Saturday, 19 January 2019

A golden return to the country

“I thought you’d given up cross-country” everyone was saying to me.  Well, so I had.  But having announced my retirement from cross-country two years ago I now find myself having done two within eight days!  So how did that happen?!   I’m not sure, but I guess it’s difficult to really stay away from something that’s been so much a part of my running since the age of 15!  Cross-country was, for many years, the backbone of my running, giving me strength through the winter months to carry through to the summer track season.  And cross-country was where I gained my first international honours.   In recent years, however, I’d started enjoying it less, finding the distance too short and the uneven terrain less suited to my road running style.   I questioned why I was continuing to do something I no longer enjoyed.  I must admit, though, that I have quite enjoyed my two recent races – pure racing, with no watch and split times to think about.  Both these races were on new courses, which also helped to make them more interesting and appealing.

The first race was the Warwickshire County Cross-country Championships at Newbold Revel, which my coach, Les, persuaded me to enter to help my club’s Masters team.  I don’t think either of us really expected that I would be in the scoring three runners; that would be a very tall order with several really good runners in our Leamington C&AC club.  The aim was to race as hard as I could and back the team up by perhaps pushing other teams down a place.  Don’t get me wrong, I desperately wanted to make the scoring three, but knew it would be a very big ask. 

The course was great, with lots of variety – parkland, farmland, a section through woodland, one uphill followed by a downhill section and a short run in to the finish.  I was a bit apprehensive pulling on my Mizuno spikes as I hadn’t worn them for two years, but once I got going they felt like slippers and it was great to be wearing such lightweight shoes again.  Luckily for me the conditions underfoot were good – only one really muddy bit and much of it fairly firm going.  

I ran hard, although my recent lack of hill training told when I lost a few places going up the hill.  However, I felt I’d barely got going before I found myself running into the finish funnel – 6km is far too short for me these days!  Unfortunately I was pipped by a couple of people on the run-in, which I was really frustrated about as in the past I’d always had a strong finish.  But a lack of speed work and my ultra-running ‘shuffle’ put paid to any sprint finish!  However, I was over the moon to find that I had just managed to scrape third scorer for the club after all and, even better, that we won team gold – my 26th Warwickshire cross-country champs medal!  So proud of all my team mates for their great efforts.
With proud coach Les Barnett - another Warwickshire AA medal for my collection!

The county champs was originally going to be my only cross-country race of the season, but I’d enjoyed it so much that I decided to help the team out again in the Midland Women’s League race the following weekend.  I must admit I was also rather attracted by the course – another new one – at Burton Dassett Hills Country Park.  This is somewhere I love and have visited many times over the years: kite flying and sledging as a child and more recently to watch the women’s cycle tour contest the ‘Queen of the Mountains’ jersey, which gives an idea of just how hilly it is!  I knew the course would be tough, but I had this strange inexplicable desire to run there!

Walking the course beforehand, though, I started to regret my decision and wondered what I’d let myself in for.  I knew it would be hilly, but the course was also quite technical with some steep downhill parts (I’m not good at downhill running!), some tight twists and turns and parts on a camber around the side of hills which wasn’t great on the legs and ankles!  I’d also forgotten how windy it can get up there!  The race consisted of two laps and I was quite cautious in places on the first lap, although there were some parts that I found I could run reasonably well on.  I felt I was beginning to get into my running and get a feel for the course on the second lap, when all of a sudden I found myself flat on my face in the grass!  Of course this was on the least technical part of the course!  I think I had a momentary lapse of concentration and my spikes caught a tuft of rough grass, and before I knew it I was flying through the air and hitting the ground.  Luckily I’d avoided landing in the sheep poo and I wasn’t hurt, so bounced back up and continued.  It gave me a bit of shock though and knocked my confidence on the steep ascent and descent that followed.  I then started to get back into my running again, but by then it was too late as we came round the final section towards the finish.  At least this time I managed to hold off a runner who was close behind me and, again, was third scorer for our Masters team, meaning we took the team honours on the day.  In 133 cross-country races over 32 years of running this was one of the toughest courses I’ve done, but in a funny sort of way I really enjoyed it!  I think the appeal was the novelty of a different course and a chance to race in a place I know and love.  I also love the team spirit that goes with cross-country – we have a great team at Leamington C&AC and everyone is so supportive of one another.

