Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Running Down Dementia

This is another fund-raising initiative between the phenomenon that is parkrun  and ARUK in which parkrunners were asked to challenge themselves to run or walk 100k (not all at once I hasten to add!) and raise £100 over the summer.

That gave people 5 months to achieve something amazing in their running journey whilst raising funds to power research into dementia.

Runners could choose to do the challenge as individuals or as part of a team. What a great way to encourage people to perhaps run a few extra miles and feel that they are making a difference at the same time!

There is a leaderboard where people can see how they are doing as an individual and they can also help their parkrun group reach the top of the leaderboard in terms of money raised and distance run. A nice bit of healthy competition.

Looking back at the figures for June, Bedford parkrun was in the lead for mileage with more than 550km logged. But things can change so quickly and as of today Bolton parkrun has gone into the lead with an impressive total of 1462.73km. Antrim parkrun was leading the fund-raising table with over £1200 raised but they have been overtaken by Newcastle with a massive £2,025.14.

In the 'Team' category, the ARUK staff team is now in the lead with a very impressive £2,809.84. Great to see them setting an example and supporting the cause.

As we're now about halfway through the challenge I thought it would be interesting to have a look at the latest overall statistics and they are jolly impressive:
  • 3024 runners are taking part, including 115 teams.
  • Between them they have run 368 parkruns covering 98,245 kilometres.
  • They have raised £93,001 so far.
Wow! It just goes to show what can be achieved if we all come together.

Keep up the good work all you fabulous parkrunners.

By the way, it's not too late to join in the fun as you can still sign up here as the finish date is 31st October so there's plenty of time left.  All the parkruns you run can be used to contribute towards you 100km target which gives you plenty of time to get your friends and family to help you reach the £100 target.

Good luck and thank you for supporting Alzheimer's Research UK - together we will make a difference!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A little help for a friend (with marathon 87 thrown in for good measure)

The Samphire 100 mile endurance run and challenges

No, no, no, I haven't lost my marbles and entered a 100 miler but I know a lot of people who did! This event was a really big deal for many people and there had been some dedicated training going on for many months.

The weekend centred around a 100 mile event which started at 8am on Saturday morning with a strict cut-off of 4pm on Sunday. Alongside this there were 6 hour/12 hour and a 24 hour events. Some people chose to chase their marathon numbers and did 3 x separate marathons but Nick (who was featured in my last blog post) chose to do 3 x 6 hour events plus 1 x 12 hour event (ie 4 x marathons) to complete his 100th marathon of the year on Sunday - mad and inspiring in equal measure and he worked jolly hard for it as I can bear witness to some of his darker moments.

So, given that I try to avoid running marathons in hot weather and this event was in July, what on earth was I doing there? Well, several months ago whilst running the Fowlmead 50 mile event James pulled alongside me and asked if I'd do him a favour and be his pacer as he wanted to do something amazing; complete the 100 mile run and then head out for an extra marathon afterwards.


Yes, not content with running 100 miles he wanted to go out for another marathon soon after finishing and that's where I came in - he wanted someone who he could trust to keep him moving no matter what. I was honoured that he thought I was up to the task and ignored the fact that it was taking place at Samphire Hoe which although beautiful has a large stretch of concrete which we would run along 7 times for marathon distance - for the 100 miler they had to do 27 laps (ouch!).

Having had a really wet summer thus far it was Sod's Law that the sun would come out just in time for the event and boy did it come out!

When everyone set off at 8am on Saturday morning Mike and I decided to head into Hastings for a wander around and it was already hot and humid. By the time we left around midday I was having trouble breathing (asthma can be tricksy in high humidity) so Mike was worried about how I'd cope the next day. I worried about how people would manage in such hot conditions and I was delighted when Traviss put a tracker on Facebook so I could see how people were doing (although it wasn't a live tracker as it's a difficult area for getting a phone signal due to the high cliffs). James phoned me around 9pm to say he was doing well, was in 2nd place, feeling strong and had made good progress so I went to bed feeling slightly less worried.

