My third Bristol parkrun and a tough long run

It seems like I’m in Bristol at the weekend more than I am in Southampton at the moment. I drove up there on Friday after work to stay over with my friends, Kate and Jamie, so Kate and I could then drive together to Cardiff for my other friend’s baby shower.

I never really need an excuse to go to Bristol if I’m honest. I love it there and Kate and Jamie are brilliant hosts. And Jay always cooks a mean dinner! We had roast chicken, salad, wedges and wraps.He’d used a BBQ rub on the chicken and it was delicious. I was in charge of pudding, which is always a bit dangerous. I bought a dessert pizza (I only recently found out this was a thing!) and some ice cream.Ben and Jerry’s Blondie Brownie is my absolute favourite (it has that salted caramel core and big chunks of blondie and brownie in it, divine!) and Jude’s was on offer (brown butter pecan) so I thought, ahh why not.The dessert pizza was actually quite disappointing. This might have been because it defrosted on the way to Bristol and then we over-baked it. It was just a bit dry and boring. However, with the ice cream it worked very nicely. Needless to say we all felt very full and slightly sick and I had memories of Orlando…

I’d managed to persuade my friends to go to a different parkrun the next morning rather than Pomphrey Hill that we usually go to. I’ve never been to Ashton Court parkrun and a (very speedy) friend from Southampton was coincidentally also going to be there so it seemed nice time to test it out.It was a beautifully sunny morning but still fairly cold. I didn’t take a coat with me and was feeling very chilly, though the sunshine definitely helped. Kate and Jamie brought their lovely little pug, Doug, with them as their parents were popping down to watch us run so could look after him. I also met a very lovely blog reader. Hello Liz!Ashton Court parkrun is a very interesting parkrun. The course is basically 1.5~ miles straight uphill and then 1.5~ miles straight downhill. My Southampton friend gave some good advice on how to run it, basically saying that you needed to push it on the first half as this is where you got your time. Going downhill is easy so there’s no worry about effort level there. So give it hell for the first bit and grit your teeth through the pain!

It was quite a busy parkrun, surprisingly given how intimidating the course was (over 500 people). I decided to listen to some music to get my head in the zone. Annoyingly I hadn’t got myself to a decent spot in the start (which was very busy) as I was faffing around and I hadn’t found satellites on my Garmin either, which meant my run was messed up on Strava.

But anyway, I got going. The beginning is on the flat so you can sort of get yourself going before you then start trekking uphill. It really was a grind. I just kept pushing, feeling the good vibes from my music and letting people overtake me.

Then, disaster, my music went from rocking motivating tunes to… Bear’s Den. I love Bear’s Den. But I love it when I’m chilling out not when I’m trying to maintain a hard effort level. Arrrrghhh! So I had to ferret into my FlipBelt and get my phone out to change the track – no idea why Bear’s Den was on my running playlist! But on the plus side, it meant I could snap a photo as I was running.

As ever, the photo doesn’t do justice to the hill

Though the hill was hard, I knew it would be over fairly soon. As we got past the steepest point and headed to the turnaround bit (the speedier runners now hurtling downhill, including my friend – who by the way did this in around 18:40!) the end was in sight. I reached the halfway turnaround and headed back downhill…but now the wind was in my face. Luckily this was only really because we were quite high and had no shelter, so as we got to the steepest downhill section the wind disappeared.

Photo Credit: John O’Brien

And the fun began. I’ve never run so fast in my life! I’ve never looked at speed bumps with genuine concern that I might fall over one if my foot was placed wrongly. I managed to overtake quite a few people who had previously overtaken me which was nice. And then we reached the last flat bit before the finish…ooof this was hard because suddenly I couldn’t maintain that super fast speed anymore but had to hang on as best as I could.

Photo Credit: John O’Brien

I came in at 22:39, which I was buzzing about because it was faster than last week’s Netley!And I was happy with my fastest ever mile on that downhill. I’ll take that!

Kate and Jamie enjoyed it too which made me happy. They’d recently done the Bath Half Marathon and hadn’t enjoyed it that much so it was nice for them to feel the love of running again. Where better than at parkrun, eh?Kate and I then had to get sorted and showered and sorted fairly pronto as we were driving to Cardiff for our friend’s baby shower.

