A new XC course


Yesterday I traveled down to Letchworth for the fourth cross-country race of the Three Counties Cross Country series.

As always I left it to the last minute to leave, but impressed myself when I arrived 20 minutes before the start and had time to queue for the portaloos before the gun.  I took a gentle jog up the track towards the field we would be starting in and chatted to others from my club stood around me.  Then the Club Chairman collared me – announcing that I wasn’t wearing a barcode.  A what now?!  Apparently the club were trialing barcodes on the race numbers for easy scanning at the finish.  All of a sudden I had everyone bustling around me trying to find the correct barcode to match my number before the race start a few minutes later.
Barcode found in time and stuck in place.  Phew!

Barcode race number

The field (of runners) seemed much smaller than at the last cross-country race and I realised early on there was a good chance I’d end up near the back when I spotted nobody from Groups 5 or 6 from our club (having just moved up to Group 4).  The problem is it’s so close to Christmas that people are super busy this time of year, or they’ve already fallen ill with Christmas flu.

I set off feeling quite strong and ran my first mile in 9m 22s.  The course had started out a little boring to be honest – we ran half way round the edge of a field before cutting through to some hard standing track which seemed to go on forever.  I vaguely remembered spotting that spikes were advised on the website but couldn’t understand why at this point as it hadn’t been muddy or soft ground at all.

I started to get the beginnings of a stitch after a mile and knew I needed to drop the pace.  Luckily the terrain here helped me to do so – swapping to a narrow track between trees and down into a small drop with water then back up the other side.  There was a short hill going up the edge of a field and a lot more muddy stretches along here.  It was a really windy morning – and there were only a few points that the wind was pushing us along from behind.  It seemed to be coming at us from the sides the majority of the time and trying to get me into the hedge.

Three runners from my club passed me in the next three miles – leaving me as the back marker for our club.  I’ve never come in last for the club before at a cross-country.  I had managed to get rid of my stitch by this point and my running had stayed fairly rhythmic for a little while, so I upped the pace slightly again and stayed on the tail of the club runner that had passed me most recently.  I finished a few seconds behind, but was not overly unhappy with my race, as I felt I had done a good job of recovering from a poor start.

At the end of each cross-country race the hosting club puts on a selection of rolls and cakes as well as a hot drink for each runner.  This year it was Christmas themed and we could choose from turkey and cranberry rolls, ham and mustard, salmon or cheese and pickle.  There were also stacks and stacks of mince pies but not being a fan of those I went for a sparkly-decorated Christmassy bun instead to accompany my ham and mustard roll.

As I returned to my car following the race I had to help several others push their vehicles through the mud tracks that had appeared in the car park field.  Cars were sliding everywhere!  I’m glad I was able to get away soonish before things got too muddy and anyone bashed into my car!

When I got home it was time to wrap up in my dressing gown with my hands around my hot chocolate to keep warm.  I’m loving hot chocolates at the moment.

Hot chocolate time

I uploaded my stats from my watch whilst sipping on my hot chocolate.  I’m really struggling to get my head around the difference in figures between Garmin Connect and Strava.  I’ve religiously logged my runs in GC since I got my first Garmin at the end of 2011 and never had any problems with it.  A few people have pushed for me to link my account to Strava and so for the last month my runs have been uploaded to both.  This is how my run uploaded into each program…

Garmin >>

Letchworth Garmin

Strava >>Letchworth StravaIt’s very frustrating how different the two are.

Do you use more than one device to track your runs/fitness progress?  If so, do you find that they display similar information?


Running lately


Running lately has consisted of three runs a week on average.
I’m used to running five or six days a week…every week.  But with the craziness of working at two schools in the run up to Christmas, it just hasn’t fitted into my schedule this month.  I’m looking forward to getting a lot more runs in over the holidays though.  School finished for me at 12:05 this afternoon.  I already have a ten mile trail run scheduled in for tomorrow morning and a cross-country on Sunday.

Running lately has consisted of a lot of mud and many, many hills.
Last Sunday I ran out for twelve miles in an area I’d not run before along the river – through lots of mud and up some incredibly tough hills – no stopping until the top!

