Monday, 7 July 2014

The Mannheim Colour Run - race report

The weekend after my epic travels ended was the weekend of the much-hyped Mannheim Colour Run. For those not familiar with the Colour Run, it's basically a low-key, un-timed, 5km run, where you are assaulted by powder-paint-throwing assassins en-route. It's supposed to be fun and non-competitive, and as a result, it attracts thousands of competitors to each of its events, and Mannheim was no exception.

I assembled a crack team of athletes for the Mannheim event (known as team Team), made up of 8 people from the MPIA, although we dwindled to 7 on the day, owing to injuries and unexpected travel plans. We were a superb septet though, consisting of myself, Melissa, Luis, Casey G, Kate, Emer and Tom, and we were ready to kick some butt and take some names! Or, you know, wander around and get some paint thrown at us.

The fabulous team Team (minus Tom who had nipped to the loo)


As the Colour Run fell on a Sunday, it clashed with the normal long run day, where I was supposed to be taking on 22km (as were Melissa and Luis). To make up for this oversight, we decided that we would run to the SAP Arena in Mannheim, which was handily located precisely 17km from Heidelberg. So at 9am on the Sunday morning (3 hours before the start time), Melissa and I headed out, armed with maps and  bus passes (in case we got lost and had to hop on a tram). The rest of team Team were meeting us at 11am so that we could pick up our numbers and get our Colour Run kits.

The weather was predicted to be unpleasant and rainy, but for our run to the race, we experienced very little rain, which we were grateful for. I didn't much fancy hanging around for an hour at the start with wet clothes (although team Team were bringing us some extra layers, just in case). And, we managed to make good time, and not get lost at all (although we had a couple of near-misses, one of which would have added about 5km to our run). We both decided that an adventure run, that wasn't just out-and-back, was a more pleasant way to do a long run, as the uncertainty of the route distracted you from the distance. We plan on doing a few more of these for our long runs over the next 10 weeks (gulp... is that all that's left?!?).

We arrived at about 10:40, so earlier than the rest of team Team, and we waited for Luis to catch up with us (he left 30 minutes after we did, but we only had to wait about 5 minutes for him...). Then, we got in the huuuuuuugggggeee line for number collection as we waited for the rest of our team, who turned up at about 11:20.

Once we got our packs, we all donned our Colour Run t-shirts and headbands, and handed in our excess baggage to the onsite bag storage (love a well organised bag storage facility at a race) before heading to the start line. We were quite far from the front, and it turned out they were doing staggered starts. Really, given that we were planning on running (not walking like many, MANY of our fellow competitors), we should have wiggled our way to the front. Also, just before the start, the rain started coming in earnest for 10 minutes, which was particularly unfortunate for me, Melissa and Luis, as we were already rapidly cooling off from our long run to the event. Throwing our bags of paint powder into the air as the first runners headed out, covering us and our fellow runners in a multi-coloured powdery haze, momentarily distracted us, but then we were back to feeling cold and miserable for about 15 minutes as we waited for our time to start running.

As we got closer, Melissa snuck into the group in front of us, getting herself a slightly earlier start. However, she was at the back of a mostly-walking group, which I think she found frustrating. The rest of team Team got ourselves into position at the very front of the next start, and sprinted off as the tape fell to release us into the race. It was actually pretty hilarious as we seemed to be the only runners, so we quickly found ourselves leading our group by quite some distance. I've never been at the front of a race before! It felt good! But, it wasn't long until we ran into the back of Melissa's group, and that's where things started to get a little frustrating.

I have no objection to people coming and walking these type of events. We knew that there would be walkers when we signed up, and none of us were there to run a PB, or any time that we might consider fast. We just wanted to see what all the hype was about. That being said, the organisers of the Colour Run could probably do more to separate out runners and walkers than they did. Especially as the Mannheim route turned out to be on rather narrow pathways, that made passing large groups of walkers, or people taking selfies, really tricky. We were also brought to a complete stop at a couple of the Colour Stations, where volunteers cover you in paint powder that they have spewing from industrial sized vats (sidebar: wearing sunglasses at such events is something I can highly recommend!!). This could easily be addressed by doing something similar to the organisers of the Race for Life 5km events in the UK, where there are different starts for runners, joggers and walkers. People still self select into these bins, so it doesn't get rid of all the problems, but it's much better. They also request that walkers stick to one side of the course, so faster people can easily pass. 

