Witham BD5

It’s ages since I blogged about a race – probably because I’ve done very few this year. Today was my second Boxing Day 5, organised by Witham Running Club – now in its 29th year. I’ve not run far or fast for a long time, so I wasn’t expecting to storm round the course (all things are relative) and I was hoping to run 10min miles – my recent runs have been nearer 10.30 pace which is getting slow… blaming old age…

The smell of deep heat and the adrenaline kicks in… a brilliant bit of marshalling in the clubhouse meant no loo queue to speak of – that is a seriously brilliant achievement, as one of the downsides to many races is an interminable queue. It was chilly but not unbearable as we assembled at the start, waiting for the sunshine we’d left behind in Colchester. The route was slightly different this year so I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going, but then there would be plenty of people in front of me to follow!

The measure of a good race for me is one where the mile markers appear quickly – and the first one was there after 9.08 – I was completely surprised! I’ve not done a sub 9.30 mile for months. And I hadn’t noticed – hadn’t felt like I was working particularly hard, or anything – so I carried on. Mile 3 I was extremely glad my Inner Sergeant Major was on board today as some slight twinges suggested a return of the stomach cramps that I’ve started getting – however, we talked ourselves out of paying attention to that, and focused on the task in hand. And then as we came round the last corner at 3.5 miles, Witham and the downhill appeared in front of us – and I could see that I’d easily be able to finish under 50minutes. So the last mile was easy (except for the last 100m! I completely ran out of steam about 50m from the finish – it felt like I was walking).

In fact looking at the Runkeeper splits  it seems the last mile was actually just under 9 minutes – which I am hugely encouraged by. There was me thinking 9.08 for a first go-off-a-bit-quick mile was good, then I finish even faster…

That was one of the nicest runs I have done in a long time. I really enjoyed it (thank you Viv for the lift) – this is definitely poised to become a Boxing Day thing for future years.

According to Runkeeper:
1 9:08
2 9:43
3 10:10
4 9:46
5 8:59
overall 48:32 – let’s see what my official chip time is.

Next stop: Janathon.

Colchester Half Marathon

A slightly overdue race report. Well, I say ‘race,’ more like a long slow run. I was nearly 10 min slower than my HM PB. At the time of writing I’m still waiting on the chip time, but my watch said 2:13:46. Runkeeper gives it as 2:17 but that’s because I forgot to switch it off. A good breakdown of the pace, though – as usual tailing off towards the second half.

Race was good, well-organised and sufficiently big to allow me to be not last. This was a very very local race – practically past my front door. So I knew what the first hill (North Hill) would be like, and I was prepared for the long drag up Ipswich Road which caught a few people out. We crossed the A12 and ran through Langham and Boxted – two miles of Boxted Straight Road is enough for me to agree that yes, it is a very straight road.

I was quite bored of my own company at that poing (12th & 13th miles) so I was mentally going through every part of my body and thanking God for it. When I got to thanking Him for the people who trained the opticians who fitted my contact lenses and corrected my sight, and the rods and cones in my eyes, I knew it was time to think about something else.

The lovely Paul and Pam Webster, who had dropped me off at the start of the run, popped up at 9 miles to give me a shout, which was lovely – and then appeared again at 11 miles which was marvellous. Unexpected actual personalised cheering, amazing – 13 miles can be dull and boring with no supporters. Dad was at the finish in his usual easy-to-spot red cap; and the family met me at the end before a large glass of wine.

