Spring has sprung – Bluebell 10K

I’ve been neglecting my blog for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that MiniGinge stood on the laptop and I have been without the Z, X and spacebar (which is more annoying than you would think). Anyway, due to popular demand (hello sis), I have dusted things off to write about this weekend’s Bluebell 10K.

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Since January I’ve been trying to find a race that floats my boat, but have struggled with logistics and a general feeling of “meh”. I’m not sure if I’ve not been motivated because I haven’t got a race to aim for, or if I’ve not been able to find a race because I’ve not been motivated. However, a bit of a twitter chat with the lovely @RunningGaynor drew my attention to the Bluebell 10K. A trail run, less than 2 miles from home, with the prospect of a near drowning attempting to cross a river without the aid of a bridge. It seemed to good an offer to turn down.

So I signed up. And then ignored the fact that I had signed up until the night before the race. I was driving home in the sunshine and thought “yeah, I’ll do it, it’ll be great”. And then I looked at the weather for the next day. Sunshine did not feature. At all. But still, I was going to get wet anyway so what the hell (just to be clear, I took the photos on a return trip in much nicer weather – I had a fear of taking technology through a river).

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I arrived in plenty of time to collect my race number and, despite going to the loo a million times before setting off, joined the toilet queue. And queued. And queued. And queued. It was a bit like waiting for a theme park ride – ever so often someone would pass you and comment “oh, I was waiting for another 20 minutes from there”. It turns out that the pub that acted as HQ had withdrawn access to the main part of the pub 48 hours before the race. This left us with access to one toilet. For everyone. With less than ten minutes to go, we were asked to go to the start and I put a lot of trust in the hope that my brain was actually shouting louder than my bladder (I relied heavily on the fact that when I set off on my marathon, I was convinced that I would need the loo at the end of the first lap. I ended up running for 5 and a half hours before needing to stop).

The toilet queue had given me lots of opportunity to marvel at/become fearful of the number of running club vests and hoodies at the race. This sight is guaranteed to fill me with fear as I am convinced that I will be lumbering along at the back behind this herd of speedy gazelles. As a result, I tend to hide from races that are dominated by club runners.

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The course itself was a squelchy, slippy mudbath interspersed with steps, stiles and slopes that required a little of bit of hanging onto branches to get up and down at some points. I soon realised that the more tentatively you approach these things, the more likely you are to end up on your bum. It didn’t take long for me to be dismounting bridges with a two-footed jump. This policy only bit me once, when the mud was slightly colder, wetter and deeper than I had expected…Luckily I retained both shoes.

At 4 miles, my calves and shoes were completely covered in mud, but it was ok because I had to run through a river (twice) before the finish. When I first heard about the autumn version of this race a few years ago, I imagined the river crossing to involve some gentle splashing across a rippling, pebbled brook. When I looked at photos, I realised that it was somewhat deeper. When I plunged into the icy water, I was slightly surprised to find the water reached my bum. Sensibly, the race organisers position the photographer at the river in order to capture the look of shock and delight as you wade across to the other bank (this is one race photo that is definitely going to be ordered).

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Even though I am normally horrendously clumsy, I managed to cross the river and navigate the mud whilst staying on both feet. Perhaps I got too cocky, but with less than 0.1miles to go, on a flat, dry stretch of path, I caught my foot on a tree root and crashed onto my side. Not embarrassing at all. I picked myself up, shook off my embarrassment and trotted round the next corner to see the finish line, my medal and a rather fetching blue t-shirt.

Despite my last minute tumble, I was grinning. I’d been grinning like an idiot all the way round (I’m going to have to find someone to run with me next year just so that I don’t look quite so strange), I just couldn’t help it. I drove home sitting on a carrier bag (and grinning). I was grinning while I hosed the mud out of the bath after my shower. I was still grinning when Ginge got home from work in the evening. I had just about stopped grinning by the time I went to be. This should give you an idea of how much this race lifted my spirits and left me feeling totally exhilarated (hint: it was quite a lot).

