Royal Parks Half Marathon

The day before…
My half marathon story began at the start of this year when I received an email from AsthmaUK looking for runners to enter the Royal Parks Half Marathon as part of their team. Since I’d been planning to run a half marathon 2 years ago, but never managed it due to a flare up of my own asthma, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. The course looked interesting, taking you along the Thames and through some parks, and it seemed like just the right incentive to keep me motivated for training.

Of course, perfect plans never tend to stay that way, and despite a garish technicolour training plan and all the best of intentions I arrived in London rather less trained than I’d wanted. Nonetheless, after completing a 16K and a couple sprint triathlons at the pace of a snail, I was sure that I’d make it to the end, no matter how slowly.

I arrived in London the day before the race, and by some lucky timing, managed to arrive at Hyde Park to pick up my race pack at the same time as my friend Hannah, from DailyMile. For those not in the know, DailyMile is a social site for runners, cyclists, swimmers, triathletes… you name it really. I originally signed up for the nerdy aspect of being able to track my workouts, but have ended up with a list of 81 friends, only a couple of whom I’ve met in real life. Over the last few months, I’ve received bags of encouragement, advice and the occasional kick in the ass, as I’ve tried to build up the miles. Truly, it’s been amazing how much support I’ve had from a group of people I’ve never met.

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After picking up our race gear, Hannah, her boyfriend Francesco and I headed off to check out a couple of the local running shops, at which I took the opportunity to pick up a collection of energy bars and gels – the likes of which I’m always reading about, but have not yet tried.

After exhausting the shops, and doing a few jobs, we then wandered around in circles trying to find a cafe offering free wifi. Eventually succeeding, we sat down with our coffees, and discovered that the wifi was non-functional. Alas. We did, however, manage to persuade one of the staff to take a photo of the three of us, modeling our race t-shirts (got to wonder if that’s some kind of bad karma, wearing a race shirt before the race?).

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Heading off on our separate ways, I returned to Euston to meet Dad, and whilst we waited for Jen to arrive, we chilled out at St Pancras with a glass of champagne. I’m not convinced that drinking champagne is generally considered to be good practice the day before a race, but I wasn’t in the mood to worry about it. In fact, to continue the theme of doing every thing wrong the night before your longest race ever, we then went out for a curry!

The race
Having scouted out Euston Station the night before, I made a beeline first thing for a shop which was selling porridge, the perfect pre-run breakfast. I picked up a coffee and a porridge, and then headed down to the tube. Having bought a tube ticket with my bank card the day before I wasn’t expecting any problems, but of course this time around the machines refused to accept my card. So, back upstairs to find a cash machine, and then back down to the ticket machine, all the while juggling coffee and porridge. And of course, what happened? I dropped them! For the rest of my visit, I’d be confronted with the coffee stains on every tube ride, but luckily the porridge survived the experience.

After a jam packed tube ride, I arrived at Hyde Park with less time than I’d planned. By this point my nerves had got the better of me, and I only manage to swallow a small amount of the porridge. Not good pre-race fuelling. There was a huge queue for the bag drop off, though I managed to skip part of it by hooking up with another AsthmaUK runner – hurray for charity t-shirts!

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My new found friend and I hung out in the start corral, and then went our own way when the gun finally went off.

It was so tempting to go too fast in the first few miles, but I held back deliberately and just tried to take it easy and enjoy myself. After running my last race in the last 5 from the very start, it was great to be within a larger pack of runners and to actually overtake a few people!

The first part took us down to the river and past Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

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The support along the way both from the crowds and the race volunteers was fantastic, and contributed to a fantastic first half of the race. Before I knew it we were heading back towards Hyde Park and towards the first AsthmaUK cheering point at the Admiralty Arch. Not knowing London’s sights that well, I was a bit confused as to all the arches, but finally figured it out. Seeing the cheerers up ahead on the left, I moved over to the left hand side of the road, and tried to spot Jen and Becca, with no luck. The cheerers gave me a huge cheer as I came by though!

So I plodded on back up to Buckingham Palace and then a roundabout route into the parks. That last bit before the parks was uphill, and I could feel myself slowing down, but I talked myself through it, knowing that it would level off once I was back in the park. By this point, I’d made it so far without stopping and walking that I was determined not to stop. I wouldn’t make the fastest time, but I really wanted to RUN the whole thing.

Just as I came to the corner into the park, who should come running towards me but Jen. I ran over to her, and we clasped hands briefly as I carried on running, totally buoyed up and totally overcome with emotion at seeing her.

