Travelling to the land of ice

It’s the stuff of every runner’s dreams –  running a midnight half marathon at the summer solstice in Iceland, where the sun never sets in the sky. I couldn’t wait to try the Midnight Sun Half Marathon in Reykjavik!

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Ancient myth has it that, afraid their enemies may pursue them, the original Norwegian Vikings who settled in Iceland sent back word to Norway that their island was actually an ice-land – but that another island, was inhabitable: green-land. Hence the green island became Iceland and the icy island became Greenland.

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The land of ice: 66 degrees North of earth’s equator, where magical elves live (apparently), geothermal and renewable resources supply 85 per cent of the country’s energy and the surrounding seas are abundant with many sea mammals and birds. And in the winter you have a chance of viewing the elusive Northern Lights. Travelling to run in this mythical land, at a magical time of the year is probably one of the most exciting and alternative running events you can do.

Fuelling up Icelandic style

Fuelling up Icelandic style

This trip was planned for over a year – you don’t just swan off to run a half marathon in Iceland on the longest day of the year! Especially not when you have three school-age children in the UK. You need to plan ahead for an extra-special trip like this, although we had a great tour company that organised our tour itinery, All-Iceland. Once we left Gatwick for our 2.5 hour flight north, the excitement flooded in.

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Our hosts, All Iceland, are experts in knowing exactly what runners want from a sports tour – so our trip was packed full of adventure, history, the natural world and fantastic hospitality. This was massively helped by, just as we arrived at our hotel, Iceland scoring their second, and winning goal, against Austria – taking them through to their next round match against England in Euro 2016. This nation was partying for the whole of our stay!

The crepes were divine, but they sat heavy on my tummy during the race - did I have one too many?

The crepes were divine, but they sat heavy on my tummy during the race – did I have one too many?

The drive from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik is hypnotising. Travelling in an almost lunar landscape, through ancient lava fields broken by purple veins of wild Alaskan lupines, against a backdrop of mountains, still covered in snow, is captivating. Did we carbo-load? Of course! As our hotel, Centerhotel Arnarhvoll, had a rooftop restaurant, we dumped our bags then dined on an incredible feast of freshly caught fish. We were ready! On the day of the race we popped along to Kria Cycles, whose owner, JR, just happened to be a childhood friend of my partner David. JR (aka David Robertson) is also a truly gifted runner – he is still ranked in the top 10 UK fastest juniors over 1500m. We had lunch with JR at the Coocoo Nest, a snug and cosy cafe tucked away on a backstreet. When it came to the race JR decided he would support rather than participate, and he popped up on his bike, with his son Elias, along the route.

Slightly crazed at finishing and managing to stay up past 10pm

Slightly crazed at finishing and managing to stay up past 10pm

The Suzuki Midnight Sun Half Marathon is a truly international race. There are several race distances available; 5K, 10K and the half. As I mingled in the evening with the other runners it was clear than many had come in groups, some tackling the shorter distances, a few propping open their eyes to brave the longer.

I had lots of these for my post-race breakfast

I had lots of these for my post-race breakfast

In the crowd, by the start line, runners, speaking over 50 different languages, switched on their GPS watches. The gun went off and everyone settled into their stride as we slowly made our way out and up along paths bordered by a beautiful river that bubbled away along the first part of the route.

Mysterious clouds over the Blue Lagoon

Mysterious clouds over the Blue Lagoon

How can you not relax and enjoy each stride, and mile, when you are running alongside miniature waterfalls, surrounded by a thick carpet of lupines? It was a quiet journey upwards through Elliðaárdalur valley, one of Reykjavik’s most popular outdoor areas, as we took in a 600foot climb. We weaved through a golf course set in a lava field (with absolutely stunning views across Reykjavik that you just had to stop and breathe in) and around Lake Rauðavatn. It wasn’t a dense field – but there was always someone to run alongside or to hang on to.

An unearthly place on earth

An unearthly place on earth

At one stage I looked out across the fields to the horizon where a herd of wild horses were galloping away from the front runners – this wasn’t your usual race. After about seven miles the uphill evened out, but considerable damage to my legs had already been done! By this stage it was past my usual bedtime, and with travelling I was starting to feel a little … ‘weird’. It was if my eyes were trying to close even though I knew I had to keep running.

Well I had run a half!

Well I had run a half!

I had looked at the course profile before travelling and knew from half way it was a gradual downhill trek to the finish. I started thinking how surreal it was; it was getting closer to midnight yet fully light, and I was running a half marathon in Iceland. It was the strangest, most amazing, yet calming, feeling.

Bike porn at Kria Cycles

Bike porn at Kria Cycles

The marshals around the course all shouted encouragement though I had no idea what they were saying! Eventually we merged with the 5K and 10K runners – the organisers had cleverly set us all off at the right time so that the last few miles were crowded and busy. It really lifted me and definitely helped me keep going. By this time I was cold and feeling tired. I also had really awful stomach cramps for most of the race (be prepared for this if you are new to midnight running) but when we chatted to the other runners in the field they had experienced this, too.

Emil at Kria

Emil and me at Kria Cycles, one cool bike shop

I tried taking one gel on the course but felt so sick I thought I would have to walk. I also really, really needed the loo in the second half of the race – but there were none in sight! Or if they were, I was so delirious that I just didn’t notice them! The last few miles I felt weary, but there was a real gem awaiting us.

