The EnduranceLife Gower Marathon (Pt 2)

(If you missed the first part of my recap of the 2017 Gower Marathon, you can find it here.)

Although it had been fairly windy at the start of the race, I had been able to take my jacket off a few miles in.  It wasn’t really cold, and we never had any rain actually during the race at all, although from talking to friends afterwards, both the ultra runners and the half marathoners got some light rain during their run.

I had wrapped my jacket up into a little ball, encasing my phone, and then jammed it into my bag, hoping that despite all the padding my phone would still track the miles I ran using the Strava app, although I wasn’t too worried if it didn’t.  Annoyingly, this meant that I couldn’t really take any photos out on the course during the day though, and I also never really knew at what mileage point I was on the course.  From the position of aid stations and the pace I knew I was roughly running at I could kind of work out how many miles I had run, but it’s not quite the same as having a Garmin beep to tell you each time you’ve ticked off another mile!  The EnduranceLife aid stations are also quite good in that they display a large board showing what mile the aid station is situated at and how many miles you have until you reach the next checkpoint.  I guess the marshals get these two questions a lot!  Perhaps this is an idea we could nab to add to the ultra checkpoints for Go Beyond events too?  I’ve just put my name down to marshal at Country to Capital again next year.

I had been debating whether or not to wear my new pair of trails for the run.  I say ‘new pair’, – they must have run about 100 miles or so by now – but as my feet are quite wide, I find it takes several runs in a pair of trainers before I don’t feel the pressure across the top of my foot from when my feet expand during a long run.  I paused not long after my fall to loosen the laces over the arch of my foot and tighten the laces higher up instead and this seemed to ease the pressure.

I didn’t stop at the first checkpoint.  There were a large number of people already spread out around the table and I didn’t want to waste any time getting to the cut off point at mile 19.9.  I just dibbed in, grabbed some jelly babies and left again.  I kept trying to work out at what point I was on the course by landmarks and the time of day, as I was still rather concerned about making the shortened cut off time.  We came down a very steep and muddy hill onto a blind bend section of road.  I think perhaps it was at about mile 8.  There was a marshal here – ensuring runners could stop their legs in time before hitting the road.  We turned sharply to the left, took the next right hand road turn and then climbed a stile into a field and were away again.  As I ran down the hill I asked the marshal at what mile point we were at currently.  She told me mile 12.5, with a half mile to go until the next checkpoint.  This confused me a lot.  I know that I definitely had not run 12.5 miles of a course with hills like that in under two hours!  And it then took a further hour for me to reach the next checkpoint which definitely hadn’t been only half a mile away!

EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017I paused briefly at the second checkpoint to get my water bottle topped up and to grab a couple of custard creams.  I never buy custard creams but after EnduranceLife events I always think I should probably run with them at my next race.

The second beach was much easier and shorter than I remembered and once again I managed to run steadily across the whole distance.  As you come off of the second beach you are greeted by hundreds and hundreds of uneven steps heading uphill through the woods.  They are really tough going and I had completely forgotten just how much they take it out of you at this point on the marathon.  I had not long told another runner that they worst part of this event was over now, with all of the major hills early on in the course!

Gower gully steps in the wood(Picture taken part way up the steps back in 2015.)

I ran up behind a family along the steps and heard them say “Move aside, there’s a runner coming up”, to which I responded in between rather heavy breaths… “I’m not doing much running I’m afraid!”
The journey back down is not much better as you can’t really find your stride with all of the steps being at different heights and lengths.  I was glad for that section to be over!

Soon I had made it to the third and final beach.  You need to run along a rather loose, sandy section before crossing a bridge and making it over onto the full beach.  This section seemed to go on forever.

Gower marathon scenery(Photo from the 2014 event.)

