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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Skeleton Run. Zombie Brides and the Lingering Smell of Coffee ...


Wolf Runner turned up at my house for preparation for the Skeleton Run and we transformed ourselves. She into Dead Red Riding Hood – post-wolf attack - complete with blood and appropriately ripped clothes. I into a zombie bride with tattered wedding dress, black rimmed eyes and greenish skin. Needless to say, I didn’t have to change my hair that much. Toddler was transfixed by this transformation, “But WHY are you pretending it’s blood?”

I butchered an old net curtain for my veil... but unfortunately running it through the wash beforehand had meant that it was beautifully sparkly and white. Not appropriate for the veil of someone who has just risen from the dead. Or supposed to look as though she has. I decided I didn’t have enough tea bags to soak it in tea (thank you Blue Peter for all those ‘map ageing’ techniques) but as a last ditch attempt coffee might do it. Soaked it in coffee and achieved a lovely dirty brownish colour. And a very strong smell of Nescafe.

After applying a lot of facepaint and fake blood, we finally left the house about 10 minutes late although with luck and clear roads we should still have been able to make it.
I was being driven in style tonight by Wolf Runner in her swanky new car ... when all of a sudden there is a squeaking. There is a whining. There is a strong smell of burning. And a battery light. Bugger. Quick turn the car around and hope the headlights don’t fail before we make it back!

Relieved that we didn’t have to call the RAC man while dressed like dead people, we did a quick change and started up the trusty Focus. And foot down. Finally made it with about 10 minutes to go before the registration closed. Phew. Managed to round up all the team members – we are Red Dead Riding Hood, Zombie Bride, Mr Skeleton, Evil Caped Guy from Scream and Tall Werewolf. We all looked AWESOME!

Just as we were getting ready to set off ...
I was glad for the layers of makeup and the costume as the night was freezing. The race briefing started off pretty much on time and we all trooped up to the top of the car park and huddled together for warmth under the trees. I started near the front as I’d remembered there was a bit of a bottle neck on the narrow paths last year and was soon joined by hordes of the undead and slightly maimed including bloodstained doctors, dead male cheerleaders complete with skirts and pompoms, the Incredibles, Catwoman, Dracula and a murdered man with a stiletto stuck in his head.

The headtorches were all turned on ready for the race start as under the trees and away from the lights of the carpark and the briefing tent it dawned on us all how dark it really was. Previously bright headtorches didn’t seem to shine as far as they had previously and the path looked a lot more treacherous than it had during the August daylight run.

The route was marked by glowsticks but no other artificial lights and the real trick is to run slow enough so you don’t run into a tree but fast enough that you make it to the finish line before the headtorch batteries fail ...

We counted down to the start and then the big rush of ghouliess and ghosties and witches set off in a big rush. It was quite surreal to see scythes and witches hats bobbing along in front of you up the hillside. The first mile is all uphill and it’s a big push all the way to the summit of Beacon Hill. It gets sheerer and more steep as you get higher but just when you think your legs are going to give up and you’re going to breathe up a lung, the trees give way to an open hilltop with a silhouetted Old Man in rock on the left and the lights of Loughborough spread out far below you on the right.

The path bottlenecks again as we all hared through a gate and I made up some time here as I knew that the second mile is all downhill and could use it as a recovery from the first mile. I overtook the pirate girl who had passed me on the uphill and I sprinted down the hill with my ragged wedding dress and coffee-smelling veil streaming out behind me... If I’d had breath for mad witchy cackles I would have done some. But I didn’t.

The road was quite damp and broken on the edges so the headtorch was very useful for this part ... however I hadn’t taken other runner’s costumes into consideration. Overtaking a chap in a puffy pumpkin costume he suddenly lurched to the right and pushed me into a bush! I don’t think he quite realised how much bigger he was with the costume on. Either that or he was REALLY competitive. Or allergic to zombies. Or the smell of coffee.

Managed to make it down to the bottom of the 2nd hill unscathed and with no further pumpkin attacks. Came round a sharp right hand corner past a drinks station on the right and onto a more open path with gorse and brambles to the right and left. A brief mirage as I went past – a bush almost leafless suddenly showed a skull shape in its leaves which morphed back into just leaves again as I went past. Obviously I’d eaten too many Halloween sweeties. Or maybe it was the power of suggestion!

The next hill drags on again for almost a mile and is soul destroying. It drags and winds and on your right you can occasionally see headtorches coming down but you don’t know whether it is people ahead of you on the next downhill section or people behind you still coming down the first hill. This path drags ... and drags ... and drags and just keeps on winding upwards. I had two runners a little way in front of me and I just couldn’t catch them up. The trees press in on either side and the starless night made the darkness dense and thick. My headtorch showed me where the path was - just - but no further than about 10 metres. I could only see the runners in front because of the reflective strips on their shoes.

Finally, the path opened up and I crossed a wide open area before a dash through a gateway and onto a narrow path again. The marshal shouted encouragingly “That was the last hill” ... however I remembered a long drag up a wide avenue of trees from last time but the thought that there might not be many hills left lifted my Spirits. And my zombies.

I was running with a wraith, a skeleton and a gent in hi-viz at this point and we’d all been keeping pace fairly evenly apart from the odd cat-and-mouse game up and down the hills. However as we passed in between an avenue of large old trees and a short sharp hill, I put on a burst of speed as I remembered that this really WAS the last hill before the final mile which was almost entirely downhill. This hill always really hurts. It’s at mile 4 and my legs have just about had enough of hills by this point but knowing that it’s the last one really helps. I overtook them all leaving only a lingering smell of coffee as my veil trailed out behind me.

