Tag Archives: half marathon

Training day for Reading Half Marathon

13 Jan Reading Half training day run

Last Saturday morning, I missed another parkrun… but for good reason. I was off to Reading to take part in a training day in preparation for Reading Half Marathon. I wondered whether I’d be able to fit in a parkrun as there is one nearby, but unfortunately, it was cancelled on Saturday, so I didn’t need to worry about being late to the training day.

I arrived fairly early, so there was plenty of time to meet others who were a mix of newbies, experienced runners and bloggers. I ended up sitting next to Anna, the fab blogger behind Anna The Apple. I also met Tess from The Fit Bits and Katie & Kate from These Girls Do.

Whilst we were waiting for others to arrive we saw a montage of images from previous races. My favourite images were ones of a group of friends who had dressed up as Mario Cart characters. I’ve never properly done a race in fancy dress – I ran a parkrun in a Minions outfit, but I was wearing a running t-shirt and shorts, so I don’t think that really counts. Have you ever raced in fancy dress?

The first activity of the day was a workout with Francesca and Chloe, the Townsend Twins.

The workout was high energy and the twins were so much fun. I also loved their outfits and had to do a bit of online stalking to find out where there leggings were from (Bellum Active – starlight leggings)… if anyone has a bit of spare cash and wants to buy me a present for my birthday next month…

I’ve really not done enough exercise in the last few months, so I was a bit nervous about the workout, but it turned out to be a lot of fun (although I was seriously stiff on Sunday AND Monday!) The music was great and the Townsend Twins explained everything really well. If I learnt anything that I could take into my own fitness career, it was that smiling and being enthusiastic is really important… and that I need to duplicate myself so that one of us can talk and the other can demonstrate!

We did a good mix of exercises, including skaters, squats, jump squats and walking lunges.

We then had a quick refreshment break (water, lucozade and bananas).


It was then straight into a pacing workshop with Ali Galbraith, who leads the pacers at a number of events, including Reading Half. I’ve taken notes on all of Ali’s talk as I found it really helpful…

Good training runs lead to great pacing days:

  • Set realistic goals
  • Try to not move the goal posts
  • Practice your pace in training runs
  • You will have good days and bad days – roll with the punches
  • See long training runs as mini race days

I’m really bad at accepting that runs don’t always go to plan. I rarely cut runs short and I never do more than my plan says, so maybe I need to be more flexible.

The necessities of a great pacer

  • Good quality watch
  • Gear you can trust
  • Solid knowledge of the race
  • The ability to adapt

I’ve now got a fantastic watch and I’ll probably wear my favourite black shorts. I need to check out the route of Reading Half as I think it’s changed since I last ran it.

Pre-race preparation

  • Fuel intake – what shall I eat and drink?
  • Route planning
  • Race planning – what will I need?
  • Weather preparation

This was one of my favourite parts of Ali’s talk. When I last ran Reading Half, I tried to fuel up with a vanilla Gu, but it was too thick and my friend threw it in the gutter because she thought I was taking too long and I didn’t have time to waste. Ali said that when he is running he uses Ella’s Kitchen baby food pouches (with Spaghetti Bolognese being a favourite) and Mars bars. I don’t think I could eat something that requires that much chewing when I’m running!

The perfect race morning

  • Review your pre race preparation
  • Get to the race village nice and early
  • Warm up properly using that time to visualise the race
  • Get to your starting pen with plenty of time
  • Never lose a smile

I don’t like being stressed on race day, but I have to admit that even though I arrive early I don’t always do a proper warm up.

Race break down

  • Why break down a race?
  • How I break down a race:
    • Miles 1-3
    • Miles 3-11
    • Miles 11-13.1

Breaking down a race into segments is a good mental strategy – it’s something that I do already.

Miles 1-3

  • Holding back the adrenaline
  • Don’t weave
  • Be prepared for a slower pace
  • Just concentrate on you and getting to mile 3
  • Treat it similar to your warm up in training runs

Last time I ran this race, I definitely wasted time and energy by weaving around people. This time I aim to get myself into the right start pen to and take off at a steady pace. Starting too fast is one of my worst habits. At Gosport Half a few years back, I challenged myself not to look at my watch for the first three miles. I didn’t quite manage it, but it was helpful as it stopped me getting into a panic about going too fast or too slow.

