In April 2017 Eagle Piers Keenleyside completed this gruelling event which takes place in the Sahara desert. You can read all about his adventure by following this link:
It was the 30th November and 4 days earlier I had run the San Sebastian marathon. After becoming accustomed to the carb lifestyle I decided I needed to enter another marathon ASAP. After a chat with Surrey traitor Harriet Betteridge who was also looking for a new challenge following her triumph in the Lisbon marathon the previous September we both decided to sign up for Paris. I was looking to better my GFA time from San Sebastian (previously just scraping in at 3:44:35) and Harriet wanted to dip further under 3:30 having done 3:29:54 in Lisbon. The challenge was set.
Coach Walker very kindly agreed to help me once more with a new plan which involved 5 days a week of running, it was a definitely going to be a challenge but seemed very achievable with some good time management. The basic rules were Tuesday track, Wednesday easy mid-week long run, Thursday Tempo, Saturday Parkrun and Sunday long run. Classic.
Training started really well and I quickly started entering other races and training runs to fit into the plan. Brighton was the target half (minus 146 metres apparently) with a few others booked as part of training runs. These included the Bramley 20, Cranleigh 15 and the wonderful Leith Hill Half.
Everything was going great with a new PB (I'm still claiming it) for the half distance and I was generally feeling pretty strong with the taper on the horizon after completing my longest training run of 22 miles, that's when my achilles decided it was time to cause some mischief...
I'll never know what would have happened on race day if I decided to completely rest instead of just cutting back on the mileage, which I did do quite substantially, but spoiler alert, it didn't quite go to plan. During the taper every time I ran all I could think about was my achilles and whether it was going to magically not hurt this time, a few times it didn't at all but this was outweighed by all the times it definitely did. I desperately rolled, stretched and rested as much as my maranoid body could handle until a few days before all I could do was rest and hope for the best.
Friday arrived and an early Eurostar to Paris awaited with Hattom (Harriet and Tom for those not in the know) and Sophie and Kieran (reporting for cheer duty) due to join later that evening. But disaster struck and after a week of ignoring esteemed health care professional Sophie Foxall, Kieran admitted defeat and finally visited A&E where he was told he'd need his foot amputated... oh sorry no it was just a bad case of cellulitis. Either way our personal cheer squad could no longer make it, lesson learnt, never ignore a nurse when she tells you your foot looks like it needs seeing to. Get well soon Santry!
On Saturday morning we headed for the Expo to collect our numbers, I'd been told it was bigger than London and it wasn't a lie. After collecting our bibs and race rucksacks we quickly made our way through the copious amount of stalls, stopping only to buy 'XC pink' marathon branded tops. I thought it would be a good incentive to finish the race no matter what the next day otherwise I wouldn't be able to wear it without feeling like a fraud. A quick stop at the Marathon du Medoc stall for a thimble of wine (important to keep hydrating the day before kids) and then my favourite part of any training plan was put into full action, carb loading was a go.
The morning of the race arrived and Harriet and I set off from our Parisian apartment near Place de Clichy at 6:45am, which was very conveniently situated on a metro line heading directly to the race start on the Champ-Elysee.
We headed straight for our pen but upon arrival thought it probably wasn't a good idea to run with all our stuff so decided to try and find the baggage drop instead, definitely should have read those race instructions.
One thing I'd been repeatedly warned about with this race was the toilet queues but I really didn't think this was an issue. This may have been because there was a one portaloo no-one seemed to want to go in and Harriet and I thought it was fine (usual level of disgusting but fine) so no queue for us.
8:35 and we were off! The way the start staggers for Paris works really well, they let everyone from one pen go at a time before waiting a while to release the next, this meant it never felt too crowded on the route, I still felt like I did a fair amount of weaving due to people trying to stick to the green line but I think that will always be the way.
Phill and Tom had agreed to be at 3 or potentially 4 places over the course and the first was just after 5km so we knew we didn't have to wait long before we got some cheer squad action. After 2 miles together I let Hattie go ahead as I knew she wanted a slightly faster time than me and I wasn't sure how my achilles was going to behave. I passed 5km around the time I wanted to with the achilles not complaining and cheer squad in the agreed position up ahead, I was feeling positive. Unfortunately this was only to last another 2 miles...
Just after mile 5 on the approach to the first woods, of which there are 2 along the route, I felt my lower calf start to pull. This was a feeling I knew all too well from the past few weeks and I knew what was to come. By the time we left the woods at around mile 12 I was in quite a bit of pain but was just trying to focus on getting to half way and then to the next agreed cheer point just before the 15 mile mark.
When I saw the boys I really wanted to stop but knew as soon as I did it would be so hard to start again and I was already feeling a bit emotional about the prospect of potentially not finishing.
I was wearing two pace bands and at this point I was still just about on target for the one which read 3:30 but I knew it wasn't going to last and tried to cling onto the one that read 3:35 instead.
However about a mile later the pain was too much and I had to stop to try and stretch my calf, at this point I was about ready to quit and was feeling quite teary. Then I thought what a bloody idiot I must have looked and told myself to snap out of it, I was in Paris on a beautiful sunny day, running an amazing race with some pretty awesome people. And more importantly there was a lovely pink t-shirt I'd bought the day before and damn I really wanted to be able to wear it. And beer, there was beer at the finish line.
So I struggled on, walking if I needed and running when I could. I looked at all the sights and made sure to take in the Eiffel Tower which Tom had told me his Uncle had missed when he ran it because he was having such an awful race, there was no way I was going to miss that. After that I knew I just needed to do a Parkrun (a mantra I always find useful) before I saw the boys again at the start of the next woods. Here I stopped and had a little (big) moan about my time and wanting to quit but Phill made me keep running for which I'm very grateful and was the push I needed to finish. I'd read horrible things about these wood being a 'death march' but considering how much I was suffering psychically I found them quite enjoyable. A couple more miles and the two man cheer squad had darted across the park so they could see us again, a welcome sight as I wasn't sure I'd see them again until the end. At this point Phill told me to run faster and this time I didn't appreciate his encouragement quite so much but I tried to do as I was told none the less.
The final mile seemed to drag on forever and the sign for 200m to go couldn't come soon enough. I summoned all the strength I could do a 'sprint finish' but it was nothing more than a hobble. And with that I was done.
We were quickly handed a very nice finishers t-shirt and given the 24 degree midday heat, an unnecessary poncho but good to know that the organisers we prepared for all eventualities on race day. I found Hattie with no trouble in our pre-agreed meeting place and quickly felt most of the disappointment of my race disappear knowing we could celebrate and have a post race beer in a beautiful city on a sunny spring day.
No I didn't get the time I wanted or trained for but if you'd have asked me this time last year if I could run two sub 4 marathons in 4 months one being a good for age qualifier for London I would have said it wasn't possible. I'm grateful that I'm at a point where I can be disappointed with a finish time of 3:50:25 and I'll get that illusive sub 3:30 one day. C'est La Vie, the sun is shining and life is good. Now to rest this gammy ankle...
Go on, we've all done it. Booked a race online while under the influence of alcohol / over enthusiasm. I blame the Eagles runners doing the 2015 NY Marathon, there I was innocently viewing their progress on my laptop, sipping tea and then wine, and hey! an ad pops up for the NY Half the following March....
I really didn't think I had any chance in the ballot, I was wasting the $5 ballot entry fee on a dream, like a lottery ticket. So imagine my surprise at getting a place! Fast forward to March 2017 and my deferred place is waiting for me (did I tell anyone about my 2016 broken finger/black eye/deferral...?)
With a mix of triumphant training and stomach-clenching nerves, I boarded the Virgin flight last Thursday, wow it's really difficult to work out what to pack in advance, isn't it! My answer was to pack everything.
Advice for an overseas race:
1. Check the weather, but not constantly, you just spook yourself needlessly.
2. Pack everything, all your running gear, who knows, your running bra might just combust during the journey...
3. Do a couple of practice runs to gauge the weather and that indefinable feel of the streets
4. Assume the worst, it WILL cost more than you budgeted for, especially if you fall for more running gear at the expo
5. Plan for after the race, not just before: where you will meet your friends/family
6. Don't go for a PB, go for an unforgettable experience, you can do the PB at a local race, but you might just be lucky on the day
7 Do the tourism bit too, float round the city on a cloud of pride for at least a day afterwards.
So should you go in for the NY Half ballot? Well, yes. Here are the reasons why: 1 it's in New York 2 it's in New York. Seriously, what can be better than running round Central Park, down 7th Avenue, through Times Square, along West Side Highway (OK that's a bit straight) round the tip of Manhattan, finish in Wall Street/Water Street? It's very well organised, with water and Gatorade stations plus portaloos every couple of miles. It has the feel of a major marathon in its organisation so for us poor mortals who might never do a marathon, this is the closest to the razzamatazz of a marathon we will get. Apart from the Central Park hill at 5k, it's flat especially at the end. The only downside for me anyway is the high chance of cold, cold weather. Storm Stella arrived in New York a couple of days before me, dumping two feet of snow and freezing temperatures. So I had to run in the cold, no choice about that.
How did I do? Well, good and bad, you know how races go. I had to be up very early, 5.30, to make my wave start. I seem to have bigged myself up and claimed a 2.05 predicted finish so I was in Wave 2. Call Uber, arrive 6.45 at Columbus Circle at sunrise, and through the extensive security. Walk to the corral and wait for ages while the delayed start gets organised. Keeping warm in my old EHM 2014 hoodie, I chuck it away at the start and really feel sad to say goodbye to it. But hey! we are off and running round Central Park! In the cold, and wind chill factor of minus 2.
Central Park is surprisingly hilly, and at 5k there is something similar to Mount Greenford, a seemingly never-ending incline. I get to the top and start to feel less freezing, lower the EE buff from my nose and ears. Remove my gloves, hey maybe one of my tops soon. We leave Central Park, and there is the never-ending horizon of 7th Avenue in front of us and a wall of cheering, a real high. Down towards Times Square and it feels like all of NY is out on the streets to cheer us on. Just off Times Square we can see a group of kids about to do a 1 mile race, we cheer each other on. Barriers manned by smiling NYPD cops, everyone is so happy. We run further on, past bands playing just for us, head West and then along the West Side Highway.
Somewhere Tony might be singing to Maria (look it up) but still NY is out to cheer us on. Wind chill factor from the Hudson River hits here, no thought anymore of removing a top. Past the Whitney Gallery, looking up at the Observatory Tower.
Middle age catches up with me: I defy any middle aged mum of four to run past a portaloo at Mile 10 and not stop for a wee. So a precious 3 minutes is wasted. Past the 9/11 Memorial somewhere on the left and into the bizarre Battery Park tunnel. As a tunnel it's not bizarre but I've never run in a tunnel before, it's weird. Two brief stops to alleviate a searing pain in my ankle which is my latest injury and suddenly the End Is Nigh! It's amazing how fast the end comes even after a long race. Wall Street - huge high skyscrapers and all the Sunday action is down on the street with 20,000 runners from 88 countries finishing the race of a lifetime, for me anyway. Wrap myself in the foil cloak, find a medal and my friends. Not before I have done the Eagles celebratory "wing salute" and literally hit the guy behind me in the face.
The only downside in this perfect race is the poor pacing, one pacer every 5 minutes with a flag so tiny that a leprechaun would think it too small. So I was pacing myself. I've got used to running with Eagles on the Sunday runs, and the lovey EHM and Osterley 10k pacers, so I really struggled to keep myself on track. My hopeful 2:08 turned to 2:13 and after the loo break 2:16. Never mind, I will never run in NY again, it's a victory at any pace. And the average female (any age) result is 2:14 so the stats say, so I was pretty much bang on.
Meanwhile...on the NY Half app, fun is being had. My kids back in England have downloaded the app and struggle to be awake at 11am to virtually cheer me on. Much cruel speculation as to whether the stops in my progress are the GPS malfunctioning or me "doing a Paula Radcliffe" accompanied by searching for runners with amusing names (mainly involving men called Dick or Willy).
