Windsor HM River Trail – the good, the bad and the thirsty.

This blog could go two ways. I could adopt my ‘bad cop’ review hat and give the event a bit of a hard time for the now well documented problems people encountered on the day, (just look up the event on Runners World reviews), or I could focus on the positives. Since I’ve just come back from a blissful 40-minute swim in a very empty public pool, (empty of people, not of water I might add), I’m inclined to don my ‘good cop’ hat and focus on the positives.

So here goes…

Windsor Half Marathon River Trail was simply beautiful in terms of scenery. The course was a flat route, starting from Alexandra Gardens, Windsor,  with views of Windsor Castle, then meandered along the Thames public footpath, through Bray – before looping back over the other side of the river to finish at the park. We passed what we dubbed the ‘Billionaire’s Row’ of waterfront homes, the stunning ‘Waterside Inn’ (the Roux Brothers’ Michelin Star restaurant), Danesfield House Hotel (the setting of George and Amal Clooney’s UK wedding celebrations) and many locks, barges and day cruiser boats. Not to mention being able to glimpse the Olympic Eton Dorney Rowing lake through the bushes! (Which I have in fact run around 4 or so times in a previous Half Marathon).

For a change, I was not worried about my time or breaking any PBs. I have got a bit hung up lately on breaking a sub-2 which makes Half Marathons a bit stressful for me (current PB is 2:02). Instead, my role on the day was really one of moral support – to get a friend through her first Half Marathon in her goal time of around 2 hrs 30 minutes. Due to events beyond our control, (lots of queues and issues with bag dropping), we actually started the run really late – at about 9.10am. This actually worked to our advantage as there were no crowds of runners on the tow paths from the mass start and we felt almost ‘on our own’ – a very different experience to many of the running events I have entered before. We enjoyed the peace and tranquillity around us and relaxed in the sunshine, keeping to a steady pace.

windsor2Having fun before the ‘dog attack ;)’

Five miles in, we had a little bit of a glitch. As I was running along, I felt what I thought were paws on my back and the yelp of what I believed to be a large dog. I shrieked, turned around and saw that it was not actually an errant hound, but my friend falling to the ground behind me, having tripped on a branch! It is very funny now that we look back on it, but my friend was pretty cut up and bleeding and we couldn’t see any first aiders nearby, so we pressed on and managed to wash the cuts up as best we could.

We carried on up the river and were delighted to see our support crew – a friend and his two daughters who ran alongside us with a Go Pro in their fairy dresses! It was very cute to see and gave us a lift (as we were flagging a bit with dehydration – ok here comes the negative…) The event had run out of water at the 8 KM water stop. As it was a hot day we were really disappointed –  we’d decided not to carry our own water as runners had been promised regular water stops along the route. We were given a High 5 gel though by a very apologetic Marshal, which at least was something, but our mouths were as dry as the Sahara!

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Thirsty much? (pic credit: animalpics1.com)

However, the lovely residents of Windsor had obviously heard that there was a shortage of water along the route and a kind man came to our rescue and offered us a few cups of water which was perfect and couldn’t have come at a better time. By now, we were over half way and feeling strong and ready to go again. After a quick calculation on my Garmin, I was able to tell my friend that we were well head of her target time. This had her so excited, she started talking about running a marathon next time (since revoked).

As the miles ticked by, my friend was starting to drop pace a bit as her earlier fall was causing her hip to play up a bit. I kept up with my motivational chat and promised her glasses of red wine, chocolates or bubble baths at the finish if she just carried on a bit longer. If I could have mustered up George Clooney to meet her I would have done! Finally, I was able to announce that we only had a Park Run to go (5K) which lifted her a bit and meant that the end was in sight.

At nearly 13 miles I told her to dig deep and just think of the word FINISH: “We’re so close now, think of that medal,” I said. As we turned the corner, we saw the finish line and I grabbed her hand and pulled her the last few metres!  We’d done it: 2 hrs and 22 minutes and 15 seconds. We’d taken 8 minutes off her target time and I’d had one of my best half marathon experiences – just chatting, being relaxed and just having a good time.

windsor1My friend, Petra, (left) and me (right)

I might have a go at it next year again for myself to see what ‘my’ time would be – however despite the great day we had, I am not sure I’d enter again. I think the organisers have some way to go to improve the race experience for everyone. It’s potentially a great event and I think it could be fantastic – certainly one of the prettiest courses in this area. But as I am in a positive mood, maybe I’ll give them a second chance to put right a few of the  issues (and I’d  make sure I wore a Camelbak next time).

