Race Report: Vale of York Half Marathon 2017

Race Preparation

Since I’d had a relatively hard marathon training week, I decided that I should take the day before the race completely off exercise. While hundreds of thousands of people around the world got up to go to Parkrun, I’d stay in bed and have a lie in…

Then Paul got up for Parkrun.  Since I was awake anyway, I got up and wandered around the house a bit, contemplating whether I should go too.  I said I might drive.  Paul said he was going to run there anyway. And that, my friends, is how peer pressure works, and how I ended up not only running Parkrun, but also a 3.5 mile round trip there and back.

I often find it hard to go easy at Parkrun, so I was pleased to bump into Becky when we got there. She was also there to practice the art of self restraint. Together, we managed a (what she termed) half marathon paced parkrun.  It still seemed a bit fast to me.

To make up for the accidental exercise, I spent the rest of the day in front of Netflix. I finished the day with a steak, potato and vegetable dinner and a bit more than half a bottle of wine. Oops!

Race strategy

About a month ago, I plugged my shiny new York 10k PB into a race predictor website. It gave me 4 different half marathon predictions based on 4 different calculation methods. The average prediction time was 01:52:30.  That seemed pretty fast (8:35 miles) but I knew that if I could do that, I could be confident that a sub 4 marathon was within my reach.  That became my stretch goal.

I spent some more time working out what was the slowest time I could run a half, and still be predicted to do a sub 4 hour marathon.  The answer was just under 1 hour 55. That would mean 8:46 miles – pretty fast, but much more doable. That became the goal that I told people about when they asked me what I was going for.

I was pretty confident that I could beat my half marathon PB for this race (1:56:48), so that was my worse case scenario goal. As long as I stayed on or under 8:53 miles it would be done.

With all the maths done, I was ready to race.

Race Day

It was an overcast day with an autumnal chill in the air. Pretty much perfect racing conditions.

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Breakfast

This year I planned to arrive about an hour early in memory of the stressful traffic jam I got stuck in last year, just 20 minutes before the race was due to start.  The traffic was still slow as we neared the airfield where the race would start, but with time to spare, it was a much more enjoyable journey.   By the time we’d collected our numbers and been back to the car to dump our hoodies (and for me to collect my magic bottle of running fuel (Lucozade)) it was nearly time for the start. There were GoodGym buddies and other friends a-plenty around – but since we all had our own agenda, we disappeared into differing sections of the gathering crowd at the start line.  Becky was aiming for sub 1 hour 55 too, so we waited for the claxon to sound together.

My plan was to start conservatively (maybe 8:45 miles) and pick up the pace after the first few miles, if I felt good.  Being quite near to the start, the first half mile was a lot faster than this, so I eased off, and let the masses run past until it felt like I was moving backwards on a conveyor belt through the crowd.  By the time the first mile ticked round I’d managed to slow to 8:32. I took my token sip of Lucozade at the mile marker and ran on into the second mile as a small stitch started nagging on one side.  By the third mile, the stitch had moved onto the other side and by the fourth it had disappeared. I was still clocking in around 8:30 miles, and was still needing to slow myself down slightly. Since I’d managed it this far, I decided I should keep going at that pace until at least half way…

After a short out and back at the start, the course takes a bit of a squashed lollipop shape. In previous years as I ran up the lollipop stick somewhere between miles 4 and 5  I had seen the front runners coming back down the lollipop stick heading towards their mile 9 marker.  It’s a bit of the race that I always look forward to. In a relatively quiet race with only sporadic smatterings of supporters, the cheers that go up amongst the slower runners when they catch sight of the fastest ones leading the race add a nice vibe. Finally, just before I reached the fifth mile, I saw the leader running strong out of the loop and on the home straight. Seconds after that I turned the corner to start my loop. “Oh”, I thought – “I usually see loads more people than that. They must be a lot slower this year.”  I was another half mile down the road, still ploughing on with the 8:30 miles (but no longer needing to slow myself down) when I realised that actually, I’m much faster this year!

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Squashed lollipop. Sort of.

At this point I realised I was gaining on my friend Jo.  I’d long since gone past the stage where everyone was overtaking me – now I was starting to gain some ground on other runners.  I waved hello as I passed.

“Are you going for a time?” I asked.

“Finishing” she replied, “You?”

“I think you can do it” I said (knowing full well that she can do it and much more besides).

“How about you?”

“Sub 1:55.” I shouted out behind me as I pulled away to her good luck wishes. A lady next me said ” I think you can do it too.”

