Sunday, 27 December 2015

Pay it Forwards....

It has been great to have a year standing back from setting time goals and to just enjoy running for the sake of running again. I've managed to try several different things (though admittedly I've done some rather familiar events) and push myself to get right out of my comfort zone.

One of the things that I have really enjoyed is actually putting something back into running....and what I mean by that is putting something into running for other people. 

Tracy's first parkrun
My friend Tracy Dean helped to encourage me to get off road and develop my self-confidence to "enjoy" running both the "Three Peaks" race in Yorkshire and the "Dragon's Back" race in Wales. In return, I've introduced her to "parkrun". She was looking for something to spice up her own running, and what better way than with a fun, free, sociable speed session. We have done a couple of these on catch-up weekends and now I believe she is a regular at her local event, and I'm sure will see the difference the short hard effort makes to her regular runs.

Helen (at a parkrun with her brother and myself)
Another good friend of mine, Helen Davies (who admittedly did think I was slightly mad when I went running in the snow one day when we shared a room on a skiing trip), thought that she couldn't run 5K without stopping for a few breaks. We took in a parkrun whenever I was down in London and she's now gone from "run-walk-run" (via "run-stop to tie shoelace-run") to running the whole thing and seems to record a new PB every time she now ventures out to attempt one! "Love" might be too strong a word for it, but it has been brilliant for me to watch her develop her "like" for running...and it has reminded me of how I felt when I was getting into it.

I've done a couple of runs myself over Christmas, and although I know that I have strength rather than speed (as I only start to overtake people near the end) so my times are nothing worth writing home about, others have recorded PBs by trying to avoid being "chicked" for as long as possible. In turn, knowing this was happening encouraged me to keep going.

Aleks' sprint finish
Cecilia and I just ahead of Edith and her mum
Cecilia proudly presenting her own barcode!
Today was the best day of all, as my nephew and niece completed their first junior parkrun. Aleks ran with his Dziadek (Polish for "grandfather"), while Cecilia and I did our best to keep "the boys" in sight. Aleks paced his run well and kept enough energy for a sprint finish, while Cecilia had a great to-and-fro battle all the way round with a girl (Edith) only 2 weeks her junior. It was wonderful to see so many families out there enjoying the fresh air, being led by the children, some of whom who were pushing themselves hard (just because they wanted to) whilst others laughed and chatted the whole way round (but what age do girls start gossiping, as they seem pretty good at it in the JW10 age bracket?). I love watching children run, as they seem to just enjoy themselves and go whatever speed they feel like....and sometimes in whatever direction they feel like (I'm sure Aleks would record an even quicker time if he ran in more of  a straight line!). I made sure that I was always alongside or slightly behind Cecilia so that she determined our effort and speed, though we did giggle when people cheered her on for "beating her mum" (my father had the best comment though, as he and Aleks had become slightly separated...."I'm not sure that you're quite in the right age bracket, but well done!")!!! Seeing how much they loved it made me more determined not to lose that element from my own running!

The SisuGirls "knot"
In a similar vein, I have recently become a community ambassador for SisuGirls. As a youngster, I was labelled as an "unsporty" child. My parents say that I was good at walking up hills, so I obviously had some of the strength and stubbornness that I show as an adult, but as I wasn't very good at the sports we did in school, so I was made to feel bad about my ability (or lack thereof), and even had marks taken off for "not trying". At school in America, I was actually "excused" PE for a term in order to learn how to type (I'm not sure that's done me much good as I'm now "queen of the two-fingered type"!!!). Having found a love for the outdoors and for physical activity as I got older, I am now keen to ensure that other children do not find themselves up against the same barriers that I faced. The only thing that limits them should be the extent of their dreams and ambitions.... I think that, even now, a lot of my "limits" come from within my head.....which is probably related to my childhood (I hasten to add that this is not due to my parents but more to the opportunities and facilities that were available at the time, eg I wasn't allowed to do a GCSE in motor vehicle engineering because "I was a girl" and so had to do music instead). 

SisuGirls is a new charitable organisation whose mission is to show girls how determined, brave and resilient they are, through participative adventure-based projects with inspiring content. They use outdoor activities as learning opportunities to build character as well as community, with fun, inclusive, and powerful programmes. The aim is to break preconceived physical and mental boundaries to teach girls how to set and attain goals, confront challenges, and believe in themselves. Hopefully, I can help with this, especially in my local area, and in that way will be able to pass something on....and so "pay it forwards".....

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

CurraNZ Revisited

It has been well over a year since I first wrote about CurraNZ (a New Zealand blackcurrant supplement from Health Currancy Ltd) and changes I noticed when I started taking it. In many ways, the past year had been one of my most consistent running-wise. You might not believe me if you just look up race results that are reported on websites such as the Power of 10, but at the start of the year I made the decision that I was not going to chase times and results, and instead try a few new things, get out of my comfort zone, and just generally enjoy myself.

During 2015 I have run on roads, I have run on trails, I have run in the mountains, and I have run XC. I have run during the daytime and I have run at nighttime and enjoyed doing so on 3 different continents. It has therefore been a very varied year, but CurraNZ has been a constant companion throughout, helping me to recover and to avoid injury. Just to put people's minds at rest, I also believe in clean sport and have undergone multiple random blood and urine tests over the course of the year whilst taking this supplement.

