Bath Half Marathon 2013

Medal

I wasn’t as worried about the Bath Half this year as I was last year. Last year I hadn’t done enough distance training. This year I managed a 15K including some fairly steep hills a week and a bit before the Half, so I reckoned I was ready.

I also woke up yesterday morning having slept fairly well and without the kind of headache which annoyed me during the last Bristol Half.

Driving to Bath Racecourse to enjoy their usual Half Marathon Park & Ride scheme, the weather was a bit of a concern, though. There was a lot more frost about than I’d seen on previous years, and my car’s temperature sensor said it was ‑0.5C outside. On the other hand, I’d rather be too cold than too hot, and it was the heat that really got to me — and quite a few other people — last year.

Starting Line

A cup of tea at the race course, a quick coach ride into town, a loo stop and an idle wander around the runner’s village, and it was time to form up into our start lines. It was still so cold that I was almost tempted to keep on the £2 charity-shop fleece I’d picked up on Saturday, but I realised I’d soon warm up, so I dumped it at the side to be collected for recycling as the queue started moving.

Apparently there were 11,156 of us, and I could easily believe it for the first few kilometres through the centre of Bath. This was a bit problematic for some, as it made obstacles a lot less obvious. One poor bloke, distracted by cheering supporters at the top of a double-decker bus, tripped right over one of the traffic cones separating the two lanes of the race, which was barely visible in the forest of pumping legs. Still, he picked himself up and carried on quickly enough.

I managed to survive unscathed, and started thinking a bit about the kind of mental trickery I talked about in my last post. What could I do to make the race psychologically easier?

The problem I had with the Bath Half last time was that it’s a two-lap race. You do more than 10K, and then you do it all again.

I decided, therefore, to treat the first lap as a warmup. The first lap wasn’t part of the race at all, in my mind. The first lap was just a jog to the starting line. The real race would be the second lap.

As it turned out, this mental trickery worked well for me. The first lap passed fairly quickly — I may write a separate blog post about what goes through runner’s minds when they’re on long runs — and was no problem at all. The halfway point came up sooner than I was expecting, in fact. Around there, I spotted my friend Mandy cheering people on, too, which was a bonus.

And thus began the second lap. I decided to break it up into two 5K runs in my head, with a break about halfway through where I could eat the gel energy thingy I was carrying.

I carried on, passing again the excellent live rock band who had been doing a suitably-raunchy version of Sweet Home Alabama on the first lap, enjoying the support, passing some lovely fancy dressers, which included overtaking a Smurf, and generally enjoying myself.

After 5K more, I decided to take a quick loo break, as I’d been wanting to go for a while, and I spotted a free cubicle by one of the water stations. On my way back to the road, I took the chance to check my time and do a few mental calculations, and was pleasantly surprised.

All I had to do was jog 5K at about my normal pace, and I’d be coming in under 2 hours 45, which is comfortably under my personal best.

Of course, it’s never that easy, and though I forced down my energy gel, it didn’t seem to give me that much energy, and the last few kilometres were quite a struggle. I kept on going, though, increasingly relying more on bloodymindedness than physical strength. I passed my cheering friends José and Emma, which was a nice boost, and soon after that passed Mandy for the second time, and knew I was nearly done. And at least there wasn’t much danger of overheating, as it was still bloody freezing!

It was quite tough coming up to the finish line. There was one very happy reason for that, which was that even if I’d stopped jogging and walked there, I’d still have beaten my personal best. But I resisted the temptation and jogged all the way.

Here’s a little Vine video of my finish (you can click on it to stop it playing, if it’s making you seasick 😀 ):

In the end, I managed to get around in 02:42:05, a whole five minutes faster than my previous best time. Hurrah!

So, my sixth half marathon was definitely a good half marathon. Not only that, but as of this morning, I’d raised £215 for the MS Society on Just Giving. Thanks for all the support, you lovely people 😀

So, there we go. I’ve now done six half marathons and three 10Ks, along with a few charity 5Ks and fun runs here and there. It’s surprising how fast those medals seem to mount up…

Back to training for the Bristol 10K now, I suppose…

Gongs

Passing Around the Hat

This week, I probably won’t be running until Sunday, when I’m taking part in the Bath Half Marathon. This year I’m running to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis society. My mum died of MS nineteen years ago last month, and we still don’t have a cure or even much clue as to the causes of MS.

