Race Review: Cranleigh 15/21

I have to say, today was an interesting one.

When I saw the Cranleigh 15/21 listed on the Runners World website, it looked ideal. The start and finish were a stone’s throw from my grandparents’ house, and it meant that I would have some company (and a change of scenery) for my longest run before the taper. I had decided almost from the start that the full 21 miles was a bit ambitious, given last year’s training and the fact that this will be my first marathon. I also wasn’t quite sure whether I could actually run 21 miles and recover in time for Brighton. I figured I would run the 15 miler, and then add a few ‘warm down’ miles on afterwards to make up the distance. Even better, the course was described as ‘relatively flat with a few undulations.’ I figured I could handle a few undulations. I mean, undulations aren’t a big deal, right?

Relatively flat, my bum. Minor undulations .. Again, not so much. Within the first mile we were heading up a seemingly never-ending hill. And every time we went back down one, we’d shortly be sent up another. And they weren’t small hills, either; they were steep, and went on for aaages. On the plus side, the views from the top were absolutely stunning, especially in the bright sunshine. Green fields, flowers, pretty little cottages .. It was idyllic. And for a lot of it, it was quite peaceful!

Then there was a stretch along a B road, which for obvious reasons wasn’t closed to traffic. Every now and then we’d have a car overtake us – and whilst most of them moved into the far lane to go past, as soon as another car appeared in the opposite direction, drivers would try and squeeze past us in the same lane. There was a particularly busy stretch later on where we had to run almost on the verge – which had a couple of downsides. Firstly, I’ve never been a fan of cars passing me at however many miles an hour, with barely an inch to spare (as if the hills hadn’t raised my heart rate enough, haha!) Secondly, to keep out of the way of traffic, we had to run right along the edge of the road, and the camber meant that my knee and ankle really started to niggle by the end. Luckily, they calmed down once I stopped, but even so – injury this close to Brighton would be a major issue!

I really wasn’t sure about the event to begin with. It was a mass start, and nobody was 100% sure where the actual start line was – there wasn’t a race briefing (at least, not one that us at the back could hear) and it was a bit crowded, being on a narrow lane. When we hit that big hill in the first mile or so and everyone seemed to speed into the distance, I thought I might have underestimated the race – that maybe I was out of my league. I didn’t want to push my pace too much (not that I’d have known, given I forgot my Garmin!) so I ran to feel, which was actually pretty good for me. I kept to a comfortable pace, and although by mile 3 I was struggling so much I genuinely considered dropping out (HILLS!) a few people had begun to drop back to where I was, which made me feel a bit better.

I stuck with it, and actually felt pretty good by about 5 miles. I also started to pass a few people, which was a confidence booster! I tried to ignore the achey legs, and focus on the scenery – it really was beautiful, and not somewhere I’d normally get the chance to run. Yay! And I had a fab surprise at mile 9 – my Granddad, with a camera! The course had us running on a long stretch of tarmac into the sun at that point, so seeing a friendly face really gave me a boost! We then ran along Cranleigh High Street, dodging shoppers (quite funny), before heading back out on the Downs Link for the second loop – 6 miles this time. After that, it was pretty much sun – hills – pretty views – sun – hills – water stop – hills – hills – sun.

There was a killer hill just after mile 14, which I found pretty cruel! From mile 11 onwards I had actually started taking a short walking break every mile, and I’m afraid that hill was one of them. I managed all of the hills up until the 11 mile point, but with the heat and the distance I found it easier to walk them after that. Though to be fair, that last hill was almost too steep to run up even if I’d had more energy! A very sweet lady on a bike (massive thumbs up for cycling the thing!) called out an ‘it’s ok, it flattens out shortly!’ as she passed me, which was lovely to hear, and pushed me to start running! Well, jogging ..

