Sunday, 4 October 2015

Race Report: Lee Valley Marathon (Race for Life)

Lee Valley Park - view of the canal
I got very over-excited after the Lancaster Half Marathon a couple of weeks ago.  Having PBd and felt like it wasn't horrible to run at that pace, apart from the last little bit with the hill, I thought that a sub 4 hour marathon might be possible already.

I hate my brain when it does this.  It puts lots of unfounded pressure on me.  But I really thought this might actually happen.  Then I took a look at a race predictor and it pretty much laughed in my face.  Having given it that half marathon time, the quickest marathon predicted time from all of the various formulae comes out at 4 hours and 2 minutes and a bit.  Not sub four at all.  So I lost heart.

And my brain didn't give up.  It kept telling me that this is possible, but I don't understand well enough or have enough experience to have the faintest idea.  My coach confirmed that he thought it was possible, and that even if I blew up horribly I'd still PB for sure and I agreed.

Well, to cut a long story short, it wasn't my day.

The race organisation had decided that as they'd put enough loos around the route of the race, they didn't need that many at the start/finish/expo.  There were 15 loos for 3,500 women, plus supporters!  Bad move.  Very many of us just went into the long, dewy grass or found bushes and dealt with needing to wee that way.  The worrying down side of it was getting pretty wet feet.  Wet feet is a great way to get blisters.  So I was already cranky before I started.  However, it *was* nice to meet up with Kat (who had a fantastic race and smashed out a marathon PB) & Jools briefly beforehand, chat a bit and get some help with making sure I didn't lose my house keys (thank you!).

The race start was sort of seeded - with timing chips we'd be getting chip times so the clock didn't start until you crossed the line.  There was a call for all runners who might run under 4.5 hours to line up first, then the 4.5 to 6 hour finishers, then 6+.  Then the half marathon runners after that (um, OK. That's a dumb idea as they'll have to run through *all* of the marathon runners.).  I joined the sub 4.5 hour group as my worst case was under that time anyway.

From the start of the race I didn't feel anything like I did at Lancaster, but I thought it'd be fine once I warmed up.  The first mile was a pretty spicy pace - I was supposed to be aiming to hold 08:57/mile (10s/mile faster than goal pace) so I couldn't afford the first mile to be more a warm-up like it was at Lancaster (where I hit 09:22 for the first mile and then an average of 08:53 overall).

It was OK, but in the back of my head I was already worried that things didn't feel all that great and doubts crept in really early.  By mile 4, my brain had checked out - my Garmin wasn't giving me great info on the mile splits and wasn't matching up with the race mile markers either.

So I had a bit of a mull, and as I did, the second two toes on my right foot started to get really sore - my shoe was too small for the conditions and I really didn't want that to turn into a proper problem.  And then there was an actual hill.  The up of which really demoralised me - s-bends up - and the down hurt my toes - s-bends again so you can't really let go so easily.

By mile 7 it was most definitely worrying, my pace was way off and I felt sick.  From that point all I could think about was another 6 miles until I could stop.  There were moments of "it *might* be OK, I could maybe get around in about 4 hours 10 or so... but I felt vile in my stomach and I was worried about my toes.  So I gave up.

I walked a little bit, had a chat with the race marshall at the split between the finish funnel and the second lap and took the finish funnel.

The medal was OK.

The goody bag was *enormous*.  The sponsors were keen and realise that a lot of their target market was right there.

I was desperate for *something* - the water was great, but I chugged the "Upbeat" as well, which helped a bit.  I followed it with the yogurty raisins and the chocolates but that's not real food and I needed tea so I went in search of tea.  Unfortunately the tea place had a menu that said "bacon baguette" which I really wanted and convinced myself of that so much that when it turned out there was only hog roast (roast pork, crackling & stuffing in a soft roll) I had so much momentum I got one of those when it probably wasn't the best idea.

