St Neots Race Report

It was cold & foggy as I got up to get ready for todays half marathon. I’d decided on short sleeve shirt, with club vest over it. I added cap (to keep hair out of my face) and my longest shorts – a mid calf length pair. At the last minute I threw in my new light gloves, thinking that with short sleeves the hands might get extra cold. To keep warm before and after, I also wore some tracky bottoms & my club hoodie. The one item of clothing you’d think it impossible to put on back to front would be a hoodie, but, this morning, I managed it. Not sure how, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to work out why it all felt quite so odd!

Breakfast was porridge, coffee & a pint of squash, just to keep the liquid levels well topped up. And off I went in the car. Really heavy fog most of the way there, but, fortunately, very little traffic until I approached the race HQ. Here there were an assortment of cadets directing traffic to parking places, so I parked up and followed the mass of people towards the HQ. Collected my number and found some other club people. Gradually sorted myself out, including having my pre-run banana, getting clothing on and putting the bag in the baggage store. We had a short walk to the race start, and I hung about at the back of the pack in order to not get distracted into going off too fast – for I had a plan…

The plan was to run at 11 min/miles until one of three things happened:

  1. The wheels fell of the wagon and I walked/ran to the end
  2. I reached the finish in a (hopefully) new PB of 2:25 ish
  3. I got to 10/11 miles and picked the pace up.

1 shouldn’t happen, 2 was my probable scenario and 3 was going to be all my Christmases come at once.

The gun went off and we gradually moved forward to the start. It was still rather foggy at this stage, although the sun was threatening to break through. I set off at approximately my planned pace and it didn’t take very long before I found myself pretty much last. I can’t say I spent a lot of time checking to see if this was the case, but I was certainly not aware of anyone behind me for easily the first 3 miles. This race has a 2:30 cut off, and there are very few, if any, times beyond this in previous years. But I tried not to let it bother me, and just to concentrate on my race.

At 2 miles I dug into my shorts pocket for the first of the jelly beans I’d bought along for energy. One a mile until they ran out at mile 10. Realised that I couldn’t open the packet in gloves, so these were removed & tucked in the bra for safekeeping. Yet another reason why running is not a fashion statement sport! The hands were warm enough by this time, so it wasn’t a hardship running without them.

It was very strange to see people spreading out into the distance and disappearing into the murk! It was very still and quiet, with no breeze to shift the fog and no bird song. All in all a rather odd sensation.

I tried to keep going at about the same pace, ignoring other people, but, sometime after 5 miles, I noticed that I was starting to catch & pass people. This doesn’t usually happen to me! I tried not to get carried away, and overtake them fast, rather to just creep up on them and then overtake gradually. It’s a major mistake to speed up in order to overtake fast, as it ruins the rhythm and uses energy that you’ll need later. At about 6 miles, I caught Andy, the first of the other runners with my club. Just before 7 I caught Maria. This was her first half, and it sounded as if she’d gone out too fast, so she ran with me for the next mile & half, but was starting to slow and so I carried on. She came in with a good 2:30 time, a respectable time for a first attempt at the distance.  These weren’t the only people I caught, but the club do support each other.

As we headed past 7 miles, the sun finally came out and it was a beautiful day. Blue skies and clear, but still breezeless. Very nice to run in, actually. At 10 miles I realised I was 2 minutes ahead of my 11 min/mile target, and thought that if I picked the pace a little, I might stand a chance of 2:20, rather than just breaking 2:25. So I sped up a little, trying to get down to 10:30 min/miles. I carried on catching people, concentrating on one at a time, and not trying to speed past them, but just head down and reel them in. It seemed to be working.

As I passed 12 miles, I saw I had just about 11 minutes to get to the finish in 2:20. I thought that had to be worth a go. All the information about this race proclaims a downhill finish, so I started to really wind it up and make the most of the slight gradient. I was slightly surprised that I was able to find this in myself, and it really did start to hurt here. But that last mile went by. I hope you’ll forgive me if I didn’t bother trying to hit the lap button on the Garmin as I went through 13 miles, saved the energy for what was, by now, something approaching a steam train in full flight. No, it wasn’t pretty, but it did exactly what was required, and I stopped the watch at the finish in 2:19:58.

