Sunday 22 September 2019

Rutland: The Rutland Marathon race recap

Rutland is the smallest county in England, a fact I didn't know until I began this challenge.  When I came up with the idea, the first thing I did was check that there were marathons in all the counties that might not have them: Rutland, the Isle of Wight, City of Bristol etc.  Last year it clashed with something so I put it on my 'definite' list for this year, just in case it was discontinued!  The week before the marathon, Rutland was in the news for being the only county in England not to have a McDonalds.

I went down the night before and stayed in a very weird B&B.  On arrival I realised I'd forgotten to pack a technical t-shirt - oh dear.  I had to laugh after last week's snarky comments about people wearing the race t-shirt before they'd run the race... my best option was to beg the organisers to give me the race t-shirt early so I could run in it.  Either that or run in my sports bra... hmm... no.

In any case, I got up the next morning, put on a hoody and a raincoat and made my way to the race.  The forecast was for rain showers but pretty much as soon as I arrived at the venue there was torrential rain.  I had my trusty Goretex but I was still feeling pretty soggy before I even got to registration.  The race was around Rutland Water, here's my first view of the lake:
I hid under a tree and checked the weather forecast.  Still says showers, but with a 97% chance of rain at the start of the race.  Hmm.   
I made my way over to registration and explained the t-shirt problem.  The girl doing the registration didn't know and fetched one of the organisers, who said I couldn't have the race t-shirt early because it was "a surprise".  I resisted the urge to mention that a) I'd rather be comfortable than surprised and b) I was going to be wearing a jacket and a vest over it anyway.  She said she'd see what she could do and went and rummaged through a box.  First she produced a non-technical t shirt and said, "I've got this," which I wasn't exactly thrilled with given the weather conditions but beggars can't be choosers, but then she said, "oh hang on... there's some of last year's technical t-shirts here... you can have one of these?  I've only got large though?"  I gratefully accepted and put it on.  It was vast, but I tucked it in and got on with sorting out my race number/drop bag/running vest etc.   This race also had a very cute idea of a "Runner's Needs" bag which you would get at mile 14 and 21 so I dropped that off too.  Then I got a cup of tea because I was cold, and hid under some trees waiting for the race to start:
By the time they called us down to do the (very brief) race briefing, the rain was starting to ease off.  It's never great starting a race when you're already wet and cold, but I was hopeful conditions would improve as the race went on.
The race began on grass as you left the registration area but quickly turned a corner and ran along a path interspersed with huge puddles alongside the lake.  The competitors were all bunched up here but it was already obvious it was going to be a very pretty race.
I had to stop three times in the first couple of kilometres - to do up my shoelaces, take off my jacket and have a wee.  I found myself running alongside a local man who only ran one marathon a year - this one - to support his local race.  His daughter was at Liverpool Uni and he'd been considering the Rock and Roll which I encouraged him to do.  We ran together for a mile or so before I lost him.  The scenery was very pretty:
One of the things I LOVE about running marathons is that there's always a new surprise to be had, something unexpected and brilliant.  It's happened so many times that you almost expect the unexpected.  I was running along minding my own business when I caught movement behind me out of the corner of my eye.    I glanced over my shoulder.  Was that man ... juggling?  REALLY?  I pulled my phone out to take a photo:
As he got nearer I said, "I've run a lot of marathons but I've never seen that before!"  He seemed slightly surprised by that, as if juggling whilst running was pretty bog standard.  He asked me how many marathons.  I told him 41.  He said he'd run 46.  I didn't find out until later that his name was Tim and he meant 46 marathons whilst juggling the entire time.  He'd done more than that but didn't count the non-juggling ones.  OBVIOUSLY.  

