Life, Running

A Rush of Blood

It’s been a bit of a week.

Anne has banned me from running until Monday. It would have been a lot longer but I start the first session of a Runners Movement Workshop then and I can’t miss that.

A bit harsh you might say but probably necessary given that I managed to faint (for the first time ever) after giving blood on Tuesday.

So here’s the thing. I’m not squeamish at all, I don’t mind needles, and I find the way the clear tubes running from my arm suddenly turning a ruby red absolutely fascinating. So this wasn’t one of those kinds of faints. I’m actually still pondering as to why it happened at all as I’ve given blood in the past, perfectly successfully, when my iron levels haven’t been too low.

An NHS screen in the main hall of Hulme Hall, Port Sunlight
Getting ready for the prick test

I’ve had a knock back on that score a few times. That swift and surprisingly painful prick test that they do to see if your globule of blood sinks in the liquid or not, has been a barrier that I’ve sometimes not been able to surmount. I’ve seen my little drop, lie atop the liquid happily treading water, showing zero signs of containing any heavy elements.

This time, I watched it drop in, think about swimming for a second or two, before deciding to descend gracefully to the depths. The iron tablets that I take sporadically were obviously working.

The actual giving blood bit, which takes around ten/fifteen minutes, was also successfully administered. It was only after, when I sat in a chair to quaff the squash and munch on the orange Club that I began to feel a little strange. Having never fainted before, I didn’t realise that this strangeness (a light dizziness that grew in intensity) was the precursor to finding myself on the floor, on my back with my legs elevated on a stool.

The nurse had helpfully pulled a screen around me to shield my position from inquisitive onlookers, and, probably, to not put off potential blood donors. And actually, the two nurses were amazing.

It was about half an hour or so before I felt well enough to sit up without getting seriously woozy. Anne had come to pick me up in the car, as I’d walked over to Hulme Hall, where the donations were happening that day.

There were a few reasons which, all put together, could have made me keel over then, but as the nurse had told me that I was being banned from giving blood in the future, or words to that effect, I now wish I’d considered them before.

Firstly, there were a lot of family events that weekend, which had involved a bit of alcohol being consumed. The last of which was on Monday. Now, I’d drunk a lot of water to compensate throughout the weekend but some of it must still have been sloshing in my system. Secondly, I’d eaten quite a big lunch, not long before going to give blood, and I’m wondering if it had been a bit of a shock to the digestive system while it was still going about its work. Third and fourthly, I’d been a small, very gentle 2.5 mile run in the morning, and the hall was a tad warm, as the weather was a little more than clement that day.

My favoured position, for the rest of Tuesday, was definitely horizontal, but the next day, I felt completely fine, apart from the tiredness. I figured that I’d be well enough to get to the track session that’s held at the club every month, on Thursday night.

I’ve only ever done one of these before so I desperately wanted to go. As it was at the Oval, I jogged over very slowly. I promised Anne that I’d stop as soon as I felt at all odd. It was a mix of fast and slow runners from our club, but I’m glad the slower runners had come to give it a go. It can feel pretty intimidating, especially as young kids whizz past you on their own training sessions. But doing a regular speed session, whatever your ability, is a crucial way to help develop you as a runner.

Part of a running track in the the evening.
A glorious evening at the Oval (where they filmed Chariots of Fire)

I was somewhere in the middle of the group with my running ability and the kids were still sailing past me, but I’ve got to the point where I’m comfortable with other people doing their stuff. As one of the women there said, when she’d come last in a 20 mile race in preparation for a marathon. How many people can say they ran 20 miles?

The longest distance Mark got us to run this evening was 1 mile. I managed it in nine minutes, which I was pleased with. The shorter, faster runs after this were what started to undo me, and I decided to call it quits a little before the end. I was fine but I got Anne to pick me up again, just to be on the safe side, which was when she banned me for the rest of the week. Obviously, in her case it was two strikes before you’re out.

