A rocky build up to the Autumn 100

I first heard of the Centurion Running Autumn 100 mile race back in 2016.  I was several months pregnant at the time and helping on one of the checkpoints along the South Downs Way 100.  If you are thinking about getting into long distance running I would 100% recommend going along to a few ultra events as a volunteer before taking the plunge and running one yourself.  You learn so much from talking to other runners at events, and by volunteering you get to see an event works from both sides of the table.  In 2016 I already considered myself an ultra runner, having run a number of ultramarathons by this point, including two 70 mile events.  But I had not yet attempted the elusive 100 mile distance and this fact was beginning to become a little niggle I couldn’t quiet every time I spoke to someone about my running adventures.

That day in 2016 I was the only volunteer at the checkpoint who had not already gotten a 100 mile event under their belt and so I made the most of quizzing the other volunteers whilst we set up the food station.  All of them had previously run the Autumn 100 and spoke highly of the event and the organisation of it.  The Autumn 100 is designed as a ‘crosshair’ course.  There is a central checkpoint and four 12.5 mile (ish) tracks head out from this checkpoint in each direction.  You run out to the furthest point of each spoke and then return to base camp before heading out along the next spoke.  This setup appealed to me as I wouldn’t need to rely too much on a team of crew out on the course.  I’m very independent when it comes to running and usually prefer to race alone.

The following year I focused on a strong return to running following my pregnancy, and I went on to beat many of my race times from before having had Oscar.  Although having a baby leaves you with very little time for sleep or training, it somehow toughens you up.  The training you do take part in is much more worthwhile – you need to make every run count!  And you become able to push through barriers that once seemed much harder than they originally did once you have a baby in tow!

By 2018 I knew I was ready to tackle my first 100 miler and so signed up to run the South Downs Way 100.  I’d run the 50 mile version of the event twice before; once in 2017 when Oscar was just six months old and again in 2018 – taking more than an hour from my time (although to be fair, I didn’t have to stop on route with a breast pump at that second race!)

It wasn’t meant to be on the day of the SDW100 and I ended up retiring after 78 miles.  Allowing myself a few weeks of recovery I soon picked up training again to give the 100 mile distance another shot at the Robin Hood 100 in September.  Oscar would nearly be two by this point and I hoped feeding would have much less of an impact.  (It did.  I was no longer breast feeding by then.)  The Robin Hood 100 was the first 100 mile event I completed and I was so happy and proud to cross that finish line in September 2018.  However, despite having told Dan that I only ever wanted to run one 100 mile race, just to tick it off the bucketlist…I already knew I would be back and vowed to strip some time from my 29:48:11.

100 mile Hobo Pace Robin Hood 100 medal

I had a rough 2019, suffering through two miscarriages and knew that I needed to focus on me for a little while before trying again for any more children.  Putting all of my focus into training for a long distance event gave me a sense of purpose and enjoyment and so, remembering the volunteers at SDW100 back in 2016 I decided to sign up to the Autumn 100 in October of 2020.

Training began in the January.  I was at running club during the week, fully involved with the parkrun community on a Saturday morning and running long with friends at a weekend.  I was really enjoying my running again.  I enjoyed discovering new routes, getting lost along muddy footpaths, testing out all the snacks and even climbing over all those stiles along the way!

January, February, March…they all went well.  My endurance improved, my speed improved and I even set a new half marathon PB at the Stafford Half in March.  But that’s when the world began to change.  Talk of a new virus which had come over from China had begun to sweep the country by this point and as I stood on the start line at Stafford that morning back in March I nervously looked around me to see runners trying to get a little more space around them, glancing up at anyone who coughed.  Other races had been cancelled for that day and the Stafford Half Marathon Facebook page was filled with messages from runners saying that they would not be taking part.  It was the last time I raced before the country was thrown into Lockdown and all that followed.

