Can running mean too much?

Yep, I’ve been quiet on here. And sadly it’s not due to getting out and enjoying my marathon training plan and the easing of restrictions here in the UK.

Just two weeks after my blog post about getting a place in the London Marathon, my stupid plantar fasciitis (thanks shitty tendons) made a screaming comeback like an attention-seeking toddler having a hissy fit. Honestly, the timing was almost laughable. Twelve weeks later and I’m – finally – tentatively sticking a less than happy toe back into the water whilst I wait for my long-awaited for osteopath appointment to roll around. I know that its recurrence is due to a number of factors. Pre-lockdown I used to have monthly physio MOTs and it’s been 14 months since my last appointment, I’ve been working from a sofa all year due to the size of my house and having two adults working from home, and I’ve been doing online workout classes on a non-sprung floor. That’s all going to add up.

To be honest, London isn’t massively on my mind at the moment. I need to start my training plan in earnest in June if I’m going to make the October start line, and since I only just started running again two weeks ago and am at 2.5 miles, realistically that’s looking super unlikely. And I know some people think that London shouldn’t be about the time and you should just enjoy it, but I don’t even have any longer run foundations to build on right now. I’ll be starting nearly from scratch, and even getting around and enjoying it, regardless of time, feels like too big an ask. So I’m just waiting for them to announce their deferral process so I can get that sorted and not need to think about it.

But in these last few weeks, I’ve realised just how much of me is tied up in running. So much of who I am is wrapped up in this pastime of mine that I feel like I’ve really lost my way – and part of who I am – in the last few months. I’ve had to block notifications from my running club on Facebook as I couldn’t bear to see people sharing their virtual race results and sharing photos of themselves back at training. I’ve had to temporarily mute messenger conversations from close friends when the talk turned to running as the jealousy became too much. I’ve had to block notifications on Strava when I kept being told that any segment or “local legend” titles that I held had been snapped up by someone else. Everything just felt so negative and there’s also another argument here for stepping back from social media, but that’s another conversation for another time.

I have thrown myself into cycling, both on the turbo trainer and in the real world, and the racing side of Zwift has helped me to scratch my competitive itch, but nothing makes me feel the way running does. Nothing fits me like running does. I bumped into Ely Runner Kath just yesterday, and she summed it up beautifully. She told me that to her, running is meditative. She has come to know her local routes so well that she has one for nearly every mood. It’s not quite like cycling where you have to have more of your wits around you 100% of the time, looking out for potholes and being hyper aware of cars. With running, you can pick a quiet trail and switch off, and in Ely we’re lucky enough to be able to be in the depths of the countryside within minutes, with nothing but bird song and maybe the distant rumble of a train for company. It’s soul food and I feel like I’m starving.

Although I’ve been injured before, it’s quite an overwhelming thing to be injured during a global pandemic, when your biggest coping mechanism for good mental health is suddenly taken away and access to the treatment you need to get back out running is harder to come by. We’re all coping with so much change and uncertainty already, and to lose the one thing you rely on as a constant is gut wrenching. I’ve cried at friends who haven’t even been able to hug me and tell me that of course I’ll be back. That I’ve been here before and it’s part and parcel of being an athlete. And deep down I know this. But I think over the last 14 months my capacity for any mental strain has diminished, and to be a running blogger who can’t run, to be known as Girl Running Late online but have nothing to say about it means that I feel like without running, I’m nothing.

But I have to say, that alongside my husband, it’s my running friends – both old and new – who have kept me going. There are those that drag me out for bike rides just so that we can try and find Justin some random tat on the side of the road and make up even more nicknames for each other (sorry Bethan), those who turn up with flowers and chocolates just because they know I’m having a bad week (thanks Rach and Ann), those that let me cry at them and help me to see the bigger picture (thanks Pete) and those who offer to come out for a walk when they would normally be out running (Charlotte, Janet, Shaun, Emma, Emily) just so that we can laugh and vent about anything and everything (sometimes with a bonus doggo and/or baby). It’s meant more to me than they probably realise (even if Justin did beat my Mill Hill segment on a bike ride, the git).

So what next? I see Melissa at Spritely Osteopathy in less than 2 weeks, and I know that her treatment is going to be the first step in getting back out there. I’ve been doing a lot more pilates to work on my glutes and core, the twin engines of a runner’s body, and I’ve signed up to Fiit, whose huge number of classes and points based workout system keeps me motivated. And as for the running, I’ll keep taking it very steady, restricting myself to a short run every three days and not deviating from that plan, and knowing that if my foot flares up again I’ll need to stop. For now, that’s enough for me. I’ve realised that even running a mile is restorative, and makes me feel like myself again. Yes, a lot of who I am is defined by my running, but it’s also given me the people who have kept me afloat both during this injury and during the whole of the last 14 months. So maybe it’s ok that it’s such a huge part of what makes me, me. Because without it, my support network would have been a hell of a lot smaller. Just don’t be offended if I don’t like your long Sunday run on Strava. I’m not quite there yet.

London Baby!

I don’t think it’s going to take a genius to realise what this post is about.

That’s right. Mrs “I’m probably never going to do a marathon” only went and got a ballot place for VLM 2021.

You know what it’s like. You watch the marathon, get sucked up in the emotion and enter the ballot with a tear in your eye after watching a man dressed like a camel tell his family he loves them at mile 21, knowing full well your chance of getting a place is something like 1/25. Even the weirdness of the 2020 marathon didn’t stop me as I watched all of those amazing runners take on the challenge virtually, without even the famous London crowds to cheer them on.

