Dusk ’til Dawn marathon

My intention for the Dusk ’til Dawn event this year was to have another crack at the ultra distance (50 miles). I’ve been on the start line for this event three times already. First in 2013 when I won a place through Operation Ultra in Women’s Running Magazine. Next in 2014 when I returned with friends Kev, Tracey and Tom. Finally in 2015 when Tom and I returned to attempt the distance (with friends also running ahead). The 2016 event fell a few weeks after I first came home from hospital after having Oscar, then the event didn’t take place last year and here we are, already in 2018…

Although I knew that a half marathon and marathon event were now also on offer alongside the ultra distance, I really wanted to prove that I was able to complete the 50 mile ultra event within the time allowance.  The race is called ‘Dusk ’til Dawn’ due to it’s start time coinciding with nightfall on the Saturday night and the cut-off for the event at the point the sun rises the following morning.  As Richard, the Race Director’s Father had sadly passed away this year, the race began one hour before dusk, to be known as ‘Eddie’s hour’.  The extra hour was another reason I felt like I was meant to enter the ultra distance this year.

However, when I first entered the event months ago, Tom had also signed up for the ultra and we had planned to run it together.  I had fully intended on completing my 100 mile ultra journey at the South Downs Way 100 in June earlier in the year.  I hadn’t planned on stopping at mile 78 of the SDW, continuing to train and then eventually completing my 100 mile event three months later in the middle of September, just six weeks before the 50 mile Dusk ’til Dawn ultramarathon.

My feet hadn’t fully recovered from the 100 by the time the week of Dusk ’til Dawn arrived, and Tom also informed me that he would be pulling from the event due to injury/lack of training/a house move.  With five other runners from my club running the marathon event I decided to make the switch down to the marathon distance and knew that this was the sensible choice, although one day I will be back to prove myself at the 50 miles!

I hadn’t had the best week leading up to the marathon.  That Wednesday afternoon Oscar had been incredibly grouchy and tearful when we returned from the baby group in town.  He refused most of his tea, asked for a glass of warm milk and disappeared to bed very early in the evening.  I put it down to being overtired, but he was back up and crying for me by 9pm with bright red cheeks and a very high fever.  He wanted to do nothing but lay on my chest and cuddle.  He had a hacking cough which developed further over the next few days and despite maximum doses of Calpol that evening his temperature never stayed down for long.  Needless to say, the next few days were spent with Oscar laying across me feeling rather sorry for himself on the sofa downstairs.  By Friday afternoon I was still relying on Calpol to get his temperature down.  The bottle states that a child shouldn’t be taking maximum doses of Calpol for more than 3 days in a row, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to get a doctor appointment for him over the weekend if his temperature remained high by the following day.  So I booked him a last minute appointment at the doctors in town for Friday afternoon.  Once seen by our doctor, he was referred straight to Kettering hospital with suspected pneumonia.  A quick google on my way to hospital revealed some alarming pneumonia facts, but also cleared up for me that he had most likely caught it from another child, rather than just gotten cold because I had let him run around in the garden without his coat on.  Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been and after being observed in hospital Oscar was sent home with a course of antibiotics to take which cleared things up really quickly.  It was rather worrying when we were first referred though.

Dan was home all day on the Saturday so could take over from me as head rest and medicine-giver for Oscar.  I needed to get out of the house after spending the last two and a half days cooped up on the sofa.  Packing for the race was done last minute and I was rather blase about the whole thing.  Meh, it’s just a marathon, right?…Turns out I ended up missing the printed instructions from the list of race essential equipment, so had to borrow a set from a friend when we arrived.

The weather was pretty rubbish the whole journey over.  The windscreen wipers were on most of the time and we knew it was due to be pretty cold that night.  Lots of layers were absolutely necessary!

The race is known for the ‘Grim Sweeper’ who runs at the back of the pack, picking off runners who don’t make the cut-offs in time.  I’ve met the sweeper once before, back in 2013 when I ran with Charlie Sharpe, the sweeper for that race, having won the event the year before.  Rather fitting that the sweeper head was covering the defibrillator as we lined up for our race briefing before setting off!

