Royal Parks Foundation Half-Marathon

I’m not sure I should write this blog post right now because I can feel myself descending into the gloomiest post-race blueness ever – you train for ages and focus on something so closely that you feel a bit lost once it’s over. The fact that it didn’t go swimmingly doesn’t help either.

But enough of that! I was woken a bit earlier than I had hoped (6am) by Junior Coach and tried hard to keep him contained for another hour by hugging him really tightly and hoping he might go back to sleep, but was kept awake by the incessant chattering until we all just gave in and had our breakfast. It was grey out there, pouring with rain in fact and I felt a sense of foreboding at the thought of having to run 13.1 miles in the rain, my least favourite running conditions. I had been very organised and laid everything out on Saturday night, so simply had to put on my kit and go, but not before I had sat with Hector for a bit and listened to the Jacqueline Wilson ‘The Mummy Cat’ audio CD that was free in Saturday’s Guardian (Edward and Hector listened to the rest of it when I had gone and it was apparently very, very sad). As I walked briskly under an unloved cheap umbrella to the train station, I did a mental check of all my body parts to make sure they were in working order, things felt good apart from the still achy Zumba hip.

The journey was straightforward and I started to see runners once I got to London Bridge, always reassuring. The rain had stopped once I got to Hyde Park, so I dangled the umbrella on a railing for a spectator to make use of and headed to the loo queues. I stood there for ages, not moving at all and eventually gave up as the start time drew closer and joined another queue and then gave up and walked to the blue start. I chatted briefly with a friendly fellow runner and she said it was her first half-marathon and she was aiming for 2 hours 30 minutes, I had a time of 2 hours 10 in my head, having run a similar time at Cardiff last year. Eventually we were off, shuffling forward in our waves and being released onto the streets of London. I did forget to set my Garmin to search for satellites so ended up starting my clock a few metres past the start – oops, my first race with the new Garmin, I used to switch the old one on when I reached the race, knowing it took an age to get a signal!

It is a lovely route and I had a great feeling running with all these other people through the sights of London with a big smile on my face. My race high point was as we ran towards the Houses of Parliament. I watched the hands on the clock turn slowly and felt a rush of excitement as Big Ben struck ten, there was a collective ‘ahhhh’ around me as we all enjoyed this uplifting moment, what great timing! Everything felt good running along the Embankment, looking up and waving at spectators on the bridges, and feeling a little like a London Marathoner again. Here we started to see faster runners who had already turned around, but I was soon one of them heading back towards Hyde Park. I pondered for a moment on the mounted guards who sat, motionless as thousands of colourful runners rushed past them in a wave of excitement, how do they do it? After an enjoyable run up the Mall, we were soon weaving our way around Hyde Park on a route that, at times became slightly irritating, especially when I started to struggle. I can see why the road sections are at the beginning, so that roads can be re-opened quickly and normality resume, but it would be so much better to run the park first and have the sights of London to get you through the second half of the race.

This part of the race takes you through a beautiful autumnal scene with colourful leaves falling at your feet and huge crowds of supporters cheering everyone on. It does feel slightly disheartening to see faster runners looping back towards the finish line though and I had a moment of bewilderment when I saw JogBlog on the other side of the barrier and I couldn’t remember if I had already run that way or not. It was unfortunate that she saw me at that point, the point where things started to go downhill for me. I was guzzling water and attempting to suck a gel whilst walking for the first time in the race. It wasn’t a hot day really, not like last Sunday, but I felt hot and thirsty and found myself repeating my experience at London Marathon 2009, where I drank so much that I ended up collapsing in a heap with cramp. I managed not to collapse this time but, at one point I had such a painful stitch that was radiating over my chest, that I thought I was having a heart attack. I didn’t want to say anything though, because I didn’t want to get carted off in an ambulance! It’s interesting that I saw so many people being attended to by medics during this race, far more than at Brighton Marathon earlier this year, I wonder if it’s because some people take the training less seriously for a half rather than full marathon.

