Monday, 8 April 2019

Devizes Half Marathon- New PB!

Not liking the thought of stripping down to race kit in the cold weather

Doing warm-up drills in Morrisons car park- a new one on me!

Feeding the chickens...

Sprint finish!

We had a full day of races on Sunday. In the morning, I was doing the Devizes half marathon, and in the afternoon, M was running the Combe Gibbet, a 16 mile cross country helter-skelter over the chalk from Inkpen Beacon (near enough) down to Overton.

When we arrived in Devizes first thing and found race HQ on the green by the duck pond (a lovely setting) it was rather chilly and I wasn't looking forward to peeling off the layers. Luckily, M was my pack horse so I kept my coat on till the last possible minute before handing it to him at the start. 

I'd decided to run this one as a steady training run, having done a few fast races in recent weeks, so I set off quite happy about the number of people who zoomed past me. A few miles in and I'd warmed up and settled in to the race. I had a chat with a couple of my fellow runners whom I ran a few miles with, then decided I was feeling good so picked up my pace a bit and left them behind.

By mile ten I was more or less on my own, loving running through the beautiful Chalk countryside, appreciating the friendly and supportive marshals and calling out encouragement to the runners I passed, some of whom were in varying stages of decline by that point. I was enjoying myself but not, at that point, thinking much about my pace or time. 

Half a mile to the finish I caught up with the 1:55 pacers. I glanced at my watch and saw they were ahead of time, which they confirmed as I drew up with them. We had a brief chat then I ran on, with them shouting: go for it! you'll be there well under 1:55! I was quite happy with running a sub 2-hour half but felt good so decided to edge my pace up a little bit more.

You do a lap of the green before you cross the finish line, and as I came running down to it I realised if I sprinted I would improve on my time at the Bath Half three weeks ago, so I sprinted, hearing but not seeing M yelling me on. I crossed the line in 1:52 and couldn't quite believe I'd knocked over 30 seconds off my PB. Devizes has some hills and inclines on it, and I hadn't really been trying all that hard, but here was another PB. I'm not complaining!

I drank my protein recovery shake (chocolate- yum) and got in the car so we could whizz over to Inkpen for M's race. It took an hour to get there, then we had an hour to wait before the coaches arrived with all the runners, then it was another hour between me seeing them all off and driving to Overton where they would finish. By the time I got to Overton I wasn't feeling very well. I was beyond hungry and had gone into that shaky low blood pressure phase where you really, really need to eat something before you fall over.

Luckily, there was a co-op in town, so I bought a ham salad sandwich, salt and vinegar crisps and some chocolate and wolfed the lot down. I stopped shaking but I was feeling really tired. I parked the car and decided a walk was in order, to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. I felt a lot better for it.

Forty minutes later the runners began to arrive. M came flying down the hill, beating my 1:52 time of the morning and adding another three miles into the distance. 

We got home by five, tired but happy and full of our relative achievements. My take home lesson from the morning was- always have more food than you think you'll need after a race, and don't leave it three hours before you eat!

All good. How are you all?

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Poppy's near miss & a parkrun PB.

The dogs (whom you may notice have been to see Mrs D and come back with smart new hair dos) and I have been busy checking out new routes for the Hares summer session runs which start this week. Now that the clocks have changed we are getting back out into the countryside for our training, which means fields and trails rather than towns and roads. 
Working out the routes has been a perfect excuse to explore footpaths, rivers and woods. It's been lovely, despite Poppy disgracing herself by jumping in the Test on one run and heading off after a pair of swans who were sailing regally by in the main channel. As she swam out into the river proper, the current caught her and tried to sweep her under the bridge and away downstream. I had visions of her bobbing all the way to the sea at Southampton. I was yelling frantically at her to "swim like mad, Poppy!" while Teddy jumped from paw to paw in that worried way of his on the bank, letting out yips as she twirled around. To make matters worse, the swans, who were hissing by then, turned and headed straight for her. My heart was in my mouth. She made it back to the bank of course, scrabbled out, grinned, shook herself vigorously and scampered off onto the bridge where she watched the swans go by as if nothing had happened. Honestly. If we all channeled Poppy's outlook on life, none of us would ever worry about anything ever again. There is perhaps something in that.

