How I’m rediscovering my running mojo

I’ve lost my running mojo.

It disappeared immediately after the Royal Parks Half Marathon, and I’m struggling to find it again. After a decent performance in the Royal Parks combined with some epic fundraising, I’ve struggled to run on a regular basis. Some weeks, my trainers have remained unworn and my Garmin battery has gone flat.A well placed benchMy right knee and left foot have been a little niggly. I’ve no idea what I’ve done to my right knee, it started to hurt one morning when I was walking to work, it’s all a bit of a mystery. I suspect the ‘niggle’ in my left foot is related to the stress fracture, it only hurts when it’s cold.

I’m not using this as an excuse, but I’ve also been feeling both mentally and physically exhausted a lot of the time. I think the lack of sleep combined with what has happened this year have finally caught up with me.

I’ve rather foolishly entered two half marathons in London in March, so I need to get my running mojo back ASAP.

Here’s my advice for rediscovering your running mojo. As usual, I’m struggling to follow my own advice.

Enter races – Although I enjoy running on my own, this year I’ve rediscovered my love of taking part in organised races.London Landmarks HalfNothing beats running somewhere new with likeminded people. The medal at the end is just an added bonus. I’ve got everything crossed I make it to the start line of my next 10k race on Sunday. If I don’t, I’ve got the Wheaton Aston 10k to look forward to next month. My sister-in-law has also entered, so I’ve got even more of an incentive to take part.

Set some goals – I’ve always struggled to keep myself motivated without goals. At school I’d set myself attainment goals, slightly geeky but it worked for me. I like to set myself running and fitness goals and share them on here to make myself slightly more accountable. While I’ve accepted I won’t be grabbing myself are more PBs this year, injury permitting, I’d like to run 50 miles in December.

Start again – If you haven’t fun for some time, it may well be worth going back to basics, and starting again. I’ve completed the Couch to 5k twice after recovering from running injuries. More recently, I returned to running with a slow parkrun. It was perfect, just what this doctor ordered.

Run with others – This summer, I discovered that running with others not only takes some of the pressure off, it also means that the miles fly (sort of) by. My Sunday morning runs in Sutton Park with Ellen were definitely my running highlight of 2018. We ran at a sensible pace, and stopped to take selfies and to eat ice cream. Perfect! I really hope your injury clears up quickly Ellen.Sutton Park ice creamI also enjoyed a few runs after work with my line manager. I’m gutted that these runs probably won’t happen again. A couple of weeks ago, I arranged to meet someone whose blog I’d enjoyed reading for years at Sutton Park parkrun. I hope that your hand is feeling a lot better Rachel, and you are back running again really soon. I’m sorry your first experience of Sutton Park parkrun didn’t go to plan.

Try something new – I suspect my running mojo disappeared because my training runs got too predictable. I estimate that in the lead up to the Royal Parks Half Marathon, 95% of my training runs were completed in the dark, on the pavements of Four Oaks and Wallingford. My running routine got too predictable and almost boring. Don’t make the same mistake; hit the trails, try a track session or embrace the mud. Mix it up.

Be a parkrun tourist – I finally popped my parkrun tourism cherry this summer when I travelled to Didcot parkrun.Didcot pakrun group 2

[Photo: Lewis Cousins]

Although the course was a little uninspiring, I met loads of other parkrun tourists and enjoyed running somewhere completely different. Not knowing the route was quite exciting. When I get a car, I’m determined to explore more of my local parkruns. Finally, check out Anna’s running blog. Anna has recently completed the parkrun alphabet challenge, such an amazing achievement!

Volunteer – If you don’t feel like running consider volunteering. I can pretty much guarantee that marshalling at your local parkrun will help you rediscover your running mojo. I’m looking forward to a spot of volunteering this weekend.

Listen to podcasts – I started to find my long Sunday morning training runs quite monotonous. Quite a few runners suggested downloading and listening to podcasts, so here are a few of my favourites.Running PodcastsI must admit I was a little sceptical, but listening to a podcast really did seem to make the time go faster during my final long run. I’ve now started to listen to podcasts while I’m blogging and also when I vacuum.

I Run On – I can pretty much guarantee that watching this short film will help you rediscover your running mojo.I Run On

Otherwise try watching a running-themed film, there are plenty to choose from, my favourite is Without Limits.

New kit – treat yourself. I’m going to sound really fickle, but new kit is pretty much guaranteed to get me running again. Buy that running top you’ve been secretly admiring for months, if it works for me, it may well work for you too.

Don’t stress – Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t feel like running. At the end of the day, running is meant to be fun. Stick your trainers and running gear on and head outside for a walk. You never know, you might find yourself running again.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading my hints and tips. What are your tips for rediscovering your running mojo when it goes AWOL? Have I missed any?

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Race Report: Royal Parks Half Marathon

Good morning. I hope you are all having a great week. Apologies in advance, I have a feeling this race report will be rather lengthy.

RPHM Logo

Before I start my review, I need to provide a bit of context. The Royal Parks Half Marathon was on my races bucket list for a long, long time. At the beginning of February, after six consecutive ‘failures’ in the ballot, I was thrilled when I discovered I’d finally been successful in the ballot. It meant that I could raise money for The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity without any pressure.

I paid my £60.95 entry fee, let Rachel from The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity know I’d got a place in the ballot, drafted out a training plan and then put the race to the back of my mind. The original plan was for my PhD supervisor and good friend Geoff to travel to London for the weekend of the race. Unfortunately, Geoff passed away peacefully at The Royal Marsden in London in August so never got to see me run.