The one thing that made Cranleigh different to the other races I’ve done was the support from the faster runners. Almost every person that passed me on the second loop (on their second go round, for the full 21 miles), offered me a quick ‘good running’ or ‘well done’. This was brilliant! I generally offer encouragement to the faster runners, as they just look so impressive to me as I plod along; but to get some support back – despite the fact that they must have been really working hard – was lovely, especially as it was the first race I’d done completely on my own. Though I think my favourite part of the course was the steep downhill to the finish line! I’d forgotten the route was a little over 15 miles, and when I saw the 15 mile marker and a crowd of people I thought I’d finished – only to be directed further up the road, round a corner and across a field to the finish chute. They had 2 separate finish areas after the line – one for the 15 milers and one for the 21 milers – and gave us a medal with our distance on it, rather than a generic one, which I thought was a lovely touch.

Cranleigh

Once I got my medal, I ran back to the start area and up through Cranleigh to my Grandparents’ house, which pushed it to about 15.5 miles. After a quick stop to drop off my number and medal and fill up my water bottle, I headed back to the bridle path and out of Cranleigh to make up another 3 miles. The bridle path was beautiful – and lined with trees, so nice and shaded. I stopped a few times to stretch out my legs and have some water, and it was completely silent apart from the birds. For a while it was completely deserted, and SO peaceful. Dappled light, a slight breeze, and acres of green fields on either side of me. It definitely made the sore legs worth it.

So I have no idea what my pace was today, or the exact mile count (though I know it was about 18.5), but it didn’t bother me like I thought it would. I had no Garmin, and no iPod – I ran with just a bottle of water and some gels, and I really loved it. It was tough, and getting my pace right at the beginning whilst everyone else shot off into the distance was a challenge – but I guess I must have done it right, as I was able to keep going! It was a good experience, in any case. I’ll definitely be wearing my Garmin at Brighton, but I think I might leave my iPod at home ..

Now it’s taper time! Whilst I’ve been told that 18.5 miles is enough for the final long run, I really have no idea how I’m going to add another 7.5! I’m hoping that the atmosphere, like at Surrey, gets me through the last few miles. Having watched it when my parents ran it the first time, I have high hopes!

I guess I just need to trust in the training ..

 

Advertisements

Race Review – Surrey Half Marathon

Better late than never, huh?

As you’ve probably gathered from everyone else’s race reports, the Surrey Half was BRILLIANT. Bright sunshine, huge crowds, a well organised start (setting off in waves based on pace groups to avoid overcrowding – it worked!), almost no loo queues, and an amazing course. There were cheerleaders, live bands, kids throwing water at us to cool us down and parents handing out sweets and cups of water in between aid stations, crowds all along the route cheering us along .. and everything was extremely well marked. All the volunteers were smiley and encouraging and wonderful. I loooved it. I think I had a smile on my face for almost the entire thing!

Surrey Half Marathon March 2014 by SussexSportPhotography.com

I especially loved finishing on the track – somehow I managed a sprint finish, overtaking 7 people, which topped off the day perfectly. Looking at the results, I passed 400 people in the second half! Unreal! Bit of a contrast to hobbling over the line at Exeter last month after an entire lap of wanting to quit:

ExeSHM

The only downside was that the course was hillier than I had expected (though I really should have expected it, given I’ve been cycling from Guildford to Woking and back for work for a year – though in my defence, I use another road!) It was tough, especially given the heat, but the views were beautiful and the runners were lovely and friendly, and the supporters made the miles fly by.

Things did get a bit wobbly at half way – and on the big hill at about mile 10 (so cruel!). Running uphill towards the sun on tarmac was a challenge, but I grabbed a gel and extra water (they were handing out mini bottles at the aid stations) and drank half before squeezing the other half down the back of my neck. Bliss! I did see a LOT of runners by the side of the course with medics, though. It definitely made me more aware of the amount of fluid and fuel I was taking on – luckily, apart from that half mile or so, I felt ok. I definitely needed the extra water, though – and more practise running in the sunshine! (Hint hint, England).

This was actually the first half marathon that I’ve completed without a single walking break – and I got a new PB of 2:22! This was a complete turnaround from Exeter last month, despite the heat, and a real confidence boost. (If I can run 13.1, surely I can run/walk 26.2 .. Right!?) I have no idea where the energy for the sprint finish came from this time round – but I’ll take it!

