The Ironbridge Half Marathon

After managing to get a last minute place at the Ironbridge Half Marathon, James and I headed to Telford on Sunday (I was up in Birmingham after a work conference hanging out with James). A huge thanks to the Telford Harriers for allowing us to sneak in last minute and the faff that was involved in getting us bibs!

The plan was to get six miles in before the race and then with the race that would give me 19 miles. Great marathon training. However after parking, having a quick we in the nearby shopping centre and finding the registration area in the Telford Country Park we decided to do a shorter one before and then another after as we were worried about time. We picked our bibs up, dropped our stuff back at the car and then headed off for a very gentle 3.6 mile run. James is really good at keeping me slow and focused. I’m just rubbish when it comes to this sort of stuff and he’s a very patient person to my general Anna’isms and idiotic running tendencies. 
Annoyingly the race was delayed by 15 minutes so we could have done the whole six miles but such is life, can’t be helped! Anyway we lined up and got ready. For once I had some awareness of the course and the elevation profile and knew the first five miles would be downhill. And then it would be a mix of sharp inclines over a general incline. Nice
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As I started my pace was around 7.45-50min/miles. It didn’t feel that easy if I’m honest and made me wonder if I’d ever be able to run a marathon one day at that speed! One day…one day. I guess my speedy parkrun the day before didn’t help matters. Anyway I did eventually find my rhythm. I think this is why I’m more a long distance runner than a sprinter. Takes me time to get into the zone.The course was really pretty (these northern places eh). We were running along compacted dirt and a nice straight track down to the River Severn. I zoned out a bit and relaxed into it, knowing I should enjoy these miles now before it got harder later.

The fifth mile was so downhill it was amazing. Like literally flying down the road. We ran past the Blist Hill Victorian Village museum which I’ve been to as a child and made me smile as I flew past it. Good memories 🙂We hit the river and ran alongside it for a bit. I was just waiting and waiting for the up hills to begin. I was listening to a podcast but decided to switch to a bit of Taylor Swift – very easy listening and I could dip in and out as I liked. Plus I couldn’t be bothered to faff about on my phone while running to try and find anything better, Swifty would have to do.Sadly the actual Iron Bridge was under construction so we couldn’t actually see it as we crossed over because it was all covered up. But this took nothing away from the beautiful surroundings, the quaint little village of Ironbridge with the lovely shops and cafes. The buildings were really pretty, like old school English village style. And there were so many supporters out in force clapping and cheering. It was fantastic!Funnily enough there were so many bridges in this race. You ran over a couple but mainly ran underneath so many. It was just such a beautiful area to run around. But yes, after running through the main Ironbridge area we hit The Hill. My god that hill. It was horrific. Not only was it ridiculously steep but it went on FOREVER. I remember passing a supporter and the guy next to me asked him if we were nearly at the top and the supporter was like “ermm a tiny bit more” but so clearly trying to be nice because it went on for fricking ages! It wasn’t steep enough for me to consider walking instead of running but it was a thigh burner I assure you.

After that hill there were a few more inclines but really it wasn’t too bad. I felt really in the zone now and was happily clipping along. We hit some off-roady areas and I spent some time sliding around in the mud but I managed to overtake people as I went and had no one overtake me. The dreeeeeam. One older chap cheered me on as I passed him saying “well, yes, you go go go, girl!” which made me smile.Then we hit back into the same path we originally started on. Meaning a long incline back to the start area/finish. 

I felt a second wind and managed to out the gas on a bit. In the distance I saw James jogging towards me (having finished a lot earlier). As he reached me he turned and ran back with me giving me words of encouragement. I couldn’t quite hear him because of my music (and I just had no energy to turn it off) but it was nice to have him there pushing me along, even if I did want to hurl. He left me at the final turn up the hill (ehhhhh) to the end and I finished what felt like a strong sprint (in reality, a very small increase in pace ha). My time was 1:40:19. And the announcer attempted to announce my finish but royally guffed it up as everyone seems to do: “And here’s Anna <pause> erm Smith <pause> Smith Jones? No wait hang on… <pause> ah Anna Smith-James!” The thought was there I guess.The goody bag was awesome. A proper sturdy bag with a zip compartment at the bottom for trainers! And the medal, a water, a Mars Bar and a technical t-shirt. Happy days!
James met me at the finish. He’d smashed his PB by like three minutes – 1:23:56. Yeah. Rapid. He’d already done his extra miles by running to me so I headed off to do mine while he grabbed a Costa. My legs felt a bit like jelly to begin with but loosened up and I basically did a very similar run to the first one.
I listened to a podcast and trucked along, probably too fast (no James to rein me in) and managed 3.3 miles, bringing my total for the day to just over 20 miles! I am beyond pleased. And EVERYTHING FELT OK. So so pleased.