I started training for the Royal Parks Half approximately three months ago, and documented my training on here. I also started fundraising, and as I’m writing this race report, have raised £756.62. Training for the Royal Parks Half went reasonably well. I had a couple of injury scares but nothing too serious. I had a bit of a sniffle the week before the race, and also missed a couple of longer training runs.

I travelled down to London the day before the race, treated myself to pie and mash in The Barley Mow pub in Marylebone, and then checked into my hotel in Southwark. On Saturday evening, I headed to Casa Becci for one last time and quite possibly overdid the carbo-loading. I returned to Southwark, laid out my kit and went to bed feeling very well fuelled.Kit flat layI was woken by the rain at 06:00. I looked out the window and discovered it was absolutely chucking it down. As a hydrologist working in an area in prolonged dry weather, the rain made me smile. After spending months moaning about the lack of rain, I couldn’t really complain! I had a shower, a couple of productive loo visits, got changed into my running gear, and then as my stomach felt a bit iffy, took a couple of Imodium tablets.

By the time I walked to Southwark tube station it had stopped raining and actually felt quite humid. I successfully navigated myself from Southwark to Hyde Park Corner tube station – I followed dozens of other runners – and walked the short distance across Hyde Park to the race village. As I didn’t have to use the secure bag storage, I got straight into the queue for the portaloos. Final loo stop completed, I started to explore the race village. I spotted a VIP tent and a media tent; I guess official bloggers got to use the one of these tents. After spending 10 minutes saying no to all the free food and drink that was offered me – I wasn’t brave enough to try the healthy(?) energy drink – I tracked down a copy of the race route.Route MapI was a little disappointed as the route sent runners down The Strand rather than making the most of Victoria Embankment. I guess I should have checked out the route before the morning of the race.

And then it started to rain again and I found myself sheltering with a load of other runners under a tree. The tree didn’t make the best shelter; I should have used a bit of common sense and sheltered inside the charity marquee. If I find myself in a pre-race monsoon again, I know what to do! By the time I squeezed inside the Royal Marsden area of the charity marquee I was soaking wet and quite cold. Luckily, the rain stopped just because we were asked to make our way to the start area.

I’ve no idea why, but I’d been allocated a green number which meant I was in the second wave of runners to start. I entered the green start pen and immediately walked to the back of the pen. I didn’t want to be caught up in a mad rush at the start! The green pen was quite empty to start with. There was more than enough room for more serious sensible runners to work through their pre-race routines.Waiting to startFrom what I could see, a lot of runners were stuck in portaloo and bag storage queues. I took this selfie – how nervous do I look? – and spent a bit of time talking to a lady who was injured and was planning on run-walking the half. The loo and bag queues cleared and more runners joined the back of the green pen. This meant that one minute we were at the back of the green pen, the next we were up near the front.Pre race selfieThe race started at 09:00, and after a short delay – the different waves started at different times – I found myself running towards Green Park. I quickly noticed that the course was incredibly crowded, and my trainers were useless at gripping on the wet surfaces. Basic race etiquette was unfortunately also a little lacking at times, I lost count of the number of times I was clipped by other runners.Start of RPHMThis set the scene for the first few miles. Most runners were making the most of the stunning surroundings; I was too busy trying to avoid slipping over and getting in the way of other runners. Despite this, I felt great and found myself running at a far too ambitious pace. A familiar mistake which would come back to haunt me later on. The route took us along Birdcage Walk, past Horse Guards, underneath Admiralty Arch and then along an out and back section along Whitehall. The rain had stopped, the humidity had unfortunately increased, but the support was amazing.

The route then sent us on an out and back along what felt like the most slippery road in England, the Strand, back underneath Admiralty Arch, along The Mall in the ‘wrong’ direction, back through the middle of Green Park and then just before the 10k mark, into Hyde Park.

After years of trying and failing to get a place in the Royal Parks Half through the ballot, I really wanted to have a positive race experience. I’m a little ashamed to admit I found the final half of the route in Hyde Park a little frustrating. The support was amazing and in certain sections a little overwhelming, and the water stations well organised and stocked. The mile markers were easy to spot and had some rather unusual motivational quotes including ‘no swanning around’ and ‘tree-ly well done’.

I found myself struggling after my far too ambitious first half and had to slow my pace. As I’m useless at drinking and running, I allowed myself to walk and drink after every drinks station. Just before the 10 mile marker, I was involved in a bit of an unfortunate incident. I was running along minding my own business when suddenly a couple of pedestrians decided to walk directly in front of me. I didn’t have time to react and to stop running, so had to push my way past the pedestrians while apologising. Sorry but you shouldn’t really just walk in front of a load of runners!

I think my personal highlight of the final section of the course was the Lululemon cheer station. Thanks guys, now if you could restock my favourite running shorts

The route took us past the Royal Albert Hall and back towards the finish. I overtook a lady being pushed in a wheelchair, spotted some photographers, smiled grimaced, and ‘sprinted’ across the finish line.Finish 1Finish 2Finish 3I remembered to stop my watch and collected a medal, a couple of cartons of water, a banana and an empty canvas bag. Five minutes after I finished it started to rain again. I pretty much instantly went from feeling a little too warm to feeling cold.MedalLeaving the finish area was tricky as the route back to the race village was incredibly congested. There were loads of supporters with massive umbrellas looking out for their runners. I felt a little sad when I saw runners and their family and friends being reunited. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to travel to races on my own. Enough self-pitying, as I knew I had to get back to my hotel and out of my wet clothes ASAP, I navigated my way out of this area as quickly as I could.

