Friday, 30 May 2014

Race Report: Royal Windsor Trail Half Marathon

This is a race I signed up to after reading an awesome race report from my running bud Laura on last year's event. It sounded perfect for my first trail experience and in many ways it was, with just a few hiccups along the way...

I'll admit that I was a little nervous heading in to this race - since the marathon I've done very little running bar that 'little' 13.1 miles with the boy in Geneva 3 weeks ago. I had, however, done a 10K training session (with Louise Hazel, no less!), and a few sprint, weight and HIIT circuit sessions, mostly because I could feel that jiggly spare tyre round my middle starting to rear it's ugly head. Toto, we're not in marathon training mode any more: we cannot eat ALL the food. Sad face.

On yer bike!

After a grey and all-round miserable Saturday (brightened up only by parkrun volunteering and a lido swim) I was plenty chuffed to wake up to some sunshine bright and early on Sunday morning.

My mate Steph had offered to give me a lift over to Windsor, so I hopped on the bike and pedaled the 5 miles or so over to her pad (wearing my lovely new Lululemon run capris - see left). The ride there was lovely. The way back not so much! Note to self: it is hard to cycle 5 miles over undulating terrain after a half marathon. Lesson learned.

Loo queues
Anyway, arriving at the small event village there was the tell-tale sign of not enough portaloobees - a massive snaking queue.

Fortunately, the event organisers seemed pretty laid back about when you started, with waves going form the start line a short walk on the other side of the river every 5 mins from 8.30-9.00.

Most chilled-out start line EVER!

 Myself, Steph and Steph's mate Liz started in the 8.50 wave and, despite some initial bottle-necking as we all piled on the the narrow trail path, we were cruising along nicely within 10-15 mins.

Most of the race took place along trail paths by the river and it was seriously beautiful. I will definitely be packing my kicks and heading out that way again, race or no race. Be prepared for major house (and boat!) envy though - not sure if I was green with effort or jealousy for most of it.

Sunshine and trails

We had settled in to a steady 9.45-10.00min mile pace and I was feeling good. So good that I decided to kick it a bit and see if I could drop down closer to 9.30, which I'd averaged Geneva... Yup, felt good too. So at half way I decided to go all out and aim for sub-2 hours. Why the hell not?! It was perfect running conditions for me - sun on my back but with a cool enough breeze, and lots of beautiful scenery to make you just fall in love with running all over again.

Just before I went past ALL of these guys :)

I threw on some tunes and actually started singing aloud at one point in a sheer moment of running love. My fellow runners did not share this love - I am not known for holding a great tune - and so quickly piped down, but continued rocking out in my own head, of course.

Unfortunately, it seems that the laid-back attitude of the organisers came at a cost. They apparently didn't set up the start-line timing mats properly and so all the timings were out and only a gun time could be salvaged if you emailed to give your start time. Cue much enragement on Twitter, but not me: I bloody loved this race, I had my TomTom watch of pace-telling genius on which told me I'd just cut it under 2 hours, and ain't nobody was gonna rain on my trail-running parade.

Big smiles and jazz hands: what trail running is all about

Ok, ok, there were a few other not so great things, like the most piss-poor goody bag ever (two leaflets in a plastic bag - say what now?!) and water supplies in low abundance at the finish line. But on the plus side the medal was a beaut!

Despite a few setbacks it had beautiful countryside running, friendly runners, and a flat, beginner trail runner's dream course. If the organisers can iron out the issues for next year then this will definitely be a 10/10 race, and in the immortal words of Arnie: I'll be back!

Katy | City Girl Fit

Monday, 26 May 2014

On giving a little back

Running is a bit of a self-absorbed sport, really. It's ultimately a solo venture and most thoughts revolve around me, myself and I: What will I wear? How will I get there? What time will I do? I'm no exception - I tend to focus on my race and have rarely stopped to appreciate all the people other than runners who are needed to make a race happen. 

Now, having completed some fairly big events, I've come to realise that so many people contribute to the race being a success and to my enjoyment of the run: the marshals on the course who give you that much needed support; the bag drop and pick-up people who, in my experience, have always been super efficient; and you have to give it to the people who sit there cutting people's timing chips off what can only be pretty sweaty and smelly shoes!

Brainstorming at LiRF

That's why I decided that if I'm to take part in an event a month, which seems to be my average at the moment, then maybe I too should give something back to the running community. 

So I took the first step and signed up to take a Leadership in Running Fitness (LiRF) course, which would enable me to become a run leader for the brilliant charity A Mile in her Shoes

The charity encourages women who are at risk of homelessness or affected by related issues to try running as a way of exercising, socialising, lifting confidence and boosting self-esteem. To be able to organise new sessions, however, the charity needs qualified group run leaders, which is where the LiRF course and volunteers - like me - come in.

