My first crack at the 100 mile distance

Obviously I’ve left this recap much longer than intended.  A month has already passed since I found myself on the start line for the South Downs Way 100 at the start of June.

I felt so ready and positive on race day, despite the poor sleep leading up to the event.

Oscar decided a fortnight before race day that evenings are for playing and not sleeping.  The week before race day saw me laying on his bedroom floor for hours on end reading book after book and pretending to go to sleep myself countless times in the hope it would encourage him to do the same.  Much later I would often be woken by Dan shaking my shoulder to let me know that Oscar was now finally asleep only for me to then head downstairs to tidy up after the day/slot in my run/collapse on a sofa somewhere.  It was a rather wearing time and didn’t come at the best time for me at all (if there ever is a good time for a toddler not sleeping!)

Nevertheless, I packed (at the last minute, a few hours before setting off on the Friday) and made my way down to Winchester in the passenger seat of Laura’s car vowing to get an early night after a takeaway pizza that evening.

ROAD TRIP!!! We are currently sat on the M40 Southbound on the way to Winchester for the #SDW100 tomorrow morning. . The last six months have been incredibly hard. My Mum dying, working a number of part-time jobs alongside each other and seeing as much of my Dad as possible whilst trying to keep on top of my own housework and raise Oscar in the way that Dan and I feel best. . Training runs have been at 11pm, 4:30am, on no sleep, on the way to weddings, with the buggy and without. . Dan has barely seen me. I’ve barely seen anyone properly and constantly felt like I should be doing something. . BUT tomorrow is my goal race for the year, and the end is in sight at the most draining of my part time jobs. I feel like our house is beginning to come together after needing a complete revamp when we moved a couple of years ago and that will be another big relief when that is complete. . Whatever happens tomorrow I am so grateful that I have been able to make it to the start line and that my friends and husband have been so supportive over the last few months. 😘 . #hopingmybestisgoodenough #runnersontour #runnersofinstagram #fittingitallin #runningmum #mumswhorun #RunMummyRun

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That plan all went to pot when we realised that Kev and Amanda from our club (who were crewing and pacing for the other two Wellingborough runners) were not far behind us on the road and were heading out to Pizza Express for dinner that evening.  Of course we then hung on for them to arrive and park up at Chilcomb Sports Ground and of course we then agreed to amble into town following Kev’s cries of “It’s only a mile away!” (despite a race volunteer telling us town was four miles away and currently gridlocked due to a bomb threat.)

By the time we’d hiked into the town and our pizzas had arrived it was 10pm.  I’d wanted to be in bed by 10pm at the absolute latest, having had a particularly bad night with Oscar the night before, but here I was at 10pm hurriedly chowing down my pizza as fast as possible, knowing that we still needed to hike back to the race startline where we’d left our cars, and drive the 11 miles to check in at our hotel.  It was going to be a long night without a lot of sleep, as we needed to be back at Winchester for the race briefing by 5:30am.
In actual fact, a stupid bird woke me at 4am, half an hour before my alarm was due to go off.  Even then we ended up rushing around and barely making the race briefing, leaving only enough time for me to fill my water bottles before the start, and not enough time to fit in a pre-race wee.

SDW100

The 6am start of the race was like any other.  I don’t think it ever really hit me that I was on the start line for a 100 mile race, which is insane when I type it now.  I said to a friend the other week that I don’t have a gauge for what is ‘normal’ anymore.  I’m so used to talking about ultramarathon events with other runners.  When I come to talk to non-runners about races it’s hard to judge whether or not the distances I talk about seem realistic or not!

The start of the SDW100 sees the competitors run around the outskirts of the Sports Ground field with a tight spot about halfway round and then another gridlock as runners all file out of the field through a narrow opening and onto the footpath that leads the race alongside farmers’ fields.  I jogged round this first field with another runner from our club, Mike.  Mike is a fantastic runner, incredibly modest despite looking at a potential sub 20 hour time that day.  As we hit the footpath we wished each other luck and off Mike sped into the distance.

SDW100

I was concerned about having to wear glasses on the event, – I can never see quite so well as with contacts – but I knew wearing contacts for so long would damage my eyes and make them very sore, especially as I got tired as the race went on, so glasses it was.

The checkpoints are superbly stocked on the Centurion events.  So much so, that all I had packed food-wise in my bag was a couple of nakd bars and some gels.  Neither of which I fancied so early on into my race.  Despite that I managed to push a warm nakd bar down about 5 miles in.  I also stopped to call Laura and update her on my pace.  I was lucky enough to have three volunteer crew members with me for the event.  Laura came down with me, was planning to crew through the day and then help pace me from mile 70 that evening.  Guy and Alan (who was my first running coach) were both going to meet me at mile 22 and then subsequent crew points throughout the race.  I didn’t think I would really need or use a crew, but I have to admit it was lovely to break the race up into the distances between crew points, knowing that I would see my supporters at the next spot once more and they came to my assistance on several occasions when I craved fruit I didn’t have, brought me bottles of chocolate milk and undid the top of my Vaseline pot when I couldn’t!

Anyway, I had produced a little chart showing the times I would arrive at each crewpoint if I ran a 25/26/27/28/29/30 hour race.  (The cut-off time for the finish is 30 hours.)  Both sets of my crew appreciated my little chart and agreed it would be helpful to follow along the times to roughly predict when to arrive at each point to see me.  However, by the 6 mile point when I rang Laura I was much closer to a sub 23 hour pace.  I wasn’t too concerned about running too fast at this point, as I was taking plenty of walk breaks and could still easily maintain a very chatty conversation with other runners as they came past/I ran past them.  However, I was concerned that my crew wouldn’t arrive in time to see me at the first crew point at mile 22!  I knew I would need suncream and chocolate milk by then but didn’t want to hang around!

Crew point times for the SDW100

The first checkpoint was just before 10 miles and I made sure to top up with water and nuun, grabbing some cheese sandwiches and watermelon before continuing on my way.  Many had stopped here for longer than I intended to.  There was another 90 miles to go and I wanted to get going!