Passed through the gate at the top and took a sharp turn to the left and onto the start of the downhill. I finally lost the gent in the hi-viz as I put everything I could into the last mile downhill although slightly hampered by the fact that the headtorch was getting dimmer and dimmer by the minute. It made it all slightly more spooky as I was now running on my own and following as best I could the shadowy path as it looped in and out of the trees as it wound its way downhill. I was putting everything into a final dash but the darkness and failing headtorch meant I kept stumbling on drifts of leaves and mud patches making it all a little bit more treacherous.

Came round a corner – could I see lights? Is that the finish? Round the corner, stumbling through the mud and into bright lights and a finish line ahead. A final push to the line and over. The announcer said my name as I finished, then ... “2nd woman.” Did I hear that right? Double checked, then did a zombie appreciation dance! Woo! Collected my medal, an energy drink, a peanut bar – yummy! – and a toffee apple and went to clap and cheer everyone else in.

Everyone made it in, in decent times and with costumes intact! Even Werewolf and Evil Caped Guy from Scream made it over the finish lines with masks still on – although both vowed never to run wearing a mask again. Think there may have been breathing issues involved! Mr Skeleton came in shortly afterwards.

Wolf Runner finished strong and in a good time, however when we were discussing the route afterwards she mentioned how hard she found passing the pub without going in for a nice drink. Pub, Wolfrunner? We were running on narrow footpaths up a hill! There’s definitely no pub on the route! Think it must have been a hallucination brought on by too much white facepaint!


Zombie Bride (me) and Dead Red Riding Hood (Wolf Runner)
Result:

39:20
2nd woman /114
23rd / 232





Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Hidden Park in My Industrial Estate

Went out for my first lunchtime run for weeks. The old saying really IS right. Lacing up my shoelaces and motivating myself to commit to going, really were the hardest things to do.


It was lovely. The breeze was cool, but there wasn’t any rain and my breath made small puffs into the air. The footpaths were covered in drifts of leaves but they weren’t slippery and the park was as well maintained as always. It’s well-hidden in the middle of Brackmills industrial estate – possibly one of the best kept secrets in the area. It’s beautiful and the whole area has been cunningly landscaped so the whole thing is full of hills and winding paths and copses of trees. It feels like you’re running in a wood – even though the whole area is probably no more than half a mile wide at any point. The footpaths are firm gravel and there is rarely any litter or mess. It’s well loved by the few people who know about it and we make sure that we keep it as nice as possible.


There are often a few dog walkers, but apart from the odd overly friendly Labrador I’ve never had a problem with any of the dogs or spotted any mess left behind. There are plenty of bins for litter and doggy bags (not to be mistaken for the edible kind of doggy bags full of food leftovers) and they’re used by the people enjoying the park. (For litter and poo bags rather than anything else)


There’s practically no straight or flat piece of footpath in the whole thing - it’s marvellous for hill training and can be guaranteed to speed up my races on the flat even when I am going at a snail’s pace during my training runs here. The landscapers have made the maximum use of a small piece of ground and the zigzagging footpaths are a testament to their ingenuity. It really IS a bugger to run though. You check your watch and you’ve run less than a mile and already your legs are burning and your lungs are threatening to exit your body via your throat.


So ... it might make 5km feel like 10km but I know it’s doing me some good in the long run. And for the long run.  

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Autumn Running ... weather for?

I’m struggling to get back into running regularly. I’m looking out of the window and it looks gorgeous outside – the trees are turning orange and there are leaves blowing across the paths, but it’s the kind of weather I want a scarf and a coat for. There isn’t so much temptation to dress in lycra and go for a run in it.



Reasons I don’t want to run:
1./ It’s weather for hot chocolate with cream on top and possibly marshmallows and drinking hot chunky soup and sitting by fires not weather for drinking water or energy drinks and slurping gels.
2./ I get cold when I go outside without a coat, let alone going outside in skin tight clothes designed to stop you staying hot.
3./ I’m being lazy and using my marathon as an excuse to rest for longer than I need to.
4./ My knee hurts... but I’m not doing my stretching exercises as much as I should be.

Reasons I should run:
1./ I ALWAYS enjoy it once I’m out there running.
2./ It looks amazing with all the trees changing colours and I’d like to run through the crunchy leaves and.
3./ I’ll be able to eat more when I’ve had a run - mmmm chunky soup.
4./ I feel MUCH better when I’ve had a run.
5./ Running will make my knee feel better in the long run as it will encourage me to do my stretching  exercises.
6./ I love being a runner. At the moment I’m being more of a 'sitter'.

Conclusion... My 'reasons' I don't want to run are actually all excuses designed to help me stay sitting on my arse. Which will be getting bigger unless I go outside and have a run.

(Goes and puts trainers on)

... One step at a time ...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Runners Trots, Lurching like a Zombie and Power Ranger Stripteases

Had a nice big tea yesterday and went out for a night run. It was nice ... at first. At about the 1 mile point, there was a bit of tummy rumbling going on, but I ignored it. Rookie mistake #1...

At around mile 2, there was a certain amount of – ahem – gas leakage which I blamed on the beetroot and which I naively assumed had solved the problem. Rookie mistake #2 ...

At Mile 3, I was running in a slightly strange way and looking around desperately in the hope of a seeing a thick clump of bushes, a field of long grass (with some convenient big leaves) or - best of all - a portaloo materialising like the Tardis.

I was stuck in a familiar Catch 22. I found that the faster I ran, the more upset my tummy got but if I moved at walking pace I not make it home in time ...

Finally developed a kind of zombie lurch which carried me home. I even perfected an – involuntary – moaning as I made me way home at a speed which was fast enough to get me there, while slow enough to avoid potential lycra-soilage.



