Viking 100

Last year, approaching my 50th birthday, I decided on two challenges to celebrate this: running 10 marathons in 10 days, and running a 100-mile ultra. In late November/early December I completed the 10-in-10 and (apart from the couple of days with a lousy cold) thoroughly enjoyed it.

On 9th March I started part 2: the Viking 100 Endurance Run organised by Saxons Vikings and Normans (SVN).

I had decided to make my first 100 an “easy” one: no worries about logistics, navigation, or the possibility of walking off the side of a mountain while half-asleep in the small hours. Traviss, the person behind the SVN events, designed this event to meet those criteria, enabling people to try out the distance in a safe manner before going for a point-to-point or circular 100. The Viking 100 is held on a lapped course, with a 6.25 mile lap, so as a bonus I could think of it as 16 laps, not 100 miles.

Having looked at a spreadsheet produced by one of the other runners,Enda, who I knew from the 10-in-10 and other SVN events, I decided to aim for completing the first 8 laps/50 miles in 10 hours, giving 14 hours for the remainder to get a 24-hour finish. That was goal A. Goal B was completing within the generous time limit of 32 hours. And either way my parallel goal was not to get injured. I had been troubled by a piriformis niggle for several weeks, but due to work pressures only made it to a physiotherapist the week before the 100. At least I did get to the physio, and after sessions on the Tuesday and Thursday it was much improved.

I was really unsure what to take with, but Traviss said there was plenty of room in the home-base barn, so I packed everything but the kitchen sink, including six pairs of shoes (three designs, two sizes of each), complete change of running gear, additional tops and socks, two waterproof running jackets etc. etc. And a crateful of food to give more choice on top of what the organisers would supply, and warm clothes, plus the usual running bits and pieces in my KitBrix, including headtorch, backups, and spare batteries. And a 7-litre tea urn, plus a 5-litre pump-action thermos already filled with hot water, just in case anything went wrong with SVN’s urn (I’m a believer in the umbrella principle – the disasters you’re prepared for don’t happen).

Weather forecast was middling: high 10C/low 7C – so much better than last weekend – but a high chance of rain for periods both during the day and at night (exactly what times varied with every forecast I read).

Friday evening was spent madly packing, plus making four batches of my vegan flapjacks (they usually go down well with runners at SVN events, particularly the cinnamon ones), and taking the parkrun equipment down to Lloyd Park.

Alarm went off at 5 am and my husband and I managed to get into the car by just after 6, only about 20 minutes later than intended. Aidan drove while I snoozed. No travel problems and by 7.30 am we were parked at the farm and carrying my stuff into the barn. All the spaces round the sides had gone, except for at the far end, so we set up in a middle row with a few others, piling the bags and crate up plus an upright folding kitchen chair and a camping chair. Everyone had lots of stuff, so our pile didn’t look excessive.

At 07.50 or so Traviss held the usual short briefing and at 8 am Rachel counted down from 10 and we set off – up the farm drive, down the road a short way, then onto the very muddy path on the edge of a wheat field.  We had used the same route for the Moonlight Challenge a few weeks ago and hoped it would be better this time. It was worse. However, it was only a few hundred yards, then we were out of it onto a decent concrete path up to the road, down along the road for about 100 yards (or on the grass verge), then off again onto farm tracks and footpaths – a fair amount of concrete, but some softer sections.  Ignoring the meandering of the paths, the course is a lollipop: out for a couple of miles to ‘Jelly Baby Junction’ (a small aid station), around the head of the lollipop, including past the Wantsum Brewery taproom, and a field of solar panels with the grass kept short by sheep, back to Jelly Baby Junction then down the ‘stalk’ back to home base – including up the same awful section of mud. I was wearing trail shoes – initially my old VivoBarefoot Neo Trails – but even in trail shoes it was bad, and even worse on the way up the hill than on the way down.

Reading up on 100-mile races, I knew that mentally hard sections can hit quite early (as well as later), so I was not totally taken by surprise when I started to get negative thoughts while I was only on lap 3. These were centred around the possibility of injuring myself such that I wouldn’t be able to run Comrades in June. However, I kept going, telling myself I could always pull out later if any of the niggles became actual pain rather than points of mild discomfort.

