Thames Meander – Summer edition

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It’s been ages since Dorota (D) and I ran together and when she said that she’d signed up for the Thames Meander, she made me very happy🙂

I went up to London on Friday after work and got to D’s place around 7 pm, we then decided to venture out and hunt for dinner.

It didn’t take us long to find a suitable place that served nice veggie burgers, G&T and wine.

We spent the evening catching up and carried on talking until very late at night sharing stories, pictures and… more wine.

We ended up going to bed around 1am which wasn’t ideal but at that point couldn’t be helped.

Getting up in the morning was hard work but the lovely coffee D made me saved the day. We didn’t have a lot of time so we had a quick breakfast and rushed out.

Look at D’s lovely Polish hand painted pottery!

Our route to the YMCA Hawker Centre was straight forward… until we reached an unexpected diversion near Richmond Park. When we eventually got to the sports centre it turned out that all the parking spaces were already taken so we had to find an alternative. I was getting stressed because there was no time to spare! But then it turned out that we had enough time for registration, toilet stop, catch up with all the friendly people and even pictures.

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This is the best part of these events, seeing and catching up with all the people you met at other races. The Thames Meander had a particularly great vibe about it, there were so many people I knew and I instantly felt welcome. The atmosphere was fantastic!

And then we had to start running! We went to the start where David, the Race Director was doing the race briefing, reassuring us that the loop at the start and the end was not added to torture us… (more about this later).

The race route as per the title: by the River Thames:

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We started running towards Canbury Gardens to the sound of Scottish Bagpipes, it was great. Music at events always makes you feel quite special!

The route was paved and all I was thinking to myself was: ‘I’m wearing wrong shoes! I’m wearing off-road shoes!’ Apart from that, this part of the race was actually very nice, through a quiet park, near a pub, by the river – what’s not to like!

When we reached the far point of the park we turned around and went back towards the YMCA HQ, the start/finish point. I was hoping that we wouldn’t have to do the same on the way back i.e. go past the finish to do a loop and then come back. Surely that’s not what the RD meant, that would be evil!😉

The start/finish point had water and snacks and we stopped for a quick drink.

 

The paved path continued for a little while and then eventually turned into tarmac. It was pretty.

We got to the first water station, I wasn’t really counting the start/finish stop as a station. This station however had cake, therefore it was a proper station! We’ve been told by the marshals that David’s wife, Melanie baked them. The chocolate cake just melted in my mouth, I was happy and was even considering just stopping there and eating all the cake! But there’s no medal for that😉 so we carried on.

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And then we saw Hannah! I met Hannah during the Wedding Cow marathon, she was my camping neighbour🙂

It turned out that Hannah lives in London, quite close to Dorota. I quite like coincidences like this.

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Suddenly a lot of runners started passing us, fast runners, they were all doing the half marathon, which started later. D and I enjoyed our relaxed pace🙂

Time passed quite quickly as we were chatting throughout and before we knew it we were at another station where we met Danny! I really like Danny and it’s always great to see him at various events.

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This was the half marathon turnaround point, I tried not to think about the distance ahead of us…

Somehow Dorota and I lost Hannah (she probably started running whilst we were still chatting to the marshals) so we were alone now but the conversation kept us going strong.

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The route lead us through picturesque areas where people were walking their dogs and relaxing by the river. We spotted a pub (The Bull’s Head) and got very excited that we could have a small break, wash our faces and refill our bottles. The minute the barman spotted us, he just pointed in the direction of restrooms – I think it may have been quite obvious what we were there for😉

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The next water station was quite close, but yet again we took the opportunity to stop and chat to the marshals and have some Tailwind. Yes, there was Tailwind at almost every station at this event, which was fantastic! D got a chance to try it and I just enjoyed the effortless refuelling😀

We ran and talked (we had a lot to catch up on) with other runners passing us by and us passing other runners (not often though). Eventually we saw yet another station in the distance, this time it was the turnaround point for the marathon. Happy times!

I can’t remember how much time we spent there, but we were certainly there for a while! We had more cake and took loads of pictures😀

This is when we met Brian Mills. I’m not going to put the number of marathons he has completed here, because these numbers change on a daily basis. If you don’t know him, click here.

Running with friends is so much fun😉

On the way back the sun came out and it was getting warmer and warmer.

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It was hard and we were tired but the time passed quickly as we were engrossed in our conversation.

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Eventually we got to the start/finish point and had to do the additional 1km-ish loop. Nooooo! I really didn’t want to do it then😦 I understand why the organisers did it this way and it’s for everyone’s good, but it was heart-breaking! Both D and I found this bit really hard, maybe because we both refused to believe that it would actually happen😉

 

We got to the finish, received our medals and did some lungy posing🙂

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Then we had ice creams and talked to Danny.

We then met David (RD), hopefully next time we’ll meet his magic baker, Melanie😀

 

My train journey home was via Woking, where I called my favourite Italian restaurant to pre-order a pizza so that it was ready when I arrived😀 Planning is important!

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I spent the evening with Jamie and our friends at a birthday BBQ with a great sense of achievement!

 

The event was really well organised, the marshals were great, Tailwind was a great surprise and the cake was awesome.

Thank you for a great time!

The Dark Phoenix 2016

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Most of the races I’ve done so far started early or early-ish, but none of them began at 4pm. This was part of the attraction of the Dark Phoenix (Phoenix Running), the fact that I could actually get there by train and have a whole morning to faff. I was quite excited.

 

It was a very hot Saturday and I had a watermelon for breakfast which is my current favourite before a race and it comes in its own bowl!

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I then put my gear on, packed a bag and set off to the train station.

My journey was pretty straight forward with one change in Woking and I left early so that I had enough time to walk from the train station (Walton on Thames) to the event venue.

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Google told me it was about 40 min to the venue, but I usually walk a bit faster so I stopped to get a sandwich and ate it on the way.

I thought that my walk would be a nice warm up, however it was so warm that I actually didn’t need it.

 

Rik, the Race Director was sitting in front of the venue doing registration. It was a small event and the atmosphere was very friendly, everyone was chatting and it was really lovely.

