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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Slateman Triathlon Race Report: Finding my 'World-of-Pain' Face

Well this isn’t going well. I’m standing in a closed petrol station in the middle of nowhere at midnight after a long delay on the roads, the car has just reminded me that it has 10 miles before I have to put more petrol in and I’ve just called the hotel to let them know that I’m going to be REALLY late to check-in ... and they can’t find my booking. Oh yes and the hotel is fully booked this weekend.

And then it starts raining.

It’s been one of those days.  I’d started Friday by having to hastily re-write a marketing essay in a short space of time, get a work assignment completed and submitted within an hour, pack for a race and pick up my 7 year old from school and drop her off 70 miles away in Newbury and and then receive a phone call an hour later, while on my way to Wales to say I hadn’t given my parents her clothes. A quick glance over my shoulder confirms that yes – her case is still in the back seat of the car. Bloody hell. 

And now I’m in the rain. In the dark. On my own. I can practically hear the banjos. It’s practically textbook start-of-horror-film. And I bet I’m one of the characters that doesn’t even get a name. Murder Victim 1 or something in the script ...

But then things start to look up. The hotel have found the booking. For TOMORROW but have arranged another hotel to look after me tonight, the petrol station have started dispensing petrol again and I’ve bought about £30 worth of snacks as I missed my dinner about 6 hours ago due to being on the road. 

Things always look better on a full stomach I think with the smugness of something driving a car with a full tank  of petrol while stuffing another crisp in my mouth. 

And then the car starts making a noise that sounds as though at least 3 of its wheels are going to fall off.


It’s 2am. I’m finally in bed at Replacement Hotel. I can see my tri bag with my kit in and my bike Evie is propped up against the wall.  I pull the sheets up around my chin and whisper that now I’m finally here the wheels can fall off the car if necessary. 

Then Husband announces that he has ALSO been charged for the room as well as them charging my card. Whatever. It’s 2am. I’ll sort it out tomorrow.  

The manic eyes of 'Just Take the Photo Already So I Can Eat My Ice Cream'.
The next day dawns blue and beautiful. We’re staying in Caernarfon which is beautiful and we decide to explore the old town. There are cobbles and castles and ice cream. It’s far too exciting a place to be staying in the day before a triathlon as the urge to climb all the castle towers and eat all the ice cream is overwhelming. I limit myself to ONE ice cream (three big scoops) and ONE castle (all the towers) and pat myself on the back for restraint. Or I would have if I’d been more bendy and my hands weren’t full of ice cream.

And then it’s time for registration. The drive is all on winding roads between green fields and blue mountains. It is beautiful. And bumpy. I wondered how much of the ride would actually involve vertical cycling and whether  we’d have to bring our own winches and ropes. I tended to enjoy cycling up hills for the simple reason that an uphill usually meant that there would be a downhill sooner or later and I could have a bit of rest and a flapjack while the world flashed past upwards.

A registration pack and a panicked expression.

We found the registration venue in the Electric Mountain Visitor Centre, Llanberis. It wasn’t easy to miss. The car park was full of estate cars with bikes in the back of the car, on the back of the car and on the car roof. And vans. Obviously people had decided to avoid the hotel problem by bedding down in the van with the bike. Romantic. 

I put ‘van’ on my Christmas list. Santa would have a bugger of a time getting it down the chimney but it would probably save me a fortune on hotel fees. And the bike would like the snuggles. 

I picked up my race pack, got back in the car, put my seatbelt on and went to turn the ignition key ... and paused. After the series of events this weekend, wouldn’t it be a good idea to CHECK the contents of the pack? I laid everything out on the passenger seat. No race tattoos. 

Slap forehead and stagger back into registration. 

There are several spare race tattoos and we manage to make the number 862 with sticky numbers of varying sizes. It’s a win. I make sure I have a black biro just in case of race tattoo cock up-age. I have a history of these things and on more than one occasion have been reduced to drawing my race number on various appendages in black biro to avoid disqualification. 

We start to drive back to hotel – I have a spa to sit in and ice cream to eat – but I decide it would be sensible to drive the cycle route. It’s full of cyclists. “Look at all these Race-Squares recce-ing the route!” I exclaim. The Husband points out WE are ALSO recce-ing the route. I shut up. 

The aim of me recceing the route was for me to learn where the corners and climbs are so I don’t get a nasty surprise on race day but I spend so long bickering with The Husband about where the turns are that we lose our place in the race instructions and are reduced to following cyclists ... “It must be this way as that man wearing all the lycra and the sperm helmet is going this way.”

Finally get back to the hotel and I go and sit in the spa pool. It is cold. 

The start of race day was promising. Not only did I remember to put my sports bra on BEFORE my trisuit (I am ALTERNATIVE superman), the race tattoos went on smoothly and the black biro remained underplayed

Actually got the numbers on without resorting to biro.

I got to the race start which was bathed in quiet sunshine, racked my bike – RIGHT by bike exit! – and laid out all my kit. It was the most serene start to a race ever. The mountain backdrop of Elidir Fawr, the Moel Eilio Ridge and Mount Snowdon edged the world and Llyn Padarn reflected them back, calm and peaceful ready for the swimmers.  The forecast had suggested there might be a light shower but it looked as though it was going to hold off. It was a 40% chance of rain. That's 60% chance of not rain, right?

