Race Report: Aldridge 10k

I hope that everyone had an amazing weekend. This blog is a day late because I was actually at work yesterday. Shocking behaviour after an incredibly hectic weekend.

Some of you know I set myself the challenge of running completing 10 races this year. On Sunday I completed my fourth race –the Aldridge 10k.

So what did I think of the Aldridge 10k? Would I run it again? Would I recommend the race to other runners?

As always, I checked the weather forecast quite a few times. The forecast for Sunday was 23°c and sunny, typical. However, first thing on Sunday morning the weather was perfect; cool and dry with a refreshing breeze. The cool conditions unfortunately didn’t last. Ellen very kindly collected me at 09:30 and drove us the short distance to Aldridge. We found somewhere to park and walked the short distance to the race HQ, the local cricket club to collect our numbers.

I found race HQ a touch confusing. The signs weren’t very clear and it took us a couple of attempts to work out where we had to go to collect our numbers. Numbers finally collected and attached – there were a lot of safety pins – we decided to find out where the 10k race would start from. We found the 5k muster point, an impressive selection of trophies and the finish line. Virtually everything but the start of the 10k race.

The next challenge was finding somewhere for a pre-race pee. The queues for the portaloos were quite long so we checked out the cricket club’s Clubhouse. Bingo! Real toilets with a small queue. Toilet stop done and dusted, as it was still quite chilly we completed a pre-race warm-up. Ellen met up with some of her running club friends and organised some ‘before’ photos. We then squeezed in a second pre-race pee and then followed a sea of runners towards the mystery start location.

I’ve included one of the official race photos because I can just about make out my black cap in the distance.

Aldridge start

[Photo: Brian Smith]

The sun made an unwelcome appearance just before the race started at 11:00. One minute it was nice and cool, the next minute it was hot and sunny. I regretted wearing black.

At the start Aldridge

The first mile was hot and if I’m being honest rather uninspiring as it took us alone the main Walsall Road until we turned left at a pub and onto the amusingly named Bosty Lane. I’d describe the second mile as undulating and dull.

Youtube 3

[Source: James Cruze]

This section of the course was made more challenging as we had to run on the pavements as the roads hadn’t been closed. I was a little frustrated because I enter road races to run on the road, not on uneven pavements with niggle inducing dropped kerbs.

Mile three was also undulating. I wanted to walk but just about managed to carry on running. The highlights of mile four were the hoses and the sponge and drinks stations.

As I still haven’t quite mastered the art of running and drinking at the same time, I walked through the drinks station. I was a little disappointed to be handed a small plastic cup with hardly any water in it. A bottle would have been welcome on such a warm day! We spotted a camera, waved and continued on our way.

Youtube 1

[Source: Aldridge Now & Then]

Youtube 2

[Source: Aldridge Now & Then]

The penultimate mile was quite tricky because my fragile right knee didn’t appreciate the rather steep hill section. The half a mile down hill away from the centre of Aldridge and the start of the race worried me because I knew it meant the final part of the race would be incredibly challenging.

I’m ashamed to report that I gave into the heat, my dodgy right knee and my lack of mental toughness and walked quite a large section of the final mile. I’m afraid that the inspirational quotes someone had chalked onto the road did very little to inspire this hot and grumpy runner.

Aldridge Mile 5 and 6

[Photo: Ron Reynolds]

A few runners had warmed me about the “nightmare hill” between miles five and six. As a result I gave the hill far, far too much respect. Miles one to five had been completed at 09:xx min/mile pace; it took me over 11 minutes to complete mile six. The final part of the race was mentally tough as we had a couple of loops around a field.

I crossed the line in 01:01:45, collected my medal, goody bag and t-shirt -the Wolves colour was an added bonus – and found Ellen who’d finished before me.

Aldridge medal

We spent a bit of time recovering and then dug out our beer tokens and joined the queue for the free post-race half pint of beer. Beer successfully collected, we spent an enjoyable 15 minutes chilling out, discussing the race and drinking our beer. I couldn’t stay too long as I had to get ready for the journey back down to Wallingford.

Although my own race performance was a little disappointing, Ellen ran a seriously impressive time. I’m really enjoying watching her get faster and faster. The race was well organised and incredibly well supported. I received my official time via text the second I crossed the finish line and the first set of event photographs were available to download for free the same day as the race. It’s just a shame the photographer didn’t stay to take photos of everyone finishing…

This race report has turned into an essay so I’ll stop writing and leave you with a selection of Strava stats. I think it’s pretty obvious where I struggled.

If any more photos make an appearance online I’ll add them to this post.

So would I recommend the Aldridge 10k? Possibly, but I’d also recommend runners carry their own water with them if it’s a hot day. Advice I should follow myself.