So, there is no moral to this story, other than to appreciate that your body does amazing things and we should treat it with enormous respect, and perhaps to time blood donations a little more sensibly.

Running

Birkenhead Park 5 Mile Race

In four days I’ve done three runs and they’ve all been amazing. On Tuesday evening, at various points, I wasn’t quite feeling the joy, but it was great to see the Finish clock show a time of just over 51 minutes.

The Birkenhead Park 5 Mile Race was celebrating its 50th anniversary and many people were feeling nervous about doing it on such a hot day. However, the temperature was noticeably lower than the day’s height, down to a tolerable 28 degrees (centigrade) according to the car’s temperature gauge.

Lots of runners standing chatting in Birkenhead Park
Milling around before the run

A lot of the race was actually in the shade which made it less difficult, but it certainly wasn’t easy. I have got into the habit, when I race, to have the app on my phone track my progress, and I only look at it at the end. I go on how I’m feeling and, this evening, I was feeling pretty bushed from the get go.

It wasn’t surprising really, as on Saturday I did Parkrun for the first time in years. And then on Sunday morning, early doors to beat the heat, I did a slow paced trail 10 miler with two Pensby friends. To be honest, I’d completely forgotten that I was doing this race when I did the long run, and was happily talking about the idea of cancelling Tuesday night’s regular club meeting because of the heat warnings.

Then I was reminded. Then I spent most of the day checking and rechecking the weather with a cold wet flannel wrapped around my neck. Then I couldn’t find my water bottle. Then I told myself: okay, just go already.

Fifty years ago, running as a sport for normal people was almost unheard of, and positively discouraged for women, in case their uteruses popped out. The first Birkenhead 5 mile race was an all-male affair with 60 competitors, all under the age of 40. It was set up by the secretary of Wirral Athletics Club, Peter Humphreys, and he’d been invited again, to see off the runners for the anniversary.

On Tuesday, there were 339 runners, of both sexes and a variety of ages and abilities. Indeed two of the guys, who had competed in 1972, were here to run this one too and they were still pretty nifty. The top three all came from Wirral AC, and the top woman was second overall with a superb time of 27:23.

As she lapped me with the other front runners, on the four loop course around the park, I was a bit in awe. She didn’t quite inspire me to run any faster, as my legs were feeling like jelly by this point, but I continued to jog a bit longer instead of walk.

Not that I feel bad about little stints of walking. I used to think it was a fail, but doing more off-road running has taught me that it’s par for the course. Whether to stop and take in the view, to gingerly clamber up and slide down precipitous sections, or to catch your breath. There’s definitely a different mentality to road running.

I did end up catching my breath for a couple of moments on this course but still, my time averaged to around a 10 minute mile pace, which, as a slow 11.5/12 minute plodder, was pretty great.

It wasn’t quite as good as my parkrun on Saturday which was a staggering 9 minute mile pace (28:42) over the 5K course. The last time I’d done Parkrun was Feb 2020, just the first lockdown, and I knocked nearly one and a half minutes off that time.

The reason I’m harping on about times and pace in this particular blog, is that I’m realising that, although I was feeling despondent about my Half Marathon time recently, the fact that I’ve been regularly running over twenty miles a week for a few months, has evidently made me stronger, and that’s certainly starting to show in the shorter distances.

This race was really well organised, with a live band that greeted you around each loop, a small army of water sprayers to keep us a tad cooler, and lots of volunteers looking after us. I think I may come back for its 51st anniversary.

Running

Hilbre Island

Last night I lobbed my trainers over the back fence because they definitely couldn’t come in the house with that much sand and sea water on them. I shouldn’t treat them so flippantly after they helped me have a simply amazing evening but they’re filthy and I was surprisingly exhausted. It was only two miles out and back for the easy run, and with some of the runners’ children coming along too, the pace was very easy. But running on wet sand nearly all the way does give your legs an extra work out.

Evidence of a great evening.

This was Pensby Runners’ (now resumed) annual trip to the seaside.