Back to that mud. There was another muddy section near the start of the ‘head’ of the lollypop, but at least that was flat, and did have a hard gravel base. The start/finish section was just mud. When the rain came during the afternoon it became even worse than it had been early on. The consistency of the mud was such that while those wearing road shoes were sliding all over the place, it was sucking my trail shoes into the ground at every stride: my heels kept raising half out of the shoes, did come out a couple of times, and it took a lot of muscular effort to take each step. People started straying off the mud path into the field – which was sown with wheat, so then everyone had to be told to keep off the wheat. After a few laps my Neo Trails started to press into my left ankle and I switched to my Inov8 RaceUltra 270s, only to find that those stuck to the mud worse than the Neo Trails had – so I tried switching to my Inov8 Trailroc 235s, in case the different lug pattern helped, and they were slightly better.

Having the lap format at least meant that I had the option to change my shoes, as well as to eat from a range of options available, and during the evening and night, to drink hot drinks if I wanted to, and eat hot food (instant noodles!). There were also toilets, which I found I was visiting every lap – a combination of making sure I was drinking enough and of drinking (caffeinated) cola at Jelly Baby Junction.

Although the views were relatively limited – mostly arable fields and trees, plus the nearby A299 –  there were sections that I always enjoyed: the single-track footpath between the two wooden bridges, from which I spotted the pair of swans in the field again (as they had been during the Moonlight Challenge); the cycle path paralleling the main track on the way to/from Jelly Baby Junction; seeing Reculver castle on the skyline; towards the top of the hill in the middle of the ‘loop’, where a skylark was singing his heart out all day – I love following the amazing sound and spotting the tiny bird hanging in the sky – and another skylark during the long downhill back towards Jelly Baby Junction.

Mid-afternoon, I came into the barn and Rachel thanked me: they had turned on their hot water urn and it had promptly ‘died’ and not been revived by a new fuse. My back-up urn and 5-litre flask meant they didn’t need to send anyone out on an emergency mission to find and purchase a new urn or kettles.

Gradually, losing at least 5 minutes a lap to that muddy section, I realised I wasn’t going to finish the first 50 miles in 10 hours – in the end those first eight laps took about 10 hours 30 minutes. At that point I sat down and changed my Injinji socks for a fresh pair, as the first pair were low-cut, leaving about an inch gap to my Skins: mud was drying in this area and then rubbing against the edge of the socks, which was starting to irritate my skin. The replacement pair were longer and I was able to tuck them up under the Skins, so no more rubbing from dried mud – result.

I also put my headtorch on, and I took some spare batteries – plus my tiny back-up headtorch so I would have light if the main one needed changing in the middle of nowhere. I was wearing my new Montane Minimus jacket, since I wasn’t sure when the rain would come, so I was able to put the batteries and mini torch in the pocket of that. Before I had gone a mile I realised that the batteries did need changing, but decided they could wait until Jelly Baby Junction where there would be a solid surface. Arriving there with the light getting dimmer and dimmer, I took the old batteries out and got the new ones in, with a bit of a struggle to get the cap back on. I turned it on. No light. Opened it and checked that the batteries were in correctly. One was upside down, so I reversed it. Still no light. I then remembered that I had mislaid my battery checker so not checked that the rechargeable batteries were still properly charged. Evidently they were not. Thankfully one of the volunteers at the aid station, Derek, came to my rescue with some spare batteries, and I was on my way again – although those only lasted two or three laps before I needed to change them again (with some other batteries I had back at base).

About 10pm, when I had done 10 laps trudging through the mud, Traviss finally decided to divert us up the road, avoiding that muddy time-sink – a welcome relief to everyone. That also meant that, to make the 100 miles, he added an extra piece onto the course at the end of the 16 laps, varying in length depending how many laps you had done before the course change.

By now, in the dark, another problem was surfacing. While I had run most of the first lap with Enda, a fellow 10-in-10er, I ran most of the way alone. I like running alone (as well as with company), so that wasn’t a problem of itself. However, despite my best intentions, I had spectacularly failed to get any early nights in the week before the event: the earliest I had managed to go to bed was 11.30pm, and both Thursday and Friday we hadn’t got to bed until after midnight. There were always reasons – Lloyd parkrun photos to be uploaded, other voluntary commitments, a rare evening out with a friend, and on the Friday of course getting everything ready for the Viking 100. The overall result was that I had arrived at the 100 already sleep-deprived. While I was running I felt okay, but after 50 or 60 miles I was most definitely using a run/walk strategy, and every time I took a walking break my eyes were closing, my feet were slowing and wandering all over the road – I was literally falling asleep on my feet.