Race ratings:

  • Cost: 9/10 – £13.75 (the entry fee included free downloads of official race photos)
  • Course: 8/10
  • Medal: 6/10
  • Race t-shirt: 9/10
  • Goody Bag: 8/10 (I loved the race number magnet thingys)

Do you ever wonder what happens to all the photos people take of runners during races? Loads of random people were taking photos on Sunday; they never seem to appear online. Strange!

Have you ever managed to dodge all the official race photographers? I’m starting to think that although I’m tall I’m also invisible.

Do you think 11:00 is too late to start a race? I much prefer an earlier start time as it’s cooler and the roads are less congested.

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A parkrun, some sun, a fun run and a BBQ

Happy Monday! I hope that everyone had an awesome weekend and enjoyed the sunshine. I booked Monday off work so I’m enjoying another extra long weekend.

Most of you will know my Friday afternoon routine now. I left the office at 15:00 and arrived back home in Four Oaks three hours later. I spent what was left of the evening getting all my washing done, catching up on a couple of my favourite TV programmes and eating unhealthy food.

I woke up well before my alarm on Saturday which was a little bit frustrating as I wanted a lie in. I hadn’t originally planned to head to parkrun but when my friend offered to drive me I felt that I couldn’t say no.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy parkrun very much and kind of wish that I’d stayed in bed. I set out at a slightly ambitious pace, struggled in the humid conditions and seriously considered dropping out after the second lap.

Parkrun lap 2

[Photo: Ron Reynolds]

I gave myself a serious talking to, completed the final lap and finished in 28:14, a time I would have been over the moon with a year ago.

The short walk back to the car park felt like a marathon and I don’t think I’ve ever ended a 5k run with such a red face. The camera really doesn’t lie; sometimes I wish that it did!

Emma the beetroot

I also don’t think I’ve been so relieved to sit down for a couple of minutes after a run. I felt so nauseous, there was no way I was risking getting straight back into a boiling hot car.

A well placed bench

I’ve no idea why but I felt quite peaky for a few hours after parkrun and had zero appetite, definitely most unlike me and not ideal the day before a challenging 8.5 mile run.

Fortunately, a quick afternoon nap seemed to do the trick and I woke up feeling reasonably ‘normal’ again. As parkrun had left me feeling slightly dehydrated and I had a headache, I made myself drink a couple of glasses of orange flavoured Nuun.

The rest of my Saturday was quiet and relaxing, just what I needed. I made sure that I drank loads of water, avoided the local Chinese takeaway and the local weather forecasts. I went to bed at the not so rock and roll time of 22:00.

A combination of bright sunlight, heat and noisy birds woke me far too bright and early on Sunday morning. Not ideal when I desperately wanted a lie in. The fun run didn’t start until the incredibly late time of 11:00 so I had almost too much time to faff around before I set off on the short walk to the local train station.

My running buddy Ellen spotted me walking to the train station and kindly gave me a lift. We met up with Ellen’s friend Ruth and arrived in the centre of Sutton Coldfield with plenty of time for a couple of pre-race toilet visits. We entered the start area at 10:30 and spent the next 45 minutes or so getting hotter and hotter. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved to watch the sun disappear behind some clouds.

GMFR 2018 start

Nervous at the start

The run started and it was so crowded it took me almost a mile to get into my stride. I don’t enjoy running in hot weather and felt incredibly nauseous so decided to slow down. Somewhere between the first and second mile I noticed that my Garmin had switched itself off, not ideal but I managed to get it working again. To make matters worse my dodgy right calf started to hurt, a lot. We entered Sutton Park, I stopped at a drinks station to grab myself some water and never really got going again.

I told Ellen and Ruth to run on without me and walked for a couple of minutes to assess my calf. Walking didn’t help and I decided to switch my focus from getting a decent time to having a good time.

I power walked up the numerous uphill sections and ran very slowly down the downhill sections. I soaked up the atmosphere as I ran through the centre of Sutton Park near Town Gate and stopped for a quick chat with a teacher I hadn’t seen for several years.

Cardiac Hill

I reached the bottom of Cardiac Hill and spotted Matt in the distance dressed as an Oompa Loompa. I caught up with Matt and we successfully negotiated Cardiac Hill together. We reached the top, grabbed some much needed water and headed back towards the centre of Sutton Coldfield and the finish.

Miles three to six of the run were shockingly slow and I was embarrassed when I looked at the stats on Strava. The final couple of miles were slightly more respectable – probably because they were more runner friendly i.e. down hill – and I had plenty left in the tank to sprint to the finish line.

I crossed the line, collected a medal from an old school friend, grabbed some water and then spent 15 minutes trying to track down Ellen and Ruth. We were eventually reunited at the train station.

