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.

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Liverpool Spring 10k

Today I ran the Liverpool Spring 10k. I decided to run this at about 8.30 this morning (about half an hour before we’d planned to leave) after a week of umming and ahhing. My running hasn’t been particularly consistent recently – the cold that stalked me in the run up to Blackpool decided to hang around for a couple more weeks and although I’ve now hit the second trimester when I should be blooming and full of energy, I’m still blooming tired at times. The runs that I’ve done have been enjoyable, but harder work than ever. Having said all that, I know what I’m like and if I’d weaselled out of it and didn’t finished what I’d started I would have been sulky and miserable all day.

We set off and halfway down the M6 I realised that I’d forgotten my Garmin (which had been specially charged the night before). Slightly further down the M6 I realised that I’d forgotten my shuffle. By the time we reached Sephton Park and I totted up everything I’d forgotten, I realised that I was quite pleased that I had managed to be fully dressed. We timed our arrival well for the queue for the loos and had time for a quick hello with Runningman856 before I headed off to the start line and Ginge headed off to find food (unfortunately for Ginge, my last minute decision meant that he was ripped from his bed with little or no warning. Sorry Ginge).

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I had no plan for the race other than getting round in one piece. I had no Garmin so I had no idea what pace I was running and I had no shuffle so I had nothing to distract me. I did have a bottle of water and my camera though, both of which turned out to be quite essential. Even when I’m well hydrated, I’m finding that I’m quite thirsty at the start of a run and today was unexpectedly warm. Having been promised overcast and cool, the sun was shining and I set off wondering if Hels (who has a knack of bringing sunshine and high temperatures to every race she attends) had snuck up North.

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I’m rubbish at running in the warm at the best of times and was sensible enough to realise that today was a day to just take it easy and enjoy myself. Which is just what I did.

I had time to take in the scenery and watch a small dog debate the wisdom of chasing a large football into a river (sadly I missed the final outcome).

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I smiled and “thank you-ed” all of the lovely marshalls who lined the course cheering us on.

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I didn’t feel my heart sink as I was overtaken by the front-running gazelles peeling off to the finish line as I hit the 5k mark, instead I let the cheers that were clearly not meant for me carry me through. I did a lot of run/walking and didn’t stress about it. I enjoyed a short-lived second wind at the 6k mark.

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I didn’t worry that I didn’t have a cap for my water bottle, but I did take the opportunity to decant my water station bottle into the bottle I had set off with.

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I bounced past the official drummers and the chap who was beating out some skillful tunes on what looked like pots and pans…

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I also enjoyed spotting Ginge as he popped up unexpectedly around the course.

If you look closely, you can see a blurry figure lounging in the tree like an over-grown squirred. This is Ginge.

If you look closely, you can see a blurry figure lounging in a tree like an over-grown squirrel. This is Ginge.

The race was organised by the same people as last year’s Port Sunlight 10k which I loved and I had high expectations about the organisation of the race. I wasn’t disappointed. Everything ran like clockwork, there were pens based on finishing time, the course was well signposted and well marshalled, my time was texted to me within minutes of crossing the finish and (probably most importantly) there the bling was splendid. So splendid that I had the back engraved to mark my last race until bump becomes baby. There’s actually quite a nice symmetry to today. A few years ago, when I wasn’t bothered about racing (basically before I discovered my inner Muttley) I ran the Liverpool Women’s 10k as my first ever race and today’s race has replaced the Women’s 10k in the Merseyside race calendar.

So this is it for me and racing for a bit, I’ve finished today with a few more aches and pains than I would usually have after a 10k and I think my ligaments are telling me that I should keep the distance down from now on. From this point on, I will run my races vicariously on twitter, plot my comeback for 2014 and cast longing looks at medal monkey and his hoard of bling.

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Blackpool Half – 13 miles, 14 weeks

Whilst I like a half marathon, they don’t like me. Inevitably, something interferes with my training. Folkestone 2011? My ITB decided to play up. Royal Parks 2012? Dodgy back. Blackpool 2013? Found out that I’m pregnant.

