Snow Problem!

I was waiting for some photos from a run at the weekend, but they still haven’t surfaced, so you will have to make do with mostly just my words today! Also, huge apologies for how late this is going out – we also lost our land line briefly this week and it’s just come back so the internet has now been revived..!

This week (last week now) has been a jumble too, although that seems to be the norm at the moment! I had a swim Tuesday morning, which was a bit of hard work after the big efforts at Parkrun and cross-country, and finding out I had a lazy arse (glutes) last weekend. In fact, my legs chose my first workout of the week to tell me that they were still tired and not quite ready for swimming hard. This was in the form of a twinge in my knee that was started by pushing off the wall in the pool, but exacerbated by kicking. I used a pull buoy to combat this for a while, and then we set out on some drills.

The drill in question involved crossing your ankles over each other, and then driving hard with your arms to stay afloat. This was tricky, but not too bad with the pull buoy. Then we took that away. It was very difficult and tiring, but it focused on the raw power from your arms and shoulders to drive you forwards. We were doing 50m efforts with a couple of seconds pause at the opposite end of the pool so I didn’t have to push off too hard at all. Not pushing off the wall hard also meant that you really had to drive your arms to get any speed up. It was really interesting, and although difficult, quite fun.

I ran Tuesday evening as well, which was just an easy 5 miler along the reverse of one of our club loops with a few others. I struggled with the long hill near the end, but I knew it was just my lazy bum! I have also kept working on that all week. Since Sunday, I have been doing some “glute activation” exercises, to try and strengthen them, but also get them working properly. I went to the gym Wednesday morning and after doing some more of those exercises, I used some machines to target my quads, glutes and that kind of area to build up some strength and stability. I sandwiched all of this in between a cross trainer warm up and cool down. It was a good session, despite not wanting to drag myself out of bed in the cold for a 6am start!

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This week’s photo randomly taken from my Zwift ride…

Wednesday evening involved a revisit to the turbo trainer. I have finally cracked that out for winter training – the frost is outside and I will stay in! I use Zwift, which is a virtual training companion that talks to the speed and cadence sensors on my bike and adjusts my cycling characters’ speed accordingly. It’s great to get rid of some boredom and good motivation to go a bit quicker, or work a bit harder. I have been riding a 23km mountain/volcano loop round their created island ‘Watopia’ recently, and broke a few personal records there on Wednesday. It was also a good opportunity on trying to take the strain off the hamstrings and focus on pushing the power through my quads and glutes – I felt pretty successful at the end of it!

I didn’t actually run, or do any real excercise on Thursday! I have got involved in a December Challenge with my running club, where you have to run or walk 1 mile minimum per day, or cycle 3 miles, so I managed a mile walk at lunch time, but I was busy in the evening with a massage booked amongst other things, which was great to take the strain off those poor hammies!

Friday morning was another swim session, and this one went so much better than Tuesday’s. My swimming buddy and I did our usual 250m warm-up, then 4 x 200m efforts, which I think were all sub-3:30, so that is good progress! There was another 250m after those, because my friend can’t count, but that was at sub-3:30 pace too, so it was all good! Then we realised that the pool had cleared a lot. We had a whole lane to ourselves, so it was decided  – 50m on 1 minute. We did sets of 4 twice over, and they were all around 45 seconds (so, 15 seconds rest), and that was a positive too. So swimming was on the up by the end of the week.

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Black Park Parkrun on Saturday, turning the corner for the last straight

Saturday morning was time for Parkrun! I didn’t have work, so I happily skipped off into the FREEZING cold morning to run at Black Park. It wasn’t my best run there, but I had done well last week and I know I have a speed limiting factor, so I’m trying not to let it get me down. Results this week (not quite as good as last) stand at: my 38th parkrun, and 24th at Black Park, 205th place and 40th female out of 424 runners, where I was second in my age category. Not too bad, overall. It was super cold and my legs were heavy. I did appreciate the abuse I got just after the 4km mark, where my friend with his lovely dogs shouted, “Come on Amanda, you can dig deeper than that!” with a grin on his face. That was enough of a kick in the behind to get me moving and motivated again! Thank you for that one!

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A pair of nutters in their antlers. I did actually race in mine – dedication to the cause!

After lots of rest for my tired leggies on Saturday, I headed over to Tadley for their running club’s Christmas Cross Country – the “Xmas XC”! We awoke to panicked messages from various running friends, because the sky had laid down a couple or few inches of snow overnight. After calming those concerns that the race would not be on, it would appear that there was actually no snow in Tadley, much to our disappointment – we were quite looking forward to cross-country in the snow – we were picked up as planned by our friend in their rather convenient 4×4.

The race headquarters were at Hurst Community College, in the same location as the 10 mile event that Tadley Runners had used a couple of months ago. It was a bitterly cold morning, as can be expected, and it was also raining. This wasn’t pleasant before and after the race, but the temperature was still bearable for the classic cross-country shorts and vest top combination whilst you were running. Or at least I thought so; I’m not sure many people agreed with me!

The race start was a good 10 minutes’ walk away from race HQ, and it felt like we had already started the race, as we trekked through mud and countryside just to get to startline. We began in a big, open field, where the wind cut through you. Luckily, me and my friend had timed getting there quite well, because we were probably only in that field for a maximum of 2 minutes.

When the gun went off, all the runners hurtled towards the woods in attempts to keep warm, and to get out of the wind. After negotiating the slightly slippery field, we had a long downhill to tackle, which was becoming more of a sliding slope as every second passed, with all the trainers chomping into it. I didn’t think it through and it wasn’t until I was approaching this same hill later on that it clicked we would be climbing this muddy mound to reach the finish.

