The muddiest, longest XC! (Sharnbrook)

Last Sunday was the final cross-country race in the Three Counties Cross-Country league.  (My previous recaps for races 1,3 and 4 are here: Wellingborough | Leighton | Letchworth – I wasn’t able to make the second race of the season.)

The final race was a new race for this year – held by Bedford Harriers over in Sharnbrook, with the race headquarters held at the high school.

The race was to be further than the previous races in the series (10k in distance compared to the usual 5 miles) and was after having had a night of solid rain.  I had returned home from my 19 mile run the previous day literally just as the heavens opened and it did not stop raining until it was time for me to leave for the cross-country the following morning!

Bedford Harriers XC at SharnbrookI love this photo from the race start as it seems that the runners are all in colour order!  As a runner myself, I never get to see what the race looks like facing the front of the startline.

The course started out with a lap and a half around the school playing field.  I hate when you have laps around a field to begin with.  It means all the supporters can still see you for quite some time so there is no hiding whilst out on the race!  It was necessary though, as after a sharp drop down a steep hill we headed out through a gap in the hedge which would otherwise have been a squeeze!

It was colder than it has been just lately.  We were more aware of it due to the impending rain showers that we knew were headed our way though I think.  I wore a top with sleeves for the first time this season, although it was actually warm enough that I could have still gone without.

Bedford Harriers XC at SharnbrookIt was incredibly muddy out on the course.  The playing field in this photograph was probably the least muddy of any of the sections out there.  Once we escaped the school grounds we were sent along a farm track that ran the length of a farmer’s field.  We then turned and ran through the middle of the field along a footpath.  This was very tough.  The heavy rain from the previous night had left the mud very slippery, yet still thick and rather stodgy.  The sort of mud that collects on the bottom of your trainers and makes your legs feel like lead.

We left the field and turned out onto a rutted track.  The same rutted track that we ran as part of the Colworth 8.1m race back in June I believe.  This was mentally tough as you had to be strategic in where you placed your feet.  The mud here was incredibly wet and slippery.  The track was lower where tyres had been, but not very wide – making it difficult to run continuously with one foot in front of the other.  The higher parts of the track either side of the ruts, although a little wider, were ridiculously slippery.  You had to be incredibly sure of your footing and once you decided where to place your foot you had to go with it, as a last minute change of plan would see you sliding into the rutted puddles as I saw happen to many others!  I managed to overtake several people along here, and remain upright.  Winning!

The course was arranged in such a way that just before reaching the three mile point I saw the front runners speeding back in the other direction and we exchanged shouts of encouragement to other club members.
Sharnbrook XC courseThe front runners must have had it much easier than us…we were running behind 300 sets of footprints that had churned up our route! 😛

It was a long, steady climb up to mile four, although the mud dictated the pace more than anything.  We were treated to a slight downhill at one stage, although it was on the grass and incredibly slippery so we could never really ‘let ourselves go’ at any point out there!

The finish was through the muddy field that we had run on earlier.  I could actually hear shouts from our club members long before I could see the finish.  Another (usually faster) runner from our club was right behind me so I did my best to stay strong across the field, but it was tough going.  I, like many others, ran just to the side of the path in the field itself, where there was a little more grip for my trainers.  It did nothing to keep the mud from the bottom of my shoes though – my legs were aching by the end of that field!Bedford Harriers XC at SharnbrookAs I made my final sprint towards the finish, conscious that I had someone right behind me, a marshal leapt out infront, slowing me down.  I was desperate to cross the line as the next runner so almost ran through him!  There was a slight rise in ground just before the finish funnel and apparently several runners had slipped and gone over right at the very end, so he was slowing us down to ensure we didn’t do the same.

I actually had a relatively good race seeing as I didn’t push it too hard, knowing the miles had already stacked up in my legs from that week.  I placed roughly where I thought I would in comparison to other runners from my club and did it all whilst staying upright on two feet(!)  There had been a moment where I thought I was going down though a few miles before the finish.  As I approached a marshal point I glanced up to smile and thank the three marshals stood to the side of the path.  Big mistake – don’t lift your eyes from rough ground!  I slipped down onto my knee, but managed to bounce back up again with the help of one of the three marshals who swooped in and grabbed my arm!  All part of the fun though, getting muddy!

Not all of our club remained on their feet at all times!  😉Bedford Harriers XC at SharnbrookWho would be a runner hey?!

Position: 329/376
Gender position:
Mile splits: 9:38, 11:19, 12:22, 13:29, 12:12, 12:35, 10:18 pace (0.31m).

