Event 19 – Lionheart Sportive 100K

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This sportive was 100k – shorter than recents one but with more hills.

Ian was doing this one too although he was meeting up with his speedy friends.  But we set off together from home, at early o’clock.  It was a beautiful morning.  The sun was shining and the sky was blue but it was only 1C, brrrr.  Hopefully it would warm up as the day went on.   We have done this event on numerous occasions and have experienced, rain, hail and snow.  Looked like this was to be the best year yet.  Probably helped by the new organisers moving it from mid March to mid April.  The course was also slightly flatter than previous years although there were still some tough climbs.

We arrived at Longleat at 7.20am.  Although our start time was at 8.50am, everyone had to be parked up by 7.30am as the ride went back out on the same road we drove in.  Longleat house looked stunning in the morning sunshine, it’s a great location for an event.

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Frost on the ground but blue sky!

Ian scooted off fairly quickly when we got there to meet his friends.  My friends were starting at different times or like my friend Jo doing the 100 mile route.  So, another ride on my own.   Had a chat with a few people in the car park – helped one guy load his Garmin map because he couldn’t see the screen – talk about the blind leading the blind lol.  Was also asked by another couple to take a picture of them with their tandem!  Crikey, would not fancy the Lionheart hills on a tandem.  Well, maybe if Ian was at the front!

Managed to start by 8.30am.  There were a lot of people at the start who had not got their registration details in the post.  The general confusion in the start area meant I could just walk through the masses and get off early.  For this event we were given FIVE stickers and numbers to put over ourselves and our bikes – apart from an Ironman I’ve never seen an event with so many numbers.  Usually you get a timing chip and maybe a number for the front of your bike.  It was nice though to see which distance others riders were doing.  Green for 100k and Red for 100 miles.

The first few kilometres are through the grounds of Longleat safari park and if you listen carefully you can hear the lions, they make a sort of huffing noise….  huff huff huff.   Didn’t see any though as we whizzed past their enclosure, guess they were having breakfast.  The first climb comes while you are still in the park grounds at 5km.  It’s a bit of shock if you are not prepared for it but it’s good to warm up the legs.  I saw a couple of my tri club friends Kay and Gill going up the hill.  We cycled together for a short while as the course went out onto the main the roads and through the country lanes of Wiltshire.  They whizzed past me down the hills and I caught them back up going up.  There were more ups than downs so after a while I was on my own.

Although it was a different route from previous years I recognised many of the roads from other events.  One particular hill from the Tour of Wessex – the last time I climbed it, it was raining hard and some poor man was receiving CPR by the side the road ( he was ok, by the way).  This time the road was much quieter, the weather much better and all riders ok.

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King Alfred’s Tower in the distance

The signature climb on this ride comes around 50km – King Alfred’s Tower.  I have attempted this climb many times and never made it to the top.  This time was no different.  There are so many cyclists on the hill weaving around, often grinding to a halt when they could go no further and sometimes just falling over when they stopped pedalling – it’s seriously steep.  I saw my friend Juliette just ahead of me and we walked up together.  Nice to have company – the last time I saw her was at the Taunton HM, I had been feeling poorly that day and forget to get a photo with her.  So when we got to the top we took a quick selfie to mark the occasion.  Let me tell you, walking up that hill is bloody hard too – think screaming calves – ouch.

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Club buddy Juliette

From the top there is lovely long down hill to recover 🙂  Shortly after this I saw my trainer Max, his first sportive and he was doing well having got up Alfred’s Tower.  We said Hi and he whizzed off.

There were three feed stations.  I didn’t stop at any of them as I knew Ian would finish well ahead of me and I didn’t want him to have to wait too long.  The third feed station is at the 100k/100 mile split.  I have done the 100 mile route before with my friend Tara (we had a lot of weather and it was a tough ride).  Today I was glad to be only doing 100k.

Having said that, the 100k route then goes straight up a long steep hill unlike the 100 mile route which flattens out.  Up, up, up we all went.  Easier than King Alfred’s Tower but still a serious climb.  There were also a lot of cars trying to overtake and then pulling in front of cyclists – not their fault really, only so much room on the road.  But I saw quite a few people have to stop because a car was in the way.  Quite hard to get going again too on that gradient.  I was lucky and managed to keep going.  At the top a man who had followed me up said “Good climbing do you want a jelly baby?”  I mainly heard “do you want a jelly baby”  YES PLEASE!!!   He told me this was the hilliest sportive he had ever done.

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Cyclists coming up one of the many hills

From there it was only 15k to the finish and this bit was easier than previous years – there used to be another drag climb just before the end.  Glad it wasn’t there now.  I saw one poor woman who had come off her bike after going over a huge, deep pothole.  She was with others and waiting for help.  The roads were pretty awful on the whole ride and sometimes in the sunshine you can’t see the potholes coming up.  I hope she was ok.

The final stretch was through the gates of the park with Longleat House looming in front.  Ian was waiting for me, having finished over an hour before, and gave me a big hug 🙂  I got my medal and we headed home.

PS…  A big shout out to my friend Jo who completed her first 100 miler at the Lionheart.  She finished strong and happy.  Go Jo!!!!

