Anxiety and Self-Sabotage -A Runner’s Curse

I am a good runner.

I am a good runner.

I am a good runner.

Seriously, if I say it enough do you think I might actually start to believe it? Because something has GOT to change. I am driving myself (and everyone around me) crazy each and every time I race because the nerves and self doubt flood my system and fill me to the absolute brim with IRRITATING SMALL PERSON JUICE. Honestly I cannot believe I haven’t been punched in the face yet. BY MYSELF.

Hit 1

Let me set the scene. On Thursday evening I arrived at the site of the Saffron Striders’ hosted Kevin Henry League race. Pete, Rach and I probably arrived at about 6:40 with a race start time of 7:30, so there was a decent amount of time to kill. Cue 45 minutes of peeing (three times), pacing, nail biting and being the most annoying person in a 20 mile radius (you can keep your “no change there then” jokes to yourself, smart arse). Phrases uttered to me over the course of the evening included:

“Get a grip Lauren!”

“You need to sort your f*cking head out.” (Thanks coach)

“What is wrong with you?”

Being like this is exhausting, and I dread to think how much energy I’m wasting that I could be putting to good use during the actual run. I’m actually embarrassed by my behaviour and after each run I go home and do an actual facepalm, vowing to change something, anything to stop myself from being such a fool, but inevitably this bad behaviour cycles round and presents itself again next time I find myself on a start line.

But something has to change. Despite everything I managed a 20:51 5k last week,just 3 seconds off my best time this season and this was after a self-enforced 2 week rest because of my confusingly grumpy leg. So I know that the sub 20 5k is in my grasp if only I could make my mind be quiet.

Crazy 3 Gif

I’ve tried the Headspace app but I’ve struggled to really get on with it. I tried to apply their breathing technique at the race last week but it kept slipping from my grasp, like that dream you try and remember as you start to wake up but which fades away as you gain full consciousness. Just as I thought my mind was starting to empty those thoughts began jostling their way in again, all elbows and negativity.

So I did what any rational person would do – I asked the brilliant ukrunchat community on Twitter for advice. A lot of them recommended yoga and meditation (yoga is a big part of my life already), and I’ve been given the opportunity to try a new app that applies different relaxation techniques to meditation. I was also given a new mantra to try, and gin was suggested. I think I’m going to start with that.

Something needs to change. I don’t like this version of myself when I run, and since running helps me deal with the stresses of my life, getting this wound up before a run is so counter productive and self-sabotaging. I never thought when I started running that so much of my ability would be affected by what was in my head rather that what was in my legs. Wish me luck.

Gin Please

All gifs from Giphy

 

 

The Body Battleground

Another day, another stupid effing “challenge” on social media where people show how skinny they are by holding up a piece of A4 paper in front of their waists. If your waist disappears behind the piece of paper when you hold it portrait in front of your torso, congratulations, you’ve passed the challenge.

Sigh.

Sometimes I really, truly despair.

A4 Waist

CREDIT: IMAGINECHINA/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

This is yet another fad (after the “Belly Button Challenge” and “Clavicle Challenge”) to emerge out of China, and it’s come at a time where yet again there seems to be a lot of unreasonable focus on women and their bodies and reputations (because the focus is more on women as the above photo shows – good luck finding the guy whose self worth is valued by how he looks in a crop top).

Take for example the recent furore around Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley, when the following image was posted to Instagram:

Daisy Ridley

When I first heard about this I was genuinely confused by the whole thing. I have never viewed Daisy as having an unrealistic body type. Since when did being strong and fit become something people viewed as a bad example? Understandably Daisy felt somewhat attacked about the whole thing and felt she had to defend herself online. A little further digging on the matter showed that the image had been lifted from a satirical cartoon strip and been taken completely out of context. But satire exists to mock and ridicule wider issues in society – and how often has the “real women have curves” argument been thrown across the body battleground? All women are real, regardless of shape and size. It really is very, VERY simple.

