The Runner’s Runner of the Year awards

I realised the other day that I never got round to posting the videos I made for my club’s ‘Runner’s Runner of the Year’ award for 2017 on the blog.

Every year since I first joined my running club committee, it has been one of my roles to produce videos detailing the achievements of runners nominated for the award at the end of the year.

Our club awards evening is held at the start of December every year, and in the weeks leading up to the awards evening members are asked to nominate a male and female runner who they feel have been inspiring, encouraging, supportive, hard working, have improved a great deal or have just been a fantastic runner across the year!  It’s an opportunity for an award to go to somebody who isn’t necessarily the fastest runner at the club and is an award viewed very highly by all club members.

Once nominations are closed, I usually have about a week to put together the videos, choosing one or two reasons given for each person nominated to display on the video alongside images of them in action throughout the year.  The videos take me probably about 20 or so hours to create in total – with the picture finding the most time consuming part!

I love, love, love making the videos each year though and am reluctant to give up my role on the committee purely so that I don’t have to stop making these!

It sounds rather sappy, but whenever I’m feeling a bit low with my running or things become rather routine, I whack on the videos from previous years and my love for running returns again.

Running club Christmas do 2017(Me, Steph and Laura at this year’s awards do)

Male video for 2017:

(Winner: Michael Quinn)

Although I really hadn’t expected to, I also received a few nominations again this year:

* She quietly gets on with racing trail marathons and ultras and does really well; this area of running often goes unnoticed.

* Mary has quietly tallied up an impressive number of runs this year. She’s on track for her 100 parkruns and ran a 50 mile Ultra 6 months after giving birth. She’s amazing and an inspiration to all those of us who complain there isn’t enough time in the day to run! 🏃🏽‍♀️

* A fantastic year of running since coming back after the birth of Oscar with many PBs and great races.

Female video for 2017:

(Winner: Helen Etherington)

We have some very inspiring runners at our club and over the past couple of years I have really struggled to narrow it down to just one person from each gender to nominate.  There are definitely some very worthy winners of this award.

Does your club have an awards evening?
What do you find motivates you when you start to lose your focus and drive?

The Gower adventure post-marathon

Last month I went to Gower for the weekend in order to run the EnduranceLife coastal marathon.  The race was great, but the Gower weekend is always about so much more than just the race.

It’s a great chance for 20+ like-minded individuals from my running club to get together, forget about work and responsibilities, enjoy running, head out on some fantastic walks with amazing views, eat good food and enjoy a drink or two, and that is very much what we did over the course of the weekend!

Race day was the Saturday, leaving most of us the Saturday evening, all day Sunday and then Monday morning to enjoy the rest of our break away.  About half of our group needed to return home on the Sunday due to work which was a shame, but for the first time I was able to stay from the Friday right through to the Monday, no longer having to rely on the no-holidays-during-term-time policy which I had to when I was working as a teacher.

I was the last runner to return to the cottages following the races on the Saturday afternoon, along with the other marathon runner who had run that day.  Everybody else appeared to already be showered, changed and ready for the evening ahead.  A quick shower and a guzzle of a chocolate protein shake and I was ready to crack open a can of cider and traipse back down to the pub for dinner with everyone else.

The following morning when we woke we all congregated in the larger of the three cottages, where we were handed sausage and bacon baps and casually relaxed around the cottage, chatting mainly about the race the day before and our plans for the rest of the weekend.

The plan for the day was to hike over to a different pub to where we had eaten the previous two nights.  The new pub was approximately 7 miles away, where we would be able to enjoy a Sunday roast before hiking back to the cottages later that evening.

Gower marathon course

Three of the guys headed over to the pub via cars in the morning as some of our party had to leave following the meal, and we also wanted a fall back option should not all of our crew feel up to hiking back to the cottage following our meal.

Signpost to Rhossili

The trail that we followed was pretty much the last seven miles of the marathon course from the day before, completed in reverse.  All those steep hills we had climbed up towards the end of our race the day before, we were now scrambling back down.  Some of us in more style than others!

