After my last post about giving myself a bit of a break, I’ve had two weekends of racing – fun and exciting!

The first race was a guaranteed PB (or PR in American speak), because it was a 1 mile relay race in Albacoa, FL in support of a children’s charity, Bella’s Angels – and I’d never raced a mile.  I’ve never raced shorter than 5k before so I went into it really having no idea of pacing. I had never done a relay, either.  Our team was only assembled the day before but we managed to find 4 strong women and we had a blast.

I ran the first mile.  Given that it was 4 x 1 mile, I had expected perhaps a straight out-and-back course – silly me!  No, it was a fun crazy course that included running around a baseball stadium and up the bleachers – yes, you read that correctly, we had to run up, and then down, STAIRS in our 1 mile race.  It deserves a photo:

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I ran my mile in 5:43.8, and as a team we ran the 4 miles in 24:46.2 and were the first placed all-females team.  It was raining all morning which helped keep it cool, and Nina, Mary Sarah and I enjoyed a sopping wet 7km “cool down” (more like “swim down”) afterwards in the rain.  April headed off for the treadmill instead; fair enough considering she was running the New York City Half Marathon the following weekend!

This past weekend Tom and I ran the Palm Beach Road Runners‘ Shamrock 10 Mile Run.  Tom has been coming back from a running injury and is still taking it easy, so he agreed to pace me for the race – whoohoo!

[Tom last paced me in the Toronto Women’s Half Marathon in 2013.  Yes, you read that right.  Women’s.  We were flying in from London for a wedding and the race was the same weekend; I wanted to do it. I emailed the race organisers to ask if men were permitted too, since I couldn’t find anything on the website to the contrary.  They replied saying that Tom was very welcome to run the race.  Race day:  1000 women, 4 men.  A huge bonus because Tom ended up staying with me and pacing me to a big PB at the time.]

The course was 10 miles around Lake Osborne in Lake Worth, FL (yes, that geography confuses me too.  A lake in a lake?).  Around 400 runners did the 10 miles, and another 600 ran the 5k race, meaning a whole lot of mock-Irish green, including some fabulous fancy dress:

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This race was a big test for me in terms of seeing how training is going and to determine what pace I should be looking to do in the London Marathon next month.  My goal was to run 6:50-7:00 min/mile (or 4:15-4:20 min/km).  It didn’t quite happen.  It was 30 degrees out, bright sunshine, and whether that’s the reason or whether I’m just not strong enough yet, I ended up with an average pace of 7:04 min/mile (or 4:22 min/km).  But I gave it my all (as my heart rate shows, and Tom can attest to my extreme breathing towards the end), so I was happy with my efforts.  You can only do what you can do!

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Tom powers it home!

I finished in 1:10:41 and was 2nd woman overall, 1st in my age group, and 18th out of everyone.  The first lady and I played a good game of chase and I did catch her about 2 miles out, but she had a whole lot more left in the tank than I did in the last mile and she caught me again and finished 24 seconds ahead of me.  (As a funny coincidence, when I shook her hand at the end of the race, she ended up being English, from Manchester). All in all, a good result for me and a fun day out – once I’d forgotten the pain of those 10 miles.

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And post race?

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Refreshing!!!

 

These weeks in training:

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Not much running last week, but the Monday night group ride pretty much killed me (very windy, full of sprints, and we were 25 men and just me as the lone woman) and then it was a bit of a mini-taper for the 10 mile race. The race also meant that I got to skip my usual long run, hurrah!  Not that I don’t enjoy long runs – I do – but it’s always nice to have a bit of a change.

Doggy news (stop reading if this ain’t your thing)

1.  We took Haile to the beach again, where he learned that he really enjoys water.

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2.  I mean, he really enjoys water.

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3.  And he definitely enjoys the after effects:

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What’s your favourite race distance? I like ultra marathons the best!

 

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll have seen that last weekend I did the HITS Naples Half Ironman, and then three days later I signed up for the Sunshine State Palm Beach Half Marathon this past weekend.

