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.

A Runner’s Homework and Information Overload

I am not a happy bunny.

I have half a dozen blog post ideas rattling around in my head, but have I had time to write them? Have I hell. Someone has gone and done a runner with my last two weeks of November and now here I am on December 3rd – for crying out loud – wondering whether my blog should be taken out into a field and put out of its misery.

But fear not fair reader – I enjoy wanging on about my running far too much to give up that easily. I will just put aside watching Stranger Things until these thoughts have found their way onto the page (screen).

So, I am now three appointments in to my time as the sponsored athlete for the Cambridge Half Marathon in collaboration with Saucony, Progress and OSB Events. And boy oh boy have I been set some homework (you can see my first interview with Progress where I look about 60 with a double chin here).

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Gif from Giphy

So on my first appointment with Lauren over at Progress, she had me doing all kinds of squats, planks, intervals on the treadmill and lunges, all to get an indication of what she’s got to work with. The answer? Someone who is more than a bit wonky. Turns out that my left side is significantly weaker than my right, which goes some way to explaining why about 90% of my injuries have occurred on my left (except for the current weird grumbly foot). My calf strength is also at about 50% of what Lauren would expect to see in a runner. It’s a miracle that I manage to stay upright to be honest.

So I came away with a handful of exercises to do, including calf raises on each leg where I have to do them on a step, going right up on to the toes, and lowering my heel below the step as far as I can go, keeping my leg locked out the whole time. I should be able to do 30 on each leg, but I’m managing 16/17 max. I also have to do planks whilst lifting alternate legs off the ground for as long as possible, side planks and dorsiflexion lunge tests. And these are just the exercises Lauren has set me.

I then made an appointment to see Hannah for my first sports massage last week. While part of me wondered if perhaps I should save all of my appointments with her until closer to the race, I rationalised that I have a problem now that is impacting on my training, so I may as well take advantage of her expertise. Now I know Hannah socially as she’s the partner of my colleague Matt (the fitness industry is a small world in Cambridge) and she is one of life’s thoroughly lovely people, as well as being – like Lauren – exceptionally knowledgeable. After she gave my foot a thorough looking over she didn’t find anything to concern her, gave the inside of my right ankle a real hammering (my fascia there was “sticky”), told me to lay off the running for a week and ease myself back in with a steady flat run and then uttered the immortal words “ask Matt about some glute strengthening exercises”.

Now, anyone who knows Matt knows that his training is BRUTAL. His classes at the sports centre are legendary in their toughness and his MetCon class is the only one that I’ve come close to vomiting in (if that’s not a recommendation I don’t know what is). So when I told him that Hannah wanted him to come up with some exercises for me, his little face lit up, and a few days later I found myself in the Team Training Room with him, wondering what the hell I had let myself in for as he showed me my new S&C programme. It’s a crazy mix of a mini circuit of 5 exercises repeated 3 times round, 3 pairs of strength exercises again repeated 3 times round, and another mini circuit of 5 exercises repeated 3 times round. Confused? You bet your (weak) arse I was confused. I’ve got val slide leg curls, banded kettlebell swings, Romanian deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, pull ups, 20kg suitcase carries and a plethora of other exercises that I can only assume he extracted from the bowels of hell. FYI, I’ll be doing this twice a week. So far I’ve done the programme all the way through once, and I must have muttered “I’m going to bleeping kill him” more than a dozen times. Had I had enough strength left in my arms I might have managed it.

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Notice the evil in his eyes and the cry for help in mine.

I then saw Hannah again two days ago to report back on how my foot had coped after a slow steady 4 mile run and a 9 x 150m sprint session at the track. The answer is pretty well, but I’m now wondering whether the tweaks I’m feeling in my foot are “real” or whether I’m obsessing over the injury and creating a pain that doesn’t actually exist. When I explained this to Hannah I thought she might think I was mad, but she totally got it and started telling me about how the brain interprets pain, and is going to give me some reading recommendations on the subject. She then made me hold a squat for about half an hour (aka 60 seconds ish), watched me run on the treadmill and showed me a routine of foot/ankle strengthening exercises that she’d like me to do every day. Turns out my squat would be the envy of many, and my right foot is hyper mobile which although it not a bad thing, could go some way to explaining the current grumble (hence the need for foot and ankle strengthening).

Flipping heck. As I’ve been typing this I’ve been feeling myself getting slightly overwhelmed by how much information has been thrown at  me and the sheer volume of work I have to do. A daily foot and ankle routine, twice weekly S&C sessions and thrice weekly planks and calf raises, not to mention day to day foam rolling and actually getting out and, you know, running.

During my last appointment with Hannah I think she could tell that I was in the middle of information  overload and she said to me “there will come a point where you’ll want to tell us all to bugger off for a week, and that’s totally fine” and I could have kissed her. Not that I’m at that stage – far from it. But it’s nice to know when I really can’t face my homework I can just run off into the distance for a while (grumpy foot permitting).

