Cross country continues…

I’m three races into the cross country season now and feeling much happier about it. My first race on October 13th had been much harder, both physically and mentally, than I had been expecting and by the time the second one on October 27th came around I was seriously considering pulling out to avoid a repeat performance. My teammates had been trying to reassure me that I had done a good job on the first run but I really didn’t feel that way. Also, I had been warned by people who had run in previous years that the course for the second run was harder than the first. If I hadn’t been able to cope with the first one, how on Earth would I deal with a more difficult one?!

On the day of the second race, I was dreading it. I travelled there with two of my teammates and we discussed the previous race and our plans for this one. My main plan was to finish in under 30 minutes. I was so disappointed that I had been outside of that time in the first race and I needed to prove to myself that I could run 5K in less than 30 minutes, even a tough hilly cross-country one. The course map itself had been fairly incomprehensible. There were loops that didn’t appear to connect to one another and ambiguous pathways on the hand-drawn diagram, and I don’t like not knowing what to expect. Getting there and seeing the area helped a bit although the entire course wasn’t visible from the start area, and I had been warned about but couldn’t see the two big hills on the course. One, I was told, was a long incline at the back of the course, and the other was a short sharp hill towards the end of the run.

We warmed up and I started to get nervous, and was physically shaking by the time I lined up at the start. Nothing more for it now but to get to the end. The race started and everyone set off, again much faster than I would usually run and I had to remind myself not to set off too fast. The course started with a short lap around the start/finish area before striking out across the fields. I hadn’t gone more than a few hundred metres when I noticed my right shoe felt strange and, glancing down, I was annoyed that my shoelace was loose. What to do? To stop and tie it but probably get left behind for the rest of the race, or to run on and hope it stayed put? By the end of that first small lap, I knew I couldn’t leave it alone. Even if my shoe stayed on – the ground was dry, not muddy, but the shoe already felt loose  – I knew I’d be more likely to trip over the flapping lace and end up flat on my face. I moved to the side, crouched down, retied the lace and then joined back in, trying to ignore the eight or so women who had passed me while I was stopped. Lesson learned for next time, check your laces before the starting gun. Running on and out towards the long loop around the course now, so I started concentrating on how to deal with the long upward climb that the coach had warned us about. I think I was almost at the top of it before I noticed that that slight slope must have been that long uphill. That wasn’t so bad. There was a section of path that doubled back on itself at the end of that incline, the return stretch being above the outbound stretch, and as I saw the turn at the end I also saw one of my teammates above me on the return. I could visualise where I was on the map now and the combination of knowing I was making progress and knowing I was part of a team out there spurred me on. I soon reached the return and some flat and even downhill stretches and I managed to pick up some speed and pass some other runners. It was still hard-going but I wasn’t finding this anywhere near as horrendous as the first cross country run had been.

The next section was misleading as I saw that I was running back towards the start, but I knew it couldn’t be coming to the finish. I hadn’t been running anywhere near long enough, and then I saw that, while the start/finish were to the left, the other runners were all turning right. OK, last mile, into the trees, and then I saw The Hill. That was the short sharp one that I’d been told about for sure. I passed two other runners who were walking now, and saw that most people were walking up the hill itself. I took a look at it from the bottom, started trying to run it, but it was so steep and so muddy that I very quickly worked out that walking it would not only be easier but faster so I power walked up that steep hill and soon emerged over the top. Not far now, and I knew after that that it was downhill all the way to the finish. I tried to relax and let gravity carry me down the hill but my legs were starting to turn to jelly. Two women passed me and I tried to keep up with them but I didn’t have the strength left. There was just an S-shaped path left and then straight ahead to the finish. I could see the other women ahead of me and really tried to chase them down. I did manage a sprint finish but couldn’t catch them, but I was much happier with my performance, and had finished two minutes faster than I finished the first race.