So early it's only my bike here!
As I was racked so early, I pulled a hoody on over my trisuit and sat down for 45 minutes with a coffee watching the cafe fill up with triathletes and their families. I love people watching when I’m on my own but after half an hour or so and my 2nd coffee I was noticing a bit of a trend. People coming in all wet. REALLY wet. Unless they've all got REALLY keen about the lake swim then it was absolutely bucketing down outside.

Bugger. And just in time for me having to strip off to get my wetsuit on. 

I went outside into torrential rain. PROPER torrential rain. Buckets of water rain. My hoody, trisuit, shoes and hair were soaked through in the 100 metres it took for me to walk from the cafe to transition.

Ah ... perfect tri weather ...
And trying to get a wetsuit on when I’m drenched is actually really difficult. I’m standing on muddy grass, toes sinking into the mud, the rain is pouring down and everything is soaked and seeping water. My skin is cold and clammy as is the wetsuit and I’m slipping around trying to climb into a rubber suit which is flailing around like an out of control octopus. 

I’d cry out of frustration - in fact I might be crying but it’s raining so hard no-one can tell – but I don’t want to start the race dehydrated and I suspect looking at the size of the mountains around me, I’m going to need to keep as much moisture in as possible. 

There is sheep poo on my toes. The prize goes to the Slateman Triathlon for the most Welsh start ever. But despite the poo we’re all wearing on our feet, it is a very friendly start. There is an ‘Elite Women’ start so the 'Rest of Us' wave is small and pretty friendly. We all stood around chatting and trying to surreptitiously stand next to the people who looked least likely to kick you in the face. As we get called forward and start walking towards the swim entry I realise I’ve forgotten to eat my pre-race banana. Never mind.  It would probably have melted in all this rain anyway. 

As I stand on the shore and get counted in, I realise that for the first time ever that I’m not terrified of the swim. 

I started this sport as a runner and running generally involves a lot less elbowing and kicking in the face than triathlon (apart from the National cross country races ). It really IS a contact sport. Although I would like to point out that it isn’t ME that kicks people in the head (except for Loz but that’s purely accidental and in no way connected to her beating me out of the swim at Pitsford last year ). So it was a revelation to realise that I wasn’t scared. 

Despite not being terrified, I was still too nervous to warm my wetsuit up. I have a nervous bladder. Also my tummy had been a bit dodgy recently and I didn’t want to risk my wetsuit being ‘warm with lumps in’. 

As we were standing ready to go in, the first man came in from the first wave. He’d managed a 15 min swim. After all the recent fuss with the cyclocross motorised doping, they should stop checking the BIKES for motors and check that bloke hasn't got an engine up his arse. Wow! Wish I could swim like that. (Fast NOT with intestinal extras)

The water was slate grey in the rain and flatly reflecting the looming storm clouds above. As we were called forward into the lake, the chill of the water seeped through the wetsuit. The temperature had been listed as 14.7 on the race update yesterday but it had been confirmed as 11.4  this morning. This felt like a generous measurement for the icy water and I was aware that if the temperature had been measured as 11 or below, the swim wouldn’t be allowed.  

Maybe the mad kicky ladies went off in the Elite Women start but the start was reasonably sedate. This was helped by the fact the race was started before half the swimmers had reached the starting buoys for the deep water start so maybe the people who usually kick me in the face had gone off with them. They weren’t missed.  

I picked up some feet to draft but moved on past when the girl slowed out of her mad swim start mode and I headed out towards the first buoy mainly on my own. The wave was small so the group spread out fairly early on. Picked up some more feet just past buoy 1 along with someone else and we shared nicely, having a foot each. We caught arms a couple of times but didn't get any bashes - we just got on with it. See open water swimmers – you CAN share – it’s NOT compulsory to smack the other person in the head.

The feet I was chasing slowed down past buoy 2 so left them to my peaceful non-face-smacking swimming buddy and went at it alone. It was difficult to sight on the grey rocky shore so when I was passed by a couple of fast swimmers from the wave after me about 50m from shore, I just aimed for the white water and hoped I wasn't chasing fast feet not an approaching wave of swimmers. 

I kept swimming until it became too shallow and overtook another person trying to wade their way through thigh high water like someone trying to escape soup. For the FIRST TIME EVER in a race I actually remembered the quick release on the wetsuit and managed to get it down to my waist before I found my bike. Not because I'm quick but because the bike was absolutely miles away. 

The bike course elevation.

However this was still quite an achievement as the mixture of mud and rain early appeared to have combined to produce a super strong adhesive. I did what must have appeared to outsiders a kind of King Louis from the Jungle Book, ‘King of the Swingers’ dance to remove the thing as virtually the entire rest of my wave ran past with their bikes. Quick transition show offs. 

Doing my helmet up with cold hands was like trying to use chopsticks with  oven gloves on and I wasted a minute or so bashing my hands together trying to get the buckles done up by luck. Eventually it worked.  

Emptied the rain water out of my shoes, pulled them on and made the mistake of standing on my towel which released a torrent of water, ignored that, pulled bike out of rack and ran towards the exit and narrowly avoided a man in front who stopped directly ON the mount line like a bloody idiot. Managed to avoid ramming bike directly up his lycra-clad arse crack and manoeuvred bike around him like a sweary cold thing, jumped on and started pedalling up the hill. 