I crossed the bridge at 2:05pm, knowing that the 19.9 mile checkpoint was at the far end of the beach and that official cut off for the race was at 2:15pm.  I wanted my legs to hurry, but at the same time I didn’t want to hurry them so much that they burnt out and I had to keep stop-starting across the sand.  As I saw the time on my Vivofit get ever closer to 2:15pm I figured I could probably blag my way by 5 minutes or so.  Perhaps 10?  My watch changed to 2:16pm just as I pulled off the beach and turned towards the checkpoint.  I had made it!

I paused to top up both bottles here, and having made the one and only cut off in time I rewarded myself with a long walk and a chance to pull my pretzels from the bag on my back.  I’d devoured two Clif bars early into the race, and eaten the custard creams at the last checkpoint, but I’d been craving salty pretzels for the last few miles and daren’t waste the time stopping to rearrange my bag.  The pressure was now off though!  I could walk the rest of the way and would still be ticking off my thirteenth marathon before the day was out.  Having pushed it (although comfortably) I knew I would be in with a good chance of beating my previous time on the course as well, even if I did end up deciding to walk the rest of the way!

After quarter of a mile I was ready to run again, and so held onto my bag of pretzels and set off.  I had passed several people at the final checkpoint, – I’m guessing people who were also rewarding themselves for making the cut off in time!  We then went on to play leap frog a few times for several miles as we took it in turns to pass each other.  Although I don’t have any pictures of the course on the day, we did walk the final 7 miles of the course on the Sunday on our trip over to the pub (and back again!) so I took some pictures then, which I’ll share in a separate post.

The final checkpoint was the point at which I (along with several others due to the poor weather) was pulled last time I ran the event in 2015, and I was surprised how much of the course I remembered having not run this section since 2014.  There are several steep, slippery climbs where you need to use hands to help yourself up, but also a few longer sections of grassy trail where you can make up a little bit of time.

Annoyingly, my phone died at mile 25.3, so I couldn’t take my traditional photo of the ‘One mile to go’ sign.

Gower elevation(The grey is the elevation, and blue line my pace.)

A mile before the finish I saw a familiar shape hobbling towards me.  Kev, the guy who had persuaded me to run my first ultra back in 2013 and who has been super supportive of my running journey ever since made his way back along to track to give me a hug and fill me in on how the others had gotten on in their races.EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017Kev and another injured runner, Sandra, had been stood on the final mile post for hours, seeing everybody through to the finish.  The other runners from our club had all had a fairly good day, with just Tracey dropping down from the marathon to the half on route as planned, and Tom dropping from the ultra down to the marathon due to an existing injury.

Official time: 7h 03m 53s
Position: 125/129

I had beaten my previous time by more than half an hour.

It absolutely tipped it down just as I crossed the finish line where I bumped into James, the other marathon finisher from our club who had been back for 25 minutes or so.  We waited the worst of it out under the comfort of the marquee before making our way back to the cottages to a cheer from the runners who had already returned back, showered and eaten!  We were the last to return, so once showers were had it was time to really start our weekend away!

Do you like to take pictures during your races?
Have you used the Strava app on your phone to record your runs?

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?

Chelmsford marathon take 2 – not the race I planned

Oh Chelmsford…you were to be my target race of 2017.  Things just didn’t fall the way they were meant to.

I can’t complain too much though.  I mean, my body did let me run a 50 mile ultra earlier this year six months after having a baby, and I did get to PB in several shorter distance events during the Summer.  I just didn’t do quite enough to help support my body to make it through to the end of the season.

It was less than three weeks out from race day when I was told by my physio that I would be able to run the marathon, although I knew by this point that I would need to seriously adjust my goals.  Despite having hit all paces for a 4:15 marathon early on in the training cycle, my long runs towards the end of training had been non-existent and I’d taken three weeks off completely due to my back injury and flu which seemed to last forever.  I’d lost in total two stone – a mixture of stress and illness – which I’m yet to regain, along with full strength for long distances.

I didn’t have high hopes for the race.