Sure enough, I was still keeping my pace at 7 miles and feeling good. Since I had held on to it for this long, I decided that I may as well keep it up until 10 miles. I felt like I was going even faster now, but a quick glance at my watch showed that I was still running the same pace, it was just starting to feel harder.

I came out of the loop and back to the wonky lollipop stick just before mile 9 – searching the small cluster of people for one of my tango students who’d given me a cheer as I headed into the loop. She was still there, cheering away, so despite the fact that I was tiring, I had to look strong as I passed her. By mile 9 I was getting bored of my regular sips of Lucozade which were making my mouth feel sticky and bleurgh. I decided to dump my half full bottle and grab some water at the next drinks station. When I did, I could only take a few sips before having to throw it away as they were open topped bottles. I figured that I could cope without more hydration for just three more miles. And since I’d made it to 10 miles without slowing down, I may as well keep up the pace for the last three!

It felt oddly light to be running without a bottle in hand and may explain why I started to speed up. But more likely I could smell the finish line and the chance to stop running!. Mile 11 came in at 8:20. By now there were three ladies  who I had noticed running at around the same pace. It seemed we were taking it in turns to pass each other. To be honest, I was more preoccupied with doing maths and working out whether I could get my 1:52:30 time than worrying about who ran past me. In any case I was still passing enough people to feel like I was running strong.  The mile 12 marker was followed by what seemed like an eternally long road back to the finish and it seemed to take much longer than 8 minutes 17 to get to the final two bends where some of my faster friends were already gathered to cheer us on. I mustered up a sprint finish, crossing the line as the official clock just ticked past 01:52:30 meaning that I’d definitely beat my fastest goal! I staggered to a halt and bent over gasping for a few seconds before lifting my head up to find out where to get water.  Instead found Becky who guided me to all the right places, having finished a few minutes earlier than me.  Once rehydrated, we went to join in with cheering our friends over the line – a very apt way to celebrate our new PBs.

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After the race

My official finishing time was 01:51:49. Of course, this means that I should be able to do a sub 4 hour marathon in 4 weeks time. Weather, health, freak accident permitting of course!

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Recovery food

 

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Rocking my new t-shirt and ‘necklace’ in the pub

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Race Report: Race the Train

It all seems like a dim and distant memory now, but a little over a week ago I was getting ready to race a train around some Snowdonian hills in Wales.  Of course, I knew there was no possibility of beating it (given that it covers 14 miles in a faster time than I can run a half marathon on flat roads) but I’m all for taking part – especially since there would be a big group gathering of Goodgymers there to make it extra fun.

When I originally signed up for the race, I signed up for the shorter 10km route. When someone asked me why I wasn’t doing the longer race, my reply was ‘because I’m not an idiot!’.

A few months later, while I was trying to work out how it all fit into my marathon training plan, I realised that it would actually make more sense for me to run the 14 mile route as my long run for that weekend.  My training plan said 16 miles, but the harder, hillier trail terrain would more than make up for the lost 2 miles. I contacted the race organisers and ‘upgraded’ to the 14 mile race.

Race preparation

I spent the afternoon before the race driving to Wales. We arrived at about 7pm and immediately went in search of food in the nearest village pub in Corris.  It was a short drive away from our cottage, so we went straight back after dinner so that I could have a glass of wine and research the nearest parkrun.  Since Race the Train didn’t start until 2pm, there was plenty of time to fit in an easy 5km beforehand.

Saturday morning was a little bit wet to say the least. It had only just started to dawn on me that this race might actually be quite muddy… for some reason, when I had pictured racing the train, I had imagined the tough hills, and perhaps the baking sun making it hard work, but mud hadn’t even crossed my mind. I started to mildly regret my decision to switch up to the longer distance. I’d never run in muddy conditions and it didn’t sound like fun…

We arrived at Dolgellau Parkrun (pronounce that at your peril)  just as the wind started whipping rain around the car park.  Stood in a huddle at the far end were a few fellow Goodgymers from York and Sheffield. Fortunately, by the time 9am rolled round, the rain had mostly stopped and we set off on a pleasant course which took us on a double out and back route, giving plenty of opportunities for high fives from the faster runners in our group as we passed each other.  I had decided that the best way to take it easy was to pace Paul to a PB of sub 30 minutes. As a beginner runner, he wasn’t planning on running in the mud with us that afternoon so was all too happy to push himself a bit harder at the Parkrun. We followed that up with a fry up at a local cafe before heading back to the cottage to regroup.

