London here I come

So the London Marathon. It’s funny because whenever I tell people I’ve never run London they’re always quite surprised.

I mean I guess it is a bit odd. I’ve run eight marathons.I’ve run Paris, Berlin, Boston, Tokyo… I’ve run Bournemouth, Chester, Liverpool and Cheddar Gorge. But not London. And it’s not just non-runners (“yes there are other marathons out there than London”) but runners who know me. Apparently it seems like I’ve run London. But I assure you, I have not.

have had a place for the last few years though. I’m lucky that I’ve got Good For Age so can avoid the ballot. Yes, the male and female times are unfair when you compare them. My sub 3:45 time goal is nothing in comparison to a sub 3:05. It just doesn’t seem right. But those are the rules and I’ve been able to get a place.

It’s a very cheap marathon, all things considered. There are UK-based non-marathon races that are more expensive! It’s around £35? Which I guess is why I’ve deferred a couple of times and ultimately never done it. The GFA is fairly achievable for me (without meaning to sound arrogant, it’s the truth) and the cost of it means I can be a bit blase about it (for now anyway). Tokyo cost an arm and a leg with minimal money recuperation if I was to bail on it, so come hell or high water I was doing it. When you add in a holiday to the scenario, the pressure somewhat mounts exponentially I can tell you.

London has always been a marathon I want to do. It’s one of the Marathon Majors, which I’m trying to tick off. But even before I knew about the Majors it’s one I wanted to do. I think every British runner who runs marathons wants to do London (or at least has considered it) at some point. It’s iconic. It’s our capital. It attracts huge crowds – crowds of people who may never have run, have no idea how far a marathon is and are just out to have a fun day cheering. It’s a tradition on the television… Brendan Foster, Paula Radcliffe and all the fancy dressed fundraising heroes. It’s part of our culture.

I applied last year and got my place (there is no ballot for GFA) and quietly wondered if I would do it 2017 or 2018. As my training for Tokyo didn’t go as well as I wanted I put to bed the idea of doing another marathon in 2017. Long runs were a drag. I was dreading the actual marathon and not looking forward to the trip (yay let’s go eat noodles on my own!).But then I went to Tokyo, thoroughly enjoyed myself and had a whale of a time at the marathon, exceeding my expectations in so many ways. And the marathon bug was ignited again. Before Tokyo I told people I wasn’t going to do any more marathons for the year and they laughed and said “yeah right”. Well I’m a joke of myself I guess.

Like always, I say I’m going to do London but it’s never a guarantee because I’m such a pathetically frail runner. An injury or niggle could creep out of the woodwork and knock me down. But providing things go smoothly and I try to be just a little bit sensible, then hopefully I can turn up to London on April 23rd uninjured. OK not in the best shape of my life, but ready to see what all the fuss is about and finish with a smile on my face.

That’s the plan anyway.

Have you ever run the London Marathon before?

What races are on your bucket list? 

Do you agree with the GFA timings?

Tokyo Marathon 2017

The Tokyo marathon is my third Marathon Major (I’ve done Berlin & Boston previously) and my eighth marathon. My training wasn’t great having suffered from an annoying shin/calf niggle which stopped me doing any non-stop long runs longer than 16 miles. Towards the end though I’d gotten in enough miles to feel relatively confident at surviving it and the goal was to have fun, take some photos and come in around 3:45-4 hours uninjured.

I’ll do a recap of Tokyo itself but this post is just focusing on the race itself as I know that’s probably what people are most interested about!

I’d used Sports Tours International in order to get my place for the marathon as FYI it’s ridiculously hard to get in through the ballot (similar to London). This way I was guaranteed a bib and the organisation of everything was out of my hands, which, let’s be honest, is always required for me as I’m a certified idiot. Yes it’s an expensive way of doing it but it covered the flights, transfer to/from the airport, got me to the Expo, had us in central Tokyo is a perfectly located hotel (Keio-Plaza, which I fully recommend. The elites stayed there too – if it’s good enough for Kipsang, eh!) and provided us with lots of info and tips. I’ll most likely be using them when I do the New York marathon.

