Saturday, 26 October 2019

Broken Ankle to Half Marathon

I’m finishing writing this on the eve of Worksop Hallowe’en Half Marathon – my first half marathon since recovering from a broken ankle earlier this year.

Time to “stop pulling the broken ankle excuse,” as Rob Payne so delicately put it when I opted out of one of his ‘no Payne, no gain’ training sessions a few weeks ago! I’m at the point when if someone asks me how my recovery is going, I have to say, “I think it’s complete!”  I acknowledge some resistance to do so, because that means the only thing that’s holding me back is fitness – and that means I need to put some work in!  In a position of “coming back from injury”, there’s always an excuse!  Suddenly the excuse has ceased to be! So, I’m going to put it all down here and it’s onward and upward from here on in!

“Sorry, guys, I’m not OK!”

On 3rd February 2019, I set off on a training run with this lovely lot, the plan being to run from Scartho to Louth on the Silver Lincs Way.  This was an off road run of 25 miles as part of our training for the Millennium Way – a 41 mile ultra on 3rd March.  

It was a beautiful fresh and frosty but bright and sunny day; perfect for a long run with friends.  So it was that we set off - Sarah and Mike, Chris R, Claire & Andy Byatt from the start and with Claire Bates joining us after 5 or 6 miles. 

It was going well. As I recall we were chatting away and everyone was running ok and looking forward to the rest of the day.  Then I fell over.  Ironically, I felt I was running fairly carefully and avoiding icy puddles – but it was a frozen tractor track that got the better of me.  You know how sometimes you can fall over and twist your ankle a bit but after a few seconds you can say, “it’s ok, I’m fine” and then carry on?  Well, this wasn’t like that!  I knew straight away that something wasn’t right: “I’m sorry, guys I’m, not ok.”  

Claire (Bates) went off to get her car, along with Andy and Mike, (who got on the phone to Chris to get him to come for me), while Sarah and Claire (Byatt) helped me up the hill we’d just run down (as I feared if Claire brought her car down, she’d never get it back up!) and Chris R picked up my discarded shoe and put an extra jacket round me.  Team work!

A & E

By the time they got me back to the road, Chris arrived and although I was in pain and knew I couldn’t put my foot down (I tried!), I did wonder whether I was just causing a big fuss for nothing. I suggested I go home, have some paracetamol in and a couple of glasses of wine and see how it was the next day.  Claire Byatt – who was the only one who saw the angle my ankle and foot went when I fell – has told me since that she was standing behind me, shaking her head and mouthing to Chris, “hospital!”  So that’s where we headed. 

I was seen quite quickly, triaged, given some pain relief and a nice warm blanket as I was shivering by that point.  An X-ray showed a comminuted fracture of the distal fibula and I was then given some more pain relief. A nurse explained that this meant that my ankle was broken in two places and the bit between the breaks was displaced.  This would need putting back in place either by manipulation or surgery and they would bring an orthopaedic doctor to have a look as it needed working on quickly.

The doc duly came, pressed a couple of other places on my ankle – which made me jump and wince a lot.  He said, “Ah yes.  We know where to press!”  He said that he would try to manipulate it, and called upon a nurse to be ready with the plaster, which would hold it in place if he was successful. 

I was handed a gas and air mask and told how to use it. I was a bit surprised and didn’t think I’d need it – after all I’ve given birth twice without pain relief.  Surely I’m hard core?  In any case, when you see them click something back into place on Casualty on TV, it only takes a few seconds. But I had a little drag on the gas and air as I was assured I would need it.  Too bloody right I needed it!!  OMG – I am wincing just recalling it!  It did NOT  take a few seconds. 

There was lots of pressing the bone and pulling about – really deeply pressing it (presumably with his thumb – I wasn’t looking) and then squeezing my whole ankle.  I was sucking on that gas and air as though my life depended on it!  I can’t say it reduced the pain – just made me feel light headed and the, because I’d hyperventilated, it sort of resembled panic and I struggled to calm down.  Eugh.  The manipulation lasted about 5 or 6 minutes (seemed longer) and then getting the pot on was painful as the doc held the bones in place while the nurse potted it up.  I was then sent for a check- xray, to see whether the manipulation had worked.  It hadn’t.  The doc explained that it had gone partly back into place and if I was an 80 year old person who wasn’t bothered about being very active, then it would probably be good enough, but with me being... wait for it (I’m still dining out on this) ... an athlete (evidenced by my running gear!) it would require surgery to enable me to have the best mobility possible.