Race Predictions

I’d originally estimated that I could finish Race the Train in about 2 hours 15 minutes – based on my half marathon times, adding on a mile, and then factoring in some extra time for the hills. Not very scientific, but something to aim for. When I got to Tywyn, reports of the mud bath course filled me with doubt – to the point that I couldn’t even start to estimate what my time might be as I didn’t have anything comparable to work with. 02:30:00 seemed like a nice time to aim for, but I had no idea if I’d be able to manage it.

Racing the train

We arrived in Tywyn in time to cheer the final few 10km runners across the finish line. Some of them were quite muddy.  By now, there were plenty of Goodgymers around who had already experienced the course and confirmed horror stories of mud baths, falls and barbed wire lacerations (where people had grabbed onto the fence to save themselves from falling over). Still, the sun was starting to come out, so that was good news…

2pm came round all too soon and we crowded at the start waiting for the whistle of the train to set us off.

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I spent the first few miles running with Lizzie. As always, those first two miles were a little quicker than I’d planned for, but then again, we were still on roads and heading ever so gently downhill.  It was in these two miles that I caught my first glimpse of the train, a plume of steam trailing behind it as it slid gracefully along it’s nice flat, mudless tracks.

By mile 3, we were well onto the trails that would characterise the rest of the race. My left foot was already soaking wet. I quickly realised that, if I didn’t run through muddy puddles, then someone else next to me would, splashing me with mud anyway, so there was no point in resisting. By mile 4, both feet had been fully submerged in muddy puddles.  At the next natural obstacle, most people slowed to a walk as the puddles turned to gloopy, swampy mud. Every step I took slid a good few inches from where I’d placed my foot. It took a fair bit of concentration to get past it, whilst still remaining upright. I realised that this was actually fun! I loved running/ walking through mud.

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Photo by Mick Hall

We carried on, running through endless fields, past a campsite and a waterfall. On occasion, I caught a glimpse of the train, steam rising from it’s chimney and the faint sound of the cheering passengers floating just far enough towards me to be able to hear them. Of course, the train was way ahead of me by now – but I was glad that I didn’t completely miss seeing it. Marshalls and water stations seemed to be waiting around every corner, every single one of them doing a sterling job of cheering us along.

As the course wound up hill, we were forced to fall into single file – most people walking the hills, meaning that I had to as well. Not that I would have been able to run them – I was grateful for the rest.  As the track flattened out, most fell into a jog, but the camber of the narrow path which cut into the side of the hill made it hard to get up any pace and was uncomfortable to run on. I had to spend my time staring at the uneven narrow ground to make sure I stayed upright, meaning I didn’t get to appreciate the view – but also that I didn’t get too much time to contemplate the big drop to my right, should I put a foot wrong….

We looped back towards Tywyn on higher ground, meaning that I could now see runners tackling the course behind me. Next came a wooded area where it all became very muddy again.  As I approached one corner I could hear exclamations of surprise (or maybe dismay). “This sounds like it’s going to be fun” I commented to someone running nearby.

As I rounded the corner, I saw one runner helping another pull his leg out from the boggy ground, where he’d sunk up to his thigh. That explained the screams and yelps then! I hesitated briefly, and then just went for it, managing to get away with only going in up to my right knee, my left leg staying above ground. Others, I heard later had lost shoes, or managed to sink up to their thigh, and then their elbow when they put their hand out to save themselves.

Farther on through the woods, a muddy stream marked the centre of the path, with firmer ground around the edges.  I noted the barbed wire fence, and remembered the tales of lacerated hands. I opted to splash through the muddy stream rather than try to avoid it. “You do right” one steward congratulated me.  Around another corner and there was a runner having his hand bandaged up.

After that it was back across endless fields. It was only around the 11 mile mark that I started to feel like I was tiring – but by then I knew there wasn’t far to go (by my watch anyway) and that the rest of the course should be easy by comparison.  The mile markers on the course didn’t seem to be especially accurate, and were confused by the fact that there were several different versions on the course for the numerous different races that had gone on that day.

Once back out onto the open fields, I was able to pick up a bit of pace, and started overtaking people. In no time, I was back on the roads again. With the end in metaphorical sight I upped the effort even more and crossed the finish line with a sprint finish in 02:29:54, and feeling pretty good to boot.

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Mega medal

All in all it was an absolutely brilliant race in which I discovered that running on muddy trails is nothing to be afraid of – in fact it’s a lot of fun!

Half way!

