Last year, I visited Spitfire Scramble in my unofficial role as chief-bringer-of-banana-bread to the Team Naturally Run and Run Dem Crew teams. This year, after what I can only assume was a bump on the head or a large glass of red (let’s be honest here, I’m going with the latter), I agreed to be on one of the three teams that RDC again took along to the race. 

In an astonishing feat of organisation, I managed to retrieve my sleeping bag from my parents’ house and buy myself a new tent several weeks ahead of the race. All that was left was to fling ALL my running gear into my housemate’s borrowed rucksack (apparently you can’t turn up to a campsite with a suitcase, *cough* Alex *cough*) and trek on out to Hornchurch via an hour long stint on the District line. 

The weather turned out to be wonderful – we had sun and clear skies for the entire weekend, which undoubtedly made the whole thing much more enjoyable. In fact, lolling around in a park in Essex was a lovely way to spend a couple of days. For me, it was a shame the running had to happen. 

Spitfire Scramble is a 24 hour relay race in which teams of one to eight people aim to complete as many 6-ish mile loops as possible. We were three teams of eight, which due to illness, injury, parenthood and fatigue slowly dwindled to three teams of five as time wore on. 

The course, which was largely gravelly, then a bit fieldy and ended by being a teeny bit foresty, was entirely within Hornchurch Country Park. I don’t really love running off road so this was a bit problematic. I did my first lap around four hours into the race, at 4pm when it was still pretty warm, but at least it was daylight. I sort-of enjoyed it, taking just over an hour to complete the lap.    

 

By the time my second lap rolled around, it was past 11pm, dark (really dark) and there’d been reports of kids hanging around in the park and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Our teams agreed to run all their night laps together (so in mini teams of three), but I still wasn’t keen so decided to give up on my laps until it was light. 

After this, I managed a broken 7 hours sleep (probably one of the only people in the park that night able to say that), only waking up to find myself more and more freezing and having to wrap myself in more and more layers. By the time 5am came, I was so cold I wasn’t getting out of that sleeping bag for love nor money. Running didn’t have a chance. 

I finally ran (read: mostly walked) my second and final lap as the penultimate one for our team, around 10am on the Sunday. One of our teams had managed to keep going all through the night, and as a result were our highest placing team in the overall competition by quite some way. The rest of us were feeling a little less competitive and favoured sleep and mid-table obscurity.

 
This was a great event – it’s still small enough to feel inclusive and friendly, but had built on some of the feedback from last year with better catering and more and closer toilets. I had a great bunch of teammates, and for me hanging out with them, getting to know them better, chatting running and drinking beer was the best part. 

It was interesting to also have some teams that were going for the win taking part too. Every so often, you’d here them talking tactics in the information tent, although I’ll ignore that they got a bit sexist by the end of the race, for fear of a full blown rant. 

All in all, SS was a really sociable way to enjoy running, it was something different and it (and my new awesome little tent) made me remember I actually quite like camping. Where shall I take it next…?  

I run because I like it. Most of the time, liking it comes from the places I’m running in and the people I’m running with.

This year’s Brighton half was a perfect example of just that. It was nothing like a PB (see last year’s equally as enjoyable race for that). It wasn’t my slowest either, but it was 13.1 miles of pure enjoyment.

Running by the sea, in the sun, in the company of the brilliant Michelle (#mischiefcrew), cheered on by my crew in a great race – what better way is there to spend a weekend?

Our recently acquired selfie stick (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it) came along with us for the weekend, and captured some fantastic moments.

We went down from London on the Saturday afternoon and spent a few hours refuelling wandering around the shops and along the beach after a way too heavy Friday night. Pro tip: do not drink 47 bottles of beer and stay up until 5am two nights before a half marathon. That is BAD prep.

We stayed in the excellent YHA which was mere minutes from the start line which meant a fairly relaxed morning breakfasting together and a short walk over to join our pens.

Maya’s photo

My only gripe with this race was the loo situation (it wasn’t going to be anything else was it?!) There was a SINGLE portaloo at the first water station, a SINGLE portaloo at the Red Cross tent at 8 miles (who also win the prize for rudest volunteers) and a couple at the 10 mile station. I’m not sure how many times we have to go through this but IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO HAVE TOO MANY TOILETS. But I can assure you; one is never going to be enough. Race organisers, for the sake of my bladder (and my chances of ever getting a new half marathon PB), sort it out. *breaths*

Okay, back to the fun stuff. A personal highlight was meeting George at mile 3. George was running on his 80th birthday. He did a sprint up the hill spurred on by the crowds and was very sweet in letting us have our photo taken with him. He made me well up and realise that if someone that is EIGHTY is running then I can shut the hell up moaning about my two day hangover.

