Tuesday 31 July 2012

Adidas 24 hour Thunder Run: Race review

"Challenging" "Different" "Exhilarating" "Horrendous"

Some of the words used to describe the 2012 Adidas Thunder Run. Billed as "a 24 hour off-road relay race against the clock", the Thunder Run attracts some 2000 runners to participate in a race like nothing else they've entered before. Myself included.

I took up the challenge with four other female runners. None of us knew what to expect. You can run as fast or as slow as you like, but one member of the team must be running (or walking) on the 10km trail track at all times over a period of 24 hours. The winner is the team with the most laps completed after the 24 hour deadline. Game on!

Thunder Run is held in Catton Park in South Derbyshire. It's a lovely spot - undulating, varied terrain including woodland, grass and track. Runners arrive on Friday and can set up camp ready for the 12pm start on Saturday. This year the festival-like atmosphere was even greater with the organisers setting up a big screen so we could all watch the Olympics during our rest periods.

As a strategy of sorts, my Sportsister teammates and I decided to run each lap in roughly one hour, knowing that the night and early morning laps may not be our finest hour in 10km running, and so would be a little slower!

We then chose who would run when, but agreed that if anyone had any problems we would swap, or just adapt as we needed to. Our aim of the race was to finish it, to enjoy it, and to work as a team to look after each other.

I was the fourth starter in my team, so I set off around 3pm for my first lap after three of my fellow teammates had completed theirs. Feeling much more nervous than I thought I would I waited in the pen, eyes peeled for my teammate to come round the corner, baton in hand, to hand over to me.

The 10km course kept me amused. It's a challenging course, with enough twists and turns to make even Tigger dizzy. It's also great fun. It felt a bit like I was on the Krypton Factor, leaping over boggy sections, weaving in and out of marked sections of woodland, legging it up and down grassy hills.

A quarter of the way through, runners pop back out to race through the campsite and be cheered on by fellow competitors. Again at around 8km, runners pace through sections of the camp to be further encouraged to the finish line.

The last kilometre is brutal. The organisers know what they are doing. Give runners a glimpse of the finish....then send them up another hill before the end is really in sight.

Baton safely handed over to teammate five, I go back to camp to drink, eat, stretch and rest. It feels rather strange. I've just raced 10km, yet I can't relax as I have to do it again in another three hours, and then again, and again and again.

Round two came round too soon and I was off again. This time I knew what to expect, I felt a little more settled and really enjoyed the loop.

Round three at 1am was a slightly different race for all as it was pitch black. Headtorch and luminous jacket donned, off I set again. It was also the start of the unknown territory. Yes I've run Marathon des Sables but at least you run it all in one go then can rest. I've never run 5x 10km laps interspersed with non existent sleep. I've never run later than 10:30pm nor earlier than 7am. And I love my sleep.

However, I really enjoyed the night run. Maybe I have some weird fetish fantasy of running alone in the woods at night with only the sound of heavy breathing coming up behind me. Either that or the safety of the dark meant you couldn't see further than a couple of metres ahead which also meant you couldn't see the hills coming up. Either way, it felt like a magical mystery tour. Would I land in a bog or a pothole? Would I be attacked by the boogaman? Would I fall asleep while running? Endless possibilities.

Safely back again, I tried to get some more shut eye before the next round at 6am. The milkman round was less enjoyable. Even if I hadn't fallen asleep, lactic acid definitely had in my legs so I ran lap four feeling like Mike Tyson was clinging from my thighs.

11:30am. The final victory round. Feeling a little worse for wear, but determined not to let team Sportsister down I tried my best, though I will feel eternally grateful for the two lovely chaps who helped me round the first few kilometres with a bit of random banter. I managed to sneak in under the hour and our team came a very respectable sixth in our category.

Would I do it again? Most definitely. It's a brilliant, weird, exhilarating way to spend a weekend. It's also a great way to meet those even stranger runners who do the course solo. Much respect due to them.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Best running routes in London

An alternative view of King's Cross

I posted recently about my lack of enthusiasm for running in the city of London. However this hasn't always been the case.

There are some amazing places to go running in and around London. I got to know London by running in it, and I still believe it's the best way to really understand the size and diversity of our capital.

Here are my top five favourite routes that I've run in the five years I've been living in London.

1) Best for the views (and the hills) (and getting lost) - Hampstead Heath
This route is challenging but rewarding. Enter the Heath either from Gospel Oak or Hampstead Heath. Then follow the various paths up and down and round the varying terrain. Woodland, heath, track, grass, Hampstead Heath has it all.

My favourite part of Hampstead Heath is the little-known section across the main Spaniards Road at the top end of the Heath. Full of woodland tracks with little or no other people plus a welcoming cafe in Golders Hill Park.

Finish the run with a blast up Parliament Hill to be rewarded with that view at the top. Always smile inducing whatever the weather.

2) Best for not getting lost - Thames Path from Richmond back into the city
Join the Thames Path at Richmond and head back in towards London. Along the way you will see geese, ducks, dogs, horses, walkers, runners, rowers and even some highland cattle.