The Hilbre Islands, off West Kirby in Wirral, are a mini archipelago in the Dee Estuary. There are three islands that you can walk (or run) to when the tide is out: the first tiny ‘Little Eye’ stands alone, just over half a mile from the shore; the ‘Middle Eye’ is out further to the right; and alongside this is the final main Hilbre Island. I think they missed a trick by not calling it the ‘Third Eye’ but never mind. There used to be a Life Guard station on there but all three islands are now a protected nature reserve.

The evening began a bit breezy, as we all assembled on the West Kirby prom. Nigel was taking the register of who was going out, just to try and make sure no-one was going to be left stranded out there. The sun was shining again though, on my second coastal excursion of the week, and as Ian blew his PE teacher whistle, sending off the runners doing a longer route, the remainder got ready for our run with the giddy excitement of school children.

Setting off to Little Eye

I had taken a small flannel in my belt to wipe my feet dry after the dip in the sea off the final island. Jo had laughed at me when I said that, and now I knew why.  It wasn’t just compact wet sand we were going on, but also the many, many puddles of seawater that still remained. After the first shoddy attempts to jump over or go around them, I resigned myself to having soggy feet and ploughed through.

The islands are beautiful, with an other-worldly feel where the water has rubbed away at the rocks. Even if you’re not a runner, they are a lovely place to walk and explore. There were a few walkers about yesterday evening, looking a bit bemused by the sight of so many people splashing past in trainers. Alongside our club, there were at least two other groups of runners that I spotted. Despite the popularity of the evening though, it never felt crowded. Our lot regrouped at the far end of the main island, for photos and the piece de resistance of the evening.

I’m not a very confident swimmer so I wasn’t sure about getting in the sea, but as nearly everyone else was peeling off their shoes, or just going in with their trainers on, I did too. It was gorgeous, not even cold, and there was a nice wide sandy shelf beneath my feet so I could just bob up and down in the waves. I felt like one of the local seals that are frequently spotted (just not this evening). Except I was just a bit flappier and less graceful. It was brilliant though, I loved it.

We also had a dog in our party.

My little flannel did come in use in the end, as it was marginally easier to pull a wet sock over a dry foot than a wet foot (I did perform an empirical experiment). And then we all set off at a trot back to the mainland. One of our member’s husband runs the Marigolds Fish and Chip shop, which is famous in West Kirby, and possibly all of Wirral. And nearly all of us had put in our orders earlier. We sat in a local park chomping on the food hungrily, as by this time I was famished, and we enjoyed the last of the rays of the evening sun.

It was the end of a perfect evening. Just need to clean those shoes now.

Running

Chester Zoo 10K

Well, I’ve just looked at my official results from today’s run. Not quite what I had hoped for but not all bad.

I should have known really. At about the 8k mark, the pacer for 60 minutes loped past me, easy as you like, while I puffed and panted, trying my best to squeeze out the last bits of energy out of my legs and my lungs.

I’m just wondering now, if I should have had more than an orange for breakfast in the morning before I set off. A bit of toast maybe, or some Weetabix. I normally save my porridge routine for the longer runs, and as this 10K was kicking off at 9 in the morning, I thought I could knock it out and then be home for brunch. Perhaps on a regular six miler that would have been fine. But when I started looking at my stats for the February 10k, while waiting for the warmup to begin, I got antsy and felt like I wanted to beat it, just to feel like I had made a little progress.

Warm up: It appears that runners are not the most co-ordinated bunch of people

You’d think I’d have a better thought out strategy for my races, but this one was a last minute affair. A club colleague couldn’t run it anymore and so I took her place only last week. I liked the idea of running past all the animals in the Zoo. Turns out, at that time, they were either still lounging in bed or having their breakfast, as all I caught was the sounds of a few non-native birds and a bunch of empty pens.