Reaching the home-base barn at the end of the lap, I decided that a short snooze was necessary. I have had plenty of experience with driving while tired, and usually 10 or 20 minutes nap then allows me to keep my eyes open for another hour or two. So I put a warm coat on, wrapped a fleece jacket around my legs, set my watch to a 10-minute countdown alarm, asked my husband to wake me if the alarm didn’t and settled into the camping chair. I was just falling asleep when a fellow runner woke me by loudly asking me when I was starting off again – turned out he was concerned that I might have been there for ages and was losing time! My husband explained I was just trying for a few minutes of sleep and he apologised. When the alarm went off, seemingly moments later, he had left a Cadbury’s crème egg to say sorry. I ate it, hoping that the sugar rush would be helpful, gulped some tea and set off again.

The whole night then followed a pattern of: set out, run and walk; by about 2/3 of the way round find my eyes closing again; get back to the barn, eat, drink, set 10-minute timer, snooze, wake to the beeping of the alarm, get up and get going again.

I had an ordinary wrist watch on, so I knew what time it was, and a Garmin (310xt) set to give me elapsed time, distance and lap pace (average pace per mile). I wasn’t sure how long the Garmin would last, so at 14 hours I started my older Garmin (another 310xt, but beginning to come apart at the seams) going and when I got to 65 miles I pressed the start button. The first one surprised me by lasting well over 16 hours. I got a bit confused once I swapped, because my old Garmin was set to time, distance, lap pace and ‘instantaneous’ pace – and the values were not in the same parts of the screen as on the other one.

I did my best to keep to my usual practice of saying “well done!” to everyone I passed/was passed by, whether going in the same or the opposite direction, but I may have missed a few during the depths of the night.

Bright points of the night hours were when I spotted small mammals along the path: several field mice, one rodent that might have been a mouse or a vole, but disappeared too quickly for me to be sure which, and a young rabbit. The first mouse was the most memorable because it paused for several seconds within the beam of my headtorch before darting back into the undergrowth by the side of the path.

About 4 am, Traviss comforted me by saying that I had only one more lap to do in the dark and it would be easier once it was light. He was correct: once the sky lightened my eyelids stopped closing and I was able to run more, walk faster during the walking breaks, and didn’t need any more naps, so the last two laps went faster. I had already noticed that the birds were beginning to wake up, and while the light levels rose I enjoyed a veritable dawn chorus – a very welcome sound. During the last lap I even heard one of the skylarks again. I was also able to see, under the solar panels near one section, the sheep grazing there – combined solar and sheep farming! Somewhere in those last couple of laps I passed Sol, another 10-in-10er – who asked me if I had enjoyed the cream egg – so then I knew who that had been, and was able to thank him for the egg.

I was quite pleased during these two loops to discover that my running speed was sometimes in the 12-minute-mile range – not too bad at 90+ miles into my first 100-mile event – although I was walking more (200-300 L-R paces run, 30-50 L-R paces walk, mostly), and had by now given up trying to run on the remaining slippery mud section, as I didn’t want to risk slipping and injuring myself at this stage. Passing Jelly Baby Junction towards the end of my second-last last full lap, Sharon gave me a freshly-fried vegan sausage in a finger bun, plus ketchup – and it tasted very good. Onwards – back to the barn, bit of food and drink and out again, still on a reasonable run-walk schedule, although with more walking creeping in.

