Last Sunday morning, I set off with my bestest bud into East London to take part in the AJ Bell London Triathlon. I had entered a while ago, and was pleased to find out after finishing Blenheim Palace Triathlon, that the medals would literally fit together, as they had been organised by the same people. I had entered the sprint distance (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run).
Getting there, I must say was absolutely fine the entire way into London, and we were even pleased to spot some signs to event parking, which disappeared without a trace every time you got near to the venue, resulting in us driving around it in circles for quite some time – not impressed! Parking was also a little on the pricey side (£20!), but I wouldn’t have been able to transport my bike on any of the nearby tube trains, so we had settled to drive.
The race is set up at the ExCel centre, which is an exhibition centre (on the other side of London, for us) next to the Royal Victoria Docks. The swim, therefore would be in the Thames, the bike ride would be 2 laps on the other side of the centre, and the run another 2 laps next to the river. On a map, and set out next to the standard distance race, it looked to be a sight-seeing tour to Westminster at a close glance.
It was mad chaos when we got inside the exhibition centre. Races had been on all weekend, with 3 different distances – super sprint, sprint and olympic – meaning that there were several different wave times and a lot of bodies rushing around everywhere. I managed to locate the timing chip collection point and headed into transition (quite large!) to set myself up for the race.
I was racked up and ready to go, having familiarised myself with the ins and outs of transition and my bike position as best I could with a half-filled rack. After a few moments of time spent cheering in some other competitors from another wave, and a race briefing… It was time for the start!
The water was colder than I have been training in, but not as cold as it had been at the start of the season, meaning I was strangely grateful for those training sessions in 10-11°C lakes! The swim was one lap around the course, which to my delight was marked with large pig-shaped buoys. The water was salty and choppy. I have to say, as a person who enjoys swimming, and especially open water swimming, that I hated every second of the swim.
During the whole race, there was a strong westerly wind that was probably an un-noticed helping hand heading east to west, however going into it was a struggle. In the water, you spent most of time swimming into it, and the waves were huge. They crashed over your head when you were trying to breathe, and my friend who was spectating said she had seen several of the girls in my wave get pulled out onto the boats because it was too much.
I was slightly pleased, although mostly grumpy, when I got out of the Thames and discovered that I had done the swim section in a little over 16 minutes, which considering I had struggled, I thought was good. I did have a little gripe that if the water had been more still, I may have broken that elusive 15 minute swim barrier, but I can always try in better conditions for it another time!
T1 was a little slower than hoped for two reasons. I was met at the swim exit with a strange prospect – in the briefing, they had asked us to remove our wetsuits almost as soon as we got out of water, and put them in these large carrier bags they had provided. I can only assume to keep the floor dry inside? There was promise of wetsuit removing helpers there, but I saw no one. Having run around with my wetsuit in a bag, I encountered the bigger obstacle, I couldn’t spot my bike straight away again. I luckily found it not too long after, kicking myself. I appear to have a problem with large transition areas!
Eager to make some time up from the start of the race, I shot out on the bike. The route, I have to say, was not very exciting at all. The Olympic distance route was the one that took you out into Westminster, however the turn for the Sprint distance was much earlier at Leamouth, just going up and down the A13. Again, that strong wind struck. I felt like a god going east to west, and then when I went back the other way, I was struck head on with a gust so powerful, I think if I stopped pedalling downhill, the bike would have just ground to a halt.
I powered on with it though, and managed to complete that section in 44:44, with some amazing support from my friend Katie, who had made me the most magnificent sign to cheer me on. She had positioned herself in a brilliant point – at the top of a hill I was climbing into a headwind, and had bribed the nearby marshals with sweets to cheer for me by name. That was a huge boost for me.
T2 was a lot smoother, and I used the opportunity coming out of transition (it was a bit of a long road out) to slurp up an energy gel. The run again, I have to say, was not a very interesting route. It was nice to run next to the river a little bit, but after 0.6 miles I found myself at the turning point, concerned that it was only a two lap race. Was it going to be short? The run makes its way uphill back into the ExCel, and from there, you complete approx. half a mile inside, before heading back out. The run was done in 26:49, which I was pretty pleased with.
The finish is along a red carpet down a finish tunnel, and I soaked up the glory as much as I could. Fairly impressed with my total finish time of 01:37:43, and extremely pleased with the incredible support of my friend, who I would not have achieved this time in, I made use of the finish area.
You receive your medal and some water after the line, and have your photo taken. There were 2 igloos to go in after – the first where you could look up your times on the course, but I had my Garmin so went straight through. I received some recovery gels in the second one, and then utilised the stretching area they had laid out. It was great – there were yoga mats, foam rollers, and stretch suggestion boards. I discovered here that at some point in the day, and not to my knowledge before the race, that I had cut my foot and there was blood in my sock. I took my free pint of beer from outside the tent, found my friend and located the amazing volunteers in the medical tent, who cleaned my cut out, since I was unsure whether it had been exposed to the Thames.
In summary, the medal was nice and I enjoyed the novelty of the two medals going together, however, I really felt like this was a triathlon for the sake of organising one. There are so many triathlons around the country and the world set in beautiful locations, and this was not one of them. It had no interesting qualities, and lacked a certain atmosphere that you get at any other triathlon I have entered. It seemed to me like there ‘had’ to be a London Triathlon, the docks seemed like a good enough place to do it in, and that was that. The course wasn’t well thought out to be interesting or fun, and it wasn’t for me. Box ticked, but I will not be returning to this race, I don’t think, and I completely agree with what a friend had mentioned to them: this is not what triathlon is about!
Unfortunately, the title of this isn’t my announcement that I have a place in Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics, or that I have qualified for the World Championships in Rotterdam, but maybe one day! I have in fact combined my first 2 triathlons of the season into one post, as they fell within 2 weeks of each other. As the title suggests, the events were different distances – Sprint and Olympic.
The stunning setting of Blenheim Palace is a great way to set off the season. Covering a weekend, there are various short distances you can sign up for: Super Sprint (400m, 13km, 3km), Sprint (750m, 20km, 5.8km), a team relay, and a ‘Weekend Warrior’ challenge where participants attempt to complete as many sprint distance triathlons as they can over the entire weekend. The grounds offer a swim in the Great Lake, a cycle following a wider loop of the Great Lake, and finishing with a run round the outside of the Queen Pool.
Race packs were sent out a few weeks before the race, and entry to the grounds was discounted for spectators by a considerable amount. My boyfriend was kind enough to deliver me to the race, and spectate. We met with my friend, who had brought her team of supporters with her, also. The Palace is an amazing venue to host this event, and it certainly was made to feel like a big thing to be a part of.
Transition is a royal affair, here. The Palace courtyard was covered in a huge red mat, or carpet if you will, and a ridiculous amount of bikes were racked up – row upon row of tightly crammed push bikes of all shapes and sizes lined up with one purpose: to race.
There were loads of stalls around with the latest gear, charities including the main event charity Bloodwise, and even a stall with some freebies courtesy of Science in Sport. Lots of gels and recovery powders to stock up on.
The race starts with a briefing just behind the pontoon in the lake, a good 10 minute walk from transition. Here we received our green swim caps, and a run through of what to expect. In the background, you could see the mighty Weekend Warrior triathletes coming round for another triathlon, and the total racking up on a big board. It was very inspiring to watch. Then, a jump into the lake, a paddle to the start line and it was time to go.
