My running story

When I redesigned the blog at the start of Summer, I updated the Mary and About pages on my menu bar.  Until this point, you were able to view a rough version of my running story on these pages.  I’ve been really interested to read through a few other bloggers’ running stories just recently though and thought I should attempt a proper post dedicated to my own running story…

I often say that I began running in May 2011 when I joined a beginner’s group, but in actual fact the year before, Dan had signed me up for Stoke 2010k, my first proper race, whilst I was still studying at Keele University.  I was fed up with life not being very active and so Dan and I began playing badminton several times a week.  Dan already played football at least twice a week and we both walked everywhere as it was just easier at the time but one day we decided to try a run.  The next thing I knew, Dan had signed us both up for Stoke 2010k with 6 weeks until race day!  Our rough plan at the time was to play badminton twice a week and run three times a week.  Each time we ran we covered the same route of about 5-6 miles and just tried to run it faster.  Not the best of training plans, but we made it to race day.

Dan and I Stoke 10kI have absolutely no idea how I ran an entire 10k race wearing a hoodie over the top of a cotton t-shirt.  I would melt if I attempted that now!

We ran the 10k in 59m 58s, although afterwards I found this article, explaining how all but one runner had completed a short distance.  You can read some of the race reviews here, where some Garmin-wearing runners reported the race at just 5.4 miles!  Until I searched online just now, I had no idea that the course had been short by so much.  I had been so proud to have finished under 1 hour, but now don’t really have any idea what pace I had run at or how far I had run.  We ran the whole damn way though, even up the super tough hill towards the end and I felt a massive sense of achievement at the finish!Dan and I at Stoke 2010kNot long after I completed my degree and moved to Northamptonshire where I began working full time as a teacher.

Teaching was mentally draining and I really needed an escape in the evenings.  Initially rather miserable living on my own and working in a sedentary job for the first time I gained a lot of weight (somewhere in the region of three stone).  I had moved into a county where I knew nobody and on browsing the shops one lonely weekend (sob!) I spotted a poster for an upcoming running course to be held for beginners.  I emailed to sign up as soon as I returned home.
There were about ten of us who ran twice a week in the beginner group with the idea that we could build up our strength and stamina in order to complete the club race, the Wellingborough 5, ten weeks after joining.

Beginners 2011Three of us beginners ran that day, myself included and although I wasn’t yet running in club colours I ran my first five mile club race in 49:41.Wellingborough 5 2011Five of us went on to sign up as members of Wellingborough & District AC following the race and I decided that I would like to try running a half marathon before the end of the year.

This was massive.  Thirteen point one miles?  Of running?…! didn’t really know what I was signing up for, or how best to prepare for it.  I continued attending running club on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then started to add in one or two runs of my own each week as well.  Occasionally at the weekend some of the slower club runners would organise long runs which they posted on the club Facebook group and I would eagerly meet for a long run with company.  It was around this time that one of the club runners mentioned that all running should be below 10 minute miles and so I tried my hardest to stick to this during sessions (usually managing it).  Other than that goal I didn’t really have any set plans.  Three of the original beginner group signed up to Bedford Half Marathon in the December and so we began comparing training.  My longest run was 12 miles, three weeks out from race day.  I felt reasonably prepared going into the race and came away with a new half marathon time of 2h 13m 10s.  My aim had been to finish somewhere between 2h 15 and 2h 30m and I had smashed my goal time.Bedford half marathon 2011 - Me and HayleyMy legs were a little achy the following day and I immediately came down with the worst cold in the history of all colds the following week.  Stupid immune system!  But I was happy.  So happy in fact, I signed up to run a marathon…

2012 was the first year of the Milton Keynes Marathon and it was a popular one with our club, being less than an hour’s drive away.  Along with the other two beginners who had run Bedford half marathon we began to up our training.  Most of my long weekend runs were completed on my own and the majority of them still sticking to the 10mm pace I’d grown accustomed to running at.  I’d run a 20m race in 3h 36m three weeks before race day and was quietly confident with my training.  I’d put in a lot of hard work.
On race day morning I woke to reports of high speed winds and several trees down along the road outside my house.  The weather was awful – raining the entire time and the course actually had to be extended due to several areas being flooded.  At one point we were running through water halfway up our calves!
4But…I was hooked.  I wanted to run another one and immediately thought about entering another marathon in the Autumn, although it wasn’t until Milton Keynes the following year that I ran marathon #2, in complete opposite conditions this time – scorching sun!  It was around this time that I also decided to start documenting my training.  Although I wished I had started logging my runs and training from the very beginning.

