The last long run

So after being in Bristol and then Cheltenham on Friday night and Saturday I then drove to Birmingham.

The plan for the Sunday morning was to get around 9-10 miles before doing James’ running club’s local Grand Prix 5 miles. This race was one of several of the 5 mile series but I hadn’t done any of the others and this was the last one. It was just a nice way to break up a longer run and make things interesting.

As the Grand Prix didn’t start until 11 this gave us plenty of time to have an easy morning (James, a serial tea drinker, probably had about 19 teas in that time) and then head down to the race HQ to register, pay (a mere £6!) and collect our bibs. As we were leaving our bag there to collect later and wouldn’t be back after our long run I needed to tuck my bib in my Flipbelt along with the pins rather than put the bib on beforehand and look like a numpty running the streets of Birmingham.

We set off at a nice easy pace (very easy for super fast James) and the miles ticked by. Running round Birmingham is becoming more familiar to me now I’ve run there a few times…though I’m still clueless really where we were (I’d say to James “we’ve definitely been here before haven’t we?” and he would be like “er no, Anna”. Right. Well it all looks the same to me…Anyway the route was good, the pace felt easy and before we knew it we were in the park where the race would be starting and where the junior 2k race was already underway. It’s a weird thing being in a completely different area in a different running club’s “territory”. I knew a couple of people from meeting them briefly before in my times in Birmingham (and the lovely Helen and Andy Lane who I know through Marathon Talk) but essentially I felt a bit like a foreigner! I mean I know this is the same at a lot of races in that respect, but when it’s a very small and running club focused race it felt very strange. Not bad strange, just different.The field was very small with 68 people running (a combination of it generally being a small event and other bigger events happening on the same day). James mentioned that there were prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd – actual cash prizes! You’d basically get your money back from the race entry which I thought was a fantastic idea for a smaller race. Anyway I lined up where I thought best and solidly decided the most sensible decision would be to go no faster than 7.50min/miles. This would be sensible considering I had run hard the day before and had the marathon the next week.

As the horn blew we were off and I was running 6.30min/mile pace. What an idiot. I quickly realised there was a very speedy female far ahead of me but only one other female just ahead. Hmmm interesting, interesting. I mean, realistically I should have slowed down and taking it easy but the Stupid Anna side of my brain (quite a large portion of my brain I suppose – and probably a very big factor in my constant injury cycle) decided to see if I could scrape a podium finish. I’d get my £6 back! (And then straight away berated myself that I should have bought that £6 Daim Cadbury’s Easter egg the day before…what a lost opportunity).

So I pushed on. I didn’t maintain the ridiculous 6.30min/mile pace of course but eased back into the more comfortable (though still sustained level of effort) of 7min/mile pace. I managed to catch up to the second female and overtake her. OK that was good. I was solidly on the podium even if she caught me back up later.The route basically ran on nice flat paths around a pretty lake. The marshals were lovely and friendly and gave good encouragement. I was fully on the “focus and keep going” mental repeat in my head. I had no music (no headphones allowed) so I distracted myself with giving myself milestones to get to (the kid’s play area, the bridge, the metal fences…things like that) as it was three laps.Miles two and three were tough going. I felt like an idiot pushing the pace so much and spent the entire time worrying I was ruining Brighton and dicing with injury. But Stupid Anna couldn’t bare to drop the pace so dramatically to 8 min/mile and risk people overtaking me and thinking I’d gone out too fast (er, you had Anna). I’ve been very good recently to not let my ego dictate things like this but it’s hard when you’re in a new place and don’t want to look slow in front of new people (I’m well aware that this is a ridiculous argument. I deserve every niggle I pick up really).
My pace dropped to 7.15s but I felt comfortable and I could see two men ahead and decided to keep them I my sight. It’s always easier to run with people – like an invisible lasso helping to pull you along. Ehh five miles was a long way to go in what was basically my fast parkrun pace not so long ago so I needed every help I could get. I told myself repeatedly I could run all easy runs until the marathon and that helped somewhat.

