Race Review: Surrey Half Marathon 2017!

Surrey Half is one of my favourite races, and luckily it’s right on my doorstep. I ran the first event back in 2012, and excluding last ear (when I was in Barcelona for the marathon), I’ve run it every year since. Rude not to, really! ūüėČ

Yesterday, I woke up to rain and grey skies, and for some reason I just wasn’t feeling it. It wasn’t the weather though. I was nervous, anxious, and worried that I couldn’t handle the distance. This sounds a bit stupid, as I’m most of the way through my marathon training and ran a half in Brighton just¬†the other week. But Brighton¬†was one of my slowest half marathon times, and I’ve really struggled to find motivation for my other marathon training runs recently. I’ve been running far slower than before, and have struggled with a niggly hip over the past month or so, to boot!

But I forced¬†myself out of bed, got my kit together and was on a train to Woking by 8am. Luckily it’s just 1 stop from Guildford, and then a nice downhill 10-minute walk to the start area in Woking park. As always, the event was brilliantly organised – I followed the crowds into the Liesure Centre, along sign-posted halls to the bag drop, and out the far side of the centre right into the corrals. I didn’t notice any portaloos, but I wasn’t really looking for them – and I did hear that there were plenty, with almost no queues. This was definitely the case in previous years.

However this year, for the first time EVER there was a huuuge queue to get into the bag drop. I think it was just the volume of runners! Despite the rain, runners in the queue were in high spirits. Once inside they got us sorted out pretty quickly, and luckily I still made it into my corral 10 minutes before the start.

As we crossed the start line, the heavens opened and the drizzle turned into pouring rain. But there were so many spectators along the course cheering us on, and the first 6 miles seemed to fly by, especially as the first half is mostly flat.

The second half was just as lively¬†as the first – there were a few quieter stretches along some of the country roads, but so many locals were out and there was such a good atmosphere among the runners that I don’t really remember a lack of support at any point. This has been the case every year I’ve run this one, and it’s one of the reasons I love it so much!

Soaking up the crowd support (and the rain!) and digging in for the last .1

It also really helped that the route covered the same roads as¬†my regular training runs – and my old run/cycle commute. It meant that I could break the run up a bit, and I knew which hills were coming, and could pace myself for them. I’d started¬†in between the 2:20 and 2:30 pacer, and my only goal was to break 2:30 (as none of my road half marathons had been slower than that). But by about 8 or 9 miles my hip had started to really hurt, and I had begun to take regular walking breaks.

It was around 9 miles that a little boy shouted out ‘You’re in the race! Yay, you’re in the race!’ and it reminded me that my time wasn’t important. I just had to take in the atmosphere, push on and try to enjoy myself! Still, when I saw my pace creeping into the 12s, I made a deal with myself to only walk up the hills from then on. It seemed to work, and by the time we hit the big downhill towards Mayford at about 11 miles, I was starting to feel quite good – and had brought my pace up a bit!

There was one last short, sharp hill at about 12 miles, and after that the crowd support (having our names on our race numbers made this even better!) meant that any chances of walking in the last mile went out the window. It was still drizzling, I was soaked and could feel blisters and some chafing, but managed to block it out and pushed on past the 13m marker,¬†over the last main road and back into the park. The finishing straight was on a slight downhill, which was brilliant for a sprint finish (8:20 – not as fast as Brighton, but still pretty speedy for me, and much faster than I expected – no tailwind for me this time!). I got a lot of cheers heading towards the finish line, and managed to overtake a few runners, which felt great ūüėÄ

The organisation at the finish is just as good. Carrying on past the finish line you collect your medal, a bottle of water and a snack, and then go back into the Leisure Centre to pick up your bags. No queuing, no getting lost, and we were in and out within 5 minutes (as opposed to the 15 minute queue before the race). The lady at the bag drop had mine waiting for me with a big smile before I’d even reached the desk!

