Monday, 31 December 2012

Looking Back.....

In most walks of life, we are encouraged to keep looking forward, driving towards the future, and not to look back........but in some situations it can be beneficial.

The Festive Period, for most people (even if, like me, you only have the Public Holidays off work) gives you the chance to step back from the pressures of work, spend time with family and friends, eat, drink and sleep well, and think about the year that has passed as well as looking forward to what is to come.

Gateshead Event Director pointing out the course

I managed all of these, from going to a local parkrun (Gateshead parkrun in Saltwell Park) with my dad on Christmas morning (though admittedly it was more about enjoying the mulled wine, mince pies and chocolate brownies afterwards than it was about the run) to discussing (with my 4 year old nephew) the differences between him trying to run "farrrst" (long southern vowels) and me trying to run "fast" (short northern vowels) to learning about "Superworm" from my 2 year old niece, to eating all 4 different types of cake that my mum made (both Polish and English).

Vests of the year

Whilst catching up with friends old and new, I took the time to reflect back on 2012, which was a very beneficial experience. If you'd asked me what I remembered of my year in running, the initial things that sprang to mind were quite negative........developing plantar fasciitis and struggling with it for several months, forcing me to pull out of target races.......then some tendinitis interrupting training......and a "far from ideal" 50k.......but on thinking more deeply I have actually had a year that I can rightly be proud of.

I've travelled and raced well overseas (including in Warsaw with my family there) proudly worn several different vests (Dumfries Running Club, Nedbank International, Scotland, and the Scottish Vet Harriers), lowered several PBs, won some odd prizes, recovered from significant injury, but far and above it all......I've enjoyed my running and made many new friends! If 2013 has even half of these features, it'll be a great year and I look forward to meeting it head on!

Monday, 24 December 2012


Wigilia is the traditional Christmas Eve vigil supper in Poland, held on December 24. The word "Wigilia" derives from the Latin verb vigilare, "to watch", and literally means 'eve'. The feasting traditionally begins once the First Star has been sighted in the heavens at dusk (around 4-5p.m.) although we started slightly later than this as I had to drive over to Durham after finishing work.

A bundle of hay is placed under the tablecloth to symbolise the fact that Jesus was born in a manger. As a game, pieces of straw are drawn out from under the tablecloth to tell your fortune for the upcoming year, eg growing strongly, branching out, fruitful (though my mother is the best at turning her piece round to "help" predict her fortune! 

Another tradition is to leave one extra place-setting for an "unexpected guest". This is to celebrate the tradition of hospitality and inclusion. The empty seat is left open just in case a traveler, family member, or a friend knocks on the door, so there would be a place for them to join in the celebrations..........which our neighbours have learnt and profited from over the years!

The wafer
Our celebrations begin with a glass of vodka (modern technology is amazing as skype let us share this with family and friends in Scotland and Poland) and the breaking of the Christmas wafer (opłatek - a rectangular unleavened wafer, blessed by a priest, embossed with Christmas images to symbolise the bread eaten daily) and wishing each other good fortune in the upcoming new year. The opłatek is broken by the eldest and the youngest and pieces are given to everyone, who then break off a piece of their opłatek, and share it with everyone else, wishing them luck, joy and good fortune in the upcoming year (finalising the wish by a kiss on the cheek).

Barszcz with uszka
The awesome salmon
A traditional Christmas meal in Poland starts with czerwony barszcz (beetroot soup) and uszka (ravioli). Fish provides a main component of the Christmas Eve meal across Poland as Wigilia is observed as a Black Fast (meaning that most Poles abstain from eating meat on this day). Traditionally the fish is carp, but in the Zakrzewscy household we tend to prefer salmon. My mother excelled herself this year, and had the nicest salmon dish I think I've ever had......full of flavour and so moist. Other dishes include the compulsory sauerkraut and cabbage (kapusta), and walnut/potato croquettes.  
For dessert, there's makowiec (poppy seed roll), babka (panettone), piernik (honey-spiced cake), fruit compote and pierniczki (gingerbread cookies). 
The number of country courses is traditionally established to be twelve (symbolic of the number of months in the year as well as to celebrate the twelve disciples) in a similar manner to the British tradition of eating 12 mince pies over the festive season, so if we've not yet got to twelve, we make it up with dried fruit, nuts and chocolates!!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Running for Fun

Lovely new snow!

This is a great time of the, not for the weather.....or for the fact that it's the season of overeating and overdrinking......but for the fact that for most people the race season has come to a close! Instead of hard training and worrying about times and distances, you can kick back, reflect on the year gone by, start to plan for the year ahead.....and just run for the love of it!

