Great Birmingham Run training week 16

I hope that everyone had an amazing weekend. I think the highlight of my weekend was managing to complete the Great Birmingham Run yesterday. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t pretty – I got to see the inside of the medical tent at the finish – but I completed the 13.1 miles.Collage 39The final week of my 16-week beginners’ half marathon training plan – the ‘taper week and race’ – contained three training runs and ended with the Great Birmingham Run. I completed a 20 minute recovery run on Monday, a comfortable 40 minute run on Wednesday and an easy 15 minute run on Saturday. As my head finally started to feel ‘normal’ again, I made sure that I completed every training run.

I also did my best to avoid people with coughs and colds. Being unemployed definitely does have some advantages.

Monday – 20 mins easy jog

Although I definitely set my alarm for 05:30, I must have somehow managed to turn it off in my sleep as I didn’t wake up until 08:30. Returning to full-time work and working 39 hours a week is going to be such a shock to my system! As I didn’t want to start the final week of my training with a stressful run, I decided to spend some time through the PF stretches and exercises I’d been neglecting.

Once I was confident the school rush had ended I headed out on my run. Unfortunately, Geoffrey the Garmin was still broken so I used him as a stop watch rather than a GPS. My 20 minute run was probably a little faster than an ‘easy jog’ as I’m completely useless at pacing myself. I also tend to run slightly faster when I’m feeling good and nothing hurts. My suspicions were confirmed when I got home and worked out that I’d covered over 2 miles.

The final week of training had got off to a positive start.

Tuesday – Rest

Tuesday was a productive but incredibly restful rest day. After four consecutive days of pavement pounding, my legs definitely felt like they needed a day off. I spent the morning sorting through several boxes of junk and shredding loads of old paperwork and the afternoon reviewing an unpublished academic manuscript.

Wednesday – 40 mins comfortable

When my alarm woke me at 05:30 I turned it off and went back to sleep. For once I wasn’t being lazy; I was waiting for my second-hand replacement for Geoffrey the Garmin to arrive. After spending the morning waiting for the post to be delivered, my replacement Garmin finally arrived at lunchtime. Unfortunately, the battery was completely flat so I had to put Geoffrey II on charge before I could delete all the previous owners’ speedy data.

I didn’t head out on my run until almost 20:30. The run had the potential to be crap as it was dark, humid and incredibly windy. I was, however, so pleased to have a fully functioning Garmin, I ignored the less than ideal weather conditions (and a slight creepy taxi driver) and enjoyed my evening run.

Thursday – Rest

I got up at a respectable time, got changed into some gym gear and spent half an hour working my way through some of Jasyoga’s new Athletes for Yoga video series featuring Olympian Alysia Montano.  Although I’ve been subscribing to Jasyoga for almost two years, I realised that I’m still not very good at relaxing. Perhaps some people just aren’t very good at chilling out?

By the way, if you’d like to try Jasyoga, I was sent the promo code ‘AUTUMNRESET’ for one month’s free access.

The rest of Thursday was uneventful. I entered the Cambridge Half Marathon and spent a few more hours decluttering my PhD paperwork and text books. I spent the rest of the day writing an abstract for a paper and listing yet more junk on eBay. As I felt that I’d had a reasonably productive day, I treated myself to fish and chips and then spent an enjoyable couple of hours lying on my bed reading.

Friday – Rest

Friday was another reasonably restful but incredibly productive rest day. My paper on environmental flows was published in Progress in Physical Geography. Unfortunately, I can’t actually access the paper as I’m no longer affiliated to a university. After that bit of excitement my mentor phoned. Sometimes it’s just good to talk.

Saturday – Rest

I should have completed a 10-15 minute very easy paced jog, but I decided not to as I didn’t want to risk picking up a random, last minute injury. I spent the majority of the morning working on a couple of slightly overdue product reviews, stressing about the weather, getting my kit ready for the half marathon and answering a few blog-related emails.Collage 40After a reasonably productive morning, I headed across Birmingham to the university to return some slightly overdue library books. The trains to and from the university seemed to be full of people coughing and sneezing. I was paranoid I’d somehow manage to pick up a last minute bug. I got home, dumped my half marathon kit into a pile, made myself eat a huge plate of Spag Bol and went to bed at a reasonably sensible time.

Sunday – Great Birmingham Run

When I’ve had more time to reflect on what happened and what went wrong yesterday, I’ll write a separate race report. To summarise: running at 13:30 just felt ‘wrong’, it was warm and windy, my pacing was all over the place, I wanted to drop out after three miles, I had to run-walk from four miles, there were unexpected hills, my head started to really hurt, my vision went and I felt dizzy, I crossed the finish line and got escorted to the medical tent. Not my finest moment as a runner.

