Posted by: fitartist | November 13, 2014

A Week in the Life of a parkrun

parkrun is big. There are now events happening every Saturday morning all over the UK and in other parts of the world, even as far away as Australia! There are also Junior parkruns taking place on Sunday mornings, encouraging youngsters to try a 2k run with their friends. I’ve been closely involved with Hilly Fields parkrun for the two years it’s been running, and have made some lovely friends and would even say it’s changed my life, so I was a bit disheartened recently when a friend said on Facebook that parkrun had messed up her time again. Of course, I jumped in and got all defensive and it seemed that people were saying this is a common problem at many events. I’ve run at a few different events around the country and have never had a problem with my time, in fact the only problem is my own eagerness in pressing my Garmin too quickly at the start. I thought, as a Run Director, it might be a good opportunity for me to show you what goes into a parkrun, how we make it happen every week (and on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day!).

*waves*

*waves*

**Warning! I do go on a bit, go into lots of detail, but I really wanted to illustrate a week in the life…It’s my own personal experience, and each run is different, with different needs and approaches.**

On Saturday I ran, I didn’t have a good run, it was windy, muddy and I wasn’t feeling too healthy. After the run, we packed up the finish funnel, thanked our volunteers and sauntered over to the cafe to process the results. It’s always heaving in the Hilly Fields cafe, lots of smiling faces, hands cupped around a hot drink, talk of PBs, goals and life in general. We grab a table, place our order and the Run Director gets to work on uploading the data to the system. When you cross the finish line, you are given a finish token. This has your position and a barcode on it, we scan this and your own, personal barcode and these are (magically?) matched up to the time on the stopwatch. Usually, one of the volunteers will grab all the tokens and spread them out on a table in the cafe, where they are carefully put back into number order and rethreaded onto a long cable-tie (for some reason, this is a really popular job!). In the meantime, we locate the leads in the rucksack and connect the stopwatch and scanners, which load the data onto the computer. To make parkrun happen, we enlist the help of volunteers, we couldn’t do it without them so, before the run data is sent to HQ, we submit the names of our volunteers for the day and they will be allocated any points owed to them.

Finish token

Finish token

Once the barcode and timer data is in the system, we can have a look at the results table to check for any errors. At this point, we might notice ‘unknown runners’ (people who haven’t brought a barcode), and we will have the opportunity to rectify any problems that may have occurred at the finish funnel – this might be something straightforward, like a sweaty barcode that won’t scan, or something more puzzling like someone running through the funnel again with their partner/child/mum but being counted on the timer, or a ‘funnel dodger’ – someone who runs through, is counted, but doesn’t get scanned. These sorts of things happen all the time and you get to spot them quite easily but, occasionally, there might be something a little more perplexing and this is where you would ring up HQ and speak to the person on duty that day (sometimes you’ll even get through to Paul Sinton-Hewitt himself, the founder of parkrun!). Once everything is ok, we will send the data and it’s processed at head office (remember, there are hundreds of events all doing this at the same time…there is a queue). As we update Facebook and Twitter and get to drink our coffee, we start to hear phones pinging around the cafe as people enjoy seeing their official results. Result!

Encouragement

Encouragement

If everything seems ok, it’s time to gather up all the kit and head home. Every so often, someone might come up and say ‘My time seems a bit out’, so it’s back on the computer to see what’s happening. Again, this could be something like a funnel dodger or similar, and can be easily rectified and the data resubmitted (in this case the person would not receive another text, they would need to look at the results on the website). There’s quite a lot of kit to make up a parkrun (though they are all different, and have different needs depending on the course and the preference of the Event Director). We have managed to condense it down into a Sainsburys bag, a rucksack and a bundle of finish funnel poles, quite a lot for one person to carry! This week I was on my bike, so Stephen, our Event Director kindly offered to take the finish funnel poles home :) When I get home, I keep an eye on the Hilly Fields email, in case there are any queries, lost property concerns or offers from prospective volunteers. I will also check the kit bag, fold up the hi-viz vests (and wash any that have got muddy!) and, if there is any lost property, I might put up a message/photo on the Facebook page to let people know (the bag gets very heavy over the winter!).