Just to put things into context, I’d met a guy called Chris from the tour group on my first day and we pretty much hung round together the entire time. He’s a lovely guy and it was nice to have someone to share the trip with! Our pre-marathon meal was a bit of an odd one. The problem we had was the centre of Tokyo where the restaurants were would be stupidly busy being Saturday night and also having thousands of people there for the marathon. So to avoid the stress of trying to find somewhere, we decided to book a table in one of the hotel’s restaurants. At lunch we’d found a very cheap but very nice pizza and pasta place (right off of the Shibuya crossing).We wanted to make sure we got a significant carby meal while we could without stressing at dinner not finding anything appropriate. So dinner was a bit more relaxed, but ironically a lot more expensive and a lot more posh. It was a seven course a la carte affair. But it was DELICIOUS. And it was nice to see two other tables full of the wheelchair elites and some less famous but still elite marathoners around us.The night before I really struggled to get to sleep. We’d done A LOT during the day – walked over 36,000 steps seeing lots of Tokyo. But I still couldn’t sleep. At midnight I eventually took a melatonin tablet to help and read my book. Just before 1am I fell asleep.My alarm went off at 6am and I got myself together. I was sharing a room with a lovely lady called Nathalie and we were both nervous. It was nice to have her there though to chat to in the morning as we got ready. (Initially I’d been nervous about sharing a room with someone I didn’t know but Nathalie was a dream to share with. We had zero issues and it never felt awkward or weird. She was lovely).I met Chris for breakfast at 6.25am in the hotel and it was teeming with other runners grabbing breakfast. It was fascinating seeing what other people were eating and being amongst other runners – it was such a buzz! I’d brought my own porridge with me and used some hot milk and hot water from the coffee area to make it up (so handy) and also had a slice of toast with butter and jam, alongside a black coffee.Chris and I had decided to run together as we both had similar goals (neither had a specific time goal) and similar paces. We’d run the previous day together as a tester and we were well-suited. We wanted to enjoy the race not push any sort of time goal. Though we were in the same wave we were given different gate numbers to use to get there. I assume this is to reduce traffic. From the breakfast room I could actually see my gate we were that well located!

Just after 7am we decided to head out to our gates. The race would start at 9.10am and we had bags to drop (we had an exact bag drop location too per bib – it was super organised). You can only take the see-through plastic bag with you that was given at the Expo and there’s a security area you walk through in order to get into the race area.Chris and I agreed to meet up in our pens after the bag drop and handily I was able to still use the hotel WIFI as we were so close so I could WhatsApp him if needed. The portable toilets were all over the place and were either Japanese style (a kind of hole in the ground affair…) or said “Western Style” on the door. There weren’t a huge number of Western Style ones (my preference) but they had the shorter queues which was handy! This might be because the majority of the runners were Japanese – by a long way.There were a few aid stations about the place offering snacks and this Pocari Sweat (yep, its actual name) electrolyte stuff. I thought it would be like water but it was gloopy gel stuff. Nice but not what I expected! Then it was a case of waiting in our pen for things to start. It was a cold morning and I was so thankful that my mum had given me an old jumper she no longer needed.It kept me VERY warm. We also had a nice spot on the curb to sit so it was all very relaxed.

Then we heard them announcing the elites. Eventually it was our turn. As the race began a huge explosion of paper petals erupted into the sky and showered down on the starting runners. It was one of the best starts I’ve ever seen! It was fantastic! We were pen C and they were still falling around us as we headed over the start.We settled into a nice comfortable pace and felt the delights of a downhill start. We had to keep our pace in check though as it was so easy to be running a lot faster due to feeling fresh and the course profile – the first mile was 7.33min/mile which was dangerous. We then tried to keep around 8 minute miles and avoided anything below that.Annoyingly as we got into the first mile I realised I needed the loo. I mentioned it to Chris and he said he’d happily stop for a loo break too. By mile two we were actively looking for toilets. At mile three we found a sign point round the corner and we made the decision to stop there. Annoyingly as we turned the corner we saw a crowd of people waiting. There was even barriers to create a queuing system! Oh well, the decision had been made. I realised that I’d have no choice on the type of toilet either and got to use my first ever Japanese style toilet… needs must!

It took about three minutes in total (not that I was clock watching or anything…!!) and it was a surreal experience to stand waiting in a queue while a marathon is steaming ahead down the road. I was grateful to have the stop though as I truly did need to pee. It wasn’t a mental thing, it was an actual need-to-pee situation.

I was a bit worried as I knew my dad was going to track some of the race using the app and I knew he’d see this 10.40ish mile and wonder what was going on. (When I spoke to him afterwards he said it did concern him until I then carried on running consistent miles afterwards).

And then we got back to the marathon and got back into the rhythm. The miles ticked off really quickly. We chatted as we were going along. Chris has run more marathons and more Majors than me so I was able to ask him lots about different marathons and get some tips for Chicago and New York. We also chatted about races that we’d coincidentally run the same year as each other (like Berlin 2014 and Bristol Half 2013). My mind was so off the actual running that I missed the mile I normally take my first gel (mile 8). I decided to just skip it and wait until my next milestone which was half-way.

At around mile 7 we hit our first out and back. I think (though I’m not entirely certain) at some point during the coming miles is when we saw the elites running back the other way. Well, I just had to get my phone out of my Flipbelt to grab a photo! I managed to this while not looking at my camera and just blinding snapping as I wanted to see them rather than see them through my phone. They were absolutely steaming it, as you can imagine.The out and backs were fairly interesting at first as we could watch the ridiculous fast runners coming along and it was a nice way to take your mind off of the running. But eventually the out and backs got tedious as you’d be running down the same road for so long and still know you’d have to come back down the other way. It was mentally tough and I flagged a bit mentally during the 10-14 miles.

