Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Kleine Zeitung Graz Half Marathon event

I finished this year’s running season with a home run in Graz, Styria’s capital city in Austria. On 12th October the regional newspaper Kleine Zeitung hosted the 21st Graz Marathon event with over 11.500 runners taking part in five events, ranging from a 5K fun run to the full 42.1 km distance.
I signed up to run the half marathon and prepared myself by following a tailored 4 months MyASICS training plan. I aimed to beat the 2:30hr mark, which would have cut my first half marathon finishing time by 15mins.


The 16 weeks MyASICS training plan comprised of 3 runs a week, including a short run, a pace/fast run and a long distance run. Due to the injury I had on my foot from 2013, I decided to keep an eye out for any pain or niggles and integrated other forms of cardio in my training such as cycling and swimming as well as taking breaks on my scheduled recovery days. I benefited from my triathlon training and felt in good shape to tackle my next challenge.

The first phase of my training plan was to pick up pace and slowly increase the distance to 14K. After 5 weeks, I was advised to increase the mileage to run 3 x 16K and 1 x 18K. I surprised myself how comfortable I found running 16K, even so that I picked up my pace without a major struggle at first. My body didn’t respond to it well though. I started get stomach cramps halfway through my runs, up to the point that I was forced to walk. As a result my motivation plummeted and I started to feel unwell. Four weeks before the event I got sick, forcing me to take a break from training. On a mid-week 10K training run, my injury on my foot started to flare up and hasn’t gotten back to normal ever since. I embarked on my last long 18K training run just three weeks before the event day. Fair to say, it didn’t go too well. Even though I managed to get the distance, I was slower than expected, consequently predicting that I wouldn’t make my finishing time of 2:30hr.

The half marathon event

I arrived in Graz the evening before the event and stayed with family close by. My chosen running kit for the day, comprising of an Adidas tech t-shirt, short tights, Adidas Boost trainers, running socks and underwear, running belt with gels as well as my TomTom running watch, was readily prepared and charged for the day. I also brought along peanut butter and soy milk for breakfast for the following morning, which probably looked silly to my non-running family members, but I didn’t want to leave it to chance.

My cousin Christine picked up my race number and goodie bag for me. However, staff didn’t give her my timing chip, so that had to be sorted before the race on race day.

My Kleine Zeitung goodie bag

On the morning of the race I travelled by bus to the start line at the Grazer Opera House and arrived there in good time. It was a nice, crisp morning with about 18 degrees Celsius, perfect running conditions. Hundreds of runners had already arrived and regional radio station Antenne Steiermark was entertaining the crowd. I picked up my timing chip without any further ado, dropped of my bag at the bag station and started to prepare myself for the race. While I usually run with friend or my boyfriend Robert, it was weird to be there by myself. But runners are a lovely crowd, the tense atmosphere picks you up and makes you feel you’re part of something special. My nerves started to kick in, more of excitement than nervousness.

The starting line

Runners are waiting for the race to start

The before picture...

The race was kicked off on time at 10am by the professional runners. My wave, the plus 2hrs crowd, started to pass the finish line about 10:10am. The half marathon route went along the Joanneumring, across the Radetzky Bridge, then up north passing the Hauptplatz and Sackstrasse, before it went all the way up to Graz North and back again. Once back down, the route crossed the Kepler Bridge and went to the east side of Graz city, along Wiener street, Lazarettgürtel and Grieskai. From there, the route took us back to the city park, where runners went past the Schloss Tower, Ratplatz and back to the finish line at the Opera House.

