The East Midlands Grand Prix

The East Midlands Grand Prix is a running series over here in the Midlands consisting of eight short-distance races over the course of nine weeks (there’s a break during the May half term week).  Races are all 10k distance or less (3x 10km, 1x 6mile and 4x 5mile events) and take place on weeknights (usually a Tuesday or Wednesday evening).

Having not really focused on any kind of speedwork since Oscar, and the only tempo-based sessions I’d attempted being the Magic Mile events on the first Saturday of each month, I decided to enter the EMGP series this year to force my legs into remembering how to turn over a little quicker again.

The whole series costs just £53, and I’ve entered twice before; back in 2014 and in 2012.  The fact that the races fall mid-week is great, as it means you can still feel part of the racing game, without having to dedicate a whole day at the weekend to each event.  Races start at 7:45pm, and in the past the mid-week dates have clashed with year 8 parents’ evening.  Also, the first race (Silverstone 10k) has always fallen either just one or two days after I’ve run a marathon, so I’ve given it a miss in the past.  This year, it turns out that as I hadn’t run a particularly strenuous marathon on the last Saturday in April, I didn’t worry too much about trotting round the racetrack at Silverstone for a 10k a couple of days later on the Tuesday evening.

Race #1: Silverstone 10k

For some reason, Silverstone starts 15 minutes earlier than the other seven events, at 7:30pm.  Because it was the first event in the series, it also meant that I needed to arrive in plenty of time, allowing myself to find where I needed to be and to collect my race number for the rest of the series.  I just need to rock up with time to queue for the loo at the rest of the events now!

Although I hadn’t run the Silverstone 10k before, I had run the half marathon there back in 2012.  I hadn’t been running for too long at the time, and I turned up cocky and sure of myself that I was going to run a fast race.  It ended up a ridiculously hot day, I ran the first mile in about 9 minutes.  It felt easy, – I had burnt out and was run-walking by mile 5.  Lesson learnt!  Luckily the race photos from that event have long since come down from the photographer’s website, because there were some particularly rough shots of me sweating my way round the course that year.  I’ve run hilly trail half marathons as fast as I ran the flat Silverstone track in 2012!

My main memories of the half were that it was incredibly dull for somebody not at all interested in cars, and just how long I queued to get out of the car park at the end.  (It took me more than 90 minutes to get out!)  But, with a shorter race distance and much less people running, I assumed that neither would be an issue this time round.

I was a little nervous before the race began.  I wasn’t sure where I should place myself.  I’ve been a year out of the local race scene, so although there were several faces I recognised on the start line, there were also plenty I did not, and I wasn’t sure of my own abilities now having not run a 10k distance hard in a long while.

I settled myself somewhere near to the back, although still far enough forward to soak in a bit of the atmosphere.  There were more than 1000 people at this 10k, – making it the largest in our local area for sure.

Not knowing my current race pace, the plan was to run to heart rate.  Between 165-170bpm – and then to pick things up for the end if I still felt comfortable.  I quickly settled into a pace which displayed in the region of 165-170bpm on my Garmin.  It felt comfortable but at the same time I felt like I was working to be where I was.

Silverstone 10k

I overtook a fair number of people but remained consistent in my pace.  A few people had mentioned to me that I would be able to run with Oscar in the buggy at Silverstone.  Although I was initially tempted, it would have made for a very late bedtime for him, and I kind of wanted to give myself a starting point to progress from at the 10k distance for this year.  The race welcomes buggies and wheelchair competitors, as well as able-bodied runners.  I do feel that the wheelchair competitors should either have a different start time, or a lane solely for their use.  The event is two laps around the famous track to make up the 10k, and as wheelchairs were coming through past other runners they would shout out (for example) “Keep left!” or “On your left!”  It made it very stressful as a runner to know which side they wanted you to be, especially if you had just caught the word ‘left’, as I did a couple of times.  At mile 4, one of the women running just in front of me was knocked into from behind and then struck to the ground as she struggled to move out of the way of a wheelchair in time.  I questioned that she was alright, along with a couple of other people, but she was up and running again within a matter of seconds, despite looking a little shaken.

Silverstone 10k

Ugh.  My form in these pictures is terrible.  Really high shoulders and feet slumping into the ground.  But, I do look happy in these shots at least.  I seem to have learnt that there’s no harm in smiling for the camera!

I kept checking my watch to ensure that I was still within the correct heart rate zone, and had a feeling that my pace would see me achieve a new PB if my watch data matched the distance of the course.

