World Transplant Games - Malaga 2017 - race report

7 July 2017, 17:02

I’ve been amiss in posting the past few months, not for lack of running (or even interesting things to say!) but entirely down to lack of time to actually get my thoughts recorded. In May we went to Copenhagen to visit friends I’ve known for years through running, then a few weeks later we visited Southeastern Turkey for a wedding where I ran along the incredible Lycian Way before diving into ice-blue waters.

And 2.5 weeks before the Games, I ran a time-trial 5k with a friend on pacing duties that did not go so well. We were aiming for a 20min 5k, which should’ve been within my skillset, but I made him work harder than I was proud of, I felt like my heart rate was red-lining the entire time, and even though I crossed the finish line as first lady, I didn’t feel proud or triumphant – just shattered and a bit embarrassed.

So off the back of that, I laid everything out to my coach and she formulated what was probably the toughest two weeks of training I’ve had in the entire four years I’ve been with her. It also coincided with a rare heatwave in London, which meant that for the fortnight preceding the Games, I was cycling to my office job (35min, 10k), working a full day, cycling to Regents Park (35min), putting in 90min on the dirt track with my coach, often in 30+C heat, then cycling home (45min), picking up dinner on the way, shoving food in my mouth and falling asleep. Repeat pretty much daily, though sometimes the track session would be replaced by a solo tempo run or an occasional recovery run. But I didn’t have a single rest day in the leadup, and it was really just fine-tuning my formwork and pacing, which saw me shaving 8 seconds off my 800m and 3 seconds off my 400m in the span of two weeks. Note that this is on top of the 6 months of endurance and strength training I’d already been doing – you can’t expect to ONLY train two weeks for events of this calibre!!

So I boarded the flight to Malaga feeling prepared. but definitely guarded. Training in heat wave conditions was definitely helpful to prepare for the 30-35C temps in southern Spain, but mentally I felt a lot of pressure to live up to the 6 gold medals I earned at the previous Games in Argentina, and knowing that I had ten supporters flying in from around the globe to watch me only added to the pressure.

Opening Ceremony

The Opening Ceremony this year was held in the historical bullring, and the athletes parade was a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Definitely a great way to start the Games off right!

Opening Ceremony

My first event of the week was the 5km Road Race, which is my strongest event and one I’m most comfortable with as a distance runner. I’d vastly prefer a 10k or even half marathon, but as far as races go, at least I’m in my element with a mass start and two laps around a closed course.

Road Race

The race looped around the Malaga port, passing by a Picasso Museum, aquarium, several sculptures, and an enormous yacht as well as a historic lighthouse, so at least I had pretty things to look at to distract me from my screaming legs and lungs. Even though the race started at 9am, it was already 29C and several athletes collapsed on the course from heat exhaustion, so I cannot stress enough how tough the conditions were!

Road Race
Photo credit: Dave Medcroft

Road Race
Photo credit: James O’Brien

The two loop course also contained a handy out-and-back section which is always helpful when racing – it means you can see the position of the competitors behind you instead of relying on your spectators to shout out info. It meant I could also tell my teammate Ruth that she was still in silver medal position on the second loop, as the ladies between her and I were in different age categories.

Road Race
Post race selfie – I said it was tough!!

Thankfully, I was able to retain my world championship title by finishing first lady (in any age category), winning gold in the 30-39 age category as well as team gold for women of any age (first 3 females across the line win points for the team), finishing in 18:57! Though take that with a grain of salt, as many athletes’ GPS recorded it as being significantly shorter than 5km (more like 4.5km)!

Road Race podium
Photo credit: Dave Medcroft

Road Race

Then it was (thankfully!) three full days of rest and recovery around Malaga and Torremolinos to prepare for the track events on Friday and Saturday. In Argentina, my events were pretty nicely spread, with one in the morning and another in the afternoon on each day, but the scheduling was… eclectic if I’m being charitable, and ramshackle if I’m not. Schedules were only finalised at 6:30 on the morning of competition, started two hours late, and ended up with my 1500m being raced at 3pm in the sizzling heat of the day, with a mere 10 minutes of rest before the 400m. Many, many expletives were uttered, but there wasn’t anything to be done but trust in my training and know that all the other athletes were in the same boat.

The 1500m is traditionally my strongest track event, and one I enjoy the most at the British Games, where I often have Belfast athlete Orla Smyth to play with. I love competing against her as she’s a super strong runner who always pushes me to do my best and get to put some strategy into play. In short, it’s much more fun when Orla’s running, too.

1500m Orla and I
Photo credit: Dave Medcroft

So as the gun went off, we both broke away from the pack and I settled into Lane 1, with her barely a stride behind me. I could hear her breath so I knew she was close, and she maintained that position for the first two laps.

Photo credit: James O’Brien

Traditionally, I like to make my move and pick up the pace in Lap 3, but I realised during this lap that I couldn’t hear her breath any longer, and by the time we started Lap 4, her bell sounded about 200m behind me so I knew I just had to push on through the heat to the finish and take gold, only 4 seconds slower than my World Record time I set in Argentina. Considering it felt like we were being melted from above as well as the heat coming up from the track itself, I’ll definitely take that!

1500m podium
Photo credit: Dave Medcroft

No sooner had we come off the track from the 1500m, though, and they were already calling for the 400m. In all, we had ten minutes between races, which was in no way enough time to recover, let alone stretch, cool down, and warm back up for the race. But again, there wasn’t anything to be done, so we toed the start line again, with me in Lane 3 and Orla ahead of me in Lane 4, for what’s traditionally her strongest race (she left me in the dust at the British Games last year!).

But it seems that all the intense heat training with an emphasis on 400m and 200m really paid off! I started behind (such is the way of the staggered start), but as we rounded the final curve into the last 100m, I could see her ahead of me and something in my brain said “this is within your grasp, GO FOR IT” and I just pushed it as hard as I could, concentrating on high arms, high knees and gained ground right up to the finish line…

400m Orla and 1
400m Orla and I

…where it was so close that neither she nor I could say who won, and neither could our friends on the line awaiting the next race, nor our friends in the stands. In the end, we had to wait over an hour before the Photo Finish Booth (thank god there was one!) made a decision and we were awarded our medals. In the end it was decided that I won by one one hundredths of a second, possibly the closest finish I’ve ever had in my life. It honestly could’ve gone either way, and I’d initially thought I’d lost it, so it really is a shame that it couldn’t have been awarded as joint gold.

400m podium
Photo credit: Dave Medcroft

After a brutal day on the track, it was back to the hotel for a very welcome dinner and an even more welcome night’s sleep before returning to the stadium for the second day of athletics. Unfortunately the previous days’ racing had aggravated a stress fracture Orla had suffered in the leadup to the competition, meaning she had to pull out of the 800m. This is normally the race where we’re most evenly pitched, so I was gutted for her that she couldn’t put all her hard work into one last race.