Somehow though I managed to quicken it up on the last couple of miles. I kept the milestones in my head. Knowing I only have two miles to go helped – and basically one lap left of the lake. I managed to pass the two men ahead of me but then I was left with no one ahead to reel in or hold onto. It was tough going. Somehow I managed to hold on and finished strong in 35:05, a very solid performance for me!A solid but stupid performance is probably more accurate. My legs were pooped. Easy days indeed ahead. James got himself another PB (of course he did…not a week goes by eh ;)) and I’d managed to get second female, so happy days all round.We jogged back to the HQ, which got the total mileage of the day up to 15 miles which I was happy with. The week before a marathon I like my long run to be around 13 miles. I know some people do a lot less but for me it helps with my confidence and feeling good in myself.

We got to the sports hall and I had a nice cup of tea with two apples to tide me over until I could get back to something more substantial. Another nice touch of these races is that you’re entered into the small raffle as well. Lots of Easter eggs, wine and chocolate on offer! James won himself a box of Lindt chocolate balls and I won my prize money of £15! So I made myself a nice £9 for the day hehe.The rest of the day including lots of refueling and chilling out.To top the weekend off we enjoyed fajitas and then a healthy slice of a white chocolate and raspberry cookie pie thing. Delicious!

Do you ever do stupid training when you know it’s probably not the best but you just can’t help yourself?

Does your running club have any races like this?

What’s your ideal longer run distance before a race?

Daventry parkrun – another one off the Alphabet list!

These past few days have been a bit crazy busy. I had a work conference in Birmingham on Wednesday so headed down to the NEC stupidly early that morning.

The conference was great. Really interesting and genuinely insightful for my job. I got to see s lot of talks, take a lot of notes and just generally get my geek on. I was like a sponge. What was nice was that Wiggle were a VIP company so that meant free beverages all day, an area to chill in and free buffet lunch. Well, if you know me at all you know buffets are a nightmare…the fear of food running out means I over-compensate and just eat far too much. It was worth it though, very tasty!Handily James (fellow Marathon Talker) lives in Birmingham too so I took Thursday and Friday off and so we could hang out a bit. We planned to get some good running and eating in, which made the trek up norf so much more worthwhile.

On Thursday we had a solid eight mile run. James kindly slowed down for me as normally he’s rapid. It was an “easy” day for him – he trains properly, not like my randomness. The run was great, I felt strong and it was nice running with James as he obviously knew the area and I could leave the navigations to him (essential, I’m sure you agree).After the run we freshened up and then went to Birmingham city centre to play mini golf at a place called Ghetto Golf. Birmingham just seems to have so many cool places and just the walk there from the train station was cool with all the cool shops, restaurants and graffiti. So much more exciting than Southamptom ha!Ghetto Golf itself was so good. I mean, it was bat shit crazy but it was such a laugh.The different holes had crazy themes and were just a bit mental. Lots of old school themes like a Blockbuster video shop, a pool table and inside a bus to name just a few (as well as some rather risqué objects to navigate round!).I lost, though I’d like to stress, just but it was just such a laugh I didn’t care. I allowed my competitiveness to cool a bit 😉We even treated ourselves to a few beers. Neither of us are huge drinkers but the odd one or two now and again is quite nice. I’m quite liking beer as well…albeit only the lighter stuff.
Then we headed to the Meat Shack for some incredible burgers and sides. I had one with blue cheese and bacon with some cheesy fries and then shared halloumi fries and frickles. Oh my gawwwwd so good.It was a great restaurant – super friendly and great service and the food amazing. I’m never normally a burger person but when a restaurant just does burgers you know you’re in for a treat.I mean, ideal pre-parkrun food right? Easily burnt off after 5k…ha. James was kind enough to take me to Daventry parkrun to get my ‘D’ for the parkrun Alphabet Challenge.It was drizzly and cold but finally t-shirt temperature. Though annoyingly probably not warm enough to not wear gloves as I found out during the run and finding my fingers very chilly indeed.The parkrun is fairly small with under 200 people. It had a clever line-up area at the start with the paces lined up (35 mins, sub 30, 25 mins etc.) so people could position themselves nicely at the start without having to overtake a lot of get overtaken. The course is a mix of compacted trail and mud. It was good during the times on the compacted trails where I could stretch it out a bit (for me anyway) but in the mud and on corners it was a bit precarious. I could only imagine James finding it all too funny if I’d fallen over and was covered in mud…The course was a one lapper which is quite rare in the grand scheme of parkrun. Usually there are at least two laps as generally parks aren’t big enough to have 5k’s worth of running available. The course was pretty, running through lots of trees and scenic paths as well as a nice stretch alongside the lake. It was lucky that it wasn’t that windy but I can imagine that stretch being quite hellish in the wind. I was trying to push the pace as much as I could and managed to overtake all the females bar one in front of me, who was running with a dog. (Photos from Daventry parkrun Facebook)At mile three I felt myself flagging a bit and as I came round the corner to the finish it was a steep short incline that just killed my legs at the final push.I got 20:52 and 16th place (2nd female) and I am more than happy with that! I wanted to see a 20 and I’m glad I managed it, even if I did just squeak it. James smashed his PB with 18:17 which just makes me wince thinking about it. So fast.So I now only have J (which I’ll do in June in Jersey), Y, I, V and Z left! All the hard ones really! Yeovil will have to be a bit of a day-trip I think 