The course measured slightly over distance, at 6.33 miles, (probably due to the wide tarmac surface and repeated turns).  Had I stopped my watch at 6.2 miles exactly, it would have been at 57minutes and 47seconds after the start, which would have been a new PB.

Silverstone 10k

As it was though, I was still more than happy with my time, having not run a 10k for so long.  It will be a great starting point to measure my progress across the series.

Silverstone 10k medal

Official (chip) time: 58:44
Garmin time: 58:56
Position: 955/1219
Gender position: 273/455
Category position: 91/162

I waited until the last of our club runners were over the finish line before turning and heading back to my car for home.  Frustratingly, I then queued for nearly 45 minutes before I was even able to get out of the car park and back onto the road!

Silverstone 10k queuing in the car park

All race photos from Mick Hall.

Race #2: Blisworth 5m

Although I am still on maternity leave (only until Friday! :( ) I agreed to mark six classes of year 11 coursework from home during my leave for some extra pennies.  The deadline for entering marks was last Monday and so the previous week had been spent with very little sleep.  Oscar goes down to bed at 8pm, which would then serve as my start time for marking.  I tried to get 7-8 hours of marking in every night before Oscar woke again at 6am the following morning.
I was not fun to be around that week!

Hence, when Friday night rolled around and I felt completely exhausted and fed up I decided that it would probably be best to give Blisworth a miss, even though the race is one of my favourites.  I undoubtedly would have had a rubbish race, which would have left me in a miserable mood.  So I passed that day, and ticked off some more marking that night instead.
Blisworth 2015 recap

Race #3: Rugby 6m

6 miles is a really random race distance, one I’ve only ever seen as part of the East Midlands Grand Prix series.  I’ve run the Rugby 6 race twice before, and also Bedford 6, another 6 mile race which used to be part of the series a few years ago.

Going by my time for the Silverstone 10k a few weeks earlier, I knew that I should be in with a good chance of beating my 6 mile PB (58m 31s from 2012) last Wednesday evening.  The Rugby 6 is set on a hilly course though.  It starts off on a long, rolling downhill, before several short, sharp uphills appear, the worst of which is a long hill only a mile before the finish.

Once again, I aimed to keep my heartrate at around 170bpm throughout the race, including during the hills.  I’ve fallen into the habit of counting to 100 over and over again during races to keep my mind focused, and it seems to be working and helps to keep the turnover of my feet consistent.

I did find it hard to keep myself from running off at a tougher-than-170bpm pace.  Whenever I try to bring my effort levels back down I always find my form suffers.  I end up putting more emphasis on landing on my feet and my hips then twist out to the side.

Previously there hasn’t really been anyone at the same level as me during targeted club races, – other runners have either been much faster or much slower.  However this year it seems I am the same speed as a couple of the others, and three of us finished the 2017 Rugby race within 18 seconds of each other.

Official time: 56:27
Garmin time: 56:25
Position: 301/319
Gender position: 90/102
Category position: 19/21

A new PB of more than 2 minutes.  I was very chuffed with that!

Rugby 6 2015 recap

This week is the Corby 5 mile race.  I haven’t run this event since 2012, and all I can remember from it is the fact that it finishes on a very steep hill!  Why do race organisers do that?!

Have you taken part in any races where wheelchairs also compete?
What random race distances have you raced?
Any tips on putting in less effort but retaining form?

SDW part 2

This is part 2 of my South Downs Way 50 recap.  You can read the first half of my recap here.

My aim in any ultra is always to keep moving.  It’s one of my strengths.  When others stop to eat or adjust their kit I glide by.  It’s a classic case of the hare and the tortoise.  I may not be quick, but I am fairly consistent, and the key to ultras is consistency and being strategic with your pacing; which hills to walk and at which points to eat, etc.

However, because I have always kept moving throughout races, it came as a real shock to my legs when I asked them to get moving again after my 25 minute long pumping stint at mile 27 of the race!

By mile 29 my right leg had begun to cramp up – something I’d never experienced actually during a run before.  I put it down to a lack of salt intake and having stopped for so long without stretching out.  I immediately moved over to the fence along the side of the track I was running along and stretched out, whilst reaching for some salty pretzels in my bag and vowing to try some Tailwind alongside water at the next checkpoint.  Luckily, this was the only bout of cramp I had and ten minutes later I was back running strongly again.  I actually remember thinking at this point “I’ve only got 21 miles left until the finish now so it’s not too much further.  It’s only a little bit of cramp.  I’ll be fine!”  Good old ultrarunner mentality hey?!