I was actually really pleased with the swim section. Previously, I have found the mass starts quite stressful and panicked a little, almost forgetting how to swim, which is always silly, in hindsight. After a lot more practise this year, getting used to swimming close to other people, and although I didn’t necessarily practise swimming in a group, I just felt more confident in the whole affair. I completed it in 15:53, a time I was pleased with, and even got right in the mix, surrounded by lots of swimmers most of the way through. Box ticked!
T1 (Transition 1 from swim to bike) was where it all went wrong. I knew this wasn’t a PB course by any stretch – it’s a hilly route, the bike course, I was told, was tough for handling, and the transition runs were long and tough. I had heard others speak of the T1 run, which was a 400-600m uphill climb straight out of the lake, and up to the palace. I survived, just about, found my row in transition, and then must have run up and down past my bike a couple of times, because I just couldn’t spot it! It is against the rules to put a flag or anything up, and I just went bike blind – I could not see wood for trees. After a minute or so panicking, I located my bike, and tried to finish transition as quick as possible afterwards, but I think it was nearing 8 minutes by the time I had got through transition from hell!
The bike went alright. I was on my cyclocross, as I had not quite got used to my new TT bike and I had been advised that I should be comfortable on that if I was going to ride it on this course. I took the more sensible option and stuck it out on the cyclocross. It was a tough, hilly route that you covered 3 times. The grounds of the palace truly are stunning and I tried to absorb the beauty of them, whilst pushing myself to go that little bit quicker each time. My only real mistake was grabbing the brake instead of switching gear going up the one of the hills, but I recovered that, and somehow stayed upright and pushed on to the top of the climb.
T2 went pretty smoothly and I was happy with my new Xtenex laces, which allowed me to slide my feet into my trainers and head off sharp-ish! The run was 2 laps of a slightly less hilly course, but undulating all the same. My only upset on the run was on the second lap, when a large group of people wandered onto the course in single file and blocked the whole route, despite there being a marshalled ‘official crossing point’ about 10 metres away, who did not move when I said excuse me, and caused me to almost grind to a halt. I gratefully accepted some water on the route, after going through a little bit of anger management, as it had been a warm day, and pushed through for a sprint finish down the last straight to finish in a time of 1:46:07. Mission accomplished!
Race 2: Royal Windsor Triathlon – Standard/Olympic Distance
Two weeks later, I found myself at sparrow fart listening to another race briefing, this time with an orange swim cap on, waiting to take the plunge into the River Thames. This would be my first ever Olympic distance triathlon and my first river swim. The water temperature had been measured the day before at 20°C, and it had been a warm day, so I knew we were in for a scorcher. In a way, I was glad of the 6:28am start!
Racking for this event is done the day before, unless you have paid a premium. My bike had been dropped off in transition on Saturday with my helmet, and I had tried to familiarise myself with all the ins and outs for the different disciplines. Race numbers are picked up on the Saturday as well, attached onto bikes, helmets and the like. All that was left to do on race day was to bring yourself and the rest of your kit along to swim 1500m, cycle 41km and run 10km. (There was a sprint distance available as well.)
No sooner had I really jumped into the Thames in my wetsuit for a predictably warm swim (and stubbed my toe on the bottom in true style), than the race had started – there really wasn’t long at all to familiarise yourself with the water. I ended up in the middle of the pack, with my goggles fogging up, swimming into the sun towards Eton Bridge, hoping that I was following the right people, and not the ones doing the sprint distance. The vision issues caused me a couple of diversions off-course, and some confusion when I got to the turn-around point and there were people in kayaks yelling at me to swim under the rope that was in front of me, but I was soon swimming the last third or so of the route upstream towards transition. I survived the swim in a time of 30:19 minutes.
T1 was good. It was again a long one, but thankfully flat. I ran into the entrance at halfway, where you then run up to the top, then all the way back down to the exit where my bike was (which I found no problem this time – wahoo!). I had a smooth change-over and then ran the long exit out the other side. The bike was my favourite part of this triathlon. I was riding the TT bike for the first time in a race – my Quintana Roo, and I was hungry for pace. The bike route is a 2 lap course, where you cover the top section of the route a second time before you head back towards Windsor. It’s mostly on country roads, and certainly a lot flatter than Blenheim. I really enjoy being on the road on two wheels and this race was no exception. I covered the 41km distance in 1:22:01, averaging 18.6mph, which I was very pleased with.
It was starting to get warm, even at 8:30am, as I racked my bike, ran the loop out of T2, and began the 3 lap run I had left to finish the race. The run route takes you from Alexandra Gardens next to the river, up past the castle, and onto the Long Walk, before turning around and running back on yourself, and completing it again. It was a tough end to a race: the sun was beating down and there wasn’t a whole lot of shade, it was going to be mentally tough to complete 3 out-and-back loops, and my body was getting a little tired by the third go.
It was nice if you were racing someone else, as I was able to high-five and offer encouragement to my friend who was also doing the standard distance race that day, but it was still a tricky time. There is a fine line between over- and under-hydrating, and at first I was concerned about over-doing it, but I soon found myself needing to hydrate at almost every water station with little cups of water. I was determined not to let the heat get to me, and I hadn’t set myself a goal time, just to make sure I finished.
I had a nice surprise on the second lap, when I spotted some friends who had come out by the castle on the nasty climb and offered some support for me to crawl up the hill. That really gave me a boost, and they had moved down to the finish straight to cheer me through to the finish. I decided I could push myself to break the hour for the run, and just came through with a time of 59:47 for the run, and a total triathlon time of 03:03:16. Not bad for a first go! I have signed up for next year already(!) to try to break the 3 hour mark now. Bring it on!
I would say, that despite the heat, I enjoyed the longer distance more, and would definitely choose a standard distance event in the future over a sprint, if the opportunity is there. Eventually I would like to build up to longer distances, but I’m in no rush, as I am enjoying it. My next race is a sprint distance that I already had booked for the 23rd July in London, so I will try to bring my time down there (once I have got over the cold I am nursing this week).
Blenheim Palace Triathlon is looming this weekend for myself and many others, so to help a few with some details, I have put together this post to try and calm friends and strangers alike. It certainly doesn’t cover everything – I could write a book on it, and several people have – but it covers the main points.
So, you’re having a meltdown because you have signed up for a triathlon and now it’s only a few days away! I am going to impart as much wisdom as my brain has, and hopefully it will help any budding triathletes, out of practice athletes, or anyone who has a brain like a sieve like I do and needs to check their kit bag 30 times before they leave for an event! This is based mostly on a shorter distance triathlon, but can be applied to longer distances if required.
If the race is coming this weekend, then I won’t need to give you any training advice – you should have done that part already! If you feel under-trained, then my advice would be to consider if you have done at least enough to get you round, otherwise you could be risking yourself and potentially risk others on the course. But, hopefully you have done some training and you’re good to go. If you are still worried, there is no point trying to cram training in this week – it should be a gentle week for training; just keep yourself ticking over.
