Friday Finds – 12th May

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

To be honest, it’s been another week full of Breaking2 news, however I intend to write a separate post on that in the next few days, so instead I’m bringing you a selection of other bits and pieces I’ve come across this week.

The 8th -14th of May is Mental Health Awareness Week, and mental health is something I’m growing more interested in. I now come into contact with so many young people who are struggling with their mental health and while I do what I can to support them, I always wish there was something more. For me, running is what I turn to in difficult times to help clear my head and refocus. I’ve also found yoga really beneficial in helping me feel calm and settled through the controlled breathing and slow movements. So it was with interest that I read of Matthew Rees, the runner who shot to fame after his selfless act at the London marathon, and how he has used running to help combat depression.

An interesting take on the mental side of running is covered in this article from Outside which deals with boredom and how we might channel that into improved performance. In this day and age people find it increasingly difficult to just “be” and accept boredom as something that might drive creativity. Instead, we tend to reach for our phones as a distraction. Perhaps as runners we can use it to our advantage?

Stories like those of Matthew Rees gain most of their traction these days on social media, and runners are particularly guilty of sharing everything about their runs, sometimes to the irritation of their non-running friends! But why are we so obsessed with sharing every run be they good, bad or indifferent? The writer of this next piece shares her theories and I have to say it makes sense to me. These days I tend to keep my running chat for my blog’s Facebook page or dedicated running groups so I know my ramblings (and photos of me leaping about like a loony!) will be seen by those who are interested in running and simply “get it”, but I think I’m still driven by the same factors suggested here:

Of course social media last weekend was all about Eliud Kipchoge and the Breaking2 project, but in the days afterwards another speedy runner came to light, this time in a half marathon. 18 year old Benjamin Pachev ran a 71 minute half marathon. That’s speedy, but not pushing any boundaries…until you learn that he did so whilst wearing Crocs. Yes, Crocs. Those funny shoes with the holes in them that are often the butt of jokes. Not being a Crocs wearer I’ve no idea how he kept them on his feet and am impressed not just at his speed but that he did so in footwear far from traditional. I can’t see Kipchoge looking to race his next marathon in them though 😉

And finally, you may remember me sharing the quirky story of the crossword compiler who challenged himself to create a clue for each mile of the London marathon. For the crossword fans among you, here’s the finished puzzle (for the impatient, the answers are in this post about the process itself):

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

The Spirit of the Marathon

I often get asked what it is about the marathon that keeps me going back for more. Why do I voluntarily put myself through weeks of hard training for a race I know is going to hurt? Surely there are more sensible things to do with my time! But there’s just something about running 26.2 miles that is simply magical:

It’s the participants united in their quest for a common goal.

It’s the friendly, supportive atmosphere in what is usually a big city full of anonymity.

It’s the conversations with random strangers, bound together by the marathon.

It’s that feeling like no other when you cross the finish line.

It’s the knowing looks from fellow runners as you walk gingerly through the city that evening and the morning after.

And it’s the amazing stories of commitment, compassion and courage that reach us after the event. Stories which define the Spirit of the Marathon.

Right now, spring marathon season is in full swing and in the space of just a few weeks I’ve come across so many incredible marathon stories. By sharing some of them in one post, I hope to go some way towards helping explain why I love that mythical distance so much.

In what other sport can the average weekend warrior line up alongside the elites? I’ve taken part in the exact same events as greats like Kenenisa Bekele, Mary Keitany, Jo Pavey and David Weir. Of course those at the front are applauded and celebrated for their victories, but those further back in the field are made to feel like rock stars too thanks to spectators screaming their names and offering encouragement. But what about every runner’s worry: what if I’m last? Well in the recent Rotterdam marathon it turned out to be a moment akin to actually winning the race, as shown in the amazing video which swept social media earlier this month. To be honest, if that had been me I would have been a blubbering puddle of tears for that entire final stretch!

While that was happening, I was on the streets of Paris watching the magic of the marathon unfold around me. I saw runners coming to the aid of others who were struggling in the heat, I saw spectators lining the streets with hands outstretched for high fives and others holding signs that made me smile. My favourites included “smile if you’re not wearing underwear” (that made EVERYBODY smile!) and “finishing is your only f***ing option”. When I finished I checked my phone to find so many words of support and congratulations from those who had followed my journey, runners and non-runners alike, who wanted to connect in that moment. And I also discovered the wonderful quirk of this year’s event which saw a married couple take the top spots in the men’s and women’s elite races, a fact which suited Paris’s reputation as the City of Love perfectly!

Just a week later, runners were lining up in Hopkinton for the start of the Boston marathon. Always a special event, this year’s race was made even more special by the fact that the first woman to officially run the race, Kathrine Switzer, was running again to mark the 50th anniversary of that now-iconic run. Amazingly, at age 70 she was just 25 minutes slower than in her first race in 1967! She wore the same race number (261) which has now officially been retired so no other runner can ever wear that number in Boston again. I listened to a fantastic interview with Switzer on the Marathon Training Academy podcast recently, which I recommend if you’d like to hear more about both the 1967 race and the 2017 one.

But this wasn’t the only story to emerge from Boston. In the days after, the media was full of stories that, as the quote from Kathrine Switzer further up this page declares, will reaffirm your faith in human nature. There was the wounded veteran who not only completed the race on a prosthetic leg, but spontaneously picked up his guide and carried her over the finish line with an American flag, an action which soon went viral. Then there was the Northern Irish runner who stopped to help an exhausted runner and carried her to the finish line where medical personnel were waiting. And 8 hours after starting, there was the emotional moment one of the last runners crossed the finish line. The timing mats had already been taken away (there are no official times after a certain point) and while there might not have been the confetti cannons and music of Rotterdam, there was still fantastic crowd support as she was cheered every step of the way to that finish line where her medal was waiting.

And then there was London. Oh London what an emotional rollercoaster you gave me, and I was only watching on TV! The stories from this year’s London marathon have been well documented almost every day for the last week, but here are some of the ways the London marathon epitomised the Spirit of the Marathon.

Josh Griffiths
Josh Griffiths was the runner who showed us that in the marathon, anything is possible. A club runner in his first ever marathon, Griffiths ran a superb race and finished in 2:14:49, beating the best British runners to the finish line and guaranteeing himself selection for the World Championships in London this summer. Not bad for a debut! Dig a little deeper and you soon learn how different his race weekend was to that of the elites he ultimately raced alongside, and I enjoyed hearing a bit more about this when he was interviewed on the Marathon Talk podcast this week.

Matthew Rees
Funnily enough, Matthew Rees runs for the same club as Josh Griffiths, but has shot to fame for very different reasons. Those watching the coverage on TV were captivated by Rees’ selfless act when he stopped to help stricken fellow runner David Wyeth. Seeing acts of kindness like this always makes me wonder how I would react in the same situation. I’m sure we’d all like to think we should stop and help, yet many ran by Wyeth, no doubt seeing how close they were to dipping below 3 hours for their finish time. Rees, of course, did the right thing, and the members of Wyeth’s club are so grateful that they’ve offered to pay for him to run again in 2018. That’s the Spirit of the Marathon right there.