Any donations, big or small, would be very welcome. Thanks! (And thanks to those reading who have already given! You rock.)

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Don’t Be A Fair-Weather Runner

Rainy Portway

Recently, I seem to have been a bit of a fair-weather runner. Do you know that feeling? You look out of the window at the dark skies and the rain, and decide that you could just as well go running tomorrow, when it might be nicer.

If, like me, you live in England, you’ll already have spotted the problem here. In the last year, the chances of tomorrow being nicer have been pretty low.

Becoming a fair-weather runner puts your fitness at the mercy of long spells of crap weather. Looking back, I should have found some better running clothes, gritted my teeth, and got out there.

Even if I didn’t go out for that long run in Leigh Woods — because I’d have had to swim some of it through mud — I should have just got out for a couple of turns around the harbour, rather than letting the conditions put me off all together.

And not just for the physical exercise. There’s a big psychological advantage in regularly running in adverse conditions.

I was reminded of that yesterday, as I was getting tired on a 15K jog. I checked my distance, and found I’d only done 10K. I’ve not done much more than 10K for a few months, so I guess my muscles’ upper limit has reduced a bit.

So, I used a technique I’ve found very handy towards the end of half marathons. That technique is born of years of dragging myself out to do 5K runs whether I’ve felt like it or not. Five kilometres is pretty much my default distance, probably because it’s the distance I worked up to when I got started with Get Running.

So, that’s what I tell myself. I’ve only got 5K to go. Sure, I’ve already run 10K, or 16K, or whatever, but I’ve only got 5K to go.

And I can do 5K standing on my head. I’ve done 5K in rain, snow and ice. I’ve done 5K in howling, freezing wind. I’ve done 5K when I’ve been ill. I’ve done 5K first thing in the morning. I’ve done 5K last thing at night. I’ve done 5K when I’ve been dog tired. I’ve done 5K up a hill with a hangover.

So I can sure as hell do 5K right now.

And it works. It’s got me through quite a few last-5Ks of longer runs, as my muscles tire and I’m just left with my brain to keep me going, throwing one foot in front of the other and gradually getting the distance down to 4K, 3K, 2K… Through the last half-hour, all the way to the finish line.

There’s my motivation the next time I look out of the window and think, “Oh, gawd, it’s still raining…” My reply to myself should be, “Good! You can exercise your psychological muscles as well as your physical ones.”

Getting out in the sunshine is lovely, but it doesn’t work on your mental endurance anything like as much as getting out in the rain.

Back to the Portway

Portway Tree

Since my fastest ever half marathon, I’ve not done any jogging.

Partly this is the usual break I take after every big long race. Partly it’s because I’ve been very busy. I took on a four-week contract at my old workplace at the same time I was still working on the Android version of Get Running, at the same time as I was having a new kitchen fitted and then decorating it. As you might expect, that didn’t leave me with much time or energy for jogging.

On the plus side, I did cycle to work and back pretty much every day of the four week contract, which was good exercise, and seems to have kept any weight gain at bay, at least.

And now the contact’s over, the kitchen’s finished, and I’m back on the road. I nipped out for a little 3K jog down the Portway yesterday to start getting myself back in the habit — I find it’s best to lower your resistance to getting back into running by going out for laughably short distances to start with.

Speaking of the Bristol Half Marathon — thanks to everyone who chipped in to raise £110 for Children’s Hospice South West. It’s a great cause, and knowing that there were donations depending on my running helped me to get out there to train, and to keep going all the way around the course 😀

Bristol Half Marathon 2012

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? A few weeks ago, I went out for another long training run, and it was horrible. I was hoping to head somewhere near a half-marathon distance. Instead I did a horrible, slogging, slow 10K, and hated every minute of it.

I’m not entirely sure why — I may have been over-training, as I’d done quite a few longer-distance runs in the previous couple of weeks. And it was the evening, and maybe I was tired.