Once I’d made my way back to the race village, I spotted a huge queue of runners. I asked another runner what the queues were for, and discovered that they were for the post-race goodies. I joined the back of one of the queues and less than ten minutes later found myself in a conveyor belt of runners – it was really efficient – being handed a mixture of healthy snacks, drinks and rather randomly, a bottle of tomato ketchup!Goody bagAs, by this stage I was feeling very cold, wet and hungry, I left the race village and power-walked to Hyde Park Corner tube station. Less than 30 minutes after leaving Hyde Park, I was back in my hotel room having the most amazing hot shower. The £10 late checkout fee was definitely worth every penny.

I shared a photo of my medal and pre-race selfies on my Facebook page and thanked all my sponsors. I made my way back to Paddington station, treated myself to a McDonald’s, and then headed back to Wallingford and reality.

I spent Sunday evening feeling incredibly frustrated with myself. Once again, my pacing was all over the place and I let myself down. Although I got a 5 minute PB, I feel that I definitely could have done better. After vowing to never run in London again, I remembered I’d already paid to enter two half marathons; the London Landmarks Marathon and the the Vitality Big Half. Both events are in March.

Finally, if you’ve taken the time to read and to comment on my training updates; ‘thank-you’. My family don’t really understand why I run so your support has been invaluable. If you sponsored me ‘thank-you’. As soon as people spotted my Royal Marsden vest, the support I received on during the run was incredible, quite a few other runners came up to me with their own personal stories.

Would I enter the Royal Parks Half Marathon again? Yes! It’s expensive, yes it’s crowded, but the support along the route was incredible.

Race ratings:

  • Cost: 2/10 – (£57 + £3.95 postage and packaging)
  • Course: 7/10
  • Medal: 9/10
  • Race t-shirt: 8/10
  • Goody bag: 8/10

Royal Parks Half Marathon training week 7

I need to start this training update with another public service announcement. I’ve had a couple more mystery sponsors. I’ve genuinely got no idea who you are. If you happen to read this then “thank-you” I really appreciate your support.

Good morning. I hope that everyone had an awesome weekend. I’m not in the office today as I’m preparing a presentation for a conference later this week. I think the highlight of my weekend was having a lie-in on Saturday and completing the Lichfield 10k yesterday.Collage 23The seventh week of my half marathon training plan originally suggested that I completed an easy 20-25 minute run on Monday, a steady 40 minute run on Tuesday, a 50-60 minute steady run on Thursday and a longer 100 minute run at a comfortable pace on Sunday. I entered the Lichfield 10k before I even started my half marathon training, so decided to test my speed over the 10k distance. I’ve still got another three longer runs in my training plan, so I’m not too concerned about missing one.

So how did I cope during the seventh week of my half marathon training? Did I manage to avoid picking up an injury? Did my foot behave itself?

Monday – Rest

Week seven of my half marathon didn’t exactly get off to the best start. I was meant to complete a 20-25 minute steady run, but my legs felt so niggly first thing in the morning following the Little Aston 5, I decided to treat myself to an additional rest day. Although the majority of my Monday was so mundane I won’t bore you all with the details, I was thrilled to discover that someone I’ve known since birth had sponsored me.

Tuesday – 40 mins steady

Unfortunately, thanks to some issues with some random runtime errors, work was a little stressful. Fortunately, my colleagues are incredibly supportive and I eventually managed to complete what should have been a reasonably straightforward task. I think it’s safe to say that the highlight of my day was leaving the office at 17:00.

I got back to my shared house, headed up to my room, lay down and spent ages thinking about recent events. I must have nodded off as one minute it was light, the next it was dark. I very briefly considered not running, but decided that the exercise and fresh air would do me good. I got changed and tried and failed to find my Garmin. In the end I headed out without my Garmin and completed three laps around Wallingford. Each lap usually takes me 15 minutes so I definitely ran for 40 minutes. It’s a shame my run wasn’t exactly steady. After having to wait until 23:00 to have a shower, I headed to bed feeling shattered.

Wednesday – Rest

Once again, one of my housemates woke me far too early and I struggled to get back to sleep. When my alarm woke me at 07:00 I felt incredibly tired. I stopped off at the River Thames on the way into the office, and spent what felt like ages sitting on a bench, watching the river flow past me. I was incredibly reluctant to leave my peaceful spot next to the river.Collage 24I’m a little ashamed to admit that after a terrible start to the morning where I felt totally useless at my job, I broke down in tears at my desk. My line manager told me to head outside for a walk and joined me. I’ve already said far, far too much, but sometimes it’s just good to talk. I’m going to really miss my line manager when my temporary contract ends in March.

Thursday – 60 mins steady

I had a meeting in Reading so although I had an early start, I enjoyed the change of scenery. I’m not sure how I managed to board the ‘slow’ bus, but the journey to Reading took ages. Henley-in-Thames looked seriously posh; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people walking Labradors. I managed to catch the slightly faster bus back to Wallingford, walked back to my shared house and got changed into some running gear.

My Garmin was unfortunately still on the missing list, so I decided to time myself running for 60 minutes using my watch. I figured I could work out how far I’d run using GIS or GB Mapometer. I found running for an hour quite hard, and I finished the run feeling completely unprepared for the half marathon in October. At least my niggles behaved themselves.

