The Glorious Pain of Parliament Hill

I don’t consider myself a cross-country runner. I’ve always been more at ease on the road, more sure-footed when I don’t have to worry about rabbit holes, grasping thorny hedges and routes mangled by tractor tyres (a sure fire way to get me turning the air blue on a run). Each time I’ve done the Ely Runners Christmas run I’ve stacked it with considerable flair, and have found the terrain really bloody tough.

So why, dear reader, did I agree to sign up to run the National Cross Country Championships at Parliament Hill? Because I am a blithering idiot who gets swept up in the enthusiasm of others. Plus the blighters got me at a weak point. At the start of the year I knew that the Cambridge Half Marathon was going to be a no go – getting back up to 13 miles was just too much pressure to put on me and my foot. But a 5 mile trot around Hampstead Heath? Well that sounded just peachy.

I knew I was in trouble when I told my sister that I had signed up to the race and she laughed. When I told my coach he looked genuinely concerned. Naturally neither of these reactions filled me with confidence. And then in the days leading up to the run I stupidly clicked on links people were sending me of videos of the race, which basically showed a never-ending swell of runners taking what seemed like FOREVER to power up the boggiest incline you ever laid eyes on. In the end, I forced myself to buy my train ticket to London 5 days in advance as I knew I’d be far less likely to bail if I’d already spent £20 to get there.

This video will give you some idea of the scrum you get at the start of the race

After a rather convoluted train journey to London on Saturday 24th February (thanks to engineering works on the line that added nearly half an hour to our journey) we ended up reaching the event a little later than we had planned. Add to this the hunt for the registration tent, the need to change into trail shoes (don’t even get me started on the runners who asked me if I had spikes – of course I flipping didn’t. I couldn’t have been more clueless about this race), and the queues for the toilets, and Celine, Beth and I found ourselves with 3 minutes to get to the start, whilst frantically trying to pin our numbers on. Huge thanks to the fellow runners who helped us as we fumbled with our safety pins whilst simultaneously telling us over and over that we were going to miss the start. Talk about giving with one hand and taking with the other.

Whilst Beth powered to the start (the girl is an epic cross country machine), Celine and I made it with seconds to spare, and I was still tucking my shoelaces in as the klaxon went. I had been advised by various sources to wrap duck tape around my shoes, but there was no way I would have had time for that. As it happens people are split on whether taping shoes is a help or a hindrance, but I was extremely nervous that I was going to lose a trainer as we set off up the hill right at the back of the pack.

And so I started what was without doubt the most bonkers run of my life. That first hill NEVER seems to end, and being at the back makes things even worse as you try and dodge the crowds and their pointy elbows (more than 1100 runners took part in the senior women’s event). But that hill isn’t even the worst bit, because then you enter the boggiest pits you’ve ever seen, interspersed with a gajillion inclines of varying degrees. By the end of the race my Garmin had clocked more than 60 flights of stairs. It’s a full blown mudbath and apparently it wasn’t even all that bad this year. The course is so unutterably bonkers that you just have to go with it and pray that your trainers don’t get sucked into the real life bog of eternal stench*.

At around mile 4 I really thought that I was going to keel over and earn myself a free mud facial. I told myself that I would never, EVER do this again and when I hit the final decline and saw the finish line in sight I seemed to summon all of my inner demons and powered to the finish.

And then the weirdest thing happened. After we had all completed the race Celine asked me if I would do it again. And I said yes without even skipping a beat. Despite how much my legs burned, and how exhausted I felt from the extra muddy weight on my feet and the effort of having to lift my knees higher than I normally would, I had actually seriously bloody enjoyed it. Part of it may have been the sheer joy of running again, and the fact that the weather couldn’t have been better (would I have been so chipper a week later running whilst being battered by the Beast from the East?), but I just loved the challenge. It felt like I had been part of something really special, and next time the run takes place in Parliament Hill I’ll be sure to tie my shoelaces a little tighter, get to the start in plenty of time and maybe wiggle a little closer to the front. Because the competitive arse in me is steaming that I got 40:03, just 4 seconds off getting a time starting with a 3.

And in case you’re wondering, no. I still haven’t cleaned my trainers.

* If you don’t get this reference, go and watch Labyrinth and educate yourself immediately.

Why I Love my Leggings

So in the last few days I’ve been seeing a lot of chat around an article from the NY Times written by the “does-she-or-doesn’t-she exist” Honor Jones. The title of this piece (of garbage) is “Why Yoga Pants are Bad for Women“.

Are we getting paper cuts from the price tags?

Are they releasing chemicals that we’re absorbing into our skin?

HAVE THEY BECOME SENTIENT?!

No – they’re bad for us, because we’re all wearing them to look sexy, and this is NOT OK AT THE GYM.

