Leeds Half Marathon – Race Review

Family, friends, Bradfordians, please forgive me for what I am about to write. On Sunday, Leeds, for a couple of hours I loved you. The cheering crowds, the kids with bowls of sweets, the ladies with orange slices, the sunshine, Leeds was the place to be and it was magnificent.

It was an early start for me as I made my way over to Leeds and arrived at around 8.15am. It had just stopped drizzling and was still somewhat overcast on the walk down from my parking spot outside the University. I’d arranged to meet up with some of Twitter’s finest and as I made my way to the portaloo I came across Luke and Tristan, it was fantastic to finally meet them in person even if wasn’t in particularly salubrious surroundings. We headed up to Millennium Square and met up with Sarah, Colin, Keith, Steve, Caterina and Alison. Even though we barely knew each other there was a great camaraderie with people exchanging stories, tips and hopes for how we’d get on over the coming 13.1 miles, this was the #ukrunchat community in full effect.

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The start was staggered and I was in the red group at 9.30am so I headed to hand in my bag, very efficient, and then made my way to the start pen to do a quick warm up. After a slight delay we shuffled forward and turned the corner onto The Headrow to pass the start line.

By this time the clouds were lifting and the sun was out. As a result of staggering the starting groups the field was well spread and with fully closed roads we were able to fan out quickly, the numbers were also thinned out as people headed off into the bushes for a quick comfort break, for next year I think it would be good if the organisers arranged more portaloos at the start.

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The first couple of miles were pretty uneventful until we turned onto Stonegate Road at mile 3 and the road took a relatively sharp climb upwards through Meanwood. The crowds at this point provided real encouragement, and bowls of Jelly Babies, and it wasn’t too far before we turned again and headed down to the ring road section.

Miles 5 and 6 were for me the dullest part of the route as the dual carriageway headed towards Weetwood. As you would expect there were few spectators in this section and the highlight was the water station at the bottom of the next hill.

Just past the 6 mile marker at the top of the hill the crowds returned and there were some great homemade placards hammered into the grass verge, my favourite was “pain is just the French word for bread”.

We wound our way through the residential streets of Weetwood for the next couple of miles and the support was superb, as you turned every corner people lined the streets to encourage complete strangers, it was genuinely heartwarming and made me proud to be a Yorkshireman. At the top of Butcher Hill there was a church choir on the grass bank singing their hearts out, there must have been at least 30 of them. I felt rather sinful as Guns N Roses were blasting through my headphones at that precise moment so I pulled one earphone out to give them a listen and applaud them back in recognition of their efforts.

A couple of hundred yards down the road was the 8 mile marker and the cue for me to take on board my SIS electrolyte gel. I’d planned my fuelling and I was feeling great at this point but knew I would need this to see me through and keep my energy levels up. Note to other runners here, if you are going to use gels please try and put the empty sachets in your pocket or the nearest bin rather than drop them all over the road for someone else to slip on, rant over.

From mile 9 the rest of the route was flat back into the city centre along Abbey Road and Kirkstall Road. My friend Catherine had arranged to cheer me at mile 10 and it was great to see her and her girls, it gave me a real lift just when I needed it, I stopped briefly for a quick hug and carried on. The sun was now high in the sky and the shade of the earlier sections of the course had given way to wide open roads with nowhere to hide. I spotted the Kirkstall Road viaduct in the distance knowing that signalled we were nearing home, it is a huge structure though and it proved to be a deceptive temptress as it felt like an age before I passed under it.

Finally I reached the bottom of The Headrow and knew the end was nigh. I pulled out both earphones here to take in the support of the crowd, having my name on the front of my top really helped, “come on Stu”, “keep going Stu”, “nearly there Stu”, unbelievable, I was really focussed on keeping my stride pattern going but made sure everyone who cheered for me got a thumbs up. The finish line was in Millennium Square so I passed the start line, turned left and there were just walls of people 4 and 5 deep on both sides for the home straight making an amazing noise, it was breathtaking.

I crossed the line in 1 hour 44 minutes and 55 seconds, I was thrilled and really proud that my training and preparation had paid off.

The organisation in the finish area was great, goody bag, medal and celebratory pint of Erdinger Alkoholfrei were collected in a flash and I sat down in the shade of the MacMillan Cancer Support tent to cool off and bask in the glory.

It wasn’t long though before I headed back down to the finish to cheer everyone else on. Runners are honestly some of the best and most supportive people I have ever met and it was nice to be able to see Alison and Sarah coming home and give them a shout. We rounded the day off with a few drinks to celebrate and it was great to share each others successes.

I can’t let this review pass without thanking everyone who has donated to my fundraising too, you are all so kind and generous and have given me extra motivation to train and run and be the best I can be.

