Volunteering at VMLM!

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After 14 marathons and dozens of other races, I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer at the London Marathon. A friend of mine is part of an Essex running club who always put a team forward for Mile 17, as you’d do in a local race to support. This year they had the opportunity to put a new team in the Mall, and he asked some of his friends in our online running club, the BCRC.

 

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Bright and early. That eyeliner was definitely not around later…

The first fifty who’d put their names on the list were picked, and my husband and I were asked to head to Embankment for 7:45am, to pick up our security passes and t-shirts. It was a really early start (4.30am alarm, yawn!) but I was so excited  didn’t really notice.

 

We got out orange tshirts from our team leader, who also gave us our photo passes. That lanyard is coming to work with me! We walked to the Mall where the overall team director briefed us on what to do. We were giving out goody bags – a fantastic place to be. We spent the next couple of hours opening boxes and working out strategies on how to get rid of the rubbish, which side was open first, etc. We saw the mini marathon come through and in no time at all, the wheelchair race had finished.  David Weir went past us!

 

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Pointing out the bleedin’ obvious, a la Paris and the BCRC way

The Elites were directed into their VIP area so we didn’t see many of them, but it was so exciting just to be close by. I spotted Chrissie Wellington striding through, and Martin Yelling of Marathon Talk.

The next six hours passed in a blur of runners and shouting and congratulating. Sweaty hugs and steadying hands.  I tied a space blanket around one guy and politely refused another’s request for a second t-shirt for his girlfriend.  I saw a few NRRs and I think I spotted  CONAC, but as there were two sides I missed a lot of people!

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The amazing @befitforaking at the finish of the VMLM17 after doing the Boston/London double!

That sentiment about all of humanity being visible in a marathon is so true. I saw so  many tears, and pain, but also joy and lifts from fellow humans. Conversations between runners about the miles they’d run together, the race they had had. I was astonished at the amount of people who stopped to thank us for our time – it was so lovely and thoughtful and also unnecessary.

 

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Thanks Shake Shack Westfield, that was delicious!

We finally got home to Norwich about 11pm, tired and footsore but so happy from being able to give back a little bit of every supporter and marshal in every race. Racing and running are brilliant, but I think it’s so important to do what you can every so often, to let others carry on and to acknowledge the wonderful people who make races happen.

Well done to all of the runners – you are all heroes!

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2017 goalpost(s)

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My goals are going to be attainable but flexible. I want to keep focus without pressurizing myself into the ground, and I want to build in lots of rest time too. The main thing I want from this year is to enjoy it.

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  1. 250 parkruns.

I’m currently on 242 so I reckon my 250th will be sometime in February. 250 runs and 1250km. That’s very nearly enough to run from John O’Groats to Land’s End. Phew. That doesn’t take into account the distance covered from and to parkrun either.

 

  1. Marathon PB.

My marathon PB is 4:12, set in Paris in 2013. I know I can do better than that. I will do better than that.

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Rotterdam’s marathon course. The A race next year

  1. 25 volunteer parkruns

I’m on 11 at the moment, so once I’ve done the 250 I will make sure I volunteer 14 more times at parkruns across the county/country.

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  1. 10k PB

I set my 50minute 10k PB at Adnams in 2013. I want that sub 50. I can run 5miles consistently at 39minutes, so I’m sure I can do one more mile at 10minutes to get it, right?

 

  1. Rest

I will take four weeks off after Luxembourg and enjoy not running. I will swim or walk or cycle if I want to. I will not worry about pace and I will avoid running for that four weeks.

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Me in June 2017 (actually it’s the cat, but you get the idea)

 

 

Race calendar so far for 2017

2nd January – Wymondham Not New Year’s Day 10k

12th March – Colchester half marathon

9th April – Rotterdam marathon

27th May – Luxembourg Night marathon

8th October – Chicago marathon

Number 12 – Tromso’s Midnight Sun Marathon

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Midnight Sun Marathon, Tromso, Norway – Saturday June 17th 2016

 

This year has gone so fast that it felt like I barely ramped up again after marathon de Paris in April, before I was jetting off to Norway. We set off on Friday morning (01.00hours) on a National Express coach. I was a bit puzzled as to how our arrival time at Gatwick was 7am. Until I realised that we were visiting all of the London airports before getting to Gatwick, through Thetford and Cambridge.   We trundled around the M25, visiting Stansted and all of Heathrow’s terminals before finally pulling into Gatwick at 7.30am. Bleary eyed and a bit stiff, we headed in to get breakfast.

