Sunday, 27 August 2017

Portishead Half Marathon

Last Monday, at ten o'clock at night, I decided I fancied running a road half marathon this weekend. Such is the brilliance of the internet on phones that, half an hour later after a little searching, I had found one that fitted the bill in Portishead, Bristol and had entered it. So this morning, the alarm went off at 6.30 and we headed off down the M4 to get there in time for the 10.15 start.

M, who is training for the Clarendon Marathon, drove us and was Support Crew as he and Poppy did a 19 mile run yesterday (we all agreed it was the most quiet we'd ever seen Pop afterwards, although it didn't last long and by afternoon she was bouncing around annoying Ted).

The weather was hot and sunny, but after Adderbury a few weeks ago where we ran in 28 degree heat (hot for the UK!), a mere 24 wasn't going to put me off. It was a Festival Of Running weekend, with various races taking part on both days, culminating in the Half this morning, so there were lots of folk gathered at the start and the tail end of the 5k was coming to a close as we arrived.

I got my number and pfaffed about for a while as usual trying to pin it on without attaching it to my skin....

The start was delayed by fifteen minutes for the kids' mile race to finish and then we were off, heading out into the streets of Portishead.

Neither of us had been to Portishead before. It's a small coastal down just outside Bristol with views over to Wales and a lovely marina, which we ran past on the two-lap route...

The marshals and locals were great, clapping and cheering the runners and calling out words of encouragement. As is usual on these longer runs, I got chatting to some lovely people. I didn't get the name of the lady above, but we had a good natter about Portishead (she lived there) and marathons (she'd run London earlier in the year and Gloucester at the start of the month) while we ran together.

I'd decided to work on my pace for this HM, having left it to chance with the previous three which have all been hilly, off road, tough runs where time is, frankly, irrelevant. I reckoned if I could do between 5.40-6 minute kms on this one I'd turn in a respectable performance. This course wasn't without hills so it was never going to be super-fast, but I stuck to my guns and maintained a steady rhythm all the way and by the time I finished I wasn't exhausted but didn't have oodles of energy left over either, so I think I judged it about right. All useful stuff with half an eye on Edinburgh next year.

On the final 3k I fell into step with a lovely chap called David who was using the run as pace training for the New Forest Marathon this September. I was tiring a bit by then and we still had one final long hill to get up just before the finish. He was a complete star, chatting away, getting me up the smaller hill before the big one by slowing down so I could run beside him. I've written before how runners can help one another by either pacing side-by-side or by leading when one is tired, and that is what he did for me.

Soon we passed M waving and cheering and that gave me a lift. The course turned downhill and we were joined by a friend of David's as well as a lady who'd faltered on the previous hill and another chap. Our little group of five stuck together for the final KM, egging one another one, making sure we were all ok, checking it was safe for all of us to cross roads together. Runners. You won't find a nicer, kinder, more supportive bunch of people.

At the final hill there was M cheering and yelling me on so I superglued myself to David's elbow and managed to keep running up all of it, but I was flagging and then I heard David telling me push, push, push and that simple bit of encouragement helped me find some little bit of left-over energy from somewhere to get up the last bit of the hill and turn down to the finish. Here we are just reaching the top of that final hill having run 13 miles in the heat...

We were running side-by-side as we turned to the finish so I suggested sprint finish? We pelted down the hill together grinning and then he did what is quite possibly the nicest thing anyone who isn't my husband has ever done for me in a race- he slowed down so that I could cross the line first. David, if you happen to read this, or someone from Bristol who knows you does: thank you so much for getting me up that hill and being such a true gent at the finish. These races are, in many ways, made for me not by the time I run them in, but by the many examples of truly decent human beings I meet on the way round them.

Job Done. HM # 4 in the bag and at 12 minutes faster than my previous best too.

Happy Days!

Hope you're all well?

CT x

Thursday, 24 August 2017

In Which We Get GCSE Results, A Glut Of Vegetables, A Close Shave With A Mad Dog And Make Some Things

It's that time of year isn't it? When courgettes morph overnight into marrows and tomato plants go mad. I've given away seven monster courgettes at the gate since yesterday. The most pleasing of these was when of the rubbish men stopped his enormous truck mid-collection, dropped down out of the cab, seized the biggest one and told me with a huge grin I'm having this one! before calmly continuing on down the lane to finish collecting everyone's recycling.

