Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Marathon update time

This is going to be a long post with lots of photos so apologies in advance!

Marathon 76 - Bewl Marathon, Saturday 14th May

Although quite local to me I only heard about this event last year and was quite excited about it as the countryside around Bewl water, near Lamberhurst, is beautiful and I love trail marathons. The other good thing about it was that it's only a 30 minute drive from home which made a very pleasant change.

It was jolly cold first thing and I was glad I remembered to bring a long-sleeved top just in case. There were several people I knew and the first ones I spotted were these lovely ladies:

Liz and Kirsty looking chilly whilst both sporting their race tee shirts form the Geneva marathon where Liz ran a very speedy PB time.

I couldn't get a decent photo of the train which must be used to take families around the reservoir

Anna was helping out at registration before running the marathon

A familiar face heading up the steps.......

....it's Greg, whose Wedding Challenge is my 78th marathon

Set in approximately 800 acres, Bewl water is apparently the largest stretch of open water in the South East of England and can hold more that 31,000 million litres of water. It's massive. I took this photo below as I remember a few years ago that the water level had fallen dramatically because of drought that there were major concerns about it running dry completely - I searched and found this article about it. Just look at the first photo which shows the same structure as the one in my photo below.

Although it's looking rather grey and gloomy in the photos I took before the start, it did actually brighten up during the marathon and got rather hot before returning to grey gloom.

I'd worn my trail shoes as a marshall near the start said it was muddy in places but I was disappointed to find that we actually ran on tarmac and lanes more than I'd expected and road shoes would have been a better option. It was a 2 lap course with a few undulations around the wooded area and along the lanes.

Before we started there were the usual announcements by the Race Director during which Elaine's gorgeous doggie started singing, in doggy language of course, which caused much hilarity. I must take a photo of him next time I see them.

As I wasn't sure how many aid stations there would be, I'd decided to wear my hydration vest rather than my belt. I needn't have worried though as there was plenty of water and nibbles available en-route and the marshalls were all very friendly.

Setting off for a short loop to make up the mileage before heading off on the full route (with thanks to Dee for these photos)

Catching up with Kirsty

I was lucky to share a few miles with Theresa and we had a lovely chat about anything and everything! You'll see her again, along with her sister, in my write-up for the Wedding Challenge

I'd decided to target 6 hours again so that I had plenty left for my marathon the next day and I felt fine throughout. There were a few uphill sections but nothing too horrendous and I just walked up them when I needed. I chatted with lots of different people en-route which really helped to pass the time. I even came across a neighbour who'd driven there to walk her dog.

The countryside surrounding there is absolutely stunning and it was really quiet and at one point I had a flashback when I recognised somewhere Mike and I used to visit over 25 years ago when we lived in London. We always wanted to live in the countryside and each weekend we'd drive out into the Kent countryside and explore different areas. We had an old AA book which had lots of routes to explore and the area around Lamberhurst was one of them. I ran right past the very place we'd parked on several occasions where there used to be a footpath we'd walk along to see the reservoir but that was closed off when Southern Water took over the site and so we stopped visiting.

As I headed towards the finish line I got a nice shout from Gemma and Lorraine who were out supporting and as I headed back to chat with them I phoned Mike to let him I'd know finished.

Susie, phone home! Letting Mike know I'd finished in one piece.

Thanks for the photo Gemma - I'm looking rather colour co-ordinated aren't I; purely by chance, I hasten to add!

Another medal for my collection

I had an easy journey home and a nice quiet evening in preparation for marathon 77 the next day.

Marathon 77 - Starfish marathon, Sunday 15th May

This is a relatively new event, first set up last year when they only had about 25 finishers, none of whom were women.  It is a fund-raising event for the Tree of Hope charity combining a series of races in one event - there were junior races beforehand and then you could chose a marathon, half marathon or relay marathon where each member of the team had to run 1 or more of the 10k loops along the seafront.

I parked nearby and had a look around before heading off to collect my race number near the De La Warr pavilion.

What's this then? This modernist sculpture is actually a mobile bandstand designed by Niall McLaughlin.

 At first I saw a heart, then I thought it looked like lips, then I went round the other side and saw the various tiers you'll see in the link above.......

Aha, some running buddies!