I have played with different dosing schedules for different events - during the multiday Dragon's Back race through the mountains of Wales, I took a capsule both before and after each day's running, but also put an extra dose into my lunchtime dropbag. This seemed to work for me as I got relatively stronger as the week progressed, moving up the field everyday as others tired, missed cutt-offs or developed injuries.
As this worked for me, I repeated the process (more or less) when I ran the 100K at the World Champs (though I did pre-load with 2 capsules/day for a couple of days beforehand). I took my usual pre-run capsule but also carried another to take after about 4 hours - note to self.....however well you think you have wrapped up a capsule of CurraNZ, if you're carrying it in your top and throwing copious amounts of water over yourself to keep cool, then you are likely to develop interesting purple stains on your top! I fully admit that I faded over the last 20K of the race, but then again, I did run a new PB of almost 10 minutes....and was also able to go for a nice recovery run with our Team Managers the next day when most other participants could only manage a painful shuffle!!!
I have also looked into some of the other health benefits of the supplement - the anti-viral activity is the one that is the most beneficial to me. As a busy GP, I am probably exposed to more than my fair share or viruses, yet over the past 2 winters, I seem to have been affected by fewer of them than my colleagues. A few patients are also taking the capsules on the recommendation of our local menopause guru to gain relief from some of their debilitating flushes. My mother has also investigated some of the research into the effects on brain health, and so is going to give them a try....well, who wouldn't want to do all they could to keep their brain sharp as they age?
To return to the exercise side of things, there has been some exciting recent research looking more specifically at fat-burning during exercise. In a nutshell, it shows that CurraNZ is the first supplement ever found to have a profound effect on substrate oxidation - increasing fat oxidation (27%), and sparing carbohydrate expenditure (11%), so it may allow active people to exercise harder, recover faster, and burn more fat.
The dosing study shows that two capsules is optimal for endurance, not one, and so I know what I'll be taking in 2016. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Running in the Californian sun....or not!!!

I was asked to run the 50k World Champs at rather short notice, and so had to decline as I had already booked a holiday for that period, but when I spotted a marathon (the California International Marathon or CIM) right in the middle of my fortnight away, I couldn't resist jumping in and giving it a go.

With hindsight, it may not have been one of my better ideas. I'm not trying to make excuses for myself, as sometimes a no-pressure event yields unexpected results, but I think that a combination of a lack of sleep (from jetlag, unfamiliar surroundings and several different room-mates), a complete departure from my normal pre-race diet (not that I'm complaining about that as I've loved everything that I've eaten), lots of travel (ie 10 hours in a car the couple of days beforehand) and a lack of long runs (I've done one long run since the 100k in September......and that was the York marathon) probably wasn't going to lead to a stellar performance.

Still, I usually end up running alone (both in training and in marathons) and it was a great opportunity to run with a huge number of speedy women (the CIM is considered to be one of the best - and last - opportunities to qualify for the US Olympic Trials, so many women were aiming to try to run sub 2:43). I also thought it might be a good opportunity to try out different "in-race" nutrition, as I don't really like gels that much and hence tend not to use them in training.

I hadn't really been "feeling it" for a couple of days pre-race, and those who know me well, will realise how unlike me it was, that it just wanted to go to bed at 7:30pm the night before the race as I felt so off. Still, it could have been a good thing as breakfast was from 3am. I felt rather nauseated as I forced some granola and yoghurt down, so decided to try some of the cakes available (as they always go down well). A couple of mouthfuls of blueberry muffin weren't sitting well, so I switched to better. Oh dear!

The race didn't start until 7am, so after we had been bussed to the start nice and early (!), I tried again with a jam bagel sandwich. As a last resort, I went for a can of, liquid and caffeine...magic (that certainly scored me some kudos later!).

No hiding en route then!
Unfortunately, the warm Californian weather I had expected was not in evidence, and I wondered how everyone else was managing to stay warm as they stood with hand on heart in the cold rainy dark morning listening to the Star-Spangled Banner, as I felt really cold whilst trying to keep still out of respect (though I do have to say that the singer had a great voice!!).

The start was nothing like I had feared, even with an elite field that covered 6 pages.....really relaxed with no trampling issues. It was only then, when up and running  that I realised the nausea hadn't subsided at all. I briefly contemplated dropping out, but how embarrassing would it be to be the first person to pull out of a race? I thought about it again in the second mile, but figured that it really wouldn't be fair to do that to my friend Clancy who'd been a super-chauffeur and would be waiting for me at the finish line.

Instead, I decided to see if I could stick with the 2:43 pace group up to the halfway mark (thinking "please don't be sick until then") and then make a decision. If I could get to there, then I could afford to run the second half almost 7 minutes slower and still break 2:50 (that might sound like a really strange goal, but I've never finished a marathon in the 2:50s).

I started to chat to a lady in the group and we realised that we had friends in common, as she lives and trains in Boulder, where several Scottish marathoners I know, go for their altitude training. You could see how serious some runners were about sticking with the 2:43 pacer, as they would chop their stride if they got slightly ahead. And I ended up moving just ahead of the pack, as I was getting knocked and nudged around and I like to be able to run freely, especially  up and down inclines.

It was certainly cold when you stopped running!
I still wasn't feeling much better, so I mentally worked out how much slower I could run for each mile in the second half to make my target. As we passed through the halfway point, the clock showed 1:21:15 (I was impressed as the pacer had been due to go through at 1:21:20 and he was just a stride behind me). I stuck with them for another few miles (giving me more of a fade-buffer) and then dropped off the pace.

I make it sound like it was a measured decision, but I just couldn't keep going at that pace. However, on looking at my garmin afterwards, I appear to have run a pretty consistent pace from there on home, albeit 20-25s/mile slower than the first 17. It certainly didn't feel that way at the time. There were a few ladies struggling around me, who would put an effort in and move ahead, and then I'd catch them up again, only for the cycle to be repeated. 

I tried to ignore them, and just focus on not letting my pace drop too much......though I confess to working out how slow it would have to drop to before I was into the 2:50s (just quietly, I was kind of wishing that my pace had dropped that far, as then I could let myself slow even further to finish over 3 about being weak-minded, I'm not very proud of that!). 