19 down, 31 to go!!!  Next week, the London Marathon.

 

Event 18 – English Channel Distance – in the pool (32km)

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Goggle eyes!

I’ve always thought swimming the English Channel would be a cool thing to do but anyone who saw me hanging off a canoe during The Sturt Island swim will know sea isn’t my thing – well…maybe the Carribean 🙂 But any sea without tropical fish and turtles isn’t my thing.  I was a club swimmer when I was young and knew people who actually did swim the Channel so, like I say, a cool thing to do.

Side note: the Sturt Island swim was my only ever DNF (did not finished) – I got in the sea, started to swim, realised I couldn’t breath, got scared, grabbed a safety canoe, asked to get out!   They tried to pursuade me to calm down and have another go but I didn’t want to.  I was rescued by a lovely lifeboat with lovely lifeboat men on – silver linings and all that lol!  I remember mumbling “…but I’m an Ironman…” not my finest moment 🙂

I also wanted a challenge that I could do in the week to free up a weekend – weekends have been busy for a while! So I decided to swim the Channel distance over five days – I figured “hey I’m a swimmer, it shouldn’t be too hard” Well….

Day One

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Ian counting laps

6.4km, 2hrs 25 mins, Lap Counter: Ian Green (husband)

Two and half hours is a long time to swim. It just is. The first hour whizzed by – I do this all the time, usually two or three times a week. No problem.  Then you start to get hungry.  I was in the pool at 6.15am so no breakfast first. I had a banana which I nibbled over half an hour – this also kept me amused, swimming can be very boring.  After 1.5 hours my arms started to get tired.  I had decided that due to a shoulder injury a few weeks ago – I did this carrying logs for my fire at home, think Cinderella by the hearth, that’s me every morning 🙂 –  and the recent chest infection, I would do one length front crawl/one length breast stroke for the duration.  This worked well.  After two hours my arms are still tired and I’m bored, I had a gel to liven me up.

But then it’s 2.5 hours and I’m finished for the day. Absolutely shattered, probably not helped by running a half marathon the previous day.   A quick breakfast with Ian in Taunton before he set off for London and then home to rest.  It seemed like a long week ahead.

Day Two

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Tara, happy to be finished

6.4km 2hrs 25 mins, Lap Counter: Tara (good friend and cycle buddy)

I met Tara outside the Nuffield where I’m doing the challenge.  My first words:  “sorry to get you up so early” It was 6.15am.  In the pool by 6.25am.  The Nuffield had kindly given me my own lane, but it was hard to enforce as when I arrived someone was already in my lane.  Not really a problem, I just swam with him.  I have never seen the pool so busy. Most mornings there are only two or three people in the whole pool, but today it was full.  It meant that I had someone with me for most of my swim.  But a good turn over of people kept it interesting.

Tara counted out my laps as Ian had the day before, shouting out the number every ten lengths.  This meant I didn’t have to think much and I was often surprised when ten lengths came round (about every five minutes) – in a world of my own.

Another banana and gel .  Had a feeling that Wednesday would start to seem like Ground Hog day!

Day Three

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Adi, looking good at 6am

6.4km, 2hrs 25, Lap Counter – Adi (my sister)

The alarm woke me up at 5am – it’s just too early, even for me, a morning person. Another day, another swim.  Arrived again at 6.15am and met my lovely sister Adi – we were both sleepy.  Today’s staff didn’t seem to know anything about my challenge, but a chair was soon rustled up for Adi and another swim began.

Today’s laps were counted in Spanish – it’s the small things.  Kept Adi amused and me too.  She leant forward every ten lengths with a big smile on her face and said the length number.  Adi even threw in the odd curve ball by walking to the other end and shouting out an odd number – like I say, it kept us amused.

The pool was super quiet today and I only had someone join me for ten minutes of so.  This was also the day where my arms started aching from the very beginning and the constant chlorine was irritating my nose – lots of sneezing during and after.

Another 284 lengths done, only two more early starts.

Day Four

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Zoe, counting laps

6.4km, 2hrs 25 mins, Lap Counter – Zoe Green (daughter number one)

Poor Zoe only went to bed at 1am the night before so me getting her up at 5.15am was tough.  But she was very jolly about it and happy to help.

Today was pretty much like the other days – up/down/up/down/banana/gel/up/down…

So OVER swimming by this point.  Zoe did her best to keep me motivated and did a great job of shouting out the lengths.  She also busted out some rather bendy yoga moves at the side of the pool – sitting down for two and hours is not much fun and it gave me something to watch.  She also chatted with other swimmers and let them know what I was doing.

Day Five

6.4km, 2hrs 25 mins, Lap Counter – Adi (again)

Poor Adi had to do two shifts!  I only have so many people in my life who I can make get up at 5am to come and count lengths (also most people I know have to go to work).

More Spanish!! and lots of encouragement.  I thought the last day would seem easier because…well it was the last day.  But from the minute I got in I wanted to finish.  I was tired and just fed up with being the pool.  Even the first hour went slowly.  I did chat to a few other swimmers though.  A few regulars, who were interested in what I was doing and were encouraging. I also got a couple of nice donations for my Asthma UK charity – which did help motivate me to keep going.