And so that’s how I seem to have made a cross-country come-back, although my first love is still on the roads.  It’s also great just to be racing again.  I train to race – yes, I enjoy running for many reasons, but the real buzz I get is from racing.  Training and racing ultras has taken its toll on my body and has meant I’ve done fewer races than I’d have liked over the last few years.  I did, however, manage to finish 2018 on the same note as I started – with a 10k at Draycote Water.  Just like the race in February there was a strong wind blowing across the reservoir, which is very exposed.  As this was my first race after competing for Great Britain in the World 100km Champs. in September I had no idea how it would go.  I’d struggled with tight hamstrings and calves for a while after the 100km which had restricted the amount of speedwork I could do.  I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find I was around a minute quicker than my time from February.

A windy 10k at Draycote Water

And so 2018 ended and 2019 has begun.  As ever, I’d like to say a massive thank you to Mizuno for their continued support.  Their shoes are second to none and carried me through all of my 2,300+ miles last year.  Also, thank you to The Warwickshire for their continued support through the use of their fantastic gym facility, which is invaluable for my training.  And last, but by no means least, a huge thank you to my coach, Les, who, as ever, has been by my side throughout, has shared the ‘ups’ and helped me through the ‘downs’.  It remains to be seen what this year has in store, so watch this space!

Sunday, 16 September 2018

IAU World 100km Championships 2018, Sveti Martin na Muri, Croatia

The 2018 IAU World 100km Championships - my 6th appearance in a Great Britain vest, but sadly not one of my better races.  I'll start where I left off on my previous blog post, with a hamstring tear back in April.  I gave the injury the necessary time to heal before resuming easy running, but it wasn't until June that I was really able to start training properly.  When the Great Britain team for the 100km was announced in June I was over the moon to be selected, but knew I would be hard pressed to be back to my best shape by September when I was about a month behind where I would have liked to have been.  However, I was proud to be representing my country again, and was determined to give it my best shot.
I built my mileage up nicely over the summer months, managing a few 90+ mile weeks - not easy when combined with a particularly stressful time at work.  I was also experiencing some nerve pain in the balls of both feet, which at times made running almost unbearable, but I had to keep on pushing though the pain as time was so short.  I had several sessions with my physio, Mark Buckingham, and podiatrist, Steve Avil, to try and sort the problem out and eventually resorted to wearing an old pair of orthotic insoles, which helped, but didn't completely resolve the issue.  I also had a time earlier in the year where I felt very fatigued and heavy-legged, so much so that my runs were literally more of a shuffle.  I had various blood tests and have had several visits to the Sports Medicine clinic at the QE Hospital in Birmingham.  It was diagnosed as a non-specific 'systemic issue' which affected my TSH thyroid levels.  Thankfully it seems to be resolving itself now and my blood tests are almost back to normal, but I'm still seeing the Sports Med. doctor to monitor things.  I guess these things are all part and parcel of running and I don't think I've ever had a build up to a major race that has gone completely smoothly!
I raced sparingly during my build-up as I felt I just needed to get the training miles in.  I was required to run a marathon back in June to 'prove my fitness' to the selectors, so I ran the Enigma Running marathon in Milton Keynes where I finished 1st lady.  I also travelled down to Redhill in Surrey for the British Masters Half-marathon Championships.  Just a couple of days beforehand my podiatrist had doctored my orthotic insoles to try and help my foot problem, but unfortunately it made it worse and by the end of the first lap I was in agony.  Deciding that my race was over I stopped, walked back to the car, took all the temporary felt off my insoles, changed my shoes, then decided to try a little jog as I really needed to get some more training miles in.  It didn't feel too bad, so I re-joined the race where I'd left off and ran the second lap!  It's definitely a 'personal worst' in terms of time - a half-marathon with a 15 minute break in the middle!
The weeks flew by and all of sudden it was time to fly out to Croatia.  My last two or three weeks training had picked up considerably and, although I knew I was nowhere near PB shape, I was confident of a solid performance. 