Runners running in Chester Zoo
Saw no komodo dragons, or elephants or giraffes

So, my last minute decision to give it some welly, on the back of a shrivelled orange that had been sitting at the bottom of the fruit bowl for an excessively long time, was perhaps not the best idea of the day, but I’d pumped myself up and there was no going back. After the collective warmup, the exuberant MC got us to line up in order of expected finish time. I sidled in at the back of the 1 hour lot, just so I could hedge my bets if things turned sour.

I’m not sure how the pacer had got behind me in the first place. Especially as I’d stopped to walk at the water station at 5K, to catch my breath back. But, as he cantered off ahead of me into the distance, my brain decided to have a little conversation with itself.

Me:                  Wow, I didn’t know we were still near the 60 minutes.
Also me:         Yes, but he’s gone now, we should ease down a gear.
Me:                  But we’re so close to the end.
Also me:         I’m so tired.
Me:                 C’mon, only a mile left, don’t let him disappear.
Also me:        Oh jeez, are we really going to do this?
Me:                 We’re doing this baby, pump those arms!

My inner voice often sounds like an American teenager, but ‘me’ got the upper hand over ‘also me’ and so off we, no sorry, ‘I’, raced to try and pull something back on 60 minute man.

I never quite caught up with him, but I gave it my all and managed to just keep him in sight. In the end I crossed the line in 1 hour and 19 seconds. A three minute improvement on February, so after the utterly disappointing Half recently, we’ll take that as a win. Both of me.

Life, Running

Party Time

You know you’ve had a successful party when, despite two good downpours and the need to hold down the collapsible (and occasionally collapsing) gazebo when the gusts whipped up for a short time, everyone remains in good humour, and eats and drinks well. Such was the case yesterday, when some of Anne’s siblings and mine, as well as an assortment of nieces, nephews, children and a mother, over thirty people in total, came to ours for a family shindig.

We don’t have the biggest of houses, but we do have a nice long garden, so we were hoping for a continuation of the glorious week day weather for Saturday. The forecast, however, wasn’t looking all that happy. Sometimes it was rain all afternoon, with 30 mph wind gusts, sometimes the winds calmed down to 25. Either way, I was being a negative pain in the backside all week to Anne, who firmly believed another forecasting website, which painted a rosier future.

A toddler with a chocolate ice cream face and a chocolatey top
Alf, enjoying his nanny’s home made chocolate ice cream. He binned the empty cone

As it turned out we were both right, in parts. For the vast majority of the day, the rain held off, and a blue sky and jovial sun were frequently spotted. Our two families mingled, children ran amok, and our week long efforts to give the house and garden a really good spring clean were worth it. We’d borrowed some extra garden furniture from the neighbours, and brought down some of Alf’s toys that were waterproof and everyone went home happy.

Ironically, even though we were well stocked up on the booze, I only ended up having the odd glass of fizz or Pimms, because when you’re hosting, it’s no good getting too soporific until the puddings have been dished out. And surprisingly, despite my glum feelings for last week’s half, I felt like I still wanted to be clear headed enough to get a long run in today.

Is this a sign of maturity?

Probably not, but there has been a shift in my perspective. Possibly since I’ve had this bee in my bonnet about attempting another marathon next year. And as I’ve got another half at the beginning of September, I’ve not got much time to sit around.

Although I have zero wish to give up alcohol, I have noticed, in the last year or two, that it goes to my head much quicker, and makes my body, as well as my head, ache the following day if I have a few too many. It could all be part of the pre-menopause stage. Having three older sisters all currently going through ‘the change’, I’m being uber-vigilant for the signs in myself. However, as I’ve always had a memory like a sieve, and as my body lately seems set on dumping out my eggs more quickly than normal, I can’t work out if anything’s imminent.

At the rate the ‘free’ world is going, by the time I am in need of it, HRT will probably be a banned substance, and drug companies will probably be switching their product lines to Viagra.

But! Have a deep breath, and think back to the party.

