I did something recently that I have never done before. I paced the 2:30 group at the Warwick Half Marathon. I had never planned to run the Warwick Half Marathon as I was due to run the Coventry Half Marathon two weeks later. However, on the 20th February, the British Heart Foundation contacted the Striders asking for pacers, and for some inexplicable reason (I must have been feeling super confident), I said yes. The way I saw it, I needed to do a 13-mile run that week anyway (as per my plan) and if I was pacing other people, I would be forced to run slowly. After all, how hard can pacing be?
On the 14th May, I ran the Stratford Half Marathon with the aim of finally breaking 2-hours. As you can probably guess from the post title, it didn’t quite go to plan.
If I am being entirely honest, I didn’t expect to break two-hours as I had spent the week beforehand dosing up every over-the-counter cold and flu medication known to man; to try and rid myself of the lurg which had set in on Wednesday. On Saturday 13th May, it was debatable if I was going to make the start line at all. However, by Saturday evening, I was at least starting to feel human.
After my last entry, it has taken me a few days to be mentally ready to write this post. I had hoped to be regaling you all with the story of how I finally managed to beat my long-held Half Marathon PB, but unfortunately (after 12 long weeks of training) the Coventry Half Marathon was cancelled.
Hi everyone, and sorry for the extended hiatus on my blog. 2017 was not an easy year for me for many reasons (new house, new job, family bereavements) and as a result, my running really suffered. Also, on top of that, I started studying for a Masters part-time and as a result, I have barely had time to think, let alone write. I’ll put the tiny violin aside for now, because things are starting to calm down and I have a new challenge I wanted to share with you.
I am a little nervous writing this because it makes it all very real and I am generally terrified I am going to fail. Here goes. I have been running for over 11 years, and in that time, I have ticked off so many accomplishments. I have run nine marathons, completed numerous half-marathons, run sub 55mins in a 10km, learnt to swim and completed 5 triathlons, yet one long-held goal has so far eluded me; a sub-2hr half marathon.
This goal has haunted me for over a decade, a feeling made worse by the achievements of both my twin sister and my husband; both of whom managed to break the 2-hour barrier on their first try (and who both got into running because of me). I know how stupid it sounds to say that I am hung up on a time goal and that running a half marathon over 2 hours does not diminish my achievements, but turning up to a race in a club vest and then being outperformed by the majority of the field has left me with a serious case of imposter syndrome. I am the first person to espouse the benefits of joining a running club, however, I do have to add that sometimes being the slow one in the club does come with some drawbacks, and I do spend a large amount of my time feeling like a fraud.
My current Half Marathon PB stands at 2:09:59 set at the Great North Run in 2015, and I, along with 17 other club mates been in training hard since December with the hope to finally break 2hours at Coventry on the 18th of March. The goal is set, the date is set and the training is going well, I just pray that I can overcome the self-doubt in my heart and finally achieve it.
Greetings one and all, I’m back! Firstly, an apology for the significant hiatus between my last post and this one. The last few months have not been happy ones and as a result, my running, blogging and everything other than general existence seems to have taken a back seat.
In order to re-gain some semblance of equilibrium in tempestuous times, I decided I needed a challenge. Something to spur me into action and off the sofa. So, welcome to my Lenten Challenge.
Every year for Lent, I always give something up, last year was sugar, the year before was meat and a few years ago, I gave up wheat and dairy. This year, I was unsure what to ditch, so I have decided to take something up instead. This year, I am challenging myself to ditch procrastination, and am aiming to do some form of exercise everyday.
I will be posting a weekly update on here throughout the challenge, so keep checking back to keep up with my progress. Here’s to a healthier 2017 from here on in, and on that note, I’m off to do some Yoga before I go to bed!
This was a race of firsts. First ever 5-mile race, first ever WRRL race, first evening race, and my first true Striders club race.
I was a little daunted at the thought of this race. My running club (Spa Striders) held their race of the WRRL season a couple of weeks earlier, and I chickened out running it, offering instead to help marshal the race.
Why was I a little concerned? I am a club runner, but I do not run at a pace you would normally associate with a club runner. In a general race, I seem to be resolutely mid-pack, no matter how much I try to progress!
Therefore there was a very real fear that I would come last. I have come last in many races before, in fact, in my first (and only) Olympic distance triathlon, I was so far behind the leaders, I arrived at the finish line to find the entire transition area packed up with only my bike and box left in the middle of a field. I don’t necessarily mind coming last, but I did not want to be the last over the line in such a heavily strider dominated field!
