If you followed the trials and tribulations of our 2017 challenge to run 12 half marathons in 12 months – here is a little update……………… We have had a bit of a rest from the half marathons – January and February off – and I have to confess to rather missing them. So tomorrow (weather permitting – it promises to be freezing) we return to the starting pen – this time for the Hastings Half Marathon (hard and hilly).
But last night was Heathfield Road Runners AGM and awards night. And Gill and I are now living proof that running awards are not all about youth (well not in my case anyway) or speed. I think it is fair to say that we were both absolutely delighted to share the club’s award for Female Performance of the year.
We didn’t run the half marathons for an award – we ran them for fun (yes Gill we did!!) – but the award was the icing on the cake. And the reason? Because it confirmed for me what I have always believed about running and runners. That anyone can do it. And the running community is just the best – you are welcomed and your achievements celebrated whoever you are and however you run…………….
So if there is anyone out there still on the couch…………………
And so our second Heathfield Road Runners Couch to 5k programme is up and running. Around 30 new runners turned up to the first session on 15th January 2018 – so many I couldn’t count them all – but I certainly hadn’t purchased enough reflective bibs as the 20 I had with me were quickly snapped up! Fortunately, I had excellent help and support from some of the other run leaders in the club as well as other runners there to help and run with the group to make sure they were all okay.
It was June 2017 when we organised our first Couch to 5K programme that was a great success and we are now hoping to run this course twice a year to encourage people to get started and to build their confidence to the point where they can join the club if they wish.
The course is run and supported by UK Athletics Run Leaders and aims to guide people through the NHS 9 week programme to help new runners get up and moving and running 5K by the end of the course. In our first course we had 16 new runners – 14 of whom managed to get to 5k by the end of the course. Those who did not manage 5k had a range of health and life problems that made progress more challenging but we hope they may join us again in the future.
The course is very gentle to start with and really just gets people moving and used to jogging for a minute or two. Almost all people expressed disbelief that they could move from this slow start to running 5K – but we think it is the slow start that really helps. It builds confidence (more than 50% of the difficulty for most people) and helps to “injury proof” new runners by giving their muscles the time to get used to a new activity. Many of the graduates of the course have gone on to join the HRR Club and some have run 10K and even a half marathon!! Others have struggled with illness and/or injury and kept running at a lower level – although they tell us they are still glad they did it! So much so that some are repeating the course this time – and helping some of the newcomers along the way!
So what do people who completed the course last time really think? Caroline, Sharon, Donna and Ely – all completed a questionnaire for me and I have had the chance to chat to other “graduates”. These are some of the comments we have had:
“I enjoyed meeting new people and the support network – and doing something I never thought I would be able to do!”
“go for it – don’t be scared – if you can afford it invest in some new trainers”
“I’ve inspired my 11 year old daughter who is very proud of me!”
“I had been suffering from Post Natal Depression – running has really helped me keep a clear head and focus on something good”
“running on your own can be daunting at first – so running with others really helps keep the momentum going”
“running has really made me feel better about myself mentally and physically”.
“Once you get running and talking the time will fly by and you won’t even feel like running is a chore”
“I enjoyed doing something for me, escapism, making friends, improving my fitness, the challenge – I feel the course was perfect for everyone”
“I can run 10K now!”
“go for it! Don’t be scared – and if you want to progress invest in decent trainers”
“always try and get to the group once a week and try and do the other sessions in between – run with someone different each time to get to know them (and the chat keeps your mind off the running)”
“I absolutely loved having a goal each week and for us as a group achieving it together”
“Running for 20 mins without stopping – we just could not believe we did it”
“I did not expect all the help and support from all the HRRs that came along every week – There was always someone making sure we were okay and offering advice and encouragement”
“Running has been life changing for me – something that is just for me. I sleep really well and legs are toning up nicely!”
I think these comments say it all! I hope that our new runners enjoy it as much – so watch this space to see how everybody gets on!
Happy New Year everyone – and as we say goodbye to 2017 – Gill and I wave farewell to our 13.1 x 12 challenge! With some sadness (Gill may say differently) as it has been a great experience! Our December challenge was a virtual – Christmas themed – half marathon from Heathfield to Eastbourne ending up with roast dinner at the Toby Carvery! It was a relaxed and jolly affair – leaving Heathfield on the morning of Saturday 16th December at roughly 9.30am.
