2017, a round-up

As 2017 comes to a close, I’m taking this opportunity to look back at what has definitely been a year of two halves. This time last year I won a place in the London Marathon and my running year suddenly had a new focus! My training went really well and I enjoyed the challenge of taking my runs further afield, having not run a marathon since 2011, when I ran in Brighton. I trained hard, sometimes getting up early on a Saturday morning so that I could run the last 5k of my long run at Hilly Fields parkrun, the support of my fellow runners pulling me around those hard last few kilometres.

With this dedication to running taking over my life, I decided to step back to the 2.5km distance at my now annual Swimathon, realising I might struggle to fit in the training for the full 5k. Last year I had really enjoyed my swim at the Aquatic Centre, so decided to swim here again, even having a fly-by (swim-by?) from Duncan Goodhew partway round! You can read all about my experience here.

Swimathon

When April approached I felt ready, taking my place at the green start and looking forward to seeing my family and friends along the route through London. Training for and running a marathon is a long journey, with so many factors affecting your performance on the day. I ran well for the first half or so, then took an emotional and physical dip, struggling through the rest of the race. I think I realised that big races are not for me, finding it difficult to focus and riding an emotional roller coaster, whilst trying to negotiate a space for myself. After London Marathon I had serious post-marathon blues and Edward suggested running another marathon, using my training and hopefully achieving the goal I had hoped to reach in London. Five weeks later I stepped out onto the Cyclopark in Gravesend and enjoyed a calm, controlled and steady marathon, with space around to switch off and run my way to a PB. You can read a detailed account of these two events here.

My marathon

As June rolled around, so too did Endure 24. After my marathons I kept everything ticking over, running with my GoodGym groups and tackling parkrun for an extra push. Endure 24 is a 24-hour team relay, where I camped out with my friends and we aimed to have a team member on the 5 mile course throughout the 24 hours. It was an amazing experience, with my endurance training putting me in good stead to complete a total of 30 miles. Our friends had tried persuading us to participate last year, but I had been concerned about needing sleep, not wanting to run through the night. How strange (and delightful) then, to find that my favourite part of the whole event was the night-time run, where I had just the path ahead lit by my head torch and a sense of being alone in the darkness, amongst the trees, beautiful.

Team work

A quick look back over those first six months of the year and you will notice that I didn’t really stop. I barely allowed myself time to recover and went on to pay the price. My knee became painful and I found myself hobbling around and even being kept awake by the pain. Hours were spent at the physio, being given different diagnoses, from hamstring tendinopathy, to eventually finding out that my medial meniscus was not coping very well with the continued impact of all this long running. I didn’t have much choice but to continue running, since my work depends on it, but cut right back on track sessions and moved into the pool to keep my heart and lungs strong.

After taking part in the inaugural Swim Serpentine last year, I entered again, keen to have another go. Some time after entering, Swim Serpentine made an announcement about the London Classics, a new event for those who had completed the London Marathon and Ride 100. If you also completed the 2 mile Swim Serpentine, you would enter the Hall of Fame for the London Classics. I quickly got on the phone to upgrade from the 1 mile to 2 mile course and got myself down to the pool to make sure I was fit enough to take this challenge on. Some good, rough sea swimming on holiday in Cornwall was about as much as I managed in terms of open water acclimatisation, so it was a bit of a shock to the system to ease into 15 degree water in September!

London Classics

This year also saw me trying another new swimming event, the inaugural Marathon Swims. A chance to swim again at the Aquatic Centre, this time committing to the 5k distance (though there were people there swimming the full 10k!). I loved this new event, enjoying the format and the atmosphere and, of course, that amazing feeling when you pull yourself out of the pool, having achieved something great.

5k finisher!

There are just a few more days of 2017 left to go, with tomorrow being my annual birthday run, this time at my beloved Hilly Fields parkrun. With a year split between endurance running and water-based activity, it might not be a surprise to find out that I am keen to try my hand at swim run in 2018. There is so much to say about this particular challenge that I will give it its own post in the new year. Until then I will eat, drink (Alkoholfrei) and be merry.

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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*

A Weekend of 100s

What a great weekend! On Saturday we celebrated our 100th Hilly Fields parkrun. It’s hard to believe that 100 runs have been and gone, it’s flown by! So that’s 300 times up The Hill!