We then spent the next 20 miles talking about all the races we'd done, comparing notes of the best bits and the worst bits, ones to recommend and avoid, figuring out which races we'd both done.  We talked about juggling (he's been juggling for years and it's second nature), we talked about our running ambitions - he is going for 100 juggling marathons - there's a guy in Chicago (Perry) who is doing the same but he's slightly ahead at the moment.  I'm running Chicago next month so I will have my eyes peeled for another juggler. 
I soon caught on that other runners/spectators are amused/amazed by the sight of a running juggler.  You can see the people coming towards us in this picture smiling and giving a thumbs up.  Every other person makes a comment, many of which are similar, "are you going to do that all the way round?" as well as loads of generic, "that's awesome" type comments and Tim has a range of stock responses, "I'm just doing it so I don't show you up", "I thought I'd let someone else win today" etc.  It reminded me of when we had our giant dog Ludo and random people constantly said, "Is that a dog or a bear?", "You could put a saddle on her," etc etc.  

Sometimes when I'm running with someone (usually someone fairly new to running) who finds out about my counties challenge, they ask me a gadzillion questions and I get a bit embarrassed going on and on about myself.  It feels like bragging and it makes me uncomfortable, after all I'm just shuffling round various places on a Sunday, it's not like I'm some kind of superhuman athlete.  Anyway I've discovered the answer is to run beside a juggling runner.  Nobody takes a second glance at you, nobody asks you any questions, Tim was basically my human shield for 20 miles! 
He was also really friendly and the miles just disappear when you've got someone good to talk to.  He let me try his super-tasty snack bars (Lucho Dillitos) which I'd never heard of.  We talked about stupid fancy dress costumes we've worn whilst running, we talked about his fundraising (he is raising money for Wildcat Conservation - here's the link:
If you can spare a few quid, why not bung it in his direction?!
So yeah.  We did some running.  The race was sponsored by Gu so I kept picking up gels even though I don't really use them, thinking they might come in handy in future (I do sometimes have an expresso one in night races to help me stay awake).  The race did an out-and-back, then went past the start again and headed out towards the peninsula.  There were a few forest bits:
The longest road section was on the way out towards the peninsula.  Somewhere along here Tim dropped a ball, something he only did three times throughout the 20 miles I ran with him.  The whole race was amazingly well marked, with marshalls anywhere you might get confused, and excellent medical support all the way round.  There were regular, well-stocked aid stations and friendly volunteers.  Surrey could learn a lot from Rutland....
This was the view back across the lake once we got onto the peninsula.  There was a little uphill section which we walked up whilst eating (both of us had done enough ultras to value a hill in a non-hilly race!)
This bit was probably the prettiest section of the whole race.  The rain seemed to have given up and I was feeling pretty cheerful at this point.  Tim and I were talking about blogs, I was telling him about how mine are really long and waffley and epic tales, whereas his are 3 lines: "Got there, ran it, went home".  He is writing a book, and we discussed how he could use his imagination to spice up his race reports - zombie sheep, killer geese, things slithering out of the bushes.  It was highly entertaining.
Around this point we bumped into Helen when she overheard me ranting about the dreaded sign at New Forest marathon.  She joined us and we soon found out she's another one of our sort (she's run 6 marathons in 6 months) despite various health challenges - total respect to this lady, she's not had it easy but is so determined, and has two young children to fit in around her running (or maybe it's the other way round...)  I love people like her and we had some really great conversations, including about her work as a breastfeeding counsellor - she's got a car full of knitted boobs in all shapes, sizes and colours! 
It was on this bit that the sun finally came out.  I remember this bit because the three of us all agreed that this was the BEST way to spend a Sunday morning - out on the trails, running, chatting with people we'd only met today.  Despite the fact my entire weekend often has to revolve around my races, it's worth it for these bits.  It was one of those lovely 'runner's highs' where everything was alright with the world.
We finished the Peninsula and got back to the 21 mile feed station, where I got my hands on my previously-provided "Runners Needs" bag.  I guzzled my lovely Coke and Kendal mint cake, which gave me a massive sugar/caffeine boost.  This sign was right by the aid station and I was a bit like 'WTF?  WHY?'
I stayed with Helen for the rest of the race.  She said I helped her but it was definitely mutual!  Tim likes a sprint finish so we lost him somewhere in the last few miles.  Helen and I agreed we definitely had no intention of anything resembling a sprint finish so we chugged along chatting.  All was well until about a mile before the end, when the rain returned.  With a vengeance.  It's difficult to tell how bad it is from photos:
The lake just looks pretty in the above pic, but we were getting absolutely hammered, you can sort of see it here but you'll have to take my word for it that it was like getting in the shower fully clothed.
However luckily we weren't far from the end so we just gritted our teeth and got it done:
Lovely finish line pic!  Well done us.  Not the easiest race weather-wise, but lovely scenery and brilliant organisation.  The medal was good too - it has a cutout of the shape of Rutland Water which was a nice touch.  After crossing the finish line you walk round the corner into a tent where you're greeted by this joyous sight:
I ate about 4 slices of cake and got one of the volunteers to take this horrible photo:
Then I had a (free!) post-race massage.  I explained to the guy that I had to drive back to Liverpool (>3 hours) and couldn't be arsed with stretching or foam rolling, what did he suggest?  He did something which didn't really feel like much - just sort of pressing rather than massage - getting me to push against his arm with 10% effort.  I don't know what he did exactly but I had the best recovery from a marathon ever so whatever it was it totally worked - thank you so much dude! He also gave me twice as long as everyone else which was super-kind of him and much appreciated.