I can’t pursuade the picture of the garmin data to upload, so hopefully you can see it here. Doc2 As you’ll be able to see from the splits, not too bad. Certainly not for me, anyway!

I can’t decide which I’m more proud of, the fact that I ran to the race plan, and executed it so well, or the time. 2:20 is 7.5 minutes off my last PB, and this time I did it all by myself.

Be careful what you wish for

At the end of my last post I said that I’d really like a few weeks of uninterrupted running. Well it hasn’t happened.

Monday morning I woke up with a stiff neck. Just like I’d slept a bit funny. I thought it would wear off, the way a cricked neck usually does. No. This has steadily got worse over the last few days such that Tuesday I drove home being unable to turn my head far enough to look in my mirrors – especially the near side wing mirror. Stayed at home Wednesday, and went to the GP. I’ve got torticollis – twisted neck. Thanks. I could have worked that out. It should ease, but if it doesn’t I could be prescribed muscle relaxants.

One thing has become rather apparent – it’s amazing how much work your neck does without you ever noticing. It’s only when it goes wrong that you realise quite how much movement relies on this. It hurts to move, it hurts to stay still, it hurts to lie down. I don’t deal well with pain.

However, late on Wednesday it did start to loosen. Thursday I could move about 45 degrees in each direction and it’s got steadily better since then.

So today I did run. Hurrah! In another pair of new shoes. Double hurrah!! These will be fed into training such that, come marathon day, they’re nicely worked in, but still fresh and bouncy. Same model, but a different colourway – white & flourescent yellow – you’re not going to miss me in them!

Anyway, back to the running. It was the club ladies run, followed by coffee & cake. I forgot to take the Garmin, but it’s a bit over 5 miles (depending on how much doubling back you do) and took us under an hour, which is a reasonable rate of knots. I did have cake, as it was Sarah’s birthday earlier in the week, and she bought carrot cake in to share. It was very nice and not at all too sweet.

Long run tomorrow, so see you then.

Going clubbing

Club run last night, which I was debating going to after the monumentally hard downpour late yesterday afternoon. But, after leaving a casserole in the oven, of I went the car with the winter gear. Long sleeved shirt, extra layer, high vis-vest and head torch. Yes, I run along looking like a Christmas tree! But, what with the council’s drive to save money by turning off street lights, the torch is most certainly a useful investment. 

It’s a fine line, timing arrival at the clubhouse. You want to get there, sign in and then have time for a loo stop, but not be hanging around too much. That was last night’s issue – I was there early enough that I stood outside for long enough to get cold; changed my mind about wearing just long sleeves, and popped that extra layer on. Didn’t need it.

A loop run, with a series of pauses to allow the group to catch up. We escaped without getting rained on. I found myself not able to comfortably stay with the front of the group, but falling back into the gap between the front and the back. But a few weeks ago I was anchored at the back of the group, so that’s progress, at least.

Facts & Figures:
Distance – 5.44 miles
Time – 1:03:00
Average Pace – 11:35 min/miles.

One year and six months

Thursday’s club run marked a significant milestone in my running career – it’s a year since I joined the club. In that year I’ve run over the winter for the first time and have decreased my 5 and 10k PB, as well as run a half for the first time. All worthy of mention.

It’s not so much a calendar year, as Thursday’s session was the 3k challenge, which the club do annually, just to check group allocations and so on. It was the first session I ran when I came to the club for the first time last year, and I felt like I was going to die! I seriously considered never going again afterwards. I’m glad I did give them another chance, as it’s been the best thing for my running. The challenge is administered by Alan, one of the elder statesmen of the club, a gentleman who disguises his wish to kill us all annually beneath his mild-mannered exterior. It involves a series of shuttle runs, 100, 200, 300 and 400 m, without break, pushing hard the entire way. The return of each leg is uphill – just to make it that bit more difficult. The you get a break, then one last run to 500 m and back. It hurts. Quite a lot. The first block is 2k, the second block 1k, making 3 in total. The cumulative time for the 3k is used to divide group, move people up and generally even things up a bit.

