Maverick RACE: Original Dorset

Maverick RACE: Original Dorset

At the end of May I entered my first ever trail race. I decided not to have my watch visible or take photos en route as I wanted to take it all in and run to feel. All the photos are kindly supplied by Stone Shoots.

Here's how I remember it - it's a long one, settle in.

Stood in a field with an inflatable finishing arch next to some barns and a stall selling home baked cakes and freshly brewed coffee we waited to start our 7, 16 or 23k races, but not for long. No holding pens or super-crazy-high-energy warm up here. Here the speakers played Smashmouth, Offspring and New Radicals and families sat at nearby picnic tables. We wandered into the general area for a quick briefing about road crossings and way marking and it was time to go.

Night Of The 10,000m PBs

Last Saturday I went to watch people run 25 laps around a track, three times. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it might not be the most entertaining way to spend a Saturday evening. I'm a running fan and even I wasn't sure if it would actually be interesting. I was very excited to find out though. There's plenty of write-ups (see below) around telling you what happened but let me tell you what it was like..

Photo by Jessica Sumerling

 

It was a warm evening and at just after 7pm we walked from the edge of Hampstead Heath towards the track. A couple of joggers came the other way but as we got closer we realised that we were now in the area being used for warm up by those running. These runners looked normal though and surprisingly relaxed - none of that nervous jiggling or super co-ordinated kit you see on the starting line at the Olympics but rather some strides and jogging and yes, some short shorts. 

As we entered past the kids playground and into the Highgate Harrier's home turf the sound of the samba band and the chatter of people got louder. I knew this event had grown since it started in 2013 but the crowds up the bank by the start line, waiting for fresh pizza in front of the first bend and in the run-through bar buying drinks and Like The Wind Magazine on the straight were still something of a surprise. I was trying to work out if all these people are runners. I've got nothing to base it on but at a rough estimate I'd say maybe 30% were those there for the event rather than because of a geeky love of running.  

We took our £1 programme and joined some friends who had been picking out runners in each race and cheering them on. The test starting gun went.  Looking down at the lineup and matching the names to the numbers we tried to cheer on the gents in the final B race. I had one runner to look out for but it wasn't necessary to have a hook-in to keep me interested. Watching the different running styles, the emotion on their faces and the to-ing and fro-ing as they battled it out was enough. The race felt like it was over in a flash, now for the Olympic Qualifiers.

The carnival band took a break, ready to be rejoined by their Rio style dancers in the next races. I'm told there was a faux Michael Jackson around too. 

The men lined up. 28 minutes and top two would be enough to qualify to represent GB in rio. Andy Vernon had the time and only needed the place but the rest of the pack needed both. Now we were stood right next to the starting line and with a jump-inducing bang they were off. Perhaps because this is not my race and these were not my running heroes I didn't feel like there was that much tension as the race began. Fairly early on it became clear that the 28 minute requirement was unlikely to be hit but still the runners held on and seemed to be giving it everything. There was plenty of uncertainty about who would finish in the lead and in the end the end Ross Millington's 28:28 was an impressive time and one that I wasn't expecting from the early stages. If I've worked it out correctly that's 4'34/mi. I've never even run 5'34 for one mile let alone a minute off that for 10,000m. 

The women's race was the big draw for me and there certainly seemed to be a spark in the air at the start. Jo Pavey, who has done so much for bringing women's running to the masses in the UK, was clearly hot favourite in people's hearts and minds. Having not raced competitively in 2016 though and, as I later found out, suffering from a chest infection she was always going to find it tough. My Marathon-running friend and I spent a good while trying to work out who the pacer was (a woman - hurrah!) and later realised that we thought we'd just seen middle distance runner Helen Clitheroe  set a blistering start.  I'm  not sure if it was weird or ok, but I shouted as loud as I could every time Jenny Nesbitt , who I follow on instagram and has now been picked to represent team GB in the European cup. The sheer range of experience, age, running type and training background made for a great race. I'm sure I wasn't the only person though who didn't realise until the last lap that it was not Linet Masai, the Kenyan speedster who was leading the race but Jessica Andrews who took over 1 minute off her PB to finish first and automatically qualify for Rio in 31:58. The race was like a TV show - the exciting start, moments of panic and worry for those struggling and then a surge to a happy ending by an unexpected "underdog" (though some would say form pointed to this performance). 