First of, what a load of utter, utter bobbins. While I can’t speak for everyone, I have never once put on leggings (I can’t quite get on board with calling them “yoga pants”) with the purpose being that I want to look alluring at the gym. Anyone who has seen me with sweat dripping from my face knows that really isn’t a primary concern of mine when I work out. I put them on because – for me – they are the most practical item for an exercise session. If I’m sweating on a spin bike or trying to do eagle pose or a standing split in yoga, of course sweat-wicking, flexible clothing is the way to go. If I wore sweatpants (which often seem to come in a shade of marl grey that show off sweat patches to their absolute best) I would be a sweaty mess within minutes, and I guarantee they would snag on the first bit of machinery I tried to clamber on to.

And as for her statement that she got funny looks when she got on the elliptical, if it even happened maybe it’s because she came in looking like a sour-faced harpy giving the stink eye to every woman wearing lycra. Oh and FYI – sweatpants fit OVER leggings. That’s why I wear mine on the bike ride to the gym to protect my ankles from the cold and remove them once I enter the sweatbox.

Most women at the gym are there to get fit. They’re not there to compete with other women, or to make them feel bad, or to treat it like a fashion show. I love wearing brightly patterned (and sometimes obnoxious) lycra because a splash of colour can make a tough workout just a little bit more fun. But I’m sure as HELL not going to judge other women on their sartorial choices at the gym. Unlike this blithering idiot who says “It’s not good manners for women to tell other women how to dress” and then goes on to do just that. Every woman is capable of deciding which items of clothing she’s comfortable in when she’s working out, whether that’s sweat pants, tiny shorts, crop tops or anything else in between.

Was my Injury Actually a Good Thing?

Did I mention that I’ve been injured?

Megalolz. I’m only messing you with you. If you follow me on Twitter or you’ve been lucky enough to find yourself within earshot of me within the last four months you will have heard me banging on about my “posterior tibial tendonitis” (try saying that after a few drinks). This has been without doubt the most stubborn injury I’ve had in the last few years, and I’ve had some really low moments during the seemingly endless weeks of stretching, physio, osteopathy, acupuncture, yoga, foam rolling and self medicating with cake.

But now that I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe this happening was a good thing. Yes I may have missed some of my favourite races and my preferred running season (trust me to be fit and healthy in the summer when trying to run outdoors is akin to running in soup) but I’ve been forced to be more creative with my fitness and as a result have seen my perspective shift in some interesting ways.

First of all, there’s the bouldering. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know I’ve found a real affinity with clambering up walls (despite being sweaty of hand and afraid of heights – go figure). I’ve reconnected with friends over climbing, have seen my shoulders develop in a way that makes me want to flex like the hulk whenever I walk past a mirror, have spent time with my niece and nephew at the climbing centre and have enjoyed the encouraging vibe between other climbers. It gives me an adrenaline hit but in a more controlled way than the adrenaline I feel on a start line of a race in a sometimes unfamiliar environment. Having said all this though, being on the verge of tears, stuck at the top of a route with my feet on a hold that looked disturbingly like a large pair of testicles was not one of my finest moments. But the good of climbing massively outweighs the bad.

Look! I’m a GIF! Thanks Oli…

Secondly, when I was deciding how on earth to find something that would get my heart rate up as much as running and Zumba (another exercise form that seemed to be aggravating my injury), I decided to wander into Elyte Fitness and see if maybe they were the gym for me after feeling less than inspired by the other local facilities on offer. Within 10 minutes I was sold on the sheer passion of the owners Lewis and Dawn and I signed up on the spot. I’m so glad I made this decision, as they are full of ideas and plans for the gym, and they’ve built an amazing fitness community. Every time I go there I feel like I’m with old friends and I’ll be writing a separate post on my Elyte journey so far as there is so much I want to say about it.

Because I was finding myself feeling so down about the state of running, I also decided to fire up my Headspace app again.  I’ve flirted on and off with Headspace for some time, but never seemed to manage more than 5 days in a row. Even though they always say not to worry if you miss a day, I would always take that as a sign of failure (competitive, moi?) and end up walking away for another month or two. But I’m currently sitting at 21 days straight of at least 10 minutes of meditation a day, and I am feeling slightly calmer in a general kind of way. I’m not going to claim that I am in some kind of zen like chilled perfection of existence (no one would believe that), but I think the clearest sign that I’m more relaxed and able to see “the bigger picture”, is the fact that I decided to transfer my Cambridge Half place, and I felt completely ok about it. Even though missing races you love sucks, setting back a recovery that has taken 4 months for the sake of one medal is madness. I would have spent the next 6 weeks fretting about building up from 4 miles to 13 miles, constantly wondering if my tendon could take the strain and I would have become unpleasant to be around. So to me it just seemed like such an obvious thing to do.

Another positive to come out of all this is that I feel like I know my body better, and I have a new found respect for it. I’m still making time to stretch and foam roll, and I try and do a little yoga every day (I manage it about 80% of the time). And as a result of my injury I’ve been told by my physio and my osteo that my foot functionality and balance is the best they’ve ever seen (proof that putting the effort into your rehab works!). And really, I’m just so excited to be running again, and am looking forward to getting stronger and building up to my best again. I’ve done a parkrun and a track session and loved every minute as you can see my inane grinning face above. Feeling my lungs fill with that gorgeous icy air is the ultimate tonic to me, and I’m just so grateful to be out there again. It’s lovely to be back with my running family, and I’m going to take my time and build up my distance slowly, and maybe look to do an autumn half marathon. Then again – maybe not? Maybe I’ll just keep doing whatever I like whenever I like, with no pressure, and no expectations.