Miles 3-11

  • Ask yourself some questions:
    • How am I feeling?
    • What is my fuel intake?
    • Do I need to slow down?
  • Join a group and interact
  • Settle into your race pace
  • Be prepared for things to get tough

I definitely think that running with others who are going at your pace helps. When I got my half marathon PB, I ran with a friend. We were both running faster than we had ever managed before, but we stuck with each other, which gave us both a mental boost.

Miles 11-13.1

  • Break down into bitesize pieces
  • If you’re looking for a PB, now is the time to start pushing the pace
  • Mental toughness is key in these final miles
  • Treat it as the party bus home

This bit always begins at mile 10 for me as then I repeat my mantra: “parkrun to go!”

After Ali’s talk there was time for a Q&A session before we went out for a warm up and a  5km run.

After a few stretches, we split into two groups. The faster group were going to go at 9-9:30 minute miles. I thought that should be OK as I can usually run parkrun at that pace with a buggy. However, I’ve really not run much since before Christmas, so I found it really hard going… also we started at a slightly quicker pace. I definitely think I needed to start more slowly and build up.

© Anna Smith-James

© Anna Smith-James

My stretch goal for Reading Half is 1:49:59, but I would be happy with anything under 1:52:19. At the moment, I think I’d be amazed if I could finish in under 2 hours, but I know that I was able to make a lot of progress in a short period of time last year, so as long as I’m focused, I should get there.

After another short refreshment break, it was on to the physio and injury prevention workshop, led by Jim Adkins from Berkshire Physiotherapy.

This was another interactive session with a combination of questions, answers, information and activity.

We learned how to warm up properly to help avoid injuries. We did lots of calf stretches, before we did some equipment work.

A common misconception is that running is a cheap sport as there is very little that is required. However, when you speak to someone who has become addicted to running they will explain that they have spent a fortune on the right shoes, socks, clothes, sports watch, other gadgets, nutrition and race entry fees. They may also have spent money on items such as foam rollers, massage balls and resistance bands. Jim introduced us to an innovative piece of equipment that I’ve never tried before…

A paper plate!

The aim of the paper plates was to place one under each foot and then do a bridge and slide your feet in and out. It’s much harder than it sounds and really works your core.

The most interesting stretch that I learnt was the ‘slump stretch’. I tried it out with my work colleagues who’ve renamed it as the bored sulky teenager stretch. It involved sitting on a firm surface with room to swing my legs. I had to slump my lumbar spine (chin to chest) and place my hands behind my back, before swinging alternate legs with my foot flexed. This exercise should ‘floss’ your sciatic nerve, which can help to relieve hamstring tightness.

Overall, this was such a helpful day that has made me feel ready to start tackling my training plan.

If you haven’t already signed up for Reading Half, why not enter now?

If you want to treat yourself, there’s a VIP package, which includes a range of ‘extras’.

There’s also the chance to enter the January competition if you sign up before January 31st.

Indy Run: It’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage!

1 Jun

Today is our 14th wedding anniversary, so Stuart and I decided to celebrate by taking part in a running event: Indy Run. This is an unusual running event in that it takes place along an out-and-back route along a tow path; entrants can run as many or as few laps as they like in a 6 hour period.

Initially, Stu and I thought it would be good to do it as a supported long run ahead of the Long Course weekend, but our training plans have slightly changed, so we decided to just aim for the half marathon distance and then see how we were feeling.

We got up at 6am, dressed, ate breakfast and were on the road by 7am. The traffic wasn’t too bad, so we arrived just after 8:30am.

As soon as we entered the leisure centre, we were greeted by the Race Director (in full Indiana Jones fancy dress) and one of his colleagues. They quickly checked us in and gave us our race numbers, which were also themed:


We had enough time to got to the leisure centre cafe before the run briefing. I considered having a hot chocolate, but was feeling quite warm, so I opted for a bottle of Lucozade instead.

The race briefing was at 9:20, so I got ready and walked outside with Stu. Quite a few people were in fancy dress, but I was more surprised to see how many people were wearing running tights, long-sleeved tops, buffs and jackets – did they know something I didn’t? There weren’t many people wearing shorts and vests like I was.

After a very brief briefing, we walked down to the start and the race started at 9:30am.