At Birmingham airport ready for my flight
The race village was at the LifeClass Terme Sveti Martin - a complex comprising hotel, apartments and leisure facilities based around a thermo-mineral spa.  I arrived on the Thursday afternoon and met up with my team-mates who had travelled from various parts of the UK.  It was also great to catch up with athletes I knew from other countries, who I'd met at previous races.  All our meals were in the hotel restaurant - a buffet with a wide range of choice and where we could help ourselves to as much as we wanted; perfect for hungry runners!
The race hotel
Meeting up with my fellow GB team mates

My race picnic all prepared!
The day before the race was taken up with the usual pre-race preparations - a little jog to recce the course, the team meeting, preparing my drinks bottles and then the Opening Ceremony.  I had the huge honour and privilege of carrying the Union Flag for the Great Britain team in the athletes' parade.  After each of the 41 countries had been introduced to the crowd there were a few short speeches and a local choir performed the Croatian National Anthem and a few traditional songs.  It was then time to carbo-load on pasta and rice and get an early night ready for my 4.00am alarm.
A short jog along the course on the day before the race

Left:  Local school children preparing to lead the teams in the parade  Right: Team GB preparing for the parade
Left:  the athletes' parade about to get underway                Right:  Team GB in the parade
Team GB at the opening ceremony
The race start / finish
The race started at 7.00am local time on the Saturday, with the start and finish directly outside the front door of the hotel, so no need for a bus ride to the start!  At this time there was cloud cover and the temperature was around 17 degrees C, so it felt really pleasant for running.  I set off at my intended pace and found myself in a group with a couple of girls from the USA.  I felt comfortable and hardly noticed the hills on the course as I took in the scenery around me - fields of sweetcorn and apples, a wooded section and houses with window boxes of colourful flowers.

The early miles went by quite comfortably
Running through fields of sweetcorn

The course consisted of one small out-and-back lap (2.5km) and then thirteen out-and-back laps of 7.5km each.  The main feed station was at the hotel complex, with a second feed station at the turn-around point.  These were ably manned by our team managers - Jo, Adrian and John - who did a great job of supplying us with our needs and offering plenty of encouragement.  As each lap progressed I began to tick off familiar landmarks - the house with the barking dog, the group of supporters playing upbeat music from their van, inspirational signs that had been put out by the roadside and the fields of sweetcorn which I knew meant I was approaching the turn-round point.

Motivational signs had been placed along the route
Left:  Team manager Jo in action at the feed station         Right: the main feed station

I maintained my rhythm for approximately 70km, but by this time the sun was fully out, the temperature had risen to 30 degrees C. and humidity was high.  I thought that training through the heat-wave we had this summer would have helped to acclimatise myself, but obviously it wasn't enough.  The hills that had seemed manageable at the beginning now began to feel like mountains!  The course was constantly up and down, with a total of 800m (2,600 feet) of climb and hardly a flat section anywhere.  This began to take it's toll and my quads started objecting violently on the downhill sections, screaming at me to give them a break.  From then on it was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other to get to the finish.  The team management were giving me sponges and bags of ice, I was drinking extra cups of water and pouring it over my head too.  For the last 30km or so I was reduced to a run / walk strategy, but I had no doubt in my mind that I would finish, however long it took me.  I knew how privileged I was to be representing my country, and how important it was for GB to finish a team, and there was no way I was going to let them down.  I hadn't gone all the way to Croatia to DNF.
The undulations felt like mountains in the latter stages

I eventually crossed the line in 8hrs 55mins 37secs - my slowest ever 100km.  I finished 51st out of 109 finishers in the women's race and 6th in my age group (140th out of 284 starters overall in the combined men's and women's races).  With three to score for a team, and only three women in the GB team, it was vital that I finished to back up my two team-mates.  We were placed 9th women's team out of the 22 countries that managed to finish a full team from the 38 countries that sent women.  This was, in fact, the first time GB have managed to finish a complete women's team in a major 100km champs. since 2012.  Japan won both the men's and women's team races, with South Africa second in both.  Japan, in fact, took individual 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th in the women's race and won the men's race!
The relief of crossing the finish line
A tired athlete with a proud coach!

