Venice Marathon

Let’s be honest – this blog has mostly become an archive of old posts from when I was doing all the running and all the blogging and managing to fit it in with the chaos of everyday life. Since then I’ve started a new masters, a new job, another new job, an extra part-time job and I’m still trying to fit in the running and yoga and eating. But, if one thing has suffered it’s definitely been the writing down all the things I’ve been trying to do. Still, with half an hour in between meetings, reading, and writing I thought I’d get some words down about my first ever international marathon!

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When one of my best pals, Jude, mentioned that she was planning to run the Venice Marathon I knew that a little seed had been planted. One that would grow into a decision I would later inevitably regret and moan about. So I signed up and went about organising a weekend away in The Floating City.

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Rainbows and Silver Linings

Flying out on Friday morning we arrived at Treviso airport in the late afternoon and then found our AirBnB in Mestre – a town on the mainland about 10 minutes by tram, bus or boat from Venice. We decided not to stay on the island as it was further from the start line and much more expensive.

 

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The Rialto Bridge and Best Running Gal Pals

First stop was San Giuliano park where we were able to pick up our race numbers and the official marathon long-sleeved t-shirt. I was a little worried after the long Italian bureaucracy themed saga of getting a health form signed by a Dr and uploading it, that we would face further red-tape but it was an easy process and before long we were weighed down with free cans of beer, fruit and our complementary sponges that apparently we could carry with us and dip in water as we ran. We hopped onto the tram to Venice and before long were surrounded by canals. We walked around, ate the free biscuits from the goodie bags and then gave in to our growling stomachs and walked to Al Timon, in Cannaregio.  We bought plates of Chichetti, bitesize tastes of creamy mozzarella, fresh fig, salty parma ham and warmed up with glasses of house red .

After a while (and a few reminders) we got a table outside, tried to read the worn out menus by tea-light and eventually asked the waiter to bring us what was good. What was good turned out to be a chopping board heaving with velvet soft steak, chips so salty they almost burned and a scattering of vegetables including three hefty chunks of pineapple. It was delicious. We ate silently trying to make a dent in the heap of food before us and when we were defeated made ciabatta steak sandwiches and treated the local puppy to a taste of the best steak I’ve ever tasted. Holding our over-inflated stomachs we lurched back to Mestre to try and sleep off the food coma.

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Rialto Bridge and Boy

The next day was probably un-ideal marathon prep. We got up early-ish, ate breakfast and headed back into Venice for a day of touristing. We visited the Rialto Bridge (seen through a forest of selfie sticks) and then St Marc’s square where we visited the museum, laughed at all the very strange baby Jesus paintings and then, somehow hungry all over again, headed back out for more food. Lunch was slabs of pizza bought by the slice and eaten hungrily at the side of the road, two different gelato stops – one an incredible dark chocolate and raspberry vegan number to atone for the tonne of meat from the night before – and a hot veggie polpetto bought from a man in a window. Then, with aching feet and tired eyes we headed home to cook the all important pre-marathon pasta and rest up for a couple of hours before the race. Not before stopping off at the enormous interspa supermarket to marvel at the endless aisles of pasta shapes though.

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Colourful streets

It was an early start the next morning. We made peanut butter bagels and ate them on the way to the shuttle point. I’d left the boy in the apartment to deal with checking out and to find a way to store our luggage while we ran (the approved race bags were way too small to fit in all the extra pairs of socks I’d brought). The buses were meant to leave Mestre rail station between 7.10 and 7.30 am but when we arrived we realised that confusingly there were actually two separate shuttle points, one for the 10k going to San Giuliano park and one for the marathon runners heading to the start line in Stra. Unsurprisingly there were a few anxious looking 10k runners who had found themselves 20 miles away from Venice when our bus pulled up at the start.venice-6

After the normal loo stops, second loo stops and ditching our bags in the trucks heading towards the finish we joined our corrals. I was in the third one, Jude in the fourth and her friend Lee in the second (going for an insanely quick time) so we said our good luck and good byes and waited for the start, shivering in the cold.

I’d hoped that once we got running the nerves would disappear a little bit – they took a while to get gone but once I’d found a pace I could keep I settled in for the long haul. The route was almost a directly straight line from Stra to Mestre, around the San Giuliano park and then across the bridge connecting Venice to the mainland towards the finish. I’m not sure what I had expected but I did find that as most of the run was on the roads connecting very small villages there was a strangely quiet atmosphere to the race. Everyone was focusing on their own run and apart from the few villages we ran through there wasn’t the usual cheering crowds along the way that I’ve become used to in major city races in the UK. There were a few groups of runners accompanying racers in wheelchairs who brought a little colour to the day – their whistles and cheers and dancing brought a lift when I ran past them and I realised what a difference a little noise can make – especially without headphones! There were a few bands along the way too – playing live music from the side of the road – unfortunately the Italians love rock music a lot more than I do.

I’d been quite focused on keeping my pace steady, slowing down when I noticed my legs wanting to get ahead of themselves but slowly realised that there was another runner close on my heels, speeding up and slowing down as I did, veering left and right with me – I must have looked strangely at him but he introduced himself and we got chatting and he told me that he was aiming for a sub-3.50 time which we were well ahead of. I was happy to pace him and we ran in companionable silence for the next few miles until he decided just after the half way mark that he needed to slow down a bit. I wished him all the luck and cracked on, hoping that my legs would keep me going for the second half of the race.