Photo credit: Dave Medcroft

As it turned out, the 800m was the closest thing I had to a time trial the whole Games, with quite a bit of breathing room between me and the Iranian lady in silver position. But even so, I remember coming into the finishing straight and hearing the crowd really pick up their cheers and thinking “are they cheering because I’m finishing, or because she’s gaining on me??” and picking up my pace in paranoia that she’d pull out a last second victory over me like I’d just done in the 400!

After the 800m, I had an hour or two to think about whether I wanted to run the 200m race. Now, the 200 is traditionally my weakest event, and the one that takes the most out of me, and I’d really only put my name down thinking it’d be a wildcard and I’d only run it if it was a guaranteed medal. But I was feeling ballsy on the day, and we’d practised the 200m form and pacing so much in training that I decided to run it, even though World Record holder and fellow teammate Emma Wiltshire was also on the starting sheet.

Photo credit: James O’Brien

The other girls were all sprinters and therefore using starting blocks, but I refused to allow myself to be intimidated and just ran as hard as I could with my arms and knees high, pushing, pushing pushing until I crossed the line… for a new PB and bronze! Honestly, I think I was the most chuffed about this bronze than some of the Golds, and it would turn out to be my only PB on the track this year.

200m podium

Finally, the last events of the day were the 4×400m relays, with us ladies up first and the men directly after. With a few runners out for injury or other event conflicts, we fielded a team of myself, Emma Wiltshire, champion 100m sprinter Emma Hilton, and fellow Road Race team winner Marie Devine. Marie set off first, holding her own against the Hungarians and Argentinians, with Emma Hilton gaining ground in her lap to put us in the lead. Emma Wiltshire further strengthened our lead, so by the time I picked up the baton for the anchor leg (they put me on anchor?!!?), I merely had to maintain what we had. In the end, I think I gained a little bit more ground, but was able to finish comfortably for my 6th gold medal of the games.

4x400m relay
Photo credit: Dave Medcroft

After a quick closing ceremony, it was back to the hotel to shower and change before the Gala Dinner, where Team GB were awarded the team prize, which wasn’t much of a surprise considering we absolutely dominated the medal table from start to finish, earning more gold medals than the second place team (Team USA) had total medals.

As I like to tell people, the World Transplant Games are as much a reflection of the nation’s health service as they are the athlete’s abilities. And as every single athlete who competed had to cheat death just to get to the start line, it really is the most inspiring week of athletics you’ll ever experience. The addition of events for donors this year made it even more special, from the standing ovation received by the donors in the opening ceremony right down to the special medals awarded for the different donor events. You could feel the gratitude not just from the athletes but also from the supporters like my family and friends, who wouldn’t have me around if it wasn’t for my donor.

Team Fehr
Team Fehr, minus Paul and Claire who joined later in the week!

Looking at the medal result between Argentina and Malaga, you may be forgiven for assuming that this year’s haul was inevitable, but it absolutely wasn’t. I was hoping to maybe win gold in the Road Race and 1500m again, but these Games have absolutely exceeded my expectations. The competition was fierce this year, and there were some incredible feats of athleticism on display, truly showing what is possible post-transplant. As it turns out, my 8th rebirthday of my own bone marrow transplant is tomorrow, a timely reminder of the day that my life began again, a life I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for my donor.

All the medals

World Transplant Games – Malaga 25 June – 2 July 2017

5k Road Race: 18:57 (gold) & women’s team (gold)
1500m: 5:40 (gold)
800m: 2:48:74 (gold)
400m: 1:11:39 (gold)
200m: 32:07 (bronze) (PB)
Women’s 4×400m relay: (gold)

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Transylvanian Bear Race - race report

7 June 2016, 13:39

I have never felt more grateful to be on a start line than I did standing in front of the fortified church in Viscri, Transylvania, in Romania on Saturday. I’d heard about the Transylvanian Bear Race over a year ago when my friend Rhalou ran the first ever one and raved about it, sharing amazing photos and saying it was the best race she’d ever done (and she’s run a lot of races). So I signed up pretty much immediately when it opened up for 2016, and couldn’t stop talking about it for the past 9 months or so. People loved the name and the crazy premise of the race (to run through Europe’s last unspoiled virgin forests, with wild bears and wolves, through medieval villages, and finish going up the steps to Dracula’s castle), and I was excited to finally run my first trail marathon after running five road marathons. For me it’d be both an adventure and a new physical test.

But I was quite seriously ill in January, and didn’t really recover enough to do any running whatsoever until April, meaning I had to defer London marathon and DNS Cardiff Half. I managed to party pace Hackney Half in the searing heat, but cramming in 6 weeks of training and only one really long run in for this race was not ideal. But my 3.5hr run along the North Downs Way gave me confidence that I could at least complete the race, and my legs felt marathon-ready, even though overall I knew I still wasn’t back up to my usual fitness level.

Bear Race start
Before the start, complete with Run dem Crew tee, custom-sewn bear shorts, and trusty backpack

The Transylvanian Bear Race is actually two races – you can choose to run either the “marathon”, or the ultra. I chose the marathon because I’d been wanting to run a trail marathon for ages, and I credit my staying at a race distance for a number of years before progressing in distance for my only ever having one injury in 14 years of running (from a track session, no less!). So I felt I wanted to stay at the marathon distance a while longer before possibly moving into an ultra at some point – and this ultra is 88km, over twice the marathon distance! I only discovered a month or so before the race that the “marathon” distance was actually 49km the previous year, and as it turned out, 47km this year after cutting out a section through a village. With 576m (1890ft) of climb and challenging terrain, this is not your standard marathon – I’d also learned that last year’s winner finished two hours over his road marathon PB, and that if you get in under 6 hours, you’ve done really well!

Bear Race selfie at Viscri
Start line selfie with the fortified church at Viscri

I stood on the start line feeling ready for adventure, and almost immediately after we took off, we encountered two miles of the boggiest mud I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been to both English cross country meets as well as Glastonbury!). This made it difficult to even walk, let alone run, and I know I used up far too much energy early on just getting through it (as did everyone else). But I was fortunate enough to not lose a shoe (as others did), and when we finally hit the proper trail, it felt amazing to finally stretch out my legs and find a comfortable running rhythm. The vast majority of the race just follows a very well maintained mountain biking trail through the forests – while it was designed for cyclists with nice banked corners and shallow gradients (think zigzags up the hills which runners could easily shortcut), the entire route was lined in a crushed chalk stone which made it easy to follow but also really nice to run on.