The Making of an Athlete

So, if you’re signed up to the Cambridge Half Marathon or are my Facebook friend or follower on Twitter, you may have seen that I am now the “sponsored athlete” for the Cambridge Half Marathon.

Oh sweet Barack on a Bicycle.

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I am seriously going to miss this guy. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.

I’ll  be honest. When I first saw the email I wasn’t sure whether or not to accept. It’s one thing to back out of a race because you’re not fully fit, are nervous about a recent injury or simply don’t fancy it. It’s another to back out when people have invested a lot of time and money in you and your race plan. In other words – you just don’t do that. So if I said yes, bar a serious injury, I would lose my get out of jail free card. But after having to back out of last year’s Cambridge Half, I realised that I would be crazy to pass up this opportunity to redeem myself. As part of the package I get the following from Progress:

1 x 60 min new physiotherapy assessment including run analysis
6 x 30 min follow-up physiotherapy sessions
8 x 30 min sport massage sessions
8 x 30 min AlterG sessions
Saucony Trainers, shorts and a t-shirt

Not to mention working with Lauren Bradshaw, a Specialist Sports Physiotherapist with a half marathon PB of 1:31. What kind of an idiot would say no to that?

When I told my friend Ally (theemiddlesis to the outside world) that I had accepted the prize but that I was somewhat nervous (read: bricking it) about losing the option to bail, she pointed out that that when I have had to bail in the past, I have absolutely hated it. She reminded me of last year’s tears on the finish line when all of my Ely Runner clubmates finished high on PBs, and I was like that tearful drunk at a party bringing everyone else down with them.

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Gif from Giphy

Blooming heck that girl knows how to give you some perspective.

Since agreeing to the role of “sponsored athlete” it has to be pointed out that my running hasn’t exactly been stress free. I have a mysterious recurring issue with my foot that despite physio and osteo appointments, rest and excessive amounts of yoga and foam rolling has failed to really disappear, and I also had a more than ropey result at my first ever Frostbite 5 miler on Sunday. I just got it a bit wrong and blew up in the last mile, my head giving up before my stomach for once (which I suppose makes a nice change) and the last 750 metres turned into an embarrassing walk/run mess. I was so disappointed with myself, but I have never managed to recover when I stop to walk. When my head gives up, that’s it, and it continues to do so for the rest of the run. I managed a time of 36:39, but I should be capable of something closer to 35.

But I know I need to be kinder to myself. I haven’t competed for a while due to this reason, my foot was still a bit grumbly and the terrain wasn’t an easy one. If I heard anyone else berating themselves after a race the way I did I would point out all of the positives and tell them that they were being really unfair on themselves. I suppose at least realising this is a step in the right direction? Right?

And then yesterday, Stacy and I were reunited on the track with the one and only Baldrick. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to have him with us on the track, and the last time Stacy and I trained together a fortnight ago we had an absolute shocker. I felt like it was the first time I had ever run, and I nearly stopped three times on a 400m rep. 400m for crying out loud! And it wasn’t just me – Stace had the exact same experience. But then yesterday, we both smashed the session (a mix of distances), and I ran my fastest ever 400m (although it is obviously a hell of a lot easier when you’re only doing one rep rather than 6). I feel like Alan is my lucky charm, and things are now on the up again. He’s going to get a training plan in place, and together with Progress (I had my first appointment with them this morning – I’ll post about that once my calves have recovered!) I’m going to do my utmost to wipe 2016 from the slate (aren’t we all really) and make 2017 my running year.

Wish me luck.

 

 

enCORE by Sweaty Betty and Getting a Glow with Madeleine Shaw and Origins

I was a lucky girl last week. Not only did I snag a place on the first class of Sweaty Betty’s latest #GetFit4Free class enCORE, but I also managed to get a ticket to Origins’ book signing with wellness blogger Madeleine Shaw.

So, first up on Tuesday evening was the enCORE class, a ballet bootcamp class with a focus on – you got it – the core. This class was being taught by Jo Hopkins, one of my favourite local instructors and an SB Ambassador. I first met Jo when she taught the Fly, Flex, Flow class in January 2015, which is still my favourite #GetFit4Free class to date. She is one of those people who seems to be like Energiser Bunny hocked up on caffeine and sugar – pretty much a walking advert for the power of exercise induced endorphins. So I knew that if nothing else, this class was going to be a laugh.

At 39 minutes long (Jo was VERY precise!) the class is ideal if you don’t have bags of time (take a look at the video here). You  also don’t need loads of room so it’s perfect for trying out at home (or in a small store!). This workout is demanding on your core yes, but it also requires balance. Generally I consider my balance to be pretty good, but my coordination was severely lacking as I continued to go left as the rest of the class went right and then wondered why I was consistently on the wrong leg. I also found out that under pressure to attempt elegance I squeak like an irate mouse whose cheese has just been stolen, and I have hands like melted spatulas. Not pretty. Good to know those ballet classes when I was a kid weren’t wasted. Watch your back Darcy.

