Chicago Marathon 2019 – Six Star Finisher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you done any of the Major Marathons?

Have you ever run abroad?

Do you depend on your watch during races?

Bournemouth Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next stop now, Chicago.

Have you ever run a mentally tiring race?

Have you ever done the Bournemouth Half or Marathon?

The Great Manchester Run 10k recap

On to the Sunday recap of last weekend.

After a rather disastrous night, I had an equally terrible night’s sleep due to the hotel being in the centre of Manchester and my room being right next to a club. Ah well, at least it was safe, clean and only five minutes from the brunch location I was going to with Kirsty.

We were meeting at 9.30am at Federal Cafe Bar, somewhere she’d been recommended several times on Instagram. The menu looked good and pushed me to have something I wouldn’t normally (usually I’m distracted by dirty big fry ups!).

I went for the mushroom and halloumi dish… it came with sourdough toast, eggs, halloumi and mushrooms. I added chorizo and avocado too.

It was fantastic. So tasty and really filled me up. I also went for a rather fancy hipster beetroot latte. As a big beetroot fan I was still sceptical because… in a coffee? But I was down to give it a go (on race day whhhhy not eh!).

It was actually really tasty. Made with oat milk, it was quite sweet which I wonder was from something artificial or the actual beetroot itself, as it is quite sweet normally. Who knows. It was nice though.

As the race wasn’t until 1pm it was a bit confusing what to eat to be honest. And actually during the race it did slightly repeat on me… Kirsty mentioned it might be because it was quite high fat and that’s quite an ask for your body just before a race. I hadn’t even considered that.

Then we headed to the Garmin stand to meet with the Garmin team. There were five other “influencers” there too and we chatted and took photos. Basically had a bit of fun.

It was so cool to see behind the scenes of these events. I’m by no means a big fish in this sort of thing so it’s quite cool seeing it happen and being a part of something like this. Though I got HUGE impostor syndrome.

L-R Jenna (@Jenna.is.running, Fudgie (@Fudgieruns), Kirsty (@Shortgirlrunner), and Rachel (@Runwithrachel)

We got T-shirt’s and our bibs and headed to do some start line photos.

I then literally bumped into Adele from the BBC Radio 1 early morning breakfast show. Now I’m a little bit of a fan girl of hers. I listen to her every morning when I go to the gym, and when it’s that early it’s really nice to not think you’re the only one awake so I really enjoy her show.

She’s the nicest person as well and started running a few years ago, supporting the Heads Together charity. Anyway I tweet the show occasionally and met her just before London (yes I know, I’m a proper fan girl) and so when I saw her and said “it’s AnnaTheApple” (I KNOW, PROPER CRINGE) she was like “ohh hey you listen all the time!”. It made my entire day.

We had a proper chat. We talked about running and she even introduced me to her girlfriend! (She called me a unit because of all my running!!) Honestly I was made up. Then we had to dash off to do more photo bits. I couldn’t stop beaming.

Then we headed to start to get ready to go (I say “get ready to go”, but we did still have a 40 minute wait…). Anyway, the time flew by while we chatted and then we were off!

My plan was to not to be a wet blanket about it and actually push myself. I rarely ever push myself, and ESPECIALLY in a 10k. But today the weather was good, the course was ideal and I had no excuse. As tempting as it was to run with the others (who were taking it easier) I resolutely set off with the mindset to GO.

It was really crowded in the first half a mile and I spent some time dodging round people and trying to get into a good rhythm. But then I broke free and got a good amount of space around me.

It’s so odd running a 10k after spending so much time focusing on longer distances. You just have no time to play with. I realised my slower first mile would need to be made up later if I wanted the time I was aiming for. And it really requires a lot of focused energy to hold on to the pace.

The course was pretty much entirely flat. Maybe a couple of very gentle inclines but nothing crazy that would hold you back. I saw Aly Dixon and Gemma Steel fly by going the other way further on in the course and they looked to be on the pain train. Come on, Anna, you can do this too (at a much slower pace ha). I had my music on but could hear the crowds cheering and boosting us along. There were lots of people out which was nice.

We ran round the Manchester United football ground (not quite through it like we did in Southampton). And we followed a lot of the same beginning and end bits of the Manchester Marathon. It did feel fairly familiar. But the course was so much more interesting as it did actually go through the city whereas the marathon really didn’t.

