Category Archives: Races

The unforgettable Marathon Mont St Michel

This race is listed in the top 10 most beautiful marathons in the world. And rightly so. This isn’t your big city marathon; there are no crowds, no push from runners needing to pass you, no need to weave and constantly go up and down the kerbs to find a way through.

Sunset on the eve of the race

Sunset on the eve of the race

Like all races in France it is beautifully understated. It seemed more simple than races in the UK, though that doesn’t mean it wasn’t incredibly well organised. It’s relaxed and with about 5,000 people there’s enough runners around you that you never come adrift, plus you still get the buzz and atmosphere of a big event.

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I was slightly anxious about Just how hot it was going to be on race day

I was slightly anxious about Just how hot it was going to be on race day

Many runners choose the option of getting a shuttle from the finish to the start, as this is a point to point marathon. With the last bus leaving at about 6.45am, this means an early start on race day. It’s an easy option and the coach will take you to Cancale, where the start is located. On several parts of your journey you can glance across to the ocean and see Mont St Michel. It gradually gets further and further away so that when you arrive at the start it’s just a dot on the horizon. The further we got from it the more daunted I felt – which I hadn’t expected. I’d had a busy few weeks leading up to the race, I rolled on my ankle the week before at parkrun, then only managed a whole two hours sleep on race night.  I felt liked I’d run a marathon before I took the first step of the race!

I consulted my angel cards on how to approach race day tactics

I consulted my angel cards on how to approach race day tactics

As you work your way back along the coast during the race MSM comes in and out of view, slowly getting bigger as you get closer to the finish.

The start!

The start

The start was buzzing, there were plenty of loos and baggage drop was seamless. Cancale is a beautiful town and the small harbour is idyllic. The sun was just breaking through the clouds at 8.30am, which I was hoping it wouldn’t as temperatures in the high 20s were predicted.  There was no breeze, either, brilliant for those aiming for a fast run, but it meant we were in for some hot running. At least our tans would benefit!

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The first mile or so is uphill, but it’s gentle, and with the rest of the course being almost flat this is a great PB course.

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It was exciting to get underway, knowing that every mile travelled would bring MSM closer in to view.

Just having this island commune (a world heritage site) as a backdrop earns this race it’s place in the top 10 most beautiful marathons in the world. But the beauty doesn’t just lie in the spectacle of the finish. Soon you are running through quiet countryside (the whole race is closed roads) and you get an overwhelming sense of peacefulness. The fields surrounding us were already bursting with crops, and periodically we wound our way back to the coast to see how much we had progressed.

The target

The target

There were plenty of aid stations and nearly all runners made use of the sponges as well as grabbing water and nutrition, and of course all along the course locals come out, shouting ‘Allez Allez, bravo!’ You work your way through a few small villages where the support along the road side increased, encouraging those who had stopped to walk to keep going.

I noticed people walking quite early for a marathon – by about 10 miles runners were already having to pace themselves, and I knew before race day there was no way I’d be able to keep running the whole way in the heat. My phone said it was 28 degrees, but when you’re running and your body is working it always feels so much hotter. Like your head is going to explode. I had halfway as my target to keep running up to. I’ve done some really hot half marathons before, but never a full as I know how hard they are when it’s both hot and humid. By 10 miles I wasn’t exactly skipping along.

Hot already by 8am

Hot already by 8am

As I got further into the race I promised myself I would do proper walks – and the views were stunning, so I wasn’t frustrated or upset; it felt like a long walk in the countryside. By about 17 miles I started to do blocks of about five minutes walking, then running the rest of the mile I was in, but even that felt hard. I was already too hot and even though I took on water at every aid station, and threw it over myself, I was feeling sick and felt crampy all over. Every time I started to jog I felt really sick again, so I didn’t overdo it. With the gentle sound of runners overtaking me I felt peaceful and happy. Well as happy as you during a marathon when you have miles to walk/jog.

From about mile 20 the Mont reappears, is much closer and you know you are almost home. Lots of runners were walking in, all chatting to each other, encouraging one another. It was quite hard to run past my hotel to do the last mile to the finish!

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And what a spectacular finish this race gives you. It’s just haunting looking out to the Abbey. The French are incredibly proud of their heritage and were marvelling in awe at the Mont as much as us foreigners. If you’re a local runner what an incredible race to look forward to every year! This race is almost the serene, older cousin to Paris Marathon. Fanfare, crowds, noise… it needs none of these; the simple route that weaves it’s way towards the finish is a completely different experience yet incredibly unique. It has a beguiling magic, more of an ancient heart that welcomes you, takes you on a mysterious journey and then leaves you wondering just exactly what has happened.

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The difference in the feel of this race must come from the people. Whether it’s one of the biggest marathons in the world running through the streets of Paris, or a much smaller affair, winding through the French countryside, you don’t find anyone telling you what you can’t do; where you can’t go, which barriers you can’t go past, which line you have to be in. It’s so relaxed it reminds me of similar races in the Caribbean, known for their easy-going attitude. However, you have a massive organisation behind the event, ensuring that your needs are considered, met and – importantly for brining you back every year – even being anticipated before you have them.

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What will i remember about this race? I was really struck as I ran through the fields at the frequent borders of poppies. Since my school day history lessons I’ve associated Normandy and the D-Day landings with the huge loss of life that occurred in the Second World War. On your way into Mont St Michel you pass signposts to war cemeteries. Throughout the race the poppies made me think of the huge loss of life that happened in the World Wars and the deep connection we, as a nation, have with France, and how few from those times now survive.

