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.

Waiting 3

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.

Thumbs Up

 

 

Safety is Sexy!

Ok. Enough is enough. People of Cambridge (and everywhere else for that matter), can we please start taking responsibility for our own safety?

Safety

Jimmy Fallon is wise.

I commute to work by bike every day, and I have lost count of the number of people I see doing stupid things on foot, on bikes and in cars. Can we please use a bit of common sense and not risk our lives and the lives of others simply because we want to get somewhere 5 seconds earlier or because we just HAVE to send that text? Here’s are the WORST things that I see people doing. Prepare your eye rolls folks.

DULLARDS

Eye Roll 1

Here’s a question. If someone is running or cycling in a badly lit area, with no lights or hi-vis, what do you think the chances are of someone being able to see them? It can be incredibly difficult to spot someone in this situation, and there have been numerous times when I’ve suddenly seen someone appear out of the gloom and had to slam my brakes on to avoid hitting them or simply as a reflex because they’ve made me jump out of my skin. As a cyclist you’re legally required to have white front and red rear lights on between sunset and sunrise, and with street lighting being reduced in some areas, it’s even more essential these days. If you’re out walking, maybe consider just having a reflective panel on your coat or bag. And runners, it’s just common sense for crying out loud. At night, just put something obnoxiously bright on ok? It doesn’t have to cost the earth either. Take a bit of responsibility for your own safety and stop expecting everyone else to look out for you.

NON LOOKY-LOOS

Eye Roll 4

One of my biggest pet peeves is cyclists (yes, I’m singling out here but I’m one of you) who just don’t look out for other cyclists. If you’re coming up to a roundabout and a cyclist is already on it, don’t pull on to the roundabout anyway. The other cyclist will have to swerve to avoid you, and more often than not that means swerving into the path of a vehicle behind them. Same goes for coming out of junctions. And if you’re planning to overtake something, just give a quick glance over your shoulder ok? Otherwise if another cyclist is already overtaking YOU, you’re making them swerve into the path of oncoming traffic, which is what happened to me last week.

THE ELECTED DEAF

Eye Roll 5

I get it – on long runs or bike rides it’s nice to have a bit of music to keep you company. But in a city with notoriously bad rush hour traffic and old narrow roads without a huge amount of room for the daily cars vs bikes fandango, it seems a bit nuts to me. Plus if you’re plugged in and a cyclist rings their bell, but you don’t hear them because you’ve got Meatloaf or some other guilty pleasure blaring in your lugholes, don’t then swear at the cyclist when they pass you and make you jump out of your skin. If you really, REALLY need your music, maybe try a pair of bone conducting headphones? Or better yet -run with a friend. Chat and motivation in one.

RED LIGHT RUNNERS

Eye Roll 3

Whether you’re in a car or on a bike this is SO uncool. In the case of bike vs bike it’s the same as the Non Looky Loos. Case in point is the junction where Station Road meets Hills Road. I’ve lost count of the number of times a bike coming down Hills Road towards town has run a red light as I’ve been turning right out of station road. The worst time was when I had to swerve to avoid someone coming at speed, and narrowly missed being hit by the ruddy great bus behind me. When it comes to pedestrians, kids are taught to cross the road when the green man is showing. They should be able to run across a road when it’s their right of way without worrying about a bike (or car!) smashing into them. A bike going at 15mph can do a lot of damage to little bones. And big ones for that matter. Don’t be a jerk. You’ll only arrive 30 seconds later at most. Enjoy the pause.

THE LAZY BONES

Eye Roll 2

In a car it means flicking a finger. On a bike it means lifting an arm. For crying out loud just let everyone know what you’re doing and SIGNAL. Despite what you may think psychics and mind readers don’t exist. Be courteous to your fellow road users and communicate.

THE MOBILE ADDICTS

Eye Roll 6

You get the queen of eye rollers. Whether you’re a pedestrian, cyclist or driver, JUST STOP IT. Be present.