The pork and crackling were pretty good, to be honest and I ate about half of it and ditched a lot of the roll.  Drank my tea and then tried to get up from the grass.  Instantly, I felt really sick; sicker than when I was running.  So I just wanted to be home, somewhere cool, dark and quiet with some fizzy water with lemon.  I crashed out on the journey home, but the naps made me feel a bit better, as did the pint of cold, fizzy water with lots of lemon slices in it when I got home.

Overall - today just didn't work.  My brain and body were not as up for it as I needed for a sub-4, and then I made it worse with the shoes being wet and not fitting for some reason, and then something weird with my stomach and then eating stupid things afterwards.  BUT!  There will be other days!   Lancaster was not a fluke, and I know I can have a much better day at some point in the future.  This was my second fastest half marathon to date - 02:02:31.  When you set out to do a marathon, you run slower than you would for a half, so this makes me quite happy in a convoluted way.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Race Report: Lancaster Castle Half

What just happened?

Race number two of the holiday and it was another "enter on the day" jobbie.  This time a half marathon that is 99.75% flat with a 30m uphill in the final 400m; a little sting in the tail for those on for a PB or a particular time.

The Lancaster Castle Half Marathon (and 10K) is based in Lancaster Castle (prison) in the centre of Lancaster.  This means very few loos for 500 registered runners on the day (we found a pair and timed it perfectly as a huge queue formed behind us almost the moment we'd found them).  As people were heading up the hill into the castle grounds, almost everyone was saying "do we have to run up this?" as they skidded up the cobbles into the castle grounds.  Yes, not only a nasty little hill, but paved with great, shiny cobbles; perfect for skidding about when walking never mind running up it!

We found a coffee shop back in town, just a couple of hundred meters away, once we'd registered and there was an hour before the, quite civilised, start time of 11am.  Lucky we did too, though the coffee was truly awful, there was a loo to be taken advantage of.  And we did.  A couple of times each at least - having scoffed curry and a few ales the night before, there was a bit to let go of before running for a couple of hours.

The race seems pretty popular with local running clubs as there were a couple of coach-loads turned up from two clubs; one in red and one in blue, Blackburn Road Runners and Red Rose Road Runners.  We chatted to one of the race officials (the bloke doing the timing) as everyone was walking to the race start area, and he'd said there were 500 runners registered between the half and the 10K but there was unprecedented no-shows with no particular reason why.

The race start was down in a field near the castle.  We all ambled down the path to the field to then completely not hear the run briefing at all, and then we were led to the actual start line.  I was about  3/4 down the bunch of runners as we walked to the start line and then people ahead were suddenly, without any warning, just running.  Nobody knew where the start line was or when we should have considered the race to have started, but we all just pootled off over a narrow bridge and down the road into a new housing estate by the estuary.

I wasn't sure how I'd be only a week after what I'd thought was a pretty peppy 10 miler.  I kinda wanted to aim for a sub 2 hour half marathon but given how I'd not wanted to get out of bed and didn't much feel like running hard and sucking up any hurt, I decided to take the first mile as a warm-up and assessment and see what that pace looked like before deciding what to do with the other 12.1 miles.  When the beep for the first mile came, 09:22 was a bit disappointing and I thought "oh well, no PB for me today."

My half marathon PB at 02:03:05 at another spontaneous holiday race two years ago, when I was about 4kg lighter and had quite a bit of Ironman fitness still going on, seemed a bit ambitious to break if the first mile was 09:22 and I did some sums (always a bad idea when putting out effort - you should see some of the spectacular basic maths errors I make in that condition) which told me that even if I held that pace, I'd be on for just about squeaking in at 2 hours 2 minutes and change, but with the 30m hill in the last 400m of distance it'd be touch & go.  So I mentally gave up and decided to just take a look every mile and see what happened.

The route was pretty darned boring really.  Along a tow path in a housing estate, with the estuary on one side, then down a tree/bush lined gravel trail to a turn-around point and onto a road, over the canal, down a long road through fields into a headwind to a dead turn point and back through the fields, over the canal and along a main road back to the gravel trail and into town again.  Not much to look at, but it meant for concentrating on the runners around you.