The climb starts nice and gently but it gets steep really soon and before you’ve had a chance to warm your legs up and I was thanking Matt in the cafe who’d advised me to leave my bike in the small ring. I was passing people steadily on the bike which is always a nice little boost but rather than showing that I’m awesome on the bike (I’m not) it demonstrates how slow I am on the swim as I usually spend the first half an hour on the bike catching up the people who kicked my arse – and probably my face – in the lake. 

Any time lost climbing the hills was possibly regained on the descents as despite being unable to use the tri bars to take advantage of the downhills as the torrential rain made the road so treacherous, the water stopped the brakes working. Completely.

Due to the lack of brakes I was getting some GREAT speed up. The effect was possibly spoiled by me wailing “I’m going to dieeeeeeeee!” although this probably created an amazing Doppler effect for the spectators who had braved the storm to cheer on the riders. 

I'm enjoying this despite the water. And screaming.
There was good local support and pockets of damp people braving the torrential rain and storm to come out and ring bells and cheer us onwards. It was really lovely. Despite the rain pouring down my face and the hail bouncing off me, I smiled for a huge proportion of the cycle ride. 

A nice touch was that the race numbers had the competitor’s names on so I knew exactly who was overtaking me or who I was trying to chase down. I played leapfrog with ‘Scot’ for a while and passed a few words with ‘Fiona’ as we climbed a hill behind ‘Georgie’ and finally managed to overtake ‘Oliviu’.  However as a late entry I was still poor old 862.

The roads were constantly uphill or downhill. I think I found a flat piece on top of a mountain for a metre or so but I wouldn’t bet any money on it. They also twisted like snakes. It was all incredibly beautiful (through the film of water) but it was difficult to know where to brake and which direction the serpent of road would twist after the next bend. 

I was managing a previous hitherto untried nutrition strategy – waterlogged flapjack and rainwater-dissolved haribo. It was a way of hydrating AND fuelling at the same time.  Basically rainwater soup with floating gummy bears and chia seeds.  Not convinced it’ll be a big seller.

A black Audi came belting past, screeched a halt in a layby in front of me and a phone was brandished out of the window. Bellowed: “SMILE!” ‘Click!’ Ah The Husband has come to support. Thought I recognised the style of driving. 

Mouthful of ALL the food.

I smiled for the camera around a mouthful of gummy bears and fizzy cola bottles. No. Just no. That’s one photo that won’t make it into the race report. 

Riding back into Llanberis on the final straight, there were people lining the roads and clanging cowbells, I felt like a Tour De France rider. Wow!! I may not have a yellow jersey but I’d certainly have fly-specked teeth the amount of smiling I was doing.  It was BRILLIANT!

Belting into transition, leap off and bike racked, trainers on and done up, helmet and gloves off, ready to go. Get me! A smooth transition!

As I started the run I realised I’d forgotten forgot my gels. Bugger. And there I was being all smug about a quick transition. Like a divine drenched angel, a marshal was handing out the High 5 gels on the gate so I begged two from her, gobbled one now and saved the other for halfway through the run. 

Still enjoying the sweet gel, I nearly fell in a hole right next to the exit of T2. Just to make sure the triathletes knew it was going to be a trail run (in case anyone was accidentally wearing racing flats and wanted a quick reminder so they could change), the organisers had directed the racing line through an actual marsh with the following benefits: reeds (which I clambered over), boggy holes (which I stumbled over) and small ponds of water (which I splashed through) and a small steep hillock (which I avoided). After this obstacle course, we were spat out between kissing gates and under a bridge with a railway track passing across it. I was lucky enough to pop out from the bridge just as a steam train came past hooting its horn, with the passengers inside cheering us onwards. I tried to wave down the train and get a lift to the end but the passengers just waved back.  

Up across the field and past a marshal who was chatting , I overshot an exit. As I doubled back a girl came speeding up so I let her go past before me through the narrow gate with a friendly word. She was really working hard and I did wonder if she’d be able to maintain that pace. We hadn’t even got to the bumpy parts yet.

The trail snaked steeply uphill under large dripping trees, the large slate steps steep and slippery, rising upwards sharply. They were hard on the legs after a long bike ride so I hiked and ran up trying not to slip and finally reached the top where the path flattened briefly before hitting a stony road and dropping down again. 

That wasn’t too bad. 

I had been told the hills were very tough. It hadn’t been FUN but it wasn’t half as bad as people had said. The path led onto a pavement, easy on the feet, which wound down and down and down – a lovely long looping downhill. It was easy running and I didn’t have to watch where I placed my feet . This wasn’t too bad at all. 

Then I saw people turning left through a gateway. But there’s no road there ... Oh. And what’s that moving in the distance? Oh crap. Those are people. Running. On what appears to be a mountain.  A grey massive mountain. Made of shifting slate and stones. Oh goody. Lucky me. I managed to survive the swim (wet), the cycling (wetter) and now I have to run up a mountain (wet, high and vertical).  I am going to try and cry and probably die. Probably from being overly dramatic. Or melting from all the water like the witch in the Wizard of Oz.   

