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.

Screenshot_20180902-220119.jpg

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.

IMG_20180902_215923_191.jpg

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.

IMG_20170917_145715_154

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):

IMG_20170608_215601_985

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”.

IMG_20170713_221226_722

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.

IMG_20170803_210128_623

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.

festive-5k-2016

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.

wp-1485906130482.png

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!

Bog.gif

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).

wp-1485906527136.jpg

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.

pug-bowl

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).

shameAll gifs courtesy of Giphy

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.

20151220_105259

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).

NYH - The Team

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.

NYE 10k Team 2015

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.

Trying to Outrun my Disbelieving Owl

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

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

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

Squeak!

Shock 1

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

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

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

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

Owl 2

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

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

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

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

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

What if I fully commit and I am?

What if, what if, what if?

Kevin Henry League vs. Parkrun – the Ups and Downs of the Good Old 5k

So after I decided to sign up for the Ely Runners it came as a bit of a shock to find out that their next league race would be just 10 days later. Having taken 5 years to decide to join a club it’s pretty clear that it’s not in my nature to rush into anything running-wise. But I also know from Pete that as a small club ER need as many runners as they can to take part in these races.

The Kevin Henry league is made up of 6 nearby clubs: ER, the Saffron Striders, Haverhill Running Club, the Newmarket Joggers, Cambridge & Coleridge and the Cambridge Tri Club. Between April and September, each club hosts a Thursday night 5k run which is open to anyone aged 14 and over. Previously, ER had been part of the league as a guest club, but in order to continue participating in the league, they had to host their own race, the first of which was last Thursday.

Anyone who knows Ely will know that there is nowhere suitable to run a 5k that doesn’t either involve roads or mind-numbing multiple laps that can be difficult to monitor in a race situation, so we headed out to Witchford to run 5k on the disused WWII airfield concrete tracks.

When I arrived (courtesy of Ely Runner Andy who gave me a lift), there was a real buzz in the air amongst club members. But that did little to settle my nerves. Now anyone who knows me (hello Andrew Caines!) knows I am a NIGHTMARE pre-race, and that I find myself standing on the start line wondering why on EARTH I continue to do this to myself. The fact that I didn’t manage to locate Emily who had my club vest until about 5 minutes before the start (how we had managed to miss each other neither of us could work out) meant that I was panicking that I would run only to be disqualified at the end.

But I was mostly worried that I would embarrass myself and disgrace my newly acquired vest. I really just didn’t want to let anyone down.

IMG_20150809_202349

As it turns out I didn’t embarrass myself, but I was disappointed with how much I struggled. The trouble with running on an airfield is that there is no shade on a hot summer evening, and the track itself was somewhat uneven with tractor tyres leaving behind large grooves in the ground. By 2.5k my throat was completely dry, a sensation that always makes me slightly panicky. By 4k, after failing to raise even a hint of a smile for Andrew and his waiting camera, I was seriously contemplating walking. But I kept telling myself that I couldn’t do that on my first ever run for the club, and when I saw the finish line flags I don’t think I have ever been so relieved and sprinted to the end. At least I still had that left in the tank.

Kevin Henry 5k LT 2

Andrew caught my better running side anyway. Love the sun flare.

I ended up finishing in 21:49, which is a decent improvement on the last hot summer evening run I did (Girton 5k in 22:08). I was also the 2nd Ely female finisher, which I’m really proud of. I just hope I can try and get a handle on my nerves and fear of the heat in time for C&C’s race on the 10th September, the final one of the season.

Also this seems like a good moment to say huge thanks to the Ely Runners who sacrificed their run to marshal at this brilliant event.

Kevin Henry 5k LT 1

Both feet off the ground! Proof I actually run!

And so on to Saturday morning’s Milton Parkrun, where I quite frankly thought I would struggle to even get going thanks to a restless week that had affected my sleep and stress levels. I teamed up with Pete and Rich from ER, and after a cool Friday I was hacked off that it was warm again. But Pete is excellent at talking me off the proverbial ledge and told me to give it a go because – horror of horrors – I might actually enjoy it.

And you know what? I really did. When Rich had told me he had run his best Parkrun 2 days after a KH league race I thought it must have been a fluke. But as I did the first 1k, I realised Rich was just in front of me. Knowing that he can be a bit of a speedster, I decided to see if I could try and keep him in sight. And by some miracle, I did.