Saturday we managed to get to a parkrun for a run ourselves, after weeks of hosting them for other people. Earlier in the year I'd got the Hares to write no more than three running goals each for the year, and while they were doing that I thought about my own. I came up with: Sub 50 10k (tick), run a marathon again, and sub 23 parkrun time. My previous PB over the parkrun 5k distance was 23:09 which I set two years ago, then injury niggles intervened and the closest I've been to it since is 23:45. Anyway, I decided I'd give it a go on Saturday when the 23 minute pacer ran past me. I accelerated and followed him, dodging past people and eventually catching him up about half way round. We had a chat before the hill bit and I slowed down and off he went. I'd upped my miles last week to do a total of 37, so wasn't really expecting to have much left in my legs to run fast with, but I was surprised at how good I felt. Anyway, I went with it, picked up the pace at the top of the hill and was astonished to cross the line a km or two later in 22:36. Months ago I'd asked M what he thought constituted a decent 5k time and he'd said anything that started with a 22 was pretty respectable. He doesn't remember saying this now but it obviously stuck in my head! I was even more pleased later when the results came through and I realised I was 8th lady and had achieved an age-graded score of over 70%. 

The following day we did a low-key, hilly road race through beautiful countryside. After two weekends of urban races with large numbers of competitors, I was looking forward to the smaller event. As everyone set off I wasn't really thinking about having a fast race, but I guess my fitness has gone up a gear because as the race went on I found I was running at a good pace and not finding it hard to keep it up. Rather unbelievably, I improved on last week's 10k time by 20 seconds, which, given the hills was completely unexpected. I was 2nd lady and finished 6th overall, while M won the whole thing outright, so it was a good outing for #teamCT. 

The Hares (the running group I set up last year) have been doing really well too- three of them have now run ten miles in training, two have their first ten mile race in April and another has hers in October; two more have their first half marathons in May and another has booked her first half marathon for November. Two have shaved minutes off their parkrun PBs (both now under 30 minutes) and one has got her 10k time down to just under the hour. Given that this time last year they weren't runners I think these are fabulous achievements. I suspect that next year we may be looking at some of them doing marathons, which would make me the proudest coach. I keep dropping hints :o).

I'm also about to start working with a lady who has her first 10k race booked for May and needs some help with the last few weeks of training. I am excited about this because she doesn't find running easy, so she's a great example of what you can achieve if you are determined enough. I have huge respect for grass roots runners- normal everyday people who want to get fit and healthy - and it's really nice to be able to help them achieve those goals. I'll let you know how she gets on.

Hope all is well with all of you?

CT :o).

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Eastleigh 10k

Running shoes have been the bane of my life for the last three years. All I want is one pair for the road and one for the trails that a) fit, b) don't give me blisters and c) have the correct heel drop (around 10mm) to avoid my calves screaming the following day. I've had the road shoes sorted for a while now (Brooks Ghost) but the trails! Who knew it would be so hard to find a pair that worked? Anyway, long, boring story short, I've got a pair of speedcross that I did our new parkrun in at the weekend and all was good. I hardly dare hope that two years of annoyance and trying hundreds of pairs on is over....

Sunday was Eastleigh 10k race day. On paper, not one I'd usually enter being urban roads, flat topography and a large field of runners, some of whom fly in from far away lands to do it, but M was away running up and down the Brecon Beacons and I thought I might as well go along and chip away at one of my goals for this year which is a sub-50 minute 10k time, my previous best being an annoying 51:04 from two years ago.