I’m pretty sure that I wrote something very similar 12 months ago, but I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read and to comment on my weekly half marathon training updates. Your support really did help me probably more than you realised, especially when I started to doubt myself last month.

Training totals:

  • Runs: 46
  • Time: 23 hours 50 mins
  • Distance: 129.95 miles

Races/time trials:

  • 5 km: 32:49
  • 10 km: 66:52
  • Half Marathon: 02:43:32 (an epic fail but I’ll be back!)

Final niggleometer:

  • Right heel: 4/10
  • Right knee: 3/10
  • Left foot: 2/10

Race Report: Lichfield 10k

Thanks to my slightly temperamental head, I have to limit the amount of time I spend on my computer.  As I might not complete another race this year I decided to finish my somewhat belated review of the Lichfield 10k. Apologies if there are even more typos than normal. I’m having to type in a hurry.

I spent the evening before the race obsessively checking a selection of weather forecasts. Last year it was really warm and I made the mistake of not respecting the weather. Fortunately, this year the forecast was for cool and potentially wet conditions. As I knew that the majority of the course would be reasonably sheltered, I decided to ignore the wind.Lichfield weatherI woke early on the morning of the race and spent what felt like ages searching for four safety pins and attempting to pin my number to my t-shirt. As the race didn’t start until 10:30 I made myself eat two bowls of weetabix and a banana. I was reminded that I hate the feeling of ‘having’ to eat. I had a successful loo visit, a shower and got changed into my running gear, grabbed a bottle of energy drink and walked the short distance to the train station. So far so good.

A year ago, I got talking to a lovely lady called Ellen at the train station. This year, I bumped into Ellen and her family again. I quickly discovered that Ellen had been completely bitten by the running bug and was hoping to beat her 10k PB. I love it when people fall in love with running.

We walked the short distance from Lichfield City station to Race HQ and discovered we had enough time to collect our race t-shirts while the queues were reasonably short. I left my bag in the secure baggage area and went to find portaloos. The queue was massive and I estimate it took me 15-20 minutes to reach the front of the queue. Rather worryingly, one of the portaloos had been padlocked shut. I dread to think what had happened inside; luckily the portaloo I used was clean and pong-free.

Pre race faffingFeeling a lot lighter, I headed to the start area, positioned myself near the back of the crowd of runners and spotted Ellen. As we wanted similar times we decided to run together, and positioned ourselves a few metres behind the 65 minute pacer. We observed a minute’s applause for Bob Houghton, the starter sounded and we waited to start.

Although we had started near the back of the field, the first half mile or so mile was incredibly congested in places. The road surface was also incredibly uneven and I somehow managed to twist my temperamental right knee. Not the best start. The 65 minute pacer disappeared off into the distance and it seemed to take us a long time to get near her again. We made the most of the numerous downhill sections and maintained a sensible pace up the short inclines. Once I’d woken and warmed-up I found the first mile relatively easy and was quite impressed with myself for setting out at a sensible pace.

The second mile was a little more challenging. Once we’d finally escaped the main road and the rather irate drivers stuck in traffic in the opposite direction *toot toot*, we turned towards Whittington – an area of countryside that is going to be severely impacted by HS2. Last year I’d set out at such a ridiculously fast pace I was struggling after two miles. Fast forward twelve months and although I’d set out a much slower pace, I was still finding maintaining any sort of pace incredibly difficult.

When we reached the third mile – the start of Darnford Lane – I knew that one of the most challenging sections of the course was approaching and started to prepare myself mentally. I was aware I was working hard and the running related chat stopped temporarily. Last year, I walked most of this section of the course. This year I was determined to run up the most demanding part of the course without stopping. I completed mile three in 10:30, a definite improvement on last year!

Untitled6Mile four was a bit of a blur. We reached the water station and although Ellen was sensible and grabbed a bottle of water, for some reason I decided to carry on without taking on any water. We left the drinks station behind and started to approach the location of my mini-meltdown last year; the bridge over the A38. Although I managed to run over the bridge without slowing to a walk, by the time we reached the housing estate I was struggling and walked for five minutes in an attempt to stretch out my right knee and get my breathing under control. Sorry Ellen!

The fifth mile was challenging both mentally and physically. After I slowed to a walk the second time, I persuaded Ellen to carry on without me. I didn’t want to ruin both of our races and I was acutely aware that I tweaked my right knee. Ellen went on to smash her 10k PB so it was definitely the correct decision. I resorted to a slightly feeble run-walk-stretch-run routine until my knee started to feel a little better. The fifth mile was shockingly slow.

