Everyone Should ParkRun

I’m returning to running after six months of inactivity and this morning I did my first ParkRun in a couple of years. A ParkRun is a 5k run (not a race) which is free for anyone to register for online and enter.

A 5k distance is manageable with relatively little training (How far is a 5k?) and there are lots of couch to 5k running programs available – including the excellent NHS Couch to 5k which comes complete with podcasts.

I’ve been running again for a few weeks and have slowly built up do being about to run three or four miles, and I knew that a ParkRun would give me a boost. It’s completely different running with other people, but also a worry.

Having not run for six months, I’m heavier than usual and I feel a lot slower than I once was (well I am now in my 40’s).

I slotted myself into a spot at the back of the crowd of 600 runners at Edinburgh ParkRun and in a matter of minutes we were off. Starting at the back was a little frustrating at first, as I navigated around buggies, dogs and kids but it had the advantage of allowing me to pass lots of people.

I finished the run at around the 300 mark, so I’d move past a lot of people and only one person passed me.

Nobody seemed to really notice me and nobody seemed to pass judgement on this middle aged over weight runner huffing and puffing his way through 5k.

A ParkRun is timed, so I also now have a benchmark from which to hopefully improve.

If you’re new to running, or returning to the sport as I am, then I’d recommend doing a ParkRun. I know that I pushed myself harder because I was running against other people (I was actually worried that I was pushing myself a little too hard) and I think thats a great benefit to a runner.

I’ll be back at ParkRun again in a couple of weeks, and until then I’m training in the hope that I might knock a minute or so off my time.

Gemma runs the Guy Fawkes 10

I signed up to do the Guy Fawkes 10 mile race for one reason only – chocolate in the goody bag. My Kirkstall Harrier friends kept going on about the mountains of sweet treats thanks to race sponsor Nestle, and I just couldn’t resist. It did sound like an excellent race too, which was a bonus.

On a cold November morning a few hundred runners lined up in Ripley for this tough race. Having spent ages in the queue for the toilet and not making it to the front before the gun I crossed the line expecting to have to pull off into a bush at some point, but my legs took over and I managed 10 miles without a toilet break.

This is a road race and another of those scenic events we are so blessed with in Yorkshire. Undulating doesn’t really cut it when the hills have their own names, so be prepared for some very tough climbs along the way! But there is also a lot of welcome support en route too, plus two water stations, to keep you going. We were even blessed with some sunshine for much of the race.

Up and down, up and down we went, happily running away until mile eight, when the heavens opened on those of us still on course. But with not far to go and the final push up the hill to Ripley Castle was a great finish to an enjoyable run.

I wasn’t disappointed with my goodie bag – four chocolate bars – and there was tea, coffee and cake to buy in the village hall to help us warm up. We also got a tech t-shirt, which coincidentally was the same grey as the sky.

Another win for a local club (Nidd Valley Road Runners) and a fantastic day out. Not quite a PB for me, despite wearing my fastest neon shoes, as I had done the HellRunner the day before, but I was glad to have survived and enjoyed it.

Jim Runs the Northumberland Half 

At the start of the year the Run Northumberland Half seemed like the ideal target to get me into shape for the start of the running season. Standing on the start line I can’t say that things had gone to plan, my training had been hit and miss and I had managed to actually put weight on rather than get back in shape.

Still here I was with 13.1 miles ahead of me and it felt good to be back on a starting line. Of course the start was delayed and the extra ten minutes standing in a cold 20 mile an hour wind didn’t go down too well with the runners I was with, but having heard dire warnings about the organisation of this event I had been pleasantly surprised by how smoothly things went.

We set off and I weaved my way slowly from towards the back, the wind was awful and the course seemed at times like it was constantly uphill, but I made steady progress and seemed to keep a steady pace of just under the 8 minute mile mark.

Water stations were provided every couple of miles and while the roads were open to the public, the traffic was very light and sat in the middle of a pack of around 800 runners it was pretty obvious that a race was taking place.

At the six mile mark I’d just climbed a big hill and overtaken a lot of people when the road turned and I was running straight into the wind, that seemed to last about two miles, but on the whole I found the strong winds quite refreshing, though I know lots of people didn’t.

At this point I was probably at the highest place in the race and you had views across Northumberland. It’s undoubtably picturesque, but I had my head down and I a not sure that I was sold on that as a reason to do the run (which others had suggested to me). At this point I expected a number of long downhill sections, having climbed a fair bit in the first half of the race, but that didn’t seem to happen, perhaps because my legs were getting increasingly tired as the miles went on and my lack of training showed.