Race in a nutshell: Flat, pretty, friendly participants, all abilities welcome. Decent bling.

The good: Route, medal, parking in local school, chip timed – with instant time print out at the finish.

The bad: Late start, baggage drop queue (and £5 payment), long toilet queues, inadequate amount of water for the number of runners, no goody bag. Lack of first aid on the route.

 

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For fun on the doorstep, think local.

Race report: Prestwood 10K 

 

Local races often get over looked. They can be smaller, with less impressive bling than some of the big ticket events – and with less participants, there is always the worry that you could come last, (well for me anyway – I still worry about being dead last!)

For the past 13 years Prestwood village (in the Chilterns) has been host to the Chiltern MS Society Prestwood 10K which brings together a community of club runners, beginners and most recently, children’s races. The route is pretty easy – taking in country lanes and residential roads with a couple of inclines in the first half. It’s a route tried and tested by me as I often use it in training. Over the past seven years since we moved here, I’ve probably done the event a handful of times and always enjoy seeing local friends and neighbours along the route and cheering outside their houses. This year I also met up with new running friends Steve and Pete from UKRUNCHAT who live locally too!

Yesterday, I joined the start line with a bit of a sore head!  Not the best plan. We’d had friends up for the weekend, so the inevitable BBQ and sunshine drinks ensued. For morale support (and to stop me from wimping out) my friend Chaz decided to run with me, (I think he was suffering too and wasn’t in the mood to try a PB). I set out to run it under an hour and be back in time to see my son race with the 10 year olds. It was quite tempting half way to just pop home – since we passed my house!

It was great having my own personal pacer – as if I naturally slowed down, Chaz was always there to remind me to pick my knees up or ‘man up’! As I was feeling under-par, I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself at all. So with a bit of encouragement from Chaz (who barely broke a sweat), we got home in 58:39 (official Gun time). Quite possibly a ‘course recor for me – as I seem to remember previous attempts at this 10K just scraping in under an hour with a few seconds to spare. However, yesterday was not about the PB or the medal, I was just pleased to be participating in something so local, as well as encourage familiar faces and congratulating friends.

Local races need the support just as much as larger races. Often there is a running club or local charity organising the event, making it more pressing to raise funds or improve facilities. It’s a great way of making new friends too, or find running buddies.

A village or town event also sets a great example to children to watch their mums, dads, aunties or teachers running in a local event. Three years ago, the organisers of the Prestwood 10K decided to introduce children’s races for age five and upwards, which were popular yesterday with many local school children taking part – although perhaps not as many as there could have been.

Two of my sons ran – one only aged three, but insisting he wanted to ‘run like Mummy’ – and made us very proud wearing their race bibs and collecting their fun run medals at the end.  I hope that I have passed on the attitude of ‘it’s good to try’ through my own running journey. I’ll never be an amazing runner, but that’s not the point of it. Having a go and enjoying yourself is just as important, if not more so, than winning. It’s all about just getting out there and having a go whether it takes 30 odd minutes to do a 10K or 2 hours – having something so motivating on the doorstep is a great opportunity to try running events. And yes, you may come last. In all my worry I never have – and even if you do – who actually cares!? They always get the biggest cheer anyway 🙂

Have a look on Runners World for your local events – you might meet new people and discover new running routes! Or if you know of any good smaller events please comment below.

Happy Running!

Marathon Number 1 – The ‘Big’One

Race report: Virgin London Marathon 2015

So this time last year I was literally in knots. I was so incredibly nervous as I was about to embark on my first EVER marathon – the big one – the Virgin London Marathon 2015. I’d had a lot of positive encouragement from family and friends and the brilliant people on @ukrunchat, but I also had a few ‘Negative Nora’s’ around me. With questions like: “What if you don’t finish?”, “You might Hit the Wall” “Your knees will never be the same“.  Great just what I needed, more seeds of doubt.

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Winter training at its best!

 

Training had gone well -I had reached a target of 22 miles in my final long run, averaging 10.30 minute miles – which I hoped would be enough to bring me in around 4hrs 30 minutes. I hadn’t picked up any injuries, had loaded up on the carbs and felt in good shape as I made my way to Greenwich Park on Sunday 26 April 2015.

