Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Coastal Trail Series: Sussex

Another Saturday Sunrise

Coastal Trail Series: Sussex
I was pretty excited about this race on the Southern coast in Sussex, across the Seven Sisters. Not only did I want to run a March marathon, but I wanted to see this area, and it fit perfectly in my training plan. If I said to my husband, “Hey, let’s drive all day on Friday, walk around on Saturday, and drive all day back on Sunday to see some pretty cliffs,” he would have looked at me like I was crazy and said, “No way.” Fortunately, if I say, “I want to go run a marathon in Sussex,” his response is, “Have fun, I’ll see you when you get back.” So off I went.

Storm brewing

It was a lot colder and windier than the weather report had proclaimed, but I was prepared for every contingency. At the race start I was bundled up with multiple layers and looking around at the people with me, some of whom were bare legged and hatless, thinking half the group was nuts, but I was not sure yet which half, the over-dressed half or the under dressed half.

We took off and things were going well. I went right into my power walk for the up hills and laughed at all the people that had taken off at a fast trot and were now lined up waiting for a turn to go through a small gate. (English trail races include a multitude of livestock corralling, narrow gates to pass through and fences to climb over, via an assortment of slats and steps.) Everyone stood around waiting their turn and even the walkers with trekking poles caught the runners. From the take off though, I realized it was going to be a definitely “back of the pack” day. Oh well, I was not here to prove anything to anyone but me. I watched the line of runners stretch out before me, thinking either they were all very ambitious, or I am a horrible trail racer.

Then the storm hit. I had decided to wear my gloves, ear band, and buff and was very glad I did. We had watched it coming across the ocean, bringing winds that knocked us backwards. Ice pellets and rain hammered us as we slogged up the first set of hills. Up is usually good when you can run down the other side, but running down was very dicey. The grass was slick with rain and ice, and very steep and uneven, so we were picking our way down trying not to fall, rather than galloping down like we wanted. At one point, I lifted my foot to take a step up and a wind gust hit so hard I was suspended in mid air, unable to move forward to put my foot down ahead of the other, and desperately trying not to get tipped backward for a tumble back down the hill I just climbed. This seemed like it went on forever. Finally, the rain stopped and the sky began to clear. That is when I realized we had been out there 40 minutes, and had gone 2.5 miles.  Not a good sign!

  The next few miles were kind of a blur. Cute towns and villages with cute buildings and pretty flowers. I ran for a couple of miles with a young graduate student from Malaysia. It was his first full marathon and he was soaked and freezing in his sweats. He did not finish. England never ceases to amaze me in its ability to be totally stormy and over cast one minute, and have nearly clear blue skies the next, but that is how it went. Looking back at pictures, it is hard to imagine they were all taken within a few hours.
The grass and dirt isn't thick, chalk is just beneath the surface
 and makes the stickiest mud I have every encountered

Back out into farm country I was battling with the mud made of chalk that hangs onto your shoes like super glue and is the consistence of potter’s clay. On the up side, the clouds had moved off and it seemed like the weather would finally be decent, and maybe my camera would dry out enough to start working properly again. I rounded a corner and suddenly remembered something they said during the briefing about, “You will run past the _______so be sure and look up to see it.” I had no idea what they had said until the sun broke through the clouds and the Long Man of Wilmington was shining like it was made of mirrors!

The hill figure lifted my spirits and carried me for a while as I slogged through more mud, trying not to lose a shoe or twist an ankle. Surprisingly, I could see runners ahead of and behind me. Usually in a race like this I’m pretty much alone by about 10 miles in, so it was nice, especially since I was worried about missing a turn. The race was extremely well marked, but one can never completely account for “running brain.”
Even in the tire ruts, the mud was deep

Finally, in a steady drizzle, but thankfully sheltered from the wind for a few moments, we dipped down to the half way mark. I had been running, hiking, and slogging for 3 whole hours! My dreams of a 5:00 or even 5:30 finish were long gone and I was not even totally sure I would bother finishing at all. I was so tired, cold, and wet that my thoughts kept drifting back to a hot shower and dry clothes. I would think, “Okay, I’ll bag it at 20 and call it a training run,” but then I would remember the 35 mile ultra just 4 short weeks away, and the need to finish all 26 miles would reassert itself. It was the only thing that kept me going when I passed within 100 yards of my car at around 17 miles, what a terrible tease!
Notice the little white sign with red arrows, these were our trail markers.
 Perfect for spotting under a lowered cap.