The next couple of miles were good. There was water every 5km and then sports drinks, bananas, biscuits and apples. I made myself take on gels every hour and noticed that they helped and kept drinking because although it wasn’t super sunny it was pretty warm and I didn’t want to burn out too soon… At the 30km mark we entered the park and left behind the endless stretches of duel carriage way for a greener view. There were crowds here and I immediately felt a lift – I flew along for a while and had to constantly remind myself to slow down, too often I was running at my half-marathon pace and I knew it would only end in tears. I’m glad I did because the next five k was HARD. The bridge that connects Mestre to Venice is long, straight and while initially scenic wasn’t a totally joyful place to run the hardest 6 miles of the race. There was no shade, no variation in terrain or horizon, no support. Just endless miles of tarmac. I was thrilled to reach Venice expecting to turn into the cobbled streets of the city but was disappointed to be directed into an industrial estate.

I gritted my teeth and carried on until – finally – we reached the first of the fourteen bridges. Hooray! I thought. And then the second bridge happened and the third…. They had been covered so at least they weren’t stepped but they were STEEP UP and STEEP DOWN and didn’t my legs know it! Lots of the runners stopped to walk which created a bit of a bottleneck but I knew that if I stopped I might not start again so I kept on, over the floating pontoon that crossed the grand canal and into St Marc’s square, before finally, finally, heading over a few more bridges towards the finish. I waved at the boy, gave a last push and sped over the finish line only to be sick into a canal. Well, at least Venice will have something to remember me by! I was pleased with my final time – a PB of a couple of minutes in 3 hours 41 which was very unexpected after 6 weeks of trimmed down training, 2 of none at all after a really nasty virus and I felt pretty good the whole way round, most of it I felt really comfortable and was having to slow myself down so now I’m wondering what might have been if I’d let myself run the 5.00m/km pace my legs wanted (probably spontaneous combustion….)

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Finished! Looking ‘fresh’

Another bag of fruit and beer was thrust into my hands, I tried some hot sweet tea and hobbled off to meet the boy at the other side of the finish area. It was still warm and I felt pretty good so I nibbled on a couple of breadsticks and went to cheer on the other runners and Jude to the finish. After that was showers (COLD!), a change of clothes, accidentally crashing the elite athletes getting drugs tested, and then we found a bar, got our celebratory Spritz and a bite of arincini and then got lost in Venice trying to find our way back to the north of the island. A quick bowl of spaghetti and a mandatory platter of tiramisu and then we caught a coach to the airport to wait the long long hours for our delayed ryanair flight back to London.

Eating peanut butter bagels at 3.30am that morning I decided that it was time my legs had a rest. At least for a week or two. But after a whistle stop tour of a new city fuelled by carbs, and finishing with a big gold medal and a PB, I can see a few more international races on the horizon!

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Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon

Four years ago I was in a state of utter panic as my first ever half marathon loomed. I’d never been interested in running apart from after a hockey ball, but when a good friend was diagnosed with Leukaemia I decided that if there was nothing else I could do, showing my support by putting myself through a couple of hours of hard slog would at least raise some money for the cause. So wearing my Anthony Nolan vest with pride I arrived two hours early, had a ‘perfect’ pre-race breakfast, carefully chose my pacing wrist band and was in my start pen with time to spare.

The only remaining record of my first ever half...

The only remaining record of my first ever half…

What a difference four years make! Four years ago I dragged myself round, thought I wasn’t going to make it, but did with a time of 1.45.51 (phew!) and then was so stiff for the next three days that I couldn’t get up and down the single flight of stairs to and from my flat. I remember crossing the finish line and thinking ‘never again’. In the time since I have run a few more half marathons, a few full marathons, a 50k, a 100k and running has become an important part of my life.

So it was interesting to return to Hyde Park with a lot more experience, and hopefully a bit more fitness to see how things have changed! I cycled up to the park after a rushed bowl of porridge and a late night out celebrating the boy’s birthday with what I thought was plenty of time to spare. My hopes were dashed however when I spotted the bag drop queues snaking out for miles into the park. This wasn’t a great start to race day, it took me a good 45 minutes to drop my bag, and by the time I’d waited for a last minute wee and made my way over to the start line the elite runners were already half way round! Hearing the cheer go up for the start of the race while standing immobile in a queue with hundreds of other runners wasn’t the best start to the day!

It's a busy place!

It’s a busy place!

Even so, I wasn’t the last to start, I joined the last pen of runners for their start and eventually made it across the start line 20 minutes late. I didn’t mind this, with Ealing half two weeks ago, and a hilly Homeward Round  the week before that I had plenty in my legs and wasn’t expecting anything fast. Nevertheless once the adrenaline had kicked in and my race brain had started it was hard not to want to reach a nice fast pace over the first few Ks. This was made harder by the serious jogger dodging that the narrow roads necessitated. Not that I can blame the slower runners – it was my own fault, or that of the baggage tent! Still, all the stop-start running was frustrating, and when I reached the first water station it was annoying to see that there weren’t really enough volunteers, or that they couldn’t keep up with the volume of runners and I had to stop and wait for someone to unpack a bottle of water and uncap it before I could continue.

I’m sure there was an environmental reason for the removal of the bottle caps – but trying to run and drink from an open bottle of lucozade without covering my already sweaty face in the sticky syrup was virtually impossible – surely that’s the point of the sports cap?