I ran into the house shedding clothes as I ran in my hurry to get to the loo. With the amount of multicoloured lycra on the floors, the house looked as though a Power Ranger had been doing a striptease with a finale in the bathroom.

I’m pleased to say, the only trail through the house was one of lycra.

I carry an emergency tenner whenever I run. This used to be in case I fancied stopping at a pub en route for a drink or if I spotted an ice cream van but recently it has been in case I need to buy a drink in a pub so I can legitimately use their loo. And, if necessary to bribe a neighbour to stop them from calling the police if they catch me defecating behind the shrubs in their garden if I’m caught short.

I got home OK this time, but I went through a phase of it being really bad a little while ago. I had a 4 mile loop with a pub at the halfway point as I knew at mile 2 I’d hit critical point. I used to keep running straight through the pub doors and into the loo. I imagine the barmaid just used to see a flash of fluorescent yellow and see the loo doors swinging.

It’s a lot better nowadays and I make it home pretty much every time but I keep emergency loo roll on me at all times and just in case… I always wear nice soft socks.

Monday, 22 October 2012

There's a hole in my foot, dear Liza, dear Liza ...


I’d just like to leave this photograph here in case I feel the urge to enter any more marathons any time soon …



P.s. Don’t tell the Mr I put my foot on the table to take this photo. I found ‘blister skin’ on the sofa yesterday while on the phone to my sister. I think I’m now banned from taking my shoes off in her house. Ever.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Rejected for London Marathon Twice in 2 Months ...


I crossed the line at Liverpool Marathon and looked up and saw the time: 3:46:19. I couldn’t quite believe that after the struggle of Parliament Street and the emotion of last few miles I had made it home in the 3 hour 40s ... I was thrilled and overwhelmed and exhausted.

I walked forward and received my medal, race t-shirt, Clif bar and other lovely goodies and went to find a place to do my stretches and then sit down. I was all swept up in the moment and speaking to the other runners and spectators around me, all of us congratulating each other on completing such a big thing. I was FINALLY a marathon runner.

Birkenhead Park 2 hours before the start

Later on when I received a text from the organisers confirming my chip time of 3:45:11 I was thrilled. Absolutely thrilled to be so close to my (secret!) target time of 3 hours 45. But I was also a little bit disappointed that I didn’t make the London Marathon Good For Age cut off time of 3 hours 45 minutes. Getting a Good For Age (GFA) means that you don’t have to go through the lottery of the ballot – you automatically get allocated a place.

It sounds ridiculous. I know it does. It was my first marathon, I couldn’t possibly have hoped for a better time – I honestly was ecstatic. But the little secret part of me – the Evil Sarah that sits on my shoulder that always tells me what I’ve done wrong - whispered to me that I’d missed the cut off by 11 seconds.

I’d applied for the London Marathon by ballot for 3 years – it was applied for me on my behalf even BEFORE I started running! – and I’ve never got through. My name wasn’t picked out of the imaginary hat and I’d been rejected every year. And now I’d missed the ‘Good For Age’ time by 11 SECONDS. Rejected again.

It wasn’t a big thing, not even a big disappointment, but it was a little niggle that I’d missed it by such a small amount. Although ...I had to admit to be a little bit relieved as well. Maybe I ought to start by trying to walk again before pining for another marathon place …

Later on as I lay in my bath – cold first of all to soothe the sore legs, then hot water added to warm up for the rest of me – I chatted to my running buddies on Twitter. They have been great – absolutely fantastic and it was amazing to have their support and to share the same worries and nerves before the race.

I mentioned that I’d missed the London Marathon cut off but @goniah tweeted me … she said but you did make it – the cut off is 3 hours 50 minutes …

Not allowed to hang these up to retire just yet ...

Well, it looks as though I’m going to have to stop moaning about sore feet, blisters and walking like John Wayne because it sounds as though I’m going to be doing it all over again in 2014 … WOO HOO!!!!! 

(Gets up to do victory dance then realises legs too sore and sits down again)

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The No Toenails Club: The Glamourous Side of Marathon Running

A little while ago, I was feeling rather smug about being a black toenail virgin despite having run for a little over 2 years now. “It must be my well-fitting shoes” I thought. Or my nice running-style. Or maybe I’m just blessed to have securely attached toenails.

Nope. It was a far more simple reason. I just hadn’t run a marathon yet.

Let’s just say the marathon opened my eyes. Or to put it into a running context – it popped my blisters.

As I crossed the finishing line at Liverpool I could feel something wrong in the end of my sock.There was something not quite where it should be. I hadn’t stashed any spare change in the end of my sock ... yet there was something a little ‘flappy’ going on in there.

My feet were sore and I desperately wanted to remove my trainers but I wasn’t quite sure that I was ready for the no-doubt-detached toenail to come flying out followed by an inevitable shower of gore and pus and special effects mayhem that horror films had prepared me for...

I gingerly made my way back to the hotel room and with a delicate touch removed my trainers ...then my socks ...

But incredibly... at first glance all appeared fine ...


Although what is that?



And that?



And THAT?



To sum up:

  • 1 toenail making a bid for freedom on the right foot.
  • 1 toenail making a bid for freedom on the left foot. (Maybe they’re making plans to elope together)
  • Giant manky blisters between the first and second toes on my left foot.
  • Blood blisters on the 3rd toes of each foot.
  • Some sort of mutant footpad blister on my left foot.
  • Small pea sized blisters on pretty much every toe.


I am so relieved right now that I did an Autumn marathon and do not have to reveal these feety horrors to the world outside for at least another 7 months until summer is here. I am also relieved that I gave myself some sort of bizarre attempt at a French pedicure (complete with revolting ‘Dead Flesh Pink’ nail varnish) before the marathon so at least I can’t see what revolting shades of purple my toenails now are. See. There IS a time and a place for ‘Dead Flesh Pink’ coloured nail varnish.