The training plan I’ve been following for this year’s marathon is one I’ve tried (and failed) before. It’s a sub-4 hour plan which does fewer long runs, over shorter distances, at faster paces – generally on tired legs from the previous day’s run.  In my previous attempts, I found that I wasn’t able to keep up with the paces the plan suggested, especially when it came to longer runs. As a result I did much of it slower, and missed lots more out due to injury. After three attempts, I admitted to myself that I obviously wasn’t ready for a sub 4 marathon and chose an altogether easier plan for last year – resulting in a PB of 04:09:33.

This year, after joining GoodGym, I started to achieve parkrun and half marathon PBs again, so I decided to give the sub 4 plan another go.  In it’s pure form, it consists of 4 workouts a week for 16 weeks. When I studied it closely, I saw that it didn’t really fit into my current running schedule. I lifted out three key sessions from each week, and combined them with the Parkrun and GoodGym sessions I already do.  I also shifted around some of the weeks to fit in with races I had booked. As a result, I only have one scheduled rest day per week. It’s sometimes tiring, and I have sometimes skipped parkrun, or cycled to a GoodGym activity rather than running because I could tell my body needed the rest.

As well as creating an excel spreadsheet, I wrote the plan out by hand in my bullet journal, so that I could have the satisfaction of ticking things off as I went along. I had some doubts about whether I could hit the suggested paces. They all seemed pretty fast to me…  I only wrote out the first 8 weeks of the plan, so that I could review it at half way and decide if it was worth carrying on with.

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Yesterday marked the half way mark. So far, things seem to be going suspiciously well. I’ve recently managed to get my fourth ever sub-25 minute parkrun time (third this year), and hit a 10km PB. I’m managing to complete most of my runs at the prescribed paces, without too much difficulty. In general, I’ve been flexible about moving sessions around if I’m too tired or achey. I have averaged about 30 miles a week, with the longest week being 39.8 miles and the shortest 17 miles (I fell down the stairs and bruised my coccyx, so skipped my long run that week as it was too painful). I’m definitely more aware of my limitations nowadays and even chose to miss a session last week, rather than push it and risk injury.

Sunday’s long run was 15 miles and I was aiming for between 9:19 and 9:40 pace. I averaged 09:21 for the whole distance (which was a surprise to me) and even felt pretty good afterwards. Could it be that my target sub- 4 hour time is actually possible?!

Today I’ve been playing around with this little race time predictor.  When I use my recent 10km PB, it says that I should be on for a sub 4 hour marathon – with an average time prediction of 03:55:00. Though that sounds far fetched, I have found these race predictors to be relatively accurate for me in the past…

The same race predictor suggests that I should be able to achieve a 01:52:30 half marathon time – which is 4 minutes faster than I managed in May…  Again, it sounds a bit fast to me, but maybe I’ll set that as a target for the Vale of York Half Marathon in September.

Race Report: York 10k 2017

Race prep

This year I seem to have been making a habit of going out and running a fast parkrun the day before a race. The day before the York 10km was no exception. I’ve been getting into a bit of parkrun tourism and so ventured out to Fountain’s Abbey where I smashed out my third sub 25 minute parkrun of the year and my third fastest time ever. Running an all out 5km the day before a race is perhaps not great prep for a fast 10k, but perfect in the context of my marathon training plan which generally aims to start the long run on Sunday morning with tired legs. That’s my excuse anyway…

That evening, we invited another 10k running friend round for dinner (sausage, pasta and a few glasses of wine). We watched Mo Farah’s 10k win in the World Athletics Championships for inspiration.

Race predictions

I really didn’t know!  I was pretty sure that the elusive sub 50 minute 10k was still out of my reach, and will remain so until a sub 25 minute parkrun comes more easily to me. Still, I toyed with starting with the 50 minute pacer and hanging on for as long as I could. My previous PB was 51:51, so of course I wanted to beat that. I told my friends that I was aiming for something between 50 and 53 minutes.

Race Day

Paul was running his first ever 10k as part of a team with his work mates, so he left the house early (after feeding me pancakes with bacon and maple syrup) to meet for a team photo at the start.  I wandered down at a more leisurely pace, jogging almost a km to the start as a warm up.  It felt a bit slow and hard going…

Soon I found Alex and Steve – strangers to each other before this morning, but had managed to meet up by virtue of the fact that they were both wearing GoodGym reds. It wasn’t long before most of us were gathered in one place, and even less time before we split up again to get into our starting positions.  I ended up standing way behind the 60 minute pacer in the pens which were too crowded to fight my way forwards. I decided that it might be good for me to be slowed down a bit at the start of the race, so stayed put, with the intention of chasing the 60 and 55 minute pacers down during the race.

