Some truths about becoming an ultra runner

I haven’t talked at all on my blog about training for an ultra. I have just completed my first ever ultra marathon, and although I never doubted for a moment I could do it, it hasn’t really been the focus of my training this year (Manchester marathon was instead) so this became a bit of fun (!) instead. 

With Jeanette after 7 miles, just as the 30 and 40 routes parted

I chose a 40 miler because I have completed several marathons now and although 50k (31 miles) seems a nice introduction to ultrarunning, for me it just didn’t seem to present that much of a challenge so I wanted something a bit more scary.

Everyone feeling fresh in the first couple of miles

Dukeries 40 turned out to be my date with ultra destiny. It’s local (30 minutes up the road) and it winds through a beautiful area of Nottinghamshire called the Dukeries, which comprises various estates including Welbeck, Thoresby, Sherwood Forest and Clumber Park. It’s an area I’ve wanted to run in for a while, so this event seemed the perfect opportunity, plus the 40 mile option went through Sherwood Forest and right past Major Oak so that was the choice for me. 

A Major Oak selfie, 10 miles in

So what did I discover about ultra running?

  1. 40 miles is a very long way. My legs began to mistrust me at around 22 miles, and when I kept running beyond marathon distance, they freaked out and didn’t really want to work for me. That said, they carried me another 15 miles, so good work legs!  
    Ultra running’s simple pleasures
  2. It’s a very friendly, encouraging community. Runners I caught up with, or who caught up with me, often stayed a while for a chat and everyone asked how I was when they went past. The marshalls were also amazing!!! They couldn’t do enough for me. 
    Ran with Nic for around 15 miles
  3. At 33 miles, a jam sandwich and a cup of tea taste absolutely divine. Simple pleasures really matter. 
  4. I didn’t get bored of running or of my own company, particularly in the latter stages of the event. I really thought I would start to annoy myself after a while, but I quite enjoyed the peace and quiet. 
  5. Ultra running is a brilliant way to see more trails in the laziest way possible. When I say lazy, I mean you still have to run the distance of course, but for someone like me whose internal compass is a little wonky, events like this take the stress and brain power out of navigating. The course was brilliantly marked with red and white tape every few metres, and yellow arrows and dots. All you have to do is follow the markers, and then every 7-10 miles there is a gazebo underneath which you’ll find all manner of sweet and savoury goodies to eat and drink.  
    Descending down into Creswell Crags
  6. Time and distance warp when completing an ultra. At the beginning, the miles clock over really quickly, even though you’re running at a slower pace. Close to the aid stations, distances seem to stretch, and near to the finish, every mile feels like an extra marathon which takes an eternity to complete. 
    An endless, lonely footpath
  7. You don’t have to run it all. In fact, it’s encouraged to walk sections, especially up hills. 
  8. Never underestimate the restorative power of a bath full of Epsom salts afterwards.
  9. You’ll immediately want to complete another. Even while running it, as your hips and knees scream in pain, and you’re questioning your own sanity, you’ll be wondering how much further you can push yourself and planning your next adventure. Just remember, even though all your friends and family think you’re crazy for doing this, take solace in the fact that there’s always somebody crazier than you. Yesterday for example, I spent mile 36 with a man looking to take on a 184 mile foot race along the Thames later this year. 
  10. The finish feels a bit of an anticlimax because you get so caught up in the ‘doing’, that even though you’re hurting, once it’s over you’re disappointed that the moment (or hours) have gone. I was relieved to finish yesterday of course, but I run because I enjoy the act of running, not to complete events. 

So a few questions remains:

Did I enjoy it? 

I enjoyed the scenery, the cameraderie, the chatter, the adventure, the feeling of being out in nature doing something to test my own limits. That’s a powerful feeling and gives immense satisfaction. When my watch hit 30 miles, I chuckled to myself because whether I completed the event or not, it didn’t matter; I had become an ultra runner. Those last 10 miles oddly didn’t feel as tough as the few miles after marathon distance, which were the longest miles of my life. Lime Tree Avenue goes on forever by the way. Well, actually a couple of miles, but it felt endless.

The breathtakingly beautiful Lime Tree Avenue

Would I do another?

Probably. Yes. Watch this space.  

Stunning bluebells in quiet woodland

Can anyone run an ultra?

Of course. Once you believe you can do something, you’ll do it. It’s all about toughness of mind. The body hurts, but your mind simply has to tell it to keep going. I talk out loud to myself. I also posted a few videos on Instagram yesterday which gave me a boost and allowed me to talk honestly about how I was feeling to those watching. I also downed a cup of cola which gave me a stitch and made me forget about the pain in my knees for a good few miles. I passed some runners listening to music, which isn’t something I do myself but I can understand how it’s a good distraction. I ran with a few people for a chat to distract myself. Your mind just has to find a way to make the pain shrink down to become insignificant and you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Creswell Crags


What I ate:

  • 4 Tailwind stick packs 
  • One Snickers bar
  • Two chocolate brownies
  • 1 Eat Natural bar
  • 4 gingernut biscuits 
  • So many jellybeans I lost count 
  • 12 flies (give or take a few)
  • Some cherry tomatoes (inspired!)
  • 1 x Jam and 2 x peanut butter sandwiches
  • 1 cup of tea 

What else would you rather be doing on a Saturday?