Friday – Rest

After what had been an average week, Friday was a lot better. Following a productive morning, I met up with the rest of my team at a local pub for lunch. My BLT tasted amazing but was so crispy; I genuinely feared my fragile teeth would fall out. I escaped the office and an hour later found next to a lady who was heading up to Newcastle to run the Great North Run. Emily, I hope you had an awesome run.

Following a horrendous train journey between Birmingham and Four Oaks – the British Transport Police were called – I arrived back home a little later than usual. I was emailing a friend when I realised my vision wasn’t quite right; I’d got the start of a migraine. I headed straight to bed and prayed that I’d wake up feeling better.

Saturday – Rest

Unfortunately, I woke feeling as rough as a badger’s bum; luckily I hadn’t offered to help out at parkrun and was able to have a lie-in. I had originally planned to spend most of the day working on a couple of job applications and my conference presentation. I felt dizzy and my head unfortunately felt so fuzzy, I wasn’t able to do anything productive. Even collecting a couple of presents for my nephew and having my hair cut left me feeling exhausted. I went to bed feeling doubtful I’d be able to complete the Lichfield 10k.

Sunday – Lichfield 10k

I should have completed a comfortable 100 minute run but decided to run the Lichfield 10k. Fortunately, I woke up feeling much better and definitely well enough to run six and a bit miles. I travelled the short distance to Lichfield and navigated my way to an incredibly chaotic race HQ. Although I completely failed to track down Ellen, my sister-in-law Julie spotted me near the start. As Julie wanted a sub 60 minute time we positioned ourselves between the 55 minute and 60 minute pacers. A couple of minutes later Ness tracked me down and joined us. Well done on an awesome time, I hope your foot wasn’t too painful Ness.

Lichfield 10k 2018

As I’ve reviewed the Lichfield 10k a couple of times before, I’ve decided not to write a lengthy race review. You all know my racing routine now… I set out at a far too speedy pace, walked up the hill that crosses the A38, ran again, walked a couple more times and then finished feeling a little disappointed in 61:17. Actually, given how unwell I felt the day before, I was quite pleased I’d managed to knock more than five minutes off my 2017 Lichfield 10k time. I was ever more thrilled when I discovered that Julie had got her sub 60 minute time.

So that’s my own interpretation of week seven of my half marathon training more or less completed. I’m starting to feel a little concerned about my lack of preparation. Hopefully I’ll feel more positive once I’ve got some longer runs under my belt.

Week eight of my training plan looks achievable. The schedule recommends I complete an easy 30 minute run today, a 45 minute steady run on Wednesday, parkrun on Saturday and a longer 110 minute run on Sunday. After missing a couple of longer runs, I’m determined to enjoy every minute of my 110 minute run on Sunday.

Training totals

  • Runs: 22
  • Time: 15 hours 59 mins
  • Distance: 94.51 miles

Fundraising total

  • £477 (£57 increase from last week)

Niggleometer

  • Right knee: 3/10
  • Left foot: 2/10
  • Left groin: 2/10

Do you prefer to enter the same races or do you prefer to try out new races each year? After completing the Lichfield 10k in 2016, 2017 and 2018 I think it’s time I explored alternative 10k events. Although I like to check out my progress year-on-year, I find knowing courses too well quite challenging.

Do any of your relatives run? Although I only managed to keep up with Julie for a couple of miles, I enjoyed running with her.

Race Report: Little Aston 5

Good morning and I hope that you are all having an amazing Wednesday. I’m already counting down the hours until the weekend.

Enough waffle. Most of you are aware that I set myself the challenge of finishing 10 races this year. On Sunday morning I completed my sixth race; the Little Aston 5, an event organised by Royal Sutton Coldfield AC.

LA5 2018

[Photo: Marc Kirsten]

What did I think of the Little Aston 5 mile run? What was the course like? Would I enter it again? Would I recommend the Little Aston 5 to other runners?

I’m pleased to report that I managed to avoid obsessing over the weather in the lead up to the race. I guess being busy both at work and at home does have some advantages.

The race didn’t start until 11:00 so I was able to treat myself to a bit of a Sunday morning lie-in. It was bliss. I rolled out of bed at 08:00 feeling great. I made myself eat my usual pre-race breakfast of three Weetabix followed by a banana, made sure I was hydrated, had a shower and got dressed. Unfortunately, my stomach felt a little off, and after my third visit to the toilet, I seriously considered not running. I decided to see how I felt during the short walk to Little Aston. I hadn’t even closed the front door when I had to visit the toilet for a fourth time. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but visit number four seemed to do the trick.

Feeling a lot lighter and reasonably confident my stomach had settled, I walked the short distance to race HQ; Little Aston Primary School. In typical Emma style, I completely overestimated how long it would take me to walk just over a mile. At least I had plenty of time to warm-up. I collected my race number, caught up with some of my ex running club friends and tried to get myself into race mode.

Just before 11:00, we were asked to make our way to the start area. Now the Little Aston 5 is what I’d describe as a small, but very fast (not me) event. I made sure that I positioned myself towards the back of the field as I didn’t want to get in the way of the faster runners.

LA5 start

I moved myself away from a runner who was complaining about having to wait too long at the start, and positioned myself next to a group of runners from SE Fitness. I found out that one of the group, a runner called Hazel I’d met volunteering on Saturday was aiming for a sub 50 minute time, so decided to run with her. The race started and it took me approximately 10 seconds to cross the start line.

