The London Marathon Expo 2019

Child care arranged, train tickets booked (not by me – I would have messed that up!), passport tucked safely into my bag, along with purse for essential pre-marathon purchases and an extra battery pack for my phone (to ensure my phone lasted long enough to take plenty of running related selfies).

Marathon expo time!!!

London Marathon expo

I picked Anne-Marie up at 9am and we made our way to Bedford train station.  Anne-Marie and I met sometime last year through the Run Mummy Run Facebook group.  Another Mum had asked for route inspiration around the town I lived in.  At the time I was struggling to make run club nights and was really missing what had been regular running out with friends so thought it would be nice to get to know some more people I could potentially head out on a run with in the area.  I offered to lead a few runs from that initial post, and before long, a group chat had been created between 8 of us and we headed out on a number of 3-4 mile evening chatty runs.  Anne-Marie also had a place for London this year and only lived up the road from me so we’ve met up for runs a few more times and decided to head down to the expo together today.  Between the two of us we figured we should be able to work out the train connections and arrive at the expo without too much hassle!

Good job we left at 9am for a 10:20 train leaving 20 miles away though…it took us about 40 minutes to find somewhere to park before a mad rush across to the station!

Three train changes later and a number of people who looked like runners stalked in order to find the correct platforms on our way to the Excel, we finally made it, making our way through the entrance as THE London Marathon theme tune was played.

Next hurdle – ensuring we lined up in the correct lines for our race numbers.  I was also collecting for another runner at my running club who couldn’t make it down to London before the race, so was hoping he had left me with everything required to entrust me with his race pack (and then praying I wouldn’t do something stupid like leave it on the train seat on the way home!  (I didn’t!)

Run LDN sign at the London Marathon expo

Numbers and chips collected – time to roam the expo!  I was hoping to listen to Mo’s talk on stage and also the Barbara’s Revolutionaries later on in the day, but unfortunately due to train timetables and having a curfew to be back for (childcare issues!) it wasn’t to be.  However, I did bump into Adam Woodyatt (Ian from EastEnders) whilst queuing to pay for a tube of Body Glide.  I asked him if I could be that annoying person who asked for a selfie, to which he told me that when he last ran the London Marathon he took over 1000 selfies with other runners during the 26.2 miles!

At the London Marathon Expo with Adam Woodyatt

After an unfortunate incident whereby I picked up a really old (pre-pregnancy days) Gu gel to take out on my 16 miler a couple of weeks back, I also made sure to stock up on enough tasty (in date) Salted Caramel gels ready for Sunday.  I won’t be making that mistake again.  I’m sure I can still taste that foul gone-off gel even now!

High on the priority list for the day was also to exchange my Cancer Research UK running vest for something which fitted a little better.  Initially CRUK had sent me out a Large women’s vest.  However, it dug in under my arms and looked ridiculous.  There was no way I would have been able to wear it without a lot of bleeding during the race and then swearing in the post-marathon shower.  A few weeks back I rang and asked if there were any other sizes available.  Apparently there was…if I was willing to wear a men’s Large vest.  I was.  Leaving everything to the last minute (as ever!) I decided to pop on my new male running vest to head out for 8 sunny miles last Saturday morning.  It felt great.  Rather baggy (particularly under the arms) but the vest seemed OK to run in, and I was assured by my friend Steph that it didn’t look particularly out of place.  I had planned to run 8-9 miles with Steph first thing in the morning, followed by a quick drive over to Kettering with Dan and Oscar for parkrun to top up my mileage for the day.  The second I climbed into the car after my run though my body started to cool and I could feel the beads of sweat dripping onto the areas rubbed raw under my left arm where the too-large vest had rubbed.

Kettering parkrun with Dan, Oscar and the buggy(Photo taken by Jon Woods at Kettering parkrun.)

Five days later and the marks are still visible!  The guys on the Cancer Research stand were great.  Really helpful, and I am now the owner of a Women’s XL t-shirt.  I’ll test it out in the morning, so that I have plenty of time to run, sweat and wash before Sunday!  The guys on the stand also filled my bag with temporary tattoos, foam boards, badges and signs to hold up.

Mary Pearson on the Cancer Research UK stand at the London Marathon Expo

We did manage to catch the end of Martin Yelling on the Main Stage before heading back home again.  I’ve been binge listening to the Marathon Talk podcast on my nightshifts just lately.  I’m pretty sure I hear his voice in my sleep right now!