It was then when I met Philip and was talking to him about his experience travelling to Poland and the fact that he really liked Polish people😀

And Jules was there with his lovey girlfriend Helen🙂

Rik gave us a race briefing and we headed to the start line. The race was going to be very straight forward, by the river, out and back… 8 times for a marathon, which is what I wanted to do.

We started by the Weir pub, the first section was through trees, therefore shaded, but soon enough we were out in the open.

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The Thames path has quite a hard surface and I was pleased that I was wearing my road shoes (Mizuno).

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Soon we went past another two pubs (nom) and an ice cream van (!).

Up over a little blue bridge, past a yacht club, through more trees and another open bit.

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We went under another bridge, passed geese and to the turnaround point, that wasn’t too bad, especially that Dee was there giving us a lovely smile:

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More of the same but in reverse order on the way back.

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Once I got to the end of the first lap I was rewarded with a hairband. Another 7 to collect and it would be all over!

The start/finish point had a lot of goodies and water, I had a drink and carried on.

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It was getting harder and hotter. Running by the river and seeing people in the water was torture for me and I seriously considered jumping in as well, but then Rik said that he wouldn’t recommend it due to the water not being clean enough. Fine! We’ll go with the ‘safety first’ option😉

The other thing was running past all the pubs and seeing the cold beer, oh dear,  I had to have mental strength not only to run 42 km but also not to grab and down somebody else’s pint!

And then there was the ice cream van! The decision here was made for me, I didn’t have any cash! Well, it’s my own stupid fault for not carrying any money on me.

Besides all that, I really should start treating my marathons more seriously! Here: more geese for you:

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On my way out and back I kept seeing familiar faces and there was always time for a picture:

With Jules:

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and with Bryan:

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I hadn’t seen Bryan yet, so it was a really nice surprise!

 

Eventually I completed half marathon distance, but it wasn’t getting any easier or cooler.

I took a detour to the sports centre to use their bathroom to cool myself and remove the salt and dust off my face.

Another hairband, another lap🙂 Thank you Richard!

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I was allowed to put the hairbands in my hair as I was worried that they would eventually cut off the circulation to my hand😉

On one of the laps I met this lovely couple out for a walk. We had already said hello a few times but since we bumped into each other again, we stopped for a chat. It turned out that they used to run and knew some Polish (of course). Very nice🙂

Then I met Philip again, who was in front of me most of the time. He actually said that he was going to stop as he couldn’t get enough water in him. I completely understood! It was hard work and the heat was unbearable!

Then I caught up with Bryan and we ran laps 8 and 9 together. It was so nice to talk to someone and take my mind off running.

We were both suffering from the heat a lot, running with bottles of water.

I didn’t bring my hydration pack as I knew that there would be a station every 5km ish. The other reason is that I tend to tense my shoulders so much if I wear a pack, that after a marathon they hurt more than my legs! Therefore, if I can get away with running without a hydration pack, I will. The problem was that it was hot and I couldn’t even run 5km without a drink. The aid station had bottled water, which we could just grab and take with us. I know what you’re going to say, running with a bottle of water is annoying, well… yes, but not as annoying as being thirsty and dehydrated.

Anyway, it was great running with Bryan as you get all sorts of great tips and an opportunity to learn from his experience. He runs every week and his race recommendations are always great!

I have met him quite a few times now, just to mention a few: QEPSM, Three Forts Challenge, The Ox, Dorset Invader and it’s really nice to be able to compare our views from these races. We both have experience in working in IT so it’s another subject we have in common🙂

I was running the last lap on my own, I really wanted to finish, the sooner the better. It was getting dark so I took my torch with me.

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I was still hoping that I wouldn’t have to use it, but better safe than a twisted ankle! The river looked stunning in the sunset.

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Finally I got back to the turnaround point, not far to go!

 

On the way back I met Costas, he was running his second marathon of the day (!) Very, very impressive! I think my legs would fall off if I ever attempted to do that! Running with someone made the last stretch much easier, but I was so impatient to get to the finish (and suffering a lot at that point) that I pushed on alone. My torch was on now as the last part was through the trees. I was being attacked by tiny flies that were attracted by the light and I was trying really hard not to swallow or inhale them.

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Finally I could see the aid station! The finish was close! Just a few metres and I got there, I rang the bell to announce that I finished, got another hairband and a medal. And what a medal that was! It is the biggest one in my collection so far!

I hung around for a bit chatting to other runners and then Rik called me a taxi. How is that for being well looked after!

 

The journey home wasn’t amazing, this was due to the fact that I was getting really hungry and I only had sweet protein bars and crisps on me. I didn’t want either. This is what happens, you run a marathon and get fussy! Everything was closed at both Walton on Thames and Woking train stations.

Look at the medal though!

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I ended up getting home around 23:00 and having baked beans, cheese and a glass of red wine😀 I didn’t want to eat too much as I wanted to go to bed but equally I was absolutely starving and woke up hungry the next day.

The race was great and really well organised, the atmosphere was lovely and it was so nice to meet Rik and his wife. Lesson learned: when running a marathon in the afternoon, prepare more ‘actual food’ for afterwards in advance.

And look at the medal:

It glows in the dark😀

The Dorset Invader 2016

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I thought this day would never come… at the start of my journey it seemed like a far, unreachable achievement in the distance… well at least I knew the distance in advance:

The Larmer Tree – Marathon

The Ox – Marathon

The Wedding Cow, day 1 – Marathon

The Wedding Cow, day 2 – Marathon

The Giant’s Head – Marathon

Dorset Invader – Marathon

So here I was, over 200 km later, ready to do the last race in the Season Ticket Series: The Dorset Invader and I have to say, I was quite excited!

 

Amy, Simon, David and I (yes, we had a proper Fitstuff team this time) arrived at the camp site near Blandford Forum (Dorset) about 5pm, just in time to leave the boys to set the tents up and for Amy and I to do the fun race😀 Very well played😉

 

After the Chaos Race we all went to Blandford Forum to have dinner at Namaste Gurkha (Nepalese). And what a choice that was! Wow! We were all stuffed with lovely food and rolled back to the camp site (drove actually).

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However that was just the beginning, we had some camping whiskey, courtesy of David and just coincidentally it was Auchentoshan, my favourite single malt.