Where: War Memorial Park, Coventry
When: Wednesday 8th June 2016
Distance: 5 miles
Weather: Hot & humid
About the race
A five-mile race in the evening in Coventry? What is this Witchcraft?
No, I haven’t gone loopy, the race, was really on a Wednesday afternoon. The Sphinx 5 miles race was the third race in the 2016 Warwickshire Road Racing League (WRRL) calendar. Organised by the Sphinx Running Club in Coventry, it is a popular race in the calendar and has been run in and around War Memorial Park for the last six years. Visit the Sphinx RC website to find out more.
This may have been my first evening race, but as a fully signed up member of a WRRL affiliated club, it will not be my last! In fact, come August, I will be running a 5-milerace around War Memorial Park again in the Godiva Autumnal 5.
Cake,water and a nice shiny medal. What more could you possibly want?
A few of my club mates had mentioned that cakes available after the race. What they didn’t tell me, was that the cakes were homemade and awesome. Unfortunately all the amazing looking cupcakes had gone by the time I got there, but that is just an incentive to run faster next year. The lemon traybake that I did have, was divine!
Given that the race was on a Wednesday evening, the support around the course was fantastic. But I suppose that is the benefit of running a club race!
The war memorial park in Coventry is a lovely place to run. Wide, tree lined tarmac paths, and completely traffic free; the ideal location for a run! With the exception of one 1/2 mile section (which you run twice), the whole race takes place within the confines of the park.
Fast and flat(ish). The course comprises of two laps of a 2.5-mile route. The majority of the course is within the park itself, but there is around 1/2 a mile which leaves the park and runs along the road outside the park before cutting back in. I used to live in Earlsdon, and my general weekday run included part of the race course, so I knew the area well.
This is a VERY popular race that regularly sells out, so I was happy that I got a place. The race is limited to 350 people, and when it is full, it’s full. The organisation, was fantastic. All the numbers were picked up on the night and there were very enthusiastic marshals at every corner cheering on all the runners as they made their way around the course.
There was no water on the course, which normally wouldn’t have bothered me, but as summer decided to start this week, and knowing that i don’t work well in the heat, I took a small bottle with me. As it was, I didn’t need it, but it was nice having that safety blanket there, just in case!
Getting there and getting back!
The War Memorial Park in Coventry is probably one of the easiest places to get to in Coventry. With a large car park, there was no problem with parking and we got in and out with no hassle at all. If only all races were that easy!
It was my first five-mile race, and I had no idea what to aim for time wise, or pace wise. So in an attempt not to overcook it in the first mile, I opted to run to an HR target, rather than a pace target. I knew from my fast finish runs and speed work that I could hit a sub 9 min mile with an HR of over 170, so that’s what I aimed for.
In the end, my average heart rate was 173, so I managed to keep up the effort all the way through (despite some horrendous indigestion between 2 miles and half way. Note to self, toast within an hour of the start time was not a good idea). But my pace was not where it needed to be. I was hoping I could hit an average of 9 min per mile, but in the humidity, it wasn’t to be, and I averaged 9:16, but that just gives me something to aim for in August!
Firstly, I am very sorry about how long it has taken me to get another post up. When I logged on this morning, it said that my last post was published two months ago! How is that even possible? I know they say that life speeds up as you get older, but this is ridiculous!
So what have I been up to?
Life has been phenomenally busy since my last post as the summer racing season is in full swing. In fact, since the Tewkesbury Half Marathon, I have raced four times and the calendar does not let up anytime soon!
Why so much racing?
‘Tis the season! As I mentioned many blog posts ago, I am now a fully-fledged member of the Spa Striders Running Club, and as such I am eligible to take part in all the league races that are put on around the county.
As a Warwickshire club, Spa Striders are a member of the Warwickshire Road Racing League (WRRL). The League consists of a series of 12 races across a variety of distances where all the Warwickshire clubs compete against each other for running glory. As an added bonus, many of the races are also included in our intra-club summer series where we compete against each other for running glory.
As a relatively slow runner compared to my clubmates (which includes a super speedy woman who qualified for the London Marathon championship race this year, as well as the current female GB 100km champion), I am not going to be able to win any points with my finishing times. So my only hope in getting any sort of decent position in the internal club competition is by racing lots. My hope is lots of mediocre performances might beat a stellar performance, hence the racing overload.
How’s it going?
So far, my results have been mixed. I have set a new PB over the 5-mile and 5km distance, although as it was the first time I have ever raced these distances I’m not sure it counts! The Northbrook 10km didn’t quite go to plan and I was an annoying 54 seconds slower than I had hoped (01:00:54 is not a nice time to see against your name) and the Arden 9 I entered and then had to pull out from as I had forgotten it was the same day as my little cousin’s christening (oops).