The daft thing is, the start of the race is only a couple of miles from home and the route itself took me less than half a mile from home. Part of the race was along my “zen route” (when I need a run to clear my head and stop to smell the ducks) – it’s where I ran to take in the news that I was pregnant and where I waddled when I was heavily pregnant (and with hindsight, when I was actually in labour). And yet, I am shamefaced to admit that I’ve never run (or walked, or waddled) around the majority of the route (I stick to the flat bits of the valley) and you know what? It’s really lovely, even on a miserable, grey, wet Sunday morning. I am now trying to ride this wave of excitement in order to squash my fears about running a 10k in the other local valley (I finished 3rd from last when I ran it 4 years ago).

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Wigan 10k

My magic training plan had me down for an easy hour and ten minutes on Sunday. However Sunday was the day of the sell-out Wigan 10k and I had a place booked on the start line. I was kind of ok with the idea of using the race as a training run with a medal but… oh, who am I trying to kid? I wanted to run the race as a race and try to improve on July’s Manchester 10k time. So I asked the chief training plan sorcerer and with his blessing, shifted my threshold run forward a day and went for it on Sunday.

All the running wisdom out there tells you to make sure you have a good night’s sleep before a big race. I have yet to find a book or a blog or anything that recommends being up at 1 o’clock feeding Calpol to a grizzly child. This is because it is a rubbish idea and only an idiot would recommend it. I am an idiot and even I do not recommend it.

Luckily the race had a 10am start, although Mini-Ginge had  other ideas and I was up ridiculously early, trying (and failing) to guard my breakfast from a small porridge thief. God bless toddlers and their approach of “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine’s me own”. So, with most of my porridge scoffed by me, my timing chip carefully looped through my laces, my number clipped to my #bloodnotmoney vest and Tim strapped to my wrist, we set off f’t Wigan.

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At nearly 3500 runners, this was one of the biggest races I’ve done for a while and the race organisers had gone all out with live music, outdoor bars, massage tables and a whole European food market in the town centre. After queueing for the loo, I parked myself somewhere between the 65 and 70 minute pacers, hopeful for the former but not ruling out being nearer the latter. Away I went, running comfortably, occasionally glancing at Tim and being alternately pleased and terrified by the pace he was showing. I have to confess that my glorious feeling of “I could run forever!” was probably helped by the steady downhill of the first mile and a bit.

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It was also helped by the amazing support of Wiganers. All around the route, people were out of their houses to cheer us on, children were banging pots and pans (I overheard one weary mum tell her daughters “not all of the time” as they emerged from the house with the contents of the kitchen cupboards) and on the return leg, two girls were offering glasses of water. It was brilliant – I think Autumn sums it up perfectly in her race report, describing it as being “like a mini London Marathon but with more space to run and a lot more smiles”.

On the only section without many cheering crowds (around the DW stadium) there was a steel band AND a brass band (it’s official, any run of 5 miles or more, I want my own band, or at the very least a trombonist to follow me round). I love a band during a race, it makes me ridiculously happy and you can always see a spike in my pace when I pass one.

I knew that what went down, must come up and the return uphill leg was certainly my slowest mile, but I did surprise myself by plodding all the way to the top without walking. After this, there was another bit of an uphill into Mesnes Park and then a slightly frustrating but brilliant for being cheered zigzag back and forth around all of the paths of the park. At this point I realised that I have become one of those people who high-fives small children sticking out their hands (at one point I nearly high-fived a marshal before realising just in time that he was just pointing the way). I also got a personal cheer from my own support crew, which always puts a spring in my step. 

 
Coming up to the finish, I tried to put a bit more effort in (not that you can tell from the official photos) only to be suddenly confused by someone shouting my name. There at the finish was my friend and her bloke (who had run the race a good ten minutes faster than I had) cheering me on. I looked up at the clock and was gutted to see my time as being slower than at Manchester, I was certain that I’d run way better than that. God bless chip timing though – by the time I had collected my medal, goodie bag, banana and water, my phone had binged to tell me that my chip time was 1.03.25. My fastest 10k time since having Mini-Ginge! I genuinely hadn’t realised how far back I had been and how long it had taken me to cross the line.