The Hill in Lego :)

The Hill in Lego 🙂

We don’t have anyone who has run all 100, but we do have many of our regulars reaching their 50th parkrun and receiving their 50 t-shirt (I’m one of them, with just four runs to go until I reach 50, more celebrations!). On Saturday I headed up the hill with Hector and we helped to set up the course. We took some chunky chalk with us and set about writing some motivational messages on the downward slope that heads towards one of the hardest parts of our course. As we put cones out we heard rumbles of thunder, saw flashes of lightning and found ourselves sheltering from the rain under the trees as it poured down, washing away our chalk 😦 There is something magical that happens at parkrun though…at about 8.55 the clouds part and the sun comes out, or at least the rain stops long enough for people to run 5k! Once the runners had set off, I quickly re-wrote the chalk messages and cheered people on.

To the finish

To the finish

As people pushed on in the humid conditions, we gradually cheered runners across the finish line and were delighted to present a spot prize to our 100th runner Jez, who has been supporting us almost since the start. Jez is (sadly for us) heading off on an adventure with his family in the next few weeks, I wish Jez all the luck in the world and hope to see him crossing our finish line when he visits in the future.

100th finisher!

100th finisher!

As is usual at our celebrations, people were very generous in sharing their baking skills and we were able to offer a choice of truly delicious cakes.

Refuel

Refuel

One of the best things about being involved with parkrun has been the friends I have made. I love the feeling of community I now have in my area, stopping in the street to chat to people I hadn’t met before parkrun. This friendship now extends to meeting each other at running events, racing together and also enjoying our other shared interests. Yesterday I found myself spinning through the Kent countryside with Sally, Siggy and Stephen. We have been on long rides together before, and I wanted to make sure we fixed a date in our diary for another, which happened to coincide with a challenge on Strava, the Rapha Women’s 100k Challenge. This challenge aimed to encourage as many women as possible around the world to cycle 100km on Sunday July 20th, so we had to join in!

We met early and took the train to Hayes to cut out the grim bit at the beginning. We then pedalled hard, pushed up steep and steeper hills, whizzed down the other side, paused to enjoy the view and counted the kilometres as we went. Stephen had very kindly worked out a route which – amazingly – turned out to be spot on, he had included some pretty tough hills though, so it certainly wasn’t easy going! I love a hill and can happily zoom up them but, on a 100km ride, even I was starting to feel it. The wonderful thing about these rides is having time to chat and get to know each other better, getting to know each other’s strengths, supporting and encouraging and also the amazing things you see along the way (we were taken aback when we turned a corner and were greeted by fields covered in lavender in full bloom – the smell! – and were also somewhat surprised to see a field of rhea (they’re a bit like ostriches) fluffing their feathers and showing us their splendour). I’m not sure how I would manage on a solo ride of this distance, it certainly makes a difference having friends around you, and we pushed, cajoled and boosted each other on the way round until we arrived back home with a hefty time on our clocks (my longest ride ever!).

 

Hilly Fields on Tour

Hilly Fields on Tour

PB smashing

Oh my. A few months ago I had a streak of PB smashing runs up at my beloved Hilly Fields parkrun. I just had a look at my parkrun stats, and it seems that my best time in 2012 was 28.33, my best in 2013 was 27.17 and, until Saturday, my best time for 2014 was 25.01. I never, ever thought I’d run a 25 minute 5k (especially not up and down those hills), so am still slightly in shock that I have achieved a time of 24.09! People were asking what I’d had for breakfast, but I hadn’t done anything new, just my usual, but there are so many factors that can give you a good or bad run. I had trained hard during the week, even going for a 10k run and a swim the day before, and had fitted in five swims over five days, so I wasn’t exactly rested! Maybe it’s the swimming, the cross training and the core work I’ve been doing, all helping me power my arms to push me up the hills.

Whatever it is, it feels great to have an enjoyable run with friends and to feel I can push myself faster, a marked contrast to last Saturday’s run where I felt like I was dragging myself around the course in the hideous humidity! I will keep up the training, eat as I always eat, try and keep up my positive mindset and enjoy each run as it comes 🙂

Sweatshop London Marathon Store

As a sponsor of parkrun, Sweatshop award a runner from each event a voucher to buy new shoes each month. These runners are nominated by the event team for their attendance, effort, achievement, enthusiasm, whatever the team considers makes them stand out and deserving of the title of ‘Runner of the Month’. In March I managed to bag myself four PBs (with a cheeky one at the end of February making it five), and the Hilly Fields team plotted quietly behind my back to put me forward. Last week I took some time out to travel up to the London Marathon Store to get my shiny new shoes 🙂

London Marathon Store

London Marathon Store

It was great having the opportunity to have my gait analysed as my shoes are very worn out and I have been suffering from knee pain which, even though I have been seeing the physio for a while now, just isn’t going away. First of all I had my feet scanned and it was clear that I have a pretty neutral gait, so we tested this by putting on some neutral shoes and filming me running on a treadmill. I could see straight away on the video that my left foot falls out very slightly and my right foot falls in. It’s a tiny amount, so Jason and I worked our way through the various shoes he suggested and it was interesting to see just how different the different brands feel, with some feeling tighter around the toes, some feeling wide and one pair feeling downright clip-cloppy! Of course, after getting Jason to go in and out to the stock room numerous times, I plumped for the pair of shoes I tried on originally, some Mizuno Wave Riders…the shoe I have run in for ages. Typical. Once I’d sorted out my shoes, I also wanted to take the opportunity to try on a sports bra and was pleased to find out that the staff offer a bra-fitting service.