Last full lap done, into the barn for a quick drink and a Twizzler for a last bit of energy as I set out on the additional part-lap: up to Jelly Baby Junction and back. At this point my legs suddenly and unexpectedly went on strike. I could still walk, but running became a mere shuffle and I could rarely persuade my legs to keep jogging for as much as 100 left-right steps at a time. I’m not sure exactly why, but I suspect it was a combination of: 1) I had told myself at the outset that this was 16 laps; I had completed those 16 laps so my brain was saying I should be stopping; 2) my second Garmin had now logged 35 miles, giving a total of 100 miles – again, a reason why my brain would think it was time to stop. However, according to Traviss’s course measurements and calculations I still had 3 miles to go, so I set off through the light rain (we had three periods of rain I think – mid-afternoon for a couple of hours or so, again for a while during the night and then a third after it got light again, but temperatures were quite mild and it could have been a lot worse) walked and shuffle-jogged onwards, more walk and less jog with each mile, until finally, finally, I walked up the last slope of road and found Aidan waiting for me at the turn into the drive. I set off down the drive towards the barn, Aidan beside me, and pushed my legs into a jog down the slight slope. Inside and to the table. I stopped and rang the bell – done!

Rachel timed me in at 25:50:12 – about two hours longer than I had hoped for, but I had finished.

Traviss handed me my “Viking 100 Endurance Run” belt buckle and my Viking 100 Endurance Run FINISHER T-shirt. He noted that I looked happier than I had done all night, and I explained that I’d spent the whole night struggling to keep my eyes open – I hadn’t been unhappy, in pain or even physically that tired – just sleep-deprived.

Wandering to our bit of the barn, I sat down, took my shoes off and started to peel off my socks. This turned out to be difficult because the mud had seeped into each toe of the sock and then dried, forming firm cylinders that were not easy to pull off. Still, no blisters, so they had done their job. Clean dry socks, a pair of overtrousers and a warm jacket went on quickly to stop me from getting cold. I made up my usual recovery shake and drank that, then Aidan and I packed everything up – except the big flask, which was filled up with hot water from the urn, and Rachel thought that would do for the remaining 100-mile people still out on the course. At this point I found the vegetarian hot dog sausages that I had looked for and failed to find during the night, so I ate three of them with a tortilla wrap while we were loading and getting into the car, and happily dozed while Aidan drove us back home.

 

I’m so glad I did this event. I’ve been wondering for several years – since before my three big injuries – whether I could manage a 100 – and now, despite it all, and even with the permanently scarred (so weakened) ankle tendon, I have. It was also great doing this with such a great bunch of people – fantastic people at both the main base and Jelly Baby Junction; Enda, Sharon (not doing the 10, and arriving late, but it was still great to see her), Elaine, Nick, Sol, Lucy, Kat, Mark, David and lots of other runners who have become familiar from the 10-marathons-in-10-days and from other SVN events, and Simon who I first met on the South Downs Way 50 in 2013. I am totally in awe not only of the people who ran this quickly – Robert Treadwell finishing first in 17:37:07 – but also of those such as Somei, Kat, and Lucy, who took more than 30 hours – and finished.

I’ve already signed up for Samphire Hoe 100 in March next year. Meanwhile: Comrades!

Lessons learned:

  • Avoid going into a 100-mile or other overnight event already sleep deprived. Physically I held up quite well, but the sleepiness cost me about an hour in naps at base camp, and I don’t know how long in slower walking and short semi-snoozes leaning on any solid object (such as a fence post) available around the course.
  • Load fresh batteries into your head torch the day before the run; don’t leave this to do on the journey to the event – when you might fall asleep and forget about it. Also, check your spare batteries beforehand. Do have a spare torch so you can see to change the batteries if you need to do so away from base.
  • Physically, my legs will keep going – even allowing me to keep running fair stretches – for 100 miles, which is great!
Advertisements

Return to the trails

After discovering I had stress-fractured my pelvis during the London Marathon, there was nothing much I could do to help it heal other than rest. Even swimming hurt, so I bought a pull buoy to help my legs to float, and swam arms-only two or three times a week. I minimised even walking for nearly the first five weeks, and didn’t try cycling during the same period.

My patience and good behaviour was rewarded when the x-ray at six and a half weeks showed good healing: callus formation not only on the inferior pubic ramus where there had been a visible fracture line originally, but also on the superior pubic ramus, at the point where I’d felt point pain after the marathon – which explained that pain.