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Would I recommend the Wigan 10k to a friend? Definitely, in fact I already have. The race was brilliantly organised, hugely well supported and blessed with perfect weather – I absolutely loved it and will definitely be back next year.

Marathon training: An update

So. How’s my marathon training going? Honestly? I have no idea. My original plan (increase my long run distance each week or so) was going ok, I was up to 12 miles, but there was a lot of walking and no consistency to my pace. I was also horribly aware that there was little to no consistency to my training and that I was entirely focused on “must do my long run”, but was neglecting my training during the week. And then I got talking to Kat at the Spitfire Scramble, who told me about her training plan which is flexible and designed to get you to train smarter, not just blindly claw out ever increasing distances. I trust Kat because she signs herself up for a ridiculous amount of ridiculously long races. Clearly she’s mad, but she must be doing something right with her training.

I ummed and ahhed about it. It sounded scary, but intriguing and after a couple of days, I gave up and asked Kat where I could find out more. She pointed in me in the direction of TrainAsOne, an app that is currently at the beta testing stage. I took a deep breath, sent off an email, signed myself up, filled in my training requirements and lo and behold I had a training plan. Admittedly it was a training plan that started on the wrong day because I got my days mixed up… Don’t worry, said Kat, it will just readjust itself. So I did my first assessment run, uploaded my TomTom Tim (have I mentioned that I’m calling him Tim? RIP Miles,  my sweet Garmin) and lo and behold, the whole thing had shuffled itself along and rejigged itself to accomdate my thickery.
It doesn't get much more hi-tech than this.It doesn’t get much more hi-tech than this.

There is lots of science and evidence behind the plan, but I do not know about this and quite frankly, I do not want to know about this. If I understand (or worse still, think that I understand) it, I will be tempted to try and tweak things because I know best. However,  I do not know best. I am an idiot. If I do not understand it (and basically treat the whole plan as if it some kind of witchcraft) I will follow it to the letter. This is mainly down to blind fear that if I do not follow it to the letter then it will all go wrong and I will find myself making an even bigger arse of myself in Dymchurch.

So how is my training going? Well I’ve alarmed myself by being able to go faster than I ever thought possible (in my assessment run, I did 2 miles at an average pace of 9.04 minutes/mile – to put this into context I am normally chuffed to mintballs by doing 10 minute miles). I’m definitely working harder (evidenced by the fact that I’m returning home sweatier and more red-faced than ever) and I’m going out 3 times a week (and wanting to go out more). My pace is consistent and I’m hitting most of my target paces there or thereabouts (weirdly, the hardest one is my very easy pace). And you know what, I’m enjoying it.

So I don’t understand what I’m doing, I’ve no idea how long the marathon will take me and I haven’t a clue if I’m progressing in the right direction. But I’m enjoying myself, so I must be doing something right.

Running birthday

It was my birthday a few weeks ago and it turned into a bit of a lovely running fest. I am now the proud owner of a running diary and a special pen in which to record my efforts (must try harder with my appalling handwriting) AND some sweatshop vouchers to spend on some proper kit (instead of scratting around the bargain bin at Sports Direct).

  
I have also been entered into two races, one real and one virtual.

  

And I treated myself to Tagnix id bracelet so that when I next fall over, I can be retrieved from the gutter and returned home safely. I had mentioned my birthday to the lovely people at Tagnix and when I got back from the Spitfire weekend, I had an extra little treat in with my order!

This was my second set of Event Clips that weekend (technically my third as I lost my first set within hours of being given them) as I sported by UK Fitness Bloggers set for the whole weekend and they are rather good. No more stabbing yourself with safety pins. Oh, that’s just me then…

All products mentioned in this post were either given to me by lovely people cos it was my birthday or were paid for with my own hard earned cash.

