Tag Archives: training

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.

Long Slow Run Report: The easiest half-marathon I’ve ever run

Richmond Bridge

With big plans for the weekend, I took an afternoon off on Friday so I could get my weekly long run in. Target: 13 miles.

I’ve run three half marathons before, but have never gone any further than that. Each time, I’ve prepped carefully for the race – tapering the week before, carb loading the previous evening, ensuring I have specific kit ready. All the things I feel I need to be able to make it round.

Friday wasn’t one of those days. I slept badly, then had a pretty full-on morning at work. I was so busy I didn’t leave as early as I’d planned to. I grabbed a bite to eat near work, working on the assumption it’d go down in the hour or so it’d take me to get home and put my kit on.

But it took me ages to get back, so having planned to be out on my big run by 1.45, I didn’t actually get out until just before 3. I plotted a route on Mappedometer, put my trainers on, and headed out, feeling a little flustered and daunted by the challenge of doing such a distance with less than optimal preparation.

I quickly got into my stride, running past Chiswick Bridge, Kew Bridge, the National Archives and Kew Gardens, then the Old Deer Park. Although I was slower than my usual pace, it felt really good! I kept on going past Richmond Lock, and finally to Richmond Bridge (pictured above).

I’d planned to go a mile or so further along the river’s edge then turn back, but the sky was already starting to look a little grey so I decided to turn back there. At night the towpath is very dark and very quiet, and I wouldn’t feel safe being there after dark. So I turned around there and headed for home, back along the same route.

When I got the the point on the towpath where I’d normally turn to go home, I checked RunKeeper: 16.5km. I mentally mapped another 5k loop and kept on going, through Barnes Village, up Castelnau to Hammersmith Bridge, then turned down Lonsdale Road back west again.

Here I remembered that this road was my route of choice when I first started running, and thought about how much I’ve improved since then. I’d run over 12 miles and yet it still felt almost easy. Amazing.

Just then, I tripped on a paving stone and fell over, only very narrowly avoiding hitting my head on the ground. My right knee took the impact. Ouch. It took me a moment to work out if I was properly injured. Then I picked myself up, and started walking. I soon realised that although I was bleeding, I could run on it. So I did. I kept on going. As I got into my stride again I managed to forget about it.

When I got to the end of my road, I checked Runkeeper again. 21.4km. I still felt like I had more energy left, so decided to make this my longest run yet. I knew I’d done 21 point something when I did a half marathon, but I couldn’t remember what the something was. So I aimed for 22km just to be sure, doing a quick loop around near my house, and finally just running up and down the street outside my house like a loon until I hit the distance.

I DID IT! 22km! And despite having not had any of the right prep, or eaten properly, or even had a good night’s sleep, I genuinely enjoyed it. When I’ve done halves before I’ve prepared carefully but still find them tough going on the day. But I was able to run slightly more than a half marathon with none of the stuff I really believed I needed to achieve that, and found it the easiest half marathon distance I’ve ever done.

It’s often said that long-distance running is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. With my mind focused on the end goal of 26.2, the 13 mile barrier has quickly gone from being a possibly unachievable distance to something I can find easy.

I’m looking forward to the next challenge.

Long slow run report: Bristol

Avon Gorge and Clifton

Running is a fantastic way to explore a new city. By sticking your trainers on and getting out there at street level, you really get the feel for a city and how its neighbourhoods connect together. Wherever you are, with running gear on and some music in your ears, you look – and quickly feel – like a local.

This weekend I was afforded just such an opportunity, when the four of us who run Intranetizen, a world-leading intranet blog, got together for a planning weekend in Bristol, to look at the design and content of our website.

Regular readers of this blog (hello Mum!) will note there was no Long Slow Run Report last week. Having prepped for a a good 12-miler, I promptly got one of the worst colds I’ve had in years and really couldn’t face it. But with less than three months to go to the big day, I can’t afford to miss another weekend’s mileage, so that meant being an anti-social house guest and heading out for a big long run on my own.

Our host and long-time Bristolian Jonathan Phillips plotted a route for me using mappedometer, taking in all of Bristol’s main sights in an 11-mile route.

From Jon’s house in the north of Bristol, I headed to Durdham Downs. It was a beautiful winter’s morning, but seemingly endless rain we’ve been having meant this section, on grass, was surprisingly tricky. I had to do baby steps for a good 2km to avoid slipping over. When I reached the edge of the park, all was forgiven. Firstly, it was paved. But more importantly, it has a spectacular view over Avon Gorge and down to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Bristol was looking mighty fine on Saturday morning.

From there I headed down Circular Drive, then up Ladies Mile and back down again, before heading out of the park and down a steep hill, into Clifton, and past Bristol Zoo.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

From there I headed onto Clifton Suspension Bridge. There’s something strangely pleasing about running across bridges. Living by the Thames it’s something I get to do quite a lot, but Clifton is a spectacular bit of engineering, and one which I was pleased to be able to see up close.

From there it all went a bit wrong. The plan was to head straight on, touch the entrance to Ashton Court, then turn back and head back the way I came. But somehow I took the wrong turning and ended up heading the wrong way. Pleasingly, it was all downhill, so I kept going. But when the pavement ended and I was running on the edge of the road with traffic racing past me, I realised this was a bad idea. I was going the wrong way. Worse; that nice downhill run was about to become a steep uphill on the way back.

I turned and ran back the way I came. There was a raised pavement on the other side of the road, so I headed over where at least I felt safe. But that was quite some hill. I don’t know if it’s because it’d been a fortnight since my last long run, but I found it really tough going. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find any power in my legs at all. My run was barely any faster than walking, and at one point I gave up and just power-walked it.

