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

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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

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

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