At mile 11 we ran down through a long field with cows in.  I’m pretty certain that one of the guys ahead of me slid through a very large cowpat here.  I just spotted him in the distance on the floor and there was a massive skidmark when I reached that point.  I did wonder briefly if he had realised that a spare set of clothes might come in handy for more than just a change when he felt sweaty!

Not long after this I bumped into a guy who I then went on to run several miles with.  I’ve said it before but I absolutely love meeting and chatting to other ultra runners during events.  It always makes the miles pass quicker when you can chat about your previous running experiences and hopes for the race.  It was his first 100 mile race too and he went on to run it in a great time.

Luckily, despite arriving at the first crewpoint (and second checkpoint) after just 4 hours and 47 minutes my crew had already arrived and had suncream and chocolate milk out and waiting for me.  The earliest I had told them I would arrive was 11:39am – nearly an hour later than I did!

SDW100

The first 22 miles was such easy running though – it included nothing like the hills that I knew were to come in the second half of the race.

SDW100

I didn’t stop for long at the first crew point, just taking on what I knew I needed and heading off again.  I’d run past the toilet, but couldn’t be bothered to go back for it, sure that there would be more loos out on the course as I went along.

SDW100

Mile 35 was the next point I would meet up with my crew and again, and there were some lovely runnable sections along this part.  I came in to meet my crew after 8h 15m, still a long way off the chart I had produced.  Sorry about that guys!

SDW100

More suncream, some vaseline on my back where my bag had begun to rub, some chocolate milk and a quick sit down in the deckchair before heading onto the aid station further up the track.  I  learnt here that Mike had taken a bad fall on the downhill just before reaching the crewpoint and really smashed his face up.  He had sat for an hour with the ambulance crew before deciding to continue on, although Kev rang me a few minutes after I left this checkpoint to tell me that Mike had also done some damage to his ribs so had decided to pull from the event.  It was such a shame as he had been running so well.  I was really gutted for him.

At mile 45 I was following a guy wearing a SDW100 t-shirt from 2017 who turned and asked me which way to turn when we reached a crossroads.  I pointed out that wearing a t-shirt from the previous year really meant that he was much more qualified to hazard a guess!  We decided to follow a track over a stubble field which luckily brought us down a steep hill where we could see markers in the distance again.  He told me that I was still well on for a sub 24 hour race (which really wasn’t my target at all) to which I replied that I doubted that very much, but he pointed out that I should reach mile 50 before 12 hours was up and I was surprised to see that he was right.  I knew that I wouldn’t tick off a sub 24 hour race though.  I’d run faster in the first half than I knew I would be able to achieve in the second, knowing the hills in that half of the course which were still to come.  In my head before race day I had seen 30 hours as a very achievable time, thinking I would potentially come in somewhere around 28 hours, although factoring everything into an event as long as 100 miles is something that’s incredibly difficult to do, so I knew that I could be very off with my calculations.  Basically, I only ever want to run one 100 mile event (at least whilst Oscar is young) and I just wanted to make sure I got to the finish line on the day.  Kev had given me confidence earlier in the week when he had announced that my 50 mile time from the SDW50 in April had been faster than any of his previous 50 mile times over that terrain and his best 100 mile time was 25h 12m (also at the SDW100 in 2015).

SDW100

It was 47 miles before I met with my crew again.  This time it was just past a station.  I really needed to see my crew here.  The heat was beginning to get to me.  I was losing my hearing in one ear a little – a sign I usually find is due to lack of electrolyte intake.  I sat down for quite a while – very unlike me, but I felt that it was needed.  There wasn’t an aid station here, and I really craved some fruit, so Guy found me some in his car.  I hope I didn’t steal his lunch!  Another runner from our club, Helen, had met the crew for Mike/James here after catching a train over that day.  She had intended on pacing Mike for the final 50 miles of the race, although this was now obviously no longer the plan.  Instead she was now going to step in with James for some miles instead.  Whilst she waited for Kev to collect her, she sat talking to a guy on the side of the road who was in the middle of trying to work out whether taxi or train would be the best way of getting home as he had decided to call it a day at his 100 mile attempt.  He had removed his socks and shoes – definitely done for the race, but by the end of their conversation he had put these back on again and was seen heading off up the road to carry on!  We later saw him running around the track at the finish!

The halfway point was a big milestone for me.  The halfway point fell at 54 miles (I realise that’s over halfway!) and I knew that I would soon begin recognising the route from this point, as the second half of the event is run over the route of the South Downs Way 50, an event I had completed earlier in the year.

As I arrived to check in at Washington Village Hall I spotted Ally heading up the track who came rushing over to say Hi.  I’ve followed Ally for a while on social media and met her for the first time at the start of the SDW50 earlier in the year.  It was lovely to see another friendly face and she told me that Lauren was still inside, and also struggling with the heat, as so many others also had been that day.

I knew I needed to lay down once I got inside.  Sitting still is really not my thing and I knew I would feel weak if not moving but still sitting upright.  I really craved some hot food – anything but picnic food by this point and was glad to smell the hot tomato pasta on offer at the far end of the hall.  One of my crew went to get me a bowl, I can’t remember who – whilst I lay on the floor had a quick catch up with Lauren.  I struggled to eat much of the pasta.  By this point I had eaten so much fruit and so many cheese sandwiches that I was fed up of all food and nothing really appealed.  It was a real struggle to get the few forkfuls that I did down, but I knew I would appreciate them later on.

I finally got to use an actual toilet at this checkpoint which was much appreciated although navigating removal of my bag and layers to get to the toilet to begin with was a bit of a mission.  After my trip to the loo it was time to go again.  I have no idea how long I spent at this checkpoint.  I think somewhere in the region of 30 minutes or so, but I very much needed the time out, so it was time well spent.  I arrived at 7:41pm according to the official results, although in my head it felt so much earlier than that, despite the now dusky sky as I left.

