Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Why I am Going to (Try) and Never Complain About Race Times Again

This is a bit of a rant for me. I will be posting my review of the Bournemouth Marathon soon. However, I felt like this one was more important.

Everyone has felt the elation of hitting a PB or smashing a goal set out for yourself. Conversely, everyone has felt the pain of failing miserably to obtain that goal. It's depressing. It's sad. We all have those moments.

What is starting to annoy me (and I will be the first to raise my hand and say I am guilty of this, and it's something I am trying to be more conscious about) are people saying, "Oh man I only did race x in time y, I am so slow and such a disappointment" when in actuality, there are people who would LOVE to have those times and just have not gotten there yet. Maybe they are happy where they are. Maybe they are starting with a different goal and working towards another one. Maybe they will never get there and can only dream of it. Regardless it's a bit callous and we should be thinking about our audience.

If you are with a close group of friends/people who know full well your goals and aspirations that's different. When I did Run the Boroughs, everyone knew about it and I shared it fully. Everyone knew my ups & downs throughout because I made my goals clear. But to just blast out on social media "OMG so slow only 1:35 half marathon time..." makes people think,"Oh I am only hoping to get around 2:00 is that slow? Am I not trying hard enough? I don't think I will ever get there..."

Maybe I am being too liberal snowflake here.  Let's look at the two statements below:

Statement One: If I ever run a half marathon that slow again I will stop running. 1:45 is unacceptable.
Statement Two: I did not achieve my target time in the last half marathon. It was incredibly warm and I was unprepared.

Which of those is more useful? Both make it clear the runner did not hit their goal, however the second one implies something was gained from the experience and it is not so negative.

I know I have done this quite recently and have almost instantly realised what I am saying is a poor choice of words. To those people I apologise. I am really trying to change how I talk about my running/racing results.  We all have different goals and aspirations and we should be respectful of those.

Some people are more 'thin-skinned' than others and in a society where people over glamourise the thin beautiful fast people we should realise that everyone is trying to better themselves. There are people who only run at night because they are embarrassed or they get taunted/harassed. We should be welcoming and encouraging THOSE people to reach their goals and aspirations in a safe environment free of ridicule. Sometimes all it takes is one comment to make someone hang up their running shoes forever or make them finally have the courage to sign up for their first 5k. Let's all try for the latter. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

2017 Berlin Marathon Review: Potential Umfällt Abound!

One of the best words in
the German language.
Many others have posted race reviews for Berlin so I will keep this one short(ish). I did not hold high hopes for my 2nd official marathon. I had just come off three weeks in the US, two of them for vacation where we visited at least 15 breweries (not that this was an issue per se, but it did involve drinking at all of them).

My training was non-existent. My farthest distance in the run up to Berlin was a 16 miler I did before leaving for the States. Sure we did some hiking and some kayaking-- but not sure I consider that training. I rolled into Berlin with a sense of apprehension that I would not do well at all.

Luckily there were quite a few people in Berlin for the same purpose (to run) - so it was great to catch up and chat to quiet the pre-marathon nerves. Also-- carb loading is better with friends :D
Hallo bär!

Did you know the day before the race they have a roller-blading/inline skating race that also follows the marathon route? I didn't. It's pretty interesting to watch so I recommend if you happen to be around.

Like Honolulu- I went sans headphones. I have really gotten used to longer distances without them and I find it much better for dialing in and not letting my pace be dictated by BPM (which can be good and bad). However, I did bring a pair in case I needed something to 'take my mind off the pain'.

I also decided to try and go for 10 minute mile pacing. It seemed like a good number to shoot for based on previous runs and would still put me in for sub 5 hr marathon time. I wanted to manage my expectations. Going into a marathon with not a lot of training can be... soul and body crushing.

The race support was awesome. The dreaded aid stations that I have heard so much about seemed to go very smoothly with no queueing. The efficiency you would come to expect from Germany.

This guy was a pro with
his Schwamm (sponge)
The music and crowd support was great as well. I am sure the weather kept some of the crowds away and of course like every other race some area are not as well supported as others, however those that were out were enormously supportive. I gave out many high fives to children. I touched many Super Mario Mushrooms and Stars for power. You can really feed off the crowd's energy to keep going. The DJ they had along the route (The Berlin Marathon Website has a map of all the music acts on the route, but I can't remember where along the course I heard him) was fantastic, and had I not had been running a marathon, I would have stopped and listened.