 “You’re staying in.”

I was admitted and placed on a bed with my leg elevated and told not to try to get out of bed on my own – not even to the loo.  It was important to prevent swelling.  If it didn’t swell, I could have the surgery the next day.  If it swelled, I faced a wait of a week to 10 days to let the swelling go down.  I behaved myself.  

Through-out this all this, I was very keen to know how my running buddies were getting on – the day was moving on and I kept just hoping my incident hadn’t spoiled their run too much.  They’d had quite a delay – not to mention running an extra mile or two – because of my mishap.  I said to Chris at one point that I knew at least Mike and Chris R had their phones with them and asked him to message to ask how it was going and let them know I’m OK.  I think the codeine and morphine were having some effect as I felt reasonably jolly!  Chris just said, “You’re not ok though!.... but I’ll try to find out how they are doing.” As it happened, they ended up running over marathon distance!

I didn’t sleep well – pain, constant interruptions to check my BP, temperature and whether I could wiggle my toes, administer more pain relief and anticoagulant injections made sure of that. Plus, I was hungry.  I wasn’t allowed to eat as they didn’t know what time of day the surgery would be.  A nurse asked me at one point what time I last ate.  I couldn’t remember the time and replied, “I had a baby-bel at about 5 miles in!” I fully expected them to be able to work it out from that!  The drugs, again, I think.

Waiting for the op.

The next day, Monday, seemed endless as I waited for my slot in theatre. My saviour was facebook messenger.  A steady trickle of messages came through and I occupied myself by keeping in touch with everyone and updating on what was happening.  By the time I went to theatre it was 4.45pm and I hadn’t eaten for 30+ hours. I was ready to eat my own arm!
The surgeon and anaesthetist had a good laugh at my “Keep on Running” tattoo, which, of course is on my foot on the same side as the broken ankle!  “Hmmm – it’s running that’s got you into this mess!”  I protested that it wasn’t the running that caused the problem, it was the falling over, and asked how long before I’d be running again!  

The surgeon advised that I’d be non-weight-bearing for 6 weeks after the op, then partial weight bearing for the next 6 weeks.  After that, he suggested cycling for 3 months and resume running gradually after that.  The last thing I thought before the oblivion of anesthesia was, “about the end of July then.”

And when I woke up – I was bionic.  Ankle all put back together with a plate and 9 pins.

Recovering at home.

On discharge, I was told to sit or lie down as much as possible, keeping my ankle elevated above my hip at all times and above my heart whenever possible, to prevent swelling.  I soon found out why this was important.  Whenever I was up and about I would feel it swelling which was very painful.  It felt like the pot was being tightened like a vice around my ankle.

Mid-February, the pot was removed in order to remove the single stitch and I was able to see the site of the surgery for the first time. I slightly freaked at what had gone on inside my body, but was delighted to see that the scar hadn’t impinged on my tattoo and that it looked very neat.  It was then repotted.

Volunteering and Supporting.

Overall, I settled in OK to the rest and didn’t mind being away from work. I was never bored; never a week went by without my chief running buddy, Sarah visiting.  I did plenty of reading and to be honest, I slept a lot.  I got worried at one point about taking too many pain killers but spoke to Laura D (who has had a similar but worse injury) and Lydia (who is a nurse) and just accepted that I needed to take them – and then deal with the constipation later!  With copious pain relief I was able to get about well on crutches so that Chris could take me up to the club when he ran. I didn’t miss many club nights and it was good to support the beginners’ course from the sidelines. I was able to volunteer at parkrun and Chris took me along to support our running buddies at the Millennium Way a month after the accident.  What a great day that was. They are heroes.


