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Sunday 27 April 2014

London Marathon Race Report: 2-Poo-Rule, Chain Mail & Nutella Eating Buttocks

Nothing strikes fear into a runner’s heart more than breaking the Marathon Rules. Or rather the breaking of a rather specific rule. You might wear new socks, forget to cut your toenails, even forget to pack your energy gels, instead gambling your race on the reliability – and palatability – of the on-course supplies. But you never EVER break the 2 Poo Rule.

Too much information?

If this is TMI for you than I can only suggest that you carry loo roll whenever you go for a long run. If you’re breaking the 2 poo rule, you’re going to need it at some point. You can trust me on this.

Picking up the number from the London Marathon Expo
I’d stayed with my little sister in Slough which was great for travelling in for the marathon. It’s a bit scary that she has her own flat though. I’m sure she should still be living with my parents and playing in her wendy house. However she seems to know her way around London and I was reassured that we were on the right train when a man dressed in chain mail and holding a red London Marathon kit bag got onto the same train as us. Luckily he hadn’t brought his horse. Apparently he was going for a Guinness Book of records for the fastest time dressed in chain mail. I can see why you’d need this record as every time I go to parkrun there’s yet another person there dressed in chain mail. It’s obviously important to sort out who's the fastest dressed in chain mail.

Each stop at a station brought an additional wave of anxious-looking, nervous people dressed in lycra, trainers and clutching a red kit bag. This wouldn’t have been a problem except for the fact we were sitting opposite the train loo. It had seemed a sensible plan first of all, in case I needed to, you know, go. But I hadn’t taken into account the masses of other runners who, nervous and jittery, also wanted to, you know, go.

Also some inconsiderate git, having observed the Number One Marathon rule, left the toilet door open, leaving the rest of us heaving, our porridge and carb-heavy breakfasts threatening to re-emerge until a shuddering runner braved the miasma and leapt up to close it bringing the train carriage smell back to it’s pre-poo norm of nervous farts, deep heat and stinky trainers.

Having forgotten about the free travel for runners thing, I’d bought a Travelcard for the day. Sigh. At least if I failed to finish the marathon and was struck off the Real Runners Register (yes, this is entirely imaginary) I’d be able to get to a kebab shop to cheer myself up.

Surprisingly, there was a lot of chat on the underground. Well surprising for the underground, not surprising for us runners. If there’s one thing we REALLY love, it’s talking about our training and our revolting toenails. As the latter wasn’t likely to emerge until after the marathon we started talking about our training.

The train arrived at the platform and we all jumped on and and squashed ourselves into a full carriage. An old lady – completely missing my lycra and trainers - spotted my London Marathon kit bag.

“Ooh are you doing the marathon?” I confirmed I was. She got very excitable at this point, then asked me which charity I was running it for. After saying I wasn’t running it for a charity, I got a very dirty look and dismissed. However, as I stood up to leave the train she obviously took pity on me. “Don’t run too hard, dear.” God no. I wouldn’t want a PB or anything like that.

1st portaloo queue of the day … Mazehill Station ...
The queue for the portaloos at the start was as long as the chances of getting a place in the race through the ballot system. Very long. There were about 6 lines stretching from one end of the field to the other each culminating in a block of loos, with each stage of loo-desperation reflected in the faces of the runners as they got closer to the end of the queue. There was nonchalance at the far end, mild anxiety in the middle and hopping-from-one-leg-to-the-other as you got closer to the block.

PROPER loo queue at the Green Start. You can JUST see them in the distance.
I was relieved (like what I did there?) to have dropped my kit bag off BEFORE getting in the line. The queues were so long, that runners waiting with their bags were being told by marshals that the baggage lorries were leaving and they needed to drop them off now. What a choice. Loo or luggage.

I took the opportunity in the queue to chat to the lady next to me and due to the time we were waiting – about 25 minutes – we had exchanged life stories and were practically best friends before I left her to 'enjoy' my plastic cube of poo. (That's the portaloo, not some revolting pre-race snack)

Guiness World Records people
I was on the green start which also had celebrities and Guinness World record attempts. There was someone dressed as a Thunderbird, someone dribbling a football and it looked like a plastic horse was going to be carried along too. Didn't fancy getting stuck behind that.

There was a celebrity pen for those who had achieved stardom through TV or sporting prowess. It was a bit like a zoo cage - basically an enclosure for the celebs and us ordinary runners outside looking through the bars waiting them to do something interesting. It seemed like a truce, we didn't attempt to feed them peanuts or bananas and and the bars protected them should one of us feel the urge to forgo our 4 months of training and hop over the fence for an attempt at a quick cuddle with Michael Owen despite the threat of being not allowed to start the race. I assumed it was Michael Owen anyway, as am possibly the worst person to celeb spot and probably wouldn’t recognise even Rowan Atkinson unless he was wearing his Mr Bean tweeds and pouring steak tartare into someone’s handbag.

The time flew and it was time to get into my own pen. Pen 3. I positioned myself in the middle of the pen, in the midst of the lycra-clad, nervously sweating strangers and suddenly heard “Hello!”. I turned around and saw Caroline! Out of 35,000, a friend from the local running club Spa Striders and someone who lived within 25 miles of me was standing next to me in the pen. We had a nice catch up and with 5 minutes to go, I clicked the 'on' button on my running watch.