So glad to have crossed that line!
I overheard a lady (one of the ones who had been pushing and dropping back) almost crying to a friend of hers on a bike, as she had such back pain in her Achilles. I knew how she felt as I'd been going through phases of left quad pain alternating with right calf pain. I decided to "nobly" suggest to her that we run-walk it in together, but luckily (!) for me, when I turned round, I couldn't spot her any more.

The last few miles were rather lonely ones but looking at my watch, I knew that as long as I could keep going, then I would make it. I actually passed quite a people in those final miles, so I felt that I just be running more strongly than I thought (despite someone shouting "get those shoulders down and relax darlin' " from the side of the road). I was tempted to reply "you do it then" in response to a cry of "it's just a walk in the park from here", but as I had my name displayed across my chest, I didn't think that would make me any friends.

A worthy medal ;-)
The final turn took forever to arrive, and just before I got there, I heard my name pronounced perfectly for the first time that day. Turning, I spotted Martín Montoro, a family friend who had come up from LA to see me run, so I tried to smile and wave. Rounding the final corner I spotted the finish gantry and managed to sprint past another couple of ladies, crossing the line with 2:46 on the clock. The best thing was that Clancy was right there at the line to hug me (a VIP pass really does let you go anywhere) and lead me over to see Martín and his wife Cathie. 

Not my finest race (and although I couldn't even face the free post-race buffet, my stomach had held up) and the nausea had prevented me from trying out the planned nutrition, but I hadn't disgraced myself, I'd run with some great ladies (I think 15 qualified for the Trials.....although no men did!!) and I'd had some lovely support from some great friends! Who can complain at that? 

Now...more pancakes and brownies anyone????

Saturday, 21 November 2015

A Good Double-Header of a Weekend...

Team Scotland
It was quite a surprise to receive an email congratulating me on my selection for the Dublin Masters International XC, as it was completely off my radar and I hadn't put myself forward for it. Still, the last time I competed was 3 years ago (due to other running commitments) and it looked like a good excuse to catch up with my friend Niamh, so I dug out my Scottish Veteran Harriers vest and off I went.
A tortuous journey to Dublin (via Manchester due to flight times from Scotland not fitting with my working hours) saw me arriving to a bit of a temperature shock. Niamh greeted me off the airport bus with the offer of an extra jacket, as winter seemed to have "arrived" suddenly the day before, and I wondered what I had let myself in for.
As the next day dawned, it appeared to be less windy and several degrees warmer, but unfortunately the payoff for this was pouring rain. There was a lot of standing water on the motorways as we drove to Santry Demesne...and I secretly half-hoped we might get there too late for the race. Unfortunately chauffeur Niamh was too good for this and I arrived in time not only to pick up my numbers, but also for the Team photos.
Lacing up the spikes ;-(

With my "running mum" Fiona

Niamh and I ran a recce lap of the course in the lovely rain, and then I changed into my spikes. My "running mum" Fiona Matheson tied a saltire ribbon into my hair and I was off to find the start. I was running for the V35 team, but unfortunately didn't really know my teammates. I met two of them as we headed towards the start/finish and they asked me if I was "SuperJo". "No, just Jo" was my reply. I had been trying to convince myself that there was no pressure on me in this race (apart from that which I put on myself) as I'm not know for short distance speed or XC skills, so I hoped they weren't expecting too much of me either.
some of the path crossings
were rather "crunchy" on
the spikes
I started at the back of the pack and followed the other Scottish vests down the right hand side of the course. This looked like it would be a good line as we were on the inside of the turn into the first straight, but unfortunately it meant that we were all nearly taken out in turn by the overhanging branches of a huge tree. No major mishaps though and I forged ahead down that straight to move up the field near to Fiona. It was interesting to see that one of the Irish ladies was well away into the lead by the time we got to the first corner (she ran in the senior Irish team for the EuroCross last year - and just continued to stamp her authority on the race as it progressed).

My line downhill and along through the mud and puddles wasn't exactly ideal as my vision was limited by those in front of me, but I managed to make up those places (and a few more) through the second half of the lap (I did prefer the uphill section). Niamh had suggested that the first lap was for settling in, the second lap for holding a pace, and the third lap (it was a 3-lap race) for holding on....but by the end of the first lap, I just wanted it to be over with. I was soaking wet, covered in mud, and could hardly feel my hands.

Lap 1 was tiring enough
Full marks to those who were out on the course supporting us, and special thanks to Niamh who kept running backwards and forwards from one side to the other, and to Jim Buchanan (a fellow DRC runner who was making his first Scottish Vets appearance in the later V50-65 race). I have to say that the person who showed the greatest strength of character on the day was another DRC clubmate, Sian Finlay. She was second reserve for the Northern Irish team, but was asked to compete a mere hour before the race due to a last minute injury. Having got her kit and spikes on, they then stood her down again just 10 minutes before the start as the first reserve had turned up. What appalling timing.....but Sian remarkably stayed out in the rain to be there at the start of every lap cheering and encouraging (and then ran the open race herself in the afternoon).

Positions didn't seem to change on Lap 2, but by lap 3 I was starting to get sick of cheers for the Irish girl running just behind me. Local home support is a brilliant thing (and her coach was running backwards and forwards as she seemed to be everywhere - either that or she had a very loud voice) but it's less exciting when it's not for you. I thought I would scream if I heard another version of "Well done Fionnuala - you're looking great, you're looking strong, you're moving up, she's tiring in front". Hearing that you're "tiring" may motivate some people to prove them wrong, but it made me question whether I was looking rather knackered.
Finally in the finishing straight!
Anyway, Fionnuala was "strong" and did "move up", overtaking me with a kilometre to go. That effort might have been too much for her, as rather than her pushing away from me as I expected, I got her back with 500m to go. I knew that I then had to keep driving (through the next ankle deep soggy patch) right to the finish. Turning into the final straight, with 200m to go, I noticed that I was suddenly quickly reeling in the Irish girl in front. Unfortunately I ran out of race and finished a couple of paces behind her, though I was just happy to be the first Scot home.

