May The Course Be With You

I haven’t posted in such a long time! I am aiming to get back on here more regularly once I have got London Marathon done. It is certainly time-consuming training for a marathon, but with the added pressure of fundraising, I have found that I don’t have much spare time at the moment! It’s a shame, as I have done some really cool things recently and I would love to post about them, so I might do some “flashback” style posts so that I can share my experiences still. Anyway, on to the real reason for this post.

As many of you know, a lot of events and races were cancelled this weekend due to the weather. We were hit with an unusually snowy March, and some good calls were made to make sure that runners, marshals and supporters were kept safe. It is definitely a tough call to make as a race director, but I think that safety really did have to play a big part in it. Even more so after seeing the news articles regarding events such as the Hardmoors 55, where runners had to be rescued from the course. Race directors, you have my support.

I was travelling down to Seaton in Devon for the second year in a row, along with a few of my running buddies from my club. There were 13 of us in fact, although one would not be running the event. What event, I hear you ask? We were all set to take part in the 31st running of The Grizzly. This is an annual event held by Axe Valley Runners, and is easily becoming one of my favourites. There is a real spirit to it that is unlike any other run I have encountered. Allow me to tell you a tale…

Axe Valley Runners describe the event like this:

Twentyish muddy, hilly, boggy, beachy miles of the multiest-terrain running experience you will find this side of the end of time. It’s by no means the toughest race around (honestly!), has changed over the years and nearly died on a few occasions, but hundreds of you keep coming back for more so we must still be getting it right. Whatever it isn’t, it is an experience.

They really aren’t lying! The only true way to understand The Grizzly is to experience it yourself. There are two distances available for adults over the weekend – the full Grizzly of 20 miles, and a Cub race of 9 miles – as well as races for the youngsters too. The children race on the Saturday, and the adults on the Sunday. Saturday night hosts the Griz Quiz, where runners and supporters alike can load up on beer carbs, and unload their brains into this evening of quizzing with a raffle. Our club entered two teams, and we didn’t do too badly in evaluation of the questions, but we didn’t win!

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The whole gang post-quiz

Just before the quiz, it has become a bit of a Burnham Joggers tradition to indulge in some pre-race carbohydrates for dinner in the form of fish and chips. The last two years, I have dined at Frydays in Seaton, and we all left on Saturday with very happy and full bellies. (I had swordfish and it was so tasty!)

Rewinding a little more; we had actually found out whilst I was driving a car of Joggers down the M3 towards Devon that the full Grizzly event had been cancelled, however there would be an amended Cub run available for all runners to participate in. This was due to the dire weather forecast for the weekend, predicting heavy, and almost continuous snow. We just decided to make the most of the weekend, as we had booked our hotel rooms and might still get a run in, as long as there wasn’t too much snow!

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Three of the crew for the weekend, fresh arrivals in Seaton with matching Grizzly hats to keep our heads warm

We went straight to the race headquarters in the town hall to scout out the event merchandise and attempt to locate some of the beer that had been specially brewed for the event by Dark Place Brewery. No special beer in sight, but three lovely hats and some Grizzly buffs acquired – these would definitely come in handy later on… Then off to the sea front – what else were we to do?! From there, and in the photo above, you can see Beer Head and the caravan park. The route would take us up to the top of that cliff in less than 24 hours time! We were very excited and only a little bit cold on the scale of the weekend! (I may have mentioned a few times to my friends that I had my heated jacket on… with heated pockets… but only a few!)

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A swift half before a fish and chip supper… Guinness for St. Patrick’s Day!

A few beverages were consumed that evening, and I think people were more relaxed about everything since we “only” had 10 miles to run the next day. The snow had been falling since midday and wasn’t showing any signs of easing off, however it wasn’t settling, which seemed like a good sign. The Met Office had forecast strong winds and chill between -5 and -7 degrees for race day… The snow continued to fall overnight, and by morning, there was a covering on the ground. The race director announced that the Cub would still be going ahead though, so we got ready for the maddest run I think I have, and quite possibly ever will run!

The infamous start of the Grizzly event is along the promenade in Seaton. What makes it so unique, is that after a short run along the promenade, runners turn back on themselves onto the stone beach and run approximately half a mile along this tough terrain to experience jelly legs not even a mile into the 20 ahead of you! This Sunday, things were a little different, as we all knew that we would have half the distance to cover, but it was -2°C and snowing pretty heavily. It was still just as tough.

