Bovington Marathon race review: Tanks, mud and river crossings

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One day I’ll have the perfect build up to a marathon, then wake up on race day feeling fresh and fit. December 11th, 2016, the date of marathon number four of 2016, was not that day. Since the Yorkshire marathon in October, I had moved house, started a secondment at work, and got engaged. All exciting stuff, but all meant running was put on the back burner slightly. Then the day before Bovington I woke up with a sore throat. All in all, I wasn’t feeling particularly confident about tackling my first trail marathon on an army training base in December after two days of rain.
PRE-RACE ORGANISATION
Anyone familiar with White Star Running will know the pre-race build up is a little different to other races… While your race number and all essential info is delivered in the post beforehand, most other info is shared via email and Facebook, complete with videos of the route hinting at what’s to come (in this case, several river crossings). By the time race day rolled around I was feeling a little too well informed and was slightly petrified by what I’d let myself in for.
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TOILETS
Plenty of portaloos at the start, as well as toilets at Bovington Tank Museum. On the route there were a few portaloos along the course, and of course there were plenty of trees and bushes along the way… Marathon number 6 proved to be a first for me, in that for once I didn’t actually go to the toilet on the way. Hoping that I can replicate this in my next road marathon and shave a few minutes off my time!
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THE RACE
By the time it came to gather for the start, I was slightly terrified. But once we kicked off the legs went into autopilot run mode and the nerves soon eased off.
It wasn’t long before we reached the first of the promised river crossings. A fair few people dived right in but I was keen to keep my feet dry for as long as possible!
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We’d already seen some tanks at the start, but it was still quite the novelty to see the tanks scattered around the route. Naturally I couldn’t resist posing for a quick pic.
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A slightly misty morning led to rather beautiful views of the sun creeping through mist and trees, providing a nice distraction from the fact I still had quite a long way to go…
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A few miles in and my shoes were relatively clean and dry, but a long muddy stretch soon put paid to that. Shortly afterwards an unexpected cleaning opportunity when I accidentally submerged my feet in a boggy patch while trying to avoid a muddy puddle.
And there were some rather steep hills.
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I was plodding along quite nicely when I realised we must be running alongside Monkey World, as suddenly noticed a gang of primates were watching on slightly bemused as the runners filed past.
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Later I became a little confused as I realised I didn’t recognise most of the runners around me, and when my Garmin was totally different to someone else’s I worried I’d managed to somehow accidentally take a shortcut. Fortunately for me (less so for everyone else) I then realised a fair number of people had accidentally taken a diversion, so these strangers were people who had now rejoined the route!
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By the time I got to the Lovestation at mile 20 I was pleasantly surprised by how good my legs were feeling, although I still wasn’t quite feeling up to having any rum or cider. A bit of brownie and a glass of coke later and I was back on the route and ready for the final stretch.
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For the final few miles I ended up running alongside two tri runners, who after a couple of miles had convinced me I could do a triathlon. My swimming is terrible, but apparently this is something that can easily be overcome… It was really pleasant to talk to them and made the final stretch fly by, as well as making it easier to keep up a consistent pace. I always enjoy the friendly camaraderie you find during many races, but this is especially true of White Star races.
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As the finished line approached there were a few river crossings to overcome, but at this point my increasingly soggy feet weren’t too much of a concern. Soon came the welcome sight of the Tank Museum sign, before turning the corner to the finish line. Although I did nearly miss the finish as I was slightly on autopilot.
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I actually finished feeling quite good, and for the first time in a marathon managed not to completely crumble in the second half, which does give me confidence for future runs. I still spent the next three days struggling with stairs though.
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RACE BLING
With White Star Running it’s all about the bling, and they didn’t  disappoint. The hefty tank-themed medal was so heavy it actually gave me neck ache when I wore it home. The race goody bag (which I managed to forget to pick up, so had to do a quick dash back afterwards) was also pretty decent, containing a race buff, booze and a flapjack amongst some other stuff.
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OVERALL VERDICT
A really fun and interesting course, fantastic atmosphere and brilliant medal. It’s inevitable with a first-time event of this complexity that there will be a few teething problems, but I hope the event does return next year. Would recommend to anyone looking for something a bit different!
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I ran four marathons in 2016 for Stroke Association and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. You can sponsor me here: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/DaniellaGraham
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Yorkshire Marathon race review: High fives, minions and a sneaky hill

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If you’ve read my past few blogs you’ll know my preparation for Yorkshire Marathon was far from ideal… My issues with breathing and a tight chest during exercise meant my longer runs had been more like run/walks, I hadn’t felt comfortable beyond a half marathon and my times were much slower than in the build up to MK in May. I told everyone I would be happy just to finish Yorkshire, but I was also desperate to get under 5 hours. I genuinely had no idea if I would be able to do it though.