LiRF is taught by Run England, and takes place over one day where you learn everything, from how to lead the session from warm up to cool down, to how to overcome barriers that people may have with running. It was quite an intense day with lots to take on board and practical sessions to learn the most appropriate way to lead an engaging and useful run session with appropriate care and safety. 

Leah (top) and Charlie (bottom) leading the mini sessions

But it was a really good laugh as well, helped by the fact that two of my run buddies, Charlie and Leah, were also there, as was Charlotte from fab fitness site lunges&lycra

We had a fun afternoon in the park with our respective groups, leading mini sessions to demonstrate the skills we had learned throughout the morning. I definitely learned a lot and am looking forward to taking my first group out later this year.

To enable the ladies who attend the sessions to go out and run at these sessions, A Mile in Her Shoes also provide appropriate clothing and footwear, most of which come from donations of kit from the public. If you have unused or worn but in good working order running clothing or shoes then the team would love to hear from you so please get in touch and share what you can.

Give a little back - it'll make you bloody ecstatic!

To keep my 'give a little love' halo shining a little longer, I also decided to volunteer for the first time at my local parkrun in Brockwell Park - a free, weekly, timed 5k run. Unfortunately for me, it was the wettest Saturday morning that London had seen in quite some time and I cycled along to the park in my waterproofs in the driving rain fully expecting nobody to be out to run. How wrong I was! 

Dedicated parkrun runners
in the rain

I was assigned the prestigious role of 'barcode scanner', and loved playing a small part to ensure that the run could go ahead smoothly. 

The runners were so friendly and appreciative of the volunteers, with some specifically coming back over once changed and dry to say thanks again. I enjoyed volunteering so much that I've signed up to do it all again next week! Hopefully the weather gods will be kinder to me this time..

As big races are often on a Sunday I don't tend to run on a Saturday, so volunteering at parkrun it's a good way to rest your legs but still be part of the running community. Why not have a look on the parkrun website and see if your local group needs some help? It's a great opportunity to give a little back and share the running love :)

Katy | City Girl Fit

Saturday, 24 May 2014

10k training with the BHF and some athletic superstars

Now that marathon is over (did I mention that I ran a marathon??), I can get back to doing some of the other fun stuff I love to do like swimming, spinning and running shorter distances that 26.2 miles. 

While I love half marathons and they are probably my 'goldilocks' race - just right - I do love a swift 10K. As a beginner runner 10K is a great distance to set your sights on, which is exactly what I did back in the day and worked my way down from about 60 mins to a recent PB of 50.39. Now I've had more experience of longer distances, I realised that 10Ks are a fun distance and great to really sink your teeth in to when it comes to working towards a new PB. 

Post last year's Mo Run 10K - good times!
I've made a decision that, although I will most likely run another marathon in future, I'm not going to chase a marathon PB beyond the 4h23 I ran at London. Not because I don't think that with dedication and commitment I couldn't - I'm sure if I dedicated my life (possibly quite literally!) to it I could - but because I don't want to. I just don't have the time on my hands or the drive to do what is needed to achieve a close-to- or sub-4h marathon. With 10K, however, I have a goal that is clear, definite and - most importantly for me - realistic: sub 50.

Fortunately I have friends who share in this goal AND who are lucky winners of competitions. Enter Josie, who was jammy enough to win a 'you plus one' 10K training session, organised by the British Heart Foundation, with Laura Fountain (of Lazy Girl Running fame) and World Championship heptathlete Louise Hazel. Possibly the best 'plus one' invite I'll ever have!

Smile for the camera!
(My technique is horrible - but let's ignore that for now...)
We rocked up to Regents Park on a sunny April evening and met with the other 4 people who made up the training guinea pigs. We started with a dynamic warm up of jogging, high knees, side-stepping, then a 10 minute warm-up run over to the track that's hidden away at the back of the park. 

Don't get too excited now: it's gravelly, like what you'd have played hockey on at school if you're from my generation - a 'don't fall in it or you'll be picking red grit out your knees for weeks' kind of terrain. But it's oval shaped and almost 400m round. Who needs an exact 400m anyway? If you're sprinting round that then high five to you, even if it is only 379 metres long. PBs for the '800m' all round! I digress.

Laura led us in some sprint sessions, which she suggested we incorporate once a week into our own training plans to help speed us up and hit those 10K goals. Our session was:

4 x 400m at a little below target 10K pace (for me this was around 4.8min/km or 8min/mile) with 90 sec rest between sets
2 x 60m sprint @ 90-100% effort, 150m jog, 60m sprint @ 90-100% effort, 150m jog. No rests between.

It seemed like we were all playing a game of 'stalk Louise Hazel' at times - she was so fast and it looked so effortless! 

The most conspicuous stalkers ever
This was the result:
Trying not to spew. At least Louise Hazel looks a bit puffed too!

As if all that wasn't enough to knacker us out, we then moved back in to the park where Louise took us through our paces with a fast, full-body workout.