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How that connection could be easily lost. That we should never forget. Running in the week of the Manchester bombing, in our era when warfare has such a different profile using such contrasting weapons, I felt really emotional. And just sad. People at home in the UK were running on behalf of the families and victims of the Manchester bombings in the Great Manchester Run. Every footfall made me feel thankful.

There it is! About halfway

There it is! About halfway

There are so many incredible marathons all round the world, each one a unique experience. But I think this is one all of us should put on our bucket list. Not just because it’s a beautiful route – the whole 26.2 – and has an unrivalled backdrop for a finish that will stay with you forever. I think the simplicity of the terrain gives you 26.2miles, or probably about four hours, to really appreciate the planet, life, to be present with your thoughts and just feel the beauty of the open road.

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I felt like I was travelling back in time for just a short part of one day of my life, but it’s long enough to profoundly affect you and realise however far, fast or slow, each race you do is another opportunity to connect with new people, new places, new adventures, as well as yourself. It was incredibly hot but yesterday, as I travelled home after the race, I felt refreshed – even ready to go for a run. This is the biggest positive of the Marathon Mont St Michel.

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Paris Marathon… are we friends or lovers?

It’s taken me weeks to want to write up this race. Even now I’m reluctant to put fingertips to keyboard and ‘get it out’. I needed to think about it. Please visit other runner’s blogs if you want the statistics of this race – how hot it was, how many ran, what the medal’s like.

This space is dedicated to getting to the heart of this race. I think it’s quite a beautiful one.

We toured Paris by car (to save our legs of course)

We toured Paris by car, of course, to save our legs

Why should you invest about 100 precious Euros in this marathon? What do we all expect for this? A PB? New friends? A grand experience? A lot of your race day experience is going to be dictated by preparation.

All ready for the 5K Breakfast Run

All ready for the 5K Breakfast Run

I wasn’t raring to go at Paris, but I was really ready to give 100%. By this, I mean my target was to run the whole 26.2miles without walking in (I’ve got history of doing this. Quite a few times. The last being London last year). Of course every one of us would love a PB at each marathon we run. I injured the long extensor tendon that stretches from my right big toe to my calf, so for the last four weeks before Paris I barely ran. Yes for my taper I was a faker.

Amy and I

Amy and I

But… my body was definitely rested, as three of the last four weeks before race day I didn’t run. There’s always a positive.

Other crazy British people

Other crazy British people

The mental stress of not being able to taper was horrific. Never get carried away with the positives.

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What did this race mean to me?
Let’s not get ahead, I haven’t told you about how challenging prep was. After leading a group of my Friday runners in a lovely session on the trails I came home and felt a dull ache in the zone from the inside of my ankle up towards the bottom of my calf. That was the beginning of three weeks of no running RIGHT BEFORE race day. There’s no point saying the work’s been done, it’s in the hands of Gods or anything else to soothe a runner who can’t run in the last month of marathon training. Be honest – how would you feel… yep, like a juggernaut of running misery is hurtling right at you.

I think I overdid the flag selfies. I was very excited

I think I overdid the flag selfies

Watching other runners run when you can’t hurts you deeply. We are talking pain here. They’re feeling the air in their lungs, their hearts are pumping life through their muscles, the ground is giddily slapping against their feet, they’re feeling the adrenalin push of an interval just started, the weird crazy runner’s euphoria that even a 5K can give you. And you’re not. There it is. Nasty runvy. Nasty, nasty, nasty. That dark place in your nuclei, your muscle cells, your engine, your spongy brain cells.

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A quick hi with Allison, The Running Princess

A quick hi with my blogger friend Allison, The Running Princess

Jealousy of another not for who they are, what they have, what you think they have, what they may think they have even though you know they don’t really have it, what they are, what they’ve done, what they’re about to do. Envy of their run. No one would kill someone from runvy. But you want to walk alongside them, accidentally push into them or stick one foot out and trip them up and say ‘Oh, I’m so, so sorry, did I stop you running? Here, let me help you up. You’ve twisted your ankle? Oh no! You won’t be able to run. SHAME.’

The marathon pacers at the 5K run

The marathon pacers at the 5K run

The human body is such a complicated organism. I was asking such a simple thing – perform under a huge amount of pressure on one day despite me and my broken foot being completely not happy or in a good place for at least three whole weeks. 21 days. 504 hours. 30240 minutes.

My long lost twin

My long lost twin

After those long winter runs, especially that awful one with hail and hills and the longest portaloo queue beforehand ever known to running woman, I was going to be climbing out of the washing machine of life as an injured runner and jumping straight into 26.2.

Taking all those selfies was exhausting

Taking all those selfies was exhausting

Yet after less than an hour’s flight from where I live I found myself in one of the world’s most beautiful, beguiling cities. As the Eiffel Tower came into focus from my plane I felt I knew it would all be alright, whatever happened.

The expo was full of activity

Last minute stretching at the expo

If you’re planning on going to next year’s event you have to enjoy every moment. For just a handful of Euros you can sign up to the Breakfast Run the day before the race. A 5K in the heart of Paris with a finish line at the foot of the Eiffel Tower…it would have been foolish to pass this one by and it’s such a great way to spend your hard-earned Euros. And you get breakfast (a croissant) when you cross the line. Which is cake. Almost.

