Dunwich Dynamo - ride report

19 July 2016, 14:35

The Dunwich Dynamo is not a race. Nor is it a sportive. Nor is it organised (by anyone!). The Dunwich Dynamo is a rite of passage – an annual 120 mile bike ride from London Fields in east London to Dunwich, on the Suffolk coast. It’s been going for over 20 years and the route is just “known”, and the date is the Saturday closest to the full moon in July. Riders set off sometime between 7 and 9pm, and generally don’t make it to the beach at Dunwich until sunrise, or some hours thereafter.

James is the cyclist in our relationship (I prefer to think of myself as “a runner who’s sometimes on a bike”) and I urged him to ride it last year as I think it’s good to challenge yourself and go outside your comfort zone every now and then. He absolutely loved the experience and camaraderie on the road through the night, and assured me that there’s plenty of slower riders, riders on Bromptons, wacky races-style antics, and plenty of burger vans and pubs open all night along the way, and that he really thought I could do it. So I agreed, as long it the forecast wasn’t really wet (as it turned out, it was super warm and just about perfect!).

Dunwich Dynamo
selfie at the start

I’ve been cycle commuting regularly since January when we moved moorings, but my route is only 11km each way, and my longest ride ever is still just some 30 mile sportives we did last year. But I figured I’d just take it at my own pace, and well, it’d be good to challenge myself a bit. I should also probably point out that I do all my cycling on a 25 year old, heavy ass (14kg) mountain bike with road tires, and that I haven’t worn my clippy shoes in nearly a year either. But I’ve got marathon running legs and good cardio, so I figured the flat-ish route shouldn’t be too big of an issue. What worried me much more was the overnight aspect, as I start nodding off every night at 11pm on the dot – I pretty much wind down like a clockwork toy. And I was right to worry, as fighting sleep deprivation was by far the hardest part about the Dynamo for me.

We set off at London Fields in a big group of riders around 8pm, and the streets through London were quite fun – really congested with cyclists but good banter and there were just SO many of us that drivers just gave us the right of way, which was great. Things spread out a bit once we got to Waltham Forest, and by the time we got to the first pub stop I was feeling hungry, but otherwise fine. I resisted the siren call of a chandy and had some bar snacks and some flapjacks instead.

Dunwich Dynamo
at the first pub, around 10pm, with tea!

It’s probably a good point now to list out a few things I liked about the ride, and a few things I didn’t.

Things I liked

  • The pit stops were great – full of happy people, food, chatter, and friendly support. These each felt like a mini festival!
  • The inventive light displays – loads of riders decorated their bikes and helmets with fairy lights, and a good amount had the wheel LED displays, too, which made it feel really festive.
  • The Sudbury Fire Station halfway point – a true beacon in the darkness and my own personal Mile21 moment!
  • Especially in the second half, the country lanes were utterly gorgeous. Early in the morning, there was hardly any traffic, so you could just concentrate on the views and fresh air
  • The people who set up chairs in their front gardens just to wave and cheer us on. I made sure to give them a toot and a wave in return!
  • Spending time with my husband in a shared pursuit. He doesn’t run, so this was a great way for us to do an athletic activity together.
  • Dunwich beach and a dip in the sea – best ice bath EVER.

Dunwich Dynamo
Dawn at Barking

Things I didn’t like

  • The overnight aspect. Losing a night’s sleep was far, far harder than the ride itself. It would’ve been 100% more enjoyable for me if it was an 8am-8pm ride.
  • Being passed by thousands of riders, over and over again, for hours on end. I’m not a particularly slow cyclist, but I’d be going at a fair clip and then be passed by a group of riders like I was standing still. It’s really dispiriting to be passed like that over and over again, and it means you can’t chat to anyone, either. I wished there was a dedicated social/casual wave to allow more camraderie outside the pit stops.
  • Descents with blind corners in the dark. I cannot stress how much these stress me out. I don’t mind descents when I can see what’s coming up, but if I can’t see the road surface, or if there are any riders or cars ahead of me, I’m going to lay on that brake like a freaking granny so I don’t end up with full body road rash.
  • The asshole who shouted at me while on a dark descent just before dawn, while passing really closely, causing me to fucking lose my last remaining nerve and burst into tears, requiring 15 minutes of hugs and chocolate by the roadside before continuing. Fuck you, mister man in backpack. I hope you feel big and proud.

Despite having not cycled anything longer than an hour in the past year and not having trained at all, my legs and lungs were actually fine throughout. My right hip started bothering me and my bum started chafing a bit after about 80 miles, and I was fighting low-level nausea for the second half, but I think I held up okay, all considering.

Dunwich Dynamo
Pancake & Gu pick-me-up…

Despite all the unenjoyable bits, I’m still really glad I did this. I’m proud that I was able to cycle for 9.5hrs (12.5 hrs elapsed time) with relatively few consequences. I’m proud that I didn’t fall over in my clippy shoes, not even once. I’m proud that I didn’t walk up any of the hills, even at the end when lots of others were doing so. And I’m proud that I did it in entirely self-sewn gear, too (more on this over at fehrtrade.com).

Dunwich Dynamo
Obligatory finish photo!

I feel the need to give a special shout out to two people who really and truly got me through this when I might not have otherwise. First, my Run dem Crew friend Vicky, who not only stayed up all night at Sudbury Fire Station to cheer me and a handful of other RDC friends on, but she also made trays and trays of sandwiches, cakes, orange slices, crisps, and even gluten free options and really helped boost morale when I felt about 90% done at the halfway point. And second, my husband James, without whom I really don’t know whether I’d have finished. He stayed with me the entire ride, picked me up when I needed it, hugged me when I needed it, got food and drinks while I stayed with the bikes, and brought some magic chocolate and pancakes from his bag at exactly the right point (pancakes topped with salted caramel Gu gels is a wonderful thing, btw). Basically, he sacrificed his ride so that I could get through it.

Dunwich Dynamo
Beach finish. Thank god!

I really do think it’s something that everyone who’s able should experience at least once, and I’m glad I did it. But right now I don’t think I feel the need to do it again!

