Druridge Bay – parkrun location 52

My 52nd parkrun location for this morning was an icy Druridge Bay, the most northerly parkrun in England while we were spending a weekend in Northumberland. While I was waiting in the cold and then running, Lucy took the dogs for a walk along the beach and found a couple of geocaches.

The route is two (well, about 1.9) very attractive laps of the lake, with some gentle undulations, some in the woods and some more open. And in the frozen north it was my first parkrun in a hat.

There were a few icy patches, but it was possible to find a route around them all without much difficulty.

I’d intended to take it relatively easy, but once I got warmed up I found someone to chase (thank you Jilly Bell), and she pulled me round increasingly quickly so the second lap was 40 secs per km faster than the first (and didn’t need a hat). Good start to the day.

Plans afoot

Since getting my place in The Big One next April, I’ve deliberately run a lot more races than previously, with more in the pipeline. Those planned still to do:

A pre-Christmas half-marathon on the Lee Valley Velopark on 23 December. I did a 10-mile run there in April, and I rather enjoyed it, so after Snetterton I’m still hoping to knock a second or two off the PB, but in any case it’s a good cold-weather focus.

Hadleigh Legacy 10k in January 2018. I did this in January 2017 and it was my hardest run by some margin. It’s run on the Olympic mountain-bike course, and is all hill, with some mud, rocks to run up and four tunnels for added fun. Definitely not one for a PB but for the fun and the challenge and the variety.

In March, my first overseas race, the Cyprus Half Marathon in Paphos. Not the most thrilling of routes, truth be told, but a great start and finish, and having spent so much time in Cyprus it will be fun to run a race there as part of the London Marathon build-up, 7 weeks out.

Other possibilities: the Stowmarket half-marathon in March is very local and a definite possibility, 5 weeks from London. The Tarpley 10 or 20 in February is also very local. However, none of these quite fit the distances my training plan is calling for, so I’ll reserve judgement for now.

Snetterton Race Track half-marathon

A chilly morning (zero degrees when we set out from home) made for a slightly tricky decision on what to wear for this race, and as I stood around before the start, wearing an extra fleece and still cold, I began to doubt whether I was going to be wearing enough. The large number of women in vests and skimpy shorts (there were a few men similarly attired but we’re typically less hardy) suggested that either they were going to be even colder, or maybe I would be ok, though the several billion goosebumps in evidence didn’t set my mind at rest.

The warm-up, though delayed because of late arrivals struggling to get to the course, eventually did its job, and once the race was underway I was fine. Later, I even contemplated throwing my gloves at Lucy who’d come to cheer me on. My top layer got increasing unzipped as the race went on.

The course was three laps of Snetterton motor racing circuit plus an out-and-back along an access road, which meant six crossings of a bridge with a noticeable little climb. Even without the bridge six times, it wasn’t quite as flat as I’d been lead to expect: not hilly but enough gradient to notice. It was a beautifully sunny day, albeit with a fair breeze which increased and was noticeable everywhere on such an exposed route. A fair few supporters, and the looped route meant that I got a personal cheer eight times, which is always great.


My objective was to beat, just, my PB from last month of 1:56:26. I was weakening slightly on the third lap, but reckoned I had just enough in hand to make it; however, my Garmin recorded me doing 21.2 km so the pace calculation was fractionally out, and at the water station on the third lap I had to wait several seconds for them to pour a drink as there was none ready, which I didn’t begrudge at the time but with hindsight was a bit frustrating since the end result was that my official time was 1:56:26. Couldn’t have done it if I’d tried.

So, another medal to add to the collection, plus a bottle of water after the finish. No goody bag – they’re often a waste so probably no bad thing. The site had shower blocks which I took advantage of, and then after a quick snack we walked slowly along the access road, being passed by the tailenders, back to the car and so to the White Stag in Hingham for a late lunch.

Brundall – parkrun location 51

After doing my home parkrun last weekend, this morning’s exploration took me to Brundall, just east of Norwich for my 84th parkrun at my 51st different course. It’s a fairly new “countryside park”, and on the small side as these things go, so despite a route looping back on itself, it was still four laps of the park. All on grass, with some modest undulations. It was a dry morning: I had deliberately chosen to head NE from home to get further from the rain to the SW.