And, possibly, I might have been injured, as well. Because the Monday after that run, I could barely walk. I think I might have trapped a nerve, or something; certainly I was in a pretty poor way. Luckily that extreme didn’t last for long, with the pain gradually fading over the next couple of weeks.

But it wasn’t conducive to getting out and training. So I didn’t. I didn’t run at all, in fact, until yesterday’s Bristol Half Marathon, though I did cycle a fair bit, just geting around town.

So. I was pretty worried that I’d have another experience like my horrible Bath Half in March.

Luckily, that turned out not to be the case. I got a good night’s sleep on Saturday, after having some lovely lasagne cooked for me by my friend Emmeline. Sunday’s weather was great for running — cool and overcast, but dry — and I was feeling fairly optimistic by the time I got to the start line, even though I’d started the day with a bit of a headache. It helped that this was my fifth half-marathon, so I’m starting to feel a bit more blasé about them now.

And, to cut a long, 13-mile story short, I had a good run. As usual, I enjoyed most of the sights and sounds. Special mention to the guy who overtook me in the Portway tunnel whilst juggling three batons (that must take some practice!), and to the person in the ten-foot tall nurse outfit bouncing happily along…

I didn’t enjoy all the sounds, mind. As an introvert with a headache, I could certainly have done without the guy who dogged my heels from around the turnabout point on the Portway all the way to the finish, alternating inane, repetitive encouragement at the top of his hoarse, drunken-tramp voice with blasts on his air-horn, for example. He gets my prize for “most annoying co-runner of any race I’ve ever been in.”

But it didn’t seem to do my race any harm. I went happily through the 10K mark (where I pretty much ran into a wall on the Bath Half) and carried on jogging fine until the last two or three. At that point my legs started feeling a lot heavier, and I had to rely more on will-power and encouragement from the crowd to pull me round. But I carried on plodding, albeit rather less steadily if the RunKeeper track and stats are anything to go by, and crossed the finish line without ever dropping back to a walk.

Emmeline met me and accompanied me slowly up Park Street for my traditional post-race Rocotillos milkshake (strawberry, this time 🙂 ), and then I headed very, very slowly home for a very, very long bath. Hurrah!

The best news of all, apart from the fact I actually survived, was my official time: 2:47:33, which is my fastest half marathon time ever, beating last year’s Bristol half by about a minute and a quarter. Considering how worried I was about my training, I’m extremely pleased with that result…

All that, and I’ve raised a bit of money for Children’s Hospice South West, too. It’s not too late to bump up my total, if you’re inclined. My Just Giving page is here. Thanks!

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Eight, ten… Thirteen?

I was only going to go out for a 10K last night, but it was a lovely evening, I was feeling fairly awake, and the towpath, though pretty muddy in places, gets even prettier past my normal turnoff.

I usually just use the towpath for a quick shady jog out and back a few kilometres, or to get to the far entrance to Leigh Woods for a circular route that comes back across the Suspension Bridge. But the towpath extends beyond there all the way to Pill, and gets increasingly countryside‑y as it goes along.

So, instead of turning around at the 5K point, I headed further out, almost to Pill, and hit the 7.5K mark before turning around. I did a nice, easy pace. It was warm, and this was the longest jog I was going to do since the Bath Half in March. Plus I stopped to take photos every now and again. Shame I didn’t take a real camera out with me, but I did my best with the camera on my old 3GS and Instagram…

I was further slowed by stepping out of the way for the occasional cycling groups and sometimes other joggers; the path between the end of Leigh Woods and Pill is very narrow indeed. All things considered, I’m happy enough with 1 hour 53 minutes for the 13+ kilometres I managed.

Here’s my snaps 🙂

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Long Time No See

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I had a bit of a break after my walking holiday. I’ve only been for a few runs since, this little 5K, a 6‑and-a-half‑K, and, yesterday, an 8‑and-a-bit‑K. So at least my distance figures are heading in the right direction…

I have been keeping up the exercise momentum in general, though. Most days I’ve been trying to head out for an hour’s exercise at least, whether it’s just a long walk (mostly involving hills, this being Bristol) or getting out on my bike. The cycling’s a fairly recent thing — I was prodded back into it by my green, sustainable friend Emmeline — and it’s been fun to get back into.