Finally it was all over.

I want to say a huge THANK YOU to my lap counters.  Ian who is not a morning person at all, and had to rush off to London to go to work straight afterwards.  Tara, who fitted me in between night shifts with the Samaritans, working and dog walking. Zoe who gave up sleep and study time to help me and finally my lovely sister Adi, who did not one but two shifts, during her holiday from work when she should have been enjoying lots of lie-ins but instead got up super early to shout very high numbers in Spanish at me.  I couldn’t have done it without you all.

Thanks to the Nuffield too – who let me have my own lane, and to the other swimmers who offered encouragement.

 

Event 17 – Taunton Half Marathon

 

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I finished but good to know back up was available!

This was a slow one – but I made it!

Three days before it was doubtful.  I came down with a chest infection on the Wednesday evening (probably not helped by cycling 100 miles that day when I was at the sneezy stage) and spent Thursday and Friday flat out on the sofa, dozing between coughing bouts.  Throw in a couple of terrible nights with more coughing and I wasn’t sure if I could walk round the block let alone run a HM.

However, on Saturday I woke up feeling much better, still coughing but at least able to stay awake all day.  I also managed to get dressed and leave the house a couple of times – progress!!

I certainly wasn’t 100% on Sunday,  but if I put in walking breaks I thought I could make it round the half marathon course.    I drove to my friend Tara’s house to park my car.  Tara and her dog Des were going to walk me to the start and look after my stuff while I ran.  Tara was meeting her fellow Samaritans, who were running for their charity, to get a group photo.

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Chief supporters Des and Tara

As it was a local race I thought I would bump into a few people I knew and within minutes I the saw the lovely Juliette, one of my tri club/running club buddies.  While I looked like death warmed up, Juliette was glowing with a lovely tan from Lanzarote.  Really must get me some winter sun training next year.  We had a nice chat while Tara nipped off to get her group photo.

After a few more “hellos” with other friends I joined the back of the start queue.  The weather was great, so for the first time this year I started an event with BARE ARMS – yay!!!

As we trotted off through the streets of Taunton I knew this was going to be a tough race.  My legs felt good and my breathing wasn’t as bad as I feared but I had zero energy.  Three days of barely eating, although great for weight loss, had left me drained.  I had managed to force my porridge down pre-race but I felt like I was running on empty from the start.

I managed to run the first 8km which took us out of Taunton and along a very busy road.  The roads were not closed and because of the traffic we were running in the gutter, one behind each other, which meant going at the pace of the runner in front or risk getting run over to overtake. At one point three police cars, an ambulance and a fire engine needed to get past – it was chaos.

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Trying to run for the photo

I was slightly faster than the woman in front of me but I couldn’t summon up the energy for the burst of power required to speed up and overtake.  After a while this stopped mattering as I needed to walk and for the second half of the race I walked/ran/walked/walked/ran… you get the idea – it was tough going.  My km times were getting very slow, even for me.  But it was all I had.

It was also starting to get quite warm – which was a shock to the system.  An event with sunshine! It was nice to feel the sun but quite draining on my tired body.  There seemed to be a headwind for a quite a long stretch ….but really I’m complaining too much, the conditions were perfect it was me that was below par.

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The one road they did close – a strange sight in Taunton

Just before the last 5k there a long uphill…just what I needed to finally finish me off.  I staggered over the finish line with a last little burst of running (Tara was taking a photo) in 2.37.42 – not my best effort but pleased to have made it round.

The marshalling, water stops and sponge stations were all well manned – often by young children cheering wildly, and the general support around the the course was good – although by the end I was sick of all the encouragement, I just wanted to walk in peace 🙂

Tara was waiting for me at the end and I was so grateful to see her.  She walked me back to her house and made me a nice cup of tea.

I’m glad I gave it a go – another one done.

17 down – 33 to go!

Event 16 – Clare’s 5k

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Happy Days – me and Clare

The 23rd of March would have been my friend Clare’s 45th birthday.  She died last September of Ovarian Cancer.  Let me tell you about my friendship with Clare.

We met online!  We had both joined a 5k online running course called Up&Running.  It was June 2011 and the course ran for eight weeks and got non runners up to 5k.  A bit like couch to 5k but with way more skipping 🙂 After the eight weeks we would all go on our merry way as runners….but no…. turned out this wonderful group of women all loved chatting to each other on our forum, supporting each other’s running attempts and after a while just supporting each other with life in general.  Fortunately Shauna and Julia, the brains behind Up&Running let our forum continue with an Alumni group and now after each 5k course (or 10k or HM) new runners have somewhere to hang out.

Turns out we all like to travel, as well as run, so before long we were meeting each other in real life.  Edinburgh for tea and cakes, Glasgow for a parkrun, a few trips to Bologna for a weekend together, and a bit of running. So, I got to meet Clare many times despite her living in Glasgow and me in Somerset.

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Clare, Shauna and Honor

I just loved Clare…her beautiful soft Glaswegian accent, her gentle humour, her kindness (always remembering birthdays and sending get well cards)  and there was sadness,  as we got to know Clare better  we found out she had lost her husband just before joining our forum. The forum was a place she could come and just be Clare.   We had much in common, silly things like having the same Clarks sandals…we used to send each other a picture of our sandalled feet on there first outing of the year (usually about July in Scotland). Our love of Gin and Tonic and mini breaks.

