Sunday, 30 June 2013

Race report: Mont Blanc Marathon 2013 - Allez allez allez Elizabet

Sleep well

As a general, I don't sleep we'll before a big race. But nothing about this event was usual in the way I would normally prepare. I hadn't done sufficient training, I hadn't been able to eat all the carbs I should have been eating in the run up to the event and I hadn't set a multitude of targets... Just the one, do what I can, simple as that. It was paid for and I'd be damned if I was going to waste this.

Creepy clown attack
I was nervous prior to the event, not because of the event itself more more down to the fact that I wasn't worried really. I wouldn't be throwing away lots of training if I failed but I was pretty sure I was strong enough physically to get round and mentally there was no doubt I could do this. Besides, if you don't give things a go how will you ever achieve anything?

Flying start

7am and a beautiful morning in the South of France, runners were gathering at the start point. I as you can imagine started to feel the nerves and crazy thoughts kicking in as I did my final preparations, loo, banana, powerade, check tissue supply for my ever running nose and finally stay calm!

Standing to the rear of the 2000 strong crowd I was keen not to get dragged off in the rush. As I posed for a photo with the mountains behind me, a big clown in stilts ran up behind me to pose, he scared the bejesus out of me. I tell you, not what you need prior to the race start.
Before I knew it, my support crew (Mike, Katie and Andy) had wished me luck and departed to get a spot to cheer me on. The countdown happened and we were off, slightly conservative in my pace I slowly tagged to the back of the crowd and think I may well have been the last out of the blocks so to speak.... I did wonder if this might be the theme of the day and that I may not make the check points and actually finish the race. Apparently the theme of the day was for people to drop the 'H' in my name and shout Allez allez allez! 
Damn right I was kicking ass

Law of averages

As I was running the first part of the course the possible time and mile splits were whirling round in my head, all the facts and figures I have collected in my prep:
  • Average time for a marathon is around 4:30
  • My best marathon time is 4:02
  • The average time for the Mont Blanc was 7:00 and 6:55 in 2011, 2012 respectively 
  • The predicted time for Mont Blanc is 1.5 - 2 times usual marathon time
  • 3 cut off points could see me removed from the race, the final being only 5km from the finish
Seriously, what was I thinking? Then within the first couple of miles I had found a happy pace. I spotted a group of 3 lads, one of whom was sporting a Thunder Run t-shirt from last year. Turns out two of them had been there with a massive tartiflette and running as a pair. Some friendly runners started chatting to me but sadly mostly in French so part from asking them where the bank or the station was, my GCSE French did not stand me in good stead, conversational my arse!

Fill your bladder (and your belly)

Mmm snack time, cheese and sausage!
The first refreshment station came after about 10km and was water and cola with great big signs saying 'fill your bladder' - it has a different meaning but I still had a little eye roll as I contemplated the other. Happy with my time so far I strolled away, cup in hand and text the support crew to advise of my progress. I looked up then to discover hundreds of lycra clad sweaty beings clustered together... the run had come to a standstill, a traffic jam on the hill as we waited to filter onto a narrow upward bound mountain trail. After about 15 minutes we became less tightly packed and progress was being made. 

The next aid station was a buffet stop and oh it was amazing.... by now 11 miles in and the slices of salami, lumps of french cheese, oranges, biscuits, bread, banana's, cola and water was a feast to behold and accompanied by a jazz band no less. I troughed a little but mostly the sausage before crossing the tracking strip and began the ascent to the top. Slow but steady going my average mile spilt was gradually creeping up but I was still feel good despite the sweat dripping from me as the heat of the day began to hit. 

Jon, Leigh & Rob nearing the top
Before emerging from the woods my Garmin decided without warning to turn itself off......AAARRRGGGGHHHHHH stress! I had a spare but it was taking a while for the satellites to remember we were in France. I spotted the 3 lads from earlier and asked if they had a garmin and how far and how long had we been going... they did. They were my heroes, 3:30 and 13.1 miles... dead on halfway, boom!

6 degrees of separation

I stuck with the boys (Rob, Leigh and Jon) as we ascended the hill to the top and highest point of the race. As we climbed we distracted oursleves with chatter and playing the '6 degrees of seperation' (linking movie stars via movies). We started from both directions to connect Meg Ryan with Shia LaBeouf I am not sure we even ended this, we may forever leave Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dustin Hoffman languishing high in the Alps.