Does anyone else get choked up when they are running on a road that has so much history? I do. All. The. Time. I should start carrying tissues running in London. Turning onto Unter den Linden and seeing the Brandenburg Gate did it for me. It was built between 1788 and 1791 (that's pretty old). Napoleon took the Quadriga from the Tor after he rode into Berlin in 1806. The Tor survived (mostly) the WWII bombings and was one of the few structures to survive in Pariser Platz. It became a symbol of the oppression in Communist East Berlin and ultimately reunification when the Berlin Wall fell.

One happy, hungry finisher! 
History my friends. I was literally running through history. That paired with just sheer exhaustion made me start to cry.

I finished in 4hrs30minutes38seconds.

Do I wish I went faster? Sure who doesn't? But for me it was still a PB and given my terrible training I was very happy.

I passed on the poncho-- it looked not very stylish and anyways I had no room in my luggage for it. I quickly found Mr. Moose and I donned a sweatshirt which did the trick.

Do I recommend Berlin Marathon? Absolutely. I recommend Berlin in general though, it is such a cool city, constantly reinventing itself while still keeping true to its (sometimes sordid) history.

Area Where I Stayed: Moabit. Very easy to get to from TXL on the bus route and near S-Bahn. Also we walked to/from the race (~20-30 minute stroll along the Spree)
Where We Carb-Loaded: 12 Apostles. A damn good pizza/pasta place with two locations in town.
Best Thing About the Expo: Getting your bib/chip. Again, ruthlessly efficient.
Worst Thing About the Expo: Merchandise. We got there on Saturday morning and a lot of stuff was gone.
Loo Waiting Time: About 25 minutes. And there was no toilet paper left by the time I got there :(
Where We Went Post-Race: Zollpackhof. Huge beer hall with tons of outdoor seating along the Spree. The beer is Augustiner. Traditional German food. Great alternative to the Augustiner Bier Halle (which is smaller and farther from the finish)
What We Did When Not Running: Stasi Museum. Bit of debby-downer but golly I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would. If Cold War History interests you highly recommend.
Shoes Worn: Hoka One One Gaviota's

The Spree on the hobble back to Moabit-ausgezeichnet ^_^

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Race Review: XNRG Chilterns Ultra

The alarm went off at 0515 and after the initial shock my mind instantly went focused: Today is the Ultra. I went through the pre-race motions like a machine, having done them so many times in the past, but today would be slightly different in that my distance will be the farthest I ever went in one go. Breakfast and kit in tow... we left for Marylebone train station to meet up with other and make our way to Princes Riseborough (~35 minute train journey) for the Chilterns 32 Mile Ultra put on by XNRG.


Shuttle Service: Could not have been easier. Shuttle was there when we arrived and drove us to the school where the start/finish was. Whilst en route I heard there were about 280 entrants, a fair number of other crazies :)

Check-In: Sign in was pretty straight forward, you name gets you your bib and your cool RFID gizmo which is used to check in at all the Check Points. It was not obvious what to do with bags but a simple query got you the answer. Free tea and coffee. Nice bathrooms (think my longest wait was 5 minutes) with plenty of loo paper.

Race Briefing: Short and to the point. Good for newbies like me who were panicking and not 100% listening just due to nerves. Check in at every CP, follow orange arrows, look for tape (with example). Suddenly we were off!

Settling in for the Road Ahead... 

I settled in with Jo, who was also doing her first ultra, for a chat and to get into the rhythm of running. The slight drizzle had turned more into rain at this point. We were hoping it would not be like this the entire time! The views were slightly muffled by the rain but lovely rolling hills could be seen for a pretty long way. 

So people who do races go through the pre-race prep religiously. Some use checklists, some lay all their kit out the night before... just to ensure they have everything they could possibly need. I thought I had this down pretty well. But, as always, something happens that you were not prepared for and leaves you standing there a bit dumbfounded. 

At 8k we passed by some spectators when someone shouted 'You are leaking!'. I was wondering why my backside felt really wet as it wasn't raining that hard. I take out my water bladder... and there is a popped seam at the bottom... and all my water was leaking! Shit. Why don't I have gaffa tape? Was my only thought. I held the bag while Jo tried to use compeed to quick patch it. No luck. Too wet. I was starting to panic. Would I have to DNF all because of a bloody water bladder? Then, an angel appeared with the bib number 73 or 83 (at least I believe it was that number, Jo paid much more attention than me). 