The night was still young, so we went to the event village to check out the disco, have more drinks and try out some head pieces:

As much as we were enjoying ourselves, it was time to get some sleep.

 

Unfortunately I didn’t sleep that well and woke up at crazy o’clock feeling unbearably hot and thirsty (this may have something to do with the alcohol, I couldn’t possibly tell), so I went to the event village for a coffee. My morning went really quickly as I ended up talking to everyone who was already awake.

After a coffee I went back to the tent to have breakfast with my friends – thank you Amy!

 

It was already very hot and I was umming and ahhing whether to take a hydration pack or a belt with bottles. In the end I decided to go for the pack as I thought I would need a lot of drink with me.

 

Suddenly all the spare time was gone and the race was about to start, so I went to see XMILES to get my nutrition for the race. It was the first time I was testing a new product – Tailwind  during a race. I know, I know, runners usually avoid new products during important races like the plague. Well, I didn’t. Anthony offered me a tasting and I went for berry flavour. My first thought was that I would have preferred a slightly sharper taste, however in hindsight, I was happy that it was mild and really easy to drink.

 

We then met Tara and took our pre-race photos. It was all very exciting as there were 4 of us running together and it was Simon’s first marathon (although he’d already completed an ultra before). We all got hugs and kisses from Amy and went to the start line.

And the start line wasn’t your usual start line, this is White Start Running, you can’t expect ‘standard’, you have to expect the Spanish Inquisition! This time it was a baby Centurion throwing a flag in the air to start the race.

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The race started with a grassy downhill but this quickly turned into a dusty uphill. The path was uneven, the ground was hard and all the runners created a cloud of dust around them. I could taste the dust and I was really happy I made a decision to take a hydration pack with me.

How could this be so tough already?

 

We ran through prickly and sharp foliage and I was really happy I was wearing calf guards.

 

And then we got distracted by a full size Centurion – a great opportunity for a selfie!

 

After that we ran through a bean field, it was a single track path that was very bumpy, full of stones and roots. Tricky.

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But then there was a water station right there, 6km done!

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We crossed the road and went into a woodland, this bit was shaded and felt very nice.

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To make things even better there was an awesome downhill bit that I really enjoyed.

 

Shortly after we got to a very open track and it was already soooo hot!

 

We were running and running and running and suddenly we saw Brian from BMB Photography, time to pose!

Time for another uphill, more fields and pretty views.

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I really admire everyone who was dressed up for this race and refused to take their costume off. I truly have no idea how they do it. It was so, so hot. I was drinking so much and was really pleased that I had nutrition in my drink as eating was the last thing on my mind! In heat like this it’s really difficult to make yourself eat.

 

A brief pig interlude

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And another water station, phew! Bit of a break.

 

The next part was uphill – with a pre-warning that there will be more. I wouldn’t expect anything less!😀

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More fields, heat, dust and spiky foliage. It was very tough, my whole body was already covered in salt from all the sweat that my body was producing, desperately trying to cool itself.

But then out of nowhere we saw a beautiful Venus with refreshments! We were at the Lovestation, however this was only 12km in! Yay! We were going to get 2 Lovestations this time!

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It would be rude not to have Guinness Cake and watermelon! Nom!

For some reason, I took a sponge with me (I got it from the Etape du Tour event village last year when I was waiting for Jamie to finish his race) and it was the best idea ever! It was such a relief from the heat and I knew that it was going to become my summer running staple from then on!

 

We left the Lovestation and carried on through more fields and pretty villages and funky natural tunnels.

Who knew that what/who was waiting for us on the other side… was going to be such a great surprise.

It was Amy! Yay! Amy was there! With Kevin the Badger Man!

I mean it wasn’t far since we left the Lovestation (we were now about 14.5 km in), but I was grateful for the additional water and suncream. Amy is always prepared for every eventuality. Even if you forgot something, she would have probably thought about it and packed spares!

 

It was a shame to leave them, but we had to carry on… uphill… but then at the top of the hill there was a view and everything was fine again😉

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We even got a special treat – a mini history lecture from one of the locals which was lovely. Fun and educational, what more would you want from a race😉

Downhill. I was soooo glad.

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It was getting really tough. Really, really, really tough. We carried on but maybe with a bit less enthusiasm as we were all struggling. We were trying to distract each other with conversation, forcing ourselves to eat, trying to remember to drink enough and stopping to stretch. Phew!

 

But Then there was a camera man and you know that however hard it is, you will give him your best!

We reached the ABBA party water station (19 km ish) and all I wanted was coke and watermelon. Yes, it is a strange combination but each to their own😉

The next bit was on road and I knew we were half way there and I was trying to focus on the fact that we had less to go rather than how tired I was…

Back off-road and up a hill and into the woodland to find our next surprise:

 

We were all struggling and trying to encourage each other but it was becoming harder, we were walking all the uphills no matter how small they were.

And then Simon mentioned that he wasn’t feeling well. We stopped and sat down for a bit but the heat was unbearable. After a while we carried on walking and got to a downhill bit. Tara was trying to encourage us to run through the easier parts. I then stopped for a picture and Simon mentioned that he was feeling sick and thought to myself that this wasn’t good.

My time in this race was totally irrelevant and I wanted to stay with Simon and so did David.

Tara carried on to the aid station and let them know that we were struggling. I called Amy in the meantime to give her an update and I was sure that it was ‘her station’ that we were going to get to next. As it turned out, we weren’t even close. However we eventually reached the 26km ish station and there was an Ambulance crew waiting for us. I tried to help as much as I could to cool Simon down with the sponge soaked in cold water and I really hoped that he was feeling better. There was no discussion with the Ambulance team though. They said that they will look after him from then on and take him back and we didn’t even attempt to discuss it. David and I stayed on our own then.

And this was the station with Sorrel and Beacon, so I said hello and then we carried on.

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It was tough, so tough, but we continued.

 

I was glad that I had the Tailwind drink with me and didn’t have to focus on nutrition. I was getting calories and energy with every sip of water I was having, this was something that I’ve not tried before and it was very convenient!

Eventually we got to Amy and Kevin’s station and Amy was waiting there for us with electrolyte drinks. They were her own electrolyte tablets, that she later ended up distributing amongst other runners! She is an angel sent from heaven!

