Chicago Marathon by Allan Williams

So it all began during a half marathon in Palma de Majorca just less than a year ago…a roasting hot day, two thirds round the course and me promising myself never ever to do this again...well it didn’t quite start there but close enough. A few hours later talking to my wife Tanja over a celebratory beer I mentioned that maybe running a marathon might be a good idea. The crazy logic being that it would be a bit slower and therefore a bit less painful than a half....as I write this I’m already thinking, what an idiot!

So as a Christmas “present” Tanja signed us up for Chicago marathon... that kind of present could seriously lose you some friends. What next, entry to an Ironman for my birthday, a voucher for a kick in the shin for Easter as a healthy alternative to a chocolate egg?!

We were both lucky enough to get through the ballot and so there we were flying to Chicago with our training behind us, me looking suspiciously around the plane for any sign of a sniffle or a cough having tried to avoid any human contact for the last week in order to not pick up a cold.

Chicago is a super city, we’ve been before and really like the place....a couple of days to acclimatise and avoid much walking, a visit to the expo for some free goodies, a marathon t-shirt, some free beer and of course our start numbers!

The big day came, despite my obsession with cold avoidance we'd both picked up colds! Sniffles and a bit of a sore throat but nothing too severe...nothing a 26.2 mile jog couldn’t sort out. It was going to be a pretty hot day, unlike any other holiday we've been on we were constantly looking at various weather apps leading up to the race hoping for a severe drop in temperature. It had been getting up to 31 degrees in the week before so we were pretty lucky it had dropped to a relatively parky 26 degrees on race day. Each time I mention to someone it was hot it goes up by another degree, to the point I've pretty much started saying my trainers were melting. To keep it factual, I’ve done some research and it reached a high of 28 degrees but thankfully after the race.

So to the race. We had a 45 minute journey from our Airbnb to the start line and we joined the throngs entering the park. We had a long queue for the toilet which put me a bit on edge, but that aside it was trouble free and we headed to our respective start corrals. I felt fairly good as I walked through to the front of the corral towards the pacers for 3hrs 40mins which was my target.

I had already decided not to run with the pacer as during my training I’d done a few long runs with half marathon at around 1hr 47mins so i thought if all went well I might be able to sneak a 3hr 35mins Marathon.

The first half of the race went great, I couldn't take the smile off my face! There were loads of people out supporting as we ran through the centre of Chicago. There were lots of funny signs out there to take your mind off the running, my favourite of those I can remember being “if Trump can run, so can you”. There were plenty of people out supporting and the atmosphere was great.

It was already quite hot, but the tall buildings gave really good shade. Unfortunately that couldn’t last forever and the second half is much more exposed as it winds through Chicago’s various neighbourhoods, each bringing it’s own distinct flavour.

The on-course services were fantastic, with sports drink and water stops every couple of miles and a load of other goodies like sponges, gels, chews and bananas being handed out at official stations and a load of other treats being offered by the cheering crowds. I really couldn’t have any complaints there...I’m sure I could have put on a couple of pounds around the course if I’d have been in the mood!

So I reached half way in my target 1hr 47mins feeling pretty good...happy with the world...dreaming of a run below my target. Unfortunately that didn’t last too long...a few miles later and I started to slow, my energy was drained despite taking my gels as I’d planned. I think back now and wonder why I didn’t stop and have a banana or something more substantial but I think at the time a combination of being nervous about trying something new and also just not really feeling like I had the stomach for it stopped me.

My pace dropped, it didn’t fall off a cliff but I lost about 20 seconds a Kilometer for a few kilometres and then another 20 seconds after another few kilometres. It was starting to feel pretty bad and the last 10km's was torture! I’d ran up to 35kms in training and had never felt like this...there was nowhere to hide from the sun and each water station involved throwing a couple of cups of water over my head as well as drinking plenty. I’d normally not drank too much on my long runs but decided that given the heat I’d take a little water at each of the stations right from the start...nothing new on race day of course but I felt given the temperature that I had to make that change. It certainly didn’t seem to impact me in the first half.