What made things worse was how far our watches were out. There were no mile markers to be certain so we’d have to do maths in our head to work out from the kilometres but as we saw half-way on the other side of a road and looked at our watches to find we were well over half-way at that point it was frustrating. We still had to go down a section of road and then come back. By that point we were .3 miles out.

The Tokyo Tower

I took my first gel – an SIS with caffeine – at this point. Again the miles continued to tick by. The course wasn’t entirely flat. There were a few short inclines and then declines. Not as flat as Berlin but relatively flat. No nasty hills to climb.At this point the sun was beating down quite strongly. I was hot and it was very sunny. At every water station we got water. It was nice to have Chris with me as he reminded me to get water each time. There was the Japanese sports drink, Sweat, but I avoided that and went for plain water. They came in paper cups which I didn’t mind. The only annoying thing was that the water stations were only on one side of the road which made getting in and out very tricky.

There were also food stations which contained bananas, orange slices, dried prunes, tomatoes, and even stranger, bread rolls! Apparently the rolls contained chocolate sauce inside. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to eat a bread roll during a marathon! But the Japanese were mad for them.I did try the tomatoes though. They were cold and crisp and a positive delight! The only downside is that the skin does get stuck in your teeth a bit.Another interesting observation was just how many men there were in comparison to women. There were barely any women! Also, wearing just a vest was a real rarity for the Japanese men unless they were super speedy at the front.There was lots of support all round the course which was nice. The Japanese people came out in force with signs, banners and cuddly toys. They cheered and seemed to be having a whale of a time.The out and backs started to get more and more tedious after a while. Seeing the same long city road for mile after mile was getting tough mentally. But our pace was still looking good and at one point we realised we were running 7.30 again and slowed down a bit. I’d never felt so comfortable in a marathon before. Everything felt good physically. It was just keeping ourselves entertained that was tough. The sites were few and far between for what we recognised and we were fed up of tall buildings and uninteresting streets.At around mile 18 I wanted to take another gel but it was a thicker GU one that needed water. Chris is 6ft 2 so could see over the tops of the shorter Japanese runners so I got him on water station watch for me so I could plan my gel eating moment perfectly. Very handy to have him with me! The gel was a Maple Bacon flavoured one which was AMAZING. So tasty.

As we got to mile 20 I couldn’t believe how the miles had just flown by. It was clear that running with company had made things a lot more interesting and bearable. I still felt comfortable and ready to put the hammer down a bit. 10k to go!

We ran down another out and back, this time I really long one, as we saw the “5k to go sign” on the other side.It was dispiriting to see that I have to say…but we knew as soon as we got to the turnaround point we’d be on the home straight. But that bloody road went on forever I tell you. There had been different entertainment bits around the course. There were children doing dance routines, cheerleaders, Japanese traditional dancers, drummers, formal bands, rock bands. There was a lot going on! But during the later stages of a marathon on a hot day it can be tough to keep the demons away no matter what’s going on.

As we hit 22 miles, Chris started to struggle a bit. He was losing his mental battle and I could see him fading. I started nattering away to him about fluff and nonsense to hopefully take his mind off of things. I’m sure I was annoying him but he reassured me that it was OK. I also found that if I waved to the crowds they’d erupt into cheering. So I kept doing that and it helped lift us both.

As we FINALLY got to the “5k to go sign” I said to Chris “just a parkrun to go”. Then he pulled up short grabbing his hamstring. Ahh no!!! He moved to the side and started stretching. I jogged on the spot and didn’t know what to do. We’d already told each other we’d run to the bitter end with the other – I wasn’t bothered about my time as I’d already said and it was nice to run with someone – so I wasn’t going to leave him. But I wasn’t sure what to do to help his hamstring. If he’d pulled it it could mean game over. I started to worry a bit. Luckily the stretching helped and we carried on.

He continued to struggle a bit and, what he later told me, had just gone into himself to sort his demons out. He stopped during the water stations and I didn’t realise and so had to run back to him – which was a bizarre experience, running the wrong way in a marathon against the tide!

The last two miles were tough. I was feeling really quite good but I could see Chris wasn’t quite on board with how I was feeling so I had to be careful I didn’t leave him behind. I carried on waving and cheering to the crowd and this helped I think. If I’m honest, I was having a whale of time. I felt very guilty for enjoying myself as much as I was but I felt really comfortable and was loving the crowds cheering us on.

I mean, I was tired and my legs were aching but I was feeling on top of the world. Though the final push to the finish went on and on. Our watches beeped past 26 miles and the finish line was nowhere near us. We had a long road to run down which was full of supporters so great to wave to, but it just seemed to go on forever. Then FINALLY we turned a corner to see the finish ahead. Well, it was a bit of a disappointing finish as it really wasn’t that obvious!

