping, being lapped, or crossing over on a section of road that we did in both directions on each lap. John Wallace (AKA Superman) won the handicap race by finishing far quicker than his handicap suggested he should have. A great result. It was one of those crisp fresh but sunny days and even though I was deliberately walking a lot to take it easy, I thoroughly enjoyed it.On Saturday I did the Country to Capital ultra for the third time. This was my first ever ultra a couple of years ago and remains one of my favourites. The first half is cross country and can be tricky to find the correct route. It's pretty hilly and muddy and there's lots of running through fields and streams - the sort of terrain that really makes you feel alive. It wasn't very cold, making conditions most pleasant. The second half follows the Grand Union canal so the intense navigation ends and one can just relax (and dream of covering this ground again in May as part of the GUCR). I went nice and slowly and walked a lot on the canal section. A very gentle jaunt, which somehow made me over 40 minutes quicker than in the previous two years. Odd, but I'm not complaining. Top organisation as usual by the brilliant folks at Go Beyond.
I was unusually tired that evening, but seem to have recovered well enough now. I hope so, as there's a 45 miler on both Saturday and Sunday this weekend...

Monday, 3 January 2011


Happy New Year!

We went to visit my folks in Newcastle for a few days last week. It was still snowy (on the ground, not falling) and we briefly saw my sister, though my bro and his family stayed the whole time. It's hard not to do the stereotypical auntie "my, haven't you grown?!" thing, but really, my nieces are are 11 and 13 and both nearly as tall as me already. We had the inevitable mountains of good food, plus pleasant trips and walks out, including to a very slippery Durham. They'd been up to the Lake District and had some great photos of a completely frozen Derwent Water showing people walking, skating and even cycling on its solidified surface.

Now I don't want to say my lungs are fixed yet (but I am hopeful). I spent over a week in bed and even missed a marathon in an attempt to get well. Then today I went to run another lovely Enigma marathon round (and round and round...) the lake in Bletchley Park. I jogged the first half then made sure I took plenty of walk breaks to keep my lungs happy. 4:22 was much quicker than I'd expected. And so far, I feel good.

So, back to work tomorrow. 2011 is a prime number. I like that.