AfterAfter I first got out of hospital my appetite was down a bit.  When it returned, I decided to be very disciplined as I didn’t want to pack on the weight whilst immobile. I’d previously been running 20 to 30 miles a week, so if I carried on eating as though I was still running, I’d be the size of a bus!  I found it easy to stick to eating lightly, partly because it was so much hassle to go to the fridge!  I wasn’t as disciplined with alcohol though and took to frequent rum in my coffee, even starting quite early in the morning.  (Dad would be proud!) It seemed to work well alongside the paracetamol, codeine and ibuprofen!

Showering was a pain in the neck. I had to wear a plastic cover to keep the pot dry, get myself up the step into the shower using crutches keeping my leg up, then lean against the wall to shower.  It was such hard work, I reduced to showering every other day (unless someone was visiting) and on non shower days, sat on the loo to have a strip wash. Don’t try too hard to picture it!  Dry shampoo became my best friend. 


After a while I started to feel sluggish and started to look on You Tube for what exercise I could do with a broken ankle.  I discovered loads of chair based cardio exercise.  Some of it was clearly designed for the elderly / generally immobile / possibly with memory problems too, as the exercises had crazy names that helped you remember the moves.  I’ve had many a laugh describing and demonstrating, “Milking the Giant Cow”, but these chair based exercises were really vigorous and raised my heart rate enough for my Garmin to register a training effect.  I was so convinced my watch was reading my heart rate incorrectly that I used a chest HR monitor a few times.  It proved to be accurate.  I gradually found other chair based exercise and eventually stumbled upon Youtube exercise routines by Caroline Jordan – a fitness trainer who had experienced a Sesamoid foot injury and had developed a regime of non-weight-bearing exercises to aid her recovery..  She is super enthusiastic, happy, positive and motivating.  Some would say ‘annoyingly so’, but it worked for me – I needed all that stuff. It made me smile.

Now I was cooking with gas.  Going around on crutches, with the bad leg off the ground, was a big effort and raised my heart rate a lot.  But too much of it resulted in swelling and pain.  With these fitness videos, I could get all the benefits of exercise, including the raised endorphins, with minimal swelling.  I used to wear my running gear and get a water bottle and towel to hand too – making a proper occasion of it!

Fast forward to 15th March and I had the pot removed for good to reveal a leg as hairy as a dog and a very scabby looking, skin-flaking foot.  The scar, however was very neat. It had been itching for weeks and I was desperate to give it a good scratch, but when I tried to scratch it, it was absolutely too painful!

A bit of a scary time.

I felt pleased to have the pot off, but nervous.  Having gone nearly 7 weeks without putting my foot down it was a bit of a scary prospect to try to walk on it. I entered the consultant’s office on crutches and he told me to put my foot down. I did, but kept the weight on the crutches and other foot.  I tried to gradually ease some weight onto the bad foot but it was agony and felt so weak.  There were a few minutes of despondency there. Especially when he quite dismissively said, we’ll put you in a boot - just increase the walking and weight bearing and gradually get rid of the crutches; you can go back to work in a couple of weeks.  I asked how much I should be trying to walk on it and he just said, “be guided by the pain”!  If I’d done that, I’d just have sat down and not bothered! 

I had about a week to 10 days waiting for a physiotherapy appointment and that was probably the most difficult time. I had no guidance, a lot of pain and was quietly fearful that I wouldn’t get walking properly again, let alone running.  The boot was uncomfortable but at least enabled me to put a little weight on my foot, still mostly supporting myself on crutches.  But whenever I ‘walked’ anywhere, the ankle and foot swelled again and became painful – as in this pic taken on 20th March after supporting at Gainsborough 10k.  But at least, unlike the pot, I could remove the boot and get some ice around my ankle.  

It was at this time I discovered Therapearl.  These are much more flexible than regular gel ice packs and some come with a strap attached, making it easier to keep the ‘ice’ in close contact with the pain.  As much as analgesics dulled the pain, there’s nothing like being able to get some cold onto a painful inflamed limb.  It provided some instant relief. If you want to check them out, click here for Amazon.

Physiotherapy – the turn around.

