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.

IMG_20170902_132302.jpg
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.

20171029_091858.jpg
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.

20171029_091904

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!

20171030_123330.jpg
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!

IMG_20171030_145047.jpg
One of our many epic meals in Dublin – we recommend JW Sweetman on O’ Connell St! 
Advertisements

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.

20170701_094154.jpg
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.

20170702_100838
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.

20170702_112042
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!

20170702_112217
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!

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.

14787642_10155379536349196_85086096_o.jpg

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.

14800327_10155379536174196_902138982_o.jpg

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!

14795772_10155379536179196_1701441139_o.jpg

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.

14807912_10155379535944196_565479642_o.jpg

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.

14715444_10155355439114196_8190983003930502584_o.jpg

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.

14787709_10155379535894196_1730095050_o.jpg

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.

14711121_10157659081265584_4692731580498135367_o.jpg

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!

blacksheep.png

Bristol 10k: The results!

Life has been so, so busy, in only the way it knows how when you’ve got a race to do.

I’ve changed jobs, got my first car and had another quite huge life change all in the space of a few months, and as a result blogging has been somewhat on the back foot.

So – it’s about time I write a Great Bristol 10k review!

My training did suffer slightly as a result of the above. Despite this, I showed up bright eyed and bushy-haired on Sunday morning, raring to go in the beautiful Bristol sunshine.

One thing I noticed straight away at this year’s event was the seamless organisation. I encountered no traffic on the way down, got to the race village on foot perfectly fine and didn’t even have to wait to drop my bag off – something that was entirely new!

13288040_10154887497274196_838330066_o.jpg

I loved the use of First Bus buses as bag drop-off points. Each bus corresponded to a race wave colour (I was white) and was very well attended.

I didn’t even need to queue up for safety pins! Making my way through the throngs of people, I stood myself in the white wave and prepared for the off.

13288501_10154887497579196_1566253029_o.jpg

Despite running the same route for four years in a row, I never ever get tired of it. In fact, I look forward to running the 10k every single year around, it feels like the start of summer.

I chose this year to run without music as I wanted to take in the atmosphere as much as possible, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. From drummers to reggae music to a brass band, there was so much music on the way around that I didn’t even miss my headphones.

The usual plethora of costumes passed me by. Spiderman sprinted past and a full-body morph suited man in a rather gruesome sinew and bone costume was doing a rather impressive job of weaving in and out of the crowd.

I felt strong all the way around, and chose not to push my body massively. I focused instead on enjoying the sun, feeling solid and not wearing myself out too much. Rolling in over the finish line at 53 minutes, I didn’t smash any PBs but instead had a sense of satisfaction that I’d enjoyed a 10k run with 12,000 other runners in my favourite city in the world, in the streaming sunshine.

Later on, I enjoyed a few pints of Thatchers later on at the White Lion in Clifton, and it was the nicest afternoon I’ve had in a very long time.

I cannot wait for the Great Bristol Half marathon – bring on the 13.1 miles in September!13274986_10154887497424196_1346228332_o.jpg

Cows

10k Tipperary Mud Run review

There are fewer better cures for a rum-induced hangover on a Sunday morning than running through Irish fields in the drizzle; crawling under muddy tires and bounding over hay bales.

And that’s exactly what I found myself doing a few weekends ago in Ballycommon, Nenagh.

The Tipperary Mud Run is a 3k, 5k and 10k event held annually in the area, around the end of June.

As I was home for a holiday I decided to give it a bash.

I have to admit, I’ve never done a mud run before, let alone a 10k-er, so I was quite nervous. But my nerves soon turned to quite a big grin at the warmup phase.

There were only about 7 – 8 of us running the 10k as most had done the 3 – 5k event. I liked the small number, as running through picturesque Irish fields, surrounded by the river, trees, the occasional ruin of a castle, hedges and general Irishness it felt as though you had the place to yourself.

And there were no queues at any of the obstacles. Win.

I hit the first one with a splash; quite literally as I plunged down a black rubber slide into a sluice of freezing water. This was followed by a short canter up a hill, to some tyres, which I had to crawl under on my belly.

11693072_10152937960915079_293641119_n

I came out looking like a mud creature from the deep, but was soon clean again, wading through the water to wash it off.

Other obstacles along the route, which we ran twice to get to 10k, were hay bales (one with an electric shock – ouch!), wading through streams, crawling through tunnels, under nets and through hedges.

I also loved how the organisers would sit at different intervals in their cars with cameras when they knew some fun was likely to be had; I went head first into a deep pool at one point and the laughs I heard were brilliant.

It finished off with a very bedraggled, very very very muddy looking me slipping down a slide at the end into a pool to be washed off.

But no amount of washing could scour the mud out of my ears until I took a very long shower a few hours later!

There was quite a healthy goodie bag at the end, with loads of fruit, a bar of soap (ha ha), a tshirt and some chocolate – my favourite bit.

For €30 it wasn’t bad, but it depends what you like. If you’re looking for a bit of a challenge in the beautiful Irish countryside, and a good laugh, then it’s ace. But if you’re looking for Tough Mudder style challenging, stick with some of the bigger ones!

I loved it and would definitely do it again however. The look on my sister’s face when she saw me (“I’ve never, ever seen you looking like that!!”) with mud falling off me was worth it.

Three years of Bristol 10k – done!

I’ve just crossed the finish line of the Bristol 10k for the third time, sticking with my around-50-minute finish!

I felt really strong on this run, and focused more on finishing well rather than speeding up.

It’s always a really enjoyable route to run, from the costumes (this year: a very sad banana, many spidermen and a few Subway sandwiches) to the ‘oggy oggy’ under the Portway tunnel.

What struck me most this year however is how much I don’t feel like an outsider anymore.

I don’t feel like a tourist, or a Bristol newbie, or a novice runner. I really feel like this city is my home now.

Ireland will always be ‘home home’ but I finally feel like Bristol is where I want to be and belong.

And I feel like a proper runner now too – three years in to my running adventure, and several pair of expensive trainers, lots of hills, and a funny runners’ bump on my foot later 🙂

Next up will be my second time running the Bristol half marathon, and finally, my biggest challenge, the Bristol to Bath marathon (which I will complete this year).

Feeling really excited for the challenges ahead and for life in general right now.. Happy runner lady.