Saturday, 1 June 2019

Northamptonshire: Shires and Spires 35 mile ultra race recap

I first met Elise on a train to Yestival in 2015.  She was about to run around the whole of the UK, I was (unbeknownst to me at the time) about to sign up for my first marathon.  By the following year, Elise had completed her 5000 mile journey; I'd run four marathons and signed up for a double marathon.  She helped me realise that anything is possible provided you just get on with it (and eat plenty of cake).  Our paths have crossed at various points over the years and on one of these occasions, she suggested Shires and Spires would be a good race for my counties challenge.  So when I signed up for it, I sent her a message and she decided to sign up for it too, along with her Dad and her friend Emma.  And so it was I found myself driving to Northamptonshire on a Friday afternoon for a weekend of sunshine and trails.  Elise's parents had kindly offered to put me up so we had a lovely evening chatting about past races and eating as many carbs as possible.

The next morning after a hearty breakfast we set off for the race.  Race day weather was predicted to be warm and sunny and it was gorgeous even before the race began. 
We set off pretty quickly and although it was initially downhill, I could tell I wasn't going to be able to keep up the pace for long.  Elise and her Dad are both much faster than me so after a mile or two they disappeared into the distance.  Emma and I tried to convince ourselves, "we might catch them up later" ... I'm sure you can figure out for yourselves how successful that was!
Northamptonshire countryside definitely did not disappoint.  The only bit of Northamptonshire I really know is Northampton town centre so the bar was pretty low - none of this race looked anything like Northampton!  Early in the race we were already running through fields.  The race was a mix of road and trail - at first I thought I could've done it in road shoes and I probably would've got away with it - but there definitely were a few lumpy sections.
Emma took this photo of me disappearing into the distance, I think this was just before the first checkpoint.  These were evenly spaced throughout the course.  The first two checkpoints were in slightly odd locations (on the corner of a junction, with cars coming in multiple directions).  The volunteers were helpful, filling up bottles for me and generally being cheerful and the homemade cake was much appreciated.  However they didn't have any Coke, once we realised there wasn't going to be any at any of the checkpoints this obviously triggered a massive yearning! 
The course was unmarked and we went wrong a few times.  Luckily I never go too far wrong before realising thanks to trusty Garmin.  There were lots of hills which we walked.  There was one section where we went totally off course and tramped through a field completely unnecessarily. 
The time was passing really quickly because Emma and I were chatting and sharing previous race stories - this is hands down my favourite thing to do during a race.  Emma is running around as many islands as possible - which sounds like a fantastic idea.  Since the race we've been chatting and we hope to do the epic Anglesey Ring O' Fire race together (after I've finished my counties).  It's rare you meet someone in an ultra who matches your pace so well - I think she could've gone a bit quicker than me, but I'd just run 150km the previous weekend on Hadrian's Wall so maybe if I'd been a bit better rested we'd be even better matched.  I feel certain we'll bump into each other again at some point as we've got much in common in our running 'history' (neither of us have done a hundred miler yet, but we've both done 50+ miles a few times).  
My parents had kindly offered to come and cheer me on and I knew they would be somewhere around the halfway point.  This picture was taken by my dad as we approached them across the golf course.
And here I am with my Mum and Dad (thanks to Emma for the photo!) My parents originally made the banner for my first marathon in Paris and I think this is the 5th time they've dragged it out of the loft now.  Making it worth the effort!  Apparently the golfers complained that my mum was making too much noise encouraging the other runners (!) and she was putting them off their swing.  When I told Elise's dad about this later, he said, "It's not exactly the Open is it?" which cracked me up.  My thoughts exactly!
We kept going.   Elise's mum Julie had waited for us at checkpoint 3 which was lovely of her - she told us Elise and Dave were about half an hour ahead of us.  We kept going some more.  By checkpoint 4 it was getting even hotter.  Because the route includes a loop, you could see checkpoint 5 (ten miles ahead) from the previous checkpoint, which was a little disheartening.  By this point we'd also realised we weren't going to finish under 7 hours, though neither of us was particularly bothered.