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Our little group in the warm after the XC

I have to say, this was probably my favourite cross-country race that I have ever run. It had a combination of all of the best bits (in my opinion) of what makes a great off-road event. My ultimate factor is always some root-ridden, mud-filled, leafy woodland. I adore running through the woods, under the trees, and squelching through all the fallen leaves. There was certainly plenty of that! I loved the full mix of terrain and combination of testing ups and downs. There were several moments where I was running through water and rivers that were splashing up to my knees, as well as a section where we found ourselves running alongside a horse racing track – there is probably a correct term for that, but I don’t know what it is! The twisty, turny, churny mud left me feeling full of joy and running despite the cold weather and the sprint finish in the snow made it complete! I managed to gain a place in my scramble for the finish, which was great fun, and I had  the proper lactic feeling as I was awarded with my lovely finishers’ mug.

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Finally at home in the warm, antlers dried out and intact, and finisher’s mug full of warm!

I got chatting to some guys I had been racing with at the finish, and then thought I had spotted my friend, so decided to wait and cheer her through before we scarpered out of the snow back to the warm indoors to get changed. We also indulged in some delicious home-made soup that was provided as part of the entry fee. I would like to thank Tadley Runners for a brilliant event! I wish I could make the Thames Valley Cross Country league event in January, which I believe is on the same course, but I am unable to go on that date. Such a shame, but definitely one to do if you can get there!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

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Run To The Hills

I am definitely not capable of having consistent weeks at the moment in my training. After re-joining the gym recently, I had managed to go once last week, and then I got struck with the cold of death from Tuesday night onwards, killing my plans for a Wednesday gym session and a Thursday run. In full determination to be better, I was able to run this weekend, which pleased me because I didn’t have to miss out on parkrun or the Cross Country, so maybe it struck at the right time.

Before I move on to my week, I thought I would inject Amanda’s fool-proof way to ditch a cold in 3 days!

  1. Take ibuprofen-based cold and flu tablets in the day, and Night Nurse (paracetamol-based) at bed time.
  2. Drink as many hot drinks as you can in an hour i.e. drink them when they’re really hot! And add ginger to your tea.
  3. On the day you feel the worst, have a whole day’s rest in bed, maybe even a nap or two, and for dinner have the hottest curry you can manage – I like a madras or jalfrezi!
  4. Put a teaspoon of vapour rub in a bowl of boiling hot water, then a towel/jumper over your head, and breathe it in to clear your airways.
  5. By day 4, you should be feeling better and it should mostly be at the coughing stage, so a nice short hard run like a hard effort parkrun will be the final cure to blast it our of your lungs.

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So I did manage one run this week before that cold infected its way into my body. It may have contributed slightly to the infection, because I hadn’t thought through what we would be doing that evening, and dressed for a normal chilly run, and not for standing around being coached. But we live and learn – or at least I hope I will! I also got a 2000m swim in on Tuesday morning, which was a good session, actually.

My running club had been lucky enough to be accepted onto the England Athletics Club Run initiative, and had been selected to have 3 coached sessions with one of their coaches. We had agreed as a club that we would have one session per month with this coach, and we would use it to target one of our club championship events in February – Wokingham Half Marathon. We had been allocated Rob McKim.

Our first session with Rob was focused on pacing. This was really interesting, as it highlighted a full range of running paces, and we got to practise them all. We were shown good practice for posture, how to warm up, and what that really meant. Then we moved onto the paces: recovery, easy, steady, tempo, intensive aerobic intervals, and speed endurance. It was a good lesson to understand that you need to run at your OWN pace, even when in a group, and to make sure you were judging your perceived effort correctly. I’m definitely going to be practicing this all a bit more! Unfortunately, when we were stood around listening to the coaching information, I think my body got quite chilly and that was what accelerated the infection I had suspected in the last week or so. By Wednesday I was ill.

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A screenshot taken during my Zwift ride. Climbing the mountain.

I tried to sweat it out on the turbo trainer Wednesday night with a moderate 45 minute session on Zwift, but it didn’t improve things, so I left all exercise until Saturday after that. This meant no gym, no running club on Thursday, and no Friday morning swim. This made me sad, but I was feeling a lot better by Saturday, so the rest must have done me good!

I had decided that on Saturday morning, I would attempt to run Parkrun hard, and see how fast I could go. I had finally managed to turn up to Black Park on pacer weekend, which meant that there would be volunteers out running at 1 minute increments from about 19 minutes to 34, usually. I realise now that my idea to try to beat my all-time 5km PB was a bit silly after having a cold and literally just getting over it the day before, but I went all out on the first kilometer, sticking to the 25 minute pacers, until my lungs gave me a sign (in the form of wheezing), and my legs in a sign of not keeping up, that this was in fact a terrible idea, and I should back off the pace.

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The second to last straight of Black Park parkrun, gunning for the finish

I stopped once at 3km quickly to cough my lungs up, and again at 4km because I just wasn’t getting the air in and my chest was just struggling after being ill. So I finished in a time of 26:39, I think officially on the Black Park parkrun results page. It wasn’t an entirely disappointing result, despite still not beating my 5km PB, which (slightly embarrassingly) still stands at the end of a triathlon at 25:21! I was 1st in my age category (SW20-24), 30th female, 160th out of 424 runners, and it was a new Black Park PB for me! I will take the positives from that! I have to remember that it is not an easy course to do a quick time on either.

Sunday brought the XC organised by Handy Cross Runners, and the hilliest course of the cross-country league. I brought tiredness, a belly full of beer, and tired legs along – I had got in at 1am from seeing Kasabian at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night! It was well worth it, but my night of drinking and dancing was going to cost me. I was very indecisive about what to wear. I was so hot in the morning, so turned up with my long-sleeved underlayer in my bag and a running vest and shorts on. Then I got cold, so put the underlayer back on, warmed up running up the hill, and then decided I would be too hot running in my underlayer, and had to abandon it at the bottom of the first hill near the race HQ.

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Not quite all of the Burnham Joggers team on Sunday – there were 32 of us in total!

