Ipswich parkrun – one letter left!

Another recap from a couple of weeks ago…Continuing my parkrun Alphabet Challenge. The letter ‘I’ was always going to be a tricky one for me.

Inverness parkrun would have been a nice option and my initial idea was that I could do the Loch Ness Marathon in September and do the parkrun the day before. However, that weekend my parents need me to dog sit as they’re on holiday. So that scuppered that plan.

Happily though I have friends in Ipswich and I reached out to Ade and Bex (who I’d met on a Marathon Talk run camp and have been friends with since) and asked if they’d be about so I could catch-up and have some brunch after with them. Bex was super lovely and offered to have me stay on Friday night. This was so helpful considering it’s around 4 hours from Southampton to Ipswich. I didn’t really fancy a 4am leave time on Saturday morning.

I took Friday off as I thought driving to Ipswich straight from work Friday evening would probably be pretty gnarly with traffic. So it meant a nice little lie-in Friday morning, a quick gym visit (always nice before you sit in a car for hours), lunch and then I was on the road by 12.

Ideally I wanted to have left by 11am but I’m always late so 12 wasn’t too bad. What was bad was the then 5.5 hour journey that I endured to get to Ipswich. Oh the M25 is just a joy isn’t it? I also managed to plan a very badly timed service stop at South Mimms which proved to be a nightmare leaving the motorway for and then joining the motorway after. But it was an absolute necessity considering that I was absolutely bursting for a wee. My water bottle was getting dangerously tempting let’s put it that way!

I’d planned to meet Ade and Bex at Pizza Express in the middle of Ipswich as Bex had the Twilight 10k that evening and it seemed like an ideal early dinner location to meet-up. I could also then support her at her race. Unfortunately, being the idiot that I am, when I got back onto the motorway from the services I had unknowingly put Bex’s address into my SatNav rather than the car park near Pizza Express. So instead of arriving there I ended up outside her house… I therefore missed dinner at Pizza Express (I urged them to carry on as I was now going to be later and I didn’t want her eating too late to her race). I managed to get into Ipswich, buy myself a Subway and then meet them just before her race. Ah well! As Anna’isms go, it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen.I enjoyed watching Bex’s race. She did really well, though missed her PB that she was aiming for as it was quite humid. It was a two lapped flat course going through the centre of Ipswich. Ade and I stood and cheered outside a bar enjoying the fact that we weren’t running (I hate 10ks). The lead guy was miles ahead of everyone else and finished in an impressive 30:xx time. I mean whaaaat.The next morning we headed out to Ipswich parkrun. It was a very warm morning and I knew that the course wasn’t a flat one so I decided to just see how it went. To be honest, I’m not in my best shape having let the speedwork decline a bit for a while to give myself some time off intense training before my New York marathon training ramps up. My calves have intermittently been a bit tight as well so I’m trying not to aggravate them into a full-blown niggle.Ade was timekeeping as he had suffered a probable calf strain earlier in the week, so it was just Bex and I. As we got started from the cricket pitch I felt my legs responding and finding myself sitting nicely at 7min/mile pace. It was mostly on grass but easy underfoot.It was an undulating course but not hilly, and a one lapper which is always novel, with lots of windy turns. We also ran past Chantry mansion which was a very beautiful and old-style building.

(Photos from Facebook)

I kept pushing the pace and as I ran past a marshal they told me I was first female. I didn’t think I was but after a couple more said the same I decided to believe it. I wasn’t running full-out though so this was a nice surprise. There is a nasty hill towards the end which I pushed up and then it was back round the cricket pitch to the finish. I finished in 22:03 and in 18th position (1st female) which I was quite surprised about. I think there were a lot less runners though due to the 10k race the night before. Bex did well considered she ran the race!
The parkrun was lovely and friendly and offered teas, coffees and cake in the pavilion house for a small donation. I love this! They didn’t have a cafe nearby so this was perfect for keeping the community feel going. I also got to meet the lady behind the Twitter handle which was quite amusing as she’d commented on one of my Tweets not long before the start of the parkrun.