Next step: whether you have trained hard or not, I would recommend some time invested over the next few days in training your brain. A lot of things are controlled by your mental state, and I like to use some time in the run up to events telling myself that it is possible, I will make it round, and I can do this! It doesn’t always matter how quickly you do it, it’s all about finishing, and gaining experience. PB’s are a bonus!
I think it goes without saying to get plenty of rest and not to overdo it this week. Gentle exercise – certainly nothing at race pace, and a good amount of sleep. If you’re going a distance, a couple of days of carb-loading won’t go amiss! Don’t eat a huge mountain of carbs in one sitting, go for smaller portions in every meal. This will help load your muscles slowly with the energy they need to perform.
Now you’re loaded up, you’re probably going to start looking at your kit bag. Below is a list of essentials, and then I will follow it up with “luxury items” that you may want to include. Just remember, you don’t need to pack the kitchen sink – ask yourself, “do you really need this?”. The worst thing you can do is put too much in your transition area, and give yourself too many choices when you get there in the race. You will spend too long dithering and deciding: socks or no socks… these gloves or those, sun visor or cap? etc. Spend the time now making those decisions and pack ONE!
Tri suit, or shorts and top – what you will wear for the whole race, and under your wetsuit
Sports bra (if you are a female)
Socks – if you have chosen to wear them for the bike/run sections
Wetsuit – unless you are brave enough to go in without?!
Towel (for drying your feet off after the swim)
Trainers – for running, and cycling if you don’t clip in
Cycling shoes – if you do clip in
Helmet – a must for riding your bike!
Swimming cap (just in case, but generally you will be supplied one for the race)
Fuel and hydration – I will come to that in a bit
The contents of your race pack – numbers, stickers, timing chip, safety pins…
That should be all you need to get round, with maybe a couple of extra bits if you are a minimalist! Another decision you should make now – what you are going to put it all in. I remember my first triathlon, where I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend carry my things from one end of Dorney Lake to the other with me, in about 3 different small bags. I saw loads of people wobbling about trying to balance big plastic boxes on their bikes walking along. It seemed to be the norm. I have always wondered if these people have ever heard of rucksacks, or bags, which you can put on your back and then have your hands free to steer your bike to transition. I was fortunate enough to be spoiled with the gift of a transition rucksack, which is a little large, but will be able to carry my wetsuit (with a special compartment of its own for when it’s wet), and everything else I need! I would recommend the rucksack approach.
Luxury items you may wish to bring – the basics, although certainly by no means limited to:
GPS watch (probably the most popular item)
Bike repair kit (inner tubes, pump – mine is always bolted to my bike, tyre levers, etc.)
Sun visor or cap (remember, choose one and take one only with you!)
A pair of old flip flops to abandon lake side
Race belt – used by many to attach numbers to your body for the cycle and run. For the bike portion you will need a number on your back, and the run a number on your front. You can just spin it round and it saves either re-pinning a number if you are only given one, or wearing one front and back.
Lube! This will help your wetsuit slide off like Bruce Almighty’s clothing (if you have ever watched the film). Everyone has their favourite. I prefer a concoction of baby oil and Vaseline – I don’t believe the myths that Vaseline destroys your wetsuit; I have found no physical or scientific evidence of this – but there are other good products like Body Glide. I even read in an entertaining book I once, that there is a lady out there that swears by Durex Play!
Sun cream – the waterproof variety
Something comfortable to wear afterwards, if you are fortuitous to be racing somewhere stunning that you can look round post-race, such as Blenheim Palace, or you have a celebration after. Also, bear in mind whether there will be somewhere to change, although there is nothing wrong with getting changed in the loo, and wiping yourself down with baby wipes!
Nutrition. My main point here would be the golden rule of all racing events: Never try anything new on race day! You might do it once, and then you will never do it again, after one bad experience. Use what you have been training with, and what your stomach and body is used to. If you can stomach gels and you have been using them, that’s what to go for. As a side note, if you want something similar to gels, but can’t get on with them, energy chews such as Clif Shot Bloks are a good alternative. Jelly babies, Haribo, fig rolls, dried fruit (I like apricots)… Whatever your poison is, that’s what you take. Be sensible – you don’t need enough to survive a week in the jungle – take enough, and a little bit extra in case you struggle, to get you round.
The great thing about a lot of tri gear is that it has places to put things. If you wear a tri suit, it may have pockets in the back, a bit like a cycling jersey. If you have a race belt, you might have purchased one with gel holders in, so you can fix them in before the race. Make it accessible to yourself. It’s easy to take on nutrition on the bike, and if it’s a short distance, you may get away with running without anything. Plan what you are going to eat and when, and stick to it.
Hydration wise, I tend to put a bottle on my bike for a short ride and load it with 2 for a longer one. You won’t be out on the bike for that long in a sprint triathlon, so carrying an extra bottle of water will just be more weight on the bike. You can leave another drink in the transition area if you are worried and drink it when you get off the bike. Water is fine, or you can pop hydration tablets in, if that’s your thing, or simply some squash for a bit of flavour.
Make sure you have had plenty of sleep the night before and you are well rested. Don’t fret going to sleep – everything will be fine and all that positive thinking you have been doing will pay off. Check your bag has everything in it before you go to bed, if that puts your mind at rest.
Give yourself plenty of time to eat breakfast, get to the event early enough to get parked, set up your transition area before it closes to competitors, and to absorb the atmosphere.
Breakfast should be nutritious, and something you are used to. I have inherited my favourite pre-race breakfast from a running buddy, which is porridge with blueberries. He says, “If it’s good enough for Bradley Wiggins, then it’s good enough for me.”. Then, around 30-40 minutes before the race, I will have a banana to top up my energy levels.
Practice the day before how you want your transition area laid out, and even practice transition, if you think that will help. Or just spend the time organising in the morning when you are there, making it easy for you to grab what you need fast, and continue your race. Learn from your mistakes. I used to put all my things on top of my towel, and then realised when I got out of the lake and wanted to dry my feet, everything was on top of it, which was no good! It will also make a difference how you lay things out depending on if you have a single transition area, or two separate areas, more commonly known as T1 and T2. Find out what is there on the day and plan around it.
Give yourself some extra time to get lubed up, into your wetsuit, and ready to swim.
You’re ready to race! Don’t forget all your race numbers, head down to the water, take some deep breaths and go for it!
Do your best, and most importantly, enjoy yourself. If you aren’t enjoying it, and it’s not down to bad luck, I always ask myself, “why am I doing this?”. Push yourself as hard as you can, and achieve what you want to achieve. You have got this!
Thanks for reading, and good luck to those of you racing this weekend!
Marathon season is drawing to a close. A lot of people I know have been out and about, running all through winter, getting their miles in, and training hard for one big day where they have to run 26.2 miles. A feat that, for some, may seem too much and a little bit crazy!
I am one of those mad men – or women – who have been beavering away on evenings and Sunday mornings to get the mileage in for the main event. Marathon training is certainly not something to be taken lightly – it is a big challenge and I cannot stress enough to anyone looking to attempt their first one: it is time-consuming, and it is hard. That’s not to put you off at all, I just think it is something to consider before going for it.
A few things I have learnt from marathon training:
Hours of your time will be devoted to one day. You will have to sacrifice a lot of weekend mornings to get your long runs in – Sundays for most. This also includes beers the night before – unless you enjoy a hangover run! I was fortunate enough to have the support of a lovely bunch from my running club who met up religiously every Sunday morning for a long run, and we all followed roughly the same plan.
The support of a running club is the biggest help. I am part of Burnham Joggers. They have been wonderful to me, and having such a great club behind you, especially with an injury, was such a big help. Loads of us trained together, with pace sessions, hill sessions and long runs in all different pace groups. There was also plenty of virtual and real-life support on the day. Amazing!
Eventually, even I get tired! Yes, you heard – after months of training like mad and squeezing in a long run every Sunday morning for weeks on end, I started to get tired and just couldn’t wait to finish the marathon in the end, and claim back some of my weekend!
Vaseline and baths are completely under-rated. Vaseline to keep the blisters and chafing at bay, baths to soothe the pain afterwards. I would sit in a cold bath for 6 minutes when I got back from my long runs. I even started to enjoy them?!
Keeping training interesting can get tricky, but it is do-able. For our 18 mile training run, a big group of us met at Black Park (a local, beautiful country park), and ran 6 miles out and down the canal, ran back the same way, and then finished the last 6 in a 10k race, raising money for a Stroke charity. It was a great plan to help get a long run in, with a medal at the end, and support when you needed it the most!
A lot of long distance running is, for the large part, a mental battle. Your body CAN carry you 26.2 miles (with the correct training, obviously), but that chimp we spoke about before will try to do or say anything to make you believe otherwise. Mental training is just as important as physical training!
Event day soon loomed. I took part in Brighton Marathon on 9th April, with my running buddy Zoe, who had also been suffering with injury. The course is pretty flat as 26.2 miles go, with only a couple of hills, and the worst one being in the 1st mile. The route was fairly interesting, although there were a few parts running back on yourself.
The main part for me was the support. Almost the whole way round, we were inundated with supporters, music, and entertainers. It was all a bit overwhelming, but in a good way, I must add. The start is in Preston Park, which you may not recognise by name, but maybe by location if you have been to Brighton. It’s the big park to your left on the main road into Brighton, and it’s not too far from the sea front. The park was full of people – an astonishing 12,500 runners would take part that day. Luckily, I found my running buddy at our pre-arranged meeting point with ease!
Zoe’s family was a fantastic support – they met us at the start area and cheered us on at the first mile; then we saw them again at the halfway point, and also at the finish. My friend had been kind enough to give me and my boyfriend a bed for the night. They both waited for us at around 8 and 11 miles, and then at the finish, also taking some really lovely photos for us and making us laugh! We also saw some Burnham Joggers, who had completed the 10k that same morning (before the marathon had even started), and we saw them at mile 6.
The rest of the course was lined with supporters, cheering everyone on. It was incredible! There were plenty of drummers, providing us with a beat to run to – even giving us a boost. Live bands played in several places, as well as a group of cheerleaders on a stage, who we passed twice, dancing to loud, upbeat music, and funnily enough, cheering us on! Around miles 14 to 18, the route took us through housing estates. You would think this would be a boring part of the course, but I was again astounded at how the local residents had welcomed the race. Families were outside their houses for hours on end, handing out drinks and sweets to runners. Some had their garden hoses, sponges with buckets of water, and water pistols out, trying to cool everyone down. I think I may have forgotten to mention until now that we were running on the hottest day of the year. It was 21°C at midday and we were ROASTING!
The only negative that I have to say about the entire experience was the water stations. By the most part, they were well-stocked and there was water to go around. However, when we started getting further into the race, we were shocked with the news at a drinks station that they had in fact run out of water. Other drinks stations were overflowing with cups of water that would probably not get drunk by the end. It became more frequent the further we got round the course, and I couldn’t help but feel awful for the people behind us, who would have been out in the heat and on their feet for even longer than we had by the time they reached the point we were at. The organisers did apologise, as it was hotter than expected, and they reckoned that there was 3.5 litres of water for every person around the course. There may well have been, but I think it was poorly distributed.
Back to the race, though. They say the marathon starts at 20 miles, and we sure did start to feel it. The route gets a bit quieter around this point, as you head out for a lap around the power station. In some ways, this was a pleasant break from the endless support that had covered the course so far. Approximately 2.5 miles later, we were heading back down the sea front, with stunning views of the sea in glorious sunshine, and it was nice boost. The support was back: from people relaxing in the sun, to others wandering around. Just what we needed to carry us those last few miles.
As we neared the 26 mile marker, a big grin crossed mine and Zoe’s faces. The end was in sight , and Zoe apparently had a bit of a sprint up her sleeve! We had spotted all of our loved ones and they had given us the biggest cheers of the day – they knew we were about to accomplish our goals as well. We crossed the finish line, absolutely exhausted, in a comfortable time of 5:16:06. A time that is plastered on the back of my medal, on my medal hanger display, my trainers, and just about anywhere else I can get it! We had run a marathon! Having that medal hung around my neck was such a fantastic feeling! I have a t-shirt that I am extremely proud of (even if they had run out of my size and I was stuck with a large).
What an incredible experience it was. I was exhausted afterwards, very glad of a bath and some food, and plenty of sleep that night – it was a very early night for me indeed!
Now for the soppy bit. Sorry folks! I could not have finished this race without the support from my friends and family. My sister, who could not stop saying good luck when I left for Brighton on Saturday. My friend Chris, for welcoming us into his home, giving us a bed for the night, and for his support and excellent photography skills on the day. My boyfriend Chris for driving me there and back, and putting up with all my long hours of training, especially at weekends. As well as listening to me moan about my injury and being there for me. Zoe for being my marathon buddy, getting those training runs in together, and bringing not only her own support around the course with me, but her wonderful family to cheer us on too. Burnham Joggers, especially Julia for popping up along the course and all those who trained with me on Sundays – you know who you are, for all their support in training, cheering, and congratulations. My best buddy Katie and her mum for believing in me, for their love and support, and my lovely post-race bling! I could go on and on, but I would just like to say thank you to everyone else I know for putting up with my training, injury, listening to me go on about marathon this, marathon that, and your general love and support.
Never say never, especially when there are Autumn marathons to eye up! And for those about to run, I salute you.
Before you form an opinion of this post, or dismiss it, purely because of the title, I would ask you to read a little further. Here are my disclaimers, if you will. What I am about to explain does not reflect on anyone I have run with, currently run with or might ever run with in the future – this is me and my brain, not any of you. I want to make that clear. Secondly, I need to explain something from a book I have read that I use a lot in my life to explain and control (if that is the right word?) my feelings and sometimes my actions. That book is The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters.
My extremely brief explanation I need to give for you to understand the rest of the post, although I highly recommend you read the book anyway, is this. Your brain has 3 primary psychological areas: the parietal (the computer), the frontal (the human), and the limbic (the chimp). The computer stores and remembers information for you to use again, the human is you, and the chimp is your emotional part, who likes to be the first to react. He (or she) is the one I want to emphasise on at this point – he is your knee-jerk reaction, your first impression, and most predominantly for those of us who exercise, the one who puts those negative thoughts in our heads that make us want to stop.