Shiny and new

Shiny and new

After I finished shopping (I needed elasticated laces for my new shoes for the triathlon of course), Jason showed me around the basement of the store. I was surprised to find a fantastic facility with lockers, showers and lot of room for eager runners to get ready for their adidas 26RS running groups. These are regular runs of varying distances and paces, and would be ideal for someone who works in the area: just pop out for a lunch time or post-work run, shower and get straight back to work/home.

Changing facilities

Changing facilities

The runs are at these times:

Mon: 1pm (5km), Mon: 6.30pm (5km), Wed: 1pm (Beginners 5km), Wed: 6.30pm (Beginners 5km), Thur: 6.30pm (10km), Fri: 1pm (5km) and Sunday at 9.30 (distance confirmed by email).

On Saturday, Steve from the London Marathon Store came along to Hilly Fields to try out our course and share some vouchers with our runners. He loved it (of course!), saying it had a cross-country feel and he enjoyed the challenge of the hills. I like an enthusiastic visitor 🙂

 

 

parkrun pb

(please note the small ‘p’, I have been reprimanded on my incorrect use of the capital ‘P’ when writing ‘parkrun’. I promise to stick to the small ‘p’ from now on, and please ignore any previous references to ‘Parkrun’. Tsk.)

😉

Something is happening. Maybe it’s the running club. Maybe it’s the swimming. Maybe it’s sticking to four runs a week. Maybe it’s the push of running in company. Maybe it’s losing a bit of weight. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I have been bagging myself some PBs up at Hilly Fields parkrun. Saturday was a particularly happy run for me, as I pushed just under the 26 minute mark, with a run of 25.42. My goal for a long time has been a 25 minute 5k, but I never imagined that would be at Hilly Fields (the clue is in the name), but I might, just might, make that happen. One of the most interesting, amusing and fun aspects of this for me is running with different people. For a long time I have been following the same muddy legs around the course, but I now have new runners to pull me up the hills with their encouragement and find myself crossing the line with some people who might previously have gone home by the time I stop my watch. Some of these are people I would watch heading for the finish as I tackled the hill, but now I seem to be catching up… As we wait around to get our barcodes scanned, I find myself being congratulated by people who finish ‘up there’ at the front, all saying how well my running is going. This is what I love about parkrun, people notice how you’re doing, they recognise when you’ve worked hard and when you’ve managed a good run and are not shy about coming forward to say ‘well done’, whether you are a front-runner or a new-comer trying a run-walk approach.

The tricky side of getting a bit faster is keeping it up. I think we will be reverting to our original course this Saturday, now it’s dried out a little, and I wonder if this will make a difference to my time. All I can do is take another dose of performance enhancing training and just go for it.

Welsh Running

Our weekend was spent visiting my parents in North Wales. I did, of course, have a quick look at the Parkrun map before we left, to see if there are any Parkruns around there, but there are none (small parks, plenty of great runs through fields…though there are many friendly runners who would no doubt enjoy the social benefits of being part of Parkrun…). So I packed my brightest running top (last time I ran there I felt a bit invisible on the fast roads) and shoes and set my mind on my own Saturday morning run. One great thing about staying with my parents is that we get to have a lie-in while Hector is entertained by his grandparents, bliss! If I had been heading out for a 9am start, I would have missed it. Ahem.

The weather while we were there was wet and blustery but, when the rain eased the sun came out and all was glorious. I headed out of my parents’ road and towards Tremeirchion. I soon saw dog walkers, cyclists and another runner, totalling an impressive twelve friendly ‘hello’s or ‘morning!’s! My favourite encounter though was with a cool young farmer, astride his quad bike, commanding the road, mobile to ear and two lively sheep dogs hanging off the back of the bike, barking. There were hills, there was mud and it was friendly, so pretty much like Hilly Fields Parkrun, but with sheep and quad bikes.

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Hector really enjoyed his weekend away, and Nana had got him some smart new wellies to wear to explore the castle, watch fireworks from the beach in Llandudno, and to wander around the fields picking balckberries. Perfect.