But then I forgot all about it, and when my email turned up last week I clicked the link with a wry smile fully expecting the usual “commiserations” message and preparing to go about my day. So when I saw the lovely red-headed lady’s face with the words “YOU’RE IN!” I did whatever anyone else would do. Started shaking and immediately went to the toilet. My body basically went straight into fight or flight mode, just like it always does on any event start line. Adrenaline is a bitch.

As I saw the disappointed posts start to come in on the Ely Runners Facebook page, without a single person saying they had been successful, something stopped me from getting involved in the chat. I think I needed to take the time to absorb the news and to accept the enormity of it for me as a runner. So many of my incredible clubmates have done multiple marathons, and although they all respect the distance, for a lot of them, it no longer holds any fear. But for me, I have a comfort zone, and it’s 5km.

But here I am, a week later, and I’m – dare I say it – a wee bit excited? I feel incredibly privileged to have something to train for in a time when few races and running events are taking place. And I have been utterly overwhelmed by the support I’ve received. I have a training plan coming my way courtesy of Charlotte. I have offers of running buddies on those long runs from Justin, Shaun, Pete and more. I have offers of dealing with the nutrition and mental side of things from Jo. And I have had nothing but messages of support from those I’ve told, all who have made me believe that yes – I can do this.

But I know I have a lot of work ahead of me, and it’s not just about getting the miles in. Anyone who knows me knows I’m going to want to do this to the best of my ability, and to do that I have things I need to work on. I need to work on my core and glute strength to manage my hyperlordosis which tends to make itself known around 10 miles into any longer run. I need to stay on top of my rehab and make sure I look after my calves which have a habit of tightening up thanks to my form which sees me running up on my toes (in a time when I can’t see my physio for my monthly MOT). I need to be more structured in my training instead of just running what I want when I want. But most importantly, I need to sort out my head. I need my brain to stop telling me that I’m not capable of such a long distance, that I’m simply not built for it. I need to believe in myself.

But the best bit of advice I’ve had so far has come from Charlotte, who immediately told me not to think about the time, and to instead treat London Marathon as the event it is. She told me to make sure I take everything in and be truly present, because London is an experience, and it might be a once in a lifetime one for me. If I enjoy the distance and decide I want to do other marathons, I can focus on the time then. London shouldn’t be about that. And in her words, “It’s about looking back and saying you did it and enjoyed it rather than ‘got through it’.” Amen sister.

So prepare yourself folks – I’m about to embark on a marathon journey, and I really hope you’ll come along for the ride.

A Decade of Running

First of all, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but sometimes real life has to take priority so GirlRunningLate had to take a back seat while I dealt with what life decided to throw at me.

In the last couple of weeks lots of folk have been looking not only to a new year, but also a new decade. And of course with this comes the question – what have you done in the last ten years?

So I had a think and the first thing that I came up with was, I got married. Then I quickly realised that nope, that was the PREVIOUS decade, and I am quickly becoming ancient and I had a minor existential panic that I had achieved exactly sod all in the last ten years. But thankfully I soon realised that I kickstarted something brilliant in 2010.

I became a runner.

Now I know to some people that might not seem like much. So what? I pulled on some trainers and realised I could move my legs a little faster than a walk like hundreds of thousands of other people probably did in the same decade. But it has caused so many changes in my life. I’m going to try and break them down by year but let’s be honest – my memory isn’t what it used to be so you’ll have to excuse any gaps in the narrative…!

2010 – my first ever run outdoors

I started running on an absolute whim back in 2010 – a hotel gym, a treadmill, an awesome charity looking for runners for the 2011 Bath Half Marathon and my habit of signing up to things with little thought all combined to my becoming a runner nearly 10 years ago. You can read about my running beginnings in more detail here.

2011 – my first official event

11 months after I first started running I ran the Bath Half marathon for CoppaFeel! with my friend Hannah. Fearne Cotton was there, as were many, many boobs, and I remember it being so cold that I feared my legs would never get going. But I did, and I exceeded all of my expectations by finishing in 1:53:26. The feeling of crossing that finish line was unlike anything I had experienced before, and I was HOOKED. I used to think runners were bonkers, but I had truly embraced the madness.

Fearne Cotton, boobs, finish line elation.

2012 – my first ever parkrun

I ran my first ever parkrun on the 7th January 2012 at Milton Country Park. I came 115th overall and was 11th female in a time of 24:20. But then for some reason – and I don’t really know why – I didn’t do another parkrun for 3 years. Oh those wasted events. I could have had a green t-shirt by now. 2012 Lauren, ya big eejit.

2013 – began working in Sport and became a LiRF

In 2013, I finally left a job I hated to start work as a Sports Marketing Coordinator at the University of Cambridge, and I have no doubt that this role, and my boss Karen Pearce, really ignited my love of sport. It was Karen who encouraged me to do the England Athletics LiRF (Leader in Run Fitness) course so that I could help runners who joined the Sports Centre. I started trying new classes such as Metabolic Conditioning and Circuits, was lucky enough to have colleagues with a wealth of fitness expertise and I started to realise that feeling strong was seriously awesome. I think this simply continued to build in 2014, as nothing else of note happened that year (that I can remember…)

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Me outside CamUniSport. Such fun times. I still miss my officemates!