I felt in good shape and settled into my pace quickly. Even though I was keeping an eye on my time, I decided to enjoy it rather than going for my dream finishing time. My 5K split time was 35:14 with an average pace of under 7mins. Up until the 10K mark I went slightly off my pace and had a split time of 1:13:23. However, I knew if I could maintain that pace I would still be able to reach my dream finishing time. Though my pace slit down even further and my 15K split time was 1:52:37 with a 8mins pace. The last 6K were difficult. The sun got hotter and I had trouble finding my way to the finish line as it wasn’t very well signposted. The remaining few of us running had to rely on the public to pin point us in the right direction. Once I reached the city park and Ratplatz the crowd cheered me on, shouting my name and carrying me to the finish line. I finished with a time of 2:44:17 (Official PENTEK timing results). To top it off, my mum was waiting for me and watched me cross the finish line.
The winner of the Graz Marathon for the male runners was Ethiopian Lemawork Ketema with a finishing time of 2:22:09 and for the female runners Austrian Cornelia Köpper with 2:45:18.


Even though I didn’t get my dream finishing time I thoroughly enjoyed the Graz half marathon. Graz is such a pretty city, I massively enjoyed the scenery, the road conditions and the crowd. As a runner I never felt cramped in by the running mob and had space to sway in and out of lanes. The race numbers pinned on the shirts also showed your name, which personalised the event for every runner.
The Kleine Zeitung did a great job of organising the event, with drink and food at the start/finish line and many stops to refresh along the route. The next day all finishing times were published in the newspaper, which was really nice and made a great memento to keep. Weeks before and after the event the organisers would provide you with tips on training and keep you posted on the latest news on social media. I will definitely take part in another Graz run in years to come, I might even tackle the full distance :)

For all image from the day, check out my Google photo album.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A beginner's triathlon event - Triathlon Pink UK

In July and August of this year the Australian breast cancer charity organisation Breakthrough launched its inaugural, women only Triathlon Pink events in the UK.
After holding events in Crystal Palace, Bath, Sunderland and Leeds, it made its final stop in Basildon on 3rd August, where over 100 women of all ages and sizes signed up to tackle the triathlon challenge.

As a women's only triathlon series, Triathlon Pink is tailored towards women of all fitness abilities and backgrounds, offering various distances from kids, short, medium to long triathlon distances, while focusing on fun rather than finishing time.

To fully embrace the fun part, every athlete received a pink goody bag, including a pink vest, pink visor, pink rubber bracelet to wear during and after the race for fun and to raise awareness for breast cancer research.

As a fun runner, hobby swimmer and non-competitive cyclist, I too joined the swarm of women in Basildon and signed up for the long triathlon distance, which encompassed a 300m swim, a 9K bike ride and a 3K run.
While the distances are relatively short, taking on a multidisciplinary challenge was new to me and not to be underestimated. I prepared myself by signing up to a tough super sprint triathlon training plan by Garmin, which I followed as a 'recommended' guidance.

Ready from head to toe
Before race start: Jane and I

When the day of the event finally arrived, we were lucky to find ourselves in the perfect conditions; blue sky, slight breeze and dry roads were ahead of us. The race was kicked-off at 5:50pm sharp.

First challenge: 300m swim
While I trained in a mere 20m gym pool, I found myself swimming in a Olympic length pool of 50m at the indoor swimming pool of the Basildon sporting village. I started with a strong front crawl and managed to overtake fellow competitors. However, halfway I gulped more than the odd chlorine water and had to slow down to a leisurely breaststroke, which had a tiring effect on my legs.

Second challenge: 9K bike ride

The second leg of the triathlon encompassed a six lap bike ride encircling the lake in Gloucester park. While I do enjoy cycling a lot, I found myself struggling to pick up speed with my rusty old mountain bike in comparison to others cycling on a road bike. I finished the bike ride in 20 mins, while nearly gaining penalty time for crossing the dismounting zone while still being on the bike. Oops.

Third and final challenge: 3K run

The third and final leg of the triathlon was a 3K run on a nearby grass pitch. While my legs felt tired, especially my calves, I quickly ditched the wobbly legs and fell into an easy but slow stride. It felt like running on quicksand and picking up pace was easier said than done. However, I ran the required the 3 laps in about 20mins time and even managed a sprint finish. All finishers received a finisher’s medal along with some fresh exotic fruit.