I found my mojo again when a tourist stopped me and asked the way to Ashton Court, which only added weight to my theory that you always look like a local in running gear. I had no idea but could confidently state it wasn’t down that way.

This detour added about a mile to the route, the latter half of which was a horrible uphill slog. Eventually I reached the entrance to Ashton Court and headed back to the bridge. For the first time in what seemed like hours, I was back on the flat and running seemed easy again. I crossed back from North Somerset to Bristol, admiring Brunel’s engineering wonder on the way.

onion seller

Onion Johnnies: normal for Bristol

From there I headed back uphill into Durdham Downs. Again, I really struggled with the incline. It was around about there I started to question both my ability to complete a marathon and my sanity for even attempting it. I just couldn’t find any power in my legs to get me up the hill. After what seemed like an age (but was probably only ten minutes), I reached the top of the hill. Back on the flat everything seemed ok again; I could have gone on for another hour.

After my unplanned detour earlier I decided to cut out Ladies Mile and the path along the edge of the gorge and head straight for Jon’s house. I ended up going the wrong way entirely, taking me into Bristol suburbia, where I saw a Frenchman selling onions and a man who fell from the eighteenth century,

After two hours and eleven miles of exploring, I made it back with a mix of emotions. The hills were hard. I seem to have lost all my strength and I’ve definitely got slower. But I’m getting more confident about endurance. I will make it around. And that feels good.


Finding my feet


After feeling a little despondent about my training so far (or the lack of it) and resolving to up my game, I finally did.

I live by the river Thames, which is an excellent place to be (until the sea levels rise, when it won’t be). Amongst the many great things about where I live is that the Thames towpath is right on my doorstep. It’s a brilliant place to run; there’s no traffic, it’s peaceful and quiet, and you get to see the different birds as the seasons change. I know it sounds wanky, but it makes me feel much calmer and more connected to the seasons when I get out along the river.

I have a regular route from where I live in Barnes down to Hammersmith and beyond, and back again. Whenever I want to add a bit on to my distance, I just add another bridge on to my route on either the way out or back again. The Hammersmith-Barnes loop is a nice 7.5k – a good lunchtime distance – but I hadn’t been further than that in a while.

Today I reached Hammersmith and still felt like I had plenty more in the tank, so I kept going, all the way down to Putney, across Putney Bridge (see photo above), and back down the north side, around 14k in total.

It was an absolutely beautiful day. Cold but sunny. There were cormorants and herons on the shore, and rowers out on the river. I felt fit and strong and happy, and as I made my way back home, I felt like I could have gone on longer were it not getting dark. For the first time I felt like I can really do this.

I can run a marathon.

Festive fail

running santas

And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? The short answer is: not a lot.

Last year I bucked the trend by having a super-fit Christmas; we were away on holiday, staying somewhere that could hardly be better suited to running. We ran every day. I even started Christmas day with a nine-mile jog in the snow along the riverside, leaving me feeling smug right up until I stuffed myself silly over dinner.

This year I’ve been less successful. I’ve been for two short, plodding runs since getting back from holiday. Between post-holiday blues, and the string of festive drinking invites, running in the cold and wet has slipped down my list of priorities.

Christmas is a time to spend time with family, and enjoy food and drink together. But it’s also one of the rare occasions on which one gets a few public holidays off on the trot, making it an ideal opportunity to fit in a run or two to balance out the overindulgence (and prevent me going completely stir-crazy).

I really enjoyed last year’s Christmas running streak. So as I’m now winding down for Christmas, I’m planning to take advantage of the days at home to refocus and get my marathon training back on track.

Photo credit: nance coleman

Planning, not doing

Image by Tung Pham (Creative Commons)

With less than four months to go until the big day, it’s fair to say my training is off to a slow start.

In my defence, I have been on holiday. We spent two and a half weeks in Argentina, on a really active break which saw me hiking, climbing, swimming, rafting… but not running.

I’ve become quite obsessive about my Fitbit, clocking up an average of 22,000 steps a day pounding the stunning countryside in Patagonia. On one day we did over 35,000 steps, which is about 14 miles – more than a half marathon. I’m trying to tell myself this is progress, but I’m probably not convincing anyone else.

Likewise, my nutrition strategy – lots of steak and red wine – has been sub-optimal.

If I’m going to make that 26.2 miles it’s time to take charge of the situation: it’s time to make a plan. As the old army adage goes, fail to plan and you plan to fail, right?

On the recommendation of a marathon-running friend, I’ve started reading Run Faster, Run Less. This advocates a strategy of running three times a week, combining one long run with two shorter ones aimed at improving speed. In truth this about all I can realistically fit around my job anyway, but it’s nice to have some confirmation that this is a workable plan.

So with that in mind on the plane home I sketched out targets for the months ahead, starting with getting my long runs up to 10 miles by year end, then working upwards from there by adding a couple of kilometres a week.

I’ve scheduled in long runs and target distances for all my weekends between now and April. I’m aiming to combine these with a weekly run home from work, and an hour’s interval training on my working from home day.

I popped this all in to a Google Calendar, colour coded by run type. I’m pretty proud of it. My other half is less impressed: “If I were you I’d put more effort into the actual running”.

He might have a point. I slipped on my trainers and went for my first post-holiday jog. 6.78km, around where we live. It was hard. All that steak and Malbec, lovely though it was, has taken its toll.

I may need more than a plan. I need to up my game.

Photo credit: Tung Pham