Official photos

The final mile and a bit was pretty uneventful and I hobbled the uphill sections and power walked the downhill sections. Thanks knee! I remember waving at the official on course photographer – why do photographers insist on taking photos near the end when I look terrible? – and running slowly back towards the start. Rather embarrassingly I to stop at the bottom of the approach to the final 100m to stretch out my right knee. Knee sort of sorted, I ‘powered’ my way up the grassy hill to the finish, stumbled over the finish line, collected my medal and a bottle of water and remembered to keep on moving.

Post run pose

The finish area was slightly chaotic and I couldn’t see Ellen so I decided to retrieve my bag and dry clothes from the baggage drop. Bag collected, I headed back out into the cold and more by luck than judgement found Ellen and her family. I got Ellen to take a photo of me with my medal – I’ve no idea why I decided to stand at such a quirky angle –we arranged to meet up for some training runs and then went our separate ways.

By the time I got on the train I realised that I was feeling really cold. So cold my lips had started to turn a lovely shade of blue.

Post Lichfield selfie

Although I was initially incredibly disappointed in my race, the back of the race t-shirt helped to put everything into perspective.

T shirt and medal

I’m not sure I’ll enter the Lichfield 10k again next year. Writing this review has made me realise that I don’t actually enjoy running along uneven road surfaces, over dual carriageways and through housing estates. I suspect I’m letting my own poor performance cloud my judgement.

Lichfield strava

I can’t fault the organisation in the lead up to the race, on the day of the race and after the race. I received my results by text the second I crossed the finish line and the official race photographs were available to purchase the morning after the race.

Finally, if you are reading this race report in 2018, please don’t let my negativity stop you entering the race!

Race Ratings:

  • Cost: 7/10 – £17 + £2 service fee as an unaffiliated runner
  • Course: 5/10 – challenging and not very scenic
  • Medal: 8/10
  • Race t-shirt: 10/10
  • Goody Bag: N/A


Getting my mojo back with MoRunning

I completed the Great Birmingham Run in the middle of October and then completely lost my running mojo. My trainers sat in the corner gathering dust, and my enjoyable early morning runs felt like a distant memory. I needed a new running goal to help me rediscover my mojo.

As a result I was thrilled when I was recently contacted by an amazing organisation, MoRunning. MoRunning asked if I would be interested in promoting awareness for the Movember Foundation by taking part in a MoRunning race. I immediately agreed, and with the help of MoRunning entered my local MoRunning event in Sutton Park, Birmingham


What is the Movember Foundation?

From humble beginnings back in 2003 the Movember movement has grown to be a truly global one, inspiring support from over 5 million MoBros and MoSistas. The Movember Foundation is the only charity tackling men’s health on a global scale, and helps to fund projects that address some of the largest health issues faced by men including testicular cancer, prostate cancer, mental health and suicide prevention. The Movember Foundation is independent of government funding, so can challenge the status quo and invest faster in what works. In 13 years the Movember Foundation has funded more than 1,200 men’s health projects around the world.

Take part in a MoRunning event this month!

Due to the popularity of Movember it is now pretty common for MoBros to grow their moustaches in November. Although as a MoSista I’m unable to grow a moustache, I can still get directly involved by pulling on my trainers and by completing a MoRun.


This year there are 17 MoRunning events taking place between the 5th and 27th November so there’s sure to be a race near you:

Leeds Saturday – 5th November 10:00
Dublin – Saturday 5th November 10:00

Swinley Forest – Saturday 5th November 10:00
Belfast – Sunday 6th November 10:00
Newcastle – Sunday 6th November 14:00

Edinburgh – Saturday 12th November 10:00

Bristol – Saturday 12th November 10:00
Battersea Park – Sunday 13th November 10:00
Glasgow – Sunday 13th November 10:00

Cardiff – Sunday 13th November 11:10

Birmingham – Saturday 19th November 10:00
Liverpool – Saturday 19th November 10:00
Nottingham – Sunday 20th November 10:00
Manchester – Sunday 20th November 10:00
Milton Keynes – Sunday 20th November 10:00

Brighton – Saturday 26th November 10:00
Greenwich London – Sunday 27th November 10:00

You can find out everything you need to know about the series of MoRuns here and when you register you have the option to make a donation with your entry fee(£18 for the 5k or £22 for the 10k distance) or to set up a Just Giving page straight away.


All runners will receive a race pack and race number, chip timing, a medal and loads of other amazing goodies.

Could you run a 5k or 10k for Movember?

For more information and to sign up please click here

Race Report: Great Birmingham Run

It’s never a good sign when it takes me almost a week to write a race report. I could have written a ‘woe is me’ race review last Sunday, but I decided to spend a few days reflecting on what happened. The Great Birmingham Run itself was well organised and very well supported, and I didn’t want to write a biased and overly negative race review.


