Looking back…

A friend mentioned that they were passing on my blog info to a friend of hers and I realised that, owing to the epic rest I had been forced to do, I hadn’t updated for a long old time (mostly because there hasn’t been much to report given the recovery process I needed to go through). What I also hadn’t realised was the fact I never got round to doing a full blog post about actually completing the marathon and instead settled for a Facebook update. I’m actually quite cross with myself about this given how much completing the marathon meant and how much I had documented along the way!

So, given the time of year, and the fact that many of us look back over the year that has been and start planning what is still to come, I thought I would finally get around to my marathon entry…

Friday 26th October – the end of my first half term in a new job role and the night before the race. Claire and I arranged to go and pick up our race numbers together which was very much needed or I might have jibbed at this hurdle! We wandered through Llanberis to the event village and it was great to see the atmosphere building already but the reality well and truly hit, as did the nerves – was I really going to run a marathon?! I felt very sick!

Race number, t-shirt and hoodie collected (along with a quick hug and some final words of encouragement from Jayne) and I headed for home where Owen had made a massive spag bol and I could focus on trying to get some rest.

Race number collected – note the fear in my eyes!
Kit all ready for action!

Saturday 27th – OMGEEEEEEEEEE! Race day! I can’t actually remember how well I slept the night before but I woke up absolutely buzzing! I always get super nervous before I do an event and today was no exception but in addition to the nerves was this absolute determination that this finish line was going to be all mine! I sorted myself out with banana and porridge and O. and I went to pick Kate up from Tregarth before heading back to Llanberis to meet Claire and Han. The weather was cold but sunny and there was even snow on the mountain tops; stunning! We joined the crowds heading towards the start line with O. in tow and the excitement was now overtaking the nerves. I had been overwhelmed by the messages of support I had been receiving all morning but the time to switch my phone off had come and I needed to get in the zone. I was surrounded by hundreds of people with the same goal in mind; 26.2 miles, bring it on!

Start line selfie!

I knew I was never going to manage to keep up with the girls so we had big hugs and a promise to see each other on the other side and then the race began. It is so easy to get caught in the flow of runners and start off too fast so when I caught site of fellow Runaways Sarah and Kath I made a beeline for them as I knew from Beaumaris Half that they would keep me going at a suitable pace. Running through Nant Peris towards the climb of Pen y Pass and I was completely overcome with something I can’t put in to words but I was in a very happy place. I had endless support and encouragement from so, so many people but the only person I could rely on now was myself so whatever happened it was down to me. I soon parted ways with Sarah and Kath but I was completely okay with being on my own.

Pen y Pass was indeed a tough climb and I took a few walk breaks to get up it whilst chatting with people along the way. I made a point of looking behind me a few times on that climb just to put in perspective the height gained. That valley is stunning anyway so well worth checking out!

Top of Pen y Pass

It’s awesome being towards the back of the pack because people like to chat! Everyone runs these events for different reasons but us folk towards the end like to meet and greet new folk and are more than happy to share stories. I chatted with lots of people on my way around which all contributed to my enjoyment of the whole experience. It was on the descent from Pen y Pass that it dawned on me that now I was on the course there was no way in hell I was coming off it until I crossed that finish line! This was a slight issue for me because I had made a promise to my physio, coach Chris and O. that if my knee started to cause me any problems I would pull out but at that particular moment in time I felt good and the only direction I was going in was forward.

At Llyn Gwynant I reached the point where I had recced the course in training so every step was now slightly more familiar and I could start to get my head around inclines and the route a bit better but at mile 10 I hit an issue; my bloody knee. As I said earlier, I had promised everyone that if I encountered serious pain I would pull out and this initial issue wasn’t so much pain but a definite awareness that things were not feeling right. I was not far from Beddgelert (the half way point) so I eased off and started a walk/run with the intention of seeing how it went over these next three miles. It wasn’t ideal to have had to resort to this so early but I so didn’t want to give up.

Well Beddgelert came and went and it turns out that when I put my mind to it I can actually walk at a decent pace! I knew that if I could keep the walks around the 15 minute mile mark and put a burst of speed in every so often I could still get this race done and more importantly to me, get in before dark! By the time I got to Rhyd Ddu (where I knew Karl and Keira were going to be cheering) I knew I wasn’t going anywhere! Every step now was a step closer to home and I was still enjoying ticking off the markers as I went along.

At Waunfawr (around mile 20) I had the most amazing surprise as O. and Alison had turned up to cheer! I hadn’t expected to see them until the finish line and I burst in to tears with gratitude. This point is the start of the final and the most brutal climb of the course so I went for a big hug before carrying on my way. I also caught up with Sarah and we stuck together to get over this last hurdle before we went to claim our coasters! Part way up the climb we found Jack on timer duty who supplied us with some much needed sustenance in the form of salt and vinegar kettle chips and a big high-five and then we carried on up the hill…

Delighted to see Jack!