I've made the red toms into this: 

It's from Sarah Raven's Garden Book. I left out the wine and cloves. It's lovely, really rich. We're having it tonight with jacket spuds and sausages, and these for pud....

Made with really dark chocolate. It's the first time I've managed to get the shiny thin papery layer on the top. They are very rich, to the extent that I (famous for stuffing myself with brownies) can honestly only manage one small one. M is marathon training at present, clocking up 70 odd miles this week, so food is being consumed here at a great rate of knots. I can barely keep up with demand and am cooking furiously so there's always something interesting and filling in the cupboards/ fridge/ tins. Added to this I'm also upping my distances as I've got 5 half marathons to run in the next couple of months and I seem to be visiting supermarkets and collecting free food from the hedgerows/ trees on an almost daily basis!

Last night, he ran in the last RR10 of the season, three laps of a university playing field. I didn't fancy it so ran cross country in the morning with the dogs instead and went along last night to support everyone. It makes a big difference in a race having someone cheering you along. I shouted encouragement to the twenty or so members of our club and got waves and grins back from all of them as they whizzed, trotted or trudged past. Elder Statesman Derek said afterwards it had really helped him muster the energy for the final lap. If you're ever watching a race and in doubt about encouraging the runners go for it- they will love you for it and you might make the difference between someone finishing or not.

The dogs and I were out early in the fields this morning; we hit the trail at 7.30 and it was bliss. No one about, only the buzzards and a few deer and what I think was a peregrine having a scuffle with a buzzard. The run was lovely, cool and fresh and strong. The only blip was when a big black labrador came out of nowhere (from behind us), knocked Ted flying and rushed, barking and snarling, phlegm flying from its rather large teeth, at me. It was rather terrifying as we were in the middle of nowhere and I had nothing, not even the dogs' leads, with me to swipe at it. Instead, more because I was outraged at the way it had run straight over Teddy and rolled him like a ball than because of any conscious thought process, I screamed furiously at it, waving my arms about. Fortunately, this worked and it turned round and ran back to its people who were too far away to have seen/ controlled it. It did shake me up a bit because it was entirely unprovoked. Teddy was fine, just a bit nervous afterwards. We got straight on with our run and put as much distance as possible between it and us. Luckily, for the most part, you can see for miles in those fields, so if I ever see it again I'll make sure we give it a very wide berth.

On a lighter note, I've been doing some more sewing...

And am wondering what to make with these...

Finally, L collected his GCSE results this morning. He's done brilliantly and we're all really proud of him. He took RE a year early (last year) and got an A, for which I gave him a bag of chocolate eclairs as a well done I am proud of you present. He grinned when he saw them because one of his friend's parents had forked out 400 quid for the same result. It has become a standing joke between us since then that whenever he does well I give him a bag of chocolate eclairs, so of course, you can imagine what he got this morning. He grinned even more broadly when he received them, informing me that a family he knows told their son he'd get £1000 for every A he produced. I informed him sweetly that the grades were reward enough (although there will be a small cash prize winging it's way to him shortly). We have agreed that I am a terrible mother :o)

Happy Days here (I even forgot to go to Yoga amid all the excitement).

Hope you're all well?

CT x

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Jams, Quilts & Falling Off Punts Into Rivers

There is a crab apple tree in one of the hedges on my local run. For the past week, it has been dropping its fruit on the ploughed field and I've been jumping over the tiny speckled apples thinking I really must come and collect some for winter jelly. I remembered to do this over the weekend and today I made up two kilner jars of rosehip and crab apple jelly. It tastes lovely and the colour....oh my! Next stop...tomato and courgette chutney (once I have changed the gas canister over).

I have also finished F's going away to uni quilt today, with help from Chief Quilt Overseer, Poppy...

While Deputy Quilt Overseer Ted slept on oblivious on top of a double layer of beds. Poppy grumbled it was like the princess and the pea as she lay down on the floor watching me pin layers of fabric together, ignoring the occasional gentle swear as I pinned my finger instead.

I'm pleased with the way it's turned out, and quite tempted to make an identical one for us as there's enough fabric left over. It's very snuggly and warm, thanks to the wadding which is 50% cotton, 50% bamboo, so nice and soft.