Don’t miss the 5K. Thousands of runners from all over the world snake their way past such iconic landmarks as the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, the Avenue Foch, the Trocadéro, to the finish where a traditional Parisian breakfast awaits. The runners waved their home flags and chanted for the whole route, as well as stopping frequently to snap some sensational selfies. Everyone was there to have fun and the atmosphere was both relaxed and electric. Being highly excitable it was a great start to the weekend, as I felt like I was running with thousands of other highly excitable people.

We need shoe recycling bins at London Marathon expo

We need shoe recycling bins at London Marathon expo

There were no barriers on the streets. I think I saw one marshal the whole way. We all just started, the streets were closed, then we got to the end, with a lot of noise in between.

Inspiration - I would run like this woman

Inspiration – I would run like this woman positively flying over the course

By the time I got back to the hotel, after visiting the expo my injury was throbbing badly. I grabbed a bag of ice from the bar and spent the whole evening with the foot iced and elevated. If I was a religious girl I would have said a prayer to get me round.

The finish from the top of the Arc de Triomphe

The finish from the top of the Arc de Triomphe

My nerves started to buzz as soon as I woke up at 6am on marathon day to have my porridge pot. I would be running 26.2 miles from the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, past the Louvre, round the Place de la Bastille, along the Seine, through Bois de Boulogne to emerge at the finish. There are even views of Notre Dame.

Reality hits all twisted up with excitement

Reality hits all twisted up with excitement

Somehow I missed these though. Damn, I’ll have to go back next year and look harder.

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Preparation is essential and I asked my Angel Cards for guidance – why not? This is what they sent me…

Whether you believe in divine messengers or not, it wasn't wrong!

They weren’t wrong!

With such a magnificent backdrop and so many historical landmarks the miles flew past. The aid stations were aplenty and the marshals all shouted: ‘Allez, allez!’ Even before the start at 8:30am it was warm. I know you’ve probably forgotten what that feels like but I mean as warm as a normal summer’s day in England. Being hosed with fountains of water by local fire fighters was a lifesaver for many. Temperatures reached 25 degrees Celsius – challenging for any runner, however experienced. Despite the ample water stations, sponges and hoses I saw more people collapsed on the side of the road then in any other marathon.

Just before the start

Which one would you choose?

There’s a short stretch of cobbles at the beginning and though not long, they were enough to irritate my foot. From the end of mile 1 I knew I was going to have to focus right until that final step over the finish. I concentrated on keeping my head up, feeding off the crowds, the music and other runners. I didn’t weave or go up and down curbs, rather I slowed when it became extra crowded (this happened the most at the half way stage for me) and tried to move with the flow of runners rather than against it. Waves of jazz drifted over the course (there were over 100 bands along the route). I felt really moved at one stage as I listened to the music. I think this was as I was moving into the delirious stage towards the end, emerging from the parklands into the last stretch in the sun.

The elites warming up

I was going to join the elites in their warm-up but I had to redo my shoe laces

Looking up and around and taking in the changing route helped the miles slip away. I avoided constantly checking my watch. You hear about bottles under your feet at Paris, but the organisers have worked hard to educate runners to bin their bottles at targets staggered after each aid station. Yes I did feel I was ice-skating on a banana skin at one stage and a big hefty man clipped one of my ankles as I came into the second to last water station, thrusting me up against the drinks table! Both times I skilfully managed to keep on my feet. All that strength and conditioning work really paid off. All in all, sharing the route with 50,000 others felt very civilised. Most importantly, this is a flat and fast course, with no hidden hills in the last six miles. Thank you Paris for this alone. Expect your race to be very busy though, with little room to manoeuvre at certain parts. The half way is a big pinch point, and in the latter parts the crowds are in the roads cheering you on (think Tour de France), which again makes for a narrow route. By that stage you don’t really care.

Can you feel how hot it was?

Can you feel how hot it was?

Paris Marathon is not only incredibly well organised, with a heart that beats in the most romantic city on this earth, it has a soul. The race organisers have a vision of offering more than just a ‘good’ race; they want you to have an ultimate experience. Recycling, a carbon neutral footprint, inclusivity…Paris is leading the way on all of these crucial factors that will ensure the survival and evolution of all the big city races.

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I had an animal in my head the last six miles. I normally try to encourage other runners walking or struggling but I ignored them all and my mantra was ‘Just keep going’. I felt awful but I had to focus on just not stopping. And I didn’t.

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For all these words I really could have used just one: Paris Marathon felt stylish. Compared to London it’s much more visually stunning. Obviously the weather was amazing. The expo is, I think, better than London.

The first spot of shade. I sat between two piles of vomit

The first spot of shade. I sat between two piles of vomit

Running a marathon has got to be the best way to discover a city. The wide boulevards of Paris, the imposing 18th and 19th architecture, the ghosts of Renoir, Picasso, Manet, Cézanne looking down from Montmartre at the strange sight of so many people thrumming their own beat with hundreds of thousands of feet. It’s a race you’ll never forget. I find I have very much fallen in love with the Marathon de Paris.

Not so happy now

The finishing straight; not so happy now am I

Next year’s race date: April 8th 2018 Enter here

I know I said I wasn’t going to give you statistics. I was lying
42,500 finishers in 2017
250,000 spectators along the route
3,000 volunteers
37% running their first marathon
146 nationalities
25% women (come on ladies!)
1,759,869km: total kilometres run by participants in 2016 (that’s to the moon and back, twice!)
3,000 runners in the Paris Breakfast Run

After Paris I was left with thoughts that had nothing to do with running. It was five years since I ‘ran’ a marathon and four years since I determined to try one, after my dad’s death. I didn’t even realise this. I literally hadn’t thought ‘how long since’… It was quite a shock to realise five years of life had gone by.