Botolphs was the next checkpoint at mile 62.  “That’s 100k you’ve run!” exclaimed the marshals as I arrived alongside a couple of other guys.  In some ways that statement was satisfying, but the other guys I had arrived with were both pulling out here and once again I needed to sit for a while.  I had begun having a few heart palpitations and was feeling much more short of breath by this point.  I half thought in my head I might need to pull from the race, and everyone around me deciding the same only backed up my decision for me.  I had almost succumbed to doing the same when I decided to phone Kev for a chat.  I knew he would help me decide either way what would be best to do.

Turns out he was only 10k up the road waiting for James to come through.  Helen was currently running with James, but trading places as pacer with Amanda at the point where Kev was at.  Chatting to Kev was just what I needed and he offered to drive down to meet me so that Amanda could run the next section of the course with me.  I told him that I was not planning on putting him or anyone else out and that he wasn’t to do that at all.  He told me that of course I wouldn’t be putting him out.  That he was there to help whoever on the day, having initially been planning to crew for Mike who had dropped out hours earlier.  I told him that I thought I needed to pull and that would be it.  He understood although was disappointed for me.  I hung up, and told the marshal that I probably also intended to pull at this point.  The marshal asked if there was anything I would like to eat.  Having not fancied anything when I arrived, I now craved orange segments and sandwiches, and he obliged, grabbing me a handful of each.  Another runner arrived at the checkpoint, also planning to pull.  The deckchairs were full of runners now, all waiting for a lift to the finish.

62 miles.  100k.  Would I really be happy if I only ran 62 miles?  No, I decided that I wouldn’t.  I’d run further than that before.  I had come out to run 100 miles that day and even if I didn’t make it to the finish line I was definitely planning on making it past the 70 mile mark which I’d already run twice in the past.  All in a rush I stood up, announced I was going on, took the second handful of orange segments and cheese sandwiches that were thrust in my direction and jogged off into the night over the road on a high!  I rang Kev when I reached the other side of the road announcing that I was continuing, hearing whoops in the background from both Kev and Amanda who was hurriedly changing into her running clothes to run back and meet me.  I was back in the race again.  I was going to do this!

…And then I remembered the massive hill that follows the checkpoint at Botolphs.  Ugh!  It was bad enough 11 miles into the 50 mile event in the boiling sun, but 63 miles into a 100 mile event in the pitch black of night?…I made it up somehow.

I still felt pretty perky, constantly checking flashlights in the distance to see if I could spot Amanda heading back towards me.  Three miles along and a bouncy headtorch light bobbed speedily in my direction.  It was too speedy for someone to be dropping out but it didn’t match Amanda’s usual style either.  A rather jolly Helen yelled out a greeting and filled me in.  She and James had arrived at the next crewpoint a little early so Amanda had headed off as initially planned with James for the remainder of his race.  Helen had decided to run back to find and help me.  Having never run with Helen before other than in large club trail groups I was initially rather nervous about keeping up/having conversation, etc.  But she was fantastic.  She moved at my pace with no prompting, no pushing, just what I needed.

My watch had died just before Helen arrived which was rather frustrating.  I knew it probably would die at some point but had expected it to get to at least 70 miles before beeping it’s final beep.

Chatting to Helen I began to pick up mentally again.  My walking had never become slow but my running had been non-existent for a little while.  But now, I was running sections again and my walk was at a much faster pace.  Helen had been talking about when I completed the race and each time I had corrected her with ‘if I completed’, but I had stopped doing that now, thinking really positively once more.  She commented on how quickly I was still moving forward despite being in the middle of a ‘mental down’ section of the race.

We arrived at Saddlescombe Farm (67 miles) and a lady gave me a nice warm cup of tea.  I don’t usually drink tea but this one was so good I requested a second.  Helen also grabbed me a handful of the vegan peanut butter fudge which was on offer.  Amazing!  We stopped for maybe 5 minutes at the most and one of the marshals pressed a lolly into my hand as we left for the rest of our journey.

At mile 70 I could hear Kev in the distance and it wasn’t long before I saw Alan, Guy and Laura also.  Helen quickly filled them in on my last five miles whilst Laura prepared to run the next section with me.  Everyone else wished me luck and then we were off.  It was maybe only a couple of miles before I started having more palpitations again.  I was feeling weak by now and hadn’t eaten anything really substantial in a while.  Something I need to work on at my next attempt.  The light in my headtorch had gone and I knew I needed to swap headtorches, as I was carrying a spare in my bag but couldn’t co-ordinate myself to get one out and then I needed more batteries.  All effort at this point.

My palpitations were getting more and more regular now and I decided to have a little lay down on the side of the track.  It felt good.  I was exhausted.  Laying down felt so, so good right then.  After a few minutes on the floor I got up and with renewed energy ran a bit faster for a little while before I needed another lie down around the 76 mile point.  Here I actually fell asleep for 5 minutes or so until Laura pointed out that there was a moth buzzing around my headtorch lamp which kept batting me in the face without my noticing.

I knew I needed to pull from the race at the next checkpoint and told Laura so.  I felt strangely relieved that I had come to the decision despite it not really being what I wanted.  I knew I had made the right decision to continue at mile 62, but by mile 78 I was done.  The long hill down towards the checkpoint where I pulled; Housedean Farm felt like it went on forever and I was so grateful to see that there was a spare deckchair out for me to perch on when I arrived.  I was told I needed to hand my number in, but I wanted to keep it so just removed it and placed it in my bag.

Official stats when I pulled:

Finishing time: 22:22:50
Position: 235
Gender position: 40
Category position: 13

There were 223 finishers in total, with 82 drop-outs on the course.

Upon removing my number I fell asleep.  Waking only to transfer into Guy’s car as he arrived to collect me a little later.  He then drove to the next checkpoint at 84 miles (must have slept through that journey too) where I got into Laura’s car, received hugs from Kev and Helen and then I must have promptly fallen asleep once more, waking a couple of hours later in a boiling hot car parked at the finish point in Eastbourne.  Laura was still asleep on the back seat but it was insanely hot in the car and so I pulled myself out and lay down on the path alongside the car under a foil blanket.  I had intended on having a little more sleep but several runners’ families came over to check I was OK, and it wasn’t long before Nici from Centurion came over to check on me and to move me along.