And so, for the first 3.5-4km, we ran a ragged, stop-start kind of race, frequently walking, or leaping into fields of crops to overtake some of the walkers. But, in the last km or so, the crowds thinned out, and we were able to stretch our legs and get a fast finish. And, despite the grumblings above, I did have a good time. The paint stations were crazy, and the atmosphere was really positive, despite the rain. So all in all, I enjoyed it. But team Team all agreed that, while it was a fun experience, it's not one we feel the need to ever repeat.



Post run colourful!


As for the Colour part, that was great! And for those of you worrying about it staining, I managed to get it out of all my clothing. I haven't tried my shoes yet, but given they're fluorescent yellow, the powder really had little effect on them. The main issue I had was removing the massive amounts of blue powder that some overly enthusiastic volunteer sprayed down the back of my t-shirt, and feeling like I still had powder up my nose and in my ears for about 48 hours...

Team Team in the aftermath. Victors all!


So, my final words of advice to those planning on entering such an event: Expect to walk, try to get to the front if you want to run, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the powder, and throw as much paint at your fellow runners as possible. You'll have a good time, so long as you don't take any of it too seriously :) Oh, and be prepared for people to stare at you during your commute home!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Running 'on the go'

Whenever I travel, I try to squeeze in my running gear so that I can go for a run or two whilst I'm away. Depending on the nature of the trip, it's not always possible. But on the off chance I can get 30-60 minutes in which to run, I optimistically include my runners as a routine part of my luggage. And it is always worth the extra kilos. Running whilst travelling is a great way to see a different side of where you are visiting. Some of the best runs I have done have been tourist runs. And, when I'm travelling for work, these runs not only let me see more than just the conference centre, but they keep me sane during what can be a quite busy and stressful time.

The nature of my May/June travel was such that I knew I wouldn't be able to run everywhere, and I factored this time off into my marathon training schedule, so that I wouldn't feel disappointed or under prepared as a result of my low mileage weeks. My plan was to get a run in in DC, China, and to run my socks off during my 2 week meeting in the Aspen Rockies. Unfortunately, the DC run didn't work out, but I had more success in China and Aspen.

China!

My China trip was a one week meeting in Xi'an, home of the terracotta warriors (well worth a visit ). I arrived the weekend before and went hiking in the mountains near Baoji and Phoenix Town (home of the most epic light, fountain and firework show I have ever seen). Not technically running, but definitely strength training, as all 3 hikes contained a significant amount of up hill!

Our first hike was supposed to a straight shot 18km hike between a few Chinese gates. We had originally sought a guide for the hike, but were told that a guide was unnecessary as the path was well marked. And for the first 10k , this was certainly true, although it was clear from the overgrown bushes that no one had hike this  route for some time. Just after 10k, we ran into trouble. We found ourselves in a forest, near a creek, with no clear paths or trails. We knew we were supposed to be heading over a pass, then down the other side of the hill, but each path we forged through the bushes led us deeper into the forest with no clear way out. After about 5 false starts, we decided we should cut our losses and head back. Better a few extra km than getting lost in the Chinese wilderness after all!

Hiking into the Chinese wilderness
The 2nd 2 hikes were much more straight forward, as they both took place in a nature park along well frequented tourist trails.  The first was up Surprise Lotus Peak, a nice hike that had us walking up crazy stairways between rock walls, before ending with (no joke) an 800m stone slide to the bottom of the hill. Totally fun, and worth the massive bruises I got on my hips from the sharp stone corners ;) The other nature park hike was less exciting. We just walked up hill for a bit through the forest, then came back down on foot. Not even a little bit of sliding...