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Maybe you don’t know this, but Amy wasn’t supposed to be there at all, in fact the station wasn’t supposed to be there at all. However, as it turned out it was the hottest day of the year (so far) and the place where the station was set up was 4C hotter than the day before. Therefore the organisers decided to set up an impromptu water station that would help us survive the heat wave. Thank you. We are all very grateful. Amy just turned up there as it was an easy point for her to get to from the start and see us running and cheer us. However she ended up staying there with Kevin for hours and helping out.

Actually, here is what Kevin said later:

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We knew that the Lovestation wasn’t far as we were going back the same way, but it took us so long. Eventually we got there and I felt so hot that I poured a jug of water over my head.

8 km to go!

We left the station and started running but this very quickly turned into a walk. Neither David nor I cared at that point, we were both really tired. To be fair it was actually quite nice to walk and chat and just relax for a bit. We talked about travelling and cycling and events we wanted to do and holidays we needed, so the time went quite quickly.

 

And then we reached the last water station and all was very familiar from then on. The bean field, the dust, the fields. After a while we joined the previous day’s Chaos route and that made me feel much better because I knew then exactly how far we had to go.

We already had over 44 km in our legs and the last bit was quite tough but the finish line was so close!

 

The last stretch leading to the finish line was downhill and my legs were giving way on every hole or bump. I was really quite lucky that I didn’t cross the finish line face down!

 

We completed the race in just under 7 hours, very tired, very hot, but very happy! Amy, Simon and Tara were waiting there for us with hugs and kisses😀 It was so good to see Simon feeling better!

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So there! I completed the Season Ticket challenge and Andy was there waiting for me with a proper 3m black belt! I have to say, I really feel like I’ve earned it. This race was a real test and I believe that I gave it all I had.

 

I am very grateful to my friends who helped me along the way, Andy, Kevin, every single marshal, photographers and spectators for putting together not only a race but an amazing event that I will remember for a long time.

There was a lot of food to choose from at the end and I had a veggie burger and an elderflower drink. This made me feel a lot better but I was still feeling very hot and quite ruined.

The way home was a blur (I wasn’t driving, don’t worry) and as soon as I got home I was hungry again so Jamie and I went for a pizza.

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I can’t wait for my next White Star Running adventure!

 

10 reasons why The Giant’s Head Marathon is the best marathon in the UK – you won’t believe #7!

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This race was the reason why I got a season ticket for all the White Star Running races. The Giant’s Head Marathon was sold out in December and I REALLY wanted to do it. The only way to guarantee the entry was a season ticket and this is how I accidentally got myself into running consecutive marathons.

 

The time leading up to the marathon was like a series of unfortunate events:

  • My hay fever was extremely bad.
  • I kicked my little toe so hard that it went a funny colour and was slightly more to the side than I’d like it to be.
  • A mysterious rash appeared all over my body, it was itchy and annoying – it later turned out to be non-infectious and harmless, pointless really…

 

Finally the week at work was done and on Friday, Jamie and I set off in the direction of Dorchester. We got to Sydling around 8 p.m. and set up at the camp site. Just look at the backdrop that Andy (race director) ordered for us!

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When everything was ready we went for a pint and relaxed chatting to some other runners🙂

 

After a night in the tent we woke up to a fresh but sunny morning and went to the Village Hall for breakfast. Porridge and coffee – that was just what I needed!

There were so many familiar faces, which added up to the great atmosphere of this event. Tara was there in her brand new Wonder Woman outfit. Whoop!

After the race briefing we all lined up on the road waiting for a signal to start.

Andy waved us off and after a short road section we were in the wilderness. And why not start with a hill? The views were already very pretty even though we didn’t gain much height.

We were running through fields with rolling hills and sheep dotted around.

Most of us had a ‘pull my clapper’ moment😀

And surely enough we quite quickly got to another hill. Well… this was a serious hill, we all enjoyed it.

First water station was very festive, who doesn’t like a bit of Hula.

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The terrain was really difficult on foot and you had to watch your step, but the views from the top of that hill were stunning, so I was trying to divide my attention between looking where I was going and admiring the scenery.

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It was good to see that people were taking the theme of this run very seriously.

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Another water station was the 10K split point, I was considering just following that route. For some reason it felt tougher than it should have at that point.

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And then we got to the pretty fields. I took this picture of Tara and shortly before she face planted the ground…

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Apparently she tends to fall over and I think she has perfected her falls. I would probably have been in tears, but Tara simply, stood up, shook the dust off and carried on. Impressive!

 

We got to a downhill bit and far away in the distance we could already see the penis man aka Cerne Abbas Giant! You probably can’t even see it. Trust me, he was there🙂

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We were very excited to spot it and thought that this was as close as we were going to get to it. But No! There was more!

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The terrain was tricky but the views were beautiful.

And then there was another water station with super helpers. Look at all the cuteness:

And Bryan was there as well.

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We carried on through woodlands and fields going up and up and up.

Some runners didn’t believe that we will get to run downhill ever again…

But there it was, we were going down now, weeeeee!

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And then there was Nikkii with a massive…

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We signed it and I got my knee licked by a dog (hee hee hee, I love dogs!)

The next bit was through a thicket!

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Downhill (fun as always)

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Through a village with a pretty stream

And another view!

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And another tough bit.

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But then we reached a water station – mini break and cake! Yum!

Then a long stretch through fields.  It was tougher and tougher… but then I saw Ivor. I met Ivor when I was running the Queen Elizabeth Park Spring Marathon with D!

 

Another hill, this is when I met Lisa, she’s in the picture with Ulen. More about her later🙂

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More hills and more views, I was struggling a lot at this point!

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At the next water station we met Shiny Happy Runners (there’s a group on Facebook): Louise and Julius dressed up as super people🙂

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Then there was some mud but soon we got to a road bit with an amazing downhill. I was so happy (more about the downhill than the road)

But then the road lead to the famous Badger Man! If you run White Star Running races then you know who I’m talking about, if you don’t, sign up and find out🙂 He is truly awesome and gives out hugs, but that’s a surprise.

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Another uphill. Yes, it’s a chance to walk but I was really struggling then… I was thinking that maybe this is just too hard. Maybe this was the day when I wasn’t going to complete my race… But then when a picture moment comes up, you just smile!