At 4am on Sunday I got up and the first thing I did was check the tracker to see if he'd finished. Oh my goodness, I was delighted to see that he'd finished in 2nd place and in just less than 20 hours. How fabulous! However, I was sad to see that some of the 100 milers had either pulled out or dropped down to the 24 hour event as that must have been heart-breaking for them.

Lots of people were there throughout the night supporting their loved ones and Dee took this beautiful photo of the sunrise using her phone (thanks for letting me use it xxx).

I left home at 5:15am and I put my mobile phone on to check if there were any messages from James but there weren't. What I didn't do was switch it off again which is really unusual for me as I never answer calls when I'm driving and so I nearly jumped out of my skin when a text message came through as I drove along the motorway. Thankfully I was near a service station so pulled in there in case it was anything urgent. "Please can you bring your walking poles?" said the message from James. Oh crikey, I thought, I'm too far to go back for them then I remembered they were still in the car boot 'cos I'd taken them to the NDowns marathon the week before. Phew!

I'd planned to get for 7am as there was no access into the venue during the night, although people could leave at any time. You have to go through a tunnel which is controlled by traffic lights and there's a 3 minute waiting time either way.

Photo from wikipedia

What greeted me was a melee of runners in various stages of disarray. Some looking distinctly nauseous, some still trudging along, some trying to bend down to untie their shoelaces, some lying on the ground looking vacant. Phil called out from his camper van and I waved and was about to head over when I spotted James's mum Becky waving to me so I headed over to her to see how he was faring. Very tired and rather stiff and creaky is an honest appraisal. He'd finished at around 4am but hadn't managed to sleep at all because it was too noisy.

When he heaved himself out of the car I was worried and very glad that I'd got the walking poles as it was clear he would need them. But this why I was there, to chivvy him and and make sure he achieved his goal (which I made him change slightly as he'd wanted to do an extra lap to make it an ultra marathon so that I would be awarded my 1000 mile hoody from Traviss, presented to those who've run 1000 miles at one of their events, but I didn't care about that on the day as knew I would get it in a few weeks anyway).

Here he is with his hard-earned buckle (the traditional memento for a 100 miler).

Apparently, he'd had a bit of a wobble during the night because he hadn't eaten enough. He'd had lots of comments from people about this already, naughty boy, so I saved the lecture for another time and just made sure he ate something solid and took on appropriate fluids each lap. I'd baked my usual banana cake but had also made some chocolate croissants as I knew they were a favourite of his. When I set them down on the feed station it was like a plague of locusts descending on them and I worried that he wouldn't get one but thankfully Becky had dived in and saved one for him!

We set off at about 7:30am and it was nice and cool at that time. I really, really wanted to run for a few laps to get ahead of the game before it got too hot but there was no way he was capable at that stage. I kept telling myself it wasn't about me and that my role was to ensure that he got through it in the best possible way. So we walked a slow and painful walk for 2 laps, chatting, catching up, joined by Eddie for one lap then Rik for the next, watching the world and fellow runners go by.

There were still plenty of 100 mile runners out on the course, some were still looking strong adn determined, some not so strong, some looked as if they could drop at any given moment. I called out encouragement to everyone we passed and gave hugs where needed watching in awe as Gary (photo later) dragged his broken body towards the finish; he'd felt a pull in his hamstring quite early on but was trudging ever onwards determined to finish no matter how long it took.

It was a humbling experience watching people struggle on, each with their own very personal battle.

We spotted a few small boats along the seawall, one flying the American flag, and we found out that they were the support crew for people swimming the channel. There were 3 swimmers attempting it that day, one of whom was doing the crossing 3 times. What I hadn't realised was that although the crossing is 21 miles or thereabouts, the route they have to take is much longer as they have to avoid the shipping channel which makes it closer to 28 miles.

A swimmer heads out for a bit of a dip!

Support crew watch as their swimmer disappears into the distance. It must be a nervous wait for news.

I'm sure James won't mind me saying that the first 2 laps were very slow and painful, made even harder because of the hill - going up is tough but coming down it can be treacherous as your quads get all wibbly so I was glad he had the poles just to steady him.