Bear Race view at clearing Bear Race selfie with vista

But there were a few twists and turns along the way, and a few places where it wasn’t immediately obvious which path to take (as there were some logging roads in places, too), and the race directors marked the route with coloured tape at 50m intervals – red and white for the ultra, and black and yellow for the marathon. Talking to other runners afterwards, I seem to be in the minority that didn’t get lost at all, and even in my braindead state at the end, I found it easy to just follow the white chalk path (we were also supplied with an offline trail map app but I didn’t need to use it at all).

But those are purely logistics – the experience of the race was both the hardest run I’ve ever done and also the most rewarding. 90% of the route is in the forests, which were just stunningly beautiful. For large stretches of the race I ran alone in the forest, and I could turn 360 degrees around and not only see no other humans, but see no other evidence of humans other than the path. The sound of the cuckoos in the trees while I ran, with dappled sunshine streaming through the forest canopy is a memory I’ll take with me forever. And it was like that, over and over, for hours.

Bear Race forest selfie

We got really lucky with the weather – the forecast in the week leading up to the race called for thunderstorms on the day, and even at the pre-race briefing we were told that waterproofs were mandatory. It rained heavily in the days leading up to the race, leaving the path as a near-continuous string of puddles and mud despite the chalk, but the weather during the run was gorgeous – sunny but shaded in the forest and about 20 degrees Celsuis (70F) with a light breeze.

Bear Race - muddy trail
Fairly representative photo of the muddy trail

The meadows, however, were another story. Apparently only 4km of the course is not in the forest, but as soon you stepped out of the tree line you were hit hard with two things: 1) omg the vistas across the mountains were incredible, stretching for miles and miles fading into faded purple mountains, with no houses or human evidence in sight. And 2) the beating sun caused the temperature to be at least 10 degrees © hotter than in the forest, which, combined with the high humidity, made running a real struggle. Once the initial boggy miles were out of the way, I settled into a pretty good rhythm in the forests, running about 6min/km (9min/mi), chatting with various other runners for 10-30min at a time, and just stopping at the checkpoints to fill up my Camelbak and be off on my way.

Bear Race - with sign
Posing with the directional sign at the 3rd checkpoint at 31km

But right after the third checkpoint at 31km (19mi), we hit a meadow and I just melted. I’d already been running for about 4 hours at that point, and every time I attempted to jog a little, but my body just said NO. So to avoid heat exhaustion, I ended up walking the entire 2-3km of that meadow, despite attempting to run several times. This meadow alone easily added 30-40min onto my time, but as soon as I hit the forest again, the cool air hit me and I could pick up running again. Once we were on the mountain biking path, we were pretty much alone until the last descent into town, apart from 2 or 3 weathered local shepherds keeping an eye on their flocks (who’d be warned in advance that we’d be coming through and to kindly keep their enormous sheepdogs out of our way!). Whenever I’ve been on trails or public footpaths in the US or UK, I’d come across people out hiking or walking their dogs, or even out running at least once every half hour or so. But in Transylvania, there wasn’t a soul using the path that wasn’t part of the race, which I just found odd, but also a bit sad. Sure, we were running through a very remote area with only a handful of villages for miles around, but it still felt like somewhere so beautiful should be appreciated a bit more, and not just by 65 sweaty Brits on one day a year.

Bear Race - meadow tree
The only shade in that entire blazing meadow

But back to my race – after the molten meadow, I picked back up running again in the forest, but without the same vigour as before. I’m blaming it on the heat, but it could also just be the fact that I’d been running for longer than I’d ever been on my feet before. By the time 5 hours rolled along, I was still a few kilometers shy of the 42km marathon mark, and I “celebrated” by recording a little stream of consciousness video diary on my Go Pro, which was thoroughly amusing but rather rambling so I edited it down for time!

Bear Race - stairs at Sighisoara
The stairs at Sighisoara (actually only half of them!

Bear Race - acid trip selfie
My “acid trip” selfie taken on the stairs – I swear I wasn’t pulling a face, this was just how I felt!

Just before the final zigzag descent into Sighisoara, I started to hear some road noises and another runner came up behind me in one of my walking breaks, so my new friend and I made the descent into town together, feeling equally startled by the sudden appearance of people, taxis, and chickens, and then running on pavement, cobbles, and having to cross the road! Once we got into the main square we were greeted by an almighty cheer from the finished runners enjoying their beers in a piazza cafe, which really helped pick up the legs to get to the almighty covered wooden staircase leading up to the citadel. My new friend started running up the stairs (!!), to which I promptly said “F— that, I’m walking up!”, then once at the top, it was a short curve round to the very top of the hill, where the finish line was marked with a few stones, cheers of congratulations, and a hug from my friend Ruth (who said I “looked fresh”, hahahah).

Bear Race - finish line

My official time was 6 hours 22 minutes and 57 seconds, which was about 2.5hrs longer than I’d ever run before (my 3:52 finish at Copenhagen marathon in 2013). I’d also finished as second lady, apparently, too, so in case you’re thinking that this was a really slow time for 47km, just let that sink in (and in fact, my time this year was faster than the first lady’s time last year)! That time is much more of an indication of how difficult the terrain and conditions were than any particular comment on my performance on the day – I know one runner who took nearly 12 hours to finish!

Bear Race - medal

I’m leaving out a lot of race particulars here on purpose as I’m writing another post as a guide for anyone who’d like to run it next year (and you should!!), but the medal we were given at the finish is probably the nicest one I’ve ever received in all my races. It’s a glazed ceramic medal, handmade by local artisans, and is such a wonderful and fitting reminder of the race – it’s beautiful to behold, but also a little rough around the edges but absolutely bursting with charm.

Transylvanian Bear Race, 4 June 2016, 6:22:57

This race was in aid of the European Nature Trust, a small charity whose aims are conservation of the Transylvanian forests through buying up land as well as educating Romanian schoolchildren in a travelling conservation bus. You can donate to my fundraising here if you’d like..

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GPS: app vs watch showdown

30 June 2015, 13:01

This post has been brewing in my mind for possibly longer than anything else I’ve written so far. I’ve been tracking my runs ever since the first Nike+ foot pod came out back in 2006 and my little iPod Nano could suddenly tell me how far I’d run on the gym treadmill. I switched to GPS apps when I restarted running after my bone marrow transplant in 2010, first using Runkeeper for a few years before settling on Runmeter, sharing everything to DailyMile, and recently switching over to Strava.

But there were a few things that bugged me about using my phone to track my runs, and I started to be jealous of my friends’ fancy GPS watches that told them exactly how far they’d been, beeped when they needed to switch up their interval session, and seemed so much more accurate. I was lucky enough to receive one for Christmas last year, and I’ve been running with the watch on pretty much every run for the past six months, including a full marathon, two half marathons, and a handful of shorter races.

