London Marathon recap – Pt 2 the hunger miles

If you missed the first part of my London Marathon recap, you can find it HERE.

I took five gels with me for the marathon.  My favourites to race road events with are the Salted Caramel GU gels.  I’m pretty sure I could knock those back all day!  In my early days of marathon running I would use just one gel on a marathon, or get by without, using just Lucozade Sport or jelly babies to fuel me round.  A few years back, after failing to achieve a sub 5 once again at Mablethorpe Marathon I was talking to another runner from my club who said she used to be the same; hardly ever took gels on board.  Her long distance running began to improve drastically when she started taking 5-6 gels during a race.  Two weeks later I ran Chelmsford Marathon, and although I didn’t take on board as many gels as she had advised, I did substantially increase the amount I was taking, and really thought through my tactics and timings for nutrition before race day.  That was the race I finally went sub 5 at.  Now I always make sure to take on board plenty during the race.

I prefer to take my gels a half at a time, along with a few swigs of water.  It’s what seems to work for me.  I took my first half a gel at about mile 5-6 and took on four in total during the race.  Water stations were every two miles and I took a half a gel at most stations from this point.

The first Lucozade station was at mile 7 and the road for the following 100 metres was stickier than the floor at Zanzibar, a shoddy nightclub in my uni town.  You could hear your trainers peeling up from the floor with every step.  It was horrible!

Somehow at mile 8 I spotted a member of my running club stood on the pavement alongside the barrier.  I shouted as loud as I could and finally got their attention for them to shout back as I ran past.

My first twelve miles went by what seemed very quickly.  I was so busy reading the backs of people’s vests and scanning the crowds for supporters I knew.  I knew of several members from my running club who had intended on coming down to support runners on the day, and several more who I knew through social media or the blogging world.  Some had told me where they were hoping to be, but by the time I was out on the course I’m afraid I had forgotten most of what people had told me but I was finding it quite exhilarating scanning the crowds anyway.

Mile splits for the first twelve: 10:05, 10:04, 9:52, 9:55, 10:01, 9:56, 10:00, 9:49, 10:01, 10:09, 9:54, 10:10.

All much faster than the 10:18mm pace I had intended, but I still felt good so I wasn’t too concerned.  They say you should be able to run to the halfway point feeling good and like you could do it all over again, and I definitely felt like I could.  I was religiously checking the times on my Pace Band against my watch each time I went underneath a mile marker arch, and by this point I was more than a minute up on a 4:30 finish time.  I think the furthest I had ever run before non-stop, without any walk breaks was 16 miles-ish so I was pretty sure that at some point my pace would drop, but I figured even if I began run-walking from 20 miles, if I was able to hold my current pace until then I would still be on for a new PB.

We turned a corner and all of a sudden the bridge was in front of us.  For some reason – and completely unexpected, I found myself tearing up and a little lump rise in my throat.  I quickly glanced down to recompose myself.  I felt so emotional running onto the bridge.  On both sides were charity supporters, with large banners strewn along the edge.  A camera panned down from up high as I reached the far side and, along with the guy next to me we automatically raised our arms high in the sky and pasted on beaming smiles!  We laughed about it as we turned right off the bridge.  He said that his children had better have been watching the TV at that point!  I’m not sure that our shot made it onto the TV, but I have a lovely set of photos across the bridge in the online photo gallery from the official photographers.

London Marathon official pictures

(I intend on asking for some of the official photos for my birthday, so will post them on the blog properly then.)

On the right as you turn off the bridge is where I usually watch the marathon when I go down as a spectator.  2018 was the first year in a long while when I didn’t head down to support on the day.  Both Kev and Tom, who I had watched with for several years in the past were unable to make the date and so I headed out for a long run with a friend early in the morning followed by pancakes and race tracking on the TV for the rest of the morning.  Sunday mornings done right!
Whenever I’d traveled down in the past I’d always bumped into other runners from our club supporting in a similar area so I really scanned the crowd here, desperately trying not to miss anybody who was out trying to spot me.  It can be almost impossible trying to spot runners sometimes, especially when (like me on the day) they’re not in club colours!  I didn’t see anybody I knew though.  It’s amazing how having only run the course once before I could still remember every turn on the route.

The cheer stations were all great out on route, but especially the Dementia Revolution cheer stations.  Each one went on for so long, and spanned across both sides of the road.  If you found yourself running alongside a Dementia Revolution runner through one of these stations you couldn’t help but be picked up yourself!