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It was such a hot day – so hot that I stayed in an ice bath for ten minutes once I got back to my hotel. And so hot that I was taken back to the day of my dad’s funeral. The memory of dipping my fingers deep into the urn that held my dad’s ashes, taking a full handful and holding him within one hand, before I lay the ashes into a river. How can your parent become a handful of ashes? There was a tiny bit of metal within my hand, must have been from his coffin. It took so long from that day to achieve the marathon again in some senses I felt flat and very inconsequential post race. Time has moved on. If it takes that long for the next one I’ll be a Vet50!

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Spring marathons – the ones that got away
I’m not the only runner who didn’t have a great lead up, or race day experience, in their spring marathon. So how do you deal with this?

Since the race I've run with a lot less people

Since the race I’ve run with a lot less people

When I got to stage of almost crying in my taper (I said * almost *) I did one thing that changed my whole perspective instantly. I entered another marathon. After two weeks of fretting about how I wouldn’t make it to the start line, how I wouldn’t be able to ‘race’, how little marathon pace I’d done, I could start focusing on something else. You can do this too if you’re marathon journey has been scuppered, or if race day goes haywire and you’ve been left on the marathon finishers rubbish heap. Do it now, it makes a massive difference to that negative voice in your head.

These three made sure I had the minimum of rest post race :)

These three made sure I had the minimum of rest post race 🙂

P.S. Can I just ask – does anyone actually ever do really good training, really good races and manage to dodge these life issues that seem to magnetise towards me like an alien to Area 51 ?

How to run your first 10K!

The sun is shining, finally, which means it’s the best time of year to think about new fitness challenges! Whether you’re stepping up in distance or putting your trainers on for the first time, here are my five easy steps to completing your first 10K

Have you recently completed a Race for Life 5K or parkrun? Or are you new to running and looking for your first challenge? The natural progression is to train for a 10K.

With 28.5 per cent of women taking part in sport two or three times a week, and 4.8 per cent of women trying either jogging, cross-country or running, more and more 10K races are springing up in a town near you. If training, and completing a 6.25-mile race appeals, here’s how you can ensure success.

It’s all about the training
If you’ve recently completed a 5K, well done! Even if you’re new to running, it’s worth knowing that moving up to your first 10K isn’t about speed, it’s about completing a new distance. Get ready to add time on your feet. ‘The more you extend the time on your feet, the closer you will get to your 10K goal,’ says running coach and Olympian Liz Yelling, who regularly trains new runners in her hometown of Poole, Dorset.

Training for a 10K is similar to a 5K, however the distance of your long run will double. ‘Slowly building your long run will help your endurance or ability to keep going when your body starts to tire,’ says Liz. A common misconception is that you need to have run the distance in training before race day: you don’t. If you’ve run five miles, the occasion will pull you through the last mile.

Kate, Amber and I after we finished the 10K

Very hot 10K in Barbados

Don’t think you need to be running every day either. It’s better to train smart, than train too much. There are three key sessions you should aim to include every week – a long run, a 30-minute steady run and an interval session. Interval running is about running faster over a short distance, then recovering before you repeat the effort. This helps your body get used to the feeling of running fast, and helps your heart and lungs adapt to let you do this.

‘One of my most popular sessions with runners aiming for their first 10K is running fast for 60 seconds, then walking for two minutes to recover, before repeating between six and eight times,’ says Liz.

When it comes to race day make sure you give yourself enough time to warm up. ‘Don’t waste energy on a really energetic warm-up,’ advises Liz, ‘at this stage, a brisk 10-minute walk will loosen your muscles.’

Pacing is key
When you first start to run, you can quickly become out of breath, which can feel scary if you haven’t done this since school. But it is normal. Training allows you to understand how to make your body run faster, and you shouldn’t be afraid to push yourself gradually, at small intervals.

The biggest pacing mistake for new runners is going off too fast in a race. How do you know you have done this? Think of the perceived effort you are running at, on a scale of 1-10. One is walking, 10 is running as fast as you can. If you are at 8-10 it’s too fast! You should be aiming for 6-7 to be able to finish comfortably.

Recognise that if you can’t keep running you have probably started too fast, and don’t be afraid to walk. Break the remaining distance down into periods of running, then walking for two minutes to recover, before trying to run again for two minutes.

Muddy 10K

Muddy 10K

Nail your pacing on race day by monitoring your breathing, and ability to talk while moving. For a first 10K, it’s unlikely that you are chasing a time, so you won’t be running flat out. Aim to be able to speak 8-10 words with the person next to you before you have to take a breath, and before you know it that finish line will appear.

Balance your diet
Can what you eat really affect your race? ‘Yes!’ says nutritionist and endurance runner Emma Patel. ‘Your daily training diet should be a consistent balance of natural unprocessed whole foods. Fill your body with processed junk and it will feel like you’re running on junk!’

A body loaded with junk is too busy detoxifying to thrive, leading to fatigue and low energy levels, and faster burnout when it comes to race day.

Try cooking with grains that have a low glycaemic index and aren’t processed, such as amaranth and quinoa. Both offer a vast quantity of carbohydrate, proteins and micronutrients. Processed, refined sugary foods such as white bread and pasta don’t offer much nutritionally other than carbohydrate and “empty calories”.

‘You also need healthy fats (free-range eggs and organic avocados), quality proteins such as sustainable organically farmed chicken and fish like salmon, plus an array of seasonal fruits, vegetables and spices,’ adds Emma. These are anti-inflammatory and are rich in antioxidants, aiding the recovery process after vigorous training.