Oddly at this point I started passing people. My power walk was paying off and everyone was done in. The tourists were out and about, which would be a good sign about the weather, except these English folk are tough as nails and go out hiking and sightseeing is crazy weather! Around this time I came upon the steepest hill of all. It looks vertical in my elevation profile, and felt nearly that steep when I was on it. I was just going to walk down, since my time was shot and my legs were buckling, but it was too steep to walk. It was also too steep to run and we ended up just sort of shuffling down in a controlled fall, praying not to LOSE that control and roll down ass over tea-kettles. This one decent was really hard on my knees. My quads tightened into rocks and I felt the familiar ripping sensation that goes with the injury I have been battling. Tight quads also pull your knee caps of track so the next mile or so was spent stopping to stretch in an attempt to get everything back on track.

Poor tree didn't stand a chance
 With just a couple of miles to go, I felt much better and did not even care about the wind, I was nearly done and with plenty of time before the cut off. My finish time was 6:02, which I won’t hold up in comparison to road races, but I certainly got in a lot of hill training and more important, I made a hard effort for 6 hours which brings me closer to the 7 hour expectation for Two Oceans. I truly only want to finish that one. Anything under 7 hours will be pure frosting on my happy cake!
Next up, Manchester Marathon

A few pictures from Eastbourne
The low dark hills on the right are France



Friday, February 28, 2014

Malta Marathon 2014

What a way to start the day!

       I am struggling with where to begin for this one. We had spent two days touring the island nation of Malt and although we barely scratched the surface, we fell in love with it. I looked forward to race day with a mix of elation and the normal anxiety of race day. The views promised to be wonderful, but the wind was wild and black clouds skittered at the edges of the sky threatening to envelop us in a dismal storm.

I was determined to be prepared for any event so with my camera in one hand and a rain poncho in the other, I ran while enjoying and documenting the course

 I hid from the wind up on the Mdina waiting for all the runners to be shuttled up from the port. Reluctant to give up my windbreaker pants and long sleeve t-shirt, I put off checking checking my bag to the last minute,  .
   I found Donald, a fellow member of both Marathon Maniacs and the Marathon Globetrotters so at least I wasn't alone with my chattering teeth :-) 

And we're off! Winding our way through tiny streets full of cute windows and doorways

This guy was resplendent in his new jeans and fashionable collared shirt

I wish I could look him up by his bib number because I'm dying to know what his finish time was! I think he finished shortly before I did :-)

The views of the Mdina were wonderful, but those black clouds were a little scary. I was sure we would get rained on before the end, which explains the yellow rain poncho in my hand in all my race photos, LOL.

A few of the Portsmouth runners. There were a lot of them and I heard their flight was a rollicking good time!

Grandpa in his jeans is still keeping up with the whipper snappers. I hope I can run half as well at his age!

I stink at selfies,  but I try :-)

I was tempted to take a snack break!

There was a trio of runners from Greece and the guy in the group kept insisting on taking my camera to run ahead and take pictures of me. This is my "can we get this over with please" smile. I think he was pacing the two ladies behind me bored with their slow shuffle.

Scary clouds getting scarier. The cacti, which are all over the island, are to break the wind.
     It didn't take long for the approximately 500 runners to thin out. I was lost in thought and enjoying the scenery when I passed the 21K sign along with another pair of runners. I heard one say we had been running just over two hours, WHAT? I looked at my interval timer and then, in disbelief, asked what time it was. At 10:10 am we had been on the road for 2 hours and 10 minutes, the fastest I have ever hit the halfway mark in a marathon. I was worried, knowing I had gone out WAY too fast, but I also knew the second half was almost entirely downhill. The negative split ship had sailed, but the PR was coming into view!
The kids handing out sponges were adorable. 

These three took their marshaling and cheering very seriously!

Most of our running zig-zags and loops were in Mosta
The map worried me since that is a lot of potential for missed turns, but it was very well marked and marshalled so there were no problems at all.

       The whole race was a swirl of things to look at. Every inch of Malta seemed exhotic, from the carefully tended vegetable gardens and vineyards to the spires of the many churches, it was all new and interesting. 

I love this picture because it has everything, the Mdina, the cactus, the grape vines, and the stone walls

Malta is the most bombed place on earth, thanks to the Nazi's in WWII. A bomb dropped through the roof of this church in Mosta and landed in the middle of 300 people waiting for Mass to start. IT DID NOT EXPLODE!

Viewing the Mdina again and getting ready to turn towards the harbor.


Hmmm, speed kills, that must be why the walk-a-thon people were out in force

I caught up to the Greeks again, LOL. I was happier this time since we were getting close to the finish and I was making record time.