On one side is the Thames, the other is trees and greenery. Glorious. It's such a pretty route, nice and flat, and not tarmac, so a little bit easier on the joints.

Either stop at Barnes or Putney to catch a train back home, or carry on into the urban jungle through Battersea Park and along the South Bank.

3) Best for spotting celebs - Richmond Park - Wimbledon Common
I've now seen Andrew Marr, Nell McAndrew, Ben Shepherd and a variety of elite Kenyan athletes all running round Richmond Park.

Other than gawping at the other species I like to run one lap around the park then head out of the Robin Hood Gate, across the road and into Wimbledon Common.

Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common both have a few hills which, other than Hampstead Heath, can be difficult to find in London. They are also just beautiful locations to run in.

I usually run around Richmond Park, but cutting across the middle via Pen Pond has got to be one of the best feelings. Downhill all the way with Richmond Park opening up in front of you. Great any time of year.

Finish your run either with a cup of tea and a bacon buttie at the super friendly Windmill Cafe in Wimbledon Common or do a quick change and head into the posher Fox and Grapes gastro pub for Sunday lunch.

4) Best for spotting non celebs - Hyde Park - Green Park - St James Park
Start at Westminster, head up through St James Park, cross over into Green Park, up to Hyde Park Corner into Hyde Park. Do one loop of Hyde Park and head back. For a shorter run, stick to the each of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park.

To add on extra miles, either start further up the Thames Path before crossing into St James Park, or head further North and join the canal at Paddington.

Always good for a spot of people watching, whatever time of day.

5) Best for flat peaceful running - Regent's Canal
My two favourite spots of the Regent's Canal are either joining at King's Cross and following the path West towards Little Venice, or joining at Victoria Park and heading East to the Limehouse Basin.

King's Cross-Little Venice gives you Camley Street Nature Reserve, St Pancras, the millionaire houses of Camden, Regent's Park and some giraffes at London Zoo.

Victoria Park-Limehouse gives you the greenery of the Hyde Park of the East, a more urban grit feel, the boats and cafes at the Limehouse Basin and views of Canary Wharf. Carry on down into the cobbled streets of Wapping and head back into the city via the Thames Path if you want to go longer.

So that's my top five favourite routes to run in London. I'd love to hear about other favourite routes to run from fellow runners.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Lost! Two toenails. Last seen on foot.

The other morning I lost a big toenail. On the plus this means my feet now match again as my other big toenail disappeared about a fortnight ago as well. Pleasant.

Surprisingly the problems started prior to running marathon des sables, so don't let that put you off signing up to MDS dear readers.

I did a little research into the subject and here are the five top things I learnt about runners and toenails...

First, the science bit...
The impact between your toe and the source of pressure causes small blood vessels to burst as a result of fluid accumulating from damaged tissue. The fluid and blood give the look of the black toenail. If damage is severe enough the fluid will separate the nail from its bed and the toenail will drop off.

But why does this happen?
1) Your shoes or socks probably don't fit...
They could be too small, so your toes will be squashed together and will make it more likely that damage will occur, or they could be too big, meaning your foot is not secure in your trainer so the tops of your toes will bang against the tops of your shoes.

It's not just your trainers which may be causing damage, it's your socks. If they are not roomy enough for your feet to breathe, they will also act as a barrier for your toenails to continue to bash themselves up against.

2) ...but then again they might do
Jeff Galloway says just the repeated action of running can give rise to black toenails, as the pressure of the swing action forces more than normal blood into the toenail region. If you increase your training too quickly or generally run long distances there will be a greater chance that you will succeed in achieving black toenail status.

3) The weather has a say in your toenail status
If it's hot your feet swell, meaning less room in your trainer. If it's wet, your feet are not as secure in your trainer. Meaning, that's right, the possibility of a black toenail.

What do I do if I get a black toenail?
4) Nothing

It's under the toenail. You can't touch it. The pain will gradually decrease. If the pressure is too intense you may have to release it. Eek. Just remember to use a sterilised needle and bite down on a stick before you stick the needle in.

5) Top tips for prevention of black toenails
Trim your toenails straight across.
Make sure your trainers have only half an inch gap between the top of your toe and the end of the trainer.
Lace your trainers up securely.
Wrap your toes up in cotton wool (seriously!) or use padded toe protectors.

And finally...
Be proud

Getting a black toenail means you are a proper runner. You are in the club. You can also treat yourself to some new nail polish - Chanel Rouge Noir is a shade of choice (sorry guys) to hide the evidence.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Country versus city running; which do you prefer?

Parkland Walk, Capital Ring

Originally I fell in love with London through running. It's one of the best ways to get to know the city.

There is not much that can beat the feeling of running along the Thames Path with Big Ben in the foreground, or puffing and panting up Parliament Hill to be rewarded with the view of our stunning London skyline.

However when you have lived, breathed and pounded the streets of London for five years it can become a little monotonous.

There is the option of choosing the same old routes to run or facing down an hour commute if you want to find new routes to run (why does everywhere take an hour in London to get to by the way?).