Dunwich Dynamo, 16-17 July. 9:33:29

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Run Hackney 2016 - race report

9 May 2016, 12:20

When I’d originally signed up to Run Hackney again this year, I was hesitant because, not only was it two weeks after London marathon (same as last year), but it’d also be four weeks before the Transylvanian Bear Race, which would mean I’d be running 2.5 marathons in 6 weeks. This didn’t seem particularly wise for my recovery and ability to run another marathon (a mountainous trail marathon, no less) in quick succession, but then I got offered a place, realised that 150 of my Run dem Crew friends would be running it, plus I really enjoyed it the past two years… and, well, I could always just party pace it, right?

Well, plans changed somewhat when I was so ill for the first three months of the year – I had to cheer the Cardiff World Half Championships instead of trying for a PB (measly goodie bag for £56, and it turned out the weather was comically awful), and I had to defer London marathon to next year, leaving my original plans for Run Hackney a bit up in the air. Should I try for a PB on only a few weeks training? Or just enjoy it and have fun with friends? Or use it as a long run and an excuse to test out some new tactics for Transylvania?

Hackney Half kit

Well, another cold (low level, thankfully!) plus a scorching weather forecast put paid to any hopes of a PB, plus my running hasn’t felt entirely up to my usual standards since I restarted in April. It’s clear I’ve lost fitness while I was ill, and even my former marathon pace is a bit of a struggle, so to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really even have a finishing time in mind. I mostly ended up using the race to help keep others’ spirits up, but also to refresh my race memory ahead of Transylvania, and test out my new homemade flax gels in a race setting, too.

Me at Cheer dem
Photo credit: Caz Craig

Let’s get the obvious out of the way from the start – it was a brutally hot day. Even worse was that we’d been still having freezing temperatures right up until the week before, so it felt even hotter. Last week I ran in a merino long sleeved top and thermo leggings – today it was a skimpy vest and my short shorts. It was so hot that the organisers laid on weather advisory flags throughout the course, and by the time I was leaving, they were actually advising anyone still running to walk instead for safety’s sake. I drank about three times as much water during the race than I normally would (plus 3 bottles of electrolyte, 2 bottles of water, and a recovery shake afterwards, and my pee still told me I was dehydrated!), and the 5 or 6 misting showers on the course were downright compulsory.

The people of Hackney also stepped up, with quite a few hoses and super soakers turned on the runners, in addition to the usual tubs of jelly babies. The crowd support is definitely getting better year on year for this race, too – I remember the first year seeing residents walking down the street looking at us runners like we had three heads like “what in the hell are they doing??”, then last year really getting in the spirit of it, and this year there seemed to be a big step up in the number of crowds. They weren’t the loudest of crowds, mind – in several spots I had to do the universal hand gestures for “Come on and cheer us!!”, but I did get a lot of individual shouts for me in my Run dem Crew vest.

Me and Vicky
Myself and Vicky in the start pens

In terms of how my actual race went – I started out with a group of about 5 ladies from RDC, informally paced to 1:50 finish by my friend Vicky. The first few miles were pretty dense so there was a lot of stressful ducking & diving to keep with the group, and I always knew that the 8:20ish/mi pace was going to be unrealistic for me to maintain in my current state of fitness. So I’d always planned to fall off the group at some point and aimed to probably keep somebody else company who couldn’t maintain that pace in the heat, either. I ended up hanging on until halfway, but then I could feel myself really needing both nutrition and a bit of a cooldown as I could feel my face going hot and then goosebumped, which really wasn’t a good sign. So I opted to walk as I ate my flax gel (like a banana porridge goo – totally delicious, and I’ll share the recipe later this week!) from my baby food pouch and then when I started running again after eating I settled into a more comfortable pace.

Just slowing my pace by a few seconds and taking on nutrition made such a difference – I ended up having the best 3-4 miles of my entire race after the halfway point, really enjoying the atmosphere and feeling alive. It was also around this point, I believe, that I chatted with a guy, Julien, who I’d spotted in the start pens wearing an Anthony Nolan vest, and told him they saved my life 7 years ago. It turns out his mum is having a transplant this week, so I offered him/her all sorts of advice, and even ended up finishing within seconds of him. I like to think that even just seeing a lady like me run a half marathon will give he and his family hope that she can get through this and gain a full and healthy life afterwards.

Hackney Half cheer dem
Photo credit: Melany Rose

But back to the race – I felt my gel starting to wear off around Mile 10 or so, and I wished I’d either packed another or thrown in some shot bloks from my backpack, so it was absolutely perfect timing that Run dem Crew’s cheer point appeared in front of me! I’ve witnessed the power of “Cheer dem” at Mile 21 of London Marathon, and this was like its little sister – just as powerful, but in a shorter stretch of road. Honestly, this was such a needed boost – lots of cheers, high fives, and shouts of encouragement were just what I needed! I knew from running the course previously that the last few miles through the Olympic Park were the hardest of the whole race due to the lack of shade and crowd support, and the cheers from my friends were what powered me through.

I say “powered”, but really those last few miles were just a slog to the finish! It was a tradeoff between pushing myself to “just get it done”, and holding back to keep from getting heatstroke. Heatstroke was a very real possibility – I saw another runner collapse just in front of me at Mile 11 and, after myself and another runner helped him onto his feet, he couldn’t stand up on his own and we helped him to the curb where a group of spectators took over. While the casualties were in no way as bad as the 2014 race, St Johns Ambulance were certainly kept on their toes today and I wanted to avoid becoming a statistic.

Post Hackney Half

But eventually I saw Hackney Marshes and the finishing straight, and I even managed to pick up the pace a bit when I saw the gun time clock read “1:58:something”. Even though I knew I could subtract 6 minutes from that, there’s nothing more like a red rag to a bull for a runner than to see a clock so close to an hour like that! Then it was a matter of collecting my goodies (Hackney always lays on a decent goodie bag – this year it was cola bottles, beetroot shot, popcorn, yoghurt raisins, oystercard holder, bananas, flapjacks, water, and nice tech tee), and then collecting my bag from the bag check, where I had my own goodies in store. You see, I got the grand idea that since everyone tends to laze around in the sun afterwards, it’d be awfully nice to have some chilled fizz to celebrate. So I took a bottle of sparkling rosé from the fridge, inserted it in one of of those bottle-wrap frozen gel things, placed a frozen bottle of electrolyte next to it (another stroke of genius, I might add!) and wrapped them up in a chill bag and put it in my backpack.

