Wednesday, October 31, 2018

2017 Vitality London 10,000

Anyone else love to look back and remind themselves of the progress they've made? Although I started this blog mainly to share my training for my first marathon, I thought it would be interesting to also look back every now and again. 

I originally wrote this post on an old blog of mine that I deactivated but decided it was worth sharing again here. So here goes... throwing it back to my first 10K race:

The Vitality London 10,000 2017

London 10000 Run

 The spring bank holiday. A perfect excuse to spend a long weekend lazing around and catching up on some much-needed rest, right?!

Nope. Two months prior to it, I decided it would be a good idea to spend it running 10 kilometres around London instead. Don't tell me I don't know how to live.

Determined to set myself some sort of goal to work towards, and to get back into running properly for the first time since last year's Bath Half Marathon, I entered the Vitality London 10,000. So come 10am on Bank Holiday Monday, I was taking my place on the Mall and stretching up on tiptoe trying to get a glimpse of the start line!

Despite busy days at work, plenty of long on-calls and a couple of weekend shifts, I made a pretty decent effort at sticking to my training plan. Some days it was a relief to pull on my trainers, put the hospital behind me and get out on the pavements or the treadmill. But there were also times when I was just too tired to run, no matter how much I wanted to. Combining the running with a busy job that sees me spending most of the day on my feet has taught me loads about doing what feels best for my body - and on more than one occasion that meant resting, or cutting my run short.

It's a great time of year for a race though. All those extra hours of daylight in the mornings and evening make it feel like there's lots more time for running. Plus there have been some beautiful views on my riverside route when the sunlight sparkles on the water.

Race day itself was rather a warm one, yet deceptively grey and cloudy. I was pleased with my decision to run in shorts rather than leggings - and grateful for the water stations and roadside shower, spraying runners with cool water just after halfway. 

The Mall London 10000

The Mall

Standing down on the start line, the atmosphere was brilliant. I've never really been one for nerves before any kind of sporting event, but I was full of excitement and adrenaline waiting for the starting buzzer to go! 

I got off to a good start, feeling nice and comfortable at the same pace as the runners around me for the first few kilometres. With the music, the crowds and the runners around me I find it much easier to just get comfortable running and not really notice my pace - normally I'm glancing at my phone every few minutes to check how fast I'm going and how much I've still go to do!

It was particularly nice to spot my parents at the roadside shortly before half way - always good to have some supporters to keep me going. 

Around 5km though it started to get a bit tougher. The streets were pretty quiet, the air was humid and I really questioned why on earth I'd ever thought this might be a good idea. At this point I simply had to remind myself that I'd put hours of training in, had a load of sponsorship on this and that it was less than half way to go - all I had to do was keep going. 

And keep going I did. Finally seeing the 8km and then 9km marker was such a relief - and a little extra spurt of enthusiasm came from the guy who reached the 9km and shouted something like "last kilometre guys, let's smash it!"

I've walked down Birdcage Walk many a time, but it was great to run down it and know that just around the corner I'd be able to see the finish line. Despite the struggle between 8 and 9km, somehow I found the energy (and fortunately the space!) to sprint the last 100m or so and cross the finish line feeling a great sense of achievement. In fact, I almost forgot to look up to my left and see Buckingham Palace - I'd been too focused on the bright pink finishing gantry!

Finishing 10km

I'd been aiming for about 55 minutes to complete the race - with previous 5km runs taking me about 30 minutes it felt like a good target to go for. So I was delighted with 53 minutes and 2 seconds! Although I've already got it in my head that I'd like to do another 10km and shave a little more time off next time...

Running Kit

Since then:

Since I originally wrote this post I've gone on to run a further four 10km races. And I guess you could say I've shaved "a little more time" off with my PB at 44:00 as of 19th August 2018.

It was interesting to see myself say that I often cut my training runs short during the build-up to this race! These days I tend to be a lot more motivated to push on with my training and I've learned the difference between just being a bit tired and lazy, and when I genuinely need to stop and rest. "The struggle" between 8 and 9km here was purely mental if I remember rightly. With experience, I've got much better at recognising this and knowing how to dig deep and keep going.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Henley Half Marathon

Henley Half Marathon Race Report

Sunday 21st October I headed out on a rather foggy trip out to Henley, hoping the sun would come out and make for a good day's racing! 