The clock had ticked round to 7 minutes before I got across the starting line and, as expected I spent my first km weaving around slower runners, trying to find the most direct route possible. As we ran round onto Bishopthorpe Road, the GoodGym cheerleading crew were out in force, cheering loudly for me when I ran past. Shortly after the 1km marker, I overtook the 60 minute pacer. It was early in the race, but things seemed to be going well…

There were pipers piping on Nunnery Lane and bells ringing outside York Minster as we ran through town and hit the 5km mark. Half the race had taken me just over 25 minutes. Still feeling good, I wondered if I’d be able to swing a PB this time round? As we joined the narrow river footpath, I could see the 55 minute pacer up ahead.  A small bottle neck over the Blue Bridge, and a wedge of runners ballooning out around the pacer meant that this 7th km was my slowest yet.  I dived onto the trail next to the main footpath and sprinted past the pacing group to find my space. Over Millennium bridge, I nearly tripped on a speed bump whilst trying to get the attention of a spectating friend. On the other side of the bridge, the GoodGym cheerleading crew were now multitasking and handing out water at the second water station. I grabbed a bottle, but couldn’t drink much – the open topped bottle and lack of lid meant that I couldn’t carry it with me either. With less than 3km to go, it wasn’t a big deal.

Back onto Bishopthorpe Road and into the first switchback. My legs and lungs noticed the gentle incline of the road and for the first time all race, I noticed someone overtake me.  Even so, I was still overtaking others so it wasn’t too demoralising! A quick glance at my watch suggested that if I tried hard enough, I might be able to beat my PB. It was enough to keep me going. Out of that switchback and onto the final corner which isn’t really the final corner because there’s another switchback with another gentle incline. That one took us past 9km and onto the final straight. I sped up as soon as I saw the 400m sign, knowing that I’ve never managed to maintain a finishing sprint for that long, but also knowing by now that a PB might just be possible…  GoodGymmers who’d already finished the race shouted out my name. I sprinted on, my breathing ragged, the finish line coming closer, but not fast enough. I sprinted some more. I acknowledged that the race photos would, once again, be terrible because there was no way I could manage a smile at this point. I resisted looking at my watch.

I crossed the finish line in 51:08.  A solid PB!

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Race report: Castle Howard 10km trail race

After the Mulgrave Castle 10k, I got a taste for running on trails around fancy houses with ‘Castle’ in their title, so it was inevitable that I’d sign up for the Castle Howard 10km trail race, which boasts an actual distance of 10.45km.  As an added bonus, there is also a 6km race which was ideal for my boyfriend to enter in the build up to his first ever 10km race in August. I also suggested it as a GoodGym race event to encourage lots of my fellow GoodGymmers to join in too. This made sure that it was not only a lovely scenic race, but also a very social one.

Race prep

The date of the Castle Howard 10k fell 4 weeks into my marathon training – and Sunday just happens to be long run day. Even though I’m only a quarter of the way through marathon training, 10km is no longer considered a long run.  My training plan suggested that I should be running closer to 12 miles…

I  set my alarm early for an easy 5 mile run before driving to Castle Howard. Though the race is advertised as 10.45km, I’d heard rumours that it’s closer to 7 miles in total, so I estimated that 5 miles would be enough to meet my quota of 12 for the day. Fortunately the race didn’t start until 11am, so I didn’t have to get up too early.  

My ‘warm up’ run ended up being 5.2 miles and felt much more effortful than the pace should have dictated. I returned home a sweaty mess, not particularly hopeful of getting a good time in the race. I had a token shower and changed into some fresher running gear, while Paul got to work on making some pancakes for breakfast. We washed them down with bacon and maple syrup. Yum!

Race predictions

Before my warm up run, I was hoping to be able to swing a sub 1 hour time for what could be anything between 6.5 – 7 miles.  After the run, I was less optimistic and decided to treat it as more of a training run, aiming to stay on or below 9 minute miles. As GoodGym Alice said in the first few minutes of the race, everyone was going to get a PB anyway, because none of us had run a 10.45km race before!

The race

We arrived at the beautiful Castle Howard estate in the Howardian hills via a creative route dreamed up by my sat nav. Even so, we were in plenty of time to pick up our race numbers and gather with the rest of the GoodGym team and other friends who were racing and spectating.

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Before the race

The organised warm up started shortly before the race. It seemed like a lot of hard work- especially after my earlier run. I really didn’t have high hopes for surviving this race in tact!

Next, we lined up behind a big inflatable start/finish arch which was strategically placed behind a stall full of bananas, bottles of water and race souvenir mugs.

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Bananas

On your marks, get set…. Go!