By lap 3 he was getting cocky and his legs felt a bit looser so we did a little run along part of the seawall. Now bear in mind he's 25 years old and a speedy runner, the little blighter set off at my 10k pace and I was huffing and puffing to keep up. Thankfully he wore himself out eventually and settled into my sort of pace!

Look mum, no poles! That's Gary on the left - I'm pleased to say that he did finish and he really earned that special buckle.

As the sun started to peep through the clouds the temperature started to soar and even though I'd applied liberal amounts of suncream I could feel my skin sizzling. There were some very sunburnt runners and helpers around from the day before and my favourite was Gemma who wins the prize for comedy tan-lines:

Gemma wins the prize for 'best comedy tan lines!' with her sunburn looking like pink knee socks and armwarmers.

James decided to ditch the walking poles after lap 3 but I think he started to regret that after lap 5 when his legs really started to complain and he stopped talking about running at all. What can I say about the next 4 laps? It was all about getting the job done. We distracted ourselves by chatting about future plans, we watched the many fishermen casting their lines along the seawall and we shared a few miles with several different people, some we knew, some we didn't.

It got hotter and hotter as the day wore on and I began to worry that he wasn't wearing a hat as his head was getting really burnt.

Each time we reached the turnaround point we had our cards clipped to prove we'd completed the lap and I made sure we headed straight to the aid station for a drink and to pick up something to eat then straight out again to keep moving - it's really important not to waste time there as it's easy to eat whilst walking and it means you're moving forward all the time.

After lots of nagging about his lack of headgear and resistance to nipping to his mum's car to get his cap (men!)  Traviss came to the rescue and improvised by putting a buff (neckwarmer) over his head which was great because it dangled down the back of his neck too. It may not be the look a 25 year old likes but it did the trick! By the time we'd got to the end of our penultimate lap his mum had produced a cap so I stopped nagging.

Isn't that a fabulous tee shirt for all the 100 mile finishers!

For our last 2 laps there were only a few walking wounded left out there and on the second half of our last lap we were completely on our own. Even the fishermen had packed up and gone.

We started looking at our watches and doing calculations about the cut-off but I knew we were going to be OK if we could maintain a decent walking pace, which we did even though James had started to limp quite badly on lap 6 and was finding the uphill section very painful.

Never at any stage did being noted as DNF (did not finish) enter my head and I employed every distraction strategy I could to keep him going and not thinking about the pain. As long as we kept moving I knew we'd be OK.

He worried that we were last but I was proud to ring the bell with him in 8 hours 18 minutes as how many other people have done what he did? He ran a 100 miler ultra marathon and then completed another marathon within hours of finishing!

"But it's a pw (personal worst) time" he complained, in the embarrassed voice of a 25 year old who knocks out a 3 hour marathon. 

"Indeed it is" I replied in a voice full of pride.

We were within the time limit and I rather like 8:18 as I love palindromes and I am proud to have that on my 100 marathon club spreadsheet as I know the effort that it took.

You smashed that beast James and I am proud to have shared part of your journey.

So that was my 87th marathon and I was so pleased to have been a part of and witnessed James's amazing achievement.

The only downside was that I got very sunburnt and was given a stern lecture by Mike about forgetting to re-apply my sunscreen - my bad (as they say across the pond)!


My legs felt fine the next day but I'm giving them a little rest from running for a day or so and I skipped yoga on Monday as my hip flexors weren't happy!

I spoke with James today and he's feeling good and has already signed up for 2 more 100 milers - no I'm not tempted but I do have plans for another 50 miler next year...........

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Up on the Downs for marathon 86

How does that work then? Ah well, I know the answer to that one - the word 'Downs' is derived from the Celtic word for hills! This time it wasn't my beloved South Downs, on Sunday I headed off to the North Downs for my latest marathon. The North Downs are comprised of a ridge of chalk hills stretching from Farnham in Surrey right across to the Kent coast at Dover. On a clear day there are some fantastic views. Sadly, Sunday was not one of those days.

It made a nice change to be going in a different direction to Kent as this event was in a part of Surrey that Mike and I used to know very well. Race HQ was at Reigate Hill Golf Club, a beautiful location at Gatton Bottom in Surrey and I had a nice relaxing journey both there and back. The downside was that I arrived much earlier than planned, although that did mean that I got a good parking space. Good job I'd got my trusty flask of coffee and a chocolate bar Mike had kindly bought me as a treat for afterwards (ahem!) to help pass the time.