(All photographs in this post taken from Adam Langford’s shared Facebook album of the event.)

Obviously all worthwhile for the cake and roll at the end though!  😉

Oops!…I did it again

There’s something about me and entering races.

Last year I managed to break two toes before running Milton Keynes Marathon in the Spring, and then sprain my ankle the week before running Mablethorpe Marathon in the October.  I just entered my first race for 2016 the other day (cross-country and parkruns don’t count) – The Thames Trot 50, one I have thought about running for a while now, having marshaled at the event back in 2014.  Seems that there have been an influx of entries from our club members over Christmas, and that number now includes me!
Then, on Wednesday morning I managed to break the little toe on my right foot.

This week has been such a shock to the system, returning to work and 5:15am starts again after two weeks off.  I am never a late sleeper – and was up before 7am most of the days over the holiday, but I’d gotten into the routine of being able to have 15 minute showers, or reading blogs on a daily basis and so scrambling around for spare minutes to ensure I’d organised lunch in the mornings this week was tough.  Add into that a change in marking policy and having to remark and prep work for this week after having started back meant that I had gotten barely any sleep on both Monday and Tuesday nights.

By Wednesday morning, as my alarm rang out at the slightly earlier get-up time of 4:20am for work I was knackered.  I scrabbled around on my bedside table to try and find my glasses, but couldn’t.  Not wanting to wake Dan, I headed downstairs for breakfast without the glasses, failing to notice that the Christmas tree stand which we had left out the previous night ready to go up in the loft had slipped to the side in the dining room.  I walked straight through the stand, pulling my little toe on my right foot back and out of place, hard.

Instantly I thought “Well, I won’t have to try and fit running into this manic week now as well!”  But then I immediately changed my mind and realised that I wasn’t actually very happy with being injured again at all.  I enjoy running too much!  I didn’t cry or strop or anything this time though.  Just got on with the day.  Guess I’m getting used to accepting that injury is a part of running, even when my injuries hardly ever seem to be running-induced!

Luckily, I appear to have only broken one toe this time rather than two, and have been sensible about not being on my feet for too long since Wednesday.  My toe has only slightly bruised so hopefully I’ll be rewarded with a quicker recovery time this time round!  My limp has almost disappeared and I can comfortably get my boots on and off again now already.  When I broke my toes in April I immediately ran the 7 mile trail run I had been rushing to get to (although I was in a lot of pain I genuinely thought I had only stubbed my toes at the time!), ran a 10 mile trail run that weekend and then a 20 mile road race just 10 days after breaking my toes before finally giving in and taking a couple of weeks off completely!

Luckily I had scheduled in a drop down week for my training this week to correlate with my return to work, and although I hadn’t planned on running zero miles, I banked several miles last week so can probably get away with having a week off.

Last week went as follows:

Monday: Easy 3 miles on my own keeping my heart rate below 150bpm.
Tuesday: 16 mile trail run with friends.
Wednesday: A long walk (about 7 miles) with Dan around Salcey forest.
Thursday: Rest.
Friday: 2x 5ks.  (Double parkrun day)
Saturday: Northampton parkrun, followed by a 16 mile trail run home again with friends.
Sunday: Bedford Harriers Letchworth XC 10k race.

I got my two long runs in for the week – 16 miles on Tuesday and then another 16 miles of trail immediately following the Saturday parkrun at the weekend.  Both runs with pretty much the same bunch of (clearly also quite crazy!) people.  Several of whom are also hoping to be toeing the start line at Thames Trot at the beginning of February.

Long run to HarroldThe plan for Tuesday was to drive over to our local country park in Harrold, where we had arranged to run a circular route back towards Wellingborough and then return to Harrold again for sausage baps and milk.  Incidentally though, it actually took thirty minutes for our glasses of milk to arrive after ordering them.  :(

The route was a nice one and I felt strong.  It was fairly mucky in places, but the rain didn’t really hit Northamptonshire in full force until the following day so we didn’t really run through a great deal of mud.

Long run to Harrold

I bought Dan a Fitbit (at his request) for Christmas and he has been very conscious of his activity levels ever since strapping it to his wrist on Boxing Day.  We’ve made a real effort to go out for a walk each day since (other than Wednesday evening after the toe break!) to try and up the number of steps he takes in a day and give us both a bit of a break between being at work and working from home in the evening.
Last Wednesday we decided to spend our day off together exploring the trails at Salcey Forest.  It had rained a little heavier further South from us and there were patches of the paths that were rather mucky which we had to pick our way through.  It was also super windy, although that didn’t stop us from deciding to check out the Treetop Trail.  Probably not the best day to do it as the trees all around us were blowing so hard I was convinced they were going to come down on top of us!

