On Saturday May 20th, I raced for the first time in 2 years, 7 months, and 15 days. That's a long time between races, but it does kind of show how much I have been struggling and for how long. My last set of races was back-to-back half-marathon weekends (Ealing and Cardiff) in 2014. I really enjoy racing, so if I was loving running then I would have been racing in that time.
So, as you know, I signed up for the Royal Parks half marathon in October, and I decided I better get in gear for it, and what better way than to start with a race to just make sure I still had it in me! So, I picked the Nice Work London Spring 10km in Regent's Park. I've run this course a few times before - my 10km PB is on this course! It's three-laps around the top of Regent's Park and it's not very interesting (except when you run past the zoo at the end of each lap!).
It was hard. I struggled a lot, and there were times when I just wanted to stop and lay down on the grass and never run again. I've never struggled so much in a 10km race before, and I don't think I've ever had to push myself so hard before to find the joy. I ran with a friend, which I think kept me going a bit. But, I pushed hard the whole way around, and I'm really proud of that.
I have learned that I'm still not really that fit. I'm right at the start, again, and that's so frustrating. But it's also part of the learning curve that I have to go though in order to really recalibrate my expectations for myself, and in order to improve too. In that respect, this was a great experiance. I'm really proud of myself for doing it, for pushing so hard, for not expecting too much of myself in terms of time, but still putting the effort in. I think that's how I have to play training for a while - effort, not time.
And - I did manage a sprint finish!
Chip time (also, amazingly, Garmin time): 1:07:00
And this was it. All 50kms of the Royal Parks Ultra. My first ultra. In fact, my first marathon. Now I hurt, but particularly my left knee and hip, which I hurt yesterday. And that’s where my race went downhill.
The truth is that I didn’t start my race to plan, and that might have contributed to my eventual injury. I had decided to try and run even pace of 7:00-7:12 minute kilometers the whole race. Instead, my first 15 kms looked like this:
That’s not 7:00-7:12 minute kilometers.
Coupled with that, just before the 10km aid station I fell over and skinned both knees (this is from around 18km later, and after having washed the blood streaks off my legs.)
At that same point I looked like this:
And Mr. Neon said this on Facebook:
In truth (and hindsight) I didn’t feel that dodgy. In fact, I felt pretty good. This was around 28kms, I’d just seen my friend Jo, who was marshalling, I’d hit ‘home turf’ (that is, path I run regularly) and I was cruising. I was running steadily (though too fast, really). I’d listening to music for only 4kms (I was determined to only use the music when I needed a boost, and not just because.) So up until this point I don’t have too much to say.
You will notice, however, that I am eating a Calippo. That thing saved my life – the cool, icy, sugary goodness. There were a number of runners (both in and not in the race) who commented on it, mainly asking where I got it. It must have looked pretty funny, a lady running along eating an icypole. But there you go.
So, just after the 30km mark I slipped – I didn’t think too much of it, after my 10km tumble I’d slipped over another half a dozen times without hitting the deck again. Two steps later it dawned on me that I’d actually done something to myself. What I think happened is that when I tried to recover from the slip I landed weirdly on my left leg and twisted my knee. It hurt. I kept running, but with ever increasing walk breaks.
The big problem, I soon discovered, was not my knee but my hips. I’d changed my running style to compensate for my knee and my hips decided that they weren’t too happy about that.
About this point I met George, another Mind runner, who had also injured his knee. Together we ran, walked, hobbled, talked, and encouraged each other through the last 20ish kms.
I don’t remember too much about it, but I do remember running – suddenly light and full of energy – down towards the finish line, and crossing with George and a high-5.
So, that’s it. I finished my first marathon and my first ultra in one day. I hurt, I didn’t cry, and I’m super proud of my achievement. What’s next? A better time, a stronger run, more training.
It might sound silly but yesterday’s race has really inspired me to take my running more seriously. Perhaps join a gym, try and finally make it to Parkrun, do some speedwork, love my long runs.
Make the most of my running club.
And now, I want to run – because I love running. And, now I’m an ultra runner.
TR24 really kind of started at around 5:30am on Friday morning, when I got up to the squeaking Neon Toddler, deciding to give Mr. Neon the opportunity to have something of a pre-work sleep in as he would have to deal with all-toddler-all-the-time during the weekend. So, as I hadn’t packed yet for TR24 and she was in a super energetic mood, I decided she could help me pack before I took her off to nursery for the day. She was super excited about it. I don’t think she realised that she wasn’t coming along with whatever we we packing for.