Ahhh the mini breaks!  There were many, often around my events.  She would turn up with her pink pompoms to cheer me on…..Barcelona marathon, Clare was there…Wimbleball 70.3 in the freezing cold, Clare was there….Zurich Ironman, Clare was there. And sometimes we went away just for the fun of it.   A fabulous weekend in London seeing the sights and drinking gin, a weekend in Inverness… oh hang on that was another event (a 10K) but still drinking gin 🙂

I saw my online buddy more than I see some members of my family.   Then last year shortly after a another mini break (for me) in Glasgow, we found out that Clare had Ovarian Cancer – it had already progressed to stage 4 by the time she was diagnosed.  I saw her one more time.  My forum friends were meeting in Edinburgh for the running festival and we all went over to Glasgow to see her.  Our last big meet up.  We knew she was very ill but she was smiley and so happy to see us.  We spent a lovely afternoon in her local restaurant before taking a short walk in a park.

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Clare with my forum friends

I think we all thought she had more time than she did…  so it was a big shock when I got the news in early September that she has passed away.  I was on my last day of the Land’s End to John O’Groats bike ride and cried for the last 40 miles.

So back to yesterday, her birthday.  We all ran 5k for Clare and for the Target Ovarian Cancer charity.  My forum friends around the world, put on their Clare 5K bibs, in Australia, Dubai, The Netherlands, USA, Scotland, in New Zealand and in Regent’s Park (that was me) and we all remembered our special friend Clare.

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Clare I miss you.

 

Event 15 – Yeovil Half Marathon

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A great race and a massive medal

I had low expectations of a good race.  One, because I found my last half marathon (in Exeter) so tough and two, well…because it was in Yeovil!  Sorry Yeovil, I was wrong.

It was lovely to have an event so close to home, just a 25 minute drive.  This gave me time to drive up the road decide I needed a thin jacket, drive home and still have plenty of time to get there and parked.  There we lots of roads closed for the event so I just parked in the first car park I came to, which  fortunately turned out to be very close to the finish line and only a five minute walk to the start and the registration area.  I registered quickly, only had three people waiting in front of me.  I was lucky, as I left the hall the queue behind was now out of the door.

I walked back to the  car to have my pre-race porridge and put my bib on my vest and my chip timer on my shoe.  Then I popped into the town to some toilets I knew about down a side street – saved another long queue back at the start.

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The race started promptly at 9am and just over a thousand runners weaved their way through the streets of Yeovil.  This is the first time that this race has started and finished in the town and it was great move.  From the start there was great support with lots of clapping and cheering – I loved it.

Apparently the course was also much flatter this year and indeed the first half was pretty flat.  We passed all the sights of Yeovil – shopping outlets, the industrial estate the car dealers.  It could have been pretty dull but honestly the support made up for it.  At one point I dropped my headband which I had been holding, a lovely lady ran back to pick it up for me – telling me not to do a any more than I needed to.  Her husband remarked he’d never seen her move so fast 🙂 We also had to cross quite a few major roads and the police and marshals did a great job.  We were causing long queues of cars, but I didn’t see anyone getting annoyed.

As the spectators thinned out we hit the country lanes and although slightly undulating it was very pretty, very Somerset.  The lanes took us out to Montecute House and Country Park.  This is where they hold Yeovil parkrun so It was familiar ground.  As I entered the grounds I saw my sister Adi – she had popped along to cheer me on, almost missing me as I wasn’t wearing my orange jacket.  I’m trying to cut down on layers and got it just about right for this run – I did need my gloves though as it was nippy.  It was so good to see her.  She hadn’t said she was coming but I hoped she would “Go Paula Green”!!!

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Water station at Montecute House

I was running really well.  A little niggle in my ankle at 7km but a bit of hopping and a quick stretch seemed to sort it….whatever works.  Probably just old age…nothing serious.  At 10k I realise that my legs didn’t hurt, which is unusual – they often start to feel heavy and tired at this point.  My breathing was pretty good too and in the second half where all the hills were, I was doing a good job of running up most of them.  On one really steep one I walked near the top, it was probably quicker than my slow jog anyway!

The last 5km took us back through the residential streets of Yeovil and again the support was awesome.  Lots of people waiting at the end of their driveways to cheer us, many wearing their slippers I noticed 🙂 Little kids holding out bowls of jelly babies.  One lady banging together some saucepans – all good fun.

As we hit the town the barriers were out so that we had a clear run through to the finish with people lining the sides and a band playing as you crossed the finish line.  Yeovil, you did a great job.  A good course, great marshalling, wonderful support.

My time: 2.19.58

15 down, 35 to go!

Event 14 – Wiltshire Wildcat 135km

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Me finishing

And for today’s weather we have….fog!