So did I say the last 10ks was torture! Obviously I’d heard people talk about this and our trainer, Mark had talked a lot about the mental side of things and how the last 10kmwas going to be mentally and physically tough....I guess I just really underestimated that and certainly hadn’t come anywhere near the feeling in training...I had expected pain as my left knee had been playing up at the end of long runs but that was surprising not too painful...maybe I was too exhausted to feel the pain! I told myself that I just needed to keep running, but in the end I couldn't manage it - this was a low point, I didn’t expect to have to walk and this hurt...I walked through the water stations, justifying it to myself as needing to walk to take on water but in reality I just couldn’t do it anymore without these rests every couple of kilometres. I started to dream of the next water station where I could walk again, the relief palpable as they popped up like an oasis in the desert!

Another low couple of lows came as the both the 3:40 and 3:45 pacers passed me…I made a feeble attempt to keep up with the 3:45 as I was pretty near to the finish but just had nothing to give, no energy in the legs and it was enough just to resist the desire to walk the rest of the way.

I don’t think I ever thought I wasn’t going to make it, I knew I could walk the rest if it came to it but I really wanted to carry on running to get the best time I could. I really was counting down each kilometre and as I’d done a year ago I was telling myself “never again”!

I crossed the line, relieved and exhausted but in control of my faculties enough to grab as much free stuff as I could! Protein shakes, ice bag (placed on head), wet towel, ubiquitous Marathon silver sheet thingy, bottle of water, free beer (very important), various crisp type snacks and energy bars and of course, last but not least a nice shiny medal! And what a medal!

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I staggered over the bag collection, picked up my stuff, sat down and turned on my phone to track Tanja coming through on the race app. Loads of messages came through from friends and family tracking the race in the app who had seen that I'd finished and it was great to know that they were supporting us as we slogged around the course.

I went to wait for Tanja coming through and sat down on the ground in the sun, it took me a good couple of minutes to get to the floor I was so sore and I got a little cheer from some fellow runners amused at my inflexibility as I made it to the floor.

It was great to see Tanja coming out of the finishing area, I was really relieved to see she made it in one piece as it was so brutal out there. The journey wouldn’t have felt complete without both of us making it.

We hung around a bit, took a few photos, had another free beer and then headed back to our flat...I think mixed feelings for both of us, relieved and happy to have completed our first marathon, but both a little disappointed having not made our target time.

Spending the next few days hobbling around, that feeling of disappointment for me has now gone, the conditions were tough, it was our first marathon and it really is a good time I can be proud of... as for never running another marathon, let’s just say I now know the chance of getting into the London Marathon through the ballot in 2016 was 6.9%.

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Maverick Original Kent by Charlotte Levin

The Maverick Original is a series of trail events hosted around the UK that I had only recently come across. Just in time for the end of the season I made my way out to Groombridge Place and the Kent event. The race offered three distances, short (7km), medium (14km) and long (21k), not calling myself much of a distance runner, I decided that I should challenge myself a bit and signed up for the 14km one.

Turning up on race day, I look around at the other participants. There aren't many people in club or charity tops, but many more in various trail jackets and a range of "I'm attached to my backpack" looks. The event is dog friendly and the runners with four legged friends come well prepared with a harness rather than just a regular lead. Regulars? Plenty. They have a season pass for a reason.

As we prepare for start, they make us form two lines. All distances start from the same place, at the same time but the long distance then immediately take a left turn whilst medium and short peel off to throw right. We're informed that anyone who wants to race for a time should make it up to the front as the path quickly gets narrow and overtaking opportunities may be restricted. To my surprise, a lot of people still hang back, being there for the joy of running the trail more than hitting a time.

The cow bell rings and we're off. Staying true to my race habit (not necessarily a good one), I set off at a pace I know I won't be able to maintain for the whole route, hoping to get some space to find my rhythm later. After about 100m, we're faced with the first bottleneck: a cow gate. It is a trail race and noting to be surprised about, but I'm glad that my quick start means the queue is shorter than for those further back. Obviously there wasn’t going to be only one and for the first kilometer there’s probably four or five. People and dogs gradually perfect their crossing to make the race flow as much as possible.