 

Two weeks later and it was time for the third race in the series, which was conveniently held in my local park. It’s so close I could even walk there, and I’m familiar enough with it that I could picture the route easily from the course map. Amazingly for November, it was still a mild enough day that I could run in my club vest and shorts quite comfortably. This course was three laps, one long one and then two shorter ones, all three being downhill at the start and then uphill on the return. It had rained hard the night before and the ground was muddy and slippery with wet leaves. The first long lap wasn’t too bad, although fast (as all these cross country runs seem to be!). On the second one I really started to feel the uphills. The race series includes runs for men, women and juniors, but there are five events and each category runs four and this one was only for women and juniors. Our male coach, Tony, was there in the middle of the uphill stretch cheering us all on, and I really appreciated his encouragement on the second lap, reminding me I had a downhill coming soon and to relax there ready to run the final uphill stretch next time around.

The route overall took us downhill through trees, then along the side of the lake before heading uphill across grass before turning left onto a slightly steeper long uphill stretch to complete the lap. On the third lap, I started to realise that the section along the lake which looks pretty flat was actually slightly uphill. My local parkrun actually runs along that same pathway but in the opposite direction which is probably why I never noticed the incline before. You don’t necessarily notice a very shallow slope down but run up it three times and you start to notice it. I had gone into the race with no particular finish time in mind, but with a goal of finishing before a specific other runner. I had noticed that the woman who had finished in front of me on the second run had also finished just two places in front of me on the first one. I decided that, this time, I wanted to beat her. I passed a few other runners and started to look for the runner I wanted to beat, assuming she was in front of me but couldn’t see her although I had definitely seen her at the start line. On the long uphill stretch three other women passed me. I was struggling now and kept looking ahead of me trying to spot the finish. It seemed even further this time than the previous two laps. I managed to catch up one of the women who had passed by me not long before, and then I saw my teammates who had already finished cheering me on.  I couldn’t see the actual finish though. I could see the tapes marking the route to it but not the actual finish line. I thought I could hear someone coming up behind me but didn’t want to turn around. Just keep going, keep going, and I ran as hard as I could, how much further, then I saw the tapes narrowing and the timing mats on the floor right at the end of the finish funnel. Finally I crossed the timing mats. I’d done it. Even faster than the previous one, and I’d beaten the lady I wanted to finish in front of!

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Southend Parkrun November 3rd 2018

We often do parkrun as a family these days on Saturday mornings. A while back, the running club announced that, since the nearest parkrun would not be running on November 3rd (due to preparations for the bonfire night fireworks display in the evening), they were planning an outing to Southend-on-sea in Essex to run the parkrun there as an alternative. The club would pay for transport. We just had to turn up, run, and then we’d all go out for brunch together afterwards. It sounded like great fun and we put our names down straight away.

Saturday November 3rd started early. Too early for me, as I’m not a morning person and even though I had set my alarm clock (for 5.50am) I didn’t manage to drag myself out of bed until 6.10, which left me 20 minutes to get ready to get out the door! Oops! Luckily I had had the foresight to leave all my running kit, down to trainers, headphones, barcode, the lot, out ready the night before so I could just dive into and out of the shower, throw my kit on, grab a glass of juice and a banana and hit the road to the running club. Due to an unforeseen classmate birthday party on the part of one of the children, we ended up with me and one son going on the coach with everyone else and husband and other son following on by car. The coach set off in plenty of time, allowing for traffic and other possible delays and ended up getting there around 8.15am, just a bit early for a 9 o’clock start!

When we arrived, the coach dropped us off just outside the park and we all walked through together to find the start, and the toilets which were mentioned in the course description. It turned out we were lucky to have arrived so early. The toilets were over half a mile away at the other end of the park (and ironically we had driven past them in the coach on the way to our drop-off point). When you’ve got to go, though, you’ve got to go so a gentle jog across the park was necessary for personal comfort and made a good warm-up, I suppose!

My husband phoned while I was making my way back to the start to say he and our other son had arrived safely and that the first-timers’ briefing was just about to start. The parkrun organisers had been warned that we were coming, but I’m not sure they really knew what they were letting themselves in for with roughly 60 slightly sleep-deprived slightly mad runners from Dartford turning up en masse! The course was explained, three laps and then turn left for the finish, watch out for the gravel section, and say hello to the marshal at the chilly point by the sea wall.