When I woke up I really didn't feel like going at all. parkrun the previous day had felt more like 9 miles than the 3 it actually was (it's a proper technical cross country course with numerous twists and turns and lumps and bumps and full of roots and branches and a long length of draining camber that you run three times) plus I'd run some longer miles during the week so I wasn't really feeling it. But, I'd paid my dues and lots of friends were going so I thought I'd just go and trot round, collect the t-shirt and medal, catch up with buddies and then push off back home for a peaceful afternoon.

I parked in a side street and wandered down through the cold bright sunshine to the leisure centre where a couple of thousand runners were having massages/ collecting t-shirts/ chatting to friends/ warming up. I found Eddie and we had a good moan about how unlike running we felt, then my friend Maureen turned up, so we had a moan about how unlike running we felt, and then I saw Gerry and Theresa, and I moaned to them about how I didn't feel like running either! Eventually, I spotted a gang of my fellow club members doing a mass warm-up. You not running? they asked, seeing as I was still in trackie bottoms and a hoodie with a bag slung over my shoulder and showing no sign of joining in with the getting-the-muscles-ready-to-race activity with only ten mins to go before the start. I am, I said absently, thinking that I should probably go and get ready.

I got into race gear with enormous reluctance, left my bag in the sports hall with everyone else's and headed over to the start, putting myself in the 50-55 minute pacer bracket. Maureen was there too so we had a bit more of a natter, then the whistle went and everyone set off.

There is always a great rush at the start of races with people jostling for position- some flying off ahead and others falling back. I get very irritated by it. If anything, all that flurry of activity makes me go slower. As I ran along trying to avoid people's elbows I was thinking: what am I doing here? Another urban race with too many people, I could be at home in bed reading. I could barely see the ground in front of me for other people's feet.

Anyway, there was a hill close to the start which meant lots of people immediately slowed down and I was able to overtake a sizeable chunk by running up the outside. I guess it woke me up and got my head back in the game because after a mile I started to feel better, so I decided I would pick up the pace just a little and see what would happen.

Maureen, whom I met at the Wickham 10k last autumn and with whom I am relatively matched pace-wise, had run off strongly at the start and I assumed I wouldn't see her till the end, but around mile three I caught up with and overtook her so decisively I realised I must be running more strongly than I'd thought. Rich, who had whizzed off away from me at the start was also in my sights by mile 4 and I knew when I ran past him that he wasn't going to catch me again. I glanced at my watch and realised if I kept it up I would probably get back with a new PB of a shade under 51 minutes which I'd have been pleased with, given the way the race started. By that point it was close enough to be worth working a bit harder for it, so I picked up the pace a bit more, trying to tread that fine line between gaining enough speed to beat the previous time, but not so much that you can't sustain it and end up blowing up before you've crossed the finish line.

I could feel the lactic acid building in the last half mile - the nausea and faintness coming on more strongly along with more laboured breathing. Had the race been any longer I would not have been able to sustain the pace, as it was, I was forced to slow down feet from the finish line (I reckon I lost between 5-10 seconds) because it's a narrow paved path and the spectators were pressed in on the side preventing people from overtaking on the grass (someone had even allowed their child to run alongside the runners who were sprinting by then for the finish- I thought that was dangerous because, given the lack of space and the adrenaline that kicks in at the end of a race, the little chap could easily have been sent flying by a runner, as it was he slowed me down because I had to dodge to miss crashing into him). Annoyingly, there were also three blokes in front of me taking up the entire path who were not sprinting. This meant I had to slow down again for them because they'd taken up all the room and there was nowhere for me to go. Bad race etiquette. I can not wait to get back to smaller races where there is actually space to run at the pace you want to go at and where the finish is wide enough for a proper sprint without the fear of crashing into people. I feel it should have been better organised. 

Anyway, grumble over. I stopped my watch as I crossed the line and couldn't quite believe that the number began with 49. Dead chuffed, even if I did have to put my hands on my thighs and bend over for a few seconds to stop myself being sick :o).

How was your weekend?


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Bath Half Marathon 2019

As you know, I tend to stay away from big city road races, preferring to get out into the land in all weathers and run with a mad minimal bunch of similarly-minded people. Bath, which has 15,000 runners, is the opposite of that. We'd entered it two years ago, deferred to last year and then when that was snowed off, got an automatic entry for this year's race, so we thought we might as well do it.