Net net I would give this race 9 out of 10. I will never get closer to feeling the Real Thing than this. And I have even converted my bemused English friends I stayed with to participate in a Half marathon sometime. As long as that means following me running the race on an app, while they snuggle in bed with a good cup of Manhattan coffee.
Setting off yesterday (Sun 5th) morning at 08:30 from “the green” with the lovely Jenny Baker andMartin Bower heading down to Dorking, which was going to be – at least that’s what we expected – a very wet race indeed. All of us had done this race at least once before and absolutely loved it. Even the desperate weather yesterday didn’t manage to dampen our enthusiasm for this race. You gotta love hills and certainly not be bothered by a bit of mud, to thoroughly enjoy this race. As we were driving through Dorking we noticed with great delight, that the weather seemed a lot brighter and drier down there then it was back in West London. By the time we pulled into the car park of the Priory School (race HQ) the sun had come out.
If you like a low key race that has not yet been spoiled by greed and over commercialism, then this is the race for you. It’s always brilliantly organised. You get a Tech T-shirt at the end - with all participants names printed on the back -, a full English breakfast (if you can stomach it after your race), a memento and of course the all important medal. All the marshals and other volunteers are extremely friendly and encouraging. The friendliest marshal of them all yesterday was of course Ealing Eagles Tom Irving who assisted at the finish line. Thank you for volunteering Tom and hope you are back running very soon. Tom and Harriet Betteridge had yet again signed up to compete in the renowned “Wife carrying race” which takes place just before the main race. Its brilliant fun to watch and the kids love throwing buckets of water over the contestants as they struggle up and down the hill. You don’t have to be married to the person you carry either, which in some cases is probably not a bad thing. Tom and Hattie had put in plenty of practice – at least 20 seconds – and were feeling strong. To give you a little taster here is a short clip of what it looked like. Would be interesting to see what Hattie’s experience was like. Maybe next year Hattie you could fix a “go pro” to your helmet. Take a good look at the last person, carrying the heaviest wife. I believe they hand out a prize for “heaviest wife” as well. You gotta hand it to them....great sports.
With the wife carrying out the way and Olivia having made it back from her 5 mile pre race run in time for the Half Marathon it was time to line up. Martin Bower, Jenny Baker, Olivia Parker-Scott, Harriet Betteridge and I were race ready. However there was still one important “ritual” to complete pre race. This was of course the singing of the National Anthem. I must admit, I had forgotten about this bit. Yes, you did read correctly, singing the national anthem pre race is very much part of the whole experience. Don’t worry if you don’t know the words. Mumbling is allowed and you will not incur any penalties by having time added to your finish time by doing so. The race organiser, as always wearing his patriotic running shorts, will have you all sing your little hearts out before the start of the race. By the way, when I say shorts I mean shorts. This guy wears the shortest shorts I have ever seen. Not sure how much shorter they could be, before they become a thong. Having a bit of a sing along is all just a bit of fun and is taken very light heartedly indeed. It just gives this race a special note (no pun intended) and something a little different.
And we are off......up the hill.
The route is an out and back, with the “out” being tougher than the back bit. After the recent rain there was certainly no shortage of mud along the way. I figured that there were about 4 different techniques of how best to get through the mud. There was the “ever so cautious runner” who moved through the mud almost in slow motion, resulting in every step they took to sink deeper and deeper into the mud. Then you have the “slightly more daring runner” who will manoeuvre in and around the mud puddle, with more confidence and speed and look a bit more gracious compared to the “ever so cautious runner”. Then you have the “quick step runner” who will take short and quick steps across the mud, landing each time with the toes first thus ensuring that you don’t have time to sink into the mud. Last but not least, you have the “don’t give a shit about mud runner”. Running straight through the mud full steam ahead is their motto, sending blobs of mud flying through the air. I was a “quick step runner” on the way up, having converted into the “don’t give a shit about mud” on the way back. Great fun!!
I had ran about 4.7 miles which had taken me 55 min, when the fastest runner came flying passed me heading in the opposite direction for a glory finish. There was little me, struggling up the path, not even anywhere near half way, when this guy passed heading back already. Awesome running! The first Eagles passed me after about another mile. It was Martin and Hattie, shortly followed by Olivia all still looking very fresh. As I was reaching the last and very steep hill before the half way point I had Jenny coming down the hill giving me an encouraging “well done, keep going”.
Finally reaching the top and with that the half way point, I was happy to find that the weather had not turned and the sky was still remarkably bright and sunny giving you a spectacular view over the lovely British countryside. You could stop and stare all you wanted, but after all you had race to run.
Heading back and passing the food/water station again, I continued to make the most of the Jaffa cakes on offer. I mean it would be rude not too, right?! I really like them as energy boosters during a race. They also had jelly babies and other sugary jellies as well as water.
After several more miles I had finally reached the steep steps, which are the last test of your endurance. Everybody ahead of me was walking, well crawling up it and this of course included me. The heavy breathing that was going on scared the poor wildlife for several days I am sure. And of course to top it all.......by the time you dragged yourself up this very last hill there was the photographer ready and waiting for you and your “race face”. I wondered how much it would cost me to bribe this guy to make my photo look like I was running up hill, rather than being on my last leg. Surely with today’s modern photo technology there is a way. Oh well....maybe not. I am sure nothing tops my worst race face ever, which was crossing the finish line at the Reading Half Marathon in 2013. Warning!! Do not try and find this picture. It’ll leave you traumatised and in need of therapy for the rest of your life.
So from now on it was only downhill.......yippee. I crossed the finish line, with a high five from Tom and a big grin on my face, as well as a massive sense of achievement. I think it’s safe to say we all had a bloody good race and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves yet again at Leith Hill.
After a quick change we all had a lovely breakfast before heading back.
I’m looking forward to next year, with hopefully an even bigger flock of Eagles.
On a day when Eagles were involved in an impressive number of different races (I’ve counted at least six, just from Facebook posts), 15 of us (plus a couple of hardy spectators) swooped on the Cambridge Half Marathon, lured by the prospect of a scenic but flat course and, in some cases, by the opportunity to visit old haunts and/or student offspring.
Cambridge has a fully-deserved reputation for being impossible to park in; in fairness, there is a well-organised park and ride system that was beefed up for the day, but that still means a lot of standing around, so most of us had come up the day before. Harry Claxton did bring a car up on the morning and gets a lot of respect for sweet-talking the porters at his old college into letting him park there.
Anyway, the weather was just as bad in Cambridge as it was in the rest of the country, so a few of us had the chance to show how glamorous we look when modelling the latest trend in designer waterproofs (aka bin bags)…
…and then it was off to the start. Cambridge has a reputation for being quite crowded early on, which they had tried to fix this year with a two-wave start and each wave split into two or three by expected finish time. Now I’m a bit of a novice and don’t have much to compare it with, but all in all it seemed to work: it was still busy, but everyone around you is going at much the same speed so it doesn’t really matter.
The course is lovely, and roughly breaks down into thirds. For a mile or so just after the start you could be anywhere, but then the view opens up and you see the city to your left before crossing the bridge and heading south past King’s College Chapel and all the other classic buildings. Once you come out of the city centre you’re on a contra-flow and only have half the road, so it’s still a little congested, but after five miles you get to Trumpington, you turn right and the road opens up gloriously in front of you saying “come on, you can go faster than that”.
At this point I should explain that I’d based my training around a 1:40 target, but the longer race-pace runs had been a struggle and the last bits of preparation (which mostly involved standing in the wind for two days watching Teenager One play lacrosse) hadn’t exactly come from the textbook, so I’d tempered my ambitions and just decided to aim for a PB, setting off at 1:45 pace and hoping to gain a couple of minutes on the way round. Which is exactly what happened until the road started talking to me and I ran the next 5k at horribly close to parkrun pace.
Anyway, the final third comes when you get back into the city just before the nine-mile point, at which point you take a different route through the cute bit (passing Paul Robinson at ten miles, who is doing his best to tie shoelaces using fingers that have turned into blocks of ice) and then retrace your steps back to the start/finish on Midsummer Common. Just after the final mile marker you go over the river for the last time, and here’s where I paid for taking that middle section so fast and resorted to a 45-second walk break before sprinting home as best I could. Press the “stop” button and my watch says 1:40:00 (yes, really), but I have the horrible feeling that I was a second or two slow to start it and this is borne out when the text comes through (this is a really impressive feature) telling me I finished in 1:40:01.
Rather to my surprise, I’m not remotely upset by the two seconds that stood between me and a “99 something”. It was the best part of four minutes off my PB and nothing hinged on the time (GFA is a very long way away, even at my age). Up at the pointy end of the field, others were taking great chunks off their PBs too: John Foxall led us home in 1:22:47, and Harry and Kira broke their respective 1:30 and 1:40 barriers by ridiculous amounts. Sophie went one better and did a Bob Beamon, leaping the 1:45 and 1:40 milestones in a single bound with a six-minute PB of 1:39:36.
So then it was time to collect the bags and go, and probably my only criticism of a wonderful and very well marshalled event. The organisers had allocated race numbers in order of expected finish time, which makes perfect sense on the surface. The flaw in this cunning plan is of course that all the fast people end up trying to collect bags from the same place at the same time, while the people handling bags for the higher numbers have nothing to do at this point (and there’s not enough physical space for them to help out where they’re needed). With luck this will change next year, although I suppose it does provide an incentive to come home inside your target time: the more you outperform your race number, the shorter your bag queue when you get to it. I was 1,298th off a race number roughly double that, so no queue and very quickly into warm clothes before rushing off down the motorway to pick up Teenager Two from a music competition, while the rest of the convocation did what any self-respecting Eagles would do and went to the cinema.
Alright, so it’s not a cinema any more, but it was in my day. It’s now a pub.
One of the advantages of running a spring marathon, over running one in the autumn, is the abundance of 20 mile marathon training runs that are available. There are so many in fact, that you have the option to be a bit picky and choose the one(s) that you enjoy the most and best fit within your training plan.
I ran the Clapham Chasers – Thames Riverside 20 back in 2015 in the build up to the Manchester Marathon and it was a no brainer for me to use this as one of my 20 mile runs in preparation for VLM2017 for a number of reasons.
On the face of it, the event doesn’t sound particularly exciting! It starts at 8am in the morning, involves a not particularly exciting route, running up and down the Thames (a large part of which is the clubrun route), there is no finisher t-shirt or medal and it costs £22.
And for all of these reasons I was depicting a pretty negative attitude towards running this year in the days leading up to the race. And with the forecasted heavy rain I was close to not getting out of bed at all. At this point I should apologise to everyone that had to ensure my grumpy demeanour on route on Sunday morning. To my defence the rain was coming in side-ways and we had little to no shelter in the race village.
The good thing is that once the race started, I remembered why I had signed up in the first place. Being a club-run event, the organisation is excellent – they know what runners want and need, focus on getting these things in place and don’t worry about all the pointless frills and spills.
The pace groups are what really set this race apart from the other marathon training runs. With 2 Clapham Chasers assigned to each group (7.00, 7.30, 8.00, 8.30 and 9.00mm), being set off at 2 minute intervals to avoid congestion, there is a really relaxed feel and a non-race vibe, with the first few miles spent getting to know different runners and sharing the various ups and downs of marathon training. Not everyone, including me, sticks to the pace group for the entire 20 miles (although many do) as the flat nature of the route provides a perfect opportunity for a progression run or even running part of the race at marathon pace. Again, by chatting to the other runners, you can often find someone who has a similar race plan and therefore can provide company for most of the run.
On top of pacing, the Chaser Marshalls are brilliant. They are situated and regular interval points, many of which double up as water/Gatorade stations and their enthusiasm and professionalism is probably only bettered by us Eagles. And considering the biblical weather we were experiencing at times on Sunday, it was even more impressive.
