Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Snowdonia Marathon

          I was picked up by the Mattinglys and Lawrence. We left Southampton Friday morning and arrived in Llanberis to pick up our race numbers and t-shirts sometime in the late evening due to the long journey and traffic congestion. It was a long day but we had a nice lunch at the Spread eagle pub in Gailey just after the M6 toll. We met Terry Prynn and Derek Goodchild there and asked a few questions about the marathon as Derek had finished it 15 times already and would be running it for the 16th time! We had all entered this marathon some time ago and I hadn't really looked into the race until a couple of weeks before we were going. I went on the website and made a few discoveries: This was supposedly the toughest marathon in Britain and there were some steep climbs. 1100ft at the start and another 1200ft at mile 22. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and a little scared if I am honest. I wasn't really marathon fit and had recently pulled out of the New Forest marathon due to an achilles injury. I certainly wasn't going to race this. I thought i'd be lucky just to finish.

         We got to our hotel in Caernerfon and checked in, then it was time for food and a couple of beers, followed by an early night. I hardly slept as it was very warm and I was quite nervous about getting around this marathon. We had breakfast early and went back to Llanberis for the start of the race. It was trying to rain but held off despite the grey skies and the wind wasn't too bad either. Perfect conditions really. The race was to start at 10.30 and the heavy downpour was predicted for 3pm. At least we'd have a dry start!

               The race started and nearly 2500 people shuffled forward. We were off! Lawrence was storming off ahead and Mike and Di were right next to me. Mike then seemed to pick up the pace but I ran with Di. Di was running our annual 10 mile race in a week's time so was only running 12 miles of the marathon and was then going to DNF herself to save her legs for the vital Hampshire Road Race League event. We seemed to be climbing straight away and this would last for about 3 miles. This was challenging at the start of the race as our breathing became heavy but the scenery was amazing with streams flowing down from the rocks and slate all around us. There were also T.V cameras filming so we couldn't walk but Di did offer a lady £50 for her bike halfway up the hill. The other great thing was that you could see so far into the distance in front and behind you. When we reached the top of the hill there was a long but not too steep downhill. This was mine and Di's favourite part of the race as we cruised down and Di pointed out that we were running a sub 7 minute mile which is something I have never done in a marathon before.

               The road still continued to slope downwards but at 6 miles we were now running on slate. I found this tough as I was being very careful with my footing as I didn't want to sprain an ankle and the wind was making my eyes water as well but Di was loving this part and flew off ahead and took me awhile to catch her again. The first 10 miles had vanished in hardly anytime at all. This was such a good marathon. All my fears had now disappeared and I was loving this. It was soon time for Di to quit the race at mile 12 where Terry would be waiting for her with the car. We spoke to many other runners and they told us that it would get tougher after 13 miles with another hill approaching. Di had decided to carry on running despite being told this. We were both having a great time and spent most of the time joking and laughing except for when the guy tripped over a cat's eye in the middle of the road.

                The second hill wasn't as steep as the first and was just a gradual climb. We knew this as Derek had told us about it. We seemed to get on okay and I made a prediction that we would catch up with Mikey at mile 18 as we were running well and running lots of sub 9's. I was wrong but we did see him and 19.5 miles and he was heading off course for a wee. My legs were feeling pretty tired at this point but they had now found renewed vigour. As Mikey went off course I sped up to overtake so that he wouldn't see me and Di was kinda doing the same thing apart from she couldn't stop laughing. As you can see we were really taking this race seriously!

                Mikey finally caught up around mile 21-ish but decided to walk again. We had forgotten that he was trying out a run/walk technique that he had read about but he said that it probably wasn't working too well because of all the hills. We left him behind and carried on chatting to strangers and Di likes to give everyone abuse. I think she actually out-chatted me and that's an achievement in itself! She kept us thinking about positivity and we weren't allowed any negative thoughts. I told her that I was being held hostage in my own head and this wasn't fair but I stayed positive anyway ;) It was hard not to with all the great support from the crowds and the marshals on the course. 22 miles in and we had now hit the biggest hill on the course. I had had 3 energy gels and 2 slices of orange. My hands were very sticky so the next water station would be for my hands. There were plenty of water stations and most of them were giving out free "High 5" gels with a different flavour at each station.

