The Serpent Trail 50k- a long hot day out

Last summer I ran the inaugural Serpent Trail half marathon. I didn’t have the best of days but I did enjoy the route. When I was looking for a serious challenge to mark a serious milestone birthday I decided to enter the Serpent Trail 50k. It would be my first venture into the world of ultras and the furthest I had ever run. In fact I had not gone beyond 20miles since my accidental first marathon.

T shirt and bling from 2017 Half Marathon.

Having run the HM I already knew the second half of the 50k. My recce plans didn’t quite work out but I managed to run about half of the first 25k. Sadly the sections I had not been able to run proved to be the places I found toughest. I really do like to know where I am which is why I like lap races so much!

Apart from not being able to do a full recce I had prepared really well I had trusted kit, tried and tested nutrition, I’d followed the TrainAsOne plan pretty accurately and my longest run, 20 miles at Saturn Running’s first event had gone well.

I arrived at Petersfield Rugby club just after 8am feeling a mixture of confident and terrified. Registration was quick, there were real loos with no queue and once I’d faffed around a bit it was time to hop on the buses which would ferry us to Petworth where our race would start.

Race registration in the glorious sunshine (photo from Freedom Racing/ No Limits Photography). I am even in this photo…just by the pink flag!

We got off the buses onto a grass verge, activated our timing chips and had a very brief briefing (all the relevant info had been emailed so there was no need for more) then we were off straight up a steep hill…cue walking!

To be honest, as it had been 24 degrees at 8am and the temperature was expected to get to 30+ I had decided to take things very steadily- my only real goal was to finish, however long it might take. My plan was to walk all uphill sections, run downhills that were shady and run/walk flat sections.

The first section was the longest un-recced bit…about 15k to the first check point. Much of it was shady wooded tracks which were pleasant but full of trip hazards, some fallen trees to jump over or limbo under (of course I didn’t limbo, I lack the necessary flexibility). I found this section mentally quite hard, simply because, having not had a recce, I had no real idea of where I was. All I could do was tick off the kms, knowing that the checkpoint was at 15k.

By the time I reached CP1 I was tired, a bit grumpy and my hands were badly swollen, due I think to not enough salt, in spite of drinking a litre of Tailwind and eating some peanut butter and Bovril sandwiches en route. However there was a loo, there were chairs, shade, watermelon, crisps, Coke and many other goodies. I used the loo, drank some Coke, ate some watermelon and crisps, refilled my soft flasks with Tailwind which I had in my pack in small bottles ready mixed with 100mls of water- so much easier than trying to get the powder into soft flasks (thank you whoever it was on Twitter who shared that idea) and off I went.

With my hands back (temporarily) to normal size and fuelled by the combination of sugar and caffeine I felt much better. I also knew that the hilliest section was over and I would soon be on part of the route I knew.

Burton Park…a perfect running surface!

This section was particularly lovely but very soon I reached the hottest bit of the trail…no idea what the time or temperature was but the sun was blazing down and reflecting back up from the chalky track. Luckily I knew that very soon I’d be passing a shop which sold ice cream! – the benefit of doing a recce! I inhaled a Solero and was soon in a wooded section which was thankfully considerably cooler.

I had been told it was 8k from CP1 to CP2 and I knew from the map and my recce exactly where the checkpoint would be so this was a very happy bit of running. Occasionally one of the 100k runners would pass me and we’d have a brief chat but most of the time I was happily chuntering along doing a mix of brisk walk/slow jog. Then, about 200m before the checkpoint I made the mistake of looking at the time I’d been running…. I reached the check point, found a chair and sat and sobbed for a couple of minutes…. I’d been “running” for 5 hours and wasn’t even quite at halfway!

After having a few strong words with myself, a wee, some more food and the magic combination of cola, crisps and watermelon I decided that, as I was not injured but only tired, I would get to the next check point, another 8k, and then, if I was injured I could pull out. I knew the next 3-4k and they passed quite easily, then I was onto a section I did not know. I made the rookie error of following someone else at a key junction and we missed the trail…only a small error but retracing even a few hundred metres is a bit soul-destroying.