Surprise Lotus Peak hike



After that, we headed to Xi'an for the meeting. My time there was packed full with conference activities and 2 talk s(one at the meeting, one by Skype), so I only squeezed in one run. But it was lovely! It was about 5.5 km, and took me from our hotel to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. A pretty impressive tower, originally built in 652 (although rebuilt a couple of times, and renovated back in 1964). The run was great for seeing a bit of the city, and getting some much needed endorphins during a hectic week!


Running to Big Wild Goose Pagoda


Aspen!

Running during my Aspen trip went much better. I was in Aspen for 2 weeks for a conference on dwarf galaxies at the Aspen Center for Physics. My jet lag was working for me too, as I was waking up early every day, allowing me to go out and hit the trails before the majority of my fellow attendees had woken up. This allowed me to cover 57km of running while I was there (plus 20km cycling and 24km hiking). And the trails blew me away! I've put some pictures below to illustrate this better :)

My favourite run was probably the 19km trip down the Rio Grande trail. Seemingly pretty flat, it was actually deceptively downhill for the first 9km, which made the return a bit of a slog, especially with the sunshine. But it was so beautiful that it was hard to care. I ran alongside the river, out past the airport, on beautiful trails with small waterfalls coming down the sides from the snow melt. When I got back, I felt good for precisely 30 minutes before realising that 19km was probably a little bit ambitious at an altitude of 2400m (which I hadn't fully adjusted to), and promptly crashed for the next 4 hours. Whoops!

Running away from Heidelberg was certainly fun, but with the marathon looming ever nearer, I'm pretty happy to be back in one place for a few months. Time to stop messing around and get the hard miles run! Hopefully, I've not left it too late... :S


Attempting the Hunter Creek trail 
Ran into a little bit of flooding...

This was not the worst of it!


The Rio Grande trail offers a tour of the Solar System! Perfect for running astronomers ;)







An overdue post or 2...

It's been quite a while since I last updated my blog with tales of training. Life has been pretty hectic since 1st May, with trips to Washington DC (for a wedding) 2 trips to London (for a birthday and an interview) a trip to Xi'an, China (for a conference) a trip to Greece (for a wedding) and one to Aspen, CO (for another conference). As a result, I've barely had time to run, let alone blog about it! But I intend to fix that now, with lots of running and a short series of blogs on the trials and tribulations of running whilst travelling. First up, a cheeky race report from the beginning of May!


Mannheim Brückenlauf


On May 1st, I ran the Mannheim Brückenlauf, a 10k race I managed to squeeze in just before dashing off to DC on May 2nd. This race was a relatively small, local one, with only a few hundred participants. Melissa and Luis discovered it, and so I duly signed up with them and 2 other other running buddies, Casey and Helen.

I was half nervous, half excited about running a 10k race. I haven't run one in such a long time now, but it had noticed that my fast 10k training runs had been getting fast enough that I might be able to break 50 minutes and get a new PB! Equally, as I hadn't really trained for a 10k, I might not. So I wasn't sure what my expectations should be, and as the race day rolled round, I was predicting the worst.

Our organisation for race day was pretty terrible. Between the 5 of us, 2 people had vaguely looked at a map to figure out how we got to the event (I was not one of the two), and so we turned up at Mannheim train station, and sort of wandered aimlessly around the tram stops for a bit, before hovering near a guy who looked like he might also be going to the race (he was) who was standing by the tram stop we thought we should be at (we guessed right). The other guy going to the race was as confident as us about which tram to take, but in the end, we found a couple more racers and decided we must all be right (and we were).

We even managed to get off at the right stop, and our confidence about making it to the race was growing. But then, disaster struck and we couldn't find the start line! After a while, we found a promising looking athletics club, with lots of runners stretching outside it, and doing warm up laps. We headed there, confident that we had found the right place. Upon closer inspection, however, we realised that all our fellow competitiors seemed to be much younger than us, and we eventually figured out that we were at some kind of school track meet! Mortified, we headed out, after asking someone who looked vaguely in charge if they knew where our race started. He seemed uncertain, and pointed us in what we felt was the wrong direction. At roughly the same time, we had spied some fellow runner-types heading the opposite way, and so we decided to follow them. Time was running short, so Luis and I started jogging to save time. Thankfully, our gamble paid off, and the runner-types led us straight to the start, where we had just enough time to register and stash our stuff.