For me, it has meant a chance to get out on the hills without worrying about injury, a chance to play in the snow without worrying about slipping, and also a chance to enjoy catching up with friends on nights out.

Running past the neighbours

My "prize"

Starting the Christmas handicap
I have just kept my running ticking over.....when I want to (especially nice to run easy in the crunchy new snow), and where I want to (out in the countryside or the woods)......though the club Christmas handicap was a bit of a shock to the sytem. We all run a 5 mile route (almost the course of the Holywood Stroll) , but start times are staggered according to our race results over the past 6 months. Everybody brings an anonymous present worth about a fiver, and then people choose one in the order they cross the finish line (except that the winner gets last choice as they also get a trophy). It was nice to see everyone.....but my aim was to get back as quickly as possibly in order to get a present that looked like it might be chocolatey. I started 4th from the back but managed to work my way up to finish 11th out of the 30 runners, though my plan failed as the prize I chose turned out to be a box of crackers that may just have come out of the Ark! Still, I made up for it with a mincepie fest and a trip to see The Hobbit afterwards (though sitting still in a cinema seat for 3 hours was almost more painful than the 5 mile effort)!!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Hexham Hobble - a fell race or an ice skate?

Trying to stay upright on the driveway

I am sure that I am not the only person who feels that they ought to show their appreciation for their parents more often, so it was nice to go across to Durham this weekend and spend some time with them. My parents seem to realise that a weekend without any type of running makes me poor company, so my mother did wake me up on Saturday morning by asking if I was going to go down to the local parkrun. Not wanting to run it hard, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give something back to the local running scene by going to volunteer. Luckily, I found out just before leaving the house that it was cancelled due to sheet ice....which was just as well, as I couldn't even get down the driveway in an upright position (and the driveway is rutted to help in icy conditions).

Sunday dawned clear and sunny but very I did wonder what on earth had possessed me to go and take in a fell race  (the Hexhamshire Hobble) on the way back home, as it was bound to be colder higher up in the hills. True to my prediction, the temperature gauge dropped to -3 as I drove to a friend's house so we could go to the race together. He had done the race several times before and so explained the course to me - road sections at the start and finish, with bits of rough fell and runnable wider trails in the middle. We headed off up round the route backwards as a warm up, so that I got a chance to see the run into the finish. It was incredibly icy just crossing the carpark to the grass, and a lot of care had to be taken to avoid slippy patches running down the road, which was a  real shame, as I had thought that the final road section would be my secret weapon.

Route and course profile

As we headed back, it seemed unnaturally quiet, and we realised with a shock that everyone was gathered at the start a full 5minutes early. We had a slight panic, hurdled a stone wall, skidded across the ice back to the car to ditch our jackets and pick up our bumbags containing the FRA (Fell Running Association) compulsory kit (full body waterproof cover, map, compass, whistle and emergency food) and made it to the start just in time. Well, when I say just in time, I was still bent double tying my laces when the gun went off! After leaving the field, the first mile and a half were on road - initially slightly downhill and then a steep climb up onto the fells. I knew that this would be a strong section for me, but the ice on the road meant that it was difficult to pass people safely.
When the marshall directed us off the road onto the fells, that was when the fun really started. It was a beautiful, sunny day, crisp and clear with great views (though I couldn't really appreciate it as I had to spend most of the time looking at my feet to avoid the ice). The snow from a couple of nights prior to the race had almost melted, and what was left had frozen, along with the bogs due to the flooding and rain of the week before. I actually found myself sitting on my backside in the middle of a 2m stretch of sheet ice at the 3 mile mark, but managed to get up and start running again without really noticing. I managed to catch up with the 2 men in front of me on a lovely stretch of wide runnable trail, but they moved ahead again as we queued up to have our numbers stamped before turning back onto the rutted icy rough moorland. This section was a long one and so several of the true fellrunners shot past me in their shorts (!). I actually really appreciated that, as it meant I could follow their line rather than try to pick out the best route, and hence avoided crashing through  more frozen puddles to soak my feet. I recognised their vests and so knew they had local knowledge, regularly training on those fells, so I tried to keep them in sight.

"Keep" trophy as I had to give the large gold one back!

Another road section meant I soon caught them up again and we then had a bit of friendly banter negotiating ice and they encouraged me to push on away from them. The last push up off the road and across the icy tops flew by as one of the marshals had told me that I was the first lady and also that there was cake and tea at the finish........I certainly wasn't keen to let anyone get at the cake before me!
Our recce of the finishing mile was brilliant as it meant that I could speed down that last bit of tarmac, knowing exactly which bits of road to avoid. I felt great, and flew into the finish at my road 10K pace, though did wait to cheer my friend in before hitting the cake.
Not being a natural hill runner, I was amazed to see the results and find out that I had finished in 12th position overall, over 7 minutes ahead of the 2nd lady, and only 2 minutes slower than Angela Mudge's 15 year old course record........though at the prizegiving, the announcer gave up and didn't even attempt to pronounce my name!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Illness - a blessing in disguise?