Actually it wasn’t too bad, the start was delayed by an hour and the first few miles were low visibility, but this sportive was one of the nicest I have done. A great route, well signed, perfect weather and not too hard.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The day started early at 5.45am.  Ian was joining me today and this is not his favourite time of day, but we managed to get out of the door by 6.30am ready for our 90 minute drive. Oh and when I say Ian was joining me it was obviously only for the drive. Our riding speeds are not compatible so we would go our own way once we started the event.

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Fog and long queue at the start

The start was at Salisbury racecourse which was a great venue – lots of parking and lots of proper toilets 🙂 After registering and getting our gear on we lined up to start.  There must have been around a 1000 people there and because of the delayed start everyone was in a huge queue waiting to go.  I saw a few people by-passing the line and heading to the front.  Turned out they were doing the Epic distance like us (I think there were three distance options) so we followed them, mumbling Epic, Epic as we walked passed people.  We managed to sneak in a little nearer the front and probably saved ourselves half an hour or so.  It was going to be a long ride, I needed every minute I could get.

We were finally off at 9.15am and the first half hour or so was very foggy and I didn’t really like it.  I had lights but they seemed inadequate – just hoped there was safety in numbers.  Ian had scooted off but I took my time, wanted to check that my legs were holding up ok after Thursday’s run before I put in too much effort. 135km is the longest I have ridden for a while and wanted to have something in reserve for the end.

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Blue sky!!!!

It was such a nice route.  Before long I started to recognise some landmarks and some of the roads – it was where I did the North Dorset Village Marathon last year! So much easier on a bike!! The roads were gently undulating and dry (yay) and very quiet – lovely countryside.

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There were a few hills, maybe four or five that were proper hills but they didn’t seem that bad to me.  They were quite short and with steady gradients, unlike some sportives that seem to add killer hills and often near the end when you are tired.  It was a nice change.

Although a long ride, which took me about six and half hours, it was a very pleasant experience and despite being tired I felt comfortable.  There were three feed stations but I only stopped at the last one. I had  a couple of fig rolls and a cup of coffee – which was very welcome.  I mainly stick to my own food on these events – you can’t beat a marmite pitta 🙂

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Pretty houses

The last 20k or so I was ready for it to be over. Tired legs but still enjoyable.  I got back to the racecourse and Ian was waiting for me having finished well over an hour before.  He hadn’t had such a good ride, lots of leg cramp and pain and he was also tired from lack of sleep since coming home from Panama.   So I offered to drive the two hours to my Mum’s house where we met up with Heidi before she dashed off on her travels again.  My lovely Mum had dinner waiting and a glass of wine ready for me 🙂

It’s been a big week – four events done in eight days.  Taking it easy now before next week’s Half Marathon in Yeovil!

Event 13 – Saffron Trail with Kat – 35km

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So much mud…the end!

Ha ha, ok there was more than mud but sometimes it didn’t seem like it.  This was a  made up event – although it had been run before.  Kat, my forum friend had done most of this run last year and enjoyed it so much that she wanted to do it again.  It is a good way for her raise money for her charity, and as I am also trying to raise funds for mine and needed another Event I asked if I could come along.  We both wanted a midweek date so a few months ago we put a Thursday in March in the diary and just hoped the weather would be kind. IMG_4463 (1)

As it happened the date was perfect. I need to drop Heidi off at my Mum’s – she is trying to catch up with everyone during her one week in the UK, before she flies of to Thailand this weekend. My Mum’s house is only 16 miles from Kat’s house in Essex.

Although only 16 miles away, the Dartford Tunnel/Crossing is between the two houses and it’s not the place you want to be at pretty much any time of the day.  I left just after 6am to give myself the best chance of a stress free journey,  the traffic was already very heavy but was moving and I got there just before 7am.   Had my porridge  from my flask and Kat and I set off.

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A fifteen minute walk and two train journeys and we were at Hockley where we had a mile walk to the Saffron Trail and the start of Event 13.  The Saffron Trail is 71 miles long and runs from Southend-on-Sea to Saffron Walden.  One day we may attempt it all but today we planned to do just over 20 miles of it – running as much as we could.

And so the mud started.  I had wondered how we would divide up the running and walking but in the end it was obvious.  The mud was impossible to run through and at times walk through, not helped by the thick bramble that lined the edges of the trail.  My trail shoes are pretty good but the thought of hours and hours of wet feet did not appeal, plus the fact that I know from experience that wet feet equal blisters and I need my feet a lot this year!  So I was super cautious trying hard not to submerge my feet and also not get cut to sheds by the bramble.  It made many (most) parts slow going.

IMG_4537So, basically any bits of the trail that were dryish we ran, and the first few hours we made good time.  But after 10/15km there were also lots of fields to cross.  The fields were either uneven ground with very wet grass, caution required, or agricultural with thick clay soil, which meant with every step more and more clay gathered on our shoes until we could hardly lift our feet and we then wasted a few minutes de-claying our shoes.

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Plus there was map reading.  I left this to Kat – who did a great job.  She remembered much of it from before but it was a different time of the year and landscapes look different.  So we often stopped to check her phone or written instructions which took up time.  On one section we couldn’t find a stile we needed to cross and ended up cutting across some farmland, dodging sheep and trying not to get stuck in the mud.  Then basically put our heads down as we quickly walked through a farm yard hoping not to see anyone – not sure we were supposed to be there.