So, I had by now consumed both gels, guzzled a load of Lucozade Sport and topped that up with water but I was still struggling, time to plug my headphones in. Once again, Florence and the Machine came up with the goods and made me smile with these words from ‘Hurricane’:

‘I brace myself
Cause I know it’s going to hurt
But I like to think at least things can’t get any worse’

It worked for a while anyway. By this point I was walking regularly because the cramp was so bad that my toes were curling and making it hard to keep going. It was so frustrating, knowing how well my training had gone. Even though it all felt like agony, the miles did pass quickly and I was soon in front of the Albert Memorial, stretching my calf muscles (‘Are you alright ma’am? said a friendly marshal) ahead of the run to the finish. Here I passed the woman I had spoken to at the start and watched as she was cheered on by her family and how this support gave her enough of a boost to sprint towards the finish (I could have done with some of that myself) and I crossed the finish shortly after with a sense of relief and also happiness when I saw the beautiful medal, the nicest medal I have ever received.

There were quite a few of my fellow bloggers running the race as well (JogBlog, Helsbels, Fairweatherrunner, Fortnightflo, Abradypus and Plustenner – I hope I haven’t missed anybody out there!), and they had arranged a post-race pizza/beer/cake meet-up, but I had to rush/hobble home to a delicious roast dinner and friends, who had arrived before me -oops! I would say, it’s good to take you time recovering, I would like to have had a look around the food festival and refuelled straight away, but instead I jumped on the tube and felt slightly nauseous. Edward pointed out yesterday that things always go wrong for me in races, not in training (apart from Brighton Marathon, where I had a splendid time). I can see what happens now: during training I carry a small bottle of water or sports drink or nothing at all, and I sip this slowly throughout the run, but during a race there is water/sports drink everywhere and I feel the need to drink as much as I can, thus depleting all the salt in my body and becoming a wobbly mess. So I either stop going to races, or I put on water-station blinkers. Watch this space!

Here are the stats from my Garmin:






Only three more sleeps

Until the Royal Parks Foundation Half-Marathon! Right now I have that silly pre-big-race thing going on, where you don’t feel like a runner, imagine that you will forget how to put one foot in front of the other and over-react to any little niggle or sniffle as if you might be incubating the plague. I am just fine, and I know I can run 13.1 miles on Sunday and I will aim to simply enjoy the route through the Royal Parks, enjoy the views, the atmosphere and that lovely feeling afterwards as I set off home to a delicious lunch prepared by Edward.

On Sunday I had intended running a 10k, but I was torn as Edward and Hector set off to the swimming pool, so decided to run alongside them and join them in the pool, then I ran home afterwards. Hector is really storming ahead with his swimming, ducking his head in the water, jumping off any available surface and even swimming a metre or two by himself, these are moments not to be missed. As I wrestled to put on my slightly sweaty running gear in the cubicle, I marvelled at triathletes who manage to morph themselves into three different sporting personas over the course of a race, taking in their stride the transitions between various sets of clothing. With my twisting and grunting and need to smooth out any wrinkles for fear of rubbing, I don’t think I’m cut out to do a triathlon!

Time: 42 minutes 3 seconds (with a swim break in the middle)

Distance: 4.31 miles

Average Pace: 9.45

Best Pace: 6.34

Calories: 84

This postponement of my longer run meant I had to fit it in on Monday morning after dropping Hector off at nursery. I headed towards Greenwich, enjoying the last drops of sunshine that October was squeezing out of the sky and a lovely view of the Cutty Sark, slowly emerging from the scaffolding and reaching out triumphantly towards the Thames.

Time: 58 minutes 16 seconds

Distance: 6.01 miles

Average Pace: 9.42

Best Pace: 2.10 (a blip, surely?!)

Calories: 113

On my return, I was greeted by a delivery man with a big box I wasn’t expecting, it turned out to be a bumper pack of Lucozade Sport products for me to try out. It’s a shame it didn’t come a few weeks ago, because it would have been great during my half-marathon training, but I will use some of the products on Sunday and in future runs. In the meantime, I grabbed a bottle of Lucozade Sport Lite on my way out to Zumba on Monday evening, feeling that I really needed the extra help at 7pm (I normally just take a bottle of water). When we got there I took a gulp, but the lemon and lime flavour was a bit sharp after just brushing my teeth! I’m not sure if the Lucozade can take any credit, but I really went for it, jiggling around and waving my arms like I just don’t care! I did overdo it on one move though, and have had an achy butt cheek and hip since then, I’m hoping it rights itself by Sunday. So, I’m not sure how much running I will fit in between now and Sunday, maybe just a couple of really short ones to test the butt and keep everything alert.