Kit:


  • Mobile phone (the only mandatory bit of kit)
  • Montane Via Fang race vest with 2x 500ml soft flasks filled with Tailwind. 
  • Ron Hill waterproof jacket in case of rain or wind (I didn’t wear this in the end.
  • Inov-8 merino wool socks. No blisters and I also knew they dry quickly if they get wet.
  • adidas raven boost trail shoes 

My stats:

Distance covered: 40.3 miles

Total time: 8:26:39 (inc CPs)

Total moving time: 7:59:34

Position: 82/105 finishers

Elevation: 1500ft

Thanks are due to Ronnie Staton of Hobo Pace Events for putting on such an excellent, well organised event, and to everyone who gave up their time to marshall, and help keep tired runners fuelled, hydrated and motivated. Thanks to Nick who drove me to the start and gave me encouragement that I could do it. Thanks to Jeanette and Nic for company en route. Thank you to my friends, and my Twitter and Instagram communities for the messages of support throughout the day – they really kept me going. Special thanks to Dan for his endless patience with this lasting urge I have to test my limits. Seeing you, Allegra and Bella at mile 31 meant the world, and running the last few hundred metres to cross the finish line with Allegra was unforgettable. Love you all.

My little homecoming pacemaker

Ten reasons to try trail running

I can’t remember the exact moment I decided I was a trail runner; it’s been more of a gradual awakening as I fell in love with trails and out of love with roads. 

If you have never tried it before, here are 10 reasons why I think you should. 

  1. Beautiful views everywhere you look. There is such a variety of trails in our country. Near me, I have an abundance of footpaths cut across miles and miles of agricultural fields, and plenty of woodland and riverside paths. My favourite views are from hilltops, which are lacking near me in Lincolnshire, but I travel to the Peak District when I can to satisfy that urge to run uphill and down Dale. 
  2. No traffic. Is there anything more annoying than having to stop mid run for a car? Now I only stop for photos 😁 (See point 1)
  3. No people. I didn’t see a single other person on my run today. Blissful. I love the peace and quiet. Trail running really gives me time to think and clear my head. 
  4. Dog friendly. My little furry friend can trot along beside me. Great exercise for her. 
  5. I can go as slow as I like and it doesn’t matter. There’s no pressure to run fast. Trail running is a lot less competitive than road running. I was asked earlier this week, when I introduced myself to somebody as a runner, “What’s your pace?”  I looked at my interviewer blankly for a moment, before replying – it depends whether I’m doing a long run, or racing a 5k or a half marathon, or whether I’m doing a 40 mile trail run. I’m not quite sure they understood me. 
  6. Every season looks different on the trails. My favourite runs are through woodland, seeing new shoots and bluebells in the spring, and wonderful colours in the autumn.
    This field looks totally different every year. Some years it is bright yellow with rapeseed; this year it’s lush and green with corn.
  7. Being out in nature is proven to make you happier. Extra endorphins! 
  8. Running on soft surfaces is better for your joints than the constant pounding of the road.   At around 18-19 miles on the road, I tend to get into an argument with myself about why I’m running this far, but on the trails I feel as though I could run forever.
  9. Running on trails improves your balance and coordination as your proprioceptive muscles work much harder to keep you upright on uneven surfaces.  I swear plenty of long runs on trails this year has helped me become a stronger runner.
  10. Exploration! Who can resist exploring where a footpath leads? I lead runs every Tuesday on trail, where we try to explore new areas, armed with an OS Map and a compass. Great fun. We get a bit lost sometimes, and come up against some dead ends, but that’s all part of the adventure. 

There are so many trails right outside your front door – what are you waiting for? Get out there and see where they lead!! 

My Top Ten Tips for Motivation

What motivates you to run?

I asked this question recently of my fellow runners, and one overwhelming response was cake*. This is something I wholeheartedly agree with, having initially taken up running many years ago in a bid to lose some weight, because I love food. Indeed, many of my trail races this year have been booked due to recommendations of how good the cake is.

*biscuits and wine also featured interchangeably

However, I digress. Back in January, Boobydoo asked me to write this blog on motivation, seeing as we were in one of the coldest months of the year. But now in spring, with the traditional marathon season at an end, many runners seem to lose motivation again. So how do we motivate ourselves to get out and run ? How do we keep ourselves running throughout the year? What’s the key to that magic running mojo?

Here are my ten tips to keeping that motivation up.

1. Enter a race.

Having a goal to aim towards prevents our running from becoming, well, aimless. Training for a 10k, for example, forces you to not postpone those scheduled interval sessions for a TV marathon instead. The thought of a race coming up will definitely keep you motivated. Book something in for in 8-12 weeks time to give you a goal to aim towards that isn’t too far away. If you’ve never done a race before, and the thought terrifies you, why not aim to complete your first 5k parkrun instead? Register for free at http://www.parkrun.org.uk


2. Find a running buddy.

If you knew somebody was depending on you to get out and accompany them on a run, would you let them down? I often arrange with friends to do early morning runs, which I could otherwise quite easily skip by turning off my alarm if I knew nobody was waiting for me. The key to successful early morning running is book a friend in, set your kit out the night before, and set your alarm. Join a running group or a club too, for companionship during the evenings. There are plenty of groups listed RunTogether and clubs on UK Athletics to help you find the right group or club for you. Get involved in the @ukrunchat community on Twitter too, for instant motivation.