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Yet another stile

The trail itself was generally well marked with little Saffron Trail signs but sometimes we would get to a field and….no signs. No idea whether to go left or right or straight across.  It wasn’t always the prettiest of routes (I’m very spoilt living in Somerset) sometimes we were on busy roads or alongside housing estates but there were lots of woodland areas, wide open fields and far reaching views and it was just great being outside all day with great company.  We were lucky with the weather too, the temperature was perfect – around 7C the threatened rain never came and occasionally the sun came out.

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Blue sky and a quick stretch

We stopped at a little shop just after half way to get a drink.  Kat found IronBru, which she couldn’t resist.  You can take the girl out of Scotland…..  But mostly we relied on our own supplies which we carried in our small rucksacks. It was the first time I had run with one and I didn’t mind it at all.  I knew it fit well as I used it in Finland XCSkiing a few weeks ago.

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Great rucksack and a mud free path!

It was a long day out – we were on the trail for around seven hours and for the last couple of hours my legs were very tired.  Kat, 20 years my junior, seemed to be coping better – I’m sure I saw her skipping along a few times, when I could hardly lift my legs 🙂 and there were so many stiles to cross over which seemed to be getter bigger and bigger the more tired my legs got.

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Just outside Chelmsford (we could see it ahead) and with about 3km to go, we came to a dead end.  A great big roadwork project all fenced off.  Right between us and and where we need to be.  Right between us and me sitting down and having a rest!!!!   All the places we hoped to cross were filled with inches of water and I just wasn’t prepared to get my feet completely wet, I know I’m a wimp but I could face another 3km and a train journey with wet feet.  Kat doubted our chances of getting past the “No Entry” “Keep out” signs.  But I saw a workman and shouted over. I didn’t quite beg (I did) but I was very persuasive and in the end despite “I’m really not allowed to do this” he let us climb through the fence and then guided us past big trucks and plant vehicles out to the main road.  Turns out he was runner and seemed impressed with our efforts.  I also think he didn’t want to be responsible for some 50 year old women found in a boggy mess somewhere on the outskirts of Chelmsford lol!

My watch stopped at this point, I think I knocked it climbing through the fence.  35km – that’s a long way. We still had 3km to walk to the train, I decided as my watch had stopped I didn’t need to attempt running any more 🙂  So, two trains back, another short walk and I was back in my car and ready at tackle the Dartford Crossing.

It was a fabulous day.  A great way to see the Essex countryside and spend time with my friend.  We saw trails and fields, woodlands and pretty villages, far reaching views and lots and lots of mud.

Event 13 done, 37 to go.

Events 11 and 12 – London Parkrun and 10k

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Up&Running pals

I had two great reasons to be in London this weekend.  Heidi and Ian were flying home from Panama and some of my Up&Running pals were hitting town.

I hadn’t seen Heidi for a couple of months as she has been travelling around South America, she then met up with Ian two weeks ago for a fortnight in Panama.   Then I found out that my friend Sunita was flying in from New York and meeting up with my forum friends Helen and Shauna so I could hang out with them before heading off to Paddington to meet Ian and Heidi off the Heathrow Express.

Oh….wait a minute… LONDON…. I could do an event or two 🙂

Hampstead Heath parkrun

I’ve not done a London parkrun before, usually my visits to London are during the week to hang out with Ian.  Our hotel was at Belsize park only a ten minute walk from Hampstead Heath…it was meant to be.  It was also a freezing -1C and despite my recent cold acclimatisation in Finland I was bloody cold when I arrived at the park – as usual way too early.  It was sleeting a bit and looked like it might turn to snow any minute  Brrrr…

One nice thing, as I was walking through the park to the start I saw a parakeet.

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Parakeet

There were around 250 people including a friendly man and his daughter who I chatted to for a while.  Turns out he lived next to Bushy Park which is the home to the first ever parkrun and also the venue for my race the following day.  I grilled him for info on how to get there, as I hadn’t really checked it out when I booked it.  I just thought it was in London and therefore near a tube station.. I was wrong!

Anyhoo, back to Hampstead Heath – it was hilly.  Some of the hills were really long, but I managed to run the whole thing – even overtaking a few people.  The pace was very slow at the beginning due to the narrow path and volume of people and that plus the hills was reflected in my time of 32.28.  A very enjoyable run.

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Hampstead Heath

A quick dash to the hotel for a speedy shower then I jumped in cab to meet my friends for brunch which turned into lunch and G&Ts – rehydration at it’s best.

Saturday afternoon I met Ian and Heidi and after a good catch up and some nice food I had an early night ready for my second event of the weekend.

Bushy Park 10k

The logistics of getting to Bushy Park from Belsize park were slightly harder than I thought. A longish tube journey followed by a mainline train stopping everywhere plus Sunday running hours….it could take quite a while.  As Ian and Heidi had had a long day of travel the day before including a rushed connection at Madrid, meaning Heidi’s luggage didn’t make it, I thought it best they stayed in bed in the warm.  I also still had a slightly sore ankle from my XCskiing marathon last week and wanted to leave the decision on whether to run until the last minute.  (As it happened my feet were so numb from the cold I couldn’t tell if they hurt or not).