I saw this was scheduled on the training calendar, and nearly didn’t go along. I ran a half on Sunday, you can’t expect me to push that hard on Thursday, can you? I knew full well what the answer would be.

Facts & Figures:
Total run, inc warm up & cool down – 5:40 in 1:12:49
2k in 10:53, average pace of 8:55 min/miles
1k in 5:37, average pace of 8:58.
3k cumulative time of 16:30 or thereabouts.

Which I’m impressed with. Although I’ve not long moved up a group, I was nowhere near last. I also seem to remember last year’s time was at or over 20 minutes, so that’s definitely some improvement!

As I sit and type this, it’s a beautifully sunny morning, with friends in Norfolk. I’m about to watch Wales beat France in the rugby world cup (fingers crossed) before heading out for a run. But one thing does sneak into my consciousness – today’s date. It’s the 15th October. In exactly 6 months time, I’ll be on my way to a start line for a marathon. That does attract the attention – seems so close!

PGER race report

9th October 2011, Perkins Great Eastern Run.

After my fretting about the weather, the forecast on Sunday morning was overcast, not too hot (16 degrees) a bit breezy (11 mph) and dry. Well it managed to be not far from the mark, with cloud cover all the way and no rain. It was a bit muggy initially, but not dreadfully hot. The wind caught a few times, especially a head wind on one or two of the return stretches, but it was better than the midweek forecast had looked!

Laid everything out Saturday evening, clothes to run in, club vest, extra layers to keep warm initially and put back on afterwards and my race bag; complete with number, chip, towel, water, map, car park permit, some money and cereal bars to refuel afterwards.

Number pinned on vest.

Race day dawned and we’d decided not to watch either the rugby or the Grand prix live, it would all be a bit too tight for time, so a lie in until gone 7 am. Porridge & coffee for breakfast, with a pint of squash to hydrate properly. They say don’t do anything new on race day, but I’m certainly not dressed and ready to leave 2 hours ahead of a training run! Left home just before 9 am, to make sure I got there in plenty of time – hate being late, even a bit. Parked in my usual Peterborough carpark, not nearest to either start or finish, but knowing where you’re going is worth the extra few minutes walk. Plenty of parking spaces, so was fretting for nothing – as usual.

Walked into the Cathedral square and managed to locate a bunch of people from the club, all loitering with intent near the loos! Jigged about nervously, with the best part of an hour to kill until the start. After pinning my number to shirt, and sorting out chip, garmin etc and what I was going to wear, (pink T-shirt with green club vest – maybe not the most stylish combination ever) it was time to strip down to the running gear, stash the spare clothes in the bag & hand in to the baggage truck. Then the ritual queue for the loo and a last-minute pee. Avoided the mass warmup, they strike me as a waste of time and energy! I’m about to run 13 miles, I’ll be quite warmed up enough after jogging the first half mile, thank you very much.

Called to the start line and we headed down the road en masse. I stopped first, having an estimated race time of 2 hours 30. Various other people had a fair old walk towards the front of the start funnel. And then it started. Towards the back this never happens in the sudden way it does at the front; it’s more a walk forward, then a shuffle before breaking into a slow jog, hopefully before the start line! Started the Garmin at the start line, and set off.

I’d like to think I’m an intelligent person, who can learn from mistakes, so why is it I can’t seem to start a run at a sensible pace? I mean, I was planning for 11:30 minutes per mile, so what on earth made me set off at 10:45 for the first mile? I tried to slow, but the next mile wasn’t much better, at 11 minutes. And that’s about the pace I stayed at for the first half. It was feeling OK, and there comes a point where trying to run slower just starts feeling unnatural; so I went with it, knowing the wheels were going to fall off sometime, it was just a matter of when. Went through 6 miles (just under 10k) in under 65 minutes. That’s barely outside my 10k PB pace! That is seriously insane!!