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Part of the course along the beach after 1000+ runners ambushed it!

I ran the whole event with my friend Mark from Burnham Joggers, who had agreed we would take it easy as we both have imminent marathons, and the conditions were tricky. The plan was just to get it done, for our sakes but also for those incredible marshals who were stood out there in the cold and snow, and also to enjoy ourselves.

After that initial little lap by the sea, the hills start. A long climb up into Beer, which rewards you with a downhill straight away. There is another extremely steep climb after that. We agreed that although we would normally attempt to run a lot of the steep hills, we were struggling with traction and would be sensible to fend off any injuries before our goal races in April. The roads and trails were covered in ice and snow, which at times became incredibly slippery. Running downhill could almost be trickier than ascending, which we found out when we apexed above Beer and encountered the sheer decline into the town. It was incredibly steep, slippery and tricky to manoeuvre, but we made it down in one piece.

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Runners leaving Seaton into the snowy hills

I actually waited for my friend to use the loos in Beer, and befriended a lovely couple and their Golden Retriever – the poor pup must have been freezing, so we had a cuddle to keep warm. The couple said they would see me on the cliff later on. The support through Beer was incredible, and especially because of the weather. I couldn’t believe so many people were out whooping and cheering in the snow! It was such an amazing atmosphere.

Running through Beer, the next stop of the route is Beer Head caravan park – remember from the photo earlier up on that cliff? The road through there winds up the hill, then turns into a grassy trail until you reach the top of the cliff. Except this year we add a lot of snow, a strong wind, and tiny little snow bullets pelting your face. That buff from yesterday is coming in handy now, right?!

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Running through Beer with the beautiful backdrop of the church. Mark and I can be spotted in the middle of the photo – in green and silver, respectively! Thanks to Visit Beer for the photo.

Atop the cliffs, the wind and snow was tough to run in, so I really felt for those marshals who were stood there in it! I made sure I thanked every single marshal on the way round – they truly deserved it. I never once saw any marshal with their hands in their pockets looking miserable. Every single one of them was cheering and encouraging all the runners, looking out for their safety, and generating that amazing Grizzly spirit. The faster runners had already turned around (due to the shorter course) and were passing us in the opposite direction, which made it more fun, as we could high-five and cheer on our fellow club runners.

Mile 5 was dubbed the emotional mile. The memorial tree had been moved from its position on Branscombe beach (as we would not be running out that far) to an earlier point on the course just after 5 miles. There was a young lad handing out ribbons to tie onto the tree in memory of someone, which I was delighted about, because it had completely slipped my mind to bring along a ribbon for it. I attached a royal blue ribbon that I was really grateful for, and took a moment to remember my mum with her favourite colour. We climbed the steep hill ahead of us, whilst being entertained by a man dressed in Roman battle attire (bare legs/arms and all!), joined the queue for the stiles ahead, when Mark’s nose started bleeding onto the pure, white snow. Whoops! We mopped that up, only for him to have a couple of slips on some rare mud. We opted to hold hands and help each other up the slippery slope, until we reached the steps.

We were then running back along the cliff in the footsteps of those faster runners. The snow was really deep in some places, and the wind/snow combination was becoming brutal – again, I am in awe of those marshals; you all rock! I did also stack it up here, landing on my hands and knees in the deep snow… I noticed at this point how much I was literally frozen. I wore a bobble hat, where the bobble was solid ice. My eyelashes were frozen, there was a thin layer of ice affixed on my cheeks, and that trusty buff was crusty with ice. The hat and buff did do a good job of keeping the weather out though. Mark and I exchanged comments about how idiotic this run was, along with lots of giggles – it was quite the experience. Visibility was tricky for Mark, who had to remove his glasses, and then for both of us where the snow was firing sharply into our eyes.

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The view back over Beer, taken by my friend

I was pleased to find myself down from the cliffs and back in the caravan park. Where the cups of water they were handing out were topped with snow earlier, they were now like drinking slushies. Luckily, I had brought my hydration pack with me, and we both drank from that, as it was a lot more drinkable than the little icy cups. We also rehydrated shortly after that at the pop-up pub at the bottom of the caravan park, and enjoyed a small cup of that specially brewed Grizzly beer – delicious!