The majority of the junior runners in the two mile event flew past us, and after a couple of minutes, we settled into what was a slightly overly ambitious pace for me. Although the majority of the first mile was what I’d describe as either flat or downhill, running mile one in 8:52 was quite frankly, ridiculous.

The second mile was a bit of a blur. I’ve never been very good at pushing myself over shorter distances; I much prefer running at a steady pace for longer. Our little group managed to maintain a speedy (for me) pace, and I was amazed to discover I completed the second mile in a respectable 9:13.

I found the third mile mentally and physically challenging. The hills started to make an unwelcome appearance and my breathing was all over the place. Had I been running on my own, I would have definitely taken a sneaky walking break. I’ve genuinely got no idea how I ran mile three in 9:19.

The water station was located just before the start of mile four. As I wasn’t feeling particularly thirsty and didn’t want to walk, I ignored the bottles of water on offer and carried on plodding along. One second I was running in a group of runners, the next I was running on my own and struggling. Usually I love running in the countryside, at this stage of the race I wished I was taking part in a crowded city race.

I carried on running on my own until I came to a hill. I think you can guess what happened next; I slowed to a walk and waited for Hazel and the other runners from SE Fitness to catch up. I formulated a ‘plan of attack’ for the final mile or so with Hazel. We decided to power walk any steep hills and to run everything else. Virtually all of the final mile would see us running up the hills we had enjoyed running down at the start. Mile four took a slightly embarrassing 10:25, so much for consistent splits.

I actually enjoyed most of the final mile. I have a terrible feeling that Rocket Ron captured me pulling a terrible face when we ran past him. It will be interesting to see what his photos are like when they appear online. They may or may not be added to this post. We ran over the Footherley Brook, turned right and jogged back towards where we started. The finish line was located approximately 100m after the start, in the grounds of the local primary school.

I thought I’d put on an impressive sprint finish. The reality captured in the photo below shows that I was so busy chatting to Hazel, I completely forgot to increase my pace. I’ve no idea how we completed the final mile in 9:59.

LA5 finish

[Photo: Marc Kirsten]

I completed the five miles in a second running career 5 mile PB of 48:02. This was only good enough for 104th place out of 126 finishers. Most definitely a speedy field and a bit of a reality check!

LA5 medal

When I completed the Little Aston 5 over ten years ago, we were handed horse brasses rather than medals. I think it’s safe to say I was pleased to be presented with a 25th anniversary medal on Sunday. Although the goody bag only contained a bottle of water and a healthy snack bar, we were told we could take a reusable plastic sports bottle if we wanted to. I already used my sports bottle; full marks to Royal Sutton Coldfield AC for such a useful running accessory.

I hung around chatting to some other runners for a few minutes, posed for a couple of not very flattering photos, and treated myself to a Little Aston 5 woolly hat. Now that I’ve bought some winter running gear, we’ll have a freakishly mild winter.

LA5 post run pose 2

LA5 hat

As this race report has now taken me longer to write than the actual race did, I think it’s time for me to stop waffling and to share some Strava stats. I think it’s pretty clear I set out at a far too ambitious pace and paid the price later on. Another pacing fail.

So would I recommend the Little Aston 5 mile run? Thanks to Royal Sutton Coldfield AC I would definitely recommend the Little Aston 5. However, I’m not one hundred percent certain the event is going to take place next year.

Race ratings:

  • Cost: 10/10 – £10 (affiliated entry) entries were also available on the day
  • Course: 8/10
  • Medal: 8/10
  • Race t-shirt: n/a
  • Goody bag: 8/10

Do you prefer smaller, local races or do you prefer larger, more corporate races? Taking part in the Little Aston 5 reminded me why I prefer small, local races. I may have finished near the back of the field but I had a great time.

Would you rather be handed a decent medal or a reusable sports bottle at the end of a race?

Royal Parks Half Marathon training week 6

I’d like to start this blog with a public service announcement. A couple of people who sponsored me said they enjoy reading my blog. I’ve genuinely got no idea who you are, but if you read this then “thank-you”. If you want to guess my finish time, please get in touch.

Good morning. I hope that everyone had an awesome weekend. I’m feeling far too chirpy for a Monday morning as I’m on flexi leave. I think the highlights of my weekend were volunteering at Sutton Park parkrun and completing the Little Aston 5 race yesterday.Collage 20The sixth week and halfway stage of my half marathon training plan originally recommended I completed a steady 30 minute run on Monday – I replaced this with a 90 minute run – a fast 25 minute run on Tuesday, a steady 45 minute run on Thursday, a slow 15 minute run on Saturday and a 10k race or time trial on Sunday. As I’d already entered the Little Aston 5, I decided that a five mile time trial was sort of equivalent to a six and a bit mile time trial.

So how did I find the sixth week of my half marathon training? Did starting the week with a long run cause any issues? Did I manage to complete all my training runs? Did my right knee niggle turn into something more serious?

Monday – 90 mins comfortable

When my alarm woke me at 05:00 on Bank Holiday Monday, I didn’t feel like leaving my warm bed and heading out into the dark. I weighed up the pros and cons of running, reminded myself I’d already missed two longer training runs, got up, went to the loo, got changed into some running gear, and then made myself drink a pint of water. I then did something incredibly sensible and almost unheard of; some stretches.

It was cool and still outside, perfect running conditions. My new Garmin unfortunately completely refused to function as a GPS so I took it off and set the timer on my mobile to 90 minutes. Once I got going and had warmed-up my old joints, I enjoyed my long run a lot more than I thought I would. I’ve no idea what I thought about while I was running, but the time seemed to pass quite quickly. Once the 90 minutes was up, I walked the short distance back home, made myself drink a couple of glasses of chocolate milkshake, did some more stretches and then headed back to bed for a couple of hours.