As my temperature rose, despite the cooling air as we rose to new heights I noticed my fingers were like little fat red sausages... nice! But alas at this height there was a solution, I grabbed some handfuls of snow to cool them down and reduce the swelling. Natures answer!

Another randomly located water station awaited us before we reached the summit, and next to the water was a truck that contained a man, his electric guitar and amplifier complete with dancing toy hula girl on top. He played music I had never heard the likes of before and yet Rob was singing along. Very random and a little surreal. 

I'm on top of the world.... la la la

At approximately 15 miles we had reached the highest point of the race at around 2200m, we took a few minutes to absorb the view. We traded camera's so we all had some pics at this, the highlight of the race. After Jon had relieved himself from the top of the mountain we continued downwards chattering sway merrily.

The Wall

Momentarily losing the boys after about 10km together we were reunited at the next buffet station where we stuffed our faces. Leigh (or 'Leg' as we should now call him) ate an inhuman amount of cheese for somebody mid marathon. Even I - self confessed cheeseaholic - was shocked by the volume of cheese and salty biscuits consumed!

On our way and back heading upwards we started overtaking slower runners but I soon fell behind when unable to overtake some. Before long I had lost sight of the boys and my conversational distraction... sad times. For a short while I was okay then somehow I went a bit loony by myself. I started to struggle. My legs were exhausted and I could feel the skin of my crawling like I was covered in ants, this couldn't be good. I sat for a few minutes on a cold rock in the shade but soon after I started to run I slipped and fell over. Uh-oh. I decided to sit again, this time getting sticky tree sap all over my butt (annoying) and binge ate a whole pack of fruit pastels and an energy gel for good measure. Onwards and upwards... I really thought at this point I may not make it to the end. As I neared the next food station I felt I could collapse at any minute.

French Angel 

At the final buffet station and final checkpoint I was near delirium and hands were swollen again like little fat - yet gourmet - french sausages. I was singing random songs from my netball years at uni (not to be repeated!), I was chatting to myself and a lot of weird thoughts were swirling in my mind. As I closed the gap toward the check point I decided to walk backwards which eased the pressure and pain in my legs but on the terrain this was not sustainable. Closer and closer but it seemed to take forever as I reached the top a wonderful marshal said 'Elizabet shall I fill your bladder?' I was so confused and couldn't get my bag off or explain how it worked but this kindly French angel put a calming hand on my shoulder and said 'don't worry Elizabet I can do it for you'. I asked if I had made the final check point, she said I had 10 minutes and therefore plenty of time. I had plenty to drink, some oranges and a then crossed the last sensor to tackle the final 5km.

Second wind

The sweets, the snacks and the drinks seemed to kick in. The terrain seemed to be getting trickier with some scrambling required where rockfall covered the trails but this would not deter me now so close to the finish and with my strength returnng. I was now running more than walking again. A tricky descent down some steep steps with a metal rail proved very difficult but luckily quite short and sharp and therefore over quickly. I updated the support crew who in return sent back more messages of encouragement and support which boosted my spirits further. I could see the time clocking up but I knew I would make the time limit for the event and at this point that was all that mattered. With less than 400m (all ascent) to go I looked up and saw first Mike's blue top, Katie's blonde hair and Andy spotted my waves and was first to return them. All three were waving and I was so happy to see them all. I tried to run a few steps but the hill too steep and my legs too tired but I made it up the hill with Mike walking the last 100m or so with me.

Final Steps

The finish line now mere metres away but between me and that was a family, runners and their supporters walking slowly towards the line together, all holding hands. I did the only thing I could, with some encouragement from another spectator... I dug deep, sped up, dipped round them and photo-bombed them at the finish line!

Most amazing event, time does not matter, I got round and had the most superb time despite the pain which soon fades. My support crew were amazing and everyone who believed I could do this regardless.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Liz vs the Mountain... the final countdown

Holy moly, it is so very close.

The bloomin Mont Blanc Marathon, what was I thinking! Oh yes I remember  that looks pretty I'd quite like to run there.... silly silly Liz romanticizing the run because it looks pretty.

This morning I ran just two miles to make sure my legs remember what to do and this is to be my last until I hit the mountain. 

As you can see from the profile, there are a few little hills but on the plus side at the refuel stations I have read there is not only drinks but cheese, sausage and bread so perhaps I will be able to have a lovely little picnic and forget all about those mean old hills!