Early in the week I will send out an email to all registered volunteers asking if they would like to help out. Our event runs with around ten volunteers and we generally don’t have too much trouble in recruiting people: once you’ve done it, you realise what a buzz you get and people often commit to running regularly and volunteering every few weeks – we even have volunteers who don’t run! If the roster is looking a bit empty, I might mention this on Facebook or Twitter and we usually have a few more people coming forward. By the time we get to Friday, the roster will be nice and full, and I check the rucksack to make sure the computer has performed any updates, clear and charge up the scanners and clear and reset the stopwatches. Ready to go!

We love volunteers!

We love volunteers!

I set the alarm clock early for Saturday morning, it wouldn’t happen if I overslept! A quick breakfast and I might head up the hill by myself, or have Edward and Hector to help me set up if they’re not stuck into Lego. It’s all uphill from our house, so I’m usually a bit hot by the time I get there, carrying all that kit. It’s great if there is an early runner or volunteer around, so I can enlist their help in putting out cones and arrows. There are two key spots on our course that need to be carefully marked out with cones, so that needs doing first, other areas need just a few cones and maybe an arrow, depending on how many marshals we have that day. At the top of the hill we put out the finish funnel and the parkrun flag for all to see, and slowly more and more people begin to gather and it gets a bit noisier as people greet their friends and catch up on the week. Volunteers arrive and I hand them their vest and any equipment they might need (stopwatch etc) and tell them where they need to be during the run. As we near nine o’clock, I call everyone to the start and we have our pre-run briefing. This is where we welcome any first-timers (big cheer), say hello to any tourists (big cheer), thank our volunteers (even bigger cheer), present any 50 or 100 t-shirts (another cheer), go over the course details and any things to look out for such as dogs, park users, potholes. We might congratulate anyone running their 50th or 100th parkrun (more cheering) and maybe sing happy birthday and, of course, mention any cake that might be shared at the end. I will then hand over to the timer, and off we go!

Cake!

Cake!

We have a spot where the course forks, not far from the finish, and a few volunteers and family/friends might gather here to cheer people on. When I’m Run Director, I like to chat with people at this point and usually have a walk around the course to speak to other marshals and encourage people as they pass. We often have dog walkers and other park users coming up and asking what’s going on, sometimes you’ll see them a few weeks later, in brightly coloured kit, joining in :) Quite quickly, we assemble at the finish to cheer the first runners across the line (our course records are men: 15.39 and women: 18.56). The people on the stopwatch and finish tokens will keep communicating with each other to make sure they are in synch, so we can keep track of any missed tokens and so on. We now have a steady stream of runners at all different paces, it might be that a regular runner is trying to achieve a PB, so we will shout that little bit louder to encourage them up the hill. Faster runners might head over and cheer other runners on, and friends mill around, stretching and finding out how they got on. After around 40-50 minutes after the start, we are congratulating the last few finishers, collecting up the cones and arrows and leaving the park as we found it (if slightly muddier in places!). Smiling runners thank us as they head home and others join us in the cafe, where we do it all over again.

Support

Support

*Thank you to Natalie, Lisa and Paul for taking such lovely photos time and time again*

Posted by: fitartist | November 11, 2014

New Balance New Shoes

I recently had the chance to go along and see the new range of shoes and apparel from New Balance. Having tried out a few of their shoes now, I’m always keen to see what they’re bringing out and any new innovations they have up their (lycra?) sleeve.

Running shoes running track

Running shoes running track

Something that stood out were the new style Fresh Foam shoes, which feature a Fresh Foam midsole and durable blown rubber outsole, which responds to the runner’s footstrike and impact patterns. This has been carried over into the 980v1 trail shoe, to give a more natural feel under foot on varied terrain.

980v1 Trail

980v1 Trail

I was particularly interested in the underside of the shoes (yeah, I know, geek), and like what they’ve done:

Grippy

Grippy

I have found trail shoes that have too deep a groove just pick up sticky mud as you go and you end up clomping around with heavy, solid feet. These grooves are just deep enough to grip and have the teeth running towards the back for the upward climb…and they’re light. Excellent!

I’ve recently been trying out some NB trail running shoes:

Autumnal shoes

Autumnal shoes

The Leadville 1210 has been made especially for ultra runners and has a tough Vibram outsole to cope with different terrains, but has been stripped of any unnecessary extras to lessen the chance of rubbing on longer distances. I haven’t exactly been going that far in them, but have certainly put them through their paces on slippery hills and wet paths.