Margaret heading along the Gower coastal trail path

As we found ourselves at the top of a steep climb just before 11am, we decided to pause for a breather and to hold our own personal two minute silence for Remembrance Day.

Pause for Remembrance Day at GowerPause for Remembrance Day at Gower

 

Although there were large sections of fairly easy going flat trail up at the top of the cliffs, there was also a lot of technical trail and I was glad I had packed a spare pair of trail shoes for the walk.  I definitely learnt from my Converse-mistake in 2015!

Gower marathon courseGower marathon courseGower marathon course

It ended up taking us about three hours to get to the pub, and we really appreciated the warmth of the pub as we entered.  My hands were so cold following the walk that following a trip to the toilet, my fingers wouldn’t work as instructed and I had to call on the aid of somebody more sensible who had worn gloves for the hike to do the button up on my jeans!

We spent a good couple of hours in the pub before waving off the five who were headed back to Northamptonshire and four more in a car back to the cottages.  It left just six of us to follow the precarious coastal trail back in the now fading-light.

Armed with a decent set of headtorches and a borrowed set of gloves for me(!) we were much faster on the return journey and made it back in just under two and a half hours.

Feeling rather weary from our marathon the day before and the seven mile hike we had completed twice that day, we weren’t too late to bed on Sunday night!

Monday morning and we were all busy packing our bags.  It is tradition that Kev always cooks everybody a large cooked breakfast on the final morning, so once again we piled into the largest of the three cottages to plates of sausages, beans, egg, mushrooms and bacon.  There were a variety of different ‘chairs’ around the large kitchen table and we all pitched in to help get the food ready and dished out to everybody.

A couple more runners disappeared after breakfast, leaving just Steph, Tom, Kev, Amanda, Sandra and I for a final walk down to the beach.

WDAC shells on Gower beach

WDAC shells on Gower beach with Tom, Steph and IThe weather was absolutely stunning.  The sun was out, and although we were still wrapped up in coats (Although Tom braved it in just a t-shirt!) it was such a lovely day.

Gower beachGower beachGower beachAfter building up our club name in pebbles, Tom, Steph and I made our way down to the edge of the water.

Tom, Steph and I on Gower beachAll of us got caught by the tide at some point whilst we were searching for shells and wildlife in the little pockets of water on the sand.

Shell at Gower beachThe others automatically turned to me with their questions about the shells and wildlife that we found, as I grew up not far from the beach, but I could only answer a small selection of their questions!

Shell at Gower beachAs the three of us made our way back towards the others we came across a jellyfish on the sand.

JellyfishI’d not seen a jellyfish so big before, and as I looked up, realised that there was a whole line of jellyfish along the beach.

Jellyfish line at Gower beachIt was a little eerie!

We climbed the steep path back up and out towards the National Trust shop where we headed for a quick browse.

Climbing up from Gower beachBasically we did everything we could to savour the last minutes of our lovely day and put off returning home and getting back to the everyday grind.

Gower National Trust shopI’ve already pencilled Gower 2018 in the calendar!  😉

How often do you visit the beach?
Have you seen jellyfish before?
Hikes to a pub…yay or nay?!

The EnduranceLife Gower Marathon (Pt 1)

When people say they are put off joining a running club I find it such a shame.  Joining my running club was definitely one of the very best things I ever did, and it helped me to fall in love with running.
My running club are so supportive, helpful and friendly…and they hold a huge amount of social events and weekends away too!

I first went on the November Gower weekend away in 2014, although the yearly trip had already been running for a few years before I first joined in.  I ran my sixth marathon that weekend, – my first one on trail.

I headed back to run the marathon in 2015, although poor weather (horrific hill fog, hail and wind) meant that a large number of us were pulled from the course when it was deemed too unsafe to run along the edge of the cliffs for the final few miles of the race.

Last year Oscar was only a few weeks old, and although I obviously loved spending time as part of our new little family unit, I still really missed the yearly getaway with other runners from my club.

My name was one of the first on the list for Gower this year and, no longer tied down to term time hours through school, I was able to go for the full weekend this year for the first time.  Traveling down on the Friday morning, and returning at lunchtime on the Monday.  Oscar usually attends nursery on a Friday and I just added a one-off extra nursery day to his routine on the Monday for this week as well.