As we crossed the line we hugged. We’d made it! My official time was 3:41:02. My Garmin told me I’d run 26.9 miles!!Actually, everyone I spoke to later had reported similarly. I almost wish I’d gotten to 27 miles 😉Then it was time for the longest post-race walk I’ve ever done. We were given a towel, the Sweat water, a banana, a bag, a foil wrapper, free samples…and then FINALLY our medals.Honestly all I wanted was my flipping medal! We didn’t need the foil blankets either as it was bloody hot. I could feel my face was already beetroot. Oh dear.I looked at my steps on my watch and we’d done about 45,000 steps. By the time we got to our shuttle bus to take us back to the hotel we’d walked over 50,000 steps. I kid you not. We wanted to sit down but we knew that would be game over. So we kept walking, filling our bag up with freebies, getting our photos taken, snapping selfies and then eventually sitting down in the bus. Whew.I can honestly say this marathon was the “easiest” marathon I’ve ever run. The course wasn’t great I have to say – it was boring. There were sights to see, like the Skytree and the Tokyo Tower, but it was mainly just out and backs along the same long wide city roads with tall buildings either side. The crowds however full made up for that with their cheering and support. They were super. There was also a lot of fancy dress to keep us amuse (lots of people wearing funny hats and costumes). I think that the company definitely helped though. It was nice to have someone to chat to around the course and help lift me in dark moments, and then keep me focused on helping lift him in his dark moments. I also felt well within myself running and felt comfortable the majority of the time.One of the best parts was all the volunteers. They were fantastic. At the end I must have had “congratulations” said to me about 1,000 times. They high-fived us and smiled and just basically told us we were amazing as we walked down collecting our different bits and bobs. And then at the bag drop there was just lines of them clapping and cheering us. I honestly felt like a celebrity! It was lovely. (Though volunteer did say “commiserations” to me which I found amusing. Yes “commiserations” indeed to my legs!).

Basically, I’m over the moon with this marathon. It was fantastic. I loved it. It went far better than I could have imagined. Chris was happy with his time too which was good. It was definitely a team effort!I felt pretty damn good after the marathon. It has made me think about what I want to do next…

Have you ever been to Japan?

Have you ever run a marathon with another person?

Stubbington 10k race recap

I’ve been wanting to do this race for about three years. It’s ridiculous because this is a race that literally runs past my parent’s house and the route is one I’ve often used on many a long run.

Finally this year I wasn’t injured (well, coming back from injury but not injured) and it worked well into my marathon training plan (I say “plan” rather loosely). Happily my friends, Kate and Jamie, had signed up too. This was to be their first ever proper road race. They’ve done parkruns and we’ve done an obstacle race together but never a road race.

Unfortunately the weather was predicted to be awful. I mean it’s hardly surprisingly really considering it’s a) Britain and b) January, but us Brits are always so shocked when the weather is in fact terrible. Running in bad weather isn’t so bad but in a race setting there’s a fair amount of hanging around and getting cold before you actually start running and none of us were thrilled at this prospect.I stayed at my parent’s house (it made sense as the race start was a short walk away) and woke up early on Sunday to run two miles before Kate and Jamie arrived after driving from Bristol. I wanted to do the extra miles so I could have a total of eight miles for the day – my longest run yet. It wasn’t ideal having a break between the two miles and the race but I wasn’t going to desert my friends to run the miles just before the race began.

Just one mile out from my parent’s and then one mile back. Fairly easy. The weather was pretty grim but not as bad as expected – a bit drizzly and cold. I wore long leggings to keep myself from getting too cold and as I headed back down the lane Kate and Jamie passed me in the car so it was fairly good timing.

We were all feeling rather grumpy and not up for the race. It also didn’t help that my dad had decided to cook a fry-up for breakfast. Always nice to smell bacon cooking that you won’t get to eat.

We left as late as we possibly could to avoid hanging around in the cold too much. It was only a 10 minute walk, if that, to the race HQ and as we had no bags to drop off (my parents were kindly going to take our coats for us and put them in a big bag they’d brought especially) and we didn’t need the loo, we just huddled inside the community centre.Stubbington 10k is a very cheap race (think it was £16-17?) but it has quite a few of the perks of bigger races, such as a really nice technical t-shirt (which actually fits me!), chip timing, a big inflatable finishing arch with a time-display, lots of marshals and lots of support round the course. It also has waves for the start. As I’m a little faster than Kate and Jamie I wished them luck and headed to my starting area. My neckline felt really tight and I realised I had my black base layer on backwards. Smooth, Anna, really smooth. Luckily, realistically only I could tell.I saw lots of people from my running club which was nice. It’s a very clubby race so there were lots of local clubs from the area. It can feel a bit intimidating because they seem like “proper” runners, as Kate said, but I reassured her that there would be a range of running experience and paces and she wouldn’t be at the back (she wasn’t).