Proud finishers


All in all, after finishing my first Triathlon Pink I’m proud to call myself a triathlete. While I was petrified of the challenge and felt terribly under-trained, I managed to cross the finish line within my set target time of one hour and a winner’s smile. The Triathlon Pink team did an amazing job organising a friendly and fun event for women of all fitness abilities and even kids. I hope for Triathlon Pink to return to the UK for 2015, where I hope to be able to race again and improve my finishing time.

Here is an approximate finishing time for each leg of the triathlon:

Kick-off time: 5:30pm
Swim / 300 m
5:35 - 5:43 / 8 mins
Bike / 9k
5:45 - 6:08 / 23 mins
Run / 3k
6:11 - 6:31 / 20 mins
My finish time: 6:31pm / 56mins

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Dulux Color Run 2014

On 1st June I've attempted my first race post-injury, the Dulux Color Run in Wembley, London. In order to prepare for my first official race outing, I've slowly increased my mileage from 3K indoors on a treadmill to 5K outdoors and took part in the local Southend parkrun. The additional swimming and cycling exercises as well as physiotherapy helped to gently build up my leg and core muscles.

Just before the start...

The race was on a sunny day at 3pm in the afternoon, which is an unusual time for running in general. As a group of six, a mix of experienced marathon runners and fun runners, we joined the crowd at the start line to wait for the official race start. The start came, and went. A queue of 11.000 runners formed to merely cross the start line and it took us over an hour to get there without water in the glaring sun.

A long queue to cross the start line
Around 4:15pm we eventually got going and made our way around Wembley stadium and its industrial suburbs. After every kilometer mark, we hit a colour point where the Color Run crew threw colour on us and we eventually on each other, starting with pink, blue, yellow and then orange. At the finish line runners were greeted with even more colour as well as live music, foot stores and some more photo opportunities.
The run overall felt okay, but far from perfect. I was not back at my game just yet, but it was a good start. 
At the finish line

Overall, the Color Run was a nice experience, but I would have expected more from it. There was an overall mood was dampened by the long wait at the start line. During the run itself, colour was only available at the designated colour points, which meant in between those points it felt like a simple afternoon run with friends around the suburbs of Wembley. The promoted picture of massive colour dust clouds were just too good to be true...

Our Color Run Team

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Recovering from injury: I'd rather be running...

Injury and rehabilitation are two words that are, unfortunately, very commonly used in the runner's vocabulary. According to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, nearly 70 percent of runners will become injured in any year. (Source: Women’s Running) Of course, every injury is different and everybody responds differently to treatment. So if you are in recovery like me, you should consider the positive aspects here: time and patience will give you the best chance to recover fully and you’ll be wearing those running shoes very soon again.

After almost four months since my accident and no running, I have come across five stages of what comes equal to the five stages of grief.

Stage one starts almost immediately after the accident: Denial. Straight after the accident, I didn’t want to accept my injury which would mean taking a break from running. However, 18 painful hours later I felt mentally and physically defeated and went to hospital for a check-up, where my injury was confirmed.

Anger is a key description of stage two. Reality is knocking on the door and you are simply not ready to deal with ityet, which results in you  feeling angry. This anger might be directed at yourself, at family members (who told you not to run in the first place) or at the doctor who diagnosed your injury. Take a step back and take a deep breath. 

Once anger has calmed down you will have to deal with the consequences and will inevitably bargain the terms of your recovery, which is stage three on the ladder of grief. My surgeon told me it would be three months before I would be able to run again, my physio told me to take out a full year. From my experience there is no clear time indication as to how long it will take a runner to recover from injury. All you can do is to give your injury the best chance to heal properly with time, patience and a lot of TLC.

Eventually, this will lead you to stage four, depression. On the one hand you’ll try to put a brave face on while your friends go out for that long run in preparation for a marathon while you’re dealing with the frustrations of not even being able to walk properly. On the other hand you bid your changes to ever run long distance again goodbye, even though it mustn’t be so. My advice would be to openly talk to your family and friends about your worries and sorrows, ups and downs. Or, sometimes all you need is a hug.