I particularly love this dove fabric which is part of the quilt. The finished product has a faintly medieval feel which is perfect as F is off to study archeology....

We spent a chunk of the weekend punting on the Cherwell in Oxford with fifteen members of the family before all heading off to a hotel in the Cotswolds for the night to celebrate M's 50th and L's 16th. The punting has become something of a summer tradition since the children were little, and it's become obligatory for the three dads (M, his brother and cousin) to "fall" in. They duly obliged in style, much to the hilarity of everyone else (including complete strangers in other punts who nevertheless hastened past, clearly keen to establish a reasonable bit of watery distance between themselves and the loons in the three punts). The littlest boys (aged 11 and 8) were in ecstasy at the dunkings, particularly as the oldest pushed M in (no photo of that as M took ages re-emerging and I was starting to panic that he'd drowned). He discovered the hard way that if you're going to shove an uncle off a punt into a river you're quite likely to find yourself being taken along with him (see third pic down) :o)

The hotel, on the edge of the Cotswolds, was lovely. A proper old-fashioned place. The rooms were huge, light and airy and we had a dining room all to ourselves (probably wise- we're a raucous bunch) with the tables set out like a tudor banquet. M, L and I sat at the head with two long arms of family stretching down either side. The food was delicious and after supper we all retired to the bar snug where whiskey, brandy, port and baileys did several rounds amid much conversation and laughter from large old leather and fabric armchairs.

The following morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we headed off en masse (complete with helium filled silver birthday balloons, one of which had found its way into my car where it proceeded to drive me mad floating about on the back seat like a disembodied head) to visit Great Coxwell Barn, a 13th century Cotswold stone barn that was once part of a monastic farm complex. M and I had been before, it is very beautiful. The last time we were there, earlier this summer, a Little Owl flew out of the barn right over my head and perched on the roof of the court house below. There are also several species of bat in the roof which has the original 13th C timbers. Master Craftsmanship, eh?

Talking of owls, last Sunday evening a Barn Owl floated down out of the gloaming and sat on our garage roof. He was there ages, looking around, peering in the window at us. Magical.

The Garden Birds are still eating me out of house and home. We now have siskins a-plenty, back in the garden much earlier than in previous years (I usually don't see them until January has stripped the cones from the trees), and the baby woodie is still around too. The Swifts have left Romsey and I haven't heard Blackcaps or Chiffchaffs for ages, so assume they've also headed off. But the Robins have started singing again and my heron has returned to the lake and the wrens are busy being bossy and scolding everyone in sight....

Great Tit

Marsh Tit

Assorted Tits in the rain

Siskins and goldfinches

Sparrows squabbling over the water

Baby GSW
Running-wise, I'm now back to under 24 minute Parkrun times and have another half marathon this weekend. A road race this time, just to try something a bit different. I'd been grumbling to M that I didn't feel like my fitness had improved recently, then it occurred to me that a month ago there's no way I would have decided on a Monday that I fancied running a half marathon at the weekend, looked one up and booked it, so I guess that speaks for itself. Measuring improvements in your ability becomes harder the longer you've been running, I'm finding. Anyway, I'm interested to see how I do as this race is completely different from my preferred off road and hilly ones. I will report back (warts and all).

Hope you're all well? We have GCSE results here on Thursday. We are not panicking. We are actually Quite Calm. I will be proud of him whatever the results as he worked his socks off so he deserves to do well. You can't ask anyone for more than that.

CT :o)

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Marathon Training Thoughts, And Puppies.

I had a letter yesterday from my dear friend Shauna who is close to finishing the couch to 5k programme. She got me thinking about running in all its shapes and forms. I know from experience what a massive achievement it is to complete your first 5k, and how good it feels to finish something you've worked so hard towards. 

Meanwhile, I've had a tough week training-wise, probably still feeling the effects of the half marathon. I was feeling frustrated by it, then I looked back at my diary and realised I've run  a fast Parkrun on Sat, did 6 miles on Sunday and 5 miles including fast intervals last night. A few months ago I would not have been able to do that without collapsing, so I think it's probably a matter of perspective. Once you start to clock up longer distances or faster times you get, if anything, more self critical and less satisfied with your own performance. I have a sneaky feeling that's why I've entered a marathon for next year and it's also why I choose more technically difficult races over the flat, fast road ones. I need to challenge myself.

