Sunday 28 October 2018

West Yorkshire: Hubble Bubble marathon race recap

This week's race was a huge improvement on last week's.  Not only did I have enough sleep the night before, it was also a mere 2 hours drive away so I only had to get up at 6.30am.  Luxury!  It was billed as a Hallowe'en themed fancy dress marathon so I'd been to the party shop last weekend and bought this amazing outfit.  Last night I tried it on properly for the first time.  It was surprisingly comfortable.  As soon as I arrived I spotted a few guys from Penny Lane Striders, my running club.  I didn't know them (they're much faster than me) but we had a quick chat - they were doing the 32 mile ultra.
The timing chip was attached to a sort of ankle bracelet that made me feel a bit like I had an ASBO!  The start line was a 10 minute walk away so I didn't have long before it was time to get down to the canal.  Here I am at the start line.  As you can see my hair is fricking awesome.
I suddenly noticed that not many people were in fancy dress.  As in, less than 10%.   The last fancy dress marathon I ran was Marathon du Medoc, where just about everyone was in fancy dress, so I started to wonder whether I'd gone too far.  Oh well!  Too late now!
We started running.  It was nice.  It was a cool day, but sunny, which it turns out is perfect for running in a giant wig.  My hair bounced up and down as I ran.  It felt like a bizarre and possibly slightly inappropriate cross between Baywatch and The Little Mermaid.  The route was very beautiful.
After less than a kilometre, I was right at the back with a couple of chaps, who I think were called James and Paul.  We had a great time talking about running and all the races we'd done.  Paul was on his 97th marathon with a goal of getting to 100 by the end of the year.  He'd done Medoc 3 times so we talked about that and gave advice to James - this was his 4th marathon but his first one off-road.  The time passed quickly.

The route was a 10 mile out-and-back away from Leeds, followed by 3 miles out-and-back towards Leeds.  This worked really well as it naturally broke the race into four sections which seemed very doable. 
As we approached the end of the first section, there was no sign of last week's demons.
I turned around and started the 10 mile section back.  Not long later, I lost Paul (James had got ahead of me a while earlier) so I put on some music and kept going.  Lots of random passers by smiled at me and wished me luck or commented on my hair.  It was around this point two of the Penny Lane Striders guys went past me, in second and third place!  I ran past a sewage works, still smiling...  The sky was blue and the route was pretty.  I'd been led to believe that canals are hard/boring - not true!  I met a lovely lady called Hils who was 77 and had run 64 marathons and was hoping to get to 100 before she was 80.  What a legend.  I love people like that, so inspirational.  I hope I'm still running marathons when I'm 80.  I overtook quite a few people on this leg, as I ran through the water stations and up the (tiny) hills.
The sun finally went away and it started to rain as I approached the start/finish line before the second out-and-back.  Luckily it was just a shower.  I stopped for a bit of Mars bar before tackling the final section.  I was still smiling, still loving the wig as I set off along this final section.  I'd once done a training run along this bit when staying with friends in Leeds so I was excited to come across some familiar sights.  Sure enough, after about 4k I suddenly started seeing things I recognised. Round about now I saw James coming back the other way.  He was on track for a PB!  The two Penny Lane guys also passed me, now in 1st and 2nd place in the ultra, brilliant work guys.
I reached the turnaround point, had a chat with the lovely volunteer and then headed back for the final stretch.  When I was at about 40k, my mum randomly phoned me.  She didn't know I was running a marathon and had called to ask me what "dual factor authentication" was on her iPhone, but kindly chatted to me for the next couple of kilometres to keep me company.  This really helped pass the time and we said our goodbyes when I was about 1/2 kilometre from the finish.  Whilst I was chatting to her, I saw Paul for the last time, heading out on his final section.  Here I am approaching the finish line:
I crossed the line, about half an hour faster than last week and got given my medal and goody bag.  This is the first race I can ever remember where I was given my medal in my hand rather than it being put round my neck.  I'd never thought about it before but I missed the symbolism of it, it's somehow not the same putting your own medal on.  Anyway.  I put it on and had a lovely post-race photo taken.  Really enjoyed this race and the organisation and staff were lovely, I'd definitely do another It's Grim Up North event.
And then I went to Starbucks and had a cup of tea and got changed, and while I was in the bathroom I had a proper Hallowe'en surprise when I took my sock off and found my foot covered in blood.  I hadn't realised anything was wrong but I think I must've had a long toenail which cut into the toe next to it.  Not sure my sock will ever be the same again!  Luckily my foot is absolutely fine!

Saturday 20 October 2018

Suffolk: Endurancelife Coastal Trails marathon race recap

Sometimes I feel like I'm invincible.  I've run a dozen marathons this year, I've run four ultras, I've run all day in scorching heat, I've fallen in a swamp, I've lost half a dozen toenails, I'm badass.
Here's what I learned this weekend..