Muddy trainers


I’m not gonna lie…I don’t clean my trainers as often as I should.  I know I should clean them down after every run but there’s not a lot of point (in my mind) when less than 24 hours later I’m back out again splashing through muddy puddles.  Although, with not running so much lately, the time for the mud to harden between runs has gotten longer.  I’m hoping to have some new trainers from Santa this year, although if he doesn’t bring me any I’m going to treat myself to a new pair of trails and a pair of road shoes as well.  They’re the one item I use more than any other and my current trainers have been around since winning Operation Ultra last July.  They’re slightly split on the sides of the toes and very worn on the bottom.  It’s time for some new ones!

Running lately has meant I’ve been able to test out several new routes.
Yesterday Dan and I headed on a flying visit to Wolverhampton for his Dad’s birthday and whilst there I managed to slot in a 90 minute run around the trails of Perton – around football fields, through woods and along little back alleys.  It was nice being able to explore somewhere new and lovely to be able to run in the middle of the day when not many people were around.  Over the Christmas holidays I shall be back to Wolves, and also visiting my parents in Norfolk where I’m hoping to test out a couple of new longer routes as well.

Running lately has seen me running a lot slower than I’ve been used to.
I’ve tried to stick to tempo runs or speedwork when out running with others and whenever I go out on my own use my heart rate monitor to run in Zone 2 – at a very slow pace to build my base fitness and endurance level.  Runs are close to 13 minute miles on these runs and although I do feel a little silly jogging past dog walkers at very little effort to me I also feel that I can go on at this pace for ever and I’m promised that I’m doing some solid base building for running some longer distance events later in the year so I’m going to keep working at it for now.  I’m hoping to run a parkrun later on this week and use it as a base to show improvement in a few month’s time.

Running lately has been very festive.
Two weeks in a row at club we have headed out on a festive Christmas lights tour of Wellingborough – fitting in a run by of Karl’s Christmas Light display.

Torrington road, Wellingborough Christmas lightsIf you live in or near Wellingborough, they are well worth a visit – so head over to Torrington road and make sure to take some spare change to throw into their charity bucket where they are raising money for Niamh’s Next Step.  I took Dan over tonight after work to show him the display.  There’s a Santa projection in the window that is moving around sorting through his presents for delivery, there is music synced with the lights to create a fantastic display and when we visited last week we even witnessed snow being blown at us from a device on the rooftop!  If you don’t live in this part of the country then check out the videos on their website because they really do have a spectacular display worth seeing!

Life lately saw me work my last day at school on Wednesday.
And I was definitely made to work right to the very end – placed in charge of year 2 boys whilst in the church carol concert.  Luckily we made it to the end with all boys still sat in pews and all carol booklets intact!
I was presented with a huge, beautiful bouquet of flowers along with a nice big box of chocolates at lunchtime.  I’ve never seen a bouquet so big before!

Leaving flowers from school Leaving flowers from schoolLife lately has seen me experiment with different festive treats I can bake for Christmas gifts.
After seeing some Rudolph cookies pop up on Julie’s blog last week, I decided to have a go at my own and created some to take into work for my last day.

Reindeer cookiesLiterally the scrummiest cookies I have ever made (although not the most healthy!  I followed a recipe for Millie’s cookies and tweaked it slightly to add cocoa powder for a chocolately flavour.  The Rudolph noses were red smarties, milk chocolate chips for the eyes and some pretzels for the antlers.  They went pretty quickly at school!

Life lately involved heading to the German Market in Birmingham.
We didn’t get to look around for long but had a brief mosey whilst up visiting Dan’s parents yesterday.  Dan managed to wolf down a metre-long hotdog whilst I tucked into my delicious falafel.
Metre long hot dog at Birmingham Christmas marketI also finally got to try a Christmas Costa – going for the Black Forest one.  Yum!

Costa coffee cupAny Life lately or Running lately statements to make?
How often do you clean your trainers?

Posted in run

The decorations are up and an award


Long time no blog – reading or writing of.  Life is busy.  I’m on two days and counting…

Christmas tree 2014

I genuinely didn’t think we were going to get our Christmas decorations up this year but on Sunday evening, Dan and I got to work.