The weather on the day wasn't great, and it was lightly raining throughout both our adventures to the race, and the race itself. As a result, we all found ourselves getting quite cold before the race started, which I felt was an omen of doom for my PB. As we lined up, I told myself that I would start out at a sub 50 minute pace, and reevaluate at 5k. There was no shame in slowing down after all.

The race got underway, and we ran around a series of large puddles that led us out of the car park we had started in, and off to the river, which we followed for the course, crossing over it several times (hence the name, Brückenlauf, or bridge run). The route would probably have been more picturesque on a sunny day, but it was still quite a nice run, and the abundance of puddles on the path made for fun obstacles. I felt really good as we cleared the first few kms, and I started to gain confidence about getting the PB. I had also seen all my friends get a good start, so it seemed we'd all have a good race. About 3km in, we also got some impromptu music, as the May Day parade would its way along the river beside us, adding to the positive atmosphere.

I continued to feel pretty strong through the half way point, and took more strength from the fact that I was passing more people than I was being passed by, and from running past a guy who was pumping his fist as evanescence blared loudly through his headphones. He was clearly feeling the music ;) However, at about 7k,  I started to struggle. I felt really drained, and started to slow down, dropping under my target pace. I tried to reassure myself that it was just a lull, and I had built up a nice buffer that would allow me one or two slow kms, but negative thoughts started to build, and I convinced myself that I wouldn't get the PB. I continued to think like this until about 8.5km, when Melissa suddenly caught up with me and panted that we were going to do it! We were both going to get sub 50! As she carried on, I started to feel a bit more positive, and with only 1.5 k to go, I knew she was right. If I just sucked it up and pushed myself through the tiredness, I could do it! And I'd be all done in under 10 minutes, which is no time at all. So I gritted my teeth and made myself stay with Melissa (albeit a bit behind her). 

As we got close to the car park that acted as our finish line, I didn't dare look at my watch, for fear of it telling me that I wasn't going to make it. Instead, I pushed on faster, and managed to close the gap a little bit behind Melissa, leaving us only a second apart. And as our chips beeped over the line, I looked at my watch and saw it proudly displaying 00:49:00. We had done it! Melissa turned straight around and high fived me. We started celebrating as if we had won the race, which those already at the finish seemed to find amusing. But basically, I felt like  I had. A new PB of 49 minutes even. Fantastic work! Although my race certificate has an extra 12 seconds on it, but whatever, i'll take it ;) Especially as it also says I came 5th in my age group and 22nd woman (out of 78) overall! Top third!!


Me with my race certificate :)


The rest of our friends did great too, with Helen coming in under the hour, and Luis and Casey comfortably beating me and Melissa. At the finish line, we enjoyed some cake and juice, before putting on some warm and dry clothes, heading back to HD, and getting some much deserved lunch with a beer or two. Then, I ran home to pack, and begin my epic travels across 4 countries and 3 continents. More on that in the next post... ;)

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Heidelberg half – race report!


It’s amazing how relaxing running a race in your hometown is. You get to stay in your own place, so there are no worries about noisy hotel rooms. You can plan all your pre-race meals perfectly, and you know precisely how to get to the start line. It makes the whole race feel much more like another run-of-the-mill Sunday run. And so it was with the Heidelberg half marathon. A race that begins a mere 350m from my front door, and finishes less than 150m from it. It’s as local as it is possible to get!