The last few days before the race had been wet enough for the ground to be properly soft and my shoes quickly gain extra weight from the mud they're putting on. The route goes over fields, through woods with root laced paths and, only when necessary, along some tarmac roads. The short and medium races follow the same course for the first 4-5km. It is well marked with arrows and blue bands, but there aren't many marshals around and you're strongly encouraged to not just blindly follow the person in front of you as they might be doing a different distance. Each category has about 120-125 runners, and the small number has its benefits and drawbacks: you don't have to fight for your space on the path but neither do you have many opportunities to find someone who can pace you. I had the intention of racing but after the first third I'm feeling how much tougher the undulating trail is compared to the flat road that has made up my training base. My race plan had been too aggressive and I'm forced to walk for a bit just to get my heart rate down. When I'm able to start picking it up again, I’m surprised by the lack of people going past me, and I readjust from "push, push, push" to a gentler pace. The surroundings were varied, open areas giving you a view of the place, followed by twists through the forest and later easy straights across fields.

With only a few kilometers left, you start seeing the long runners, but they're coming the other way! By this point I think the short and medium courses have joined up again, we're running on a wide ish path and people are going both directions. Even if it's not quite two person wide it passes very smoothly, no one seems particularly bothered by it and are just in their groove. I was glad I didn't have to dodge any dogs, instead I spot a friend of mine and high five as we pass.

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Across a field, past the photographer who's shouting some cheering words and to the finish. All those cow gates we started with are now tackled the other way, my legs significantly less excited about them, and a few of the finishers are stood along the final stretch looking out for their friends. I usually try to go for a sprinting finish, but this time all I could do was to convince my legs to keep the same pace, across the finish lines and to the goodies.

One thing they do differently is to include a beer instead of a finishers tshirt in the race entry, with medal designed to double up as a bottle opener. I chat briefly to another lady I had exchanged a few words with before the start and someone who had used me for pacing for a while. Not many have stayed around or, as I discovered later when looking at the result list, the majority of runners from medium and long haven't yet finished.

There were certainly things with the race which were different to what I've been to before: fewer marshals and a very casual bag drop (non-guarantueed-attended during the race) being the main things. None of those really bothered me, but I was a little annoyed that I had planned on there being two water stations but then only came across one. That aside, the course had everything it promised and was beautiful to run. My race had been tough, but of the type where you're not regretting getting into it but just take notes on what training to focus on for the next one. I still finished 9th lady on middle distance and was happy with my time. With that in mind, it’s time to look over the weaknesses and turn the mind to cross country season!

Bournemouth Marathon by Matt Kay

Pinning my colours to the mast at the beginning of the year I treated myself to a place at Bournemouth to chalk a marathon off the list before I hit 30.

Having joined the Eagles a year last July and getting injured after a week I was chomping at the bit to get involved in the new year...in my inexperience I’ve entered far too many races this year including double booking myself on a couple of occasions!

Training

After finally returning to the club in the new year for the first club run of 2017, John Barry mentioned to me that Jesal had coached him through his marathon. I subsequently joined forces with Jesal which has really helped shape my approach to running for the year through which I feel I’ve learnt a lot.

After a disappointing run at the Olympic Park in early Jan I produced a PB at the Hyde Park 10k at the end of the month and continued to see a surge in fitness towards March where I ran my first sub 60 10k helpfully pushed on by Claire Morris at the end to dip under 58mins. This was sandwiched by Allie pacing me to a sub 30 5k at Gunnersbury Parkrun in Feb for club champs. I attribute the surge in fitness to continued track sessions. I’m grateful to Christina O’Hare and Annette for pushing me along at track whilst they trained for their own marathons.

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After these runs I really started to work closely with Jesal including mapping out a pre-Marathon plan for Bournemouth with the general feeling that if I started early in April focusing on getting up to Half Marathon distance then I would build a good foundation for Bournemouth. I did and by May I was thinking that marathon training was going to be a piece of cake and as happens when you start to think things will be easy and you get complacent a massive curve ball is thrown into the mix, and I got injured.