After managing to complete 16 weeks of training, I was confident that I’d enjoy the Great Birmingham Run. I also hoped that all of the early morning training runs would be rewarded with a respectable half marathon time. I was going for gold.

When I first looked out of my bedroom window at 6am on Sunday morning it was dry. A few minutes later it started to rain. The rain continued until approximately thirty minutes before the race started. I got out of bed at 6:30am, had a shower, got changed into some of my running gear and managed to eat four weetabix and a couple of bananas.

My friend reluctantly dropped me off in the centre of Sutton Coldfield and I spent ten cold and very wet minutes waiting for a bus. Fortunately the bus arrived and 30 minutes later I found myself walking across the centre of Birmingham playing dodge the huge puddles and hunt the race village.

start-areaI would have taken more pre-race photos but I decided against getting my camera soaked. I tracked down some portaloos and had a successful visit. I then located the baggage buses – for some reason I hadn’t expected the baggage buses to be double-decker buses – climbed onto bus number 5 and removed my soggy jeans and fleece and put on the rest of my race day outfit. I squeezed myself into the black bin bag I’d customised the previous evening, and left my bag sitting on the back seat of the baggage bus. I was actually quite jealous of my bag getting to sit inside a warm and dry bus.

I reluctantly headed back out into the rain, found some shelter and spent the next thirty or so minutes people watching and trying to keep warm. I managed to fit in a couple of portaloo visits and after a few attempts tied my laces so that they weren’t likely to get too tight as the race progressed. I was nervous and just wanted the race to start. After what felt like ages, runners wearing orange and white numbers were called to the start area. It was quite windy and I started to feel really cold. In usual Great Run style there was a short organised – and in such a confined space slightly hazardous – warm-up. My warm-up consisted of me removing my bin bag and hoodie and realising that I *really* needed another wee. Unfortunately, there were huge queues for the portaloos in the start area and queuing would have made me miss the start of the race. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need the toilet. I tried to remember where the first set of portaloos would be located.

The race started, and the elite and faster runners disappeared off into the distance. After a short delay to avoid the course getting too congested, my wave started running and I headed out on my half marathon run. As soon as I started to run I realised that I still *really* needed a wee. I actually weighed up the pros and cons of weeing while I ran. The first miles and a half was pretty bleak and the course seemed to pass through some slightly dodgy backstreets. I didn’t spot any portaloos and was envious of the male runners who were able to go just about anywhere.

After a couple of slightly over ambitiously paced miles – next time I’ll make sure my Garmin is set to miles and not kilometres – I slowed down and settled into a more sensible pace. I still needed a wee.

Unfortunately, even the more sensible pace felt a lot harder than it should have done so early on in the race. I realised that I felt very hungry. I’d eaten breakfast more than three hours before the race started and was now running on empty (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). Judging by the number of discarded gel wrappers I spotted on the floor – there were thousands of the bloody things, why can’t runners make more effort to carry their rcannon-hill-parkubbish? – I was clearly one of the few runners not using energy gels. I won’t make the same mistake next time.

At approximately 5 miles the course went directly past Bournville train station. I thought about the emergency £10 in my back pocket and almost stepped off the course and into the train station. The course then went past Cadbury’s World – another huge temptation and reminder of my hunger – and up a really short but steep hill. Shortly after the 6 mile marker there was a drinks station and more importantly a row of portaloos. I sprinted off the course and into a portaloo. After spending several hours on my feet, sitting down in the warm and escaping the wind and crowds felt like heaven. Unlike most runners I didn’t exactly rush out of the portaloo and back out onto the course. I guess that deep down I already knew that my race goals were out of reach.

I rejoined the race and spent a couple of minutes trying to get going again. My legs and knees were not happy. Between 7 and 8 miles I managed to distract myself by watching the runners from the later waves heading in the opposite direction. Without the wind cooling me down I started to feel warm and wasted more time getting into a tangle with my water bottle and cap. Trying to multitask didn’t work and next time I’ll stop running, remove my cap, tip water on my head, replace my cap and then run.

After what felt like forever, we turned off Pershore Road and headed towards Edgbaston Cricket Ground. We completed a circuit of the cricket ground and then crossed the road and entered Cannon Hill Park. While it was great to escape the roads, the paths in the park were covered in leaves – and the occasional gel wrapper – and I witnessed a couple of runners almost come a cropper. I grabbed a bottle of Lucozade Sport from the drinks station, had a couple of swigs and was almost sick. Yet another running fail!