And then there was this field of cows and it distracted me from dying. Both Tara and I were a bit conscious of her really bright red, ‘chase me’ outfit. However we survived, the cows didn’t want to kill us😀 and a LoveStation was just around the corner – double lucky! 10km to go!

Tara and I split shortly after, as she was accompanying someone who was struggling and I had to carry on otherwise i would have dropped out:/

Thank you Tara, you are a Wonder Woman!

And then I met Lisa again and it rained but it was fun.

To be honest, it was more of the same, massive uphills and tough terrain and gorgeous views and I was struggling even more than before, but somehow it was all going quicker.

Lisa and I engaged in conversation and the kilometres just went so quickly.

All of a sudden (nearly 10km later) we had 400m to go! And it was all downhill! Magic!

We crossed the finish line together and got our medals.

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Look at our medals!

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It was Lisa’s first marathon, what an achievement! Congratulations! You were awesome and thank you for all your help🙂

Then Jamie and I compared our medals (Jamie smashed the 10K!) and had all the food (the WI cooked for us): Veggie burgers and ice cream.

After the dust settled, I noticed another dog (!) so I went to have a cuddle and that’s how Jamie and I accidentally adopted Beacon for 15 minutes and met her owners: Sorrel and Danny.

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We ended up spending the evening together and having lovely food that the WI had cooked for us (again). Julius joined us later and we ended up talking and drinking cider most of the evening.

Later there was a barn dance and Andy made a lovely speech, thanking EVERYONE🙂

The organisation of the event and the marshals were amazing as always, the Village of Sydling was gorgeous and the people were soooooo lovely! We felt so welcome there and everyone was extremely friendly and helpful.

Can’t wait for next year!

My first consecutive marathons – the Wedding Cow Weekender 2016

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So, I bought a season ticket from White Star Running and somehow I managed to overlook the fact that it included consecutive events! Even when Amy pointed it out, I was convinced that it wasn’t true – “surely it can’t be; that would be mad!” Well… I was wrong. The Bad Cow Weekender was on the list.

Unfortunately I can’t make the Bad Cow in August and I thought that I had got away with it all together, when Andy pointed out that I can swap for the Wedding Cow Weekender. Oh joy!

The Wedding Cow Weekender was organised for Kim and Mike, who are getting married in August and can’t do the Bad Cow either. Therefore Andy set up a one off event especially for them, so that they didn’t miss out on the consecutive running goodness – he’s nice like that!🙂

Prior to the event I decided to do some research on surviving back-to-back marathons. Most of the stuff I found said: ‘believe in yourself’ which I dismissed pretty much instantly as I was looking for some pragmatic advice. The practical tips that I was looking for included things like different pairs of shoes, so I packed 2 separate bags with everything I needed for Saturday in one and for Sunday in the other. I also had a bag with clean clothes and wash stuff! Check me out – ready as ever – at least I had everything I needed.

Jamie and I left Guildford after 7 p.m. on Friday with at least two hours ahead of us. When we got to the camp site in Hampton (Poole) after 21:00 and we were quite happy that we had a tent that we can put up in approximately 8 minutes (not that we’ve ever timed ourselves!). When the tent was up we started talking to people and the time just flew by, so it was dark when we finally sat down to have dinner🙂

Here is a picture of us – it you can see anything…😀

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We woke up to quite a cool, cloudy morning. I met Tara whilst getting ready for the run – it turned out that she was camping right next to us. Tara said that she was going to find a pub after the run to watch the football, and I needed someone with a car who would take me to a pub so that I could have some food (Jamie was going back to Guildford). We agreed to run together and then go to the pub together! Sorted.

Because it was a Wedding Cow, we had a wedding starring:

Andy as the priest

Kim as the groom

and

Mike as the bride

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It was awesome! But then we had to run. Laps. 8 of them laps! 5 – ish km each.

I wasn’t sure if it would be good or bad, having never done that many laps before.

 

We started running and there was no turning back.

The area was very pretty.

The route started with a field

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and then some woodland with a slight downhill bit (already a favourite),

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then there was a wiggly path by an awesome tree

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Soon we got to the Love Station (2 km ish from the start). It had all he standard goodies like cake cider and vodka. I decided to stay away from alcohol for the first 7 laps😉

Then the route took us through some picturesque grassy/bushy/woodlandy bits and we were back on the road that lead to the camp site.

After a small road section we went back off road to a gorgeous field of foxgloves – another tiny downhill.

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Then through a field and after that we could see the start/finish in the distance!

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Well, that wasn’t too bad! Another 7 to go…

It was going OK. I was running with Tara; we were talking about various stuff and then Tara said that it’s good that we’re taking it easy. Easy? It wasn’t easy for me, as I seem to only have one pace which doesn’t change depending on the distance I run.

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So I was getting worried and despite the fact that with every step we were closer to the finish I was already thinking that I had to repeat the same again the next day.

A word on safety, because it seems to be a very important subject with running events: I was running quite happily for the first however-long and then my body decided to start working against me and rub. Thank you body! Tara pointed out that the ambulance near start/finish should have Vaseline but we already went passed it and I didn’t want to go back. We got to the Lovestation and asked the team there, I got some cream to keep me going. Then Kevin called Andy, who was at the start/finish, to get the Vaseline from an ambulance ready for me. I have to say, I felt a bit embarrassed. There wasn’t anything seriously wrong with me and I felt like I was engaging people who had better things to do! When we got to the start/finish point again, the Vaseline was waiting there for me (I was described to the crew, so that they didn’t miss me going past). It’s a bit of a long story, but what I’m trying to say is that even though it was a trivial issue I felt really well looked after and very safe. Thank you for all your help. The way in which you do things makes all the difference.

After running round in circles😉 for about 5 hours we finally got to my last lap (Tara had another 2 to go, I didn’t envy her!). I was really pleased – I could finally have vodka at the Lovestation! We got hugs and kisses from the Lovestation team who didn’t seem discouraged by our sweatyness or saltiness. The vodka was very nice and gave us a bit of a kick.