GMFR 2018 medal

I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the sunshine, drinking beer and enjoying my first BBQ for years. The perfect way to take my mind off a somewhat disappointing Great Midlands Fun Run. Next year, I’ll make sure I’m on the other side of the barriers enjoying a pint of beer and supporting the runners.

My next race is the Aldridge 10k on Sunday. I’ve literally got everything crossed that the weather is a little kinder; I’ve had enough of running in the heat.

Do you enjoy running in the sun? If it’s boiling hot on Sunday I suspect the Aldridge 10k will be a DNS as it doesn’t start until 11:00.

Do you have any sun cream recommendations? The P20 I wore smelt terrible and wasn’t very effective.

Race Report: Wallingford Thames Run

Happy Wednesday, the long weekend is rapidly approaching. If you don’t enjoy reading rather lengthy race reviews then I’d recommend you stop reading. I promise I won’t be offended.

Some of you know I set myself the challenge of completing 10 races in 2018.  On Sunday I completed my second race – the Wallingford Thames Run. I’ve clearly got a bit of catching up to do.Group photo

[Photo: Run Wallingford]

So what did I think of the Wallingford Thames Run? Would I run it again? Would I recommend the race to other runners?

Entry was straightforward. I headed to the race entry page, filled in my details and paid my entry fee of £15. The only minor irritation was discovering that numbers would have to be collected on the morning of the race. I much prefer having numbers posted to me and am more than happy to pay extra for the privilege.

The weather on Sunday was perfect – almost a little too perfect – and I decided to forget about times and to enjoy what was a completely new to me event.

Registration was simple and it took me a matter of seconds to collect my number and some safety pins. I then proceeded to spend 10 minutes struggling to pin my race number onto my t-shirt without stabbing myself. Number safely attached, I decided to locate the toilets while it was still reasonably quiet. I’m not sure if the queues got longer later on but I didn’t have to queue for any of my pre-race nervous toilet visits.

The race HQ was a local primary school. Thanks to some excellent planning, the race coincided with the annual Summer Fete. This meant that there were several stands to keep me occupied. The only downside was having to ignore the aroma of sausage and burgers. I doubt that even my hardcore stomach could cope with a sausage sarnie 30 minutes before a 10k.

I met up with some of the members of the local running group – most were volunteering – posed for a group photo and then headed towards the start area for a warm-up. By this stage it was really warm so I decided to watch everyone else leaping around.

Warmup

Warm-up completed, we shuffled closer to the start, listened to some announcements and then the race started.

It took me a minute to cross the start line.

It took me a couple of minutes of being overtaken by speedy runners to realise the 5k runners had started at the same time as the 10k runners. I stopped worrying about how fast other people were running and started to enjoy the rather epic scenery. The race followed a section of my not so enjoyable run on Wednesday evening run and into a much needed shaded section. A few runners were complaining about the congestion through this section, I shut out the moaning and focused on attention on the surface which was a touch ‘bumpy’ in places. I smiled grimaced for the race photographer and rather reluctantly left the shaded section behind.

Lap 1

[Photo: Barry Cornelius]

The next section of the course was a little uninspiring and involved running alongside the A4130 for a couple of minutes, a steep downhill back towards the river and a slightly speed-sapping 360 degree turn. Tricky turn completed, we ran next to the River Thames before heading into the centre of Wallingford.

I’m not sure why I’d assumed the race took place on closed roads because it didn’t. For several frustrating seconds I found myself trapped behind an elderly pedestrian I couldn’t overtake so I used the unexpected walking break to catch my breath. We left the centre of Wallingford behind and ran across the bridge back towards the start of the 5k route.

Seeing loads of runners finish when I had another 5k to go was a tad demoralising. I stopped at the water station, made sure that I actually drank some water and headed out on the second lap.

The hazards of running in the countryside were highlighted when I had to slow to a walk to give way to someone driving a tractor. I found ‘tractorgate’ quite amusing, other runners didn’t. I ran past the location of the race photographer on the first lap – he’d moved – and back towards the River Thames.

I was really struggling by this stage so wasn’t exactly thrilled when I spotted the race photographer in the distance. By this stage there were hardly any other runners around me so I had no one to hide behind. I smiled and thanked the photographer and carried on running.Lap 2 1

Lap 2 2

[Photos: Barry Cornelius]

On the first lap I got stuck behind a pedestrian, on the second lap a group of us spent what felt like forever waiting for the opportunity to cross the main road.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so relieved to reach the end of a 10k. I crossed the line and headed straight to the water table. I was impressed when I discovered that the Wallingford Thames Run was a plastic free event and I was handed a plastic cup of water. I guess starting and finishing a race at a primary school does have some perks.