For me, it was when we got on to the mats that this class really came into its own. A glute bridge sequence had my legs seriously burning, and this alone would be enough to make me do this video regularly at home, as I’m always looking to find ways to strengthen my glutes. If I could I would go to all four of the classes at the SB store, but Tuesday night is my regular night with Ely Runners. However, if you fancy giving the class a go, bookings for next week will open at midnight tonight. As the name suggests it’s totally free. You’ll just need to set up an SB account if you don’t already have one and then book here. Oh, and top tip – it doesn’t hurt to give Jo a homemade cinnamon bun. The Energiser Bunny needs fuel you know.

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Photo courtesy of Sweaty Betty Cambridge

After my butt and quads had recovered from this class, I got up bright and early (for me anyway) on Saturday to head into Cambridge to the recently opened Origins store on Rose Crescent to meet Madeleine Shaw, get some healthy treats courtesy of Novi Cambridge and generally try lots of lovely products. I had actually changed my booking to the earlier time slot so that I could meet up with fellow Cambridge blogger Sophiekateblogs and I’m so glad I did – she’s an awesome bundle of enthusiastic energy with a gorgeous blog to boot. Go check her out (and watch her vlog of the event too).

Now I’ve been an Origins customer for some time, dipping into their serums and staying pretty loyal to the Vita Zing Energy Boosting Moisturiser, which is like a tinted moisturiser which gives every skin type a really lovely glow. So I was super pleased when I heard that they were opening a store in my favourite shopping area in the city (Rose Crescent and Trinity Street – SB is about a 5 second walk away). The store itself is stunning – really light and airy with a massive spa like sink in the middle to test their scrubs and masks and gorgeous views of the University buildings from the windows at the back of the store. It was a lovely place for a book signing with the company’s 2016 Glow Girl.

For those of you who don’t know much about Madeleine, she’s a a nutritional health coach, yoga instructor and bestselling cookery author, with a social media following of 55.5k followers on Twitter and 254k on Instagram. If I’m being honest, I didn’t know a huge amount about her before the event, other than that she has a really attractive Instagram profile. A look at her website tells me that she is currently studying Naturopathic Nutrition at CNM, but from what I could see the majority of her knowledge comes from her own personal experience of IBS and other health issues that forced her to take a look at her diet and to make lifestyle changes.

A lot of what Madeleine writes about is good old common sense and sensible eating (although despite what she says about beige food I’m still going to eat pizza and cake when I feel like it, but I may try this cake recipe of hers to mix things up a bit!). If nothing else she’s giving people attractive, healthy meal ideas without a plethora of insane ingredients (and if I’m honest I know I could do with adding some more vegetables into my diet). I also liked that she pressed home the point of how she chooses to have meat in her diet for the iron it gives her (18% of women between 16 and 64 years are iron deficient), and she also extolled the virtues of eggs. Like I said – sensible, but there will be people with more nutritional qualifications out there who don’t have the pull of a huge social media following who would also be worth listening to.It’s always a good idea to keep that in mind and to do your research if you’re looking to make changes to your diet.

In person, Madeleine was incredibly friendly and smiley, and seemed genuinely interested in everyone who had turned out, asking questions in return and getting stuck into the conversation. She’s a good fit for the Origins brand, and talked about her favourite products including the Super Spot Remover (which her boyfriend also uses) and the GinZing Eye Cream. Her skin did look really good, and I especially noticed how the staff member who I spoke with, Jiayan, had the most amazing skin I have ever seen on a real human being, something she fully credited to Origins products. She was also extremely knowledgeable on the product range, despite having only worked for the company for 3 weeks, so it showed me how passionate she was about the brand. She was able to answer all of my questions and give advice, and I left with a RitualiTea Comforting Cleansing Body Mask with Rooibos Tea and Rose, and the much talked about GinZing Peel Off Mask (because I’m a sucker for anything that you can peel off!) plus a couple of samples. I’ve already tried both of them and they’re as good as I hoped, although each will need a few more uses before I get the full benefits.

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I like the Goldfinger vibe

So two thumbs up for Cambridge, continuing to provide loads of fitness and beauty opportunities out there to keep me busy! I love my city.

A Tale of Two Hilly Races

I know I need to do more races. The reason I get so het up on a start line is because I just don’t put myself in that position enough. Every race suddenly becomes this massive deal and I find that in the days leading up to it my sleep is disturbed and my temper easily frayed.

So to have two races in one week is not like me at all. Without realising it I had signed up to the Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog (purely because of the megalolz name, obviously) which ended up being the day after the penultimate Kevin Henry League race of the season, hosted by Haverhill Running Club.