The orthopaedic surgeon cleared me to start running, aiming to return to “a normal amount of running” (not a normal amount for ultrarunning!) over a period of 4-6 weeks. Taking a conservative approach, I first jogged 200 yards gently, barefoot, around the cricket pitch at my running club (nice soft ground, short grass) at 7.5 weeks and only tried a similar five minute barefoot jog on grass that weekend, eight weeks post injury. Over the next eight weeks I very gradually increased my running, to 10 then 15 minutes gentle jogging barefoot on grass, then moving to a 30-minute jog-walk schedule (e.g. seven minutes jog, three walk, x3) before finally reaching 30 minutes of running, then 40, then an hour.

Three runs were particular milestones in my return to running. The first was that initial barefoot jog. The second, seven weeks after re-starting, was running Heaton parkrun while visiting family in Manchester. For the first time, I pushed myself to run faster, not taking my run so easy, and I finished in under 26 minutes (still some way off my PB). More importantly, I was without pain both during and after that faster running.

Then this last weekend I cycled over to the Sandilands clubhouse for the Striders of Croydon Sunday run. Our standard trail run is one that I have literally dreamed about running, both during the period when I was recovering with my broken ankle and more recently with the pelvic stress fracture. The initial section takes us through Lloyd Park, then along Oaks Lane, across Oaks Road and into Addington Hills. Emerging from the woods near the Coombe Road tram stop, it’s a short section on road to Bramble Bank, a lovely undulating section of trail (but watch out for the tree roots!). Then onwards, with several sections of great running, uphill, on the flat and down, on narrow and wide woodland trails through Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve, as well as a testing uphill stretch along Old Farleigh Road before another off-road section through Croham Hurst.

I love that run, all of it, even, in a perverse way, the push up Old Farleigh Road, but in particular the trail sections.

On Sunday the whole run was amazing. I could feel my whole running form changing, becoming both more relaxed and stronger, compared to running on the road or on grass in open parks. On the final woodland downhill stretch I was flying, legs stretching, heart pumping, and a wide grin on my face that kept returning for hours afterwards.

Ninety minutes, nine miles. Still a lot of training to do to get back up to decent distances, but now I can really, truly say that I’m RUNNING again!

Not-running Comrades

At the end of May I flew from the UK to South Africa, via Dubai, to not-run Comrades.

It was a decidedly bitter-sweet experience, given that I had been training for Comrades since November last year, but I’m very glad that I went.

Why was I not running? Injury, or a series of unfortunate events: I broke my left ankle last June, got running again, worked up to a 26-mile run by Christmas and an official marathon, qualifying me for Comrades, in January. Then I got some back pain from too much sitting in a badly-fitting office chair, then a groin niggle, which I thought was referred from my back… but which turned out to be (or at least partially be) from pelvic malalignment related to decreased flexibility in the broken ankle

At 16 miles into the London Marathon I found myself suddenly unable to lift my right leg and run – I walked the remaining 10 miles, slowly and with a heavy limp. An x-ray three days later showed that I had stress-fractured a pubic ramus on my right side, which would mean no running for eight weeks if I was lucky or as long as eight months or more if I was unlucky and/or didn’t rest it properly. Running a 56-mile hilly road ultra five weeks later was not going to happen.

Since I had paid for my flights months earlier, and wanted to meet a number of people I’d been chatting to online, I decided to go anyway: even if it did mean about 18 hours of travelling in each direction for four days in South Africa. I packed carefully for the trip, including NOT packing my running shoes, so as to avoid any last-minute temptation to actually start the race. Despite knowing that I would not be running, the pre-race excitement on-line in the UK Runner’s World Comrades thread had my heart rate increasing in the days before my flights out.

Travelling to Comrades was an experience in itself: gradually joining up with other runners: first spotting one or two other runners on the flight from Gatwick to Dubai (the running T-shirts gave it away), then many more runners some with running shoes dangling from hand luggage, gradually drifted into the waiting area for the flight from Dubai to Durban. During the flight I decided the passengers probably had the lowest average BMI and highest average fitness level of any set of passengers on an airplane!