My physio appointment was a massive turning point. I was assessed and my main goal established – to be running again as soon as possible.  Claire, the physio listened first, then examined my ankle and gave me a structured plan.  I like structure. I like plans.  This was just what I needed.  Initially, I was to massage around the scar as much as possible to start to desensitise it.  Then start to walk, with the crutches, barefoot on as many different surfaces as possible, indoors and out.  I was told it was best to do this for a few minutes every hour than try to do it for a long period once or twice a day.  Other advice was: wear the boot for going out and about as it would offer a lot of protection and help me to feel less vulnerable when around a lot of other people; as soon as the swelling would allow, put my trainers on and start to walk around, with the crutches, gradually increasing the weight on the bad foot; take plenty of pain relief; elevate the foot as much as possible between activity and ice as necessary.  Once I could wear my trainers, she booked me onto the Ankle Rehabilitation Group, which I affectionately renamed Ankle Club.  First rule of Ankle Club: we don’t talk about Ankle Club!

Ankle club.

Ankle club consisted of a circuit of 9 exercises each lasting 1½ minutes and repeated twice during the session.  They involved balancing, ankle raises, lunges, walking forwards, backwards and sidewards, walking on heels and tip toes, stand-up-sit-down on gradually lowering seats / bench and – my favourite – walking and running on the spot on a mini trampoline! There were 4 levels of difficulty for each exercise and I started on levels 1 & 2 with them all.... thoroughly determined to get to level 4 as quickly as possible.  I attended for the 6 week course, and it was suggested I go for another 2 weeks to nail the tip toe walking and single leg heel raises as I found these really difficult and hadn’t made it to level 4.  To be fair, I’ve shown the single leg heel raise exercise to a lot of people and they’ve found it difficult even without an injury, so I don’t feel too bad about that.  I can do it now, but still don’t feel awfully strong on the ex-bad ankle.  Give it a go.  You have to stand with your toes on the bottom step of the stairs, heels over the edge, use your hand on the rail to balance, but not to support or pull yourself up.  Raise up on to both toes. Now, lift your good leg up so that all the weight is on the bad leg.  Slowly (that’s the difficult bit – slowly) lower your heel down below the level of the step, hold for a few seconds and then raise yourself up on your tip toe again.  It’s tough.  Initially, my foot would just drop into the ‘heel below the level of the step’ position (no, ‘slowly’ about it) and I couldn’t get back up from there.  I still practice this in shoes and bare foot as recommended as ongoing rehab. This is where I am now. 

The tip-to walking was initially impossible, but with practice was just painful and difficult, which was an improvement!  It was frustrating because no matter how determined I was, everything around the ankle seemed weak.  Here is my early effort videoed on 24th April  2019:

And check out how much easier this is in this video taken 4 months later, at the end of August.

My favourite part of Ankle Club was always the running on the spot on the mini-trampoline.  Louise R at CRC kindly lent me one to use at home and I had great fun devising interval sessions to stop my fitness from dwindling completely. OK, as many people have pointed out, my running form leaves much to be desired, but at least I was moving!


On the whole, I stuck with the advice of the physio and just walked a lot. I had a little secret trial trot just on the local playing field towards the end of April – I say it was secret, but Sarah and Mike are very astute and although this was saved as a walk on Strava (and indeed was mostly walking), they picked up that “it was a very fast walk – if we didn’t know better, we might think there was a little trot in there.” It was too sore and stiff really, so I wound my neck in.  I also had a little trot in May at Liverpool when a gang of us went to Princes parkrun – just a few little trots within parkrun and a trot on Sunday on the mile run (as I’d transferred from my HM place to the mile).  We did a lot of walking that weekend too – anaesthetised with alcohol and a few pain killers!  It was ok at the time, but I suffered the next week with pain and swelling. Once again I eased off.   It was in June when I got started seriously on an adapted version of C25k. I was supported by many people on these run-walks; husband Chris, and my super running buddy, Sarah particularly were always by my side.

My first parkrun

On 3rd August, exactly 6 months after the incident, I completed my C25K by running Market Rasen Racecourse parkrun non-stop – once again accompanied by most of the Millennium way gang and other running buddies.  This felt like a huge achievement, and so had to be celebrated, with a fried bread breakfast at the 10 Acres Cafe at Osgodby. Friends and prosecco completed the celebration.