I met back up with James and we headed to a dessert place we’d clocked before the race where we picked up a unicorn cake for me…Yeah I have no idea but it looked cool with all its colours, Ferraro Rocher cake for James and corresponding gelatos (that’s how the cakes came) and with two scoops of our own chosen gelatos because we’re both greedy hectors.I went for white chocolate and red velvet while James just had red velvet. I mean, whaaaat. It was so so good. Except my unicorn gelato was not. Not my thing at all – it tasted like overly sweet bubblegum. Nope nope nope.

So a very solid few days of running and eating. Just the way I like it!

What makes a good course for you in a race?

Do you prefer to add miles on before or after if you’re extending a race?

What is your gelato flavour of choice?

The consequences of being too greedy… ice cream and running don’t mix

The weekend after a marathon you want to basically do nothing. And well, that’s pretty much what I did! Well, sort of.

On Friday night a bunch of my running friends and I went to a very lovely Chinese in Southampton (actually my friend Mike’s stepmum’s) called Shanghai Bay. Now I’m actually not a big Chinese food fan. I’m more an Indian fan, but Mike assured me that this was not your everyday British Chinese restaurant. It was where the local Chinese community come to eat. When you see 90% of the customers are Chinese you know it’s going to be authentic and tasty!As none of us really knew what to order, Mike suggested he just get a selection of bits and pieces to share between us (cue Anna mini panic on sharing food. Needn’t have worried! So much food!). There was a large turning bit in the middle of the table so we could rotate the different plates round which was great for the sharing situation. We started with a platter of ribs, sesame prawn toast, spring rolls, crispy seaweed and peanut chicken skewers.Very tasty indeed. And obviously I loved the ribs. Then following this we had crispy duck pancakes followed by mountains of main courses… sweet and sour, black bean beef and another one (a pork dish, no idea what it was but it was delicious). Oh god, so much food… We barely made a dent! The above photo isn’t when all the dishes are out… I got too distracted eating to take better photos! So yes, we were quite full afterwards. It was also highly amusing seeing some of the “older” generation using Snap Chat filters for the first time. I don’t use Snap Chat either so it was quite an education for all of us!Then after those fun and games we all headed to the nearby Sprinkles Gelato for a bit of pudding… even though we were all feeling quite full. But as we know, there is a separate stomach for pudding.I ordered the Sticky Situation, which I’ve had before… basically a dessert in a jar. It was vanilla gelato with cookie dough, white and regular chocolate sauce, chocolate buttons, real cream (not the cheap squirty stuff). But yeah, it was FILLING. Mike and Kate ordered the peanut butter version of it and they struggled towards the end too… I guess a crepe, waffle or a smaller sundae might have been a more sensible choice (as the others had gone for) but that’s not how I roll!
I was SO full (as you imagine). It was delicious though. We all stumbled out of Sprinkles feeling very much in a sugar coma. I went to bed that night not feeling my best!

And unsurprisingly I woke up not feeling my best. But I headed to Southsea to meet my marathon buddy, Joe, his friend Matt and Matt’s dad for the Southsea parkrun. I parked about a mile away (near The Tenth Hole, where we’d be going for a post-run trip after) and jogged down. A handy little warm-up – which I never usually do before parkrun.The temperature and weather were fantastic. It was lovely and warm and the breeze was fair minimal. The perfect time for a trip to Southsea parkrun!
Joe was planning on testing his marathon legs and I was just planning on surviving. My legs had felt fairly good post-marathon but I wasn’t expecting or really intending on attempting anything too fast or crazy.