I would never have deliberately set out to travel all the way to South Africa to watch other people running Comrades, but I’m very glad I went. I got to meet lots of friends I had previously known only online, as well as make some totally new friends. I got to take part in the record breaking parkrun at North Beach (1,872 finishers), meet Ari Searlis there and get him to sign my copy of my book on the page where he’s mentioned; meet up with Bruce and Gill Fordyce again. I got to enjoy wandering around the expo during Saturday without having to just rest before the race;  I got to experience the start of the race, and learn that a small flashlight (pitch black inside the portaloos!) as well as toilet paper will be important when I finally get to do the Down run. Spending the day in the stadium, watching and taking photos, was fun and I had a further day of enjoyable socialisation with other runners before we all departed.

Leaving South Africa was a reverse of the journey out there, with a multitude of runners, many in their new Comrades T-shirts, on the flight to Dubai, and what felt like a very abrupt parting as we all dispersed through the huge Dubai airport, off to different flights home.

Not-running Comrades was a good experience. But hopefully, with a careful return to running, next year I’ll be having an even better experience, running it.

Best Book – Running Awards 2016

I was amazed and delighted to discover late last night that my book, parkrun: much more than just a run in the park, had won the “Best Book” category at The Running Awards 2016.

I poured my heart and my life into writing this book for a year. I interviewed more than 150 people in person, by telephone and via Skype – not counting the parkrunners who coped with me chatting to them at parkruns then asking them to repeat what they had just said, but this time with my voice recorder running. I gathered about 100 more tales that were sent in by parkrunners after parkrun kindly put out a call for stories. I looked through old parkrun newsletters and run reports, and cross-checked information where stories didn’t quite match (memories can be fallible five or ten years after the event).

I wanted to write a book that would inform people about how parkrun started, how it had developed over the first 10 years, what goes on behind the scenes to make it all work. I wanted to celebrate all the different aspects of parkrun (the working title was parkrun: a celebration, which then got used for the parkrun photo book), and all the different parkrunners, sharing stories of everyday parkrunners as well as some of the pioneers and key people in the organisation.

And I wanted to write an inspirational running book not about running marathons or ultramarathons, but about an event that pretty much everyone can take part in.

Given this award, I think I can say I succeeded.

Thank you to everyone who voted for parkrun: much more than just a run in the park – winning this award means a lot to me.

And thank you to everyone who supported me in writing the book: Paul Sinton-Hewitt who gave me the initial go-ahead and his backing to contact people; Bruce Fordyce for writing his wonderful foreword; Scott Reeves (Chequered Flag Publishing) for publishing it; Shelagh Yospur, Aidan Dixon and Eva Jacobs for commenting on drafts before it went to the publishers; and everyone who contributed their memories, stories, quotes and photos that made this book what it is.

Dymchurch Marathon

Rather than get up at 5.30 and drive down to Dymchurch this morning, we had booked into a B&B and drove down yesterday late afternoon instead. Walking the short distance from the B&B to a pub to eat, the wind was biting and I decided I would definitely be wearing my long-sleeved top and my jacket, as well as gloves and an earwarming-headband.

This morning was a little warmer but still a bit chilly. We walked to the race HQ on the promenade at the top of the sea wall, just a few minutes from where we had been staying. Registration was very simple – walk up to the table, give your name, get your number. It took maybe 30 seconds. They had written each person’s name on the number in large letters, which was a nice touch. Quite a few runners were running the double, so already had their numbers from the previous day. Bags could be left next by the wall, just a couple of yards from the registration/aid table. Given the short time from arrival to start, dumping of bags etc., it had a relaxed feel, much more like a parkrun than, for example, a big city marathon. The fact that lots of people knew one other added to the feeling of friendliness and informality.

To avoid getting chilled, I kept my fleece on until the race briefing started, then handed it to my wonderful husband. A short briefing from Traviss, including the vital information about the turn-around points (round a chalk marking at one end, and touching the fence at the other end of the route), and we were off. My ‘A’ goal was sub-3:50; my ‘B’ goal was sub-4:00 and my stretch goal was a PB/sub-3:47.

Traviss also made a presentation to one of the runners, Tiago, from Portugal, who has not only run 400 marathons, but is one of the few people to have run at least 100 marathons in two different countries (in his case Portugal and the UK) and has run 100 road marathons, 100 trail marathons and 100 ultras. He was wearing a Comrades hat, and turns out to be the Comrades Ambassador for Portugal.