On the course there were two drinks stations and unfortunately full of bottled water. So wasteful. So much plastic. It really makes me cringe. It was a warm day so a lot of water was being taken (a few sips then thrown). There were two showers on the course as well which helped cool people down too.

Then we were on the final straight back. My pace was on goal and I was feeling strong! I was getting an echo of a stitch in my side and I attempted to breathe differently to get rid of it. I was really anxious it would turn into one of those properly painful sharp ones in my side but luckily it remained on the edge as just a slight annoyance.

Then it was 400m to go – over so quickly!

My legs and lungs were pushing hard but I was so chuffed as I knew I was going to PB now. Unless I fell over, I had this!

I crossed the line in 41:40, a PB by over a minute. Wowza I am stoked! But the stitch was now in full force as I walked to the goodie bags.

It took a few minutes to disappear and the effects of the run to dissipate. So much longer than after a marathon! That feeling of “let me catch my breath again”. Obviously the effects of a marathon hang on in different ways a lot longer of course.

I headed back to the Garmin stand and took some photos (of course!) and waited for the others.

They arrived not long after and we swapped stories and congratulated each other. The others had had a nice fun run rather than going for it, which sounded lovely.

After doing our social media bits with Garmin we headed to the VIP area in the Hilton hotel nearby. VIP! So fancy!

They had a buffet spread, sweets, teas and coffee and we just tucked straight in. Omg I was so spoilt!

I tucked right in to several plates of Greek salad (all the feta!) and a fish ratatouille. It was delicious.

I didn’t have long so tucked two Bakewell cakes into my bag wrapped in a napkin for the train back (future Anna would be pleased).

Then I had to say my goodbyes and head sharpish to my train – the station was 20 mins walk away. I only had 30 mins and I wanted to get a tea for the train so I did a very epic run-power walk in my coat, layers and my big rucksack on to get there with time to spare.

Unfortunately (and I didn’t realise at the time) my two cakes fell out of my bag as I hadn’t done it up properly! I was VERY lucky nothing else fell out but I was devastated to get to the station and realise what had happened. Nooooo! No train cakes! I did have two apples which consolidated me somewhat but it was a rather sad moment.

Solid goodie bag spoils

Anyway, lost cakes and failed Airbnb’s aside, the weekend was truly a fantastic one. I loved Saturday with my mum doing so many fun things and then making new friends on Sunday at the race. Garmin gifted me the place and I am SO grateful for the opportunity. It was so much fun. Getting the PB really was only a small addition to the whole rest of the fantastic weekend!

Do you often race races?

Have you ever been VIP for anything?

Do you get trains that often?

**Full Disclaimer: Garmin provided me with a free race place in exchange for some social media posts on Instagram. All opinions are my own honest ones.**

Manchester Marathon

The Manchester Marathon is a fairly popular marathon, with around 20,000 people signing up.

It’s revered as flat and fast and has been on my list for a while. Being from down South though it’s a fair trek to get to. But as my grandad lives in Stoke, a good friend lives in Liverpool and the fact that Kyle and I had free tickets to Alton Towers it seemed like a good reason to do a long weekend up there.

My goals, as ever, were a bit hazy having run the Barcelona Marathon a few weeks ago. I wasn’t in PB shape (that would require actual speedwork) but I felt like it might be a bit of a waste of an opportunity not to see what I could do.

The morning of the marathon I was up 6.45am in our Airbnb. I made my porridge, had a cup of questionable tea (the Airbnb only had oatmilk, something I’d never tried before) and then got myself together. Kyle and I walked the 2.8ish miles to the start. I didn’t mind the walk at all (we could have taken the metro). It was nice to get some fresh air, sooth my nerves and get the legs freshened up.

Kyle was going to be supporting me, not running around the course this time like in Barcelona,. He’d walk from the start to mile three to then get to mile 17/18 to see me again, and then meet me at the finish.

We arrived the start area at about 8.30ish (the race starts at 9am). I’d gotten my place at the marathon through Wiggle as I was going to do some content for them (horrendous videos of before and after the race – god I hate how awkward I am), so I had a pass to go into the VIP area inside the Trafford Town Hall (very posh).