However, I have been given some good tips to counteract the horror of revealing nail-less toes to the world: (Tips courtesy of @Jens_Itchy_Feet , @joolz_123 and by @GirlyRunner1)

  1. Superglue is NOT just for sticking vases, toys and shoes back together. It can also be used to fix detached toenails back onto the appropriate appendage. A la false toenails. But using real toenails. In fact, the originals. 
  2. Nail varnish is not just for nails. It can be used on skin until the appropriate nail has grown back. To disguise the fact that the owner of the varnished digit is in fact nail-less. Although I have it on good authority that it does tend to wear off quickly so might be worth keeping a sharpie in the handbag to cover any tell tale gaps that might appear.

However, discount for pedicures might be one of the advantages of this state. Possibly on a buy 8 toenails, get 2 free kind of an offer.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Liverpool Marathon, Urine Hurling and My Very First 26.2


Got to Liverpool early on Saturday morning and apart from a couple of false ‘Code Brown’ warnings from the toddler, the trip was pretty uneventful. The room was nice and the hotel was about half a mile from the marathon finish line – perfect! The view was over a square and although there were bars and clubs, we were on the 4th floor and the rooms were apparently soundproofed ...

... At 2am I heaved a sigh of relief as the bass from the bars and clubs finally switched off. I had considered hurling containers of urine at the partygoers outside to make them disperse more quickly but thought the screaming might have disrupted my sleep even more. Besides I didn’t want to start the marathon dehydrated ...

Slept really well, then woke at 3.39am ... and couldn’t get back to sleep. Farted a couple of times in the hope that the Mr would wake up and make me a cup of coffee but no joy. Finally started dozing again and the alarm went off. It was 6am.

Got organised and managed to fill up the kit bag with things that I would probably never need but were in there ‘Just in Case’. Emergency Mars bar – check! Shuttle tickets – check! Spare change in case they were charging to wee – check!

Put my specially designed wristbands on and I was ready to go.



Left the hotel at 7am and walked a mile to the Debenhams bus stop to get the race shuttle bus which left from there. There were only 2 people on the bus that obviously seemed to be runners – including me! – but it soon started filling up with lycra-clad, sleepy eyed people. It was reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only one not happy to be sitting on a bus at 7am – nobody seemed very wide awake yet.



The bus weaved through a few streets – some still full of kebab boxes and litter from Saturday night and then the bus entered the Mersey Tunnel. It seemed to go on for ages. Then ages more. Then more. It was a sharp downhill into the tunnel, then a sharp uphill back up again. However, the tunnel felt fairly straight which seemed to bode well for not having to start and stop the Garmin too much. I didn’t even consider that this might not be the tunnel we were going to run through...

The shuttle bus driver finally got to Birkenhead Park ... then went past and stopped randomly at a kerb. He turned around and said “I have no idea where to drop you. They didn't tell me where to go." Brief wave of laughter around the bus and we all started piling off and following the person at the front of the queue as he seemed to know where he was going.

Walked about half a mile to the park which we entered between high stone posts. There were 2 tents pitched on the wet grass … and shining in the morning dew like Beacons of Hope – an enormous line of Portaloos. And best of all ... no queues. Perfect. What more could a runner wish for?

Visited the Portaloo and then was treated to a great big steamingly hot cup of coffee. The morning was very, very cold and our breath was steaming out into the chilly air. I was wearing all my race gear, a warm top and my bin bag and a buff over my head as a hat. I was offered a jacket but declined as I didn’t want to get too cold standing around in the start pens after having removed all my layers. 



The kit lorries weren’t obvious and there weren’t any signs to them so The Mr went off to investigate. He returned with wet feet – thanks to the sodden grass and flooded middle of the park – and news of 2 large lorries parked in the opposite end of the park. Dropped off kit bag and realised that This Was It. I would be running a marathon very shortly. Or at least starting one. The Mr got another coffee and gave it to me to hold but my hands were shaking so much – from nerves that I couldn’t hold it. It was almost comedy shaking – the coffee was waving around like a cocktail shaker.

An inaudible tannoy announcement and everyone started streaming towards the start pens. These were all in pace rather than finish times as there was a 10k happening at the same time. Positioned myself in the 8 – 8.30 minute mile pen as this is what I’d practised at and what I would do at least the first half in.

A woman came and stood next to me and we chatted briefly. She had done 3 marathons: Berlin, Paris, New York and this was to be her 4th. We were in front of a chap in a Warwickshire T-shirt which gave me a boost but he confirmed he’d completed a triathlon there rather than lived there. Flippin’ running tourists! I waited until the very last minute to ditch my bin bag as I was still so cold, even with all of these people around me huffing their morning breath everywhere. 

The start was very organised and I got over the start line in less than a minute and a half. I saw the Mr faffing with his camera waiting for me just past the start – I shouted and he looked up and saw me. I knew the next time I’d see him I would be past the 9 mile mark. That sounded a very long way away.



The park was beautiful and everything felt fresh and new in the morning sunshine, but because of the cold, my knee was very stiff and sore. It didn’t ease until about mile 2 but it was ‘crunch’ time. I was going to run on it however it felt. Getting to this marathon start point was the reason for all the physio and strange stretching exercises. I also couldn't feel my feet for a very long time. They were completely numb from the cold and running on them felt very strange.

Running along with the others, the atmosphere was great, almost a festival feeling. I passed a chap with a top on stating this was his 100th marathon so congratulated him. The chap next to him who he was leading with a strap said “He’s a novice! This is my 200th marathon!”

Running down the street, there was a man running with Greek-style sandals on – a thin leather sole with thin ankle straps! Gave him lots of respect for doing a marathon in those. Well, I say respect. I actually thought what a bloody lunatic. He’s going to have blisters like boiled eggs!