And clicked it again.


All I could think was “I'm screwed.” I entered a year ago and have been training for months, for the Garmin to mess up NOW. How can I judge my pacing amongst this crowd and with the rush of adrenalin and knowledge that I'm running the most famous race in the world. How do I hold back and keep my pace to the 7:45 minute/miles I've been training for? I haven't even started the race and already I know that I’m screwed.

I fully agree with the anthropomorphism of gadgets. How did the Garmin know it was a race? That it was THE race. I just pushed the button like normal to switch it on and the Garmin Goblin said “Aha! Not today, Running Bitch! I KNOW this is your big race so I’m going to crash ... just like you will later without my pacing! Mwah ha ha ha!”

I panicked. Luckily, Caroline took charge and found someone in the crowd who knew how to reset a FR 305. She pressed the button combination ... and it switched on. I hugged her. And Caroline. And swore in my head at the Garmin. It obviously heard me, as despite being on charge all night, as soon as I crossed the Start Line it flashed the low battery warning at me. The low battery warning usually gives me 30 mins of running time.

Yes. I fully agree with the anthropomorphism of gadgets. If my Garmin was a person he’d be a git.

I soon lost Caroline and the others who had started around me in the mass of people running. The roads were very crowded for the first couple of miles and it was very disorienting seeing a sea of bobbing heads. It had been months of training and years and years of hearing the London Marathon theme song on the TV. And finally it was playing for me. I was wearing a chimp-grin but I couldn't help it. I WAS RUNNING THE LONDON MARATHON!

Turned to a girl next to me “Oh my God. I’m running the London Marathon!” She looked around at the crowds of people running around us wearing the London Marathon running numbers, looked back at me nervously and edged away. OK I hadn't only JUST realised. But it was REALLY exciting! I tried to tone down my manic grin, but it wasn't working. I was running the London Marathon. This was awesome!

However, obviously sensing my excitement, my Garmin beeped again with another reminder that the battery was low. Crap. I was bang-on pace at the moment – at mile 2 – but people were streaming past me. How would I check my pace and not try to keep up, worried that I was running too slowly when the Garmin failed? And how would I speed up in the last few miles, when my nice slow pace now felt like the final metres of a 5k race then? Argh! I couldn't do it! How could I do it without my running watch? I know I shouldn't have to rely on these things but knowing how my pace felt on a training run and trying to judge it while running a race – THE race – were two completely different things.

Lozza! Lozza was supporting the race! She had a Garmin! It was one of the newish ones that was small enough to double as a regular watch! She might be wearing it, never knowing it could be her neurotic Twitter buddy's salvation!

(While running a 7:45min/mile pace)
Ring ring, ring ring ...
“Sarah? SARAH?! What the hell are you doing calling me?! Aren't you meant to be running London? Why are you calling? Have you missed the START!!?”
“Garmin, Lozza! Garmin!”
“My Garmin has melted! I'm screwed, Lozza! SCREWED! Are you wearing your Garmin? Can I borrow it? Lozza! You're my ONLY HOPE!”

Lozza told me she wasn't wearing her Garmin, but that I was already running the race and to “bloody get on with it” and to stop talking on the phone. Quite frankly the best advice.

And in hindsight, what a phone call to receive. I can only apologise now. Sorry Lozza. But please, in the interest of disorganised and neurotic friends, please can you make sure you now wear your Garmin AT ALL TIMES. Just in case.

I was briefly distracted by a bloke running past with a fake bum hanging out of his shorts and a t-shirt with 'Tony's Trials' written on. I was told by a helpful fellow runner that apparently this was a bloke who was on Emmerdale and used to own a shop on it. I haven't watched the programme since it was called “Emmerdale Farm” and I don't remember a shopkeeper with a big pink bum. I'm sure I would have remembered. A girl runner passed him and said “Nice bum.” He grinned back and said “You too.”

I carried on running. The Garmin imp kept sending me death threats in the form of small unignorable beeps. All of a sudden, I heard a “Hello!” A strangely familiar face came into view. “Are you Sarah?” The person gestured at the massive 'Sarah' written on my top. “Well yes, I can see you're Sarah...” His voice trailed off … Then “I'm Neil! From Twitter!” I knew who he was. @Neily_Wilko, triathlete, joker, fast runner and Twitter buddy. I would have liked to have said that I introduced myself with dignity and grace, having finally met an online friend of years for the first time in person … instead I had a meltdown. “My Gaaaarmin! It's dying! I don't know what to do-ooooo!” Neil considered. Then he ripped the pace band from his wrist and handed it over. “Here you are. You'll be fine.” I was speechless. Then “... are you sure?” He nodded. “Yep. Good luck. Nothing personal but I hope I don't see you again. I'm going for a time 10 minutes quicker than you.” And he was off. Neily Wilko. Gentleman and friend.

At mile 6, I heard a scream from the supporters and looked over to see the Regency Runners  and a very vocal Lozza and Helen shouting my name! Fantastic to see them and I knew that the Cutty Sark was just around the corner now. It came into sight, tall masts and gleaming sides with screaming spectators on every side. I couldn't help it and sped up to the people shouting my name. So THIS must be how celebrities feel. I rounded the ship and set my face towards the next miles.

