Paris When it Sizzles Pt3 – Marathon de Paris 2017

If you’ve read my previous posts on my trip to Paris last weekend (if not you can catch up here and here) then you’ll know it was a pretty busy weekend. And if you read my week in review then you’ll also know that marathon day didn’t entirely go to plan. In this post, you’ll learn a bit more about what happened.

IMG_1376Like any marathoner, in the days preceding the race I developed an obsession with checking the weather forecast for Sunday. The pattern went a bit like this:

Day 1 – Sunday = hot
Day 2 – Sunday = hotter
Day 3 – Sunday = hotter still…

And so on. Not the best conditions for this poor Scot who trained through the rains and winds of winter, with temperatures peaking around 12C (low 50s F). Everyone I spoke to over race weekend said the same: It’s going to be hot. Keep hydrated. I’ll probably take it easy…

Take it easy? But I put in weeks and weeks of training to get a sub-4, I wrote about it all over my blog and actually confessed to my goal whenever someone asked. Here it was looking like that goal was drifting away before the race had even begun.

So I reset my goal.

Instead of fighting to hit my paces, I would start out comfortably and just see what happened. If it became obvious that a sub-4 was out of the question, then I would just enter another race and try again. With that settled in my mind, it became much easier to head into race day without massive pressure to perform.

Race day began, of course, with an early alarm call. We knew that the hotel would serve breakfast from 6:30 and wanted to be down there as early as possible to give us plenty of time to finish getting ready before walking over to Avenue Foch, which we had realised we could reach really quickly from where we were.

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As we walked up to drop off our bags, it was already clear that it was going to be a warm day. Normally I would wear a long sleeved top, or at the very least some arm warmers, and feel slightly cool walking to the race, but not this time. This time I was wearing exactly what I would wear to run, with no extras. And I felt perfectly comfortable. Just how warm was it going to get? And when?

Like last year, there was a security check to enter the runners’ area. First our race numbers were checked, then a bag check, but this was fairly quick and we had expected it anyway. We both dropped off our bags, took a couple of photos and headed for the toilet queues before walking the short distance to the Champs Élysées (where there was a second check of race numbers) and the access points for each wave. Since I had hoped for a sub-4 time I was in the 3:45 wave and Steve was in the 3:15, so after one final selfie we parted ways to join the crowds trying to access the start area (this happens every year and my advice is just expect it and go with it – you’ll get in fine as the waves start to move forward).

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Once inside the start area I had a bit of space to take in my surroundings and snap a couple of pictures. I then decided I’d best have one last toilet stop (you know how it is – as soon as you think about nipping to the loo you immediately HAVE to go!) so joined a short queue. Unfortunately as I waited the 4 hour group was walked forward, engulfing the area I was standing in, which meant an inevitable delay to my start time as I would miss my wave heading out. I did manage to squeeze my way to the front of this wave, but in addition to the wave starts, Paris also splits the waves into the left and right hand sides of the road and staggers their starts. This allows volunteers to clear any discarded clothing/bottles/pre-marathon debris from the road. My group was walked forwards to the start line, then the right hand side was set off first and it seemed to take forever. At one point I wondered if all 57,000 entrants were being allowed through in this one group! A few people stared to climb over the barriers into this wave, but it seemed more sensible just to wait it out. The race is chip timed so there is no need to worry. Experience of this event has taught me just to be patient around the start and go with the flow.

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Eventually, we were underway. I had decided to listen to podcasts during the race to give me something to focus on, but didn’t start the first one immediately to give me a chance to monitor my pace and settle in to my rhythm. I waited until after the first mile to press play when I felt that I had adjusted into a suitable pace.

For the first 5k along to the Bastille, everything was ticking along nicely. I was right on my target pace and was managing to run in the shade at the side of the road. This continued until the 5 mile mark when I took my first gel, but by the time I hit 10k and the Bois de Vincennes it was starting to feel bit harder. The course had been narrow at points which had slowed me down, there were some short inclines and all of a sudden the sun was beating down with no real respite.

My second gel at 10 miles gave me a lift, as did the cheer point from one of my favourite groups the Paris Frontrunners, part of an international LGBT running organisation. The gentlemen of the group, in drag, cheering us on and waving pompoms always makes me smile and gives renewed energy for the next part of the course.

But by the time I reached half way I was beginning to flag. I already knew I was off pace for a sub-4, but now a PB was slipping away as well. At first this worried me, not because of my desire for a PB, but because it was feeling hard much sooner than it should. Having spoken to others after the race, I felt much better as everyone described reaching a point (somewhere between 13-18 miles) at which they just thought, “nope,” and switched their attention to simply getting to the end. Thinking about the relative paces of these runners and the times they began the race, I think everyone came up against this at roughly the same time of day, towards the later part of the morning and what is effectively the hottest part of the day. But when you’re mid-race and alone (or as alone as you can be when surrounded by tens of thousands of others having the same struggle!) it’s hard to know that.

What I remember is of having a very strange experience: my legs weren’t sore, nothing was tight or off, it was just getting more and more difficult to get my legs to move. I described it to Steve as being like wading through treacle and he said he felt something similar. Presumably the heat (I think it rose to about 24C/mid 70s F rapidly and there was no shade other than the tunnels along the quai) was sucking all the energy away as our bodies were having to work so much harder to keep us cool. I noted my heart rate was higher than it had been on training runs where I was running quicker and knew that this race was just going to be about completing the distance healthily.

The further I ran, the more I saw people who were struggling – people at the side of the road clearly in a bad way, people on stretchers and the sounds of ambulance sirens. I would imagine most of this was caused by dehydration and was glad I had opted to fill my hydration pack right up with an electrolyte drink. I also picked up water at each aid station to take a sip and pour water down my back. And as for the hoses – what sweet relief! They were icy cold and each run through would elicit an involuntary noise, but it was so worth it!

At mile 18 beyond the Eiffel Tower I took a cup of that delightful pink Isostar drink that I believe to be rocket fuel. I always run well after that, but sadly it doesn’t last all the way to the end!

One thing I did find interesting was that despite the need for walking breaks to cool down and taking my time at aid stations collecting a sugar lump and orange segment, I was constantly surrounded by the same people, always looking at the same running tops. Clearly everyone was having the same battle that day in Paris. And despite my perception of not running well/taking lots of walk breaks, when I watched my race video I was doing something resembling decent running in every single part. It just goes to show how your perception can be skewed by the tough moments!

There was a slight change to the final miles this year, meaning the run through the Bois de Boulogne was a little different. I knew my watch was about 0.2ish of a mile ahead of the mile markers, so just kept trusting the information I was seeing, knowing that the end would finally come. Finally passing the 26 mile sign at the roundabout outside the Bois de Boulogne is the sign that the finish line is near, and that’s where I found my extra spurt to take me to the end – I even made a valiant effort to race Superman, but he got me right at the end!

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Finally crossing the line and stopping my watch, I fully expected the usual wave of emotion and tears that accompany the end of a marathon…but they didn’t come. On reflection, I think my reframing the event as a long training run meant that despite my relief at being able to stop running once and for all, that same rush wasn’t there. I hadn’t achieved what I had set out to do on this occasion, and was simply using this run as a stepping stone towards running an autumn race. The fact that I didn’t wake up feeling like my legs were on backwards was further testament to this: the race felt tough, but I clearly didn’t work all-out otherwise my legs would have felt much worse.