Enough people have been asking me how I’m getting on with my watch that I think it’s worth laying out the Pros and Cons of each method, plus what I think will be my ideal solution, even if it’s not quite here yet.

My Garmin FR15
Getting Location…

GPS Watch (specifically, my Garmin FR15)


  • I can easily see my current pace any time I want. This is unbelievably useful in races for ensuring I don’t set off too fast, and I’m hitting my target pace.

  • The pace is usually pretty accurate.

  • It integrates with Strava.

  • It integrates with a heart rate monitor chest strap.


  • It can take forever to find a satellite (15+min about a quarter of the time!), or find it within 10 seconds, and there’s no rhyme or reason or any way to predict which it’ll be.

  • The Auto-Pause feature takes way too long to recognise I’m stopped, so the several seconds of 15min+/km pace really skews my average pace stats.

  • I need a computer with USB to share my run. What year is this again?!?

  • The battery life is pretty poor, considering I’m only going on short (<1hr) runs several times a week. It lasts for a marathon, but not much more.

  • It’s too big and uncomfortable to wear as an everyday watch.

  • At £150, it was a pretty big investment.

Yes, I’m aware there are other brands and models of GPS watches, and that my Forerunner 15 is a fairly low end one. But as my first foray into the format, I didn’t want to spend £££ on a top of the line model in case I didn’t like it, or it was too big or too masculine or indeed still had all of the same Cons as I’ve listed here. I could pay £200 more and get a model that has slightly better ability to find a satellite and has Bluetooth integration, but I’m still left with the other downsides.

My Runmeter app

GPS App (specifically, Runmeter on iOS)


  • It tweets/posts/shares when I start a run so anyone can reply and have their message spoken into my ear. AFAIK this is the only app that does this and it’s a killer feature – I cannot stress enough how motivating this is in races.

  • My run can be shared the second I’m done.

  • It integrates with Strava and DailyMile.

  • After the first kilometer, the pace is pretty accurate.

  • It’s very cheap (presuming you’ve already got a phone).

  • It integrates with several heart rate monitor chest straps.


  • I can only check my pace (via spoken commands) every 1min maximum, though I have it set for every kilometer (~4 or 5min).

  • I have to carry my phone with me, either in an arm strap, pocket, or backpack.

  • It’s difficult to hear notifications in noisy or “no headphones” races.

  • Often the first kilometer is wildly inaccurate (telling me I’ve literally run faster than Mo Farah’s race pace), which skews my average pace for the rest of the run.

  • It requires data for many functions, which limits its usefulness abroad.

Yes, I’m aware there are plenty of apps out there. I’ve even tried a lot of them, but ultimately I feel that Runmeter has more Pros than the other apps, and in general, the Cons are the same for all GPS apps seeings as how they’re all using the same phone chipset. Plus I’ve had over the top fantastic support from the developers there whenever I’ve had issues or questions, which counts for a lot in my book.

As you can see from my lists, neither of these are perfect. But if I could somehow merge the two, and have the features and reliability of the app but with the ability to check my pace on my wrist whenever I want, then I honestly think I could overlook the crazy first kilometer pace (which is likely to be diminished with a better built-in GPS chipset on future iPhones anyway).

Which brings us to the Apple Watch. We’ve got one for testing purposes at my office, and honestly, I’m waiting for Apple to release the next version before I test my theory that this might be my perfect solution. I never, ever buy Rev A hardware, as the first version always has too many bugs to be entirely worthwhile (and besides, I need for Apple to release an updated, smaller phone since my 4S isn’t compatible with the Watch right now anyway), but I think this could be just the solution I’m after. I’ll get all the Pros of my favourite app, but also the Pros of the watch, too. Plus it’s something I can wear when I’m not running, too.

Or at least that’s the theory.

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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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Three Molehills - Race Report

27 November 2014, 17:31

I become a bigger and bigger fan of Events to Live with every race I run. I first encountered them when I ran my first Bacchus race in 2012, and then this spring I also ran their 20 mile Spitfire race and together they really sealed my undying devotion. They’re a small events company, local to Surrey, and they just put on really great races in their local area, with interesting distances, terrain, and sights. They’re always reasonably priced, well organised, and with the friendliest marshals I’ve ever encountered. The end result is that when I sign up to one of their races, I know it’s going to be a good time.

The Three Molehills race is predominantly a relay event, with each leg taking in one “Molehill” – it’s a great play on words because they’re hills in the Mole Valley, but also the hills are massive, so calling them “molehills” is like a tiny pat on the head to the beasts that are Box Hill, Norbury Park, and Ranmore! You can also opt to run the entire race as an individual, however, taking in all three hills over nearly 16 miles, and so of course, that’s what I chose to do, and happily, my friends Chris and Cat were equally crazy!

Three Molehills - elevation
The elevation for the course, recorded by my GPs app

It’s impossible to talk about this race without also talking about the weather – it was an utter downpour for the entire day. Raining sideways, windy on the tops of the hills, flooded streams, and large amounts of standing water pretty much everywhere. The only way to get through it was to just accept that you’d get soaked to the bone, and bring a towel and change of dry clothes for afterwards (which is what we did).

Three Molehills - Box Hill steps
Box Hill stairs. Photo credit: Amy Heinen

The first leg was the steepest, taking in the infamous Box Hill (infamous because it is the steepest hill in the entire south of England, used by cyclists every weekend trying to replicate the Tour de France mountain stage feelings). Usually the course has a choice of stepping stones over a creek, or a longer route going over a bridge, but the creek was so flooded the bridge was the only option (and even that became flooded the next day!). Across the bridge it was the a relentless line of muddy steps up the side of the hill, which Chris and I ran up most of, trying to pass our way around all the walkers, before having to stop and wait for Cat and the top anyway. We took a second to admire the views before returning back down the steep slope, past the motorway (where we got full-body sprayed by so many cars I lost count), and back to base before turning around to start the second leg.

Three Molehills - group shot
Photo credit:

The second leg was the longest, but also one which had a more undulating terrain around a wide loop, rather than a distinct “up the hill then down the hill” like the other two legs. This one went through Norbury Park and included a lot of woodland stretches, and the trees looked absolutely gorgeous in the rain – the dark, damp trunks a pleasing contrast to the autumn foliage. I think this is my favourite of the three legs. If I’d run it as a relay in future, I’d personally go for this one, as I’m well suited to the up ad downs spread over a longer distance.