Time for some distraction. I had some emergency podcasts so I had virtual company from “Fortunately” with Jane Garvey and Fi Glover who proved to be excellent companions. Of course I could have had one of the many running podcasts but I didn’t really want to be thinking about running at all! Despite the entertainment I was pretty miserable on this section, worried about getting lost, feeling tired and lonely and, although I knew where the check point was it seemed to take forever to get there.

At last I arrived CP3, found a chair and slumped…too tired to even think about what I needed. There were paramedics there and I guess I must have looked pretty rough as they seemed quite concerned. I can’t remember exactly what I said but do know that t was something like “There’s nothing wrong, I’m just tired, no reason to pull out.”Then I apologised for sounding rude! More cola, more crisps, watermelon and pineapple. Then, as a very battered 100k runner arrived with his brother my tiredness was put into perspective. He had fallen and hit his head at about 15k and frankly, looked dreadful. His brother gave him a drink and he promptly vomited… I left the checkpoint while the paramedics were dealing with him.

By now I was onto the half marathon course which I knew well from the previous year. I felt much better now and more confident in my ability to finish….it may just have been the unusual quantity of caffeine now in my system. I could rehearse the route in my head, I knew that it was 8k to the next CP and then just 10k to the finish….easy! (I may have been delusional).

I had deliberately not been looking at my watch for anything other than distance for a while but I was fairly sure that, even on low power mode it would be running out of battery sometime before I finished and I was right! Time to switch to Strava for the rest of the race. I had a pocket charger for my phone so I didn’t need to worry about phone battery (something I would be very pleased about later).

Somewhere about half way between CP3 and CP4 I saw a figure waiting at a gate and irrationally was convinced it was my husband! (He was working in Germany so why my brain decided it was him I have no idea). It was a marshal who may have been a little alarmed at this sobbing wreck trotting towards her! We had a brief chat and she shared her watermelon with me and I think I managed to convince her I was sane then off I went again.

CP4 was glorious….all the people at all the checkpoints had been lovely but here they were awesome. Water bottles filled, more cola, watermelon, with salt this time as my hands were still swelling alarmingly between checkpoints. I also managed to wash some of the accumulated dirt and sweat from my face which made me feel better. Then while I drank yet more cola someone held a wet sponge on the back of my neck….such bliss! Just time to text both my husband and my emergency contact friends (who were starting to worry about not having received an “I’ve finished” text) and off on the last 10k.

I thought I was moving quite fast (in the circumstances) on this bit…there was a long country lane section which I thought I was running quite a bit of but the actual timings tell a very different story. The sun seemed to be moving very quickly towards the horizon and although this meant it was getting cooler at last I was a bit worried. When I packed my bag I had shoved my head torch in “just in case” but I had never, ever run at night before….it looked like I was going to have to learn fast.

After the country lanes, as dusk fell I reached the stile section….I am not good on stiles at the best of times and these were big and my legs were not entirely under my control…inelegant…incompetent…just plain awkward! Another 100k runner caught me up as I reach one and I apologised for taking so long to get over….I was comforted by the fact that he found it just as difficult as I did!

This may not look much but the smell of the cut hay in the cool of the evening was (weirdly) one of my favourite bits of the day.

Now time for the head torch…there was a gentle down hill to a water station…another brief sit down so I could stretch my aching back for a moment. Then off the road across some field (and over another couple of stiles) over the bridge, across the common and onto the very last and worst bit.

This field seemed to go on for ages….presumably because I could only see such a little section at a time.

With 2k to go the route goes through a housing estate and then into a nature reserve….the housing estate seemed to go on for miles and the nature reserve for years… I knew I had to cross the river to get back to the rugby club but where was the bridge?!! There may have been some swearing and more tears at this point! Eventually the bridge appeared, much to my relief, then it was just a few more metres before I emerged into the playing field with the finish line in sight at last. I’d love to say that a had a sprint finish…or even that I jogged over the line, however there is photographic evidence that I did neither. My legs were far beyond the point when they would move any faster than a walk/stagger and my body language in the photo shows just how wrecked I was!

