Sunday, 8 October 2017

Royal Parks Half

This race defies my law of threes.  In general I have found that revisiting any race for a third time greatly reduces my enjoyment of the event.  This has happened at several races - I won't name them here as it isn't the race organisers' fault it is just one of those things.  But the Royal Parks Half defies this rule.  I've run it every year since it was my first half marathon back in 2011 and have loved it every year.

This year I was approaching it with trepidation.  I have something wrong with my leg.  I'm not sure what.  It just fails to work properly sometimes, normally after I have been sitting down for a while.  The other evening I stood up and could not walk across the sitting room - I think it may be a trapped nerve and I will need to get it sorted at some point soon.  This, added to my general lack of fitness, meant that I didn't hold out much hope for this race.  But deferrals aren't possible and the ballot is quite hard to get into so I thought that I might as well pitch up.  And it was the 10th anniversary of this race.

So, up early to get a lift into London with Husbando.  We left the house at 4.45am, which left plenty of time for a second breakfast when we got into London, plenty of time for pre race faffing around before heading to Hyde Park.  This race has grown a lot since I first ran it and there were long queues for loos and the baggage drop, but I had loads of time.  I had enough time to buy a packet of Shot Blocks to replace the ones I'd left on the kitchen table.  I was looking around for familiar faces.  I didn't see anyone I knew - which is quite unusual!  I didn't even spot the one person I knew who was running the race.

I made my way to my starting pen with a target of 2hrs in my mind.  Scarily near the front.  Just the super fast runners in the tiny pen in front of us.  This may not have been the wisest idea in terms of race strategy - but there wasn't much I could really do about that!  We set off a couple of minutes after 9am - just as the Sun decided to poke out from the clouds.

About 30 seconds later I needed the loo!  I tried to convince myself that it was psychological - because I never need to pee during races - and ran past the first set of loos.  By the time I got to Buckingham Palace I knew that I really did need a wee, thankfully there were loos at the Horseguards end of Birdcage walk!  It was a double blessing, because that minute meant I was with slightly slower runners and was not quite so tempted to try to keep pace with them.

The route took us down Whitehall, as we drew level with Downing Street there was a sign saying 'U-turn ahead.'  It is a measure of the youth of all those around me that I had to explain the irony of this! It was a very much younger crowd than I encounter at most races!   And it was a crowd!  It was always busy but most of the runners were good natured and there was very little jostling.   After a quick jog around the Alwych, Trafalgar Square and up Pall Mall we were back in Hyde Park.  The wall of noise here was phenomenal!  This is always a well supported section of the race, but it was even louder than normal, and the support in the park was much better than in previous years where there has been a dead zone around the 11 mile point.  The support more than mitigated the aggravation caused by people trying to cross the path of the runners with toddlers, buggies, dogs etc.

If I wanted to hit my 2hr target I had to run 9 minute miles.  I was doing that. In fact I was doing a bit better than that, but my goodness it was really hard work.  I haven't run many races entirely on 'road' for a long time, and my undertrained legs really felt the impact.  I think I worked harder for this race than I have in any race in a very long time.  The course is pretty flat, but there were a few welcome downhills, which means there must have been corresponding uphills but I didn't notice those!  Unusually for me I ran pretty consistently - and was overtaking people in the second half who had over taken me in the early stages.  Nevertheless,  I was really glad to turn the final corner and run past the Albert Memorial towards the finish line.

My finish time is over 10 minutes slower than my PB, but I don't think my legs could have taken me any faster today.  My Garmin tells me that my recovery time is 67hours!  I started this recovery after I had collected my bag from the bag tent... I was waiting for a friend who had started in a later pen, so I took advantage of the sunny weather, plonked my back pack on the ground to use as a pillow and had a snooze in the sunshine before we met up for a well earned lunch and a glass of wine.   The lovely waiter gave us free coffees!

I've already registered my interest for next year's race....



Sunday, 1 October 2017

Too much trail for road shoes, too much road for trail shoes!

We had nothing booked this weekend.  I'd like to say it was because I am taking the taper for the Royal Parks Half seriously but in reality it is because I just hadn't got around to thinking about races for the autumn!  Part way through last week a friend told me that Basingstoke Half Marathon was on today and that it was possible to sign up on the day.  I was tempted.  But, getting there and back again would be a pain (they close the road from our house to Basingstoke) and the route is reputed to be very hilly (853ft of elevation in 13.1 miles).  I also know that the minute you stick a race number on my shirt I tend to get a bit competitive - especially if it is a road race.   I could happily run my 1hr 31 min training run on my own.