Martin Yelling at the London Marathon 2019

This is the medal I’ll be making my way to the finish for on Sunday…

London Marathon medal 2019

Fundraising progress – I’m a smidge under £2000 now (the minimum target I was asked to raise by CRUK in exchange for my marathon place).  All being well I should hit this target by Friday as I’m spending the day at ASDA in Rushden, rattling my charity bucket and raffling off a £50 photoshoot voucher for a local photographer.  The target I set myself to raise for CRUK by the end of the year is £3000, and I will continue working towards this target until I reach it.
{Shameless plug for my donation page here}  (Thank you so much to all who have already donated.)
I’m also offering anybody who donates before the marathon on Sunday the chance to win a pass for two to West Lodge Farm Park.  (Just add ‘West Lodge Raffle Tickets’ in the comment section of your donation and for every £1 you donate you will have an extra chance in the raffle!)

I say that I should hit the target ‘all being well’ because Oscar currently has what we believe to be Slapped Cheek.  He is covered in a nasty red rash – lumps and bumps all over his little body!  The nursery he goes to have asked me to get the doctor to confirm Slapped Cheek before dropping him off for his regular nursery session on Friday, as it could also be a number of other things which might be contagious, or harmful to the member of staff working at the nursery who is currently pregnant.  He seems OK in himself, he just has this awful rash all over his body, which (if it is SC) could take 3-4 weeks to fade!  Hopefully it’s nothing serious.  He’s still adamant that he’ll be the one pinning my number on at the weekend anyway!

Oscar wearing my London Marathon number

For anybody who fancies tracking me on Sunday, my number is 51911.  I have no idea how I’ll do.  My speedwork sessions began with 8mm pace at the start of the year with the intention of dipping under 4h 30m at London.  I’ve still regularly ran 5-6 days each week but the sessions haven’t been as quality as I would have liked over the past couple of months.  After getting attacked back in February, I really struggled to get out for runs on my own again for a long while and although I tried to run on the treadmill to begin with, I really struggled with the speedwork sessions and long runs as I find I change my stride too much when restricted to the movement of the treadmill.  I also took a hit with flu for a couple of weeks, am undergoing tests at hospital right now and was diagnosed with anaemia a few weeks back, so my training cycle definitely hasn’t been as planned.  But when does a training cycle go to plan?!!!  What will be will be on the day.  I’d still like to think I can achieve a marathon PB (4h 54m 08s).  But, with the marathon, anything can happen on the day!  Watch this space!!!

My race number for London Marathon 2019

A long blogging hiatus as it’s been an incredibly busy few months.  But I’m hopefully back again now and on it.  Although I’ve possibly regained my momentum a little too late for the London I wanted to enjoy this year, I am finally coming out of the funk I’ve been in and ready to fill my days with lots of long Summer runs again!

Countdown to London Marathon

Are you heading to the London Marathon expo this year?
Have you ever had/heard of Slapped Cheek?
Are you as navigationally challenged as me?!

Christmas running

The week before Christmas is when I really start to feel Christmassy.  The cross-country series my running club runs in holds it’s final cross-country race of the year the week before Christmas, and my club always organises a Christmas Eve run around our local country park, finishing with hot drinks and sausage rolls at the cafe.

Everybody gets into the Christmas spirit at the Letchworth cross-country race.  Santa hats, tinsel and then Christmas themed sandwiches and cake at the finish (think ham and mustard, turkey and stuffing, brie and cranberry…!)

After a disappointing first two events of the series where I walked on numerous occasions and didn’t run the races I had hoped, I decided to wear my heart rate monitor for this event and to stick to a very reserved 165bpm over the cross-country course in order to remain consistent during my run.  No walking would be a success!

We set off and I managed a strong start as we first ran a lap of the field passing our supporting club members and out at the end onto the farmyard tracks.  I was ahead of runners I knew would probably overtake as we continued.  Several runners from my club went on to overtake me around the 1 mile mark on the course.

As we turned a narrow corner, we passed a chap playing Christmas songs on a brass horn of some sort which picked everybody up ready for hill we knew would soon be coming up.

The course heads out along farmyard tracks.  You run a lollipop shape around a couple of fields and then head back down the lollipop stick again the way the course first headed out.  The front runners always turn back onto the stick of the lollipop just as I’m about to leave it and so I like cheering other club members on here.  It was nice to see a couple of our runners in the top 10 as they turned back for the finish.