The injury occurred about three weeks before Swansea half and with rest, massage, physio and recuperation together with calf protector applied I told myself I was fully fit, but I knew I wasn’t. 

Striking out for the sub 2 I’d arrived and trained for I ran a PB over the first 10k and was feeling strong for the first 7 miles but then I started to feel my calf and slowed momentarily until a woman shouted from behind me “come on Ealing Eagle you have been pacing me for the last six miles”- this gave me a lift for the next 2 miles but at that point my calf completely gave up and I went from doing 9min miles to 12min miles. The thought of the last three miles now going to take the time equivalent of four miles was quite soul destroying, and despite finishing with a massive PB improving on my time of 2:40 a year earlier to 2:13 I lost my way quite a bit after Swansea. So whilst running a few summer leagues and other runs I didn’t really start to knuckle down again until the beginning of August.

I knew August was going to be a make or break month for me testing my body to see if I could go beyond the half marathon distance and up to the required mileage breaking the “golden barrier” of 20 miles.

In that month I managed a 12.5 miler back in Manchester with my sis running the first 7 with me - the last 5 particularly the final 2 and a half were very tough and I felt my calf. The following week I did Burnham Beeches half with an added 2 Miles at the beginning - whilst very picturesque, it was definitely one of the toughest halfs I’ve done despite being billed as “flat”. I was indebted that day to Kimmy running some miles with me (I remember her asking me before the race if the calf blew up what would I do about Bournemouth and I said I’d be doing it regardless but deep down I think I knew that race was make or break). I was also grateful to Angela dragging me up the hill at the end. I remember speaking to my sister after the race feeling totally wiped out and she said “you will ask yourself how you will do another 10 Miles on top but next time you run your legs will feel stronger”- they did, the following week I did 18 Miles where I was grateful to Christine Dixon running the Battersea 10k summer league with me to finish off my 18 miler where after 16 again my legs virtually gave up but she kept me going. 

Following Summer League came the training defining 20 miler which started off from Hounslow, built in Gunnersbury Parkrun and then finished with the West Walk 10k - many people got me round the course that day and in particular my sis running it with me and Olivia and Michelle kindly stalling their own run to get me up the last hill rep - James and Che’s continued cheer and water supply also played a big part.

That month essentially defined my training prep and gave me the self belief that I would not be denied and would complete the marathon.

However there were still tests and bumps in the road - I picked up a foot injury and couldn’t compete in one of my favourite 10k’s in my hometown two weeks later. At one point I told Jesal I didn’t care about pacing and just wanted to run the marathon time at whatever time I did. However despite a moment of indiscipline doing a tempo run rather than a recovery run where I tweaked my calf, September was the month of pacing where I really nailed my times for marathon and instilled the belief I could run the time I wanted: 4.30.

So after a mentally exhausting taper where my brain felt shattered and a reluctance to run I had a relaxing final week prepping for the big run.

The Race

Race day arrived although I did clock 10 miles walking round Bournemouth the day before which probably wasn’t ideal prep and I had a sore left ankle by the end of it although come race day this had subsided.

In terms of the race I’d had grave concerns over the 10am start time particularly given the weather forecast had been showing sun all week, however when we arrived to the start line the overcast conditions looked perfect - little did we know Bournemouth had many personalities when it came to weather depending where you were.

I’d agreed long ago that I’d run with Hayley as we both wanted to do 10min miles so we took our place in the start pen and at that point the sun appeared- half joking with the marshal I said we needed him to get rid of it, to which the woman next to me responded- “oh no, we want it to be sunny” to which I retorted “no we don’t”; anyhow we set off and the heat was noticeable from the get go, given the easy pace we were taking we shouldn’t have even been breaking sweat but it was dropping off us by the bucket load; that’s said the first 8 Miles seemed to fly by and we’d flown up the first hill into the cliffs and everything was going smoothly or so I thought aside from the fact I’d needed the toilet since we’d set off, anyhow whilst I’ve run a few races feeling like that and performed well perhaps because my focus has been on needing the toilet rather than my mind thinking about anything else race or otherwise. However whilst I’d managed many races feeling like that there was no way I could last another three hours feeling like that so when I got the opportunity I went to the toilet before catching Hayley up, she’d been struggling with illness the day before but had felt fine before the race and whilst at a couple of points I thought she was struggling, she said she fine and credit it to her had kept pace; however shortly after me she too took a comfort break, I’d urged her too as I’d said for me I felt a lot better for it. So we partied ways around mile 9 and whilst I expected her to catch me up unfortunately she didn’t. For me though, at this point I was starting to feel really strong, feeding off the energy of the crowd and having to reign myself in not to up the pace.