And I even got my race pictures for free, just by being one of the 100 first people to fill in a Virgin Care survey! Result! It was great fun posing for a photo on the podium, even if I did look like a big sweaty mess!

SHMFinish

All in all, an amazing event! I’ve already signed up for next year – I’d definitely recommend you sign up, too!

Brand new milestone!

I decided I wanted to try and step up my mileage this week. So I went for a lunchtime 5k on Wednesday with some colleagues – which was hilarious, and saw us trudging through inches of mud, climbing over fences, shimmying around deep puddles on the river path (as well as botching together a makeshift bridge with a log) and saying ‘hi’ to a goat! The sun was shining, it was dry and the wind stayed low. Great fun! It’s so nice to just head on out without a time, distance or even a route in mind. We just decided to follow the river, and had an absolute blast. It wasn’t a fast run, but it was definitely one of my favourites!

That evening I then ran home with a friend, before adding on another few loops around Guildford to bring the day to 13 miles. We went slowly and took walking breaks, but it was the furthest she had run this year and her last long run before we tackle Surrey Half next weekend, and it went great! Though I did wonder what I’d gotten myself into when she insisted on a sprint finish ..

Today I had 16 miles on the schedule, but as I hadn’t run further than 13.5 miles yet this year I was a bit nervous. As with Wednesday, I didn’t pick a specific route – I just decided to head out towards Woking, and see how I felt. The weather was lovely to begin with; sunny, cold and a slight breeze. I ran to Woking, up around the park, and back down to Old Woking before heading out to Send. Somehow, every time I run out towards Woking I end up with a headwind for nearly the whole way back. I kind of thought I’d escaped it today, as the wind was blowing from the side, but by the time I got to Woking Park it had picked up and I was running right into it.

map17

I got a short stretch with the wind behind me as I headed back from Send to Old Woking (after running into the wind uphill ..) but from that point all the way back to Guildford it was a definite struggle. I made a quick pit stop at Sainsburys at about 11 miles to grab a bottle of water (I’d finished my sports drink by that point, as I thought I would, but hadn’t wanted to lug 2 bottles around with me from the start) which I poured into my sports bottle, spilling half a gel down myself in the process .. Not my finest moment!

Luckily I brought along 3 gels, so I opened the third and took a bit with some water before heading back towards Guildford – into the wind. Not fun! I took it slowly, as the route was fairly hilly, but my knees, ankles and lower back were still feeling good so I tried to keep myself going. About half way back I had to inch around a huge fallen tree on the path – someone had trimmed it enough to clear the road, but decided to forego cutting another foot or so off to clear the footpath. Sigh. I ended up taking a few walking breaks on the hills, as the headwind was really tiring me out. It’s amazing how much the weather can affect a run! Even when I got running again it felt like I was going at a snail’s pace. My hamstrings and ITBs/hips kept tightening up so I paused a few times to stretch out. Sorry to anyone who was behind me at that point! I didn’t notice anyone, but you never know ..

splits17

When I got back to Guildford, I checked the Garmin and it was showing just over 15 miles. As I got closer to home, I realised that I’d end on just over 16 – close to my furthest run from last year. I decided to loop round the block, and got to 16.6 – I had planned on finishing on 16.5, but misjudged the distance – so I ran up and down the road along from my building a few times (past a couple of really bemused runners who had stopped for a chat at one end) and finally finished at my front door at 17.11 miles – my furthest ever run by about a mile, and averaging a moving pace of over 10 seconds a mile faster! I don’t know whether it was the fatigue, or the aches, or the relief of finishing but I teared up a little in the lift.

Last year I had so much trouble during my training – in the end I managed a 14-miler and 1 awful 16-miler before my knees got so bad that I had to pull out of Brighton completely. Getting to 17 miles (just over!) has boosted my confidence SO much, and made me realise that I might actually manage to get to the start line this time round. I’m planning on doing an 18-miler and then finishing on a 19-miler before tapering, and for the first time this year, I’m feeling really positive about it all. Getting to the start line means SO much to me, and to miss out a second time round because of injury or lack of fitness would be really hard. Whilst I’m seeing progress, and my pace is improving – check out the last 6 miles! – I’m not even thinking about a potential finishing time any more. I’ve realised that it’s not about how fast I finish – it’s simply that I finish.