Each time my watch beeped, it was showing 08:xx per mile from 39 to 53 as a variation. I overtook *tons* of people.  Apart from one little woman all in black.  She overtook me at around 3 miles in and I couldn't let her go after that.  My legs felt fine and I felt fine, overtaking ones and twos and the odd cluster of runners, but always that woman all in black just ahead of me who I couldn't pull back in.  She kept me honest for about 7 miles until, by surprise, I finally overtook her on the main road back towards the trail, at around the 9 mile point.  I wasn't sure if it'd stick, but it seemed to and she looked to have slowed down and run out of oomph.  When I next looked down at my watch at a one mile beep, it turned out I'd speeded up and had just hit a 08:39 mile.  I did more sums.  A sub 2 hour time was well on the cards and if I felt like it, I could slow right down to 10 minute miles for the rest of it and still just beat 2 hours.  But I didn't want to do that.

I carried on reeling in the odd runner here and there and was a bit smug feeling that I'd get through this race with not one person overtaking me.  Hah.  A bloke in a green top and a black Camelbak sneaked up, not long after I'd overtaken the woman in black and he pulled away a little.  Nooooo! And a mile later I had him back again and he said "final push now!" as I pushed very slowly past him, breathing quite loudly.  I couldn't speak really, but as my watch beeped and I saw it saying 08:37 I blurted out "oh shit!".  I couldn't believe I was not only still holding sub 9 minute miles but that I was appreciably quicker than that.

Carrying on sucking up the feeling like I was putting in reasonable effort, I made that overtake stick and kept motoring until the final stretch of road by the estuary where I suddenly lost heart and slowed.  I had two more people to overtake; an old fella in a running club shirt and a woman in black & white vertical stripes.  I just managed to overtake the man, but I couldn't muster up anything to push enough to overtake the woman.  Rounding the corner to run along the field we started in, I really ran out of steam, slowed to 09:20/mile pace and then walked a couple of steps up the bridge over the railway lines before the final slog up to the prison.

She was back!  The woman in black!  Argh!  She powered past me up the cobbled road to the prison gates and there was nothing I could do.  Then as I went through the gates I heard yelling that someone was right behind me and I could hear him.  It was the bloke in green I'd overtaken a little while back.  No way was he going to be allowed overtake me in the final few meters, so I broke into a sprint and just pulled away from him to cross the line.

Smashed my half marathon PB, despite that evil hill at the end (though I clearly lost heart a bit before that).  Official time 01:57:16 - a PB by 05:56.  And I negative split by 38s.

I had a good chat with the woman in black and the man in green and thanked them for keeping me honest - it sounded like they'd had fun too.  And then it was awards time for the winners.  In keeping with the spirit of local races with prizes donated by local businesses, the overall winner got a microwave.

It was definitely time for breakfast by then, having had only a cup of tea at about 07:30 and a mouthful of crap coffee from the coffee shop before the race.  So we adjourned to a nearby pub for Sunday lunch - 2 pints of ale for me, and pea and mint soup with bread and butter, then roast lamb with a ton of veg and a Yorkshire pudding.

I'm pretty pleased with that race.  Being about 4-5kg heavier than I want to be at the moment (mainly due to wine), having had ales and curry the night before, having only started back running again 5.5 months ago, after 4 months off and learning to walk again in March this year and I was in the top half of finishers, top 25 of 86 women and 6th V40 woman out of 28, and PBing by pretty much 6 minutes (so just under 30s/mile faster every single mile for 13 miles).  Yeah, pretty bloody pleased with that indeed.

Knee over ankle in the loading phase :o)

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Race report: Cumberland Ale 10

We're on holiday, so of course we're going to be running a 10 mile race on the 2nd day of it!

That's one of the lovely things about low-key local running races is that you can turn up and enter on the day and it'll be lovely and everyone will be lovely.  And we did, and it was, and they were.

The Cumberland Ale 10 is a 10 mile foot race that starts at the Jennings Brewery in Cockermouth, Cumbria.  It's not flat, but it's a cracking course.  The route is a lollipop with a water station at the top of the stick (in both directions) and there's about 250m of elevation gain over the route with a couple of appreciable hills - one after you go through the water station for the second time where I finally gave in and walked, and just where the official photographer is lying in wait. Yay!