We started with a short distance, just a few hundred yards, to the chalk mark, all in a group, then we set off towards the far end of the promenade, with the group quickly stretching out. The running was easy and my Montane Minimus jacket was soon tied around my waist. I tried not to run too fast, but it really felt very comfortable at a good 15-20 seconds/mile faster than my target speed for a 3:50 marathon. Then we reached the far end, touched the fence, turned around – and the wind hit us. Suddenly the temperature dropped 10 degrees and the running got a lot harder. I quickly donned my jacket and had to start pushing in order to keep my pace under 9-minute mileing. Back to the chalk marks, turn around – and it was warm, easy running again. The two directions were so amazingly different it was like two separate races.

Approaching the end of the second lap I dumped my Minimus and grabbed my Montane windproof jacket from my bag instead – it was perfectly adequate to keep the chill wind at bay. Back round the chalk mark, past the aid station/HQ and thankfully there were some 330ml bottles of water as well as the open cups of water and squash, so I took one of those – I’ve always prefered sipping to gulping, while running.

My nutrition strategy was very simple: one green-ear (vegetarian) Percy Pig at nine miles, then another every three miles. Slight variation later with Kendal Mint Cake instead, and I did change to one every two miles after 18 miles. I was also carrying a 25 mL bottle of Elete electrolytes so a few times I squirted a bit of that into my mouth and washed it down with the water.

Because of my speed differential between directions, there were a few runners whom I outpaced when running downwind, but they caught me up and sometimes passed me on the section into the wind. The back-and-forth, multi-lap nature of the course meant that we were all passing and repassing each other anyway, calling out encouragement, greeting people we knew – in my case, the couple who had been at the B&B we stayed at; Mark, a Comrades runner who sometimes runs at Lloyd parkrun; Simon, who I’d run with for quite a long stretch of the very cold, wet and windy SWD50 in 2013. We could also see the really fast guys, the first of whom was clearly heading for sub-3:00. I also realised that apart from a lady called Sunny, who had passed me early on in the second lap and looked very fresh and strong throughout, none of the other women seemed to be ahead of me, making me second woman!

The fourth lap my legs were a little tired but I was still going strong. By this time the air temperature was a bit higher and I’d warmed up enough that I ditched the windproof jacket and the gloves for the final lap. Turning into the fifth lap, I started to feel a bit more tired, and it took me ages to catch up with the guy in front (one of those I’d been leapfrogging with), while on previous laps I’d caught him in the first mile or so. Still, catch him I did, and we reached the fence together and turned for the final push towards home.

It was hard. Having the wind in your face when you’re trying to push the last two and a bit miles home is not easy. Having someone to run with/chase did help, and I kept reminding myself that I had less than a parkrun to go… then it was less than a mile to go. My legs were tightening up a bit now and my running partner, Keith, managed to pull away from me, but I chased him as strongly as I could (it didn’t feel very strong by then), managed one final burst of faster running for the last 100 yards… and it was done. My Garmin showed 26.3 miles and 3:49, so I’d succeeded in my ‘A’ goal if not my stretch goal. Not bad for a little more than seven months out from breaking my ankle. [Official results give me 3:49:29].

Travis gave me my medal – quite the largest I’ve ever earned – and handed me my goody bag. Keith and I congratulated each other. My wonderful husband gave me my warm clothes and a flask of hot drink (very welcome). He had also taken photos as I approached the finish line – but when I checked them I discovered I’d forgotten to put the memory card back into the camera, so no picture had been saved! He did take a couple of me with my enormous medal, using my phone.

I then made him hang around as I wanted to see Mark and Simon finish; Mark was shepherding another runner to qualify for Comrades. Meanwhile I chatted about Comrades and training with Tiago and one of the other runners. Finally Simon and Mark came in, very close together, and after a bit of chat we headed off.

Oh – and it turned out Sunny had started even later than I’d thought and was a lap behind, so I seem to have been first woman. [And official results put me 12th of 94 runners – although I haven’t counted how many of those ran it Saturday as well]

So, that’s my qualifying race done. Tiago suggested I should push on at London, try to go sub-3:40 and gain C pen, so I’ll have to make a decision about that – the alternative being to just treat it as a training run and aim for sub-4:00.

Now I’ll run easy for a few days, then from next week start pushing the mileage up. Onwards to Comrades!