Moody moonscape

Moody moonscape

All runners were given free access into the Laugardalslaug geothermal pool, within walking distance from the finish, which meant 2,640 finishers relaxing together in beautifully warm waters. You had to literally run from the change area into the outside pool areas as it was so chilly, but once you dipped down into the warm water, with just your head bobbing above, it was the most amazing feeling. I didn’t want to leave, even though it was 1am, I was tired and very, very hungry.

Unfortunately we had to make our way back to the hotel, walking back in the daylight… it’s just so surreal and why so many are drawn to this race from all over the world.

Pic credit: www.hlaup.is

Some of the amazing scenery we ran though (pic credit: www.hlaup.is)

What’s the perfect way to relax the day after your race? For us it was one of the 25 wonders of the world, the Blue Lagoon. I loved being on the bus in Iceland, looking out at the other-worldly landscape, as the weather changed so quickly around us. On our visit to the lagoon, a lake of geothermal seawater with healing properties for the skin, the clouds were at ground level. It was raining, making for another dreamlike experience. The air was cold (about 9 degrees Celsius), but the waters were so hot it was divine. You can make your way to small huts in the lagoon to get silica mud and algae face masks. As you swam in the lagoon you felt like you were on the moon, or some other planet. It was extraordinary and somewhere I would love to return to.

JR also took us to another uber cool bar, Kex, again, tucked away from the main centre behind a nondescript door. It sold some interesting drinks…

Not seen this one before

I’m not saying anything

We were also blessed to share some amazing home-cooked Iceland food back at JR’s house, with his family – this really made the trip. Everything about Iceland is chic and stylish and just uber cool (more so in the winter I guess).

I knew that I couldn’t leave Iceland without trying to see the puffins on Lundey, a small island in Reykjavik bay, so we took a boat out there on our last day. Watching these little birds fish, then return to their barrows, was a truly magical encounter with nature. We also saw guillemots, fulmars, cormorants, eider ducks and black-backed gulls, and our guide, Tena, a naturalist working for Elding gave us so much insight and information about the wildlife in the area – she was so passionate about her job.

The trip felt like the best geography lesson I’ve ever had. It’s a trip of a lifetime, and a race you’ll never forget. If you, too, venture to the land of ice don’t forget your winter coat. Even on a summer trip!

Plan your trip!
Who to contact: All Iceland ( all-iceland.co.uk) organise a range of sport tours and packages throughout Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, and will put together your dream itinerary, whatever your chosen sport or race. Call the team on 01904 621614 or email info@all-iceland.co.uk for more information.

How to get there: Iceland Air (book.icelandair.is) or WOW air (wowair.co.uk) offer return flights from London to Keflavik for around £100. Just get organised and book in advance

Where to stay: For your Reykjavik city centre break choose the stylish Centerhotel Arnarhvoll, just off Ingólfsstræti 1 (centrehotels.com/arnarhvoll)

Essential trips: Blue Lagoon (bluelagoon.com) and Elding Puffin Watching (elding.is or elding@elding.is)

What? It was the closest we were going to get!

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The 2016 Purbrook Ladies 5

This is one of those real gems of a race… I absolutely love everything about it (well, maybe the rolling hills aren’t completely loveable!). It’s a must on the annual running calendar if you live my way, down here on the sunny south coast.

It’s at that time of year when spring suddenly explodes into summer (sometimes literally overnight). If you enter early (and you have to as this race fills up quickly), ensconced in the drab and chill of winter you would probably think, right, this is a race at the end of May/beginning of June, it’s going to be hot. With our ever-changing climate this can be true. Or untrue. This year, following our unseasonably cooler spring, I started to think this wasn’t going to be one of those scorching hot runs, where the returning sun zaps your energy as it tops up your tan. Every time I’ve run this race felt way too hot to be running down undulating country lanes, away from the sea breeze. Would Mother Nature be looking down on us favourably?

Getting our numbers

Getting our numbers

No. Despite a chillier week, on race morning the sun was out and the temperature had hit 20 degrees Celsius before we headed off in the car. I set off with my friend Paula, who had had a bad night as one of her daughters had been ill. I had also been feeling a bit out of sorts all week. As all of us gathered at the start we were throwing out the statements (excuses). ‘It’s going to be hard in this heat so I’m not expecting too much,’ I, and many others, said. You’ve got to, haven’t you?!

Hosted by Portsmouth Joggers Club , it’s an ideal location; the start and finish on Purbrook Heath (three miles north of Portsmouth) is safe for children to run around while your out on the roads and there’s a pavilion for showers/bag drops/refreshments/toilets. There’s ample parking, too. It’s a truly beautiful location.

Feisty Paulos came in 8th with a PB!

It’s a single lap course on quiet country lanes, and, at five miles, it’s a great distance for beginners and those honing their training for summer 10Ks. Usually it attracts some of the fastest ladies in the region. And, as an added bonus, Portsmouth Joggers put on training runs along the route once the clocks go forward and the lighter evenings return. There’s no reason for not knowing your terrain in this race.

But… we all know the best races are the ones that offer the best cake, and I have to admit, this is one of the big draws for me each year. Yes, there’s lots of gorgeous, homemade cake at the end! Portsmouth Joggers make this such a relaxed and friendly event that, along with the substantial medal and great cake, you find yourself entering it as soon as you can every year just in case you miss out on a place. And the cake.