Clubmate Alan and I made it up the hill at 3 miles
The 10mile Brampton-Carlisle race is usually the last roadrace in our club's Grand Prix series, and this year was no exception. I don't have the best history of this race, having started it twice......the first time being the only time I have ever DNF'd in a race (I collapsed with chest pain halfway due to being grossly anaemic) and the second time was when the course was shortened due to flooding. For the last 2 years, I have just supported club mates running it and so I consider that I've never really run the full race. It looked like this year was going to be no exception, but after enjoying the Belfast weekend, I decided to give it a go and enter it.
It was difficult to work out what pace to run at, as it's a fast, net downhill course, but I hadn't been training in the past few weeks, so didn't feel on for a particularly good time. As the weekend approached, it looked like the decision was out of my hands anyway, as I spent most of Thursday night awake with some version of the local bug doing the rounds! I dragged myself into work on Friday morning as we needed to pack up the surgery (as well as seeing patients), but by lunchtime I was back in my bed......and woke up 5 hours later still in my work clothes! Even my famous appetite had disappeared, so it didn't bode well for the weekend.
In the now-famous skirt at 7.5miles
Another day of recovery (and unpacking at the new premises) and I felt like giving it a go on Sunday. After the previous two days, there was absolutely no pressure on me to run a good time, so I could just relax and enjoy a fun day out with my clubmates. 16 of us went down together on the minibus from the club, though we had 25 clubmembers racing in total, and 3 others were there to give their support (2 on their bikes). Bearing in mind how my racekit affects my mental attitude, I further took the pressure off by wearing my club vest and running skirt, rather than club croptop and shorts (though I did query this decision when I felt some drops of rain/hailstones and dreaded the thought of long wet kit - luckily this didn't amount to much).
It was still quite chilly, but the early morning ice/frost had gone by the time we set off at 11:30am. There was little wind so some fast times were on the cards, so I made sure that I was several rows back at the start. Many people are taken unawares by the fast downhill start and so the field becomes rather mixed with runners of varying speeds then jostling for places as they head uphill again out of Brampton.

Team DRC at the pub (after the race!)
Having decided that I was in no shape to go for a time, I ran without looking at my watch for most of the race. Until I looked at my splits later, I didn't realise that I'd gone out as fast as I had, but at least this meant than when my legs ran out of energy with a few more miles to go I had still done enough to run a good time - in fact my second fastest 10 mile time. Luckily for me, the ladies' field was not as strong as usual, so I managed to sneak in a cheeky win, though the main celebrations in the pub afterwards were for the multiple PBs achieved by my clubmates. All in all, it was a great day out for the club - we all had so much fun and I'm really glad that I went (and could almost thank the short illness for taking the pressure off me, making me enjoy the run and see how bad my natural pacing mechanism is!!!).

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Into the Northern Irish mud

A slight running influence in my pumpkin carving!

My two week "non-running" holiday was over too quickly and I had to return from sunny California (where I'd cycled to the beach, been wine tasting, carved pumpkins, trick-or-treated, and eaten pancakes practically every day for breakfast) back to chilly Scotland - having to scrape the ice off my car at Glasgow airport was rather a shock to the system!
The return was made easier by the thought that, in my absence, we would have moved into our shiny new purpose-built premises. Unfortunately, due to various factors outwith our control, this had not happened, so I was back at work, trying to find everything that had been packed away into boxes. Luckily this took my mind off the approaching weekend - I was due to go to Belfast to run in the Masters International Cross-Country as part of the Scottish team. I had not run any cross-country this season, and indeed hadn't laced up my spikes since having PF (plantar fasciitis) at the start of the year. Having not really run properly since the 50K, I was glad that the event was described to me as more of a social weekend than a serious "goal" race.

My clubmates (Lisa and Sian Finlay) and I had decided to travel over together on the ferry from Cairnryan, though we almost missed it entirely as road flooding caused big diversions en route. It was odd to be travelling as friends but know that we'd be running as rivals the following day (Lisa and Sian were both running for Northern Ireland, whereas I was representing Scotland) - and it certainly caused much hilarity and talk of "taking out the opposition" on the ferry when I was locked into the toilet, and Sian almost tripped over in the cafe.