I was starting to feel a bit tired at this point and hunted through my vest for anything nice to snack on. I didn't feel like eating but came across a couple of Caffeine Bullets so we had those. (They're sweets with caffeine in them - much more pleasant than gels and more practical mid-race than a cup of coffee).  Emma told me that when she first heard about them she thought you put them up your bum and made some comment about not being that desperate.  This completely killed me and I could hardly run from laughing, it's actually making me giggle again now thinking about it.  It's totally believable because they're in these black/red wrappers and they're called BULLETS and !! oh my days! 
After the final checkpoint there was only about 8k to go, with a bit more pretty countryside to end on.   The very last stretch was up a hill, Emma and I valiantly ran it having walked the hills all the way round.   We crossed the finish line in 81st and 82nd place in 7 hours 44 minutes. 
My Garmin reckoned it had been 57km and 800m of ascent.  The average temperature was 28 degrees, with a high of 32 degrees.  I drank approximately 2.5 litres of water and another litre of electrolytes.  I'd put suncream on but sweated it all off (I now have some very silly tan lines also) and look at that salt!  Yuk!!
We got our medals and lay on the grass for a bit chatting to Elise and Dave who'd already finished, before going inside to wash the salt off our faces and get a Coke.  Imagine our disappointment when there wasn't any Coke left, only Diet Coke.  I had a Magnum instead and then we took some photos, note Dave photobombing us in the first one!
After that it was time to drive back to my parents' house for a lovely shower and dinner and an early night. (I stopped at a garage on the way home for Coke and they didn't have any Coke either! What is the world coming to?  I had to settle for cherry Coke... disgraceful).

The next day we were going out for a special birthday lunch with my mum, but then STUPID Liverpool FC had to go and ruin it by beating Spurs in the Champions League.  This meant a STUPID victory parade, which meant I wouldn't be able to get anywhere near my flat at 5pm, which was the time I was planning to get home.  I had no choice but to miss the lunch and leave early so I could go and rescue Iz from Lime Street and then barricade ourselves indoors.  My food shopping delivery was cancelled, there were STUPID Koppites everywhere, I could still hear them even with the windows and curtains closed.  If I ever hear that stupid Allez song ever again it will be too soon.  COYB!

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Cumbria: Windermere marathon race recap

We arrived the day before the marathon and stayed in Kendal, as all the accommodation in Ambleside seemed to be sold out.  It was a sunny weekend in the Lakes, Keswick Mountain Festival was on and so was the Brathay 10 in 10 marathons - maybe that's why?   I collected my bib and a totally awesome goodie bag featuring Kendal Mint cake and this epic gingerbread medal:
The next morning we set off to the start line.  I got in the car, put my bib and safety pins on the dashboard, and forgot to move them when Ian started driving... as a result my safety pins went whizzing off down the air vent, never to be seen again.  Whoops!
The road outside the race was due to be closed at 10am so we allowed plenty of time to get there.  Unfortunately so did everyone else.  There was a massive queue of stationary traffic and I got increasingly twitchy before deciding at 9.55am that we weren't going to make it.  I turfed myself out of the car and jogged the rest of the way, adding on a bonus mile-and-a-bit before the race even began.  After a wee in a bush (the queue for the toilets was too long), acquiring some extra safety pins, and stripping off a layer revealing my undergarments to a roomful of people (I literally have no shame any more), I was good to go.   Which was lucky as when I got outside there was a brass band already leading the marathon runners down the hill to the start line:
Curiouser and curiouser!  The race started on time and right from the start it was undulating.  As ever, I got caught up in the moment and ran up the first few hills, even though my plan was to walk them, not wanting to be the only one walking.  I got chatting to a man who told me this was his first marathon - a strange one to choose if you ask me but very pretty.  He asked what time I planned to do and I said five hours, taking into account the 420 metres of ascent.  I wasn't in any particular rush, especially as I'd done very little running since the 50 miler a month ago.  He then overtook me and disappeared - I wonder how he did?  The fields began to open out and I loved the way you could see all the runners ahead along the edge of the field:
There were quite a few people around me at this point.  I'd managed to get away from the man with the sloshing backpack and the lady with the jangling change in her pocket - I honestly don't know how people can listen to that for 26 miles!  It took me back to when I ran Medoc last year in fancy dress that jangled all the way -- the flashbacks!  Arrgh!!
At about 8km in, we ran through Hawkshead and I was really touched that loads of older people had come out into the streets to clap and wave.  There were a surprising number of older people spectating and volunteering all the way through this race actually, it was lovely to see.  Some had been recruited from the local Rotary and must've been in their late seventies.  It was really nice of them to come out and support us. 
---MOAN BREAK---
A bit later we were back in the countryside.  I was horrified that people were just chucking the plastic bottles from the aid stations into the gutter - I also saw them stuffed into dry stone walls on several occasions.  Personally I'd disqualify anyone seen littering as the Lake District is far too beautiful for that.  I'm sure the volunteers cleared it up but it showed exactly why we need more plastic-free races, it was really shocking.  Another disappointing thing was how little food there was at the aid stations.  The first one which had anything edible was at around 14 miles, this is absolutely crazy as most people start fuelling after 1 hour 30 minutes (I was at 2 hours 15 before they had so much as a jelly baby!)  They had literally one box of sweets and that was it.  Luckily I carried my own supplies, but this race had the least well-stocked aid stations of any marathon I've ever run... not exactly a compliment!
---MOAN BREAK OVER---
The scenery was quite variable and there were certainly plenty of hills.  They were generally quite short, followed by steeper downhill sections.  By now, lots of people were walking up the hills.  I'm convinced this is the best way - I can march uphill almost as quickly as running but using a fraction of the energy, then sprint down using the techniques my coach taught me last year when training for Convergence.  Overall it's faster than running both the ups and downs. 