It's all about the bling!

It’s all about the bling!

There’s also that other big difference… yes, there is no testosterone in this race. So the atmosphere is just different to your normal mixed sex race. Everyone is very civilised, and the leaders pull away gently at the beginning, rather than thundering off. It’s a rare chance for women to come together and try their best in an incredibly relaxed and supportive environment. I mean, I crossed the line and the race organiser, Claire Fleming came over and gave me a hug. You just don’t get this sort of attention in nearly every other race in the country!

Pic: Mark Beresford

Pic: Mark Beresford

The price is £13. What incredible value! Make sure you enter early though. It was sold out by the beginning of March this year. I’m sure every lady who finished it would agree there’s no better way to spend your Sunday morning.

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10 deadly sins of marathon training

Here are my 10 deadly sins I committed in marathon training, which I will never, ever do again… (I promise)

  1. I didn’t start my long runs soon enough – I needed to start much earlier, like two months! You can never start your long runs too soon.
  2.  I didn’t do enough strength training. Yes I did squats and forward lunges, calf raises and the plank. But I didn’t add any weights to these and I didn’t do enough. And I know it… I was trying to get away with the minimum. Yep, I was cheating on myself.
  3. I didn’t ensure I was completely happy with my race day shoes. I should have bought two pairs of the trainers I planned to run in. When I finally decided the shoes I wanted to run in (way too late, what was I doing?) I was sent a pair that was half a size too small, and didn’t receive the right size until two days before race day. It was too late to break them in. Schoolgirl error.
  4. I didn’t experiment with homemade nutrition like I planned to. I hardly had gels on my long runs then had one about every 45 minutes in the race and had terrible nausea by mile 20. Little balls of Amelie’s homemade flapjack, wrapped up in clingfilm, would have been perfect.
  5. I did a long commute on public transport on race day morning, which went smoothly but took way longer than I planned and involved a few miles on my feet –  next time I’m taking a taxi (I’ve already stashed away a couple of tenners in my race day fund).
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The Green Start seemed to be miles away from the tube!

6. I ran oh-so-proudly in my club vest, you know, the one with your name written on it in the massive-ist thickest, boldest font you could order. But when I started to walk about mile 20 there were thousands of people cheering me on to start running again, by name. I felt like a failure to each and every one of them. Awkward. Eventually I put in my headphones. Next time I’m wearing the other club vest, you know, the one that allows you to remain wonderfully anonymous.
7. I can’t believe I did this, as I packed it and it was in my bag, but I forgot to put on my bin liner before I checked in my bag. It was cold, really chilly, but that’s not what I  needed it for (I had two tops from my local charity shop for that). The queues to the portaloos were hundreds deep when I arrived… if only I’d had my bin liner on I could have had a secret wee by just bending down…

Next time I'm not going to be me...

Next time I’m not going to be me…

8. I didn’t actually do one long run in one continuous hit, so had no idea my left leg niggles were going to hit on race day. I missed several vital weeks of long run training, then, with only three weeks to go I squeezed in two 20-milers, but both were split into a  morning and evening run (hey, it was the Easter school holidays!). So I had no idea of my endurance weakness (though at the time I had been so pleasantly surprised at how fast I had done the evening 14-milers, despite a morning six-mile run). The body – it’s a trickster!
9. I tried to keep up with the runner dressed up in the Frozen outfit, even though I knew they were stronger than me by half way. I should have let it go, let it go…
10. Did I say I didn’t start my long runs early enough? Oh I did. But it’s so important that it’s worth saying again!

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Why you should try a tri… Fareham Triathlon

Due to an injury I couldn’t do Fareham Triathlon… well, that’s what I thought after I ran London Marathon three weeks before. Then I thought, why not just do the swim and bike. The run part of this triathlon is about 3.3 miles (just over the standard 5K of your average sprint triathlon), which in itself isn’t too long to run, even when recovering from an injury.

David and Simon abstained from a drink before the triathlon, why oh why oh why didn't I?

David and Simon abstained from drink before the triathlon, why oh why oh why didn’t I?

I did this race last year and loved it. Partly because it’s just about as local as you can possibly get for me – I cycle up to, and swim at, the leisure centre it’s held at most weeks. So why wouldn’t I want to do it? Most races we go to involve getting up early and travelling. There’s only a few that are usually close enough to just stroll up to. This is one for me.

The open nature and fun aspect of the event also appeals, especially last year when it was my first ‘proper’ triathlon (I had done a few events before, but the distance of 400m swim, 20K bike and 5K run was my official first). Anything goes in this race – not just any level of participant, but you can rock up with whatever bike you have and do the race at whatever level you like. All you need is a swimsuit, bike and pair of trainers.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some extremely competitive athletes who do the race every year – there are, and some of the times in the three disciplines are amazing! And check out some of the equipment. It’s stunning too! If you love triathlon you are probably going to invest in better equipment each year, and some of the bikes racked up at the start were expensive. Phew! Some weren’t though; there were plenty of mountain bikes and other, more standard bikes.

That's me in the pink hat, with my hand dangerously cutting across my midline

That’s me in the pink hat, with my hand dangerously cutting across my midline (Pic: Soul Perception)

This year the registration time was much less civilised – 6.30-8am. What’s that all about! Well, it’s about the event maturing each year and becoming more streamlined. Established triathlons have earlier start times. And this year there was a kids’ triathlon after the adult event.