I actually felt better after a walk and thought that I could probably stomach a sausage in a roll and hot chocolate by that point so made my way to a bench by the BBQ where I had a good view of the finishers running around the track.  With all that sleep deprivation I did have to stop myself tearing up a couple of times as I saw runners moving along the final 400 metres.  I had messaged Laura to let her know that I was watching others finish and so she soon joined us and Kev also arrived, along with James’ girlfriend and then Helen ran in.  Despite no longer having anyone to pace she had decided to run the remainder of the course, no doubt prompting lots of swear words as she bounded past those struggling to finish the 100 miles!   We set up chairs alongside the track to wait for James to come in, who finished just minutes behind Lauren a little after 29 hours.

We headed for home not long after that.  Laura had managed to grab chunks of sleep between checkpoints and a long section of sleep when parked up at the finish, so she was good to drive home again and I arranged for Dan to pick me up from Laura’s house in Northampton on our return.

Initially I had hoped to stay awake until 6pm or so that evening, before having a super long sleep that night and hopefully getting back fairly quickly into a normal routine.  However, I was not prepared for quite how exhausted I was.  It was minutes before I fell asleep in the car on the way back.  Every so often I would wake, buzzing with a story to tell Laura about the race.  I would finish my story and then fall straight back asleep again, barely awake enough to listen to Laura’s responses.

Other than the lack of sleep though I felt surprisingly fine.  My legs would have been good to go for a run the following day I think – although I didn’t test this thought out and took a full week to recover.  More about that in another post though.  This has been my longest post yet!

I’ll just finish with the lovely medal that Dan made and Oscar coloured in for me and brought when they came to collect me.

100 Supermum medal

A pacer for 35 miles and a life update

This might be a bit of a shorter race recap to my usual double posts(!) but I want to finally get something down on the blog about the Shires and Spires 35 mile race from the 20th May (six weeks ago!) before I forget all the details of the day.

The last few months have been absolutely insane when it comes to work and sleep and at times I have felt like I’m just existing and getting through the days, rather than actually living them.  Picking up 15 schools to mark coursework for an exam board and working extra night shifts unfortunately both fell at the same time that Oscar dropped his two hour daytime naps and began to kick up a fuss about going to bed.  This meant that some of his bed times dragged on for more than three hours before he was asleep and I could finally head downstairs to tidy up after the day before heading out for a nightshift/collapsing into bed myself.

We had it so easy for so long that it made it feel all the more difficult.  I wrote about Oscar’s eighteen month routine here – he used to be fast asleep by 7:45pm back then and it already seems like a lifetime ago, not just the three months that it actually is!  We’ve switched him out of his cot into a toddler bed now and this seems to have helped somewhat thankfully.

I’ve also handed my notice in at Tesco to finish at the end of the current rota (three more weeks), which is a relief (in some ways, but also a worry over the lack of guaranteed regular money coming in).  But it will allow for more family time, more me time, more running time, more relaxation time, less stress and upset and other opportunities to provide an income.  All in all, I know it’s for the best, but that extra guaranteed £1000 a month is going to be hard to do without until we settle into a new routine.

Tesco was never going to be forever though.  When Mum was very sick last year Oscar and I drove the 200 mile round trip to visit 3-4 days each week.  This is obviously something I do not regret, but our savings took a massive hit and after Mum died and I began visiting less I had to take action to try and replenish our savings again, which I have now been able to do.

Anyway, enough of the life update, more of the running…I’ve run a parkrun, 35 mile race and ran 78 miles of my first 100 mile attempt since I last blogged, so I’m hoping to have a bit of a catch-up blogging day today before my brain becomes mush and I forget all the details from the past six weeks!

The Shires & Spires 35 mile race fell the day before I returned to work following my maternity leave last year and so I never got a chance to write a proper recap of the race and still regret that now.

I love the Shires and Spires event.  35 miles of Northamptonshire countryside with lots of rolling hills and beautiful scenery.  It’s a Go Beyond event and with the start just a few miles from my running club base, checkpoints are often well stocked with W&DAC runners so it’s lovely to see so many friendly faces not only out running the event on the day, but also manning the checkpoints on route.

Shires and Spires was my first ultramarathon in 2013 and I have run it every year since apart from 2016 when I was 6 months pregnant with Oscar.  (2014 * 2015 recaps) With this being my fifth year running the event, and having run numerous training runs out on the course I know the route better than I know the back of my hand.  With my goal race (South Downs Way 100) just three weeks later, I knew I didn’t want to run Shires hard this year, and so instead offered to pace anyone who would like to complete the 35 miles in about 8 hours, as this was a time I knew I should easily be able to achieve without pushing myself too hard on the day.

One person took me up on my offer.  Somebody who regularly walks long distance events (of 100+ miles!) but who until recently has not really been doing a huge amount of running.  She had run the event the previous year with a group of runners who had just intended on getting round within the 9 hour cut-off, but knew she was capable of completing the race in a faster time than this, although not yet confident enough to navigate the race on her own.

It was a hot day (it seems like we haven’t had anything else for the last few months now!) and so I thoroughly applied a thick layer of suncream before setting off for Lamport Hall.  Although, in typical Mary fashion I rocked up just ten minutes before the pre-race briefing having still to pack my bag, collect my number and having to forfeit my pre-race trip to the loo!  After dropping my t-shirt from registration back at the car I even had to jog back to the start line in order to make it on time for the starting horn!  I was fairly relaxed with no pressure on this race – knowing the course so well and without any time expectations for the day.  Probably a little too relaxed in the morning to be honest!

The first few miles of Shires are all trail and easy running.  The first checkpoint falling about 4.5 miles in to the race.  This year for the first time alongside gels and cake, Go Beyond were also offering fruit and the cold watermelon slices went down incredibly well at each of the checkpoints in the heat of the day.