I mentioned earlier that the route was a bit of a negative. However, the out and back nature of the course means that you get to see all of the other runners on route and as the faster runners cheer you on the way out, you get to reciprocate this with the runners that are slower than you on the way back. And as there is always a decent number of Eagles running, this provides regular boosts just at the time you need it and is often shortly followed by those on the Sunday clubrun. In fact, there is a great buzz all round on this date as the event coincides with a rowing regatta, so the Thames get lined with supporters up and down the boat houses.
I also mentioned the lack of medal, but personally I’m not bothered about getting a medal for something that isn’t a race. The important thing after 20 miles is that you get well fed and with one of the most impressive goody bags around, courtesy of Holland and Barrett – not to mention the large selection of homemade cakes waiting for you – what’s not to like!
Overall it was a great day and the sun even came out for the second half of the run.
It's been a while since I've felt so good going into a race and last Saturday has to go down as my best, so far this year. Back in October at the Eagles birthday quiz & party I was lucky enough to win 5 entries to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Winter 10k series, held on the first Saturday of each month. At the time I was slightly worried that I would now have to run all of them! But raffle man Hardy pointed out I could give them to friends. So that's what I did, rounding up a few members of the pluckie crew (some names stick Kelvin) together with my sister in training for first VLM, I put our names down for the last one of the Winter series. Then that strange thing that always seems to happen, happened. I entered another race - this was the Fullers Thames Towpath 10. I've never done a 10 mile race, so it was something new to attempt in 2017. Fast forward to early March and I am halfway through my training for the 10 miler and this 10k slotted in very nicely. I've been mixing up my training with cross training for the first time, although this did involve me signing up to a gym -something I said I'd never do again. However, this time round I go to the gym with a purpose and not to prance around, then sit in a steam room. I've got a job to do; strength, cross, abs, stretch, even the 'dreadmill' to knock out some of the miles in an attempt to save my mature knees or more likely poor running style. So back to Her maj's lovely park and what a lovely place it really is. It seems incredible that nearly 5 years ago, it was emerging from nothing to host the unforgettable 2012 London Olympics and today it is still being used and inspiring so many to participate in sport at some level. There's even a football club there 😉. Meeting up with the pluckies + 1 at various points between Northfields and Stratford, we arrived in good time to collect race packs, pin our numbers to our thighs (this was a new one on me), drop our bags, then line up with everyone to hear tales from the MC about his marathon career starting back in 1981. Mr MC then decided we needed rehearse our finish line hands in the air & SMILE. We had to do this a few times until he was satisfied we had understood, then threw a few shapes in an attempt to warm up - star jumps - why?? And we were finally off. Three laps of the course, mostly flat, a few undulations, criss crossing bridges and repeat. My target was to get near 75 mins as that would have knocked off a good chunk from my last 10k back in December when I was still run/walking. After two laps and checking in with my garmin, I thought, I've got this - sub 70. At 8k I was flagging a little and my sister offered up a jelly baby. It did the trick and I powered home to finish in 68:33. A 10k PB. I was delighted. We all thoroughly enjoyed the race, oohed and ahhed over our shiny sparkly red finisher medals and celebrated with a hot cuppa and slice of my banana bread and other treats. It's now Monday and I'm still on a high, so I thought I'd share with you all. I'm now looking forward to Towpath 10, where a PB is already in the bag. Thank you to my lovely running buddies Roz, Carol, Teresa for joining me at Stratford and my sister Rose who I made an honorary eagle for the day.
For the fifth consecutive year, a group of intrepid Eagles flew off to Marrakech to take part in the Marathon and Half Marathon weekend. The weekend was expertly hosted by Eileen Imrie and Rachid Afouzar as always. The fact that a number of the group are now regulars at the event is testament to how well we are all looked after both before and during the trip. In total, Rachid and Eileen were looking after over 120 runners in various groups including a group of runners raising money for the Human Appeal charity. Perhaps they should set up a travel agency!
This was my second time at the Marrakech marathon weekend, although the previous year was only as a spectator, having suffered a calf tear days before the trip. This year I have been training very cautiously as my main aim was to get to Marrakech in one piece and actually get to run this year.
The Eagles flocked together over the course of Friday with transfers arranged from the airport to the beautiful Riad Anya which was home for 3 nights. The Riad was booked for our sole use and it was a great opportunity to spend some time with like-minded people. Dinner was served in the Riad on Friday night cooked expertly by a lovely local lady to recipes that reflect what a typical family meal is in Morocco.
The evening was a great opportunity to meet the other Eagles and find out about each other’s goals for the weekend. With so many members of the club now it was lovely to have a chance to spend time with Eagles whom we may not crossed paths with before.
Saturday was taken up with a variety of activities. Some took the opportunity to join a guided tour of the city which is included in the price of the trip. The day starts with a trip to the beautiful and peaceful Jardin Majorelle which houses a memorial to Yves Saint Laurent as well as many beautiful plants. A local guide then took the group round many of the main sights followed by lunch in a rooftop restaurant overlooking Djemaa El Fna (the main square). From the restaurant you absorb the sights and sounds of the square, watch the traders, snake charmers and other characters without being hassled to buy anything.
The afternoon provided a chance to go to the local pharmacy and discover all sorts of local remedies for ailments and illnesses. Eileen was on hand to help stop the traders hassling us and showing us how best to deal with them when they approached us.
Another group travelled out of the city to visit the beautiful Cascade D’Ouzoud waterfall which included a hike in the hills and an unfortunate incident with a sheep.
Saturday evening was dinner in the Riad once again and an opportunity to carb load on couscous ready for the big day.
The day arrived, bright and sunny (as is pretty much always the case in Marrakech) and the marathon runners got up for an early breakfast ready to start running at 8am. The Riad was close enough to the start line to walk there and stretch the legs before racing.
Melissah Gibson, Sophie Shawdon & Paul Keen set off to represent the Eagles in the marathon, joined at the start by Piers Keenleyside. Paul had run the marathon the previous year and was looking to shave a significant amount of time off his previous best. Sophie was running her first marathon whilst our 100 club members were planning to run hard, Melissah aiming for that elusive sub 3 hour marathon and Piers hoping to improve his start pen for Comrades with a solid time in Marrakech.
The start line was lively with plenty of music to keep runners upbeat and ready to go for it although the number of portaloos was woefully inadequate for the number of runners. It would appear they were relying heavily on people waiting to use the unofficial “toilets” in the Olive Grove at mile 3 (ladies right, gents left). They could certainly learn something about this side of the organisation from EHM.
At 8am the marathon set off and the start line cleared ready for the half marathon runners to gather.
The Eagles were well represented in the half marathon. Tony Austin, Douglas Hodgkinson, Paul Doeh, Kelly Scanlon, Trevor Pask, Dineke Austin, Kathryn Keenleyside, Paul Barry, Me (Becky) & Daniel Fennelly lined up at the start along with Kelly’s friend Mandy
Having heard numerous reports of water stations running out of water for the slower runners I had over a litre of water secreted about my person in various drinking bottles as the idea of running in warm weather without water had me in a pre-race panic.
At 8:30am the half marathon started in warm sunshine. The roads were lined with supporters right from the start and shouts of “Bon Courage” could be heard as we set out.
In the early miles the route took us along wide boulevards closed to traffic. After about a mile the crowds had started to spread out and I found myself running alone. This was not a problem as I was enjoying seeing parts of the city I had not yet visited.
After about 3 miles we reached the Olive Groves where the first water station was which not only had bottles of water but crates of small oranges too which were very refreshing on the warm morning. This was the narrowest part of the course and I found myself battling for road space with a car carrying a film crew with cameras pointing out the boot and the windows. I don’t know who they were filming for but I like to think that my Eagles vest may have made it onto Moroccan TV that day.
After exiting the Olive Groves we turned back onto a main boulevard where I found myself accompanied by a clown, high fiving everyone and shouting “Bon Courage” to all the runners.
With a smile on my face I carried on knowing I was approaching the spot where the Eagles cheer squad would be waiting. Even from a distance I could see Eileen, Rachid, Jonathan, Jacquie and a number of other friends waiting to cheer us on. Rachid was technically running too but spent much of the race running backwards and forwards finding Eagles and other charity runners from his other groups to cheer on and support as they made their way round the course.
Onwards towards the half way point and I was on track to match my time from EHM. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the course, the first Eagles were finishing the race with Douglas completing the half marathon in 1:33:36, followed by Kelly 5 minutes later.
Around the same time, there was bit of commotion at the finish line for the marathon when the Melissah was seen approaching the line at pretty much the same time as the male first place runner meaning she had run a world record marathon time for a woman! Now we all know she’s flipping fast but that would be an incredible achievement.
A confused Melissah wondered why she had crossed the finish line given that her watch said she’d only run 29km. Sadly, it seems like she must have taken a wrong turn and picked up the half marathon route at some point. Despite trying to get advice on how to get back on course, it became clear that today wasn’t the day for that sub 3 hour marathon.
More Eagles started to cross the finish line for the half marathon with Paul Doeh next over the line with Tony Austin not far behind. Paul’s chances of a PB had been dashed by the group of Berbers shouting “Obama, brother Africa, come dance with us!”. Who could resist pulling out a few moves? Not Paul!
Further back down the course I was approached by a lady asking “Parlez-Vous Anglais?” to which I replied “Oui, Je parle Anglais”. My French mode had kicked in over the course of the weekend and it didn’t cross my mind that perhaps she wanted me to speak English to her. The lady in question turned out to be called Deborah and had travelled from Salt Lake, USA to run the race.
For the next couple of miles we took the opportunity to chat to fellow English speakers and ran together along the wide boulevards slowing to collect more oranges and (still plentiful) water along the way. She was keen to know what Ealing Eagles was and I relished the chance to wax lyrical about the club to a new audience.
Eventually my pre-race niggles started to take their toll and my hips and thigh became quite painful so we parted company as I slowed down, leaving behind my chances of a PB. It was lovely to have a few fellow runners who had been running close to me check I was ok when they saw my pace dropping, although my tiredness and less than fluent French meant my responses were pretty limited.
Back at the finish line, a flurry of Eagles crossed the finish line. Dineke finished the half in a frustrating 2:00:04, Paul Barry finished in 2:02:46 with Trevor Pask right on his heels. Mandy crossed the line to complete her first ever half marathon in 2:06:24.
The Eagles who had finished headed back to the Riad to freshen up knowing the remaining field would not be finishing for a while. Mandy decided to celebrate her first half marathon by jumping fully clothed into the plunge pool. None of us had used the plunge pool up to that point due to the fact the water was freezing cold. Well, they do say a post-race ice bath is good for you!
Back, on the course, the marshalls seemed to have given up on holding back the traffic on the busy main roads and gradually I found myself navigating multiple lanes of traffic at every road junction. If you live here and are quite used to just stepping out in front of traffic this probably isn’t an issue, but for a cautious accountant like myself, this was not what I needed in the latter stages of a half marathon with aching hips. A similar experience was being had by Sophie out on the marathon course, and the crazy scooter drivers hurtling towards her was quite disconcerting at times.
I reached the bus station area and the traffic, public, donkeys etc became quite an issue and I was continuously dodging and weaving. After this the route took in a market area where the crowds were gathered and were very supportive of a weary looking runner. At one point I found myself surrounded by children and whilst I’m not averse to high-fiving the youngsters on my way round this was bit overwhelming. Listening to their shouts, I realised that they were crowding round me because they wanted my water bottle that I had been carrying since the previous (again well stocked) water station. Apparently the race organisers were paying kids for each bottle they collected in an effort to get the streets cleaned up quickly. Eventually the route took us back onto quieter roads and the stress of dodging traffic and pedestrians eased off.
Back at the finish line Piers was the next Eagle to cross the line with a marathon time 3:26:06 which many people would have been delighted with, but for Piers today this was a little disappointing. In the meantime, Melissah, undeterred by being unable to re-join the race, decided to complete her marathon in the car park. This earned her many a confused look from finishers heading back to their car but she was determined to complete the distance she set out to do.