Ok. *Deep breath* This isn’t too bad. Just get to that flattish bit. 
*Puff, pant* Relentless forward progress. 
*Puff, pant, puff* Even running at this pace is quicker than walking. 
*Plays violin on own Achilles* Hey at least this is better than the bike – it doesn’t matter how slow I go at least I won’t fall over sideways when I go too slow and have my feet stuck to a bike. 
*Climbs hill* Although if this hill gets any steeper I won’t have my feet stuck to the floor either. 
*Puff* Oh look there’s that speedy lady again. *Huff* Running up hills. Look at her being all speedy and running. 
Oh she’s stopped. *Feel a bit mean about thinking about pushing her over for being all keen and perky* *Offer speedy lady my last gel* Nope apparently gels don’t help when it’s sore feet*

*Running slows down even further due to vertical surface* Ok. I’m hiking this bit. This is insane. My legs can’t run at this angle. I’d have to be a *tries desperately to think of an animal which can stick to things * octopus ...  to run up here.  
*Whiles away a few minutes of hill climbing imagining an octopus trying to run up a hill*. I imagine it’s quite similar to me trying to get my 6 year old daughter dressed for school while she tries to run away to watch TV instead. 

Run Elevation.

After what feels like hours of pain, shifting slate and the most ungainly run / walking style imaginable (probably about 10 minutes), I FINALLY gets to the flattish bit I had spotted from below (flattish = slightly less vertical) and to my horror, it winds around the hill and climbs vertically up the next hill. 

It was like watching the TV channel Dave. Unending repeats of exactly the same thing. I’d climb a massive hill ... *hopeful face* is this the end? Path winds around corner ... oh no, MORE massive hills.  

Everyone around me had developed the same style of climbing the hills, power hike the vertical bits and run when your feet could safely leave the ground. I started chatting to a chap who recognised the socks – who doesn’t like a garish stripe? - who was hoping to see his wife and 3 week old son at the finish line but was concerned that they’d be put off by the torrential rain. Ended up walking in a brief mournful group with Speedy Lady too and we all got overtaken by an even speedier lady with a black and white trisuit and an inspirational slogan on her bum – “Today is your day” or “Dig deep and don’t cry”. Something similar. She powered up the hills and was out of sight around the corner. I’d like to have an inspirational slogan on MY bum but not sure “Try not to follow through” or “ I’m only doing this for the cheese” would have quite the same inspiring effect. 

Finally after power hiking the vertical bits and running the bits where mountain goats wouldn’t fall off, I made it to a gap in the rocks. A photographer was crouched there recording the misery and he cheered me on with a jolly cry of ”You’re at the top now!” At the TOP?? Hooray!! Bloody hooray! I would have danced, but I was saving all my energy for not dying. I sprang through the gap in the rocks, bounced down the hill and ground to a halt at the start of the next uphill. Bloody fibbing photographers. He was only saying that to get me to smile. Bloody photographer. Bloody bloody photographer.

I ground up the hill, thinking of a torment to inflict on a race photographer that was worse than telling a triathlete that they were at the top of a mountain. When they weren’t. I couldn’t think of one so I made up some new swear words instead. 

The trail eventually felt a bit more downhill ... in fact certainly more downhill.  Huh. Well this was nice. My legs were certainly feeling fatigued (posh triathlete word for ‘tired’) by all the ups but they were enjoying this bit of down. Right then Sarah, you slacker. Crack on! Waving a cheery farewell to Speedy Lady and Mr Sock Chaser, I put a bit of speed on and ran down the hill. In fact I ran away from the hill. I never wanted to climb up there again. I flew down the mountainside, past the little knots of supporters, the clanging cowbells ringing in my ears, making my smile wider. 

The trail twisted under trees and wound past houses tucked into valleys and climbed short, sharp uphills and chased the river, winding and diving on wet, rocky steps and over black, wet shoe-sucking mud. My flying feet took me past bluebells, past other runners and under the shade of the trees.  Under rocky bridges, walkers standing to one side letting these wild-eyed triathletes storm past, their shoes kicking up slate and mud, their legs tired but their smiles wide. I could hear the tannoy echoing through the trees but my legs were tiring, then I was running behind the shoulder of the lady with the inspirational slogan on her trisuit and flying past her on a downhill. Don’t look back, just run. Go legs, go! The run distance was 11km but I was already at 6.5 miles and the finish was nowhere in sight. I could see Llanberis lake glittering between gaps in the trees, hundreds of feet below. I still had to get down there, around the lake and find the finish. Just keep going legs. 

Swooping down, through more kissing gates, more mud and then out onto rocky steps past some spectators and another gate and onto a field. I REMEMBER this field! I ran through this field a hundred years ago, before I’d run up mountains and down slate hills and through forests. Runners coming the other way heading out towards their mountain, I am heading home, towards the finish, towards the finish I cannot yet see. Keep running legs, keep breathing lungs. A tunnel of people lining, run through, keep running, children with hands out. I high fived as many as possible without slowing down or spinning them around like tops. People cheering me on in Welsh. Or swearing at me. Or exclaiming that I was about to fall over. Husband in the crowd, turning a corner and the finish gantry! There! Run for the line. Go! Go! And over. 

And done.

Slateman you broke me. Here is my ‘World of Pain face’. (Same time next year?)

World-of-Pain face.

Swim: 00:22:48
T1: 00:02:17
Bike: 01:46:57
T2: 00:01:21
Run: 01:04:28
Total: 03:17:49

19th female / 159 (2nd 35-39)
241 / 822 total

Clambering onto the podium after all the speedier people have vacated it.
Thank you ‘Always Aim High’ for an AMAZING event. 

Friday, 12 August 2016

Guinness World Record: Fastest Female Elf to run a Marathon

So THIS happened:

(Please excuse the thoroughly over-excited expression! I tried a normal smile but looked as though I was about to eat the certificate and I expect GWR would ask for it back if they thought I was going to do that!!)