Angel 73|83: Water bladder broke?
Me: Yup... don't happen to have a spare do you?
Angel 73|
83: Why yes, I was just going to ask if you wanted it!

What are the odds of that? I could see someone having a spare water bottle, but a spare bladder? Thank you running Gods! I only hope Angel 73|83 got his water bladder back (if you happen to be reading this and you didn't please let me know, I left at at the results desk for you!). You saved me the extra psychological stress of running sans water or maybe even DNFing.

To be fair the checkpoints were about every 10k or so, which really broke up the course nicely. And gave us a manageable goal to shoot for ('ok just to the next CP...')


Well stocked with water, squash, sweet and savoury snacks. Volunteers would refill your bladders/water bottles for you whilst you refueled. My favorite was CP3 with the sausage rolls... my only regret was not grabbing a handful and stuffing them into my backpack. I also really enjoyed one of the final (more tenuous) road crossings that had brownies on the other side. Nothing like chocolate to push one forward to the end!


A runner in its natural habitat...
Even with the rainy and general overcast weather. The views were phenomenal. We went through forest, fields, and flats (peppered in with some hills of course!). On a hot day I may have found it very displeasing (open areas are death knells to runners when it's baking) but that day was not today. We managed to snag a few photos along the way towards the end. 

Pushing On....

I kept running with Jo, when we got to CP3 she said "Feel free to go on ahead". I said "We came this far together we should finish together".  I always considered myself a lone runner when it came to longer distances but I can honestly say running with someone else really helps the miles to tick away, and you encourage each other (verbally or just being there) to keep going.  For first-time ultra runners, I almost say you should find someone and stick with them... it will do you a load of good mentally. 

The end!

We rolled back into the school amidst cheers and my husband snapping photos or our triumphant return (which happened to be slightly downhill so we could look like we were going 'at speed'). We received our medals and Jo got her certificate for completing her first ultra (I forgot to tick the box, so mine will be coming unceremoniously via Post... RTFM people!). Was it fast? No. But did we finish? YES. 

They had showers (amazing) and again more tea/coffee/cake for consumption. The shuttle service was still in motion so again no worries getting back to the train station. 

Final Thoughts

I may put ultras on the back burner until I can really work on improving my marathon time (Jo and I high-fived when we hit the marathon distance), however in retrospect I do find them very challenging and enticing. I also find the running group VERY friendly-- every race I do of course is a friendly lot but in ultras it seems even more so... it's like everyone knows everyone else is in their own level of personal hell, so we may as well all trudge along together and encourage everyone we pass along the way to help them realise they are not alone and no matter what their efforts are to be celebrated, not scoffed at. 

What is it Churchill said? "If you are going through hell...keep going"

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Falling in Love with Trail Running

View from Ivinghoe Beacon

It's almost official. I think I am in love with trail running. Maybe not all parts of it. I still have a love-hate relationship with hills, but I tend to think I am not alone in that sentiment. I have done two long trail runs in prep for my trail ultra and each one has had its ups and downs (literally). Let's go through the pros and cons I have had in my experiences.