Finally, I found myself close to the end of the race, in some discomfort, but keeping going. As I rounded a bend in the last km I spotted the familiar sight of Rachid who was chatting to a friend. On spying me he dropped his bag, handed his phone to the friend and proceeded to run the final stretch with me. It was great to have the encouragement at the end to allow me to finish with a strong push over the finish line. Shouts of support from Piers who had recently finished his marathon also spurred me on to push hard for the line. Having seen video footage of my finish since, it looks much slower than it felt.
My final time was 10 minutes slower than my EHM time, but given my careful approach to preparation, pain and the warmth of the day, I was happy overall and delighted to get my hands on the medal I had missed out on last year. I was also pleased to have not needed any of the water I still had round my waist. I bumped into my American friend milling about beyond the finish line and was pleased to discover she had easily achieved her target.
4 more Eagles to finish and next over the line was Paul Keen who completed the marathon in 3:52:05 closely followed by Kathryn finishing a tough half marathon.
I stayed around the finish line looking for Daniel who I hadn’t seen since mile 1. After a few minutes I saw him limping towards the finish line. Unfortunately he had turned his ankle quite early in the race and had been bravely hobbling his way round the course for most of the route.
The final Eagle out on the course now was Sophie, who found herself running directly into the mid-day sun for the last hour of the marathon. She had found some company along the way and chose the camaraderie of running with someone else over chasing a time alone. Nevertheless, she crossed the line, completing her first marathon in a very respectable 5:08:44.
With all Eagles home it was time to head back to the square for a well earned lunch, followed by a stroll back to the Riad for a rest. Celebrations were had in the evening with a trip to Fantasia, a somewhat touristy destination but with banquet style food, alcohol on sale and some local dancers for entertainment, it was an excellent way to round off a great day of running.
Monday dawned to some aching muscles and some of the group set off early for their flight. A group of us headed back towards the Souks to visit the Cafe Des Epices for a relaxing rooftop lunch in the sun with great views out over the snow-topped Atlas Mountains. One intrepid Eagle set off for a night in the desert with Rachid and some of the charity runners, while Melissah decided to try her hand at camel riding.
After lunch there was time for a bit of haggling for gifts to take home. Tony secured himself 25 camels for a very reasonable price and Paul Doeh found that being a native French speaker made it harder to shrug off the salesmen as he couldn’t pretend not to understand.
Finally it was time to say goodbye to the Riad, the city and our wonderful hosts and board the flight home, many of the group vowing to be back again next year.
Sadly, getting any refreshments out of BA on the flight home was pretty much impossible. That company has gone downhill since Piers left. ...
By rights, I probably shouldn’t be writing this race report.
In October last year after a flight to San Francisco a small vein started to protrude on the outside of my right calf, which I presumed was a varicose vein and decided to get seen once I got back from holiday. Meantime I continued to do my 20 and 22 milers in the Bay sunshine and even finish first veteran in the Bridge to Bridge 5k as part of my training for the New York Marathon, all the time completely oblivious to what was going on in my leg. The day after returning I saw the GP for what I assumed would be a routine referral and ended up being rushed to A&E for ultrasounds, x-rays and blood tests to diagnose a Deep Vein Thrombosis just below my right knee. Suddenly everything comes crashing down, you have no idea what this means for your future and you start feeling very, very mortal. New York was obviously out of the question given the potential consequences of another trans-Atlantic flight but as it hadn’t been causing me pain whilst running, I asked the consultant if I could start running again in some form perhaps in a week or two and was given the ok with the proviso to take it very easy and not to cut myself, as I was going to be on anti-coagulants for the next six months.
That night was spent scaring myself silly on Google, feeling sorry for myself and trying to work out how this was going to potentially affect my life. Next day there were still a hundred thoughts racing through my head but the one thing that usually helps me to clear my mind is to go for a run. So after a long debate with myself I decided that I was going to go to the track and even if it was slow, I was going to run. That decision was probably what got me to Tokyo - if I had left it even until the weekend then it would have festered in my mind and I wouldn’t have run for months. I made it round, nowhere near my normal pace, but it removed at least some of the demons in my mind. The first Sunday League cross-country was due that weekend and having committed to going I went through with what felt like the scariest race of my life. Every step was terrifying - worrying whether that jolt on the uneven surface was going to dislodge the blood clot, am I going to trip on the tree roots and dislodge the clot, am I going to get spiked and not stop bleeding. By the end, my brain was scrambled but I’d done it and was still in one piece which provided a real confidence boost.
The medication was starting to kick in and leaving me constantly tired so I didn’t run until the following weekend and, tiring badly towards the end of the run, ended up tripping, falling, giving myself a badly cut knee and draining all my confidence. It turns out I’d even lost out on the worst Thrombophlebitis contest to Jenny Baker. Back to square one and I didn’t run for a week but knew if I wanted to have any chance of making Tokyo I needed to start training in two weeks, so after giving myself another talking to I managed to force myself out to do a midweek run and cross country at the weekend to prove to myself I could at least run twice a week. Going through my plan with Mirka we decided to take the New York plan and remove the easy and recovery runs and have complete days off instead; the medication was leaving me finishing my runs with a face greyer than Aberdeen granite and not up to running two days in a row, but if I could at least do three sessions in a week I could get to the start line in some sort of shape.
So, week one, session one and a spectacular “heid o’er arse” fall on the track at Perivale cutting hands, elbows and knees - its amazing that as soon as someone tells you not to do something it suddenly becomes all you can seem to do (the track trip was later followed by a comedic slow motion fall on black ice in Aberdeen during a long run at Christmas to cut the other knee). However, this time I didn’t let it shake me and I kept up with the sessions - the pace wasn’t quite there but the stubbornness was and I was getting there. A few weeks later and the recoveries were getting easier – the next test was to try back to back days with a cameo at the Wormwood Scrubs Met League on the Saturday followed by the Perivale 5 on the Sunday. Another test passed and so by the end of December I’d managed to step up to 4 runs a week and was allowing myself to think that maybe under four hours was possible, and not just reaching the start.
Through January my pace gradually picked up and midway through I had a check-up with the consultant which confirmed that the clot had gone and I’d be safe to fly. I was going to make it to the start line and the training was going better than expected – maybe a PB was in reach. The extra run each week was making a difference and the less running early on seemed to have left me a bit fresher for the last few weeks before February’s taper. Ironically, after six previous attempts, the one where I started with DVT was the first one I’ve finished my training uninjured.
And so to the sensory overload that is downtown Tokyo - neon lights, huge video screens on every street corner booming out music and adverts and, of course, lots and lots of people. This meant that on race day you were never quite sure if you were being cheered on by spectators and on-course entertainment or listening to the Japanese X Factor winner and being sold car insurance.
We headed to the Expo on the first evening and although the content was pretty much the same as any other what was noticeable was the overwhelming friendliness of the volunteers. I’m not sure if this was just because I was an overseas runner but I was greeted by almost every volunteer and thanked profusely for coming to visit their city and run in their marathon.
Saturday was the Friendship Run which Angela and Ellen took part in and I’m sure will be the subject of a Duffrunning blog so won’t go into details here. It did however introduce us to the official sports drink of the marathon “Pocari Sweat” which as well as having an unfortunate name, has the rather unappetising tagline of “having the appropriate density and electrolytes, close to human body fluid”. Having made a mental note to stick to water next day, the rest of the day was spent taking it easy and carb loading on the oatcakes and Jaffa Cakes I’d managed to smuggle into the country.
Race day dawned and with the hotel being only a few hundred metres from the start line I figured I had plenty of time, but the starting area was chaos with understaffed security checks just to get in, baggage lorries at the opposite end to the entry gate I was given and less toilets than the Ealing Half for over 36,000 runners. Having finally managed to drop my bag and given up any hope of getting to the loos I ended up getting into my start pen with only a minute to spare which left me a bit flustered and it took a bit of time to get my focus back on the task in hand. My ethos of “just making the start line is a result” was being severely tested but after the struggle to get here I was determined to stay relaxed and enjoy the race regardless of what happened.
The start itself was fairly low-key – a quick introduction of the elite runners, a confetti cannon and then we were off. Maybe it was because I was starting a bit further up the pack but, compared to London, the field started to move fairly quickly and I managed to get into my running within the first couple of hundred metres. Unfortunately, the first two kilometres also seem to be the Tokyo equivalent of Canary Wharf with satellite reception going haywire and showing me having a quick jog up to the 12th floor of one of the nearby skyscrapers before getting on with the race, so my distances were already about 300m too long by the time I passed the 2km marker. After that, the markers seemed to be pretty much spot on and it was nice to have the course measured in kilometres for a change as I do all my training in kilometres (miles are too far).
The toilet stops were frequent and well signposted with service station style signs telling you the distance to the next stop as well so you can plan if you can make it to the next one, meaning I didn’t lose too much time making up for not managing to go pre-race and by 8k I was pretty much back on my target pace. The water stations were also very regular with plenty of tables at each to avoid too much of a scramble although I did walk through them to avoid throwing most of the cup over myself.
At 10k you start the first of the three out and back sections that make up the rest of the course which gave the chance to see the leading wheelchair racers coming back the other way. The out section takes you to 15k and the turning point probably sums up the city perfectly – you run toward the almost 400 year old Kaminarimon Gate at Senso-ji Temple (the one with the huge paper lanterns) and then turn right to be confronted by the 4 year old Skytree Tower.
Almost from the start the crowd was really supportive but not as overbearing as London can be, and they seemed to be picking out the international runners for additional shouts of encouragement which I found a real help in keeping me relaxed and enjoying the race. I even managed to Eagle for the camera. A glance at my watch showed I’d nudged slightly ahead of pace at 15k and I was still feeling good – so far so good.
From 16k you follow another out and back through halfway and up to 25k. The elite runners had long since passed but there was a steady stream of sub-3 hour runners coming the other way. At 20k my pace had picked up again slightly and then again at 25k – I was going to pay for this sooner or later. By this point the temperature had started to edge up and after spending the majority of my training in temperatures hovering around freezing the sudden jump to the mid-teens was not particularly welcome, so although the crowds thin out between 25 and 30k the skyscrapers lining the route were providing a useful sunblock. Another 5k checkpoint and my pace had picked up again – surely I couldn’t keep this going?
30k onwards is the final and toughest out and back – just over 5k straight into a strong headwind and slightly uphill all the way but the crowds are back and pushing you along before turning for the long run home. For those towards the back of the pack I could see this stretch being a bit soul destroying as the crowds drift away and there are fewer and fewer runners on the opposite side of the road. I manage to keep pushing my pace along and reach 35k with a bit of a cushion to 3:30. This was getting into uncharted territory – I’ve never managed to run beyond 23 miles in a marathon. I kept thinking the wheels must come off soon but I reached 40k still running and increasing my pace. Things were twinging but nothing serious.
Then at 41k, just as I entered the last stretch to the finish, my hamstring pulled slightly and I stopped to walk just as the crowd was building and the noise increasing – sod it, I thought. I’ve got less than 5 minutes, I can run this. I broke into a run again.
The last kilometre gets noisier and noisier until the final corner and then…..well, nothing. An empty plaza that leaves you wondering if you took a wrong turn then you eventually spot a timing mat and a small race clock to confirm that, yes, this is actually the finish line. Despite the underwhelming finish area I raised my arms in celebration and relief at finally breaking 3:30, crossing the line in 3:27:45.
This was the point where Tokyo really let itself down. There was no water at the finish. Or round the corner from the finish. Or for another kilometre. They seemed to have gone out of their way to stretch out the finishing zone as far as possible before giving you anything to drink and even then it’s genetically engineered Sweat. Then you receive your medal and a finisher’s towel which is really nice and something different to the usual finishing line goodies. Eventually you receive a bag with water in it but then have another kilometre to walk to pick up your bag, although the guard of honour that Tom mentioned was still going strong when I got there. I suspect they were still going strong for those coming in at 6 and 7 hours because the volunteers across the weekend all just seemed so insanely polite, happy to be there and genuinely pleased to see you. Once I had my bag it was off to the meeting point to be reunited with Angela. Oh – that’s right, there’s no meeting point. After a few texts and descriptions of buildings we eventually managed to all meet up.