3. Mix up your training.

If you’re getting bored of running, ask yourself whether it’s because you’re doing the same thing all the time. Do you always run the same route? The same distance? Change it up. If you usually run on road, find a trail, or visit a local park and run there. Usually run alone? Find a running buddy (see above). If you’re usually a half marathon runner, try to set a new 5k personal best and have fun injecting some speed sessions. Enter a race for a distance you’ve never tried before, like a 5 mile race. Try a weekly or monthly run streak, where you run every day. Stuck at one pace? Do some interval training or find a hill and run up and down that. It’s ok to get out of breath while you’re running – in fact it’s encouraged if you want to improve. I regularly make my running groups practice running at an uncomfortable pace for them – they always thank me for it, afterwards!

4. Keep a training diary

We’ve all heard that motivational adage that you’re always quicker than the person sitting on the sofa. However, how many of us actually strive to improve? Remember that training is about benefitting from consistent, regular activity. Putting the work in now will give you results later on.  Keeping a training diary, and noting what running you did, including details about how you felt before, during and after, and what you ate and drank before it, will give you such important feedback about how your training is going and how to plan ahead. Look back over the past month or two and see if you notice any patterns. Were certain runs that felt hard linked to your nutrition or hydration the day before? Or were they related to your menstrual cycle? A training diary can be a very powerful tool. See also my blog about how the menstrual cycle can affect ladies’ training.

5. Commit to a training plan

Following a training plan can really help keep you on track. There are many free plans readily available. Running coaches will also help with writing you a more personalised plan for a particular event. I would always recommend a personalised plan because no one size fits all, and everyone’s personal circumstances and starting points are different, but having a training plan stuck on your fridge door can certainly be a great motivator.

6. Get a coach.

Sometimes, signing up for a race and having a training plan just isn’t enough to motivate you to get out there. Some runners need somebody to feel accountable to, who isn’t necessarily a friend.  Employing a running coach to help you achieve a goal can not only help keep your motivation from waning, but it can also help you to improve in leaps and bounds with training especially focused on you.

7. Go naked.

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about losing clothes, but technology. Sometimes we can get a little too wrapped up in what our running technology is telling us, whether we train by pace, or heart rate or perceived effort, and it sometimes means we lose the enjoyment of running because we’re concentrating too much on our watches, and forget to enjoy the scenery. My advice here is always to put your watch in a drawer for a week, and go out and just run. Run however you want. Run to feel. Don’t worry about your pace, or how far you run. Just enjoy yourself.

8. Have a rest.

Never underestimate the power of a rest day. Or a rest week. Or even a month of not focusing on anything in particular, but just recharging your batteries and actually allowing yourself to enjoy running again. If motivation is really waning, quite often a few days rest will have you raring to get your running shoes back on again. Remember that rest days are part of training too, both for your physical and mental wellbeing.

9. Reward yourself.

Some people need the pressure of an upcoming race to incentivise them to train. Others prefer to reward themselves with something for reaching a goal. Got your eye on a new sports bra or pair of trainers? Why not save 50p for every mile you run, and treat yourself once you’ve saved enough money? And don’t forget the cake. Running doesn’t really allow us to eat completely what we want, because food is fuel, so we must make sure we’re putting the best nutrients into our bodies. But it does mean we can still enjoy the occasional treat in moderation, because what’s the point in running if we can’t enjoy some cake?

10. Get your mindset in the right place. 

Remember that exercise has great benefits not only for our physical wellbeing, but also for our mental health. When you realise that your mental and physical wellbeing is crucially important, getting out and exercising stops feeling like a chore and becomes something you reward yourself with. I love my running time; it’s time for me to get some headspace, some thinking time, and some vital physical activity, as well as those endorphins. Read my recent blog about mindset if you need some tips. 

Hope everyone’s feeling motivated now. Do you have any other tips to share? 

Happy running!

Love,

Miles with Michelle x 

How improving your mindset can help improve your running.

As a running coach, who mostly specialises in introducing beginners to our wonderful world of endorphins, it never ceases to amaze me how many times I hear people complain that they’ll never be fast, or that they can’t run, or that they’re not a natural runner. Having been running myself for 15 years now, I can empathise with this feeling, as I think back to how I felt for a long time, but I no longer agree. The truth is, mindset is everything in running, and if a person believes they are not a fast runner, then they will never be a quicker runner because they will continue to train within their comfort zone and never challenge themselves, and so become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Make sense? I know, because I did this for the first 8 years of my running life.

We’ve all been there during a race, or a training run, when it starts to hurt, as lactic acid builds up or our legs get tired, or our lungs are burning, and your head says “you can’t do this” so you slow down or stop to walk, and give up on yourself. Heck, despite knowing how my inner self-doubt chimp works, I still battle with it a lot, but with practice it’s getting easier to put the chimp back into its cage and carry on.

With a mindset aimed at improving yourself, and willing to accept that running should be uncomfortable sometimes, you can really make a difference to your running. I’m going to share a few tips below of how get your mindset focused on improving, rather than your mental attitude getting in your way.