Wine bottle post race

So after the race, after I’d had my recovery shake, done some stretching, and downed a few bottles of electrolyte, I opened up a cold bottle of fizz and shared it round! And yes, I’m pretty proud of Previous Me for both thinking of it and remembering to pack it all at 6am! It really helped to add to the celebration atmosphere in the race village afterwards, with the bhangra bands, group photos, hugs, and congratulations.

The founder of Run dem Crew, Charlie Dark, often says that race day is a celebration of all the hard work you’ve put into training, but as I ran around the streets of Hackney today, I realised more that for me, today’s race was a celebration of health and happiness. I didn’t get the opportunity to really train for this race, but instead I was just thankful to be healthy enough to run it at all.

Run Hackney, 8 May 2016, 1:52:21

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The art of running slowly

3 November 2015, 14:23

I promised at the end of my last post about the Maffetone Two Week Test that I’d fill you in on the other side of my recovery/rehabilitation/experimentation with the Maffetone Method, and with a full month under my belt I finally feel experienced enough to comment.

Alongside limiting carbohydrates, the Maffetone Method encourages you to run slowly, with a low heart rate, in order to retrain your body to burn fat as fuel. The short explanation is that glycogen (“stored carbs”) is the much easier fuel for your body to use, so if you’ve got it, that’s what you’ll burn when you exercise, until there’s nothing left, and then you switch to burning fat – otherwise known as The Wall. The better adapted you are at burning fat, the less you’ll need to top up with sugar during a race or long workout, and you’ll probably not even encounter The Wall at all, as you more easily switch from one to the other. It also means you can run pretty much indefinitely (as we’ve all got plenty of fat stores), like the Tarahumara, Cretans, and pretty much every marathon runner prior to the 1980s.

In order to force your body to burn fat, you need to train at a low, “aerobic” heart rate – exclusively for a few months, and then 80% of the time going forward. To work out your own aerobic threshold, Phil Maffetone has an equation on his website, which is roughly 180 minus your age, and then -5 or +5 depending on how broken you already are. My magic number works out to be 140, so I’ve been running exclusively with my heart rate under 140BPM.

I did my first few runs solo along my normal Thames route so I already knew the distances, and could compare them to past times. My first 10km keeping my heart rate under 140 took me 1hr22. My PB is 43min. To a generally quite speedy runner, this feels excruciatingly slow.

It’s also quite a character-building experience. I didn’t think I had much ego around being passed by other runners, but it’s another level entirely to be passed by absolutely everyone along the riverside. But on a more personal level, it also requires a lot of concentration to keep myself going more slowly than even my “comfortable” pace – for the first few runs, the second my mind would wander, I’d hear a screech to reduce my heart rate. I’ve found a few coping mechanisms, though – the first was to ditch my absolute POS Garmin FR15 (good riddance to an expensive, crappy, huge watch than could never find the freaking satellite in any weather condition, and a special “up yours” to the Garmin support who didn’t even read my emails before copy/pasting token replies. Never buying another one of your crappy products ever again!) and go back to using my phone, my beloved Runmeter app, and a £20 Bluetooth HRM off Amazon (I was skeptical that the Chinese-made “CooSpo” would work, but it seems pretty good so far). Stress levels have gone down significantly since I’ve dropped the Garmin and its frustrating ineptitude.

Garmin HRM
Good riddance to the most frustrating component to my runs!

The second thing that helps is listening to podcasts. Music revs me up, but spoken word content keeps me from getting too bored, but doesn’t encourage any particular pace. It also means that, since my headphones are in to hear the podcasts, my “Reduce heart rate!” prompts are only audible to me, rather than to everyone around me.

The third is harder to achieve, but run with other people. Find friends who are just starting Couch to 5k, find friends who are tapering or recovering, find friends who are bouncing back from injury or are in just need of some mojo – run with them and talk the whole time. It’s more fun, and you can still feel like you’re part of a community and give something back to those in need of a boost, too. I’ve been running with Run dem Crew for 4 years now, and I’d gradually worked my way up the pace groups to regularly run with the second-fastest group (and on occasion, the fastest). But the slowest regular pace group is still faster than I can go and maintain my sub-140HR, so I’ve been leading the “Party Pace” group each Tuesday, bringing along the very people who are in need of a boost, shorter, or slower run. And it’s been fabulous catching up with old friends and meeting loads of new people besides. When you run fast, it’s hard to gasp out the hazards, let alone have any meaningful conversations.

Riverside wharves
A more zen view of the neighbourhood…

The whole theory with the aerobic running is that, over time, you should see your speeds gradually increase while your heart rate remains the same. Already I’ve seen my 10km time drop from 1hr22 to 1hr17 – still nowhere near race pace (not even my marathon pace!), but enough that I feel encouraged that I’m seeing progress. The idea is that on race day, you run 10-15BPM above your aerobic threshold, plus add in a few light carbs, and suddenly you’re supercharged.

It also feels like it’s a good thing to be doing while my foot and knee are still dodgy from all the track training over the summer. This is allowing me to still run (my major stress release as well as weight maintenance), but also recover at the same time. For pretty much my entire run, I breathe through my nose – I don’t know if you’ve ever paid attention to whether you breathe through your mouth or nose when you run, but chances are, you’re a mouth breather. Try closing your mouth on a run and see how much you’ve got to slow down to do that. I’m running even slower. Again, it’s not about whether 1hr22 is a “slow” time or not – it’s about the relative speed and exertion for each person. It’s also not about how “fit” you are, or how low your resting HR is, but more on how well your body already is to burning fat and what sort of cardio base you’ve already got to work with.