Anyhow the key turning point was when we dropped down onto the promenade, running along the seafront - the heat was an absolute killer and I felt like I was being nailed to the beach huts by it; similar to being nailed to the wall by the sun outside Osterley Park on the summer 10k, it was brutal and at this point I knew I was in trouble and could feel my legs starting to cramp up and I decided I needed to try and take evasive action so I threw the gel strategy out of the window and took one two miles ahead of schedule and took every bit of sugar I could lay my hands on, unfortunately for me - I was clearly dehydrating and there wasn’t a water station for another 3/4 miles.

By mile 12, I could feel the pace and my intended time goal slipping away and not just by seconds but minutes and at this point my head started to drop, I saw some family friends at that point but I was in a bad way and quite disenchanted with it all asking myself how on earth I’d get through the next 14.2 miles. Anyhow I pushed on trying to keep to 11min miles but visibly struggling. That’s when a big turning point came in the race, seeing Carlo at Mile 14 on Boscombe Pier gave me the unexpected lift I needed and coming back through the pier I started to steel myself and tell myself I could get through it. However the pace was starting to suffer considerably and I was down to 12min miles and by this point I pretty much knew my time was gone, being completely truthful I knew it was gone by mile 12 as despite timing wise still being on track I knew my body wouldn’t sustain the pace I needed to in order to achieve my goal, the main positive by mile 16 was that I knew regardless of time I would complete the race but what came next was a massive physical and mental challenge... 

As I looped round Bournemouth Pier my eyes locked onto what I can only describe as the biggest hill I’ve ever seen or at least that’s what it felt like and my mind just went “oh no”- I had a similar feeling to looking at a giant rollercoaster at a theme park and not wanting to go on it, the only bonus with that is that the rides are usually over in seconds and it’s optional unlike the hill. The added sub dynamic was that someone had the bright idea to map the course so you ran through the finish line so on the left the sub 3hr finishers were coming home whereas the poor, unfortunate slower runners were through the finish line and up and round for a jolly up the hill... I ran it to the top, despite one bloke helpfully commenting “you were well ahead of my wife beforehand, what’s happened?” as he came down the hill, sometimes spectators say the most unhelpful things - I don’t hold it against him as I don’t think they understand the mental detriment it does to you.

Anyhow I got to the top but I’d completely blown a gasket - that mile took me 13mins but the damage it had done to the body in the heat was irreparable and the next three miles took 15mins; the only thing that kept me going was that I knew my old man was at Mile 20 and he’d see me home, I also ran into Peter Mizzi’s friend Tony at Mile 19 and he gave me a welcome lift.

Anyhow I got to Mile 20 and seeing my folks gave me a welcome lift and I knew I’d get home; I picked up the pace momentarily and ran a 13.50 Mile- nothing fantastic but an improvement nonetheless but I couldn’t sustain it and the pace dipped again, sadly the last 5 Miles off the race is you running out to Sandbanks whilst those on their way home are hitting mile 25 in the opposite direction.

Anyhow I just focused on getting to the turn at mile 23 which seemed to take forever and at that point the customary “you’ve only got a parkrun to go” was exclaimed by a marshal, it’s little comfort when you know it’s probably going to take you double the time you usually do a parkrun in 😂.

Anyhow I just focused on finishing helpfully pushed on by the old man albeit with the occasional “pick your feet up son” bellowed at me, I wasn’t dragging them on purpose😂

What seems like an eternity later I arrived towards the finishing barriers and still managed a customary sprint finish and I wasn’t allowed to keel over as the funnel managers quickly moved you along to get your medal etc - a great feeling.