As at March parkrun a few weeks ago, I fell prey to the temptation of the 24-minute pacer, today Nicole, on a day when I wasn’t quite up to it. It was a very busy start but I managed to keep close to her, but after half a lap she pulled slightly away and I never quite managed to catch her, but kept her not far away and worked hard to keep close. I thought perhaps she was going a fraction faster than needed, but it turned out that she knew from experience that the course is slightly long and had adjusted her pace accordingly, so although I did manage to get 5km done in under 24 minutes, the parkrun finish line took 24:10 to reach.

I thanked Nicole for pulling me round and making me run a bit harder than I would otherwise have done, and cheered a few people across the line.

Castle Park – parkrun location 50

My 50th different parkrun location today was Castle Park parkrun, in Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire. A very pleasant trot around the park with views of a second motte-and-bailey castle (after last week’s Clare Castle) and the infant River Stort, cheered on by a good few spectators including Lucy and two of our dogs, en route to a fabulous lunch with the in-laws.

There was some tarmac but a lot of grass, some uneven and some quite squelchy and slow, so I was pleased with my time. Also as it was a very chilly morning, it was the first running outing for my London Marathon winter top: I had to half unzip it on the second lap as I was overheating, but it will be a good companion on the coldest of winter days.

Clare Castle – parkrun location 49

Clare Castle parkrun in SW Suffolk today for my parkrun tourism. It was just its fourth run, and so had been my nearest not visited. The run here allowed me to complete the Suffolk parkruns once again.

The route is around the country park, a spot I’ve been to a number of times, with the delightful site including the eponymous motte and bailey castle, as well as the former Clare railway station, and sits alongside the River Stour, with the parkrun crossing the river six times. It’s a varied route, a lot among trees, the majority on rough tarmac or concrete, but a fair bit that’s along the old railway line is on gravel/dirt/leaves, plus some grass. The slightly more challenging footing contributed to me being almost a minute slower than Southend last week.

Afterwards I climbed up the motte to the castle, from where there was a grand view down onto the finish area.

So, that was different parkrun location number 49 – I’m not sure whether number 50 is coming next week.

Southend – parkrun location 48

More parkrun tourism for me today: parkrun #80 at location #48 was Southend, joining a couple of friends, one of whom lives in nextdoor Leigh. The course is very pleasant, being three laps of Gunners Park, itself part of a larger nature reserve formed from former military use as its name hints. It includes three laps of the lake and a section along the sea wall (see photo view).

It’s almost flat and 95% on tarmac so despite slightly heavy legs from a cycle ride yesterday, and a bit of a breeze, I decided to go all out for a good time. I passed Claire part way through my third lap and she gave me a mental kick to push on hard to the end. Official time 23:24, knocking seven seconds off my parkrun PB so very pleased with that.

I cheered in Bruno, and then jogged back nearly a km to find Claire to run in with her and to try to give her the mental support she’d given me. She got under 37 minutes for the first time, with the last km being the fastest, so great result for her too.

Then the rest of the morning catching up with friends before trailing back to Suffolk.

Perkins Great Eastern Run

A beautiful day for a run today, the Great Eastern Run half-marathon around the streets of Peterborough. One or two people afterwards complained that it was hot and muggy, but they obviously weren’t in the same place as me – I thought it nearly ideal running conditions: blue skies to start with though more cloud later, about 12 degrees, and the gentlest of breezes.

I recently read a Facebook post along the lines of “things I wished someone had told me before my first marathon” and one of them was the need to pee 19 times before the start. Well, I haven’t quite reached those heights, but after three visits at home, I stopped for another at the Peterborough motorway services which was full of runners with a side order of doggie people (the other group out and about this early on a Sunday morning), then got to the car park in Peterborough in good time. On arrival at the Embankment, I got in the queue for loo visit number five, then checked out the starting pens before rejoining the loo queues for visit number six. I guess it is nerves or excitement, but I can’t say I felt nervous, and while there was a general buzz of anticipation, I wasn’t unduly excited, either.

I dropped off my bag and then returned to the starting pens. I was slightly uncertain about which was which: with one labelled “1:50” and another “2:00”, where should I go if I’m aiming at 1:59? I took the former to mean “1:50-something”, and found myself at the front. With the pacers for each pen near the back, I then found myself close to the 1:40 pacer as I crossed the start line, which felt odd.

I felt reasonably well prepared for this one, having taken the running easy during the week, and rested fairly effectively yesterday, and with the weather being good and the course being fairly flat, I set off intending to run at my PB pace and see how it went.