Within days I had gone from working a regular job at a local race company, having a secure seasonal job for an exam board and several freelance projects lined up for local small businesses to having no work at all.  I’d only left my job at Tesco at the start of the year in order to focus more on working at the race company and following other freelance projects, but I gave my manager a call and he instantly offered me my old job back on as many nights as I wanted.  I took four nights to begin with but then often also worked a fifth when staffing levels were short.  The start of 2020 had seemed so promising – I had a new job doing something I loved, worked normal daytime hours, we were going to up Oscar’s nursery days from one full day to one full day and two half days in preparation for school the following year.  I would have a lot more free time…  Then all of a sudden I found myself back working nights, – more nights than before, and keeping an incredibly active toddler entertained during the days.  There was also that stupid exercise rule where you were only allowed to leave the house once per day for exercise.  My mileage dropped from 50 miles per week to one run each week if I was lucky.  I was exhausted all of the time and in order to stay awake during the day I needed to get outside and let Oscar burn some energy off!  If I didn’t use my exercise allowance to take him outside he would not have gotten out.  Things were so hard.  Made even worse by the fact that as a normally very social person I was now also unable to see friends or family.  My Dad lives alone 100 miles away from us.  Since my Mum died I don’t think I’d been longer than 2-3 weeks without seeing him.  Times were tough.  I believe though, that however tough working nights whilst having a toddler during the day was, it gave me a sense of purpose and a reason to keep going.  I had no time to stop and think.  I just had to keep doing.  For a while I gave up on any sense of training when it came to running.  I just couldn’t realistically run more than 15-20 miles in the week.  There wasn’t the time.

But then things did begin to get easier.  Lockdown lifted slightly before the Summer began and the very first weekend we were allowed to travel and stay over elsewhere we made our way down to stay in Norfolk with my Dad.  The lighter nights gave me hope and as the restrictions lifted and races began to go ahead once again I knew I needed to make a decision about Autumn 100.

I’d entered the Stour Valley Path 50k which was due to take place at the start of August and when it was announced that this was definitely still going to go ahead I decided to throw every spare moment I had back into running again.  Even though my running had seriously lacked in mileage during lockdown, I had begun to really focus on my core work following the Joe Wicks plan during this time.  As a result I’d lost a fair bit of weight (unintentionally) but was also so much stronger which made it easy for me to quickly get back to where I had been running-wise.

SVP50

From the moment I decided to train properly for the 100 I made a real go of it.  Running club returned in the September and nursery started up again, allowing me to catch up on some of that much-needed sleep I’d missed out on over recent months.  I handed my notice in to finish a few weeks before race day and drew up a training plan for the following three months.  Mondays would be a rest day, or a jog down with the running buggy to collect Oscar from nursery.  Tuesdays I’d run for a few hours in the morning and then another hour at running club in the evening.  Wednesdays would be another double run day.  Thursdays – as a Tuesday.  Friday I’d run whatever I’d felt like as I would be one or two days into my night shift pattern by then.  Weekends would depend how tired I was but I would usually try to get a mid-length run in during one of the afternoons.  The bulk of my runs were run during the week over 3-4 days, but I made it work for me.  My step count was never under 15,000 steps as my job was fairly manual each evening – lugging heavy cages around the store each night and shifting boxes up onto high shelves.  I like to think that by working night shifts it helped me to understand just how well my body could function on certain amounts of sleep.

Race week rolled round.  My race number didn’t arrive until 3pm on the Friday the day before the race.  A cause of anxiety I did not need!

Race number for Autumn 100

Dan had been ill since the Wednesday and by Friday afternoon my head began to feel fuzzy and my eyes felt itchy.  I hadn’t slept properly for days – a combination of Dan being restless and poorly and me being up in the night with Oscar.  I demolished my usual pre-race half a large vegetarian Dominos pizza and was tucked up in bed by 9pm, terrified that I would wake up feeling worse and fail the temperature-gun check the following morning.  Luckily the full night of sleep left me feeling well-rested and raring to go.

Kit list for the Autumn 100 mile ultramarathon

We’d prepared everything the evening before and loaded the car as soon as the alarm rang out the following morning.  Last to be loaded was a very sleepy Oscar – still wrapped up in his pyjamas for the ride down to the start line.  Dan had offered to drive down so I left my contacts out and attempted to doze on the drive down, but it wasn’t really happening.  In the end I just shut my eyes and reassured myself with the thought that at least by staying still and quiet I wasn’t expending any of the energy I would need for later on that day!