Not the most flattering finish line pic! (photo from Freedom Racing/ No Limits Photography)

I think the RD was as relieved to see me as I was to finish…they had been worried about where I was as it was now 3 hours since I’d been logged at CP4! 3 hours for 10k is a huge new Personal Worst for me! As there were still 100k runners behind me (not many!) and because some people were camping on site, there were people waiting at the finish line which was lovely. There is a very special thank you to the lovely man in mermaid leggings who went and fetched me a mug of tea! After the tea and a chat with my husband who had been waiting worriedly in Germany to hear that I had finished and was ok it was time to stagger to the car and sort myself out.

Luckily I had left things well organised in the boot of the car so it was easy to find the Cherry Active and swig that down and make up a rather less palatable Tailwind recovery shake…it probably tastes better when not mixed with water that is tepid from being in a hot car all day. I didn’t need a warm layer to put on and although I managed to get my socks off, I couldn’t get my calf sleeves off at this point. Hoka sandals and Absolute 360 calf sleeves are not a classic sartorial combination but I was past caring!

In the morning had put everything into an Ikea blue bag in the boot of the car….it turned out to be a genius idea. I flung my vest, shoes, socks etc into the bag knowing I would only need one trip from the car to the front door when I got home. At this point my lovely best friend Linda arrived with her husband to retrieve both me and my car. Linda had rung me at 2k to go, at my lowest point when I was about to have a good cry. She had talked me though most of the final 2k and offered to come and fetch me….a 90 minute round trip at 11pm to a place she didn’t know. A truly fabulous friend! The 45 minute drive home nattering away with my bestie was a very good finish to the day adding a bit of normality to the experience!

It’s taken rather longer than I’d hoped to write this blog (and possibly longer than you hoped to read it). Although I recovered physically pretty quickly I found I didn’t want to write about it for a while. I have no distance running goals at the moment but I rather hope, in due course, that 13+hours becomes my personal worst for 50k. Currently it’s my PB…certainly the best I could do on that day in those circumstances. I very much hope to be back next year (on a cooler day) to take at least an hour or two off that time!

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Little things which help a lot!

This post will be a review of some products which I have used and found helpful. They are all things which I have bought for myself and I have no links with any of the companies.

First, and probably the most used running accessory I have is my Flipbelt.

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Soft and stretchy, easy to get things into and out of and with a handy elastic key ring. I wear it for most of my runs, it goes into the washing machine and comes out like new. Having tried squeezing a soft bottle into it, which worked but was tricky, I recently bought a Flipbelt bottle which is curved for easy insertion. Very useful for summer runs.

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For longer runs, anything over about an hour, I use my Salomon S Lab vest, usually with the two 500ml soft bottles it came with. However I did also buy a bladder for it and, if it’s very warm or I’m planning to be out for hours I use that instead as it holds 1.5litres. The vest and bladder was an expensive purchase but has proved very useful as my runs have got longer in duration.

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The vest came with a foil blanket and a whistle both items which come on ultra kit lists, not that I have ventured into that territory yet! For me, a woman with curves, finding the right vest proved tricky. This one is soft and stretchy and, once I got the straps set up for my size and shape it fitted perfectly.

For the first year or so I was running I would fill my bottle with water or SIS Go Hydro tablets and carry a few jelly babies in my pocket. I have never used gels, the idea of a sticky artificial tube of goo was a step too far…that was for fast “real runners”. Then I discovered Tailwind which is now my fuel of choice, with a gluten-free peanut butter sandwich if I’m going to be out all day!

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It is easy to use, dissolves almost instantly, tastes ok…I use the “naked” version usually and add a squeeze of grapefruit squash to it but I have tried to other flavours and they’re all ok. Sometimes I’ll use the caffeinated Raspberry Buzz if I need an extra bit of umph!

My next item comes with me on every run, it’s my TomTom cardio watch. This was a present from my husband for Christmas and my birthday 3 years ago and has been sooo useful. At first I simply recorded my runs on it but since using TrainAsOne (see previous post…I’d add a link if I knew how!) I’ve learned how to use it for intervals etc. I chose it because, at the time, it was the only watch using a wrist heart monitor. I’d tried using my husband’s chest strap monitor but found it very uncomfortable with my sports bra.

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It’s looking a bit clunky now and it may soon be time to start saving for a newer version but it has served me well.