There’s only really one hill on the course (it’s on the stick so you run it twice), but I focused on trusting my heart rate monitor, overtaking several runners who had resorted to walking both times we made the climb.

I felt rather lumbery in style, but satisfied that I was getting the job done without giving in and walking the hills or with crazy varied paces over the 5.5 mile distance.

There’s a horrible short, sharp bank to climb with quarter of a mile to go.  Luckily there’s usually a marshal on hand to help haul you up, and I took advantage of the hoist out of the hole this year!

Quick smile and a wave to our two photographers on course…

Letchworth Three Counties Cross Country - Standalone Farm Letchworth Three Counties Cross Country - Standalone FarmI managed a little kick at the finish and still felt comfortable at the end, so my mission to race smart was successful.

Christmas cookie

Position: 332/400
Gender position: 107/161
Age category position: 13/16

First Christmassy run done, onto the next with parkrun the following weekend.

I headed to Kettering parkrun for my final parkrun before Christmas.  Although initially unsure how busy it would be (Kettering were holding a pacing event on the 22nd) it didn’t actually feel too busy when we were running around.  The initial plan had been for me to run with Oscar in the buggy and for Dan to use a pacer to attempt a new PB, but after loudly banging piles of shoes around downstairs for twenty minutes Dan came to the realisation that he had left his running trainers at work the previous day so would not be able to join in with a parkrun that morning.  Following our frantic search for his shoes, it left me with just enough time to jump into the car and make it to the start line in time for the start of the briefing.

So instead Oscar stayed at home with Dan and I jogged around the course with Laura, who I hadn’t run with in a little while so we had a catch up and an easy run round.

Laura and I at the Kettering Christmas parkrunI have this massive fear that one day on the Kettering course I’m going to slip and fall over on the boardwalk and then slide out under the barriers and into the water below!  Hopefully this won’t ever become a reality!

Official time: 31:46
Position: 269/432
Gender position: 75/187
Category position: 5/16

The club Christmas Eve run was different this year.  A couple of friends I normally run with couldn’t make it this year and I had worked a night shift on the Sunday (the night before), so rushed home at the end of my shift to sneak a quick hour of sleep in before heading over for the run.  I then ended up arriving late and missing the start anyway.

I had a lovely run with a friend and her husband who I managed to catch sight of as Dan dropped me off at the park, but I missed the annual pre-run photo and missed seeing a lot of people before they left for Christmas which was a shame.

Dan met us at the end of the run and Oscar was in a foul mood after a poor night of sleep.  It had taken Dan the length of my entire run to get Oscar to walk not quite as far as the cafe entrance and then we had a battle to get him into his car seat for home again afterwards.  It took approximately half an hour to convince him to stay in his car seat long enough to be buckled in for the journey home!  Not a battle we had planned on facing on Christmas Eve morning!

So frustratingly, the parkrun Dan and I had planned to attend on Christmas Day (Sheringham) had been cancelled a few days earlier.  National Trust had decided that due to the heavy rainfall in the area that week, they wanted to give the ground a little time to recover between runs.  The Sheringham event is fairly close to where my Dad lives…ten minutes away.  (Why oh why was parkrun not a thing when I lived at home?!)  The next nearest event that was being held on Christmas Day was in Norwich, nearly an hour’s drive from my Dad’s house and in the complete opposite direction to where my Aunt lives (Kings Lynn) who we had promised to pick up mid-morning and bring back to my Dad’s for lunch.  So a Christmas Day parkrun was sadly off the cards this year.

Did you take part in any Christmassy runs this year?
Does your parkrun ever get cancelled due to the weather?
Any tips for reasoning with a stroppy two year old to convince them to get into their car seat?!  Haha!

Another Gower marathon weekend away

Every year my running club go to Wales for a long weekend in three beautiful cottages along the Gower coast with the intention of running the EnduranceLife Coastal Trail Series races held in November.

The trip has been taking place for the last seven years.  I made my first appearance with the group back in 2014.  You can read about my previous Gower adventures in these recaps… >> 2014 recap * 2015 recap * (Oscar was only a few weeks old in 2016 so I didn’t go that year) * 2017 recap

The trip spans from the Friday afternoon through until Monday lunchtime, with car loads of runners arriving throughout the Friday and leaving across Sunday and Monday.  As Oscar attends nursery on Fridays and Dan was able to take Monday off from work I was able to spend the whole four days hanging out with friends and as much as I missed Oscar and Dan whilst I was away, it was so lovely to get away and just have a complete break with a bunch of like-minded people.