I spotted a couple of the Cancer Research UK cheer stations, and it was nice to be able to raise my arms up towards them as I came through, receiving great support from people I’d never met before.

As I crossed the halfway mark I glanced down to see 2:13:41 on my watch.  A time I would probably have been happy to take for a half marathon at the moment, and also perfect numbers on my watch to still aim for a sub 4:30 marathon!  I had no idea how I was getting away with such consistent, easy running still!

One of the next water stations (I can’t remember which one, maybe mile 14/16?) I struggled to get across to the station before it finished.  Everybody was darting across to grab a bottle and it became a bit chaotic with choppy strides from everyone.  I ducked in to grab a bottle from the last volunteer and shouted out “Sorry!” to the female runner I’d had to cut in front of.  I wasn’t close, I didn’t ‘cut them up’ as such.  They then extended their stride coming out of the station, moved back behind me and forcibly pushed into my back, making me shoot forward.  It really caught me off-guard!  Luckily they disappeared and I didn’t see them again.

Miles 13-20 went as follows: 10:15, 10:01, 9:49, 10:56, 10:07, 10:18, 10:44, 9:40.

(I think the first tunnel is at mile 18, hence the 10:44?)

I knew by now that I would PB.  Even if I ran walk the final few miles, they wouldn’t be slow enough that I would be risking my PB and I could feel the grin spreading across my face.  I was starting to feel hungry by this point.  Really, really hungry, but there wasn’t a lot I could do about it.

By mile 21.5 I knew I needed to try and find some food.  I made my first walk break and raided a bucket of jelly babies that had been thrust towards me, choosing all of the yellow ones to nibble on for the final few miles.  (Yellow is the best flavour by far.)  My stomach was rumbling so loudly I feared that other runners would start turning and looking at me!

At mile 22(ish) I saw Ruth, and then Jenny not long after.  And then a little further up the road I saw a group of guys from my running club and even further up another runner from my club.  (These may all be in totally the wrong order of when I spotted them, but they were all fairly close together and in the perfect location for keeping me going!)  Not that there was any risk in me stopping at any point now, but this is the section of the race that everybody says is the hardest, not much to look at and with everyone now ready for it to be the end!

Going into the tunnel was eerie.  I passed lots of people walking under here.  Of course, it’s the perfect place to fit in a sneaky walk, – I’m almost certain I walked it myself last time – but I made sure to jog through to the end.

For a stats geek like me it was so annoying having the tunnels mess with my Garmin.  Both times my watch continued to add time, but not mileage as I ran the 0.2ish miles through the tunnel.  I really needed to rely on my pace band against the mile markers now to judge roughly where I was time-wise.

Since that first walk, I took a couple more until the end.  My legs were fine, my chest was fine.  I was still breathing well, but I was absolutely starving!  I knew I wouldn’t have much energy left in the tank by the end and that was most likely down to the fact that I hadn’t been able to keep any food in me the night before.  I never hit the wall though.  I probably could have pushed through, but the knowledge that I would PB now was enough for me and I was buzzing!

London Marathon were making a real effort to become more eco-friendly this year.  Lucozade stations were a mix of bottles, compostable cups and also a seaweed edible and biodegradable pouch containing Lucozade at mile 23.  Initially, I hadn’t intended on using one of the pouches.  (Don’t try on race day anything you haven’t had a chance to try in training!)  But my body really fancied some energy drink at that point, and I figured I could always just try biting into the pouch rather than eating the whole thing, or just throw the seaweed part away/spit it out if it really was truly awful.  In the end though I found it really handy to be able to carry the pouch, – much easier than keeping hold of a bottle.  The pouch was very similar in look and feel to a washing capsule pod.  I bit into it and managed to consume the liquid without getting covered, much easier than I thought.

Seven drinks stations were also removed from the course this year, to prevent wastage and all clothes discarded at the start of the race were donated or reused.  You can find a big list of all of the ways London Marathon are trying to become more environmentally friendly HERE.  I think it’s fantastic that even larger races have begun to put so much effort into making running more eco-friendly.

I had a little walk and soaked up the sights before the final few turns, picking my running back up at 25.5 miles again.  It was amazing running past the 600 metre to go sign, where I usually head to watch runners finish.  And then to make that final famous turn towards the finish.  I pulled past several people at this point.  Again, there were charities along each side of The Mall.  One guy just in front of me stopped dead to wave at his charity and take a bow.  I almost crashed straight into him.  I didn’t expect anyone to stop along this part!

