Breaking the 20-Minute Barrier

I can hardly believe I’m typing these words, but at the Waterbeach Running Festival on the 11th May, I finally ran a sub-20 minute 5k, something I have been trying to do for some time.

I can’t say I had any expectation of doing it on the day. I’ve run the Waterbeach Running Festival twice before, and been lucky enough to come first both times (in the 10k in 2016, and the 5k in 2018 – my memory is so awful I thought I’d competed in 2017!). It’s a small, local event, and an undeniably fast, flat course, and last year I ran the 5k in 20:46. A really great time, but a significant chunk away from the elusive 19:59.

FB_IMG_1558074768309.jpg

Waterbeach Running Festival 2018

I remember telling my running buddy Pete that I thought I might be on PB form after I recently paced someone to a 20:52 5k and felt like I still had a decent amount left in the tank. But after a league race 5k on the Thursday night, neither Pete nor I had turned up on the Saturday morning in Waterbeach with particularly fresh legs.

This year was the fourth time the Waterbeach Running Festival had been held. With a 100m toddle (under 5s), a 2k (4+), a 5k (11+) and a 10k (15+) it’s a proper family event, with lots of food stalls and a really lovely vibe. And it’s growing in size every year, as people start to cotton on to what a fast, flat course it is. To give you an idea. here are the women’s winning 5k times since it started:

Year Total no. Runners Winning Time Winner
2016 43 24:24 Sarah Consonni
2017 76 21:20 Yvonne Scarrott
2018 86 20:46 Lauren Thomas
2019 91 19:36 Vicki Moignard

The 2019 winning time is a serious increase on 2016. As for the men’s race, this has been won every year by Tony Bacon, with a course PB of 17:14 set in 2017. Tony has become something of a poster boy for the event as others are encouraged to come along to try and steal his crown. He was still 17 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor this year, but this is a huge improvement on 2016 when he was 3 minutes ahead of second place.

As we all gathered on the start line (as Pete had just finished the 100m toddle with his daughter Ellie and her mum Rachel was gearing up to push her in the running buggy for the 5k – rather her than me!), I looked at the other faces on the startline and had this weird feeling that I wouldn’t even podium this year. There were some fierce looking female athletes with their game faces on, and I decided to just do what I could on the day. Because after all, that’s all we can ever hope for, right?

IMG_20190511_130122_776.jpg

My Beloved Running Family

Everyone set off at a blistering pace, and I manage to start my Garmin only to realise that it was set for an indoor cycling session after the spin class I had done the day before. After about 10 seconds of faffing about I thought it was in the right mode and before I knew it I had run the 1st mile in 6:22 (I didn’t know this at the time as I rarely look at my watch when running).

Throughout this first mile, Olivia Baker from Cambridge & Coleridge AC was about 10 metres ahead of me but slowly pulling away. I could also hear keys jangling behind me, and before long Vicki Moignard from Cambridge Tri Club (who came second to me in 2018) was overtaking on my left. I managed to gasp out the words “you can get her!” before I gritted my teeth and did everything I could to just hold on.

And somehow, I did just that. But boy oh boy it was not easy. At about 3.5k in to the race I had to convince myself to keep going as everything in my body from my lungs to my legs were screaming at me to stop, that I couldn’t possibly keep going at this pace. But somehow I did, and I know that it was because of Vicki (now in 1st place) and Olivia ahead of me that I managed it. You can see for a long way in this race, and I know that if I had been in 1st place I would have become complacent and slacked off. But instead, I had these two incredible athletes to chase, and I owe them so much for getting me across the line in the time I did.

IMG_20190514_213132_935.jpg

Finish line pain

When I did finally cross the line, driving hard through the last hundred-odd metres to the cheers of a frankly brilliant finish line crowd, I had to stop and bend over double, sucking as much air in to my lungs as humanly possible and trying not to ruin the moment by throwing up. I then glanced at my watch and saw 19:37 and my first though was “wow, I STILL managed to screw up starting my watch properly”. As it turns out, it was spot on. After those 10 seconds I lost at the start trying to get it in to the right mode, I officially finished in 19:48.

I’m not going to lie – there were tears. A LOT of them. But they were deliriously happy ones. I’m not sure I ever really believed I could get a time like that. I then found out that Peter had also achieved a PB (18:59) and Rachel had almost achieved a buggy 5k PB, missing it by 1 second (which she would have smashed if Ellie hadn’t needed emergency Pom-Bears mid-race)! It was just a brilliant day for my favourite running family.

Receiving a trophy for crossing the line as 3rd woman, it was without doubt the proudest moment of my running career. I couldn’t thank Vicki and Olivia enough, and it’s entirely possible that they thought the run had boggled this wide-eyed, pink-haired creature’s mind. Maybe it had. All I know is that for the last week I’ve found myself remembering the moment of reading my official race time and grinning at myself in shock and delight. My age grading from the day was more than 75%. Madness.

