Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Final Countdown

In a few days time I will be completing my 100th marathon.

Did I really type that?

It's only just beginning to sink in and it's exciting and scary in equal measures. I have actually completed 99 marathons!

Without further ado here are my write-ups of numbers 98 last Saturday & 99 last Sunday before I forget the details:

Marathon 98 - The Winnie the Pooh Wander

Well how could I resist that - I love Winnie the Pooh and all his chums plus we were running in the lovely Ashdown Forest which is really beautiful even though some of the inclines are rather challenging!

This event was supposed to be my 100th but even though I managed to absorb the previous crisis by adding in a few replacement events I just couldn't bypass the latest life event which interfered with my schedule. At first I was very disappointed but then I realised that if I made it a week later then that event would have a special significance but I won't share the details until next week.

I've run 2 events here before, each in different parts of the forest, my favourite being the High Weald Ultra Challenge last year (I took lots of photos of the area so do take a look as it's stunning).

Another field. Another event. This event was so popular that they allowed more entrants than usual,  hence the extra portaloos!

There were several special celebrations over the 2 days, the first being Steve's 100th marathon. It was also Paul's 100th but he will be celebrating that next weekend so that his special friend who encouraged him to get back into running could be there too, which is a nice thing to do.

Paul (left) and Steve

As is traditional at Traviss and Rachel's events, fancy dress was encouraged:

Leo and Somei posing for a selfie

Nice tail!

Just to put my 98th marathon into perspective, here we have Brian (he of over 1200 marathon fame) who made me laugh as he went past me and said "it's my 98th today too..........98th this year" Not bad for a 60 year old hey?!!!

You can just spot a WTP and a Tigger in the crowd as Traviss makes the usual announcements!

Paul and I had just spotted the lovely Dee taking photos!

Then Traviss started talking about someone who makes cakes for each of their events and he mentioned my name and he presented me with a lovely zipped hoody with my name on which was such a lovely surprise! I was really touched.

Rachel about to give me a big hug!

The other special announcement was that it was Kirsty and Liz's 99th marathons so they each got a round of applause and special chocolate.

Kirsty's fab skirt showing Pooh's special places

As we lined up at the start, Paul and I were standing on a mound and so waved like mad to catch Dee's attention

How very adult of us!

Then we were off. It was a figure of 8 course, the first bit 2 miles then a road crossing to the next bit which was just over 3 miles, which we had to complete 5 times for marathon distance. As this was a 'challenge' event, some people completed just 1 lap whilst others completed more than marathon distance.

Off we go

My target time was 6 hours which meant I could take it nice and easy on the steeper slopes. I really did not want to fall over ahead of the big 100!

Rutted tracks of lime and loose flint

Quite hazy to begin with. Love the colour of the bracken.

The luminous yellow of the Gorse flowers caught my eye

I'm not sure if this is "an area with big stones and rocks" as mentioned in Pooh.......

....but there was a plaque there commemorating A.A. Milne who gave us all our favourite characters

Wonderful far-reaching views

100 Aker Wood? Could be but the landscape will have changed in the last 100 years or so!

Cattle are grazed there as part of the conservation strategy (otherwise it would revert to scrub land)

There were lots of people to chat with en-route which really helped pass the miles and Kat very kindly kept me company for my penultimate lap - thanks Kat. Lovely to catch up with you and Jools.

Kat had brought her Aviator Pooh along for a big adventure!

Most of my last lap was spent just soaking up the atmosphere there and drinking in the views. We are so lucky to be allowed to run in such a beautiful place.

I finished in 6:05:25 so was pleased with that. I headed off to get some water but my hands are quite stiff at the moment (stupid arthritis!) and I couldn't get the top of my water bottle so Helen very kindly obliged.

 With Costa and feeling proud wearing my beautiful medal

This time it was less than an hour's drive home which was brilliant. Then Mike and I had a nice relaxing evening ahead of the next one.

Marathon 99 - The Tigger Bounceathon

Here we go again; same venue, different theme, same route but sadly not the same weather! The rain started when I got up at 5am and it was torrential. When I arrived there I parked in the field we'd parked in the day before then thought better of it and drove to the next one which had a hardcore surface as I didn't fancy getting stuck in the grass.

I got a tad wet just dashing a couple of hundred metres to collect my number.