What surprised me even more was that when I headed downstairs for breakfast yesterday morning the tree wasn’t laying on it’s side with a selection of Christmas decorations batted across the room by Bella.  Every single year she has shown us just how anti-Christmas she is by either carrying decorations around the room in her mouth or bashing them all off the tree.

Last night when I returned from work I had another surprise as my Gower CTS marathon medal had arrived in the post.

Gower marathon CTS medalAs a group we are hoping to make the South Devon CTS marathon in February (yet to be booked) as we loved the Gower event last month.  It was a little disappointing to receive medals in the post for Gower though, as we had been told it was a ‘sold-out event’ – therefore there should be the correct number of medals available at the finish line!  It also doesn’t declare distance on the medal – with the same medal used for all distances (10k / half / marathon / ultra).  I wasn’t too worried by this, but for some members of our group, this was their first marathon and they felt like the medal should declare the distance.

This past Friday night was our annual running club Christmas do and presentations evening.  I was incredibly touched to be nominated seven times with the following comments…

* Mary has had a very successful year, with the completion of her first 70 mile race being the highlight (well possibly her marriage too!!) Anyone who knows Mary, knew how important it was for her to complete that particular race, and we were all behind her and willing her on whether that was at the race, or from a laptop.
Not only is Mary dedicated to her training, she also works hard for the club behind the scenes.
Mary, congratulations on a massive year, which you took on with determination, succeeded with style and most importantly you did it all with a big smile! Very well done.

* She has run some very hard Trail & Ultra events during 2014, she tries so hard and is an inspiration to many of our club members. Also for all her efforts to the clubs website.

* Mary has shown amazing determination this year in her running. Her strength in completing her ultras has been impressive, all with a huge smile on her face!  She also does so much for the club behind the scenes.

* From a lettuce leaf to a twiglet to 70 miles

* Queen of speed !

* Mary has worked hard all year to achieve 70 miles at the Grim Reaper while still competing in shorter club target races. And also doing a lot of work for the club in the background.

* Mary always amazes me with her new achievements. She wears her green vest with pride and always manages a smile no matter how much she is hurting. Her incredible achievement at the Grim Reaper 70 miles and Conti 70km in the year she got married was excellent. As a committed runner and committee member she is a true asset to the club and inspiring young lady. Well done Mary, you rock!

I didn’t win the Female Runner’s Runner of the Year award that club runners each got a vote for.  (You can see the male and female nomination videos I put together by clicking on these links…)  I did, however receive the Runner of the Year for Group 5 award, awarded by the group coaches!  (Excuse the poor shot – taken in the middle of the night after at least one bottle of wine and no sleep!)

Group 5 Runner of the Year

I am one of the two website editors for my running club, so when it comes to awards night I usually find myself crouched at the front of the room snapping pics of each category winner as they are presented their award.  That was where I found myself again this year.

Starting with the slower groups, the Group 6 Runner of the Year was announced, and then my coach headed to the front to announce the Group 5 award.  Last week he had sent me a message on Facebook asking if there was a way to pull off all of the races from the website that runners had raced in this year.  Because we hold race results in a simple database, that was an easy task and I sent him back a message letting him know how to find the results.

On Friday, as Mat began talking he told of searching through the races run by Group 5 runners on the website and that when he had gotten to the winner of the award he stopped and took in just how many races they had run this year.  Twenty-five.  That they had run 3x 10ks, 3x marathons, including one trail marathon…(at this point I realised it might well be me.  I turned to the guy sat on the table behind and slung my camera at him, asking if he would take a photo for me.  Then I realised my name hadn’t actually been called yet…what if it wasn’t me?!)  They had run a 35 mile race…and a 7o mile race… (OK, now I knew it was me!)

Group 5 winnerI don’t think this is a very flattering photo.  I love this dress but it doesn’t look that great in this shot!  I don’t think any other pictures of me from the night exist though.  :(

Have you ever won any trophies before?  This was my first!  :)




Year of Running – 2014


Miss Zippy's Year of Running

Jess of One Step Closer has just posted her ‘Year of Running’ for 2014 – a concept by Miss Zippy.
With no more races left in calendar and only a few weeks until the end of the year I felt it was time to do the same, so after reading through my ‘Year of Running’ recap from last year I had a go at answering the questions for 2014…

Best race experience?
I think it has to be my 70 mile Grim Reaper in August.  I have never felt so emotional during a race before and I could barely see through my tears during the last mile.