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Stuck for Holiday Inspiration? 5 Running Books to Read

I’ve got a countdown timer on my phone and for once it’s not counting down to a race, an event or something energetic. In fact it’s completely the opposite, I’m counting down the time until I have a cocktail in each hand, a floppy hat on my head and a bikini becomes my daywear of choice. Instead of a white GPS watch mark where the sun can’t reach my skin, I’m planning a white cocktail mark on the palm of each hand. And possibly a cocktail umbrella shadow on my wrist. 

While I appreciate that pina coladas aren’t always the most accepted form of hydration available to triathletes, I think it’s important that I check to see what I’m missing the rest of the year so I know how dreadful it is. (You can get poked in the eye REALLY hard by those mini cocktail umbrellas)

However I’m not entirely planning on becoming a puddle of flesh on a sunbed. Not ALL day anyway. I’ll have to become a morning runner for a couple of weeks as it will be too hot and humid for midday or early evening runs. I’ve already checked out the local bike hire available and will be getting a few miles in and packing my bike kit. And I will of course be in the sea and pool floating on lilos and drinking cocktails. No no. I mean practising swimming and sighting. And lilos. 

However, I find it really hard to keep motivation when I’m away, especially when I’m off-plan and don’t know my local bike or run routes. But there is a way I can inspire myself while I’ve actually got the time ... A holiday is one of the few times a year, I get the time to work my way through several books in a couple of weeks and what better time to catch up with some of my heroes?  

Here are some running books I’ve been reading recently:

50 Races to Run Before You Die
by Tobias Mews
Aurum Press £16.99

Think of all the petrol you’re saving on your daily commute while you’re lying around on a sunbed. Why not use that petrol and coffee money on something you’ll remember like an entry to an AWESOME race? '50 Races To Run Before You Die' has some great suggestions for races and it’s also quite good for ‘Smug Points’ – when you see how many you’ve already ticked off.

With suggested races ranging from parkrun to Marathon des Sables I have several to add to my To Do and I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve only ticked off 6 of the races in this book. These lists are of course very personal - everyone has their own reasons for choosing a race, but this book pulls together a collection great races at least several of which should appeal to any runner. It also adds in some interesting facts such as the finishing time of the author, the finishing rate and gives an overview of the author's personal experience. This is a great coffee-table book and a good gift for any runner!

Runner: A Short Story About a Long Run
by Lizzy Hawker
Aurum Press £12.99

Make sure you’ve packed your trainers and kit if you take this book with you as you’ll be leaping up from the sunbed and looking for mountains. What an inspiring read – the book takes you along with Lizzy Hawker as she goes on her adventures and you’ll feel as though you’ll running the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc with her.  Be warned though, if this race isn’t already on your bucket list, it will be after reading this book. 

Inspiring and a compelling read, this book is a memoir that takes you on an amazing journey. 

Amazon Link

Build Your Running Body: A Total-Body Fitness Plan for All Distance Runners, from Milers to Ultramarathoners
by Pete Magill, Thomas Schwartz & Melissa Breyer
Souvenir Press £15

Everything from nutrition plans, to interesting little facts and tidbits to marathon training plans. This book really does appear to have it all. Great whether you’re beginning to run or a seasoned club runner, there really does appear to be something for everyone in this book. Most importantly it’s written in an interesting and compelling way. Whether you want to use it as a textbook or a ‘read’, it works for both. 

A great handbook for any runner from ultra marathoners to parkrunners.

How Bad Do You Want It? 
Mastering the Psychology of Mind Over Muscle
by Matt Fitzgerald
Aurum Press £14.99

What gives up first? Your head or your legs? A compelling book from Matt Fitzgerald which describes a new psychological model of endurance connecting the mind, body and brain. 

This book uses some inspiring examples from sports showing us examples of when endurance athletes  shouldn't have been able to produce the amazing results they did on race day. Not only an interesting and readable book, How Bad Do You Want It provides tactics and habits we can use to build our own mental strength.

An enthralling book, especially if you're interested in mind-training or have a race or rival you REALLY want to beat!

Amazon Link

How to Run Your Best Marathon: 7 Steps to Your Best Marathon Yet
by Angela Isherwood
Kindle £6.63

This e-book breaks down running a marathon into 7 easy steps and teaches the reader how to break down each step into manageable chunks. It's aimed at any marathoner from a first timer to a multiple marathoner aiming for a PB and gives tips from nutrition to failing at races to ensuring you're doing the proper training. 

The good thing about this book is the simplicity. It's easy to follow and gives clear simple guidelines - great if you're training for an Autumn marathon.  

Amazon Link

**Right I'm off. These sunbeds won't lie on themselves you know ... 

London Marathon: Making It ALL About My-Elf

I was doing the walk of shame. Trudging along the main road in Ruislip, not making eye contact with any of the motorists or pedestrians and dressed in clothes one doesn’t usually see at 7am.

Although this walk of shame was down to the massive elf ears, the pointy hat and the curly elf shoes. Oh and the red and green tutu covered in pom-poms. NOT for any misbehaving. I’d been WELL-behaved. In fact I’d COMPLETELY behaved my-elf.

There were two other runners and a lady dressed in St John’s Ambulance outfit on the platform when I finally got to Ruislip Gardens train station. All of us obviously going to the marathon, so we started to do the ‘Ooh! More runners!’ then remembering this is was London we did *Shifty eyes*  and didn’t say anything. Until we ended up in the same train carriage and we all went ‘Ooh London marathon’. Which opened the floodgates for swapping running stories.   