We mostly followed the route (with only a few diversions from the track we had taken on the way out) back towards Seaton, unfortunately avoiding the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ back up to the cliffs. There were a few more climbs, and as we ran through Beer and back up the cliffs on the other side of the town, I was cheered on by the couple I had met earlier with the dog – thankfully, they appeared to have taken the pup home to the warm. That was a welcome and familiar cheer, and helped us climb up to the wonderful view of the coastline.

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Runners returning to Seaton / the roundabout with fabulous running statues

The final descent into Seaton was slippery but manageable, and the draw of the finish helped us get a sprint in down the seafront. We were still careful not to push too hard because the snow-covered roads had been churned up by hundreds of other feet, but we maintained a good pace and pushed our way to the end with gurning faces. We were awarded with our finisher’s t-shirts and delicious flapjacks, before disappearing into the warm and dry in the town hall. We were reunited with our other club members, and enjoyed some delicious home-made soup, as well as acquiring that sought-after Grizzly beer.

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A few of us after the finish, warming up with soup

The weekend was finished off with a few pints in the Hat ‘micro-pub’, a lovely dinner in the Malt House pub, a well-earned sleep, and a monstrous breakfast in Trotters café the next morning. The icing on the cake was a final visit to Beer on the beach, where we encountered some beautiful views of the cliffs we had ascended and descended merely hours ago. But the cherry on top was the snowman built by my boyfriend, who we named BJ after the club’s initials. It was a surreal experience building a snowman on the beach, but a definite opportunity to be seized!

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Team dinner party in our amazing finisher’s t-shirts!

I would like to send a HUGE thank you out to Axe Valley Runners and all of the surrounding communities who made this event possible, and to everyone involved for making the best of a wintry situation. The 31st running of this event has been reported to have been the toughest running of the event to date. I can’t vouch for 29 of those, but from last year, it really did compare in a vast way. Everyone who was on the start list for this year has been offered priority entry for next year, since we were unable to run the full event, which is so kind of the club. They didn’t have to do that, or even put a run on last Sunday, and for such a popular event that a ballot is run for, you really couldn’t ask for anything more. I will most certainly be back again next year, and hopefully in years to come!

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BJ the Snowman, created by Christopher Palmer

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

 

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Enduring

Once a year, my running club hold a talk about marathons early in the year, where advice and information is offered for free to any member willing to listen. It’s actually more of an endurance running talk, which we have been told can be from 3km and further, so it is suitable for all, really. There are usually 3 people who talk about various aspects of training, and it’s always very informative, and pretty fresh. There were some really interesting points that arose from it, and I scribbled down some that I thought affected me the most last week, in the knowledge that I wouldn’t get near my computer for a few days to write about it. I’m not claiming I know everything about running, and certainly not marathons, but I have a few tricks I will throw in the mix while I’m there.

One of the highlighted points at the start was about sleep. It’s so important to get enough of it, and for it to be good quality. Having been sleep deprived for 3-4 weeks recently, I could completely relate to this. I was feeling several effects it was having on my body, including training. Although that particular month in my life was a bit of an anomaly (no boiler meaning it was freezing cold, being literally woken by cats and dogs, the burglar alarm, and the steps to the loft being opened in the middle of the night…), there are some things that I find helpful to get to sleep a bit easier. For example, I know that cleaning my teeth wakes me up a little (might just be me – I think it’s the mouthwash), so I will try to do this in advance of going to bed, so I feel drowsier when I want to get to sleep. Also, I find that although I don’t really drink many caffeinated drinks, there is definitely a time of day where you need to stop drinking them, so that they don’t have an adverse effect on your sleep. I love a herbal tea, and these are great as a warm alternative.

If you have a busy mind like I do, then I actually find it hard to nod off sometimes if there’s too many things whizzing around in my brain. I combat this by keeping a journal and/or notebook next to my bed. This helps me to empty my brain before I sleep. It doesn’t matter if you never read the journal  again, it’s just somewhere to pour out all the rubbish and emotions that are floating around in your head. If it’s something I need to remember, then I will pop it in a notebook either in the form of a memo or a to-do list. You may find if you’re forgetful, that it makes you anxious you won’t remember to pick something up or do something in the morning, so this is perfect. Even if it’s just something you’re worried about getting done in the day. Alternatives are noticeboards, posters (for motivational purposes), or whiteboards. Now, I know what you’re thinking – but I have this great mobile phone or tablet that I can write these things on! Well, there has been a lot of research into the ‘blue light’ that is emitted from our electronic devices that keeps you awake for longer and stops you getting a good quality sleep, so I think it’s best to steer away from it and stick to good old pen and paper. I also enjoy reading a paperback book before bed – it really makes my eyes sleepy.