I must be honest, I'm bitterly disappointed with my performance and feel I let many people down - myself, my team-mates, my coach Les, and everyone who has supported me.  My plan had been to start steadily and finish strong, but my body had other ideas on the day.  Looking back I feel angry that I allowed myself to get into a negative mindset, allowing myself to walk and not having the mental strength to keep running.  But I know that I'm also probably being too hard on myself - it's easy to look back afterwards, when the pain has gone, and think 'I could have tried harder', but the reality is I did what I could at the time.  I tried my hardest and I'm proud of myself for finishing when many others didn't.  Not only that, but I still managed to finish in the top half of the field, despite my poor performance.  I will take both those as positives.

Another positive was the fact that the foot issues I'd been having didn't surface at all during the race!  So thank you to my trusty Mizuno Wave Rider shoes for not letting me down!

Les and I stayed out in Croatia for a few days after the race, which I was very thankful for as post-race was a huge anti-climax for me.  My life had been focussed on that one race for the last three months and not only was it all over, but it wasn't the result I'd been hoping for either.  I'm so happy that Les was able to come out to Croatia with me and share the whole experience.  He is always there for me in training and it's only fitting that he should be at the race too.  I owe him so much - he did an amazing job getting me from where I was in April to being able to finish a 100km in September.  We enjoyed some time sightseeing in Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary, refuelling on cake and ice-cream, taking a dip in the thermo-mineral pools and sampling the local restaurants.  And then, sadly, it was time to come home.
Left:  The countryside around Sveti Martin                  Right:  Floating water mill on the River Mura nr. Sveti Martin
Vinarium Tower in Lendava, Slovenia, and the view form the top (from where you can see Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Austria)
Left:  Lake Balaton at Keszthely, Hungary                          Right:  Stari Grad (Old Castle), Varazdin, Croatia
Left:  A relaxing dip in the thermo- mineral pools                      Right:  Post-race refuelling
Time to say good-bye to Croatia

It's now a week since the race and I've taken the time to recover and recharge my batteries, both mentally as well as physically.  The soreness in my legs went very quickly thanks to the amazing powers of CurraNZ berries . I hope to resume light jogging within the next few days and see how my legs feel before I make any firm plans for races, but I hope to be out there racing again soon as I need to rebuild my confidence that was severely dented in Croatia!


Saturday, 28 April 2018

Krakow Marathon - unlucky 13!

On Friday 13th April I placed a bet on no. 13 in the Grand National, ‘Tiger Roll’ and the following day it duly won.  I hoped that my ‘lucky 13’ would continue the following weekend when I was due to race in my 13th country outside the UK – the Krakow Marathon in Poland.  Unfortunately, however, the Grand National was where my luck for no. 13 ran out!

I’d received a last minute invite to the race through my friend and GB team-mate, Jo Zakrzewski.  With only two weeks’ notice it was never going to be a goal race with a fast time, but I was hoping to use it as a good, solid training run.  I was really excited about my first visit to Poland and catching up with Jo again.

With my friend Jo
On arrival at Krakow airport it took a while to locate my lift to the hotel, but I eventually found it and travelled with two men who had run the Boston marathon the week before.  The elite athletes’ hotel was the Novotel, a great location within walking distance of the Vistula River, the Wawel Royal Castle and the centre of Krakow.  The race was applying for an IAAF Bronze label and, therefore, needed to fulfil certain criteria, including an elite field with athletes of a certain calibre from several different countries.  Consequently there were athletes from Kenya, Ethiopia, Japan, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Portugal and, of course, Jo and I from the UK.  Sadly Jo was unable to run due to injury, but was there as an ambassador to try and help the race organisers gain their Bronze label.  The hotel was very nice and the food was excellent – a buffet at every meal where we could just eat as much as we liked.  It still never ceases to amaze me how much the African runners eat!