I was doing a steady 8 – 8.05 minute mile at this time which was about 30 seconds a mile slower than my half marathon pace a couple of weekends ago, however I was struggling with my breathing. I couldn’t seem to be able to get a proper breath and I wasn’t enjoying the run as much as possible. I put this down to nerves but it was very unsettling to feel like this so early on in such a long run. Especially with 23 miles to go …

The route went down some residential streets lined with an occasional shop and cafe and there were lots of spectators out to marvel at these idiots running on this cold morning in the equivalent of their underwear. Although I DID see a young boy of about six standing on the front step of a house with just his underpants on. Exchanged looks with the bloke running next to me and he said “Well, this is Liverpool…”

Down a hill past the 5 mile mark. Chatted to older chap running strongly next to me and said “Well that’s almost a fifth of the race done already!” It was a nice feeling realising we had done such a big percentage already, but I was still finding it harder going than I should have.

Came into New Brighton which felt like a seaside and was lovely. There was about half a mile to go before the runners completing the 10k turned off and a lot of spectators were cheering them on including a chap shouting “Not far to go for the 10k finish!” So I shouted back “ How far for us marathon lot?” Let’s just say my maths isn’t at it’s best when running. 

The 10k finishers turned left at the roundabout and the marathoners went straight on. I can’t say I wasn’t slightly tempted by the idea of finishing now but I was working out the percentages of the distance completed and by the time I’d incorrectly worked out we were almost 1/3 of the way there, we almost actually were 1/3 of the way there. Good going cheese for brains.

An enthusiastic spectator was cheering us on, completely oblivious to the fact that his dog and someone else’s was having a bit of fun while he was distracted. At least there was someone having fun.

We turned off the road and ran along the pier and through 2 or 3 piles of drifted sand – a bit of cross country running for a brief moment just to remind us we were near the sea. Then we all went along the side of the Mersey following the promenade. It was straight for miles and almost completely flat. An older gentleman was keeping pace with me just behind my left shoulder – I could just see his red top in my peripheral vision. After half a mile he was on my left and another older chap in dark blue ran on my right like my bodyguards. We lost the chap in blue over a hill, but the gent in red ran alongside me for about 4 miles which helped me keep my pace to 8.03-05. It was at a time I was struggling and having someone running alongside me helped me. It really felt like an angel helping me – someone there when I needed it, No words needed or looks exchanged, just running shoulder to shoulder.

I saw The Mr almost exactly at the mile 10 point. He was standing on a bollard to wave and so I could see him easily. It was a big morale boost to see him.



We went across an industrial estate area and over an iron bridge and people were standing with outstretched hands offering jelly babies and wine gums. The gent in red disappeared from my left then reappeared a few seconds later with a wine gum and holding out another to me.



The route came into the town a bit more and into a picturesque square with tall towers and we passed signs saying ”Water bottles not allowed”. So I belted my water bottle away after a quick sip and went into mouth of the tunnel. It really felt like a mouth swallowing us all. We went down for ages and the chap in red sped up and I quickly lost sight of him.

My Garmin quickly lost signal in the tunnel. I had decided not to pause it as the tunnel on the way in was fairly straight, but as I quickly found out this was a different – and wiggly - tunnel so knew the pace and distance would be all wrong. I tried to increase my speed while keeping my shoulders relaxed – a tactic that had worked very well in my hill run as I felt that I would need all the speed I could bank on the way down as the uphill would be so steep.

I passed the halfway point – finally! And I knew that I was on the home stretch. I didn’t know what pace I would be running the second half, but I had kept the first half pace reasonably constant and hoped that this would see me through. The uphill lasted a very long time and was very steep. People all around me started walking – the first time that multiple people had done this and I started passing people in droves as I refused to walk but knew that my pace was suffering. The uphill seemed to last for an hour and we turned left into a side section of the runnel so I knew that the Garmin pace would be a long way out.

As we drew closer to the exit mouth of the tunnel, a loud banging noise overtook everything else and we emerged into a wall of sound and about 25 people drumming and dancing! And wow – the noise from the crowd was incredible! People were cheering and shouting encouragement. It was very emotional after the struggle in the tunnel.

Looked at the Garmin and it was showing my pace as 8:38 from 8:05. No idea what pace I was doing in the tunnel so could have been right for all I knew. Was quite demoralising seeing the jump from 8:05 to 8:38 even though I was aware that the Garmin had lost over a mile underground.

There was more uphill after the tunnel exit and it was hard. I could see runners coming the other way after the double back and spotted my previous running buddy in the red shirt and I really started struggling and hit the wall between 14 and 16. I felt as though I just had so far to go and I was actively looking for people walking in front of me so I could join them. However, it obviously not as bad as I thought as when I did see people walking I just put my head down and pushed on through. I thought maybe I needed more fuel. I was running low on gels so had a slice of chocolate but the mars bar tasted too sweet and sickly - urgh. Kept pushing on. Kept telling myself that if it was easy, everyone would run a marathon and kept looking at my wristbands to keep me going. I was over halfway. I WAS going to do this.

I came past the tunnel mouth again on the double back and started down the hill and saw the Liver Building. This was it – a real boost. I knew my family would be in view soon. I made myself look a bit more cheerful and push a bit harder. Coming past the original White Star building and we did a square block through town and then past the expo building I saw the parents and The Mr and Toddler all cheering madly for me. Even through the noise I could hear Toddler shouting “Mummy!” and see her smiling. It was wonderful especially after the hard section. 