As we got closer to central London and I swapped lines, the carriages became more crowded. I’m not a Londoner but even I know to hold onto the handles as landing on someone else’s lap tends to offend. Or worse, to suggest. And god forbid you might make eye contact. 

I got slightly worried when a lady built like Giant Haystack (of British Wrestling fame) and with a massive backpack wedged herself into the carriage in front of me. She kept turning around to talk to her friends and her massive backpack kept knocking me sideways. She really was more suitcase than woman. I prepared my best English ‘disapproving stare’ and got the ‘tut’ ready to go but suddenly realised she was so busy chatting to her friends she had neglected to hold the bar ready for the train to move off. 

Oh God. I need my feet, I thought. I’ve got a marathon to run. I just had enough time to ready my pointiest elbow (I’m all about the love) and sure enough as the train lurched forward like Frankenstein’s monster, Mrs Haystack careened back into me. Luckily the massive backpack hit me first, knocking me backwards and saved my toes - and pointy elf shoes - from being flattened into non-marathon-running shape. To her credit, she did apologise but turning back to her friends, she hooked herself into the strap of my bag and pulled me off my feet again. 

Bloody woman.  I had no doubt she’d probably also be in the toilet queue in front of me later on.

Navigating the underground is easy on London Marathon day. The hordes in lycra and trainers are all heading in the same direction. Like lemmings heading for the cliff. But a cliff that we’ve spent 4 months training for. A really COMPLICATED cliff. 

I position myself like a good lemming at the edge of the platform. And standing next to me is my friend Fiona. And her friend Helen. What are the chances. Of all the lemmings ... We have a chat, get a quick snap and manage to position ourselves next to the train loo (as though this will save us from the compulsory 5 minutes before start time wee requirement) until we part ways for our separate starts.

As the train pulls into Maze Hill station, I get the sparkles of anticipation I remember from last time. I’m nearly at the start of the London Marathon! My friends are there! I get to run and chat with my friends for 3 and a half hours! It’s going to be bloody brilliant! I leap off the train and get a hug from my super-speedy friend Alex (who ran A100 with me) and we set off up the hill – WALKING up the hill. I’m pleased to confirm that Alex has finally conceded the marble rule on marathon day. 

We set out for the red start where we were meeting Mike and Simon. It’s easy to find the different start pens as there are coloured dirigibles each bearing the colour of the start they float above. I was however, slightly (VERY) disappointed that the London Marathon theme song (Ron Goodwin: The Trap) wasn’t playing on repeat but it is difficult not to have a massive smile here. The excitement and the atmosphere is very unique to the London marathon and everyone is so excited to be here. To get into the London Marathon you either had to raise money for a charity (usually about £1900), get a ballot or club place (estimated chances are 1 in 17) or a Good For Age or Championship place which means you had to run a faster than average time. So however we each got here, it was beating the odds.   

We found Simon quickly but couldn’t spot Mike in the crowds. Alex called Mike but couldn’t spot him despite Mike assuring Alex on the mobile that he was twirling and wearing his finest Union Flag tutu. And a cape. We were all gazing around and then someone said, “Look that man’s wearing a skirt!” 

Actually it was a tutu. A union flag tutu. And the wearer was twirling.

Yep we’d found our missing runner.

Mike was talking to one of his running clubmates, Ann. SHE was trying for a Boston Qualifying time and WE were going to be running 8 min/miles. Ann needed sub 3:35 and we were going to be coming in at about 3:30. A perfect fit. Our team of 4 was now a team of 5.

The original plan had been to run all together but we’d hit a snag. We were starting in different places. London has 3 starts, red, green and blue and all of them have different tube stations and different starting areas and they don’t converge until a couple of miles into the race. And with 30,000 runners and different times crossing the line, it was going to be difficult to spot each other. However Organised Alex had found a solution. Scanning the route using Google maps, he had spotted a tower at mile 3.8 which he’d promptly screenshot and sent to me and Mike with a big red arrow drawn on it and strict instructions for us all to meet here. Good plan. And excellent arrow drawing. 

Ann and I got into the queue for the portaloos in the hope of avoiding the ridiculous start pen queues. And then we stayed in the queue. And stayed in the queue some more. We knew the queues were long but this was ridiculous. By the time we’d reached the front of the queue, we knew which races we’d both done, our current PBs, bucketlist races, lists of childhood pets and life stories. 

After finally escaping the queue and the loo, I made my way back to the others. Mike was still wearing his Union Flag kit and finest tutu, but Alex had acquired the cape. He was starting at the front of the Fast-Good-For-Age start and thought he’d show the elites how to do it. 

With a cape on. 

We all split off to our different start areas. Strolling into the green start area, a tannoy immediately announced that the baggage trucks were leaving. What? They were over the other side of the area and we were still dressed in jackets and trousers due to the freezing weather! Managing a quick-change a magician would have been proud of, I whipped off the jacket while securing my elf hat and ears and ensuring my flouncy tutu had lots of bounce and no pompoms were missing. So busy flouncing I almost forgot to take my gels and belt out of my drop bag. Finally sorted, I flung my bag onto the luggage lorry which pulled away about 30 seconds later. 

Luckily no one in the portaloo queue in front of me earlier had decided to stay in their little plastic toilet 30 seconds longer to try for one last wee ...!