I took some nuun tablets with me.  I tend to have one bottle with just water and one with electrolytes when I run an ultra and so popped a tablet into the bottle on my right at the first checkpoint and off we ran again.  100 metres or so along the road I heard what I thought was someone making ‘shhhhh’ noises right behind me, so spun round to see nothing, only for the pressure inside my water bottle from the still-fizzing nuun tab to become too much and for liquid to shoot out of the top all over Vikki!  Haha!  It definitely made us jump!Shires and Spires 35m

The next checkpoint at 9 miles came round just as quickly and we were soon heading off on our way again.  There is a long section of road in the middle of the Shires course, and although the road is good going it is still super hilly.  I was told Northamptonshire was flat when I moved here!

Truth be told I expected Vikki to break into power-walk quite often.  She comes from a long-distance walking background and so I know she can cover the ground when she walks.  Turns out though, she can also cover the ground when she runs, and I am sure she would have quite happily have run much more of the course if it wasn’t for me walking the hills and through checkpoints, etc as per my usual game plan.

Shires and Spires 35mThe heat began to get to me after the third checkpoint and although I was still going strong I then needed to include more walk breaks in the open sections than I would have done had it been an overcast day.  We were moving at a pace much faster than the 8 hours I had intended to run which I knew I needed to rein back in anyway.

Salted up after Shires and SpiresI was replacing the salts I lost with the food I was eating and my nuun tabs but it always concerns me when I lose so much.  This is a photo of my shorts at the end of the event!Shires and Spires 35mMy legs were beginning to turn red, despite the coating of suncream I’d applied that morning and so I nicked suncream from a friend at the final checkpoint before we began the last long uphill slog to the finish and the final 10k.

By mile 31 I could tell that Vikki was capable of running much faster and more than I wanted to at that point and so I encouraged her to go ahead.  It had been a long while since we weren’t surrounded by other runners and I quickly reminded her of the directions to the finish, reassuring her that she would probably pass plenty of other runners along the way so never be far from others.  Her main concern for the day had been navigational issues.

Shires and Spires 35m

(My official finish photo from Adrian Howes)Shires and Spires 35m

Four miles later and I found myself running through the finish funnel.  Go Beyond had an announcer for the finish who was doing a fantastic job of announcing runners as they crossed the line.  Many club runners were still stood on the sidelines cheering us in, along with many others from our club who had just come to cheer at the end.  Always a lovely touch.
Shires and Spires 35m cheering Lorraine through the finish

(Photo by Adrian Howes)

I made sure to join our club members on the sidelines to see everyone else through the finish line.

Vikki rushed over to tell me that she had come in as third V45 female, so even received a trophy for her run, which was fantastic news to finish to!

Shires and Spires 35m timeI can’t believe how close my Garmin read to the 35 miles!

Official time: 7:47:47
Position: 131/164
Gender position: 28/41
Age category position: 14/17

It actually ended up being my second best Shires time, despite pulling myself back a fair bit, chatting to lots of people and not racing the event.  I’m sure I’ll be back in 2019 to see what I’m actually capable of!  😉Shires and Spires 35m medalThe medal was another lovely one detailing the route of the course through the Northamptonshire villages…Shires and Spires 35m medal on Oscar…although it was soon stolen by my child on returning home!At the end of Shires and Spires with Dan and OscarI managed to sit and chill with Dan and Oscar for a little while before heading up for a shower and pre-work hour-long nap.  Unfortunately I couldn’t book the night off, so still headed off to work that evening for a 10pm-7am night shift following running the 35 miles in the day.  All good training for the 100 mile event, right?!

Do you salt up when running in the sun?
Have you ever paced someone during a race before?
How early do you like to turn up before the start of a race?

Milton Keynes Marathon 2018 – finish lines not finish times

I had initially planned for Milton Keynes Marathon to be my target race for the 2018 Spring running season before I signed up to the South Downs Way 100.  When the weather forecasters predicted the hottest May Bank Holiday on record though, I was glad that this marathon wasn’t my sole goal for the Spring and I changed my plans for the race.

Milton Keynes Marathon medal 2018

I say I changed my plans, but I really wasn’t sure what to change them to!
I’d had a great run a week before race day.  I’d set out to run eight miles at tempo pace with a mile warm up and a mile cool down.  I found the run easy and could have quite happily turned this run into 10 or 12 miles at tempo pace, had I not needed to come home and get ready for work that evening.8 mile tempo runIt gave me a real confidence boost going into marathon week, although Oscar then became ill at the start of the week and very clingy.  He passed whatever it was onto me and we both ended up feeling rather rubbish for the rest of the week, resulting in Oscar missing two of the groups he usually attends and me missing a large batch of my training runs.

Added onto this I would be working nightshifts the weekend of the marathon.  I had decided that I am best off saving my holiday allowance for target long distance races over the year, and as Milton Keynes Marathon was no longer a target race and wasn’t one of the longer events planned for this year I ended up not booking the weekend off.  As luck would have it though, my manager messed up my shifts the previous weekend, calling me in on a day when I was not needed, so I managed to convince him to let me have the Sunday night before the marathon off in exchange.

It did mean though that I worked through the night until 7am on Friday (with no pre-work nap as Oscar was poorly) and then through the night again on Saturday with a two hour nap in the morning before traveling over to Norfolk for a friend’s baby’s Christening.

Oscar and I at Oliver's Christening

Back home by 6pm to pack my bag and get an early night, only Oscar (who was still feeling poorly, teething and was definitely feeling the heat from the day) had other ideas.  I might as well have gone to work and earnt some money for all the sleep I got that night!

Despite poor sleep and having felt poorly that week, I did still manage to get an amazing night-before-the-race pizza in.

Pre-race pizza

So, no sleep, on the back of being poorly and on a day which turned out to be 28 degree heat…very glad I’d struck Milton Keynes Marathon as my goal race!  I was sweating before I even got into my car that morning!