IMG_20190511_145017_152.jpg

Tony and I – one of us had been crying. Obvious much?!

I genuinely have no idea if I’ll manage a sub 20 again. But there was a time when I thought sub-22 was an impossible goal. All I know for sure is, next time I’m at one of the Kevin Henry League races, I’ll be keeping an eye out for Vicki and Olivia, the best pacers I could have hoped for.

IMG_20190512_204146_733.jpg

 

 

 

The 2019 Running Awards

So last week I was lucky enough to attend the 2019 Running Awards, as thanks to the votes from you lovely lot I was shortlisted for best personal blog! I had such a great running -centered day meeting some of the awesome folk from the wider UK running community.

I arrived in London a little before midday, getting to my hotel near Tower Bridge in time to get changed for the Secret London Run that the Running Awards had put on in collaboration with the brilliant Runderwear. We had all been generously gifted with personalised kit from Runderwear, and I rocked up in my new gear to see a sea of recognisable faces including Emma from Lipstick & Trainers and Jordan from ProjectMarathonGirl.

Runderwear Run 1

Photo credit to Runderwear

We all split into groups, and then Matt from Secret London Runs took our group on a journey across the Thames to discover the murky history of South London. During our run we took in sites including the remains of the Roman London Wall, St Dunstan’s, Winchester Palace, Cross Bones and the Guinness Partnership among others. It was such an inspired way to see our capital, and forced all us runners to actually pause and look up once in a while!

20190425_154236.jpg

After a fantastic 4-odd miles, we all rushed off to get ready for the awards, which would be taking place on board the wonderful Dixie Queen on the Thames. I was lucky enough to have my brilliant Aunt Kathleen as my date, and there was much excitement on board as we all waited for Tower Bridge to open so that we could get on our merry way for the next 5 hours. It was at this point that I met parkrun legend Paul Sinton-Hewitt, and nattered his ear off about the brilliant impact that Littleport parkrun has had on our local community.

IMG_20190425_191130_723.jpg

The guest speakers during the Bloggers Forum were brilliant. Led by Claire from Wild Ginger Runs, we had talks from World Marathon Challenge record holder Susannah Gill (7 marathons in 7 continents in 7 days – yes really), Eric Keeler who ran 3700 miles across the USA despite not liking running (yes really) and Mark Atkinson, author of Run Like Duck and winner of the Gold Award for Best Book at the awards. You can read about his blog of the blog awards here (a blog mentioning a blog about the blogging awards – that meta enough for you Mark?!). We also had a great demo from Enertor showing us just how amazing their innersoles (favoured by Usain Bolt) are at absorbing impact (we were gifted a pair of these and I can’t wait to try them!), and we heard all about how founders Jamie and Richard built Runderwear.

After a quick buffet meal, we then went on to the awards themselves, and those of us who had been shortlisted were invited upstairs to watch the ceremony and Kathleen and I managed to blag a space on the table with Mark and his lovely wife Cloë. I wasn’t remotely surprised when my name wasn’t announced as the winner of the personal blog award (that honour went to Running Mr Jones) but it was great to watch Mark go up and collect his award and have a  hold of his hefty trophy! I also saw some of those I had voted for winning their categories, including the awesome Running Shoes Guru and the brilliant Runderwear.

After disembarking from the Dixie Queen we all headed off across London and beyond, and I’m sure many of those who would be running the marathon just 36 hours later were enjoying the relatively peaceful streets ahead of the awesome madness that awaited them. I had such a brilliant time in London, and my place there wouldn’t have been possible without those of you who take the time to read my witterings. I am so incredibly grateful to all of you who took the time to vote for me. Same time next year?

IMG_20190425_132141_981.jpg

 

Running Happy

This seems like such a simplistic title for a blog post, but it needs no zhooshing up (yes, that IS how you spell it, I saw it on Pointless). For the last few months I have been running happy and it is an absolute revelation.

I love running, and I hope this comes across in this blog. But on the odd occasion (ahem) I’ve sucked the joy out of the thing I love by constantly pushing myself to my physical limits, dreading races and putting so much pressure on myself that I wondered whether or not running was the best thing for my mental health.

What a mess.

So for the last few races, I’ve taken the foot off the gas and slowed down so that I can enjoy the process of running, and it has been nothing short of joyful. I’ve run chatty half marathons with friends, paced some of the juniors I coach at 10ks, run with kids at parkrun and have looked like a giddy idiot in all of the photos:

Grinning 1

Grinning 2

As well as making me happy, this also enables me to encourage others, and as PBs start to become a bit of a rarity for me, helping someone else to achieve theirs gives me the exact same high.