I adopted my increasingly familiar “jeffing” approach, running a mile and then walking for forty seconds. Knowing that there were water points at 3, 6, 9 and 11 miles, I flexed things slightly to make sure the water points coincided with walk breaks, which allowed me to take on water at a walk, which is much easier. I also took on gels at 2, 5, 8 and 10 miles.

My aim for PB pace was 5:28/km for the mile-long runs, but in practice they came in at a very even 5:27 or 5:26 pace up to the half-way point, where I felt really good and pushed the pace just a fraction more, cut the walking sections down a smidgen, and found some further acceleration in the last two miles as the crowds grew thicker and noisier: I finally managed to pass the woman I’d been chasing since just before the half-way mark with just 200 metres to spare. My finish “sprint” was subdued but a definite speeding up to around 5:00/km for the last km, which saw me overtake quite a few other runners.

My final time was 1:56:26, knocking 2:40 off my PB, so I was really very pleased with that. And while I worked hard, there was a bit more in the tank on the right day, so we’ll see how I do in 6 weeks’ time at Snetterton.

I then waited at the finish for fellow runner Marion from WeightLossResources who also had also run a great time, on her fourth HM in four weeks she’d run her fastest for two years – lovely to meet her and spend a few minutes chatting.

March – parkrun location 47

A visit to March in Cambridgeshire this morning for parkrun #79 at my 47th location. After a warm-up jog, I quickly got chatting to people – it rapidly became clear that it is a particularly friendly event with a lot of mutual support going on for the full range of abilities.

The route is four laps of the pleasant park: out and across the grass, back on a firmer surface alongside the old course of the River Nene (about four miles from the modern straight course), up the dozen or so stairs, down the grass slope and back to the start. I’ve had a few steps before, but this was my first parkrun with a flight of stairs.

I’d planned to take it a little easier this morning, but I got caught up in the moment and ran with the 24-minute pacer. (They had 27 and 30, plus 1-minute-run-1-minute walk and 2-minute-run-1-minute-walk pacers too, the first time I’ve seen that – great idea.) It didn’t really feel like a sub-24 morning or course (I’ve run under 24 four times), and I had on my trail shoes which I don’t think are quite as fast, but I felt sorry for Clive who’d offered his services and didn’t seem to have any takers. We set off very briskly but soon steadied the pace.

First lap was reported as 5 seconds ahead, which was fine, but I was already feeling that I was pushing too hard for this morning’s legs. After the next half-lap, we were 7 seconds ahead, so I eased up a bit along the river, and we finished bang on target. The third lap was hard, but we were 5 seconds ahead again by the end, but I was now really starting to wilt. On the fourth lap Clive (PB 21:21, ex-military and a personal trainer) really earned his keep, as did Hugh (PB 22:51) who’d by now joined him in pushing me round, cajoling, encouraging, and insisting that I persist, with some very emphatic pointing at the ground alongside them telling me to get myself there, to lift my legs, to lengthen my stride. So I pushed my weary legs on, feeling that I was definitely slowing down, but tried to power up the steps and then find anything left for the run for the finish.

Final time 23:49 – very satisfying, and on more rested legs they would I’m sure have taken me close to my PB. I also found later that I was 18th of 153, my best relative position (11% through the field) yet. Good job Clive and Hugh.

Once I’d got my breath back, I lingered to clap and cheer people over the finish line, said thank you to the run director and a few volunteers, and was on my way after a good outing for the legs.

King’s Forest Trail Half-Marathon

This morning the King’s Forest Half Marathon, my first trail half. Or rather, half and a bit as it was long: the race director said 13.71 miles though I measured it a bit less.

I arrived in good time at West Stow Country Park and put the car in the overflow car park, missing a huge hole which would have got the car stuck and possibly damaged it – it may be a field, but it is a field signed as a car park, and while I wasn’t expecting ‘flat’ I wasn’t expecting such a large hole, either.

I picked up my registration pack which included a bold orange t-shirt, which will get more use for routine runs than array of darker colours I’m starting to collect. There was also a chunky chip-timing device which I strapped to my ankle. I returned to the car and pinned on my race number.

I chose to wear my hydration backpack today, as it was a warm day and there were just two water stations. There is a lot of advice about not making sudden changes to footwear, clothing, nutrition, and so on, between training and racing. Well, the hydration backpack has rapidly become something I rely on during longer runs, and despite the minor penalty of running with an extra 1.5kg on my back, I think there’s a lot to be said for sticking with what’s familiar and what works.