Bath is on lock down when the race is on, but luckily we have cousins living there so headed over to their house first thing where we had tea and a natter before Rob kindly dropped us into the city. M had omitted to give his predicted finish time when we sorted the entries and belatedly we realised he'd been put in the fancy dress starting pen at the back of the field. The organisation was faultless and they swiftly upgraded him to the right pen, asking us to collect the new number from the registration tent in the runners' village first thing, which we did.

The queues for the loo were crazy as always, so we decided to drop our bag off early before all the people queuing for the loo got into the bag drop queue. This meant we had very little on to protect us from the biting wind. It was freeezing. Luckily, I had stuck two bin bags in our bag the night before so we got into those. Never let it be said that we don't make sartorial efforts when we go to big city races :o). It kinda worked but it will still pretty damn chilly when the sun went in, and because there were so many people we had over an hour to wait like that before the race got underway.

Eventually we were called to our respective pens: M up front in the white section with the elite and super-speedies, me in the middle with the greens and the slower and fancy dress runners in the orange at the back. All on Great Pulteney Street. More loos here and we still had forty minutes before the start so I joined the smaller queue for a final pre-race wee.

With five mins to go everyone started peeling off their bin bags/ charity sweatshirts/ extra tee-shirts; there was a comical few minutes where all around me clothes were flying through the air, some landing on the heads of the spectators who laughed in a good-natured way, removed the top that had landed on them and deposited it in the 'for charity' bags than had been strung up all along the fence line.

Finally, the race began- but it took me nine minutes to get to the start, such were the numbers of people around. And then we were off, running along Great Pulteney Street and hanging right towards the river.

The Bath Half is a two-loop course that follows the river so it's mainly flat. I reckon I'm reasonably practiced at race discipline now and know not to go off too fast at the start, but the atmosphere kinda carried me along and I ran the first 5k too quickly. There were crowds lining the route and the support was fantastic- everyone was cheering and clapping, there were bands playing live music, a drummer in a tent, a double decker bus filled with people with a woman on the top rapping. Friends and family with signs encouraging loved ones. It was amazing, I've not experienced anything like it before.

I'm used to races thinning out after the first few miles where everyone settles into their stride but not this one- I ran in a solid pack of people the entire thirteen miles. It was unsettling, as was the constant presence of spectators and the continual noise of the crowd. I couldn't get my pace under control and I felt my race strategy slipping away from me. I gave myself a good talking to: get your pace down to 5:30 mins/ km. forget about feeling grumpy with all the people, think of this as an experience and enjoy it. And as soon as I'd given myself that pep talk I felt better. I relaxed into the race; got control of my pace and began to smile and enjoy the atmosphere. I never got used to all the other runners being so close, but hey, it was a one off.

Six miles in I saw our cousins and their girls waving and cheering beneath an enormous colourful home-made banner which had mine and M's names painted on it. It gave me such a huge lift that I accidentally sped up and ran the next km at closer to 5 mins :o). Another talking to and I settled down again. Towards the end of the first lap the lead runner came by- can you believe that? He'd run twelve miles in the time it took me to do 6 (about 54 mins for me). He won the race in 1 hour 5 mins. Astonishing.

Ten miles in and I realised people around me were starting to fade while I was beginning to pick the pace up for the final three miles. I ran the last 5k in 4:45-5 min/ kms, felt strong and in control although it was very hard to overtake as everyone was slowing down and the road was getting very clogged. Luckily, a slight hill intervened and I was able to run on the outside and overtake people. The end was in sight- a left turn into Great Pulteney Street and the finish a short sprint away. I realised I was on to significantly break my HM PB so I sprinted for all I was worth, quite surprised by the energy that was left in my legs and heart, and was thrilled to cross the line in 1:53, a new PB by nine minutes. This is a little misleading because my previous official HM PB was on a very hilly course and Bath is almost flat, but nevertheless I was thrilled - I finished feeling strong and was able to run down to the runners' village to collect my goodie bag and find M, who had run an absolute blinder, finishing in 1:20, his fastest half mara time in 23 years! Amazing. There is life in the old dog yet :o).