Once again, this year I entered the marathon distance.  In total for the weekend, there were two others from our club running the marathon, one running the ultra, thirteen running the half marathon, two running the 10k distance, two injured runners who had decided to support as they were no longer able to run and one runner’s Mum.
We had quite the crowd in our three large cottages for the weekend!

Oscar’s nursery had messaged me earlier in the week to say that for Children in Need they were going to host a breakfast for parents along with their children on the Friday morning, so I loaded up my car that morning with running gear as my tummy rumbled away.  Not having to feed either Oscar or myself was a big timesaver as I had spent all morning finishing off my packing, but I was HUNGRY by the time I arrived outside the nursery doors at 7:30am.  I passed several parents walking back out in the other direction as I arrived but thought nothing of it, assuming they had been unable to get an hour off from work for the charity event.  It wasn’t until I arrived inside and realised that there were no other parents in sight that I must have gotten the week wrong!  I hurriedly made an excuse about having not been able to give Oscar any breakfast that morning, so he still needed to be fed and rushed out to Tesco to pick something up for me!  Turns out the breakfast event is this Friday instead!

It did mean that I arrived at my friend Steph’s house (who I was giving a lift to) in plenty of time and we had set away long before 9:30am though.  When usually, I would most likely have been late!  😉

We had a fairly easy journey, and even passed a car containing three of our runners along the way (although they still managed to arrive before us!)

When we arrived at the cottages there was enough time to all hang out for a bit and grab a quick drink before walking the mile down to Rhossili for dinner at the pub.  Those who couldn’t take the day off work on the Friday joined us at the pub for food and drinks as soon as they arrived.

Alarms were set before bed and I woke feeling rather refreshed on Saturday morning at 6:30am, having slept right through the night.

I walked the mile to the Race HQ along with one of the other marathon runners, the ultra runner, and our support crew of two.  We made our way down the road with a slight wind behind us, occasionally glancing up at the steep hills around which we knew were part of the marathon route, arriving to a long queue of runners snaking out of the registration tent.  Spots of rain had begun and all we wanted to do was to huddle up in the tent until our race was due to begin!  Tom, our ultra runner was fast tracked through the queue, as the briefing for the ultra race was now imminent. When it was my turn to pass through the registration desk process it became apparent that the marshals were unable to locate my chip, so ended up changing my race number – crossing the number off my hand, and giving me a brand new race number with my details written on in marker pen.

Having declared how much I love the Clif bars to several others before the race, I managed to acquire three in total from friends which I then tucked away into my bag for the race! :)  Winning!

The ultra runners were late setting off meaning that us marathon runners were very late starting our race briefing.  The briefing then seemed to last forever.  I, along with a few others were getting rather agitated by the time the briefing had finished and the race director told us to congregate at the start line in about 5 minutes time.  (Why not head straight to the start now?  We were already 20 minutes past our start time!)

One of the marathon runners from our club was concerned about the cut off times on the course so, as we now had a further 5 minutes to wait for the start, she headed over to look at the course map to see if it would be possible to turn off at the half marathon marker point instead, and if so, at what point that fell on the course.  As we headed over, I heard another female runner in discussion with the RD over what time the cut off was. He was reminding her that we needed to arrive by 2:15pm – 5 hours 15 minutes – at mile 19.9 on the course.  I butted in and asked if the 2:15pm cut off would actually be extended to reflect the fact that we were now so late starting the race and was told that no, it wouldn’t.  That there would be plenty of time to cover the ground if we were to run all the flats and downhills on the course.  Knowing the course, and knowing how technical the downhills on the route are, I knew that having 4 hours and 45 minutes to get to 20 miles would actually be a tough ask for plenty more runners than just me.

EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017

I was a little antsy as I stood on the start line waiting for the start of the race, knowing that half an hour of my time to get to the one and only cut off point at mile 20 had already been taken up by the briefing.  To add to things, when I had turned my Garmin on during briefing, it had flashed ‘Low battery’ at me repeatedly, before turning off.  I decided to try and use the Strava app on my phone to record my run – something which I hadn’t done before.

EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017

We bottlenecked as we all left the field before heading down a little farm track.

The first year I had run the marathon course the start line had actually been located at Middleton, the village we stay in.  (The start was literally right opposite our cottages.  We rolled out of bed and headed over for our numbers still in our pyjamas that year!)  But since 2015 the course has started further up the road, meaning that the first sharp hill is now very early on in the course.  One of my strengths is uphills.  I have long legs and can use them to my advantage to power up past those runners around me.  Much harder when you are still surrounded by all the other runners though, and it was difficult to get into any real stride here.

It didn’t last forever though and we did space out a little after this.  With so few of us from my running club running the marathon this year, this would be the first year where I was running the course completely on my own (something which I usually prefer), and I was surprised that at no point during the 28 miles of the marathon was I ever not in sight of another runner.

Coming back down the other side of that first hill is rather tough.  The descent is steep, with rocks sticking out in random places and a stream usually pours out of the side of this hill, although I didn’t see any evidence of that this year.  I saw one woman whose dog was attached to her waist actually leave the ground and go slamming into the hillside as the dog took off at a faster pace than her legs could keep up.  She got up and released the dog before continuing.
It must be an amazing sight to see the serious front runners agilely run down this first hill.  Most of the runners around (me included) were cautiously picking their way down the less slippy parts and looking less than impressive!

You hit the first beach of three around mile 3.5.  I passed the other female marathon runner from our club just before arriving at the sand.  I hate running along the beach.  These beaches are wide enough that you have plenty of space to pick your running line – along the grassland at the top or down by the shore.  The sand was actually fairly firm mid-way along and so I stuck to this line, along with the majority of other runners.  The beaches on this course are my nemesis and the point at which I lost my running mates last time I ran the event.
The beach stretches out far into the distance.  My pace always begins to pick up automatically as it sees the longest flat piece of ground it has done for a while and I really struggle to either hold myself back, or be able to maintain the pace my body wants me to run at.

This year I decided that I wasn’t going to let the beaches defeat me, and I was actually going to maintain a steady pace across all three, which I did manage to do, passing several runners who had chosen to walk sections of the sand along the way.  Running events like these it becomes all about the mind games, and I won on this occasion!

After the beach there was another short climb and then we were out onto grassland again.

EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017

We ran for a little way along a boardwalk made up of short planks to act as a path for pedestrians cut into the sandy track.  We had been warned that it would be slippy here.  The track was fairly narrow and there were still lots of runners around at this point.  The wooden slats were pretty uneven and jutted up in several places.  I figured that as they were so uneven I wouldn’t be able to slip on them.
That was a mistake.  I slipped and went down hard onto my knee.  (My knee is sporting a fantastic dark-coloured bruise now.)  Both the guy in front of me and the one behind checked that I was OK before continuing after I went down.  I got up quickly and could feel the stiffness in my leg immediately, limping briefing for a few strides before it loosened up.

(I’ll get the rest of the race recap up later this week)

Have you fallen during a race before?
Do you prefer up or downhill running?

Pembrokeshire Coastal Marathon – a long overdue race report

It was the first Bank holiday in May when I drove the 271 miles to Pembrokeshire for the EnduranceLife Coastal trail marathon, my eleventh marathon event.

Every year our club heads to Gower for a weekend in November to take part in the EnduranceLife coastal events (10k/half/marathon/ultra).  I was unable to attend last year as Oscar was only a few weeks old, so when there was talk of another race weekend away being organised I signed myself up without too much hesitation.

Oscar was actually only a few weeks old when I put my name down on the Pembrokeshire cottage list.  I was fairly confident that I would be back running marathon distances again by the time he was seven months old.  With EnduranceLife events, they allow you to adjust distances on the day of the event, so there would be the opportunity to drop down to the half marathon if necessary, especially as I knew by this point that I would have run the South Downs Way 50 just three weeks earlier and my legs might well be feeling the miles by then!