What with one thing and another, it has been rather wonderful for the immediate clan to catch up on a purely social occasion. Anne’s mum, who is the final parent standing for the two of us, held court beneath the more sturdy, wooden gazebo, and it was so nice for our two families to sit and relax and get to know one another, while some smooth jazz playlist emanated from my little speaker. The last time we attempted it was four years ago, in March, when Anne turned sixty and our event was attacked by the ‘Beast from the East’, as that particular meteorological phenomenon was dubbed. At least we didn’t need any ice for the drinks back then.

Hopefully, it won’t be another four years ‘til the next party, but in the meantime, there are a few pieces of pudding to finish off.

Running

Rhyl Half Marathon

Well, I didn’t realise quite how popular Harry Styles is.

Standing on the platform at Rhyl, yesterday, I heard one young man (late twenties – and, I reckoned, straight) chatting on the phone, moaning about his horrendous train journey thus far, and looking forward to the concert tomorrow night. Then, within three minutes, a group of middle-aged women gathering for a weekend of jollies in Liverpool (and starting the party early) were rating his Manchester gig very favourably. So quite a wide demographic. I ought to have a listen to some of his tunes.

A seagull on the platform
Not Harry, but a seagull on the platform, eyeing up my sandwich.

I haven’t been on a train in ages, and I’ve missed the ability to people-watch, especially at the weekend. It was only a last minute decision, instead of driving, as despite the hike in petrol prices, tickets are still prohibitively expensive, especially for longer trips. But I was awake early enough and decided to jog down to my local station.

Should I have booked to go on this race in the first place?

Given that my last several long runs felt like fails, I knew this might shake my confidence even more. And, heading back home, exhausted and dispirited, I nearly went under a wave of self-pity, but was saved by the weird and wonderful variety of people squeezing into the steel carriages.

I’m glad I’m writing this today, with a bit of hindsight and a proper look at my stats. I feel a bit more objective about the experience. The Half Marathon course, at Rhyl, appears mainly to follow the waterfront to Prestatyn and back. It’s definitely the nicest looking part, as the town centre has a little sad, charity store and betting shop vibe.

It’s a very flat course and known to offer the potential for a personal best if the weather is right. The weather was pretty good, but I got nowhere near any PB. In fact, it was the slowest Half I’ve probably done. So what went wrong?

Firstly, I made the cardinal mistake of starting off a little too fast. I could still talk, in short spurts, but I knew I was at the top end of comfortable. I ran the first 7 miles with two local women who regularly used this route for their training runs. This was their first Half ever, and they were in their late fifties, and I let them go ahead, after the turnaround as I couldn’t keep up their pace. Dispiriting much?!

Secondly, the route was mainly all on the concrete prom, as opposed to tarmacked roads, and it felt harder underfoot. I even started to get cramp twinges midway through. They do say to train for the terrain that you will have on race day, and, aside from being fitter than me, that could be another reason why the Rhyl ladies had an advantage.

Thirdly, enjoying a run-free holiday with the family, is probably not the best preparation for a race, but our little place amongst the pines, at the Center Parcs in Whinfell forest, was very relaxing, or as relaxing as it can be with an exuberant three year old. Alf got to swim every day and get really confident on his balance bike. His three month old, more chilled out, brother, Leo, got happily passed amongst his folks and the two sets of grandparents. We adults also passed around the fizz generously, so although there was plenty of opportunity to run for me, I never got my trainers out once.

Overall, at Rhyl, I averaged just under 11 and a half minute miles, which is slower than my Scottish Half, last September, but a bit faster than all my recent long runs. It does feel a little bit like I’m going backwards but I’m not as despondent as I was yesterday.

The next step, I think, is to get a bit of advice about building in a little strength-training (which is no bad thing given my age) and cross-training to see if I can turn things around in time for Carnarvon in September. Otherwise I won’t be looking at a marathon for my 50th next year.

I have to remind myself that I’m still getting out there, and mostly, enjoying my runs. And it gives me the excuse to, occasionally, hop on a train to see a new place.

Running

Long Run Blues

Well!

Never mind hitting a plateau, I think I’m rolling backwards like a large, weighty moss-repellent stone.