2 well-dressed Tiggers

Somei and Leo embraced their inner Tiggerness

It was a special occasion for 2 reasons - Kirsty and Liz were running their 100th marathons and it was my 99th.

Kirsty had opted for understated elegance for her 100th marathon (snigger!)

Pure class

Everyone tried to huddle under the trees to keep a bit dry

I put on an extra jacket which I could take off if the rain stopped (which it did and I took it off after the first lap)

There were special announcements for Liz (she has lost 140lbs in weight!) and Kirsty (shortest time for a female to go from 0 - 100 marathons - 540 days which is blimming amazing) about their inspirational  journey to 100 marathons but I couldn't get photos as I was behind lots of people. They'd commissioned a special cake from Heather, a fellow runner and a very talented cake-maker.

Isn't this a magnificent cake!

As is customary for your 99th marathon, I was presented with some chocolate. Traditionally it is a chocolate Flake (an ice cream cone served with a Cadbury's Flake is  known as a '99').  However, there had been confusion about which day my 99 fell on (hardly surprising given it's been changed) and so I was presented with a Fry's Peppermint cream bar instead.

Notice I had the presence of mind to pack my walking poles as I knew it would be both muddy and slippery after the rain.

Thankfully the rain abated soon after the start and I dumped my extra layer in the car at the end of the first lap. Not much to say about this as it was the same route as the day before only with some muddy bits and I was extra careful on the steep slopes - some people were very jealous of my poles and they really did help on both uphill and downhill sections. 

I decided not to take any chances and did power-walking on any dubious sections where there was a definite trip potential. My target time was 7 hours and I sneaked in at 6:57:25.

People kept hugging me and I felt myself getting a bit teary and then Dee took a photo as I tried to escape. I've warned everyone that if they even smile at me next weekend I am likely to burst into tears as I know it's going to be very emotional for me!

Aren't they wonderful medals? I've already booked the weekend next year when they are holding the Eeyore Expedition and the Piglet Plod. Well I need to get the set now don't I!

As always, the ribbons are as beautiful as the medals:

So there we have it; 99 marathons and ultra marathons completed. As my 100th is so close, I shall be spending most of the time wrapped in bubblewrap in case I hurt myself...................

Friday, September 23, 2016

Eat, Sleep, Run, Repeat

All of a sudden I find myself sitting here typing that I have just completed my 97th marathon which, of course, means that I've only got 3 more to complete to reach my 100th. No, I can't believe either. Mike keeps wandering into my office, looks at all my medals and then we both start giggling. It's surreal!

I'd better get on with my write-ups before I forget about my last 4 marathons, the first of which was 3 days after the double weekend in Rye.

Marathon 94 - The Roald Dahl Challenge

I had to miss the previous 2 events held at beautiful Samphire Hoe as life got in the way so I was really looking forward to this one, until I heard the weather forecast which was for wall-to-wall sunshine and very HOT temperatures with no wind. When I left home it was 18 degrees and by the time I'd parked at the venue it was 23 degrees at 7:55am.

Oh my goodness!

Just look at that beautiful blue sky!

There were lots of the usual suspects there including a few people I'd seen at Rye last weekend. Several of us will be reaching the magic 100 in the very near future which is nice. At the race briefing Traviss announced that this was their 100th event and when I checked my spreadsheet I found that I'd run 41 of them.

As we set off it felt hot and I decided to just do one lap at a gentle pace to get a feel for it. I think the photo below, taken just after the start at 8:30am, gives a clue to the temperature - hot, hOT, HOT! My time on this course is usually around 5:30 - 5:45 and given that my face was dripping with sweat after just one lap I knew that I'd need to slow right down so I adjusted my target time to 6:15 which would allow plenty of time for walking when it got unbearably hot.

Mike remarked that the shoreline looks so straight that it doesn't look real.

What can I say about it other than it was hot, sweaty and uncomfortable but for some people this was fine and they even set personal best times. I just plodded along, watching the sea and sky, chatting with fellow runners/high-fiving/hugging and sharing banter to help pass the miles.

It was interesting that to begin with there was the gentlest of breezes on one of short sections of the sea wall which then changed to a much stronger and very welcome wind along the main section coming from the opposite direction. I chose to walk into the wind to help cool myself down and then ran on the way back.