I’d arrived before Jo on the Friday, so I took myself off for a little sightseeing wander around the centre of Krakow.  It’s a beautiful city – the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland.  The old town is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

St. Mary's Basilica
The main square (Rynek Gowny) - one of the largest Medieval squares in Europe
The Wawel Royal Castle & Vistula River (left) and Barbican (right)
Saturday was mainly taken up with race preparation – a photo shoot for all the elite athletes near the river / castle; a ‘presentation of elite athletes’ on a stage at the race expo; a technical meeting; preparation of drinks bottles etc.

Elite athletes 'photo shoot'
Presentation of the elite athletes at the race expo.
Plenty of food and drink in the elite athletes' tent!
Race day dawned another beautiful sunny day and I made my way onto to the coach that was to transport the elite athletes all of about 5 minutes to the start area in the main square!  We had a dedicated marquee with portaloos, deck chairs, food and drink and massage areas!

Arriving at the start area
I did some easy jogging to warm up and to test my hamstring.  In the week prior to the race my hamstring had been feeling particularly tight, but I was confident that several days rest and plenty of massage during the week would be enough to see me through the race. 

Making our way to the start
We lined up at the start and after what seemed like an age we were off – making our way out of the square and through the streets of Krakow. 
Ready for the off
Looking less than happy in the medical tent
Sadly, my journey didn’t last very long at all.  Only 500 metres into the race my hamstring suddenly gave a sharp twinge and although I tried to carry I knew it wasn’t going to let me.  The difficulty now was that I was in the middle of the road, in tears, and in danger of being swallowed up and mown down by thousands of runners behind me!  I eventually managed to extricate myself and get to the barriers at the side and squeeze through a small gap to get out!  There was a policeman at the side of the route, but I don’t think he really knew what to do with a blubbering English lady who couldn’t speak his language!  So, as I was fairly close to the start / finish area, I hobbled back there and got some treatment in the medical tent. 

I made a sobbing phone call to Jo to let her know what had happened as she was out on the course with my camera, ready to cheer me on, and I thought she’d be wondering where I’d got to!  She came straight back to me and was really great at looking after me – thank you Jo.  Not only did I feel I’d denied her the chance to watch the race, but I also felt I’d let both Jo and Darek (the elite athlete organiser) down by not finishing.  I know that you have no control over when an injury strikes, but I still felt very bad.  I hung around at the finish area, periodically getting ice for my leg, and eventually watching the winners come in.  I felt really down – I hadn’t gone there to only run 500m – but I was also conscious that Jo must also be feeling low about not running and so tried not to let my feelings show too much (though I’m not sure I succeeded).

I tried to put the race behind me and set about enjoying the remainder of the weekend – sampling the local vodka, cheeses and bread; more sightseeing; souvenir shopping and visiting one of Jo’s friends.  A huge thank you Jo for giving me the opportunity to visit Krakow, for your support and company and for putting up with me for four days!

Reflecting on this a week later it was, perhaps, a blessing in disguise that I didn’t push my body through a marathon, as it appears from a blood test result this week that all was not quite as it should be.  If I’m honest things hadn’t been great for some weeks.  I’d been experiencing very heavy legs in training, struggling to run at what should have been an easy jog pace and just not flowing.  I’d had three weeks warm weather training in Portugal in March, which went OK, but even then I was heavy-legged and unable to run the sort of pace I should have been capable of. 

Enjoying training in Portugal
I’d gone into those three weeks in Portugal off the back of a niggly calf injury and I went down with a cold in my first week there, my second cold in three months, which is unusual for me.  I had one or two decent sessions in Portugal, though, so thought I was just taking time to regain my fitness after nine weeks off over the winter.  Once back in the UK I mentioned all this to my physio, who identified a potential issue due to the way my muscles generally felt “solid” and “over-baked” (that was his technical term!), but with no specific tightness.  He recommended a blood test which, sure enough, shows certain levels aren’t quite right, possibly pointing to a post-viral issue from the colds I’d had.  My hamstring has been diagnosed as a neural issue resulting from a lot of tightness and pelvis imbalance, rather than a tear, which is good news.  So now I know what I’m dealing with I can start to put things right in all areas, fingers crossed!