Lastly, on a slightly different topic, we’ve had Maria Sharapova come out and admit that she tested positive for Meldonium, a drug that was added to the banned list on the 1st January this year. Whether she cheated by knowingly taking a banned substance or whether she showed negligence by taking it without knowing it had been banned, her reputation and career are currently in a bad way. The thing that has struck me about her case though, is Nike’s attitude to it. Don’t get me wrong – if one of your athletes has taken a banned, performance enhancing substance, by all means you should walk away from them.

So how does that explain their relationship with Justin Gatlin? What gives Nike? Gatlin has been completely unrepentant about his past transgressions, so why one rule for the male athlete and another for the female?

This has been a bit of a brain dump of a post so far. I think I’ve just felt so frustrated by the media in the last few weeks (which is nothing new really) and the way there is ALWAYS so much focus on how women look. When Chris Hemsworth beefs up for the Thor films, do you ever hear even a sniff of “what a terrible example! I can’t live up to that!”? Or does everyone gape in awe at his commitment to lifting weights and chugging protein shakes?

Thor

I don’t know. Maybe I’m part of the problem by even talking about these things in the first place. Or maybe I’m just too idealistic by wanting women to be valued by their achievements rather than their looks. But is it really too much to ask for the Women’s Varsity Rugby Match to be shown on BBC2 like the men’s was rather than online only (especially as Cambridge’s thrashing of Oxford led to a incredibly exciting match)? Or to focus more on women like Gee Purdy, Bella Collins, Lauren Morton and Olivia Bolesworth who became the youngest and fastest all female crew of four to row across the Atlantic Ocean? Or Paralympian Jordanne Whiley, who has 7 grand slam tennis victories under her belt? These are the things we should be sharing on social media, not the utter, UTTER bollocks that makes young girls think that the size of their waist is all that matters, or that men will always be treated differently in the same scenario. That has to change.

Although when a search for “smart female sportswomen” comes up with this as the top three hits – I have to wonder if it’s too big a battle:

Smart Female Sportswomen

Eff you internet. I may only be a tiny blogger who can only really rely on my mum reading every single post I write (love you!) but I’m still going to play my part by always celebrating inspirational sportswomen whose minds and bodies are leading them to achieve greatness.

 

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?

Keeping it in the Family

An awesome thing happened today! For the first time ever, I trained with my big sister (National Masters 400m Champion if you will) Stacy. Although I obviously went through my athletics “phase” as a kid (i.e. an opportunity to hang out with my cooler older sister with the odd stumble over a hurdle or belly flop over a high jump bar thrown in), this was the first time we had trained together as fully-fledged grown ups (give or take). I was almost as excited as this girl:

Happy Jumping Athlete
So I turned up at the track today at 1:15pm, and the weather was gorgeous except for the wind that was going to be driving us back on the last 100 metres of each 300 metre lap we’d be doing. We would be doing 6 of these with a 4 minute break in between each one, which meant we had to push ourselves pretty hard but make sure we had enough in the tank to do 6 reps. Pacing myself over shorter sprint-type distances is still something I’m learning, but I like to think I’m improving.

After a fairly lengthy warm up (Alan never approves of rushing this) Stacy and I were set up to do staggered starts with Stacy setting off first and then my following when she hit the halfway mark. I’ve never seen Stacy run so close up before and it was fascinating. As a middle distance runner she’s much bouncier than me as she runs on her toes (as opposed to my mid/heel striking depending on how tired I am) and it made her look really powerful on the track. She also drives back her arms SO far which gives her her extreme power. Just look at the photo in this article for evidence of this.

Now as any regular reader of this blog will know, my self doubt has been a real problem with my running. There must be times when Alan wants to do this to me:

Get Happy

But having Stacy there seemed to change something in me. I tried to explain my thoughts to Alan about this and not sure I was very articulate, but I’ll try and do it here. I think if I’m running with someone who is a similar runner to me, I’ll try and compete with them and run at their pace rather than at mine, burning out too soon and generally having a miserable time of it. But with Stacy, I know that trying to run at her pace is a fool’s errand. She has been at the top of her game for years, and probably has enough titles and medals to build a small house. I’m never going to be able to run at her pace over these distances. So instead I just tried to run at MY best, rather than at someone else’s.