After parkrun we headed to the nearby American diner-themed restaurant, Buddy’s, for brunch. The restaurant was really retro and had lots of crazy decor, like retro signs and posters. It was really quirky.We both ordered the Seattle breakfast (they had lots of American themes). I swapped the hashbrowns for toast and added black pudding. It came with grilled gammon, beans, eggs and mushrooms. I was going to share the pancakes with James but in the end I didn’t fancy them. I’m not a huge pancake fan unless they’re covered in ice cream and chocolate… 
Anyway it was delicious and served with unlimited tea. Perfect post a soggy run! I was covered in mud and felt a bit gross but to be honest the need for food won out of social etiquette. It always does for me 😉

That evening James had worked his magic and found a local half marathon race for us to do the next day. We’re both training or the Brighton Marathon so we’re in the market for a long run. Having a half would be a great way of getting in some solid miles – we could run before and after to make up the distance we needed.

However the half he’d found, the Ironbridge Half Marathon, was sold out. But James emailed the race organiser to ask if anyone was dropping out and if there were two places available by any chance. Amazingly there were! After some back and forthing he secured us two places. We’re super grateful to the organisers for letting us slip in last minute! I was super chuffed because I’d been gutted about Reading being cancelled last weekend and I’d been to the Ironbridge quite a few times as child with my grandparents and parents as my grandparents live in Stoke, not too far from there. It was going to be a blast from the past! And having s race to do is always a nice way to mix up the drudgery of long run training.

So an early night of solid sleep and up early bright eyed and bushy tailed for the half the next day!

Have you been to Birmingham before?

Have you ever entered a race last minute?

What’s your essential item in a fry-up/breakfast?

Walsall Arboretum parkrun, 18 miles and all the food

Saturday morning saw me going to the Walsall Arboretum parkrun with fellow Marathon Talk fan and runner James, who lives in Birmingham. It’s not local to me at all as I live near Southampton so it was quite the parkrun tourism.Sadly I do already have a W (Winchester) but I love a bit of tourism regardless and it was supposed to be nice and flat and not too far from where I was staying. James and I got there at 8.30am which felt quite early but actually worked out well because it was about a 1km walk to the start area and we both needed a wee beforehand.
The Walsall Arboretum is a beautiful park. There’s a large pond, lots of trees and grass, a little river flowing over some picturesque rocks and just a pleasant atmosphere. It was lovely. There’s a little cafe as well with a loo so that was handy. Apparently Walsall rarely gets called beautiful but from what I could see, it was lovely.It was their sixth birthday so there were a few fancy dresses and a good turn out of people.The run director spent some time thanking everyone and talking about how far they’d come and then the Mayor of Walsall said a few words – quite cool that he was there (tho he wasn’t running). It was really a very friendly and lovely parkrun.
I hadn’t really planned how I was going to run. I set myself a range of between 22 and 24 minutes, thinking that was probably about right. I had my music and was just going to see how it went without too much stress.
As we started my legs felt a little sluggish but then I found my rhythm and got into it. And I really got into it. My legs just seemed to go, go, go. The course was wide enough to easily overtake people and not be hemmed in (where I started anyway) and it was a slight downhill so this worked nicely.