I put in some effort for this race.  Starting off at a reasonable pace for the first mile (which was all uphill with a gentle climb out of the town), I turned it up a bit after that.  This race was all about having some fun with no targets, no pressure, no goals other than to enjoy it.  And enjoy it I did.

The other thing about local races is that the field is very different from larger, mass participation events.  You find that most of the runners are part of local running clubs and the finishing time distribution is very compressed compared with those mass participation events.  Having started out right at the back, and put in quite some effort all the way through (max HR 201! Downhill!), I only managed to overtake 8 people over the course.  Coming in 19th lady out of 25 (and 55th of 64 runners overall) is a bit demoralising given the effort, but... (context is everything).
I spent 6 miles of the race trying to reel in a local runner.  She'd pull away a bit on the uphills and a tiny bit on the "flat" bits and I'd pull her in on the downhills that were steeper than totally trivial.  Overall I just couldn't quite manage it in the end, but she kept me honest and kept me from chickening out and taking it easy (apart from that one uphill...).

I can certainly say I put in a pretty even effort throughout, and high even for me.  It's encouraging in that respect that I'm remembering how to hurt again, in terms of putting in the effort rather than actually being quick at all.  I've never been a quick runner really and with vanishingly small exposure to hills beyond pimple-like undulations, it's only to be expected that on this course I wouldn't do anywhere near as well as the locals.  I am pretty pleased that I ran all the hills bar one and that my effort and pace was pretty even.  OK, so it was only 10 miles, but it was an honest, fun 10 miles.


The spread of food afterwards was amazing!  And a bottle of beer as a finishing token - never mind your t-shirts and medals; beer is where it's at!

I can heartily recommend looking up local races when you're on holiday.  Especially when they're hosted by a brewery!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Race report: Stockholm Ultra

Beautiful Stockholm Royal Park
Best ultra finisher t-shirt *EVER* (fitted, ladies size)
Stockholm Ultra is a really great race; well-organised, fabulous support, great food & drinks and really really lovely volunteers.  I am extremely glad I accidentally ended up doing it - I was in Stockholm for work and the only reasonable flight home was on a Sunday, so I'd miss my usual Saturday parkrun as there aren't any in Sweden (yet).  So I went looking to see if there were any racesin the city that I could get to on the Saturday instead.  Just my luck, there was only one race that weekend; the Stockholm Ultra.  So I entered.  Why not?  It's a lapped course and I'd like to see whether that is as horrible as I think it might be (it's not).

A direct copy & paste of the email I sent to my coach afterwards (with added photos):

First up, yes I am happy with how Stockholm went, especially the recovery.  I'm not worried about the fact that my pacing was terrible (for me) as it's been a while since I've run so far in one go, and I was really out to just enjoy myself and come out the other side uninjured.  Initially I'd thought I'd aim for 6.5 hours and averaging 12 min/mile plus a few minutes to allow for stops for water etc. and with a 10:1 run:walk tactic after 20 mins of warm up jogging.  But the race didn't quite unfold that way.

Pretty humid
It was hotter than I'd anticipated and quite humid (nothing like New York, but quite sticky in places).  I set off towards the back at what was a little bit of an ambitious pace compared with the original thinking, but it felt nice at the time. I then realised after just over half a mile that my heart rate wasn't being picked up by my Garmin so stopped for a fiddle with the technology and then got a bit silly about trying to get back to the place I was in the pack again.  It all felt really nice and easy and I decided not to run/walk (a lovely conversation with myself in my head about being a wuss for walking in something practically flat and only a tiny bit longer than a marathon) and then things got tricky at about the end of the 3rd lap (11 miles or so in, having averaged 10.5mins/mile for the first 11 miles or so).  