The start of this race, as you may have gathered, is at the top of a hill, which you get to come hurtling down when the gun goes off. This makes for an exciting start, and as I think I worked out actually means that you get more downhill in the run than you do up, which in Bradenham Woods can only be a good thing! You soon meet a nice juicy climb, which turns into an even steeper climb as you enter the woods.

This particular cross-country has four main steep climbs that really get your legs burning. The in between bits are full of mud and leaves, and some great fun over a tough terrain, as well as a few brilliant downhill sections. The penultimate downhill is over a steep camber, which makes for a technical descent, and I witnessed one runner fall sideways ahead of me, although luckily he bounced up and declared he was ok. He is braver than me! After one more energy-sapping climb, and a lap round the woods – it was time for the last descent. I had decided that this would be the time to catch a runner ahead of me, and set them in my sights.

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Trotting along at the bottom of the first hill

I flung myself down the final hill and went all out – maybe slightly too early, but I was going for it now! I was gaining nicely on my target as we turned the corner for the last field. It was so muddy and slippery that I was struggling to make any ground, but with a couple of hundred metres to the finish and some encouraging shouts from my fellow club runners I managed to dig deep and overtake for the finish! It was great fun, and although I was ruined from my diseased week and hectic Saturday, it was a brilliant challenge, where I could refuel with delicious sandwiches, tea and cake.

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Getting some air time in a sprint for the finish!

Writing this the day after the race, I have made a discovery. Ignoring the alcohol consumption the evening before, I may have found the source of my struggle to gain speed and climb hills at the weekend. I had felt my hamstrings straining going up the hills at the cross-country and have definitely been finding it harder to pick up speed in a run over the last few weeks. What caught my attention today was that my hamstrings were extremely sore, but my glutes and quads were doing alright. This tells me that my glutes aren’t firing properly. I’m taking it as a positive that I discovered this now, because it’s winter for one thing, so I can build up a base during the off-season. Not only that but the challenging course at the cross-country highlighted the root of the problem, and potentially what had caused my knee injury before. So I can do some glute activation exercises and try to build up from there. I will keep you all posted!

Thank you for reading,

Amanda x

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound of Runners

This week has been a double whammy of off-road running. In fact, the only running I have done this week has been off-road. (I had a slightly lazy day off in London on Tuesday, although I did cycle on the velodrome!) It’s been really nice after the crazy year I’ve had of mad training and racing to have a chilled out, light week of exercise.

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Making moves onto the Olympic velodrome and loving it! Photo credit: Katie Raettig

Just quickly though, the velodrome was FANTASTIC! I had been bought a taster session on the track as a present and had finally got round to using it. My best friend came along, and we headed down in plenty of time to the Olympic Park in Stratford to see what it was all about. Around the outside of the velodrome there are BMX, mountain bike and road circuits, as well as the indoor track, which actually makes it the only place in the world that houses all of these disciplines. I had a great time racing round the velodrome, and although I was initially terrified of the 42 degree slope on the bank, I did actually make it the whole way to the top several times! I had two 10 minute blocks of track time, and I’ll be honest – that was tiring! I have full respect for those elite athletes who can race flat-out for a full hour’s time trial on there. This is definitely somewhere I would like to go back to, to try out the sport again, but also to watch some serious cyclists compete.

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All the way to the top – I didn’t think I’d make it up there! Photo credit: Katie Raettig

The trails started on Thursday night. I had spotted my friend had liked a clothing company called Ashmei on Facebook, and it had shown under that piece of information that they had an event on a week later. It was a 10km trail run that was completely free to sign up to and there was cake at the end. with the opportunity to buy some discounted running gear. I signed up and managed to persuade two of my running buddies from the club to come along and we all met up at the clothing shop in the middle of a farm estate ready to run at 7pm.

At first, it didn’t look like much, and we weren’t quite sure what we had signed up for! Soon enough the room was filled with about 20 like-minded runners, and there was a quick chat about what would be going on that evening. Then it was time to run. We ran through the farm, apparently along the edge of a golf course, and onto the trails – straight up a hill, naturally. This made a clear split in the group of the faster runners, and us novice trail ‘joggers’.

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The night-time trail crew at Ashmei headquarters

I really loved this trail run. We started in Aldbury, ran up to the top of Tring Ridgeway with fantastic views that I reckon would look even better in daylight, and then up a bit higher towards Ivinghoe Beacon. Lots of climbing in the first half meant only one thing – after a stretch of flat, we had a brilliantly fast descent from Bridgewater Monument down to the road, where there was a short tarmac jog up the hill back to HQ. The route was great – it featured my favourite part of all off-road running: some leafy woodland sections, as well as plenty of hills to sink your teeth into and enjoy the view from the top! In fact, I have just started to listen to Marathon Talk (from the very beginning, I might add – gulp! I have a lot to catch up on  – a great weekly podcast about running, for those that don’t know – and a mantra that was shared this week was, “The bigger the hill, the harder the climb, the better the view from the finishing line.”.

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Left to right: Mark (Burnham Joggers), Hannah (Burnham Joggers), myself, and Brian (Tring Running Club)

We ended the evening catching up with people we had run with and even the others that were speedier than us, enjoying some beautiful cake and a lovely warm cup of tea. We had run with a man called Brian from Tring Running Club, who was a wonderful guide along the way; as well as Stuart, the owner of Ashmei. It was great to talk to people who have a completely different experience of a club night run to us. These guys never run on the road. All year round they run off-road on trails and tracks. I think that’s so great and I will definitely be looking at entering the Tring Ridgeway Run that is organised by Brian’s club because I loved running the section of the route that we did. Also, quite handily, it’s a club championship event for us, so there will hopefully be lots of members of my running club there. A huge thank you to Ashmei and Brian from Tring Running Club for hosting us. We had a great evening.

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Fresh cross country shoes ready to get muddy! (Saucony Peregrine)

At the back-end of this week, we hurtled into cross-country, and my first XC race of the season. This Sunday was hosted by Sandhurst Joggers in a new venue, Lord Wandsworth College in Hook. This meant it was a new route, and the whole race would be new to everyone competing. I had also purchased some shiny, new, bright green cross country trainers the day before with the intent of christening them in the mud today!

