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

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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

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

How To Conquer Triathlon

Blenheim Palace Triathlon is looming this weekend for myself and many others, so to help a few with some details, I have put together this post to try and calm friends and strangers alike. It certainly doesn’t cover everything – I could write a book on it, and several people have – but it covers the main points.

So, you’re having a meltdown because you have signed up for a triathlon and now it’s only a few days away! I am going to impart as much wisdom as my brain has, and hopefully it will help any budding triathletes, out of practice athletes, or anyone who has a brain like a sieve like I do and needs to check their kit bag 30 times before they leave for an event! This is based mostly on a shorter distance triathlon, but can be applied to longer distances if required.

If the race is coming this weekend, then I won’t need to give you any training advice – you should have done that part already! If you feel under-trained, then my advice would be to consider if you have done at least enough to get you round, otherwise you could be risking yourself and potentially risk others on the course. But, hopefully you have done some training and you’re good to go. If you are still worried, there is no point trying to cram training in this week – it should be a gentle week for training; just keep yourself ticking over.

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The beautiful transition area at Blenheim Palace

Next step: whether you have trained hard or not, I would recommend some time invested over the next few days in training your brain. A lot of things are controlled by your mental state, and I like to use some time in the run up to events telling myself that it is possible, I will make it round, and I can do this! It doesn’t always matter how quickly you do it, it’s all about finishing, and gaining experience. PB’s are a bonus!

I think it goes without saying to get plenty of rest and not to overdo it this week. Gentle exercise – certainly nothing at race pace, and a good amount of sleep. If you’re going a distance, a couple of days of carb-loading won’t go amiss! Don’t eat a huge mountain of carbs in one sitting, go for smaller portions in every meal. This will help load your muscles slowly with the energy they need to perform.

Now you’re loaded up, you’re probably going to start looking at your kit bag. Below is a list of essentials, and then I will follow it up with “luxury items” that you may want to include. Just remember, you don’t need to pack the kitchen sink – ask yourself, “do you really need this?”. The worst thing you can do is put too much in your transition area, and give yourself too many choices when you get there in the race. You will spend too long dithering and deciding: socks or no socks… these gloves or those, sun visor or cap? etc. Spend the time now making those decisions and pack ONE!

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Bare necessities:

  • Tri suit, or shorts and top – what you will wear for the whole race, and under your wetsuit
  • Sports bra (if you are a female)
  • Socks – if you have chosen to wear them for the bike/run sections
  • Wetsuit – unless you are brave enough to go in without?!
  • Goggles
  • Towel (for drying your feet off after the swim)
  • Trainers – for running, and cycling if you don’t clip in
  • Cycling shoes – if you do clip in
  • Helmet – a must for riding your bike!
  • Swimming cap (just in case, but generally you will be supplied one for the race)
  • Push bike
  • Fuel and hydration – I will come to that in a bit
  • The contents of your race pack – numbers, stickers, timing chip, safety pins…

That should be all you need to get round, with maybe a couple of extra bits if you are a minimalist! Another decision you should make now – what you are going to put it all in. I remember my first triathlon, where I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend carry my things from one end of Dorney Lake to the other with me, in about 3 different small bags. I saw loads of people wobbling about trying to balance big plastic boxes on their bikes walking along. It seemed to be the norm. I have always wondered if these people have ever heard of rucksacks, or bags, which you can put on your back and then have your hands free to steer your bike to transition. I was fortunate enough to be spoiled with the gift of a transition rucksack, which is a little large, but will be able to carry my wetsuit (with a special compartment of its own for when it’s wet), and everything else I need! I would recommend the rucksack approach.

Luxury items you may wish to bring – the basics, although certainly by no means limited to:

  • GPS watch (probably the most popular item)
  • Bike repair kit (inner tubes, pump – mine is always bolted to my bike, tyre levers, etc.)
  • Sun glasses
  • Sun visor or cap (remember, choose one and take one only with you!)
  • A pair of old flip flops to abandon lake side
  • Race belt – used by many to attach numbers to your body for the cycle and run. For the bike portion you will need a number on your back, and the run a number on your front. You can just spin it round and it saves either re-pinning a number if you are only given one, or wearing one front and back.
  • Lube! This will help your wetsuit slide off like Bruce Almighty’s clothing (if you have ever watched the film). Everyone has their favourite. I prefer a concoction of baby oil and Vaseline – I don’t believe the myths that Vaseline destroys your wetsuit; I have found no physical or scientific evidence of this – but there are other good products like Body Glide. I even read in an entertaining book I once, that there is a lady out there that swears by Durex Play!
  • Sun cream – the waterproof variety
  • Something comfortable to wear afterwards, if you are fortuitous to be racing somewhere stunning that you can look round post-race, such as Blenheim Palace, or you have a celebration after. Also, bear in mind whether there will be somewhere to change, although there is nothing wrong with getting changed in the loo, and wiping yourself down with baby wipes!
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Swim start lining up at Blenheim