Following my second marathon I started thinking about what I could challenge myself to do next.  It was during one of the weeks following that I got to talking to a runner at my club, Kev.  Back then, Kev used to run along at the back of group 4 and pick up the trailing back runners on a club night, of which I was one at the time.  He put the idea in my head about entering the upcoming 35m trail race, Shires & Spires.  Kev at the time had begun training for his own personal challenge – a 100 mile race and was often putting on evening runs to get used to running at night with the use of a headtorch.  I started attending these runs, where we often ran up and down hills like mad people, through all the mud, but always had heaps of fun.  The pressure of achieving times my body was not capable of had been removed and running became something I did for fun again!

Muddy legKev ran with me at Shires and I had such a great race that I began looking to see what my next challenge should be.  I knew I would never be able to go a huge amount faster, but I could still go a huge amount further, so that was the path I decided to take.Shires and Spires 35After entering a competition to win a place on ‘Operation Ultra’ with Women’s Running, I was amazed to find that I had been shortlisted, and eventually won the place at Dusk ’til Dawn – an overnight 50 mile race in the Peak District.  I don’t think there is really an easy way to start running ultras, but I’m pretty sure I picked one of the hardest routes possible!  I was so grateful of the place through the magazine, and learnt loads about myself and my running along the way.  A lot of it coming down to just how stubborn I can be when it comes to not giving up!

wereoffAt mile 32 the hill fog descended and I ended up running 40 miles and ending up back at the same point, making it impossible to reach the next checkpoint in time.  I was disappointed but determined and returned the following year, having first gotten a 70 mile race under my belt!

Finish at the Grim ReaperThe Grim Reaper 70m was entered last minute.  I had intended on entering the 40 mile distance but when Kev (Yep, him again!) pointed out that I had 26 hours to complete the event, and that another, much larger runner from the club had intended on running the 70 miles – ‘if he could do it then so could I’ – I was easily swayed and my finger hit the mouse to select the 70 miles instead.  My first 70 miler was one of the hardest and most challenging things I have done to date, but I did it, and when I finished, I had then run the furthest out of all female runners in the history of our running club.

Notice, I said first 70 miler…!  Initially wanting to attempt 100 miles this year I knew I would still be so far away from making the cut offs – it would be heartbreaking to be pulled at 80 miles into a race if my body was still fine to keep giving!  Instead, I decided that my goal should be to improve on my time over 70 miles.  As tough as the race had been in 2014 it was easy in 2015.  I knew what to expect, I knew what to eat, how much to drink, how to approach the checkpoints…I took more than 3 hours off my time, finishing in 18h 49m 15s and was so happy to sprint towards that finish line knowing I had run a smart race.  I had loved every second of it and ran so strongly.  I genuinely was very proud of myself that day.

My big bug bear has always been the marathon distance though.  Mablethorpe Marathon a fortnight ago was run in 5h 2m 58s.  Despite being my ninth marathon (seven of which were on road), and having increased in both confidence and experience over the past three years I just could not get under the 5 hour mark.  I always crash and burn in the second half, or something happens, or conditions aren’t suited to me.

It wasn’t until my tenth marathon yesterday that I finally managed to get under that elusive 5 hour barrier!

Chelmsford marathon finish photo

What is your running story?

Busy teaching times

This week seems to have rushed by so quickly.  I can’t believe a fortnight has already passed since I ran Mablethorpe Marathon.

The biggest and most depressing thing about this week is that it seems the Winter darkness has quickly started settling in.  Runs always happen by the light of a headtorch now, unless I can squeeze a run in at the weekend.  This is because when I get up for work, it is dark.  Within an hour of being home from work, it is also dark.  Depressing times!

