Monday, 26 May 2014

"Mainly" Uphill....

The race profile
After a rather eventful week (in which my Wednesday evening run was interrupted by helping out the local fire, police and ambulance services when a lady fell down a 10 foot bank into the river, injuring her ankle) I found myself heading down to Wales for a new run, the Beddgelert-Wyddfa Challenge, a "mainly uphill" 18.2km race with 1240m of elevation gain.

In true Joasia-style, I combined the roadtrip with a chance to catch up with various friends, hence Friday  night saw me spending time in Warrington with Janet, Ash and their daughter Nina....I'd worked with both Janet (in medicine) and Ash (in surgery) many moons ago when doing my GP training in Carlisle.

I was going to go for a short jog along the river in the morning, but found a parkrun about half a mile from their house, and the lure of cake was so great that I rescued a battered barcode from my cardoor. People seemed very friendly and welcoming, though I did run rather faster than intended, but it was worth it for the flapjack and Swiss rolls (they more than made up for the long course)!

Watching the rain pour down in the afternoon in Northwich, I doubted the sanity of my planned run in Wales - the weather was so bad that my friend even called off his Sunday sportive.

After a lovely drive down in the morning (through much of the varied weather that Wales has to offer), negotiating roundabouts, tunnels, and even rabbits running across the road, while spotting huge Welsh castles in the trees, I made it to registration at the Victoria Hotel in Llanberis. They were not sure how many run
ners to expect, as registration was on-the-day only, but the race was incorporating the World Long Distance Mountain Running trials, so although small, the field would be of high quality. Although the sun was actually out in Llanberis, Snowdon itself was hidden in deep black cloud, so it was important to find out what compulsory kit had to be carried and what could be transported up to the summit for the return "jog"/cafe break.

Although I felt rather laissez-faire about the race as I drove down (it's hard to get really psyched up for a race that you haven't targeted, trained or tapered for), I was amazed how nervous I felt sitting in the carpark in Llanberis.......maybe it was the fear of the unknown!

On board the bus to Beddgelert, I started to wonder if people would run hard on the early fast runnable section of the race, or save their legs for the steep final climb, but I was soon distracted by the rather odd antics of tourists we saw. It's difficult to believe people would stop their cars, so blocking an entire road, just to take a photo of a sheep, but they clearly do. This meant that the trip took rather a long time, and so the start had to be delayed.

I'm not sure that I've ever come across such a relaxed start - initially people just milled around, but then we we
Race route
re all counted across a cattle grid so we figured that we must be in the right place. There was no briefing and no countdown - and I was actually still tying a shoelace up tighter when people started running. Several people shot off at a fast pace, but I decided to just run my own race, as it was all quite new to me.
That tactic seemed to work as I relaxed into the run, really enjoying the undualting trails. It reminded me of the World Trails in a similar area last year. I caught up to and moved past Pippa Maddams and Anna Lupton by the 2 mile mark, but I knew that, as seasoned international hill runners, they would be much quickler than me on the steep second half of the race.
Although we were gradually gaining height, there were also some downhill stretches, so I let my legs go with it(but hopefully not my arms as much as usual!!) - and actually clocked a 5:40 mile when looking at my garmin later that night!! No wonder I moved past Dione Allen by mile 4 and found myself as the leading lady (scary thought!!). It was nice to get a couple of cheers as we circumnavigated a lake and headed to the road crossing (even if I was mistaken for "Jayne" at one point!).
After the road crossing (and the only water stop - there were also gels, but I didn't think I needed one as 
Picture taken by Gwynfor James
we'd only be going 7.5miles at that point) the trail became much rougher and started climbing in more earnest. A few gates certainly interrupted your stride and slowed you down, but I found it quite hard to judge foot placement on the loose slate. Dione seemed at ease on this terrain and passed me about half a mile from the crossing, but didn't seem to be moving away too quickly.
I made a couple of slight path misjudgements here - at one point I was so looking at my feet so carefully as I picked my way across piles of loose slate that I headed slight too far to one side, and at another point, the trail seemd to be so narrow between a fence and a drop into a small tarn that I thought we must have to run the other side of the fence. I stopped to cross the fence and spiked my hand on the top row of barbed wire, only to notice the trail did become clearer and there was no need to cross it at all!!
After scrambling up and over some steps/stiles to cross a wall, a marshal pointed me to the left with the immortal words "free route choice, the path is directly up there". This was the start of the section described prior to the race as "the 3k that is not for the faint-hearted!" - gulp!! I took this statement to be about the steepness of the climb, as parts of it were a scramble up rock slabs using your hands, but later on I realised what it actually meant. Not only was there an elevation gain of 1600 feet over 1.5 miles, but at times we were ascending a ridge that was under 1m wide.
Anna showed her mountain running form here and passed me on this section, ready to reel in Dione, who was still in sight up ahead. Unfortunately for me (well maybe fortunately, as it meant that the drop-offs tended to disappear from view), the weather deteriorated and I found myself in thick mist. It made it harder to pick out a route as you weren't sure whether to keep going up over every rocky outcrop, or whether to try to skirt round them. As we were getting nearer to the summit, there were also walkers going in both direction (some in jeans of all things!!) so I sometimes had to pause for safety reasons due to the narrowness of the ridge.