Because M is so super-speedy, he'd already collected our bag from the bag drop at a time when there were no queues- as we looked around us all we could see were long long lines of people waiting patiently to get theirs. I was so grateful for this because it meant I could put on a warm top and drink my protein shake straightaway.

We decided to walk back up to Rob and Sal's- they were waiting by the finish for their youngest who ran a super first half mara time of 2:01 in the end. I was glad of the opportunity to stretch my legs and suggested to M we run, but he was feeling a bit stiff in the leg department by then so we walked back up the hill.

All in all it was a super experience. The race was very well organised, the officials were wonderfully calm and in control given the HUGE number of people they were looking after. The marshals were great and the crowds were just so brilliant and encouraging. The course was nice and Bath is a lovely city. Would I do it again? Probably, but it did make me spend an hour looking up trail races in the middle of nowhere when we got home...

Hope you are all well. How was your weekend?


Thursday, 14 March 2019

Grizzly Cub 2019

Unusual for me, I actually brushed my fell shoes ahead of the race

Relieved to see Mike back home safe

This band were amazing!

A surprise in the goodie bag, post-run rum :o)

As is becoming usual when we're travelling to a race, Sunday dawned wet and windy and it only got worse as we headed into Devon. Gale force winds had been forecast and they did not disappoint. We parked, had a wander round race HQ then met up with friends in the cafe for tea and toast. 

A little before 10:30, nearly 2000 runners in varying states of undress and brightly-coloured lycra congregated at the start on Seaton seafront to hear Tony, laconic RD, do the briefing: 'we've knocked about a km off the full Grizzly route because the wind is deemed too dangerous in that section and it'll be a pain if you get blown off a cliff, but don't worry, we've replaced it with an extra bog', and then the Town Crier gave his usual much-loved address to the runners before we were counted down and set off up the road.

Only a short distance of tarmac is allowed in the Grizzly (or so it feels) because soon we'd peeled off onto the beach and were crunching over the pebbles trying not to twist our collective ankles. I saw a dead dogfish (I assume- it certainly looked like one) washed up high on the pebbles presumably by the storm winds, but other than that there was no time to look at anything much except where you were putting your feet. 

After half a mile of this dogged and tiring terrain, we were back on the tarmac, this time heading up the hill that leads out of Seaton. It does go on a bit that hill but I was enjoying it because, as you know, I like hills. I started overtaking people and that always feels good. 

Round a bend, downhill for a bit, round another bend away from the sea and up another long, steep hill where everyone was walking, before plunging down into Beer with a pirate chasing me. Another steep climb up out of Beer and you're into the caravan park. Through that and out onto the hills proper- steep, steep, green hills with the steely grey sea, white-tipped this morning with churning white horses, spreading out to one side of you.

When we came out onto the cliffs, we also came out into the wind proper. I've never run in anything like it before. It nearly blew me off my feet more than once. Everyone was running at crooked angles into it, bent over fighting to remain upright. I shamelessly took advantage of the wind break offered by an old guy who was running by my side, then nearly fell over when the wind whipped round and tugged at me from another angle. There was a lot of general laughter about it as we all fought our way forward through it together. Thankfully, it was not raining. It wasn't even cold, just insanely windy.

Eventually, we dropped down a (very) muddy track onto Branscombe Beach where the full Grizzly runners (20 miles) went on to the right away from the sea and the Cub runners (9), headed left along the beach back towards Beer, but not before the lovely race organisers had led us all through an ice cold, over-the-ankle river (twice). The Griz is famous for its bogs and rivers. By cunningly avoiding running the full version I had, until now, avoided getting my feet wet and muddy. Not any more. This year they changed the course to make sure we all got wet. And bloody hell was it cold water! And the buggers made us run through it twice! With perfectly serviceable dry pebbles on either side too. I got some good photos though :o)

A little way along the beach there was a memorial where runners could tie ribbons in memory of lost loved ones. I tied a yellow ribbon for Pa, who was a bit of a cross country runner back in the day. It was a lovely and thoughtful touch in a race that is special in so many ways.