Train your body and your mind to deal with pain

Running should feel uncomfortable sometimes. I’m not talking pain here – if your joints or muscles are giving you acute pain, please stop running and consult a specialist – but that feeling, that burn, as you run beyond your natural aerobic threshold and start to get out of breath and uncomfortable. If you truly want to train to get faster, you have to be prepared to accept that sometimes it’s going to have to feel uncomfortable.  I’ve had a conversation only today that a 5k parkrun never feels easier to me. It’s not because I can’t run the distance, it’s simply because every time I try it, I try to run it faster. It’s human nature.

The more you practice that uncomfortable feeling during training, the more you will get used to it, and be prepared for it during races. This is what training is for; learning how your body reacts to different paces and distances. Use it wisely and don’t be scared of experimenting on yourself. 

Focus on your goal

Have you even set yourself a goal? Many people are wary of setting goals, in case they fail at them. What’s the worst that going to happen? You’ll have a go, you might succeed. Brilliant. Worst case scenario is you won’t reach your goal, but you’ll have learned a lot about your own body and your training approach, and you’ll probably be a lot closer to that goal than you would be had you never attempted it. Actually, thinking about it, the absolute worse case  scenario is that you injure yourself trying to achieve an unrealistic goal, so choose something that is within reach, but that is also challenging.

While training, visualise how you will feel achieving that goal. Think about your state of mind once you’ve reached that point, which could be crossing a finish line, or achievening a certain time or distance goal. Do you feel happy? Proud? Joyful? Emotional? Who will you share that moment with? It’s important to connect a goal to an emotion, so that it becomes more meaningful to you.

Take the pressure off and enjoy yourself

My best performances have been on days where I’ve taken the pressure off myself, trusted in my training, and decided not to beat myself up if I don’t hit a target. It happens time and time again, when I’ll tell myself “stop caring so much” that I completely unexpectedly smash a PB. It’s when our minds are relaxed that our bodies can perform to their best. 

I spent the latter part of 2015 and the entirety of 2016 desperate to get under 50 minutes for a 10k. I entered race after race, and each time at around the 7-8k mark I would allow my legs to talk my mind out of it. “It’s too hot; it’s too hilly; there’s a fellow club runner who needs my company; you’re never going to get under 50; you’re too slow; have a walk.” Classic self sabotage. I would generally knock seconds off my 50:xx PB and beat myself up about how near yet how far I was.

Eventually I recruited my husband to pace me around a 10k course. It was horrific. I put so much pressure on myself. I shouted at him a LOT on the way around. I crossed the line with a massive effort in 49:59.5 seconds. I lay on the ground. I should have been happy, but I knew he had dragged me round; I hadn’t achieved that on my own. 

So for my next 10k I decided to stop focusing on that sub 50. I’d technically hit that goal anyway, even though I had had help in the form of pacing, so I decided to enjoy this race which was a looping out and back course with the opportunity to cheer on fellow club runners along the way. I had so much fun, and forgot to even look at my watch, so when I looked at it when I crossed the finish line and it read 48:48 I laughed out loud! What a difference taking that pressure off has made. My next 10k was a similarly fun event when I went effortlessly under 48 minutes. Give yourself a break sometimes. We all crack under too much pressure. Remember that we all supposedly do this for fun.

My joy at a surprise 48:48 10k in November 2016
Focus on your form

I find when I’m tiring during a run, and especially a race, that taking my mind off the pain and the tiredness, and focusing on my form, really helps me by not only distracting my mind, but by helping me to run more efficiently. 

Fatigue means we stop running as economically. Our shoulders often tense up, we stop lifting our knees as high, our pelvis tends to sit back as we loosen our core. A mental check in with your body and its form really helps. I always run through the following head to toe checklist:

Head – are you looking forwards, not at the ground? Imagine there’s a piece of string from the sky holding your head upright. 

Shoulders – are they tense? Roll them backwards, and relax. 

Arms – are they moving? Legs follow what your arms do, so pump them backwards and get some forward momentum going. 

Hips – is your pelvis in a neutral position? It often sits back when you’re tired and this can cause back ache, which you’ll probably notice on longer runs. Tighten your core and realign your pelvis. 

Knees – make sure you are lifting your knees as high as you can. This will help lengthen your stride and give you more power through your legs. 

Feet – move them quickly. Concentrate on a faster cadence, which will be helped by moving your arms quicker. You may also find if your pelvis has sat back, you will probably be landing heavily on your heels. Readjus your pelvis into the neutral position and you’ll probably find it easier to run on your midfoot or toes again  

Going through this checklist really helps to distract my mind and make my running more economical. 


Distract your mind

There are other things you can do to distract your mind from running. As well as critiquing my own running form, on particularly long races such as marathons I love watching how other people run and thinking what I would advise them to do differently (that’s just the running coach in me). I also love to take everything in and plan how I’m going to write up the race review. Some people find counting very helpful – this is a method Paula Radcliffe famously employs so she knows when a mile has passed. 


Breathing

If you’re really tense before a big race, breathing exercises can help reduce your anxiety. Breathe in deeply, allowing your diaphragm to expand, for the count of 5; hold that breath for the count of 6; then exhale slowly for the count of 7. Repeat this a few times, with your eyes closed, thinking about how you would like to feel during the race. 