1) Do not go on holiday and do absolutely no running for the two weekends prior to your race
2) Do not work all week in a busy hospital and then drive for 7+ hours on a Friday evening
3) The night before your marathon, do not have no food until 10pm and then carb load on a Filet o' Fish and chips at Maccy D's (the face shows exactly how thrilled I was)
4) Do not arrive at your hotel just before midnight
5) Do not book a hotel room with a green emergency exit light that shines in your face all night and wakes you up 1000 times
6) Getting up after 5 hours sleep at 5.45am is not conducive to feeling fully rested
7) Stay in a hotel which is able to provide adequate quantities of coffee at 05:45.

Apart from that, I was absolutely raring to go!  Here I am at the start line looking absolutely thrilled...
The set up was pretty sweet - smooth registration, friendly volunteers, free Tribe bars, nice coffee van.  I picked up my number and listened the race briefing - so far so good.  I declined the (included) race t-shirt on saving-the-planet grounds (they were generic Endurancelife shirts) and felt suitably angelic.

There wasn't too much waiting around before we set off - first along a boardwalk section with grassy reeds on both sides.  The reeds were so high that at times I couldn't see where my feet were landing.  I found myself breathing hard - it takes concentration to run like that - and hoping the whole route wasn't going to be along similar lines!  Soon it opened out onto the only truly 'coastal' section which involved running a short distance along a beach:
The path then undulated through woodland, and then out onto the big wide expanses of open heathland with little streams running alongside the path.  I was plodding along, just thinking, when suddenly around the 10-11k mark I realised I was quite near the back.  The race was small (<100 runners in the marathon) and I couldn't see anyone else and that's when the demons set in.
Battling with the demons commenced.  "Why are you even bothering?" said the demon.  "You may as well withdraw now if you're already struggling...  You think you're so great but you can't even run 10k without huffing and puffing?  No wonder everyone else is already ahead of you".
I sighed and gritted my teeth.  This was going to be a long day.
The demon was only just getting started.  "You're shit!" it cackled.  "You might as well drop out at the next checkpoint.  Then you can go home and have a rest, you're much too tired for this!"
I considered my options.  I could put on my headphones and drown the demon out.  This does sometimes work, but other times it just shouts even louder.

Instead I decided to invite it in.  "Hello demon," I addressed it. "Can I offer you a drink?"  "A DRINK?!" screeched the demon.  "Yes!  I'll have a large glass of wine," it sneered, wickedly, knowing full well that I'd only given up drinking alcohol a week ago.  I rose above it.  "So.  What is it you came to talk to me about?"

"You're SHIT!" shrieked the demon.  "You're a slow, rubbish, useless runner and you're already struggling.  GIVE UP!"  I reminded the demon that I'd run two marathons last month and that I'd pushed through plenty of difficult races before.  Silence.

A few moments later, the demon screeched, "You're fat though!" I was taken aback, but calmly replied, "I could do with losing a couple of kilos, but I have just come back from holiday.  There's plenty of people heavier than me have finished marathons.  And there's no way that's going to stop me," I told the demon.

The miles passed.  The demon produced ever weaker excuses; I shot them down.  Nevertheless, I was tired.  My preparation for this race was suboptimal and it showed.  I tried to work out which of numbers 1-7 above was having the worst impact (answer: number 6).
The trail was pretty.  I overtook some kids doing D of E carrying huge backpacks and quietly swore to stop moaning about the weight of my vest.  At one point I passed a bunch of runners going the other way, at first I thought they were faster marathon runners doing an out-and-back loop.  A few said 'well done' and I thought they were taking the mickey before I realised they were actually half marathoners (hence why they were so fast!)  I missed my turn and added 1/2 a km before a kindly spectator pointed out my error: "You're meant to be over there!" -- oops.

At checkpoint 3, a lovely volunteer shouted at the top of her voice, "COME ON RUNNERS!  YOU'RE ALMOST AT THE CHECKPOINT!!! YOU'RE DOING BRILLIANTLY!!!" which was hugely motivating.  I ate jelly babies.  I plodded on through the woods.  As usual, it took until 30k before I felt sure I would finish, and after that it was (mostly) plain sailing.

There was a particularly unpleasant gravel section just before 40k at which I finally accepted there was no chance of finishing under 5 hours, followed by a horrible deep sand section.
If you've ever run on energy-sapping sand, you can imagine my joy to come across it at this point in what is now a very warm race.  The pièce de résistance was coming across a sign that said, "1 MILE TO GO" just as my Garmin ticked over to 42.2km.  So I'd run my marathon, and now there was a mysterious extra bonus mile.  Oh deep joy.  I finally finished in 5:23, almost exactly an hour slower than Berlin a month previous.  Terrain, temperatures and demons were all difficult today.

Mandatory finish photo (oh yeah, and the medal was TEENY TINY and exactly the same whether you'd done 10k or an ultra - a pet hate of mine.  Grrr!)

Drove back to Dunwich, had a shower, ate a giant portion of fish and chips and an ice cream, had a nap, then got back in the car less than 24 hours after arriving and drove all the way back to Liverpool.

I learned this weekend that I'm not invincible.  Here's a little piece of post-race wisdom: