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

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Deuparth Gwaith yw ei Ddechrau

Last weekend, I was in Wales for the Cardiff half marathon. My hopes were high for a fantastic event, because my running friend had done it last year and loved it to bits. The route was said to be lovely, and I was really looking forward to it. I hoped it would not be as busy as the Great North Run, but there were 25,000 people signed up to run that weekend.

There were 4 colour divisions for pace: White (elite and speedies – where my boyfriend was), then green, red (where I was), and yellow. The start line is outside Cardiff Castle, and it did not disappoint. Just over 19,000 runners lined up that morning to complete the run, creating a sea of colours. Each wave was set off a few minutes apart, which I think did help spread everyone out on the course more – I appreciated that. The highlight of the start for me was the pyrotechnics. There were huge flames shooting into the sky every few seconds when they set each wave off – it looked incredible outside the castle.

 

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The start line, complete with castle, fire, and lots of runners!

 

I realised when I had joined my red section that I was a bit far back, but the masses were crammed in, so there was potential for a lot of overtaking. However, it was also meant to be an enjoyable, taking it easy kind of run, as I had been training hard recently and this was part of my training for Dublin marathon. So it was good in a way, because I was under strict instructions not to go hunting for a PB so close to a marathon – I hoped starting further back would hold me back a little.

The route weaved through housing and industrial sections, and then headed out towards Barrage, in Penarth, which was my favourite part of the whole run. I loved running in the middle of the sea, and although the light drizzle we had been experiencing was nice, I was still quite hot before that point. The cool, sea air was welcome. We reached 5 miles by this point, and I almost felt a little guilty, because I was running very comfortably at a reasonable pace, and I could hear a lot of others around me suffering. Still, I had been training hard, so I figured I had earned it. We ran through Cardiff Bay, along the waterfront, and past the Millenium Centre. The views were just great.

 

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Barrage, in all its glory

 

A mile and a half on, the halfway point had crept up on me, and I was shocked when my watch told me that I had completed the first half in 1 hour and 1 minute, yet I felt so good, and wasn’t pushing it! I’m not sure at what point it registered, but it dawned on me that the miles were just ticking by, and I really was just enjoying myself. It’s so nice sometimes to just relax in an event and be able to soak up the atmosphere and everything around you. It made the race so much more enjoyable for me. I thought the distance would seem longer taking a step back, but I think that staying at a pace that didn’t feel slow, yet I wasn’t panting and puffing my way round, had just helped pass the time.

Before I knew it, I was running around this huge lake in Roath Park – I thought how nice it would be to swim in, if you could (yes, I’m weird). The lake is huge, and we must have run a good 2 miles around it. It was the uppermost part of the course on the map, and I knew that when we reached the tip of the park, we would be heading back towards the finish and we would nearly be home.

This was the only part of the route where I sensed a small amount of fatigue. I had been training on all my long runs with gels for the marathon, and had cleverly left mine at home, so I was powered only by my breakfast, which I have done before and got a PB, so I know it’s completely possible. I got somewhere between 10-10.5 miles, and was running along the length of the lake, when I started to feel a little tired. I had a word with myself though, and said, “you have less than a Parkrun left, and you have felt more tired doing some of those than you do now”. So I soldiered on. It wasn’t so much of a wall that I hit, as a small hurdle or fence that I hopped over, and then I carried on – I was lucky.

It was around this point as well that I noticed two things. The first was that outside the old people’s home, they had brought a load of the residents out to cheer us on with clappers and sweets and things – that gave me a big lift. The other thing was that there was a man who was running next to me at the same pace. This was great. We used each other to push on and keep going at a reasonable pace, and I soon forgot about my tired legs. We had made a silent agreement to run and work together, staying by one another’s side, and leaving enough space every time we overtook someone for the other to get through.

I decided at 11 miles that if I was going to be tired, it might as well be for good reason. My legs had found another gear, and with my new-found running buddy, we picked up the pace a little. Before then, I had been running a pretty even pace of around 9:15 minutes per mile. I had an even bigger boost when I discovered they were handing out Lucozade Sport on the course! I gratefully accepted the bottle of orangey goodness and ran with it for about 1.5 miles until I had finished it. That certainly helped me kick it up a notch!  I found that over the last 2 miles, despite a rather nasty short, but very sharp climb, I could sustain a pace just under 9 min/miles. Success!

As the course started to descend along the last half a mile, my legs were ready, and they had been training throughout the year in triathlon for this moment. I have developed over the season a new way to finish a race, where I can find that last gear with slightly numb thighs, open my lungs up one last time, and push for the finish line. This was the point when I lost my running buddy. I think I must have taken off. I shot towards the finish line and into the finish tunnel, where I managed a little sprint finish.

I was really happy with how I had run, and so glad that I had gone for a reasonable, steady pace throughout, because it meant that I had enough in my legs to pick up the pace for the last couple of miles. It also gave me the confidence that with a finish time of 2:01:55, and a current personal best of 1:59:32, that I think I have a PB coming my way, once the marathon is done with, and I’ve had a rest! I felt fantastic, and had thoroughly enjoyed my run.

 

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Chris and I soggy at the finish, with some dragon claws in the background

 

The finish line boasted a technical t-shirt, a medal, banana, crisps, and sweets. I had a bet with my boyfriend before the race, that if he ran it in 1:28hrs or less that he would buy us cream teas. This would be a good PB for him. He ran it in 1:28:40 – an amazing achievement! So although there were no cream teas in sight, he did get his PB, and there is always another year for those!

Thank you to Cardiff University for hosting an incredible race – we will certainly be back for more in the future.

For those non-Welsh speaking among you, I have been reliably informed that the title of this post is a Welsh proverb, meaning ‘starting the work is two thirds of it’.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

Conquering The Chilterns

The triathlon season in England has drawn to a close for the year, unfortunately, and this post is about my last race of the year, organised by F3 Events: Conquer The Chilterns Triathlon.

It was a nippy morning in the Chilterns, signalling the end of the season for me, and many others. It was in fact 3°C colder in Hambleden, where the tri was than it was when we left home. The race was due to start at 8:15, and there were 3 different distances on offer: sprint plus, olympic plus, and middle distance. The ‘plus’ part meant that the bike ride was slightly longer than normal. For the sprint, it was extended to a 30km ride, instead of 20km, and for the olympic, it increased from 40km to 55km. The rest stayed the same. I had entered the Olympic Plus distance, so I was in for a 1.5km swim, a 55km bike ride and a 10km run. Every discipline was 2 laps. Easy to count!

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Bird’s eye view of the race start, courtesy of Meglio photographers

There were 2 separate transition areas for this race, which was new ground for me. The first was a field and a bit’s run from the Thames (where the swim was located), and the second was just acros the road, so that you were in position for the run. That meant I would be abandoning my wetsuit, swim cap and goggles in T1, and collecting my push bike, cycling shoes, helmet, and race belt. Then leaving all but my race belt in T2, and swapping my cycling shoes for my trainers. I did feel a bit pressured to get everything in the right place, and was a little worried that I would put something in the wrong area, but it all worked out in the end.

I have done a couple of F3 events now, and although they seem to pan out eventually, I do think that they try to do too much at one time, and it’s not always the best organised. There was also a swimming event that they were hosting in the same morning, with 2 different distances, which my friend happened to have entered. I bumped into her down at the riverside, where we had all assembled for a quick race briefing. The middle distance triathletes had started a little earlier than expected, and we had actually been called down to the river quite suddenly, as they had decided to move our start forward as well. It was a bit naughty, really, but there wasn’t much I could do about it.

A mudslide into the river, and brrrrrr! It was so cold! I opted to hang at the back of the group and was swimming out into the middle of the river and back in an attempt to warm up and also to just stay a bit warmer. It wasn’t working too well, but my face was adjusting, which was something. The start team left us in the water for a while before setting us off, which had caused a few grumbles in the pack. It wasn’t very fair considering the temperature of the water, and especially after doing Windsor Triathlon earlier in the year, and being set off within one minute of getting in the Thames – and it was 20°C that day!

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A shot of the mass swim start, courtesy of Meglio photographers

Starting further back also meant that I had a lot of people to get past in the swim leg. I spent pretty much the entire first lap overtaking people, and then it calmed down a little. It was super cold the whole way round, but still manageable. It was definitely difficult to get moving properly due to the temperature though, and I had been training in Bray Lake up until the race. I spotted my other friend out on the swim route too, at the far buoy. I completed the swim in 30:13, moving at 1:49/100yds.

The run into T1 proved slightly tricky, mostly because I discovered that my feet were either extremely cold from the swim, or they were not enjoying the barefoot run through the dew-infested grass. There was a small muddy gravel section to run through too. I wasn’t suffering as much as some people, however. There was a poor chap near me in transition whose fingers were so cold, he was struggling to get his socks on. I rubbed my feet with a towel quickly, hoping that that combined with the fresh pair of socks I put on would be enough.