 

 

Activewear Sale Bargains – Start off your 2018 Fitness Regime in Style

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen me whinging about what a pants Christmas I’ve been having. My other half has been ill for the whole holiday period, and whilst this resulted in no Christmas dinner and a general despondent air (and threats to take down the Christmas Tree on Boxing Day) one good thing has come out of this – in housebound boredom I have been scouring the sales to find fitness bargains, and thought I would share my finds with you! Where possible, I have only chosen items that had all (or at least a large range) of sizes in stock, accurate at the time of writing of course!

SWEATY BETTY

Of course I’m going to start this off with my fitness mother ship. I know some people find SB on the expensive side, and whilst I’m not going to dispute that, they do put on a cracking sale with some serious bargains to be had.

For all the yogis out there, I can thoroughly recommend Sweaty Betty’s Namaska padded yoga vest. I already own it in 2 colours, and I’ve ordered the fluorescent coral colour to add to my collection. I’ve also found that it’s a pretty good top for bouldering. All 3 colours on the site are currently half price (£25 down from £50). Their Dharana Yoga Tee in powder blue is also a steal – £18 down from £60. I’ve resisted the urge to buy this so far but don’t see that lasting…

If you’re looking for some new bottoms, I’ve found bargains in all lengths! For shorts, their bum sculpting power shorts in this geometric print are now £15 down from £50. And yep, I’ve also ordered these as I love the super wide waistband. If showing that much leg isn’t your style, their origami crane print contour crop workout leggings are the same price. And if you’re looking for a full length option for winter, the textile print version of their famous zero gravity run leggings are now just £27 down from £90. It’s a loud print, but you can’t argue with that price!

You can view the rest of the SB sale here.

ASOS

Delving into the ASOS January sale is a sure-fire way to lose hours of your life. Trust me. My “save for later” list is currently sitting at 95 items. Oops. I didn’t find a huge numberof items that were both a steal AND available in all sizes, but I did stumble across these ombre Onzie leggings (£22 down from £55) and this Kisaiya yoga drape side vest top (£12 down from £35). I think they’d make a pretty nice outfit together!

You can view the rest of the ASOS Activewear sale here.

WIGGLE

Ahh Wiggle. How I love you. And not just for the bag of mini Haribo that you chuck in with every order. Although that helps a lot. Every year I manage to pick up a Shock Absorber Run Bra from them (the only sports bra I ever use for running) and this year you can get the red lime version for £14.70 down from £42. I also have a huge problem with cycling gear (in that I personally find that most of it is hideous to look at), but this Primal Athene 2nd Layer Jacket is really good looking and only £36 down from £90.

You can view the rest of the Wiggle Activewear sale here.

DANSEZ

Dansez are a fairly local company to me with a base in Bury St Edmunds , and until the 7th January they’re offering 40% off across the site using the code CHRISTMASSALE. They have a background in dancewear and launched their activewear range a couple of years ago. Even better, they make their products in the UK from their factory in Kent. I’m a fan of their fun prints and use of mesh panelling, and three of my favourite items are the dance fitness bra in Rio (£15 with the discount), the mesh boatneck vest in black (£15 with the discount) and the mesh leggings in Rio (£22.80 with the discount). The individual product images I found weren’t great quality but this lookbook image will give you a good idea of the style.

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You can view the rest of the Dansez Activewear range here.

THE OUTNET

Lastly, I had to share these utter beauts from Purity Active. You just can’t go wrong with a pair of star print leggings (£44 down from £92) and the matching top (£28 down from £58), even if they are a little pricey to begin with!

You can view the rest of the Outnet Activewear sale here.

I hope you found this guide useful – let me know if you buy anything!, and happy new year!

 

How to Cope when you’re a Running Blogger who can’t Run

You know all those times when I’ve complained about how hideous running is and how much it hurts and how it sometimes makes me feel like I might die as I throw a tantrum face down in the mud? You know, the subtle stuff?

I take it all back. I’m a running blogger who can’t run, and it’s awful.

So this foot niggle that flared up 3 months ago is still going strong, and the current thinking is that it’s posterior tibial tendonitis. Trips off the tongue doesn’t it? These two fun chaps can explain it for me because I think typing the symptoms out in a blog post might tip me over the edge. Upshot is that tendonitis is an absolute bugger, and so far mine is proving to be incredibly stubborn (I wonder where it gets that from)?