This really was a day to remember. Yes it was hot, yes there were hills (they weren’t that big), but the event was very well organised and I have already signed up for next year. I felt great and really enjoyed my running, after my nightmare at the 2007 Great North Run my demons have been banished and I can now focus on the York marathon in October with renewed confidence. I know it will be tough but I also know that I can do it and when I need that extra boost a combination of energy gels and cheering strangers will get me through.

Thank you Leeds, it was emotional.

Fuelling / Refuelling – Part 2

Following my previous blog I received various pieces of advice on the subject of fuelling / refuelling from friends and those in the online running community. Jelly babies s8830621253662eem to be a mid-run favourite for many and according to a good friend I should consume a family bag of onion rings to stave off cramp, top tip Chris!

My plan was to try my longest run ever, 15.2 miles, in my usual slot after work on Friday and for it to be the first test of my fuelling / refuelling strategy ahead of the Leeds half marathon in May and the York marathon in October.

Pre-run

From my SIS kit, see Fuelling / Refuelling – Part 1 , I had the lemon flavour GO Energy powder as directed 2 hours before running. The powder is a 50g sachet and the instructions
on the back are to add 500ml of water. The free bottle you get from SIS is a 400ml bottle IMG_20170317_150618which I found rather odd as all the sachets supplied are 50g and need 500ml of water adding, the bottle does have a 40g powder indicator so you could stop there but it seems a bit of a waste to throw away some of the powder. Minor gripe but supplying a 500ml bottle would seem to make more sense to me.

Now the taste, the colleague who sits next to me verbalised my fear, “does it taste like Lemsip?” (other medicinal hot lemon cold and flu drinks are available). Thankfully no it didn’t, I can best describe it as sherbert lemon flavour and it was very easy to drink and I didn’t feel like it was sitting on my stomach at all. I also had my usual chocolate bar with the drink and within half an hour or so I got that slight tingly feeling in my body that you get when you have energy that needs to be burnt off.

The Run

Although the main thrust of this post is about fuelling / refuelling I have to give you some context for my run on Friday. The 15.2 mile route was a combination of a couple of my regular shorter routes so I knew where I was going and could focus on the distance and what I was doing. The problem was it was heaving down and blowing gusts of over 40mph. Not one to back down though I had planned this run all week and come hell or actual high water I was going out and doing it. There were several places on my route where the pavement disappeared and became a stream, I gave up trying to avoid puddles and just hoped in the end that I wouldn’t have trench foot by the time I got home; and of course there was THAT driver, we all know the one, who seemed to take great delight in going as fast as possible through the largest puddle known to man which drenched me, on top of the drenching I’d already endured for the previous hour and a half, it was all I could do at that point to muster a V sign at him.

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Last week I’d also bought myself a Nike running belt for the bargainous sum of £6.25. I’ve been getting a bit dehydrated on my longer runs and so thought this was a good investment. The bottles slot in very neatly to their clips and there is a decent size split pouch with a zip for all your bits and pieces. I’d run up and down the living room with it on but like a wazzock hadn’t filled the bottles to test it until I actually went out. The consequence was that for the first 2 miles or so on Friday I was more bothered with getting the belt comfortable than I was with my running. Should I have it on my back, my side, slung over my shoulder? Eventually I found the most comfortable place was on my front and once I’d taken on some water the bounce reduced and I didn’t really notice it was there.

By mile 9 of the run my nipples were stinging (I so should have vazzed up!!) and thanks to the wind and rain I couldn’t actually feel my thighs or my hands. At just after mile 10 I had the option to cut the run short and take an early turn for home, the thought seriously crossed my mind but I knew I’d regret it later and so I ploughed on into the head wind and driving rain. sisre

Mile 11 was the trigger for me to get my gel on board, from the SIS pack I’d taken with me the raspberry flavour GO electrolyte gel. I knew that just after mile 13 I had a pretty sharp climb of about 0.75 miles and so I wanted to give the gel time to kick in and give me a boost. It was the first time I’ve had this flavour and it was pleasant enough. As with the other SIS gels I’ve tried so far it was very easy to swallow and I certainly felt the benefit when I needed it. I did feel a bit of cramp at the very end of my run but I put that down to the cold more than anything.

By this time I had also gone slightly do-lally and started singing out loud to the songs I was listening to, and when I say loud I mean LOUD, given the conditions there was nobody else about and I just needed to do something to channel my mind away from the pain I had started to feel both from the running and the cold.

Eventually I made it home in 2hr 6mins, my wife had towels at the ready, as I stood in the hall peeling clothes off reality and self-doubt crept in and I had a little cry to myself, how the hell am I going to add another 11 miles to that? I know the conditions were very much against me and I have time on my side to build on this but I was hurting.