I'd worn my vest with the 2 soft flasks which I'd filled with water mixed with NUUN tablets again. I didn't want to stop at the aid station until I'd passed the halfway point at the end of lap 4 by which time the banana cake I'd baked had disappeared completely and there was no watermelon left - boo! Never mind, I topped up my bottles with plain water and grabbed a handful of crisps for the salt content. I then repeated this after each lap which seemed to work OK as I didn't feel dehydrated when I finished.

Part of the route passes alongside the railway line and I always wave to trains when I see them; I can't help myself as where I grew up we used to run across fields to watch the steam trains go under a little bridge, wave like mad, get covered in soot and the train drivers always used to give us a hoot and a wave! I usually get at least one wave but this time I didn't get any horn-sounding or waving from the train drivers which was very disappointing.

I hadn't intended to take any photos as I've been there so many times before but of course I was seduced by the colours and shapes of my surroundings and so here are few more to give a feel for the day.  

This next one was taken at a surreal moment when a blanket of grey mist came swirling towards us from the direction of Dover Harbour. It lowered the temperature by several degrees as it passed over and then it went up over the cliffs and disappeared whereupon the searing heat came back!

That's Sam, of the Rebel Runners Club, racing ahead

Bye-bye lovely cool mist

Back to blue sky and heat (that's Georgina and Louise up ahead - they did an extra lap!)

A brace of ferries heading off to France

Now for some more photos of my favourite bit of the sea wall - not because it's by the turnaround point but because of the glorious colours and patterns:

I never tire of photographing the chalk cliffs and these rocks in different seasons as the colours change dramatically.

I'm always a sucker for an interesting lichen and have snapped some of these before but they've never looked quite as dramatic as they did on that day. The shades of yellow with lemon, yellow ochre and dark gold against the equally gorgeous greys of the concrete wall just cried out to be incorporated into a knitting pattern. Be still my beating heart! 

Then I remembered Kate's latest book The Book of Haps (from which I've just started knitting Houlland) as there's a design in there named Happenstance which was inspired by the lichen and rocks in the Nevada landscape where the designer lives. I can see how I could translate this image into that shawl by using a variegated grey yarn and 3 shades of yellow, possibly with the lace border in blue, or a darker grey, to represent the sea.

The tide had been in and gone out again by the time I was finishing my last lap and I was interested in the various lines left behind on the beach and tried to identify them; 

Sea, foam, wet shingle, dry shingle. sticks and debris, smaller gravel

I'm always fascinated to see plants growing in places you wouldn't think they could survive. In the summer there was Limonium binervosum, better known as Sea Lavender peeping out of the cracks but this time it was Rock Samphire that dominated.

Note the yellow lichen on the drain and then grey lichens on the concrete

Crithmum maritinum 'Rock Samphire' (aka Sea Fennel which is very trendy in restaurants these days).

I don't know what this plant is but you have to admire its tenacity in such a seemingly inhospitable location on the cliff face!

I never tire of the changing colours in this section.

As I was about 10 minutes from the finish Mike managed to phone me to check I was OK. It can be difficult to get a phone signal there because of the cliffs and sometimes you pick up the French signal or none at all. I knew he'd be worrying about me in the heat and I'd promised to be sensible so I got extra Brownie points for going even slower than usual and taking on lots of fluids.

I rang the bell at 6:20:34 and Traviss presented me with this fabulous medal. After a quick freshen up I headed for home to find that Mike had surpassed himself in his support duties and had a bottle of Prosecco chilling in the fridge ready for my arrival! When I showed him the medal and read the quotation he said "that sums you up perfectly". Thanks my darling.

Another outstanding medal from Traviss and Rachel

I had 2 days to recover before my next marathon.............

Marathon 95 - The Kent Coyote marathon

This was a companion event to the Kent Roadrunner marathon I ran earlier in the year, held on the same track at the Cyclopark in Gravesend only going around the track in reverse.

Now 21 laps around a tarmac cycle track is certainly not for the fainthearted but there was a good crowd of people out supporting and they were generous with their encouragement. Plus there were loads of people I knew taking part so there was always someone to chat with.

There were 2 lovely marshalls on one of the bends and they've been at the event each time I've done it and they are the best marshalls ever as they clap and cheer each runner on every lap. I wanted to take a photo of them but they'd disappeared by the time I wanted to do it.