We assembled near the start for the pre-race briefing, given by a chap with possibly the loudest voice I’ve heard. There was good news and bad news. The bad news was that with a slight change of route to avoid knee-high nettles and brambles, he’d measured the course at 13.7 miles. (To be fair, the publicity had always made it clear that the distance was approximate.) The good news was that it was a lovely sunny day.

And so we were off promptly at 10.30am, an hour behind the marathon runners. I had expected that the fastest of the marathoners would catch me up near the end of the route (as they were doing two laps of the half-marathon course) but that didn’t happen.

We started along the River Lark, including alongside a lake, mostly firm footing with a small bit of mud and a couple of gates. Then we crossed the road and took to field-edge paths to Icklingham. I found that I was going too fast, but struggled to slow down, and once I’d done my first 40-second walk break found that I was between people on narrow trods, which made me want to avoid getting in the way by slowing down.

After the first drinks station at Icklingham, we turned north and the start of a long gentle climb across breckland. It was lovely scenery, but still I was going too fast given the ascent.

There were quite a few large puddles on the level ground at the top, and some sandy, gravely patches from time to time, but mostly the going was not too demanding.

We eventually turned into the eponymous forest, with some challenging running initially, on a hogsback of a section which descended and ascended every few metres. After the second drinks station, I ended up at the back of a procession of five along a narrow trod, which worked quite well, but I was now starting to tire.

The remainder through the forest did at least benefit from quite a lot of shade on a warm day, but it was increasingly hard work and my pace slowed. A woman who I’d caught up coming out of Icklingham, and who had then got away from me, was having problems with her knee, and we passed and re-passed each other several times, before I eventually kept ahead.

At various points, the route through the King’s Forest was in familiar places, albeit often from an unfamiliar direction. We eventually emerged to cross the road for the second time. I passed the magic 21.1km and soon there was the sound of strong applause, and I realised it was for me as I powered over the finish line.

2:08 was my second slowest half (my first attempt at Reading being 2:10 but the last 4km or so of that was walked when my knee gave way), but my position of 39th of 101 was my best relative position in a half (first time in the top 50%), and I suppose a trail HM PB (and also my longest race as it was measured slightly long).

A trail should be expected to be harder, and I should be satisfied, but I was a bit frustrated, in part because I had failed to pace myself well enough. Looking back, I probably did too much running in the last fortnight, too, plus a very cold swim on Thursday took more out of me than I’d realised, so all in all I wasn’t quite 100% at the start line.

A great welcome at the end, and lots of cake.

Mulbarton – parkrun location 46

It was bright and sunny when I left the house, but started raining heavily once in Norfolk, and it was a gloomy scene when I reached the puddle-strewn car park on the edge of the common at Mulbarton just south of Norwich.

I waited in the car for a while, and the rain turned to drizzle, then I got out and warmed up my legs a little with a jog around, then joined the growing numbers of people for a little chat.

We were then all taken across the common to the start and the briefing. The route is 3.75 laps of the common, which is more interesting than it probably sounds, with a variety of conditions underfoot, slopes up and down, trees, a few sharp corners. The rain stopped for the run itself, which was an improvement, though of course the ground was by now rather damp. One chap I overtook on every uphill and he overtook me on every down, but as the up came last, I managed to beat him.

I finished in 23:58, which I was quite content with, and was 31st out of 100 runners.

Mo runs London

Great news that Mo Farrah has decided to join me in running the London Marathon 2018.

I can talk for years to come about running with Mo. Great news. And I’m confident that such will be my speed that Mo will be nowhere in sight when I cross the line.

His win today of the Great North Run for the fourth consecutive year was a mere 59 minutes faster than my time at Great Yarmouth – but the latter did involve some grass at the start, which makes all the difference.

Stowmarket Golden Mile

My shortest race yet was the Stowmarket Golden Mile race on Saturday afternoon, being a mile through the main shopping street. Rightly or wrongly I did a 2km warm-up with some sprints about 50 minutes beforehand, this being the first time ever that my warm-up has been longer than the race.

The entry was 300 people, and it was a very busy start up a gentle hill before entering the main shopping area where there was some good support, then little footpaths before returning to roads to enter the park for the finish.

The best value paid-for race I’ve done: in addition to all the organisation, there was drink, food and a medal, all for £3. Thanks to the Stowmarket Striders running club for their organisational efforts including the many members volunteering to help manage this fun event.

It was rather too crowded at the start and too undulating (and warm) for a PB, but my second-best mile time so quite pleased with that.

