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?

I ran 100 miles! (Part 3)

(You can find the first two parts of my Robin Hood 100 mile recap here… Part one * Part two)

Knowing that I had arrived at mile 84.28 (every point 2-8 counted after 24 hours of running!) was a nice boost.

Seeing Dan and Oscar and knowing that they would be following me round the course until the end now was nice to know, and by now I had heard word that Kev and Amanda who had run 50 miles at the Centurion Chiltern Wonderland race (160 miles South!) on Saturday were at the finish line, grabbing a quick sleep before coming out on the course to see me finish.

Hitting the canal path on the return leg of the route was hard going.  I’d forgotten how rough the terrain had been.  Tufts of grass sticking up everywhere and really uneven ground underneath on such a narrow path at times.  I was glad that I wasn’t one of the faster runners who would have had to complete this section at nighttime in the dark.  Although it was bad enough running it after 12 minutes sleep in the past 26 hours or so.  I felt rather bad for Guy here as so much of this section I had to walk.  My feet were in tatters by now.  The small stones I had accumulated in my trainers earlier on had rubbed slightly and the bottoms of my feet were very tender.  Every footfall that wasn’t on flat ground was agony and at times I couldn’t stop a whimper from sneaking out of my mouth.

We had a brief panic as we headed up over a bridge that crossed the road and could no longer see reflective tape marking the way back down and along the canal the other side.  I knew that I had come following the canal, and was sure that the route followed the path in reverse until we nearly reached the finish, but I doubted myself on such little sleep.  Guy jogged up the road to see if he could see any tape in either direction but there was none, so nervously we agreed to follow the canal path in reverse of the way I had run out.  I texted Gary to see if he could check on the tracker that we were still on course and after a few minutes, he confirmed that we were.  A kilometre or so up the track we came across some reflective tape and I could relax again!

When I had last seen Gary and Dan they had both told me that they would be at the next checkpoint.  They both misspoke.  For a good two miles before the aid station I was eagerly coming round every turn expecting to see Gary with pasta pot in hand and Oscar running up to me.  What felt like hours later Guy and I turned the corner to come across the checkpoint, only for nobody to be there waiting for us.  I slumped down into a deckchair shouting really dejectedly “Gary! Gary! Where are you?!”  Apparently one of the marshals at the checkpoint was called Gary, but he wasn’t the Gary I was after!  Another volunteer told me that he hadn’t seen my toddler at this checkpoint…my crew weren’t here.  I spent a good minute or so feeling sorry for myself before shovelling in some ready salted crisps and announcing to Guy that we had to get going again.  I needed to find where Gary and my pasta were…I wasn’t stopping!  Afterwards we worked out my crew had meant to say that they would be at the next CREW station, not checkpoint.  This checkpoint was one of two where crews could not attend due to the lack of parking in the surrounding area.

We traipsed on and a brief glimmer of hope began to grow as I remembered that I had seen Helen, Grant and Val somewhere near to this point on the way out at the start of the race.  Perhaps everybody would be at this point on the return instead?  The race course is twenty miles out, two thirty mile loops and then twenty miles back again to the start/finish, so each section of the course is run twice which is reassuring as you cover the same paths twice.  Although, on that towpath I swear every turn looked the same!

Eventually, at 93 miles I heard shouts of my name and I looked to see Kev and Dan with Oscar all shouting at me in the distance.  That got me to pick up my pace and as I got closer I also spotted Amanda.  Kev hurriedly rushed off to heat up a Pot Noodle for me, which I demolished, absolutely starving by now!  Gary had set off for home, as his son had a football match later that afternoon, but he had passed over my bag to Kev and Amanda who were going to crew me for the final ten miles of the race.

The Pot Noodle went down easily, although I decided I needed to get moving again so took the remainder with me as I headed off in the direction of the finish along the towpath.  Seeing everybody here had given me the big boost I needed to get going and after dropping my empty Pot Noodle cup in a nearby bin and passing my fork to Guy I managed to get some more running in again in short bursts.

The last aid station and crew point was at 97 miles and those four miles went on for what felt like forever.  The sun had really picked up by now and I was regretting not packing my running cap – feeling the sun burning down on the top of my head.  With nearly a mile still to go to the aid station, Amanda came walking along back along the path declaring that there were only three bridges left for me to walk under before coming across the checkpoint.  I really needed to get another sleep by now.  All I could think about was sleeping.  Although Amanda was carrying a plastic pint cup and when she mentioned that her and Kev had been waiting in the pub for me to arrive, my thoughts changed to what lovely beer garden weather it was that day and how much I would like a nice cool cider…why hadn’t they brought me a cider?!