The trip down was fairly fast this year.  It had started to rain as we reached the border to Wales (standard Welsh weather!) and was absolutely tipping it down by the time we were headed off to the pub for our Friday night meal and so, so windy.  We could barely hear each other talk on the walk down and I instantly regretted bothering to straighten my hair when it became a knotty mess by the time I reached the pub!

Drinking in the pub at GowerNobody stayed up too late on the Friday night.  This year the course for the race had changed.  Essentially, it was the same route for us marathoners, but starting and finishing at a different point in the course (about where mile 20 would usually fall, along the final beach).  I’ve never run the half marathon route before but I’m told that this had totally changed this year.  The half marathoners had to register at the finish the same as us, but were then bussed back to start in a different location.
We’ve been used to our cottages being within walking distance of the finish line in previous years and all the runners stumbling back at different times at the end of their races.  We thought that perhaps this year, with us all having to hang on to the end and then fighting out for hot showers at the same time might prove rather tricky but luckily it didn’t end up too bad.

What I didn’t plan on was waking up at 4:30am on race day with incredibly bad period cramps and a killer headache.  Oh great, thanks for that body!

I jumped into the van with a bunch of others from our club and we set off to the start line, about 10 miles away.

Gower marathon start beachThe sun was only just beginning to surface and there were deep puddles across the car park from the rain the previous day.  The beach itself was tough to move across and my back was killing already!  I’m sure I was a delight to be around!

Gower marathon start beachI was livid to discover there was no Clif bar in my starter pack!  The price of the race had gone up by £10 this year (to £60) and we didn’t even get a Clif bar at the start, just a Tribe bar.  I was gutted.  It was really turning out to not be my day!Tribe bar at EnduranceLife Gower marathonThere was even a Clif banner just outside the registration tent to rub it in a little more!

Clif Bar banner at EnduranceLife Gower marathonAfter taking a quick photo by the starting flags we raced back to the van for half an hour as the rain began to come again, and hard!

Gower marathon start beachLuckily it had slowed somewhat by the time we needed to emerge from our cars and so we sheltered in the tent until we were summoned for the start.

Gower marathon start beachFull wet weather gear required!

Five of us set off as a group at the back.  A few miles in we saw a teenager come off a quad bike out on the track.  He spun to a stop and flipped right off the top.  Seemed OK though.  Got up and sped back off again.  We started chatting to another runner, who I later came across on Instagram when scrolling the #gowermarathon hashtag.


View this post on Instagram

Gower marathon report part 2 – After getting through the dunes it was a climb up onto the hills and a wonderful walk along the ridge. These wonderful people kept me going up as we played cat and mouse all the way up although eventually 2 of them did over take, never to be seen again. Once i got to the top and was running to the top I realised I was actually really enjoying myself, i did not think this would happen. We finally made it to check point one. The first of 4 to be ticked off. My timing was a bit slow but it was down hill from here to check point 2. The sun was shinning what could possibly go wrong 💪💪💪 . . #marathon #marathontraining #trustthetraining #trusttheprocess #womenwhorun #runningcommunity #runningclub #racereport #thisgirlcan #thisgirlcanrun #thisisstrong #youmatter #selflove #strongisnotasize #believe #rainyraceday #imasurvivor

A post shared by Eleanor 🇬🇧 (@iron_woman98) on

Not long after that first checkpoint I carried on along with Guy (who went on to sped off up ahead), leaving the others to run at their pace, knowing that I would get cold if I didn’t continue to move a little faster.

It wasn’t long before I came across another runner who I fell instep with for several miles.  We ran across the long beach together, overshooting the cut through as the marshals had left up the half marathon route directions for further along the beach.

EnduranceLife Gower marathon beach

I always find beach running hard.  Not only is it tough going underfoot, but it’s mentally tough for the scenery to be exactly the same stretching off into the distance.  It did feel much easier going round the course in this direction on the beaches though for some reason, despite the wind being against us for most of the way.

There was another checkpoint just after the beach.  I didn’t need to take anything on board so just checked in and carried on, losing the runner I had spent the last few miles with as he topped up on fluids and snacks here.

The hill after this was the toughest of all.  It used to fall about 6 miles into the original marathon course (in the other direction) and was always the trickiest part to navigate down.  There is a spring which appears in the middle of this hill, making the going underfoot very slippy as a lot of the ground is covered in small rocks which I struggle to get any grip on.  One of our runners has been down on his bum every year he’s entered this race and I’ve been very close each time!