My final item for this post is my Oakley (Flakjacket I think) sunglasses, another expensive purchase but I did get mine in a closing down sale so they didn’t break the bank! They fit so well it’s easy to forget I’m wearing them and, with clear and low-light lenses they are not just for sunny days. As I have hay fever the wraparound design is specially effective for preventing itchy eyes.

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So there you are…a few of my favourite things. What are your go-to running accessories?

Running better part 2-recovery

When I started running I would come back,  do a few random stretches and drink some water. I almost always had DOMS the following day or so but thought that was normal. However I discovered a few things which have really helped my recovery and therefore have made running more enjoyable.

My first discovery was Absolute 360 infra-red calf sleeves, I bought these simply because someone on Twitter recommended them as being good and not as tight fitting as other compression sleeves. They were(are) fab, easy to get on/off and so comfortable that I wear them overnight occasionally and once got in the shower without taking them off! I now have almost a complete Absolute360 wardrobe- leggings, top, t-shirt, ankle support and back support, headband and neck tube! All their products are super-comfortable and their speedy delivery is amazing!

A few months back I started seeing a product called Totum Sport being mentioned on Twitter and in one of the blogs I follow. When they hosted ukrunchat hour they offered a discount code so I thought I’d give it a try. Last Saturday I used it before and after my LSR and seemed to recover quicker that usual. This morning I used it again for parkrun with a couple of gentle kms before and after it. Not only did I knock almost a minute of my pb, I also felt much less tired than I usually would after that sort of effort.

The real test of both these will be next weekend when I’m hoping to be running 20+ miles at Samphire Hoe. If all goes to plan I’ll be slurping Totum Sport before and after and sleeping in Absolute 360 top and leggings. Hopefully I won’t be needing the back and ankle supports though!

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Running on holiday…

I always take my running kit with me on holiday and, because I am married to a man who is very definitely not a morning person, I can often fit a run I before he’s even awake. However, on our recent trip to Skye I had running planned as part of the holiday. 

My OH had had some foot pain and had not run for a month so some Helen-pace runs would be perfect for getting him back running again. After 2 days of driving I needed to run so offered him the chance to run out to the lighthouse with me, a route we’d planned to run in the summer but the combination of single-track roads and relatively heavy traffic (for the NW tip of Skye) meant we scrapped the idea. Skye in February is obviously much less busy so it seemed a good idea. 

It was a perfect day for a run, fog, strong wind and horizontal drizzle! No chance of seeing the view which meant fewer cars making the trip out to see the lighthouse so we dodged the sheep and potholes and ran, apparently to the edge of the world!

Day 1, run 1. 7.5k 157m of climb. Got wet, felt fab. Earned the post-run hot chocolate.

Day 2 dawned rather brighter but even windier. Time to run the loop I’d used in the summer, steeply down to the harbour, possibly spotting seals, then a very steep climb followed by a steadier descent back to the cottage. Unfortunately the headwind coincided with the long climb and at some points it was hard to make any forward progress! Lovely view though!


Day2. Run 2. Only 3.8k but with 122m climb mostly into a headwind. Hot chocolate earned again!

On day 3 I had a TrainAsONE threshold run planned, I reckoned I could get to the top of the steep section of my loop before the threshold section so run that part on a relatively flat route. What I had not factored in was that the wind was both much stronger and had swung round a bit. As my watch buzzed to tell me the threshold section should start I turned a corner into the wind….it was like hitting a padded wall…my legs were running but  I was not really moving forward! I did as much of the threshold session as I could, until the point where I got blown off the road which seemed a good point at which to turn for home…now I had a 40mph tail wind blowing me down a steep, wet slope…. I managed to stay upright, just! No Pictures!

Day 3, run 3 exactly 5k with 144m of climb, possibly the hardest 5k I’ve ever run. My heart rate says I was sprinting but that’s a measure of the effort not the speed!

The next day was going to be a rest day, just a gentle stroll around another area we’d planned to visit in the summer but hadn’t got to. However my husband asked whether I fancied running rather than walking…what a silly question! It was lovely, a mix of pine-scented forest, gorse and heather covered heath and plenty of mud. The wind had dropped and it was almost not raining!


Day 4. Run 4. Just fab, not very far and my watch died part way round… about 4.5k with around 90m climb. Followed by an enormous amount of cake!