Miles 21-26.2: 10:43, 11:43, 10:49, 11:13, 13:50, 11:57, (Nubbin 0.67m): 10:30mm.

As soon as I crossed the finish line I pulled my phone out from my Flipbelt.  I already had a text from the marathon containing my finishing time, and one of my friends had already messaged to congratulate me on my PB.  I’d only been over the line a matter of seconds, so it was lovely to know that people had been tracking me throughout my race from home.

Finishing the London Marathon

I grabbed an official to get him to tell me who had won the race and was told Kipchoge, but not in a world record time.  He couldn’t tell me about any of the brits though.  Last time I’d run at London, there was a board at the finish displaying the top 5 male and female runners for everyone else out running that day, which I thought was a nice touch.

Finishing the London Marathon

It’s always nice looking back at stats after you’ve run a race you’re happy with.  Running a marathon should be like the tides in the sea…you let all the runners go out at the beginning, making sure to run a nice and steady start.  Then, during the second half you should let the tide come back towards you, passing everyone as you go!

Runners passed at London

I had my photo taken by the official photographer and moved along to collect my bag from bag drop.  Obviously my bag ended up being right at the very end of the enormous bag collection area.  I munched away on my race finisher apple along the way.  I made my way out to the tree where WDAC usually meet after London, only I must have been too slow, because I couldn’t spot anyone around.  I sat for maybe ten minutes in case anybody came by, but then decided to make my way to the Cancer Research UK after party.  I’ll write about that in a separate blog post though.

Finishing the London Marathon

I was running this marathon in memory of my Mum, raising money for Cancer Research UK.  My fundraising page is still open for anyone who wishes to donate.

Official time: 4:39:03 (** New PB by 15m 5s**)
Finishing position: 25006/42438
Gender position: 8079/17737
Age category position: 4235/9373

Runner stats at London Marathon

Ultimately I was so chuffed with how well my race had gone.  I had run so consistently up until mile 21.5 when I’d taken my first walk.  I never hit ‘the wall’.  I felt good throughout (other than super hungry!)  When speaking to Dan that evening he told me that he thought the tracker had broken for a while when my predicted times never altered each time I crossed over another timing mat.  Apparently the prediction had shown 4:27ish for the longest time!

Splits at the London Marathon

I trained using the Hanson’s Marathon Method, a book I researched and read numerous recaps on before deciding to purchase myself.  I do intend on writing a full recap of my own about how I found the training, but essentially – I loved it and it worked for me!  I’d definitely recommend it if you like the idea of running 5-6 days each week and capping your longest run at 16 miles.

What was your favourite PB moment?
Have you ever been so hungry in a race you’ve struggled?
Have you tried the Lucozade seaweed pouches? What did you think?

London Marathon – a new marathon PB!

I really, truly did not expect to PB last weekend.  Although I’d been running regularly and consistently since the start of the year, I hadn’t had the smoothest of training cycles.  I was attacked on one of my tempo runs back in February (resulting in feeling uneasy training outside for quite a while, resorting to the treadmill for several of my runs instead), had been hit hard by the flu for a week and also been diagnosed as anaemic with just over a month to go until race day.  I didn’t have huge hopes for my marathon time, but still intended on giving London my absolute best shot and with the intention of working hard for a new PB.

That would be a big enough ask in itself.  It had taken me ten attempts before I finally dipped under the 5 hour mark for the first time at Chelmsford marathon in 2015 and my PB of 4:54:08 was still standing, despite London now being my 17th marathon.

The week before race day also wasn’t ideal.  Oscar came down with Slapped Cheek, leaving him rather unsettled and creeping into bed with us every night, happily starfishing away between Dan and I – leaving us with limited room to sleep ourselves.
I also spent the day with a collection bucket in ASDA that Friday whilst Oscar started off at nursery, before being sent home ill in the afternoon.  He seemed fine to me, stayed up late riding his bike and chasing my charity balloons around the lounge before finally succumbing to sleep that evening.

The next morning I woke and didn’t feel the best.  I felt achy, sluggish and my stomach hurt.  I made the decision not to jog around parkrun the morning before the marathon, but Dan changed my mind at the last minute and so off I trotted, pushing Oscar round in his buggy.

Kettering parkrun with Oscar in the buggy(Photo by John Woods)

A little later that afternoon I struggled to eat my lunch.  My stomach pains began to increase and after my traditional pre-marathon pizza dinner I headed straight upstairs to the bathroom where I spent most of the evening.