We finally got to the finish and I could now stop. I gave Tara a hug before she went, got my medal, called all the people that were worried about me (Mum & Jamie), signed up for a massage and went to take a shower to make myself less sticky for the lovely lady masseuse🙂

 

The massage was great and afterwards I went for a pizza. Pizza with chilli glaze. Nom!😀

People often think that after a race you will crave sweet things, chocolate, cake, etc. For me there’s nothing further from the truth, all I want is savoury, the saltier, the better.

Whilst waiting for Tara I may have accidentally ordered a new running outfit from Jackie. I was hoping that getting a Wonder Woman outfit wouldn’t jinx the next day’s marathon.

Tara finished her ultra as the third lady! Congratulations!

We then went to indulge ourselves in food, drink and football.

It was raining throughout the night and I woke up to quite a wet morning.

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I was feeling fine-ish but really wasn’t sure how the day was going to go and whether I was going to make it.

I met up with Tara before the start as we decided to run together again🙂

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Due to my sore throat (probably because all the talking the day before) we ran in silence for a bit. It was going to be tough! I knew that I had to put my head down and get on with it. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. We knew the route by heart now and we could do it with our eyes closed which was good and bad. I tried to focus on the positives of it – knowing what’s to come etc.

After completing four laps I knew I was going to make it, I couldn’t give up.

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With every lap I was getting closer and closer to completing something that I thought was crazy and impossible and even though I was struggling a lot, I really wanted to make it.

The last lap was great. I realised that I may be able to beat my time from Saturday, so I didn’t faff too much. Got my vodka, hugs and kisses at the Lovestation and carried on straight to the finish.

 

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Tara helped me beat my time and after two additional laps came as the second lady!

Thinking back to the advice that I found online, the one that said “believe in yourself”, that I dismissed for not being ‘practical’ enough, was the most important thing throughout day two. it turns out that it IS all in your head and that you really CAN make it.

After I finished, I got my medal and a goody bag (similar to the day before) with a buff, bottle of 5% isotonic cider, amazing fudge (it just magically disappeared in my tummy), flapjacks and crisps.

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I had another massage, showered and made myself presentable for when Jamie came to pick me up. We said bye to Tara and left, into the setting sun (no, not really, but it’s a nice thing to imagine).

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I was feeling pretty destroyed and promised myself to never do it again (we’ll see how that goes).

The event was great, very sociable and well organised. Massive thank you to Andy, the Lovestation team, all the marshals and volunteers, the ambulance team and all the participants for creating such an awesome event🙂

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The Dark Ox & The Ox Marathon

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In May 2015 I ran my first marathon. The Ox. It was so great that this year I came for more. I knew that the run would be slightly different,  as the route had been changed, but I was still sentimental about it and couldn’t wait🙂

Last year I was running with someone from the 100 Marathon Club, who gave me a lot of great tips that I’m still applying to my running.

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And here I was 1 year later, knowing that the distance doesn’t scare me anymore and thinking about signing up for a 10 km race the night before. How hard can it be?

So that’s what I did, I signed up for my first consecutive runs with start times 12 hours apart.

 

Amy and Simon picked me up on Saturday afternoon. It was just starting to rain when we were leaving, but then the closer we were to Salisbury the more it rained. By the time we got there it was p***ing it down. I could think of many things I’d rather be doing in this weather than putting up a tent! But then Amy came up with an ingenious idea of stopping for dinner in the hope that the rain would stop! We went to the Pheasant and it was great! They accommodated for our vegan needs to the point of sending someone to Sainsburys to get Soya milk for a latte!

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The food (I had a veggie burger) was very nice and guess what… by the time we were done it had nearly stopped raining! We were well chuffed😀

 

We drove to the camp site and started setting up our 4 man tent. I’ve never seen a tent for 4 being so big! Look at it! It’s huge:

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After that was done, Simon and I started getting ready for the Dark Ox – decorating ourselves with various glowy bits that Amy got us. The Dark Ox is a 10 km run starting at sunset and going through dark, deep, scary woods.

One quick picture before the start and off we went.

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It was very muddy after all the rain during the day. Both Simon and I were very cautious about our races the next day, so we weren’t pushing ourselves. Instead, we were running a steady slow pace, happy that we couldn’t see all the mud. My burger wasn’t enjoying the run at all but I loved it!

We got to the aid station (3.5 km) fairly quickly and had some of the very nice cider the marshals were offering. There was water and other soft drinks as well but cider was our priority!

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The further we went, the less people were running with us. It was full moon and very atmospheric, I was glad that I wasn’t running on my own!

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We were discussing how far we had left to go, when we saw a familiar silhouette with glowy bits. Amy! We got a hug each and continued for the last 500 m. We did some finish sprinting, got our medals and… a litre of cider and a mug! I couldn’t believe it, I wasn’t sure that the marshals knew that we didn’t win the race! After confirmation that all the goodies were actually for us, we continued cheering others and waited for Amy to come back.

It turned out that Amy not only helped at the Dark Ox, but had already discussed marshalling at the next day’s races!

 

We went to sleep around midnight and it wasn’t a great night as we were all really cold. I couldn’t warm up for ages and therefore couldn’t sleep. Eventually I managed to warm up my body but my feet remained as icicles until morning.

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I got up just after 7 am and realised that I forgot my antihistamines, seeing how puffy my eyes were:/

I was worried that after such a tough night the run would be a real struggle. Nevertheless I was excited.

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We had breakfast and went to the start point. There were quite a few familiar faces there. After a while Amy was taken to the Love Station, I started running and Simon waited for the half marathon to start.

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The route started in the golf course estate but soon enough it took us into the wilderness. I recognised the area from the Larmer Tree.

And then I met Jules, I recognised him from the Trailscape marathon in January but as it turned out he remembered me from last year’s Ox!

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We ran for a bit together discussing the runs we’d done and the runs we have planned. But when we reached the first aid station the portable loos were far too tempting to miss out on, so I let Jules go.

The first station was just by the Rushmore estate, bringing back the great memories of running the Larmer Tree marathon with Amy.

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Pretty, isn’t it? You can get married there😉

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I crossed the road (thank you to the marshal who kept us safe) and was back in the woodland.

It was gorgeous, everything had a juicy green colour of spring.

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And then there was mud. Very sticky and quite a lot of it.