My plan is to carry on with only running under 140BPM through to the end of November and see how much progress I can make in 2-odd months. In December I start London marathon training again with my coach, so I’ll get her view on whether she thinks it’s beneficial for me to carry on long-term or not. But I also know that any time spent running slow now is going to help me in the future – I can feel my body adapting to crave fats instead of sugar, and I don’t feel dazed at the end of a long run, even considering the time spent on my feet.

And if nothing else, it’s given me a much-needed wakeup call on the importance of humility and patience in training.

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Nike Women's 10k #WeRunLondon race report

27 June 2015, 12:42

Despite the name change, this is essentially the same race as last year’s “We Own the Night”, but shifted to the usual Sunday morning time slot instead (I guess “We Own the Morning” doesn’t sound as good?). In any case, I had a surprisingly good time last year, and apart from some issues with the timing of the start waves, it was well organised enough for me to want to run it again this year.

If you’re not familiar with this race series – it’s a women-only 10k (two laps around Victoria Park) with a big race village in the center for freebies and pampering before and after should you wish. This year saw 10,000 women running round Victoria Park on a Sunday morning – 60% of whom had never run a 10k race before, which is a mind-blowing statistic and really shows the sort of reach Nike have to get new women into the sport. This was a fantastic race for beginners, and since it’s in a park rather than closed roads, there was a generous 3hr cut off time, too (which works out to 18min per kilometer!).

One of my major problems with last year’s race was the lavish overindulgance of a few select princess bloggers leading up to the event, which I’m pleased to report that Nike really toned down this year. It makes for a much more inclusive race feel when you don’t see a few people getting hundreds of pounds of freebies while others struggle to pay the race fee, arrange a babysitter, take the day off work, etc (in other words, real life demands!). There was a strong emphasis on crew love in the pre-race pep talks, encouraging us to give others encouragement and a pat on the back if we saw anyone struggling or in trouble, which was really nice.

I had an awful time actually getting to the start, with planned engineering works taking out my preferred route, and then finding the Overground down once I got to Stratford, so I ended up just walking the 32 minutes from there rather than waiting 29min(!!) for a bus. But I still had plenty of time to pootle round the race village in the sun, check out the decent array of freebies from various stalls, and use the loo and bag drop without any queues whatsoever (nice one!).

Then it was off to the start, where my 44min PB put me in the fastest (black) starting pen. But like last year, they actually mashed together the first two pens, so everyone thinking they could run a sub50 (purple) were also there. But I’d learned my lesson and walked right up to the starting line behind the ladies wearing race panties (seriously?) and after a 20min delay, got to watch Ellie Goulding sound the starting horn from about 3 feet away.

No really, I was right at the front, as you can see in the official start photo!

Nike Women's 10k starting line

Thankfully, unlike last year, there were no princess bloggers to trip over at the start (who thought it’d be a good idea to put them before the speed demons anyway?!), and I pretty much kept RDC’s fastest lady, Sorrel, within sight for the first lap (she ended up finishing in 6th pace, which is awesome especially since she’s training for a 100k race in a few weeks!). After about 3km I came across another RDC lady, Jules, who had started with Sorrel but couldn’t keep up, so I convinced her to stay with me instead and kept her legs going when she kept complaining there was nothing left.

Nike Women's 10k - photos from David Gardiner
Photo credit: David Gardiner

I didn’t really have any expectations for this race, but like in Bupa, I wanted to test my 5k time in advance of the World Transplant Games so I pushed it really hard throughout, and a look at my stats afterwards showed my slowest kilometer split was 4:37 (that’s 7:26min/mi), which I’m really proud of. The general race atmosphere was fun, with several bands along the route, lots of banners and motivational signs in the pastel-fluorescent colour scheme of this year’s race, and, despite my speed, I still managed to high five a trumpeter in a band on the side. I’m not sure which was more impressive – that I could swerve over to high five him at speed, or that he carried on playing with his other hand!

With so many RDC ladies taking part, the RDC men stepped up to the challenged and manned (so to speak!) the cheer dem crew duties. Despite there being a fair amount of spectators along the route, the RDC guys were the only ones making any noise, which was just weird. I mean, why go to a race and just stand there and stare? My husband James took advantage of the nice weather to cycle up and join the cheer dem point – he even got to let off a confetti cannon in my honour on each of my laps around, too (facing the correct way round, too, I might add!).

So back to those start waves – it’s not difficult to look at the lap times of the fastest pens, see when they hit the second lap, and ensure that the bulk of the slowest pen has already started by that point. Or perhaps it is, because yet again, when we came around to start lap two, the entire width of the course was taken up by ladies walking round! So for the second year in a row, my second lap was mostly a trail run – running entirely along the path, behind the bins and benches, swerving around spectators. The only real improvements made this year were marshals and signs encouraging people to “keep left and overtake on the right”.

This would’ve been much better in reverse (keep right and overtake left) for two reasons – one, the course is counterclockwise so the fastest runners (ie: those who actually care about a few seconds) had to run a wide perimeter of all the corners rather than the shortest distance, and two, when we got the the lap changeover point, the guidance changed to “keep left for finish and keep right for the second lap” which meant all the fastest runners had to suddenly cut diagonally through the crowd and vice versa. Carnage! So a consistent message to keep faster runners to the left would’ve solved both these issues.

Nike Women's 10k finish with champagne

Some might say that the finish time is the least interesting part of a race, but considering I pushed myself hard throughout, I actually do care about my times. I finished the first 5k in 21:28 (several minutes faster than the gold medal time at the previous World Transplant Games!), and crossed the line in… 43:28. Yes, I missed a PB (earned last month at Bupa) by 1 measly second!

Since I spent around 10 seconds stopped, trying to convince Jules to carry on and not DNF after the first lap, I’m going to count this as a PB no matter what the official clock said! And really, it just proves that I can consistently race at a sustained pace and pain level over the distance, which is good knowledge indeed.