Dusk 'til Dawn Grim Sweeper head

I was in two minds whether to run alone or as part of the group, but in the end the six of us from Wellingborough ran together and I realised how much I missed being out there running long distances with friends!  Having not run the marathon course before (or read the directions for the marathon distance beforehand, initially thinking that I would be running the ultra) it was probably for the best that I stayed part of the group anyway to be honest!

Dusk 'til Dawn starting photo

We nearly missed the start, leaving it to the last possible minute to sneak back to our cars to change out of jeans, boots and oversized hoodies and into our running gear for the night.  The six of us were casually waltzing over to the start line, my phone in hand – getting ready for a pre-race club photo when we realised that the countdown to the start had already begun!  As everybody crossed the line for the start of the race I was still busy trying to zip away my phone and pull the headtorch from my bag for the run!

Even then, we had gone more than half a mile when Gary turned back, declaring that he thought he had probably left his headtorch in the boot of his car as he had just realised it wasn’t on his head!  What an organised bunch we were!

The first few miles of the course were the same as the start of the ultra route and I recognised long sections of the trail.  There are some tough, technical climbs (and descents) on the course.  I am fairly confident at picking my way up steep, rocky ascents.  I don’t have quite so much confidence with my downhill running but I have definitely improved since the first year I headed over to the Peak District for the race.

Because we had the extra hour this year, it meant we were running in daylight for the first few climbs and got a chance to appreciate our view.  As I waited for others in our little group to navigate to the top of the climbs I pulled out my camera for a few photos.

Dusk 'til Dawn hills

Dusk 'til Dawn hills

Dusk 'til Dawn hillsYou can see the extent of the climbs we were making.  The above photo is the majority of the way up the first big hill.  You can see the drop in the distance to the left of the photo.

IMG_20181027_172632Some sections were more technical than others.  This first climb wasn’t too bad, but later climbs involved more careful placing of feet on the rocks that were jutting out.  I worried that the rocks would be slippy from the rain we’d had earlier in the day but they ended up not being too bad.

Dusk 'til Dawn hillsThe sunset was a really pretty one from so high up.

Dusk 'til Dawn sunsetAfter that we just trotted around the remaining miles.  Strava tells me I ran 26.56 miles in total, so fairly accurate for a trail marathon distance!

I recognised the point where my parents and Dan had sat on the side of the road in a car at the first checkpoint (now several miles into the course) back in 2013.  I had been the last person to come into that checkpoint then, but not the last to leave and I started picking other runners off from that point back then.  It felt like so long ago!

Navigation was fairly straight forward this year.  Gary had run some of the ultra course in 2015 and Kev had run some of the ultra course back in 2014, so between us we barely needed to check directions for which way to go, although took along paper instructions with us just in case.  Gary had run the marathon course with Tom back at the 2016 event, which was held just a few weeks after I had Oscar, so Gary was fairly confident in how to navigate the marathon course once we turned off for the shorter distance.

I didn’t enjoy the race as much from the point we split off from the ultra route.  The majority of the marathon route was run along roads, whereas the ultra had been almost entirely on the trails.  The roads on the marathon course were fairly flat and long and runnable and not what I had expected having run the majority of the ultra route before. I like the challenge of technical terrain!

There was a really eerie section along an old railway line where we ran through a couple of large tunnels.  I ran in the middle of the pack here, with some runners from our group speeding off ahead and some falling behind.  Everybody’s voices were echoing all around the tunnel as we ran and it made it really hard to locate whether someone was ahead of you or behind.  I was glad to be running with the others as we ran through this section, and I was very glad when we turned off and began our next climb!

There was another really eerie section where we ran alongside a field of sheep…or the field of red eyes, as the sheep all clustered into the corner nearest to the path.  As our headtorches reflected on their eyes they glowed red like demons.

I didn’t really eat much out on the course, choosing just to pick at a couple of bits on offer at the checkpoints.  We weren’t moving particularly fast and I didn’t feel like my body needed any more to keep it going so I kept my snacks in my bag for the race.