EnduranceLife Gower marathonThis year though, we were to make our way up the hill instead, along the already-worn muddy track.

EnduranceLife Gower marathonIt’s really quite steep in places and it was raining again by now.

EnduranceLife Gower marathonIt’s always worse if you stop – it makes it so hard to get going again afterwards!

After the tough hill came the slippery mud.  Glad I was wearing an old pair of trail shoes!

Mud at Every year my running club go to Gower for a long weekend in three beautiful cottages along the Gower coast with the intention of running the EnduranceLife Coastal Trail Series races held each November.  One of the runners from our club has been organising the trip to Wales for the last seven years now.  I made my first appearance with the group back in 2014.  You can read about my previous Gower adventures in these recaps... >> 2014 recap * 2015 recap * (Oscar was only a few weeks old in 2016 so I didn't go that year) * 2017 recap  The trip spans from the Friday afternoon through until Monday lunchtime, with car loads of runners arriving throughout the Friday and leaving across Sunday and Monday.  As Oscar attends nursery on Fridays and Dan was able to take Monday off from work I was able to spend the whole four days hanging out with my friends and as much as I missed Oscar and Dan whilst I was away, it was so lovely to get away and just have a complete break with a bunch of like-minded people.  It had started to rain as we reached the border to Wales (standard Welsh weather!) and was absolutely tipping it down by the time we were headed off to the pub for our Friday night meal and so, so windy.  We could barely hear each other talk on the walk down and I instantly regretted bothering to straighten my hair when it became a knotty mess on arrival at the pub!  Drinking in the pub at GowerNobody stayed up too late on the Friday night.  This year the course had changed.  Essentially, it was the same route for us marathoners, but starting and finishing at a different point in the course (about where mile 20 would usually fall, on the final beach).  I've never run the half marathon route before but I'm told this had totally changed this year.  The half marathoners had to register at the finish, but were then bussed back to start in a different location.  We've been used to our cottages being within walking distance of the finish line in previous years and everybody stumbling back at different times at the end of their races.  We thought that perhaps this year, with us all having to hang on to the end and then fighting out for hot showers at the same time might prove rather tricky!  What I didn't plan on was waking up at 4:30am on race day with incredibly bad period cramps and a killer headache.  Oh great, thanks for that body!  I jumped into the van with a bunch of others from our club and we set off to the start line, about 10 miles away.  Gower marathon start beachThe sun was only just beginning to surface and there were deep puddles across the car park from the rain the previous day.  The beach itself was tough moving on and my back was killing already!  Gower marathon start beachI was livid to discover there was no Clif bar in my starter pack!  The price of the race had gone up by £10 this year (to £60) and we didn't even get a Clif bar at the start, just a Tribe bar.  I was gutted.  It was really turning out to not be my day!Tribe bar at EnduranceLife Gower marathonThey even had a Clif banner just outside to rub it in a little more!  Clif Bar banner at EnduranceLife Gower marathonAfter taking a quick photo by the starting flags we raced back to the van for half an hour as the rain began to come again, and hard!  Gower marathon start beachLuckily it had slowed somewhat by the time we emerged for the end of the briefing and to shelter in the tent until we were summoned for the start.  Gower marathon start beachFull wet weather gear required!  We set off as a group from the back - five of us.  A few miles in we saw a teenager come off a quad bike out on the track.  He spun to a stop and flipped right off the top.  Seemed OK though.  Got up and sped back off again.  We started chatting to another runner, who I later came across on Instagram when scrolling the #gowermarathon hashtag.         View this post on Instagram  Gower marathon report part 2 - After getting through the dunes it was a climb up onto the hills and a wonderful walk along the ridge. These wonderful people kept me going up as we played cat and mouse all the way up although eventually 2 of them did over take, never to be seen again. Once i got to the top and was running to the top I realised I was actually really enjoying myself, i did not think this would happen. We finally made it to check point one. The first of 4 to be ticked off. My timing was a bit slow but it was down hill from here to check point 2. The sun was shinning what could possibly go wrong 💪💪💪 . . #marathon #marathontraining #trustthetraining #trusttheprocess #womenwhorun #runningcommunity #runningclub #racereport #thisgirlcan #thisgirlcanrun #thisisstrong #youmatter #selflove #strongisnotasize #believe #rainyraceday #imasurvivor  A post shared by Eleanor 🇬🇧 (@iron_woman98) on Nov 11, 2018 at 5:03am PST  Not long after that first checkpoint I carried on along with Guy, leaving the others to run at their pace, knowing that I would get cold if I didn't continue to move.  It wasn't long before I came across another runner who I fell instep with for several miles.  We ran across the long beach together, overshooting the cut through as the marshals had left up the half marathon route directions further along the beach.  EnduranceLife Gower marathon beach  I always find beach running hard.  Not only is it tough going underfoot, but it's mentally tough for the scenery to be exactly the same stretching off into the distance.  It did feel much easier going round the course in this direction on the beaches though for some reason, despite the wind being against us for most of the way.  There was another checkpoint just after the beach.  I didn't need to take anything on board so just checked in and carried on, losing the runner I had spent the last few miles with as he topped up on fluids and snacks here.  The next hill was the toughest of all.  It used to fall about 6 miles into the original marathon course (in the other direction) and was always the trickiest part to navigate down.  There is a spring which appears in the middle of this hill, making the going underfoot very slippy as a lot of the ground is covered in small rocks with little to get any grip on.  One of our runners has been down on his bum every year he's entered this race and I've been very close each time!  EnduranceLife Gower marathonThis year though, we were to make our way up the hill instead, along the already-worn muddy track.  EnduranceLife Gower marathonIt's really quite steep in places and it was raining again by now.  EnduranceLife Gower marathon