As I moved through the finish area collecting my T-shirt, medal and refreshments (I opted for water, another banana, an apple and enjoyed an orange segment on the move) I noticed lots of people seeking medical attention, more than I think I’ve noticed before, and felt glad once again to have reached the finish line without any ill-effects.

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Reclaimed bag in hand, I went to find Steve who was waiting for me at the agreed spot having had a very similar race experience to me. I got myself sorted out then we joined the queue for some photos. Isostar France had set up a couple of backdrops and were advertising free photos which would be published on their Facebook page. We got a photo together at one backdrop then went to the other for individual photos. We then shuffled off to take photos next to the rather apt “I made it” backdrop before our short walk back to the hotel (and the “Everest” that was the stairs to our room!).

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The first thing I did was lie with my legs up the wall for a good 10-15 minutes which really made me feel better. It was then time for a shower, change and catch up on social media posts before heading out to meet some others for some food. We opted for a nearby pub which we had been to before as we had spotted this encouraging sign the day before:

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We then rounded off our day with a short walk along to the Tocadéro to watch the Eiffel Tower as it was lit up with sparkling lights.

 

This marathon may not have been what I wanted it to be, but I’m not letting it get me down. There are some things you can control on race day – clothing, nutrition, attitude – and some you can’t, weather being one of the most obvious. Could I have pushed to run faster? Maybe, but I would probably not have made it to the end of the race and would be facing a lengthy recovery period before I could run again. By making the decision to ease off and simply complete the race, I know I’m in a strong position to train through the summer and enter an autumn marathon to have another go at breaking that 4 hour mark. A marathon is a strange beast: training can go absolutely perfectly yet anything can happen on the day. Much as I love Paris, this simply wasn’t the time for me to reach my goal. Next time, things might be very different. At the end of the day, with 4:32:07 I still ran a respectable time, even though my perception of it was that I performed badly. That tells me there’s much more in me and a faster time IS possible. Besides, I just had a weekend in Paris. What’s not to like about that?

 

Paris When it Sizzles Pt2 – Breakfast Run

Often a real highlight of the Paris Marathon weekend for me is the Breakfast Run. For just a few Euros (I paid 12 Euros extra when I booked my marathon place) you get a good quality tech T-shirt and access to a fantastic 5(ish)k run followed by breakfast. Ever since the first time we took part in this event I have loved the atmosphere, so was excited to return and experience the new route this year.

IMG_1205In the past, the Breakfast Run began at the marathon finish line, winding its way by the Trocadéro, over the Pont d’Iéna and around the Eiffel Tower to the other side of the Champ de Mars. This year, a new route was on offer. I’m not sure why it was changed, however it did strike me that the new route meant there would be no public access to the runner area (finish line etc) on Avenue Foch once it was set up, thus increasing security in a time of heightened alert.

The new route began at the Place du Palais Royal along Rue de Rivoli. This was perfectly walkable from our hotel, but in a bid to save our legs we decided to walk the short distance to the Champs Élysées, avoid the massive metro station at Charles de Gaulle Étoile (basically around the Arc de Triomphe) and get on the metro at the much smaller George V station for the handful of stops along to the Palais Royal (one of the stops for the Louvre).

As soon as we stepped out of the metro it was quite clear we were in the right place. All we could see were people dressed in the same branded T-shirt as us… and flags. Lots and lots of flags. People were milling about chatting, taking photos and, as you would expect, joining the queue for the loos. We were on the lookout for various people we were expecting to see, and despite it being quite hard to spot anyone in these circumstances (not only was everyone pretty much dressed the same, but there were apparently 3000 people signed up to run!) we quickly managed to find our German friend Stefan whom we met at the after-party last year. We also managed to locate our friends from Dundee (the ones we had caught up with at the departure gate in Edinburgh the day before), as well as a local couple we were expecting to see, and I was keeping an eye out for Tina aka She Who Dares Runs who had contacted me the day before we left to say she had secured a place to cover the marathon for Women’s Running UK and suggested trying to meet and say hello as we have been reading each other’s blogs for a while now (hi Tina!).

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IMG_1219While we were hanging about, I did have a couple of very unusual (for me) experiences. I guess I forget that people other than my friends and family might actually read what I post, so on the odd occasion, usually travelling to a big race, that someone actually recognises me from my blog, I tend to be quite surprised. As Steve and I stood around, another runner came over and said, “are you the blogger?”. I think my surprise was evident to the poor guy as I responded in the affirmative, but it was really nice to be approached like that, and even nicer when he got in touch later to identify himself and explain a bit more about how he recognised me. He might be reading this, so hi Carl!

But by far the strangest thing happened when I was waiting for Steve to reappear from the toilets. A runner came over brandishing a phone and making the internationally-recognised sign for taking a photo. Since Steve and I were wearing our kilts for the run, we have grown used to people wanting pictures as a kilt does tend to draw attention, so I assumed this to be the case again. But no. Not only did this guy want a photo, he seemed to recognise me from the blog and was quite excited about it. A rather bewildered Stefan took the photo for him, and I was quite glad he was there to witness the moment as I’m not sure Steve would have believed me otherwise. Why not? Because the guy who wanted the photo was from Hong Kong. Yes, Hong Kong! Who knew my blog had ever reached Hong Kong!!! Now I feel internationally famous lol!

IMG_1217Shortly after this it was time to get underway. The route took us from the Place du Palais Royal, across Rue de Rivoli and into the Place du Carrousel where the famous pyramid is located. This meant our first photo stop and in among the melée we managed to lose sight of Stefan.

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IMG_1226After this it was along the quai and over the Pont Royal with the Musée d’Orsay on the other side. We stopped on the bridge for some photos as the Breakfast Run is untimed and not at all competitive so times don’t matter. It’s an event all about experience and friendship – more of a display or procession than a race.

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IMG_1232We then followed the quai along the river Seine past the Pont Alexandre III until we reached the Pont d’Iéna. Again, stopping at various points for photos.

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IMG_1243From this point, the remainder of the route was the same as previous years as we came up from the Quai de la Bourdonnais, along Avenue de la Bourdonnais and made a final right turn onto Place Joffre to the finish in front of the École Militaire where there was a real party atmosphere.

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IMG_1252Once over the line we stopped for some more photographs, mostly with complete strangers drawn by our kilts, during which I heard my name called and turned to see Tina – she had actually managed to find me among all those people! Circumstances meant it was a bit of a rushed meeting, but we did manage a selfie and I was most excited to later feature on a post on the Women’s Running UK instagram account!
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fullsizeoutput_1da1Photos done, we headed for the tables with breakfast laid out. In the past this has been a bit of a scrum, but this year felt much better organised with a proper queue formed and croissants/pains au chocolat being handed out by volunteers. Much less pushing and shoving! I managed to score a pain au chocolat, coffee, banana and bottle of water. I drank the coffee while queueing for my banana and water, but the rest we took over to a bench with a front row view of the Eiffel Tower. Not bad for breakfast al fresco!

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IMG_1255Suitably refuelled, we began our amble across the Champ de Mars, which always takes a while as we stop to talk to so many people and take advantage of the great photo opportunities. We first had a chat with some women from Canada – I hope they had a great marathon – then caught up with the Dundee contingent for a while. I was also intrigued to see an impromptu yoga class taking place in the Champ de Mars and was inspired to do one or two poses myself!