Sian, Lisa and I when running as a team

The evening was spent getting to know other members of Team Scotland over dinner, catching up with my room-mate and friend Avril (debating how weird it would be to run a short XC after all of our distance training), and trying on “race outfits“ for the morning.

Our hotel was so well heated and insulated that it was rather a shock to the system going outside to walk to the bus station, in order to catch the bus to the venue. I find that the clothing I wear to run in tends to affect my mindset, so I had decided to wear my vest teamed with a running skirt. I don’t like wearing anything under a vest if it’s a short race, but unfortunately I could have definitely fitted a few layers in under there without worrying about tightness. I had asked for a smaller vest but was told that I had been given the smallest available and that anyway “you’re one of the biggest here“...... I’m still not quite sure whether I should have been offended by that or not! The temperature wasn’t quite equal to the californian warmth I have become used to, so I was also glad of the extra skirt layer.
Team Scotland

Some light rain was an added bonus (not!) as we watched the local parkrunners come by, and then hung around for our team photos. Team NI had a slight home-turf advantage for the race, as they’d run their trials on the course, so Avril and I headed off with Fiona Matheson for our warm-up on the course itself. The venue had been changed from Stormont to the Queens Playing Fields a few weeks earlier, due to waterlogging, and the new course really didn’t sound as if it would suit me (we were told that it was a “fast, flat, hard surface“). Our race was 3 laps of 2000m each, and although there were long straight stretches to pick up speed, there was also a nasty, slippery cambered hill soon after the start, a nice little incline halfway round, and 2 distinctly boggy bits.

Getting stuck in....

All too soon, the thermals were off and we were racing, 165 of us in total as the race was for all the ladies and the V65 and V70 men (2 of whom were racing barefoot – bet that was a little chilly). Knowing that I’m a slow starter on the best of days, I was about 8 rows back at the start and so had difficulty working my way past people before the first muddy climb. This meant not being able to choose the best (?grippiest) line up and so required some digging in with the spikes in order to stay moving in the right direction. I was definitely out of my comfort zone but kept working my way up the field as my went round the first lap. Places around me changed little on the second lap, though I found that I could power past some ladies on the inclines as I have strength in my legs even if not out and out speed. It was great to hear everyone cheering us on, and we really appreciated the men delaying their pre-race warmup to encourage us.

All the way round I had heard Irish accents encouraging a girl called “Lisa“ to chase me down, and so I was convinced that my club-mate was running a blinder and was just on my shoulder. On the last lap I realised that it was a totally different Lisa (running for RoI rather than NI), but she was still being encouraged to overtake me. There is nothing like hearing from a bystander that you “look finished“, are “exhausted“ and can “easily be outsprinted“ to make you dig in, so I have to thank that unknown Irish supporter. He made me dig in, and think about using my arms and my body position to really drive for the finish line. I tried so hard that I was nearly ill after crossing the line, but opened up a gap of about 10 seconds on “Lisa“ and a good 3 on the lady that crossed behind me.
I didn’t hear about the dramas that occurred at the finish to the podium ladies (the leading lady stopped just short of the line thinking that she’d finished and was then passed by 2 runners), but did see Fiona running in ahead of me to retain her V50 title in style – she was 5th overall!. I was the second Scot home in 9th place, and although my team didn’t win any medals in our category, we realised that if there had been no age groups, Fiona, myself and Sue Ridley (V45) would have been the 3rd team home!

The Scottish Ladies celebrating after racing!

The camaraderie of the day was great as we rounded it off with drinks, dinner and dancing, but I met so many lovely new people that I seriously doubt my ability to call them all by the right names when we next meet at races).

As the baby of the squad, I really enjoyed the whole weekend experience and surprised myself with my performance (a former British record holder said “Top 10 for an endurance athlete over 6K of grass is impressive“ and that meant a lot to me!), but still.......bring on next year and an “undulating course“!!!!

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Italian Job

Sometimes it just isn’t your day……….and Saturday was just that…….but the main thing to do is learn from it, focus on the positives and move on!

A 12 hour journey from cold, wet Scotland (via England and France) to the hot sunny Italian Riviera, arriving in the dark 14 hours before you race, may not be the ideal pre-50K preparation, but some things cannot be avoided.

The "commonwealth" roomies!

The Lungo il Mare in Vallecrosia-Bordighera was the race chosen for the 9th World Trophy 50K Final and so I headed out as the lone Scottish representative in a field that included 8 English vests. It was not the easiest place to get to out of tourist season, so my trip there involved driving down to Liverpool (picking us Russell Maddams in Cumbria on the way) and catching a flight to Nice, then getting a bus to the train station, and finally a train along the coast into Italy. The others were flying out from London, they all arrived at lunchtime and so got to check out the course – complete with hot sun and strong winds. We arrived after dark and so all we had time for that night was to load up on pasta and find out about the feeding stations for the following day. It was great to see my room-mate Emma Gooderham again - we’d met at the same event in 2011 (when Emma won in a fantastic 3:17), and last saw each other out at Comrades.