I pushed on past Albert Docks and the road turned into a gradual uphill and then into a steep sheer upward push up Parliament Street. People were walking and it seemed as though 2 in 5 people were walking now. It was so, so hard. My run slowed down dramatically and I doubted I was running faster than a 12 min mile. I got to the top and saw the faster runners coming the other way on their home stretch. Wasn’t sure whether to be happy that they were almost home or tempted to floor them with a well-aimed trainer for being so quick.

Ran through the tree-lined Princes Avenue. It was flat but after the tunnel and then the sheer hill of Parliament Street it was difficult to get my legs to move at any decent speed. People were stopped at the sides of the road stretching out their cramped muscles and there were quite a few walkers now. Was I tempted? A quick glance at my wristbands: Don’t be shit. Walking with this tiny percentage to go would be stupid.

We came into Princes Park and it felt like we ran a long, long way through the park. The paths were gently sloping but the surface was hard tarmac and quite fragmented and broken and it really hurt my feet and my toenails felt very tender and sore. Came out of this park and into another with high gates called Sefton Park. Another long slog through this park and onto the main road bordering it. It was scenic and pretty with a lot of families enjoying the area but every little bump made my feet even more sore and it seemed to take forever to get through the park.

We eventually made it back to the avenue. I was counting down the mile signs at this point but my brain wasn't functioning so I kept losing count of where I’d got to. I’d pass the 20 mile sign but couldn’t remember whether I was looking for 21 or 22. I knew the run was practically done though. And that however hard it got I would keep going and complete a marathon. I kept telling myself that if marathons were easy everyone would do one. 



I made it to the top of Parliament Street and pushed on down it as fast as possible and made up a bit of time. I was going slowly but even speeding up this small amount made me pant like a terrier. I passed the 25 mile sign and knew I was finally on the home straight. I got the average time down to 8:49 and although I knew that this was wrong after the tunnel I just wanted to keep pace as steady as possible and not let it drop lower. Just needed to keep going. Pushing and pushing. A colleague who had run this marathon had mentioned strong winds coming off the Mersey along the seafront but there were no winds and no more seafront to run.

I followed the runners in front of me and turned left onto Mann Island and past the expo building and I could see finish funnel. I COULD SEE THE FINISH FUNNEL. Gave a final push but couldn't manage a sprint finish. I belted my water bottle away and put my arms up for a finishing photo. The time on the clock above the finish tunnel said 3:46:40. Couldn't believe I'd made it home in the 3:40s! 



 Final Results:

Chip Time:   03:45:11
Position:      665
Category:    Female open
Cat Pos:      33rd


Also, I got this AWESOME cake from my family:

  
 

Friday, 12 October 2012

Please Don't Let Me Forget Something Crucial ...


I have packed … unpacked … repacked and almost cracked. There are bags and suitcases strewn throughout the house and odd pieces of running gear over chairs, on the bed and on the surfaces. A box of gels in the kitchen, a gym bag – almost bursting – in the hall, a garmin charger next to the fireplace.

My marathon running gear ... first thing packed.

I am packing for my first marathon and I am PETRIFIED that I am going to forget something crucial.

My gym bag with my race kit – and back up kit! – is packed in the hall with my trainers in the front pocket. And my back up trainers in the main pocket – just in case. I know that everything is in there. But I’m worried that my brain which doesn’t seem to be functioning properly has forgotten socks … or my sports bra … or a trainer. Something important.


The sticking up bags are full of carefully measure porridge pre-mixed with sugar. Yes. I AM that sad.
 I’ve made a neat little pile in the front hall now. All I have to do tomorrow morning is to put everything in the car and pick up my toothbrush bag. I don’t dare put it all in the car tonight. What if a mad-eyed drug addict who enjoys a bit of Lycra spots the car and thinks “A-ha! This is my chance to break this drug addiction and go into competitive sports! Look there’s even a race number in here” and steals the lot. What will I do then? 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Today I am a marathon virgin

Today I am a marathon virgin. When I next come into work on Tuesday, I will have run 26.2 miles non-stop.

I can’t quite believe it to be true. It sounds like SUCH a big thing to me. A marathon? Whoever would have thought that one day I’d do a marathon?

I used to walk between the shops in town with my large thighs swishing and checking I had enough cigarettes left in my packet. Running? I’d scoff at the idea. Runners were thin, intense people with spaced-out eyes and talk of “tapers”, “negative splits” and “plantar fasciitus”. I knew what these were of course. Tapers are for lighting candles, negative splits are when you fart in gymnastics when trying a difficult move and the third is some sort of STD.

I’m grateful every day that I can run. And that I discovered it now.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Running with Siblings, Pacifist Deer and Titchy Dogs


Finally managed to persuade the little sister that getting up and running at 10am is not “unbelievably early” and that crack of dawn happened a few hours ago and she and her husband put on their running gear and trainers and joined me for a run.

The morning was a perfect Autumn one; misty, cold and bright. I decided that day-glo was the way forward and had on my hi-viz yellow top, Nike Capri trousers and neon pink compression socks.

Sister came downstairs and said “I’m not running with you! Look at what you’re wearing! What if someone sees us?” The cheek of siblings! SO I retorted “Well, I’m not running with you! What if you stop and walk! What if someone sees us?” Humph. Nothing wrong with being seen especially when you have to run on roads part of the way. And it’s purely by coincidence that I look as though a hi-viz jacket has mated with a jumble sale rail.

Got going and we dashed down the main road to St Cuthbert’s Chancel where the footpath starts and across the mud and under the railway bridge, leaping over the largest puddles.

Little Sis and her Husband. Little Sis demonstrating 'Jazz Hands on the Run'.
 We ran across a few fields and as the mist hadn’t yet burned off and the grass was all dewy, my trainers quickly become soaked and waterlogged. Not the nicest feeling early on in a run before you’ve even hit the 1 mile mark. Bizarrely I only had one wet foot – the right one. Going across the fields, my footsteps become “Squelch, thud”, “Squelch, thud”, “Squelch, thud.” I sounded like ET with a wooden leg.
 
