Chicago Marathon 2019 – Six Star Finisher

I woke up the morning of the Chicago Marathon after a fantastic night’s sleep. No one was more surprised about this than me to be honest.

I had fallen asleep and stayed asleep nicely, despite being so worried and stressed. I woke up about an hour before my alarm (5am) and did all that I needed to for a comfortable running experience, if you get my drift 😉 I made my porridge in our lovely Airbnb kitchen and drank my black coffee. No stress, no panic.

Just before 7am Kyle and I headed down to the start, a mere 10 minute walk away. I didn’t need a map, I just followed all the other runners coming out of the woodwork.

I had an aluminium blanket round me and was quite warm. It wasn’t nearly as cold as the day before thankfully. And no rain!

Kyle had plans to see me at mile 3, mile 14, mile 17 and then somewhere around the end. He was going to message me encouragements and any changes in his plan and I would see them pop-up on my watch (normally I have notifications turned off). This would be lovely.

My wave began at 7.30am and my corral closed at 7.20am, so at about 7.10am I left Kyle only to find that my gate was closed and was redirecting people to another one (no idea why). So I had to do a bit of a panicked jog the long way to my corral but managed to get in before it closed, whew! I have to say, it was the easiest and quickest race to get to. I didn’t even need a pre-race wee as I’d had one just before I’d left the apartment.

I wedged myself into the crowd of runners (so many people, as is typical for a major marathon) and found myself stood behind a 3:35 pacer.

Hmmm, VERY ambitious but could be worse. We waited for about 10 minutes after our supposed start time and then inched forward closer to the start. The finally we were off!

Having not properly run for a week I was nervous how it would feel. So far, it was OK. Suspiciously OK. Unlike New York, I didn’t have that euphoric feeling of “yay I’m running a marathon”. It was a cautious and almost constant thought cycle of “how does my knee feel? Is it OK?”. And it was OK so far. I could tell though that it wasn’t as strong as my other knee and it wasn’t quite “right”. So I stayed within a cautious pace.

Within the first mile however it became clear that my watch was not tracking things accurately (presumably due to the skyscrapers affecting the GPS). I reached a mile way before the mile marker and my pace was all over the place, despite feeling consistent. This panicked me a bit. What was I going to do?

I knew from experience that when you run a marathon it all feels very easy for the first 10 miles or so regardless if you’re running faster than you should be because… well, you’ve only run 10 miles. If you continue at that pace it starts to get a lot harder and unsustainable later. Having my watch tell me my pace has helped me in all my marathons to not get carried away. And it was important as I didn’t have the training (or the strength in my body) to maintain a faster pace than my planned one. I was going to aim for 8.30s to begin with and then maybe chip away at that later on.

The next issue hit when Kyle started messaging me. His messages would be cut short on my watch display because it was only a preview. So he’d say “I’m waiting near to the….” and that was all I’d get. He kept sending messages like this and it was frustrating – we should have tested this before the race! And in my confusion to see his message I then managed to LAP my watch by pressing the wrong button. Oh god what a muppet! Now it was all out of sync and all over the place.

At mile 3 when I saw Kyle I had minimal amount of time to explain everything of course. I told him I felt OK (knee update) but that my watch was completely out of sync and all I had was the time I’d been running and the mile markers on the road.

I got to 5k in 26:50 (08:39 min/miles). My watch is so far out I can only really go by the 5k splits from the app.

I carried on. He sent another long message and I decided to whip my phone out and message him to tell him to send bursts of messages rather than long streams so I could read it. That worked much better. The first few miles were full of cheering crowds and the skyscrapers of Chicago, along with a couple of bridges to run over. It was a good start for definite. It was brightly sunny but cold. I had my arm warmers on and expected I would take them off later in the race (I didn’t).

Then we headed out north of downtown Chicago towards Lincoln Park. At this point it was probably my lowest time of the race. I could occasionally feel my knee (no pain, just something “not right”) and I worried about the accumulating miles ahead.

I got to 10k in 53:51 (8:42 min/miles).

I had some serious doubts in whether I would finish and all I could see was the time when I did the Bournemouth Marathon a few years ago and had sporadic sharp knee pains which caused me to walk the final two miles. I remembered that in that race I’d gotten to mile 12 before really feeling pain and I hoped to get to that point without issue. But I was in a dark place, wishing I could try and enjoy the race a bit more.

Lincoln Park looked very pretty and I made a mental note to come back here with Kyle. There were lots of people cheering us on and that boosted me somewhat. Then we turned around and headed back south.