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IMG_1329Finally, we reached the Eiffel Tower and due to some new security measures there, we were unable to walk underneath so instead took a path around the side which turned out to be beautiful. There were gorgeous gardens and stunning views of the tower framed by trees. I’m really glad we took that route and will definitely go that way again in future.

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I was impressed that SCHNEIDER Electric managed to get their branding everywhere 😉

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Our final stop before returning to the hotel (which was within easy walking distance by this point) was the Trocadéro to take in the tower views. Over the last few years there has been some work going on around this area which often obstructed the view. This work isn’t quite finished, but there is much more space now to get some nice photos of the Eiffel Tower.

IMG_1343Once more, The Breakfast Run didn’t disappoint and we had a great morning enjoying the famous sights of Paris (along with one or two others with the same idea lol!). Here’s some of the Facebook Live video from the last section of the run that was posted on the official marathon page. The last minute or so gives a real flavour of the atmosphere:

If you’re ever in Paris for the marathon weekend, I highly recommend taking part in this event. You never know, you might see me there…!

Next up: Marathon day!

Week in Review – Race Week

And just like that, it was race week! Looking back, it hardly seems like any time at all since I began the year with the New Year Triple, but in reality there are many miles between the 1st of January and the first week of April. Today I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share my preparations for race day.

Since it was the second week of my two week taper, things were a little gentler this week, while still maintaining the rhythm of my training. I also had the benefit of being off school for our spring break, so that meant more opportunity to relax at home and feel better rested for the big day. Here’s how my week looked:

Mondayswim rest plus sports massage
Tuesday – bike intervals at the gym then swim
Wednesday – 4 miles easy
Thursday – PT session plus Ashtanga yoga
Friday – travel to Paris
Saturday – Breakfast Run
Sunday – marathon!!

As you can see, I made a little tweak at the start of the week by removing my Monday swim. I’ve written a couple of times about my elderly cat (she’s 16 and a half!) who now has an age-related health condition. This can be managed, but she can be prone to infections and other side effects of her condition and she had been unwell over the weekend, indicating a need for a change to her medication. I hadn’t slept well due to listening out for her through the night (I suspect it was a bit like having a sick child!) and had an appointment for her at the vet on Monday afternoon so I decided to stay at home and keep an eye on her instead of going to the pool. The good news is that her new medication has her bouncing back and much more herself again, which has been quite a relief for me. To get a bit of movement in my day I simply walked to my sports massage then shifted my swim to Tuesday.

IMG_1093That swim came after my bike workout. I made this my final hard workout of this training cycle and completed 20 reps of my intervals – the peak number at every stage. It felt a bit different doing them in the morning, but I felt strong and this gave me some confidence in my fitness which was consolidated by a decent swim afterwards. I then enjoyed a short time in the hot tub and sauna before heading home for a restful afternoon. My post-bike selfie also provided some entertainment for people on social media. Clearly I worked hard lol!

IMG_1094On Wednesday my traditional hill reps were replaced by an easy run to keep my legs turning over. Steve suggested about 4 miles and I set off on a loop I quite like, guessing a bit at the distance. It turned out to be 4.75 miles. Oops! Still, it was a nice start to the day and in the afternoon my parents, fresh back from a winter in Florida, visited for a cup of tea and a discussion of the cat’s medical needs since they would be taking care of her over the weekend.

IMG_1096Thursday was a beautiful day. The kind of day that makes you want to go for a run, but by this point my running legs were being rested ahead of the marathon, so after I had done all the things I needed to do to get organised for the weekend (by which I mean making lots of lists. I do love a list!), I decided to take a walk in the sunshine and enjoy poking about some of the nearby paths that I run along while I could take advantage of a more leisurely pace. I’d have loved to stay out longer but had packing to do!

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IMG_1151In the early evening I then headed to the studio for my usual PT session with Steve for some final work on my upper back mobility. Yet again, he couldn’t resist diving into my selfies!

IMG_1159After that, Ashtanga yoga. I REALLY enjoyed the class this week. I felt centred and like I flowed well between postures and in some I felt like my flexibility had improved a little more. I suspect things will feel a bit different next time in my post-marathon body! If I can get anywhere near my toes it will be a miracle lol!

Friday is usually my rest day, but this time it was my travel day. I got up early to make sure I had time to not only get myself ready, but to make sure I had given my furbaby all her assorted medications before leaving so that it would be a little easier for mum later in the day. I had packed everything for my trip the night before, so it was just a case of popping in the last minute items then we were off to the airport. We had expected to bump into Simon, who we had first met under similar circumstances last year, but before that we also bumped into Steve’s friend Fiona who now lives in Paris but had been back in Scotland for a few days and was heading back home to run the marathon as well. The departure gate at the airport is starting to feel like an annual reunion of the Paris marathon runners ha! We chatted a bit while waiting to board which helped to pass the time. Once on board, we discovered that there was an ITV film crew involved in making a documentary about becoming a pilot on board the flight. They were mainly filming in the cockpit but were also getting some shots around the cabin. I’ll now have to watch out for this coming on TV just in case I can spot myself!
IMG_1167The remainder of the weekend will be covered in more detail in separate posts, however I’ll include some highlights here:
Our first port of call in Paris was the Expo to collect our race packs. We ate there at the pasta party, had a look around the exhibits then headed for the hotel to unpack and get some rest (after a quick walk to pick up some bottles of water, during which I “returned the favour” with Steve’s selfie!).

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IMG_7550Saturday we were up bright and early for coffee and croissants before heading over to the Place du Palais Royal for the start of the Breakfast Run which was using a new route this year. I always love this event as it truly has such an international feel and we always find ourselves chatting to complete strangers, bound by the spirit of the marathon, and often stay in touch with many of these people via social media or our blogs afterwards. This year was no exception, and of course I have a photo or a hundred to remember the experience! Afterwards we enjoyed a second breakfast of coffee, pain au chocolat, banana and water while taking in a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower across the Champ de Mars!

IMG_1252 IMG_1268We then meandered back to the hotel to get changed then headed out for some lunch and a few “errands” before opting for an afternoon nap and some chill out time back at the hotel before dinner. Basically it was a day revolving around food and marathon preparations!

IMG_1340On Sunday we were up early to get breakfast as soon as it was available, before getting organised for the short walk to the start/finish area. I had been watching the forecast all week and every time I looked, it was getting warmer. Walking up to drop my bag off before 8am without any need for warm clothing was already an indication that temperatures were going to soar. In the end, that put paid to my plans for a sub-4 time. I’ll write more about this in another post, but I know from speaking to others that practically everyone was much slower than anticipated and had to reset their goals in order to complete the race. It may have been disappointing on the day, but my time of 4:32:07 is actually my second fastest marathon time ever thanks to my oddly chequered history with the distance, and knowing that this was a below par performance gives me hope that I CAN do it under different circumstances. Once I’m recovered, I’ll be thinking about my next marathon and having another go at that elusive goal.

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IMG_1389And that’s it. A valuable reminder that it doesn’t matter how well your training goes, there can still be a spanner in the works come race day. You can only control so many things, and sadly the weather isn’t one of them. By resetting my goal I finished feeling healthy and injury-free so I can pick myself up, dust myself off and live to race another day. That’s way more important than risking my health over a finish time.