The Royals
As part of their campaign for mental health charity Heads Together, Kate Middleton, Prince William and Prince Harry were the official starters of the race. I expected to see them stand on the raised podium to the side to press the button, politely clap for a bit then disappear, maybe for some interviews. How wrong I was. Shortly after starting the race, the young royals made their way down to the sidelines to encourage runners at the start of their journey, before making their way to the charity cheer point where they were on hand to wave foam fingers and hand out water (getting soaked by one cheeky runner). Finally, they went to the finish line and stood in the finish funnels shaking the hands of those exhausted, sweaty runners and personally putting medals around their necks. I was really impressed by their willingness to get involved and mingle with the runners and there will be many who now have a unique memory of their marathon.

The Tears
Another part of the Heads Together campaign was Mind Over Marathon, a project where 10 people with mental health issues trained for the marathon to see how running might aid their mental health. The second part of the programme was broadcast a few days after the event and it was astonishing to see the impact the process had on those involved, but the runner who caught my attention the most was Rhian Burke. Tragically, Burke lost her one year old son and her husband within a few days of each other and has struggled with her mental health ever since. Watching her cross the finish line and experience not only the surge of emotions that comes with that momentous occasion, but the emotions of everything she has been through and the strength she has had to find was just heartbreaking and had me in tears. I truly hope her achievement helps her to move forward with greater confidence.

The Quirks
And then there are the things that only ever seem to happen in London, like the policeman dressed as a gorilla who crawled the entire marathon course on all fours, finishing six days after it started.  Or the cryptic crossword setter who challenged himself to create a clue during each mile of the race. Stories like this demonstrate that the marathon is for everyone and capture public attention long after the elites have gone home.

All of these stories are the reasons why I love the marathon. As a challenge it’s daunting yet accessible, and that’s what brings out the best of humanity. Marathons bind people together, whether that’s the training partners who become friends for life, the new friends made at a race who remain in each others lives or the countless volunteers, supporters and organisations who help to make race day special. Marathons motivate people to raise funds for good causes, to test their limits and to take on a new challenge. They inspire strangers on the tube/metro/subway to actually talk to each other. They drive people to stand for hours by the side of a road screaming themselves hoarse for people they do not know. They are days fraught with emotions where anything can happen and we can switch from highs to lows and back again in a heartbeat. They are an epic journey, both literal and metaphorical, where amazing things are achieved and the average person can become a hero. Put simply, marathons change lives.

I’ll leave you with one final article from The Independent, written during last Sunday’s London marathon, in which the writer explains her love of this “strange, but wonderful phenomenon”. For me, this says it all.

The Spirit of the Marathon. Hard to define, but unforgettable for those who experience it, however they experience it.

What makes marathons (or any other event) special for you?
When have you seen the Spirit of the Marathon demonstrated?

Week in Review – Fight the Temptation!

In many ways the second week of my post-marathon recovery is the hardest. I know I need that time to make sure my body is fully ready to return to running, but at the same time everything feels ok and I start getting a bit itchy to get out there again – not helped by it being both the Boston and London marathons this week! Being back at work meant everything else felt “normal” so not having all my usual training made things seem a bit odd. It was a week of fighting the temptation for the greater good! I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share a roundup of my recovery week.

Having spent last week limiting myself to nothing more strenuous than walking and yoga, this week I began to reintroduce my usual training rhythm by including some light cross training. Here’s how my week ended up:

Monday – swim
Tuesdaygentle cycle walk
Wednesday – walk gentle cycle
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – walk
Saturday – Parkrun volunteer plus afternoon walk
Sunday – walk (after watching the London Marathon!)

Monday was the first day of term which is always a bit of a shock. These days I fall into “holiday mode” quite quickly and get so bound up in my “real life” that it can be a bit of a wrench to be back in the classroom. I was at least cheered by my calendar – even Gary Barlow is getting into the marathon spirit this month!

IMG_1511Since I would normally swim on a Monday, going for a swim after work helped to remind me of my own routine. It was nice to be back in the water, and despite a gap of a couple of weeks since my last swim, I felt I swam quite well. I took it nice and easy since this was technically a recovery workout and although I felt a little more tired than usual at the end, I knew that was the after effects of the marathon and length of time since my last swim so nothing to worry about.

However Monday may have been a bit much for me as I awoke on Tuesday with a scratchy throat and aches that didn’t lift all day. My eyes felt heavy and I didn’t feel like doing anything more than going to my bed. Since Tuesdays had previously been bike intervals, I had planned a gentle half hour cycle to get my legs turning over again, but decided instead to just have a walk in the fresh air then relax at home with some hot food and a nice bath before an early night. One thing that did cheer me up was the arrival of my April challenge medal from Virtual Runner. I had entered a cumulative challenge involving running the marathon distance across the month. I, of course, had decided it would be fun to do the whole thing in one go haha!

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IMG_1513By Wednesday the aches had gone but my throat remained scratchy first thing in the morning for the rest of the week. This meant I felt well enough for the cycle I had missed the day before. It felt good to get my heart rate up a little again, and I enjoyed sitting in the hot tub and steam room afterwards. On this day I was also cheered by the replacements for my end of term “casualties”:

IMG_1514I’ve not yet made a return to my PT sessions so Thursday was simply my Ashtanga yoga class. It was another great class for me and I could feel my legs becoming even more “my own” with every posture. I left feeling relaxed and better than I had done all week.

Ordinarily Friday is my rest day, however I’ve not exactly been over-exerting myself lately! The weather was nice when I got home so I went for a walk for 20 minutes or so to enjoy the extra daylight then waited for Steve to arrive home so we could head out to eat. After returning to work and fighting off what was likely a bug, I was more than ready for my Friday night beer and curry!

IMG_1519Saturday is parkrunday but my two weeks off running were not quite up yet so I was on the volunteer roster once more. This week I was on finish tokens which meant I had to check through them before the run started, but was held up in traffic, so enjoyed a bonus run from the car to get to the start! It felt really good to be running, albeit briefly, and I would have loved a bit more, but at least I know that the enjoyment will be there next week when I do run again.

IMG_1521Since Steve was away at a race further north and Hatha yoga hasn’t restarted yet, I decided to head out in the afternoon for a walk. I had a few errands but didn’t need to go into town so instead walked to the retail park, got a coffee then picked up the bits and pieces I needed before taking a different route home. I was probably out for a couple of hours but it was still a productive day.

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Sunday was London Marathon day and since it was also my last day “off” when it came to running, I had grand plans for a morning on the sofa watching the coverage. I love watching all the races from the elite to the runners in crazy costumes. It’s so inspiring and always makes me want to run another marathon! I spent the whole weekend feeling rather envious of those in London soaking up the atmosphere both at the expo and at the race, so would definitely love to get back there again some day. True to form the combination of the theme tune and inspiring stories had me in tears and keen to get back to running again. There’s just something about the London marathon that makes people lace up and get out there!

When the TV coverage finished I realised that I really should move so walked into town for a coffee and to do a little work for the blog.

IMG_1529Thanks to the time out I’m now itching to get running and target my next challenge. My recovery strategy is one week completely off, one week of light cross training then a week where I re-introduce some easy running so long as there are no issues such as injury or tight muscles picked up in the marathon. Right now my legs feel good and I’m looking forward to a couple of easy runs in the week ahead. I know to expect a slower pace, but I also know that I’ll soon feel like I have my own legs under me again.