Now I can rewind a little. I had been off work sick the day before, where I was run down with a cold. I hadn’t been able to run or attend a pilates session at the club. Still feeling the effects of the cold to an extent, I felt a little snotty and tired, but as I explained to everyone – I tried getting rid of it with a curry, so it must need a run to blast it out! I wanted to keep my legs ticking over, as it was now a week and a half until the marathon – eek! So, off I went, running a beautiful route through footpaths and down by the river.
That’s when it started. “I should have run alone.” It was The Chimp, he had climbed out of his box and was trying to get the better of me. I said to him, “No, I’m running a lovely route, enjoying nature, blasting the last of this cold out, and I’m tapering for the marathon.”. The Chimp went on to tell me that I was holding the others back, that I wasn’t good enough to be running with them, and in an effort to make me grumpy, he screeched, “You should have run alone!”. Those words hit me hard.
I am sure – no, I know – that every runner, or any athlete for that matter, experiences at some point in their training that negative voice that says, “You can’t do this. You’re rubbish and you should just stop!”. I urge you all to ignore it. When the going gets tough, The Chimp gets scared and anxious, and thinks he is protecting you by letting you admit defeat. Don’t listen to him.
I have developed my own way of dealing with my chimp when I need to ignore what he says. Whether you are running, cycling, swimming, surfing, skiing, playing tennis…. whatever your sport is, this is relevant to you! I put him in his box, he can screech away all he likes, and I might hear him, but that doesn’t mean I have to listen to him and give in.
At first, you are required to look into the past. Use your computer in your brain and look at what you have achieved. More often that not, you will have completed the distance you are trying to achieve when you start to struggle, so there is no need to listen to that negativity. ‘But this is the first time I am running 10 miles’, I hear you say. ‘I have got to 9 miles and this is as far as I have gone before, and I’m struggling, so I should give up’. To which I would say, “Can you run a mile?”. The answer is yes. You can run a mile. Tell your body (and your chimp) that although you have run 9 miles, it is only one more, and you know you can do that. I deploy this technique when completing longer training runs too. When you need to squeeze a 20 mile run out, I find the best way for me is to get to halfway and try and tell my body that actually, I haven’t just run 10 miles, I’m just heading out on tired legs from the week – it’s almost like a little reset button.
You are also required to look into the future. Alright, I haven’t taken my crazy pills this morning – make all the jokes you like – but I know what I mean. In this instance, on that particular evening where The Chimp has said that I should have run alone, I know that I need to look into the future and see how I think I will feel after the run. Obviously the future is not definite, so there will always be several possibilities ahead. Here, we have the first option, which is where The Chimp wins, tells me to stop and I have to drag myself slowly back to the club alone, in the dark. This will be a miserable experience for me and one I would regret. Option two – I continue running with the people I set out with, pushing hard to keep up, but listening to the chimp moan that it’s too hard and it’s going to ruin the marathon (he loves to be a drama queen!). Or, I can choose the third option. This is my favourite and the one that I was lucky enough to know to select that night. I continued running at a pace I found more comfortable, allowed myself to drop back a little and let the others go on ahead a bit. We are all aware I am tapering, no one is offended or upset by it, and in fact, later on I would be of use on “poo watch” down the trails where it has got a bit darker!
The final part to silencing the negative voice is hindsight. Now you have completed the run, The Chimp has calmed down, realised no one has died, and has been returned to his box, you can reflect on the possibilities of how the evening could have unfolded. So maybe I didn’t run with the club and I had headed out by myself. The Chimp is still grumpy because of the cold that is blocking up my airways and instead of flipping out about running with other people, he now gets the hump about running altogether. I end up run-walking the distance I wanted to complete, possibly even cutting it short and I feel unsatisfied and disheartened by the whole experience. Those few moments of doubt in this case, were managed and pushed away, and I could complete my run comfortably and in good company.
So, my point to all of this, is that if you can apply this reasoning to the negative ideas that appear in your head during any training, then you will hopefully find things going a lot more smoothly on the mental side of things. Training with another person, or with more people, can give you the support that you need to reach an end goal. Yes, you may be able to achieve it alone, but I wonder whether it would be with the same mental stability as if you were training with a group or in a pair. When I train in the pool with my friend, The Chimp might screech to slow down because you’re blowing and it’s difficult, but having that other person there stops you from ‘wimping out’, and forces you to push on. There is a certain amount of bravado about soldiering on when you are suffering, because you don’t want to look weak, or let the others down. You can use that to your advantage – harness it and use it to silence your chimp.
Although I was almost afraid to admit it the other week (until a friend pointed it out to me), I started to get tired 17 miles into a 20 mile training run. He said, “you get tired like normal people”, and he was right. It didn’t matter if I was tired, as long as I finished it. I knew I had to just keep going, not only because I needed the run for my training, but also because everyone around me was counting on it. I didn’t want to stop, but I went quiet because I was tired. I was looking forward to the end and a drink of water. I pushed on, I completed the mileage, and I didn’t die. Proof to the negative thoughts that they were wrong yet again. I took that one, and logged it in a little box in my brain for another day when I would need to fight the good fight again.
Just remember – everyone gets tired, everyone can get negative, but everyone can come out clean the other side. And do you know what? I shouldn’t have run alone.
Thank you for reading as always!
P.S. All rights to The Chimp idea are obviously to Steve Peters. I hope he doesn’t mind me explaining a bit and how I use it!
I realise that I have been off the grid for a little while now. Since the end of November, I have been suffering with a knee injury. I explained about it in a previous post a little, so I won’t go into too much detail over that side of it. You can read about it from last year here – you only need to read the first few paragraphs to get the idea.
At the start of the year, the pain got increasingly worse on the outside of my left knee, and I made the decision to see a chiropractor that a friend had seen in the Spring of 2016 and had recommended to me. My knee wasn’t getting any better by itself, so I booked in to see him less than a week later.
The first session was the longest, as we discussed everything you could think of about my health and training, and some more stuff too! I was told it was all relevant though, and that he would explain why once I had answered all the questions. When I had, I was told that things like stomach or period pain could be relevant, as your stomach can’t actually give you pain, so it is referred in muscles and tissue around it, which can. I already knew about fascia (the connective tissue covering all your muscles), so I could understand how this could happen.
Fascia, as I mentioned before, covers almost your whole body under your skin, in lots of layers that should be able to move over each other without causing you any problems. If you imagine it like a sheet of cling film; when the sheet is laid out, you can move any corner or piece of it any way you want, and it will go where you want it to. Now pin a part of it down with your finger – it won’t move as freely and may restrict or pull on other parts of the sheet. This is exactly the same as the fascia in your body. More of that later.
So, after a long discussion and a visual analysis of my body, i.e. were my shoulders and hips square, etc; it was down to business. He used physical tests to check for weak spots and referred pain – that is, when pushing, moving or stretching the body in one way, it may cause pain in another area (almost like a map that your body is giving out to try to help find the cause). He then performed several chiropractic moves (a lot of sudden movements and jolts, or as he called it, “adjustments”) on various parts of my body to try and help relieve the pain. It would be revealed at the end of the session that he had actually done a lot of adjustments – and a hell of a lot more than he would usually do in one session.