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The Burnham Joggers team before the start of Sandhurst XC

There was a bitter wind this morning that was threatening to bite through my skin, so I kept my layers on for as long as possible! After a frivolous dancing warm-up with my buddies (soon to be choreographed, I’ll have you know), we were (sort of) ready to start running. I’ll be honest, none of us heard the pre-race briefing at the start line, but there were mumbles in the pack about two laps. This was confirmed a few minutes later. We ran along the field we started on, a quick few steps onto a bit of pavement where I found out that my Saucony’s really can “run anywhere” – no slipping for me – and round a track corner up a hill. The first of many, this was a long, but not too steep climb with a cheerful marshal at the top saying, “Well done! See you on the next lap”. There we have it.

At the top, it got proper cross-country. Through the woodlands – my favourite – and into lots of muddy, boggy, slippy slidy-ness! I loved hurtling down the hill after all of the sliding about. I have definitely got more confident descending this year. This helped me gain a bit of ground back that I probably lost going up the hill! Then THE hill came. Super steep mountain of a hill. I enthusiastically dug in, and I reckon I managed to run about a quarter of it; my steps getting smaller and smaller, my heart-rate getting higher and my breathing getter harder. My legs screamed at me and I decided, especially if it was a two-lap course that my legs would benefit more from me walking this climb than they would burning them out getting to the top. I was right, because I could overtake some people who had amazingly run the whole way to the top on the flat – they had burned their legs out. I flew along the flat and got ready to fling myself down the last descent of the loop.

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The view from HQ

I enjoyed the twisting downhill section, and used my confidence coming out of this onto the last stretch really helped. We crossed one solid, ploughed field that was hard and rocky underfoot, where I made up a bit more ground, then entered the last field. This one had a bit less traction in, and I had to work up the slight incline, which when you turned a right-angled corner got a bit steeper and a bit bumpier. I pushed on up to the top and enjoyed the respite of the flat. One lap would have been enough!

 

The second lap is always a bit tougher because you’ve been there before. I used something else I had heard in a Marathon Talk podcast that mental performance coach Midgie Thompson had said she uses. I told myself, “I can and I am”, i.e. I can do it. The first hill proved challenging because so many feet had crossed over this once, and in some cases twice. My legs were getting heavy towards the top, but I had been up it once, so I could do it again. All of the course was extremely slippy now, but I enjoyed the challenge of staying upright and ploughing through mud that was desperate to steal my new trainers! I’m pleased to say that they did not succeed!

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The last push for the finish line

The big mountain soon came round and with tired legs, I gave in to just walking up it. I had made good ground on the downhill section before. A fellow club runner caught up with me on the hill and we crawled to the top together. Then for the last muddy flat,  the last descent, and time to fly along the fields. I was rejoined by my friend for the last few hundred metres, where I sent her off ahead – she’s speedy and I was surprised to see she had been behind me – and it was all worth it because she overtook someone on the finish straight. I made it onto the flat, and tried to muster up some speed for a finishing sprint. Encouraged by another member of my club, I did just that and finished with that bitterly satisfying lactate-in-your-throat feeling.

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I promise these are the same trainers from the start!

It was a great cross-country event, especially for a new venue, and my shoes had been well and truly christened, along with some extremely muddy legs! I polished off some sandwiches, cake, and tea, then set off home to defrost my feet. There was a small detour to Odiham Castle on the way home, which is definitely not a conspiracy from people who make brown signs, and actually just needed finding on foot! All in all, a great week with lots of new/different things, so it makes sense my legs are tired. Monday is definitely a day of rest next week!

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The secret castle that is Odiham

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

You Are Capable Of So Much More Than You Think

I have only ever entered one team event before, and it was a bit of a peculiar layout to what you would normally expect. That one was a team relay triathlon, where A, B and C relayed within each part of the triathlon. So A would swim, then B would swim, then C would swim, followed by A cycling, then B and C cycling, then A, B and C running in succession. That was fantastic fun, and great for someone looking to try out the sport. This race, however, would be my first participation in a duathlon, and my first team one in a traditional sense, i.e. a first runner, a cyclist, and a second runner.

I was nudged by a friend at work to participate, because they really fancied it, and it took all of a few seconds for me to agree. I sourced another team-mate, my boyfriend, and we had a team of 3! Since I was the only member of our team who owned a bike (and rode it in a semi-competitive way), I would do the bike ride. Also, to be fair, I am definitely the slower runner in  the trio, so it worked out that everyone was racing to their strengths. This would be a sprint duathlon at Dorney Lake, starting and finishing with a 5km run, and a 20km bike ride in the middle.

I must admit, I hadn’t trained much on the bike in the lead up to this race. I had posted some times that I was pleased with in some triathlons before the season ended. The last of which had been mid-September, before I deemed it to be getting too cold to get my bike out on the road. I had been out on a 55km ride in the middle of a triathlon on my last ride, and I couldn’t feel my feet for the 2 and a bit hours I was riding for.

Unfortunately, due to timing, I had been training for the Dublin marathon, as you may know, and I had completed that just 3 weeks previous to this duathlon. As a general rule, after running a race, your body will take a day for every mile to recover, so I was still just inside that 26 day window of recovery. My legs had certainly been feeling it after those 26.2 miles, so I had decided it was best to let them recover, and go off the back of marathon training and the triathlon season I had just finished.

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A beautiful sunrise at Dorney Lake. My camera phone did not do it justice.

Runner 1, my boyfriend, had been improving over lots of distances in the last couple of months, including a PB time of 1:28:40 at Cardiff half marathon in October, and increasingly better times at Black Park parkrun all the way down to 20:05. He was really chasing that sub-20. Would today be the day? Black Park is a challenging course, especially if it’s been raining, and isn’t exactly flat, but Dorney Lake was pancake flat for sure.

