My December 2016 Round Up – Three Very Different Races!

First of all, apologies for the 2017 silence so far. I’ve got plenty of posts waiting to be written, but other priorities (including training for the half marathon ironically!) have left little time for blogging. But I’ve been determined to get one post done for January, so at this moment I have 62 minutes left to go…

In the lead up to Christmas 2016 (how long ago does that feel now?) I was involved in three very different races, the first of which was the Arthur Rank Hospice Festive 5k in Ely on November 20th. This event is such a blast and sells out every year. It goes around the main city centre of Ely, ending with a blighter of a climb through Cherry Hill Park (thanks for lurking there Mr Photographer) and finishing on the market square.

This was the third year running that I’ve done this race. On my first attempt I somehow managed to be first woman in a time of 22:04 (it was really wet which I think kept the speedsters at home) and in 2015 the fastest woman smashed it in 19:45 (I did 20:37). As for 2016, it had been a long year, and I just didn’t fancy a hard run. I wanted to have fun, and this is an event known for runners in fancy dress (there’s a prize each year for best dressed) and luckily for me, Running Buddy Extraordinaire Pete decided he just wanted a laugh as well, after a hard racing year where he smashed pretty much all of his PBs.

So, we did what any sane people would do and dressed up. As Christmas trees. Complete with fairy lights. I was up to my eyeballs with a cold as well, and as my battery pack for my lights lodged itself in a really unhelpful position down the back of my shorts, I knew I was in for an uncomfortable run. The stitch hit in pretty quickly as I found myself unable to get my breathing into a decent rhythm, and Pete basically had to talk me through the damp 3 miles as I whinged my way round Ely. We finished in 22:41, and once I got home I found out that by some miracle I had been the fastest woman again. Arthur Rank accidentally gave the prize to another woman who crossed the line first but had actually been 4 seconds slower than me across the course, but to their credit they apologised for the mistake, sent me a prize in the post and told me that they are going to have plans in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again next year.

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Two soggy Christmas trees

This race is probably the loveliest one of the year. The support from the folk of Ely is awesome, the marshals are the BEST at cheering you on and it’s just such fun. Plus it’s all for a brilliant cause. Keep an eye on their website – they’re adding to their running events calendar all the time.

Then on the 18th December, I found myself on a coach at about 8am, ready to be driven out into the countryside just so I could run home again.

Sometimes I think past Lauren would be so flipping confused.

I had signed up for the Ely Runners Christmas run again, a social, untimed, cross country run. Last year I did the 7.5 mile leg and this year I signed up for 12.5 miles (the next option being 18.5). As per usual Pete was along for the ride, and complete with festive headgear, we set off from Woodditton at 9am, and precisely 60 seconds later our trainers were caked with mud and three times as heavy. Awesome.

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The first 7.5 miles actually went better than expected. We were prepared for the very rural route after last year, we sang along to Christmas tunes that Pete played on his phone (thankfully we were pretty much running alone), and I got about 6 miles in before tripping and doing an epic combat role stopped only by my face (thankfully the fall looked more impressive than it was). It was ironically when we stopped at the first refuel station that I started to struggle. We just stopped for a little too long (mostly gawping at Stephen’s impressive cut on his leg which put my scratches to shame) and it turns out that eating something mid-run really doesn’t work for me. So we ended up run/walking the last 5 miles, partly due to not knowing where we were going and the terrain, but mostly due to my running out of steam.

I really enjoyed the run, even though our glorious sprint finish was scuppered by the terrain resembling the bog of eternal stench. I’m definitely going to do it again next year, and who knows? Maybe I’ll attempt the full 18 miles!

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The Bog of Eternal Stench. If you didn’t know this, FOR SHAME.

The last race wasn’t one that I ran. Instead, I was marshalling. Every year the Ely Runners host the NYE10k, and every year it sells out within about 24 hours. I didn’t know where I would be for NYE, so I didn’t sign up. But to be honest, this was a handy excuse. Because the truth is, I kind of hate the route. It’s exposed and a bit dull, (read: tough) and we have to run it for our 10k handicap. Once a year is enough for me.

It was so much fun to be able to enjoy the race from the other side (although my step count suggested that running it would have been the easier option). Watching our Race Director Charlotte run the whole thing like an epically well oiled machine was incredible, and cheering the runners over the finish line was an absolute blast. Everyone seemed to have had such a great time, and there is something special about ending your year with a race. And having an excuse to wear an awesome wig was the icing on the cake (even if it was a bit small for my weirdly massive head).