Route Map 2015

Route Map 2015

The route was pretty spectacular and is a great opportunity to run a big closed road race through central London without having the stress of the big London Marathon ballot to contend with. We started in Hyde Park, made our way down to Downing Street and then back to the Strand, down to Temple, through St James’s Park, Green Park and into Hyde Park for the second half of the route. The distraction of the big landmarks was great, as was the noise that greeted runners as we made our way into Hyde Park. There were hundreds of supporters lining the route, lots of high 5s and whistles and banners. I remembered how much of a boost this had given me last time and felt the same lift as I started the long loops of the park. One of the disadvantages of running the Royal Parks is of course how narrow the paths are, really only one or two runners wide so there was plenty more dodging, getting elbowed and bashed and having to make sudden stops whenever someone in front of me slowed or stopped for a walk. This was particularly bad around the pacers who had large groups of runners surrounding them meaning there was a huge back log of faster runners behind them. It’s the price you pay for a beautiful race, but means that despite the flat course it’s maybe not the right race for a PB attempt!

Post Race High

Post Race High

Enough of the complaining! I really enjoyed the race, it wasn’t super fast, I felt like I spent a lot of time avoiding tall people’s swinging elbows and the organisation needed a little improvement at times, but overall it’s a great race especially for beginners!

I finished with a little sprint and was happy with my chip time of 1.43 (gun time 2.04), a solid run for a race that I was only 60% prepared for. I hopped back on my bike, headed home and had a sandwich. Yoga that evening and then back running the next day. I might have only shaved two minutes off my time four years ago but the way my body feels after running the same route in a similar time is a light year apart! So for now it’s back to track, back to tempo, back to training and a welcome break from the racemill!

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Ealing Half Marathon 2015

I wasn’t really meant to be running a half marathon. I’d put Royal Parks in the diary months ago when I’d got in on the ballot (months and months ago) but Ealing Half had been tempting me for a while. My Dad was running it as his first ever half and I was keen to go and support him, but then I found out that a few of my school friends were running it too and suddenly it seemed like I’d be the only one on the sidelines when I could be there running alongside my friends and family, plus it was a local race. So just a week before the big day I was lucky enough to be offered a spot when another runner had to pull out through injury.

One of the great things about Ealing was how local it was, up out of bed, shovelled some porridge in and then it was straight on the Piccadilly line. I met my friend Cat on the way, she was gunning for a big PB and some of her nerves started to rub off on me as we walked over to the start line. We did the usual, queued for the loos, dropped off our bags and hung around nervously before finding our friend Jude and her boyfriend. The start area was really well organised, it took no time at all to drop our bags off, the queues for everything were short and easy!

Feeling nervous pre-race

Feeling nervous pre-race

I was a bit nervous about the race itself as I’d heard some scary rumours about the hills – varying from ‘undulating’ to ‘mountainous’ but once we were off I knew there wasn’t much option but to go with the momentum of it and let my legs do the work. As it wasn’t totally scheduled my race plan was to take the first 5k fairly easy and then try for a tempo 16k, hopefully bringing me home in the 1.45ish mark.

As the first hills started I slowed my pace a little, felt it become a little harder to breathe and then realised I was still overtaking people which was nice. Unfortunately my slow 5k plans went out of the window once I’d turned a corner and saw a lovely long down hill where my legs started turning over and my pace picked up again. That was sort of the theme of the race. Slow long uphills and then quick long downhills. It was a great atmosphere, people were playing music from their houses, kids were high-fiving from their front gardens and there friendly faces waving plates of jelly babies and orange slices along the way. The route was one loop, although there were a few out and back sections where you could see the faster runners miles ahead and then cheer on people behind you which gave the race a great buzz.

The route

The route

The last couple of Ks were back into Lammas park, around the outside and finishing back at the start line. I was feeling pretty good right until the last 200 metres when the gels I’d had along the way decided they’d had enough of being digested and decided to try and make their way back up and out of my mouth. This meant slowing down a bit and despite having plenty in my legs I didn’t want to risk a final sprint just incase…. Crossing the line in 1.42 I’d got a PB by about 15 seconds and was very sick quite near the feet of some surprised spectators. Rid of the offending gel I immediately felt a million times better, collected my medal and a bottle of water and made my way to the where my cousins were so we could cheer on my Dad as he completed his first ever half at the grand old age of 60 (something).

Champions!

Champions!

All in all, a really great day. A PB for me, a PB (massive) for Cat and a PB for Dad before going home for a hot shower, roast chicken, and a cold beer.

Team Langton

Team Langton

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Next Up…

So see this post about how miserable I was post ultra! But here I am three weeks into an 18 week plan that will see me become a champion runner. Or that’s the plan, who knows what will happen in the next few weeks as I try for the first time in 12 months to run faster rather than further.

With Simon’s master plan already at work I am now three weeks into an 18 week programme, with the idea that on the 13th December I will somehow run a personal best in the Milton Keynes half marathon (and doesn’t that sound like an exciting one?). From feeling like a big ol’ lump that could barely jog for a bus a couple of weeks after the ultra, I decided it was time to get my act together and start running properly. So how’s it gone? Well, I’m not only running like a new person but also acting like one too, so with my training diary to hand….

Week 1

ow ow ow ow. What is this thing I have to do with my legs? On the third day of training I had to sit down as I felt so light headed. Not great.

Week 2

This is actually, somehow getting easier. I hit the treadmill for my tempo run and loved it. Apparently my legs are remembering how to run. All hope is not lost!

Week 3

I feel a bit like a runner again! A longer recovery run, a quick tempo session, an amazing 8k in the hills of Scotland, I feel like I can feel my fitness getting better.

So after this, maybe I’ll blog in more detail about actually what I’m doing. To sum it up, each week consists  of three easy runs at varying distances, a night on the track, a recovery run and a tempo run to get the heart rate up. It’s hard work and with only one rest day it’s a challenge not to feel like I’m wearing myself up, especially when adding in a cycling commute of 16 miles each way, 4 or 5 yoga sessions a week and a bit of gym work if I can fit that in too!