I’ve also been doing more casual longer runs. In the past I’ve always pushed hard on longer runs (despite knowing that you shouldn’t hit race pace in training), but I’m adding more run commutes and runs to parkrun in to my schedule (around 5.5 miles along the riverside from Ely to Littleport), and took part in a steady 8-mile Ely Runners Sunday trail run yesterday, which had to have been one of the most gorgeous runs I’ve ever done:

Easter Trail Run

Photo courtesy of trail runner extraordinaire Kyle Armstrong

At the beauty of it all is, when I do feel like pushing myself, my speed isn’t suffering for this new attitude. I paced a junior at a 5k last week, and we crossed the line in 20:52, and I felt like I had a decent amount still left in the tank after encouraging her the whole way round. Perhaps (gasp!) this new, more relaxed attitude will actually help me?

I originally started long distance running to try something new and after a few weeks I realised I had found my sport, the one that makes me feel strong, that helps me clear my mind and one that I actually happen to be pretty good at. But most of all I did it because it made me feel happy. Now, by actually slowing it down from time to time, I’m allowing myself to be in the moment and marvel and this bloody brilliant thing that my body allows me to do. There will come a time (hopefully in the far, far distant future) when I won’t be able to run any more, so I intend to be grateful for the here and now  and continue to focus on the pure joy of running.

Why Sport Needs Feminists

So last week I was watching the BBC 2 show Icons, which was celebrating the achievements of some of the greatest figures of the 20th century. The shortlist was made up of men, and Clare Balding made a really astute comment on why this might be the case. When asked if she was surprised no women made the shortlist, she said:

“I wasn’t surprised, disappointed but not surprised because I think you can’t be an icon unless you are allowed to have the limelight and I think the 20th century largely was the history of men told by men”.

I love Clare Balding, and so I tweeted a condensed version of her speech, saying “YASSSSSS ! Brilliant summary of why no women made the shortlist. The 20th century was a history of men as told by men.”

Clare Balding

And boy oh boy did that tweet get some attention (by my standards). I got accused of “moaning”,  was asked to name one woman who was worthy (ROSA FREAKING PARKS), got told that men are the reason my life is so good and was told that feminism is killing our culture. When I challenged this last point (made by someone who considers themselves an egalitarian rather than a feminist) I was told that women in the west “are vastly more privileged than men” and that feminists are “smashing western civilisation”.

I’m always interested in the opinions of others and so I did a bit of reading around feminism vs. egalitarianism (this article by Beth Turnbull was particularly useful), and after some research I still consider myself a feminist.  To quote Beth’s article:

“Egalitarianism is not an alternative to feminism. It’s like saying, “Why worry about exercise? Why not just worry about health?” You can’t really have one without the other. And don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with egalitarianism. It is simply a broader view of the fight for equality. Feminism is a narrower focus of that view; a focus on bringing women up to the same places men have been for years.”

So why am I mentioning all this in a fitness blog? Because a couple of days after this debate on Twitter, I saw a new petition on my timeline called #SeeSportyBeSporty by Totally Runable, calling for sports coverage in the media to be more gender equal. Despite the 2012 Olympics, where women won one third of all British medals, currently less than 3% of photographs of sport in the newspapers show women playing sport. and this article from 2014 shows that just 3% of sports articles at that time were about women as well. So this is where feminism comes in – not to tear down men, but to raise up the stories of women doing incredible things in sport (and all other sectors for that matter).

SeeSportyBeSporty

So we need to push for change – for more coverage of women in sport (you can sign the #SeeSportyBeSporty petition here) so that young girls can see themselves represented across the board. We need to keep shouting about the achievements of women like Jasmin Paris, Desi Linden, Dina Asher-Smith, Laura Muir, Jo Pavey and countless others (I’m focusing on runners here as that’s my passion but there are so many women doing incredible things in sport). When I google “Boston Marathon winner” I want the first result to name both Yuki Kawauchi (who I think is brilliant BTW) AND Desi Linden. We need to push for equal coverage and call out aging white men who write articles for crappy newspapers claiming that women’s sport is not as good as men’s and that’s why they don’t deserve equal coverage. And we need to keep telling the stories of female 20th century sporting icons like Tanni Gray-Thompson, Kathrine Switzer, Bobbi Gibb, Joan Benoit and many more. Because their stories are incredible, exciting and inspirational, just like the men’s stories are.

And I know this is ever so slightly off-topic, but this is a good time to shout out to Dr Jess Wade, who has written literally hundreds of Wikipedia entries for women in science (as well as other underrepresented groups) whose achievements have been overlooked in the past, in the hope of attracting more girls in to STEM in the future. Awesome stuff.

When Resolutions Work

Veganuary, RED January, Dry January, Dedicate – 30 Days of Yoga…

These are just a few of the January “challenges” (for want of a better word) that I saw floating around online over the last few weeks, either to benefit a charity or because people wanted a personal challenge with which to kick off 2019. And even though I saw some grumblings in the dark recesses of Twitter about how “running every day is bad for you” (seriously, what’s your damage Heather?), I think switching up your lifestyle with a clear start and finish can only be seen as a good thing.