At mile 24 you reach the final feed station and they serve tea, that’s right, TEA! It was like liquid gold and the biscuit went down a treat too and then all that is left to do is get down the hill and across the finish. At this point I told Sarah to go on ahead mainly because I knew my knee was not going to enjoy this descent one bit but also because I needed to finish this one on my own. I was right regarding the knee, that descent was absolute agony and I did start to worry that I might have done some serious damage but there was no chance I wasn’t going to finish now and I just kept going, one foot in front of the other. By this point in the course the view across Llanberis is awesome but you can also hear the noise from the finish line which is enough to keep you going. I reached the village and started to pick up the pace to ensure a decent finish and when you turn the corner to the finish straight and hear everyone cheering for you, it was only right to finish properly (luckily I had conserved enough energy through the jalking to be able to run at this point). I could feel the tears starting again as I made out the cheers from O. and the purple fam but when I finally saw that finish line I couldn’t help but punch the air with victory.

Crossing the line!
Nailed it!

Ten months in the making, hours of training, the laughs, the tears and the new friendships and I had actually done it! 6 hours and 17 minutes later and that finish line was in the bag – I was absolutely buzzing!

When I got home I put a post on Facebook thanking all the amazing people who had helped me along the way and did my best to thank all the people who had sent me messages that day too – my thanks to everyone still stands. Doing this marathon has changed so much for me: obviously it made me fitter and showed just what the body can do when you give it a chance; it has shown me how strong my mind can be – if you want it in your head, your body will follow; it has given me new levels of discipline with regards to training but, most importantly to me, it has given me friendships that I know will last a lifetime.

It took me a long time to physically recover from the after affects of that day (which is why my blog has been quiet) but the running has started again, steadily and the plans for next year are beginning to get formed; so excited about these. In the meantime though, I did actually get a small marathon tribute tat and will forever cling on to the title bestowed on me by Gez… I am so proud to be a marathon wanker!

Fresh ink!
Nuff said!

On to page two

When I first received my marathon training plan I remember feeling a little bit daunted and overwhelmed at what I was seeing and I had to stop and take a moment to remember to just focus on achieving one box at a time. That said, when faced with things in the diary that can potentially affect my running routine I know I have to do a certain amount of planning ahead to ensure success and following the disaster earlier in the summer I have well and truly learnt my lesson – never miss the long run!

The last few weeks have seen the training coming along nicely and (dare I say it?!) I have actually allowed myself to grow a little in confidence. The ticks in each box are getting done; the route has started to be practised and there have been some small victories with things like progression runs that I had never thought would happen! I was pleasantly surprised with myself when I went out with Chris last Sunday to do my first chunk of the course and managed to go further than expected in the time I needed to (9 miles instead of 8).

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The whip cracker and me!

I snuck in an extra run with Claire and Anke on the Tuesday but as this was a 6km trail run(!), I figured it wouldn’t hurt! We had a lovely mooch on part of the slate trail near Mynydd Llandegai and I even managed to set a new PB for the first 5km!!! The positivity continued with my hill reps session on the Wednesday (although 5 sets of 5 minutes with only two minutes recovery did push me to the vom zone) and then I had to make a journey down to south Wales to resume my welfare role for a few days. I took this in to account when sussing out my training and decided that a 30-minute progression run was more than manageable whilst away and I opted to move the long run to Monday (instead of Sunday) as I knew I wouldn’t fit it in whilst I was down south and after four hours in a car wouldn’t want to do it when I got home. I was absolutely delighted with my progression run as I finally managed to pace it so I had enough gas in the tank for the final set (this has never happened before and I usually stop to walk after 3 minutes of the last set) and it was lovely to be running back in the Bay; I haven’t done that since last year’s Cardiff Half Marathon.