We arrived at midday and found Shell making her own sandwiches for the baby shower (tut tut, Rob!) so we quickly took over while Shell could relax and look her lovely (pregnant!) self.It was a lovely afternoon. We ate lots of really tasty food; I love a buffet, and the food was rather posh! (Think M&S).And played lots of fun games that her sister, Rebecca, had organised. We did a baby-focused quiz which was actually quite tough and then a crafts-focused game. We had to design baby socks for a career that we were given on a piece of paper. Mine was a baker.I’m actually quite impressed at my craft-skills. Basic but not entirely terrible!Everyone did really well: (L:R) teacher, movie star, astronaut, baker (I did two socks for some reason), musician, vet, athlete and doctor.

Then we wrote advice on the back of puzzle pieces for the baby to read later in life. Here are mine:Wise, I think 😉

Then I headed back to Southampton. The next morning I was up at 8.30am to run a long run with my friend, Mark, and a triathlete called James who joined us. Both are a lot faster than me but thankfully they were happy to go around 8 minute miles. They wanted about 13 miles and I wanted 16 so I ran over a mile to our meeting point and planned to run a mile and a bit back. It was a very sunny and warm morning and for some stupid reason I was wearing long sleeves.

The run was really very hard. The pace wasn’t crazy but there was a gusty wind coming from all directions which tested me. The temperature didn’t help and, let’s be honest, the food over the past few days and just my general fitness wasn’t the best.

I started to struggle from about eight miles I think but it was an overly mental thing rather than my legs not working. It helped chatting to James and Mark and this took my mind off things. But as we got to around 10 miles I realised I was quite thirsty.

Mark was great at keeping me going and tolerated me moaning (he has withstood many of my moanings at parkrun, bless him). He’s aiming for a sub 3:05 at Brighton in a few weeks so he’s in great shape right now…whereas I felt like I was crawling at times.

When we got back to the starting point, James had a bottle of water and was so kind to let me guzzle down a load. I felt a lot better! I also felt a lot better knowing I had about 1.5 miles of running on my own, which meant I could slow down if I wanted to. Surprisingly though I kept the pace up. Though when I was finished I really was finished.The rest of the day was like a sleepwalk. I was tired, lethargic and just hazy. I made sure to drink lots of water (with electrolytes) and eat good solid meals but I went to bed that night drained.

(I didn’t forget Mother’s Day. I’m taking my mum to London in April for lunch at Jamie’s Fifteen. She spent the day with my sister seeing Beauty and the Beast. I was grateful to have the day to myself if I’m honest – I know, terrible daughter – because I was just so tired. I wouldn’t have been great company!)

So a good weekend which left me exhausted!

How do you recover after a hard long run?

What’s the most interesting parkrun course you’ve done?

What’s your favourite Ben and Jerry’s flavour?

IAAF Cardiff Half Marathon 2016

Cardiff has such a special place for me in my heart because of the three years I spent there at university. I met some of my best friends there and we have such good memories of our time (amongst the ridiculous hard work and stress, of course). So running a half marathon there just made sense to me. I was never a runner at uni so it was strange going back for a race.

So carrying on from my last post…

The wind was picking up and the rain was just starting as I clustered together in the starting pens with my running club buddies (though some had gone to the super speedy pens – sub 1:30!). I’d lost Matt after seeing my running club and it was difficult to spot anyone when we were all wearing our ridiculous white ponchos (ridiculous perhaps, but definitely grateful for!)

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As we stood waiting we heard the male elites announced (big cheer for Mo Farah of course) and after each name huge bursts of fire were sent up next to the castle. For those brief seconds we were warmed by the flames. I had a moment of panic when I realised I needed a wee…but thought “just hold it”.IMG_9523

We jostled about (took a selfie, of course) and then finally we were off! The wind was against us from the start but I didn’t feel it too much. I found a comfortable pace and decided to keep that feeling of effort, regardless of what my watch told me.

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I’d separated from my running club buddies but was happy to run at my own pace. I had a brief moment of “damn I wish I had music or something” as I soon found myself a little bored and demotivated. I had a weird moment where I suddenly felt a bit tired and “can I do this?”. I have no idea what came over me but I just felt a bit mentally exhausted, without that actually translating to my body. I gave myself a shake and got on with it though.

image(Photo credit: http://www.cardiff2016.co.uk/)

We began running through an area of Cardiff I’d never been before (out of my student bubble I suppose) and it reminded me so much of the Reading Half Marathon. There were residential areas and also industrial bits that just reminded me of the monotony of the Reading course, and the fact that there were always people around me as the entry size was about the same. And similar to Reading, despite the weather, there were a good number of supporters all along the course shouting and cheering. It had a great atmosphere. But every single loo I saw made me want the loo more but I couldn’t bare to stop and faff about.