Recovery is extremely important. This obviously includes sleep, but many other things too. I wonder whether doing an active job where I am on my feet all day effects this in any way. After suffering with my foot after a long run at the weekend, I found the next morning at work very difficult, because I don’t have a job where I can literally put my feet up; I just had to power on through it. I will briefly touch on some of my favourite recovery things below.

  • I swear by a cold bath before a hot one. It’s great after a long run, but can be a little testing of your steeliness getting into it. I recommend 5-6 minutes in a purely cold water bath up to your waist, so it covers your legs and just sit really still – you soon won’t notice it. Sometimes in the dead of winter, I wear a woolly hat and have a brew in there with me, but shh… don’t tell anyone! Set a timer on your phone or stopwatch, and then leave it until it beeps – remember, a watched pot never boils! Once your time is up, add hot water to your bath and enjoy a good soak.
  • Throw some Epsom salts in your warm bath too. They’re great for you after a long run, and you can get them reasonably priced online on sites such as Amazon in bulk.
  • Wear compression tights either under your clothes if you’re out, or to bed when you sleep.
  • After a race, or a hard run, especially if you are away from home, i.e. you have travelled to a race, you still need to get some recovery food or fluid in you. I like to keep a serving of protein powder in a sports bottle, and a separate bottle of water in my bag. I pour the water in the protein powder bottle when I am done running, and try and get it down me in that precious recovery window of 20-30 minutes. I find it difficult to eat immediately after a long run, so drinking my protein works best for me. I actually dilute mine a little more than the recommendation, but that’s just a personal preference.
  • Electrolyte tablets are brilliant – I recommend them during and/or after your run – it can really help keep you hydrated, especially in warmer climates. They are also great for keeping you hydrated when giving blood, so you can get a PB for filling the bag…!
  • FOAM ROLLING. Enough said really. Great for your muscles, and it only hurts a little bit…. promise!
  • Stretch lightly after a run. You always have time – stretching should only take you 2-3 minutes after your run, and if you had time to go out for 30 minutes, an hour, or longer, then you have 2 minutes spare to stretch. Hold each one for only 12-14 seconds for maximum benefit – longer can cause more muscle tears than it will do good.
  • Eat well on rest days too. It is just as important to aid in recovery. I try to have at least one day a week where I try to rest as much as possible. This means no busying about at home and NO cross-training!
  • Roll a golf ball under your foot when you’re sat down to ease out any sore spots or tension. Or as I learned today, one of those nobbly reaction balls works great too!
  • I get a massage from a wonderful lady once every 3-4 weeks. This helps keep my body ticking over, and I can definitely feel a difference between going regularly and coping with elbows down hamstrings, compared to going irregularly and clinging to the bench screaming, whilst a thumb tickles my hamstrings! I realise it’s not financially viable for everyone, but if you can afford it, it is completely worth it!

Nutrition is also extremely important. In fact, I must admit that I am not always the best at it. If you fuel your body right, then it will carry you better throughout training and racing. There is so much out there on nutrition, so I would say if you want to get super serious about it, speak to a nutritionist. But essentially, look after yourself with what you eat, and try to make everything from scratch. Pre-prepared foods are full of hidden things. Also, remember  to train with whatever you are going to use on race day, whether that will be gels, baby food, dried fruit e.g. apricots, shot bloks, etc.

There was a good model used for training in fact. Imagine a three-legged stool, where each leg represents either training, recovery, or nutrition. If any of those legs either lengthens or shortens, then the stool will become unstable and potentially fall over. It is about keeping a good balance between all three aspects, so that your stool stays upright.

Another thing to think about is how absorbed we can become in our training, that we become blindsided to our own situation. It is a good idea to have someone around you who can be your eyes when you cannot see. A good exercise to carry out for yourself is to make a list of three things that are signs you may be overtraining or underperforming and sliding down the slippery slops of UUPS (Unexplained Under-Performing Syndrome), and give it to someone who knows you well, and will happily tell you when they think you’re doing too much. For example, my main three would probably be irritability, decreased endurance/strength, and persistent fatigue.