About 3/4 of an hour before the start I headed off to find James who had promised to drag me round what has been described as a marathon 'even more challenging than Beachy Head' (gulp!). He'd also promised me an ice cream so I could hardly refuse now could I. It was nice to walk into the reception area and see so many familiar faces as I can remember when I first started out on my marathon journey and I used to try and blend into the background because I didn't know anyone.

As the weather can be so unpredictable up on the Downs I decided to take a light, waterproof jacket with me and I'm glad I did as it did indeed rain a few times and the sun only deigned to come out for the last 1/2 hour or so. I'd stuck my walking poles in the boot of the car as well but decided against them as I didn't fancy having to carry them for most of the route when we were running.

The weather had looked rather dreary right from the moment I got up and it didn't seem to be getting any better by the time we set off. I didn't take a huge number of photos as it was so dull but I hope I've captured some of the route well enough to give a feel for it.

It was an out and back route starting close to the North Downs Way trail, across to Box Hill, down some hideously steep steps (of which there were several different flights and of course we had to climb up on the return leg), across the River Mole, through an underpass to get to the other side of the A24 (it was great fun making loud noises and hearing the echoes as we ran through there!) to a trail passing alongside the Denbies Wine Estate and past St. Barnabas Church and then on to the turnaround point.

The route was described as "a testing and very hilly trail run" with  "a mixture of undulating trail interspersed with tree roots, some rocky sections and there can be muddy or sandy parts on the course" and that was a very accurate description. Exactly the sort of terrain where I am extremely cautious for fear of tripping.

As we headed out of the golf club we started to climb and that was really the theme for the day as we were either going up or down a hill for 90% of the time!

This is the Salomon's Memorial Viewpoint, high up on Box Hill. On a clear day the views are spectacular but on Sunday not quite so good.

This was taken from just below the viewpoint

I was a bit disappointed that so much of the route was through woodland. Not that I don't like woodland, I do, but because I longed for the far-reaching views. Plus, it meant I spent a lot of time looking down so as to avoid tripping on tree roots. First stumble went to James as we were going down a set of really steep steps - I was going down so slowly that I managed not to trip there.

We shared some time with the lovely twinnies, Julia and Theresa, plus Martyn, Richard & Costas and the chatter really helped pass the miles.

A clearer view across part of Denbie's Wine Estate

Part of our route took us along a concrete access road and both on our outwards and return journeys we passed a truck pulling several carriages full of people sipping champagne on a tour of the vineyard. On the return section I waved at the ladies in the last carriage and they held up their glasses to me so I ran after them holding out my hand to much hilarity and they gave me a cheer and shouted "good luck".

I'd been told we had to cross a river via stepping stones and most people were looking forward to it but I have to confess that I was rather nervous about it. Not that I'm scared of water but because my eyesight affects my balance making judging distance/depth a challenge for me. This is probably one of the reasons I trip and fall sometimes - goodness knows what I'll be like when I'm really old!

Martyn and Julia watched as this man ran across them making it look easy - I was not so brave and
walked very slowly across. 

The one good thing about the crossing was that I knew when I got back there James was going to treat me to an ice cream!

There was a strict cut-off time of 3.5 hours for the turnaround point and we made it with about 10 minutes to spare meaning we still had 4 hours to complete the return leg to get back within the 7.5 hour time limit. I was surprised that they did not record our race numbers at that point as the route was not well populated and someone could easily take  a nasty tumble and need assistance without anyone knowing they were missing. As we left there we actually went past Brian who looked as if had taken a tumble and we mentioned it to Nuala who was marshalling at the A24, just in case he needed any medical treatment as we'd noticed he had blood on his face.

These marshalls were a welcome sight because........

.....that meant it was ice cream time (thanks James!)