We started far too far back. Joe should have been far more forward (being the sub 18min 5k’er he is!) so the first 100m or so I was dodging and weaving between people. Joe and Matt zoomed off and I just tried to get my legs going. Surprisingly things seemed to go OK as I got faster and faster. Southsea parkrun course is quite dull in that it’s a flat 1.5 mile run along the prom and then a turnaround and 1.5 mile run back. But it’s a quick one if that’s what you’re looking for. I managed to get my legs to go faster and overtook a number of people. My legs felt fine and my lungs felt fine… but my stomach was NOT happy. I felt incredibly sick. In fact, I was genuinely concerned I would BE sick. And the smell from the cafes nearby made things so much worse.

As we turned around and headed back I tried to maintain my pace (now with a very slight headwind, but you can always feel these things when you’re trying to run fast) and I remember several guys effortlessly gliding past me (or so it seemed). There was a very young lad sailing along just ahead of me and I tried to hold on to his pace. I did wonder where his “responsible” adult was though as he was very much under 11 and running solo. But that did help distract me from the sicky feeling to consider what you’d do if you had a very young child who could outrun you so much but wanted to join you at parkrun. You’d have to find someone just as speedy that he could run with I guess. Running parent problems!My official time was 21:44 which I was really pleased with. I was more pleased that I wasn’t actually sick. Though after finishing I had to take myself off to a nearby bush and breathe deeply for a good few minutes before I was in the clear. I wasn’t sick but good god I was close. Lessons have been learnt.Joe didn’t do as well as he’d hoped (19.30ish…so slow! ;-)) and Matt got a PB. Matt’s dad did very well as well and we all agreed our previous night nutrition (the boys had had chips and beer) hadn’t been stellar so our performance wasn’t too shabby all things considered!And then Matt and his dad headed off while Joe and I headed to The Tenth Hole for a post-run coffee. We had originally intended on having cake or breakfast but the reality was I felt so sick even the smell of food was turning my stomach. So we settled instead on a coffee and ordered cake to take-away.I knew future Anna would regret not getting cake! I also got three little cake’s for my parents (they come as a trio of cake selection). This way they’d still get cake but it would fit into their Slimming World diet being smaller cakes. I chose a s’mores Rolo brownie and a peanut butter caramel cake (sweet ‘n’ salty – there was more popcorn on top but I nibbled at it).They’ve gone into the freezer to stock-up my cake supply. I honestly couldn’t have had stomached them. Who even am I! In fact, I didn’t actually eat “breakfast” until 1.30pm as I really just didn’t feel right. That will certainly teach me and my greedy self. The coffee was lovely and it was nice to catch-up with Joe again post marathon. Then I headed to Asda to do some food shopping (best time when you really don’t want to be around food…) and had a very lazy day not doing much else.

The next morning, after a deliciously long lie-in, I intended on heading out for about 8-10 miles. I felt so unmotivated and, weirdly, still tired. I just really didn’t fancy going. I took Alfie for a walk to get my head in the game and decided instead to head out for three miles and see how I felt. Well I headed out and within the first 30 seconds I was already feeling like I wanted to go back. But I thought the first mile is always the worst so give it more time. Nope, two miles in and I was already wanting to be home. Everything felt fine, no niggles or anything like that, but nothing felt right, if you know what I mean. I just felt very lethargic and not enjoying the run so I headed home. When I finished I just felt even more tired and not right. I wondered if I was coming down with something…

After getting showered and sorted my mum suggested a nice walk along the Lee-On-Solent prom and then a coffee. Well that sounded lovely. Sometimes you just need to spend some quality time with your mum!We had a nice coffee and chatted away before heading back down the prom to the car. Exactly what I needed! I’m glad I hadn’t tried to push my run earlier as I really didn’t fancy it and I’m not actually training for anything right now (more on that in another post). So for now I can have those days when I don’t fancy running and not run. Lovely. I might have also picked up a slice of coconut vanilla cake and a chocolate beetroot cake to join my other cake friends in the freezer… 😉

The rest of the day was spent chilling and catching up on life admin and Graham Norton. Some days you just need to chill. I still wasn’t feeling entirely well so the relaxing and care-free day did wonders. Especially as the coming weekends I’m going to be busy again!

How do you relax?

Do you ever spend one-on-one time with your mum? What do you like doing together?

Have you ever felt/been sick on a run?

Eye update and Halloween adventures

So my eyes are five days out from having had LASIK laser eye surgery.