I counted down the last few miles and was grateful to a couple of people from North Shields Poly for Jelly Babies as we hit mile 12. From there you could almost see the finish line and I finished in around 1.43 which is a similar place to where I started my season in 2013 (building to a 1.24 half at the Great North Run).

At the finish runners were rewarded with a t-shirt, water and cereal bar.

Overall I think the Run Northumberland Half is a hilly and hard half, but I’m glad I ran it. The route was good and Kirkley Hall was an excellent place to start and end the race.

Bored of big city races? Dent has the answer.

I’m all for the big city races. The fast, flat courses on closed roads, where the drinks stations are well-stocked with bottled drinks, you get a nice technical shirt and medal at the end, and leave with a bulging goody bag. However, whilst these races are great for a PB, I firmly believe they are less than great for the soul, and sometimes, an unconventional race is just what is needed.

When a friend invited me to do the Dentdale Run with him, my first reaction was ‘Sure! Looks beautiful!’. Then I checked the elevation and almost had a heart attack. My pampered, flat racing legs categorically did not fancy the beastly-looking hills of Dent. Still, the promise of a cheap entry (£11 affiliated, £13 unaffiliated), beautiful scenery and homemade cake at the end made me keen to check it out.

I’d be lying if I said the Dentdale Run was an easy race, but it has character and beauty in spades. Unlike a big city race, where you get the distinct feeling you’re being a massive nuisance by closing roads and loitering around, the beautiful village of Dent seemed extremely proud of this race. From the Race HQ in the local primary school to the locals manning water stations outside their houses and letting runners use their bathrooms, there was the distinct feeling we were all in it together.

At the sharp end of this testing 14.3 mile course, some extremely quick times were run, and generous prizes awarded, but if like me, you turned up for a long training run and wanted to combine it with an amble around some gorgeous countryside and a weekend away, taking your foot off the gas didn’t feel wrong like it would in other races. Runners stopped at water stations to drink, take in the view and chat to locals. The most testing hills reduced those of us lily-livered city racers to a walk, but it didn’t matter.

The course was all on well-surfaced roads, taking us on a figure of eight out of one side of Dent (nestled in the Howgills, on the border between Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales) and back in the other, and all profit from entries goes towards the local primary school/race HQ, which is also where the best part of the race was- plentiful hot tea and homemade cake and scones afterwards, included in our race entry.

The village of Dent is extremely proud of this fantastic race, and rightfully so- approximately as proud as you’ll be when you finish this testing course!

Capital Runners Richmond Park 10k

Richmond Park 10k – Greater London, February 23, 2014

 

I’m in the throngs of Spring Marathon training, and every third week I get to “take it easy” and “just” run 10km. I like to find local/Greater London races on these training days to try and challenge my pacing and opted for the serenity of Richmond Park on this particular weekend.

 

THE GOOD

  • The Start/Registration was easy to find in the park (however I must add that there were no race directions signposted anywhere)
  • Race packs were posted in advance to ease a nervous runner’s mind with very precise detail on the race
  • Clear distance markers – Whilst I appreciate that you should know how you’re doing simply because you run two laps, it is nice to know where your “km” marks are – just to tick them off.
  • Every finisher was awarded a medal 

    THE IMPROVEMENTS

  • There was minimal (if any) race atmosphere
  • Used the parks facilities – there’s always a queue on race day however it would have been nice to have had some extra loos to ease the crowds
  • No tea/coffee/refreshments available nearby for runners or supporters – you had to rely on local knowledge if you wanted anything pre/post race 

    THE RACE ITSELF

  • 2 laps – there’s a whole community of runners that dread the “L” word – but I think it’s forgivable for a 10k distance especially in the beautiful park! 
  • A varied trail race that despite the weather (drizzle/puddles a plenty) was completely fine underfoot 
  • There are slight hills throughout and a variety of terrain which meant you were able to challenge technique which is a blessing at this point of my personal training plan 
  • Not one to try for a Personal Best – too many challenges in your way to really go for it

 

A blustery Blackpool welcome at the Great North West Half

The Blackpool coastline in February was never going to host anything other than a fairly breezy race, but the 25th Great North West Half on Blackpool seafront this year was something else.

The flat, fast two lap course started off from opposite the Hilton hotel, where the Runners’ World pacers bravely lined up with their flags as the commentator sent us on our way with some good old Northern cheer. For the first three miles, all was blissful, until we turned back into what can only be described as a ridiculous headwind. The flat, well-marshalled route took us back along the seafront towards Blackpool Tower, before we turned back and picked up the glorious tailwind again.