Medal

I was handed a medal and headed towards another major perk – the bar – and treated myself to a pint of cold and refreshing beer.

Pint pose

I found myself somewhere to sit in the shade and spent an enjoyable 30 minutes people watching and relaxing. Recovery (and pint) complete, I walked the mile or so back to my shared house, had a shower, got dressed and had a Sunday snooze.

Although my own race performance was a little below par, the Wallingford Thames Run was incredibly well organised from start to finish. Event photographs were available to download for free a couple of hours after the race and the official results were published in the evening.

As always, this race report has turned into an essay so I’ll stop waffling and leave you with a selection of Strava stats from the race.

So would I recommend the Wallingford Thames Run? Let’s just say I’m a little disappointed I won’t be around to improve my time next year.

Race ratings:

  • Cost: 10/10 – £15 (I think! All profits went to charity and the entry fee included free downloads of official race photos)
  • Course: 8/10
  • Medal: 5/10
  • Race t-shirt: n/a
  • Goody Bag: n/a

What is the strangest thing you’ve had to ‘give way’ to during a race? I can honestly say I didn’t think I’d ever be held up by a tractor.

Do you think race organisers should do more to reduce the amount of plastic waste that is produced during races?

Race Report: Cathedral to Castle Run

I hope that everyone is having a great week, I can’t believe that it’s Wednesday already. The weekend is rapidly approaching.

a0ba0559-b46c-4048-9105-4d9049c3550dLast Sunday I completed a new (to me) 10 mile multi-terrain race; the Cathedral to Castle Run. The race started near to Lichfield Cathedral, passed through Hopwas Woods and finished in the grounds of Tamworth Castle.

Route

Although I was nervous about running a 10 mile race, the prospect of running and exploring somewhere totally new was exciting, so exciting I got very little sleep the night before the race.

The evening before the run was very relaxed and I may have ended up in my favourite local pub. I checked out the race route, got my kit together, located my running number, scoffed a load of pasta and made sure that I kept myself reasonably hydrated.

The morning of the race was unfortunately a tad stressful. The prospect of running 10 miles made me feel incredibly nervous and I struggled to eat. Most unlike me! I also made the fatal error of not pinning my race number to my t-shirt until just before leaving the house. It took me four attempts to successfully pin my number to my t-shirt.

My friend dropped me in Lichfield with enough time for me to use the real toilets twice, to get my trainers soaked, to untie and retie my laces twice and to generally faff around.

Pre Race

I was waiting to start, when I became aware of a male runner scrabbling around on the floor picking up worms. He was fighting a losing battle and I suspect a few worms would have been trampled by runners. Slightly surreal!

The race started with a lap around a very muddy and undulating Beacon Park. This short lap set the tone for the rest of the race. After leaving Beacon Park we ran past Minster Pool, through the centre of Lichfield, over a wobbly bridge and onto the route of the Lichfield 10k. Once we left Lichfield, I was so focused on running and not breaking something – there were a lot of potholes, mud and uneven surfaces – I can’t actually recall much of the route between the third and fifth miles.

Highlights included running past an Army shooting range and an abandoned assault course, into Hopwas Woods and then up a huge hill.

The course was described as “fast and relatively flat” and as suitable for runners of all abilities. However, in my humble opinion, the section through Hopwas Woods was anything but flat.

The hill between approximately five and six miles was epic. Had I known how long the hill was I would have probably ‘given up’ and walked. Not knowing where I was going was definitely an advantage.

I reached the top of ‘Mount Everest’ and immediately found myself attempting to navigate myself down a really steep hill. It was so steep I was constantly trying and failing to slow myself down. Tripping over one of the numerous loose stones would have ended in disaster. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved to make it to the bottom of a hill.

After leaving the peace and tranquillity of Hopwas Woods, the route briefly ran parallel to the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal – have I mentioned how I have a serious phobia of canals? – through Hopwas and Coton and then into the outskirts of Tamworth.

Hopwas Woods[Photo: Mick Hall Photos]

Although I was thrilled to leave the energy-sapping mud behind, I must admit that I found the final couple of miles of the route a little disappointing. There is nothing more demoralising than running along completely deserted streets and through a slightly dubious looking industrial estate and having to dodge dog mess and broken glass. I guess that the organisers had to make sure that route actually measured 10 miles.

The final section in the grounds of Tamworth Castle was mentally tough. Fortunately, I had been warned that I would have to complete a lap of the grounds before reaching the finish. I made sure that I saved enough for a ‘sprint’ finish, checked that I wouldn’t be sharing my finish line photos with runners in fancy dress and crossed the line feeling amazing.

