We ran our first marathon – SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon 2017!

Simply typing that header feels so surreal. But it’s true.

Last weekend, James and I ran 26.2 miles through and across the streets of Dublin, a cumulative effort of a year’s worth of training, sports massages, sweaty and rushed lunch runs, sports gels and Sunday lie-ins interrupted.

And it was worth every step of the way.

The training 

It began around this time last year, having completed the Eden Project Half Marathon. I’d attempted to train for two marathons before, but due to IT band pain, it didn’t work out.

This time, with James spurring me on, I was determined we’d do one together.

So we entered Dublin and I printed myself an intermediate training plan from the Virgin London Marathon website. Slowly, gradually, I began running 2km and 3km runs, increasing the distance and number of runs per week to 3 – 4. I loosely followed the plan, ramping up my Sunday long runs by a couple of km each week.

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One of our more fun training runs: The Bubble Rush 5km

At the beginning, I was so good with going to the gym twice a week and cross training by cycling or swimming – but after a while, the Sunday long run distances ramped up to half marathon distance and beyond and that fell away slightly.

We’ve been having a very busy few months, but in the midst of everything we clung to our training plans and religiously stuck to our Sunday runs, refusing to give up even when we had a bazillion things to do – but resting when we felt our bodies needed it.

As the marathon day grew closer, we started to get some sports massages to limber us up and slowed down the mileage.

On the day

We flew to Dublin a day beforehand and my Mam and niece came to stay in the Airbnb with us – with my sister, bro-in-law, niece and nephew coming to visit and cheer us on as well. James’ best friend and his girlfriend came along too – so there were plenty of friendly faces on the course and in the crowd!

We had a slight nightmare trying to get a taxi on the morning of the marathon (basically the one we’d booked decided it was too busy and didn’t show up) and then we remembered Uber existed, so we got there on time in the end.

We met up with James’ friend and then queued up in our wave pen, ready to face the miles that lay ahead. The atmosphere, 20,000 people waiting to run, was charged with emotion (for me anyway), and I could hardly believe I was standing there, with everyone – all ages, body types, nationalities – ready to run all that way.

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All smiles at the start line

The gun went, the sun shone down on us, and before I knew it we were all thundering over the start line. I paced myself well at the start, running with James and Mark before they both took off and I was left alone to run across the peaceful expanse of Phoenix Park with lots of other runners.

At the start, I felt happy – super happy. I couldn’t believe I’d finally made it to the beginning of a marathon – and some of the signs and jokes being cracked by other runners with heavy Dublin accents carried me on. At Castleknock, I spotted my sis and bro in law cheering for us, which spurred me on even more.

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However, I diligently stuck to the nice, slow pace I’d adopted, telling myself that I hadn’t gone past 18 miles in training and my body was bound to feel differently when I did.

The supporters – which seemed to line every one of the 26.2 miles – carried me on through as I took jelly babies, slapped kids’ outstretched hands and smiled at people telling me, “You’re looking strong!”

Mile 22, Heartbreak Hill, did indeed break my heart slightly however. I hit that famous ‘wall’ with a bang much like Run Fatboy Run, despite my good pacing and gel-intake. My mood began to deteriorate around mile 24, and the next 4 miles were the longest I’ve ever run in my life.

Coming back into the city centre, half walking, half running, I spotted the vast crowds lining the streets and the finish line in the distance. I fought back the urge to cry the entire rest of the way across that finish line and into James’ arms – I’d run 26.2 miles in under 5 hours, and I did it all, every single step of the way without needing a break or quitting or anything. James did a wonderful time of 4.13, his friend Mark in 4.09 and I came jogging after at 4.52. My first marathon – my PB. My time.

The aftermath 

Seeing our family waiting for us both afterwards was amazing – it was great to share this incredible experience with them. We really appreciated having them there and it was so lovely to know that my bro and sis in law were tracking us via the app in the UK!

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Mam, me, James and Jess!

We ate a lot post marathon – a wonderful Thai meal in Camile with my Mum, niece, James, Mark and Erin and a super full Irish breakfast next morning in Woodstock Phibsborough – and really enjoyed a final meal in JW Sweetman the afternoon before our flight home.

It’s been a week since the marathon and we both haven’t run – my left foot’s decided it’s really sore (it didn’t hurt at all during the race) but is feeling a little better so we’ll start swimming and doing some gentle exercise again soon.

