Saturday, 3 August 2019

Lancashire: Scorcher marathon (Day 9) race recap

Today I was meant to be in Somerset running the Mendip Marauder trail ultra (with 4100 feet of ascent).  Unfortunately it was cancelled at the last minute, resulting a desperate search for an alternative race.  Step up the Scorcher 10 in 10, a flat road marathon just outside Preston featuring six 4.37 mile laps of quiet country roads.  Almost the complete opposite of the race I had planned, but on the same day, significantly closer and still had places on Friday.  I was in.

This is the first race I've ever completed solo and unsupported.  I went back and checked...  I have never ever finished a race without someone waiting for me.  Until now.  Go me...

I arrived on time (rare!) and registered.  Whilst I'm filling in my medical form, the volunteer asks the guy behind me for his name... it's Charlie Sharpe!  Charlie is well-known to me via GB Ultras and I hope to go on one of his coached running holidays next year.  We had a nice chat - he was doing the half having done 100k last weekend. 

Here's the start line... this is the entire marathon field! I love these small local races - they're always so friendly.  The vibe reminded me of Worcestershire, West Yorkshire, Shropshire...
I got chatting to a nice lady called Glenis as we set off and we ran the first lap together.  Unbelievably she's running 31 marathons in 31 days!  Most of these she's just quietly getting on with by herself, whilst still going to work, how awesome is that.  I found her Justgiving page and have sponsored her as this is super impressive - not sure I could do that. Amazing.  

As we approached the end of the first lap, we were overtaken by Charlie (who started 10 minutes later than us) and went on to win the half marathon in 1 hour 26 minutes (and that's doing it as a recovery race)!  As he disappeared up the road, I commented that his pace was significantly faster than my 5k pace.  

Next on the amazing list was a young lady called Hils who is running the 10 marathons in 10 days.  She'd started early this morning to avoid the worst of the afternoon heat.  I realised when I saw her that I'd met her before - at Hubble Bubble marathon in Leeds last year - and when I re-read through my race report I discovered she was 77 and had run 64 marathons and was hoping to get to 100 before she was 80.  Well she's run at least 73 now - probably more - and it's her 78th birthday tomorrow.  Totally inspiring.  

The majority of the race looked like this:
 and each section you saw six times.  I actually quite like looped races, as it feels like you're ticking off the miles each time you pass HQ.  Here I am, still looking quite fresh (this must have been early on!) as it later got really very warm.  Garmin says the high was 31 degrees which is entirely believable.  Yet again I didn't wear suncream so have probably topped up my vitamin D levels a bit!
 More views from the race.  There were quite a few stinky cow fields en route.  I kept seeing those little floaty white plant seed pods (I googled - they're called cypselae) and trying to grab them so I could make a wish.  Easier said than done whilst running!
There were a few people doing the 9th of the 10 in 10 marathons today, and the race director announced them all at the start.  This dude was one of them, noticeable due to his "52 in 52 finisher" t-shirt meaning he has already done some epic stuff.  Here he is, disappearing into the distance after LAPPING me on a hill despite having run 8 marathons already this week. Christ on a bike.
Towards the end of this lap, I spotted a clump of wispy cypselae floating in front of me and managed to grab them.  Realising I'd captured the motherload, I quickly made five wishes.  It was interesting to notice what my brain came up with given five seconds to make that decision...

The route today was essentially a square and one of the corners was at this pub.  Initially this wasn't a problem as it was closed, but on laps 5 and 6 it was open.  I promised myself on lap 5 that I'd stop for a Coke on lap 6 as it was getting really warm by that point.  I powered through lap 5 on Kendal mint cake, a paracetamol and a caffeine bullet, but by lap 6 this was a welcome sight:
I ran in, to the surprise of the bar staff and locals, ordered a pint of Coke with lots of ice, then downed it.  I pressed the cold glass against my cheeks (heavenly!) and tipped the ice into my hat.  I felt a huge burst of energy that saw me through the rest of the race.

As you cross the motorway,  you can see the festival site on the other side of the road in the distance (click on the photo to make it bigger) - it looks closer than it is!  Just after this on my last loop I caught up with another runner called Natalie.  She was struggling a bit so I scooped her up and we ran the last kilometre or so together. 
As we approached the finish line, to my delight we passed Hils again.  I shouted that we would wait to clap her in at the finish.  A few minutes later we crossed the line together.  Natalie's husband was waiting along with their gorgeous dog, who licked the salt off my legs whilst we posed for a photo!

One of the utterly brilliant things about this race is that there was free ice cream or ice lollies at the end, I have never seen this before at any race ever and it was so so welcome.  The race director said it had been very popular - I got the impression he'd bought an ice cream van for the benefit of his race entrants.  Honestly the whole day was full of lovely people.
Within a minute, Hils came across the finish line and I got this lovely photo of her with one of the volunteers.  I sincerely hope I'm still running marathons at her age.  I meet a lot of older people through my work and I can honestly say I've never met any like her!
Lots of the finished racers were sitting around chilling at the end and one of them kindly took this picture of me before I hopped back in my car and drove myself home.  
Not a bad day's work!  The day certainly lived up to its Scorcher name.  Another county ticked off and kept my legs ticking over - I can't imagine I would have run a marathon if I'd stayed at home so definitely a good call.  I can definitely recommend this company (called Time2Run events) - really friendly and well-organised. 