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And yellow fields, where I met Danny Kay aka ‘The Legend‘ and talked about running in Poland🙂

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And woodland, which was good as it was getting hot!

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And yellow fields again.

And another aid station. Whoop! 10-ish km done!

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Then Jules caught up with me (I was convinced that he was in front of me!) and I was glad to have the company again. He told me about visiting Poland and running the Wroclaw Marathon  (I was jealous).

We got to another aid station at around the 17 km mark where I found a dog, so had to get my fix (one day I’ll get a dog of my own!):

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From there we were running on road towards… the camp site and I could see our tent and it was truly heart breaking seeing the finish so close, yet so far!

 

Back in the woods again and look at all the wild garlic! I’d never actually seen wild garlic before I’d done the Ox last year. I knew what it looked like but it only grows in the mountains in Poland, down south which is not where I’m from.

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And then it started to rain, quite a lot. I run with my phone as I take a lot of pictures. I forgot to take a plastic bag but thankfully my S7 is waterproof😀

Jules and I split again and I carried on by myself going through familiar areas from the Dark Ox. I was clearly taking too many pictures as he caught up with me after a while.

Then there was a technical muddy bit, where some people fell over so we were really careful.

Soon after we split again.

I got to the gravel path leading to the next water station. I needed to stretch as I was starting to suffer. It was over half way and from that point it gets harder, 21 km – 32 km is the worst bit for me. This is my wall, it’s when I struggle mentally and physically the most. After that I can start my 10 km count down and that’s where the Love Station is!🙂

 

I was running through fields now and the views were stunning. The hills were decorated with sheep and there were hawthorns growing next to the paths. Hawthorn trees always make me think of late spring when they explode with white or pink flowers. Their sweet smell in the heat is like nothing else and on top of all that they are pretty much completely edible –flowers, leaves and fruit. Yes, I was trying to distract myself with whatever possible.

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The Legend joined me for a bit and shared the ultimate secret of annoying other runners during a marathon: run the first slowly and then overtake everyone during the second half. Sounds like fun!

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I could hear some noise and I really hoped that it was the Love Station and after a while I saw it! Yes! And I saw Amy! Yes yes!

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Photo credit: ‘Dirty Bertie’

I stopped and chatted to Amy for a bit, had some Prosecco and carried on.

It took me around 45 min to do the next 5 km! That was depressing…

I was really tired and nothing was going well.

It was muddy and hot!

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But then there was wild garlic!

I reached an aid station and had some cake that was the best cake ever, which helped with my mood a bit.

But then it got cold and windy so I stopped and put an additional layer on.

And then it started to rain.

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And then my watch died.

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And then there was this hill…

The sign said 400 m but when I got closer I saw that it actually said 400 m – ish! Damn you ‘ish’!

 

It wasn’t far now, but then I saw someone in trouble, he was with 2 other runners. I asked if they needed me to stay with them, but they wanted me to let Andy (the race director) know instead.

It took me ages to get to the finish line and I was in a bit of a daze. I didn’t properly acknowledge Simon, who was waiting there for me, as I was trying to spot Andy. Andy was actually there, I just needed to get out of my lala-land to see him. He got things sorted straight away which was great! It’s always tough to see someone struggling during a race and decide whether it’s actually safe to get the person to the finish line. I just hope that what I did helped in this case.

 

I then had a chance to catch up with Simon and reflect on how tough this race was. The change of route definitely made a difference in toughness and may explain the drastic 2 min increase in my time (from 5:59:26 in 2015 to 6:01:26 in 2016)😉 Well, I guess it’s easier to run through fields than it is through woodland, but I much preferred this year’s hardcore version. The White Star Running team didn’t disappoint. All the races were well organised, supported and the atmosphere was great.

I may have to do it next year as well, just to make sure that it’s still as good😉

Three Forts Challenge – aka The Tough One

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This was a tricky one! The website states in bold that the cut off is 6 hours and it’s a mile longer than a marathon. And it’s hilly…

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I was quite worried that I wasn’t going to make it in time. I’m an OK runner and it’s all fine on a ‘good’ day, but how are you supposed to know what day you are going to have? And then the extra mile! It plays on your mind so much… and I’m always more than ready to finish in exactly 42.195 km. It is very rare that an off-road marathon is precisely  that, it’s usually 42-ish and that’s fair enough. But then the Three Forts Challenge was and extra mile ish (I assumed), therefore I was seriously concerned.

And it seems that it was for the best. I actually included some running in my training this time! I did short 5 km runs at least twice a week as well as my standard gym: body combat, body pump, spinning, body balance. So yeah, on the intense side.

Despite all that, when I went for a ‘social’ 12 km bluebell run with Fitstuffers, I was the back marker and it nearly killed me! Hey ho, it’s all about the journey (however tough and embarrassing the journey is)!

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There was also the weather, to add to my worries. Last year it was pretty miserable and the forecast for the race day was predicting rain. Oh joy. However during the week, the weather started to improve day after day and I got up on Sunday to a beautiful blue sky and sunshine!

I was waiting for Liz to pick me up, packing food, having breakfast and had the distinct feeling that I was forgetting something…

In fact, I was forgetting a few things… I asked Liz last minute to bring suntan lotion with her. Then I remembered that I actually already had my race number (as it was posted in advance) so I should probably take it with me, but there was something else… Anyway… couldn’t be that important😉

Liz turned up shortly after 8 and we began our journey to Worthing. It was quite a nice drive through woodlands with bluebell carpets😀 Gotta love spring in the UK!

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The car park close to the start line was already full and we were directed to a different one. We parked in one of the side roads and walked to the start. There was already a queue for the loos and we didn’t have any time to spare. However a friendly half marathon participant (the half marathon was starting later) let a lot of the marathoners go in front of her! Thank you lovely stranger, that was really nice of you😀

 

Then a quick pre-start picture and off I went.

The race started with a gentle incline that gradually got steeper and steeper. I was running on my own (to add to my worries) so I had no illusions: this race was going to be tough.

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I passed some time talking to 2 girls as we all had matching Salomon bags but after that, I was on my own.

And then I saw Bronwyn! That was cool😀 We wished each other good luck and off she went (fast🙂 )

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The area was gorgeous and the weather was amazing.