It was awesome.

No, setting the alarm for 4:44 am Saturday morning was not awesome.  The jangling race nerves and the cold dark morning were also not awesome.  Racing one week after doing the Half Ironman was also not really very awesome.

But I had a secret weapon for this half marathon.

Secret Weapon!

Secret Weapon!

I first met Ben when she beat me in the Wellington Horse Country 10 Mile race in October.  As we stood gasping at the finish line, she told me about the Wellington Runners’ Club and their Wednesday night track sessions.  I’m a real believer in the track to sharpen up speed so I came along the very next Wednesday, and haven’t looked back since.

Ben also raced with me (and beat me again) in the Miami Man Half Ironman in November.  She is fast and she is strong.  Let’s put it this way – she has done an 11 hour Ironman!

So when I knew she was doing the Palm Beach Half, I immediately thought it would be great to run with her for pacing, if she was open to it.  She was – hurrah!

Running with someone who more or less runs a similar pace is a fantastic experience.  You never feel good throughout the whole race, but you also never feel bad the whole race – and when you’re running together, you have that little bit more of an incentive to try to keep up when you’re in a bad moment.  As it happens, Ben and I discussed afterwards that she feels at her best in the middle of the race.  I’m the exact opposite – the middle is where I struggle, and then I can usually find a bit more in the tank once I know the end is in sight.

The race started at 6:30 am so it was dark as we ran along the coast and we saw the sun rise over the ocean, still a novelty for me.  Our pacing worked beautifully.  I had my watch set to lap each kilometre, and Ben’s lapped each mile – so we had regular updates of our pace.  We agreed to start the race off about 10 seconds slower so as to prevent going into overdrive too quickly, and then we nudged it up after 2 miles.  Our splits were generally even and we ran the first half at a slightly more casual pace, then picked it up when we finally made the turn around and started heading back for home.  I had this pre-race text message in mind from Tom (who was travelling at the time) as we pushed ourselves that much harder:

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Err, I assume the missing word in there is HURT.

Neither Ben or I have been in proper speed training or half marathon training leading up to this race, but we are both running spring marathons (London for me, Boston for Ben).  I wanted to see where my fitness was at.  Ben had cheap entry via Groupon!  (Reason 1001 to enter a race?)  In any event, it felt great to run a strong steady race, a negative split, and to have a bit of a kick at the end for the last two kilometres.

We ran pretty much the entire race together and finished with a new PB for us both of 1:33 and placed 3rd and 4th woman, 17th and 19th overall (out of nearly 500 runners).

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Crossing the finish line just behind orange day-glo man

We both are aiming to get to sub 90 minutes eventually, but at this stage in the game, an even paced, negative split race feels awesome and a new PB never hurts!

What’s your strategy for races?

 

Weekly Round Up

This was obviously a bit of a strange week for me in that I was coming off the Half Ironman last Saturday, and preparing for the Half Marathon the following Saturday.  This isn’t the first time I’ve done back-to-back races so I wasn’t too worried about it, focusing on one short speed session and one longer run.  And zero cycling!

I am truly pathetic when it comes to making time for things like strength training, foam rolling, and core work (ok, so like 98% of runners out there).  So I am now logging that time onto my Garmin account as well so that I can see it from week to week.  If you don’t see it logged, I’m not doing it – please feel free to yell at me.

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Total time:  7:38

Swim:  1000 yards, 25 min

Bike: 0!

Run:  52km; 4:38

How was your week training?

 

This past weekend was the HITS Naples Triathlon.  I did the Half Ironman while Tom, still recovering from a running injury, did the Aquathon.  It was a fantastic event.

We registered and racked our bikes the evening before:

And checked out the beach where we would be swimming the next morning:

And readied our nutrition for the race…

No, we didn't actually take all of these!

No, we didn’t actually take all of these!

 

 

We had a typically sleepless night, woke at 4:44am and got ready to do battle.