Box fresh

Box fresh

They’re a lovely looking shoe (not that this means a thing once they’re caked in mud) and feel light enough to be responsive. I always find NB shoes to be a bit tight, so tend to go up half a size, but this pair are one whole size bigger, which makes them a little loose for my narrow feet – I think they are roomy to allow for the inevitable swelling that happens over longer distances. I would definitely recommend trying them on and giving them a test to make sure you get the right size, so important when you’re taking on epic distances.

Posted by: fitartist | October 30, 2014

The Primal Kitchen Goes Chocolatey

I have tried Primal Kitchen bars before and liked them, so was definitely up for trying the new Hazelnut and Cocoa Bar. I have been having some fuelling/refuelling challenges recently, so I am really keen to try new ways of getting some energy before, during and after training and competing. These bars are interesting because they don’t contain any grains, gluten, refined sugar, soy, vegetable oil or any additives, preservatives, flavouring or colouring, so tick many boxes for people who follow gluten-free or low-carb diets. Being a paleo bar, there are fewer ingredients (just six in the Hazelnut and Cocoa Bar), all of which are organic and fair trade.

Chewy goodness

Chewy goodness

The idea behind producing a chocolate flavoured bar is so those following a particular diet don’t have to miss out on treats. I did like the bars (I would have taken a photo of the bars themselves, but I gobbled them up pretty quickly, a good sign!), but don’t find I need a chocolatey flavour in a fruit/fuel bar (but then I can just eat a bar of chocolate if I want to). I like the chewy texture and the chunks of nut add to this, giving a bit of bite. You can find The Primal Kitchen bars, costing £1.49 each at Ocado, Superdrug, Tesco and leading health stores, look out for the Almond and Cashew, Brazil Nut and Cherry and, my favourite, Coconut and Macadamia.

Posted by: fitartist | October 23, 2014

Cabbage Patch 10

Those of you who have followed my running progress over the years will know that I have run many races over ten miles, but I’ve never run a ten mile race before. I was a bit nervous. Having had some uncomfortable post-race experiences recently, I was really on top of my hydration and fuelling on Saturday and, as I was travelling with friends over to Twickenham, I was reminded every so often to sip some water…I really think this helped. Fellow parkrunner Sally has run this race four times now and encouraged a few of us to enter months ago, but doesn’t a race come round quickly? We met chief cheerer Em at Waterloo and headed – with many lycra-clad types – towards the Cabbage Patch pub, which acts as race HQ. Really. I was under the impression everyone got a cabbage and was stupidly excited about this, but it seems you have to run very bloody fast to get one of these:

Cabbage and beer. Yum.

Cabbage and beer. Yum.

What was interesting about this race was the number of club vests on show. Groups of people gathered around, heads dipped in discussion about predicted times, tactics and so on; there was a real air of competition. We were also pleased to spot very many runners local to our parkrun in Hilly Fields, and hardly walked far before pausing to say hello. Soon people were heading towards the high street and gathering in a very random sort of way on a corner, wrists in the air, frantically trying to get a GPS signal. A horn was sounded and people edged out onto the road and started running. Our race numbers had a great big timing chip on the back, but there was no mat at the start, and it seems times are only really recorded as a gun time (this added more than a minute to my own time), I’m not sure why a mat couldn’t be added at the start for accuracy.

As I’ve not run this distance in a very long time (probably since I did the Royal Parks Half back in 2011), I had decided to try and go steady and not peel off as if I was running 5k. It was sunny and suddenly much warmer, and the pace of the people around me helped this. I was consistently around 5 minute KMs for a while and gradually slowed a little as time went on. I constantly did sums in my head to keep myself distracted: ‘If I run at such and such a pace, I will still finish at this time, and that’s ok…’ and so on. As promised, the course was flat, and I know I go on and on about how much I love hills and how flat equals boring, but actually it was quite nice to be able to go steady for a change.

After touring the residential streets for while, we crossed a bridge and passed under the shopping centre in Kingston where we headed to the river. The sun was out, the paths were smooth, rowers were gliding across the water, life was good. I had one dip at around maybe seven miles. In quick succession I had two runners on my shoulder with a grunting problem, grunt, huff, grunt, snort…It didn’t seem a temporary thing and I didn’t want them to be at my side for the whole race, so eased back and let them overtake. Phew. (Edward told me off for being intolerant, but really, it’s enough dealing with your own struggles without having to empathise with someone else’s agony on the move!). We also passed some kind of shooting range at this point, and were subjected to the repeated sound of gun-fire. Things improved when we ducked into beautiful parkland and headed home.