Good to see what the summit should look like

It was spitting with rain, but the ridge widened out and people started to encourage me to keep pushing on up as I wasn't that far away from the top - though one lad did say "20m to I mean 200m....or is it further?". I thought there might be a slight flattening with a summit ridge to run along (hopefully with the finish line in sight) so enabling a "glory sprint finish", but it was not to be. I climbed up a final rocky slope through the mist and saw people about 10m away shouting "right to the steps....touch the finish when you touch the steps!".

Early results

Still I'd made it.....13th place overall....3rd lady behind 2 international mountain runners and ahead of many distinguished fell runners...and 1st Scot! Not bad for my first attempt at that kind of race - and I certainly know what to work on to improve in the future!

At the top with Shona
Unfortunately, there were hundreds of tourists sheltering from the rain and weather in the summit cafe, so it was impossible to go in for coffee and a cake. Instead, Shona (a fellow Scottish runner - who finished 4th lady) and I decided to just head for the cafes back down in Llanberis - not my favourite thing....running back down a mountain again, but at least there was the promise of food and drink at the bottom!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Scottish ladies and their teamwork......

I've never run in the Intercounties Fell Running Championships before as I've always been too worried about turning an ankle just prior to Comrades but thought I'd give it a go this year.
Our course profile
The event was being held in Witton Park, Blackburn, and it was suggested that it might suit some XC runners rather than just experienced fell runners. I was making up the "Scotland West" team with Christina (a good hill runner) and Lesley (a good XC runner)...... probably because I was only other person in the west of Scotland mad enough to do it!

I knew that the race would encompass all my weak would be short, fast, and involve lots of downhill racing.....but then again, if you stick to what you know you can do, you'll never improve so it's good to get out of that comfort zone (though I was rather worried about embarrassing myself!).

Having looked at a map, it was also an excuse to catch up with my aunt, uncle and cousin the night before so I drove on down to stay with them in Halifax. I decided to go via Blackburn to see how long my return route would take me in the morning, but I appeared to be slightly navigationally challenged. Not only did I end up in the wrong car park at Witton Park, but then I couldn't seem to leave Blackburn. I drove past the football stadium a couple of times before finding what I thought was the correct road, only to then find myself doing laps of Burnley. Eventually (after visiting their football ground too) I found the route down the Calder Valley, but did worry that I'd gone horribly wrong when I passed through a village called Portsmouth!

I really don't understand what I was did on the Saturday afternoon, as I managed to drive straight there on Sunday morning (and hence arrived rather too early, but at least it meant that I could bag a car parking space in the shade - as it was already getting rather hot and sunny).

I decided to go for a bit of a walk to check out some of the course......which may not have been the best idea. Not only did I stress myself out by realising that the start and finish involved 500m of uneven ground covered in long grass which I found hard to walk through never mind run through, but when I followed some small flags in the ground (which me correctly took to be route markers) I ended up being chased by a rather large cow. It appeared that our race would go straight through a field containing cows and their only hope was that the front runners would scare them all away!