The bling makes it all worth it ūüėČ

I got changed in the Leisure Centre toilets, which took a while (everything was wet, and my hands were numb – lethal combo!) and then James and I went into Woking for a massive burger. All in all, despite the nerves that morning, I’m SO glad I went along. The minute I was in the corral, I was reminded just why I love these events so much – the camaraderie, the support, the celebration at the finish. Regardless of the pace, the weather, or the distance, days like yesterday remind me that running can be bloody awesome.

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Did you race this weekend? How did it go?

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Dublin Marathon Training: #runnersnotrunning

I have to say, I hate missing sessions on my training plan. For weeks 1 and 2, I ticked them all off – even on the hottest day of the year. But I’ve had a cold for the past week and a bit, so last week – and this week, so far – have seen exactly NO runs.

This is sooo frustrating, as I was just starting to see some real progress! To top it all off, I¬†joined my local tri club last week, and¬†was excited to get some cross-training in, too. However, a tickly cough and a stuffy head aren’t really that great to swim or run with. Boo.

But I wanted to get outside and do something, at least – so on Sunday,¬†James and I decided to catch a train to London and spend the afternoon skating. It wasn’t quite the same as a long run, has to be said, but it was good fun and a pretty good¬†workout – especially given how tense I was! (A master skater, I am not!)

We got the tube to Green Park, and walked across to Hyde Park from there. We passed lots of very tired looking cyclists (unfortunately, the Ride London ballot decided that this wasn’t my year – fingers crossed for next time!) and even saw one rider setting off for a run in his kit! As if 100 miles of cycling wasn’t enough for one day…

We sat on the curb, got our skates on … and then James had to help me up, because face-planting the pavement would have been a rubbish start ūüėÄ

Skating in Hyde Park

Step 1: skates on, and managed to stand up – with a little help!

The main goal was for me to learn to control my speed and be able to ‘t-stop’. Up until now, I’ve always just skated into poles/walls/the person I’m skating with, which has worked fine for me¬†ūüėȬ†But James wasn’t standing for it, so I had some work to do…

Pokemon Hunting in Hyde Park

James made some new friends at a local PokeStop…¬†

After a wobbly start, I managed to pick up a little speed and could manoeuvre well enough to avoid the huge crowds of walkers, cyclists, skaters and runners. And then James realised that there were a ton of poke stops and lures about (and a gym), so he picked a route that would periodically take us past them all.

I was having enough trouble keeping myself upright, so my phone stayed in my bag for most of the afternoon. James, however, was multi-tasking like a boss, challenging gyms and catching pokemon and skating circles around me (literally). Sigh.

Skating in Hyde Park 2

The expert vs. the not-so-expert (but I didn’t fall over, at least!)

Hyde Park

Skating selfie! Whilst standing still and holding on to James for dear life…

But I’m pleased to say that I finally got the hang of the whole t-stop thing! I’m still not great at using it to slow myself down, and I’m still working out how to stop at short notice, but I’m hoping that after a few more practice sessions I’ll be able to join the ‘Sunday Stroll‘ – a weekly guided skate around London.

Always good to have something to aim for, right!? ūüėÄ

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How did you spend your weekend? Are you training for anything at the moment?

Dublin Marathon Training: Week 1

Hot 5k Run

Me and my smug lovely¬†pacer ūüėÄ

How’s your summer going, you lovely lot? Are you training for anything, or just enjoying the sunshine? I can’t believe the events that people have been doing recently! Such a motivation! ūüôā

As for me, today marks the end of¬†the first week on my Dublin Marathon training plan. I think I’d gotten so used to NOT following a plan – running where and when I fancied, cross training here and there, hiking a bit – I’d let myself slip a little when it came to keeping a routine (or any kind of structure or discipline, whatsoever).

Luckily, I’ve been able to rope James in to join me on a couple of my sessions. I say luckily, as I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself so hard if I’d been alone, but I’ll admit that I was naive enough to think¬†that¬†he might just take it easy on me.

HAHA nope.