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I was still horrified (I don’t think I’ve had a lie in for over four weeks). I couldn’t just breeze in at 7.45 either, as I had a clash with my parental responsibilities and had to drop my middle girl, Amelie, to another mum in the opposite direction before 8am for a dance competition she was going to in Worthing. Life is never easy! It’s never ideal preparation, is it, when you are racing around before an event getting children ready and to another location before you can head to your own. It felt a bit stressful, but I turned up with at least two minutes to spare before the race. I’ve left it later!

Thought I'd fiddle with my peddles for a bit before I got going

Thought I’d fiddle with my pedals for a bit before I got going

Everyone Active is quite relaxed with registration, and I knew Luke, the organiser, so I already had my pleading head on in case I missed the 8am deadline. I ran my bike over to the racking zone, ran into the registration hall to have my numbers written on my arm and leg (all good warm up), ran back to get my kit then, as the slower swimmers started their race, I had at least 15 minutes to de-stress before my turn. I had forgotten to get out a protein bar before I left my car so by the time it was my turn to enter the pool I was famished.

Pic: Soul Perception

Tiny Chantrey on her tiny bike (Pic: Soul Perception)

I knew my swim wouldn’t be better than last year as I haven’t done much. I worked out I hadn’t swum since before my taper for the marathon about six weeks before. Oh dear. The same went for my bike; I did quite a bit over the winter, but again, in the last seven weeks I only got out twice. It’s been a bit soul-destroying feeling all my fitness just ebbing away, but the first few weeks after my marathon I’ve had to rest, as my left leg is injured in several places.

Not going off too fast in the swim is essential when you’re not a good swimmer, and so I didn’t race off, but my breathing isn’t great and I tend to snatch at my in-breath. So pretty much all the way through the swim it felt as if I wasn’t getting enough air in. And I was starving! I find swimming so incredibly hard, as my asthmatic lungs don’t like the different type of breathing required for swimming – but I love doing it. And I want to get better. I’m not a relaxed or efficient swimmer, so I just do my best. My swim time was the same as last year, to the second.

What has happened to my gait - no wonder I had backache the next day, I'm all over the place!

What has happened to my gait – no wonder I had backache the next day, I’m all over the place! (Pic: Soul Perception)

Transition is where you can lose time, and I fiddled with my cycling shoes, didn’t get them on tight and squelched around the bike in them, but overall I really enjoyed the bike. There’s a steep hill where I always keep my brakes on as I’m petrified when I go fast, but on the second descent I didn’t use them and, just for a second, almost enjoyed myself (while at the same time imagining how horrific it would be if I came off). I didn’t have a spectacular bike but it went OK. I stuffed down two gels, but felt like I was lacking in energy (breakfast seemed so long ago) and there was no power in my left leg.

Into transition again, and this is where I planned to either not run, or try one mile then walk back if my foot was too painful. I made a big fluff of getting my trainers on as my feet were still wet, which scrunched up my insoles, and somehow my arch supports underneath these moved forwards so it felt like I had a few cocktail sausages rolling around in my trainers. There was no way I was going to stop and sort them out though. Luckily the first part of the run is slightly uphill (though it feels like a mountain after the bike), which seemed to help the insoles reverse back down my shoes a bit.

David came 2nd, Simon 5th, me, er...89th

David came 2nd, Simon 5th, me, er…89th

I was trying out my new adidas ultra boosts for the first time and I loved them. The knitted upper fits brilliantly, and these are a great trainer for triathlons as the design means you don’t need to tighten your laces. I already had mine double knotted before I put them on, which was incredibly easy, even with soggy feet. I loved running in them.

I wasn’t expecting much from my legs due to the marathon and lack of training for three weeks, plus the pain I’ve had in my leg and foot. So I was chuffed that I finished the whole run and wasn’t too uncomfortable. My feet felt quite numb from being cold and wet for so long, which I think really helped. The 5K run is lovely as you eventually head away from paths and into a forest route. I love running off the bike, and if I could spend some time practicing (that means doing something, anything, before next year’s event!) this is the place where I can make up time. As it was I did a bit faster than last year’s run, which I was chuffed with considering I can’t actually train or run at the moment.

I was so chuffed to participate and not spectate

I was so chuffed to participate and not spectate and got first in my age group

There was no need to walk, even though after the race and this week I’ve had a little pain in the problem areas. I think running anything further than three miles would have been foolish – it was just lovely to actually be able to use my legs!

Overall I beat last year’s time by a few minutes, which was a surprise as I didn’t think I was in the right physical shape to do this, and I enjoyed rather than raced round the three disciplines – it shows us all that it’s better to turn up and participate, and see what happens, rather than write ourselves off just because not everything is going to plan. I was certainly pleased I did the race, rather than sit at home feeling miserable.

Amelie came home with a couple of trophies so she was chuffed

Amelie came home with a couple of trophies so she was chuffed

There were lots of friends and fellow club mates also taking part, and most of them aren’t triathletes either. We’re all trying to learn something new, and trying to do our best at something that doesn’t come naturally to us, and I think everyone I spoke to improved on last year, or exceeded their expectations. Few train seriously, most just don’t have the time to fit in three disciplines, so the results overall were so impressive. I thought every one of these guys was amazing.