Heading out to Milton Keynes Marathon

As an ambassador for this year’s marathon I was given a priority parking pass and invite to the VIP room where there was cake, drinks and nibbles laid on.  Best of all though, – no queues for the toilet as we had our own(!)  I nervously stood by a table in the room having only met one of the other ambassadors before the weekend.  I needn’t have worried though and I was soon busy chatting away to the other runners about training, race plans and shoe choices.

MK Marathon VIP area

A little after 9am we headed downstairs along with the pacers for the race to have our photograph taken on the pitch.

MK Marathon ambassadors

(I’m in the bottom left of the shot.  Picture by Tim Bullard)

Milton Keynes Marathon ambassadors and pacers

(I’m third from the right, wearing sunglasses.  Picture by Walker McCabe Photography)

It probably wasn’t the best idea to have the pacers knelt down in front of everyone as their balloons kept bobbing up everywhere!

Milton Keynes Marathon ambassadors and pacers

(I’m third from the right.  Picture by Walker McCabe Photography)

When we returned back to the VIP suite ‘good lucks’ were said as we all dispersed to find friends and family before the race and to carry out any pre-race rituals.  I made my way back over to the spot by the entrance where WDAC runners always seem to congregate before the start of the MK event each year.  There were several of our runners there and I happily chatted away sizing up who was running which distance and who would be in my start pen for the event.

I nipped back to add some more vaseline to my arms before the start.  I knew that I would be pouring a lot of water over my head in order to keep cool and didn’t want the top of my arms to rub as a result.  Luckily, we were allowed to leave our bags in the VIP area during the day, which meant that I didn’t have to worry about the bag drop and could check my phone/make changes to my kit until the last minute.

The start was just outside.  Slightly different to previous years when I have run it, – this time the snake of runners waiting to start curved back onto themselves.  I was in the blue start, the one before the last pen and so found where I needed to go and located the 4:45 pacer I had decided to start alongside.

Although I didn’t enter the pen until 9:50am (with a 10am start time) it took a fair while before we crossed the line.  I began to feel a little queasy and ‘penned in’ despite not really being packed into the pens and so located a van parked to the side which several runners had already made a bee-line for and were leaning against in the shade.  I felt much better after a few minutes of time out in the cool and then made my way back to the starting pen where I bumped into Kev from my club.  He had been out crewing another club member at the Thames Path 100 that weekend and is coming down to crew a different member when I run the SDW100 next month, so we spent 20 minutes catching up and talking tactics before we crossed the startline ourselves.  It was nice to take my mind off how hot things were and how poorly I had felt whilst stood still in the heat that morning.

I ran with Kev for the first couple of miles before he disappeared behind a bush.  Kev never wears a watch but had planned to run somewhere around 5 hours that day (5h 00m 19s!) as it was his longest run in quite a while following injury.  Just before two miles he asked me what pacer had the balloon bobbing away just in front of us.  I told him that it was the 4:45 pacer, but that I thought he was probably going a bit quickly.  (My first two miles were 10:20 and 10:30 and the 4:45 pacer was a fair way ahead of us, despite crossing the start line alongside me.)  Someone turned around to say that he was just catching up with the runners he was pacing as she had just seen him nip into the hedge, but even so, he was going too quickly.  I had heard him mention that he intended on running the flatter bits faster so that the group may slow down on the uphills.  It’s a tactic used by lots, but I personally prefer to run fairly evenly if possible.

I made the decision to run my own race, without pacer and aim for 10:30mm – up hills, along the flat and also on the downhills (were there any of those?!) keeping an eye on my heart rate as I went.  I have really enjoyed my tempo runs lately working towards a set pace for each mile and find that it gives me a mini focus all the way through a session, breaking a run up into manageable chunks.  Dan was planning to bring Oscar out to come and watch the race and would be at mile 12.5 and mile 15.5, both shaded areas and fairly close together so that Oscar wouldn’t be out for too long in the heat.  The plan was to hold onto 10:30mm pace for as long as I was able, but to reassess at mile 11, just before seeing Dan and Oscar.

It felt easy.  Really easy.  I had to keep slowing myself down.

As a race ambassador (and also due to not wanting to rub in the heat!) I had decided not to wear my club vest for the race, but instead wore my MK t-shirt and found it super comfy and cooling with it’s light colour.  One of my favourite things about the switch backs at the start of the MK marathon/half route is that you can easily see other club vests coming back in the other direction and cheer other runners from our club.  I knew that I wouldn’t be spotted by any club runners this year though without my club vest on and almost felt a little like I was secretly spying on them all running by!

Miles 1-6: 10:20, 10:30, 10:30, 10:24, 10:22, 10:21.

I had been told that a group from WDAC were biking over to the six mile point to cheer the runners on so kept a good look out for them from the 6 mile marker but saw no signs of anyone.  There was a lot going on at this section as we ran through a little park, passed the section for the first relay runners to handover to their teammates and crossed the first block of timing mats, so there were lots of people around and I hoped I hadn’t missed our cyclists.

Heading towards mile 7 though I remembered there was a pub on the side of the road and knew they would be fairly close.  Sure enough I spotted them cheering directly opposite and madly waved to get their attention, almost running into them before they spotted me out of club uniform!

It had started to heat up now.  I’d been passing occasional walkers from about 3 miles in, but now many had adopted a run-walk technique, especially up the small ‘hills’ that cropped up.  I was still feeling good, my heart rate was still fine (160ish) but I was feeling rather hot.

Miles 7-11:  10:23, 10:29, 10:26, 10:27, 11:01.

I dropped my gel at the start of the 11th mile and loudly swore twice as it had interrupted my stride whilst running an uphill which I then decided to walk.  I shouldn’t have walked as the sweat then poured out of me and I could feel myself heat up further.  It was at this point, looking around me and seeing not another single person running up that hill that I decided to just enjoy the rest of the race and make the most of the day.  SDW100 is my main aim for this season, not MK Marathon and I wanted to be able to continue running the rest of the week, not have to take a week off after running a hard road race where I might shave a few minutes from my time.  There would be time for that later in the year instead.

So, from that point I did not care about my time at all and thoroughly enjoyed the race experience in a way I feel you only can if time does not remain a factor.

