My very first half marathon – 6th Folkestone Half

I have completed my first half marathon and lived to tell the tale.

SATURDAY
The weekend started with some last minute list crossing off and minor panicking before marvelling (again) at how easy it is to get from Wigan to London on the train. This was followed by a short mooch around St Pancras (posher than most shopping centres I’ve ever been to) then hopping on the high speed train down to Folkestone. Before we knew it, we were sitting outside the hotel in the sunshine drinking a pint (Ginge) and drinking squash but looking longingly at a pint (me). We had left grey, cloudy Lancashire behind and enjoyed the novelty of basking in unseasonal warmth. It was so sunny, I even showed a bit of ankle. After a spot of lunch with my aunt and uncle, we wandered into town, sized up The Hill (bloody big), wandered back to the hotel, neatly laid out all of my race gubbins (nothing had been forgotten, phew), had a bit of a snooze and met up for tea with Helsie, JogBlog, I like to count and Helsie’s mate Helen 1, where we gorged ourselves senseless on carbs (surely creme brulee counts? No? Really?).

SUNDAY
Race day. More carbs (including my shameful little bag of homemade muesli rather than hotel variety pack cereal). Plenty of fluids. Lots of nervous excitement. Emptying bladder. Sock knitting to take my mind off the nervous aspect of the excitement. Lots of tweeting – I really enjoyed being part of the nationwide pre-race nerves instead of just watching from the side lines. Emptying bladder again. Slight panic that I’d forgotten my socks, despite knowing full well that I had packed my socks. Looking out of the window trying to convince myself that it was about to cloud over. Attempting to empty already empty bladder. Race number pinned on. Jelly babies crammed in back pocket, despite the fact that my pocket suddenly seemed half the size it normally is. Off to the start line.

Best good luck message ever

It is a matter of public record that I do not like running in the heat. I live in the damp and mild north of England, we mainly get drizzle. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to account for the fact that I was running with Helen “Bring Me Sunshine” Tamblyn. It turns out that Hels’s superpower is the ability to make races unseasonably and uncomfortably sunny. If you’re getting married, I would suggest that you encourage her to race in the vicinity of the ceremony to guarantee that you have decent weather.

I do love a bandstand

Anyway, the race. I set off well… And then spent the first three miles wishing that I’d worn my hat. When I saw Ginge on the sidelines proffering my hat, it was snatched gratefully from him with a cry of “I think I love you…” over my shoulderas I lumbered past.
At 4.3 miles, I overtook a man on a mobility scooter. He wasn’t part of the race and I shouldn’t really have been as pleased as I was with this.
After an alarmingly short time had elapsed, the front runner passed us (he finished in a course record of 1:08:00, 8 min 55 sec before the second placed runner) and not long after that, Shaun (I like to count) also bounded past followed by Hels’s mate Jimmy.
Around 5 miles, I started to feel sick. I know the feeling from previous attempts to run in the heat and I realised that I was faced with a choice. Keep running, inevitably feeling worse (and increasingly miserable) and possibly not making it around the course, or walk for a bit, take it easy and – as everyone had told me to – just enjoy it. Who am I to ignore the advice of wiser, more experienced runners eh?

Despite the run-walking, it was still bloody hard work. I was immensely grateful to the applause and encouragement of all of the spectators (particularly the lad showering runners with a garden hose and Ginge who just threw water over me) and marshalls around the course  – I just hope they all realised that my response to their cheers was a smile and not a grimace. I also had some wonderful psychic Shuffle random playlist action – starting the race with my motivational tune (Trinity Roots, All We Be), being told Don’t Worry Be Happy at mile 10 and singing along to Jolene (in my head you’ll be relieved to know) with the blessed Dolly as I plodded up The Hill.

Beach huts around the ten mile mark

On another day, I may have managed to own The Hill, but it was not to be and I managed about 30 seconds before resorting to walking. After that, I was determined to finish on a run and with gritted teeth, I ploughed on to the finish where I was cheered over the line in a time of exactly 2:33:00 before collapsing on the grass.

Before the day, I had set three levels of goal in my head: It would be acceptable to get round but…I would be pleased with finishing under 2:30 but… I would be ecstatic with somewhere around 2:15.