Running USA

With a holiday of over a week in the USA planned, I wanted to do some running while I was there. The holiday started with a day in San Francisco, where there are some good running spots, but I was very tired from the long journey to get there, we had a packed day as it was to make the most of a fascinating city in  a day, and there was no good running near our hotel, so that pleasure is indefinitely postponed.

So, after 33 hours on the California Zephyr AMTRAK train we reached Denver, Colorado and the neighbouring Aurora, which gave me the opportunity for a run, albeit not very thrilling. I managed 3½ laps of two blocks around the airport hotel, which had the novelty of being my furthest west run and my highest at around 5000 feet above sea level. I didn’t notice any significant impact from the altitude.

A couple of days later, after the remarkable spectacle of a total eclipse of the sun and a beautiful visit to the Rocky Mountains National Park, we reached Teton Village on the edge of the Grand Teton National Park. In among other activities, I went for a beautiful run. It was 28°C and now at 6300 feet above sea level so I took it easy, giving plenty of time to admire the glorious views to the Tetons.

More of the sights of America in the Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and the Craters of the Moon National Monument, before reaching Boise, Idaho. The final morning before starting the journey back to the UK gave time for 6km along the Boise Greenway either side of the Boise River, starting before dawn. It wasn’t as interesting as the map had hinted, as there was little to see of the river from the paths on either side, vegetation blocking the views, but still pleasant to be out before the heat of the day, and this became my new “furthest west” run.

A few years ago, a holiday in a series of strange places, and the temptation of the hotel bed would have meant a holiday from running, but now I’m pleased to be taking advantage of the opportunities to run somewhere new, without letting it dominate the holiday.

 

Great Yarmouth Half Marathon

After an emotional rollercoaster of an evening at the World Athletics Championships in London last night, today it was time for my own athletic effort, the Great Yarmouth Half Marathon.

It was a very well organised and incredibly friendly race thanks to the Great Yarmouth Road Runners – really friendly and helpful at race HQ, and really superb marshalling: lots of noisy encouragement (static and on bicycles and motorbikes), plenty of water to drink, plus cooling hosepipes and jelly babies if wanted.

Despite the name, the race doesn’t visit the town of Great Yarmouth (presumably gaining its name from the running club rather than the town), starting and finishing in Gorleston and taking mainly rural lanes to the south and west, and incorporating the grounds of Somerleyton Hall: I’ve pinched the picture – it wasn’t mine, but I tried to take in the view as I passed, as it’s so easy even on the most picturesque runs, especially when running hard or to a fixed pace, to fail to take in one’s surroundings.

It was my first half-marathon race using a run/walk technique – every mile, I walk briskly for about 35 seconds, to give my legs just a little time to recover, also giving the opportunity to drink from plastic cups while walking, and consume any gels etc. at a walk rather than run. I used the approach for a 10-mile race at the Lee Valley Velopark in the spring, and set a new PB with it, then signally failed to do so at the London 10-mile when I reverted to full-time running, and I’ve become a convert to run/walk on distances longer than 10km.

I had quite a while to chat (in short bursts) about the approach with one runner, Donna Crake, as we passed each other a total of 14 times. I think she was intrigued though perhaps not persuaded, but subsequent online discussion elsewhere seems to have caught the attention of another runner who is going to try it shortly in a long training run.

I was aiming for 2:03 which would have been my best HM time this year, and consistent with the plan to PB at Snetterton in November, but I felt good early on, and pushed the pace a little, then felt great after half-way so pushed it further to run negative splits, and finished in 1:59:06, a new PB, despite all my previous half-marathon races being fully run rather than run/walk. The beaten PB is from the Reading Half in 2010 so there is life in the old legs yet, and it was 6 minutes better than my training run half-marathons this year. Really pleased with that.

After resting for a short while and eating my post-race banana and drinking my water, I spent some time afterwards with a first-aider as I had pins and needles the length of both arms and hands, a first for me (other than when associated with migraine), but it passed in about 15 minutes with rest and gentle exercise. The first-aider was very calm and reassuring. She suggested it was most likely to be caused by keeping my arms a bit too bent while running too much of the time, and I do work them quite hard towards the end of long runs as a means of maintaining or increasing the speed when my legs start to tire.

I had my protein recovery drink, another thing that I’ve become a convert to, then returned to the race HQ (a school) where the friendly volunteers returned my bag and I had a shower and changed into clean and dry clothes – a very civilised thing to be able to do after a run, and not something I’ve previously been able to do.

Congratulations to the Great Yarmouth Road Runners on a superb morning.