Time Out in Zante

With the heavy rain and wind we have been experiencing over the last few days it is hard to remember that a little over one week ago I was basking in thirty degree heat, with my toes in the sand and a nose in a book.

It had been a while since I had a complete “beach break.” Time to simply to nothing but rest and soak up the sun. Don’t get me wrong, we always ensure we get our holidays. It just seems that it has been a while since a holiday revolved around the beach. I expected our trip to San Diego the previous year to have a little more relaxation, however with so many things to see and do – it just did not work out that way. Plus with some great running routes around Mission Bay I could not resist a few early morning runs to get the day started.

Fast forward to Summer 2018 and after a good eight months training and racing, amongst other stresses of daily life, I was well and truly ready to worship the sun for nine days. And for a good five days, it was the perfect opportunity to do so. Until I ran out of reading material. So from the sun lounger I enquired with my trusty Trip Advisor app to allow us a few days exploring.

The first trip on the agenda was a Turtle Spotting Cruise. A cruise that promised a little wildlife as we cruised the bay of Laganas in an attempt to spot the loggerhead turtles swimming in their native environment.

We managed to spot one turtle as it came to the surface. However visiting in September, when it was coming towards the end of the season, meant that this was the only one we could spot whilst on the cruise.

The boat continued on from Laganas bay, cruising the coast of Zante, past the small island of Marathonisi (otherwise known as Turtle Beach due to its uncanny resemblance to the sea creature), before stopping around the Keri Caves for an opportunity to swim in the crystal clear waters.

With a sea temperature of 24 degrees we did not hesitate. Leaving many members of the tour on board we jumped straight in and was rewarded with one of the most pleasant swims I have yet to experience.

On our second day trip, having already had the pleasure of a tour on around the coast by boat, we decided to book the Zakynthos Island Tour by Coach and as a result saw some of the most beautiful views to date.

Starting early we met our coach and tour guide towards the north of the island, quickly making our way to one of many stops – views of the neighbouring island of Kefalonia.

Back on the coach, our tour guide continued to delight us with facts about Zante in an extremely entertaining manner until we arrived at our next stop – Agios Nikolaos.

Here, you would find the opportunity to take a small boat and visit the glorious Blue Caves. Sadly, on the day we took our trip, the sea was far to choppy to risk a small vessel. Therefore we simply took in the views of the small town before heading off again to our next location – Navagio Beach. Otherwise known as Shipwrecked Beach.

The views to be had on the cliff edge overlooking the beach were breathtaking. Luckily, due to the choppy waters, there were very few boats visiting the beach itself that day. So we were treated to unspoilt views of the cove, the shipwreck and the stunningly aquamarine blue waters that surrounded it. For me, this was the highlight. I had never seen such a sight in all the time I have been travelling. It is clear to understand why it is known as one of the most photographed beaches in the world. Some even risk their lives (against the advice upon the cliff top) to get a better view and picture to take home. I stuck to the guidance of our tour rep and was simply memorised.

Our time at the top was rather brief, as coaches tend to find themselves in a bit of a pickle getting back down the tight roads if they linger too long. So we were off before we knew it. If the tour had ended here I would have returned home happy – it was the view I had been waiting for.

But our tour continued on. Visiting the quaint Monastery of St. Dennis in Anafonitria and the village of Exo Hora, well known for it’s 2000 year old, gnarled olive tree – which is still producing olives today.

After so much excitement everyone on the tour was ready for a spot of lunch. And the spot for lunch could not have been more perfect. Nestled on the cliffs in Kampi, we enjoyed a fantastic meal at a traditional Greek Taverna, whilst offering cliff top views that would please the most seasoned traveller.

After a good week of all inclusive hotel food, I could not have been happier with the vegetarian offering this venue had for me. The dreamy location was just icing on the cake. A perfect end to a fantastic tour of the island, as after our lunch it was back to our resort for the last few days.

The resort itself, though not the best in terms of accommodation and cuisine, offered us a fantastic, quiet get away with great views and sandy beaches.  The perfect place to recharge your batteries and make friends an adorable litter of kittens!

As the post holiday blues set in, it’s hard to imagine I was actually in such a picturesque location.

Zante proved to be one of the most beautiful, unspoilt and tranquil places I have had the pleasure of visiting.

A place I would happily visit again in the future.

Adidas City Runs: Clapham

Sunday 16th September saw my return to Adidas City Runs, with the Clapham 10K route. After my pleasant run with them a year previously with the Shoreditch 10K I was looking forward to seeing what South London had to offer.

As with most race days, it started with a very early morning to ensure that I arrived in plenty of time to get myself sorted before the start: multiple toilet breaks, adjustment of kit and filling up my running bladder for the miles ahead.

There was not much time to hang around, as within 30 minutes of my arrival the first waves were being called to the start pens. My wave (wave C) was soon heading in the same direction. Very little time passed before the runners were off!

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Starting at Larkhall Park the route saw participants head north towards Vauxhall before turning back towards Clapham, along Wandsworth Road, skirting the east of Clapham Common before winding round the tree lined streets of Clapham Old town and North Clapham towards the finish line back at Larkhall Park.