The finish line, 150m from my flat 


The day before was almost perfect. I went shopping, and bought all the necessary ingredients for my favourite pre-race evening meal (pasta, pesto, salad and garlic bread) and my pre-race breakfast (a choice of either marmite on toast or chocolate muesli, and a banana on the side). I picked up my race number from UniPlatz, and then relaxed with a bit of True Detective as I inhaled my dinner. The only negative: I’d been struggling with some sort of cold/allergies/Sahara-smog-induced-asthma most of the week, and was feeling particularly snotty all day. I wasn’t feeling as bad as I had midweek though, which I hoped was a sign that, whatever this was, it was on its way out. Unfortunately, there was no way of knowing that for sure until the following morning. BUILDS DRAMATIC TENSION

Aaaaaaand I was fine. Well, still snotty, but not sick. Huzzah! Because, believe you me, the last thing you want when you’re facing ~400m of climb over 21.1km is a cold. Or any kind of sickness, really. It is decidedly not cool.

After waking up and realising I wasn’t sick, the rest of the morning felt very relaxed as I ate breakfast and got ready. Part of this was the ‘local race’ aspect, which allowed me to pee dozens of times without having to queue before heading to the start line. The other aspect was the nature of the race itself. The Heidelberg half is not a PB race, owing to the RIDICULOUS HILLS. There are 3 in total. The 1st is the highest. The 2nd is the steepest and the 3rd (feels like) the LONGEST HILL IN EXISTENCE. In short, not a quick route. Which, for me, takes all the pressure off! Pacing is no longer an issue. All I wanted was to finish.

In my opinion, the start was well organised. But then, I’m local so I can’t say how accurate that statement is. But I easily met up with my other running buddies, Melissa (who had just returned from Chile 12 hours ago, had a cold AND hadn’t been training), Luis (an Iron Man), Casey (a very talented first timer) and Mandy (Casey’s marathon-running sister, who paced him). It was a staggered start, and ours was the last, but at 9:30 sharp we set off, running the flat 7km through town that would lead us to the 3 hills.

Casey, me, Ben Luis and Melissa before the race - taken by Mandy


The first part went fine. It was a really warm day, but it was early enough that the heat wasn’t oppressive. I started running with Melissa, and we caught up on a week of lost gossip during the flat opening. Running through the Altstadt in Heidelberg is a really impressive way to start a trail race. When we reached the Alte brücke, some Chinese people running the race alongside us just gasped, and Melissa and I were reminded just how beautiful this city is. As we reached the first hill, sick, out of shape Melissa shot off with impressive speed, leaving me behind to continue my race alone.

Me, about to run over the Alte brücke

A view of the Alte brücke on a different day



The first hill takes you up the Philosophenweg, which starts off pretty steep, then gently winds its way up to 200m above the town, the highest elevation on the route, after about 3.5 km. The route here is really pretty, taking you above the river to an impressive view of the part-ruined castle opposite, before bringing you into the woods. The crowd support up here is also excellent, especially considering the hike people have to make to get there. Up until you move into the proper trails, people are lining the path, cheering you on with gusto. In general, throughout the event the support is fantastic, with people playing you music, handing out food and drink at unofficial stations (including beer), singing, clapping and high fiving. It’s really impressive, and very encouraging to the weary runner.

A view over town from the Philosophenweg (not taken on race day, but the week before)


Just after the 10km marker, you reach the summit of the first hill. For me, this felt like a huge milestone. Firstly, you’re halfway round. Secondly, this is the highest elevation you will reach, so after that, the rest is small potatoes (obviously, this isn’t true, but that doesn’t matter at the time). After this, you run down hill for a couple of km, which should be equivalent to a rest. But for me, it was not. For I suddenly developed one of those gut-busting stitches that nothing other than waiting for it to pass can seemingly fix. It was awful. And to happen when I finally earned a break? CRUEL!

About to hit the top of the first hill. Person not to scale.


The thing that seemed to cure the stitch was the next hill. The STEEP HILL. Apparently, the pain of the stitch couldn’t compete with the agony of this ascent. So, a win..? This hill really is something. If you’re not prepared for it, I feel like it could break your spirit. It’s not long (only 350m) but the climb is 50m, which is really quite a lot. The support beefs up here though (probably due to the proximity to a local brewery), so there’s plenty of encouragement to get you to the top. Half way up this hill, I paused to take a quick picture of the view over the river (and to catch my breath) before continuing on to the top, where you’re rewarded with water and isotonic drink before cruising back down to the town.