From here on in, my energy slowly started to drain away. With hindsight, I should have ignored the ‘don’t try anything new on race day’ rule and tried out some of my gels, because those few mouthfuls of porridge were never going to be enough to fuel a whole half marathon. Ooops.

The next AsthmaUK cheering point came up at around about the 9 mile point, and this time I saw Becca waiting for me, next to Jen at the far end of the group. Everyone cheered and waved their pom poms for me, and I made a beeline for Jen and Becca giving them both a hug as I ran past.

There wasn’t much to keep me going for those last miles. The course weaved back and forth through the parks, which was very attractive but also confusing, as you never really had a feeling for how much further you had to go. Of course, since I slowed down ridiculously, each of those mile markers seemed to take an interminable time to come around.

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10 miles, and I knew that every step from here on in took me further than I’d ever run before. When I checked my time at 10 miles I was pretty happy, thinking only another half hour or so and I’d be done, and with a better time than I’d expected. Of course, I didn’t realise just how much I’d slowed down at the end.

As large sections of the course here doubled back, I did my best to cheer on the slowest runners – I’ve been there and I know how much every bit of encouragement helps. On the flip side, I received huge support from the crowds, especially since one of the AsthmaUK staff had written my name on my running shirt for me.

Finally we reached the 12 mile marker and were heading into the final stretch. That last bit of road seemed ridiculously long, but slowly and surely the noise of the crowds increased, there were markers along the side of the road counting down each 100m, and loudspeakers blaring out the DJ, who was calling people’s names as they crossed the finish.

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I tried to find Jen and Becca but the crowds were too busy, and then I could only focus on that wonderful glorious finish line. My legs which had been heavy as lead for the last 3 miles came back into gear and I slowly picked up my pace, until I was doing was felt like a Chariots of Fire like slow motion sprint.

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Did my best to raise my arms up and wave to the photographer, and indeed ended up looking like I really was ‘Spreading my Wings for AsthmaUK’

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And I crossed the finish line! 13.1 miles, or 21.1km… slowly done, but without stopping!

With huge relief, I slowed to a walk, and received my lovely wooden medal, and then staggered along to the exit points. Somehow Jen and Becca managed to find me, and accompanied me back to the AsthmaUK tent where I gratefully collapsed into a chair, and was waited on hand and foot!

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Courtesy of Nokia – my wonderful cheering team!

Footnote:

So far I’ve managed to raise 280 pounds for AsthmaUK, of which I’ve donated about half myself. Many thanks to everyone that’s donated, or provided moral and emotional support!

I’m still 70 pounds short of my fundraising target, so if anyone can spare a fiver, I’d be very grateful! You can donate via my Virgin Money Giving page

Vlietloop

I’m slowly gearing up for my first ever half marathon in a little over a month’s time. Today was my first attempt at a 10K+ run. Not entirely as my training plan planned it, but there you go. In order to make things more interesting, and hopefully less daunting, I signed up for a 10EM (English Mile, or 16.1km) run which was being held in the nearby village of Voorschoten. The run promised a pleasant course, much of it along the Vliet.

I’ve only done one run this length before, and that was two years ago, at the huge Dam tot Damloop. This was a much smaller affair, and therefore boasted a much smaller spread of ability. Which is another way of saying, when I looked at last year’s results, it was pretty clear to me that I was unlikely to come in anything other than last place. I have to admit, I did have a few qualms about that aspect. When you see that last year’s worst time is a good 20-30 minutes faster than the best you can hope for, you do have second thoughts. Still, since they hadn’t posted a time limit, I figured I should go out there, run my own run, and give it what I could.

Saturday dawned extremely hot and muggy. Fortunately Sunday was rather cooler, with occasional spatterings of rain. I hopped on a train, or two, down to Voorschoten, found the sports school where you had to register and picked up start number and chip. Already laid out on the tables were the t-shirts which were given out to all who completed the event.

With a little time to kill I wandered down to the start line, where I watched the final few finishers of the 5K. A couple of them were very quickly propped up by the waiting paramedics, as they were wambly-looking and weaving all over the place. The final young lad came in to an announcement by the chappie with the mike and everyone gave him a huge cheer. Obviously, I clapped for him as hard as I could, and wondered if everyone would still be waiting by the time I came in.

A few more minutes wait, and all the 10K and 10EM racers began to line up together. The two courses were the same for about the first 6km, at which point the 10K-ers turned and headed for home, and the 10EM-ers slogged out an extra loop before finally returning towards Voorschoten. There were lots of groups of runners from local clubs, all looking very serious. I heard one group discussing their pace – what they were talking about as an easy pace would have had me flat on the ground within the first km!