I needed to go for a wee (as I always tend to during a marathon and usually plan a stop somewhere between 2-10 miles depending on portaloo availability). But I was loathe to stop for fear that if I did the pain would start when I began running again. So I kept going.

I got to 15k in 1:20:29 (8:35 min/miles).

At mile 10 I switched to a playlist of Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish (current two of my favourite female artists). It was a nice mix of happy clappy songs and chilled but somewhat depressing vibes.

I started noticing that pretty much at any point during the marathon I could look around and find someone wearing the Nike Vaporfly shoes. I’ve never seen a more prolific shoe in a race. So many of these crazy bright neon Nikes. I must have seen over a 100 of them during the race. It was actually comical the number of them.

I got to 20k in 1:47:09 (8:35 min/miles).

Kyle was going to be at mile 14 so I looked forward to this. As I got past the fateful mile 12 without issue I started to relax a little. OK no pain. No discomfort. We’re good for now.

I saw Kyle and he boosted me along, asking me if wanted a gel (he was my gel mule). I said I was OK. Actually in terms of fitness I felt fine. I was running comfortably and felt I was fine to maintain the pace. I’d now worked out I could see my pace (sort of). But my watch was still so far out in terms of distance (around two miles out).

I got to 25k in 2:14:09 (8:42 min/miles).

I started to relx a bit and I allowed myself to start to visualise the finish. I hadn’t done this at all in the lead-up. It was tempting fate and being over-confident. Now I used these thoughts to boost me along. I would be picking up my SIX STAR MEDAL. How would that feel? Seeing Kyle afterwards wearing my TWO medals. The relief. I held on to those thoughts tightly and helped them spur me along.

It was still cold and the wind was fierce. It was more gusty than consistently windy so you’d suddenly get this big blast of frigid air hitting you for a bit and then it’d disappear. It was tough going but at least the course was flat. I actually saw a large piece of cardboard fly down the road and smack into a male runner (fairly amsuing it must be said).

I saw Kyle at mile 17 and honestly this was the best. I felt confident suddenly. I could do this. As I got close to him he shouted, “In less than 10 miles you’ll have your Six Star!” and I punched the air and yelled back “I’ve got this!”.

I got to 30k in 2:40:59 (8:39 min/mile).

I started grabbing water from the aid stations now (which were frequent and a mix of Gatorade, water and gels and then later half bananas and orange segments). Paper cups! And according to the brochure, entirely compostable. In fact, the marathon was very forward thinking in it’s environmental conscience – so much designed for recyling and reducing waste and plastic. Big thumbs up, Chicago!

As I got past 18 miles a man ran up next to me. He said he recognised me and had read my blog. He hoped I was enjoying Chicago and that the race went well for me. Oh I can’t tell you how much this put a spring in my step! What a lovely thing to be told mid-race. I couldn’t work out, in the rush of it all, whether he was running too or a marshal, but it was lovely to see him.

Around 18 miles we were running through the University Village, which would become very familiar to me in the days coming as our next Airbnb would be around there. There did seem to be a numerous number of universities in Chicago I must say.

I hit into mile 20 and could barely contain my excitement. In less than hour I’d be done! I switched my playlist to something else (I love Taylor and BiIllie but god I was done with them).

I tried to do the mental maths of what time I could finish in. My time of course didn’t matter (just finishing was my intention) but a tiny voice wondered if I could sneak in under 3:45? I had had a dream before all this hamstring and knee drama that I could finish all my Six Stars in under that time (I had so far). But it would be a push I think.

I got to 35k in 3:07:34 (8:34 min/mile).

As is typical for when wearing your name on your vest, I got a lot of “Go Anna!”s which is always nice. I love how Americans say my name with their accent. I kept thinking, smile smile smile. And it helped, people would cheer more.

I heard “go Anna” quite enthusiastically and looked over to see a crowd of cheerers. I looked harder and realised I recognised the ‘ring leader’. It was Charlie from The Runner Beans. It was lovely to see her cheering and it definitely boosted me along 🙂

I got to 40k in 3:33:43 (8:25 min/mile).

Just 2k to go. I saw Kyle message me saying I could get under 3:45 if I pushed. Urgh I was so tired now, so this felt like a hard ask. But I pushed on, seeing my pace get a bit quicker. Come on Anna, not long left!

I couldn’t work out where the finish was (I was confused with the 5k course yesterday) but eventually we turned into Grant Park and I saw it ahead. My watched clicked to 3:44:xx and I absolutely sprinted to get to the finish.

3:44:35! Just snuck under 3:45. A man tapped my on the shoulder and shook my hand: “great finish!”. Ahh what a lovely thing to say 🙂 I couldn’t believe I’d done it. The stress was over. The RELIEF. My god the relief.