Taken during my brief break on hill 2


For me, this middle, flat part is somewhat hard to remember or focus on. I found it sort of tough, because my legs seemed to have become accustomed to hill running, and they were not quite sure what to do on the flat. Basically, I just want to get to that FINAL HILL as soon as possible, so I could run to the top, and then start my final descent to the finish. But my legs couldn’t push like I wanted them to.

Finally though, I reached that hill… THAT FINAL HILL. It’s only 125m of up over 3km (compared to 200m of up over 3.5 km for the first hill) but, as it begins at ~16.5km, it feels like the LONGEST, HIGHEST THING you have ever, EVER run. After the first few hundred metres, the gradient drops off, the pain in your legs and lungs lessens, and it suddenly feels much more manageable. And, here the support is as good as ever. At one point, a particularly exuberant German lady high fived me SO HARD, she almost spun me round!

After 3km (and just after the first proper beer stand, which I declined), FINALLY you start to come down hill for the last time, sound-tracked by an INSANELY good teenage drummer who is independently set up on the roadside. He was also out playing last year, and drums an excellent rhythm to roll downhill to. And once you’re down, it’s only about 500m to the finish, which flies by (especially when already-finished-speedsters Melissa and Luis are there to cheer you along, followed by friends and spectators, Amy and Remco). And, this year I had the added joy of overtaking a number of people towards the finish, which I felt pretty great about. And then, it was done! I had finished! And while I was tired, I didn’t feel quite as much like I was going to die as I had only 4 weeks earlier in Cambridge (a pancake flat course). Wunderbar! All I had to do now was return my shoe-chip and reclaim my 25 euro deposit…

Which was a NIGHTMARE. For some reason, the event crams the meeting point, all the food and drink stands, the award ceremonies, some random tents AND the chip return point into an area that’s basically equivalent to the size of my one bedroom flat. After running 21.1 km, the last thing you really want to be doing is fighting through dense crowds of people. If I could change anything about this event, it would be this. It was so awful, and at times, I feared I wouldn’t make it out alive. But, I did. For I am a true survivor! Then, I limped the 150m home, had a quick shower, and headed to Marktplatz for beers in the sunshine. Where I seem to have sunburnt just the left side of me. Which is cool, right? The two-tone look is going to be in this summer, I hear J

Post-race beer in the sun. Perfect!


The winning time this year was 1:14:44. My time was 2:17:02, which was 10 minutes faster than last years attempt, but 16 minutes lower than I finished in Cambridge 4 weeks ago. All in all, I felt pretty excellent about it. All my running buddies did fantastically, with Iron Man Luis coming in at 1:45, First-Timer Casey and Mandy at 2:04 and “I’m sick and unfit” Melissa at 2:06.  All in all, great success! J



Sunday, 23 March 2014

The beginning of marathon training!

And so it begins…

Last night (a Saturday night) as I sat at home, recovering from a slight illness, I finally bit the bullet and designed my marathon training plan. I still have 25 weeks until the ‘big day’, so this might seem a bit keen, given how most of the marathon plans I’ve seen online are 16-20 weeks long. But, I have a whole mess of travel in May/June that I wanted to intelligently plan around. This way, I don’t end up missing key runs, or freaking myself out about how little I’ll be running during those 4 weeks, because it is all accounted for in the schedule.

My plan is mostly based on others I’ve seen around (and largely from a plan put together for the Cambridge Sweaty Betty’s by trusted coach, Alan Middlebrook), as I wouldn’t have known where to start otherwise. My schedule has me running 3-4 times per week, with a long run on Sundays, medium-long aerobic runs (with a bit of tempo thrown in) on Tuesdays, intervals on Thursdays (yay! Intervals!), and then shorter tempo runs on Fridays or Saturdays (these will probably be those I’m most likely to ignore in busy weeks, just to set expectation levels ;)). I’m feeling pretty good about it. It all looks much more doable than I had imagined. Although talk to me again after some of the longer runs…

In addition to all the running, I’ve also staked out Tuesdays and Thursdays as strength and core training days. Something I’ve noticed on longer runs is that my complete lack of strength or core is what limits me towards the end of a race. I don’t plan to do much, just 10-15 minutes of exercise post-run. And I’m hoping that this, combined with my loose plan of starting to swim on a Wednesday, will give me the muscles I need to stay strong throughout training and the marathon.