I spent a little time yesterday working out a marathon training programme. It's quite an overwhelming topic to research when it's your first one and you have no experience to fall back on. I've ended up doing what I usually do, which is downloading a few examples, and then working my own one out based on those I've seen and how I've previously trained to up my distances. I'm relatively confident in the result but am still going to email it out to a few friends (thank you in advance, Kate and others!) to get their thoughts.

When M got home I gave him my version and one I'd found on the Edinburgh marathon site to compare.  He went through both with me and thought I'd got enough miles in with enough rest days between to get me there. I can honestly say it starts to look a bit scary when you see the miles you need to run in order to be fit enough to do a marathon mapped out in calendar form stretching over, in my case, five months of training. We're talking, once the first month is done, of an average weekly mileage of around 30 miles, split into various distances with one big run increasing from 14-20 miles every other week and four days of training back-to-back. It's nothing like training for a half. I can quite see why running club buddy Dan told me he's decided to stick with half marathons because they are easier to achieve and don't require months and hours of training, yet they are still a very respectable endurance distance.

I've also been advised by more experienced runners to get a few hefty competitive runs in in the weeks prior to the marathon. This means distance and tough terrain for stamina, and also choosing at least one race that has a large field so I have some experience of running with 10,000 other competitors before I hit Edinburgh and it's 40,000. It's all good advice, but trying to work these in to the training programme so you get the right miles in at the right time takes some juggling. There is a coastal trail series of runs organised by Endurance Life which tackle some really beautiful but tough landscapes all round the British coastline. They offer four distances from 10k up to ultra marathon. The half marathon options often take in 1000 metres of climb, and can be more like 16 mile runs, so they aren't for the faint hearted, but they would be a good training for Edinburgh so that's one solution.

I lay in bed this morning thinking about routes, because mapping the runs out in a calendar is only half the story, you've got to work out where you're going to cover the miles. I found myself thinking about Ed Whitlock, the Canadian octogenarian who blasts marathon world records whenever he runs. His training is around his local cemetary. The obvious solution for me is to work mine around my existing runs, which in reality probably means running laps. As the land I run through is so beautiful I don't think this will be a big problem but it's still something to consider. Laps can be soul-destroying but I'm hoping they'll work for me.

Friend Peat advised me to allow enough time to factor in four or five 20 mile runs prior to the race, when you add this to a 3 week trailing off phase and factor in enough time to get up to being able to run 20 miles, and then put in a week or two between these long runs you start to see why it takes four or five months to be ready.

M, being that much more experienced, kicks his marathon training off about two months prior to a race. His autumn marathon is the start of October and he's already banging out two  sets of 9 mile runs in a day and will be heading off for his 20-miler next weekend. I obviously have to approach it differently, giving myself plenty of time to see how it all works out and how I respond to the challenge that learning how to run a marathon presents.

Friend and ultra-runner Brenda summed it all up perfectly when she emailed me last week: you're going to get a lot of advice. Listen to it all, decide which bits work for you, and then it's probably best to disregard 90% of the rest.

It's a learning curve.

Hope you're all well?

I'll leave you with a photo of the latest members of the family: my sister's retriever Toffee gave birth to nine little pups yesterday morning. Here they are, only a couple of hours old. Altogether now: ahhhhhh!


Sunday, 13 August 2017

Post Party (pudding pictures for CJ)

Everything went off fine. No emergencies beforehand; the dogs didn't roll in anything unspeakable; no one fell into a badger latrine or down a ditch; everyone got to the house safely. Even the weather played ball by being warm enough until after dusk for everyone to mooch about on the patio drinking and chatting and admiring the flowers.

The food went down a storm and there isn't too much left over. The advantage of inviting runners to your home is that they are never on a diet, are always hungry and come back for thirds. What there is leftover will do for supper tonight with the remainder going into the freezer.

We watched Mo's race :o( and then we watched Bolt's relay, which turned out to be a mixture of :o( and then :o) when I realised we'd won! M is very excited at the thought of Mo concentrating on marathons from now on (hoping to race against him at some point). I think the results showed both men were right to be retiring.