First night out in a headtorchI’m actually on the hunt for a new headtorch at the moment, – ready for Dusk ’til Dawn at the end of October.  Although mine is usable, and I did indeed use it last year at the same event, I would like something with a stronger beam so that I can place more trust into where I am putting my feet whilst out on the course.

I do love the Winter though – there is something comforting about getting home from a walk in an oversized knitted jumper and sitting in front of a fire with a cup of hot chocolate to warm up.  Shame we no longer have a woodburner in our front room. :(

The darker mornings have meant that I have lost 45 minutes of potential marking time on my way in to school each day, which is my biggest annoyance of the Winter months.

Too dark to mark on the commute to workThat is the view I now get in the mornings on the way to work.  So, for the time being I’ve turned my attention to Twitter in the morning and for another week at least I can still mark on the way home.  That will change at the end of next week though once the clocks go back.

Too dark to mark on the commute to workYou can see how dark it is on arrival at school now.  This was taken at 7am in the week.

I don’t always spend every morning marking, but I’m currently at the point in the year when marking is rather high.  This year I have six sets of year eleven students and two sets of year tens.  (Approx 230 kids)  All who are working on coursework this year.  The year elevens will each have ten pieces to be marked and returned before Christmas, and the year tens probably four or five.  They will be given a chance to improve and then I shall have every piece back to remark again over the Christmas holidays.  I’m trying to stay on top of things!

As well as my GCSE core students and a handful of younger classes (which thankfully involve much less marking!) I also have three classes of sixth form students this year, although they are much smaller in number, and a class of year 10 Optional GCSE students who I adore.  I’ve built up a really good relationship with the group and they are so excited to check their coursework marks when I put them online.
I’m knackered each evening at the moment though, and other areas of my life seem to have slipped by the wayside right now and I am so looking forward to catching up with things over the half term holidays again.

Today, in between tidying, cleaning, marking and hopefully a bit of blog reading, I shall mainly be refreshing the live results page for the Autumn 100 and following the Twitter hashtag.  Two members of our club are out there, with a third planning on helping them run through miles 50-75 in the early hours of tomorrow morning.  There are also several lovely bloggers working their way around the 100 miles, including Sarah and Louise.  I would love to tick a 100 mile race off my bucket list, although I need to improve my speed first, as I would never make the cutoffs at the moment.
One day…

Dan is off at football this afternoon so I knocked up something at lunchtime for just me.  I realised that I had enough ingredients in to make a similar take on the ‘Oven baked chicken with an orange and sesame quinoa salad’ I had made from my Hello Fresh box a few weeks back.  I had no chicken, but I did have a ball of mozzarella.  I had no pepper, but I did have a pack of fresh mushrooms.  I didn’t have the rice vinegar or spice paste, but I lived without those, and was brave enough to throw my kale and veggies in with the quinoa, soy sauce and orange juice to create this beauty…  A concoction I would never have thought of before my Hello Fresh meal arrived.

Mozzarella and quinoa kale saladSuper tasty, and I made two portions, so I will have enough for my lunchbox on Monday as well.

Have the darker mornings made a difference to you lately?
Do you have any headtorch recommendations for me?

Tring Ridgeway Run 15k trail race

This time last year I had just run my first trail race. A year later and I’ve been ticking off loads more to add to my list!
On Sunday I ran the Tring Ridgeway 15k Run with a large number from my running club. As I explained in Monday’s post, I have already run enough races to count for our club trail running league (you must have run at least 6 of the 14 listed races) but I wanted to better one of my placings and improve my overall score for the league (without pushing too hard, as I did run a marathon last weekend!)

I travelled down with two other runners from my club and we arrived with plenty time for a loo visit, to collect numbers and pose for a group photo.

Tring Ridgeway Run 15k

One of our runners went on to finish as third female for the race.

The start of the race was a 15 minute walk away – out of the cricket club grounds and along a few small sideroads before we all congregated at the bottom of a quiet country lane, which later turned into a  concrete farm track.

I stood on the start line chatting with a friend until she pointed out that we probably should have started our watches as the runners close to the front appeared to be walking ahead. Had the race started? Or were the runners just shuffling forward closer to the line ready for the gun? Turns out the race had started, we just weren’t aware and a few minutes later we were walking along as well. Walking, not running, as there was no space for that for quite a while!

