Sunday, 24 September 2017

Race Report: Seattle Craft Classic (half marathon)

Mr TOTKat and I discovered a while ago that it's really great fun to enter a local race when we go on holiday. And with the total lack of expectation on the day, we often pull out our best times - double win! 

Since starting a job which involves a reasonable amount of travel, I've had to find reliable ways of minimising/avoiding jet lag so I'm not a zombie all the time. Running is a fantastic way to combat jet lag! Going West; I stay up as late as I can and try to get a run in just before sunset. Then get up and out for a run as soon as it starts getting light in the morning. Getting daylight on your skin and eyes really helps sort out the rhythm of the day and every time I use this method I just don't get jet lag at all! Heading East again it's the same in reverse, get out and get a run in as close to sunrise and sunset as possible to help reset that inner clock. It really works!

The second thing running gives me when I travel is that it's a great way to explore a new location. This latest trip to Seattle, I found a local half marathon on the first Sunday I was there, which was planned to end at a local brewery! A great opportunity to get up and out and seeing the area! I was a bit surprised at the cost of the race entry; yes it was tiered by how close to the date you entered and I was entering the day before, but still. Pretty pricey!

A quick cab ride to the running shop on the day before the race, to enter, pick up race number and the race branded beer glass and t-shirt (adding even more to the overall cost! doh!). And, because I'm weak-willed, I ended up buying a new pair of 3/4 tights (for some reason I seem to have only one pair of training/racing 3/4 tights at the moment and they have a hole in them from when I face-planted in them a while back).

Anyway! The race! It was really low key and small. Just under 400 people ran the half marathon and 350 ran the 5k (which started in a different place, but also ended at the brewery). There were pairs of pacers for all of these race targets: 01:30, 01:40, 01:50, 02:00, 02:15, 02:30, 02:45 and 03:00. Which was really great to see - this race was taking itself pretty seriously in terms of quality even though it was pretty small. The bag drop, portaloos and pacers were the indications at the start and I figured out the big contributor to the price later on.

The course was all on "trails". There is a concept of trails in the USA that's different from what folks in Europe would expect. Given that there's a lot of road in the states, huge distances between things even in towns that mean folks drive almost everywhere, there's little walking facility to get from A to B. So what happens in a lot of places is that there are cycle/walk routes carved through the urban area which are usually made easy for accessibility in some way; tarmacced, gravel, packed sand etc. This is what they call a "trail" and in the case of this race route, that's what the trails were. So really good surface underfoot for running quickly AND flat as you like! The weather was absolutely perfect too. Clear, bright and with a slight chill in the morning. It was all lining up well for a good time for me, so I went into the race with a back-of-the-mind aim to cruise hard, making progress to equal my PB or beat it. 3 weeks back from LEJoG and I was feeling quite good in the legs and engine with some of the runs the week before, so why not?

So I set off smartly and set out to make progress without blowing up too early. The sun was bright, the air crisp and cool and the runners started to pull away, but I let it happen. This always happens with a large proportion of folks not being so great at pacing - Marathon Talk describe this phenomenon and the tide going out. And the thing about the tide going out, is that you know it'll come back in again later. It always does. So knowing this and having experienced it umpteen times, I didn't get too caught up in trying to keep up.

As it was on trails and no need for a whole lot of road safety costs, soon enough it was obvious where a large chunk of the cost of the race went. 5 photographers, with 4 clustered together at a point on the course where the half marathon runners and the 5k runners would pass twice, and the fifth strategically placed on a hill to catch the big efforts. At this point, I'd been following a lady who looked to be hitting a pace I liked the feel of; not too easy, not too spicy. The tide was already coming back in again from the 4th mile or so and it felt great for the first 9 miles - just under 9 mins/mile is a pace that I need to concentrate to keep the effort high enough, but no problem to maintain for a good length of time at the moment.