I sat down with Oscar on the floor for a minute at 12.5 miles who was busy munching on his picnic and excitedly shouting at me “Law Law – run, run, run!” as he had just seen Laura run past.  Dan told me that Laura was only a little way ahead of me, despite initially aiming for a sub 4 marathon that day.  She had unfortunately fallen early into the race and had ripped open her knee.  Dan had loaded her with wet wipes to try and help stop the bleeding when he saw her, but her run had changed to walk now as her knee began to stiffen.

I ran on.  The people of Milton Keynes were AMAZING on Monday.  They came out in their hoards to support the runners.  I ran under more sprinklers than I could count.  Dipped my hat in at least four buckets of water to cool my head down, enjoyed jelly babies, orange segments, watermelon and a couple of slices of frozen melon.  <<  This was the best thing ever.  I’m already putting a request in for frozen melon on the SDW100!  There were so many kids (and adults!) out with water guns on the course and it was so refreshing even when the squirts came to the face!  I took water from every water station, high fived hundreds of kids, thanked all the volunteers and even had a little dance to the band on route.  I passed local residents kindly letting runners sit down on their garden chairs and one even nip in for the loo!  I always thought London Marathon had a great atmosphere, but London was NOTHING on the buzz that was Milton Keynes on Monday.

I plucked up the courage to start a conversation with a runner wearing a Run Mummy Run top, chatted to several runners about how we had been training in ice and snow for a marathon in 28 degree heat and let one woman know that her belt had ridden up her back, potentially causing nasty sores for her later on.

One of my favourite photos from the race is one which Dan took as I was running towards Oscar at mile 15.5.

Milton Keynes Marathon - spotting OscarI stopped for a little while here to reapply some suncream, hand back the nakd bar I knew I wouldn’t eat and collect some ‘Free hugs’ from Oscar.

Milton Keynes Marathon - stopping with Oscar at mile 15Milton Keynes Marathon - stopping with Oscar at mile 15Dan said that Oscar had been enjoying cheering runners on that morning and had been busy clapping away and shouting “Run, run, run!” at everyone that passed.  (He’ll make a great coach!)

I bumped into Laura just after 18 miles and walked with her for the following mile before jogging off so that my legs didn’t stiffen up.  We saw a couple of members from our club here where I nabbed some watermelon slices and another bottle of water. Mile 19 of the Milton Keynes Marathon with LauraI was a little confused that I hadn’t seen any other pacers pass me, but it turns out many had struggled on the day, despite running times often an hour slower than their own PB and pulled from pacing duties.  I have never seen so many people walk during a marathon before and there were a couple of miles where I could probably have counted on my hands how many runners I saw!

I had taken a bottle of nuun water from Dan when I had seen him at mile 12.5 but to be honest my body was telling me that I had probably drunk too much water and not enough electrolytes/other stuff.  I was struggling a little with my right ear, which sounds ridiculous, but it’s usually the first telltale sign for me that I need to slow down on the water intake. I walked a little way with two other ladies for a couple of miles from mile 22, deciding to lay down on the verge to cheer some runners past by mile 25 for a little while.  I had salted up a fair bit by this point and felt like I was beginning to get heat stroke, so decided to take it fairly easy and took maybe five minutes to myself in the shade on the side of the path before continuing on.

Salted up post marathonI obviously had to run the finish though.  Milton Keynes Marathon has a fabulous finish – running down into the stadium and then 3/4s of a lap round the pitch before heading under the finish gantry.  I looked up to hear cheers from other runners in my club shouting me round, and then also saw a runner in a giant rhino costume not far behind. MK Marathon finish in the stadium with a giant rhino costume (Picture by Tim Bullard)

Erm wow.  Just take a moment to think about how incredibly impressive that woman was.  She ran a Rhino PB that day – a little under 5h 30m in that insane heat whilst wearing a ridiculously hot costume.  Legend! MK Marathon finish in the stadium with a giant rhino costume (Picture by Tim Bullard)

I crossed the finish line and immediately turned to congratulate her.

My slowest road marathon by far…

Official time: 5:32:01
Position:
1625/2028
Gender position:
375/557
Category position: 100/150

…but for the first time I genuinely didn’t care.  I had thoroughly enjoyed myself that day.

The layout following the finish was slightly different this year.  Normally runners head back out through the underpass and down into the underground section to collect medals and goody bags.  This year though, runners had to walk up the steps inside the stadium collecting their medals and goodies as they went.  I heard a few people moaning about this, but one of the benefits to taking the race easy was that I could jog up the steps at the finish and by Tuesday my legs even seemed to have forgotten that they had covered 26.2 miles the day before!

Milton Keynes Marathon collection of medalsAnother benefit was that my official photographs look great!  This almost never happens to me in a race.  I’m usually the beetroot-red, top-ridden-up runner with her eyes closed!

Milton Keynes Marathon official photosI’m very tempted to buy them, despite the result of the race being so poor.

A post-race family trip to the pub for dinner was definitely in order on Monday night!

Dan, Oscar and I heading to the pub

I’m just waiting for the date for a Decathlon brand trip in September before booking an Autumn marathon to target this year, but after the 100 I’m looking forward to running a few marathon distances again, so will be booking up more soon!

Did you run out in the heat on Monday?
Do you suffer from running in the heat?
Have you run a marathon ‘just for fun’ before?
Photos: to buy or not to buy?

Poorly planned parkrun tourism

I’m working 10pm-7am every Friday night for the next month so any chances to fit in some parkrun tourism are going to be few and far between over the next few weeks. Last weekend was the last Wolves game of the season though, meaning that I should hopefully be able to fit in some more local parkruns again as there is no longer a need to rush back from work to nap before Dan travels back for the football on a Saturday lunchtime.

I had been dreading last weekend. Dan had prewarned me that he would need to leave early for the Wolves game on Saturday, as it was due to be a big turnout for the last game of the season. He would also be home later than usual, – after 8pm.  Cutting into my nap times at both ends of the day!