Not Quite Half

On Sunday I was supposed to be joining my running-blogging buddies down in Folkestone, a mere hour or so away from where I live. I enjoyed the Twitter build-up and the general sense of camaraderie and looked forward (mostly) to the after-race social bit, so was rather pissed off peeved when I realised I simply couldn’t get there. The training had gone ok, and I had managed to avoid injury, unlike some of the other runners, so not making it to the start line due to crappy travel challenges was very frustrating. However, I got over my sulking last week by taking myself off to the running track and gasping my way round a four mile circular run.

I was ridiculously excited by viewing this run on a map!

Time: 42 minutes

Distance: 4.35 miles

Average Pace: 9.40

Best Pace: 6.50

Calories: 63 (Garmin got back to me and suggested taking the battery out of the HRM then putting it back in to re-set, it doesn’t seem to have helped, any ideas?)

My average HR was 186 and my maximum HR was 200!

When Sunday arrived, I decided to try for a ten miler that would get me home in time to follow the Twitter excitement, beamed live from Folkestone by @richeginger. I set off down the Waterlink Way, planning to run down to Beckenham Place Park, fancying a change from the usual diverted Greenwich route. Early on in the run I was passed by two tall, athletic types who eased past me as if I were invisible, though I don’t know how they missed me in my bright green Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon t-shirt! Sometimes this sort of (lack of) encounter gives me a boost to run harder, try to catch them up (ha!), but today it just made me feel fat and slow and made me drag my feet. As I ran, my stomach started to play up again, something I am slightly concerned about ahead of the Royal Parks Half in just over a week. I lifted up my torso, breathed deeply and tried to ignore it, but I soon realised I wasn’t going to make it as far as Beckenham Place, so decided to turn at the two-mile point, head home and take it from there.

It was getting hot out there, even though it was still only about nine o’clock, so it was a relief to pop home, take a moment to think about whether I could carry on, wipe my face and head back out of the door, refreshed. From here it seemed logical to head Greenwich way – if I ran to the seven mile point then turned for home , it would make ten miles. I felt much better now, and pleased with myself for not ducking out. As I neared Greenwich I saw signs for the Run to the Beat half-marathon, which was taking place later that morning, and picked up on the buzz around the area as runners started to make their way over to the start. I reached the water and, just behind me, the clock on the old hospital struck ten. I thought about my fellow runners who would now be crossing the start line, and wished them luck as I took a sip of my juice/water/salt combo and looked at the sparkling Thames in front of me.

On my return, I eagerly checked the computer to see how things were going in Kent. I am proud to say that all of the Fearsome Folkestone Four made it up The Hill and struggled through the heat to cross the line with smiles on their faces. You can read about Cassie’s half-marathon debut here, how Helen overcame a painful foot and a heat aversion here, Shaun’s speedy PB chaser here and Cathy has some exciting news about her next big race here.

Time: 1 hour 42 minutes 6 seconds

Distance: 10 miles

Average Pace: 10.12

Best Pace: 5.31

Calories: 177





More puff, less wheeze

I was all set to go for a long run on Sunday morning, had my running kit on and everything, but my chest was so tight that I felt too uncomfortable to go anywhere. I have been a bad asthmatic. I know I should be taking preventer inhalers, and should probably have done so for years, but I bury my head in the sand and carry on puffing away on the blue inhaler, naively imagining that my asthma might one day go away of its own accord. Just recently I have been feeling tight-chested in the morning and again in the evening, so have been taking my inhaler more than usual, but it hasn’t stopped me running. On Sunday, however, I didn’t think it would be a good idea so I watched a bit of the Great North Run coverage instead. Yesterday I spent some time pressing the redial button, trying to get through to the doctor’s, and eventually got myself an appointment. I listened carefully to the advice I received and dutifully traded in my prescription for some nice little brown inhalers. Boo. It’s not going to just go away is it?

This does mean I am behind on my training for both the Folkestone Half-Marathon and the Royal Parks Foundation Half-Marathon, but I have been keeping up my daily routine of running alongside Hector while he tears around London on his lovely new bike.