Let’s look at the timing of the whole endeavour. Some people may argue that going off the booze or dairy in what is arguably the most difficult month of the year is a terrible, terrible idea. But think about it – if you’re going to cut things out of your life/diet, it seems like a sensible time to do it when a) you don’t have a huge amount of money to spend on such things and every drink in the pub comes with a side order of “oh gawwwwd why is payday so far away?!” and b) a load of other people are challenging themselves in the same way, so you have a ready-built support group online if not in real life.

Then there’s the duration of January challenges. It’s fairly well known that it takes 21 days to make a habit, so if you were able stick it out for just the first 3 weeks you may well have made a change that’s going to become as normal to you as brushing your teeth. That’s how I’ve always viewed exercise – as a routine part of my day that I happen to really enjoy (unlike flossing – the tooth version as opposed to the dance).

For me, things like Dry January and RED January don’t appeal. I usually only have a drink around once a fortnight, and I generally do a form of exercise 6 days a week as standard (although RED stands for Run Every Day, the premise is actually to do a form of exercise every day), and make sure to have a day off. My body craves rest days and would not stand up to running every day, but some folk I know have been doing that and having no issues whatsoever. Some are even pushing their 10k PBs (hi Justin!). Everyone is different, and judging folk because they’re doing something you don’t quite fancy trying yourself is just a mega time vacuum. Maybe go for a run instead?

So did I do any resolutions myself? Kind of. I did Adriene’s 30 days of yoga, enjoying having a structured yoga workout “flow” its way into my inbox every day without having to spend time scrolling through her epic video library. I didn’t do every workout every day, and instead sometimes doubled up on weekends. But I did all 30 workouts in January and I LOVED it. I feel stronger and my flexibility has definitely improved.

adriene and benji

Overall, all of these challenges have something in common – they all gave people the opportunity to try something new, and in doing so, helped them to perhaps find something they love, be that clearing their minds by running, cutting meat and dairy out of their diets or taking the time to focus on their breathing for 20 minutes a day. I’m going to keep doing Adriene’s yoga every day (even if I do have to put a bit of effort in to select the video each time) and I’m glad that January gave me a reason to commit to a challenge that has made me feel flipping awesome, inside and out.

 

My 2018 Sporting Review

It’s really hard when your personal life gets in the way of your blog. I’ve had so much I’ve wanted to tell you about, including the St Neots half marathon and the Ely Runners Annual Christmas Run, but my personal life has just meant the blog posts haven’t been able to appear. But fear not, fair reader. Race/run reviews are just as valid a month or two after the event, so they’ll both be coming soon.

In the meantime, as it’s new year and I’m clearly not very imaginative, I thought I’d look back over 2018 and see what I achieved with my running and fitness. As it turns out, it was a pretty awesome year.

parkrun Love

2018 was the year that I well and truly threw myself into parkrun. I’ve always waxed lyrical on here about how brilliant it is and the importance of volunteering if you’re a regular runner at your local parkrun. But since one opened in Littleport, a mere 10 minute drive from me (or a 5.5 mile run on those mornings when I’m feeling super keen), it has become a humungous part of my life. I’ve hit the 25 volunteer credit milestone, and have even got my dad involved (he hit his 25th volunteer credit at Littleport’s New Year’s Day event)! I’ve done 36 parkruns in total since I joined in 2015, and 20 of those runs took place in 2018.

I’m so impressed with the work my friends James and Charlotte have put in to making Littleport parkrun happen, and to the amazing army of volunteers who step up to make sure it happens every week. A really lovely community has been built up, and I’m so proud to be a part of it. Being 1st lady at the New Year’s Day run was a nice bonus too, especially as I was 85% prosecco.

IMG_20181223_121202_642.jpg

A 5k PB

After starting 2018 slowly recovering from suspected posterior tibial tendonitis, I didn’t have high hopes for my Kevin Henry season this year. Dealing with the nerves is always hard work as it is, and I just didn’t feel like I was particularly fit.

Turns out I was wrong. I don’t know if it was the spinning that I did during my injury that kept me in good shape or my better mindset after working with Dan Regan. I suspect it was a combination of the two when on the 12th July I managed to knock a second off my 3 year old 5k PB, hitting 20:18. I still can’t quite believe I managed it, and just thinking about it makes a stupid grin break out on my face. Plus there’s the lovely symmetry of achieving 20:18 in 2018.

Half Marathon

Back in March I had to transfer my place in the Cambridge Half Marathon due to the fact that my injury hadn’t recovered in time for me to get the training in. Because of this, I was so excited to get a shot at the St Neots half marathon when they opened up a number of places for those of us on the reserve list.

I have never done a big run on my own before. Usually with every big local race there are at least half a dozen other Ely Runners signed up, so I was spectacularly nervous when I realised that no one else I knew was going and I would have no one to hold my hand on the start line. But I got through the nerves, and I am so, so proud of my performance on the day. I’ll let you know how I got on in an upcoming blog post, but I know that St Neots 2018 is a race that’s going to stay with me.