I’ve just walked in from a long run, hoping to hit the elusive 13, ready to be content with a steady 12, and I’ve managed a pathetic 9 and a bit miles. My legs muscles are aching like they might have if I’d done 16, and I’m totally clueless as to why it’s all gone a bit Pete Tong so very quickly, especially as I’ve now booked myself onto a replacement Half in two weeks time.

I had a good meal last night: an inadvertent nod to Her Maj’s deceased other half, ‘Phileep’. A Greek moussaka with added sides of dolmades and plaki etc. I had one alcohol free beer and a tiny piece of cake. I had a good night’s sleep and my regular porridge this morning, a couple of hours before the run. Plus my two gels and some water for the duration. The only thing different were my new trainers.

New Trainers, dark pink and blue
I seemed to have bought odd lace sizes. Perhaps that and the shocking colour clash with my socks jinxed my whole run?

Now I know they should be broken in, and I had done about three 4 to 5 milers in them before putting them away for later. The only reason I got them out today was to try and give me a little oomph.

Maybe they were the culprits, but I’m still not convinced. For one thing my feet felt fantastically comfortable in them, and for the first three or four miles I was consciously forcing myself to go slower because they wanted to bound along at a happy clip.

It was raining when I went out. Not bucketing, but that steadily dripping tap which soaks in quite quickly. This was a first for me, as I’m very much a fair-weather plodder, but I gave myself an ‘I’m a big girl’ and ‘my apple phone is waterproof now’ talk and gingerly stepped outside. The temperature, once I got going, was perfect really, not cold at all but not overly hot, and as I said, with these trainers I had a spring in my step.

I know it’s only the beginning, but the hedgerows are verdant and you can just feel, despite the rain, that Summer has really taken hold. In fact, I felt I had landed into a scene from that folk-horror film Midsommer, when I disturbed, below some red, white and blue bunting, a magpie pecking away cannibalistically at the entrails of a recently expired feathered creature.

This unsettling vision was during the end of my run, at the point when it had become a sulky walk. The kind of walk that doesn’t even entertain the idea of trying to speed up to a gentle canter because it’s completely fed up with the whole concept of movement to begin with.

I’m not averse to all the union flags wafting about for the Queen’s marathon of a reign so long as they’re taken down eventually, and I did find some inventive decorations along my route, such as this gnomic homage.

A red, white and blue balloon and flag display outside of a home, with several gnomes.
The mini vw van lends a touch of extra class I think

That’s one woman who has worked out how to go the distance alright. Seventy years in the hot seat, over a period of immense social and technological change, while contending with a more than averagely dysfunctional family, is quite impressive. Anne did read a slightly contrary view somewhere. Apparently, in Scotland, the letter boxes do not have the EllR on them because she is technically the first Elizabeth to have dominion over Scotland. The union didn’t happen until after England’s Liz the First died, when she was succeeded by James, the Scottish king, whose mum had been done away with by Liz. So it’s kind of understandable that they’d be a tad tetchy about it still.

Tomorrow, we are trooping into the bunting bedecked garden of our neighbour for a little BBQ and many glasses will be raised to Her Maj, Elizabeth the Second (or First). But today, now that I’ve used this blog to spit my dummy out, I will go back to the drawing board and try and work out what I need to do to get better.

Running

Hitting a Plateau

Well it’s Friday (whoop! whoop!) and I’ve handed in my final piece of coursework so I can party!

But it will have to wait until Sunday evening, as tomorrow Anne and I will be babysitting Alf and his baby brother Leo. Overnight!! While their parents go out for a well-deserved break at their friend’s wedding.

I’m totally fine with this, apart from the slight panic around the potential lack of sleep we may get for this one solitary night. Or worse, that I sleep on until the poor baby is screaming the house down because he’s starving. It will be fine (honest Jane!) and we will all have a great time. But it will be busy, which is why I got my long run in today. Although, I’m not sure I should have bothered.