On skimming through the Chelmsford race pack a couple of days out from the event I realised that there would be pacers across the distance.  Something which hadn’t been offered at Chelmsford marathon when I ran it in 2015.

Sensibly/stupidly I decided to try and sit with the 5 hour pacer (if there was one) for as long as possible so that I didn’t have to think about pacing or constantly checking my watch to ensure I remained consistent over the distance.

It turns out that there were actually pacers for every 15 minutes right the way through from speedy times to times much slower than me and I spotted the 5 hour pacer as I walked from the race village to the start line…running in to the pub!

There were marshals helpfully holding up rough finishing time markers in the starting pens and I positioned myself alongside the 5 hour finish board.  I doubted that I would finish in 5 hours, and had given Dan a rough guide of somewhere between 5 hours 15 minutes and 5 hours 30 minutes so that he knew when to come and watch me finish.  This had escalated drastically, as the previous week I had estimated 6-6.5 hours for a finish!

Chelmsford marathon start

We started on time (I think in waves although it was hard to tell from my position near to the back) and I ran easily past Dan and Oscar (who was enjoying clapping at all of the passing runners!) and along the streets into the town.  It wasn’t until about a half mile into the route that I caught up with the 5 hour pacer – I hadn’t seen him come past me, but then saw his bright bib up ahead and so picked up my pace a little so that I could place myself alongside him.

The first 5k of the course is a mini loop through the streets in town before heading back past the race village.  I ran past the point where my hip had gone in 2015 and realised how lucky I had been to get the time I did that day.  It seems I don’t often have much luck on marathon day!

Chelmsford marathon mile 3

Dan had positioned himself with Oscar on his shoulder in the town and I ran as close as I could to Oscar to wave at him, although he was busy madly clapping at everybody who passed and I don’t think he spotted me.  He’s started doing this when a show we are watching on TV has a live audience at the moment as well.  As soon as he has realised that somebody else is clapping he thinks ‘I know how to do that!’ and madly claps away!

Chelmsford marathon mile 3

Nigel, the pacer, admitted that this was the first time he had ever paced a marathon and was hoping his watch stood up to the challenge.  He thought we were probably running a bit too quickly and when asked I pointed out that although I hadn’t crossed the line at the same time as him, my watch was showing an average of 10:40mm pacing.  (Much faster than required for a 5 hour marathon!)  The pace felt very, very easy to me, although I wasn’t tempted to rush off as I knew the wheels would come off later in the race due to my lack of recent training.

As we turned away from the town the little group of six that we had become introduced ourselves.  It was just one runner’s first marathon, with everyone else having already achieved a sub 5 time previously and we spent some time discussing different marathons that people had run, which I always find really interesting.  I would like to branch out and try some different marathons once I’ve ticked the South Downs Way 100 off from my list next Spring.  Like me, Nigel was also running his twelfth marathon that day and had run all of his marathons in different capital cities around Europe.  (Apparently many, many years ago Chelmsford was briefly the capital of England, – as backed up on Wikipedia, so he was OK to add Chelmsford to his marathon list!)

Chelmsford marathon mile 4.5Chelmsford marathon mile 4.5Chelmsford marathon mile 4.5

The pace slowed slightly, although we were a fair way ahead of the required pace for a sub 5 marathon and I was still finding the pace very easy and able to chat to those running around me.

By mile 9 though the pace of the group seemed to have slowed quite considerably and I found that whilst maintaining the rhythm I had fallen into, I naturally began drifting away from the others.  We had come onto a road here, so the small group of us were running in single file – me at the front.  A lady at the back of our little posse was beginning to struggle and I could see her starting to fall behind.  The voices of the other members of our group behind me got gradually more and more faint until by mile 10 when I turned around I could no longer see the rest of the little group.  I was sure that I would crash and burn at some point in the race and that they would storm past me though, and in fact was really surprised that I hadn’t done so already.

The first ten mile times went as follows: 10:40, 10:41, 11:00, 10:55, 10:58, 11:21, 11:08, 11:18, 11:11, 11:08.

