Well, as promised, here is the first of several catch up posts.
It has been a pretty full on week or so. I haven’t had time to blog at all really. We flew out to Washington DC a week ago – I think. Though I have lost track. I am writing this on Wednesday 5thJune but I am not sure when I am going to get chance to upload it as I am currently in Shenandoah National Park at Big Meadows Lodge and the wifi is intermittent (I am surprised there is any at all). So DC.
DC was hot and humid and I wasn’t at all sure about running but I wanted to. I am beginning to think that tourist running is just the best way to see a place and get a feel for it. So the first morning, with the time difference on our side, we headed out early – before sunrise although there was plenty of light. We ran up the hill from the hotel towards the Capitol Building and then turned right from there towards the National Mall. We ran, stopping at the crossings – this is rather a thing in DC, the traffic lights seem to take forever to change for the pedestrian signal. On this occasion though it was a welcome break. It wasn’t yet hot or that humid but enough for a film of sweat to form – the kind that makes you feel slightly smug.
The path on the National Mall is pleasant to run on and we took in the sights as we went, trying to get a sense for where things were as we passed museum after museum – the Capitol behind us and a seemingly endless stretch of path with grass on one side and Madison Avenue on the other with Constitution Avenue another block over. After a little while we crossed another road and headed left into the middle of the Mall so we were right in the middle and could, for the first time, see the Washington Monument spiking the sky. It really looks quite striking in a slightly odd sort of way. We stopped and took some pictures and then carried on running round the back of the Monument and towards the World War 2 Memorial. We turned left and looped round the other side of the Washington Memorial and made our way back towards the Capitol on the other side of the Mall passing the Smithsonian Castle. Now beginning to feel the heat we put a couple of walk breaks in and stopped to have a chat with a police officer and taking a picture with his bike. Bizarrely the thing he was most interested in was how to make good Yorkshire puddings (Lots of beating of the batter and hot hot hot oven and oil is the answer in case you were wondering). Then we were back. A great 4 and a bit mile loop to start getting a sense of the city. Later that day we covered some of the same route on a Segway which was more fun than I thought it might be and also much easier to ride than I had feared.
Day two in DC also started with a run. A short 2 mile loop round the Capitol Building and past the Supreme Court and Library of Congress. I’d seen the US Supreme Court from the inside the previous afternoon on a tour which was a bit crap. The guide just didn’t react to his audience and spent rather a long time explaining what a dissenting judgment is to an audience of academic lawyers. I enjoyed running past it again though with no people there and just thinking about some of the big decisions of our time that were argued and made in that building. Just a few steps further along the road is the Library of Congress. I hadn’t been in it yet but I could still sense the impressive nature of the building and I was instinctively drawn to it for some reason. I stopped and stared at it for a bit before running on to come down the opposite side of the Capitol.
I then looped right to head back towards the hotel and Kath went onwards down the Mall and towards the tidal basin. I was just going to go back up the path but as I crossed in front of the Capitol I looked up and thought that running up the steps towards it woud actually be quite fun and might make for a good photo or two. So I did that instead and once finished with that headed back towards the hotel, passed the hotel and to Starbucks which I hit at bang on two miles.
Then it was time for some pretty serious conferencing before escaping later in the afternoon for a Capitol Tour and some time in the Library of Congress.
I have some catching up to do! I have several posts drafted but not edited and no photos in yet. I will sort them when I have finished this post. We are currently staying at the Hyatt Regency Golf Resort and Spa on Chesapeake Bay. It’s posh which on the one hand is nice because the service is fabulous (apart from chaos kitchen it seems), the facilities great and it’s just an all round nice place to be. On the other hand it’s full of the sort of posh people who play golf and know what to do with a marina. It is also one of the main hotels for the Eagleman Ironman race which was on today so it is full of triathletes and I am finding them rather intimidating. It’s pushing my already over sensitive buttons to see all these super fit people who not only run but also bike and swim. Honestly I think they are a bit mad – there is not enough body glide in the world to make me cycle and then run in a wet swimming costume even if it is one of those with shorts.
Anyway this post is not about triathletes and how I think they are weird. We are at the end of our holiday and I am still a bit bemused by how tired I am. But maybe that’s obvious, we have put an awful lot into not quite two weeks. That tiredness is impacting on running, as are heat and humidity. If I am honest, I am not loving the running. I haven’t really enjoyed a run since before the London Marathon. I do enjoy what running gives me though. I was thinking about that earlier today as I plodded away from Kath after having had a ‘disagreement’ about running during which I decided I would just go back to the room and hide under the duvet. I didn’t though and instead just kept putting one foot in front of the other.