Feeding alley & start/finish area.
At that point, I got "bored of breathing" (weird and hard to explain, but I had it at Rotherham a long time ago; the thing that took the most energy and willpower was breathing and the insides of my chest ached).  I got the darker thoughts of wanting to stop and the odd cramp in my left glute.  My pace dropped off by about 45s-1min/mile to almost down to 12 min miling at that point and I started to take the walk breaks as the alerts came up on my watch.  My legs were OK, it was breathing and unpicking the mental stuff that started to be difficult.
Useful(sorta) lap board that tells you how many laps left and predicted finish time at your average pace to that point.  I'd've bitten your arm off for a 05:27 finish (this was 4 laps to go).
The end of lap 3, I quite wanted to stop but didn't. The end of lap 4 I really wanted to stop but didn't.  The end of lap 5, having had the pace drop a bit more down to 12.5mins/mile on average, I convinced myself that it'd be dim to stop with only 5 miles to go, I upped the pace again from 4.5 miles to go, back up to 11.75mins/mile on average for the last push and even a "sprint" finish for the last 500m uphill (OK, 29 feet in 1/2 a mile).  My last lap (6th) was almost 7 minutes quicker than the penultimate (5th) lap and 3 minutes quicker than the lap before that (4th)!  So there was plenty left in the tank both physically and mentally.

First mini-lap - 11:30 (including faffing & stopping) (1.25miles)
Lap 1 - 51:42 (5 miles)
Lap 2 - 53:14 (5 miles)
Lap 3 - 55:31 (5 miles)
Lap 4 - 1:01:24 (5 miles)
Lap 5 - 1:04:59 (5 miles)
Lap 6 - 58:12 (5 miles)
(Marathon split - 5:01:08 (26.2 miles))

Interestingly, it's about 21 miles in where my ability to push effort seemed to properly drop off - HR dropped from averaging around 165-170, to where I didn't feel able to push higher than 155.  A chunk of that will be related to walking breaks which started off at 10:1 then 9:2 and for the last 5 miles I took as few walking breaks as I felt I could manage with - the end was in sight and I was feeling able to push on a bit better. Also interestingly I was in 44th place from the 11 mile point to the end (of 82 women doing the 50km route).

It was definitely worth a punt and I hit some of the goals, the ones that mattered anyway - get around without hurting myself, have fun.  And it's a nice positive boost on the recovery side; not sure I'd nip out for a quite marathon right now, but normal training runs seem quite possible after a few days of recovery.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Race report: Wimbledon Half

tldr; I raced the Wimbledon Half yesterday and it was absolutely fantastic! 

Looking back at the Hitchin Hard Half as a data point post-surgery, I targeted beating the time from that race (02:18:xx official race time, but I stopped to help someone and had to run back to the marshals down the hill to get official help, and my watch said moving time of 02:15:xx, so I'm taking that).  It was very much achievable goal given the relative lack of hills at Wimbledon - the Hitchin route has 676ft total ascent and the Wimbledon one only 480ft of total ascent.

You can see where I stopped to re-pin my number near the start
The goal was to manage a faster average pace than 10:18/mile to beat that time of 02:15.  The slight fun was that the first mile of the route is mostly uphill, so the first mile was always going to be slow as well as wanting to take it relatively gently for the first 20 mins or so. 

The race was due to be started in waves separated by 3 minutes, the first of which for those expecting a race time of 01:40 or less.  The following waves for 01:50 or less, 2 hours or less, 02:10 or less and then over 02:10.  I decided to go in the last wave, mainly because people frequently over-estimate how quickly they will finish plus go off too quickly at the start so even with slower runners I'd have plenty of room at the start with people disappearing off ahead of me who I'd eventually overtake and beat in the end.

We jogged across the common from the Windmill car park to the race start/finish on the rugby fields and as we arrived and registered it started to drizzle.  So we sheltered under the trees and drank tea while we waited the 45 mins or so to the first wave start.  MrTOTKat  had decided to go in the 01:50 or less wave so I'd be starting well after him and unlikely to see him again until the finish, given the route of the course.  I hung back and decided to go for a final wee after the 2 hour wave had started only to hear that the final two waves were being merged due to them being so small.  So I had to yank up my shorts pretty swiftly and trot swiftly to the starting arch to get going.