Race Report

Coming to this race off the back of Ealing Half Marathon three weeks beforehand, I wasn't really sure how I was going to approach it. I'd already taken over nine minutes off my PB time at Ealing so I didn't know if I actually had anything left to give so soon afterwards.

On the one hand I wanted to build upon my experience at Ealing, see if I could go a bit better and maybe even break that 1:40 barrier. On the other hand though I was worried that Ealing was too much of a confidence boost and that I'd over-do it here and knock myself back again - a half marathon is a long way to run if it's going wrong. So I tried to convince myself that I had no expectations here at all.

We began the race with a lap of the field before heading out onto the roads and although I thought I'd started fairly sensibly, the first mile marker came up surprisingly fast! A quick glance at my watch explained that - I'd done a 6:53 mile which is more like my 5K pace than my half-marathon, oops... 

After that I managed to settle my pace to a more reasonable 7:30ish mile which I was sure was probably too fast, but it felt comfortable and the course was pretty flat as we looped out towards the river. Running along the river was beautiful - the sun was out, shining on the water and I could see Henley in the distance. There was a pretty big gap between me and the runner in front, but I decided not to try and close it and instead to just keep comfortable, take in the scenery and enjoy myself. At this point my feet were finally drying out after running through the wet grass at the start and my shoes had stopped squeaking which was a relief! 

Riverbank at Henley on Thames
Views from the other side of the river, taken after the race not during it!

I'd also been assuming I was somewhere towards the end of the top twenty women at this point. I'll admit I'd looked up the results for the past couple of years and realised that a PB could potentially just get me inside the top ten but with my "definitely no goals today" attitude I'd decided to let that go shortly after the start when I saw a few women go ahead of me. So when I found out I was in 7th position around mile four, my mindset started to change a bit and I was prepared to attack it a bit more. The mile markers kept on coming, my pace was staying nicely around 7:30 and it still felt comfortable. I was wondering where it was all going to go wrong! (Probably need to work on my mental attitude to racing...)

The Hill. Luckily I'd spoken to a few people about this course and had looked up the elevation beforehand so I knew this was coming. 1.5 mile of uphill from around mile eight. I try to make sure I include hills in my training runs, so this wasn't too bad to begin with -  I just kept the pace comfortable, didn't actively try to overtake anyone and just waited for it to end. And waited. And waited a bit more. My legs were starting to burn and the road seemed to be getting steeper around every bend. I came so close to stopping and walking but knew I'd find it impossible to get going again and so just kept on pushing and remaining hopeful that the crest of the hill was around the next corner. It would have been really helpful to have some sort of sign that the hill was over!

Fortunately what goes up must come down, and the reward for pushing up that hill was a lovely downhill slope. I think training to run down hills is just as important as training to climb them and so I was really enjoying whizzing down the hill knowing I could stay balanced while speeding along and overtaking some more cautious runners. 

Three miles to go and I was still feeling surprisingly strong, having recovered pretty well on the downhill. In fact, my last four miles were my fastest, something I've never managed on a half marathon before. I checked my watch as I passed 12 miles and realised I had about ten minutes to get home under my PB which was easily do-able so long as nothing went horribly wrong. As we got back into the rugby club my legs were finally starting to fatigue and there was no chance of a final sprint effort on the grass but I already knew I'd got a time and position I'd be happy with. 

Mile splits for half marathon
Yes, the race came up a bit short on GPS

The best bit of racing is definitely other people. In the last five or six hundred metres, a man called Steve overtook me as he was running hard towards the end, cheered on really enthusiastically by someone who turned out to be his sister (she's was a far more supportive sibling than mine would be, or me to them - we'd probably be shouting really unhelpful things to one another). I usually end up congratulating the people who finish around me whether that's at parkrun or a half-marathon, but Steve's sister came up to say well done to me. And on hearing I'd just got at least a two-minute PB she gave me a huge hug - so thanks Steve for letting me share your supporter!


I was really pleased to finish 7th lady out of 151, and 76/479 overall with a chip time of 1:38:01 - not even bothered by that one second!
Average pace was 7:34/mi - which partway round the course I reflected on as being a pace I'd have been pretty happy with for a 5K in the not too distant past.

That's it for me and half marathons now for a little while. I've not got any more booked this year and I don't plan on booking any! I'll probably include one or two as part of my marathon training after Christmas, but won't be chasing PBs (or so I'm telling myself anyway...)