Although this post has been pretty light-hearted, the message is serious. We’re all trying to get somewhere, and no one is more important that anyone else (no matter what your mum tells you). We just need to make it as safe as possible by looking out for each other and taking responsibility for our own safety.

Stay Classy

 

 

Trying a Tri and Catching a Bug

There’s nothing quite like an epic panic to start off your first ever triathlon.

So in the lead up to the Ely Sprint Tri I’d been pretty blasé about the whole thing, leaving it until six weeks before the event before practising my swimming for the first time in two years (give or take the odd spa day splash around here and there) and I didn’t open the race guidelines email until two days before. I think it was two parts denial, one part trying to resist putting too much pressure on myself. Because let’s face it, I am hyper competitive, especially with myself, and if I read too much about the race I would start looking at ways to be THE BEST I CAN POSSIBLY BE which is fine with a bit of experience but I think a little unreasonable when I don’t even know how to transition efficiently. For crying out loud, I didn’t even know what a transition MEANT until about a month before the triathlon when my friend Helen (who lent me her race belt) filled me in.

What 1

What the hell is a race belt?

Then two weeks before the triathlon, my amazing best friend Michelle piped up that she had a tri bike that had been sat in her shed for a couple of years, and that I was welcome to borrow it. She knew that the tyres were flat, but it turned out that it needed about four hours of serious TLC to get it in racing condition. But my brilliant husband worked flat out to get it race-ready, including one 90 minute period where the two of us had to both turn into The Hulk to get one of the pedals off (attempting clippy shoes was a new experience too far). On Friday it was ready, so I cycled around Ely on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon just to get used to it.

So, on to Sunday morning, and I woke up at horrid o’clock (6:50am for all you early super-keen types) and got dressed in my lovely Zoot tri shorts and a Nike top (again borrowed from Michelle). I then unlocked the garage whilst my bagel cooked, and saw THE FRONT WHEEL WAS OFF THE BIKE. At first I wondered why on earth Ian would think that would be a funny joke, but then I realised that the flipping thing was flat. It turned out that there was a flaw in the inner tube by the valve, and despite a panic twitter plea for a spare racing inner tube, I knew in my heart that with only 15 minutes before I needed to leave the house all was lost. So I took the sticker off the tri bike and stuck it on to my twice-as-heavy hybrid instead. The 20km bike ride had just become a whole lot harder.

Cycling Raccoon

This was going to be interesting.

As I cycled from my house to the start at King’s School, I was upset about the bike but more because of all of the effort Ian had put in on a bike that I wouldn’t be able to use. But looking at the bigger picture, it’s lucky I had taken the tri bike out for about 5 miles on Saturday, because if I hadn’t that flat tyre would have hit around halfway through the 20km which would have ended my triathlon. So after stomping around and whinging for a bit and getting a pep talk from both my dad and Alan, I pushed the negative thoughts aside and decided to just enjoy it and give it the best shot I could.

Because I hadn’t swum for about two years when I signed up for the tri and can’t front crawl so have to rely on my (fairly decent) breaststroke, I vastly overestimated how long it would take me to do the swim. This meant that I was one of the earliest competitors amongst slower swimmers. As it turns out I can manage 300m in around 7 minutes, so I had added more than 50% on with my 11 minute guesstimate. Luckily it didn’t have too much of an impact on my time, as (most of) the swimmers around me were really considerate and allowed me to get past them at the end of the lane, so I exited the pool at 7:33.

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As predicted my transition out of the pool was not fast as I pulled on my socks, race belt, trainers and helmet, and lifted my heavier than planned bike off the rack before running out of the gate. 1:17 had been added on to my time (the guy who finished first was out in 29 seconds!), and I started the bike ride as I meant to go on – by BELTING it.