How long do you take off running after a marathon or goal race?
Are you training for anything in particular right now?

London Lore

This has been a great week for marathon fans with Boston on Monday and now the London marathon to round it all off. Here in the UK, London is THE big marathon event of the year with around 40,000 lucky ones taking part (those ballot odds just get tougher and tougher) and another 3 million or so watching at home. I may have only started running in my late 20s, but the London marathon has definitely always been a part of my life. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t spend the morning watching the TV coverage – little did I know that one day I would not only run, but actually enter a marathon. And if you’d told me that one day I would be one of those bobbing heads on the TV screen on a Sunday morning in April I’d have laughed in your face. But in 2011, that happened, and now every year I feel the same stab of envy as I sit at home when really I’d like to be on that start line.

Lon-DONE! VLM 2011

As this post is published, I will no doubt be getting comfortable with a cup of tea and some tissues, for as soon as that iconic theme tune starts I’ll feel the sting of tears in my eyes as the memories come rushing back. They won’t be tears of sadness, but of the emotions attached to the race and the distance, triggered by that music. I’ll watch the pre-event build up with all those emotive profiles of everyday people running for great causes; I’ll watch the elites battle it out for glory and marvel at how fast they’re moving; and I’ll still be there watching as someone dressed as a rhino is interviewed on Tower Bridge. Frankly, I’ll be watching for longer than it would take me to actually run the race!

And unsurprisingly, as soon as the Boston marathon articles began to fizzle out from my news feeds, the London marathon articles began to get more and more frequent. With that in mind, here’s a roundup of some of the more interesting ones that caught my eye for a Sunday morning, London-focused version of Friday Finds. Let’s call it Sunday Stories 🙂

For those wondering about what it takes to run the London marathon, this piece from Kate Carter at The Guardian (fun fact: I was listening to a podcast featuring her when I finished the Paris marathon a couple of weeks ago!) goes into the detail and explains why London is such a special event. I know she’s aiming for a sub-3 hour time this year so fingers crossed she reaches her goal.

For those interested in some of the figures behind entry to the race and its history, this next piece breaks down some of the numbers and different options for entering. Debate surrounding entry to London resurfaces every year both when the ballot opens and when the results are sent out, but it remains a difficult topic with no easy solution that will please everyone.

Up at the sharp end, world records have been set at London – indeed the women’s marathon record was set there and has remained unbroken since 2003. For those who enjoy the competition of watching those who are the best in the business going for glory, this preview of the contenders from Sports Illustrated could be of use. There’s a lot of interest surrounding the men’s marathon world record this year so it will be exciting to watch and see if any of this year’s field can lower the mark a little further.

In that elite field I will be particularly interested in watching the performance of one of my favourite athletes, Jo Pavey. Pavey has run the London marathon on one previous occasion, the same year as me in fact, but she was a little quicker with a time of 2:28:24! Jo Pavey is an inspiring athlete who is a great example of making things work around family commitments, and despite being older than many of her competitors she can still deliver world class performances. In this article, she also talks of the 2007 World Championships and the medal she will finally be awarded a decade later.

For many runners, regardless of pace, Strava is an integral part of training and the activity tracking site recently released data about those training for the London marathon. They also did this for Boston (included in this post) so the real stat geeks among us can compare how two very different fields prepare for the demands of 26.2 miles. Exactly the kind of running geekery I enjoy!

And finally, the London marathon has become synonymous not only with charity fundraising, but with world records. No, not Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25, but records like the fastest marathon dressed as a superhero or the fastest marathon dribbling a ball. Check out this video for some of the highlights over the last decade.

To those running, the very vest of luck. You can read my tips for marathons here, but my best advice is to relax and enjoy it. Soon, you’ll have a medal to wear with pride and a memory that will never fade.

In 2017 the London marathon charity of the year is Heads Together, spearheaded by the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry who want to increase conversations around mental health. As part of this drive to raise awareness, the BBC challenged ten people with different mental health issues to run the marathon. The first part of the two-part documentary following their progress aired on Thursday and if you are able to access it, I highly recommend watching it.

Tips for Marathon Success

It’s spring marathon season, and whether you’re lucky enough to have a place in London or are heading to one of the other fantastic marathons here in the UK or abroad, you might be starting to feel a bit nervous. There are plenty of articles out there offering hints and tips to help make your first (or second, or third…) marathon a success, and after 9 marathons I have a few of my own to share…

  • Get your name printed on your running top. Having people call your name and encourage you as you run is a great motivator. When I finished my first marathon (Paris, 2010) I couldn’t understand why the French volunteers were calling to me by name to hand me my medal, etc. Then I remembered that my name was printed on my race number haha!
  • The day before the race try to visit the finishing line. Know what the last 200m or so looks like. Visualise how you want to finish the race and hold onto that as you run to create the finish you want. No matter how exhausted you are, there’s always something left for a big finish. I’ll always remember turning the final corner in London and seeing the finish line ahead of me. Amazing!
  • When you arrive at the start area on race day join the queue for the toilets. When you come out of the toilet, get straight back in the queue. By the time you get to the front of the queue you’ll be pleased you did! There will likely be some toilets along the route, but if you’re nervous then I definitely recommend multiple visits before you start running!

  • Mentally break the race down into manageable chunks e.g. by distance (not 26.2 miles but a half marathon and 2x 10k, or 4x 5 miles and 2 parkruns, etc) or by landmarks. In London I remember this being to Tower Bridge (halfway) then to Canary Wharf, Big Ben and so on. I tend to divide both by distance (I take a gel every 5 miles plus an extra with 5k to go so I run 4x 5 miles plus 2 parkruns) and by landmarks, which in Paris are the Bastille, Bois de Vincennes, halfway mark, Eiffel Tower, etc. Mentally it’s much more manageable.

  • If you have supporters with you, make sure you know where they’re going to be (and that they know what you’re wearing). It can be tricky to spot each other in a crowd, so think about how to make this a bit easier e.g. tracking apps offered by your marathon, getting your supporters to text you a photo of where they’re standing, using signs or visible objects such as balloons to make it easier to spot someone. It’s an incredible mental boost to see a familiar face in the crowd so you want to do what you can to find each other (especially if you opt to give your support crew extra gels/drinks/blister plasters!). Usually Steve is running, but he was a spectator when I ran in London and I knew he would be at Tower Bridge which is notoriously busy. I felt quite down when I thought I had missed him so it was great when I then spotted him waving to me.

  • As you near the finish, regardless of how you feel, scrape your hair off your face, wipe your mouth and nose then smile – you’re getting your photo taken!

  • Be prepared to experience every emotion imaginable in the space of a few seconds as you cross the finish line – you’ve just achieved something amazing so it’s ok to cry! (Wearing sunglasses is great to cover this up and make you look fresh as a daisy! I ALWAYS wear my sunglasses for a marathon).

  • If you need it, take time to reflect on your experience before meeting your supporters. Most finish areas have plenty of space and are restricted to runners only, but if you sit down remember you might need someone to help you get up again! Your legs will feel like they’ve been put on backwards for a day or two after the race – this is normal!