As Tom mentioned, it’s a relatively new race and they are still sorting themselves out year by year. None of the little gripes need big or difficult fixes – a few banks of urinals in the start area would halve the toilet queues, using some of the acres of space at the finish line to store crates of water, squashing up the finishing zone to half the length and a few poles with letters on in Hibiya park to act as a meeting point are all easily done and I’m sure the race will continue to grow and improve.
Despite the issues at the start and finish I loved the race itself and credit to all the volunteers along the way for making the event.
Wilson Kipsang may have won but he didn’t get a PB so I’ve got one up on him there.
The main problem with becoming obsessed with completing all six World Marathon Majors is not particularly the running six marathons, it’s the word ‘world’. Inconveniently, only one of them is in my home city. You’d think they would have put a few more in London to make things a bit easier for me. It becomes rather an expensive business and one that takes a good deal of planning and time, especially when there’s a three-year- old in tow. With all that in mind, Tokyo was always going to be a challenge but the series wouldn’t be complete without it and Japan has long been somewhere I’ve wanted to see; I just needed a good reason to make the trip. Getting extraordinarily lucky in my first attempt at the marathon ballot (most of my friends missed out and one chap I spoke to after the Boston Marathon last year had been throwing his hat in the ring for ten years without any luck) was the spur I and my long-suffering wife needed to get the flights booked and make the trip one to remember.
Although it promised to be an extraordinary experience, we both dreaded our departure in a funny kind of way. The emails from the organisers didn’t fill me with confidence; it was all rather haphazard and far from the slick, seasoned operations I’d seen in Boston, London and Berlin. In fairness to them, the Tokyo marathon is young in comparison to its competitors and has grown enormously in a short space of time. They must still be getting to grips with all the issues it throws at them and doing their best to improve things just a little, year on year. Still, there was an uncomfortable sense that the powers that be were flying by the seat of their pants and that’s ever so slightly alarming when you’ve got a few other worries to contend with, such as surviving 18 hours of travelling with a toddler and the prospect of managing the Tokyo transit system, which looks like Jackson Pollock has thrown a giant bowl of noodles at the world’s largest canvas and then given it to my daughter to doodle over. Terrifying. Sometimes, though, you just have to throw yourself in and deal with it and we managed to make the trip, find our apartment and get the hang of train tickets without any major trauma, thanks to my better half and her relentless planning.
The expo was pretty standard stuff, little different from its counterparts at other big city races, which restored a bit of confidence to proceedings. We arrived at midnight on Thursday, visited it on the Friday and were still trying to get over the jet lag by Saturday. Race day had crept right up on me as this time, we’d decided to do things the other way around from Boston, where we had to have the holiday part of the trip first with the race at the end, so as to fly back for the London Marathon the following weekend. Now, the idea was to get the race out of the way early so we could enjoy Japan for as much time as possible afterwards. Better, but it doesn’t make for the best performance; not to make excuses (I actually am making excuses) but you’re unlikely to give your best when you arrive at the start line still exhausted from your travelling. That was always going to be the case though, and it took the pressure off to a large extent; Tokyo was unlikely to be my best performance of the year for that reason (and because I loathe winter training and wasn’t in tip-top shape leading up to the race anyway) so it was very much a case of give it my best shot and hope all the stars are in alignment, the wind is at my back and it’s one of those days when you can’t put a foot wrong. But then accept that it probably won’t be and adjust expectations accordingly.
So it was that I arrived at the start line fully expecting to have a decent first three-quarters but suffer and slow in the last 10k and end up with a decent but not spectacular time, which is precisely how things panned out. The start area itself was slightly odd; bringing a bottle of water through security wasn’t allowed, for reasons that still escape me, and that nagging feeling that the organisers were a little out of their depth began to creep back in. There was a slightly amateurish feel to things and the starting pen and line itself were remarkably low-key for such a major event. Boston had its pair of Black Hawk helicopters and star-spangled pomp, Berlin had its pyrotechnics, big screens and important-sounding announcer. Tokyo had a strange little hymn of sorts which was probably meaningful to the Japanese competitors but lost on everyone else and a couple of small smoke machines (they could have been tiny fireworks but you couldn’t see) next to the start line and then we were off, in as anticlimactic a manner as could have been arranged.
So, to the race itself and its aftermath. I’m going to be a bit critical of certain things, but there were plenty of good points so let’s give them a nod first: the aid stations were very frequent, offering water and electrolyte replacement drinks from the off and more substantial stuff later, for those who enjoy a bread roll, some tomatoes and a banana in the second half of their race; there were plenty of very well-signposted toilets on the route for those people who want them (I never do); the distance markers (kilometres only but no surprise and indeed no problem there) seemed accurately placed and were very visible, along with timing mats every 5k for tracking and post-race analysis; there was great support on the course for those who appreciate such things (I don’t personally like being yelled at by strangers during any run); and the frequent out-and- back stretches, while disliked by some, I enjoyed, as they gave me a chance to spot Wilson Kipsang roaring away at the front a few times and also allowed me to scope out the terrain of the miles immediately in front of me as I ran the other way.
Now, the not-so- great aspects: the organisers inexplicably placed crowds of slow runners at the very front of the starting pen, providing me and hundreds of others with the dubious pleasure of still having to weave around girls jogging along in rabbit ears in the second 5k. Large races are often crowded at the start but I’ve never felt so frustrated at being unable to run at more than jogging pace for such a long time; to record any kind of decent splits for the first few miles meant sprinting, darting sideways, halting, jogging, sprinting through another gap, hopping on the pavement a bit, running in the gutter and doing anything I possibly could to keep the numbers on my watch going in the right direction. The result was that I got to about 10k in a decent enough time but all over the place in terms of my rhythm and pace. Not an enjoyable start. There were no particular issues for the rest of the race, apart from my own poor fuelling strategies and customary dodgy last 10k. I was in such poor shape that I was even more desperate than usual to see the finish arch (“why the hell am I doing this again in London in two months? I hate this crap”) except there wasn’t one. If I hadn’t known exactly where I was on the course having studied the map beforehand, I wouldn’t have known I’d finished until I was crossing the line. Again, very low-key stuff. No arch, no gantry, just a couple of signs saying ‘Finish’ either side of the timing mats and a few guys standing around, alarmingly empty-handed. No sign of medals or, more importantly, water. “Ah,” I thought, “we turn around this corner to the left. It must be just round there.” Nothing. Just another empty bit of road with a few nervous-looking marshals who’d clearly been told to do little but smile and clap. So I kept walking, around the next corner, where, finally, the same electrolyte drink was waiting. Enticingly called ‘Pocari Sweat’, I decided to give it a miss and wait for the water, which arrived what seemed like several years later, along with such things as a rather nice finisher’s towel and the sweetest peanut butter sandwich known to science. The medal is rather nice, I’ll give them that, but marks deducted by annoying the hell out of me before I got it by the wholly unnecessary vast expanses between the finish line and the freebies. If I was annoyed by then, the long, Dr Zhivago-like trudge to the bags reclaim tipped me into the realms of murderous rage, delayed further as it was by a grinning photographer who insisted I stop and adjust my towel and clothing sufficiently for him to get the optimum shot of my race number. I could have shoved my ‘Pocari Sweat’ where he would have had considerable difficulty extracting it. It was hard to stay angry for long, however, as I was the only runner in the bags area at the time (my finishing time was 2:47, ahead of the main crowds, if I may be so bold) so I received an ovation and high-fives from every one of the hundred-odd orange-jacketed marshals on duty who formed a kind of human tunnel of congratulation leading to my little bag of green trousers and cigars. A surreal experience indeed.
Looking back at this rambling diatribe, there’s been plenty of complaining but none unfair, I think. That said, I’ve never regretted entering a marathon (once I’ve recovered a bit) and the extraordinary experience of the journey to Japan, negotiating Tokyo and taking part in a race with tens of thousands of others and some of the world’s top marathon runners far outweighs any of the negatives. If you enter this race yourself, just make sure to manage your expectations and you’ll have a great time. Don’t expect seamless organisation; you won’t get it. But at least they make the trains run on time.
Now for London. With Chicago looming large in the background…
Ealing Eagles had much to celebrate as the curtain came down on another cross country season with a challenging double header last weekend.
As the temperatures fell in the week, snow followed rain and challenging conditions were assured. All the talk was of 15mm spikes, mud and guts as the men went for promotion in the Met League at Alexandra Palace. There was no let down as a tremendous turn out of twenty-five Eagle men toed the line, eagerly awaiting the starters’ pistol.
After a false start (did he forget to load the gun?) we were off, feet squelching through the mud with every foot step but already going at quite some speed as the frontrunners set a frightening pace. The course took us up the steep hill to the palace three times and hurtling back down the hill past runners and supporters cheering us on. The only thing missing was some good honest booing, which perhaps explains why Tom Easten decided not to renew his love affair with Cross Country.
As ever, José Manuel Pabon led the Eagles’ charge and was first to finish the five mile course in 98th place. He was shortly followed by John Foxall and Ewan Fryatt, who made sure not to let the club down by finishing in exactly 120th place as promised. Next home was the returning Ricardo Agostinho. The Eagles’ scoring eight was completed as Kieran Santry, Philip Evans, Chris Lambert and Kieran Morrisroe crossed the line in quick succession.
The men won promotion by topping division 3 by a significant margin and the mens’ veterans likewise by finishing in second place in division 3.
After promotion last season, the women finished in a solid 6th position while the veterans also gained promotion. Jennifer Watt finished in an excellent 48th place and the scoring five was completed by Marion Bolster, Sophie Foxall, Sarah MacKenzie and Emily Schmidt.
On Sunday, it was an early start and the Eagles were met with bitter cold and snow more akin to a biathlon competition than a XC fixture. Royston is perhaps the most testing XC course of the season and it seems like you are always running up a punishing hill or throwing yourself down a steep descent. Runners adapt tactics to suit their strengths, as evidenced by Frank Doyle and Melissah Gibson, taking it in turns to overtake each other time after time on the hills and descents!
After 9km and 250m of testing hills, Melissah was first home for the women in 4th place overall. Jen Watt was next in 5th place. Hannah Copeland has returned from injury to look as strong a XC runner as ever and finished a minute later in 9th place. Another convincing victory was secured with Ellen Easten (11th), Maria Fitzgerald (13th) and Yvonne Linney (16th).
After finishing 2nd placed senior team last year, the Eagles women went one better this year. With 338 points from the 5 fixtures to Heathside’s 688, they won by a country mile in the end!
Just for good measure, the Vets finished second in the league after last year’s first place. Hearty congratulations to all those women who contributed to a successful season. A more serious Eagle would name them but I’m too lazy to check.
1. Well done to all those Eagles who did the double over the weekend – you are hard and you know it.
2. Well done to all those Eagles who took their first steps in XC this season. I know you loved it and if you didn’t … well just keep quiet about it. In all seriousness, dozens of you lot decided you fancied giving XC a try and most people though it was reasonably fun and something a bit different!
3. XC offers you a chance to get to know your city better. Parliament Hill on race-day is quite a sight and you can now say you’ve been to Cockfosters, Claybury, Ally Pally and more. The sun was out when we ran at Wormwood Scrubs … enough said.
4. The standard of competition is ridiculously high, especially in the MET League, which celebrated its 50th season this year. The souvenir towel was a nice bonus. You can toe the line alongside runners who have represented their country, but everyone still has to traipse through the mud and up the hills! It’s great fun and if it’s good enough for Hawkins, Butchart and Farah it’s good enough for us.
5. You can sense a growing camaraderie in the club when you see how many of us turn up to XC fixtures. We can barely all fit in the team photos now. Many thanks to Kieran Santry, Sarah Mackenzie and Thom Martini for rallying the troops and organising us throughout the season. We couldn’t do it without you!
6. Forget the watches, plans and don’t worry about your pace. Just get over the hill(s) and through the mud! XC is gloriously simple. Mud is awesome… obvs.