The course is three laps, but it didn’t feel like too much of a drag that some three lappers can because it was split out into two sections really. The first section goes around the lake/pond and then the second runs up a path alongside the river and then comes back down on the other side. So you can see runners on the other side, which is always nice and distracting. (Photos from the Facebook page).The marshals were super friendly, cheering us along – one of them even holding their parkrun birthday cake for the runners to see. It looked great! I saw James ahead near the front going super fast. His training has been awesome (he’s also doing the Brighton Marathon). But then I just focused on the music and getting my little legs turning over as fast as I could.I was running alongside a few other guys and this helped me to cling on to the speed. I looked at my watch and noticed I was fully sub-7 minute pace and this both shocked me and gave me a huge confidence boost.

I finished, thought I stopped my walk and headed to see James (who had finished in the ridiculously fast time of 18:23!). Annoyingly I didn’t realise I hadn’t actually stopped my watch so had no idea what my time was! I thought it might be around 21 minutes but would have to wait until the email/text to come through to be certain. I was really happy anyway as it felt like a solid effort of a run and I’d experience no calf or hamstring niggles. Hurrah!My time came through later as 20:30!! I am over the moon! I cannot believe I managed to get such a speedy (for me) time. James smashed his PB as well by like over 20 seconds. But both of us were concerned about the course being short as James only got 3 miles on his watch and I wasn’t certain at all because I hadn’t stopped my watch, though he checked other people’s results on Strava and it seemed to be fairly accurate – and I guess the trees didn’t help with the satellites. Well, whatever I definitely got a sub 21 minute parkrun (and James definitely got a PB as it was such a significant improvement). Very happy to see the 20s again, despite my rubbish training lately.

I also got to use my brand new very swanky barcode wristband.Very handy and I love the colour. No more barcode confusions for me…

For lunch we decided to go for something unhealthy and entirely delicious at the Original Patty Man burger place (OPM). We got there quite early and thankfully beat the rush – as we were ordering a queue had started to build up outside!

I went for the bacon cheeseburger with a side of cheesy gravy fires. Omgaawwwd it was so good. But extremely messy.In true Anna fashion though it didn’t leave me stuffed and as James and I had spotted a “dessert lounge” called Pirlo’s as we walked to the restaurant we knew exactly what was going to happen next…

We both looked at the menu and I instantly spotted the biggest sundae option – the mega sundae. Happily James has a similar appetite to me and had seen the same one. When we ordered and the server realised we didn’t want one to share hewarned us of its size… we were like, “pfffft, you clearly don’t know our capabilities”.

The sundae came with chocolate, strawberry and Ferrero Rocher ice cream (which I swapped for salted caramel), lashings of Nutella, cream, brownie and Kind chocolate chunks.Oh my god it was good. It was enormous but so much fun to eat. Literally chocolate everywhere. I’m changing my opinion on Nutella. I used to be like “meh I don’t care for it” but now I seem to be realising what the fuss is about.

We went home STUFFED. Full to the brim. Luckily we didn’t have much else planned except for James’ running club awards night (where there was a buffet…ahaha). There was a quiz which our team did spectacularly badly in (we came last) but was good fun. I did feel fairly sick though throughout the evening…but a couple of buffet sandwiches and some chicken nuggets helped calm my tummy 😉

The next morning, as James and I are both training for Brighton, we’d planned a long run. James was going to do some tempo miles while I ran an easy 18 (18 miles is NEVER easy but you know what I mean). I was going to follow James’ route but he’d run back to me after his tempo parts (he’d get a solid 20 miles). He’s really good at training, like he does all the proper speed work, easy runs and tempo sand runs like 70 miles a week. Amazing amazing. I wish I could run as much as him but such is life. He’s good to hit up for advice though because he knows his stuff.