I felt like a bit of a tit dressed as an elf, although thankfully the weather was very cold so the hat was keeping me warm even if I couldn’t hear properly due to my massive rubber ears and looking at some of the other fancy dress entries I reckoned I’d got off lightly. Bagpuss – MASSIVE Bagpuss - something the size of a small elephant that would terrify any child despite his smiling face, a hugely tall lady in a pink spangly dress and a dinosaur like one of the toothily scary ones from Jurassic park. Why did all the fancy dress entries look terrifying? I clutched my massive pink ears and tried to look child-friendly rather than ‘Child Catcher’. 

The horn blew signalling the start and we all surged forwards into the typical walk … run … shuffle of a marathon start while we’re trying to start running but there’s no space. We got moving soon enough but the congestion was unbelievable. We tried to keep at 8 minute miles but we were having to move around people carefully who were running slower and yet try to keep together at the right pace. It was very difficult. Some people managed it better than others. One woman dressed all in black tried to cut inside me at a corner, pushed past and caught her foot on my leg, I luckily managed to stay upright but she tripped herself over and scowled at me as though it was my fault. I tried to help her up but she ignored me and carried on pushing past people. A few moments later, we heard a shout and she had tried the same thing again and had tripped an older man over who had gone down heavily on both knees. He didn’t rise again and she didn’t stop to help him, instead shouting over her shoulder “I fell over too earlier …” Most runners seem to be nice people, but in 30,000 people there are bound to be a few idiots I guess … I didn’t find out what happened to the man she knocked over but I hope he wasn’t as badly hurt as he appeared to be and finished his race.

Our green start joined together with the blue start at mile one and there were a few good natured boos as the runners came together. The congestion which had briefly eased slightly became worse as more runners tried to run in the same space. We were slightly under our pace target as it was so difficult to move through the crush of people. It hadn’t felt so congested in 2014. At mile 3 the red start joined the pack and for the first time all the runners were together. We were keeping an eye out for the big tower where we would meet Alex and Simon. 

At exactly mile 3.8 we spotted two runners leaning against a wall. One appeared to be taking selfies while dressed in a cape. It turned out Alex was doing periscope videos and would be doing these and broadcasting them to Twitter every time we passed a landmark. Ann, Simon and I were going at almost PB pace, yet Alex was relaxed enough to be recording videos and taking phone calls. He was also looking remarkably relaxed considering he’d run the first 5k of the marathon in NINETEEN minutes. That’s a minute faster than I can manage even without having another 23 miles to go. 

And while wearing a cape. 

We had a lovely group to run with. We all chatted and swapped stories - and what a setting to run in! It was SO lovely being able to share the London Marathon with friends! It was difficult staying as a group though. Three people running together had been awkward with the congestion and five was very difficult. However thanks to circumstances - someone dressed as an elf, Mike wearing a Union Jack tutu and twirling every couple of minutes and Alex at 6’2 and wearing a bright red cape - we were fairly easy to spot. I hit a problem though. I HATED running 8 minute miles. Faster - fine. Slower - fine. But 8s? Horrible. Everyone has a pace that doesn’t seem to work for them and 8 minute miles appeared to be mine. Great. Only another 22 odd miles to go at that pace then. Ugh. 

We’d all also spent so much time high-fiving children, stirring up the crowd for tutu dances (Mike), chatting and periscoping (yes I’m looking at YOU, Alex) that by the time our GPS watches were beeping for 5 miles and confirming we were running 8 minute/mile pace, we were significantly in front of the 5 mile marker. In fact we were about 100 metres in front and about a minute down on time. 

We didn’t worry about this for the first few mile markers, assuming that maybe there was a little bit of variance on the mile markers but as the time pulled away from us and the gaps between the GPS mile beeps and the London Marathon mile markers grew larger we got a bit worried. And Mike announced that we were going to have to be running 7:45 min/miles or quicker for the rest of the race to stay below 3:30 to keep up with the mile markers. We’d run so much extra distance by about halfway that when our GPS watches beeped for the miles, the mile arches weren’t even in sight.

I sulked slightly at this realising there wasn’t an additional medal for an ultra run within the course of the London Marathon. Or even a badge. 

London is such a great marathon, the sights, the atmosphere, the theme tune ... but as anyone who has run it knows, it is the spectators who make it amazing. Your name is shouted “Elf! Go elf” (or at one particular point when I was working particularly hard and obviously not looking my best; “Go Gremlin”) and the cheers makes your legs go faster. The signs are brilliant, particularly the ‘Touch here for POWER’ signs which I SWEAR actually work but my very favourite sign this year proclaimed "Run like Donald Trump's toupee is chasing you!"


There were particular points where the crowd were particularly brilliant. Around the Cutty Sark there were plenty of cheers and shouts and you could hear the noise from half a mile away despite the spectators appearing to be caged behind the high metal barriers. It made them look as though they were particularly dangerous specimens of spectators that weren’t allowed too close. Tower Bridge was another brilliant point. Running over that and with friends - love love LOVED it!! I remembered to smile for Taff’s photo at the 20km point but me not quite remembering where the 20km point actually was turned it into a rather terrifying gurn - apologies for that, Taff. Couldn’t have been a particularly pleasant sight! 