2015 – joined Ely Runners and started GirlRunningLate (busy year!)

I can’t quite believe this blog is nearly 5 years old, but I started it in April 2015. And it was the second best thing I did in 2015. The first was joining Ely Runners.

My friend Pete (regularly featured in this blog) had joined Ely Runners a couple of years earlier, and had benefitted so much from doing so. In separate conversations, he and Laura Hill (another ER) convinced me to try it out, and the rest is history. So much of my joyful running memories are thanks to ER and my clubmates, and I would be utterly lost without it/them. It’s hard to imagine that without ER I wouldn’t know people like Justin and his amazing frittata skills and constant supply of Double Deckers/Toffee Crisps*.

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2016 – Injuries, anxiety and self-belief

2016 was a tricky year. I had to drop out of the Cambridge Half Marathon, was injured on and off throughout the 12 months, and was finding the mental side of competition really tough to handle. But it had its highs too – I won first place in the Waterbeach Running Festival 10k, did the Wings for Life World Run in SCORCHING heat and loved it, and pushed myself way outside of my comfort zone. I think this was the year I really started to see myself as an athlete.

2017 – Cambridge Half Marathon sponsored athlete and a new PB

At the end of 2016 I found that I had won a prize to be the Saucony sponsored athlete for the Cambridge Half Marathon. I remember being SO scared about getting injured or my nerves getting to me so much that I would bail on the run and let everyone down, but working with physiotherapist Lauren at Progress as part of my prize was one of the BEST things that ever happened to me. As well as working on my strength and running technique she was just so no-nonsense about all the ridiculous thoughts that crowded my mind. She just told me to remember why I was doing this – because I love running. I ended up smashing that half marathon in a time of 135:37, 106th woman out of a field of 3163, and experiencing a moment that I will NEVER forget.

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2018 – peak parkrun obsession

Although I dipped in and out of parkrun between 2015 and 2017 (13 runs in total over the three years!) I became fully committed to the cause in 2018 when Littleport parkrun launched. Even though I always really enjoyed parkrun, driving for at least 30 minutes to run for around 22 minutes, and then driving another 30 minutes home just seemed like SUCH a waste of time. But being able to drive just 10 minutes down the road (or even cycling/running there!) meant that I became a fully fledged devotee, roped in my dad to volunteering duties and became a Run Director myself. I flipping love it.

2019 – CiRF and the elusive sub-20 5k

Ever since I joined Ely Runners I nursed a dream of the sub-20 5k. I had managed some low 20 minute ones – 20:19 and 20:18 – but they had nearly broken me and it just seemed like too much time to shave off. But at the Waterbeach Running Festival I didn’t so much as shave the seconds off as hacked off a chunk of them. I managed to run a 5k in 19:48. I just re-read my blog post about it and could feel the tears starting again. I am just so, so proud of myself.

I also completed my CiRF (Coach in Running Fitness) this year, and I’m so excited about where that’s going to take me. I want to become a really good coach, to learn from other coaches and to hopefully help more people to fall in love with running. I want to keep this mad and wonderful journey going.

When I started running I never imagined I would join a running club, or compete, or sometimes get first lady at a parkrun or win a handful of trophies. I’ve surprised myself in more ways than I ever dreamed I would.

I wonder what my blog post about the next decade of running will look like? Here’s hoping it includes a green t-shirt…

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My favourite running photo of the last 10 years. The finish straight of the Waterbeach 5k.

 

*I couldn’t do a write up of my decade of running without a mention of one of my running besties somewhere! I want to make sure I keep getting fed…

 

 

 

 

A Piece of Cake 10k

No, I’m not being an arse and getting cocky about running a 10k. Everyone who knows me knows that it is my least favourite of the longer distances as it can be so hard to pace. Go off too fast on a 5k and you can probably hang on or at least tell yourself that it will be over soon. Do it for a 10k and it can be agony knowing you still have something like a parkrun left to run.

So the Piece of Cake 10k is so named because at the end of the run you get a slice of cake! And not just any cake – one made by Ian Cumming, GBBO finalist from 2015. You can see why it was an easy sell to me can’t you? My Instagram bio has said “fuelled by cake” for as long as I can remember.

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I’ve been lucky enough to meet Ian a couple of times when he’s judged my work bake off (let’s not discuss my 2018 entry*) and we’ve always chatted about running (he ran the roasting hot 2018 London Marathon in a storming time of 3:09:17). So when he got in touch on twitter to tell me about a new event he was setting up in the super picturesque Cambridgeshire village of Great Wilbraham, I told him he could absolutely count me in.

On a far hotter than I would have liked June 29th, running buddy Justin and I hopped in the car and drove the 30-odd minutes to the race. Although it ended up being 40+ minutes as we drove around in circles trying to find the school where the event HQ was based, only to ask for directions when we were directly opposite it (it’s not that hard to find – we were just being muppets). We said a quick hello to Ian who was setting up his cakes (the beaut above was chocolate and salted caramel) and proceeded to pay our £15 entry fee (you could pay £10 if you didn’t want a medal but Justin and I are very much in this game for the bling).

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Now this was a small, informal event, where you signed up by registering your interest on Facebook, and there was a good reason for this. Ian is still very much in the process of building this run and learning what does and doesn’t work in terms of the admin and the course itself. It wasn’t chip timed, and there were only 56 runners taking part in what was being billed as an “advanced test”.

