Dublin Marathon: Decision Time

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Gorgeous views from Box Hill last weekend!

I’ve drafted and re-drafted this post sooo many times, and then I dithered over whether or not I should even publish it. But here it is.

I have a habit of setting big goals, and putting quite a bit of pressure on myself to meet them. And I’m pretty hard on myself when things don’t go to plan.

So this decision was really hard.

A few weeks into my Dublin Marathon plan, I caught a nasty cold and was out of action for a couple of weeks. When I finally got back into my running shoes, things just… didn’t feel quite right. My breathing wouldn’t settle, my legs were heavy, and even the shorter ‘easy’ runs felt like a struggle.

I hate to say it, but I kind of fell out of love with running.

I blamed it on taking a break, I blamed it on the freakishly hot weather we’ve had, I blamed it on work… But what I eventually realised was that for whatever reason, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore.

I feel a bit crap admitting it, if I’m honest!

The thing is, when it comes to marathon training, it’s not enough to just tick off the sessions on your plan. As the long runs get longer, it’s that mental drive that will keep you going – pure stubbornness and determination. And somewhere along the line, I lost mine.

I love running. I love races, and I love big city marathons. Standing at the starting line of an event I always get butterflies, and crossing the finish line is the best feeling EVER.

But I think I need to listen to my body, and accept that maybe 2 marathons (plus that little hike across Exmoor…) are enough for me this year.

So I’ve decided to DNS Dublin, and postpone my sub-5 marathon attempt to 2017. I’m going to work towards a spring race, which means training will start again a little later this year.

I feel like a bit of a failure for giving up. But I’m not going to stop training completely – I’m going to get back into parkrun; I’m going to work on my swimming; I’ll be exploring more walk routes in the Surrey Hills (suggestions or company are both welcome!), and I’ll of course be spending some quality time with friends and family.

It’s time to take some of the pressure off, and get back into running for FUN, not for finish times.

Next month I’ll be heading down to Devon to join my lovely parents for the Great West Run. It’ll be my Dad’s first race since his accident last year, and I’m really looking forward to running it with him.

Dublin, I’ll see you next year.

Have you ever DNS’d or postponed a big race?

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The Exmoor Perambulation 2016!

This year, I headed back down to Devon for another shot at the full-distance Exmoor Perambulation. Given the past few wet and windy years I’m not sure how they managed to get me to sign up again, but I imagine bribery must have been involved somewhere…

The Perambulation is a 31-mile hike around the original boundries of the Exmoor royal forest. The land is largely privately owned now, which means that we had an exclusive opportunity to see areas of Exmoor that aren’t usually open to the public. It’s classed as one of the toughest walks in the Exmoor annual calendar, and it’s easy to see why!

My parents sadly pulled out a few weeks beforehand, but luckily I’d managed to rope in 4 lucky (!) friends to join me for the event, as well as a weekend of good old Devon camping. I warned them continuously about the potential weather conditions, and as we set off to grey skies and a cool breeze, I was glad that I’d packed ALL the layers!

The organisers provide walkers with a set of instructions, which require a compass and an OS map to follow. Given that my Dad has always been the navigator in the past, and my Mum admitted that she pulled out this year because my Dad couldn’t take part and she didn’t trust me not to get us lost in the wilds of Exmoor, I was feeling a little bit nervous. Dragging friends through ice-cold, waist-deep water and mud on a brutal 10k was one thing (#sorrynotsorry), but stranding us all in the middle of nowhere waiting for mountain rescue to find us was a whole different matter!

Luckily, the organisers had equipped all teams with a GPS tracker this year, so we knew they’d find us eventually! Silver linings and all that, right?

Exmoor Perambulation Checkpoint 1

2 miles down, and it’s still dry! We’re not lost! We’ve got this! Wait, I didn’t start my Garmin when we left!

The weather stayed dry, and by the first checkpoint – 2 miles in – we were all feeling pretty chipper. We had set off a little late, which meant that lots of the full distance walkers (you can also do the half) were miles ahead. We would often go hours without seeing anyone else, which was a strange feeling! I also realised 2 miles in that I hadn’t switched my Garmin on, which was a shame, but it found signal pretty quickly and then we were off towards the second checkpoint.