Sub 30 min parkrun

The next job was to run a bit quicker. As well as Chris, I was joined by lovely running buddy Claire Bates to help me achieve sub 30 at Cleethorpes parkrun on 17th August. Not only this, but the rest of Team Bates – Ian, Martha and Edith came along to give extra support and of course this needed to be celebrated in the usual style.

My first 10k

It’s no secret that I’m not keen on running 10k.  But soon after 5k was ticked off, a fellow CRC member, Peter Conway, put a place for Mablethorpe 10k up for sale as he was, unfortunately, injured.  I took the place and Chris promptly entered to support me. This was on 8th September, just over 7 months since I fell over.  It was SO tough. Very hot on the way out and head wind on the way back.  Chris was amazing and kept me going, encouraging me to dig deep, which I certainly had to.  I had no time goal, but supposed I’d be somewhere around 1:05 / 1:10 so I was very pleased with my finish time of 01:01:21. 

Chris was in great form on this run, trotting along easily and encouraging me.  It’s incredible to think that 2 days later on 10th September, he would be in A & E himself, following a heart attack on a steady club run. I will revisit this in a future post; for now, suffice to say he is going along nicely.

Gruesome Twosome

Sarah and I are Gruesome partners for life, not just for Christmas, so when it looked like I wouldn’t be fit for it this year, we decided to marshal as a Gruesome pair.  We had such a great time, with Lincolnshire flags, music, a picnic, flask of tea and various percussion instruments and cheering that I forgot to take any pics!  There’s just this one of us celebrating afterwards!

Onward to Half Marathon Distance.

Apart from just not being very fit (and possibly being a little over my best weight) I’m back to normal.  The ankle becomes sore a bit when it gets stiff, especially if I stand still for any significant time. I can feel the plate jarring a bit sometimes when I run – from what I understand, bones have a bit of give and flexibility in them but titanium doesn’t, so this is what causes the jarring feeling.  It ached towards the last third of my 11 mile training run and I expect it to be a bit sore towards the end of tomorrow’s run, but nothing major. I’m happy. Very happy.  I’m not bothered about any fast times just now, but I’m not saying that won’t ever change.  For now, I’m just enjoying running.

Tomorrow, Sarah, Jo-Mo, Laura, Nadine and I will run Worksop Hallowe’en HM resplendent as Purple and Black Winged Devils, complete with mini speaker and Spooky Play List.  It will be so much fun.  I’ll finish this post now with a pic of me having a dress rehearsal and no doubt there will be an addendum in due course, showing pictures of our antics!

ADDENDUM - as promised! Worksop HM.

The Worksop Hallowe'en Half Marathon went well.  I had great fun running with Sarah, Jo-Mo, Laura and Nadine.  Laura was chief photographer on the route. I took a Hallowe'en playlist and we trotted and danced our way around the route. Jo-Mo brought a quiz.  Miles shared with friends fly by.  Many more happy miles ahead, I'm sure.

Five purple devils coming in to the finish.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018


Here we go then - my flapjack recipe.

Ingredients for basic flapjack

7 oz Butter (substitute with dairy free spread for vegan version)
7 oz Dark Brown Sugar
2 tablespoons Golden Syrup
9  oz Jumbo Rolled Oats (give a better texture than ordinary cheapo porridge oats)
2 tablespoons Plain Flour (for gluten free version, use gluten free flour with ½ tspn xanthium gum)


Line a 12" x 7" baking tray with grease-proof paper or foil and grease it really well with butter. This is really important, otherwise it sticks badly.  

Preheat the oven to 170 C

  • Melt the butter, brown sugar and syrup together in a pan.
  • Mix the jumbo oats and flour together and at this stage, add any other ingredients (see below)
  • Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the butter-sugar-syrup mixture. Fold together
  •  Tip the mixture into the lined baking tray. Spread it around evenly but don't press it too firmly into the corners and edges (as this tends to make it stick).
  • Put in the oven at 170 C for 25 to 30 minutes. 