Turns out Amanda lied (although she swears she just miscounted!) but there were actually four bridges.  I may have had a minor melt down when I realised that the third bridge I counted wasn’t in fact where the aid station was!  Finally though we did arrive and I ran over to Kev to say I really needed to sleep in his van for just 10 minutes.  Kev took me by the shoulders and very matter-of-fact told me that I could sleep for five minutes – no longer – on the floor of the aid station.  Then they would be moving me on.  I agreed and quickly clambered down onto the floor for a brief sleep.  The last thing I remember was the heat of the sun on my bare legs sticking out from under the aid tent and worrying that I had no suncream on them!

I don’t remember anybody waking me, but I do remember leaving the checkpoint and checking repeatedly with the marshal that it was no more than three miles now until the finish.  (Another lie which I was told!)

We had a steepish climb up from this checkpoint but I knew the finish would soon be in sight now.  With just over an hour to go I knew all I had to do was to keep moving until the end and I would finish it.  In the bag!

My watch battery had grown low around mile 60 the night before.  Following the battery death of my watch at the South Downs Way in June I had been told that I could continue to run whilst charging my watch from a battery pack, so had come prepared this time.  On leaving the aid station at mile 62 I had attached the battery pack to my watch and hooked this into my bag.  I realised after about a mile that the display on my watch was now blank though.  Had the battery died completely?  James had suggested turning it on again and my watch flashed something on the display and beeped.  I realised later though, that by pressing the on/off button I had actually been turning my watch OFF and stopping the recording annoyingly!  I removed the battery pack at mile 77 and turned the now fully-charged watch back on to record the final section of my race, but have no watch data from those middle miles unfortunately.

As my watch now showed mileage that was really out with how many miles I had actually run I made a mental note of the mileage it showed as I left the final checkpoint the moment the marshal confirmed with me for the second time that it was no further than three miles until the end.  Perfect.  Three miles.  I can cover three miles in that time.  Easy!

Guy and I passed two runners sat on the floor at mile 98.  Guy had a few words and reported back to me that they had decided to pull at mile 98 of the race.  How gutted would you be?!  Things must be bad though if there isn’t enough in you to walk the final two miles of a 100 mile race.

We crossed back over the horrible, horrible ploughed field.  It thought it was bad at mile 5…it was a million times worse at mile 98.  I couldn’t stop the whimpers of pain escaping with almost every footfall now.  My feet were so sore and every time they fell on the really uneven ground I was in agony!

Finally we made it out on the other side though and it wasn’t long before in the far, far distance I could see the building which I was sure we had come from!  The end was in sight!  Only, my watch said that there was only a mile to go.  That building was still much further than a mile away.  I suddenly began to panic.  Time was ticking down to the finish and I realised that the ‘three miles to the finish’ had been incorrect.  It was clearly further.  I started to pick the pace up again, panic creeping into my voice as I told Guy ‘We have to make it to the finish.  I can’t finish in over 30 hours.  I can’t run the distance and not be given a time because I didn’t make cut-off!’  I began to jog.  I could see Kev and Amanda again.  They had run back along the course to meet me.  Were they running to me because I was going to miss the cut-off?  My jog turned into a run, momentarily forgetting about the pain in my feet and allowing me to pass a number of other runners who had all been reduced to a walk for the final few miles.  Kev told me that I needed to run.  Not to panic, but to carry on running.  They wouldn’t let me miss the cut-off.  I would get there in time.  It was so hard not to look at my watch, although I knew it wouldn’t do any good.  The numbers made no sense anymore anyway.  I had no idea how many miles I’d run now or how far there was to go.  Kev’s declaration that it wasn’t far meant nothing and to tell the truth I didn’t trust anyone by this point now anyway!

I ran and ran and ran.  A few cries came from my mouth when I hit particularly hard stones with my now very-blistered feet but I was getting to that finish!  As I ran down into the village hall car park I couldn’t spot a finisher gantry and realised that I had no idea where I needed to go!  I shouted to Kev who told me that I needed to run inside the building.  I threw a wave to Dan who was getting Oscar out of the car, and to John and Lynn who stood near the entrance to the building and pushed on through the doorway.  Now where?!  It wasn’t obvious!  Somebody shouted that I needed to run through the door to the right and so I continued, bursting into a small room to instant applause.  I could see rows of chairs around the room where those who had finished before me now sat, drinking hot drinks and relaxing with family.  Somebody appeared from nowhere to hand me my finisher t-shirt, engraved medal (such a nice touch!) and to pass Dan a bottle of beer.