Photo by Jessica Sumerling

 

Mr B put it well when he said that the evening was a bit like watching greyhound racing. He wasn't making comment on the physical attributes of the runners but rather the immediate nature of the viewing experience and the way that you could feel the crowd had a real investment in the result. I've got tickets for the World Champs in 2017 but after this Im not sure I'm ready to go back to remote, stadium style events.

Do we really have to wait until next year for something like this?

Meter Magazine have done a fantastic write up with a video, interviews and pictures that really capture what the evening was like. You should definitely check it out, even if you only look at their beautiful photos. You can also read the Guardian's thoughts and hear Marathon Talk's coverage of it. There's more of Jessica Sumerling's great photos on her Instagram too.

This is what the place normally looks like. A touch less inspiring.

 

 

Virgin Money London Marathon 2016

I thought I wasn't nervous before this race. I'd promised myself that if the sub three goal was achieved at Manchester then this one would be all about the enjoyment. My race aim was "keep running, keep enjoying". 

Last year I did the MCR-LDN double but there was only 1 week in between. I'd not tried a double-up before, so those around me wisely suggested that it would be good to run London for fun so that I could finish marathon 'season' loving the race and not hating it because LDN was a grind. Since then I've done another double (Bournemouth / Garda) and I think we can safely say there's no danger of me deciding I hate marathons. Add to that the fact that this year's Manchester was a whole lot more fun than I expected and all of a sudden the reasons to coast around LDN were becoming less an less. My race aim was still going to be the same but the little competitive voice in my head kept nudging me. (Skip to the result here)

 

So, I thought I wasn't nervous. But then I started talking to other excitable runners and went to the expo on Friday and all of a sudden the adrenaline and nerves were back. I should probably have spent more time wandering around the stands to take in the atmosphere. I'm not one of those who is at risk of walking too much on the expo - I get expo panic and end up getting out as fast as I can. I  completely forgot to visit The Flying Runner, Running Heroes and Xempo / Marathon talk but did see BenFP for a pre-race nervous splurge and game planning chat. 

I went to collect my number only to be told that I had a boy's number. Apparently a girl's number should have pink stripes behind it - nice work VMLM. One of the volunteers who guided me through getting a replacement number and double timing chip (apparently it's because there's money at stake in the championship race) asked which club I was part of and expressed surprise that I wasn't part of a "proper" club. Apparently the BBC running club isn't proper! I'll have you know that we have one of the few remaining "ever presents" as a member - Steve Wehrle.

Anyway. Onto the the race. No lasagne for tea this time (I still suspect it may be the magic bullet) but pre race dinner was nutritionist-friendly sweet potato and chicken stew. Mr B and I were staying with friends and I think it really helped being with marathon-agnostics the night before. It definitely helped get it in perspective. I'd decided to go out aiming for 6'45/mi pace and see how long I could hang in there and enjoy it for, then see what happened.

Morning of the race, breakfast was my standard 2 hrs pre-start large bowl of muesli made with water and a splash of milk plus half a cup of coffee and some water (in case you care!). Mr B dropped me off just near Blackheath train station and I walked up amidst the crowds. It was still a good 50 mins before kickoff so wasn't in a hurry. Championship start was a new experience and I was glad that I was going to be meeting a friend (Lucy from City of London Ravens) who had started from there last year and knew the process. Our bibs were checked front and back and ticked off by special marshalls who also checked that we didn't break any of the rules about advertising on our kit and that we were wearing our club vests. I had to explain to one that I wasn't advertising the BBC but it was the club I was running for. All the more reason to do our little club proud. 

Before we knew it we were in the starting area and in a change from previous years (so I'm told) the fast good for age group were brought up  behind us. This meant for a very busy start. I think it was easily as bad as last year's good for age start. Lucy and I had bumped into some other Ravens and we agreed to keep it steady at the start. We needn't have worried, it was too busy to do much else. In contrast to MCR I noticed the miles a bit more - by 6 I was started to think about ticking miles off. Perhaps this was fatigue or perhaps better placing of the markers.  Being responsible for the pacing of others helped me though and made me grateful again to those who have paced me. Still, 40min flew by and I wasn't hanging out for a gel, which was a good sign. 

