MARATHON #4 – Paris 2015

The start – Arc De Triumph

‘Running a marathon abroad’ had crept onto my sporting bucket list so I made Paris the destination for my 4th marathon – and it was a great idea.

Sure, I had a few reservations – language barrier being the biggest one, how would travelling + racing go together and would I be able to get hold of my favourite pre-race food etc etc, but those concerns seem ridiculous now. Racing abroad is fun! I was lucky enough to have a great Parisienne friend show me most of the ropes/route/restaurants, but even without a local guiding the way, a marathon mini-break is definitely one to try.


The Lowdown – Big city marathon, tens of thousands of runners, big corporate sponsors and cool sightseeing.


The Logistics – Its a bit of a faff but the big events always are. You head to an amazing expo (easily reached on the Paris Metro) to collect you race number, chip and goody bag. The biggest pain about Paris is the need for a medical certificate clearing you to run. The wording is strict and very specific, you need a stamp from your doctors surgery (which set me back £50) and you have to hand in the original at expo before they will let you collect your bib. Communication is via email with a good English translation. 



The Course
– quite simply, a stunner if you like road marathons. You start in central Paris, along the Champs Elysees with the Arc De Triumph acting as a backdrop. You run out to a park/woodland (Bois De Vincennes) to the East of the city, then head West all the way across town to another woodland (Bois De Boulogne) before finishing close to the start at The Arc De Triumph. The Eiffle Tower, The Louvre, Concorde, Place De La Bastille, Notre-Dame and the Musee d’Orsay are all part of the route so you are spoilt for things to see.

The Pros…

  • This must be the best way to sight see around Paris
  • Amazing route – all traffic free
  • Slick race organisation
  • Good medal and tech t-shirt
  • Massive race day atmosphere with good crowd support

… And The Cons

  • Dire toilet situation at the start
  • Aid stations are light on fuel (mostly just fruit provided)
  • It’s pricey – about €100 for an overseas entry
  • Medical certificate required regardless
  • Accommodation in central Paris will set you back a few quid! (for a tiny room)

But let us not end on a negative. 

This is a unique and beautiful race. And the post marathon cuisine makes you quickly forget any aches and pains.

post race!
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10 best running medals… (2009-2016)

It’s no secret that I will do ANYTHING for a lump of metal at the end of a ribbon. Not only does the running bling look lovely hanging from my banister, waiting for admiring oohs and aahs from passing guests, it also acts as a record of my racing career. I always write the date and time on the back of my medals so I can easily track my performances.
So here is a run down of my favourite medals to date…

NUMBER 10 – Eden Half Marathon 2015


It’s square, which is rare in the running medal world. It’s got the famous biomes from the Eden Project on it and the ribbon is funky. That’s why this scoops number 10 on the list. This is a beautiful rural half marathon that starts and finishes in Eden Project. You get a free pasty and ale at the end as well as a day out at this popular tourist attraction, you have to work for it though; it’s a hilly course.

NUMBER 09 – North Downs Run 30km 2015

The designers of this medal have added little snippets and words taken from race reviews, which is something I’ve never seen before. This is a small local race, with a big reputation so it makes sense to capture some of these reviews on the bling. This is a 30km off-road stomp across some serious slopes. Not for the faint-hearted or weak-legged.

NUMBER 08 – Bewl Water Half Marathon 2015


It’s intricate and the colours aren’t the usual day glow brights so this take the number 8 spot. This is a massive medal with the Figure of the Greek god Hermes in the centre, which also happens to be the logo of Hermes Running, the company who put on this event. The Bewl Water half marathon is a lap of the reservoir in South East England (2 for those running the full marathon on the same day) – it’s off road but the paths are well managed and it’s more undulating than it is hilly. The views are beautiful.

NUMBER 07 – Dartford Half Marathon 2016


I like the cut out in this medal and one of the notable features of this race is that runners get to finish with a glory lap of the track in Central Park (Dartford, not NYC). The crowds are cheering and the announcer will name check you – it’s a welcome boost at the end of this hilly and challenging course. The track is captured on the medal which is top quality and an unusual shape. A well deserved 7th for the Dartford Harriers.

NUMBER 06 – Paris Marathon 2016


I should have photographed some of these medals showing scale, because this is MASSIVE. And it’s shiny. And it reminds me of a record with all its grooves. The course route is also outlined and Paris is a beautiful race so all in all it ranks highly on the favourites list. Paris is a big, pricey, city marathon so you would expect some serious bling for your buck.