Two weeks ago I came down with a cold that really knocked me for six, so I was worried about even being able to take part. Until a few days ago I was expecting to be running the Great Bentley half on 25 March, and I had planned on Colchester being a warm up for a main effort performance. Unfortunately I hadn’t spotted that the GB race had been moved to 18 March – so no second spring race. All things considered, then, 2:13 isn’t horrendous – I finished, nothing new hurt, and I had fun. However, see next post for some other fallout from the run…

Great North Run

On Sunday I was one of 54,000 taking part in the 31st Great North Run. This is one I have watched on TV several times but had never considered – too far away, too expensive – all sorts of excuses – until this year when I figured I could enter the ballot and Just See What Happened. And what happened was a successful application. So Saturday morning saw me, my mother and father piling out of King’s Cross up to Newcastle. There’s probably a whole other blog post about the travelling…

Race day dawned bright and clear and I went through what is now a fairly familiar routine of drinking gallons of water, stretching, eating porridge and that food of champions – the hot cross bun. I don’t remember why but these have become a breakfast staple for me now alongside the bananas. Just like the gin & tonic for flights, I’m not now prepared to change what works!

We stayed in central Newcastle so once I’d been seen off it was about a 25 minute walk up to the start. I’d memorised the map but this was completely superfluous as there were several thousand other people to follow. Several thousand people to follow also meant several thousand people in front of me for the loo queue and baggage bus and at one point I wished I’d left a good 30 minutes earlier. Once I’d made my final pitstop it was nearly 10:20 so I hopped over the fence and landed just at my assembly zone. I reckon this was about halfway – I could see neither the start nor the back of the crowd.

The Red Arrows arrived on a flypast – what a great start to an event. There’s just something about them that is so iconic. I watched the men’s race start on the big screen and waited to shuffle forwards to the start – took about 15 minutes, not so bad. Just like in July I remembered those for whom crowds are not benign; that I was there running for pleasure and not for my life; that water and food will be plentiful at the end.

As I was about to cross the Tyne Bridge the Red Arrows appeared again, which was another huge boost. At that point, my run was well under way. The things I remember, in no particular order, are…

  • A really bad Elvis impersonator at about mile 10
  • Seeing the St John Ambulance folk handing out vaseline and staffing first aid pointsNot liking seeing three folk on the floor being treated by paramedics nor the ambulance we met at about mile 9; I hope those people are recovered
  • Rain. Did you see the rain on the TV? It was very very wet. Actually, it was very welcome as it was a little warm in the sun, and annoying only that I was concerned my phone was getting wet.
  • Hills. At the start the chap I was chatting to warned me of the hill at mile 11. And a lot of the race felt uphill. None of it as bad as running up Ipswich Road in Colchester, though, so that training brought its benefits
  • The last mile is a long mile and it was crowded – no chance of pulling a few seconds back
  • Jellybabies: mine, slightly damp, eaten halfway through mile 10 when I was bored, wet and hungry. I walked a bit.
  • iPod shuffle gave up the ghost at about mile 8; this was annoying!
  • Race numbers had our names printed on them – two people cheered me on by name – thank you
  • Oranges and sweets being handed out by spectators, some of whom looked dreadfully wet
  • Hadrian’s Brewery giving out beer samples: I didn’t take one
  • Roundabouts: horrible things to run round; the physio I saw last week had fore-warned me though
  • At about 10 miles I was overtaken by the Runners World 2hr pace marker – quite a boost as although I’d been logging mile times I’d not been looking and I felt really slow.

Above all, I remember feeling mostly happy, relaxed, pain-free and confident in my ability to run the distance. Lucky to be able to; thankful for all the roast dinners Mum has cooked for the end of a 10mile run. Incredibly grateful for the support of my family and friends.

Looking at my times below I’m pretty pleased. My long runs all happened before Greenbelt and the Jesus Arms, injury and physio. Interesting that mile 12 was exactly the same pace as in February. So I guess the challenge for the next run I do is to even these times out to a consistent pace. I think with practice and a bit more fitness I could aim for 9 minute miles; at least for 10 or so. That would give me a fighting chance of a 2nd half marathon. And there’s a local-ish 10 mile race this autumn. Hmm.