The race started off well. Despite the recent balmy temperatures the morning was over cast, cool and saw a welcome gentle breeze – making running conditions seem perfect.

From the first to the third kilometre I found myself comfortable, setting a good pace (albeit, slightly faster than previous races due to my training with Harlow Running Club) and generally feeling rather relaxed after a recent break away in the sunshine.

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However, perhaps due to my lack of training in the lead up owed to my holiday or my faster than normal pace, or perhaps a mixture of both, I started to find myself tiring rather quickly between the third and fourth kilometre. Add in a couple of unexpected hills around the “flat route,” slowing down my pace further, I found my spirit wavering slightly – stopping to walk the hills that I would not have caused issues previously. I also started to spend more time looking at my watch, trying to work out if a PB was on the cards. During the first and third kilometres this was looking likely. After four kilometres I started to give up on the PB yet again, deterred by my post holiday fitness level, and to simply use this race as a way to return back to training after a very inactive break away.

The route itself was not without challenges, as mentioned above there were a number of hills thrown into the mix that were completely un-expected, the twists and turns around the residential streets became tiring and to top it off, as with the Shoreditch 10K, residents ignored the signs about road closures and decided they were well within their rights to drive down the closed roads. I saw at least three drivers, with very little regard for the runners around them screaming at the marshalls, obviously putting both at danger with their stupidity to pay attention to the signs around them.

And the water stations? Where were they? There was nothing available until after the 6KM mark. Many runners were overheard asking the marshalls “where is the water station?” And on what transpired to be a rather muggy day once we got well under way, this was an error of judgement on the organisers part. Luckily, I always run with water so it did not cause an issue for me. But there were many participants clearly struggling with the lack of hydration.

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That did not put runners off enjoying the course, however. Many participants around me were clearly enjoying themselves (some more than others) and there were many smiling faces as we approached the final turns to the finish line.

Despite my lack enthusiasm throughout the route, I was undeterred as we came towards that final stretch. Any energy I had was used for a sprint finish, allowing me to come under my British 10K time from July (just).

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Was I bothered about failing to get a PB and a sub 60 minute time yet again? Not really. I had enjoyed my much needed time off, coming back feeling refreshed and ache free. I always say “next time.” And I will get there one day. With the ability I have gained training with Harlow Running club, teamed with regular Spinning classes – I have no doubt that I will eventually reach the goals I set for myself.

In the meantime, it’s time to head off to running club……….

Joining Harlow Running Club

For many years I have spent the majority of my running miles training alone, with the occasional running partner thrown in. And whilst it is always great to have a running partner, I often found pressured to run faster than I was capable – at the other person’s ability. Which can be rather stressful.

So when I trained for the London Marathon in 2017 I was not bothered about running alone. I could set my own pace and train as I wanted to.

It’s funny how that can change when you pick a new challenge. When I signed up for the Isle of Wight I could not even imagine getting through the long hours walking around the coastal path alone. So with others joining me on the challenge itself, I trained with them. And I was so grateful to have that company to get me through.

Once the event was over, however, I had to find a way to get back into training alone. The challenge was done, it was time to get back in to a normal routine. But I found it incredibly hard to do so – unless it was a group spinning class – it was difficult to get back into a schedule and motivate myself.

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So I started to toy with the idea of joining the local running club. Something I had always shied away from with the misconception that it would be to cliquey, that it is full elite runners and that I would embarrass myself with my mediocre “running.”

In the attempt to re-claim my love for running whilst the weather was on my side, I threw caution to the wind and contacted the club organisers who swiftly invited me along for a “taster” session.

I was duly impressed. On arrival I found that my idea of what the club would be was pure fabrication on my part. The group were not cliquey in the slightest – in fact several members came up to me straight away as I was clearly a “newbie.” Neither was the club full of elite runners. And I was not mediocre at all – I just was not elite.

In just a month I am starting to understand the benefits of joining a running club such as this one.

  1. I am in the right in environment. By surrounding myself with like minded people who enjoy running and show such enthusiasm will help me in the long term. Within the group you will find so much support – many members encouraging and motivating you.
  2. Running clubs encourage a range of training – something that you will be less likely to do alone. Harlow Running Club have a great mix of training: from track sessions, hills, long distance and speed. I find that if I am running alone it is easy to get into a rut of running the same routes and therefore becoming rather bored. In the month I have been running with a club I have seen a variety of routes, lots of hills and some speed work too. With them I have discovered some lovely country routes I would have never have known before.
  3. It’s a community. As with my boot camp days, I have quickly developed relationships with many of the club members who have encouraged me to test out different parkruns, races and generally inviting me along for a Sunday run. These people will no doubt be imperative to my motivation over the Winter months.
  4. The competitive streak will surface. I never thought of myself as competitive, but have often been told otherwise. In my month since joining I have noted that this competitive edge has been surfacing more often than not. Whether it be catching up with one person in front or over taking another runner in a sprint finish – there is definitely a competitive edge within me.
  5. Being a member of a running club will give you that psychological ability to call yourself a “runner.” I have always battled with the idea of calling myself a runner as my running at times feels more like a jog than a run – especially if I compare myself to those at the elite end of the spectrum. But now that I am an affiliated member of a running club and registered with England Athletics it feels like I can class myself completely as a runner.