The last mile or so was run all on road.  Gary ran ahead to beat us to the finish, but the rest of us all trotted over the line together and headed into the hall for hot drinks and pasties.  That cheese and onion pasty and hot tea at the finish were the best things I’ve been handed at a finish line for a long while!  It had been super cold out there on the hills, and at any point we had stopped we all really began to feel the chill.  We were all ready for something warm at the end!

I changed back into my boots, jeans and a hoodie fairly quickly afterwards, babywiping as much mud from my legs as I could spot in the toilets!  The medal is a nice one.

Dusk 'til Dawn marathon medal

Official time: 7h 18m 57s
Position: 13/20
Gender position: 4/7

I traveled back from the race with Gary, who has heated seats in his car.  I had those seats heated to the max for the whole journey home to warm up!

Have you run a race at night before?
What was the nicest food you received at the finish of a race?

 

A dizzy spell at parkrun

Last Saturday was my friend Laura’s 100th parkrun.  I had been given the Friday and Saturday night off from work that week in order to not be overtired for the Oakley 20 race that I had booked in on Sunday, so decided that I would volunteer at parkrun instead to support my friend.

Since working night shifts I’ve found it difficult to fit in a parkrun on a Saturday morning.  It involves changing in the back of my car, hanging around from 7am until 9am (or getting a few extra miles in before parkrun first), then rushing home to collect Oscar from Dan so that he can travel to Wolverhampton for the football at lunchtime.  The sensible head that rarely surfaces in me knows that it makes much more sense to head straight home following my night shift so that I can get a couple of hours sleep before Dan leaves and I am left in charge of an energetic toddler on my own for the day(!) so this is what I’ve been doing lately.  (Although I can’t wait until I can finish working nights and get back to parkrunning every week again!)

One of the volunteer roles I have always wanted to have a go at is barcode scanning.  It’s something a bit different to marshaling, which I have done so much of in the past.  I want to try out several different volunteer roles this year, and so when I spotted that there was still space for a barcode scanner last week, I put my name forward.  Last year, with a new baby I ended up not volunteering at all for parkrun.  I know when I first signed up to the event several years ago it was suggested that every parkrunner volunteered three times per year in order that the events could go ahead, so I felt a little bad that I was unable to help out as much as I would like.  This year I’m hoping to top up my list of volunteering roles and give something back again for all the support I received in being able to get out each week when I had a young baby.

To date I have volunteered in the following roles; marshal (twice), tail walker, pacer, photographer (twice) and now also barcode scanner.

It was a ridiculously cold day last Saturday, with The Beast from the East V2 on it’s way to Northamptonshire later that evening.  I wore my duvet(!) (a thick Superdry coat) over the top of several layers, along with stone jeans and a pair of gloves.  My body didn’t feel too cold with all of the layers on, but my fingers did start to lose feeling after a little while.

As well as running her 100th event that morning Laura had also volunteered to give the 1st timer briefing.

Laura and I volunteering at Northampton parkrunI was rather glad that I could keep my layers on after the briefing and clapped rather vigorously once the runners set off in order to try and keep my hands nice and warm.

I collected my barcode scanner and bucket, and appreciated being mistaken for one of the several Duke of Edinburgh students who had also volunteered that week.  So glad that I can still pass as someone 18 years younger than I actually am(!)

The first runner stormed through the finish after 17 minutes but problems with a dodgy printer meant that his barcode wouldn’t scan so we had to get his number jotted down the old fashioned way with pen and paper instead.  There were four of us on barcode scanning duty and so things were a little slow for me to begin with, but soon runners began flooding my way and I really enjoyed being able to chat to each one and congratulate them on their run as I scanned their barcodes.  Laura came through in just over 30 minutes and went to collect the tub of sweets she’d brought along to celebrate her 100th event.  She passed me a mini pack of Haribo Fangtastics and I continued to scan barcodes but I was very conscious that I was losing the feeling completely in my fingers.  I have Raynaud’s syndrome, losing the feeling in the tips of my fingers on both hands during the Winter months.  This isn’t normally an issue when I run as I find my hands heat up very quickly as I gain pace, but outside of running I find it hard to get them warm again.