The whole experience has made me so happy – I’d definitely run another marathon, but not for another year or two yet. Next up is a lovely short fun run, and then we are into 2018 and more triathlons and lots of other busy-ness!

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One of our many epic meals in Dublin – we recommend JW Sweetman on O’ Connell St! 
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Race Review: Great Newham London Run

It’s already been an entire week since the Great Newham London Run; how does time have a knack of doing that?!

This 10k was a race I decided to run as my boyfriend had taken part last year, and loved it. Also, being honest, finishing a run in the Olympic Stadium where many of my heroes have finished (albeit to a slightly larger audience…) was too tempting to resist.

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James enjoying a Cappuccino in Bath before the off!

We took off for London the Saturday before, taking the Megabus from Bath and the tube to Whitechapel. Here, we stayed in a very lovely Holiday Inn, with free coffee and a room upgrade which we were very happy to receive!

Sipping my lovely free latte in the cool reception, my boyfriend suggested we go for a walk – so we took in some sights around London, before heading back for a carb-loading feast in the hotel.

One lesson I have learned in that however, is that if you are going to eat bread and hummus the night before a race, just make sure it’s not the best part of a loaf and most of a tub of hummus… otherwise, you will get a very sore tummy like we both did!

The next morning, we got up bright and early to catch the bus to the Olympic Park. The sun was shining, which was a very good sign, so after some pancakes we hopped on the bus and made it in good time.

The one thing that stood out to me before getting to the race village, was the security. There were armed police walking around, as well as quite a number of security guards near the Westfield shopping centre nearby. Their presence was definitely quite comforting, and we really appreciated the extra efforts.

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Waiting for the start…

After speedily dropping our bags off, we scurried to our race pen, where we were being warmed up by a quite enthusiastic trainer.The main message that was hammered out over the megaphone before the race started was: water – drink it, and lots of it! Given that it was somewhere in the 20s that day, it was definitely a point worth hammering home.

The claxons went, and we were off – running past the start line, past the massive, squiggly slide-thing and out into the road. There were loads of runners in our wave, and at first people jostled into me before the course widened out a little.

There were plenty of speakers, blaring happy, sunny music out along the way – and while the crowds weren’t gigantic (owing to its location), the course was really pleasant and good fun to run. Some gentle inclines on the way around near the Velodrome made way to the declines (so fun to run down!) and there were bands and plenty of live music to keep you going on the way around.

The heat started to take its toll on my time however, and in parts I slowed. But when you enter the first track of the Olympic Stadium on your last km, the knowledge of where you are and the springy track bounces you back into action – or at least, it did for me.

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Inside the Stadium

You run around the outside track, then go inside, underneath the inner stadium’s seating. In true runner form, my first thought was ‘this is going to screw with my Strava’, and secondly ‘I bet I can outrun the people in front now I’m in the shade’… before registering where I was and who had been here before: ‘damn, this is cool!’

Running from this corridor, with music blaring all the way, out into the sunny stadium makes Newham undoubtedly the coolest 10k course I have ever finished. The big screen shows the names of people coming over the finish line, where a camera’s pointing in your sweaty face as you pant and try to keep moving.

Spotting James’ smiling face in the crowd, I made my way over and we had a kiss and a selfie in the stadium – before making our way outside to grab some medals and t-shirts, and have a bit of a stretch in the shade!

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Happy faces after finishing!

As with all Great Run organised events, it was smoothly organised, very upbeat and it had plenty of everything – water stations at 4k and 8k and plenty of water afterwards as well.

My official time was over 51 minutes and James, as always, did amazingly with a time of over 42.

I was buzzing at the end of it, and felt full of sunshine and good vibes as we headed back home on the Megabus. Getting into bed that night, we both slept super well, and are definitely considering signing up again next year!

2017: Update on an Exciting Year so far…

So this last six months has gone by in a bit of a whirlwind! I can hardly believe the last thing I wrote about was not wearing make up, back in November 2016, as it seems like a million months ago since.