Finally, 50 parkruns!

Yesterday, 10th October, 2015, at the 265th Lloyd parkrun, I finally ran my 50th parkrun.

I had originally planned to run this at Lloyd parkrun’s 250th event, back in June, which would have given me an average of one event run for every five we’d held – not a surprising average given my role as Event Director and Volunteer Coordinator – but then I broke my ankle. It’s now 16 weeks since that simple slip on a grassy bank which caused the injury, and it’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve started, very gradually, to run. First a few paces barefoot on grass, then jogging a bit on a 0.5 mile walk to the railway station, when I was slightly late for the train, working up to jogging all the way to or from a railway station 1.5 miles from home, and then during this last week, some longer runs, reaching about parkrun distance.

Putting myself down to be Tail Runner was one way (many might say the only way) to make sure I wouldn’t try to run too fast on this first parkrun back after so long. It felt really, really good to line up with the other runners, to jog along the track, including large parts of the course that I have not seen in four months, to thank the marshals as I passed them, to watch all the runners ahead of me and cheer on the faster runners as they overtook me during the second lap. I even managed to pick up a few bits of litter along the way and deposit them in the bin just before the bowling green, and collect a few route marker arrows to help the marshals (who bring back the arrows once the last runner has passed them).

I finished in a Personal Worst Time of 47:44, but that didn’t matter. It felt FANTASTIC to be running, and it’s wonderful to have finally made it to the 50-club. Of course, now that I’ve seen the new colour for the 250-club T-shirt is a really nice green, I’ve got motivation to run a bit more often. Volunteering-wise, I’ll be at 250 separate occasions before the end of 2015, earning my 25-club volunteering T-shirt ten times over, but it’s taken me since January 2011 to reach 50 parkruns, so it’s going to be a loooong time before I earn a black 100-club T-shirt, never mind a green 250-club shirt to go with the red 50-club shirt and the purple (NOT my favourite colour – I voted for the bright yellow) volunteering T-shirt.

Never mind – I’m running – and parkrunning – again. That’s what’s important.

Stepping out

For the last two weeks I’ve been back at the office rather than working from home, as I am now capable of making the journey in, and I don’t need to keep the bad leg elevated all the time. However, normally I would cycle in, and I’m not yet capable of six miles each way, half of it uphill, so I have to take public transport. Trams and trains, and 50-60 minutes rather than 35-40 minutes door to door, but at least I do have that option. Initially I was taking one crutch, as I was worried that my ankle might get suddenly tired on the journey home (and it did once or twice in the first week), but now I’ve ditched that. My ability to walk has definitely improved, both distance and speed. Additionally, I’ve taken the first tentative steps back towards running.

My first gentle jogging steps were around the edge of the cricket pitch outside the Striders of Croydon clubhouse. First, I walked round it, wearing my ‘Invisible Shoes’ – basically a 4 mm Vibram sole held on with a piece of cord. Then I decided to walk a lap barefoot – it feels so good underfoot, with the closely-mown grass, and there had been a bit of rain so there was a little give in the ground. Part way round I gave into temptation and jogged 20 steps (10 on each foot). It felt great! I walked a bit then jogged the same again. No pain. Twice more I jogged, 20 steps on each foot and still no pain. Grinning, I made myself walk the rest of the way round the pitch and stop.

A week or so later, worried that I was going to miss my train, I found myself jogging a little as I hurried along the pavement. A bit of a shuffling jog, perhaps, but thankfully pain-free.

Saturday morning, after the parkrun results were all sorted, I went for a gentle jog on the sports field. First, three minutes shod (VivoBarefoot Neo – my usual running shoe) then just under two minutes barefoot, stopping the moment I felt a twinge of discomfort in the area around the break.

Today, I walked to and around South Norwood Country Park, with a few short spells of jogging – about 50 paces per leg each time. Although I walked on the grass where I could, quite a bit was on the stony paths, and the sole of my left foot has definitely been a bit uncomfortable during the afternoon, but I’m very pleased to have walked more than two miles – a distance that was totally beyond consideration even a week ago.

Still a long way to go to regain strength, mobility and proprioception, and a lot of foot and leg muscle to re-grow, but hopefully in a few weeks I will be able to walk/jog a parkrun!