What did I learn at the Spitfire Scramble?

Well a week has now passed since I completed the Spitfire Scramble and I have just about stopped grinning. I may or may not have worn my medal for a bit yesterday (it needed taking upstairs, alright?) and I have gleefully devoured each of my teammates blogs (Alma, Andrew, Corey, Helen, Kat, Mollie and Sabine if you want to collect the whole set) as a lovely reminder of what a brilliant weekend it was. But naturally I am a reflector, so what have I learned from the weekend?

  1. If there is a Tesco nearby, you do not have to pack food as if there is an impending apocalypse (even if you have a gannet-like toddler in tow).
  2. Even if there are food vans, it is highly likely that you will want to eat something that is not served in a bun. Although there was the option of pasta or jacket potatoes (and I managed to keep missing the jackets) , the rotation of burger/sausage/bacon onna bun has its limits. When we arrived home, Ginge asked if we could have vegetables for tea. I have never known this to happen in eight years of marriage.
  3. I LOVE RUNNING IN THE DARK! I am not foolish enough to think that all night runs are like this one, but this one was pretty near perfect and I loved it. As a woman, I don’t often get chance to run alone in some dark woods and feel perfectly safe, so it’s great to be able to do this. I am toying with investing in a headtorch, but can’t help thinking that it would be wasted for training runs. My theory is that if I’m running somewhere dark enough to warrant a headtorch, I probably shouldn’t be running there alone (mainly because my mum will be cross). I am however frantically googling the National Trust Night Run (I promise that I’m not sponsored by them, but I enjoyed last year’s so much that I want everyone to do one. Having said that, if they do want to sponsor me, I’m well up for that…) and wondering if there are any more local events that I can brave in the dark.
  4. I suspect that I am capable of more than I have been doing. I wasn’t sure if I could do Spitfire, it turned out that I could. I wonder what else I can do….
  5. I shouldn’t freak myself out with pacing. During the night run, I barely looked at my pace. I felt strong and steady, whereas in the afternoon I was aware of going off a bit too fast, checking my watch and then having a walk. I have taken people’s advice and changed the display on my TomTom (who I am currently calling Tim) to show constantly show my time and distance, which means that I have to make a conscious decision to have my pace displayed. This seems to be a nice compromise as my new training efforts require me to have some awareness of my speed.
  6. I should probably invest in some nicer kit. Until not long ago, I was still running in the men’s T-shirts that I bought from Sports Direct when I was 6 months post-baby. They served a purpose, but they don’t do a great deal for your self-esteem. When I saw photos of myself in fluorescent pink and yellow, I barely recognised myself.
  7. I like being part of something. Maybe it’s harking back to my days in the Brownies, but I loved being part of a team for the weekend (and during all of the before and after stuff on facebook and twitter). Yes the prospect may have made me a bit anxious, but I wore my pink headband with pride!
  8. You can learn a huge amount from other runners. I am not really a kit junkie, so I didn’t really have much to contribute to conversations about watches, trackers, hydration packs etc, and I don’t really know what I’m doing, so I had nothing to add to discussions about nutrition, training and so on. However, I did get to run alongside some brilliant people and absorb their knowledge. A chance conversation with Kat has led me to embarking on a whole new training regime that I am finding terrifying and exciting in equal measure.
  9. Embrace the post-event massage. On the one hand, it did make my legs feel sore for 24 hours and I did end up with a little bit of fingertip bruising on my left thigh, on the other hand, it did make me feel like a Proper Runner Who is Hardcore.
  10. Do not agree to ANYTHING in the 24 hours post-race. Well maybe except doing it again next year. But do not get swept along into agreeing to sign up for something like the Trailblaster 12 when someone like Helen says “wouldn’t it be great to do this as a pair?”. Similarly, don’t get distracted by a lovely shiny Ultra medal while you’re trying to find a link on the race organiser’s website…