So, toddler to nursery, and packing done, I headed into London to change over some sports bras that I’d bought at Runner’s Need Holborn the day before, but had bought the wrong size in a silly brain-mix up. That done, I headed to Senate House to run though some quick work with a friend and then to St. Pancras International to meet up with one of my TR24 team-mates, Kate. We headed to the train and finally settled into our motel before ducking out for some dinner (carbs with a side of carbs, please!) and then trying to get a good night sleep. This turned out to be a much better idea than camping on the Friday night.
So, early Saturday morning, our final team member, Ben, came by the motel to pick us up and head to the Catton Park. I was feeling pretty good at this stage, and just eager to get the race started!
So, we had a loose plan to get in and registered and then set up the campsite, but as it happened we just hung around the race village until the briefing, followed by the start. Over breakfast the three of us had made a bit of a loose plan which saw me taking on the first lap.
You can (just) see me in the back here, just off the start/finish straight:
But, by the time we hit the first section of proper trail, the track narrowed from a super-wide path to single-lane steep uphill track, and there was bottleneck galore the whole way up the climb (fine by me, we had 23 hours and 50-something minutes of this craziness to go at this stage!). The course was the hardest, craziest and funnest 10km loop I have ever run (can you tell I train in the concrete-wasteland of London?). Over the weekend it produced some of my slowest ever 10km times (and by a long, long way too!).
Lap one was fairly uneventful, just getting bearings on the course, chatting to other runners, feeling the running love, and getting acquainted with the heat. It was hot. I’m Australian and I thought running through that was hot. By the time I hit the (only) water station, just after 5km, I was ready for a hose down! Somehow I got it in my head during this lap that the first 5km were tough – they were, but that’s neither hear nor there – and the second 5km were easier. The second half was faster than the first on every lap I ran, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it being ‘easier.’ The last two kilometers, aside from the little but sharp and nastily placed hill just before the finish, were beautiful open grassland, flat or downhill, with some running though the campsite, so that was certainly easier than some of the other parts, but the most technical part of the trail – which we affectionately dubbed ‘the maze’ – also fell in the second 5km. Who knows, but I wish I had shaken this idea before I set out on my second lap.
My second lap was meant to be three laps together. I didn’t make it. I was having a glorious run until just after the 7km mark, when I came out of ‘the maze’ and was stopped dead by a pain that ripped across my chest. At first it was okay – very painful but only for a flash – and I picked up to run again. A few steps later I realised it was not okay, and what had started as a pain really had become an awful tightening around my chest. I ran, walked and hobbled the last three kilometers back to the start finish line, and was pulled by a marshal at the water station there who asked if I was okay and promptly made me sit down and got a medic. I was mostly worried about handing our team baton over, and finding either Kate or Ben, but that’s neither here nor there at this stage. I spent a while in the medical tent, and asked the question that I’m sure all runners ask: can I run again? Of course the paramedic said no. I wandered back towards camp to try and find Kate and Ben. They were obviously concerned, and Kate took the baton and started her two laps. Ben and I headed up and I got something to eat and just rested a bit. By the time Kate came in, two laps later, and Ben went out for three laps, I was feeling much better but just exhausted – still very tight across the chest, but the pain had dimmed to just an ache. I decided to try and get some sleep, which didn’t happen but at least I got some rest laying in the tent.
And, really, that’s when the rain started. And, it rained.
By the time I took over from Ben, at around 1am-ish, it was coming less heavily but it was… wet. I met another runner walking towards the start-line and hand-over area from camp and we trundled along together looking dejected and worn out. And we hadn’t started running yet! When Ben arrived, he looked shattered and I wasn’t really too excited about the lap. A lot of runners had come in saying it was terrible out there, but I chose to keep remembering the one woman who’d run up to her team mate, handed the baton over and yelled – arms raised in the air – ‘THAT WAS AWESOME!!!’
And, I will tell you – that woman was right.
That lap – in the rain, with terrible visibility, my head-torch bumping around, discovering puddles within other puddles (who knew that was possible!) was the single most fun I have ever had running in my entire life. That lap is what is mean to be a runner. That lap was a love letter to running.
It wasn’t fast. It wasn’t beautiful. It wasn’t graceful. It was just dirty, amazing, fun. And, I almost lost my shoe in a slurp of mud. We really reached the point where there was no point trying to dodge the puddles and mud-slides anymore – you just went with them!
But, if that was the best, my final lap was the worst. After I came in, Ben and I decided that what we needed was to sleep and the course was getting too churned up and, as all three of us have bigger things going on in the near future, we didn’t want to cause any injury. So we went to bed to re-convene at 5am.