The next few miles were spent constantly overtaking other runners.  I’m guessing I was passing all those people who had overtaken me whilst I was back lying behind a combine harvester! 😀  I chatted to a few runners along the way, and spent a fair amount of time just soaking up the scenery.

The next checkpoint was at 34 miles.  You had to climb a large number of steps up and over the train tracks before climbing back down again on the other side.  Race numbers were noted on the approach, and I can remember being really frustrated that the tables of food and fluid stretched past the turning on the other side of the tracks, so I had to move an extra few hundred metres to top up my bottles with Tailwind and water and collect a scotch egg for munching before heading back on track for the next section of the course.

When I had set off hours earlier I begun by drinking sips evenly from each bottle, to keep my load fairly even on my back.  As the race went on though, I worked out that it made more sense to drink fully from one bottle before moving onto the second, so that if I did not need to top up two bottles, I could just hand over one to be refilled at checkpoints and move on again quickly.

Checkpoint five (41.6 miles) was at Alfriston and in a chapel just off of a tiny side street.  It would have been very easy to miss had it not been for the marshal stood outside directing runners in.  My legs were starting to feel a little weary now and I really didn’t want to stick around for too long, yet at the same time I wanted to hang out for long enough to take plenty of fuel on board.  As I arrived a fabulous marshal brought out a fresh plate of watermelon and when I commented on how delicious and appealing it looked, she piled a plate high for me, bringing it over to the pew I had perched myself on.  Had the pew been slightly wider, I would definitely have laid out at this point for a full stretch.  I really didn’t fancy my chances of getting up off the floor again though, so my stretch had to wait another few hours.

On arriving at the checkpoint I frantically asked the question “How far am I ahead of the cut-off?” to be told that I was a good hour in front of cut-off at this point and had nothing to worry about, which was great to hear!

I was walking the uphills, run/walking the flats and running the downhills where possible (a few were too technical to run).  I know that I can run 50 miles.  I’ve covered that distance before.  It no longer sounds like a long way and I know which strategies work for me over that type of distance (although I have never completed an actual 50 miler before, but I have run further).  My concern was that I would end up timed out due to the amount of time I would need to stop to express on the course so hearing that I was so far ahead of the cut-offs was such a relief.

On the climb out after this checkpoint I started chatting with a guy, Chris, and we ran together for several miles.  I lost him after a while as he was much faster than me along the flat, but I could make up some distance on the downhills and caught him again as we ran back through a wooded area.

I really dislike planning to run ultra or trail events with others, but I do enjoy chatting to people who I find end up running at a similar pace and who I often then end up leap-frogging a large majority of the race with.  Ultra runners are so very friendly, and it’s a great way to learn about other events which you might not have heard about otherwise.  There is no pressure to stick around or keep up if you haven’t agreed to run with these people, so I find the whole experience much more relaxing and enjoyable than when you feel pressured to run at somebody else’s pace because you made an agreement to do so weeks ago.

I rang Dan when I had about 7 miles to go, just to check that he had been getting on OK for his first full day with Oscar and to see if he had been tracking me online.  Things were fine obviously, but it was nice to have a bit of mental time out from the race for a few minutes.

There were some amazing views out on the South Downs, and as the sun started to set the views only got more stunning.  I really wish I could take better landscape photos on my phone, because the photos I did take really did no justice to the scenery we were privileged to see that day.

I was running with Chris again as we headed towards the final checkpoint.  The last checkpoint is less than five miles from the finish and requires you to climb some steep steps up to claim food and drink.  There was somebody out on the road taking our numbers and guiding us in though.  Neither of us needed to top up on anything for the final few miles, so agreed to carry on running along the section of road and give the steps and food station a miss, walking briefly to strap headtorches onto our foreheads as the light had started to fade by this point.  Another chap joined us as we finished our climb up the side of a steep hill that looked as though it would be more at home in Australia than the South of England.  On chatting to him we discovered that he had been the sweeper of the final section the year before so knew where we needed to turn down off for the climb back down into Eastbourne for the final few miles.  Luckily it was well lit anyway and there was somebody up on the ridge directing runners towards the narrow track that led back into the town.  Chris picked up some speed here and the other guy who had joined us held back to chat to the marshal so I was on my own again from then until the finish.