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Within a month of joining the club I am already finding improvements with my running technique and abilities. This week saw me reach a PB for my 5K, I have seen my average min/miles drop, my fastest min/miles (for short bursts) improve, a greater ability to conquer hills and to top it all off I have met some wonderful people who encourage and support me every step of the way. And this is just within the first month.

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Joining Harlow Running Club was the best decision I have made for my training in such a long time. I am looking forward to seeing what it will bring over the next few months.

 

A Tuscan Adventure

There is nothing like getting away from it all, by taking a quick break and exploring a foreign city. I like to make a habit of picking a mix of sunny beach holidays and cultural city breaks.

This year I chose the area of Tuscany as one of my cultural adventures. Three days and three nights in the northern region of Italy. With so much to see and do I did not waste a minute – flying into Florence I had a jam packed few days to ensure I got to experience as much as possible.

DAY ONE – Wondering around Florence

A very early morning flight from London City meant that I arrived in Florence long before check in was allowed. The Hotel B&B, outside the city centre, were extremely accommodating – happily keeping my bags and directing me into the centre. Though I required very little direction. Drop me in any city, with a map, and I will very quickly find my feet. Florence was no exception.

I quickly found the centre, with the iconic Duomo taking my breath away as soon as I set my sights on it. The area around the attraction was buzzing, with it being the height of the tourist season queues to enter the impressive building were too long for me to entertain. So I simply found the best place to take it all in, from a nearby roof top bar. Robiglio provided the perfect escape from the growing crowds, enjoy a relaxing view whilst having a few refreshments. It was the perfect find. Plus a great place to meet friends (who happened to be in Tuscany at the same time).

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Down back on the Tuscan streets I wondered along with the crowds, across the famous Ponte Vecchio distracted by the numerous shops sparkling with stunning jewels. It is easy to get distracted by the beauty on this bridge, a bridge like no other I have seen before. Views along the river were not to shabby either.

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More wondering ensued to get the best view of the city – from Piazza Michelangelo. I could have happily sat here for hours with the Duomo so stunning in the skyline, the view down Ponte Vecchio, watching the sun go down. Like many areas of Florence in the height of the season, the area was thriving – with couples, friends, school groups galore. Everyone made the climb to get one of the best views the city had to offer.

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DAY TWO – Siena, San Gimignano, Monteriggioni and Chianti

With so much to see in the region I thought booking an excursion with Viator would be the perfect way to get around. Obviously if you were to hire a car all of these areas would be easily accessible. However, I did not want the stress of finding my way in a foreign country so a tour was a perfect option for me.

It was a long day, covering many beautiful locations, so if you do book this trip expect to be on and off the coach covering a lot of ground.

First stop, the medieval gem that is Monteriggioni. Built in 1203, the walled town offers fantastic views of Chianti from its castle walls.

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Second stop was the beautiful town of Siena, distinguished by it’s medieval brick buildings. Here there is plenty to see and with the package with Viator you have the option to take the walking tour. I decided against doing so, the group was rather large (around 50 people on the bus itself) and I knew I would enjoy seeing the town alone, making my own way and wondering the beautiful streets of Siena.

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The first stop was Piazza del Campo – the square popular for public celebrations and known for hosting the Paliohorse race. Here I stopped and took stock with a little Pistachio Gelato, taking in the atmosphere and soaking in glorious sunshine.

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Just a few streets away you had the impressive Siena Cathedral, with its exterior an interior constructed of white and black marble in alternating stripes. Like the Duomo in Florence, the queues were exceptionally long. Rather disappointing for me, as this was one Cathedral I wanted to visit completely. Sadly, with booking the tour I was time restricted so I had to move along.

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After a spot of lunch, with wine (which was included in the tour price) we made our way to a local vineyard. Visiting the region of Chianti without doing so would be criminal. At Famiglia Mazzarrini we tasted a range of local products including Chianti Classico, Spumante, truffle oil and balsamic vinegar.

With the wine tasting leaving most travellers sleepy it was time to head to our final stop off – San Gimignano. Recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1990, the medieval town offers its visitors a chance to step back in time, to wonder its cobbled streets, soak up the views over the surrounding countryside and enjoy its local products – including its Gelato. Yes! I did have two helpings of Gelato on this trip, but you cannot help but taste the local produce on a hot, Summer’s day.

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The tour was due to end, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. The long day saw us cover some amazing sites and we were able to experience so much from the Tuscany region.

DAY THREE – Florence and Pisa

The final day saw me wonder the streets of Florence for a final time, eating a bit more Gelato and tasting more vino!

I took the time to visit the Boboli Gardens after reading some good reviews. If there was one entry fee I would advise not paying it is this one. Only ten euros, but with all the free views you can get in Florence, it was not even worth that.