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Whizzing round for a second lap (photo by boyfriend)

I was wrong. I set out on my bike for 2 laps around the Chilterns. One thing I should have thought more about when entering this one, was that it was going to be hilly. Maybe it was for the best. Having cycled around the Chilterns quite a bit with people from my running club, there were certain areas I was familiar with and I kept recognising them from either club rides, or from the 50 mile ride I had done last year. On the first lap, I started to think that the country lane I was riding down looked familiar. Then it dawned on me – it looked REALLY familiar. I was about to climb up a mountain! AKA Dolesden Lane, Turville Heath. I wasn’t pleased with the knowledge that whatever came round this time, would come around again. But I survived it twice, I’ll have you know!

The bike section of the triathlon was filled with drizzle, hills, a lot of punctures for many unfortunate riders, some lovely scenery, and a couple of fast descents, including one long one coming past Stonor Park back towards Henley. That was where I could make up my time for any slower parts of the laps, for example where I was climbing. I also found that when I had started riding, my body was pretty cold from the lake and it didn’t really want to help me out with the whole moving thing. I settled for being very happy if I managed to average 15mph over the whole course. Most of me did warm up eventually, other than my feet, I regret to say. I managed the hilly bike section in 2:04:50, averaging 16mph – ecstatic!

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Great shot on the bike from R Knight Photography!

T2 was very simple, however there was one problem – my feet were still like blocks of ice. There was nothing I could do about it except try to get on with the 2 laps of running, and hope that my feet defrosted some time soon. It was less than ideal. I attempted to run across the field onto the gravel track of the course, and it was the strangest sensation. I persevered and got three quarters of a mile before I decided that it was best for me to walk a little bit to try and get the blood flow back. I suffer with Raynaud’s phenomenon, which basically means if I get cold enough, I lose blood supply in my hands and feet. I knew if I walked on them in a certain way, I could get some feeling back in them enough to run. So I did.

Although feeling was not fully regained, my feet were no longer completely numb, so I continued up the path in more of a run. It was approximately a 1.5 mile winding climb up this track, where just over half of that was lined with tall pine trees. There are worse places to run. I kept telling myself that as long as I ran up to the end of the route, then I would be able to run straight back down it, where I did manage to claw some pace back. It was also nice, because my friend who had overtaken me on the bike was now someone who would pass me on the out-and-back route and we could high five each other for a little power-up. Trust me – it works!

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Set on the finish – the last leg of the run

The run down the hill was not only nicer because it was down, but the view over the Chilterns was lovely! It certainly lifted my spirits (until the next lap up). A testing run overall, and I managed a nice little sprint finish with my semi-numb feet. I finished the run in 1:02:55. I was a bit disappointed in the 10k time in itself, but considering I suffered with my feet and it was fairly hilly, an average of 9:54 min/miles wasn’t too bad, I suppose.

The event was good overall, with only a couple of niggles (and some of them being my body’s fault), it was an enjoyable morning in a beautiful setting.

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Champions at the finish, happy with medals!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

Oggy Oggy Oggy…

So, a week after the Dunstable Downs Challenge, I travelled up to Newcastle to take part in the world’s biggest half marathon. It’s televised, it’s popular, and it’s the one and only Great North Run. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this either. I had been warned it was busy, and I was shocked to read that there were 55,000 people signed up to do it.

I was incredibly lucky to even get a place, because this run is organised with a ballot. You put your name in, and hope it gets drawn out of the hat. Either that or you run for charity. One other option is that you can keep up with, or you are Mo Farah. Since I was neither of the latter two options, I stuck my name in and it got pulled out first time – result! There were 4 others in my club that made it up there, and 3 of us stayed in a rented apartment together (AKA the party flat).

Plans were being devised months in advance for this event and excitement was building. One of the guys in the party flat had done this event a few times before so knew the drill, which was awfully handy. He also knew the area well, so we felt in safe hands. It is a long 5 hour drive up to Newcastle for us, so it was great to have some company (and encouragement for coffee & cake stops too)!

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The party flat crew and the Tyne Bridge in the background!