As I returned to the car for some (more) food and to get changed, I got a chance to chat to several of the other Scottish runners, as people were arriving at different times and checking out parts of the course. The sun was out and it was heating up, so I was very glad that I'd had water as well as wine the night before.

East meets West - with Charlotte!
I was parked just next to Charlotte Morgan (running for the Easts....officially the opposition, but actually a friend), so after locating our numbers and vests we went for a warmup run. She'd come down the day before and so had reccied the course, which had apparently been changed only a week previously due to another event occurring in the park.

Our race was approximately 10k long and would involve about 390m of elevation change. The route meant that we climbed all the way up the hill to the "top forest", ran a hilly lap of the top forest, and then descended part of the way back to the finish. Initially we would have gone all the way to the start/finish area and then climbed back up to the top forest, but the new course had us heading off across the field full of cows (up a very sharp ascent and then down a longer descent) to rejoin the initial climb. Charlotte and I ran up to the top forest and then cut along the road to join the main descent, with her kindly explaining where we would be directed during the race.

The junior men were all just about finished and so we were being mustered into our starting pen. It was about 22 degrees and in full sunlight, so luckily we didn't have to hand around for too long. Every number was checked off on a list as we passed from the pen to the startline, and then suddenly we were off.

Luckily for me, the long grass slowed everyone down, and so I didn't quite fall off the back in the first few metres, and by the time we hit the start of the climb, I was well in the pack jostling for room. I tend to be better on the climbs, but the path was so narrow that it was difficult to pass slower climbers. There were also twists, turns, roots and steps to negotiate (but luckily the marshals were holding the gates open on this bit of the course). I could see most of the other Scottish runners just ahead or around me, but suddenly I found myself on the ground. With such a tight field, it was hard to spot some of the roots in time to avoid them, and I must've been caught unawares, as even I'm not usually such a clutz as to fall on the uphill. At least this time, I didn't break anything, but just grazed my hands and knees, and so managed to get up and start running again before too many people had passed me by!

The heat and dryness was already telling, as my mouth was parched on that first climb. There was no water available on the course, so I was very tempted to mug the lady in front of me, as she was being handed water handed by supporters on several occasions. Still, I guessed that most of the field would have been feeling as dry-mouthed as myself.

Crossing a road at the top of the incline, we ducked under an arch and were then in the "top forest". There was no respite from the climbing here as we continued up and up, with some switchbacks making it slightly easier to pass people. All of a sudden it flattened off, and I knew I needed to push on before starting the first of the dreaded ascents. As we were winding through the forest, it was difficult to judge how close people were to each other (and very easy for people to take shortcuts and suddenly appear out of the woods in front of you) . I'd opened up a decent gap behind me so initially I couldn't hear anyone charging after me as the path headed downhill more steeply.

The route looks flat from above!
I nearly ended up in some bushes at one point, as it was hard to negotiate a tight 90 degree right hand bend while descending (and I don't think I managed it any better on subsequent laps). As the downhill continued on through the woods, I was overtaken by a couple of girls (one of whom caught my left heel and managed a hand on my back before she passed me). Unfortunately one lady took a bit of a tumble directly in front of me, but luckily it was just at the point that touched the road (before we continuing back up on another lap of the woods), so people were able to help her up.

Again I claimed a few places as we climbed back up trhough the woods, but this time a few of the Scottish girls shot past me as they hurtled down with no fear. I was especially impressed with Megan (running for the Easts) as she'd run a trail race the day before! When we reached the road this time, we were directed along it to a kissing gate into a field, and then headed straight down to a gate at the bottom. I was happy running down this field and hoped for more of the same as I could relax and let my legs go. Another 90 degree bend into the next field, saw us running along a rutted narrow path through longer grass to another kissing gate.

The gates were an interesting added feature because if you were right up on the girl in front, then you'd have to wait for them to get through the gate before it was your turn. We carried on descending but were now back onto trail through woods and so out of the sun. I can never quite get my stride length right when going down large trail steps - 2 small steps on each tread seems to many, but I couldn't stretch enough to only have one foot on each one. A rather long-legged girl had no such problem and bounded down past me taking 1 step for every couple of mine.