7. Let them eat cake. The club has some exceedingly good bakers. But you need to do XC to find out just how good…
On a personal note, I’m not ready to give up on mud just yet. I’ve signed up for Orion 15 in March. No doubt I’ll see some of you there.
Saturday 21st January saw the 2017 edition of my most least favourite event of the year (more on this later), the Box Hill Fell Race. Organised by the wonderful South London Orienteers, it is one of only a handful of events in the south of England run under Fell Racing Association rules. The course is categorised by the FRA as 'BM', which means it is between 10km and 20km in length with no less than 25m ascent per kilometre, though according to my Garmin the total climb over the 12.3km course was well over 600m – equivalent to a whopping 37 reps of West Walk!
Like all good 'fell' races, competitors are subjected to a healthy mix of rough terrain, mud, hills, and some more hills. As an added bonus for this year, there was even a fallen tree blocking the path half way down a speedy descent, which I can't help but feel rather captures the essence of fell running: Moving quickly across whatever nature puts in your way. You'll not find aid stations stocked with the latest sports drinks and energy gels here – you'll not even find a bottle of water at the finish unless you brought one with you – this is no-frills running at its finest.
Sliding out of bed on a freezing Saturday morning, I wondered what the day had in store - I know the trails around Box Hill well and run there regularly, but I'd never visited in such cold temperatures and was concerned parts of the frozen course might be seriously sketchy. Arriving at the start after signing in, shedding some layers (one degree? That's vest and shorts weather, lad), and jogging the mile or so from race HQ, it became apparent that we were going to have to tread very carefully in places. The churned up muddy ground was frozen solid, and a layer of ice covered the many steps that would take us the 130m up to the viewpoint within the first kilometre. But at least the sun was shining, and the few areas of open grassland we were to cross had thawed enough to give those with the most grippy shoes the opportunity to make up some time.
The course has remained largely the same for the 36 years since the race's first edition, with only the start and finish being moved in 2015 at the behest of the National Trust. After rising to the famous viewpoint from the start at river level, runners plunge straight down the bank and onto a long undulating traverse of the North Downs' southern escarpment. A truly horrid death-march back up to the ridge sets the legs on fire, but there is a little respite as the course heads north into the woods behind the village of Box Hill itself. Another steep but mercifully short ascent follows, before we fall again to cross Headley Road to climb Mickleham Down.
Then the fun really begins. We turn left to begin our journey back towards Box Hill, and negotiate the descent of the notorious 'suicide steps': 182 of the muddiest, slipperiest, most uneven, and steepest quad-busting wooden-fronted pain makers that the south east has to offer. The gradient reaches 40% in places, and if the leg muscles had any strength left in them they'll be jelly by the bottom.
Only two climbs left now. The long drag up to Juniper Top, heart pounding, down the flint track (hurdling the fallen tree), across the Zig Zag Road, and one final tortuous push back to the viewpoint before heading back down the steps to the river, and the beautiful respite of the finish funnel. Two years ago in the mud I could sprint this and jump two steps at a time, but today I am reduced to the most delicate of totters, faced with the very real possibility of a face-full of icy mud and a week off work.
Sixteen Eagles cross the finish line of the 18 who started. On the way home I am mortified to hear that two of our flock have badly hurt themselves en route and had to go to hospital – get well soon Becky and Jessamy. Special mentions go to John Foxall, our fastest Eagle on the day finishing in 44th place with an excellent time of 67'11”, and to Jennifer Watt who finished first in the F40 category by more than a minute despite missing a turning near the end and running an extra 400m! I finish in 105th place in a time of 75'57” with a PB for the course, and later that day I upload my data to Strava and discover that my heart rate averaged 170 – only 13bpm off my max. HR of 183 and well into the red zone.
So that's why it's my most least favourite event – I suffer more than on any race in the calendar, and dread it in the lead-up to race day, but I can't stop going back and hope to run it for many years to come. I still can't walk properly despite 55 hours having passed since finishing, but next January can't come round quick enough.
Whilst the Eagles were make the long journey on the Piccadilly line to Cockfosters, Ben Rawsthorne was out on the course and put in a fine performance in the U13 race, a massive well done to Ben for continuing to run MET without any other clubmates there to run with or support him. Having Ben run the course first was great as he provided us with great advice on the course and shoe selection. Thanks Ben.
A smaller than usual ladies team took on a tough 6km course.
Marion Bolster was first Eagle lady across the line, Emily Schmidt made the journey from Oxford to represent the club, the effervescent Sue Park was next home (does she ever not smile in a race?). A late addition to the team was Nicola Phelan and she impressed the crowd with a strong sprint finish up the final hill. Jess Hood finished just ahead of Lisa Snell and ladies team skipper Sarah Mack.
These results maintained the ladies mid table position in division 2. The vet ladies were third in this fixture but most importantly it keeps them top of division 3 and on course for promotion.
Bright sunshine greeted the start of the men’s MET league 5 mile race at Trent Park.
A strong turnout of 18 men made our way to the start line. Is it just me that loves the gun going off at the start of a Met league race? I’m there watching the gun and it still frightens the ‘bejaysus’ out of me when it goes bang!
Then the usual surge as everyone fights to get into position. Testosterone levels elevated, deep mud, elbows flying, elite athletes, veteran runners (one man over 80), crowds cheering, tree roots, and 3 slippery bridges to negotiate, you've got to love a bit of XC. This was the first proper muddy XC of the Met league season. Cam proclaimed on the tube journey to Cockfosters that he hadn’t seen enough mud in the UK but this surely made up for it.
Two twisty turny undulating laps and a long uphill finish sorted the men for the boys at this race. The ladies now smug after their run were out on the course to roar us on, ably assisted by Ellen, Skye (booing) and Dante.
Jose once again was the first Eagle home in 122nd place overall but he had to fight hard for it this time as the ever improving John Foxall was on his back going up the final hill and came in a mere 3 seconds behind him. Colin Overton is coming back to his best and was next Eagle home. Tom Easten, yes you read that right made his Met league debut (after a lot of nagging!).
He promised to finish in the top 150 but narrowly missed that by one place! In fairness he was wearing trail shoes not spikes so we won’t be too hard on him this time. Briaín O‘Dowd continued his improved form and romped home next although he did mutter something about doing a heavy hills session two days beforehand, Phil Evans is the dark horse in the men’s team and had a storming finish.
Mr Santry had to be content with 7th place. New boy Stephen Ralston found the pacing tough and went out a bit too hard and suffered for the last 4.5 miles but you are only as strong as your last scorer so this was a particularly impressive Eagles debut. Remember his name this boy will improve.
Chris Lambert was in soon after Stephen and help to push other team scorers down the table. We welcomed back Sam Pearce who is returning to form after doing a lot of heart rate training over recent months.
Cam Easton was loving all the mud. Dominic Wallace helped the Vets team move up the table with his fine finish. Paul Peasegood finished strongly just in front of the Met league ever present James De Vivenot.
Neil Enskat showed off his trade mark finish climbing the last hill, Paul Dodoumou continues to show form at xc while Baljit was pleased with his performance on this gruelling course. Nigel continues to defy his years with another strong run.
After a group warm down it was off to the ‘Cock Inn’ (I’ll spare you the not very appropriate jokes!) for a few pints of ale and porter and a race debrief. A massive thank you to our Chairman Thom Martini who organised everything on the day and was out on the course shouting abuse (I mean encouragement!). It was great to see the team spirit in the men’s team, some who rearranged holidays, post-phoned flights, cancelled dates and some even interrupted marathon training to come and be part of the team!
The team results are out and we managed to consolidate our 2nd place position in the league and more importantly narrowed the gap on the league leaders Highgate ‘C’ from 225 points to just 36 points.
Highgate ‘A’ are top of Division One and are going for a record 5th win in a row, Highgate ‘B’ are second in Division 2 narrowly behind our good neighbours ESM so they will be gunning to stay top of our division and complete the clean sweep across all three divisions. In fact we even get a mention on their website! They mean business at Ally Pally.
So it all boils down to the last fixture at Alexandra Palace on the 11th of February. Start sharpening those spikes!
Yes, reader, I ran the damn thing.
The eagle eyed amongst you (pun intended) may notice that this blog is missing a week. I actually started writing it, but to be honest it was just another week of physio, test runs, adventures in cross training, and general indecisiveness. Not that this isn't a massively important part of this marathon build up, it's just harder to write up interestingly, and I just don't quite get round to it. Sorry 'bout that.
And so we reached week 18, which seemed a very long time after that first meeting with Coach Mark, and certainly not how I hoped to be feeling - still not sure whether or not I would be running it.
Had a pre-physio test run which went horrendously - hip was sore, felt massively hard work AND my healing Buddha charm made a break for freedom and fell off my wrist. Tried to comfort myself with the experience that all runs in the week before a race are shit, but it wasn't doing anything for my confidence. Was finding it hard to even feel excited about the weekend because I just didn't know what I should do. Was even trying to run a marathon a bad idea? Would I damage myself further and rule myself out of running for the rest of the year? Might it actually all be okay?
Left work early on Thursday for final physio, armed with a card filled with amazingly kind words and encouragement. Physio went well and Kieran told me that if I wanted to run it, then it should be fine. Was told to keep up the glute exercises in any spare moment I had, and that whilst it would probably flare up afterwards, I should just keep doing what I had been doing.
Even with the green light, I wasn't sure, but the time had come to make a decision. Whilst Mark had said that we could go to Wales and it would be absolutely fine if I decided on the day itself that I didn't think I should run it, I knew that if I went then I would at least start. And if I started, I would probably finish whatever happened. If the worst happened, I knew my parents would be at halfway so I would be able to get a lift back to HQ rather than having to wait for the sweeper bus. The taxi was booked. Bags were packed. Decision was finally made.
Arrived in Wales on Friday morning and headed to race HQ in Llanberis to collect my number, and do some obligatory posing with the trophy. Lunched in a cafe where they had run out of pretty much everything (busiest weekend of their year!) but I was able to get a rather yummy toasted sandwich.
Bus driver back to Bangor was brilliant and seemed to know everyone he passed along the route, and don't mind causing blockages and traffic jams to stop to talk to them. #sowelsh. He was also very fluid with the location of bus stops, which worked to our advantage in the end.
Spent the rest of the afternoon "relaxing" at the hotel (sitting still is not my forte) whilst Mark went to see if there was anywhere to get a decent pre-marathon meal in Bangor. Turns out, there was not, so he bought supplies for a carpet picnic - pastas, bread, houmous, and a repeat of last year's secret weapon, the Pot Noodle.
Headed back to my room to do some yoga, stretching and foam rolling, and to get everything ready for the next day.
Now, Snowdonia has a very respectable start time of 10.30am, but out of habit I felt the need to set my race day alarm very early. With good reason as it turns out, as there always seems to be so much to do. Made our way to breakfast where I wished I'd practiced eating hot food before running because, damn, those hash browns looked good. Settled for cereal, which was on top of the porridge & banana I'd already had in my room. Spotted a couple of other runners, including one lady who came over to say hello. If I haven't said it already, I bloody love the running community.
Taxi to HQ was unsurprisingly much quicker than the bus had been, despite the traffic jam which the driver said was "the first I've ever seen in Llanberis."
Unlike last year the weather was clear, so settled myself outside whilst Mark went to check where he needed to go to get up to mile 22. Within ten minutes of arriving I had tripped over my own bag and been trodden on whilst pigeon-ing. It was going well.
Whilst I was waiting, Sarah Mack off of the Ealing Eagles found me. Her boyfriend Tom was going to be cycling round the course supporting, and her dad and Mark both planned to hike up the mountain to support us up the toughest part of the course. Leaving them to discuss this, Sarah and I went off for a last toilet visit before we all made our way to the start line.
I still wasn't sure how this was going to go, and whether I'd even make it further than the first few miles, but I'd written 5/10/15/20 mile split times for a 4'25 finish on my arm and figured I may as well start with this in mind and see what happened. Sarah said she wanted to try to stay with me for as long as possible, but I suspected it might not end like that. Just after 10.30am, we were off.