The final 10 seconds countdown, and we were off. Or at least, we started shuffling towards the start line. Being a small pack, we were crossing in no time, and off through the village, heading towards the Vliet. It didn’t take long until I was at the back of the pack, but I tried not to let it bother me and stuck to my plan – steady slow run for a KM, walk 1 minutes. Repeat ad nauseam.

By the time the second kilometre was done with I was already in the last 4, two cyclists bringing up the rear. In my running sections I inched ahead of my 3 companions, during my walking sections they nudged past me again.

3 kilometres in and we saw the first 10K runner racing back in the opposite direction. I couldn’t suppress my admiration at his form and speed (he was quite good looking too, come to think of it). The two cyclists giggled, and pointed out reassuringly that he only had 10K to run. As if I could have looked like that even if I were only doing 10K.

Plod, plod, plod, plod, plod.

We reached the 5K point. ‘See, we’re already halfway there’, one of my companions called out. Alas, as I suspected my 3 companions were all doing the 10K. No surprise really, not many people as slow as us would take on the longest distance. I must be crazy. By this point the rest of the pack were a fair distance ahead.

We crossed a big bridge over the Vliet, and started running back along the other side. By this point there was a steady stream of people coming back towards us. Plenty of supporters along the way, cheering us on. Passing an aid station, we reached the second bridge. The point at which my follows left me. They took a left turn and crossed over the bridge, I took a right, and headed off, accompanied by my own personal cycle escort, and headed off away from the river for the extra section.

Some confusion along this stretch. Some enthusiastic volunteer had already cleared away the direction and distance markers. Fortunately my cyclist knew the route well, and guided me. He also phoned back to HQ and complained on my behalf.

Plod, plod, plod, plod, plod.

Turned again, met up with a little spur of the canal, and plodded back to the main Vliet. A right turn and I was official on the return stretch. Back past the bridge. The volunteers at the aid station were packing up, but still kept some water and a wet sponge ready for me. Back to the first bridge – hit the 11km mark – just a ‘short’ 5K to go now. I can do that. Done it before, any number of times. Whatever else goes wrong, I’ve already run further today than in the last 2 years. Nice and steady. Keep on going.

Another volunteer checking that I was the last and packing up after me. I’ll see you at the finish he promised. I want to see you coming in nice and strong, giving it all you’ve got. I will, I promised.

Over the bridge, an extra walking section to tackle the uphill. Running again as it levelled off. Back along the canal, caught up the time car with its clock on top, waiting for me. I passed. It followed.

Plod, plod, plod, plod, plod.

Finally made the turn off away from the canal. Crossed a brutal humpback bridge. Tried to keep running over it, had to walk the last few steps. Down the other side, and back to the main road. Picked up another volunteer on his bike. My escort is growing! Met a few runners on their way back home – all of them encouraging me – just a little way to go.

Turned back in towards the village. Another aid station – how patient all those volunteers were, and then shortly after a couple offering bottles of water. They gave me one, and when I was done drinking my cyclist escort kindly carried it for me, offering it when needed.

Another member of the escort joins – a paramedic on a motor bike. Slowly I wind my way through the streets, until I can hear the sound of the band. Try not to get too emotional at the fact that I’ve nearly done what I half thought was impossible. Try not to speed up, don’t want to push my asthma over the edge when I’ve come so far.

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The final turn, I can see the band up ahead, giving it all they’ve got for me. Police men on the left, waving and clapping, crowds on the right, cheering me on. I can’t believe there are so many people there still waiting for me. A familiar face on my right, the volunteer from earlier. Come on, he says, I knew you’d make it. Told you I’d be waiting. Come on, come on, a little bit faster, and he runs alongside me. I speed up, I speed up some more, breathing is tough, but I’m not quitting now, going to finish in style you know. Big grin on my face, I hear them announce my name as I cross the finish line.

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Come to a halt, to find someone rushing up towards me, and thrusting a package at me. I can’t believe it, probably the only running prize I’ll ever receive – a gift for coming in last! At the same time someone’s snipping the timing chip from my shoe. I return, thank my faithful cycle escort, who hands over the remains of the water bottle. Completely forgot about that, very grateful for it now. Chat with another girl, who’d also run the 16K. Very slowly walk (hobble) back to the sports school where I left my bag.