The track was through thick trees and was really very narrow, – to the extent that at some points I questioned whether it was actually a track at all, and considered that I may be better off just heading straight down the side of the hill and picking out my own path rather than struggling to squeeze through bushes and along paths my feet barely fit on.  I knew the last few miles of the race ended in a downhill, and had saved plenty of energy to run these, but they really weren’t very runnable miles at all and I ended up walking/stumbling for the best part of a mile here!

Once I reached the road I switched my headtorch off as I no longer needed it with the streetlights now shining the way for me.  I picked up the pace a little, whilst still keeping things fairly calm as I had no idea just how much further it would be to the finish.  In a short distance race you’ve probably got a fair idea of how much further you need to run judging by your Garmin, but over 50 miles, a few odd steps here and there really mount up and even if your Garmin reads 50 miles, you could still have several miles to go!

SDW50 route

Every time I turned a corner in the road, or crossed at a crossing I thought the finish gantry would be popping up at any minute, but it actually ended up still being a couple of miles away!  Eventually though, I turned into the Sports Park.  I knew that the final 400 metres were run around the track, but I wasn’t sure how to get there and ended up actually asking a marshal as I ran past!  Even then, as I headed towards where I could now see the red track, I was convinced I had to pass through a small turnstile to get there.  It wasn’t until I was almost upon it, that I discovered the side of the track was in fact open.

Immediately upon my feet touching the surface of the track I heard the other three runners from my club cheering me in.  Two of them; Mike and Guy ran across the middle of the track to pace me round to the finish line.  I still had a fair amount of energy in reserve so managed to pick up the pace here to 8mm and Mike exclaimed that he was struggling to keep up with me!  (He must have stiffened up, as he had come in hours earlier in 8h 46m!)

On crossing to a loud cheer I was given my medal and a t-shirt and asked to pose for some photos.

South Downs Way 50 finishers pic12 hours, 06 minutes and 50 seconds, six months after having a baby.  I’m very happy with that!South Downs Way 50 finishers pic

I didn’t realise quite how dirty my arm had been from getting down on the floor of the barn until I saw this photo afterwards!South Downs Way 50 medal

342/364 finishers.
30 runners dropped at checkpoints on the day, and there had been 640 runners initially signed up for the event.

I headed to the changing rooms to swap into some fresh clothes, but stiffened up fairly quickly.  In fact, the guys sent Kev’s sister in to check on me after I still had not emerged 20 minutes later.  Everything was taking so long to do!  I was muddy and grubby and really in need of more than a baby wipe wash!

It was such a satisfying feeling though, and that 100 miler I was talking about before I fell pregnant last year?  It’s definitely back on the cards again now! 😉

Have you run a point-to-point event before?  How did you handle the logistics of it?
Do you stiffen up quickly after a race?

South Downs Way 50 – part 1

My come-back race following pregnancy was a 50 miler.

That may seem daft, but I needed to set myself a real challenge – something that would be achievable if I was determined enough, yet still challenging.

Yeah, I’ve been to parkrun a handful of times since Oscar was born six months ago, and I did run our club trail half marathon back in February.  But running the trail half was just that – a ‘run’, rather than a race and, knowing so many of the other runners and marshals out on the course meant that I didn’t really push myself the way I usually would in a race environment.

I was watching the weather forecast for several days in the build up to Saturday’s 50 miles.  Somehow I always seem to pick marathons and ultras that fall on ridiculously hot days and the 2017 South Downs Way looked like it wasn’t going to be an exception.

I was traveling down with another runner from my club, – Kev – and in order to arrive in time I needed to be out my door and in my car on the way to his house by 4:10am.  I was convinced that Oscar would wake when my alarm rang at 3:40 but he slept soundly through.  Good job actually, as I barely made it round in time as it was.  When I did finally make it into the car, I got 5 minutes up the road before realising that I had forgotten my trainers!  Quick spin of the car and back down the street I went.  Luckily there isn’t too much traffic in our town at 4am on a Saturday morning!

Kev’s sister who lived nearby was going to drop us down to the start and pick us up again at the finish so that we didn’t have to worry about the logistics of returning home from a point-to-point race.  (We all know how well I manage to organise myself for those!)

I’ve run several ultras now but I think this is the only one I have ever been nervous at before the race began.  I wasn’t nervous about the running – more the ‘mumming’ and the fact that I was still breastfeeding, yet spending the best part of a day (ended up being just short of 24 hours!) away from home.  My handheld pump and two large bottles took up a large portion of my ultra bag meaning that there was no room for the leftovers from the standard pre-race takeaway pizza I’d ordered the night before.