Runner 2, my friend Jemma, had completed her first half marathon this year in a time of 1:36:43 – pretty impressive, and even more for your first half! On top of that, she smashed out a sub-20 parkrun in Rickmansworth on either her first or second run there (I couldn’t find the excited text message to check exactly). So we’re looking at two fairly evenly matched super runners, and myself on the bike.

This event was organised by F3, and I have to say, we did feel a little like they had organised the event with a team option, and then forgotten about the fact that there was a team event. But more of that later. I dug out the time trial bike, checked the tyres were pumped up and it still ran true, and that got popped into the back of the car. I have noticed as a cyclist, you definitely need more kit than a runner!

I registered at the tent, and was surprised to be handed only one race number. When I enquired, they said that was it, even though we were a team. There was also a couple of stickers for my bike. In the end, I asked an F3 employee, who agreed I wouldn’t have to wear the number with the pins on the bike, as I had a number on my front on my helmet, and on the seat post of the bike. They did explain that normally they would hand out race belts, but they hadn’t received the order for the race. No big, I guess – Chris would swap numbers with Jemma whilst I was cycling.

I managed to do a quick warm-up on my bike, which was very fortunate in the end, because the chain slipped off TWICE before I got it to settle in properly! I was lucky that didn’t happen mid-race! I think the chain had been knocked getting the bike in/out of the  car. I tucked down into position and shot up the service road, and was greeted with the beautiful sight of a deer prancing across the  tarmac and into the woods! I rode out for a mile, then headed back. There wasn’t much point in warming up too much, because I was going to have to rack my bike before the race briefing, and then stand in the cold wind waiting for Chris to speed round the 5km course.

Race briefing started slightly late, and we were a bit disappointed to find out that there was no mention of the team event at all. This was alright if you were familiar with the layout of a relay, but if you weren’t, like my team-mates, then it was slightly overwhelming. A mere few minutes later, the race had started, and Chris was off to complete his first of 2 laps along the 5km course. He was doing really well on the first lap, and was in a good position coming into transition.

We exchanged a brief conversation whilst I popped my helmet on, took the timing chip off him, attached it to myself, and grabbed my bike from the rack. “Well done!” “Thanks” “Did you PB?” “Yeah” “Sub 20?” Yeah” “AH! Well done!!”. Then it was time to run with my bike out to the mounting line. My legs were cold. I had tried to keep them moving a bit waiting for Chris to return from his run, and I had been wearing some lovely warm jogging bottoms, a coat, and a jacket. It was still going to take a little while to warm the muscles up though.

I knuckled down in the first lap, which followed around the return lake, and I knew it well. The wind was blowing hard that morning, and it was up to its usual mystical tricks at Dorney: you travel up one side of the lake into a headwind, turn 180 degrees, and cycle down the other side into a headwind… Go figure?!

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My inspiration for the morning. The one and only Chrissie Wellington.

I can’t say that I noticed the time going round the first lap, but just kept reminding myself that this was for the good of the team. The second lap ticked by nicely to the halway point, and 18 minutes had passed, so I thought I would be on for a reasonable time. I really had to focus and push coming down the home straight on each lap, because this carried the worst of that headwind. On the third lap, I decided I would be able to roughly predict the time I would finish the bike ride in, and screamed, “NINE MINUTES!” at my team-mates to give them warning for the fourth and final time I would be cycling to that point. I dug in through the last lap, and kept thinking about Chrissie Wellington, who I had met that Monday at a book signing. She had written “You are capable of so much more than you think” in my copy of her book, and I also remembered her talking about how in every race she had competed in, she had wanted to quit. I used these things as motivation to push on. I completed the bike ride in just over 36 minutes. Not quite a course PB, but it was certainly windier that day, and I was pleased with my 19mph average.

Over to Jemma for the final 5km of the morning. She shot off up the lake, so I popped on my warm clothes, and we walked over to a point on the run course where we could cheer her on. She came flying down the lake towards the end of the first lap, and I “encouraged” her. I will point out that I was instructed to cheer in this manner by Jemma herself: “Get those f***ing legs moving, Jemma! Run b***h, run!”. I saw her pick up, and move on to the second lap. I could see she was working hard. Chris stuck with the traditional, “Go Jemma! Well done!” – probably more acceptable to anyone nearby!

We headed over to the finish line, which had now deflated and blown over for the second time of the morning, and awaited Jemma’s return. Some more abuse/encouragement down the finish straight and a very strong finish indeed, then the duathlon was complete! We had done it in a time of 1:18:00 exactly. It appears on our Garmins that the run was slightly over 5km, meaning Chris’ amazing 5km PB of 19:45 doesn’t show on the results. However, they looked something like this: 20:13, 36:41, 20:24. I have actually just realised as well, that I managed to do negative splits on the bike! Over four laps, in order, I did: 09:32, 09:11, 09:08, 08:50 – FAB!

After Jemma had caught her breath, we headed over to the timing results print-out desk, and eagerly snapped up our results, to find out we were 1st in our category! We had only gone and won the team event! We were, and all still are, ecstatic! We were awarded a prize, and celebrated with a nice warm drink and a delicious baked potato.

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The dream team posing with our trophy and the Olympic rings at Dorney Lake.

It seems we may be the duathlon dream team. Bring on more team events! It really was great to participate as a team, and definitely something I will look into in the future.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

Nobody Said It Was Easy; No One Ever Said It Would Be So Hard

A marathon is not just a commitment to one day. You commit mornings or evenings around your working days, those Sunday mornings when you could really do with staying in bed, and hours and hours of what sometimes feels like endless running. Then one day, you turn up at the start line, and all those hours are put to good use. For some people, they will triumph with victory, others will struggle along the way but still remain victorious, and there will be a few that will unfortunately fall at the final hurdle (but I hope not too many). This is my story of Dublin Marathon 2017. (Sorry it’s a long one!)