Shortly after visiting the gardens I hopped on the train to Pisa. Just an hour from the centre of Florence, on a pleasant air conditioned train which runs through the Italian countryside.

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Pisa is a region of Tuscany that is better known for its Leaning Tower. The 56 meter tower is located in the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). It is a iconic site that I have wanted to visit since childhood. Seeing the landmark close up and climbing the spiral staircase was one of the highlights of my trip.

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Within the Square of Miracles you will also find Pisa Cathedral and the Battistero – all of which you can enter for a fee. My advice – pick the attraction that you most want to enter and stick to that. Unless you have the budget to visit all within the square of course. Personally – climbing the Leaning Tower was more up my street, so the rest I was happy to take in from the outside.

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Soon enough the whirlwind break was coming to a close. With my belly full of Gelato, Chianti and my fast growing affection for Italy trying to prevent me from returning home I was already thinking about my next trip.

Tuscany is by no means finished – there are many areas I am yet to explore – and there will be many more Italian regions to follow I’m sure.

Ride London: Volunteering

A little over two weeks ago I was privileged to take part in the greatest festival of cycling – Ride London. Though my participation was on the other side at this event, volunteering at the start line in Stratford.

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The event, which sees keen cyclists follow the legacy of many Olympic athletes from London 2012, ride along closed roads –  a gruelling 100 miles through the capital out through the suburbs in Surrey and back into London town, with an iconic finish along The Mall.

Some 30,000 cycling enthusiasts were taking part in the event in it’s sixth year. And this year I was able to experience the scale of the event first hand – by being a marshal.

With the first wave of participants due to set off very early on Sunday morning, it is safe to say those volunteering at the start line experienced a wake up call like no other. 02:30 am was a crazy way to start a Sunday. With many part animals heading home from a heavy night – I was heading in the opposite direction to start my shift at Stratford for 04:00.

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Before the crack of dawn I had collected my kit and details of my volunteer role – I was in the thick of it with many others – walking the waves of cyclists to the start line.

And it was a long agonising wait. In the many events I have taken part in, I have always found the wait in the pens the most tedious of all. Wanting to simply get started, but having to wait for thousands in front of you to pass go before it is your turn, when all you want to do is get going. This event was no exception. All the cyclists I was guiding to the start felt the same – they just wanted to go. However, unlike running events, due to the logistics of getting 30,000 cyclists through the wait was so much longer.

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Soon enough I had got the first of my waves through to the start line – without the threatened rain descending upon us.

My second wave, those who were riding the shorter 46 miles, were not as lucky.

The UK heat wave we had experienced for months on end was forecasted to change dramatically, and it did just that. Shortly after 7am thousands of cyclists and volunteers were succumbed to torrential downpours that continued throughout the morning.

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Despite the shivers of the waiting riders, the atmosphere was still high. All involved were kept entertained at the start with music and I found myself trying to keep the spirts of those taking part up and dancing along to keep warm, whilst being completely soaked through.

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As I finally waved my second group of riders through, wishing them well, I could not help but admire their determination and ability. 100 miles is no mean feat, especially with the weather conditions they were facing. I’m sure many of them wished for a cooler race day than that we had been experiencing, but at the same time no one expected such a dramatic change.

With my shift over at just 09:30 it felt like I had been up for days. Watching the sunrise as the cyclists arrived, getting them to the start and standing for hours in the rain – it definitely felt like a full days work.

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Unlike those taking part in the race itself I was home, showered and in warm clothes within an hour – eagerly waiting on results of those I knew taking part.

It was an absolute pleasure to take part as a volunteer, to experience the scale of the event and to help send the participants on their way.

I have nothing but admiration for all who took part, for the volunteers and spectators who continued to stand in the rain throughout the day to cheer them on and the team who put such an amazing event together.

Yet another fantastic event in our city, allowing all abilities to get out there, get active and take part.

Roll on to Prudential Ride London 2019 – I will be there wearing my volunteering cap again for sure.

 

The British 10K 2018

On Sunday 15th July I took part in the British 10K for the third year. Despite running this event in previous years, I was overwhelmed by the number of runners taking part. In it’s second year run by Virgin Sport it seemed to have attracted far more participants than ever before.

The organisation in the lead up and on the day of the event was spot on. With the UK being hit with a glorious heat wave, all runners were advised to run with caution on the day. “Extreme” weather warnings were in place to ensure that runners remain sensible and organisers informed runners that the day was not one to race for a PB.

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Personally, I was quite happy to take on the advice given. To take it easy, to trot along at an easy pace and ensure I stay hydrated throughout.

Usually getting to the start of this race is rather slow. This day was no exception. With thousands of participants taking part we were set of in waves as expected with a large event. It was a good 40 minutes before I managed to get going from the start line at Piccadilly.

From the get go I maintained an easy going pace, not wanting to over exert myself too soon.