Cat and Chris both then stopped in for a loo break when we were back to base before starting the third leg. There weren’t any portaloos and there were already people finishing the race (!!) so it took them a good 10min to fight their way through people changing so we could get started again. The third loop was completely familiar to me since it was the same course as the end of the Bacchus half – an out & back up Ranmore along paved paths, past the church and a little ways along some flat meadow before turning around again the way you came.

This was a great finish to the race because a) you already knew exactly how much you had left, b) you could admire the views as you ran down the hills through the woods, and c) having the finish be entirely downhill means you can really fly and sprint right into the finish line!

Three Molehills - finishing straight official
Photo credit:

Having finished the race, we picked up our medals, bottles of beer, and chocolate bars, then quickly got changed into dry clothes before we got any colder. I can honestly say that I couldn’t have been more wet had I gone swimming – every layer had to be rung dry, and yet I didn’t have a single blister!

Three Molehills - beer and medal

It wasn’t until we checked the official results in the pub afterwards that we realised that we actually came in last place (for the solo runners anyway – a handful of relay runners were behind us)!! This was a first for all of us, as we’re pretty fast runners, but we were taking it a bit leisurely, plus there was that 10min toilet stop, but still, coming last was a shock! We mostly just found it hilarious, which is all you can do, really.

Three Molehills - team last place
Team Last Place!

We reckon the reason was two-fold: it was an incredibly fast field, but also, we imagine all the slower runners took one look out their window on Sunday morning and went right back to bed! Which is the sensible option, but definitely not the fun one.

Three Molehills - afterwardsThree Molehills - triathlon leggings after
Photo credits: Amy Heinen

I ran this race in some leggings that I sewed myself (which you can read about on tomorrow) and they felt great throughout the entire race. I’m proud to say that I even got a few compliments from the other runners while I was running, too! They look like they were made to be doused in mud – you can barely tell it for the wild, geometric print, perfect…

Three Molehills, 23 November 2014, 2:40:40

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Berlin Marathon - race report

2 October 2014, 09:05

I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted from this race. I wasn’t expecting to actually get a place when I entered the ballot nearly a year ago, but I was delighted when I got in (though somewhat less delighted at the €100 price tag). I figured it’d take some pressure off my performance in London, but as it turned out, I got everything I wanted in London marathon – a PB, a GFA qualification, and a BQ (Boston qualifier), too.

So all summer, I was left with the question of “what do I want to achieve in Berlin?” After training super hard for London, and then turning around and hitting the track all summer training for the British Transplant Games, I didn’t really have the drive to push the pain to gain a few minutes in Berlin. But what I had been wanting for a while was to run a really well-paced race, instead of going off to quickly at the start and then dying midway through and hurling myself across the line. So I ultimately decided that I’d use Berlin marathon to try to run an even pace, no matter what time that ended up being.

The timing worked out that our favourite (street food-heavy) festival in Budapest was the weekend before the marathon, so my husband and I took the opportunity for a holiday through Bohemia – starting with the food and thermal baths of Budapest, to the schnitzel and prater in Vienna, to the beer, beer, and more beer of Prague, and finally ending with the marathon in Berlin. I can’t say that a week of absolutely gluttony and beer is the best way to prepare for a marathon, but in all honesty, I don’t think it did much harm, either, and it ensured I got to the start line very relaxed.

Berlin marathon
The day before – it wasn’t this empty on marathon day!

After I dropped my bags off on the morning of the race, I headed to the designated gathering point that the Berlin crew (the wonderful Run Pack) had declared, where I ran into a bunch of our Run Dem Crew runners in addition to other friends from crews around the world I’d met in previous races. Since we were all in the same start pen, I ended up running with Christina from NBRO (whom you might remember from my Copenhagen marathon or Hackney Half race reports) and Luis, who lives in Portugal but runs with RDC whenever he’s in London. The three of us agreed to target somewhere around a 3:30-3:45 finish time, but keep it relaxed and see how things went.

Berlin marathon

We settled into a groove, with Christina keeping an eye on the pace with her watch, and Luis and I chattering away happily, pointing out the sites and weird facts we’d gleaned from the guidebooks, high fiving kids, and pulling faces for the cameras. Above all, Luis and I decided that we’d remind ourselves to smile and remember that we were lucky to be healthy enough to run and appreciate the gorgeous, perfect day. The three of us got to halfway in a respectable 1:50, all feeling good, but Luis and I needed to stop for the loo, so we said farewell to Christina, who went on ahead.

The second half of the race carried on much like the first – running at about 5:10-5:15min/km (just over 8min/mi), which felt relaxed and comfortable. We’d stop and walk through every water station so we could rehydrate effectively without getting it all up our noses, and Luis took advantage of the fruit on offer, while I stuck to my “gels every 5k” plan. Our pace dipped a little to 5:30min/km at about 30-35km, but we still felt great, and it meant we could take the mental space to really enjoy the atmosphere. I personally preferred the Berlin course and crowds to London marathon – the course was flat, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so leafy (it was a sunny day, but I hardly noticed!), varied, or interesting, and the crowds were present throughout, but not screaming in my face the entire time. Periods of relative quiet interspersed with a ton of charming little bands (some teenage garage bands, high school orchestras, jazz quartets, drummers, you name it!) meant we could appreciate the really loud sections even more when they came.

Berlin marathon

One of the great things about racing in a city which has a sister crew is that they always lay down an epic cheering station. Fuelled by beer and Jagermeister, Run Pack really outdid themselves at KM37, and the boost I got from them and a kiss from my husband really gave me the kick I needed to crank it up again to the finish.

Berlin marathon

In most of my marathons, I find that I get to KM40 and my pace picks up a little as I think “oh hey, there’s only 2km left – I got this!” but in Berlin, I was able to push the pace for the last 5km instead. I felt my form improve, I loosened my shoulders, and said to Luis, “Ok, let’s do this!”. We upped our pace back up to 5:10min/km and just blew through the last 5km, passing absolutely everyone, which felt amazing.

Berlin marathon

If you’re not familiar with the Berlin marathon course, you actually run through the Brandenburg Gate right before the end. You go through Potsdamer Platz, turn a few corners, and there she is – and even better is that you can see the finish line just on the other side. We were already flying with massive smiles on our faces when we saw the Gate, but Luis insisted we run through the central span instead of the closer left one (he was totally right!) and we gave each and every camera a big smile and gunfinger, which carried right up through the finish line, where I gave Luis a massive hug. Together we finished with the exact same chip time – 3 hours 46 minutes and 5 seconds. Nowhere near a PB, but I honestly didn’t care! He was the best marathon companion I could ask for – full of energy, enthusiasm, optimism, and great conversation.