We left Cannon Hill Park and headed back out onto the roads. Although this at this stage I felt terrible, the support between 9 and 10 miles was incredible and I was smiling as I hobbled along. At 10 miles the course took us onto the far from scenic Belgrave Middleway and it was at this point my right knee finally decided that enough was enough. Thanks knee.

Shortly after escaping the monotony of yet another Birmingham tourist attraction – the Lee Bank Middleway – the course took us onto Charlotte Road and the start of “The Hill”. When I originally heard the-hillabout “The Hill” I was determined to make it to the top without slowing to a walk. The course was very crowded, and after the third runner had slowed to a walk directly in front of me, I gave in and walked the final few meters of “The Hill”. Later on that day I found some photos that showed just how much I wanted the race to be over.

Just after 12 miles the course took me directly past my ex-boyfriends flat. At least thinking about my ex distracted me from the pain in my right knee and feet for a few minutes. We crossed Harbourne Road – more memories – and then turned onto Hagley Road.

After what felt like an eternity I hobbled through another underpass and eventually reached Broad Street and the approach to the finish.


I gritted my teeth, powered my way towards the finish, posed for the cameras and stumbled across the finish line.


I stopped my Garmin and realised that I’d failed. It wasn’t a great feeling.

The finish area of the race wasgbr-medal chaos. We had to queue for our goody bags and medals. There were families and friends waiting for runners and blocking the way out. The baggage buses were parked on a side street at the bottom of a steep hill. After running(ish) a half marathon the steep downhill wasn’t appreciated by the runners. Security on the baggage buses was variable; let’s just say I could have walked away with someone else’s bag as numbers weren’t checked. I grabbed my bag, got off the bus and started to hobble back up the hill. At this stage I spotted Matt. We had a quick chat about the run, I mentioned that I was heading back towards the train station and Matt very kindly offered to drive me home.

Thanks Matt you really were a lifesaver and I definitely owe you a couple of pints!

We hobbled back to where Matt had parked his car, drove back to Four Oaks where Matt very kindly dropped me off at my local Tesco’s. I’m pretty sure that most runners don’t eat three packets of crisps after a half marathon. I must have really needed the salt. I hobbled back to my friend’s house – down yet another steep hill – located where I’d hidden the front door key, let myself in, removed my trainers and socks and assessed the damage. Although my trainers and socks had been soaked from the start, I’d escaped with just a couple of tiny blisters and a sore little toe. I’d been lucky and my new socks hadn’t shredded my feet to pieces.

Right, I’ll leave this post now as its already far, far too long. Thanks for reading my waffle over the last 16 weeks or so. At some stage I’ll reflect on what I did wrong during my training and on the day of the race and what I’d do differently next time. Although I felt like quitting immediately after the Great Birmingham Run, I’ve already entered the Cambridge Half in March.

Cambridge has to be less undulating than Birmingham…

Have you ever felt like stopping halfway through a race? Had I spotted any of my family out on the course I would have stopped.

I need to start taking gels on longer runs What are your favourite brands and flavours of gels?

Race Report: Great Midlands Fun Run

Some mornings I feel amazing when I wake up. The morning of this year’s Great Midlands Fun Run wasn’t one of those mornings. My stomach felt iffy, I had a headache and felt thirsty. I clearly hadn’t drunk enough water on Saturday.

I ate some breakfast, knocked back a couple of glasses of water and started to feel slightly more alive. I had a shower, applied some P20 sun protection, pinned my race bib onto my club vest, got dressed, had a successful session on the toilet and had another drink.

Runner number 0001 was finally ready to go. Sort of.

A short train journey later I found myself following dozens of runners towards the start area of the race. The sun hadn’t made an appearance and I actually felt quite cold waiting to start. As I waited in the start area I realised that I really, really needed a wee. This left me with a bit of a dilemma. In the end I decided that I could hang on until I reached the toilets in Sutton Park. I decided that I would pretend I didn’t need a wee, i also decided to avoid the first couple of water stations.

IMG_2273Pleased to discover that the Met Office had got the weather forecast wrong again! 

IMG_2277Walking away from the portaloos towards the start area. A decision I would later regret.

IMG_2279My “I really need a wee” face!

The race started and it took me a couple of minutes to cross the start line. The first mile was really congested, it was a game of dodge the walkers who had started right at the front. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a fun run and not a race.

Although the first couple of miles felt great, I still really needed a wee. When I reached Sutton Park I discovered that there were no toilets. I seriously contemplated peeing as I ran. These thoughts kept me distracted as I ran towards the Jamboree Stone and then the halfway point near Keepers Pool.