Then we made our way to the start. The footpath at the start there is narrow and, in an attempt to avoid too much congestion, the start employs rudimentary timing pens with notices to indicate approximate finishing times (under 20 minutes, 20-22 minutes, 22-24 minutes, and so on up to 30-35 and then 35+ minutes). I was running with my 9 year old, who is slightly quicker than me, hoping for a PB and a time under 27 minutes. My parkrun times have been stuck in the 27-minute range for ages. I had run two slightly faster last May (26:56 and 26:52 respectively) but hadn’t been able to get back under 27 minutes again before my knee tendinitis struck in June. Having run 26:30 around the neighbourhood recently, I was hoping for a parkrun time of something similar, not least so that I could have validation of a sub-27 5k time again! We positioned ourselves in the 26-28 minute start section, and then were taken by surprise when the people in front of us suddenly started as we’d heard no bell, hooter, siren, even a shout, but nevertheless off we went.

Even with the sectioned start, the pace was painfully slow to begin with and we were stuck behind groups of people running together much more slowly than I wanted to. In the end, I motioned to my son to follow me up the grass verge alongside the path, avoiding a litter bin as we went, and passed a large number of people before the path took a turn left and widened and suddenly we had the room to run at our own pace. That extra space also meant I could see a fellow member of the running club with her own son up ahead of us. I don’t know her well, but I do know her typical parkrun time is about 30 seconds or so faster than mine so I reckoned if I could keep her in my sight I might stand a chance of a good time.

The route continued ahead and then turned left to run along the sea wall. It was quite a novelty to run beside the sea and I was trying to both concentrate on running and enjoy the view of the sun glinting on the water. Soon it was time to turn left again and, after a small loop, the gravel section we had been warned about, head back towards the start to complete the first lap. My unsuspecting pacer was still not far ahead of me and my run felt good. Into lap two. Past the starting markers again, left at the corner, up to the sea wall, and then about halfway into that lap, I noticed the lady I was following’s son move to the side and crouch down to sort out a loose shoelace. She stopped with him, and my son and I passed them. Oh no, that was my pacer gone and I was going to have to keep going by myself. OK, I still felt strong and the second lap was finished faster than the first. My son asked me “can we get a PB?” and I replied “I think we might”. We ran on into the third lap. I was starting to tire now but glances at my watch and rapid mental arithmetic were telling me I had a real chance of getting something well down in the 26-minute range if I could keep something close to the pace we were running at.

The third lap was tough. I was getting tired and I no longer had my set person to chase. I called encouragement to other friends and fellow running club members as we lapped them – one has had health issues lately and I knew it was a tough run for her, another was pushing her niece in a running buggy – and I knew another who was injured was acting as photographer for us so would be encouraging me when I got there. Not far from the finish, the woman I had been chasing before finally caught up and passed me and I knew I had to stay with her as best I could. We were almost at the point where the third complete lap finished and there was a sign directing runners to the left towards the finish. My son sped up and I really tried to go with him. My legs were tired, my breathing was laboured, and I reminded myself that if you’re going to run faster than you’ve ever run that distance before it’s going to hurt. If I wanted that PB, I had to give it my all. There was the left turn, and then there was the finish and it was closer than I thought. “Can I run ahead?” called my son. He’s not old enough to do parkrun by himself but most of them don’t mind under-elevens doing a sprint finish as long as their responsible adult is close behind. I called to him to go for it and then did my best to keep with him. He managed to get ahead of the man in front of us and crossed the line two seconds before me. I stopped my watch and couldn’t believe it. I knew my official parkrun time would be a bit slower as it taken me so long to actually start after the timekeeper would have started their watch, but my watch was telling me I had covered the distance in 25:41!