Yup. It turns out that there were actually two of us completing the last couple of weeks of Janathon (I wonder if this gets me restrospective bonus points on the table of death?) and whilst I’ve been running (and have reacquainted myself with the gym) since getting the blessing off the midwife, I have been doing what feels comfortable rather than Serious Training (not that I ever do that much of that).

I’ve had races booked in since January (the moral of this story, don’t try to plan ahead – the gods will mock you) and have done two of the 10k’s that I had planned, but Blackpool was a different matter. I was inspired by the woman who set off (and I suspect finished) in front of me at the Royal Parks Half wearing a five months baby on board sign, but could I do the same? I did what has become my standard research procedure (googling whatever I want to know about + pregnant…) mostly to find uber-fit running moms (they were mostly American) who looked slimmer at 20 weeks pregnant than I did before I was pregnant. This did not fill me full of confidence.

The Monday before race day, I started coming down with a bit of a snuffle. As the week went on, I became more and more snot-filled before it moved on to my chest and by Friday, I was doubting whether I would even make it to the start line. When I packed my bag on Saturday I was feeling better but still I packed for running and not running (just in case). After I checked in at the incredibly lovely and friendly New Bond Hotel, I met up with Ian aka runningman856 (who was my designated responsible adult), collected our race numbers, went for a pint (of blackcurrant in my case) and then went carb-loading at a rather nice little Thai restaurant (where I think the chillis helped clear my lurgy).

I went to bed with everything crossed that I would wake up feeling well enough to run.

Sunday morning came, I took a deep breath…and didn’t cough, rattle or wheeze. I could breathe and felt as human as you can do at half six in the morning when you know there’s a 13 mile run in the offing. After collecting a somewhat grumpy Ian from his hotel (apparently someone didn’t have a good a night’s sleep as I did…), we mooched down the front to meet Carla*(aka Fortnight Flo) who had ventured up north with her somewhat bonkers mates from Stopsley Striders. I had pre-warned Carla about me having a bun in the oven and she had very kindly offered to run with me doing 11.30/12 minute miles. Perfect.

There was a somewhat chaotic start to the race and Miles didn’t manage to get a signal until about a third of a mile into the race, but it wasn’t long until we were heading south down the promenade, inhaling the smell of doughnuts, eyeing up the roller coasters and pondering on the health and safety issues involved with staging burlesque on ice. I’m not used to running with company anymore, but running with Carla and Christa was an absolute joy and I don’t think I stopped grinning for at least the first five miles (their performance of Staying Alive as we ran past a giant glitterball was simply amazing).

The route is traffic-free and took us along either on the closed prom or the pedestrian-only sea front. The sea front nearly did for me. At first, it’s very nice running right beside the sea, but soon the endless sight of sea-to-the-left, sea-wall-to-the-right became somewhat dull. I say somewhat dull, if it wasn’t for Carla’s company and encouragement, I think I would have found a reason to give up at this point. Luckily, the turn-around took us back up into civilisation and gave us plenty of landmarks to keep us going. When we passed the hotel where I stay during Janathon, I knew that I really was on the home stretch and convinced myself that because I had run the route before, I could certainly do it again (although I haven’t usually run 10 miles when I set off from there).

Soon we were passing North Pier and the tower was looming closer into view. I’d already clocked the 12 mile marker the day before and knew exactly which shop it was in front of – never in my life have I been so pleased to see a Poundland… By this time, it was midday and the prom was much more filled with holiday makers and bleary-eyed stag do’s (some of who gave encouraging cheers and applause to the idiot runners) and I found it much easier than the previous quiet stretch. Coming into Bloomfield Road for a stadium finish, I couldn’t see Carla for dust as she pulled an amazing sprint-finish out of the bag and I came in slighty behind her in a not too shabby 2 hours 39 minutes 05 seconds on my chip time (about ten minutes slower than my previous half results).

Ian did his duty by handing me my bottle of chocolate milk and I collected my bling and goodie bag, before we collapsed onto the refreshingly cold concrete floor (to get up, I had to use the technique that I used to teach to older people who had fallen…). My ankles and right hip were complaining bitterly yesterday afternoon and I swore every time I had to go up or down a kerb (luckily this has now passed and I have been left with the normal post-race sore quads).