Mantras 

Mantras can be a very useful technique to use. Choose a few really positive, and specific, mantras that come easily to you, for example:

I am a strong, efficient runner and I am finding this pace really easy.

I am relaxed and smiling because I am having fun.

Those who find themselves talking themselves out of PBs during a race will probably find mantras the most useful, as they are designed to help convince your mind that you can do this. Mantras are about positively reframing your circumstances and helping you believe you can achieve your goals. And believing is, after all, achieving. 


I hope you’ve found some of these tips useful. Do you have any more tips to share? 

I’m currently undergoing some more in depth mindset training with @jo4848 so if you are interested in finding out more and getting involved, please have a look at her website http://www.jorodriguezpsych.com/

Happy running!

Miles with Michelle x 

Gorilla Hunting – Oswestry Half Marathon Race Review

I was excited about the Oswestry Half, because it’s always nice to be able to run an inaugural event. It was also the half marathon I was working towards with Celia, who I had been coaching towards her first ever half marathon, after we ran her first 10k event in September.

This race wasn’t about a PB for me, because I had planned to run it with Celia, providing her support, so I can’t comment on its suitability as a PB course; however, apart from the short section across grass and stones, the course was all on flat roads, with one short, insignificant hill between mile 6 and 7.

Oswestry Gorilla

However, let’s rewind to earlier in the morning. The race was based at the British Ironwork Centre, just outside Oswestry. It was easy to find, just off the A5, and there was a marshall directing traffic into the centre. We parked on a well-marshalled field, and within minutes I was in the race village where I could see a well organised registration tent (I checked my number on the board, and had collected my number within seconds), a tent filled with around 20 physios providing pre-race massages, a baggage tent, a pop up cafe, vans selling pizza and crepes (I made a mental note to visit them after the race), some trade stands, plenty of seating, plus a stage with the trophies and medals on, and around 30 portaloos which were clean and well stocked with loo roll and alcohol gel. It was just after 8am, with the race due to start at 9:30am, so with none of the anticipated queues, I had over an hour to spare, so I found Celia, and we sat down and had a cup of tea while we chatted about how training had gone, and our strategy and expectations for the race ahead. A very nice, relaxed start to the race.

Just after 9am, the announcer advised that Amy Hughes (@53marathons) would be doing the warm up at the stage, so we headed over there and did some cardio and some lunges to warm our muscles up a little, then we headed over to the start area. There was a brass band playing, which was a lovely touch, and I spotted tailrunner Matt (@mattupston) then Mike (@ParkgateRunner) came over to say hello who I had been tweeting earlier in the morning. Then there was a countdown from 10, the cannon fired (yes really!) and we were over the start line within a minute. There were 1000 runners at this inaugural event, so I knew we would have plenty of space to run in, but I also suspected we may find some parts of the course lonely as the field naturally spread out, so I was glad I was running with Celia to help her along.

The first section was over a couple of fields to get out onto the lane behind the centre; the footing was a little uneven, and stony in places, so it was a relief to find the road under our feet so Celia could settle comfortably into her pace. My job today was keeping her company, making sure she was taking on adequate nutrition, and keeping her motivated in those final stages.

The first 4 miles were on quiet country lanes, and we would repeat these miles later in the opposite direction, after a loop of the town centre. Out of the country lanes, we headed into a housing estate where there was great support from the residents, and plenty of sweets on offer. We then headed into the town centre itself, where drivers were already getting impatient waiting for runners, and were sadly ignoring a lot of the marshalls, and driving around cones placed in the road. We ran on pavements a lot of the way through the town centre, as a few drivers were being very impatient, and the fact that the field was spread out at this point I think meant that marshalls couldn’t enforce road closures as well as they could with an obvious stream of runners. That said, they did a fantastic job of keeping us safe and I think the marshalls enforcing road closures always have the toughest job on a race as many people do get angry behind a wheel nowadays!

Onto the hill just after mile 6. It wasn’t too bad actually, it started gently inclining out of town, then got a bit steeper towards the top, then we turned into a housing estate for the final climb (with some great ladies cheering us on to the top), then we were downhill again, back into town to begin heading back.

Oswestry Half 10

All along the route, we had been spotting the unique mile markers along the way, so it was really nice to be able to see them from quite a way off. Eventually we found ourselves back on the road we had been on earlier at 9 miles and I breathed a sigh of relief at being away from the bustle of the town centre and back onto the quiet lanes. There was a brief out and back just after mile 11, to make the race distance up to half marathon, then we had a nice straight road back, which just left the two fields to cross.

  
We could see the finish from over half a mile away, and it was slightly uphill on grass to reach the actual line, but there was still plenty of support and cheering as we ran those final hundred yards or so. We each got an individual printout of our race results, then headed over to the race village to collect our goody bags, T-shirt (sadly only large size left by this point), and then the medals took a little bit of finding. The marshal at the goody bags had pointed us over to near the stage, where there was currently a presentation happening to the overall and age category winners, so the area was crowded with people and it wasn’t obvious where the medals where. In the end, I asked somebody wearing a medal where we collected them from, and she pointed to a little white iron gazebo, in front of which was standing a lady, rather inconspicuously. She handed us each a black box, and I have to say, we each uttered a “Wow” when we opened them to see a bright shiny gorilla shaped medal resting inside. I had seen pictures of the medal, but it was more stunning than I had imagined, and I am really not a ‘bling person’ – I’ll run a race for a cup of tea and a bowl of soup (see Grindleford Gallop blog) rather than a medal, but this will hang proudly on my medal hanger. It is special.