It was humid and breathing seemed hard. My calf muscles were complaining, my right quad was almost as grumpy as I was and my achilles is still being a selfish whingey little fucker and of course, because I was grumpy, that’s what I focused on: How it was all so hard and miserable. Then I saw a heron fly into the rookery ahead and I smiled. Then I saw another follow. Just a few steps further along there were birds of prey circling overhead. I am not good at recognising birds of prey and am not even sure what sort would be here. I do know they have ospreys and I saw one a little further along. More smiles. Then a little rabbit shot across my path and fled. As I watched it go, my eyes were drawn to the edge of the golf course where I saw a deer disappear into the distance.
Kath caught up with me and we ran another mile or so together leaving our grumpiness behind and running along the marina to take some silly selfies. As we left the marina to finish our loop I realised that I was no longer focusing on how hard things were. It was still humid, my body was still complaining a bit but I was thinking more about how running allowed me to see all these things and be out in some beautiful places watching wildlife in a way that I would just never otherwise experience. I’d just never get up and go for a walk in the same way and neither would I cover the distance I do when running. I see more and I see it differently. When I run my focus is different. People often ask me why I don’t simply walk and enjoy seeing the wildlife etc and whether I miss things when running. Well interestingly I see more when I run. When I walk I get lost in thoughts about, say, my endless to do list, a session I am teaching the next day, a paper I am writing… I’m rarely in the moment. When I run I am right there with me and that means that my focus is on what is right there with me and as a result I get to see things I wouldn’t otherwise. So while I am not really looking forward to running again tomorrow, I am really looking forward to running again tomorrow!
Today was a perfect day. We decided fairly last minute to hike one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks and that we would do Pen-Y-Ghent, partly because it’s logistically easiest from here and partly because that’s where we’d start if we did all three so it would be a good way to recce the things like the drive there, parking and the start of the route because those are the things that stress us out the most. Navigating and hiking the route itself is actually not worrying!
We set the alarm for 5am and were planning to head straight out but things took a little longer because there were some small mammal organs and little pools of blood to deal with (thanks Einstein Cat). On the drive we chattet about the familiarity of the landscape, about some work stuff and toxic masculinity, the glorification of busy-ness, power and corporate bollocks. It felt like a good day, we both had our sense of humour and anxiety levels were low. Also, I think we got to Settle before I was really awake.
The drive just took 50 minutes and we got a spot in the National Park car park, sat in the car and had a banana and then headed out via the toilets. We walked along the road in Horton in Ribblesdale back the way we had driven in. We could have used a little footpath that went off to the left but instead followed the route description I’d written down and followed the road round to the left, crossed the Beck and then turned left along the road. We walked along the road for a little while following a bloke and what I presume was his lad. We could hear two women talking, well bitching, behind us and as they got closer we could also hear that they had music playing. We slowed right down to let them go ahead. I really don’t get the music thing – it’s just rude and obnoxious. If you want to listen then use headphones but why you would want to drown out nature’s sounds I have no idea!
A couple of groups overtook us and asked how many peaks we were doing. It seemed like an odd question to ask somehow. Mostly people were attempting the three peaks. We continued up the road until we came to a gate into a field with a well marked and trodden track. As we made our way up the track I did a mental check of how everything felt. My boots seemed good, tied about right and giving support, my new walking pants felt comfortable and weren’t pinching anywhere and seemed to give a good range of movement and the pack was sitting nicely on my back. It’s quite small really but I managed to get everything in it. I had roughly 2 litres of water in the bladder, my waterproof jacket and my Alpkit warm running top as well as our cheese sandwiches, crisps, apple and our camera. So while not heavy really it was still more weight than I generally carry because of the water.
It wasn’t long before I became aware of my lack if hill fitness and I had a brief moment of utter frustration. Being able to run quite a long way on the flat does not mean you can walk up a big hill! I was huffing and puffing more than I wanted to and very very briefly I doubted my ability to get to the top. But obviously turning back was not an option. I concentrated on looking at the cotton grass, some sheep in the distance and trying to work out were the curlews I could hear were. The views were stunning. Behind us we could see the quarry and Ingleborough in the distance and ahead Pen-Y-Ghent was looming. We kept passing a guy walking up on his own but with a group following (they weren’t ready at the agreed time so he left them and set off) and then he’d pass us and we had a little chat each time. The path is easy to follow and easy to walk in terms of terrain really, some of the steeper sections have steps and there was nothing tricky at all.