  • Plan in advance where you’re going to meet your supporters and stick to the plan. After the effort you’ve put in it may be the only thing you can focus on as you shuffle along. Making a phone call may not always be possible to communicate any changes so it’s important to know where you’re heading. Remember there could be tens of thousands of people, so “I’ll be by the toilets” might be a little vague and your mind won’t be at its sharpest. Most races will have a reunion area so arrange to meet by letter X or Z or whatever works for you. We usually have a backup plan as well in case that doesn’t work.

  • Relax and enjoy the experience. You’re running a marathon and that’s something amazing. Be sure to celebrate afterwards. And remember – nobody cares about your time except for you.

Whatever marathon you’re running, good luck!

Friday Finds – 7th April

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

I can’t imagine it will be much of a surprise that I’m going with a marathon-centred Friday Finds this week! Due to travel timings I’m writing this (quickly!) in advance so it may turn out a little shorter than I normally like. C’est la vie!

First up, some breaking news from the elite ranks and the disappointing information that the 2016 Olympic champion (and defending London marathon winner) Jemima Sumgong has failed an out of competition drugs test. I remember watching her stunning comeback to win after suffering a fall and hitting her head during the London marathon, so am saddened to hear that this has happened.

Next up, another piece of disappointing news, this time about participation. I was thrilled to learn that women would be able to compete in the 2017 Tehran marathon for the first time, however the sting is that it has now been announced that female participants may have to compete on an indoor track rather than outdoors with the male field. This seems to be a move forward from a previous announcement that women would not be able to participate at all. It’s clearly a difficult ongoing situation, but I’d love to see women having an equal opportunity to participate.

Moving on to a much more positive story, I have been quite intrigued of late by Nike’s plans to try and break the 2 hour barrier, however in this next piece from Outside, consideration is given to the female equivalent. The record is, of course, held by my great favourite Paula Radcliffe (remember that time I met her?) with her 2003 time of 2:15:25. And now it seems that science and maths (not my strongest subjects outside of running topics!) suggests that the equivalent marker for women is 2:16, meaning that for we women, that “barrier” has already been broken! As they shout along the route in Paris, allez les filles!

While the less elite among us may not have our sights set on quite such speedy times, in all likelihood those of us with a spring marathon ahead will have a time goal in mind, but working out a reasonable estimate of what we might achieve is very difficult. The marathon is full of pitfalls and no matter how well training has gone, anything can happen on race day, especially after 18 miles. Ian Williams of Fetch Everyone has used the data available to him on his website to come up with a formula which might help.

And finally, one of the things we can’t control in a race is the weather. I’m expecting warm conditions on Sunday in Paris, which will be tricky, but I think participants in this recent 14k race in France had a much tougher time with some very different conditions. I recommend watching the video to get the full effect!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

My Marathon Journey

Today is a very special day. Do you know why? Well, today is Marathon Day: 26th February = 26.2! (yes, I know my friends in the USA write the date the other way around and that my continental friends use kilometres, but just go with it – it is a thing, honest!) For a Marathon Day special I thought I would write about my own marathon journey. Some of this has been touched on in other posts, but I thought it would be good to take the time to reflect on how far I’ve come and why 26.2 miles remains so important to me.

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It all began waaaay back in the pre-blog days of 2009 and frankly, it was all Steve’s fault! 2009 was the year I “graduated” from being a bit of a fair weather plodder, to being a “proper runner” who trained regularly, regardless of weather, and signed up for “proper” races (rather than mass-participation charity fundraisers) thanks to the encouragement of a certain PT who had recently become a fairly permanent fixture in my life. I knew Steve had run many marathons (he was probably the first person I was ever aware of who had actually run any marathons, let alone several!) but I don’t think I had ever really considered marathon running as a genuine possibility for me. Despite a lifetime of watching the London marathon on TV every April, I still believed marathons were reserved for the super elite and the super fit. Surely impossible for someone like me? But that year’s London marathon changed all that. I knew Steve was training, but had little concept of what that really meant in terms of the commitment he was making, it was only when I travelled to London with him and watched the race live that I began to get a taste of what marathon running was really all about: the palpable excitement and nerves at the expo, the enthusiasm and energy of the crowd… and the people just like me running through the streets of the capital. I distinctly remember thinking, if they can do this, why can’t I?

And so the first steps on a journey that would change my life were taken. By the time the year was over, Steve and I were engaged and we had both signed up for the 2010 Paris Marathon. It may not ultimately have been the marathon experience I dreamed of, thanks to an injury sustained during training, but despite all the naysayers I completed that race (in a rather slow 5:01:03 – might have dipped under 5 hours if I hadn’t stopped for a toilet break!). Before the race if people had asked me about marathon running I would say something about how I wanted to do it just once to see what it was like, to be able to say I had done it, but far from a “one and done” experience, actually running the race made me want to do it again. I crossed the line tired, sore and feeling like I was under attack from my emotions, but I also crossed the line knowing that I DEFINITELY wanted to do it again. In London…

First marathon - Paris 2010

I was incredibly fortunate and secured a place in the 2011 London Marathon via the running club I was a member of at the time. Looking back, I can’t believe how lucky I was to get in and I don’t think I realised it at the time having never experienced the repeated ballot rejections that I have since become so familiar with! This time training went much more to plan and I completed the race in a much more respectable 4:35:28. I was overjoyed: I had actually run the London marathon, the same London marathon I watched on TV every year, and had achieved a time I felt to be much more representative of my abilities. For many, that experience would be the end of the road, but not me. My journey had barely even begun.

Lon-DONE! VLM 2011

A few short weeks later I was lining up at the start of another marathon, this time in Edinburgh. I had taken on a double marathon challenge to raise money for a local charity, but having one marathon already in my legs that spring I had no idea how I would fare. I had achieved the time I wanted to in London, so this race was all about the experience, about completing the challenge I had set for myself and raising money for a good cause. But having run a marathon already meant that I could go into this race feeling much more confident and I felt no pressure to perform. Perhaps that’s why I was able to set myself a new PB of 4:32:17, despite running into that Edinburgh marathon headwind for the last few miles (my dad was running the last leg of the relay that year and as he caught up to me and asked how I was doing I could only grunt at him and watch, helpless, as he disappeared into the distance on his fresh legs!). I could have ended it there: 3 marathons, including London, a decent finish time, and a fundraising experience. That’s more than many others would ever do, but now my journey was to take a new direction: I wanted a quicker time.

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And so my thinking changed. I was becoming more and more immersed in the world of running, something that led to me starting this blog, and I wanted to run a sub 4:30 marathon. I knew that 4:30ish was an “average” finish time and I wanted to be above average (delusions of grandeur, haha!), but this was not to prove as straightforward as I had hoped…

My first crack at my new goal was in 2012. My marathon of choice was the now-defunct Lochaber marathon, an out-and-back course on country roads around Fort William. It was always a popular marathon among Scottish club runners and I knew it would be a very different experience to the big city races I had taken part in so far. Training went well and I was hitting the paces I would need for a finish closer to 4 hours, but towards the end of March I developed a problem with my left calf and continued to battle with it right up to race day. My physio gave me the go-ahead to run, but with the caution that I should stop if the pain in my left side worsened (thanks to a biomechanical issue, I had developed bursitis in my hip and was getting referred pain in my calf as my body tried to adapt). I completed the race, but was off pace from the start, the last 10 miles were an uncomfortable, lonely plod and I burst into tears as soon as I finished. My time was still respectable at 4:35:08 (faster than London!) but I knew it didn’t reflect my training and what I thought I was now capable of doing. I had to chalk it up to a speedbump in the road and remind myself that there would be other races.