PRE-RACE ORGANISATION

Easy to register, packs sent out in advance, good race guide.

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TOILETS

Plenty of loos near the start, and loads along the route too. Hooray!

THE RACE

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I always find the first mile or so of a marathon whizzes by, and this is especially true when you start with a downhill! Before I knew it I was at mile 2, where I saw Paul, but I somehow missed him at 3.1. The early part of the race takes you through the city centre and past York Minster, so there’s plenty to see and plenty of crowd support too. At mile 4 things were a little quieter, but I had a great time overtaking a giant minion!
Shortly afterwards came one of the highlights of the race, seeing the famous hi-fiving vicar in the village of Stockton-on-the-Forest. I’m not religious myself, but there’s something rather lovely about the vicar standing outside of his church hi-fiving and blessing the runners as they go past.

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The miles were flying by rather nicely, although it did suddenly feel quite congested at about mile 12 when the 4:30 pacer caught up with me. I felt quite comfortable so ran with her until 13.5 and was feeling good when I crossed the line just under 2.13 – very close to MK halfway point and one of my fastest half times of the year, but I knew everything beyond this was a bit of an unknown quantity.

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13.1-19

When the 4:30 pacer started to drift away and I realised it was too much of an effort to keep up, and my 14th mile was min slower than my 13th.  The next was 30 secs slower than that… I clearly looked crap as somebody running back the other way shouted my name! I found the switchback slightly demoralising,  and it also looked like my sister wouldn’t make it to mile 17 in time to see me. Luckily my slowing pace did have one benefit, as shortly after passing the 17 mile marker I spotted my sister and her boyfriend. The switchback was now a lot less painful, as I knew I would see Paul at 18 and I’d see Cheryl again at 19. But my legs were slowing a chest felt a little tighter. When I saw Paul I stopped briefly to catch my breath and take my inhaler and get a little pep talk before carrying on. I saw Cheryl and George again, while I was also pleased to see I’d managed to put 2 miles between me and the minion.

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Mentally fading a bit, I spent a mile weighing up whether or not I needed to go to the toilet. I decided to just go, figuring I would at least have a brief pause to compose myself and focus on the final 6 miles. My running was still getting slower, and I had to walk for a bit to use inhaler and take an energy tablet. About 10 mins after I started running again I overtook a man who was walking. He told me that we kept overtaking each other and that I might as well walk. I smiled and said I’d rather not as I was an even slower walker than I was a runner, but his comment had made me grumpy. I vowed not to let him overtake me again, and kept up a steady pace until the finish! I was very aware that a hill was coming up just before the end, but after seeing my family again I was just hyped for the finish. When the hill did arrive it was just as steep as I feared… but at this point the adrenaline was pumping and I merrily legged it up the hill, earning myself some impressed cheers from spectators. On a high, I turned the corner at the top of the hill to realise that it was now all downhill until the finish! The crowd support on this final stretch is amazing, with lots of cheering and shouts of ‘you’re amazing’. After getting through the finish line I found myself at the Stroke Association support tent, getting a much-needed cup of tea!

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RACE BLING

Great chunky medal and a decent (if massive) t-shirt.

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OVERALL VERDICT

A really fantastic race that I’d recommend to anyone, whether a first-timer or a seasoned marathoner. Well organised, with great crowd support and a fantastic atmosphere. I’m currently contemplating whether to do it all again next year…

I am running four marathons in 2016 for Stroke Association and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. You can sponsor me here

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Cardiff half marathon review: Returning to an old favourite

Cardiff half marathon

With the Yorkshire Marathon a week away, I knew I shouldn’t go hard in this race. I probably shouldn’t run a half the week before a marathon at all, but I couldn’t resist doing the Cardiff half – my first ever half and still my favourite. It was highly unlikely I’d be troubling my best form anyway, given my far-from-ideal build up. Weeks of issues running – struggles to breathe properly, and a tight chest when exercising – culminated in a personal worst at Dulwich parkrun the weekend before Cardiff. My legs felt fine, but every second hurt. I finally decided to go to see the doctor, who gave me antibiotics for a chest infection and an inhaler for exercise-induced asthma. Cardiff would be my first run with the inhaler, so I didn’t really know how it would work out.