Before the race, Matt and me had discussed the course and where we thought the wind would be the worst and both agreed it would be around the Bay where there was so much exposure. As I got closer to that area I found the wind was actually behind me, pushing me along. It was amazing! OK it was annoying having my ponytail flap me in my face and it being so gusty but it was great having it behind us. In the back of my mind I kept thinking, when’s it going to turn…

20x30-WHMN2189Going through the Cardiff Bay area and past the Wales Millennium Centre

[I bit the bullet and bought my race photos as they weren’t that bad – plus my mum wants some nice ones for her conservatory…haha]

I let my pace increase as the wind pushed me along (it would be silly not to take advantage!). At around seven miles it suddenly (and I mean suddenly) down-poured. Within seconds everyone was drenched. I was actually a bit worried about my contact lenses! I remember hearing people around me swearing and then this Welsh guy goes “come on guys, what did you expect – it’s Wales! This is our summer!” which was funny.

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A couple of times during the race my tummy went funny and I had some regrets about the rather large pre-race breakfast. I definitely did not need any gels during that run!

20x30-WHMH0218I have no idea where this photo was taken!

We headed back towards the city and still I felt the wind on my back. I kept a smile firmly plastered on my face as I found that more people cheered when you looked happy. I was genuinely happy though. The pace wasn’t easy but it wasn’t a sustained effort either. The wind was contributing to some easy and tricky moments but overall I felt it was helping rather than hindering.

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We got to a lovely residential part of Cardiff that has a beautiful park and lake that, as a student, my friends and I used to walk around (Roath Park). I know I keep saying this, but it just felt so weird to be in such a huge race running those same streets again. I saw the coffee shops I’d been in, saw where the Woolworths used to be that we always went to to buy our cheap pick n mix for the cinema (we were that cheap)… it was just great. It kept me entertained. People cheered my name out as I had it on my vest and I just kept smiling.

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Then as we came around the lake the wind hit us in the face. The dream was over and the work was needed to be put in now. I tend to break half marathons into chunks: get to 5 miles, get to 8 miles, get to 10 miles (just a parkrun to go!) and then mile by mile until the end. The last three miles were tough. My legs were tired (mile 10 was actually almost mile 16 after my earlier run) but I kept going. I stuck with a girl who had “Elaine” on her vest and played the game in my head of who got more cheers, Elaine or me. It made me smile more and look at the crowd so I think I won Winking smile Elaine did well though, a worthy contender.

IMG_9585(Photo credit: @Dan_Nash94)

There was a steep incline at Mile 12 which was tough…but generally the course was flat.

Then the best, but hardest part, of the race. Running through the Cathays area. This is literally where I used to live. Despite feeling tired, I couldn’t help but have a huge smile on my face. A guy next to me turned to me and said “that’s not fair! You’re still smiling!”. And then I ran past the road I used to live on and, this will sound ridiculous, but I got a bit emotional. Must have been on those endorphins Winking smile I knew where we were finishing so I knew exactly how far we had to go, because I’d walked that way so many times during university. Past the Lidl I used to shop at, the pub I used to go to, over the bridge (what a bitch at these final stages of the race!) and then past the beautiful university buildings and all those crowds. It was a fantastic way to end the race.

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I finished in 1:42:55 (chip time), 159th in my age/gender category and 2498th overall. For a training run as part of a longer run I’m over the moon with that! 7.47min/mile average is not too shabby!

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I finished the race and headed straight for the bag drop area as it was COLD. I was soaked through and got very cold very quickly. Luckily I bumped into Matt again as he was heading back from the bag drop (he did a very speedy 1:36 dead). Then we walked back to his hotel and where my car was parked. It was a good job I was with him as I wouldn’t have had a clue how to have gotten there again!

We said our goodbyes and I stripped off my wet vest right there in the street (I had a sports bra on it was fiiiine), got a dry layer on and got straight into the car and headed home. I stopped at the first services back in England after the bridge and dashed into the loo. Finally had that wee I needed!! I got a hot coffee and then back on the road again.IMG_9548

My heating was blasted on full, I had a post-race banana and I had my music up. I sang all the way home in a happy buzz of post-race euphoria. Despite the awful weather I got back to my parent’s in under three hours, but it seemed like no time at all. My dad had picked up a takeaway for me so I had that literally as I got in. Showers can wait!