I walked along, collecting my Chicago medal, some water, ALL the apples…

And then I saw the Six Star Finisher signs. Ahhhhh! I headed over there tentatively, still wondering if something would stop this moment. But they scanned my QR tag and the Abbott man said “congratulations Anna, here is your medal”. Omg it was like a dream. They put my medal on and the weight of it hit me – both metaphorically and physically. It was a beast. I’m not a sentimental person but I must admit, I did get a tiny bit emotional. No crying but a bit choked up.

The crowd of Abbott volunteers were so lovely, congratulating me and saying what an achievement. It was just lovely. They took my things so they could get a photo of me – they looked after me so well.

And then I headed off into the swarms of finishers to find Kyle. Walking on clouds.

I found Kyle faily quickly, thankfully, and showed him my medals. It was such a fantastic moment. I was so glad he was there with me to share my happiness. He was so relieved for me too. (Though he claims he never doubted me finishing, I’m glad one of us was confident!).

Chicago Marathon was definitely a hard graft. The lead-up and the race were mentally and physically tough going. I was so stressed and I don’t think I ever really relaxed properly while running. Of course for any marathon I never go into it believing it’s going to go OK or that I’m 100% confident I’ll finish as anything can happen during those 26.2 miles outside of your control, but I do tend to go into it fairly positive and while I’m running enjoy myself.

This was different. The pit of my tummy was constantly in turmoil. I do remember clearly thinking though, “This is what my body was made to do”. Running a marathon, even when semi-injured and undertrained, is just natural to me. I love it and find such happiness from it – not just finishing, but the entire process. I hope to have many more marathons to come 🙂

And as for getting my Six Star Finisher medal… well, that was just wonderful. It’s been six years since I did my first marathon major, Berlin, and so much has changed in my life. I was married then, I’m divorced now but so very happy. Each Major has special memories and I enjoyed all of them. I was very lucky to have such good experiences, good weather and no big upsets. Yes Chicago was tough because of my injury woes, but I still had a comfortable race and finished smiling. That’s all I ever hope for.

Have you done any of the Major Marathons?

Have you ever run abroad?

Do you depend on your watch during races?

The days before the Chicago Marathon

The Chicago Marathon… my last Marathon Major. Jeeze it was stressful.

The week leading up to the race was honestly one of my worst pre-race weeks. Despite feeling fine (albeit tired) during the Bournemouth Half, the days afterwards my knee suddenly felt really stiff and not right. I was VERY confused. It had felt absolutely fine during the race and now it was swollen and sore.

And so the days leading up became project recovery and repair. I iced every night, elevated it, took ibuprofen and didn’t run at all. I was in panic mode. Luckily my very lovely physio had offered to give me a free hour session before I flew (he’s literally a legend) and so I could see him before I flew.

Actually I was supposed to see him Saturday but I’d gotten the date wrong, idiot that I am, so we’d rescheduled for the Wednesday night, the day before Kyle and I were flying. This was fortuitous because Saturday I was fine, but post-Bournemouth I was not!

He worked his magic and I prayed for the best. It’s funny because I’d been so worried about my hamstring and now I had me knee. My hamstring, ironically, felt normal. I was worried about the long flight aggravating it but it felt absolutely fine. I stood up and walked about a number of times but generally it was OK.

So many people on the flight were also going for the marathon which was cool. Spotting people with the Garmin’s and the race tops.

We arrived in Chicago midday, caught the train to Wicker Park, where we were staying for one night in our first Airbnb. Wicker Park was really cool. Very hipster.

We had dinner in the raved about Pequod’s pizzeria. I’d done my research, it had been consistently rated as number one in the deep pie lists.

I’m actually not a big pizza fan but Kyle would eat it every day if he could. He really loves a deep pan as well. I definitely prefer a thinner more rustic base, like sourdough but I was of course going to try it.

We were quite hungry and being the greedy couple that we are, ordered a medium and an order of chicken wings for me. I’d have a slice or two of the pizza but I was there for the wings really. The waitress was sceptical of our eating ability but I was like “lady, American portion sizes were made for us”.

The pizza took a solid 40 minutes to get to us – as the deep pans tend to. By the time it arrived with the wings I was about ready to eat Kyle’s arm. The pizza came in a giant dish and the waiter served us up a slice each. Now a normal human would probably fine with one of those slices. They were THICK. And the cheese pull (a new phrase I’ve only just become acquainted with) was Instagram worthy.