I took my rest day on Thursday, ready for what was to be a busy weekend; starting with the parkrun double on Friday. On Saturday a large group of us arranged to be dropped off at the Racecourse in Northampton at 8:30am, where the Northampton parkrun is held each week.  We made plans to slowly run the parkrun, with the intention of pushing our club up into second position for the parkrun club league (we succeeded) before strapping on our running vests and enjoying what was now super-slippery terrain on the run back to Irchester.

There were a few slips and falls early on, as the route we take starts out by following the river for quite a way and the heavy rain from the previous two days had seen the area become rather soggy!

Northampton parkrun then home

The parkrun itself was nice and comfortable though and in the end we didn’t have any rain.  I had hoped to run parkrun at an easy pace, coming in somewhere around 30 minutes, with the aim to go more on feel than pace.  I spent most of the run looking around me and speaking to other parkrunners that were out for the day.  When I did glance down and spot that my pace was hovering just over 9mm I was really surprised.  I genuinely felt like I could hold a conversation at that pace and run for quite some time.  Had you told me a year ago that my ‘easy’ parkrun pace at my fifth parkrun of the week would be 9minute miles I would never have believed it!

Mile 1: 9:03
Mile 2: 9:21
Mile 3: 9:07
Nubbin (0.14m): 8:26mm pace

Garmin time: 28:40
Official time:
Position: 189/323
Gender position: 33/105
Age category position: 5/15

Our long run of nineteen miles actually ended up being split into three; the parkrun, 10 miles to a cafe where we stopped for sausage baps and another glass of milk(!) and then the remaining few miles home.  Some of this route was tough.  The rainfall had been heavy and we ran through several fields, collecting several inches of mud on the bottom of our shoes as we crossed!

This post is getting rather long so I shall recap the cross-country in a separate post now.  Spoiler: it was a mucky one!

Are you injury/accident prone?
Do you ever run home/to from parkrun to get in some extra miles?

The parkrun double

Last New Year’s Eve I spotted that some of the nearby parkruns had altered their timings slightly for New Year’s Day, in order to draw in more runners following what would potentially be a later night than normal for most the night before.

Dan and I were well on the way to midnight and a few drinks down before realising that we could in fact run the Huntingdon parkrun at 9am, followed by Peterborough an hour and a half later at 10:30am.  In the end we decided we had probably started to think about it too late on and that it would probably be best to just stick to the later run at Peterborough to see 2015 in.

The parkrun double remained in my head though, especially when I saw on Facebook later that day how many runners had managed to achieve both parkruns that morning.  (173!)

I posted a shout out on the club Facebook page early last week regarding this year’s parkrun double event and a couple of people decided to join me on the adventure.

Huntingdon first up.

The start was easy enough to get to – not far from a school I taught at previously, and I had run round parts of the course without knowing on evening runs following work.  I had been warned that the route would be muddy, and it was!  The course starts on a large open area of grassland before narrowing down very quickly to run all on very narrow compacted walkways.  The grassland section was a free-for-all, and to be honest, we probably started too far back in the pack.  Once we made it onto the walkway along the river there was no opportunity for overtaking for a good couple of miles.

Mile 1: 10:20
Mile 2:
Mile 3: 9:07

Huntingdon parkrun New Year's DayI’d worn my trail shoes for the run, also bringing along my road shoes to change into for parkrun number two!  It was pretty cold out, one of the colder mornings of the holidays, and I was glad I had decided to wear tights instead of shorts at the last minute, especially as we were running rather slowly compared to normal so I didn’t warm up as quickly as I would perhaps have done usually.

Huntingdon parkrun New Year's DayThis photo was taken not long before the finish and you can see that the field had finally started to spread out a little.  The finish was across the flat grassy open area back by the start line again.  Here it was a free-for-all and we could pick up a little speed, picking off a few runners on our way to the finish line.  Would make for a great finish during the Summer months I am sure, but I heard a few people had slipped right over at the end as they came through the funnel, and there were the skid marks in the mud to prove it!

Nubbin (0.12m): 7:56mm pace

Garmin time: 29:37
Official time:
Position: 231/355
Gender position: 63/145
Age category position: 9/17

A quick change of shoes and adding of an extra layer before jumping in the car and following the stream of cars that also appeared to be Peterborough-bound for the parkrun double challenge.  The Huntingdon event had started slightly late, with the briefing not beginning until just after 9am, so several runners had been rather antsy to get to the finish and off in time.