I had trained through the Summer, attending a long course of physio since the last marathon for a knee injury I had sustained almost a year before I would stand on the start line for Dublin Marathon. Many hours had been put in, in the form of races, training with friends, or those necessary solitary runs to prepare for race day.

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With Eoin Ryan

I flew in to Dublin airport the day before the race with my friend Dougie, from the running club, and we promptly headed to the expo to collect our race numbers and hopefully a few goodies! I love attending the expo’s – everyone is buzzing about the race, you FINALLY get to receive your number for the big day, and some freebies! I love listening to the talks and speeches put on to inspire you, and ogling new gear, which you inevitably purchase some of! Dublin was no exception, but it sure got me ready for race day. I met Eoin Ryan, who was talking about his book and being a positive person as well as a positive runner, and was even lucky enough to get my book signed by him! We posed for photos, including one with a huge version of the medal the next day. I also indulged in some retail therapy, stocking up on some new super running socks, a new pair of Xtenex laces for next year’s triathlon season, and managed to acquire a couple of free toasted marshmallow flavoured gels! Result! Obviously not for consumption on race day, I might add, but I am so excited to try these in training soon!

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Do you think we can carry the medal after the race?!

That evening, we met with our other running buddy and supporter for a lovely Italian meal full of carbs, and a short walk around Temple Bar. My first impressions of Dublin were wonderful. Everyone is incredibly friendly, and nothing at all like anyone you would find in London. In fact, we didn’t have any coins to pay for our bus fare, and a local was just going to pay for our fare and not accept anything for it. We were so taken aback by the charity, but managed to get him to accept some cash in the end. It really set the tone for how welcoming the city truly was.

Race day was soon upon us on Sunday, and I have to admit that I think I was feeling a little nervous. Understandable really, when months of hard work and training had all led up to one big day. I reminded myself not to put any pressure on, and that whatever happened was going to happen. I just had to do my best. The hotel we were staying in had opened breakfast up half an hour early, especially for the marathon runners staying there. There were 20,000 runners expected to pound the streets of Dublin that day. I filled up on porridge and toast, and stashed away a banana for closer to the start, just like I normally do.

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The start line awaits

The start was a 20 minute walk for us from the hotel and a nice little warm-up for our legs. I dropped a bag off with my warm clothes and essential flip-flops for the finish in the bag drop, and we found our place in the starting pens, next to the 4 hour 30 minute pacers. The plan was for me to try to keep up with these pacers, and for Dougie to relax and enjoy the race, because he was running off the back of a PB at Berlin 4 weeks previous.

Pre-race nerves soon turned into excitement as we edged towards the start. We even met someone who used to run for our club, Burnham Joggers, 27 years ago! What a small world! We wished him well, and each other, and we were off. I was so lost in the moment, and giving myself a little pep talk about how I was going to get a PB but to take it steady in the first half and not set off too fast, that I almost missed my first cheer from our supporter at the half mile point! Whoops! I appreciated it nonetheless.

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A lucky shot near the start! Good old fluorescent vests!

Around 4 miles into the run, we entered Phoenix Park, via Dublin Zoo, where I am informed a man in a rhino costume was stood, although I never spotted him. Phoenix Park, I believe, is the largest recreational park in Europe, and it really is astronomical. I was in awe. We ran along this stretch on a slight incline for what felt like a while, where we reached a roundabout showcasing the Phoenix monument. The path then followed down a similar gradient and distance until we left the park. I was still in awe of the vastness of it – all you could see around you was this huge park, and hundreds of supporters. It was fantastic! It reminded me a little of Richmond Park in London.

A mile or so later at 7 miles, there was a live band playing, which I always really enjoy. I love live music and I think it really adds to the experience of a race and can pick you up when you need it the most. Luckily, I didn’t need it at this point, but was just grateful to enjoy it. Shortly after that, there was a water station, which was followed by several big, open dustbins with targets printed on the lids. They were there to encourage people to launch their water bottles in the bin. I had been holding onto mine since the last water stop and sipping on it, but finished off the last bit here, threw my bottle, and hit the bullseye! Winner!

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An aerial view of the grand Phoenix Park

We re-entered Phoenix Park around mile 8. This time it was just so beautiful. We ran along tree-lined paths with views of stunning lakes and scenery. I was just so astounded by its beauty and tried to soak it all up. We had a mile or so running through there, and by this point, the weather had taken a surprising turn. When we started, it hadn’t been cold but there was a slight chill in the air. I was in disbelief that the sun had come out around mile 5 and it was actually really sunny and warm. I would later discover I had tan lines – yes, tan lines – from late October in Ireland! Who would have known?!

The next few miles ticked by rather comfortably, and I achieved a pretty even pace, so I was pleased with my progress. I had stayed within the same distance of the pacers as I had at the start, and I was feeling good. I reached the halfway point at 13 miles ever so slightly ahead of target in 2 hours 14 minutes roughly. Excellent. I was also cheered on by our supporter at the halfway point, which was a lovely boost. I had found a random running partner who was chatting away to me whilst I tried to focus on getting up the hills – no, Dublin is not flat – and she was happy to sit at the same pace as me, so that was a good bit of encouragement too.

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Feeling green later on in the race

Then came mile 15. I started to feel uncomfortable in my stomach at this point. I thought maybe it was just because I was due another gel at this mile marker, and took on some energy, as well as some water. I was confident that I had drunk a reasonable amount of water and kept my hydration balanced. I had sipped on the water bottles on my belt as well as a small bottle or two from the water stations. I had had a bit of Lucozade, but I had trained with this also, so that wasn’t an issue, I didn’t think. Then at 16 miles, my stomach felt no better. At 17, it was definitely feeling worse. I happened upon a very quiet block of portaloos and had a very short break in there. I can’t say that helped either.