There is no starter’s siren today – so there are unlimited opportunities for trips across the road to use Waitrose’s facilities and stock up on jelly babies before we head south. We have quite a few people waving us off and Nicola and Matthew (from HRR) run with us for some of the way. Julie (who has actually run a quarter of the 12 with us) and Ely (one of our couch to 5k graduates running her first half marathon distance) run the whole way with us and join us for lunch. Olivia sets off from the Toby Carvery and meets us at about 10 miles and runs back with us. It is a relaxed run – rather than race – with a comfort stop at Tesco in Hailsham. We are greeted and waved along the way – sometimes by people we know and some we don’t – perhaps encouraged by our Santa hats, dresses and the Christmas playlist we have with us. Its fair to say we didn’t break any records but we had a good time and a lovely way to finish the challenge – in great company and with surprisingly good food. Rosie meets us in Eastbourne to join us for lunch and drive us home!
So this is how it went……………………………….
January: Farnborough half marathon – certainly the coldest – with a dark and early start. Still traumatised by the garage fire. Cobbles on the roads and some off road stretches – but a great start to the challenge – we are excited and enthusiastic. 2 hours 11 mins.
February: Tunbridge Wells half marathon – I’m injured – sore hip that I never fully understood – but probably related to falling off a (breakfast) bar stool! One of the best half marathons – I’ve done it 5 times – with Spring Hill in the middle to kill all conversation. Had to take it easy and nurse the hip round. 2 hours 24 mins
March: Hampton Court Half Marathon. Certainly the most flamboyant medal – a big field which was fun – fairly flat but a headwind for the last 2-3 miles. 2 hours 10 mins – my best time of the 12!
April: Paddock Wood Half Marathon – flat and fairly warm – but Gill is injured this time – her back is hurting – probably not fully recovered from March. We ran together. 2 hours and 24 mins.
May: The Weald Challenge Half Marathon. Actually 13.6 miles – mainly off road. A lovely run – tripped on a tree route at 10 miles and broke a rib but didn’t really notice until I was finished. 2 hours 39 min – the slowest of the 12 but very different to a road race and still 10 mins faster that the last time I did this race.
June: A virtual run this time as we struggled to find a run that was local and that we could both do. Very hot today – so we started early and ran 7 miles and then joined the Heathfield 10k to make up our 13.1 miles. 2 hours 24 mins
July: Richmond Park Half Marathon – laps – need I say more? The first 2 were okay and then began to become repetetive and hard work as I began to anticipate the hard stretches. But a lovely setting. 2 hours 13 mins.
August: Canterbury Half Marathon. The hardest, hottest and hilliest…………………. on August bank holiday Monday with soaring temperatures when we were expecting an English Bank Holiday of rain and chills. The one I will NEVER do again! 2 hours 29 mins.
September: Barns Green Half Marathon. Local (ish) so we ran with other HRRs – a nice route – just made the start – getting a bit complacent…………………… 2 hours 25 mins
October: Tonbridge Half Marathon. Another familiar one – really enjoyed this one – met some old friends and felt strong. Only a week after the last one 2 hours 15 mins.
November: Bedgebury Forest Half Marathon. Another off-roader and very muddy indeed. But a lovely, frosty winter’s day in bright sunshine with good company. Another favourite – possibly number 1………………………… No pressure because of the conditions – and actually a bit short on the distance (12.77 miles). 2 hours 28 mins.
December: Well you know this story……………….. 2 hours 26 mins.
My reflections on the whole experience are still to come. And I’m going to have to find something else to blog about. But if any of you out there are tempted to do the same then……. Just do it! You won’t regret it and we have a great pile of bling to show for our efforts!
So farewell 2017! You’ve been great! Loved the running and all the support along the way. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this journey. And I’ll sign off with my favourite running Christmas song!!
Half marathon number 11 is now done and dusted – here’s how it went……….