At the end of this section of the route you exit the field and land on the Pennine Way. From here it’s a fairly sharp climb up to the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent so before we started that we had a little breather to take in the views, have a drink and focus. I wasn’t sure how I’d be, sometimes I’m weird with heights and we were definitely going up! The path up is actually not really tricky. It’s mostly easily navigable steps with secure footing and plenty wide enough. There are also plenty of places where you can step off the path and let others through. It is fairly steep though. Well, there’s a steep section, a brief levelling off and then another steep scramble which is a little (but really not much) trickier with some steps up which pose a challenge if you have short legs!
This bit was the bit I liked least because there were too many people. I found it physically challenging but that’s fine, it was more the pressure of having people coming up behind me as well as some people slower in front and not quite being able to settle into my own pace and just keep going so instead I had little bursts and then stood in for a breather meaning we got caught up in people. Once the steep section is done, it’s a gentle, well paved slope up to the official summit. There were people everywhere so we didn’t linger but instead crossed the style and turned right (actually continuing straight along the top of Pen-Y-Ghent) leaving everyone else to tick off their peak and rush on to the next one down the Pennine Way.
We were heading towards Plover Hill (If you think of Pen-Y-Ghent as being the shape of a crouching lion as some people apparently do then Plover Hill is the Lion’s backside basically) now walking on a far less well defined path on softer, bouncy, boggy ground. There were some ankle breaker holes around and some of the steeper downhill sections unnerved me a little because I still have this irrational fear of going downhill. However, almost as soon as we turned off the Pennine Way the people noise disappeared. A few more steps and it was just us and we could linger in quiet harmony as we watched a couple of skylarks playing. We walked on and came across some egg shells and wondered what they were from (they’re Grouse!). Nearby was a grouse turning his back on us and further on another watching us from the wall. We saw more skylarks and curlews and heard more grouse as we made our way down and then a little way back up the wall line towards Plover Hill. No plovers though but one or two lapwings. We climbed a style and then found somewhere to sit and have our picnic overlooking the next little dip in the landscape. While we were munching our cheese sarnies we looked at the map to check our way down.
The wind seemed a little nippier here so we didn’t sit for that long. We set off down the hill – again some steep bits presenting a bit of a mental challenge for me. Kath held my had down some sections but unless you’re as much of a fruit loop as I am, the terrain is fine, the steepest sections are basically stepped and secure underfoot. I imagine it would get really boggy if wet and some sections would get rather muddy and slippery but today it was perfect. Still no people, just sheep!
Once we got to the bottom and right into the dip we saw the Pennine Journey path, turned left onto it and then basically followed it all the way back into Horton in Ribblesdale. For the first part it was just us and some sheep who were confirming the stereotype of sheep being stupid. One ewe in particular ignored all of the space on either side of the path and insisted on running away from us with her lamb. She obviously came to the edge of the area she is hefted to because eventually she stopped as if she had hit an invisible wall and turned up the steep banking towards a wall and then started running back. Definitely a little highly strung.
As we got close to where the Pennine Journey and the Pennine Way join we could occasionally hear voices drifting over from the summit and from people making their way down from it. Eventually we crossed a wide track where a good few people were congregating before moving on to Whernside, went through a gate onto a wide track and made our way down it for a while until we arrived back in the village. We thought we’d have a coffee at the Pen-Y-Ghent Cafe but it was closed (apparently it is closed until further notice) so we walked back to the other little cafe on the other side of the road. Then we walked back to the car, had a sausage roll and then drove home. I didn’t set my watch to track the walk until we were a way into it so we probably covered around 8ish miles, a little over maybe. It was a great way to spend a morning!
The rest of today has been lazy. We did some more holiday sorting/planning and we walked down the hill to East Riddlesden Hall for coffee and cake and then to water Mum’s plants before walking back up. That walk up was actually really good for me because I realised that our morning adventure hadn’t really made me tired, I didn’t feel the walk home from Mum’s any more the I usually do. I reflected on how the hike went and yes, I absolutely was huffing and puffing going up BUT I recovered really quickly and I wasn’t tired, just out of breath, I felt strong and I didn’t feel tired. Hill fitness is a special and possibly illusive thing but I think it might be a thing worth striving for and I might huff and puff a bit but the three peaks are absolutely doable so watch this space.