After a bit of very-broken sleep, and the most glorious baked potato with beans I have ever had in my life, Kate set out for another lap and I went off to get changed (yes, if you were there, I was the person having breakfast dressed in their sleeping bag) and do a bit of cheering before I headed out again. Kate had twinged her leg a bit, and so was only going to walk the lap giving me around 2 hours to get organised. Ben found me standing on a corner of the course yelling encouragement to some very muddy looking runners shuffling past towards the end, so we went back to camp to get ready for our remaining laps.
Kate came in and I went out, hoping to not take any longer than the hour and a half night lap I’d done. Since the rain had stopped the course had gotten worse. It was just one massive churned up bog of a thing. This is one of the better sections:
I fell. And fell again. And I fell into a nettle bush. But, then I fell into a waist deep puddle. Also, it had gotten hot again. I’m not sure how I managed to get around this lap, but I did – and only about 15-20 minutes faster than I had hoped. This was my finish, so I did a bit of a victory arm-pump though the finish banner, and then a heel-click before handing the baton over. Ben set out for his final lap and Kate and I got some lunch and sat down by the finish to cheer. Time was ticking away and as the clock moved from 23:59:59 to 0:00:00 there was a big cheer. We had done it! 24 hours of running down! A few minutes later, Ben came though the finish and we got to celebrate together!
We were wet and muddy, but happy. I didn’t reach my goal of 5-7 laps. In fact, in the end, I was never going to reach it – between the time I spent in the medical tent and the conditions, I’m not sure I could have pushed out any more. So, I ended up with 4 laps and we had a team total of 130kms! So yeah, I’m pretty proud of what everyone did, and I’m proud of what I did. Bring on next year!
Yesterday some 18,500 runners descended on the O2 arena in North Greenwich, along with scores of supporters, charity workers, race volunteers, DJs and interested (or otherwise) local residents for the Run To The Beat half marathon. Billed as ‘London’s music half marathon’ the course weaved around (and up and down) Greenwich, taking in residential streets, buses royal artillery grounds, the observatory and the beautiful Greenwich royal gardens along with 13 or so music stages dotted around the course. I ran with headphones on, so I didn’t really hear too much of what was on offer, but I imagine the effect would have been a little like hearing a snippet of a song every mile or so.
The course itself was nothing amazing. In fact, parts of it were exceptionally boring and I ran down the kilometers thinking about the suitability of certain areas in Greenwich to a certain friend who is considering buying a house there in the new year (shame I can’t really remember where the good parts were!). Having said that, I think half or full marathons that have no boring parts at all are probably few and far between. There was one hill pretty much half way that I had heard a lot of bad things about. I tried, honestly, not to demonise this hill in my mind. I really thought I was going to get there and it was going to hurt ten time more than it should because I had really built it up. In the end the opposite happened, we got to the hill and I thought, ‘Is this it?’ – I expected it to keep going around the corner but it kind of just flattened out and that was it. No big deal.
So, here’s my race:
I had three time goals in mind when I started. Gold was sub-2:15, silver was sub-2:20 and bronze was sub-2:30. I knew right away that I wasn’t near running sub-2:15, so I am really happy to have run 2:17 on the nose. Actually, my Garmin measured 2:16:58 so I think a two-second difference is pretty accurate! What I’m most happy about, however, comes when you compare my graph with that of the overall average:
See the difference? That’s right: I ran my fastest at the end of the race! Although, my pace was fairly consistent the whole run, hovering between 6:10 and 6:30, with one or two anomalous instances, mainly from having to walk though water-stations because I (like many others, I suspect) have not yet mastered the running-while-drinking-from-a-cup. You can see that my average pace is 6:23 per kilometer, and my pace hovers fairly well around there.
But the point is: I ran a negative split. And that’s what matters (to me, anyway)! I was overtaken by a lot of people who jumped out of the gate, but you can see from the average that most people ran their fastest at the start. Not that I’ll ever be close to claiming one, but world records are beaten with negative splits!
Overall, I’m really happy. I felt pretty good the whole way around with my predictable walls at around 3km and around 8km. I hit another snag around 18km when suddenly 3 kilometers felt like an age of running, but that soon cleared up and I got through pretty easily. Another thing I can take away is that I now know that I can get into a nice rhythm and maintain the pace even when I feel as though I am struggling – maybe that signifies that my wall is much more mental than physical (but, aren’t they all really?) I sprinted though the finish and, around fifteen minutes later when I finally got to see Mr. Neon and baby Neon I ran over to them, and a little later ran a few circles around Mr. Neon just being excited! He was less than excited about how much I still had left to go.
But, that’s not to say that I think I could have pushed more during the race. I really don’t think I could have – but I did feel as though I could have kept going. I know that probably makes no sense, but it made perfect sense to my body at the time. I think it certainly bodes well for next April’s marathon, and any future distance races I will do.
So, here’s the final result!