London Landmarks Half Marathon

Sunday 25th March saw me take part in the inaugural London Landmarks Half Marathon.

As the title suggests, the brand new closed road run boasted a route full of cultural and iconic landmarks including Big Ben, St Pauls Cathedral, The Tower of London and the Shard, to name a few.

The 13.1 mile route is the only one of its kind to see participants go through both the City of London and Westminster.

I was one of 10,000 lucky runners to take part, starting on Pall Mall and with the first half following a similar route to London Winter Run, before heading into the city following plenty of twists and turns.

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Despite a lack of running of late, due to other training commitments, I was extremely excited to take part in this event. I knew that I would not expect a PB, as my focus had not been on running for several months, but at the same time I intended to do my best, focus on myself and not everyone around me.

And I did just that for well into half of the race. I started in the purple wave, and got off to a good start. Though it took me a good while to get into the race and find my own rhythm, pacing remained pretty steady. Passing St Paul’s Cathedral and further into the city I had the 2:15 pacer in eye sight ahead of me. Behind me and at times next to me I had the 2:30 pacer. So after the half way mark I knew If I kept at my steady pace I would possibly find myself finishing between my two best half marathon times.

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Lots of twists and turns occurred the further we ran into the city. So many that 8 miles into the race I found myself paying less and less attention to the road and disaster struck.

I lost my footing on uneven pavement, twisted my ankle and fell to the ground.

True London spirit kicked in and I quickly found myself surrounded by people checking I was okay, helping me up and even one runner, seeing that I was distressed, held my hand as I assured her I was going to carry on.

So that’s what I did.

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It is safe to say that my journey after this point was extremely difficult. Not wanting to cause myself further injury, but at the same time wanting to complete even if it did mean crawling, I developed a run/walk method to get myself to the finish line. Inclines and declines in the road, along with corners, saw me adopt a slower pace and at times a fast walking pace.

Eventually, I was on the home straight – running for several minutes then walking for a short period. The final 500 metres seemed to go on forever, the last part seeing me retrace those final steps from the London Marathon.

I heard spectators screaming my name and I went to a different place. I remembered that day almost a year ago. When I hit the final 500 metres and heard my Uncle screaming my name, by far the loudest in the crowd.

I imagined it was him cheering me on and screaming my name – not complete strangers. And it saw me through to the end at a running pace.

Slower than originally expected, completing in 2:40, however by no means my slowest half marathon. And good time considering the circumstances.

The biggest achievement of all – not quitting. Stupid perhaps, seeing as I have had to slow down the training this week due to injury, but quitting is never an option for me.

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The London Landmarks Half Marathon was by far one of the best organised races I have taken part in. From the lead up communication, the race pack (including a very bright running t-shirt), the entertainment on the day and the medal – everything was spot on.

I certainly hope I have the opportunity to run this one again next year!

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Preparing for the Isle of Wight Challenge

In six weeks time the Isle of Wight Challenge will be done and dusted, and most likely still evident with the aches and pains expected post challenge.

I have come a long way with my walking in the last few months and I have found a new love for joining others in a long walk through forests and around farmers fields in my local area. I never imagined I would enjoy walking for hours on end, but I have and in doing so I have become fond of the company I have in doing so.

With less than six weeks to go, it is important to keep up the momentum and to prepare myself fully with what is to come.

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Training will not let up over the coming weeks. Every Sunday sees me plan in a long walk with the team, with the mileage getting bigger and bigger until the final few weeks. I will need to ensure that I get my biggest walk (around 10 hours of walking), planned and accomplished well before the day itself. A night walk; starting off in the day and finishing later into the evening; would be advisable to help me cope with that need to carry on – despite the fatigue setting in.

With training I also need to ensure I carry on mixing up the activities – not purely relying on walking to see me through. So, I will be heading back into Body Pump sessions twice a week along with my usual Spinning classes to build up strength.

Preparing for all weathers is something we have most definitely been doing over the last few months. We have seen sub zero temperatures, snow, wind – you name it. So if snow is forecasted on the day we will be prepared. What we will not be prepared for, however, is warm temperatures and sun! Instead we will just have to remember provisions to help us through if we are lucky to be blessed with warm weather – sunglasses, hat, extra water and sunscreen is all on the list of things to take along.

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The Kit is vital to any challenge. Since training for the Isle of Wight challenge began I have trained in a variety of foot wear to find what works best for me. Starting with my runners, as I thought they would be perfect for the job at hand. They were not, as I found out during the London Winter Walk, though perfect for shorter running distances they did not provide the stability needed for long arduous walks. So the next walk saw me don the trainers that got me through the London Marathon. The support was perfect, as long as my feet remained dry. So they would be great, until we have to face rain – trainers were out.