So with the thermometer sitting pretty at around 26 degrees, and with about 3 layers of suntan lotion on my pasty skin, we all barreled off down a nice gentle decline to start what was one of the prettiest 10ks I’ve done. I’m a big fan of being distracted by views as I run, and this route, through fields of wheat and barley and past windmills ticked all of the boxes for me. There was very little shade, and I was pathetically grateful when I hit a small patch of it, but the course had a water station that you looped past twice, once at around 3.5 miles and again around 4.7. They also had a little one with a hose, who was quite frankly the best thing I’d ever seen as she cooled us all down mid-run.

Piece of Cake 10k Sprinkler

When starting this race I had no anticipation of being first lady (running in the heat is really difficult for me), especially when I saw one female runner, Helen Barry charge off at the start, running the first mile in what must have been a little over 6:30, but when I found myself gaining on her around the 7k mark I realised that a win might be on the cards. So around 8k I made the decision to overtake Helen and see if I could stay ahead of her and somehow, I managed it. The run was slightly long (I measured it at 10.08km) but I hit the 10k mark (according to my Garmin) in 44:59. Not even close to a PB for me, but a time I was thrilled with in the heat.

So would I recommend the Piece of Cake 10k? In a heartbeat. The mostly-flat course is beautiful, the vibe is so, so supportive and friendly (I hope this wouldn’t change if the event grew) and the cake was PHENOMENAL. I had the strawberry and elderflower and it was delicious. And the medal was shaped like a little slice of cake, a lovely addition to my collection. Plus all the money raised went to the primary school. You can read the local summary of the event here.

I really, really hope Ian continues to develop and establish the event. If he did I would happily make it a repeat event in my running calendar. And not just for the cake.

*Ok. So I made a cake, attempted to cycle to work with it and promptly dropped it on the pavement on Ely’s riverside. It flipped 360 degrees and landed in a smoosh pile. I submitted this photo as my entry. I didn’t win.

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Running Happy

This seems like such a simplistic title for a blog post, but it needs no zhooshing up (yes, that IS how you spell it, I saw it on Pointless). For the last few months I have been running happy and it is an absolute revelation.

I love running, and I hope this comes across in this blog. But on the odd occasion (ahem) I’ve sucked the joy out of the thing I love by constantly pushing myself to my physical limits, dreading races and putting so much pressure on myself that I wondered whether or not running was the best thing for my mental health.

What a mess.

So for the last few races, I’ve taken the foot off the gas and slowed down so that I can enjoy the process of running, and it has been nothing short of joyful. I’ve run chatty half marathons with friends, paced some of the juniors I coach at 10ks, run with kids at parkrun and have looked like a giddy idiot in all of the photos:

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As well as making me happy, this also enables me to encourage others, and as PBs start to become a bit of a rarity for me, helping someone else to achieve theirs gives me the exact same high.

I’ve also been doing more casual longer runs. In the past I’ve always pushed hard on longer runs (despite knowing that you shouldn’t hit race pace in training), but I’m adding more run commutes and runs to parkrun in to my schedule (around 5.5 miles along the riverside from Ely to Littleport), and took part in a steady 8-mile Ely Runners Sunday trail run yesterday, which had to have been one of the most gorgeous runs I’ve ever done:

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Photo courtesy of trail runner extraordinaire Kyle Armstrong

At the beauty of it all is, when I do feel like pushing myself, my speed isn’t suffering for this new attitude. I paced a junior at a 5k last week, and we crossed the line in 20:52, and I felt like I had a decent amount still left in the tank after encouraging her the whole way round. Perhaps (gasp!) this new, more relaxed attitude will actually help me?

I originally started long distance running to try something new and after a few weeks I realised I had found my sport, the one that makes me feel strong, that helps me clear my mind and one that I actually happen to be pretty good at. But most of all I did it because it made me feel happy. Now, by actually slowing it down from time to time, I’m allowing myself to be in the moment and marvel and this bloody brilliant thing that my body allows me to do. There will come a time (hopefully in the far, far distant future) when I won’t be able to run any more, so I intend to be grateful for the here and now  and continue to focus on the pure joy of running.

My 2018 Sporting Review

It’s really hard when your personal life gets in the way of your blog. I’ve had so much I’ve wanted to tell you about, including the St Neots half marathon and the Ely Runners Annual Christmas Run, but my personal life has just meant the blog posts haven’t been able to appear. But fear not, fair reader. Race/run reviews are just as valid a month or two after the event, so they’ll both be coming soon.

In the meantime, as it’s new year and I’m clearly not very imaginative, I thought I’d look back over 2018 and see what I achieved with my running and fitness. As it turns out, it was a pretty awesome year.

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2018 was the year that I well and truly threw myself into parkrun. I’ve always waxed lyrical on here about how brilliant it is and the importance of volunteering if you’re a regular runner at your local parkrun. But since one opened in Littleport, a mere 10 minute drive from me (or a 5.5 mile run on those mornings when I’m feeling super keen), it has become a humungous part of my life. I’ve hit the 25 volunteer credit milestone, and have even got my dad involved (he hit his 25th volunteer credit at Littleport’s New Year’s Day event)! I’ve done 36 parkruns in total since I joined in 2015, and 20 of those runs took place in 2018.

I’m so impressed with the work my friends James and Charlotte have put in to making Littleport parkrun happen, and to the amazing army of volunteers who step up to make sure it happens every week. A really lovely community has been built up, and I’m so proud to be a part of it. Being 1st lady at the New Year’s Day run was a nice bonus too, especially as I was 85% prosecco.