We set off for my third 5k of the week yesterday (it was meant to be 10k, but heat + humidity = nah), and I managed to persuade him to start slowly Рby his standards, at least. Unfortunately, this meant that he then ramped things up for miles 2 and 3, taking the pace from 9:39 to 9:13 by the end. Ouch.

No pain no gain, right!?

Dublin Marathon Week 1 Training

Highs and lows: Enjoying a mocha frappe after Sunday’s cycle, and ready to keel over¬†on Saturday’s 5k…

As I cut Saturday’s run short, I decided to get some miles in¬†on the bike today to make up for it a bit. We found a new route along¬†a trail we’d never heard of before (the ‘Christmas Pie’ trail, apparently!) and followed it to Farnham.

This only gave us 14 miles, but after fighting our way through brambles and nettles and hugely overgrown wooded bits (parts of which we had to walk our bikes through), we decided against an out-and-back, and got on the train instead.

We weren’t complete cop-outs, though! We jumped off at Woking, and cycled the last 6 miles home¬†on a lovely smooth stretch of road, rounding us up to 20. Not too bad!

Surrey Cycle Finish

Enjoying the sunshine after 20 tough miles.

Overall, I’m just glad that my legs seemed fairly happy with 3 runs and some cross-training! And I’m looking forward to adding on some miles next week. Though looking at the weather forecast, I think I’m going to have to force myself out of bed a little earlier. The heat isn’t my friend!

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Week 1 summary (weeks to Dublin: 15)

Planned sessions: 3 miles easy + strides / 3 miles steady / 6 miles easy

Sessions completed: 3 miles easy + strides / 3 miles steady / 3 miles progression

Cross training: 20 mile cycle

Race Review: Barcelona Marathon 2016!

Barcelona Marathon 2016 Race Review

Barcelona was marathon #3, and I had high hopes! I’d heard nothing but brilliant things about the city and I knew that the marathon¬†had to be pretty epic.¬†I also had my sights set on a sub-5 finish, which was pretty exciting (and nerve wracking), too!

On the morning of the race, we set off from the hotel nice and early, and within 20 minutes we were at the start area. (Thanks, Barcelona metro!) I left James by the start line, and made my way up to the bag drop. I was in and out in minutes (though there was a bit of congestion at the entrance) and the corral was easy to find and not too cramped. If only the run was this simple!

An added bonus was that the pens weren’t¬†closed off as strictly as Paris, so no elbows were needed this time ūüėČ It might also have helped that there were about 20k runners in Barcelona, as opposed to 40k in Paris! Big enough for a good atmosphere, but small enough for plenty of space before, during and after the race. Ideal!

There weren’t as many loos as I was expecting though (I found a row of 4, and I think there were a couple more rows elsewhere), and there were quite a few non-runners in the queue; not what you want with less than 15¬†minutes to the starting gun! But I managed to get into my corral about 10¬†minutes before the front runners set off, which gave me plenty of time to stretch and mentally prepare for the day ahead. Barcelona was my second attempt at a sub-5, so for once I actually had a pace plan to stick to – nothing too strict, but a bit more structured than my last marathons. Gulp!

Luckily, the¬†conditions were absolutely perfect. It was sunny, about 15 degrees, and there was a nice cool breeze (quite chilly in the shade!). After nearly frying at Paris last year, I certainly wasn’t complaining!

Barcelona Marathon Start Area

Putting on a brave face before heading off to the bag drop…

There was such a party/festival atmosphere at the start, with music playing and everyone looking fairly excited (with a touch of ‘AAARGH what am I doing!?’). There¬†was a wave of cheers each time another corral set off over the start line, which made me smile! I also recognised the lady doing the announcements as she did the Paris Marathon ones, which brought back memories and added a touch of familiarity to the whole event (and she’s brilliant!). Definitely helped with the nerves!