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A quick shower (scalding) and I hobbled back to the train station, ready for the next part of my day – an evensong in Bilthoven.

Time: 2:09:51.

Yes, that is ridiculously slow – the second slowest runner was 30(!) minutes faster. I would have liked a few less walking breaks (they didn’t coincide with the aid stations, so that added extra walking time and running and drinking is beyond me). I admit, I would have loved to beat my 16km time from 2 years ago, but so be it. The most important thing about the run was to prove to myself that I could cover the distance, and I achieved that.

Vrouwentriathlon

At the start of the year, when I set myself a ‘triathlon’ challenge of running, cycling and swimming every week, I never dreamt that I’d find myself taking part in the real thing. Nonetheless, once the idea was presented to me, I couldn’t not do it, and signed myself up for the 1/8 distance at the inaugural Vrouwentriathlon in Utrecht.

For those not in the know, that means 500m swimming (in a lake), 20km cycling and 5km running.

The preparation

After making copious reminder notes on random pieces of paper the whole week leading up to the event, and studying the photos from last year’s event in Beesd (to see how many participants were riding on standard city bikes, rather than race bikes – the answer, not many), I was finally ready on Saturday night to lay out my gear, and panic when I couldn’t find my running shoes.  They did turn up, eventually, in my wardrobe.  Not a usual place to keep them…

En Route

Sunday morning dawned very early, after a very broken night in which I kept waking up and panicking that I’d overslept.  I got myself together, swimming gear under my jeans and t-shirt, and headed off with my bike to Ypenberg station, 7km or so away.  Given that I have a perfectly good station 5 minutes away, that might seem crazy, but there was method in my madness – I had no desire to lug my bike up and down stairs, so I plumped for a station with a lift!  Despite problems with roadworks which send me off course, and problems with the ticket machine at the railway station, I made it up onto the platform with about 10 minutes to spare before my train left.  Missing it would have meant cutting things very fine indeed – although my race didn’t start until 11am, the registration desk was only open until 9am.

I’ll say one thing for the new sprinter trains – they may not be pretty, or particularly comfortable, but they do have plenty of room for bikes, and easy access for getting them on and off.

Registration

Leaving the train at Utrecht Terwijde, I found myself in the lift with another participant and her father.  We set off together but were a little flumoxed a few minutes later to see someone cycling towards us on a fancy race bike and carrying a banana – looked awfully like another triathlete, but going in the wrong direction.  After checking Google Maps, and chatting to another rider who stopped, we quickly concluded that in fact we were the ones cycling off into the distance.  After taking another look at the map I eventually cottoned on to the cause of my confusion – Utrecht is of course to the east, not the west!  Fortunately we hadn’t gone that far, and we had plenty of time.

After 5 or 10 minutes cycling we found the start without any further difficulty, picking up another couple riders on the way.  I was already disconcerted to see that my standard city bike stood out in the crowds… I’d had the feeling that with this being a good ‘starter’ event, more people would be using their normal bikes, but it appeared that I was wrong.

After picking up my race number and collecting my commemorative bike shirt and goodie bag, I decided not to hang around, but headed straight down to the start area at the beach.

 

The pre-race jittery part

The first thing to do when I got down to the beach was to set up my transition area – the place where you leave your bike and everything you need for the bike and run part of the course.  Before being allowed in our bikes and helmets were given a quick once over, and we had our hands stamped so that we could have free access to the area for the rest of the morning.  I got things set up as best as I could, trying not to panic at the professional looking girl next to me preparing her wetsuit, and then looked up and caught sight of my friend Anna disappearing into the distance.  I decided to leave the rest of my prep until later, and rushed off to find her.

Anna was volunteering at the event as one of the traffic people on the bike course – equipped with t-shirt and whistle!

We hung out together until the first race began – she needed to leave for the bike course, and I wanted to watch the start of the 1/16 race (250m swim/10km bike/2.5km run).  After a general briefing, all the participants of the first race headed off to the far end of the beach for the start of the swim.  Despite the weather forecasts, it was still rather cloudy and ominous looking at this point.

After final instructions on the course, the racers all entered the water, amidst gasps and shrieks.  Apparently 18C is not all that warm, when it comes to water temperature.  Looking out into the lake and staring at the buoy further out which I was going to swim to, I had my first moment of real panic.  Swimming out into the open water, with nothing to hold onto if it all went wrong suddenly seemed very scary indeed.

With a lot of whistle blowing and shouts that people were going out too far, finally everyone was ready for the countdown to the start.