Then at about 3k, another girl overtook me, but didn’t pull away. I decided to just sit on her shoulder and use her as a pacer, enjoying letting someone else almost control my speed so that I didn’t have to think about it too much. And the genius thing is, she was wearing headphones, so I don’t think she realised that I stuck to her the whole way round. At 400m from the finish I thought “it’s hers. I’m going to have to let her take this.” At 300m I thought “Hmm, she’s still not pulling away.” At about 150m I thought “screw this I’m going to give it a shot”, so I heard Alan’s voice booming in my ears to bring my arms back and knees up and I SPRINTED. At the end she came up to me and congratulated me, saying she just didn’t have enough left to keep up.

Waiting for those results was agonising. According to Rich’s watch, I had a shout at a PB (even though in the last Milton Parkrun I did I placed 51st, and this time I was 75th, there were a lot of speedy juniors). The results usually come through around 11:30, but by 12:30 I was losing my mind. Then a text from Pete came:

 Screenshot_2015-08-09-23-37-21-1

I have never been more giddy. Looks like Rich was on to something! After a physically and emotionally draining KH 5k, everything just went right on Saturday morning. I ended up beating that girl by 4 seconds, and I was 1st in my age category. What an amazing sensation.

Now without making a HUGE deal about this because he will kill me if I do, there is a reason why I wanted to give my all to these two runs. My awesome and inspiring coach Alan had a heart attack last weekend, and I quite simply wanted to do him proud. Before you all worry, he’s doing fine and is back home after having a procedure in Papworth and a telling off by just about everyone who knows him to stop doing so blinking much. But it might be a little while (try telling him that) before he’s making me swear/cry/nearly vomit again, so in the meantime I’m going to keep working my arse off and keep making the “old bastard very happy” (his words, not mine).

And before I go, can we all take a moment to appreciate the size of my new running vest? Beats a 4 year old’s dinosaur gilet I suppose.

IMG_20150809_202310   IMG_20150503_003133

The Start of Something New – Joining Ely Runners

You know what? When people asked me why I wasn’t part of a Running Club, I never really had a decent answer. I think most of my reticence was based around people having expectations of me that I couldn’t possibly meet, or being forced to run in a way I simply wasn’t comfortable with, but I’m not even sure that’s true. I think I just always saw myself as a lone runner since that was how I had started out. But a lot has changed since I started training with Alan.

My friend Pete (he of the super speedy Parkrun time and awesome running nickname of Bearded Ferret – he may or may not like being called that), has been a member of Ely Runners for a couple of years now, and seems to have really benefited from it. His running times have steadily decreased, so much so that he did a 5:59 mile, coming 9th overall, in their Club 1 Mile Handicap run just a couple of weeks ago. Plus he has spoken so highly of the club, and since going to a few Parkruns with him I’ve met some of the other members, and they’ve all seemed like such a lovely, friendly bunch.

wpid-img_20150425_210202.jpg

Bearded Ferret and Lightning Midget. A good reason to post this awesome photo again.

But even that wasn’t enough to convince me. Being able to commit to yet another thing in my schedule seemed extremely difficult, and I also thought it simply wouldn’t fit alongside my training with Alan. But then the Girton 5k happened, and I met Laura Hill, another Ely Runner who asked me straight out why I wasn’t a member of a Club and I just rambled at her. She then looked at me in a confused way and simply said “You do realise that a 21:27 5k is really fast right?”.

Then just five minutes later Alan – who hadn’t heard my conversation with Laura – said to me “You should think about joining Ely Runners.” That came like a bolt out of the blue – this was the first time he had mentioned joining a club to me. He introduced me to some other members of Ely Runners (of course he knew them – he probably knew 75% of the runners there) and told me that I could really benefit from a group mentality and of course, from the competitive edge of having people to pace against.

So, a couple of weeks ago I bit the bullet and went to a Tuesday evening session with Pete. By some genius fluke I managed to attend the night of their notorious super-difficult “30 Tree” session in Cherry Hill Park, where you run from one central tree to each of the 30 trees around the edge of the park, running back to the centre tree each time. Think of it like running up and down the spokes of a bike wheel. And you know what? I flipping loved it. I just fell into the zone and managed to drag my little legs out to those 30 trees and back without stopping. Everything just worked. I did of course manage to pick up a whopping great insect bite that then got infected so that my leg swelled up so much that my ankle bone pretty much disappeared, but I just felt like I had truly earned my place in the club. I signed up to be a member that night.

Ely Runners

My new home.

I’ve since attended three sessions, and found number two (a figure of 8 around one of King’s School’s fields) the toughest, thanks to the slightly overlong grass that forced me to lift my feet higher than I’m used to and resulted in pretty sore hips. My biggest challenge will be tomorrow night, where I’m taking part in the Kevin Henry League Race (5k) as a fully fledged member of the Club. I just hope I don’t trip over my own feet and break my nose – yes I’ve actually done that before. Needless to say I’ll be smothering myself in insect repellent. Just try it bugs.