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…

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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………

My super sporting Saturday

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

That.

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

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

Yawn

Yawn

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

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

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

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

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Parkrun PB! Whoop!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What it really means to have a running coach

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

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

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The man, the legend

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

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

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My nemesis

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

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

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Ouch

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

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

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

Oh dear lord.