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Once reaching Piccadilly Circus the route saw us turning left up Regent Street, with street entertainment, before a sharp u-turn coming back down in the opposite direction. This then followed a nice downward stretch along Lower Regent Street before heading along Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross Road and the Strand,  along Victoria Embankment, running alongside the River Thames, across Westminster Bridge, Victoria Street and then finally heading to the finish at Whitehall.

It is a fantastic route, especially if you enjoy taking in the sights of London whilst running. These streets have formed many of my London Road races over the years. The London Marathon has seen me run along the Victoria Embankment in the final miles, London Winter Run follows a similar path along the Strand before entering the city of London and the London Landmarks Half Marathon also sees runners pass through the Strand and finishing Whitehall in the opposite direction.

There is nothing like running in London Town during events like this, when the roads are closed to traffic.

This race was no exception. As usual crowds were out in abundance, cheering on strangers and loved ones. A number of street entertainers lined the streets, from steel drum bands to choirs – all bringing the spirit of London alive.

The temperature on the day was not kind for runners. Despite the city being a fantastic place to run, you do find that there is very little breeze as heat gets trapped between the buildings. On this day London was easily comparable to a rotisserie oven. Even I, the sun worshipper, was diving for the shade or mist showers at any opportunity.

I remained strong and steady for the first half of the race. But at times when I needed to take on water, I slowed to a fast walk, to ensure that I stayed hydrated. I knew being sensible was far more important than attempting a PB, so I took it easy. Perhaps a little too easy for my liking. At times when I could have pushed myself harder, I chose not to. I was more concerned about enjoying the race, finishing and getting my hands on a another piece of bling.

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And I got round. Finishing not with my best time for a 10K race, but beating my time from 2017 by several minutes despite the hotter temperatures.

That to me was a great finish.

I have no doubt in my mind that I will back to attempt the route for the 4th consecutive year with an aim to find a pacer to keep trying for that sub 60 minute goal.

Well done to all runners who took part and thanks to Virgin Sport for another successful, enjoyable British 10K.

 

London Hike with Ultra Challenges

After the disappointment I felt for not finishing the full Isle of Wight Challenge I decided I needed to find a way to redeem myself, to prove that I had the ability should I put my mind to it and to get back on track with training.

The perfect opportunity arose with the London Hike. A shorter distance than that I faced in the Isle of Wight, with a route seeing a marathon distance through the streets of London, along the Thames path all the way to Hampton Court. With just 26.2 miles to cover it was a great way for me to focus on my own pace, to focus on me.

It was a perfect walking day. It was warm, yet slightly overcast with a gentle breeze. The polar opposite from the weather experienced on the Isle of Wight. I felt good, I had been back training on Sunday mornings, regularly clocking up an easy 9-10 miles without any issues. The training, combined with the good walking weather, made me feel ready.

Around 250 people set off from Southwark Park at 8:30am; with a split of participants walking a half marathon and full marathon distance. I was one of the full marathon walkers.

I wanted to get a good time, I wanted to push myself. So I put myself right at the front of the starting line. I wanted to have as few people to over take as possible – thinking that having to overtake others would just cause time delays.

So I headed off, at a fast pace – the pace I was used to during training. As the distance was shorter than the Isle of Wight I could afford to push myself from the beginning.

And I did just that.

The kilometres started to tick down, with very few people over taking. Those who did overtake were the lone walkers – just like me.

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The first check point passed in a breeze, after following the route over many iconic London bridges – including Tower Bridge. I did not pause at the check point, I simply just kept going. I was in the zone and there were no other walkers around me.

Just before the half way check point, I caught up with another participant who had a fear of bridges. He simply could not cross them, and therefore had to take alternative routes. He managed to cross one whilst talking to me, before branching off again as we approached the Fulham area.

Half way check point was reached in good time. I did not feel the need for much fuel at this point – I had regularly taken snacks during the first half – so I did not pick up much food, against the advice of others. I did, however, take a sugary drink and took some time to change my socks and footwear before setting off for the second half.

I quickly picked up speed as we headed towards the Thames path, through Barnes, Kew, Richmond and Kingston.

The path here was extremely dull, though offering complete shade (something that was lacking on the Isle of Wight challenge). Although I was covering the distance at a great pace, I was missing the company of my training buddies. Long distance walking can become incredibly boring on your own, especially if there is nothing to look at to take your mind off the distance.

Along the river path there were a couple of participants who over took me, which only spurred me on. I did not manage to keep up with them, but I was determined that no one else would over take me from then out.

And no one did. As I reached the 20 mile marker, then the started to count down the last six miles, it became more and more exhausting. I wanted to stop, but knew if I did then I would not get going again.

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The final stretch saw us walk through the stunning Bushy Park, with wild roaming deer, before passing Hampton Court Palace and picking up the river path again to the finish. Every step at this point was forced, I was ticking down the steps to the finish line, which was further than expected. Whilst the 26 mile marker passed, the finish did not actually come until 28.8 miles – slightly over the marathon distance, for which I felt every step.

However, pushing myself means that I was rewarded. Coming over the finish line in 9th place and the 4th female to finish.

It was an achievement I was ever so proud of. Though it was not the distance I signed up for at the Isle of Wight, It was still something to be celebrated.