Ultimate Direction running bagIt’s taken me several ultras to get my nutrition right (for me) Not being able to take my salty pizza, not having a bag drop on route to leave any chocolate milk, being unable to use any gels (due to breastfeeding) and without a supply of nuun tablets (they no longer stock in the UK) were all factors leaving me in the unknown for Saturday’s event.

We had our kit checked on arrival.  Centurion had opened up registration the night before to ease the load on the registration desks, and it obviously did the trick, as it never felt over-busy at the race HQ.  After carefully packing and repacking my bag numerous times the day before I was dreading have to unpack it all for somebody to check through again, but the lady on registration only wanted to see that I was carrying two headtorches and a base layer in my bag and didn’t look for any of the other kit.  Several of the items I had initially intended on taking with me on the run had ended up getting downgraded to the drop bag which I left for Centurion to transport to the finish once the race had begun.  This included my suncream – after I had coated (or so I thought) my arms, legs and face.

Expressing was done at the last possible moment and took much longer than I initially thought it would, meaning that the majority of other runners had already headed down to the starting field by the time I emerged from the toilet block.  Along with two others from our club, Kev and I listened to the race briefing whilst the sun felt like it burnt through our clothes.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was so warm, – it wasn’t even 9am yet!

South Downs Way 50 start

When the race started I presumed the running field would quickly separate and for runners to be very spaced out as I’ve come to expect from ultras.  This wasn’t the case at all though.  There was a narrow exit to the field, so within minutes we were all walking to avoid bottlenecking, and then the track the exit led out onto was narrow, rutted and stony, – causing runners to stay bunched together.  It was probably a good 18-20 miles before there was ever any stretch of the run where I wasn’t within a couple of minutes of another runner.

As it always does, the first mile went by quickly.  I don’t mean to sound like one of those people, but 50 miles doesn’t sound like a long way now.  Having covered the distance before, I have confidence in being able to complete the distance.  With ultra events it becomes so difficult to compare times as course profiles are so varied, and different weather across different years can play such a big part in how well you do on the day.  It means that I find the pressure is much less than over a fast 5k race.

South Downs Way 50 elevation

I walked the uphills, ran the downhills and ran/walked the flat depending on how technical the track was.  My aim in any ultra is just to keep moving.  Another concern for this time round, as I knew I would need to stop at some point in order to express.

Just before mile 10 I felt my sock rubbing on the heel of my right foot.  At the very last minute, I had decided to run the race in an old pair of road shoes rather than my usual trail shoes.  The thinking behind this was that it hadn’t rained for weeks, so the ground would be hard, and my feet were likely to swell in the heat – with my road shoes offering more comfort and flexibility than the trails do.  I’ve never had an issue with any of my Asics trainers (road or trail) rubbing before, and I think on Saturday the rubbing was probably due to the steep climbs combined with the heat of the day.  When I paused to readjust my sock (initially thinking it had just slipped down below the trainer line) I realised that it had rubbed right through!  The socks I was wearing were fairly thin (so that my feet didn’t sweat too much) and luckily also fairly long, so I folded down the top of the sock over the now-missing sock heel and hoped for the best.  At this point, just over 40 miles still to go did sound like a lot!

In actual fact, the left heel ended up rubbing through entirely as well.  Although I didn’t actually realise this until I made it back to the changing rooms at the end of the race.Holey socks

Kev caught up with me at this point and we ran together for perhaps a mile here before he ran on ahead.  I saw him again leaving the first checkpoint as I arrived but then not again until the finish.

The first checkpoint was at mile 11.  Those first 11 miles flew by, and felt so, so easy.  I knew the first major hill was coming up after that checkpoint.  Initially I had considered stopping to express here, but it was so manic and busy that there was no opportunity for that to happen.  There were people coming in to the checkpoint constantly and it was a flurry of activity.  I snatched a couple of slices of watermelon (so satisfying) and a handful of ready salted crisps to get my salt fix and continued on my way, having to stop for what felt like forever before I was told it was safe enough to cross over the busy main road.  I pulled out the sole mini carton of chocolate milk I’d stashed away in my bag.  I figured it would probably taste pretty horrid later on in the day by the time it had warmed up and so what better time to enjoy it than now?!  I’d already munched through two nakd bars on my way to the first checkpoint.South Downs Way 50 mile 12

There was a photographer nearing the top of the first big climb.

South Downs Way 50 mile 12It was a pretty steep climb – I couldn’t see anyone attempting to run up it although I’m sure some of the front runners must have done!