 

We had a flight at 9:20 to Oslo, for a connecting flight to Tromso. The flight from Gatwick was delayed by half an hour, and then by another half an hour. We were inching ever closer to missing our connecting flight in Oslo, which made it a bit more stressful than I would have liked! We finally took off just before 11am, and as Olso is an hour ahead, this meant our window was very small indeed. So small that there was an announcement for the passengers with connecting flights – the Tromso flight would be held for us. For fifteen minutes. We were also unsure on whether our bags would make it on to the flight. Here’s an important lesson for you all, if you don’t know it already: if you are racing abroad and are out of sight of your luggage, PACK YOUR KIT in your hand luggage. Or wear it. Whatever makes you happy. I had helpfully packed all of my kit neatly into my suitcase. After a nailbiting couple of hours, we landed in Oslo and had 15 minutes to get through security (again) and try to locate our suitcase (maybe, the announcements were a bit confused). After five minutes at the carousel, we asked a couple of bored looking airport employees if our bags would come out or go straight to the next flight, and they shrugged a bit and told us they would go straight on the flight – the opposite of what we’d been told. We legged it to security and stood in the queue, panicking gently, which is always what you want when you go through airport security. Thankfully we made it though relatively unscathed, although I lost the bottle of water I had yet to open, that I bought in Gatwick. Boo. We ran to the gate and hopped on the flight with moments to spare, before realising that it was only half full and everyone we’d sped past, was trickling on. Clearly, they had decided to wait for everyone else. This turned out to be excellent news as a bringer of excellent news popped his head round the plane door to announce that all bags had been retrieved and were om the same plane. Hoo-ray.

 

The rest of the two hour ish flight passed in a blur of reading and napping, until suddenly we were passing over beautiful snow covered mountains. I got a bit confused on the way back, and thought we were flying over Scotland on that fight!

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Photo credit: Steve Holder

Tromso is one of the most northerly cities in the world, and is actually inside the Arctic Cirlce. At this time of year, as you may have guessed from the title of the race, it never gets dark. The weather wasn’t great and the temperature hovered around 6 degrees C, and it was a bit overcast. I’m not sure it would have been blazing sunshine if it had been a bit less rainy though – the light seemed to be perpetual twilight.

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Photo: me. The view from my hotel room

The other thing about Scandinavia is it’s expensive. Boy, is it expensive. If Sweden can be likened to petrol garage prices, then Norway is the equivalent of a West End cinema concessions stand. Phew. Beer can be touching £10 for two thirds, and a pizza cost me nearly £20. Both were delicious, of course.

We ate at Casa Inferno, a steampunk themed pizza and beer place.

I had absolutely no problem with this perpetual twilight, and I was out like a light as soon as my head touched the pillow in the Scandi hotel. Breakfast was included in the price of the hotel room, and was a glorious buffet. I ate far too much on Saturday, but I couldn’t resist. Hot food, home made baked beans, cheese and bread, smoothies, pancakes and DIY waffels. Delicious.

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Photo credit: Me. Nutella, Strawberry Jam and honey…

Our group then headed out to pick up race numbers and do some shopping at the expo.

Tromso is small. You can walk pretty much everywhere and the airport is a couple of miles away and is walkable too, if you feel so inclined. It’s not exactly pretty though.

We found the expo after getting mixed up between City Hall and County Hall (something common in Norwich too). There wasn’t much expo – a couple of racks of running clothes and a table or two of mugs, bottles, beanies etc, all branded with the Midnight Sun Marathon logo. I couldn’t resist the gilet and a snazzy water bottle, and I was relieved to find that the t-shirt fitted as that was pre-order and there were no size guides available. I sized up based on the fact that they would probably be quite fitted – Amsterdam, Paris and Stockholm race shirts are.

 

Race packet pick up was smooth and they even checked your chip, courtesy of a very polite, very enthusiastic small boy and a scanner hooked up to a PC. The goody bag had a buff in it, sponsored by a Norwegian drinks company.