I am in the process of writing up a race report for each of these races, so watch this space!
My next races are the Stratford 6 miles (not 10km, 6 miles) and the Summer Shakespeare 10km where I hope to crush my 10km PB from last year! Sub 55 mins, here I come!
In summary, I am really sorry for the 2-month break, but I am back up and running now, so expect to be overrun with posts from here on in! Oh, and before I forget, I’m planning another marathon in November (it doesn’t do to be idle).
Hope you are all well. Until next time, happy running!
I last ran the Tewkesbury Half Marathon in 2008; it was unseasonably hot, so hot in fact that the organisers ran out of water, and I had possibly the worst run that I’ve ever experienced. To compound matters, it was my husband’s first Half Marathon and I was DETERMINED to beat him; I didn’t and I spent the evening in pain vowing never to run the Tewkesbury Half again. Fast forward eight years, I returned to Tewkesbury and this time, it was personal! This year, my sole aim was to banish those demons from yesteryear and send them back to the abyss where they belong.
Since 2008 lots of things have changed about the race including the organisers and the course. One thing that had not changed however was the weather! Throughout the week, I checked the BBC weather forecast with more frequency than a lovesick teenager checking their phone. It looked perfect; high’s of 12ºC, no wind, slightly cloudy at the start, perfection. It was not meant to be, and place of a slightly overcast, dry spring day we had glorious sunshine. My nemesis, the Sun, had returned!
Where: Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire
When: 12th May 2016
Distance: 13.1 miles
Weather: Sunny and hot.
The swag was awesome, especially as it was a small race. After a determined sprint finish, I was presented with a chunky medal, a really nice technical t-shirt and a bottle of water. Apparently there was also someone handing out Twix bars, but in my slightly dehydrated state, I missed those.
The whole race was well supported by both members of the public and marshalls which really helped (especially up the hill at mile 8). The new course takes in far more of the town than I remember which allows spectators to get around the course to cheer the runners on. For the final mile, the course cuts back into town and the residents of Tewkesbury were out in force, it was lovely to be cheered on by so many people in such a small race. In hindsight, I am very glad I put my name on my club vest!
This was not a closed road race, and the marshalls had a tough job of keeping the traffic moving while also keeping the runners safe, and I think they did a fab job. If anyone from Tewkesbury Half Marathon is reading, thank you for a great race.
Now, I have to admit, I don’t think that I could tell you where the course went as for the majority of the race I was fixated on my Garmin. However, one thing that I can remember was how pretty the course was. Tewkesbury itself is beautiful, and the little villages that surround it look like they have been plucked from the lid of a chocolate box. Breedon in particular.
The course was relatively flat with the exception of a long drag up from miles 6.5 to 8, and if it had been slightly cooler, I think I would have been close to a PB. It certainly has the potential to be a very fast route.
I am a seasoned pro when it comes to internet shopping, yet I still managed to screw up entering the race online. I am still not sure how I managed it! However, after a couple of emails to the race organisers, everything was ironed out.
This seamless organisation continued throughout the event.Mike and I arrived at the Tewkesbury Rugby Club around 8.45am (an hour and a bit before the start of the race) and picked our numbers up after a quick pit stop. Collecting our numbers was really easy as they had lots of people on the desk and were getting people in and out nice and quickly.
With around 40 mins to go to the start of the race, and after I had slathered every inch of visible skin with factor 50 suncream we stowed our bags in the luggage area and headed to the start. The race started promptly at 10am and as it was a small field, it took me only 14 seconds to cross the start line.
As I mentioned earlier, the course was very scenic and there seemed to be a lot of support out on the course. Looking back, I don’t really remember any large sections where there were no supporters at all, unlike in Manchester where miles 20-24 were very sparse.
The route itself is relatively flat, with the exception of a long drag up between miles 6.5 and 8. It was one of those annoying inclines that don’t look like much but you can tell in your legs that you are going uphill. On the plus side, miles 8-10 are downhill all the way!
The course was not closed to traffic, which was fine for the majority of the run once the runners had spread out. However, as we crossed over the motorway by Morissons, some cars appeared to be ignoring the marshalls and the runners had to weave between the cars trying to overtake them.This brings me on to the first of only two criticisms of the race, and I know this will be controversial; but in an OPEN road race such as this, headphones really should be banned.