With supersupporter Niamh

Still, I was over the moon to find out later that I'd got an individual bronze medal and led the V35 ladies to a team bronze! This was all the more surprising to me as I'm now at the top of my age bracket, and on the last occasion that I took part in the event, I was only 7th V35 (even though I was 3 years younger then!!).

My medals were sent on after me
There was no time to hang around and join in the post-race festivities, as I was due to run the last race of the DRC grandprix on the Sunday - we have to have 5 results to "count" and up until this weekend I only had 4 scores. The rain was biblical as I drove back from Manchester airport in the dark, so I stayed the night with a friend in Carlisle. There was a chance of the race being cancelled/shortened (again a faint hope at the back of my mind) but they decided to go ahead with the full course.

The Brampton-Carlisle 10 mile roadrace is a very popular one and so the start is always congested. It was nice to see so many DRC vests out and about (and to catch up with friends from other clubs too). The start becomes a bit of a fast downhill charge with a 160degree bend to negotiate at the bottom. Lisa Finlay and I managed not to get caught up in those going off like bullets and hit the main road to Carlisle as about 10th/11th ladies. I questioned why we were putting ourselves through the race as I dislike the start, I dislike the finish (again a 90 degree bend into some barriers) and I'm not keen on the middle part either. She agreed that we always seemed to get sucked into running it, without it being a favourite course.
Although I know that I'm not huge, beside Lisa I appear like the BFG so she was able to get a bit of shelter from the "lovely" headwind by tucking in behind me. We gradually worked our way up the field and as we turned off the main road (between miles 3 and 4) there were only 3 ladies left to reel in. Lisa was hoping to run a specific time, and so I tried to encourage her to stick with me as we were on target for it. She was looking strong and starting to surge ahead of me as we passed the currently leading lady. I thought that the XC would catch up with my legs at any point (as it had felt an effort just to climb the stairs that morning), so I just tried to keep going at the same pace while I could.

By 5 miles, a small gap had opened up between us, I was now not far off Niall (the leading DRC man). To quote Niall, he's not "famous for his outdoor toughness" and so I don't think that he was too impressed when he saw how flooded the road was. There were three sections of about 20m in length where the road was totally under water. There was no option just to plough through it, even though it was ankle deep at times. It really broke your stride up (and I knew that I would personally have to work to pick my feet up through the water) and boy, did your feet feel heavy afterwards.
The last of these dips was at the 6 mile marker and at this point I found myself to be the leading DRC runner, a totally unexpected position to be in. From then on home, it was just a case of getting my head down and working against the wind. In the latter stages of the race a runner from Tyne Bridge Harriers nipped in front of me - I'm sure that he was trying to get me to go with him to get some shelter from the wind, but I couldn't do it - I knew that my pace was dropping, but then again, it seemed like everyone else's was too.
DRC prizewinners at Brampton
It was such a relief to go up the final incline and then down over the main bridge to the finish. Luckily (?) there was noone to chase or be chased by, so there were no mishaps with that final tight turn. Others might have been disappointed with their times on the day - but I think that everyone who got out there and raced in those conditions did well, and I certainly wasn't complaining about my result, even if I was not far off 4.5 minutes slower than last time I raced it.
Two races, two disciplines, two countries, two vests, two hostesses, two fun days....and two good efforts with two good results...what else could I have asked for?

Monday, 16 November 2015

Exhibitions, awards...and a run!!

