Now start a parkrun…

This week I was getting my fix of “With Me Now”, a weekly podcast about all things parkrun, and they mentioned the idea of blogging about a week in the life of a parkrun event director. I LOVE with me now as the two presenters are based in my two former home towns/home parkrun cities of Leeds and London so I love to hear about where they are spending their Saturday mornings and I have been thinking about the idea of writing something about starting a parkrun for a while now, so I thought I would try and combine these two things and see what comes out.

parkrun (with a small ‘p’), has been a huge part of my life for a few years now, especially over the last few months with the recent launch of Lillie parkrun, Ann Arbor. With around 600 event locations in the UK, most Brits have heard of parkrun, but across the pond in the USA and very few people have even heard of this event, never mind actually visited one. There are now 26 parkruns in the USA with a new one starting this weekend (number 14 this year!) so parkrun here is on the rise, but it’s nowhere near as big as in the UK, Australia, or South Africa, where parkrun is really a huge event.

Anyone can start a parkrun event and they can contact their local country manager through the parkrun website if it is something they are really seriously interested in. That is what I did when I moved to the US in February this year and I am so glad I did! So with all of these things in mind here is what a week in the life of a new event director looks like (although I should add but I am very lucky to have my husband picking up some of the slack right now)!

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A snapshot of the conditions at Lillie Park this week. Cold, yes, but also beautiful!

Sunday/Monday:

Check parkrun email account for any issues or complaints about results from last weeks event, find some snazzy pictures for the run report, tidy up all of the signs that I threw in the boot 🇬🇧/trunk 🇺🇸 of my car after event tear down on Saturday.  Update volunteer roster for next week with any already confirmed volunteers. Write and publish run report, check facebook page for questions comments or notifications.

Tuesday:

Tuesdays are big days at Lillie parkrun HQ as they are the days we send out our official volunteer emails. The toughest position for us to fill at the moment are marshals for the lake bridge and roundabout… it gets pretty cold in Michigan in Winter so people don’t love the idea of standing around while everyone gets to run but I can promise that marshaling is actually really fun, especially if you bring a friend/doggo to keep you company! More facebook page and email checking.

Wednesday/Thursday:

Refresh emails/facebook to see if anyone new has offered to volunteer. Repeat every 5 minutes until bed time. Wash and hang volunteer high viz jackets if needed.

Friday:

Create facebook/twitter/instagram post reminding everyone how awesome parkrun is and that even if it snows we will still run as long as the course is safe. Send out volunteer reminders. Repeat Wednesday/Thursdays tasks throughout day. Locate all scanning and timing equipment and get everything charged and ready for Saturday. If the barcodes from the previous week haven’t been sorted out yet that is another Friday task, then get everything in a bag ready for the next morning.

Saturday:

Get up super early to double check everything is charged (6:30 at the latest, earlier if you want to throw in a pre-event run). Head to the event to set the course up making sure someone is back at event HQ by 8:30 incase anyone turns up early and wonders what is going on. Tell volunteer in charge of first timers/pre-run briefing of any important information such as park conditions, milestones, etc. Make sure volunteers are happy and know what they are doing for the morning, then go to assigned volunteer role, preferably barcode scanning but realistically anything except timing works for me.

After the event, pack up the car and head for coffee. Try and speak to everyone there but realistically end up chatting to just a couple of people briefly before heading home to process the results/volunteer pages, and invent some engaging content for social media. Then I move on to any other admin tasks like adding events to state-wide running websites etc to encourage more people to join us.

Being an event director can be exhausting but it is super rewarding. At least half of the runners last week told me they had never ran in temperatures that cold before, so if having a parkrun in their local area is encouraging people to get out and enjoy the fresh air in winter then it’s totally worth every minute!

 

 

 

 

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Louisville 139.1

Incase you aren’t aware, three weeks ago I did my first Ironman. I thought I better write about my race before I decide to do something stupid like sign up for another (just kidding… there is literally no way).

I guess I should start by explaining the title of this post, since the triathletes among you will know that an Iron-distance tri should be 140.6, well after standing in the rain for 3hrs to get a good swim spot, we found out the river current was too strong for us to swim the 0.8 miles up stream before the turn around point, thus the swim was shortened to just 0.9 miles… but more on that later, since where I should really start is the expo and the all important undie run!