Nick, who I'd seen the day before at Bewl (and who had already run more than 60 marathons this year alone at that time and will be even more by now!) on the left and James on the right, who'd been running somewhere else. All 3 of us had run marathon the day before.

The De La Warr pavilion is a modernist building and a striking landmark in the town. It hosts many different exhibitions and we've visited several times in the past. It was in a sorry state of disrepair when we moved to the area but was closed for refurbishment in 2003 and was transformed.

This striking staircase features on the medal as you'll see later

It was a lovely bright day but there was a strong breeze along the seafront. I was very grateful for that breeze later on as it got really hot!

A view looking back towards the town centre. I think the block of modern flats blends in quite well with the older buildings alongside

As I headed off to the start I got chatting with a nice lady named Anne who'd also done some of the SVN events and I said I'd look out for her next time. She finished a little ahead of me and very kindly waited to see me finish which was a nice surprise.

Although there were plenty of people at the start it was hard to tell who was running which distance until we got underway. I knew I would be right at the back of the field in a small marathon such as this and so that's exactly where I positioned myself!

This was an out and back route where we headed away from start in one direction, turned and went back to the start and then carried on the other direction and turned back to the start again 4 times.

As I passed the start to head off in the other direction I remembered that I'd run part of this route before in the Bexhill 10k and that there were a couple of sneaky hills looming at the turnaround point. No worries, I just walked up the steepest bit to conserve energy and shared some happy banter with the marshalls at the top of the hill.

There were many wonderful supportive marshalls who stood out there getting blown around and baked and there was plentiful supply of water which was gratefully received as it got really HOT later on and I got quite burnt even though I'd applied Factor 60 sun lotion!

As I was right near the back there weren't many people to chat with except for John who I hadn't seen for quite a while. However, the beauty of doing loops is that you get to see all the other runners going back and forth and get lots of encouragement. Then after just over 3 hours James pulled alongside me on his last lap. He wasn't aiming for a fast time as he had another race in this sights so his target was to get round in under 4 hours (oh to be able to take it easy and trot round in 4 hours!!!).

We had a jolly good catch-up which helped pass the miles and then as we were about 1/2 mile away from his finish point he looked at his watch and decided he wanted to get below 3:45 so he sped off into the distance and finished in 3:44. Speedy boy.

I carried on and was very pleased that I felt good throughout. As I upped my pace towards the finish my phone rang (I'd left it on in case Mike needed to contact me about the horses or anything urgent) but I ignored it as was in sprinting-for-the-finish mode. As soon as I crossed the line I phoned him to let him know and he was shocked because he was just phoning to offer me moral support in case I was struggling in the heat and after yesterday's marathon, bless him.  He was very pleased that I'd managed to get round in 5:08:06. So was I!

Still smiling as I head towards the finish line on my last lap

I got a nice hug from Nick and then headed off for an ice cream.

See the image of the De La Warr pavilion?

When I checked the results I found there were 6 women taking part this year which is good and I am certain that I'll do this lovely low-key event again.

Marathon 78 - The Wedding Challenge, Friday 27th May

No need to get up at silly o'clock for this one as it was only 30 miles away. I did, however, give extra time for my journey just in case of incidents on the road but thankfully the only slight problem I encountered was 3 young deer boinging through a hedge and onto the road right in front of a flatbed wagon. Thankfully the driver was going slowly and had plenty of time to stop and I was far enough away to be able to stay well back whilst the deer panicked and ran back and forth along the road before diving into the hedge and disappearing again.

This was another of Traviss and Rachel's events and was to celebrate the forthcoming wedding of 2 very special people, Janet and Greg, who are ever-present at so many events. It was held in part of the Ashdown Forest, made famous by A.A. Milne although we weren't running near Pooh sticks bridge on this occasion. The happy couple were tying the knot nearby at the ashdown park hotel on Sunday.

Surprisingly enough, these are not their outfits for the day itself!

This is what I call a 'challenging route', made harder because it was a 1.91 figure of 8 loop you had to complete 14 times for marathon distance or more for an ultra. As soon as we set off it became clear why the time limit was 8 hours - oh my goodness, I doubt I'll be able to convey quite how tough it was but I'll have a go.