I really wasn't sure how I'd feel on the day but as it happened I felt absolutely fine and so I decided to just run at whatever pace felt good. There were photographers out all over the route and you never knew when you were going to get snapped!

The reason I wasn't wearing my usual special cap was that after Samphire Hoe it was really horrid and sweaty and I'd forgotten to clean it up and just left it in the car but thankfully I'd got my pink cap in reserve.

There isn't really much you can say about going round a 1.29 mile loop. You just get your head down and get on with it, throwing away an elastic band after each lap so you keep track of which lap you're on - although it does seem rather unnecessary as we all wear GPS watches which give our mileage.

I occupied my mind with looking for wildlife and flowers and I wasn't disappointed. I saw lots of Devil's Coach-Horses on the track and I wonder how many other people spotted them. I don't think I've ever seen so many in one place - they were crawling along the tarmac and whenever a runner went near they arched up their tails like mini scorpions. Amazingly I only saw a few squashed ones. There was a kestrel hovering over the rough grass, slugs taking a dangerous route across the tarmac, cabbage white butterflies and a hummingbird hawkmoth to name but a few.

I caught up with several people I hadn't seen for a while which was nice and then out of the blue James came into view and so we shared the final few laps together. He wasn't super-speedy 'cos his knees are giving him problems but when he spotted that we could get in under 5 hours he decided we needed to speed up and then we did a sprint towards the finish line.

Yay, a sub 5 for the first time in months! 4:57:41 if you please. I nipped back to the car to phone Mike and get changed then headed back as I wanted to see Gemma finish. 

There weren't many people still out there when I got back.

The time limit was 6 hours

David, still looking strong, completing his final lap

The support crew waiting around for everyone to finish. They were great.

That's Carolyn in front, she was acting as the 'sweeper' and was chivvying Gemma on

With 2 more laps to do it was going to be a close finish to beat the cut-off so I wandered off to watch others finishing

Julia and Emine taking a break before heading for home (sorry you're a bit fuzzy lovely ladies!)

Traviss ambled around as if he was just out for a little wander (sort your shorts out please MrT!)

A group of supporters from Eastbourne running club watch anxiously as one of their group still has  a way to go to finish

I saw Lorraine finish, which was wonderful as she worked so hard for it. No photo as it was an emotional moment. Then finally Gemma came into view and put on the best sprint finish I've ever seen:

Giving it her all. You go girl!

It's wonderful watching people achieve their goals and this was a massive one for Gemma so very well done to her.

We all had our photos taken with our medal afterwards then it was time to head home.


We also got a Road Runner buff (neckwarmer thingy)

Then it was just 2 days before another 2 rather challenging events.

Marathon 96 - The Lucky Dip Challenge 

This was another great idea from Traviss and Rachel. They had lots of odd medals leftover from previous events so they planned to hold an event with about 35 people and you just got a random medal, perhaps from an event you hadn't done already. As it happened the concept was very well received and they ended up with 66 entrants.

The only downside was that it was held at Shorne Woods which I'd bailed out of earlier in the year 'cos of the mud (and falling over several times!) but then went back and did in slightly better conditions a bit later.

The woods themselves are beautiful, the only downside being that parts are a bit noisy from traffic zooming along the A2. The other thing is that there are a few steps (which you can see in the first link) to negotiate on each lap. Cardiac Hill has 142 steps and is followed by a short but sharp set of 34 steps so multiply them by the 9 times we had to climb up them and that's 1584 steps climbed on rather tired legs by the end of it! I took my poles with me again and was jolly glad I did as they really helped.

It was a 10am start as the park doesn't open until 9am so I didn't take any photos whilst out on the course because I wanted to finish as soon as possible as I knew I had to be up really early the next day for another marathon so just took a few snaps before the start:

I hadn't spotted this sculpture in the car park before

I liked the shape of the Visitor Centre

Runners assemble

Some familiar faces at the start - Jagjit, me, Mylene, Theresa & Costa

The trail was all bone dry which made it much easier to navigate but you still needed to watch out for tree roots and loose stones. Although I managed to stay upright this time (amazingly) I know a few people took a tumble. I set a target of 6.5 hours which allowed me to walk up the tough stretches and as the temperature was much cooler it was quite pleasant.