And it worked. Alan expected me to run 300m laps at 58 or 59 seconds, and instead I was coming in at 55 or 56 seconds compared to Stacy’s 51 or 52. What was brilliant was talking to Stacy in between laps, and seeing that even someone at her level finds these sessions tough. We talked about how we both find lap 4 the worst one, knowing that it’s near the end but not quite near enough to push through the pain barrier as we still have 2 more after that to get through. She also told me about “Louis’ Last Lap”, so named after someone she knows who always thinks of the second to last lap as the last one so that he can drive through it and imagine he’s finishing his laps. Because after all, however hard you’ve found the session, you can always get through the last lap. And I got through it by digging deep and coming in a fraction over 54 seconds. Who wants to take anything left in the tank home with them eh?

Listening to the banter between Stacy and Alan all the way through the session kept my spirits high, and having Alan tell me at the end that he thought it was the best I’d ever run was an incredible feeling. He told me I looked like the “real deal”, which has to be one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. I had managed to do all 6 laps without slipping into a mental funk and without losing seconds off my time. I enjoyed the session SO much. There’s just one problem – I’m going to want to keep running with Stacy, so I really hope she doesn’t plan to change her workout routine any time soon! I suppose there’s a risk of her becoming my new dummy(!), but I think she just inspires me to be the best athletic version of myself I can be. Roll on the next session.
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Trying to Outrun my Disbelieving Owl

It may come as a surprise to you that sometimes I doubt my abilities as a runner. I know right? I best give you a moment to get over the shock of that particular statement.

I’m not even sure what my problem is. Frustration that I didn’t discover running earlier, worries that I’ve not achieved what I feel I should have done in 33 years, general lack of patience and comparing myself to those who are fitter, stronger, younger, more experienced. Probably a combination of all of those things and many many more.

But I’ve noticed a change in the last couple of weeks. I think a tiny part of me may be starting to believe that I’m a good runner.

Squeak!

Shock 1

Some of you may be rolling your eyes at this and hovering your finger over the mouse to read about people pretending to faint to see if their dogs really care about them. Anyone who has only known me for a couple of years may only know the Duracell bunny, fitness fiend version of me and think I’m just fishing for compliments. But those who know me from years back (and especially my family) will know that I never looked like someone who could do the things I do know. I was a real trier, but few things came naturally to me, especially in the world of sport. I’ve always had to work pretty hard to be good at anything, except maybe for being a bossy loudmouth. That always came pretty easily.

But on the 10th September I was set to do the final Kevin Henry League 5k race for Ely Runners. I had only done the Ely sprint tri on Sunday 6th and that had tired me out more than I had expected, because when I run a long distance race I can get into a groove and switch off ever so slightly, but for the triathlon I had to stay more tuned in and consider the various disciplines and transitions, so my mind and body had been worked HARD. So when I left work at 6:20pm on Thursday to head half a mile down the road to the athletics track where Cambridge and Coleridge were hosting the run, I felt shattered with my stomach in knots and my hands shaking.

My pre-race nerves are pretty epic, but I had one thing in mind – keep my training partner Mary in sight. Alan had given me a talking to (read: slight bollocking) that morning. He told me to stay with Mary, and I told him I couldn’t. Big mistake. Alan doesn’t understand the “can’ts” and “couldn’ts” of the world. But I know that Mary is faster and stronger than me over longer distances and I thought he wanted me to stay literally on her shoulder. But he explained that he just wanted me to keep her within my sights, and I told him I’d try, which is all he ever really wants from me.

It was a gorgeous evening for a run – the temperature had dipped to about 16 degrees, and there was just a slight breeze. At the start I was gabbling to anyone who would listen, threatening to demand piggy backs from strangers and to run in the opposite direction, but then Mary made me laugh (slightly manically) about my nerves, calling them my “nervous owl” (thanks to a previous post) and I settled into the start in the same sort of place as her. It was time to see if my nervous owl could become a bit more confident.