The next port of call was walking boots. For several weeks I attempted to rack up the miles in heavy boots, each time willing that they “break in” so I could stop thinking about my feet with every step. Each week I failed, my feet remained a mess of cuts and blisters.

So I gave up on the boots.

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I headed to Go Outdoors to try on a pair of Salomon X Ultra GTX Walking shoes, after a recommendation from a friend. They fit like a glove, and after walking them in during the week I took them on their first long walk. No hot spots, no blisters and no cuts to be seen. I had finally found the footwear for me and teamed them up with a pair of 1000 mile socks. There have been no cuts and blisters since.

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Nutrition is something I am still learning about during walks. Some have advised to eat something small every two miles, some say every hour. Either way, with each walk I am ensuring I have an array of snacks, including sweets like Fruit Pastilles or Jelly Babies. One or two of these every hour or so enables me to keep my energy levels up.

However, it is the meals we will have to take on board before the challenge and at the half way point rest stop that causes me concern on the day. Therefore the big 10 hour walk cannot come soon enough. I can use this training walk as a test to see what works – talking a refreshment break with food just over half way.

Rest is just as important as training itself. Over the coming weeks I will have to ensure that I fit in rest days (something that I have previously been terrible at) and find ways to relax. Just this morning I headed to the gym to spend an hour in the spa – using the hot tub and steam room. I find in the absence of a bath, the hot tub soothes my muscles, the steam room helps with clearing my lungs and the two combined helps me get a restful sleep.

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And if I have time between now and challenge day I will also schedule in a Floatation session, to relax both my mind and body ahead of the big day.

Less than six weeks until I face the Isle of Wight Challenge, the countdown is well and truly on.

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Training with Friends!

When I heard I had a place in the London Marathon back in October 2016 I made the most sensible decision to stop my boot camp membership.

With the long gruelling months ahead, getting the miles under my belt, I did not have the time to think about the comfort of the group boot camp sessions or risk injuries running around in the mud with others.

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The prospect was daunting, going out alone and attempting to keep myself motivated. Let’s face it, trying to push yourself when you know it is you and you alone, when there is no one to keep you going at your lowest moments, having no one to talk to, it’s is almost as hard as the training itself.

That said I quickly got used to my own company, and once the London Marathon was complete I did not rush back into group sessions or classes. In fact, I continued running – though not to the volumes seen pre-marathon – I took myself off to the weekly Parkrun and I continued to enter in shorter races throughout the summer.

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When the weather started to change, and the cold, dark nights drew in I longed for some company and the motivation to keep me going. I changed my gym membership and discovered some of the best Spinning classes which also allowed me to interact with fellow fitness enthusiasts again!

At the same time I quickly signed up for the Isle of Wight Challenge after a friend sent it over to me as a suggestion.

I did not even think about how I was going to train for the challenge. I was used to spending the winter months training alone. So I just got into the swing of long walks straight away.

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However, once Christmas and New Year had passed, those friends who had also signed up started to get into the training mindset. Planning walks, discussing tactics and even their kit.

I found myself on my own less and less. Long walks started to get scheduled in once a month – with our first group walk being a massive 20 miles.

From then on we have found ourselves frequently donning the walking boots, early on a Sunday morning. Sometimes walking the longer distances along the river into London, sometimes a shorter rural, yet hilly, route through Epping or Hatfield Forrest.

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What I have discovered over the most recent weeks is that I missed having the company whilst training. The London Marathon taught me that I don’t necessarily need it to get the job done, but having someone beside you, someone to talk to, people to keep you going just makes training less of an arduous task. I find myself thinking less and less about the miles we have to cover due to the fact that the company is so enjoyable, time flies by with everyone pushing each other to keep going and the camaraderie is something special.

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With many, many more miles to go before we take on the 65.8 miles I feel so comforted knowing I am walking with great company.

Training is certainly more enjoyable with friends.

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Lessons learned from The London Marathon.

As I step out early at weekends, heading to meet fellow team mates and train for our long Isle of Wight adventure I often spot runners. Runners racking up the miles, up early to get their training done before most people are awake. Running early so they can salvage as much of their weekend as humanely possible.

When I see these runners, I cannot help but reminisce. Rewind twelve months and I was one of those runners.