I was advised to book another appointment 4 days later on the Friday, and then one for the Monday after that – a week later. I did as I was asked. I saw no improvement over the next session, but continued on with the course of treatment – you can’t expect miracles instantly! I carried out the stretch I was given for my hip flexors as there is an imbalance in my hips and the surrounding area as instructed. The left hip flexor – the same side as the knee pain – is incredibly tight and the aim was to try and loosen it up a bit. I was to do the stretch twice a day, on both sides to keep things even, for 30 seconds per side.
The most painful thing happened in the third session. I was to experience fascial treatment. As I explained before about the layers of connective tissue and how sometimes they could get stuck, I would soon find out how it felt when you tried to release the stuck points. Using what I could only describe as a normal touch on any other part of your body, he would find a point in my leg, ankle or foot, in this case, and then using a circular motion, move over it until it started to free off.
You’re probably thinking that it doesn’t sound too bad (unless you have been unfortunate enough to experience such treatment), however I can honestly say that I was trying not to leap off the bench in pain. It was like he was trying to separate the layers of my skin with a knife. I would to grin and bear it until it eventually it wasn’t too bad and we both agreed that it was freeing off. Then he would go off and find another spot to torture!
The next morning, I was in work (on a Saturday of all days!), and it was still really sore. It would be for a few more days, in fact. It was sore when I walked, in the points where it had been released, especially down the inside of my leg. I tried to jog a distance of probably 20m and the soreness was shooting up the inside of my leg. I took the wise decision to have the weekend off from running!
After about 2 and a half weeks of treatment, going back every few days, I reached my final meeting for the course of treatment. The sessions were getting a bit shorter each time and there was minor improvement. I was advised that the next time I should be expected back would be approximately 3 weeks time, if I needed to and that it would gradually improve over those weeks. It wouldn’t be an instant fix, where I woke up one morning and everything would be as right as rain – I wish it was that simple!
So I am currently 2 and a half weeks away from when I last went into physio. I have been exploring several possibilities in the time since then, and although there is a small amount of improvement, I am sad to say it is still not great!
I tried 2 weeks complete rest whilst I was undergoing physiotherapy – that made the pain worse! It is much better if I keep it moving, albeit at a slower pace than I am used to. Don’t get me wrong – I am glad that I can still move about and do some exercise, but I am definitely itching to get back up to speed. I just know that I have to be careful and rein it in when I need to. Taking extra days rest if I have done a longer run, or cutting pace and distance down can all help. I was very proud of myself this morning for not pushing on to do an extra 200m swimming and speeding through a few lengths just to make the total distance up to 2000m. I settled for a round 1800m, which I had taken at a steady pace and not aggravated my knee too much.
I went for an appointment at the doctors, as I was after a referral for an MRI scan, ideally, so that I could see, for my peace of mind, what was going on inside my leg. The doctor, despite being told that I had already seen a couple of physiotherapists, did a few tests on my legs just how the physio had, and recommended me for an x-ray. Not quite what I had wanted, but they wanted to rule out any bone issues. Fine, I thought, I will play your game! So I immediately went up the road to the hospital and got the x-ray done as a walk-in.
A week later, I still had not heard a word about my results, so I rang up. The best way I can describe the voice of the receptionist (without sounding insulting) is as a very overly cheerful-sounding, kind of air-head voiced lady. Imagine that as you read on. The conversation went as follows (almost verbatim).
Me: Hi, I had an x-ray last Friday and I still haven’t heard from anyone about my results.
Receptionist: Oh no, you have to ring up for those!
I would like to add here that the doctor confirmed my home address and telephone numbers and DID NOT tell me at any point to ring for my results. I was waiting for a letter or a phone call. I decided to let this one slide.
Receptionist: Okay, so I will just have a look for those results for you. So, there is nothing wrong with your knee, and there are no abnormalities! Okay then?
She genuinely sounded like she thought that was the end of the conversation and that I would be hanging up now….
Me: Uhm, should I book another appointment then…? Because my knee isn’t right still and….-
Receptionist: Oh no, the doctor has looked at your x-ray and has referred you onto a knee clinic!
I am still not sure if I was meant to have guessed this information, but she clearly thought that I was somehow privy to it already! I had to laugh, really.
Receptionist: So, they will be in touch with you to arrange an appointment soon, but I can’t tell you when that will be. Okay?
I had to leave the conversation there. So, if I haven’t heard anything back from them by Friday, which will be a week from when I spoke to the lady about my results, and two weeks since I had an x-ray, then I will be phoning up again to find out what is going on! Watch this space – I really hope I hear from them soon.
Another thing I organised was a bike fitting. This may seem strange to some, as I have had my bike for at least a couple of years now, but I tried to ride it a week before the fitting and I had to stop after 7 minutes, because it was causing great discomfort and pain in my knee. I was worried that the physiotherapy had straightened my body out and got it functioning in a normal manner again exercise-wise, and that now it wasn’t compensating for itself on the bike, it was revealing where the cause of the pain was. I also didn’t feel like the ride on the bike had been the same since I had made the transition from a mountain bike style cleat/shoe to a road bike cleat/shoe towards the end of last year, and despite several attempts to adjust the bike to where it needed to be, I was convinced that it was someone else’s turn to have a go.
It was a very in-depth meeting that lasted almost 2 hours. I explained everything from my injury to my training, and the chap doing the fitting seemed genuinely interested and attentative (unlike, I must say, my doctor). He took in all the imformation I gave him and asked plenty of sensible questions about it all. I felt like I could be onto something here. He had all these different bits of kit to test and measure the way I was riding the bike – he had popped it onto a turbo trainer in the back room of the shop – and would make an adjustment to the saddle, pedals or my shoes according to what he found. It was fascinating!
Amongst several other things, there was a laser pointer which helped us both see when my knee was moving out to the side, and when it wasn’t after some adjustments and things. Also, a special toolwas used for measuring the angle that my leg was sitting at at the bottom of the pedal stroke. The laser was used for checking across my foot and leg as well. One thing would be checked, I would hop off the bike, an adjustment would be made and then I would pedal for a while to see what the difference was.
To cut a long story short, I have high arched feet. This causes them to roll in when I run, or participate in other sporting activities. I have a different design of running shoe to support the arch in my foot, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when I was told ths, actually. When your foot is locked into postion in your cycling shoes, which are in turn attached to the bike, they can’t move. This means that if the cleats, pedals, saddle, etc. aren’t set up in the correct position, that it could cause pain in your knee, for example, where it is moving to the side to compensate. I was offered up a wedge in the front of my shoes and also some insoles.
We agreed that the insoles were the best option and pretty much eliminated any movement in both knees. The only drawback – they were custom ones, which would need to be moulded to my feet, so they would be mine and at a hefty price tag for a pair of insoles! I had them fitted there and then, as I could see the improvement they were making before they were a true fit to my feet, and it’s my knee, so I wanted it to be right. You would not believe the difference it makes to riding again for me! Time to rebuild my cycling training again. I am looking into using Zwift, possibly, which is a sort of online virtual training partner in a video game format for indoor cycling.
I have ordered some orthopedic insoles for high-arched feet for my work, running and everyday shoes in addition, to see if there is a difference in using them with more support throughout the day. I hope that this will be a simple solution to getting back on the track.
I have also been using kinesiology tape (or KT tape). The brand I went for was Rock Tape, purely because that was the brand that the shop next door to my workplace had in stock. I am aware that there are other good brands of tape you can get. It had come highly recommended from a lady at the running club, who had had a knee injury and pain in the almost the same point before. That was enough for me, and I rushed out to get some.
