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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Grinning 2

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:

Easter Trail Run

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.

parkrun Love

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.

Bedford 10k Finish

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.

My December 2016 Round Up – Three Very Different Races!

First of all, apologies for the 2017 silence so far. I’ve got plenty of posts waiting to be written, but other priorities (including training for the half marathon ironically!) have left little time for blogging. But I’ve been determined to get one post done for January, so at this moment I have 62 minutes left to go…

In the lead up to Christmas 2016 (how long ago does that feel now?) I was involved in three very different races, the first of which was the Arthur Rank Hospice Festive 5k in Ely on November 20th. This event is such a blast and sells out every year. It goes around the main city centre of Ely, ending with a blighter of a climb through Cherry Hill Park (thanks for lurking there Mr Photographer) and finishing on the market square.

This was the third year running that I’ve done this race. On my first attempt I somehow managed to be first woman in a time of 22:04 (it was really wet which I think kept the speedsters at home) and in 2015 the fastest woman smashed it in 19:45 (I did 20:37). As for 2016, it had been a long year, and I just didn’t fancy a hard run. I wanted to have fun, and this is an event known for runners in fancy dress (there’s a prize each year for best dressed) and luckily for me, Running Buddy Extraordinaire Pete decided he just wanted a laugh as well, after a hard racing year where he smashed pretty much all of his PBs.

So, we did what any sane people would do and dressed up. As Christmas trees. Complete with fairy lights. I was up to my eyeballs with a cold as well, and as my battery pack for my lights lodged itself in a really unhelpful position down the back of my shorts, I knew I was in for an uncomfortable run. The stitch hit in pretty quickly as I found myself unable to get my breathing into a decent rhythm, and Pete basically had to talk me through the damp 3 miles as I whinged my way round Ely. We finished in 22:41, and once I got home I found out that by some miracle I had been the fastest woman again. Arthur Rank accidentally gave the prize to another woman who crossed the line first but had actually been 4 seconds slower than me across the course, but to their credit they apologised for the mistake, sent me a prize in the post and told me that they are going to have plans in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again next year.

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Two soggy Christmas trees

This race is probably the loveliest one of the year. The support from the folk of Ely is awesome, the marshals are the BEST at cheering you on and it’s just such fun. Plus it’s all for a brilliant cause. Keep an eye on their website – they’re adding to their running events calendar all the time.

Then on the 18th December, I found myself on a coach at about 8am, ready to be driven out into the countryside just so I could run home again.

Sometimes I think past Lauren would be so flipping confused.

I had signed up for the Ely Runners Christmas run again, a social, untimed, cross country run. Last year I did the 7.5 mile leg and this year I signed up for 12.5 miles (the next option being 18.5). As per usual Pete was along for the ride, and complete with festive headgear, we set off from Woodditton at 9am, and precisely 60 seconds later our trainers were caked with mud and three times as heavy. Awesome.

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The first 7.5 miles actually went better than expected. We were prepared for the very rural route after last year, we sang along to Christmas tunes that Pete played on his phone (thankfully we were pretty much running alone), and I got about 6 miles in before tripping and doing an epic combat role stopped only by my face (thankfully the fall looked more impressive than it was). It was ironically when we stopped at the first refuel station that I started to struggle. We just stopped for a little too long (mostly gawping at Stephen’s impressive cut on his leg which put my scratches to shame) and it turns out that eating something mid-run really doesn’t work for me. So we ended up run/walking the last 5 miles, partly due to not knowing where we were going and the terrain, but mostly due to my running out of steam.

I really enjoyed the run, even though our glorious sprint finish was scuppered by the terrain resembling the bog of eternal stench. I’m definitely going to do it again next year, and who knows? Maybe I’ll attempt the full 18 miles!

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The Bog of Eternal Stench. If you didn’t know this, FOR SHAME.

The last race wasn’t one that I ran. Instead, I was marshalling. Every year the Ely Runners host the NYE10k, and every year it sells out within about 24 hours. I didn’t know where I would be for NYE, so I didn’t sign up. But to be honest, this was a handy excuse. Because the truth is, I kind of hate the route. It’s exposed and a bit dull, (read: tough) and we have to run it for our 10k handicap. Once a year is enough for me.