IMG_20181118_153810_781.jpg

My Longest Run

Prior to 2018, the longest run I had ever done was around 14.25 miles at the 2017 Wings for Life World Run. But this year I took part in the Ely Runners Christmas Run and covered 18.5 miles with my running buddy Pete. It wasn’t quite the same as longer runs I’ve done before, as there were plenty of pauses, the pace was slower (it’s a cross-country route) and there were snacks including rolo vodka (!), but it was amazing to know that my body was capable of keeping going over that distance. Plus it was the first time Pete has ever run more than 13.1 miles and the world didn’t end. Good to know.

A Triple Trophy Win

I hadn’t even realised until I started writing this post, but I somehow managed to win three trophies in 2018. I was the first lady at the Waterbeach Running Festval 5k back in May, I won the Ely Runners Female Kevin Henry trophy in September, and I was also first (old!) lady at the Ely Festive 5k in November! Needless to say, if more races offered a 3 course roast dinner as a prize I reckon more people would get in to running.

IMG_20181125_170814_554.jpg

Coaching

I have thoroughly enjoy doing more coaching this year, both with the Ely Runners Beginners’ group and the juniors. Seeing people step up to running their first half marathon, or getting a crazy 5k PB at the age of 14 is mind-blowing. I look forward to them all pacing me in the very near future.

IMG_20181014_133256_751.jpg

Radio Chat

Towards the end of 2018 I was contacted by Richard who hosts the Richard ‘Spanners’ Ready radio show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. His show is a mix of chat about life, love, kids, music, cars and sport, and he was keen to feature local bloggers on the show and I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest twice. Richard’s show is so funny, and we’ve so far covered breathing techniques for running, the joy of parkrun and how to get in to climbing. I really hope he wants to keep these chats going into 2019, and I look forward to when we finally run a parkrun together. I’m not letting you off the hook on this one Richard.

What’s Next?

It’s easy to glance back at a year and feel like you’ve not achieved much, but taking the time to sit down and properly examine the time that’s passed can show that actually, in many ways, 2018 was a pretty good year.

So what’s next for 2019? I’d still love to get that sub-20 5k, and I’m hoping to do at least two half marathons this year (I’ve only ever done one a year before). I’m also hoping to get on to a CiRF course to take the next step in my coaching journey, as helping other people to achieve their goals is one of the best feelings in the world.

What are your fitness goals for 2019? Let me know in the comments below.

When the Anxious Athlete Takes Over

As it’s World Mental Health Day today, it seems like the best time for me to talk about my anxiety around running.

At least, it used to be just around running.

Earlier this year, I found that the sort of anxiety I used to have on start lines – you know, the fidgeting, wondering if I had time to make it to the toilet (AGAIN), generally being so tense I could have snapped, occasionally crying – had started to worm its way in to my every day life. I would go for a walk at lunch only to find that I would suddenly have to rush to the toilet (apologies to the person working in Paperchase who I literally ran away from as she tried to serve me). I started having panic attacks on the train which resulted in my holding up an entire 8-carriage to London. As someone who has to commute by train every day, the mere thought of simply getting to work would fill me with dread and I stopped wanting to leave the house.

I no longer felt like me.

I don’t really know what triggered this all. At the start of the year I had some stressful things going on and it’s possible that they just accumulated to breaking point, and I’ve always carried stress in my gut. But what I was certain of was that this situation couldn’t continue. I’m nothing if not proactive, so back in March I had some tests done at the doctors which all came back clear, and so reasoning that the problem was more mental than physical, I booked an appointment to see Dan Regan, who as well as being a fellow runner, is also a hypnotherapist. A friend had had a really positive experience with him and couldn’t recommend him enough, and his testimonial page was full of faces that I recognised from the sports scene in Ely. Thankfully Dan does free consultations so there was no massive upfront commitment, but as soon as we’d had that initial meeting I knew I wanted to work with him.

When it comes to picking a therapist of any kind, you have to be comfortable with them, and Dan and I got on immediately. Plus having shared knowledge of pre-race anxiety meant that he knew exactly where I was coming from. Over the course of 6 sessions he taught me coping mechanisms (some worked for me, some didn’t), gave me audio recordings to use at home and of course we had the hour long session to talk things through and do some hypnotherapy.

IMG_20180914_225606_506.jpg

Smiling when running!

And you know what? It really worked wonders for me. Don’t get me wrong, IBS is still a part of my life (I wasn’t expecting Dan to cure that!) and I still have situations that make me feel uncomfortable, but –  bar the odd wobble – the sheer panic I used to feel in that situation has gone. Instead I focus on my breathing, or tense the muscles in my legs or play word association games in my head. Even when it comes to races, even though I still get nervous (don’t we all, to some extent?), I don’t let it overwhelm me to the point of terror. If my stomach decides it’s not going to play ball I just accept it, and refuse to let myself despair over it. Instead, I focus on what I’m about to do and make sure I’m near those people who know what I’m dealing with and know how to help me through it.