Important - when you take it out of the oven,
turn it out, upside down onto a cooling wire 
as soon as you can handle it.  You need to 
get the grease proof paper / foil off as 
soon as possible, otherwise it will stick - 
especially at the edges.


M & M - chuck a handful of M & Ms (plain / peanut / biscuit / mixed) into the oats and flour.  When flapjack is cool, melt chocolate, spread over the top and drop M & Ms all over it. I challenge you to cut it up without making a mess!

Maple & Pecan  - use maple syrup instead of golden syrup. Add 4 oz roughly chopped pecans to the oats and flour.

Chocolate Ginger - add 6 oz chopped crystallized stem ginger to the oats and flour. When flapjack is cool, melt chocolate, spread over the top and drop chopped crystallized stem ginger all over it.

Date and Hazelnut - add 3 oz chopped dates  and 3 oz chopped hazelnuts to the flour mix

I think you could add just about anything to the mix.  I tried jelly beans once.  The flapjacks were delicious but they did try hard to stick to the grease proof paper so a little frustrating. 

If you make them with a different variation and they are good, please leave me a message.  I'd be interested to hear more ideas.

The best thing about these is -

      a) they are delicious
      b) the variations are endless
      c) they are very easy to make
      d) they contain absolutely NO CALORIES.

One of the above statements might not be entirely true.  In fact, it might be a barefaced lie!

Monday, 27 August 2018

Blackpool Marathon – Revisited – 22 April 2018

My first marathon was Blackpool 2014, completed in a time of 04:21:24.  Between then and now, I’ve run Chester (2014), Boston UK (2017), a Genuine FakeMablethorpe Marathon (2017) and Hull Marathon (2017).  I was drawn back to Blackpool this year, to have a go at beating my previous time.

It’s taken a long time to get around to writing about this, simply because I seem to have had a busy year with work, running and other life stuff!!  But, better late than never – I’m not minded to just skip into the present.  This marathon was special for a particular reason, so I am not going to leave in unrecorded.

Early Training

The initial training had its ups and downs.  I think I was complicating things too much; I’d read too many training guides and articles with conflicting information and got myself a bit mixed up between what was meant by intervals and tempo sessions.  I found myself tired out and distressed because I was working far too hard on some sessions and just lost track of what I was doing.

Friends support in so many ways.

All this was sorted out for me following a run with Sarah and Mike.  Over a lovely post-run lunch, Mike had a look at the results of my lactate threshold testing from Lincoln University, jiggled about with the training zones to make them more suited to how he observed me running and simplified my plan.  The new plan took account of the fact that I thought I could only reliably run 3-4 times a week and divided this up between long runs, speed work and recovery.  It kept it flexible and took the pressure off. 

We had some bad weather in the winter, which caused some training runs to be postponed or re-routed, but on the whole all went well, especially as we were able to do some of our training runs with Sarah and Mike as well as other people along the way.  When I say, ‘we’, I’m referring to Chris and I.  After Chris’s unhappy experience at Boston, he was joining me again to run Blackpool marathon to put the whole marathon experience to bed!

Defining goals - revising goals.

In March I ran Retford HM to see what kind of shape I was in.  I verbally predicted a time of about 2:10, but in my head hoped for nearer 2:05.  Therefore I was outwardly happy but internally slightly disappointed with 2:09.  This made me review my goal for Blackpool.  When I started my training, I had hoped to beat my PB - my Chester time of 4:19:59 or at least to beat my Blackpool 2014 time.  However, after the Retford result, I realised I was nowhere near that and revised my goal to 4:30:00.

Race day eve. Keep a normal routine.

The day before the race we went to Cleethorpes parkrun on Saturday morning, followed by the usual parkrun / CRC breakfast in JD Wetherspoon - ColiseumPicture Theatre.  After breakfast, we said our farewells to and were wished good luck by our running friends.  We organised to have them follow us on my Garmin tracker, at the same time as following other friends running the London Marathon and watching VLM on TV.