My tummy didn’t feel great it must be said. But as we started running it calmed down and I felt surprisingly good. My legs felt fine and I felt in the zone and on it already. James didn’t feel quite as good and decided to just stick with me for the run rather than do his extra tempo miles. I thought that was probably a sensible decision. Our greed got the better of us the day before! Clearly I’m far better than him at over-consumption of food and then running 😉

We ran about four miles to the canals and then ran along them for most of the run. It was lovely and flat and nice underfoot. I obviously had no idea where we were or where we were going but it was nice to not have to think about the route and to just follow someone else.My dad grew up in Birmingham and one of my granddads lives in Stoke-On-Trent, not too far away, so when I was a child we’d often drive to Stoke and past Birmingham and I’d always remember my dad telling me about “Spaghetti Junction” – with all it’s crazy bridges and roads going over each other. James’ route went underneath the junction so I had to stop and get a few pics.Even though you probably couldn’t describe it as scenic, it was strangely quite impressive and looked very cool.It was quite surreal to be running under roads that my parents used to drive us over back in the day. Oh the nostalgia.The run carried on without any issues for me (asides from a wild wee in a rather open but empty area…the fear was real). I felt bad for James though because his tummy really wasn’t feeling great. But he pushed through. Our pace was fairly easy between 8.20-8.40s and I just felt like I was gliding along. I did get a weird overwhelming sense of tiredness around 12 miles and felt myself lagging a bit but then I managed to pepper myself up a bit and got back into the zone.

18 miles seemed to fly by. The route and company definitely helped it stop being a slog. The weather was wonderful. Sunny and cool, though by 15 miles the two of us were hot and started talking about cold beverages…We stopped at a convenience shop to grab a water which helped!I am SO pleased. SO so pleased that this long run went well. Big thanks to James for pulling me along and finding a really decent route!

So Brighton seems to be no longer in contention. I just hope that I continue to pootle along as I am. Fingers crossed!

Have you ever been to Birmingham?

What’s your favourite ice cream flavour?

Do you have any weird nostalgias?

Kingsbury parkrun and The National Running Show

So when you’re reading this I’ll be on my jolly way to Dubai. Exciting stuff! I didn’t think I’d write another post before I left but after such a fun and eventful weekend I couldn’t help myself.

I had Friday off of work as I was catching the train to Birmingham to see friends and go to the National Running Show (which I only found out was actually the first one they’ve done!). I did a quick gym session in the morning and some pre holiday jobs before my train left just before 1pm. Happily my dad was working from home and said he could drive me to Fareham station. My train was 12:47 and at 12:10 my dad said he was just going to take the dogs for a quick walk and we’d leave after that. Sounded good to me. I mean I the queen of last minute so I didn’t think anything of it.

By 12:30 he still wasn’t home and I was now very worried. I rang him a bit panicked asking where he was – it would take just about 10 minutes to get to the station and I needed to pick my ticket from the machine. It was very very close! He replied saying he thought my train was 1pm… Erm nope! He rushed home but by that time it was 12:40 and we’d never make it. In the end we had to zoom to another station down the line (Southampton Airport). To say I was stressed was an understatement, especially as I could only get that train and it cost me £72!!! Sweaty bum indeed.

Thankfully we arrived in time. And funnily enough it worked better for my dad as it was on the way to his work where he needed to drop in for the afternoon. We both wondered why we hadn’t done this in the first place… Yeah I don’t know either. I got to Birmingham without any more issues and met with my lovely running friend, James (@runeckers on Instagram). We had a nice time catching up – actually only the third time we’ve met in “real life” but we just get on so well.

We went out for a few drinks in Birmingham. We went to a bar called Bacchus and then the Postal Vaults. Very cool places indeed. I kept trying to perfect my Brummy accent but apparently I’m not there yet. More Peaky Blinders required! After that we headed to The Rub Smokehouse and met with our friend, John, who we both knew from Marathon Talk. James knew John from one of the Sandy Ball run camps and I knew John through the Austria run camp… Weird how connected it all is.