Given the uphill in the first mile, I wasn't too annoyed to see a 10:33 first mile given that I'd hiked a bit up that hill already to keep my heart rate down and save running effort for when I could do it faster than I hike uphill.  There was also the few seconds I had to stop to re-pin my race number, having yanked it off with the thumb of one hand while over-enthusiastically swinging up arms up that hill.

Then I managed to keep a relative lid on things for the first 5 miles.  The rain fell harder and harder and I was loving the route and the weather and feeling great, so I decided to wind it up a bit and carry on picking people off to overtake.  Having started in the last wave I ended up making well over 100 places by always targeting the next 2 people in front of me and reeling them in.  Hiking the steeper ups (a couple of smallish hills), taking the flats with a bit of push and enjoying the downs I made sure I kept pushing a bit all the way around the two laps.  Mainly not looking at my watch at all until after half way, I ran on feel and my legs felt like they wanted to have a go.

The end of the first lap had a good 1.5 miles of full-on downhill which I bombed down the first time, hitting my fastest ever mile since coming back from surgery.  Having practiced downhill a bit more than it appears a lot of people do, I flew past quite a few people on that first go down that hill.  After that I kept pushing all the way; targeting the next person to reel in and overtake over and over again.

I unexpectedly saw MrTOTKat  at mile 7-ish and waved - he was looking perky and I was slightly jealous that he had only 4 miles to go where the two bits of route touch each other and I still had 6 to go.  Things got a bit tough in miles 9 and 10 and I slowed a bit around there as I fought with myself to carry on pushing.  By that point I knew I'd be easily beating my 02:15 target as I'd taken a look at my watch and seen the average pace showing as 09:45/mile.   But I zipped up the Yuki suit and got on with it, finding the love again quite quickly by mashing through the puddles that others were mincing around trying to keep their feet dry (pointless as there were unavoidable puddles later in the lap) and then thinking about that gorgeous downhill in the last couple of miles.

Mis-judging the last little bit of the race, partly because I hadn't noticed a landmark right near the start of the route, it was a few hundred metres further to go than expected when MrTOTKat (having already finished and come to the final water station to cheer me in) yelled encouragement that it was "4-5 mins to go!" - I was expecting 2-3mins at that point and the extra made quite a bit of mental difference.

Battling it out with a couple of other ladies around the final couple of bends, they were more timid about the surface and weather than I was, but then I almost killed myself on a slippery tree root when I saw the giant Womble cheering people at the final water station. Then just before the end, I had a tiny little blow-up; my legs decided they weren't playing any more and I even had to walk a few steps to avoid throwing up.  Zipping up that Yuki suit again, I forced past it to run some more for the final 200m and had the only person to overtake me for the whole race go past at that point! Argh!  Throwing myself headlong across the field towards the finish I did manage something of a sprint at the end, but nothing sustainable and really had to have a sit down pretty soon after crossing the line.

It was great that the rain started just before the race and then only got harder all the way through until it stopped about 10 mins before I finished.  I love running in the rain and I'm totally happy to run through mud and puddles.  Overall I'm very pleased with how the morning's running went.  Having targeted 10:18/mile average as a target to beat 02:15 overall, and achieved 09:41/mile I'm really very happy with that - OK it was not quite as hilly as Hitchin, but that's still quite a difference (I officially finished in 02:06:44).  I'm very happy that I managed to keep pushing the whole way round - something I've had inconsistent results with in the past (the main reason I don't get on with multi-lap courses - it's too easy for me to give up at the end of any given lap :o)) - I could easily have thrown in the towel after one lap and just been annoyed with myself later (I'm pretty sure the lovely route plus positive mind-set I set off with rather helped this time).  What you have to bear in mind is that 5 months ago I was re-learning to walk after ankle surgery, and I've only been back exercising again for 4 months since 4 months off!  (And I'm not a lifetime athlete, so I don't have years of fitness in my body.)

What's also awesome is that this race looks like it's run 4-5 times in the year from March to October so it could be a local fun series for future years too!