Now the Haverhill KHL race is notorious because of the “f*cking great hill” (not my words, but the words of quite a few people I had spoken to about the run) that you have to run up for the first half of the race, before thankfully coming back down again. So I was feeling a wee bit nervous on the 45 minute drive from Cambridge, but I’d been working really hard on trying to keep those nerves in check, and so my distraction technique at the start of the race was mainly to make friends with every dog I found. I thought I was doing quite well for me, even though my usual stress symptoms were making themselves known, and I started the race in a reasonable frame of mind.

But boy oh boy it didn’t take long for the wheels to fall off. The first 2k or so were hard going, but I felt ok. It was when I got to what I thought was the top of the hill that I started to struggle. I’d been told that you had a 1km flat before the final 2km headed downhill but this wasn’t the case at all. The middle 1km was actually a slow steady incline before it dropped down, something I hadn’t mentally prepared for. I then found myself overtaken by 3 other female runners and that’s when the wheels really came off. My mental strength gave up entirely and I stopped to walk, something I’ve not done since I was injured back in May. And once I did that, I was simply unable to recover. I could not in any way get my racing head back on and I just wanted to sit on the grass on the side of the road and quit. By stopping to walk I felt like I’d let myself and my entire team down, and when other runners said to me “come on, you can do it!” I felt mortified, fighting the urge to shout – “I know I can, I just can’t bloody well do it today!”as I ran/walked to the finish line.

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Pain

I was crying as I crossed that finish line, the lovely marshals asking me if I was ok as I just sobbed about being disappointed before walking across the field to sit on my own. I’m blushing now just thinking about it. And that’s what bothered me more as I sit here and write about it. I should be beyond tantrums by now. I should be beyond walking three times in a race too. My time was 21:48 (at least 30 seconds off where I really should be for a race with such a tricky terrain) which put me as 17th woman (out of 111), and realistically even if I hadn’t walked I would have only come 2 or 3 places higher. I’m just so frustrated with how I dealt with a difficult race. Instead of gritting my teeth and fighting through, I mentally gave up.

My fellow runners were so lovely, and as Alan came to give me a cuddle, through my tears I said “I’m sorry for being a twat” to which he responded, “It’s ok, I like twats. Put this behind you and let’s move on.” I can always rely on my racing family to make me laugh (particularly through the use of Carry-On style innuendos on the car ride home).

So I have to say that on Friday morning the thought of another race just a few hours later did not fill me with glee. In fact I felt awful, my stomach wrecked due to the stress of the previous day, manifesting itself in some serious nausea that left me unable to really eat. It wasn’t until some fresh air on the bike ride home and a 20 minute power nap that I finally felt human and decided that sod it – I would do the Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog, and I would just treat it as a bit of fun. I was going to get right back on that horse.

On the drive to the High Lodge Forest Centre with fellow Ely Runners Lee and Andy I was feeling wary but determined to do the run. I knew my body was dehydrated and not fuelled as well as I would have liked, but I was going to just enjoy it. There was no pressure, no points riding on me, and Andy and I made a pact to run together, so I knew there would be someone there to mentally pull me along when I started flagging. I shoved some biscuits in my mouth, covered myself in bug spray, tied my chip to my laces, undid my laces when I realised I’d done it wrong, and joined the throng at the start line.

And oh my giddy aunt it was one of the best runs I’ve ever done. I loved (nearly) every second of it. The course twisted and turned (hence Wibbly Wobbly!) so much that I didn’t have time to think about whether or not it hurt. Dodging tree roots, trying to keep my ankles strong as they threatened to turn on a rogue stump and clambering up short but steep inclines I had an absolute blast. The marshals were also some of the best I’ve ever come across on a run, whooping and cheering at every turn. Andy and I worked as a tag team, overtaking runners when the opportunity arose (not often as the course is narrow, so you have to really grab your chances) and  checking in with each other over the five miles.

As I sprinted across the finish line – taking out one last runner in the process – I remembered why I love running – because those moments when you have a great run far outweigh those bloody awful ones. Even the fact I didn’t get a medal couldn’t take the shine off. Ok maybe it did a little bit. I flipping love a medal. Sad face.

Over the weekend I had time to digest what had happened on Thursday. Not only was it a tough course, I’d had a week of bad sleep and it soon became clear that hormones (“that ole performance killer” as my sister calls them) had clearly played their part too (although as a female athlete I need to learn to cope with the effects of them better). I also chatted to the running community on Twitter and got the most heartwarming couple of tweets from TrueStart Coffee that meant more than they probably realised:

TrueStart

The fact is, despite walking three times I still managed a sub 22 minute 5k on a tough course. But even more importantly, I shoved it to the back of my mind and raced the very next day, and found a new race that I loved and can’t wait to do next year. All in all, I call that a win.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accepting the PB Plateau

Last year was a bit of a PB year for me. I got my 5k PB at the final Kevin Henry League race in September when I ran a 20:19. I then achieved my current 10k PB of 42:41 at the Cambridge Town and Gown event in October. I also got my default Sprint Tri PB of 1:17:44 (but since this was my first ever sprint tri it only kind of counts. Essentially it’s both my best and worst time….).