Then we retraced our steps and I stopped occasionally to take photos of the things that I'd made a mental note of when we passed them earlier:

Mousy carved on a log

There was a wealth of wildflowers all around and I got very excited at one point as I spotted loads of orchids and Yellow Rattle plus this little beauty below which I think is Deer Pea Vetch (aka Vicia Ludoviciana). I was so excited that I probably bored James and Julia to death with my Naturewatch lesson. Soon after that I was off again when a tiny vole scuttled across the path in front of us!

Look at the intensity of the blue of Anchusa Arvensis (aka Bugloss)

James trots off to chat with Richard to escape my twitterings about wildflowers!

I mentioned the steps earlier but didn't take any photos of them myself as I was too busy trying not to stumble. I thought going down them was tricksy but climbing up the blighters was a whole different level of pain. My goodness some of them were steep, plus some of the risers were really high. There was lots of huffing and puffing from all of us. I can't remember who took the 2 photos below but they give a feel for one of the easier climbs:

In the photo below you can see Nick. He looks just like an ordinary runner doesn't he. Well, he deserves an extra special mention because he's doing something quite amazing this year by running a vast number of marathons/ultras. Only a few days ago he completed 11 marathons in 10 days and if that isn't impressive enough he's already completed 96 marathons so far in 2016 and we're only halfway through the year. Absolutely brilliant!

Nick making this set of steps look easy (great big show-off!). Photo courtesy of Richard.

I think it was that set of steps where I spotted this magnificent Stag Beetle which of course I had to announce to those following behind (sorry if I bored you all to tears!)
There was a slippery section shortly after that and it was hard to work out how to get round the claggy puddles which were sitting at he bottom of sloping ground. We had to sort of balance on one side and hope that we didn't slide into the puddles. Amazingly I managed not to slip into it but poor James slid right down the bank and ended up with 1 shoe completely caked in mud.

There's not really much to say about the rest of it as it was a case of running/walking and chatting. The last few miles were shared with Louise, a new chum and I wish I'd taken a photo of us all at the finish but I forgot. I love meeting new people at races and sharing experiences and I hope we see her again at another marathon.

As we got closer to the finish James reminded me that I'd wanted to take a photo of this lovely  mosaic to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. As we slowed to a walk so I could take this we were walking 3 abreast and Louise noticed that the speed camera at the side of the road was displayed 3mph (it must have been tricked into thinking we were a car!) but I wasn't quick enough to take a photo of it. It made us smile though. 

We went past a school and I snapped this interesting sculpture. We couldn't decide what it's supposed to represent though.

We'd targeted 7 hours and for the last mile we pushed on a bit just to make sure and crossed the finish line in 6:55:06 to get a lovely medal and a welcome hug from Donna. 

That'll do thank you!

Another medal for my collection - love the mantra "Pain is weakness leaving the body"!
So, that's marathon 86 done with 87 coming up this next weekend. Onwards and upwards.

I've still got to write about judging day for Village in Bloom but that will have to wait awhile as I've got too much going on (as usual!).

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Marathon 85, the slow and steady one

This was one of those events I just had to do as it was to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter. I've always loved her books and still have all my collection of her works from my childhood. Traviss had promised us some smashing bling and so I was powerless to resist. However, it was held at Shorne Woods which did not hold happy memories for me!

On the day though, the mud at Shorne Woods, that caused me to bail out after 3 laps earlier this year, was kinder to us. It was still there as the weather had been vile for several days beforehand but was nothing like as bad as before. I had, however, taken the precaution of packing my walking poles which turned out to be a wise decision as they helped me stay upright throughout.

During my journey there it rained but by the time I'd prepared myself and walked to the start the sun was peeping out and stayed with us for most of the day, except for a few short and very light showers.

The start time of 9:30am was later than I prefer as I'm an early morning runner but the good news was that Traviss had extended to cut-off time to 8 hours as several people were very nearly timed-out at the last event. This was very good news for me as I knew it was going to be muddy and it meant I could walk any of the scarily slippery bits (2 of which caused me to fall last time).

There were lots of familiar faces in the crowd at the briefing (the 3 people in that photo were all at recent events with me)

Mike had given me strict instructions to "be sensible" and pull out of it was dangerous and I risked picking up an injury at this stage in my marathoning plan. He said later that he worried all the time even though I'd tried to re-assure him by saying that I would not continue if I was worried about conditions underfoot. Poor love; it's hard being support crew!