                 Our race numbers had our names on which was also great for support. People were calling our names out with added encouragement. For the first time me and Di had decided to walk for a bit. This was a steep climb. 23 miles in and I bump into an old friend from Southampton that I haven't seen for about 15 years! Weird, but great to see him and chat. When we got to the apex it was tough to start running again as my hamstrings had seized up and I noticed that this wasn't just happening to me. It took a while to get the legs warm again but I did. There was a pretty strong wind coming from the East now and running was a little tougher but I was happy to run through some of the puddles just to cool my feet down.

             Not long to go now! Most of the course is on road but now we were going to be back on the flint and grass. This last section was downhill. It's started gradually but by mile 25 it was very steep and impossible to run down. You had to slow yourself down. This would obviously awaken the quads. I had now left Di as we didn't have far to go and really wanted to pass two girls for good who had passed me a few times previously. I started by leaning back as far as I could when I was running but the descent got steeper. I then tried a sort of fell running technique where you run down the descent sideways. This seemed to work much better and gave me more control but as soon as the hill started to mellow out again I began to sprint. Yes - Sprint! I was sprinting at the end of a marathon. Managed to run my last mile in a sub 8 and was flying to the finish. This was the best I had ever paced myself. I had finished with a time of 4hrs and 2mins. Lawrence had already finished with an incredible 3hrs 30. Di was only 2 minutes behind me with a 4hrs and 4 mins. Mikey was 4hrs and 15 mins and Derek was done in 5hrs and 16mins, This was also Derek's 102nd marathon! An incredible man and a great inspiration to all.

            We picked up a Welsh slate/coaster at the finish grabbed a free tea/coffee or squash and then the rain started to pour down. We had been lucky. It was then back to the hotel for a shower and off to the pub for a drinking session and some food. What an amazing weekend. I would love to do this marathon again next week if I could. I guess i'll have to wait until next October.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Southsea parkrun

          I got up at 6am and it was still dark. I couldn't see the wind or rain but I could certainly hear it. Do I really want to make all this effort for a parkrun I thought? I had breakfast and drank my coffee which gave me more time to ponder over this question. I really wanted to do Winchester parkrun but they were doing a "naked running" parkrun thing. I felt like racing today and getting myself a good time. I had only been on a diet for a week but was feeling fitter and lighter already and the 20.21 I got at Cardiff parkrun the previous week had really gave me some confidence.

       I walked from my house into Shirley and got a bus to the train station and it was still dark but it was only raining lightly and the winds had died down. Things were improving! I got the train at 7.13 and had to change at Fareham but I was in Portsmouth by 8.15. It's quite a way from the train station and took me about 25 minutes to walk. Which was a good warm up for the legs. The parkrun starts near the Southsea pyramids centre which is pretty much where the Great south run starts. Although it is actually closer to the start of the Portsmouth coastal marathon which is behind the centre. There is a massive shelter where people gather under and it's also ideal to leave your bag there as I was worried my i-pod and phone would get wet but that didn't matter because by now the sun was out and shining brightly over the sea. It was a beautiful sight to see so early in the morning.

        We were briefed on the course and told to make our way to the start line. This was only the 2nd ever Southsea parkrun and there were already over 100 runners. At the start line I saw a familiar face that was Danny White from our running club. I managed to get in a quick greeting and then we were off.
You basically ran along the seafront towards the south pier and when you got half way you went around a cone and came back. This may sound boring but it isn't. It's fast and flat. On the way out the wind was against us and all I could hear was the wind in my ears. To my right was the wonderful sight on the sun glowing over the water. There were very few pedestrians on course which was also great. Despite the wind I was still able to run my first mile in 6 minutes and 27 seconds (and the same for the second mile). As soon as I rounded the cone and was on my way back there was silence. I no longer had the sound of the wind in my ears. The wind was now behind me I guess. This doesn't mean that running became easier though. I was now panting hard and it felt like I had sold my soul to the running devil for this parkrun. I had to dig deep and it felt like I was slowing down, but I wasn't. My garmin told me that I had run 3.12 miles in 19 minutes and 58 seconds! That's my fastest 5K in 3 years. I was so happy with the time and then spoke to Danny and found out that he had won in a time on 17 minutes and 35 seconds. I had came 17th which was a brilliant achievement for me.