As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve not done a proper running blog in a few weeks, but I have been getting out there still. Well, apart from last week, when we were in Norfolk, and I only had a couple of small bimbles, and otherwise, ate, drank and was merry all the time. This week however, I tried to resume, but my long run felt like a complete slog today, and I feel like I’m going backwards a bit.

To be fair, I’ve been feeling like there’s been no real progression for a few weeks now, as I can’t seem to get much further than 12 miles. Today, I had to walk a few times in the middle of it, which was worse than normal. I was hoping that, since last week was so chilled, I’d have had enough of a rest to get to 13, but I stopped the clock at a measly 11 miles.

There are a couple of things that may have played their part this week:

  1. My planned Half Marathon on June 18th has been deferred as my mate is injured. So my body could be feeling de-mob happy, but just hasn’t told me.
  2. I had a whizzer of a club run on Tuesday night, when 3 out of 4 of my miles averaged under 10 min/miles, which is a whole minute under my usual abilities. It was only because I am really rubbish at remembering directions and was trying to keep the people ahead of me in sight.

Those reasons don’t explain why I’m not progressing generally though. Am I on a dreaded plateau? How can I rise again? Questions, which I’ll have to think on a little more, after my sleep deprivation.

It was inspiring seeing all the 5K entrants streaming along the coastline during this month’s seaside run. A lovely evening with a breeze, and a bit of a tailwind for the runners coming into our funnel at the end. Perhaps I should have a go at shorter runs for a while?

kitesurfers on the sea, with a wind farm in the background, further out to sea.
Breezy enough for the kitesurfers too.

Running

Running up that hill

I’m sitting on the bed, propping my legs up on pillows in the vain hope that that will help them recover faster. To be fair it’s a wonder that I can walk at all given what I’ve put them through this morning.

On this anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death day ( I wonder how many people actually do die on their birthdays?) I decided that I hadn’t had enough hills last week in the Calder Vale 10 miler. I decided I wanted to triple the climb and run a few miles further.

Actually, I didn’t decide any of those things, but when Jeff posted on our club page, that he was running the route of the Excalibur Half Marathon, and wondered if anybody wanted to join him, I stupidly said yes.

Jeff, inspecting another probable casualty of the winds at the beginning of the year. Still alive enough to blossom though.

I was planning to go around 13 miles this weekend anyway, in my (making it up as I go along) training plan so it seemed like a good idea. I knew it would be a bit hilly, but I hadn’t really looked at the route before I volunteered. The final hill was Moel Famau which is about 1820 ft high.

Stats for route: 3.45 hrs; 13.36 miles; 2794 ft ascent
Map for route including slow and fast sections - mainly slow
Not many fast sections!

My stats have been borrowed from Jeff as my Runkeeper app threw a wobbler. Granted it looks like almost walking pace but that could only be achieved with some running thrown in, and I did do a fair bit of running, albeit steadily.

We were in two groups, as Becky, who drove us down, and Mark, set off at a faster pace with two other guys who had met us there. They’re all good runners and I was glad not to hold them back. Jeff, who knows these hills like the back of his hands (although we did go off track for just a hundred yards or so) was happy to do a little light coaching for me and have time on his feet.

It was a lovely, although slightly hardcore, introduction to fell running, and I really appreciated Jeff taking the time to patiently run with me, and give me a few pointers. I didn’t have a rucksack, but learned that it’s pretty essential kit, to hold your food and water, and the layers that you may take off and put on again over the course of a run. Today it remained dry, but the sunshine we had on the Wirral didn’t quite appear on the Welsh hills, and the easterly winds, as we rose higher, nearly took my legs out once or twice. Jeff carried a spare waterproof jacket for me, as well as a whistle, map, and compass, even though he knew where he was going. He also had some solid nut and choc bars, which I normally wouldn’t have while running. But on a steep uphill that I could barely walk up, I scoffed one of them down happily.