 

After that we had a small wander, then sat down for lunch at 1pm. Lunch was pasta, as per usual for a carb load. I was still pretty full from breakfast but decided that I should eat as I wouldn’t have anything else before the race. The pasta was nice, the restaurant was spacious and the staff friendly. Following lunch, our team headed back to the hotel for a rest before reconvening at 8pm, for the race start at 8.30pm. Honestly, nothing is far away in Tromso!

We ate at Egon, found here.

I actually managed to sleep properly for an hour or so, which was very refreshing.

All set in my capris and a vest, I went to the hotel reception. There were a lot of runners there as it’s a running weekend – as well as the full, there’re also half, 10k and fun run for the family. Alongside that, the Royal vessel had moored right beside the hotel, so we got to see the King and Queen of Norway alight a couple of times over the course of the weekend!

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Photo from the wonderful Susannah

The field for the marathon is relatively small, about 1000 people. The half marathon is about 4000, and set off two hours later. The route is interesting in that the second half is the half marathon route, so just as I was flagging a bit, suddenly all of these fresh runners were around me, which was great. I enjoyed running past people doing the half marathon – it’s a great confidence boost!

 

The gun was fired and we were off. In terms of training, I felt that I had forgotten to ramp up after Paris marathon in April, although I have stuck to my usual 30-35miles a week and had some good races and long runs in there. My longest run had been 21miles, but as this race only had one goal ‘Enjoy Yourself’, I was interested to see how it would feel.

For the first ten miles, the only mile where I was slower than 9min/mil, was the one where we went over the bridge. I felt so confident and effortless, I kept checking my watch to make sure it was right! After that, a bathroom pitstop was in order and when I started again, I realised my rhythm had been disrupted and to return to that pace would mean too much push and not enough enjoyment. I loved this race. Every mile was great and while it wasn’t easy at all, I felt so in control – it was the opposite to Paris, where I had this big Sub 4 goal looming over me and a sudden 25 degree heatwave.

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I talked to the people around me, waved to the spectators (who were really kind and vocal, especially when they saw my marathon bib) and tried to take in as much of the race as I could. The terrain is quite bleak – it’s starkly beautiful anf the church on the other side of the bridge is breathtaking, and could easily be featured in the next Scandi-Noir drama.

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Thanks to my lovely friend Steve for this photo. He’s raising money for a wonderful clutch of charities by running 20 marathons this year. http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/20Marathons2016

All too soon and the finish line was coming up fast, through Tromso’s high street. I found an extra bit and sprinted to the finish line, where I was given a beautiful medal and two people tried to give me a space blanket at once. I then proceeded to hyperventilate at the relief of finishing, the satisfaction of finishing the race, and just being overwhelmed with the people around me. After a few seconds I was fine, and passed the athlete’s drinks table and the big screen, on the way back to the hotel. I walked along past the finish line, and was so pleased to see the finishers inches away from their medal and space blanket too.

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Photo credit: facebook page for MSM

It was a once in a lifetime experience – finishing at about 12:45 was really strange. Mingling with drunk people having hobbled to your hotel, is really weird. It was great though. My one regret is not buying food to eat afterwards – we had a packet of biscuits and a bag of crisps along with a couple of cans of beer. I chose sleep over food as the rest of the gang went out in search of Burger King – this was a bad move as I woke up feeling really hungover! Luckily, the breakfast sorted me out, swiftly followed by a local delicacy – cinnamon bun.

 

Marathon website: http://www.msm.no/midnight-sun-marathon.242498.en.html

My friend Steve’s amazing challenge for this year – all donations welcome: http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/20Marathons2016

 

 

Race review: White Star Running Dorset Invader Marathon

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At the crack of dawn on Friday morning, my running bud and I drove to Dorset to spend the next 36 hours camping and running.  Hooray!

I love White Star Running. This was my third event with them in 12 months, and I would do them all if we were a bit closer. They specialise in trail runs with a festival atmosphere – beer, cake, excellent medals and above all, friendly people. I never feel taken advantage of with their runs, everything’s fair and balanced. The photographs are taken by volunteers and are free. The goody bags are brilliant (more on that later) and I always have a stonkingly good time.