I am as ready as I can be, the miles are not in but I feel strong both physically and mentally so bring it on!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Sweaty is a good look

With my marathon getting ever closer the rule to follow is slow, short and easy... don't be fooled by thinking that I can make up those lost training miles - thanks again dopey mare who rear-ended me giving me whiplash for the last six months... like the Murphys, I'm not Bitter!

Staying with a friend, and fellow runner, for the evening we decided we would head out before dinner and oh my goodness was it hot. In fact it felt ridiculously so.

We continued on, plagued with flies, side stitches and a multitude of passing workmen with overworked car horns and wolf whistles (is sweaty and red really sexy?) we made it through and did just shy of 5 undulating miles before finally reaching home and the golden nectar that was a cold glass of water.

Not long to go now.....eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Fake Hills

Now with less than a week to go until the Mont Blanc Marathon I am still not feeling quite as nervous as I feel I should be due to my disrupted and intermittent training but strangely I am feeling good and even more so after hitting the gym today for a treadmill run and a PT session with Emma. 

6 days away and I thought about the best way to use this time before the race and before today's PT to warm up and get my cardio in. I opted for the treadmill and thankfully I found one in front of the screen showing Wimbledon and was spared the horror that is Jeremy Kyle. I set the timer for 40 mins, hit the hill programme and was on my way at a good pace (faster than planned for Sunday's race).

Halfway through the sweat was pouring from me and I had been privy to a press conference where Venus Williams had apparently been chatting about another players relationship.... enough to take my mind of the time but no idea of the details except is that really important. I thought tennis was more sophisticated than that!

32 minutes and going strong, I knew Emma would be arriving soon to work my arms and core but I hoped I would make the end of the run before she did. Still climbing upwards but my legs feeling strong I kept going right until the end. Not quite the satisfaction I am sure I will feel when I reach the peaks of the Alps but satisfying none the less and also gave me a little more confidence about the mountainous task coming my way. 

Friday, 21 June 2013

Burn off the scones!

The cycling was the bulk of my visit exercise, but today was my speciality... running. Plus, both myself had the scone from yesterday to burn off... or perhaps to prepare ourselves for the one more we planned to eat on arrival back from our morning run as elevenses!

4 miles was decided upon with a slight incline on the outward route meaning a slightly easier sloping downward on the return route. We ran on small country lanes and onto the disused railway track that forms part of the Downs Link whilst chatting away merrily about running and our upcoming races and events. 

Plenty of dog walkers seemed to be out on this warm morning although not many other runners were spotted, suppose everyone must be at work! A pleasant run and soon we were back again and ready to indulge once again in homebaking!

Yesterday we had the debate along with my cousin of jam on cream, or cream on jam... we had decided collectively that butter is not required but we did differ on opinion as to the order of our remaining toppings! My cousin opts for spreading the cream and a dollop of jam on top whereas myself and my aunty go the more traditional and old school route of spread the jam and then load with cream (as per the image). Apparently we are not the only one to have this debate and it has long raged between the county's of Devon and Cornwall, if you are so inclined and want to get a craving for scones read on! 

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Cottages & Farmhouses

Staying with my favourite aunty it is always necessary to arrive prepared to work... whether that be house work or workout you need to be prepared. In return you will get good advice, inspiration and some lovely home baking!

In the old days it was work in the most basic and manual sense such as tiling bathrooms, digging holes, helping with the lambing, painting a wall but these days after her inspirational rise to the heights of Team GB in the triathlon in Australia it is more set around an exercise of one of those disciplines. As this visit was to be an overnighter it looked as though we would be hitting 2 out of 3. 

We decided a bike ride was the top option for today and that as I am the weaker of the two of us as cyclists, be it with my hybrid bike and unconditioned legs we decided around 2 hours would be sufficient and that I could knock out about 12mph (quite slow for my favourite aunty but a push for me). The route was along lovely country roads, past farmhouses and cottages in the depths of Sussex, the route was undulating with longer, slower hills than I am used to and not having attended spin for about a month my legs could feel the build up of lactic acid as I pushed onwards and upwards. 

The halfway point gave me a little respite as I scoffed a cereal bar before continuing on our way. A useful tip before we started was to adjust the angle of my seat which by this time was paying dividends as I have no cycling discomfort which lasted throughout and following the ride. 