There’s certainly something to be said about running relaxed – I finished this marathon with one blister on my right foot and a little patch of chafing under my right arm, but otherwise unscathed. I’d also worn a pair of my Threshold Shorts – my latest sewing pattern designed and sewn by myself. I’m super happy with how these held up to the marathon distance, and the inner pocket in the back held my final two gels safe and secure, too.

Oh, and the rumors are true – they really do serve (non alcoholic) beer at the finish line!

Berlin marathon

The ballot for next year’s Berlin marathon opens on 18 October…

Berlin marathon, 29 September 2014, 3:46:05

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Varied shoes for varied running

18 September 2014, 17:33

I swear I used to be a runner that just owned one pair of running shoes. But somehow over the years I seem to have accumulated a bunch of different pairs, each of which has a different purpose in my training schedule.

New Balance Minimus Road Shoe (10v1, zero drop)

NB Minimus Road
I wear these for… Tempo and Threshold runs, like Run dem Crew. These are extremely light road shoes, and they’re best for anything fast.
What I like: They’re super lightweight, they’ve got a really wide toebox so my toes can splay as wide as they possibly can and still not touch the sides! They’ve also got an integrated tongue on one side so they’re really comfortable with no chafe points.
What I don’t: The sole is designed for the road, but they’ve got crap traction in the rain. My feet also get super sore from the impact if it’s anything longer than 10k (I’m still building my foot strength!).

New Balance Minimus Trail Shoe (1010v2, 4mm drop)

NB Minimus Trail
I wear these for… Summer trail running mostly, though before I got the road-specific pair above, I did all my road mileage in these, including running London marathon.
What I like: Like the other Minimus, these have got a great, wide toe box and the mesh on top keeps my feet nice and cool. There’s more grip to the Vibram soles on these, too, so they’re fine with a bit of Hampstead mud.
What I don’t: If you run on the road too much, the soles really wear down to nothing pretty quickly, and this particular pair had a hard bit of stitching by the forefoot that wore into my right foot for about 6 weeks (a previous pair of the exact same style didn’t have this issue).

Brooks Pure Drift

Brooks Pure Drift
I wear these for… Long distances on the road.
What I like: We bought these specifically because my poor, tender feet were getting overly sore from running anything over 10k on the roads in minimalist shoes. I got black toenails just from the impact forces in London marathon, and we wanted something that was still minimalist, but with some better forefoot cushioning. It took two tries to get the sizing right, but these have also got an adequately-wide toe box. I also love the knobbly laces, which just don’t budge even if they’re only single-knotted.
What I don’t: They’re ever-so-slightly too short for my big toe, which rubs a little bit at the end (but the next bigger size was way too big in the forefoot, making me slide all over the place!). Oh, and the pink. Pitiful (ie: no) choice in colours for women.

Puma Complete Haraka Cross Country Spikes

Puma XC Spikes
I wear these for… Track! Even though I originally bought them for cross country, which it turns out I hate.
What I like: These are lightweight, flashy, and have fantastic traction for the track, even without the spikes in.
What I don’t: My poor toes feel squished together as they’ve not got enough room to splay fully when I land, meaning I tend to get blisters between my toes after long sessions.

UnderArmour SpeedForm XC Trail Shoes

UA Trail Shoes
I wear these for… Winter trail running, when the mud is up to your knees!
What I like: They look totally bonkers, but I love the high tops – they give great ankle support and I’m never worried that I’ll lose a shoe in a bog. They’re also surprisingly lightweight, have a stretchy toebox, and a good, grippy sole.
What I don’t: The sole gets worn down very easily if you have to run on pavements to get to the trails, and they’re an absolute bugger to get on and off when they’re caked in mud!

What about you? How many running-specific shoes do you have? Surely I’m not some crazy outlier here, right?

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British Transplant Games - Bolton 2014

13 August 2014, 11:35

This weekend I competed in my second British Transplant Games, which sees organ and bone marrow transplant patients from all over the UK competing in a variety of sports, showing what we can do when given a second chance at life. The games move around each year, and took place in Bolton over the weekend (you might recall my report from Sheffield last year). Last year I only fancied competing in the two longest distances available, but this year my team captain encouraged me to sign up for the maximum five individual events, so I registered for the 3km “mini marathon”, 1500m, 800m, 400m, 200m, and the mixed relay.

Saturday night’s “Mini Marathon” was my first event, though it’s really four races run at the same time – a 5km “mini marathon” event for male transplant competitors, a 3km “mini marathon” event for female transplant competitors, a 5km “donor run” for anyone, and a 3km “donor run” for anyone. Last year all four races were set off in one massive scrum, which saw us literally tripping over children in the first few hundred metres, and caused a lot of complaints about the safety of the faster and slower runners alike.

So I was pleased when I ran into my friend (and kidney transplantee) Ruth, who then went up to the organisers pre-race to ask what they were doing about the situation this year and if they could please separate out the competitors from the fun runners. The race hasn’t been chip-timed for the past few years, so it’s essential for competitors to be able to run as fast as they possibly can in order to win medals.

Melissa & Ruth pre Mini Marathon
As an aside – Ruth is a total badass who’s also run loads of marathons, including Bacchus full last year, and just ran the Thunder Run a few weeks ago, solo, completing over 90km in 20hrs. Just sayin.

So after some warmups, we all took to the start as a massive scrum, with a few half-hearted comments for all the 5km runners to please go to the front. Facepalm. So Ruth and I wrangled our way up to as close to the front as we could, avoiding the blind, tethered runner, small child, and other fun runners to try and get to a good position, a few rows back behind some dudes who looked fairly fast.

Mini Marathon starting scrum

The first 300m were on the track, and after about 10m of jostling to get around slower runners, then having to pull back to avoid three slower guys running abreast, I clipped the heel of another slower guy ahead of me and I went down. Hard. I’ve run probably 70-80 races in my days, and I have never once fallen in a race. But I fell here, and the track is nowhere near as soft as you’d think – I got massive scrapes on both knees and my right elbow, and half the pins ripped out of my number. I screamed a massive blue streak, Ruth helped me up, and I carried on running. Most of the course was a blur of anger and adrenaline, but I do recall a lovely woodland stretch near the end, then a surprisingly big hill just before rejoining the track for the finish/start line, where I finished as the first lady (fourth overall) in 11:07 to take the gold medal.

Melissa crossing the Mini Marathon finish line

I then headed directly to the paramedics to get cleaned up, where I immediately started a sneezing fit. After describing it to James, we concluded it was my first ever bout of hayfever. Ever. So for the rest of the weekend I was hopped up on antihistamines, going through tissues at an alarming rate, with red nose, red eyes, the works. Yay.