I’ve always enjoyed running at Bedgebury – mainly in the forest on the cycle trails – well drained forest roads and trails. Sometimes a bit stoney and rutted – and definitely hilly – but lovely running. Julie and I had done a recce a couple of weeks before – and the conditions were lovely – comfortable running even in road shoes. We met Jo – one of the employees at Bedgebury – who talked us through the route and was interested to hear about Gill’s and my 12 in 12 challenge. She kindly took our details and put a post on the Pinetum FB page to let people know that we are collecting PANTS for “Smalls for All” as a celebration of our 12 races. The charity collects new pants for women and children living in Africa in orphanages, slums and IDP camps – or in hospitals. They can make a difference between a girl accessing education or not and so finding a way out of poverty. I, for one, take access to clean underwear for granted and can’t begin to image what life must be like – so I hope that our 12 in 12 challenge can make a small difference!
So I was looking forward to the first running of the Bedgebury half marathon and 10k – with just 500 runners in total – a small, friendly race. On the Friday before the race emails came round from Nice Work (race managers) recommending the wearing of trail shoes given three patches of muddy ground (3, 8 and 10 miles) – “we recommend approaching the areas with caution and keeping to the left and you should be okay! No rain is forecast so conditions shouldn’t deteriorate…….” That was on Friday…….. On Saturday it rained. A lot. All day in fact! So the decision was made – trail shoes it is!
Sunday morning is cold – but dry – and Gill and I leave Heathfield at 7.45am for the 9am start. Julie is there just ahead of us and we meet Dave and Tony from HRR – also running and destined for good times. Paulette has come along and plans to run with Gill. There are plenty of puddles in the car park and the ground is covered in frost – but it is a lovely sunny day. The walk to the start is through long, frosty grass and it is soft underfoot. We start on time and the first few hundred yards are quite soft and slippery so the shoe decision is well made. And before long we are on the Pinetum paths and the forest trails – less slippery but cobbled and hilly. It is a small field so its not crowded and everyone is friendly. There is a Marshall at the first muddy patch – warning us to take care – but there is no need really as it would be reckless to do anything else. We walk, jog and hop through the mud until we are back on the tracks. Gill and Paulette are just ahead of Julie and I and they are proceeding with caution too.
At 6 miles those running the 10k peel off and head for the finish. There are just a few of us running now as we head out on a second, slightly longer lap – that has a further patch of mud……….. But is is a lovely race – there will be no PBs today so we just take our time and walk/hop when we have to. The weather is perfect – very cold – I never take off my long sleeves – but bright and sunny – just delightful! And even better – the course measures slightly short by my calculations – so we finish slightly sooner that I thought. Dave and Tony have both waited (quite a long time as it turns out) to cheer us home – thank you boys – and well done on your times – don’t know how you did them through those conditions!! Gill and Paulette are smiling – they have enjoyed it too! Nice medals – shaped like pine cones (how appropriate) – overall one of the best and most fun of the races so far………..
So there is just one race left. I must confess to feeling rather sad at that. It has been a great experience. The next one will be another virtual half marathon as there are so few organised races in December. It will be Christmas themed and we hope that a few people will come along and join us!
I have always felt rather embarrassed that I didn’t really “get” the Big Sur! What is it exactly? It sound very American and “Uncle Sam” like – but people rave about it. “Have you been to the Big Sur? Isn’t it wonderful?” Well I’ve driven down Highway one a couple of times so my answer is usually something like…….. “Oh yes! It is spectacular” all the time wondering quite what I am talking about…….. Is it the coastline? Or Route 1 itself? Or a National Park? It doesn’t seem to be a place or have a centre – but maybe I have been missing something. So finding myself in this part of the world again – rather unexpectedly- driven south by wild fires in the North of California – I decide to try and get to grips with it.
The original Spanish- language name for the unexplored mountainous terrain south of Monterey was “el pais grande del sur” – literally “the big country of the south”. It was Anglesised by English speaking settlers as Big Sur. So the rather negative connotations that I have carried with me of Uncle Sam, and a macho American life are somewhat unfounded. And it is a rather ill-defined area of coast – south of Carmel by the Sea – where the land rises very steeply from the Pacific Ocean. It has no clear centre. It is not Highway 1 – but the road does pass though it. And it is better appreciated by stopping and enjoying its peace and quiet – rather than simply driving the road and stopping, with the other tourists, at its highlights to take a look. Although that has its merit too!
We leave Carmel and drive south – the road starts to climb and wind and – despite the mist – the coastline emerges and is wild and dramatic. But the highlights of these early miles are the art-deco style bridges built in 1932 – The Rocky Creek bridge and the iconic Bixby Creek bridge. Amazingly beautiful feats of engineering. Man made structures that somehow improve rather than detract from the environment – in the same way that Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings settle into the landscape and become part of it. I read somewhere that the bridges were built by convicts in exchange for shorter sentences.