It was around this point I realised I'd missed Ian - he texted saying he was at Newby Bridge and I'd already passed Fell Foot.  Oh dear.  Road closures had caused significant difficulties!
Not a great photo, but I took it to show how some sections of the course were on unclosed roads.  It was quite alarming having cars whizzing past you, or sitting on your tail waiting for an opportunity to overtake.  Nevertheless, I was feeling strong at this point.
A little further on and it was starting to warm up.  The weather forecast had been for cloudy all day so I wasn't wearing any suncream.  Still no sign of actual Lake Windermere other than the briefest of glimpses through the trees.
I love this photo.  I was really having a fun time at this point, haring downhill overtaking everyone with my hair flying out behind me.  This was around 30k, which I'd done in 3 hours 5 minutes - a pretty good time for me!  I normally struggle around 26-28km but today was a breeze - I think because the terrain was so varied. Hills definitely make it less boring!

At mile 21 there were a couple who had set up their own aid station on the side of the road.  I wish I'd taken a photo because it was awesome.  They had savoury snacks (cheese biscuits, crisps) and bananas, neither of which the actual aid stations had!  They were super-friendly and lovely and a total highlight - they powered me through the rest of the race.
This was the last picture I took, probably round about 22 miles.  I suddenly felt full of energy and was overtaking people one after another.  I kept thinking how it'd make my flyby on Strava look good, haha!  This motivated me to push harder and before I knew it I had significantly picked up the pace.  Kilometres 38, 39, 40 and 41 were all under 6 minutes per kilometre, a pace I hadn't seen since kilometre 22.  I think it was because I was well rested and had a nice solid endurance base from M2L, so I just wasn't getting tired when everyone else was.

By 25 miles I was starting to flag though. I'd run up a few hills in my enthusiasm and I just didn't know if I could maintain it.  By this time I was running along the section I'd already done first thing this morning, as I approached another big hill, I slowed to a walk.

As I did so, a runner I'd recently overtook came alongside me.  He said, "come on, you can do this".  I said, "I can't".  He said, "yes you can" and I reluctantly speeded up to a jog.  By this time I was breathing heavily and just wanted to stop and walk, but every time I thought about it the man pressed me onwards, telling me we were nearly there (I knew he was lying but couldn't speak!) and saying I was helping him (also a lie - he wasn't even out of breath so I was definitely slowing him down). I told him to go ahead without me - he declined.   I hauled myself up the hill, feeling sick, wondering if I was going to keel over.  Suddenly the finish was in sight and one final push and we crossed the line together. 
People like him are a credit to running.  I didn't know him, I may never meet him again, but he kept me going through that last mile in a way I simply couldn't have done on my own.  I hugged him, thanked him profusely and he went off to his family and I went to lie down on the grass.  I checked my watch.  We both finished in 4:29:42.  This is my best result since Berlin 2018, which I did in 4:25, and Berlin is flat as a pancake.  My Garmin recorded 572m ascent in this race, meaning I was almost certainly faster than I was in Berlin - so probably the fastest since Liverpool Rock n Roll in April 2018.  I was beyond delighted with that!