I overtook my first road bike cyclist halfway up St Mary’s Street before the A10 roundabout, and I overtook my 2nd one just before the turn to Coveney. I was then overtaken by someone else on a road bike before overtaking another one halfway to Coveney. I went past the next one at about mile 9, careful not to draft at all after a stern warning by the Race Director during the race briefing, and then to my (competitive) joy I got past the woman who had overtaken me, and stayed ahead of her for the rest of the bike ride. To say I was pleased to only be overtaken once during my entire bike ride in a field of serious road bikes is an understatement. Ending the bike ride up Back Hill was torture and my quads were starting to question my sanity, but having Alan cheering my name and then seeing my parents grinning at me as I dismounted from my bike and ran to rack it again was just awesome.

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After failing to find my bike space for a few seconds, I got told by an amazed marshal that “I did well on that!” with a nod towards my bike, before taking a swig of water and exiting the pen for the final 5km run, cheered on by my friend Matt. That transition was 57 seconds which seemed sloth-like but actually in comparison to others wasn’t all that bad.

The run was the weirdest and hardest part of all. I’m so used to feeling strong and fast on a 5km that this came as a bit of a shock. I knew it would be difficult, but the short sharp hills on King’s School’s fields were intense and I felt like I would be lucky to come in at 25 or 26 minutes. I felt SO slow and heavy-legged, and Alan’s yells of “head up!” and “use your arms!” were met with a one-fingered salute, much to the amusement of the crowds. But I finished without ever having to slow to a walk, and managed to actually spot the photographer at the finish line before collapsing in a heap at my parents’ feet and being congratulated by my awesome friends Pete, Rach and Diane who had come out to support me.

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As it turns out I completed the run in 23:33, making me the third fastest woman in the running leg of the triathlon, just 20 seconds behind the fastest. My complete time of 1:17:44 placed me as 6th woman, 5th in my age category, and the 37th competitor in a field of 101.

I thought that I would be pleased to complete the tri but have no desire to do another one. I was completely wrong on the second count. I LOVED it and am already looking for other ones to attempt. I have fully caught the tri bug. Unless I learn to front crawl my options for races may be somewhat limited, but I can’t wait to see what I could potentially achieve with a proper racing bike and a better understanding of the details such as transitions. As for the race itself, the Ely Sprint Tri is quite a small one, but despite this there were only some minor issues such as my getting the wrong stickers in my race pack so that I had to go back to the registration site to change them. I also would much rather get a medal for competing than a t-shirt, but then I am an epic medal tart and always want to add to my little plastic box of shiny discs. I’ll just have to work harder next year to get first place (ahem).

Alan texted me afterwards to say “I think you’ve found your sport”, but I’m not sure about that just yet. One thing I know for sure is that I have never felt so exhausted after a race, so I can only assume that will get better with experience! That didn’t stop me from going on a shopping spree with my friend Elaine in Cambridge afterwards though. If I didn’t get a medal I was blooming well going to get a nice dress.

Why you should Volunteer at a Parkrun

If you’ve read some of my blog posts before, you’ll know I’m a big fan of the Parkrun movement. Anything that gives people the opportunity to get fit for free in a positive and welcoming environment gets a big thumbs up from me.

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See? Thumbs up!

But hang on a second. It’s not completely free is it? At each Milton Parkrun (the one I attend most often) a minimum of 22 volunteers are needed to ensure the that the run happens efficiently and – most importantly – safely. People are donating their time to make sure that 400+ people get to enjoy their timed 5k for free each Saturday morning.

Now I’ve only recently become a super keen Parkrunner after trying it once in 2012 and for reasons unknown to me only returning again in April this year. I think my dislike of early mornings (especially at the weekend) combined with the thought of having to schlep 14 miles for a run I could do around Ely just seemed like too much hassle. But after being drawn back in by Pete, I’ve now realised just what a fantastic concept Parkrun really is, and how great it is for measuring how much I’m improving at my running.

Parkrun MapJust look how many Parkruns there are! This makes me happy.

To give you some data on the Milton Parkrun, there have been 283 runs to date, and it celebrated it’s 5th birthday on the 31st January this year. On average it has 283 runners each week, but I suspect this number isn’t a fair representation of the “current” average as I usually see finishers in the low 400s each time I run. Last week saw 440 finishers cross the line (the highest ever has been 500).