Exmoor Perambulation Hills

Trying to decide whether to climb down sideways…

Early in the first half, we hit the start of the steep climbs. The first half is definitely a lot hillier than the second, with the route taking you down into the valleys and then back up and along the top. Whilst this was pretty tough, our legs were still feeling fresh and the ground was dry, which meant that we didn’t even need walking poles this time round! I couldn’t believe how different the conditions were to previous years. Not that I was complaining!

Exmoor Perambulation Navigating

‘Erm, so we might be on the wrong side of this plantation… Which means doing this steep nasty hill again, but over there…’

Somehow, we only got lost 3 times (not bad for 31 miles!), and managed to work our way back onto the route in time for the checkpoint cutoffs. Phew.

Exmoor Perambulation Stream Crossing

Shoes off – no bridges this time!

Last time we did this walk, the stream we had to wade through was more like a river, and with the shingle bank submerged we had to be pulled out at the other side. This time round, the sun was shining, the water level was nice and low, and we enjoyed a lovely refreshing dip and then a short snack stop on the far side. Glorious.

Exmoor Perambulation Summit of Green Mountain

This is why Green Mountain is worth climbing. Look at those views!

Just before the half way point, we hit the biggest hill on the route, which we’d always referred to as Green Mountain. This short climb is so steep that you have to use your hands – and be extremely careful standing up, so as not to fall backwards!

Exmoor Perambulation Half Way

16 miles down, just 15 more to go!

And then we reached half way! We stopped for sandwiches, had a chat to a couple of the mountain rescue guys, and took a read of the instructions to get an idea of what the route would be throwing at us next. Lots of the second half is on road, which sounds brilliant until you’ve been on the same bit of tarmac for 7 miles. (And this is a road marathoner talking!)

The off-road sections, whilst hilly, are much easier on your legs and feet, and the variety stops you from getting too uncomfortable. After a while on the road, we all stiffened up and slowed down quite a bit. I think next year I’ll ditch the hiking shoes for some lighter running shoes and try and jog that bit!

Exmoor Perambulation Sunny Views

By this point I was regretting not putting sun-cream on before we started!

Thanks to the beautiful sunshine, we got to take in miles of views over the moor. This was awesome because 1) it was stunning, and 2) lots of the route instructions require you to head for the far side of a particular  field, or look out for where the hedges are. When the visibility is low, you’re relying completely on compass bearings and can easily misjudge your position. We actually stuck to the route for the whole of the second half, without getting lost once!

Exmoor Perambulation Checkpoint

Taking a breather at one of the checkpoints…

The volunteers at the checkpoints were absolute heroes. They were friendly, cheerful, and gave us as much advice as they could to set us off in the right direction, warn us of tricky bits, and also gave us an idea of our position relative to the other walkers (the 2 couples who had been behind us towards this point had pulled out, so by the second-to-last checkpoint we were last!) The checkpoints were stocked with plenty of water and juice, so we filled up our bottles, got our cards stamped, and with a hearty ‘good luck’ and ‘well done’, we set off towards the final checkpoint.

The first time I attempted the full distance, we got stopped at the final checkpoint due to dangerous weather conditions – and this happened again to my parents the year after. Luckily, the sun showed no signs of going away, so we were able to set off with plenty of time to spare, and no chances of being stopped.

When we got to the long road section (dubbed the ‘Road to Hell’, given how long and straight and soul-destroying it is), for once I was actually able to see the views! To give you an idea, this is the difference between the first time I did the full, and this time:

Road to Hell - then and now

The ‘Road to Hell’ – then and now!

Needless to say, I was feeling pretty lucky! The sunshine definitely took the edge off, although this stretch got to us all in the end. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to get back to the hills and rough, off-road terrain!

Exmoor Perambulation Last Mile

The end is in sight! Heading over the final hill to the finish…

By the time we got to the finish – in 12h50 – we were the last ones by 20 minutes. Only about 30 people had managed to complete the full distance, including the 5 of us!

Exmoor Perambulation Certificate and Homemade Fudge

Our route card and finishers certificate (including a brilliant description of the walk), and the homemade fudge that got us through the first half!