In both the 5k and 10k races,  I found myself experiencing what I would call ideal runs. Perfect conditions in regards to weather and terrain, and physically I felt GOOD. I also found fantastic people to pace me (whether they realised it or not) – Mary in the 5k and Pete in the 10k (up to about the 6k mark anyway). Seriously though, if you’d told me when I first started running 6 years ago that I would achieve a 20:19 5k I would have died laughing like those hyenas from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”.

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But there comes a time when PBs become harder and harder to come by. When you reach a certain level in your running abilities, things start to plateau a bit, and you have to start looking at more than just your running if you want to get better.

Training with Alan and working on my strength and conditioning has seen me go from a 24 minute 5k to an average of around 21 (my last two races were 20:48 and 21:17). This is more than I could have hoped for, and it’s shown me how there’s so much more to being a good runner than just pounding the pavements.But when you’ve found yourself a measly 20 seconds away from a sub 20 minute 5k, you do find yourself wondering “what if……….?”.

I’ve come to accept that not every race is going to be a PB race. I understand that. So instead I’ve been looking at what I can learn from every race that I do. I try and take away the positives, such as the fact that I didn’t panic when my mouth turned to dust and I wanted nothing more than  a drink of water, or the fact that I managed a sprint finish in my last race which saw me take out the girl who had overtaken me in the last 800 metres.

Phoebe

And in addition to the positives, I’m also trying to take what I’ve learned and use it to see what I can do better. And for me this is always – always – about controlling that stupid voice in my head that says “you, a runner? Seriously? That girl over there – she’s a runner. You’re nothing but a fake. Go home before you make a fool of yourself.” And while that bee-yatch is wanging on, I’m also constantly thinking about how I want to make myself proud. Alan, my club mates, everyone who reads this blog even – I want to do my best.

There’s nothing wrong with having passion. On the whole it’s a really, really good thing. But when you’re at risk of becoming known as your club crier, you really need to get things in check and make an effort to start working on your mental strength. So I’m finally going to read The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters (I bought it a year ago FFS) and try not to put so much pressure on myself. Without being all mega cheesy FITSPO about it, one of my favourite quotes is “Don’t look at how far you’ve got to go, look at how far you’ve come.” I’ve come such a long way in my 6 years of running, but I’d like to go a little further please. Let’s see if 2016 has any PBs up its sleeve. But if it doesn’t that’s ok.

Fitspo Nonsense

Word.

 

 

 

A Weekend of Firsts – Yoga at Ethos and the Wings for Life World Run

Blimey – last weekend was a bit of a scorcher wasn’t it? Just the ticket for a yoga class on the third floor of a building in the centre of Cambridge with no air con on Saturday and an endurance run at midday on the Sunday. Wait, what?

Yes, that’s how I spent the hottest weekend of the year so far. So let’s start with Ethos shall we? Based in St Andrew’s House right near Drummer Street, Ethos is tucked away in what at first glance looks like little more than an unremarkable building made up of small offices. As you walk up the stairs though (my sister doesn’t do lifts!) you start to feel a hum of activity and our first introduction to Ethos was a couple of people who had clearly worked up a sweat stretching against a wall in the corridor in a way that meant we had to squeeze past them.

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The interior reception area of Ethos

The reason why Stacy and I had rocked up at Ethos was for a free Myofascial Release class courtesy of – you guessed it – Sweaty Betty. They were hosting a takeover of the studios, securing free spaces for their customers in around 20 classes across the weekend. As a “fan” of the foam roller (we have a love/hate relationship), I was intrigued at the idea of a class dedicated to serious muscle massage. After paying £1 to rent a mat each, we both got changed in the curtained off changing area (if you like your privacy this set up may not be for you), left our less valuable belongings on the shelves (ditto if you’re hot on security and like a proper locker) and headed into the class with Ellie and Hannah from SB.

When I saw some class members in very little clothing lying down in awkward positions with bean bags on their eyes, I did wonder what I had gotten myself into. But as soon as our instructor Mark got going I quickly relaxed into the class. And boy did I learn a lot. I got tips on how to better foam roll my calves (sit on your knees and tuck the foam roller under your thighs with it resting on your calves and then lean back as much as you can bear. Inch the roller down and repeat), how to ease my hips (once I had finally jammed my thumb in the right place) and how to use tennis balls to seriously massage my spine. I admit that resting my forehead on a tennis ball at the end felt more than a little weird and left me with a hard to explain mark on my face, but on the whole this was a brilliant class.