Christmas 10K

Christmas 10K

Iron-rich foods are also important, especially if you are vegetarian or vegan, as they can boost performance. ‘This group of powerhouses includes dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli and dark coloured berries,’ says Emma.

Eat your pre-race breakfast two to three hours before your run to allow the food to be digested. ‘I recommend a go-faster breakfast of brown rice, blueberries, a dash of maple syrup and some healthy nut butter on race day,’ says Emma.

It’s also important to refuel and rehydrate as quickly as possible after to reduce muscle soreness and boost energy levels. Even though you may not feel like it, eating within the first 15 minutes of finishing will kick-start your recovery.

Avoid recovery drinks with large quantities of sugar, sweeteners and additives; a homemade smoothie will be more nourishing and cheaper. Try making your own with banana, almond, coconut milk and strawberries.

Finally, if it’s going to be hot, you sweat a lot and your race will take more than 60 minutes, sip on an electrolyte drink on your way round to remain hydrated.

Sort out your kit bag
With the right gear you can avoid injury, which could halt your training. Buying untested shoes online could mean running in the wrong type of trainers. You need to get both your feet and your gait analysed in a specialist running shop, to get the right shoe for your running style.

Videos on the Internet may help you work out whether you have high arches or over-pronate (think of your knees rolling inwards), but it’s difficult to assess your own running style.

Any specialist should match your running needs with your budget, and give you plenty of options; your first trainers don’t have to be expensive.

Mountain 10K in Mauritius

Mountain 10K in Mauritius

The majority of runners over-pronate and need a little support in their shoes, but as the overall trend is towards natural shoes, even if you need support you can expect your trainers to be lightweight.

If you don’t wear a properly fitted, supportive sports bra when you run you could suffer permanent breast damage – even if your breasts are very small.

Also, when you’re buying gear to run in, your best option is modern polyester fabric, rather than cotton, as it’s breathable and wicks away sweat. This fabric doesn’t get heavier as you sweat and the more expensive items will have an odour control element, worth investing in!

You CAN do this
The surest way to ensure you achieve this goal is to work out why you are running. You need to find out the core “why” or motivation for running: the bottom-line reason behind your effort. For example, if you are running with a friend, ask yourself why? If it’s to support her as she’s raising money for charity, why do you want to help?

If the charity is linked to a specific cause, why is this relevant to you? Keep going until there are no more questions – this is your core motivation. ‘The more you can drill down to the core “why” behind your challenge, and get to the bottom of why you took it on, the easier it will be to keep going when it gets tough,’ says emotional wellness coach Janet Smith.

When this is your reward why wouldn't you train for a 10K?

When this is your reward why wouldn’t you train for a 10K?

If you are running to raise £1,000 for a breast cancer charity as you lost your mum to the disease, this is your core motivation. As you run you can then build on this motivation to keep going. ‘Each 1K you complete can become £100 raised towards your target, or a chunk of whatever goal you have set yourself,’ says Janet.

‘Keep thinking big: if you raise your target what will the charity do with this money? How many lives will be saved by this charity? This becomes your biggest goal: to help save peoples’ lives.’ If it helps, contact your charity to ask what your fundraising target will achieve.

When last minute nerves kick in, don’t let them stop you achieving success. ‘Either connect with others, via blogs or Facebook, to get external energy to boost your confidence, or journey inwards to do this. Renew your energy by spending time with yourself, whether you enjoy swimming, walking, meditation or art,’ says Janet.

Here’s my beginner’s 10K training plan!
Beginner's Training Plan 10K

Emma Patel’s ideal breakfast, lunch and tea:
Breakfast: Amaranth porridge with fresh mango and chia seeds. Start the day with hot water with fresh lemon and ginger.

Lunch: Mackerel and brown rice with an avocado, spinach and watercress salad, and a tahini dressing (rich in calcium).

Dinner: Roasted turkey breast with roasted veggies, celeriac, butternut squash, aubergine and peppers. Add melted feta cheese to the veggies.

Don’t forget to drink filtered water throughout the day (aim for six glasses).

Let me know how you get on with your first 10K!

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The Barbados Marathon weekend – a runner’s mecca

I’m writing this on the first day of winter and it’s dark, in the middle of the afternoon. It’s miserable. And cold. I have no desire to go for a run but at some stage I’m going to have to. If you struggle with this impenetrable solar obscurity like I do, I can help.

Just cruising along

Just cruising along

We all need to go to Barbados. We can all go to the 2017 #runbarbados marathon weekend series, together; we can sit in the sun, run in the sun, have fun in the sun. Drink rum in the sun. Let’s start saving now (OK after Christmas) and make this happen! We’ll have something to really hold on to during autumn 2017, and then we’ll be so stuffed full of warm-running memories by Christmas they’ll be no room for turkey.

My morning run route

My morning run route

Why? You can do the 1mile race on the Friday, the 5K on Saturday afternoon, followed by the 10K about an hour later, either the half marathon or full on Sunday morning, and if you choose the half you can do the 5K walk to finish it all off. Yes, five races in three days, but you’ll get six medals for your trouble.

Kate, Amber and I after we finished the 10K

Kate, Amber and I after we finished the 10K

Where? Yes, Barbados! You know that stunning (light), amazing (light), hot (light) Caribbean island, about eight hours south-west from here.

It was amazing to swim with hawksbill turtles in Barbados

It was incredible to swim with hawksbill turtles during our stay

It’s just 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, but Barbados packs a punch on a global level when it comes to marathon weekend experiences.