I'd decided on the same race strategy as I'd used in Paris. I found that thinking of the race as 26 miles was too much. It was just too far to fathom. In the ultra, I'd broken the race up into checkpoints and only thought of the distance to the next checkpoint. In the marathon I broke it into two halves of 10 miles each. I had to hold the pace for each 10 miles. Just hold it between 7:40 and 7:45 minute/miles. Just hold on. Don't go any faster. While I'd been on the phone call to Lozza, I'd knocked in a 7:15 minute/mile. I'd obviously sped up out of panic. I worried that this was going to cause me problems towards the end of the marathon. Even a few seconds a mile made a difference in a marathon, especially when they were too quick but I tried not to worry about it. Just hold the pace until 20 miles, then I could take the final 6 miles as my race. If I wanted to – if I could – I could run these as quick as I wanted to, but the first 20 miles were the most important. I needed to be disciplined and keep these as even as possible.

Around the 7 mile point, I was overtaken by a tall man with amazing hair. Now I don't tend to take much notice of things like this, but he looked as though he was starring in a shampoo advert with his glossy blow-dried hair bouncing and shining in the sunshine. Nice Sarah hoped he was going to do really well in the race and that he would get some lovely race pics. He certainly looked like every vapid girl’s dream. From behind anyway. Bad Sarah hoped he was going to turn into a sweaty mess, hair plastered to his forehead and crawling to the finish line looking like a dehydrated zombie. Like the rest of us.

The support along the course was brilliant. I'd got my name on my top. Laminated and safety-pinned on and people were cheering me on and shouting my name. I had people I was looking out for at specific points and landmarks to look out for so I was counting down the miles between these. I'd seen Anne-Marie who ran at my local parkrun and who was holding some brilliant balloons to make her easier to spot. I'd also seen Jo Gambell. Now Jo had promised me a crème egg if I came and saw her at mile 12 of the marathon and as I was running along I heard her scream my name, I turned back and saw her but had a dilemma. Did I dodge back through the crowds to claim my crème egg earning myself some unimpressed looks and a few elbows to the head or did I carry on running in the correct direction and leave my prize unclaimed? I made the sensible and chocolate-less decision, hating myself but knowing it was the right thing to do. However speaking to Jo on Twitter later that evening she confessed that she didn't actually have the crème egg at the marathon, having had a few drinks the night before, had scoffed the crème egg as dessert. Shame on you Jo!

The pubs on the route were in the spirit, the regulars standing outside drinks in hands, dancing along to the massive speakers the pubs had erected on the pavement to encourage the runners onwards. The music was eclectic and obviously depended on the pubs, but going past a pub playing The Beatles 'Come Together', I couldn't resist a sing along and an arms in the air moment to the delight of the crowd who obviously couldn't hear my dying-cat-style vocals over the noise of the music.

One of the big landmarks of the London Marathon is obviously Tower Bridge and I'd seen some great pictures on Twitter of people who had taken some amazing selfies while running and had had the bright idea of taking a picture of myself while I was running over Tower Bridge. Great idea, right?


I'd forgotten how difficult taking a photo while running was and quite how awful I'd look at close range after running 12 miles. Sweat and bogies make for a good pic, right? Also, I was so busy gurning into my own mobile phone trying to take a photo which incidentally was straight up my own nostril, that I completely forgot to look out for Taff who was taking professional photos on the right side of Tower Bridge. Fail.

Not long after Tower Bridge, there was a big trailer blasting out music in the middle of the road, right at the crossover point where miles 14 and mile 22 crossed. It seemed that the combination of heat and sugary gels had affected my head coming up to the trailer I mis-identified a random blonde woman in the trailer as Paula Radcliffe. I was like “Wow! How cool that Paula is here cheering us all on!” I ran across and went to high-five her … then realised my mistake. The woman was thrilled that I'd run up to high-five her so it seemed a bit mean not to at that point so did it anyway although I probably should have questioned myself before this point why I thought Paula Radcliffe would be singing in a trailer.

Around the 13.5 mile point, we saw a motorcycle outrider come along and just after him two elite runners battling it out for first and second place. They were running so smoothly and gracefully, it seemed as though they were floating despite the pace they were going. As they passed and others behind them, a mutter ran through the runners around me. Where was Mo? He must have dropped out. Then the crowd noise started, then swelled, then roared. Mo came into sight. We all cheered and shouted for him and as though it was planned in advance, all of the runners on my side of the fence did a Mo-bot to him. He was smiling despite his speed and pace. We don't care whether you win the marathon, Mo. We all love you anyway.

The Tower of London is a gigantic stone fortress, imposing, stately and massive which sits on the River Thames just after Tower Bridge. I ran past it twice. And missed it both times. If you want to commit a crime, you could probably commit one quite safely in front of me. I’d have to be the worst person ever to be a witness to something. I’d be completely oblivious.

The loos on the course were nice and regular (badum-tish!) and there were portaloos every few miles, often in the tunnels – possibly to dissuade people from weeing in them (in the tunnels not the portaloos) but it was a false hope as people were weeing everywhere. It seems to be a lycra thing. Put your run gear on and your bladder automatically engages. It really illustrated the need for the best sign ever.