As we trudged wearily along (yet more) pebbles on the beach, I reflected that when I last ran the Cub (two years ago- last year we were snowed in so missed it), the tide was out and I ran along lovely, firm, gold, smooth sand by the calmly lapping water's edge. No chance of that today - the tide was in and all there was to run on was chunky grey pebbles or tiny weeny gravel-like particles that I didn't fancy getting in my fell shoes. Boy do those big pebbles zap your energy though. I stopped briefly for a breather only to be urged on by the lady behind who called out that I was her inspiration so please could I not stop :o).

On through the gully below the over-hanging cliffs where there is a definite pre-historic feel (well, this is the Jurassic Coast after all) and on up over the roots and rocks of the Stairway to Heaven where two years ago a strange man in a black cloak was declaiming from a book while swigging from a hip flask. I still haven't worked out whether he was actually part of the race or just a random, slightly bonkers, bloke on a day out. Steep isn't the word for the Stairway to Heaven. I don't actually have a word for it. The coastguard were out in force on this section, fully kitted up, obviously prepared for casualties, and cheerfully telling everyone not to go too close to the edge and to be very careful coming over the top because the wind was mighty strong up there.

And so it was. But I like this section- after half a mile of pebble beach and what feels the same of climbing up a cliff face, suddenly you're out on good, firm, sloping slightly downhill Chalk and you can whizz along at a cracking pace. So I did, pretending I was flying in the wind. I might even have had my arms out aeroplane style for a bit :o)

Back through the caravan park where people were handing out jelly babies and children were encouraging the runners on: 'don't stop now! you can do it!' and holding their hands out for high-fives. Some folks stopped for a beer at a truck here, but I reckoned that was the last thing you needed with another mile or so of running ahead, so I pushed on, back down the road into Beer where the locals were still lining the main street clapping and cheering, then up some very steep steps and on over another hill, along a footpath that emerges onto the road and on over one final hill up through the wood which waits to snag the weary and unwary. I was feeling strong and enjoying myself so I pushed on, eager to catch the lass in front. I eventually caught her at the top of the hill where the runners turned right off the road through some gardens. I could tell from her breathing that she was working harder than I was, so I went past but I could feel her redouble her efforts to keep up with me. As we came out of the garden and onto the final stretch the finish line was ahead and she overtook me. I thought about letting her go for a split second, then sped up and just pipped her before the line. We had a quick high-five as she came over the finish behind me, because the nature of the Grizzly is tough but friendly, and competition is expected, and then a few minutes later as I was heading back to the car to get some warm gear on and find my protein shake, there was a tap on my shoulder and it was the lady who'd said she was relying on me on the beach section. It turned out this was her first Cub so we had a hug and I congratulated her on a brilliant run.

I reckoned I had an hour before M was due back, so back at the car I peeled off my wet kit and put on warm, dry stuff (my new Grizzly hoodie was lurvely) in the car park (I'm getting used to changing in car parks!), grabbed my protein shake and a sausage roll and headed back into town to wait for the others to come in. There was a brilliant band playing, drums and sticks kinda thing, which just infused energy into the air, so I bopped about to that for a bit then saw our friend Mike running down the hill towards the finish- this time last year he came very close to dying from a heart attack, so I was super pleased that he'd got round in one piece. And soon after Mike, M came hurtling down the hill, having run the full 20 miles in some ridiculously fast time, and coming home top 40.

We'd both had an absolute ball and agreed there really is nothing quite like the Grizzly. I can see that next year I'm going to have to bite the bullet and do the full 20.

Hope all is well with all of you? Any adventures of your own recently?