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Bristol 10k 2017 

In the time between, so many things have happened. Here’s a short list…

  1. I’ve celebrated a year of being with my wonderful boyfriend James, unarguably top of the list
  2. I’ve completed two triathlons at Westbury and Portishead, where James won his first ever trophy!
  3. Acted as a photographer for James while he took on Storm the Castle at Ludlow
  4. I’ve run the third fastest 10k I’ve ever run at Bristol 10k (47 minutes… woop!)
  5. I have absolutely NO IT BAND PAIN and have not had for a long while now! This is a big deal…
  6. I have – obviously – started swimming and cycling again for the first time since I was a teenager
  7. Bought our first ever tri suits – oooh la la
  8. We ran our first ever Park Run in Westport – and it was faaaast!
  9. We have been on lots of Cornish coastal runs – and are adding bike rides to it as well
  10. James and I have become absolute masters of all the Lean in 15 green edition and Jamie Oliver’s Save with Jamie recipes
  11. We have been on a 40km tandem bike ride from Achill Island to Westport in Ireland, a new experience indeed!
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James and his amazing trophy! 

Seriously, it’s been great fun re-learning two new sports. Although I blanche at the idea of getting out of my warm and cosy bed at 6.30am to get into a cold and crowded pool, trying to beat my 400m average time of around 11 minutes (and James promising me coffee) seems to do the trick.

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Sri Tri Portishead with our friends

James and I have been living together since last year, so he knows all the tips and tricks for getting me out of bed, something that is a very, very useful quality in a partner when you need moving out the door while training for a triathlon!

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Good old stretch, Downs training run 

Cycling has been quite the experience. I bought myself a Wiggle Hybrid for my birthday – and it is perfect.

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James in action at Storm the Castle 

We can fit both our bikes in our little Citroen C1 (Terry), by taking the wheels off – and this is how we arrive at events, James on his fancy road bike and me on my sturdy Wiggle-mobile! I am getting faster, but my quads still scream at me in advance of impending hills and I don’t have the ‘power’ in my legs just yet that seasoned cyclists do. Spinning down a hill at high speed though, I am an expert at.

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Lying down after Westbury Tri! 

I definitely plan to return to blogging more regularly now, especially since we have so much going on. Our next event is the amazing Newham 10k in London, and I can’t wait to review the course in a follow-up blog. Finishing in the Olympic Park, how epic will that be?

Better go get an early night – tomorrow is swim morning. Gah. Until next time!

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Kisses in Cornwall

 

What I learned after spending two weeks with no make-up

For as long as I can remember during my adult life, I’ve worn make-up every day. To work, to the gym, going out.

My make-up bag was the first thing I’d go to after the shower each morning, reached for after work and again before dinner or an event.

I’ve never felt quite dressed without it. But recently, spending more time running, at the gym and at yoga, I’ve begun to skip putting it on more and more, which led me to thinking: What if I stopped wearing it altogether?

It came at quite a good time, actually, because a few weeks ago I went to the docs with some redness on my face, which turned out to be rosacea. I have to put antibiotics on this for the next few weeks, twice a day, so make-up would just be in the way anyway.

So I decided to kick the make-up habit and confine the bag to the back of a drawer for a few weeks. I’m still going – and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

It’s not as scary as it seems 

Going out without make-up for the first time, after wearing it for such a long time, is a little daunting. It’s like taking a mask off and wandering around a bit naked, sans eyebrows and pretty white-cheeked. It doesn’t feel natural at all, except the ironic part is, it is.

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People don’t treat me any differently or make funny comments as I somewhat irrationally thought they would.  I have had an “are you ill?” moment, but to be fair to the person asking, I was pretty pale-looking and sneezy at the time.

Your skin improves massively 

My skin now, compared to how it looked without make-up two weeks ago, is less dry, less spotty and my rosacea is so much more reduced as the antibiotics have started to work.

14859461_10155405265344196_454928234_o.jpgBut I’m pretty sure that a large part of the improvements are down to not wearing make-up for so long, having to put it on or take it off every evening and just generally not putting pore-clogging chemicals on my skin.

The people who matter don’t mind 

My family and my boyfriend have both been really amazing and supportive, telling me they much prefer my natural-looking face as opposed to the panda-eyed Rachael.

While this is personally hard to believe at times (I like my panda eyes rather a lot), it’s been really lovely to hear such kind compliments about myself – and they mean so much more when directed toward a clear-skinned, fresh-faced me rather than when I’m all done up and ready to go out.

You’ll save so much time… and money

Getting ready for anything is so much quicker now and I’m not as worried as to what my face looks like when I’m nipping out the door for some milk, or even going to work.

Popping the make-up away for a break means I’m also saving some cash on replacing the products I’m normally constantly using up, so my wallet as well as my skin is getting a well-deserved break.