Ian found me and took this photo and we got out of there as quickly as we could as the whole place was totally overrun with people.  After 20 minutes navigating out of the car park (!) we made our way back to the nearest village where Iz had spent a happy afternoon painting.  She brought me an ice cream and we drove home.  Happy days.



Friday, 19 April 2019

Greater Manchester: M2L 50 mile ultra race recap

This is the longest race I'm running this year - I signed up for this last June after volunteering at the 2018 race.  I felt undertrained - although I've run 4 marathons so far this year, I haven't been doing the back-to-back weekend runs you really need to get ready for ultras and I've been averaging about 50km a week - to be confident I'd need to be doing regular 80-90 km weeks.
Still - I knew I could do 30 miles because I did that at Green Man so my plan was to get that done, then crack out another 10 miles, then from there it'd be rude not to finish.  I estimated it'd take me between 11 and 12 hours.  I'd taken the whole week off work so I'd be rested, had a sports massage on Thursday morning to flush out my muscles and drove to Manchester on Thursday afternoon.  I checked into the hotel and laid out all my stuff and headed over to registration.  On the way we bumped into Sarah from Penny Lane Striders, always nice to see a friendly face.  At registration I had my kit checked, collected my number and was about to leave when I was press-ganged into having my photo taken.  As you can see I was thrilled about it!


We went back to the hotel and had dinner.  I was delighted to find the menu was heavy on the carbs and chose macaroni cheese with garlic bread and sweet potato fries - the perfect pre-race dinner.  Just then, Sarah appeared so we invited her to have dinner with us and we had a great time catching up on life, work, training and races.  We discussed how late can you be to get to the start in time and I concluded I needed to set the alarm for 04:15 ... best get an early night then!  I was asleep by 10pm.

Next morning my alarm failed to go off and Ian woke me at 4:17am, saying "Your alarm didn't go off".  My brain translated this to, "you've missed the race," causing total panic until I woke up enough to realise that it was OK, phew!  Adrenalin rush to start the morning!!

Luckily I always write a list so I know what I'm doing the morning before any big race.  There's too much to remember and forgetting something minor can feel disproportionately critical later in the race.  I swung into action: loperamide, sun cream, contact lenses, fill up water and electrolytes, bodyglide, breakfast, attach bib, warm layers, etc etc.  We left about 5:20 and walked speedily towards the start line, chatting with another girl we bumped into on the way.  Once I got there and collected my tracker, there wasn't much else to do other than stand in the toilet queue!  I saw Sarah and Bailey, also from Penny Lane Striders, who we all predicted would do brilliantly today. (And she did, finishing 27th).
The race started a bit late as the organisers kindly held off until everyone had used the loo (if only all races were like this!) and then we were off.  The first mile was a loop around Old Trafford and then down onto the canal.  There were 250 runners so we were quite bunched up at the start. 
It was already warming up so people were removing their jackets after a couple of miles.  I saw Sarah who was looking comfortable but lost her when I stopped for a wee.  Shortly after I fell in with a chap named Paul who was very chatty.  When we got to the checkpoint we realised our numbers were 80 and 81, what a coincidence! We ran along together talking about races we've done, kids, work and he told me amusing stories about his running partner and his urology issues (redacted for confidentiality) but I howled with laughter!  We jogged together past the lake and along the canal.  Paul was a bit fast for me and I kept lagging behind, I told him to go without me and he said he'd rather chat so he slowed down.
Despite this I was still going a bit fast.  I was a bit more out of breath than I'd like and my watch told me I was doing 6:13, 6:19 minute kilometres and my goal was 6:45.  Eventually (just after I'd told him my story about the swamp at Convergence) he got a bit too far ahead of me and I lost him.  This was probably about 21 kilometres in.  In a way he'd done me a huge favour as my plan was to try and get some decent distance done early before it got too hot.  Shortly after I lost him, I noticed I was a bit hungry.  Stupidly, I'd not picked up any food at the checkpoint as we'd only stopped briefly.  I checked my watch and it said 2 hours 30 mins - I should've had something by now.  I was pleased when Ian appeared around 27km and provided a banana and a sausage roll.  Shortly afterwards there was a checkpoint but I just took water and ploughed on.