Escaping the cows...

Next came the interesting addition to the course. As pointed out by Charlotte on our warm-up, instead of descending back to the start level, we were directed off into a rough field inhabited by cows. A very steep climb (think "gasping hands-on-knees" for most....though I tried to continue with my usual "baby-steps" running mode up the slope) was followed by running the gauntlet through a large group of cows. It was this section that I'd spotted earlier, and it became a headlong dash for the safety of the far woods. Several people were out on the course at this point to support and cowherd, but at one point a cow ran directly across in front of me, instead of cooperating and being shooed away!

Under the safe cover of the trees (after yet another kissing gate) we rejoined our initial path climbing back up to the woods, though I was very careful not to fall this time. Maybe I was getting stronger as the race progressed, or maybe it was just others that were fading slightly, but I overtook a fair few runners on this long drag up. Having reached the highest point, I gave myself a quick talking to, knowing that this was my only opportunity to push on as we still had an awful lots of descending to come. It must've worked as nobody passed me all the way back down through the woods or the fields, even though I had a tear-jerking moment landing with a sharp stone right underneath my inflamed left calacneal bursa! Having escaped the cows for the second time,and successfully negotiated the 6th kissing gate, a marshal pointed runners back down towards the start area, along the route we'd initally come up. I tried to relax and stretch out down here knowing that there wasn't far to go, and not wanting to be pipped in the final furlong by a speedy descender.

Coming out of the woods onto the last 500m (remember that long grassy section?), the girl in front was a good 20s ahead of me, but I could hear someone right on my tail. I thought it was the 4th Scottish Easts team member and I really didn't want to be outrun in a sprint for the line, so I decided to put everything I had left into running for home. To my amazement, I managed to keep driving on towards the line (hmmmm......had I not put enough effort in earlier), closing the gap to 3s on the girl in front (I just ran out of race to get her) and pulling well clear of those behind, though I had no idea how I'd done overall.

Team Bronze!!!!
I met up with the other Westies (and apologised if I'd let the team down) and went on a hunt for water to drink/put over our heads/wash my grazes with - very odd that there was none at the finish in such weather (some of the men practically collapsed when they finished their 13K race). Great to hear that Charlotte had come in as first Scot and 8th overall! We hung around to cheer the men in and wait for the results - as we (correctly) thought that the Easts had won team silvers behind Yorkshire. What really amazed me when we actually saw the results, was that I wasn't far off the pace of the girls in front (the top ladies were almost in a different race - such high quality runners) and we Scots had packed well earning us a totally unexpected team bronze for the Wests (finishing 11th,13th and 15th counters)!

Not a bad attempt at something quite new to me (and I liked the way they put it at the prizegiving....anchoring the team, rather than last for the team.....)!!!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Parents and Prizegivings....

Last weekend I did something a little bit different.....and potentially more nerve-racking than racing.....

I was invited to attend the Durham City Harriers Annual Awards Evening as St Mary's College. It was an ideal opportunity to head over to the NE for the weekend and also catch up with my parents.

A beautiful course

Gibside Chapel at the end of the Avenue

Saturday morning appeared to be a washout, but my dad and I managed to sneak in a trip to Gibside parkrun in between the showers (well, it was both sunny and rainy during the run). I remember going for walks at Gibside as a child and my memory of a beautiful National Trust property didn't let me down. The run is certainly a tough one, going mainly uphill for the first half before you retrace your steps back to the finish, but you finish along the Avenue towards the lovely Gibside chapel (and a nice tearoom - yummmm!). I was caught slightly unawares by the carved animals in the woods along the route - and had to doubletake to make sure they weren't real!

Durham Regatta

I then relived more childhood memories with my mother in the afternoon - as we headed into town for some shopping, we stopped and watched the Town regatta (hmmmm.....the odd early morning outing followed by a frantic run to school to make assembly sprung to mind, as well as trying to keep music anchored onto stands with clothespegs when our orchestra played in the bandstand).