Owl 2

I then went on to run the race of my life and I’m still not entirely sure how I did it. Somehow I managed to not only keep Mary in my sights but to actually stay on her shoulder the whole way round. I kept thinking to myself “it’s ok if she gets away at 2k, it’s ok if she gets away at 3k, oh my giddy aunt I’m still with her at 4k and flipping heck am I really at the final 300m and still only one place behind her?” I had pushed myself so hard that I didn’t have enough left in the tank at the end to catch her at the line, but when I heard thundering footsteps and heavy breathing at my shoulder I knew I had not run that kind of race only to be overtaken by someone at the line, so I dug deep and managed to finish one place behind Mary.

It took 5 days for the official times to come through. FIVE. DAYS. I am one of the least patient people I know so I cannot tell you how agonising it was waiting to see my time. I knew I had a PB, but I had no idea how much time I had taken off. I NEVER expected it to be 55 seconds. And it turns out that I had managed to keep not one but two other C&C runners at bay in that final sprint.

wpid-screenshot_2015-09-18-17-28-28-1.pngI think during the run, I found myself wanting to push for Ely Runners who have been so welcoming and do so much to create opportunities for people to enjoy running and even to excel at it. I wanted to do them, Alan, Mary and myself proud. And ultimately there was a feeling of “this is the last race of the league. I may as well hammer it.” The resulting PB is somewhat arbitrary compared to my existing one of 21:14 on a rougher, harder course (Milton Parkrun), but that is still I time I never, ever thought I was capable of achieving even on my very best day in perfect conditions on a fast, flat course.

So now I find myself in what feels like a quandary. I’m starting to believe that I’m a pretty good runner, but of course this means my head is running even faster than my legs and I’m over thinking things again. How seriously do I want to take this?

What if I fully commit and I’m not good enough?

What if I fully commit and I am?

What if, what if, what if?

Nailing it and Bricking it – the DIY of Running

First of all, apologies for the slightly low-brow title of this blog, but it just worked too well to ignore don’t you think?

So after the shocker at Wandlebury a couple of weeks ago, Alan and I teamed up this lunchtime along with Mary for a 6 x 400m session. That number of laps is one that I find easy enough to consider in my mind without freaking out, which shows that Alan is getting extremely good at understanding my mental limitations. If he had told me 8 laps I would have started the session feeling a sense of panic and looking much like this:

Panic 1

There was a sense of foreboding over the track when I arrived thanks to an epic black cloud and a general feeling that my mojo was completely AWOL. But it’s extremely hard to be negative when you’re in the company of Alan and Mary, especially when Alan turns up in his neon green Hoohaah hoodie that he earned for doing all three of their 10ks this summer (BHA*).

After our usual long warm up (Alan is NOT a fan of rushing this) Mary and I tackled the laps with a 4 minute rest inbetween on a staggered basis with Mary shooting off first and me following when she hit the 200m mark. Thanks to Alan having an (ahem) senior moment with the tech, I don’t know how quickly I did the first lap but I managed the 2nd one in 79 seconds, and the next two in 78 seconds. I’ve never gone under 80 seconds before, and quite honestly I was gobsmacked. When Alan and I first started training together I was doing 400m in 88/89/90 seconds so to see an obvious improvement is SUCH a lift. I then got a bit of a bollocking when I said I was going to take the next one a bit easier so I could really smash out the 6th. Mary then came out with a slice of gold. Here’s how the conversation went:

Mary: Don’t think about the 6th lap, think about the one you’re doing now. Live in the moment.

Me: Really? Why?

Mary: Because you might die on the 5th one.

Seriously, I’m going to start a little notebook called Mary’s Mantras that I can refer to whenever I feel like I’m struggling with my mental toughness. She’s got a knack for saying the right thing to me at the right time (and I’m finally starting to listen).

I’m not sure what I ended up doing the 5th lap in but the last one was 80 seconds. Whilst it’s frustrating to have not managed that one in under 80 I feel like I truly gave that session everything I had and that my pacing was solid. My legs were absolutely toast, and even if the last one had come in at 85 seconds I still would have been so utterly delighted to have not let my head get the better of me this time. So whilst physically I felt like this:

Falling 1

Mentally I felt like this:

Fist Pump 2

Alan texted me afterwards and said “you’re learning to trust.” Whether me meant trusting him or trusting in my ability I’m not sure. I think probably both.