We had been told to work out our own starting window based on predicted finishing times.  With a 4:39 marathon PB I was due to make my way to the start between 8-8:30am, and so planned to kick things off as close to 8am as possible.  Dan and Oscar weren’t allowed to join me either to check in my kit or to see me off at the start line.  So they walked me down as close as they could to the hall and we stopped to take a few pictures.

Autumn 100 pre start Autumn 100 pre start with Osc

And then I was on my own.  I’m not very good at adulting and hoped I would make it from the hall where I had left my drop bag to the start line without any problems!  Luckily the start line wasn’t too far away and I could see another runner heading in that direction not too far ahead of me.

Autumn 100 walking to the startI stopped to take a few pictures from the bridge.  Goring is so pretty.

GoringAs soon as I turned back to the road again I realised that the man I had been following had completely disappeared!  Luckily I spotted the Centurion sign tied to a post and headed in the direction of where I could now see James Elson stood with a temperature gun.  Once we had been temperature checked we could make our way down to the start line about 30 metres further onto the track and begin our race.  The chap I had been following had already been gunned without problem and stood to the side fiddling with something on his bag.  As soon as the gun had beeped to say that I would be allowed to start the event (huge sigh of relief!) I just wanted to be off, and I had to really resist jogging to get to that start line!

Part two to follow over the next few days…

 

Less than four weeks to go and a possible parkrun return

It’s just 26 days now until the Autumn 100.  Another 10 days or so before I start to taper.

I’ve decided on my strategy for race day – a run/walk strategy, something I’ve not purposefully used before, but something I’ve heard and seen nothing but good words about.  I’m planning on starting the race with a 13 minute run, 2 minute walk technique.  Holding onto this as long as possible, then dropping down to a 12/3, 11/4, 10/5 as necessary.  I’ve spoken to lots of people over the past few weeks about how they chose their run/walk distance/times and I think that sticking to a 15 minute block will work well for me – I don’t want to be working out mileage or random minutes when I’m 23 hours into a race, whereas four blocks across the hour should be relatively easy to keep track of.

I’ve practised 13/2 a few times now and have found that it really helps me to keep my focus when running long runs alone.  Hopefully this will remain the case come race day.  I’ve been out for a couple of two hour blocks and my overall pace (including both the running and walking sections) has remained below 11 minute miles, so I will need to be aware of slowing the running sections down slightly come race day!

Testing out a run-walk technique

Dan is going to drive me down the morning of the race and then come back and collect me the following day, keeping an eye on the tracker to work out my rough finishing time.

No crew are allowed at Autumn 100.  This isn’t a Covid-thing, but an event thing.  Apparently no crew were allowed at last year’s event either.  Pacers are also only allowed for the last 25 miles, so from miles 75-100.  I will not be having a pacer this year.  I think I would benefit most from having a pacer during the night – so at mile 50, the point pacers are usually allowed to join on a 100 miler.  But that’s not allowed.  After getting attacked last year I’m not the most keen on running alone in the dark, but I’m just going to have to man up, get my head down and run like crazy until morning!  It’s one night.  I’m sure I’ll be fine.

I managed 51.7 training miles last week, including two complete rest days:
* MON – 3.4 mile buggy run for the nursery pickup (half with a three stone toddler, half without!)
* TUES – 4 mile easy run (AM) and 6.1 mile club run (PM)
* WED – 5.4 mile chatty run with Dan
* THURS – 11.1 miles testing out the run/walk (AM) and 5.5 mile club run (PM) which ended up being a speed session in places as I had to take a much faster group than usual out
* SUN – 5.2 mile chatty run with Dan and Oscar (in the buggy) down to the park for a picnic breakfast, immediately followed by an 11 mile run/walk (13/2)

I’m hoping for similar mileage again this week, although spread out a little more evenly this time!

Oscar is definitely too big for the buggy now – and it’s also incredibly tough going on us having to push him – especially when we reach a hill!