Each loop was just under 3 miles and so I had to complete 9 laps for marathon distance. I gave myself a target of 7 hours or thereabouts so I had no need to rush and risk a fall. I chatted with lots of people en-route and was joined by James for most of my last lap (although he was heading out for his 13th lap as I left!). 

Most of my photos were taken on my final lap and hopefully give a feel for the conditions:

A lovely dry path heading downhill but don't be fooled as it lead to.....

...the slippery slope!

Nowhere near as bad as last time though

Ironically I've just realised that I didn't take a photos of the really slippery sections where I fell over last time and lots of people struggled this time!

There were lots of skidmarks and I found my poles invaluable!

The bright yellow flowers are Hawkbit and they really shone in the grey light


This  slight slope downwards was OK as it was gravelling rather than muddy

This aged Sweet Chestnut tree seemed to be clinging on to life with just one side in leaf

Such a beautiful, gnarled trunk

More nice dry gravel trail

The fairy/elf ring with woodland creatures

The bottom of Cardiac Hill (great name but not quite as bad as its name suggests!).

Up we go then......

It's one of those climbs that's OK to start with but becomes more and more mountainous in relation to the number of laps you've done!

This sculpture was designed as a reminder of the site's history - many prehistoric artefacts, inlcuding flint tools, have been found there and it has been designated a Site of Scientific Interest

This was the easiest bit of the route to run on as it was nice flat grass for a couple of 100 metres!

My favourite tree of the day - a magnificent Sweet Chestnut

I fell in love with its multi-stemmed trunk

There were lots of tree roots to avoid and I noticed that some of them had been marked with spray paint (which was very helpful). James, whose feet you can see on the left, told me that it wasn't Traviss who'd done it for us but rather it was the remains of another event from the week before

I loved the shape of the coppiced trees in this section. The dappled light they created was just beautiful.

I am very pleased to report that I managed to stay upright this time with only a couple of slight stumbles and sneaked home in 7:18:29 which, although my slowest time ever for a marathon, was fine by me. As I get ever closer to the magic 100 I am getting ever more cautious!

At the finish I was presented with my beautiful medal and I had a jolly good chat with Traviss and Rachel about when and where my 100th marathon would be. I really wanted it to be at one of their events but I'd seen that someone else had earmarked the one I wanted as their own celebration. However, Traviss has subsequently had a word with the person concerned and it's been decided that we will celebrate together which is very generous of him. I'm not going to announce the details yet as I don't want to jinx it so you'll have to wait and see.......

As I headed back to my car I phoned Mike and he was very relieved to hear I was still in one piece! I then had an attack of the munchies and delved into my goody bag to find a bag of crisps which I set about demolishing as I walked along. After a few minutes I realised I was just following the man in front of me without paying any attention where I was. 

Then the man turned and asked me if we were going in the right direction and I had no idea! Between us we managed to find our way back to the car park but en-route we discovered this interesting sculpture entitled "Spider Tickles Worm" by local artist and sculptor Steve Portchmouth. It was made from bits and pieces of machinery found on the site which used to be a clay pit and quarry.

I've got a very busy week ahead as the judging for Village in Bloom takes place and there's such a lot to do beforehand. Sadly, all the wildflowers we planted, including lots of poppies to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, have been strimmed and completely destroyed and a local resident took it upon himself to strim the verge opposite his house and has cut down all the wildflowers there which were looking fabulous yesterday. Hey ho, plan C it is then (no, I've no idea what plan C is yet!!!).

Next weekend sees me take on one of the toughest marathons around these parts, the North Downs marathon which people tell me is much harder than Beachy Head. Gulp!

ps, I nearly forgot an article in the latest issue of Women's Running magazine which my friend spotted and posted on my Facebook page - it was entitled 'Britain's Sunniest Runners' and was penned by the lovely Lisa Jackson who wrote 'Your Pace or Mine?'. She has often commented that I'm always smiling and was interested in how I stay focussed and motivated but mostly about how a positive mental attitude really helps keep me going.