Afterwards we headed for a ‘parkrun fresh’ breakfast in the Suffolk Water Park, a proper greasy spoon affair. We sat on the benches outside overlooking the fishing lake and it was very peaceful. I went for a full English (of course) and swapped the fried potatoes for black pudding #winningIt was very tasty!

After showering I parted ways and began my next part of the weekend, driving to Hatfield to see more Marathon Talk friends, Chris and Kate, who were also lovely enough to let me stay at theirs that evening. Kate works for the National Trust and it was an event she was organising, single-handedly I hasten to add. What a superwoman, eh?

I got to Kate’s and then we headed out to Hatfield Forest to get cracking on setting up some last minute event bits, such as the goodie bags and the course signs.They got an assembly line of volunteers together to fill the bags with a banana, a KIND bar, leaflets, medal and water. It was cool to see the behind the scenes stuff.
Chris, the ranger Ben and I headed out to the course (the forest itself) to set the signs up for the race. We packed the Jurassic Park jeep (my name for the little off-roader car) with all the signs we’d need (“Keep left”, “mile X”, “Water ahead”, etc.). It was a hotAt first this was good fun. The off-road vehicle was so much fun to be driven around in. It just cruised along nicely over the uneven surface and the (albeit warm) breeze in our faces was nice as we got to the first point we needed to mark out with signs. It was nice as well for Ben to be with us as he gave us inside scoops of the area (where Roman roads used to be, where a plane crashed…).

We were using the course map with Kate’s annotations of where and what signs should be used. The course was a two lapper so at least that meant we didn’t need to travel 13.1 miles about the place but it still took a very long time. The fun soon wore off. We were all hot, tired and a bit frustrated.

Eventually Kate rang and suggested I come back with her and her kids while Ben and Chris continued. I was the only one running the race the next day and probably needed to come back and eat something for dinner. Ben and Chris were absolute troopers though finishing it off (it took until well after 8pm!).

Kate and I ordered some Domino’s Pizza for want of a better idea. We were all too exhausted to go out anywhere and that seemed the perfect option. I went for a medium Meteor pizza with mozzarella meatballs as a side and, as always, am ever surprised by my seemingly insatiable appetite. I rarely ever order takeaway pizzas (Indian being my takeaway of choice) buy I polished it off quite easily. But it was a solid (wellll, fairly solid) pre-half marathon meal choice and I went to bed feeling well fueled and with a very good idea of what the course would entail in the next day’s race!

I’ll recap the race in another post!

Have you ever set up a race course? I’ve done parkrun many times but this was another level!

Have you ever had a takeaway pizza as a pre-race meal?

How far would you drive for a parkrun?

The South Coast Half Marathon

Otherwise known as the race I forgot my trainers for… Yes this did actually happen. How, after so many years of running, can I manage such a feat? Hmm, well if you’ve been reading here for long you probably realise this is just another normal day in Anna La La Land.

I’d signed up this half marathon fairly late. It was going to be Kyle’s first half marathon and having pretty much gotten him into running I was keen to see how he’d do. Plus I hadn’t done a race in quite a while (I think the last one was the Jersey Half?). I wasn’t going to be racing it but it’s always nice to do a race once in a while – a catered long run if you will.

Unfortunately this race was in Seaford, which is past Brighton. So about two hours from me. As the race started at 9am this meant for a very early morning. The plan was to leave the house at 6.30am. As I had two hours in the car I didn’t stress about putting my compression socks and trainers on just yet and just threw on a pair of flip flops instead. Then we went on our merry way.

As we got to Chichester (about 40 minutes into our journey) I realised I hadn’t actually picked up my trainers. WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. HELL. Who does this?? When I tentatively dropped this bombshell to my parents they first reacted as all normal people would, “are you joking?” before sighing and turning the car around to go home again. They’re very chilled individuals and having known me for 30 years they’re aware of my significant flaws in intelligence. So there’s no point getting angry or stressing out. We did have to work out how likely it was that we could drive home and back again and still make the race. Regardless, I would be going to the race to support Kyle as I said I would but I was hoping I would actually get to run as well!