It was so cold.  So so so cold.  I was so unhappy!  (12 deg C is 53 F.) It was cold, dark and windy.  It’s not supposed to be windy at 5 in the morning!  Water temperature was around 18 C / 65 F.

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I will be the first to admit it – I am a huge wuss when it comes to the cold.  I hate being cold, and I get cold extremely easily.  I don’t perform well when I’m cold, either.  My first instinct is to make myself as small as possible and not move at all, which isn’t really compatible with a half Ironman triathlon.  And c’mon, we are in Florida – it’s not supposed to be cold!

I have never come so close to backing out of an event as I did Saturday morning!  I was shivering hard while still dry and couldn’t even imagine how I would cope coming out of the water into the wind.  But as always, when the horn sounded, I forgot everything and dove in for the fight!

Swim – 1.9 km Half Ironman / 3.8 km Ironman

The chop!  The wind was up and the water was very choppy.  And I lost my timer chip off my leg as soon as I started.  Argh!  I had to stop and search for it and then when I couldn’t get it back on, I stuffed it down the front of my wetsuit and dove back into the fray.  The water had zero visibility – I couldn’t even see my arms as I swam.

I was certain that it would be my slowest swim yet due to the chip incident and the strong chop, but once I made the first turn I found my own space and a good rhythm and was surprised to come out of the water and back into transition in 32:11, my fastest half Ironman swim yet.

Tom also had a good swim, doing two laps of the course in 1:03:37, which was the exact time he swam in Ironman Lanzarote!  Although in this tri, the swim time included the run from the ocean to transition, about 400m, which means that we both had our best swims to date.

Bike – 90.1 km Half Ironman / 180.2 km Ironman

The course was flat and fast and amazingly marshalled by the local police – we had a clear run through every single stoplight, fantastic!  My feet were frozen through and my hands shortly followed suit, which made changing gears and opening shot blocs challenging.  I kept it a steady Zone 2 heart rate throughout – arguably too low, but that’s what felt right so that’s what I went with.  There was a good cross-wind on the bike which meant that we had some head wind for nearly the entire course – can’t tell you how disappointed I was when I hit the halfway turnaround point and discovered that I wasn’t getting the tailwind that I had been looking forward to the whole way out!

The course was out and back but would you believe I nonetheless managed to make a wrong turn?  I only mention this because that wrong turn cost me 2 minutes extra which then later caused me to go just over 5 hours, arghhhhhhh!  Live and learn!  Oh well, mustn’t dwell on it.

I finished the bike in 2:42:42, which was a PB by 10 minutes for me.  Very happy!

As for Tom, he crushed it!  180.2 km in 4:52.46.  I’ll do the maths for you – that’s an average speed of 37 km/h or 23 mph!  He was in second behind RW Training coach Rich Wygand until poor Rich had his tyre explode*, after which Tom got to follow the lead motorcycle around the course and was first bike back from the full Ironman distance bike leg.

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First off the bike in the full Ironman distance!

Tom won the Aquathon! Yay Tom! (And then he got to rest.  He says Ironmans are much better when you don’t have to run a marathon too.)

Run – 21.1 km

The run course was again out and back.  My feet were numb from ankles downwards for the first half hour, always a strange sensation.  I took it easy for the first half, a steady Zone 2 heart rate and a comfortable pace.  When I reached the turn around point, I knew I could survive an hour or less of suffering, so I upped the pace and pushed, ending up with a nice negative split and an overall half marathon run of 1:40:36.  Maybe I should have pushed harder earlier, but it was still a significant half Ironman PB for me so I was happy!

I finished the race in 5:01:19 – a thrilling PB, but so disappointing that I would have gone sub-5 hours if I hadn’t take that wrong turn!

I was 8th woman overall (out of around 70 women) and 49th in the whole race (around 300 people).  I was particularly pleased to see that my run was actually the 29th fastest run out of everyone.

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The best moment of every race!

 

*Rich Wygand had to wait around 45 minutes for the support vehicle to swap him a new tyre, but he somehow managed to make a storming comeback to finish sub-10 hours, 2nd overall in the full Ironman!  Legend!  Meanwhile his wife Carol Wygand won her age group in her first Half Ironman in 5:13!