Some weekends really stand out for you, and last weekend was one of those.
It all started on Friday when I was invited to the opening of the "Hosts and Champions: Scotland in the Commonwealth Games" exhibition as Dumfries museum. The exhibition celebrates over 80 years of participation and achievement by Scotland in the Commonwealth Games and is travelling all over the country so that most of the population can see it. I had contributed some things to the museum for it, such as my running kit, some pictures, my opening ceremony outfit, my Games duvet cover from the village, my "Village Clyde" and some of the paper "confetti" from the opening ceremony (which contained messages of support from Schoolchildren all over Scotland).
At the press launch...
In the afternoon I attended the press opening, which was great, as it gave me the opportunity to chat to the guys who had travelling down from Stirling with the main exhibition, and we also posed for several different photos (both serious - eg I got to hold the Queen's baton and then hand it onto a local youngster to show the "Games legacy" - and rather more silly ones - eg us all holding up my duvet as if we were about to jump underneath it).
As it was so quiet, I took the opportunity to look round both the exhibition (which brought back many memories of last summer and gave me some insights into previous Games) and the rest of Dumfries museum. I confess that I'd never been to the museum before and so found the whole place really interesting - looking at archaelogical exhibits, old photos, clothing, wildlife etc.....though the guys did say that it was the first time they'd had to set up the Games exhibits surrounded by cases of local flora and fauna!
The official opening was in the evening so I returned for that (with a nod to the Opening Ceremony last summer, there were Tunnock's teacakes on offer along with wine,cheese and biscuits). Prof Richard Haynes mentioned some highlights of the Games over the years, starting with a funny story from the first "Empire Games" in Hamilton, Canada in 1930. The first gold medal winner was Duncan McLeod Wright in the marathon (and it's nice to know that I've run faster than his time on several occasions). The marathon finished with 2 laps of the track - as Duncan started his final lap, the second place runner (an Englishman) entered the stadium....the 2 men met, shhok hands, and then carried on running - what a show of camaraderie and sprotsmanship!
A local highlight came from the 1990 Games in Auckland, when Dennis Love won gold in the Lawn Bowls (Mens' Fours). His widow had come to the event with his medal (it was the first time she had ever worn it and she was very nervous about doing so) so it was lovely to see it and chat to her about the event - she could not go over there as they had a young son at the time, but described the regular phone calls they exchanged and the local excitement following his progress.
Saturday was the day of the Scottish Athletics Annual Dinner and Awards. I was invited to attend last year, both as a nominee for Masters Athlete of the Year, and as part of the 2014 Commonwealth Games Team Scotland. Unfortunately, the date of the event in 2014 clashed with the World 100K Champs in Doha - but I'm rather glad I opted to go and run, as we brought back a great medal haul.
This year, I was again nominated and shortlisted for Masters Athlete of the Year, so decided to take up the invite and go along to the event.  I asked my friend Doug if he would like to go with me - and luckily, he decided that dressing up for a posh meal in Glasgow was more appealing than opening his front door to young "trick-or-treat"ers in Dumfries. The seating plan had us at a table of hill runners, so it was a great evening full of interesting chat.
Steve Cram was the guest of honour - and having grown up in the NE of England, I was eager to hear him speak. He regaled us with various stories from throughout his career - both from races (when the elastic in his shorts failed just before an important track race) and from his early broadcasting experiences (being left to fend for himself while the other broadcaster nipped off ot the bathroom, without knowing who was in the race he was meant to be describing).
Receiving Ellie's award
While we were having dinner, somebody asked me if it would be OK for me to go up and collect an award on behalf of my friend Ellie (Greenwood). That was fine by both myself and Ellie, but they wanted to check how to pronounce my name. I thought "OK, that means that I definitely haven't been awarded the Masters Athlete of the Year ward", but it was a honour to go up and get Ellie's award for her (though I was wearing high heels for once in my life so I was slightly worried about falling over on the steps!).
Having settled back with my wine to watch the proceding of the rest of the evening, I was shocked to hear my name announced as the winner of the Masters Athlete of the Year award. I was flattered to have even been nominated, never mind shortlisted - as I don't think that my results are anything special - I like running and so just get on with it myself. Some of the events and distances I run are rather "off the radar" to many, so I was actually stunned to receive the award - what an honour!
Myself and Nigel Holl
However, it did mean I had to negotiate the steps again - this time to receive the trophy from Nigel Holl - the Chief Exec of Scottish Athletics who himself represented Scotland over 100K a few years ago (though he did let me in to the secret that my times are quicker than his). We were then meant to go off for an official photo, but I rebelled and refused. I wasn't being stroppy, but I really wanted to stay for the next award - as it was the main one of the night. I was so happy to see Laura Muir awarded "Athlete of the Year" (by Steve Cram) as she has been perfoming so well and so consistently. A bad race (for her) such as in last year's Games, doesn't set her back, it just spurs her on to pick herself and go out and do better....and I think she's going to keep on improving!
Although we didn't stay for the "dancing" after the meal and awards, it was still a rather late arrival back in Dumfries....but I had to be up bright and early to celebrate the only way I know how....with a run!!
Nearing the finish...
Some of my clubmates picked me up in dismal foggy weather and we drove down to the Lake District. Amazingly (as I gathered that it stayed grim in Dumfries all day), the skies cleared and the sun came out. We had a gloriously warm and sunny run on the new route of the longstanding Derwentwater 10 mile race. Although the race was the same to a greater extent (as in we still had to run round Derwentwater, with the second half of the race being rather hilly), there were changes to the start and finish. We were walked forward as a kind of "rolling start" past the Moot Hall in Keswick - I think the aim was to try to ease congestion on the narrow streets of the town centre (I think a better plan might have been to move the start back so that the crowd thinned out before the pinchpoints), but it ended up with peopel not quite knowing where or when to start. After listening to feedback from runners on previous occasions, the final part of the race was also altered and we were sent on a loop round Swinside rather than having to finish along the main road, but unfortunately some errors must have occured as the whole race became about 400m short of the usual 10miles. Still, it was a beautiful run as the sun was out and the trees  were all sorts of fabulous autumnal shades - on days like that, I know exactly why I run....for the joy of it!!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Fun and Frolics at a French "Festival"

 The "Festival des Templiers" is a trail running festival based around the town of Millau and the Grands Causses area. It has been occurring on an annual basis since 1995 and is considered by many to be the greatest trail running festival in France. There is something for everyone, whether you want to run 1.5km or 100km, or just try out some of the local delicacies and soak up the atmosphere over the long weekend of festivities. I've still not worked out the full connection with the Knights Templar, but the links are obvious on the race memorabilia, trophies etc

A "flamboyance" of flamingoes
A few of my friends were going to be there to race over the festival weekend (Tracy Dean, Ant Bethell and Janson Heath in the 100K and Ellie Greenwood in the main 75K event) and so I went over for a few days to join in the party (errrr.....I mean support and cheer!!). As I was not going to run any silly (!) long distance race, and I no longer had the Gobi 50K coming up (the postponement of it meant that I could no longer arrange any annual leave to get out there), I decided to make the most of being in France  - well, it would be rude not to sample the local cheese (we were in the Roquefort area) and wine, wouldn't it?

My flight arrived before Janson's and so I actually got a lovely run in while we waited to pick him up (Tracy and Ant had driven out in the van so we had wheels!!) - how amazing was it to run in the sun past a flmboyance (what a great collective term) of beautiful pink flamingoes? I knew my neice would be impressed as she's a fan of all things pink, but especially flamingoes.
Registration/the Expo/start etc
We were staying about 3 miles away from the start/finish area of almost all of the races, on the opposite side of the valley, but this meant that it was nice and quiet - and when the weather was clear, we had great views out over the area. The 100K started at 4am on the Friday morning, and so Tracy, Ant and Janson drove down to the start in the van....while I just turned over and went back to sleep for a few hours (there are benefits to not competing in these events!!). I had a nice relaxing day tracking them as they ran, and they definitely seemed to have lucked out with the weather as Friday was by far the nicest day - sunny and clear, yet not too hot!