Well, honestly, I have been struggling a little with running post marathon. It feels like a huge effort and while it has sort of been nice to be out, I haven’t massively enjoyed it either. This morning was gorgeous though and it seemed like a good day to head to Bolton Abbey and do a little loop. Kath went further to get her miles in (she has a half marathon in mid June which I am not running) and I decided I would do the Barden Bridge loop using run/walk. I wanted to enjoy it and not worry about huffing and puffing my way around.
Bolton Abbey was perfect for running this morning. It was warm enough to be comfortable in short sleeves but the trees provided cover from the sun. It was also very very quiet. After the usual pee stop I said bye to Kath as she set off in the opposite directions and plodded my first 2 minutes. That felt a bit like hard work. I was grateful for the walk break. I tried to consciously look around, note the green ground cover from the wild garlic, the odd patches of blue from the bluebells, now at the end of their glory and the comings and goings of lots and lots of little birds. I tried not to think, just react to the beep of my watch – run – walk – run. Don’t think, just be.
I watched the river gently make her way, nudging the ducks to where she wanted them and giggling softly as the ducklings tried to resist. I felt content. I hit a mile and glanced at my watch. Wowsers I was going super slow. It felt like I was working so much harder than the pace would suggest. I felt disappointed. I carried on. I was now conscious of my breathing, I seemed loud, I seemed heavy footed, I could hear my heart beat and the blood rushing round. I could also hear the negative chatter. For the next mile I concentrated hard on ignoring the noise, on watching a dipper and a wagtail and on putting one foot in front of the other: Beep – walk, beep-run, beep-walk…
I briefly stopped at 2 miles – on Barden Bridge where I saw the first human since leaving the Cavendish Pavilion. I let two cars cross the bridge, took a couple of photos and continued, feeling slightly grumpy about being slow and now struggling to enjoy the run. It felt like all I could hear was my running noise and chatter about how crap I was. I don’t know what drew my attention but it suddenly occurred to me that there were so many far more positive noises I could be tuning into. Whatever it was, it made me listen and suddenly the bird song grew louder, the gentle breeze was singing in the trees and next to me the river was gurgling and sounding content.
‘Hello’, the river goddess Verbia whispered to me ‘how’s the running love?’ I don’t know why she has an accent like my grandma’s but she does – very West Yorkshire with slight hints of Lancashire in the vowel sounds from living so close to the border all her life. ‘Oh, it’s nice but it’s slow and feels so hard’ I said – not out loud I don’t think. ‘Oh, but why rush?’ She gurgled. It was rhetorical of course ‘ Look around, everybody is just at the pace they are meant to be’. She was gently teasing me I think. Nudging me along, letting me know that I was ok but as with any goddess, you just never quite know, there’s always a mystery, always an edge. She seemed all knowing and a bit bemused by me as she made her way slowly along the familiar path. But I did look around, I saw the cows in the field lazily chewing the grass, I watched some sand martins (I think) play around me seemingly flying high, swooping down and looping round for the pure joy of it. I giggled, Verbia gurgled back.
I saw a very speedy runner with a dog come towards me. She was past in a flash and briefly I felt crap about being slow and so laboured. ‘But you’re not her’, I glanced at the river and understood. Me and the other runner were each running our own run, with our own thoughts and our own battles. I smiled, I was enjoying the run again, the pace seemed unimportant now. I nodded a thank you towards the Wharfe as I turned very slightly left to go past the aqueduct steps and onwards into the woods.
I saw Kath. We stopped briefly for a quick chat and then continued on our ways. I had about 1.5 miles to go now, she had about 3. There were a few more people about on this stretch, not many though and mostly I ran in glorious solitude with time and space to notice the different greens, the changing feel of the footpath, the nobblyness of the tree roots. I ran the intervals as they fell, no cheating and it felt hard but my head was in the right place. It wasn’t even that I used mantras or tried to drown out the negative with positive chatter. It was just that after my little ‘chat’ with Verbia it felt like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing this morning. Like this was my time to run, my time to be at each point along the way exactly at the time I got there. Just as the Wharfe meandered along with a calm inevitability, so did I. I felt slightly disappointed when it was over. I even briefly considered going on in spite of feeling physically quite tired and being a bit of a sweaty mess but arriving at a gate and the bridge back across the Wharfe to the Cavendish Pavilion which seemed busy with people had broken the spell. The magic had gone even if some of it has lingered all day.