It was very sweaty bottoms I tell you. I had to do a mad dash into the house to grab my trainers and then mad dash back out again. Our ETA for the race was floating around 8.55-9am. This was going to be close. I decided that I would start the race up to 10 minutes late. It was chip timed so realistically it wouldn’t matter but it would be stressful – and would the organisers even allow this?

I text Kyle telling him the situation (he wasn’t entirely surprised, also used to my Anna’isms) and he said he’d grab my bib for me to save me time. As he arrived before me he gave me a good idea of the car park and how far it was from the start (not far at all). I arrived at 8.55am, my parents dropping me off next to the race area while they parked. I spotted Kyle and we both joined the portable loo queue, which wasn’t that long, and I put my bib on. WHEW. What a relief eh!

The realisation hit me that I’d have to run 13.1 miles in a second. Okaaaay. The weather was horrendous. It was SO windy and chucking it down with rain. I felt somewhat of a relief that I hadn’t had to stand in it for that long before I ran! But also sorry for Kyle and his family who did have to stand in it for a period of time.The course was right next to the sea and ran 2.5k up the prom and then 2.5k back. Four times. There was no shelter from the sea, wind or rain. It was going to be a fairly tough-going first half for Kyle! Relentless, Biblical weather. Right then, let’s go.As soon as we started I realised the wind was right behind us. This was a nice start of course because it felt like we were being gently pushed along. This was a bit dangerous though as it led us into a false sense of security and the danger of running too fast. Kyle and I were running together and I was so glad because this was going to be a tough one.With long stretches of flat, miserably wet concrete ahead of us and wind slapping us around, we tried to keep positive and not let the conditions bring us down. 2.5k went very quickly and we were soon turning around to head back again. Straight away the wind was in our faces. Now the real effort would begin. Spray from the sea was battering against us like mini knives on our faces and we could barely talk to each other because of the noise. We decided any conversation would need to happen in the other direction! I’ve never had issues with ears during a race, but the wind blowing straight into it was a nightmare.What was good about this course though was that for spectators it was brilliant. OK not in the terrible weather that day but in general. They would see us a number of times. Kyle’s family had come down to watch, as had both my parents. My mum doesn’t usually come to races as she doesn’t like to leave the dogs alone for long stretches at the weekend but my dad hadn’t been feeling great so she came to join. With all the rain and wind, I’m sure she wished she was back at home though 😉Kyle’s family did a fantastic job of taking lots of photos and everyone cheered us on, which was just lovely. Definitely the kind of support we needed that day!The second lap was uneventful but still consistently wet and windy. I said to Kyle that the third lap would be the worst because it would be in the thick of the miles but not close enough to see the end in sight. He was doing really well. He’s a strong runner and this was a tough day. We’d originally worried about it being too hot. We weren’t prepared for this! The triathlon that was supposed to be happening as well had to be cancelled due to the conditions too.Each lap we saw our respective supporters and that boosted us along. We made sure to heartily thank the marshals as well. They were absolute heroes standing in ponchos getting absolutely blown away. We were, to some degree, fine running and staying warm, but any supporters and marshals had to endure the conditions by just standing there. I honestly think that’s worse.My hair was getting seriously thrown around the place during this race. It was quite the hindrance to have a pony tail continually slap you in the face I tell you! Though we didn’t really need that much water during the race, when we did get a cup it was so hard to actually drink because the water would just fly out of it.