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The Truth about Ultra Running

Following on from my big 100 (blog here) I had a spell of the post-race blues. I’d done what I’d set out to do, it was all over and I was pretty tired as a result. Tired physically, mentally and emotionally. The big swing of feelings, from fear to hope back to fear, to excitement over to pain, fear, exhilaration, fear, exhaustion mean that at the end of 14 hours, at the end of 10 weeks of training I was pretty done. It was straight back to work and a bit of a break from training, but without any proper direction apart from some yoga and a bit of swimming. So feeling at a real loose end I was really pleased when super runner Simon, someone who has guided me through the last 12 months of my running career (two ultras, a few marathons and countless niggles), offered to coach me towards a half marathon PB.

Before I get into what that means in terms of training, and what a change it will be from ultra distance training, I thought I’d explore a little bit what post-ultra feels like.

Running an Ultra does not make you fit.

That’s not to say that fit people don’t run ultras. The top ultra runners are astonishing in their endurance, their technical abilities, their speed. Killian Jornet, Scott Jurek and Jenn Shelton are outstanding runners who constantly defy what we think of as being humanly possible. But, that’s not to say training for three times the distance will make you three times fitter. It definitely didn’t make me any faster, and I can’t say that running 100k was all that much harder than running 46.2. All that changed was my mindset and my race plan.

Running an Ultra isn’t easy.

Despite what instagram might tell you, running an ultra takes its toll on your body. The sheer effort that your heart puts into being at an elevated rate for 12 plus hours means that it takes much longer to recover than after normal races. Some runners seem to be able to continue as normal after a race, going for a recovery jog a few hours later and then returning to full training within a few days. In reality however I found the ultra to be more disruptive than any race I’ve ever done. It took me two full weeks before I even wanted to run again, and by that time I I’d lost so much fitness it felt like I hadn’t run in years rather than days.

Running an Ultra doesn’t make you an ultra runner.

Let’s be honest, I’m still no Killian. I’m still the slightly ploddy person I was before. Granted I’m a ploddy person that has 62 miles under her belt, but I’m no better a runner than I was before. I think this was the biggest disappointment I had post ultra. I was expecting to come out the other side somehow transformed. From tabby cat to jaguar. Nope. Still as they say, a leopard (or in my case a house kitten) can’t change its spots.

I’d still have run an ultra.

It’s pretty cool really isn’t it. Plus you can eat pork pies at 4am guilt free. If that’s not worth 62 miles of graft what is?IMG_1826

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Race to the Stones

I haven’t blogged in an absolute age. I’ve been in a weird state of denial. At the end of March I’d signed for a proper ultra marathon. A little bit on the spur of the moment, London Marathon was first so I didn’t have to think about running two and a half times that for at least… oohh three weeks. Last year I’d done my first 50k, and in the process had run my first marathon, my first trail race, and got 10 and 5k PBs. It had been an amazing experience so I didn’t have the brain brakes on when I put my name down for a 62 mile run across the chilterns. 

So I ran London and was really pleased with my time, and took a couple of weeks off to rest my stiff legs and then suddenly, it was almost June and I hadn’t done any training. So rather than knuckling down and getting on with things, I stopped blogging (because I’d have to admit to doing this thing) and ran like a bit of a dick. Trying to cram lots of miles into a few runs and then suffering as a result. One of the worst ideas was agreeing to run a casual marathon with a couple of friends across the SDW. After a hen do. And three hours sleep. And finishing on the seven sisters. Weeping on top of Beachy Head, eating chips like I hadn’t seen food in a week and ending up back in London with such severe dehydration that my chest was caving in on itself wasn’t a great confidence boost just a couple of weeks before Race to the Stones.

If anything, I think the universe was telling me not to do this race. Three days beforehand I found out that the car we were meant to be using wasn’t available anymore. This meant a desperate airbnb search for somewhere local to stay beforehand and the loss of my one man support crew who was now tasked with navigating public transport cross country to try and meet me 60 miles away at the finish.

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SO SCARED

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Gently Freaking Out.

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STILL SO SCARED

I don’t think Stuart was impressed when I woke up at 5am the morning of the race, sat bolt upright and shouted, ‘what the fuck am I doing? I don’t want to do this.’ But, dragging him across England is becoming a bad habit, and doing it without even reaching the start line might be a step too far. So I gritted my teeth, closed my eyes and waited for the alarm clock to go off for two, long, nervous hours. At last dawn started to creep in and, I got up, pulled my stuff together and double checked my kit and bag. I was running with a suunto Ambit3 rather than my Garmin as the battery life is so much superior (and it’s an all round excellent watch). I’d gone with a pair of Adidas 2.0 ATRs as I thought the combination of trail sole, comfort and wider toe box would be the best bet for a long day on my feet. As normal as I was running with a Salomon S-Lab 5litre race vest – without the soft flasks as I find them a bit cumbersome, using the 1.5l reservoir instead. So along with my lululemon shorts, my trusty Maverick race t-shirt and a pair of Compress sport calf guards I was ready to run. I was too nervous to eat, and instead of gagging on my warm banana I decided to fuel better as the race went on. Not a great decision but it seemed like my only option at the time.

Ready to go...

Ready to go…

Sunshine!

Sunshine!