           Those doubts I had in the morning whether it was worth the hassle to make this journey to parkrun were now eradicated. I spent the rest of the day so happy and wanted to tell the world that I had gone sub 20  and only for the 2nd time. I think I was more excited about this than anything else that I had achieved so far this year. I later found out that my official time was 19 minutes and 59 seconds. Just sub 20, but sub 20 all the same ;)

Friday, 11 October 2013

The 2013 Cardiff half Marathon

           I was woken by my alarm at 6am in a hotel in Bridgend. All I had to do now was wake up Mikey in the room next door, shower, make coffee and put on my race attire. We were on the road for 7am and driving down the M4 towards Cardiff. With 19,000 runners, we thought parking may prove challenging and the roads for the race were closing at 8am as well. The plan was to park and get breakfast. There was a fair bit of traffic but we found an NCP carpark which would end up costing us £18 something and then tried to hunt down somewhere to eat. Time was running out though. I usually eat two hours before a race but we ended up in a waitrose at about 8.15. I had a scotch egg and a pain au chocolat with a lucozade (weird I know) and I think Mikey ate about 6 hot cross buns and 2-3 pain au chocolats with coffee. There was a bit of confusion here as Mikey thought that the race started at 9.30 and I thought it started at 9am. We had to check the guide book and of course I was right. Which meant we were running out of time. We had 15 minutes to get to the baggage area which wasn't too bad but we both needed the toilet pretty desperately. We quickly got changed and headed for the portaloos where we had to queue.

            I remember getting in the portaloo at 8.58 and coming out at 8.59. A number two PB for me probably! We then ran to the start and were directed through the castle. We were already running pretty fast just to get to the start on time. We didn't get to the start on time as we missed our "Orange wave" group. We were the runners who were attempting a time of 1.30-1.45. Instead we ended up running near the back of the "Green wave" who were running 1.45-2.00. It was hard to get started with all the slower runners and seemed pointless battling away to overtake such a vast amount of runners. Mikey was trying harder than me and I didn't want to lose him so I did my best to keep up with him. Surprisingly enough we managed to run our first mile in roughly 7.30. We knew there was a 1.45 pacer and we had planned to catch him and overtake him at some point. Mikey had a half marathon PB of around 1.39 so we would try and continue with the 7.30 minute mile as an average pace.

         So many people think that the Cardiff half is a fast, flat course but there are undulations. The worst uphill being at mile 12. The course has changed a couple of times over the years and I believe it used to be flat. I had run a PB on this course the previous year though with a 1.31.06. We were asked by some runners what time we were going for and what mile were we at etc.. They were trying to gauge if they should be ahead or behind us I guess. At mile 6, an announcement of our running time came out through a loudspeaker. I checked my watch and worked out that we had started the race Three minutes late! Thank god for chip timing is all I could think.

       Other memorable moments were running through Cardiff bay and all the cheering supporters that surrounded us. There was music playing from a loudspeaker which helped motivate me and give me a boost. There was also a band who played to us. We passed a fellow Lordshill runner at about mile 3 but we didn't know who it was. We also passed a speedy Winchester lady at mile 12 and had passed the 1.45 pacer. Things were looking good but I was feeling tired and wasn't chatting as much as I usually did. It actually felt a bit like racing..lol. It felt like there were supporters all the way from mile 12 to the finish. Both sides of the streets were filled with encouraging supporters which gave me goose bumps and made me want to run faster than I actually could.

       I sped ahead and crossed the line but Mikey wasn't far behind. My time this year was 1.38.24 and Mikey's time was 1.38.29. It was a half marathon PB for him. Which we didn't know until we got home. I staggered about in a daze collecting my medal, a technical t-shirt. One benefit of being fat is that there wasn't a queue for the XL t-shirts ;) I then got a goody bag as well. Grabbed a banana and a milkshake too. (Even though the milkshake had curdled to Mike's amusement as he watched me spit out a big lump of chocolate).