Look out for further Paris-related posts later this week with all the details!

Did you run or race in the heat this weekend? How did it go?
Anything you’d like me to write more about in my Paris roundups?

Race Report – Inverness Half Marathon 2017

When training for a marathon the received wisdom is that it’s a great idea to race a half marathon around 4-5 weeks out from the event as a “tune-up”. This is the time to test out race day routines, clothing and paces to see where you are. Despite currently training for my 9th marathon, last weekend was actually my first ever tune up half thanks to my tendency to pick up injuries during the training cycle. The race was written into my training plan right from the start, however I held off entering until mid-February, right before entries were closing. Apparently even with training going well so far, I still retained a degree of caution!

As the day of the half marathon approached, I began to consider my plan. Since I have been running my long runs quite slowly, this was going to be my first opportunity to see if I could hold my target marathon pace for the duration of the race. But I also saw an opportunity to FINALLY get a new half marathon PB. I wanted to beat my time of 1:56:35 from Aviemore in 2012 and a little bit of runner maths showed me that if I could run at the top end of my target pace, I would finish around a minute quicker than this. The challenge was on!

With the race not starting until 12:30pm, we opted to drive up on the morning of the race, setting off around 8:30am. To save time, I organised all my kit the night before, but somehow neglected to take a “flat runner” photo, however my selection was similar to what I wore in Paris last year, just a different colour: Under Armour running skirt and top, Bondi Band calf sleeves, Lululemon arm warmers, Adidas Ultra Boost shoes and my trusty Spibelt to hold my phone. I was so beautifully colour co-ordinated that during the race a woman actually ran alongside me and complimented me on my outfit!

The drive up to Inverness was pretty uneventful. I’m not overly fond of the journey as it’s quite long and can be slow, but some of the scenery is absolutely stunning. We did, of course, make a pit stop at the House of Bruar for a “comfort break” as they have really nice toilets!

IMG_0954Not long after Bruar we were at the Drumochter Pass where the view really opens out to some spectacular hills.

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IMG_0958Once in Inverness we opted to use a multi-storey car park in the city centre then walk along to the Bught Park, an area we are pretty familiar with from marathon-related trips. To register, we had to walk through the Bught to the sports centre on the other side, and this is where I began to get a bit irritated. We had plenty time until registration was closing, but we immediately found ourselves in a queue. There were people trying to register for the half marathon, people trying to register for the 5k, people trying to get in to the toilets: people, people, people and no real order. I felt like there were too many people in the available space and nobody there to manage it so we couldn’t really be sure we were even in the right queue! By the time we got in to the sports hall, I was pretty grumpy and this wasn’t helped when I was told they were out of small T-shirts so I had to take a medium – and a “unisex” medium at that, which is basically a men’s top that’s far too big for little old me! I always wonder why race organisers can’t sort things out so that people are given the T-shirt size they requested on their entry, rather than whatever is left when they collect their race number – if you have to show ID to get your number, then your T-shirt size could be part of the same process to save disappointment. Grrr!

IMG_0970By this time I also wanted a pre-run toilet stop but was feeling so claustrophobic that I just couldn’t face heading back into the queues of people we had fought through. Instead, I found a different exit and located a different toilet. Still a queue, which I fumed my way through, but a little easier. I then stomped my way down towards the start area, still in a bit of a mood!

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Steve has antlers. I seem to have a head sprouting from my shoulder!

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IMG_0960I stood just to the front of the 1:50-2:00 section, still grumping about how busy it was, and waited to get underway. There was that heartbeat music that seems to be de rigeur at big races these days, followed by the obligatory countdown to the the start, huge cheer…and no movement whatsoever. Soon, though, I was moving towards the line, starting my watch and settling in.

The start, which is the final part of the marathon/10k in September, is fairly narrow so I found it difficult to settle into a rhythm. Already grumpy, I caught myself muttering about preferring training by myself so I can do my one thing. On the plus side, I was quite disciplined about not wasting energy weaving around people, knowing when the field stretched out a bit I would have plenty of room to run. There had been lots of announcements about record numbers, so perhaps the race is becoming a victim of its own success and organisers now need to consider ways to streamline registration and perhaps using a wave start to help ease congestion.

By the time I was about a mile in I had space to settle into my pace and began counting down the miles. Target marathon pace is between 8:50-9:00 per mile so my plan for this race was to have each mile average out at, or faster than, my target, taking account of the fact that I would be slower over hills. I found myself keeping a very close eye on my Garmin to see how I was getting on and right from the start was running faster than marathon pace. I wasn’t sure how this would pan out, but just let my body dictate the pace.

fullsizeoutput_1cb9I sustained a pace quicker than marathon pace through the first 8 miles, but then as I began the 9th mile, the rain began, I found myself running uphill into a headwind and there were a couple of tight turns. It was a bit of a miserable mile with the rain washing sweat into my eyes and it feeling harder to keep up the pace. Mentally, I checked out a bit and had to refocus myself on what I was doing. Steve had told me that there was a great downhill section at 9 miles and I clung to this information to get me through. Sure enough. towards the end of the mile I turned a corner and saw not only the 9 mile marker, but a fantastic swooping downhill. I leaned forwards and went for it. I might as well have been screaming “wheeeee!” as I went!

By the 10 mile marker we were retracing our steps from the start of the race. I was feeling much better thanks to the downhill section and a gel, so was ready to keep on going to the finish. The only thing was, the finish was NOT at the start line, but about 1/2 a mile or so further on behind the sports centre. That last mile felt absolutely endless and I have a recollection of a headwind. I also wasn’t entirely sure how far I still had to go. I trusted the distance on my Garmin, but since I couldn’t actually see the finish line it was hard to judge. At long last, however, I entered the running track which formed the finishing straight. I had half a lap on that lovely, bouncy surface before crossing the line.

I stopped my watch at 1:53:03, a time confirmed almost immediately with a text containing my official result. And what a result it was! At long last I had a new half marathon PB, and a much faster one than I had anticipated. I’ve often thought I might be capable of a 1:52:XX so those pesky 3 seconds were a little irritating, but I soon forgot that in my joy at running so well. Every mile except the 9th was faster than target marathon pace, and that was a very positive result.

fullsizeoutput_1cbaI made my way though the finish area to collect my medal, as well as a banana, Clif bar, packet of pistachios, water and somewhat ironically, suncream! Given that I was a bit of a bedraggled mess from the rain earlier on, this item was probably a bit superfluous on this occasion. Perhaps it will come in handy for another race where there is actual sunshine rather than “liquid sunshine”.

IMG_0961Steve, who had also run a PB, was waiting for me and we got some photos before I headed off to get changed into some warmer clothes.

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A “Highland Spring” tiara!

IMG_7260 IMG_7264We were both starving thanks to the lunchtime start, so made our way to McDonald’s to refuel (with me eating a protein bar on the way!). McDonald’s may not be very healthy and normally I would turn my nose up at it, but I must admit I don’t mind it after a race. Once refuelled, it was back to the car (via a quick stop for a takeaway coffee) for the journey home. We had to pull in a couple of times for Steve to stretch and get some air, so we were glad to get home and inhale the steak pies and rosemary potatoes we had waiting for us. Then it was time for a bath and bed, worn out but happy.