Nutrition. My main point here would be the golden rule of all racing events: Never try anything new on race day! You might do it once, and then you will never do it again, after one bad experience. Use what you have been training with, and what your stomach and body is used to. If you can stomach gels and you have been using them, that’s what to go for. As a side note, if you want something similar to gels, but can’t get on with them, energy chews such as Clif Shot Bloks are a good alternative. Jelly babies, Haribo, fig rolls, dried fruit (I like apricots)… Whatever your poison is, that’s what you take. Be sensible – you don’t need enough to survive a week in the jungle – take enough, and a little bit extra in case you struggle, to get you round.

The great thing about a lot of tri gear is that it has places to put things. If you wear a tri suit, it may have pockets in the back, a bit like a cycling jersey. If you have a race belt, you might have purchased one with gel holders in, so you can fix them in before the race. Make it accessible to yourself. It’s easy to take on nutrition on the bike, and if it’s a short distance, you may get away with running without anything. Plan what you are going to eat and when, and stick to it.

Hydration wise, I tend to put a bottle on my bike for a short ride and load it with 2 for a longer one. You won’t be out on the bike for that long in a sprint triathlon, so carrying an extra bottle of water will just be more weight on the bike. You can leave another drink in the transition area if you are worried and drink it when you get off the bike. Water is fine, or you can pop hydration tablets in, if that’s your thing, or simply some squash for a bit of flavour.

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Aerial shot of the beautiful grounds

RACE DAY

  • Make sure you have had plenty of sleep the night before and you are well rested. Don’t fret going to sleep – everything will be fine and all that positive thinking you have been doing will pay off. Check your bag has everything in it before you go to bed, if that puts your mind at rest.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to eat breakfast, get to the event early enough to get parked, set up your transition area before it closes to competitors, and to absorb the atmosphere.
  • Breakfast should be nutritious, and something you are used to. I have inherited my favourite pre-race breakfast from a running buddy, which is porridge with blueberries. He says, “If it’s good enough for Bradley Wiggins, then it’s good enough for me.”. Then, around 30-40 minutes before the race, I will have a banana to top up my energy levels.
  • Practice the day before how you want your transition area laid out, and even practice transition, if you think that will help. Or just spend the time organising in the morning when you are there, making it easy for you to grab what you need fast, and continue your race. Learn from your mistakes. I used to put all my things on top of my towel, and then realised when I got out of the lake and wanted to dry my feet, everything was on top of it, which was no good! It will also make a difference how you lay things out depending on if you have a single transition area, or two separate areas, more commonly known as T1 and T2. Find out what is there on the day and plan around it.
  • Give yourself some extra time to get lubed up, into your wetsuit, and ready to swim.
  • You’re ready to race! Don’t forget all your race numbers, head down to the water, take some deep breaths and go for it!

Do your best, and most importantly, enjoy yourself. If you aren’t enjoying it, and it’s not down to bad luck, I always ask myself, “why am I doing this?”. Push yourself as hard  as you can, and achieve what you want to achieve. You have got this!

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Thanks for reading, and good luck to those of you racing this weekend!

Amanda x

Swim For Your Life

It’s been a little while – training and life has been keeping me busy, but I have some spare time to share a new post with you all, having just come back from physiotherapy! This one is all about open water swimming. It’s worth a read if you are a seasoned open water swimmer, triathlete, just starting out, or really just fancy having a go! It’s a nice refresher for myself as well.

I think a lot of people have a little fear of the open water, and for several different reasons. “I’m not a good swimmer”, is a common one. This is something you will have to judge yourself a tiny bit. If you can hardly swim 10 metres (I’ve been there too), then you may need a little more practise in the pool. If you can happily swim 200 metres – it doesn’t matter how fast or slow, and not necessarily front crawl the whole way, i.e. you can breast stroke until the cows come home, then I would say you can brave the lake.