In addition to the marathon, there was a half marathon and a walk-a-thon. The walk-a-thon people drove the runners crazy because they kept blocking the way! It wasn't so bad at this point, but once we were down to a single lane of road it was maddening. 

This is the Black Pearl, not a Disney rip off, but the original that was owned by Errol Flynn

View of Valletta as we neared the finish line in Sliema

This was cool, they had an arch at the 1km to go mark!
     The last 5K was really rough. My fast time was catching up with me full force and my legs felt like rubber from all the downhill miles. I was still running though, slowly, but without walk breaks, grinding my way through the walkers to get to the finish line knowing that unless lightening struck in the way of a cramp or sudden painful disaster, my PR was locked in.

Happy finishers.
             As I hobbled my way through the finish line gauntlet, I saw a little girl held by her father leaning over the rail to touch her mother's medal. She yelled over the crowd, "Mamma, did you win!?" I wanted to say, "Yes! Yes she did!" :-)

Vodafone was set up to automatically upload race pictures to Facebook, including having a whole team of people to sort through them and post just the best pictures!

The whole race was a party atmosphere!
     The Malta Marathon was truly one of my top races. Not just because I FINALLY broke 4:30 (still awaiting an official time, but right now it looks like my chip time was 4:24:50,) or because it was nearly all downhill, but because I enjoyed all of it and would do it again in a heartbeat. I am shocked that it isn't better known. There were only about 500 runners and the race never filled to capacity. The Island itself needs at least a week of exploration. Temples older than the Pyramids, the last remaining dialect of the Phoenicians (although everyone speaks English and all the signs are in English,) stunning water and beaches, amazing food, reasonable prices for everything, low crime rate, and a mixture of people so rich everyone is welcome. It is truly a fusion of all things Mediterranean.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Newcastle Racecourse Marathon 2013

     I realized today that I never wrote a race report for the Newcastle Racecourse! Although, considering the experience I had, it is not particularly surprising that I would try to forget it.
     The race was held December 8th on the High Gosforth Park Racecourse. The competitors, all 100 or so of us, ran around the service road that is normally reserved for ambulances and grounds keepers. To get in the appropriate mileage, we started part way around the track with different start lines for the half, full, and 50K so that everyone would finish up at the same place. It was almost 16 laps for the full marathon, 19 for the 50K runners.
    You really get to know the terrain when you go around so many times. I tend to stop looking around and focus only on what is on or next to the track; the hay bale that is ½ way around, the billboard that is ¾ of the way around, the crest of the hill, the beginning and end of the section into the wind. It all becomes very redundant. It was not an ugly course, there were trees and hills, but it was foggy with occasional rain and incessant wind. I would get a bit too warm running with the wind, and then freeze running into it so I was shucking or donning my jacket every 10 minutes or less.  There were also golfers in the center of the track.  I don’t know how anyone could play in that wind, but these folks North England folks are tough and a little bad weather does not keep them from their weekend golf game! On many occasions I would hear that sickening thwak that sounds like impending doom, but to the best of my knowledge, none of the runners were hit with golf balls.
     The 50K runners really impressed me. All of them finished their 19 laps before I finished my 16, whizzing past me in happy chatty groups. My head and my heart were simply not in this race and it showed in my slogging steps and downcast eyes. I ran it just to run it, an intermediary step between Dublin and Anglesey in January (which I did not end up running at all.) I think 26 miles on the treadmill would have been easier mentally and certain logistically and financially.
     Another nasty surprise came when I realized the drink I had been chugging each lap had artificial sweeteners in it. They make me very sick and normally I can taste them in the first sip, but everything tastes odd to me in England so I did not think much of the flavor. It never occurred to me that anyone would give low sugar drinks to runners, but after asking about it on the Marathon Maniacs’ page, it seems this is becoming more common so I will have to keep a sharp eye out for it. It really crippled me for the race. My stomach was killing me and my mood turned even darker and angrier. The food dye Red-40, and artificial sweeteners have the same effect on me. They do something to my nervous system that makes me want to jump out of my skin and rip peoples’ faces off. It is a horrible feeling and one that is very hard to overcome in order to finish a marathon. A very hard day turned into a completely miserable one.
      I really only needed to run 20 miles to get in the time I needed on my feet so I could easily have walked away after 12 or 13 laps, but I was so mad at how poorly I was doing that I was determined to stick it out and get my lousy medal. When I finally finished there were only 4 or 5 people left on the track, all full marathoners duking it out with the wind. I really appreciated the volunteers that stayed at the finish line/lap station, making off runners as they came through and manning the drink table. The emergency workers on bicycles had long since retreated to the hut where it was warm and out of the wind, which really made me angry because I saw a runner nearly collapse. She had bent down to retie her shoe and set off a vasovagal response. Fortunately, she was not running alone. I stopped to make sure she was okay and then went ahead to alert the volunteers while her partner took care of her.
     When I finally finished, I hung around for a few minutes to watch the girl that had been struggling to come in and cheer her on. While chatting with the volunteers, the race director told me I was the only woman in my age group to finish the race so, Tah-Dah! I had a little first place plaque to go with my medal. It always seems kind of silly to get an award with such a painfully slow finish time (5:16:17), but considering the conditions and that fact that others in my group had registered, but not shown up to run, means I’m just a little tougher than they are so I will take the win.