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So those were the races I ended a very odd 2016 on. And wouldn’t you know it? I’ve blogged in January with 6 minutes to spare. Hang on 2017 – my blog and I are coming for you.

Improving My Mental Running Fitness

It’s no secret that my physical fitness has been improving. Since I started training with Alan back in April my 5k PB has dropped from around 22:40 to 20:19. But I’ve still continued to struggle with the mental side of pushing myself to a reasonably high level of running. Sometimes I think my legs go into shock, like they’ve gone from my sedate 15 year old self, and have jumped forward 18 years to find themselves suddenly halfway through a 10k. I swear I can sometimes hear them screaming “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!”

So as you can imagine it was with some trepidation last Wednesday that I found myself heading back to Wandlebury with Alan and Stacy for the dreaded bench to bench session, aka the scene of my epic meltdown from a couple of months back. The weather was grey and the wind (the FLIPPING wind) had decided to hit its gusty peak at, ooh around 1pm, bang on time for our session. As we walked to the misery zone I did question the sanity of going to a large wood during some of the worst weather of the year that had FELLED TREES.

Beautiful Wandlebury photos courtesy of my talented friend theemiddlesis. I tried to take photos while I was there but the grey skies made it look miserable.

I needn’t have worried about the weather. The trees buffered us from the worst of it and what little did filter through was thankfully behind us. But I was nervous about my ability to complete the session, especially alongside a seasoned Wandlebury pro like Stacy. I nervously pointed out to her where I had sat in the mud and cried last time, and then just tried to focus on the logistics of what I had to do. Just 9 reps of around 200m up a rough, erratic incline. In total around 7 minutes of running. Easy peasy.

Of course it wasn’t easy. But I did it. Even better I managed to stay about the same distance behind Stacy – who is a ninja when it comes to consistent pacing – on every rep. I even went up on my toes on the slightly steeper sections, something that Alan is trying to encourage me to do thanks to some advice from up on high (!). I felt elated afterwards, and not even the utter DRENCHING I got on the cycle ride back to work could dampen (geddit?!) my spirits.

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This all set me in good stead ready for the Festive 5k in Ely this Sunday. By some fluke I was the winning woman last year, but I think the miserable weather put some strong runners off. This year I knew I could run it faster, but I had doubts that I would be able to hold on to the title. And it turns out the doubts were well founded. As soon as I saw Ruth Jones on the start line I knew she would storm it. She just had that look about her, and when she shot off at the start part of me felt a bit relieved. As lovely as it would have been to win again, it took some of the pressure off and allowed me to just enjoy the run.

My aim was to try and stay with my speedy friend Pete for as long as possible. He has a 5k PB of 19:40, so keeping him in my sights would mean a good time. He and I ended up in a cluster of 4 with two other female runners with Pete leading and me bringing up the rear. While I managed to catch up and lead all 4 of us down Lisle Lane to the 3k mark I knew I couldn’t sustain it and decided to let them get past me again and settle for keeping them all in my sights.

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They give you Santa hats, much needed in the cold weather!

The hill through Cherry Hill Park was a killer (Pete and I still can’t decide whether a hill is better at the beginning or the end of a race) and it took everything I had to make it to that finish, 4 seconds behind the 3rd place female and 9 seconds behind the 2nd. I came 10th overall out of 372 runners with a time of 20:37. I gave it absolutely everything I had, and finishing 15 seconds behind Pete is quite frankly insane for me. If he was 42 seconds off his PB, that means in the right conditions I could potentially just dip below the 20 minute mark. Flipping heck. Pete, can you pace me for every race please? Huge thanks to the Arthur Rank Hospice for arranging a fun and challenging race, which I know isn’t easy in a busy little city like Ely. Thanks also to all the drivers who stopped for us!

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Happy, chilly finishers

I was still a bit disappointed with my female placing on the day, but as Alan and my “always-been-wise-beyond-her-years” friend Lydia said, if I’ve given it everything, I can’t be disappointed. That was literally the best I could do, and I can’t ask for anything more than that.

Plus there’s always next year. Who knows how physically and mentally fit I could be by then?

My super sporting Saturday

You know when you find yourself looking forward to the weekend but then remember that you’ve committed to about a gajillion things and you’re actually going to be working harder in 24 hours than you have done at actual work all week?

That.

Now don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t coerced into any of this stuff and it was all so much fun. There was just a LOT of it.

So to kick start Saturday morning I decided it was time to tackle the Parkrun again, three weeks after my 22:40 attempt. As ever, I went with my running buddy Pete, and when he arrived to pick me up it has to be said he looked about as sprightly as I felt (having celebrated my best friend’s birthday the night before), so I can’t say that I had particularly high hopes for either of us.