I didn’t sleep that well but woke up early, very early, my ankle didn’t seem too bad so I set off for the station.  In the end the journey was quite straight forward – although long.  I had plenty of time to get to Teddington plus find the park.  The race was on the other side of the park to entrance I arrived at so I had quite a long walk but at least it kept me warm.

After registering I still had an hour to wait for the race to start.  I was hoping for a nice cafe to sit in.  There was a cafe, but it was an outside one – I did have a yummy waffle and some coffee though, which warmed me up a little.

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Waffle and toffee sauce

The race itself was uneventful – two laps of the park.  It was cool to see the park where parkrun had started and I could imagine the 1000 people they get some weeks, running round – there was plenty of room.  My race though, had around 250 people and a good mixture of speeds so I had company the whole way round.  I didn’t see any deer which was disappointing – there were signs everywhere saying “do not feed the deer” and “do not approach the deer”.  What deer????  I see more in my garden at home lol!

Fortunately as it had been so cold the “multi terrain event” advertised – that is, running on grass – wasn’t too bad as the ground was firm and not too muddy.  My time was 1.03.42, a slightly faster pace than my hilly 5k the day before.

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It took a while to get back to Belisize park but after yet another speedy shower I headed  out for a fab Mother’s Lunch with Ian and Heidi and some more rehydration.  Cheers!

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Mother’s Day Treat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Event Ten – Finlandia Ski Marathon

IMG_3595So the cross country ski marathon week had arrived.  This was an event that was completely out of my comfort zone and involved a skill that until a few weeks ago I didn’t have.  What was I thinking!!   As you know I went to Chamonix three weeks ago to learn to cross country ski and if I’m honest didn’t think it looked too hard – Oh boy how wrong I was.

My Chamonix week left me feeling that maybe I taken on one challenge too far.  But what was I to do? I had already paid for my trip to Finland and the race entry.  Looked like I was going and I would try and do my best.

A cold, hard bike sportive and a half marathon managed to take my mind off skiing for a while but the trip came round soon enough.

I landed in Helsinki and met my group.  Apart from one guy called Alex, everyone knew each other and had done many trips and races together – this was an experienced bunch – Oh SHIT!!! What had I done.  As you can imagine they seemed surprised that I had signed up for a ski marathon after 5 days of previous ski experience.  Thank goodness Alex was a novice too, having only skied the week before in Italy.  We fast became friends and support for each other.

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My new friend Alex

The first day on skis it took me a little while to get back in the swing of things but I was helped by much better snow conditions than in Chamonix and although my technique was that of a beginner I could still get round the tracks and with great effort just about keep up – they were obviously all taking it easy in preparation for the race and could have left me at any time.  The tracks were also very hilly, which actually helped me a little too as I’m bit better going up the hills than on the flat – where a lot of skill is required – and I could use my downhill ski skills on the down slopes.

On day two Alex and I were taken off on our own with Gareth, one of the guides and a very experienced cross country skier.  He had done races all round the world and was a wealth of information.  A day with Gareth helped us no end – we practised all the skills we would need for the race like jumping in and out of tracks for overtaking – ha ha ha ha – didn’t think I would be doing much of that.  We worked on our glide and it was also very useful to understand how the skis actually worked – you need to push down on them to get them to glide.  Anyhoo, after a day with Gareth we were able to go back with the group for the next two days and get a few kilometres in our legs.  The whole group was very supportive and encouraging and by now, although I knew I still had a lot to learn I was pretty sure that I could make it round on race day, it just might take a while 🙂

On Friday the day before the race we went to the Lahti Ski Stadium where the expo was held.  The ski stadium is fabulous with three huge ski jumps behind it – very impressive. At the expo we collected our race bibs and left our skis to be waxed. I also bought a jacket for race day, my gorgeous lululemon jacket, although trendy was apparently not quite right for a race, I needed to look the part – at least on the start line 🙂

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Scary ski jumps

Race Day

I woke up very early and immediately checked the weather.  It was -11C, that is cold and much colder than the temperatures we had been out in all week which had been nearer -1C.   The group had had lots of discussions about how many layers we should wear. Hopefully my new jacket would keep me warm.  I had a shower and some tea.  I’d got all my kit ready the night before and my skis were at the stadium,  I would pick them up just before the race started.

At 8.30am Alex and I walked the 30 minutes to the stadium.  It was indeed cold and also snowing.  The pavements were very icy and we took our time, didn’t want to fall before we had even started.

My lovely friends Minna and Olga who I know from my running forum were meeting me at the stadium.  They had both driven for two hours to come and see me, I so appreciated it, and it was lovely to see familiar faces and have my own little cheer squad.  A quick hug and chat and a few photos and it was time to get on the start line.

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My friend Minna and pink monkey

It was really something.  Hundreds of skiers all in the tracks in the stadium ready to go. It was quite cold waiting for our wave to start but we only had to wait twenty minutes and my nervous energy helped keep me warm.   I looked over to Minna and Olga and they were waving Union Jack Flags – perfect!