And now on to part two of the title of this blog post. I have my first ever sprint triathlon on Sunday, and today it properly hit me that it’s nearly here. Yes I cycle to work every day and can smash out a 5k in under 22 minutes, but I’ve never done them straight after the other and I certainly haven’t done a swim before either of them. As you’ll know from a previous post swimming has never been my forte but I suppose it’s a good thing that I get that bit out of the way first. And luckily, serial triathlon and duathlon warrior Mary gave me a few tips today which made me feel slightly more prepared, and my best friend Michelle is letting me borrow her insane tri bike which is equal parts awesome and terrifying.

Obviously I’ll post a blog after the event, but if you’re in Ely early on Sunday morning please come and cheer me on. I’ll be one with her number belt on backwards, wearing one trainer and looking like this:Scared 1*Before Heart Attack

Back on Track with the Coach – Literally

So last Thursday I was planning to drag myself down to the track for my first sprint session since Alan’s heart had done its little “cry for help” and given us all a stark reminder that regardless of how active you are, the fuel you take on board has got to be good too. Despite being in hospital Alan had been regularly texting me tips and training plans in between watching episodes of Emmerdale, so I knew I needed to do 300m sprints. I had brilliantly forgotten my Nike Sportswatch so it was going to be interesting measuring my times anyway, but I admit I was a bit taken aback when I got a text from Alan:

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-17-23-34-13-1.pngAlan then went quiet for an hour, so being the rational person I am (I once thought my mum had died when she didn’t answer the phone when in fact her phone line had gone down), I assumed texting me had taxed Alan so much he’d been carted back off to Papworth to have another stent put in. But then this happened:

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-17-23-35-23-1.pngFor those of you who know Alan, he’s a stubborn as anything, so if he’s decided he wants a coaching session, that’s what’s going to happen. But I have to admit that when I cycled into Wilberforce Road and saw him leaning against a steeplechase barrier, watching Goldie Sayers hurling javelins across the site in her last practice there before flying to Beijing for the IAAF World Championships, a big smile spread across my face. it was like he’d never been away. After a bear hug it was down to business as usual.

Sprinting sessions are never my favourite, as I’m simply not built for short bursts of extreme speeds, and five years of running long distances means my sprinting technique was non-existent before I met Alan. He told me he wanted me to aim for 62-63 seconds per 300m since I was at 65-66 the last time we did this (for context, the women’s record at this distance is 35.30 seconds, set by Ana Guevara in 2003), so it was a reasonable aim over such a short distance. So I did the first one in 56 seconds, leading Alan to say “Blimey girl, what’s got into you?”

While this might sound like a good thing, I knew I had gone off too fast. It’s like I forget I have to do it 7 more times. Sprints 2 and 3 were ok (58 seconds ish), but on sprint 4 (60 seconds) my quads were burning and I was gasping “I’ve lost it!” as I went over the line. Way to keep a positive mental attitude there Thomas.

It was raining so Alan and I spent my recovery under the Pavilion balcony in the dry, and he did that infuriating (but also fair) thing of tapping his head and saying “it’s all up here”. And although there was no denying that my legs hurt, a 4 minute recovery should be more than enough for me. I don’t have to try and beat myself (or anyone else for that matter) on every lap. The whole point of this training is consistency and pacing. Alan also decided that now was the time to tell me that if he collapsed, I had to spray the drug he had in his pocket under his tongue. So it’s a good job he didn’t keel over at the start of the session then.

So somehow, I managed to get a hold of myself. I think it was partly managing to control my head and partly wanting to do Alan proud after everything that had happened over the last fortnight, to show him how much I appreciated his schlepping out to see me 6 days after his operation (not that I had much choice in the matter). I managed to do the last lap exactly how I’d started – in 56 seconds. Boom. Alan told me it was the best I’d ever run, which has got to be one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.

wpid-img_20150813_145212.jpgLook how dementedly pleased I am!