“It’s cold and dirty”, is one I hear a lot. Yes, the lake is colder than the swimming pool, and yes, fish, birds and other life forms swim in it. But, on a warm summer’s day, there is nothing more refreshing that jumping into the cool lake and enjoying a swim where you don’t have to avoid “that guy (or girl)” who has arms like an octopus and won’t move out of the way, or endlessly turning at the ends of the pool to look at more tiles, or swimming in what I have heard referred to as ‘human soup’! (Definition: where people have had a wee, snot-blasted, dribbled, shedded hair balls – true story – or any other human substances in a chlorinated body of water.) Also, most open water swimmers wear wetsuits, which are designed to keep your body warm, so no excuses!

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Showing the glamorous side of neoprene wearing, and how many chins you can develop sprinting out of a lake!

Preparation. As I quickly mentioned just now, you may (probably will) want to wear a wetsuit. They keep you warm, and are quite buoyant, so they will help you float. Most lakes will also allow swimmers to go in without a wetsuit, although you might find you have to sign a ‘no-wetsuit waiver’. I recommend the wetsuit, and if you’re not sure, hire one to try it out. Generally, if you are feeling committed, it will work out cheaper to buy your own than keep renting one – remember, you don’t have to buy a top of the range one – but do go for a swimming one over a watersports one. They are more buoyant, and are built stretchier, to allow for full movement of your arms when you swim. Other than that, you will just need a brightly coloured swimming cap, so that the lifeguards can see you, which you can pick up for about £3 in Sports Direct, and a pair of goggles, which I hope you would have anyway! If not, try Sports Direct, or a similar shop again for a reasonably priced pair (£10?), and make sure you try them on to find the ones that fit your face the best. You don’t need to go out and buy some fancy, expensive open water swimming mask (generally the masks leak – I warned you, ok?).

Finding a lake. Google, ask around, contact your local triathlon club. More and more swimming lakes are popping up all over. DON’T go and find a random body of water and start swimming in it. There are plenty of safe, life-guarded lakes with courses marked out and lots of friendly people! If you are near me/Burnham, you have a choice of Bray Lake, Liquid Leisure in Datchet, Westhorpe Lake in Marlow, and Heron Lake in Wraysbury. All are great lakes, and I believe they all still only charge £5 a swim, which is cheaper than the local swimming pool! My favourite is Bray, because it’s local, and just such a lovely lake to swim in.

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Bray Lake enticing you in – go on, you know you want to swim in it!

Getting help. Find a friend who is enthusiastic and a current open water swimmer, and ask them to go in with you, if you are worried. Another great way into the sport, is to take an introduction to open water swimming course. These are fantastic, as they run you through everything from putting your goggles on so that they don’t leak, to taking you round a small loop in the lake and making sure you don’t drown.

Sighting. If you skipped the introductory session, it may be worth noting one small point. In the swimming pool, it’s well-lit, and the water is clear, so you can see to the other end of the pool. The lake is a little bit different. The water is green-y and darker, so you won’t just be able to keep your head down and swim along – you will need to check where you are going. Open water swimmers use a technique called sighting, specifically for this purpose. During front crawl, just before you turn your head to the side to breathe, lift it slightly so that your goggles clear out of the water and take a peek  – I imagine it like taking a quick photograph – then turn your head to the side to breathe as normal. It’s a quick glance, and you are looking for some big, brightly coloured buoys that mark out the course set out in the lake. If you’re still not sure, have a look on YouTube – there are some good videos that run you through the process.

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Mass swim start, team relay tri event. Spot me above the word ‘Tri’, with the blue goggles on! Open water swimming can open up opportunities like this one.

Swimming. Now to get on with the bit you have all come for – the swim! Don your swim cap, your goggles and your wetsuit (unless you are brave!), remembering that the zip goes at the back – we have all been there once – and use the pads of your fingers to pull it up. Avoid getting your fingernails dug in, as this will tear the suit. Get in the water, and allow it to get into your wetsuit and trickle up the zip. It may feel a bit cold, but take a few moments to acclimatize, letting your body adjust to the temperature. I would recommend either washing your goggles about in the water, or for the less precious of us, spitting into them and giving them a quick wash out. This stops them from fogging up, so that when you need to see where you are going, you can. Your hands and neck should go in next, and when you are ready, dunk your head under. This will all help adjust to the temperature of the water. If you’re really cold, have a wee! I’m not joking – everyone does it, and it sure warms you up. To quote something I read recently, “there are two types of people in the world; those who wee in their wetsuits, and liars.”.