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Finishing in the position I had made me realise I am perfectly capable of achieving anything I set out to do.

So no matter how bad a race goes, you have to pick yourself back up, get back into training and try again.

Pretty Muddy Kids

As my niece and nephews get older I find it increasingly difficult to buy something they would like for Birthdays and Christmases. When they were younger it was much easier to buy the latest toy, that they would inevitably grow out of in months, but now as they are getting to the point in their life where they cherish days out and making memories buying experiences and adventures for special occasions is something that I prefer to do.

At Easter, when most kids were being spoilt with mounds of chocolate, I took it upon myself to purchase an entry to Pretty Muddy Kids instead. After taking my Niece (12) and Nephew (7) to their first Park Run back in January and booking them into the 1K kids run with the Willow Foundation back in October, they have embraced the racing life and love the thought of getting their hands of a bit of bling at the end. Perhaps they take after their Auntie with their passion for medals and adventure?

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I actively encourage their passion. I love being outdoors, I think it imperative that kids embrace the outdoors and get active. And it is the perfect way to get them excited about exercise and make it an every day part of their lives.

So, last weekend, we headed off to Cassiobury Park, in Watford, to take part in Pretty Muddy Kids. Having completed Pretty Muddy myself several years ago I knew it would be a perfect opportunity to get them into the “obstacle races.” With tame, bouncy obstacles and abundance of mud the race offered them a chance to be challenged.

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The route in Cassiobury Park offered a mix of terrain – with grass, gravel and concrete path ways, and a few hills to overcome too. With the heat of the day it was not easy, my Niece went against advice, possibly caused by being overexcited, took off too fast and struggled with the running towards the end. But we slowed the pace, overcame every obstacle and given the choice she even declined the “short cut” that was offered. She did not want to miss a single obstacle.

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Being at the upper age limit of the kids race, she was rather disappointed that she was not able to take part in some of the adult obstacles. Being the same height as me – it would not have caused her any issue – but understandably rules are rules and she simply had to carry on through the kids course.

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And she did just that, loving every minute, and even managed a sprint finish up the hill to the final obstacle.

Buzzing with excitement, medal around her neck, she was already asking when she could do another one.

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So I’m already looking out for the next junior adventure. I will always encourage racing and will happily run along aside them.

Though next time we will have to upgrade the adventure, to give them more thrills.

Perhaps a Nuclear Races Rookie course is waiting…….

Vitality London 10,000

Just a short week ago I participated in Vitality London 10,000 for the first time. The annual event has been running since 2008 and it was my first chance to take part.

Previous years have seen me out of the country over the bank holiday weekend (not that I am complaining), so this year I decided to organise my holiday around the race instead.

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And what a year to be joining thousands of runners through the capital.

The day started warm, muggy and with warnings from the organisers to take extra care in the heat, I knew from the get go I was not going to push for a PB. I had not run much of late, training for the Isle Of Wight Challenge meant that I had very little time to commit to running. So, my plan was to take in the event, enjoy the course and simply complete.

What a race it was. With thousands of runners ready in pens on the Mall between St James Park and Green Park, the atmosphere was filled with excitement and nerves. Not only were there many regular runners taking part, but also Sir Mo Farah.

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Due to the sheer volume of participants it took some time to reach the start line. The pens were evenly distributed to ensure safety on course. Though once there the legend that is Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill was sending runners on their merry way – high fiving them as they passed through, myself included.

The route saw us run from the Mall down the Strand, into the city following many of the same streets as those I pounded during the London Winter Run and London Landmarks Half Marathon.

Though I have run these streets of London on numerous occasions, each race never feels the same. The routes seem so much easier in the Winter Months, when the air is cooler and kinder for runners. On Bank Holiday Monday the temperature was so very different, with the city streets trapping any kind of breeze, very little air and providing the hot and muggy conditions we were promised.

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I took it easy. Stopping a lot more than I normally would; partly due to the heat and partly due to the fact that I had not completed that many training miles in the lead up to the event.

Despite the heat, the route was thoroughly enjoyable. Yet again the atmosphere on the streets of London was infectious. Spectators came out in their thousands, some cheering on loved ones and some just cheering on strangers. Each and every one of them encouraging those who were participating – something I always miss when running local races, where there is a lack of support throughout the routes.

It was not my best time for a 10K and it was not my worst either. What it was was a well organised, enjoyable event which saw runners take on the streets of London whilst passing iconic sights of our great city.

And the best part for me was running that final 800 metres, the same 800 metres I ran during the London Marathon, along Birdcage Walk and where my Uncle was cheering me on just over a year ago.

Starting and finishing where my London Marathon journey ended all that time ago was rather sensational. There is nothing like finishing a race outside Buckingham Palace and if I never have the opportunity to run the London Marathon again, at least I will be able to finish a race in the same spot.

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The Vitality London 10,000 has quickly become one of my favourite 10K races. The organisation, the start and finish on the Mall, the atmosphere and running the iconic streets of London is all second to none.