NUMBER 05 – London Marathon 2011

It’s a heart! Which I love. And it’s London, which loads of us love. It’s just one big love in at number five on the list.

NUMBER 04 – Paris Marathon 2015


The second entry for The Paris Marathon – (the French clearly know how to bling). Delicate honeycombe shapes make up this super glitzy medal which is smart and classy. 

NUMBER 03 – Vienna Marathon 2016


In Vienna they give you bling on top of bling. This fancy star-shaped medal is embellished with a little gemstone. It even makes the weird stick man forgiveable. The Vienna Marathon is a stunning city race, well organised with fantastic scenery. It doesn’t seem to have much of a reputation in the UK but this really is one to try out, if only to bring home the unique medal.

NUMBER 02 – Blackpool Marathon 2016


It’s not often you get a medal that is also a lethal weapon. This dagger-like token comes all the way from Blackpool. It’s a very small, local marathon (around 350 competitors) but the bling is up there with the big outfits. The Blackpool Tower remains an iconic attraction at the resort and you will run past it a few times at this race. This marathon is run on the same day as London, and it makes a great alternative for those struggling to get a place in the capital. 

NUMBER 01 – Ranscombe Challenge 2016


Anyone who knows the wonderful racemasters at Saxons Vikings & Normans marathons, know that they are famous for their beautiful bling and serious goody bags. I only own one of their medals and it shot to the top of the pack as soon as I got my grubby mitts on it. It’s detailed, colourful, big and unique. The race itself is a multi-lap challenge where runners can go as far as they like within a given time. Aid stations are packed with real food (think cake, chocolate, crisps) and the runners and crew are a very friendly bunch. This course is hilly and muddy and fun and beautiful. I would urge you to try one of these races, but I don’t want to them to get booked up before I manage to sign up for more myself.

MARATHON #3 – Edinburgh 2014


Another ballot rejection from Virgin London Marathon meant my third marathon attempt took me to Edinburgh. London rejectees are guaranteed a place to run in Edinburgh and I had visited this impressive city once before.

Edinburgh currently (May ’16) holds the prestigious title as the course where I’ve run my fastest marathon, although you can view the current  race list and finish times here: Hannah Race Dates and that means it holds a special place in my heart (and feet). But that’s not the only reason I love this race. Read on for the review…

Calton Hill

The Start: It’s another well organised affair in Edinburgh. Runners start at the foot of Calton Hill and kick things off with a glorious downhill stretch. The only thing to be aware of here is not getting carried away and going off too fast. The announcer keeps things interesting whilst you’re waiting to cross the start line and the central location means getting there is straightforward for most. There’s every you would expect in terms of baggage, marshaling and good signage.

Miles 0-5: once you’ve settled into your stride the course takes you past Holyrood Palace (the queen’s official residence when in Scotland) and to the base of Arthur’s Seat (an inactive volcano that sits above the city itself). It’s beautiful landscape, rugged and imposing and it is easy to forget you are running a city marathon within these early miles.

Miles 5-8: your next visual treat is when you hit the coastal road at Portobello and catch sight of the sea. A once famous seaside sort for the folks of Edinburgh, Portobello neighbourhood saw slow decline throughout the twentieth century but is enjoying a current revival. The houses are grand and the seafront is pleasant. You will run, following the traffic free coastal path while local families cheer you on, towards Musselburgh at mile 9.

Miles 9: The town of Musselburgh is an important part of your Edinburgh Marathon journey – it is where you finish and pick up that lovely medal/all the glory, but first you must run through it. It’s a great “mini-hub”; there is lot of activity due to the finish being located here, a local radio station plays music and the crowds gather so expect a few more cheers.

Miles 9-18: I’m will not lie to you, its time to dig in deep here. Its not that the course is boring, but its definitely a quieter few miles. On the plus side it is beautifully flat and you have rugged sea views to your left for most of the stretch. There’s also a massive power station, grim little caravan park and crowds that disappear quicker than Katie Price’s music career. Try to enjoy the solitude and lack of distractions, or turn on your ipod.

Mile 18: Something magical happens just before you hit mile 18… You get to turn around and head home for the finish line. The turn is a hairpin bend with a huge psychological boost as you know you’ve hit your furthest point. As an added treat the course sweeps into the grounds of an impressive stately home called Gosford House. Make sure you take the time to appreciate the change of view and soak up the fact that you’re nearly there.