Happily this meant I could use an ACTUAL toilet – with no queues! Such a luxury. I could also have some extra breakfast from the buffet (I didn’t) and even got offered champagne (I declined, probably best not to). I felt VERY fancy – and also hugely out of place!

Then Kyle and I headed to the start, bumping into the lovely Mark, one of the Brighton parkrun event directors.

Literally as I spotted Mark

Lovely to see another friendly face. But then I quickly dashed off to my pen with minutes to spare.

It was actually a very chilled start to the race for me – no hanging about unnecessarily or stress. After a blast of Oasis and Human League we were off!

The first mile was slightly downhill so I tried not to get ahead of myself. My plan was if 8min/miles came easy to me I’d stick with those but if they felt tough or tiring I’d drop down to 8.30s. As it was, I felt OK (I mean, let’s be honest, the first mile always does buuut you know what I mean). During the second mile I saw a man wearing a bib at the side of the road speaking with marshals. He was holding his leg and the marshals were directing him how to get back. Wow, a casualty of the race so soon.

On mile three I spotted Kyle. It was lovely to see him and I happily ran on, buzzed by his cheering. And then I realised I wouldn’t be seeing him for over two hours until mile 17. Jeeeze. But I was peppered along by the cheering crowds who were out in force in this area. I also spotted a few of my lovely Hedge End Running Club friends who I didn’t know would be there. I did the standard Anna Squeal and overly excited frantic waving and then went on my merry way.

I amused myself by looking at the other runners around me. There were a lot of Northern sounding running clubs, of course, a few superhero costumes and everything in between. I spotted one girl, I kid you not, holding her phone and in EACH hand three gels. SIX gels AND a phone?! That’s a lot to be carrying in your hands for a marathon. It baffled me. I like to wear my Flipbelt to carry my phone and maybe a gel but that’s it. Funny how different we all are.

Now we started heading away from central Manchester and into Stretford. Each area of Manchester that we ran through had a sign that said “Welcome to…” and then the name.

It was a nice touch. There were sprinkles of crowds at different points and, as it went through a lot of residential areas, a lot of people were outside their house cheering. I’ve also never seen so many Jelly Babies being handed out in my life. It seemed like everyone had them!

My friend, John who was also running, tapped me on the shoulder and we exchanged brief grunts and status checks. I wondered if he wanted to run together but he told me I was passing him and to go on. I didn’t feel too bad as I very much got the vibe that he wanted a solo run – John is subtly good at conveying this 😉

I was feeling good and generally running faster than I thought. In the back of my mind I wondered if I was going to blow up later. The pace was a sustained effort – not terribly difficult, I could probably hold a conversation, but I knew this would tire me later. It wasn’t feeling easy.

I needed a wee, as is always standard for me during a marathon. As usual I decided around mile 10 would be an ideal point. As I got to mile 9 I saw about five portable toilets in a row and decided to chance it. I opened two different ones that weren’t locked and found men having a pee! I apologised (why though when they didn’t lock the door…) and stood waiting for a free one, which is always horrible during a marathon, standing stationary watching everyone run past you.

Finally one became available and I jumped in. The seat was COVERED in wee. I mean it was grim. I hovered over the seat using that inborn skill that all females have and pretended I was elsewhere while trying not to breathe. Job done, back on the road!

As I continued I began to notice that the course wasn’t as flat as I’d been led to believe, especially as I got to around 13 miles. OK we’re not taking hills or true undulations but definite inclines requiring sustained effort. Actually throughout the course I counted more than four of these. It actually makes me question who thought to call Manchester “pancake flat”. I highly disagree!

I’m going to be honest. I found the course quite dull and trying to remember anything of significance is quite tricky. It was mostly running through residential streets. Yes the people who were out to support were lovely and it was great to be cheered you along…one woman looked me right in the eye and screamed “Anna, you look INCREDIBLE”. Possibly the nicest thing any stranger has (and probably will ever) yell at me. But it was just dull.

Kyle popped up (literally popped up next to me, like he’d jumped out of a bush) at mile 17 and that made me smile. It also meant the next mile flew by because I knew he’d then be at 18 because of how the course was. It was a lot trickier to get to different spots because the course was such a big loop – whereas in Barcelona there were lots of out and backs and the course ran quite close to itself, if that makes sense.