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We arrived in Louisville on Friday afternoon and I headed straight to packet pickup, followed by first-timers and athletes briefings. These really just served to freak me out about the bike and persuade me to go to the expo and pick up extra gels and an inner tube which I didn’t end up needing but many people I saw did. After all this it was time for the famous undie run, raising money for the humane society. I would recommend these events at any races that have them…  We ran a total of about 2 miles over the bridge from Kentucky to Indiana in the rain (I ran in my casual trainers as my running shoes were in the hotel), had about a million photos taken by passers by, and just had an absolute blast! Then it was time to go home and get changed before heading out for dinner, when we used a $25 voucher provided by Ironman that was valid at a few restaurants in downtown which I thought was a really nice touch.

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The next day we got up early-ish but skipped the practice swim in favour of a giant stack of pancakes and the beautiful Joe Creason parkrun then spent the rest of the day gathering food (two McDonalds cheeseburgers and a turkey sandwich), and emergency cold/wet weather items (trash bags and a cheap shirt for my special needs bag). Then it was time for an early night before race day.

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So then it was finally here. A lady in the hotel who was also doing the race was kind enough to give me a ride to the start line so I could get a good swim spot, and I then stood in the rain for 3hrs making some awesome line friends who actually don’t live too far from me so maybe I will see them again! Eventually we got the news about the current and the shortened swim and then we began our slow walk to file into the river to start the swim. Now, it may have just been 0.9 miles long but it was the scariest swim of my entire life!!! The current was pushing everyone so far off course that without the amazing marshals screaming at us we would have been completely lost!!!

After surviving the swim, I was stripped of my wetsuit and it was on to T1 where I went with a full outfit change because I ‘didn’t want to be wet on the bike’. Thanks to my trash bag gillet my outfit did stay mostly dry but I was absolutely freezing throughout. I really don’t know what to say about the ride other than it was long, cold, and hilly, and the volunteers were AMAZING. I dropped my pop tarts (literally could have cried when I had to cycle past them all mushed up on the road) but made up for it with cliff bars at the aid stations, and it took me 8hrs to cycle 112 miles. I wasn’t quick but I did it, and I was so happy to see my husband that I cried going into T2.

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I both love and hate this photo ’cause I look like an idiot but it definitely captures the shock and amazement at crossing that line

T2 involved another change of shorts to my amazing Athleta pair that have full length side pockets, a quick fill up of my camelback, and then I was off!  If I learned anything at all during this race it was that I LOVE running!!! I ran the first 16 miles of the race without stopping and caught up to two of my triclub comrades. I didn’t exactly hit a wall at 16, but I knew my 9:30 min/mile pace wasn’t sustainable so I switched to a run/walk that dramatically lowered my pace but I was almost at the point where I couldn’t take on any more gels so something had to give. Even so I managed a 4:37 marathon, and I suppose I didn’t HAVE to stop and pet a kitten that was running across the course at mile 23 so I guess I could have taken a minute or so off that. I was leapfrogging with a young man who’s name I can’t remember but who was an absolute godsend those last few miles! We chatted and joked our way to the last mile, and then we crossed the finish line within seconds of each other and made our way to our waiting spectators. In total the race took me 13hrs and 15mins, and I both loved and hated every minute. During this race I pushed my body to the absolute limit, and I was amazed that I could do it. However, for me, once is enough! I will definitely do more half distance races but I just don’t need the training or extreme fatigue that comes from the full distance (minus a mile), ever again.

Time to taper!

I recently read a quote the said “the marathon is in the training, the race is just the victory lap”… Not quite sure that is true of the ironman but in two short weeks I will find out! Ive swam, cycled, and rode over 2000 miles over the last six months… and now I am down to the final taper!

This week was my last week of heavy-ish training but I used the excuse of a visiting friend to push my long ride/swim back to tomorrow… but other than that I am getting ready to take it easy. I have finished my gym workouts, planned my nutrition, mentally packed my kit 1000 times and now all that is left to do it stress and panic about everything.

I would to say my training went super smoothly and I fit in all of my workouts but that is simply not true. I haven’t ridden over 80 miles, ran over 15 miles consecutively, or swam more than 3km… not because I couldn’t manage the distance but because I couldn’t cope with the boredom that comes with training sessions of 7hrs+! Oh and this weekend I slipped on a fallen apple in the middle of my 15 mile run so cut it down to 10 plus a 3 mile walk on the end and I am just going to hope I don’t get gangrene when I swim tomorrow.