Work and nights out are the most difficult

Both are places that I would traditionally want to look good and put a fresh face of make-up on for. Since I was 16, I’ve worn make-up to school, then Uni, during my part-time weekend job and in every job since.

But going without make-up for the first time ever to work was a bit nerve wracking for me. So far I’ve managed two weeks without make-up, but it hasn’t always been easy; when my rosacea is flaring up the last thing I want to do is to wander around in a professional setting looking splotchy-faced, but I’ve quickly gotten used to it.

This Reddit thread, in which lots of women say they don’t wear make-up to work, was a big help and made me realise that made up or not, it doesn’t affect the quality of your work one jot.

Nights out are difficult for different reasons; everyone else is done up to the nines and you look a little bit like you’ve just stepped out of secondary school. But my wonderful boyfriend James helped make me feel really comfortable on my first venture out without it to Oktoberfest in Limerick.

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It makes you realise how much you rely on it 

I’ve not given a thought to how much I wore make up in the decade that I’ve worn it. But giving it up completely for the first time in so long, I felt a bit freer; questioning my reasons for wanting to wear it every day, all the time.

I’m definitely going to start wearing it again at some point, but for now I’m really enjoying the new self confidence I’ve found from going without it. It certainly won’t be everyday in the future, either.

James has been incredible at making me feel super comfortable being make-up free, and most of the time I completely forget I don’t have any on when I’m with him which is really ace.

So if you’re on the fence about it, then definitely, definitely go for it. You’ll save money, time and your skin will improve millions and trust me, people will be really nice about it. It’s something women shouldn’t feel like it’s difficult to do, at any rate, so challenge yourself if you’re a bit of a make-up addict like me and bare your natural face!

Race reviews: Tough Mudder, Bristol Half and Eden

Crossing a finish line is always an emotional event. Whether you’re sobbing your heart out, have a grin plastered all over your face or simply are awash with relief that the miles you’ve just run are over, there’s no other experience in the world quite the same.

Over the last three months I’ve crossed four different finish lines, and before the year is out, two more – but before I go collect some more medals, here’s how the events I’ve run so far have gone:

Tough Mudder South West 

Standing in a field in the middle of Cirencester, black marker lining my face a la Rambo, I questioned my sanity at being so up for electrocution, ice baths, crawling in mud and more.

But jogging my way around the field with a team of 22 of friends and old work colleagues, it did start off to be a pretty fun day.

About a mile in, we spotted a guy, hands on his knees, head between his legs. “Keep it up!” one of our team shouted at the retching man, before regretting his choice of words.

Thankfully, mr retcher wasn’t an omen of things to come, and probably someone who had a few too many the night before.

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After getting past a few easy first obstacles, including a pyramid wall and crawling under some nets, we entered the domain of one of the absolute worst in the 11 mile course: ice bath.

Naively, I figured it wouldn’t be so bad, and slid myself off the edge of the skip with relish, but as I hit the icy, icy water below, my breath was taken away, leaving my cold and shivering on the other side as I tried to waddle through some slippery muck to warm up.

Tough Mudder 1, Rachael 0.

And indeed, Tough Mudder remained in the lead; I fell a number of times, got trod on, went chest deep in muck and helped over wooden pallet walls. I helped carry a log 10 times my weight and was given a piggy back several metres by one of my not-so-tall teammates.

But eventually, one final obstacle stood in the way of me and my pint of cider: electric eel. Basically, this is where you run through a bunch of strings hanging down with electric bits attached. However, freezing, wet and dripping with mud, I ran full pelt, zig-zagging my way through them, managing to come out unscathed!

Rachael 1… well, Tough Mudder about 10, but at least I had the very last laugh.

All in all 10/10 for event organisation and motivation before the race starts. I signed up for 2017’s event with my lovely, similarly mental boyfriend shortly after, which means I’ve either got amnesia or actually enjoyed it very much. I’ll go with the… erm… chips please?

Ashton Court 10k

A few weeks later, as we were donating some things to charity, James picked up a leaflet for a 10k run in a St Peter’s Hospice shop. For £10, it was great value for money and the charity is one that I really respect, so we decided to give it a go.

We woke up to a really beautiful day outside, and decided to jog across the bridge to Ashton Court, a pretty leisurely 5k from my house.

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It was a pretty small event in terms of numbers, but the usual race atmosphere was evident – and if anything it was a lovely change to run a smaller, more personal event.