Mile 19-26: The reason you need to appreciate the grand estate of Gosford House is because its back to the power station now, and the caravan park as you retrace your steps back to Musselburgh. The nice thing about it this time is that you don’t really care because you’re about to finish the flipping marathon!!

The Finish: there’s a great atmosphere at the finish which is set in the playing fields of a local school. You’ll find music, FOOD, toilets, your bags, a decent medal and hopefully a loved ones. A few people like to grumble about the logistics of getting back into Edinburgh but I’ve always found the buses to be perfectly adequate. The queues look long but they move quickly. My top tip here? It’s over a mile walk to the bus point and you won’t want to take another step in your trainers so pack flip flops or sandals to help those aching feet.

 

Its the second largest marathon in the UK so if you’re looking for that big race, big city atmosphere Edinburgh is a great shout. The fascinating city itself is a huge draw and a well organised, good value marathon is the cherry on top.

 

MARATHON #2 – Milton Keynes 2013

mk logo

My previous post explains just how difficult it can be getting a place in the London marathon. I have certainly found this the case, so for my second marathon I ventured 50 miles away to Milton Keynes, a new town in Buckinghamshire famous for having an elaborate grid road system (wtf?), Europe’s largest indoor ski slope and, increasingly, an interesting marathon alternative for London rejectees.

 

The most notable feature of the race is that it started and finished at Stadium MK helping to give that big event atmosphere. On approaching the finish I heard other runners talking about the final 400m in the stadium itself being a “no walking” zone so to save those jelly legs (and my under-trained legs really were struggling at this point) for fear of being called out by the race announcer. I needn’t have worried as the race atmosphere was great throughout.

 My race was a mixed success, I was still very inexperienced at the distance and my training had been marred by injury but I crossed the line in 5hrs 22. It was slow by many standards but it was more than 20 minutes faster than my first marathon. I suffered in the heat and missed the crowds I had experienced in London. I’m glad I’ve tried the course but have no immediate urges to head back to the event.

So here are a few thoughts on the marathon at Milton Keynes:

 

The scenery is great – varied terrain is high on my list of factors that make for an enjoyable race and I was pleasantly surprised by Milton Keynes. It never sounds glamourous when you’re telling your friends about doing a marathon in….. duh duh duuuuhhhh: Milton Keynes, but hold judgement until you’ve seen the course. The early stages are run through the town itself with good support from the residents but soon the race takes you to more rural settings. We ran through beautiful villages and woodland and lapped Willen Lake a local beauty spot popular for recreational activities. The course was pleasant, really pleasant, surprisingly so, there were hardly any roundabouts and crucially it is a flat one so PB chasers will be happy here.

 

Beware the weather – this is Britain so weather-wise we’ve got no chance of calling it accurately,  but bear in mind this race is run later in the season that the likes of London and Manchester and its southerly location means the chances are it will be hotter than what you’ve trained in. When I ran in 2013 the temperatures really did spike and big parts of the course on unshaded tarmac which only exasperated the situation.

 

You will get value for your money – the more I race, the more I’m aware of being ripped off by big name events. There’s no danger of this with Milton Keynes, it’s never a name that will attract the glory hunters. The entry fee is really competitive, I got a nice goody bag and big medal. Accommodation is cheap, I chose a Premier Inn for the night before and after and there are loads of similar well priced options. 
Overall think…. nice, pleasant, straightforward, fit for purpose and fair. The Milton Keynes Marathon won’t rock your racing world but if you want a well organised, good value and perfectly runnable marathon you won’t be disappointed. 

MARATHON #1 – London 2011

 For your average UK runner, the London Marathon is the big one. The piece de resistance. It certainly reigns as one of my most memorable racing experiences. But what makes this race so desired and special?

1) Scarcity – the chances of getting a place at the London marathon ballot are slim, 13.6% to be precise. In 2015 there were 130,000 ballot entries for 17,000 places.  Getting a place through the ballot feels like a lottery win. Every October wannabe runners are informed via Mr Postman; either you get a congrats or commiserations magazine. For those unsuccessful in the ballot, the only option to enter is via a charity place. In return for your charity place you’ll be expected to raise in the region of £2,500. So whether it’s through luck or hard work, just getting to the start line at the London marathon feels like an achievement.