Each time I gently passed her, she'd step up the pace again having eased off a bit, and pass me again. It kept me honest for those 9 miles. Had she not been there, I'm pretty sure my concentration would have dropped and I'd've slowed down and ended up looking at the trees and the river more. But at about 9 miles, I passed her at a dead turn point on the course and never saw her again. There was a little undulation around that area and I was taking advantage of the very slight downhill gradient to get a little help from gravity and I think that's what did the trick. Mile 10-11 had a slight uphill gradient (as did mile 8), which sucked a bit of energy and from there the pace started to feel tough to maintain. Only 3 miles to the end and I was on track for a PB, so I kept the gas on.

Then in the last couple of miles I made some errors. From before half way onwards, my watch was disagreeing with the mile markers by about 0.1 miles.  My watch would tick over a mile marker, then 0.1 miles later I'd pass the physical one. It's never clear how accurate those markers are in a given race, so the doubts start to creep in about how long you have left to go. As my watch ticked over the 12 miles point, it was another almost 0.25 further on that I passed the 12 mile marker, so I thought I had almost 0.3 miles more to cover than my watch was telling me.

With the discomfort I was now in, I lost heart a little. I thought I was going to come in just under 2 hours by a few seconds, so I eased off a tiny bit and walked a few steps to adjust my t-shirt sleeves which were coming untucked from my bra straps (I'd tucked them in a couple of miles earlier because I was starting to overheat and needed a bit more surface area of skin available to cool down). Having had zero people pass me from after the first half mile, I now had a few folks go by. Not happy about that! Then the route twisted through some trees and up a couple of tiny little steeper slopes and I walked a few steps again there - I'd effectively given up in my head and, of course, it's your brain that gives up before your body. But then I heard the finish line! I turned a corner and it was literally only 100m to the finish! My watch just ticked over 13 miles about 200m earlier and I thought I had 0.3 miles still to go! Argh! So I sprinted over the line, hoping I'd not screwed it up too badly. My watch said 01:56:21! A PB!

No medals at the end because the race medals had been sent to a race in Florida by mistake and they were going to post them onwards to runners afterwards when they arrived in Washington (state). But there was a lovely picnic area with beer and food trucks on a field by the brewery and one free beer per runner (as long as you had ID to prove you were old enough - this is America after all!)

What great atmosphere with friends and family of the runners all getting involved. I sat myself on the grass by the prize giving area, where the pacers ended up congregating afterwards. I got to meet lots of local runners and felt really welcomed - fabulous atmosphere!

Official results later in the day knocked a couple more seconds off - 7th in my Age Group (and first non-US female athlete over the line :oD - OK there were only 2 of us and the other one was a Canadian! There were 2 Canadian men too.). Very pleased with a PB by 57s when I've really not been training for speed and had no expectations or target for this race until the day before it. Very pleased with my pacing (apart from the slight cock-up at the end). Cheers!

Saturday, 2 September 2017

LEJoG 2017: What's next?


While I'm still decompressing from LEJoG, I'm starting to think about what's next. I still need to write up the run but that's going to take time.

In the mean time... I've got a trail marathon coming up and I've entered the Rome marathon in April next year with the target of getting a "good for age" qualifying time for London (though I don't intend to use it). There's a plan forming for what comes after. Currently I want to build up to The Spine race. And I wanted to do Ring o' Fire then Cape Wrath as preparation, and that works for Ring o' Fire but 2018 is a Dragon's Back year not a Cape Wrath year. And I'm pretty sure that I'd be fine for Cape Wrath but Dragon's Back would be too much of a leap by then.

It seems like there's more thought needs to go into this to really figure it out. 

Plus it doesn't have to be races. LEJoG, Thames Path and North Downs Way taught me that. But if not a race, there's even more choice! I'm a starving person faced with an almost infinite menu!

What do you think?

Thursday, 20 July 2017

LEJoG 2017 - Getting Back on The Horse!

This time next week I will be on a train up to Edinburgh to change to a train to Galashiels, then a bus to Innerleithen before getting on my feet to John o'Groats.

Yes! I'm finishing the job! The little line on this map will get all the way to the top corner of Scotland!

I'm going to be running straight through for 16 days in a row, but given the days are less demanding than in the first 3 weeks this is very approachable and achievable. There are only 2 days over 30 miles, 6 days under 25 miles of which 2 are 20 miles and 1 is 13.5 miles. The elevation is pretty gentle too. I'll camp 2 nights and the rest is in B&Bs/hotels.