100 mile Hobo Pace Robin Hood 100 medal

They asked if I would like a hot drink and I started to make my way to a seat, although for some reason I no longer had the urge to sit down.  More runners burst into the room and I joined everyone in clapping.  It was several minutes later before a woman came up and asked if I had handed in my timing chip and given my name to a guy with a board.  I hadn’t and hadn’t realised I needed to do so, so I think my official time is probably a few minutes out.  The provisional results show that I finished at the same time as two other runners (which I didn’t) in 77th place with 29:48:11 for my time.  I would imagine that my time was actually closer to 29:45, but what is three minutes when I know that I made it before cut-off?!  And besides, it will just make it easier to beat my time when it comes to running my next 100 mile race, right?!  😉

100 mile finisher face! (Robin Hood 100)

113 runners started the race, and 79 runners made the finish within cut-off, with a further two runners completing the distance 52 minutes past the 30 allowed hours.

My race absolutely wouldn’t have been the success that it was if it wasn’t for the following people though…
* John and Lynn for agreeing to house Oscar and Dan for the weekend and for filling my belly with pizza the night before the race and cider at the end!
* James for coming out on early morning training runs with me during the few months leading up to the race and then running the dark scary miles from 52-82 with me during the race.  For putting up with my panicking when I totally miscalculated the amount of time I had left at 1am on Sunday morning and for letting me have a little kip on his space blanket when I got tired.
* Guy for crewing me up to mile 82 where he took over from James as pacer and put up with all my shrieks as the stones destroyed the blisters on my feet!
* Helen for organising a superb team of support and for popping up at several of the crew points along the way.
* Grant for his support out on the course.
* Gary for crewing the majority of my race, taking my sock and shoe off to shake the stones out and heading out to buy a much needed Pot Noodle for me mid race. Hopefully I didn’t make too much of a mess in his car!
* Laura for helping crew a large section of the race and for sharing the buggy pushing with Dan at Clumber Park parkrun!
* Kevin and Amanda for running me into the finish despite having run their own 50 mile race on the Saturday, then driving 160 miles up to Nottingham on Saturday night to see me run mine!  For putting up with me when I sobbed that I just wanted to nap and when I had a melt down because Amanda had miscounted the number of bridges to the next checkpoint!
* Dan for putting up with months and months of 5am alarms and numerous evenings when I was out running instead of staying home.  Also for chasing me round the course with Oscar over the weekend.
* Everybody that wished me good luck or gave me advice in the build up to race day. I felt so supported and honoured to have such lovely friends and family who were willing to do so much to help me achieve my goal.  I still cannot get over the fact that so many people went out of their way on so many levels to help ensure I completed my 100 miles.  I am so grateful to all of my friends for their support.

I took nine days off completely after the Robin Hood 100, and did feel a little lost with what to aim for next, although I have started to construct a plan for 2019 this week.  More to follow soon…!

Falling back in love with ultra running

Over the past few months there have been times where I think I’m starting to fall out of love with running.  In the early days, running was such an easy thing to do…throw on some running clothes, lace up my trainers, strap my watch to my wrist and just get out there.  I really never appreciated just how easy running was back then.  Now getting out on a run can become a military operation, planned weeks in advance for a run which might end up being cut short due to lack of sleep (Me) or the spotting of a park on route (Oscar) !

This Saturday, running the South Downs Way 50 reminded me of everything I love about running though, and everything I love about running ultra distances in particular.

I was always going to sign up for the SDW50 this year.  The event had been my main running goal for 2017 – my comeback race from having a baby, booking the race was incentive to return to running and to hopefully feel more like ‘Me’ again once the baby had arrived, rather than just a ‘Mum’.  It worked.  I had a great race last year and, despite having to stop for 25 minutes on route to express(!) I continued to book races into my calendar, including the South Downs Way 100 for this year.

Knowing that the SDW100 was firmly booked in for June, it only made sense to enter the SDW50 again.  Those 50 miles (give or take a couple) are the last 50 miles of the 100 mile race – and miles which I’ll likely be running in darkness next time round.  Having refreshed my memory of the route this weekend I feel confident that I can navigate the miles again in nine weeks time in the dark along with the help of a strong headtorch!