From somewhere in the first mile, I’d been running near another lady running on her own, wearing a Run London (North) shirt. Not necessarily with each other, just alongside. It was quite companionable, exchanging the odd word – most noticeably when one of the Macmillan fundraisers in green net tutu and bright green thong ran past – hairy male bum isn’t what you expect to see in a race! I made half way in 1:11, a good 4 minutes ahead of target schedule. At this point I saw Karen. She runs at the club in a much faster group, but I’ve met her at the ladies’ runs & know her by name and hobby – baking cakes. She said she’d recently had a cold, and was feeling ropey, so rather than plough round for a poor (by her standards) time, she waited for me, to run me in. Awww, how completely sweet was that!

So then there were 3, me, unknown lady & Karen, all going along at about 11 minutes per mile. Somewhere about mile 8 we had a faster mile, and it just about did for me. From there on it all started to hurt quite a lot. The lady I’d been running with went on at her own pace, and very good she was looking too when I last saw her. Not long after mile 9 I stopped and walked just after an underpass. grrr. Not impressed with myself, but I was feeling hot, faint, dizzy and slightly sick – almost certainly with hunger, as I could feel my stomach clapping together. With Karen cajoling, encouraging and doing a very good sergeant major impression, I kept going at a much reduced pace. Having gone to half way ahead of target, I knew I could afford to slow, but not by too much. Walking too far will quickly add many minutes to a race time.

So, keeping half an eye on the Garmin, I tried to keep it all going. The clock tells the tale, mile 8 – 10:46, mile 9 – 11:31, mile 10 – 11:52, mile 11 – 12:52.

 The Garmin's verdict

Just before the 11 mile marker was the last water station. At the other stations I’d been mainly throwing water at my face and neck/chest to cool down, just swigging a bit to wet my mouth, but here I slowed to a walk and drank the entire bottle. Don’t know if this made a difference physically or just psychologically, but I did start feeling better from here. Not to say it was easy, but the last 2 miles were certainly better, and speeding up, 11:59 and 11:04 respectively. With Karen doing a spectacular job of chivvying me along, I didn’t stop again. In fact she even encouraged something I might actually describe as a sprint finish out of me! Last 0.1 mile was at 8:33 pace! The finish comes through an avenue of trees, then a slight bend and the finish chute opens up down a field. I’d started speeding up before the avenue, so that it was full steam train mode down the finish chute and about half way along I could hear those of the club that had already finished shouting and cheering me on. At that point I was very pleased to have conjured the finish out of myself, as to have been walking in the face of that support would have been dreadfully embarrassing.

Crossed the line with a gun time of 2:30, and a chip time of 2:27:28. Personal best by almost 10 minutes, which was astounding! I certainly wouldn’t have knocked that chunk off without Karen’s help in the second half. Second half was 3 minutes longer than the first. Some brilliant data available on the RunPix website. In case that doesn’t work, I’m number 341 and it’s the Great Eastern Run 2011. Despite how poorly I thought the second half went, I overtook more people than overtook me between half way and the end. Find that surprising, as it didn’t feel that way!

T shirt & nice shiny medal for the collection

Had my chip removed, as there was no way I was going to be able to reach my ankles, by a lovely volunteer who let me lean on her for a minute or two. Then collected a lovely cotton goody bag, water, bottle, T-shirt, medal (I do love a good medal), more water and a banana! The water and banana didn’t last 5 minutes, and certainly went someway to making me feel better. Collected my bag and we wandered down to where the club had gathered. At this point the legs cried “enough” and I just had to sit down. Took my time having a stretch, then a slow hobble back to the car, another stretch and then drove home. Once home we watched the Grand prix (which was really good), while I had yet another stretch on the carpet in front of the TV – inviting several strange comments from the beloved!

Today I’ve been feeling dreadfully stiff in the hip, and my left ankle was hurting badly this morning. I may have left for work in shoes, but I soon resorted to a pair of comfy trainers, which looked really stylish when worn with a skirt & tights! But I’ve kept moving all day and it’s all beginning to feel a bit less of a struggle – although stairs are still not my friends.

And I get to do it all again in 6 weeks time at St Neots. hmm, what pace would I have to get sub 2:25…

Good Morning!

Wow, what a good morning that was! Not the weather – that’s as grey and miserable as you’d expect a work-free saturday to be. Why is it the sunny days are always while you’re at work?!