The idea behind it, from what I can gather, is that the tape lifts the skin and creates a small space between the skin and the muscle, helping with better blood flow, reducing pressure from swelling or from injured muscles, and allowing smooth muscle movement. It is different from athletic ‘strapping tape’, and still lets you have a full range of movement.
I’ll be honest – I hardly notice that the tape is there, and I think it has been helping with a small amount of pain. I have to give testament to its durability, too. It stays on for probably 3-5 days (before the edges and corner start peeling up), and it gets some abuse on my body. I have sent it through the swimming pool, showers and a bath, for a run and a cycle, and it has still lasted for 4 days before it started to peel away. I will continue to use this unless ill-advised by the clinic (if I even get to hear from them soon!).
That’s about all I have to say for now. I am continuing with my stretch on my hip flexor, running at a slower pace and not as frequently to try and minimise impact, cycling with a corrective purpose now – my body will have to adapt to the changes made to the bike positioning – and using the kinesiology tape and insoles to try to improve everyday use and pain.
I will keep the site updated when I get some more (and hopefully better news).
For now though, thank you for reading and being patient! I hope to be posting on here soon with some better news! I have a couple of races (London Winter Run and Wokingham Half Marathon) that I will pop some posts on for when I get a chance, so there should be some more content soon.
New Year’s Eve 2016 had my focus diverted to The Gut Buster. This is an event that I have previously participated in and had thoroughly enjoyed . It is also the third and final part of the Winter Trail Series I had entered; this one known as ‘The Classic’. There are 2 distances on offer in this race – 10km or 10 miles – and it usually sells out before race day, so if you are looking at running this one next time, make sure you get signed up in advance! The 10km race is 50/50 off-road/road, whereas the 10 mile race is 60/40. The course is over various terrains, including roads, trails, woodland paths, tracks, a ford, and various types of fields.
Those of you who have been following me closely, or know me personally, may know that I have been struggling the last few weeks with a knee injury. I will touch on that as briefly as I can, although there is a relevant point to it all and it has been a big part of my training complications for a few weeks! I had a pain in the outer lower corner of my left knee that manifested as a small niggle originally on my push bike attached to the turbo trainer at the beginning of the month. I rested it off and thought nothing more of it. It then developed into a slightly more annoying niggle, until it has become a pain and irritation to me, and my training. Strangely enough, it gets worse with swimming and doesn’t seem to bother me too much when I run. I had rested off before the Muddy Welly run, as I had explained in my previous post (managing an 8 mile run on 11th December, because I thought it was a 10 mile event, not a 10k (doh!) – my last long run), and it had not improved with rest.
I visited a physio on 21st December – nothing says happy birthday like a physiotherapist bending your legs in ways I am fairly sure they shouldn’t go – and they advised me that since they couldn’t find a physical problem, to keep training on it and come back when it was worse. I was informed that my left glute was weaker than my right (only I could get one weak arse cheek, much to the ridicule of a few friends), and was given some exercises to strengthen it, as well as foam rolling every day, in case it was ITBS (illiotibial band syndrome). I also had to try and find a pattern in my pain; something I had attempted the couple of weeks before going, but to no avail. I made a pain table, which I have been filling out like a weirdo in a lot of detail and I am yet to find a pattern.
I had some advice from a friend as well that my patella tendon could be tight, and she showed me a little exercise you can do to ease this. Don’t read the next couple of sentences if you are easily grossed out by this kind of thing, as my co-workers have been pulling vomiting faces when I do it – skip to the next paragraph – if not, read on! You have to have your leg straight, knee exposed, on a flat surface, with your quad relaxed, and you need to find the kneecap (it should move around a little with your fingers). Then, the idea is to gently move it up and down, then side to side, 30 times for each direction. It can feel weird, but I think it has been helping me out a bit.
The swimming pool shifted into its Christmas opening hours by the time I had seen a physio, so I am not sure if the pain is still there swimming (I am lucky enough to work all through the festive period, so no midday swims for me!). It has not been too much of an issue running, although I have been so cautious over increasing distance, getting obsessive over my running form and how my legs are tracking when I run, that I haven’t necessarily made much of a training gain over the last 10 days before The Gut Buster.
My mileage had dropped off almost completely for a week, had been low for others, and I knew that it would be a mistake to pile the miles on hard, especially over a mixed terrain course, as this could lead to further injury. With that in mind, I had a difficult decision to make. Something that went against every fibre of my being, and something that I had never done before. After a discussion with my sensible swimming partner, it was decided – I would be dropping down a distance on race day and running the 10k event, not the 10 mile. It was a decision I thought long and hard about, and one that was not easy to make, however I convinced myself it was the right one and that I hadn’t actually run the 10k route, so it would be a different challenge to the previous year.
Back to race day. It was a 6°C morning, the race start was 11am for 10 milers, and 11:05 for 10k runners, leaving plenty of time for a lie-in, or to do your local Parkrun! I had been interested, before injury, in running the local Reading Parkrun and then participating in the 10 mile event, but now I was downgrading the distance, I had to put my sensible head on and resist running a 5k on top of the 10 I had planned for later on.
All race parking was off-site this year. It doesn’t sound as bad as it does at first. You can park your car for free in the Mereoak Park & Ride, which is just off Junction 11 of the M4, where free shuttle buses run every 10 minutes to Butlers Land Farm, where the race is. They run from 8:50am to 10:20am, giving you plenty of time to get there, and the journey is only about 10 minutes long. There are portaloos galore upon arrival, a huge barn space to drop your bags off so they stay nice and dry, as well as a food stall and a couple of registration tents. This is all dotted about the farm courtyard and adjacent area.
I arrived at the farm with my wonderfully supportive boyfriend just before 10am, having had an enjoyable lay in and a pleasant, easy journey to the race. I picked up my number from the 10 mile tent, and headed over to the 10k one to let them know I would be doing the shorter distance; also feeling the need to protect my pride and explain that I had a knee injury (not that I had given up on training and got scared), although I am sure the lady did not have that much interest in it! Having successfully picked up my race pack, I headed into a corner of the courtyard sheltered from the wind to attach the necessary race bits. Number on, chip attached to laces, watch on, warm clothes attached to me until I needed to warm up – all good to go!
40 minutes and a trip to the ‘luxury loos’ later, I went for a warm up along the road and found a track (Byways on the signpost), which I thought would be a good woodland trail to get my legs moving in the right way for the race. I ran half a mile down there, encountering several male entrants of the race who had taken a liking to the trail for a slightly different use (a urinal) and then turned around and headed back to the farm, where I did a few exercises (high knees, etc.). It was plenty warm enough when you were running, although I was still glad to have a compression top on under my club vest for the cold air and compression tights on for my dodgy legs/knees.
Immediately after my warm up, I stretched and went over to the race briefing, which would start imminently, with an impressive collection of 632 runners huddled together. An entertaining breifing awaited us, as always with My Sporting Times, as we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to one of the race organisers, who ran through the usual bits and pieces, with promise of lots of mud (there would be no complaints of a lack of mud this year, they claimed) and unfortunately, for the first time for this event, a ford empty of water! After being reminded that ‘only a moron could get lost’, that it is meant to be fun, and that there was a couple of changes in the route, they were ready to unleash us all a little bit later than planned with an “Oggy oggy oggy, oi oi oi!”.