On the final lap away from the finish (so this is about 10 miles in) we were mentally preparing ourselves for the last 2.5k against the wind. As we turned back around for the finial time, the grind was fully on. Heads down, no talking, just pushing on. I led just slightly and hoped this would pull Kyle along. The final bit of a half marathon is no joke, especially when it’s your first one and wind is directly against you.As we came round the corner to get to the finish we heard both sets of family screaming madly at us and we both sprint finished to the end, Kyle just finishing next to me (he always has a great sprint finish). I heard the announcer say our names (“Anna Smith-Jones” *SIGH*) and then we collected our goodie bags and medal.My time was 1:48:05 (Kyle’s was 1:48:07). We were super chuffed. Kyle’s aim had been a sub 2 hour half (though I knew he’d do better. I thought, without the wind, he should be aiming for 1:45-46ish). Apparently I was third female as well which was quite cool. I got an extra goodie bag and a little trophy. A huge thank you to both sets of supporters (and the marshals of course) because honestly the weather was TERRIBLE and though we had to run in it, they had to stand in it which is 100 times worse. They were soaked and wind-swept, but still smiling and congratulating us. What legends.The goodie bag was great. There was a protein bar, High5 goodies and porridge. And in my extra goodie bag I got a 2kg bag of porridge (the race was sponsored b Mornflake) and lots more High5 stuff. Not too shabby at all! The funniest part was getting home and having to cut my hair bobble in order to free and wash my hair. Check out this absolutely ridiculous volume I acquired.A tough but fun half marathon. I’m glad it wasn’t ridiculous hot but it’s a shame we were (literally) held back a bit. And shout out to my mother for dropping my medal on the drive, so we got to watch it roll away down the road haha 😉 We did manage to retrieve it!

What’s the best thing you’ve gotten in a goodie bag?

How do you cope with bad hair after a race?

Jersey Half Marathon

Though my main reason to go to Jersey (other than to have a jolly with my mate, Mike) was to get my ‘J’ parkrun for the Alphabet Challenge, the timing of the trip was chosen due to the fact that there was also the Jersey Half Marathon.

We could have flown back Saturday afternoon but neither of Mike or I had been to Jersey so wanted to make the most of going there by also doing the race. We stayed another night in our quaint little guest house and my alarm was set for the rather leisurely time of 7am. I had those packages oats you add hot water to for breakfast and a pot of tea before we left to walk to the bus station to catch our shuttle to the start. We didn’t have to pay as it was all organised by the race.The weather was rather muggy and humid. You could see the moisture in the air. It was nicely overcast though and misty which meant though we wouldn’t get the best views of the seafront that we’d run next to we wouldn’t get the sun beating down on us. Though the humidity was annoying.Nothing like being shuffled together with other runners to make you nervous I can tell you. Everyone talking about PB’s, training runs and injuries. Neither Mike or I were feeling very ready for the race. Mike had had some time off due to illness and his furthest run had been a while ago. I was feeling tired and my calves felt tight and one of them felt niggly. I just wasn’t feeling a fast race at all. Weeks before, on my marathon and 5k PB highs, I’d viewed this race as another possible PB-attempt. I don’t usually have big goal races like this as in general I hate the pressure and quite like to just ‘enjoy’ races. However, rarely have I ever been in such good shape. Or so I thought anyway. After a week of rubbish feeling running, I was now backtracking that goal (standard Anna).After 20 minutes or so we’d arrived at the race start area where there were some proper toilets and a few portable ones. We peed, milled around and then dropped our bag (easier to share one bag) at the bag drop and then headed to the start. There were about 700 runners and as the roads weren’t closed it was a bit chaotic getting everyone across the road, but otherwise it was very organised and easy.I wished Mike good luck and decided to head nearish to the front. I’d decided to just see what happened – but give myself the best shot. Start running, see how the legs felt and go with the flow. If I went fast so be it, if I went fast and then flagged so be it. I had my Aftershokz on lined up with some good tunes. Then we were off!
The first mile was pretty much downhill the entire way. It was fantastic but also terrifying. My watch was saying 6.30min/mile pace – FAR too fast. This is my (good) 5k speed!! But I thought “ah what the hell, it is downhill”. I had two really irritating guys next to me getting far too overexcited, jumping about the place and shouting which I wanted to get away from too. They were flying all over the road and yelling and just being a bit mental.