The race was due to start at 10am, so we had time to sort out our gels and bottles of water after breakfast before heading down to the start. Having been spoilt by a great course in 2011, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy the run as much this year. The route consisted of 8 there-and-back laps of 6.25K along the beachfront promenade/road, with very tight corners at each end (round a cone in the road). There were many speed bumps across the road ready to catch runners out if they had a momentary concentration lapse.

The lone Scottish vest almost swamped by 8 English vests!

It was quite warm when we started – about 22 degrees – but the wind was blowing across us out to sea and so didn’t really affect us much. Despite the travel and a relatively sleepless night, I was feeling good, and so happily set off at the pace I’d planned. On paper, the Japanese lady had looked like she would be one of the fastest in the field, and so I expected her to have been leading us out, but over the first few laps I gradually built up a lead of a few minutes.

Nearing the end of the 3rd lap is about where “my day” ended, as a knee problem forced me to stop at the feeding station. I thought that was the end of my race, and cheered Helen on as she ran past to take the lead for England. After about 5 minutes, Walter and Andy (the UK support team) encouraged me to “jog it out” and suggested I do it along the course to cover some distance while doing so. It had heated up to about 26 degrees in the shade and the wind had strengthened to become a strong head/tail wind and so people were starting to drop from the race. This meant that even after jogging round a 6.25K lap, not many ladies had passed me, though I was not really paying attention to the actual race. Andy worked on my knee again for another 5 minutes when I got back to the feeding station and it didn’t feel any worse that the lap before. With their support, I decided to continue running and take it one lap at a time, having decided to stop if I felt any more pain. It was impossible to get the adrenaline flowing and my “race head” was gone for the day, but it was good to be able to continue and encourage the others as they passed by. The conditions were tough - even running with a tailwind didn’t feel great due to the heat from the strong sun, so runners had to pour a lot of their drinking water over themselves to prevent overheating. To give you an idea of what it was like….I actually developed tanlines from my underwear through my vest!

I was really pleased that I’d managed to continue (so avoiding a DNF against my name) and worked my way back up the field to finish in 5th place. A more impressive performance came from Steve Way, winning the race in a time that was within 20 seconds of the British record! Helen and Emma took out the first 2 places on the ladies’ podium, and Emma made sure she was there at the finish line to give me a much-needed hug.
Unfortunately the long time spent with the hot sun beating down on me took its toll, and I wasn’t very well when we got back to the hotel, but I managed to perk up enough to go and take photos at the awards ceremony and drink some celebratory wine!

Looking across the yachts at Monte Carlo casino

The trip home was amazing, even if it took 14 hours from door to door. Having not seen anything of the scenery due to the lateness of the train ride on the Friday evening, I was stunned by the beauty of the coast. Several of us decided to leave early on the Sunday, so we could spend a couple of hours in Monaco looking at the boats, watching the changing of the guard and eating ice cream in the sun. Magic!

All in all, it may not have been the perfect race for me, but I finished it, learnt about the courage and strength of character it takes to keep going when you know that you will not finish in either the time or position that you might have been capable of, and above all else, I had a great weekend with lovely friends in a beautiful place!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Do As I Say, Not As I Do………..

As everyone knows, after a hard marathon you really should have a break from running – both physically and mentally – in order to recover and recharge your batteries. Ideally, I would have liked to have had a few weeks without really thinking about running, and then only doing easy runs, but sometimes something comes up to make you change your plans.

Emma (1st), Sue (2nd) and me(3rd) in 2011
Last year, I was given a wild card entry to the World 50K Final, and used it as a hard training run (in which to practice running on a lapped course and taking gels and drinks from a support crew) prior to the 100K World Champs. It was my first ever attempt at a race of that distance and was a great experience……with an amazing bonus of finishing on the podium behind Emma and Sue (both running for England), and a time that qualified me for an invite out again this year.

Going out to Assen in 2011 was quite terrifying as I’d never run that distance before, and I knew nobody else running. This year has its own pressures, as Scottish Athletics are supporting me in making the trip out to Italy, and so I want to perform well as the only runner in a Scottish vest. I’m flying out with Russ (running for England) and sharing a room with Emma (last year’s champion, also running for England) so it’ll be a fun weekend whatever happens!