Pre-marathon pizza night(One huge meat pizza for Dan, one regular sized vegetarian option for me…you’d never know which one of us was planning on running a marathon the following day!)

Luckily I’d already planned my travel arrangements to get to the race earlier that day, but by now I had been so ill that I worried I would make the start line at all.  I panic messaged my friends Laura and Steph, who reassured me that two Imodium before bed and another in the morning would be my best option.  I was already feeling hungry, but daren’t eat any more that evening.  I headed to bed around 9pm, but was up again by 11 and back to the bathroom.  I felt miserable and incredibly sorry for myself.  There weren’t tears, but had I woken feeling the same as I’d felt the previous night, then there most certainly would have been!  This time I also mixed up a pint of Strawberry Lemonade nuun to take to bed with me to try and help rehydrate ready for the race the following day.  After an incredibly hot weekend the week before, the conditions were forecast to be pretty perfect for running at London and I was grateful that I also wouldn’t need to worry about losing excess sweat out on the race course.

Thankfully, when my alarm went at 4:30am on Sunday morning I was feeling much better.  I did feel like I’d been poorly the day before; rather drained and pretty knackered from not enough sleep, but much, much better than I had on Saturday night.  I was going to London!

I decided to top up my now very empty stomach with a bowl of chocolatey cereal before heading out of the door.  I had packed my usual race-day bagel with peanut butter in my bag ready to have two hours before the start of the race, but knew I needed something extra inside me now as well.  The higher in calories, the better!  I nervously ate the small bowl of cereal, fully expecting to have to rush upstairs straight after finishing it, but although my tummy still ached, I didn’t feel like my body needed to reject the food.  Winning!

The drive down to Edgware was much easier than expected, and I then stalked another runner wearing their London Marathon bag in order to find my way to the station.  (This is the real reason London Marathon insist on giving runners all the same bags I’m sure, not for security reasons!  That, and so that everyone can have a good laugh looking at your underwear stashed in the see-through bags!)
Free travel on all trains heading into and out of London on race day is a very nice touch for the runners.  London travel confuses me at the best of times, more so when traveling alone and so it was nice to know that if I got on the wrong train I would be able to just jump off at the next station, turn around and come back again for free!

There were several runners heading on my first train and when I got off and looked for my connection it was made really easy by the huge banners depicting ‘RED START’/’BLUE START’/’GREEN START’ in the station.  I made my way up the escalator next to the Red Start banner after grabbing a cereal bar from the huge luggage crates filled with goodies for marathon runners.  There was fruit, cereal bars, crisps, milk…loads of options for people to fill their bags with for pre and post-race.  Another great touch!

Catching the train at the London Marathon

The platform here was crazy.  Everybody on it was wearing running shoes and wearing their official bag drop bag.  I arrived as it was announced over the tannoy for all runners to move down to the end of the platform to give everybody the best chance of getting on the train.  Turned out though that the train didn’t travel as far as the end of the platform so I missed out on that first connection.  I witnessed runners desperately trying to squeeze other runners further into the carriages so that they could also jump on board.  I felt claustrophobic just watching them all pressed up against the windows as the train sped off.  Holding on to wait for a second train four minutes later and thus managing to snag a seat was definitely worth it!

Catching the train at the London Marathon

Obviously there was no confusion on where to go on reaching the next station.  Everybody piled off the train and began the walk towards the red start.

Walking to the Red start at the London MarathonCharity runners are at a big disadvantage at London Marathon – There was a mountain to climb to reach the start area!  I remember the walk from the station to the blue start being totally flat when I ran on a club ballot place back in 2014!  I felt absolutely wiped out by the time I got to the top and was already sweating!

Walking to the Red start at the London Marathon

Lots of charities had banners on either side of the path up the hill and runners were splitting off to both sides to meet with the other runners from their charity.  I didn’t spot the Cancer Research UK banner, although was later told that it was right near the bottom of the hill.  I wasn’t walking down and back up that beast again!  I did spot the Institute of Cancer Research banner though, and bumped into my friend Lindsay and her boyfriend.  Lindsay was having twelve inches cut off her hair at the halfway point for charity.  I stopped and spoke to them briefly before getting my number checked and making my way through to the Red Start area.

Walking to the Red start at the London MarathonSeveral members of my club were running for charity and we had hoped to meet for a pre-race photo although my phone network was no longer responding and only a couple of runners managed to meet up before the start. (I’m guessing because there were so many runners posting pre-race pictures of themselves on social media!)