When Hector was two we got him a Likeabike, a ‘balance’ bike that the child runs along with to gain a sense of balance, and he has ridden it pretty much every day since then, but just a few weeks ago he had a growth spurt and his beloved bike suddenly looked tiny. We did a bit of research and decided on an Isla Bike, which came in a big box just before we went camping. We knew he would take to a pedal bike quite quickly, but hadn’t reckoned on him going out on the pavement and riding off down the road first go! He was so happy. Now he goes so fast that I can’t keep up and we have been going on ‘proper’ family bike rides and I sometimes put on my running gear to do a circuit of the park with him. We have also set a trend, with a few of Hector’s friends looking forward to Isla Bike birthday presents!

Runner on diversion

I had a look at the Royal Parks Foundation Half-Marathon website yesterday and it said: ’25 days to go!’ (so that means 24 now) – eek! During the summer holiday I found it hard to be consistent with my training, trying to fit a run in either in the morning before Edward goes to work, or in the evening, but neither of those are really my first choice running moments. Now Hector is back at nursery I can pop out for a run after I drop him off in the morning, though I don’t know if I will ever really be able to relax on these runs, I might eventually get over the feeling of guilt at leaving him but, for now, I run along fretting. I have tried, as I always do when training for a big race, to keep building up the length of my long weekend run, so on Sunday I headed out in the sunshine for a ten-miler.

I do wish I could be a bit more organised ahead of a long run, but I found myself fumbling about in the kitchen for something to put a drink in, then realised I didn’t have anything to put in the bottle I found, so ended up mixing some apple and mango juice with water and a pinch of salt. I assembled all my bits and bobs about my person and waited for a signal. I decided an out-and-back run would do the trick, finding it all the more manageable when I can turn and head for home half-way through. I was forgetting that I had run along the Thames at Greenwich a few weeks ago (I’ve not blogged that run, an eight-miler) and found most of the path to be blocked off, and here I was again, weaving in and out, following little signs and recalling the grimness of it all. The initial run to Greenwich and through the centre is nice enough and quiet at this time on a Sunday, with people slowly emerging to browse antiques and eat the tasty-smelling food on offer. Once past the Cutty Sark pub,  you are sent out down residential streets and soon hit the busy dual carriageway that leads into the Blackwall Tunnel. Last time I turned round at the tunnel entrance, but this run was taking me further and I found myself ducking under heavy buddleia bushes and chatting to a moving cyclist about how rubbish it all is (he reckons it will be like this for another year). I traipsed over gravel at the cement works and enjoyed the freshness of the wind as I met the river again. This was short-lived though, as I had reached my turning point.

I suppose this run was a test, a way of seeing if my piddling amount of weekday runs have given me enough of what it takes to complete a longer run, and I was pleased to find that everything did what I asked it to. Next Sunday is the Folkestone Half-Marathon, a running bloggers’ get-together, consisting of a sprightly team made up of Jogblog, Highway Kind, Helbels, I Like to Count, Tom Roper and, making her half-marathon debut, Travelling Hopefully. This date was agreed some time ago now, all prompted by talk on Twitter of the various cakes we might bring and with a confidence only possible when something is months away. Now race day grows near, there are injuries and an air of quiet nervousness. I am yet to work out how I will get to Folkestone for the 10am start, but hope to be raring to go on the start line. I don’t really have a goal time in sight, I will treat it as a long run in training for the Royal Parks and enjoy the social side of it all.

Time: 1 hour 44 minutes 35 seconds

Distance: 10 miles

Average Pace: 10.27

Best Pace: 7.38

Calories: 166 (still not sure about this. I contacted Garmin, but reply)

Taper time!

On Friday and Saturday I managed to cram in two runs, one with the lovely Helsbels, and one flying solo. On Friday morning I dropped Hector off at nursery and, not knowing what time it was, legged it up our road to meet Helen by the station for nine o’clock. I did a bit of stretching whilst she got caught at the dreaded crossing ‘system’ and we then headed out along the Waterlink Way. It was a gorgeous morning, but we did both share our concerns about it being hot when we run the Brighton Marathon in two weeks’ time (eek!), after my experience at the London Marathon in 2009, where I caved in under the strain of cramp (though I might add I did finish!), I would prefer a fresh sort of day, where I don’t feel the need to drink every drop of water that comes my way. Another challenge brought on by the heat is the clouds of gnats along the route, but this did give us the opportunity to engage in a new form of cross-training, ‘Gnat Boxercise’ (thanks Helen for the nifty title). I did catch a few in my throat and hadn’t put my sunglasses on, so managed to allow some to hitch a ride in my eyelashes. Yuk! We managed a brisker-than-planned six miles and went our seperate ways to rid ourselves of the pesky bugs.