Kyle had my gel to give me but I’d decided I didn’t need it. I wanted to see how I’d be without taking anything other than water on. I felt fine (I mean, let’s be honest, the pizza the night before certainly helped!). I do all my long runs fasted so I feel like gels aren’t necessary for me as long as I’ve had a solid breakfast (I had).

I reached 20 miles and usually this is the time I’m like “let’s go” and I can increase my pace. However I knew this wouldn’t be happening. I was pretty much just going to be able to maintain my current pace. This is the difference between my 3:16 marathon and a fast but not as fast (for me) marathon. During the 3:16 marathon I had the ability to kick it up a gear at mile 20. I had the fitness in the bag to dig deeper. I don’t currently have that fitness and so there was really no discernible “kick”.

But I was OK with this. I can’t expect to magic fitness out of nowhere. I’ve done no real speedwork. However I was happy to maintain my pace and not fade. It was feeling tough now and I was gurning to the end.

I got to mile 23 and had the happy thought of “pretty much just a parkrun to go”. I switched my music to something a bit more high powered – making the guy next to me laugh as I fiddled with my iPhone as I ran and almost went arse over tits as I tripped over a drain. CAREFUL ANNA YOU IDIOT.

I started to’ing and fro’ing with a girl next to me. I managed to get a bit ahead and thought “ah ha! I’ve won [the fake battle that only I’m aware of]!” until she later sped gracefully past me into a blip in the horizon. Wow, she was amazing!

When we turned round the final corner for the last stretch to the finish instead of great relief – look there’s the finish! It was like a punch in the face. IT WAS SO FAR AWAY AND JUST ONE GIANT LONG STRETCH OF ROAD. I decided to look down and not focus on the seemingly never-ending road with the teeny tiny finish line in the distance.

Now the crowds were thick and loud. I smiled as much as I could (honestly, this is such a good trick – it spurs on the crowds and can help trick you into thinking it’s OK you’re not actually dying – results do vary tho).

Kyle was suddenly next to me on the pavement and jogged a little to keep up while cheering. I had fears that he’d try and run with me to the end – something I’d have hated… Not for any reason other than he was wearing jeans and I just find that sort of thing unbelievably cringe. Thankfully he didn’t (he agrees with me on this front I later found).

And finally I crossed the line. Whew. 3:23:04 – not too shabby at all! My 3rd fastest marathon. What a grind though! I saw the girl who’d overtaken me and I said well done and how amazing she was, but I couldn’t hold on (I checked the results later – she got 3:19!). She was lovely.

Bless my dad, he rung me literally SECONDS of me crossing the line. I was still getting air in my lungs and recovering from the final sprint. He is good though – on the ball with the tracker and, as always, a lovely supporter whether physically there or far away. I know he’s always thinking of me.

I bumped into a few people I knew, collected my medal and goodies and then proceeded to play the fun game of “how can I get to Kyle?”. It seemed like a maze to get out of the race finish area and in the end I climbed over a fence (I don’t recommend post marathon). Eventually we found each other and began the slow shuffle back to the AirBnb swapping stories of day’s adventures.

To cut the rest fairly short, we ended up in a KFC on the way back to Stoke and I ordered a 10-piece bucket… I ate eight pieces (just chicken, no chips – I’m not a complete animal ;-)).

I regret nothing… actually my tummy very much regretted this later and on arriving back at my grandad’s and him saying “right, let’s get you some dinner!” I perhaps I should have eaten a few pieces less. In the end dinner was a couple of apples and a corn on the cob!

Have you ever run Manchester Marathon?

What is the flattest marathon/race you’ve done?

Do you like KFC?

Long running and the Eastleigh 10k

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Alana Jayne Williams

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

Photo credit: Alana Jayne Williams

The weather was lovely but it was dull running.

Photo credit: Alana Jayne Williams

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

Photo credit: Alana Jayne Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Sheryl James

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

Photo credi: Nick White

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

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

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

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

Damn that 5th mile!

Photo credit: Hendy Group

Kyle finished in the very stellar time 45:46.

Photo credit: Hendy Group

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

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

Have you ever run while ill?

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

What milestones do you celebrate at parkrun?