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Skiers waiting for the start
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Olga waving her flag

 

 

Three, two, one and we were off…straight up a steep hill.  I was prepared for this as we had practised it, but it was very different trying to herringbone up hill with hundreds of skiers around you.  My newly waxed skis were quite slippy too.  At the top of this hill Minna and Olga were waiting and madly waving their flags and cheering.  As I looked over at them a reporter ran over to me and said I’m going to take your photo….oh ok 🙂   He ran ahead of me and snapped away.   Apparently Minna had given him a little interview about me and my 50 events …I made the morning paper.  Hahahahah …some of you will know this is not the first time 🙂

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Morning paper fame

The first 13km were mainly uphill, there was actually 1000m of climbing over the course, and to think I thought that cross country skiing was done on the flat lol!  Actually the Finlandia is quite a technical course and one of the harder ones on the circuit. I didn’t know it at the time but this year was the best conditions they have had for about ten years – good snow and cold temperature.

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A lot of this section was familiar as we had done it in training, including a very steep down hill which I successfully descended.  Unfortunately at around 14km on another downhill I wasn’t so lucky and fell as I tried to negotiate a steepish bend.   The snow had all piled up as a few thousand skiers had gone round it and my skill level wasn’t up to the job.  I hurt my ankle in the fall and it was to hurt for the rest of the race.  At no point did I feel it was bad enough to stop but towards the end when I was very tired it hurt to push and glide and I had to resort to double poling quite a bit – yay for strong arms.

The feed stations, there were five, were…interesting.  They called your name as you came through which was fun. Paula Green from Great Britain…..Welcome!   Lots of hot sweet drinks, bits of banana, bread and butter! and gherkins were on offer.  I stuck to the drinks and the banana and I also had a chia bar broken up into pieces in my pocket. I was warned not bring chocolate as frozen chocolate is not too kind on the teeth.

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Feed station

After the second feed station it flattened out for a little while but it was still hard going as the snow had softened with the skiers going over it – probably better to be at the front I guess.  I was also getting close to the furthest I had ever skied – 23km (and that was with a lunch break lol).  But I knew that if I could get to 30km then mentally I would feel like I was almost there and just grit my teeth and get on with it.  The last 10km were also over familiar ground which would help too.

Occasionally we would ski past houses in the woods and people were out with cowbells and cheering, a lovely boost.  Although the tracks were much quieter by now (at the back of  the pack) there were still plenty of skiers around to keep me company. The weather had also got much better, blue skies and sunshine, in fact the best weather of the week.

Despite my aching ankle I was happy throughout the race and so pleased I took the risk to attempt it.  It was a “no pressure” race, taking part and doing my best was all that was required.  The experience was enough.

At 39km the last feed station appeared and as well as the usual fare, beer was offered – hey, it was rude not too.  Good Finnish beer I was told – I had a small cup and set off again and straight into my second fall of the day, maybe I shouldn’t have had the beer.  The original distance of this race was 50km but it was shortened to 42km due to poor snow conditions in some areas.  In the end my garmin said it was 44km but who knows?  It was a long way and it took me 5.28.06. Two weeks ago I was worried about not finishing in eight hours so I was thrilled with this time.

Minna and Olga were waiting for me at the end – cheering and taking photos.  It was a happy day and one that I will remember for a long time.

All my group finished and did some great times.  There were only 18 Brits in the race and I think only four British women, so I was the fourth fastest British women ha ha!   After the race I got my new World Loppet passport stamped – it has all the major ski marathon races in and now I have the passport I obviously want to get more stamps 🙂   So next year it may be Estonia or Iceland or Sweden or….. oh dear I think I’ve got the cross country skiing bug.

 

 

 

 

 

Event Nine – Exeter Parkrun

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Boats in Exeter near the start

Another week and another trip to Exeter – and still no shopping!!! This time it was for parkrun and funnily enough it started about 200m from where I did the Half Marathon last week.  I knew where to park and where the toilets were – perfect 🙂

After the usual briefing about, not being a race, and looking out for other park users we were off.  Everyone dashes off so fast and the first few metres were hectic, but before long I settled into my back of the pack place.  I actually ran the first 1km pretty fast for me and was hopeful of a good time but as the run went on the mud and wind came into play and my pace slowed accordingly.

I thought it would follow the same route as last week but we quickly left the canal path and headed off along a track and over a little bridge before turning left onto a football field. This was the muddy bit.  We had been told that we must stick to the edge of the field to make sure we ran the full 5k and of course this was where the most mud was. I was better prepared today and wore my trail shoes so although I slowed up I didn’t feel like I was going to fall.

The wind that had helped so much with my speedy start was now blowing straight in a our faces and as we left the field and got back on the track it was really strong and gusty.  But no rain, thankful for that.

I was very relieved that it was only 5km – my legs felt good and I wasn’t too tired but I needed to get back home as I had to drive to Heathrow in the afternoon!

I finished in 30.10 and unusually for parkrun the barcode scanning was done inside.  We had to walk 300m to a climbing centre where everyone had to remove their muddy shoes and walk in our socks upstairs to the scanning area in a cafe.  It was a great idea and if I had had more time I would have stayed for coffee and cake.

But my next event beckons. Off to Finland and hoping I can remember how to Cross Country Ski!