Nike Women's 10k - selfie and necklace

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Nike races are unmatched in terms of swag, and you will always get your money’s worth. For the £28 entry fee we got a really nice tech tee or vest (I personally loved the colour and design this year!), two tote bags, a silver finisher’s necklace I’ll actually wear, champagne, a Birchbox full of skincare samples, coconut oil, peanut butter sachets, and gourmet popcorn. It was such a nice day that I didn’t mind having to pay a few quid for protein ice cream to eat sitting around in the sunshine afterwards!

So, despite the few problems (greatly reduced from last year, IMHO), this was a wholly enjoyable race, and one that was super welcoming to first timers and those recovering from all manner of illness and injuries. Leading up to the race, had I been injured, I’m pretty sure that I would’ve crawled around in order to get the finisher’s necklace and swag! Maybe Nike have worked out that a lot of us just need a little carat to aim for after all?

Nike Women’s 10k London, 21 June 2015, 43:28

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Bupa London 10,000 2015 - race report

28 May 2015, 12:52

This was the 6th time I’ve run the Bupa London 10,000 race, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that there couldn’t possibly be anything left for me to say about it. But you’d be wrong (and I forgive you), because this year, not only did they add in more starting pens, but the route was entirely new! The route still starts and ends along the Mall, but this year, instead of going along the Embankment (which is being torn up for the new cycling superhighway), the Strand was used instead, taking us up into Holborn, out to Bank and around back to Trafalgar Square and Westminster, finishing along St James’s Park, right in front of Buckingham Palace (Course pdf here).

selfie with Liz's House

As you could infer from my running it six times, I love this race. The organisation is brilliant, it’s easy to get to, cheaper than most other central London races at only £28, and the support along the route is just great. I’ve also really enjoyed the standard route, so I wasn’t quite sure how the new one would feel – but honestly, I think I preferred it (as did all of my friends)! Somehow there seemed to be more downhill stretches without any additional uphills (they must’ve just been subtle), and while you still got to see the Elites passing by you on the Strand (like the Embankment in most years), the route was wiggly enough to make it feel more interesting than just an “out and back” course. And my personal favourite – no Leadenhall Market so no cobblestones this year!!

Now, as for my own race experience this year – the upside to running a local race like this is that I can roll out of bed 90min before the starting gun and still get there in plenty of time. In fact, I was still yawning in the starting pen, wondering what exactly my legs were capable of. If you’ve been keeping track, in the previous four weeks I’d raced London marathon (26mi/42km), Run Hackney (13mi/21km), and cycled the Medway sportive (31mi/50km). So my legs weren’t exactly fresh, and I wasn’t entirely convinced I was fully recovered from London marathon, either.

Bupa 10 starting pen view

So I figured I’d run the first 5km of the race all-out and use it as a benchmark for the World Transplant Games road race since the last time I’d raced 5km was my first-ever race in 2007, so having a new time to whittle down over the next few months is useful. So I belted out of the starting gate, pretty much hitting 4min/km along the way, and crossing the 5km timing mat in 21:26, which was wholly respectable, I think.

Then I had a bit of a mental wobble, with the usual “ugh my legs feel heavy”, “wait, what am I doing again?”, and “why do I care exactly?” going through my head for about 30 seconds before I shook it off and told myself the quickest way back was to just push it as hard as I could. I mostly maintain a 4:20min/km pace (or thereabouts) through to Trafalgar Square, and then when I hit Horse Guards Parade (the same final 2km of the London marathon), I cranked my legs up to sprint speed and blew past a ton of people in the last few hundred meters.

Finish photo at the Bupa 10k

In the end, I actually came in a full minute under my previous PB, and no one was more surprised than me! I honestly wasn’t expecting it, especially considering my lack of motivation for the second half, but it goes to show that my legs really can surprise me when I turn my brain off and let them do their thing!

RDC group after Bupa 10k

I met up with a few other Run dem Crew guys and my husband at the finish, and after some lunch, went up to the Viviobarefoot store in Covent Garden where I had a total geek-out session with one of the staff there about biomechanics, form, and flexibility. For like 2 hours! So all in all, a pretty great way to spend a Bank holiday Monday.

Oh, and registrations for 2016 are already open. I’ll definitely be signing up for my 7th time!

Bupa London 10,0000, 25 May 2015, 43:27 (PB)

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Run Hackney 2015 - race report

12 May 2015, 11:54

I ran the inaugural Run Hackney half marathon last year, and, despite the extreme heat and a few organisational issues, I really enjoyed it. Instead of chasing a PB, I helped a friend through her first ultra-distance training run (having run 30km prior to the start line that morning).

This year, the race was moved to mid-May instead of June (presumably to reduce the chance of a swelteringly hot day again), but this also meant the race was only two weeks after myself and a lot of others had just run London marathon, which wasn’t exactly ideal. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t erred on the side of rest and not run this at all were I not offered a place, but since it was one I enjoyed so much last year, I couldn’t really say no.

So I found myself on race morning having run only 6km since London marathon and not really knowing what I wanted to achieve in the race. I grabbed the very first Jubilee line train to Stratford, and ran into a friend on the walk across the Olympic Park to the race village. My first order of business at any race is to drop off my bag, and I was pleased to see that they’d broken up the bag drop significantly further this year, so that I walked straight up to the tent instead of the 15-20min wait I remember last year. Toilet queues were the usual “Is that the queue???” pre-race length, but appeared to be moving briskly. I caught up with the hundred-or-so other Run dem Crew members for a group photo, and then went off to join the 1:30-1:45 pen, figuring I’d let my legs decide what they wanted to do.

The start pens were super disorganised last year, with nowhere near enough space for people to join, resulting in a massive scrum for the first few miles. I’m pleased to report that the organisers clearly took feedback on board for this year (a common theme for this race!), and the start pens were clearly labelled, with only the 1:30-1:45 one not being quite big enough to get everyone inside (I’m guessing they looked at last year’s finish times, which would’ve been far slower than normal due to the heat). Happily, I saw my coach/trainer/physio/guru/shaman, Barbara, inside the pen so I jumped to barrier to join her. She was pacing an old friend to 1:45, and asked if I wanted to join them – working out that this was 5:00min/km pace (or, exactly my London marathon pace!) I jumped at the chance to both have some company and some direction to my race.