I haven’t really been focusing on the SDW50 this year to be honest.  I’ve actually been a little blase about it all, with my main focus as the 100, closely followed by Milton Keynes Marathon at the start of May where I hope to PB.  I’ve run the 50 before, and know that I can complete the distance.  However, I was a little on edge going in to this event as so many runners from my club of a similar speed to me would also be running the race, with six of them going for the Grand Slam of four Centurion 50 mile events across the year.  Last year I didn’t feel pressured to run at anybody’s pace or to perform a certain way, but this year I worried that I would end up running with one of the other runners from my club or would stress myself into trying to keep up with them.  I’m much slower over road races than all of the others who were there.  Don’t get me wrong – I love chatting to other runners when out on the course, but I hate feeling like I need to keep up with somebody’s pace, or hang back with them when actually that section suits me really well and I can run easily along it.  I race much better when I’m running on my own, even though I always find other runners to chat to along the way.

Friends Kev and Gary were crewing us all and so Kev arrived in his van outside my house to collect me a little before 4:30am on Saturday morning.  I’d set my alarm for 3:30am that morning but definitely hit the snooze button after Oscar decided to wake for a (very unlike him) two hour party at 12:30am.  Tip number one if you’re thinking about running an ultra…don’t live with a toddler!

After picking up another three runners along the way we arrived with the perfect amount of time before the start.  Kit check, numbers on, loo trip, drink, snack, bags on and a walk to the start.

South Downs Way 50 startline

It was lovely to finally meet Lauren properly after having cheering her on at Milton Keynes Marathon a few years back and also to bump into Ally as well, who I also saw at the finish for a chat.  Both ran amazing races in super fast times.  Lauren is also running the 100 later on this year like me and Ally is running the next Centurion 50 mile event in a few week’s time – the North Downs Way.

South Downs Way 50 startline

There was time for a quick photo of our club runners before the off and then followed a gentle jog to the gap in the field, with a bottleneck!South Downs Way 50 WDAC lineup

I felt good from the get go and having started right at the back, the pace was easy.  I didn’t rush to get past anyone, although I saw plenty of others jostling for positions.

South Downs Way 50 starting at the back

(Screenshot of the bottleneck taken from a video shared on the Centurion Facebook group)

About a mile in I started to regret having a peanut butter smothered bagel as a snack less than an hour before the race start.  I had eaten a bowl of porridge with blueberries when I first woke but knew I would need a top-up snack before the run, as I had already been up for so long that morning.  Turns out, a bagel was not the snack I required and I needed a loo stop from early on, on a course when I knew there was barely any course coverage!

Other than the first couple of miles (when everyone was stuck behind other runners along narrow sections anyway), it is fairly easy going until the first checkpoint at mile 11.  My strategy at checkpoints is to grab what food I need, have the lid of my water bottle unscrewed ready for topping up if needed and get in and out as quickly as possible.  Why hang around when you could be moving?!  It wastes time and means you end up getting stiff.  At this first checkpoint I grabbed a couple of grapes and some cheese sandwiches before moving on.  Fruit and cheese sandwiches are always winners for me during an event!  I’d already eaten half of a cocoa orange nakd bar on the way to this checkpoint, and grabbed a carton of chocolate milk out of my bag as I made my way up the hill along the other side of the road.

South Downs Way 50 the first big hillI’m aware that these pictures don’t make the hill look too ‘hilly’, but trust me, it was!  And, just like last year, the photographer was perched up at the top taking photographs!South Downs Way 50 the first big hillAnother runner struck up conversation when he spotted I was wearing the event t-shirt from last year and I ran with him for a few miles until he told me he needed to slow down.
Mile 15 was our first crew ‘checkpoint’ and I felt slightly guilty for not stopping as I waved at Kev and Gary as they stood cheering me by.  I passed two of the runners from my club here as they had stopped to top up on supplies from our crew.  There was just one from my club ahead now, which really surprised me and I knew wouldn’t last.  (Although I later surprised myself by coming in as 3rd runner of our 7).

Not long after this we headed slightly downhill through a small wooded section and I almost ran into the back of another runner who had squatted down on the path to pee!

Checkpoint two at mile 16 was in a slightly different location this year and I walked in, got some Tailwind, watermelon, more cheese sandwiches and made my way back out again in less than 30 seconds.  Smooth going!  I still felt good.

There were a couple of rather steep hills between checkpoints two and three at 26 miles.  There were also several runnable sections too which I made sure to take advantage of.  The course really suits me as it has rolling hills – dictating which sections to walk.  I usually really struggle mentally and also with my consistency over long flat sections, but had no problems with these this time round, which I’m putting down to the large number of miles logged on my treadmill this Winter!

South Downs Way 50

The third checkpoint was where I had stopped to express last year and this year, where I finally spotted a portaloo to use!  I grabbed some chocolate chip cookies, MORE cheese sandwiches and watermelon, Tailwind and topped up my water.  All in all I think I stopped for about 5 minutes here, but it was 5 minutes well spent.