3 minutes… 2 minutes… 1 minute… 30 seconds… and with a blast of the horn, they were off in a sea of bobbing pink hats.

Along with the rest of the spectators I walked back to the transition area and waited for the swimmers to come in.  With one girl far out ahead of the rest it didn’t take long before she’d covered the 250m and was running up to transition.  I waited for the last swimmer to come through and then left to make my own final preparations.

The swim

Back at transition I found that the area around my bike had really filled up.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw that the girl who had set up next to me in my absence was also using a normal bike.  We got chatting, in Dutch, and then happily switched back to English when I recognized her accent and discovered that she was Scottish!  Like me, she and her friend were doing this for the first time, and so after getting our last things together we hung together at the start.

Like the first set of participants we made the walk down the beach together, got our final briefing and then entered the water.  Up to the knees it didn’t feel too bad.  Further in up to the neck, the cold took my breath away and I had to fight the panic.  I stopped and trod water until I felt my breathing relax, and then distracted myself by chatting to the people around me.  I put my face in the water once, recoiled at its greenness, and wondered if breaststroke might not be such a bad idea after all.

Like the other group we had a countdown, but I never heard it.  All I heard was the horn blowing, and we were off!  On automatic pilot, I put my face into the water and started swimming front crawl.  3 strokes, breathe.  3 strokes, breathe… each time I came up, checking that I was still heading towards the big purple buoy.

Scared of being run over by people at the start, I’d placed myself at the back of the pack, and found myself actually overtaking people.  Not being used to swimming in open water, I didn’t really know how to pace myself, so I took it gently, just keeping a nice even rhythm.  As we passed the first buoy and headed out into the middle of the lake, I suddenly realized how much I was actually enjoying myself, and how comfortable I felt out there.

Before I knew it I was rounding the buoy and on the final stretch towards the pier and the shore.  I watched the woman in front of me rise out of the water, then it was my turn, barely noticing the cheering spectators, I jogged along the grass into transition, dripping all the way!

(the wiggles in the course are more down to the Garmin getting confused by constantly going in and out of the water, than by my bad sighting… I think)

The bike

Coming into transition, I was immediately aware how much fewer bikes there were than at the start.  That said, my bike was far from alone!

I dried off my feet as best as I could, pulled on my socks and shoes, swapped the pink swimming cap for the bike helmet, and started wrestling with my start number.  We’d been given race belts in our goodie bags, and I’d pinned my number on earlier.  Unfortunately, one of the safety pins came out, and after jabbing me in the finger, vanished into the grass.  I replaced the remaining one in the centre of the number and hoped that it would be sufficient.

I wheeled my biked out of the transition area, managed a reasonable proficient looking mount at the start line and I was on my way for two rounds of 10km each.

We had a good wide road all the way along, although we did have to share it with a lot of other Sunday traffic – families, mostly, with children on scooters, bikes and roller blades, all forming obstacles to be avoided!  There was also a fair supply of runners and cyclists, many of whom offered encouragement along the way.

Although I kept a good pace up, as I’d expected I was easily overtaken by a lot of people on race bikes.  Not letting it bother me, I kept my own tempo and just enjoyed my own race, waving at all the volunteers along the way.  Reaching the halfway point of the loop I saw Anna holding back the traffic!  I waved madly to her, and as I passed, she, and the onlookers all cheered me on.

(photo by John de Boer)

My bike not really being set up for this kind of thing, has no water bottle holder, and having taken my bottle of custom made sports drink out of my back pocket, I never managed to get it back in again. I ended up holding it the whole way!


Before I knew it I was already back to the starting point and halfway through the course.  By this point I had the distinct feeling that there was no-one behind me anymore.  I kept pedaling away, this time having a better idea of what was coming ahead of me, passed Anna again, to more cheering and kept on going until yet again the beach came in sight.  This time I veered off to the left, over the bridge, and managed a smooth running dismount at the finish line.

The run

This was where things really got tough.  As soon as I was off the bike I could feel how stiff my calves were, and my attempts at running were pretty pathetic.  By now it was after midday, the sun was shining, and it was very hot.  Setting off along a rather boring pathway, I could hear them announcing the arrival of the fourth finisher.  There were already four people in, and I had still had 5km to go.  Coming towards me was a stream of exhausted looking women, all of whom were within a couple minutes of finishing.  After really enjoying both the swim and bike legs, the run was already proving tough, both physically and mentally.