We needn’t have worried though, we were parked up at Ferry Meadows in Peterborough for round number two by 10:15am, still with plenty of time to spare.  The guys at Peterborough even held back the heading to the startline for a good five minutes or so until there was no longer a constant stream of cars coming through the car park gates, to allow all to arrive.  It was easy to tell who had run the double, even if trainers had been changed.  Legs, and in some cases, backs and faces were mud flecked!

Me, Gillian and Matt inbetween runs at the parkrun double

This is the only image from this post to not come from a parkrun Facebook page.  I am aware that none of the images of me from New Year’s Day look particularly great.  I’ll put it down to lack of sleep the night before!

Time for parkrun number two!

Although the start was still fairly congested it became easier to pass others earlier on than it had done at the Huntingdon course.  The paths here were wider, or had grass verges running alongside in several areas which we chose to run along to overtake others.

I’ve run the Peterborough course several times before so knew the route beforehand.  I absolutely hate the bridge that bounces up to meet your every step as you run across it!  It is a fairly flat course though, other than the slight hump to cross the bridge.

The course was fairly uneventful.  There were several runners out for their 50th parkrun on New Year’s Day, sporting sashes telling us this.

Mile 1: 9:59
Mile 2:
Mile 3: 8:29
Nubbin (0.21m): 8:16mm pace.

My second Royal Flush Negative Split of the day!  (Each mile getting progressively quicker!)  My maximum heart rate on this course was 170bpm, a target I initially aimed at running my 5k parkruns at for ‘race pace’.  Rather happy that my heart rate seems to have lowered, as despite running at 8:16 pace for the finish, my effort level never felt hard.  5k PB on the cards soon perhaps?!

Garmin time: 29:07
Official time:
29:18 (Not sure why this is so far out from my Garmin time, especially as I ran well over-course distance)
Position: 335/609
Gender position: 97/265
Age category position: 16/36

Number 41 and 42 parkruns, and parkrun numbers 3 and 4 for the week complete, with the fifth to come the following day.

Did you attempt the parkrun double on Friday?
How did you celebrate the New Year in?

Aims for 2016

Happy New Year all!  I hope everyone enjoyed seeing the new year in.  We had a quiet one, with Baileys hot chocolates and the building of my first gingerbread house!

Gingerbread house

As many others have already done this week, I am using this post to check in and list my goals for 2016.

In 2015 my goals were:

  1. To run a marathon starting with a 4.
    • Yep, no doubt about it, I ticked this one off the list with my 4:54:08 at Chelmsford in October.
  2. Continue my long runs through the Winter and really focus on running them to heart rate.
    • Looking back, last Winter I headed out for a long run not only at the weekends, but also often for 10 miles on a Friday evening, which I believed helped to strengthen my legs for all of the races I put them through last year.  Running to heart rate helped me to learn more about my own ability and I now find it easier to judge my effort levels even when not wearing my heart rate monitor.
  3. Start running some double day runs.
    • I didn’t really do this.  At all!
  4. Use parkrun to concentrate on getting in some tempo work and try and regain my ability to pace a short distance race.
    • I ran 24 parkruns this year on six different courses, (Northampton, Bedford, Peterborough, Corby, Daventry and Sheringham.) I also managed to smash my PB by 18 seconds in the Summer without ever intending to!
  5. Keep moving throughout the day rather than find myself stuck at my desk for hours on end.
    • Lately I haven’t been checking my step count as religiously as I was at the start of the year, but when I began my new job my steps automatically rose by about 3-4,000 per day without a whole lot of extra thought.  Especially at the start of the year I made a real point of hitting a minimum of 10,000 steps daily and have tried to focus on this again over the past month.
  6. Complete core exercises regularly and some non-running exercise throughout the year.
    • I’ve been pretty rubbish about this one as well.  I did purchase a cross-trainer this year which I used when injured, and I have also been out on several long walks throughout the year, but core work has been pretty poor once again.

So, onto 2016.

SDW100 volunteer confirmationIn fact, before I get onto 2016, I have to let you know my goal for 2017.  You see, people have been asking me what races I have planned for 2016 for a while now and I haven’t really been able to answer.  I just haven’t booked any in.

Actually, as I was reading back through posts on New Year’s Eve whilst putting together my lookback of 2015 I had a little smile to myself.  At the beginning of 2014 I was very adamant that anyone wanting to travel more than 50 miles by foot was completely crazy.  It sounded like such a long way, why would anyone do that?!
Then I started to run longer more and more often and before I knew what was happening, I had run 44 miles at the Conti Lightning Run and found myself entering the 70 mile Grim Reaper for that Summer.

