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Half marathons abroad

Just how far are you willing to go for a half marathon?
Are you sick of doing the same old races? Would this year see you celebrating your 17th running of the Bumbleton Half? Then it’s time to think about breaking out of the old routine – and considering an overseas half marathon.

There’s definitely something to be learnt from the phrase “a change is as good as a rest”. Looking further afield than the next postcode for your next half marathon race could see you stepping on a plane to an exotic clime, combining a well-earned holiday with some foreign racing or even going to that romantic city you always dreamt about.

‘I did the Jamaica Half Marathon (baby sister to the Reggae Marathon) in 2013 and it was absolutely worth it,’ says Rachel Leach. ‘I had a week of relaxing before the big day, enjoyed the pasta party the night before, then ran the half on the middle Saturday of my holiday. The race was incredible. It started at 5.15am with a torchlight parade; there were steel drums along the route and fabulous support from the locals. At the finish you got a beer, fresh coconut milk and a dip in the ocean.’

‘To say it was pretty warm while running would be an understatement, but this was part of the experience,’ adds Rachel. ‘After the run we had a week of properly letting our hair down (in a lovely all-inclusive resort!), and did lots of touristy things too. It’s one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on. We decided to run this because of the marathon initially, but as it turned out a couple of us did the half and a couple did the marathon, but I think that even if we had all done the half we would still be recommending the experience.’

Hopping across the Channel
I myself had a look at the Paris Half Marathon on the Internet and thought, OK, I want to try this. Marathons require a lot of training and so much can go wrong (and often does for me!) before race day. Fitting in a cheeky half abroad, however, as part of a fluid marathon training schedule seemed very appealing. With a record 35,314 other participants, including a host of UK club vests spotted en route, other Brits obviously had the same idea. Unlike a marathon you feel like you are part of some crazy charge to take in a city’s history and culture without inflicting those microscopic muscle tears that a full marathon entails, and you can walk away at the end pain-free!

Run for fun
If you are goal driven, and are wondering what should come next on your running calendar, a half may pull you through training without those daunting feelings of “how am I ever going to do this”. This year Sarah Booker has decided to run in the Riga Half Marathon purely for fun. ‘Every year my company promotes a half marathon for the staff that want to run. It’s always somewhere interesting but this is the first year I’ll be taking part,’ she says. ‘It’s not been too expensive – about £160 per person including flights, accommodation and entry.

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For Sarah, knowing she is taking part in an organised trip means fewer worries regarding navigating a new country or negotiating the language barrier. ‘I’ve not been to Latvia before and we’re going to use the opportunity to explore Riga and try some of the local food – not before the race though!

‘I’m looking forward to doing the half marathon as there’s not so much pressure for me as doing a full marathon. There will be less training involved and I’ll be able to relax more as this will be a run for fun, not for a PB as I’ll have tackled the Thames Path 100 miler two weeks previously!’ she states.

Is there a pattern emerging? Perhaps planning or organising or targeting a big city half becomes more attainable when you place your race within a holiday. This will instantly make it seem less expensive, and you never know, just like Rachel’s Jamaica Half, it may add extra to that holiday experience creating lifelong memories.

‘I’m always open to running outside the UK,’ says Sarah, ‘and will certainly be keeping an eye out for more races in the future. My running friends love the idea of destination races; one has just come back from completing Malta Half Marathon, another is doing Ironman Japan and another good friend is flying out to Mallorca in May to do a Half Ironman.

‘I’ve also got into the habit of planning races into UK holidays too. It’s brilliant, I ask my husband if he wants a holiday then mention offhand that there’s a race in the middle of it. He’s wising up now though and has started asking why I’ve suggested a particular destination!’

Hop over the Channel to do the Paris Half
Hotel: Best Western Allegro Nation Paris, £120 per night for a double (www.hotelallegroparis.com)

Eurostar: Prices start from £69 return (www.eurostart.com)

Race entry: 49 Euros (you may have to pay extra for mandatory medical certificates)

www.semideparis.com

 

Man, I slew you!

Ultra running novice Francesca Eyre took on the Manaslu Trail Race in Nepal, a multi-day 220K race, and ended up finishing fourth female

After watching her sister, then brother, die of cystic fibrosis (CF), Francesca Eyres, 44, was determined to find a natural remedy when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2010.