One more lap of this pleasant course, and we arrived at the finish, to rapturous applause, a pretty medal, and most importantly, plenty of snacks in the goody bag. The race used the nearby Hilton Hotel as Race HQ, which provided plentiful loos, speedy number collection for those who had entered online, a bag drop (not secure but it was still pretty helpful!) and most importantly, a supply of cheap, piping hot tea to help defrost chilly hands after the race.

On what certainly wasn’t a PB day, the course still produced fast times, with the male winner romping home in 1:14 and the first lady flying through in 1:25- for those out for a PB, tactical teamwork in a pack helped all on their way to faster times, and for those out for a good experience, who can beat running along the Promenade, alongside the famous Blackpool Illuminations? The course saw many runners turn out to try their first half-marathon (somewhat bravely) and they were really well-supported, with a range of Runners’ World pacers there to support them to finish times ranging from 1:30 all the way to 2:30.

To say the conditions are never ideal in Blackpool, this race is eternally well-loved by locals and club runners from further afield, and for the reasonable price of £20 for an entry, is a good deal for a flat, chip-timed half and a hefty dose of nostalgia!

PBs ahoy at the beautiful Brighton Half Marathon!

Brighton Half Marathon

Approaching its 25th birthday, Brighton Half Marathon is one of the country’s most popular races. Stretching mostly along the city’s beautiful coastline, passing the Palace Pier and the remains of its broken neighbour, the iconic West Pier, the route is flat and fast and attracts runners in their thousands.

Voted most improved race at the 2013 Runner’s World PB Awards, Brighton Half keeps getting better and nearly always basks in glorious sunshine, as if it’s ordered by the Running Gods for just one day.

This year was no exception – after a few weeks of relentless wind and driving rain our prayers were answered and as a 7,000 strong crowd of runners descended on the Marine Parade start line, the sun was out in force and wind reduced to a mere breeze.

This is the stuff PBs are made of!

PBs ahoy

This was my second time running the Brighton Half, and was my favourite race to date because of four reasons:

1)   It’s my hometown and I love running in Brighton.

2)   It marks the halfway point in my training for Brighton Marathon (my first 26.2), and I nailed it with an 11minute PB. >insert happy face<

3)   The organisation, crowds and steward support is fantastic.

4)   EPIC medal bling!!

As ever with any race in Brighton, the whole city comes out to watch as we all dutifully tick off the miles. Streets are lined with families and children offering high fives and jelly babies, excited friends leading cheering squads and lots of charity groups with signs, clackers, bells and whistles.

The course

The course does a quick loop of Old Steine before heading over the white cliffs up to Ovingdean and back, where a group of drummers await at the turn point. The run back into town offers the most beautiful view of the city’s coastline and sea of runners on traffic-free roads – I always love running this route as it’s just spectacular.

From there the course hugs the coastline all the way past Hove Lawns down to Hove Lagoon and turns to pass the two-miles of beach huts (some of which were sadly destroyed in recent storms) before rejoining the road for the home straight.

The perfect half

I picked up the pace from about mile 10 and flew to the finish – surprising myself at how much I had left in the tank at that point. I think it was a combination of the PERFECT weather, BRILLIANT atmosphere and seeing so many familiar faces in the crowd from Twitter and various run clubs/bootcamp classes that gave me the boost I needed. That and the various helpings of Lucozade taken from the drinks stations, of course!

If you’re looking for a flat, fast and fabulous half marathon, do yourself a favour and come and do Brighton – you won’t be disappointed!!

Blown Away by Eton Dorney 10K

“Fast and flat.”

That’s what the race information upon entering said. What the website failed to mention, though, was that this actually referred to the weather conditions the organisers expected during the winter race. It should have read “fast winds that flatten anyone foolish enough to run in its wide open path”.

Not knowing this vital information, plenty of 5, 10 and 20k-ers turned up to the Olympic rowing venue in Eton, only to be met with an eye-watering head-on cyclone – a shame as it made taking in the (probably) picturesque venue quite tricky. It also made running in a straight line pretty tough, as every blast sent us wayward and dangerously close to the water’s edge.

So seeking safety (or rather, shelter) in numbers, all entrants packed together and set off as one herd – each marker pen-numbered runner thankful at avoiding a face full of flapping paper. The gusts had (presumably, as there were none) already blown away any mile markers on the course but a half-way water station and a particularly supportive marshal, that reassured us he was stationed at the 4km point each time we passed, navigated us round the 5km loop.