St Mary's College
While getting ready to go across to St Mary's, my dad looked up the Harriers online. Their invited guest from the previous year was only Charlie Spedding......oh dear.....I hoped that they wouldn't be disappointed with me! When I arrived, however, everyone seemed really friendly, and we had fun eating and drinking and getting stuck into the quiz (I did appear to be better at general knowledge than running-specific questions, though they were rather NE athletes/track orientated). Then it was on to the actual presentations - luckily I only had to hand out the trophies and certificates that I was given while someone else read them out (so no embarrassing mispronunciations for me). There were many different awards given for a variety of disciplines, and also an award to the XC team manager for non-running duties. I liked the "honorary life membership", as it can only be given to someone who has been a club member for >30 years, and is aged >65, so they described it as a mark of respect, but also a cheeky "we know you're getting old" award!
I have long heard/read about Rosie Smith - and many people presume that we know each other. We went to rival/parallel comprehensive schools in Durham and have both run for Scotland and GB, but unfortunately I was rather unsporty at school (and had probably left before Rosie started). She's a shorter distance/XC runner and hence way faster than me, but it was lovely to finally put a face to the name. I felt rather unworthy presenting her with her awards but we had a lovely chat afterwards.

The Awards lined up

Luckily for me, I didn't really have to stand up and give a talk (as you never know whether people will be interested in the same things as you, though I guess I have had an unusual route into the running world), because they made it easier for me by turning it into a question and answer session. I guess that could make things worse, as you can be thrown off by unusual questions, but hey I have no problems in talking about what I like to eat when I run! Time flew by after that with informal chatting, the quiz answers (my table came second by 1 point) and a raffle.

I really enjoyed the evening, and found them to be a friendly, diverse club with a range of talented athletes - and I'll definitely look them out for a run next time I'm in Durham!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Running with/against/for the World

This week I was invited down to Silverstone (by Simon Freeman of freestakUK) to take part in the first Wingsforlife World Run. This is an interesting new concept of a race organised by Red Bull to raise money for the non-profit Wings For Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation.

In brief, it is a worldwide event with thousands of participants running at exactly the same time at 34 different locations on 6 continents around the world. In each location a "Catcher Car" sets off half an hour after the start signal and keeps a constant but increasing pace around the world. Each runner wears a race number containing a chip which is activated when they pass the finisher car at the startline, and deactivated when they are passed on the course. In this way, the finish line chases the runners and the winner is the last person left running. As all the starts are simultaneous, not only are there event winners, but also a global winner.

I warned them that my legs would be rather tired after the Fling, and I'd been fighting a bad cold all well, so I doubted that I could run very far, but they were still keen for me to come down and get involved.

7 hours, 3 trains, a bus and a taxi later (I love public transport on a bank holiday weekend anyway, but add in lots of engineering work and a few rowdy stag dos, and it's an experience not to be missed!) I arrived at Silverstone. I seemed to have been travelling forever, yet I wasn't entirely sure which part of the country I'd ended up in. Not to worry - as long as I got back to Milton Keynes station (not in my list of ideal holiday destinations) afterwards, I could make it home.

Snoozebox from the outside

It was lovely to meet up with Tracy Dean at the accommodation, but the accommodation was a whole new experience in itself. I've never stayed in a "portable hotel" before......and basically, it does what it says on the tin. Snoozebox by name and snoozebox by nature.

Outside my room

Inside my room
The rooms have everything you need (except a kettle) - a comfy double bed (with a single bed perpendicularly arranged above it, a safe, some shelves, some drawers, a hanger, a tv and a wet room - all in a 10x10 box (you could even change the tv channels with your toes, or even try to brush your teeth at the basin and wash your feet in the shower, all while sitting on the toilet!). From the outside it looks like a portacabin, and although you can hear people talking and walking along the metal walkways outside, you feel snug in your own "box" rather like a tiny ship's cabin!

We went over to search out some food with 3 other invited  runners (Robbie, Paul and Edwina {Eddie} from Centurion running), which again caused some amusement. It was a buffet, but the lady serving us was clearly unused to big appetites, as we were not allowed a second helping and had to choose between some soup or some cake (well, Tracy and I managed to get away with it before the "2 courses only" rule was enforced but the others were not so lucky). At least I still had some supplies left from my travelling to snack on, as breakfast seemed a very long time away!