I thoroughly enjoyed running London Marathon with Alex, Mike, Ann and Simon (even though we lost Simon when he decided to run his own race). We got to chat and enjoy the atmosphere together and running over London Bridge as a group was something very special. However London marathon was a lot more congested than I remembered it. Maybe it was because we were trying to stay as a group of 4 rather than running at our own paces but I found miles 1 - 19 very hard work and we were all constantly ducking and diving around people and speeding up and slowing down. It meant you couldn’t really stay at one speed and were constantly checking your pace on your watch. 

We did however, all get treated to Alex singing a chorus of “Alllll by my-elffffff ...” which obviously made up for all the additional mileage. Lovely. *cough* Don’t give up the day job, Alex.

I don’t think I’m designed for shorter distances. I’ve got to the age where I need a 4 mile warm up to run a 5k race. Which quite frankly hardly seems worth it. It wouldn’t be except for there’s invariably cake after parkrun and short races which almost makes up for the pain. This does however keep with my theory that my body is a diesel engine - not fast but will keep on going - and as soon as I got to 20 miles my legs woke up. And from 20 miles onwards I thoroughly enjoyed it. With only 6 miles to go you’re practically on the home stretch, right? So with that in mind we sped up a bit, and and were able to move away from the horrible 8 min/miles. Unlike the other time I ran London, I saw all the sights – Tower of London – twice, Buckingham palace, Big Ben. I danced to the music and high-fived all the children and had a BRILLIANT time.

I was relieved that the outfit was holding up too. I’d run London once before and loved it so when I got the opportunity to run it again this year, I’d decided that as I wouldn’t be going for a PB time, I’d wear an outfit instead. I liked the idea of an elf as I could tell people with a deadpan expression that I was running for ‘elf and fitness. After all, who doesn’t like a truly dreadful pun? 

Thankfully the curly shoes weren’t falling apart. My first attempts had been made out of foam and had disintegrated on the treadmill at the gym as I tested them out. What worried me most though was that I was AT THE GYM IN AN ELF OUTFIT and not one person asked me what the hell I was doing. I was dressed as an elf complete with pointed hat and massive rubber elf ears. I got a few sidelong glances but nothing more. They obviously just assumed they shared the gym with the local crazy woman. 

Thankfully the elf ears had stayed on during the marathon and I’d tied the hat under my chin with a big bow of yellow ribbon. If I lost even one item, then my crack at the Guinness World Record was off as I had to complete the entire marathon wearing the entire outfit. However the shoes were staying curly, the ears were attached, the hat was still on and I hadn’t lost a single ruffle OR pompom. 

My dignity was LONG gone. But the elf apparel was all still attached. 

Most people spend the night before a marathon snoozing or snacking. I had spent mine sewing elf shoes.  It was like some kind of parody of the fairytale Elves and the Shoemaker. But with shit shoes and running. 

Despite knowing I’m on the home stretch, mile 22 is typically my most difficult mile in a marathon and once I get past mile 22 I know that the worst is over. This year I dedicated my hardest mile - number  22 to my father-in-law Julian who had passed away the month before. He was the inspiration who made me take up running and who entered me for my first marathon. He started his own running at age 60 and completed multiple marathons showing me how much was possible if I was willing to work for it. Last time I’d run London he had driven all the way here from Cirencester to be at mile 24 (I didn’t know) and had bellowed my name and I had completely missed him. This time I have no doubt he would have been here if he could have been.  

Mile 22 passed … eventually. I’d started it at mile 22 on my GPS watch … which was by now at least half a mile in front of the marathon mile markers. Longest mile EVER.

We did spot one BIG problem with the London Marathon though. We were at mile 23 and realised that we hadn’t heard the London Marathon theme tune AT ALL. Rubbish. Only one way to solve that. So we get our best singing voices on and all sing it. 

“Duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh …!”

At mile 23 of a sub 3:30 marathon. Dressed in capes, tutus and elf outfits. We were obviously having far too much fun.

It was wonderful hearing the wonder in the children’s voices when they saw the elf outfit especially the little ones. “Elf! Look Mummy! An elf!” Although I did get a bit concerned when I heard several people say ANOTHER elf. What? There’s an elf in front of me? Well there wasn’t much I could do about that except stick to the plan and the pace. If there was a faster lady in front of me dressed as an elf then she deserved the record. At least I’d have some REALLY AWESOME race photos this year! 

I’d had such a lovely time and actually got to see the sights this year – Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, The Embankment, Tower Bridge, the gherkin, London eye, Cutty Sark, Tower of London – twice! although one thing I did miss was the mile 26 mile marker … apparently this is a horrible joke by the marathon organisers who don’t put one in. 

As we came up to Buckingham Palace and rounded the corner we spotted the finish gantries - lots of them! We all wanted to finish together so grabbed hands and did a quick check which one we were all aiming for and we WENT! Arms up and finishing hand in hand with my friends.

The perfect finish to a great marathon.

And just to top it off up our finish was broadcasted on TV.


Mini Marathon Facts:
  • Liz Yelling had signed my London Marathon number after I went all fangirl on her in the expo. 
  • It is completely impossible to take a phone call to find your family with an elf hat and massive rubber ears on especially when said hate is secured under your chin with a massive yellow ribbon. 
  • Despite running the easiest marathon splits ever (8 min/miles) my parents completely failed to spot me but I got to see the sign at Trafalgar square at the finish. Thanks M&D!

  • A great day for seeing friends as we met Sarah Cooke at the finish and Tracy at the start! Also got to see Sarah C, Anna, Josh, Simon and Lily supporting and we saw club friends Claudie, Amy and Rachel running!