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Yawn

But as we turned into Milton Country Park and Pete’s American Anthems CD started playing Eye of the Tiger (yes, really!) we both perked up a bit, gave our thanks for the good conditions, and set off, with me deciding to be a bit ballsy and start near the front as per the coach’s advice.

It’s hard to explain how I felt during this particular 5km. It was pretty up and down, with my getting frustrated when stuck behind two older guys, elated when I overtook a woman at the 4km mark who had overtaken me at the 2km mark, and experiencing sheer dismay when a girl no higher than my hip overtook me about 800m from the end (seriously – she was a little powerhouse)! About halfway round I had turned my sportswatch off as it seemed to be all over the place and was really putting me off my game. To quote Alan I felt like I was running with the watch rather than my heart, but this did mean that when I crossed the finish line I had no idea how I had done. I felt a weird mixture of exhausted and strong, which I hoped meant I had pushed myself as hard as possible. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had managed to come in 83rd, an improvement on 112th from the last time (and meant I had achieved my goal to finish in the top 100), but it was a meaningless statistic without knowing the calibre of the runners around me. So I grabbed a kale, spinach and mango smoothie from the brilliant Milton Country Park cafe and Pete and I headed home.

Now I am massively impatient, so thank goodness the awesome Cambridge Parkrun had the results up by midday:

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Words cannot describe how happy I was with this time. It was 35 seconds quicker than last time, and placed me as 9th woman! Chatting to some fellow runners at the end, the overriding opinion is that you can probably knock off something like 30 seconds from a grass race to get an idea of how fast you could cover the same distance on tarmac. All I know is that I am seriously closing in on that sub-22 minute time, and I was completely thrilled. A huge thank you to all of the brilliant Parkrun volunteers again. I’m going to enjoy basking in my new PB before Alan sets me my next challenge.

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Parkrun PB! Whoop!

So after a quick lunch with my best friend at the legendary Peacocks Tearoom, I shot back into Cambridge, this time for the Cambridge vs. Oxford Athletics Varsity Match at Wilberforce Road. Now I love watching athletics (I enjoyed a bit of the Yokohama leg of the World Triathlon Series on TV this afternoon – what a finish in the men’s race!) and I know that Cambridge had an amazing team this year, particularly with its female athletes. It was a gorgeous day for it, and as I bench pressed my niece and watched her roll down the hill perilously close to the track (my sister naturally came to watch the action too), I got to see the men’s 400m, a bit of pole vault and the men’s and women’s 1500m. The atmosphere at an event like this, when so many people come together to unite in their passion for athletics, is just incredible. Brilliantly, Cambridge won the Varsity 4-0, and no doubt the athletes celebrated into the night. What Boat Race?!

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At 3:30pm I headed over to Churchill College for my 2 hour writing class, and after that I got picked up by my friends Tamsin, Elaine and Naomi, and we shot over to Shelford Rugby Club to join our friends Lucy, Emma and Sue for the Arthur Rank Hospice 10 mile Star Shine Stroll.

For those of you that don’t know, the Arthur Rank Hospice is an amazing local Cambridgeshire charity that provides life enhancing care to patients, as well as their family, friends and carers who are faced with the challenges presented by a life limiting illness. They arrange a lot of sporting events in Cambridge during the year, including the Bridge the Gap walk and the Ely Festive 5k (the only 5k I’ve ever won)! So with 394 other walkers, we left at 7pm to walk into Cambridge and back again.

Lucy, Elaine and I managed to be the first walkers back (although that last mile was hard work as our stride became shorter and our muscles got tighter!) in 2:20, and Naomi, Tamsin, Emma and Sue came in just a few minutes later. As we all sat down with a hard-earned hot drink, I found myself looking at the rotation of photos on the big screen in the Rugby Club, showing people who had been cared for by the Arthur Rank Hospice. It was a reminder of why we had all spent our Saturday evening trekking through Cambridge rather than singing karaoke at Tamsin’s House – it was because of the brilliant work the Hospice does to make a really difficult time in people’s lives a little bit easier.

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See? I’m not the only one who loves crazy sportsgear

I also have to say a huge thank you to everyone who sponsored us. You can still do so here, and even a £1 would make a big difference to this small but hugely important charity.

So after clocking up 31000 steps in total on Saturday and spending today falling asleep at random intervals, it goes without saying that I’m looking forward to a quiet one next weekend. Except for maybe another Parkrun………..