The hill-less course welcomed PB seeking competitors as well as beginner trotters but 5km laps and multiple distances meant that very few were left plodding the course alone. The relaxed atmosphere – as reflected in the lunchtime start (we set off at 1:30pm) – also helped welcome all abilities to what could easily have been a first or 100th race.

If the full force gale (rather than slight lack of training and extended new year hangover) hindered any chance of grabbing that goal pace, fret not! This race is just the first in a trilogy, so you have the chance to get battered by weather three times a year. But, of course, this also means you can refuel with a post-race bacon butty thrice a year, too.

Gemma tackles the Total Warrior 10k

Total Warrior is another of the growing number of obstacle races that promise to test your strength of character as well as strength of body. In 2013 I took on the 10k challenge in the Lake District – there was also a 10mile race the same weekend, and for 2014 there are two 10k races in Leeds plus the 10k and 10mile in the Lakes.

So, it was the Lake District in early August. That should tell you all you need to know about the weather! We had the four seasons at least twice each in one day – first it was grey and murky, then there was drizzle, then the sun came out, but the wind picked up a bit … and on it went. To be fair though it doesn’t really matter what the weather does at these things – you are still going to be wet, cold and covered in mud by the end.

The website makes a grand claim: “Total Warrior is the pinnacle of obstacle racing providing the greatest courses set in the finest venues.” Actually, I can’t really argue with that. There is surely no better location for a race than the Lake District hillsides. We were treated to some amazing views, not to mention some challenging natural obstacles as well as the couple of dozen man-made ones.

Our course started with a run up and down some very steep hills several times, then round to jump over a dying tree barbeque, and off up into the landscape. Along the way we encountered some of the boggiest bogs I have ever seen, several river crossings, one of which was deep enough to swim and just flowing fast enough to be a bit scary, stupidly high walls, miles of barbed wire and cargo nets, plus a host of random objects that had to be carried, dragged or otherwise cajoled along sections of the course.

It wasn’t all fun and games though – there was one section of dangly wires that claimed to give an electric shock. I felt nothing except for rope burn, but others say they did feel the power running through their veins. Immediately after was an awesome water slide though, and the course finished with some killer monkey bars. I found the obstacles throughout to be an excellent combination of slightly terrifying but strangely compelling.

I’ve done a few of these mudstacle races now and for genuine toughness and a real challenge Total Warrior gets my vote. Coupled with the nice t-shirt in proper women’s sizes, free beer and buff and gorgeous scenery this is a definite favourite of mine. I’m glad there is a new event closer to home for 2014 though – having to make a weekend of it with an overnight stay made it an expensive race last year.

Gemma runs the Eccup 10

Before I joined Kirkstall Harriers I had no idea just how many race distances there were. I knew about marathons and half marathons, and I had heard of 10ks, even though I couldn’t quite get my imperial brain around just how far they were, but a 10-mile race was weird and wonderful to me.

By the time the Eccup 10 came round in July I had already done two half marathons so I went into it figuring I would be able to pick my pace up a little and set a benchmark time.

Organised by Abbey Runners the race takes in some quiet roads and stunning scenery around the north of Leeds. Starting and finishing in Adel, it has an “undulating” profile according to official information, but as far as I could tell it was decidedly hilly. With a race limit of 800 and an impressive 751 runners finishing in 2013 you can see how popular it is – if you get an entry you move hell or high water to take part!

As a mid-July Sunday morning race it has that unpredictable feel to it – the weather could go any which way it pleases. In 2013 the sun was beating down and it was unbelievably hot.

Race numbers are picked up on the day but, for reasons unknown given that the organisers knew exactly how many people to expect, the situation was chaotic and slow. The queues were all over the place and the hall too small to take so many people at once. And somewhere hidden in the corner was the bag drop. As a result of this madness, plus the associated slow-moving toilet queues, the race started around seven minutes late.

Once we got going though all went fairly smoothly. I heard reports that water stations, the first in particular, were not running very smoothly because more people than usual were needing to quench their thirst, but as I was near the back and the field had thinned out I didn’t encounter any problems.

I found the route to be very enjoyable. There were some good hills to get your teeth into – I even ran backwards up one of them for a bit of a change – and the views were spectacular in places, especially around Eccup Reservoir. Fortunately it wasn’t quite hot enough to melt the tarmac, but I did strip down to my sports bra at one point to try to even out the tan lines!

There was good support coming into the finish line and plenty of water, plus a fab bright orange technical t-shirt.

If you fancy a new challenge then a 10-mile race could be the perfect choice. And if it’s your first time at this distance then it’s an automatic PB no matter how quickly you go!