I have no doubt that it will quickly become a regular in my racing calendar.

 

 

 

Nuclear Races – The Big One

On Saturday 19th May, when most were sipping on mimosas and watching the Royal Wedding, others were preparing for epic muddy fun at the Nuclear Secret Bunker.

For the first time, on a morning of an OCR race I woke to bright blue skies and promises of soaring heat. A perfect day to run a obstacle race, without fear of freezing after the water obstacles and, due to the lack of rain in the lead up I thought there would be less mud.

Boy was i wrong.

After a quick warm up, we were on our way and straight into the boggiest, stinkiest trenches you can imagine. Whether they were this way naturally or the event organisers ensured they were extra muddy, either way most participants were covered with mud within the first 5 minutes and the theme continued throughout the course.

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This race was called the “Big One” and it certainly lived up to its name. With a choice of 7km or 12km participants were faced with numerous obstacles, from natural muddy trenches and fallen tree trunks, to adrenaline fuelled zip lines and monkey bars over undulating terrain, there were challenging obstacles galore.

I was particularly excited about the “Lake” section of the course. Here participants had numerous water obstacles including the famous Death Slide. With the weather being so delightful the lake provided a refreshing break from the heat and mud. Previous OCR races have seen me shy away from many of the water obstacles for fear of remaining cold. This time round I embraced them with gusto.

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The Zip Line and Death Slide in particular were exhilarating – two of the obstacles I would quite happily enjoy over and over again. I definitely need further practice on the Death Slide, as where other racers remained upright, I entered the lake with an almighty back slap and gave myself a bloody nose in the process.

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For the second time I completed the 7km course alone, finding my own company and the ability to run at my own pace quite refreshing. To not have the pressure to keep up with others, to skip obstacles I was just not that comfortable with and to overcome many on my own was rather invigorating. That said – as with all OCR races – should you find yourself struggling there is always a stranger who will give you a friendly shove. The only place were it is socially acceptable for a stranger to have their hands on your backside and you actually appreciating it.

As with all Nuclear Races there is no pressure to complete all obstacles. If there is something you are not comfortable with, you can simply skip it without judgement or ridicule. I attempted around 90% – skipping the cargo net (I still have issues with cargo nets after Rat Race Dirty Weekend), and a few of the final obstacles where the panic of having too many people around when attempting something at height brought me out in a sweat.

What makes Nuclear Races so great is the way that no matter how many times you have taken part, you can never get bored. The route is always planned down to the minute detail, the organisation is always first-rate and the finish is always epic. The Big One saw a new addition, with participants sliding face down on a water slide to the finish line. A great way to end a race on a hot day.

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Yet another thoroughly enjoyable race day at the Secret Bunker!

In the lead up to the day I stated that the Big One would be my last OCR race, that I would be hanging up my muddy trainers and sticking to road races.

However, less than 24 hours later, whilst admiring my OCR kisses, cuts and walking around the house on stiff achy limbs, I signed up for the Big One in 2019. Though next year, I will have to spend more time preparing for the race itself – after all hauling your own body weight over many obstacles takes strength, something I was definitely lacking after less time dedicated to training recently.

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It is clear to see why Nuclear Races are known for their award winning fun. The atmosphere, the adrenaline and the spirit from organisers and participants alike is second to none.

If there is one OCR race I would happily be addicted to it is certainly those you can find at the Secret Bunker.

Roll on to the “Big One” 2019!

 

 

Letting go of a bad race.

When you have trained for months on end, clocking up hundreds of miles to prepare for race day and ironed out numerous issues with kit en route – the last thing you want is for the race to not go as planned. There is no doubt in your mind, especially if you have trained for the event, that the number one goal is finishing.

That was my goal for the Isle of Wight challenge. Yes, it would have been nice to achieve a great time too. But the number one aim was to finish, to fight my way through the whole 106km course.

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I never imagined a scenario where it would not happen. I had trained, I had great company to keep me going, I was feeling great.

But as detailed in my Isle of Wight challenge write up, it went terribly wrong through no fault of my own. An unseasonal heat wave on the island saw us trek in 26 degree heat, that felt like 30 degrees plus! All day in the sun, with no shade and no breeze saw me suffer more than I ever have done before.

The winter months prepared me for the long distance, for all kinds of weather. But for a heat wave – there was no way we could have prepared for that in our unpredictable winter months.

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To say that I have given myself a hard time since would be an understatement. It has been constant – believing that I had failed, that I had not prepared enough and complete devastation.

I’m sure many of us have experienced this. The bad race. The one that you had prepared for but the one where your body just would not co-operate.

It has taken weeks and weeks to let it go. And despite many people telling me achieving just half of the distance is simply amazing – you just don’t quite believe it. Your worst critic is yourself and I have certainly been that

So how do you get over that bad race?