I had a moment of confusion shortly after. We negotiated some mud along the river and, when I looked left I could see runners on the opposite bank, but couldn’t see where we would cross to get there…I then realised they were behind me and there were no more river crossings, in fact we were just two miles from the finish. Once again, phew! Here I saw Em, who said:’ You’re flying!’ to my ‘I’m dying!’. A few residential roads with some good encouragement from local people, and a turn to what I thought was the finish, until I saw people turning again ahead. The relief when I took that turn myself and saw that the finish was right there, was overwhelming! A little sprint – of sorts – and over the line in 1 hour 23 minutes and something seconds. Wow! I hadn’t really had a clue how long it would take, but had hoped that I might get there in around 1.30, so this time was most welcome. We were given water and a good quality long-sleeved top instead of a medal/goodie bag. A banana might have been good, but the shirt is a great idea (women’s sizes would be lovely, why do we always have to be swamped my men’s sizes?!).

Woo-hoo!

Woo-hoo!

Now I jogged back along the course, cheering people on at the point where they need it most. I saw my friends coming in, gathered Em up, and we created a sort of friends relay along the last stretch to run Sally in to the finish. Back to the pub to collect our things, watch the presentation of cabbages and beer (and money, they give good prize money at this race) and to a lovely cafe for warming soup. All in all a great day out with friends. I will definitely be signing up again next year :)

Posted by: fitartist | October 15, 2014

Petts Wood 10k, 2014

Remember this time last year, when I ran my first race in a long, long time, splashed through mud and puddles and came home with a great big smile on my face? Well, I enjoyed it so much I went back for more. The weather had been pretty much the same as last year, with lots of rain in the week and a good soaking through the night but, travelling over to the race, I knew I would just have to contend with some good muddy bits and a few tree roots this time. Thankfully the trains were running as normal and my journey was quite straightforward. Now, these 10.30 starts are a bit of a funny one and I was wondering if this might be contributing to my poor race experiences recently. For parkrun, I am up at my usual time, eating breakfast as normal and ready to get going for the 9am start, but when things are shifted back a bit, I’m thinking that maybe I need to introduce an extra drink along the way…more of this later.

Getting off the train, I started chatting to another lycra-clad woman, who was running the Petts Wood 10k for the first time, and we sauntered towards the playing fields with further running types. I could hear music as we approached, and there was a general buzz in the Petts Wood air, how lovely then to find that the music was live and the field was filled with happy faces and a feeling of excitement. There’s a real local feel to this event, with lots of families turning out to cheer people on and residents coming out into their gardens to encourage you around the course. Once I was registered and had fixed my number in place, we were soon taking our positions in the starting pens. Based on recent runs, I put myself in the 45-50 minute section and bobbed up and down on the spot to keep warm. After a once round the field, we headed out onto the road and towards the woods with cheers all the way.

Musical encouragement

Musical encouragement

Last year I had embraced the rain and simply had some fun, leaping over and into puddles, but today, as it was dry, I felt a little pressure to push harder, but wasn’t really feeling the push. It’s quite a narrow course in places, and you could find yourself stuck behind a slower runner, but people were very polite about it all (and as I felt like the slow one at times, I was glad of this!). The lovely people of Petts Wood Runners had positioned marshals throughout and had very thoughtfully pointed out tree roots and obstacles using a sprinkling of flour to catch your eye. I found the KM markers were appearing quite quickly, but was really slowed down by a long muddy hill around the 7k mark. Head down, I slogged my way up but, on reaching the top, had to duck to the side and subject those around me to a moment of hideousness as I almost threw up (what is going on?!). A few deep breaths and I was back in action.

There had been rumblings at the start that the band might reappear in the woods, so what joy to hear their jolly tones as I struggled through the trees, and they were so well placed, just before a sharp turn and one last hill. Smiling supporters and encouraging marshals pushed us onwards: ‘Just 2k to go!’ and the road felt good and steady after the uneven ground we had trodden until now. I looked at my watch and clung to the hope that I might go sub-50, but it wasn’t to be, and I rolled in after 53 minutes of determined discomfort. Compared with recent 10k times, this was a little disappointing, but I will remind myself that it’s a tough course, I wasn’t feeling great and, on looking at last year’s results, I took around seven minutes off my previous time!

On crossing the line, I was handed a medal, water, a banana and had the option of a samosa, which looked lovely, but…I collected my bag from the perfectly organised baggage area and instead bought myself a cup of tea and a piece of walnut loaf. Perfect.