Traffic getting to the start line meant we were running late, there were queues picking up race numbers and by the time I actually got across the start line I was 15 minutes behind the starters and also all the walkers. In the long run this didn’t matter but awkwardly dodging lots of walking poles and backpacks on the narrow lanes did mean a slower start than I’d hoped! After a couple of K I found a bit of space and started to run. My race tactic was to run each aid station separately. It was a really well organised race, with 9 pitstops in total, one every 10k or so. Each leg totally manageable in itself, but overall would add up! Usually as soon as I start running a race all the nerves disappear and I can focus on business at hand (or foot) but this time, probably because of the huge distance awaiting, the anxiety didn’t really lift. The first aid stop came fairly quickly. I grabbed a handful of nuts and a couple of granola bars and pushed on through. It was in these early miles that my poor fuelling became apparent. I had aches in my kidneys and back from dehydration and was starting to feel hungry.

Sorta nice!

Sorta nice!

Getting to pitstop 2 and hearing the cheers of The Boy who’d got a bus and walked 3 miles to meet me left me weeping with anxiety rather than feeling spurred on. I was so aware of how much of what I had to do was unknown. I’d only ever got to the 50k mark and beyond that was dark space. But I thought back to my good friend Simon Lamb’s advice (he of the one man 70 mile christmas commute) who’d told me that discomfort would reach a point and then stop. I had to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. But it would be okay. So with a hug, a kit kat and another hug I headed out again with 77km to cover and the weight of the world on my shoulders.

poppy fields!

poppy fields!

Gradually the miles ticked by. My legs got a bit looser and I didn’t die. The terrain was mixed, hilly in parts, woodland, field, trail. It was lovely, but hard to appreciate at times. At each rest stop I grabbed a cereal bar, flapjack or brownie, and shoved it in my race pack for later. I’d been told to treat the race as a very long picnic, which is exactly what I did. Running the flats and downs I walked every up, taking the opportunity to refuel and take stock of where I was. I’m not a fast runner, but I am a very slow walker and I’d get overtaken by half the world as I trudged along. 

The 50k pitstop was extremely welcome. I saw my friend superrunner Cat who’d come in first in the 50k race and was already showered, changed and enjoying a cider. I grabbed a plate of pasta and enjoyed a sit down and a brief catch up before heading back out. I didn’t know what to expect but I found that things really didn’t get much worse after the 50k mark. I had tired legs and was getting sick of flat coke and flapjacks but it wasn’t any worse than the last 10k of a long run. The scenery was lovely, but not miles away from my long runs on the SDW or through Bath or even along the Thames Path (albeit quite a lot hillier than my usual weekend runs!) At times I felt great, at 45k I realised that I had proactively underestimated myself. I think I’d tried to expect failure so that if it happened it wouldn’t hurt so much. But a couple of hours later and 80 odd k down I had a bit of a wobble. I was so far into it, but with a half marathon still to get through and everything starting to just ache and ache, I realised how much of an ultra is purely mental. There was no doubt that my legs could handle the distance, any problems were all in my head.

Tired feet!

Tired feet!

Along the way I bumped into a few runners I knew, from real life and from twitter. It was great to see some friendly faces but I felt, unlike in other races, that this was something I wanted to do by myself. I didn’t want to speak to anyone else, or run with anyone else, I just wanted to stare long and hard into my subconscious and see what was lurking in the dark. Which was probably why I gave in and for the last few hours popped in the headphones so I could enjoy a bit of woman’s hour and take my mind off the miles to go.

Sun setting

Sun setting

Finally the 9th pitstop loomed. I sat down for the first time in hours and hours and regrouped. My shoulders were killing. Running with a sack of water and a million half eaten granola bars was taking its toll, and my glutes were killing me. Apart from that I was fine though. I ate a slice of bread wrapped round some cheese and onion crisps, threw back another cup of flat coke and headed out on the final 12k. I had been doing good stretches of walking as the latter stages of the race crept up, anything uphill pretty much. But I decided I wanted to give the last 10k a good go and sped up to what could be called a run. As the course started to wind down off the ridgeway and towards Avebury I realised that with only 5k left I was almost there! The last bit of the run involved an out and back towards the stones themselves. It was getting dark but I was determined to finish without a head torch, so finding Taylor Swift for a final boost I turned back the way I came for the final 2k. 13 hours and 50 minutes after I’d started I crossed the finish line and breathed a sigh of relief. It had been slow, and it hadn’t been pretty but it was done and I was relatively unscathed. I changed my shirt, picked up some food and then it was into a cab and back to our airbnb for a shower and a well deserved lie down.

Happy Finisher!

Happy Finisher!

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Blurry Finisher

I’d expected to pass out the moment I saw the bed, but actually I was up all night, my legs were aching, I was starving hungry and I was totally wired. I spent a lot of the darkest hours with my legs up a wall, watching Don’t Tell the Bride on my phone and eating a pork pie. The glamorous life of an ultra runner.

My take-aways on the big 100k? It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, but it wasn’t as good either. I think my anxiety hampered my enjoyment, and slowed me down too. I was nervous of going too hard or too fast. I’m 99.9% sure that I’ve found my limit. Any further seems a bit pointless. I’ve run far enough that you can see the route on a zoomed out google map of Great Britain. I’d like to do it               again but try to really enjoy it, with maybe a more comprehensive training plan.

For now though? More yoga, more swimming, less flat coke. Stay tuned.

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The aftermath

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Stour Valley Marathon

When my good friend and now cycling celeb Rich Mitch messaged me to say that due to injury he’d had to pull out of an upcoming marathon I didn’t have to think too hard or long about taking him up on the offer of running in his place. One of my absolute favourite things to do is to explore on foot the world outside my little London bubble, preferably with a bit of mud thrown in for good measure.