2008 and 2009 had been tough years for Francesca. ‘My brother Nick had been very ill due to suffering from CF since birth. Whilst he was waiting for a heart and lung transplant he passed away in March 2009. Our business partner was also very ill and died with me by her side in December 2009. Then the banking crisis hit and we were in a tough financial position with our business.’ Francesca runs a ski chalet hotel in the French Alps with her husband Paul.

Francesca’s body broke down. ‘I started suffering chronic back pain – I couldn’t even put on my trousers in the morning. Then a growth was found on my thyroid, which had to be treated with radioactive treatment, and finally I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2010.

‘I left the clinic that day and have never been back. I looked into a more natural approach to coping with my diagnosis, as I didn’t want to go on medication, and so I changed my diet. I stopped drinking alcohol, came off gluten and dairy and stopped eating inflammatory foods such as potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines. I cut down my meat intake and eliminated caffeine.

Rediscovering my running

‘I had started running when my youngest child, Jamie was a baby, ten years ago. With three children and a hotel to run, I needed some headspace. To make sure I trained I entered a 10K race; I had never done any competitive sports prior to this and I was amazed at the buzz at the race.’

The other massive change Francesca’s diagnosis bought about was deciding to live life to the full and do as much sport as she could, while she could. ‘I needed to add more challenges into my life,’ she says. ‘Running helped my stress levels but hurt my joints too much, so I started trail running. There is nothing more beautiful or more humbling than reaching a summit; running up the mountains meant I could get further, faster!’

During the winter it’s impossible to run in the Alps, so Francesca took up ski touring, where you use skis to run up a mountain. ‘The first ski randonée race I ever did was the Montée du Crot – an 800m run up the mountain over a 4K distance from just outside our house to the centre of Avoriaz. It took the world champion 24 minutes and me nearly an hour.

‘I decided my next big challenge would be the 70K Classic Quarter Cornish Coastal Trail (www.endurancelife.com), in June last year. Even though I had never run a marathon, I smiled the whole way round; the scenery, the people, the terrain was all incredible and when I reached the finish line as the ninth woman, I knew that I had to challenge myself to something even tougher and harder!’

Subhead: I do because I can

Francesca’s motto is “I do because I can”. Feeling fit after her first ultra she wanted to find a race that would give her two points towards the three you need to enter the CCC race (part of UTMB trail race that takes place in Chamonix in August). ‘To gain your three points you have to run in at least two ultra marathons. I scoured the Internet and found the Manaslu Trail Race in Nepal (http://manaslutrailrace.org). This, I decided, would be my next race.’

_MG_8740manaslu trail race

‘It was really hard to find the time to train but a race organiser suggested little and often,’ says Francesca. ‘I tried to run at least 40-80K per week, which doesn’t sound like a lot but 10K over the mountains takes me an hour and a half, depending on the vertical ascent. I entered into a couple of 22K trail races and also did a small amount of road cycling to cross-train and avoid injury.

‘As a woman, mother and someone who has her own business, I put so much pressure on myself re training and I have to remind myself that I’m doing this out of choice. You have to not pressure yourself into thinking that you are a highly tuned athlete whose living depends on it.’

Francesca insists she is just a mum of three that has a competitive spirit and runs the best she can. ‘I have very good endurance, above speed, so if the views are beautiful around me, I am very happy to keep on plodding. I always look around and appreciate how beautiful everything is. I also realised that it is impossible to run the whole distance and that most ultra runners walk up the hills, over a certain distance and incline.’

Feeling petrified!

During the briefing for the race Francesca got to meet the other runners, including many elite athletes. ‘We all stood up to give a short talk about ourselves and the races we had competed in; I told everyone that I was absolutely petrified and wondered what on earth I was doing entering a race like this! I’m 44 and have a business and three kids – what was I thinking?!’

Yet Francesca went on to finish fourth female, and 17th overall (behind Holly Rush in second, in 20.52.48, who represents Great Britain and ran in the Commonwealth Games) in a time of 26.26.08. ‘And through this adventure I raised £6204.56 for cystic fibrosis,’ she says very proudly.