Refuel

Refuel

Heading home, I felt ok and met the boys – who had been swimming – when I reached Lewisham. Hector was starving so we went in search of beans (it had to be beans) and ended up in Lewisham Wimpy (!). Everything was so much better all round after a bit of food and we did some shopping and headed home. This was where I started to feel unwell (again). I felt exhausted and my stomach wasn’t right. I was nauseous and weak, as if I’d run a marathon, not a 10k. So, what’s going wrong here? I made sure I ate well on Saturday and had plenty to drink, I had porridge for breakfast and again, had plenty to drink ahead of the race. I ate and drank straight after finishing and had lunch not long after, but still I felt awful. I have a ten mile race on Sunday, and don’t feel super confident right now! Any thoughts on why this is happening and what I can do?

Posted by: fitartist | October 6, 2014

Ride of the Falling Leaves 2014

My first sportive! As ever, I was pacing around the house twitching, so decided to get on my bike and head over to the Herne Hill Velodrome.

Ready to go

Ready to go

It was a bit nippy and, in my fingerless gloves, my finger tips got a bit cold. Good that the generous people of the Dulwich Paragon cycling club had very thoughtfully included tea/coffee/croissants and muffins the size of your head in the £20 entrance fee then.

In line for a warming cuppa

In line for a warming cuppa

It was clear straight away that the start of a cycle race is a very different place to the start of a running race (apart from the fact that it was most definitely as lycratastic as any running race I’ve attended). It was all very laid back, with riders rolling up, meeting friends, registering, grabbing some refreshments and heading out at their allotted times (I had been given the 9.40 slot but, as I was there stupidly early, I was pleased to find they were a bit more relaxed about this, and I was able to go at 9.10). I had my timing chip attached to my helmet and soon took to the velodrome for a quick once round before hitting the roads of south east London.

Onto the track

Onto the track

When I registered, I had the option of picking up a map, but it looked quite big and I felt reassured that there would be plenty of arrows (and riders) en route. As I rode along the road by myself, I momentarily regretted this decision, and hoped that I wouldn’t be adding extra miles to my course by meandering the wrong way, but I soon found myself riding alongside a Dulwich Paragon member, pedalling at a similar pace to me, and we chatted as we headed out of London and into Kent. I knew some of these roads from previous rides with friends, but was relieved every time I saw a blue arrow, and enjoyed riding with a few people every so often. There were whole stretches though where I was on my own, and I would occasionally wonder if I was going the right way, but would then be overtaken at speed by some whizzy rider and I would heave a little sigh of relief.

I knew from experience that this part of the world might throw some pretty serious hills at me, but I like a hill, and was in no way daunted, but some of those hills really did turn out to be *evil*! As is usual for me, I would grind steadily on the up and be swiftly overtaken on the down (I really must sort out that down thing), and soon enough, I was at the spot where you make your choice: 80k or 110k? I had already decided beforehand that it was 110 for me, no question about it, but it still made me smile to reach the fork in the road.

Long course please!

Long course please!

We really were spoilt with the most glorious weather, it couldn’t have been a nicer, more autumnal day. I wasn’t here to enjoy the views though, and really got my head down and pushed hard. It was interesting to see how it felt to ride – mostly – by myself over this distance, without friends stopping to take pictures, enjoy the view or even pause for delicious refreshments – it was good to push on, but sometimes a little break gives you something extra to tackle those hills. And my, the hills took some tackling. There were hills that I hadn’t met before, hills that have names that are known amongst the cycling community and hills that very politely announced themselves with a sign at the bottom: ‘Toys Hill’. Now, I have encountered this one before, but I think I went at it from the opposite direction, because this time it seemed all the more, erm, tremendous. Head down, I pushed on, looking up every so often to see how much more there was and how much steeper it was getting. Head back down. Look up. Head down. Brief flirt with an out-of-the-saddle moment. Bad move. Look up. And so on. And on. Oh, it went on. And on. But I got to the top, out of breath, heart pounding. It felt good.

Eventually, I saw signs for Westerham and felt a sense of relief at the thought of a fuel station and a chance to top up my water bottle. After the horror of feeling like I was dying after my duathlon the other week, I was absolutely determined to fuel this ride properly, with my jersey pockets stuffed with extra drinks mix, gels and a Jackoatbar (cut neatly into little bite-size chunks and wrapped in foil – I told you I was taking this seriously!). As I reached Westerham, I got distracted and overshot the turning, luckily realising I was on my own quite quickly, turning back and tracking down the arrow. Quite soon I found a gathering in the grounds of a church, huddled around a table full of water jugs, bananas and the most buttery and tasty flapjacks for that extra push up the last few hills towards London.