So it seems the marathon broke me a little bit. I managed to get myself though work on Tuesday feeling really tired and sore. Once I got home I started feeling progressively worse and about 7.30pm went to bed feeling shivery, sick and feverish. I had an unsettled night with a high temperature and a very uncomfortable tummy and lower back. Yesterday was pretty miserable, slipping in and out of fitful sleep and with a funny sort of tummy ache and migraine-y type headache leaving me not quite knowing what to do with myself.
I feel a little better today after a better night. I’ve even had a bit of food and am now actually sitting up on the sofa (watching the Lion King). I have been scrolling through social media and news posts from the marathon and catching up with people I know who ran it. Most of them thankfully had amazing experiences. I know people who went sub three hours and I know people who were slower than I was and lots and lots in-between. I am really excited to hear that they had the great race and the fantastic experience the London Marathon promises.
However, I am also hearing and reading about a very different experience. One that I find really upsetting and one which makes me really really angry. You can get a snapshot of that by reading the BBC online article ‘London marathon runners ‘called fat and slow’ by contractors‘. It is quite clear that slower runners did not have the same support or experience that everyone else had or which all runners should be able to expect. I have to be honest, when I saw 6.15, 6.30 and 7 hours pacers (I didn’t see the 7.30 pacers at the start) I was excited! It is actually rare for there to be pacers at any event that mean anything to me. Even at parkrun the pacers are often out of reach! So to see pacers at the back end made me feel welcome, made me feel part of it. I was excited.
The experience of those at the back seems horrendous! Imagine being laughed at, told to hurry up and generally mocked – and that by people who are supposed to be supporting you. Then imagine being sprayed by clean up fluid and possibly getting chemical burns. And all of this while running in an event you have trained hard for, that pushes the boundaries of what is possible and for which you have raised 1000s of pounds for charity. Just imagine that for a second.
The experience of the back of the pack runners here was not only disappointing it was also dangerous. Water stations being dismantled not only sends a real message of ‘this race is not really for you’ but can also have serious consequences. Yes, even slower runners might have a hydration and fuelling strategy that is based on the advertised water and Lucozade stations. When those stations do not exist the consequences could be pretty serious. Even as I was coming through water stations in the latter half of the run I could see that they were packing up. I don’t think I need to really spell out the dangers of making runners weave through traffic or even just pedestrians.
So what’s the answer here? It re-opens the debate about cut off times for some. But the thing is, the Marathon is supposed to have an 8 hour cut off time. The instructions clearly say that if you fall below a certain pace you might have to move to the pavement but if you finish within 8 hours you get an official time and medal etc. So while that is not ideal, I also get the need to re-open roads etc. However, if you have an 8 hour cut off time then you need to guarantee that everyone within that pace can finish and finish safely. To me that means ensuring that all runners are properly supported, that the marshals are still on course, that the drinks stations are there, the mile markers still up and that those who have had to move to the pavement are supported by having a path cleared. If you can’t do that, then change the cut off time.
Yes that’s right. If you cannot support all runners on the current cut off time then reduce the time allowed to a point where you can. I know that might be a controversial point but honestly, as a slow runner I would rather look at a race and decide not to enter because the cut off time is too tight for me than run it thinking the cut off is ok just to find that they didn’t mean it. Don’t ever give a token nod to inclusivity – that’s worse than not being inclusive at all. Of course, given London Marathon’s status as one of the biggest charity fundraising events and the huge number of first time marathoners taking part, it would be nice if it was genuinely inclusive.
So I can’t help but compare this marathon to the Dopey one in January. There was no hint of packing up anywhere along the course. Yes there is a cut off time – one that is advertised everywhere and people do get swept but the 16 minute mile pace from when the last person starts is advertised and that’s the one that is enforced. It is clear what is expected and what happens when you fall behind pace. We weren’t right at the back for that one either but as we left the race retreat we saw people coming through the finish and the support for those runners was phenomenal. The course was very much still open.
It’s not like I would want to run London again anyway but having heard and read about some of these awful experience I certainly wouldn’t want to. VLM got this wrong and apparently that’s not something that just happened this year. So I am adding my voice to the call for a genuinely inclusive London Marathon, for an apology to those runners at the back of the pack, for a re-think of how the race should be managed so that everyone can have a positive experience, whether they run sub-three or just sneak in within the official cut-off time. Just get is sorted.