We started off at a comfortable pace, and chatted away happily. The forecast was for cloudy and cool weather, but it ended up being sunny again, and I was really glad I opted for shorts, though I didn’t think to apply sunscreen at all, boo. The crowds throughout the town section of the route were great – lots of ordinary people out cheering on the runners, and I even got to see my friend Rosie hanging out her front window, cheering her head off for me when I ran past! In fact, the only portion of the route which was lacking in crowd support was the Olympic Park section at the end, which was pretty much devoid of anyone but runners…

During Run Hackney
Photo credit: Claire McGonegle

The organisers had clearly listened to feedback from last year, and the experimental, eco-friendly, but prone-to-exploding water pouches were replaced by bottles at the water stations, supplemented by at least one corner shop handing out their own bottles from their own supply. It’s community involvement like this that really gives a race personality, and for most of the course, Run Hackney really feels more like a local race rather than a “Big City London race”.

During Run Hackney
Photo credit: Claire McGonegle

The course was largely the same as last year – starting in Hackney Marshes and winding through Hackney, hitting a lot of little parks and local landmarks along the way – not places you’d necessarily see on postcards (hello there, back of the Weatherspoons!), but more places you’ve seen on the bus, or been to on a night out, or round a friend’s place and haven’t necessarily pieced together as being right next to each other. The big change for this year was the last portion through the Olympic Park, which was baking hot last year, with zero shade and runners dropping like flies. This year the course went through the park and out the other side, rather than a circular route back out the way you entered. This meant we only got the Cheer Dem Crew treatment once, but felt a lot better on the run. I’m still not sure they’ve totally nailed this portion of the route – I love that we run past all the stadiums, but the lack of crowds and shade this late in the race make it a hard slog – perhaps it’d be better if the route was reversed and you ran through the Olympic Park first?

Run Hackney finish selfie
Photo credit: Barbara Brunner

In any case, once you’re through the Park, there’s really only a mile to go, and unlike Cambridge Half, the finishing chute really is a short and straight 100m dash! I met up with Stephen (cursing me again as this is now the second race in two weeks where he’s apparently been chasing my back but unable to catch me up!) and then Barbara and her friends, who I’d unknowingly left behind at around Mile 11 or so as they’d slowed down a bit.

Run Hackney race medal
Nice of them to match the medal to my Duathlon Shorts!

We got a quick selfie, then collected our medals (great design, and nice of them to coordinate with my shorts!!), goodie bags (absolutely bursting with stuff I actually want!), and technical teeshirts (in a variety of sizes, and again, a nice design). Some might balk at paying £40-odd for a half marathon, but the swag alone was totally worth it. Seriously top notch, and I couldn’t really fault the organisation, marshalling, or general atmosphere of this race, either. With other London half marathons practically as impossible to get into as London marathon, Run Hackney is a great opportunity to run a half marathon without having to splurge on a hotel room (which would cost far more than the entry fee here anyway!).

After Run Hackney
Photo credit: Barbara Brunner

I’m not sure how they quite managed to get another warm and sunny day two years running – they might start to get a reputation for being the running carnival! Plenty of steel bands, a nice laze in the park with friends after the race – a girl could get used to this (if only she remembered her sun screen!!). And if you’re into a bit of forward planning, you can even pre-register for 2016’s race now.

Run Hackney (half marathon). 10 May 2015. 1:45:06

Full disclosure – I was given a complimentary media spot at this race but all views are my own. I didn’t use the media starting pen, because I don’t really agree with that – better to be in with the paying punters!

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Greenwich Park Movember 10k - Race Report

3 December 2014, 14:35

What a difference a week makes! Last weekend I ran the extremely hilly Three Molehills 16mi race and my friends and I came in last place. This weekend I ran the Greenwich Park edition of the popular Movember 10k series, and well… I was definitely nearer to the front!

This race has a reputation for being very hilly and one of the toughest 10k races in London – it’s two laps around Greenwich Park, taking in the two biggest hills – twice. This was my first year running it, though I cheered last year so I saw the larger of the hills, and then I ran the course as a practice run a few weeks ago, too. So I felt pretty well prepared, especially since the weekend before was both longer and hillier.

For a bit of fun, I took the elevation graphs from my running app and adjusted them so they were all at the same scale, comparing the Greenwich Movember course to both Three Molehills and Flatline (the race which is just 10 times up and down Swain’s Lane).

Elevation comparison

Amazing, right? Anyone who’s run the Movember route will swear that it feels a lot tougher than it looks here, but I think it’s important to put everything into perspective when you’re chugging away up a steep hill.

Thankfully I had another motivating (not so secret) weapon – the mighty Cheer Dem Crew were out in force, cheering on all 162 Run dem Crew members who were racing. They perched along the steeper hill, cheering us on both as we sailed down the hill, and then turned around to struggle back up it. They even brought the confetti cannons, though their aim definitely got better as the race went on (I don’t recommend taking a confetti cannon in the face at close range!).

Charlie & Glenn
Glenn (RDC Movember organiser & total legend) and Mister Run dem himself, Charlie Dark

I also felt it was high time I dusted off my gold medal leggings, having previously raced in them back in early 2013 at the dismal East London Half. They’re a bit too big for me these days, so I had a bit of sagging round the ankles, but I got an awful lot of attention on the way round and I was really easy to spot in the crowd!

Greenwich Park Movember

I didn’t really have any goals in mind for this race, considering it’s so hilly. But as there’s no starting pens, the first 2-3 km were super congested, too, which took some time off, too. I spent most of the first few kilometers running on the grass beside the paths, trying to duck and dive around people so I could stretch my legs. Unusually, I also decided not to wear my headphones for this race (I usually run with music unless specifically prohibited) since there were so many Crew running it and I could better cheer others on without them.

Running up that hill...

The great thing about having 160-odd friends running a race of about 1600 total is that you are constantly seeing people you know. The two-laps plus large amount of double-backs meant I was pretty much constantly giving high fives, gunfingers, and shouts of “Yes yes!” which also helped make the race fly past.