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Despite my best efforts to stretch, ice, strengthen, offer up my first born to the local witch… it feels better, I run a bit, and then it feels bad again. There seems to be so little progress and it’s driving me nuts. I will admit that maybe I’ve been trying too much too soon, but in my mind 3 miles with the juniors is not a lot of running. However, when my fabulously patient physio Megan saw me last, she explained that to go from nothing to 3 miles is a lot on a bad foot, and that I need to raise up my rehab efforts and bring down my running so that they can meet somewhere in the middle. In other words, I need to dig deep and find some patience. So my foot and leg exercises are now being done with a 7kg kettlebell, and this week I’ve run for 5 x 30 seconds twice. So in a week, I’ve done 5 whole minutes of running. Insert massive hurrumphy sigh here.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know that in the grand scheme of things I’m extremely lucky. I’ve met runners who have battled back from strokes and blood clots, and people who rock up to parkrun week in/week out and have to run/walk it in 50 minutes because they have an illness that prevents them from doing anything more. But running is a huge part of my identity, and after three months of this, I’ll admit that I’m struggling. On a Sunday I find being on Facebook and Twitter really difficult as I see friends celebrate great races, flash their medal bling and record PBs. I’ve had to miss out on two club runs already this season, as well as some of my favourite races like the Town and Gown 10k.

BUT. As difficult as I’m finding it, I’m not going to shut myself off from the world of running. I’ve been volunteering at parkrun, cycling whilst friends run, getting involved in ukrunchat on Twitter, organising my running club’s Christmas parties and congratulating friends on their achievements. I know I’ll be back there soon. I know I will. I just wish it could be sooner rather than later.

In the meantime I’m climbing more, doing yoga, and finding cardio alternatives to keep myself sane. Against my better judgement I’ve even promised my husband that I’ll try a spin class despite claiming that hell would have to freeze over before I would even consider it. He said “even if you hate it and least you’ll get a blog post out of it.”

How well he knows me.

 

 

Dear Running – I Have a Confession to Make…

I’m not quite sure how to say this, but here goes. I’ve been having an affair.

Please don’t get upset. It’s not you. I still love you running. I know we’ve had our ups and downs. You’ve hurt me and made me cry, and sometimes I’ve had to take a break from us when it has hurt just a little too much. And that’s when it came along, when I was at my weakest.

Bouldering.

I don’t know if it was the bright colours, the – ahem – unique smell of chalk mixed with sweaty climbing shoes or the soft “thwump” of people landing on crash mats, but I was instantly dazzled.

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On that first climb I felt scared and made it halfway up before I scuttled back down like a reticent cat. But the second time I went straight up, and for the briefest of moments, I felt invincible. I felt like if I – someone who once nearly fainted climbing up Ely Cathedral – could conquer this climbing wall and look down without passing out, I could conquer anything.

Don’t get me wrong, bouldering and I have had our arguments. I’ve left with callused hands, scraped knees and a bruised ego when I claimed that I was too short for a route only for a 9 year old to race up it as their warm up. I’ve missed a hold and fallen from a height that although doesn’t look that high from the ground, feels immense when you’re up there. I’ve landed awkwardly. But you know what? I find that heart-racing moment when you know you’re going to fall kind of exciting.

I’ve always liked feeling strong, and when I look in the mirror now I can see how much my arms and shoulders have developed. That’s down to bouldering. I like the easy camaraderie of climbers and how when you’re struggling on a route you know there will be someone to offer advice or calm you down when your hands become slick with sweat and you think you can’t hold on. With running those conversations are just that little bit harder when your lungs are being pushed to their limits. And I love the progression. That’s the thing running – we’ve been together for so long that we’ve kind of flatlined, found a steady pace together that works for us. But with bouldering, I’ve gone from climbing 3s to climbing 5+s, and even attempting 6s with a wry smile. I know it’s not always about PBs and winning, but when you’re having a bad day, that feeling you get when you finally grab that difficult hold is up there with a 5k PB, something I’ve not had for two years now.

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But don’t worry running. I have time for both of you in my life. As much as bouldering has given me a new spark, I still need you. Bouldering requires focus and puzzle solving skills, but it takes you for my mind to truly be free to go wherever it needs to as my feet make that beautiful rhythm on the pavement. I need you.

You are my first and strongest love. I just hope you don’t mind if I have a cheeky bit on the side.

Aha! The Round Norfolk Relay – My Review

Ok, I’m three cups of coffee, one cup of tea, a load of sweets and a two hour power nap in.  I can do this.

This morning (or last night depending on your view of the world), I woke up at 4:10am to take part in the 198 mile Round Norfolk Relay for my awesome running club Ely Runners. For the uninitiated (as I was prior to my taking part in it) the RNR is a 17 stage mega relay that goes – yep, you guessed it – right the way round Norfolk, starting and ending at King’s Lynn. I was given stage 14, which is thankfully one of the shorter legs at 7.27 miles and goes from Feltwell to Wissington, and my faithful running buddy Pete took on the 10.59 mile stage 15 from Wissington to Downham Market, which meant that we could travel to the start together.