I think there was less cheering than last year when it was Paula Radcliffe's last year and in parts of the route the crows were on the roads with no barriers which made it quite tight. One of the Raven girls got her shoe caught by a runner and had to stop and catch us up. We bumped into Ben Rajan from AR who was just back from Boston and soon after that Sorrell Walsh, who was really the first lady who made me believe that my own Sub3 quest was not complete insanity. We all fell into step for a while and as we rounded onto Tower Bridge  I was glad to be running with Ben who whooped up the crowd a bit. I think Championship start is a bit more serious so I missed that aspect of the race and felt a bit out of place when I tried to do it.

We saw the elites coming the other way as we came off Tower Bridge but at this point the crowds of runners were still big and I got separated from the rest of our little group. Now I was on my own. The Isle of Dogs always feels interminable and I knew that I was going to have to dig in pretty soon - not physically yet, but mentally. Up ramps, through tunnels, past people at mile 17 shouting 'you're nearly there (ha!), another gel at 1hr 20, sips of water, moments of heat, moments of rain, moments of wind and the miles ticked by, not fast, but they went.

Claudia from AR meets Colin

Claudia from AR meets Colin

By mile 19 I was thinking that it'd be good just to do a London PB (under 3:11). I decided to settle in and just see how it went. When I relaxed I'd see my pace creep up again. By mile 20 though I was really ready to get some support and whereas at MCR I went back to 1/2 a gel I decided to go for the whole thing this time.  I had just remembered a technique BenFP had mentioned where you promise yourself to run at pace for just the next mile, then reassess, when I heard "Gill". I thought I was imagining it but it was the very welcome face of Roland from the AR crew. What are the chances of meeting at mile 20? He'd been ill the week before and told me he was spent (except he still did 3:08...if that's spent...), but when I replied that I was just hanging on he was having none of it! I started thinking about Mr B and also about how I promised myself I'd just enjoy and keep running. By 23 I was just waiting to see the AR crew who I knew were camped out at mile 24. I have to admit that a large amount my carrying on just then was sheer pride and wanting to be running strong when I passed them. I remember seeing Colin Jackson trying to interview people and mouthing 'ow!' at them as I passed. I thought I was fading fast (though looking at the splits I was still steady). I did think I was still on for just under 3 hrs, as my watch was still saying 6'49/mi but I wasn't certain as both 3hr pacers were ahead of me.

'owww!'

'owww!'

As I came down embankment I was looking for the 25mile marker, knowing it was the last proper one I had to see. I came to the Houses of Parliament and by now all I was thinking was 'just get it done and keep moving forward in some sort of way'.  Again, I heard an unexpected "Gill". It was BenFP. It was brilliant to see someone I knew and hear a targeted shout from among the wall of sound. Also, particularly someone I wanted to prove myself to! Round the corner of birdcage walk and I saw Mr B. Hurrah! I did everything I could and heard the announcer call the 3hr group ahead over the finish. I thought maybe I'd got it and the pacer was still fast (he had been for much of the race). I finished happy and, annoyingly, still able to jog over to Mr B who was waiting at other side of the railings after the medal collection. 'I'm not sure, I might just have...?' He shook his head. 'Sorry, 3:00:16'.  

11141154_10100572358737524_8531000195064771977_n.jpg

So there it is, close but not there. I thought I was working hard over that last mile but Ben has since told me I looked like I was 'going for a Sunday stroll' (aka not going for it). He was right!  My pace dropped hugely over that last mile and to be honest, the Monday after the race I got in a bit of a grump with myself for not pushing it harder. I'm annoyed that my mental fortitude wasn't there to grit and dig in but I'm determined that's not going to happen again. I don't know if I was right to go out so carefully. I wonder if I'd let myself fly a bit more in the first half whether I'd have made it. But perhaps I would have burned out and slowed even more. And what about that busy start? Of course it's possible I lost 16s there but then if you're going to run competitive races you have to expect to be around competitors. With races there so many what-if's but that's why I love it. There's be no reason to keep racing if you ran it perfectly. I can run 26miles on my own!

Managed to place within top 100 or 107th including the elites

All in all I think I stuck to my plan. I write this 8 days after the race and if someone said I could race a marathon tomorrow I would. I'm going to take everything I've learned from these two and put them to good use for next time. 

Next time? Well, what should it be? The next marathon will be my 10th. I'm open to suggestions. 

 

ps. Huge congratulations to all the AR team for amazing runs. Also thanks to all the people from 'online' who said hi during or after the race. Lovely to meet you!

ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon

I think I've found my perfect pre-race evening meal. It occurs to me that every time I've had an unexpectedly good race I've eaten a mum's home-made lasagne the night before (2x Mrs Bland and 1x Mrs Hank -friend Lukas's mum). So, if anyone's mum wants to make me a lasagne and send it over then I'll pop them all in the freezer and get booking the races into the calendar. Good? Ok.

Saturday: I spent the day before the race at home trying to relax. I was meant to be doing other things but for one reason or another I ended up with the whole morning to kill. I sat around reading 'The way of the runner' by Adharanand Finn and then drove to MK to pick Mr B up from watching Rotherham V the Dons. A good start to the weekend as Rotherham won 4-0. So, Mr B had his sporting based happiness for the weekend, now it was time to go out and get me some of the action.

Race day:  I know this is probably TMI but normally my stomach really goes to town just before the race. This time not so much. This left me a little bit worried about what might happen further down the line. I've never had to stop en-route and this was not the time to begin. Still, it was close to the wire making it through the queue and up to the starting area so there was no time to worry.

After last year's 3:00:01 it was time to sort out some unfinished business with Manchester. This race was all about the chip time having a 2 at the start and not about glory hunting. The plan was to go through half way at somewhere around the 1:28 -1:29 mark and keep it super steady all the way.

Avoiding the mistake of last year when I was in the 3-and-below pen and spent the first few miles ducking and diving, I'd put myself down as sub three this year. Nothing like stating your intentions!  It was still very crowded but I managed to end up next to Nic who I'd run with at the NLH and had sub three well and truly in his sights. We made sure we were ahead of the 3hr pacer as we didn't want to get stuck in a big pack. Only a matter of moments later with the briefest of team-talks over the gun went and we were off. We kept it steady, letting some people pass us in their foolhardy speed-spurts and settled in.

0.6miles in we saw a 1mile marker. Confused, we both agreed that it must be facing the wrong way. Great. I commented how lovely it was to finally get going and we chatted about what a nice day it was for the race. After Saturday's torrential rain it was sunny, cool but not cold and with only the slightest breeze. Nic, who shall forever be know as a pacing legend, kept a close eye on us and even with a slight incline we kept pace but reigned it in when we started to get a bit pitter-patter-happy. Out past Salford Quays and the BBC's northern headquarters, which I occasionally have to visit, we joked that we didn't know much about each other's jobs but perhaps now was not the time to discuss them. 

Through 10k in 41:35 and time to take half a gel. I'd planned to fuel early and not too much as I don't use any food or water on my long runs. I took a few sips at almost every water station though because of the weather. 

I'm not sure if there weren't any mile markers until mile 7 but I certainly didn't notice them. Time was flying by and though the sun was hotting up things felt really easy and fun. It was just a great day to be out for a run. BenFP had reminded me on Monday that it was just another Sunday long run and it really did feel like that. The AR cheer-squad caught us in the early stages and we saw various friends running on the route. I thought I heard Mr B shout something about 10th lady but wasn't certain so I tried to put it out of my mind. The was still a long way to go.  I've had concerns about how much the no-music rule affects me in races so having friends around both on and off the course really helped. It's great to lift your head and stop those internal thoughts for a moment. However, it does seem that when I wave I get a little speed-spurt so it was good that Nic was there to remind me to keep it steady. Note to self: perhaps I should just wave my way around track nights?

At some point around mile 10 or 11 Adam from AR  joined us, as well as a chap who decided to sing slightly sweary football chants. Mate, if you can complain about Pompey like that, you're not running hard enough. He eventually drifted off and Nic, Adam and I went through half way at around 1:28:46. It was feeling a bit on the warm side by now and there were a few gentle ups and downs that required a bit of thought but it still felt good. I said to myself a couple of times "breath easy, stay tall, smile" and that was enough for another few miles. We were all feeling good and still enjoying it. Nic and I agreed between us that we'd keep the pace consistent until 30k and then see where we were. For the first time I wondered if it might just be that this Sub3 goal was possible. Time for another gel, a whole one this time - the plan was that it would kick in just as it was starting to get tough in about 40minutes. The camaraderie on the course was great with everyone offering water around each time we passed an aid station. I love marathon runners, they are such a friendly bunch. 30k (18.6miles) in 2:06:28 and we agreed to still keep it steady. I wasn't going to believe until those last 3 miles were ticking down.