70 miles sounded like an incredibly long way, and it definitely felt it that year.  When I crossed that finish line I was very much done!  Time to get married a few days later (brave move!), and take several weeks off from running over the Summer as I soaked up my wedding, honeymoon and fitting into my new role as a wife.  I was never going further than 70 miles.

Completing a 100 mile event has been in the back of my mind for a little while now, although I was adamant that I would not be fast enough to complete the distance based on my 21 hour time over 70 miles in 2014.
I’m easily swayed!  I knew I needed to improve my speed and learn more about me as a runner before going further, so last year I reluctantly settled to complete the 70 mile event again, but improve my speed.  I concentrated on nutrition and strategy and this time, despite still finding the event challenging, at the same time it felt relatively ‘easy’, like I could have gone on further and I came home as third lady, taking more than 3 hours off my time from the previous year.  I was so incredibly happy and proud that day.

Grim Reaper 70m ultramarathon medal

The last few months I have been speaking to people.  On twitter, on blogs, in real life.  Who has run 100 miles?  How did they find it?  Any advice?  What were different course terrains/elevation like?

In 2017 I want to run the South Downs Way 100.

How do I plan on getting there?  By setting the following targets for 2016…

  1. Trying to fit some double days in during the week.
    • Although I get up at 5:15am for work, I don’t do a huge amount of ‘productive’ stuff before 6am when the hot water kicks in and I can take a shower.  Yeah, I eat breakfast and might tidy up a little but I can eat breakfast in the car on the journey in to work and tidying up can happen in the evenings.  I don’t plan on getting up any earlier, but if I can squeeze in a few 30 minute recovery runs in the morning, they might well wake me up a little better than catching up with Eastenders over breakfast does! 😉
  2. Slotting in a mid-week/Friday night long run again.
    • Last year, Dan and I each had our own cars, so I found it easy to nip back on a Friday evening to join in with runs other club runners were headed on.  This year, it might mean that I end up running from work on a Friday evening whilst waiting for my lift home and just taking a few more books home to mark over the weekend instead.
  3. Running a marathon/ultra distance at least once every 4-6 weeks.
    • And practising running on tired legs the following day.
  4. Continuing to run at parkrun as often as possible.
    • The increased leg turnover I’ve adopted at parkrun has helped me to achieve a quicker easy-pace this year and anything which helps make things feel easier is a win with me!
  5. Regular core work.
    • This is a must this year.

I am not going into this entirely blindly.  I have done my research on courses, and a few other members of my club also plan on being on the starting line in 2017.  I’m not so niave to think I will definitely be there on race day.  Lots of things can happen when you plan seventeen months into the future, but at the same time I don’t want to put life on hold in case something crops up.  I need a goal.  If it doesn’t happen at SDW100 in 2017, then the 100 miles will come at some point in the future and I would like to be ready for it!

Earlier this week I applied to be a marshal on the South Downs Way 100 course in June this year.  Working the course will allow me to speak to runners out there and become more familiar of the course before running it.

My first race of the year has now been booked.  I shall be running the Thames Trot 50 on February 6th.

As well as running, I have a few other goals for the year…

  1. Purchase a second house.
    • This has been a long term goal of mine for quite a while now, to buy a second/third property to rent out and bring in an extra income.  I’ve slowly saved my pennies towards buying a second house and hopefully, early on this year this could become a reality.
  2. Get into a more regular posting schedule on the blog.
    • I’ve found that writing on a Saturday afternoon after parkrun is a great time for me to sit down and write.  Dan is off at football and I feel I can sit back and look at the week.  Towards the end of 2015 I started to get into a more regular schedule and this is something I would like to continue.
  3. Meal plan every week during term time.
    • I eat so much better when I plan out in advance what I am going to eat during the week and am much less inclined to impulse-buy, saving us money in the long run (and hopefully getting to goal #1 even quicker!)
  4. Stay on top of housework.
    • I’m going to try and deep clean one room each weekend and get some general housework done each evening after work.  I don’t understand how people can ever have pristine houses every day of the week.  Dan and I are both out at work for twelve hours a day and after factoring in the time it takes to cook dinner and exercise in the evening, housework is the last thing on my mind in the remaining hour of free time!  I’m going to try and make a real effort this year though.

So, I think I should probably stop there.  Five running goals, four non-running goals and an aim for 2017.

What are your goals for 2016?
Do you make any long term goals?