South Downs Way 50 mile 12

Along the top of this ridge was the only point which I pulled out my phone to take pictures, although I wish I’d taken more on the day.

South Downs Way 50 mile 12You can see how bright the day really was in this photo.  There is literally not a single cloud anywhere in the sky!  I could already feel the tops of my legs starting to burn by now, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.  The following day it was easy to spot areas I had missed when applying the suncream!

As I hadn’t expressed at checkpoint one, I intended on expressing at checkpoint two (16 miles), and then again later on in the race, but when I reached checkpoint two, it was a very small area with nowhere to get out of the way and go unseen, so I just grabbed a couple of scotch eggs and ran on, thinking that surely there would be a wooded area or secluded spot I could stop at before the next checkpoint at mile 26.

Turns out the South Downs are the most open area of land I have ever come across.  There was nothing but track, grass and the odd gorse bush for miles and miles.  Apart from dozens of families out for a day in the sun that is.  Families who probably wouldn’t appreciate if I sat on the side of the track with a breast pump in hand!

I chatted to several other runners along the way – something I love about the more relaxed nature of trail/ultra running that you just don’t get in road races.  At one point I shouted a runner back from up ahead as he had sped off down the wrong track.  Probably saved him a few miles!

Mile 27 ticked over on my watch before I turned in for checkpoint number three.  This one was held in a barn, and I think I rather surprised the sole female marshal I could find when I stated that I was still breastfeeding, and would really appreciate if I could nip behind the combine harvester in the barn out of the way to express!  Luckily this was fine, and so I grabbed a couple of ham wraps and my recently filled water bottles and lowered myself to the dusty ground behind the machinery.  I quickly called Dan here whilst I expressed to see how he had been getting on with Oscar and to let him know that I was doing fine – much better than expected in fact and I still felt super strong.  Dan told me that he had dressed Oscar suitably for the day and sent a picture.

Oscar in his Ultra runner in training vestWith expressing and repacking my bag again afterwards I was in the back of the barn for a total of 25 minutes.  It felt like forever, and my legs agreed when I tried to get up.  I never sit down in races, especially not for that long!  One leg began to cramp, and then the other one joined in as I writhed to the opposite side.  Not an enjoyable experience!  I lay back down and fully stretched before using the combine harvester to pull myself up.  Oh, so classy!

Mile splits (up to mile 27): 12:38, 14:06, 11:03, 11:18, 12:16, 15:11, 10:48, 11:06, 10:47, 12:09, 10:29, 15:35, 17:49, 12:46, 12:38, 14:46, 10:32, 18:57, 13:18, 16:44, 14:40, 14:22, 13:59, 14:31, 13:05, 11:05, 15:23

…I had intended on writing this recap in just one post, but as I’m at a 2000 word count already, with still so much to say, why break a tradition?!  I’ll split this post into two!…

Tenth time lucky – the day I went sub 5

On Sunday I ran my tenth marathon.

Despite telling others that I had booked a tenth marathon there weren’t very many people that knew I was actually running it last weekend.  Dan, My Mum and one friend from running club.  I’d only booked the race eleven days earlier, after finishing at Mablethorpe Marathon a couple of minutes outside of my goal.

After Mablethorpe I immediately began hunting to see if a race fitted in during the four week gap I had before I attempted Dusk ’til Dawn at the end of the month.  I had done a lot of training for Mablethorpe and didn’t want to see it go to waste.  After some extensive searching, I established that Chelmsford marathon fell on the middle weekend between the two pre-planned races and that there were still places available for the day.  I immediately entered, before I could change my mind.  There were a couple of times over the past fortnight when I doubted my impromptu decision and wasn’t sure I really wanted to run another marathon again so soon, but generally I knew that I was capable of the distance and that I would make it round, adding to my number of marathons run whether I PBd on the day or not.  At least this time, nobody had any expectations of me as they didn’t know I was due to run it!

Dan initially wasn’t going to come along, as Wolves (the football team) were playing on TV that day.  He changed his mind though and drove me over on race morning.  I left plenty of time before the race started which was lucky, as the main car park that we had been told to park in was not yet open.  We quickly established where the next nearest car parks were and parked up before navigating our way to the ‘race hub’ (finish line) where there were several stalls being set up and a long row of portaloos.

After a visit to the loo we began the walk to the race start which was about ten minutes away.  We were some of the first people to arrive at the start.  It was rather chilly at 8am and I was glad Dan had travelled up with me so that I could wear my hoodie and t-shirt over my race vest until the very last minute!