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There it is…

The island rose from the sea millions of years ago as coral limestone, rather than volcanic activity so expect to see colourful colonial houses chipped into the coral, as if they are sitting atop giant blobs of pumice.

Scenic 10K route at sunset

Scenic 10K route at sunset

You’ll also experience the magic of island life, the Bajan people and their culture. Yes, you’re travelling to find some winter sun but you can also step into the past, gaining a glimpse of what colonial life was like. There’s crystal clear sea to snorkel in, where you can swim with hawksbill sea turtles. Then there’s the rum…ah, the rum!

Another sunset on the route

Another sunset on the route

The race series is popular with local and international people; this year there were nearly 2,000 participants. A very generous prize fund has something to do with this, as money can be made at these races (the winner of the marathon not only wins BDS$4,000 but a return trip to the island including flights and hotel). So for slightly more serious runners this is a good chance to win enough money to make the trip pay for itself. There are medals for the first three in all age groups, as well.

How amazing, we went on a submarine!

How amazing, we went on a submarine!

Even at 5am in the morning, when the half and full marathon start, you are not only breathing in incredibly hot and humid air, you are breathing in the fumes of the past. The course is fast, with the sea on one side, waiting to cool you down as you pass the finish line, and beautiful Bajan houses dotting the road on the other. Ripples of support follow you all the way round (if you’re doing the full marathon you get to do two laps and the sun will have risen for the second) and there are plenty of water stations – you’ll need to make use of every one.

And we saw this little fella

And we saw this little fella

If you can, enter every race. The race organizers have ensured it’s possible to just about do this, so run them all slowly to get the most of the race series (and bag an extra medal for doing the full combo). Make sure you also plan your daily itinerary, so you don’t waste a moment while you’re there.

St Nicholas Abbey - it hasn't changed in 400 years

St Nicholas Abbey – it hasn’t changed in 400 years

You HAVE to visit a rum distillery or sugar plantation. Sipping rum at 11am in 30 degrees centigrade is just…surreal and makes you feel very, very happy. We went to the St Nicholas Abbey distillery. I went in saying I don’t really drink any more, then came out with a new love in my life. Rum and lemonade. It’s a stunning place – you find yourself walking through a Jacobean house alongside the ghosts of those who were born, lived and died there.

Not your ordinary setting for a race

Not your ordinary setting for a race

We also travelled by submarine to watch the tropical fish and turtles, as well as taking a sunset cruise where we were fortunate enough to swim with them.

You'll find the light in the submarine is very flattering!

You’ll find the light in the submarine is very flattering!

There are too many fantastic restaurants to list, and so many day trips (many featuring the serene aqua-blue Caribbean Sea) that you’ll get a tan while you’re on the go.

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This is always going to be the perfect time of year to travel to Barbados, as it’s the week of the anniversary of the island being granted independence. Being there on the golden anniversary was a beautiful thing. We all felt the love of these people – it oozes from them as a nation, and they share it with the world through their music. As it bounces away in the background, along the course, let your body then your mind join the Caribbean party. There’s no place for tense shoulders or furrowed brows as you pound the roads. You’re there to relax.

It's harder than you think to run in this kind of heat and humidity - add about 15 minutes to the time you would normally do

It’s harder than you think to run in this kind of heat and humidity – add about 15 minutes to the time you would normally do for a half marathon

You may experience a little rainfall when visiting; just think of the water gently washing away your stress and let it caress your skin. If you get rain during your races you’ll be so grateful. The most spectacular part of this trip was feeling my stress unravel, a gentle release, like the sprung mechanisms of a very old clock slowly peeling away, layer by layer, until all the crumpled old metal has been eased into a flatter, smoother inward landscape. Island life will wash away your tension and aches, while you do what you love most, running. Thank you Barbados.

Don't mind if I do

Don’t mind if I do

Travel essentials
Enter the race weekend at: runbarbados.org
You can get return flights from British Airways to Bridgetown for approx £600 (britishairways.com)
Stay at the Courtyard by Marriott from approx US$200 per night for two people (Marriott.com)
Restaurants: Tapas, The Beach House, Beach One, The Cliff Beach Club, Buzo Italiana
Day trips: Atlantis Submarines (barbados.athlantissubmarines.com), Tiami Catamaran Cruises (tiamicatamarancruises.com)
Make your trip complete by visiting St Nicolas Abbey rum distillery, Saint Peter Parish (stnicholasabbey.com)

Just in case you need a bit more sun, here it is again…

See you in Barbados!

Happy Christmas! Love Tina x

 

If you’re looking for last minute Christmas presents, here’s my latest children’s book, Rosalee’s Wish

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The GREAT South Run, 2016

Back in 2000 I had my first daughter in New Zealand. We came back to live in the UK in the summer of 2001. My brother-in-law Phil was turning 40 and thought it would be a good idea for my big brother Paul and I to run the Great South Run with him. Did they notice that having a baby had turned me into a different person; sleep-deprived, chore-driven, in need of a goal? I think my brother-in-law Phil couldn’t stop laughing at me, and my new-found role, and took me out for a run as ‘there-there’ therapy to help me. It worked. So there we were the three of us, a little crew, for a while. The big issue was both of them were way, way faster than I could ever be. It was so annoying. Being blokes they had a distinct physical advantage. Being one foot taller than me (well one was) meant their stride length was so massive that even during our warm-ups I would be sprinting to keep up. Phil laughed at me a lot. I laughed at me a lot.