It was ginormous

It was a sausage and mushroom cheese pizza and it was a monster. The base was so thick and doughy. The crust was caramelised burnt Parmesan, as they’re known for.

My wings were good… a mixture of buffalo and BBQ with the blue cheese on the side. I mean, they weren’t anything crazy. Decent wings, I was happy.

I had a couple of slices of the pizza… it was good, big chunks of sausage. Kyle really enjoyed it. It was a little too doughy for my tastes though. It was delicious but I wouldn’t go for it again. I’m more about the toppings!

The next day we headed from Wicker Park to downtown Chicago. We made a little coffee stop in a very cool place called The Wormhole which was full of retro gaming and film memorabilia.

Star Wars lifestyle cardboard characters, a DeLorean car and even an old school Nintendo with all the games. It was good fun.

Then we headed to our next Airbnb. SO fancy, we had the entire apartment. A great view, it’s own kitchen, bathroom and living area. It was very nice indeed. And literally 10 minutes from Grant Park and the Marathon start.

We had a lovely breakfast in Eggy’s Diner, which was just delicious. I had a turkey and goat’s cheese omelette with home fries.

We then headed to the Expo to pick up my bib and Kyle’s bib for the Chicago International 5k.

I was supposed to be running the 5k too but after some hard thinking (and excessive worrying and flustering) I decided not to risk my knee. I could support Kyle, who was going for a PB… and not just any PB, a sub-20 minute 5k! His PB currently stood at a few seconds over, so it was time to give it a blast.

The expo, like all the Majors’ expos, was impressive and big. A giant hall full of running-related vendors, race organisers and cool things to see. It was very busy though and in the Nike clothing area (the official sponsors) there were barely any small sizes. Luckily I picked up a long-sleeve top in small but it was by sheer chance!

I won’t lie though, I was honestly not that excited and feeling very nervous and a bit down. My knee was still swollen and stiff and I had a lot of doubts as to whether I’d get to the start line let alone finish.

As I hadn’t run at all since it had started feeling stiff I had no idea how it would feel when I started running. Would there be pain straight away? Would the pain happen later? I had no idea.

I became even more superstitious, finding wood and touching it every time we talked about each finishing or running.Numbers became weird,g important… the number 13 kept appearing for us. We noticed it appearing in all different places – the number of the booths was to pick my bib up from, the number of our apartment, the price of something we bought…the date of the race. Honestly I became a crazy woman. I don’t know how Kyle didn’t kill me.

What was cool though, in my bib packet it had instructions of how and where to pick my Six Star medal up from at the end of the race. I had a special QR tag on my bib and, if I so desired, I could wear an extra bib on my back to say I was running for my six star. Ha! Like I’d risk such am assumption. No way would I wear that. Tempting fate much, eh? All I could see was me stood at the side of the race, with that bib on my back as I hobbled with a dud knee trying to find Kyle. Nope.

That night to make life easy we decided to Uber Eats some good. We’d walked a lot and couldn’t be bothered to go out again.

Instead I ordered a very large portion of chicken wings (don’t judge me) and Kyle ordered a Philly cheesesteak AND a burger. In fairness, we hadn’t had lunch…I have to say that the wings were incredible. A mixture of BBQ and garlic Parmesan, oh my lord they were amazing. The garlic Parmesan were a new flavour to me and one I want to find again!

The next morning we were up early (a theme for the entire holiday really), ready for the 5k race.

We had to walk about 20 minutes to the start and it was bitterly cold. I was wearing ALL the layers as I wasn’t running, but Kyle just had his hoodie which he’d be handing to me before the start.I’ve never supported at a race on my own before and it was quite stressful for me.

I wanted to get to a good spot to cheer him on… but I wouldn’t have long due to the shortness of the race and his speed. So I headed off before he started.

Hilariously later on when I showed him a cool picture my friend had gotten with Paula Radcliffe Kyle said “oh wow is that Paula? I thought she was mixed race? I had a conversation with that lady at the start of the 5k.” WHAT. So Kyle had no idea he had been stood next to Paula Radcliffe and spoke about the weather with her!

Happily, Kyle did indeed break 20 minutes in the 5k. He got 19:56. Absolutely over the moon for him! I am so proud of him. We the headed quickly back so he could shower and then we headed to meet my lovely friends, who were also running the 5k and the marathon, for brunch.

A simple but effective breakfast!

These were the friends I’d made from the New York Marathon trip last year. It was great to see them but I did just further increase my nerves. In fact the entire day really was me being a bag of nerves and not much fun. Kyle did a fantastic job of looking after me and calming me down.