Frimley Lodge parkrun

The date of this year’s race has caused me some worry, as there is only 3 weeks between the Warsaw Marathon and the 50K. Three weeks is clearly not enough time to recover, train and then taper again, so I’ve tried to listen to my body and do enough but not too much! For me, that has involved some recovery time, a few runs (nothing too long) with a couple of miles as 50K pace, and my only “speedwork” being a parkrun at Frimley Lodge on my way down to my niece’s 2nd birthday party (not your usual speedwork as it was all on grass, mud and trail……but a ladies’ course record does wonders for your confidence going into a big race). I have also mentally recharged myself as much as possible by taking the opportunity to catch up with friends and family…….now all I have to do is get out there and run just over 31miles!!!!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Family Affair

I had been disappointed to have to pull out of my Spring marathon due to injury, but know it was the right decision at the time, and hence I was really keen to get an Autumn marathon under my belt.

In front of the Zamek (castle)

The decision of which marathon to do was a tough one……..did I run Loch Ness for a position as it was the Scottish championship marathon?......did I opt for Berlin to try for  a fast time?.....or did I go elsewhere for personal reasons? I think I surprised a lot of people by opting for the Warsaw marathon, but it made perfect sense to me. My father grew up in Warsaw and the marathon date coincided with both school and university reunions that he was attending. His cousin Jurek has always been one of the biggest supporters of my running, following religiously online when it is possible to track my races, and so I really wanted to run in Poland so that he could be there too. My “Dumfries family” also came out to Warsaw and so it was lovely for my Durham family and my Polish family to show them round a beautiful city (all that was missing was the Basingstoke family, but they were with me in spirit)!

Team Durham

Team Poland

Team Dumfries


Warsaw's Nike

The Uprising Monument
After arriving, it was straight into immersing ourselves into Polish culture…..with local beer, pierogi (dumplings) and szarlotka (apple cake)….and then sightseeing the next morning. Well, when I say sightseeing……I really mean jogging the first part of the race route. It was amazing to see that we were going to race along Nowy Swiat (Warsaw’s most expensive street) and then Krakowskie Przedmiescie (the royal route that the kings used to travel to Cracow, the old capital) before detouring round to pass the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (though I’m not sure the soldiers guarding the eternal flame were that interested in runners). We passed Copernicus’ Memorial, the Grand Theatre, the Royal Castle, the Nike Statue (not the sportsbrand, the famous fighting lady which is a memorial to Warsaw's Heroes) and the Warsaw Uprising Monument before meeting Jurek who kindly drove us around the rest of the course. The only bit of the course I didn’t see was Natolin, which is a national park, only opened for the running of the marathon……but this may have been a blessing in disguise….more about that later!

1 of the kamikaze squirrels
The only things left to do in preparation for the race was some strides in Lazienki Park (next to the race hotel)……made all the more difficult by having to hurdle kamikaze red squirrels in the middle, a relaxing massage (where I desperately tried to remember my Polish for different parts of the body) and a trip to the National Stadium for the race briefing and to meet the cyclists. The stadium was built for the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship with the opening game being played there (a 1-1 draw between Poland and Greece).
We were given our numbers and our timing chips, and introduced to the cyclists who would be out on the course with us (mine was called Grzegorz…..making me “Gregory’s girl…..but due to my lack of Polish, I was slightly worried about communication as he spoke no English).