Me, Paul and the lovely Phil, 2001. What was I wearing? Not much!

Me, Paul and the lovely Phil, 2001. What was I wearing?

Back then running was slightly different. Primarily, it was fuelled off red wine fumes. I hadn’t quite progressed to whisky. When I came back from NZ I lived with my brother. He had no choice; I was his little sister and if he didn’t give my family a place to stay I guess I would have tried to throw a punch northwards to make him do exactly as I wanted. Having two sisters must be horrible, especially when one is extra feisty even though she is extra small. (Isn’t this usually the way?).

I had to sneak this pic from my mum’s house without my brother knowing. I think this was the year of the chest infection…

We would often have a mid-week glass of wine, but never two days in a row. I don’t think. Or maybe we did a few times. I can’t believe it now, but I think we even had a few drinks on the night before some of our early Great South Runs. The thought makes my stomach churn today. What were we thinking? Well we weren’t thinking as we were able to get away with it. I can definitely remember dragging my body round the streets of Portsmouth with a hangover on a few occasions. I wasn’t really a real runner back then.

Big bro and me, I loved those Ron Hill socks

Laughing all the way to the finish line through the alcohol fumes. I loved those Ron Hill socks

The three of us would hang on for the whole 10 miles, get our medals, then usually head off to a local pub to have another glass of celebratory wine. These were the good years. There are memories on those streets, especially in Eastney, the backwater before you finally come round into the long road back to the finish. We set up a tradition – every time I had a baby I ran the GSR that same year, in some crazy bloody-minded belief it was really important to show my girls that just because you have a baby doesn’t mean you can’t still have personal goals. Even after #numbers 1 and 2 were born, and I had had blood transfusions, I was trying to run around my nearest park 6 weeks later.

Don't you love how cool Paul from Men's Running looks in this?

Paul from Men’s Running always looks this cool

I’ve had some truly shocking GSRs. But I did what I aimed for and always managed the next GSR after each birth. The three post-birth races were really awful. But the worst one was when I’d had a chest infection but forced myself to run (raising money for Alzheimer’s Society, couldn’t let them down), coughed so much all the way round that I had to stop each time. I was in constant danger of wetting myself. For the first six miles I did that run where you cough and try to not stop but pull your legs together, trying to control your bladder so you look like your running off red wine fumes…

Some of my GSR bling

Some of my GSR bling

Phil died in his 40s, losing his battle with diabetes, just before #3 was born. I ran the GSR after her birth for him. It was awful. I know he would still be laughing at me and my running, the way it goes up and down, just like the support of the American people of Donald Trump. I know he would say: ‘Tina, just enjoy yourself, don’t worry,’ and then laugh his massive donkey laugh at me all the way round. I loved that man.

I snuck in at the front - imposter anxiety!

I snuck in at the front – imposter anxiety!

Plenty of times my brother’s beaten me, too. Goddamn it, I hate that. Thing is I figured out years ago how to beat him. All I have to do is train. Because he doesn’t. He’s so laid back he eased himself out of our mother’s womb making the peace sign. I’ve been doing reverse psychology on him for years, and he has no idea. It’s OK, don’t worry, he doesn’t read my blog – none of my family do – so he won’t find out. Every week I ask him the same question: Are you coming to my running group? Every week he says: I’m too busy. So. He thinks I really want him to come. Whereas I know the more I ask him the more he won’t come. We have this weird-psychic-crazy-brain connection where I know exactly what to do to make him not do something. You only have it with the souls who were there the day you came home from the hospital, wrapped up warm and tiny, who look at your bundle of life and instantly, with their 18-month-old brain deduce ‘I know exactly what that crazy piece of life is all about.’ That’s what he’s got with me. That’s called being truly blessed.

Sorry Paul, are you still running at this stage?

Sorry Paul, are you still running at this stage?

He can still rock up to this annual 10-miler with no training and run close to 80 minutes. It’s so annoying I want to slap him every year. I have to keep up my training just to beat him. What a motivation. And the best bit is he has no idea that he’s not running because I want him to, so I can beat him. Crazy life magic right there.

We found this one waiting for his prize after we finished

We found this one waiting for his 2nd place prize after we finished

Some people write such sweet things about their brothers….

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Isn’t it so cute? Oh sorry, I was looking for a lovely poem about how great a brother he is and this one kept popping up… Is it about me?

So, so pleased I spotted this one on the ferry. I'm the proudest coach... she's my superstar

So, so pleased I spotted this one on the ferry. I’m the proudest coach… she’s my superstar

Then when the race is over I say: ‘Oh, did I beat you? Ah, I didn’t realise…!’ Knowing full well I did as the moment I get over the finish line I pull out my mobile and go on to the GSR results page, punch in his name, see his time and run round that whole lower field in a glory lap, singing ‘R.E.S.P.E.C.T, all I’m asking is a litt’l respect!’ Even though something like 10,000 people finished in front of me. It doesn’t matter as I beat my brother. That’s what true victory is.

This year the GSR magic weaved its way through the streets of Portsmouth. The elites were out, the supporters were out, the sun was out. There was a bit of wind, but racing conditions were set for thousands of glorious PBs. The whole of the south coast was there, nearly every runner I know – either skipping over the cobblestones in the historic dockyard or shouting on their club mates. The support is priceless and makes the quite hefty price tag of the race (expect to pay over £40) melt into a big gooey mess of happiness and love.