Raynaud's syndrome - fingers(This is a picture of my right hand an hour after finishing marshaling duties – you can see that the tip of my index finger is still bright white!)

I bunched up the fingers of my left hand inside my glove to try and keep them warm which definitely helped, but I was unable to do the same with my right hand as, being right-handed I was using this hand to operate the scanner.

I started to feel a bit light-headed.  When I was younger I was diagnosed with vasovagal syncope.  This basically means that I am prone to collapsing from triggers which are usually within my control.  If I worry myself over something or think about something I don’t like for a period of time, my body reacts by passing out.  I also pass out by if I am stood still for a long period of time as my blood will settle and not pump around the body very efficiently.  Combine the two factors and it’s a guaranteed blackout for me!  Dan and I went to see Stereophonics several years ago and things were fine until I realised that I had stood for quite a long while in the middle of a bunch of other fans with no way of getting out to sit down should I need to!

I couldn’t get how cold I was out of my head and began to worry that I had been stood still for too long, so I started to become restless and began tapping my feet.  I ripped into my packet of sweets, partly to try and distract myself from my thoughts and partly to up the sugar in my system.  I grabbed Laura and told her that I felt really nauseous and a little dizzy and said I needed to rest against the closest tree for a little while, but Laura must have seen the blood drain from my face and suggested she help me to the nearby bench instead.  As she helped guide me towards the bench I started to begin losing my sight – with tunnel vision and under-the-water echoy sounds, launching towards the side of the bench before I collapsed and cursing myself for wearing light coloured jeans on a day when it was actually muddy and there was a good chance that I might not make it to the bench!  I grasped onto the side of the bench and Laura called out for help.  Somehow a couple of other runners/marshals helped me onto the bench where I managed to lay out and slowly my vision and hearing returned to normal.

Several parkrunners stopped by to check that I was OK and see if there was anything that they could do to help.  Lovely people offered me lifts home and to help get me to my car and all along all I could think about was how much I was letting everyone down by not being able to finish the final 5 minutes of scanning and helping to clear away after the event!  The Run Director’s wife turned out to be a nurse so she came over and I tried to sit up.  I had intended on getting straight up and then heading back to my car but in actual fact it took me rather longer than I thought to adjust to just sitting up and so she told me that I wasn’t to drive home, but to call Dan to collect me instead, and then she insisted on walking me to Magee’s for a hot drink whilst I waited.  I couldn’t stop apologising.  Everybody was so lovely.

Magee Street hot chocolate

After my lie down and a hot chocolate from Magee’s I felt a fair bit better but I did take it easy the rest of the day and was very grateful that I was not due to work that evening.

It’s rubbish feeling rubbish!

What is your favourite parkrun volunteering role?
Do you suffer with Raynaud’s?
  It seems to be more and more common now.
Have you ever passed out before?

September – what a month

I always knew that September would be a tough month.  That basically I would have to just put my head down, keep fighting until the very end and then hopefully emerge from the other side still kicking.

Having given my notice to finish teaching at the end of the Summer, I was offered a further month of work with a bonus to help ease the transition for new members of staff within the department.  With a finish date of four weeks, after having just had the six weeks of Summer off, I decided to go ahead and accept the proposal.  The extra money I was being offered would be nice in the build up to Christmas if nothing else!

I knew it would be tougher than when I had originally returned to work back in May.  A May timetable with no year 11 or 13 and countless trips across other year groups is very different to a September timetable, when new courses are starting up and resources need creating or adapting to suit different classes.  My September timetable contained six year 11 classes and a year 10 class, amongst others, so I would also spend lunchtimes holding coursework catchup sessions for those GCSE students.

Not only would my workload be higher, but my personal life at the weekends was also looking rather full during September.  For each of the weekends my calendar was pretty jam-packed full of activities.