Chelmsford marathon 2015

I kept to roughly the same plan as Mablethorpe – try to keep between 10:45-10:52mm pace for the first 10 miles, then 15, then play it by ear from there.  This time also keeping an eye on my heart rate, as I remembered to take my heart rate monitor out of my bag!  We had been told beforehand that the race would be starting in four waves at 9am, of which I would be in wave three.  I see waves as being separate starts, similar to at Milton Keynes Marathon earlier this year, when the gun went every minute, to allow the front runners to get a little space out on the course before the masses followed.  However, this didn’t seem to be the case as we all seemed to start together at Chelmsford.

Chelmsford marathon 2015Not sure what I was doing in the background here, but I seemed to get in quite a few photographs with other runners on the start line!

The first mile obviously flew by.  I find it always does in any distance race!
What I didn’t mention on the blog was that last Sunday at the Tring trail race I had felt like I needed to click my hip at the start of the race.  But then the race started and I couldn’t get in the right position and move forward at the same time, so I just ran anyway, without clicking it.  By the end of the race my left hip/leg felt a little numb and after standing around waiting for the rest of the runners from our club to come in I found it rather uncomfortable (and slow!) to walk back to where the car was parked.  It did loosen up after five minutes or so of walking, but my hip played a part in keeping me away from my trainers on the Monday and Tuesday of last week.  Wednesday came and I laced up my trainers for a 7.8 mile trail run with the club.  My hip felt rather uncomfortable but I was never in any pain, otherwise I would have stopped and reassessed my goals.
I ran just one easy mile on Saturday to loosen my legs up, and my hip was not an issue.
One mile into the race on Sunday though, and I was aware that my hip was going to be an issue!

For a few miles I actually begun to think about the possibility of having to drop out of the race altogether.  Although never painful, the first few miles felt a little uncomfortable and the top area of my leg began to feel numb.  I noticed it most on sharp turns to the left where I felt a little off-balance.  I was undecided as to what I should do.  The first three miles had contained several twists and turns out along a housing estate and then the route turned back into the town centre where I heard Dan shout my name.  I looked up, smiled and waved and knew I would be carrying on.

Chelmsford marathon 2015I decided to ignore the discomfort and hope it went away.  Probably not the best decision in the majority of cases, and I can’t say that the discomfort ever went away, but when I thought less about it, I felt it less and that worked for me!

Chelmsford marathon 2015

Mile 1: 10:38
Mile 2: 
10:47
Mile 3: 10:43

After speaking to a friend about nutrition following Mablethorpe I decided that I probably don’t take enough on board fuel-wise during road marathons.  I’ve tweaked my ultra nutrition to perfection over the past couple of years and have no issues gulping back chocolate milk and downing pizza whilst out on an ultra, but when it comes to a road marathon – where the aim is to run the whole way, I’ve been a little less enthusiastic about carrying round my sandwiches and wolfing real food down!  In the past I have tended to take two gels along with me on marathon day, having one about 6-7 miles into the marathon and then carrying the other right through to the finish with me, never taking it.  At Mablethorpe I did use both gels – I had a third of one each at miles 3,6 and 9.  Then a third of the other one at miles 12, 15 and 18.  I established that a third of a gel every three miles was probably not enough though and when I stocked up on sweets at mile 24 they gave me an almost instant boost to make it through to the finish, indicating that my normal intake had not been enough.  At Mablethorpe I also spoke to another runner from the club about gels.  She said that she had used to just take two, but now often she would use 5 or 6 as she felt that she needed more.

Last weekend at the Tring 15k, I had tested out a new-to-me gel.  The salted caramel Gu.  It was amazing.  It was so strong in flavour and actually tasty with it that I bought a box load which arrived during the week.  For the Chelmsford marathon I packed five.  Two in the back pocket of my shorts and I gripped onto another three tightly in my right hand.  Water stations were to be at miles 3,6,9,13,16,19,23 and 26 (not sure why there was a need for a water station at mile 26?!) so I decided to take a gel each at miles 6,9,19 and 23.  I would also split a gel between mile 13 and mile 16.  I managed to keep roughly to this plan, although didn’t take my last gel, but half a peanut bar that was on offer at the checkpoint instead.

Mile 4: 10:41
Mile 5:
10:54
Mile 6:
10:54

At mile 6 a 100 marathon club runner trotted alongside me and started a conversation.  As I always do when running alongside runners from the 100 marathon club I asked how many marathons he had run (over 400)  He then went on to tell me that his fastest one had been run 11 years ago at the age of 64 and he completed it in a staggering 3h 9m!  Amazing!  As we chatted about his races, the two ladies infront turned around and joined in.  The pace had picked up a little too much for my liking, so I let the three of them continue the conversation as they glided on ahead, although by mile 10 I had overtaken all three and did not see them again.