What they don’t tell you is the walk to the start is a warm up in itself – approximately 30 minutes walk from the train station, through the town and up a hill to the park. However when we got to start area the excitement was audible with the big screen showing the elites already in action, pacing through the course.

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Ready for the off with a couple of training buddies.

The Virgin London Marathon is a very slick operation. Bag drops, loos and starting pens are all well organised and effortless. I was able to meet with some friends for a quick photo, before we headed into our starting pens. As I was running for Tommy’s, I had quite a few chats with fellow ‘team mates’ in the starting area and ended up running with a girl called Laurel for three-quarters of the run, which was great as it calmed both of our nerves.

So how was it? The London Marathon is everything you could expect from the most famous marathon in the world. The route was busy, colourful and full of support all the way around. The charity runners in costumes really made the event – from a running Mona Lisa painting to Superman. There certainly were a lot of people with imagination and guts taking part. It made me wonder what I was worrying about in my tried and tested, moisture-wicking, kit! Must have been a doddle by comparison.

The biggest highlight for me was running over Tower Bridge. This marks the half way mark of the race and is such a breath-taking sight seeing thousands of runners bobbing along. It’s also one of the most iconic landmarks on the route and a welcome sight after passing through many unfamiliar London towns like Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.

 

I received a real hero’s cheer from the Tommy’s cheer squad just after the bridge. Their support throughout had been phenomenal. I was very proud to have run for them and  raised in excess of £3,000 through donations and little events in the lead up to the marathon.

By mile 17 I had lost Laurel, her knee had given up, so we said our good lucks and good byes and I headed off running for the first time ‘by myself’. I saw my Mum and Dad shortly after, which was amazing. Although I could see my Dad was really confused and was looking in the wrong direction (senior moment), so was not convinced he had seen me at all! I next saw one of my best friends and seasoned marathon runner, Kirstie (PB 3.15 ish) who gave me such an almighty cheer that I leapt out of my skin!

The rest of the run was a blur of the Embankment – where the crowd was literally roaring – up to Birdcage Walk and finally the sight of Buckingham Palace in full view. The Union Jacks flying and the finish line now in sight. I knew my husband and boys were in the VIP finish area cheering me on, (the charity had been really kind and offered me these tickets as a thank you). It was simply amazing seeing their proud faces smiling and shouting ‘Go Mummy’ as I crossed the line.

I had done it! I had finished  my first marathon in a time of 4hrs 46mins. All that hard work had paid off. However, as I collected my medal I couldn’t help but feel a bit flat – not the rush of euphoria that I had expected. It was all over, but I had ‘failed’ in my eyes to get the time I had wanted.  Talk about ridiculous.

I’ve since made peace with my time and actually for someone who had never run a marathon before and juggled childcare, fund raising, work and training I am actually pretty bloody happy. My body held out, I didn’t walk, I didn’t hit the wall and  I had ticked off a big ambition from my bucket list – something I am now very proud of.

The race in a nutshell: Flat, congested, colourful and amazing views of London’s iconic landmarks. Fantastic Expo, well organised event and an opportunity for celebrity spotting- I came in just ahead of Radio DJ and TV  Presenter, Chris Evans.

Race Tips: Ensure you have liaised with your cheer team/supporters before hand so you know where to spot them. Otherwise you spend half the race searching for your family in the very busy crowds. Get a charity place if you are new to marathon running – you get excellent support, advice and a fab after-party and massage just after the event. Watch out for the empty water bottles on the ground – these are everywhere and very hazardous.

Would I recommend it? 110% Yes. For any Marathon Newbies this is the one to do!

Good luck to anyone taking on the Virgin London Marathon this weekend!

 

 

Marathon Number 2 – the one with the beach!

Race report: Brighton Marathon Sunday 17th April 2016

I have really fond memories of Brighton. It was the backdrop for my first ‘out of London’ date with hubby in our early stages of dating. The location for my hilarious hen do, dressed as gangsters for a two day bender. We’ve visited the pier with our boys over the years –  first they braved the Noddy Car ride, progressing to the roller coaster over looking the sea. Plus I’ve spend numerous birthdays day-tripping around the Laines buying jewellery and arty bits and enjoying lunch in a sunny café. So when I entered the Brighton Marathon I was really looking forward to being able to run the 26.2 mile course through one of my favoutire places.