Friday, 16 February 2018

The joys of winter!

I have to be honest - I'm not a huge fan of winter!  OK, so a crisp frost glinting in the sunlight against a blue sky can be beautiful, but rarely seems to actually occur!  More often it's dull, dreary, drizzly and cold, which does nothing to lift my mood.  I also suffer badly from Raynaud's syndrome, with white, numb fingers and toes.  This is a very painful condition and often gets me down when I permanently seem to have no feeling in my fingers and struggle to do simple everyday tasks.  However, I have tried to embrace winter and take the positives, such as the enjoyment of a hot shower after coming back from a cold, wet run.  I've also discovered mittens!  On the coldest runs I now wear a thick, padded pair of ski mittens which are amazingly better at keeping my hands warm(er) than gloves.  OK, so I might look a bit ridiculous, but as my physio pointed out, no more so than usual!  The other discovery that has brightened up my winter, quite literally, is a chest light.  This is amazing - it's really bright and means I'm no longer restricted to running up and down a 1.5 mile stretch with street lights, or negotiating rush hour traffic in the town.  Cars even seem to give me more respect than they do during the day, slowing down and sometimes even stopping completely - I think they can't quite make out what that strange light is coming towards them!  Thank goodness also for Mizuno's high-vis kit - luminous panels and really reflective logos.  I do get concerned about the number of runners (and walkers and cyclists) I see who wear black and are totally invisible.  Surely safety is more important than feeling self-conscious?  I always make sure I wear a white coloured top, a reflective vest and tights with reflective bits when I'm running at night.
Glow in the dark Mizuno apparel
Another problem with winter is the number of bugs around - everyone seems to be sniffing, snivelling and coughing.  I regularly take CurraNZ which has a number of benefits, one of which is that it boosts immunity.  It's a 100% natural supplement containing only blackcurrants and is also certified by Informed-Sport, providing assurance that it has been tested for, and is free from, any banned substances.  And it really does seem to work too.  Follow this link if you'd like to try it for yourself:
So, you'll gather from this that I'm back running again after a 'voluntary' period of rest to address ongoing high hamstring tendinopathy.  I'm not sure yet how much difference the rest has made, but I'm taking all the positives from it.  Yes, it was a really hard decision to agree to stop running, but I value the advice of my physio and we hadn't really given the hamstring a proper chance to recover and settle down and adapt to the strengthening programme that I was following in the gym.  At least I've now done that and can move forward, knowing that I've done everything possible to help it.  You always have to give something a try, otherwise you'll never know if it's going to help or not.
I ran in my first race of the year at the Draycote Water 10k last weekend.  I was really excited to be racing again - my first race since last September - although I must admit that when my alarm went off at 6.30am on a Sunday morning I wasn't quite so enamoured with the idea!  The race was cold and windy; great with the wind behind you, but a real slog when running into it, especially when you're nowhere remotely near race-fit!  But it was great to try and push myself as much as my lack of fitness would allow and get my mind back into 'racing mode'.  I'm quite familiar with Draycote Water - I've raced there a couple of times before and done a few training runs there over the years.  But my most abiding memories are from when I was a child, sitting with my sister in the back of our parents' car whilst they drove round birdwatching.  It was always freezing cold and we'd be wrapped in blankets, amusing ourselves by drawing / colouring and being told not to jig around while Mum and Dad were trying to look through their binoculars / 'scope.  Many years later this birdwatching theme continued after this race, as Les and I went in search of an elusive Hawfinch.  They had, apparently, been seen fairly regularly in the area next to the reservoir and after 20 minutes of patiently waiting we were rewarded with great views of one.  Native UK Hawfinches have declined in recent years, but apparently there have been an influx from Europe this winter due to crop failures on the continent which have driven them further north to find food.  It was certainly a rare treat to see one and rounded off a very positive day.
Draycote Water 10k

Battling against the wind in the home straight!