Then, don’t think too much about it – swim! If you aren’t feeling too confident, start out on the shortest loop. In some lakes, this may be 400m, and others it may be 150-250m. Don’t panic – if you need to stop swimming, simply stop. Treading water is easier than you think, your wetsuit will aid in keeping you afloat, and if you want to paddle around a bit you can. You can breast stroke if you are tired of front crawl, or you can just float on your belly or your back – just be careful waving your arms around if you are on your back, or staying like it for too long, because floating on your back with your arms in the air is actually the distress signal in open water. So, unless you need rescuing, keep your arms down!

Once you are finished and satisfied with your swim, get out, have a lovely warm shower, and bask in the glory of what you have achieved. Get a hot drink if you fancy one – most lakes have a little cafe on site – and plan when your next swim will be. Most of all, enjoy it!

Some of my favourite things about lake swimming:

  • Swimming continuously without having to stop and turn around, or avoid people
  • A sense of freedom, getting close to nature, and being outdoors
  • Enjoying a sunrise, or a sunset, if you get in early, or out late
  • Training with and around some wonderful people, who are all as enthusiastic and in love with the sport as each other
  • And, with risk of sounding a bit like a hippie, feeling alive!
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Two very happy girls, having completed their first lake swim of the year – a chilly 11°C. Me and my cold swimming buddy, Helen.

Arguably, not everything is for everyone, but I think you should at least have a go or three at most things to see if they suit you. You never know, open water swimming may just be your thing. As a good friend of mine always says, “I think I’ll be really good at that, because I haven’t tried it yet.”.

Happy swimming, and thanks for reading as always,

Amanda x

For Those About To Run, I Salute You

Marathon season is drawing to a close. A lot of people I know have been out and about, running all through winter, getting their miles in, and training hard for one big day where they have to run 26.2 miles. A feat that, for some, may seem too much and a little bit crazy!

I am one of those mad men – or women – who have been beavering away on evenings and Sunday mornings to get the mileage in for the main event. Marathon training is certainly not something to be taken lightly – it is a big challenge and I cannot stress enough to anyone looking to attempt their first one: it is time-consuming, and it is hard. That’s not to put you off at all, I just think it is something to consider before going for it.

A few things I have learnt from marathon training:

  • Hours of your time will be devoted to one day. You will have to sacrifice a lot of weekend mornings to get your long runs in – Sundays for most. This also includes beers the night before – unless you enjoy a hangover run! I was fortunate enough to have the support of a lovely bunch from my running club who met up religiously every Sunday morning for a long run, and we all followed roughly the same plan.
  • The support of a running club is the biggest help. I am part of Burnham Joggers. They have been wonderful to me, and having such a great club behind you, especially with an injury, was such a big help. Loads of us trained together, with pace sessions, hill sessions and long runs in all different pace groups. There was also plenty of virtual and real-life support on the day. Amazing!
  • Eventually, even I get tired! Yes, you heard – after months of training like mad and squeezing in a long run every Sunday morning for weeks on end, I started to get tired and just couldn’t wait to finish the marathon in the end, and claim back some of my weekend!
  • Vaseline and baths are completely under-rated. Vaseline to keep the blisters and chafing at bay, baths to soothe the pain afterwards. I would sit in a cold bath for 6 minutes when I got back from my long runs. I even started to enjoy them?!
  • Keeping training interesting can get tricky, but it is do-able. For our 18 mile training run, a big group of us met at Black Park (a local, beautiful country park), and ran 6 miles out and down the canal, ran back the same way, and then finished the last 6 in a 10k race, raising money for a Stroke charity. It was a great plan to help get a long run in, with a medal at the end, and support when you needed it the most!
  • A lot of long distance running is, for the large part, a mental battle. Your body CAN carry you 26.2 miles (with the correct training, obviously), but that chimp we spoke about before will try to do or say anything to make you believe otherwise. Mental training is just as important as physical training!

Event day soon loomed. I took part in Brighton Marathon on 9th April, with my running buddy Zoe, who had also been suffering with injury. The course is pretty flat as 26.2 miles go, with only a couple of hills, and the worst one being in the 1st mile. The route was fairly interesting, although there were a few parts running back on yourself.

The main part for me was the support. Almost the whole way round, we were inundated with supporters, music, and entertainers. It was all a bit overwhelming, but in a good way, I must add. The start is in Preston Park, which you may not recognise by name, but maybe by location if you have been to Brighton. It’s the big park to your left on the main road into Brighton, and it’s not too far from the sea front. The park was full of people – an astonishing 12,500 runners would take part that day. Luckily, I found my running buddy at our pre-arranged meeting point with ease!