I had the vague time goal of finishing in under 50 minutes, maybe around 46-48 minutes. I didn’t want a hard effort but I did want a sustained effort. I haven’t really done any speed work so I wanted to see what I could do over six miles.

I found the start quite hard going, mentally and physically. I was overtaken quite a lot. And as nice as it was getting lots of hellos from people in my running club and people I knew, it was somewhat demoralising. But I just told myself it didn’t matter, yes I’m not in a great running shape right now and I’m not racing this.

The first mile has a bit of an uphill and then a very steep downhill so it was a mixed bag in terms of pace. A girl I knew ran up next to me and asked what time I was aiming for. I gave her my vague time and she mentioned she wanted to stick with someone. Now usually I don’t mind running with other people or chatting away during a race but I really didn’t fancy it. I wanted to sort of hide away in my mind and just auto-pilot the miles. I didn’t want to offend her though so I slightly slowed down and eventually after some chatter she headed off. It was nothing personal to the girl, she’s lovely, but I just wasn’t in that mood, you know?

There is a fairly sharp incline which seems to go on forever which took a bit of a graft to get up. Then it was plain sailing – I knew this course so well I could just switch off and plan little milestones in my head. A few other people tried to chat to me but my monosyllabic responses discouraged further conversation. I must have seemed grumpy but really I was just wanting to get the race done. 10ks aren’t my favourite, the weather was fairly miserable and the sustained effort was taking its mental toll on me. It sounds like I had a horrible race but in truth I quite enjoyed it; I enjoyed zoning out and letting my legs carry me forward.

The course is fairly scenic, going past lots of farmer’s fields and country lanes and then eventually running along the seafront. It was grim and grey but thankfully not windy. There was a lot of support from the locals and I made sure to smile and thank everyone I could – it must have been so cold for them!

Photo credit: Alan from Denmead Photos 

As the miles ticked off quickly I increased my pace a little and started picking off people in front of me. I managed to pull back some people who had overtaken me at the start and that bolstered my confidence somewhat.

As I reached the last 400m I saw a group of guys from my running club (super speedsters) who were cheering the club in. My running club friend Chris was just ahead of me and they all enthusiastically yelled at me to overtake him (or “chick” him). I tried my best to catch him but I just couldn’t and annoyingly managed to burn myself out before the final sprint. Such a stupid thing to do!

Photo source: Netley Abbey Runners

Anyway I finished strong. I worried I might have pushed it a bit too hard (and at the same time wondered how I managed to pull any of those paces for my last marathon…!).My official time was 46:26, which I’ll happily take! I’m around four minutes off my PB but in reality I’m a million miles from that sort of speed! I’m just happy that my calf/shin felt good (not perfect but decent) and I was able to put in some effort towards the end. A very happy result indeed.There was no medal but we got a lovely technical t-shirt so I’m happy enough. My parents were waiting at the finish line to cheer us in (they’d had a nice coffee in the village while we were running) so it was nice to get my coat quickly back on and to grab a takeaway Costa coffee which was right next to the finish while I waited for Kate and Jamie.Kate finished (1:05) before Jamie (1:05:22) which no one expected – only because Jamie normally beats Kate. Jamie said he didn’t have the best race while Kate said it’s helped re-motivate her for her training for the Bath Half.And then we quickly headed off back to mine where we showered and got ready and headed out to a lovely local pub called the Fox and Hounds in Burseldon. I’ve recently been and had the most amazing sundae when I went out for dinner there (some things are not always blogged about… ;-)) and wanted to recreate the experience with Kate and Jamie, who I knew would appreciate it. I also really wanted something that wasn’t available on the menu the last time I was there.I went for a sharing platter with Jamie (very tasty) and then a hog roast burger topped with gammon and pulled pork. Oh my good Lord this was amazing. Now normally I don’t get burgers as I always feel that the ratio of carb:protein is not at my preference. However, this was a fully stacked burger. My bun could barely contain it. And it fully rocked my world. And of course, the salted caramel sundae for pudding (containing bits of brownie and cheesecake).

Kate and Jamie also enjoyed theirs and ordered the sundaes as well (Jamie refused to give a normal face for this photo FYI).

We had this at 1pm and honestly I could not eat a single thing for the rest of the day (OK that’s a lie, I had two apples). I actually felt a little unwell in the evening and my stomach was making all kinds of crazy noises that night. But it was worth it.

So like old times, a good race and good food!

What do you never normally order at a restaurant?

What’s the best sundae you’ve ever had? Hands down, this one was probably the best I’ve had. The cream on top was proper whipping cream and not from a can.

Do you enjoy chatting to people during a race? Normally I do!