I believe I am done running races just to run a race. If there is no reason to look forward to the course or the race in general, it is just miserable. I ended up not running the Coastal Trail Series race in Holyhead (on Anglesey Is.) because I just could not face another freezing cold race in high winds. Jacksonville was awesome and Malta will be awesome in February. In the meantime, I’ll run outside when it suits me and run on the treadmill to get the bulk of my mileage in. Thank goodness for a home treadmill with an incline!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Jacksonville Bank Marathon 2014

        It has been a while since I had a really great race, but Jacksonville was one of them! Since I had been on the road for a week, living in a hotel and eating in restaurants, I did not have high hopes for a great finish, but I knew it would be fun with lots of fellow Marathon Maniacs and it was my 20th lifetime race of marathon or longer distance.
Pouring rain, but beautiful
Photo credit:  Jurgen Englerth
      A few days before the race, my husband checked the weather forecast and told me, in a very grave tone, that it would be in the upper 60’s (F) and raining. Clearly he is not a runner because that is an awesome forecast for a marathon!  Near the beginning of the race it was a bit warm, but I never felt over heated or cold, just excited, it was awesome! Several times we got a full on Florida downpour, but once you are soaked with sweat, rain water, or both, it hardly makes a difference to get soaked again when you are warm. I did have a bit more chafing than usual in some pretty unpredictable places, but nothing that was a problem during the race. The one down side being the weight added to our shoes from running through ankle deep water.
                Jacksonville is a truly beautiful city and the race course did not disappoint. We ran through gorgeous residential areas of multi-million dollar homes, lined with ancient trees that were hanging with Spanish moss. Often, I am so focused in races that I hardly look at where I am, but this time I enjoyed the views immensely.  Although there were quite a few turns, it was a pancake flat course and is a Boston Qualifier so a good one for folks with an eye on qualifying.
Photo credit:  Jurgen Englerth
                Of course, one of the best parts of the race for me was the Marathon Maniacs!  Being able to look ahead and see 3 MM singlets at once was such fun! When you see that shirt, you know you will find a good attitude, a smile, and all the encouragement you need. 
Jurgen himself! It was awesome to meet him in person finally,
but better to beat him to the finish line :-D
                Once again, I used my Galloway style run/walk with a 4 minute run and 1 minute walk. I spotted a couple of official Galloway pace groups, but when they run they run too fast for me so I stuck to my own pace and intervals and it worked really well.  Jacksonville was my 4th fastest marathon to date and my second fastest for the year (my all-time personal record having been set in March.) I have tried dropping to a 3/1 interval, which is closer to the interval recommend by Jeff Galloway, but it just slows me down and does not help me recover any faster.

                 My last couple of marathons have been plagued with a weird soreness on the top of my ankle, but I seem to have resolved it as there was no tenderness there at all this time. Matter of fact, I was only a little sore from the race and the soreness was spread evenly over my body, including my core muscles. That is my next focus area, abs and back! I have been terrible with my training the last few months, particularly my core training, so it is time to get my plank time back up and start hitting the stability ball more often.
Loads of MM's and HF's on the course
Photo credit:  Jurgen Englerth
                The main reason this race went particularly well was my mental state. I was happy to be there, happy with all the people around me, rested, and excited to be running.  Normally, miles 13-20 are brutal and it is all I can do to keep myself moving, but this time I hit mile 15 and realized that I still felt great physically and I was still in a really positive place mentally. That is highly unusual for me!  The second half went so well I almost managed my first negative split for the halves (missed it by 8 seconds, LOL.)
Ahhhh, warm rain!
                It was a ton of fun and I’m primed and excited for my next marathon in Malta. I was supposed to run a January marathon in England, but life got in the way and I am taking a pass. As much as I hate to miss a scheduled race, it will allow me the time to build my paces back up for Malta and maybe hit a new PR. More important is my need to focus for Two Oceans in April. I have a lot of running to do!

Jacksonville loves it's runners!
Photo credit:  Jurgen Englerth