Finish 2[Photo: Mick Hall Photos]

Finish 1[Photo: Mick Hall Photos]

I stopped my Garmin and found out that I’d completed the 10 mile run in approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes. I was thrilled with both my time and with myself. For once I hadn’t even contemplated taking a sneaky walking break.

I grabbed a couple of bottles of water and a banana and took a couple of minutes to compose myself. I then walked the short distance to collect my race t-shirt, medal and goody bag, stuck my new t-shirt on over my sweaty kit, presented myself with my plastic medal and tried and failed to take a respectable selfie. It took me five minutes to pluck up the courage to ask a friendly policeman to take a photo for me.

Post race

I’m aware that this race report has turned into an essay so I’ll stop waffling now and will leave you with a selection of the Strava stats from the race.

After the Cathedral to Castle Run reminded me how much I love off-road running, I’ve already entered next year’s race. As an added bonus, the goody bag contained a flyer for a 10k race in Hopwas Woods I had no idea existed. I’ve added this event to my race calendar.

I just have to hope that my right knee recovers ASAP. It’s feeling a little niggly at the moment.

Race Ratings:

  • Cost: 9/10 – £25 (all profits went to charity and the entry fee included free downloads of official race photos)
  • Course: 9/10
  • Medal: 4/10
  • Race t-shirt: 10/10
  • Goody Bag: 2/10 (full of random flyers and not a lot else)

Would you rather have free downloads of race photos or a ‘proper’ metal medal? There has been a lot of debate complaints about the plastic medal we were given on Sunday. According to Facebook, some runners only run for  medals.

Do you have any slightly irrational phobias? As a hydrologist people find my phobia of canals really amusing.

2017 Review: The year of the DNS and lessons learned

As 2017 – the ‘Year of the DNS (Did Not Start)’ – is almost over, I’ve decided to review my running highlights, lowest points and lessons learned throughout the year. If you don’t enjoy reading review type posts then I’d recommend that you stop reading now.

January

After a relatively positive final six months of 2016, I started the year feeling so positive about my running, I decided to share my goals for 2017. Training for the Cambridge Half Marathon was going well and I felt so confident and niggle free,  I entered several local races. And then one morning I got out of bed and discovered that I could hardly walk. A couple of trips to a local physio and a lot of Dr Googling confirmed that I’d got the injury most runners dread; Plantar Fasciitis. Wearing heavy duty safety boots for three months had damaged my right foot.

February

February was a rubbish month. I failed to get a ballot place in the Royal Parks Half Marathon for the sixth year in a row and I ran the not so impressive total of two miles. This short run confirmed that although I’d spent hours working through various Plantar Fasciitis exercises and stretches, my right heel was not getting any better. I needed to rest and to be patient.

March

I’ve just checked my running log and discovered that I ran zero miles in March. I resigned from my running club and became an unaffiliated runner for the first time in more than 10 years.

DNSI’m not sure that I agree with this…

I failed to make the start line of two races; the Cambridge Half Marathon and the 7 Pools Run. My weight increased and my mental health started to deteriorate.

April

April was another month of zero running and looking back, I wonder how I coped. I broke down in the middle of a pub meal when I discovered that I hadn’t been short-listed for my dream job. I’m so embarrassed I still haven’t returned to that pub. I failed to complete my Swimathon challenge and felt terrible for letting the organisers of Swimathon and the BlogSquad down a second time. The City of Birmingham Run was yet another DNS. There was, however, one huge positive in April. My right heel finally started to feel a bit better and walking became a little easier.

May

At the beginning of May I reached the grand old age of 38 and my right heel felt so much better, I treated myself to a short birthday run. Those two miles felt bloody amazing. Although both the Market Drayton 10k and the Vitality London 10,000 were added to my DNS list.

May 2017Finally starting to enjoy running again.

I started to run 2-3 times a week without the pressure of my Garmin.  At the end of May I ran for an hour and finally started to feel like a runner again.

June

Although my right heel was occasionally still a little sore, I was given the green light to start running more consistently. At the end of June I updated my running goals and race plans for the second half of the year. I also started training for the Great Birmingham Run in October.

July

The start of July saw me DNS the Great Midlands Fun Run. I felt a bad because I could have completed the 8.5 mile course but just couldn’t be bothered. Once I’d stopped beating myself up about what I considered a running ‘fail’, I cracked on with my half marathon training. I think my biggest achievement in July was entering the hugely popular Market Drayton 10k while drunk. Although my friends thought I was mad, I was pleased that I persevered as the race sold out the following morning.