Time: 1 hour 4 minutes

Distance: 6.11 miles

Average Pace: 10.29

Best Pace: 5.35

Calories: 634

On my return, the postlady rang our bell to give me my Guide Dogs vest for Brighton and a lovely long-sleeve top to test and write about. The top is made from bamboo, which is known for its wicking properties and is eco-friendly, and the material is so soft, I wanted to just stroke it! I decided to wear the top for my long run on Saturday, the last longer run before I go into the taper. You can buy a BAM – Bamboo Clothing Zip Neck Baselayer like mine here, but here is a picture of me sporting mine before the run:

The main thing that delighted me when I put it on was how long it is, so many running tops are cut too short and I find it hard not to get distracted by clothing gathering around my middle and the constant need to keep pulling it down and not expose my midriff; I was interested to see how long this top stayed in place. I hadn’t realised that the top also has lovely little thumb holes, and actually whooped at this discovery (I lead a simple life).

It was another warm day, but slightly fresh at the start of the run, so I kept the little thumb holes hooked in place and off I went. I have decided that I much prefer to head east along the Thames than west: I get most of it all to myself, don’t have to dodge tourists and can immerse myself in scenes of grime and industrial splendour. It being a Saturday, the diggers and stone crushers were hard at work again and the path was populated mainly by other runners, mostly in pairs and mostly ignoring me, and I had thought this route was a friendly one too! Every so often, I caught sight of my hands and felt all sporty, there’s nothing like a new top with cute thumb hole things to make you feel all Paula Radcliffe. Ahem. At this stage, the top was staying firmly in place, no movement whatsoever, and I felt warm, but not too hot even though the sweat was dripping down my face.

When you are training for a marathon, you are told to practice your routine before the big day, making sure you have tried out all the gear you are wearing to make sure it doesn’t rub (or work out where it rubs so you can take precautions), test the various fuels and gels and eat the food you plan to eat prior to the race. Well, after this run, I can definitely say I will not be eating a curry and drinking a beer the night before. If it wasn’t for the agonising stomach cramps and two unscheduled toilet-finding missions in a state of sheer panic, I would say this was the best run of my training so far! I was feeling good, my mind was positive, I was running fairly fast for a long slow run and I looked good in my new gear with a sunny smile on my face. So it’s pasta for me on April 9th.

As I said, this run was good, I was simply ticking off those miles and picking my knees up as I reached the Thames Barrier, enjoyed the view, then turned for home. I had carried my iPod Shuffle with me again, but decided I should have a ‘treat’ for the last two miles after reaching Greenwich, so kicked my heels to Morrissey until I rolled up at home, happy, cool yet warm and ready to enjoy the rest of the weekend. The bamboo had held out, not moving an inch but looking slightly soggy on my return. I normally go for a more shiny fabric because of this, but the benefits outweighed the view I offered my fellow pavement users, maybe it’s ok for a top to show up your sweat, but pants would be anther matter! I think I might consider getting a short-sleeve version of the top, maybe to go under my Guide Dogs vest for the marathon, I’m a convert!

Time: 2 hours 20 minutes 25 seconds

Distance: 14.04 miles

Average Pace: 10.00

Best Pace: 7.18

Calories: 1563

It’s a funny old world…

…beyond the Thames Barrier. This weekend I decided my long run should be on Saturday, get it out of the way, look forward to relaxing for the rest of the weekend, spend Sunday enjoying family time and drinking coffee. A few weeks ago I ran over to Greenwich then eastwards along the Thames, reaching the Thames Barrier then turning for home. This weekend’s run required a bit more, so I was all set to run ten  miles and then turn for home. It was a gorgeous day, really bright and spring-like so deciding what to wear was a bit of a challenge, I ended up going out in capri leggings (my favourites, which now seem to be developing a hole in the nether regions, boo), a long-sleeve top, a t-shirt over this, gloves, sun cream and my fantastic Poloroid Polarized Sunglasses. Now, I was sent these months and months ago and have been waiting for the right kind of weather to give them a good test, so what better than a sunny spring morning over a twenty mile run?