Week 1: Marshaling at Go Beyond Northampton Half Marathon
Week 2: At a friend’s wedding
Week 3: Round Norfolk Relay
Week 4: Ealing half marathon
Week 5: Oscar’s birthday party/christening

There wouldn’t be a lot of time for sleep, running or baby cuddles.  With my Mum very poorly I also wanted to try and fit in as many visits back to Norfolk as was practical.
As a new ambassador for Decathlon I was also really looking forward to the Decathlon blogger meet up at the end of the month, although was concerned that I would be burnt out by that point and unable to fully enjoy the activities that had been planned for us all.

As it turned out though, things didn’t really go quite to plan for September.  I had severe back pain from the second week of the month, managing to run the Round Norfolk Relay only having dosed myself up with double-strength Ibuprofen first, and then unable to run any further miles in September.  The day after the Round Norfolk Relay, my Mum was once again admitted into hospital with a serious infection and so many trips were made over to Norwich hospital for visits during the week, as well as twice-daily phone calls to help support my Dad.  Following one weekend visit and eating in the questionable hospital canteen I ended up throwing up over and over.  My Dad was also left feeling poorly that evening.  I made the difficult decision to pull from Ealing Half Marathon – I hadn’t been able to walk with a straight back for ten days by that point and also I felt it was more important to be with my family in Norfolk.

By the time I began the final week of my contract, I was really struggling.  By Wednesday lunch time my face was hot to touch – burning up, whilst my coat-clad body shivered uncontrollably from the cold.  At 3pm that day I made the decision to head for home, leaving my half-finished marking laid out on the shared office desk with a post-it note stuck to the top reading “Really sorry, – feeling totally pants this afternoon.  Will clear in the morning.”

Oscar's first birthday

That Wednesday was Oscar’s birthday, only I never saw him that day as I rang to cancel my physio appointment on the way home, before curling up into a little ball in my bed, texting Dan to ask if he would be able to pick Oscar up from nursery on his way home from work later that night instead.

The following day I couldn’t even get out of bed, and napped on and off all day, feeling very sorry for myself.  I left emailing Decathlon until the very last minute to say that I wouldn’t be able to make it that evening, just in case I perked up a little and was able to still attend.  I so wanted to attend.  I knew deep down that I would be too poorly to go though, and even if I did manage to sit through the train journey down, I would not be well enough to enjoy the activities they had planned for us once down there.

Friday, my last day at school and I was still too poorly to attend.  What a funny end to my time at the school.  I’ve been in this week to clear my desk and tidy up a few loose ends, but the end of my time there wasn’t how I imagined it to be at all.Oscar's first birthdayThe Saturday was spent opening up Oscar’s birthday presents and last minute cleaning and tidying ready for Oscar’s guests the following day.  I managed to get through the weekend somehow, although I still don’t feel 100%.

…But we did make it through the other side.

Our life will be better now.  That hard work was worthwhile, as it has put a nice pot of money into our bank which we can fall back on if necessary and I’ve been told any future reference requests will be glowing following the work I put into my role.  I’m very glad that my time in school is over now though.  Despite working full pelt, I never felt like I was totally doing my best job of being a Mum or my best job of being a teacher or a daughter or wife.  I always just felt like I was getting by – existing and doing my best to not sink in the madness that was going on around me.  The last fortnight of the month contained several days where I managed only to grab something from the petrol station for lunch, and skipped tea altogether as I knew Oscar was being looked after at nursery for food and I really needed to get on with work.

This is the start of our new chapter now.  One hopefully filled with healthy living, three meals a day, a tidy house, family fun, lots of running, a return to blogging, and a better work-life balance for us all.  I struggle with that work-life balance, as I know many do.  But at the end of the day, life is short.  {How is Oscar one year old already?!}  I don’t want to look back and feel like I missed out because I was too busy working or wishing Oscar would go to sleep so that I could get some marking done.