And then... I saw on Facebook that the Alton 10k Downland Challenge was on today.   Again, we could enter on the day and the start line was a 10 minute drive from our front door.  OK, so it was only 10k, and I needed to run for an hour and a half, but that meant I could just carry on after the finish.  Husbando was up for it too, as were several people we know from the children's school.

We left the house at 9.40am for a race that started at 10.30am - bliss!  Parking was easy and well signposted, signing up for the race was hassle free and we got to watch the children's races while we were waiting to start our race.  The Mayor blew the horn to start the race on the dot of 10.30 and we were off, across the park and then onto the pavement for the first 2k through Holybourne before turning off onto tracks across the Bonham Estate.  A lot of these tracks were tarmac - which was hard going in trail shoes, a steady drag up to 2 miles followed by a brief respite of gentle downhill slopes.  We were then off the roads and onto the trails, the muddy trails!

I do love a bit of trail running, and was just thinking 'It has been a long time since I've fallen over while running down muddy hills!' when I did just that!  No serious damage was done - just rather a lot of mud and a rather more cautious approach for the rest of the race, which was probably just as well - I'd gone off a bit faster than I'd wanted to at the start and needed to be a bit mindful of the extra time I'd need to run after the race.

At about 8km we were back on the road again, I had no goal for this race because I hadn't done any research into how hilly/muddy it would be, but at this point I realised that I'd have to get my skates on if I wanted to finish in under an hour.  I picked up my pace a little and started picking off runners.  The last section of the race was one of those soul destroying circuits of a park (Anstey Park) where you can see the finish line but you have to run all the way around the park, past all the children playing rugby, over long, muddy grass (and I am always watchful for doggy land mines!) until, eventually, you get to the finish.  I overtook 5 or 6 people in the park, I was on a mission for my sub 60!  I made it, just, crossing the line in 59:56!

A brief stop to drink some water, collect my medal and goodie bag (a lovely 'Alton Runners' buff and some vouchers that are actually useful!) and then I was off for another 30 minutes of running around Alton.  You can see the video of the run here - I quite like these 'Relive' videos as it helps me to work out where I have actually been!

The race was well organised, low key and enjoyable.  A lovely opportunity to run on land that is normally not open to the public.  The hills were challenging - I may have found the Basingstoke Half less taxing as at least they were on roads!  In 6.2 miles we clocked up 538 ft of elevation gain, that's 94ft for every mile as opposed to 65ft for every mile at Basingstoke - which makes a bit of a nonsense of me choosing to do an 'easier' route!  Still I am glad to have supported a local race and it was great to bump into some friends I haven't seen for a wee while.

Next Sunday is the Royal Parks Half Marathon.  The only race I have done repeatedly and still enjoyed it as much each time as the first time.  It is where I have my half marathon PB (1hr 43mins), that PB is not under threat this year!  I've been lucky enough to get a ballot place for the last 2 years, the race is massively oversubscribed, not quite on a London Marathon scale but not far off and, while charity places are always available, it is lovely to be able to just turn up and run without having to struggle to get sponsorship.


Sunday, 10 September 2017

Woodland Way

Embracing my TrainAsOne training programme did wonders for encouraging me to get out and run again.  I loved the variety - it got me out of the routine I had been in for a while and made me run honestly, by which I mean that I ran the distance the programme told me to run without stopping, rather than making excuses to stop and take photos!

I am not nearly back to where I was before I went away. In my mind I didn't need to worry as I hadn't entered any races until mid October... so it was something of a shock when a friend pointed out that I had entered an On The Whistle event.  In fact, on checking, it transpired that I had been so keen to do the Woodland Way Challenge that I had entered twice.  This was soon rectified - one of the entries was changed to a later event, and I didn't think much more about it.

I love On The Whistle events and not just because I love the people behind the name!  The events are small, low key and loads of my running family take part.  The out and back or looping nature means that you get to see people again and again - so if you don't know anyone at the start you will by the finish.

But today I wasn't feeling the love for going out and running 'a race.'  Technically this wasn't a race - it was a six hour challenge, I only needed to complete one of the 3.8 mile laps to get a medal, but at every other On The Whistle event I had clocked up at least a marathon distance.  I didn't think I could  run a marathon - not when I hadn't run more than 9.25 miles since Endure 24 back in early June.  I wondered if I could get my mum to write a note to say I was off PE - heck - I was pretty sure I could forge her signature.  I decided that I would run a half marathon, then come home and make some jam.  In a choice between lesson planning and jam making it is nearly always jam that wins!