Day 5 was the day we’d planned to do a long run. Another route we’d planned to do in the summer but we’d been warned that it would be very busy in August so hadn’t gone there. Our plan was to run a loop of Glenbrittle forest and then get to the Oyster Shed in Talisker for lunch afterwards. Off we went, lovely well-maintained forest tracks, awesome views and long, steady climbs. The first 10k were lovely, we were both really enjoying ourselves….then we met the head wind, complete with hail storm (ouch) and got to an area where the trees had recently been felled, the tracks were now muddy and slippery and it was rather bleak for a few kilometres and it stopped being fun! The final couple of kilometres were on the road with views up into the mountains. A welcome change of terrain, the fact that we were going downhill and the thought of lunch meant we started feeling a bit more positive.


For reasons I don’t understand those pictures are in reverse order!

Day 5. Run 5. 15.86k 480m of climb. Mostly fun, beautiful views, hail storm and an awesome lunch!


That was the last run of the holiday. I am a softy southerner and it’s rare for my usual runs to have more that 50m of climb, also I have never run on 5 consecutive days! It was a week before my knees stopped complaining when I went up or down stairs!

I think I can safely say we will be going back to Skye…next time we will run that Glenbrittle loop the other way round and see if it’s more fun that way! 

Running better…part 1

At this point in the year many people are posting their reviews of the year’s running but I still have a race to run on New Year’s Eve so my running year is not yet complete. However having decided back in January that in 2016 I was going to run better because getting faster seemed unlikely to happen, I thought this would be a good point to look at the things I have done which have helped me to achieve that goal.

My first step was to buy a training journal…new year, new stationary, always a good thing! Up to this point I had simply recorded my runs via MapmyRun or using my TomTom watch and either “just run” or used standard training plans if focused on a specific event. Using the journal meant recording much more than just time and distance as well as enabling me to take control of my training, putting in hill sessions, intervals etc when they suited my schedule rather than simply skipping them on someone else’s plan!

The next step was to add in and record strength and conditioning sessions. These were a random selection of exercises done on Monday and Wednesdays, days when my work schedule made finding time to run tricky but fitting in a few lunges, planks, squats etc do-able.

The difference was clearly felt at the year’s first HM, Whitestarrunning’s Larmer Half. I’d done the same race in 2015 as my first HM and finished last, utterly exhausted and in a lot of pain from my weedy back/stomach muscles. This year I still finished last but I enjoyed the race, had no back issues and felt I could have run further…. A good result!

I had proved to myself that I could run better but I knew that my planning was rather random, a mixture of things I’d read about rather than a structured plan. I toyed with the idea of joining a gym or finding a personal trainer but knew that I couldn’t really afford either of those options. Then I noticed something called TrainAsOne being mentioned on Twitter….

TrainAsOne is a personalised training plan which uses data from each run to adapt future training, it uses all sorts of technology which I haven’t got a clue about like artificial intelligence. Looking at the website trainasone.com it seemed to be just what I needed, flexible, structured and free! To be honest it seemed too good to be true and I thought I would probably be too old and too slow to be able to join! However, I was wrong, I became part of the beta testing phase and it has enabled me to achieve pbs at 1k, 3k, 1 mile, 10k and HM. Frustratingly although my parkrun times have come down by 4 minutes since January 2016 my pb, set 3 years ago, is still just 14 seconds out of reach.

So, having decided that as running faster was no longer possible I would run better, I found that running better meant that I could run faster after all… There were other things which I found helped me to run better but keeping a journal and joining @trainasone were the biggest game-changers, other things will have to wait for a future blog. Time for me to pack my bag for the final race of 2016!

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Basingstoke Half Marathon- my ace race!

I have a vested interest in this race because it starts and finishes just 10 mins walk from home and goes past the end of my road. This means I know the route really well and could train on parts of it which gave me “home advantage”.

Basingstoke does not have a reputation for being beautiful, the only thing most people know about it is that there are lots of roundabouts. However, very wisely, the HM route goes out of town, into the surrounding countryside and through some lovely villages.