I’d stuck to my my basic rules – stay hydrated (carrying water between stations rather than taking a swig and chucking the bottle away), listen to my body (and hearing only the usual whinging from it) and don’t do anything bloody stupid. Could I have done it without the support that I had from Ginge (whose encouragement gave me the confidence to even consider the whole enterprise) and my on the day Athoner friends? Probably not. I really can’t say enough about how Carla’s pacing and company lifted me through the race – I would highly recommend her if anyone needs a running buddy!

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I am also reassured that by the end of Sunday afternoon, I was already thinking about when I might do it all again – Autumn half in 2014 anyone?

(*Carla’s race review is here)

Bling ahoy! Mad Dog 10k – Southport

It was cold, it was wet, it was race day. With Ginge at work, it was up to mum to stand in as support crew (in charge of driving, photography and post-race hugs) and we set off to Southport in plenty of time. The council had changed parking arrangements this year and there was a park and ride set up to get us to the start line. Unfortunately, it turns out that the council had thought that one man would be enough to collect the parking charge from a thousand people… It turns out that it wasn’t and this led to a delay in people getting to the race and a half hour delay to the start time. I’ve just read on facebook that the race organiser contacted the car park man and told him to let everyone in and he would cover the cost. This sums up the kind of race this is.

It’s twice been voted the best 10k in the country by Runners World and I have to say that it’s a well deserved accolade. Starting from a school, there were warm corridors to take shelter in, indoor loos (and plentiful portaloos outside), a clockwork-like t-shirt collection and nice volunteers who let mum have a carrier bag to keep all my stuff in. There were loads of food vans (which smelled amazing) and a man with a megaphone keeping everyone updated on the delay.

Huddling at the start line for warmth, the Mad Dog theme was unmissable on the various fluorescent signs and with the sound of ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ ringing in our ears (well if getting away from that isn’t going to make you run faster I don’t know what would) we were off.

I set off by following the Grim Reaper  (who incidentally was accompanied by Tigger, which has to be the best his-and-hers fancy dress combo ever) until I overtook Death around the 2k mark. This point was also marked by a team of drummers who could be heard for about a kilometre either side of them (and there’s nothing like drummers to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step).

At 4k I high-fived Elvis.

Well-manned drinks stations between 5 and 6k, then ‘It’s raining men’ blasting out from route-side speakers, a fabulous marshal telling us we were on our way home, the sound of drummers getting louder as we reached 8k and then it was 9k and the end was in sight. After crossing the line we were handed a very weighty goody bag, fruit and more water if needed. Oh, and my chip time was texted to me by the time I found mum (less than five minutes after finishing. All this and I beat Death.

The support along the route was amazing, from the marshalls to the cadets to the staff from Chicquitos huddled under a gazebo, it was never-ending. Add to this the fact that there seemed to be something going on around every corner and this race passed quicker than any I have done.

And there’s also bespoke bling…

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And the goody bag was heavy for a reason…

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And there was a rather special technical t-shirt…

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Fingers crossed I’ll be running with the pack again next year.

Thank you to mum for being brilliant support, taking a photo of me where I look like I am actually running and bringing a flask of tea and a box of biscuits. She has made a rod for her own back with this one…

Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon

Well I don’t know what all the fuss was about…

It turned out that the only thing that I had forgotten was my breakfast, a bit of an annoyance but no major worry. 6.30 saw me peeling the lid off an individual plastic pot of muesli served with milk kept cold on the window ledge overnight and eaten with a plastic teaspoon. I bet Radcliffe never has to do that. The other unforeseen issue was the cold that had been lurking in the wings all week decided that Saturday was the day to take centre stage. I dealt with this by hoovering up ginger, chilli, decongestants, paracetamol and orange juice, and generally refusing to accept the inevitable. It seemed to work and I was pleased to be able breathe on race day.*

A beautiful blue sky of a day

Pre-race there was time to meet up with the lovely Rachel (of Fairweather Runner fame) who was taking the somewhat bonkers step of treating the race as a marathon training run by running to and from Hyde Park as well as running the race itself. We parted company at the colour-coded start pens and Ginge disappeared to take up his first cheerleading post. The start of races always makes me a bit emotional. I think it’s a combination of charity runners (especially those with personal stories pinned to them), masses of people and adrenaline that does it, but I always feel myself welling up. If there was a brass band playing as well then I would never make it to the start line.