So many options...
  • Not having a car is not always a problem -> Transport is always an issue with a trail run, especially if you do not have a car or are not sure how well you would do after a 25km trail run with the clutch heading back into London. Luckily, there are plenty of options. The Chilterns have stations that are unbelievably close to some epic trails. For example, Tring has the Ivinghoe Beacon and Ashridge Estate. Wendover has the Wendover woods and also you can run by the PM's country estate (Chequers). Oh and the The Ridgeway cuts right through there too! For the Maverick race, the closest station was Bookham and was about 2 miles away? You could also start at Dorking or Box Hill stations for running in Surrey.  However if it's a race you can always check with your local running club to see if anyone is offering a lift. Bring jelly babies as entry fee into the car. Everyone wins!
  • BLUEBELLS -> Of course this is seasonal, but it's hard to be angry when you are running side by side next to a swathe of bluebells. Fact: there are the British Bluebells and Spanish Bluebells in the UK and the Spanish ones are threatening the native British ones! According to the WoodlandTrust, the mixing of the two breeds dilutes the unique characteristics of the British Bluebell. Why am I reminded of Brexit suddenly?
  • Views -> Of course there was a view from the Ivinghoe Beacon (albeit a cloudy one) and I got to see the lion on the chalk face near Whipsnade. In Surrey I got some lovely views of the North Downs Way and saw Pill Boxes built during WWII. 
  • Loops -> If doing a trail run by yourself, you have to do the navigation myself. I used the DwMap feature on my Garmin to get me around the first bit in Tring with not much trouble. As I had to do two loops, the second time was much smoother as I made all the mistakes on the first loop. 
  • Loops -> Can something be a pro and a con? Yes. Loops are familiar but that also something that makes them boring. I could have turned around and run in reverse which still would have kept things saucy. Something about loops I do not like, but it's something I could have easily rectified. The Maverick Race was great as it was just one giant loop, no repetition. Well it was also marshalled and signposted... which means all I have to do it remember to look for the arrows
  • It is VERY tiring -> After both of my trail runs I have needed naps in order to function the rest of the day. Make sure you are not booking anything too tedious after your long trail run--- or makes sure you can fit in a nap. The hills take a lot out of me, much more so than road running.  Maybe over time though I will get accustomed to them. 
  • When You Get Nutrition Wrong.... -> It really goes wrong. I was feeling quite blah with about 4 miles to go at Maverick when there was an aid station. I thought I was doing OK but then I had some of the Skratch Labs water-- oh my goodness. Salt. I was missing salt. It tasted beyond incredible. I went for a second cup. Heaven. I felt like I was flying. That paired with the Raspberry Sports Beans made the last 5k or so feel very speedy. Lesson learned. Salt. Luckily you make this mistake once and (typically) never again... 
  • When Trains Go Wrong... -> I looked up trains from Bookham back to London and found a direct train. Awesome. Just need to make it there. 'Hoofed' it as much as possible after the run to get there on time. Win. Waited. And... waited... No announcements, no change of expected time on the board. What were my other options home? I had none. I had to wait. Train arrived 30 minutes late. Drank beer from the race on the train. yes the Maverick Race gave you a beer when you finished. I was late but still felt like I was winning.  
Basically, if you are thinking about trail running-- go out and do it. With some forethought you will have a very enjoyable time and start to wonder how anyone could do this distance on just roads alone. That being said, I will never give up road running. I think it's important to be comfortable in both, and living in a city, one is just a bit easier to just up and do than the other.  

North Downs Way


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ultra Training: Week 3

Total Miles this Week: 25.85 miles

Still VERY cold
It's always a bit disconcerting when you see less runs the week after in a training schedule. And its not a taper week. No, I checked.

However, I feel that I am doing something right as I was able to do a 10k with a sub 9 minute pace with little to no issues with Mr. Moose. 30 minutes later, I did another 10k (well slightly longer at 6.5 miles) with a sub 8 and mostly into the wind. Not going to lie though, I was well pleased the last 800m was downhill. I also got to put my feet in the icy cold Channel and then walk along the beach. All while munching a chocolate egg. Brill.

I was pretty happy with this week exercise wise. It was a good mix of running and strength:

  • Monday: Run commute from Canary Wharf
  • Tuesday: Spinning
  • Wednesday: 30 minute hill session + Bodycombat 
  • Thursday: Beigel Run
  • Friday: Walkies
  • Saturday: 10k + 10k-ish 
  • Sunday: Easter walkies 
The double session was a bit tricky to fit it, but I felt amazing afterwards, so if I want to continue spin I may need to do that more often. I think I would swap Bodycombat for BodyPump though... such choices. 

Looking out with IOW in the distance...
I was also very lucky that I did some run tourism this weekend in the Bournemouth area. I am a huge believer in going out somewhere new to run (or somewhere you at least don't go to normally to go running). It really revitalises you and also just gives you something different to look at. Sometimes you do not even need to go very far: simply changing the direction of a normal loop or heading some different side streets is enough to add inject some excitement into your 'normal' route. 

Also very excited as the Chase the Sun series has started up again so that will help me inject some faster runs (or maybe just fartleks) into my running during the week. I can do either 5k or 10k, and either way guaranteed chip timing and a delicious flap jack at the end. 

I know my 50k is nothing compared to the AT-- but wow I was definitely motivated after watching this documentary on Karl Meltzer beating the course record. So inspiring! So much calories!

I hope everyone had an amazing Easter weekend. I think we need more four day weekends don't you?

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Ultra Training: Week 2

Total Miles this Week: 27.75 miles

Hello Bridge! 
So it turned out the week of the hendo I went to was actually week one... oops! Let's just crack on with week two.