Listening to your body is so important too. Although it is great to pass the bat to someone to watch over you, and make sure you don’t get lost down the rabbit-hole, it is just as key to check yourself. Ask yourself honestly if everything is going right. Iron out any niggles before they become major injuries, rest where appropriate – even if it means missing a session if you don’t feel right, and don’t be afraid to adapt your plan or have a week off if you are unwell, as an example. Don’t lie to yourself!

Working with heart rate can be extremely beneficial, not just to keep you running within your capabilities and not to a goal/dream time, but also to monitor things like fatigue, overtraining, and effort. I certainly could do with training with heart rate a lot more. To figure out your heart rate zones, you should measure your resting heart rate. This is best done laying in bed when you first wake up in the morning, preferably with minimal movement. I would take an average from 5 readings.

Mental health is also important to keep you on track. Look after your psyche, and keep a positive mind and home environment where possible. There are some fantastic books out there for just this: “mind management”. A favourite of mine is the Chimp Paradox, but there are other great sporting specific ones, such as The Winner’s Bible. Remember the skills and techniques taught in them, refer back to them if you need to, and practice them. Create a good support network around you. I also find displaying achievements helps me remember how far I have come from being a complete non-runner to completing marathons, triathlons, and everything in between. I have a PB medal display, and a scrapbook with all of my racing memories in. Have a good mantra, such as “I can, and I am”; i.e. I can do it, and I am doing it now”.

Educate yourself. Listen, read, absorb, and talk. Any advice can be good help, but stay true to yourself – there can be a lot of different opinions about things out there, so don’t get lost in trying too many things out at once. Listen to podcasts such as Marathon Talk. Read books, websites, magazines, blogs, etc. Visit running shows, talks, seminars, and even take part in training courses.

Find a plan. Make it your plan. Stick to your plan, and this one plan ONLY. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, just worry about doing your plan. Got it?

Keep a training log, so you can track how everything is going. It can be good to refer back to if you are having a particularly bad week or so, you can look back and see if your heart rate was increasingly high over a few days, you had poor sleep, you may have been overtraining, or maybe you have had some niggles that have developed into something worse.

I am also finding that fitting fundraisers/fundraising in around training can be tricky. This can be about planning around races you have signed up for, social commitments, etc. I like to incorporate some running events into my training, and this can mean adapting my plan for mileage, or possibly running to/from an event or before it. Sometimes due to family commitments I have found that doing my long run straight from work mid-week is an option. This means that I would finish running at a similar time compared to if I had run with my club but started 90 minutes later.

I hope some of my things help or inspire you in your training, and that you may enjoy some of the notes I took from a much vaster talk, where I condensed down the bits I considered simpler to digest and reflect on online.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

On the Run

It has definitely been a few weeks since my fingers have graced this keyboard! List of excuses as follows: birthday, then Christmas, then boiler broke on Boxing Day, sprinkled with a mix of broken phone, limited internet access, and avoiding my icy cold house, where there is still no functioning boiler… Despite all of that, I have managed to avoid being too ill, and only had to ditch one run due to a hacking cough mixed with snotty nose, due to living in an igloo!

I have been a busy girl running, most certainly, and I am just getting back into the rhythm of twice-weekly swims and gym sessions, and of course some cycling. I think this post will have to be as comprehensive as possible, but an attempt at catching up on all the running madness!

I tried the Wycombe Rye Parkrun on 16th December – a new for me, but very local. It was a very icy day, so tricky underfoot. A mix of concrete pathways (very slippery that day), grass, and a little flight of steps. The course goes out, has a small loop, and then winds back on itself, allowing me to carry out a very well-timed high-five with a friend! I had a great race from 2-4km with a lady right on my shoulder, until she decided to use the icy footpath as an excuse to be a dirty corner cutter, and gained a good 20m on me… Don’t worry – I made sure she got it – it was a victory for me when I beat her across the line and showed her that cheating gets you nowhere!

 

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At Weston Turville Reservoir, with the sensible bunch from the club…

 

A bunch of us ventured into Weston Turville the next day for a fun exploration run around the reservoir and down the Grand Union Canal. It involved some mud, lots of laughs, and ended in the best way possible – with a very large Christmas dinner.

 

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A roast dinner to fill faces and bellies (World’s End Garden Centre, if anyone likes the look of it!)