We did a lot of walking and sight seeing and then eventually it was time for my pre-race dinner and wind down. We went for a takeaway Blaze pizza which was just down the road from the Airbnb.

I got a chicken bbq pizza and we shared a side of garlic dough bites. Perfect!Then off to bed… I was definitely going to start the race, but I wasn’t sure at all how it would go.

Do you usually run the day before a marathon or big race?

Do you have any superstitions?

Have you been to Chicago before?

Bournemouth Half Marathon

I’ve done the Bournemouth Marathon twice before, but never the Bournemouth Half Marathon. And it seemed like a great race to do the week before the Chicago Marathon. A last long run. A catered long run with a medal!

Considering how my training hadn’t been exactly how I would have liked it, a sharp build-up and not as many long runs as I wanted, I decided to do three miles before we headed off the half in the morning. Sadly this meant a very early alarm as the race was to begin at 8am and it would take us an hour to drive there. Ooof.

Happily (?) I woke up before my 5.40am alarm at 5.30am and decided to just get up and give myself a bit more of a buffer. It was warm outside (15 degrees) but dark so I grabbed my hand torch. The torch (from Nathan Sports) is fantastic. It has a front and back light, a rape alarm and attaches to your hand so you actually don’t have to hold it.

The run went well. As it was so quiet I ran mostly on the road (it’s a very quiet route in general) and saw several cats and a fox, who just stood and watched me run past. It was all very peaceful.

Then I got back, quickly swapped into some new running gear and my parents, Kyle and I headed off to Bournemouth. Kyle’s brother, Zack, was also going to be running the half as his first ever half marathon (and first actual race I believe) and him and his family were already down there staying in a hotel And happily my friend Emma was running as well. So lots going on and lots of friendly faces!

My parents dropped Kyle and I off and we headed to the portaloos where we met Zack, his mum, his sister, Lucy, and his other brother, Adam. The queues for the loos were huge and seemingly not moving. With only about 15 minutes before the start I was getting nervous. Eventually I gave up and found a well concealed bush nearby. Whew!

Then we headed to the start. We heard over the speakers though that the race had been delayed until 8.15am (we later found out due to the grim police investigation of a dead body).

We spotted Emma and wished each other well which was nice. Then it was off to our respective waves and then the start.

Kyle was planning on seeing what he could do, so I let him run off while I kept to my own more gentle speed. I remembered the course well from the other Bournemouth races I’ve done (the half follows a lot of the similar marathon route, but of course less of it). I had music going and just zoned out.

The first three or so miles went by nicely and I saw Kyle on the switch-back going the other way. I also saw Zack looking relaxed just behind me. He was aiming for a sub-2 hour half, but with a bit of sketchy training and a problematic toenail it was going to be a push.

As we got to around six miles I started to feel like things were harder than I wanted. My pace felt less relaxed and I suddenly felt overwhelmingly tired. As soon as I recognised that feeling I couldn’t get it out of my head. Like a niggle in my brain, all I kept thinking off was “I’m so tired. This is so hard”.

The temperature was increasing but not crazily so. It was a lovely clear day and the crowds were out in force. Annoyingly there was a head wind directly against us as we headed down the promenade. I felt this chip away at my good vibes and the demons set up camp in my head. What if Chicago felt like this? I felt a deep dread in my stomach.

To be honest, I ran this race badly. I wasn’t racing it but my strategy was appalling. It was meant to be an easy run and I (wrongly) associated pace with effort. My watch was saying 8-8.20 and I found it bizarre that this felt hard, but I didn’t slow down. I realise I should have just backed off and actually reduced my pace to the real easy pace for that day.

Easiness can change – the weather, the course, how you feel, how you’ve slept etc. etc. can massively impact what pace is easy for you. But like a newbie I ignored it and pushed through. I knew my parents, and Kyle’s family, would be mile eight and I got a horrible déjà vu from when I ran the marathon the first time and ignored my dad at this point saying I should stop because I felt a lot of pain in my knee. I wasn’t in pain, I wasn’t suffering any niggles, but I was feeling so drained. Should I stop?

As I got to my dad I did stop. He looked very worried – I don’t normally do this during a race. I said how I felt and how hard I was finding it. He suggested maybe I drop out? Or walk a bit? But I was resolved to finish. I had a little cry, a big hug and then headed off. This hugely helped. I felt like I’d had an emotional pick-me-up gel. A hug in a gel if you like.

Then I was hit with the hill that I was very familiar with during the marathon. Thankfully not the 18 miler hill which is horrific, but a shorter and less sharp hill, but tough nonetheless. I felt a new lease of life and pushed on up, smiling as much as I could remembering reading an article that smiling triggered happy feelings in your body. What a loon I must have looked like.