Several people flew past me – including a number of females. Previously when I was eyeing up this race as a possibility of a fast run I’d checked last year’s results. The first female had got a time of around 1:33. As my PB was 1:34:30 I’d wondered if I could place in the top three. There were prizes for 1st, 2nd, 3rd as well as age categories. But as I saw all these girls fly past me I decided to put that dream to bed, as well as the fact that considering how fast I was going on the FIRST mile I was likely to detonate at mile four.

The problem with downhills is that it feels so easy, so when you eventually get back to the flat or an uphill it feels horrendously hard. Like, yes Anna this is what a 6.45 mile really feels like, you idiot. Mile two continued in a similar vein but I managed to pull myself back a bit, as well as the downhill levelled out a bit. But then suddenly we went sharply uphill as we pushed our way up a windy hill. Ooof that felt awful.

As the roads weren’t closed off there were a number of cars that had to slowly creep by us or wait for us to pass. You had to be savvy and aware of what was going on (Aftershokz hugely help with this, allowing me to hear what’s going on). The marshals were great of course but I can imagine it was tricky at times for them. There weren’t a huge amount of supporters as it was a fairly low key event, but it was nice when you passed a bunch and they cheered.

Around mile three I was feeling a bit low. I  knew I’d gone out too fast and now I was dealing with the aftermath of that. I kept going back and forth in my mind of what I should do for the race. I saw some Jersey cows grazing at the side of the road. I realised I hadn’t taken any photos of them on this trip (Jersey cows are are something Jersey is famous for, with their milk and cream). So I vowed the next lot I saw I’d take my phone out and snap some pictures, and that would take the pressure of the run and I could just have an “enjoy the scenery” run. The scenery was beautiful. It was very rural – lots of greenery, rolling hills and the sea next to us. But it was very misty so didn’t showcase it as could as it could have.

By mile four we were running down a long straight road. I started to cheer up a bit as I found my groove and had mentally taken the umming and arr’ing about how to run the course. I decided to just go with whatever and see what happened. I saw a few females ahead and noticed I was catching them. I used that as a distraction, idly wondering what position they were in.This massively helped keep my pace up. Trying to reach the next female, it gave me something to focus on suddenly. What also helped were the small pockets of people (literally 3-4 people). I smiled and waved and enjoyed myself. One guy shouted “you’re my favourite runner so far! She’s smiling!” which made me laugh. I mean, it was random but nice.

The day before I’d spoken to a fellow parkrunner who’d told me a bit about the course. She said there was a killer hill around mile seven but there was some nice downhill after. She also said the final 5k was normally straight against the wind as it was right on the promenade. So when we turned round the corner and hit a horrendous hill I wasn’t surprised. I saw a girl half-way up and decided to do my damnedest to catch her. Unfortunately there was also a photographer up the hill too… great. I’m sure I was gurning away nicely for the shot.

The hill seemed to go on forever and when it finally ended I felt the energy had drained from my legs. Happily I’d overtaken the lady I’d spotted, but then I spotted another female ahead. I was also aware that I needed to maintain my position. I made it my next mission to catch her. It was a good way to get my focus back and crack on.And then it was the blissful downhill. I decided to just go for it. Leg my legs go a bit looser and just lose myself. My pace cranked up but I just went with it. I was running the course for what it was and decided that if I could make up some speed here then so be it. I might crash later but whatever, let’s go crazy. Suddenly the course seemed familiar. I recognised this packed sandy track… we were leading on to the parkrun route I’d run the day before. How cool. Instead of turning around though where we did yesterday we carried straight on down the railway path.