The thing with the RNR is that the organisation behind it is frankly insane. Our team of 5 must have worked their socks off working out everyone’s estimated start time based on the pace each runner thought they would run their leg in. And it’s so hard to know exactly how you’ll do on the day. if you end up being a bit slower than expected it’s not a disaster as the runner you’re handing the baton to should be there ready and waiting. However, if you run a blinder (as some of our runners did) and shave some time off, there’s a risk your runner might not be there waiting for you. It’s high stress stuff for those on the support crew, trying to make sure everything runs smoothly.

So at 4:15am, as I was putting my contact lenses in, I got a message saying my leg would be due to start no later than 5:30am. My previous start time had been 6:08am. And Pete and I had planned to be there 40 minutes in advance. So cue a somewhat, um, “energetic” rush round the house. Pete got to me at 4:48am, 12 minutes earlier than we’d originally planned, and we crossed our fingers and set off.

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Now we hadn’t planned for mega thick fog, which scuppered all chances of putting our foot down, and messages between us and the support crew were intermittent at best due to the ropey Fenland signal. And then we got to a mist-filled Feltwell it looked more like something out of a horror movie than a place where a hundred or so runners and crew would be gathered. Thankfully Pete had been organised and knew where in Feltwell we needed to be, so we finally parked up at around 5:25am, panicking ever so slightly that I needed to be kitted up and raring to go in 5 minutes. But as it turned out, the cheeky little sausages on the support team had been erring on the side of caution due to the previous runner arriving late for their handover, so in order to be sure I’d be there in time they’d told me to be there a tad earlier than necessary. I may not have been overly impressed as I stood in the freezing fog, but with hindsight it gave me bags of time to prepare myself, get hydrated, use the portaloo (3 times -standard) and grab the baton from John at a couple of minutes to 6:00am.

The fog was still super thick but it wasn’t too cold out once I got moving. It was also just starting to lighten up when I set off. It was a weird experience. I haven’t run for a while because of a grumpy foot (suspected tendonitis) and I am SO not a morning person. So the entire run seemed to pass super quickly in a bit of a blur, and I really didn’t take much in. I think I just went on autopilot. The sun came up when I was running but the fog was so thick I could barely see more than a few metres ahead of me. And it’s such a weird sensation to hear cars crawling along just a few metres behind you (every nighttime runner needs a support vehicle driving behind them). The Ely Runners crew (we were on the club’s B team) were just awesome, checking I was ok, and the human megaphone James knew me well enough to know that I’d respond well to some banter (by that I mean giving him the finger when he told me to hurry up). And before I knew it, I was being told I was 500 yards away but a cycling marshal (I resisted to urge to ask him how far that actually flipping meant as I haven’t a scoobie about yards) and then I was passing the baton to Pete, who had driven to his start point with Andy from the support crew.

After a few minutes to gather myself and to crow over the frankly RIDICULOUS medal Andy gave to me, we then hopped in the car and drove towards Downham Market to meet Pete, honking the horn and whooping at him as we overtook him a mile or so down the road.

The organisation that goes behind the RNR, both by the support crews and the overall organisers is unreal. This was its 31st year, and they had over 1000 runners taking part. They had marshals positioned 500 metres or so from the start of each checkpoint, who would shout team numbers over their walkie talkies to their colleagues waiting at the check point so that they could make sure the next runner was ready to go (provided they had turned up on time – apparently the chap in front of me had no one waiting for him at Wissington). On paper it looks like an absolute nightmare, but from my point of view it was seamless. The support crew even turned up with a coffee for me as I waited for Pete arrive in Downham Market (the van had switched to cycle support by then).

Pete roared in to Downham Market at around 8:07am, and handed over to Anne who was running the penultimate leg. We also managed to catch up with some members of the A team, who had made up enough time to overtake the B team during stage 16 (the idea is faster teams start later so every team taking part finishes in around a 45 minute window from 10:15am – 11am). Pete and I then hopped in to the car to drive the 25 minutes home (the beauty of our stage of the race is that it’s the closest part of Norfolk to Ely) and at 9:30am went to Arbuckle’s with Rachel, her and Pete’s daughter Ellie and somewhat randomly my parents, niece and nephew. A great end to a great event.

On paper the RNR seems wildly complex, and in some ways it really is. But it’s also SO well done, and it’s an incredible event to be part of. Some people are doing epic feats of endurance (some legs, including one that falls in the early hours, are 19 miles long) and the atmosphere is great. If you’re thinking of entering a team I can’t recommend it enough, if only to go home with a medal that doubles up as a cake plate. I really hope I’m lucky enough to take part again next year. Huge thanks to our organisers Sarah, Steve Caroline, Andy and James. We could not have done this without you depriving yourselves of sleep for 30+ hours, not to mention the hours of organising in the run up to the event. And after all this, I might even wear that flipping hoodie again!

Aha!

The Kevin Henry 5k Season 2017 – My Review

I can’t believe it’s been a month since the Kevin Henry 5k League season finished! In the past this set of races ran until the first Thursday of September, but this year they compressed it into 5 months instead of 6. At the time I was pretty unhappy with this as it meant that sometimes there were only two weeks between races, and as someone who gets quite wound up in race situations (ahem) it felt like my stress levels remained consistently high.