We shuffled forwards, and reached the start line about 20 minutes after the gun. The organisers surprised us with a brilliant treat as we set off Рwe were showered in an explosion of confetti! (Pink, to match our corral colour). Looking at the ground, it seemed that each pace group got the same treatment. Such a brilliant touch, and really set the tone for the entire day! Other marathons, take note Рsetting off through a cloud of confetti is SO MUCH FUN!

I’d heard that the Spanish are brilliant spectators, and I have to say, the crowd support was the best I’ve ever seen. Within about 11 miles I’d already lost count of the people that had cheered me on by name, and I was getting high fives every couple of miles, too. Our race numbers had our names printed really clearly, which meant that people could easily spot them as you passed.

In a long-distance race there’s nothing better then catching your name and seeing someone smiling and clapping for you. It’s¬†lovely¬†and makes me all warm and fuzzy inside ūüôā At one point there was a row of students who all held out their hands for high fives – about 5¬†or 6¬†total! Such a lovely crowd!

Barcelona Marathon Arc de Triomf

Passing the Arc de Triomf, about 36k in… And mentally listing all of the tapas and paella¬†I was going to eat inhale once I was done!¬†

The route was fairly flat, with a few little inclines in the first half (not steep, but some were a km or so long). The route took us right the way through the city, and past some brilliant landmarks – the Sagrada Familia, Arc de Triomf, and even a beautiful stretch along the coast. There was also a loop through a lovely park in the last 5k. However, there were also 2 long out-and-back bits, which I always find really tough; one at 18km and one at 26km. They went on for a few km each, and you didn’t see the turnaround point until you were almost on top of it, so they felt much longer than they were.

For the first half I felt pretty good, clocking mile splits of 10:30-11:00 (a bit faster than planned), with a few speedier bits on the downhills. I tried to pace myself, but I always forget how easy it is to get carried away at these events, and had to keep slowing down! Amazingly I didn’t take my first walking break until 11/12 miles, which is far better than I’d done in training. I hit half-way with 6 minutes in the bag for sub-5.

The second half had less shade, especially along the seafront and the bigger, wider avenues. It was lovely, and there was still a breeze (and a big shower to run through at about 21 miles, which always seems like a GREAT idea until I then can’t catch my breath due to the shock of cold – d’oh!), but I definitely missed the cooler early miles. I started taking quite a few walking breaks, but managed to get myself running every time the pace slowed towards 12:00/mile.

One point I will mention is that there are basically no mile markers on the course; it’s all done in km. (This quite surprised me, as I had expected a mix of the two). I was given the¬†heads-up by the guy at the Asics stand when I went to pick up my pace band, who suggested I use the km version. I think I saw markers for miles 10 and 20, but that was it!

As I reached the 41km mark – where I belatedly remembered that the last 2km were up a very slight incline¬†– I started to hurt quite a bit. My Garmin put me ahead of the km markers, so I had no idea exactly how far away the finish line was and how long it’d take me to finish. Things definitely got a bit tough here.

Luckily, lovely James was just up ahead to cheer me on (for about the 5th time – such a legend!), and when he saw my face he jumped in – jeans, satchel and all! – and ran a couple hundred meters with me. Before he left, he made me promise to keep running – so I did!

Shortly afterwards (before the 42km marker), my Garmin hit 26.2 miles, and read 5:00:26. If it was closer to the course markers, I probably would have felt more inclined to speed up for a sub-5; but as it was, I still had a good way¬†to go, relatively speaking. But when I saw (what I though was) the finish, I sped up and clocked a sub-11:00 mile – which at that point was the marathon equivalent of a sprint finish ūüėČ …

… Only to turn the corner and remember that I still had another 100m to go. The second sprint finish was slightly less comfortable:

Barcelona Marathon Finish Line

Right at the finish… I was seriously hurting at this point.¬†(Though apparently not as much as the guy behind me!)

I had to just grit my teeth and keep going, because who slows down on the finishing straight!?¬†(Note to self: don’t speed up until you SEE the finish line. Ooops).

But the extra effort was worth it, and I crossed the line in 5:05:28 Рwhich is an 11-minute PB, and 21 minutes faster than Paris Marathon last year!