The Stour Valley Marathon is a small event, limited at 200 or so runners with a back-to-basics feel. Set in Constable Country, the route starts in Nayland and weaves between Essex and Suffolk through wheat fields, into woods and over hills. The Stour Valley is an under-appreciated part of the country and I was struck as the race went on just how lovely the scenery was. I’d gone up the night before, had a somewhat lonely dinner in Colchester and then spent a restless night at an airbnb awaiting my alarm clock, and dreaming of missing it. After hurried breakfast I met my fellow runner Andy and his girlfriend Laura who had kindly offered me a lift from Colchester up to the start.

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The route!

After a quick briefing and having collected a bewildering set of directions (4 pages!) we lined up at an informal start line and then we were off. I was hoping not to have to actually decipher my written directions, and instead latch on to a group of runners and hope they didn’t leave me stranded! We started off on country roads before turning off to join the Stour Valley Path. Once we were on the trail we followed it on and off, joining the Essex Way, before leaving it for St Edmund’s Way in a big figure of 8 to make up the 27 (and a bit) miles. I found myself in a group of four of five runners, although we split off and rejoined other groups as the race developed. It was a strange situation, and not like any other race I’ve experienced as the little groups became very important. Ours had one runner with a Garmin watch following satellite instructions (which didn’t really work), one runner who knew the route from last year (apart from the bits where he forgot), one who could follow the instructions (until he got confused) and a few like me who were just hoping not to get left behind. The upshot was that every so often we’d have to wait for other runners to catch up so we could find out where we were going. This made it much less a race and more like a group day out.

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As usual, one of the highlights was getting to know the other runners, a couple even came from my post code and are also running Race to The Stones in a few weeks time. It was great chatting to Josh and Liam who had both run a heap of marathons and were full of good tips for how to get through 60 odd miles.

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Making Friends

The volunteers on the course were great. Every so often we’d come across a gang of kids holding signs and chanting motivational cheers in perfect unison. Getting a few high-5s and even a couple of high 10s was the lift I needed at mile 15 and 18 and 20. The aid stations were well stocked with jelly babies, crisps, bananas and plenty of water and squash and it was lovely to get a few words of encouragement from the people who had given up their weekend to support us.

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Views.

The course was challenging in parts, there was over 1500 ft of climbing, plenty of stiles, gates, nettles, brambles and the like. Within a few miles I was covered in rashes, stings and scratches. The path was rough underfoot with tree roots, holes and puddles. Running down hills, vaulting over stiles and dodging herds of cows kept the run interesting. It’s one of the reasons I love trail running so much, there’s always something to think about, look at or jump over, it doesn’t matter how long you’re running for you’ll never get bored.

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Hills and blue sky

At 23 miles I started to get a little antsy. We’d just got lost and after standing around for a while trying to work out exactly where we were meant to be I had started to stiffen up and I realised that the best thing I could do was to keep on running. With a gel starting to give my legs a little more kick and the finish hopefully somewhere close by I started to run a little faster, keeping everything crossed that I’d be able to follow my nose to the finish. This largely involved asking passers by if I was going the right way (some looked at me bemused, others shouted me in the right direction) and a friendly runner who was happy to shout directions at me from a few hundred yards away as I threatened to run myself totally off-course.

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Going up hills

Finally though I hit the river, and knew that I was only a kilometre away from the finish. In fact my last 5k was the quickest 5k of the run in around 25 minutes (after 39km I’m not unhappy with that!) Runners who had already finished were lined up on the bridge back into Nayland and cheered as I approached. Finally, after 4 hours and a bit of running I found the village hall back where we had started, and was finished. 4th lady and 28th runner out of 215 entrants. Andy had done incredibly well for his first every marathon, finishing in joint third place in just over 3 and a half hours. I collected my medal (an incredible thing as big as my head) and a goody bag perfectly filled with a can of beer, a snickers and a packet of crisps. I gratefully wolfed down a baked potato and enjoyed cheering the other runners on as they came in,  before I joined Andy and Laura on the journey back to London. All in all, a great race. There is hot competition for the places but I hope to be returning for SVM 2016 with a better idea of where I’m going next time!

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Finished. A heck of a medal and a nice cap imprint to go with it

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Still going up hills

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The Bupa 10,000

Having run 30 miles with Simon just two days previously my legs were still feeling a bit heavy as I laced up my trainers for the 10k run I’d signed up for months ago. An hour of yoga the night before had stretched out my hamstrings but I was wondering how I’d feel sprinting down the mall with so many miles in my legs. Still – I’d signed up to the BUPA London 10k to support my dad rather than to go for a new PB and I promised myself that I’d take it easy and actually enjoy the atmosphere (having missed the last 5K of the London Marathon with my brain somewhere deep in the pain cave).

My Dad is a great runner, he’s got a 100 t-shirt and never misses his park run. He’s training for his first half marathon. Every sunday he runs a 10k and tries to beat his PB. He’s in his sixties and if I’m running as much as he is at that age I’ll be very, very happy. So when he asked me if I’d like to run with him I jumped at the chance, bar the odd Park Run we’ve never raced together and this seemed like a good chance to do so!

The organisation was spot on, I’d been sent a kit bag, race number and timing chip in the post and was ready to run at 9am on the Monday morning when my Dad picked me up. We cycled through Hyde Park to the start line in Green Park, dropped our kit and headed towards the start line. At which point I realised I probably needed the loo. The queues were immense, they curled around and around, but I decided it was better just to risk a late start than finding myself needing a wee break at mile 4!