My only other minor criticism of the race would be the spacing between the water stops. It was a very warm day, and thankfully the water was provided in bottles, however, the water stops were front loaded with more stops in the first half than the second. Water was available at 2.5, 5 and 7, and then a three-mile gap until 11. I probably should have remembered this from the course map, but I forgot and took my second gel at mile 10. This meant that I was absolutely gasping for a drink by the time I got to the final water stop at mile 11. It would have been nicer to have the first water stop slightly later which would have then reduced the gap between the third and fourth water stops.
Neither of these things detracted from the day, and I will definitely be back to try for a faster time next year.
Getting there and getting back:
My husband is from Tewkesbury, so I did have a little inside knowledge when it came to where to park. This made getting to and from the race very easy indeed.
It wasn’t a particularly good race for me, but that was more due to my refusal to adapt my race plan on account of the heat (stubborn runs in the family). The race itself though is well organised, well supported and on a very nice course.
In 2011 when I ran the Marathon, my sister and my Dad came down to support me and managed to miss me all along the course. I eventually saw my Dad at Mile 21 only to miss them all again at the finish, so I knew that it was going to be tough to see Mike on-course, but I was determined to try.
This year, I thought, I had technology on my side! Prior to the Marathon, London Marathon released an app that would let spectators like me track their respective runners around the course. It started very well, and by the time the last runner crossed the line the little blue dot that represented my husband was already bobbing around the two-mile mark. The race was on! Unfortunately, I think the London Marathon organisers underestimated the popularity of their app, as Mike bobbed around the 2-mile mark for a number of hours after then. In fact, one of my other friends I was tracking never left the start line.
Nevertheless, I knew that time was not on my side. I had promised Mike I would try and get to the pre-agreed Strider Cheering Spot at Mile 12. I now had lost 30 mins and was still in the start area. Some quick maths said I had around an hour to get across London to Tower Bridge, which would be tough, but do-able.
Getting to Greenwich was easy, it was about a mile walk from the Blue Start through the very picturesque Greenwich park. As I picked my way through a sea of discarded running clothing, I was suddenly told to get off the road; the lorries were coming through.
This was the second good thing about being a spectator, I got a glimpse into the back-end organisation of a running event. As I jumped onto the pavement, I turned back to see a police motorcade worthy of any visiting dignitary. Behind the 3 rows of police outriders, complete with lights and sirens, and in front of the back marking police car with two more police motorcycles, was a convoy of lorries. I recognised them immediately, the runner’s luggage was getting a police escort all the way to the Mall. It made me feel strangely proud.
The runners’ bags get a police escort to the finish
The runners’ will be happy to see these in 26.2 miles
Off they go to the Mall
As I mulled over the project management that must go into pulling off the London Marathon, I suddenly became aware of the sound of a crowd. The crowd and the spectators at London are legendary. Ask any runner and they will talk about the wall of sound that follows you around the famous course. Until Sunday,I did not realise just how loud the crowd was; the sound I could hear from half way down Greenwich Park hill was the roar of the crowd at the Cutty Sark. That was the first of many “lump in throat” moments of the day.
I didn’t have time to dwell, by this point I was sure that Mike was at the Cutty Sark, so I was way behind and had some serious catching up to do if I wanted to see him at Mile 12.
Cue my second naive moment of the day. In hindsight, I think that Mike and I arrived at Tower Bridge around the same time, unfortunately, I had wildly underestimated the number of people that would be at Tower Bridge. When I arrived, the crowd was three people deep in the sparsest of places. I know there were runners there as I could see the top of their heads, but even standing on my tippy-toes I could not see their faces. It was hopeless, even if I was in time, there was no way that I would ever be able to see him come through.
I made an executive decision to give up and go straight to Mile 23, our second pre-approved meetup place. I hoped that I would be there soon enough to get a good vantage point.
By this stage, I’d had enough of the tube. Some rudimental maths in my head told me I had around an hour and 10 mins until he would be coming through Mile 23 so I had time to walk down. Getting between the two was actually really easy, and I soon found myself positioned on Upper Thames Street just opposite a jazz band dressed as chickens! In fact, I got there soon enough to see the back of the elite race come through.
A sneaky call to my parents confirmed that Mike had passed through the 30km marker, so I knew that he was close and I was determined to see him. So I found a spot and fixed my sights firmly on the growing dribble of runners starting to form. I saw a couple of Striders and a very fast banana before I saw Mike.
There is a quote from Katherine Switzer which says,
“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”
After Sunday, I now understand this quote a little more. It is amazing how a sporting event can bring people together. It was very touching to be part of it. The runners I saw coming through before and shortly after Mike were awe inspiring. They were the best of the best, running faster at mile 23 than I will probably ever run while looking like they have barely broken a sweat. I suffered from some serious running envy and it has spurred me on to work on my speed and try and get faster.