I did fall on one steep downhill that was covered in mud like this.  I didn’t fall hard – more just slipped onto my knee on one side.  It didn’t bother me at the time.  I was just glad that nobody had seen me!

The steps on the course were much tougher going in this direction and they were at 26.5 miles rather than at mile 20!

The steps at EnduranceLife Gower marathonBecause so many runners had already been over them they were slippy and muddy.  The leaves on top made them even worse.

One mile to go sign at the EnduranceLife Gower MarathonAlways the best sign in a race!

One mile to go sign at the EnduranceLife Gower Marathon

Heading back down the steps on the other side was just a mudslide!  Somehow I made it without injury.  A couple of our club members went down on the steep steps though.IMG_20181110_161109The finish was a little confusing.  I ran along the seafront past all my club mates who had already finished and were stood waiting to organise lifts back, then turned up and had to run up the bank of sand through the finish, over really choppy footprints that had been left by all the other runners.  It was really hard to stay upright!

Upon finishing another guy from our club pointed out that my knee looked really swollen and collared the paramedic on duty to take a look.  I hopped up onto the massage table and luckily he said that it would just result in some bruising by the look of it, I hadn’t done any serious damage.  He sent me off with an ice pack, still annoyed that not only had there been no Clif bar at the start, but there was also no Builder’s bar at the end!  Those two bars are by far my favourites and I really was gutted that neither of them were at the race!

The finish at EnduranceLife Gower marathon

Total distance: 27.8 miles
Official time: 7h 18m 57s
Position: 104/119
Gender position: 19/26

Our last runners came through just in time, – the heavens opened as we leapt into the waiting cars to head back to the cottages.

Once showered and changed, we headed back to the pub for dinner, and then returned to the cottages to celebrate with an alcoholic beverage or two!

EnduranceLife Gower marathon medalThe next morning we made our usual walk down to the beach as a group.  There was a rainbow so close we thought we’d be able to stand at the bottom underneath it.  It looked like it touched down on the beach right in front of us!

Rainbow at Gower beachSarah ran to try and stand in the colours, but it had disappeared by the time she got there.  :(

After a quick milkshake in the cafe, those people working the next day had to head off and so the remaining few of us decided to walk across the land to Worm’s Head – an island for all but a few hours of each day.

Worm's Head adventureI walked across with a friend in 2015 but the others I was with this year had never been.

Worm's Head adventureLast time I went I somehow managed to make it all the way across in Converse, but I made sure to take an old pair of trainers this time!

There were loads of seals out sunbathing along one part of the rocks.

Seals at Worm's HeadWe ended up only going part way across, with some of the guys not wanting to tackle the tricky terrain further up.  But it was still a really lovely morning.  Then, back to the pub once more for lunch!

It was much quieter on the third night, with most runners having left during the day.  I stayed up late to finish watching The Haunting of Hill House.  Sooooo good.  I really want to watch it again and try and pick up on all the little titbits throughout the story now that I know how it ends.

I’m always sad to leave Gower.  For a few days it’s nice to get away from reality and feel like I can take a proper break from everything.  The signal isn’t great over there, so it is like living in a little mini bubble for the weekend.