My award for best blog arrived, thank you if you voted for me!

My award for (second) best blog arrived, thank you if you voted for me!

Just giving an event like this a go, and getting the first one out of the way, allows you to go away for a year and prepare the next one. Everyone Active at Fareham organise my local triathlon brilliantly – the stress is on fun and participation by all. So go on, look on the British Triathlon website for an event near you. It will be a fun and amazing experience!

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What marathon training taught me this time round…

It’s a thinking out loud day, and since running London Marathon a few weeks ago I’ve thought a lot about how much I love the journey that is marathon training. Much more than the race itself probably. The painful start in mid-winter, when you can’t believe you’re going to be able to do any long runs, let alone 26 miles in the spring. Feeling like you’re in pieces after anything over 5 miles. Then the slow evolution of strength and stamina. The cold bikes to the pool, and back again, with freezing wet hair. Running long  – it gives you time to think.

Post marathon I've been able to spend a bit more time with these two beauties

Post marathon I’ve been able to spend a bit more time with these two beauties

I tend to seek understanding … of myself and life, and I have always done this through new challenges. As I seek a deeper awareness I need to go further out of/away from myself, to be able to really ‘see’ who I am. After all, we all have those moments of thinking ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘Who am I?’ (Apart from the obvious, which is a mum to three human beings on their own onward journey.) With a busy life, running gives you time to think. Or to not think, if that’s what you need on any particular day.

The last two weeks I've eaten way too much of this stuff...thankfully I've started to slow on my sugar consumption

The last two weeks I’ve eaten way too much of this stuff…thankfully I’ve started to slow down on my sugar consumption

Of course we all are constantly changing, and I don’t think I did things that differently 20 years ago, I just did what I did more, and thought about why I did it and what it meant to me (or others) a whole lot less. I was quite impatient, impulsive and in the moment. I couldn’t imagine that, in the shake of a head, I would be 45. And not always so able to do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it.

This Saturday I got to spend the day with these lovely WR readers on a Full Potential training day

This Saturday I got to spend the day with these lovely WR readers on a Full Potential training day

I find the daily routine, the mundane and the, at times, circular nature of motherhood/family life tricky. Yes, I would like to be flying off to new places and races all the time. But I can’t – and few of us can. Yes, I want to focus 100% of the time on the existential, the creative, the sporty, the fun – but that doesn’t get the jobs done and make the machine of life run smoothly. I’m still coming to terms with this part of my personality. It’s a lifelong project.

Took this one to the woods to try and tire her out

Took this one to the woods to try and tire her out

What I’ve definitely learnt a whole lot about in the last six months is understanding and respecting my limitations. Getting cross because I’m ill/can’t train/am injured. Forget that – that was for my 20s me. Now, I find a way around it. Running doesn’t have to be your only best friend, the bike and pool can be too. Don’t get frustrated about what others are doing. Find what works for you – and who cares what the training plans or club mates say? I can’t do long runs and bounce back. I need two days of rest at least after a long run, and ideally I need 10-14 days between each one. So that’s what I did. Just take the start date of your marathon back a month so you can plan this in. Get creative.

‘It’s never too late to be what you might have been.’
George Eliot

When you learn to work with your limitations, suddenly they are no longer so limiting. Find a positive way to deal with them and they become tools for achieving your goals. Many running limitations are caused by lack of strength training, and since last summer I’ve done more than I ever did before. Give myself a pat on the back, I thought. Until race day. My left leg, from pain in my foot, knee, lateral quads and hips, wasn’t as strong as I thought it was. I had done some strength training on it. But had I done enough? No. The strength endurance of my soft tissues is not enough to last 26 miles. So I am going to double what I’ve been doing, adding weights, which I never quite got round to including up till now. (Read that as: I was lazy)

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This may sounds obvious, but the longer I run, the more I’m realising how incredibly specific my training has to be to me. Both due to my own physical make up and my lifestyle. It’s taken me quite a long time to truly tune in to my needs – or even realise what they are.

Being so busy bringing up three girls by myself, which often meant I wasn’t thinking about myself, or looking after myself properly, to having a few health issues, then turning 45, it’s made me understand better the importance of my daily routine, rituals and rhythms of life. I’ve finally got it that eating healthily (this includes cake), a good sleep pattern and getting some exercise every day dramatically affect my capacity to function efficiently and feel good.

Back on the turbo - it's so frustrating!

Back on the turbo – I try and tell myself it’s not but it’s so frustrating!

So I drink mainly water – one coffee a day (two if it’s a risqué kinda day), very rarely have alcohol (such a shame as red wine is one of life’s greatest pleasures) try to sleep eight hours a night and try and do something physical most days. These are essential to my mental health and perception of life.

This has been a long process for me. It probably started as I thought about divorce, and is ongoing. Before divorce how others saw me was much more important to me. It’s gonna take me the whole time on this planet to work through this one I think! I am constantly working towards being more in tune with my sense of who I am. I get flashes of this, or more like feelings of connection, usually when I’m out on the trails, the hills, the mud – they call me. I think I was just deaf to this call for so long.

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We all try many different paths before we find the right direction, which makes life so deliciously interesting. You’ve got to keep being daring and experimental and eventually you realise you’re heading for the right destination. For me, this destination, in running terms, has to include more and more strength training. Nearly three weeks on from my marathon I’m still injured, so it’s been back on the bike and to the pool for me. I find this so frustrating and feel like I am going to burst!

