Posted by: stokiecat | November 30, 2014

A Long but Happy Post About the South Cheshire 20

I’m not a big celebrator of birthdays, I don’t like a fuss and on one occasion I have been known to forget my own birthday. Between the ages of 34 and 40 I would regularly forget how old I was, saying “er nearly 40?” whenever anyone asked. However reaching a milestone age tends to focus your mind somewhat so I am currently fully aware of my age. When I started running at 38 the most surprising thing for me was learning that I was already a veteran, over the hill, past it, ready for the nursing home, but I soon learnt that “veteran” in running is virtually irrelevant, just look at Jo Pavey. My participation in running was a direct result of not wanting to be fat at 40, which I achieved last year, so this year I decided I did want to celebrate my birthday in a manner more fitting to my new-found fitness. I’m enough of a realist to know I’ll never to match the achievements of Jo Pavey, obviously . I know my limits (physical, psychological, social) and I have worked out that my motivation is to set a goal that is achievable but will stretch me a little bit more than the last one. I had a dislike of the word marathon, it was simply too much for me to take on at the time, so I decided that the South Cheshire 20 would be my goal, running it on the day of my 41st birthday.


As always my training had not gone to plan and I had been mostly lacking in long runs. My previous long run had been 16 miles. I was talking to Dan, the man I have to curse thank for getting me into this running malarkey, that I was worried about not being able to make the distance. He was convinced I would be able to manage 20 miles easily, I was less convinced as I was struggling to manage 9 mile training runs. Some people say that you shouldn’t run the full distance in your training programme before undertaking a medium/long distance race. Personally this strategy is no good for me because I am prone to negative thoughts so I have to know that I can make the distance before I run a race. I believe it’s about having good self-awareness of what suits you as an individual. In the end I decided that I would do a 20 mile training run on the August Bank Holiday Monday, this would give me 2 weeks to recover before the actual race, if I made it. I was joined by a fellow Trentham runner, Lee L, and we set off in the morning on an out-and-back along the canal. We’re almost equal in terms of ability (I’m a little bit quicker, Lee is more experienced at longer distances) so it was perfect for my first real test of 20 miles. The run was great (in the end it was 21 miles) and it also meant I could try out my nutrition strategy and judge my fatigue points.


The things I learnt on the training run were that my knees and my shins can hold out over the distance. I also learnt my Nike running shorts were not appropriate for long distances due to some unfortunate chaffing at the top of my thighs. My nutrition strategy needed tweaking a little and I had pushed a little too hard at about 14 and 15 miles which meant the last two miles of the run (when I had split from Lee as we made our way back to respective homes) were an incredibly tough run-walk. However things were looking good until as per usual I got an injury niggle. As the week went on I started to get some serious pain in the soles of my feet. I already had a pre-run trip to the physio arranged and when I explained what had happened he swiftly found a new way to cause me immense pain by giving me acupuncture in the soles of my feet. He also advised no heels for the week, KT tape and use of a roller. I stuck to his instructions to the letter and went on my final run on the Wednesday before the race, 4 miles at a 10 minute mile pace. The run was great but when I stopped I was in agony, things were not looking good for Sunday. However I stuck with the physio instructions and decided this was not going to beat me, I would do the race.


Saturday was spent planning a strategy. Luckily the pain in my foot had dissipated. Quite frankly I was amazed because I was worried it was plantar fasciitis, which I knew could take runners out of the game for years. However I made sure I had my KT tape on and ibuprofen ready. I spend most of the day virtually running the course on google street view, working out where the hills were, where I’d need to walk and where the water stations were. My plan included taking on water at every stop, walking whilst doing so, walking up the hill I had already been warned about at 9 miles and then probably run/walk the last three miles. More importantly I would not be a slave to the watch. As part of my training I had discovered this: and thought that I would use this to method to pace myself. So the theory was to run up to 13 miles in the happy zone, then up to mile 18 mile in the moderate zone, with the last two miles in the hard zone. My target finish time would be 3 hours 45 minutes. I drank a lot of water the night before and went to bed early and happy.