There is no way of knowing if what I have done is enough to get me through other than to get out there and try it… so I guess I will let you know in two weeks! I tried to find a picture that would sum up for I felt about the training but there are no pictures of me lying on the floor trying not to cry because I just felt totally broken after so much training, I only have this one of me crossing the finish line after my first 70.3 but its one of my favourite race photos of all time so Im not ashamed to use it again!

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Superior Man Triathlon race review

This weekend my husband and I did something crazy and drove over 800 miles for me to take part in my first ever “real” tri. I say “real” because I had done a super sprint distance once before but the swim was in a pool and I rode on my big heavy touring bike so I am not sure I could count that as a real effort. According to my training plan I had to do a 70.3 race this month and Superiorman was cheaper than the alternatives of Michigan Titanium or TriBavaria so even though we didn’t own a car at the time we decided we would take a nice trip up to Duluth Minnesota so that I could do the race there. This race was probably the best possible choice for my first long distance (according to my training plan 70.3 is a “mid-distance” race but take it from me… its definitely long!).

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I was pretty happy to see my husband supporting me when I reached the 63 mile mark.

Before I write anything else, I am going to document the fact that I am not, nor have I ever been, a competitive cyclist or swimmer…  I am merely a runner who did a bit of commuting by bike and swam outside a few times and decided that was enough to make her a triathlete. So bearing that in mind I can proudly say that I came in in a respectable 6hrs and 30 minutes putting me in 111/153 athletes and 5/8 in my age category. Could I have come in a bit quicker? Probably. Will I do another 70.3 to test this theory? Definitely. And am I embarrassed to have been beaten by almost 75% of people on the course? Absolutely not!

By doing this race I gained so much more than just a position on a results table, I learned a tonne about what works and what doesn’t, and what I need to change on race day, and I will gladly share my experiences here.

 

  1. Don’t let a bad leg ruin your whole race. Here I mean leg as in segment, section, discipline, whatever you want to call it. Superior Man Tri has one of the coolest race starts of any race… they ship you out into Duluth Harbour on the Vista Fleet boats, then two by two you jump off into Lake Superior and your race begins. I was feeling pretty nervous on the boat ride out… we were all faffing around with our wetsuits, consuming last minute pre-race snacks (I went with a chai flavoured Gu gel and it was delicious), and queueing for the onboard toilets, then 20 mins later it was time to begin! Jumping off the boat was no problem at all… its probably only a metre drop from the boat to the water, and I was cheered on by one of the volunteers who had told me earlier that 20 (my race number) was his favourite number. Entering that water was a great feeling, it wasn’t too cold and I managed to get away quickly, also I was extremely lucky that my new Aquasphere goggles that I had only tested by shoving my face in the hotel sink didn’t leak or fog (10/10 for Aquasphere… would highly recommend). About half way into the swim disaster struck and I got severe cramp in my left leg… After shouting and swearing and splashing around for a bit I reassured the safety marshal in his kayak that I was good and got back on my way. During the whole swim course I didn’t look at my watch once, but when I got out and it was showing close to an hour, and a distance of almost 1.75 miles I was pretty annoyed at myself. Sighting has never been my strongest skill, in fact its common for my fellow tri-club members to spot me swimming perpendicular to our route over the lake but an extra half mile seems like a lot even for me… and I knew that the pain in my leg from the cramp was going to stay with me for the whole race (it turns out they measured the course wrong and it actually was that long but I didn’t know that at the time!).
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    I’m probably in there somewhere…

    I got on my bike in an awful mood and my heart was pounding from the moment I set off. I kept running it through in my head.. Why did I swim so far out of the course? Why did I freak out when people kept grabbing my legs in the swim and give myself cramp (not necessarily true but it probably did have something to do with it)? It took me a good 5 miles of riding to distract myself from my awful swim and the pain in my calf and start enjoying the ride for what it was. I sang songs in my head to keep me going and I actually ended up having the ride of my life, a whopping 2mph faster than I normally cycle (even though it still brought me in at 123rd place). Anyway the main point of this is that once I dropped the anger I was feeling about the swim my life because a whole lot more pleasant!