I ran past Keepers Pool and promised myself that I could stop for a wee if I made it to 5 miles without walking. I ran through yet another drinks station and spotted the 5 miles marker in the distance. Unfortunately, the sunny weather meant that this area of Sutton Park was heaving with spectators. There was nowhere to hide so I carried on running.course-mapCourse Map – nowhere to have a sneaky wee!

With less than a parkrun to go I walked for the first time. At this stage the sun had made an appearance and I was starting to feel quite warm. I regretted not drinking and I regretted wearing a t-shirt under my club vest. I told myself to “HTFU” and started to run again.

I passed the 6 mile marker in just over an hour and found myself at the bottom of my running nemesis; Cardiac Hill. I slowed to a walk; yet again I’d allowed Cardiac Hill to beat me. I “power” walked my way up the hill and started to run again when I spotted someone I knew. I took on water for the first time at the drinks station at Four Oaks Gate. I didn’t wet myself.

I reached 7 miles and spotted my friend with his camera. For some reason I decided that with less than 1.5 miles to go, I needed to ditch my t-shirt and running belt. I stripped off in the middle of Four Oaks. Sometimes I don’t understand how my mind works.

GMFR 1I was clearly really, really pleased to see a friendly face! 

T-shirt ditched and cap forgotten I told myself to enjoy the final mile or so of the race. No one was forcing me to run! I ran past my old primary school, the fire station and the police station. I ran past the crowds of people who were enjoying a pint in the sunshine. Sensible people!

As I approached the steep(ish) downhill into the finish area I was aware that my knee was getting painful, I slowed down.

I crossed the line in 85:32, almost 30 minutes faster than last year…


I collected my medal, posed for a photograph and was handed a bottle of water. I must have looked warm as I was hosed down by one of the fire-fighters in the finish area. Thanks!

I had one of the most satisfying wees ever in a disgusting portaloo. The portaloos at the start area of the London Marathon were less fragrant.

Although (thanks to my weak bladder) my 14th Great Midlands Fun Run was uncomfortable at times, I’ll hopefully be back again next year. My 15th Great Midlands Fun Run, however, will definitely be my last. I’m getting too old for the hills.

Registration for the 2017 Great Midlands Fun Run opens on Saturday 28th January 2017.

Race Ratings:

  • Cost: 6/10
  • Course: 8/10
  • Medal: 8/10
  • Goody Bag: n/a

Race Report: Hill West 10k

As I headed towards the centre of Sutton Park on Sunday morning, I was reminded that I am privileged to be able to train and to run in such a stunning location.

Sutton ParkBlackroot Pool – heading towards the ‘Hill of Doom’

As I made my way slowly up one of the many steep hills in Sutton Park, I suddenly remembered that I was about to attempt a rather challenging race, the Hill West 10k.

I love the race organiser’s description of this event “Now in its 22nd year this 10k charity event is set in the fantastic surroundings of Sutton Park, in Streetly, West Midlands. Renowned as a ‘good and challenging course’, completely traffic free, the event starts in the heart of the Park and follows a route which takes in about 50% of this historic Park. The course is a mix of tarmac roads of paths and off road trails, with the first 5k mostly off road with some challenging hills and the last 5k almost all on undulating tarmac…”

I last completed the Hill West 10k back in 2005 in a time of 61:27. I finished in 92nd place out of 102 runners. Fast forward 11 years and I hoped that the increased popularity of running meant that there would be a few more entrants. As I approached the Jamboree Stone and the start/finish of the race I spotted loads of people wearing race numbers. Phew!

RegistrationStart area – loads of people registering for the 10k

When I got slightly closer I noticed that the majority of people were participating in the 4k family event. Arse! [Update: 133 people entered the 10k and 349 people entered the 4k!] I subsequently did something I have never done before a 10k before. I spent a couple of minutes studying the slightly complicated looking course map.

RouteCourse map – slightly different to the course in 2005

After having a quick conversation with fellow UK Run Chat member Matt – congratulations on the huge Hill West 10k PB Matt! – I headed towards the start area. The 4k run started at 10:30 and the 10k run seven minutes later at 10:37. It took me three seconds to cross the start line, what a contrast to London.

I ran across the field onto the path and turned down the cups of water I was offered at the drinks station. I ignored the urge to run straight to the ice-cream van that was parked up less than 150m from the start, and turned left onto the path that leads towards Keepers Pool. My knee felt great and after a quick readjustment of my Workplay bag, I quickly settled into my stride. However, as I ran down the long hill towards Keepers Pool I kept thinking:

“What goes down in Sutton Park, must come back up in Sutton Park”

I reached the first kilometre marker in seven minutes. I was surprised I was so slow. The second kilometre marker appeared less than three minutes later. I stopped looking out for the kilometre markers and used my Garmin.