Split times
10:39 (forgot to stop watch)

British 10k: the thinking part

I wanted to say out loud, as it were, something I thought this morning during the run. I hope it doesn’t sound too cheesy. I was reflecting on how fortunate I am, that of the crowds of people I was in, they were benign. There may have been pre-race nerves, but there was no fear of violence or anger. We were not fleeing from war, or queuing for food. When I was hot from running, I could just take a bottle of water, drink what I wanted, and throw the rest away. Such a precious resource but one we utterly, completely, take for granted. Christian Aid’s website tells me today that in East Africa, “People are so desperate that it’s not unusual to come across children begging for water on the roadside.” And today I threw water away.

So as well as ‘counting my blessings’ I also became angry, that we are so shallow in our uptake and understanding of international issues, and how we all share the one planet.

Running with many charity t-shirts on display also gives me a sense of the crap that people deal with and get on with, day after day. Next time I complain about my commuter train being late, can you remind me that there are plenty of people out there who would be pleased to be able to start working again? Thanks.

Hurstbourne Tarrant 5

Update: my time was 52:50

I completed my first proper cross-country race on Saturday 16 April – the Hurstbourne Tarrant 5. Possibly the slowest 5 miles I have run in several years! I had been warned about the hills (quicker to walk) but had not bargained on also having to deal with the tail end of a stupid cold that had knocked me for six earlier in the week. I’d had a day off work and that hasn’t happened for the best part of two years! So I was fairly certain that I was not going to be able to do much more than treat this as an interesting training run.

It was fun, though, running through woodland with bluebells making their presence known, and at one point I saw a deer which makes a change from Colchester’s squirrels. The trails were dry, so there was no mud to content with – just tree roots and branches and did I mention the hill? It was the kind of run where I was beginning to think there weren’t actually mile markers since it was a long wait for Mile 1 to appear. It took me a good 1/2 mile to get my breathing back under control after the hills – a sure sign the cold had taken its toll as I am sure I don’t normally struggle that much! The end had a nasty twist – just as you think the end is in sight there’s a loop back around a barn, adding a couple of hundred yards to the finish.

However, the post-race bacon buttie was a draw in itself and I enjoyed the fresh air and exercise, even if I was slower than a slow thing. Not sure yet what my time was as I failed to start my watch until the first long mile was over, but I imagine somewhere around 57 minutes.

Imminent half marathon

It’s the first week of February and that means that on Sunday it’s Great Bentley half marathon. I’ve been having really mixed feelings about the race this afternoon. See previous reports from 2008 and 2010… I half gave myself permission to not run earlier on today and it’s been interesting hearing my own mental debate.

On the one hand, the quitter is saying:

  • Better to not start than to post your first DNF
  • That ache/ twinge might turn into an injury
  • It’s going to be windy and really hard work, so you’ll be really slow like 2008
  • You’ve hardly trained, look, even your kit’s not ready
  • It’d make your Sunday of church-run-lunch-London-Loughborough much easier

On the other hand, the runner in me is countering with:

  • You can run 10 miles easy enough, a half is just that with a quick 5k tacked on
  • Remember the buzz and excitement of the race – that’ll be such an incentive
  • Yes, it’ll be windy, but not cold, and everyone else will have the same weather
  • You’ve learned how to race since 2008so you won’t make the same mistakes
  • It’s no disgrace to not finish

The runner is winning, particularly after a trip to the supermarket listening to my favourite running playlist. “Go!” by Moby is one of the best tracks to run to I have; brilliant for mixed-pace work (all those instrument changes and someone shouting go! in your ear). So I have bananas and hot cross buns (since one can’t buy now plain currant buns) and I’m about to wash my kit and take some of the mud off …

For my next challenge…

I’ve just signed up for the Great Bentley half marathon in February. It’ll be two years since I ran that, my first proper long race. I came 27th from last – there’s photographic evidence elsewhere on this blog.

I have a different set of challenges this time. 13.1 miles doesn’t sound the terrifying ordeal it once did when I had yet to run ten. But this time I will be training on my own, through the darkest bits of winter, whilst juggling more commitments at home and work. I have more experience of races and I know how cold and windy it can be!

Somewhat belated race report

I realised I never wrote a report of my day at this year’s London Marathon. So here is a retrospective.