Despite not intending on ‘racing’ the race I was a little annoyed at myself for having started so far back in the pack. Especially so when it became clear that no more than three people could run abreast from the start for the first mile and a half. I dodged round people where I could, but in the end had to settle with the fact that I wouldn’t be moving anywhere very fast for a while and my stride became rather choppy.

Two miles in to the Tring 15k Ridgeway Run(You can see how crowded it was in the beginning – in the photo here we are probably about a mile and a half into the race – and there were only 564 runners in total.)

After the first mile and a half we came out onto a road. The marshals were directing us up onto the verge the other side which would only hold one runner at a time.  The verge then ran alongside the road for 200m or so. The road was quite wide though and here I decided (along with several other runners) that I could use the road as a way to a) stretch out my legs a little, and b) overtake some of the runners who were running a little slower than I had intended on running. I probably overtook 30+ people along this short stretch before slotting back on to the grass verge which then veered sharply away from the road and alongside a field.

There were massive holdups here and we even came to a standstill a couple of times as the path struggled to accommodate the huge influx of runners that had suddenly tried to run it all at the same time. There were lots of (incredibly slow) walking stretches along here and my heart rate dropped quite low, right down to 111bpm as we stop-started along the route. For the rest of the course, my heart rate was around the 165bpm mark, so noticeably different!

My game plan had been to remain consistent and to walk the hills, rather than run them. Although my thighs no longer ache after last weekend, I had put them through a marathon just a week earlier and during the marathon they had screamed to me that they were working hard, so I didn’t want to overdo anything on a race that wasn’t a goal race. I had studied the course profile beforehand and knew that the main hill was at mile three, with a slightly smaller hill around the six mile mark. There were a couple of steep, but not as significant hills along the way, and I ran these, mainly to get past all of the walkers and find my place within the pack. I did powerwalk up the steep hill at mile three though, still overtaking several runners along the way.

The views were pretty, and I did get to check them out at several locations, despite spending a lot of time looking at where I placed my feet. I wasn’t ready to go over on my ankle again just yet! The course was nearby to a couple of the races that I have already run this year – Ashridge 16 in March and Dunstable Downs 20m the other week. There were a couple of the sections of course that I recognised from those races. A little after mile three we ran through the start line of the Ashridge race where I grabbed a cup of water for a few sips.

Me at the Tring Ridgeway Run 15k

I had almost run out of tried and tested gels. (I tend to run with MaxiFuel Mixed Berry gels and have done so for a couple of years) Despite having a drawer full of various other gel samples they are all samples that I have never tested during runs and don’t know for certain that they suit me as a runner. I wouldn’t normally take a gel for a 15k race distance, but with an upcoming marathon I knew it was necessary to test out which other gels I could get on with and planned to take one at mile 6, just before the water station. I knew exactly which gel I was going to try – the Gu Salted caramel gel. This gel has been sat in my stash for a little while now. It tried to tempt me to take it along for Mablethorpe Marathon last week, but with my sensible head on (nothing new on race day!) I resisted the urge to remove it from my drawer.
As I approached the water station I ripped the top from the gel and squeezed the whole lot into my mouth.
AMAZING! It really wasn’t what I expected it to taste like at all! In my past experience, if gels/bars are flavoured, they tend to be rather a weak tasting superficial flavour, but not this one! It was pure salted caramel sauce. Delicious, and a nice kick! :) (Batch immediately ordered ready for the marathon upon arrival home.)  I swigged back some water and then began the climb up the hill that immediately followed.  We all walked it, although I power walked to the top and overtook a few more people here.  You can see me in my green vest about halfway up the hill.

Headed up the hill at mile 6 of the Tring 15k Ridgeway Run

Most of the rest of the course was either downhill or flat after this point, although a lot of the downhill sections were rather technical.  I didn’t run the downhill sections as fast as I would have done normally, being slightly wary of my recently recovered ankle.  My ankle feels OK again now and much stronger, but it’s still in the stages where I know if I were to knock it again I would definitely feel it!

When we emerged onto the road I lost a couple of places again to runners faster than me on the flat but I stuck to my steady pace to see it through the last mile and a half.  As I reached the edge of the playing field, some club members were stood cheering me on, so I picked up the pace slightly to zoom past the two guys just ahead of me before reaching the line.