I felt great for the first twenty minutes of the race. Why hadn’t I entered the event since 2005? I then arrived at the bottom of the ‘Hill of Doom’ and was reminded why. I ran up half of the ‘Hill of Doom’ and walked the second half. Once again I’d failed to conquer a running nemesis.

Hill of doomWalking up the ‘Hill of Doom’ before the race – it doesn’t look very challenging in this photo 

According to my Garmin I covered the first 5k in 30:18.  With the exception of the ‘Hill of Doom’ I hadn’t found the first half of the course too challenging. I was looking forward to tackling the undulating second half of the course. I felt great and was determined to beat the undulations.

As I ran down the long hill towards Wyndley Pool, I realised that in order to get to the finish I would have to run up some lengthy hills. Sometimes knowing Sutton Park so well can be a disadvantage. I knew that the second half of the course would be hilly and not undulating. I decided to adopt a run-walk-run strategy for the final three kilometres.

After a lot of internal cursing about my lack of fitness, I made it back to the ice-cream van and the Jamboree Stone. According to my Garmin I staggered across the finish line in 62:18. I’m still waiting for my official time but suspect it will be a few seconds slower. The quest for a sub-60 10k continues.

I was handed my medal and helped myself to a bottle of water and a banana and apple from the water and fruit table. There didn’t appear to be any goody bags – the race cost £10 to enter (£11 on the day) and was raising money for charity so this was fine. As there were no photographers I was rather cheeky and got Matt to take my photo.

Pose Post run pose – thanks Matt!

I’d like to thank the Hill West School PTFA for organising such a great event. The course was challenging but enjoyable and the marshals were brilliant. I definitely won’t be leaving it another 11 years! Next year I will conquer the ‘Hill of Doom’… The link to my Strava stats and the course is available here.

Race Ratings:

  • Cost: £10 in advance (£11 on the day)
  • Course: 10/10 (both scenery and difficulty)
  • Medal: 5/10
  • Goody bag: N/A

Do you have any tips for conquering hills? I need all the help I can get.

Can you recommend a training plan that will help me achieve a sub-60 10k?

London Marathon 2016

[Warning, this is a long post] My London Marathon weekend started on Friday with an uneventful train journey to Euston. I left Four Oaks at lunchtime and was settled in my London accommodation three hours later. The location was perfect. Less than a two minute walk to Baker Street and near to Marylebone High Street.

I spent most of Saturday relaxing, eating and watching rubbish on TV. Back in 2006 I spent several hours on my feet walking around London. I was tired before I’d even started the marathon. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. On Saturday evening I laid my kit out, took a photo and then spent what felt like ages trying to pin my race number to my charity vest.

Kit choicesI was going to regret some of these kit choices!

I ate the Spaghetti Bolognaise I’d prepared earlier (it tasted terrible), had one last read of the ‘Final Instructions’ leaflet and checked that I’d set my alarm for 6am. I didn’t want to sleep through the start of the marathon. I was in bed by 9pm and fell asleep within minutes. I woke just before my alarm feeling refreshed and ready to go. I had a quick shower, got dressed in my pre-race hanging around at the red start gear, packed my kit bag and had a decent sized breakfast.

The journey to Greenwich was straightforward. I left Baker Street at 7am and arrived at the red start in Greenwich Park 45 minutes later. Looking back I have no idea why I allowed myself to get so stressed out about the journey to Greenwich Park. It was simply a case of follow the crowd of nervous looking runners.

Walking to red startWalking towards the red start. At least it had stopped raining.

In 2006 and 2008 I was a ballot place runner and started on the blue start. The red start seemed much larger, with more baggage lorries and more portaloos. There were loads of portaloos and I managed three pre-race wees. Only one of the portaloos I used was disgusting, so this time I had a positive portaloo experience. In-between the portaloo visits (I’ll stop talking about portaloos now!) I got changed into my race outfit, ate a couple of bananas, drank some water and deposited my kit bag at the relevant baggage lorry.

Half an hour before the race was due to start I entered Pen 9 (right at the back of the field) and spent the next 30 minutes chatting to other runners while trying to keep warm. It was pretty chilly! I remember looking across London and realising just how far away the finish line was. At this point I suddenly realised I was about to attempt to complete the London Marathon. The race started at 10am, I crossed the start line 29 minutes later. At this stage I was virtually the last placed runner in the London Marathon. Slightly surreal! After three miles we joined the main course and merged with runners from the blue and green starts. I had been warned that this part of the course would be really congested. It was deserted! We eventually started to catch up with runners from the blue and green starts at Cutty Sark.