But I love racing 5ks once I get going. Yes it can be really tough to sustain that “faster-than-is-entirely-comfortable” pace and to get used to that burn in your chest and the ache in your legs, but I love the feeling that floods your body after a fast 5k. I just don’t get the same runners’ high from other race distances.

I was nervous about how the season would go. Since changing jobs my training regime has changed considerably. My regular lunchtime track sessions have gone out of the window (which I really miss), and I’ve shifted my evening focus a bit more to working with our junior runners. So at the start of every race I was armed with a decent set of excuses (like I usually am pre-race) and I kept telling people I wasn’t as fit as last year.

Turns out I really need to stop whinging, as I ended up beating all of my 2016 race times apart from one. I’m basically the running equivalent of the boy who cried wolf. Here’s my breakdown (the times in brackets are my 2016 times):

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Newmarket was a pretty sight when we left at least…

27th April – Cambridge Tri Club: 20:29 (21:50), 94th runner out of 307, 14th female

11th May – Ely Runners: 20:41 (20:48), 83rd runner out of 297, 13th female

8th June – Newmarket Joggers: 21:31 (21:17), 107th runner out of 301, 15th female

29th June – Saffron Striders: 20:44 (20:51), 85th runner out of 284, 10th female

13th July – Haverhill Running Club: 21:01 (21:48), 84th runner out of 283, 9th female

3rd August – C&C: 20:30 (20:41), 112th runner out of 321, 12th female*

Of the 6 races, Newmarket is the one that I stress about the most mainly because they don’t have toilets on site, something I’ve complained about before. They’re nearly 1k away, which when you’re a nervous pee-er, is simply not good enough (in my opinion) so I always start that race in a really stressed out state. It was also a warm evening, and I tried to keep up with an Ely Junior who had finished just behind me at the Ely race. As it turns out he was massively slacking off at Ely as he smashed Newmarket in 20:00 minutes dead and completed the last race of the season in 19:17. Blooming hustler. The moral of that story is to run your own race, not someone else’s.

The one I’m most proud of is Haverhill. Regular readers of this blog might remember last year’s meltdown but this year I dug deep and managed to pace it just right. I was a little disappointed at first not to have dipped under 21:00, but I soon managed to put my rational thinking cap back on to realise that to have taken 47 seconds off a 5k was utterly brilliant. As for the last race, I turned up to it completely exhausted. I have a little too much on my plate at the moment (all my own doing) and I was just running on empty. But I wanted to try and end the season having done all 6 races, so I was going to run it no matter what. Thankfully I happened to bump into Lauren Bradshaw fresh from some mental marathon, and she said her legs weren’t feeling too hot either, so we agreed to run together and aim for something like 21 minutes. Her famous last words were “you’ll have to drag me round”.

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Comparing red faces at Haverhill

Did I heck. The absolute speed demon shot off, chatting to fellow runners on the way as I struggled to settle my breathing. The first 3k were really hard. I didn’t want to let Lauren down by slowing up as I knew she’d want to be loyal and stay with me, so I just tried to focus on my breathing as much as possible and not let the panic in my chest rise like it did at Newmarket. The headwind was also really unhelpful, but I kept having to remind myself that I’d be grateful to have it behind me on the final 1k. On the last 300m around the track I could suddenly hear someone thundering behind us. No way was I letting Lauren work that hard for us to be beaten on the line so I sped up and she responded and I finished just behind her. At first I thought I might have gotten a PB but it turns out that I was 12 seconds off it. So the 2015 5k PB still stands but you know what? That was a stronger season than I could have hoped for, and next year I can aim for that sub 21:00 Haverhill race and maybe even sneak that PB.

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With the legend that is Bradders

* The C&C race had Lauren in the position behind me, but she definitely finished in front of me so I’ve put the times she was given.

Spitfire Scramble 2017 – Saying Goodbye to my Comfort Zone

What would take you outside of your comfort zone? Wing walking? Swimming with sharks? Getting a hug off Donald Trump in your favourite white outfit?

Well for me, it’s camping. Yep, you heard that right. I am the sort of person who loves hot showers, clean toilets and my own bed. After a horrendous camping experience when I was 11 (freak Lauren out became everyone’s favourite activity on that trip), I had no inclination to do it again. EVER. My friend Lucy put it perfectly when she said “why would you choose to spend your free time living at a lower standard than you do normally?”. FYI that’s the clean version of what she actually said, but it summed up my feelings on the matter.

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My ever supportive friends and family.

So how exactly did I find myself camping in a field just outside Dagenham, losing punch-ups with poison-fanged insects and substituting showers with baby wipes? I honestly have no idea. I just know that in October last year my friend and all-round adventure-seeker Jen asked for runners to join her team of 8 people for the 24-hour Spitfire Scramble, and I put my name down. I’m assuming she caught me at a moment when both my caffeine and sugar levels had completely crashed and I was in the midst of some sort of hallucination where I thought I was Bear Grylls*. It’s the only thing I can think of.