So am I happy with that result? Yes and no. Given the conditions, I was pleased to finish and in an acceptable and not too shabby time. I knew that my training hadn’t been at its best, I did everything I could to enjoy the day and the sobering sight of a runner receiving ambulance treatment near mile 10 (I hope that he was ok) reminded me that it’s more than possible to come to grief. However… I know that I can do better.

In summary – I had a fantastic weekend and it was lovely to meet up with my Southern running mates (especially as Cathy brought us homemade jam). The race was well organised and friendly, but I was undone by the general heat and lack of shade throughout the course (there really was no respite from the sun along the sea front). However, I keep referring to Folkestone as my first half marathon – this suggests that there will be more of them, so I must have enjoyed myself.

Fears and lists

Anyone reading my blog late last night (hi Carla!) will have been treated to an untitled post that consisted of stuff that was in my head and I wanted to get rid of before bed. I was tired and could only paw randomly at my phone meaning that the following was published instead of being kept in a holding pattern overnight: –

  • Loo
  • Lost
  • Late
  • Breakfast

It’s a fairly self-explanatory list of all  (at the time) my fears and worries about Sunday.

I have solved two of them (loo and breakfast) and realised that the other two  (late and lost) are silly.

Our hotel is near the race start so I can nip back to the room for a sneaky wee if the race HQ and portaloos are too busy and I’ve read the race brochure enough times to have remembered where emergency loos are en route.

Breakfast has been packed.

I am not going to get lost. The directions for the race are comprehensive and a bit scary for someone who is (a) not local and (b) appalling with directions. I like my out and back routes to be from A to B and back to A. I do not like them to include twiddly little bits on each end to make them the necessary length. However, it is highly unlikely that I will be leading the race at any point and hopefully I will be able to keep someone in sight.

I am also not going to be late. I will undoubtably dream about being late over the next two nights (or possibly even on the train), but Ginge will not let me be late. And Hels is staying in the same hotel and I doubt she would let me be late either.

So the bag is packed, the lists ticked off (when things were located) and crossed off (when things went in the bag), the shuffle is full of happy tunes, gizmos are all fully charged, panic  has been tweeted about, positive messages have been read (thank you all!) and I’m running out of things to worry about. I am now trying to procrastinate for as long as I can so I don’t have to go to bed.

Yes. Well. Hmmmm.

Nerves

The one good thing about being injured is that it took the pressure off me for this weekend. That probably sounds daft (especially as the only person putting any pressure on me was, well, me) but it’s true. Even if I had remained uninjured and non-snuffly, stuck rigidly to my training plan, eaten well, done injury prevention exercises that I didn’t even know existed and conducted all the appropriate sacrifices to the running gods, I would have felt that I hadn’t trained properly. And if I haven’t trained properly, what’s the point in even entering the race?

Instead, I know I haven’t trained properly. It’s not my fault. On the day, I can only do what I can do. And, no matter what happens, as long as I finish it will be a personal best.

Well that was my attitude until Sunday. Maybe it was being 7 days off, maybe it was the fact that I had my first anxiety dream (I got distracted from the route to go and help someone with something, but when I tried to catch up with everyone I had to take short cuts and then I was going the wrong way), maybe it was the falling over followed by a really hard 11.5 miles, whatever it was it sapped my positivity.

What the hell was I thinking entering a half? What the hell was I thinking entering a half 300 miles from home? It started with self doubt. The self doubt grew into a dark cloud that hovered over me. By Wednesday evening (when twitter people may have noticed a certain degree of “meh” from me, @jogblog and @helsieboo), I went to yoga and needed a little time out to deal with some optical leakage when I went awry in a simple posture (I don’t think anyone noticed, so I can still show my face next week). Luckily, some cathartic shoulder stands did the trick and I left in a far more positive frame of mind than I arrived.

It also helped that I’ve had some lovely confidence boosting messages from my sister, tweets from @AdelePrince, @jogblog and @OnesizePlanet, and of course the ongoing support and encouragement of Ginge. You’re all ace.

On that note, I’m on with writing comprehensive To Do and Don’t Forget lists (starting with TRAINERS and RACE NUMBER) and am embracing carb loading with an unsettling zeal.