So all in all it was a fantastic session, and as we said goodbye to Goldie and wished her luck in Beijing, I felt like I’d left the last 2 weeks of stress pummeled into the track where it belongs. It felt flipping awesome. And then on Saturday I managed a new 5k PB at the Milton Parkrun:

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-18-11-54-24-1.pngAnd that’s what this is all about. Working hard and seeing the pay off. Come on sub-21.

Two New Running Experiences – A Training Partner and the Girton 5k

So this has been a week of firsts – my first time training with a partner, and my first time running the Girton 5k.

First of all, I’m going to get my excuses out of the way. I’ve just come back from 5 days in Germany for a flipping fantastic wedding, but it was hot. I’m talking seriously hot. As in didn’t get below 35 degrees and was 40 the day we left hot. Add a room on the third floor of a hotel with no air conditioning and you can imagine the sleep quality.

So on Wednesday, when Alan rocked up with Mary Twitchett to makes us do 10 x 100m sprints, I was a little nervous. Mary is without doubt one of the fittest women I’ve met in some time. Whilst I was drinking Prosecco in Wiesbaden, she was doing a half ironman. Just one glance at her athlete profile on Power of 10 was enough to make me start fan-girling a bit. Her 5k PB is 20:14, her 10k PB 42:20, and her half marathon PB is 89:03. That’s some serious stuff.

Mary Twitchett

Mary’s in the middle. Behind that smile is an endurance level set at STEEL.

So we warmed up together and ran the 100m on opposite sides of the path so that Alan could assess our techniques in turn. It started off well – I felt pretty strong, finishing maybe a second ahead of Mary and using my arms really well. After the 4th sprint my legs started feeling wobbly. And that’s when I started declining. Yet again my head took control of my body and I kept thinking about how I couldn’t possibly do 6 more, how Mary was now getting ahead of me and how I was letting her and Alan down by getting tired too quickly.

Here’s something you should know about Mary – her positive mental attitude is incredible. When she saw me flagging she shouted words of encouragement, trying to push me on. I didn’t really manage to step up to the plate, and after sprint number 8 Alan cut the session short because Mary had to get back to work and because I was quite frankly struggling. My tread had become so heavy you could have heard me pounding down the path from a mile off, let alone 100m.

I had mixed emotions after the session. I felt like I worked harder with Mary at my side but that I didn’t quite achieve what I could or perhaps should have done. I got lovely emails from her and Alan afterwards, with Alan saying that Mary and I could really complement each other, with her assisting me with her mental strength and me perhaps making her faster. I just hope he’s right because I really don’t want to be a hindrance to her. I had a long chat with my colleague Matt about it afterwards, telling him that my head always gets in the way, and his advice has led to my buying this:

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Alan says it takes 5 years to get the mindset of a serious athlete. Hopefully this might make it happen a bit faster. Naturally I’ll let you know how I get on with it in another post later on. Mary and I are going to train together next Friday, which is exciting and nerve-inducing in equal measure.

So, the day after sprintageddon, I found myself cycling the three miles from work to Girton for the Girton 5k. This event has been running since around 2009, and I just thought it would make a nice change to try a different race. I was sad that my friend Oli couldn’t make it because of work commitments, but my friend (and photographer for the day!) Andrew was happy to snap up his place. Alan was also meant to be running it, but changed his mind at the last minute. Wise considering he had a 3am start the next day for his holiday!

Girton 5k 1The coach knew at least 75% of the people running. Shocker. Such a socialite.

I was a ball of nervous energy before the race. It was around 23 degrees in the sun, and would be the first time I’d run in hot(ter) weather without a bottle of water, plus the sleep deprivation was really kicking in. So I drank lots before the race and annoyed everyone around me with my insane chatter.