How has your running evolved over the years? Do you get injuries easily like me?

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Book review: Your Pace or Mine?

Running is, of course, a metaphor for life. Just like the build up to Christmas, it’s often the anticipation of an event that brings the most joy. You’re busy for months doing your training (Christmas shopping), getting your kit ready (hanging up the sparkly lights and putting up your tree) and buying your race day nutrition (turkey, sprouts and extra thick double cream). Race day can often be quite painful, but it’s how we push ourselves as we work towards this day where we reap greatest personal benefits. Sometimes we get injured and other times races just don’t go to plan. Then we have to forget times and instead focus on finishing.

Lisa Jackson has just run her 100th marathon, in itself an awesome accomplishment by any runner. However, when you read Lisa’s latest book, Your Pace or Mine? what you take away most is Lisa’s sense of fun and adventure. This is the most important part of Lisa’s marathon journeys.

Buy it now! Before copies run out!

Buy it now! Before copies run out!

She isn’t in this running game in a quest for a list of impressive PBs. Lisa is on a journey through life that is driven by the need to connect with other human beings. Running is just the method she chooses to do this. Lisa is trying to tell us something quite simple, and something those runners who punish the ground, with heads down, probably miss. It’s not about the time you do, but the time you have along the way.

If you run a lot of marathons you’re going to meet a lot of wonderful (crazy) people and Lisa shares her extraordinary stories with great humour. The personal stories could be yours or mine.

The amazing Lisa, bringing a little bit of magic to the London Marathon Expo last week

The amazing Lisa, bringing a little bit of magic to the London Marathon Expo last week

We all want to be as fast as we can but if being fast takes away the fun there’s little point to running. I love the way Lisa tackles running and races, in that she believes you don’t have to punish yourself to be a true winner. The chapter where Lisa shares with us losing her mum and auntie really spoke to me; it’s so touching and thought provoking. Her feelings are an echo of all our losses.

You don’t have to be fast to have fun with running. Lisa shows us this, and her spirit shines through every page. We all need to find some time to chill with this book and just enjoy the stories and adventures, then ditch our Garmins and go for a relaxed run – hopefully with someone special who brings a smile to our face. If this book inspires you to do this, then I know it  would make Lisa proud.

You can buy Lisa’s book here

#Week 18 – Race day arrives!

To me London Marathon every year means heading up to the expo to meet everyone in our wonderful running community and helping out on the Women’s Running stand. I did very little running in my last week before race day, a three mile easy run on Tuesday last week, with some light strength and conditioning after, and 5 x 1 min reps on Wednesday. I did these quite fast, to boost my confidence. Thursday was crazy getting myself ready. I was really worried I’d forget an essential piece of kit as my head was already on the streets of London.

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It was also the launch last week of the new Mental Health Ambassadors campaign, #runandtalk, by England Athletics, and I am really, really proud to be one.

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I bet there’s not many tiny mental health ambassadors out there

We are here to promote running as a way to help you with your mental health – if you need to talk, running is the perfect medium to do so (unless you are doing hard reps on a Friday morning, in which case you talk on your walk recovery). That was my wish when I set up my Friday morning group – to give women (and men) who can’t train in the evenings a chance to do so with like-minded souls, and a chance to talk about the weekly stresses we all live with.

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Thursday afternoon I was just about ready; my kit was packed and the girls sorted. I had one last thing to do, which I’d been waiting to do for a long, long time. I wanted to listen to the answer phone message my dad have left me before he died, which was on the day of London Marathon three years ago.

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It wasn’t there. There was one message, as there has been these last three years, but it was just white noise. I wasn’t expecting this. I didn’t have a chance to listen to it that last time. Even though it’s been there for three years I only listened to it once a few weeks after he died. I couldn’t do it again as it made me feel too sad. In my mind I had thought I would listen to it one last time, run on Sunday, then erase it – I would be saying my final goodbye in the race and it would be time to let go. Even as I’m writing this the tears are streaming down my face.

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I could only just get my face up to the ribbon – there was no extra step for small people

But I took it as a sign that it was time to remove the message. Time to cut the ties. I kept thinking of recording it on to my phone, but I couldn’t listen to it, so I didn’t. Now I don’t have that last message, and I don’t have the security of knowing it’s there if I do want to hear my dad talking. I guess it doesn’t really matter as I can hear him in my head all the time, and I always feel him running with me.

The lovely Jenny and Ashleigh

The lovely Jenny and Ashleigh

Sometimes it’s such a strong feeling I can almost see him, running next to me as he did when I was 15 shouting at me ‘WHAT DO YOU CALL THIS! PUT SOME GUTS INTO IT!’ He would do this to all the men he trained on his field gun crew. It made me feel like one of the guys.

Ready to go

Ready to go

I dedicated the last mile of the marathon on Sunday to my Dad. Without him, I may have never run a marathon.

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My dad;  we have exactly the same gait (and the same legs, mine are less hairy)

Friday was very busy! After the school run, I went straight to see my emotional wellness coach, Janet. We went through the race, and dedicating the last seven miles to my special people. This was really important to me, as I know I would need to draw on them to pull me through. Nerves were getting to me a bit, and I didn’t sleep well on Wednesday or Thursday night. I felt jaded on Friday, but after seeing Janet I had an overwhelming sense of calm. It’s the marathon – what will be, will be.