I tried to listen to the encouragement being thrown to me by those runners who still had enough energy to do so, but the little voice in my head reckoning up how far I had to go proved louder.  After rounding the first corner, I came to the conclusion that I would be almost as fast walking as running, and since I was certain that I was already last, and I couldn’t see anyone going in my direction up ahead, I didn’t think I had any chance of really closing the gap.

I stopped running, and walked as briskly as I could.  Every few minutes when I could bear it, I ran a little again, and then slowed down to a walk.  The stream of runners coming towards me thinned to a trickle, and I saw more and more people walking.  I made the turn off onto the grass, and enjoyed the feeling of something soft under my feet.  The change in surface loosened things up again and I made some more attempts at running.

Finally I reached the turnaround point, and took the cup of water being held out to me by a young kid.  It was the last thing I wanted, given that the portaloo at the transition area was out of order, and I was pretty much bursting by this point in the day, but I didn’t have the heart to refuse.

With the encouragement of the volunteers behind me, I made the turn and set back off on the homeward stretch.  Just 2.5km to go.  I ran as much as I could, but by that point my neither my legs nor my soul were really willing!  Eventually I made the turn back onto the road parallel to the beach and the end was almost in sight.  I could see the blue shirts of the volunteers up ahead at the turn-off and I willed myself to keep running.

I took the corner, and there was Anna waiting for me.  Never have I been so glad to see a familiar face.  She ran alongside me at the start of the finisher’s chute, spurring me on when I thought I had nothing more to give.

(photo by John de Boer)

I approached the finisher’s arch, cheered on by all the spectators who kindly waited for the last person to come in!  The officials called out that they needed to see my race number, so I unfurled it and held it out as best as I could, and crossed the finish line.

The clock read 1:59:50, and it’s official – I’m actually a triathlete, albeit the slowest one on the course.  According to my Garmin, the times were as follows:

  • Swim: 18:26
  • T1: 4:06 (overestimate since I hit the lap button as soon as I exited the water, and didn’t hit it again until I was on the bike and moving)
  • Bike: 54:56 (less a minute or two in T2)
  • T2: (no idea, completely forgot I was supposed to hit the watch)
  • Run: 42:38 (absolutely the slowest 5K I’ve ever done!)

The aftermath

Anna and her Dad (who I hadn’t even seen cheering me on, so focused as I was on finishing) caught me up on the other side of the finish line, and walked over with me to the transition area to try and get my stuff in order.  Fantastically prepared, he’d come armed with sandwiches, and I wolfed down one with peanut butter and hagelslag (hundreds and thousands) – best sandwich I’ve ever tasted!  I truly have fantastic supporters.

Everything together, we headed our separate ways into Utrecht, found a terrace and enjoyed a drink in the sun, before I headed off back home.

The long-term aftermath

It’s official, I’m hooked.  Even though the run felt pretty brutal, I had a really fantastic time and enjoyed it far more than any running event I’ve done.

I think my future holds a new bike.

Patent Run

After skipping last year’s run, I was determined to take part again this year, and also did a good job of encouraging my fellow project team members to run too.

Despite the rain that was pouring down all afternoon, it finally cleared up just in time for us to run. It didn’t warm up much though, and we were all shivering at the start.

I’ve been excited and yet dreading the run all week. My memories of the first time round are that it was very tough, taking in a couple hills along the way, and finishing with a very evil run up the parking ramp to the roof top garden. It took everything I had on that occasion to complete the course, and I did have to walk up the first, and longest of the hills.

Patent run

This time round was a rather more pleasant experience, though still hard work. My team mates, and most of the other participants, roared off into the distance, and I resisted the temptation to follow and held myself to a comfortable pace. After about 500m I caught up with Alice, and we ended up running together for the rest of the race.

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I’m used to running on my own, but the time passed much more quickly with company, and was also good encouragement when tackling the dreaded hill. This time I made it up without walking, unlike most of the runners just ahead of us, which was possibly my biggest achievement of the whole day, though it took its toll on me by the end of the race.

Soon enough we were on the return leg, encouraged along by the drummers underneath the motorway bridge, and we made the turn back on the approach to the office, only to be hit by a blast of wind. The wind, coupled with the ramp looming up ahead made that last stretch the toughest part of the race for me, and the only point where I wanted to give up and walk. I resisted temptation though, and within a few minutes we were on the approach to the ramp, with Emily standing at the bottom and Trudy and Koen cheering us on at the top. With their encouragement I put my head down and made it up to the top… gasping for breath, I did my best to pull out every last bit of speed and make it to the finish.