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Shropshire: Piece of Cake trail marathon race recap

I'd originally planned to run the February version of this race (called Icing on the Cake) but it was cancelled due to snow.  When I discovered there was a summer version, also with an utterly fabulous medal, I couldn't resist.  The company, How Hard Can It Be Events do a selection of brilliantly themed runs, all with fantastic medals, and I'd definitely go back - they were friendly, organised and had plenty of cake.  What's not to love? 

The race began in the valley and all around were massive hills.  I was having a rough morning and spent the walk up to the start moaning about everything.  "There's loads of stupid HILLS - I hate hills".  "I'm not a very good runner, this is going to be horrific". "I should just RETIRE and sit on the sofa and eat cake".  "I haven't run for AGES and I'm out of breath just walking up this tiny incline".  Etc, etc, etc.  Honestly, I'm a joy to be around.
The race started with about 3 miles of more or less continuous hill, varying between pretty steep and even steeper.  I huffed and puffed my way up the first couple of miles, mostly walking, utilising the 'grinding it out' mentality that all marathoners cultivate sooner or later.

On the last long steep hill, I got chatting to the guy next to me.  At first I thought it would be a short conversation because he was a bit quicker than me, but I managed to hang in there.  His name was Mark and he was from Manchester.  He offered to take a photo of me when we got to the top:
Mark was doing the half marathon (the marathon was two laps of the same course) and it quickly became apparent that we would just hang out the whole way round.  He told me about his camper van, his wife, his two dogs (Border Terriers), his usual running partner and all the races he'd been doing and the time just flew by.  The landscape was very pretty - this is the view from the Trig point:
And here's Mark and I.  At one point Mark shouted "CAR" because there was a car coming and the runner in front completely ignored him and kept running in the road.  We realised he'd got headphones in so Mark tapped him on the arm with his stick (pictured).  The man turned round properly angry and was about to have a massive shouty rant when Mark cheerfully said "Car!" and pointed at the car.  The man let it go and we ran off.  Blimey! Not sure what I would've done if punches had been thrown!!
It wasn't long before we got to the descent down into the valley.  The descent was quite technical but had my beloved Peregrines on and we hopped and skipped over the rocks, mountain goat style - this was taken just before the big descent:
Mark and the others I was with were all finishing but I felt like I'd hardly started and was quite happy to do another lap.  In fact I'd headed past the start line without checking in when someone called me back to say I had to tell them I was going out again!  I went back and told them. There was watermelon and cake, both of which were fabulous.  I said goodbye to Mark and set off for 3 miles of climbing.  This time round I took a picture:
 ...which reminds me I really must examine myself for ticks :)
I also had a nice chat with a guy from London who's training for the Barkley Fall Classic (respect due for even attempting that) during this section but eventually got ahead of him and caught up with the girl in front.  Her name was Angela from Warrington and she was a proper hardcore ultra runner.  It soon became apparent that she's done loads of massive races : 55, 80, 110 miles.  Wow.  She was also lovely!
Over the next 10 miles we had a long conversation about races, cut offs and how important it is that race directors are consistent.  She told me she often vomits during races, after my experience at M2L I can safely say that would really put me off running forever but Angela just has a bit of a sit down and then cracks on!  Told you she was badass!!  I also had a comedy moment where I tried to jump over a bog and left my trainer behind.  Saw Ian at the checkpoint next to a pub and he'd kindly fetched me a shandy which made a nice treat at about 20 miles in, though I only managed a few sips.

Before long we came to the last checkpoint, the last turn and then we sailed down the hill, not caring in the slightest about running through a ford and getting wet feet (mine were wet already). 
 We crossed the finish line together, Mark was there waiting to clap us in and immediately told me I'd done the second half slower (!) but I didn't mind.  There was a lady running today who was doing her 100th marathon and she'd bought all the marathon runners a bottle of 'Shropshire Lass' to celebrate which we were given with our medals.  Such a lovely thought and an epic achievement ... it has definitely given me ideas for my 100.
I counted up today and I'm at 22 official marathons - 36 if you include all the unofficial ones!  I refuse to just churn them out and I only run races once so it's going to take until approximately 2030. Whatever!  Something to look forward to.
Here's today's bastard hills - over 4000 feet of ascent.  It's weird but I can hardly even remember the second and fourth hills - it's the first and third that stick in my mind.  I definitely remember the downhills though!
One of the main reasons I chose this race was the epic medal and it definitely did not disappoint!  What a beautiful beast!  Although the next one is going to give it a run for its money....
Overall this race was totally great.  Good checkpoints, nice friendly organisers, lovely running companions who made the time just fly by, absolutely stunning route, plenty of cake and a fabulous medal.  Really loved it, I think it was my favourite marathon this year.  

In other news, I have added a Donate tab to my website as occasionally people ask to sponsor me.  Absolutely no obligation but if you enjoy reading my reports and want to chuck a couple of quid towards the new hospital in Liverpool it would be much appreciated.  Ta xx

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. 
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!
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.