After the last few tester runs I'd expected the first few miles to be a bit tricky and uncomfortable, but actually everything felt okay. Bit stiff, but okay. Despite us doing many, many of the same races, Sarah and I had actually never run together. I'm generally a bit of a lone runner, so having a buddy was different and exciting and would definitely help later on. We hit the first ascent and made it to the top strong. At 5 miles I could check on how we were doing compared to my 4'25 finish splits - 90 seconds down, but that had been mostly uphill. So far, so on target.
From Pen Y Pass, it's a glorious downhill. Clouds were low so couldn't really see anything. I dropped a gel and a few minutes later a guy ran past us and gave it back to me. I love tis race. I love where it goes off road and you have to really concentrate on your footing. Hip was still feeling good, but I was careful not to lead with my right foot and put extra pressure on it. Miles were passing so fast and I was still feeing strong.
A check at 10 miles showed we were now 3 minutes ahead of target time. I opened a gel and managed to spray it all over myself, and spent pretty much the next 16 miles of water stations trying to wash it off. Sarah was feeling hungry so we shared a Nakd bar.
My parents were at Beddgelert which is just before halfway, where they had the Marmite sandwich I requested. Last year I'd asked for Jaffa Cakes, but this year I knew something savoury would be better. My mother had delightfully cut it into quarters so I took two and Sarah took two. A lady a few minutes up the course asked "Do you have a sandwich?!" Bonus of experience.
From this point, we hit our second ascent. I had previously claimed I didn't remember this hill, but now I'm not sure how this was possible. After a great first half it was starting to feel quite hard work. After losing massive amounts of boyfriend points for disappearing (loo break apparently) Tom was turning up regularly on the bike which was nice in breaking things up.
Time check at 15 miles showed we were almost bang on time for a 4'25 finish. I knew difficult times were ahead, but by this point I thought that a PB might be in the bag.
At 17 miles, Sarah commented that it sounded like a really big number. It really does. It sounds like you should be near the end when you actually have 9 miles to go. My hip joint wasn't hurting, but the outside of both hips, IT bands and glutes were starting to tighten up. I was struggling, but running with Sarah was keeping me going, probably faster than I would have been otherwise.
It was around this time Sarah also pointed out, "Is it just me, or is everyone else walking?" Yes they were. Perhaps there was a memo we missed as we kept trudging on.
Waunfawr was busy and I managed to get up on the pavement and then worry about how to get down again. It was like being on a cliff. Made the turn into the last great ascent where we had both agreed to power walk up.
Ironically, I had been looking forward to this point so I could finally get a quick rest before the last few miles. I don't think I realised how little I had left. At a run I had managed to match pace with Sarah, but at a walk it suddenly seemed so much harder. Watching her disappear out of sight was so hard and I knew the last few miles were going to be tough as fuck. For the last few miles I'd been feeling pretty nauseas and it wasn't getting any better. Each step felt like my foot was being nailed to the floor.
Mark was at mile 23 ish where he walked alongside me and made me keep my head up and my chest open to breathe properly. 99% of my body and brain was screaming at me to stop, but the last 1% was reminding me that even if I sat down right there (as I wanted so much) I'd still have to get back somehow.
Starring role on S4C. Looking like I'm about to vomit.
The worst part of this was seeing my average pace slipping and watching my potential 4'25 finish disappear. It's so easy to reflect and say I should have just pushed on, but at the time I had nothing left. Made it to the top and then when I was finally grateful that the downhill had started, my right knee started hurting. Awesome.
I have to say that the camaraderie at this point of the race was a amazing and despite feeling crap I was so grateful for every kind word received. But the knee was pretty much the nail in the coffin and my watch was already showing my previous time with over a mile to go. I would have cried, but I didn't have the energy.
Literally hobbled down the mountain knowing that it wasn't worth potentially damaging myself further. I was grateful enough about the hip not being a bitch to appreciate this.
Crossed the finish line, not quite so as gloriously as last year, but never so happy as to have bloody finished.
Claimed my water and foil blanket and spotted a dog in a jumper. Feeling a bit delicate, I decided that saying hi to this dog would make me feel 100% better. Asked her mum if it would be okay to say hello, which quickly lead to staffie snogs. She then told me that lovely Carla was an ex Battersea dog who was very excitedly waiting for her new dad to finish. Love her :)
Made my way back to HQ to collect my bags where I found Sarah waiting for her massage. She hadn't quite made our target either, but still finished in an incredible 4'27. We're both targeting sub 4 next year so I really hope this race helped us both on that journey. Surely nothing can be that hard.
So, the big question - no regrets?
Mark messaged me after the race saying he hoped I wasn't disappointed. I'm not and I am. On the one hand, I spent the last 5 weeks not sure if I would even start this race. Several times during these weeks I was 100% certain that I wouldn't. To decide not to start would not only be an easy option, but also a sensible one. I definitely wouldn't damage myself any further and I could have happily continued healing.
But it would have been such an anticlimax.
I'm glad I started and I'm ecstatic that I finished. The only disappointment comes from spending a large part of the race thinking that I might actually get a PB out of it, which would have been the greatest of comebacks, only to watch that slip away in the space of 4 miles.
Much like childbirth (I imagine), memories of the pain and struggles during races quickly slip away. Just a few months ago I finished Maidenhead Half in 1:55:03 and was initially delighted at running a PB in spite of a tough last few miles. Within an hour I was kicking myself for not getting sub 1:55. As a group, runners are rarely satisfied.
Six weeks ago, a finish time of 4:45 wouldn't have seemed worth getting out of bed for. Three weeks ago I couldn't even imagine starting. It might not be the time I hoped for, but it represents a determination to not give up.
I went to Claybury to run my second cross country race since joining The Eagles Juniors.
The weather was hot for a cross country race so the ground was quite dry but I still wore my spikes. It was just me racing out the Eagles in the U15 youth race. I know quite a few ESM runners from school and others friends, so I was having a laugh with one of them then the gun went off. It was crowded as we ran down the hill, many people cheering us all on. We had to do two laps of the course which meant going up the big hill twice.
One of the lads from ESM followed me around the last race and pipped me to the finish which I wasn’t going to let happen again this time. I took it steady and made my plan to get ahead of the ESM lad. A few boys had to walk the hill but I managed to take it slow and keep running up and that is when I made my get away from my friend. I passed Mum (Lisa), Jennifer and Paul (taking photos) getting a few cheers and up another small hill back round to the start to do it all again. I remember two Eagles cheering me on and giving advice for the hill but I wasn’t sure who they were. Mum didn’t know who it was either when I told her.
I was getting tired as I passed the start knowing the hill was coming up again but remembered I had to keep my friend behind me. I managed to run at a steady pace up the hill again and flew down the hill. Coming down the hill was the best bit and it wasn’t far to go now to finish. I came into the finish feeling quite tired and my legs were aching but I didn’t let the ESM lad beat me.
Naturally my body was really nervous, but mentally I was ready. Instead I was excited! It was freezing and I was shaking. When I started it was pouring heavily with rain. As I went round the first corner, my leg dropped into a small hole and I twisted my ankle. It wasn’t serious; instead it spurred me on to catch up with my friend. She had been lost in a sea of runners. I kept going then halfway through the rain got harder and I was shivering with cold. The supporters helped, especially my fellow Ealing Eagles. At some point, my head said “give up Em” but I couldn’t. It was an amazing feeling to finish. Overall, I found the race exciting and fun despite the weather being terrible. I can’t wait for the next one it can only get better!
The GNR was one of the best days of my life. I was representing Saint Lucia alongside 177 international runners as part of the organisers' goal to have a runner from each of the 193 countries in the world. The excitement had already been whipped up locally, thanks to the Ealing Eagles publicity machine and being featured in the Gazette and Ealing Today. I had also been contacted by journalists in St. Lucia who ran their own social media campaign to get the country behind me and I was featured in a news story on a St. Lucian radio station. Fame at last!
On the eve of the race, the GNR organisers laid on a reception, which was a fantastic opportunity to meet the other international runners. I met Paul Jones (fellow Eagle) and his wife Marija who was representing Macedonia. Appearances by Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe, Tirunesh Dibaba and other sporting legends made us feel like VIPs for the night.
On the morning of the race, I was ushered into the VIP start area which had a VIP baggage-check, loos, an array of cameras, media personnel and familiar faces from TV and sport. The sporting celebs were all happily posing for photos and chatting to the international runners. I took to the VIP lifestyle easily, casually exchanging running anecdotes with some bloke who turned out to be Ricky from the Kaiser Chiefs and getting last-minute race tips from Nell McAndrew. Minutes before the start, Tanya Farah (wife of Mo) took her place right next to me on the start line and then we were off. I started on the front line at the same time as the elite men - a moment that I will remember and dine on for the rest of my life.
For those wanting to know something about the course, there are undulations throughout, with the most challenging one at the end but none of them rival Greenford Avenue (you know what I mean). Lots of loos, water and energy drinks stations, and at least three showers to run through on a blisteringly hot day. Crowd support was strong all the way along the route, with various bands and cheerleaders, culminating in 5-deep spectators along the last mile. This race had the local spectator-support of EHM, with kids handing jelly babies, others handing out bagels and lollies, but it was just on a massive scale. There was bunching at some points, particularly from mile 10 onwards, which could be a pain for the very fast runners seeking PB glory. The final mile is a scenic downhill seascape and a well-supported run along the seafront. My finish time of 2:52:16 was 20 minutes slower than my PB and it was my most enjoyable run ever.
Here are my top ten glorious moments at the Great North Run:
1) Being on the start line because I am never likely to experience the buzz of leading 57,000 runners at the world's biggest half marathon ever again.
2) The advantage of being on the start line is that I had a very brief moment of actually spotting Mo Farah in his shiny sunglasses running way ahead of me. I got the best buzz of the day just thinking of the sheer unreality of the situation.
3) The thrill of the Red Arrows flying overhead as I crossed the Tyne Bridge. I remembered speaking to a man on the start line who ran the Great North Run 36 times from the age of 5. He said he had never once experienced the Red Arrows flying over Tyne Bridge. I felt privileged.
4) Running through the cool, dark underpass as shouts of Oggy Oggy Oggy Oi Oi Oi reverberated through the walls.
6) That incredulous moment when Marge Simpson, Spiderman, the Ninja Turtles and the blokes in the animal print speedos whizzed past with the 1.25 pacer! Note, I have never seen a 1.25 pacer in a race.
7) The crowd support and encouragement from other runners was electric. I heard 'Go Ealing' 'Go Eagles' 'St. Lucia' (clearly some flag geeks amongst the Newcastle supporters). I was impressed with the Mile 10 beer stand with the sign 'only three miles to go, might as well grab a beer."
8) The moment somewhere after hilly Mile 9 which when I decided to forget about a PB, just slow down, take in the atmosphere and spend some time with Elvis in a Love Me Tender sing-off!
9) The glorious sight of deep blue sea when I got to the top of the last hill and the stunning aerial acrobatics of the Red Arrows which zipped past me all the way to the finish line.
10) Finally, one of my most emotional moments was helping international runner who had stopped and staying with her and running the last 800 metres together.
Once I crossed the finish line, I was directed to the VIP area where delicious hot food, cold drinks, massages, fluffy white towels and warm showers awaited. Thank you Ealing Eagles for being part of my special journey to the Great North Run as an international athlete. I would also like to thank Mark Yabsley for being such a wonderful coach, meetings and words of support throughout my preparation. After the euphoria of completing my first half, Ealing Half Marathon on 2015 and the excellent Marrakesh Half, I struggled to find a purpose for running in 2016. The Great North Run gave me that elusive thing, that every runner craves, a joyful running experience, which has left me thirsting for more.
Other Eagles running on the day were Paul Jones, David Hennessy, James Linney and Ben Cale (apologies to anyone we missed!). Pictures below are from Che, Marija and Paul.
I always hated sports day at school.