As there weren't many runners taking part, I hardly saw anyone en-route. I was passed by a few of the speedy runners  and I was aware that David and Jagjit were not far behind me as I saw them as I left the aid station (didn't manage to catch up with the old biddy though did you boys!). There were lots of dog walkers out and about and some children on a school outing which looked great fun.

As I climbed the steps for the 9th and final time I was very glad I'd taken my walking poles with me as they really do make a difference. I still haven't quite worked out the best way to carry them when I'm running though:

Concentrating hard and watching out for tree roots

I finished in 6:25:54, just 3 minutes ahead of these guys:

With David, Theresa, Mylene and Jagjit

They're all wearing a medal that I have already got so I chose this one which I hadn't got in my collection:

Then I had to head for home, which took an age because of an accident outside Maidstone, have a bath then eat something by which time it was nearly time for bed! I hardly saw poor Mike at all in the evening and then I was out again at 6am to head for Samphire Hoe..........

The Tolkien Challenge

I ran this event last year because I loved the medal and Tolkien and Samphire Hoe has a certain magic about it - you leave the main road and go downhill through a long tunnel which is like the start of an adventure. We'd been told not to park in the usual places as there was a special event taking place.

There were several small tents in the main car park which looks out towards France (we could see the coast later in the day, albeit a bit hazy)......

...and this massive one covered the whole of the car park where I usually park. Traviss said there was a special event about the Euro tunnel in the evening.

This being a Tolkien themed event, there were a few costumes in evidence:

I love that he wore his charity vest on top of his costume!

Traviss and Rachel followed the Tolkien theme too

Gandalf made some adjustments to his hosiery. The hat and wig didn't stay on very long but he kept his cape on for the whole marathon.

It was the perfect temperature when we set off although it did get quite warm later but thankfully not as hot as the week before. I had 5:45 - 6 hours as my target as I wasn't going to push after Shorne Woods even though I felt absolutely fine. I really didn't feel as if I'd run a marathon the day before and felt absolutely fine - aren't our bodies amazing!

There were quite a few of us there who'd also done the event the day before. I ran most of the first lap chatting with Paul who's nearing his 100th too and he told me tales which had me in fits of laughter. As usual there was lots of banter & high fiving as these events are just so friendly. 

Although I don't usually take any photos on the first few laps I couldn't help myself on lap 2 as I hadn't seen the tide quite so far out before and I could see all the rocks and seaweed really clearly.

Later in the morning there was a group of schoolchildren dipping for crabs etc in the rock pools and I really wanted to go and join them for a paddle.

Looking across the bay to what I think is Folkestone

2 of the Samphire Hoe workmen heading out to collect samples

My favourite section at the end of the seawall as I'd never seen it before.

Look at all that beautiful seaweed in shades of brown and that vivid green!

Later on there was a large group of schoolchildren sitting on the seawall round there listening to a talk from one of the Wardens. I heard bits of what he was saying and wished I could stop to listen too. I think it would be well worth a trip there with Mike on one of their explorer type days to learn more about the flora and fauna.

I was almost giving up hope again of getting a wave and a whistle from the train drivers when finally I got a veritable fanfare of horn sounding on lap 5. Thank you Mr train driver, you made my day! It also brought a smile to some fellow runners who were in the vicinity at the time.

I'd seen this little Herring Gull last week and his right wing looked sore as it was hanging right down by his side, although he was still managing to fly. So when I spotted him on lap 6 I picked up some cake crumbs from the remains of my banana cake at the end of the penultimate lap as I wanted to give them to him. Thankfully he was still around and his wing looked much better - he snaffled up the cake bits and posed for a photo with a ferry in the background.

I slowed down on my 7th and final lap and took some more photos of things just for my mood board (colours and shapes mostly). I had a chat with Philip for a while (this was his 180th marathon having only reached his 100th in February this year!) before he zoomed off to catch up with Gary. I managed to catch up with them right before the finish and crossed the line in 5:54:47, only just over 9 minutes slower than last year, which was a nice surprise.

Another fabulous medal for my collection

So here I am, 97 marathons under my belt with just 3 more to reach my goal. It feels both exciting and scary in equal measures. The countdown begins.......