Tuesday – Rest

My Tuesday morning got off to quite an entertaining start. One of the gates I usually open on my walk to the office was padlocked shut. I was left with the option of either retracing my steps and walking the long way into the office, or climbing over the gate. I wouldn’t recommend climbing over a gate in slightly too tight smart work trousers. Luckily, my trousers remained intact. Following a somewhat noisy but productive day in the office, I walked back to my shared house (via the pub) and had a power nap. I was meant to complete a 25 minute speed session, but decided to give my slightly niggly right knee time to recover from my long run the previous day. Sometimes I can be sensible.

Wednesday – 25 mins speed session

The sound of some much-needed rain woke me up at 05:30. We need the rain… I very briefly considered getting my 25 minute speed session done and dusted before work. I saw sense, stayed in bed and managed to get some more sleep. Work was productive, but not very blogworthy. I managed to avoid having an Excel related breakdown. I think the highlight of the day was a colleague who is currently on maternity leave meeting us for lunch; her 8 week old was tiny.

I’ve reached the conclusion that I’m not very good at speed sessions. I completed a five minute warm-up and then tried to increase my pace. The first mile of my attempt at a speed session was completed in 09:06, the second in 09:19. Not very speedy and a reminder I’m a long way off my sub 25 minute parkrun target. I was a little concerned because the bottom of my left foot felt a little weird. I’ve got everything crossed that I’m not about to head down Stress Fracture Street again.

Thursday – 45 mins steady

After waking up at the slightly unreasonable time of 04:00, I somehow had another productive day in the office. The highlights of my Thursday were a couple of people supporting the ‘Guess my finish time’ sweepstake I’m organising and lunch. The somewhat unhealthy combination of lasagne and curly fries I opted for at lunchtime tasted great. I also discovered that an amazing job opportunity had been posted on the internal jobs site. I’ve got a couple of weeks to get my application submitted. I escaped the office at 17:00 and headed to the Boathouse pub with a colleague for a quick pint. Much as I enjoy drinking on my own, it was nice to have a bit of company.Collage 21The only downside to my post-work drink was not being able to head out on my run until quite late. I struggled to run for 45 minutes less than two hours after drinking a pint of Punk IPA, and eating two packets of crisps. At least the combination of feeling nauseous and the terrible streetlights in Wallingford meant that I had to run at a steady pace. I actually finished the run feeling better than when I started. Unfortunately, my left foot felt slightly strange again. Hopefully it’s an imaginary niggle rather than a ‘proper’ injury.

Friday – Rest

Work was quite entertaining as the Christmas and New Year leave discussions started. I’m trying not to think about Christmas just yet. Anyway, you all know my Friday routine; I left the office at 15:00 and after a slightly stressful journey, arrived back in Four Oaks three hours later. Although I felt so tired I struggled to make the most of my Friday evening, I did manage to add a fundraising page to this blog. Please have a quick look and let me know what you think.

Saturday – Sutton Park parkrun volunteering

After walking at least five miles around Sutton Park, I decided to give myself an extra rest day. I really enjoyed my somewhat slightly overdue first stint at parkrun volunteering. I was allocated a position quite a long walk from the start, right next to the ice cream van. I only heard one person complaining about the course. I guess a lot of parkruns aren’t actually held in parks and people have probably got used to running on nice smooth paths.Collage 22The rest of my Saturday felt a little mundane after the excitement of parkrun and ice cream. I spent a couple of hours working on my presentation for a hydrology conference, caught up on some boring ‘adulting’ tasks and generally faffed around. I rather reluctantly headed across Birmingham for a music lesson. I hate Saturday evening trains as with the exception of the driver and the guard, I feel like I’m the only sober person on the train. Fortunately no one was ‘unwell’ on the train this week.

Sunday – Little Aston 5

As the Little Aston 5 didn’t start until 11:00, I treated myself to a much-needed lie in. My legs felt quite fatigued when I eventually got up, luckily they appeared to be reasonably niggle free. After quite a few toilet visits – let’s just say returning home for one last visit was the correct decision – I walked the short distance to Little Aston Primary School. As at some stage I’m planning on writing a proper race review I’ll keep it short. I last ran the Little Aston 5 mile almost 10 years ago, I’d forgotten about the hills. I think I got a 5 mile PB; I’m just waiting for the official results.

So that’s the sixth week of my half marathon training more or less completed. I can’t believe I’ve reached the half-way stage and only have another six weeks to go. The year is flying by at a ridiculous rate.

Quite frankly, I think that week seven looks a little challenging. The schedule recommends completing a 20-25 steady run today, a 40 minute steady run on Tuesday, a 50-60 minute steady run on Thursday and a longer 100 minute comfortable run on Sunday. I’m taking part in the Lichfield 10k on Sunday so the 100 minute run will have to wait a week. Hopefully this won’t have any impact on the day of the Royal Parks Half.

I’m actually really looking forward to the Lichfield 10k as my sister-in-law has entered and will hopefully be running. She’s so much faster than I am I think it will be a case of see you at the finish!