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Preston Park, at the Clock Tower, before the race.

Zoe’s family was a fantastic support – they met us at the start area and cheered us on at the first mile; then we saw them again at the halfway point, and also at the finish. My friend had been kind enough to give me and my boyfriend a bed for the night. They both waited for us at around 8 and 11 miles, and then at the finish, also taking some really lovely photos for us and making us laugh! We also saw some Burnham Joggers, who had completed the 10k that same morning (before the marathon had even started), and we saw them at mile 6.

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Mile 1, heading away from the park

The rest of the course was lined with supporters, cheering everyone on. It was incredible! There were plenty of drummers, providing us with a beat to run to – even giving us a boost. Live bands played in several places, as well as a group of cheerleaders on a stage, who we passed twice, dancing to loud, upbeat music, and funnily enough, cheering us on! Around miles 14 to 18, the route took us through housing estates. You would think this would be a boring part of the course, but I was again astounded at how the local residents had welcomed the race. Families were outside their houses for hours on end, handing out drinks and sweets to runners. Some had their garden hoses, sponges with buckets of water, and water pistols out, trying to cool everyone down. I think I may have forgotten to mention until now that we were running on the hottest day of the year. It was 21°C at midday and we were ROASTING!

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Mile 11. Still smiling! Photo credit to Chris Parry-Morris (winner of the secret photography competition)

The only negative that I have to say about the entire experience was the water stations. By the most part, they were well-stocked and there was water to go around. However, when we started getting further into the race, we were shocked with the news at a drinks station that they had in fact run out of water. Other drinks stations were overflowing with cups of water that would probably not get drunk by the end. It became more frequent the further we got round the course, and I couldn’t help but feel awful for the people behind us, who would have been out in the heat and on their feet for even longer than we had by the time they reached the point we were at. The organisers did apologise, as it was hotter than expected, and they reckoned that there was 3.5 litres of water for every person around the course. There may well have been, but I think it was poorly distributed.

Back to the race, though. They say the marathon starts at 20 miles, and we sure did start to feel it. The route gets a bit quieter around this point, as you head out for a lap around the power station. In some ways, this was a pleasant break from the endless support that had covered the course so far. Approximately 2.5 miles later, we were heading back down the sea front, with stunning views of the sea in glorious sunshine, and it was nice boost. The support was back: from people relaxing in the sun, to others wandering around. Just what we needed to carry us those last few miles.

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Team colours and still smiling!

As we neared the 26 mile marker, a big grin crossed mine and Zoe’s faces. The end was in sight , and Zoe apparently had a bit of a sprint up her sleeve! We had spotted all of our loved ones and they had given us the biggest cheers of the day – they knew we were about to accomplish our goals as well. We crossed the finish line, absolutely exhausted, in a comfortable time of 5:16:06. A time that is plastered on the back of my medal, on my medal hanger display, my trainers, and just about anywhere else I can get it! We had run a marathon! Having that medal hung around my neck was such a fantastic feeling! I have a t-shirt that I am extremely proud of (even if they had run out of my size and I was stuck with a large).

What an incredible experience it was. I was exhausted afterwards, very glad of a bath and some food, and plenty of sleep that night – it was a very early night for me indeed!

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Relaxing on the beach afterwards. Sun, beer, medal, and goody bag. Perfect!

Now for the soppy bit. Sorry folks! I could not have finished this race without the support from my friends and family. My sister, who could not stop saying good luck when I left for Brighton on Saturday. My friend Chris, for welcoming us into his home, giving us a bed for the night, and for his support and excellent photography skills on the day. My boyfriend Chris for driving me there and back, and putting up with all my long hours of training, especially at weekends. As well as listening to me moan about my injury and being there for me. Zoe for being my marathon buddy, getting those training runs in together, and bringing not only her own support around the course with me, but her wonderful family to cheer us on too. Burnham Joggers, especially Julia for popping up along the course and all those who trained with me on Sundays – you know who you are, for all their support in training, cheering, and congratulations. My best buddy Katie and her mum for believing in me, for their love and support, and my lovely post-race bling! I could go on and on, but I would just like to say thank you to everyone else I know for putting up with my training, injury, listening to me go on about marathon this, marathon that, and your general love and support.

Never say never, especially when there are Autumn marathons to eye up! And for those about to run,  I salute you.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x