I have to hand it to Bournemouth, the organisation and spectator support was awesome although the start time was less than ideal and a big gap in water stations along the seafront post 10 Miles was tough. That’s said the festival is great and offers something for everyone, mine and my friends family contingent had runners in the 1k, 5k, 10k and mara so it really does cater for all with a half sandwiched in too and despite initial concern it could be a poor generic medal it isn’t.

The course itself whilst quite a bit of up and down was enjoyable but the killer was the hill at 17 so for me if I ran there again I could only see myself doing the half.

In terms of marathon’s I’ll definitely do another but perhaps not next year unless I get into London through the club ballot as I worry my calf could struggle again so a lot of strength work for that is needed as training wise whilst not perfect on the whole I got the miles in and had a fair amount of hill training. Regardless, of the time I’m happy to join the 1% and be classed as a marathon runner so I’ll take that for now although next time I hope to not be on my feet as long as it’s a killer!

Thanks for all your support and well done to all other runners over the weekend. The one thing I’ve learnt from my marathon experience is to respect it - regardless of training and prep anything can happen on race day so it’s important not to apply too much pressure to yourself!

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The Jungfrau Marathon by Andy Guy

The Jungfrau Marathon markets itself as 'The Most Beautiful Marathon in the World'.  This beauty is certainly not a reflection of the course profile but typically based on the photogenic beauty of the valleys and mountains of the Swiss Alps.  Not this year:

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This year was the 25th Anniversary of the Jungfrau Marathon and over a few too many glasses of wine during Christmas 2016 I was convinced to enter it.  The Berner Oberland region has a special meaning to me and I decided that running a non-road marathon would help keep my fitness up during the summer.  I conveniently forgot that I now live in London and there is a rather different course profile to this marathon – with over a vertical mile to climb during the last 10 miles:

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I'd done a recce of the steepest sections (both conveniently highlighted in green above) and found them to be horrific!  A couple of other mountain runs and a 16km race in the region during July confirmed that I'm simply not very good at hiking up the steepest points at speed.

The Race

The weather forecast had been consistent all week.  A cold, cloudy day in Interlaken (around 12 degrees) with rain/snow forecast (and 2 degrees) for the top of the race at around midday.  The temperature change involved more than the usual faffing in terms of 'what to wear'.  The race started at 0830 so it was the usual early start, get a train down to Interlaken and run up a mountain, into a cloud.

Starting waves were invoked for the first time and the timings were stuck to with Swiss precision.  As part of Block 2 I started at 0835 with the question that had been playing on my mind for months: how to pace this?  In terms of expectations, my main aim was to finish – a Swiss friend who has completed this race twice mentioned recently that he has seen this course reduce grown men to tears.  Of all the advice I'd received the best was to simply enjoy the run and the views.  Given a combination of the terrain, route profile and weather, this seemed unlikely! But the sentiment was spot on – and confirmed a conservative approach was probably sensible.  In addition, the rough guidance from the organisers was to add 1.5 hours to a recent road marathon time, so based on that I'd decided to pick up a 4h 45m pace band and set out at 5 min/km.

The atmosphere in Interlaken for the start was fantastic in spite of the poor weather.  Alpine horns, traditional flag throwing and the Swiss National Anthem all preceded the start.  Given it was the 25th Anniversary there were an additional 1,000 runners or so (around 5,100) and a certain nervousness about how this would play out on the single track paths above. 

The first 26.5km are described by most people who look at the route profile as 'flat' – except that they're not and climb some 300m!  The first 5km are flat though and it was a bizarre and almost eerie feeling as we set off.  I've never been in a race before where virtually everybody is holding back and thoughts already flicking ahead to the wall that will meet us at the 26.5km mark.  The lack of racing meant that a few conversations broke out; the Eagles vest being an advertisement to anyone wishing to converse in English and the FiveFingers shoes being the usual icebreaker from anyone who drew up next to me.  In short: yes, I've run in them before (this is a marathon afterall) and yes, I've considered my shoe choice (I'm an adult and dress myself).