‘Next I’m going to do the UTB (http://www.ultratour-beaufortain.fr) in June, a 104K race with 6400m of ascent. Am I completely and utterly nuts?’

A very inspiring mum of three with a competitive spirit who just runs the best she can.

 _MG_8988manaslu trail race

How tough can it get?

‘The toughest parts for me were running 46K in the heat with a lot of ascending (day 2) and our “rest day” (day 7), a 21K trek up to 4998m to have a picnic on the Tibetan boarder. I had a chest infection and was really shattered that day but knew it was a “one off” that will probably never be repeated, so a must do.  I had also promised a very spiritual friend of mine that I would collect a stone for her from the boarder and promises are promises!  It was worth every step as the views into Tibet were breathtaking.’

 What is the Manaslu Trail Race?

This is a 220K race around the eighth highest mountain in the world at 8163m. You ascend over 15000m, the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest twice. The highest ascent is 5200m. ‘The first stage was 28K; a long slow gentle climb of around 1026m,’ says Francesca. ‘Stage 2 takes in 46.4km with 2156m ascent. Expect 29.6K and 1954m in elevation on Stage 3. Stage 4 involves 24.8K with 1396m ascents, Stage 5 is 30K and Stage 6 is another 12K with 727m ascent. A rest day is followed by two further stages of 22K and 31K.’

_MG_8754manaslu trail race

 

Do nut eat this!

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Health warning! A burger containing 1966 calories, 98 per cent of a woman’s Guideline Daily Amount, has been launched by pub-restaurant chain Hungry Horse.

You’d need to run 20 miles to burn off the 1966 calories in this one burger! I love donuts but….

I’ve missed you…

noo noo girl running for David

“The strongest actions of a woman is to love herself, be herself, and shine amongst those who never believed she could.”

Breathe. Gulp. Another gulp. Many gulps. It’s coming back now; the air is flowing deep through every alveolus in my lungs. I’m sorry I’ve been away so long. It’s time to start again. Can you forgive me for the last few months? I needed a little time to be myself… I’m trying to do some work on shining a bit brighter than I did before. I’m feeling quite sparkly and new now. How are you?

I’m just going to stretch out these muscles and see if they still work. I’ll let you know what happens later.

Did I already say? I’ve really missed you…

A world of hope

noo noo girl running for David

Not that long ago I was lucky enough to meet the wonderfully creative and talented singer and artist, Jo Hamilton. Winning free tickets to a live BBC World Service broadcast on gadgets, I watched mesmerised as Jo partook in the broadcast with the revolutionary use of an ‘air piano’; by manipulating your hands in space you trigger the piano to play. It was a beautiful experience to share.

Seeing one of your favourite artists performing live, so close you can see their eyelashes blink, in a relatively small BBC studio, was inspirational. Being able to meet Jo after the broadcast was also very exciting! I told Jo how her album, Gown, had come to symbolise my journey through a difficult personal era; especially the song ‘There it is’. This song, somehow, penetrated my subconscious and whether I listened to it at home, or on my iPod out running, came to embody my own personal struggle: Jo’s dulcet, calming tones telling me soporifically that…’climbing into the future… fresh ideas for the picking… intriguing adventures all around…. leaving the map slightly unmapped…and there it is, a world of hope, so make your way, through the undergrowth…..’

Just like that Wham album that embodies your teenage years, Gown has come to represent a time in my life, an emotional era, when there was change in the direction of my thought. Listening to Jo’s eclectic music, less than a year on, makes me feel nostalgic. When I was flailing around in my life, it provided an unbidden rope that drew me back to a safe shore. We all know music can have such an effect on us – instantly transporting us back to a time, a thought, a feeling, not forgotten but unremembered until an external stimulus pokes at our brains to say, ‘Hey, wake up’.

Whilst out running this week my iPod shuffled to Gown; the album is it’s own journey, but listening to ‘There it is’ was incredibly uplifting and motivating. Even though this genre of music would probably not be traditionally labelled running music, I really embrace listening to it on my longer runs. The words alone help me lift my head up and pick up my pace. The music is hypnotic and I feel that I slip into the ‘zone’ effortlessly.