The dogs weren't impressed with all the screaming at the tele as the races drew to a close and took themselves off into the kitchen to give the excitable humans time to calm down,  before returning and taking refuge under the table. Pop was in her element all evening with lots of legs to sniff and even Ted emerged from under the table periodically to go and stare at specific people he'd been keeping an eye on, obviously having decided they were safe to approach. 

L kept his head down, foxing all attempts by Auntie Jo and Auntie Saz to find him. He's known them since he was two and they haven't seen him for a year so were keen to discover how tall he'd got. They duly set off, tottering on high heels with glasses of prosecco in hand, to dig him out of the study where he can usually reliably be found plugged into the computer, but he'd squirrelled himself away in the attic for the duration and only reappeared once most people had gone home, figuring no doubt that by then it was safe to come out to forage in the kitchen.

We were in bed by midnight, having done all the tidying and cleaning, and woke this morning feeling ready for a nice six mile run which we duly did round the lanes in the sun. I was a little low on running energy, not, I think, from the party, but because I did a fairly speedy Parkrun yesterday, back to within a minute of my PB, which I'm chasing again, I think.

Hope you're all well and have had peaceful weekends?

CT :o)

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Party Preparations

We have a whole bunch of Significant Birthdays this year. On Saturday, a crowd of our Very Best Friends (apart from the far flung ones and those who are thoughtlessly away on holiday) are descending on the house to help us celebrate M's 50th. Are you having caterers? I hear you cry. No. Are you sensibly buying everything in from Cook or somewhere similar then? I hear you ask next. No. 

No. In my wisdom, I have decided to make everything from scratch. So that's copious numbers of tuna and tomato quiches with marjoram and balsamic vinegar, vast vats of potato salad with apple, celery and shallots in a mustard mayo dressing (thank you, Mary Berry), a selection of cold meats and pate (OK, I haven't made these from scratch but I've still had to agonise over them- which ones to get, when to get them, how much should I get of each type, will that be enough for a bunch of (mainly) people with enormous runner's appetites), four loaves of warmed french bread (ditto not making but time-consuming in the thinking and planning bit) and bowls of watercress and sliced cucumber (we have grown the cucumbers- does that count as putting in the extra effort?). Pudding-wise it's trifle (easy to make and can be done the day before and shoved in the frigde), white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake (Mrs Berry again), two treacle tarts (Nigel), a raspberry meringue cake (got the recipe ages ago on one of those waitrose foodie cards and it's very good, ever-so-simple to make but looks satisfyingly impressive so shh, we won't tell any of the guests that). My worry is though, is that too many raspberries? Should I change it to strawberry meringue cake instead- thoughts please?. I'm also doing a fluttering of meringues to use up the whites from the trifle custard (see, everything made from scratch), and two big tins of chocolate brownies.

I've bought the booze and the soft drinks and M is in charge of the beer, which will be his own homebrew (needless to say it's lethal) and some other stuff. Modestly, I am not currently drinking so I expect to be the only sober one present. The photographs will be good.

I've been planning all this for days (while M has been busy wafting about in the heat with J in Italy looking for digs for her for this September). On Monday, not being able to walk far thanks to post half-marathon-Quadruceps-From-Hell (which saw me walking backwards down the stairs on both Monday and Tuesday, much to the bemusement of the dogs - Poppy sat on the second-from-top stair watching me with her head on one side and a curious look on her face), I sat down at the kitchen table with paper and pen and worked all the logistics out. 

The whole of this week has been mapped with jobs to do on certain days. I'm halfway through the cooking. I went shopping after my run this morning and got most of the rest of the stuff that I didn't get on Monday because it was too early for things like cream to last. I also counted up the cutlery and annoyingly realised we were four knives short so I had to go and get those today too. How does that happen? How can a kitchen keep hold of its full compliment of forks while losing four knives mysteriously on the way? 