The next section was a long, straight path which I remembered from my recce earlier in the year.  At 31k I ran past a shop, reminded myself that ultras are supposed to be fun and doubled back to purchase a Calippo - my favourite ultra food on a warm day!
I was getting a bit of a hot spot on my left foot so I called Ian and asked him to have stuff ready at the next checkpoint. Here I am arriving in to checkpoint 4:
When I got there I didn't bother with food and went straight to the car.  I did have the beginnings of a blister starting so I taped my foot, changed my socks and shoes and got my headphones on for the next bit, which is a long straight section towards Widnes.  It was properly warm by now and somewhere along here there was a spectator, standing on the edge of a Morrison's car park, offering mini Calippos.  He was like an angel, and the Calippo was out of this world.  There were a few runners around and we all just about bit his hand off!  One runner said to me afterwards, 'I never normally take food from strangers'...
I took this selfie at 42km - just in case this race had 'bonus distance' and ended up being two marathons!  It was meant to be 50 miles (80.4km) but the GPX suggested it was going to be 81.7km, hmm...

I saw Ian briefly on this leg and had some Coke and took a handful of snacks to sustain me on the next section.  I remembered this next part being boring and ugly and it was no better on this occasion - but just before the roadworks I spotted a guy in a Penny Lane t-shirt - Tony.  I said "what are you doing here?" and he said "I live here!", an idea so outrageous that it hadn't even occurred to me!  It was lovely to see a friendly face though and totally unexpected.

Soon after this I came to Spike Island (checkpoint 5).  They had more ice lollies - so very welcome as it was properly hot by now - my Garmin says the high temperature was 32 degrees (with an average of 24 degrees).  Ian had a water spray so that helped cool me off and then he walked with me for a few hundred metres as I left the checkpoint. I started running again and soon was past the Runcorn bridge and came to a corner where there was a photographer.  I wasn't expecting him and jumped when the tripod camera went off, I didn't know where to look as he was holding a camera too so I'll probably look like a startled gazelle in those photos.  I yelped, "It's like the paparazzi!" as I ran off.  A bit further down, I saw an 'unofficial' checkpoint beside the path so I slowed down and the girl immediately said, 'Penny Lane!' spotting my t-shirt.  Her name was Inma and she had delicious slices of orange which tasted amazing and she put cold water in my hat to help cool me down.  One of the lovely things about local races is the support from your club - I so rarely run locally that I don't often get to experience it.   I carried on towards this beautiful bridge (which was not at all beautiful as I was trying to hobble down it!)
Just after that, I got a message from my friend Katie saying she would come and meet me at the loop line and run part of the route with me.  Unfortunately I couldn't describe exactly where I was, how long it takes to get to the loop line, or recognise any of the landmarks she was describing.  However it did give me a bit of extra motivation to get a move on, and I plodded on, past the horrible loud dual carriageway, through the industrial estate and onto the little park. 
Ian, Katie and her daughter Megan (who ran Chocathon with me) were all waiting for me at checkpoint 6.  I hugged everybody, switched my shoes and socks again (the last section is 16km of tarmac so it was time for my bouncy new trainers) and ate the ice lolly which Katie had brought me which was again amazing.
Katie, Megan and I set off along the loop line, chatting as we went, it really was such a boost to have company.  It was lovely to see Megan before her first marathon in a week's time.  They'd also brought me an ice cold can of Coke which was totally fantastic!  After 5k or so they had to turn back towards the car, but it gave me a push which carried me through to the final checkpoint at 72 kilometres.
I was pretty knackered and grumpy by the time I got here.  I'd called Ian in advance and he had a tiny cup of tea and my speaker ready for me.  I didn't feel like eating but knew I should have something, so I agreed to have a biscuit.  There was a slight incline up to the checkpoint and I was reluctant to walk up it - a volunteer offered to help me but I declined.  She went and fetched me five biscuits - I accepted one.  She stuffed two others into the pockets of my vest, which I was bitter about as it's handwash only and I didn't want crumbs in it, hahahaha, this pretty much sums up my state of mind at that point! As I left the checkpoint, I tossed the biscuits into the bushes.  Sorry lady!  It's not you, it's me!  