IMG_0962 IMG_0969Overall I have mixed feelings about this one. Obviously I’m delighted about the PB and the race itself was really nice. The negatives for me were the crowds that I think the organisers need to look at as the race continues to grow in popularity. There’s also the long journey there. We would have happily got the train, but there wasn’t one early enough on Sunday morning to get us there on time so we had to drive. The only other option would have been to go the night before, but that would have added to the expense with the need for a hotel. If we could have been earlier at registration I would have felt much more relaxed, but that just wasn’t possible for us. Still, I would recommend this event, with the caution that it is very popular and there will likely be crowds.
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Week in Review – Time For A Tune Up

Things continue to be busy at work as the deadlines for coursework loom, but somehow I’m still managing to fit in my training around it all. Here’s my regular week in review, linking up with Jessie at The Right Fits and Jess at Jess Runs ATL.

Believe it or not, I actually managed to complete all my workouts on the planned days this week with no changes or omissions – I think that means a grand total of two “perfect” weeks since the start of January! I keep mentioning this as a reminder that sticking rigidly to a plan doesn’t always work, but I know I’ve made progress and am now stronger and fitter even with some shuffling around of workouts each week.

Here’s how this week looked:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – bike reps at the gym
Wednesday – hill reps
Thursday – PT session plus Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun plus Hatha yoga
Sunday – half marathon

Monday was the morning after the run before. I was tired (18 miles at the busiest point in the school term will do that to you!) but my legs felt ok. Weary, of course, but not really achy which was good. Still, it was nice to get in the water at the end of the day. I did find it a bit harder to get into a rhythm with my breathing though, probably because I had worked my body hard the day before, but felt much more refreshed for getting in the pool and having a swim anyway.

Tuesday is bike reps day. Nothing of note to report here, it was just two more reps onto the workout I did last week. It’s tough, but I’m tougher and I know I’m much stronger now because of working through these reps each week since late last year.

My Wednesday hill reps also formed my entry to a virtual race organised by Women’s Running magazine for International Women’s Day. There was something so inspiring about listening to my favourite podcast (The Tough Girl Podcast which had a special episode for IWD) and thinking about the #BeBoldForChange message for IWD that gave me that extra oomph for the one final rep that I’ve now added to this workout. Basically it’s the same workout as before (5-4-3-2 reps to a series of lampposts) but by adding one rep to the final lamppost I now run right up the hill. Even saving a little something for that last rep, I still managed to run some of the earlier ones a bit quicker again which is really pleasing.

IMG_0942On Thursday I asked Steve to take me through some exercises for my hips. I’ve had a sensation that there was an imbalance between them and wanted to make sure I addressed that given my history of problems with my left hip. The issue seems to be less that my left hip was weak, more that my right was taking over, so we worked through some movements to help even things up. After that I had a really good Ashtanga yoga class. There were just two of us again this week and I felt really strong and centred throughout my practice. Just what I needed!

Friday was my rest day. I always look forward to this as I’m so tired at the end of the work week, especially right now as so much coursework is due and we’re close to the end of a very long term. This week I had a few errands then, as usual, Steve and I headed out to eat. I DEFINITELY needed my beer this week! Usually I have a curry to eat with it, but this week there was a ribeye steak on the specials menu and I really fancied that instead. It was delicious!

IMG_0946Parkrun this week was a little different as the team had opted to switch to the alternate route since the grass section has been getting so boggy. The weather hasn’t really helped it to firm up, so giving it a rest for a couple of weeks should help a bit. The alternate route is two laps of the Inch which, as regular readers may remember, is a route that always makes a little piece of my soul die! On the plus side, it’s a flat and fast route and the conditions this week were grey but still, offering the opportunity to run well. Parkrun rules state that alternate courses should be a little longer than the regular route so that there are no PBs set that will be too difficult to beat on the regular route, but I was still presented with a bit of a dilemma: on the one hand, I knew I had a half marathon the following day so didn’t want to overdo it; on the other hand, I was really curious to know what sort of shape I was in over 5k as I knew the state of the grass had been slowing me down recently. In the end I decided to treat it as a tempo effort and run comfortably hard but with the knowledge that I could speed up at any point. I was therefore delighted to run each consecutive mile a little faster and to finish with my fastest parkrun time since August (23:39). A very encouraging sign for my fitness!

IMG_0947Next up was my Hatha yoga class which I always really enjoy as I find the stretching really helps to reset my body after my week’s training so I feel ready for my longer run on Sunday. I then continued the relaxing vibe with an afternoon on my recliner watching TV and taking a nap with the cat (she’s in charge of rest and naps, remember!).
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And then it was Sunday. This year we decided to enter the Inverness half marathon as a tune-up for Paris. Steve actually did this race last year, but I wasn’t at that point ready for the distance after my stress fracture so didn’t go up there. Like Saturday, I was unsure what to do. If I want a sub-4 hour marathon then my goal pace needs to average out faster than 9:09 per mile, so my target is 8:50-9:00 per mile. Since this was my tune-up, I wanted to make sure I could hold that pace, however I also knew that my half marathon PB of 1:56:35 averaged out at 8:58 per mile, so saw the opportunity to FINALLY run a new PB – it’s been my PB since 2012 after all! In the end, I decided to run to feel with the aim of running each mile at, or faster than, goal marathon pace. This would allow for slowing on hills but some faster sections downhill over the undulating course. I’ll be writing a separate race report, but spoiler alert, I got a new PB with my 1:53:03 finish! Delighted doesn’t even come close!

IMG_7263The race starts at lunchtime so despite a big breakfast and pre-race banana, we were both starving and made a bee-line for McDonald’s afterwards. Not exactly healthy, I know, but ok as a post-race treat for some fast energy until we got home. It was a long drive back so we finished the day tired but happy (Steve got a PB too).

IMG_0962So as weeks go, this has to be a good one. I recovered well from my 18 miler, ran a solid time at parkrun then followed it up the next day with a half marathon PB. Now to see if I can convert that into a marathon PB next month…

How has your training gone this week?
Any PBs to share?

‘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 – 6th 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.

And just like that, it’s 2017! Happy New Year! I hope the first week of 2017 has been a good one for you and you’ve made some positive steps towards achieving your goals for the year. To help, this week’s finds are all about motivation and inspiration to help you get there.

First, Ed Whitlock. I know I’ve mentioned him before as he recently added another record to his impressive collection. At 85, Whitlock continues to perform phenomenal athletic feats (and can run a faster marathon than I’ve ever done!) which really challenge our belief that age is a barrier to what we want to do. What I find so interesting in this article from The New York Times is the results of various scientific tests Whitlock underwent a few years ago. His VO2 max, muscle physiology and attitude to life all far surpass those of his contemporaries, and scientists are now reassessing what this means for ageing and performance. For me, Whitlock is a fine example of not letting age stand in the way of achievement and reminds us all that it’s never too late to take on a new challenge.

On a similar theme, did you see the story of Robert Marchand earlier this week? Marchand set a new record for the furthest distance cycled around a velodrome in an hour, and while his distance of 14 miles may not sound all that impressive, that changes dramatically with the added information that Marchand is 105!!! He already held the record for those over 100, and now adds the over 105 to his collection. Like Whitlock, Marchand has a fantastic attitude, saying, “I am not here to be a champion. I am here to prove that at 105 years old you can still ride a bike.” Hear, hear!