I took my barcode, found a scanner, and then went and celebrated with friends. The flat fast route meant a lot of us had achieved PBs. My husband and younger son finished not long afterwards, with another PB for the littl’un. Once we were all finished, we walked across the park to a local restaurant for a well-earned brunch. After the meal, my husband drove our younger son home in time for his friend’s party while our older son came back on the coach with me an hour or so later. I don’t know whether it was the early start, the warm sunshine coming through the windows, the tiring run, or the glasses of beer that had been drunk at lunchtime celebrating good runs but a number of the men nodded off on the coach home, much to the amusement of their friends and partners!! We got back mid-afternoon. All in all, a fantastic morning out with friends, and a great run for all of us, I think.

When the result email came through, I had knocked a full minute off my parkrun PB. My previous best, which had stood since 26/5/2018 was 26:52. My new PB was exactly one minute faster at 25:52. I had said at running club on Tuesday that, by the end of the year, I really wanted to see a parkrun time that started with a 25, even if it ended with a 59, but I really wasn’t sure I’d achieve that. But there it is, 25:52. I’m so pleased with myself!

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Great South Run (better late than never)

This write-up comes a little late, but on October 21st my husband and I actually ran a race together! You can count on your fingers the number of times we’ve run together because of the children, and this had required months of advance planning and the roping-in of his parents to babysit while we ran.

At 10 miles, it was his longest run to date and I was glad I’d finished my half marathon only three weeks previously because it meant I was largely already trained for it. It was quite the logistics exercise though. We live in London, the in-laws live in the West Country, the race was on the south coast. It required two hotel rooms, a travel plan to get us to the start, another to get them and the children to the finish!

One thing you don’t expect running towards the end of October in the UK is warm weather! Early mist cleared to leave a bright sunny day. We got up early for breakfast and then left the children with their grandparents and drove to the ferry at Gosport which seemed the best way to get to Portsmouth with minimal fuss. It was a fun way to arrive too, and the fifteen minute walk from the ferry to the race start was a good warm up. We dropped off our bag and then spent some time looking around the stalls in the race village and checking out some of the runners in fancy dress.

Having had no idea of our possible finish time when we booked the race, we had taken an estimate of 1 hour 45 minutes which put us in the last, green, starting wave so there was a lot of hanging about waiting for our 11.09am start. Finally, after hearing the other waves starting off and eventually getting our warm-up we were off, just as the elite women were finishing! I had been hoping for an average pace of around 9:40 per mile which would have us finishing somewhere between 1 hr 35 and 1 hr 40 minutes, and seemed doable given that I’d run my half marathon at an average of 9:50 per mile. At the start, my husband said to me “So are we aiming for 9-minute miles?”. I just laughed. That’s faster than my usual 10 K pace. There’s no way I could run 10 miles that fast. We agreed we would just set off at a comfortable pace and he would try to keep me to whatever I set.

The first mile took us back to the ferry terminal, and the second took us on to the historic dockyard. We had visited Portsmouth last summer to see the Mary Rose, the wreck of a 16th-century ship. It was running through the historic dockyard that we ran past a charity runner dressed as a portable toilet! Onward to the three mile mark, passing three women singing Baby Shark (do do do do do do!) and the first water station. It was warm for October and I was glad of the bottle of water.

There was an out-and-back stretch around the four-mile mark and we had fun spotting other charity costumes, Ninja turtles, Zippy from Rainbow, assorted superheroes. Passing the samba band again for the second time and we were approaching five miles and the halfway point. So far so good. Once we got to six miles and then the 10k point I was getting tired. Another four miles to go, this was going to be tough. I took jelly babies from passers by, and another bottle of water, a fair amount of which I poured over my head and down my back! We reached seven miles, just a parkrun to go. I wasn’t sure I could have managed a parkrun. I was hot and my legs were tired. More water, more jelly babies. We’d been warned about the road with the speed bumps at seven miles and I was worried about that, and actually that was a good distraction. Not long after the eight mile mark we found ourselves back on the sea front and the sea breeze was very welcome. The time was now well after midday and the temperature had risen to the mid-20s Celsius and I was flagging. Others were less lucky. We ran past some people being assisted by paramedics at the side of the road. They were conscious and talking but I felt sad for people who had run 8 or 9 miles only for their race to end within such a short distance of the finish. Runners ahead of us started waving and shouting and an ambulance passed by.