If I’m completely honest, I’m not sure if I really gelled with the vibe of Ethos as a whole. I think my personality is generally a bit too highly strung (I like my sports places to have proper changing rooms and showers and can be a bit OCD on hygiene stuff) but it’s clear to me what the main draw of Ethos is – and that’s the instructors. Mark was absolutely brilliant, cracking jokes all through the class and putting everyone at ease, but also showing that he really knew his stuff. He took the time to make sure everyone was getting the most from each move, correcting and advising where necessary. Stacy and I both left the class armed with tips, raving about Mark, and feeling lighter in the legs. Which would bode well for the Wings for Life World Run which I was due to do at midday the following day…….

Official runs make me nervous. Everyone knows this. Running in the heat makes me even MORE nervous. So you can imagine what a mess I was in when I arrived at Parker’s Piece on Sunday morning at around 10:30am, ready to register before the race started at midday. The car had told us it was already 27 degrees, so with 90 minutes to go there was plenty of time for it to get even hotter. I’m really fair, so I had slathered myself in factor 50 ALL OVER (you can never be too sure!) before getting dressed, but as I queued twice (once to sign a disclaimer, again to get my race number) I could feel myself already starting to get a bit too much sun.

After bumping into my friend Jen (another fan of the legend that is Alan Baldock), I quickly lost her again when I went to The Regal pub to pee (much more sensible than joining an enormous queue for the portaloos which are less than pleasant in that heat).  As I started to panic that I would have to face this behemoth of a run on my own, I found Miranda and Ros from Ely Runners sensibly sitting in the shade, and from then on in I stuck to the poor sods like glue. I would like to say now that I owe the pair of them a debt of gratitude, from Ros making me feel ok to be a nervous run pee-er, to the pair of them deciding that I was in fact 12 years old and deploying a running theme of jokes around the subject for the duration of the run. They didn’t even rip into me too much when I walked into a pole. Yup.

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All smiles at the start. Thanks to Nigel for the photo! 

As we settled halfway into the crowd waiting at the start line, the nerves began to give way to excitement. The feeling for this race is SO different to say a half marathon, where I always think about my PB and whether or not I’m going to beat it. With this run, you don’t really know how far you’re going to get, and any plans I had (a half marathon would have been lovely) went out the window once the mercury started edging 30 degrees. So it was a case of just start running, and see what happens.

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And that’s just what we did. Setting off and weaving through the city, going past the colleges and being cheered on by the frankly awesome folk of Cambridge, we headed up and out towards Girton, hitting Oakington and finally Cottenham. I cannot begin to thank the brilliant people of these villages who handed out sweets, drinks and who hosed us down with water. Oh the blessed relief of those hosepipes. It really was the best thing ever. And the WFL organisers did an absolutely bang up job of making sure the refreshment stations were regular. I grabbed water at every one, and finished the bottle nearly every time, pouring it on my legs (a brilliant tip from Miranda) and gulping huge mouthfuls. Normally if someone was to chuck a load of water at my back I would be somewhat annoyed at them but when Ros did it I could have kissed her. I swear my skin sizzled.

When we got to around the 13k mark, we adopted something of a run/walk strategy, taking maybe 20 – 30 seconds to catch our breath before setting off again (a strategy even the male winner, Steve Way, had to adopt towards the end of his incredible 63.75km run – read his race report, it’s brilliant). The heat really had started to push our resilience by this point, but when we hit Cottenham and saw Miranda and Ros’ other halves it gave us such a boost to keep going, and we made it out of the village and into the next stretch of quiet farmland. Wilburton was never realistically on the cards for us, but when we heard that the catcher car was in the distance, we did our utmost to hit the 11 mile mark, finally making 11.12 (17.89km) before a grinning David Coulthard passed us by, waving as he went.

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Helloooooo Cottenham!

Suddenly it was over, and we had something like a 10 minute walk to reach the buses that were waiting every 5k to take runners back to Parker’s Piece. It was such a lovely walk, mooching through the quiet countryside as we reflected on what we’d achieved and chatting to our fellow runners. But then sitting on that bus, waiting for it to leave, was probably the hottest we’d been all day – it was like a sauna with lots of people who had been sweating for a copious amount of time. Imagine that if you’re so inclined. But when it set off and the breeze started coming through the window it was utter bliss.

Back on Parker’s Piece we picked up our frankly awesome goodie bags (containing our medal, a high vis technical tee, microfibre towel, sweatband, pack of nuts and a beer token),  grabbed our beers and headed over to Trumpington Road to meet our ride home (my OH). We couldn’t stop raving about what a brilliant race it had been and mild sunburn aside (only patches on my arm where the factor 50 had been hosed off – worth it!), I think this was the funnest race I’ve ever done. So much so that I’ve already signed up for next year, which is so unlike me.

So if you’re looking for a race with a twist, this is the one for you. 100% of the entry fee goes to spinal cord research and the current early bird price is only £25, which I think is a brilliant price now that I’ve seen just how much effort goes into this run. So what are you waiting for? Go sign up. I’m sure it’ll be cooler next year……

Yoga for Runners with Sweaty Betty

This Monday I was lucky enough to bag a place at Sweaty Betty’s latest one-off free class, Yoga for Runners, after someone else cancelled (sucker)! Having made a commitment to myself to try and make time for more Yoga and Pilates to deal with my stress levels, this couldn’t have come at a better time.