As anticipated, the stretch out to Hove Lagoon and back was brutal, but after our second toilet break, me and Michelle got into full on ‘let’s get this shit done’ mode and just got that shit done. Also, it was getting closer to our midday checkout time and I was desperate for a beer. Whatever works.

At this point I must mention my incredible friend Stephanie, who ran a stellar time of 1:35. I could (and might) write a whole post solely on how this time blows my mind. It. Is. So. Fast. If anyone, anywhere, EVER needs some inspiration to show how anything is possible if you just put the work in, just look at Steph.

And that is why this race is ace – it allows for both PBs and partypace. And all with the backdrop of a beach. Perfect.

Sarah’s photo

 

I was one of the (very few) lucky ones who scored a ballot place for the Royal Parks half marathon. I say very few, as when I picked up my race pack, about 85% of the people on the list had ‘charity runner’ next to their name. And I do feel very lucky to have run this race.

When I found out I had a place in Royal Parks, I toyed with the idea of going for a sub-2, which would mean taking off almost 15 minutes from my current PB. As usual for me, I did not have the competitiveness nor the bother to train to run quicker than my default plod, and so I went into this race off the back of quite a few really bad, quite panic-laden runs.

But this run turned out to be everything I needed it to be. It really was brilliant.

Here’s the lissyruns formula for making a near-perfect half marathon experience…

Pick your kinda race

This was exactly the type of race I know I love – big city, big field, lots of plodders (thanks to the high number of charity entrants) and this time it had the added bonus of being IN MY HOME CITY.

Oh, and this is a super organised race too. Flawless bag drop, loos on the course, loads of water stations – I literally couldn’t fault it.

Run with friends

I ran the first 9 miles with my ace friend Cara, until her ankle injury flared up and she very kindly let me go on. I loved running with her and we will definitely be running a whole half marathon together in the future.

Soak up the cheers

There was a lot of support at this race, and I found that it really helped. I loved that I saw Emma from Hilly Fields parkrun on the Embankment, I loved the wall of noise from all the charity teams when we first entered Hyde Park at about mile 6 and then I was SO happy to see Leah and Billie deep into one of the quieter sections of the park route later on. Leah takes a cracking race photo…

Photo by Leah

And then soak them up some more…

There was also a very strong presence from my Run Dem Crew family at the race which was nothing short of incredible. Knowing they were coming up at mile 10 got me through a couple of tough miles and going through the wall of noise was one of my favourite ever running experiences. I stopped for a hug and a bit of jumping around with Charlie, had some high fives and was on my way. The final 5k was brutal, but was made so much easier by that boost of love.

Photo by Charlie

Photo by Charlie

Photo by Chevy

Photo by Binta

Pace yourself

Although this wasn’t a PB race for me, I was really happy with my time of 2:22 given how negatively I had felt about running beforehand. But the part I am most proud of is how consistently I ran. Each 5k split was between 33 and 34 minutes and in the six other half marathons I’ve run I’ve never had the stamina not to crash after 10k. It was slow but it was consistent.

Celebrate in style

Charlie met me at the finish line (well she tried but I managed to wander off and get myself lost in the race village) with a bottle of mini Champagne (best cheer person ever!) That, along with her fantastic photography skills, managed to grab me an amazing prize courtesy of Fitness First as I entered and WON their #FinishLineFace competition! Putting embarrassing photos of myself on the internet finally paid off!

Then I went for a massive burger and ALL THE BEER. Beer is always, always my favourite way to celebrate a long run.

Things I didn’t like about Bacchus half marathon:

The hills

As the train pulled into Dorking, I laughed about the massive hill we could see behind the vineyard, saying something along the lines of “ahahaha, wouldn’t it be funny if the course went up that.” It did. It was steep. I didn’t like it. (But the view was alright, s’pose.)

The trail

See! So uneven I couldn’t even take an unshakey photo

Also on the train, I came to the sudden and odd realisation that this was quite a rural race (odd because running this race was my idea). It hadn’t really crossed my mind until this point (I was too focussed on the wine). I do not like trail running, and consequently spent a lot of the race listing the reasons I didn’t like trail running. At least now I’ve learnt to say no to any non-road race.