Don’t wee in gardens.

However, despite the prevalence of portaloos I passed a man who appeared to have had an unfortunate accident. He appeared completely unconcerned despite his dreadful back view. Maybe he hadn’t realised and had just thought he’d let out a sneaky parp without realising that it looked like his buttocks were eating Nutella. Needless to say, I overtook him swiftly in case he was only halfway through …

It was a lot warmer on the race day than had originally been forecast and for a lot of people the heat was a big problem. For me, having trained for months in the freezing rain of England, my legs and body were acclimatised to owning freezing-cold extremities and having to conserve heat. All of a sudden, I pin a race number on and the sun comes out. And out. And out. People were throwing up. Gels were being gulped like ice creams and water stops were being mobbed. It was like Stand By Me but with energy gels instead of blueberry pies. And lycra.

The water stations were consistently every mile which was brilliant. It meant I could be lazy about hydration, knowing that if I missed one water stop another would be along in just under 8 minutes. That’s less time than it takes me to locate my other trainer from the shoe rack. However, as seems to be the norm at water stations at big races, people lose all their common sense and instead of throwing the bottles to one side, they were dropping them as they ran as if everyone else hadn’t also been training for this race for months. With bottles rolling around on the road and the flip caps all over the place like tiny slidy ankle breakers, you had to be very careful where you placed your feet. I River-Danced my way through these sections, considering that all these obstacle runs have got it all wrong. Wooden walls, electric fences and mud don’t take runners down, bottle caps and half filled bottles of water do. If they want to really challenge us, these race directors should be making us run through mounds of bottles and hurdle other fallen runners. It would be carnage.

There were showers – actual showers – at several points in the race, sending a torrent of water into the road and a spray of mist into the air, so the runners could run through them and cool down. I didn’t dare take advantage of these as I reasoned that I didn’t do it during training so shouldn't do it on race day ... But in hindsight, I realise have run enough training runs in the rain to know none of my kit chafes, shoes are blister free and I don't faint or fall over should I get damp during a run. Never mind.

Prior to running the London Marathon, I’d heard Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs was the quiet, boring bit which had little support and filled with tall buildings. Boring? I was looking forward to it! Tall buildings meant SHADE and a little break from the unrelenting sunshine! I came into this section and the shade was wonderful - like wearing a sun visor, however it was anything but boring and the support was brilliant!! I spotted my family – all bellowing and holding up signs and it gave me a real boost to see them all! Then a little further on I saw Northbrook AC – my running club and who spotted me as soon as I came into view. Corinna and Sarah who had organised the outing with military precision complete with spreadsheets detailing runner times and with rucksacks full of cider in case the sun got too warm, bellowed and cheered deafening nearby supporters and clearing themselves a comfortable space to spread out in.

Northbrook wanted to demonstrate evidence of their support in this picture (Source: Sarah McNaney)
Every few miles there were people in St John’s Ambulance clothes wearing plastic gloves and holding out jelly babies. That’s very hygienic using gloves, I thought approvingly. Much better than the small children holding out pick'n'mix in sweaty hands. But I hadn’t trained with jelly babies so didn’t take any. It was a lot later on in the race when I realised it wasn’t jelly babies but Vaseline. I was very relieved I didn’t grab a handful and shove it in my mouth. Might have been difficult to explain to medics. “So why did you eat your entire water bottle, Sarah?” Me: “I didn’t mean to, I was taking a drink and it just slipped in. There was this Vaseline incident earlier you see ... “

Around mile 23, I had a bit of a panic. I have NO idea why. If there was a good time to panic it was at the start line when the Garmin wouldn’t start. Or at the water stations where I was doing what looked like hopscotch in an attempt to keep from stepping on water bottles and tripping on bottle caps. At mile 23 I was nearly finished. My Garmin was still showing data. I knew I was on target for a PB if I just maintained my pace. And BAM. All of a sudden, hyperventilating. It disappeared as soon as it started, maybe it was part of the big city marathon experience. Dangerous water stations, check. Great crowd support, check. Panic attack, check.

I'd been acknowledging everyone who cheered me as much as I could and it was like a big happy circle. Someone would shout my name, so I'd smile in return and because I was smiling, other people would start shouting my name. But to everyone supporting after mile 22 … I'm sorry. I didn't look up when you cheered me. I heard you. I appreciated every cheer. I had no strength to do more than put one leg in front of the other. Thank you. I would have smiled back, but I was worried that I’d use my running energy smiling. And I’m sure you’ve seen my race pictures, I look like I’m about to fall flat on my face.

At Upper Thames Street at mile 24 there is a long tunnel. It should have been depressing, but it was a respite from the strong sunlight and Lucozade had put big, round lights like the circular paper lampshades in the last tunnel with motivational messages written on them. It was a brilliant idea and something to distract yourself with although reading that “Pain is temporary ...” didn't really help right at that time. At mile 24 of a marathon, pain is pretty much the main thing you're feeling and having it trivialised wasn't a way to endear giant paper lampshades to me. I was hoping for one that said “free lifts to the finish line.” But due to shoddy marshaling they'd obviously forgotten that one.