 

Do you do any races in your off season?

 

Weekly Roundup

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Total time:  10:28

Swim:  3km, 53 min

Bike: 124 km, 3:55

Run:  38km, 3:10

 

 

I raced the Miami Man Half Ironman last month.  It was my first triathlon on this side of the Atlantic, first triathlon in hot sunny Florida.

It rained non-stop.

But I still had a blast.

Things boded well when I got to meet a hero and a legend, Leanda Cave, at the expo the day before (4-time World Champion!).  She was doing a Q&A and I took away some excellent swim sighting tips that I put into practice the next day.

Amazing Leanda Cave!

At the Race Briefing, they also confirmed that yes, there were alligators in the lake we were swimming in.  Incentive to swim faster….

Yup, let’s get this triathlon started!

 

Sunday Nov 9 2014

Swim – 1900 m – 34:42

Leanda had said in the race briefing to try to sight the swim course out of the water before starting the swim.  This made all the difference, because it turned out the swim buoys were not in a straight line at all.  I definitely saved some time by choosing the more direct path as a result of Leanda’s sighting tips.

A wave start meant that there wasn’t a frenzied fight at the beginning, but instead a nice straight swim.

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I’m the one in the centre breathing to my left.

 

“Sight like an alligator”

 

It was two laps around the alligator-infested lake.  I can’t say I saw any alligators, but it was a nice smooth swim.  Not the fastest I’ve done, but not too far off and by far the most comfortable.

Then up out of the water into transition to discover it was pissing it down…. sigh.

Wetsuit strippers stripped me of my wetsuit.

Transition had a long run across the grass with the bike to get to the start of the bike course.  Tom ran alongside the transition fence shouting at me to remember that my carbon wheels would mean very poor brakes in the rain.  Noted!

 

Bike – 90 km – 2:52:10

The bike course had a deceptive number of sharp 90 degree turns which were tricky in the driving rain.  And the rain!  It came down in a flood, in a tropical downpour, the rain blinding me, fogging my glasses, covering the roads so I felt like I was a speedboat leaving a wake through the flooded roads.  I did notice that every time the rain got worse, I overtook more people, though.  I’m no expert in rain riding, but I’ve certainly been forced to do it a lot in the UK and perhaps that helped a bit!

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22 90 degree turns in this course!

On the plus side, the course was pancake flat.  What a nice change from my last triathlon, Ironman Lanzarote (2551m of elevation…).

The bike has been my weakness for a long time, and my crash this year didn’t help with that.  I will post about bike confidence another day, but since moving to Florida I’ve been learning to push myself more on the bike.  I was really hoping to finish the 90km in around 3 hours, so I was thrilled with 2:52, especially as that included the long jog in bike cleats.  Despite the rain, I had my best bike split ever.  It was also my first tri on my new Trek Speed Concept!

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Run – 21.1 km – 1:48:53

I knew I had done my fastest bike split to date, but how would that affect my run?  Having a good bike split had been my main goal, so I was ready to sacrifice the run a bit if need be.  As long as I finished within 2 hours…  or perhaps within 1:49 (my Ironman 70.3 Norway run time)…

The sun made a brief appearance for the run, enough for me to curse the heat (c’mon!  raining on the bike, hot on the run? That’s just wrong!),  but thankfully that didn’t last and the extreme rain returned to do more damage to the already soggy course.  From the start I made the decision to run straight through the ankle-deep puddles rather than try to trot around the outside, and that was a good choice given that one way or another, every single athlete was going to get soaked.  (I did see one man running in a big flapping poncho.  Wish I had a picture of that.)

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The run course was 2 laps around the Miami Zoo.  But it was raining so hard that all the animals were in hiding (smart!).  I won’t lie, it wasn’t a pretty run – either the course, or how I felt – but I got around in a reasonable enough time for me.  I overtook around 150 people, while only 1 man overtook me.  Clearly my running is still better than my cycling.