Now to see how the next chapter of our life turns out…

Busy parkruns

I finally feel like I’ve started to regain my fitness levels following the really bad batch of flu I had mid-February.  As someone that rarely gets sick and is used to powering through when beginning to feel a little run down, it was such a surreal situation for me to have to call in sick to work for two days in a row.  In fact I had lost my voice almost completely and had been up half of the Sunday night so when I called in to work on the Monday morning somewhere around 5-6am in the morning I struggled to croak out to the school answer phone that it was ‘Mary Moore’ and that I wouldn’t be in that day but would email across cover for my lessons now.  I was finding it really difficult to get much sound out and it wasn’t until I was about to end the phone call that I realised in my ill and half-with-it state that I had given my maiden name instead of my married name, despite having been married for eighteen months now.  When I headed back into work on the Wednesday the cover office told me that they had barely been able to make out my voicemail message but had heard the name at the start so sent cover for a teacher called Miss Moore  (in a different department) instead!  Whoops!

Anyway, despite having been back for three full weeks now my energy levels have struggled to return and I was left feeing pretty run down.  My cough was so bad for the first fortnight that the one or two runs I did head out on were followed by severe coughing fits so bad that I had to head straight to bed on my return home as I gave myself such a bad headache from coughing.  There have been several nights when I’ve been in bed by 9-9:30pm and my usual 4:15am alarm has been swapped to 5:30am so all school work has been completed in the evening instead of some getting crossed off before school begins.  I haven’t had the energy to fit in many runs or felt creative enough to get much writing in either and I’ve struggled to concentrate to read much online at all.  :(

Like I said though, I’m finally beginning to feel more on top of things again.  It has been nice to tick off a few more parkruns over the past couple of weeks and not have the pressure of time at them, knowing that I wasn’t 100%.

Last week I decided to head to Peterborough parkrun for a change.  I needed to nip into Peterborough to see a friend whose birthday it had been during the week and really didn’t fancy a third week in a row of getting stuck in roadworks on the way to the Northampton parkrun.

It’s been a while since I have been to the Peterborough parkrun and for the first time they were operating a new charge to park at Ferry Meadows – the parkrun venue.  The parkrun team had done a good job of negotiating a discount for parkrunners with the car park team but it was still a bit off-putting to have to pay for parking at a parkrun, although I can understand why it is necessary in some places.  Still, I would prefer if the money, or some of the money went to maintaining parkrun.  The Race Director made sure to explain how runners could access the discounted prices by entering a parkrun discount code when paying for the parking at the end of the run and it ended up costing runners just £1 to park in the car park that day.

We headed down to the start of the run on time and I moved myself closer to the back than I would normally place myself, aware that having been ill for so long my times would not be up to my usual standard.  When we began though it actually took 22 seconds for me to cross the start line!  Even after I crossed the line the route was so tightly packed of runners that I struggled to get past anyone or extend my usually quite long stride.

It took until my second lap of the park before I felt I could really stretch my legs out a little.

Peterborough parkrunAnd even then it was still fairly crowded.  The second lap went by marginally faster, probably because I wasn’t having to force such a choppy stride and dodge in and out of other runners as much as I had been.

When I headed up the slight incline that leads through to the finish funnel I decided to push it a bit and gave a sprint finish, but my lungs, head and chest regretted it as soon as I crossed the line.  The hard finish caused me to cough violently making both my head and chest pound for several minutes before calming down.Peterborough parkrun finish

Annoyingly, when I checked my watch I hadn’t even hit the 30 minute mark, finishing slightly over.

Garmin time: 30:12 (over 3.22m)
Official time: 30:15
Position: 257/426
Gender position: 72/189
Age category position: 13/29

There were 426 runners at Peterborough parkrun last week which I thought was quite a lot, but as I was listing all the parkrun results on my running club website on Monday afternoon I checked how many had run at Bushy parkrun, as one of our runners had made his way there for a bit of tourism. – 1060 runners!  That is insane.  Apparently the highest number of runners they have ever had is 1705!

I have felt rather envious of everyone out completing their 20 milers over the past couple of weeks but my body won’t be ready for a marathon this Spring now.  I did spend a spare twenty minutes earlier in the week logging all of my marathon and ultras to date onto the 100 Marathon Club application form ready for the day (way in the future!) when I apply though!

100 Marathon Club

What is the longest distance you are running at the moment?
How far has being ill put your training back in the past?