Half marathon finishers medal

The Course

The course is definitely the main selling point of this race. It's a single lap course that starts off with roads out towards the river, then loops back alongside the river - partly on grass, then with a gravel path. The views are beautiful and there's nothing quite like running alongside a river on a sunny autumn day. Then back across the bridge and onto roads again. It's also pretty flat to begin with and stays like that until around mile eight. At this point comes the hill - a pretty testing 1.5 mile continuous climb that does seem to go on forever. However get that out the way and it's downhill again, before a flat couple of miles along a main road to finish. 

The Event

I have to say it's not one of the most atmospheric races I've done. I'm not that fussed about having big crowds of people out cheering, but there wasn't much of a buzz around the start/finish.

Organisation wise, it was mixed. It was a fairly cold start so was nice to have the clubhouse to sit in while I was waiting around beforehand. The bag drop was a pretty casual affair, just leaving your own bag lined up in a room in the clubhouse - the advantage was no queueing while volunteers took and retrieved them, but perhaps less secure than at other races. Free car parking for competitors was useful (I hate turning up to races not knowing if I'm going to have somewhere to park!) and I had no problems getting in or out quickly. The start was a bit confusing as there was a 10K being held as well, with them starting 5 minutes ahead of the half marathon. The organisers called everyone to the start line at the same time and there were more than a few people who were unsure who was supposed to stand where, although it did seem to all get underway smoothly. I did hear that there was an incident with the lead bike going the wrong way with the front runners, but luckily that's not as issue for those of us running further back! That said, I did have a couple of corners where I wasn't 100% sure where I was going when there was no one immediately in front of me. 

Henley half marathon race bib and medal

The medal - I hate to be snobby about the medals at races, but this one does look a little sorry for itself hanging among all my other ones! The goody bag didn't come full of advertising which was nice, and included a sports drink, mars bar and a cereal bar.

Value for money for £30 (early, affiliate entry price - full price is £35)? Undecided. Beautiful course,  chip timing, posted race packs, reasonably smoothly run but perhaps not the best value. It does seem to be run for charity rather than profit so I can see why it's not quite the same as other events I've been to, but there's a lot of choice out there for runners looking for races to enter. I'd recommend it to others so long as I could guarantee another beautiful day because I think the course really is the best bit of this race (as it ought to be with any race I guess) and that wouldn't be the same on a really wet or miserable day!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Year of Parkrun

Parkrun finish
Harrow Parkrun, photo by Mike Lepps

Last weekend marked one whole year since I ran my first Parkrun at Banbury.

Since then I've completed thirty-five Parkruns, at six different locations and reduced my time from 25:06 to 21:13, as well as volunteered three times. I've also managed to keep my treasured barcode safe for an entire year and have never forgotten to bring it!

I first heard about Parkrun when I was still living in Bristol and knew a few people at university who did it. I was running a bit at the time, but for some reason didn't think it was for me - I wasn't a "proper" runner. I remember a few early morning runs around the Ashton Court estate on Saturday morning and quite often I'd be finishing my run as crowds of brightly dressed runners began to gather. I'm not sure what put me off, but I never recall being tempted to join them.

When I moved to Reading for my first job I did look up the local Parkrun but never went along - if I wasn't working on a weekend I tended to be going home to London to escape the loneliness of living in a town where I knew nobody and liked to leave as early as possible. If only I'd known that one day I'd be making everything else in my weekend wait until Parkrun was done!

Start of parkrun
Banbury Parkrun on one of my days as volunteer photographer

I eventually signed up and printed out a barcode the week after I ran the Oxford Half Marathon. I'd had a bad race and wanted something to remind myself that running could be fun if I wanted. I tend to be fairly independent and wasn't daunted by the prospect of turning up alone - everything about Parkrun seemed very friendly in any case.

It was a beautiful autumn morning and I absolutely loved running around the park in the sunshine with a couple of hundred other runners. The runner's high was strong after that first one and I knew instantly that this was something I'd be back to do time and time again. I finished in a time of 25:06 and came 11th female that day. A week later I was back with the aim of a top 10 female placing and going under 25 minutes. 24:07 and 4th lady seemed like a pretty solid result! Growing in confidence, by the fourth week I stuck as long as possible with the lady who eventually came 1st that week, earning myself 2nd place. We chatted afterwards as I thanked her for spurring me on and she suggested I join a local club. Since then I found plenty of people to chat with each week and find even when I'm at a new Parkrun it's easy to make conversation with other runners.