And that’s where I need to say some thank yous. As well as to Dan, I need to thank my ever patient husband who went out of his way to try and minimise stressful situations for me, to Justin for being an epic sounding board on the way to races and to Pete who would try and distract me with games on the train and who was the one who purposefully blocked the train doors with my bike so that I wouldn’t get stuck and find myself going all the way to London.

Seriously Pete – who knew giraffes weighed that much?!

IMG_20181009_193733_563.jpg

I still consider my anxiety around my stomach issues to be a work in progress, but I have Dan’s audios to hand, an amazing support network around me and I’ve recently been enjoying pacing other people rather than putting myself under pressure to run super quickly. That’ll come back with time though. For now, it’s enough for me to be finishing a run with a massive smile on my face.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, you can find a number of resources available here.

The Bedford Half Twilight 10k – My Review

I’m sure I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I absolutely hate 10k as a distance. I find them so difficult to pace, often blowing up at around 6 or 7k, and as such I’ve avoided them like the plague in the last couple of years. But then I decided that this was the year to (occasionally) go out of my comfort zone, so I’ve so far done the Ely Runners 10k handicap race, and the Marcus Gynn 10k (which was surprisingly held on the surface of the sun). And then this weekend it was the turn of the Bedford Half Marathon Weekend‘s Twilight 10k.

Screenshot_20180902-220119.jpg

I’ll be honest – it was the photo of the medal that first convinced me to sign up for this race. It was obnoxiously huge and shiny, which appealed massively to my inner magpie. I keep all of my medals and am always pretty disappointed whenever I do a race and find my goodie bag only has a couple of flyers and a revolting gel in it. Plus one of my favourite running buddies was going along, and we decided (ok, I basically told him) that we would run it together.

When Chris, Sarah, Justin and I arrived at the running village after a bit of a schlep from the car (parking was a good mile and a half away but I didn’t mind this too much) the atmosphere was just brilliant. They had a massive welcome sign (perfect for a group photo!) a big stage with a DJ, lots of food stalls and a variety of pop up stalls including Up & Running and a local sports physio company offering massages (so I was a tad disappointed not to have any cash on me)! On Running were also there, and I visited them after I had finished the race only to find that I could have borrowed a pair of their Cloudflyers (which I’ve had my eye on for some time) to run the race in. I did do a little sprint in them (and they felt AMAZING) but it would have been great to trial an entire 10k in them, especially as they’re quite an investment pair of trainers. The event also had lots of hay bales dotted around for people to sit on, and most happily of all there were LOADS of toilets which made this nervous runner feel a bit calmer.

IMG_20180902_215923_191.jpg

Me, Justin, Sarah, Chris, Shaun and Emma – thanks to Chris and Sarah for the lift!

The start of the race was probably the only negative part of the whole thing (other than Emma and I not being able to locate halloumi fries). They had split the (potentially 3000 runners, but only 1846 completed the race) into 5 waves, and Justin and I were in Wave 1 which was due to start at 5:30. So we got there at around 5:25 only to find they had already sent Wave 1 to the start. Cue a mad dash with little or no direction to find our way to the start which ended up being where we had just come from! I think in future they should just start Wave 1 at the actual start and have the other 4 waves in the holding area. But still, at this point I got to meet the awesome Laura Brine who I’ve been following on Twitter for some time (but only realised it was her when searching for the race hashtag on Instagram on the way home!) as we all pegged it to the start.

The start of the race was a little congested, and at first I thought maybe the organisers had got their wave splits completely wrong. But as it turned out, they had it pretty spot on. The largest group was those who had put their finish time as 1:00 – 1:09 (553 finishers), and our group (sub 54 minutes) had 379 people finish in that time. Of course I can’t tell how many people may have started in the first wave but finished slower than they had expected, but overall the splits seemed fairly sensible. You just have to be like Justin and be willing to scuttle past people and overtake them when the opportunity presents itself, and after the first kilometre or so this becomes easier.

Bedford 10k Finish

Chris, Kojak/Justin and I

The course was gorgeous – there was woodland, lakes, bridges, the riverside – there was so much to look at which I found brilliantly distracting. Plus the course offered a variety of surfaces and the odd little incline which stopped my legs from getting too “bored”. The marshals were also brilliant, and I just thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. They also had a great goody bag – the medal of epicness, a technical t-shirt that doesn’t completely swamp me and snacks like bananas and biscuits. All of this for a race entry fee of around £25 for both the 10k and the half marathon which takes place on the Sunday.

I honestly don’t think I could recommend this race enough. I enjoyed it so much that I had already signed up for next year less than 24 hours later. I’m even contemplating making like Laura and signing up for both the 10k and the half in 2019, but I’ll see how my foot holds up to the St Neots half marathon later this year. So what are you waiting for? Get signed up for 2019 here – you won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Time I did 5 Races in 16 Days

I love racing. I’m always SO chill on a start line, taking selfies, having a laugh and generally putting everyone around me at ease. I’m an utter delight to be around.