Oscar is too big for the buggy now

We’ve run down to Stanwick Lakes for a pancake breakfast a few times now though and I’ll be sad when we really cannot squeeze him in for the ride anymore!  Parks were just too busy for comfort over the Summer holiday, but completely empty first thing in the morning.  As long as the pancakes were cooked and we managed to get out first thing, then there is plenty of time for a run down to the playpark, to demolish the pancakes and a good couple of hours of playing before things get too busy!

Pancake breakfast Oscar eating pancakes for breakfast

One of the biggest stressors for me this week has been the possible return of parkrun.  On Monday afternoon our team at Irchester Country parkrun received an email stating that parkrun intended to return before the end of October.  I really miss my weekly parkrun – we’ve now actually had more weeks away from parkrun than at our event, since starting up last November – and totally agree that there are a whole host of mental health and physical benefits to those who take part or volunteer.  Personally though, I felt that the timeframe to return was too short, and with restrictions still in place regarding gatherings of people I didn’t understand how parkrun could return;
a) When not everybody brings along a barcode, so not all runners are known (for tracking and tracing purposes).
b) Taking the temperatures of 500+ runners at every event each week would be impossible.
c) By announcing that Wales and Scotland would not be returning in October, adding immense pressure to events bordering the country line.
d) By relying on landowners giving permission for the events to take place.  Again, if a landowner refused, parkrunners from that event would descend on other local events, increasing numbers further.
e) Without a chip timed start, it would be bedlam on the start line with no social distancing – 2 metres apart?  Some events would see the first runners finishing before all had crossed the start line if that was the case, and runners would be adding 10/15 minutes to their overall time!
f) Asking for enough volunteers each week to put themselves forward in roles such as barcode scanning and finish tokens – where they would come into contact with every single runner at the event.

Personally, I still feel uncomfortable walking around a supermarket, never mind being crammed into a starting pen, coughed on and jostling for a place out on the course.

The following day it was announced that Government restrictions were changing – groups of no more than 6 people were to be together, either inside or outside.  I relaxed slightly, assuming that parkrun’s statement would be retracted.  Only it wasn’t.  It was then clarified that this new limit didn’t apply to parkrun – that parkrun would be allowed to go ahead.

And that’s when I began to get abuse.  How was I allowed to start up parkrun again when groups of friends were no longer allowed to meet up together for a run?  Obviously not my decision, but people were clearly feeling frustrated and angry about their time being directed for them by the Government once again.  I went to bed on Thursday evening feeling very sad and unhappy over the amount of angry messages I had received, simply because I volunteer my time as Co-Event Director at a parkrun event.

Luckily(?!) on Friday, the situation was eased for us when Public Health Northamptonshire issued a statement to all parkrun EDs in the county saying that they would not be sanctioning the return of parkrun at the end of October.  I felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders!  I would absolutely love to see parkrun return, but when it is safe to do so.  I feel that setting a date 5 weeks away with the current rise in cases, and with children returning to school was reckless.  As much as I would have loved to have run a parkrun on my birthday at the end of October and for Oscar to start joining in once he turns four in a few weeks time, I believe that we shouldn’t be looking at a return until at least 2021 now, however sad that may be.

Do you intend to run/volunteer at parkrun next month?  How do you feel about parkrun returning at this point?
Have you tried a run/walk technique during a race before?  How did it go?

What it’s like to run the London Marathon for a charity

I always said that I would never run the London Marathon for charity. That putting so much time and effort into marathon training is tough enough without also having to raise thousands of pounds.