 After listening to the rain falling overnight, the Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. It looked as it would be a perfect day for the running of the 34th Warsaw marathon - Poland's oldest roadrace. I was a bit perturbed by the wind that had appeared that morning, but hoped it would settle down as it had on other days.
I tried to introduce a Scottish influence to breakfast with my imported instant porridge, but everyone else seemed happier with their continental breakfasts and claimed that if they ate my "gloop" then they'd not be able to run!
After being driven to the stadium and handing a couple of gels to Grzegorz, we had a chance to warm up under cover in the outside ring of the stadium before being walked up to the start. My first drama happened here - the promised toilets did not exist  - and they my second drama was being stopped by a policeman when I tried to jog out along the course on the bridge. I nearly cried, but luckily a friendly Pole explained to the policeman that I was in the Elite starting corral so was allowed to cross the line to warm up....and then showed me a basket with my name on it, into which I could ditch my thermal top (well, it wasn't that warm per 9am!!).
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The start didn't bode well for the rest of the race as we were straight into a fairly strong headwind as we crossed the Poniatowski bridge over the Vistula, but luckily we turned up towards the old town and were sheltered from it. I knew there were speedy ladies in the field, as two had said that they were aiming for 2:30 and 2:35 respectively, but the first mile seemed slow even for me. I decided that I should stick to my plan and so found myself heading out the female race as I passed my support crew just before turning towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Soon after that, the ladies came past me and I clocked their speed as being just over 5:30/mile so I guessed that would be the last I'd see of them. We completed a loop and came back to the Royal Route so I could smile briefly at the team again before heading towards the Royal Castle.
Beyond the old town we descended to the long road running alongside the Vistula. It was weird to be able to see the National Stadium across the river, knowing you'd started there 10K ago and wouldn't be back for another 30K. I delighted in the thought that the wind seemed to have disappeared now, anmd even managed to exchange a few words with a man who ran alongside me. I think that he wanted to use me to pace his run, so my feet pounded along as I tried to think of different numbers to describe my planned speed in Polish. My worry here was making sure that I didn't run too fast, as I felt good, even though the sun was beating down quite strongly.                                    I seemed to have been steadily closing up on the lady in front of me, and as we turned into Wilanowska Avenue I was back in second place. An Englishman who'd recently moved to Warsaw shouted encouragement to me as he waited for his wife running further back in the field. This made me pick my head up and smile, which was just what I needed as we closed down on the halfway point. This section of the route had 2 u-turns in it, and so you could see people ahead and behind you. I moved over to encourage the other lady to go past me, as I am not a fan of having someone running on my shoulder and I wanted to run my own race, knowing she was aiming for a much faster time than me. 
Ominously, we turned a corner after the halfway mat, and suddenly had a strong crosswind - so much so that you had to run away from the edge of the course to avoid the tape ballooning out in front of you. After a couple of Kms, we turned right onto the only section of the course unknown to me - the stretch through Natolin, which I found one of the hardest parts of the course.
Natolin itself is a beautiful park with a number of XVIII and XIX century buildings and sculptures, and ordinarily I would have loved running through the trees......but at this point in a marathon, a windy, twisty turny, undulating 2 mile stretch of rough cobbles is not very welcome. It was very quiet here as the park was not open to anyone except marathon runners. After struggling up the hill out of the park, it was a very welcome sight to see Jurek wearing the bright red cap I'd given him, holding a wet sponge so I could wipe my face down.
The next 12K were tough....and when I say tough, I mean really tough. The road is relatively straight so you can see every undulation coming from a long way off, there are no beautiful buildings to take your mind off the effort you are putting in as the route passes along big dual carriageways through residential areas, and more to the point, there is no respite from the strong headwind all the way. I am not sure how many times I asked myself what I was doing and vowed to never run again!
As I ran along this stretch, I knew that there was no way that I could achieve the time that I'd hoped to run, so I reset my goal to that of a position and not a time. I rooted round the back of my brain for some Polish and managed to ask Grzegorz where the 4th lady was, and the comedic sign language reply was that he couldn't see her (well, not without falling off his bike).

The best sight for me!
The last 4-5K of the race was probably my best 5K of the race......though I wouldn;t have told you that at the time. It was a beautiful part of the course as we passed the Belvedere (the home of the President of Poland), Łazienki Park with the Chopin Memorial, the Prime Minister's house, the embassies, and finally entered Three Crosses Square. A Polish runner had caught up with me as we turned out of the wind, and kept encouraging me with cries of "chodz" (come on). I managed to run alongside him until we got to the palm tree we'd seen such a long time ago (where we turned up towards the old town after the start), and then kept him in sight as we continued onto the Poniatowski Bridge towards the stadium. The bridge hadn't seemed so long at the start as we were just warming up, but it was interminable on tired legs. It crosses road and paths and parks before even getting to the Vistula, but finally you peel off it to the right, run round underneath it, and then up a ramp into the stadium. My word, that clock and the stadium entrance were a welcome were my family and friends there to cheer me in!

Not a bad day's work!

The ladies' podium
Ok, so it wasn't my fastest marathon, and m,aybe I didn't pace it correctly, but you cannot fight conditions on the day (the two ladies in front had both been slower than they'd hoped) and I'd managed to podium in the city where my father grew up, with him watching me run in.....and nothing beats that feeling!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

On The Bench......

Ready to start them off

Sometimes the "madness" of a taper brings its own benefits - for example I have managed to watch the whole of the first 2 series of Downton Abbey thanks to the DVDs of a friends - but also it means that you have time to give something back to the community that are there helping you out and supporting you when you need it.

Bet you didn't think I needed a megaphone!
Last Sunday was the 31st Dumfries Half Marathon, which is the flagship race of my club. The timing of it has been such that I have been able to help out rather than race it for the past few years. This year was no exception, and although I did jog up to the registration/start area to show the TV cameraman where to position himself, my main job for the day was doing as I was told, by both the Race Organiser and "he who must be obeyed" in charge of the finish area. It was ideal weather for running a fast time - cool (but not cold), no direct sun, and most of all, no in a way, it would have been nice to have taken part....but on the other hand it was good to watch others put the effort in and get their just rewards of shiny new PBs. My contribution was just starting the watches and then taking them down to the finish, where I announced and cheered people in with the megaphone - with as much gusto for the last runner as for the first home!