December Brighton 030
We do like to  be beside the seaside!

 

Having done the Virgin London Marathon the previous year, I knew what I had to do in terms of winter training and began planning a diary of events to keep me motivated leading up to the Brighton Marathon. I enjoyed long training runs with the brilliant Gade Valley Harriers, who lay on special Marathon training runs open to anyone for just £5 – complete with jelly baby stops! I also completed the London Winter 10K (PB 54 mins), Watford and Surrey Half Marathons (PB 2:04) in the run up (no pun intended). By April 17th I felt ready to go.

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Training Run –  London Winter Run 10K

 

 

Over the weekend we were staying with relatives right on the marathon route in Hove, which was excellent as my family were able to spot me twice, literally from the drive way. It did mean I was woken up to the thud of portaloo deliveries outside the house at 4am – which didn’t help my already tattered sleep.

The morning was glorious and everything I had expected from a marathon by the sea-side. A clear sun-shiny day  with seagulls flying over head. I was dropped off just outside Preston Park, and was thankful for my sports sunglasses as there was already quite a glare.

Bag drop and loos went as well as can be expected – there are always queues at these things, but at least the portaloos were still in good shape and didn’t have my gag reflex working over time. I lined up in the Yellow Corral and was lucky to bump into a friendly face from @ukrunchat (Lee Kemp) – so we chatted and joined in with the warm up karaoke singing along to The Proclaimers ‘500 Miles’. Soon it was time to filter down to the start, with Radio DJ and TV Presenter, DJ Zoe Ball officially starting the race. With a high-5 from Zoe herself, I was off and bobbed along in the throng of runners towards the coast.

I tucked in behind a Shark and Fred Flintstone and was bang on target for my 4.30 marathon time, until about 16 miles. A hot, out and back, section earlier towards Rottingdean –  a very quiet section of the course with a couple of inclines – mentally zapped me. However I pressed on and caught up with my family waving banners and running along side me, around mile 17 which gave me a boost; as did some cheery waves from The Queen and Prince Phillip. Okay, not the actual Royals, but some very good look a likes supporting the passing runners.

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‘The Queen’ was seen cheering on the crowd in Hove

 

The atmosphere amongst the runners was great – a nice camaraderie, which was much needed as we headed out towards the power station. A notoriously tough part of the course – known for its fish smell and lack of entertainment. Crowds are sparse here, with just a handful of supporters, so for me it was plug in the iPod and  let Calvin Harris, How Deep is your Love? push me on this three mile section.

As we left the fishy hell, I spotted Brighton resident and DJ Fat Boy Slim cheering  on the runners.  I shouted ‘Fat Boy’ – but was mortified to see a slightly tubby runner in front of me turn around and hoped he didn’t think I was mocking his physique.

The end was in sight! I could see the Pier, smell the sea, hear the crowds roaring on each side and the word ‘Finish’ was getting bigger and bigger. My legs had gone, by brain was willing me on with promises of water, ice cream and a little sit down as rewards. With a final bleep of my chip as it hit the finish line, I had done it. 4hrs 48 minutes and 45 seconds. I was over the moon, as  it had been tougher than I had anticipated and  I felt proud of my achievement – regardless of my time. The sunshine, the people of Brighton, the frequent jelly babies and smiling marshals made it a superb event – and something I will hold fond memories of forever.

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Marathon Medal Number 3 – Beautiful Brighton and my beautiful cheer squad

 

The race in a nutshell: Largely flat course, with a few undulations. Minimal congestion. Well organised, nice medal and technical t-shirt. End of race goodies were pretty good – although could have done with some more water or Lucozade.

Race Tips: Try and get to the Expo Friday or Saturday AM – queues in the afternoon were over 1 hour long. Be prepared for loo queues, but also note there are a couple of loos just before you cross the start, which had only 3/4 people queuing. Gels/energy drink were well timed and plentiful throughout the race, so if you have trialled the brand before it would save you carrying your own. Residents also have LOTS of jelly babies to hand out.

Would I recommend it? 100% yes. Just be prepared for the quieter sections with a decent play list!

To register for Brighton Marathon 2017 click here

If you have done Brighton Marathon, or are planning to do it in future, drop me a comment and tell me what you think.