Arriving at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park I realised that although I knew a lot of people, two of the On The Whistle regulars whose company I really enjoy were not there.  I don't see them often as they live the other side of the county - but we've nattered our way through many a mile.  To be honest, due to his speed I normally have to resort to throwing insults at RH as he passes me, but poor PJ is probably sick of my company after running with me at Endure24!    We assembled and waited for the whistle.

The first 2/3rds of a mile is uphill.  Not hugely steep, but nowhere near flat.  I made a decision that I would run it at least once without stopping or walking - so off I went.  It hasn't got any flatter since last year!  We were all pretty bunched up at the start but the hill soon ensured that we spread out a bit!  The route was lollipop shaped, along gravel and chalk paths through the woodland areas of QECP, the sun was shining and I should have been having a great time.  But it was such hard work.

During my first lap I was thrilled to see PJ running towards me.  He wasn't taking part in the event, but was running around the route just to check it was properly marked before going to spend the rest of the day doing something more constructive.  We stopped and had a bit of a chat.  When I shouted that 'seeing him had made my day' I wasn't lying.

Halfway through the second lap I felt a blister develop on my left foot.  I've never really been prone to running blisters.  I've had awful blisters from silly high heeled shoes - but not from trainers.  At the end of the lap I changed my trainers and taped up the blister, but it was still rather painful to run on.  I set off up the hill adopting a walk 40 run 50 strides strategy.  I caught up with a few runners this way, but felt very sorry for the poor person behind me who kept almost catching me up when I was walking, only for me to pull away as I started running.  I can't count and talk at the same time - so couldn't explain that I wasn't really waiting for her to be on my shoulder just to start running!

Mid way through lap 3 (fuelled by Haribos, fudge and cocktail sausages no doubt) I began to think I could probably run the 7 laps needed for a marathon.  Heck, I could probably walk a couple of laps and still make it in under 6hrs.  Thankfully it then began to rain and I decided running in the rain for 3+ more hours was not fun.  The rain didn't last long, but my mind was made up.  I had other things to do, and I wasn't so desperate to run a marathon that I was going to spend over 6hrs doing it on untrained legs.  I wanted to be able to walk tomorrow - meeting new parents at school while looking as though I need a walking stick is not likely to inspire confidence.  I was doing 4 laps and that was that!

Once that decision was made it seemed much easier.  I could put a bit of effort in as I wouldn't be running for too much longer.  The last downhill was glorious!  My legs weren't shredded the way they would be at the end of a marathon or an ultra and I could really run down to the finish.  I rang the bell and finished the race - clocking up 15.5 miles.  I hung around for a while to stuff my face with more Haribos and see some friends finish/wish them well as they continued on for another 3+hrs.

I came home and made plum jam!

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Back to school resolutions

Back to school takes a while in this house.  We are 'multi schooled,' even if we had just one child we would have to tie up two school calendars as I can't see me teaching my own child, but currently we have four different schools to consider.  Five educational establishments if you consider the eldest at university - just as well my older daughter is taking a gap year, we won't have to contend with six different places until next year!   So the back to school madness started on Monday, but doesn't finish until tomorrow.  I'm not 100% sure when the university student goes back... but he is, at least in the right city!

This year has seen my youngest start secondary school.  She had her first day today and seems very happy.  For the first time ever, I am the last one to go back to work.  This meant that I could go with her and watch her march off, heavily laden with her back pack and PE kit, to embark on the next stage of her life.  I also got to pick up a very happy girl who had made new friends and is excited about going back tomorrow.  It hasn't been a big change for her - she has been at the same school since she was 2yrs and 4mths old, but there have been just enough differences to make it an occasion.

It has been lovely to be at home when they get home from school and to talk about their day and their homework.  It has also been lovely to be at home with an ever reducing number of people demanding lifts and snacks.

Tonight the two youngest were sitting at the kitchen table and one of them said 'Oh no - Mum's going back to work tomorrow!' and the other replied 'She'll be all stressy and tired in the evenings.'  I nearly cried.  I wanted to cry, I wanted to say 'I won't go back, I'll stay home.'  There is certainly enough to keep me occupied around the house and garden there, but I like my job.

I love my job.  I always knew that I would miss some things that my children did.  Sometimes a parents' evening for my students would clash with a school play at one of my children's schools.  Sometimes I'd end up sitting at a parents' evening, trying to remain resolutely positive and upbeat about my students' performance while worrying about what my children's teachers were telling Husband about them at their parent - teacher review....