And then I was completely wired for the rest of the night. The coffee, the food, the buzz… I just couldn’t relax. I was tired and my legs ached but I was buzzing. But I had no alarm set the next morning so I wasn’t worried Smile

So a fantastic race. I loved it and fully enjoyed it, despite the wind and rain! And an extra small ladies technical t-shirt that fits!!Cardiff Half Marathon Medal

Have you ever raced in a city that’s special to you?

Do you prefer the wind behind you or no wind at all?

What’s your perfect race start time?

Easter Weekend

And just like that the four day Bank holiday Easter weekend is over… But it was a pretty good one!

I didn’t do that much on Friday as I was driving up to Cardiff to see some friends and also to do the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff on the Saturday (sounds way more exciting than just saying the Cardiff Half Marathon). From Southampton to Cardiff it’s about three hours and as one of my friends and her husband lives there I went and stayed over on the Friday night so it wouldn’t be as stressful getting up there in the morning.

It was really nice to see them and they cooked an amazing chicken chorizo meal that evening (I stole the recipe, a Hairy Biker’s one, and will be recreating!) They even got slices of cake from a bakery as pudding – now that is good hospitality! Winking smile

The next morning I’d planned on getting up and doing the Cardiff parkrun in the morning as the half marathon didn’t actually start until 2.10pm (which I assume is so they could get optimum TV coverage). As I raced my last weekend’s half marathon I wasn’t intending on racing this one and wanted to try and get to around 18 miles for the day, though it would obviously be a bit disjointed as parkrun starts at 9am.

I went to Cardiff University so it was such a blast from the past to be back again. Though I have obviously been back since, just not for a while and usually just to visit my friends who live in the suburbs. I love the city and have such great memories so this was one of the main reasons I wanted to do the race (and the parkrun).

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The parkrun is right next to a huge Tesco so they’d advised parking there, which was very handy as I knew exactly where that was. I got there just before 8.30am. I was meeting up with my friend, Matt (a good running friend who went to the MT running camp weekend). A few of my running club were doing the Half but most of them wouldn’t be up until later and Matt was happy to run a couple of miles before parkrun with me to get my mileage up.

One half of a running club couple, Mark, who had also stayed in Cardiff on the Friday night joined as well and ran down from the hotel (another marathoner in training) so it was nice to catch him too there.

IMG_9497Matt, Mark and me resplendent in red!

Matt and me ran 2.5 miles nice and easily and quite close to the parkrun starting time so there wasn’t much of a gap. The parkrun course was super flat and followed the Taf Trail. It was such a walk (or run!) down memory lane as I used to live in the student flats literally five minutes away and we’d often come down to the park. I wasn’t a runner back then so it was quite surreal.

Cardiff parkrun

I ran with Mark and we both decided to keep it easy… though this didn’t exactly work out that way as we were both enjoying the flatness and also both being too polite to the other person to slow down in case the other person didn’t want to.

IMG_9583(Photo credit: Danothy Bennett)

So in the end we went faster than we’d intended and tried not to worry what that would mean for the half later on!

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The above splits include the 2.5 miles at the start (obviously). My parkrun time was 22:59. I’m really chuffed with the royal flush negative split for the entire run – not too shabby! (Though it was entirely unplanned).

Mark ran back to his hotel (hardcore), and Matt graciously invited me back to his hotel (wahay! Joke) so I could freshen up and get changed before the next run. I packed so much kit as I wasn’t sure what the weather would be like. I really didn’t want it to rain at parkrun and then for me to be soaked for the rest of the day. Luckily parkrun was lovely and pleasant and rain-free. I sensibly brought some warm trousers and a good coat to put on over my shorts and vest this time. We now had a long time to kill before 2.10pm!

After changing we walked into the centre of town (so handy for me to leave me car outside his hotel as it meant I could avoid ridiculously expensive car parks and could get home quickly at the end without getting stuck in traffic coming out – thanks Matt!).

The city was buzzing with excitement for the upcoming race. Runners were walking round everywhere, brandishing coffees and bananas looking at maps and carrying their race packs.Cardiff Half Marathon

The sky was looking more and more ominous as the time ticked by. There had been weather warnings for Wales and the chance of rain was now almost guaranteed.