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A 5k PB

After starting 2018 slowly recovering from suspected posterior tibial tendonitis, I didn’t have high hopes for my Kevin Henry season this year. Dealing with the nerves is always hard work as it is, and I just didn’t feel like I was particularly fit.

Turns out I was wrong. I don’t know if it was the spinning that I did during my injury that kept me in good shape or my better mindset after working with Dan Regan. I suspect it was a combination of the two when on the 12th July I managed to knock a second off my 3 year old 5k PB, hitting 20:18. I still can’t quite believe I managed it, and just thinking about it makes a stupid grin break out on my face. Plus there’s the lovely symmetry of achieving 20:18 in 2018.

Half Marathon

Back in March I had to transfer my place in the Cambridge Half Marathon due to the fact that my injury hadn’t recovered in time for me to get the training in. Because of this, I was so excited to get a shot at the St Neots half marathon when they opened up a number of places for those of us on the reserve list.

I have never done a big run on my own before. Usually with every big local race there are at least half a dozen other Ely Runners signed up, so I was spectacularly nervous when I realised that no one else I knew was going and I would have no one to hold my hand on the start line. But I got through the nerves, and I am so, so proud of my performance on the day. I’ll let you know how I got on in an upcoming blog post, but I know that St Neots 2018 is a race that’s going to stay with me.

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My Longest Run

Prior to 2018, the longest run I had ever done was around 14.25 miles at the 2017 Wings for Life World Run. But this year I took part in the Ely Runners Christmas Run and covered 18.5 miles with my running buddy Pete. It wasn’t quite the same as longer runs I’ve done before, as there were plenty of pauses, the pace was slower (it’s a cross-country route) and there were snacks including rolo vodka (!), but it was amazing to know that my body was capable of keeping going over that distance. Plus it was the first time Pete has ever run more than 13.1 miles and the world didn’t end. Good to know.

A Triple Trophy Win

I hadn’t even realised until I started writing this post, but I somehow managed to win three trophies in 2018. I was the first lady at the Waterbeach Running Festval 5k back in May, I won the Ely Runners Female Kevin Henry trophy in September, and I was also first (old!) lady at the Ely Festive 5k in November! Needless to say, if more races offered a 3 course roast dinner as a prize I reckon more people would get in to running.

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Coaching

I have thoroughly enjoy doing more coaching this year, both with the Ely Runners Beginners’ group and the juniors. Seeing people step up to running their first half marathon, or getting a crazy 5k PB at the age of 14 is mind-blowing. I look forward to them all pacing me in the very near future.

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Radio Chat

Towards the end of 2018 I was contacted by Richard who hosts the Richard ‘Spanners’ Ready radio show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. His show is a mix of chat about life, love, kids, music, cars and sport, and he was keen to feature local bloggers on the show and I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest twice. Richard’s show is so funny, and we’ve so far covered breathing techniques for running, the joy of parkrun and how to get in to climbing. I really hope he wants to keep these chats going into 2019, and I look forward to when we finally run a parkrun together. I’m not letting you off the hook on this one Richard.

What’s Next?

It’s easy to glance back at a year and feel like you’ve not achieved much, but taking the time to sit down and properly examine the time that’s passed can show that actually, in many ways, 2018 was a pretty good year.

So what’s next for 2019? I’d still love to get that sub-20 5k, and I’m hoping to do at least two half marathons this year (I’ve only ever done one a year before). I’m also hoping to get on to a CiRF course to take the next step in my coaching journey, as helping other people to achieve their goals is one of the best feelings in the world.

What are your fitness goals for 2019? Let me know in the comments below.

The Bedford Half Twilight 10k – My Review

I’m sure I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I absolutely hate 10k as a distance. I find them so difficult to pace, often blowing up at around 6 or 7k, and as such I’ve avoided them like the plague in the last couple of years. But then I decided that this was the year to (occasionally) go out of my comfort zone, so I’ve so far done the Ely Runners 10k handicap race, and the Marcus Gynn 10k (which was surprisingly held on the surface of the sun). And then this weekend it was the turn of the Bedford Half Marathon Weekend‘s Twilight 10k.

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I’ll be honest – it was the photo of the medal that first convinced me to sign up for this race. It was obnoxiously huge and shiny, which appealed massively to my inner magpie. I keep all of my medals and am always pretty disappointed whenever I do a race and find my goodie bag only has a couple of flyers and a revolting gel in it. Plus one of my favourite running buddies was going along, and we decided (ok, I basically told him) that we would run it together.

When Chris, Sarah, Justin and I arrived at the running village after a bit of a schlep from the car (parking was a good mile and a half away but I didn’t mind this too much) the atmosphere was just brilliant. They had a massive welcome sign (perfect for a group photo!) a big stage with a DJ, lots of food stalls and a variety of pop up stalls including Up & Running and a local sports physio company offering massages (so I was a tad disappointed not to have any cash on me)! On Running were also there, and I visited them after I had finished the race only to find that I could have borrowed a pair of their Cloudflyers (which I’ve had my eye on for some time) to run the race in. I did do a little sprint in them (and they felt AMAZING) but it would have been great to trial an entire 10k in them, especially as they’re quite an investment pair of trainers. The event also had lots of hay bales dotted around for people to sit on, and most happily of all there were LOADS of toilets which made this nervous runner feel a bit calmer.

