Race for Life Marathon 2015

Race for Life Marathon 2015

Over the years I’ve taken part in a variety of Race for Life events at a variety of locations. From 5km at the University of Bath campus to 10km at Bowood, I’ve pounded around fields and parks racing money for Cancer Research UK. Last year I even took part in one of their Pretty Muddy races. As a seasoned marathoner I thought nothing about doing 5km, but didn’t take into account how much you use your arms in an obstacle course! My arms were so sore I couldn’t open a jam jar the next day.

So, when I heard about the first ever Race for Life marathon, I had to sign up. Not only was it the first ever Race for Life marathon, but also the UK’s first ever female-only marathon! This had to be done. And on a glorious October morning I, along with 3,500 other women, found myself in Lee Vale Park in north London, ready to start the race.

The Race for Life team were holding a full and half marathon on the same day, and if you have ever been to one of their events you will know that they commence with a mass warm-up session. So picture the scene: several hundred women, dressed in pink, all queuing for the toilets, spare toilet roll in hand, doing grapevines, squats and lunges, with giant grins on their faces. It was a beautiful sight.

Somehow I manage to find myself at the front of the six to eight-hour group – not ideal for a walker, and when we counted down to ‘GO’ I had to do a short run to allow the runners behind me to get going. Once I’d slowed down, I was stunned at how lovely the park was – wide open spaces, sparkling lakes, hundreds of ducks, geese and swans, and we were lucky enough to have a stunning day for it.

The course was two laps of the park and this was the first time I had taken part in a race that covered the same course more than once. Some walkers like doing laps as you can prepare yourself for what is coming up on the next lap. Personally I found it a bit demoralising, especially when I realised that the nasty hill I was doing at mile five would be so much worse when I went round the second time at mile 18!

For the first time in a marathon I found myself really struggling, and by the 13.1 mile split I was ready to pack it in. My husband met me at that point and after a lot of swearing on my part (sorry to the poor marshal stood nearby!) I decided to carry on. The course was hard: dusty, uneven and with little shade, But, I realised that more than anything I was finding the race lonely. It was a small field and many more women were doing the half than full marathon. Due to the small numbers, on the second lap we were very spread out, and although the marshalls were fantastic, there wasn’t enough going on to distract or amuse me. I missed the usual camaraderie and cheering crowds of the 5km and 10km races, and I ended up listening to music (which I never do) and found myself singing out loud to the soundtrack to Mamma Mia by mile 16 (with different voices for each of the characters). I managed to get round the rest of the course high on Abba and Jelly Babies (again sorry to the poor marshal who I serenaded with Super Trouper). When I got to mile 26 I found my husband waiting for me and we crossed the finish line together – I even managed a smile and a bit of a dance.

This was an extremely well organised event: a huge well done to the Race for Life team for pulling off their first ever marathon. And for the amazing finishers’ goodie bag (the best goodie bag EVER!). My only request for next year would be for more interaction and entertainment around the course – I loved the choir on the first time round, but by the second time they had gone. If you fancy doing a marathon for an amazing charity but aren’t sure about running in the overly macho environment of a regular marathon, then this is the event for you. However, I think it would be easier, and more fun, if you run it with a friend or group.

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Walking running events

When me and my husband head out for our long training sessions on a Sunday morning, I know that even though we are doing the same distance, that he will be home, showered and relaxing long before me. That’s the joy of living with a runner. It’s the same at events. When we did the LA Marathon he had finished and was sat in the sun on Santa Monica beach while I was still pounding down Rodeo Drive. But despite our time differences we still take part in many of the same events each year. Just because an event is advertised as a ‘run’ doesn’t mean that as a walker you can’t take part. Obviously, if you are a very fast walker, this opens up the number of events even more.

Tips for walking running events

  • Check out the race rules or contact the organisers to find out what the cut-off time for the event is.
  • Work out your pace – can you finish the race comfortably in the allotted time? Allow yourself 15-30 minutes extra in case of loo breaks, blister stops or congestion at water stations.
  • Some events will set a time when the roads will re-open, after that you can still take part but you will have to walk on the pavements and contend with traffic.
  • On race day plan to start near the back. This means that you won’t get pushed and bashed by runners who think they are Usain Bolt when the race starts.
  • Watch out for crazy French men who will scoop you up under your arms and carry you along shouting ‘Allez, allez, allez,’ (not an every day occurrence, but this did happen to me at the 2014 Medoc Marathon).
  • Enjoy all the support from the crowd. Walkers always seem to get extra support and the crowd are quite often amazed at how fast you are walking.
  • Try not to look to smug when you over-take all the Usain Bolt wannabes who ran out of puff at mile four and are now shuffling along, wheezing like they smoke forty a day.