Coming out of the tunnel, I knew that Big Ben was close. I kept an eye on the skyline knowing that it would be almost the final landmark before Buckingham Palace and the finish line. I saw a tall line behind the trees on the embankment and could have sworn when I realised that it was Cleopatra’s Needle instead. A combination of wishful thinking, poor eyesight and not really much of an idea exactly where in London I was meant that I wasn't as close as I'd hoped.

However, tall shape behind the trees turned into Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and a sharp right took me into the final stretch. Although this section was over within 5 minutes, it felt like 15 … I just had to hold on and keep running. I completely missed Buckingham Palace – how? How? - instead focusing on the red signs each giving a distance to the finish line …

800m to go ….

600m to go …

Each felt as though there was a mile between them. They took an age to pass. There is nothing slower on the planet than marathon seconds. Especially at the end.

Then it was there. The finish gantries. Red and with a clock over each, there were several. Not one large finish like I'd expected but multiple ones. Not really the appropriate time to ask a knackered runner to make a choice. I was struggling with the concept of 'right foot, left foot and repeat' at this point. However, getting to the closest I even managed an 'arms raised' for the finish photo although rather than the dashing victory photo I'd hoped I look like a stoner who's doing a slow head bang to a favourite song.

Up a ramp to get the chip cut off of my shoe laces … which wasn't a nice surprise to my legs and then a medal was placed around my neck. It felt the size of a wagon wheel and heavy, filled with the weight of energy gels and footsteps and miles and miles of training.

Picking up my kit bag was simple and painless. Made more so that mine was right at the front. I just stood there, in zombie-mode pointing wordlessly at my bag until I was noticed. I smiled and thanked them and shuffled off.

I found a spot on a seat. Possibly a box? A bench? A bin? Somewhere to sit that didn't require any work from my legs. The sun beat down on me and it made everything beautiful. The tired runners, the sandy ground. Sandy ground. My feet were hot and tired. Taking my shoes and socks off and putting my toes on the cool sandy ground would make everything better. I unlaced one shoe and eased my right foot out. I started rolling down my long turquoise sock … and cramp struck. I'd like to say I sat stoical and silent until it passed. I didn't. I jumped straight up in the air and started screaming. And hopping.

Yes. My medal bouncing, I hopped around on one leg screaming. Like some sort of parody of Britain, the Land of Hop and Glory. With my marathon-mangled toes, if I'd actually managed to remove the sock entirely it would have been Hop and Gory.

My screeching and clawing at my calf attracted some attention and a fellow runner came over and asked – despite appearances - if I was ok. He showed me which stretch would release the calf and got me to sit down. At which point my other calf cramped. Screeching and clawing resumed. He obviously had a strong stomach – or a VERY unusual foot fetish, one which involved half-attached toenails and sweaty feet – as he not only helped me with the cramp but removed my other shoe and my socks for me. The feeling of bare feet on cold stones was the best feeling ever. And I include cold beer on a hot day in that statement. It was BLISS.

I didn't know my time as my Garmin had finally conked out at mile 24 (despite its threats of dying early on). I’d seen the clock on finish gantry but I knew it hadn’t been correct as I’d spent some time getting to the start line. I’d had some wonderful congrats messages popping through as twitter notifications as my friends had been tracking my running via the website ... but none of the tweets said my time! So I asked Twitter ...

Which popped up such gems as “You’re about 15 minutes in front of Michael Owen...” “4 and a half hours ...” Eventually someone took pity on me and told me my finish time. New PB. I am pleased to tell you that despite odd twinges and the threat of cramp I did attempt the 'New PB Dance' although after 26.2 miles it looked more I'd developed some sort of twitch.

After some issues with phone signals – apparently 35,000 people all trying to get through to their families, I managed to locate mine, but I need to have a serious chat with 4-year old about her expectations as her first question was “Did you win, Mummy?”

I lay on the grass devouring the contents of the goody bag and fending 4 year-old off from my marathon-battered legs towards which she developed a magnetic attraction. It was lovely. Cool grass, a blue sky and the peace of a marathon well-run and new PB. I looked up and realised that Mary of A Healthier Moo and I were sitting approximately 10 feet apart. Mary looked fresh as a daisy and not at all as if she'd run a marathon – in fact her Garmin told her she'd run well over 27 miles! Despite which she STILL managed a new PB! We had a catch up and she told me about the ultra marathons she has planned. Mary is a serious ultra runner and has some brilliant ones lined up.

We had a chat about the signs we'd seen on course. One that I'd liked said "You look like you've got stamina call me on 07..." It had made me giggle despite being halfway through a marathon. Mary had seen one which had a red circle in the middle and said “Hit here for power!!” Brilliant.

One thing that I really noticed was that the marshals were amazing. All sounded genuine. There were at least 4 THOUSAND people in front of me, but every marshal made me feel as though I was the first person they’d given a medal to, cheered on, given a bottle of water to. You guys were AWESOME. Thank you.

However, I do have a bone to pick with the photographers. You must have been using a really awful filter (cough, cough) as EVERY SINGLE ONE of my photos look as though I’m really, really ill. In fact, I am genuinely surprised that the marshals didn’t whisk me off the course. I'm even attempting what looks like a one legged swerve in one of them. The runner next to me is looking at me in genuine concern. Or fear. I did look a bit zombie-ish. He was probably expecting me to lunge at him for his brains. He didn't need to be concerned. I wouldn't go after runners, we wear extremely unappealing clothes, poo in hedges and run huge distances for a piece of shiny metal on a bit of string. We're probably not up there with the Einsteins and Stephen Hawkings of the world. Although I can understand his terror. I did actually look like a zombie. A race-zombie in search of finish line rather than brains.

