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!

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.