16 days of greenery and scenery in your social media feed, in between the crazy of the world. 16 days of mundane, simple, lower levels Maslow's needs griping to distract you from Brexit and Trump!  It's back on! Get the message out there! Get people following and sponsoring! Let's smash my £5K target funds raising for Public Health Collaboration!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

LEJoG 2017 - looking back and forward

If you don't follow me somewhere else on the Internet, the latest is that I had to stop after 21 and a half days due to excruciating pain in my leg, most likely tibialis anterior tendinitis.

I tried to rest for a couple of days to let things heal, after a local GP had a look at it, but even staying off it for 2 days made zero difference to the amount of pain once I'd really got going for the day's distance.  I tried strapping it and bracing it, but it got so painful that I ended up howling with pain and unimaginable amounts of tears and snot streaming down my face for the well over an hour it took me to get down from Minch Moor to Traqair.  At that point I was in the most pain I've ever been in, including when I broke my collarbone towards the final 15km of the bike leg of Ironman 70.3 Galway in 2012. So I decided to get myself to the nearest A&E as I was worried that it was something broken.  Luckily for me there was a health centre in the village a couple of miles away and they helped me get a taxi to Borders General hospital. I left the hospital with a pair of crutches, a letter to my GP, and instructions to stuff my face with Ibuprofen and paracetamol for a couple of days and then just the Ibuprofen for the rest of the week. I'd been avoiding NSAIDs to that point, due to it being a super bad idea to take those while doing heavy exercise. After 2 days, however, the pain was hugely reduced to the point where I was OK walking a bit without crutches, but my leg/ankle still got creaky and sore after a while. So, I've been really doing nothing now for a few more days (it's 5 days now since I stopped) and there's a little swelling still and some restriction in flexing my ankle in either direction (I've been doing exercises to make sure it doesn't get stiff), but I've been tentatively looking at when I can get back and finish the route. Sure, I could have taken Ibuprofen for the remaining 15.5 days and carried on in the hope that it worked well enough and didn't cause my kidneys to give up, but I wasn't willing to do that to myself. I'm stubborn, but not totally stupid.

Thanks to @benunsworth for making this brilliant map!
I've done 630 miles. There's 405 left to do. I need to avoid (Scottish) school holidays and key work events and negotiate *another* 2 weeks unpaid time off, but it looks like later in October might work and I should be well recovered by then.

Looking back, it's slightly surreal to think of how far up the UK I got - well into Scotland, not far short of Edinburgh. I saw some beautiful and very varied scenery, pretty villages, brilliant cafes, pubs and B&Bs. I problem solved my way through many obstacles: ankle to shoulder height nettles, gorse, thistles, holly and hawthorn; electric fences; barbed wire; herds of cows; very anti-social land owners (hey, yeah, I'll just stick a head-height bank of soil and a ditch across the entire width of the field and an electric fence, a hawthorn hedge and some barbed wire!); broken stiles and bridges; broken/locked/wired shut gates; missing bridges; unrelenting sun for 2x days with no shade; cold; wet feet for 12+ hours; 45-50mph winds while up on the highest point of the moors... etc. I've met some really lovely people and been shown great kindness many times. I've spent days where the only talking I've done is saying hello to cows and rabbits. I've gotten a *lot* of vitamin D! And I've raised over £3,500 for Public Health Collaboration (so far)! My muscles and engine were fine throughout. I slept really well. I used every single piece of kit I'd packed except the two things I'd really only need in the more remote bits of Scotland - a fabric bucket for collecting water, and a water bottle with a filter in it.

It's been an amazing experience; sure, there were tough bits and I got frustrated and upset a good few times mainly due to people being unthinking/inconsiderate (e.g. car drivers who have no idea of the highway code and how to deal with pedestrians). But it took a biomechanical breakdown to put it on pause for now.

I've got pretty bad blues - I wanted to do it in one, and I'm really missing being out in the countryside whatever the weather. Need some time and care before anything hard - physical or mental.