It was so much fun to be able to enjoy the race from the other side (although my step count suggested that running it would have been the easier option). Watching our Race Director Charlotte run the whole thing like an epically well oiled machine was incredible, and cheering the runners over the finish line was an absolute blast. Everyone seemed to have had such a great time, and there is something special about ending your year with a race. And having an excuse to wear an awesome wig was the icing on the cake (even if it was a bit small for my weirdly massive head).

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So those were the races I ended a very odd 2016 on. And wouldn’t you know it? I’ve blogged in January with 6 minutes to spare. Hang on 2017 – my blog and I are coming for you.

A Bitter Break for the Greater Good

I’ve not blogged for a few weeks. While this is mostly due to a lack of time (I’m hardly the sort who’s lost for words), it’s also due to the fact that now the Kevin Henry 5k series has finished, I’ve decided to make September a race free month.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best runner I can be. This is completely my own doing, and I don’t get pressure from anyone else (I surround myself with lovely, supportive people who do nothing but encourage me). So after the Kevin Henry series I decided to take stock and actually look at what I’d achieved. I had completed my first ever full season for Ely Runners competing in all 6 of the races. I was 1st woman for the club 4 times and 2nd woman twice. As someone who has chronic pre-race nerves, this is a big deal. And to come back from race number 5 (the hill of doom that resulted in a mid-race breakdown) and get a season’s best of 20:41 in race number 6 was something that I’ll forever be proud of.

But I’ve always hated walking away from races. I didn’t do the Greater Cambridge 10k on September 11th, which I was looking forward to since it was the inaugural race with my workplace as race HQ (the set up literally couldn’t have been better for me). I also couldn’t be part of the Ely Runners B team for the Round Norfolk Relay, something I would have loved to have done, especially after hearing about what an amazing experience it was from my clubmates (not to mention the INCREDIBLE medal). Feeling left out sucks, even more so when it’s somewhat out of your control.

So, what’s the reason for this self-enforced hiatus? I have a health problem that has been steadily getting worse over the last couple of months – most likely due to stress – so my body and mind need a break. I have the dreaded IBS, and as any fellow runner who also suffers from this knows, IBS and running are a hideous combo.

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I’ve always suffered from “pre-race nerves”, but this problem has started to appear on my training sessions too. Whenever I reach the 3 or 4 mile mark, my stomach just gives out. I used to be able to control this with tablets, but even these have stopped working like they used to, and I’m now having to plan my routes so that there are places I can stop, or take my bike to any training sessions that are more than a mile from Ely Runners’ base so that I can get back quickly. Not only is this embarrassing (although Twitter tells me that I am by no means alone), but it’s also starting to ruin the thing I love. If stress is causing this, I am stuck in a seriously vicious cycle right now.

But I’m trying to get some control back. I’m keeping a food diary to see if there are triggers (my stomach is cramping as I type – was it the wheat in my pretzel at lunchtime or the dairy in the cheese I had in my salad for dinner?) and I’m looking at some alternative therapies to see if they make a difference. And I think a trip to the doctors is in order – it has become significantly worse in the last 2 months, and there’s no obvious reason why  (although stress can be a sneaky little blighter, hiding beneath the surface).

Apologies if this is a little TMI for some of my readers, but I’ve only ever been completely honest with you. And running and stomach issues have a long and colourful history – the toilet queues at any big race are enough to tell you that! I’m hoping that I might stumble across a resolution for this that others may benefit from, and if you have any advice from your experiences, let me know. And if Immodium are looking for a poster girl, you know where to find me (usually behind a locked door).

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Coming Back from Christmas

It’s the last day of my Christmas leave today, and I’m wondering how my body is going to react to that first early (for me anyway) alarm and that 50 minute cycle-train-cycle commute into work tomorrow morning. I’ve become way too comfortable with lying in until 10am. But luckily, I did my utmost to stay active over the Christmas break, because really it’s just a natural way for me to be.

Recently, my other half and I have started playing badminton together. At first I was super cocky, convinced that my weekly session with my office bestie meant that I was the superior opponent. Oh how wrong I was. It turns out that the OH coached badminton to beginners as part of his Duke of Edinburgh award. Brilliant. Now my competitive side does not enjoy losing. It enjoys being thrashed even less. But this is what is happening to me repeatedly every time we play. My best score has been 9-15, and the worst 0-15. On average I manage 4 or 5. Mortifying. But with the extra sessions we enjoyed over our fortnight break, I’m making the OH work a little harder for his wins if nothing else.