Park. Trees, grass, parky stuff.

Other than trying not bursting into tears,  I never know what to do before a race, I don’t stretch or do any kind of lucky ritual, instead settling for  earwigging on other people’s conversations, being generally nosy and getting into a swearing through gritted teeth argument with Miles. Apparently being in the country’s capital was too challenging for his little satellite link up and we had to endure three false starts and one “Are you indoors?” conversation before he found a signal.

Releasing more than 12000 runners over the start line was a relatively smooth process taking the yellow pen 14 minutes to cross the start (oh the magic of chip timing). I’d been warned to expect a bit of congestion at the start and the end of the race, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much room I had and how little people-dodging I had to do (although in an uncharacteristic bit of pushiness, I was quite near the front of the pen). I tried not to set off too fast and to find my own pace; I think I managed it despite feeling like I was being overtaken by everyone in the world and Miles telling me that my pace was somewhere been 7min/mile and 45min/mile, neither of which seemed quite right.

Park related puns at the mile markers. Each one was a welcome sight.

Buoyed by random happy tunes on shuffle, the landmarks of London and the promise of Ginge at selected vantage points, I felt happy and relaxed for the first 10 miles. Admittedly my pace slipped as the race went on, but I didn’t beat myself up about it. At four miles I was overtaken by Puff the Magic Dragon (who turns out to be a producer from This Morning) running for Asthma UK. Around 8 miles I was at the top of a slope when I saw the dragon in the distance (a seven foot lime green dragon is a bit hard to miss) and I’m not proud to admit that the thought “You’re mine dinosaur, mine” (I have only recently confirmed his dragony credentials) passed through my addled brain. I’m not proud to admit that I put a fair bit of energy into catching him up and overtaking him. I’m also not too proud to admit that I only managed this because the poor man was dressed as a seven foot lime green dinosaur (I overheard a small child asking “daddy, why is the dragon walking?”, “I think he’s a bit hot” came the reply). I’m not proud of any of this, but we take motivation wherever we can find it.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am one of those two leggy girls in the tiny shorts.
For those you who do know me, shush…

The last three miles were hard work. By this point, you’ve long left the views of the Eye and Westminster, and are on the second lap of the parks. Now I like a good park and the autumnal scenery was lovely (even in my thirties I can get giddy at the sight of conkers), but it was hard work and a few brief walks crept in so that I could gather my thoughts and refresh my legs. I’m pleased to report that they were gathered and refreshed enough to manage a proper running finish, only slowing down to grab my medal off one of the very smiley volunteers.

Proudly sporting my medal (alright, it didn’t come off for the rest of the day) I was reunited with Ginge and Hels for a brew and some restorative flapjack before we went out for beer and pizza later in the afternoon. My finish time was only 4 minutes faster than Folkestone (when I walked a lot more and felt dreadful from 6 miles onward) which in a way is a bit disappointing, but given the lack of consistency in my training it actually left me feeling quite chuffed that I could manage this with not very much practise.

Our allocated meeting point was K-P because that stood for Knitting Penguin. Obviously.

This was the biggest race that I have done and yet I enjoyed it immensely. Because of the crowds, I was never on my own or feeling as if I was watching everyone disappear into the distance. Now, I don’t know if this is the same with every big race, or if the Royal Parks is particularly well organised but it’s certainly reduced my nerves for another one. The only thing that  I was slightly miffed to discover that feeling despite feeling (a) happy and (b) as if I was running well, on my official photos I look (a) grumpy and (b) as if I was just ambling down to the corner shop. I really wish race photos would stop dismantling my mental image of myself as a runner, instead presenting so-called photographic evidence that suggests the complete opposite.

Would I do it again? Definitely. Would I recommend it to a friend? Definitely (unless them entering was going to nick my place). I’ve already registered my interest in next year and will be taking another punt in the ballot, but in the meantime….

*(In the end I was shamed by the sight of a “Baby on Board” sign on the back of a runner in front of me – if she could run with a 5 month bun in the oven, I could struggle through with a bit of phlegm