  2. Make sure you are wearing your gear correctly. When I got out of the swim I realised I hadn’t zipped my wetsuit up.. it was just velcroed at the top. Did that make a difference to my swim? Maybe, maybe not but I will never really know. Then I limped to my bike got on and got riding without stopping to check my trisuit was correctly positioned.. Trisuits have padding for a reason and although I am no expert I don’t think that it should be anywhere near your belly button. Several times during the ride I had to “adjust myself” but it was almost impossible to change the position of my suit while I was clipped into my bike travelling at up to 18mph. Had I just made sure before I got on that the legs hadn’t twisted in my rapid de-wetsuiting my ride would have been a whole lot more comfortable.
  3. Make sure you eat on the bike because its unlikely you can do it on the run. Okay so I didn’t exactly get to test this theory because the food that I had saved for the run portion (1/3 of a cheese and turkey sandwich and two pop tarts) didn’t survive the journey. The sandwich fell out of my pocket in the first mile and the pop tarts got sweaty and dissolved, not that I would have eaten them if they hadnt dissolved but maybe I shouldn’t have opened the packet before I set off! However the sandwiches and pop tarts I had on the ride worked an absolute treat… I only took one gel on the ride vs 4 on the run… I really hope on 140.6 race day I don’t rely on gels quite so much but anything you can get in to fuel your body is helpful!
  4. Don’t rely on race stations for water. Every time I run without my camelback I say to myself that I will never run without it again…  and then I forget this personal agreement and set off on a long run with nothing. I should have learned during the London Marathon that aid stations every mile or so is just not enough when its hot but I didn’t and set off for the run portion without any liquid of my own. The aid stations on the course we spaced almost a mile apart with a range of 0.8 to 1.25 miles but in the 70+ temperatures and coming from a 56 mile ride I really needed some extra hydration. For the full ironman I am going to look into getting a race vest as I take both of my camelbacks on my ride, one filled with water and one filled with gatorade. I really think its worth an extra pee stop or two to keep yourself fully hydrated in the heat.
  5. Other general non-race specific things. As well as my insight into racing and all of the things I need to prepare for in my full ironman, I also learned a lot about myself and what works for me. Firstly I can now safely say that I have found my fuelling sources and it’s sandwiches, pop tarts, and gatorade. Secondly I can definitely cycle faster than I thought I could, and I proved that with an 18mph ride with my club in the week, although I will need to get much faster if I am going to ever be competitive in long distance tris. Finally, 70.3 is my comfortable race distance. I am pretty
    onfident that I will finish the full ironman but I will undoubtably hate almost every minute of
    it and I will most likely never do another. 70.3 is just the right about of work and training to fit in with my lifestyle and I look forward to embracing it as my new favourite distance.

 

This was a bit of a long one but I am going to try a series of shorter posts this week to get me back on track with my training for the big one, Louisville ironman, in October this year. If you have made it this far I can promise that next weeks posts will be a breeze!

 

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The moment I officially became a half iron woman! 

 

Catching up

Its been nearly 3 and a half months since I last blogged… mostly because I have just been so busy! It turns out that training for an ironman takes a lot of time, and when you combine it with a reasonable amount of weight training there is really very little time for anything else! So where am I now? Well I am just under 4 weeks from my first half iron distance triathlon, and 11 weeks from the full. Seeing it written there in black and white makes it feel very real!

Surprisingly I actually feel like I will be ready for the 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile ride, and 13.1 mile run that is waiting for me in Duluth Minnesota when I take on Superior man on August 24th, but the full distance still feels way beyond me at the moment. All triathletes have their strengths and its no secret that I am really a runner in triathletes clothing, however recently something weird has been happening and I have started getting faster and stronger on the bike… unfortunately that seems to be at the expense of my run times, and I seem to be averaging around 10 minute miles at the moment. Now this could be because its hot and humid in Ann Arbor at the moment, but this weekend I had an epiphany that to speed up by times what I really need to do is TAKE A REST DAY! Ive been training 7 days a week for about 3 months now so its not surprising that I was heading towards a crash. So my resolution this week is to take it a bit easier, have at least one rest day, and take at least two yoga classes. Then I can test the fruits of my labour at parkrun on Saturday morning and see if my 5km time improves!

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Ill check in next week and write something about how my little rest experiment went but thats all I have for now… worth waiting 3 and a half months for I am sure you will agree!

London Marathon 2018

Incase you missed me telling anyone who would listen… I ran the London marathon on Sunday. It was my first world major, and happened to be the hottest London marathon on record, so to be able to say I finished is a massive achievement. In the end it took me 4hrs and 7mins or there abouts to cross the finish line, and although its a considerable chunk of time slower than I wanted to be I don’t regret taking my time at all, and I am sure you are all dying to know if my trainers held up… they did! And to be honest they were the LEAST of my worries on Sunday.