By the time I decided to head down to the finish area mid-afternoon, Tracy was 3rd lady with the lads not far ahead of her. As they had taken the van, I hopped onto Tracy's bike to get down there....and nearly didn't make it, as I temporarily forgot which side of the road I should be cycling on.....and let's just say her brake cables could do with a bit of tightening!!!
It was lovely to hang around the finish area, soak up the atmosphere and catch up with friends in the sunshine. The whole festival consists of several races each day, of varying distances and with different start times, so by the afternoon there are people almost continuously crossing the finish line. There were celebrations aplenty.....and the "ministry of silly walks" was certainly in evidence!!
I know that trail running is not my forte, especially if it involves technical downhill sections, and I definitely have a tendency to clumsiness, hence often trip up and fall over. For this reason (and not because I'm scared of beasties that go bump in the night) I have always been rather scared of running in the dark. However, pne of the best way to deal with your fears is to face them, and so I decided to try a low-key night race where there would be no pressure on me. There was an 18K race that started at 7pm on the Friday night and so I entered it, hoping to have seen the others finish before I hopped on the bus to be taken to the start (mine was the one race with a different starting point, so that you ran from the village of Peyre back to finish in Millau). Unfortunately, this didn't happen, but I hoped that they were not far away but would still be hanging around eating and drinking when I finished. The race was called the "Trail du Viaduct" after the famous Millau viaduct (the tallest supporting pillars of which are actually taller than the Eiffel Tower).

The profile of my race

I had been given various conflicting people of information about  bus departures (in French), but luckily managed to get myself to the right place at the right time - though I felt like I was the only person going to the race that wasn't French. We were stuck for ages in a traffic jam, and only managed to move about a mile in half an hour, so I was very tempted to just jump off the bus and sack the race off. I was getting rather anxious about it and wondering why I was putting myself through it, but managed to talk myself into staying put and reassured myself that if the worst came to the worst I'd just have a long nighttime walk back which wouldn't be so bad after doing nothing all day. I think I was secretly hoping that the traffic jams would mean we got there after the official start time!

Fortunately (hmmm....not sure about that) the buses dropped us off in the tiny village just before 7pm. It was already getting dark, and there was scant time to drop off a bag to be taken to the finish, dig out my headtorch and make it to the startline, never mind warmup properly. I would have loved to have been there slightly earlier as the village looked beautiful, built as it was into the side of a hill/rockface. The announcers said that the total population was about 150, yet there were nearly 400 runners about to set off through it.

We gathered in a rock cave/overhang and then suddenly were off. The start was straight up a winding cobbly path around the church and through the village. Never a fast starter, I had to be extra careful due to the narrow path and the raised boards put down to cover obstacles/mark the way. I'd worked my way round a few people as we reached the upper level of the village, and then several more as we climbed up onto the cliff top above the houses.

View from the village
(in the next day's daylight!)

We ran back down throught the village, crossing the start line in the opposite direction, which was great as there was plenty of support and it was now brightly lit up with red flares. Down onto the main road and then a 90 degree turn off onto a forest trail. I had absolutely no idea where I was in the field, and as there was very little light by now, I had to turn my headtorch on. I had been holding off for as long as possible as I feel that when you turn a light on, it makes everything outside of that beam seem much darker, but other people had lights on ahead and behind and so I seem to be trying to run in their shadows. We seemed to be climbing up and up - I know this is a relative forte of mine, and the darkness seemed to make no difference as I overtook several men on this section. I tried to keep running as much as possible, but occasionally had to slow down as I was trapped behind someone on a narrow section of trail (and in a couple of spots the steepness meant a few powerhiking steps were more economical than running).
The famous viaduct of Millau occasionally came into view on the skyline through breaks in the trees in the distance, but we were definitely not being routed straight towards it as the climb went on and on, interspersed with some flatter and even downhill sections. Finally the trees opened up and I was heading towards one of the well-lit bridge supports. Surprisingly enough, there was a path going right through the base if the support and then joy of joys, we had a rough road to run down the other side.

My joy was shortlived as an arrow directed me off onto a tiny winding single track through the undergrowth. The general direction was down, down and down again towards the river - at times so steeply, that I wondered if I would be faster on my bottom than on my feet. Luckily the darkness hid my "girlie arms" as I grabbed onto the occasional overhanging branch to keep me upright. Suddenly 2 men appeared out of the bushes just in front of me, and I recognised them from having passed them back in Peyre. I dredged some French up from the back of my brain and managed to "express my indignation" that they had cut the course. I caught up to them soon after this as the final bit of the descent was thankfully on a tarred surface and they did apologise to me.
After we crossed the river, I had hoped that we might have a nice flattish run along the valley floor....which we did, but first we had to scramble up and down some dykes using hands and knees due to the steepness. I found it rather difficult to see exactly where I was going as although my headtorch was good enough to get me home if I was out alone on a dark road, it paled into insignificance next to the "pro torches" of the men around me, so making everything look that much darker. Even my longed for road along the valley bottom wasn't quite what I expected as it started with a run through long wet grass, and finished with another steep rocky trail back down to the river again.
An arrow leading me over the edge?
After crossing the river again, we then entered a built up area, so marshals helped to guide us over a busy road and down a side street. Surprisingly, the next marshal I saw directed me between 2 parked cars and through a small gap in the wall. I appeared to be going into darkness as my headtorch didn't seem to pick up anything in front of me. A split second later I realised that was because we had to descend a steep staircase (practically a ladder) down onto a riverside trail. This trail gently undulated back towards the centre of Millau, varying between a paved surface, gravel, grass, stones and large puddles spreading from neighbouring streams. I could see no lights either in front of or behind me, and queried my navigation skills on several occasions, but spotted a tie in a tree or the reflection of a ground marker just before despair took over.