Chepstow Stampede 10k (Obstacle Mud Run) and foodie fun

I’ve never done a proper obstacle mud race before and honestly I was fairly nervous. I had signed up to run the Chepstow Stampede 10k with my friends, Kate and Jamie, a while ago and now it was suddenly here.

I drove to Bristol to stay with them on Friday night. Because I’m such an intelligent savvy pro at life (*cough*) I winged it with their address in my sat nav with what I thought it was and then found out later I was actually going to the wrong place. In all fairness I was very close with the address; it was in Bristol at least. I haven’t driven to their house in the dark before is my excuse… It just set me back 15 minutes, whoops. Lesson learnt once again never to trust my own (questionable) intelligence in anything.

We had a delicious chicken salad for dinner. Who even are these friends anymore?? They would laugh at me for eating salad in America and now they’re completely converted! They’re like new people. And then we had an early night ready to get up the next morning to drive to Chepstow. We also picked up Kate’s friend, Katherine, en route who I’d met when we’d all done parkrun together a few times a few months ago.

chepstow-stampedeRandom guy in the right photo at the bib pick-up tent…

It was really fun going to the race and picking up our bibs because the three of them had never done a race before. What was a fairly normal and mundane process for me was new and exciting to Kate, Jamie and Katherine. They’d never had a bib number before, had the usual struggles and gripes about where to pin it and getting it straight… it was just really refreshing to go through the process with them (without sounding ridiculously patronising – we were all new to this once after all!).img_6040That said, I was actually really nervous about this race as it was something I’ve never really done before. I’ve done obstacle courses before but never an actual race. I was really glad it wasn’t raining, though it was very chilly. We’d agreed to run it as a team and help each other where needed. Right, let’s do this.img_6041The race started off on road at the Chepstow Racecourse and on a sharp downhill. The running for me was generally fairly easy as I’m a bit faster normally to the others but it was nice to run with them. We didn’t know what to expect in terms of obstacles but we did know at some point we’d be getting wet, so that weighed heavily on all our minds as the temperature was far from ideal.

The first obstacle was climbing over a wooden wall thing. It had very narrow ‘steps’ to use but it was really slippy. I ambitious threw myself at it and slipped almost immediately. More time and care required! It was quite high up but I just didn’t look down and got over it, literally. Kate was very cautious and nervous because she hates heights but she bossed it like a pro!

The first mile flew by. It was crazy how quickly it was going, despite having to wait a good few times for obstacles as there gets to be a bit of a build up while you wait for people. I don’t have a huge amount of obstacle racing experience but I think if you’re expecting to get really good times it will be hard because, from speaking to other people who’ve done similar races, you usually do have to wait a bit. But you can use that time to see (and judge!) other people’s strategies for getting over…and what not to do!

There were lots of obstacles in each mile, things like hay bales to climb over, tunnels to wriggle through, more walls to get over and tires to climb through – things like that basically. Nothing too difficult but also not easy per se, especially after you’ve been running. One of my favourites was climbing up a steep muddy wall using a rope. That was good fun. For each obstacle you didn’t have to do it and normally there was an easier option to choose from as well.

On the last mile there was the dreaded full body submerging into cold muddy water. There were a load of logs held above a stretch of water and you had to crawl under them, your head just above the water, to get through. It was FREEZING. But you just got in there and got it done. The more you think about it the worse it’ll be.

I got out the other side in shock of just how cold it was. It was that weird feeling that I knew I was cold but I hadn’t registered it yet as my body numb. It was only after we continued to run and the wind whipped at us that we really felt it. But we survived! We had to run up that bastard hill that we ran down at the start and crossed the finish line holding hands feeling like warriors.10k-stampedeWe did it in 1:44:33. We were aiming for sub 2 hours so that was perfect. Actually we think it would have been closer to 1.5 hours had we not had to wait so much (1.5 hours was our A Goal ;-)). It was such a fun race. It didn’t feel like any race I’ve done before. I certainly wouldn’t do it on my own – I think the appeal of these races are that you do them with friends and help each other, rather than try and get a speedy time. I didn’t care that I was running (and walking at times) a lot slower than I normally would. It was just such a fun experience.img_6045You weren’t just getting through the miles: you never knew what was coming round the corner, what massive hill would turn up next or crazy obstacle you’d have to get past. The race flew by! I fully recommend it – and for someone who hates being cold and wet, that is good praise indeed! I’m grateful it wasn’t raining though as the course had the potential to get very muddy so we weren’t quite as dirty as we could have been!img_6051

Just a few tips that I thought I’d share for an obstacle/mud run:

  • Don’t go with a time ambition.
  • Wear trail shoes that you don’t really care about.
  • Wear running clothes you’re not bothered about ruining but equally if you’re doing the race in colder temperatures, wear long sleeves and leggings but nothing that if it gets wet will really weigh you down.
  • Possibly wear gloves with grips – I found my hands got very cold and torn around a bit on the obstacles.
  • Bring a towel and a spare set of clothes.