August

My half marathon training continued and I started to feel my fitness levels increase. I rediscovered my love of early morning running and having the pavements of Four Oaks all to myself. I felt so confident I entered the Lichfield 10k. August also saw me complete my only parkrun of 2017 in the slightly disappointing time of 32:49.

Walsall parkrun 2017Heading towards the finish of my only parkrun in 2017.

Although I try to avoid looking back on previous training cycles, I couldn’t believe I was almost 4 minutes slower over 5k than I was in 2016. Towards the end of August I discovered that I’d landed myself a job interview. Like last year, August was a great month, it’s a shame the positivity didn’t last.

September

At the start of September I completed the Lichfield 10k in 66:52, my slowest ever time for a 10k race. Although I paced myself well, I let the hills beat me and was reminded that I need to work on my mental resilience as a runner.

Lichfield 10kA rare sight in 2017, a post-race medal pose.

I struggled during some of my longer runs and started to doubt myself as a runner. I also started to experience severe headaches; one headache was so bad I ended up spending the night in A&E. September wasn’t all bad as I discovered that I’d finally got a new job.

October

One event – the Great Birmingham Run – should have dominated my thoughts during the first half of October. However, receiving the devastating news that my close friend and mentor Geoff had inoperable cancer quite rightly meant that running was the last thing on my mind. I felt so unprepared, I almost pulled out of the half marathon. I ended up completing the Great Birmingham Run in a slightly disappointing 2:43:32 and hung up my trainers for the rest of the month. At the end of October I entered the Cambridge Half Marathon and after talking to Geoff, set myself the challenge of raising a shed load of money for the Butterfly Thyroid Cancer Trust.

November

November has always been my least favourite month. I think the dark mornings and evenings really impact my mental health. After finally drawing a line under the Great Birmingham Run, I made the decision to run for fun and without any time or distance pressures and hid my Garmin. Although I really tried to adopt a positive attitude, I felt like my life was completely out of control and shared my feelings.  The support of the running and blogging communities was a little overwhelming but incredibly helpful. Thank you!

December

This month has been quite positive. I got to visit Geoff in London and hope to meet up with him before I start my job next month. I started my Cambridge Half Marathon training and *touch wood* my fragile feet are coping with the training plan my running coach friend compiled for me.

Cambridge Half trainingThe start of my Cambridge Half Marathon training.

I discovered that I’d won the fitness category of the Myprotein Blogger Awards 2017 and got through the festive periods without too many tears. Yesterday, I entered a couple of races; The Treehouse 10k and the Wallingford Thames 10k. I can’t wait to explore the Oxfordshire countryside. Finally and most importantly, I managed to raise over £400 for the Butterfly Thyroid Cancer Trust. Not bad for someone with hardly any friends.

I’ve already set myself some running goals for 2018 and can’t wait to challenge myself next year.

2017 runningHopefully 2018 will be far more consistent. 

As a runner, 2017 was an incredibly challenging year. I’m hoping that 2018 is a little more enjoyable and injury free!

What was the running highlight of 2017 for you? I think mine was not completely giving up during the first half of the year.

Do you have any running and fitness goals for 2018? I think my main goals are to remain relatively injury free and to enjoy my running more. Life is short.

Rants and raves #21

**Disclaimer: I’m writing this blog post after spending the majority of the day surrounded by students with coughs and colds. I predict that by the time this is published I’ll have a cold. As always all rants and raves and moans and groans represent my own views. Other far, far superior and less opinionated running blogs are available.

If you check out the relevant section of The Running Awards site you’ll find loads of awesome running blogs listed. Please take the time to vote and support your favourite running blogger**

Rave: Autumn

I’m incredibly fickle. Some days I hate autumn – usually when I nearly step in a cunningly concealed pile of dog mess or an acorn lands on my head – other days I love autumn.AutumnMaking the most of the autumn sunshine. It’s hard to believe it’s almost November.

After an amazing walk in the sunshine earlier today, I’ve decided that I currently love autumn. I just wish we didn’t have to mess with the clocks.

Rant: Christmas in October

While I love autumn, I’m not so keen on seeing Christmas food and decorations in the shops in late September/early October. I think that Christmas should be ‘banned’ until we’ve got Halloween and Bonfire Night out of the way.Christmas SeptemberI took this photo in my local M&S at the end of September.

I personally quite enjoy Christmas, however, I’m aware that a lot of people really struggle during the festive period. I’ve already witnessed people arguing about how much to spend on Christmas presents. I think my brother probably has the right idea. He is going to be spending Christmas abroad again.

Rave: Blogging

This is a slightly strange one so please bear with me. I guess most bloggers love blogging because of the freebies. Actually, I’m only joking and I’m sure that the majority of bloggers enjoy blogging for other reasons. While I’m aware my series of weekly half marathon training updates weren’t very interesting, writing them has had a slightly unexpected benefit; photographs and memories.