Nine miles, less than a Junior parkrun to go. I’d had enough by that point but told myself I had not more than ten minutes left. I could run for ten more minutes. The crowds were building, music was blaring, there was the 16km sign, and then finally the finish up ahead. With music playing and crowds cheering we both found the energy for something approximating a sprint finish. The finish arch had a number of different clocks for the different start waves and I saw the green clock was just over an hour and a half. I couldn’t believe it! We finished together in a time of 1:31:35. So much for my 9:40 per mile pace. We had averaged 9:05 per mile!

We collected our finish line goodies, drinks, medals, T-shirts, and somehow managed to track down the rest of the family. Amazingly they had seen us cross the finish line! Then it was just a case of keeping moving so neither of us seized up! If nothing else, the mile walk back to the ferry terminal kept the joints moving.

What a day! I enjoyed my half marathon more than the Great South Run, but I enjoyed the experience of running with my husband, and was really proud of the achievement of running ten miles in just over 91 minutes.

The cross country season has started

I never thought I would actually volunteer for cross country running. If I had to make a list of the worst five things I ever did at school, cross country would be waaaay up there. We only ever did two sessions a year but I dreaded them. It was two laps around all the sports fields behind the school. Not all that far but to get from one side to the other involved going through a small gap in a hedge about the width of a standard single gate. By the time several hundred teenagers had passed through it, that gap in the hedge was a quagmire. People literally left their shoes behind in it, and stopping to retrieve them was prohibited. It was always cold, always wet, and then communal showers under the teachers’ supervision afterwards made it infinitely worse.

With memories like that, I still don’t know why, when the coach at my running club asked for volunteers for a cross country team for a county tournament of 5K events, I put myself forward. I am primarily a road runner. The closest I have come to cross country is running round a local nature reserve, although I do like to run there. It is peaceful and the scenery is lovely. I had been warned that the standard of running at the event series is high, and that worried me. I’m not a cross country runner, and my 5K PB is just under 27 minutes, respectable but not award-winning. The coach insisted it was nothing I couldn’t handle if I wanted to give it a go, though, and she’d happily add me to the team.

The first event was this weekend, and it turned out to be unseasonably warm for mid-October. I’d been worried I might be cold running in a vest, but it was 25°C! It was a tough course, mostly grass, uneven and hilly, and the other runners were fast. Really fast. I was not at all surprised to finish last of my team. I was really disappointed to finish in 30:15. I know I started too fast. The first lap was tough but ok but the second lap was dreadful. There were points where I seriously considered pulling out and it was only the thought of letting the team down that stopped me, and the thought that my team-mates would be waiting for me at the finish line that kept me going. The course was mean enough to have an uphill finish (as well as an uphill start) which required running through trees to within sight of the finish but then running downhill past it before turning to run two tight corners and then uphill to the finish funnel.

One element my running coaches always mention is that we need to be good at running hard on tired legs, and as I emerged through the trees on the second lap, that was what I was thinking and that was what I set about to do. I heard my coach shouting my name, cheering me on, but it was all I could do to focus on my running. She called to me that one of the others would run with me, and then there she was, just inside the ropes that divided the running course from the rest of the field. It helped so much hearing her just behind me, yelling “you’ve got this, relax your breathing, come on, you can do this”. I got to the final turn and saw the finish line above me and found some extra energy from goodness knows where and powered to the line. And my energy ran out! Another member of the running club who was officiating gave me a high five as I walked through the finish funnel and I only had strength to smile and high five back, no breath for a Thanks or anything!

I knew it had been tough, but I was disappointed not to finish in under 30 minutes. I wasn’t last. I finished 117th out of 129 women, and a full 6 minutes before the last place runner, but I was still disappointed. Oh well, I just have to put it behind me, learn from the experience and apply the knowledge to the next run in the series. Which I’m told is tougher than that one. Gulp!