Sunday 8 September 2019

Hampshire: New Forest marathon race recap

This marathon began with a 4:45am alarm call in a field in Dorset.  I got up, got dressed into clean running kit and road trainers and made myself a coffee from hot water I'd boiled yesterday and put into a flask last night.  Then I disassembled my tent by torch light and hurled it in the back of my car.  I'd allowed an hour to do all this but in the end it only took 45 minutes before I started the engine as quietly as possible and drove out of the safe, lovely festival atmosphere of White Star Running and out into the world.  Dorset's back roads are pretty quiet at that time of day on a Sunday morning.
I drove along the A31, past some familiar places.  It was stunning.  The stars; the dawn; the views.  I had to pull over to take this photo, in real life it was just breathtaking:
I arrived at the New Forest marathon site at 06:40, 2 hours and 20 minutes early.  The race instructions stated to arrive three hours early to avoid the crowds ... hmm.  Nevertheless there were already quite a few people in the car park and I had plenty of stuff I needed to do before the race began. 
I started by making breakfast on my little portable stove next to my car.  I boiled up some water for porridge and coffee and then got back in the car as it was bloody chilly!
Here's my Footwell Feast to start the day - sorted me right out.  After that I cleaned my teeth whilst standing next to my car, like a proper hobo.  I put on a fleece and then tramped across the field towards the race site to fetch my race number. 
I collected it without incident, got another coffee, used the loos and then tramped back to my car.  Picked up all my stuff, attached my number and drank my coffee.  I crossed the field again to the race start and found a nice lady who helped me tape up where my bra straps had chafed against my back yesterday - a perennial problem that isn't very fixable single-handed.  We then waited for the warm-up to start (I hate warm ups!) and I noticed loads of people wearing the green race t-shirt.  This is never a good idea as you can't possibly know if it's going to chafe like a bastard.   Good luck running 26 miles if it does!
 They then announced the different pens for race start - the nice lady (I think she was called Lisa) went off to the sub 4:30 pen and I lurked in the slow and steady pen.  I was busy taking selfies when I was interrupted by a woman wanting to know where I'd got my race vest:
We had a nice chat along with her daughter, who'd been signed up to run the marathon but had recently been quite ill so had dropped down to the 10k instead.  I congratulated her on not running it anyway (literally the worst thing you can do for your first marathon) and reassured her there would be plenty more marathons in the future!  They were both quite impressed with my counties challenge - which always surprises me as it's really a feat of travel endurance rather than running endurance! - nevertheless they were lovely.  I eventually said goodbye to them, then almost immediately bumped into Ian from Crafty Fox yesterday!  We had a nice little chat and started the run together along with a bunch of his friends which was lovely.  Again we lasted a few miles before getting separated.  He asked me what time I was hoping for - I think I said five to five-and-a-half hours as I wanted to be faster than yesterday as it was much flatter.