Melissa collecting her Mini Marathon trophy

But I digress – as first lady of any age category, I also earned the Lynn Hindle memorial trophy, which I’m happy to take care of for another year.

Mini Marathon trophy and medals

Saturday may have been dry and lovely, but Sunday’s forecast was for torrential rain for pretty much the entire day, with strong winds as a result of a hurricane remains further south. So, perfect for five track races! Ha. The 1500m was first up, and myself and the other ladies huddled under some gazebos until our start, trying to stay as warm and dry as possible.

Melissa running the 1500m
How much do I love this photo?? Notice the rain drops around my head… I’m also wearing two of my own patterns – the VNA Top & Duathlon Shorts!

I’ve run in the rain enough to mostly be able to block it out (Cophenhagen marathon was good practice there!), but the finishing straight had a helluva headwind, blowing the rain right into my eyes and making for some tough speedwork. I gave it about 90%, knowing that I still had four more races, but I still finished first across the line in 5:49.

Melissa towelling off after 1500m
Towelling off with my official team Kings College Hospital towel after the 1500m race, just like a swimmer!

Even though the track wasn’t as big or nice as Don Valley Stadium last year, and the seating wasn’t under cover, either, the staff on the track this year were superb – incredibly helpful, friendly, and professional, too. There’s nothing like having a lap counter, last lap bell, and officials shouting out your lap times to make a girl feel like Mo Farah (or Jo Pavey!).

There was a massive two hour delay, however, between the end of our race and the medal ceremony, which involved Ruth and I again having to track down race officials, explain to them that they got the medals wrong (medals are awarded by age category, not overall finish position), run back and forth between various race HQs, wait ages longer, finally get an amended result that was still wrong, and finally just write it out ourselves for the poor medal officials to get on with the podium stuff.

The 1500m medal podium

Oh yes, there’s a podium! By this point (midday), though, we were both starving and my 200m race wasn’t until 14:30, so we headed off for a quick lunch, arriving back at 14:00 in what we thought was plenty of time to warm up. …Until one of Ruth’s teammates came past us in the rest area saying “Aren’t you running the 400m? They’re calling your name out on the track!” Uhh??? So we both ran out (hearing my name announced as well) to make it onto the track just in time to run the 400m, which wasn’t scheduled to start for other 90min.

Apparently someone decided to compress the schedule in order to try and get all the races done before the impending bad weather (fair enough, since they had to stop play altogether earlier when winds were so high they were blowing metal barriers onto the track). But they made no announcements in the sports hall before we left, and despite their twitter account making lots of casual tweets, they said nothing about the time changes, which would’ve made us high-tail it back from lunch to compete!

So after running the 400m (and winning it in 1:15) then pleading my case about missing the 200m race and clearly showing I’d made every effort to be aware of the situation, the race officials finally conceded to let me run 200m on my own as a time trial, with my time being slotted in amongst the other runners for rankings. I was fine with that, as I just wanted to be able to compete! I’m really not a sprinter, but I wanted the chance to at least get a time down, so I headed out on the track with another lady (in a different age category) who’d also missed the race, and we ran our 200m, completing mine in 0:36, which earned me a silver after all was said and done!

Due to the approaching dark clouds, all the mixed relays were cancelled, so it was just the final 800m left at the end of the day, and I hit the start line yet again, feeling probably as calm as I’ve ever felt before a race. I especially like the longer races where I don’t have to stay in my lane, so as soon as I can, I tear off to Lane 1 and settle into a crazy fast pace, counting breaths in my head to ward off any thoughts. But as I was running the 800, I could hear the announcer talking about me over the tannoy, saying things like “well, it’s clear she’s a well trained athlete…”, which made me laugh, and make a note to tell Barbara about that one! Even at the end of a long day, I was able to earn gold here, too, in 2:45!

Melissa on the 800m medal podium

So I ended the day again, beaming from the top of a medal podium! My total haul for the weekend ended up being four gold, one silver, and an amazing trophy. This weekend was my “A” Race for the fall, with special emphasis on the 3km and 1500m, so I’m super, super happy with this result!!

Melissa with final medals and trophy

The games this year were also qualifiers for the World Transplant Games in Argentina next year (an IOC event, omg!), so I’ll find out in a few months if my performance was good enough to be invited to join the British Team. For someone who wouldn’t even be alive without her donor, this seems like an unbelievable proposition.

But really, the real wonder is that absolutely everyone competing this weekend wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for the selfless generosity of another person. I think the British Transplant Games are the best possible way to show what can be achieved when someone is given a second chance at life.

Please, please put yourself on the Organ Donor list and discuss this with your family so that they’re aware you want to go on saving lives after you die. And if you’re aged 16-30, please also sign up to the separate Anthony Nolan bone marrow database, which means you could save a life and return to normal after only 3 weeks.

British Transplant Games, 9-10 August
3km “mini marathon”, 11:07 – gold & trophy
1500m, 5:49 – gold
800m, 2:45 – gold
400m, 1:15 – gold
200m, 0:36 – silver

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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 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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Bath Half marathon - race report

3 March 2014, 14:29

I haven’t raced since Bacchus half in September, but I’ve been training non-stop since November for the London marathon, and Bath Half yesterday was my first real chance to see whether it had been paying off.

If you recall, I managed to PB at Bacchus despite it being a super hilly, off-road course, and at the time I wondered what my time could’ve been had it been on a fast, flat course. So when selecting my spring half marathon, I was looking out for those with PB potential, and I settled on Bath since I’ve got two friends there and the course looked great. It’s a big city-centre race with 11,000+ runners and fantastic crowd support along the route. Some runners may be put off my the two-lap course, but I actually really appreciated this since I’m unfamiliar with the town and the second loop felt like it went way faster than the first as I already had a mental image of where I was going.

I’d gone to my trainer on Friday for a sports massage and to discuss race strategy, and I came away with a plan to run fairly comfortably (upper heart rate Z2-lower Z3) for the first 10 miles, then gun it for the last 3. I’d take in 2 Shot Bloks or a gel every 20min, but as the course is entirely in miles, I found it easier to remember to eat at miles 3, 6, 9, and 12. (I also came away with the feeling of Brand New Legs!!)

Kit laid out for Bath Half
Even the night before I wasn’t sure if I’d need the long sleeved top!

The weather forecast had changed several times throughout the week, from bright sunshine to mixed snow to 10 degrees, but in reality it ended up being my perfect racing weather – cool, cloudy, and slightly drizzling. The first mile or so was quite crowded with a fair amount of jostling and overtaking (as per usual), but the white pen seemed to be pretty even pacers as I ended up running with quite a few people for the entire race. But I made my classic mistake of starting out too fast – my first few kilometers were at 4:10-4:20 pace and my heart rate monitor was telling me I was in Zone 3 (high 170s-low 180s for me). So I tried to ease off the pace a little to bring my heart rate down a smidge, trying to think to “run comfortable”, but as I ran, my heart rate pretty much stayed put no matter what my legs did, so there came a point around Mile 6 I just thought “eh, fuck it!” and carried on with my pace, ignoring what my heart rate was saying.