Training totals

  • Runs: 19
  • Time: 13 hours 18 mins
  • Distance: 78.62 miles

Fundraising total

  • £420 (£120 increase from last week)

Niggleometer

  • Right knee: 2/10
  • Left foot: 4/10
  • Left groin: 2/10

The inaugural Sutton Park parkrun

Good morning. I can’t believe its Thursday already, I can almost smell the long weekend. Time flies when I’m in Wallingford.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware I participated in the inaugural Sutton Park parkrun last weekend. Before I share my thoughts on my new ‘home’ parkrun, I thought I’d start with a bit of history.Sutton Park parkrun start

[Photo: Richard Hill]

Way back at the start of 2010, I was a member of a group of local runners who were keen to get a parkrun up and running – apologies for the terrible pun – in Sutton Park. We failed. I think another group of runners tried and failed a few years later. At one stage it felt like parkrun would never come to Sutton Park. A shame when you consider the lack of parkruns in Birmingham and the fact that Sutton Park is so popular with runners.

Earlier this year I heard rumours that a parkrun in Sutton Park was looking more likely. When I bumped into my old running coach at the start of August, I discovered that a test event was taking place. He also described the course to me and said it would be quite challenging; definitely not one for setting a personal best. Hills are unavoidable in Sutton Park, but for every up there is nearly always a down!

On Saturday, I woke up well before my alarm and was dressed and ready to go by 07:30. It actually took longer to drive to Sutton Park parkrun than to Walsall Arboretum parkrun. Although I live next to Sutton Park, the parkrun course starts and finishes near Banners Gate at the opposite end of the park. I suspect it may be easier to run or cycle through the park.

Course

Car parking at Banners Gate is always at a premium, so the event organisers encouraged people to access the park via Boldmere Gate and to park in the large car park near the model aircraft flying field. The start was a short walk or run from this car park, I think it’s safe to say I’d warmed-up by the time I reached the start.

It was interesting to play ‘spot the inaugural parkrun collector’ (I’m not sure what the official title is) at the start. I overheard one runner saying he’d travelled for more than five hours to get to Sutton Park. I’m not sure if that’s dedication or something else.

The Event Director had asked for people to stay away from the inaugural event as he didn’t want to overwhelm the volunteers, other park users or the course. In the end I think there were a manageable 239 finishers. It will be interesting to see how quickly this number increases. I don’t think it will take long.

The event briefing was emotional and outlined some of the challenges Gary and his team had overcome to get Sutton Park parkrun started. A lot of people were thanked and we were reminded that we weren’t the sole users of the park. We were then set on our way; it took me about five seconds to cross the start line.

Although the first kilometre and a bit were reasonably flat, the surface (and my general lack of fitness) made it quite hard to run fast. It took me a long time to get going.

Most other runners were taking in the scenery, I was busy watching my footing; the last thing I wanted was another injury. The majority of the first section is along quite a narrow path; if you are a fast runner, I would strongly recommend you start as near the front as you can as overtaking is virtually impossible. I’ve included a still from a video a runner called Andis has shared on YouTube. Andis captured the whole course, I think it’s definitely worth watching if you are considering a trip to Sutton Park.

First section

[Source: Andis Ozols]

I must admit that I find watching myself running a little strange. I discovered that I still run like a wonky donkey and look like I’m constantly limping. So much for improving my running technique. I thought I was running at quite a decent pace, the reality was a little different. The course then split into two and runners had the option of running across a wooden bridge – warning this bridge does get quite slippery when it’s wet – or through what in normal, wet conditions is a small water feature.

Sutton Park parkrun kilometer 1

[Photo: Richard Hill]

I think it’s safe to describe the path along Lord Donegal’s Ride towards the Jamboree Memorial stone as the most challenging section of the course. Think gravel, energy sapping sand, and a short but steep hill which is really hard to run up. Thanks to the recent dry weather, the path was incredibly uneven in places. I’m ashamed to admit I got half way up the hill and slowed to a walk. Next time I’m determined to run up it all.

Gravel hill

[Source: Andis Ozols]

Thankfully, a steep uphill in Sutton Park is generally followed by either a flat or a downhill section; the next section of the course took runners towards the Jamboree Memorial stone (and my favourite ice cream van) and away from the gravel onto some welcome tarmac. Although the tarmac was easy to run on, I found the short out and back section quite mentally challenging and a little demoralising. Probably because it brought back memories of evil hill training sessions with my running club. There is nothing worse than running down a hill knowing you’ve got to run straight back up it.

Out and back

[Source: Andis Ozols]

I *may* have walked part of the hill back towards the Jamboree Memorial stone. I clearly need to work on my endurance. Fortunately, the remainder of the course is generally back downhill towards the finish next to Longmoor Pool. Judging by the photo my friend took, I’m not convinced I enjoyed running across a slightly uneven field covered in cow shit.  At least the cows (which incidentally belong to my family; the shame) kept their distance.

Sutton Park pakrun field

The parkrun organisers had very kindly provided a series of signs which gave an indication of how far we had left to run. I think it’s safe to say I enjoyed the downhill section towards the finish.

Sutton Park parkrun finish

[Photo: Richard Hill]

I’m not sure how I managed to maintain my sub 30 minute parkrun streak, but I finished in 29:18. I crossed the finish, collected token 155 and then made sure I thanked all of the volunteers and the person that had made Sutton Park parkrun a reality; Gary the Event Director.

I’ll stop waffling now as this has turned into a bit of an essay. Once I’ve volunteered a few times, I’m aiming to complete Sutton Park parkrun without any walking breaks. I have a feeling that if I make the most of the numerous downhill sections, I’ll be able to run quite a respectable time. Although I found the course quite challenging in places, I really enjoyed not having to run multiple laps around a lake or playing field. I think a single lap course is great 🙂

How far would you travel to attend a parkrun? Travelling for five hours shows some serious dedication to parkrun.