I ran it with my running buddy last year, our aim was to get round and avoid being last…we achieved that, just, coming in at 3 hours 21 minutes with 4 people behind us. This year I decided to make it my autumn focus race and train specifically for it with the aim of getting close to 3 hours (while dreaming of sub-3 hour time).

The race was very well organised, race packs and t-shirts could be picked up the day before or from 8.30 on race day. There was massage available and few small number of stalls from companies such as Alton Sports our fab local independent running store. I had a splendidly slow start to the day, wandering up to the park after my porridge. I didn’t need to use the bag drop as I was so close to home. There were plenty of loos and virtually no queues. After the organised warm-up it was time to make my way to the back of the race for the start. There were pacers for those who wanted them, not for my 3 hour target though!  

The first kilometre was down hill with lots of crowd support then we left the town and headed out into the countryside. The first water station was just before Cliddesden where it seemed the entire village was out cheering. At the pond we hit the first long, long hill, at the top of which someone told me I was looking very “fresh”… not sure what she meant but I was feeling good. I’m very much a run/walker but had comfortably run most of that hill using my tried and tested run 2 telegraph poles and walk 1 when necessary strategy.

After a brief downhill stretch it was long hill number 2. This was steep and always seems to go on for ever but I had joined up with a couple of other runners so we puffed and chatted our way up the hill and on to water station 2 where there were some very welcome jelly babies (and gels for the serious(!) runners). 

Next we reached Ellisfield where they have a scarecrow festival to give us slower runners something to look at as we trot past. I could have stopped and taken pics of the fabulous creations but today I was on a mission to see if a sub 3 hour HM was a possibility for me and I was running well and feeling good. We met some of the faster runners on their way back as there is a short section run in both directions. 

The weather was perfect, bright and sunny but still with a hint of autumnal chill in the air as we reached a welcome downhill section, my companions had picked up their pace and left me on my own… not a problem as I had run this section of the route on my own numerous times. Although there was a lovely gentle kilometre of downhill I knew that the worst hill was yet to come-3kms of solid uphill. Lots of people were outside their homes with jelly babies, cheers, encouragement and there was another water station.

Half way up the long hill was the halfway point. I checked my watch to find that I was inside the 90 minute mark. Knowing that the worst of the uphill was behind me, and that most of the last 5k was downhill I realised that sub 3 hours was definitely a possibility. That was the boost I needed to focus on keeping my walk breaks as short as possible. 

The next “highlight” was Bedlam Bottom…otherwise known as the ‘double dipper’, two steep valleys, a place where it is easy to go just too fast and fall over! At the top we reached the gloriously named Farleigh Wallop, more jelly babies and another water station. 

From here it was almost literally downhill all the way and I began over-taking a few people…that is a very rare thing for me as I am more often being over-taken! Back through Cliddesden along the dullest part of the route back towards the town. 

The last kilometre went almost past my road and then into the park with a short uphill section which I hardly noticed… I knew I was very close to my 3 hour target and was pushing myself to just keep going. After I crossed the line I turned my watch off, it registered 3 hours 1 second…. I couldn’t remember exactly when I’d started my watch…at the gun or at the timing mat, but was fairly certain my chip time would be just inside the 3 hours.I texted my husband to let him know I’d finished and possibly at 2.59.59!

I sauntered home, wrapped in a foil blanket, wearing my medal and eating the Mars bar given to all finishers, while passing runners still coming in. Being able to cheer other runners home is very much a novelty for me! 

My official time was 2:58:53 a massive 22 minutes chopped off my PB. I was grinning like a fool for several days, it’s not often everything comes together quite so well as it did on that day.

How not to run your first marathon

As mentioned in a previous post I ran my first marathon by accident… In fact I also ran my first half marathon by accident too. I have to credit Travis Wilcox and his wonderful Saxon-Shore events for both achievements.

Early in 2016 I read a Twitter post from Dr Juliet McGrattan who was looking for people to answer questions about running and coeliac disease for a book she was writing about the benefits of exercise. I offered to help, wrote a piece about being a post-menopausal coeliac runner and thought no more about it. About 6 weeks later I had an email from her enquiring whether I’d be willing to answer some questions for a piece a friend of hers was writing for a magazine. I agreed and she put me in touch with the force of nature that is Lisa Jackson. If you haven’t read Lisa’s excellent book “Your Pace or Mine?” you’re in for a treat, it’s laugh out loud funny, moving and very honest.