They’re feeling pretty damn good I have to say. My vision is clear and I can see perfectly. The only thing I’m noticing is a bit of dry eyes, which is normal and probably exacerbated by having to stare at a computer screen for eight hours a day. I also still have very bloodshot eyes.

I take three different types of drops four times a day (5-10 mins apart) which is annoying to remember but I have an alarm set on my phone (always funny when you forget about that and leave the office to go to the loo and get back and everyone is staring at you as your phone has been going off for the past five mins…).

I managed to solve the hair washing conundrum as well. As I’m not allowed to get my eyes wet at all, washing my long hair is a bit of an issue. I’ve been using goggles for non-hair washing days but really my hair can only last three days before it really needs a wash. There’s only so much dry shampoo can do when you go to the gym as often as I do.

Instead of goggles (as that would have been impossible) I decided to use my eye guards that I have to wear at night. I attached them to my face using the special medical tape and jumped in the shower. I was very careful to not fully submerge my head as the guards aren’t that secure and have holes in them for ventilation but it protected them enough for me to get the job done. Whew!

Also, wearing sun glasses outside has been somewhat embarrassing when it’s not sunny at all and rather overcast. I look like I’m avoiding the paparazzi and am about to screech, “no photos!” at any moment. And it’s very tricky walking Alfie in sun glasses in the evening when it’s pitch black. But only a few days left to endure this – and it’s fully worth it.

It still stands that the worst day post-surgery was the few hours after surgery. I never did fully recap that evening…It was Halloween weekend and I’d planned on going out with my friends for some pub crawling adventures and as I originally thought the surgery was Friday I thought I would be fine to go Saturday night. But as my surgery was actually Saturday this did make me wonder if going out was a good idea…

But I wanted to go. I’m trying to be more of a “yes person” rather than the more comfortable hermit I’m inclined to be. Plus I hadn’t gone out drinking for months. It’s not something I fully enjoy doing, but once in a while it is good fun (and enough to remind me why I don’t do it more often). Plus I love fancy dress.halloween-witchI was going for witch fancy dress… It was such an easy costume. All I did was buy some cheap striped tights from Amazon and then spruced up a black dress I already had with a black sparkly tutu I found in the children’s section in Sainsbury’s (elasticated waists for the win – and only £11!).img_6067I had some black sparkly heels (not too high thankfully) and then added a black belt and boom! Done.

The night out was fun. My friends all dressed up too and we did a pub crawl along Albert Road in Southsea. It was all going well (a few cheeky shots here, a few G&Ts there) until we got into a place called The Wedgwood Rooms, which is a club/live music place. It’s a bit more of an indie/rock scene which I don’t mind but what I did mind was that we were the oldest people in there by quite a few years. The average age must have been 20. Nothing makes you feel old than being in a university drinking scene. Also, annoyingly, it was very smoky in the room with the aggressive use of a smoke machine. This was really not good for my eyes. I avoided the main room where the smoke machines were and hung out in the bar. My eyes were not feeling great in this place and I was starting to feel nervous. A couple of my friends who hadn’t just got drinks decided to move on with me to the next pub instead and we’d meet the other guys there when they finished.

My friend casually mentioned that a Scoops Gelato place was nearby and this peaked a bit of interest. Oh reeaally?? Important question: Would they still be open?  It was half 11 and amazingly they closed at midnight. We ditched the pub and hightailed it to Scoops as fast as we could and got there with 10 minutes to spare. Sadly the were only offering ice cream and not the waffles and pancakes on the menu (obviously as they were just about to shut shop) but this was good enough for us.img_6213I chose white chocolate Oreo (I’m so into white chocolate at the moment) and mint Oreo. A stellar selection if I do say so myself. As we headed back to meet the others at the next pub while munching happily away at our ice creams we agreed that we kind of felt a bit old for this “going out” business now. We much prefer house gatherings with hot beverages, snacks and movies. The rest of the evening was good but my drinking enthusiasm had now diminished and my bed was calling me…

It was a fun night and quite handy that it was Halloween as my bloodshot eyes and weird sunglasses-wearing tendencies fitted nicely in with all the other people in fancy dress. Fortuitous you might say!

How did you spend Halloween?

Do you like fancy dress?

What’s your ideal evening with friends? Mine probably involves getting food and then going back to someone’s house and chilling out there.

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?