As I wound round up and onto the final bridge over the river, I knew that I didn't have much further to go, as it was less than a mile along the road to the start/finish area. Unfortunately the marshals/arrows had a different idea, and I was soon heading off road straight up another hillside. I tried to run as much as possible, but had to resort to hands on thighs powerwalking. Having been on my own for so long, I would've been really disappointed to be overtaken at this point, but I couldn't push any more than I was doing. I wondered if anyone was sneaking up on me using some moonlight to guide them rather than their headtorch, and so turned mine off briefly (the weird things that being alone in the dark does to your mind!!!).

This made me nearly miss the last arrow which pointed me back downhill again, so I'm glad I turned it on just in time. By this point I could see headtorches approaching me from the opposite direction, as we joined some of the other events for the final run down into the finish. As I was in a shorter event, and these were further abck in their respective fields, I was obviously moving at a faster pace (even on the rough downsloping ground), so I politely asked to pass several of them. I didn't think my French was bad, but one lady told me off for not having a full discussion with her about which side would be the best one to pass her on....I think it was more my lack of breath and time (as the discussion would've taken longer than passing her) rather than my French which stopped me doing this.
A final twist for the finish of all the races is that you approach from above, but then you have to run (ie slide) down a steep slope to end up below it, so the gantry is only reached by climbing a set of stairs. Still, I think I manged to finish with a smile on my face, and have enough breath to chat to the finishline commentator about where I was from and how I'd found the race (which was better than I'd expected for my first night-time trail run!!!).

Ant and Janson had finished together not long beforehand so I found them in the "feeding area" and shortly afterwards Tracy crossed the line as 4th lady and came to join us. I've no idea how they could be so lively after being out for that long, but maybe the promise of the wine I'd got ready for them  perked them up.
A gentle walk was in order for the others to loosen off stiff muscles the next morning, so we headed off to look at Peyre in the daylight. Unfortunately the weather wasn't quite so good, being grey and overcast, but it was still a beautiful village. It was great to be able to have a proper look at the narrow streets and the buildings cut into the rockface, and also look out towards the famous viaduct that I run through. We then drove back to Millau as I had decided to make the most of the weekend and run another race.

The "8K" race profile

This one was more of a "sprint" as it was only 8K long and just for women. Although there was still a decent amount of climbing and descending involved, I thought the course looked like it most of it would be on a sealed surface so I opted for my road shoes. I didn't get off to the best start as it was hard to hear the French announcements over the tannoy and I found myself at the back of a random group warm-up. Suddenly people were streaming away from me across the startline and it was all I could do to work my way up and down kerbs round some of the walkers. By the time I passed Ant and Janson cheering me on, I'd run all of about 400m whereas the leaders were about 400m further ahead down the road.

At least the early part was on tarmac!
With a bit of effort I caught them up and moved ahead just as the lead motorbike turned up a rough track away from the tarmac (sniff!!). This was not a good time to be behind the bike as I then had to fight through the dirt it churned up. As the path got steeper and rockier, he pulled over to the side and I carried on past. I was a bit confused to catch a few more ladies as I climbed up the hillside, but I think they were the tailenders of the previous race. My legs were starting to protest after their efforts the night before, but unluckily for me, no sooner did the climb stop than it started to descend steeply, and they definitely didn't like that. The steep descent was a narrow singletrack and involved some hopping over roots and rocks, and I wasn't very confident of my footing especially given my shoe choice. I was overtaken by a speedy local lady and thought that I'd never see her again, but it seemed that we were destined to play cat and mouse as I passed her again on the final ascent.

Getting the flowers home was
the biggest challenge!
"Malheureusement" the race ended with a very steep slippery descent - and I really regretted wearing my road shoes. I did ponder whether I would have been faster going down on my backside as I lost the lead again. Again we merged with other races as we headed into the finish, but this time I made sure to shout which side I was passing on. It was amazing how different it looked in daylight, though the final steps up were just as steep! Still, having managed to stay on my feet for  2 races within 24hours was definitely worthy of a few samples of local roquefort and wine with the others afterwards!! Not a bad weekend's work ;-)

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Bipolar running disorder?

Every runner goes through the same cycles of alternately loving and hating running. One moment you can be on top of the world and fired up full of enthusiasm, and yet the very next day, you can wonder why on earth you bother and whether you should just quit.
It's all very well to "know" that everyone (well almost everyone) goes through the same pendulum of emotions, but at the time you think that you must be the only person struggling with your thoughts.

It often happens to me after a big race, often one, such as the 100k, when you completely exceeded your expectations going into it. You want to keep riding that wave of success and, if anything, building on it, but the body just doesn't want to play ball.

I had a couple of runs lined up to give myself a slight focus.....initially the Yorkshire marathon to check how well I was recovering from the 100k (when the organisers originally asked me to participate  I had warned them that I wouldn't be in form able to run particularly fast due to the timing of it) and then, a few weeks later, a new event - a 50K trail race in the Gobi Desert.

Trail running in the Lakes

To prepare myself (slightly) for the Gobi, I did a couple of trail runs in the Lake District, which were about 10 miles long. Realising that I needed to try running slightly further if I had any chance of making it round the York course in one piece, I set off on a Sunday with that aim in mind. Unfortunately, my body didn't agree with me, and I just felt tired and out of sorts so me cut it short and nipped into a shop for a refuel instead!

Having then found out (at short notice) that the Gobi race was being postponed for a couple of weeks (and hence I could no longer participate as I could not arrange the time away from work) I didn't know what to think about the marathon. I hate to pull out of anything that I've agreed to do, unless I have very good reasons to do so, but I couldn't summon up any enthusiasm for it.