The volunteers (including the mountain rescue guys and a couple of park rangers) were sat outside waiting for us, wrapped up in their jackets, and offered us a big congratulations and a packet of their biscuits to take back to the campsite with us – how lovely!?

They were all so unfailingly cheerful, chatty and SO lovely. I’m sure it was a long, tiring day for them and we were all so grateful to them for the logistical support on the route and the motivation and encouragement they offered us along the way. We gave them our GPS tracker, had a bit of a chat with the guy that wrote the instructions (which were fantastic, and are updated slightly each year with participant feedback), and then hobbled back to the car.

We finished the day tired, aching and sunburnt, but I have to say that this is the best year so far – and I’ve already signed up to do the full with my parents again next year.

Sub-12h00, we’re coming for you!

I’m also happy to report that my friends are all still my friends, despite Green Mountain, the Road to Hell, DOMS and blisters and sunburn. But despite enjoying the day, and feeling super proud to finish, they’ve all refused to ever join me on one of my ‘crazy’ adventures again. (But they’ve not ruled out doing the half another year!)

Fair play – camping and cider and chilling on the beach will do just fine without the added 31-mile hike! 😀

If you get the chance, I would absolutely recommend this event. Sign up, I dare you!

Bluebells in the Chantries Woods

I’ve been itching to go and see the bluebells for a couple of weeks now (I live an exciting life, clearly!). Our neighbour recommended that we go and visit the Chantries Woods, and after looking it up we realised that it’s only a mile or so from our front door – handy! (Also, how have we not been there before now!?)

So this weekend we laced up our walking shoes, and set off for a wander.

Walking in the Chantries Woods

There are miles of footpaths to explore through the Chantries, and the North Downs Way actually goes through some of it, too – so it’s easy to pick up dozens of different routes. I can’t wait to get out there in my trail shoes for some long training runs 😀

Chantries North Downs Way

… Though we discovered at times that some of the footpaths we used weren’t actually on Google maps, so there’s a high chance I’ll get lost… But that’s part of the fun, right? 😉

Chantries Woods Bluebells

I even managed to get James to pose for a photo or two. He caught on pretty quickly, and stopped slowing down to wait for me after a while! And I learned to stop asking him to take my photo unless I wanted to hear him sniggering about how dumb it was 😉 Instagram Husband, he is not!

P.S. LOOOL, you have to watch that video. Absolute genius!

Chantries Bluebells

Isn’t this place stunning though!?

Chantries Woods

As well as the gorgeous woodland, if you fancy a bit of a climb there are some stunning views across the Surrey Hills.

They’re almost as good as the views you get on the Bacchus Half, which I still need to sign up for! (And so do you, if you haven’t already. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have on a run! Here’s last year’s review, if you need any convincing…)

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How was your weekend? Did you get out and enjoy the sunshine? 🙂

Bit of a lull

I don’t know about you, but ever since the marathon, my motivation for running has taken a nosedive and a half.

Sure, I’ve squeezed in the odd 5k – but my pace hasn’t been great and I just haven’t really been feeling it.

So I eventually decided that enough was enough. For now, I’ve put running on the backburner, and have been trying out other exercise options. The key: I’m doing it just for fun. No training plan, no targets to meet or PBs to get or minimum weekly mileage. Just what I feel like, when I feel like it – which is a bit of a novelty!

By taking the pressure off, I’ve had a chance to get back into other sports that I love. For one, I’ve started swimming again, albeit pretty slowly! I’ve been getting up and to the pool for 7am once a week before work, for a half hour lanes session, and I’m feeling great as a result. I used to swim in clubs, for yeeears and years, but since Uni I don’t think I’ve swum at all until now. It’ll take me a while (!) to get back to my old shape, but I’m looking forward to a new challenge!

I’ve also managed to fit in some lovely bike rides. I haven’t been cycling to work recently (I’ve been waiting for some new tyres to arrive – those will be fun to fit, given I’ve never even touched a tyre lever before …) but I’ve been getting out at the weekends and exploring. I went down to Devon last week with my boyfriend to visit my family, and on the one day of (glorious) sunshine we got, we cycled 7 miles to the coast for ice-cream and back:

icecream

Granted, not the longest or toughest cycle in the world. But it was fun, and the scenery was gooorgeous:

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I really miss living in Devon sometimes!