We went past Pinford Farm and up the footpath leading to the deer park. As we started to climb the hill we saw a deer with giant antlers just a few metres away, however he was obviously vegetarian or at least a pacifist as he didn’t seem to want to eat me or chase me around at all.

Ran through the woods and as the path was narrow we spread out a little bit. The little Sis was bringing up the rear and not appreciating this so gave me a heart attack by screaming “Argh! There’s no “I” in team!!”  I felt the urge to say, “There’s a ME in team” But thought I might end up getting clobbered so slowed down and kept quiet. 

Trail through the woods.
We all sprinted down the hill past the shooting lodge. It’s compulsory to run down this hill as fast as you can. I always feel as though I’m going to slide most of the way on my face as my feet get overtaken by my body and can’t keep up but I reach the bottom of the hill just in time.

Passed a lady with quite possibly the titchiest dog I’d ever seen. It was very cute but it wanted to chase us and did this by getting under our feet. The owner - instead of calling it back - said “Don’t worry he won’t hurt you.” I wasn’t worried about that – I was worried about hurting the dog. I didn’t want to tread on it and squish it. Woman, call your dog back! I don’t want to be held responsible for the footprint I’ll leave on its head when I trip over it. 

Two deer had just dashed across the path. The deer with enormous antlers is hiding behind the tree on the right.

Little sis is doing really well with her running and I can’t quite believe she’s only been running for about 6 weeks – I’m a very proud older sister. She managed an overall speed of 11 minute/mile which included walking up some of the steepest hills and the route was very much cross country taking in a lot of grassy fields and mown hay to run across. She’s already managed a sub 30 minute 5km and is really enjoying the running club she’s joined. She’s going to start beating me at this running lark unless I do something about it. I can’t have her doing that so I’m either going to have to join a club and attend training or sabotage her in some way.

Now where did I put those tacks…?

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Trying out a New Running Club, Cowardice and Coventry Accents


Decided it was time to look at joining a new running club. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with my current club … except their training times. They’re friendly, helpful and into their running but I just can’t get to training as I simply can’t schedule things to get there on time.

Also, my little sister has taken up running and I can’t have her getting quicker than me so I need to get some proper training done.

Apparently playing the ‘Zombies Run’ game doesn’t really count as Proper Training. (Sulk)

Managed to find the club house and there weren’t any scary-looking athletes doing obscene stretches or wearing those elite bikini-style running clothes which was a relief. Everyone looked nice and normal. Apart from all that tight lycra and day-glo colours but among us runners that’s practically compulsory.

Grabbed a passing runner and he pointed out the lady I’d emailed and she gave me a group to run with. They all looked friendly enough. After all, I’m here to run not to chat so even if they looked a bit scary, it wasn’t as if I needed to get a blood sample from them or anything. All I needed to do was to keep up.

Did a 2.5 mile warm up around the streets at about a 9:30 minute mile and had a chatter with the rest of the group. A varied lot, ranging from an older gent who’d just completed his first triathlon to some race-mad guys who were racing practically every weekend.

Got back to the base and I expected 30 – 45 minutes of intervals of some description as was usual at my old club but apparently everyone was off on a run of a varying length. My group were doing a 7 – 8 mile run. Eek.

This was my test. I’ve got a marathon in exactly 10 days and I should be in taper. Especially after I did a run this morning … but I failed the test. “Yes, no problem” I squeaked trying to keep the fear out of my voice at trying to keep up with a group of runners of whose speed I had no idea. Great. Well done me. Cowardice score 10/10.

Turned out they were running at about 1 – 1.5 minutes per mile faster than my usual run of the same distance. I could do the pace over this distance. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to, being sandwiched between my half marathon last weekend and the marathon next weekend. Sigh.

At least on the plus side I would definitely get some speed training in. I didn’t know this area at all, so if I got left behind I would never find my car or the running clubhouse again. My body would be found the next day having it’s pockets picked over by some white tracksuited chav with fake gold chains and sovereign rings. So … a 7:30 minute mile it was then.

They were a friendly group and it was actually really good running at a faster speed with other people. When I run with Wolf Runner and Insurance Expert it’s at a nice gentle speed so we can chat and spot ice creams vans from a distance. There was no track at this club so the running was all done over the city streets.

This was careering across roads in breaks in the city traffic and flying around corners and seeing whether you could make the opposite pavement before the car coming up to the same intersection. This was betting your body against the traffic and wondering whether you could beat your group mates to the central reservation. This wasn’t just running. This was S&M running.

I had made a rookie error though. It was a cool Autumn evening so I had worn a warm running jacket over my vest top expecting a few gentle intervals. However, with a higher speed and a good warmup I was heating up pretty quickly. Unfortunately, the combination of a close fitting jacket and a Garmin pinning the sleeve to my wrist meant that trying to take it off while running wasn’t very easy and I got it stuck getting it over my head. I missed running into the back of a parked transit van and leaving a body print in the metal by inches.

We ran through a lot of streets that looked the same, orange sodium lights and houses tightly locked up and gangs of youths roaming the streets. None of the groups really took much notice of us except for one group who shouted something. It might have been threatening but their Coventry accents were so thick I couldn’t understand what they were saying so I chose to interpret it as “You go girl!” and “Looking good!” I didn’t slow down to ask for more compliments though. Or slow down at all.

I was flagging by the end of the run. Somehow I can run for 13 miles at a 7:30 minute mile in a race, but ask me to do a sub 8 minute mile in a training run of over 6 miles and my legs threaten to fall off. Probably the cowardice kicking in again.