So I guess that’s it! I’m off! Training has begun. And today I checked off the first run on my list: a 16 km run around the Heidelberg hills (with an elevation gain of 358m). This run was largely to get my legs re-accustomed to bad ass hills, as I have 2 weeks to go until my next race, the hilly Heidelberg half marathon. It was a tough slog, but I kept reminding myself that, from here on out, it’s not about speed or time. It’s all about building distance and strength. And running hills certainly builds your strength! Plus, the beautiful spring scenery along the way really helped keep me going. And it felt really good to change the colour of todays cell in my spreadsheet from white to green (completed!). I do love checking stuff off on lists :)


Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Cambridge half marathon - race report!

 I did it! I made it round! I didn’t stop and fall down with just a mile to go (I very nearly did though). And, I didn’t get a PB but I did get my 2nd fastest half marathon time of 2:00:47 (so close to sub-2, yet so impossibly far). Given that just a few weeks ago, I was on the verge of pulling out altogether, I’m pretty ecstatic about what I achieved. Huzzah!

Altogether, it was always going to be a tough race for me. I’m still slightly injured from the terrible are-they-aren’t-they fake Asics incident (turns out, not fake, but more on that in a bit). I was wearing brand new shoes as a result, which started to get a bit uncomfortable around mile 10. I wasn’t in top form because I haven’t been running as much as normal because of injury and travel. And, the weather was unseasonable warm, hitting 18C while we were out on course, and I’ve not run in anything close to that since some time last summer. I do better in cooler temperatures as I quickly start to feel dehydrated and overheated in warm weather. It’s all terribly British of me. Saying that, the weather this year was FAR PREFERABLE to last years snowy, freezing, mud bath of an event, even If I did run faster then :)

As for the day itself, it all started reasonably well. I had some insomnia issues overnight, so I wasn’t as rested as I would have liked, but my legs felt fresh from a week of tapering, and I was feeling positive about the run. I was staying at a holiday apartment just 10 minutes from the start of the race with two friends, one of whom was also running (Melissa), the other was supporting us after withdrawing with an injury (Sarah). Melissa and I had a brief wardrobe crisis as we realised that it was looking like shorts weather. We both had shorts with us, but this would be the first time we were busting them out. I hate making changes on race day, even small ones. In the end, we both opted for shorts, and I’m so glad we did! There were a number of others on the course who had stuck with their winter tights and long sleeved tops. They did not look comfortable.

We meandered over to the start line for 9am (30 minutes before the start) where we met up with my Cambridge running buddy, Anne. After that, we spent the rest of the 30 minutes queuing for the toilet, as is tradition, before sprinting to the start line with a minute to spare (also tradition, especially when Anne is running!).

The event itself was really well organised. One Step Beyond have been managing it since its inception 3 years ago, and have done a great job year after year. I always take part in their post race survey, and they always take any comments or criticisms on board, and make the small changes suggested. The route is also pretty nice. It’s 2 loops around the city centre, and takes in the picturesque colleges, the Backs, Jesus Green and Midsummer Common for the start/finish. The course can get a bit narrow, meaning you bunch together at times, but by and large it’s a pretty fast course (at least I’ve always run fast there). And support (especially through town and on the common) is strong too, which can be very important when you suddenly hit a wall at mile 11 or so. Also, as I’d run the course before, I knew exactly what to expect, which makes me feel more relaxed at the beginning of a race.