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Total:  5:21:50

I came 3rd in my age group, which was my first podium finish in a triathlon and was pretty exciting!  (I know it was because Leanda Cave wished me good luck). And I even got a trophy… as strange as it is….

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My first triathlon trophy… a zebra?!

 

And following Miami Man, Tom and I were inspired to sign up for Leanda Cave’s Triathlon Camp in Florida in February.  Can’t wait!

 

Ebola.

The deadliest virus you can think of.  The stuff of cinematic nightmares, something so far away and scary that it’s like talking about aliens and the apocalypse.

And now that Ebola is here, stronger than ever, spreading, its wormy tentacles fingerering their way into affluent countries while killing dozens of thousands in West Africa and beyond, it’s become even more of a joke word:

I don’t feel well, I think I have Ebola.”  ”

Stay away from me, I don’t want to catch your Ebola.”

But it’s not funny.

 

Sorry to be so sombre.  In May this year, I was incredibly lucky to be asked by employer Norton Rose Fulbright LLP to run the SIERRA LEONE MARATHON in Makeni, Sierra Leone, in aid of Street Child. In brief, the marathon was backed by the insurance industry and I worked as an insurance lawyer.  What an opportunity!

 

In the lead up to the Sierra Marathon, we kept seeing news of Ebola outbreaks in neighbouring Guinea and Liberia.  Sierra Leone remained safe.  And then of course the inevitable… a few people cropping up with Ebola in Sierra Leone too. Would the Sierra Leone Marathon be cancelled, we wondered?  Would we catch Ebola if we went, we joked? But it was still early days and there seemed little cause for alarm.  My colleagues and co-runners Amy and Natasha and I raised as much money as we could for Street Child, holding chocolate sales and harassing friends and colleagues as much as is politely permitted (or more), and off we went.

 

Street Child works with the children of Sierra Leone, primarily to get them into education for a better future for the whole country, but now its focus has had to shift to helping with the Ebola outbreak.

 

I had competed in Ironman Lanzarote the week before, had a short night in an airport hotel in London and then was back on a plane flying 7 hours to Freetown, Sierra Leone.  Upon arrival in Freetown, we immediately boarded a Street Child minibus heading for Makeni, 3 hours away.

 

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 We had two days before the marathon for Street Child to show us what it did in Sierra Leone.  We drove for hours across the country to Masimera Chiefdom where we visited one of five extremely rural villages where Street Child was helping with the children’s education.  The distance was only around 150 km, but the state of the roads meant for slow-going, and crossing a river was an amazing experience:

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The roads

 

 

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Crossing the river by raft

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When we finally reached the villages, covered head to toe in dust and mud, we were met by the entire village, singing and clapping – an incredible and somewhat uncomfortable experience.

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They showed us their school and we met their teacher.  Sadly, Street Child has since told us that in these small villages in Masimera Chiefdom, there are now 67 orphans following the devastation of Ebola.  You can read Street Child’s update here if you want to know more.  “Sadly, the worst is still yet to come,” they write.

Back in Makeni, Street Child showed us how it helps families be able to afford to keep their children in school by providing small business loans.  My friend James Tarran wrote in his blog about one such business:

It so[on] became clear that this was nothing like small business as we know it in the UK. The first business we went to was on the dusty highway just outside the school; we were told that a lady had established a restaurant.

The ‘restaurant’ was basically one home-made wooden bench at the road’s edge, a crude open frame with a shade and two cooking pots over open fires – one for rice and one with a sort of fish sauce/stew in it. From there she served local farm and construction workers their lunch for a few hundred Leones … Street Child gave her a loan of maybe £20 so she could buy her two cooking pots and her first supply of rice.  They then monitor her closely for 14 weeks to ensure that she understands that she has to sell the food at the right price to ensure that she can buy a further supply of rice, pay back her loan and so sustain her business.

Loans are only given to ‘care-givers’ of children in a Project school.  In reality that means the money goes almost always goes to women.  Once the beneficiary has proved that they can sustain a business after the 14 week trial period they can apply for another micro-loan if they need it.