Each hamlet or village we pass on the way was great – applause, 'Hopp Hopp' cheering, Trychler groups with their huge cow bells, Fasnacht bands, solo guitarists with huge speakers and various other bands.  The event is clearly an important part of the region and each of the small villages that the route passes through.

I had now hit each of my pace targets within 20 or so seconds. This was going well in spite of the high heart rate brought on by a head cold and the not so flat first half.  Now for the right turn towards the wall to Wengen.  Deep breathe. The glacial valley on top of which Wengen is perched means that there is no simple route up to this car free village – presumably the reason it is car free!  The steep switchback section of the narrow path is only about 2km long but took me 24 minutes during my recce run. The flow of people past me confirmed my fears that I don't speed-hike as quickly as others. Having said that it looks from the results that I held my own and didn't lose as much time as I feared.  Significantly I started running again as soon as the tarmac section appeared and managed to run all the way up the next 2km to Wengen passing many of those frustratingly quick walkers.  I'd agreed that I'd see my one-man support crew in Wengen to replace water bottles etc but when I got there I didn't need a new supply – mainly because the fuelling stations had been so good and it certainly wasn't warm.  Indeed, it struck me that Simon looked freezing with his down jacket, additional waterproof and hat pulled down tightly.  An ominous sign for what was to come! Wengen is at 1283m above sea level and marked the 30km mark.  I think I was right on target – about 2h 55m.  Only 12km to go. Good?  Nope - it was going to take me at least another 1h 50m…

The route now follows the route of the mountain railway quite closely and it was a boost to see the support crew again at the Allmend station (the slow pace and the trains up the mountain means some parts of the course are quite accessible for spectators).  However the rain had now well and truly set it and the cloud was hovering above us.  Running into the cloud was when it became really miserable and much colder, although thankfully, after Allmend, there were some decent sections where something resembling a run could break out.  It's worth pointing out at this stage that along with kilometre markers at each and every kilometre – held by incredibly positive and increasingly cold looking volunteers – there are markers every 250m such is the time taken to pass each of these.  The very fact they need to do that on this course freaked me out and helped keep moral up in equal measure.

Usually when I reach the Wixi skilift I'm disappointed that the skiing has temporarily ended.  On this occasion it was with a sense of relief at there being only being 4km to 'run' but also the intrepidation of what lay ahead.  Now above the tree line this climb is brutal. Especially when you've run 38km (23.5 miles).  It's pretty much single file scrambling up a narrow rocky path. The good news is you cannot go too fast; the bad news is that if you lose contact with the runner in front you have the feeling you're holding 5,000 people back! 

The 41st kilometre is possibly the hardest – it climbs up a ridge called the 'Moräne' (glacial moraine).  It is exposed, and climbing through the freezing cloud in single file was truly miserable. That kilometre took me the best part of 18 minutes – only 44 seconds quicker than my best Gunnersbury Parkrun time!

For some bizarre reason a bagpiper stands at the highest point of the course – the sound of was eerie and he suddenly appeared out of the cloud at an altitude of 2,320m.   Never have I been so happy to hear the pipes!  My feelings at this point fluctuated widely between disbelief, inspiration and even amusement (I remembered that in these parts, the bagpipes are called the ‘Doodlesac’), but the overriding emotion was relief: the finish can’t be far away now.

These guys are from 'Block 1' – the front of the field.  Moräne, 2017

These guys are from 'Block 1' – the front of the field.  Moräne, 2017

Down now – almost down…  for the final kilometre, still mostly in single file.  A couple of people raced past taking no account of the health of their ankles.  Others were wincing in pain as quads and calves started cramping up.  But after scrambling through a gap in the rocks, before you know it you've finished.

Done. I’d lost a couple of minutes in the last climb and had fallen slightly behind my pace band, but still finished in 4h 50, cracking the 5 hours that I'd been hoping to do. 

I'd envisaged drinking a couple of cold beers, lying on the alpine meadow overlooking the Finish and valleys below and savouring the fact that I'd finished the Jungfrau Marathon.  However, given the weather (and the fact I'd now lost feeling in the ends of my fingers) the key was now to get warm, gather medal, slab of chocolate and Finisher T-shirt and get back to a warm restaurant.  Outside, it really was miserable – and getting worse.