Now, if you ever wondered about the New Year’s resolutions of elite athletes, wonder no more as Athletics Weekly has you covered. This piece confirms for me that other than athletic prowess, the elites are no different from the rest of us as the common themes in their resolutions are about making opportunities count, making more time for themselves and working hard to get what they want. Probably very similar to your own goals and resolutions for 2017.

If one of your goals was to get more serious about your running, then Runner’s World has provided some great advice about what you might have to change or prioritise in order to improve your running. Lots of sensible ideas here, with the benefits and potential risks set out clearly. I, for one, know that rest and recovery is something I need to pay more attention to and I will be trying to prioritise rest in the months ahead.

And finally, something heartwarming for you this week. A German film student made a 100 second ad as part of his course and this is the result: an ageing marathoner struggling to come to terms with life in a retirement home fights back against the deterioration in his body (and confines of his home) to run again. It may not be an official advert, but I’m still sure it will bring a smile to your face and perhaps even a tear to your eye. So in the spirit of Ed Whitlock and Robert Marchand, enjoy!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

New Year? Make Mine a Triple…!

…Triple RUN that is!

That’s right, The Running Princess got 2017 off to a flying running start…

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After ending 2016 with a Hogmanay (or New Year’s Eve for my readers outside of Scotland!) parkrun, I was keen to begin 2017 as I mean to go on – by running! Steve began 2016 with what we refer to locally as the “New Year Triple”, and after being forced to watch from the sidelines with an injury, this year I wanted to put that one last piece of unfinished business to bed, while also getting a real handle on where my fitness is right now. The idea of a New Year challenge appealed to me and taking on three runs in the same day is something I’ve never done before (I’ve done two in a day on more than one occasion though!). With challenges like this the difficulty is less in the distance, and more in the stopping and starting whilst trying to keep warm so the legs don’t seize up!

And so, rather than take up the invitation of New Year drinks with some of our neighbours, we had a quiet, alcohol-free night at home, going to bed at our usual time ready to attack the 1st of January head on.

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First up, a New Year’s Day parkrun at my usual event in Perth. I had taken it easy at the Hogmanay event, thinking in terms of endurance rather than speed with three runs ahead of me the following day. For me, anything between 24:00 and 24:30 would be my average time (sub-24 if I’m in really good form and I actually managed one of those a week before Christmas!) so given the strong winds and somewhat squelchy conditions on the grass section, I thought something in the 25:XX region would be fine. Finishing comfortably in 25:05 was therefore perfect and the ideal setup for the New Year Triple!

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Last (park)run of 2016!

Arriving bright and early on New Year’s Day it was clear that it was going to be a busy parkrun, with lots of visitors from other nearby parkruns also looking to complete a double (or triple!) run. We wished friends a happy new year, listened to the briefing then got ready to run. I had my “endurance” head on again and was keeping an eye on my time to make sure I didn’t go any faster than the day before. It had been cold enough for frost overnight so the grass section was a bit firmer, but there hadn’t been a hard enough frost to really make much of a difference.

I slotted into a comfortable pace and kept it nice and even for the first two miles, but found myself naturally speeding up a bit in the third mile after the grass section. Then, as I got nearer to the finish, I became aware of a guy running right on my shoulder. He looked pretty done and despite the two further runs I had ahead of me, my competitive brain just couldn’t resist speeding up a bit for the last 0.1 to the finish to see what he had left. Yes, I dropped him, but after crossing the line he thanked me for keeping him going. Turned out he was feeling pretty done and ready to quit, but was hanging on to me to get to the finish, so I shook his hand and congratulated him on a good run. Me? I finished in 25:14 (an average of 8:09 per mile) and was happy that I paced it about right.

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First parkrun of 2017 – Perth

We left fairly swiftly to allow us a bit of time for a pitstop at home (the toilets in both of the parks we were visiting were shut because of the festive hours) which presented me with a few additional comfort options: I changed everything on my top half so as not to have to spend all day getting cold in sweaty kit, picked up the shoes I wanted for the other two runs (different terrains = different shoes; my podiatrist must be so proud!) and popped some other bits and pieces in a bag (change of socks and gloves to keep my extremities warm, change of running tights in case I wanted them, a hoody to keep me cosy and a couple of things to help tidy myself up a bit post-run!). Then it was time to set off for Dundee and parkrun no.2 (re-timed for 11:30am on this occasion).

The most exciting thing about this for me was that I’ve NEVER been to a different parkrun. Steve has been to three other parkruns (Dundee plus two in England) but despite friends and colleagues often suggesting I go to their local parkrun, I had never yet indulged in any parkrun tourism. That was all about to change…

Dundee parkrun takes place at Camperdown park, and while I may not have taken part in the parkrun there before, I do remember running in the Stroke Association Resolution Run there back in 2013 which used near enough the same course. Back then I was not long back to running after an injury and remember finding it tough, so I had it in mind to be pretty conservative since this was the filling in my sandwich of New Year runs.

Again, there were loads of people about and having glanced at the route map on their website I thought I’d best listen to the first timers’ briefing so I would have a rough idea of what to expect. After that, it was the regular briefing where the run director (in a kilt) welcomed everyone and, to a cacophony of barking from representatives of a local cani-cross club) asked, deadpan, if there were any dogs taking part! 🙂

I was having an issue with my wireless earphones so decided to forget about music and just enjoy the run since I was in a new environment. Camperdown is much more of a trail run than Perth, and is a lot more hilly. The run director had suggested that speedy runners from Perth could expect to add on about 1:30 to their time, and less speedy runners at least 2 minutes. Since I wasn’t planning to run hard, I estimated I’d be about 2 minutes slower than my run in Perth a couple of hours before.

The route began with a lovely (but all too brief) downhill stretch on a cinder path before turning off onto a trail. I got a nice splash of icy, muddy water as someone went by me but I soon warmed up as I carried on through the trees towards an uphill climb (the bit that saps the 2 minutes away from your time!). The course was then briefly flat before a short downhill, rejoining a parallel trail for the return with a lovely(?) uphill finish on part of the same cinder path we started on.

Despite having already run, I soon realised the benefit of all that trail running in November and early December as I was able to pass people on the hills and run strongly through the trail sections with my trusty new trail shoes. The uphill finish was a bit energy-sapping, but I still finished in 27:18, pretty much spot-on with the suggested +2 minutes and I felt that my effort levels were about the same. Two parkruns down, one more run to go!

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Second parkrun of 2017 (and my first ever parkrun tourism!) – Camperdown, Dundee

Back in the car I removed my top layer, put on my warm hoody, took off my shoes and donned a pair of cosy socks for the half hour journey to Blairgowrie. The last thing I wanted was to get cold and my muscles to seize up before running again!

We, along with a few other lunatics who wanted to do the triple, were heading for the Blairgowrie New Year Fun Run which has now been taking place for over 30 years! I took part in this event in 2014 when I had the most awful toothache, so my expectations weren’t exactly high, but I do remember thinking it was a great event. For the bargain price of £2 you get a 6k run then warm up with some delicious soup. There are usually 200+ runners even with the variable weather conditions at this time of year and there is now the option of a walk as well (which heads off half an hour before the run).

With all of the logistics of getting from one event to the next, we knew we would be a little tight for time. We parked the car and walked up to the town hall where the race begins, with enough time to register (there’s no advance entry for this event) and nip to the toilets (indoors – luxury!) before everyone started to assemble for the run. I put on a different top layer and took a gel since there events were all too close together to really eat anything and I was getting hungry. I can confirm that taking a gel before a 6k fun run does get you some funny looks!