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But contrary to my expectations, it was not to be in the following year as the road got even bumpier. With the niggling problem in my hip resurfacing at the end of 2012, I made the heartbreaking decision not to take up my place at the 2013 Paris marathon and work instead on getting back to basics, addressing my biomechanical issues and rebuilding myself as a stronger, more robust runner. As it turns out, this was probably for the best as in February of 2013 I succumbed to the flu. Proper flu. The kind where it hurt to just lie in bed and even a trip to the toilet was a huge undertaking (a visit to the doctor completely wiped me out despite my otherwise good physical fitness and for the first time I truly understood why much more vulnerable people could be at such risk if they caught the flu). Still, a year of focusing my training in a very different way meant that I could go into 2014 feeling much stronger and ready to take on the challenge of aiming for a 4 hour marathon, my new target after my training for Lochaber suggested I might be capable of this.

2014 was a year of challenge. Steve and I committed to raising funds for Macmillan Cancer Support and my part in this was to take on 3 marathons – 2 in the spring and 1 in the autumn. The first of these was Paris, having been so disappointed not to get there the year before. Spring training went well and I was delighted to finish the race with a massive new PB of 4:05:07! But my good fortune was not to last as yet again I picked up an injury as I headed into my second marathon of the year – Edinburgh. This time it was my tibialis posterior. I couldn’t believe that I had yet another injury and there was a lot of “why me?” angst. Much like in Lochaber a couple of years before, I had the ok to give it a go and once more found myself with a painful hobble through the final miles, this time finishing in 4:40:02. Quite a difference from Paris! Even worse, the problem continued all the way through the summer, forcing me to pull out of my autumn marathon in Loch Ness to ensure that I could properly heal.

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Throughout my injury time I began to really seriously think that maybe marathon running wasn’t for me as I kept on getting injured, but my time in Paris made me think that I could aim for a sub-4 hour time and as my body healed I decided that I had to have another go. My journey was not over!

I had secured a place in the 2015 Paris Marathon and as the new year began it was time for the now-familiar routine of marathon training. That training began well, but as I headed into March the wheels came off. I had issues with nutrition, with feeling stressed about work pressures and something had to give. Inevitably that something was my body. What began as a tight calf soon evolved into a problem with my quad and I began to fear that once more my hip was going to be at the root of things. Fortunately a trip to the physio put my mind at rest when a mild strain to the quad muscle was diagnosed. Even better, I would be able to run in Paris, but had to make some sweeping changes to my training in the final weeks and found myself out on my bike rather than running. On race day my quad was reasonably comfortable, but I was aware of the muscle, a little like a constant itch that needed to be scratched, and what had begun as an assault on 4 hours turned into a much more sedate affair, clocking in at 4:43:39. Aside from that PB in 2014, I was actually getting slower! Yet once more rather than consider giving up, I decided to try AGAIN! I’m either incredibly tenacious, completely delusional or just plain mad!

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I recovered well that spring and ran strongly throughout the summer, really enjoying my running again. And to cheer me even further, I actually WON my place in the 2016 Paris Marathon. Then it happened. What at first was a slightly niggly foot got worse and soon I was hobbling to my podiatrist hoping for a miracle. Instead, I got the diagnosis I had feared: a stress fracture of the second metatarsal. In the past all my injuries had been to do with muscles or tendons, things that would heal reasonably quickly, but this time there was damage to the bone. I had an Xray, I had taping and I had strict orders not to run. At all. Once more, I could see my marathon dreams slipping away and once more I considered whether or not I had reached the end of my marathon journey. But as I recovered well (following my podiatrist’s advice TO THE LETTER as well as listening very carefully to my body) I decided that since our trip to Paris was booked, there was no harm in actually trying to complete the marathon – after all, I was by then injury-free, I was just a tiny bit undertrained with my 10 mile long run and weeks on the bike. Still, what was the worst that could happen? I’d rather DNF than DNS and thought it would be fun to completely take the pressure off and just enjoy the experience. Which is exactly what I did. I kept the pace easy, stopped to enjoy a “buffet” of orange segments and sugar lumps along the way, took selfies and had a generally fantastic time. I learned a lot about pacing and was rather surprised to end up finishing faster than the year before with a 4:38:38. Maybe my marathon journey wasn’t done after all…

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After several years of injury-blighted spring marathons, I decided to try something different and sign up for an autumn marathon. My thinking was that a lot of my training would take place in the summer when I would be at my most rested, and I looked carefully at my training plan to shake things up and reduce the impact on my body. I was convinced that my injuries were coming either from biomechanical issues (which had largely been addressed) or training mistakes (which I didn’t plan to repeat). I also decided to keep this one secret and see what happened when there was no pressure on me to succeed. Sadly, I didn’t quite make it to the start line. My hip was to blame again, but this time for very different reasons. The yoga I had been doing had helped to significantly loosen off the offending hip, but then it wasn’t strong enough to withstand the demands of my training. Despite my physio saying I could run the marathon without doing any damage, I decided it just wasn’t worth it. I had nothing to prove, after all I had completed marathons in much more dire circumstances. Instead I oped to pull out, work on strengthening my hip, and try (yet) again. To be honest, if I was reading all this about somebody else I’d be wondering why on earth they kept on returning to the marathon when more often than not it resulted in injury, yet I just can’t let go of my sub-4 hour dream yet. I’m so sure I have it in me and am determined to prove that I can do it, using all I’ve learned from past failures to make that dream come true.

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Which brings us right up to date. I have a place in the 2017 Paris Marathon (spotting the pattern yet?) and so far training has gone well, although I am conscious that I’m now hitting the stage where things are more likely to go wrong. Still, I believe that I was simply unlucky at the tail end of 2016. I don’t really consider my hip problem then to be an injury as nothing was damaged, it was more of a reaction to operating with greater mobility and a lack of strength. Rather than a training error, this was simply bad luck. I also believe that I got the pattern of my training right and have continued to work with that in my current cycle. At this point, I am further into the training than I was in the autumn and I continue to prioritise strength work for my hips and core in my PT sessions. I’m also using yoga to help me stay flexible, having regular sports massages, trying to prioritise rest and listening very carefully to my body. So far it seems happy and I’m hopeful that this time I can complete a successful cycle of training and prove that my roller coaster journey to date has finally levelled out to a much smoother path. Regular readers have perhaps been following my training in my weekly updates, and with just 6 weeks to go, I’m still feeling optimistic. Only time will tell if I can finally reach my goal and use the (often hard) lessons from my marathon journey to find what I’m looking for. Wish me luck!

Tell me about your marathon journey. Have there been many bumps in the road for you?
Do you have a favourite marathon experience?