I'm making chocolate brownies this afternoon (resisting the temptation to eat any when they're all warm and gooey and squidgy and tempting) because they'll sit happily in a tin till Saturday, before driving to the train station to collect sun-burnt returning husband and thoroughly over-excited daughter, then tomorrow I've got to make the cheesecake and trifle (the fruit goes on on Sat to avoid pre-party bleeding - sounds awful!) and meringues. Saturday (after Parkrun, of course), I'll do the meringue cake, the potato salad, clean the house, sort the music playlist, move the furniture around because we're in the kitchen half of the house to keep the Gods Of New Carpets In The Sitting Room (mainly me) happy, dig out napkins, wash the cutlery and plates, collect the on-loan glasses from Waitrose, buy the fruit to decorate the various puddings, remember to defrost the quiches and bread, pick fresh raspberries from our canes to make a coulis (get me), wash the dogs (because you can guarantee both will have rolled in something unspeakable that morning. I always allow extra time for unseen-emergencies pre-parties. This has been learnt through bitter experience. When I was two my parents were hosting a dinner party and ten minutes before the guests arrived I did a poo under the table. Another time, my mother was busy making a chocolate chip cheesecake for a supper they were hosting for some important work colleagues when one of the cats jumped on the surface and spilt cat biscuits all over the place. They looked just like the chocolate chips and got mixed in with've guessed what happened (luckily, people commented on how lovely and crunchy the chocolate chips were. I had to leave the room), and a third time Poppy was sick on one of the chair cushions half an hour before M's boss, who'd come to supper, was due to sit on it - so you'll see why I always factor in an allowance for worst-case-scenarios), hoover the floor and try and make myself look vaguely presentable. I have no idea what I'm going to wear. Most unlike me. I've had no time to think about it. Of course, a large proportion of the guests are runners and it's Mo Farah's 5000m final slap bang in the middle of everything so I envisage a brief 15-minite recess to decamp into aforementioned freshly-carpetted sitting room to watch him race. Let's hope the carpet survives. With two dogs, three teenagers and a husband with a tendency to wander in with his gardening shoes on I'm fighting a losing battle with it, I know. It's only a matter of time before somebody drops something disgusting and permanent on it. Last time we had a new carpet fitted (after dithering about doing so for ten years so the kids could get older before we treated ourselves to one) Poppy weed on it within half an hour of the fitter leaving.

I haven't organised the parking yet. Our drive, while reasonably roomy, won't fit everyone in, so we've signs to make to direct guests elsewhere. Living on a country lane means there's no lighting and that puddles/ mud/ ditches/ crumbly edges of tarmac are more or less permanent hazards that exist specifically to catch out rural virgins, these are of course in addition to the badger latrine on the verge just down from the house which I noticed the other day is back in use, one might go so far as to say comprehensively so, as well as the occasional toad waddling underfoot trying to get from the ditch on one side to the lake on the other, and owls who like to sit in the trees above our gate and hoot loudly and without warning. Even I jump at them sometimes and I know this is a favourite game of theirs. There is also a very good chance that our local Vixen will be out too, screaming like a murder victim being strangled in the background. I think most of the guests are familiar enough with the way we live by now to know to bring shoes to change in to and torches to dispel any nightmarish nighttime myths and apparitions, but some of them haven't been here before..... 

The last time we threw a big bash here it was fancy dress (you may remember we had everything from a haggis to several fairies and an elf turn up). A group of our chums shared a taxi from Romsey. The driver collected them, drove them here, dropped them off, picked them up at 1am and drove them back home without saying a single word about what they were all wearing, but when we had another do (not fancy dress this time) a few months later a different driver from the same firm remarked on the tameness of the dress code. Lord knows what they have written down next to our address :o)

By Sunday I shall either be a) exhausted or b) champing to get out for a nice, long, cleansing run.

Hope all are well?

CT :o)

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Bridport Jurassic Coast Half Marathon: The Toughest One Yet

We were up at 6.30 this morning to drive down to the Bridport Jurassic Coast Half Marathon with friend B. This is the race which next year attains Fell status because of the ginormous hill half way round (which the half marathon runners do twice. Yikes!). You can see some of the hills in the photo above.

Sarah, whom many of you will know from her wonderful blog Down By The Sea lives in the area and we were hoping we'd be able to meet up at the start of the race, which we duly did, with Tavi, her Westie, present as an identifying feature :o)

This is the first blog friend I've met in real life and it was a lovely way to start the race off. Sarah is as lovely in real life as you'd expect and Tavi is gorgeous too :o)

The race kicked off at 10:30 and we set off along the seafront at West Bay, which is where Broadchurch is filmed. The weather was glorious- bright sunshine, a bit of wind, not too hot, not too cold. I went very slowly for the first six miles, mindful of the knees, but realised after a while that this course is either uphill or downhill, and if I continued walking all the downhills and most of the uphills (which were cliffs so I have some excuse) I would hardly run at all and I'd also be out on the course for hours, so at the halfway point I picked up the pace and cracked on. Before I'd reached that there were these to contend with.