What I wrote for Lisa was more or less my previous post. It was about my philosophy of running and included my ambition to run a marathon before I turned 60. It turned out that Lisa  and I had a lot in common when it came to running and we became ’email-friends.’ Then she invited me to come along to share her 100th marathon, blithely suggesting that I should do my 1st marathon while she did her 100th. It was about 6 weeks away so there was no time to ramp up the mileage beyond what I was doing for Whitestar Running’s Larmer Half in the middle of the 6 weeks. 
The event was one of Saxon-Shore’s timed challenges at Betteshanger Country Park, I’d run there twice before, the first time, aiming to to ‘a bit more than 10k’ I’d just kept going and done my first half marathon. The second time I’d done just 1 lap as I had a prolapsed disc and probably shouldn’t have run at all! 

Lisa had planned to take about 8 hours to complete her 100th marathon as she wanted it to be as much fun as possible (and she was doing the Brighton marathon the following day). I thought I’d just aim to do at least  a half and then keep going and see what happened. 

We all know the rules, don’t increase your mileage by more than 10% a week, don’t try new food on race day, don’t wear new kit to race in….. I broke them all and got away with it, mainly because I was going so slowly I think. Somewhere just after 8 hours and 30 mins and about 2 minutes behind Lisa I completed my first marathon.


Here I am, cold, tired and a bit shell-shocked by what I’ve just done!

Now I need to find out whether I can go a bit faster if I train properly for a marathon… Currently I’m training for the Basingstoke Half. It starts and finishes just 10 minutes from home so it seems daft not to run it. I did it for the first time last year and didn’t come last (quite) and hope to be a bit further from last this time. I’m also, along with many thousands of others, waiting to hear the outcome of the London Marathon ballot. Once I know I haven’t got a place, I need to decide where/when my first “real” marathon will be!

Helen’s history of running.

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I was not at all sporty as a child, I was very short sighted and my PE teacher at secondary school insisted I took my glasses off for ball games in case they got broken which meant I couldn’t see the ball at all! I hated cross-country as it was always cold, wet and very muddy. However as an adult I’d always liked the idea of running but thought it was for skinny whippets and, as a curvy, slightly overweight woman, felt it was not for me.

I took up running in October 2012 after seeing a friend enjoying it and losing her baby weight very quickly. I’d been walking a lot but it took too much time so I decided the answer had to be to move a bit faster. Initially I felt very conspicuous as I felt I didn’t look “like a runner” but I soon realised that most people didn’t take any notice of me or if they did, often stopped to say something encouraging.

I did my first parkrun in Jan 2013 and came last, went again the following week and came “not quite last”. I entered my first race, with my running buddy (who by then was running marathons) in June 2013 -11.5k in under 2 hours… It was a very hilly trail race in Dorset- The Sydling Hill race, run alongside the infamous Giant’s Head marathon. Since then I have done about a dozen park runs, set a PB of 35.59 in 2014, though this current year’s best so far is 38.40.

Since that first race I’ve done 6 more 10ks with a PB of 83 mins, I was pleased with that although I was last again both on that time and on 3 other occasions. I’ve also done 4 half marathons, with a PB of 3.35 I have come last or very nearly last in all of them.

Having come last in my very first parkrun it was obvious I was never going to be a speed queen. On that first time I felt embarrassed that everyone was cheering me on and thought perhaps they were cheering more because my arrival meant they could finally go home! Now I know that is quite wrong and Parkrun celebrates everyone however slow they may be. Now I feel quite different about it, I know someone has to be last and am not bothered if it happens to be me. At larger events I have found people occasionally are a bit sniffy about us slow coaches but most of the events I enter now are small friendly ones where people are wonderfully encouraging. I also have linked up with people on Twitter via @ukrunchat and @ukmarathonchat who have been very helpful and supportive.