My heart went out to a couple of finishers who sat near us on the train on the way back to Grindelwald in the valley below – one asked if you could normally see the mountains.  He'd run the Jungfrau Marathon and not even glimpsed the Jungfrau itself. If only he knew the foot of the world-famous Eiger Nordwand was only a couple of hundred metres away.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him.

The view my train companion missed…

The view my train companion missed…

Overall the event was brilliantly organised; an incredible challenge; a once in a lifetime experience and - much as it sounds ridiculous - the atrocious conditions made it even more satisfying (once I’d finished!). A lot of people asked ‘why run that marathon?’.  Well, the race itself was mostly too painful to think about an answer but afterwards I’d include it in that category where the greater the hardship and discomfort during, the greater the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction at the end.  Once the heat and feeling started coming back in my fingers – an hour after I'd finished - my mind had already started wandering to parts of the race where time had been won and lost… was this really only ‘once’ in a lifetime?

Lessons Learned

In case anyone’s tempted (and if you look at the odds, the weather next year must be better!), entries for the Jungfrau Marathon 2018 open on 14 February 2018 and will sell out within a week.  So for anyone who does fancy a trot up a Swiss mountain, here are a couple of observations and lessons learned:

•    [Obviously,] It’s not a regular marathon, you can’t compare it to a ‘normal’ course. It’s more two races – the first 26 kms or so (a slight uphill road race), and the final 16 kms (a monster hill – hiking with intermittent running off-road)
•    Walking uphill is a skill in itself requiring different technique and muscle groups than running so needs specific training – would have been a good idea!
•    Time on your feet – adding 1.5 hours to a normal marathon is a large percentage for any marathoner.  I ran a 30 miles training run in the North Downs at a very slow pace with a knowledgeable guide – that really helped. Should have done more.
•    There’s also no (or very little) downhill. So bearing in mind the havoc that steep downhills plays on your legs, the best hill training would be to find the steepest long slopes possible, but somehow defy the ‘what does up must go down’ law and avoid the pounding that coming back down a couple of thousand metre climb normally entails. Save your legs and recover faster for more uphills. Unfortunately, trail runs often don’t have a slide back 2 kilometres to the bottom
•    On pacing, there’s a school of thought that says embrace the two stage nature of the race, go harder and more aggressive than normal for the first half, knowing that the second half is a more evenly paced walk, often single file with no passing opportunities – the opportunity to recover and hang in there.  It sounds high risk and I wasn’t game to try, but…

I hope this was interesting.  For anyone thinking about the Jungfrau Marathon, I hope this helps.  It’s a truly beautiful part of the world (usually) and I’d urge anyone to give it a try. 
And maybe I’ll see you there.
 

Paris Marathon 2017 by Olivia Parker-Scott

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... 

 

This Old Girl Can...and Did! NYC Half by Teresa Anderson

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. 

Leith Hill Half Marathon 2017 by Andrea Hendy

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.

 

 

 

 

Cambridge Half Marathon by Dominic Wallace

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.

Clapham Chasers Thames Riverside 20 by James Linney

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.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 10k - by Tracey Melville

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.

Marrakech Express by Becky Fennelly

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. 

Marrakech 002.jpg

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. ...

Tokyo Marathon by Mike Duff

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.

Tokyo Marathon by Tom Easten

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…

Cross Country Double Header! by John Foxall

Ealing Eagles had much to celebrate as the curtain came down on another cross country season with a challenging double header last weekend.

Saturday

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.

Sunday

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.

Final Thoughts
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.
 

Box Hill Fell Race - by Sam Pearce

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.

 

 

Trent Park MET League - by Kieran Santry

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!

Snowdonia Marathon - In Which Jess (spoiler alert) Actually Runs a Marathon by Jess Hood

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.

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Headed back to my room to do some yoga, stretching and foam rolling, and to get everything ready for the next day.

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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.

No regrets?

Absolutely not.

 

 

Met League Claybury - by Frankie Snell (age 13)

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.