Coupled with that are the added city perils of breathing in London traffic pollution and the ultimate runner's rage - SLOW.MOVING.WALKERS.WHO.TAKE.UP.THE.WHOLE.PAVEMENT. The worst culprits are those that are heading towards you. They can see you coming and still they don't part to let you through. I just don't get it.

Finally there is the sad disappearance of the Runner's Nod in London. Try as I might to get some warmth and a smile from fellow runnners in London I estimate a 15% return on investment in my attempts.

I grew up in the countryside. Not even in a village, but a hamlet, with fields and country lanes for company. In the depths of rural Kent running would be interrupted by a quick chat or hello to fellow runners or dog walkers.

Plus the world was your oyster for places to run and terrain to cross, and if you weren't feeling inspired, a quick 15 minute drive to a new destination would bring a whole new world of running. And the only perils of running in the country appeared to be dodging cow pats and puddles rather than people.

Today I ran one of my usual routes in North London but tried to see it through fresh eyes. Parkland Walk, Queens Woods, Highgate Woods, Alexandra Palace. It's pretty amazing to think all this greenery is only four miles out from the concrete jungle of central London.

Queens Wood is one of my favourite places in London. It feels more unkept and wild than Highgate Woods. It's an ancient forest that used to stretch all the way out to Hertfordshire and Essex but now sadly is only 50 acres. More often than not I hear, and see, woodpeckers. That, along with the rich earthy woodland smell, and dense, fresh air brightens up my run no end.

One of the reasons I like running is that I feel it puts me back in contact with the big Mother N. But in London that's pretty difficult.

On my new journey to the delights of the Ealing half marathon, I'm going to continue to find those places in London that can still be rewarding and away from the concrete and crowds, even if it might take me an hour to get there and some people avoiding to do so.

Thursday 5 July 2012

Spicy sausage spaghetti

I was supposed to run today but I couldn't be bothered.

I think I'm still feeling a little lost post marathon des sables. (This does not bode well for the beginnings of half marathon training.)

So to combat any more blue feelings I thought I'd at least eat some healthy runner's food, even if I didn't make it out the door (again).

This is one of my favourite can't-be-bothered meals, when I still want something filling and good for me.

It's high energy (probably better if I had actually gone for a run), the tomatoes have cancer fighting anti-oxidants in them (from lycopene apparently), vitamin K (basil) and vitamins A, B, C and E (chillies). Plus veggie sausages are lower in fat and higher in protein that normal sausages. Win!

Ta da!

400g dried spaghetti - the long stuff is best (more to wind around your fork)
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Handful of sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 Linda McCartney sausages
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped - I keep the seeds in for extra kick
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Bunch of fresh basil, roughly chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
Parmesan (if flash with cash) or cheddar (if not)

Heat the oven to gas 6/200 degrees. Cook the sausages for 18 minutes.

Then bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook 9-11 minutes.

Meanwhile heat some olive oil in pan. Add chopped garlic and chilli. After a couple of minutes when the garlic has started to brown (but not burn), add the chopped tomatoes, basil and sun dried tomatoes with a big pinch of salt and pepper. Heat on high for a couple of minutes with a splash of balsamic vinegar, then bring back to a simmer until the rest of the food is ready.

Once the sausages are done, chop them up and add to the sauce.

Mix the spaghetti through the sauce.

Sprinkle with extra basil and cheese.

Serve with a big green salad and an even bigger glass of red wine.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

What next? One smaller step..but still a giant leap

It's been over two months since I conquered (albeit slowly) the epic Marathon des Sables. So what have I been doing since then? And what now?

The first few weeks post MDS were spent recovering. Mainly for my poor ankle and shin which had ballooned to the size of a sumo wrestler's leg. But also because I'm a bit lazy and do have periods when I can't be bothered to run, or do anything in fact, other than sit on the sofa and drink tea and watch reruns of TOWIE.

Watching Arg and co run the London marathon I pondered whether I should go for a marathon again? Could I get a PB? Or perhaps I should go for a longer ultra? 100 miles perhaps?

No. I decided to run a half marathon.

As much as I love running I want to enjoy my life a little for now, and not be constantly training all the time. I will do a marathon again, or longer, but a half gives me the chance to get my speed back up, and to enjoy running fairly long distances but without the constant demands and toil that marathon and ultra training can have.

It also means I can spend more time watching TOWIE reruns.

I've signed up to Ealing half and it's all about the speed now! The aim of the game is to beat my PB. I may not do it but I'm going to give it my all. Pretty excited about it, and having a new goal to work towards.

I've never actually trained for a half marathon. I've always run them off the back of longer distances, so it will be an interesting journey to see how I get on with incorporating speedwork into sessions (I hate running fast).

Over the next few weeks there will some changes to Just a Jog blog. I hope the MDS section will still be useful (and funny) for future competitors but Just a Jog will have a new focus that will look at good old "normal" running - warts and all from a "normal" runner (that would be me) trying to get that little bit faster without being sick.

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