COST

£32 affiliated, £34 (I think?) unaffiliated

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PRE-RACE ORGANISATION

Packs sent out in advance, everything easy to find. Nothing to complain about really!

TOILETS

Plenty of toilets in the runners’ village and start area. Bit of a queue close to start time, but despite one runner claiming we’d all miss the start, I made it to my pen with plenty of time to spare.

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THE RACE

I knew it would be foolish (not to mention not particularly achievable) to push for a PB, so my aim was just to get round in one piece and enjoy it.
There was a great atmosphere at the start as always, and it wasn’t long before we were off. The first couple of miles are probably some of the least interesting on the course – but are still well supported  and soon fly by.

While the course is pretty flat, around mile 3/4 there is a bit of a hill which seemed to have gotten steeper since I last did the race in 2014!

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After surviving that, I was soon coming into the Bay for the most beautiful part of the route. At this point I was actually on for a PB, but I was feeling slightly tight chested and told myself I would get out my inhaler as soon as I reached the 6 mile mark.

From here on things got a lot more tricky, and any hopes of an accidental PB swiftly disappeared!
Finding things a bit more difficult, I instead focused on the nostalgia fest as I ran along the roads I used to walk down as a student and passed the road I used to live on.

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I had slowed down a fair bit by the time I approached Roath Park, my favourite bit of the course, but was determined not to walk or stop for my inhaler until after I’d seen my family. In reality this meant that while I didn’t stop or walk, I slowed to a just-about-running pace as I scanned both sides of the road for familiar faces.

While this is wasn’t great for my time, I did manage to spot my dad, my dad’s girlfriend, her son, my boyfriend’s cousin and auntie, and my boyfriend’s parents during my lap of the lake.
Before I knew it I was heading down Cathays Terrace and snaking round the corner to the finish line. Not a great time, but I’d enjoyed it and felt comfortable afterwards, which is what I had been aiming for.

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RACE BLING

Cardiff half always has a nice medal, featuring a scene from the course, and this year was no exception. Bonus: this year’s design had been voted for by participants. I’d actually voted for a different design, but there’s always next year! The medal was also accompanied by a Brooks tech t-shirt, but once again they’d run out of my size when I finished. I was in the top half of finishers, so I can’t have been the only one to miss out. While this normally leaves me livid, after getting in touch with the organisers I had a t-shirt in my size sitting on my desk within a week.

OVERALL VERDICT

This is one of my favourite races, and not just because it’s one big nostalgia trip for me. Well organised, with a good route and solid support, I genuinely think it’s one of the best half marathons out there.

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Richmond RunFest half marathon race review: The one where I nearly get my mojo back

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I was coming into this race with rather low expectations. After a very sluggish Clapham Common 10k, which turned into a long run so bad that I nearly had a bit of a cry halfway through, I was filled with dread. With Yorkshire Marathon just a few weeks away, I also knew that if I struggled at Richmond the full would be a complete nightmare. So it was with more than a little trepidation that I laced up my trainers and headed to Kew Gardens…

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PRE-RACE ORGANISATION

Online entry was nice and straightforward, while race packs arrived in the post in plenty of time. Start area was quite spread out at Kew Gardens, but there were plenty of signs and good number of marshals scattered around to offer assistance if needed!

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TOILETS

I was slightly stressed when arrived to see a ridiculously long queue for the toilet, then went to the next set of toilets and saw more of the same. Thankfully these were just the normal Kew Gardens toilets, with plenty of Portaloos near the race start. The queue for these was still fairly hefty – I waited about 15 minutes in a queue that was moving relatively quickly, and ended up missing my designated start time. Saw a fair few toilets on the route though.

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THE RACE

I missed my designated start time, but this didn’t seem to be much of an issue and I was soon on my way. The course is really lovely, snaking around Kew Gardens before heading along the river, taking in the likes of Teddington Lock and Ham House. It’s also nice and flat too!