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I finished in 42:18 – hardly a stellar time, and far behind the rest of my team members, who were all in before 31 minutes were up. My final position – 9th from bottom, one place up from the last time! Next year I’m determined to get out of the bottom 10.

Rotterdam Ladies Run

After doing the Cooper Test a couple weeks ago, I was quite fired up to try and set myself a new personal best at the Rotterdam Ladies Run today. Life’s little ironies – I came away with a brand new shiny personal worst! It wasn’t entirely my own fault – the course through the Zuiderpark in Rotterdam, whilst attractive, took place on rather narrow paths which occasionally took us over small bridges. Every time the road narrowed down or we went over a bridge, the pack ground to a bit of a halt. Because the roads were narrow, the pack never thinned out – a very strange experience for me, as I’m used to ending up with plenty of space around me, so I could never really keep to my own pace, and for once often found myself going a little slower than I might otherwise have done.

Ladiesrun

To top it all off, the course was two times around a 2.5km loop. Being at the back of the pack (where I well and truly belong) we crossed the finish line at the end of our first loop just seconds before the winner came through at the end of her second. The result was that we were pushed over to one side by the officials, and everything came to a bit of a standstill. It was pretty cool to actually be at the finish line of a race at the same time as the winner, mind you!

Photo

It was a bitterly cold day, considering that it’s the middle of June, and I ended up layering a long sleeved top, the bright pink race shirt and then my running jacket. Combined with a bit of rain along the way, I never really got all that hot, and I was very grateful not to be hanging around in short sleeves before the start.

Photostart

Despite the weather, the day was fun, and made all the more so by the fact that I ended up meeting another runner as I got off the train in Rotterdam, and we travelled down the rest of the way and hung around the expo together killing time before the start. We’d never met before, but we’ve now linked up on Daily Mile, so I guess we may well find each other again at a race someday. Ironically, I was actually planning to meet up with an existing Daily Mile friend who was running the 10km, but we never managed to find each other in the crowds. Maybe next time.

Final time: 36:00.  Oh, and I came away with a girlie pink goodie bag, and a medal on a girlie pink ribbon.

Cooper Test

Every 3 months, the office running club organizes a Cooper Test. The idea is to run as hard as you can for 12 minutes, and then measure the distance that you managed to cover. I’ve intended to take part in one for quite a while, but only today did I manage to actually do it for the first time.

Having checked the previous results, I knew that I would most likely be the slowest person on the day, especially since the last time they ran the test, there weren’t even any other women taking part. After checking the archives to see all the previous results, I realized that I would actually be very lucky not to be the slowest person ever on record… Somewhat daunted, I went regardless.

In the changing room, I saw quite a few girls that I recognized from a couple years ago when I used to go out with the Run 4 Fun group. That’s good, I thought, at least I won’t be the only girl. Wrong. All the others were going out for a normal run, not doing the test.

Waiting at the meeting point, it became quickly evident that I truly was the only girl doing it this time round. Ah well, makes coming in last slightly less embarrassing. And there was very little doubt in my mind that I was going to be the last.

The organized showed me the route on a printout, and then reassured me that someone would be out on a bike to point out the turning point, and would accompany the last person. Company then!

The whistle blew, and we set off. In very little time the main pack had rounded the corner and were out of sight, leaving only a couple people ahead of me. I did overtake one guy who started walking, but I’m still not sure if he was actually with us or not. If he was, I guess he gave up, because I never saw him again. I like the idea that I wasn’t technically the absolute last, but I suspect that he was just some random person that happened to be running where we were!

By the first turn-off I had to pull back my pace a bit. Without my watch I had no idea of how long I’d been running or how long I still had to go. I tried to put that out of my mind and just kept plodding away, although I could feel that I was struggling to keep my pace up.

Reassuringly, I was always aware of the cyclist behind me, and when we came to turn points he shouted out which way I should go. Just as I thought I couldn’t go much longer, he called out ‘one minute to go’. I gasped out a thanks, and tried to keep my pace. I wanted to kick it up a bit, but figured I probably crash out if I did that too soon. Nearly… nearly… nearly… then ’10 seconds! keep going, you’re almost at 2,000!’ Pant, gasp, gasp, PHWEEEEEEET!

I stopped… just shy of 2000m, with a result of 1995m and average speed of 9.975km/h. So near and yet so far from that mythical target of 10km/h.

I walked back slowly with some of the other runners, all of whom were very encouraging. I was surprised just how many people I knew – from language classes, from work, from the BHV, and from the running club.