Have you ever attended an inaugural parkrun? I hadn’t realised until Saturday that collecting inaugural parkruns is a ‘thing’.

Keeping it Real # 2

As it’s Thursday #ThrowbackThursday #tbt etc etc, I thought I’d share some of my not quite so flattering running photos. I put together a similar post way back in 2014, it was definitely time for an update.

Apparently, to be a successful blogger and to make money from my random thoughts, I need to fill my posts with professional photos. I think it’s safe to say that with the exception of a couple of official race photos, the photos in my blog are anything but professional.

I’ve been blogging for several years and have never made a penny. I have a full time job and blog as a hobby, so although it would be nice to cover the costs of running this blog, I don’t really mind if I don’t.

Enough waffle, here are some photos I found while I was sorting through all the random files I’ve got saved on my computer. I’m not completely sure why I actually paid for some of these beauties.

Don’t get injured

Since 2014, I have had more than my fair share of running injuries. I’ve tried to run through some of them – never a smart idea, rest is the only way forward.

My friend took this photo of me back in 2015. I’d been injured and hadn’t been able to run for several months. For once in my life, I’d listened to what my physio said, had done loads of strength and conditioning exercises, and hadn’t tried to rush back into running. I remember the excitement of being given the go ahead to run.

Injured runner

Unfortunately, although I managed to complete a 3000m run, during the final couple of laps my right knee was incredibly painful. I knew I was back to square one. As you can imagine I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I discovered my friend had captured me lying on the track sulking.

Fortunately, I recovered from my knee injury and was soon back gurning my way around races while impersonating a beetroot.

Don’t stop running

My friend took this delightful photo of me towards the end of the 2016 Great Midlands Fun Run. It was boiling hot and I’d made my usual mistake of wearing far too many layers.

GMFR 2

I remember spotting my friend at the side of the road, stopping and removing a couple of layers in front of quite a few slightly bemused spectators. I’m sure my friend really appreciated being handed a sweaty and rather smelly t-shirt. Although I wasted valuable time, stripping down to my club vest was definitely the right decision.

Also, don’t ever run with #1 on your race bib. The heckling when you aren’t actually in first place does get a little predicable after an hour.

At least I look reasonably awake and have my eyes open. Judging by the photos I sorted through, I seem to run with my eyes closed.

Strike a pose

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I tried to give the race photographer a ‘thumbs up’ as I approached the finish line of the 2016 Great Birmingham Run. After running for well over two hours, I was clearly feeling too tired to keep my eyes open.

Great Birmingham Run

Can someone explain to me why I paid for this delightful photo? It’s a dreadful photo. I’m also struggling to recall why I felt the need to wear a pair of shorts and a running skort. Oh well, at lease the male runner wearing bib #8328 looks happy.

At least I was pleased to be nearing the finish line, this isn’t always the case.

The grumpy runner

I think it’s safe to say I didn’t enjoy the final mile of the 2016 Lichfield 10k. I set out at a far too ambitious pace and found the second half of the race a struggle. As you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I realised that the finish line of the 10k was at the top of a grassy hill.

Lichfield 10k

I think this pose is a combination of “shit there’s a race photographer” combined with relief at crossing the finish line. I was so tired I couldn’t even find the strength to give the photographer a proper thumbs up.

The kick up the arse photo

This delightful photo was taken at the start of this year’s Great Midlands Fun Run. Although the rather random positioning of my running bag doesn’t help, I personally think that I look terrible.

Too many takeaways

The camera doesn’t (generally) lie and this photo was a bit of a wakeup call. I’d been eating far too much unhealthy food for far too long and it showed, I could almost see all the takeaway meals.

At least I nailed my standard thumbs up pose.

The beetroot faced runner

I’ll start with a confession, whenever the photographer has actually captured me; the photos of me running at my local parkrun haven’t been that bad recently. I think knowing what Ron looks like and where he usually ‘hides’ helps 😉 Unfortunately, the traditional post-parkrun photos I get my friend to take are generally pretty rubbish.

This particular photo is awesome as I’m doing my standard thumbs up pose while looking like a beetroot.

Strike a pose

I mean how red does my face look in this particular photo? The heat from my face could have powered the National Grid. I don’t think it was even that warm that morning!

Mine’s a double…chin

I loved every minute of the Cathedral to Castle Run earlier this year. The 10 miles felt relatively easy, and I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. Although I love how focused I look in this photo, I’m not such a fan of my double chin.

Chin chin

I guess playing the violin for 30+ years hasn’t helped. Can anyone recommend some anti double chin exercises?

I can just about make out a hint of a double chin in the final photo I’m going to share.

The peaky selfie

I took the final photo I’m going to share myself, so I’ve only got myself to blame for this delight. I think I need to provide some background. I’d just completed a half marathon training run and was feeling incredibly nauseous.

Terrible selfie

It took me several attempts to take this half respectable selfie, and I still look pretty terrible. My usual bright bed beetroot face is nowhere to be seen. I remember it taking me ages to walk home as I felt so rough. I made it home and then spent several hours in bed feeling ill. At least I wasn’t actually sick.

Definitely not my finest moment as a runner.

So I hope you all enjoyed this #ThrowbackThursday post and my not quite so perfect running photos. Hopefully, you won’t have nightmares.