I’d grabbed a selection of Gu gels, stuffing two into the back pocket of my shorts and carrying a further two to consume early on in the race.  As last time I intended on taking half a gel at every water station, although with the first water stop at the 5k marker, I missed this one out.

Miles 11 and 12 are a gradual long climb, although I only know this from checking my Strava, and being reflected in my times for those miles.  Still running well, and because the next couple of miles were flat/slightly downhill I had to make a real effort to keep slowing my pace back down again.

I briefly thought at this point “If I continue running the way that I am now, I will definitely achieve another sub 5!’  Somehow, my brain ignored the fact that I still had a half marathon to run on very minimal training and convinced me that I was Superwoman!

The 16th mile is a tough, steep one and this was the first point I had walked when I ran the event in 2015.  I was determined to carry on running – aware that if I stopped to walk it would be the beginning of the end of my race.

That is, I was determined to carry on running until I reached the hill and remembered how horrible it was.  I quickly convinced myself that actually I should probably walk and conserve energy for later on in the race.

That was the beginning of the end!

Two weeks on and I still believe that if I had carried on running at this point I would have had at least a few more miles at a steady pace before resigning to the run-walk marathon method.

Miles 11-20 as follows: 11:32, 11:12, 10:49, 10:58, 10:52, 11:08, 11:39, 12:12, 12:51, 11:53.

I anxiously looked out for Dan at mile 19.  I was ready to see a friendly face.  This is where he had driven out to see me when I had run the race the last time.  He had only just arrived in time then as I had been running ahead of schedule that year so just caught him hurrying out of his car to hand me some Vaseline which I had asked for.  This year there he had promised no guarantees that he would be able to see me out on the course.  With Oscar in tow Dan had intended on getting out on the route if he was able, but also aware that he needed to entertain Oscar at the park, with a walk in the buggy and to fit in a meal time for him at some point.  I half expected to see Dan here but when I didn’t, although disappointed, it wasn’t like I had fully banked on seeing him.

I started to feel hungry, really hungry not long after this point.  Late the night before every race of at least marathon distance I have always had a large vegetable pizza for my tea.  I have never had any problems with it keeping me stocked up nicely with energy for the following day.  If something works, why change it?

I hadn’t intended on traveling to Norfolk the day before Chelmsford marathon, but my Dad rang early that Saturday morning.  I’d not long woken, and Dan was still in bed.  My Dad asked if I could go back to Norfolk for the day and so at 6:30am I found myself loading Oscar into the car and bundling a bag of toys together to make the two (which became three) hour journey back for the day.

One of my Dad’s neighbours very kindly brought round a chicken casserole for myself, my Dad, my brother and Oscar.  A lovely gesture, although a small portion of chicken casserole at 5pm was not what I had intended or needed as fuel for race day the following day.

Upon reaching the next checkpoint I could hear the familiar voices of the five hour pacing group just behind me and although I kept them at bay for a further mile, they glided past when they did come by.  Nigel had a quick chat with me to say they were still ahead of pace if I could hang on with them for a while, but I firmly said that I had been injured going into the race with no idea what my body would be capable of running so would just be happy with a sub 5:15 that day.

I rang Dan to give him an updated report on my time.  Dan hurriedly asked where I was on the course and when I told him I was at mile 21 his voice dropped.  He had not long arrived at mile 19 where I had been looking for him!  Although I had been running pretty much spot on for 11 minute mile pacing, which I had told him to work his time predictions on, Dan had miscalculated and thought he had arrived in plenty of time!  I told him not to worry and that I would see him at the finish.  I also told him just how hungry I now was.  And I was.  By this point my stomach was aching and all I could think about was food, which is very unlike me during a run.  Five and a bit miles to go.  I knew they would be tough, but I knew that I would get round.  I was rather annoyed at myself for not stashing any money in my belt though, as it meant that I wasn’t able to nip into a passing pub and buy a packet of Ready Salted!