Finally, the last stage is acceptance as you come to terms with the situation you find yourself in and you’ll be able to start the long and tough way of recovery. Light exercise and stretching will help your body to gently build up strength, power and mobility. Low-impact exercises, such as swimming, indoor cycling, Pilates or yoga will help your body build up endurance and stamina. However, advise with your physio first and, most importantly, listen to your body.
You might encounter that one injury may trigger another, such as in my case Achilles Tendonitis. Again, the answer is a lot of TLC, patience and rest. Your body will tell you immediately if you're expecting too much too soon. 

Once you’re up and running again, you’ll feel stronger, injury-proofed and, hopefully, injury-free. Are you recovering from an injury at the moment? If so, feel free to share your story with me and other runners here.

Obviously, I can't deny...

Sunday, 19 January 2014

How I survived London’s Survival of the Fittest 2013

Some time has passed since the last entry to this blog. Here is a retrospect entry to how my running year 2013 ended…

On 16th November 2013 I was one of 10,000 runners taking on Men's Health Survival of the Fittest 10K obstacle race at Battersea Power station in London. As a runner I was not concerned about running 10K, but more about what kind of obstacles I would face. From mud baths, skating parks, mazes and a 5ft wall at the finish line, it was nothing that I had done before. I was excited about the race ahead of me, but instinctively felt trepidation that something bad might happen.

I was due to start at wave 5 at 13:30 with 29 other work colleagues of my office. I was determined to take it easy. My aim was to finish within the 2hrs mark but not to finish last in my wave.
The first obstacle just behind the start line were three sets of hay bales, which I managed to climb easily without any major embarrassment. These were followed by a set of thin board walls, a maze, a swing, a spider net, and many, many more. The track followed on along the Thames promenade to Battersea Park to an outdoor running track. 5K into the run, the next obstacle was a steeplechase. Hurdling not being my best strength and exhausted from the previous 5K, I climbed over the hurdles rather than jumped. Right after the last hurdle was a pool, which looked more like a puddle. I climbed over the hurdle, lost balance and fell into that pool, completely underestimating the depth of it. Immediately, I felt a sharp pain in my left foot. I slowly waddled out of the pool, trying to regain composure and holding back tears of anger and pain. One of the race volunteers came over and asked if I was alright. I was in pain and I couldn't put any weight on my foot, but I was determined to continue the race. 'I'm fine', I mumbled and hopped along, determined to run another 5K. Little did I know what damage I did to my poor foot.

Adrenalin must have kept me going from that point onwards, because I did manage to finish the race at an unbelievable 1:17:42, despite hopping the remainder of it. Still, I climbed more walls, climbed through tunnels and boxes, was hosed down and thankfully was thrown over The Wall at the finish line by a fellow racer. I have to thank all the fellow runners who kept me going and helped me up and down any obstacles I was too scared to face. Despite my pain, I was very proud of my medal as you may see from my finisher's pose.

When I returned home that evening the pain had turned for the worse. I was limping all the way from Battersea back home to Leigh-on-sea. I sensed that my foot wasn't fine at all and couldn't hold back my tears any longer. My boyfriend Robert picked me up from the station that night with crutches in his hands. The next day we went to A&E to have my foot x-rayed. The doctor said to me, 'you'll have to get used to these crutches unfortunately'. The diagnosis was a dislocated fracture of my fifth metatarsal bone on my left foot. This was the end of my running for the year 2013.

When I came back to the hospital on the following Tuesday to have a cast fitted, I was more than shocked to hear that I needed to have surgery to have screws and a metal plate fitted to ensure it would heal properly. I had surgery on Wednesday, 20th November at Southend University Hospital and was released with a cast the next day. I had to keep the cast for another four weeks, before changing into a removable air boot for another two weeks.

The last two months with injury were tough. I've had to battle with frustration and depression. I wouldn't let this be the end of my running, but I knew that a long way of rehabilitation was laying ahead of me. The new year has opened a new chapter of my running experience: rehabilitating from my injury and fighting a long way back to what I miss the most, long distance running.