The start was at the same point as the finish this year, whereas we had walked up the road to the start line last year. I watched jealously as the 10 mile lot set off, wishing it were me (I must be mad), and then lined up near the front of the pack for the 10k race, hoping to get away from the mud/puddle dodgers before the bottleneck mentioned at the briefing happened near the start.
We were set off to a short count down into the first field, with a man playing a comical trombone tune, the likes of which you would find someone doing a silly walk to on a comedy sketch show. I giggled to msyelf as I pushed on through the mud, trying not to slip around too much – luckily my trusty Salomons were doing their job well. Turning a few corners in the fields, we soon reached a spot I was familiar with from last year as I ran a short distance across the road. Ahead, was a juicy hill to sink my teeth into. I recalled that it was fairly steep, offroad, and went on for a little while until it curves up and round a bend, leading to a lovely descent. I gritted my teeth, determined not to have to walk and pushed on to the top. I even passed the woman running with her extremely excited dog, giving myself a little pat on the back as I extended the gap between us.
You reach another road through the farm at this point, which winds round the beautiful countryside, passing some horses and eventually meeting the disappointingly dry ford. The chap that had turned up to film everyone running through, or avoiding the ford – shame on those of you – expressed his disinterest in filming it, and switched his camera off. I knuckled down and pushed on. There was another tasty hill up ahead and I was determined to keep moving.
I knew not to go too hard too fast, in case I encountered some knee problems and we were just shy of 2 miles into the race when the 2nd climb started. I remembered this one from last year, where my hamstrings had tightened up and it had been a real struggle. I was going to make it up there in one clean swoop this time. I plodded up, focusing not on speed, but just one foot in front of the other, and the next 50m of road. Soon I could see the brow of the hill and hear the marshals cheering everyone on, congratulating every runner who made it to the top. I certainly wouldn’t miss out on that!
Opposite the top of this hill, I spotted a faster runner leaving a trail and heading out to my right, whilst I turned to my left and was treated with the view of a downhill. I would be where that other runner was in no time, I thought. The downwards trot soon joined another muddy path with another little hill (see a pattern here?), but also a water station. I gratefully accepted a cup of water, downed it and continued up, feeling clumps of mud getting displaced by the tread of my shoes and hitting the backs of my legs. As you peak the top of the small incline, you are greeted by 2 points of interest – a 5km marker on the left (the halfway point – HOORAY!), and to the right, some ruins of a Roman town with some supporters cheering everyone on. I didn’t stop to read the historical sign, but chewed up the mud back down into a woodland trail, taking advantage of my shoes on this terrain.
The route through the woodland was undulating but fairly wide, which was quite pleasant as you could still manage to overtake, where people in their road shoes started to struggle with the mud-caked treads of their shoes. The path wound round for a while and then met a wide, gravel private road through some gates. There are quite a few gates in this race, which cause a short stop to squeeze through, and you can get a little bundled up here, but it didn’t put me off at all today. The gravel track meets another road breifly, before getting back onto a footpath, bringing me out where I had spotted that runner earlier and also the 4 mile point – excellent!
A short spell of tarmac lead me through another gate and into a long, rolling field, heading out onto a road. I gained some speed up here, overtaking people on the rougher parts of the fields, my shoes churning up the mud. As I hurtled further down the mudslide, more and more people were running wider, trying to find a grassier, sturdier piece of land to plant their feet into. I opted to stand my ground and positively plough through, which served me well until about 100m from the end of the field, where it was so muddy that I just had to trust my footing and glide through the mud.
I faced another familiar incline as I turned left out of the field, which again, I was determined to conquer. I took it in my stride, trying my best to stamp the mud out of the bottoms of my shoes for traction, and as I reached the top, bee-lining for a line of supporters with young children holding their hands out for some high-fives. I urged a man to keep running as I could see the familiar slump of I’ve-had-enough-of-running-uphill, but he was so close to the summit, that I urged him to continue: “well done, you’re almost there”. I got my high-fives in with the small supporters and earnt my downhill drop. The man came back past me, but I would see him again later on.
As you turn a corner here, round the long, winding lane, there is a further water station, where the 10 mile route re-joins the 10k route – a point I remembered from last year, where a cup of water at the top of a climb was a lovely little boost to get me going again around the 8 mile mark, if I recall correctly – and you could also hear the tannoy at race HQ booming across the countryside. We were close! As I descended again, I thought to myself, “Maybe I could have managed with the 10 mile route. This is half of that and I feel absolutely fine in my legs. My knee has hardly complained. It is going well!”.
That thought was put to rest a mere kilometer later, on the nose. I entered a field that was flat and could see the last split for the 2 distances. I took the right hand one for the 10k, through a gate, up a short, sharp hill onto a concrete bridge and spotted the 9km marker. As I reached this point, I entered another extremely lumpy field that twisted and turned your lower half every which way it could. My knee twanged. NO! I was on target for a sub-hour time, which I was feeling pleased about for a hilly cross country event. I was now in a battle against myself: “It’s only a kilometer; just push on! Grin and bear it – you will be fine!”, one part of me was saying. The other part was screaming at me, “There’s no point in injuring yourself further for the sake of a minute or so!”.
I opted for a sort of middle ground. Not crawling pace, but not racing. Enough to get me out of the lumpy field and onto the last finish straight through the famous cabbage patch that wasn’t looking too cabbage-y. This was it, the last 400m! It is a tough finish, but I find that makes it all the more rewarding. There is a camber to the climb, as you are going up the field on a bit of a diagonal. It is farmed into rows and super muddy, as well as pretty steep! But that close to the finish, you can’t give up! Or so I thought….
Don’t worry, it wasn’t me – I’m made of tougher stuff – but the man I had egged on earlier had slowed to a walk. I huffed and puffed, “Come on, you’re finishing wih me”, and with that he started running again with a thank you. We pushed each other on, trying to keep up and he caught my hand to finish together, but realised it was too soon and it was making running up the field awkward. We stopped after about 10 seconds, and just focused on reaching the top for a photo finish.
A few more grunts and groans and a lot more effort and we were crowned with our finishers medals; doubling up as a bottle opener for the evening’s celebrations (it did get some use!). There was also some mulled wine, mince pies and a bottle of water if we fancied. Soon me and my boyfriend were on the bus back to the car park, and on our way home.
I love this event and will definitely look at coming back again, as I seem to have a score to settle with both distances now! The 10 mile is definitely one that I would love to complete again, when I am in a better condition to do so. I think that since I had had such a good year, especially the last 6 months, it was disappointing to have to rein things in a little at the end, rather than go out with a bang, and I was also disappointed to not have been in the perfect position for marathon training in January. I will still be able to pick things up, having been cautious, and I have definitely made the right decisions so far, as the knee appears to be holding up OK and dare I say it, feeling better?!
A quick recap of the year sees me gain these PBs in the following distances:
1 mile: 00:07:34
5 km: 00:25:51
13.1 mi: 01:59:32
Here’s to a hopefully good and maybe even better year of sport in 2017!