It was a bit of a last minute dash to the start then, the pens were staggered and I was in the red group, the first block of starters behind the elite runners (although in the last pen of that group). Unfortunately this meant that I missed my start group and had to jump in with the runners in the pen behind mine, just as the marshal was closing the gate. I wasn’t worried about where I started, if anything I was glad I wasn’t starting with the faster runners but it did mean that the first mile was very slow, dodging and weaving just to try and get a steady pace up. The thing I love about races like this are the number of runners racing for the first time, I feel privileged to be experiencing that momentous occasion with them. I remember my first ever proper race and it felt massive (and terrifying). Having said that, it is quite worrying when people are struggling at the first mile marker – I think it’s easy to underestimate how hard and how far a 10k is – 100% achievable with some training, but far enough that it needs to be taken seriously.

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The great thing about running any race through London is just how impressive the city is. The route had diverged slightly from previous years so that instead of running along the embankment we were directed along the Strand and up towards St Pauls Cathedral. The roads were lined with cheering supporters waving banners and there were bands to keep our spirits high. As I got going I found that my legs were feeling okay and I was able to run at a comfortable pace once the crowds had opened up a little. I was pleased to see my friend Cat and the Lululemon Cheer Squad about Mile 5 and then as we turned towards Big Ben I spotted an old uni friend. Turning down Horse Guards Parade and with 800 metres, and then 400 metres and then 200 metres to go I went for a sort of sprint finish and crossed the line knowing that I hadn’t run a fast time but I’d run a good race, with some decent negative splits, 24.54 for the first 5k and 22.28 for the second.

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Just look how much I loved this race.

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I picked up my medal, and goody bag and went to wait for my Dad outside the gates of Green Park. This involved hiding from the marshals as they tried to move all the runners through the finish area. I really wanted to get a photo with my Dad so I skulked behind some trees for a while to wait for him to come through. In the end he had his eyes closed in one photo and I had a double chin in the other so it probably wasn’t worth getting chased by a man in a fluro jacket.

My Dad was pleased with his time of 58.19, and I was happy with mine of 47.22. Not a PB by any stretch but a comfortable race, and one of the only 10ks that I can confidently say I enjoyed from start to finish. I spotted my friend Sian who’d run her first ever 10k in a cracking time and then we picked up our bikes, cycled over to Fulham for the Chelsea Parade. Still wearing our medals we eventually found a pub for a well earned pint and a sit down.

Well deserved pint for the champion.

Well deserved pint for the champion.

I’m trying really hard to build my weekly mileage at the moment but it’s proving a struggle. 16 miles on the Tuesday with a back to back run commute meant that over 4 days I’d covered 52 miles and actually I was completely knackered. I’m still not really back up to 100%, just feeling tired and worn out, and with a marathon on the books for tomorrow I’m wondering how I’m going to feel as I tackle navigating myself across totally new terrain on old legs.

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A Saturday Morning Ultra

It was exactly one year ago this week that I took the dive and signed up to my first ultra (lite) race. A 50k trot along the Thames Path. I spent months and months training for it. I took it really seriously. I’d never run anything longer than 13 miles before, but I reasoned that it was just a few extra miles after a marathon. Thinking back to how scared I was then, I can’t quite believe how far I’ve come. In the year since I’ve got two more marathons under my belt, a couple of halfs, a handful of trail races, a podium finish and a good for age qualification for London 2016. It’s not those things which really strike me though. It’s more that running isn’t this big scary thing anymore. It’s turned into something I go out and do, whether good or bad, fast or slow, long or short, it just happens.

Actually, that’s a lie. Running is still a bit scary. Like when I signed up the other day to another race. A new challenge, and a much longer distance. So yeah, I was freaking out just like12 months ago. Which is why my good friend Simon, tired of telling me to calm the (ahem) down, agreed to come with me on a long run to remind me that my legs still work. Which is a long way of explaining how I came to run 30 miles with legend ultra runner Simon Lamb conquering the first leg of the South Downs Way.

A map with nothing else on it but where you're meant to be.

A map with nothing else on it but where you’re meant to be.

An early train delivered us into Winchester where we walked up to the cathedral and then found the start of the SDW. The trail runs through Hampshire and Sussex all the way to Eastbourne. You can do the full thing in a 100 mile race, but that was a challenge too far for us, so we set our sights on Petersfield, a town about a marathon’s distance away.

This way to get where you're going.

This way to get where you’re going.

The sun was out, the skies were blue and I couldn’t wait to get running as we found the trail. It was a day of experimentation for us both, Simon with cotton t-shirts and barefoot shoes, me with my new race vest (a Salomon advanced skin lab hydro 5ltr pack for you running nerds)  and eating on the run. I’d packed a heap of cereal bars, nuts and even an avocado sandwich in preparation for a long day on my feet.

A sunny day on the South Downs

A sunny day on the South Downs

If you’ve never explored the South Downs I would really recommend it. The views are beautiful, it’s hilly but not too hilly. There are forests and fields and lots of animals. We saw a pheasant, lambs, butterflies, something like an eagle. There is such a massive difference between pounding the same grey pavements on my run commute and exploring new places on the trails. It was a truly brilliant day. We ran and ran and walked a lot and then had a nap on top of an Iron Age fortress and filled our water bottles from a natural boar-hole. I got a bit sunburned and watched the world at its best and most beautiful, bathed in a lemony light.

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On the whole the SDW is easy to follow. There are signs everywhere. It should be almost impossible to get lost. We still managed it though. Finding ourselves in a village that was conveniently located off map. After consulting the lady in the post office, a compass and having a bit of a guess I gave in and resorted to google maps. Naturally there was no signal and we were standing in the middle of a field looking in the wrong direction. Luckily Simon noticed that we were heading way off course before we ended back up in Cherriton (the land of no escape) and we eventually headed in what we hoped would be the right direction. At this point I broke and ate half a sandwich (eating and running is great, it’s like the longest picnic ever). Eventually we found a footpath that promised to get us back on to the trail, we were a few miles off track but nothing disastrous and after battling through waist-high swamps of nettles and a few brambled stiles we emerged back where we were meant to be, none the worse but for a few nasty stings.