Liz working a knot in her back

Liz working a knot in her back

Friday night I didn’t sleep well again, and so I was beginning to dread race day – I was too tired to run! I asked my lovely friend Caroline to send me some Reiki, all the way from New York City, and we agreed a time for me to find a calm spot and ‘receive’. Just talking to Caroline on Saturday helped calm my nerves, as it always has, always will. Your oldest friends know your faults, and your strengths, and can drill down to them instantly. I felt reassured once again.

The amazing Lisa

The amazing Lisa

Saturday at the expo I met up with the incredible and lovely Lisa Jackson, author of Your Pace or Mine? and member now of the 100 Marathon Club. It was also a precious chance to see my faraway friend Emily – we were both nervous and emotional about what Sunday would hold for us.

I get my love of cross-country from my dad

I get my love of cross-country from my dad

Saturday evening was feet up in the hotel room, then, with the alarm going off early Sunday I was in marathon mode. We got to the Green Start (a little later than planned but within time) and the overwhelming feeling was one of being a tiny ant amongst a vast swathe of people.

The lovely Emily

The lovely Emily

The Race
Once the gun went off it only took about 1.5 minutes to get over the line. Hold back I told myself over and over as I constantly checked my watch through Miles 1-3. The volume of runners takes you back – you have to focus to keep your place and keep upright, more so when you’re petite. Despite feeling tired I felt OK and the miles passed quickly. I kept up my target marathon pace until Mile 10 then Mile 13. Each mile after that I checked my watch and I was surprised when I kept hitting my target pace. The wall of noise follows you through every mile. I spotted Marie, my ladies captain from my club and it made my spirits soar – it made such a massive difference to see someone I recognised amongst thousands of strangers.

Who said runners were crazy?

Who said runners were crazy?

My nutrition was covered by SIS, who kindly donated my gels and protein bars. They are my favourite brand as they are much thicker then some gels, and my Porsche metabolism burns energy quicker than I can put it in to my body.

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Mile 15 my left foot started feeling a bit twingy and I could feel my left quad too. I think I knew what was coming but I had been in total denial about it for two years! Since my last marathon.

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Mile 17 and my foot was hurting now, as was my quad and my left hip – but I think I was in a gel delirium by this point as I couldn’t work out where the pain was. Miles 18, 19 and 20 my left leg seemed to be seizing up and I think I assumed it was my hip, but in fact it was probably my quad and foot. I got to about 20.5 and started walking, knowing that my leg was done in (that’s my highly technical evaluation). Once I started walking I was battling back the tears. My target time and a chance of a PB was instantly gone. I knew it would now be about getting to the finish line without stepping out of the race and finding a tube back to my meet up point.

Oh dear! Not happy!

Part of me wanted to stop and cry, but of course you can’t as hundreds of people are willing you to keep taking that next step. I’m so relieved I didn’t see anyone I knew at a tearful point. Jenny from Women’s Running spotted me and shouted so much support, and lucky at this point I was resigned to my shuffling. Thank you to every person that shouted me on, and there were so many of you I simply couldn’t cope with all the attention! After a few miles of shuffling, walking slow (16-min-miling) and trying to jog just a little I put my headphones in.

The finishing straight - I wasn't happy!

The finishing straight – I wasn’t happy!

I walked the last third at Edinburgh Marathon and swore I would never do it again. Of all the issues I thought might prevent me running the whole way this time, I hadn’t bargained on it being my hip. I was gutted but what can you do? I carried on.

We're only as good as our support crew - mine was the best! (However, note that neither offered to pace me...)

We’re only as good as our support crew – mine was the best! (However, note that neither offered to pace me…)

That took about an hour and 15 minutes. I felt cold. But I’m stubborn and I just kept going, and even managed to almost jog the last mile. I finally saw my partner David, and our friend Simon, on that last stretch before you turn on to The Mall. They were shouting at me – I wasn’t very happy as I tried to shout back about my dodgy hip.

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Once I got across the finish line and retrieved my bag it was easy to find them. I didn’t take any pictures at the finish against the #oneinamillion posters as I was a bit devastated. I kept thinking of my dad. Well, it was his send-off marathon, it didn’t go to plan – which goes to show how life sometimes doesn’t. I wasn’t going to get upset about it as I knew there were so many factors out of my control. All I could think about was did Emily get her sub 3 hour time? When the text came through from her that she came in at 3:03 I was more devastated for her than for myself.

Oops!

Oops!

So what do you do when your best friend running sometimes isn’t your best friend? You turn to your other best friend sugar of course! Cake and chocolate help. God I love them.

I finished in 3.59 – it wasn’t the time I was hoping for, but I still finished. I wasn’t going to get upset about it, then I did a bit on Monday, then yesterday I felt like I had really let everyone down. Today, well, every day feels different after a marathon and as the aches subside you make your peace. But there’s only one thing that helps you put a bad marathon to rest. Yep, I’ve just entered my next one…

Did you run London Marathon, or another spring marathon recently? Did your race go to plan?

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#Week 17: The Road to London

Is next week really race day? How can that be? It seems so long ago I started training for London, the week before Christmas. Then I couldn’t project forward to April 24th, and now it’s just over a week away. Overall my training has gone much better than I would have thought it would back then, despite the hiccup of three weeks out with an injury.

Finally it's light - and we can see each other again

Finally it’s light – and we can see each other again

I didn’t want to do much running as it was a really busy week. I went up to the London Book Fair on Wednesday, to meet the publishers of my book (out in the autumn). That was exciting! Also Sienna had a competition on Sunday and my other two girls, Amelie and Lola, had extra rehearsals for a show they are doing in the Albert Hall next month. I was a taxi supremo!

Checking out the competition

Checking out the competition

Monday I made club and it was a tough session of long hill reps, with fartlek through the first section of each rep. I worked hard knowing it would be my last effort session before marathon day. There’s no slacking in Coach Penny’s sessions!

Testing my new Bliz glasses - it rained!

Testing my new Bliz glasses – it rained!

Tuesday I had a long overdue leg massage, which I knew would hurt as I don’t think I’ve had a massage since last year. Oops. Wednesday flew by and Thursday it was our first club time trial of the year. I didn’t want to overdo the effort so ran comfortably, then jogged home after. Friday was my group and we did 6 x 2 mins along the promenade at the beach. It was raining and miserable but we kept smiling.

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Saturday and Sunday were rest days, and the weekend ended on a high when Professor Pog came second in the southern region National Grade 4 competition, which means she will be representing Team South in the national finals! Whoop whoop! We’re going on a road trip… to Stoke!

Pre-competition meal to help Sienna carb load

Pre-competition meal to help Sienna carb load

Oh, and I haven’t stopped eating all week! There’s just one more week to get through. I’m taking a wide berth around anyone who has a cold or other germs, and won’t run much next week.

All three girls are going to the nationals (plus Niamh!)

All three girls are going to the nationals (plus Niamh!)

Whatever happens on race day, there’s nothing I can do about it now!

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The Road to London #Week 16

When I got the results of a DNA sport genetics test (thomasoliver.co.uk ) this week I was quite nervous just beforehand. As a long distance runner, from a family of long distance runners, I was slightly worried it may reveal I should be knocking out 20 x 200m around the track rather than getting lost for hours on the South Downs.

I got to test this Saucony London trainers this week and loved them!

I got to test this Saucony London trainers this week and loved them!

The conclusion of my test was that, in terms of athletic performance potential I am definitely an endurance athlete (I have the ACE gene), not a power one (I don’t have the ACTN3 gene), just like I thought (and hoped) I would be. Phew! This had to be a bit of a boost at this stage of my London Marathon training.

Did I manage to include every brand in my race day kit?

Did I manage to include every brand in my race day kit?

I am a long distance runner… I am, I am. I’m at that stage where I’m battling my brain, which is telling me that my trainers aren’t right, so I probably shouldn’t even think about running 26 miles. And that my ankle is still a bit sore… on the top and on the bottom, and that I’m really tired, and that I definitely haven’t done enough training… and that it will be a nightmare getting back into the swing of everything the moment I walk through the door after the race. You know, those 101 things that our conscious mind comes up with to get out of actually doing the race!

The SGR ladies

The SGR ladies

Excuses be gone! With two weeks left till race week this was my last push in backing up the DNA test and the positive thoughts with the real stuff. I did an off-road half on Sunday in a local forest, which, despite lacking the usual organization you get in a race, was a beautiful day. With an extra seven miles run to get home from the race I made my second long run of 20 miles, though I was knackered by the end as there was over 1200 foot of ascent by the time I finished.

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I couldn’t be bothered to do anything for the rest of the day, so the girls had pizza for tea and I forced them all up to their bedrooms by about 8pm just so I could lie down with my book and rest.

I got home and Sienna had half her face covered in one facepack, half in another. Of course!

I got home and Sienna had half her face covered in one facepack, half in another. Of course!

Monday and Tuesday I had rest days, and Wednesday my legs still felt tired; plus, my off-road shoes had aggravated my injured ankle a little during the first 13 miles through forest trails and mud. So I sat on the turbo for 45 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of strength and conditioning.

I really needed this break from the girls!

I really needed this break from the girls!

My legs still felt a bit heavy on Thursday, so I started a steady seven mile run, with no expectations. I just headed to the beach, did 1.5 miles slow along the shingle then wound up the pace so the last mile was about marathon pace. I think my splits ranged from about 10 min/miling to about 7.5 min/miling. I love these runs the most, where you start slow and expect nothing, then, as your body and legs warm up you can pick up the pace and finish and feel you’ve worked just the right amount. It’s like when you put on a pair of jeans and find a tenner in one of the pockets.

Recovery food :)

Recovery food :)

Friday was my group run, well, I say group but it was the school holidays so only three of us hit the shingle, for 10 x beach hut efforts. It was a really busy day running around after the girls, and I’m definitely starting to feel the pressure – I drank alcohol! Oh why did I do that? My body and my kidneys can’t cope with it at all! Even two small glasses!

I seem to have spent most of the holidays feeding this little cherub

I spent most of the holidays feeding this little cherub

This made Saturday’s 6 x 2 minute efforts feel sooooo hard! I only had myself to blame, but unlike last week when I shot off on the first 800m effort, then suffered for 5 more, I paced myself much better. Despite the heavy legs and eyelids my average pace was good, and it was another (surprisingly) decent week. Now, it really is time to taper!

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Questions: Are you getting nervous for any upcoming races?

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