Cycling’s a bit lower-impact, too, which has been handy over the last week, because I’ve done something to my left ankle that’s left it a bit hurty. Not too sure what, and it’s not that serious, but I’ve eased back on the jogging because of it, and at least the cycling gives me a decent non-pounding alternative… Seems to be on the mend now, albeit gradually.

But. Definitely time to gently pick up the jogging, especially the distance, because it’s only six weeks or so until the Bristol Half Marathon, and I want to be better-prepared for it than I was for Bath…

I’ll head out for a longer jog over the weekend, and we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully my ankle will stand up to it, and I’ll break through the 10K barrier, if only by a bit…

I’ll leave you with an iPhone snap I took at the halfway point of yesterday’s 8K, down near Sea Mills station.

From Sea Mills Bridge

Bath Half Marathon 2012

I approached this year’s Bath Half Marathon with more than a little trepidation, and rightly so, it turned out. Since the Bristol Half, I just haven’t trained enough. Partly that’s due to winter, and partly because my routine’s been knocked off-kilter by quitting my day job. I also put on some weight over the last half of 2011 that I’ve not managed to shake off yet.

I mused on this during the approach to Bath, in a coach from Bath Racecourse. I really recommend their Bath Half park-and-ride service, by the way. You park at the racecourse, then wait in a nice warm room with a bunch of other runners (and decent toilet facilities – very important before a race!), then get taken into town in a nice coach. The shuttle service back after the race runs until 5pm, and it was only £9 including the booking fee.

Bath Racecourse Coach

Anyway. Yes, I was underprepared. The longest distance I’ve done since September was 10km, and that’s just not enough distance training for a half marathon.

On the other hand, everything else was going well. I’d made sure to eat right and get enough sleep for the few days before the race, and I woke up feeling refreshed and pretty cheerful on Sunday morning. On the way to the start, the weather seemed ideal for running, cold and overcast, but not too cold. Also, because this was my second Bath Half, I knew a lot more about what to expect, from where to find the Runner’s Village to the course itself.

Grey and Overcast

Standing in the long queue for the start line, there was the usual chit-chat with other runners. The nerves of starting and a shared purpose mean that people are happy to natter to complete strangers and compare experiences. I forgot about my lack of training, and just got into the running mood.

And that was the way I stayed, for the first lap, at least. The grey skies lifted and the sun came out, which is good spiritually, but not ideal for running – a lot of people I’ve spoken to since said it was too hot for them, and I agree. I was feeling distinctly overheated by the sixth or seventh mile, and starting to lose some of my chipperness.

That said, the friendliness of the Bath Half course did a lot to keep me buoyed up. The rock band out on the pavement, the people cheering from windows, the drummers in Queen Square – all great for keeping you going.

But, sadly, with my lack of training, something had to give. Looping back past the start to begin my second lap of the course, I was already feeling like I’d run out of steam, physically at least. My feet were starting to feel sore (I ended up with some nice blisters), the heat was getting to me, and my muscles were running on empty.

Neither plenty of water nor the gel food thingy I ate helped much. I was tired, and getting more tired by the mile.

Time to start running on sheer bloody-mindedness, then. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, and keeping up a jog of some kind. It didn’t matter what kind, or how fast, as long as I kept up something that looked and felt like running rather than walking.

And I carried on. I got slower as the miles went on, as you can clearly see in my RunKeeper track, and I wasn’t enjoying myself much, but I tried to keep my mind off that as best as I could. I thought of other things, I counted how many times I passed the bleach-blonde woman who was alternating walking and running, I enjoyed the comedy outfits.

The safari team who (by dint of clever costumery) included one member being carried in a cage by a gorilla got my “costume of the race” award, by the way.

And, eventually, I made it to a point where there were only five kilometres to go. That was an important psychological point, because I can always run 5K. 5K is my default distance. 5K is the distance I’d run in my sleep, were I prone to somnambulation.

In the last couple of miles before the finish line, you start to get more personal encouragement, too, especially if you’re back with the rest of the straggling, thinned-out crowd. “Just two miles to go now!” wasn’t too helpful, as two miles sounded like a hell of a long way, but the regular “Keep going!”s and “You’re doing great!”s were welcome.