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Me, Justin, Sarah, Chris, Shaun and Emma – thanks to Chris and Sarah for the lift!

The start of the race was probably the only negative part of the whole thing (other than Emma and I not being able to locate halloumi fries). They had split the (potentially 3000 runners, but only 1846 completed the race) into 5 waves, and Justin and I were in Wave 1 which was due to start at 5:30. So we got there at around 5:25 only to find they had already sent Wave 1 to the start. Cue a mad dash with little or no direction to find our way to the start which ended up being where we had just come from! I think in future they should just start Wave 1 at the actual start and have the other 4 waves in the holding area. But still, at this point I got to meet the awesome Laura Brine who I’ve been following on Twitter for some time (but only realised it was her when searching for the race hashtag on Instagram on the way home!) as we all pegged it to the start.

The start of the race was a little congested, and at first I thought maybe the organisers had got their wave splits completely wrong. But as it turned out, they had it pretty spot on. The largest group was those who had put their finish time as 1:00 – 1:09 (553 finishers), and our group (sub 54 minutes) had 379 people finish in that time. Of course I can’t tell how many people may have started in the first wave but finished slower than they had expected, but overall the splits seemed fairly sensible. You just have to be like Justin and be willing to scuttle past people and overtake them when the opportunity presents itself, and after the first kilometre or so this becomes easier.

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Chris, Kojak/Justin and I

The course was gorgeous – there was woodland, lakes, bridges, the riverside – there was so much to look at which I found brilliantly distracting. Plus the course offered a variety of surfaces and the odd little incline which stopped my legs from getting too “bored”. The marshals were also brilliant, and I just thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. They also had a great goody bag – the medal of epicness, a technical t-shirt that doesn’t completely swamp me and snacks like bananas and biscuits. All of this for a race entry fee of around £25 for both the 10k and the half marathon which takes place on the Sunday.

I honestly don’t think I could recommend this race enough. I enjoyed it so much that I had already signed up for next year less than 24 hours later. I’m even contemplating making like Laura and signing up for both the 10k and the half in 2019, but I’ll see how my foot holds up to the St Neots half marathon later this year. So what are you waiting for? Get signed up for 2019 here – you won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Glorious Pain of Parliament Hill

I don’t consider myself a cross-country runner. I’ve always been more at ease on the road, more sure-footed when I don’t have to worry about rabbit holes, grasping thorny hedges and routes mangled by tractor tyres (a sure fire way to get me turning the air blue on a run). Each time I’ve done the Ely Runners Christmas run I’ve stacked it with considerable flair, and have found the terrain really bloody tough.

So why, dear reader, did I agree to sign up to run the National Cross Country Championships at Parliament Hill? Because I am a blithering idiot who gets swept up in the enthusiasm of others. Plus the blighters got me at a weak point. At the start of the year I knew that the Cambridge Half Marathon was going to be a no go – getting back up to 13 miles was just too much pressure to put on me and my foot. But a 5 mile trot around Hampstead Heath? Well that sounded just peachy.

I knew I was in trouble when I told my sister that I had signed up to the race and she laughed. When I told my coach he looked genuinely concerned. Naturally neither of these reactions filled me with confidence. And then in the days leading up to the run I stupidly clicked on links people were sending me of videos of the race, which basically showed a never-ending swell of runners taking what seemed like FOREVER to power up the boggiest incline you ever laid eyes on. In the end, I forced myself to buy my train ticket to London 5 days in advance as I knew I’d be far less likely to bail if I’d already spent £20 to get there.

This video will give you some idea of the scrum you get at the start of the race

After a rather convoluted train journey to London on Saturday 24th February (thanks to engineering works on the line that added nearly half an hour to our journey) we ended up reaching the event a little later than we had planned. Add to this the hunt for the registration tent, the need to change into trail shoes (don’t even get me started on the runners who asked me if I had spikes – of course I flipping didn’t. I couldn’t have been more clueless about this race), and the queues for the toilets, and Celine, Beth and I found ourselves with 3 minutes to get to the start, whilst frantically trying to pin our numbers on. Huge thanks to the fellow runners who helped us as we fumbled with our safety pins whilst simultaneously telling us over and over that we were going to miss the start. Talk about giving with one hand and taking with the other.

Whilst Beth powered to the start (the girl is an epic cross country machine), Celine and I made it with seconds to spare, and I was still tucking my shoelaces in as the klaxon went. I had been advised by various sources to wrap duck tape around my shoes, but there was no way I would have had time for that. As it happens people are split on whether taping shoes is a help or a hindrance, but I was extremely nervous that I was going to lose a trainer as we set off up the hill right at the back of the pack.

And so I started what was without doubt the most bonkers run of my life. That first hill NEVER seems to end, and being at the back makes things even worse as you try and dodge the crowds and their pointy elbows (more than 1100 runners took part in the senior women’s event). But that hill isn’t even the worst bit, because then you enter the boggiest pits you’ve ever seen, interspersed with a gajillion inclines of varying degrees. By the end of the race my Garmin had clocked more than 60 flights of stairs. It’s a full blown mudbath and apparently it wasn’t even all that bad this year. The course is so unutterably bonkers that you just have to go with it and pray that your trainers don’t get sucked into the real life bog of eternal stench*.