City (orange)vs Fortuna (green)

A few days later I was up in Glasgow - at Petershill Park - "working" as match doctor for the first leg of the UEFA Women's Champions League round of 32, between Glasgow City and Fortuna Hjorring (yes, from Denmark so no gags about the Scandinavian love for pickled fish in their diet). The home team were outplayed in the first half, though had been unlucky to go a goal down after only a few minutes, but they piled the pressure on in the second half to bring it back to a 2-1 loss. It was interesting to compare the ladies' play to runners I know. Glasgow City are Scotland's top women's football club and so usually win matches easily without having to play to the best of their ability. This can mean that they relax too much, so that when playing another high quality side, they can fall behind before getting onto their game. It appeared that this is what happened on the night, as the second half was dominated by the City ladies with some great plays and a new lease of life. I have seen this in runners, who only compete in local races which they can win without having to really push themselves. When they go to larger, competitive races, they find themselves much further back than they expect and then have to work hard to make up the deficit that has developed before they realised it. I guess it is a lesson that all of us can learn - never be off guard and never underestimate your cannot control their ability and performance, so all you can do is be the best you can be.

In City kit at the dugout

 On a more medical note, I learnt another lesson from Louise Duncan, the team physio. Again, the key is to be prepared.......I noticed that while we were sitting on the bench in the dugout, she always had a latex glove on her right hand. If anything happened she was ready to spring into action, be it a nose bleed or a hyperextension injury (both of which occurred on the night), and could then discard any clinical waste wrapped up in her used glove, while putting on another glove ready for the next casualty.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Age does bring its own rewards....

Everybody goes through spells of self-doubt - I am sure that people from all walks of life, whatever their goals and aims, still have times when they wonder if the effort is worth it, or doubt they can achieve what they have set out to do, but the thing to remember is that you do come through it. Those nearest and dearest will understand how you are feeling (and even expect it) and so make allowances for you, but it's only when you come out on the other side that you realise what a nightmare you  have been!

For me, it took a total break from the grind - a night out bowling with friends, a jog through the woods stopping to eat blackberries (and being gently chastised for eating all those in sight), and a road trip with friends, for me to get things back into perspective. Yes, I'd been tired; no, I hadn't met my times in track reps......but in the grand scheme of things, that didn't really matter as long as I still had the enjoyment in it.

A short fast race that focussed my mind was the final thing to lift the funk - and Stirling certainly did that.

The Wallace Monument (with turnaround point just below it)
Stirling 10K is known as a fast flat course (less than 90 feet gained and lost over the course) and so always attracts a high quality field, especially when it doubles as the Scottish championship race. There are always surprise roadworks when you drive north, so an early start was necessary.......but the road was relatively clear, hence there was lots of time for coffee before warming up.........and it was interesting that the first person I saw on getting out of the car  to register for the run, was a fellow D&G runner.
I hadn't been looking forward to the race, as I was worried about having lost leg-speed while doing distance training, but it turns out my fears were unfounded. Some judicious resting of my legs (and mind) meant that I could start at a decent pace in touch with some speedsters I recognised. Content in my usual mode of a slower start, picking up as I get into a race, I was surprised to have covered the first mile so fast, and indeed passed the 5K mark in my fastest ever 5K time. What was less impressive was the fact that we still seemed to be heading away from the start on the outward leg as we passed this marker. Instead of worrying about this, I focussed on watching the race leaders as they came flying past heading the other way.

The female leaders were a long way ahead making it look easy, but after turning round the cone in the road, I could see who was behind me and looking strong.

Proudly holding my Scottish Masters 10K gold medal

I worked my way up the field a bit further on the (obviously shorter) run back in, and even managed to get a sprint finish in to pass a man coming into the line......I was so proud of this as I've never been a sprinter and so would usually mentally hand a sprint victory to anyone else rather than go for it).

Not a bad 2 weeks' work!!
I knew Sarah McCormack was an amazing hill and trail runner (we shared a caravan down in Keswick for the International trail race), but she had a fantastic roadrun to finish in 33:33, over a minute ahead of the 2nd placed lady and take the national title. I was really pleased with my run, as clearly still have some speed in the old legs despite the mileage....and when I say "old legs", I mean "old legs" as an added bonus was finishing as first veteran and so winning the Scottish Masters 10K Title! A boon for the confidence and just what the doctor ordered!