It was a baking hot day and was forecast for the same on Sunday.  We had an easy drive through to Blackpool, found our Premier in and then went for a wander, the 2 mile to the sea front to check out where to pick up our numbers in the morning and to get something to eat.  It was SO hot and sunny.  Blackpool was heaving; it was lovely to see – but we dreaded it being that hot on Sunday.  We’d trained through wind, snow, rain and sleet.  We weren’t ready for heat!

Sweet Relief

I am amused by the detail I was focused on when I first ran a marathon (how much water / home made energy drink / worries about whether had I eaten enough the night before / multiple breakfasts / how many gels to take) compared to this time when my main concern was the weather!  We woke up to a bright morning and I feared the worst,  However, by the time we walked to the start and picked up our numbers, it had clouded over beautifully and was spitting with rain.

Expect Miracles

We were nicely loosened up by our 2 mile walk to the start and I resolved to just set off nice and steady.  Although I had revised my goal following Retford HM, I was feeling good because the long runs had gone well after that (Retford) and I had tapered well. As I checked the pace of my first mile (10:19) and the second (10:01), my favourite passage from “The Art of RunningFaster” (by Julian Goater and Don Melvin) sprang to mind: 

I was feeling good during mile 3, which turned out to be 9:35 pace, a pace which I would go on to keep up for much of the race.  Chris wasn’t going for a time, but was happy to run at my pace.  He’s quicker than me over 10k and HM distance but just wanted to have a better experience than Boston.  We agreed in advance that if one of us was struggling, the other would go on and see what we could do.  The weather was cool (although I was soon plenty warm enough) and drizzling slightly and Chris and I were chatting.  

You could have knocked me over with a feather!

Somewhere around the end of mile three, I thought I could see a Lincolnshire flag in the distance.  I commented that I must be hallucinating because I thought I’d seen a Lincolnshire flag.  At the same time, we both realised that indeed there was a Lincolnshire flag ahead of us, along with some CRC hoodies!!!  Then we heard a shout of “here they are” and heard the sound of a whistle, a cow-bell, maracas and coconut shells!  As we got closer we could see it was Sarah, Mike, Jo-Mo and Chris!  What a surprise.  I couldn’t believe it!  We’d said cheerio less than 24 hours ago and they’d wished us luck and said, “see you Tuesday!”   So emotional!  We exchanged hugs and... well, I can’t even remember what I said, but very quickly we were ushered on to keep going.

Blackpool Marathon is a 2 looped affair, with 2 x out and backs in different directions, so I knew we would probably  see them again. The surprise of seeing them kept going for the next few miles up past the Tower, the Pier, Golden mile and back and the 9:30ish pace continued.  We saw them in the same place on the way back – this time they were on the other side of the  road, so we couldn’t have gone across to them without crossing the path of other runners.  This was no bad thing because I was just so overwhelmed to see them, I just felt rude not stopping to chat like we do during Dukeries!  It was fantastic..... the sound  and sight of the CRC super-supporters.  We found out later that other runners appreciated their support too – because of the out and back looped nature of the course they saw everyone multiple times and cheered up a runner in a bridal outfit, sadly without bridesmaids, who didn’t seem happy at all initially, but she managed to crack a smile the fourth time they saw her!

When the going gets tough, the support gets going.

After our second sighting of ‘the gang’ we headed off toward Lytham-St-Anns.  It’s quite a nice run in one direction, but gets a bit bleak on the way back, with little support on the route, other than a few rather quiet marshals.  We saw our entourage again just after the halfway point – possibly about 15 miles. I’d slowed down a little by then but was still consistently under 10 min pace.  I shouted across to them that it was getting tough now and felt a bit quick.  My face in this picture reflects that.

We probably both hit the wall within a couple of miles of each other.

At mile 19 I was feeling tired and said that I needed to slow down some more, but didn’t (yet)!  We caught up with a man and woman running together.  The chap had a really loud voice.  He was encouraging her but at the same time he was making it really obvious to everyone within earshot that he was running at her pace, not his own. It annoyed me.  He seemed a bit patronising.  We were catching them up but when we got past, it seemed to take forever to lose the sound of his voice. Once it faded away, at least we were another mile on the way.  At mile 20, Chris and I were both tired.  I had a couple of jelly sweets and offered Chris one. He took one on this occasion, but had to spit it out straight away as he felt sick.  I started to feel a little better again fairly quickly and Chris said , “you just go on, Fran. This is all I’ve got.”  