The first half of the race was mostly within the forest and was very pretty indeed:
The race ran in both directions at this point, that's the lead bikes you can see coming in the other direction.  Shortly afterwards they were followed by the race leaders, never to be seen again (by me):
You can't read it as I was running when I took the photo, but the man in the red shorts is wearing a t-shirt that says "New Forest Gump" on the back.  I spent a good kilometre considering the spelling.  I guess it could go either way, but I think, on balance, if it were me I would have gone with "New Forrest Gump".  These are the things runners think about when spending 42 kilometres on the trails...
There was a sign next to this tree that said it was the tallest redwood in England.  Impressive.  I thought I better take a photo of it, though it doesn't really capture the scale of it...
Eventually we came out of the forest and onto the road.  I was glad I wore road shoes as the road sections were extensive on this marathon, I actually think it's a bit of a stretch to call it a trail marathon as it's very VERY road-y.  Which is kind of sad as I know the New Forest has got plenty of pretty epic trails.
By now it was getting warm and I was getting grumpy.  My Penny Lane Striders vest seemed to be rubbing on the back of my arm, I thought about why and realised I'd only ever worn it for short distances.  I'd probably never tried it out with my race vest before either.  Oh dear.  I chastised myself for thinking malicious thoughts about people running in their brand new t-shirts earlier.... I had fallen into the same trap.  I had no choice but to stop and put my jacket on.  My jacket is goretex, weighs about 700g and is breathable, but nevertheless it was definitely not the weather for jackets and I was forced to wear it for the entire race.  Sigh.  Some kindly spectators held my stuff while I hurriedly vaseline'd myself, got my jacket on, rolled my sleeves up and cracked on. Nevertheless I was making good time.  I'd managed 10k in just over an hour, which is pretty quick for me and certainly a lot faster than yesterday.

The New Forest, as you probably know, is famous for its ponies.  I have met them many times before and they can be a bit of a pain in the bum.  I overhead another runner saying they had to stop the race a few years ago because the ponies were chasing runners and it was dangerous (!!) However this year I only saw ponies close up once and it was here.  They ran straight across the road with little regard for the runners.  The man next to me said, "I wanted to see ponies but I didn't wanna see them THAT close!"
Shortly afterwards I saw this cow, when I first saw it it was on the path which was only a narrow footpath but it had lurched into the ferns by the time I got my camera out:
The race continued.  It was getting hot.  If this is a "closed road", I'm a monkey's uncle.  Running on a camber next to car fumes, you could be forgiven for thinking you were on Upper Parliament Street.  I was a bit bored.  People weren't very chatty and I kept thinking about how much lovelier Dorset was yesterday.
Then there was another boring drag up a hill, not quite hilly enough to walk but hilly enough to be annoying, with residential houses on both sides but almost no support.  Hmm.  Incidentally, this is the only marathon I have EVER run which had absolutely no food at the aid stations.  They had disgusting SiS gels but that was it.  Not so much as a jelly baby.  What exactly have I paid £52.50 entry for if I don't even get a jelly baby?! It appears they blew the jelly baby money on stupid signs.  Read on...
I saw this sign.  There were still zero ponies. It annoyed me. 
Then I saw this sign.  It also annoyed me.  Beetles should not be capitalised.  And it should be "beetle", not "beetles".  And WTF is that arrow even pointing at?
 Then I saw this sign.  I got in a right bosom-hoisting huff about this one.
1. It is deeply misogynistic.  I'm not so bothered by a hot guy in front - not that I would find that particularly motivating - I'd rather have a PB than a hot guy thanks - but CREEPY GUY?  You are being chased by a creepy guy and that's supposed to be "motivating"?  Are we actually saying that the fear of being raped is motivational?!  I was chased once by a so-called 'creepy guy' when I was running in London, I would describe the experience as "terrifying".  I may well have run faster as a result but being reminded of that experience at this moment did absolutely nothing to improve my race.
2. I've seen this sign or others along the same lines at marathons before, I find it less offensive when it's hand-written.  This was an official sign printed by the organisers - definitely Not Okay #metoo
3. There were 337 women in the marathon and 647 men.  Even if 10% of the male field were gay (statistically probable), the total number of people who this sign might be applicable to remains less than half the field.
4.  If you change it to "Run like there's a hot girl in front of you and a creepy girl behind" it somehow loses all its power.  I doubt men would be motivated by that, nor fearful for that matter.  So much for gender equality, eh?
5. There were many other, non-offensive signs scattered around the course.  I was pretty humourless about all of them (this was the 40th time I'd run the marathon distance - "smile if you're not wearing any underwear" ceases to be funny after the 10th time).  Nevertheless all of the others weren't actively offensive so it was surprising that this one got through.