We headed straight to the pasta party near the Tyne Bridge when we got down there, which I was fascinated with because they had rigged a huge Great North Run sign onto it and it looked wicked! We devoured a couple of bowls of pasta, some free samples of Clif Bars for pudding, and enjoyed the live music on offer. Then we investigated the view from the Baltic Flour building – amazing! From there, we headed to one of the oldest pubs in town, I believe (but I may be wrong), the Crown Pasada for a sneaky half.

We had tickets to see some more music for a bit of a laugh at The Cluny as well, which was a little walk away and a perfect opportunity to stretch our legs out. We had some yummy burgers with halloumi chips that were to die for, along with some more beer carbs. Grapefruit beer – who knew?! The music was formed of 2 cover bands – Buddha Side Down, and ZZ Plop (a toilet themed addition). They were excellent!

The next morning was the run, and we were a handy 15 minutes’ walk away from the start line. For those of you that don’t know, the route takes you 13.1 miles from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to South Shields. The course record is 58:56, which is truly unfathomable for a half marathon!

It was incredible just how many people there were at the start line. I know you see it on the TV and you think that’s a lot of people, but when you’re actually there, it just seems so much madder! Which made it even more amazing that we managed to bump into another club member before the start – an incredible lady who had just run 105 miles through the Lake District recently, so thought that she would complete the Great North Run dressed as a fairy. Hats off to her!

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The crew minus 1 at the start, featuring a fairy

Baggage loaded on the buses to be sent down to the finish for us, final banana consumed, and a very long queue for the toilet… it was time to find our starting pens. I was in G, which was probably not even that far back, but the amount of people I had to walk past was ridiculous! The pens were very crowded, which made doing the warm-up a little tricky, but we perservered with it. Unfortunately, starting somewhere middle-to-back of the pack, I found that after the warm-up, introducing all the elite runners and setting everyone off slowly, that I was actually getting a bit chilly. My feet were going numb and there wasn’t a whole lot of space to do much about it. I would later find out that they essentially opened the flood gates on the start line to 43,000 people! I thought staggering it would have improved the experience a bit more.

I caught my only glimpse of the Red Arrows on the start line at 11am, just sneaking a peak at the tail end of all their colourful smoke trails. They were headed to cross over the Tyne Bridge. The sight was spectacular.

When I finally got through the start, my feet were semi-numb and I had started to need the loo (which I managed to hold off for 4.5 miles, until I decided it wasn’t worth it), and I was somewhere around the 2:05 and 2:10 pacers. I loved the outfits that the pacers were wearing – they were sponsored by Duracell and had orange tops, bunny ears and a cotton tail. I didn’t envy them for trying to keep pace for the entire race though. I am a consistent pace runner for the most part, and I found that it was just so difficult to maintain any pace that you wanted to. I couldn’t imagine trying to keep the promise of a specific time to lots of people.

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The sight of the legendary Red Arrows flying over the Tyne Bridge

Overall, I found that the route wasn’t very interesting at all. Because it was point to point, a lot of main roads and dual carriageways were used, and the sights weren’t very interesting; especially compared to my run from the previous week! It wasn’t too flat either, as I found out. I’m not the type of person who reads up a lot on the race beforehand – I like a small amount of surprise – and I found it to be more undulating than I had expected. It kind of seemed like the north’s tour of motorway bridges. Up this bridge and down, over this bridge and down…. and so on. I don’t mean to offend anyone who loves this race – I think the atmosphere was great and I enjoyed the whole weekend and experience, but the route didn’t do a lot for me.

Atmosphere wise, it was great. Every time you went under a bridge, a hoard of runners would shout ‘Oggy oggy oggy! Oi oi oi!’, which never failed to put a smile on your face. The amount of support on the course was crazy! There were so many people lining the way for pretty much the whole 13.1 miles. Not just cheering, but offering sweets, water, orange slices, ice pops… you name it. There was a lot of music on offer too – I am not sure why people would want to complete the race with headphones in. Other than it being incredibly dangerous on such a busy course, you were missing out on such a great atmosphere! There were various different bands all along the way, which could really lift your spirits if you were struggling. A personal highlight for me was hearing a band play Hard to Handle around 10 miles in. I needed that one – thanks boys!

A positive on the route side of things was that when you got to 12 miles, you could see the sea. What a relief that was! I had spent 12 miles accelerating to the pace I wanted to run at, maybe even getting near a pacer, then hitting traffic of runners and having to put the brakes on and weave round them. When you got near a water station, it was carnage because people would just stop randomly in front of you, and there were even volunteers sweeping water bottles back onto the course! It was mad.