  

After the race, we ate guilt-free pizza and I had a quick wander around the British Ironwork Centre, which is an unusual and unique place, well worth a visit (also free entry), then I headed home to show off my new bling.  

 
All in all, a great first event . The only feedback I would give to change for next year would be to hand out medals immediately as runners finish, because that’s often the main reason people sign up to an event in the first place, so make that really special. EDIT: I’ve since heard that many runners received their medals up on stage, personally presented by the town mayor. A lovely personal touch, but it seems we arrived too late to be presented with our medals this way, which is a shame. The free photos are also fantastic quality – I had over 50 free images of myself taken and tagged. Overall, a great friendly-feeling event, well-marshalled, and no obvious issues.

Thank you to UKRunChat for the opportunity to run the first ever Oswestry Half.

Oswestry Half mile 10

Smile, Camera, Run!

A couple of months ago, Ben, a local runner and photographer I know from Twitter, got in touch with me to see if I would be interested in letting him take some images of my running group so we could both better promote our businesses? Would I? Yes, of course! What an opportunity! Ben had seen the posts I’d been uploading to Instagram and Twitter from my group runs, and offered to provide me with some high quality images which I could use to furnish my website with, and use on professional looking social media posts. I was really excited.

There was a little bit of banter with some of my regular group runners about whether a professional photoshoot necessitated a new haircut or makeup. I always tend to have my hair done before a big race – it’s a little bit of a ritual for me – but for the photoshoot I opted for a little bit of waterproof mascara and some lipstain, much to the amusement of my running group.

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We arranged to meet shortly before a running session I had planned around Lincoln with a fun group of ladies who were all a little nervous about being on camera but all excited to get involved and have some fun. Ben and I had chatted about the route – which was a 10 kilometre run around Lincoln, incorporating some of its best hills – and potential photo points over email a couple of weeks before the shoot, and I also had a brief chat with Ben before our run to figure out the best areas to see us and capture us running. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was relieved that Ben was completely on my wavelength that natural running shots would look best – no posing ladies!

We agreed that Ben would shoot us as we headed out towards the common, then head uphill in his car to capture us half an hour later as we tackled Lincoln’s infamous Steep Hill and the cathedral quarter. So off we went! We felt a little self conscious running past Ben on that first stretch as he snapped away, but then I had purposefully not revealed to my runners where Ben would meet us uphill, so that we could aim to capture shots that were as natural as possible.

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So we got on with our hill session and eventually we saw Ben near the cathedral. He had set up a perfect shot, he said, when we eventually stopped to chat to him, ready for when we ran up Steep Hill, and waited in position, until a van reversed in front of him, blocking us from view as we puffed up the hill. Perfect timing! So we came up with an alternative plan to incorporate an additional hill in a quieter area, where he managed to capture some beautiful shots.

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We then posed for a group shot outside the magnificent cathedral, at my request, then did a loop of the building while he set up another shot on Steep Hill so we could loop down then back up again. My ladies were all very good sports when I told them we had to tackle Steep Hill for a second time! I mean, just look at how much they enjoyed it!

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City shoot done, we all headed back downhill for our cool down, and Ben met us along a path near the river to get some trail-type shots too, then we all headed to a local café so Ben could also capture the social side of my running groups, which increasingly often involves coffee and cake.

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My experience of this photoshoot was that it felt really relaxed. Ben is clearly a very talented photographer, and his presence felt completely inobtrusive. There were no real instructions to us needed, Ben simply captured the best bits of our run. I asked him for some group, posed, shots too, which he did for us, but his forte, and passion, clearly lies in capturing the natural movement of runners.

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Ben sent me the file of images that very same afternoon, and my reaction to them were that although I couldn’t have articulated the exact images I would have liked, these were stunning and perfect. I absolutely love them.

Thank you Ben for capturing in your images so perfectly the essence of what I am trying to achieve with my running groups: fun, coaching, friendship and a sense of camaraderie.

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You can see more of Ben’s work at http://benlumleyphoto.co.uk/

 

Things I think about when I run a marathon

In the starting pen:
There’s the 3:58 pacer. I’ll stand by him and hope I can stick like glue to him for the race. (Looking around) I wonder which of us will hit 3:58 and which of us will blow up. I really hope I can do it because I don’t want to have to do another road marathon to get the sub 4. I could have done with another wee really but those portaloos at the start smelled disgusting. It’s just in my head. I’ll be ok.

(Mat from club finds me and asks if he can run with me to try to pace himself properly. It’s his first marathon.)

Phew, company! I really wasn’t looking forward to running this on my own. Mat’s much quicker than me though, I hope he doesn’t feel I’m too slow and I really don’t want to feel like I have to run quicker than I’ve planned. It’s ok, we’ll stay between the 3:58 and the 3:59 pacer.

 

Relieved to have found a running buddy in Mat

Shuffling slowly towards the start line:

It’s too claustrophobic. I am really not comfortable THIS close to SO many people. Hurry up people. Where’s the 3:58 pacer going?? He’s crossed the line already, we must be a minute behind already? He’s a pro, weaving in and out. Damn, watch has turned itself off waiting – hope I can find GPS again in time.