The route takes you around Ashton Court, up some inevitable hills and down through the forest, which you go around twice. It is a very hilly route, which I certainly found quite challenging – but racing in at the end past the ice cream van, toward the small crowd cheering you on, surrounded by fields is certainly worth it.

As you can see, we were pretty shattered afterwards – especially James who was far quicker than me on the hills!

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Great Bristol Half Marathon

Of course, this was all great preparation for the Great Bristol Half, which I also blogged for this year.

Blog posts and training cumulated on a very rainy day indeed in late September, when I found myself queueing for some portaloos as rain dripped down my face.

Thankfully, the showers cleared up as James and I made our way to the start line, and after a quick kiss, he was off like a rocket, while I focused on plodding along to my own pace.

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The sunnier weather was punctuated by a few showers, but along the way these felt like a welcome refreshment – and it has to be said, the actual refreshments (the water and sports drinks) were flowing well at regular intervals.

Around mile five to eight, I felt my left knee twinge. Shutting my eyes, I willed the twinge away but this only seemed to make it come back harder.14449062_10155281235609196_7812961073466140487_n.jpg

I ran the remaining miles with a grimace on my face but through sheer teeth-gritting and willpower, I made it across that finish line in 1 hour 55 minutes. James did an ace time with 1 hour 42 smashing his previous PB, so we were both pretty happy in all.

Except my left knee, which to this day is a bit sad indeed, and has developed IT band problems.

(To read a bit more in depth review, James has done a pretty good summary of how the day went on his blog!)

Eden Half Marathon

We then decided to run the Eden Project Half in Cornwall, as we were going down that way for a weekend. This was, without doubt, the hilliest race I have ever run in my life.

After a 10 mile training run the weekend before, my knee was feeling very delicate – but with a lot of foam rolling, swimming (which, by the way is a miracle cure) and Nurofen, I made it to the start line in half-decent nick.

James and his brother-in-law Sam raced alongside me (by alongside, I mean way ahead, of course) and we all took off around the beautiful, scenic route on a sunny Sunday morning.

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It’s a route that’s half on, half off road, and you go from running on tarmac roads to narrow country trails, to through forests and past cottages where people’s children are offering you jelly babies.

The hills are relentless, though, and once they stop they don’t start.

“It’s all downhill from here” a marshall would randomly shout, but you soon learned not to believe them.

Of course, my right knee did not like the undulating hills, not one bit at all. It complained, whined, whinged and twinged, but it didn’t stop me and my legs still pumped me down the windy hill toward the end, with the domes from the Eden Project looming in the background. It really was a stunning end to a race.

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James and his family were at the end of the race and caught a picture of me crossing the line. At 2 hours and 3 minute it’s the slowest half I’ve ever run, but with IT band issues and the hills I was buzzing with happiness all day at what I had achieved.

The free pasty is a godsend and you get free entry to the Eden Project, if you can still manage to walk. James, his family and I all had a wander around the humid tropical section before we had to drive back to Bristol.

And now…

That takes me to the here and now! My knee suddenly started feeling miles better two days after the Eden Half – but I have taken a week off training due to a bit of a cold-flu thing I managed to pick up.

But our next event is the Cancer Research Tough 10K in Box Hill, Surrey, which looks like a killer (but in a good way!), followed by a beach run in Weston in December. Two more finish lines before 2016 is out – and I can’t wait.

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Run in the Sun

James Tri

Holiday time

For most a well earned holiday means firmly ruling out any type of physical activity other than a walk to the pool lying down on a sun lounger until lunch time and then repeating. Or heading to the beach, pitching up a sun shade rolling out a towel and sun bathing till the sun dips beneath the horizon.

I like to take a slightly different approach. Don’t get me wrong I like to relax as much as the next guy and recovery is an essential component to any training plan. But I also like to explore the area I’m staying in and keep the legs ticking over. So what better way to do that than head out for a run or if possible hire a bike and get out for a ride. I managed to get out a for a nice beach front 10k whilst on holiday with the amazing Rachael…

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Ashton Court 10k: 12th out of 80 ladies!

Last week, I ran the beautiful, hilly Ashton Court 10k for St Peters Hospice in Bristol. While 52 minutes wasn’t my fastest time, I was so chuffed to learn I came 12th out of 80 ladies in the event! Woohoo!

I’ll do a wider review of the race next week, but in the meantime I’m busy prepping for the Bristol Half on Sunday.

Bag. Of. Nerves. #wishmeluck!

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