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One of the inspiring dinosaur-clad runners

Around 10-11 miles, we had reached a proper hill, too. My legs were so tired, which I would later realise was from all the dodging around people constantly, and the wheels were coming off. What actually spurred me on up the hill was the sight of two men in inflatable dinosaur costumes that looked so awkward to run in. I thought, ‘if they can run up this hill, so can I!’. With that out of the way and only 2 miles left, I was doing OK.

Anyway, the last mile was a dig deep kind of mile. The sea was in sight, and I started thinking about those famous moments you see when you watch it aired on the telly and Mo Farah is zooming towards the finish. Thinking about those last 400m, where he goes for the big stride and overtake for the finish and the win. I focused on the ‘800M TO GO’ sign ahead and reached it. I zeroed in on the ‘400M TO GO’ sign – it felt a longish time, but I reached it. 200M to go was in sight, and I took that with the finish line in front of me, to finish in 2:05:44. I was pleased, because I had predicted myself to come in between 2 hours and 2:10, so I finished in the middle of that. Baring in mind how busy it was as well, I was satisfied with my time.

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3 happy finishers with medals and hedge-shaped runner in the background!

To celebrate, we had a few pints around town after a well-earned shower, and then had a Chinese as a club with some of our supporters too. The weekend was fantastic, and I am glad I went, however I don’t think it’s a race I would rush back to every year. I much prefer a quieter course, and dare I say it, a more interesting one. Box ticked, though!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

Please, Let There Be Elephants…

Due to my poor amount of posting lately, I am going to release not one, but TWO blog posts this weekend in order to catch up! Please bear with me in busy family times to get posts up at the moment. This one is from the start of the month, when I participated in a ‘little run’ in the downs.

When planning out your training schedule for a long distance event, such as a marathon, it can be rather pleasant to incorporate running events into them, just to break up the miles. Not every week, but it’s nice to do a few throughout your training, it keeps you on your toes and stops you from running the same old boring routes all the time. Whether it’s running to an event, creating an event sandwich (running there and back), or just completing the distance on the day, there are plenty of options to keep things interesting.

One thing I did notice when signing up for this event was that when you’re training for a spring marathon, there are so many more training runs tailored for the marathons. Quite possibly because you have a lot of the big ones, and obviously London – the one everyone is trying to get in to! So, I had to look a bit harder to find some runs for my autumn marathon, which is when I discovered this little gem – Dunstable Downs Challenge.

There were three different distances available on the day: half marathon, 20 miles, and a full marathon. This particular event, organised by Dunstable Road Runners, fell perfectly into my plan, because it was the day I was due to run the first 20 mile run of my plan. Fab! I signed up! A few minutes later, I realised it was a self-navigating course… and panicked!

I knew a couple of ladies at the club who had participated in self-navigating events, and spoke to one of them who calmed my nerves about getting lost in the Downs by telling me that I would be able to load the route onto my GPS watch. What a relief! A few weeks later, I decided that I could probably find some other nutters from the running club who were willing to join me on my training run, and struck gold – 3 who would run with me, another who would also do the 20 mile, and another who would actually end up upgrading to the full marathon on the day!

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The full team before the start

The start of this race is at Creasey Park Football Club, home of Dunstable Town Football Club. The route is mostly off-road, with a couple of lanes in between footpaths and a bit of road at the start. The idea is that you have a map, printed directions, your GPS watch, or a combination of all 3, and you find your own way around the course. Some wonderful souls from Dunstable RR had so very kindly been around the course and sprayed bright orange biodegradable arrows onto the ground at any major turning points, so in theory, you couldn’t get lost. That was a godsend, because it threw any doubt out of our minds that we were lost!

Admittedly, my little group almost missed the actual start happening, because we were all too busy chatting away, but soon got the jist when everyone started jogging away from us! And we were off! The route travelled for maybe half a mile out of the football fields occupied by a youth tournament, before bottle-necking onto a loose gravel footpath. I was thankful for the escape into the countryside fairly soon. After that, there was only one main road to cross and we were climbing a big, grassy hill up to the top of the Downs.

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Dunstable Downs. What a view…

I wasn’t sure what to think of the Dunstable Downs before I ran this – I had never been, and having travelled along the motorway to get there, we hadn’t really caught a glimpse of what was in store for us. I just knew that when we got to Whipsnade, I HAD to look out for the elephants – I had been reliably informed that the elephants got walked right next to the Downs, but my source was unsure of the time. PLEASE let there be elephants! Regardless, the footpath would run along the back of one of the animal enclosures, so I was hopeful there would be some animal sightings.