‘Your Pace or Mine?’ Follow Up: A Running Record

In my recent review of Lisa Jackson’s Your Pace or Mine, I noted that the final section of the book is given over to the reader to use as a record of their running. I really liked this idea, but since I read the book on my Kindle rather than in paper format, I didn’t have the opportunity to fill my record in. Instead, I thought it might be fun to write up my record book (to date) as a blog post. It’s going to be a long one so put the kettle on!

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Favourite Race Photo
I have a few photos that I like: some from mid-race, some post-race medal shots and some of me leaping around like a loony after a run. But when it comes to actual race photos, my all-time favourite is this one from the Paris Marathon in 2016. I was undertrained thanks to being stopped in my tracks by a stress fracture at the end of 2015, but on race day I was injury-free and determined to get out there and enjoy a self-conducted running tour of my favourite city. I ran it my own way, stopped to take photos and enjoyed a buffet of orange segments, sugar lumps and that pink sports drink they hand out that acts like rocket fuel! When the photographers snapped me in the finishing straight, I looked like I’d had an awesome time, even though I was completely exhausted and my legs were begging for mercy. Sometimes you just have to forget your race goals and go out there to have fun.

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Name
Allison a.k.a The Running Princess

Date When Started Running
I don’t have the exact date for this one as my diaries from that part of my life are not all that detailed. That said, I can remember the day itself clearly. It was the beginning of term in August of 2005. We actually started on my birthday that year and it’s entirely possible that it was actually on my birthday that I went for my first run. My friend who is a PE teacher (and at the time we were car sharing for work as well) took me to the local park and told me to start running at the pace I thought was about right. Predictably, I set off far too fast and didn’t get very far at all. My friend then sorted out my pace and so began weeks of building up the length of time I could run before having a walk break (which had to be shorter then the running time). The first time I ran all the way round the park (about a mile and a  half) without stopping was my first big running milestone.

Age When Started Running
I was just about clinging on to my twenties when I took those first tentative steps, however I was in my early thirties before meeting Steve and venturing beyond the odd slow 5k plod.

Reasons Why I Run
My first ever blog post was all about why I run, but I suppose that was really only about why I started, not why I run now. At first it was all about a personal challenge and wanting to raise funds for charity in memory of my gran; now, running is a habit. In many ways it continues to be a personal challenge as I look to improve my times or push myself in new ways, but even without that challenge I would still want to run and it only takes a spell of injury to remind me of how important running is for clearing my head, helping me to manage stress, releasing endorphins and giving my thoughts some clarity. I love how running makes me feel both mentally and physically as it helps me to keep sane as well as fit. Running makes my body lean and strong. And it also makes me hungry! I love the appetite running gives me and surprising people with exactly how much food I can put away!

IMG_0605Proudest Running Moments
Running has given me lots of opportunities to feel proud of myself, so narrowing it down to just a few was a bit challenging! Here are some of my highlights:

  1. Completing my first ever marathon in Paris in 2010
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  2. Running my first ever sub-2 hour half marathon at Aviemore in 2012
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  3. Topping the podium for the first time ever when I won my age group at the Cool Summer Mornings 5k in 2013
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  4. Running my marathon PB in Paris in 2014
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  5. That time I ran 4 races in one weekend at the Edinburgh Marathon Festival 2015
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  6. Finishing as second female and ninth overall!) in the Caped Crusader 5k in 2016
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‘Dreaming Big’ Goals (Races, Places, Times)
I love this heading. A chance for me to think about the things I would do if there was absolutely nothing to stop me. I would love to run all the marathon majors, something which isn’t an option for me right now as they don’t all fit in with my school holidays. I’ve run London, but would love to go back again with a Good For Age time. Right now that would be sub 3:45, a full 20 minutes faster than my current PB. We are dreaming big though! I would also love to do a Run Disney race. I know there’s a half marathon at Disneyland Paris now, but my ultimate dream would be the Walt Disney World marathon. My sister has done this, but again I’m held back by my school terms. Finally, there’s this year’s goal of some race PBs: if I’m dreaming big then it’s a sub-4 marathon, a sub-1:55 half marathon and a sub-50 10k. My other dream is to run in Central Park. It doesn’t have to be a race, I’d just love the experience of lacing up my trainers and heading off for a run in such a famous location.

Most Memorable Races
I’ve got a lot of wonderful memories from racing, but I think I’m going to pick my “firsts”:

  1. My first ever “proper” race – the Kinross 10k in 2009
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  2. My first ever half marathon – Aviemore in 2009. Memorable because Steve proposed the night before so all I can remember of the race is running along lost in thoughts of wedding dresses, possible venues and the most fun way to tell my parents later that day!
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  3. My first ever marathon – Paris in 2010
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  4. My first ever experience of the Paris Breakfast Run in 2014
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I’d also like to include running around the race circuit at Knockhill for the Graham Clark Memorial race, running over the Forth Road Bridge as part of a 10k race, and, of course, that time I ran a 10k PB (by one second!) at the Great Scottish Run then proudly announced my achievement to one of my running heroes, Paula Radcliffe!
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And although not technically a race, I’m including an honourable mention for parkrun during the I Am Team GB weekend when I got to meet a local Olympian and see a Rio medal up close.

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Favourite Running Motto/Mantra/Race Sign/Motivational Quote
My favourite mantra is “I can, I am, I’m strong” which I came up with for my first marathon. I had picked up an injury and seemed to be surrounded by people telling me that running my marathon was impossible. My mantra was a way to fight back against all the people saying, “you can’t” and remind myself that anything is possible.
I don’t often remember race signs, but I do love seeing all the firemen out in force in Paris with signs slung from their ladders declaring “les pompiers sont avec vous” (the firemen are with you). As for a motivational quote, it has to be this one:

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Funniest Running Moments/Favourite Stories Heard on Runs
Well, there was that time I got charged at by some scary looking cows whilst taking part in a trail race. Unfortunately the race route was such that I then had to run back through the same field on my return. Thankfully the cows had moved on to another part of the field by then!
There was also the time I did the Edinburgh Winter Run around Arthur’s Seat. It was freezing cold and as I came down off the hill it started snowing. I thought this was absolutely hilarious so the official photos showed me laughing like an idiot in the middle of a blizzard!

Favourite Medals/Race T-shirts
Funnily enough, I have a fair few of these! After a bit of thinking, I’ve decided on the medal and finisher’s T-shirt from Paris in 2010 (my first marathon), my London Marathon medal and, as a collection, my 4 Paris Marathon medals and the commemorative T-shirt I bought to mark the 40th edition last year. As a bonus, I’m also going to include a medal from a virtual race – the Platform 9 3/4k from the Hogwarts Running Club, an event I’ve participated in 3 times now.

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Charities Fundraised For and Amounts Raised
Since I began running to raise funds for charity, you’d think I would know exactly what my total is. But I don’t. Back then donations were made by sponsorship form, however I think across the 3 times I’ve run the 5k Race For Life I’ve probably raised around £150 for Cancer Research.

An early example of my signature "medal pose"!