I love my job.  But I wish it didn't take over so much of my life.  Maybe part time teaching is the long term solution, but at the moment finances dictate that we beed both the incomes.  So my resolution this school year is to work harder on getting the work-life balance right.  I will try to work more efficiently at school and not bring as much work home with me.  But more importantly I need to learn to leave emotional load at work.

It is either that or win the lottery.....

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Amsterdam.

Beer for breakfast
 While I was in Africa, Husbando and I discussed going away for a few days when I got back.  Much debate followed.  He mentioned Tromso, I fancied Snowdonia then Husbando countered with Amsterdam.  Amsterdam came with the added appeal of a book market on Fridays so that he could possibly do some business.  So flights and a hotel were booked, a guide book was bought (and swiftly misplaced) and we sat back and waited.

We'd booked to stay for 2 nights, but we aimed to make the most of our time by arriving early and leaving late.  This meant a 2.30am alarm call so that we could make a 6am flight and arrived at Schiphol at about 8am.  After checking in at the Amsterdam Hilton (that's right the one where John and Yoko stayed in bed for a week - you can stay in their room and even book it for wedding ceremonies) and grabbing a quick breakfast in the Executive Lounge we hit the internet and booked our first trip - because a tour round a brewery is what everyone needs at 9.30am on a Wednesday morning.  

Now I have to admit that I somehow always thought that Heineken was a German beer.  I have no idea why I thought that, but it may have had something to do with their advertising campaigns in the 1980s.  I was happy to be educated and to get to drink beer on the stunning roof terrace overlooking Amsterdam.  One of the things we could just about spy, and had passed on our way to the brewery, was a major engineering project - in need of more city centre parking they have decided to drain part of one of the canals and build a 2 story carpark underneath it before replacing the water.

The first afternoon saw us traipsing around the Rijksmuseum - Husbando loved it, I thought it was OK, but then I am the sort of philistine who wanders around the National Portrait Gallery trying to work out which modern day celebrities the portraits most closely resemble.  In the evening we split up.  Husbando took himself off to the casino and I went to the Anne Frank House.  I am probably the only person on the planet who hasn't read the diary, and there were bits of her story of which I was unaware.  I had no idea that her father had survived, and I was totally poleaxed by the site of the pencil marks on the wall indicating how the girls had grown.  We have those same marks on the door to our kitchen.

Almond Blossom 
Thursday saw two mad English people pounding the streets in the 1928 Olympic Village and around the Olympic stadium.  We discovered that the Amsterdam Marathon starts and finishes in the Olympic stadium - so that one might be on the cards for next year.  After that, it was on to the Van Gogh museum.  We'd pre-booked our tickets so avoiding a HUGE queue.  I am always blown away by his paintings and this was no exception, but we also learnt so much more about his life.  I can't recommend this place highly enough.

After all this culture we needed more alcohol.  The House of Bols had been recommended - so off we went.  Now I thought that Bols only made that disgusting Advocat that used to appear every Christmas - but they make a whole range of vividly coloured liqueurs as well as genever and gin which makes for some interesting cocktails!  

Begijnhof
Friday was spent meeting friends who have moved to Amsterdam and mooching around the Spui Book Market.  I will admit that I found this less than exciting (the book bit not the meeting friends bit - who doesn't like beers in the sunshine at 10am in the morning?)  and took myself off the the Begijnhof - these houses around a tranquil garden were built as a sactuary for the Begijntjes, a Catholic sisterhood who lived like nuns, although they took no monastic vows.  I sat and read my book and wrote some postcards.  

The rest of our time was spent wandering around, popping in and out of shops and cafes and just enjoying the beautiful architecture.  Even the modern building seem to have a really strong design element and the glimpses we saw into people's homes seemed to show a love of books and art.  Amsterdam feels like the real world only a little bit nicer!  There is plenty that we didn't get to do, but that's find - it means we'll have to go back!  



View from our hotel window


Sunday, 20 August 2017

"I know a game that will change your life" (A final Tanzania related post - I think)

These were the portentous words of Al, our expedition leader, one warm afternoon when we were twiddling our thumbs in camp at Monduli Juu.  We were well into our second bottle of Stoney Tangawizi by this point and even the sugar rush provided by a drink that really deserves a blog entry of its own couldn't lift the torpor we were feeling after yet another broken night of sleep and another morning of trekking in the heat.

I looked over the edge of my book and decided to leave Al and SW to play their silly games.....


You start with a couple of bottle caps each.  Put them a flat surface - the boys improvised with a large book - with the picture side down, as shown in the first photograph.  Put them a couple of inches apart.  Exact measurements don't really matter.  From this point on they can only be moved with your thumb(*).  You can only touch your own bottle cap and you can only touch it once on each turn - no sneaky double tapping is allowed!