 

My next run of particular note was Christmas Day Parkrun at Maidenhead. I ran down there in a bit of drizzle with my new hydration running vest on – a lovely birthday gift from the boy – and had a very enjoyable trot round Braywick Nature Reserve with my antlers on! There were lots of people in my club there, plenty of runners in fancy dress, wonderful support and music from a group of ladies singing Christmas songs to music playing from a buggy being pushed round the course, and Santa greeting us at the finish with a sack of sweets. It sure did spark the day up!

 

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Heading to the finish, antlers ahoy!

 

Keeping up with running on days of significance, I thought I might as well head over to Mortimer in Reading for the legendary Gut Buster event on New Year’s Eve. This is a favourite of mine, and was my 3rd year running it. The first time I ran the 10 mile, then I had to drop down to the 10km the second time due to knee problems, and this year I resumed my place in the 10 mile event. It is 10 miles of mud, trails, hills, water crossings, and has an infamous finish line – she is a toughie! We ran through a ford (which I fell over in – claret pouring from my knee), a few very deep ‘puddles’ (term used loosely), and a  brook that was a good 2 feet deep!

 

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Team Burnham ready for a mudding!

 

This year was THE muddiest I have ever seen the course. The ever-entertaining race briefing assured us that in previous years they had had complaints that it wasn’t muddy enough, however this year there would be none – I sincerely hope not! I had a very enjoyable, but tough run with two of my running buddies, and we all fought across the finish line together. The finish has been described as “the hardest 400m in British Atheltics”, and I would have to agree! The cabbage patch we run through is normally tough enough, but this year it was something else. It was like a warzone. Proper shiggy (shoe-sucking mud) in untamed mounds of epic proportions! Great fun!

 

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The best way to finish a 10 mile run

 

Obviously that hadn’t quite made my legs sore, or tired enough…! So, I thought I had best participate in the Parkrun New Year’s Day double. The only day in the whole year that you can register and receive two results for Parkruns. I started in Black Park at 9am, where I dragged my sorry… uhm, legs around with a couple of club friends.Then at 10:30am, started all over again in Upton Court Park, where I chased down a different club member (someone equally silly enough to have run the Gut Buster the day before), who I ran most of the event with, and finished together. Great encouragement, and good fun, despite the aching.

 

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My New Year’s Day gang at Black Park Parkrun

 

My next event of interest isn’t actually a run. I completed the Leadership in Running Fitness (LIRF) course, organised by England Athletics, allowing me to become a running coach. It was a good day jam-packed with great coaching advice, skills to create and take an enjoyable session, and a fair bit of running – a lot of sprints (gulp!) – which all lead to me achieving my qualification. I look forward to leading my first session with my club this coming Thursday!

 

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Team Burnham Joggers before RRR XC

 

To top off all the excitement, on Sunday 14th January, I took part in Reading Roadrunners cross-country event at a new venue in Ashenbury Park & Woods. It was 5.7 ish miles of very muddy, slightly hilly XC. It was actually quite hard work, after doing a sprint session on Tuesday, my long run on Thursday, and a Parkrun the day before. The course was 3 laps – 2 big and one smaller, which was mentally tough, but the course was so good that I didn’t mind too much, other than the very tired legs towards the end! I really enjoyed how open a lot of it was – at some points, you could see 3 lines of runners following the course across different parts of the field. What a sight!

 

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Mud, glorious mud!

 

I finished hand-in-hand with a fellow club member, with a pretty strong sprint finish, encouraged by a member of Bracknell Forest Runners – thank you! Cross-country of course means lots of cake and yummy food, and Reading Roadrunners really did not disappoint on any level. Not only was the course great, it had fantastic marshals and plenty of them, lots of mud, and so many photographers dotted around to capture our pain. Thank you for a wonderful event!

 

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To the finish line!

 

I am hoping to get back on track with this blog, now that things are calming down a bit! However, I will be avoiding my house as much as possible if the heating continues to be non-existent, so please bear with me whilst I iron a few creases out.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

Snow Problem!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our little group in the warm after the XC

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

Run To The Hills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trotting along at the bottom of the first hill

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

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Getting some air time in a sprint for the finish!

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

Thank you for reading,

Amanda x

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound of Runners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The night-time trail crew at Ashmei headquarters

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

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

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

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

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

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The Burnham Joggers team before the start of Sandhurst XC

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

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

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The view from HQ

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

 

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

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The last push for the finish line

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

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I promise these are the same trainers from the start!

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

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The secret castle that is Odiham

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

You Are Capable Of So Much More Than You Think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x