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.

Yawn

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.

Dancing Friends

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.

StarShineStroll

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………..

Harnessing the power of the wind

Can you sing with all the voices of the mountain Can you paint with all the colours of the wind? Can you paint with all the colours of the wind?”

Seriously Pocahontas. Do one.

Pocahontas Vid

I always look like this when it’s windy out

I’ve spent the last two days getting into work on swear power alone as I toss curse words into the relentless, evil, gusting wind that always seems to be blowing me and my bike back up the one and only “hill” in the Fens. It has been flipping horrendous and I’ve hated every second of it. I’ve picked grit out of my eyes and had a massive bee barrel into my chest and have generally been a pink-haired fury.

Cow Vid

Actually, I look far more like this

So when my coach Alan cancelled our 6 x 1200m running session yesterday, I knew the weather must be bad, and to be honest I was grateful for the reprieve. We rescheduled for today as he uttered the immortal words “it’ll be much better tomorrow”. And it was. By maybe 2mph.

So come midday I texted him and asked him if I should do a pyramid session on a treadmill instead. In the past I’ve hated running in the wind, especially if I’m doing loops or track sessions. On a long distance run, I know not to fight the wind when it’s at my head, and to use it to my advantage when it’s behind me, so it feels more manageable. On the track however, every time you hit that part of the lap your stomach sinks as you know how hard it’s going to be. It’s so counter-productive as you start to dread that particular turn.

But Alan came up with a stellar plan. We postponed the 6 x 1200m, and instead he suggested 12 x 200m sprints with the wind behind me, followed by a “recovery” jog into the wind back to the start.

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 The enticing view from my office window today

Now sprinting isn’t really my forte, and as the rain splattered my face I can’t say I was thrilled at the prospect of this session. But I trudged out on to the West Cambridge path on my own anyway, and as I waited for Alan to arrive I marked out around a 0.2 mile stretch nicely marked out by the paving slabs. A bit longer than 200m but it worked well.

Oh my giddy aunt it was incredible.

Although the recovery jogs were miserable and so NOT a recovery, the sprints were awesome. I felt so strong as I drove my arms back and my knees up, my chin parallel to the ground and focussing on a point ahead. My pace averaged around a 5:40 mile consistently through the session and I LOVED IT. Can I have the wind behind me on every run please?

So if you’re like me and the wind really puts you off getting out there, don’t let it. Just switch your session to take full advantage of it instead. You can thank me later once you’ve learnt to fly.

As for Alan? He didn’t make it to the session. The wind got the better of him and his bike this time.

What it really means to have a running coach

I’m not really sure how I managed to get myself a running coach. I’ve known (the legendary) Alan Baldock for around 18 months now, ever since he became a member of the Sports Centre where I work. But his history with my family goes way back, as he’s known and trained with my sister Stacy for many, many years (more about her and her awe-inspiring athletic abilities another time). They take the mick out of each other endlessly, and Stacy never lets Alan slack off in her circuits class despite his being in his early 60s. Needless to say he’s taken this as free reign to take the mick out of me from time to time too. I still haven’t forgiven him for nagging me incessantly to sign up for the Ely Sprint Triathlon (my first ever Tri, this September) and when I finally caved he then chose to tell me he was doing it as a relay so he would only be doing the run section.

Alan knew that I was a keen runner, and seeing me on a treadmill one day he noticed that I have a habit of hunching my shoulders when I run. This is something I’ve done for years – I do it when I’m sat at a desk (I’ve literally just lowered them as I type this), when I’m stressed and when I’m cold. It’s a nasty habit for a runner, and he offered to take me on a running session one day (200m sprints – that was interesting for a short-arsed long distance runner) and he’s been my coach ever since. Just like that.

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The man, the legend

Now if you’ve ever done a running event in Cambridge, whether it was a casual Parkrun or the Cambridge Half Marathon, chances are Alan would have been volunteering or marshalling, and cheering you on louder than anyone else. I’m beginning to think he might have cloned himself because seriously – he gets everywhere and he knows everyone. Whenever we’re at the track he seems to know everyone who turns up, and recently I was on Cambridge Market Square one early weekday morning when I heard a familiar voice booming around the quiet town centre – of course it was Alan, and of course he was good friends with one of the greengrocers. Despite all of his commitments and the fact that he’s also been helping people with their London Marathon training (cycling alongside them during 17 mile runs), he’s still managed to find time for me.

Last week Alan took me out on a training session – my first since I strained a tendon in my foot running the Cambridge Half Marathon for CoppaFeel! in one of their infamous boob costumes – and we did 10 x 400m runs. Now I’m not used to track running or at pushing myself over those kinds of distances, but it would seem that one thing I am good at is being consistent with my pacing. I managed just about every one at around 90 seconds, and the last one came in at 86 because like Alan says – “there’s no point in taking anything home with you, so you might as well give it everything you’ve got”.

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My nemesis

Yesterday, Alan had me doing 6 x 800m with 90 second rests in between. My brilliant mathematical brain heard 6 and immediately thought “great! Less distance than last time!” until I realised it was actually 12 x 400m. Then when Stacy wrote on Facebook “He he he it’s your 800s tomorrow. I’m taking a rest day. Just remember that when you’ve just completed rep 4” I started to get a bit worried. And as I cycled to the track I realised that another thing I had to contend with was the horrendous wind, which would make the first straight of each lap a real killer. Awesome. Three reps in, and Alan told me I’d get a 4 minute rest. “Brilliant!” I thought. “Time for a sit down!” Turns out Alan’s idea of a rest is me in the sit-up position with my legs bent at a right angle so that he could then chuck a 3kg medicine ball at my feet to kick back at him. The noise he made when it nearly landed on my face was pretty amusing though.

The second set of 3 laps was a killer. I managed to keep my times consistent (they varied from 3:10 – 3:12 per lap) but I desperately wanted to push for a sub 3:10 on the final lap only to be destroyed by a huge gust of wind that took the last bit of fight out of me. I have even more respect for my sister now, who has a 2:25 PB on the 800m (I told you she was good).

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Ouch

First post-session Facebook status? “6 x 800m = closest I’ve come to vomming after running.” Staying classy.

The thing with Alan, is that he is giving up his time completely freely and willingly to work with me because he thinks I have real potential, and that is driving me to push myself to be the best I can be.  I would never be able to push myself like this on my own. He’s mentioned sub 20 minute 5km and sub 1:35 half marathon times, and I still have a really, really long way to go, but I can’t thank Alan enough for sharing with me his knowledge and the expertise he’s picked up from my sister and other brilliant coaches in the county. I feel very, very lucky right now. And a bit sore.

Alan’s parting words to me today were “you’re not going to like next week’s session”.

Oh dear lord.