I almost backed out of the run at the start of the week itself though.  In fact, had Milton Keynes still been taking entries for the Marathon on the Monday (Pembrokeshire was on the Saturday of the Bank Holiday weekend), I would have swapped events, and just forfeited my £50 for the accommodation and £50 for the Pembrokeshire marathon and run MK instead.  At the time I just didn’t fancy the hassle of driving all that way when there was a marathon pretty much on my doorstep!

It wasn’t until he was eight months old that breastfeeding started to become less of an issue as Oscar ate more and more real food, but back in May I still had to spend the week beforehand expressing every morning and evening in order to leave Oscar enough milk for my time away, and then I had to express several times a day whilst I was away in order just to feel comfortable.  It was also a ridiculously long drive to Pembrokeshire!  Why do I never check the distance to these events before I sign up?!  The sat-nav said it would take nearly five hours to get there, but in reality I left my house at 4pm on the Friday night, picked up another lady from my running club in the next town, dropped Oscar off at Dan’s work, had one brief stop for the loo and dinner and we didn’t arrive until 11:15pm that night.  It was a very tiring journey!  Apparently Gower is a similar length trip, but I’ve always gotten lifts with others so having to drive myself this time made the journey feel much, much longer.  I was glad that I had company for the ride at least.

The cottages were lovely.  We had two, which faced each other across a courtyard.  Most of the other club members had traveled up earlier in the day on Friday and were already in bed by the time Margaret and I arrived.  There were ten runners in our cottage, and a similar number in cottage number two across the courtyard.  Our cottage was the central meeting point though and we had all put £10 into a pot towards house supplies – toilet roll, coffee, tea, wine, cider, and all the foods for the cupboard you could think of.  We never went hungry!

It was a fairly early start for all on the Saturday morning.  I was sharing a room with two other club members running the marathon distance and we took it in turns to jump into the attached bathroom before changing into our race kit and heading downstairs for breakfast.

The different distance events begin at different times.  This year there was nobody from our club running the ultra – so as marathon runners, we were the first to be bused the couple of miles to the start by our non-running partners.

WDAC at Pembrokeshire marathon

There were ten of us running the marathon, which caused a bit of a headache getting down to the start in just two cars.  We ended up piling six runners into our car alongside the driver!  It was very tricky getting back out of the doors again when we arrived at race HQ!

WDAC at Pembrokeshire marathon

The start of EnduranceLife events are very organised.  They remind me a little of the way you walk round IKEA stores – you follow the tape and have to visit each section of the race HQ.  You sign to say you’ve read the rules, you collect your number and your chip, you pick up a t-shirt and are given a Clif bar.  I would run these events just for the Clif bar.  And the Builder’s bar at the finish.  Best bars ever!  I wouldn’t normally buy either on a regular basis as my weekly shopping budget doesn’t stretch that far, but in the future I think I might enter a few more EL events purely for the bars! 😉

The race briefings are always long, and we milled around outside the start for what felt like ages waiting for the ultra runners to set off before it was our turn to be called over and talked through our course.  It was a bit drizzly by this point and so I put on my new waterproof.  I had bought it for the South Downs Way 50 but it had been boiling sunshine on raceday a few weeks earlier and the waterproof really hadn’t been required, despite being on the kit list.  It was probably the most money I’ve ever spent on a jacket though, so I was determined to get some use out of it!

Pembrokeshire marathon

The start was right down at the bottom of a boat entrance into the sea.  There were quite a few dogs in the marathon who were all rather excited by this point and barking madly away, ready to get going.  I placed myself just in front of the dogs at the back, and as we were waiting for the gun to go a large wave swooshed up the ramp and covered the poor dog and some of the runners right at the very back!

Pembrokeshire marathon

The race began on a rather steep uphill.  I think I was probably the first person to walk, but I ended up overtaking a number of runners who insisted on running whilst still so early on into the race.  There was a bottleneck as we headed through a narrow kissing gate a mile in and then we were out onto the coastal path.

Pembrokeshire marathon

The scenery on the EnduranceLife events is absolutely stunning.  This event was only graded as a 2/5 for difficulty.  (As a comparison, Gower is a 3/5 and South Devon which I ran a few years ago is a 4/5.)