I’m loving the journey, and I’m looking forward to the marathon. I must admit I’m pretty nervous about it – I can’t imagine adding another 9 miles onto today’s run! But as we all know, it’s not meant to be easy ..

Race Report: Exeter Half Marathon

This year’s Exeter Half couldn’t have been more different to last year. Except, yknow, half the route being underwater and therefore switched to a 3x out-and-back along a canal path. Whilst this meant it was almost entirely flat, the repetition (and being lapped twice by the leading runners) made the course a bit demoralising!

We also had a bit of a kerfuffle at the start. We got there 20 minutes before the race began, and decided to pop to the loos. The loos were directly across the river from the start/finish – but the problem was that the nearest bridge was a good few hundred metres away, and when we got to the loos at the race headquarters (the public loos that the event used last year were shut), there was a long queue for just 1 ladies’ cubicle. Typically, the men didn’t have to queue at all! We ended up having to make a dash for the start line after the quickest loo stop of my life, which meant adding half a mile or so onto our run before the event even begun! This would have been a perfect warmup, but due to having about 2 minutes to get to the start line, we ended up practically sprinting it. I think my brain then decided I was running a 5k, as I somehow clocked a sub-10-minute first mile. My usual mistake!

garminexe

But moaning aside, we were extremely lucky this year. Whilst the rest of the week has been constant rain, wind and storms, today was PERFECT running weather. Cold (frosty and icy in the shade for the first lap!), bright sunshine, and just a slight breeze. The route looked beautiful! Last year it was grey and wet for the whole day, and the puddles were awful. I had also never run more than 12 miles prior to the event, which meant I was a lot less prepared than this time round!

The volunteers made my day. They all made me SO HAPPY! They smiled, clapped, and cheered every single runner along. I even got some encouragement from the faster runners as they passed me on the last lap, which really helped! There were a couple of girls at the far end (the turning point) that were absolutely brilliant. Even though I was struggling by the last turn, they made me laugh out loud more than once! So THANK YOU, you wonderful people. It’s definitely the volunteers that make a race, and the ones at Exeter are the most awesome bunch that I’ve seen yet!

Whilst the first lap was pretty good, I was extremely close to pulling out at the end of the second one. I’ve genuinely never considered pulling out of a race so seriously before. I had started to take walking breaks, as my hamstring and glute decided to start cramping. Ironically, I’ve never had pain in those areas during training, and the usually niggly areas were fine! But going through the start/finish area, there were so many people clapping and smiling and urging us to continue that I ended up heading back out on the last lap without really thinking about it. Which was good, as my parents had long since disappeared off into the distance, and I was starting to find it pretty hard! It was brill towards the turn around point though, as they both gave me a huge hug as they passed me. Just what I needed at that point! Running alone is tough enough on a good day, but when you start to struggle it can be very easy to slip into a darker state of mind. The atmosphere, runners and volunteers really helped me to avoid that, which made SUCH a difference.

On the last stretch, I got to about 11 miles and had started to run/walk between little landmarks (lamp posts, mile markers, bins, marks on the ground …) I really wanted to keep running all the way to the finish, given I was already into double digits, but my legs were beginning to feel heavy and tight (which was really frustrating, given that I ran a hilly 13.5 miles last Sunday with no issues. Pffft!) It didn’t help that the start/finish area was full of people, whilst the far end was deserted!

But there was a woman on the route who I had been constantly swapping places with for the last lap or so, as we had both started to take walking breaks. She came up behind me at around 11.5 miles and started to chat – and wow, what a boost! We made a deal with each other to keep going and not take another walking break, and we actually did it! We ran the last mile and a half at a sub-11-minute pace (honestly, pretty good by that point) and didn’t walk once. She really kept me going – I mean, once you’re accountable to someone, you can’t let them down! If I hadn’t been so sweaty and disgusting by the end, I would have actually hugged her. What a lovely, lovely woman. Whoever you are, THANK YOU – and a virtual high five for speeding up even more for the last .2! I’ll definitely be returning the favour in future events. It’s amazing what a difference a smile or a few words can make when a run gets tough.