After circling the Buxton water stand where I thought we were due to meet for several minutes I realised there were two Buxton stands at opposite ends of the start area and so I headed to the changing tent instead to strip out of my tracksuit trousers, organise my gels and cover my arms and legs in Body Glide.  (Thanks by the way to everybody who recommended Body Glide on Instagram after my last minute vest-rubbing dilemma the weekend before.)

A quick trip to the loo, a final Imodium taken just to be sure and it was time to hand in my bag at the bag drop area and make my way to the starting pens.  I had been placed in pen 3, but with the 4:30 pacers being in pen 5 according to the London Marathon website, I dropped down into pen 4, with the intention of crossing the line from the back of the pen, nearer to where the 4:30 runners were.

Finding my pen at the London MarathonI started talking to the other runners stood around me whilst we were waiting for the race to start.    Whilst we were grateful for the cooler weather, it was very chilly standing around and we’d all removed our top layers to place in the bag drop by now, so were eager to get going.  We could see the TV coverage on the big screen and it was so exciting to watch the elite men start, knowing they were would be out on the course somewhere in-front of us and that we would soon be moving along into position to start our own race.

Pen four of the Red Start at the London Marathon

The line started moving almost immediately after we watched the elites take off on the screen and we found ourselves winding along the taped path and out onto the wide road behind the pen 4 barrier tape.  On the way I managed to spot a crash of rhinos!

A crash of Rhinos at the London Marathon

We also weaved past a sole industrial bin, and it seemed every single male had to stop and pee alongside it.  It was pretty disgusting and stunk!

A crash of Rhinos at the London Marathon

Once on the road I kept making my way further back until I was at the very back of pen 4 and the marshals holding the pen 5 tape came behind me, bringing with them the runners from pen 5 and the 4h 30m pacers for the red start.Pen four of the Red Start at the London Marathon(This shot is with me at the back of the pen and the camera looking forward towards the start line.)

I didn’t intend on sticking with the pacers rigidly, but had hoped to use them as a rough guide to keep on track with my running without having to think too much into it.

Pen four of the Red Start at the London Marathon

(This shot is facing back towards Pen 5 behind me.  You can see the 4:30 red pacer flag.)

We had what felt like a fairly long walk up the road until we reached the famous turn towards the start line that is always shown on TV.  From here we could see the actual start line and broke into a jog just a few metres before crossing it.

The Red Start line at the London MarathonThe street was lined with support for the runners pouring out to start their marathon journey and the first mile shot past very quickly.  I had intended on trying to stick between 10:10 and 10:20 minute miling.  (A consistent 10:18mm pace would see me cross the finish line in 4:30.)  I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be crossing the finish line in under 4 hours 30 minutes at London having been so ill the day before but wanted to stick to the race plan as much as possible rather than try and change things at the last minute.  If I was to crash and burn then so be it, but at least I would have tried my best!

I ended up running the first mile in 10m 05s, and tried to slow myself down for mile two.  I didn’t do a very good job of slowing myself down though, running mile two in 10m 04s!  As I passed underneath the arch of balloons declaring that runners had now run two miles I glanced down at the 4h30m Pace Pockets pacing band on my wrist and realised I was only a couple of seconds under the 20m 36s I needed to be at for mile two.  With the twisty-turny course of London and the insane numbers of runners out on the street it is impossible to run just 26.2 miles, so as things felt so, so comfortable (I was running at what felt like a chatty pace to me) I decided to continue running in the metronomic pace I had adopted for the past two miles, despite it being slightly faster than I thought I was capable of.

My main memories of those first few miles were the hills!  How did I never realise quite how hilly London was?!  For sure the red start had more hills than blue did.  As we came down one hill there were also two horses peeking over a high wall down at us!  I wonder how long they were there for, as I’ve seen several people mention them on social media this week!

The merge between the starts was fairly smooth.  When I ran in the blue start last time I remember this being incredibly busy and stressful with the crowd having to pull me along at the pace it was moving at, but there was none of that when merging from the red start and we wove neatly into the ballot runner stream.

Having missed Cutty Sark in 2014 (No idea how!) I made sure to look out for it this year and did manage to spot the massive ship as we ran round it!  Haha!

As always, I’m going to split my recap into two, so that’s the end of part one.  I hope to get part two up over the next couple of days while it’s still fresh in my mind, so watch this space!

* Place names may be totally incorrect.  I am hopeless when it comes to navigating around London and no longer have the sheet of paper Dan used to jot directions down on for me!

What’s your travel sense like in London?!
Do you follow pacers or use a pace band when running for a target time?

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?