After our 1 minute recovery from sprinting to the start line, the horn sounded and we were off! I started out running the first couple of kilometres with Anne, which is unusual because she’s much faster than me. But once the pack opened up a bit, we said our goodbyes and she raced off. I was running pretty comfortably at a 5:30 min/km pace, which I was happy about. If I could just maintain that, I’d get round in under 2 hours, which was far better than I could have hoped for a few weeks earlier. I found the heat a bit difficult at times, but I took on a lot of water, both from my own supply, and at the excellent feed stations that were scattered throughout the course. I really liked the water pouches they were handing out. They were already opened, and easy to drink from, run with, and spray yourself with (a must for a hot day). And, they led to my ‘comedy moment of the day’. I was running alongside some guys who I was having a bit of informal chatter with. After grabbing water pouches at the feed station, one of them exclaimed that he couldn’t figure out how to get the water out, and his friend was failing to offer good advice, so I chimed in:

Me – “You’ve got to suck it and squeeze it!”

Them - exchange looks of mild horror and shock

Me – “Uh… that sounded a little inappropriate… I was talking about the water pouch”

Them - much laughter

Me – “This is a family event after all, keep it clean guys.”

Then I accelerated and left them behind. Who doesn’t love a bit of innuendo during a race :)

Me, demonstrating how to keep cool with the 'suck it and squeeze it' water pouch outside King's college


The miles continued to chug away nicely. I had supporters in the crowd at miles 6 (my mum and stepdad) the 5th/11th mile (my friend Wis), and the final sprint (Sarah, Alan, and the Sweaty Betty’s), and this gave me a nice extra boost on each occasion. Around mile 10 I started to feel incredibly confident that I would break 2 hours, as I currently had a fair bit of time in hand, meaning I could slow down substantially and still make it. But then, everything fell apart…

Just after mile 11, I went from feeling relaxed and in control, to exhausted and ready to throw in the towel. It happened so suddenly, and I’m not sure what tripped it. But there I was, with sore feet, a painful hip and no energy to speak of. My pace plummeted, and the 2 hour goal looked increasingly unlikely. Things hit a complete low in the 12th mile where you have to run over a bridge one way, then immediately turn around and hit it again. I had to walk the bridge the second time, and motivating myself to start back up was pretty tough. But I told myself that, if I did, I could still beat my 2nd best half marathon of all time (also ran in Cambridge, in a time of 2:01:05). So I gritted my teeth and pushed forwards. From there, it was all a bit of a blur. I saw Alan and the Betties, and responded to their cheers with an overly dramatic cry of ‘I’m going to die!’, then I saw Sarah cheering me on and lining up a photo of my glorious finishing sprint, which encouraged me to force a happy smile and slightly less terrible form for posterity. Evidently I maintained this for the remainder of the race, because I look determined and strong in my finishing photos, although arguably I was feeling more like the chap behind me… and my finishing time of 02:00:47 was very welcome indeed! Especially as I felt that there were no changes I could have made on the day to take off 48 seconds and make it under 2 hours. And so, it felt like a big victory!

Looking strong! Feeling like the guy behind me :)


After crawling out of the finishing area, I met up with my friends, both of whom had fantastic races. Anne got a new PB of 1:43, and Melissa ran in 1:53, below her 1:55 target. So, naturally, we did what all sensible people do after a satisfying run. Showered and headed to the pub with our supporters for a delicious lunch and a few beers. A great end to a wonderful day :)

Shoe-gate update!


My last post talked about my suspect running shoes. While sold as Asics GT-2000, they were so different from my previous shoes of the same model (in terms of their size, shape and material) that I suspected they were fake or faulty. At the very least, they were no longer good for me, having caused a number of injuries. Having investigated this more thoroughly (via Google and in-shop testing of the same model), it appears that these shoes are genuine, but are a redesign of the GT-2000 model I knew and loved. Normally Asics changes a digit when they make significant changes to a shoe, but not this time. If they had, I would have been more likely to try them, rather than just buying them. I would also have become suspicious of them much quicker than I did, and would have swapped to a different shoe sooner. But what’s done is done. I replaced the offending shoes with some New Balance 870 v3s. And I love them! Super light and very comfortable. Hopefully these will spell a conclusive end to my injury woes!

New shoes!