Half a pair of socks

8FC56061-B952-47CC-B9E9-EA7CCE6FAECC.jpegWe have half a pair of socks! I haven’t knitted my kids socks in a while but they both chose multicoloured sock yarn in a shop in Devon over the summer and, with the weather cooling, it seemed a good time to make use of it. It seems a little silly that this one plain vanilla sock has taken me over a week to knit. I did manage to turn the heel while marshalling at Parkrun last Saturday! It’s surprisingly hard to clap and knit at the same time so the sock spent a lot of time hanging from my wrist between laps of the course. The yarn, for those interested, is an Opal 4-ply sock yarn in a colourway called Sunrise that I would never have chosen myself but clearly appealed to my 9-year-old. I just need to make the second one now, while pondering the thought that my children will soon be needing socks that are bigger than mine!

Robin Hood half marathon

September 30th 2018 is a day I will remember for a long time. The day I ran my first half marathon, the Robin Hood half marathon.

It started at around 7am on a chilly but dry Sunday morning with a pink sunrise. After breakfast of bread and jam, cheese, and a banana, my Dad gave me a lift to the start, dropping me off just across the river Trent from where the race village was set up at Victoria Embankment. It was easy to find, and I walked past the start zones to reach the various tents so getting my bearings was easy. I took a walk around, used the loo, popped in to browse in the retail tent, kept moving to try to keep warm.

It was cold by the riverside and I kept hold of my sweatshirt for as long as I could but it finally got to the stage where I decided I had to hand over my bag at the baggage tent, go to the toilet one last time, and then head for my starting zone. Unfortunately I wasn’t the only person to have had that idea and my 20-minute wait for the loo meant I was absolutely freezing by the time I got to the orange start zone.

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The party atmosphere had started though. There was music playing, a DJ calling out encouragement to everybody, and the crowd started moving forward as the elite runners were set off at the front and everybody started moving slowly towards the start line. I was so nervous, I couldn’t believe this was it and I was about to go and run 13.1 miles. I tried to distract myself by making sure my watch was set up correctly to record the run, and that my music was working properly. I chatted to two ladies standing near me who had both run half marathons before. They gave me some quick tips, about not starting too fast and to try to enjoy the atmosphere. Being in the last group to start, it took nearly 20 minutes for me to reach the start line and then we were off!

It was really crowded at the start and I was frustrated for the first few minutes that I was stuck behind slower runners and couldn’t get into my stride but then I spotted a gap, nipped through it, and then I had space to get to my own pace and off I went. There was a local choir at the first road junction which made me smile, and then it was just a case of following everyone else.

I had no particular strategy in mind. I had hoped to finish in under two and a half hours but with no previous half marathon experience and with my longest run in the last three months being 10 miles, I would be happy to just finish! I decided I wouldn’t think about the distance but just enjoy the run and take the pace as I felt comfortable. If I was a bit fast and got tired, I could just slow down, no pressure. I have a bad habit of thinking a particular pace is too fast for me if I see the numbers, and slowing down when I don’t need to, and decided for this run to just go with how I was feeling instead of what my watch said. I was so happy just before the first mile marker to see a friend in the crowd! She gave me a shout, I gave her a huge wave, and then I ran on with a smile on my face knowing she was there. The mile markers seemed to go by so fast. Before I knew it I was rounding Nottingham castle and entering The Park area, which I knew was the first of two hilly parts of the course. The roads are quite steep and while I powered my way round the castle, the residential streets were more of a challenge and I decided to take what turned out to be my only short walk of a hundred yards or so to get up to the top of the steepest hill and then I was running again. I was amazed by the support from the crowds. The roads so far had been lined with people clapping and cheering, calling out messages of encouragement, and it spurred me on to hear a woman call out “downhill for a few miles now!”.