After running across a field, we emerged onto a tarmac path which threaded its way past a pyramid on a hill and into the countryside surrounding the Castle Howard estate.  For the first km I ran with GoodGymmers Alice, Egg and Becky but they soon started to pull away from me as I concentrated on trying to pace myself properly. I looked down at my watch. It told me that I was going way too fast, but since we were travelling gently downhill, I let it slide. From the tarmac path, we turned a corner onto more stony trails, through shaded woodland. I still seemed to be going downhill, which was nice! I could feel the uneven floor through the soles of my road shoes and made a mental note to use this as an excuse to buy some trail shoes, even though I barely ever run on trails.

As we ran out into more open land, I spotted a cluster of GoodGym red ahead, indicating that the ladies I’d started with had stretched their lead by about 400m. Round some more twists and turns, at about 3km I found the Bog Hall water station where I made the most of the opportunity to hydrate and rest by walking through it as I drank my cup of water. On the next corner, a marshall shouted encouragement that the wooded area we were heading towards offered some lovely cool shade. He was right, but it was short lived. Soon we came back out onto open ground under the late morning sun, to see the first and only real hill on the course. It was a relatively short but steep climb up to the Temple of the Four Winds, which sounds (and looks) a bit like something out of a Zelda computer game. I managed to keep running all the way up the hill. As I reached the top, I heard a familiar voice shout my name. I looked around. The voice shouted again and I recognised it as belonging to GoodGym Barbara. I soon spotted her high up on the hill, camera in hand, simultaneously cheering and photographing like the pro-supporter that she is!

Top of the Hill - Castle Howard 10km

Top of the hill

Down the other side of the hill, I could see that we were about to cross New River Bridge. On perceiving the gentle arch of the bridge as an inverted V shape, I decided that I’d catch my breath with a walk up the one side and then jog down the other side onto the open field ahead.  As I followed the track past the bridge, I could feel a slight incline slowing me down… but not too much.

In what seemed like no time at all, we reached a junction where the 6km racers turned right, back towards the finish line. I turned left to rejoin the tarmac road for my second loop of the course.

On my second visit to the water station, I walked through, almost catching up with GoodGym Sean while he caught his breath.  He set off a little ahead of me, but I passed him again in the shaded woodland before the hill. We spent the next km or so passing each other, offering words of encouragement when we did. I chose to walk up the first part of the ‘big’ hill this time – aiming to start running when I got to a tree, about two thirds of the way up. As a trade off, I ran across the whole bridge this time! 

As I drew closer to the turn off to the finish line, I checked my watch. It still seemed possible that I’d be able to finish in under an hour. I reached 10km at 55 minutes and 15 seconds. Not bad considering that was my 11th mile of the day!

The tarmac path to the end of the race seemed longer than I remembered. Finally, a turning into a field emerged but I still couldn’t see the finishing line. Where was it?!  We were way past 10.45km now and the time on my watch read 59 minutes.  I ran on through the field and eventually, the inflatable blue finishing post came into view. It seemed a bit too far away to go for a sprint finish just yet (and I’d already accepted that I was going to be more than an hour) but I sped up a bit.  As I came into sight of the cheering GoodGymmers, they shouted my name and I launched into a sprint finish – stopping my watch on the other side of the finish line at 1 hour and 40 seconds.

Sprint finish

Sprint finish

A boy wearing a medal gave me a souvenir mug, a banana and a bottle of water, which I opened and downed as I weaved my way back to join the faster finishers and friends. There, I helped to cheer home the remaining GoodGymmers and friends who finished behind me.

Race Stats

Race distance: 10.9km

Chip time: 01:00:40

103rd finisher (out of 230)

20th female (out of 102)

9th in my age category (out of 38)

Race recovery

As soon as everyone was back in the fold, we took a finishers photo and went in search of ice cream, which we ate before driving home.

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Celebratory lunges

Later that afternoon, Paul, Steve and I went to the pub to celebrate. I drank too much beer, then went home. There, I did some drunk internet shopping and ordered some trail shoes before falling asleep, fully clothed on the bed.

Race report: Mulgrave Castle 10k

After I entered the Vale of York half marathon, I lingered on the RaceBest website to browse through the other races that were there. My eyes fell upon the Mulgrave Castle 10k which takes place near Whitby on a private estate.  I have a friend who loves Whitby and quite likes running 10ks so I asked him if he was interested.  He was, but he also didn’t do anything about it, so I didn’t book a place. It’s a nearly 90 minute journey away from home, and seemed a bit to far to travel alone, just to run a race.