Once, when I was about 7-8 I decided that I was going to raise money for Children in Need by getting up early and biking into school. My primary school was only about 4 miles away by car, but along a very busy A-road that my Mum wouldn’t let me bike along.  Instead she allowed me to bike along the backroads to reach my destination, adding a further few miles to the journey.  In the weeks leading up to the day I made sure to head out on lots of bike rides and thought hard about what to wear to keep warm during the cold morning and (the all important) snack choice for my journey.
The day arrived, and I jumped up to the sound of alarm, throwing on my school bag and eagerly jumping on my bike out of the shed.  My Mum followed behind me the whole way in the car and then took my bike back home again once we arrived at school, letting me know how proud she was of me.  I felt super invigorated and alive to have gotten out of bed so early in the morning and to have made my own way to school that day.  I made my way to my assembly with a big smile on my face.  It was only as I returned to my classroom after assembly when the school receptionist pulled me aside and told me that my Mum had slipped a tenner into the charity pot on the front desk for me biking into school that morning that I realised I had been so busy concentrating on the logistics of biking into school that I realised I had never stopped to think just how I would raise money from doing so!

Luckily, my fundraising skills seem to have improved somewhat since those days!

I really wanted to spend some time this year raising funds for Cancer Research UK.  I know most blog readers already know my back story, but for those who don’t, my Mum was diagnosed with Terminal Cancer a few years ago.  She was tough.  She fought hard and made sure she was around for my wedding day the following year.  She battled through several batches of chemo, and even helped me fundraise for MacMillan by selling cakes in Holt town centre.

MacMillan Cake stall - Me and MumThen, in 2014 and 2016 we ran the Cancer Research UK Race for Life 5k event at Holkham Hall together to raise more funds.

Houghton Hall Race4LifeMy Mum lost her Cancer battle at the end of 2017, and then in the following year we lost a further four members of our family to cancer.  Cancer has not been kind to us the past few years at all.

Risk of Cancer

I decided to apply for a Cancer Research place for London 2019 and when I was offered my place I threw myself into training and fundraising.  Juggling everything (alongside five part time jobs and a toddler) has been incredibly challenging over the past few months, but I wouldn’t change a thing.  If I was going to be running the marathon in memory of my Mum, I was going to do the absolute best job I could on the day and I wanted to raise as much money as possible in the process.

I am obviously no stranger to running long distances.  London Marathon was my 17th marathon, and I’ve run much further in the past.  This meant that I didn’t feel comfortable asking people to sponsor me to run 26.2 miles.  I knew I had to either a) host some events to give people something in return for their money, b) put in some long hours myself in return for the money or c) both of the above.

I had been asked to raise a minimum of £2000 for Cancer Research UK, although I really wanted to raise £3000+.

I got in touch with Ronnie Staton to see if he would be interested in speaking to help me raise funds for the charity.  Luckily for me and the runners who came along, he was!

What an inspiration and all-round legend!
Ronnie provided a dynamic and inspiring talk to a room full of runners eager to hear all about his previous adventures.  When you hear Ronnie, it is obvious not only how incredibly passionate about running he really is, but also just how much he wants others to reach their full potential and to find events and challenges that excite them!
We repeatedly laughed out loud as Ronnie shared his tales in an entertaining manner.
Despite all his accomplishments, Ronnie was very genuine and down-to-earth, happy to answer all questions thrown at him by the audience, as well as on a one-to-one basis.  A large number of guests came to thank me for organising the evening at the end, – all inspired, and many of them already beginning to reconsider their Acceptable Reasons of Failure for future challenges!
Ronnie‘s commitment to help me raise money was fantastic despite suffering a stroke between the point of organising the talk and the evening the talk took place. In Ronnie‘s words “As long as I’m still breathing I will 100% still be there!”
Ronnie Staton event

I charged £10 per ticket, using Ticket Source for ticket purchases and there was a great turn out on the night.  I was also so touched and thankful for all those who donated raffle prizes for the evening, especially those who couldn’t make the event themselves.

Ronnie Staton event raffle prizes

 

One of the items we raffled off was this amazing Cancer Research cake by Emma’s Sweet Treats.

Cancer Research UK cakeWish I’d taken a better photograph of it.  I’m not even sure who won it on the night.  It looked amazing though!

In total we raised £842.73 from the ticket sales and raffle and it was by far the best money maker of my fundraising attempts.

As well as the evening with Ronnie Staton I also sat in three different supermarket entrances in the months leading up to the London Marathon with my charity fundraising bucket.