The final count was 22 miles and the pace a little faster than target but going upstairs to the shower my legs were slightly jellyish! This was soon rectified with fresh baked scones, clotted cream and jam, all washed down by a big mug of tea, perfect day! 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

In the summertime when the weather is hot... can feel almost impossible to run! When this happens it is wise to just take a break, drink some water and make a decision whether to carry on or not. Sadly I was doing an out and back run and the overwhelming heat seemed not to become too much until I reached the 5 mile turnaround point...doh!

I had been employing the ultra tactic of run 25 / walk 5 minutes and by the time I had reached the halfway mark all I want to do was lie down in the shade and eat an ice lolly. Neither was immediately available so I opted for some walking and sipping on my sun warmed plastic tasting water...nasty! 

On the plus side I was on the lovely Forest Way and enjoying the great surroundings and running when I could and resting when I needed to. Before long I had found a slower than usual but faster than walking pace and settled into it... until I saw something.

A distraction.... an excuse to stop again....something that looked like an extra big fat worm... A SNAKE! I took this opportunity to stop and supervise the snakes passage across the path busy with cyclists, families and walkers like a wildlife lollipop lady. He dawdled and took his time, had a near miss with a lady on a bike until she realised what I was looking at and soon enough he was safe in the bushes. I no longer had an excuse to stand around so off I trotted. 

Targeting a female runner in the distance I focussed on catching up with her rather than the heat, distance and sweat that was rolling into my eyes and stinging. I came closer and closer and then she started walking... this was my chance but before I could gain enough ground she was off again. It was another distraction but one I needed, I kept her in sight gradually gaining on her and as I reached the end of the path and my car I had just caught up. We gave the perfunctory nod/smile/grunt and I collapsed exhausted and hot against my car.

Not the greatest of runs but the scenery was nice, other users friendly and I saw a wild snake, awesome!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Buttercup Toes, Cats, Gene Simmons & a lovely cake!

To be clear to all the run this morning was for me a long run, for Jerry, a not so long run but a great opportunity to get out and also eat cake! My specification was about 14 miles knowing that Jerry may add a few more on and my maximum was about 16 but sometimes best not to share this with Jerry up front - and he knows I am a little flexible in my preferred distances.

This blog will be a toughy to write, myself and Jerry have not run together for a while and therefore so many topics were covered and I am sure our accounts will vary wildly but with some crucial crossovers which I will allow your own game of 'spot the difference between Fibre Runners and The Magic Forest. 

As we set out nice and early near Keston we entered a filed full of wildflowers, these soon became caught up between the toes of Jerry's monkey feet much to our delight as it appeared he have collected a full bouquet. I feel the delight of this may have soon worn off as throughout the run this did happen many times!

As we progressed through our wonderful countryside route, visiting many routes of old of Jerry's we passed many animals and the fantastically painted house of Mole End. Amongst the animals on our journey we saw many horses, some goats (at Foal Farm) that I can only assume to be Circus goats as they spent so much time walking around on two legs rather than 4. 
Of the many horses one that caught us by surprise as he rounded a bus on us was a huge black stallion with long flowing locks, I determined that he would from now on be known as Gene Simmons the horse as he was in fact as I suspect the Kiss star would look if transformed to a horse in his heyday

We had determined that my requested slow pace was not quote slow enough and if we were to be at the Cake... shop for when it opened we would need to slow down so  a detour to a local cat sanctuary was suggested. In a scene reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, we arrived to no animals to soon be surrounded by a great number of cats as they slunk out the all sorts of sheds and nooks and crannies to welcome us.

On arrival at 'Cake...' we were still 20 minutes before opening but our sad forlorn faces pressed up against the window did the trick and we were welcomed to have our tea and cake a little early. Both opting for a Lemon and Blueberry Cake (healthy because of the fruit you see) we sat outside and enjoyed this special treat as we watched the seemingly hundreds of cyclists go up and down the road with a slight twinge of cake envy in their eyes!

The final mile or so back to the car was slow with cake and tea sloshing about inside our tummies, a nice was to end a lovely little jaunt out to the downs and the Surrey Hills.