Crossing the start line:

Here’s goes. Don’t go too fast, stay disciplined. Stay ahead of the 3:59 pacer and we’ll be ok.

Mile 1: 8:59

That 3:58 pacer has shot off! He can’t be doing the right pace. Don’t worry, just keep an eye on watch pace and stick as close to 9 minute miling as we can.

Mile 2: 8:50

We’re a little ahead of pace but feeling comfortable, this is good.

Mile 3: 8:53

First loop done, there’s Old Trafford again and White City. Pacing going well, first 5k done in around 27 minutes.

Mile 4: 8:41

We’re heading out of the city now, head down and just keep counting those miles down. Water station. I don’t need a drink but have one anyway, few mouthfuls to rinse your mouth out. Keep hydrated, it’s pretty hot.

Mile 5: 8:57

Oops bit quick that last one. Slow it down a little, don’t want to blow up later on. I’d better take a gel. I don’t really need one but I’ve been running 40-odd minutes now so I’ll take one every 40 minutes to keep my carbs topped up.

Mile 6: 8:58

Really happy with this pace, it feels good. These Chorlton Runners are getting lots of shout outs. I haven’t had one yet but it’s the first marathon I haven’t had my name on my top as I remember it all getting a bit much at London. I guess my name on my number is pretty small.

Mile 7: 9:00

Whoop passed the first timing mat at 10k in 55:28. Only 20 miles to go! Feeling good and pace exactly where it should be. Oh look, I used to go into that pub as a student. Memories!! Are we in Sale already?

Mile 8: 8:52

Getting a tad quick again. Chat to a bloke who’s doing his first marathon in over ten years and hasn’t done any long runs. I really hope he does ok today.  Look out for Rick as he should be around here somewhere supporting. “He was back there” says Mat, didn’t you see me shout and wave to him? Oops, I’m clearly in the zone now, focusing inwardly.

Mile 9: 9:03

Wow the crowds here are amazing! It’s so loud! Whoop, first shout out! I heard a Shelly earlier but I know that wasn’t me. Why are my hips hurting? I run far longer distances than this, why am I in this much pain? It’s the bloody road, I knew there was a reason I stick to trail. Bloody tarmac and concrete IS bad for you. Just ignore the hips, I’ll be fine.

Mile 10: 9:02

A nice marker to hit. Only 10 miles plus another 10k to go. Wow are they sub 3 hour runners coming back towards us on the other side? I wonder how far in they are? Maybe half marathon? I’ll see if I can spot anyone I know. Oh there’s David, looking strong ahead of the 3:15 pacer. And there’s Daz looking comfortable just with the 3:30 pacer. Wow these runners look so comfortable at that pace – how do they do it? Ooh jelly babies, how nice. Yes please.

Mile 11: 9:00

Round the corner. Wow how long IS the loop until we head back? I’d better take another gel too. If I took one at 40 minutes, I’ll take another at 1 hour 20, a third at 2 hours then I’ll have run out for the second half of the race so I’ll have to remember to pick some more up from the fuel stations next time we pass one.

Mile 12: 8:52

Those Chorlton Runners keep overtaking us then dropping behind again. I need a Chorlton vest – they’re getting loads of support. Ok this feels like a hill. Who said this was flat. Push into it and get up there.

Mile 13: 8:45

Whew and back downhill. Go with gravity! What IS that noise? Oh it’s that lady with headphones on singing loudly. I don’t recognise the song. What’s the song? She’s clearly enjoying herself. Good on her.

Mile 14: 9:02

Through the half marathon point in 1 hour 55. I might actually be able to do this. We can count down to the finish now and we are actually heading back now.

Mile 15: 9:06

There’s a gel station coming up around the corner. I remember seeing it earlier. I’ll grab one as I’ll need more gels than the 3 I brought with me. I’ll take another of mine now. Oh there’s a guy walking backwards. Is he doing the whole marathon backwards? Wow.

Mile 16: 9:09

Ten miles to go! Woohoo. Well and a teeny bit.

Mile 17: 8:54

Wow I think I used to work there? Where am I? Yes I did, trip down memory lane back to when I was a student. Struggling here. I need to slow down a bit I think.

Mile 18: 9:02

(Mat decides to run on ahead and stretch his legs.) OK I don’t feel like I’m holding Mat back now but I’m worried I won’t have anyone to spur me on now. It’s ok, you can do this. Just keep going, keep the legs ticking over.

Mile 19: 9:12

“Hello, are you the Michelle off Twitter?” There’s a friendly looking chap who introduces himself to me as Paul. I suppose I am, yes. It’s nice to have some company again, I don’t like running on my own, and it helps to take my mind off the pain. After a while Paul waves me on as says I’m going a bit quicker than him. On my own again.

Mile 20: 9:23

Wow this bit is boring. And quiet. There are no spectators. I feel tired. My legs feel like they don’t belong to me. My back is hurting. I’ve still got an hour to go. Have another gel, then only another gel after that to go then I’ll be finished. Am I so bored I’m counting down the race in gels? Yes I am.