Base camp was by the car park. When I arrived it had just started raining and Mike told me we had torrential rain at home and that it was heading our way. It did. After the race briefing we set off down a gentle slope (you will not see the word 'gentle' again in this report!) of chalk and grass. At least the rain had stopped by then and it was just grey and miserable. Then we headed downwards through woodland (yep, it was riddled with tree root redhead-tripper-uppers!) for a couple of hundred metres before we started to head back up a slight incline towards where we started.

Then I saw it - the descent. I tried to capture it but failed miserably. It was hummocky, with ankle-turning rills, hard compressed chalk and some loose bits. Anyone who knows me well knows that this is my worst nightmare, right up there with going down steep steps (yes, I know the NDowns marathon has steps in; I'll just go very slowly and carefully) so I approached it with extreme caution, picking my way down very slowly and wondering how on earth I'd get down it another 13 times without bloodshed and tears!!!

I watched some fellow runners powering down there, wobbling and re-balancing at great speed and  I wished I had the eyesight and balance to gave me the confidence to do the same but I don't so I had to manage it as best I could - slowly.

The same hill but looking much more inviting in the sunshine

Julia (left) and Theresa (right) came dressed as bridesmaids and together with Dee (wearing another of her gorgeous dresses) escorted Janet for a nice walk around the course. Aren't they all lovely.

Having reached the bottom of the hill without incident we then headed through some more woodland with just a but of slippery mud and lots of tree roots but at least you could run bits of that with confidence. The running part was short-lived as then we started to climb again and it was quite a trek - it's rare that you see everyone walking up a hill right from the start but this was one of those occasions as everyone was being sensible and saving their energy knowing that they'd have to go up it at least another 13 times.

I took this about halfway up the hill when the weather had started to clear

After that there was a short flat bit you could run before you reached this section going up again. As you can see from the beautiful blue sky, the sun had come out by the time I reached there and it was very hot - at least we got some beautiful views. This continued upwards for a while before we reached a flat bit of about 200 metres which was runnable.

I resigned myself to expect a slow time! 

That's how it continued for 13 more laps. I had quite a few chats with people, ate some cake and drank plenty of water but did feel rather over-heated towards the end. Now for a few views:

As I finished my penultimate lap, James was waiting for me at the aid station so we joined up for a chat - it's amazing how much can happen within the space of a week. As we rounded the first section after the checkpoint I squealed as a deer came bounding out of the undergrowth and I loved seeing James's face full of awe as he'd never seen one in the wild before (although he'd seen plenty of them during the Richmond Park marathon the weekend before). He very kindly stayed with me for the whole of that lap even though I walked most of it - then of course he flew off for another few laps at breakneck speed.

That was my slowest marathon ever - 6:58:11 but I'm glad I didn't push my pace as I felt really grotty later that evening and I think I might have had a bit of sunstroke.

Marathon 79 - Kent Roadrunner marathon, Saturday 28th May

The next day I was up bright and early to head off to the Cyclopark in Gravesend for my 3rd running of the Kent Roadrunner. I love this event - it was my first ever marathon doing laps and I never dreamt that I would enjoy that sort of marathon but I do, especially when the organisation is a slick as this. Ian and his team have it down to a fine art and this is an excellent venue with good facilities for the whole family to enjoy.

Runners and their families assembling outside the registration area

I just been to collect my number and pop a little something for Bonnie the maradog into Carolyn's packet as this amazing young doggie has recently completed her 50th marathon. Sadly I haven't seen Bonnie since St George's Day last year as she isn't allowed to compete in road marathons any more because of UKA rules but she's still allowed to take part in trail marathons which suits Carolyn just fine as she prefers them anyway!

I managed to find a nice card with  a black labrador retriever on the front

This laser-cut doggy silhouette was just perfect and I crocheted a little harness in Bonnie's colour

There were loads of people I knew there and it was nice catching up with some I haven't seen in a while.

Andrew was celebrating his 100th marathon

Maryanne had her hair done especially (no, it's a wig and she took it off at one point as it got too wet!)

Kirsty pinched her daughter's hobby horse as the showboating theme this year was 'horsing around' so there were lots of people running with horse-head hats on! There's a prize for the best outfit or performance in front of the camera.

Everyone who was wearing one of the special KRR vests was asked to come to the front before the start. As Kirsty and I lined up, 2 really tall men came and stood right in front of us so we couldn't be seen! Thankfully, the photographer asked for some of us to bend down at the front so we pushed through and positioned ourselves right in the middle.