NOTE: Please be aware we have now encountered the Kent Monkeys, they are troublesome fellows who live among the buttercups, they have white tails but are most definitely monkeys and quite shy amongst humans.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Central Park(run) - New York Baby Yeah

During our trip to the states I knew I wouldn't be able to get in as many runs
as perhaps I should be but this one 
was important... a run in Central Park in
New York. How could I possibly forgo this opportunity, I couldn't.

Waking early on our first morning there I had got my kit out ready and got changed promptly. I had it on good authority from the hotel concierge that the park was only a few blocks away and a direct route. I turned on my Garmin and started towards Broadway... it was pretty busy so I delayed the start of the run until it cleared a little. I passed the Hersheys store where they were handing out free samples, I politely declined and they said that's okay as I was clearly working out. I crossed my fingers they would be there on the way back.

I reached the edge of the park and saw many early morning runners out despite the grey day and impending rain. There is a clearly marked run route through the park which follows the road. I started to follow this and sadly my Garmin had not yet managed to find any satellites. This left me with a little dilemma as I wasn't sure how far I had come and with only a short time in NYC we wanted to maximise all sightseeing possible today. I made a call after about half an hour to head back, at which point my Garmin decided to play ball.

As I ran I took in my surroundings, a huge and surprisingly wooded park, full of commuters and fitness enthusiasts, dog walkers and the NYPD. The other runners I found to be not very friendly, well I nodded my hello's and said good morning to most with not one response! And people think Londoners can be rude!

Perhaps one day I'll be back and running through Central Park as part of the New York marathon, who knows what the future may hold!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Blazing Saddles across the Golden Gate Bridge

Day 3 in San Francisco and todays plan was to bike the bridge. I was pretty excited to say the least and had already bought a cycle jersey for the occasion. The company of choice was Blazing Saddles as with about 10 shops all within about 4 blocks of each other and the promise to price match it was a no brainer. Along the bay trail we were soon at the famous Golden Gate Bridge and as we approached it was clear that the mist was not going to clear. It was busy and a little nerve wracking as we made our way forward. By half way we were still hidden in the musts but alas as we reached about 3/4 across the 1.2 mile icon the mist cleared and we could see the blue sky breaking through at the same time that immense red structure showing all its glory. After the bridge we had a nice downward hill to Sausalito where stopped for a smoothie before setting forth once again towards the giant redwoods in Old Mill Park. Passing 'mikes bikes' we stopped for the obligatory photo op before continuing along the bike path. Now 18 miles into the ride the sun was bearing down but we had reached the giant redwoods where we took a little rest and looked up at the trees. Immense! Back on the road cooler and better for a short break we headed down to Tiberon where we would catch the ferry back to San Francisco and our dinner! The ride was a little longer than we thought but made better by the great scenery, houseboats and all American town. We refreshed ourselves in happy hour with a mojito whilst waiting for the ferry. The ferry back took about 20 minutes then another mile down the road we were back at base. Handing back our bikes, 26.5 miles on the garmin we headed to Joes Crab Shack for a well deserved crab steam pot!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Here comes the Sun(day run)

Another beautiful sunny day and about time (with only 1 month to go until the Mont Blanc Marathon) that I test out my legs and see what they can do. The frustration I feel is still rife from that silly woman driving into my car and damaged my back, now 5 months on my training is haphazard, I barely have the miles in my legs that are required to confidently tackle a marathon but I have been training.

The running has taken a huge hit but I have been attending a variety of gym classes and working with my personal trainer to strengthen my back. Mont Blanc will be amazing, the tickets have been bought, the apartment reserved all before the accident so I have no choice in my mind that I will be going and doing what I can. 

So this morning I donned my kit, charged up my garmin and ipod and off I went. I decided to revert back to my ultra distance training technique of run 25 mins, walk 5 regardless of whether I felt I needed to walk or not. This did me well for the first few bouts and got the all important first miles in and got me past the halfway mark of my planned distance so mentally it would all be downhill from there. Setting off later than planned the sun was high in the sky and nice as it was the shade was appreciated as I trotted along.

My back felt pretty good but my hips were starting to ache a little and after stopping to cross a road it was tough to get going again as they started to ache more. I kept going for a while and though for the sake of the last 2 miles and wanting to go out again tomorrow I would hop on the bus to complete my journey. 

Was I giving up, I'm not sure, I managed a little over 11 miles, I felt good, I was not too sore and my hips thanked me for stopped and not pushing on so I think I will live to run another day!