I’d positioned myself towards the back as I knew that I would be one of the slower runners and I also wanted to give myself time to warm up as I’ve not run for longer than an hour since Southampton Half Marathon.

The first part of the course was quite busy and we almost came to a stand still a few hundred metres in, but I knew that the athletes would soon spread out.

There were a few dog walkers around, but I was far more interested in the activities taking place on the river as there were loads of people out rowing and as it’s half term there were quite a few novice teenagers who were giving it a go. I love watching rowing and I like being on a rowing machine, so maybe one day I’ll get to try the real thing. (I’m too short to be much good at it and like food too much to be a cox, but I still think it would be fun).

The course was almost entirely flat, with the exception of a small bridge that we had to cross, but it was a little stony in places. After running for about a mile, I tripped on a rock (I think). It turned into one of those comedy moments that you see on TV where my arms and legs flailed for quite a few seconds. I didn’t want to hit the gravelly path, so I managed to stumble to the grass verge… but it wasn’t grass. I launched myself right into some brambles and stinging nettles. My gentle shouts of “Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!” alerted the runners near me who kindly rushed to my aid, but fortunately the main damage was to my pride.


Shortly afterwards, just after the 2km point, I saw Stuart, who was in 3rd place. He looked comfortable.

At the end of the first lap, a marshal passed me a wrist band and then I passed the aid station, which is affectionately known as ‘the tuck shop’. I particularly liked the fact that there were large jelly snakes, to go with the Indiana Jones theme. I stopped for a glass of water and a single sweet (not an enormous snake!) and then headed out on my second lap.

Indy run tuck shop

©Phoenix Running

Halfway through my second lap, a chap started chatting to me, commenting how lucky I was that I hadn’t hit the path. I looked around and realised that I recognised the runner – Brian Mills. I first met Brian at New Forest marathon a couple of years ago. At the time he was running his 997th marathon and had already planned his next few. I asked Brian how many marathons he has now run and was staggered by his answer: 1170. He has already run 52 so far this year and would love to have the money to be able to run more.

I slowed down a bit to chat to Brian and found it hard to get back into my rhythm. I also realised that I needed the loo, but couldn’t remember what we were told about toilets that had been sent out in the race info. In the end, I decided that a quick visit to the bushes was in order :-S

On my third lap, I saw Stu heading towards the finish. He had moved into second place and was still looking very comfortable.

When I finished my third lap, I looked around for Stu, but he wasn’t anywhere around. I sat down on the low wall to take off my shoes that had filled up with pebbles and glanced at my watch. 1:52 – my half marathon PB… and I still had just over 5km to go. Oh well, I knew it wasn’t going to be quick and I was enjoying the conversations and camaraderie with other runners.

It was quite nice to know that I was heading out on my final lap. As I was running slower than I’m used to my hands had started getting a bit chilly, but I was generally feeling warm.

On this lap, there were a lot of ducks, geese and swans on the path as some tourists had been feeding them. Some of the geese were giving me the evil eye, so I decided to run quite wide as I didn’t fancy being pecked.

Reaching the turnaround felt amazing. I had to run into a headwind, but I felt much more confident that I was going to make it to the finish in one piece. I looked at my watch again and set myself an achievable time goal… well, I thought it was achievable, but I had to pick up my pace a bit.

About 800m from the end, I saw Stuart. He had his phone out to take some pictures – I’d like to think they’re a bit blurry because I was running so quickly 😉






I managed to pass a few people in my final sprint, but I didn’t quite hit my time goal.I collected my final band and rang the bell to signal that I had finished.

I wanted to finish in 2:30, but according to my Garmin, I ended up running 21.4km and my official time was 2:31:31. I was then awarded my medal by the Race Director. As the official Phoenix Running photos show, it is an amazing medal:

Indy Run 4Indy Run 3Indy Run 2Indy Run 1

To give you some indication of the medal’s size, it is longer than my finger tips to my wrist and wider than my palm!

I also awarded myself with a sweetie snake at the end and a Freddo bar, before heading back into the leisure centre to wash the blood off my legs and change. We made it just before there was a torrential downpour.

This evening I had a quick look at the results – the event’s winner was Peter Lemon who completed 29.52 miles in 4:28. Stuart was the fastest half marathoner, completing the distance in 1:34:04. 19 people chose to complete the half marathon distance – I was 2nd female and 10th overall.

I really enjoyed this event. There was a great sense of fun about it and I felt under no pressure to compete. It was really well organised and everyone was friendly and supportive. I would have no hesitation in signing up for another Phoenix Running event and would be tempted to do a full marathon with the group when I have time to train for it.


Gosport Half Marathon

16 Nov

Today was my last ‘proper’* race of the year, and although I knew I hadn’t prepared adequately for it, I was actually feeling quite good. I ran 10 miles a couple of times when I was on holiday in Portugal, did a 10 mile training run on 2nd November and a 15k run last weekend, none of which were at the pace I wanted to run at, but they were better than I’ve managed for a long time.

As part of my final preparations for Gosport, I went out to Liz’s flat for a party last night. I didn’t drink any alcohol, but I did have a bit of chocolate cake. I’m not sure that’s how the elites roll, but it was good!

I got up at 7am today, dressed for the race and ate a bowl of porridge with dried mango, before heading off to pick up Justin at 8:15am.

We arrived at race HQ fairly early and were able to get our race numbers and chips. As usual, there was a long queue for the toilets, but at least they were real loos and not just portaloos. After I came out, I saw a few people I know, so I stopped to chat to them. I think it was a good move as I realised that it was raining hard outside. Last year, the weather was cold when this race took place, but I overheated at 8 miles, so I was hoping that it would be cold again and that I wouldn’t have similar issues.

Soon it was time to line up at the start. I was with Jenny and Helena, who were both hoping to finish in under 2 hours. I knew that I needed to keep my pace at <5:40/km, but I didn’t want to go off too quickly, which is one of my bad habits. Last year, I resolved not to check my watch until I had run two miles and I decided that would be a sensible option again this year. I could see several LRRs up ahead, and Jenny went speeding off, but I decided to hold back a little.

Jon shared this video of the start of the race – I can be seen in the centre of the picture at 4:23 onwards!

At the two-mile marker, I could see that I was running at about 5:15/km, but I was feeling good. I decided to slow slightly, but that I wouldn’t slow right down to 5:40/km. A little while later, I saw my husband, Stu, who had cycled over from Southampton to cheer runners on. It was lovely to see a friendly face.

I continued on, but at six miles, i started to wonder why I had entered the race – there just seemed to be so much further to run and I was already feeling a little bit tired. Fortunately, there were quite a few LRR supporters at the 10km turnaround point, which helped to motivate me. It was also good to see John, one of Stu’s training partners, and his son. The turnaround helped to motivate me as I was able to see quite a few LRRs. First there was Kelly, then Paul and then I saw Elaine, Aurelio, Rachel and Luana… but I can’t remember what order they were in. I also saw Becky from STC… and I could see that James wasn’t too far ahead. I also heard a familiar voice – I couldn’t see him, but I saw teh front wheel of the lead bike announcing that the first finisher was on his way. My buddy Jules is currently on the road to recovery from a foot/ankle injury, so he decided to use teh opportunity to take his new wheels out for a spin!

I thought that I might be able to catch up with james who was also targeting sub 2 hours, but I didn’t want to pick up my pace too much to catch up with him as I knew I would pay for it later. I decided that a more sensible tactic would be to slowly reel him in. Unfortunately, James was not having a happy race and had started to slow. It wasn’t long before Kelly ran past me. We did our first ever half marathon together, but Kelly is on great form know, so I expected her to beat me. Then Lisa ran past. I hadn’t noticed her at the turnaround, but she was moving at a great pace. I saw her slow a little to chat to James before heading off into the distance.

Just before the 8 mile water station, I caught up with James, but I was starting to feel fatigued and was not breathing as well as I wanted to, so I was unable to speak to him. I had my inhaler zipped into my pocket, but I’m not good at using it whilst moving, so I was hoping that I wouldn’t need it.

I was very concerned that I would overheat like last year, so I decided to try to take on a mouthful of water at every drinks station and to throw the rest of the cup over me. Although this helped a little, I was still starting to overheat. I think my pace dropped a little, so I had to tell myself to harden up and ick up the pace. I knew how disappointed I would feel if i finished just outside of my goal time again.

Although I was feeling warm, it wasn’t as bad as last year and my legs and lungs seemed to be doing OK, so I pushed on. It seemed to take a long time before I got to the loop at the far end of the course, but eventually I made it and  a lovely little downhill section took me on to the long home straight.

A small section of the race was on shingle, which is one of the surfaces that I hate to run on most as I always get pebbles in my shoes, but fortune was smiling on me today, and I managed not to pick up any gravel!

Quite a few LRRs were out supporting on the course, which was great. Having my name on my club shirt means that quite a few people shout encouragement, but it’s even better when it’s someone you know. Lawrence and Mike had cycled out to cheer us on and had positioned themselves on opposite sides of the path: Lawrence had a camera on my left and Mike was on the shingle to my right. I was so happy when I saw them that I gave a big cheer!

Pleased to see Lawrence and Mike out cheering on runners © Lawrence Chen

Pleased to see Lawrence and Mike out cheering on runners © Lawrence Chen

Smiling at Mike who was on my right © Lawrence Chen

Smiling at Mike who was on my right © Lawrence Chen

I knew that the next supporter I saw would be Stu, just at the top of a ramp. I was so happy to see him, but I also warned him that I was feeling unwell and asked him to go to the finish.

I found the final mile really difficult. It was windy and I was feeling very hot and tired, but I was so desperate to achieve my goal and knew that as long as I didn’t slow down too much I would make it. A lovely older chap from Winchester tried to encourage me – he said that he had been following me for quite a long time. I said that I was struggling to breathe, so he very kindly counted for a little bit in the hope that it would get me back into a rhythm. I couldn’t stick with him, but knew that the final turn would be coming up soon.

As I turned the final corner, I knew I had about 400m left to go. Quite a few people were passing me, but I was too focused on my own personal goal to care about taking them on. Eventually, I saw the 13 mile sign, and then saw Kim cheering people on. I was so happy to see her and knew I was going to reach my target. I shouted, “I’m going to do it” and sprinted for the line, passing the chap from Winchester.

I could see the time on the clock (gun time) was 1:58:43. I had achieved my goal! I felt so elated… but knew that I couldn’t just stop as I was feeling dehydrated and really shaky. I’ve fainted after several races and wanted to cool down a bit. LRR Captain Emily came over to me and helped me to get a cup of water before I had my chip removed and was presented with a medal and a goody bag.

The goody bag at Gosport Half Marathon is always packed with lovely stuff:

  • Finger of fudge
  • Wagon wheel
  • Hula hoops
  • Slice of carrot cake
  • Pen
  • Banana

It’s also a reusable drawstring cotton bag, which is handy.

I had a look at my watch and could see that it said 1:57, but could not find out where the seconds were displayed until I got home. My chip time and my Garmin time were identical: 1:57:37 – I had smashed my goal 😀 Frustratingly, I was 59/117 in my category (F35-39), so not quite in the top half, but that’s not too bad. I’ve been so desperate to run a half marathon in under 2 hours. Amongst my running friends, I don’t think it’s a terribly impressive achievement, so I was surprised when one friend told me that only 15% of female half marathoners manage to finish in under 2 hours! http://www.runnersgoal.com/how-to-run-a-half-marathon-in-under-2-hours/ I think this race is different as it’s part of the Hampshire Road Race League and is therefore very popular with club runners (rather than ‘ordinary’ people). The race’s popularity is such that it even featured on the local news: http://www.itv.com/news/meridian/story/2014-11-16/runners-gather-for-gosport-half-marathon/

I still need to take another 5:30 off my time before Southampton Half Marathon in April, but if I can maintain my confidence and my training as well as eat well and lose weight, I’m genuinely starting to think it could be possible 🙂 This result has been a long time coming and there are several people who have helped me to get to this point this year: Stu for always looking after me; Ant for helping me at Run Camp; all of the Embrace Sports guys, but especially Graeme; all of my amazing team-mates from SOAS racing – when the race felt bleak I thought of you all and didn’t want to let you down! – and Huw for pushing me at Tri Club track sessions – THANK YOU! It also seems fitting that this has happened on the same weekend when I’ve found out that I am going to be a brand ambassador for SOAS in 2015 – I am so proud of ths and feel honoured to join so many inspirational women who are achieving at levels that I can only dream of!

At the end of the race, I caught up with quite a few fellow club runners and friends from Southampton Tri Club. Many of them got PBs and the ones who didn’t generally had good races, which was great. It was also lovely to catch up with Sam who I met on my last Embrace Sports holiday.

Posing with Sam after Gosport Half Marathon

Posing with Sam after Gosport Half Marathon

Sadly, Sam has a foot injury, so her race didn’t turn out as planned, but I know that as soon as it’s fixed she’ll be back out there getting PBs (and celebrating with bubbly) again!

Full results for Gosport Half Marathon.

I’ve been having a clear out and have been trying to decide what to do with all of my old race t-shirts… I used to wear some of them at the gym, but I do fewer classes now and have plenty of technical t-shirts, so I don’t use them any more. I think I’ll probably make a quilt out of them. Here are some other ideas: http://blog.walkjogrun.net/2014/11/13/race-t-shirt-overload-here-are-8-ways-to-repurpose-them/

Another article that I’ve read this afternoon is Human body: the ‘ultra-athletes’ aged 60+ It’s a really interesting article that suggests that people shouldn’t just ‘give up’ when they retire.

*I’m planning to do several more parkruns and a ‘Santa dash’ before December 31st, but there are no more cross-country races for me to do until January, and I haven’t paid to enter any more running events.

Injuries – 1; First week of Challenge Weymouth training schedule – 0

16 May

I was meant to start the first week of my first half iron distance triathlon training schedule this week, but I’m still struggling with arm pain and my swollen knee doesn’t seem to be deflating, so I’m already behind schedule.

I should have been doing an hour on my turbo trainer yesterday, which might have been manageable, but my bike was off with The Bike Guy getting new brakes and bar tape fitted, so I couldn’t do that. Tonight’s session is meant to be a 2km swim (which might be further than I’ve ever done in an hour), but my arm is just too painful to risk swimming. I feel like I’m being terribly lazy, but I’m also trying to heed my doctor’s words of resting for 2-3 weeks. I think I’ll be ready to train sooner than that, but I don’t want to risk making my arm worse.

This means that I’ve had a bit more time at home than I would usually have, so I’ve entered my first race for 2015. I’ve entered the ballot for London Marathon, but even with a second chance via my running club’s ballot, I probably won’t get a place. As a consequence, I’ve now signed myself up for Marafun Southampton, which is the first half marathon to take place in the city for many years. I am familiar with much of the route:

Marafun Southampton route

Marafun Southampton route

The bridge over the river (Itchen Bridge) is likely to be the most challenging part of the run, although Burgess Road, which is the long straight at the top of the map, is also a long hill. For me, the massive advantage is that it’s a distance that I like and I’ll be able to train in familiar surroundings. I am likely to practise the route in chunks, so that by the time race day comes I am feeling really well prepared.

Today’s other ‘excitement’ was that I got myself organised to use the peak flow meter that I was prescribed. I have to blow into it three times a day and record the data, to see whether my asthma is being controlled. Apparently a normal reading for a woman who is my age and height should be about 442l/min. This morning’s reading was 290l/min, this afternoon it was 450l/min, and tonight it was 480l/min. It’ll be interesting to see how it compares tomorrow.

I also received an exciting parcel today: odlo Evolution sports underwear for women. They’re a fairly long base-layer that I want to try out under indecently short running shorts. I’ll let you know how I get on with that!

My blog has also received a lot of traffic from Poland this week. I don’t speak Polish, but a quick use of Google Translate suggests that I was being used on a forum as an example of someone who is 30kg overweight, but is still able to exercise. The topic was about the persecution of obese people. I don’t mind being used as an example, but I object to the suggestion that I am (or have been) 30kg overweight… if I only weighed 6st (84lbs/39kg) then I would be severely underweight! Maybe I’ve misunderstood the article. If any of my readers speaks Polish, I’d love to know what the discussion was all about: http://forum.gazeta.pl/forum/w,567,150970875,,Dyskryminacja_otylych_wreszcie_ktos_glosno_walczy.html?v=2

My husband shared the following interview with junior pro-cyclist Jasper Styuven with me: http://www.manualforspeed.com/development/blue-or-blue/ He knows how much I love my clothing/bike etc to match!

I’ve been failing in my diet this week, as I’ve been feeling down about being injured and unable to exercise, however, I thought this article on Greatist was worth reading: 67 Science-backed ways to lose weight What do you think? Do you follow any of these tips?