The event didn't officially start until 11am for us, so we had a relatively leisurely morning but, as always seems to be the way, there was a bit of a last minute panic. We went back to the cars to sort out people's gels (and for me to take some decongestants) and then wandered over to the bag drop area. It was not yet 10:30, but we suddenly heard a voice over the tannoy saying that if you hadn't passed between the two chaser cars on the startline in the next 10s then you'd be disqualified! I think Tracy and I nearly broke a world record for stripping off our tights and jackets.

The dreaded "Catcher Car"

We thought we'd got the start time wrong, but it turns out that it was something to do with registering and resetting all the chips worldwide. What it did mean is that we then hang to hang around for half an hour in our race kit, and it wasn't very warm. I didn't mind the clouds in the sky, as my nose is still too sore and swollen to wear sunglasses, but the breeze wasn't pleasant. We tried to spot famous faces amongst the runners, but only managed Mark Webber and Dave Thom (probably more famous as Kelly Brook's ex than as a former Scotland rugby international!).

Paul was up for a good race to go as far as possible, while Robbie was planning to stop after 80-90mins as his target race is next weekend, so we knew the lads would go out fast. Tracy had planned a set distance to run, and Eddie was going to stay ahead of the marathon pacer. The "marathon pacer" should be passed by the catcher car after 3 hours 8 minutes, so I said that if Eddie was 7 min/miling I would keep her company for a bit, and see when my body protested, though I hoped to make it into double figures (ie 10 miles).

Despite it being a long run (of unknown distance), I knew there would be the usual overexcited sprinters at the start, so I stayed right over to one side (the fear of being trampled is still there!) and moved back into the middle when everybody had settled into their running. Eddie set off with the lead group of men so I just watched her disappear off into the distance. In the wind, it would have been easier for me to have run in such a pack, but as I was already running 6:30-6:40 miling, I knew that if I went with them, I probably wouldn't even make it to 10k never mind 10 miles!

On the "circuit"!
Round and round the corners of the F1 circuit we ran, and I have to confess that I had moments doubting my sanity. I felt tired and, as I'd had a long solo run the weekend before, I wasn't sure what I'd get out of another one so soon afterwards and I had nothing to prove to myself or others. However, I did think it would be poor form to stop before the catcher car had even started to I made myself keep going. After 5 km there was a "feed station" - with red bull, water and some half bananas. I did wonder who would be needing a banana already......and how many people would opt for a fizzy drink rather than water.

The runners at Silverstone
With about 8km covered, the route left the racetrack and headed out onto the quiet country roads. I exchanged a bit of banter with a young lad who cheered me on with "you're nearly there!"......bless him! 10k under the belt and it was starting to feel more enjoyable so I knew I'd make the magical double figure in miles. The tree-lined roads had been closed to traffic and so it was really nice to run into small villages and between bright fields of oil-seed rape. 

As the sun was now shining brightly, it was getting rather warm. It was difficult to drink much water from the huge cups at the feed stations (I later learnt to bend my cup into more of a funnel-shape) but it was very welcome to use to wet the face and head!

By the time I'd made it to 10 miles I could see Eddie up the road ahead of me (accompanied by another runner and with Dennis on a motorbike) so I decided to carry on and closed the gap down gradually, as I could see her easing off to let me catch up. By 13 miles we were running together - this is what it was all about.....a long run in the countryside with a lovely new friend, chatting away!
Love the way my number reminded me
what country I was in - presume that was
for live race video footage for global HQ

We passed the last "bus stop" (the last place where caught runners could wait for a bus to take them back to Silverstone), but the miles were passing comfortably as we discussed every topic under the sun. We'd each taken on a gel (in fact, it was the only one I had during the whole of the run) and had water at about 18 miles. This is when it started to become a bit there seemed to be no water available anymore. There were no tables at the side of the road, and we were not passing through any villages. Every time we spotted a high viz jacket up ahead, we thought "there's a waterstop, we're saved", but unfortunately the high viz was being worn by marshals manning the junctions where the road was closed. We asked them if they knew how far it was to some water, but they didn't know. We were also rather unsure about the actual distance that we had covered, as both our watches said we'd run well over 20miles when we passed a board showing "30k/18.6M".