Made it back to the clubhouse without falling over or being caught by one of the suicidal drivers in one of the pan-dual carriageway dashes and found out that the front runners of our group were about a minute in front of us and the rear runners a couple of minutes behind. I decided that next time I went I was keeping up with the front runners and the week after that I was going to beat them home.

Sounds like I’m going back then.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

10 Things to Expect Before Your First Race: Poo, Coffee and Safety Pins

A friend is running her first race soon and asked me what she should expect. I thought, “Well it’s all pretty obvious.” But I had a think ... and it’s actually really not! So I thought I would write this blog post as I should have answered her question, rather than how I actually answered her question which was “Um... you know. Safety pins. And have a coffee. Oh and do a big poo.”

EVERYONE else will be nervous too. EVen if they're wearing tutus.

Number 1:
Have a big drink the night before. Not beer, not wine ... in fact nothing alcoholic. Water - good. Squash – good. Vodka  - BAD.

Number 2:
Give yourself plenty of time. Have breakfast – but at least 2 hours before the race starting time otherwise you might give yourself a stitch. Have another big drink of water.

Number 3:
This is IMPORTANT. Have a poo. No really. I can’t stress how important this is. You really do NOT want the ‘I need a poo’ feeling on the start line or even worse halfway through a race. Plus, you really do not want to ignore this feeling when you’re running. TRUST ME on this.

Number 4:
Get there early. So you’ve got time if you get a puncture, time to locate another number if you’ve forgotten yours (mug another runner), have a coffee. And have another wee.

Number 5:
Have a coffee. Or a tea. Something to relax you a bit before the race so you’re not so nervous. Also something warm to hold as chances are you’re bloody freezing having already stowed your jumper in the car / luggage storage. You’ll probably also strike up conversation with another runner at the coffee van. Always nice to have a quick chat. (AKA suss out the competition)

Number 6:
Take SPARE safety pins. One will always get lost or break. Or be covered in Calpol. You don’t want your number flapping around so the photographers can’t identify you. Also don’t mess about with your number like cutting it smaller or folding it in. The race sponsors will get REALLY shirty if you do this and you may be disqualified.

At least one of these will break while pinning a number on. Guaranteed.
Number 7:
Race pens / start line. The fast guys go at the front, the slower people at the back. Obvious right? Yet there’s always some slow person at the front getting trampled by the faster people and holding everyone up. Don’t be that person. Have a look at the race results from last year so you know where to stand. Alternatively some big races have pens with the pace or the time you’re looking to do written on them. Use these.

Number 8:
There’s usually a warm up. Yes you will look a wally. Yes EVERYONE will look a wally. But hey, at least we’re all being wallies together. Right? Worth taking advantage of this. If only to laugh at the other uncoordinated people.

Number 9:
Wear a bin bag. You will have left your jumper in the car, the baggage area or wherever. You WILL be bloody freezing even if it is July. A bin bag is the solution. Don’t worry about looking a plonker. Everyone wears these. Just make sure you cut head and arm holes otherwise you will suffocate. Then you definitely won’t get that PB.

Number 10:
Be at your pen early as time is distorted before a race. You’ll have 45 minutes before the start time, then 30 seconds later this will be 5 minutes. Time really doesn’t work properly before a race.


Other stuff:
Baggage Storage. This works in 2 ways. Either you’ll leave your kit in a tent with your race number on (you might get a blank tag with your race pack to fill in with this) or the luggage storage will be in a lorry which they’ll drive to the finish for you. This will be free of charge.

Have a pen. I ALWAYS need a pen. Either I’ve forgotten to fill out the back of my number or I need to write something down.

Race pack. This will either come out to you in the post or you will pick this up before the start of a race. If it is before the start of a race, make sure you leave plenty of time as the queue can be horrendous. The race pack typically contains your race number, maps on how to get to the start of the race and if you’re extremely lucky some safety pins. For the bigger races you may get a ‘chip’ which is usually a plastic circular disc that you tie through your laces and which records your times over the line so they’re more accurate.

Loos. Usually portaloos. The queue for the loos isn’t so horrendous early on. It gets bad just before the race when Nervous Bladder kicks in. And after queueing for 20 minutes you’ll finally get into a portaloo and realise there’s no loo roll. And the race starts in 5 minutes. Not good. Also other people will have what I delicately title The Nervous Shits. You do not want to go in a portaloo after these people. Get there early.

Be nice. Be nice to your fellow runners as it’s likely they will running at the same pace as you if you started in the same pen. People DO remember elbows in the ribs and squashed feet – even in the melee at the start of a race - and they might not be so likely to share their water or gel with you if you smacked them in the head to get a fast start off the line.

Ballot entry. Some of the bigger races are using this form of entry such as Virgin London Marathon. The race gets such a large number of entries, they can’t let everyone run. They get around this by doing the equivalent of drawing applications out of a hat. With London, you apply in April and usually hear whether you’re in by October. Or you can apply to run for a charity but you have to promise to raise a set amount of money for them usually around the £2k mark. Yes £2k. You can also get in with a ‘Good For Age’ time which is where you run a similar distance race in under a set time and you can apply to get in to the next year’s marathon without having to enter the ballot.

Headphones are PROGRAMMED to get tangled.
Headphones. This is one topic guaranteed to get even the most mild mannered runner seething. The camp is divided fairly evenly between people who use these and people who don’t. Personally, I find that I’m more aware of my surroundings without these and am less likely to be trampled by a faster runner who I didn’t hear coming and more aware of the cheers from the crowd, but it’s all down to personal preference. Just don’t use them during the safety briefing at the start of a race as you might miss the warning about the vicious dogs, pot holes or pit of spikes.