Then it was a lovely downhill which I fully embraced and a long slog to the Boscombe Pier. The sand underfoot that had blown over from the beach made for an annoying running path… the wind dead against us… the sun in my eyes… it all felt so very hard. But I spotted Kyle’s dad and he gave me a big cheer as I headed onto the pier, then back down the other way to the Bournemouth Pier. Now the wind behind us and I felt strong and picked it up a gear. I was almost done!

I finally managed to overtake people (having spent most of the race being overtaken) and whizzed along the pier and to the finish. Done!

I was so glad to stop. I felt exhausted. 1:45:58.

I collected my medal and saw Kyle. He’d finished in 1 hour 40 mins and 12 seconds, sadly about 20 seconds off his PB. He had had a hard run too. But still, a fantastic time. Zack finished in just over 2 hours 1 minute and 18 seconds – oh so close!! He was happy though, as well he should for his first half marathon.

I also saw Emma. She’d had a tough race too but, like me (or like I’d planned anyway) had used it as a last long run before Chicago.

For my race, in retrospect I should definitely have slowed down. My ego got in the way and I paid for it by having a miserable run. I was pleased to have gotten 16 miles for the day though – my last long run before Chicago. And I will definitely relax the pace if it starts to feel like that. Lesson well and truly learnt! Chicago is about getting to the finish uninjured without issue. No heroics or pushing through anything crazy.

We had a few photos, celebrated finishing and then headed home. Whew! I was tired, hungry and mentally drained.

Next stop now, Chicago.

Have you ever run a mentally tiring race?

Have you ever done the Bournemouth Half or Marathon?

Long running and the Eastleigh 10k

So next Sunday I’ll be running the Manchester Marathon.

As I’ve only just run the Barcelona Marathon a few weeks ago I didn’t really need to do any crazy long running but I did want to do a kind of top-up run. So my plan was to do a 16 miler two weeks out, and then 13 or so miles the week before (which is usually what I normally do in a marathon lead-up).

The Eastleigh 10k was the Sunday of my planned 16 miler and in usual Anna fashion I decided to tag on some extra miles onto it (10 lol) to make it into 16. God forbid I actually try racing a 10k eh 😉

Kyle was also down to run it and was going to give it a good blast as he much prefers the shorter stuff, but unfortunately he got struck down with what I had the week before so was barely in a fit shape to plod it let alone race it. He was still keen to run it though – men, eh!

The day before, Saturday, I went to Netley to celebrate my friend Mike’s 200th parkrun. OK not strictly speaking a “real” milestone for those parkrun sticklers but still a good reason to have cake. Kyle sensibly stayed in bed while I headed out. It was a shame for him not to join but realistically it was for the best.

At parkrun it was the “Marmite course”, which is basically five laps around a cricket field because of a caravan event on the normal course area. I groaned inwardly when I realised… this was going to be dull.

The day before I’d done quite a tough legs day so I wasn’t feeling a fast run – which really is the only thing that makes the Marmite course somewhat bearable.

Photo credit: Alana Jayne Williams

Happily Mike wasn’t thinking of a fast run either, having fully beasted himself the weekend before in getting a new half PB. So we decided to run together and have a nice catch-up.

Photo credit: Alana Jayne Williams

The weather was lovely but it was dull running.

Photo credit: Alana Jayne Williams

I was glad to have Mike there because running around in circles on my own would have been utterly boring.

Photo credit: Alana Jayne Williams

My time was 22:46. I’m happy with that! Little bit of a blast on the final mile but nothing crazy.

And then it was time to clear down the course and enjoy some cake. As there were a few people celebrating different events (Mike’s 200th, my other friend Sheryl’s 300th and another guy’s 200th) there was A LOT of cake.

Mike had made a few batches – one for handing out straight after parkrun and a secret batch for people who went to the cafe, excellent idea!

Of course I did need a little something while I helped clear down… a Rolo blondie. Delicious!

And then of course some salted caramel brownies, jam flapjacks and Sheryl’s delicious carrot cake.

Washed down with a cup of tea and a good natter. A lovely (albeit sadly Kyle-less) parkrun morning.

The next day Kyle decided he felt somewhat better to do Eastleigh 10k. He wasn’t going to race it however, which was sensible. I was going to get up a bit earlier, drive a few miles up the road and park my car, then run the rest of the way (10 miles) to the start and then meet Kyle and my dad there.