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My pace was faster than I thought up to that point but I felt fine so I just kept on. As I ran down the long downhill stretch of Derby Road I let gravity help me and started to think about fueling my run. I hadn’t really planned that much in training but knew I would need energy for the ten miles I still had in front of me. I had a packet of energy blocks in my running belt and decided I would eat one at 5 miles, one at 7 and one at 10. No particular reasoning but it seemed like the start of a plan.  I took water from the first drinks station and had a bit of a mental head scratch moment as I had never seen that kind of soft water bottle before and didn’t know how to open it! The top tore off and then you squeezed the water out! I soon worked it out but it wasn’t the easiest thing to drink from. I soon passed mile 4, then mile 5, where I ate my first energy gel block, and then I saw I was entering Wollaton Park. I knew this was the furthest west part of the route, and also that the other major hill on the course was coming up. I was also somewhat surprised that I had run the fourth and fifth miles in under 9-and-a-half minutes each, but I wasn’t going to let it faze me. I still felt good. I would keep on running.

Still the spectators cheered and clapped. I couldn’t get over the number of people who had come out to cheer on friends, family members, and strangers alike. Residents of the streets closed for the run leaned out of windows or sat in their front gardens to support the runners. Next came the 6-mile marker and the second water station where I discarded my first water pouch and took a second one. Unfortunately I must have taken a faulty one because the water was really reluctant to come out. I sucked, I squeezed, I got either nothing or a massive mouthful squirted hard into my mouth which was really awkward to deal with while running. At mile marker 7, having nearly choked on another uncontrolled squirt from the water bottle, and deciding it tasted pretty rubbish anyway, I abandoned it.

Around the 8-mile mark I started noticing tightness in the back of my left leg. This wasn’t something I had been troubled with before and I tried to stretch it out as I ran but it was something that would remain to the finish, luckily without hampering me.

Just before mile marker 9, the course made its final sharp turn with the last area of two-way running, and it was such a relief to round the cone marking the turning point and know I was really heading back toward the finish. Just after mile marker 9 there was another drinks station so I took a bottle of Lucozade this time. I figured it couldn’t taste any worse than the water, even if I got a flavour I didn’t like, but I know how the sports caps work on those bottles and it would make drinking on the move much easier. I got orange flavour, which I like.

On I went, still following the runners in front, reading funny signs in the crowd, giving children high fives, listening to what people were calling out, past marker number 10, and thinking “just over half an hour to go now”. And then I looked at the time. I knew I’d passed through the start at around ten to ten. My estimation of a two-and-a-half hour run would have me finishing around twenty past twelve. But here I was at the 10-mile mark and it was just about half past eleven. Really? I did the mental arithmetic, thinking I must have got my maths wrong. Ten miles in a hour and forty minutes? That was 100 minutes. Was I really doing 10-minute miles? I’d been anticipating more like 11. I decided I must be either adding up wrong or my watch was wrong, and pressed on.

Mile marker 11 was a rather surreal one. Anything more than this was uncharted territory for me. I was now literally running further than I had ever run before. I was getting tired, I had about two miles to go which sounded both a short way and an awfully long way at the same time, but still the crowds cheered us on. Students in pyjamas by the roadside, couples, families, charity cheering groups, running club cheering groups, all clapping and calling out “well done, keep going, you’ve got this, you’re doing so well”.

The last part of the course retraced some of the first part and as I ran past what had been the 1-mile marker on the way out, I heard a man behind me shout “Have we really only done one mile? That took ages!” which made me laugh. Around the corner was the 12-mile marker and I told myself I had just over ten more minutes to go. I was nearly there. Soon I saw the floodlights of what must have been either Trent Bridge cricket ground or the Nottingham Forest football ground towering over buildings ahead of me and knew I was almost back at Victoria Embankment. Past the choir again, almost there, and then I saw the gates of the park in front of me. I thought I could see the finish ahead of me, a red archway with a clock on it over the path, but was puzzled that people were still running once they were through. Then I realised that I hadn’t passed the 13-mile marker yet and that this was the start and I was going to have to keep going to a finish line that I couldn’t yet see. Oh no, so near and yet so far, and I was so tired.

Someone in the crowd called out “Turn on to the grass and then run for the finish”. I turned on to the grass but still couldn’t see the finish. Where was it? How much further? Then there was the 13-mile marker, almost done, and then one more corner and then there up ahead I saw the real finish line with the clock overhead showing 2 hours 27 minutes. I was determined to finish strong. I couldn’t sprint, I didn’t have that left, but I ran as hard as I could. Breathing hard, I concentrated on getting across that line and then there I was. Across the finish line, I’d done it. Marshals ushered people forwards, I stopped my watch, 2:11:18. Tired, sore, and a bit confused what to do next I saw people handing out medals so went and collected mine then moved through to collect my finisher’s goody bag and t-shirt.