The race itself ended up being challenging but fun. The terrain was really varied, with tight turns through gates around the fields. One section was pretty rough underfoot due to the dips where horses or similar had been in the mud and it had then dried, which meant that I found myself running a bit gingerly when I probably should have just gone for it. It was also pretty hard to overtake in sections where the path got really narrow. It has to be said though, that in the summer evening light it was one of the prettiest races I’ve done. Alan also managed to turn up twice on the course to cheer me on which was frankly lovely.

I had no idea what time I finished in, and sat down to enjoy a chat with some fellow runners in the lovely weather, gifting my free half pint to a grateful finisher who wasn’t willing to let it go to waste!

Girton 5k 2

Happy but knackered.

I felt certain that I wouldn’t have achieved a PB, but I hoped I wasn’t too far off. I also spent a lot of time that evening chatting to some members of Ely Runners. When I told her my PB, one girl from the club asked me why I wasn’t part of a club myself and I didn’t really have an answer for her other than worrying about the pressure of running and not being able to meet the expectations of others – in other words, my head was stopping me. Alan then said to me that maybe I should consider it, as he thought I could learn a lot from the Ely Runners I met. Something to think about.

The results came through this morning, and I ended up as 5th woman in 22:08. That’s 40 seconds away from my PB and at first I was disappointed, especially as the 4th woman came in at 21:59. However, when I spoke to Andrew (who came in at a STONKING 18:29), he told me that it wasn’t a PB course, and that he was 35 seconds off his PB. That made me feel a bit better, but did make me think that I could benefit from some more trail running practice.

So overall it’s been a serious week of running experiences that I can learn from. And after some rest this weekend, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next week. And can we please take a moment to appreciate the awesome girl highlighted in this photo, George Schwiening, who finished as first woman in 17:31. Woah.

Girton 5k 3

Awe-inspiring stuff.

Running for Dummies – or should that be “with”?

I had a shocker of a session last week. I should have seen it coming really. I’d had a dreadful road-rage filled commute to work, I was running sans-coach and I seriously procrastinated before leaving the office to tackle the 6 x 800m session on the West Cambridge site. You know when newsreaders shuffle papers at the end of a broadcast while they wait for the cameras to turn off? It was like that. My desk had never looked neater.

But I trudged out there – see the choice of word there people – and surprise surprise it was awful. I had to stop on round three. I was forced to stop on round four when TWO FLIES went in my eye at once. I had to stop on round five and proceeded to kick a fence post. I then thought “no chuffing WAY am I ending the session like this”, so I forced the last 800m and didn’t stop. I didn’t feel good about it though. I felt like I had wasted an entire hour.

flop

The next day I complained about it to one of my colleagues who told me everyone has bad sessions. I do know this, and I know I can’t expect to always feel great, or to always get PBs when I do a Parkrun. But this felt like I was back to square one. I felt weak, a sensation I really, really hate, and one I generally don’t expect from myself unless I’m ill. He then said something else:

“I think you’re a bit hard on yourself.”

Like a sensible person I huffed a bit and stomped off to do my weights session, obviously handling all of this like a grown up PRO whilst continuing to mentally chew the whole thing over. The thing is, I have a habit of being hard on myself. I’ve always felt like I haven’t quite achieved what I could or should have done. And I get frustrated so easily. It’s a lethal combination.

So you can imagine my trepidation when this Tuesday and my next session with Alan rolled around. I had managed to tweak my back slightly on Monday so tackling Wandlebury with its hills and tree roots was out of the question (a reprieve!) so we settled on 200m instead. I thought we’d maybe do it 8 or at a push 12 times, but Alan announced it would be four sets of four off 30 seconds, with 4 minutes rest between each set.

That meant 16 reps of 200m. Oh dear.

ScreamSo I did my usual thing of going off too fast and by the end of the first four I was doubled over, my legs feeling like lead and wanging on about how much I was hating it. Basically I was having a hissy fit.

But Alan has seen all this before, and he watched me have my tantrum with a slight smile on his face before asking me what the problem was. I told him it felt like I was running through treacle.

“I wish I was this fast through treacle. Now shall we forget all this bollocks and carry on?”