As far as I remember it, we never actually did any running or athletics training during PE lessons beyond some half hearted javelin flinging. So when our form tutors went round every year to demand that we sign up to run around the grass track on the school field my natural inclination was always to tell them where to stick their 100m dash. I think I did it once, knowing I would be dead last, and hating every single second of getting jeered from the sidelines by the sporty kids. At least they were talking to me, I suppose.
It's a shame, because having used local tracks for various interval training sessions in recent months I've found that I really enjoy running on the track. It reduces the impact, you're safe (albeit freezing cold and soaking wet in the winter months), there's no need to worry about the route and you just have to focus on your pace and form.
Anyway, last night my 14 year old self would have been astonished to watch me turn up at an athletics track at 7pm on a fine summer's Friday evening instead of opting for the nearest beer garden. I was off to take part in my first 5,000m track race as part of an Eagles club championship event. Billed as 'the night of the 5,000m PB's', Race Officer Heidi had organised three 5,000m races grouped into current 5k PB times followed by a series of 400m and 100m races.
I'm not sure what I'd been expecting when I arrived, fresh off a sweltering Piccadilly Line tube after spending a rare and pleasant day off work with some school friends in town. I dragged my Eagles kit on slightly reluctantly, not really wanting to put my trainers back onto already hot and tired feet. I never run on a Friday night and I'd been on my feet all day. Basically I was talking myself out of doing well before I'd even started, despite the fact that I know my track 1k intervals are always paced a lot faster than my road runs so there was a good chance I would do well if I just gave it a decent go.
Walking out across the infield to where the group was gathered just beyond the 100m finish line, it started to feel quite exciting. The summer sun was setting low overhead, giving the red track and green infield a warm glow. There was a smell of grass, and whatever a running track is made of when it gets warm.
The set up was amazing - Heidi and her volunteers had done a great job. We had small race numbers which we had to pin on front and back, like proper athletes. We had UKA officials, an electronic timing board, and best of all a starter's gun and a bell to ring you into your last lap! I started to get butterflies which I thought were nerves, but really it was excitement.
Those of us in the third race watched happily as the two faster groups completed their 5,000 metres, cheering them on and amazed at the times they were pulling out of the bag. The winner of the first race was Jose with 17:20, and Sarah Bailey bagged a new PB of 20:12 to win the second race, which seemed very appropriate on Olympic Opening Ceremony Night! Amazing times - it's always a privilege to watch the faster end of the club pack running - usually we only get to do that if we're running a race with laps as they come speeding past us!
Very soon it was our turn. We all felt absurdly nervous when we were lining up, which was ridiculous since 5k is a distance all of us are perfectly comfortable with. Granted we're not used to having an audience of the much faster runners in the club, but we needn't have worried. It was really exciting to be started off by a proper starter's gun - and we all seemed to settle into our strides really quickly. I had originally decided to go easy for the first couple of laps to see how I felt but all the speedy people and other spectators gave us all so much personal encouragement I found myself starting to race without even thinking about it. I don't think I've ever had so many people shouting me by name at an event and it was lovely, no sign of nasty comments from the sporty kids here.
So I decided to give it a proper go.
My official 5k PB was 28:02 (watch time 27:58). I had run 27:39 at the actual 5k point of a triathlon run leg in early July, but the course was long and my official time was recorded as 28:25. I've been desperate to properly break into the 27's, and I vaguely knew I would need to be between 8:45 and 9 minute miles average to manage this, so I kept checking my watch and tried to keep on pace.
I must have paced it pretty well, since by just after half way I started to overtake people. I couldn't quite believe it when I got to the 200m to go point in a time reading 26 something...I could do this! I put my foot down a bit in the 100m straight and came away with an official time of 27:21. That's going to sound really slow to a lot of people, but I was absolutely thrilled - 40 seconds off my PB and very definitely in the 27's! Bearing in mind that this time last year my best 5k time was 31 minutes, that shows progress that I'm very proud of.
Having very definitely not opted to run the sprint races (sports day PTSD is real folks), after my race was done I enjoyed standing at the side cheering on the brave souls/amazing runners from the club who had gleefully signed up for everything. We have some real talent in our club; that much was clear from watching them zoom round the track. We even had a proper sprint start from Sarah, who won the ladies race convincingly, and James has since said the evening reignited his love of track running and may look into some master's events. Hopefully we can have some more of these events to get our teeth into in future.
I'd encourage any Eagle to seek out their local track, regardless of what level they are running at. There's no need to be afraid of it or think it's only for people fast enough to actually compete. How do you think they get good enough to compete in the first place?
They run on the track, of course!
I always fancied doing something slightly longer in the lakes as the usual 15k-18k races that I normally do are fun but leave you wanting a bit more. So I was running along the canal when I spotted a runner with a 55k top and I thought I could give it a try.
So I looked it up and saw that Lakeland trails did a nice looking 55k course starting in Ambleside in July. So I took advantage of the early bird discount.
Next I needed a plan so I worked out a 24 week plan that went up to 65 miles a week. It also recommended running very slowly and doing a slow marathon as preparation.
Then I needed to buy a running backpack to carry all the mandatory gear : head torch, first aid kit, full rain gear, hat and gloves, emergency rations, whistle.
Training went pretty well. Even managed a couple of hilly marathons without too much discomfort. The marathons (Three Forts and Richmond Park) were on fairly warm days so I was slightly worried about doing an ultra in July.
Booked a house in Coniston as would have a few in-laws in tow.
Back to the race weekend:
Drove to Coniston and then went off to register in Ambleside. This takes quite a while as they examine your mandatory kit to ensure it meets requirements.
Race morning was quite relaxing as it is a 10:30 start.
Race starts and grinds to a halt after about 400m as a white van is blocking the road and we can only get through in single file. In fact the first climb is like that as the trail is quite narrow and hard to pass. I forgot to mention that the rain has already started and I woud say it is ok enough not to require my rain gear yet. After 5.5k I reach the top of Kirkstone Pass which is the 2nd highest climb of the day. I stock up on jelly babies and ginger nuts while they record my number.
Next leg is straight down to Brotherswater and then flattish to Glenridding (11.3k). By this time the heavens have opened. The descent is quite tricky and I have my first fall but nothing serious. After that it is an easy trail to Glenridding. Into the checkpoint, restock and on my way.
Then comes the climb to Grisedale Hause which a 12.5k leg. This is fairly uneventful even though it is the biggest climb. Reach Grasmere which is just over halfway and have a cup of tea, cake, crisps, etc. I relaxed a bit as I felt the hard work was over as the next leg is fairly small and the hill looked less daunting.
The rain was pelting down and the wind was picking up. Started the climb over Silver Howe. This was quite rocky and my trails shoes were not coping with the wet rocks. It began to hail and temperature really plummeted. Managed to get to the top but the descent was hard. Lots of stone steps. Fell a couple of times but I thought I was through the worst of it when I saw the road ahead and knew it would be flat to the next checkpoint. Before I reached the road I slipped and fell a bit awkwardly and twisted my knee a bit. Got up with the help of some runners around me and then tried to continue the descent but the knee gave way and I slipped again. Reached the road and thought if I can get to the next checkpoint then I can assess whether to continue. So I walked 2k to the checkpoint at Little Langdale.
So 37k of the 58k completed and still 7 hours to go before the cutoff, I stopped. I probably could have hobbled 21k to the finish on the flat but still a couple of the smaller hills to go and a descent back to Ambleside. Apart from parkrun I have never quit before so it felt a bit strange. Anyway phoned the wife who did the pickup.
It was a beautiful course despite the weather and hasn’t put me off doing another ultra. The runners are really friendly and the feed stations ace.
It was a gloomy overcast start but I had optimistically packed my sun hat. Mike and Angela Duff picked me up on Ealing Green and after a different route to Thames Ditton (don't always rely on Sat Navs) we got to the race village in good time. The Harry Hawkes 10 is small with only 700 entrants so the village on the Green outside the cricket club was compact and low key, parking was easy although we used the second car park. We beat the rush so queues for loos and number pick up were short, but it never got out of hand. It all worked well with the numbers and so the venue never felt crowded.
With about 30 minutes to go I stripped down to running kit and started the gentle warmup to get flexible (but really to not get cold). At that moment there was the odd touch of sun so I needn't have worried. Bags dropped (a self service arrangement that worked due to the small numbers), running plans discussed with the few Eagles and others including Martin White and Lydia, we wandered over to the start line for the official warmup. I had just had my energy gel so was prepared. At 9:30 we were off and it only took me 6 seconds to get over the line. There was the inevitable bunching at the start but no real problems due to the low numbers. I was aiming for about 7 minute miles and kept it at that pace through out. I kept pace with Mike to start with but then watched him slowly pull away, but this was for me a fast run and not a race (honest guv!). Angela had a different strategy and so started right at the back aiming to keep an 11 minute pace throughout as for her it was also a training run.
The first mile or 2 was a loop around the Thames Ditton woods. This was rather pleasant and the cross country training helped, fortunately it had dried during the previous week so it was not the mud bath that it might have been. The pack had started to stretch out so although there were lots of runners around it wasn't too crowded. Then back past the start and on into Kingston on the south side of the Thames, I was happy with my pace and I did not overtake many or get overtaken. Meanwhile at the back others were obviously starting to tire (obviously starting too fast) and Angela with a steady pace was reeling them in.
Through Kingston town centre and over Kingston bridge, the run up onto the bridge seemed like a semi serious hill (undulation in EHM speak), so it was time to break out the secret weapon. But disaster, I couldn't open the pocket zip on my shorts. It is not easy to run at pace and fiddle with a zip on your shorts, good job Mr Yabsley wasn't there as he would have been yelling "ARMS". A quick slurp of water at the next water station on the North side of the Thames and another fiddle with the zip and finally I could reach my wine gums. The packet had already been opened (previously cut carefully with scissors so it wouldn't rip) and I managed to retrieve a couple for an energy boost. This faffing about probably cost me about 10 seconds on that 5th mile, but it seemed to have some effect as I started to reel in the odd runner as we ran past Hampton Court Palace. Back across the Thames at Hampton Court and down the A309, the speed limit said I could now do 40 mph, although that was a tad unrealistic, my pace was not dropping fueled by a few more wine gums and I was reeling in more runners that were slowing down. My legs were starting to ache but otherwise I did not seem to be tiring.
We turned off the A309 and onto the side streets. We weaved through these back streets and if it hadn't been for the runners in front, the signs and all the wonderful marshals, I would have been lost. I finally recognised the bits of the Thames Ditton woods where we had run before. The trails were not any muddier, it was easier with fewer people around and it is nice running through the woods with a bit of sun. I was on the home straight, down the final bit of road and then finishing off with half a lap of a cricket pitch (complete with players). A cricket pitch is a big obstacle to get round and I am glad that they weren't hitting any sixes that day. I had my final runner in sight but although he was slowing he was just too far ahead (if only there had been another 200m), I crossed the line with 1:10:39 on the clock.
So job done target of roughly 7 minute miles over 10 miles reached. I got another big gong of a medal, I did ask the lady cutting the timing chips of the shoes whether she could do my toe nails at the same time, but that would have been an extra. The banana and water were rapidly consumed. I met up with Mike who finished just 80 seconds ahead of me with a PB of 1:09:21 (1:09:16 chip) and we sat and waited for Angela to cross the line. I even managed to get all the stretches and stuff done whilst waiting and watching the other runners come in. Then along came Angela with a time of 1:50:23 (1:49:36 chip) so perfect timing for 11 minute miles. Although Angela did confess to a fast couple of miles at the end, but you are allowed a fast finish to overtake some rivals!
At the same time they were announcing the prizes and I almost got the fastest 55+ ladies prize but they realised the mistake (must have ticked the wrong box on the form or something). We also met up with Dave Carlin who was running with a friend who was running gently at the back and swapped tales of the slow runners, especially one lady with a really odd arm action who just so happened to cross the line at that point. Unfortunately we did not spot any more Eagles.
In conclusion, it is a great low key race but there were some quite fast runners from other local clubs there (fastest times being about 55 minutes). The route is quite scenic in places and the marshals were very helpful and friendly