A few miles further south and we reach the first of the State Parks in the area – The Andrew Molena State Park where we walk down to a rugged and wild beach – littered by driftwood that has been built into structures by early visitors. It is quiet and beautiful with the pounding waves and seabirds for company.
Occasionally it is possible to see cormorants here – we are not so lucky.
Driving on we visit the childhood home of one of my heroes Kaffe Fassett – famous for his knitting and quilting and use of colours in his designs. His father Bill bought a log cabin on the coast from Orson Wells – and Nepenthe is now a restaurant and gift shop still run by the Fassett family. The views are unsurpassed (although wild and still misty) and go well with eggs and home fried potatoes. The gift shop is full of colour – some of Kaffe’s designs as well as other jewellers and artists. – and the smell of incense. Dream catchers, scented soap and books about yoga. It has only been possible to drive here for the last week as winter rains destroyed a bridge closing route 1 to traffic. It is still closed further south due to mud slides which have destroyed the road.
We turn and head north again This time stopping at the Pfeiffer State Park. Very quiet – almost deserted – we struggle to find a trailhead but eventually find ourselves on the Buzzard’s Roost Trail – a mere 3.5 miles but steeply uphill to the summit and panoramic views – and then just as steeply downhill again.
On re-reading my guidebook it tells me that the Big Sur is “more a state of mind than a place” – I think that I am beginning to “get” that. Once away from the viewpoints – however beautiful – the place is remote and rugged, colourful and beautiful and totally unspoilt.
Out with the old (September) and in with the new (October) in rather quick succession – just one week apart – the closest-together of our twelve halves this year. We wondered how we would manage with just a few days to recover. Just one short training/recovery run each during the week and some walking to stretch out tired muscles. As it turns out our experiences last week meant that it all went rather smoothly…………………..
An eight o clock departure from Heathfield – we are travelling separately as Gill is meeting an old friend for lunch after the run (Tonbridge is her old stomping ground) – so no banter along the way – and we are parked at West Kent College just after eight thirty for a ten o clock start. Our numbers are pinned on our vests and timing chips are on shoes…… So we have time to visit the very pleasant indoor flushing toilets as many times as we want before the off……………. and have several trips back to the cars………… and pop to the Running Hub’s stall for a chat with Cheeky where I could even have bought Shot Bloks – but I didn’t need them as I had my own bag of Percy Pigs with me. And Valerie is organising the sports masseurs for the event – so we pop in for a chat with her too! As I say – we had learned from last week…………..
The weather is almost perfect – cool with occasional light drizzle – nothing at all to moan about. The race is well organised – so 10 am arrives and we’re off. I remember Tonbridge being a hilly one – but it’s actually not too bad. Gill and I run the first four and a half miles together and then our paces begin to vary so we gradually separate. And to my surprise I feel very strong and begin to enjoy the run – quite a lot actually – it is great to run through 5, 6, 7 and 8 miles and know that you’re going to make the distance comfortably – the last three miles are my fastest (well they are mostly downhill at the end). I’ve run Tonbridge twice before – this wasn’t my fastest or my slowest. At first I thought the medals were the same each year – but careful comparison shows that somewhere between 2014 and 2017 more runners have appeared.
And it’s interesting to compare how it feels in October with the blog from January this year – when the Farnborough half marathon wiped me out for the rest of the day. This time I’m fine – I barely notice that I’ve done it. I have learned a lot thins year about pacing myself for repeated long runs ans I’m tempted to start reflecting here – but instead I’m going to wait until all twelve are done to bore you all with my thoughts on the matter………..
One thing that has struck me this year though is that regular running keeps you outside and connected with nature and the changes in the seasons. I remember the cold and wet of winter, the joy that spring and then bluebells brought – and outdoor yoga – and then how hard it is to run well through the heat of summer…………. And now autumn is with us – this year is all about fruit and berries – how prolific they are – and how beautiful the cuckoo trail looks at this time of year!
So now there is just two to go – November will be at Bedgbury – a bit of trail and a few hills. Training will be light and warm in Southern California – so it could be a tough one – we’ll have to wait and see!