Post-run

regoMy post-run SIS selection was the REGO recovery sachet, again a 50g sachet which I made up 400ml of before I hit the shower. It is billed as chocolate flavour, maybe I was expecting too much, but it didn’t really hit the chocolate spot for me and tasted more of a mix between a malt drink and chocolate. Again though I did feel a boost but the morning after would be key here as this product should replace key nutrients and aid recovery.

I did get my chocolate fix later though with a nice big slab of chocolate and banana cake. I’d made this earlier in the week with the help of my mini sous-chef Hattie, and very nice it is too.

The day after

Given my efforts I was naturally tired on Friday evening but Saturday morning brought a pleasant surprise, not only did the kids stay in bed until after 7am, but I felt human, I could get out of bed without a hoist, I could walk without pain and I felt normal. Certainly my body has accustomed itself more to the aftermath of running but I’ve never felt that good and given that I’ve never run so far and never used any recovery fuel in the past I can only put my condition, at least in part, down to the SIS products putting me in a good place.

All in all whilst I certainly wouldn’t say I enjoyed Friday’s run/squelch around East Lancashire I most definitely learned a thing or two and it will stand me in good stead for future efforts. I’m going to stick with the SIS products and play around a bit with some other options to see what works best, maybe jelly babies, possibly some protein bars, sadly though Chris I think the onion rings won’t make it into my race day nutrition plan.

Fuelling / Refuelling – Part 1

Until recently these two words were not part of my everyday vocabulary. The only time I’d really come across either was when the erstwhile England manager Graham Taylor made reference to Paul Gascoigne having “refuelling problems” back in the early 90s. Loosely translated this meant that between games Gazza liked to sink too many beers and preferred a large donner kebab or KFC to a nice bowl of pasta. beer

Whilst I enjoy a pint or two of my homebrew beer and cider, it’s good stuff, verging on rocket fuel at times, I have in the last year or so radically changed my diet. Out with the processed foods and a drawer full of snacks in my desk at work; in with fruit, veg and fresh meat. This has helped me to lose nearly 3 stone and a lot of body fat to the point where according to a doctor I contacted via a post on #ukrunchat last week my body fat level is that of a Premier League footballer and really I need to actually put a bit back on.

How to balance the right day to day nutrition, plus pre-run fuelling and post-run refuelling has become a regular question in my head. I normally run after work and so have a day’s worth of fuel inside me. I make sure I have a chocolate bar mid-afternoon on running days for some extra energy but that token gesture aside I haven’t really done anything else and my post-run regime is non-existent. This lack of preparation came into sharp focus though after a recent 10k race which was at a different time to my normal runs and after which I felt terrible, read about it here Accrington 10k – Race Review. I needed to start taking this aspect of my training more seriously.

I’ve dabbled with some energy gels on a couple of my longer evening runs but I’d like to start to nail down a regular routine now and so have bought a mixed starter nutrition pack from Science In Sport (SIS) to find out if any of these products can work for me and in business speak add some value.

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Firstly the pack was a bargain at £7.80 from Amazon, box ticked for tight Yorkshireman! The pack contains two GO Energy sachets of powder to mix up in the bottle which comes with the pack and drink around 2 hours before I go out to help me get enough carbohydrates on board ready for my run, in addition there’s two GO Electrolyte powder sachets to again mix up and drink whilst running. Also included are five GO gels for a boost mid-run, one of these is a an electrolyte energy gel which is of particular interest to me as on the two recent 13 mile runs I’ve done I’ve started to cramp up a couple of miles from home and I’m keen to find out if this gel will prevent that. The final product is a chocolate flavour REGO rapid recovery powder sachet to mix up and drink in order to get vital nutrients back in my system straight after I’ve finished.

As well as fuel, hydration is also now on my mind as Spring brings higher temperatures and I actually start to sweat a bit during my runs. Whilst I can do a 10k or so without taking on water the longer runs I’m now embarking on will definitely need me to drink during my runs and so I’ve bagged another bargain and bought a Nike Running belt with two small bottles. I know Sports Direct are derided by many, and with some of their practices rightly so, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to get something I’ve had my eye on for the princely sum of £6.25.

After a decent 10.8 miles in 1hr 23 mins on Monday night fuelled by my normal day’s food and a rather soft Werther’s Original which I found in my bag and sucked on for a couple of miles mid-run, I’m going to put the SIS pack and water belt to the test on Friday when I plan to run just over 15 miles, the longest I’ve ever run.

Before then if anyone has any advice on fuelling/refuelling/hydration or any experience of using these specific products I’d love to have your feedback and I’ll post a full review in part two over the coming weekend. That is if my fingers will type coherently through the additional refuelling haze of gallons of homebrew and enough Nutella and banana cake (thanks to fellow blogger Sophie for the recipe) to feed a small country!! Just taking the doctor’s advice to add a bit of body fat!