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  • Bring bin bags to either sit on in the car or put your clothes into afterwards.
  • Help anyone and everyone; there’s such a camaraderie feeling between everyone, whether you know them or not.

img_6054After we’d all had lovely hot showers we headed out for the real prize: FOOD. We went to Spitfire in Bristol which I’ve been to before. Katherine ordered a steak but the rest of us ordered the St. Louis ribs. When I ordered the waiter said, “This is usually shared between two people – it’s quite a lot of food” and Kate was like, “you don’t know Jamie and Anna”. We ordered some chicken wings to share as well. I won’t lie, our stomachs were doing the talking.img_6056We were all in heaven. The ribs were delicious. Up there with the best. The chicken wings were good too.img_6063Jamie and me had no issues polishing off our ribs, though we were defeated by the wings.

Despite being very full we decided to head to a gelato cafe for some pudding. Ooof. I decided to not go quite as decadent as I could have been and had three scoops: Mint Aero, Toffee Crisp and Malteaser. Delicious!img_6065

Then I needed a nap…but I had to drive home. It was a fantastic weekend of the best kind: running and food 😉

What’s your favourite ice cream flavours?

What would be your worst obstacle?

Have you ever done a mud race before?

Chester Marathon 2016

If there’s one thing I know about marathons it’s that it never gets easier. I suppose after the first one you’ve completed there is a sense of reassurance that you can actually do the distance and not combust after mile 18, but it is never easy. And, at least for me, I’m never going into without feeling nervous and terrified.

On the morning of the marathon I got up at 6am, got dressed, had a quick black coffee and made my porridge to take with me in the car.img_5541My parents were driving me there and then supporting me. So at 6.30am we piled into the car and headed to Chester, which was about 1.5 hours away from where we were staying in the cottage. Thankfully a quick petrol station stop allowed the necessary pre-race toilet requirement to be achieved (whew – runners, you know what I mean!) and we arrived at Chester at 8am, the time that the Chester Racecourse car park closes. This didn’t matter as my parents were just dropping me off and then heading off to find breakfast and mile 15ish to wait for me. However, we were very lucky as the road closures were literally happening around us at that point (we didn’t realise the roads to and from the racecourse would be closed. Normal well-organised people might, but us chancers? Noooo).img_5543The temperature was very nippy and I was thankful for having a charity shop purchased fleece to keep me warm.img_5544The race village was quite cool being in the racecourse. There were several tented areas full of things to buy and the bag drop area but I headed out to the main grass area to get into the loo queue because really what else can you do when you have about 45 minutes to kill before a race?chester-marathon-race-villageThe grass was wet and my trainers were annoyingly getting a bit soggy. I noticed several people had blue plastic shoe covers on their trainers to keep them dry and wondered where they got them from. But I wasn’t bothered enough to hunt them out for myself. A loo visit was more important! There didn’t seem to be a huge number of mobile loos it must be said but I was able to go twice so I can’t complain! No bad loo experiences so that’s always a plus!

Eventually we were called to the start. I felt really nervous. For me, a marathon is never a proper marathon unless I have some sort of ailment to worry about beforehand and in true Anna-style I was worried about my calf. It had been feeling very tight and a bit, dare I say, niggly during the week. I felt it a bit at parkrun the day before…In normal circumstances a week off would have probably put it to bed but not possible when race day is that week! But anyway we started and it just felt a bit tight so I tried to ignore it.

The first mile is run partly on grass as you come out of the racecourse and then onto the roads of Chester. There were quite a few clusters of small crowds and local running clubs who cheered us on. It was a lovely atmosphere. I remember distinctly how easy that first mile felt and thinking how it would later contrast with the final mile…

I hadn’t really got a strict pace plan. I decided to see what felt comfortable and go with that – as long as it wasn’t under 8min/miles as that would be silly considering my training. I stuck pretty consistently to 8-8:10min/miles and felt very relaxed, if not a little bored after we came out of the main city (which happened fairly quickly). Don’t get me wrong though, the Chester Marathon course is beautiful. So scenic. The first bit through the city was cool because of all the old walls, the Tudor-style buildings and the Chester Cathedral that you run past.img_5590

Taken later in the day

To take my mind of the monotony I listened in to other’s conversations around me and checked out what people were wearing. One man amusingly had some sort of race finisher’s t-shirt that for some reason, amongst all the other writing, had the word “Male” printed largely at the bottom. I wondered why!?

