2016 review: running highlights & lessons learned

As 2016 is nearly over, I’ve decided to write a review of my running highlights and lessons learned throughout the year. If you don’t enjoy reading review posts then please leave my blog now, I promise that I won’t be offended. I’m nosey and really, really enjoy reading about other runner’s progress, so please do get writing and sharing.

January

Following a slightly disappointing 2015 – stupid injuries – at the start of January I was working my way through the Couch to 5k training plan. I was also nursing a slightly niggly right knee. Rather unexpectedly I equalled my parkrun PB of 27:33 at my local parkrun – Walsall Arboretum – towards the end of the month. I still have no idea where that sub-30 minute time came from. However, the main running highlight of January was winning a place in the London Marathon. While I knew that whatever happened in April I would complete the marathon distance, I quickly discovered that I lacked both the mileage base and fitness required to run long distances. I decided to adopt a run-walk-run training strategy.

February

February was a mixed month. Although I successfully completed the Couch to 5k training plan and achieved a parkrun PB of 26:49, a foot niggle meant that my marathon training was extremely limited.

walsall-parkrun-pbHeading towards a parkrun PB

Once again I was reminded that my left foot and right knee could not cope with running longer distances. I started to feel concerned that any attempt to complete the London Marathon would cause another long-term injury. While I was unable to run, I did my best to maintain my fitness levels by swimming five days a week in preparation for Swimathon.

March 

The swimming, break from running and expensive physio sessions seemed to temporarily cure my knee niggle, and I was able to successfully complete 10 and 11 mile training runs at the beginning of the month. Although I missed the Mash March Madness 10k trail run in Cannock Chase due to a lack of transport, a week later I completed the 7 Pools Run, a challenging cross country run in Sutton Park, without taking a walking break. Unfortunately, I ended March with elbow and knee injuries. Evidently running a challenging 10k cross country event wasn’t very sensible. At the grand old age of 36, I was finally starting to fall to pieces. I accepted that the London Marathon would be a painful and not very positive race experience.

April 

The main focus of April was the London Marathon. My niggly left foot and right knee meant that my training in the lead up to the marathon was virtually nonexistent. Not ideal. Some mornings my niggles disappeared, other mornings I woke up and was barely able to walk. I started to suspect that the ‘niggles’ were all in my mind. Despite my negativity and lack of training, I somehow managed to complete the marathon distance.

london-marathon-selfieOne of my more successful running selfie attempts

I made the fatal error of thinking I could keep up with the Runner’s World ‘run-walk-run’ pacer. I managed to power walk and run to the half-way point. Shortly after running across Tower Bridge – the atmosphere was bloody amazing – I was clipped from behind and jarred my injury-prone right knee. The second half of the marathon was miserable, cold and painful, and as I hobbled towards the finish line in the less than impressive time of 5 hours 59 minutes and 45 seconds, I accepted that my marathon running days were over. I shared my honest review of the London Marathon on social media and the subsequent surge in traffic temporarily broke my blog.

May 

A week after the London Marathon I felt ready to run again. I guess that walking the majority of the 26.2 miles had some advantages… Not following a training plan for the first time in 2016 was great, and in an attempt to rediscover my running mojo I decided to focus on running shorter distances.

hill-west-runPosing with the smallest medal in the world after completing the Hill West 10k

The highlights of May were running consistently and completing the Hill West 10k in the not too shabby time of 62:18. I met Matt for the first time; it was great to put a face to the twitter name! Looking back, if I ignore the fact I celebrated (?) my 37th birthday, May was a great month.

June

June was a month of running ups and downs. At the start of the month I had a really enjoyable 8.5 mile run around Sutton Coldfield, and completed the Great Midlands Fun Run in a respectable (for me) time. When the official results were published I discovered that I’d somehow knocked 30 minutes off my 2015 time! Unfortunately, due to a slightly forgetful friend I didn’t make it to the start line of the Aldridge 10k and wasted more money on race entry fees. The following Saturday evening I enjoyed a few too many beers, and the next morning had to drop out of the Race for Life at the end of the first lap. Recording my first ever ‘DNF’ made me briefly question my commitment to running.

July

July saw the start of my Great Birmingham Run training and my progression towards feeling more like a ‘real’ runner; the walking breaks were finally eliminated from my training runs! I decided to write weekly Great Birmingham Run training updates – apologies if I bored you to tears – in an attempt to make myself more accountable. Although I didn’t complete any organised races during July, I successfully negotiated the first few weeks of my half marathon training and managed to remain injury free.

August 

My half marathon training continued and I somehow managed to run continuously for over an hour. Both my fitness and my confidence levels were increasing, the half marathon training plan was working. I discovered my love of early morning, and will never forget watching the sunrise during some of my long Sunday morning runs.

parkrun-20-08-2016I’d probably run faster if I actually opened my eyes…

Although I didn’t enter any official races, I finally made it back to Walsall Arboretum parkrun and completed the 5k distance in 28:05. Although I enjoyed running with others, I had got used to my early morning runs and running at my own pace. All in all, August was great!