I am determined to incorporate more cross training into my workout, so I did a Bodypump class this week as well as a Core beatdown/workout put on by the nice people over at Tribe in Shoreditch. Of course we did have to run to Haggerston Park and did sprints in between the core sets. Never mind! I also did a beigel run on Thursday morning with the love AR collective. Been a while and was so great to hear stories from Manchester. Tell you what-- the earlier sunrises really makes those 6am starts a lot easier.

And... this is where is started to go a bit wrong. I read that a bagel shop up in Angel was doing a promotion for £1 salt beef bagels for lunch. I checked mapmyRun. Definitely doable for a lunch time run there and back as long as the queue wouldn't be too long. I dutifully packed my bag the night before and was looking forward to a nice sunny lunch run.

Friday at work I am getting ready to run. Sports bra? Check. Socks? Check. Running shorts? Check. Shoes? ....... No shoes! I was almost giving up when I realised I was sporting a pair of Converse AllStars (yay casual Friday). Should I run in them? I decided yes, how bad could it be? Its about a 5k round trip!

Classic gin wench attire :D
Well, since that nice run (and nice bagel I should add) my feet/ankles have not been the same. I ran a total 15.5 miles this weekend and my ankle still feels funny :( However I was NOT going to miss my SecretLondon Gin run and wow the weather this weekend was pretty brilliant wasn't it?

So niggles aside, I am trying to get back into the swing of running and its going OK so far! I really need to allocate some time on the weekends for longer runs though. I am not running 50k over two days, just one. SO next week I hope to do my LSR in one day (14 miles). Also if I am lucky get on some trails soon.

I hope everyone else had a brilliant weekend running, be it for a race, for fun, or for training. Remember you got out there and did it and that is the hardest thing!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Escape to Trail: Run Review

Some Sights from the Trail
I signed up for this run (Escape to Trail Series) I believe last year when I was training for Honolulu and was putting more mileage in. It sounded ideal though, a low cost (£12.50) race close to London on a trail, accessible by trains (even Oyster Card!), and a good distance between a half and a full. The organizer (Dean) was very quick to answer all of my questions. Are there water stations? No. Is there a bag drop? No. It was a charity run -- so not only does it feed my running soul, it feeds my feel-good karma soul.
I arrived at Enfield Chase with about 20 minutes to spare, and although there was some initial confusion, all the runners basically grouped together and located the greasy spoon where we were setting off from. One loo, much queue. Good thing I didn't need to go too badly.

Race Itself: This was epic. I am so glad I know about this route now. It will make some awesome training runs later. We ran 17 miles of the New River Path (28 miles total). Think Regents canal but not nearly as crowded and more animals.  With start/finish points in Islington and Hertford, it has awesome transport links. Although the sign posting at times was a bit off (I was glad I was close to other runners) and some fallen trees blocking paths, the route was generally easy to follow. Did I stop to check my route at times? Once right near the end.  Again for the entry cost I am not going to fault the organizers for it. They did provide a Strava Route for us to follow if need be. The end was clearly posted and thats what matters. There was even a goody bag (Bounce energy ball, Coconut Water, and an Up & Go breakfast drink), which I was happy with given the cost of entry. I have paid more and received worse goody bags.

Everyone was friendly. Course was brilliant. Finish line was obvious which is really what you need.

Finish: The pub where we finished had awesome staff and delicious food. A friend who lives nearby met me there and we had a delicious chicken burger and chips. THEY DO A DUCK RACE ON THE EASTER WEEKEND. How adorable is that? Very.  Close to Hertford East train station which has trains into Liverpool Street and accepts Oyster. Hertford North is a bit farther and does not take Oyster, but drop you off at Moorgate. So again, many options.

When In Doubt... Slow Down... 
Personal: I knew physically I was not ready for this run. When talking to my friend who was trying to gauge when to meet me at the pub, I gave her an estimate which equated to a 10-11 minute mile pacing. I had not done anything longer than 10 miles this year, so I figured I should be on the more cautious side. I finished just outside my range with an average pace of 11:01 min/miles. It was very tough mentally and with about a 10k left I just switched off my pacing alerts on my Garmin. I was finding them annoying and de-motivating. I figured it is best to let me body get into whatever pace it felt would be good given the situation.

I think the aspect which disappointed the most was just how drained and sore I felt after. I am trying to chalk it up to lack of time on my feet lately in terms of long runs, but its it hard when thinking back to last year when doing back to back 16 mile days was not an issue. It's learning to tune out those niggles of doubt and remind yourself that with training those days will come back.