Mile 9Running alongside the Runner’s World 5:15 pacer at Mile 9 – photo purchased from Marathon Moments

I reached Tower Bridge and then halfway feeling great. My knee wasn’t hurting and my foot felt fine. The course was really congested, making it difficult to run properly, but I was coping with the course congestion. At this stage I was running in a large group with the Runner’s World 5:15 pacer. Although I was enjoying the slightly random run, power walk and run routine, the congestion on the course was to end my enjoyment of the marathon. Soon after the halfway stage I was clipped from behind by another runner. I lost my balance and in avoiding falling over, jarred my right knee. One minute I was loving the London Marathon, the next minute I was unable to run properly. It was 2008 all over again.

I walked for a couple of miles and noticed that I was getting really, really cold. I regretted wearing a running skirt. I tried to run again but couldn’t. My right knee was really painful and I had no strength in my legs. The lack of long training runs was about to come back to haunt me. I hadn’t respected the marathon distance and was about to pay the price.

I remember watching the faster club runners running in the opposite direction. Some of them looked incredibly relaxed. At this stage I seriously considered dropping out of the marathon. I was cold, both of my knees were painful, I felt sick and just wanted to get away from the noise. I’d had enough of being heckled by the crowd, of dodging the water bottles dumped on the floor and of wading though discarded gel wrappers. Seriously, I’ve never seen so many gel wrappers.

Marathon miseryOne advantage of being so slow. The official race photos keep appearing!

I power walked hobbled around the financial district, past Billingsgate Market and past a huge crowd of Samaritans supporters. Sorry! At the 22-mile(ish) point I reached Fetchpoint and stopped for a couple of much needed hugs. It was great to see some friendly faces and those hugs really helped me. Thanks! After leaving Fetchpoint I managed to run for 500m before having to walk again.

I remember hobbling alongside the River Thames and spotting Big Ben in the distance. The support along this section of the course was amazing and I even managed to start running again. I eventually reached Big Ben and knew that the finish line was a mile away. I hobbled along Birdcage Walk, past Buckingham Palace and then turned onto The Mall. At this point I realised that I had approximately 60 seconds to get under 6 hours. I started to run.

5 hours, 59 minutes and 45 seconds after I crossed the start line I’d completed my third (and definitely final) London Marathon.

I collected my medal, posed for an official photo and remembered to collect a goody bag (I forgot in 2008!).

Medal poseOfficial medal pose photo. Feeling relieved that it was all over!

I was slightly disappointed that there were only large or extra-large t-shirts left. I’m now the proud owner of three London Marathon tents. I collected my kit bag, took a couple of slightly dodgy selfies and made my way to Piccadilly Circus. Ten minutes later I found myself stood in a queue inside Mc Donald’s on Baker Street. Not ideal recovery food but I’d been fantasising about salty chips for several hours.

SelfieLoving my attempt at a post-marathon selfie!

I somehow managed to get my Mc Donald’s, broken kit bag, goody bag and myself down some steps into my accommodation. I sat down and devoured the most enjoyable Mc Donald’s ever. I had a bath, inspected my feet (only a couple of blisters), got changed and had a nap. A few hours later I travelled across to Waterloo to meet my friend. Remarkably my knees and legs felt great. I had a couple of blisters but otherwise didn’t feel too bad. Not actually running the whole 26.2 miles clearly had some advantages.

I spent the majority of Monday walking around Marylebone and eating. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much food in one day. Breakfast was two cheese, ham and tomato toasties, lunch was steak and chips in Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte and dinner was calamari, pasta and ice-cream in my favourite London Italian restaurant, Casa Becci. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of my food (blogger fail).

Since returning home I’ve had plenty of time to think about my marathon experience. What went wrong? What could I have done differently? Will I ever enter another marathon? The first question is easy to answer. I didn’t train sensibly, was under-prepared and didn’t respect the marathon distance. I’m not sure that I could have done much differently as a knee injury prevented me completing several longer runs. Had I been given the option to defer I probably would have done, unfortunately I wasn’t. The final question is harder to answer. I know that I will never run another London Marathon. I’ve done it three times, I’ve had my turn. I might, however, attempt to run the Birmingham International Marathon next year. As a Brummie it would be rude not to!

I also finally looked inside my goody bag…

Goody BagMinus an apple, bottle of water, bottle of Lucozade Sport and several leaflets.

Beef Jerky?? Slightly random! Men’s deodorant, thanks! I managed to eat the popcorn, skittles and crisps yesterday. I think that I’ll give the Beef Jerky a miss.

Have you ever had a disappointing marathon experience?

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever been given in a goody bag?

Do you have any tips for speeding up the blister healing process?