The aim is to flip your bottle cap so that it lands on top of your opponent's bottle cap with the picture side uppermost.   Any overlap, with the the pretty side of your cap showing is a win and means that you have won that round and so take possession of both bottle caps.  Play continues until one player has no more bottle caps left.  You can start with any number of bottle caps - but three each seems to make for a good game.

 If your bottle cap goes off the edge of the table (or other improvised playing surface) then you have lost your turn and forfeit your bottle cap to your opponent.




If you flip your bottle cap so it lands on your opponents cap as shown in this photo then you have lost your turn and forfeit your bottle cap to your opponent.
 If you flip and miss your opponents cap and end up with bottle caps that look like this then you have lost and forfeit your bottle cap to your opponent.










It takes a while to master the knack of flipping the cap but as I watched Al & SW play against each other it was noticeable that they were drawing a small crowd of boys who were watching avidly.  In the absence of smartphones the game spread like wildfire through the group.  Whenever we had a few boys, a few bottle caps, a few minutes to spare and a flat(ish) surface a game would be started.  It is a great way to pass a few minutes and does get quite competitive.

Since returning home, I've taught it to my family, in fact Husbando and I spent 10 minutes playing it this evening while waiting for our curry to be served.  He's got the hang of flipping at last and we are pretty evenly matched now.  I love the low tech nature of this game, easy to play anywhere with minimal resources... and it is surprisingly addictive!

* If you are playing against a small child then you can let them use a finger rather than their thumb.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

It seems that I like being told what to do after all!

I posted a couple of day ago that I needed to learn to love running again.  For the last few years I've followed the same pattern.  Rest day on Monday, shortish runs on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, rest day on Friday, parkrun on Saturday and then a long run on Sunday.  The only variation would be the length of my Sunday run.  Sometimes I'd do a trail run with friends of an evening, and occasionally I'd do some form of speed work (normally called 'keeping up with Husbando') but there was no real thought that went into what I did.   So maybe what I needed to do was look at what I was doing and do something different.

I'd noticed a couple of friends posting about 'TrainAsOne' workouts they had done so hit the internet to find out what it was all about.  Basically it is a program that analyses your activity and gives you a workout plan for your next run.    I signed up, linked it to my Strava account and waited to see what it would tell me to do.

My first run had two incredibly slow segments (I couldn't manage to run that slowly even going up hill) and then the instruction was to 'run 2 miles QUICK!' followed by more very slow running.  I thought it all looked a bit odd, but did it anyway.  And you know what?  I 'ran' without stopping for 30 minutes for the first time in ages.  Day 2 was similar, although the middle section called for me to run as far as I could in 6 minutes.  Yet again, it didn't feel difficult, but I completed it.  And I was quietly smug that I had run further than the programme suggested I would in the time available.

Today, after the small matter of collecting my daughter's A'level results, spending the morning at school with my students getting their A'level results and a nice pub lunch with my colleagues, I was looking forward to getting home and going for a run.  I was actually looking forward to going for a run!  I was, according to the email that had arrived in my inbox, due to do an 'Economy Run.'  This is defined as 'a run at a steady pace designed to maximise the improvement in your running economy (calories consumed per kilometre) The majority of your running is at a slow comfortable pace, where you run at an economical speed, consuming a relatively small number of calories per distance travelled. For most people this is a pace at which you can hold a conversation.'  And the detailed instructions asked me to run really slowly for 5 mins and then 37 mins at a steady (but slow) speed.  I struggled to run as slowly as requested, but it was nice to have a run where I was consciously trying to run slower rather than striving to run faster!  I probably ran a fair bit faster than I should have done - but I swear a could have maintained a conversation - as I covered just over 4 miles rather than the just over 3 miles the programme suggested.   Again, I ran without stopping for an entire 42 minutes.

I think a few things are going on here.  I've handed over the responsibility for deciding what I do to someone else, someone who I can't argue with because it is a computer algorithm.  I know I could ignore the suggested run advice - but what's the point in that?   I'm not worrying about how fast I am running for the majority of the time.  The short bursts of effort are achievable, I finish the runs feeling as though I have accomplished something.

So it appears that running and I were only on a break, we are not heading for a long separation.  I've even entered a couple of races.... A six hour challenge with On The Whistle in September and a night time half marathon with White Star Running.  I have no idea what distance I will run in the On The Whistle run as it is only a month away, but there are still places available if you want to come along and run with me!