To fuel up, keep warm and pass the time, Matt and me headed to a Welsh cafe for breakfast, though really brunch at this point. My friends the night before had recommended this place to me the evening before saying they did great breakfasts and it was just slightly off the beaten trail down one of the boutiquey alleyways.

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It was called Garlands Eatery and it was a lovely quaint cafe with beautiful, random decor (lots of old pictures all over the walls). We both saw the ‘Full Meaty’ English breakfast (Welsh breakfast I suppose!) and ordered that with some coffee and some added black pudding for me – I love the stuff!IMG_9509

It was about 10.30-11ish by the time we were eating and I thought this was pretty safe for such a big meal before a race. I’m too greedy to resist a Full English and it was a training run (these were the arguments I told myself as I tucked into that epic meal). It was, as you can imagine, delicious.

To pass some more time we had another coffee and just chilled out chatting. Then we left for a wander around and to help digestion!

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We checked out the bag drop area and race centre which was packed already full of people and good atmosphere. Matt then indulged me by walking with me to my old psychology building where I used to go to lectures etc. Compared to the beautiful Hogwarts-style university building nearby, the psychology building is so ugly!IMG_9514

A 12-floor tower block of ugliness. But it brought back good memories nonetheless. At just after 1pm we headed to the bag drop again as the race drew closer. The race pack came with ponchos so we quickly put those on after de-robing. It was windy and chilly but nothing as bad as I’d felt in Weymouth the week before. The rain was just about holding off…for now.

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This obviously required a poncho selfie Winking smile I then met up with my running club mates who were equally attired in the latest look.

IMG_9562Hedge End Running Club (Photo credit: Andy Cockerell)

I’ll recap the race in full in another post as this will be far too long otherwise.

So skipping instead to Sunday… I had a terrible night sleep on the Saturday. I think the combination of the later than normal race, a Costa coffee late afternoon on the journey home, aching legs from a big mileage day and just general excitement and buzzy-ness from a good day meant I was a bit wired. I didn’t fall asleep until about 1am, and then woke up around 7am (though because of the clock changes it was actually 8am now). I was at my parent’s house so I did have the absolute bliss of laying in bed and watching stuff on my iPad for a couple of hours  as Alfie could just go out in their back-garden with the other dogs so I had no reason to have to get up straight away.

I also had no long run as I’d done it the day before! I did want to have a 3 mile recovery run though to shake my legs out as they felt pretty terrible (especially after the three hour car journey home). I was a bit dubious to go for a run after such a hard day the day before but in the end it was the best thing I could have done.

The weather was sunny and the temperature cool, though it was still so gusty. Surprisingly my legs felt OK. I thought they’d be niggling and heavy but they felt good. I just ran comfortably and went with it, listening to the radio (Radio 1 had a requests show all weekend so there were some great and random songs being planned, not just the top 40). Then at around two miles it suddenly went really dark and the heavens opened up. A ridiculous amount of rain and hail descended upon me and I was literally drenched. This sped me up somewhat as I ran back to the warm and dry. My dad found it hilarious when he opened the door for me.

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But I’m glad I got it done as my legs felt a lot better afterwards. I’ve never really been fully on-board with recovery runs as I always fear the pounding will only make things worse for me and my injury prone body…but actually it worked nicely.

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A hot shower felt so good after that run!! After breakfast my parents gave me my Easter egg. I realise this makes me sound about 12 with that sentence but I’m doing my parents a favour in a few weeks and I jokingly said they could repay me with an expensive Easter egg… They thought it a great idea and who am I to disagree?? Especially when it’s a Hotel Chocolat THICK chocolate egg (£25!).

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It’s a ridiculously thick egg (as you bloody well should expect for that price!). One half of the egg is packed full of cookie and puff rice pieces and the other half with caramel pieces. Inside the egg it’s full of different chocolates. Best. Egg. Ever.

The rest of the Easter break was full of a) lots more food with my family and enjoying some film-time and walks, b) lots more chocolate, and c) lots of chilling out and a bit of shopping! I did manage to get the gym on the Monday but it was heaving with people. Not a fun experience! Clarifying why I prefer to go so ridiculously early normally! Everyone clearly had some calories to burn Winking smile

What did you do over the Easter weekend?

Did you get any Easter eggs?

Thoughts on recovery runs?