Well this race-zombie got to the finish line in 3:23:17.


Thursday 17 April 2014

Yeovil Montacute Parkrun: There May Be Ditches Ahead ...

Yeovil Montacute Parkrun … Unfortunately and Fortunately ...

Walking to the start ...

Unfortunately ...
I’d had to forgo my lie-in to come to parkrun.
Fortunately ...
It was a beautiful, cool, clear morning just perfect for running. It was worth getting out of bed for.

Unfortunately ...
It was not a PB course.
Fortunately ..
It was an amazingly beautiful cross country route. The fields shone with dew and the yellow sandstone of Montacute House gleamed golden in the sunshine.

Unfortunately ...
There were ditches to jump as part of the parkrun so this would slow my time down.
Fortunately ..
There were DITCHES TO JUMP! How freaking awesome is that?? It puts all this road running to shame!!

Unfortunately ...
When I looked at my Garmin, I realised that I was running far too fast for the terrain. I slowed down a bit and was promptly overtaken by another lady.
Fortunately ...
She wasn’t too far in front of me … and I now had a target. (Competitive? Moi?)

Unfortunately ...
The hills and rough ground made it hard going.
Fortunately ...
The hills and rough ground made it hard going for EVERYONE. And I like hills. And ditch jumps.

Unfortunately ...
The lady in front was cutting the corners.
Fortunately ...
I wasn’t ... and the ground was smoother on the grassy paths than the long grass so I wasn't losing any time.

Unfortunately ...
There was yet ANOTHER ditch jump!
Fortunately ...
Every time we had a ditch jump I gained a bit of ground on the lady in front of me. P.s. Did I mention ditch jumps are awesome?

Unfortunately ...
She was speeding up.
Fortunately ...
So was I.

Unfortunately ...
I could see a massive hill in the last kilometre.
Fortunately ...
I enjoy running up hills! I ran up the hill and overtook the 1st lady!

I run best when asleep. (Photo credit ma77ywarr)

Unfortunately ...
I still had to sprint to the finish line
Fortunately ...
I could see the finish line!

Unfortunately ...
This meant that this amazing parkrun was finished
Fortunately ...
I'd had a brilliant morning running Yeovil Montacute parkrun, was 1st lady and had discovered an AWESOME parkrun!! And did I mention the ditch jumps??

If you like gorgeous views, stately homes, ditch jumps, sheep in the grounds and some AWESOME cross country running come and visit YeovilMontacute Parkrun. It’s not a PB course ... it’s far more fun than that!

The parkrun cafe ...

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Warwick Half Marathon: Don't Panic!

Don't Panic

I’m about 6 miles into the race and my breathing is too fast. I’m not tired, my legs are fine, but my breathing is too shallow, too rapid. This isn’t good. Right, concentrate on something else. Count how many red shirts you can see in front of you, how many 8s you can see in race numbers. Anything to take your mind off your too-rapid breathing.

If I had to stop because I can’t catch my breath would anyone help me? Would they tell a marshal? Or would I sit here in this country lane on my own? Don’t think about that. Don’t stop. Count something, think of something else.

The panic subsides, calmed by the metronomic sound of my feet on the road. Where did that come from? Is it worry about pace? About this being the run I’m basing my marathon time goal on? Wearing my new club vest for the first time – not wanting to let anyone down? Worrying that these first 5 miles aren’t feeling comfortable at all ... and remembering my last half marathon and how bloody tough that had been ….

Parking Well For Less ...

Information on race day parking hadn’t been very clear although it had suggested side streets. Not wishing to come back and find my car had been egged by an annoyed Warwick resident, I’d parked at the local Sainsbury’s – relying on the Sunday opening hours and hoping their traffic warden had decided on a nice weekend lie-in today. It was a bit cheeky, but they seem to be all about the Sports Relief at the moment so couldn’t complain too hard about a cheeky runner using the car park while the store was closed. Plus it was free parking. I wholeheartedly agreed with Living Well For Less. Well Parking For Less anyway.

With my race number pinned to my vest and my coffee money clutched firmly in one sweaty little hand, I decided that it was time to go in search of caffeine and portaloos. Although for the sake of keeping delicate areas and scalding liquid separate, preferably not at the same time. Heading for the great big stands at the racecourse, I was stopped by a helpful marshal who asked me whether I was running today. I looked down at myself, at my nice bright race number and my running kit. Just to check I’d remembered to put them on. I looked at the marshal. Looked at the hordes of runners around me.

“No I’m wearing Lycra to blend in” ... Was what I should have said. Instead, I smiled, confirmed I was a runner and followed her directions to the race track, the start and the coffee vans.

The Unbreakable Race Laws ...

Coffee before a race is the 1st unbreakable law ... as is the 2nd, the portaloo visit. I’d have liked to have had the option to have a coffee first, but as my tummy rumbled, my walk towards the race village became quicker and quicker. What started as an amble became a bit of a sprint. I take my race warm-ups where the opportunities present themselves. And not having stained running shorts is a definite incentive to get a bit of speedwork out of the way.