Friday, 22 December 2017

2017 - A funny old year

So, it’s that time again when I look back at the year that’s gone and ahead to the one to come.  2017 was a funny old year really as I only managed six races in total – one cross-country and five road races!  But of those races, three of them were pretty significant.  You can read detailed accounts of these races in my previous blogs, but here’s a quick synopsis:

Mud, mud, glorious mud!
7th January - Warwickshire County Cross-Country Champs. at Newbold Comyn in Leamington.  This year was my 21st Warwickshire Cross-Country Championship (the first being in 1987).  I decided to step down an age group and run as a senior rather than a Master in order to try and help my club, Leamington C&AC, win a team medal.  It proved to be a good decision as we came away with team bronze, which was a great result, especially considering we were up against the likes of Birchfield Harriers and Coventry Godiva.
15th January - Not the Roman IX in Stratford-upon-Avon (12k).  I was a far cry from the course record I set there several years ago (which still stands) but was happy enough with my third place in the women’s race.
5th March - BHF Warwick half-marathon.  I ran this as a tempo training run, deliberately holding back from my all-out race pace, but still finishing 4th female.  
11th March - a 50km race at Long Marston airfield near Stratford-upon-Avon.  I say “race”, but it was slightly odd in that I was really running a time-trial.  I’d been asked by the England selectors to “prove my fitness” in order to hopefully gain selection for the England Team in the Anglo-Celtic Plate 100km in May.  Due to a lack of suitable races I contacted Raceways, the organisers of a 5k / 10k / half marathon and marathon race at Long Marston, to see if they could accommodate me running a 50km while everyone else did the other distances.  They were brilliant and really helpful, suggesting I run 10 laps of the 5km route which would give me an accurate chip-timed 50km.  So this is what I did, finishing in 3hrs 42.13 which was comfortably inside the time required by the selectors. 
Winning my first British Championship
21st May - Anglo-Celtic Plate and British Championships 100km in Patrington, near Hull.  I started at a steady pace and gradually worked my way through the field, eventually finishing first female in 8hrs 01.25, thereby winning the British Championship and helping the England team to victory in the Anglo-Celtic Plate.  This was my first British title, won at the age of 45.

At the start of the Fuxian Lake 50km
30th September – Fuxian Lake Highland Ultra-marathon (50km), China.  I was invited by the race organiser to compete in this event and it was an amazing experience.  I gradually worked my way through the field from 13th at 5km to 4th at the finish.  My time of 3hrs 53.38 reflected the altitude, hills and hot temperature!  This was my first race in Asia and the 12th country I’ve raced in.

These last three races were definitely the highlights of my year, but as is usually the case they were interspersed with some low points too!  My final weeks of preparation for the ACP 100km were hampered by bad blisters on the balls of my feet and also by a calf strain, which meant some time off running.  However, at least I was able to cross-train on the bike and in the pool.  Luckily it all healed enough to allow me to run the 100km.  Unfortunately, though, the calf re-strained during a training run in July, with a sudden stabbing pain that forced me to walk / hobble the 3 miles back home!  It was three or four weeks before I was back into training properly again, which was rather concerning as I’d accepted my invitation to run in the 50km in China and I really wanted to perform well there.  I was just starting to build my mileage up again in preparation for China when I stepped awkwardly on a sloping pavement and aggravated the calf yet again, just a couple of weeks before the race!  I did everything I could to help it heal and, thankfully, didn’t feel it at all during my race in China.  It did mean, however, that I went into that race less prepared than I would have liked, making my 4th place in a quality international field even more pleasing.

Amongst the races and injury woes were some other enjoyable highlights too.  In June I gave a talk to my local WI group on “My running story”, which was extremely well received.  I donated my speaker’s fee to Warwick Hospital’s Aylesford cancer unit, where my coach, Les, has received excellent treatment.  It was great to be able to share my ‘running story’ with the local community, many of whom see me out training regularly, follow my progress in the local Leamington Courier newspaper and are always really interested and supportive.  Their enthusiasm told in the number of questions I was asked and the number of people who came to chat to me afterwards.  And, yes, I was asked the question that I always get asked – “What do you do about going to the toilet when you’re racing for that length of time?”!  