This next stretch offered some of the most stunning views, but also the roughest road surfaces and, of course, some equally rough hills. Even though my energy was flagging and my legs hurt (I actually did the ‘shut up legs’ thing), the thought of heading back to town gave me the boost I needed and I flew back with a smile on my face. I must say my smile faded slightly when I found myself unable to overtake some horse riders on a particularly stiff hill. One rider tried to chat to me, but all I could manage was a sharp ‘Can’t talk!’…

Some flat roads now, filled with traffic, and I met again with my co-rider from the early stages, to take on Anerley Hill, the last hill of our ride, towards Crystal Palace and our final stop in Dulwich. I got dropped at the traffic lights and took the last few residential roads and the odd little track to the finish line by myself. Here, I hopped off, handed in my chip and was given some little tags to claim my drink and pasta at the sports club.

At ease

At ease

If I had wanted, I could have had a pint of beer but, as always after a big effort, I craved a coke. How lovely to kick off my shoes and sit on the grass in the sun to enjoy a bit of refuelling.

Pasta party

Pasta party

Twenty-four hours on and I’m still buzzing, I totally loved it. I will be signing up again next year and aiming to beat my time of 5 hours 11 minutes. The organisation was excellent and I felt very well looked after. I think I might have found my new favourite sport – shhhh, don’t tell my running friends! ;)

Posted by: fitartist | October 3, 2014

Aldi Winter Running Gear in Store October 9th!

Yes, it’s that time of year again: the new Aldi Specialbuys Running Range is in store from October 9th. Earlier this year I tried out the Aldi Spring/Summer range and have worn it to death. I must say it’s really kept its shape and fit, even after hundreds of hot washes, and I still get complimented on the *bold* colours ;) This week I’ve been trying out some of the Autumn/Winter range and have found it to be just as good, and with some really lovely details that you just wouldn’t expect from a budget range.

Thumb-holes

Thumb-holes

I’m a big fan of the thumb-hole. Being small of stature, I have trouble finding long-sleeve tops that don’t swamp me, so it seems like tops with little thumb-holes were made just for me. So comforting on a cold morning run. Ah. This top has some other nice details such as well-positioned mesh and reflective strips…and all for just £9.99. If you like compression clothing, there is also a compression base layer set, at £9.99. You can also add to your winter kit with some long tights and cover up in hi-viz with a jacket for £19.99.

I’m quite particular about my running socks, preferring something thin that stops at the ankle, and the three-pack of trainer socks at £3.99 fit the bill perfectly – they’re a little bit padded, but not too much. Other handy bits and bobs that will make winter running that bit more cosy are the neck-warmer (in a very bright hi-viz, also great for cycling), and a headband that fits neatly over the ears (could also be worn under a cycle helmet). With regards to size, I would try on the headband if you can – I found it a bit big – and the clothing I find to be pretty much true to size (I go for a small, which it states on the label is 8-10).

There are other items in the range, including shoes, insoles, zip tops and a really nice hoodie, all from between £2.49 and £19.99. You can’t go wrong really can you? But get to your local store fast because they do go quickly!

Posted by: fitartist | September 25, 2014

Trail Running with Berghaus

It’s that time of year again, when I pull on my trail shoes and get good and muddy. For now I’m exploring new local routes (and looking forward to the Petts Wood 10k again – what a super muddy experience I had last year!). But, if you are travelling or exploring further afield, you might find these route recommendations useful. I would say the Moel Eilio route in North Wales is possibly the most beautiful, but then I might be a bit biased ;)

favourite uk trail runs infographic
Favourite UK Trail Runs Infographic

Posted by: fitartist | September 16, 2014

London Duathlon, I am a Duathlete!

I had a feeling the London Duathlon might be tough, but I hadn’t realised quite how tough. As always, I found the journey to the start almost as challenging as the event itself – I get so nervous about being there on time and, with the transporting of a bike added into the mix, I stress about everything that little bit more. As it turned out, it was an easy two train rides and a pleasant walk from Barnes station to the park.