Greenwich Park Movember
Note: Satan is not a crew member!

So back to the results – I ended up finishing in 44:57, only 38 seconds slower than my 10k PB, and finishing as 8th lady! To be honest, had I known I was that close to getting a PB, I might’ve actually tried harder! ha! So in less than a week, I went from finishing last in a race to finishing in the top 10. Life can be pretty funny sometimes…

It was a great race to finish off my 2014 racing year, leaving on a high and getting me ready to start marathon training again in a few weeks.

Greenwich Park Movember 10k, 29 November 2014, 44:57

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Run Hackney - race report

24 June 2014, 14:56

I love that there are suddenly a bunch of new races cropping up in London, because it means there are more races that I can run after sleeping i my own bed and without paying a fortune for travel. I didn’t sign up for the inaugural Run Hackney race (aka “the Hackney Half”) immediately, though, because the £40 entry fee seemed pretty steep and I was holding out to see if I could get a place through someone dropping out instead. But then friends decided they’d come in from Copenhagen to run it, and if they were staying at ours, then it’d be nicer if I could help them with the transport by running it too – so I caved and paid up anyway. It turned out that offering a local race like this meant it was a popular choice for London runners – over a hundred members from Run dem Crew also signed up to run! There were so many of us in RDC shirts that people were jokingly calling it the “Run dem Half”…

It’s also nice to have a half marathon in the summer instead of being just one stepping stone in a marathon training plan, but it did mean that I really didn’t have any expectations for this race, nor any clear goal from what I wanted to achieve. I’m still not really 100% back on form, so a PB was never on the cards, so instead I decided that I just wanted to enjoy a race for once, and run it however I felt like.

Hackney Half mid race
Photo by Michael Adeyeye

It’s a good thing I wasn’t chasing a PB, as the day itself was swelteringly hot and sunny – literally my worst possible running weather (give me downpours any day!). I thought I might run with my visiting friends, but then I ended up next to my friend Maja at the start.

Maja is training to run her first ultra in 4 weeks time – the 100km Race to the Stones, so she’d already run 30km just to get to the starting line, and she really needed someone to keep her company as she ran the half. This was the first time she’d gone beyond marathon distance, and once we settled into a comfortable 5:15min/km pace, I told her I was happy to stick with her and help her out.

Maja & I at Hackney Half
Photo by Michael Adeyeye, Maja in orange to my left. Notice how I am considerably perkier, having only run 12 miles in searing heat!

The first half of the race was mostly me chatting at her, swerving into the shady side of the streets, and giving high fives to kids. The second half was a lot harder for her, so my role switched into motivational speaker, water carrier (LOVE those water pouches!!), and Bringer Of Perspective. We saw an awful lot of runners collapsed at the side of the road (more than I’ve seen in any other race), but I was determined this wouldn’t happen to her, so I kept an eye on her hydration and nutrition, too, and let her know exactly how amazing she was and how much harder 50km on hard surfaces is on her joints than 100km on soft trail!

Post Hackney Half
Me, Maja, Emily, and Christina at the finish area

This race could’ve been just a “stick the headphones on and suffer through the heat” experience for me, but helping Maja through her own achievement gave my run a purpose. I felt good from having helped a friend, and despite ending up with a PW time (first time over 2hrs!) I had one of my most enjoyable races ever. There may have been some issues with the starting pens, and the route wasn’t all parks and canals (running round the back of a Wetherspoons was particularly memorable), but I still think Run Hackney was better organised than a lot of races which have been going for years. I love that it was put together by Hackney Council themselves to promote fitness in the community, and that local people really did come out to see what was going on (although many just to stare rather than cheer – let’s work on that next year, folks!). All in all, it’s a race I really feel good about running.

Run Hackney (half marathon). 22 June 2014. 2:02:16

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Bupa London 10,000 - race report

27 May 2014, 14:58

I ran the first ever Bupa London 10,000 back in 2008 in a steady downpour. It was my first ever 10k, and despite the weather, I utterly loved it and I knew I’d be back. Great course, perfect organisation, easy to get to, and always a good time. I’ve run it in apocalyptic rain and searing 32C heat, and last year only a week after I ran a marathon and flew halfway around the world for work, and it’s still always guaranteed to be enjoyable.

This was my 5th year running it, so I totally knew what I was in for. They’d tweaked the course slightly over the years, reversing the start and finish, leaving out St Pauls, and making the finish closer to Buckingham Palace, but it’s still comfortable enough that we feel like old friends. Despite running We Own the Night a few weeks ago and it being 6 weeks since London Marathon, I must confess that my head still isn’t back in the training game. The forecast was decent enough and my legs were in good enough shape, so I set off at the front of my starting pen at a comfortable 4:15min/km and figured I’d try to maintain sub-4:30 through to the last few hundred meters and try to kick out a sprint finish.

On paper, it looks like this was a massively successful strategy – I pretty much kept between 4:15 and 4:20 for the entire race, and sped up a bit in the last 200m. But this felt way tougher than it should’ve, and I know it was all mental. It was a nice day, I had good choons on my playlist, I was on home turf, and yet it felt like a struggle to just keep going and not stop midway through for a sandwich or something. I know this is normal after a big race, and I’m hoping that a return to a training schedule in a week or two will help matters.

For me, the highlight in the race was hearing my name shouted out at around 4.5km and suddenly being in the midst of half the Run Dem Crew Elites – Mani, Sorrel, Barefoot Tom, and Jeroen were running the race like a peloton, each taking turns at the front and encouraged me to come along for the ride. I got caught up with them for a few hundred meters but then realised that their sub-4 pace was way too fast for that early in the race so I told them to go on ahead. If I’d met them at 7 or 8k, or if it was a few months down the line, this would’ve been a dream race experience for me, especially since they finished in 39 minutes!

Post Bupa 10k

I didn’t finish too badly though – despite my mental game being decidedly “off” I ended up with a new PB by about 40 seconds. It’s the third time I’ve finished 10k in 44 minutes-something recently – first was at the un-chipped Marrowthon, and then the second was the first 10k of London marathon, so it’s amazing I was able to carry on after running the first quarter so quickly!