Now I’ve probably spent something like 0.5% of my life in the Sweaty Betty Cambridge shop. Without doubt I have more SB stuff than any other label in my wardrobe, and I love how the staff greet me like an old friend whenever I walk in, and they always have time for a chat about how I’m getting on with my training and which events I have lined up. If you’re new to fitness but are slightly daunted about setting yourself up with some new workout kit, I can’t recommend Hannah and her team enough (and just LOOK at the new season)!

When I turned up for the class, I didn’t know who would be teaching it. I’ve been to a couple of yoga classes with SB and both instructors have been really brilliant – you can tell that they choose who they work with really carefully. The class was led by Emma, who I hadn’t met before, but who was utterly brilliant. She managed to cram so much into an hour long class and some of the sequences were challenging without being overwhelming for any runners in the group who might not have known their savasana from their elbow.

One particular flow towards the end of the class seriously put us through our paces where we had to go into Warrior 3. This involves standing on one leg with the other leg straight out behind you and your arms in front so that you’re basically making a T shape. It’s a fairly advanced pose, but Emma made it seem really accessible as we had slowly worked our way up to it. It felt awesome to manage a pose like that (with only the smallest of wobbles)!

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Emma in the new SB Palm Print Urdhva Reversible Yoga Leggings

All in all it was a great class and I felt so relaxed afterwards. I just wish I didn’t undo all of the good work within 5 minutes by having to jump on my bike and pedal off for a train! The point of this class though, was not only to provide some of the runners of Cambridge with some hip opening and ankle strengthening moves to try at home, but also to raise funds for SB staff member Libby, who is running the Virgin London Marathon this weekend for VICTA, a charity that supports children and young people who are blind or partially sighted and their families across the UK. This is Libby’s first marathon, and even though her training was interrupted by a couple of weeks out through sickness, she has to be one of the most laid back first time marathoners I’ve ever seen! All Libby wants is to finish the race, and I have no doubt that she’ll manage it. If you’d like to sponsor Libby and this brilliant charity, you can do so here.

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I really hope some more one off classes appear on the SB schedule soon. I always enjoy mixing up my training and adding variety to my workout schedule. In the meantime, you can find their regular class timetable here. Now if only they’ll hurry up and get those floral shorts in store…..!

 

Pilatesfit – A Haven in Our Busy City

When I was contacted by Rowan from Pilatesfit on Twitter with the opportunity to try one of their classes*, I leapt at the chance. Even though Vinery Road is a bit of a trek from where I work, it’s nice and close to Cambridge train station which is a bonus. As I’ve only done a handful of Pilates classes in my time (I’m more of a yoga girl generally) I booked in for a Beginner’s Class with Michelle Njagi on Friday 11th March at 6:15pm. It seemed like a good opportunity to end my stressful week on a relaxing high.

I have to say that a rather fraught journey up Mill Road meant that I wasn’t feeling especially chilled when I finally reached the Pilatesfit Studios. I thought everyone escaped early on a Friday but clearly no one has told the irate road users congregated in this part of Cambridge (slow hand clap to the cyclists who think it’s ok to mount the pavements and scatter pedestrians to get through it). And when I found the Studios I wasn’t completely convinced that I had actually found them, but the road numbering suggested I had.

When I first opened the gate and saw a large dog walking into a door on the left I was a bit worried I had walked into someone’s front garden (a common mistake on a first visit Rowan assured me) but to be fair, that kind of is what you’re doing (and signage outside is coming soon!). To give you a bit of background, the founder Rowan has worked as a Physiotherapist in Cambridge for about 17 years, and then started Pilatesfit about 2 years ago. After word of mouth meant that the popularity of her classes grew, she then opened the Vinery Road studio next to her home a year ago.

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The Studios themselves are stunning. They’re all white walls, high ceilings and gentle lighting, and you can tell they’ve been designed with serenity and simplicity in mind. The lovely thing about Pilatesfit is that their classes are for a maximum of 8 people at a time. This means that the instructor is able to check on each attendee individually during the class, advising on and correcting their form where necessary.

As for my experience in the class, at first I thought “Pffft, this is easy. I am totally nailing this. I should have gone for the intermediate class.” This self-confidence lasted about 10 minutes, and was all but shattered by the time Michelle had me doing glute bridges on a foam roller.

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Michelle (on purple mat) in action. Photo from VineryRoadStudios on Instagram

Despite being in a fairly busy part of the city, what little noise from the outside world that managed to sneak in was quickly drowned out by the perfect background music to the class and Michelle’s gorgeous, soothing voice (she should do audio books on meditation. I would totally buy them). I found myself feeling so relaxed, which is not a state I’ve been in much recently. Don’t get me wrong – I worked hard, and my glutes and especially my hamstrings felt like they’d had a serious workout the next day, but I felt like I was able to drown out all of that outside crap that has been clamouring for attention in my head recently, and just be.