3rd unbreakable race law. There shalt always be a queue at the portaloos. And some woman who is blatantly not running the race in the queue in front of you. Mutter, grumble. I decided there needed to be a separate portaloo, in the middle of a field, away from runner portaloos. And away from runners worrying about the 2 Poo Rule. People not racing had to go to THAT portaloo. It would be in their best interests as it would probably smell a bit less ‘fragrant’ as there wouldn’t be any nervous runners using it first, it would keep them out of my way AND stop them being in front of me in the queue and subject to my dark stares and muttering.

Tummy settled, caffeine procured, I went to look for the baggage storage ... but found the queue first. Oh. MASSIVE. Never mind, I’m only parked a mile away. Running to the car counts as warming up right?

It sounded like such a good plan but trying to run while holding a massive kit bag which kept swinging around and wrapping around my legs wasn’t a good idea. Also people were running the other way to the start. Not good.

I got to the car, threw the bag in, had a quick traffic warden count (none) and ran back to the race course. The loudspeakers were blaring and people were starting to line up behind the inflatable Start arch.

Cut that a bit finer than I’d meant to. At least my frenzied dash counted as a warm up. Well. A sprint up. However, it seemed very quiet in this pen. There were about 30 of us and that was it. Turned to the bloke next to me. Where’s everyone else? He gestured back at a pen where EVERYONE else was penned up like cattle – a wall of human flesh. “This is the sub 1:30 pen” He said. Ah. Whoops. I looked at the cage of people. There was no space for anyone to squeeze in there. I looked at the chap. We shrugged and made a silent pact to stay at the back of the 1:30 pen.

I was in black, green and gold today - wearing my Northbrook AC club vest for the very first time in a race. I was hoping they were my lucky colours. As I waited in the pen, I spotted another unmistakable vest with the green and black and gold sunburst. I wandered over to introduce myself to Andrew. We wished each other luck and continued pacing the pen.

I had decided on my pacing beforehand and knew exactly what time I should be running each mile. It keeps things easier in my mind this way and it breaks the race into bite sized (or should that be footstep sized?) chunks. However, despite this, it felt as though the entire race pack had streamed past me by mile 3. I was trying to keep my pace consistent and if I kept to my target speed then I should be re-overtaking them before the end. But it’s always a bit worrying. Is my Garmin showing the wrong pace? Have my legs forgotten how to run? Surely I should be in front of that 22 stone man dressed as a chicken?

Maybe Warwick just has some excellent and unlikely-looking runners. Or they’ve shipped some elites in to confuse me and mess up my pacing. Unlikely. Just focus Sarah. But what if they know something I don’t? Like there’s a narrow section coming up and they’re all getting ready. I’m going to get stuck at the back of the pack with the old lady wearing trainers and a tutu and the double-act that decided doing a half marathon in a cow costume was the height of entertainment. Shut up brain.

Find a Good Friend with a Shouty Voice ...

As I ran the first section, I focused on how nice it was to run with so many other people. We might have been focusing on our own races, our own runs and not chatting, but it was nice to run shoulder to shoulder with them. We ran a part of the section that we’d covered in the 12 miles of Christmas and then we were onto a street I recognised from my walks to the pool with Lozza and then there was the lady herself! Waving and cheering! So lovely to see a friend! Especially one with a loud shouty voice who was cheering me on!!

I ran shoulder to shoulder with Northbrook Andrew for the next few miles, I’d see the sunburst vest out of the corner of my eye, lose him on the downhills and pick him up again on the uphills. Like a very slow game of Stalk Your Clubmate.

There were little knots of supporters all around the route and plenty of car drivers irate at having roads closed and being stuck for half an hour while the mass of humanity, dressed in lycra and with our numbers safety-pinned on passed them by. Serves you right, Mr Grumpy Driver, for being up so early without having a good reason like ‘going for a run’ ...

On a nice flat section, we passed the Saxon Mill pub which was one we’d stopped at during the ‘12 Miles of Christmas’ and I made a mental note to nip in again. Not 2 miles into a half marathon though. Besides it was only quarter past 9. They probably wouldn’t be able to serve me anyway ...

Chasing the Satsuma ...

We were spreading out into our pace groups and people became more familiar around me. There’s always a part in a race where you unconsciously choose a run buddy – the point when they go from competitor to run buddy. Well ... until the last half mile anyway …

I ended up running with a man in an orange Hampton Magma Harriers top. I’d run a lovely long Sunday morning run with his club once and had been impressed with the group leader’s knowledge of the area. It had been mainly on footpaths and trails and was a perfect Sunday morning run. He was also a good person for me to keep pace with as the vest was so bright – I couldn’t lose sight of it! He was moving in my peripheral vision like a person-shaped Satsuma.

He was pushing it on the downhills and would fly off in front of me, but I’d pick him up again on the uphills. I was trying to keep my pace as consistent and metronomic as possible but without tiring myself out on the uphills. Problem was it ALL felt like uphills. Kept telling myself “metronome, metronome, just keep it steady and even.”

Mountainous Warwickshire ….