For every up, there were downs, and some of them were grassy strips of heaven where I felt like a gambolling goat. I did my best Phoebe (from Friends) impression, flailing my arms around wildly, feeling the exhilaration of the descent. Some stretches, however, were so steep, it was all I could do to stay upright and keep from falling. By the end of them my calves were burning and I was longing for an uphill again!

All in all it was a pretty amazing, and knackering Saturday adventure, and I think that I’d like to do it all again. Not yet, but perhaps in a couple of months, just to see how my fitness levels compare, and take in the same terrain in summer. I’ll have to see if Jeff’s available.

Running

Calder Vale Good Friday 10 Miler

Well I didn’t want to do this.

Not when I realised there were less than 200 people running it, and it was hilly, and it was an hour and a half’s drive away, and no other Pensby Runner was doing such a crazy thing on a Good Friday Bank Holiday.

Did I mention it was hilly?

A view of part of the village across the river and the hills around it.
Rolling green hills everywhere you look

You’d think I would have been wise to that fact with the word ‘Vale’ in the place name. A nice poetic name for a valley. I was actually scrabbling around, earlier in the week, trying to find a way to contact the race organisers in order to see if there was a cut-off time to complete it in, and whether the marshals would hang around long enough for me.

This morning finally came around and I spent a lovely early hour, sitting in the back garden with Anne, drinking tea and listening to birdsong. It would have been nice to sit there just a little bit longer but my kit was laid out and my porridge was cooking. Whatever happens, I thought, I am just going to enjoy it.

The journey up was happily uneventful, except that I saw an increasing number of cars and lorries on the Southbound side, coming to a standstill. I later found out that a big section of the motorway was closed while an overturned lorry was being retrieved. Luckily no-one was badly hurt but it’s not what you want when you set off for a long weekend break.

Google Maps took me along some scenic country lanes before I landed in the village. Plenty of runners were milling around, or getting ready for the 4 mile ‘fun’ run, and I was able to ask some people what the race was like.

            It’s great. You’ll love it.
Is it hilly?
Err, yes, very.
Will the marshals wait for me.
Absolutely! No need to worry about the marshals – Just worry about the hills.

To be fair, everyone I chatted to seemed really friendly and welcoming, or it could have just been the Lancashire accent, which always sounds friendly. There was no cut-off time, and there was an enormous variety of cakes at the village hall. I just hoped they’d still be there when I got back.

As I was milling around at the start, some guy, who looked very serious, started talking about a 4.5. I think it was an indication of difficulty, and from his animation I think that meant this run was very difficult, but I actually had no idea what he was talking about. Having consulted Google, I still don’t!

It was an understated beginning. Even though I’d ensconced myself at the back, there were not that many people between me and the start line; no gun or hooter. Just a quiet ‘GO’ and we were off. The small huddle of people quickly stretched away into a long snake in front of me, and then within a few minutes, that snake disappeared. There were a handful of people behind me and I could sometimes see a few people out in front, but for long stretches I was by myself, which I didn’t mind. I used that time to enjoy the views and try to get my breathing to a regular level. Even though I wasn’t pushing it, the constant undulations made it difficult to get into a rhythm.

I kept running though, all the way to around mile 6 where there was an incline that seemed to go on forever, and I had to walk for a bit. That was close to when I started chatting to Denise. I’d caught her, and a few other people, up at this point but I was no match for her on this hill. She wasn’t fast but she kept going all the way without walking, which was amazing. We kept each other company most of the rest of the way, which I appreciated because I was starting to feel it by then. That is a lovely thing about running, especially running toward the back, you meet nice people who are happy to chat. Turns out Denise and her two friends all work in the NHS, so it was doubly lovely to have kept them company.

The final mile or two were good downhills with only a few tiny bumps. Everything felt like a bump after having got up mile 6. I managed it all in just under 2 hours according to my Runkeeper. That’s quite reasonable considering I do that time in training on a much flatter route, so I’m pleased. I managed to secure one of the last slices of scrummy chocolate brownie too, a nice icing on the cake. I was the last Pensby across the finishing line, but also the first, and as I’m a glass half full kind of person, that will do.