These were long days (usually starting by 7am) and staying sat in the same spot until late.  I found them hard.  I was fundraising on my own, although at two of the stores I had friends pop in to stay with me for a couple of hours during my stint which was really appreciated.  The first store I visited in my hometown placed me in the foyer opposite the Mother’s Day flowers and Mother’s Day card stand.  Mother’s Day was only two days away so that was hard going and a little emotional.  Having groups of people writing in cards about how great their Mum was on the table next to me was tough.  I was very thankful when a friend arrived to help out and provide conversation to fill the quiet times in my mind.  This was the store where I raised the most money though, at nearly £300.

Fundraising for Cancer Research UK at the Co-op

I found the second store the easiest.  I had decided to travel back to North Norfolk and visit the supermarket in Holt I had worked in during my college days.  Mum had also worked there during the years my brother and I still lived at home.  Despite there being many new faces in store, there were still plenty of faces I recognised (both staff and customers!) even though I had moved out of my parents’ home back in 2004.  My table was placed by the checkouts and customers and staff kept coming over for a chat and a catch-up which was nice.  I was so saddened to hear that a 24 year old employee of the store had died from cancer a few months earlier though.

Fundraising for Cancer Research UK at Budgens

My final store was fairly local to where I currently live.  This was the hardest.  It was the Friday before the marathon and so friends weren’t around to pop in and keep me company.  I arrived and was told I would have to wait an hour and a half until receiving a table or chair, as the staff on the shop floor didn’t have a set of keys to access the offices upstairs.  I ended up laying out my items on a stack of compost bags.  The first lady that came to visit me to donate change in her purse made me cry.  I’d had an early start that morning and the lack of sleep had made me feel particularly emotional that day.  If somebody says nice words to me it can often turn me into a blubbering wreck and this was no different.  I was set off again a few hours later when I guy about my age pushed a twenty pound note into my bucket and said that his younger brother had died from cancer as a toddler many years earlier.

So many people stopped to talk and share their stories of misfortune with me.  One guy had lost his Mum a few days earlier after she had only known about her cancer for just a few days.  He stopped to talk to me several times for the best part of an hour across the day.

Fundraising for Cancer Research UK at ASDA

In total, I raised £694.06 from my three bucket shakes in stores.

I also got Dan to place a large multi-box of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs in his staff canteen in the build up to Easter.  I bought the eggs with my own money.  Along with my staff discount, they worked out at less than 30p each, but most people donated £1 in return for an egg.  This brought in another nearly £50.

I also hosted a couple of smaller raffles, separate to the large raffle I held at the Ronnie Staton event although the amount I made from these was minimal.

Several people donated to my fundraising page online.  I was again so, so touched by the number of blog readers who donated or sent words of encouragement and raffle prizes for me to use.  I really do love this online community so much!

The total amount of money I’ve raised so far for Cancer Research since beginning my fundraising is £2,340.88.  It’s been a hard slog to get this far, and the pressure of fundraising has stressed me out on more than one occasion but I still want to raise more before the year is out, although there is much less pressure now that I have made the amount asked of me in return for my London Marathon place.  I found the pressure of fundraising incredibly difficult.  Hence the reason my blogging has been limited so far in 2019.  Most of my Fridays (my one childfree day each week) were taken up arranging meetings, printing posters, trying to drum up raffle prizes, advertising my events…  Fundraising really is a full time job if you want to make a decent go of it!  A friend said that if your training plan says ‘REST’, then you should change that and write in ‘FUNDRAISE’ instead and I fully agree!

Last November I was assigned a contact from the charity who would be keeping in touch with me up until the marathon.  Unfortunately he went off on long term sick and eventually left the charity.  I only had one check up call after November, although there was always somebody to answer any questions I had at the end of the phone which was nice to know.  I rang up a number of times; to see how to pay in a cheque, to ask about swapping my vest for the race…

Running the London Marathon as a charity runner was a complete different experience to running on a ballot place.  Reading the stories printed on the back of other runner’s t-shirts on the day whilst waiting in the pens was very emotional.  Listening to all of the charity cheer stations erupt as a runner came through wearing one of their charity vests was an insane atmosphere to be in.  You couldn’t help but smile as the charity supporters became so loud you could no longer hear the hundreds of footsteps pounding the streets of London.  I definitely held my arms up and cheered back at all of the Cancer Research supporters on the cheer stations I spotted out on the course.