And that, in a nutshell of a sentence, is why Alan is the perfect coach for me. If I’d been on my own I would have bailed halfway, but in just a few words he managed to compliment me, make me laugh and snap me out of my bratty mindset. And so I did carry on. I brought my arms up high, kept straight and stopped doubling over (thereby squashing my lungs) at the end of each sprint and instead walked around, taking deep, restorative breaths and sips of water. By the time I finished I felt like I had pushed myself as hard as I possibly could have done, and most importantly, I felt strong again. Plus I reminded myself – I’m not a sprinter, not by any stretch of the imagination, so what I had just achieved was pretty flipping awesome.

And why did it feel like I was running through treacle? Because I was, on average, 4 seconds faster per rep compared to the last time we did this session.

Better Run CelebrationIf I’m pushing myself that bit harder, of course – OF COURSE – it’s going to hurt more. And as I know I’ve said before, if these sessions were easy there would literally be no point to them.

After the session we had a little chat about how even though my running is coming along in leaps and bounds, my ability to control my head still has a seriously long way to go. I’m not sure how I’m going to tackle that just yet (answers in the comments section please!) but in the meantime, at least I’m not dreading next week’s session (even though he parted with his favourite sentence of “you’re not going to like it”).

The only problem now is, if I can’t have a successful session without Alan talking me off the ledge, has he become my new dummy, something I can’t successfully train without?

Learning to Love the Track

Ok, so last week’s blog post was a little bit “woe is me, this running malarkey is so hard!” First world problems right? But sometimes it is cathartic to get your thoughts out there and have people empathise with you and discuss how track running is a much greater mental challenge than trail or road running. I’m glad it’s not just me. Getting your pacing right over different distances takes practice and patience. Those who know me well know the latter is a really strong point of mine. Ahem.

But last night, something seemed to click in my mind. I knew I was meeting Alan for a session today and I wrote on Twitter “I’m actually looking forward to my track session tomorrow. Do you think this means the coach has finally taken full control of my brain?” I don’t know what the difference was (if only it were that simple), but I was relishing the challenge and being far more pragmatic about it. I can only ever do my best, and if a session is tough a) it would be pointless if it were easy and b) there will be many more sessions if for whatever reason this one doesn’t go to plan. Even the wind today didn’t break my spirit. It just wobbled it ever so slightly…

wpid-lpp3pe.gif

For a little while I thought I might be facing the 4 x 1 mile session myself, but after doing my warm up a voice boomed across the track and there was Alan on his delivery bike (he’s working for the University Exams Syndicate at the moment). Although I was preparing to take on the session alone (I know he can’t always control his working schedule), I know that I’m not going to be as tough on myself as Alan will be so I was pretty pleased to see him.

It was going to be a challenge – only a minute rest between the first two miles, followed by a 6 minute “rest” (Alan’s rests aren’t exactly known for being relaxing) where I’d do 9 goblet squats with a 20KG KETTLEBELL and then the next two miles with only a 30 second rest in between.

Can I just take a moment to mention that I’m 53kg? Ok, carry on.

Clueless Bugging

As per usual I went off too fast, completing the first mile in 6:36. Not a mile PB, but I wanted to do each one anywhere from 6:30 – 7:00 minutes, while Alan was just after sub 7:00 for each one. At least we were on the same page. The second one came out as 6:43, and then after 6 minutes and the evil squats, I was back out there. I then did a 6:46, and finished on a 6:54, which I was a bit disappointed with, but I slightly blame the fly that decided to take a swim in my eye, and the wind had started to take its toll a little.

The most important thing of this session is the fact that I enjoyed it. Not the physical process which was tough and demanding, but the fact that I took control of the situation, kept my head up and used my arms better than I have done before. Alan said “you’re not doing much wrong Lauren.” RESULT.

Happy Tina Fey

It felt great, and I hope the track won’t hold quite as much fear now, although I’m aware there will be plenty of tough sessions ahead. I did my usual barefoot lap afterwards (apparently it massages the feet Maria!) and as I put my trainers back on, I got a ticking off and a 5 push-up punishment for not undoing the laces and crushing the backs of the heels. And it was all going so well………