London memoriesSo many amazing memories.

Thanks to my weekly updates I took loads of photos during my most recent trips down to London. Without this blog I wouldn’t have taken so many photos. Without this blog I wouldn’t have so many reminders of spending quality time with someone who is now seriously ill. So take shit loads of photos and irritate your non-blogger friends and family and ignore the slightly strange looks in pubs and restaurants. I’m pleased that I did!

Rant: Insomnia

A rather random rant but I’ve included it here as it’s having a huge impact on my life and the moment. I’ve never been very good at dealing with uncertainty and not knowing how long my friend has got left and not knowing when I’m going to start my new job – the latest estimate is sometime in January, is beginning to stress me out.Insomnia

[Source]

I go to bed at a sensible time; wakeup at 3/4am and then lie awake for what feels like hours over-thinking everything. I’ve been functioning on limited sleep for almost a month now and it’s not ideal.

Rave: Running

I may be struggling to sleep but I’m really enjoying my running at the moment. My right heel and left foot *touch wood* have been behaving themselves since the Great Birmingham Run, and I’m enjoying not following a rigid(ish) training plan. Hopefully my love affair with running will continue during the festive period. Although I don’t believe in counting calories and working out how many miles I need to run to burn off a mince pie, it will be good to keep reasonably active during the festive period.

I’ve entered the Run up to Christmas challenge and have set myself the target of running 50km in December.

Rant: Great Run events

I’ve already had a bit of a moan about the not so secure baggage buses at the recent Great Birmingham Run so I won’t repeat myself. Unfortunately, I’ve got a few other issues with Great Run events so if you love Great Run events, I’d skip this particular rant.GBR Goody BagI think the small bag of Fruit Pastilles was the highlight of this goody bag.

Given the high cost of entering events such as the Great North Run and the Great South Run, I think that runners should be able to officially transfer their entry to another runner or get a refund. Yes there should be a deadline for this, but I’m sure that offering official transfers and refunds would vastly reduce the amount of ‘illegal’ number swapping that takes place.

Finally, I’m not a fan of having to search for my medal in the bottom of a goody bag. Please take note Great Run!

Rave: Getting my work published in an academic journal

As I’ve done rather a lot of ranting in this post I’ve decided to finish with a bonus rave. After a lot of stress and tears, one of the papers I started writing when I was a research student has now been published.Baxter paper

Just another three papers to finish.

Let’s just ignore the fact that my masterpiece was published online on Friday 13th. I’m also ignoring the fact that another paper I’ve written needs to be formatted before I can submit it.

I was going to rant about trains and delays but I think I’ve written enough waffle for one blog. I also need to crack on with some work.

Once again, if you’ve reached the end of my latest selection of rants and raves then thank you!

Have you made a start on your Christmas shopping? My friend Kate has just informed me she’s done all of her Christmas shopping.

Do you have any tips for dealing with insomnia? I’m getting to the stage I’ll try almost anything. 

Race Report: Great Birmingham Run

I’ll start this post with a bit of a disclaimer. This race report is likely to turn into a bit of an essay. I’ve now had a week to reflect on what happened so will hopefully avoid writing a load of negative waffle. Like last year, the race was reasonably well organised and very well supported – almost too well supported near the finish – I just had a bad day at the office.

Last Sunday I ran completed the Great Birmingham Run. Unfortunately, my race didn’t go to plan.

The night before the race was stress free. I made myself eat a huge portion of Spag Bol and ensured that I drank loads of water. I laid out my running gear and went to bed (alone) at a sensible time.

Running gear

The Great Birmingham Run didn’t start until 13:30 so I didn’t roll out of bed until 08:00. I ate a huge portion of Weetabix and a couple of bananas, drank several cups of tea and spent the next hour faffing around. I felt relaxed – almost too relaxed – and only started to feel my stress levels increase when I discovered that the race number magnets I’d bought were useless. After a couple of failed attempts, I used my ‘lucky’ safety pins and decided that I could live with a wonky race number. I had a shit, shower and (leg) shave, got dressed and packed my bag.

At 10:00 I ate another portion of Spag Bol, drank a large glass of orange nuun, went to the toilet again and was ready to go. I walked to the train station, boarded an extremely busy train, the 400 per cent increase in passenger numbers and lycra seemed to confuse the regular Sunday shoppers, and arrived in Birmingham with plenty of time to spare. I met up with Matt and his friend and after a quick ‘real toilet’ stop, we headed towards the race village.