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The first half of the race for me was great. I felt comfortable and was maintaining a strong and steady pace (for me). At around 5 miles Paul caught up with me, which was a massive confidence boost as he’d started before me! At the halfway point I was on for a PB. But then I slowed a little, Paul went ahead and my struggles of the past few weeks came back to haunt me. Once again I was struggling to breathe properly, feeling like I had someone crushing my chest and sounding like an asthmatic dog. Not ideal. In the end I resolved to just keep running and be grateful I still had a few more weeks until Yorkshire.

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Due to the nature of the course support is sporadic, but the cheer points were brilliant and the marshals were encouraging too. I was very glad to have worn my vest with my name on – I definitely needed the boost of having my name shouted by the end!

The same can’t be said of the soul-destroying final mile, which is basically a lap of the field where you finish, and involves running right next to the finish line before looping off again. Until that point the race was challenging Cardiff to be my favourite half, but such a depressing end to an otherwise lovely course was too much for me! I imagine it was worse for the poor marathon runners. I hope it might be possible to change this next year, but I do appreciate that the challenges of plotting three different distances in Richmond.

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While a PB was off the cards by mile 8, I did still manage to finish 20 minutes ahead of my disastrous Wimbledon Common half a couple of months ago, which was a bit of a boost. While I don’t think a marathon PB is a realistic goal for Yorkshire, fingers crossed that a trip to the doctor gets me in shape for a comfortable run.

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RACE BLING

Fab medal, which also has a bottle opener. Always a plus. Great Nike tech t-shirt – and they had ladies’ sizes! So rare for races to do this, so it’s always great when they do. As an extra bonus, finishers also got a can of London Pride.

OVERALL VERDICT

Nice atmosphere, great course, excellent t-shirt and medal, just a shame about the final mile! Will definitely try and do this again next year. I *may* even be tempted by the marathon…

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RunThrough.co.uk Clapham Common 10k: A 10k and a little bit extra…

imag0150After having a lot of fun incorporating the Brixton 10k into a 15 mile run a fortnight ago, I thought I’d repeat the same tactic for my longest run ahead of the Yorkshire Marathon. Obviously I wouldn’t be racing round the 10k, but I figured it would help push me for 6 of my 20 miles! It was also my last chance to do the Clapham 10k while I was still living a runnable distance away.

COST

£16 affiliated, £18 unaffiliated (in advance)

PRE-RACE ORGANISATION

The usual efficiency from RunThrough.co.uk! I couldn’t miss the race number collection area, and after arriving had my race pack within about 30 seconds. With rain predicted, they also had tarpaulin to cover the bags.

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TOILETS

As with Brixton 10k, we had park toilets nearby.

THE RACE

After running from Brixton to Clapham, I picked up my number then did a loop of the Common to get a few miles under my belt before the race. 3.5 miles into my day and the race kicked off.

The first kilometre was a little congested, but things soon thinned out and we were on our way.
Another 3 lap course from RunThrough, the Clapham 10k loops back on itself, with the band stand the central point. The band stand is probably the best bit, as Clapham Common itself isn’t very inspiring! This does mean you see the same marshals a few times, and I’m always impressed by their ability to maintain enthusiasm levels.

The second lap of the course is probably being the worst, as (if you’re me) you’re getting lapped with a fair bit of time to go. Although on the third lap you are painfully aware that if you’re being overtaken it’s because you’re slowing down!

For me this race was a tough one. Not because of the course itself – it’s very flat – but I just wasn’t running well. I’ve been struggling to get rid of a cold for over a month now, and was feeling the effects all the way. Struggling to breathe through my nose, my chest also felt tight, so the whole thing felt a lot harder than it should have done really. While during the Brixton 10k I was enjoying taking it easy and had plenty left in the tank for the rest of my run, here I was just very conscious that I had another 10 miles to go so couldn’t really enjoy it. After crossing the line I grabbed my flapjack and headed off to finish my run, which was a rather slow struggle in the end.

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RACE BLING

Nice medal featuring Clapham bandstand. This is was particularly nice given that the bandstand was such a central focus of the race itself.

OVERALL VERDICT

I think this was probably the first time I’d found a RunThrough lapped route a bit dull, but that’s partly because I don’t find running around Clapham Common particularly inspiring at the best of times. It didn’t also help that I was feeling rather miserable, physically struggling and painfully aware that I would only be halfway through my run when I crossed the finish his finish line. But I can’t blame RunThrough for that. Another well organised race with great marshals, with the added bonus of being flat!