The other thing I kept up with over the break was (surprise, surprise) running. On the 20th December I took part in the annual Ely Runners Christmas Run for the first time (wearing one of my Sweaty Betty sale bargains!). Unfortunately my work Christmas party was the night before so – um – dehydration was always likely to be an issue. And although I found it tough, I really enjoyed it. Pete and I, being complete newbies, found ourselves at the back of the group, and as the first couple of miles are single file your position is pretty much set from the get go. The terrain is muddy and undulating with a fair few short, sharp inclines (and the inevitable declines) but being out in the quiet countryside with just the odd dog walker to give you a tip of the hat was awesome. After the first mile or so Pete and I were mostly on our own, but we kept each other going (he had to work harder than me on that count) and after the first 7.5 miles we debated whether or not to do the next 5, but in the end we stuck to our original plan and got the coach back to Ely with the promise that we’d do the longer distance next year. Who knows – maybe we’ll even be convinced to do the full 18.5! If that happens I think I’ll be the designated driver at the 2016 work Christmas party.

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On the coach home

On Christmas Day itself I went for a quick little 5k around Ely. Now I know that doing this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I totally get it. But the OH and I always spend Christmas Day just the two of us, and Boxing Day is usually our day for seeing family. So I like nothing more than just doing a really quick run around my lovely quiet city on the big day, and seeing all the houses lit up and full of people just enjoying being with their families. Yes I’m nosey. What of it?!

And finally on New Year’s Eve it was time for the Ely Runners’ NYE 10k. I last ran this in 2013, where I finished in a time of 48:38 (you can read all about it my friend James’ great blog here). I found it pretty tough mainly due to the fact it’s so flipping exposed. It’s just a loop around the Fens so as you can imagine there is no hiding from the wind. So I was pretty nervous last Thursday, which was not helped by a terrible night’s sleep thanks to a health issue I’m currently trying to get a handle on (I won’t bore you with it here – it’s frustrating rather than serious and just proving tricky to get to the bottom of).

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NYE 10k Team 2013

Luckily I had my friends to calm me down (mostly through laughing at me with a bit of reassurance thrown in), and after a final pee stop (yes I’m a nervous runner) we set off.

To  be honest, I found it tough. Really tough. I set off too fast and after that I lost count of the times I wanted to stop and walk from the 2k point onwards. At one point I nearly burst into tears. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep, the nerves, the cold, the wind, or the fact that the runners became so spread out that I was on my own for nearly all of it. It was probably a combination of all of those things. But the thing that kept me going was the brilliant support of all of the Ely Runner marshals. Quite simply, I didn’t want to let them down by stopping. So I battled on, and I finally finished in a time of 44:38, exactly 4 minutes off my time from 2 years ago but nearly 2 minutes off my PB.

At first I was pretty emotional. I don’t like it when a run is that hard. It’s not so much the time I finished in (although I was a bit disappointed with it), just how difficult it was to get there. But then I got a bit of perspective. I had done a tough interval session with Ely Runners on the Tuesday, I’d had a terrible night’s sleep, and I’d run a 10k without a water bottle for the first time (a big deal for me). And 2015 has been an incredible year for my running, so how can I really be disappointed?  Yes it’s always nice to end things on a high, but there are always going to be tough runs. You can’t control everything when it comes to running. It’s just the nature of the beast. I just need to try and learn from the experience and come back stronger. And the celebratory glass of wine I had afterwards certainly helped with the more positive attitude.

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Part of NYE 10k Team 2015  

So my Christmas break was pretty busy, and I was constantly inspired to stay active by those around me – Pete and Rach who played doubles badminton with us (I don’t think Rach and I will be a team any time soon), Lucy who ran her first ever 10k in an astonishing time of 52:06, and my friend Emma who completed the advent run streak, covering 66k in 24 days and who is now a fully paid up member of the running bug club. It’s hard to sit on your backside when all that is going on around you.

I’m not sure any of it is going to help with that alarm clock tomorrow though.