To the start

Race Village[Source]

Apologies, this is already getting slightly lengthy. We watched a few marathon runners approach the finish, navigated our way through crowds of runners and their supporters to the baggage buses, dropped our gear and found and joined the queue for the portaloos. Fortunately, I timed my final portaloo visit to perfection this year and didn’t start the race needing a wee.

The start area wasn’t very well policed and was slightly chaotic. Like last year, the warm-up was a little farcical and the sun made an unwelcome appearance five minutes before the race started. Thanks to the late start time, I felt far too relaxed and not in what I call ‘race mode’. Judging by some of the conversations other runners were having, I wasn’t the only person feeling far too relaxed.

The race started and I spent the first 10 minutes telling myself I was about to run a half marathon while making a real effort to slow down. Last year I set out at an unsustainable pace and my race was over before it started. Guess what? This year, although my pace was far more sensible, I quickly realised there was no way I could sustain it for 13.1 miles. The first few miles of the Great race are not exactly what I would describe as scenic. Let’s just say, even in broad daylight, I’d avoid walking along some of the streets we ran along.

Although the route improved when we entered Cannon Hill Park, I was already struggling and decided to resort to running for four minutes and walking for a minute. I must have been sleep-running or slightly delirious as I failed to notice two different official race photographers. At least they didn’t capture me during one of my walking intervals!Cannon Hill ParkWe left Cannon Hill Park and completed a lap of Edgbaston Cricket Ground. As a cricket fan this sounded amazing, however, the reality was a little disappointing. We left Edgbaston and headed onto Pershore Road. The half marathon became more challenging here as the course was extremely crowded and we were running directly into the wind. By this stage I accepted that I was having a really bad day at the office, seriously considered dropping out, but decided to carry on. At least I’d get value for money…

At times I felt I was making very little progress. Last year the faster runners heading along Pershore Road in the opposite direction inspired me. This year, they just irritated me and I felt jealous that they’d completed the most of the 13.1 miles and were heading back towards the finish. Sorry faster runners.

The lowest point came when the route took me through an energy gel stop. For some reason, just thinking about consuming an energy gel made me feel incredibly nauseous. I’d just about recovered when the route took us away from Pershore Road and onto Mary Vale Road. The road was like a miniature Mount Everest and I found myself taking an extended walking break. The train waiting at the nearby station looked very enticing.

Mary Vale Road[Source]

Once I’d finished walking up Mary Vale Road I realised we were finally heading back towards the centre of Birmingham and the finish. Happy days. I increased my pace from ‘power walk’ to ‘slow shuffle’ and let gravity carry me past Cadbury Park (I don’t recall seeing Cadbury World) and back onto the main Pershore Road.

The next few miles were uneventful so I won’t go into too much detail. There was a slightly hazardous water station, another energy sapping hill, several collapsed runners receiving treatment at the side of the road – I heard a lot of sirens – and a lot of run walking. Definitely not an experience I want to repeat again.

The hills of Birmingham were alive with the sound of ambulance sirens.

Elevation

After what felt like a lifetime, I found myself back in the centre of Birmingham. The race organisers clearly don’t like runners much as the final mile was challenging. I power walked up the hill near Moor Street station (the official race photographer captured me at my best) and played dodge the spectators and Sunday afternoon shoppers. A couple of minutes later I spotted the ‘400m to go’ sign and made myself run.

There was no way I was walking in the final 400m.

Finish line

I spotted the finish line, increased my pace and attempted what felt like a sprint finish but was probably more of a hobble. I must have looked a little unwell as I was led towards the medical tent by a marshal. It was carnage inside the medical tent and some of the runners I saw looked seriously unwell. Let’s just say I was pleased I was allowed to leave after only 30 minutes. I rejoined the finish area, collected a goody bag, checked the bag contained the correct medal and navigated my way through crowds of supporters back to the baggage buses. Like last year, security was non-existent and I was pleased to see my bag.

The journey home by train was a nightmare as London Midland hadn’t put on any extra trains to cope with the increased number of passengers. The train was ridiculously busy, boiling hot and less than 10 minutes into the journey a runner collapsed. In the end the train was delayed for almost an hour while we waited for an ambulance. I got home 95 minutes after leaving Birmingham, removed my trainers and assessed my feet, collapsed on top of my bed and fell asleep wearing my stinky running kit. I didn’t even have the energy to investigate the contents of my goody bag.

Medal and tshirt

I’ve now had over a week to reflect on what happened and have stopped sulking about my performance. While I definitely wouldn’t enter the Great Birmingham Run again, I’ve already entered the Cambridge Half in March.

Have you ever had a really disappointing race? Reading feedback on farcebook made me realise I wasn’t the only runner to have a bad day at the office last Sunday.

How do you cope with fuelling for races that start in the afternoon? I have a feeling that the late start caught out a lot of runners.