Monthly Archives: March 2014

Race report: Hyde Park 20 miler

hyde park route map

Yesterday was my final long run, a 20 mile race around Hyde Park, designed with spring marathon training in mind. I’ve run up to this distance before – once a month ago, and again last week – but this race gave me an opportunity to try it out in race conditions, with water stops and chip timing.

Up uncharacteristically early on a Sunday morning, it looked like quite a nice spring day as I headed for the bus. By the time I reached the starting point near Hyde Park Corner it was gloomy, cold and threatening to rain. I handed over my £20 on-the-day registration fee and was given my timer chip, race number and bag tag in return. It was only then I realised I’d forgotten my Pebble.

Hyde Park start line

At the start line

As I pinned on my race number, I spotted an old schoolfriend, Paul, who’d decided to run the 20 miler for no reason, with little training and  without the last-minute training desperation of a spring marathon. Can only assume he was doing it to undermine my own struggle. We haven’t seen each other in a long, long time, so it was great to catch up, not least because it took my mind off the freezing weather and the fact it had started to rain.

As the start time approached, I said goodbye to Paul, who headed over to the speedy pacers, and made my way to the chunky plodders group at the back. The race started exactly on time. It takes a winding four-mile course around the park, run five times to make 20 miles (16 and 24 mile options are available for slower and faster runners, respectively).

All in, the Hyde Park 20 Miler is an excellent race for marathon training. It’s well organised, with water stops every few miles and a decent swag bag at the end. The five-lap course is a little dull (especially on the fifth time around), but that does help with pacing.

I began strongly, but slowly, with a steady 10 minute mile pace all the way around for the first three laps (miles 1-12). The first lap was one big throng of runners, being cheered on by people in the park, but this thinned out progressively as the faster ones sped ahead, and by lap three I was running on my own and the cheerers were replaced with bemused people wondering while a handful of runners were wearing race numbers.

Paul overtook me midway through my third lap, and finished over an hour before I did. It’s been well over a decade since we left school – we’re both getting our first grey hairs, but ironically are far fitter than we were back then. As I ran, I realised I could never have done this at 18. I didn’t touch sport from the age of about 13 onwards, and it wasn’t until I found running in my thirties that I realised I had the mental and physical strength to do it when I put my mind to it. I only wish I’d discovered this earlier and saved myself a lot of self-loathing in my twenties.

By the time I hit the fourth lap, I could see the fastest runners finished already and collecting their goodie bags. I still had two laps to go. Around about here I started to feel really bad cramp in my leg. I spent the next mile wondering if I should stop. I pushed on through, slowly, and by midway through this lap it had eased off. The rest of lap four passed reasonably quickly, but the number of runners was really starting to thin out.

By the time I reached the end of lap four, I wondered if I was so slow there would even be time to do the next lap. I checked with the steward, who told me there was plenty of time, and reassured me that there were plenty of people behind me. I grabbed a Lucozade and kept plodding on for the fifth and final lap. This one was hard. It was just the slowest runners (like me) left, plodding along but flagging.  Somewhere on the first mile of this lap I hit a junction and with no runners in sight to follow, couldn’t remember which direction to take. I chose the wrong path, and had to double back on myself.  I had chat with another woman who made the same mistake, and we ran alongside each other for the first three miles, cheering each mile marker.

We reached the Mile 3 sign – signalling the last mile of the course – and let out an audible cheer. I powered down this stretch of Rotten Row, determined to run this final mile. I did, but I was so slow it was barely running at all. My lap five companion powered ahead, having found a reservoir of strength somewhere that I didn’t have. It was all I could do not to stop and walk. As the bandstand came into view I found a tiny bit more energy and sprinted as best I could for the last 300m to the finish.

Me at the finish

Me at the finish, exhausted

As I picked up my goodie bag I burst into tears, wondering how the hell I’ll do that again in three weeks time, with six more miles on the end. No one warns you how emotionally tough distance running is. This race was hard, but I performed better than I have when running on my own, and felt a genuine boost every time someone cheered me on from the sidelines. I’m hoping this will see me through the final 6.2 miles on the big day.

My Runkeeper made it 3:41:48, which I’m relatively pleased with as it’s a full minute per kilometre faster than I did on the same distance last week, and bodes well for a sub 5hr finish.  Pleasingly, my Runkeeper has upgraded itself to Elite, which gives me access to extra charts and stats (which makes my inner analytics nerd happy).

Emotional wobbles aside, after a rest and massive Sunday lunch, I’m feeling as prepared as I’ll ever be for 26.2 in three weeks time.

Let the tapering begin.

Race report: Reading Half Marathon

reading medal

Yesterday I ran the Reading Half for the third time. But this was the first time when it hasn’t been the focus of my training efforts, but merely a milestone on my training toward a longer distance.

This year I was more than confident I could do the distance, so used the Reading race as an opportunity to road-test my kit, battery and my live broadcasting, as well as my pacing in race conditions.

On previous years there’s been a big bunch of us doing Reading, but this year I was on my own (usual companions being struck down by injury, etc), so my husband came with me to keep me company.

hotel gift bag

Care package left in my hotel room

I booked us in to the Malmaison Reading instead of the Novotel where I’ve stayed the previous years. I was really impressed when I got the the room and found they’d left a care package containing Lucozade, a Mars bar, hand cream, foot cream, and a card (pictured). This, together with the home-made granola they had at the breakfast buffet, were nice touches that would get runners coming back year after year.

Having failed to book a table for dinner, we ended up schlepping around town trying to find a table (every Italian restaurant being full of runners), and didn’t eat until nearly 9pm. This meant that come breakfast time I wasn’t hungry. I forced down some fruit, granola, half a croissant and a pot of green tea, and headed for the shuttle bus to the start line at Green Park.