Have you watched The Haunting of Hill House?
Have you seen seals at the beach before?
Does your club organise an annual race away?

The 3CXC league: the first two events

Our club competes in the Three Counties Cross Country series each season and it’s one of the groups of races I absolutely love.  Cross-country, being off-road and running over challenging terrain is very much my thing.

The first two events have been tough ones though, in more ways than one.

I ran the Dunstable race last year, but never posted a recap.  I had travelled back from Norfolk to Northamptonshire for the race the night before, receiving a phone call on the return journey from Dan to say that his Nan had just died back in Wolverhampton.  Dan had spent the day visiting his Nan who had suffered from a heart attack a few days earlier.  I had been unable to head to Wolverhampton along with Oscar as my Mum had been gradually getting weaker and weaker all week, having not spoken since several days before.  Her eyes had been closed all day on that Saturday, but I stayed alongside her, watching Oscar coasting around the hospital bed that had been placed in my parents’ lounge for her to rest in.

The next morning Dan took care of Oscar while I got myself ready to head to the cross-country event.  It’s the event in the Three Counties Cross-Country league that is the furthest away and so I travelled down with a friend to the start.  The race was a tough one.  A bottle-neck start and a tough climb in the final mile.  But, I enjoyed the race.  We finished, headed back for rolls and cake, talked race tactics and tried to work out who would score for our club that season.

On arriving back at the car I checked my phone to find a missed call from my Dad and also one from Dan.

My Mum had died as I stood on the start line to that race waiting for the gun to go and I hadn’t even known.  Not that there was anything I could have done of course.  I rang Dan first.  My Dad had already told him the news and Dan had begun to pack a bag for both Oscar and I.  I don’t think I even showered when I arrived back home from the muddy race.  Just checked Dan’s packing, threw in a few more bits, tucked Oscar into his car seat with a blanket and cup and set off for Norfolk.  When I arrived my Dad asked me if I would make those horrible phone calls.  We’d already prepared for this day and made a list a few weeks earlier so that we were sure not to miss anybody out when it happened.  Most people kept the phone conversation short and sweet, perhaps aware that it wasn’t the time to offer small talk or keep me on the phone for long.  There were a few who made the task unknowingly harder; breaking down on the phone or keeping me on the phone without any pause for conversation back.  It wasn’t the nicest job I’ve had to do as an adult.

Because I’d not written about the race last year I think I had almost pushed the full memories of that day out of my mind until I typed the postcode into my phone the other week and watched the map scan across to the race HQ, ready to give directions for the drive.  I felt anxious for the whole journey.  More so when on my arrival I was directed to the very same parking spot we had been in last year.
That’s where the similarities ended though and I quickly made my way to the start to surround myself with other club runners, not that there were many out for the first event of the series which was a shame.

Due to the large volume of runners expected at the first race, the organisers had made the decision to reverse the course this year, meaning that Heartbreak Hill would come very early on into the race.  It was a tough hill to climb, but at least I didn’t succumb to a walk this time round!

Heartbreak Hill on the Dunstable 3CXC course(This photo gives you a little idea how tough Heartbreak Hill was!)Dunstable 3CXC courseIt was tough going to start with – very crowded along the narrow track heading away from the start line and it was impossible to find your place in the race.  Eventually though, the path widened and the pack started to thin out as everyone fell into their own running rhythm.

Somehow, the reverse course was so much harder than it had been the previous year.  I didn’t walk Heartbreak Hill, but there was an incredibly long, drawn-out hill in the final mile that from talking to faster friends after the race, I found out even they walked parts of!

Dunstable 3CXC courseUgh.  I hate this photo of me.  I look like I have lost all tone that I gained from training for the 100.  If anything is an incentive to up my fitness game, this is it.  So, I’m keeping it real and will leave this picture up on here.  Just let it be known, it’s not my favourite!

It was a tough course.

Position: 403/483 (Fairly happy with this.  I’m usually much nearer to the back!)
Gender position: 402/481
Age category position: 13/17

I had thought that the Dunstable event was tough, but that did not prepare me for running our home cross country event!  I haven’t had a chance to run it since 2015, when I was at my fittest, and boy did it show how much fitness I’d lost running the course again this year! The day before the event, our club heard the devastating news that we had lost one of our members.  He had suffered a cardiac arrest whilst out on the Wednesday night trail run and despite the best efforts of other runners, ambulance crew and hospital staff, that Saturday morning he died.  I wrote a little bit about it on Instagram last week.