With RLAG founders Rebecca and Lauren

In July I was really honoured to be invited to the ‘Run Like a Girl’ (RLAG) anniversary party as a ‘Surprise Guest’!  This is an absolutely amazing women-only running group based in the Warwick / Leamington / Coventry area, which has encouraged and inspired thousands of ladies to take up running and nurtures them through various programmes for improvement.  They were celebrating their 2nd anniversary in July and I was invited along as a local GB international athlete as a surprise for the two leaders and to present some awards to their members.  I had such a fab time meeting and chatting to people I’d never met before, but feeling we had so much in common as runners.  The mutual support and encouragement that all the members give to each other is fantastic and it was truly inspirational listening to their stories about the amazing difference running has brought to their lives.  The short ‘speech’ I gave before presenting their awards seemed quite inadequate in comparison.  I’m so grateful to them for inviting me and it’s great that we still keep in touch and I give them a wave whenever I see them out training in the local area!
Coverage in the local newspaper!


Page from the Event Bochure
After this came another high when I was informed that I had been shortlisted as a finalist for the ‘Amateur Sportswoman of the Year Award’ at the Coventry and Warwickshire Sports Awards.  This came as a total surprise as I didn’t even know I’d been nominated!  I still don’t know who nominated me, but a massive thank you to whoever it was, if they’re reading this!  The ceremony was held at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry and hosted by ITV weather presenter, Emma Jesson, and television sports presenter, Gary Newbon.  After a champagne reception and three course dinner the awards, in various categories, were presented.  I was proud, honoured, delighted and shocked to be named the winner!  The evening concluded with the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award, which went to former football player and manager, Bobby Gould.  It was a lovely evening, but what really made it special for me was the fact that Les and my parents were there as my guests.  None of my achievements would have been possible without the support of my family and friends and, of course, the dedication and commitment of my coach, Les.
Receiving my award from Paralympic skier, Anna Turney (left) and
with the event hosts, Gary Newbon and Emma Jesson (right)

Sharing my success with my coach, Les (left) and my parents (right), and thanking them for all their support

So, to bring the year to a close.  I’d like to say it’s ended on a high with lots of running and races, but sadly the opposite is true!  Regular readers of my blogs will know that I’ve been suffering from high hamstring tendinopathy now for a number of years.  Sometimes this has been bad enough to cause stress reactions in my ischial tuberosity resulting in several months of no exercise whatsoever.  At other times, such as this year, I’ve been able to manage it enough to be able to run and race.  However, it has never cleared up completely and my physio’s advice was that we should make a concerted effort to resolve the issues properly, for the sake of my longer-term running career.  This has meant a programme of hamstring loading in the gym and, initially, minimal running to compensate for this additional loading.  However, with no improvement being evident I have now been reduced to no running at all for the last month or so.  It remains to be seen whether this will have any effect as I’ve still not noticed any improvement so far, but I’m hopeful that it will begin to feel better soon!  It feels quite a strange and frustrating situation to be in – I don’t feel like I’m injured and yet I’m not allowed to run!  It was a massively hard decision to make, to voluntarily stop running, but I weighed everything up and felt I had to give it a go for my long-term future as a runner.
Despite the hamstring issues, calf strains and blisters I still managed to run over 2,300 miles this year, all in my trusty Mizuno shoes of course!  My time in the ACP 100km ranks me number one in this year’s UK rankings for 100km and also number one in the World in the W45 age group (and 12th in the World all ages)!  My time in the Raceways 50km event is actually the second fastest 50km by a British female this year, but unfortunately as it wasn’t an official race it doesn’t count for the annual UK Ranking list!  My official 50km time from China ranks me number four in this year’s World W45 rankings.

All in all I can take many positives from the year, despite the disappointment of ending it unable to run.  Whilst running is what makes me happy and fulfilled I know it’s not the ‘be all and end all’ of life, and there are many more people who are worse off than me.  So it’s now time to look ahead to next year in the hope I’ll be back running again and doing what I love!