They taught Latin at Gill’s school so she should appreciated the moto on the Barns Green medal – vincit qui patitur – (s)he who endures conquers…………. Well this was half marathon number 9 this year so the moto does seem fitting! And with memories of Canterbury still in our bones we set off from Heathfield with Niki in support this time! Actually the race is a Sussex Grand Prix race so we are wearing our red vests with pride and join the 7 other Heathfield Road Runners at the start line! Once we get there…………… Barns Green is a tiny place near Horsham – West Sussex and there are well over a thousand runners in the half marathon and there is a 10K race too. So our plans to arrive with plenty of time to spare are rather scuppered by the queues to get into the village and the parking. We end up in a field of long wet grass – well driven Gill – I wouldn’t have fancied it! And as always there is a tense walk to get to the portaloos…….. we have not anticipated that length of journey (enough said?). I think it is probably fair to say that we have become somewhat blazé over the last nine months (long enough to have a baby……….) and timing chips are not on our shoes – Gill’s in fact is still in the car – but she is unaware at this stage. The queues for the loos are very long and slow moving and so there is much hopping on one leg whilst my chip is attached. And I shovel in my breakfast (yogurt and malt loaf remember?). And time is really getting on now so my number and four safety pins are produced and with the help of Niki and a very nice man (Gill helpfully taking photos) attached to the red vest. When we finally get to the loos (with about 15 mins to go) you would think our moods would start to improve – but by this stage Gill has remembered the location of her timing chip (that well used swear work **** erupts) and she is off on a mad dash back through the long wet grass. At this stage Niki, wisely, heads off for the start line and I take Gill’s and my bag to the bag drop and look around to find a stall where I can buy some shot blox or something similar (I told you we were getting blazé) – but no such luck (**** – it’s catching). So I head for the start to see Gill flying back (to the portaloos – where she crashes the queue of 10K runners) and she is with me at the start as the siren goes. That was a close one…………..
And we’re off – Gill like a rocket – she well warmed up from her car park dash – and me puffing to keep up. And it is a lovely race! It is hot – and I feel it – but not as hot as Canterbury. And hilly – but actually not too bad. All the roads are closed which makes for comfortable running, the route is very pretty and there is entertainment in the form of various musical offerings along the way. The route takes us through Christ’s Hospital School – a lovely building in spectacular grounds where the pupils all wear the renowned long blue coats, knickerbockers (I kid you not) and yellow socks. Established in London in 1552 to offer education for those of potential irrespective of their ability to pay. It moved to its current location in 1902 and as a charity still offers scholarships up to 100% to able pupils dependent on a means test. Sadly, its famous band is not out playing in the quad today but it is still lovely to run through the school and it’s grounds.
At the water station at 9 miles I take on rather too much water – and regret it (and I suspect the lack of shot blox) almost immediately. There is no way of putting it nicely – so I’ll leave it to your imagination……… That’s never happened before – mental note to self for next week – get some shot blox and just little sips of water! Thanks to Gill for hanging around at a discreet distance! But I quickly recover and we are on our way again.
We are the last 2 Heathfield Road Runners to cross the line but the others have waited to cheer us home – and a team photo to finish the day!
So that’s nine races done and the tenth is the Tonbridge Half Marathon – next week……………. We really must be a little bit bonkers!
As a bit of an aside – I ran my very first half marathon 32 years ago from the village of Whalley, near Clitheroe in Lancashire. My mum was there to watch. I was 26 years old and had never run more that 6 miles………. I wore red shorts and I have lost the medal! But I remember the time – 2 hours and 8 minutes (I was very proud and very sore!!) There followed a 25 year gap before I ran my next half marathon on 22nd September 2010 – the first anniversary of my lovely mum’s death – run in Folkestone with Julie in her memory (she would probably have hated it to be honest but I had to do something). And my time was 2 hours and 8 minutes!! So this weekend’s run was almost exactly 7 years after resuming my racing (sic) career…………….. Since then I have run 20 half marathons, twelve 10k races, three 5k races, one 10 miler, one very silly 24 hour relay race in which I covered around 19 off road miles – through pitch black, migraine, thunderstorm and no sleep, 2 marathons run as a member of a relay team and 2 full marathons! Phew!
Three more halves to go this year. My mum is never far from my mind…………………
Running track for this month has to be Green Day – Wake me up When September Ends – in memory of lost parents.