Surprisingly the plan went perfectly. I managed to make it to the start area with about 10 minutes to go. There was a somewhat precarious moment (which brought me flashbacks of when I tried to run to Eastleigh parkrun and got terribly lost and arrived 10 minutes later having run two extra miles) but I managed to tag along to someone else running that way. Whew! Never depend on your half brain Anna, I think is the moral of these stories.

My dad and Kyle had brought my Hedge End Running Club vest so I could swap tops and then I was ready to go.

We decided to position ourselves between the 45 minute and 50 minute pacer (who incidentally was Mike). There were lots of friendly faces from my own club and other clubs who I knew which was nice. Eastleigh is a very popular race because it’s so flat and usually part of the HRRL league. I’ve never actually done it though.

Kyle was feeling a little better and I told him if he wanted to go ahead that was fine by me. I wasn’t feeling it in my legs to go fast having just run there. Kyle was actually pushing the pace slightly too fast for my liking and I was relieved when he pushed off. Not because I didn’t want to run with him but because I didn’t want to either hold him back or feel pressured to run faster (he wouldn’t pressure me of course but I’d feel the need to keep up).

He disappeared into the distance and I relaxed into a pace where I could just turn my brain off and just enjoy the miles. I wasn’t listening to music or anything and it was nice to literally watch the world go by.

The support on the course was excellent. So many people out in force shouting and cheering, and of course my dad got himself to different areas. It was really nice for him to be there.

Photo credit: Sheryl James

The course is indeed very flat and fast. I mean Eastleigh itself isn’t exactly the greatest place to run round in terms of scenery but it’s a great race if you’re looking for a fast time.

Photo credi: Nick White

It was lovely weather as well which certainly helped. There was a tricky moment with one of the roads still being open to cars and we had to navigate through some traffic which I thought was a bit odd, and one short incline, but otherwise it was a good race. I was getting stronger and faster by each mile and marveled at just how quickly 10ks flew by (of course).

On the final mile there was a rather annoying man cycling along cheering people on. Well, I say cheering, it really wasn’t “cheering”. It was more like coaching. He was shouting – really shouting – things like “keep your arms swinging”, “keep breathing”, “get your legs turning over”. As he was cycling slowly next to us I couldn’t get away and it was actually really annoying.

I don’t mind people trying to push you along but this was full-on “how to run 101”. On the final section of a race it’s not exactly what you need. I muttered “oh please go away” in frustration and several people around me agreed. Not the time for this!

Anyway, the final sprint was through a park area and almost like a tunnel of people, which was a huge boost. I finished in 47:18 with an almost royal flush negative split.

Damn that 5th mile!

Photo credit: Hendy Group

Kyle finished in the very stellar time 45:46.

Photo credit: Hendy Group

He pushed himself a bit, but not overly considering he was still ill.

So a successful 16 miler for me. A nice plod to begin with in the 10 miles and then a bit of a push for the 10k. I love doing long runs like that. It breaks it up so nicely and you do tend to push yourself more than you would if you were just running the entire thing on your own.

Have you ever run while ill?

Do you enjoy tagging a race on to the end of a long run?

What milestones do you celebrate at parkrun?

Reading parkrun and the Stubbington 10k

When I did the New York Marathon in November I stayed with a bunch of girls who were just lovely. It was all arranged by Charlie, from The Runner Beans, and we had a fantastic time. Happily we’ve since kept in touch.

One of the girls, Cortney, was coming over from her home in Canada to visit so I headed up to Reading to do a little meet-up with a few of the girls. parkrun, brunch and friends – Saturday goals right there! I drove up straight from work on the Friday evening.

That evening we had a lovely girlie night at Charlie’s. Emma (from Nanny on the Run) made a delicious shepherd’s pie with a sweet potato topping. Daaamn it was good.

And we followed that with the less healthy but equally tasty Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (three different kinds! Be still my beating heart. I was a fan of the B&J’s Salted Caramel topped tub but not so huge a fan of the vegan Brownie one).

We chatted, we chilled, we ate and we watched the ever good When Harry Met Sally. It was lovely to see the girls again and properly catch-up.

The next morning we headed to the Reading parkrun. I had been tempted to run when I thought we were going to a different parkrun that I hadn’t done before (Woodley parkrun)…. but as I’d done Reading before (it was my ‘R’) and my calf was still not brilliant, I thought it best to play it safe and volunteer. Charlie was also volunteering and not running due to an injury as well. So I didn’t feel like I was missing out too much.

I was also quite chuffed because I’d been assigned the role of barcode scanner. I’ve never done that job at parkrun and was keen to tick another role off my list! I was also very chuffed for Cortney because it would be her first ever parkrun. Exciting times!