These were the best miles. I was absolutely flying and loving life. I mean, it was downhill so it was pretty good. And I was picking off people as I went. But then I hit mile 11 and suddenly we were back on the flat and life was hard again. I hit the promenade, the sea on my right looking all misty and grey, and the wind was boom against me. The graft was on.It was literally like focus on every single breath, focus on every single step getting my closer to the finish and focus on the miles ticking down. There were two things that hugely helped keep my pace going. Number one there was a girl I could see in the distance, and I could tell I was gaining on her. And number two was the memory of maintaining seven minute miles for the last three miles of the Brighton Marathon. If I could do that at the end of a marathon I could do faster at the end of a half. It gave me great confidence and belief in myself. I wasn’t going to combust, I wasn’t going to break, I could keep going.

What amazes me is that I ran a sub-21 minute for the final 5k! Faster than my parkrun the day before, which felt pretty tough to me at the time. The wind wasn’t behind me and it definitely felt like “oh my god this is hard”. Minimal smiles and larking about now, I tell you. But no one overtook me.I caught the girl and couldn’t see anyone ahead now. This was painful and mentally hard to maintain the pace with no one to catch now (the other runners too far ahead) but I only had a mile or so to go. Two songs. Come on. I finally saw the finish area but as I turned round the corner to get there I was confused about where to go and headed where I thought it was (there was no big arch or anything). As I ran across the grass I saw loads of people yelling and pointing at me, telling me I was going to the wrong way! I had to quickly change direction, leap over a flower bed and actually go the right way to the finishing funnel. Whew!

As I finished I was gasping for air and feeling absolutely pooped. I walked slowly to the medal and t-shirt collection bit and then stood bent over with my hands on my knees for about a minute catching my breath before looking up at the lady who was stood staring at me waiting for my name. She laughed though when I apologised for making her wait.My time was 1:31:06. The race director came over and asked for my name and race number. I asked him where I’d placed and he said second female! The first female time was an absolutely belting 1:23. I mean whaaaat. I’d never have caught her in a million years but I’m super pleased I caught all the other ladies up (and 44 seconds ahead of the third female!). I was 28th overall (out of 529). I will take that! And a PB by well over three minutes!!!The prize giving was to be 6pm that evening but we were catching our flight at 2.30pm so I spoke to the race director. He said sadly I wouldn’t be getting my bottle of champagne then but he’d post my trophy. How cool! Also, turns out I’ll get two trophies: one for second female and one for first senior female (the lady who came first was a +40!!).I waited for Mike to finish, chilling on the steps drinking much needed water, before realising I should probably collect our bag. He finished in 1:56 which he was pleased with, considering he hadn’t trained for it and wanted to take it easier (his PB is around 1:45). He was very happy with how it’d gone, though he had said he had probably gone too fast and would have preferred it to have been 10 miles not 13 😉Then we literally had to quick march back to our hotel, shower and find some lunch pronto. It was now 11am and our flight was 2.30pm. We were going to get to the bus stop for 1pm so we were pushing it. In quick time we got sorted and then hit the street looking for somewhere to eat… Only to find that Jersey turns into a ghost town on Sunday. Literally no where was open. After desperately hunting around we found one of the only pubs open and thankfully serving food. We sat outside as it was warm and noticed several other half marathoners around us proudly wearing their medals and t-shirts. A happy crowd indeed.
I wasn’t hugely hungry or fancying anything crazy so stuck with a simple meaty wrap. Crazy I know. Then we hot footed it to Costa to get a coffee before grabbing a bus to the airport. Easy peasy.

Our trip to Jersey was great! I’m so chuffed I got the ‘J’ parkrun done – that was the most important thing. But I’m also hugely pleased with my new PB. In my head I wondered if I could get close to a 1:32 time when I was ‘feeling’ it, but the week before and the day of I honestly didn’t think I’d break 1:40, that’s how rubbish I felt. So to exceed that beyond what I could imagine, I am over the moon. It’s given me such confidence. I think what helped was racing it for a place rather than a time. Having those females to try and overtake massively helped and took away thoughts about what pace I should be aiming for. I literally just wanted to get past each one and that pushed me on.