     We collected our bags and waited for my cousin Selina (with me and Colin in the above pic) who was also running. She had finished in just over two hours (but not according to her watch to her annoyance). We then thought we'd go and hang out with Colin Jackson and get our photo taken with him before hitting Nandos for some food and conversation about the amazing event. Such a great day and I have now done it two years in a row and would happily do it again. Mikey really enjoyed it and said it was really well organised. We were told that they managed to get 19,000 runners running within 7 minutes. Now that's great organisation! We went home very tired but very happy and after the race I had made it to 999 miles of running for the year. This was also my 40th race in the 3+ years when I started running and became an addict.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Cardiff parkrun 05/10/13

Mikey was on time at 6am on the Saturday morning, which surprised me. All the windows were  open in the car and he apologised for the strong smell of petrol due to some sort of car problem. It was still dark and as we travelled I was wondering if it was ever going to get light again, but of course it did eventually. We had decided to do Cardiff parkrun which starts at 9am. That gave us plenty of time to hit the M4, pay to go across the Japanese bridge and get to Cardiff. We got there somehow, despite the  sat-nav being pretty useless. Getting to Cardiff was fine but finding the park was a little trickier. It's probably pretty easy to find but we are eons away from being the smartest double act in the world. We quizzed other runners who pointed us in the right direction. We parked in the Tesco extra car park which has 3 hours of free parking and a toilet for the parkrunners who were in desperate need, like me and Mikey. Only one cubicle was vacant while the other was out of order. I felt bad that I snaked ahead of him and locked the door quickly denying him access. There were only 15 minutes until the start but we both managed to go in time and run to the start with a few minutes remaining.

The Cardiff parkrun is a 3.1 mile or 5K out and back route with a loop at halfway and it’s run  along a place named “the taff trail”. It’s a nice concrete pavement route shaded by trees and next to a river. Then the course goes into an open park where the loop and point of return is. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature was great for the time of the year. We managed to catch up with Emily Brent from our running club who is also at Cardiff uni. She told us that the start is quite congested for the  first 1 kilometer because of the narrow path and the number of runners. There were nearly 500 runners in previous weeks and there were quite a few 16 minute finshers every week! 

Of course with all the chatting we hadn’t started near enough to the front as we should have. We expected a horn to sound like Southampton parkrun but nothing was heard, I guess we should have been  paying attention. This meant that I started my watch late and ended up with a 3 second discrepancy. Oh well, what’s 3 seconds eh? The speech at the beginning was no more than a minute long which I thought was awesome (Southampton take note!) 

Me and Mikey raced our way through the crowds. Oh well no PB today, just enjoy the course we thought. But even with this congested start I had still managed to run my first mile in  6 mins and 27 secs! That is a super fast first mile for me. The whole course was feeling like it was on a slight downhill gradient. At first I was chasing Mikey and struggling to keep up with  him, I had now left him behind and decided to try and average 6.30 min/miles for a PB or something close to my 19.56 that I ran 2 years ago or so. Halfway through though I could already feel myself beginning to tire. The legs were fine but the breathing wasn't.  I could feel the excess weight of my stomach. It felt exaggerated and I found it difficult to circulate my breathing due to this. "I;m too fat", I said to myself. "I am going to diet after this weekend, a proper diet. I will get that sub 20 time again!"  

             I had finished in 42nd place with a time of 20.21 which was my fastest parkrun time in 18+ months. My watch was showing a 3.1 mile time of 20.18. I was super thrilled and Mikey didn't arrive much later in 60th place with a 21.01. He wasn’t so happy with his time though. Struggling with this parkrun had made me decide that I would not race the Cardiff half the next day and I would not hunt down the 1.30 pacer. I’d run with Mikey and the miles in my legs for an upcoming marathon instead. We both had an 8 item breakfast at Tesco plus a cake for Mikey of course. The place was full of hungry parkrunners and we chatted to a few of them including a Scottish man from St.Andrews who had come down for his 50th parkrun. This then made me wonder where I would do my 50th parkrun (if I ever got there). I was now on 19 runs and Mikey on 29. We discussed where we might do our 50th parkrun and  then off to our hotel in Bridgend we went for a  much needed shower.