I’d been fairly consistent throughout, despite the hills: 10:21, 10:57, 10:54, 10:02, 10:15, 10:35, 11:11, 9:46, 10:11, Nubbin (0.42m) at 9:47mm pace.

For only £8 we were given a t-shirt and a chocolatey bar at the finish.

Tring Ridgeway Run t-shirt

Good value, beautiful views, friendly marshals and a well organised race, with very good quality photos for all but I wasn’t overly keen on all the hanging around for the first few miles of the race.

Garmin time: 1h 38 25s
Official time:
1h 38m 38s

What is your favourite gel?
Have there been any races or parts of races you really haven’t enjoyed?

Rejected by the London Marathon

So another year, another rejection…

London rejectionAlthough I was rather annoyed that I didn’t even get to experience the excitement of rushing home to check which cover the magazine on my doormat had.  Instead, I received an email which my tablet brought up automatically displaying my result one day when I was at work – rejection.

But unlike some, I have had the opportunity to run the Virgin Money London marathon in the past.  I was lucky enough to gain a place in my running club ballot for 2014 and was so excited to hear my name called out that evening, promising to do my best throughout training and try my hardest to achieve a PB!  (I did!)  I didn’t expect to enjoy the race at all but ended up absolutely loving it and wanting another go!

entrance check VLMShame I’m so, so, so far away from the impossible sounding Good For Age time (currently set at 3h 45m).  I’ve typed in the numbers…that works out at an 8:35mm pace the entire race which is something I cannot yet imagine.  My current 5k parkrun PB was set with a 8:35mm pace!

This year, there were so many people who had achieved a Good For Age time that London Marathon have had to change the ratio of marathon places offered to affiliated clubs.  Usually our club receives four entries, but this year it is looking like that number will decrease to just three, despite our club being one of the larger in our area with more than 300 members.

I don’t know if London Marathon intends on running a similar ballot system again next year but I don’t think the system that they rolled out this year was welcomed by very many runners.  According to the Virgin Money London Marathon website, this year 247,069 people entered the ballot for a place in the Spring marathon.  This number has previously been capped at 125,000 entries, with nobody being able to enter the ballot once the limit has been reached.  There are just 50,000 runners who will be granted a place on the starting line, although a large portion of those are made up of charity runners and Good For Age entrants, along with the celebrities and elites.  Approximately 12,000 runners drop out or defer their place before ever making it to the start line though.

This year I didn’t win a place but did jump on the coach by local club Northampton Road Runners so that I could go down and support our club runners for the day.

Elite women at the London marathon

As much as I loved getting the opportunity to run at London marathon last year, the thing is, there are other marathons.  Other marathons that aren’t as crowded as London, where you won’t have to run 27.9 miles to make it over the finish line (yep, there was a lot of weaving out there, especially towards the end!)  Other marathons that won’t cost you as much as a family holiday and where you won’t feel so overwhelmed in the crowds.

So if you didn’t get in to VMLM16 either, choose another marathon to target and instead watch the race on the TV, or line the streets of London armed with Jelly Babies to support those that are pounding the streets.  Running a marathon is tough work, whoever you are.  Runners need all the cheering they can get!

I am never going to be a fast runner.  I was described as having a ‘lumbering style’ by a physio I saw once and I think that pretty much sums me up.  My stride is certainly never going to look like that of the elite runners pictured above!  I’m not sure that I am ever going to feel ‘accomplished’ at the marathon distance, despite 26.2 miles being my favourite event.  If I can’t succeed at speed, then I can definitely try my hardest at number.  I have run 9 marathons and 6 ultras, with a further two marathons and another ultra booked in before the end of the year.  I’ve mentioned before that I would love to one day become a member of the 100 marathon club, so maybe that should be my focus, and I should forget about the times.  When I stopped worrying over race times earlier in the year I managed to PB at quite a few of the shorter distances.  I want to better my times, but maybe this will come with more experience and more marathons under my belt and when I take the pressure off.

Have you run the London marathon before? – If not, would you like to?
What do you think about the change in ballot entry this year?
How many marathon+ distances can you imagine yourself running?