Just before mile 23 a familiar car came past and I heard Dan shouting out of the window.  He parked on the side of the road, nipped into the boot of the car and reached inside the pouch on the side of the running buggy, hurriedly pulling out a Bakewell Tart nakd bar.  I have never been so happy to see a nakd bar in my life, and that nakd bar definitely picked up my energy levels for the remaining miles!

I continued on my way and Dan wished me well for my remaining miles before zooming off up the road, Oscar still snoring away in the back!

I had resigned myself to a run-walk strategy by this point, although with the nakd bar starting to kick in, it was now a much stronger run-walk than it would otherwise have been.  My head was back to it’s usual strength and I confidently picked landmarks to run towards before taking a brief power walk and starting to run again.

With two miles to go a solo slightly faster than required 5:15 pacer ran past, a few minutes later followed by a lady who in the starting pen had loudly exclaimed “5 hours!  As if it would take anyone 5 hours to run a marathon.  I’d like to think that I’d be home and fed by then!”  I had a little smile inside to myself.  Not in a mean way, but in a running-a-marathon-is-actually-a-lot-harder-than-Mo-Farah-makes-it-look kinda way.  I don’t think she’ll make a similar comment at her next marathon, if she signs up for another.

Somehow I managed to still look fairly strong in my mile 25 photos.

Chelmsford marathon mile 25

I couldn’t stop myself from smiling as I weaved along the final path heading to the finish.  I do really love the Chelmsford marathon course and I knew by this point last time that I would be coming away with a brand new PB.  I can remember feeling absolutely ecstatic along this path!

Chelmsford marathon finishing straight

Oscar and Dan were there cheering me along the finishing straight.  I heard them long before I saw them and my tired legs made the final few hundred metres as fast as they could (although upon watching the video back it’s clear that wasn’t very fast at all!)

Final miles 21-26.4: 14:06, 13:32, 13:46, 12:51, 13:00, 12:46, 11:13 pace.

Chelmsford marathon finishing straightChelmsford marathon finishing straight

I was so happy with my performance.  Despite everything I finished in 5:10:07 (chip time), which is actually not too far away from several of my previous marathon times.  Imagine what I could achieve if training had gone right all the way through my training cycle!  I was happy with how consistently and strong I had run for those first 16 miles and know that I can improve on this time in Milton Keynes next Spring.

Chelmsford marathon finishing straightChelmsford marathon finishing straight

Official stats as follows:

Chip time: 5:10:07
Position: 496/573
Gender position: 105/150
Category position (Senior female): 26/36

Chelmsford marathon medal

I crossed the line and found my way over to Dan with my goodie bag where I lay on the floor whilst he rummaged around in my bag to find something which would give me some energy, coming across some gummy sweets.  Within minutes though I was feeling very weak and knew I needed food soon.  Keeping moving was better than when I stopped completely and so we made the decision to head back to the car.  I’d seen several KFC wrappers on the floor as I ran back towards the finish so knew there must have been one not too far away.  I really fancied a KFC Krushem and for ease, a KFC burger would be something warm and substantial as a temporary fix for my lack of energy alongside the drink.

Chelmsford marathon enjoying my KFC KrushemFeeling much better!

Chelmsford marathon bananaOn having a chance to check the banana in my goodie bag, I love that it contained a hand written message.  From checking Instagram the following day it seems that the messages on bananas were all different which was a lovely touch!  I don’t like bananas, but Oscar enjoyed this one the next day!

Chelmsford marathon chocolate spreadI do like chocolate spread though, and this was a great pick-me-up the following morning on the remainder of the half-eaten bagel I’d left the morning before.  Fab addition to the goodie bag guys!

Official photos from here.

Chelmsford was my twelfth marathon.  All my previous marathon recaps can be found on my race recap page.

Have you ever had to adjust your time goal for a race?
Ever have serious hunger during a run?!

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?