As expected though, the sunshine disappeared as suddenly as it appeared, and for the rest of the week it was grey and gloomy. But we were determined to get out to the coast – the coast paths are amazing, and there are SO many walks to do. So we grabbed our boots, wrapped up in waterproofs and headed out! At the start it was almost dry, which meant I got to snap some pictures:

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Definitely worth the rain! The hills were a bit tough (little out of shape right now!), and the steps got pretty slippery as the rain got heavier, but being able to stop and look out at views like these made me so happy 🙂 It was enough to make you forget the rain for a bit!

coast1

This weekend, we were lucky enough to get a bit more sunshine in Surrey, so we headed out on the bikes again and cycled from Guildford to Cranleigh and back, via the River Wey and Shalford. I think most of the track was the Downs Link? Whatever the exact route was, it was warm and sunny and beautiful!

surrey1

I think we ended up doing around 18 miles in the end that day (but no ice-cream stops, unfortunately). Our next challenge is to cycle to Hampton Court! Once I find a route, that is.

Whilst I do miss running, I think I’m going to leave it a while before I throw myself back into it. My next half – the Thames Meander – is in August, so I’ve got plenty of time to build up the distance again! In the meantime, I’ll be working on my front crawl and bike maintenance skills ..

A little wander over the moors

There are endless training plans for running 26.2 miles; endless resources for ways to build up the distance, manage your hydration and nutrition, kit and everything else.

But what about training for a 31 mile hike across the moors?

According to the organisers:

This circular long distance walk, the Exmoor Perambulation, is a traditional walk dating back over 725 years. It’s one of the most challenging walks in the Exmoor annual calendar and during the 31 miles of cross country walking you will be taking in breathtaking views and accessing parts of the National Park not normally open to the public. You will also be participating in a bit of history! Every June hundreds of people from around the country come together to tread the boundary of the old Royal Forest of Exmoor and pass through some unique areas of Exmoor not normally accessible to the public.’

Granted, I’ll be walking it. But with a notorious hill dubbed ‘Green Mountain’, streams and rivers to cross, stiles and boggy fields to navigate, it’s not exactly a gentle Sunday stroll.

I’ve tried this event twice before. The first time, in 2010, my parents and I did the half distance. Not realising just how serious the event was, I turned up in a vest top and cardigan, with cheap trainers on my feet:

Surrounded by serious and seasoned hikers, and completely unprepared.


If it hadn’t been dry that year, there’s no way I would ever have made it to the end. Somehow, I did – and it was brilliant.

Last year, we decided to try the full distance. My parents had attempted it the year before, but severe weather conditions meant that they were stopped at the final checkpoint, with just 5 miles to go.

It was a bit grey and misty when we set off, but the skies cleared, and we enjoyed a little bit of sunshine as we passed the half-way point. We were in high spirits, and this time I was wearing sensible walking shoes, various layers, and had a waterproof coat in my rucksack (yes, I even had a rucksack that year). Unfortunately, the weather decided to shake things up a bit, and as we passed the checkpoint just before the FINAL checkpoint, the heavens opened. The volunteers asked if we wanted to get a lift back to the start, but being so close to the final checkpoint and those elusive five miles to the finish, we pushed on.

We soon realised that our waterproof jackets weren’t waterproof. We shuffled along an endless road, visibility decreasing by the minute as the fog rolled in, a bitter wind pressing our wet clothes against us and making us shiver. My legs had never felt so stiff. We never made it to that final checkpoint; instead, one of the organisers’ buses pulled up alongside us to pick us up, telling us that the event had once again been cancelled due to dangerous weather conditions.

Psychologically, it felt as difficult as I expect a marathon to feel towards the end – my whole body hurt, I was stiffening up, I was tired and miserable and wanted to give up. My legs ached for days afterwards. My parents had run Brighton a few months before, and agreed that both events were on a similar level.

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When the sun came out, the views on the moors were spectacular.
You can just make out a few teeny people on the bottom right of the left-hand image!

But we refused to be defeated, and signed up once again to try the full distance. This summer, we’re determined to get to the finish line – this time, with waterproof jackets that are actually waterproof.

And preferably, without the torrential rain, bitter wind, and crazy amounts of fog.

Third time lucky, right!?