September 

At the start of the month I completed the more challenging than I had remembered Lichfield 10k. Although I finally managed to bag myself a sub-60 minute 10k, I ran like a plonker and was reminded of the importance of running my own race at my own pace.

lichfield-10kBefore the wheels fell off at the Lichfield 10k

My half marathon training progressed well and I found running for almost two hours both enjoyable and relatively easy. I set out a series of gold, silver and bronze half marathon time goals, and after running 130 kilometres during September, looked forward to the start of my half marathon taper.

October 

One event – the Great Birmingham Run – dominated my thoughts and training during the first half of October. I successfully completed a two hour training run and then caught Freshers’ Flu. Fortunately, my dose of the lurgy coincided with the beginning of my half marathon taper, and I felt more or less fully recovered as I stood shivering in the rain waiting for the Great Birmingham Run to start. The race itself didn’t exactly go to plan… I set out far too fast, ran out of steam at 8 miles, walked more than I ran, was unable to run down any of the numerous hills and hobbled across the finish line in tears.

great-birmingham-runRun a half marathon they said, it will be fun they said…

The highlight of the day was bumping into Matt in the chaos at the finish and getting a lift home. Matt’s kindness meant that I avoided travelling home on an overcrowded train. Thanks again Matt. I got home, had a shower, ate three packets of crisps, drank far too much Diet Coke, sulked and wrote a detailed race review. I sulked some more, reflected on what went wrong, hid my trainers and made myself take a break from running. A couple of weeks later I entered the Cambridge Half Marathon. Cambridge has to be less undulating and more knee friendly than Birmingham.

November

Although November has always been my least favourite month – I’m not a fan of the dark afternoons and evenings – I was determined to adopt a positive attitude. After finally drawing a line under the Great Birmingham Run, I was looking forward to getting back into some sort of routine and starting my Cambridge Half training. I completed a short run at the start of the month and felt like I could have carried on running for hours. Unfortunately, later on that day I started to feel unwell and the toilet became my best friend. Thanks to norovirus I was unable to run for a couple of weeks due to a complete lack of energy, the Birmingham MoRun was yet another ‘DNS’. At least I started my Cambridge Half marathon training feeling very well rested and niggle-free!

December

I’ve just worked out that I’ve run the not so impressive total of 5 kilometres so far during December. The combination of a niggly right knee, the lurgy and working 40+ hours a week in retail has resulted in me completely losing my running mojo. I’ve treated myself to colourful running gear I don’t really need, entered a couple of 10k races, looked at my medals from this year and charged my Garmin. For some reason I just don’t want to run at the moment. I’m starting to think that I should listen to my body and hide my trainers for the remainder of the year.

Perhaps it’s time for me to think about my running goals for 2017? One should be to reduce the amount of times I wear purple running gear.

monthly-distancePerhaps I should just ignore November and December!?

After all, if I ignore the last couple of months, 2016 has been my most consistent year of running in almost a decade. According to Strava I’ve run exactly 700 kilometres during the year, I’ve decided I quite like the number 700.

Do you have any running or health and fitness goals for 2017? At the moment my running goals are to run more consistently, to manage my knee and foot niggles and to hopefully run 1000 miles. As for health and fitness goals, I’m planning on cutting down on the amount of Diet Coke I consume.

Finally, a slightly random question… do you have a favourite colour? Purple isn’t actually my favourite colour!

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.

event-day

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.

broad-street-1

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

broad-street-finish

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: Lichfield 10k

On the morning of Sunday September 11th I found myself obsessively checking National Rail Enquiries. Was the 09:35 train to Lichfield running and was it on time? The 09:35 represented my only chance of making it to the start of the Lichfield 10k. Fortunately, the train was more or less on time for once and I made it to Lichfield with plenty of time to spare.lichfield-collage

When I arrived at the HQ of the race – King Edward VI leisure centre – I took a couple of rubbish selfies and left my bag with some of the friendliest race volunteers ever. I then did what all sensible runners do and joined the queue for the portaloos. Although I didn’t really need to go to the toilet at that stage, the queue was short and I didn’t want to risk a repeat of what happened during the Great Midlands Fun Run. I then bumped into Matt who I hadn’t spoken to since the 7 Pools Run, and we spent several minutes discussing our goals for the race.

As we were both aiming for a similar time – anything under 60 minutes would do – we decided to position ourselves half way between the 55 minute and the 60 minute pacers.sub-55-pacerPhotograph: Lichfield Running Club

If you squint really hard you can just about see me. I’m the plonker in the purple top and black cap standing behind the 55 minute pacer. I’d clearly started slightly too far forward.

The gun went off and we headed out of the school grounds onto the A51. The road had been temporarily closed for the race, nothing beats running past dozens of seriously grumpy looking motorists. Although the first few kilometres felt relatively easy, I was aware that I was running at a slightly ambitious pace. Once we escaped the A51 and reached the more scenic section of the course, I finally started to enjoy myself.

Rather unusually for me, I even managed to grimace smile for the official race photographer who was positioned next to the 4km marker.