In 2011 I pledged my support to a local charity, PKAVS (Perth & Kinross Association of Voluntary Services). They provide support to a number of different groups, perhaps most especially known for supporting young carers. I was inspired to help as a friend works for the charity and listening to her describing the challenges some people faced made me feel I should do something about it. Working alongside the charity, we set up the idea of “going that extra mile”, with participants joining teams for the Edinburgh Marathon Relay. Most were new to running and Steve put on weekly training sessions (often aided by moi) to help everyone prepare. For me, it was actually an extra 26.2 miles as I committed to running both the London and Edinburgh marathons which were just a few weeks apart. It was my first really big challenge which I completed, with a PB (since beaten) in Edinburgh and a total of £800 raised for a good cause. It was a real family affair as Steve also ran the marathon while both my dad and my sister were in relay teams.

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More recently, Steve and I took on an even bigger challenge when we decided to fundraise for Macmillan Cancer Support following our experiences of seeing family members and others close to us battling cancer. In 2014 I was supposed to run 3 marathons (Paris, Edinburgh and Loch Ness) however injury forced me to withdraw from Loch Ness and replace it with an all-new challenge: cycling! I took to two wheels and completed Cycletta Scotland which had Macmillan as the title sponsor. In 2015 I decided to take care of my unfinished business by running the Paris marathon for Macmillan in order to complete that triple marathon challenge I had set. But, being one who never does things by half, I also decided to go bigger with my cycling and take on the Etape Caledonia. I then rounded off what was basically a spring challenge by taking on the Edinburgh Marathon Festival – 5k and 10k on Saturday then half marathon and final leg of the relay on Sunday (logisitcs meant it wasn’t possible for me to go from the half to the full marathon). With over £5000 raised in 2014 (with massive thanks to my friend Ian and his clients for their support) and a further £1000 in 2015, that made a grand total of over £6000 raised for Macmillan. Phew!

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Biggest Challenges Overcome in Races
Generally speaking, my biggest challenge is injury. I have completed marathons despite being in a great deal of the wrong kind of discomfort (I’m looking at you Lochaber Marathon of Pain!) and also when undertrained as a result of injury. This is why I believe I’ve never truly demonstrated what I’m capable of over 26.2 miles.  But the fact that I’ve completed those races demonstrates that I can overcome challenges, usually with an altered goal.

Races With Best Snacks/Entertainment/Crowd Support
Without a doubt the best snacks have been at US races, particularly the Cool Summer Mornings 5k which often has post-race hot dogs, pretzels, beer, etc despite the fact that these will be consumed around 8am! The Chocolate Sundae Run, while a bit of a boring route, did have the draw of ice cream at the finish line! I also enjoy the on course “buffet” at the Paris Marathon as they lay out raisins, sugar lumps, sliced banana and orange segments. I can say without a word of a lie that those oranges have been the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted and a sugar lump late on the in race provides a fantastic boost to get you moving.
IMG_6102 When it comes to both entertainment and crowd support, the title needs to be shared by both London and Paris. I run with one earphone in so I can tune into my music if I need to without having to faff about, but I have absolutely no recollection at all of actually listening to my playlist in London thanks to all the various places blaring out music along the route, the wall of noise in Canary Wharf and the unwavering crowd support in the final stages along the Embankment when every fibre of your being is screaming to stop but every time you do, someone shouts at you to keep on going. In Paris there has always been phenomenal support from “Les Pompiers” but perhaps not as big a crowd as in London. That all changed in 2016 when, probably in an act of defiance at the atrocities that have taken place in the city in recent times, the streets were lined with supporters cheering the runners on and fighting back against those who commit such terrible acts. Paris also prides itself on the huge number of “animations” (entertainment) along the route. There are an assortment of bands in just about every genre you can think of from rock and pop to a bit of German oompahpah and the always fun samba bands. Many have dancers as well and the lift the entertainment gives the runners is visible.

Favourite Fancy-Dress Outfits
Running in fancy dress is not really my thing, but it has happened:

  1. Taking part in a Santa Run every year
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  2. Wearing my kilt for both the Perth Kilt Run and the Paris Breakfast Run
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3. Celebrating our parkun’s birthday with fancy dress. So far a beach party theme (in November!) and a superhero theme. To be honest, I quite enjoyed running as Supergirl!
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Most Beautiful Places Run In
I live in Scotland so beautiful places to run are often just a few minutes away and I love nothing more in nice weather (it can be a bit miserable and lonely when the weather isn’t so good).
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Away from my standard training runs, the Lochaber Marathon was beautiful, even if I didn’t really enjoy the race thanks to an injury flaring up. And of course, there’s my beloved Paris. What a beautiful city to run in !
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Countries I’ve Run In
Scotland (obviously), England (London Marathon), France (Paris Marathon), USA (training runs and events in Florida every July). I’m really going to have to work on adding to that list!

Cities I’ve Run In
6/7 of the Scottish Cities: Perth, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Inverness
London
Paris
Davenport, Florida
Winter Park, Florida
Tampa, Florida
Clermont, Florida

Marathon Majors Completed
Only London. One day…

Friends I’ve Made Through Running
Running has brought a lot of people into my life, from those I’ve trained for marathons with (connected for life!) to those I consider my “parkrun family”. Running also led me to blogging and there are several people I’ve come into contact with through blogging that I would probably never have met otherwise like Jaynie, Danielle and Kyla. It’s also what ultimately brought me to the Tough Girl Tribe and the fantastic women there. Running is such a fantastically inclusive community and provides a shared experience to base a friendship on or just start a conversation. Just one of the many reasons why I love it.
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Personal Bests (Time/Date) 5k, 10k, 13.1, 26.2, Ultra, Tri
I’ve got these listed on my Race History tab, but here they are again:

5k – 23:14 @ Perth parkrun 2015
10k – 50:14 @ Great Scottish Run 10k 2015 (aka That Time I Met Paula!)
13.1 – 1:56:35 @ Aviemore Highland Half Marathon 2012
26.2 – 4:05:07 @ Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris 2014

Race Record
This is a list that could go on for a while! All my race reports since I started the blog are under the Race Reports tab, but to summarise (and account for those pre-blog years!):

5k x 33 (inc Christmas events)
Parkrun x 66
5 mile x 2
10k x 20
10 mile x 3
Half marathon x 13
Marathon x 8
Other distances (e.g. EMF Relay, CHAS Devil Dash) x 10

Total = 155 events (89 if you don’t count parkrun) – phew!

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And now it’s your turn! Either write a post of your own to create your record book or share some memories in the comments below. I can’t wait to read them…!

Friday Finds – 20th January

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

Nike’s ambitious project to have an athlete break two hours in the marathon has never been far from my news feeds since its announcement towards the end of last year. The idea is regularly touted as holding a similar significance to Roger Bannister breaking the 4 minute mile, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to find an article comparing the two events. Written by Michael Crawley, who also wrote about the motivations behind another project with the same aim, it gives an interesting insight into how some of the same principles can be applied. I still find the whole idea intriguing and am curious as to how the project will unfold.

One thing breaking two hours will require is commitment, and that’s something that high school runner Quinn Schneider has in spades shovels. If you missed the story, 18 year old Schneider awoke to find 8 inches of snow had led to his school being closed. I have to say, my pupils would love a snow day, but for Schneider it offered a new challenge. Channelling the mind of an Olympian, Schneider set about shovelling the snow from one of the lanes at his high school running track so he could run laps! Now that’s a workout!