I saw Mike come through shortly after the 3:15 pacers, and I spotted him before he saw me. In fact, I almost had to jump in front of him for him to see me. But he did see me and apparently it gave him a boost. I now just needed to try and beat him to the Mall.
As I got off the tube at Embankment station it was time for another sneaky call to my parents to find out where he was. The answer? He was cruising around the final corner, past the Victoria fountain and onto the Mall. The race was still on. I was in sight of the Mall by now and I knew that he would have some time to wait before he could filter out into Horseguards.
He finished in a PB time of 3:17 which is just phenomenal, I am one very proud wife.
Before we started, Mike reiterated that whatever happened, I had to be at the end. So I was on a mission to get to “S” before he did. Thankfully it took him longer to filter from the finish than I expected, so I made it with time to spare.
Standing in the finishers area, it gave me a chance to admire the sheer magnitude of the event once more. One million finishers in its 35-year history. Given the events enduring popularity with runners of all abilities I wonder how long it will take to surpass the 2 million mark. I imagine less than 35 years, but I look forward to finding out.
I have only ever been to the London Marathon once before. It was 2011 and I was one of the 30,000+ runners lining up on the start line to attempt the 26.2-mile course. My personal experience was one of pure joy (with the exception of mile 24-25 which still haunts me to this day). I knocked 30 mins off my PB and my London Marathon PB of 5:06:23 stood for 4 years until it was beaten.
This year, I was in London in an entirely different capacity; this year I was supporting my husband in his first London Marathon. Out of the two of us, I think I was the most excited about the prospect of the London Marathon. He was not concerned about the marathon at all (this was number 3, so he was well prepared); he was more concerned about all the people. He hates long races and only applied because I did. Either way, he got in and I was determined to be the best support system ever for the day.
The weekend started with a trip down to ExCel for the London Marathon Expo. I don’t understand why, out of all the Exhibition Centres in London, they insist on using ExCel; it’s a pain to get to and involves a long and tortuous journey for everyone who doesn’t fly in.
My dislike of the venue aside, the Expo itself is fabulous. Although we weren’t there that long (we still had our suitcases with us) I think we went around most of the stands. I had to be very strict on myself so that I didn’t spend too much money. In the end, my biggest “purchase” was signing up to sponsor another Guide Dog puppy.
We had to leave promptly as we still had our suitcases with us, but Mike and I both agreed, next time one of us gets into the Marathon we will come down on the Friday rather than the Saturday. That way we can happily explore the Expo without having to cart around all of our weekend gear!
For Mike, one of the outstanding points of the whole Marathon weekend was the organisation of the whole event. The London Marathon is run with military precision and the Expo is the first time that you will experience this.
After a very leisurely breakfast, we made our way down to the Lewisham Station to take the train to Blackheath (one stop away) and the Blue Start. By this point, I think my excitement levels were far higher than my husbands. We have very different pre-race strategies. I am a pre-race panicker and want to be on the start line nice and promptly. This is why on Great North Run day I often arrive at the start around 8:30 even though the race doesn’t start until 10:45. On the other hand, Mike would happily rock up with only half an hour to go
When I ran it in 2011, I remember the train not stopping at stations nearer the start because it was full. We passed platform after platform of runners, and this year, I was determined that we would not be one of those people. This is why Mike and I arrived at the start at 8:30am, one and a half hours before the official start time. Oops….
Blackheath itself is beautiful. We stayed in Lewisham, only one and a half miles away but definitely has a “city” feel. Yet Blackheath feels more like a sleepy country village than a suburb on the edge of one of the world’s busiest cities. As a spectator, I got to appreciate the tranquillity of the place, rather than having to worry about trying to find a toilet, dumping my bag etc….
After I left Mike I went to find a good place on the start line to cheer the runners on and caught the start of the Elite Women. WOW, they can run!
After cheering the start of the Elite Women and the IPC Marathon runners, the countdown was on for the Elite Men and the Mass start. I had my camera and my cheering voice ready. There were 13 Spa Striders in total racing at London not including Mike, so I was on the lookout for a green and red vest as well as Mike’s Cancer Research one.
I was, however, a little naive thinking that I would ever see anyone. The runners flooded the streets of Blackheath with the ferocity of a damn breaking. A never ending stream of luminous coloured vests crisscrossing across London on their way to the Mall. Half an hour later, as the last runner went by, I started the second phase of my spectating journey, trying to get across London to see Mike on the course.
This post was so long (almost 2000 words) so I split it into two posts. Read the second post here