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That’s me there. Loving #traillife

One of the things I’m less sure about as I start to think about running longer distances is how I’ll cope with time on my feet. I’ve done a couple of 5 hour races, but that’s nothing compared to the 12 or 14 hours I might have to spend adventuring across the Wiltshire hills in a few weeks time! The day was about travelling then, just moving from a to b, not worrying too much about speed or time, just walking, running, climbing, resting. We stopped at a lovely collection of fishing lakes and drank coke. We realised 10k later that we were 10k further back on our map than we thought we were.

Simon so happy to see us just 10 miles from home....

Simon so happy to see us just 10 miles from home…. (yeah, we’re in matching runners uniform, and what?)

The day got later and my feet got tired but not exhausted. Nothing hurt, the miles slipped by. At some point we came out of some woods and saw a sign to Petersfield. Only another 3 miles to go! They were 3 long miles and they were much more than 3 miles but eventually we arrived at the train station. 30 miles under our feet, over 7 hours of moving and plenty of hills climbed and trail run. It was a proper little adventure. There was no medal but there was still the feeling of achievement and the promise of chips at the other end. (some run stats here and here)

If any one else fancies a mini adventure let me know, but just don’t trust me with the map.

Forests!

Forests!

Lakes!

Lakes!

Hills!

Hills!

That's an ultra runner over their in the distance.

That’s the ultra runner @sixsecondshigh over there in the distance.

The Running.

The Running.

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Karma Yoga London

Something a little different on the blog today, rather than complaining about my running aches and pains, here is a guest blog from the incredible folk at Karma Yoga London. It’s easy to forget sometimes the big difference you can make even as a small person.  Enjoy!

Karma Yoga London

Karma Yoga London

“Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal in life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind.” -The Bhagavad Gita

Karma yoga, or the yoga of doing good deeds, and “seva,” or selfless service to others, are central foundations of the traditional yoga practice. However, they are under-emphasised in most Western yoga classes which focus on the physical components of an asana-based practice. For almost a year, I had been thinking about this key tenet of yoga and how I could incorporate it not only into my own life on and off the yoga mat, but also into the classes that I teach. I had considered initiating a fundraising event to try to encourage more selfless service, but I hadn’t yet found an organisation which I resonated with and felt passionate about.

However, in March, that organisation became clear. A former yoga student of mine, Jonny Clarke, was visiting London from Mumbai, where he works as the Curriculum Development Coordinator with a non-profit organisation called Reality Gives. Reality Gives is based in the Dharavi slum in Mumbai and operates in similar places throughout India. The charity specialises in education and teacher training and has three community centres, where they provide classes in English language, computing and life skills to underprivileged children from the area. They also partner with a local primary school, Royal City School, to improve the educational opportunities for local children. During Jonny’s visit to London, I had a chance to learn more about the organisation and the challenges they face working to deliver high level education to both children and adults within the community in Dharavi.

Young friends walking through Dharavi

Young friends walking through Dharavi

Once I learned more about Reality Gives, it became obvious to me that I wanted to foster a partnership with this remarkable organisation. Thankfully, Jonny was enthusiastic about my efforts to encourage more karma yoga within and beyond our community. Over a few beers on St Patrick’s Day, Jonny and I decided to start the Karma Yoga London initiative. My goal was to raise enough money to pay the salary of a Royal City School teacher for one year, which is £1200. I decided that for 6 weeks, I would donate £1 for every person who attended a yoga class I taught, to Reality Gives. Immediately after we announced this initiative, the generosity of our yoga community became apparent. Other yoga teachers volunteered to teach “karma classes,” students donated £1/class they attended, and studios hosted charity classes. In 6 weeks, we raised almost £3500, which is enough to pay almost three teachers’ salaries for one year.

A donation-based “karma yoga class” I taught at Union Station Yoga in April. We raised more than £200 that night!

A donation-based “karma yoga class” I taught at Union Station Yoga in April. We raised more than £200 that night!

In May 2015, I was lucky enough to visit Dharavi with Reality Tours and Travel. Dharavi is an inspiring place, full of kind, warm, welcoming, hard-working people. This community bears no resemblance to the image so many of us have of so-called “slums” as depressing, dire, dirty places.

With Jonny Clarke and Asim Shaikh in one of Reality Gives’ community centres in Dharavi, after my tour.

With Jonny Clarke and Asim Shaikh in one of Reality Gives’ community centres in Dharavi, after my tour.

While walking around Dharavi, I was overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers, from the family who invited me into their home to the two different groups of school-aged children who asked me to play cricket with them (take note: yoga is not a transferrable skill). I walked out of Dharavi even more firmly convinced of something I have always thought to be true: children, and people, everywhere, regardless of race, religion, and socio-economic background or fortune, are the same. We are all equally deserving of support from educated and nurturing mentors and teachers. My visit to Dharavi further stoked my passion for this project, and we are continuing to accept donations. Simply click here.

Even more excitingly, the Karma Yoga London movement is spreading and growing. You can get involved and stay informed about ongoing events by joining the facebook community page

I feel tremendous gratitude for all of the ways that I have been fortunate in life, but one of the greatest gifts I have received is inspiration, guidance, and education from many phenomenal teachers. I know many people feel the same way and just need a nudge in the right direction. By expecting greatness of each other and encouraging everyone to do a little better every day, we can evoke positive change.

Becky