I decided to run to the 18 mile marker and see how I felt. I was feeling lethargic and my stomach was not helping the situation. I took on another gel at 18 miles, which gave me a bit more energy. I thought maybe I was just tired because you never really sleep well the night before a big race and it had been unexpectedly hot, then unexpectedly cold again. I am not ashamed to say I had a few walking breaks at the mile markers from then on. I just didn’t feel right. I had a bit more Lucozade at mile 22, where I was starting to really drag my heels, but I just didn’t want to give up. I thought it would help hydrate me and give me a little pick-me-up just like it had done on all those days I had trained before. It just didn’t seem to help.

I wasn’t sure if it was a gel issue by this point, so I stopped taking on anything other than water after that. I didn’t feel like putting anything into my stomach – it just wasn’t settling. I could also have done without all the signs at mile 22 shouting in huge letters: THE WALL!, and things to that effect – that was not helpful! This was the mile that also included a jolly big hill with a banner reading ‘Welcome to Heartbreak Hill’. Again, not so helpful. I still felt green.

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Heart-breaking…

What was encouraging, and honestly so lifting, was the support around the course. I was honestly so overwhelmed by the amount of people out cheering you on. There was not a single part of the whole race where there wasn’t someone cheering and encouraging you. I was extremely grateful for this because I was suffering, but I also had a saving grace. At the expo, we had donated to a charity for sick children in return for a sticker with our names on to put on our race numbers. People were seeing me suffer and cheering me on using my name, and telling me I could do it. That affirmation was worth so much in those moments.

Mile 23 was full of relief, when I just could not believe my eyes – after all those miles, I had literally run into my friend I had started with. “Oh my god, I am so glad to see you!”, I panted to him. He asked what I was doing there – I should have been way ahead – and I explained how I was suffering from gastrointestinal issues. I also spotted something porridge-looking like vomit on his running vest, but I don’t think either of us could bring ourselves to talk about it at that point! I would later find out that he was sick at mile 13, but managed to carry on. I had also noted that he was a bit ahead of the time we had expected him to run at. I decided to trot ahead a bit, with the promise to myself of a short walk break of a minute when I got to mile 24.

I did just that. As I was about to start running again, my friend had caught up with me. He seemed quite concerned, but I explained how the short walk was helping to settle my stomach. I ran to mile 25 with him just behind me – he thought he might get another PB! We plodded along, until I said I needed a short walk, but he could keep going if he wanted. I had a brief minute’s walk, and then we headed off together – I think we had decided that we were going to push through and suffer to the finish as a team by this point, we just hadn’t made a verbal agreement.

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Silently powering through the last part of the race

I was feeling very ill as we passed through the last kilometer. I knew I had to finish after all I had gone through that day, and I had Dougie encouraging me along. He was still on for a PB. I was so close to vomiting along the finish straight that I had to have a 20 second walk to push it back down with a soul-destroying 400m to go. It seemed so close, yet so far. Then I started jogging to the finish. It was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other, and visualise crossing the line. It was so close – I could make it.

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My most prized picture from the day, capturing a very special finishing moment

We crossed the finish line hand-in-hand in a time of 4:46:22, an amazing 4 minute PB for Dougie, and a 30 minute PB for myself. I was overjoyed, but also very ill. We rushed over to the side out of the way, and I promptly threw up. An official lady came over to make sure I was alright. I apologised, saying it was disgusting, but she laughed it off and said, “it wasn’t the first time I’ve seen it today, and I’m sure it won’t be the last”. She advised me to drink sips of water, and to be honest, a few minutes later, I really didn’t feel that bad.

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Holding it back for the last few seconds. I just remember feeling so ill.

We were awarded with our medals, and tried to keep moving as much as possible. I popped on all my warm clothes and my beloved flip-flops – oh, they are heavenly after a hard race! Then we waddled back to the hotel. Later on, I met with our friends again for an obligatory pint of Guinness or two and a delicious, well-earned carvery meal in Temple Bar. We enjoyed some live music, and then crashed out asleep. We think either it was the stomach bug going round the week before that caused 2 of us to be ill, or the drops and rises in temperature on the way round, but I guess we’ll never be sure. I know I won’t be touching Lucozade for a while though!

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Two happy finishers, who you wouldn’t think had had such a tough race from this picture!

It was such a great race, despite all the problems I had, and I can’t be upset with a PB! The main thing for me was the support and the crowds. Even my friend, who has done 19 marathons said that the support in Dublin was like no other race she’s done. There really wasn’t a moment when there wasn’t someone cheering you on. It was fantastic! This is definitely a race that I will be coming back to at some point.

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Celebrations in the evening!

I also had some fantastic news that week. At the end of one marathon, I am pleased to announce that I will be running London Marathon in 2018 for Macmillan! I am so pleased, and I will share my link for fundraising here in case anyone is feeling generous. I wouldn’t feel I was doing my job otherwise! So I guess you can look forward to more training and marathon posts in the future!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/amanda-london18

Thank you for reading,

Amanda x

Yikes, Ruh Ruh Ruh Run, Scoob!

For my third and final run of the weekend, I visited Tadley with a couple of my running buddies for the Tadley 10 mile road race. This was its 15th year in the running, and for the first time, I am led to believe, it was run in reverse. The event is organised by Tadley Runners, and I always do my best to support local running clubs’ events over big-named corporate ones. This is not just because I prefer the quieter atmosphere and running experience, but because I think they are generally better thought out and organised with the runner in mind.

The start and finish lines were at Hurst Community College, hidden away in the beautiful countryside. The roads would be open to traffic, but they seemed very quiet on the way there, and the route was to be marshalled and sign-posted. We picked our numbers up on the day – nice and simple, and admired the prizes on offer for the speedy ones.

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Our little team of 3 with the one and only Mystery Machine!

Wandering around on site, we found the Mystery Machine! There was a guy at the event doing the announcements, and pumping out some music to get everyone in the mood for running. He had his very own Mystery Machine, and it was mint! My mouth dropped to the floor when I saw it, and it was a particular highlight of my morning.