This photo taken from above shows the size of the field - that's Ian, the Race Director in the middle

After the photos has been taken Kirsty and I headed off towards the back - we know our place!!!

Heading off towards the start line where there were mats which register your timing chip each time you run over them - you can see the black timing chip on my shoe

I really wasn't at all sure how I'd feel until I started running as my quads were still wibbly from holding-back on that steep downhill section the day before. My tiredness and sickly feeling had disappeared so I put that down to a bit of sunstroke and once I'd run a few hundred metres I realised that my legs were feeling surprisingly good which was a relief. 

Although it was raining and cool beforehand, and I'd kept my long-sleeved top on, after the first lap the rain stopped and it started to warm up a bit and so I stopped and took it off. 

Waving to our awesome support ladies (see below)

I shared a few miles with Theresa again which was lovely. I always find chatting helps pass the miles (except I can't chat if I'm pushing the pace!) and at this sort of event you get to meet lots of new people.

As always, Stuart March photographers were out on the course taking lots of photos and this is my favourite. See the elastic bands on my wrist? Each time we did a lap we had to drop one into a bin - there were 20 bands and you ran the last lap wrist band-less. This must have been quite early on as I seem to have a lot of bands around my wrist.

Around midday the sky went dark again and it started to rain, the wind whipped up a bit and I got cold. On went the long-sleeved top again! It didn't last long thankfully and when the rain stopped it was really, really humid and my breathing started to trouble me a bit so I slowed down accordingly. Then, just for a bit of variety, the sun came out with a vengeance and cleared away the mugginess so off came my top again but this time I did it whilst walking using my patented I-can-do-this-without-stripping-and-showing-everyone-my-sports-bra technique, captured here by Gemma!

I was really pleased that I still felt strong and I really enjoyed myself, especially seeing my 2 favourite marshalls who manned one of the bends. I must take a photo of them next time as they were real sweethearts.

About halfway and feeling strong

This photo gives a good overview of some of the course. We didn't go round the whole route. The red circle marks the short uPdulation a lot of people walked right from the bottom corner up to the next bend but I only walked the steepest bit each time which was about 40 metres. Even a minor bump can feel like a mountain after 20 miles or so and we had to do 21 laps of the route!

Head down with one more lap to go!

There were lots of people supporting round the course and they were really generous and called out all our names which really helps lift your spirits. There was one lovely girl with curly hair who was standing up on the bridge near the start and she must have been hoarse by the end of the day 'cos she was shouting out your name as you got near. Everyone commented on her and we all said she deserved a medal for her tremendous support.

These are our awesome support ladies. On the left is Helen and on the right is Gemma. They stayed out for hours through rain, wind, baking sun, rain and baking sun to cheer us on. Thank you ladies.

On my last lap I looked at my watch and thought I might not get under 5 hours and so I pushed the pace a bit and was pleased that my legs responded! As I crossed the finish line my watch time was 4:58:25 and the clock time was 5:00:14 so I was very pleased with that after such a tough event the day before.

On the bottom of our race numbers there was a tear-off strip you could exchange for a bottle of beer, which I duly did. It doesn't appear in any photos though as Mike sampled it when I got home and I forgot to take a photo of it!

This is the favourite of my 3 KRR medals and I can't wait to see the Coyote medal which I'll be earning later this year!

In this little goody bag was a discount voucher for the event next year, a small packet of cheesy biscuits (which went into my tummy before I left the car park!) and an energy bar which I'll give to Mary Massage lady next time I see her as I don't use them.

But the goodies didn't end there. We also got a buff which has the Roadrunner on one side and the Coyote on the other. I love it!

That's the end of what I've been calling 'Manic May' during which I have completed 7 marathons in 3 blocks of back to back events over 2 days plus one weekend when I only did 1 (lightweight!). It has encouraged me to push on to achieve my goal (fingers crossed etc etc).

What's next? A trip into Tunbridge Wells for a parkrun announcement supporting ARUK on Saturday and the Reculver marathon on Sunday. I loved doing the Viking Coastal marathon there last year as it's such a beautiful place, full of wildflowers and sea birds and the one I've chosen to do has a bit of trail thrown in so I'm really looking forward to it.