Mile 19 was the first marker that I remember being glad to see. For some reason I thought we'd already passed it (more on that in a moment) and I'd promised myself that the next fuel point was around then as it would give a little oomph for the last couple of miles. It was starting to feel like a bit of an effort now and I knew it was getting towards time to dig in. Some comments from Adharanand Finn's book I'd been reading the day before came to me - he'd talked about how you should run almost as if you are falling forward. It really helped to start thinking about my running form at this point.

At mile 20 it was time to start counting down. Last year loads of people pulled up with injury around 20-23 and I've never felt such an overwhelming desire to sit down! This year it was getting tough but I was still enjoying it. Still, in anticipation of this waste-land patch through fields which I knew had very little support I'd given myself a list of people to think about each mile for the last 6 miles. This list covered friends who'd had nightmare races the preceding weeks (revenge on their behalf), another couple of running ladies who'd got injured and were unable to run their goal races, some church friends and of course the Mr and family (ok some people had to share!). I warned Nic that I was going to start muttering about people and apologised for the idiocy of it. I think I only actually verbalised it a couple of times, so hopefully it wasn't too annoying. At mile 22 I switched to the next person, thinking it had come around surprisingly quickly, only to see mile 22 another few minutes down the road. This time I wasn't going mad - loads of other people noticed the double-up too. Some time around 23/24 it was starting to get tough and I noticed Nic was finding it harder too but we were still on pace. I think it was after getting some water and trying to get round someone that we got separated a bit. I called to him that we were still going to get it done and that we could keep going to the end but he told me to carry on. I know I can't compare myself to Shalane Flanagan or Amy Cragg but that moment gave me the tiniest insight into their amazing Olympic trial run where they supported each other so incredibly and then there was that moment where Cragg had to go. I didn't even know if I had it in me to hit the target but I knew that I could keep going a bit longer and so I carried on. 

Mile 24 and 25 hurt (they always do) and the crowd didn't really kick back in until mile 25. There was no way I was stopping for water now so I just kept trying to think about my running form, people on the list, what it would feel like to finish and how lucky I was to be able to run,  whilst all the while looking out desperately for people I knew in the crowd. 

I saw Sarah and Lucy from the AR Collective , I think maybe at about 25.5. They shouted at me and my watch was telling me that I'd got the sub 3, but the finishing straight was so long that I still wasn't sure. I tried to pick up the pace but I didn't feel like I could. Looking back on the splits and after some comments from those who finished around the same time it seems that I was a lot stronger than I felt. I do remember that I was still enjoying it though and whilst there was nothing left in the tank for a sprint I didn't feel that utter desperation to finish and fear of falling over like I've felt at the end of every other marathon. I suppose that's where all the training and in particular track has really helped. I know more now what it's like to push even when you think you're exhausted.

On the home straight! Thanks to Sarah, Lucy and Simon for the support and the photo 

Seriously though, what is it with marathon route planners and long home straights? It's a terrible idea. Bournemouth do it too. That finishing gantry didn't seem to get any closer and with the seconds seemingly flying by I was desperately waiting for my rubbish eyesight to lock on to the gantry clock. 2...yes, it was a 2, my watch agreed and I crossed the line in...2:58:40 and it turned out later that I'd placed 7th female (I was 19th last year). Friendly marathoners congratulated me as I stopped and turned to look for Nic. I could see his green hat so I shouted as loud as I could at him. He did it in 2:59:45. Yes! The heat really kicked in over those last few miles and I am lucky that it seems that electrolyte loss doesn't affect me. I got interviewed by a Tv crew from somewhere just after I crossed the line, but I can only imagine that my adrenaline fuelled witterings were not ideal for their coverage! 

There's so much more I could say about this race but this is already too long. Now that the 3 is broken it doesn't seem like such a big deal. Not in a bad way, but it's clear that it's just a number.  Loads of my friends ran on Sunday and they all did brilliantly, whether because of a brilliant time, a brilliant mindset or a a brilliant show of perseverance. My aim from now on is to keep running and keep enjoying it because that race was way way more enjoyable than I ever expected it to be. 

Mr B was waiting for me at the exit after the finish line with his half-cocked grin that I love. Our sports weekend was a success. What's next?

----------

More photos are here. 

Oh, I also topped the Marathon Talk podium which is a little personal goal of mine

If you're interested, full gory details are below or on Strava. This is from my Epson Runsense SF-810. I'm taking part in in the Flying Runner's marathon pacing research with Dr Dan Gordon at Anglia Ruskin, so I'm submitting all my data back to them for analysis.