We arrived and ‘signed in’ to our posts. Cortney and Emma headed off to the start and Charlie and I got into our positions.

I was a little sad to be missing out but the other parkrun volunteers were so friendly and chatty that the time flew by and suddenly I was needed to scan the barcodes. It was MANIC. There were three of us scanning and it almost felt never-ending. Lots of people were super friendly and thanked me for my time or chatted to me but some people silently handed me the barcodes or, in a couple of instances, just pointed to their shoe making zero effort. I thought that was a little rude if I’m honest.

Some people asked how they’d done… I’ve no idea! I politely told them they’d find out later in the email. And some people, despite standing in the barcode scanning queue for a lengthy period of time still arrived at me expectantly but without anything prepared. It was quite an interesting experience it must be said. Eventually the buzz died down and I was able to relax a bit. Whew!

A lovely blog reader came and introduced herself to me. It honestly made my morning to hear about her running achievements and goals and that I’d had a little influence on it. I felt very touched. Sometimes it can feel like you’re writing into a void and no one is really listening but to hear from someone I don’t know who does read my random ramblings is just the loveliest thing.

Cortney and Emma did really well and it sounded like they both enjoyed it. Then we headed off for the essential refuel. Volunteering is hard work too! We went to Cafe Yolk, which is a small but very cute little cafe in Reading.

Unsurprisingly I ordered the full English, while the other three girls ordered avocado and eggs on toast. Probably the far healthier option but I’m fairly stuck in my ways and adore a fry-up. It was a rather posh looking fry-up so at least there’s that…

Then we headed for breakfast pudding of course. We originally went to one spot but their cake selection was not up to our high standards and so we headed next door to The Flowering Teapot instead. Now let me tell you, they were fantastic!

All homemade cakes, homemade bread… the whole shabang. The guy behind the counter was so helpful and friendly. Emma asked if there were any vegan cakes and he said there was a carrot cake being finished in the back so we waited for that (the owner who was finishing it said she’d be super quick for us which was lovely). While we waited the guy cut us a bit of the millionaire shortbread to nibble on. I mean, how good is that?

I went for the millionaire shortbread in the end because it was so good. We took our cakes and had a cup of tea at Charlie’s with them. A lovely way to end a lovely meet up!

The next day was the Stubbington 10k. This race literally runs past my house. It starts about a 5 minute walk up the road, and finishes about 15 minutes walk away so it’s super local and convenient. Sadly though I continued to be sensible and decided not to run. However, Kyle was.

He’s never run an official 10k race so I was quite excited for him. I detest 10ks so realistically I wasn’t too sad to miss the race but I was sad not to be running with Kyle and experiencing it with him. Instead, I would be walking to the 9k marker with my dad and Alfie in order to help cheer him. It would also be a nice walk for the three of us.

For whatever reason (probably entirely down to me being me) we thought the race started at 9.30am. I told Kyle he could easily leave the house at 9.15am and get to the start in enough time. My dad and I would need to leave just before 9am to walk the 2+ miles to the 9k marker, meaning we’d be there in time (9.35ish for Kyle to run past). Perfectly under control, nicely planned, we are amazing.

Except as my dad and me were 20 minutes up the road my mum rung to say the race actually started at 10am so Kyle and her were going to sit in a coffee shop for a bit to waste some time. Ah. Classic Anna.

This meant my dad and I were quite early and decided to go find our own coffee shop for a quick drink before heading to the spot. Not too bad considering – I mean, it’s not like we were late! That would have been a lot worse.

Around 10.20am the first runners started passing through and we cheered them on. I saw lots of friends, people I knew and people from my running club so it was good fun. However I do have silly panic moments where despite fully knowing these people I never seem to remember names!! Something about seeing people running just makes my mind go blank. Bit embarrassing but there we go.

Then Kyle ran past (I managed to remember his name ;-)). Then my dad and me quick marched to the finish to catch him afterwards. He’d done a fantastic time of 42:59 – just scraping under the 43 minute mark! Very jammy. And so fast! I remember for my first 10k I did 43:34. Clearly Kyle is going to be super fast in the future considering he hasn’t been running for long! He definitely has a lot more to give.

He mentioned he much prefers the shorter distances to the marathons. I can understand that (though I personally don’t have that preference, obviously). I think Kyle will do well in all distances but I think he’ll probably focus more on the shorter stuff.

Though I’m sad he doesn’t share the same marathon love I do, it does make it a little more interesting for us! I can happily support those shorter distances (I think I get the easier deal here hehe).

What distance do you prefer to race?

What parkrun volunteering role haven’t you done yet but would like to?

Do like to volunteer when you’re injured/not running?