Later in the afternoon, the official results came in – I am not the all time slowest person! I am in fact the all time second-slowest person. But with a recorded, rounded-up speed of 10km/h, I was still overjoyed with what I achieved. A 30 min 5K might not quite yet be in my grasp, but it’s closer than I thought.

My result left me all fired up both for the 6K Patent Run in a fortnight, but also for the next test, sometime in September.

Rokjesdagloop

A beautiful, very hot day for my second running event of 2011 – the inaugural Rokjesdagloop (literally ‘skirt day run’) in the Westerpark of Amsterdam.

I wilted a bit with the heat, so ended up running the distance in a slower time than the last one – the official time (no chip, so it was gun time) was 34.44.  Running around a park was much nicer than my normal routes though.

Zandvoort Circuitloop

I finally feel like I’m getting back in the saddle with regards to running.  I’m not growing great distances, but I’m slowly building it back up.  I’ve signed myself up for a number of 5K events between now and the summer to keep myself focused.  The Zandvoort Circuitloop, around the race track at Zandvoort was my first.

It was a beautiful sunny day, albeit rather cold in the morning.  I had a bit of an early start, since I had to be at the train station for 7.15 to take Mum to the airport.  And don’t forget, this was the night that the clocks went forward.

For all that I had plenty of time to spare, I still ended up getting myself in a muddle at the raceground, and being unable to find the tent where you should leave your bags.  Fortunately, just as I was beginning to panic because I was running out of time, some kind ladies at the information desk took pity on me, and looked after my bag.  The unexpected kindness was just what I needed to put a smile on my face, and get me to relax about the prospect of running 5km.

As I’d feared, what with Zandvoort being in the dunes, the race circuit was not entirely flat.  When I approached the first incline, I really didn’t think I had a chance of continuing without slowing to a walk, but the sight of other people walking ahead spurred me on and I kept running, both up that hill and all those that followed.

All in all the race went well.  While it certainly was hard work, at no point did it feel too hard, there was never any point when I asked myself how on earth I was going to make it to the end.  That said, I was really glad to see the finish line!  The last km or two there was someone from the organization running alongside and cheering people on – a nice touch, I thought.

I crossed the line with a net time of 33:02 – not fast by most people’s standards, but still a new personal best by 39s, of which I’m really proud.  Considering that my speed really dropped last year, it’s good to be back running at my 2009 speed again.  Now I need to try and improve on that.

Next race: the Rokjesdagloop on April 10th!

PatentRun 2010

So, I had been planning to take part in this year’s PatentRun, and at one point I’d even had ambitious plans of improving on my time from last year.  But it wasn’t to be.  Instead, I took along the camera and photographed the event, getting soaking wet in the process.

Looking back on 2009

That 2009 would be an eventful year was already obvious in January, when Jen became the youngest ever recipient of the T. S. Eliot prize.

5 days later, I turned my own life upside down, by taking in 3 cats – Rupert, Zephyr and Rasha-Ba.  The house hasn’t been quite the same since.

At the start of the year I joined a new choir in Amsterdam.  12 months later, I’m still happy with my choice, though missing the contact with my friends from my old choirs in The Hague and Bowdon, neither of which I’ve been in touch often enough with.

I also finally got round do something I’ve been thinking about for a few years – starting the RSCM Voice for Life program.  I’m still very proud of my little bronze medal!

With the encouragement of friends Emmy and Emily, I took up running again.  I managed to clock up 124km and completed two 5K events, a 6K, a 10K and, biggest achievement of all, the 16K Damloop.

On the studying front, I kept myself more than busy (too busy, in all honesty) with two Open University courses, in Human Biology and Biological Psychology.  The Human Biology course finished with an exam, the Biological Psychology course with a rather bizarre experiment involving chocolate digestive biscuits.

In terms of milestones, I was shocked to realise that 2009 marked 15 years since I left school and 10 since I graduated from university with my Masters degree.  (This also rather alarmingly means almost 10 years in gainful employment.  I think this means I’m supposed to be grown up now.  But I’m not entirely convinced!)

It was also my first full year of house ownership, and I’ve traveled less this year than any other year recently.  By my reckoning I made:

  • 4 trips to the UK (London for the TS Eliot, two birthday visits, and a week long trip to York with the choir)
  • a trip to Slovakia, for a landscape photography course
  • a trip to Canada, to see family and to photograph wolves
  • a trip to Prague with Auntie Janet
  • and of course, the biggie, the trip to The Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica, with a (very) brief stop in Argentina