Whilst remaining undecided, I went to a low key parkrun near to my parents' house on the Saturday morning. The first mile felt so horrendous that I almost decided to stop there and then, but when I looked down at my watch, I realised that it was because I was running at a much faster pace than usual, and actually recorded one of my faster parkruns of the year.

I made up my mind to head down to York, and at least start the race at a good steady pace, so that even if I didn't complete the whole run, then hopefully I could have helped some of the other ladies in the field to run a good first half and then possibly new PBs.

Several of the ladies had PBs within seconds of each other around the 2:50 mark. Jamil, the coach/manager of one the top Kenyan runners had offered to pace the ladies' race to approx halfway, and so I suggested a pace of 6:20s. This was about 2:46 pace, so I thought that even if they faded a bit when the pacer stopped, then they would run some new quick times. Just prior to the start this was talked down to 6:30 pace, and so although I started behind them (my usual slow start), I found myself leading the field after a mile of so as I was clipping along at about 6:25s.

I thought this man had the largest
number of supporters ever, but it
turned out that he just had his name
on his vest!
I felt pretty comfortable at this pace, and several men latched on to me, but I wasn't sure how long I would be able to maintain it for. Still, I was enjoying the run as the conditions were night and day as compared to the previous year (this year was warm and sunny, last year was cold and foggy) so it was actually nice to see some of the countryside we were running through, and it was nice to be able to keep some others onto a pace they wanted.

I had a bit of banter with a cameraman on the back of a motorbike, suggesting that he should really be filming someone with a better running style than myself, as I know I take really short steps. I asked him where the other ladies were....and got the surprising reply "5000m behind you". Somehow I really didn't believe that one, as we'd  only been running for 6 miles! Two miles later (when I nearly ran into the motorbike as the driver had slowed down rather too much for a close-up shot) I was told that they were 2/10 of a mile behind. 

Trying to work out what that meant certainly took my mind off the fact that I was starting to feel a bit tired. I reckoned that the original gap must've been about 500m, whereas 2/10 of a mile was nearer 300m, so I just be fading by about 100m/mile. At that rate, I'd be passed and could legitimately stop with the pacer at the halfway point, as I knew that he was getting picked up there. 

My face when I saw the clock!!
There was a clock at the side of the road as we crossed the half-marathon point (strangely enough I hadn't yet been passed), which was a great idea for runners to be able to check their pacing. Well, it would have been a great idea if it had shown the correct time for us, but unfortunately it had been started when the 4 wheelchair athletes set off. I knew that I wasn't running very fast, but I was rather startled to see it showing 1:26+! Luckily the guys around we were just as surprised, and so we all looked at our watches and agreed that it was about 3 minutes out. 
Soon afterwards, we reached a switchback section, and it gave me an idea of what was happening behind me. I could see where the next couple of ladies (still with Jamil) were and they looked to be running strongly and comfortably. Still, the gap hadn't really shortened so I carried on with my own run. 

It definitely became a more
lonely run!!

The next part of the course was rather tough for me, as I was now out on my own and certainly starting to feel the 100k still in my legs. It was a case of giving myself small targets, such as getting to the 16 mile marker without being overtaken, and then to the 18 mile marker. A couple of friends from Durham were out on the course cheering (as their husbands were also running), so it was lovely to get a personal shout out, though I believe I did complain to them in no uncertain terms, that I was rather tired and not "loving it" (sorry ladies!!!).

Another long switchback and the gap hadn't decreased too much, though I felt that everyone else looked a lot better than I was feeling, so I started taking it a mile at a time. I remembered feeling strong towards the end of the race last year, and so employed the same tactics this year, trying to reel in a couple of guys before reaching every mile marker.

It must've been the pre-race nutrition!!

There was a new event this year - a 10 mile race with the same start and finish as the marathon, but which started 45 minutes afterwards. It meant that there were more runners around in the latter stages of the race, as I caught a few of them up (the lead men in the marathon must've been surrounded). It was really nice to recognise the Run Director from my previous day's parkrun and so exchange some encouragement as I passed her.

By the time I was in to the last mile, I knew that I would be really disappointed if I lost the lead, so I checked with the cameraman again, to see if I still had a decent gap or if I was going to be passed in a final flourish by one of the others with a strong finish. He told me to relax and that I was fine, but then the motorbike driver told me that I really needed to keep pushing to stay ahead. I remember running up the final steep hill last year with an empty road in front of me, and then wishing that I'd pushed it when I almost caught the second placed lady in the finish funnel. I didn't want to be the one that was caught this year so I kept driving up the slope (well, I tried to as much as my protesting glutes would let me). 

The finish is rather deceptive, as I crested the hill thinking I was just about there, but then spied the 500m to go sign. A final effort was required.....
Finally finished....

I heard an announcement "Here comes the First Lady" but it was quickly followed with "That doesn't look much like a lady" which rather surprised me (hopefully nobody to a picture just at that point). Carrying on towards the finish, I realised that it wasn't really the announcer insulting me, as I managed to overtake another man before the finish. 

Arty winning photo ;-)
It was amazing to see the tape being stretched out for me to break.......I'm not sure I've ever had that before! I did feel a rather bittersweet rush of emotion though, as I looked up at the clock and it was showing 2:51. I've actually never run a marathon before with a finish time in the 2:50s, but as it turned out, all's well that ends well, as that clock was also started with the wheelchairs so my actual time was 2:48!!

Guess which prize I was really
running for.....

The ladies' podium!
Having seen the other ladies before the start, I had thought that if I managed to make it round the whole way, I might sneak the "first old lady" prize, but I'd never expected to be the first lady overall (and earn my promised "Fat Rascal" for a podium finish from my mate Adam who lives in Harrogate - home of Betty's Tearoom). To cap off a good day, I was then in a great position at the finish to cheer in the 2nd and 3rd ladies who'd both had fantastic runs!