I do wear sunglasses to run, but my usual pair were bought for less than twenty pounds from Boots, so I was interested to see how they compare with a much more expensive and more whizzy sort of spec. As a glasses wearer, I am quite particular about what goes on my face, and I find many glasses really uncomfortable, mainly because I have such wonky ears. With the Poloroid glasses this is not a problem, as they have a neat little adjustable rubber stopper on the arm, so you can wiggle this about until you get everything just right. At first I hadn’t wiggled one side enough and the glasses kept touching my eyelashes, which was driving me nuts, so I made some more adjustments and was well on my way.

I was very daunted by the idea of running twenty miles after my poor show the other week, so was determined to shoo away any negative thoughts and simply break the run up into little bite-size chunks. I got to Greenwich, which was ridiculously busy, then enjoyed the grimy industrial bit that comes next. When I did this run last time it was a Sunday, so felt like a desolate waste land, but this run was alive with the sound of diggers, rock-crushers, telescopic handlers and all manner of other machinery even I don’t know the name of. So much to see (yes, I know most people would run the other way, but I happen to enjoy looking at muddy JCBs). By now, the sun was proving pretty hot, and I had to remember to stop at a shop I had spotted last time to buy some energy drink (I have run out of Orbana), quick stop, gulp, gulp, and on my way. Next stop, the barrier, which looked lovely in the sunshine, and now into unknown territory. It looked like I could go through the visitors centre and pick up the Thames Path again, but I soon found myself looking at a brick wall with two unfortunate men who thought I knew where I was going: ‘Don’t follow me!’ I said ‘I haven’t a clue!’. I asked a security man, who was also clueless, so found myself on a busy road in Woolwich, hoping to find my way back to some delightful scenery. I recognised a roundabout from the London Marathon, wended my way through an estate and joined the river again.

I was getting a bit hot and sticky now, so gloves off to wipe my brow. The sunglasses were staying firmly in place, in fact I had forgotten I was wearing them. My next entertainment spot was at the Woolwich Ferry, a little car ferry and subway, which was ever so busy. Of course, I got myself lost again and was directed by a nice man who seemed to know what he was talking about, and there I was, standing amongst lots of little Anthony Gormleys at the Woolwich Arsenal. So much contrast in one small stretch of water! Things were beginning to feel a bit achey and tired now, not least my mind. I really think I have lost my running nerve in the past few months, I don’t know why, but I just don’t have the same confidence as I used to have. Anyway, I kept going, up and down little paths that were blocked and diverted here and there, hit ten miles with relief, took a gulp of fuel and turned towards home.

This was where the major self-doubt set in and I had to really grit my teeth and get on with it. I did carry my iPod with me, but didn’t listen to it once, I am always a bit concerned it might spoil my thought processes on a really long run, feeling that I will only gain true mental grit by going it alone, no music. Maybe I should really have just put on some music and chilled out a bit! On my return leg through Greenwich I noticed how high the water was – people were leaping away from the edge of the Thames so as not to get splashed. I wanted to be splashed because the heat was beginning to get to me a bit by this point. I paused again to buy more water then took on the two or so miles towards home. This was hard. I even allowed myself to walk some of it, walk, run, walk, run, just get there. I was having my long-run/hot-day craving that I normally only have during the last few miles of a marathon: coke and then another. I was determined to make my run finish outside the shop so I could buy a bottle of coke (I NEVER normally drink coke) and, as I did so, I bumped into Edward and Hector, who had been for a lovely visit to the Horniman Museum and happily cheered me across my imaginary finish-line. Phew.

I popped my sunglasses on my head (I’d say leave them in place because they just got a bit tangled in my hair!), got my coke and strolled home happily to enjoy a lunch of bacon and egg sandwiches on the lawn.

Time: 3 hours 37 minutes 19 seconds

Distance: 20 miles

Average Pace: 10.52

Best Pace: 7.45

Calories: 2393

As for the Poloroid sunglasses, they really did the job, no constant readjustment needed, very light, and they even come with interchangeable lenses, so you can use them in different lights. I think I might let Edward use them for his London-Paris bike ride in April, as I think they would be great for cycling. I might try and persuade him to write a guest blog to let you know all about his upcoming adventure 🙂

And this is what we had for dinner on Saturday night: