Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Marathon Tourism

I don't often do long races twice.....and I admit to a liking for visiting new places, so I guess that makes me rather a "marathon tourist". Mind you, if you look at the typical British spring weather, who wouldn't be interested in getting away for a bit of sunshine?

When someone mentioned the Limassol marathon to me, it seemed like the perfect excuse for a long weekend in Cyprus. Admittedly, it didn't look like a very fast race - last year's winning times were 2:41 (for men) and 3:12 (for women) - but I hoped that was due to adverse conditions on the day rather than a bad course, especially as it was advertised as a flat course out and back along the coastline.

Snow in the mountains

Fun in the snow
Things didn't bode well when I got off the plane to pouring rain and "unseasonably cold" weather, and the next day's sightseeing trip to Mount Olympus (in the Troodos Mountains) saw us throwing snowballs at each other (though it meant it was good weather for wine, chocolate and Turkish delight tasting).

A Cypriot "Boris-bike"
Mountain tasting spoils
The next day saw an about change in the weather, with warmth and sunny spells on a trip downtown to check out the race start/finish area. In order to avoid walking around too much, the local version of a "Boris bike" came in very handy (but it would have been better to have realised that back-pedalling was the braking mechanism before setting off!). I was rather worried that I'd got my weekends muddled up, as there was no sign that roads would be closed or that anything out of the ordinary would be occurring the next day (and there was still no evidence of this in the road outside the hotel, ie the race route, at 9pm).

While eating my lovely 5am breakfast, I was told this was actually a well established race and so all would be sorted by race time. I boarded the bus to the start just before 6 (standing room only but the driver still made sure no one got on without a ticket) only to hear my name being called (Julie Mollison of Scottish Athletics had seen the races advertised while on holiday there and so entered the 5k). On arrival we queued for the portaloos, jogged to warmup (it was only about 8 degrees) and then went to the start.

There were 4 races starting together but it appeared that marathoners had to go to the front and 5k runners to the back (with the half marathoners and 10kers in between). We didn't know this at the time (as everyone was told to be there at 6am) but the plan was for the marathon to start at 7am with the other races going off in 2minute intervals. A few select elite runners (some Kenyans and some Cypriots) were allowed to warm up on the course, but the rest of us were kept back behind tape while some officials spoke to us/the crowd. I'm afraid that I don't know what was said, but it went on until 7:20am and I was rather chilly, having stripped down to my running gear ready for the official 7am start.

Actually leading the Kenyans out...
All of a sudden we were off, which seemed to prompt a hectic charge down the prom for a kilometre until we met the main road and were directed about 180 degrees back on ourselves along it (all the other race routes carried straight on so there was no chance of getting caught up with fast starters from later races). I saw a Cypriot lady already away in the distance, but the three Kenyan ladies seemed to be easing their way into the race, and so surprisingly I slotted in behind them for the next couple of kilometres.

They'd picked up the pace by the time we got to the next 180 degree turnaround (this one was actually a small roundabout) at 5km, and so that was the end of any marathon company for me for the rest of the race. There were roadworks just before we returned to the start and so I actually managed to go off course as I was confused by the barriers, but luckily a marshal shouted me back before I'd gone more than a few paces the wrong way (I wasn't really being clueless, but I couldn't see the runners ahead and it seemed like we should run the way the barriers were pointing).

On the correct course
As the road passed the start/finish area, I could see people pounding down the prom and was rather jealous that their races were almost over, though it did distract me from my run trying to work out if they had run 5 or 10k. I was very surprised to start catching up with people in the road.....and they were jogging not walking. These were people that hadn't yet reached the 2.5k turnaround of the 5k, and I was about 11-12k into my marathon. One actually managed to hit me in the face (by accident when taking their jacket off) as they probably didn't expect people to be running past them.

I have to say that I was rather tempted by both the 5k and the 10k turnaround signs, as the temperature was climbing rapidly and for some reason I really wasn't enjoying my run. I'm not sure if it was the heat or not, but I didn't feel like taking the gels I was carrying, and whenever I picked up a water bottle I poured almost all of it over my body (using just a bit to wet my lips).

Some way after passing my hotel, the road started to "undulate" a bit and I spotted the leaders of the half marathon flying back along the other side of the road. Both were Kenyan, both had massive leads, and both were making it look easy to cover the ground. As for my own race, I couldn't see any marathoners in the road ahead of me, but I had started to weave my way through the half marathon tailenders.

Visiting the archaeological site the next day
Unfortunately, the half marathoners soon turned back on themselves and I was left to go it alone on the open road stretching out in front of me. This middle section of the course certainly involved a lot more "up and down" than advertised (in fact my garmin registered 590 feet of elevation gain and loss over the length of the race) and there were no clouds the sky to provide shelter from the sun. I did, however, spot some archeological ruins by the side of the road that I was eager to come back and explore later.

I passed through the halfway mark in a decent time, and started counting down the miles until I could turn and run for home. The leading Kenyan men came past on the far side of the road - they were running together but even at this point had a lead of about 1.5k on the next man. The leading Kenyan lady was 4th overall with the other two having dropped back slightly off her pace.

Just after the 14 mile marker, there was a marshal standing in the middle of the road with a bollard to run round. This turnaround point gave you a good view of other runners going in the opposite direction, and I realised that I wasn't ridiculously far behind the third Kenyan lady, and had a lead over the chasing Russian lady of just under 1.5k.

Woohoo....the finish!
This should have spurred me on but all I could think about was how far it was to get back to the finish, and that I still had all those "cheeky" climbs and descents to get through. To make matters worse, when we got to 22 miles there was another turn in the road and we had to double back on ourselves for a couple of miles (just the marathoners, not the half marathoners). Although I'd been closing the Kenyan lady down (and had actually passed one of her compatriots....though she later DNF'd) I could see that she was now moving away from me again. I had nothing in the tank and couldn't have made myself run any faster even if you'd paid me to. I knew that I was pretty safe in my position as the Russian was now about 2.5k behind me and I was into the last 5k myself.

Me, after the finish ;-)
First vet :-)
It felt like it was all I could do to keep picking my feet up and moving forwards towards the finish, though I realise I was probably moving a bit faster than it felt (especially as I did pass some half marathoners for the third time in the race!). Finally I turned onto the prom for the final kilometre. This would be the time for the glory sprint finish but I couldn't really muster one up. However, I was delighted to cross the line in a time much better than what I'd expected considering how bad I'd felt during the race, even though it was much slower than I'd have liked. As it turned out, it was my 15th sub 2:50 marathon, I was 4th lady, 11th overall and first vet, so had earned my finishers' beer (and wine and ice cream.....well, it was now 22 degrees!!)!!!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Not just a Fair Weather runner....

My fell running friends always joke that roadrunners are really "fair weather runners", whereas they are as "hard as nails "and go out whatever the weather. That has certainly seemed to be the case on the mountain rounds that I have assisted on recently, as I've seen (or "not seen" due to the weather or the time of day) fog, rain, sleet, snow, hail, wind etc.
However, I think that the Netherhall 10 proved that road races can also be run in rather "less than perfect" conditions.

Not the flattest race profile
The night before the race, there was talk of it being cancelled due to the forecast (rain and wind), ie the presence of Storm Ewan, but luckily the organiser's decided to go ahead with it. The race does not lend itself to fast times on the best of days as it is rather "undulating" to say the least, and as it was also doubling up as the British Masters' 10 mile Championships, it was more about positions than finish times anyway.

Whilst driving down to Cumbria, I looked at the horizontal rain out of the car and rather wondered why I was going to put myself through it, but I was keen to see how I was actually running, as I felt that I might have become stronger from the hills (though maybe no faster). 

With clubmate Kelly pre-race
The race starts with a 400m stretch of road that is slightly downhill so as usual people hared off away from me, but then we turned a 90 degree bend and were faced with about 2 miles of steady uphill. Almost as soon as we started to climb, I started to pick some of the fast-starting men off.....and this trend seemed to continue right up to the summit. This did wonders for my confidence, as it is always tempting to give up in the first few miles of a race, especially if they are a hard slog.