Whilst I have my own challenge to contend to in 2018, I cannot help but think back to those cold, dark months putting all my energy into running and very little else.

And as such, I wanted to think back to that time to share the lessons I learned training and completing the London Marathon in 2017.

The road to the London Marathon is a lonely one. The long winter months, pounding the streets – most likely alone (as lets face it, there are not many people who will run a 20 miler with you if they don’t need to) can start to get to you. The loneliness can be just as hard as the running itself. With no one to talk to, no one to keep you going – it is just damn boring! When I voiced my feelings during the training months, many friends told me “you will not feel lonely on race day.” And at the time I struggled to believe them. I could not think that far ahead.

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Race day was a completely different atmosphere from training. Being surrounded by thousands of runners, spectators and volunteers – you simply do not have the time to feel lonely. In fact, at times you sometimes long for a little quiet space of your own.

If you are feeling the loneliness of training, I promise you race day will be the total opposite. Even strangers will be screaming your name!!

Get a gait analysisIf you have not had one already, I would advise to get this checked as soon as possible. After struggling with a groin injury during training I went to get my gait checked and discovered I was wearing the wrong trainers. As a heel striker I needed more support, and the trainers I was running in did not offer the support I needed. In fact, the specialists informed me I would not complete the London Marathon without injury if I continued in the trainers I was running in. So new trainers were purchased in time to wear them in for the big day. So – GET THE GAIT ANALYSIS!

SELF DOUBT is the biggest hindrance during training. And at this point of time there will be many runners doubting their ability. Constantly asking yourself “how am I going to do this” is normal. We don’t train so it will be easy, we train to be able to tolerate the pain.

Running a Marathon is hard! It is supposed to be hard. If it was easy everyone would be doing it. Take pride in knowing you are training to accomplish one of the most amazing experiences you will face.

Stop comparing yourself to other runners. This is your race, take it at your pace. Yes, everyone would love to run a little faster, a little better and it is natural to be a little competitive. However, at the end of the day whether you run at a 8 minute mile pace or a 10 minute mile pace, the distance is still the same. You have to run the same course, the medal and sense of achievement upon completion is still the same. Stop focusing on others, focus on your own journey.

Nutrition is key. By now runners taking part in a marathon will know what works. You will need to refuel during the race, you will need to have a hearty breakfast before crossing the start line – so make sure you find something that works for your body. After trial and error I found the perfect option for me. After discovering the hard way that energy gels do not sit well with me, I discovered that jelly sweets (mine were from Decathalon) offered me just what I needed to get through a long run, along with electrolytes in my water (rather than the high sugary drinks on course). That said, I always found refuelling post run difficult – more often than not, not wanting to eat.

 

Don’t try anything new in the last few weeks, especially kit. There is nothing worse than chafing, blisters or stomach issues in the lead up or race day itself.

Your mind and body can do amazing things. Once you dig deep and push through the pain you will begin to realise you are capable of the unimaginable. When you get to the point where your legs just keep going, no matter the speed, you will find that you are in a place where mind and body are working together to achieve something amazing.

You will NOT be last! There is a misconception some have, myself included, that you will be last over the finish line. You will not be the last one to finish! The majority of London Marathon runners are not elite runners, and will finish in over four hours. Stop worrying about being last. And if you are last, who actually cares? You have finished a marathon!!

London has a lot of love. I underestimated the power of London in the lead up. The love that surrounds the London Marathon is something else. I cannot begin to describe how powerful the crowd were en route. Friends, family and even complete strangers can carry you through. I was lucky enough to have some amazing support throughout the race. I had a group of friends chasing me throughout the day – cheering me on at Cutty Sark, the Isle of Dogs and again in the final 500 meters – I had the Willow Foundation cheering me on at Tower Bridge and again at the finish line, My sister-in-law was awaiting a sweaty hug along Victoria Embankment, then my family (including my late Uncle, who’s cheers I heard from far away) waiting by Buckingham Palace and finally the first face I saw after picking up all my belongings – my other half! Never underestimate the power of a friendly face in the crowd to keep you going.

Training and running the London Marathon was without a doubt the toughest challenge I have faced to date. When I look back to the day I cannot help but swell with pride. I have one of the most amazing medals, I have experienced one of the best races in the world and I did that! No one else. I accomplished something I never thought possible.

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So when you are struggling to get through, just imagine crossing that finish line!

I promise no matter how you are feeling now, the feeling you have when a random stranger places the medal over you neck is worth the hundreds of miles, the tears, the aches and pains and the frustration to get to the finish.