I knew that the route was mainly uphill until mile 8 but it was a LOT hillier than I’d expected. I’m sure Warwickshire hadn’t been this mountainous last time I’d looked. I was expecting sherpas and mountain goats any minute. A lot of the route was rural and most of it was in the lanes, but there were plenty of supporters. People who had given up their Sunday mornings, their lie-ins and leisurely breakfasts and cups of coffee to cheer on these crazy runners. Thank you. It was very much appreciated. Even if I looked wild-eyed, sweaty and a little bit insane, I was appreciative on the inside. Despite the gurn.

Coming up to the top of one of the hills, I passed a runner walking. He had had a word with the marshal and had removed his t-shirt with his number on and was holding it, walking on. His head down. Patted his shoulder and gave him a sympathetic smile as I passed. I haven’t DNF’d yet. But I will one day. I’ll hope for a smile then from a fellow runner.

The hills seemed endless. I know this course had been described as ‘undulating’, which is a polite way of saying “bloody hilly” but they seemed never ending. My pace was all over the place and it was difficult to find a steady rhythm as I was always having to readjust for the gradient. I checked my Garmin and was concerned to see I’d clocked a really slow mile. I had a moment of rising panic and looked for something to take my attention off of the numbers.

Bleeding Nipples … not mine!

Right. Distractions, distractions. Ah ... red t-shirts. The race organisers had given away free red t-shirts to everyone running today and some of the more optimistic – and probably less experienced runners – were wearing them to run in today. Having experienced the 1-2-3 of horrors that running in cotton t-shirts can bring I can seriously recommend that you don’t run in these.

In case you’re not aware, the 1-2-3 of horrors goes like this.

  1. Cotton doesn’t wick sweat away like synthetic fabrics so you sweat ... and it stays there.
  2. The t-shirt gets wet with sweat ... and cold.
  3. The t-shirt now being wet, cold and heavy with sweat starts to chafe as you run ...
...and as it’s a new T-shirt you didn’t know this and can’t take it off mid-race or dash home early like in a training run.

Plenty of chaps have waved goodbye to their man-nipples as optimistically they’ve donned a new cotton t-shirt for a race and have then had their underarms, nipples and necks sandpapered by an unforgiving fabric. Ouch. At least the shirts were bright red so the bleeding couldn’t be seen. Who likes their man-nipples anyway? At least us girls have an extra layer between us and the shirts but it’s still crazy to wear new kit in a race without testing it first.

Distracted by trying to catch up to people in red tops, I realised that mile 8 had passed and the course gradient was mainly downhill now until the end. It’s amazing what difference this can make to your outlook knowing that you’re practically on the home straight (well ... sort of) and you can roll most of the way to the finish line from here. My legs gained a new lease of life just as a lovely mile of almost all downhill running came. I didn’t know how long this downhill was going to last so I didn’t want to tire my legs out too much if I was about to hit a vertical wall of uphill but I enjoyed it! The lanes here were lined with spectators here too and the cheering gave my feet Hermes wings and I clocked my one of my fastest miles in a half marathon ever at 6:23 min/miles.

Despite passing close to it at the start I didn’t see Warwick Castle at all except at around the 10 mile point where a view over the hedges and fields towards Warwick showed towers rising into the sky. It looked quite close and knowing that there were only 3 miles to go was a further turbo boost.

Don't Choose Your Music at Midnight ...

I’d had a busy day before this race and I’d been up until midnight putting together the perfect marathon playlist which I decided to trial today. I had combined, what had seemed at midnight, the perfect selection of songs to keep me running, to keep me entertained and to fire me towards that PB I wanted so much. However, as the sounds of Motorhead blended (not particularly seamlessly) into Aqua which turned into ELO, it became clear why creating playlists at midnight is never a good idea.

However, as the music jumped from genre to genre like some sort of manic ADHD flea, the uncertainty kept my mind off of the panic. And the running. Keep going, the faster you finish, the faster you can turn off this increasingly bizarre playlist.

At Least This is Easier Than Club Night ...

Ahead of me in the distance, I could see two girls. One was wearing a charity top and one much further away with a club vest on. Ok. You two can be my next distractions. Catch the girls! I tried to persuade my legs that I didn’t have far to go. They weren’t convinced although I told them the quicker they ran, the sooner I could sit down.

It seemed to work. I caught up one of the girls and sprinted past to try and break the 30-yard rule. Apparently once you get 30 yards in front of someone in a race it breaks the mental contact they have with you as a competitor. Apparently it’s the point they stop chasing you.

A slight uphill ... really? Not now. Not this close to the end! I rounded the corner and was confronted by a straight road, rolling downill. Perfect. My Garmin was showing just over a third of a mile to go. I urged my legs onwards, overtaking the next girl who chased for a while before dropping back. C’mon legs ... can’t quit now! Close! So close!

I could see the finish arch – bright red, the route lined with spectators. Push! One last push!! Even then, going all out, there was one thought floating in my mind. “It may be mile 13 of a half marathon, you can’t breathe, your legs are about to drop off, but it still doesn’t hurt as much as one of Coach John’s training sessions ...” With that ringing in my mind, I crossed the timing mat, under the finish arch to receive a medal ... and a new best time for a half marathon.


11th woman / 670

… and my favourite part … a negative split.