Pembrokeshire marathonI found this one the least enjoyable of the three and the hardest for me though.  The coastal tracks along the cliff path were all incredibly narrow and with feet as wide as mine it was incredibly difficult for me to get into any sort of running rhythm when all I was doing was swinging my feet round in front of each other onto the same line all the time.  It also made looking up at the scenery very difficult, as I was forever having to watch my footing.

Pembrokeshire marathon(It doesn’t look too bad in this photo, as there is grass either side of the track, but there were large sections where the track was actually a narrow gully between rocks, which wasn’t quite so nice to run on.)

Pembrokeshire marathon

There were four checkpoints on the course.  The first checkpoint was also the fourth, when on the return journey to the town of St Brides.  I ran past the first checkpoint, not bothering to dip off the track and top up any food or water supplies as I didn’t need them that early into the event.

Pembrokeshire marathon

There were cows blocking the path at one point, and I nervously slowed down to a walk, making my way as calmly as possible through the herd which were stood grazing alongside the race signage.

Pembrokeshire marathon

I ran for a little way chatting with a lady who had spent some time running with two others from my club further back in the race.  She was much faster than me and dragged me along for a couple of miles before I insisted that she push on.  I ran those couple of miles much faster than I otherwise would have done, and ended up feeling rather rubbish because of it.

Pembrokeshire marathon

From about 16 miles in to the race I hated the event.  I think it was somewhere around this point that ultra runners began coming past me.

Pembrokeshire marathon

I’ve never hated a race before but three hours in and I was ready to have finished this marathon and be back in Northamptonshire with Oscar and Dan for the remainder of the bank holiday weekend.  I really was not enjoying the race and the times that I was able to run on the stupid narrow track were only run because it meant I would be done sooner.

I made a point of taking lots of pictures and chatting to everybody I saw to try and make things more enjoyable.  Part of my hating the race was due to spending my first weekend away from my new little family, part was getting dragged along by the woman I’d run with for a while, and I think a big part of me was also really missing all of the weekend chatty trail miles with friends I had missed out on in the run up to the event.

As I power walked up a super steep slope just before mile 19 a jolly guy walking in the other direction joked that there was an icecream van at the top.  I laughed at his comment, but then desperately hoped that he had been telling the truth, because all I really wanted right then was an ice lolly!

Pembrokeshire marathon

Luckily, he was telling the truth, and as I neared the top of the slope I could see in the distance a little white van.  I worried briefly that the old five pound note I handed over in exchange for my lolly wouldn’t be accepted as legal currency, but it turns out that they were still legal for a few more days yet.  I think the desperation on my face for an ice lolly at mile 19 of a marathon would have been enough for the icecream van man to offer me icecream, money or not though!

Pembrokeshire marathonI enjoyed that lolly for a good half mile or so, much to the amusement of a couple of passing ultra runners!

Pembrokeshire marathon

Despite knowing that the distance would be a fair way over a marathon, I was waiting to spot the finish gantry every metre after my watch beeped to signify 26 miles.  I was ready to be DONE.

Pembrokeshire marathon

My watch showed 27.9 miles when I finally crossed the line.

Official time: 6:38:51
Position: 114/124

I crossed the finish line to see nobody I knew stood around the finish gantry.  I suddenly realised that with no signal on my phone and having not made plans earlier for how we were to all return to the cottage again, I had no idea what to do next.  I wasn’t even sure of the nameof our cottage or the village it was in and it had been pitch black when I’d arrived the previous evening so I had no idea of it’s surroundings at all!

I did remember that at least two other members of our club were still behind me, so decided to make my way out of the wind and down the hundreds of steps back towards the race HQ.  (Who puts so many steps directly following the end of a marathon?!)

As it turns out one of the half marathon runners drove past as I was perched outside the HQ.  She had been heading back to the cottages with a couple of other runners inside her car, so I squeezed in and joined them for the ride back, catching up on how everybody had gotten on.  Everybody had had a fairly successful day.  Just one DNF and one fall onto the rocks out on the course.

We were all ready for our post-race curry that night!

Have you been on a weekend away with other runners before?
Which of your races has had the prettiest scenery?