But July flew round, and three days before we set off I realised I should probably order a sleeping bag, pillow and mat (I’m nailing this adulting malarkey). After a frustrating 2.5 drive from Cambridge, we were in a field on a Friday evening, and I was actually vaguely helping to pitch a tent whilst mildly panicking about what lay ahead. I also had to make the decision to take out my contact lenses and leave them out for the next 36 hours, reasoning that running slightly blind was preferable to an eye infection. That first night, I was so glad that I was in the company of Jen and Becky (later joined by Paula, Fiona, Ruth, Paul, Rachael and Chris, plus Rachael and Chris’ AMAZING dogs Yogi and Boo). They made me laugh non stop, sorted me out with food, and Becky gave me wine, which made her a demi-god in my eyes at that moment. I went to bed pretty early (party pooper), and actually managed a semi-decent 8.5 hours of sleep, only waking a couple of times when the temperature dipped.

The amazeballs Yogi and Boo. Boo ran 17 miles! 

On Saturday morning, Jen, Paul and Ruth made plans to go to Harrow Lodge parkrun just 2 miles down the road. Ruth and Paul had come camping with their incredibly cute 3 year old daughter Katie who wanted to be pushed around parkrun in her buggy, and if you met her you’d find it hard to say no to her too (especially when she talks about being a “hairy” princess and pronounces Essex “Eggets”). Then Jen checked the time of the 1st place woman the week before, and she had clocked 23:58. Obviously my competitive side kicked in instantly,  and knowing that even taking it easy I could do a 22 minute parkrun, I decided to go along. Of course, a SUPER speedy woman turned up and smashed it in 19:38, so I had to make do with 2nd place. It was a lovely course though, and a nice way to stretch my legs before the Spitfire Scramble got under way, and Ruth and I also took the opportunity to stuff our faces with a massive breakfast at the park cafe. I only got slightly worried when it started to rain…

When we got back to the campsite, our remaining team members John and Mel had arrived, and the 8 of us with our support team of Jen, Fiona and Becky were ready to go. With his trusty whiteboard in place Chris took charge of the running schedule, and my first 5.7 mile lap was due to start around 4:30pm.

Pretty sunset, tired and sweaty runner.

The way the Spitfire Scramble works is pretty simple. There are different categories, from solo runners up to a maximum of 8. We were obviously in the mixed 5-8 category, with 5 female and 3 male runners. We all had to estimate how quickly we would do our laps, and then the next runner in sequence went down to the changeover zone about 10 minutes before the next runner was due in. Initially I’d assumed we’d each do 3 laps, taking it nice and easy and coming in around the hour mark, with the chance that one or two of us might squeeze in a 4th lap.

MEGALOLZ.

It turned out pretty quickly that we were all being quite cagey with our estimates and were coming in quite a few minutes under (I estimated 55 minutes but came in at 44 for lap 1), so our runners’ schedule was continuously updated.  As I saw my next laps were scheduled for 10:15pm and 4:15am,  I felt myself starting to panic that I couldn’t even manage a second lap let alone a third, so I messaged my running friends Pete and Rach in a bit of a panic, but with the aid of some trusty GIFs they quickly talked some sense into me. I then saw that our three speedy speedsters John, Paul and Mel had all signed up for a double nighttime shift (just casually running 11.5 miles in the dead of night, no biggie) to ensure that their teammates could get as much rest as possible. So no way was I going to let them down.

Although my second lap was my slowest, it was also my most sociable. I teamed up with what turned out to be the Race Director of that morning’s parkrun, Mark, and when he stopped at 4 miles to get some water from his support crew, I then ran the final 1.7 miles with Shimpei from Guildford, who distracted me from the monster hill that loomed up just before mile 5. I also weirdly enjoyed the 4:30am lap, mainly because I got to watch the (only slightly blurry) sunrise.

When I got back from that lap around 5:15am, I saw that I had been put down for a 4th and final lap at around 9:45am. I cannot tell you how badly I didn’t want to run another lap. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t done any real training for this event. I’d told myself it would be 3 10ks spread over 24 hours, which seems weirdly manageable. Had I known I’d end up doing 26 miles in 26 hours, I would have bleeding well trained. As I got ready to snatch a couple of hours of sleep John assured me that they could cover me if I couldn’t do my 4th lap, which made me feel terrible when he’d already done a double and was down for a total of 5 laps. I went to sleep at around 6am, and told everyone I’d be up at 8am to see if I could manage my 4th lap, but I already knew I was going to do it.

To be honest, I don’t really remember much about that last lap. I’d had a total of around 5 hours of sleep (from around 12:30am-3:30am and 6am-8am), and I was definitely running on pure adrenalin. I thought I’d be lucky to come in under an hour, but I somehow managed 46 minutes, meaning all 4 of my laps had comfortably come in under 50 minutes. In total, our team managed 31 laps, and we came 5th out of 47 teams in our category. We all joined John as he crossed the line for the last time, and the medals we received were frankly awesome.  And then suddently it was all over. I was in complete awe of how quickly everyone managed to pack up their things, and we were on the road by 1pm and in contrast to our journey there were back in Cambridge in just over an hour.