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh!

PS. Bollocks to meh and self-doubt – bring on The Hill!

Canal Adventure #14 – Eldonian Village (Liverpool) to Maghull

Today we completed the west side of the Leeds and Liverpool canal (well nearly, there’s an intentional gap in the middle earmarked for the final run of the project). This was one of our proper adventures involving a drive to Maghull, catching the train to Sandhills, walking a bit to the very start of the canal and then running back. All in, it turned out to be 11.5 miles.

The end of the canal is a bit disappointing. It just ends. There are no statues, fanfares or dancing girls. Just some particularly nowty geese (the one on the right of the photo was spectacularly grumpy).

Guard geese at the start of the canal

Before today, we had done some humming and haaaaaaing about where to start the run. I’d thought that we would end up on the waterfront with all the iconic scenery, but when we peered more closely at the map, we realised that section is an extra bit of canal that is joined to the Leeds and Liverpool by the Stanley Dock Branch. I have nothing against branch canals, but when I started this I decided that they weren’t essential parts of the plan, so I don’t have to run them (yet).

This is the top lock of the Stanley Dock Branch. It is also where things started to go a bit tits up (to use a technical term). After a mere 2 minutes and 37 seconds, I caught my foot on something; there was a bang (from me), a loud expletive (from Ginge) and I lay sprawled across the (nicely maintained and good to run on, but also quite gravelly) towpath. Somehow I had managed to graze my right calf, my right little finger (now sporting a lovely  bruised knuckle), my right elbow and (most bizarrely) my right shoulder. I sat up, slightly dazed and gathered myself together before standing up and nearly fainting (after a number of falls over the past few years, I recognise what’s happening and try my best to stop it). We could have walked back to the station and caught the train home (thank god we had enough money to do that if we wanted), but decided to carry on. If you find yourself in a similar situation and have the option of not running 11.3 miles home, take it – you’ll thank me for it.

The second lock was the scene of my actual and metaphorical downfall

Property prices have rocketed round here

They knew how to make a plaque those Victorians

This was probably the most urban of canal runs that we’ve done (round Blackburn was at the top of the leader board before today). It’s daft to think of the canal as a picturesque rural idyll (even though large sections are rather rural and idyllic) because it was built to link two industrial cities, via various busy, industrial towns. The first few miles were surrounded by residential areas, scrap yards and (mainly abandoned) warehouses, while the  lily pads that grew along the edges of the canal were sifted up with flotsam and jetsam that suggested a very specific type of recreational binge drinking. I didn’t take photos of these (or the dead cat).

But I did take a photo of the sunken shopping trolley

The remains of old industry - boats would have been able to sail into the warehouse through the arch

In the midst of all this, we were slightly surprised to see bee hives on the opposite side of the canal. It turns out that these are community hives installed by British Waterways, Art for Places and local people who have been trained in the art and science of beekeeping.

To bee, or not to bee

The bridges along this section of the canal are all lettered rather than numbered (I even took photos of bridge I, just in case it was bridge 1), but eventually we reached bridge 1.

Bridge 1

Onward we continued, through Bootle and towards Litherland. I had needed the loo before we set off (and hadn’t been helped by my dramatic crash landing), however despite being bordered with bushes, the residential nature of the route meant that any sneaky wee stops would be hidden from the towpath, but would result in me flashing my bum to a whole cul-de-sac. Sensibly, we decided to hop off the canal and have a cheeky comfort stop at Tesco, Litherland (I may not have been a customer today, but I reckon I have enough Clubcard points to entitle me to pee in any of their branches). Whilst avoiding any Tena lady moments, this did mean that we had a break of 15 minutes or so, which messed up our rhythm quite a bit (note to self, don’t take a 15 minute break during the race next week).

The previous milestone had been amended to read "Everton 3 L'Pool 2"

After Litherland, things went much more rural. If nothing else, the route of the canal is a reminder of how much green space we have on our doorsteps round here. We also figured that, despite the litter, the water must be relatively clean to sustain all of the wildlife that you can see along the canal.