Are you laughing yet?

I am the absolute worst when it comes to races. I panic, I whinge and I infect everyone around me with a general air of dread. You know – the kind of feeling you get on a long haul flight and the person with questionable hygiene who you spotted eating cheese and onion crisps in the check-in queue heads down the aisle towards the empty seat next to you.

But for some unfathomable reason, I managed to find myself looking at my race calendar and working out that I had managed to somehow schedule 5 races across 16 days. During a heatwave. My days looked like this:

  • 28th June: Girton 5k
  • 1st July: Marcus Gynn 10k
  • 5th July: Ely Runners Mile Handicap
  • 12th July: Kevin Henry 5k League Race
  • 13th July: Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog

You know what it’s like. You see a race in February and you’re like, “ooh, that sounds fun!” So you check you’re free, and if you are you sign up and pop it in your diary. And if you’re an idiot like me, it doesn’t even occur to you to check if there are any races already in your diary, say, the day before…

But anywho, I was signed up and despite the heatwave that made me feel like my brain was expanding out of my ears, (see my thoughts on summer running here) I committed to each and every one of these blinking races. Here’s how I got on.

GIRTON 5k

It was the Girton 5k that first introduced me to Ely Runners so it will always hold a special place in my heart. However, it was really toasty the first time I ran it in 2015 and 3 years later it was no different. I also didn’t learn from my previous experience and forgot to plonk myself at the front of the group, which meant that not only did I get tangled up in runners, I also got tangled up in the race markings when a larger chap in front of me swerved at the last minute and I ended up having a disagreement with a pole and some tape. Elegant. Throw in some narrow paths and runners who stopped dead mid-race due to the heat meant it wasn’t a speedy race, but it is an immensely fun one. I came in at 21:30 and was second in my age category so I was pretty pleased with that one. I’d recommend the Girton 5k to anyone looking for a fun, sociable 5k with some difficulty to it.

IMG_20180629_121944_611.jpg

MARCUS GYNN 10k

Now the Marcus Gynn 10k is an important race because it is named in memory of the wonderful Newmarket Jogger Marcus, who sadly passed away on the 11th February 2016. Marcus was a school friend of my husband’s and the original running blogger in my life, so I was damned if 30 degree heat was going to stop me from running for him. Had it been any other race I would have bailed without a second’s thought as I know how badly the heat affects me, but not this one. And it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I stopped at both water stations to properly take on fluid and found myself having to drop to a walk on the final hill but I still crossed the line as 7th woman in a decent time for me of 45:43, maybe 2 minutes over what I could manage on that course if it wasn’t being scorched by Satan himself. Most importantly of all I got to meet Marcus’ beautiful nephew, who was one of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen. This race is a seriously special one, and body willing I will do it every year.

IMG_20180701_184024_970.jpg

ELY RUNNERS MILE HANDICAP

Nothing instills fear in the Ely Runners gang like the mile handicap race. We’re all long(er) distance runners and rarely train for speed over such short distances. Pre-race we all cluster together beneath the trees on Amherst Field next to Ely Train Station like a bunch of meerkats under threat, wondering how we’ve managed to make such bad choices in our lives. I was especially irate when I realised I had been given the same handicap (6 minutes dead) as a fellow ER who had been a good 70 seconds faster than me at our 10k handicap back in June. Also, I found myself in the “fast” group for the first time (anyone with a handicap of 6 minutes or less) and this meant that I would be at the back of the group, watching everyone run away from me. As it turns out, I prefer this to being chased. If I know that statistically I should be at the back of the group then I won’t panic. If I know that statistically I should be at the front of the group and I falter, that’s guaranteed to make my mental strength wobble. I ended up managing 6:04, so although I missed my handicap, it was 1 second faster than last year. I’ll take it!

IMG_20180705_215643_117.jpg

KEVIN HENRY 5K LEAGUE RACE

Despite the nerves they produce, the Kevin Henry league races are my favourites. I’m much happier running in the evening than the morning, and the support from my teammates at these runs is incredible. Everyone is so pleased when you show up, as EVERY runner wins a point for their club, just by being there. It really is a race for everyone. I had planned to pace one of our juniors during this run, but 5 minutes before the start I found out she was ill and I found myself having to run my own race, which I really wasn’t prepared for. However, something magical happened that evening and I managed to beat my 2 year old 5k PB by one second, coming in in 20:18 (20:16 if Strava is to be believed)! It was just one of those runs where everything came together – the course is flat, the weather was good and I managed to settle in to my pace. Don’t get me wrong – it flipping HURT – but after thinking that 20:19 was the best I was ever going to achieve, there were some tears when my time was finally confirmed. Now I have decided that I’m going to try and push for a sub-20. I know it may not happen, and if it does it won’t be easy, but this run has set a fire in my belly and made me want to see if what I thought was impossible could in fact be a reality.