Here’s the course map on two pages (!)

Dorset Invader page 1 route

Dorset Invader page 2

We arrived at the campsite about 12.30 after a stop at Fleet Services where I had a yummy (albeit expensive) salad from here. Avocado, edamame, roasted red pepper, chicken breast and carrot on a kale and cos lettuce base. Yum.

After chucking the tents up we went to explore. There was a bar in a barn, a café and a wee farm shop with some slightly nervous but lovely people in charge. This was the inaugural event so the hosts didn’t really know what to expect.

We had a couple of hours before dinner was served at 6.30pm, so I had a bit of naptime and a bit of reading time, which was very refreshing. The tent was pretty empty without Mr Charming in it though, and I hadn’t even bothered with a roll mat, let alone an air bed, so it felt even bigger.

Dinner was a pre booked choice which catered for vegetarians as well, which was great. I had the pasta Bolognese which was exactly what you need before a big run – hearty, healthy food. After washing it down with a  pint of Shark’s Head Ale (on draught in the BARn, amazing), we had strawberry and apple crumble for dessert. Thoroughly comfy, we had another pint (a shandy for me) and wandered back to the tents for a night-time cup of tea.

It was FREEZING at night! I put on all of my clothes inside my sleeping bag around 4am, including my socks, and I still woke up shivering. It had been about 26 degrees during the day so the cloud must have completely scarpered.

The campsite was awoken by the RD driving up and down, blasting the Beatles and shouting through a megaphone ‘Time to get up and go for a run’, which was easily the best way to wake up from a tent sleep!

 After a cup of coffee and porridge in a cup, it was time to get dressed.  Before I knew it, it was nearly time for the race briefing and I was once again scrambling to the bathroom (I started Larmer the same way in March).  We were led up the hill for the briefing when I realised that I’d forgotten to take my inhalers. Luckily the tent was only down the hill, so I nipped off for that. I soon realised that I needed another bathroom break (ridiculous) so had to wait for the race to start, nip off in front and then veer into the toilets before meeting up with my friend in the first mile, just ahead of the sweeper. Phew! To make it even more dramatic, the race started with the farmer dressed as a centurion on horseback. WSR definitely know how to start their races memorably.

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Before

The run was lovely.  We ran/walked from the beginning, walking more at the end as our legs tired and the uneven ground became more risky to run on. It was really relaxed and we picked people up on the way, chatting about favourite races and what we were going to have at the next aid station. The marshalls were amazing – dressed up in Roman gear and smiling the entire time.  As the course loops we visited some of them twice, and I could have kissed the marshalls that had been standing out there for six or seven hours, keeping us safe with words of encouragement and cheery waves.

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Having completed Larmer in 5h40, I would have liked to so Invader in around 6. However, it was an extremely hot day and there was a section of about a mile and a half where we walked the whole way as it was rutted quite deeply. I know, excuses, excuses!

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Wheeeeee

Before we knew it we were at the Lovestation for the second time, around mile 21. 10k to go! We were back on familiar ground in reverse as we were following the loop we’d taken out. As we approached a field from a little path, a couple of people on camping chairs started ringing a bell. That was lovely because we knew then that we were not far from the finish and indeed, when we came out, we realised we were only one field away from the gantry. In our excitement, we almost missed the flags, but luckily there were some lovely people who jumped up and down enough for us to realise! Ah, race brain.

Dorset Finish

We crossed the finish line and were given our amazing medals and goody bags. Packet of crisps, biscuits, special Dorset Invader muff and homemade Dorset Invader jam, carefully packed.  Our time, by the way, was 6 hours and 12 minutes for 27 miles.  Not that it matters in WSR races, of course.

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I was wearing socks and shoes, honest!

After a brilliant shower in the portashowers and the discovery of chafe and sunburn, we packed the car and set off back to Norwich, stopping at McDonalds along the way.  Thanks to our kind camping neighbours, who let us borrow space in their fridge for milk and even made us a cup of tea after the race.

Garmin trace here, if you like.

After. Look at the size of that bling!

After. Look at the size of that bling!

I really can’t recommend these races enough and I’m already planning the next WSR – The Ox in May 2016.  Come along!

Previous WSR reviews here and here