 

Then came the scheduled long run. I knew I would need some motivation to go out and get it done after the first day back to school and it was fantastic that Alison had mentioned being up for a long plod. My initial thought had been to run the first part of the marathon course but I don’t really trust the traffic on Pen y Pass so need to do this on a Sunday morning when, hopefully, the road is quieter than risk doing it in the middle of the afternoon. Option 2 was to run from the house up to Llyn Idwal and potentially do a loop around the lake before meeting Owen in the car park, this would have been around 11 miles. In my head I wanted to aim for 10 but I knew I needed to tick off 120 minutes whatever happened. I managed the first mile up to Tregarth and then my body seemed to take notice of what I was doing and started a serious protest. The next two miles were unpleasant, clunky and almost resulted in complete abandonment of the session. I have no idea where this came from but it’s like my legs were not connected to the rest of me and it just felt rubbish. At this point, I cannot express my gratitude to Alison enough because I know for a fact that if she hadn’t been there, I would have thrown my toys out of the pram and walked back home. Her gentle encouragement and then my stubbornness got me through to mile four when everything finally seemed to fall in to place. I have to say, it’s been years since I have made it that far along the Lon Las Ogwen path and though the inclines got tougher, the scenery got more and more beautiful and I really started to enjoy it. We did make the most of the gorgeous evening and stopped a ┬ácouple of times to take photographs or take on some more fuel (orange High5 aqua gels were a hit, thanks Chris) so although it felt crappy at first, I actually did get to enjoy it. We made it to Llyn Idwal car park bob on the two hour mark which was 8.5 miles and I took the decision to stop there. In hindsight, I could probably have managed the extra mile and a half but given the fact I have a half marathon event on Sunday and the fact that I had come so close to throwing the towel in I decided to take this as a small victory and give myself a break. I’m so grateful to Alison for her company this evening, I would not have done it if it wasn’t for her and to Owen for, once again, going out of his way to ensure I can get home safely.

So with that run completed, I move on to page 2 of the training plan. Glancing ahead there are going to be some pretty serious sessions on the cards and after next Sunday every long run I do will be longer than I have ever gone before. I just need to remember to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Training Troubles

I haven’t been able to write an update for a while as, quite frankly, there was a rather static period in my training plan; a stumbling block I had not anticipated so early on in the training mission, that of the Lampeter Lull!

Now, in previous years, my moonlight period as welfare staff with the National Youth Orchestra of Wales has never affected my ability to do anything and I can usually guarantee doing a few sneaky runs before breakfast as well as getting a tonne of planning done for September. This year I managed a grand total of two training runs and zero prep work; the runs weren’t exactly earth shattering either! The hill reps session was plagued with irrational thoughts on my part including many repetitions of “don’t trip, don’t trip, don’t trip” interspersed with “wouldn’t it be ironic if you were the one who needed looking after” and the threshold session was done on the dreadmill as I couldn’t face the lashing down rain! Needless to say, I returned from Nash having had a great time but completely knackered and really cross that I had let myself slip off the training wagon so spectacularly!

I was delighted to get my arse back to the club run on Wednesday and humbled to hear that everyone was willing to follow my plan for the session – 4×5 minute beastings with 3-minute recovery blocks. The beauty of this being everyone could push themselves to their own limit and there was no pressure to keep up with anyone (thank God)! It was a tough session and my legs definitely felt tired but it was also great to be back in the saddle. Not one to do things by halves and keen to get fitness back (how annoying is it that it starts to go after so little time?!) I went for a second beasting at Oz’s class on the Thursday and my own hill reps beasting on the Friday morning before setting off with Owen and Ella on our Scottish adventure.

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Pretty much back on plan by this point, the only thing I had left to tackle was my long run. I was in a bit of a quandary as to how long this should be given the fact I had missed both the 75 and the 90 minute session (I hang my head in shame as I type that) but given the fact we were now on holiday on the Isle of Mull and the fact that I had a support crew in the shape of Fran, Matt and Morgan on their bikes I threw caution to the wind and went for the 105 minutes that I should have been up to. I asked Matt to plot a route from our campsite and explained that the time I need to be out for should equate to about 8 miles in Plodder speed so he sorted that and off we set! I knew my legs were going to take some warming up and I also knew that the road had some good inclines; what I didn’t know was just how tight my calves would feel at times or how funny my tummy would go. There was a lot of walking stops on this run as well as some scenery stops but I did it! In fact, we ended up doing just over 8 miles and being out longer than 105 minutes but I blame baby piglets, a private bay and Jean for that!

My plan officially says this week should be a rest week so I have two 30 minute runs to do, one being thresholdesq the other easy and then a 75-minute long run. I know Fran, Matt and Morgan are up for another support trip so they’ll join my for the short runs and we’ll explore a bit more of the area near us (though I am tempted to save the threshold until we get to Glasgow and do a Scottish Parkrun…)! In addition to the on-plan runs, we’re also doing a lot of walking and have pitched really near the sea so I am hoping that a swim or two and all these walks can help to build my fitness up!

My holiday read so far has been Your Pace or Mine by Lisa Jackson, it could not have been a better choice for me given my frustrations at being away. She’s definitely making me realise that things are moving in the right direction and that I need to keep believing in my goal. She’s also given me ideas for future goals – uh oh!