2) Crowds – the cliché, but there’s a reason for that, the crowds in London are uh-maze-ing. I write this with 5 city marathons under my belt, from four different countries, nothing has ever compared to the support in London. The course is lined with cheers for the full 26.2 miles and towards the end we’re talking three people deep. London comes out in full force come marathon day. East end pubs blare music, kids stand anxiously waiting for high-fives in return for the sweets they’re handing out and friends and family gather to support their loved ones. I didn’t put my headphones in once at London for fear of missing out on the atmosphere. It’s pretty difficult to describe the role the crowds play in your race day, but it’s a big one. In the years I’ve not run London I’ve spectated at Surrey Quays/mile 8.5 and found it to be just as enjoyable. Londoners – I urge you to join the crowds whether you’re a runner or not. The atmosphere is unlike any other day of the year and you are guaranteed a great experience.

3) Sights – Blackheath and Greenwich Park, the Cutty Sark and Greenwich Maritime, Southwark Park, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Tower of London, Oxo Tower, National Theatre, The Eye, Houses of Parliament, St.James’ park and Buckingham Palace. Enough said.

4) Organisation – Slick. Or sick (if you’re under 25). Started in 1981, at the time of press they’ve had 35 years to hone their race plans. Expo, the start of your marathon adventure, is a shoppers dream and where it really kicks in for the first time. The facilities, the exhibitors and the events at expo are great so leave yourself enough time to enjoy it properly. The start is smooth, crucially there are loads of portaloos and signage is spot on. The finish is crazy but workable. Getting 30,000+ runners around the city is no small feat and the London Marathon team have got it nailed, which believe me, makes your race, about your race, and not the logistics.

5) Recognition – 4.5 million people watch the marathon coverage on the BBC which basically makes you famous. Your work colleagues will try to look out for you on the telly and Monday morning is when you get to relay your race adventures to everyone. Grab your five minutes of fame with both hands, you’re an absolute hero for finishing that race and deserve every compliment… And there will be compliments. Wearing your medal for at least 48hrs post race is totally allowed.

Why is running my passion?

I’m almost always smiling in pictures of me running. I really can’t get enough of it. I love running so much, I’m in the middle of attempting 6 marathons across 6 consecutive weekends. I like doing it, talking about it, writing about it and spending my money on it. My treasured collection of finisher’s medals would be the one thing I saved if my house was on fire.

 

My ultimate ambition is to join the exclusive “100 Marathon Club” for (you guessed it) anyone who has run 100 marathons in their lifetime. And with only 93 to go, I’m hopeful.

 

I was 26 when I started running and a complete beginner. School PE sessions had always been swapped in favour of smoking behind the mobile classrooms, and my idea of exercise was walking between bar and table with a weighty bottle of wine.  One Sunday morning I tuned into the BBC to watch 30,000 runners take on the London Marathon and found myself utterly inspired. My first expedition into the sport involved running in-between lampposts after dark, so no one would look at the awkward lady shuffling and wheezing up the Stockwell Rd.

 

Gradually the shuffling turned to jogging, and distance between lampposts got longer. Feeling bold, I entered my first race, a 10k around central London. It took me well over an hour and I thought my legs might crumple beneath me towards the end, but since then I’ve run in over 40 races and logged thousands of training miles. My “6 marathons in 6 weeks” will take me to Paris, Vienna, Brighton, Blackpool, Belfast and Geneva.

 

I love running for its simplicity, inclusiveness and the fact that you can do it anywhere, at any time, as long as you have a pair of trainers to hand. Running gives me headspace after a long day in the office and carte blanche to eat actual carbs (shock!). My running routes take me around majestic London parks, gritty urban landscapes and beautiful Kent countryside. People watching as I go makes it impossible to ever get bored.

 

Sure, there have been some low moments – missing toenails, numerous times I’ve fallen over or picked up an injury and that time I was overtaken in the Brighton Half Marathon by a man dressed as a toilet, but the runner’s high has always shone through.  Runners inspire me every single day and if you are ever in need of inspiration I urge you to go and watch a marathon. When I race I see dedication in the speedsters at the front, determination in the plodders at the back, kindness in the charity fun runners, generosity in the race volunteers and encouragement from the proud friends and loved ones spectating on the side. John Bingham, one of my favourite runners tells us that “the amazing thing is not finishing the race, but having the courage to start in the first place”.