When we reached the top of the steep hill, we were all struck by the amazing view and the gorgeous countryside – the view went on for miles and it was truly stunning! I can’t really complain about the route too much – there were a few hills, but nothing too scary, but my favourite part was just being out in the countryside. It was so peaceful, and despite the fact that there were other runners out on the course, we didn’t encounter that many of them.

There was some bloodshed. I was first to go down. We had passed 8 miles, and entered a field, where I am unashamed to say that there was an attempted selfie with Emily – one of my group – and a rather pretty horse, which may not have turned out that well, after all… About half a mile later, running through the middle of this field along a path that was quite rocky underfoot and covered in straw, I caught my toe on a rock and went splat. It stung, and it bled, but I got up and we carried on. We exited the field, ran a very small portion of road onto the next footpath, got almost to the top, and strike 2 in our group – Mark caught his foot on a rock and fell. Whoops! We also noticed Emily was bleeding on her leg for some reason, but she hadn’t tripped.

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The best horse / running selfie you will ever see

Number 4, and a full house didn’t come until much later in the run, maybe 14 miles in, when the last one to stumble, Jess, caught a rock in the ground. She tripped and fell hard. It wasn’t pretty and I felt for her. She had hit her knees hard, and was in a bit of shock, but she was very brave and got up when she was ready to finish the run.

What else can I say about the route? We passed through a playground, where one of our group wanted to stretch, so we stopped, some took on gels, and I went down the slide..! We passed  through school grounds, woodland, large fields, and a footpaths including one next to Whipsnade – I am sad to say no animals were spotted in the making of this blog.

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Of course someone caught my sliding on camera…!

We almost got lost twice; both times with a lady who was running in some flip-flop/sandal concoction. The first was when we exited a field into a housing estate, and we were lucky enough to have a local randomly pop out of his large shed and direct us where he had seen other runners go. The second time was going through some school grounds, when we were convinced that there should be a footpath, and just had to rely on the compass on my GPS watch in the end, which eventually, after an unnerving mile of uncertainty, brought us to an orange arrow on the ground. Hallelujah!

The checkpoints were also handy in that respect, although they never seemed to pop up when you expected them. They were well run, and if you wanted to keep running through, your numbers were being efficiently noted down (because if you missed a checkpoint you were essentially disqualified). But, the checkpoints were also well-stocked with sweets and home-made flapjacks. I’m just saying. So we may have stopped for a cup of water and a quick bite!

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The dream team!

Tiredness set in around 16 miles, I think mostly due to the terrain. Around 2.5 miles from the end, the welcome sight of the top of the Downs where we had run at the start saw Jess pull away and stretch her legs for a blast to the finish. I was happy knowing I was going to make it at that point. When we got down onto that footpath about a mile from the end, Emily took off, with her marathon also nearby, she wanted to see what was left in the tank. Mark and I opted to stick together and push for what I would like to say was an epic sprint finish! We had a high-five power boost from a young goalkeeper playing in the tournament I had mentioned at the start – he encouraged us and told us we could do it and that was it – another gear found and a race to the end.

Afterwards, we were very pleased to find out that there was tea, coffee, big baps, and cake all included in our entry fees. Some indulging in that and a catch-up with our fellow runners, one of whom had run a sub-4 hour marathon! Incredible. Everyone did really well, and we were happy to have finished on a technical course in just over 4 hours.

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The team happy and finished with all our medals!

This is an event that I must commend Dunstable Road Runners for. I would recommend it, and will definitely be revisiting this one! The medals were also great, and a nice touch that the different distances were all different colours, and had different ribbons. Thank you to all the marshals and organisers, and of course my running buddies!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

This is Not What Triathlon is About

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.

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Sprint distance full course map

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.

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Swimming with the piggies

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.

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Post-race, displaying my amazing sign, in costume of course!

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.

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The two medals together in all their glory!

 

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!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

 

Sprinting to the Olympics

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.

Race 1: Blenheim Palace Triathlon – Sprint Distance

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.

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View of lake, bike out, transition and some of the course

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.

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My wave jumping into the lake

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!

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One of 3 laps on the bike

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!

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Happy finishers

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.

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I’m too tight to buy the official race pictures, but here’s the Roo for you all to admire

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.

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New shoelaces ready for action!

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!

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Super happy, proud, first-time Olympic distance finishers!

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).

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x