The largest business loan that Street Child gives is £50.  The sort of money that all of the watching westerners would spend on a night out without turning a hair. In Sierra Leone that amount of money can truly transform the fortunes of a whole family.

(I’d highly recommend reading his whole blog post, here).

 

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A woman selling bras at the Makeni market

 

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A fallen mango serving as breakfast, lunch and dinner

 

 

And then it was the day of the Sierra Leone Marathon.

A 4am wake-up for a 6 am start out of the Wusum Stadium in Makeni:

 

 

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It was VERY dark!

 

The early start was obviously to try to avoid as much of the heat as possible, because have I mentioned that Makeni is absolutely drenchingly sweatingly unrelentlessly hot and humid?  The type of heat that makes you unable to move, to swallow, to think.  A heavy humid cloying heat that smacks you hard and pushes you down.

 

Back to race mode.  As I mentioned previously, this was exactly one week after I had finished Ironman Lanzarote, so I didn’t think I was going to be at the top of my game, but on the other hand, it meant that I was pretty fit.  So I got my race face on and readied for the start.

 

SierraLeone Marathon start

 

 

The runners were a truly mixed lot.  Most were from Sierra Leone, and there was some good prize money going to the winners, so this race was no fun run to them, but a serious race.  There were local runners from Makeni and also the Freetown Fashpack Runners, a serious running club from the capital, Freetown.

 

The race started on roads and then eventually made its way into thicker jungle, only to come out through rural villages before disappearing into the jungle again.  Street Child had done a fantastic job of getting marshalls in place and appropriate water stations, and everywhere I ran I heard enthusiastic children shouting “oporto” (spelling dubious?) which means “white person”.  There were long stretches of jungle where I ran alone for miles, wondering if I had gone off-course, only to eventually come across a marshall.

 

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Phil Langley running in style! See footnote below for a link to his blog post on the race.*

SL Marathon  SLMarathon

 

I kept the pace slow and even but nonetheless I knew when I came around an out-and-back section that I was actually holding on pretty well.  Others seemed to be suffering more from the heat than I was.  I marvelled at the lush mango trees, the thick jungle, the village children running alongside.  About 5km from the end, a group of children who looked to be around 4 years old ran beside me for a while, and I thought, “Surely it isn’t right that they can keep up with me….”

 

A few kilometres from the end, I overtook the third place lady, a Sierria Leonian who was running barefoot.  As I finally entered back into Makeni, scooters came alongside me and shouted that I was now in third place overall, and was the first international woman.  My Garmin beeped to say I’d finished the marathon, but the finish line was still nearly a very painful hot kilometre away.  I told myself, rule 5, and put the hammer down.  I crossed the finish line at 4:00:47, overjoyed to be finished, and annoyed to have just crossed over the 4 hour mark!

 

I later found out that James, of blogging fame above, was the first international male finisher in a time of 3:42, and his last marathon just one month previously in Manchester was 2:56:32.  So that was some truly serious heat and I was very happy with my time given the conditions!

 

If you’re a stats monkey like me, you can check out my Sierra Leone Marathon on Strava.

 

Visiting Sierra Leone and running the Sierra Leone Marathon was a tremendous experience and I am grateful to my generous employers for not just letting me go, but for asking me to go.

 

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After the marathon with our medals

 

With James after the marathon

With James after the marathon

 

We raised £3021 for Street Child, but Street Child still needs more help.  Unfortunately for us living far away, at the moment that help can only be financial.  If you would like to donate, you can do so at my fundraising page here or through Street Child’s Ebola Appeal directly at their DONATE NOW page.  And to all those readers who already donated in the run up to the race, thank you again!

 

*For another great blog post about the Sierra Leone Marathon, read Phil Langley’s blog here.  I was lucky enough to meet Phil in Sierra Leone and was amazed to hear that it was his third time running it.  And he is running it again in 2016 for the 4th consecutive time!

 

Would you travel somewhere far far away for a race?