 The two questions I am asked most often are “Was it fun?” and “Would you do it again?” to which the answers are a resounding ‘yes’ and a definite ‘no.’

The marathon was the most fun I have had with 5.5 hours running involved. And I don’t want to spoil those memories with a horrid run in future years.

From the start to the finish it was like one big party, I encountered nothing but smiles and friendliness. A definite contrast from a normal busy day in the City. I was very fortunate to be able to stay at a friend’s house just a 20-minute walk from the start; whilst others were schlepping across London I was still in bed.

 TV coverage of the start shows that I was in the last 500 or so runners to actually start the race. But no matter. I am not an elite athlete and even though Paula Radcliffe wasn’t taking part, I wasn’t exactly expecting to win it. Barring a disastrous injury, I knew I would make the distance even if I was on my hands and knees. And as I have no intention of running a marathon ever again, my time was almost irrelevant. In fact when people asked me what time I thought I’d finish in, I said I was hoping for ‘Sunday.’

 So there you are – I was the most relaxed I have been before any race I’ve done. Under no pressure other than to finish, on a sunny day with a great crowd of people. How could I not have fun?

 One of the most useful aspects was the service from Adidas that sent a text message when I had started, hit halfway, and finished, to those who were following me. So people could check my progress and my parents knew I had crossed the line a long time before I was able to fish my phone out and let them know I was lurking by the ‘B’ as arranged. I later discovered that many people had used the website to track my progress around the course. I felt so supported.

 My most memorable moments were:

  • Being sprinkled with holy water at about the 3 mile mark
  • Being part of a huge group of runners doing the YMCA as we passed a pub playing that song 
  • The lovely St John Ambulance people dishing out globs of Vaseline; and the lovely man who helped me remove my ring after about 18 miles 
  • The atmosphere on Tower Bridge: awesome doesn’t come close to describing it, the hairs on the back of my neck prickled and I felt like I had been carried over the bridge. 
  • Seeing the St Helena Hospice team shortly afterwards and getting cheered on from them 
  • Managing to meet my parents and friend Jan at almost exactly the places we had picked and at almost exactly the right time … 
  • … and seeing Het, who had come along to the Embankment on the chance she’s spot me 
  • Walking the last few miles and overtaking people still running 
  • Fighting back tears during that last ‘sprint’ down the Mall

Will see if I can retrieve the 5k split times and post them here. There are a few photos kicking about too.

10am banana at the Great Bentley half


I wasn’t last – but not by a lot. Still, I was still ahead of the other 50million people who spent Sunday morning not running 13 miles… Times aren’t up on the club website yet, but I expect to be something like 670th out of 700 runners. Do I mind? I would if I had been training for months, doing lots of carefully planned sessions. But as it’s only nine weeks since I started and I couldn’t run two miles without a breather, I think I can be pleased with myself. I’ve got a good solid background to work from, knowing I can do the distance and it’s ‘just’ a matter of getting better.

I think this was also a really valuable learning experience (sorry if that sounds glib and cheesey). But I didn’t have that ‘extra’ banana scheduled for 10am, I didn’t drink much before – and I had trained with sports drink, I need a pocket in my running shorts, my hat is too warm – and a hundred other things!

At the start of the race I was feeling really competitive and minding a lot about being right at the back of the runners. By mile five I was out of that mood and more realistic about what I could achieve – after all I was racing me, myself and I and not the top club runners using the flat course to set a PB. I overtook a few people, was overtaken in turn by a few more. Including a speed walker which I would have minded about if he hadn’t been so encouraging. My family were at the halfway point to cheer us on, and had been encouraging runners for half an hour before I appeared so had given plenty of people a boost. I could hear Mark’s family shouting me on at the finish even though I couldn’t see them, head was well down into the wind and not looking at the finish.

Mark beat me by a good five minutes – I had to stop and walk three times in the last three miles and couldn’t catch him after that. And now I am going for a little lie down until it’s time for church this evening.