Mile 21: 9:14

3 hours for the first 20 miles. I’m on track for sub 4, got an hour to do 10k. Can I do this? Can I actually do this? Bearing in mind I’m now running like I’ve pooed myself because my hips are hurting? How much pain am I prepared to put myself through? I’m breaking out the shot blocks – if I do one a mile that will give me something to look forward to.

Mile 22: 9:55

Wow I am so bored now. Not enjoying this at all. If I stop and walk from here it’s only 5 miles and I could still do a quicker time than I did my last marathon in. Yeah, at least it’ll be a PB. Who cares about a sub 4 anyway? Am I that bothered? Drinks!! And gels! Sod it, I’m having a little walk while I have a drink. I’m melting. I’ll have my last gel now too. Ahhhh that not running feels so good. You idiot, you’re probably not going to be able to start running again now. You’ve totally just sabotaged your entire race. Why would you do that?
“I f***ing hate marathons” I say to the chap who’s also slowed to walk next to me. He agrees. Why do we do this to ourselves? He says he balances out his alcoholism with marathons. I sense he’s probably joking but I’m too tired to really know. Right, well the quicker we get to the finish line the quicker I can lie down and have a cry so let’s try running again. Ow. Yeah walking wasn’t the best idea, but the running is ok, just ignore the pain.

Mile 23: 9:26

Damn, that’s the 3:59 pacer just overtook me. Can I keep up with him? No. What pace must I be doing? I can’t look. It doesn’t matter. Let him go. I hate this marathon. Yes, lady at the side of the road, I hear you telling me to not let him out of my sight, but I’ve run over 20 miles, don’t you understand how exhausted I am? Have another shot block. That caffeine feels GOOD!

Mile 24: 9:31

Only 2 laps of parkrun to go. 20 minutes running. Come on, you can do this.
I hear a “Hello Michelle” and a chap named Gray introduces himself to me who recognises me off Twitter. “How are you doing?” he asks. Struggling now, I say. Just want to get finished. “Want to run together?” he asks. We can try, I say, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up with you. That self doubt has me in its evil grip. “I’ve just had a walk he says, but you look strong”. That’ll be the shot block I’ve just had, I say. I don’t feel it, but I run anyway. I feel tired and nauseous and I’m aching to stop running. I appreciated that chat even though it was brief. With those words in my head I run on.

Mile 25: 9:09

Something’s gripped me and I’ve sped up a little. I’m overtaking lots of runners and seem to have lost my new running buddy but I keep going. I don’t look back. I can hear spectators saying there’s the 4 hour pacer, so he can’t be far behind me but if I look behind, I’m done. I’ve lost it. Just keep moving forward.

Mile 26: 8:26

I’ve got 12 minutes to get under 4 hours. Can I do this? I think I can if I sustain this pace. I’ll be gutted if it’s seconds over 4 hours. I’d rather be minutes over, than seconds. Let’s see what these legs have left. How long is this mile??? I can’t even see the finish line. OWWWWW. What the hell was that? Did I stand on a nail? Ew my toes feel sticky. Blister. Wow I didn’t know they were that painful when they burst. OWWWWW the other foot now? What the hell is going on with my feet? Thank god I brought flip flops to wear afterwards. Ah we’re turning a corner. The finish line, is that it? It looks so far away. Ah there’s the 3:59 pacer – how have I managed to catch him up? That’s good, let’s overtake him. I think he’s slowed a bit and let his group run on. I think I might just do this. That finish line isn’t getting any closer. Come on, push. Think good strong form. Relax your shoulders. Move your arms. Oh it’s Dan, he’s made it. I’ll wave and look happy, but don’t slow down you’re nearly there. The finish line. Arms up. Happy relieved face. 3:58. You’ve bloody done it woman!

 

Thanks for the finish straight photo, Rick

 

After the finish line:

I can’t walk. How have I just managed to run a marathon? Where do I go? I can’t focus. I need to sit down. Oh look, goody bags. Small t-shirt please. And water. Yes please. Is there food in here? I need real food. A protein bar, that’ll do. Oh there’s a UKRunChat vest, that must be Garry. I say hi to Garry who introduces me to Caithy and we have maybe 6 attempts at a selfie.

 

Caithy takes a photo of Garry and me in the end

Everything is so difficult after a marathon. A chap called Andy comes and says hi who also recognises me off Twitter so we congratulate each other – he’s run an amazing time! I need my bag so I can find my flip flops. Oh there’s alcohol free beer too, yes please. I need carbs. I don’t like beer but this tastes INCREDIBLE. I need a wee though. Hello lady sitting on the floor, please would you look after my beer, I don’t want to take it into the portaloos. Ahhhhhh. Relief. I need to get this sticky sweaty top off and a dry one on. I need to get these trainers off too. I’m not looking at the blisters yet, I’ll look when I get home. Owwwwww, foot cramp. How on earth am I meant to get these flip flops on without touching my blisters? Slowly slowly, no I’ll fall over. Someone help me, why is this so difficult. Owwwww. Right let’s try the other one. Owwwwww, this one’s cramping too. I can see all the veins tensing. That’s disgusting, and really hurts. Why is this so difficult. Right, stand up, let’s go find my family. I’ve done it. Proud of myself today.


Thank you to UKRunChat and Breathe Unity for the opportunity to run the ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon 2017.