 

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

 

He was the first non family member to visit following Oscar’s birth and brought with him the most thoughtful gift in a baby vest, emblazed with ‘WDAC’. He said that he was sure Oscar would soon be whizzing round parkrun and would need a vest of his own to wear to represent the club. – I would never have gotten as far as 78 miles in June at my first 100 mile attempt had it not been for the fantastic crew that I had behind me on race day. It was a really hot day and all I really wanted was cold fruit out on the course. I’m pretty sure the fruit he handed me was actually a selection of what he had brought for his own lunch. – Three months later at the 100 mile event I did complete, once again, a lot is owed to my crew and pacers on the day, selflessly giving up their weekend to help me achieve the goal that meant so much to me. He acted as both crew and pacer that weekend, running me the final 20 miles to the finish line of my biggest achievement to date. Listening to me whinge about blisters on my feet and telling me tales-keeping me motivated for the hours it took to complete those final miles. – Yesterday, our club wore black ribbons as a way of paying our respects to Guy, one of our own who suffered a cardiac arrest out on a club trail run on Wednesday night and very sadly passed away on Saturday morning. Other clubs honoured the minute silence we held at the start of our home cross-country race. – Our club is very much a second family for so many and it was so touching to see old members and those who weren’t running the race still turn out to show their support. ❤️ He was one of the good ones and will be missed. – #WDAC #runningcommunity #runningfamily #3CXC #threecountiesXC

 

A post shared by Mary (@ahealthiermoo) on

The night before our home race I laid out pins, scissors and ribbon on our kitchen table, and along with two other club members we folded together 120 black ribbons for runners, marshals and club supporters to wear the following day, wherever our club members may be racing.

I had offered to help hand out race numbers to members before the cross-country race and so now also handed out black ribbons for them to wear.  I handed them out to previous club members, those from other clubs who had run with Guy in the past and made themselves known to me, and friends.  It was really hard.

The minute’s silence at the start of the race was fitting.  We’d published information that it would take place on our club social media the day before in the hope that it would be heard over the pre-race chat.

The race started and we shot off across Croyland Park towards the first set of hills.  The far side of the park has loads of small up and down sections.  Great, I would imagine if you were ten years old and out on your bike, but pretty energy sapping when you were running the whole section twice during a cross-country race.

I had my first little walk at mile 2.  I felt like a total failure!

Wellingborough 3CXC raceThe best part about running a home course is all of the fantastic support on offer.

Wellingborough 3CXC race

The number of brook crossings had reduced from four to two since the last time I ran the course.  I’d been told by my friend who was Race Director for the day that the race inspector had not been happy with the size of the crossing, but I wasn’t sure if it had changed or not.  The day before apparently they had been out to widen the crossing point and had added a dam in order to ensure the water was deep!

In actual fact, the crossings weren’t that bad.  It wasn’t too slippy getting into or out of them.  The crossing was too wide to jump all the way across, instead, a gradual slope down the bank to a ridge, enabling you to jump into the water below.  Much less daunting than when I ran it previously.

Wellingborough 3CXC raceIt wasn’t as cold as I was expecting either.  At it’s deepest the water came up to about my knee.

Wellingborough 3CXC raceWellingborough 3CXC raceNot everybody managed to stay upright during the crossing…!

Wellingborough 3CXC raceThere were a couple more sneaky walks as I entered the other side of the park.  I was feeling proper fed up with my body by now and vowed to take some trips over to Croyland park in the near future to train on the hilly ground.

Wellingborough 3CXC raceThe far side of the field was very open (with very little chance for unseen walking breaks…I got spotted and shouted at once!)  I was glad to see the brook crossing in my sights once more, knowing that there wouldn’t be too much longer before we reached the finish now.Wellingborough 3CXC raceI really powered down the final hill, not letting anybody come past on my way to the finish.  Strava says my last bit of mile was run at 7:30mm pace.  I just wanted to be done!

I was the last runner to finish for our club, but did still manage to push the scores down for some of the other teams, so at least my run still counted for something.

Position: 341/404
Gender position: 108/158
Age category position: 17/23

Although I had a shocking race, my positions at our home event weren’t too far off those from the first event, so I would assume that most others found the course as challenging as I did which was some sort of comfort.

Three more races to go!  One more before Christmas and two in the New Year.  Here’s hoping I’m a little stronger by the time they roll around!

Have you seen race photos and just thought ‘Ugh!’
Are you taking part in cross-country this year?