I don’t race very often due to time constraints, competing in a maximum of 4-6 events a year. I tend to do smaller friendly races and always check that the cut-off is reasonably achievable for me. Some of my favourite events are ones run by Whitestar Running, small scale trail events in Wiltshire/Dorset where there will usually be multiple events so although I may be the last HM runner some of the marathon runners will finish after me so I am not out on the course on my own. Usually there is a sweeper (tail runner) who will nurse us slow runners round the course. I have also done several events run by Saxon-Shore in Kent, these are small scale, timed ultra events, usually trail based, where entrants can do as many laps of the course as they wish from one lap- usually around 3-4 miles up to 30+ miles within the time allowed, usually 6-8 hours. I enjoy these because of the camaraderie, no one is bothered whether you are aiming for 1 lap or 10, they are just friendly and supportive. They are also excellent opportunities to find out just how far you can run. The last Saxon-Shore event I took part in showed me that I could run a marathon – it took me over 8 hours but I did it!

As far as running philosophy is concerned I feel that at 58 I am lucky to still be fit enough to run at all and intend to carry on for as long as possible. I love being out in the countryside, sloshing through muddy puddles, clambering over stiles and gates and finding new routes. I run on my own most of the time. I enjoy the peace and quiet, running as much as I can but taking walk breaks as often as I need to. Even in races I will walk for some of the time, specially if it is uphill! If I’m putting one foot in front of the other I am making progress towards the finish; whether I’m staggering along at walking pace or sprinting the last few metres I’m beating all the people who didn’t even start.

My plan for the next year or so is to work on my strength and conditioning so that I can run better even if not quicker. I have about 6 races already booked for the year and am working on improving the distance I can run rather than time it takes as I aim to complete at least one more marathon or ultra before my 60th birthday in Dec 2017.

For anyone out there who thinks they’d like to run, don’t think about how fast/slow you are compared with anyone else. Start as slowly as you need to and you will see improvement, whether in speed, fitness, or in general health. Run for fun or fitness, with a friend or on your own, being active and outside is good for both body and soul. Run when you can, walk when you need to and above all enjoy it.

Helen

 

How to choose your first race…

This is a piece which I wrote a couple of years ago, I’d been running for about 6 months and wanted to take things a bit further… It seems like a good place to start my blog with.

There comes a time when running on your own or even taking part in your local Parkrun is not quite enough and you feel you are ready for a new challenge. It’s not that you are bored with running on your own, just that you want to push yourself a little more. Perhaps shaving a few seconds (or more) from your pb at Parkrun is not enough or you feel you have plateau-ed at 5km and want a bigger challenge.

You might decide to take part in one of the many 5km Race for Life events, there will almost definitely be one nearby and as people with a wide range of abilities take part it would be a good place to get your first experience of a race. After all, your Parkrun experience means you are confident at that distance and with so many people taking part it would be a safe challenge- that may sound paradoxical but you know what I mean.

You may want something different from a Race for Life, may be you don’t fancy having to get sponsors and raise money (perhaps like me you don’t really want anyone to know that you are considering taking part in a race). In this case you need to think carefully about which races might be good for your first foray into “serious” running.

What criteria do you need to consider as you look at the race listings? First step is to think about the distance. It seems a good idea to stick with 5km, which you know you can do. The next consideration is when you want to race, both which days are possible and how far ahead do you want to plan. Then you think about location. If, like me, you can’t rely on a partner to provide transport, it might be sensible to find a race reasonably close to home. Last but not least is the terrain; surely it would be a good idea to take part in a race on similar terrain to your usual routes or, perhaps better still, choose somewhere which is flat?

Usually I consider myself a fairly sensible person, I was quite happy running on my own. I had done a couple of Parkruns but found being clapped and cheered on as I reached the finish last or very nearly last rather embarrassing…were they just cheering because once I had finished they could pack up and go home? (I now know that is not the case, but it truly was how I felt). I was running 3-6km twice or three times a week (timing my Saturday morning runs to avoid the local Parkrun) but considering myself as a ‘person who runs’ rather than a runner and feeling a little dissatisfied with that status.

Did I carefully study the race listings, thinking about all those criteria? Did I follow my own advice? Did I heck! I entered a race at a distance I had never run, several hours drive from home on hilly terrain despite the fact that I hate running up hills. In short, on a whim, without thinking sensibly about what I was doing, I entered White Star Running’s Sydling Hill 10k -it turned out to be 11k but that’s another story.