Barcelona Marathon Medal

Another medal for the collection! (I was too exhausted to clock that it’d been put on backwards…)

I’m SO¬†pleased, and SO proud. It shows that I really have made progress, and have the ability to run a sub-5 (maybe even 4:45…) if I push a teeny bit more! As it stands,¬†I think I actually prefer having¬†5:05 as my official time rather than 5:00:26 – being so close would have seriously bothered me! ūüėÄ

And I’m happy to confirm that I did indeed have my tapas and paella – straight after the race! (Priorities, people).

Barcelona Marathon Paella Feast

Food has never tasted quite so good.

Thanks, Barcelona! ūüėÄ

Now it’s another 3-week taper before Rome Marathon on April 10th. Glutton for punishment? Me? Never!

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Are you running any races this spring? ūüôā

The dangers of comparing yourself to others

20 Mile Training Run

The big 2-0!

If you’ve been following me on social media (or reading the blog!) you’ll know that I ran my first ever 20-mile training run the other week. And I¬†finished that run feeling so excited, proud, and capable. It took me 3h38, and I kept an average pace of 10:54, which puts me right where I want to be with regards to my sub-5 goal for this weekend’s Barcelona marathon (aaargh!!)

Result, right!?

The following weekend, a friend posted her latest training run (for her first marathon, in Rome next month) on Facebook. She ran 20 miles in 3h05, and I suddenly felt a bit rubbish. Suddenly, my 20 miler didn’t feel so good.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy and excited for her. She’s awesome¬†and she’s worked hard to get where she is – I¬†can’t wait to see her smash her goals in Rome!

But the doubts started to creep in.¬†I started to wonder what I was doing. Why, after 3 years of marathon training, am I¬†still chasing a sub-5 when others can go out and hit a crazy fast pace over 20 miles on their first go? Why do I bother? Shouldn’t I be faster than this by now?

Maybe I’m just not built for running. Maybe I’ll never be any good. Maybe I should give up now, and find another sport…

And then I gave myself a stern talking-to. Reminded myself that I’ve worked bloody hard to get to where I am. That 20 miles is EPIC. That I’ve run 2 marathons, which is a huge deal¬†regardless of the time. That I’ve cut my 5k and 10k times down, have pushed on through injury and illness and reached the taper feeling strong and ready to run on Sunday.

Yes, I’m nervous. Yes, there’s a good chance that I won’t hit sub-5 on Sunday, because 26.2 miles is a flipping long way and anything can happen on the day.

But I’ve trained smart. I’ve gotten faster and stronger and I feel like it’s in¬†reach.¬†At Paris marathon last year, that goal ended up being a bit¬†ambitious, but I really believe that I have it in me this time round.

No, it’s not the fastest time in the world. Should I be faster than this after 2 marathons? Will I ever hit those faster times?¬†Who knows?

But also, who cares?

Running makes me happy. It makes me smile. It makes me push myself past my limits and gives me a sense of achievement and strength that nothing else does. It makes me look at my body in a different light – instead of focusing on my size, weight, or shape I can tell myself that my legs are awesome, because they can carry me miles and miles. My body is strong, and can run for hours. It’s done some pretty cool stuff.

There will always be someone faster, stronger, better. But at the end of the day, the only person I’m competing against is myself. And I don’t need to compare myself to anyone else.

So I’m going to stand at the start line on Sunday, and I’m going to soak up the atmosphere and be proud for even getting there. I’m going to make the most of every mile, because I’m able to run and I’m lucky to do something that so many take for granted (including me). I’m going to listen to the crowds and cheer on the other runners and smile the whole way round (well ok, I’m allowed a strop or 2 in the last few miles!) I’m going to explore a new city, grab a few high-fives from my lovely boyfriend, and I’ll cross that finish line.

Regardless of what the clock says, I’ll have run a marathon. And I’ll blooming well be proud of myself.

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Do you compare yourself to others? How do you keep yourself motivated?