I set myself quite a big target this year, 72.5 minutes and I didn’t quite make it. A duathlon last weekend finished me off. I finished with a chip time of 74.42… I ran 10.11, my watch time for 10 miles dead on was 74.03. But it was a GSR PB; on that first one in 2001, aged 30,  I did 84 minutes. So I was 10 minutes quicker even though I am 15 years older. Can’t complain about that.

I have one, and only one tiny gripe – the t-shirts are always so massive. Please, Great Run, please, can we have an XS?

Did I beat my brother this year? Stupid question…

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You can enter next year’s race here

I’ll see you there.

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AR Summer 5K Series – a small race with a big heart

Reeling from a not-so-successful London Marathon at the end of April I got stuck in that place we go when we feel nothing’s going right for us, while everything is going right for ‘them’ (whoever they may be). The first few days after a marathon are such an emotional rollercoaster, even when you’ve run OK. Feeling a bit low I entered a local 5K race series, as it’s the only way I know to cope…create a new goal.

The last race of the series was run under a beautiful moon

The last race of the series was run under a beautiful moon

This series was a perfect match: extremely close, exceptional value (I caught the early bird price) very friendly and well run. It’s been going for a few years and I’d only heard good things about it. I also wanted to support the race organiser, local runner and owner of the award-winning Absolute Running shop in Gosport as he is a top bloke. Last year I had every race of the series on my calendar and didn’t make one of them. A mid-week evening 5K race can be tricky if you have kids and accompanying taxi duties. But doing a short race series over the summer can show you how your fitness is improving, so I really wanted to make it this year. It’s also a welcome break from your winter long, slow runs.

GRR turning out in force to support the last race

GRR turning out in force to support the last race

Then the first one came, and it went. Nope, I didn’t make it. It just happened that both my mum and my partner were away and so on that night it was only me home alone with three girls and too many car trips to fit in any sort of run. I was proper grumpy. This really fired me up and I was going to make the next four, no matter what.

Me and Karen, second lady

Me and Karen, second lady

Boy I had the wind taken out of my sails on the next race, the second of the series. One thing I hadn’t factored into my race plan was the hideous wind you get along the south coast, which, whatever direction you run in seems to swirl against you.

We all flew for the first mile (wind-assisted), did our two laps of the top field then had to put our heads down on the way back to the finish. The same for races three and four. In fact, on the day of the July 5K I really didn’t want to run. It wasn’t windy, it was hurricane weather – well it felt like it was all the way back into the finish. My third mile split was nearly a minute slower than the first two. I think I was proper grumpy again after that race. But we all know you never regret a run…

I won wine!

I won wine!

By the August 5K I was expecting balmy conditions, a perfect, still summer evening where I may even get within touching distance of my 5K PB. Well, the weather had other plans for us runners and yet again we had to battle 25-30mph winds coming into the final third of the race. Can’t say I was ebullient after that one! Then something amazing happened on the final race, on Tuesday night.

Presentations for the overall series winners

Presentations for the overall series winners

It was incredibly warm – maybe even too warm – for racing a 5K and the wind that was building gently during the day dropped to a whisper. You’ve never seen a couple of hundred runners so uplifted. When I arrived to pick up my race number we were all rejoicing – no wind! It was going to be a breeze (sorry…). We all gathered for the pre-race photo and there was such a good vibe. If you’re looking for your running tribe this is the place to come and find the best. Nick is the perfect ambassador for running and the running life. He’s probably one of the most authentic people you could hope to meet, pretty important when you’re looking for new trainers that you know are probably going to cost you at least £100. You can trust his opinion and pick his brain on anything – the fact that Absolute Running has won awards two-years running, at the Running Awards, shows the depth of community behind him, and how much they trust and respect him.

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He has made some powerful differences to the community he lives in, both through the 5K summer series and the Gosport Golden Mile race, which has become a big hit with local school children. As Nick says: ‘It’s all about the youth.’

Perfect running conditions

Perfect running conditions

I was really chuffed for Nick that so many of the local run club, Gosport Road Runners, were out to support him in the last race of the series. I know most of them only live down the road, literally, but it would be easy not to bother – all of us have busy lives. After the race I spoke to three separate people who told me how they had dashed, hell for leather, from work to make the last event. And at a coaching event earlier in the year held in the other side of the county runners from Surrey told me they were hoping to come down to one of the races.

ethangeephotography.co.uk

ethangeephotography.co.uk

Every year the numbers taking part in this series are growing impressively, and will continue to grow not just because good news travels quickly, but, if the wind is calm, it’s a completely flat and potentially fast course. There’s a kids 1K race before the adult race each month, so you can take your youngsters for a dash along the prom. All finishers get a medal, plus there are prizes in each race through the age categories, as well as a substantial prize to the overall male and female winners of the series. There’s also chip timing. All this is just by-the-by though, as it’s the welcoming, all-inclusive and friendly atmosphere that you will remember. Presentations only take place when the last runner is in and the marshals are fantastic. Plus there’s the perfect opportunity to take your family down for a fish and chip supper after the race. On Tuesday it was nearly dark by the time the last runner finished, the moon was out and it was a beautiful evening. It was lovely to sit on the beach after the race with my youngest, rather than dash home.

The lovely Nick and Kim Carter - thank you for a great race series!

The lovely Nick and Kim Carter – thank you for a great race series!

I am so chuffed that I finally made this race. Yes I moaned and grumped along the way; we all want perfect conditions for every race, but this rarely happens. Maybe if every race in the series had been calm it wouldn’t have been such an achievement to persevere to the end, or the last one wouldn’t have felt so magical.

You can enter next year’s Gosport Golden Mile here

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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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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#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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