On the day of the race it was warm and sunny. I had decided I would be in no fit state to drive home so I was offered a lift with another Lee, also from Trentham. He is a bit of a running machine so I didn’t want him to be waiting for my slow arse at the end of the race so I also blagged a lift home with my 20 mile training partner Lee L. I was nervous but surprisingly calm. Lee had made a good point on the way to the race to think that it wasn’t 20 miles, just 20 runs of one mile. I really liked this but I didn’t actually use this strategy until I reached mile 10 but then I started to count backwards 10, 9, 8 etc. Nearly all runners love to compare notes, training strategies and tips. It really is a privilege being part of a running club, but also there is such a sense of community amongst all runners. There is also competition, I do always check who I think will be about my running speed (mainly so I can use them as a pacer 🙂  ) but I also like to check out who I think I can take out in a race. It doesn’t always work and I don’t really take it seriously but I like to know if I’ve judged it right when I look at the race results. As we milled about before the race there was time to catch up with other people I knew and of course get the obligatory team photo…

We lined up and I think I was the last person to cross the start line but I wasn’t concerned, I was going to stick to my strategy. The other piece of advice I’d read was sing. If you can’t sing then you’re going too fast. It was an advantage that the number of entrants was quite low as I must have looked/sounded like a right knobber as I ran along (especially as my songs of choice are nearly exclusively show tunes or Let It Go from Frozen – I know, I’m sorry). For the first few miles the run just ticked along nicely, I felt strong, I took my water and gels as I had planned, having a chat with other runners occasionally but really just running my own race. I had found a group of people who were running at a pace I could manage so I just slotted in behind them and bimbled along. By the time I reached 10 miles I was still feeling fresh and by 13 miles I was easily within my target time. In fact it had made me question why I was running half marathons so slowly and that I actually should put some effort in to getting a bit faster in the future. I had hardly noticed the miles, I was enjoying being out in the countryside and being present in the run itself.

At 14ish miles I had a most excellent surprise as Alan (big Stoke City fan, fast South Cheshire Harrier) was waiting outside his house with a banner. He even ran with me for a mile despite the fact he had run the Wolverhampton Half earlier that morning! That helped me get through a point where I thought I would find it harder, I was already expecting 15+ to be hard work and that psychological boost meant that I made it through those miles a bit better. At 17 miles my inner negativity hit and it became a bit depressing and it seemed like I was never going to get to the end. I also finally gave in and checked my watch which actually turned out to be a good thing. After a bit of mental maths I realised that with a bit of effort I could make it under 3 and a half hours. For the next three miles whenever I felt I was edging into negative thoughts I actually spoke out-loud, “dig in dig in, come on nearly there”. I also knew this was the hard zone and I needed to make the most effort. I gritted my teeth and shuffled on. I will be forever grateful to the woman who gave me some water at about 18.5 miles as I was gasping for a drink, my nutrition strategy obviously needs a bit of work!

2014-09-07_14.17.14_zpsayisk1gm I loved this banner, thanks Alan 🙂

However my overall race strategy had paid off, a steady run at the beginning meant I was actually picking people off in the last few miles. I did have to run walk by the time I got to 19 miles and I constantly checked my watch as I was determined to make it under 3 and a half. I was still repeating the dig in mantra. Learning the course beforehand had also been a positive so I knew exactly where the finish was. There is nothing more depressing than thinking you have finished a race then realising you have another few hundred yards running round a playing field. This time as I turned the final road corner I knew I had to run so I picked up the pace as best as I could and as I turned into the field it felt damn good. I could hear Rachel from Newcastle really yelling my name as I ran to the finish which was brilliant (especially as she had finished half an hour earlier). I could see the clock 3 hours 25 minutes, I was ecstatic and I literally skipped over the line, punching the air.

IMG_0962  Finish photo thanks to Bryan Dale

I had even finally got my first 50 points in the league, as group winner, never mind that the group leader wasn’t actually taking part in this one, a win is a win! I also have to thank Lee and Ali for providing the best cup of coffee I have ever tasted after we had all finished the race (although served from a flask not my winners mug).

IMAG0034_zpsffxlxy9tI’m not ashamed to admit I’m proud of my winners mug! (you will note there are two, well that’s a blog for another time maybe…)


This was easily my best race of the season. I had prepared well (the 7Ps folks!), knowing the route and how I was going to run it. I had no major pre-race nerves, I loved (nearly) all the run and I had smashed my goal by 20 minutes. The race itself is a pleasant course, and excellently organised and marshaled by the South Cheshire Harriers. I came down to earth with a bump in my next two races where I didn’t prepare and I under-performed but that’s a learning curve as well for another occasion and it hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for longer distances. It might not be until next July but Potteries Marathon here I come!



  1. Just think of the potteries as a 20 miler with a measly 10km on the end! 10k is like a walk in the park after 20 miles! That’s how my brain accepted it! X


    • did your brain consider the hills? 😉


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