But a PB is a PB, even if it’s just by a few seconds, and I’m feeling very fortunate I was able to pull it off at all. This is one of my favourite races, and I just feel grateful every year that I’m able to participate at all. Each year I remember the only two years I didn’t run it, when I was off having my bone marrow transplant and then recovering from it. My BMT “rebirthday” isn’t for another month, but somehow this race is always linked to it in my mind, and it’s a great reminder of why I run at all.

Bupa London 10,000. 25 May 2014. 44:19

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We Own the Night - race report

13 May 2014, 12:50

I was really grumpy about this race in the leadup to it. It was in no way an A-race for me (or even a B- or C-race), and Nike’s lavish treatment of a select few bloggers in the months leading up to it really rubbed me the wrong way. There’s nothing like watching other people get given £120 shoes, £90 leggings, 3 course dinners, 12 month Spotify passes, and countless gallons of free booze to make you feel like a chump for stumping up £30 for a 10k race. And that some of those people had barely run in the past 12 months (and then didn’t even run the race in the end) whilst other bloggers were out running ultras and gathering together teams of women to help run, well, it doesn’t exactly promote unity (Note: I in no way expect to be invited to these things. My problem is that I’d rather have seen the hundreds of pounds spent on each blogging princess instead gone to reduced race entry for local people, those on benefits, students, etc).

This, plus a forecast of heavy rain, and my legs still not yet recovered from London marathon meant that I was in a “well I’ll turn up and try to enjoy it I suppose” frame of mind.

And do you know what? I really enjoyed myself.

We Own the Night had taken over the top end of Victoria Park in East London, and rather than the feeling of a race, it honestly felt more like a music festival, with loads of tents, food trucks, a massive stage, and plenty of chill out places. In fact, the only bad part was that it was so cold and windy that I didn’t really want to hang out for long afterwards.

There were a few minor problems with the start pens (at least they had some this year!). I was in the fastest, black pen, for the sub-45min girls, but we were jumbled up together with the next, purple pace (sub-50), so we all had to push and squeeze our way to the front, which was awkward. Then a whole bunch of VIP pink band ladies were let out right in front of us, meaning the first 500m were carnage – tripping over much slower VIP runners (some of them in big groups) whilst trying to duck and dive around the purple pace runners, too. There is definitely room for improvement here next year – please put the VIP racers at the front of their prospective pace pens, for starters, rather than at the very front. I’ve been on the other end of this, and it’s equally un-fun to be overtaken and made to feel like you’re standing still.

Once we broke free of the pack, I settled in with a few of the RDC Cheelite ladies for a fast but comfortable first lap. I was moving at a good pace, but comfortable enough to hold a conversation and to go out of my way to give the Cheer Dem Crew guys a good high five! We Own the Night did a great job of making the course feel really festive, too – the kilometer markers were brightly lit up like old cinema signs, there were several bands along the course (including a brass ensemble covering Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” at one point), a DJ booth featuring Josey Rebelle, and two disco tunnels with teal and purple strobe lights and balloons. They also had chip timing points at every single kilometer, too, so you got a rundown of all your splits at the end. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a race with that many timing mats before!

We Own the Night high five

Top marks to Nike for going the turquoise and purple route, too – I’m thoroughly sick of brands thinking all you have to do to put on a women’s event is make it pink, give out cupcakes, and halve the distance. There was clearly a lot of thought put into this by women at the top, and some great graphic design work on the day, too. For our entrance fee, we got a designer tote bag, a really nicely designed technical race tee, and a designer necklace in place of a medal, too. The goody bag had two brands of coconut water plus a bunch of Kiehl’s samples and a bag of popcorn (so not the best I’ve ever had, but not the worst either). I’d love to see a women’s marathon in London like they’d done in San Francisco in years past, but this is a great place to start.

But back to my race – since it’s a two lap course, it was inevitable that the faster runners would be overtaking slower ones at some point. When I ran Bath Half back in March (also a two-lap course), the organisers split the width of the route with barriers and clearly signposted to run on the left for the first lap and the right on your second lap. As we were rounding the bend to start the second lap, I let out an almighty torrent of expletives, because there were now several thousand runners (including the 1hr10min pacer) just now starting their first loop and taking up the entire width of the path. I have no idea why they chose to start the slower pens just as the faster pens were coming around, but it meant that the majority of my second lap was spent running next to the path just to get around the thousands upon thousands of slower runners. It meant I ended up going a lot faster in the second half, moving from trail running alongside the path, dodging bins, spectators, kilometer markers, etc, and having to weave onto the course in places and then darting in and around other runners. I’m sure I ended up running rather more than 10km in total, but it was the only way I could get moving at anywhere near the pace I wanted to go.

I wasn’t planning on going for a PB, and in the end, it wasn’t really PB conditions, and afterall, I wasn’t really sure how my legs would feel so soon after London. But it was good to give them a stretch, feel like I was moving fairly fast, and I ended up finishing in 46 minutes, which is only 2min off my PB from earlier this year. I’m also glad I wore my RDC shirt instead of the provided race shirt, as it meant that Charlie Dark (leader of RDC and the start/finish line emcee) was able to pick me out and announce “Give it up for Melissa Fehr!” as I approached the finish line. It was a great finish to the race, and having the last 600m separate from the loop meant I really could open up my legs and go for a final push.

I also took advantage of the nighttime festival atmosphere to debut a running jacket I’d just made which was also my first foray into wearable electronics – it features LEDs sewn into the back which twinkle and fade (more details on FehrTrade.com later this week)! It was too warm to wear during the race itself, but perfect for warming up afterwards and keeping the wind off while I devoured my cajun catfish burger from the food trucks! I didn’t end up redeeming my complimentary sparkling wine coupon as there was a massive queue to get into the bar tent so we opted instead to head home early for some chips and a hot chocolate.

I honestly wasn’t expecting much from this race at all, and I was pleasantly surprised. With a few tweaks to their media relations and start pen management this could be one of my favourite races.

We Own the Night London. 10 May 2014. 46:12

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