At the top of that climb, some of the guys moved away slightly as they opened up their stride on the descent, but I made up the gap as soon as we started back uphill again. It became a game of cat and mouse for me, seeing how many I could close up on before each downhill section......though luckily nobody actually passed me on a downhill. As I caught 1 guy up, he seemed determined to run by my side, which is not something I enjoy  in a race, especially when we are running on narrow country roads that are still open to traffic. I would try to get ahead of him, and could hear him grunting as he increased his effort to stay there, so I would try to drop back, only to find him slowing down as well. It didn't feel very safe (especially as I got elbowed a few times, even when they weren't cars coming) and it also stopped me running the line I would have liked to take. 

Crossing the (wet) line
I finally broke free at about 6.5 miles when there was another steeper climb, and from then on I was alone right until the finish. The last 3 miles were along the main road, and so there were marshals kindly standing out (well, some were sitting in the boot of their cars with the door up) in the rain guiding us on and off pavements to ensure our safety. I'm told that those last few miles are generally the fastest of the race, as they are slightly downhill and often run with a tailwind, but unfortunately the direction of the gale-force gusts meant that it didn't really feel like downhill to me. 

Masters' Gold!
I was so thankful to turn the last corner and run the final short ascent into the finish as I was doing a fairly good impression of a drowned rat (though luckily I finished before the hail started)  and my legs were almost a filthy as if I'd run a cross country race. I had no idea how I'd actually run in the race, but as it turned out, I ran a decent time and finished well up the field overall, earning a nice Masters gold medal into the bargain. Never mind the results though....I just knew that the faster I ran, the sooner I'd get into the lovely hot showers, and the sooner I could get stuck into the huge buffet provided by the organising club.

Alnwick Castle
The next weekend I was talked into a cross country race (sold to me as a nice run at Alnwick Castle.....and that one didn't sound like it would be the kindest of conditions either as people were suggesting the welly boots were the footwear of choice. It was the last XC of the league and we needed 4 ladies to finish to score a team result. Only 4 of us turned up on the day so the pressure was on for us all to finish, especially as we were only 3 points ahead of our local rival ladies' team.

The DCH ladies' team
I was paranoid about the start, as I hate the different pack start times (ie about 85% of the field goes off together, then about 10% start 1min 40 later, with the final 5% a further minute and 40s afterwards). I was put in the "fast pack" for this season, which means I feel very exposed at the start. Only a handful of ladies go off then, most of whom sprint off (yup, I'm never going to be a fast starter), and so I feel that everybody watching is just feeling sorry for me and thinking "Bless her for giving it a go!"

I worked my way up to about 3rd in my pack by the time we caught some of the back runners of the other groups....maybe half a mile in, and then it got rather chaotic to try to work out what was going on. You have to try to pass some of the slower runners, and I feel rather embarrassed at doing this as you also want to encourage them and definitely don't want to knock anyone out of the way. As we were climbing up some soggy muddy slopes, I think my strength (again rather than speed) helped as I moved into second position from my start group. However, we then had a very muddy, crowded section and so I let people other people have right of way and slipped back a bit. 

Nearing the end of Lap 1
The final section of each lap was a rather steep descent, which reminded me of a fell race.....the only difference being that fell shoes have lugs on the heels whereas XC spikes are just on the forefoot. Still, I let myself go a bit on the downhill and found that most of the other ladies were rather nervous to do so. On the second lap, I concentrated on trying to avoid any of the "fast pack" overtaking me, whilst closing down some of the early starters. It was all I could do to keep pushing on that steep descent the second time as I was sure I was going to get caught. 

Into the finish - phew!
All too soon, the finish line loomed....I guess I ran out of race to move into the top 3 but I was happy enough to be second fastest on the course and 4th over the line (again I had no clue at the time so had to wait until the results came out). The biggest satisfaction was due to the fact that all 4 of us finished, and although we dropped 2 points on our rivals, we finished the league a mere point ahead of them.....a good bit of friendly rivalry and teamwork definitely spurs everyone to run to the best of their ability!