I put my speaker on and managed to pull myself up to a jog.  I overtook a few people.  I tried to get them to join in, one lad took up my offer of a music request and chose 'Wake me up' by Avicii (great choice).  We ran along for most of the song before he said he needed to walk again and I left him behind.  I always feel like a bit of an idiot with my speaker on (it was also heavy and I was having to carry it as it was really uncomfortable in my vest) but needs must.  It was doing a job.

I allowed myself to walk for a couple of hundred metres every kilometre from this point as I was getting very fed up.  Anything that bore the faintest resemblance to a hill got walked.  Finally I spotted Aintree below and could see the finish - I turned the corner and started running across the grass.  There was a lovely atmosphere, everyone clapping and cheering - really a lovely reception. 
The volunteers told me I'd got a silver medal - at first I was pleased.  (Silver medals are given to those who place 101-200th place).  I'd finished in 10 hours 26 minutes - considerably faster than I'd aimed for.  Hooray!  Everything hurt and there was a chair near the finish line so I sat in it.  I drank some water and Ian got me an alcohol free beer.  Everything was fine - I felt sore but OK.  I obviously wasn't as undertrained as I thought I was! The total distance was 82.7km - so just ever so slightly under two marathons.
Someone thrust a stupid photo frame into my hands so I could end this post with another sarcastic face:
I wanted to wait for Sarah but Ian looked on the tracker and she was still half an hour away, and I was starting to feel a bit sick, so I decided it'd be best to go home.  As I stumbled to the car, I said to Ian that I was quite happy with a silver medal as long as I'd come 120th or somewhere after that.  He checked.  I was 106th.  I looked at the finish times.  If I'd been SIX MINUTES quicker, I'd've got gold.

It was never my intention to get gold.  I hadn't thought about it all race.  But SIX BLOODY MINUTES!!  Dammit!!!

Luckily, I didn't have much time to think about this, because I started feeling really sick.  I opened the car window.  I thought I was going to be sick in the car park.  I got into the flat and I was sure I was going to be sick.  Then I was sick.  It was all liquid.  I felt awful.  Washed my mouth out and got in the shower, then got into bed wrapped in all my towels and a bathrobe and fell asleep.

40 minutes later I woke up, feeling sick.  Rushed to the bathroom to throw up loads more liquid.  This has never happened before... googled it.  Dehydration?  Unlikely, I was still peeing straw-coloured.  Heat exhaustion?  Didn't make any sense because I hadn't keeled over and actually had run a pretty decent race.  One website suggested sitting down straight after the race might do it - I don't normally have the opportunity to do this so maybe it was that?

I lasted another couple of hours on the sofa feeling sick and moping about that extra 6 minutes.  I couldn't face any food, even though Ian kindly went out to buy soup.  I managed a couple of slices of toast and a couple of spoonfuls of soup before giving up and going to bed at 9pm.  Not exactly my most glorious celebration!

Woke up the next day after 10 hours sleep feeling much better.   It occurred to me that perhaps my nutrition strategy hadn't been the best, so I wrote a list of everything I remembered eating during the race:
Discounting fluids and fruit - my intake for the entire day was: 1 mini sausage roll, 4 pretzels, 1/2 marzipan bar and 1 biscuit.
According to Garmin I burned 4813 kcals on the run.
That's quite a deficit.  I think maybe the heat reduced my appetite and I just didn't keep track of it - I didn't have a set strategy like at Convergence - I just had whatever I fancied at the time.  Works fine in marathons - not so great in 50 milers it seems!  A woman cannot live on ice lollies alone...