After the race I headed over to the post-race Cancer Research reception at The British Academy which was just over the road from the finish line.  (Although up rather a lot of steps!)CRUK balloons outside the post race reception

My pass was for myself and two guests, but I didn’t have anyone with me on race day, so I just attended alone.

On each runner’s entry (through the doors in the picture below) everybody in the grand corridor burst into applause, which was lovely!

Cancer Research post race receptionIn the room to the left of the picture there was a booking form for a post-race massage and also the opportunity to get your medal engraved.  I signed up to both, leaving my newly claimed medal in the hands of a stranger and checking and double checking the time I wrote down for them to engrave.  Had I really run a 4:39?!

Engraved London Marathon medalI headed upstairs and had my photograph taken by a volunteer in front of the Cancer Research board…

Raising money for Cancer Research UK at the London Marathon…and then filtered into the room with the food.  There was a great spread in place.  I’d jotted down notes before the race of which restaurants were offering free meals to runners, but I knew I would no longer need to head out for dinner with the spread offered here!  Besides, it was nearly 4pm by now, and I would need to head home at some point!

I only thought to take a picture of my dessert plate…check out the mini Colin the Caterpillar!

Desserts after the London MarathonAfter about an hour or so (I’d used the time to call Dad, Dan and a running friend from club) the buzzer I’d been given began to flash to signal that I needed to head down for my massage and I was led into a large room where 7-8 volunteers were working on the legs of other runners.  I hopped up onto the waiting bed and lay out with my face in the hole.  I’d never had a post-race massage before, and was really looking forward to this experience!

Dee Stringer was my masseuse and my legs have honestly never felt so good after a race!  She worked on the backs of my legs, then the fronts and even got me to take off my socks and trainers for a foot massage (I did check with her to make sure I’d heard her right.  Even I won’t touch my feet after a marathon!)  I had no problems with stairs the following day which I fully put down to proper race pacing and the great massage I received.

The trip home was nice and relaxed.  I spent some time talking to one of the retired volunteers who had been helping out on the course and had gotten onto the tube the same time as me.  I love talking to random people about running!

This year, the 39th London Marathon surpassed the £1billion mark raised for charity. £1billion raised for charityThat’s a phenomenal amount of money raised for a huge number of fantastic causes and I’m very proud to say that I was a part of that this year, helping to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

Cancer Research Mary Pearson

I can always remember as a child the race being on in the living room at home on a Sunday morning in April with my Dad glued to the coverage between cooking bits for our Sunday roast. Never back then did I think I would be running the iconic marathon once, never mind twice!

For anybody trying to increase their chances of running the marathon next year, make sure you fully understand the commitment it takes to fundraise alongside marathon training.  If possible, try and raise as much of the total before marathon training begins after Christmas.  If you leave the bulk of your fundraising until the Spring months not only will you be trying to juggle high mileage alongside event planning, but you will also be competing for funds alongside everybody else running Spring marathons.

The minimum amount that a charity asks you to commit to is there for a reason.  Charities pay for their places.  Charities usually pay around £350 per place, which is much more than the £31 I paid for my ballot entry in 2014.  (The cost to me to run as a charity runner this year was £100.)  The charity is then counting on you raising the funds you have pledged to raise.  Most charities ask for a minimum of £1500 for a place, so have a really hard think about ways you could come up with that cash before agreeing to run for the charity.  Choosing a charity that means something to you or to those you know should be much easier to some extent – you and the people around you will have a determination to achieve your fundraising goal.  Don’t rely on donations from friends and family alone, and don’t expect everyone you know to donate either.  Unless you are a fundraising superstar I would avoid applying for a charity place just to get a chance to run London Marathon.

Have you ever raised money for charity before?
Do you enjoy a post-race massage?

 

 

 

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?