I do wonder about those downhills though… I think they definitely helped. So part of me wonders whether to take this time with a pinch of salt. I have two half marathons later in the year that are flat though I might aim for one of those…but then again, this is me we’re talking about 😉

Have you ever not felt a race only to then do well at it?

Do you like a race with downhills?

Have you ever raced a race for a position rather than a time?

Revenge of the Fifth Half Marathon

I won’t lie, I’m definitely more of a road runner than a trail runner. That said, I do really enjoy running on trails and doing beautiful scenic runs. I think my main preference for road is just that I like the predictability and control of road running compared to the often craziness of the trails.

Saying this, I was excited about doing this half marathon as it looked to be so different to what I’d been doing recently. It was in a beautiful part of the UK (Church Stretton in Shropshire) and I had absolutely zero goals. It was supposed to be ridiculously hilly (run by the guys at How Hard Can it Be… case and point) and I wasn’t after anything more than an enjoyable run round a pretty place. It was called Revenge of the Fifth as it was May 5th, and the day before they’d had a half and a marathon called May the Forth. I do like a theme!James and I arrived at 9am, an hour before the half would begin. It was beautifully sunny and clear. But yes, starting to get warm. We collected our bibs and headed to the loos in the tearoom a short walk away. To pass the time we did this twice. As runners before a race I think you just live in a cycle of waiting to pee and peeing.The medals were really funky, all Star Wars themed of course. Everyone was super friendly and it very much had the vibe of “trailer running” rather than “road racing”. Super chilled. Lots of sturdy legged bearded men and hydration belts all over the shop. I’m making sweeping generalisations of course but you get the idea.As well as the half marathon the marathon would be starting at the same time. It wasn’t a huge race (just over 100 for the half and 40 or so for the full). Probably good because the trail was quite narrow and windy at points and over-taking people had to be navigated carefully.We lined up and got ready to go. I wasn’t really sure what I was fancying running. I thought I’d just see how I felt (I mean, let’s be honest this is mostly how I approach all races…). I didn’t want to kill myself, I quite fancied an enjoyable “sight-seeing” run but at the same time not go completely easy. One of James’ friends had done the race the day before (it was the same course) and had gotten 2.5 hours and he was roughly around my speed so I thought that was a good gauge of pace. And to give you an idea of the elevation…The first part of the run was TOUGH. I set off at a run and within a few minutes we were uphill and it felt hard. I had the crushing thought of “only two and half hours left of this”. It was a bit soul destroying. As we got onto the start of the incline basically everyone ground to a halt and started walking. Of course, so did I. I spotted a few females ahead of me and decided to see if I could pick them off eventually. I passed one girl but then she very quickly ran ahead of me again up the hill – someone saying to her “you should probably save your energy” and she happily replied “where’s the fun in that!”. To be fair, she did well! She headed off in to the distance and finished first female.

As I plodded as quickly as I could walking up the steep hill (I want to say mountain because honestly that’s what it was like) I decided to snap a few pics. It was so pretty I just had to!It never looks that steep in a photo does it? But it was.There’s a the first female dashing off into the distance ahead. She looked so much like Chrissie Wellington it was bizarre. We wondered if she was somehow related!