King Heron

At around 8 miles, I was a bit knackered. There were long stretches of nothingness, half of my body ached from the fall and I found my posture becoming more and more hunched, while my steps became more and more shuffling. I managed to keep up a semblance of pride until we passed Aintree racecourse, but it all went downhill from there.

A distant Aintree. If I was a horse, they would have shot me out of kindness.

We limped on and it was with a huge amount of relief that we found ourselves back at bridge 11b in Maghull. We invested our emergency fiver in some chocolate milk, Oasis and a packet of Jaffa Cakes and drove home with the intention of doing nothing all afternoon but ended up repainting the bedroom.

Miles run = 11.5
Canal miles completed = 11.5
Total canal miles = 86.85/127*
Bridges = C-11b

How not to train for a half marathon

At the beginning of July I embarked on a half marathon training plan. The timing was perfect – 12 weeks between the end of Juneathon and race day. I was grumpy about following a plan, but optimistic that it would help me to do a half that I could be proud of. That was eleven weeks ago.

Today, the countdown on my phone tells me that the number of days before Folkestone is in single figures. My training can best be described as haphazard. Compare and contrast the training plans at Runner’s World and 2:09 Events (my plan was a Frankenstein’s monster of the two) with what has actually happened.

Week One – Broadly completed as prescribed. Apart from substituting the intervals for Audiofuel intervals. And doing the sessions back to front. And skipping a 3 mile run.

Week Two – Intervals, done (well I did 7 reps instead of 8 because I programmed Miles wrong). 6 miles, done. Two 3 mile sessions, done (including my first Parkrun). Little giddy dance that I’ve done a proper week’s training, done.

Week Three – The plan demanded an 8 mile easy run. I did a 10 mile (because I got my weeks mixed up) hellish nightmare of a run. My niggling knee and hip pain left me trotting along like a lame Shetland pony. A lame Shetland pony with a leg length discrepancy. Wearing a stiletto hoof. I did a 5 mile run that was equally hard and ordered a foam roller.

Week Four – After the nightmare of week three, I didn’t run for a week. I wanted to run, but wise blogging and tweeting people advised otherwise. I asked twitter to recommend me a physio and spent part of my friend’s wedding tweeting Andy from Summit Physio. An appointment was duly booked, attended and I went off with the instruction to roll my legs as much as possible (and as agonising pain allowed). I did manage a three mile run at the end of all this – woo hoo!

Week Five – Hills, 6 miles, fartlek session, 10 miler. Ha. I ran twice. For a total of 6 miles.

Week Six – It was my birthday! I celebrated with an undulating 6.5 mile canal adventure. Later that week, I did 3.5 miles and an 8 miles. The 8 miles boosted my confidence by want of me surviving it. Unfortunately, the plan asked for way more miles than that, a bit of fartleking, and some intervals. It did not mention canals or scones.

Week Seven – Should have been the same as week six, but with longer intervals (still no scones though). I nearly ran a half marathon distance, unfortunately there was a two day break between starting and finishing. Looking on the positive side, I did successfully run the ten mile route that heralded the beginning of my downfall.

Week Eight – I actually did more miles than I should have this week… Plan said 2 x 3 miles, 5 miles, 10 x 200m intervals. I did some lovely Audiofuel intervals, a 3 miler and, whisper it, 12 bloody miles! There was probably some technical reason why the mileage dropped this week, I will never know.

Week Nine – Incredibly complicated intervals, 6 miles and 4 miles or Audiofuel pyramid intervals, and a 5k? You guess correctly. The only thing I did right this week was doing a 10k race – I enjoyed this more than I expected.

Week Ten – Woke up with a scratchy throat the day after Blackpool, went home early from work the day after that, snuffled, sneezed, snotted, coughed and spluttered for the rest of the week. Dyed some wool. Could have run on Sunday, but chose to be lazy. No running was done.

Week Eleven – I stopped looking at the plan weeks ago. I am still snuffly. I’ve done 4.5 miles and 3 miles so far and we are planning to do a 9 mile canal adventure to Liverpool on Sunday. Having re-checked the plan tonight, I can say with some confidence that the plan does not include canals, taking photos of swans or eating baked goods this week.

Next week I am supposed to taper. How am I supposed to tell where the taper starts and my training ends?

Oh heck.