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RunThrough Brixton 10k: 10k with an extra 14k on the end…

imag0112As I stepped up marathon training, I decided to make the Brixton 10k part of a 15 mile long run. Had it been any other race I potentially would have just left it, but this would be my last chance to run this race while I lived in Brixton – and probably the last time I’d live this close to any start line!

As this is only a week and a bit after the event, I’ll go back to my normal race review format…

COST: £14 affiliated in advance, £16 unaffiliated in advance, £20 on the day

TOILETS: No dedicated loos, but a few toilets close by within Brockwell Park.

PRE-RACE ORGANISATION: I had been ill the week before so had taken a while to decide whether I’d actually do the race, but mid-week saw there was no imminent danger of selling out. Unfortunately when I went to enter online 24 hours before entries were already closed. I thought a £6 price hike was little harsh but it was still quick and easy to sort out numbers on the day. There was even one RunThrough member speaking Spanish for one race tourist! Everything was all quite painless and once I had my number I was able to have a quick jog round the park until start time.

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THE RACE: Described as ‘undulating’, they’re not kidding. Each lap of this 3-lap race features two fairly hefty inclines, which makes it a tougher test than your usual 10k.

Given the hills and the fact this race featured just six of the 15 miles I’d be running that morning, I wasn’t fussed about time. My plan was just to keep a steady, comfortable pace so I had enough energy to carry on afterwards. Perhaps it was my relaxed approach, perhaps it was the pleasant weather (bright but not too hot) or perhaps it was the always-excellent RunThrough marshals, but I had a thoroughly enjoyable run.

I’ve always found the RunThrough marshals to be pretty cheery, and this time was no exception. One marshal was draped across two seats pointing a foam hand to ensure runners didn’t go the wrong way. Someone else, possibly the race director, was running up and down the route cheering everyone on. Sometimes you see marshals looking increasingly bored on lapped races, but everyone was just as enthusiastic on the third lap as they were on the first.

On the final lap I was feeling good, managing to keep a decent pace up the final hill and overtake a few people in the process. On the final corner I started to overtake a couple running together – the guy shouted something to his running partner along the lines of “don’t let her get past” and we all sprinted to the line. I think it ended up as a photo finish – a fun way to end the race! I had a flapjack, topped up on water, then ran off to Dulwich to complete my long run.

RACE BLING: Great Brixton Academy medal accompanied by a tasty flapjack.

OVERALL VERDICT: I was a little miffed at the on-the-day price hike, but that soon disappeared once I arrived at Brockwell Park. You really can’t go wrong with a RunThrough event; solid organisation, great marshals and decent race bling. Brixton 10k offers a bit of a tough course but at least you really earn that flapjack!

RunThrough Wimbledon Common half marathon: wombling along

wimbledonOnce again Wimbledon Common marked the beginning of ‘proper’ marathon training. Last year it was for Berlin, this time for Yorkshire in October. Last summer the race had been rainy and the course ended up being a mudbath. This year had near-perfect conditions; dry, cool, overcast.

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Unfortunately I’d had next to no sleep night before, so when I arrived at start (an hour early) I was slightly zombified. This translated into a particularly slow run, with a constant feeling that I was running through treacle.

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About a mile in (and around the 7 mile mark on lap 2) there’s a long hill, which actually wasn’t as bad as I remembered. On reflection, this was probably a) because it wasn’t a mudbath this time around and b) I was running so slowly it was probably easier! For the first mile I was going at my usual pace, but then after the second mile I found myself feeling sluggish, with my pace already dipping. Not ideal. Accepting it was just one of those days, I trundled round and just tried to enjoy it. The womble high-fiving at the end of the first lap is always a welcome sight!

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While I’m not a huge fan of lapped routes, I actually quite like the two-lap course of Wimbledon Common. This is partly due to the fact it’s a fairly nice route, but mainly due to the enthusiastic marshals, who are always on hand to cheer you on. I refused to walk at any point, but it did feel like I was on half speed, so I was grateful for the motivation!

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I knew fairly early on that it wouldn’t be a good race for me, so I just took it easy and treated it as training run. In the end I didn’t actually see what time I finished in and didn’t bother checking the results – I know it wasn’t great though! On days like that I just try to remember that I have still managed to get up and run 13.1 miles before some people have even dragged themselves out of bed, and be grateful for the fact I’m able to get out and run at all.

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