So anyway we finally got to the top and it was a relief to start running again. There was a nice bit of flat and downhill and I made the most of it to speed up as much as I could to make up for the previous walking. I was flying downhill and couldn’t believe I was seeing 7 min/mile pace on my watch. I wondered if by having these downhill moments I could make up for the uphills and try and even out my pace to be 9min/miles overall. This was quite a faraway thought in my mind as I knew my target was 2.5 hours anyway and I didn’t want to be too ambitious.I did a bit of over-taking and being over-taken by the second female ahead of me and we joked that this might happen for a while. As we got onto some seriously fun downhill action (we’re talking jumping over little streams, craggy bits of rock and fun little trails) and I followed her closely. We gained another person to our crew and all three of us had a whale of a time. It really was such good fun and certainly made up for the slog of the uphill earlier.The three of us stuck together for a couple of miles before the guy, his name was Dexter I found out later, and I peeled off ahead. It was nice to run with someone and chat though I was worried I was holding him back. It definitely helped pass the miles to run alongside him.We ran through a caravan park and were helpfully directed the right way by some campers as we momentarily were puzzles where to go. There weren’t any marshals on the course but they’d used signs where they could or hung strips of ribbon on branches to help guide. It was mostly easy to navigate and it helped that I had the course on my watch. Though this suddenly made me a guru of directions to others around me, not a good position to be in for someone like me…Then we almost got taken out by some sheep dashing away from us… there were a lot of sheep on the course! But otherwise it was relatively event-less. My legs felt good, I felt good… I was enjoying myself. The constant variations of the trail, the elevation and the surroundings meant you never got board. I didn’t miss listening to music, I was having a great time.

Eventually Dexter’s calves began to feel the burn and I was running on my own again. It was now time for the final uphill. I was quite thirsty at this point. It was warm, not unbearably hot, but I hadn’t taken any water and thought I’d be OK with the two water stations on the course. I spotted a man ahead walking slower than me with a hydration bag on. I decided to make it my mission to get to him and ask him for some water.

It took some time but I made it and asked if he’d mind sharing a tiny bit. He was very friendly and offered the tube to drink from. What was somewhat awkward was how short the tube was. It meant I had to walk very close to him to him and try not to fall over while navigating over the bumpy trail. Happily he wasn’t too bothered and I was super grateful for the water!Eventually I made it to the last water station and stopped to chug down three cups of water. I was gently chastised by the marshal for not asking for a single cup to be refilled rather than just take three separate cups and create more waste. I literally hadn’t even thought! I apologised – they were very nice but I still feel a bit stupid.

Then I headed off. I managed to overtake a few more people and found myself with no one ahead of me. Always a huge concern for someone not gifted with a sense of direction or common sense. Thankfully I had my watch to help guide me but I did have to shout back to other runners to double check where to go – they were a bit confused too. The sheep apparently like to eat the ribbons (we had been pre-warned of this).

Mile 12 was a crazy and scary downhill section. It was actually my least favourite mile because it felt so mental. You wanted to continually stop yourself and the pounding on your feet wasn’t pleasant. It felt ridiculous scary and hard. Then there was one cheeky nasty uphill left and then finally to the finish. Whew.My time was 2:03:46, 2nd female and 6th overall. So pleased!I felt really strong during this race and at no point felt like I was flagging (asides from slogging the uphills but I think this is natural). The variation in the course and changing in pace definitely helped with this I think. I’m mostly really happy that I beat my target so significantly. I would have loved a sub two hour time and had the course been a bit shorter I guess I would have achieved that but I’m super happy regardless.James did really well too. He also came second place and his time was a super speedy 1:47:33. So an awesome result for us both. James’ friend Lee also smashed the marathon coming first with a ridiculous time of 4:18:19. He finished and literally walked straight past the medal table and straight into the river behind where he laid himself out flat in it. It was quite funny.

The event was really well organised and good fun. There was a good spread of cakes at the end as well. Always a winner!It was a really nice day. James and I chilled in the finish area, laying out on the grass chatting to the other runners who’d finished. It was such a friendly affair. I chatted to the first and third lady and they seemed super strong runners. The first lady had a half PB of 1:25 so I mean she is FAST.

We grabbed some food from the tearoom while we chilled and I got a cheese scone…And the most insanely tasty cheese and chutney toasty. It literally rocked my world. Such a good combo.Unfortunately neither of us had put on sun scream and went home with some very nasty tan lines (sports bra tan lines for the win eh).So a lovely but challenging trail half! Fully recommend.

Do you prefer road or trails?

How do you tackle downhills?

Do you walk hills or try and run them?

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
.

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?