There were a few announcements from the organiser but I couldn’t really hear them properly since there were so many people bestowing new year greetings on others, so I figured I would go with starting to run when someone said, “go”, following the straightforward route and stopping when I got to the end. Foolproof! I suspect the announcements were telling us to run on the pavement since the roads were open, but since the pavements were quite busy most people ran on the road anyway for much of the route.

I’d sorted out the issue with my earphones and decided I would listen to some music on this one so that I would have a distraction if it got a bit tough! But as we set off on the main road out of Blairgowrie, I felt not too bad. I was surrounded by familiar faces so knew I was in about the “right” position and just kept on going, enjoying the experience.

After about a mile there’s a left turn onto the road going past the golf course, and despite a bit of an incline here I still managed to run a fairly even first two miles. At the top of the road we make another left to follow a roughly parallel road back into Blairgowrie, finishing right by where we had parked the car.

It was in the second half of the run that things started to get a bit harder. My legs felt much better than I had anticipated, but I was still on my third run of the day and there was a pretty brutal headwind on the way back into Blairgowrie (it had been raining when we arrived and I don’t think Mother Nature was quite done yet!). I gritted my teeth and tried to keep catching up with some runners in front of me.

The finish of the run is a bit deceptive, particularly if you don’t visit Blairgowrie much, as you make a sharpish left turn onto a side street and run towards the finish. I remember being caught out by this the last time when others began to speed up but I didn’t realise how close I was to the end. This time, I did a little better, but still had it in mind that I had to run a bit closer to 4 miles rather than the 3.8ish actually covered by the route. The third and fourth miles were affected a little by the headwind, but I still managed to run them pretty evenly, finishing the run in 30:54 (an average 8:09 per mile – exactly the same as run number 1 in Perth that morning. I’m nothing if not consistent!). There were prizes for the top ten males and females, and although I knew that wouldn’t be me, I overheard the organisers putting together their list and was surprised to realise that I wasn’t that far off the pace as the tenth female finished in 29:XX (they only take times for the top ten, so my timing is purely from my own watch). After three runs in one day, that’s really pleasing!

Third run of 2017 - Blairgowrie New Year Fun Run

Third run of 2017 – Blairgowrie New Year Fun Run

In many ways I felt that this was my best run of the day as despite being weary from my previous endeavours, I still managed to maintain a consistent pace that’s faster than my proposed marathon pace. Yes, my legs got a little weary but that’s more due to having the gaps between the races than the overall distance, so in terms of fitness I feel in a good position to embark on my spring marathon training.

Post-run we had some soup followed by a bit of shortbread and a small chocolate bar before heading back to the car to drive home. We were both really hungry so as soon as we got in we had some Christmas cake and I warmed with a cup of tea before a nice relaxing Epsom salt bath.

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Definitely a day for the Wonder Woman mug!

I also had a laugh at the scene by the back door – 4 runs in 1 weekend meant 4 pairs of shoes drying out!

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As for the rest of the day, we pretty much put our feet up and enjoyed a well-deserved break before an enormous and guilt-free plate of steak pie, potatoes and veggies (no photos since we inhaled it so quickly!) and a glass of fizz to finally toast the new year and celebrate the successful completion of our challenge. We were exhausted, but content after a great day of running and feeling like we were part of something as everyone who took on this triple-run challenge became a bit of a team. An example of the running community at its best and a great way to challenge yourself to start the new year.

Would I do it again? Absolutely!!

How did you spend New Year?
Anyone else go for a parkrun double?

7 for 2017 – My Goals for the Year

It’s that time of year again. If you’ve been with me for a while then you’ll know I don’t hold with all that “new year, new me” stuff as I believe that pinning all your hopes for change on one particular day (a day when, let’s face it, many aren’t feeling at their best!) is doomed to failure. If there’s something you want to change, change it now. If there’s something you want to achieve, start taking steps towards it straight away. Why wait? Too many people try to make massive and unsustainable changes on the 1st of January then feel miserable when they fail. Surely it’s better to change one small thing at a time or develop habits that have already been created than to try and completely reinvent yourself? So rather than resolutions, I prefer to set myself goals – things I would like to achieve over the course of the year that will help give focus to what I do and bring me one step closer to where I want to be.

I’ve already shared my final roundup of my 2016 goals and was, for the most part, pleased with how those went. I am aware, however, that a couple of them weren’t SMART enough in that they lacked clear cut ways to measure my progress, nor did they all have tangible deadlines to work towards. Those that I achieved tended to have something very clear and time-focused to strive for, so this year I’m going to try and address that a bit more.

And following the example of Sarah Williams at Tough Girl Challenges, I’m going to have 7 goals this year. Sarah has been encouraging the members of the Tough Girl Tribe to create and share 7 for 2017, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. As ever, sharing those goals and sharing my progress throughout the year will help to keep me accountable and make me reflect on how I’m getting on. So here we go…