I got to the first aid station (3.5 km) in no time😉 I felt quite fresh but I had some water – just in case😀

Very conscious about the time I didn’t stop for long. The route was now downhill, but I could already see the next hill in the distance.

At the top of that hill  I caught up with Jagjit (website) and we started talking. Jagjit had ran marathons on all seven continents! Very impressive. He also knew a Polish sports journalist, Maciej Kurzajewski – I think they’d met during a marathon in Antarctica. We stayed together for a while, discussing potential plans of running the Warsaw marathon  in the future. Jagjit was running slowly (for him!) as this was his recovery after the London Marathon🙂

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Eventually we split and I was on my own again.

The views were wonderful though so I was suitably distracted!

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There was another water station between 11 and 12 km. And look who’s there! Bryan! I have met Bryan quite a few times now. I guess there are some people during these races that you just remember.🙂

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The station was by a big road, thank you to all the marshals who stopped the traffic to help us safely cross the road. And sure enough, there was another hill on the other side!

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Going up that hill I met Lisa and Tania from Brighton & Hove Women’s Running Club (please let me know girls, if I got this wrong). We were talking about how hard this hill was! The girls questioned the fact that I was smiling a lot, which is I guess something that I just do. I guess that smiling does not require a lot of effort but it helps so much. During a marathon, eventually everything starts to be miserable, my legs go, my lungs go, my heart goes but my smile stays till the end (pretty much every time).

Having just said that, some time later I was trying to overtake this guy who was listening to music and fiddling with his player. Clearly he couldn’t hear me but it seemed like he also couldn’t feel my toes under his feet! I have to admit, my smile disappeared for a bit then…

Shortly after there was another feed station – about 14 km done… then I had another stretch of running on my own.

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And then I remembered what I was supposed to have done before the race! I was so worried about time before this race (you may have noticed) and Jamie suggested that I should work out how far I should be at certain times. My maths isn’t great when I’m running, I can’t multi-task like that and I don’t really get miles… Panic! I need simple maths! How much is 27 miles in km? Nobody knows… I assumed 44 – for the purposes of easy division. The marathon started at 10:00, so this is what I came up with:

  • 11 km – max 1.5 h – 11:30am – ‘this isn’t to bad’ point
  • 22 km – max 3 h – 13:00pm – half way point
  • 33 km – max 4.5 h – 14:30pm – The Wall point!
  • 44 km – max 6 h – 16:00pm – do a little dance if you made it in time, it’s over point!

So this was my guidance. I completed the first quarter in 1h15. Not awesome, but on target…

I was happy that I had that worked out, now I could enjoy the views. It was gorgeous. It’s a sort of area that you are really happy to be running through – despite the hills😀

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The route had a section where we ran out and back and there were people already returning. Sure enough, I saw Bronwyn soon after (speedy one she is!).

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I really wanted to get to the turn around point but it was difficult to know how far it was (no, I didn’t check it in advance, as I generally prefer not to know). In the end it wasn’t too far and I got to enjoy running down hill on the way back😀

19 km (ish) done.

The down hill bit was really nice with some cool wild life:

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Then up again and down again – that’s pretty much all there was😉

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I caught up with a lady from the 100 Marathon Club. She was having and easy stroll as she was injured – still ahead of me… It was lovely talking to her but I knew I had to go, I was still very cautious about the deadline. She gave me a really good tip though: to check the previous year’s results to see if people were disqualified after the cut off time. If not, then that means that the cut off time is just a guideline. I was slightly less worried but wan’t taking chances.

I reached the half way point 10 minutes before 13:00. Good… but I knew that it would only get harder from then on!

Yet again I was enjoying the down hills – tarmac first, then chalk. It was a steep hill leading to the road crossing. The terrain was tricky:  very uneven with a narrow path, bits of grass and sharp stones. When I got to the road, the marshal stopped the traffic just for me – that was pretty awesome! And to make that even better, there was cake waiting on the other side😀 Nom nom nom.

For a little while everything was still familiar, as I was going back the way I came but after kilometre 27 the route took me in a different direction.

Through villages

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Through Pig Land – look how cute they are!

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My spirit was dropping, so I had something to eat to have the reassurance that I was getting enough energy.

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Oh it was tough… I finally got to another water station (30 km ish) and they had orange juice! Funny – how excited the little things can make you😀

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From there on things became a bit of a blur. It was hot, it was painful, it was only getting tougher! Still pretty though.

Finally someone said that there’s a water station round the corner… But it wasn’t! Well it was… just not as round the corner as I wanted it to be! I saw it in the distance on the Chanctonbury Hill. I knew that from there I had about 10 km to go! It was 14:20 – I must have gained some time on the down hills😀

I had a quick drink of water at the station and carried on. Not long after I was joined by Eric. Such a relief! I was feeling quite lonely! We talked about our training, races that we were planning to run, races we had completed, triathlons, swimming, Ironman🙂

Eric had quite a good pace and I was trying to ‘keep my head above water’. At that point I was quite broken.

Another water station – Ferrero RocherWhoever came up with that was absolutely brilliant!

5 km to go…

I was having to walk but Eric didn’t leave me! He said he wasn’t bothered about his time, I really appreciated that.

3.5 km to go.

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At the water station I did a quick down dog and off we went.

Tiny uphill – with a photographer at the top – he was clearly there to have the before and after pictures!

The remaining distance was all downhill with gorgeous views. I knew that the guy who trod on my toes was behind us and all I wanted was to finish before him…

Finally Eric and I reached the tarmac and soon we could see the finish line.

And then Bronwyn started cheering! I got all my remaining energy together and started sprinting. I think (don’t remember exactly) that I looked at Eric and he gave me a nod, but I could have just imagined that it in my selfish head!

I got my medal, thanked Eric (whose chip time was 5 seconds better than mine! Whoop!🙂 ) and went to find Liz.

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The organisers provided free food afterwards, which was amazing🙂 Not everyone does that and it’s always greatly appreciated. Cake!

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On our way to the car I saw Lisa and Tania and did some shouting to encourage them. All I heard in return was: “She’s still smiling!”

And indeed I was! My time was 5:37:47 which means that I got my second best marathon time during The Tough One!