At the end of the class Michelle took her time to have a chat with me (despite having only 15 minutes before her next class started) and she also told me that I’d done really well and that she could tell I was strong. This girl had already sussed the way to my heart.

Now – down to the nitty gritty. Pilates classes at Pilatesfit are on the pricier end of the scale at £9 a pop. But you are getting more for your money compared to say a Pilates class that takes 20 people. You get one-on-one attention from the instructor during the class, and this is invaluable if you’re like me and struggle to get your ribs aligned properly or you find yourself holding your breath during more challenging poses, which makes them far more difficult. I suppose it depends on what you want from your Pilates class. They also let you pay as you go, which is a bonus when many Pilates classes in the city are based on a course of classes which you pay for in advance regardless of whether you can make every session.

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Would I pay for these classes? The answer is a resounding yes. While I can’t afford to go all the time (at least not without reining in my Sweaty Betty addiction), I’m going to treat myself to a class at least once a month, because I got so much more out of it than just an ab workout. It’s impossible not to relax and centre yourself in a class at the Pilatesfit studio. They’ve just done everything so well.

Rowan is also doing a great job of building a strong community around Pilatesfit, with a great social media presence, and a gorgeous Instagram feed. They also offer more than just the classes –  they do 1:1 Pilates and antenatal sessions, as well as offering private physiotherapy, including sports injury treatments such as kinesiotaping, ultrasound, acupuncture, massage and sports specific rehab. They are also the only Physiotherapy clinic in Cambridge where all the physiotherapists are also trained to teach Pilates. They have so much to offer, and I think they’re a really great addition to the Fitness scene in Cambridge.

* When offering me the free class, Rowan never asked me to blog about it, but I have chosen to do so.

Looking for Rainbows and Stars – An Athlete’s Analogy

So here’s a summary of my health so far in 2016:

  • Death cold from hell
  • Eye infection
  • Mild groin pull
  • Allergic reaction to medicine
  • Bad back
  • Locked joint in foot
  • Hit by a car and knocked off my bike
  • General despondent attitude

Looking back over this, that seems like a lot in the space of 2 months. I’m just going to wait here while you all send me vast amounts of sympathy.

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No? Ok then.

As someone who had only taken 1 sick day in 2 1/2 years (yes, that is a humble brag. I was properly proud of that) having this start to 2016 has seriously knocked me, not just physically but mentally as well (and this was before I made friends with concrete, which only happened yesterday after I’d started writing this post).

I don’t know about you, but I use running to cope with my stress. If I’m having a bad day, a 30 minute run in my lunch break can work absolute wonders. So that fact that I haven’t been able to properly get my teeth into my training at all yet in 2016 means that my stress has been building. But I can’t run to get rid of it. I hate not being able to run. So then the stress builds some more. But I can’t run……… So round and round we go like a dog chasing its tail, except that it’s way less entertaining for those around me.

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So what’s a girl(runninglate) to do? I can either wallow in my bad luck, or I can just accept that quite simply, this is life. Who said it would always be plain sailing? Admittedly I’ve had an abnormal run of fails, but as one awesome runner liked to say, “when it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for the stars.” I know in other circumstances this could sound like cheesy inspo you’d expect to find on Instagram, but it couldn’t be more fitting right now.

When I dropped out of the half, my brilliant friend Alice sent me a link to an article about Jessica Ennis when she had to drop out of the Beijing Olympics with a fracture in her right ankle. I imagine that making a decision like that is approximately 1000 times worse than having to drop out of a local half marathon. But look at what she has since gone on to achieve. Injury is part and parcel of being an athlete. It’s how you deal with the setbacks that shows how strong you really are.

And yes. I now consider myself an athlete. I never used to call myself that before despite the fact that Alan always has done. I just thought of myself as a runner. It was only at one of my many recent trips to Spritely Osteopathy that I called myself an athlete and Melissa picked up on it. The conversation went something like this:

“You called yourself an athlete.”

“Huh. So I did.”

“Good. You are.”

This short exchange showed a shift in the way I see myself, and it gave me a little boost during what has been a difficult time. It’s not much, but the little things count.

So I’m going to focus on how lucky I am to walk away from being hit by a car (my brother called me a double-hard bastard which is one of the best compliments I’ve ever received) and focus on the future. Anytime I can’t run I’ll work on my pull ups. If my legs need some rest I’ll go for a swim. If I need some downtime, I’ll do some yoga. Plus I’m going to dust off my Headspace app and set aside 10 minutes a day to get some more Yin in my life (because all this Yang cannot be good for me – thanks to Sigrist Acupuncture for the brilliant talk on Chinese medicine earlier this week)! There will always be options.

Enough of all this. I’m going to go and look at the stars. Bugger off clouds.

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