Anyway, everyone assembled at the start line, mostly club runners; maybe because it was a local event, and there was a quick announcement before we were off. I am tapering for a marathon very soon, so I just wanted a steady run. The plan was that the three of us that had travelled there together would do the run together.

The route follows round lots of country lanes, with stunning houses to ogle over and decide which one we want to live in. It was extra special because this time of year is so gorgeous. Autumn is full of colours and I love watching the leaves change. The temperature was a little bit warm, as it had been the previous day when I ran. But I had learned from my Parkrun on Saturday morning and opted for a vest top and shorts – a wise choice in the end. The smell of the countryside stuck with us most of the way round too, which I enjoy much more than the smell of busy traffic-filled roads! It was just so peaceful and pretty.

There were a few hills on the way round, and I am reliably informed that we did run in the more difficult direction, but I don’t mind a hill as long as it’s not a mountain. They were all manageable, in my opinion. The climbs could be quite long in places, but there were some reasonable descents that made up for that too. The worst climb was probably around 8 miles ish, where it just seemed to carry on forever, although in reality, it was about 1 mile of hill.

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Three happy Burnham Joggers at the finish!

Before we knew it, our casual little run had ended, and we returned to the college site hand in hand, crossing the finish line as a team. It was a really enjoyable race, and I will definitely look at entering next year, when I can run it the easier way round! I like that the route changes slightly like that, because it makes it a bit more interesting from year to year.

The finish goodies were also good. Considering the entry fee was low (£14 for England Athletics registered athletes), I thought the quality was very good. I respect a club that puts on a good, friendly, well-organised race such as this one, whilst trying to keep the costs down. We got a banana to munch and some water. There was no finisher’s t-shirt, which I wasn’t particularly sad about, because I have so many from other events! There was no medal either. Which may surprise you if you know me as Muttley the medal hoarder…. hehehe medal medal medal….! It was in fact a lovely engraved glass memento, almost like you would expect to receive if you won a prize. This made a nice change from the regular mementos you get at the end of a race.

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The lovely race memento

A huge thanks to Tadley Runners for an excellent event. I hope to be back in years to come, and will continue supporting this club as much as I can. I thought the marshals were great – very friendly and encouraging. Their next event is a cross-country run, which is very popular locally – “Xmas XC” – a 5.2 mile race on 10th December. I hope to be there!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

Beer, Beer, We Want More Beer…

…Everybody’s cheering, “Get another beer in!”. At midday today, I ventured into Windsor for the British Beer Run at Windsor and Eton Brewery. Two distances were on offer: the Half Pint – 5km, and the Full Pint –  5 miles. Myself and a few others from my running club, Burnham Joggers, opted for the 5 mile event; after all, it’s better value, right?!

Three well-known facts: some people like beer, some people like running, and then there are the people that enjoy both. The good people of Full Steam Events recognised this, and thought what better an opportunity than to organise an event around both things! Windsor and Eton Brewery is in a lovely setting, a stone’s throw away from the River Thames, and a short walk from the Brocas in Eton – a lovely open area of green with a tow path running alongside it.

Upon registration, we entered the brewery building itself, collected a running number, timing chip, and 3 silicone wristbands. One was a BBQ voucher, and the other 2 were beer vouchers! My afternoon was looking pretty much sorted. Just a small matter of a run to complete. There was also a handy bag drop for putting some warm clothes in, since I had a feeling there could be a bit of standing around and, ahem, rehydrating afterwards.

Our little group were actually quite surprised at how many entrants were turning up in club kit. It appears that a lot of ‘serious’ runners are also alcoholics! Only joking, but it was quite impressive that so many club runners had turned up to an event that was more of a fun run. The most notable other than us, were Torpedo Windsor and Evo Triathlon.

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Team Burnham Joggers

Ready for beer and time to start running. We were advised not to shoot off too fast through the start because we would all run straight into a barrier, and each other. The 5 mile route wound out under the arches, and along the river towards Windsor Leisure centre. A footpath led us up onto a bridge that took you over the river and onto the tow path. We followed the tow path up to Boveney Lock, where we ran back on ourselves for a short while, and then joined the footpaths through the Brocas and South Meadow back towards the start. There was a final extra out-and-back section – perfect for high-fiving your friends – onto the main part of the Brocas, with a lovely full view of Windsor Castle, before turning back on yourself and following the route onto the bridge again and returning for a bang on 5 mile loop and a finish at the brewery for a well-earned beer!

It was actually a very warm run. I had been to Parkrun in Black Park that morning and sweated profusely for an unequivalent effort. It had gotten warmer, or muggier I should say, by midday and I had worked up quite the thirst on that 5 mile loop! I did smile, because this was really a fun run. It was so nice to see people in club kit who were just taking it easy and enjoying a sociable run, basically in order to receive beer and a brewery-themed medal at the end. That is one thing I like about my running club. It’s full of some fantastic people, and some brilliant runners, who are dedicated to training hard and churning out good results, but they also aren’t afraid to sit back and relax sometimes and enjoy a few pints.

 

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Beers, medal and number combination

The finish line met us with the food and beer we had been promised, as well as a fantastic medal that doubles up as a bottle opener, water and a banana! All my running buddies were pleased with their run, and two of them had won first place in their age categories! They were both awarded with extra beer, of course! The food on offer included pulled pork baps, burgers and nachos. It was super yummy and a welcome treat to have a bit of warm food after a run. There was also the opportunity to either wash that down with a pint or two of ale fresh from the brewery, or to take a couple of bottles home for later. I ended up taking a couple home with me – I will enjoy those with my dinner!

All in all, a very good event, and one that is local and rewarding enough that I think there will be a few of us back for future events. The atmosphere was lovely, because we were out to have a good time and socialise, rather than try for a PB. I think that sometimes it’s nice to do that with your run or event, instead of taking life so seriously all the time. I’m off for a couple of beers, anyway.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x