Soon after that, I saw Jo, Chris, Sarah and Mike again... possibly at about 21 or 22 miles as I headed off towards Lytham-St-Anns for the second time.  This was a real boost as the last few miles are tough.  Chris was only a few metres behind me at that point but I was to find out later that he had to stop for a few minutes to be sick and gather himself together.  This happened just after he had passed our gang and they were able to check if he was OK, offer water and Mike offered to run with him.

I was tired, but going well and realised that I’d kept under 10 minute miles from mile 3 onwards and that many of the earlier miles were around 9:30 pace.  I couldn’t do any maths but I knew that with 4 or 5 miles to go, a PB was in reach if I could keep the pace going.  It was encouraging to entertain that thought and reflect again on the ‘Expect Miracles’ passage.  

The wheels have a wobble.

However, towards the end of mile 23 / beginning of mile 24, I got a stitch – or rather a severe pain in the position a stitch happens.  It was not a stitch like I’ve ever experienced before. Much more painful and just continued to get worse, even though I slowed down... to a walk.... and then to a standstill, bringing in every trick I know to make a stitch go away.  After a couple of minutes standing still it eased slightly and I started walking again.  Then looking back, to my joy I saw Chris, steadily trotting up behind me.  I wasn’t ready to run yet and told him to go on, but he was ready for another walk.  We brisk walked a maybe half a mile and then I was ready to trot again. Even though I’d lost time (mile 24 was 14:28) I was still harbouring the hope of a PB so I tried to push on.  As will my 2014 experience, when I reached the turn point and spun round to come back along the lower prom, the head wind hit me full in the face.  The last two miles were a real battle, partly the wind, partly fatigue and partly because I still had a quite bit of pain in that stitch area.  Mile 25 clicked over and I remember looking at my total time so far and realising that I wouldn’t get a PB even if I could really pick up the pace.  In any case, I couldn’t go any quicker and the last couple of miles were around 11 minutes.  The last bit was just a case of getting to the finish, which was slightly different (and better) than the 2014 finish.... no further turns, just straight to the arch...... and there were Sarah, Mike, Jo-Mo and Chris again; how my spirits were lifted.  Check out Jo with the coconuts and Sarah with flag and cowbell. 

It was a really emotional finish.  I was totally happy with my finish time of 04:24:51 – only about 4 minutes slower than when I was 4 years younger!  My only regret was that Chris wasn’t with me at the finish, but he wasn’t far behind, finishing in 04:29:53 and gained extra kudos for picking up another woman en route, known as,  “doing a Frankie!”

What a great day.  I had a really good run and was pleased with the pace I maintained in the middle section (well, up to mile 24, actually) and Chris got a marathon PB by about 38 minutes!  But the best experience by far was our surprise supporters.  The photos in this post were taking by Mike – I wouldn’t have had any photos  if our lovely friends hadn’t been there.

After the finish, we headed off to J.D.Wetherspoons - "Albert and The Lion" where, as well as reliving the race, and having a celebratory pint, we quizzed them about how they came to be here, in rainy Blackpool instead of comfortably on the sofa watching VLM on TV!  Amazingly, Mike and Sarah had had their hotel booked in Preston for over a month and Jo-Mo and Chris had driven down that morning!  What fantastic friends we have. It was really funny hearing how Mike and Sarah had set off from Cleethorpes to Blackpool not long after us.  Later were then keeping an eye on my facebook check-ins in the afternoon as they were strolling around Blackpool at the same time we were!  They were keeping a look out for us and making sure they didn’t go in the pub where we had checked in.  I could just picture them, dodging around Blackpool, looking out for us and making sure they didn’t bump into us and spoil the surprise. 

Whatever future runs and races I do, regardless of training and times, PB possibilities or anything else, this one will always stand out in my memory as special because of the unexpected support from awesome friends..... so much so that I just want to end this post with exactly the same photo I started ..... and say, "thank you, thank you, thank you, Sarah, Mike, Jo-Mo and Chris."