South Downs Way 50

I knew I was having a good race and used the climb following this aid station to check in with Dan.  He hadn’t realised that he could track me online and so I let him know how to do this.  He also let me know that ‘Oscar’ had sent me a good luck video earlier that morning.  I had turned my internet off in order to save battery but after hanging up with Dan I quickly checked WhatsApp to find a lovely little video where Oscar waved madly at me, said “Sit down Mumma!” and then gave the camera a kiss!  It definitely made me smile.

South Downs Way 50

For the next aid station you have to cross over a set of railway tracks.  Oh how I’m going to love all those steps at mile 84 of the 100 mile version of the race(!)  I knew I needed more Tailwind here but couldn’t see any on display so asked one of the volunteers for some.  She told me that I was lucky, and they had just a little left.  Taking a few gulps from my bottle after being topped up I spluttered out that she could definitely make it go further by watering it down more…it was super strong!

I nicknamed the next section ‘Australia’ last year as the views, with the sun disappearing behind the hills reminded me of scenes I’ve only seen in programs about Australia.  This year though, the sun was still high in the sky (albeit hidden behind clouds!)

South Downs Way 50 It also definitely looked less Australia-like this year!South Downs Way 50The last two checkpoints follow in quick succession; starting with a lovely little pitstop in Alfriston at 41.6 miles with indoor seats to perch on for a few minutes.  This checkpoint is quickly followed by the final checkpoint at Jevington just four miles later.  It’s perched high up some steps alongside the road and I felt rather bad that I just called up the hill to thank the volunteers, continuing on my way rather than stopping in, but I didn’t need anything with only four miles to go and thought it better to keep moving at this point.

I strongly made the final climb up to the Trig point and started to make my way along the narrow, slippy path back down towards Eastbourne.  The clouds were threatening to rain at this point, and we’d been very lucky with the weather until now.  I had twice put on my jacket for the odd spitting shower but the temperature was fairly warm, and the rain never really stuck around.  It had made the rocks on this section rather slippery though.  This being the most technical section on the whole course.  My hamstrings had a few spasms along this section and out loud I told my legs they needed to co-operate for just a little longer…pretty please!

In my head I had secretly hoped to run 25 minutes faster than my time last year (12h 06m).  25 minutes was the amount of time I had stopped to express so I thought it was probably fairly achievable for me to gain back those minutes in my finishing time this year.  As I reached the bottom of the hill though and broke into a faster run I realised I would most likely go sub 11h 30m.

Running and maths never work and despite being just two miles from the finish now and having been out on the course for 10h 40m I was convinced I would have to run really fast to go sub 11h 30m.  Mile 48 ticked by starting with a 12:xx and I realised that actually, I should probably be targeting 11:15 instead.

I still felt really good.  No pains, no aches, I’d fuelled well, I was still running!  In fact, other than road crossings and twice when I walked a handful of steps, I ran pretty much the whole of the last two miles, passing several other runners along the way and changing my target at the last minute to 11:10 – coming into the stadium to the most glorious sunset.  It was honestly the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen and I really regret not asking somebody to take a photo of me in front of it after crossing the finish line.  Unfortunately my official finisher photo, despite showing colour, definitely does not do the sky justice as the photographer was using a flash so that I was the focus of the photo.

I could not stop beaming as I ran around the track!  I’d picked the pace up for the track finish, although definitely not enough to be considered a sprint finish!

As I turned the corner at the bottom of the stadium I noticed that opposite the gorgeous sunset, was a gigantic rainbow.  What a lovely finish arch!

South Downs Way 50 finish archI took this shot a few minutes after I finished but I wish I had taken more pictures, and actually of something, rather than just randomly pointing in the direction of the sun!

Looking on the Centurion Running Community Facebook page yesterday, I found these two images which another runner had taken which give a much better impression of the view we finished to…

SDW50 sky pictures

South Downs Way 50 sunset

It tipped it down not long after I finished and I was glad to bump into Nic, who had finished about ten minutes ahead of me and who had the keys to Kev’s van so that I could grab some warm clothes.  I took a quick picture with my medal in the fading light and queued up for my free sausage bap and hot drink, unsure of how long the other 4 runners from my club would take to come in.

South Downs Way 50 medalOfficial time: 11h 7m 22s
Position: 277/353
Gender position: 52/81
Category (senior female) position: 21/35

Turns out I took quite a lot of steps that day(!)

South Downs Way 50 Garmin step count