  1. Wallow! Allow yourself to have time to mope, cry and vent about your performance. After all – there has been a serious investment into training. So if it does go wrong disappointment is natural. You should be allowed have a little vent. I’m sure many have done so at some point or another.
  2. Look at the positive aspects. Think about what you have achieved and the lead up to getting there. Despite crying from 40-53km I managed to find the strength to get to the half way point. Many times during this distance all I wanted to do is quit – but I didn’t. And I had to think about all the training miles. The Sunday mornings hiking through Epping Forest and the Hertfordshire countryside, with my team mates, and developing a stronger faster stride in the process.
  3. Analyse your performance. Once the emotions have subsided you will be able to think about what went wrong on a rational level. As weeks have passed I know the main factor that was detrimental to my performance was the heat – something I have no control over. What I did have control over was my intake of fuel. I drank litres and litres of water, so my fluid was not a problem. However, due to the heat the thought of food was making me nauseous. So I did not take on much fuel and became weak as a result. Next time round I need to tweak this to ensure I have enough energy to aid performance.
  4. Set new goals. After allowing myself some time off to relax and reflect I am now in the right head space to look at my goals, adjust them and prepare for them. The week after the Isle of Wight I had a 10 mile race scheduled, but knew I was not in the right mind to take part – so I didn’t. Instead I focused beyond that, to Nuclear Races on the 19th May, and decided that would be the event where I would get my focus back. Bar some cuts, bruises and an extremely achy body the next day, it did the trick. And this weekend (now my body is healed from Nuclear), I am ready to get back into a training schedule.
  5. Manage your expectations. It is all well and good training for months and months, but if something happens that is beyond your control: if there is a heat wave, if you pick up a cold; you have to be realistic – on those days you will not be at your best. You will most likely not be looking at a PB. So manage that, prepare for that and enjoy the race anyway. See it as another training opportunity.

Despite many weeks passing, going through a long process of analysis and generally moping about, I now know what I achieved was more than the average person could achieve.

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Yes, I am still disappointed. But the challenge was extreme, the conditions were on the same level and at the end of the day I made the right decision for how I was feeling on the day.

So if you are feeling that post race disappointment. Shake it off, re-focus your energy on the next challenge and get moving again.

A day trip to Brussels

With the wonders of Eurostar one can jump on the train and within a couple of hours be in one of many cities in Europe.

A few years back I decided to catch the first train to the picturesque city of Brussels for a day of exploring, culture and waffles.

The day started early, picking up the first train out of London St. Pancras and travelling through the English, French and Belgian countryside. Within a couple of hours I was stepping off the train in the centre of Brussels.

With only a few fours to spend exploring the city I had the sights I wanted to see planned out ready on foot.

The first stop was the Grand Palace – the central square in Brussels. Surrounded by the city’s Town Hall and the King’s House containing the Museum of the City of Brussels. Considered one of the most beautiful places in the world, the square is well known for it’s decorative buildings and it did not disappoint. With the bright blue skies in early May the UNESCO world heritage site was something to be seen. Surrounded by chocolate shops and cafes – the square was simply bustling with activity and certainly the centre of the city.

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A very short walk away from the square you will stumble across St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, rather impressive with its Gothic architecture inside and out. Free to enter, visitors can wonder inside taking in the beauty of the stain glass windows, organise a guided tour or join one of the Holy masses.

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Just a few minutes away from the cathedral you can wonder into the beautiful parks of Parc de Bruxelles – the largest urban park in the centre of Brussels. The 32 acre rectangular park offers a tranquil space away from the main hub of the city. Here I spent some time soaking up the sun whilst enjoying an ice cream and taking in the various surroundings within.

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If I was visiting for longer than a few hours I would have simply picked a spot with a good book and a bottle of wine and spent the whole day soaking up the sun without a care in the world.

13164316_10156996567775604_6471930074454933876_nFurther afield I stumbled across yet another beautiful space – Parc du Cinquantenaire, a national landmark in Brussels. The impressive arches of Cinquantenaire, home to an art and army museum, can be found outside the inner circle of the park. If time is on your side you can climb to the top of the arch for free to see a great view of Brussels and the European Quarter. For those who are just interested simply wonder around the park itself, take pictures of the beautiful surroundings, run, walk or simply sit on one of the many benches with a good book.

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The Royal Palace of Brussels situated at the front of Brussels Park, the official palace of the King and Queen of Belgians. Open to the public for free in the summer visitors will have access to certain rooms of the palace, like the Mirror Room with the artwork “Heaven of Delight” – artwork consisting of a thousand beetles stuck to the ceiling. Sadly, I visited on a Monday when the palace was closed to visitors. So I only got to admire it from the outside.

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The smallest sight I saw on my day trip to Brussels was the Mannequin de Pis – the small bronze statue depicting a naked boy urinating in the fountains basin. Of all the sights to see not only was this the smallest but also the one that seemed to be attracting most visitors.

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No trip to the Belgian city would be complete without a visit to one of the many chocolate shops or a pit stop for a waffle or two before jumping on the train back to London.

Despite being in the city for a short few hours I managed to clock a good few miles and many impressive sites.

If you ever have the opportunity to take a day trip on the Eurostar I would thoroughly recommend considering Brussels as your destination. With its beautiful architecture and culture it makes for a wonderful day trip.