I’m pretty sure I’d be a better runner if I actually opened my eyes…

lf-4506Photograph: Mick Hall Photos

This is my pretending it’s easy race face. Less than five minutes later I was walking.

lf-4513Photograph: Mick Hall Photos

Although the next section of the course contained the first of several sneaky hills, I managed to complete the first 5 kilometres in a speedy (for me) time of 27:51. I ran through the water station and then spent the next couple of minutes worrying because it had suddenly started to feel quite warm. I started to struggle mentally, slowed to a walk up the most challenging hill on the course, and hit a low point when I found myself looking down at the A38. My race had suddenly fallen apart.

The A38 near Lichfield – not the most scenic part of the course and the location of my mid-race meltdown.

a38-bridgePhotograph: Google Maps

The final four kilometres were not very enjoyable and I paid the price for setting out at a ridiculous pace. I walked a couple of times and distracted myself by trying to work out if I could still finish in under an hour. I made the most of the downhill sections – sorry knee – and told myself that if I didn’t finish in under an hour I would have to throw away my trainers.

Although I reached the start of the final kilometre in approximately 53 minutes and theoretically had plenty of time to reach the finish, I encountered a problem. Pavement congestion and a lack of overtaking opportunities. The main road had been reopened and as a result we were banished to the (very narrow) pavement. Running in the main road wasn’t an option and I found myself caught up in a couple of bottlenecks. After what felt like hours we turned towards the finish line which had rather unkindly been positioned at the top of a slightly muddy incline.

It’s always good to end a race with an enjoyable hill!

lichfield-elevation

The official clock read 0:59:5x when I ‘sprinted’ across the finish line. I’d just about finished in under an hour.lichfield-10k

I was handed a bottle of water and a medal and spent a couple minutes chilling out and analysing my disastrous attempt at pacing a 10k. I rescued my bag from the friendly volunteers and collected my race t-shirt. When I entered the race I’d selected ‘large’ was I wasn’t sure if there would be male/female sized t-shirts. The t-shirts were unisex and I was the proud owner of a fluorescent yellow running tent. Incidentally, I’ve already worn the t-shirt on a couple of early morning runs. I do love useful race souvenirs.

I’m not sure why the t-shirt looks green in this photo, it’s definitely yellow!

img_2703

Once I collected my t-shirt I decided it was time to escape the rather airless leisure centre and headed back out into the sunshine. I bumped into Craig and asked him to take a photo of me posing with the latest addition to my medal collection. Thanks Craig!

img_2692

I then thanked the race director and headed across to the Brooks Run Signature Tour trailer. Unfortunately, even though I had an appointment, this was as close as I got! brooks-collage

It looked pretty cool from the distance and I loved the red sports bra I was standing next to when I took my grumpy selfie.

The official race photos were published online two days after the race, and thanks to the event organiser, digital downloads were free. More races definitely could and should do the same!

I’m always happy to support really well organised events and injury permitting I’ll be looking to add to my collection of Lichfield 10k t-shirts in 2017.

Race Ratings:

  • Cost: 8/10 (£17 as an affiliated runner)
  • Course: 6/10
  • Medal: 9/10
  • Goody Bag: n/a (9/10 for the technical race t-shirt)

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…

GMFR

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?

A mixed weekend…

On Saturday I should have completed my personal Swimathon challenge. Unfortunately, due to an elbow injury I had to postpone my 1500m swim. After putting in a lot of training I was feeling devastated. I felt that I’d let the Swimathon #BlogSquad down. I then realised that thanks to SimplySwim I’d be able to complete the 1500m in April. Watch this space!

Yesterday I completed the annual 7 Pools 10k cross-country race around Sutton Park in the not so awesome time of 64:44. Although my time was far from impressive, the 7 Pools Run is one of my favourite local events.

7 Pools 2Photograph: 7 Pools Run 

The 7 Pools Run cost me £12 to enter (£15 on the day), was extremely well organised with friendly race marshals and volunteers. The route around the seven pools located within the boundaries of Sutton Park (Wyndley, Powell’s, Longmoor, Little Bracebridge, Bracebridge, Blackroot and Keeper’s Pool) was undulating, muddy in places and challenging. Perfect!

7 Pools Keepers PoolPhotograph: Ron Reynolds

There were no fancy personalised race numbers, no timing chips and no goody bags. Cotton t-shirts (available in a range of sizes) and cups of orange squash replaced medals and bottles of water at the end of the event.

7 Pools 4Photograph: a lovely runnerfrom Kings Heath Running Club.

Personally, I love these smaller local events and try to support them.

Results (I finished 241/307) and (free to download) race photographs were available on the evening of the event. Some of the larger and more commercialised events could learn a lot from these smaller events.

7 Pools 3Photograph: 7 Pools Run 

The only negative aspects were the lack of distance markers (I’m pretty unobservant but I doubt that even I could have missed them all) and the lack of a drinks station on the course.

Next year when my legs won’t be stuck in marathon training “plod mode” I’ll make sure that I put in slightly more effort. I’ve never finished a challenging 10k race feeling so fresh and so full of running. I’ll also make sure that I remember to bring some money.

Not being able to buy a post-run ice-cream was pretty devastating!

Race Ratings:

  • Cost: 10/10
  • Course: 10/10
  • Medal: N/A (t-shirt 8/10)
  • Goody Bag: N/A