Still, my internet browser kept flicking back to the race, so I asked around to see if anyone else was up for it. I didn’t find anyone else, but I eventually booked my place anyway… it was to be my first off-road race and, I expected, a lot hillier than I’m used to. It would be an adventure.

Race predictions

Before a race it’s traditional to ponder on what time you hope to get and what time you realistically might be able to run it on.  I’ve never run a trail race before and I’ve never done a 10k that was quite as hilly as this one promised to be.  It was meant to be pretty, so I might want to take it easy to enjoy the views, plus I hadn’t been training for 10k speed at all this year, so I kept my predictions conservative. “I’d be happy with under an hour.” I said to anyone who asked.

Secretly, I reckoned I might be able to manage a 57 or 58  minute time, given that my 10k PB is 51:51 and Sheffield and Leeds Half marathons which I’ve run recently weren’t exactly flat.

Race Prep

Race prep was a bit unorthodox this year.

The Thursday before the race at about midnight, I decided that we (my boyfriend and I) would go camping in Pickering, which is about half way to Whitby, so on Friday after dinner, we packed up the car and off we went.

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After an unpredictably wild night in a village pub (the barman was giving out free pints because he was cleaning the lines), I woke up on Saturday morning dehydrated (because neither of us had remembered to bring anything we could keep water in), yet determined to go ahead with my plan of attending Dalby Forest Parkrun. It was one of my slower efforts (00:26:52), what with the massive hangover, but I felt like I was getting some good woodland trail practice in ready for the race the next day. When I got back to the car, Paul had bought me a Rocky Road bar for breakfast (healthy, I know).

After lunch, we walked back into Dalby Forest from Thornton le Dale. Y’know, just a little 8 mile undulating walk to make sure my legs were extra fresh for the race the next day…

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In the evening, I had a disappointing curry and one beer before snuggling into my sleeping bag for an early(ish) night. There was a newly purchased drinking vessel filled with water by my bedside. At least tomorrow morning I was going to be hydrated!

Race Day

I bravely didn’t set an alarm.  The race wasn’t until 11am and I was sleeping in a tent so I was bound to wake up on time… and I did!  It only took about half an hour to pull on my sports kit, pull down the tent and pack up the car.  We were in Whitby by 9am and went in search of breakfast:

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Mission accomplished

With time to spare, we went for a wander down the pier where I perfected my pretending to run pose:

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Pretty convincing, huh?

Next I drove to Lythe, a little village outside of Whitby where the race was set to start, dropping Paul off in Sandsend on the way because he decided he didn’t want to come and watch.

I arrived at 10.30am to an empty car park… but it turned out that most people had parked in the village, rather than at the sports club which was buzzing with people in club race vests. It seemed that there was more than one race going on today, but I soon found out where to pick up my race number and joined the crowds on the sports pavilion.

At 10:45 someone blew a whistle and indicated that we should follow him on a short walk down to the estate. I trudged along alone in the crowd, keeping an eye out for a fellow GoodGymmer who I thought might be there (he was, but I didn’t see him) and listening to the chat around me. Someone was talking about the hill at the end. I knew about the hill.  I’d seen it on the Strava maps. Someone else was describing the fast downhill start – for about 1km where everyone goes off at great speed, before running under a tunnel and then out the other side into some somewhat more ‘undulating’ terrain.

There were two races going on that day. The 10k race I was in and some other more serious league race full of people who had their age category pinned on their back.  They were to set off a few minutes after us, but follow the same route. It was a small race, only 142 entrants for the one I was a part of, so no chip timing.  I lingered near the start line, where, from the look of the photos I really didn’t belong. We set off at the sound of a whistle.

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Since I’d been right at the start line on the whistle, the first km consisted of everyone sailing past me as I tried not to fall over, or trip anyone else over on the very much downhill, uneven ground.

At the bottom of the hill, we reached the tunnel that I’d heard someone talk about. It was maybe 10 metres long and all of a sudden I had a different problem – I’d been relying on my eyes to scope out the uneven ground ahead of me to help me not fall over, and suddenly it was pitch black!  While I slowed down to temper the sensation of blindness and impending death, others carried on at their standard pace and I tried not to trip them over. I emerged into daylight again before I knew it and we were soon approaching our first uphill climb. By now, most of the people who were faster than me had gone past, so I could concentrate more on my own race than worrying about holding them up.

The course was described as undulating and it undulated for a fair few km after that. In a race of mainly club runners, I was pleased to see one or two women up ahead starting to walk the hills.  I didn’t need to at this point, but it was good to know that it wouldn’t be frowned upon!