At around mile 4 I really thought that I was going to keel over and earn myself a free mud facial. I told myself that I would never, EVER do this again and when I hit the final decline and saw the finish line in sight I seemed to summon all of my inner demons and powered to the finish.

And then the weirdest thing happened. After we had all completed the race Celine asked me if I would do it again. And I said yes without even skipping a beat. Despite how much my legs burned, and how exhausted I felt from the extra muddy weight on my feet and the effort of having to lift my knees higher than I normally would, I had actually seriously bloody enjoyed it. Part of it may have been the sheer joy of running again, and the fact that the weather couldn’t have been better (would I have been so chipper a week later running whilst being battered by the Beast from the East?), but I just loved the challenge. It felt like I had been part of something really special, and next time the run takes place in Parliament Hill I’ll be sure to tie my shoelaces a little tighter, get to the start in plenty of time and maybe wiggle a little closer to the front. Because the competitive arse in me is steaming that I got 40:03, just 4 seconds off getting a time starting with a 3.

And in case you’re wondering, no. I still haven’t cleaned my trainers.

* If you don’t get this reference, go and watch Labyrinth and educate yourself immediately.

Aha! The Round Norfolk Relay – My Review

Ok, I’m three cups of coffee, one cup of tea, a load of sweets and a two hour power nap in.  I can do this.

This morning (or last night depending on your view of the world), I woke up at 4:10am to take part in the 198 mile Round Norfolk Relay for my awesome running club Ely Runners. For the uninitiated (as I was prior to my taking part in it) the RNR is a 17 stage mega relay that goes – yep, you guessed it – right the way round Norfolk, starting and ending at King’s Lynn. I was given stage 14, which is thankfully one of the shorter legs at 7.27 miles and goes from Feltwell to Wissington, and my faithful running buddy Pete took on the 10.59 mile stage 15 from Wissington to Downham Market, which meant that we could travel to the start together.

The thing with the RNR is that the organisation behind it is frankly insane. Our team of 5 must have worked their socks off working out everyone’s estimated start time based on the pace each runner thought they would run their leg in. And it’s so hard to know exactly how you’ll do on the day. if you end up being a bit slower than expected it’s not a disaster as the runner you’re handing the baton to should be there ready and waiting. However, if you run a blinder (as some of our runners did) and shave some time off, there’s a risk your runner might not be there waiting for you. It’s high stress stuff for those on the support crew, trying to make sure everything runs smoothly.

So at 4:15am, as I was putting my contact lenses in, I got a message saying my leg would be due to start no later than 5:30am. My previous start time had been 6:08am. And Pete and I had planned to be there 40 minutes in advance. So cue a somewhat, um, “energetic” rush round the house. Pete got to me at 4:48am, 12 minutes earlier than we’d originally planned, and we crossed our fingers and set off.

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Now we hadn’t planned for mega thick fog, which scuppered all chances of putting our foot down, and messages between us and the support crew were intermittent at best due to the ropey Fenland signal. And then we got to a mist-filled Feltwell it looked more like something out of a horror movie than a place where a hundred or so runners and crew would be gathered. Thankfully Pete had been organised and knew where in Feltwell we needed to be, so we finally parked up at around 5:25am, panicking ever so slightly that I needed to be kitted up and raring to go in 5 minutes. But as it turned out, the cheeky little sausages on the support team had been erring on the side of caution due to the previous runner arriving late for their handover, so in order to be sure I’d be there in time they’d told me to be there a tad earlier than necessary. I may not have been overly impressed as I stood in the freezing fog, but with hindsight it gave me bags of time to prepare myself, get hydrated, use the portaloo (3 times -standard) and grab the baton from John at a couple of minutes to 6:00am.

The fog was still super thick but it wasn’t too cold out once I got moving. It was also just starting to lighten up when I set off. It was a weird experience. I haven’t run for a while because of a grumpy foot (suspected tendonitis) and I am SO not a morning person. So the entire run seemed to pass super quickly in a bit of a blur, and I really didn’t take much in. I think I just went on autopilot. The sun came up when I was running but the fog was so thick I could barely see more than a few metres ahead of me. And it’s such a weird sensation to hear cars crawling along just a few metres behind you (every nighttime runner needs a support vehicle driving behind them). The Ely Runners crew (we were on the club’s B team) were just awesome, checking I was ok, and the human megaphone James knew me well enough to know that I’d respond well to some banter (by that I mean giving him the finger when he told me to hurry up). And before I knew it, I was being told I was 500 yards away but a cycling marshal (I resisted to urge to ask him how far that actually flipping meant as I haven’t a scoobie about yards) and then I was passing the baton to Pete, who had driven to his start point with Andy from the support crew.

After a few minutes to gather myself and to crow over the frankly RIDICULOUS medal Andy gave to me, we then hopped in the car and drove towards Downham Market to meet Pete, honking the horn and whooping at him as we overtook him a mile or so down the road.

The organisation that goes behind the RNR, both by the support crews and the overall organisers is unreal. This was its 31st year, and they had over 1000 runners taking part. They had marshals positioned 500 metres or so from the start of each checkpoint, who would shout team numbers over their walkie talkies to their colleagues waiting at the check point so that they could make sure the next runner was ready to go (provided they had turned up on time – apparently the chap in front of me had no one waiting for him at Wissington). On paper it looks like an absolute nightmare, but from my point of view it was seamless. The support crew even turned up with a coffee for me as I waited for Pete arrive in Downham Market (the van had switched to cycle support by then).