There was a real buzz as we approached the park, but it was difficult at times to work out who was a duathlete and who was just out for a Sunday ride (I get the feeling there might have been some disgruntled cyclists who turned up to find their route closed). The event village was busy, with some of the ultra, sprint and super sprint competitors already out on the course. I could tell from my event pack that this was a very well organised affair, with wrist bands for transition, a number belt and a rather humongous timing chip strap to wrap around your ankle (we looked like we were on day release).

A number for everything

A number for everything

The transition area was closely monitored by marshals, who checked your wrist band and made sure everything else corresponded, and you were only allowed in once you had your helmet firmly fastened. The different distances had allocated areas, but you could rack your bike anywhere within this, so I chose sort of middle, since the run in and bike out were on opposite sides (I would say the signs for this need to be higher up, they were big, but were not really visible once the transition area filled up with bikes and people). Once I had racked up, I wandered through the event village to the loo (that nervous-going-to-the-loo-when-you-don’t-need-to thing) and noticed all the handy stalls around – you could even ask advice and get your bike checked over while you were there (I opted for a bit of extra air in my tyres, again, nerves).

Before I knew it I was herding into a start pen with the other Classic distance athletes and getting a little wave from Edward and Hector before we were set off in waves of about thirty people – this was excellent and so well done, with a little safety advice and pep-talk before the buzzer set you off. The first stretch was on bumpy grass, peppered with deer poo, but we were soon on a lovely smooth road, with cyclists coming at us in the opposite direction. At this point I felt good, I had been so eager to start and it was reassuring to know that everything was working properly. Not having undertaken a duathlon before, I wasn’t entirely sure how to pace myself, but I knew I couldn’t run a 10k PB with a 44k cycle and an additional 5k still to come, so aimed to keep to a 5 minute per km pace. The course was lovely, with lots of twists and turns – though one loop in particular felt like a loop too far – and I even had a magnificent stag strolling alongside me at one point. I kept to my pace and ran into transition after 50 minutes. I had started to feel a stitch in my side, but thought I would lose that on the ride. A quick change into cycle helmet, gloves, shoes and a gulp of my drink, and off I went.

It felt hard, my legs felt heavy and my breathing was laboured, but it was so good to be on the bike! My only previous experience of riding in a race situation was at the Crystal Palace Triathlon back in May and, as I knew so many other people there, this was a friendly affair with lots of ‘hello’s along the way. This felt different, with some really fast riders shouting ‘Right!’ as they overtook at speed, and a need to keep your wits about you if you planned to overtake yourself. I liked this :) It felt serious, speedy, and I found myself pushing harder as my legs got used to the new range of movement. The bike course was pretty hard really, with a quite steep climb, some fast descents and some really tight corners (I was rubbish here and simply had to slow to an almost stop and pump hard to get going again!). On the more exposed sections it was windy and I gripped tight to attempt to stay on course. This was my chance to take on some liquid and fuel, and I now know I should have been getting something inside me at regular intervals, but instead I had my head down, enjoying the ride. One of the best moments for me was going into the second lap. I spotted Edward and Hector sitting in the grass at the side of the road, holding up a colourful sign saying ‘Go Adele!’, with lots of cheers and waves, it really does give you a boost when you feel some support :)

The last lap of the ride went by in a flash, and I could feel some cramping in my calf muscles and a stitch-type ache in my side…keep going, keep going. There’s such a lovely sense of excitement as you turn off towards transition (all of the transitions were made really straightforward by clear signs and friendly direction from marshals), the sense of starting the next leg, getting going again on another adventure. This felt hard though. I jumped off my bike and hobbled in cycle shoes across the rough grass, my legs heavy and full of spin. Hanging my bike back up, I took a long drink, put on my running shoes and stumbled out to the run course, feeling slightly dazed.

*a little cheer from Hector, with Edward at his side, looking at the tracker on his phone*

I could see that I might make my goal of three hours if I ran a good time for this 5k, somewhere a little slower than I have been running recently, so not a problem. My legs were not hearing this though and before long I felt the cramp creeping up around my quads and decided to move over and stretch it out. Straight away my hamstrings seized up and I wished I hadn’t stopped…go, go, go! I hobbled on a bit further. Ahead of me I could see a drinks station and I thought maybe a few gulps of a sports drink might help, it did. Now, for the first time in a very long time, I found myself walking (‘To the next tree’), and slowly plodding along as best I could. I broke down the rest of the run, thinking ‘Just another fifteen minutes’, and saw people standing aside, also struck by cramp, doubled over and walking as if their knees were locked. Now, with just two kms to go, I tried to run again but my legs just couldn’t do it. A fellow runner asked if I needed a shoulder, saying he was hobbling too and another kind chap handed me an energy gel. I’m not entirely sure they work that quickly, but something did the trick and I ran those last two kms, with the finish in sight and the thought of a long drink to push me on.