It was perhaps during the 3rd km, that another rush of people started coming past me. This time they had their age categories on their backs. Those who had started 2 minutes after me were now overtaking, starting with the V35 men, then the V45s, V55s, and someone with V60 ran past me.  A man who’d been running at about my pace whilst chatting to me pointed him out and called him a ‘youngster’.

At around 4km a marshal called out that I was the 41st lady.  I distracted myself by, counting any other women who passed me for the next few minutes, until I lost count at about 50th position.  Just after 5km, the wood lined track opened out into a clearing that reminded me of farmland (there were some tractors) and cups of water were being given out. I gratefully grabbed one, swallowing down a mouthful before chucking it to one side. The marshal called out for us to watch our step… because we were about to run through a brook.  I didn’t take too much care, trading it in for keeping up some sort of speed and came out the other side with some very wet feet to tackle the next hill.  On the bright side, I had cooler feet for a few minutes.

By now if I ran past people on the hills, they were calling out a breathy ‘well done’.  Everyone was feeling it!

At around about 8 or 9km, there was a sign that said ‘WARNING, STEEP DESCENT’ which my brain calculated as meaning steep ascent until I heard someone say ‘you know what that means don’t you.  We’ll have to go up after we’ve gone down.’ As I turned to corner, my brain recalibrated and remembered that descent meant down.  While some runners called out for others to stand clear and let gravity hurl them to the bottom of the hill, others like myself put the brakes on a bit.  It was pretty steep – and took us into potentially more muddy ground on a beautiful path alongside the brook. I kept waiting for the uphill (my research had led me to believe that the last km was mostly uphill) and though short rises did appear, they didn’t seem all that bad. We went back through the tunnel. At my slower pace, it didn’t seem so scary to be temporarily blind. After the tunnel, the path did indeed start rising.  But it wasn’t too bad.  We’d done worse on the trail so far.  My watch buzzed on my wrist to tell me that I’d run 6 miles.  About 400m to go.  This hill wasn’t so bad after all. Then round a bend and suddenly… I had to walk. Everyone around me slowed to a walk.  Mine was a firm, decisive power walk up the hill, but it was still a walk.  It had suddenly got so steep and I just didn’t have the power to keep on running.  I still couldn’t see the finish line but I knew it must be near.  Up ahead there was a photographer.  I broke into a trot because, you know, photos. A few people around me called out ‘well done love!’ ‘go on!’ as they kept walking upwards.

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Token ‘run’ for the photographer

As soon as I passed the photographer, I had to walk again.  The finish line was probably no more than 150 – 200m ahead of me now. I could see some people gathered on the side of the track,meaning that the finish line must be just there, but I couldn’t muster up my standard sprint finish. Or even a jog finish.  I looked down at my watch and it said 00:58:something.  There was no way that I was going to be slower than an hour for this one.  I walked faster, breathing more like I’d just sprinted the last mile. I can’t remember if I managed a few jogged steps over the finish line, or if I just walked over it.  Most of the people I watched after I finished did manage to jog those last 10 paces, but to me, it felt like it was the first finish line I’ve ever walked over.

As I stumbled through the finishing funnel, gasping for breath, someone with a clipboard asked me if I was coming back next year. “Yes” I said.

It was hard, it was the first time I’ve ever had to walk to a finish line, but it was beautiful and it was fun.

My official race time was 59:42.

I was 89th in the overall race (out of 142) and 22nd woman out of 51, and 5th (out of 20) in my age category. Obviously my race didn’t include the super-fast league runners. They have their own results table.

Then I went and ate fish finger sandwiches and ice-cream in Teare Woods in Whitby.

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I’m definitely going back next year.  Who’s in?!

All the days in May

Last month I set myself a challenge to run every day in may.  Well guess what? I did it!

  • I ran for 20 hours in total
  • I covered 189.6km (that’s  117.8 miles)
  • I completed 36 activities, including two races.

Here’s what my Strava activity calendar looks like:

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I anticipated that it would be really hard to fit it all in.  It wasn’t at all.  It was just something that I did every day. It was even something that I didn’t really need to change much around to accommodate.

On many days, particularly towards the end of the month when I was mega busy, I only did 2 miles, but they counted. These are what I called my ‘rest’ days.

A friend asked if I was going to carry on into June. So far I have, but not really on purpose.  On the first 5 days of June I’ve had planned races or social runs, or simply needed to get out and use my legs to save my sanity.  I have a lot of uni work and revision at the moment and the run breaks have been my salvation.  Even so, I think I’m looking forward to a few proper rest days this week…