There are such mixed views on listening to music when running. At a local five mile race I recently ran, along a coastal trail path far from traffic or even other non-running people, the entry form informed runners that anyone wearing headphones would be instantly disqualified, as more and more races are now doing. Safety whilst out running has always got to be your priority, even more so for women running alone; however, surely there are times when music and running form a perfect symbiosis. Those long runs when the sun is shining and music of your chosen variety helps transport you away from your tiredness from the night before, heavy limbs that will not comply with the messages sent through your neural pathways, or the mental confusion and chaos that our incredibly hectic lives often breeds.

I don’t like people telling me what to do, who does as an adult, yet I can understand that in road races where the roads aren’t closed and traffic may pose a safety threat, that abiding by a common-sense rule of no headphones is obviously beneficial. Yet, come those runs where I have the time to wander down tracks, along a canal, over fields or up rambling hills, I choose music! When you’ve finished your run, you are washed and stretched, it feels that both you and the artist have shared the running journey.

Jo Hamilton told me after the BBC performance that she also loves to run, especially off-road in her homeland Scotland. Jo, unlike most of us, has her own orchestra, vocals and lyrics floating around in her head when she heads out cross-country. For me, Jo’s music, is a gift that makes a great run almost perfect.

Secret romance…

noo noo girl running for David

I am a married mother of two children, who finds a delicate balance between work, family and personal commitments as I pass through this rich and beautiful journey called life. I know I am, and to know is a blessing. And another thing I know is that running is good for the soul, the mind and the body. But no-one could ever explain to you how the diversions that you encounter on a twice weekly basis can turn you into one of those approaching-middle-age-forty-somethings who suddenly feels a slight flutter of the heart or flicker of the eyelashes when a group of fit men surround you on your jog out to the beach.

There is no way, NO WAY, I would even consider any type of flirtation (however small) with these wonderfully fit men due to the above, but no-one could have prepared me for feeling so uplifted by the ‘other’ men in my life. I pretend that I am not so over-worked, over-stretched (mentally, physically and emotionally) and so over-tired, that frolicking in the bedroom is something to be avoided at all costs as it will a) use up energy I just don’t have, b) mean I have to stay up later which I have given up doing due to hideous 05:30am alarm calls from child number two for the last four years, and c) mean I would have to form coherent speech at a time of day (either end of the day is a no-go, post-natal war zone that I inhibit alone. Step into my zone and I will shoot you dead). Two young children doesn’t seem to equal a healthy sex life.

And yet there is this wonderful 7pm hour where I feel refreshed, re-invigorated, and, without seeming too strange, voyeuristically romantic towards this herd of men that protect me from the wind and shout: “Hole!” back to me so I prevent injury to my delicate ankles. I feel like a Rapunzel surrounded by many princes, even though there is a good chance that I may have snot running from my nose, or spit caught on my arm. I focus on the cadence of our feet and inhale their manly smell and feel DIFFERENT. No fighting over the toilet or bickering over the TV channel on our club sessions for me to referee or defuse.

Surely more women would join a running club if they realised that no-one wants to talk to you about children, what time they went to bed, woke up, what they eat, how they answered you back, argued constantly (with each other and you), whether you’ve got your housework done, how you are going to fit in cooking tea, homework, activities and showers, then finish off the work you should have sent off two days ago. Our club is a positive hotbed of gossip, relationships ending (running away from stale pasts and into fitter, happier futures), new relationships budding (who could be a more perfect partner than one who doesn’t mind five pairs of trainers by the back door and a laundry basket heaving with sweaty black lycra?) and friendships with people who are like-minded, open-minded, seeking challenges and experiences and are happy on the road – or pavement.

Of course, whether we believe it of not, there is the secret romance that we allow to germinate, which we water with breathless laughter along coastal paths, and nurture with a genuine kiss on the cheek after the New Year’s Day hair-of-the-dog run. The objects of our desire will never know our feelings, as they, too, are happily married parents of two (or one or three) children, who also find a delicate balance between work, family and personal commitments as they pass through their rich and beautiful journey called life. And so the silent dance of lesser loves, with the ‘other’ men, or women, is carried on through the seasons, in full tights or short shorts, on cross-country paths or road races. It truly is a beautiful spectacle to behold. Next time someone praises you on your running performance take a millisecond to look deeply into their eyes; they may be trying to tell you something more…