We had been asking Dennis all sorts of questions about whether he knew how many ladies were still running, and which of the Pauls (Paul Navesy and Paul Marteletti) was leading, so we didn't also want to hound him about drinks stations. Luckily, Robbie dropped back to run with us for a bit and spoke to Dennis instead. What a lovely man - not only did he give us his bottle of water from his packed lunch, but he also gave Robbie a packet of crisps. Then he zipped ahead to the next village and picked up some more bottles!

Side by side with Eddie...

Eddie was starting to flag, but I hoped the water would perk her certainly seemed to do so and so we started counting down the miles to the marathon distance. Robbie had gone up the road to encourage Andrew (the man closest ahead of us) and I kept talking to Eddie to try to keep her motivated! "Little steps" up the hills and "relax and stretch it out" on the downhills. Every step was another step in the bank towards her goal race in the summer.

Andrew seemed to suddenly fade up ahead of us, but Eddie was also struggling on the inclines (as she'd just put in a big training week). We passed through another village, and now had several motorbikes with us. The locals must have thought that I was totally mad, as I kept turning round and taking a few steps backwards while shouting encouragement. It obviously worked, and Eddie wasn't going to let Andrew escape us so we reeled him in. Fair play to him - we were going through the marathon distance in about 3 hrs, and he'd never run further than a half marathon before - awesome effort! It didn't cross my mind that Eddie might not want to push on - and that I might be losing a friendship almost as soon as it had been made with my active encouragement, and hopefully I judged it right! As I said to her at the time, "a lady who has had children will not give up until the job's done!"

We still didn't know where the next lady was - we'd been told that she was a mile behind us, when the chasing car was 3 miles behind us......but then we heard that the chasing car was only a mile away, though they didn't know if she'd been picked up. Our entourage intensified and we were told the car was half a mile away and closing.

Strangely enough, I felt really strong at this point, but as we'd run so far together, the plan was to finish together so I could ease off the pace and put my efforts into supporting my friend. Robbie told me that he wouldn't hang around, he'd race all the way....and as he didn't want us to chick him, he zoomed off (which was totally fair as he'd just been running easy to stay with us). A cyclist had passed me, guiding us to the left hand side of the road, so I knew that the catcher car must be all but upon us.

The atmosphere was getting pretty exciting with lots of shouting and cheering from both motorbikes and pushbikes. As I was going up a hill I turned round and saw the car almost on top of Eddie who was racing down the previous hill. Decision made, we were in this together - friendship outweighed competitiveness as there was nothin to prove. I stopped but then realised I'd cramp up if I did that so started sidestepping up the hill. Eddie got to me and and I grabbed her by the hand, turned and started running hard up the hill shouting "come on".

When we finished

The car passed us running with our linked hands in the air amidst applause and cheers! We'd done it - the last ladies left, and with only 3 men ahead of us! We were given a board and Eddie wrote our official distance of 45.385m on it (though I'm not entirely sure how they can ensure it's that precisely measured) - beyond her planned target of the marathon distance, and way beyond what me thought my tired legs would let me run!

Yeay - finished!

Chillin' with Eddie in the Paddock

It was a great day, not only for participating in the whole event, but for making a new friend who's running and stamina I have total respect for, and for discovering my body's own powers of recovery and endurance!

We were then taken back for some very well earned beers and sandwiches (with Tracy, who'd stuck exactly to her plan - she'd run a half marathon then waited for a pickup) in the sun at Silverstone! Eventually we all could cheer for Paul Marteletti as he was driven back into the paddock as the overall winner (and 5th in the world) having covered an amazing 69.37km before he was caught!

The UK race winners!

In the, runners of 162 nationalities ran on 34 race tracks in 32 countries. 35 397 runners spanned 13 time zones on six continents and covered a total of 530.928km, so raising over 3 million euros for charity - not bad work everyone!