I emailed the organisers after the race about it, as I was still huffing and puffing days later (mostly due to 1. above) and to their credit, they not only replied but said:
"Sorry you found the sign in question offensive and if its offensive to one runner then its one too many so we will remove for 2020. None of the funny signs are supposed to be taken seriously or literally, purely there for runners to read and help take their mind off the pain."
Fair play to them - at least they listened.

Anyway that little rant kept my brain busy for a few more kilometres.  Meanwhile, the race dragged on.  Road, road, more road.  So glad I wore my road shoes.  I was still making good time so with 5km to go I decided it was time to get a move on.  I started overtaking people.  I find my endurance is better than most marathon runners (it's a side effect of running ultras) and it's quite satisfying to overtake people who have been ahead of me all race. 
I was hopeful I could finish under 4 hours 30 as that's my best time this year (4:29 at Windermere back in May).  God knows why I thought this would be a good idea when I was already grumpy and it was my second marathon in 2 days and it wasn't even flat!  Nevertheless, I gritted my teeth and cracked on. The last 3km were my fastest of the whole race:
Sadly I did not finish in under 4:30.  My official chip time was 4:38 - still almost an hour faster than yesterday and significantly quicker than my initial goal of 5 to 5.5 hours.

I spent the last few kilometres distracting myself from the pain by thinking of all the things I was going to tell Garmin when I finished (they were sponsoring the marathon and had a stand on site).  I have a long and bitter history with all my Garmins that have gone wrong/had useless features/the fact that their customer service is literally the worst ever.

Here's a finish photo (that I wasn't prepared to pay money for) that shows exactly how much fun I was having:
I finished.  I was given a banana and a bottle of water.  They were nice.
I went to the Garmin stand and said my piece.  The man told me that a thousand people had been to his stand and nobody else had complained so it must be my problem.  I am literally never buying another Garmin ever again.  Then I ate an ice cream and asked where the showers were, only to be told there weren't any.  I went back to the car and had a pic taken with both my medals:
then got in the queue to leave.  Organisation was pretty poor, and despite pleading with the car park dude to let me take the short cut due to having to drive all the way back to Liverpool on my own (250 miles away), he said no.   In desperation, I told him I'd run two marathons in two days.  He still said no.  Sigh.  The queue stretched around two sides of the field and was barely moving.
Even after getting offsite, the traffic was almost at a standstill trying to leave the New Forest.  It took me 90 minutes to get a couple of miles.
Eventually I got away.  I drove and drove and drove some more.  I think I finally got home at around 10pm.  The car had started making a weird rattling noise.  I was grumpy and miserable and had spent 15 hours driving and only just over 10 hours running this weekend.