I went for a pee, dropped my bag off at the bag drop, wrapped myself in a space blanket for warmth, and went to the loo again, then headed to the start line. Almost immediately I needed the loo again – that green tea was a bad idea. But it was too late to go again before the start, I just had to live with it.

I lined myself up near the 1:55 pacer, working on the basis that I’d start there and fall back if needed. The starting gun went – it took me another seven minutes to cross the line. I started well, keeping up with the 1:55 pacer well. As I hit the big hill between miles 2 and 3, I started being overtaken a lot, and feeling quite uncomfortable. I focused on getting to the loo at mile 3, and on the excellent tunes chosen by my friends for my #DistanceDisco collaborative playlist.

It turns out the first loo isn’t until mile 5. Once I finally got there, I felt a lot betterbut the few minutes I spent in the queue there meant I lost the 1:55 pacer. But I was still ahead of the 2:00, and still keeping up with those with blue race numbers.

The crowd support at Reading is amazing – people out cheering in their front gardens, children giving out jelly babies, a church pumping out techno music, a pub giving out beer, and (my favourite, every year) the thundering drum band under the underpass, which spurred me on to my speediest stretch of the race.

Somewhere near the bottom of the big hill at mile 7, the 2:00 pacer caught up with me. I was determined to stay ahead of him, and spent the next mile and a half pushing myself hard to stay ahead. But it was really tough, and I realised it wouldn’t give me a chip time under 2:00 anyway, as I started slightly further ahead. So I decided to slow right down and run the last four miles at a comfortable pace.

Me, around mile 9

From there on, I enjoyed every minute. I checked Twitter and sent this selfie where I look slightly deranged. Here I learned (via Twitter) that my location broadcast had stopped working at some point, so I restarted it (I’ll post again on how that worked once I have feedback from my beta users).

The final few miles – which on previous few years I’ve hated as they’re on a switchback loop along a stretch of motorway with little crowd support – I found good fun this year. I crossed the line grinning and doing a Spitfire.

(The tune that was playing when I crossed the line was Scissor Sisters’ Filthy Gorgeous, chosen by John Field).

Chip time: 2:10:10 – faster than last year, slower than the year before, but on target for a decent marathon time.

Thereafter, it all went a bit wrong. My husband, who’d come along to see me across the finish, sent me a text. I got this, but he didn’t get my reply saying where to meet. In fact, phone coverage here was a complete fail and we couldn’t get any texts or calls through to each other to arrange where to meet. After 25 minutes trying to get hold of him, I was freezing and shivering, so gave up and joined the bus queue. Eventually, he managed to find me there.

me with my medal

My second medal of the year

The bus situation was a mess. In all, I was in the queue for a bus for over two hours. This is an unacceptably long time leave people shivering in the cold, in their sweaty running kit. The longer we were in the queue, the more tempers flared and more upset people were. A woman in front of me burst into tears. Someone else collapsed. Next to me a man with a very tiny baby got into a row with a security guard as he was desperate to get his baby out of the cold and rain.

Having crossed the line at 12.30, I didn’t get back to my hotel until after 3pm – well after checkout time, meaning I barely had ten minutes to shower. I didn’t get lunch until after 4pm. In all, it was a great race but the day was ruined for me by the logistics afterwards. I’m really not sure I’d do Reading again.

Farewell Fitbit: Falling victim to the Force rash

me with bandages

I’d been told to expect to be injured at least once while training for my first marathon. What I didn’t expect is for that injury to be to my wrists.

I first heard reports that some Fitbit Force users had developed a rash some weeks ago. Not long after, I noticed a little redness under my own, but I put it down to being a bit hot and sweaty, and switched it over to my other hand.

Over the weekend I went to Abu Dhabi. The sunshine – which has been in short supply at home lately – made the rash far worse and my travelling partner (my mum) said “you’ve got a terrible burn on your wrists. How did you do that?”.

fitbit rash

The rash from my Fitbit

Looking at the bright red marks, I had to admit it was actually hurting me. I really love my Fitbit Force – I’ve blogged about it on here twice to say how much I like it – but reluctantly, it’s time to stop using it.

Days after taking my Force off, the rash still seemed to be getting worse, so I called my GP, who advised me to go to the Minor Injuries clinic and get it looked at.

So that’s how I ended up at St Bart’s Hospital with what might be their first case of a quantified self injury.

They diagnosed contact dermatitis, but couldn’t rule out some kind of chemical burn. Fitbit themselves have said a tiny proportion of users are experiencing an allergic reaction to the nickel in the surgical-grade steel in the device. I find this hard to believe as I’ve been wearing a lower-grade steel navel ring (i.e. with nickel) for 14 years without any problems.

Over on the Fitbit Community (registration needed to view), users are discussing the possibility that it’s a reaction to the adhesive, the battery, or something else, causing a burn-like reaction that’s not consistent with a simple metal allergy.

Last week, after a steady drip-drip of stories of users developing rashes in the media, Fitbit finally admitted there is a major problem with the Force and issued a product recall. I’ve filed a case with them, but as it was never sold outside the US and Canada they haven’t worked out how to manage returns for Force owners in other countries. I’m still waiting to hear back from them.

The numbers of users reporting a reaction seems to be growing steadily. One former user has created a spreadsheet of affected people and their onset period. With over 700 cases tracked so far – and most of those affected only seeing symptoms after weeks or months wearing the device – this looks set to be a growing embarrassment for FitBit.

As for me, I’ll be running without data until I can find a new tracker.