As we got deeper into the countryside I decided I just had to take a photo. I was wearing my Flipbelt so my phone (and my gels) were easy to get out.img_5552It was just perfect. Or at least it would have been had the sun not been shining directly in our eyes for about 90% of the first 10 miles! I envied those who were wearing sunglasses.img_5551

But that blue sky! The temperature was still fairly cool, especially in the shade, so it really was perfect running temperature. The course was not entirely flat, with a few undulations here and there but nothing major.10kSo the first 10k went by fairly uneventfully. I chatted to a guy who was running the same pace as me (his 14th marathon) and we had roughly the same time goals, though he was more keen to get closer to 3:30 whereas I was more generally 3:30-3:45. I know it sounds a bit off but I didn’t really want to chat too much. I was happy to just sink inside my brain and not think for a bit rather than make conversation but we stayed in the same pace range and it was nice to have his company there even if we didn’t chat a huge amount.10-miles

We ran over a mat at 10k so I knew my parents would know how I was doing on the tracker thing. My first main milestone was 8 miles as this was when I was to have my first gel. My watch was already out from the mile markers annoyingly so I made sure to wait until the actual 8 mile mark rather than my watch (because I’m neurotic like that). The gel was an SIS Red Berry with caffeine flavoured one which I hadn’t had before. I’ve had SIS gels before but not this particular flavour. I’ve never had an issue with gels before and I’ve tried quite a few and thankfully this was fine. Though the flavour was DISGUSTING. So pleased I have an entire pack of them at home…

At 10 miles I was grateful to final allow myself to listen to a podcast (the BBC 5 Live Film Review). The pace was still consistently around 8 min/miles and though the country side was beautiful I was a bit bored. The podcast really helped though as I lost myself in that until 13 miles, when I had my next gel. Oh the excitement! 😉16-miles

After my gel (one I’d picked up from an aid station – a High5 IsoGel – very liquidy) I started to look forward to seeing my parents. As I got to 13 miles I realised my parents wouldn’t be at 15 as it was a weird part of the course that goes off and does a big square before turning back towards the city at mile 15. So mile 13 and 15 are practically next to each other if that makes sense.chester-marathon-course

At this point you can see the super speedy people running back towards you as they’ve already done the square – I saw the sub-3 pacer storming along and realised that the square would take about 30-40 minutes. It was nice to see the other runners coming towards you so that amused me for a while.

As I got to 16 miles, around a small village called Holt, I spotted a crowd of people and scanned them to see if my parents were there. They were! I was so pleased to see them!img_5575

I went a bit crazy cheering and waving much to the delight of the spectators. I think they must have thought I was mental!img_5576Then I was off again. My next milestone was 18 miles for my final gel. This time it was a Honey Stinger Acai and Pomegranate flavoured one which was a bit thicker but so tasty; fruity and sweet.21-miles

There were so nasty short inclines around this point that were actually quite tough.chester-marathon-elevation

I tried to ignore how tired my legs were and just get them done. The nice decline afterwards wasn’t entirely welcome either because that still works the muscles pounding downhill!img_5554As I got to mile 20 I wondered if I had anything in me to boost up the speed for the last 10k. I didn’t feel I did and wondered if this was the difference between doing speed work during marathon training and not…But I decided to put on my “let’s get going” playlist and see what happened.

Well, it certainly helped boost me along! I thought to myself, just get to 23 miles and then it’s just a parkrun. It definitely helped. When I finally reached 23 miles I was smiling and feeling good and shouted to a marshal it was just a parkrun to go and he laughed and said I looked too happy.26-milesThere was a nasty hill around 23-24 miles but I could smell the finish line and just pushed on. I started overtaking people and several people cheered me on, one guy yelled with a lovely Northern accent, “You go, girl!”. I don’t know what happened but suddenly I was flying. The crowds of supporters got bigger and I kept a smile on my face and they cheered me through. I just kept passing people and it was such a buzz. We ran alongside the River Dee and loads of people were having lunch or coffee in little cafes alongside the river or standing and cheering and it really helped keep my momentum going. One more mile, the quicker I do it the quicker I can stop. The finish was in sight, we were now back on the grass of the race course and I just needed to get to the end. And I was done!

I checked my watch and couldn’t believe it: 3:28:22. Sub 3:30! My A Goal! I also couldn’t believe how I managed to pull out a sub 7 minute last mile. Over a minute faster than my first mile and about 100 times harder!img_3207I got my medal, a foil blanket, a technical t-shirt (very nice) and a goodie bag and then spotted my parents who were waving madly to me. Ahh so nice to see them so quickly after finishing!img_5566I was on cloud nine 🙂

My calf was a bit grumpy, I won’t lie, but otherwise I was feeling fantastic. The sun was shining and I was over the moon with how consistently I ran and how much speed I was able to pick up in the last 10k. It just felt fantastic running past all those people and hearing the crowds. I’ll never forget it.

Right, I’ll leave it there as this post is already far too long. Chester Marathon is a fantastic marathon and I’m so glad I did it. It was well organised, well supported, scenic and just a joy to run. Top marks!img_5592Have you ever done Chester Marathon before?

What kind of course do you prefer: countryside, city, etc.?

How many gels (if any) do you take during a marathon and what’s your favourite?