Events suitable for walkers

  • Great South Run
    • 10 miles
    • Suitable for anyone who walks 18 minute miles or quicker.
  • LA Marathon
    • 6.5hr cut-off
    • LA is home to a lot of powerwalkers so you will feel quite at home in this event.
  • Paris Marathon
    • 6hr cut-off so only suitable for very quick walkers (12-13 minute mile pace).
    • There is a 5km race the day before which starts just off the Champs ร‰lysรฉes and finishes under the Eiffel Tower. This event is suitable for slower walkers and you still get to see the amazing sights. For under โ‚ฌ10 you get a sports t-shirt, croissants, coffee, water and other nibbles – cheaper than a hotel breakfast.
  • Rome Marathon
    • 7hr cut-off
  • Race for Life events
    • Suitable for walkers, joggers and runners.
    • Events include 5km, 10km, marathon and 5km Pretty Muddy obstacle course.

Feel free to share in the comments any other running races suitable for walkers. Or your experience of walking a running event. 

To Sloc or not to Sloc?

The people from the Isle of Man are a little bit crazy*. Now, I’m allowed to say that as most of my family are from that tiny little island that lies almost equidistant between Liverpool and Belfast. But why do I call them crazy you may ask? For a start they like bikes, fast bikes, that race around the island’s tiny roads and mountain bends at 200mph. But lots of people like fast bikes you may say. OK, well they talk to fairies (honestly whole bus loads will stop mid-conversation to say ‘Hello’ to the fairies under the Fairy Bridge). Well, that certainly nudges them up the crazy ladder. OK, how about this; they like to walk 85 miles up some fairly substantial hills/mini mountains, in a climate best described as temperamental, touching the gates of all the parish churches on the island, in under 24 hours? Will that do it for you? And this year, for the third year running I took part! Definitely the crazy gene kicking in.

So what is this madness? It is the Parish Walk, now in its 102nd year. This year the record was broken by Richard Gerrard who completed the course in 14hrs 40 mins and 8 seconds. And there were 174 finishers out of over a thousand starters. The distance alone is pretty crazy but when you take into account the hills and the windy roads and the weather that changes before you can say “pass the vaseline” this is really a race to test your walking mettle. You can choose to complete the 85 miles or stop at one of several points along the route.

As I mentioned this was my third year. In 2013 I got to Rushen (19 miles) and had to retire with an injury. In 2014 I got part way up the infamous Sloc before I had to stop due to heat exhaustion (20.5 miles). What is a Sloc you may ask? Well it is a very long, very steep and very windy hill. This year its peak was demoralisingly hidden under cloud cover so it felt neverending.

Due to a late start to this year’s training (thanks to a sprained ankle in February) I didn’t have any big plans. I just wanted to get to Rushen again, then I could drive to Peel for an ice-cream and congratulate those who were stopping at this important check-point and cheer on those who were going further. I started the race with my cousin (a finisher in 2013) and we walked together for the first 19 miles – over four hours of near continuous rain. With much nagging/persuasion from my cousin, I’d decided to take on the Sloc again. My pace dropped, there was lots of swearing and the rain had cleared and we were now in strong sunshine and I was not enjoying myself. My cousin headed off and I promised I would get to the top of the Sloc and finish (this is not an official stop point so my time would have gone back to Rushen, but it would have been one hell of an achievement). I finally got to the top, to the all important beer tent, knocked back a glass and while my husband was putting my kit away in the car I decided to carry on to the next checkpoint at Kirk Patrick (30.5 miles). My technique had vanished at the bottom of the Sloc, my knees were aching, my neck was burning, my feet were stuck in a rhythm of their own but somehow I got to the church at Kirk Patrick. “But it’s only another couple of miles to Peel, you can do it,” the kindly lady at the checkpoint told me, so with much muttering and mumbling I swallowed down the remaining jelly babies with a dribble of warm Lucozade and went for it.

To this day I don’t know how I did it (family support was a hugh factor, thank you all). But I sailed into Peel on a high, crossed the finish line, beeped my timer for the last time and grasped my beautiful shiny medal. Many words of congratulations were followed by, “So how far are you going next year?” Well, we’ll see. I’ve already achieved so much more than I expected. Will I ever finish it? Never say never. But for now I’m giving my feet a rest and putting my legs up…

…I wish! Training starts for the Medoc Marathon this week.

If you fancy taking part, registration for the 2016 Parish Walk opens on 1 December. The walk will take place over the 18/19 June 2016. See you there.

*As well as crazy, the Manx are also the most kind-hearted and welcoming bunch people you’ll ever meet. They also know how to have a bloody good time!