Parkrun has certainly become a staple of my weekend - I only miss it now if I'm working or if I'm resting before a race (although even that doesn't always stop me turning up for a 'gentle' one). I've fitted it in after night shifts, and even ran on New Year's Day.

Runner completing Osterley Parkrun
Osterley Parkrun on New Years Day 2018

Caution runners parkrun sign
I'm still chipping away at my personal best times - I'm at 21:13 and would love to get it under 21 minutes at some point - but I've also accepted that not every run is about going as fast as I can. I've learned to make it a useful part of my training, sandwiching it as a tempo run between steady miles or using it for a gentle shakeout on a race weekend. Since moving back to London, I have lots of new courses to get to and I'm keen to do a lot more Parkrun tourism to explore them.

For now Parkrun is definitely staying a part of my weekly routine and my running training, and I'm working my way towards a red 50 Parkruns milestone t-shirt!

Finish funnel at parkrun
Harrow Parkrun, photo by Mike Lepps

Any other keen parkrunners out there who'd like to share their favourite parkrun?


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Beginnings and the Road to Brighton


Today marks exactly six months until the 2019 Brighton Marathon. If all goes well, in six months time I should be running my very first marathon. What better reason to start writing about running?
Runner racing
(Photo by Barry Cornelius, August 2018)

Where it began...

Where did my running really begin? 

Was it signing up to the Bath Half Marathon in 2016 with my flatmate, a weird fear of missing out decision?

Or was it those first few runs around the streets of Bristol in my second year of university, out of breath after a few hundred metres and getting far too warm in thick tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie?

Was it "accidentally" getting myself onto the school cross country team, doing next to no training before stomping round a muddy course and somehow always being back at school in times for maths?

How about a 5km run with my mum in Hyde Park, completely purely on natural fitness and without a clue about the distance.

Maybe it was the primary school relay team, although my memories are blurry and I'm not sure I ever actually competed (despite my mum being the coach!). 

Perhaps it was even infant school sports day where I copied the athletes I'd seen on TV, crouched down on the start line before the sprints only for my teachers to say that probably wasn't necessary for a group of five year olds (that memory has stuck very clearly). 

Bath Half Marathon Running Vest and Number

I suspect I'm not alone in not really being able to pinpoint where my running journey began. Much like a new runner, it has stopped and started, coursed along for a while and gathered momentum, before coming to a halt, exhausted and requiring huge effort to get going again.

Although I dipped in and out of running throughout school, it was a very minor part of my life and something I only ever thought about for the moment I was actually in it. The idea of running regularly never even crossed my mind.

I bought a pair of running shoes in my second year of medical school with a vague idea of doing a few runs to keep fit without needing to pay for a gym membership. I think I ran a few times that year, but it wasn't really until my housemates started training for the 2015 Bath Half that I started running more regularly - I didn't want to be the lazy, unfit member of the house! I joined them for a couple of longer runs but mainly stuck to a 5km route through Clifton two or three times a week. 

Having seen so many of my friends and coursemates train for and complete the half marathon, I was fairly easily persuaded to enter the 2016 race even if it was purely to be able to say I'd done 13.1 miles at least once in my life. I printed out a training plan, stuck closely to it through my final months at medical school and completed the Bath Half Marathon feeling ecstatic. I thought briefly about entering more races, but got somewhat distracted by a two month elective placement in South Africa, a European road-trip and then starting work as a junior doctor.

Running Vitality London 10k

In fact, it was more than a year before my next race, the Vitality London 10,000. I'd trained but not particularly well and really struggled with this run on what was a very humid day. It was nearly enough to put me off running, but with a new job in Oxford coming up I decided to pre-empt half marathon FOMO and entered the 2017 Oxford Half Marathon. Another race that didn't go to plan, but this time filled me with determination. Running wasn't going to beat me. I immediately signed up for another half marathon, got myself down to Parkrun and a few weeks later joined a running club. 

What's to come?
A year on from making the decision to start taking running a bit more seriously, I've got lots to look forward to. I've entered the Brighton Marathon and now I'm putting in the foundations before I begin my first marathon training cycle this winter. 

I still think of myself as a new runner and I know I have a whole heap of things to learn and experience but that's all part of the process and the fun!

So please, follow along and if you have any comments or advice on marathon training feel free to share!
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