Moving from planks, to mountain climbers, to back raises, to side plank, to crunches - there were 15 moves in total and each was completed one after the other, again no rests, for 30 seconds each. Oooft! We all survived though, and my abs reminded me of my effort for at least 3 days after.

Josie and me - being put through our paces by Louise
It was a tough but great session, and reminded me that effective running doesn't always have to be about pounding the pavements for hours. If I want to hit that sub-50 goal then my abs, glutes and arms are going to have to get used to a bit of hard work and pain with some full body workouts. It's a little different to the endless miles of road running I've been used to over the past 6 months, but it's time to shake things up and get this body back in '10k fit' mode. 

Thanks to the BHF for putting on the event, to Louise and Laura for their excellent advice, and to Josie for letting me be her plus one. The BHF have tons of running events going on around the country, so why not get some speed and strength work on the go along with some running sessions and get involved - find out more here

All images courtesy of Jordan Curtis Hughes.

Katy | City Girl Fit

Friday, 9 May 2014

Post-marathon 'recovery'

That's it. Nearly 4 weeks has passed since the event that consumed most of my tiny brain since October 2013. London Marathon 2014 has been and gone and real life has resumed.

My super-short London marathon
race recap: thumbs up!
After jotting down the 10 lessons that I learned on marathon day I was planning to write a race report. But then I sat down and thought about what I had to say different from the 35,999 other people who ran the London Marathon. And, to be honest, there wasn't much so I didn't want to bore you all! It was a great day: amazing atmosphere, busy course at points, overwhelming and emotional, and I highly recommend it for the experience alone. 

The London Marathon is organised to function like a well-oiled machine. Unlike me, who functioned like an extremely rusty old machine for the last 10K of the marathon, but I'm putting that down to the fact that: a) I spent the last two weeks of taper in the US consuming copious amount of food and b) it was a marathon - the wheels are supposed to come off around mile 20 otherwise you're doing it wrong (there is no evidence for this, just my own marathoning experiment with an n = 1. Statistically the most poorly powered study, you'll find. But this is my blog, so my 'evidence' it is!)

Other than that, yeah. Not much else to say. I did it and I'm unbelievably proud of myself and extremely grateful for all who donated to my last-minute charity fundraising. You guys rock.

So, what now? 

Well, after having to walk backwards down stairs for a while, and eventually giving in to a sports massage which hurt like hell (in the kinda bad-but-good way) to see me right, I laced the trainers back up and took it easy... Ha! Are you joking? I'm not so good at moderation - no, no. Instead laced up the trainers and headed off last weekend with the Team Naturally Run crew, plus special guest 'the boy', to run the Geneva half marathon. Three weeks after a full marathon. As you do.

This race was booked yonks ago before I truly came to understand what effects the marathon has on your body, but it was the boy's first half marathon attempt so I said I'd be happy to take it a little easier and pace him round in about 2h10.

Running through the Geneva countryside was fantastic (if a little chilly), and there was even a pipe band playing - it seems there are no bounds to the reach of the SNP to get YES votes for the independence referendum:

2h10 was what I told the boy we were aiming for, but I had the glorious watch of pace-telling magic (AKA a TomTom), which meant I was in charge and decided that little white lies about pace were OK in this situation. We settled in to a nice and easy '10min/mile' (read 9.40min/mile) pace for the first 10K. The boy was concerned about the level of people overtaking us but I told him not to worry, to trust the pace and wait and see. 
Smile if you know the pace
we're ACTUALLY doing!
I decided we should kick it up a gear a bit to '9.45min/mile' (9.20min/mile) pace until the final 5k arrived, which is my favourite point of a well-paced half: when you get to overtake everyone who elbowed past at break-neck speed at the 3 mile point. Now ye shall feel my elbows people! Mwahaha! 

Crazed half-marathon 'baddie laugh' over, and at 2h03 mins after crossing the start line we held hands and crossed the finish line together (all together now: ahhhhhh!). Not bad for a boy who hasn't run more than 6 miles in the past few months! Celebration was some weird cereal-y stuff (hmm) and some chocolate marble cake (yes!), plus a hug with what we thought was a giant peanut, but turned out to be a tupperware water bottle...

It's a giant peanut, right?! The orange
thing, I mean - the yellow thing is the boy...
All in - a great race and I discovered that a weekend race-cation is not a bad way to 'recover' from a marathon. Well, that is if you don't count the fact that I now have a stinking cold. But I've decided that these events are NOT related to my weekend running. Again, my blog: my evidence. Albeit that in this case there is none.

So yes, onwards and upwards post-marathon. Despite being worried I'd have nothing to talk about once the marathon was over, I seem to have suitably filled my sporting calendar with enough events to keep me ticking over. Next, it's just that small matter of the triathlon in that I'm signed up for. In THREE WEEKS TIME!! What on earth possessed me to do that?!

Katy | City Girl Fit