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All smiles at the finish line when I saw my friends from my running club!

 

Despite the time it took me and the horrendously hot conditions I actually had a lovely run, and its true what they say about the supporters making London what it is because without them I wouldn’t have been able to finish. From the lady handing out ice-pops at mile 5 and the spectator who went in his bag to hand me a bottle of iced-water when I had accidentally dropped my own to the people who were shouting and cheering the whole way, those guys made the run possible.

Since Sunday lots of people have said to me that they would love to do the marathon “one day”. To those people I say just do it! The training is long and difficult (and in some cases very, very cold!) but as long as you can commit to a couple of hours a week for a long slow run then absolutely anybody can run/walk/jog a marathon. I have always known this, but the conditions in London this weekend really proved that to me. Its not about how fast you can go its about keeping yourself moving and getting over that line. So to the 2hr finishers to the 8hr finishers CONGRATULATIONS, you all have my upmost respect!!!

So what did I learn from this weekends run?

1. Having your name on your shirt can be both a help and a hindrance. I chose not to have my name on my shirt (because I hadnt decided on my outfit until the last minute), and there were times when I was struggling and I thought it would have helped to have people shouting my name. In Barcelona last year my name was on my number and I really found it was a huge boost hearing “Vamoose Stephanie” at regular intervals, but there were also times this weekend when I wanted to tell people to just leave the poor participants alone and let them walk!!

2. Energy drinks make you thirstier, and don’t really help on a hot day. I usually partake in a gatorade or two when I am running, but this weekend the Lucozade stations really were a nightmare because they were there in place of water stations, and believe me when I say that we all needed water!

3. Respecting the conditions is key. I saw so many people passing out or falling down at the side of the road, and every time I did I slowed down just a little bit more. This weekend I walked more than I have ever had to walk in a race, and I am not ashamed of that in the slightest. There are always other marathons to try for a better time… you just have to get to the end of this one first!

4. Don’t underestimate the power of a tempo run. I had missed my tempo runs due to my triathlon and weight training, and its not something I would recommend for anyone hoping to get in a certain time. I am sure that I would still have been a lot slower that the 3:30 I really wanted this weekend even if I had put in the faster runs, but I think they would have helped me keep my speed up a little bit more!

5. Runners are the best! On Sunday I saw people handing out suncream, sharing water, linking arms with struggling participants, and just generally being there to help each other. The running community really comes together at events like this and everyone is there to support each other.

 

Maranoia

I am now just over a week away from London marathon, and of course the maranoia has kicked in. My particular form of pre-marathon freak out seems to be around my shoes. I do a lot of cross training in my running shoes, I know that I shouldn’t, and I do own “proper” bike shoes, but the clips on them aren’t compatible with a spin bike, and I changed my pedals when I arrived in Ann Arbor because I was scared of skidding on the ice or falling down a pothole and not being able to unclip quick enough to avoid disaster, (also my bike shoes don’t have a whole lot of room for extra pairs of socks which are an essential requirement for cycling in Michigan in the winter). And aside from spinning I sometimes run to the gym and don’t want to take my gym shoes or they won’t fit in my bag usually because I have packed too much food, so yeah if in doubt I default to my runners. All of this is really just to say that despite being just over a year old my running shoes have seen better days.

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Ruined shoes or extra-ventilation?

The rational part of me knows that they still have miles left in them, and they are super comfortable, so the best course of action is to wear them for the marathon then invest in a new pair for my next sporting endeavor. However, approaching a marathon turns us all into crazy people, and there is a part of me that is worried that the hole in the toe of my shoe is going tear and reduce my trainers to flip-flops mid-marathon, or that the wear-and-tear is going to cause me to develop some sort of horrific injury, and that what I really need to do is buy new shoes and wear them constantly to break them in over the next 9 days. Of course I am not going to do this, but I do remember feeling exactly the same way before Barcelona about the predecessors to these shoes (although they were DEFINITELY in a better state than mine are now).

The point of this whole post is that its totally normal to start worrying about silly things like this before a big race (and big doesn’t mean long it means whatever is big to you). We all have our own way of turning our nervous energy into an imaginary problem, but the only thing that is important is to just ignore it. Even as I was writing this post I had a thought in the back of my mind that maybe 9 days is enough to break in some new shoes but now that its here in black and white that I will be running the marathon in my battered Saucony’s I am committed to doing what I know is the most sensible thing, even though I could very easily tell myself otherwise.