I try to sleep for an hour or so before getting ready for work to try and get me through the night, which does help somewhat, and can usually manage 2-3 hours of sleep the following morning before taking over with Oscar, but working weekend nightshifts is still far from an ideal situation at the moment.  (Especially as it’s stopping me from booking some of the races I want to enter at the moment too!)

I rocked up to work at 10pm on Friday night as usual. After my hour long nap before work on the first nightshift of the week I always struggle to get out of bed. It takes me a little while to fall asleep on Friday evenings as I will have usually slept normally the night before. When my alarm goes off at 8:40 I always end up snoozing it for five minutes and end up having to really drag myself out of bed when that second alarm cries out.

My manager was late in this week. When he arrived I nodded my head in his direction and carried on working the cream aisle which I tend to work on a Friday night. He made his way over and whispered “You’re not supposed to be in tonight!”  I was so sure I was and as we headed down to the office to check the rota I scrolled through the photos on my phone and found the picture I’d taken the previous month showing my hours.  I WAS due to work that night!  However I wasn’t on the main rota displayed in the office.
My manager said I was welcome to stay and work but that the department was already fairly well staffed for that night so I offered to go home, trading the inconvenience of me coming in for a shift I didn’t work for next Sunday off from work, as I’d forgotten to book off the night before Milton Keynes Marathon, which could have been interesting!  As it is, I’m still working Friday and Saturday night next weekend, then traveling to Norfolk for the christening of a friend’s baby on the Sunday afternoon.  Then returning to Northants on Sunday evening as I need to be in Milton Keynes by 9am on Monday to have my photo taken as one of the Milton Keynes Marathon ambassadors. (Why is my life always so busy and manic?!)

But, not working on Friday night this weekend meant that at least I would be able to fit in some tourism before the craziness of the next few weeks hits.  I had spoken to Laura earlier on the Friday who had mentioned that she was going to the fairly new Luton parkrun course to tick off some more parkrun tourism the following day.  After clocking out from work and before heading home I quickly typed ‘Luton parkrun’ into Google and saved the details for the following day, dropping Laura a quick message to say that I was no longer working and would join her at the Luton event.

I actually ended up not getting to bed until 11:30pm.  Oscar has had a bit of a cold this week and then woke at about 4am for half an hour or so, just wanting a cuddle.  He went back to bed without issue and was still sleeping when my alarm went a little later at 6:45am.

As I’m so used to doing now I took my running clothes downstairs and changed in the kitchen, messaging Laura to say I was on my way.

The Luton Wardown parkrun course is about an hour away from me but having not been there before, and not being the best at following directions I wanted to leave plenty of time to get there.  I arrived with lots of time to spare, hopping out of my car just after 8:30am.  I messaged Laura to let her know that I had arrived first.  (This NEVER happens!  I’m usually the one legging it over to the start line just in time to cross the line as someone is shouting ‘GO’!)  Laura replied to say that her satnav had broken so she had had to stop and pull up the directions on her phone but would be there shortly.

I found the toilets (nicest toilets I’ve been to at a parkrun before) and decided to run a warmup mile whilst I waited for Laura to arrive as the weather was pretty miserable – wet and chilly.

Following all the other runners I headed down towards the start, keeping an eye out for Laura on my way.  Still no sign of her.  I really hoped she’d managed to find it OK.  The briefing didn’t begin until 9am and I pushed my way through the group to try and spot Laura in the crowds.  Still couldn’t see her!

The briefing lasted a little while as there were several runners completing milestone parkruns and there was also information given about #runforMatt – an organised 0.6 miles following the parkrun to make up the mileage to 3.7 miles – the distance Matt Campbell had been from the finish line when he died at the London Marathon the previous weekend.  Everyone cheered for the 156th event and then we made our way down to the start line.

I’d spotted on the Luton Wardown Facebook page that the last Saturday of each month was their official pacer parkrun event and they had a large number of Pacers advertised for the run between 23-36 minutes. I had been feeling rather weary all week so decided to slot myself between the 29 and 30 minute pacers and just run a comfortable pace throughout.

Luton Wardown parkrun

 

(Photo from the Luton Wardown Facebook page)

It wasn’t until I was a mile in to the run that it clicked that the Race Director had mentioned it being the 156th event that day.  I remembered that Laura had said the parkrun event she had been going to this weekend had only been running for a few months and suddenly realised that there must be two parkruns in Luton and that Laura must have gone to the other one!  Whoops!  (In actual fact she had gone to Houghton Hall, just 3.9 miles up the road!)

The Luton Wardown course is three and a bit laps, with a quite long, gradual hill up a muddy slope which you run up four times in total.  It definitely isn’t a PB course!  On my second lap the guy in first place (wearing a London marathon t-shirt from the previous weekend) lapped me. I think seven runners lapped me before I began my final lap. I also began lapping people on my second lap as well.

Luton Wardown parkrun

(Photo from the Luton Wardown Facebook page)

I’m not a massive fan of several-lap courses but it is nice knowing where the hills are going to pop up and where to expect marshals/support on the way round.

The 29 minute pacer was still far into the distance as I completed my third lap. I glanced down at my watch to see that I would still finish a fair way under 29 minutes, but gave a final kick anyway.

Official time: 28:42
Position: 119/284
Gender position: 20/121
Age category position: 3/11

The weather had remained fairly miserable throughout. That horrible kind of drizzly rain where you end up feeling soaked despite barely noticing the rain coming down at the time.

This was my 107th parkrun and 23rd different course. I was hoping for another tick at Stopwatch Bingo but it wasn’t to be!

Wearing my cow cowl at Luton Wardown parkrun

My cow cowl had arrived earlier in the week though, so I made sure to wrap it around my wrist to indicate that I was a tourist.  I didn’t spot any others out there on the day, but I’m looking forward to spotting some more tourists at events now that I have my cowl too.

Wearing my cow cowl at Luton Wardown parkrun

If you have a cow cowl, how do you wear yours?
Have you ever (not) met someone at the wrong location before?!
Did you take part in the #runforMatt 3.7 miles at the weekend?