Crossing the finish line (in 3 hours 4 minutes and 44 seconds) I took my medal and flopped down to have a little cry as Hector handed me a lovely medal he had made with ’1st’ in silver sparkly stuff. The relief at finishing was overwhelming, it was so tough dealing with cramp and I quickly drank anything I could get my hands on and forced down two bananas before collecting my bike. Once again the organisation was excellent as my wrist band was cut off once they had checked I had the right bike, and off I went to enjoy a berry smoothie.

Two medals!

Two medals!

This was where I started to feel quite unwell. Not having taken on fuel at regular intervals, and then downing as much as I could stomach in a short space of time, I felt dreadful. Numerous trips to the portaloo, a lie down on the ground, and I felt able to start walking towards the station. We decided a stop at the park cafe might help and I watched the boys disappear into the distance as I bent over and publicly ‘shared’ my smoothie. Still, people were kind and a few asked if I needed help. On I went. It was decided that I should cycle to the station and the boys would catch me up, cycling seemed easier than walking at this point. At the station I bumped into my friend Roni, who had also been taking part in the Classic challenge, we exchanged stories of grit and determination and the colour started to gradually move back into my cheeks. In an attempt to get me back up and running and get some nutrients in my body, Edward suggested a big pub lunch…which really did the trick :)

Meat!

Meat!

You might think that someone who found themselves stopped by cramp, doubled over with stomach pain and vomiting into the grass would give such an event a wide berth, but I can’t wait until next year, I really want to do it again. This time I will work out a fuelling strategy (I have a year and other events to work this out – and any advice would be great) and I want to be able to give it my all right up to the finish line. And of course, my position of 12th woman in my age group needs to be beaten, top ten next time!

Entries are now open for next year, with early bird prices if you’re quick!

Posted by: fitartist | September 10, 2014

Summer Round-up and Duathlon Nerves

After a summer of lots of this:

Mine!

Mine!

and enough running, swimming and riding to fend off ice-cream belly (just), I need to get myself back into a routine and back in action for some autumn race fun. I had hoped to keep to my routine, but holidays, chickenpox (Hector, not me) and a lack of time meant things went a bit off-course. I did plenty of running on holiday, with sand-dunes and rocky paths to keep me on my toes, and even squeezed in a parkrun in Barnstaple…

Hero

Hero

I was delighted to discover that one of my heroes, Chrissie Wellington, was running at Barnstaple, so we made an extra special effort to get there (which involved a very rushed sprint along the river to find a footbridge as cheers rose up on the opposite bank – eek!). I also climbed elegantly into a wetsuit to make the most of the Devonshire sea…

Tight fit

Tight fit

Erm, I found the wetsuit excellent insulation against the roaring Atlantic, but I am at a loss as to how people jump in and out of these at a triathlon. More practice needed I think! So, many Adventures in Open Water Swimming took place in the North Sea, the Atlantic and also the Bude Sea Pool. Brrrr.

Now, of course, I’m back in action and getting my head down for some serious training. How lovely to be back at the running club, grinding up and down hills at Hilly Fields parkrun and also heading out solo for a brick session.

Quick change

Quick change

Because on Sunday, I will be gathering together a collection of running and cycling attire, my bike and various drinks and snacks and heading over to Richmond Park for the London Duathlon. I’m very, very excited and maybe a little bit nervous about this! 10k run, 44k ride and 5k run. Gulp. My session at the weekend really helped my confidence. I rode out into Kent (avoiding almost being crushed by idiot drivers on two occasions :( ), rode 42k, parked my bike in the hall at home and swapped to my running shoes to head out for a quick 5k. My legs felt surprisingly good at first, with a nice spin to them from the bike leg, but I soon started to feel a cramp setting in…I wonder how things will feel with an additional 10k in my legs this Sunday. There will be various distances being covered on the day, from Super Sprint right up to Ultra. Richmond Park is a great place to spend a day admiring the athletic prowess passing by, ahem. Watch this space next week for a full report on my own experience of my first duathlon.

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