Photo taken after lap1. Boo was the ultimate spirit lifter.

I can say without doubt that the Spitfire Scramble was the most mentally challenging event I’ve ever done, but also the one I’m most proud of. As for my thoughts on the actual event itself, the atmosphere is one of the best I’ve ever come across, with brilliant marshals and a lovely supportive atmosphere from all other runners. Although there were times at night when it felt like you were totally on your own, the event was well sign posted, Jen’s chest light was brilliant (you have to wear a light between 8pm and sunrise), and the mini glowsticks on the path were so useful. They had a water station halfway round the route which was manned throughout the 24 hours, and they had another self-serve one at the changeover area as well. The toilets were really well looked after and regularly cleaned, but you had to get a coach to be driven to a local school for showers, so we all decided wet wipes would be good enough for 36 hours! Needless to say that shower when I got home was the best one I have ever had. Ever ever. The medal is also an absolute BEAUT.

I think the only downside of the event is that they could have done with some more food trucks on site. They only had one, and people were queuing for up to half an hour just to get a coffee. A couple of extra hot drink vans might have been useful (I would have killed for Silver Oak Coffee and the Rural Coffee Project to have been there!), and all of our team agreed that an ice cream van would have been flipping awesome.

My recovery from the event was more intense than I expected. Although my legs felt fine, my back and left foot felt seriously fatigued, and I was mentally exhausted. I would say that I didn’t feel back to normal until the following Friday, and I pretty much ate whatever I could get my hands on for a good 5 or 6 days. The almond croissant market definitely saw a boost.

Would I do it again? If you’d asked me that last week it would have been an emphatic no, possibly accompanied by a headbutt. When Jen mentioned that some of the team were doing the Thunder Run just a week later I thought they were well and truly out of their trees (I still do to be honest). But as each day passes, a teeny tiny part of me is thinking “hmm….maybe…”. So ask me again in a couple of months. Maybe that sleeping bag will see the light of day again after all.

*Yes. To me 2 nights of camping is the equivalent of Bear Grylls living on an island for 60 days eating nothing but sand and raw fish and sleeping under a net of snakes whilst setting fire to himself. I’m a drama queen, ok?

 

 

 

 

The Simple Joy of the Running Commute

A while ago, a runner (and all round awesome person) I know was telling me about how much she loved her running commute. I nodded along, smiling at the thought of it, feeling slightly awestruck at the mental distance she was regularly covering (10 miles!), but never thinking it was something I would add into my routine. It was too difficult to organise, too hard for me to work out how to get kit to and from work, and too hard for me to downscale all that tat I shove into my bike pannier and take with me to work every day.

Oh how wrong I was.

I’m not even sure how it started. I know one day back in March my friend Pete decided to run from Cambridge to Waterbeach, which is around 10k along the river. He did it, and I happened to bump into him as he was jogging back home. He was full of the joys of his run, if feeling a little foolish at deciding to stick both a coat and an umbrella in his rucksack. I guess you never know right?

I started thinking seriously about giving it a go, chatting to some runners on Twitter, and seeing just how many people love choosing running as part of their commute to or from work. So I decided to get myself a running backpack (this Deuter Speed Lite was a steal back in April for £25), and managed to learn to pack light. For anyone who knows me well, this is nothing short of a miracle. I swapped my journey to work, leaving my bike at Ely station and walking the 1.3 miles to work from Cambridge station in my running gear, changing into my carefully chosen lightweight work outfit when I reached the office. At the end of the day, I then jogged half a mile to meet Pete outside the Scott Polar Research Institute and off we went, running a mile through the city until we hit the river path.

And blooming heck what a gorgeous run it is. It’s so easy to follow, nice and flat, not super busy with people (so long as you avoid The Bumps!) and flipping full of nature. On our first run together we saw herons, swans and deer. We time it so that there are two trains we can catch from Waterbeach 15 minutes apart (so if you miss the first train on the old cold day you don’t freeze waiting on a platform for ages as your sweat dries – attractive I know). We’ve only had one really buggy day (a miracle when you’re running alongside water) when we both landed beasties in the eyes, but that’s such a small issue to deal with. The best bit of all is that we’re both feeling faster when we run without rucksacks. I’m not sure if we actually are, but there’s a lot to be said about the mental boost of feeling like you’re flying just a little bit faster than normal.

The only problem now is I’m not sure what I’ll do when winter rolls back in. I know it’s ages off now, but the riverside isn’t lit at all, so running home after work simply won’t be an option. The only choice would be to switch the commute from evening to morning, and as someone who isn’t a morning person OR a morning exerciser, this doesn’t exactly appeal.

But six months without my weekly run commute? I feel bereft just thinking about it. You may well see me on that 7:30 train after all…