Things I did like about Bacchus half marathon:

I was running with my housemates Sam and Gosia for the first time
Me and Gosia ran the whole thing together

There were seven ‘aid stations’, and I sampled the wine at every single one
Every ‘aid station’ was also like a mini picnic. This one was my favourite – it had a steel band, the BEST marshalls and an incredible spread of snacks

Unlike at the British 10k, I made a very good fancy dress choice (NO FLEECE!!)

Hula girl costume FTW! A crop top and shorts is always an infinitely better idea that a tiger onesie. Lesson sweatily learnt.

The runner’s discount in the Denbies wine shop which I had a little peruse around after the race
The post run hog roast and full glass of wine

(I didn’t take a photo… neither were around long enough!)

Lots of lovely people were there

And I ran a lot of the second half of the race with Leah and Aleisha too.

Something tells me I’m not supposed to post this here…?!

…including the incredible Stephanie the Magpie

Despite all of the other glorious things, my absolute favourite part of the day was crossing the finish line and finding out Steph had ABSOLUTELY SMASHED THE HELL OUT OF THE MARATHON. She completed two laps of a frankly brutal course for actual running, taking only 22 minutes longer that I took to do one lap. Seriously, who does that?! Oh yeh, Steph does! *proud face*

Proof that I really was taking my time at those pit stops…

There are few races I’ve enjoyed less than the British 10k 2013. I was lucky to have my place paid for by my employer at the time, and I ran for my industry charity, GroceryAid. However, the race itself was pretty terrible – it started off badly by taking over 45 minutes to get across the start line on one of the hottest days of last summer, and didn’t get much better from there.

I then went onto run the Color Run in the same afternoon, which is probably the only race I’ve ever enjoyed less than the British 10k. Now that really was AWFUL. So hot, so much waiting around, so boring, so crappy to run around Wembley. I haven’t been back to North West London since. Just eurgh.

So after all of that, you’d probably wonder why on earth I would even bother showing up to this year’s British 10k? Well firstly, I was lucky (again) to win a place with Tiger Balm to run as part of their #BorntoRun team. I’ll get the race fee thing out of the way straight away. No 10k should cost £50. It’s just ludicrous. I would not have run this race either last year or this if I had to pay for it.

And despite getting the race place for free, I still found myself no more impressed with the race this year than I did in 2013.

Tiger Balm were excellent. I got the place only a few days prior to race day, their communication was spot on and the pre race meet up – despite being early – was friendly, organised and really good fun. They asked us to wear onesies for the photocall, with the option of wearing them for the race. We were given a tshirt too, but I thought it would be fun to go with the onesie.

IMG_9894

This obviously made me really, really hot. But this wasn’t what I disliked about this race – I still wasn’t as hot as I was running it last year. I disliked the long walk to the start from the bag drop, the long wait before we got started (although admittedly not anywhere near as long as last year) and the fact that there wasn’t start pens by finishing time – which meant a painful mixture of weaving around walkers and being elbowed by faster runners. That was the worst. I’ve never felt so jostled, nudged and just generally harassed as I have in this race. It really started to stress me out by the second half and I ran the final 3k with panic rising in my chest.

The long walk to the start…

After the horrible bit right near the end where you reach Parliament Square, but then get shot off towards Victoria for an out and back loop along Victoria Street (my least favourite part of the whole route – and you run through the Blackfriars underpass – twice), I was really glad to have finished.

The we all got held from entering Whitehall Place, the location of the bag drop. The crowds mounted up quickly as more and more people crossed the finish line. It all got a bit ridiculous.

It then transpired that everyone was queing for the Help for Heroes tent, regardless of whether they had run for them or not and it was blocking the whole road. It took almost half an hour for someone to come and sort this out. By the time I made it to my bag and to Charlie, Harry, Jonny and Seb, I was so on the edge of panic from being hot, tired and packed in a crowd for the past hour and a half, that I did a little cry. I thought I was past the point of crying at 10k’s… so thanks for that British 10k. Oh, and one more thing – I still have no idea what my time was because when I put my race number into the website, someone else’s result comes up. Not that it matters, but you’re supposed to be able to find it out.

Thankfully, my day drastically improved post race thanks to my awesome ambush of tigers, as the five of us headed to Le Pain at the Southbank Centre for fizz, granola, coffee and a whole load of bread. Love Le Pain.

Then me and Charlie shared a peanut buttery cake of amazingness from Outsider Tart‘s stall at the food market, accompanied by a coffee whilst soaking up the sun.

I gave the British 10k a second chance, but I don’t think I’ll be giving it a third…