The next find caught my attention because of the interesting premise it suggests: that with Strava running is no longer a solitary activity. For the writer, this seems to be a bad thing. He longs for the uncomplicated days of heading out for a run with nothing more to accompany him than the sounds of nature and the thoughts in his head. Strava, he suggests, has turned every run into a group effort as we share our routes and our times, compete over segments and give kudos. I can see his point, however as a runner who does tend to run alone, it can be nice to know that I’m still part of a wider community out there, that people care about my workouts and encourage me when I need it. A bit of healthy competition over a segment can be fun, while at other times it’s just not worth it. In the end, the writer concedes that he can’t stay away from Strava and notes that with it, running is changing. I’d love to know what you think.

In a similar vein, the writer of this article in Runner’s World enthuses about the almost poetic beauty of a solitary run. I like this because I have become used to doing my own thing, running when I want to run and, unlike the writer, enjoying the opportunity to listen to a podcast. If you generally run with others, then I would recommend a solo run from time to time just to enjoy the time with your own thoughts.

And finally, as I type this enjoying a Friday evening gin, I can’t help but be captivated by the news that there’s going to be a series of “gin runs” in London. A run which, among other things, features a free G&T? If only London was a bit handier for me! I bet I know some other people who would run for gin too…!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

When London Isn’t Calling…

Ah, October. Crisp autumn weather, pumpkin spiced EVERYTHING and, in the running world, a general fixation with checking the post to see if you’re “in” or “out”. No, not some adolescent list defining popularity, but the result of the London Marathon ballot.

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At this time of year a quick look at any running-related social media group would lead you to believe that London is the ONLY marathon in the whole wide world (it isn’t!) and the Internet abounds with conspiracy theories from unsuccessful ballot entrants looking to vent their frustration. It’s certainly disappointing not to get a place (my collection of rejection magazines is coming along nicely!) but without meaning to state the obvious, there are other marathons. With it becoming harder and harder to gain a place, it’s important to consider other options to get that marathon fix.

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The previous ballot system closed when a certain number of entrants had been reached, usually around 125,000, which was reached in about a day. With roughly 17,000 places up for grabs, this equated to about a 1 in 7 chance of getting a place. But this system changed ahead of the 2016 race, with the ballot remaining open for five consecutive days, thus allowing unlimited entries. This resulted in 247,000 people looking to acquire one of those same 17,000 places. Not great odds, and the numbers for the 2017 race ballot were similar with 253,000 entries (close to a 1 in 15 chance of success. Not brilliant, but still better than your chances in the National Lottery!). The numbers were crunched much better than my poor English teacher brain could ever manage by Dan at Run, Rest, Repeat last year, with some updated numbers more recently, and his posts are worth a read.

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Unsurprisingly, I have been rejected once more. For me, not a particularly big deal. I have already secured my place in the 2017 Paris marathon (not keeping any secrets this time!), yet I continue to enter the ballot year on year as I would like another chance to run the London marathon. Yes, I did say another chance as I was lucky enough to secure a place through a running club ballot for the 2011 race (back in the days before I had my blog) and I loved the experience.

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I have also spectated at the race in both 2009 and 2012 when Steve ran (he has now run 7 London marathons, going back to the 1990s when the ballot was smaller and involved the careful origami folding of an actual application form!). I’ll admit it is a fantastic experience, hence my desire to run it again, and for many people in the UK it is logistically an easy option. One of my reasons for wanting to go back is that the course was altered in 2011 due to work being carried out at the Cutty Sark so I didn’t get to experience that iconic part of the route and feel a sense of having “missed out”. Some people may never get their chance to run London, so I know I am fortunate to have been there, but equally there are people who have returned time and time again so my annual entry to the ballot is my way of looking for that opportunity – you’ve got to be in it to win it, right?

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But what about the options for those whose marathon dreams are now in tatters with the arrival of their rejection magazine (or worse, email – a bit like someone breaking up with you by text, ouch!)? A few days after I received my magazine, I got an email as well. Those London marathon folks reeeeally wanted to make sure I got the message!

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So for anyone with their heart truly set on London, there are a few other options:

1. A charity place. The London Marathon is, I believe, the biggest fundraising day of the year in the UK so charities rely on having lots of runners in the race. Many charities will still have places, but there may be a selection process for the more highly coveted ones, and the chances are you will have to commit to raising a lot of money, so think carefully about how you would achieve this – you don’t want the added pressure of a mammoth fundraising target to reach alongside marathon training!

2. A running club place. If you’re already in a running club then you might still be in with a shot. Most clubs affiliated with UK athletics will be allocated places based on the number of members they have. (Not huge, maybe one place for every 70 or so members) and will have their own way of determining who gets a place. The club I was in held a ballot for all those who had been unsuccessful in the main ballot, and that’s how I got my place. If you’re not already in a club, consider joining one. You’ll make new friends, meet some new running buddies and may get a chance to gain a marathon place in future.

3. A good for age place. Speedy runners who can prove their credentials might qualify for a good for age entry (a bit like the BQ for Boston). Steve has been working on running his GFA time for a while now, and I’m beginning to think it may be my only way in. If I can just maintain my current form for the next couple of decades, I should be fine 😉 . GFA places for 2017 have already been allocated, but running a qualifying time at another race could be your ticket to entry in 2018 or beyond.

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Which brings me to the best option for those who really just want to run a marathon in 2017: pick another race. There are plenty of other marathons in the UK (funnily enough, they’re all the same length(!), need just the same training, and often have the same crowd support). You could also consider looking abroad for a marathon and making a trip out of it. Unsurprisingly, I can recommend Paris with its first-come-first-served entry system, iconic sights and ease of access from the UK. I have also run the Edinburgh marathon twice, and although “Edinburgh” might be stretching it a bit as you run along the East Lothian coast, the route is scenic and good for a PB. I still also harbour a desire to run the Loch Ness marathon, where I currently have unfinished business. A more rural route, but exactly the sort of thing I train on and a well-organised event.

Other possibilities include:

  • One of the other Scottish marathons such as Strathearn, Fort William, Glen Moray or the recently announced new kid on the block, Stirling, which will start in the safari park – nothing like being surrounded by wild animals to motivate you to run!
  • Races such as Brighon, which I have read good things about, Manchester (although its reputation was sullied by the great baggage debacle of 2016) or Yorkshire, which many enjoyed just the other week, as well as newcomers Birmingham and, in 2018, Cardiff.
  • Or if you want to go a bit further afield then I’ve heard good reviews of Rome and Barcelona, while taking part in the Walt Disney World marathon is firmly on my bucket list. The world is your oyster!

Can't stay away from Paris - back for more in 2016!

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London is indeed a fantastic and iconic race so it’s understandable why so many people want to be part of it. Just remember, more people will be unsuccessful in the ballot each year than will gain a place. Some will be relieved to be rejected, but if you truly want to run a marathon in 2017, start researching your options and get signed up. If you’ve never run a marathon before then it could be the start of a magical journey.

Maybe I’ll see you out there…

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Did you enter the London marathon ballot this year?
What’s your recommendation for an alternative marathon destination?