We had a couple of cocktails to start. James had a “Walking Dead” and I had an “Afternoon Tea” (which I originally poo-pooed for sounding weird…). It came out in a teapot (but wasn’t warm thankfully!) with a tiny glass of prosecco to add (like the milk I guess?). It was very tasty. I love how funky the cocktails were. Nice to have a bit of fun with that sort of thing.For my main I went for a full rack of ribs, half a chicken and pulled pork cheesy chips. I realise how disgustingly greedy this is. But it tasted amazing, and I don’t waste food. The food was epic… I mean there was a “pizza taco” on the menu – basically a 16 inch pizza folded up full of pulled pork chicken and battered prawns.John had a far more restrained steak and James had a monster burger with a corn dog on top. It was that kind of place… epic.My ribs were very tasty and the chicken was SO GOOD (as someone who regularly eats a lot of Nandos I can say this was top notch).For pudding I went for a white chocolate brownie with ice cream. Their sister company Brownie Heaven makes the brownies and I’ve heard they’re amazing.Don’t get me wrong, it was incredible, but TINY. I looked enviously at James’ pudding choice… Two doughnuts stacked on top of each other with Nutella, peanut butter and ice cream. Fortunately (for me) he struggled with the second doughnut so I got to help him out. But it left me very full indeed!It was such a lovely evening. The three of us get on so well and could probably talk about life, the universe and on for hours. It was a great evening. John headed back to his hotel (he’d been there for work) and James and I went back to his flat, where I was staying on his sofa. My night’s sleep though was terrible. Nothing to do with the comfort of the sofa (it was lovely) but I kept waking up and my heart was racing (usually I’m around 49-52 bpm at night but it was close to 75!) and I had a lot of hot flushes (meat sweats I guess…). My own fault I’m fully aware!

The next morning John, James and I headed to Kingsbury Water parkrun. This was handy for me as I needed a K for my parkrun Alphabet Challenge. It was quite the miserable morning, drizzling with rain and very cold. All three of us were happy to run round together at no great speed (relatively speaking). I was keen to not stress my calf out which was feeling good, John’s on his way back into running after some time off and James is semi-injured. Normally James and John would be roaring ahead of me!The parkrun was lovely and scenic. It goes round a lake and is a two lapper (my favourite). It’s a very picturesque and of course friendly parkrun. Though it was flat it was also very muddy underfoot. I doubt I could have blasted a super fast time if I’d have been fit enough to do so anyway. It was quite slippy. We chatted as we ran and enjoyed the views. A lovely social run.We got just over 24 minutes and significantly muddy! I felt very bad getting back into James’ car as we didn’t have any towels.When we got back to the flat (John joining us this time) we took turns showering and got some breakfast before heading to the NEC for the Running Show.The Running Show was good. It was basically like a race expo with lots of stands with brands representing their gadgets, clothes, races, nutritional products, foam rollers and more.It was nice to wander round and see different things, try out a foam roller and try some “vitamin coffee”.It was ridiculously busy and very hot though.It was a great event with a lot of potential to grow. The bigger brands like adidas, Nike and Brooks weren’t there surprisingly but I imagine after the popularity this year they’ll be there next year. I will say though that had I travelled 2.5 hours on a train by myself just for the event I might have been a bit disappointed because it did feel very much like an expo. Though to be fair I didn’t sit and watch any of the talks… So I guess I can’t judge entirely fairly. We just didn’t fancy sitting watching anyone as nothing took our interest.I saw lots of friendly and family faces, like Mary from A Healthier Moo blog (bless her, I don’t know how she does it with her crazy long distance running, night shifts and looking after her adorable son, Oscar). I also saw numerous Instagram legends, like Carl from @BigCarlRunning as a guest expert inspiring everyone around him. And of course Marathon Talk friends and friendly faces from my club. And of course the lovely Anji from @Enigmagirl81 who I’ve never met in real life but chat through social media regularly.It was a very friendly place. We gained Michelle in our group (a super fast and lovely girl originally from my running club but now living in Bister – she came to Austria too so knew John as well. All four of us will be going to Sandy Balls run camp in February).After a few hours we headed to the outlet shopping centre, Resort World, where we checked out the Nike shop (I got myself a £14 top!). Then a late lunch/early dinner in Nandos. I can only get one thing from Nandos really. I do feel bad for the sheer amount of meat consumed over the weekend but it was an out of the ordinary thing…And then it was time to part ways and head home. Always a sad thing when you’ve had such a good time together. I wish we lived closer!

Have you ever been to Birmingham?

Did you go to the National Running Show?

What would you like to see at a running show?