First things first, I was up at sparrow’s fart to watch the England rugby match. And boy! was that worth getting up for.  A number of tries (not giving away the score) made it productive as well as eventful viewing.  If we’re honest, Romania weren’t playing their strongest side and England were expected to run up a 50+ score, but it was worth watching, nonetheless. Good game, easy on the eye and breakfast went down nicely.

So it was with happy heart that I headed out for a ladies’ club run. We meet up locally, do a nice 5 mile loop and then finish with coffee and cake (although some of us were moderately good and passed on the cake). My aim was to start getting used to running on consecutive days, as I’m going to have to up the running to 4 times a week for the marathon training plan. So not planning on a particularly fast run. But I seem to find there’s something about running with people better than me that makes me go faster. It didn’t feel massively speedy, but we were motoring along, looping back regularly to pick up the slower ones. All very friendly, chatting to people in other groups who I don’t usually run with. OK, I admit, they chat; I sort of gasp agreement occasionally!

It’s interesting seeing the way that the faster runners actually run. Not something I get the chance to do very often – at the club we’re in different groups and don’t cross too often, at a race they’re up the front and I’m, well, not. They’re possibly taking it a bit easy, due to the company, but they look just so relaxed! There’s hardly any extraneous movement, minimal arm action, hardly any head bobbing and the upper body doesn’t shift about – no rocking and rolling here. And you just don’t hear them coming up behind you! No earthquakes as each foot hits the floor and no huffypuffy noises. It’s really very lovely to watch – and puts my style (best described as something crossed between an elephant, the twist and a steam train) to shame. There’s a knack to it, I’m sure – just need to unlock that secret…

Distance – 5.12 miles
Time – 53:30
Average pace – 10:26

That’s pretty impressive! It didn’t feel that fast. That’s on track to easily crack my 10k PB pace, and I wasn’t desperately exhausted at the end either. Then there’s an interesting view of us all stood by some railings stretching out, which must look rather odd to any passers by, before heading into the coffee shop and a sit down & chat. I do tend to have sufficient breath to contribute at this stage! Gingerbread latte for me, which was yum, but no cake. Partly as I’m still trying to shift some of that excess weight, and partly due to a slight lack of cash – the funds would stretch to coffee OR cake – so coffee it was.  

Excellent morning all round.

The back story – part 2

So, having been an on/off runner, we arrive at May 2010. We’ve just moved house & I’ve not run in over 9 months. I’ve also put on a bit of weight, topping the scales at 12 stone, and no longer fit into any jeans – even resorted to buying size 16! Something I swore I’d never do.

Well that’s too much, time to do something about this. I hate dieting – I like food too much to be any good at self denial, so for me it has to be the “move more” end of the equation where the gains take place. So, once again, I started running. Initially only a short route up the road, but gradually I remembered how to run and was out for 30 minutes at a time. There’s an old gravel pits (now sailing club) and river nearby, so plenty of footpaths to run off road. I always have more incentive to get out &  about with a target, so entered a 10k in Northampton. But at that point the long term “lets run a marathon” goal started to take shape. How about I run a half in spring 2011, then more come autumn before going for a marathon in April 2012? That being a month full of marathons, so plenty to choose from. Building up over 18+ months meaning that it wouldn’t be a rapid progression, time to build slowly such that the marathon training wouldn’t be a huge shock to the system.   That meant I’d have to run over the winter, something I’d always failed to achieve thus far.

Having got round the Northampton 10k (in my slowest time to date) I plucked up courage and joined a club.

No prizes for spotting me - I'm trying to hide!

Wellingborough & District Athletic Club drew the short straw and have ended up with me in their midst. Not the best colour vest, but most convenient in terms of training location and times. They’ve all been very friendly and welcoming, although they have made me do horrid things like speed sessions and hill reps and all sorts of nasty training! Mind you, it’s made me faster, and, for the first time, I actually ran through the winter. So earlier this year I managed a half marathon as well as bringing down my personal bests for both 5k and 10k. What a surprise, it appears that rtaining works! And with another pair of halves scheduled for later this year, I’m well on the way to achieving the goal. Join me as I venture even further out of my comfort zone and try to finish a marathon and beat the turning 40 blues all at the same time.