IMG_20180713_085831_735.jpg

WIBBLY WOBBLY LOG JOG

I’m not ashamed to say that the name of this race is the reason I first signed up to it in 2016.  I mean, how could you not? The first year I did it I LOVED it. It was my first proper trail run and the novelty of it meant I was so busy taking it all in that speed was secondary. The second year I did it on EXHAUSTED legs and tried to run it hard. I hated it so much that I was swearing at squirrels and trees. So I was slightly reticent turning up to this year’s run the day after my 5k PB race. And to be honest, it really was hard, and I was so incredibly tired by the time we hit the last mile. But Pete and Rob, my fellow Ely Runners, dragged me to the finish, and I managed my fastest time there by 5 seconds in 38:49. It also produced one of my favourite ever Ely Runners group photos.

FB_IMG_1534711037753.jpg

All in all, I am so, so proud of what I achieved in these 16 days. A 5k and 1 mile PB, and course PBs both at Girton and the WWLJ. Plus I got to run for Marcus, which is something I hope to do every year. I’m not sure I would recommend squeezing in so many races in such a short space of time, but who wants to bet I sign up to all of these again next year? Just please, PLEASE let it be cooler in the summer of 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

How I’m Coping with the Heat – A Runner’s Guide

Spoiler alert – that was a proper click-baity title. Because I’m not coping with the heat. At all. I am one of those British people who moans constantly as soon as it gets above 20 degrees. I need to move to Shetland.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a winter girl through and through. As well as being a Christmas monkey (yes I will share Elf memes from around September until you mute me), I love the feeling of icy air in my lungs when I run, not this hideous soup-like substance I’m having to breathe through every time I step outside. I’m the girl who went out when it was so cold that her eyelashes froze together, and when she warmed up resembled Alice Cooper as her mascara ran down her face. Plus I am incredibly fair. My version of a tan is looking ever so slightly less blue in the summer. I am losing hours of my life to applying factor 50 every day, and am sweating from my knees for crying out loud. And don’t even get me started on just how terrifyingly red my face is capable of going.

HOWEVER. I am still managing to run and there are a few tiny things that I am doing that are making life that little bit more bearable. For me at least. Sorry for my husband/officemate/friends/fellow train users/everyone I come to contact with who is having to deal with the worst version of me right now.

FIND A WHINGE BUDDY

When you find a fellow hater of heat it is a glorious thing. Take for example my running buddy Serena (check out her awesome blog here). We spent a lovely time on Saturday morning discussing the futility vs necessity of showering in this weather (shower, get sweaty dressing, repeat until the four horseman of the apocalypse turn up and ask if that thing they can smell is you) and how much we miss running in the cold. We knew we could offload on to each other without risk of a judgey eyeroll and someone saying “what do you mean? It’s lovely out there!”. Try telling that to the grass you lizard-human hybrid.

ARM  YOURSELF

Due to my dependence on our often lacklustre summers, I had (somewhat accidentally) found myself with 5 races in the calendar within 19 days during this heatwave (at time of writing I’m 3 down, 2 to go).  This has meant that I’ve had to arm myself mentally and physically for these challenges. Physically, my water intake has gone up, especially in advance of a race. I sweat A LOT in these conditions so I have to make sure I’m well hydrated. During my 10k last weekend I stopped at both water stations to properly drink and pour some water on my head. I’ve also dug out my O.R.S Electroylte Hydration Tablets, something I’ve only ever used during half marathon training before. In addition to this, I’ve been stocking up on Ronhill Visors from my local independent sports shop. These are super lightweight and have been an absolute game changer in this heat. If there are none left in Ely you know who to blame.

Mentally, I’m trying to make sure I back off slightly in races. This isn’t easy when you’re competitive, even less so when you’re racing against people with a much better tolerance of the high temperatures, but it’s an absolutely necessity. People have been collapsing on runs in this weather, and I don’t intend on being one of them. I’m finding that I’m coming in around 2 minutes over best race pace on a 10k, and around 40 odd seconds on a 5k. I can deal with that, mainly by reminding myself that this is excellent training for winter.

NAP LIKE A CHAMP

I’m usually a pretty sound sleeper. I can drop off quite easily, and generally if I wake up in the night I don’t tend to remember it. But in this weather I can find myself taking at least 30 minutes to drop off in my bedroom, which has been sitting at around the 26 degree mark since this heatwave hit. So I’m grabbing power naps when I can in an attempt to simply top up my energy levels which have really dipped over the last couple of weeks. I’m also a big fan of the Mama Mio Liquid Yoga Spray, which I use on my pillow to help me to try and relax.

ICE LOLLIES, CONSTANTLY

I’ve recently discovered Rowntree’s Watermelon Ice Lollies and the thing I never thought would happen has happened. They have knocked Twisters off their decades long spot as my favourite ice lolly. Get yourself down to your local supermarket and thank me later.

IMG_20180626_213224_932.jpg