On paper, this might seem scary to a lot of runners (myself included), but I ran through my mental body checklist and the lungs, legs, and head all felt okay, the pace felt a little tougher than comfortable, but certainly easier than my Tuesday runs with the RDC Elites, so I just tried to cling on and run based on all my other feedback and not let my heart rate overrule them all.

Bath Half photos
The final push to the finish line over the last few hundred meters…

My Bath-based friends were out cheering on part of the loop, so seeing them twice was a real boost, and I even had a chat with two fellow runners – one man came up to me specifically to compliment my forefoot-striking pose (a little weird, but nice!), and I spied an Anthony Nolan vest just ahead of me at one point so I said hello and found out he’s also running their 10km Marrowthon next week as well as London marathon.

The course profile definitely wasn’t as pancake flat as, say, Amsterdam marathon, but the few undulations just gave a bit of variety to the course – the very last mile is uphill, however, and while the gradient isn’t much at all, its placement at the very end of the route meant that the last mile felt about 5 miles long!

After Bath Half
Pardon that I’ve scrunched up my own-design PB Jam Leggings here – they weren’t like that while I was running!

In the end, I crossed the finish line in 1:36:28, which is a sizeable new PB for me (previous was 1:43), and though I failed to stick to my race strategy, I think I learned a lot more from listening (and not listening!) to my body and taking a gamble during the race.

I will also say for anyone considering this race next year – the VIP entry was totally worth the extra money. Honestly, I’d only gone for it since regular entries had sold out, but for £40 more, having a warm, dry place to go afterwards, plus private bag check, proper toilets, hot showers (though communal), unlimited food and drink for myself and two friends really made a huge difference on the day when I came through the finishing gates in the (now steady) rain, shivering, and very low on brain power. Not having to queue to get into warm dry clothes or perch in the mud waiting for other friends to finish was well worth it.

Gunfinger pose after Bath Half

Big thanks and congrats to Winnie who also ran this yesterday despite her training not going to plan! And for fuelling me up with a massive pasta dinner the night before…

Bath half marathon, 2 March 2014, 1:36:28

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Feed Zone Portables: book review and road test

26 September 2013, 12:17

I don’t tend to buy many “books about running”, but I’m a total sucker for cookbooks, so when my husband alerted me to the fact that there’s a new cookbook out specifically for food to eat while cycling or running, I was intrigued.

Then, after skimming through the introduction on Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, I realised I was taking screenshots of pretty much every page, so I broke down and bought it.

Feed Zone Portables

Yes, it’s primarily a cookbook, but the first 50 pages are possibly the best, and most easily understood description of basic sports nutrition principles that I’ve ever read, and completely worth the price of the book alone. It’s written by a chef for the US cycling team and a PhD in exercise physiology, so you get a ton of Actual Science about carb deficits, calorie burn rates at various running & cycling speeds, glycogen storage capacities, etc. There’s a disastrous amount of psuedoscience in pretty much everything I read about exercise in the media and online, so just the fact that they’ve cited the studies makes me sit up and take notice.

They also explain how your GI tract works and how exercise affects it, why coconut water isn’t a great sports drink, why liquid calories are not the same as solid food calories while on the run, why some people get diarrhea when taking gels, and the difference between pre-packaged energy bars and home-made bars.

I respect the last point most of all, because there’s clearly not much scientific research going into it, so these guys just bought up everything they could find in the store, and analysed the carb, protein, fat, calorie, and fiber content, the percentage of the ingredients which sounded like “real food”, and tallied all these up in a spreadsheet (these guys really like spreadsheets!). As it turns out, the main difference between the bars you buy (even the nice ones, like Nakd) and the bars you make is the water content. This makes total sense, as you need water to stay hydrated and to digest the solid food, but shelf-stable foods need to be dry, of course, so they’re actually dehydrating you while you eat them!

So having read through all this, I was pretty fired up to try some of the recipes and test it out on the run.

The recipes are largely broken into: Rice cakes (soft, not crunchy), baked eggs, tiny pies, cakes & cookies, waffles, and little sticky bites. There’s a good mix of sweet and savoury options, loads of vegetarian recipes, and a lot are gluten-free, too. They’re also really mindful of using common ingredients, so I went straight for the tiny apple pies, since I had just been given some cooking apples from my in-laws’ garden, and I had everything else on hand already.

There are four crust options for the Two Bite Pies, and I used the “Traditional Pie Crust”. I do a fair amount of baking, but I always buy pie crusts because it seems like too much work. But I actually made the crusts here, since it used the food processor and was actually pretty easy, too. Each recipe makes 12 crusts (which can be frozen), so you can either fold them like Cornish pasties, or do as I did and stuff them into muffin tins.

Tiny apple pies - composite

The filling was enough for 10 pies, so I threw together some chopped fresh fig, blackberry jam, and goats cheese for the other two crusts. I made these on a Wednesday, and by Saturday I was lucky to still have some left, because these were really freaking tasty. Or, in the book’s terminology, they “passed the sofa test”.

To see if they passed the road test, I enlisted the help of my friend Murdo to help me eat the pies on our 20km run (what a guy!).

Pie carrying methods

The only real problem is that they’re a bit awkward to carry – I tried first to put them into a stretchy belt I have, but they bounced so badly I had to tie them around my Camelbak after the first kilometer. If I’d make the turnover crust, or sticky bites, or cookies (or if I had my jacket pockets), I don’t think it’d have been an issue.

Murdo & his tiny pie

We brought out the pies at about 10km in – Murdo was restrained and ate his in several bites for the next two kilometers, but I wolfed my down in one go.

Melissa & her tiny pie

Both of us loved the taste, neither had any stomach issues, and the crust and filling were moist enough that he didn’t even need any water, either (I just drank my usual few sips). It was our only fuel for the run, though to be fair, I often run that distance without anything at all so I wouldn’t necessarily need it (but a tiny pie midway through really helps boost morale!). So these definitely got two thumbs up! I also had my husband taste-test one after his cycle ride, and he agreed they were pretty freaking tasty little pies.

So the verdict is that, after reading the book, I now understand a hell of a lot more about what my own body needs (and can handle!) during a long run, and I’ve got a ton of tasty and versatile recipes to try out during marathon training season this winter.

There are some free recipes from this book available here if you want to try these for yourself!

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