Pete roared in to Downham Market at around 8:07am, and handed over to Anne who was running the penultimate leg. We also managed to catch up with some members of the A team, who had made up enough time to overtake the B team during stage 16 (the idea is faster teams start later so every team taking part finishes in around a 45 minute window from 10:15am – 11am). Pete and I then hopped in to the car to drive the 25 minutes home (the beauty of our stage of the race is that it’s the closest part of Norfolk to Ely) and at 9:30am went to Arbuckle’s with Rachel, her and Pete’s daughter Ellie and somewhat randomly my parents, niece and nephew. A great end to a great event.

On paper the RNR seems wildly complex, and in some ways it really is. But it’s also SO well done, and it’s an incredible event to be part of. Some people are doing epic feats of endurance (some legs, including one that falls in the early hours, are 19 miles long) and the atmosphere is great. If you’re thinking of entering a team I can’t recommend it enough, if only to go home with a medal that doubles up as a cake plate. I really hope I’m lucky enough to take part again next year. Huge thanks to our organisers Sarah, Steve Caroline, Andy and James. We could not have done this without you depriving yourselves of sleep for 30+ hours, not to mention the hours of organising in the run up to the event. And after all this, I might even wear that flipping hoodie again!

Aha!

The Kevin Henry 5k Season 2017 – My Review

I can’t believe it’s been a month since the Kevin Henry 5k League season finished! In the past this set of races ran until the first Thursday of September, but this year they compressed it into 5 months instead of 6. At the time I was pretty unhappy with this as it meant that sometimes there were only two weeks between races, and as someone who gets quite wound up in race situations (ahem) it felt like my stress levels remained consistently high.

But I love racing 5ks once I get going. Yes it can be really tough to sustain that “faster-than-is-entirely-comfortable” pace and to get used to that burn in your chest and the ache in your legs, but I love the feeling that floods your body after a fast 5k. I just don’t get the same runners’ high from other race distances.

I was nervous about how the season would go. Since changing jobs my training regime has changed considerably. My regular lunchtime track sessions have gone out of the window (which I really miss), and I’ve shifted my evening focus a bit more to working with our junior runners. So at the start of every race I was armed with a decent set of excuses (like I usually am pre-race) and I kept telling people I wasn’t as fit as last year.

Turns out I really need to stop whinging, as I ended up beating all of my 2016 race times apart from one. I’m basically the running equivalent of the boy who cried wolf. Here’s my breakdown (the times in brackets are my 2016 times):

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Newmarket was a pretty sight when we left at least…

27th April – Cambridge Tri Club: 20:29 (21:50), 94th runner out of 307, 14th female

11th May – Ely Runners: 20:41 (20:48), 83rd runner out of 297, 13th female

8th June – Newmarket Joggers: 21:31 (21:17), 107th runner out of 301, 15th female

29th June – Saffron Striders: 20:44 (20:51), 85th runner out of 284, 10th female

13th July – Haverhill Running Club: 21:01 (21:48), 84th runner out of 283, 9th female

3rd August – C&C: 20:30 (20:41), 112th runner out of 321, 12th female*

Of the 6 races, Newmarket is the one that I stress about the most mainly because they don’t have toilets on site, something I’ve complained about before. They’re nearly 1k away, which when you’re a nervous pee-er, is simply not good enough (in my opinion) so I always start that race in a really stressed out state. It was also a warm evening, and I tried to keep up with an Ely Junior who had finished just behind me at the Ely race. As it turns out he was massively slacking off at Ely as he smashed Newmarket in 20:00 minutes dead and completed the last race of the season in 19:17. Blooming hustler. The moral of that story is to run your own race, not someone else’s.

The one I’m most proud of is Haverhill. Regular readers of this blog might remember last year’s meltdown but this year I dug deep and managed to pace it just right. I was a little disappointed at first not to have dipped under 21:00, but I soon managed to put my rational thinking cap back on to realise that to have taken 47 seconds off a 5k was utterly brilliant. As for the last race, I turned up to it completely exhausted. I have a little too much on my plate at the moment (all my own doing) and I was just running on empty. But I wanted to try and end the season having done all 6 races, so I was going to run it no matter what. Thankfully I happened to bump into Lauren Bradshaw fresh from some mental marathon, and she said her legs weren’t feeling too hot either, so we agreed to run together and aim for something like 21 minutes. Her famous last words were “you’ll have to drag me round”.

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Comparing red faces at Haverhill

Did I heck. The absolute speed demon shot off, chatting to fellow runners on the way as I struggled to settle my breathing. The first 3k were really hard. I didn’t want to let Lauren down by slowing up as I knew she’d want to be loyal and stay with me, so I just tried to focus on my breathing as much as possible and not let the panic in my chest rise like it did at Newmarket. The headwind was also really unhelpful, but I kept having to remind myself that I’d be grateful to have it behind me on the final 1k. On the last 300m around the track I could suddenly hear someone thundering behind us. No way was I letting Lauren work that hard for us to be beaten on the line so I sped up and she responded and I finished just behind her. At first I thought I might have gotten a PB but it turns out that I was 12 seconds off it. So the 2015 5k PB still stands but you know what? That was a stronger season than I could have hoped for, and next year I can aim for that sub 21:00 Haverhill race and maybe even sneak that PB.

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With the legend that is Bradders

* The C&C race had Lauren in the position behind me, but she definitely finished in front of me so I’ve put the times she was given.