As were the “It’s just around the corner now!”s (which started, truth be told, about a mile away from the final corner, but hey.) Once I was on “final approach” I knew I was going to make it without walking, and I just kept plodding on.

In the end, I crossed the finish line overheated, astoundingly tired, and with very sore feet, at 2:58:44. That’s a whole ten minutes slower than I managed the Bristol Half, and pretty disappointing.

On the other hand, I was bloody happy to have not given up, and I still felt like I’d accomplished something, once I’d recovered a little. I did it. I jogged all the way around, albeit slowly, and at least I came in under the three-hour mark.

So. Another medal, and another finisher’s t‑shirt that doesn’t fit (one size for everyone this year, Bath Half? Really? But I forgive you, because you were really well-organised and because you have more toilets than the Bristol Half.)

It’s also, so far, £126 plus Gift Aid raised for Bristol Mind. Looking back over my past Just Giving donations – which have all been for running – that means I’ve now raised well over £1,000 for charity by getting out there and hitting the streets. Thanks, all my lovely sponsors, for giving to good causes for the Bath Half, for all my past races, and, hopefully, for races to come…

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Bristol Half 2011

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Yes, the race pack has arrived 🙂

With two half-marathons under my belt now, I feel fairly confident about this Sunday’s Bristol Half, despite the fact that the belt in question has had to expand by a notch or two in the last few months. A holiday in the Lake District actually saw me lose a couple of pounds last week — clearly I wasn’t drinking enough beer to keep up with the walking — so I’m relaxed and looking forward to the weekend.

Also, yesterday I did 10-ish‑K around Leigh Woods, and I certainly felt like I had some energy left at the end. It was nice to see a fair few other runners obviously practising for the Half — I saw a few people in race tops, plus a few guys in combat fatigues wearing hefty packs, so I guess there’s going to be a services team or two marching round, as usual.

Of course, all this confidence could be completely scuppered on the day itself by a bad night, awful weather or even just a cold, so I’m still going to be crossing my fingers a bit.

And, as usual, asking for a bit of motivation in the form of donations to the charity I’m running for, St. Peter’s Hospice. They’re the official race charity for the Bristol Half Marathon, and a very worthy local cause. I’m collecting donations on my Just Giving page — please give generously!

Thanks! And good luck to anyone else looking forward to the Bristol Half or any other event at the moment!

Looking Back, Looking Forward

It was a lovely day for a jog in Bristol. I was a bit delayed getting started. I normally walk across the top of a lock gate on my walk to the start of the towpath, but this morning the lock gate was open to let a little batch of ships and rowing boats out onto the river. So, I watched that for a while, then snapped this picture from the other side once I’d crossed.

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Then, after a 7K jog down the towpath and around Leigh Woods, I crossed over that lovely suspension bridge, and took a photo looking back on the lock.

This next picture is a scrollable panorama — if you scroll to the middle of it, you’ll just about see the lock gates to the side of the little island-like bit poking out in front of the three large red-brick warehouse buildings.

(The below picture is a scrollable panorama)

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I like these backwards-and-forwards pictures. They really give an impression of how far I’ve jogged, and, in this case, how high I climbed.

Talking about this jog with Jose — who passed me going the other way on his much longer long run — prompted me to check my headline RunKeeper stats, which led me to two interesting discoveries.

First, while I moan about having put weight on recently, imagine how much lardier I’d be if I hadn’t burned off 106,953 calories since I started recording my running, in September 2009. 106,953 calories. That’s a lot of latte and cake.

Second, in the last two years, I’ve run 974km. Nine hundred and seventy four kilometres. Which means that, all being well, as long as I get in just 5K more practice between now and the Bristol Half Marathon, completing the race will take me through the 1,000km mark. One million metres of running.

So, while I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for myself recently, I’ve got a lot of jogging done since I started, and that’s something I can be proud of. And there’s still milestones to come. Well, what with me being all European, I guess there are still kilometrestones to come, technically, but you know what I mean…

I’ll try to get out for 5K this week. Then I’ve a week of holiday, where I’ll probably be hill-walking rather than jogging, but I should be back to the normal routine after that. See you soon!