It was only once I was through the finish tents and back into the event village that the emotion hit me. I’d done it! I’d run a half marathon. And I’d not done it in two and a half hours but in two hours and 11 minutes. I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe it. I phoned my Dad who was meeting me at the finish, and he hadn’t arrived yet. I was too fast for him! I went to collect my bag and to speak to the ladies from the Nottingham Hospitals Charity that I was fundraising for. Checking my phone I saw I’d now raised £400. They took my photo, gave me chocolate and congratulations, and then sore but happy I found my Dad.

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When my official result came through, it confirmed my time as 2:11:10. I still don’t quite believe I ran that time. I won’t say I won’t do another half marathon- I probably will – but what an amazing experience for my first, and one I’ll never forget.

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Heartwood Forest parkrun, hello and goodbye

55EA2296-450C-48D2-A1C3-1C03F3782630.jpegI am not an early riser by nature and certainly not on the weekends, so I was not best pleased when my husband woke me at 6.30am this Saturday even though I knew it would happen. The reason? Parkrun tourism! He had read online that Heartwood Forest parkrun was going to be closing down and had decided that he wanted to run it while he still could. The fact that he had never heard of Heartwood Forest until that point and didn’t even know where it was didn’t seem to matter to him! Luckily it isn’t too far away, about an hour or so’s drive, but it still meant leaving around 7.20am to give us time to get there, to find somewhere to park, and then to walk the half-mile that the Parkrun website advised was the distance between the nearest parking area and the start. Hence the 6.30 alarm call.

On long journeys, he drives and I knit, but at that time in the morning all I am capable of is simple knitting and I have a garter stitch blanket that I work on when I don’t have the brain power for anything else. I got a fair amount done on the round trip! The car journey went smoothly and we found the village hall car park which was the suggested place to stop. Then it was just a case of following all the other people in running gear along the farm track and footpath to the forest and the start.

We didn’t have to wait too long for the first-timers briefing, led by a lady with a loudhailer and a tambourine! There were a lot of tourists, there for the same reason we were, I’d guess! She tried to explain the route, came a bit unstuck, and finished with “just follow along, you’ll be fine!”. To be fair, the course was very well marshalled by a local running group so navigation was no trouble at all. The course was not quite two laps and we were walked halfway up the hill to the start. Final briefing delivered and off we went. There was some more uphill to start on a gravel path before we struck out across the grass and then along a bridlepath, all still uphill. At the top of the hill, there was a very sharp turn to the left through an area with long grass and short trees before we ran through a carved wooden archway and back along the bridlepath again. That took us to a gravel path downhill. I was glad I’d worn my trail shoes as I could just trust to gravity and go without worrying about sliding on the loose surface. Then it was another left turn and a short flat stretch before turning left away from the finish to head back up the hill for the second lap.

The hill the second time around was not fun. I’d forgotten we’d walked up half of it to reach the start so that hill seemed to go on and on. It was quite a relief to finally reach the sharp left turn and to know it was downhill all the way from there. Back through the grass and trees, through the carved arch, along the bridlepath and then down that big hill again, where a marshal and another runner complimented me on my bright running leggings!

At the bottom of the hill, the finish came into view and I was pleased I had strength left for a sprint finish. In fact the whole run overall picked up in pace, with the first mile taking 9:13, the second 8:56, and the third 8:30, with the final 0.1 at 6:57/mile pace. My final time was 27:31, not a PB but far faster than I had expected to run it in given that it was both hilly and cross-country which are two things that usually count against me.

The local running club had kindly provided cake and sweets at the finish so I thanked them for a cupcake and a jelly baby, and my husband signed the visitors book. Then it was back to the car for the drive home and more work on my blanket, feeling a bit more awake by then.