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  1. Set some new race PBs
    The last time I set a big running goal, I kept it quiet. Not this time. This time I’m putting out there exactly what I want to achieve, and I want to achieve the big ones! This year I want a new marathon PB. My best currently stands at 4:05:07 from Paris in 2014, and in 2017 I want to better that. Ideally, I’m going to FINALLY achieve my dream of a sub-4 hour marathon, and that’s what I will be training for. I’m entered into Paris again, so that will be my primary target, but I’ll keep the idea of an autumn marathon in reserve just in case!
    As well as that, my half marathon PB has stagnated at 1:56:35 since the autumn of 2012. I find half marathons tough as they’re somewhere between the speed of a 10k and the endurance of a marathon, and I never quite get my pacing right. I think I could get closer to a 1:52 and this year I’m going to have a go at achieving that. I don’t yet know what my target race will be, but hopefully something will work in well with my marathon training.
    And in for a penny, in for a pound, I also want to have a go at breaking 50 minutes for a 10k. I ran 50:14 in the Great Scottish Run 10k in 2015, so I’m within touching distance. Let’s see what 2017 brings there…
  2. Run my 100th parkrun
    A very tangible goal. I ran my 50th parkrun at the beginning of November, and have continued to participate regularly ever since. Assuming my New Year’s Day goes as planned (I’m writing this in advance!) then I will be sitting on a nice round 60, leaving me the whole rest of 2017 to complete 40 parkruns. Even factoring in a post-marathon rest and being away on holiday, this is still achievable. I just need to keep myself as healthy and injury-free as possible.
  3. Maintain my step goal streak
    Back in the summer I set myself a mini-goal of achieving the step goal on my fitness tracker every day throughout my summer break from school. For an added challenge, I allowed that goal to increase incrementally and finished the summer feeling so much better for being away from my car for so long, getting more fresh air and walking everywhere. Unwilling to stop once the new school year began, I reset my step goal to a fixed 10,000 steps per day and came up with some creative ways to fit extra walking into my daily routine. The end of 2016 saw me reach a whopping 183 days (or 6 months) in my streak and there’s no way I want to stop yet. While I keep setting myself interim goals (100 days, 150 days, to the end of the year…) realistically I’ve come so far now that the only thing that I could really allow to stop my streak is to be incapacitated in some way such as illness or injury. My mini-goal right now is to reach the summer and make it 365 days, but what I would really love is to get my 10,000 minimum every day of 2017. Watch this space!
  4. Read at least 30 books
    One of my most successful goals in 2016 was to read more books, and I used the annual challenge on Goodreads to help me out. My goal (based on a bit of guesswork!) was 15 books, but I finished the year with 27 completed books so I’m making my minimum target for 2017 a nice round 30. I’d love for more of these to be running/cycling/adventure books as well as an assortment of fiction. I’d love your recommendations!
  5. Make more time to relax and prioritise rest during the work week
    I’m terrible for being on the go all the time. Work is busy, there’s training to do, and I often don’t find time to sit down and relax until about 9pm. Steve and I have worked together to create a training plan that has my longest workouts at the weekend, and I need to manage my work commitments a bit better to allow me to have a little more time to myself. I’d love to be sitting down (in my pyjamas!) a bit earlier in the evening, and if I can do that then I should be able to find more time to read, watch tv or even write more for the blog. I might even try getting to bed earlier on weeknights to help me rise earlier and achieve more in the early part of the day (a tough one since I’m a natural night owl) so will work on that in the new term.
  6. Commit to more yoga outside of my weekly classes
    2016 was the year I finally started going to yoga. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I really love that time out in my week to help me stretch, settle my mind and get stronger. At present I go to two yoga classes each week – a midweek Ashtanga class to really complement my other training and a weekend Hatha class to help me stretch and unwind. Now I think the next step is to commit to a more regular practice outside of those classes. That may be as little as once more per week, even just 10 minutes to help me unwind in the evening. There are plenty of online videos to use and I also have the Hit Reset book by Erin Taylor from Jasyoga, so will use these to help me on my journey.
  7. Blog more consistently
    I’m hoping that success in my other goals will help me with this one. In 2016 I committed to the WordPress challenge of a post per week, which I have achieved, however there were times in the year when I felt like the blog was limping along on nothing more than a Friday Finds post per week. And while it never fails to amaze me when people tell me how much they enjoy these (by their nature they invite less interaction) I’d prefer to put out more of my own content – training updates, life updates, thoughts on various running/fitness topics – and connect with more people. In 2017 I’d like to try and publish a post per week IN ADDITION to Friday Finds. You may notice a flurry of posts whenever I’m not at work, so what I’d really like to do is even things out a little bit and find some more time to write posts in advance so I can schedule them for specific dates or have something in reserve if I know I’m not going to have much time to write. I think this is going to be a challenging one, but I really want to give it a go and see if I can grow my total views in 2017. Any tips from more prolific bloggers than me would be gratefully received, as would your comments on any topics you’d like to see covered.

And that’s my 7 for 2017. Stay tuned for updates throughout the year to see how I get on.

What are your views on resolutions?
What are your goals for the months ahead?

My Year of Running 2016 (Link Up)

Today I’m linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC to share some thoughts on my running in 2016. I first saw this idea in a post from Lucy at Paddle Pedal Pace, then more recently one from my blog friend Jessie at The Right Fits (we linked up on a post earlier this year too) so decided to join in as getting involved with linkups can be good fun and help you to find great new blogs to read. So here we go…

  • Best race experience
    I actually didn’t race all that much this year thanks to the stress fracture I suffered at the end of 2015. I guess I didn’t want to push my luck, so limited what I entered to make sure it was races I REALLY wanted to do. That said, anyone who knows me well (or has been reading my blog for a while!) will likely guess that I’ll pick the Paris Marathon here. I may not have been at my physical peak for the race, but nothing beats running through the Paris streets, taking in the famous sights and soaking up the atmosphere from beginning to end.
    Can't stay away from Paris - back for more in 2016!
  • Best run
    At first I thought this was going to be a tough question. Would it be my first parkrun after my injury (a personal worst time-wise but I was just so damn thrilled to be running again that I loved every second!) or one of those beautiful trail runs that Steve has been taking me on in recent weeks? But I’ve decided it has to be that August parkrun which formed part of the I Am Team GB celebrations. Meeting a local Olympic medallist before the run was awesome and inspired me to run my fastest parkrun time of the year. A fantastic running memory!

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  • Best new piece of running gear
    I’m a bit of a running gear addict, so this one is probably a bit trickier, but I think I’m going to choose my new earphones. I love to listen to podcasts when I’m running but finding ways to tuck the cables out of the way can be a bit irritating, so this year I decided to get myself some wireless ones. I tend to only put one of the buds in so I can hear the ambient noise, so that influenced my choice, but as a long-time fan of Yurbuds, I opted for their female-specific wireless version. They’re easy to use, comfortable and the controls are easily accessible. Perfect for me.
  • Best running advice you’ve received this year
    Take your time. I don’t mean running slowly, but returning to running post-injury. It’s tempting to try and rush straight back to where you were pre-injury (I’ve probably been guilty of this in the past) so when the time came to start reintroducing running once my stress fracture had healed, I listened VERY carefully to the sage advice of my podiatrist. I put my super-sensible head on and when I wasn’t happy that I was fully ready to run, backed right off for another couple of weeks. I then followed his plan to the letter and made a gradual return to running. It’s now more than a year since I suffered that injury and so far so good!
  • Most inspirational runner
    I’m inspired by so many different people from the elites, to the everyday athlete. Often, it’s those everyday people just striving to do their best that are the most inspirational, so that’s the sort of runner I want to choose. It’s also really important to me to choose a female runner for this particular answer, so it has to be Sarah Williams from Tough Girl Challenges. I’ve written before about how much I love her podcast, filled with inspiring women taking on incredible challenges, and this forms the motivation for my midweek runs. But Sarah herself is a real inspiration, quitting her 9-5 city job to do something she truly loves and which can make a real difference. This year she ran the Marathon des Sables having come back from some health issues which had caused her to defer her place from last year and I loved following her journey. I’ve never met Sarah, but from chatting to her online and listening to her on the podcast every week, I kind of feel like I know her (hopefully that doesn’t make me sound like a creepy stalker!) and am definitely inspired by her.
  • Favourite picture from a run or race this year
    Without a doubt, it has to be this one from the finishing straight in Paris. Looking at this always brings a smile to my face as I’m quite clearly loving the experience, even though I wasn’t able to train as much as I would have liked to do the race justice. A great reminder that running does not always have to be about being the best but about having the best time!
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  • Race experience you would repeat in a heartbeat
    Hmmm. There are a few options here. I was tempted to pick the Paris Breakfast Run, but it’s not technically a race, so I’m going to pick the Caped Crusader 5k. This was a small, newish race I took part in when I was in Florida and am picking it a) because it’s a great memory from our Florida trip and b) because the small nature of the race meant that I got a really great finish position – 2nd female and 9th place overall! Probably one of my best racing achievements (and the main reason for picking this one over my other Florida race experience this year).
  • If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be?
    New discoveries. I finally started going to yoga (which I love), tried out some trail running (love that too) and actually listened to my body properly, backing off when I had to. Hopefully this has all made me a stronger runner as we head into 2017…

Phew! What a lot of great running memories. Despite a late start to my running this year I’ve still crammed in a lot and had a blast running, blogging and connecting with people. I wonder what 2017 has in store?

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Fancy joining in? All the easy peasy instructions are here. Enjoy!

Eat Pray Run DC Year of Running 2016