Moments like that remind me just what a fantastic community our sport has. Runners really seem to stick together, and help each other along. I even had people urging me on and offering encouragement when I passed them – I can’t see that happening in many other sports! It’s like a big, crazy family. I love it.

exemedal
So I made it! 13.24 miles (hey, it was 13.25 last year – we’ll get to a half marathon eventually!) in 2:24:30, making it a PB by 4 minutes – to the second! And whilst there were no creme eggs this year, the medal is awesome. Stars, dude! STARS!

Overall, it was a fantastic day. I’ll definitely be back again next year – and I suggest you sign up, too! We might even get to run the original route next time ..

 

Over half way there!

Whilst I’m still struggling to fit in all of my training sessions each week, I’ve had a few decent runs recently. On Sunday, I had 2h30 on the schedule, which works out at about 13-14 miles or so at my pace. My last long run was only just over 11 miles, so this seemed a little daunting! But with a half marathon coming up this weekend, I wanted to get as close to 13 as possible, as I knew it would be a bit of a confidence boost. I haven’t actually run over 11/12 miles since this time last year!

As always, I went out too fast and ended up clocking a sub-10-minute first mile. Not exactly the slow, steady pace I had planned! Luckily, I was able to settle into a pretty relaxed pace for the rest of the run, though I slowed riiight down for the last couple miles thanks to a combination of a niggle in my right foot, and HILLS. Why did I pick a hilly route? Not only was it hilly, but I had to loop it three times! I’m definitely rethinking things next time ..

garmin1

Today I went out for a 5k run at lunch. Usually I love running with my workmates – it gets me away from my desk and out into the fresh air, and I feel great all afternoon. Also, it’s brilliant motivation having other people (that I persuaded to start running with me) expecting me to run. How can I skip a workout if the whole office then teases me for being a slacker!? But today it came round to bite me in the bum. My legs were still a little heavy from the weekend, and the wind and rain had picked right up. 27mph wind, and (horizontal) torrential rain. It was freezing cold, too. Horrible combination. But the others were heading out, so I grabbed my trainers!

We had a new runner in our group today, who it turns out used to run with a club, and considers 9:00/mile a slow pace. Personally, I have trouble keeping under 10:00 for more than 5k! But having him picking up the pace was great, and without even realising, I hit 9:36 for the first mile. My fastest 5k only averaged 9:40! Brilliant! The second mile was into a side wind, and the pace dropped to 10:02, but it was still much faster than our group were used to running. The third mile, in a word, SUCKED. We were wading through puddles that were more like ponds by this point, the wind had picked up, the rain was so heavy that we couldn’t even see where we were going, and I genuinely hadn’t been so cold since I hiked the Perambulation last year. Not even kidding.

But when you get to a certain point, you really do stop caring. We started to splash through the puddles, rather than slipping and sliding around the edges. We put our heads down, and pushed into the wind. And it was great fun! We had a few people walk past us and mutter ‘they’re effing crazy!’, which made my day – I laughed a LOT! Because when you’re soaked to the bone and shivering, and your trainers are completely full of water, and you have so much rain in your face that you can’t see where you’re going, what else can you do!? My favourite (!) moment was just along the road from Sainsburys, towards the end of our run, when a bus sped past me and sent a wave of water right over my head. It was so cold that I actually couldn’t get my breath for a second!

We got into Sainsburys to grab some lunch, trailing water behind us, and one of the ladies stocking the shelves took one (extremely worried) look at us and exclaimed ‘is it really THAT bad out there!?’ I laughed again. There were seriously no words. We were completely and utterly disheveled.

But I’ll bet you anything that we all felt much better that afternoon than the rest of the office! (Yknow, after we got rid of the water).

Ironically the rain stopped a little while later. But I don’t think it would’ve been quite as fun with just the wind!