Hill Number One:

And hill Number Two:

The second is the hill that gives the race it's Fell status. My Lord, it was Hard Work. Absolutely no one was running up it, we were all heaving away with our hands on our thighs wishing it would end soon. I seem to recall describing a hill on the Ridgeway Half a few weeks ago as a monster, well I take it all back, that was a pimple in comparison. And the worse bit was that the half marathon runners had to do these hills twice, the second time after running about nine miles over other cliffs. I put the thought away and decided not to worry about it until I had to.

The view from the top was stunning....some consolation for the climb :o)

But there was little time to stop and admire it, because this lay ahead.....More hills.

By now I was seriously down time-wise because I was walking down each hill and starting to fret that a single loop (6 miles) would be all I could do. I realised I was either going to have to stop at the halfway point, or pick up the pace and see what happened. Stubbornness kicked it and I started to run down the hills. I caught up with and overtook five people which felt good, and realised I was feeling strong and that the knees were coping fine, so I decided to run the rest of the race as I normally would, stop worrying about the knees and just get on with it.

I reached the halfway point in 1:17 hours feeling relatively confident that I'd get my 2:30 hours time because I knew I would be running the second half faster. At that point I saw Sarah waving at me and that lifted my spirits again.

The huge hill second time around was hard work, I won't lie: it was tough. I don't think I've ever stuffed so many jelly babies into my mouth in a race before, praying to the sea gods that they'd give me the energy to get up the hill and do the four miles that lay beyond to get back to the finish. This time I knew what was ahead too, a mix of hills and more hills. I grabbed a water bottle at the top, drank half of it then tipped the remaining half over my head as the sun was warm by then. 

The course turned inland away from the sea and through fields, and still I was gaining on people and overtaking them, feeling strong with a decent amount of energy left in heart, lungs and legs....

As a result of the field being relatively small (200 runners across the two disciplines of 10k and half marathon), I ran the majority of this race on my own, something that I would have really struggled with only a few weeks ago. At The Ridgeway I relied on the ultra runner I met at mile 3 to get me to mile 7, then Sally to get me between miles 8-10. At Adderbury, I had help from another runner when we ran miles 8-10 together, and from Pop when I imagined her running with me during a hot and empty stretch between 5-7 miles. Today, I used the thought of Pop running with me to get up a hill in the later stages of the run, but otherwise I was fine: running alone wasn't a problem. These hilly, off road races don't attract crowds out on the course so there was no spectator support either. This is something that many runners depend on- they use the crowd and one another to get them through energy slumps and to help lift them when they are tired and drive them on to the finish. For large stretches of the race today I saw not another soul and I actually rather enjoyed it. That was my learning from today: that I can run an endurance distance alone over pretty tough terrain and cope fine. It felt good.

The final stretch of the race takes you back out towards the cliffs along the seafront away from the finish. Mentally it was tough- you're off the lovely springy turf and back onto remorseless concrete going in the wrong direction apparently forever. I dug deep and kept going, feeling huge relief when the course turned and took us back in the direction of the finish. Here there were crowds clapping and cheering and then I saw B waving and cheering me on, and a moment later M wearing a medal and a huge grin. He ran along beside me to the finish which was lovely, and then I left him as I sprinted the final 100 metres to cross the line somewhere around 2:30 hours (my GPS kept stopping and starting so it's a rough estimate), having climbed a total elevation of 583 metres. It was undoubtedly the toughest run I've done yet and we all agreed it was hard but brilliant.

When I got back it was to hear that B had run a superb time in her 10k (she's not a natural trail runner preferring roads where she regularly runs marathons and the odd ultra - and I'm sure she won't mind me telling you that is retired too, so that is one tough lady), and that M had done brilliantly too, beating my 2:30 hours by about 45 mins. We had all really enjoyed the race and the course and had a fantastic day.