Finisher at Grim 70When I zapped my electronic timing chip at mile 45, knowing that I had run further than I had ever run before and that there was a good chance I would make it to the elusive 50 mile mark I couldn’t stop beaming.  I had an amazing support network of other runners from my club and their family who helped to get me through the 21 hours and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to share my experience with.

Wellingborough with Higham Harrier at Grim Reaper

Best run?
I finally feel like I’m beginning to get my strength back when it comes to running.  In 2012 I hadn’t been running very long, so every run was a PB.  2013 rolled round and I struggled to maintain the amount of progress I had been making, causing me to lose my confidence when it came to racing.  This year I’ve tried lots of new things and really focused on upping my strength again.  Luckily it’s worked and after trialling in the group above mine at club this week and slotting snugly in the middle I am hoping to make the move permanently after Christmas.
Like last year though I’m going to have to favour a trail run for my ‘best run’.  Probably the one the other week where I ended up covered in mud from my face down!

Really muddy trail runDespite it being such a slippy, slidey, muddy run I had so much fun and chatted the whole way round with friends.  I find when I chat during trail runs I completely forget who I’m running with and the pace and sometimes even that I’m running at all!  I concentrate on chatting and my legs carry on doing their thing.  Then I’ll stop to climb over a stile two miles later to see I’ve been running at sub 9mm pace with no apparent real effort at all!

Best new piece of gear?
Obviously my Vivofit.  In fact over this past weekend five individual people have asked me questions about the bright blue thing on my arm and the data that can be pulled from it.  I love challenging myself to remain active over the day, NOT just when I head out for a run.  That little red line along the top of the band that signals I’ve been sat down for too long has definitely made me much more active since my Vivofit arrived in the post back in October.

Garmin Vivofit

Best piece of running advice you received?
I’ve received lots of great information and advice lately regarding training by heart rate.  I had worn a heart rate monitor in the past but never really understood just how it worked until a fortnight ago and I must say it has taken the pressure off of my running as well as filling me with confidence that I can maintain speed during my runs.

Most inspirational runner?
A guy called Colin from our running club ran three one hundred mile races this year as well as numerous other races including many other ultramarathon events.  He ran his second hundred mile event at the Grim Reaper when I was attempting the 70 miles and we crossed the finish line together.  Me for the 70 miles, and Colin for the 100…with a 7 hour PB!  He is very inspirational when it comes to people from my running club and a very humble person if you were ever to meet him in real life.

Finish at the Grim ReaperOnline, among others, I find Jess, Anna and Maria incredibly inspirational runners.  I’ve read all three of their blogs for coming up to two years now and there is something about regularly checking in to hear a blogger’s everyday struggles with running, interspersed with fabulous race recaps and posts of joy as they progress and achieve their goals.
Last year Jess took a fancy to Shires and Spires, the race that sparked my love for ultrarunning back in 2013.  Earlier this year I happened to be talking to one of the S+S race organisers whilst out on a long run and he hit the nail on the head when he said to me that he had come across Jess’ blog about the race and had been so amazed at how she was able to just get into the mindset of running – switching off from everything else and almost dragging her ‘dead leg’ round the course – determined to achieve.
Anna has struggled with injury after injury yet still managed to smash her marathon PB earlier this year and despite injury refuses to give up on the long distance races that she is very clearly destined to do well at.
Maria has steadily improved since I’ve been reading her blog – from struggling to get her 10k PB below the hour mark to smashing that target among others.
I have almost entirely given up with reading running magazines now and I am very definitely addicted to checking out blogs instead.  I am much more likely to be inspired by bloggers who I feel are sharing accurate and regular snippets from their life – like these three.

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be?
“On the way back up.”  I feel so much stronger at the end of this year to last.  I feel confident in my abilities and ready to tackle new challenges next year (although I’m not 100% certain what challenge I’m going to set myself for 2015…I have an idea which I hinted about briefly on Twitter last night, although I want to chat to a few people first to try and work out if I’ll be quick enough.  Watch this space!)

How would you sum up your running year?