In addition to this, as of today, 9994 unique people have run the Milton Parkrun, so how on earth should they ever find themselves in a position where they’re struggling for volunteers? Fiona English, who was Run Director last weekend, was the ONLY Run Director out of 7 on Cambridge Parkrun’s books who was available. Without her, the run simply wouldn’t have happened. Fiona is a keen runner who gives up her runs to allow others to enjoy theirs (and she’s already back on the roster for the run on the 4th September). Many people like Fiona are committed to playing their part in making Parkrun happen.

So I decided that after 8 runs (7 at Milton) it was my turn to do my bit, so I thought I would try to cycle from Waterbeach station (something I’ve been meaning to do for a while so that I know how to get to Parkrun should driving not be an option) and I opted for barcode scanning, so that if my train were badly delayed it wouldn’t be a major disaster as I wouldn’t really be needed until 9:15 at the earliest (to scan the super speedy runners).

wpid-img_20150822_110310.jpgLovely morning for a bike ride.

As I cycled along the river past Horningsea I realised that it was actually pretty flipping warm for 8:30am on a Saturday, so I was ever so slightly smug that I had picked this Saturday to volunteer. I hate running in the heat – I struggle MASSIVELY with it and generally avoid it whenever possible (roll on winter). When I arrived at Milton Country Park I realised I was on the opposite side to where the run starts, and the place is quite frankly a flipping maze, so I just belted around on my bike, imagining myself pelting into poor unsuspecting Parkrunners. Luckily I suddenly found myself by the 2k marker and finally arrived at the start with 8 minutes to spare, hot and just a little bit bothered.

Getting myself set up with what I needed to volunteer couldn’t have been easier. I just got my name ticked off the list and was handed a high vis vest, a barcode scanner and a print out of position barcodes for the odd few finish tokens that don’t have a barcode to scan. I then got to chat to a few other volunteers before Fiona conducted the usual pre-race briefing to all the runners, which this time included a pretty serious plea for volunteers for future runs.

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Next came the fun bit. As my volunteering role wouldn’t start for another fifteen minutes at least, I got to stand with many of the other volunteers to cheer on the runners. Watching people run is one of the best feelings, from seeing those who will be finishing in sub 20 minutes belting out from the trees after the first lap, to those with dogs and pushchairs and first timers pushing themselves through the heat. Whether they will be finishing in 16, 25 or 45 minutes, everyone seemed to enjoy hearing us whistle and clap and shout “well done!” or “keep going!”. Getting a smile or wave or even a return clap in acknowledgement was fully cockle-warming.

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The joy of Parkrun summed up by one runner.

After the majority of runners started hitting the 3k mark, I saw the front runners appear for their final 200m sprint to the finish and so took up my place at my little station ready to start scanning, muttering over and over to myself “person then position” in the hope that I wouldn’t actually muck it up and scan everyone’s barcodes in the wrong order. Getting to congratulate tired, hot and sweaty runners who were (mostly!) grinning ear to ear was so much fun, and it was utterly lovely when someone thanked me for volunteering. I got to see a few familiar faces too, scanning the codes of Ely Runners Rich and John and seeing my sister’s friend Anne who told me that Stacy was considering coming along to one (come on Stace)!

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By about 10:10 my work was done, and I handed over my kit before using the Google Maps on my phone (!) to navigate my way out of the park again. I had had such a brilliant time, and getting a text from Parkrun thanking me for volunteering in place of my usual results text was a really lovely touch. Not even my late train home could affect my mood.

So, if you’re someone who goes to Parkrun pretty much every week, you should be looking at volunteering every 15 runs or so. And if you’re unlucky enough to be injured, find the positive in the situation and use it as a reason to finally volunteer and keep connected to the running world. Parkrun is a community of utter awesomeness, but it needs people to be generous with their time. So don’t be that person who just takes but never gives anything back. No one likes that guy.

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Nice work everyone.

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.