The course was a lovely one.  It was nice and ‘undulating’ – the definition runners use for a course which is not pancake flat!  I much prefer an undulating course to a flat one as it breaks things up a bit!

Chelmsford Marathon undulationAfter the first three miles of heading out of the town and coming back past the start again we headed along a tarmacked track along fields out into the countryside and then along some quiet country lanes.

The marshals were superb the entire race and so cheery and helpful at every checkpoint.

Mile 7: 10:50
Mile 8: 10:43
Mile 9: 10:47
Mile 10: 10:47
Mile 11: 11:14

I had a slight wobble at mile 11 (only for a few seconds!) when I realised how slow my mile had been compared to all of my others.  This mile had contained the first proper hill that dragged though and I was yet to slow to a walk.  I let it pass, although still had no idea how I was going to feel in the later stages of the race.

Mile 12: 10:57
Mile 13:
10:41
Mile 14: 11:00
Mile 15: 11:19
Mile 16: 12:03

Mile 16 contained a proper ‘steep’ climb and I decided to use the climb to have my gel, take on some more fluid and save my energy by walking the short distance, before running again once I reached the top.

Mile 17: 11:07
Mile 18:
11:32
Mile 19: 11:27

Chelmsford marathon 2015

Dan had planned on getting out on the course to see me at around mile 19.  I had roughly worked out that he needed to be there by 12:30 to ensure that he had time to park up, get organised and make sure he was out on the course to see me as I came by.  As I approached the mile 19 marker I suddenly realised that there was a good chance I would miss him.  I passed through at 12:25 and hoped that he wouldn’t arrive just after I had, only to stand around worrying that I hadn’t yet come through!  Luckily, he popped out just before me round the next corner and ran alongside me for a few hundred steps whilst I reapplied Vaseline under my arms so that my vest no longer rubbed.  I told him that my hip had gone, but that I was running strong and was well on target for a sub 5 marathon by this point, although didn’t want to jinx things!

Chelmsford marathon 2015I was passing a lot of other runners by this point.  So many of them were walking.  I was terrified of burning out and with a few steady inclines coming up I made the decision to power walk any of the tougher hills to try and prevent this from happening and run the rest of the course.  This was a big decision to make, as I was worried that if I scaled things back a little my hip would go completely and I wouldn’t be able to break back into a run.  I didn’t feel tired, my legs weren’t aching like they had done at Mablethorpe and I wasn’t feeling hungry or weak by this point.  By mile 19-20 though I was so close to a sub 5 marathon, and having already had several failed attempts at achieving my goal, decided I would be happy with coming in at a more conservative, but stronger time, still remaining at a sub 5.

Mile 20: 11:41
Mile 21: 11:59
Mile 22: 11:26
Mile 23: 11:57

There was supposed to be a water station at mile 23 but it never came.  Halfway to mile 24 was a lone marshal, who luckily let me nab one of the water bottles she held as I was feeling rather thirsty by this point again.

Mile 24: 11:57
Mile 25: 12:44

It didn’t feel as though I had slowed down this much, but I obviously had.  I think once you walk one time, you either end up walking loads or can’t judge your pace properly afterwards!

Mile 26: 11:47

As I neared the park containing the finish I looked up to catch sight of the 26 mile marker.  I instantly picked up my pace and automatically beamed, realising that my calculations were in fact correct and that I was going to finally PB at the marathon distance, my mad grin seemed to amuse a couple of people walking past me in the other direction.  As I turned into the finish funnel I picked the pace up, which the supporters either side of the finish seemed to enjoy, as I got a loud cheer for my final 200 metres!

Chelmsford marathon 2015I couldn’t see Dan, although he managed to take several pictures of me here.

Chelmsford marathon 2015

 

All I could do was grin more than I have ever grinned before!

Chelmsford marathon 2015(First race photo I’ve ever bought!)  The rest of my race photos can be found here.

Nubbin: 10:19mm

Chelmsford marathon finish photoPB achieved.  Sub 5 achieved.  Comfortable race achieved.

Chip time: 4:54:08
Gun time:
4:55:18
Position: 486/592

I know it’s not speedy compared to many people, and I’m sure that I am capable of much faster, but on Sunday I was so happy to cross the line with that time!  :)