When the Anxious Athlete Takes Over

As it’s World Mental Health Day today, it seems like the best time for me to talk about my anxiety around running.

At least, it used to be just around running.

Earlier this year, I found that the sort of anxiety I used to have on start lines – you know, the fidgeting, wondering if I had time to make it to the toilet (AGAIN), generally being so tense I could have snapped, occasionally crying – had started to worm its way in to my every day life. I would go for a walk at lunch only to find that I would suddenly have to rush to the toilet (apologies to the person working in Paperchase who I literally ran away from as she tried to serve me). I started having panic attacks on the train which resulted in my holding up an entire 8-carriage to London. As someone who has to commute by train every day, the mere thought of simply getting to work would fill me with dread and I stopped wanting to leave the house.

I no longer felt like me.

I don’t really know what triggered this all. At the start of the year I had some stressful things going on and it’s possible that they just accumulated to breaking point, and I’ve always carried stress in my gut. But what I was certain of was that this situation couldn’t continue. I’m nothing if not proactive, so back in March I had some tests done at the doctors which all came back clear, and so reasoning that the problem was more mental than physical, I booked an appointment to see Dan Regan, who as well as being a fellow runner, is also a hypnotherapist. A friend had had a really positive experience with him and couldn’t recommend him enough, and his testimonial page was full of faces that I recognised from the sports scene in Ely. Thankfully Dan does free consultations so there was no massive upfront commitment, but as soon as we’d had that initial meeting I knew I wanted to work with him.

When it comes to picking a therapist of any kind, you have to be comfortable with them, and Dan and I got on immediately. Plus having shared knowledge of pre-race anxiety meant that he knew exactly where I was coming from. Over the course of 6 sessions he taught me coping mechanisms (some worked for me, some didn’t), gave me audio recordings to use at home and of course we had the hour long session to talk things through and do some hypnotherapy.

IMG_20180914_225606_506.jpg

Smiling when running!

And you know what? It really worked wonders for me. Don’t get me wrong, IBS is still a part of my life (I wasn’t expecting Dan to cure that!) and I still have situations that make me feel uncomfortable, but –  bar the odd wobble – the sheer panic I used to feel in that situation has gone. Instead I focus on my breathing, or tense the muscles in my legs or play word association games in my head. Even when it comes to races, even though I still get nervous (don’t we all, to some extent?), I don’t let it overwhelm me to the point of terror. If my stomach decides it’s not going to play ball I just accept it, and refuse to let myself despair over it. Instead, I focus on what I’m about to do and make sure I’m near those people who know what I’m dealing with and know how to help me through it.

And that’s where I need to say some thank yous. As well as to Dan, I need to thank my ever patient husband who went out of his way to try and minimise stressful situations for me, to Justin for being an epic sounding board on the way to races and to Pete who would try and distract me with games on the train and who was the one who purposefully blocked the train doors with my bike so that I wouldn’t get stuck and find myself going all the way to London.

Seriously Pete – who knew giraffes weighed that much?!

IMG_20181009_193733_563.jpg

I still consider my anxiety around my stomach issues to be a work in progress, but I have Dan’s audios to hand, an amazing support network around me and I’ve recently been enjoying pacing other people rather than putting myself under pressure to run super quickly. That’ll come back with time though. For now, it’s enough for me to be finishing a run with a massive smile on my face.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, you can find a number of resources available here.

How to Cope when you’re a Running Blogger who can’t Run

You know all those times when I’ve complained about how hideous running is and how much it hurts and how it sometimes makes me feel like I might die as I throw a tantrum face down in the mud? You know, the subtle stuff?

I take it all back. I’m a running blogger who can’t run, and it’s awful.

So this foot niggle that flared up 3 months ago is still going strong, and the current thinking is that it’s posterior tibial tendonitis. Trips off the tongue doesn’t it? These two fun chaps can explain it for me because I think typing the symptoms out in a blog post might tip me over the edge. Upshot is that tendonitis is an absolute bugger, and so far mine is proving to be incredibly stubborn (I wonder where it gets that from)?

IMG_20171025_175432_098.jpg

Despite my best efforts to stretch, ice, strengthen, offer up my first born to the local witch… it feels better, I run a bit, and then it feels bad again. There seems to be so little progress and it’s driving me nuts. I will admit that maybe I’ve been trying too much too soon, but in my mind 3 miles with the juniors is not a lot of running. However, when my fabulously patient physio Megan saw me last, she explained that to go from nothing to 3 miles is a lot on a bad foot, and that I need to raise up my rehab efforts and bring down my running so that they can meet somewhere in the middle. In other words, I need to dig deep and find some patience. So my foot and leg exercises are now being done with a 7kg kettlebell, and this week I’ve run for 5 x 30 seconds twice. So in a week, I’ve done 5 whole minutes of running. Insert massive hurrumphy sigh here.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know that in the grand scheme of things I’m extremely lucky. I’ve met runners who have battled back from strokes and blood clots, and people who rock up to parkrun week in/week out and have to run/walk it in 50 minutes because they have an illness that prevents them from doing anything more. But running is a huge part of my identity, and after three months of this, I’ll admit that I’m struggling. On a Sunday I find being on Facebook and Twitter really difficult as I see friends celebrate great races, flash their medal bling and record PBs. I’ve had to miss out on two club runs already this season, as well as some of my favourite races like the Town and Gown 10k.

BUT. As difficult as I’m finding it, I’m not going to shut myself off from the world of running. I’ve been volunteering at parkrun, cycling whilst friends run, getting involved in ukrunchat on Twitter, organising my running club’s Christmas parties and congratulating friends on their achievements. I know I’ll be back there soon. I know I will. I just wish it could be sooner rather than later.

In the meantime I’m climbing more, doing yoga, and finding cardio alternatives to keep myself sane. Against my better judgement I’ve even promised my husband that I’ll try a spin class despite claiming that hell would have to freeze over before I would even consider it. He said “even if you hate it and least you’ll get a blog post out of it.”

How well he knows me.

 

 

The Simple Joy of the Running Commute

A while ago, a runner (and all round awesome person) I know was telling me about how much she loved her running commute. I nodded along, smiling at the thought of it, feeling slightly awestruck at the mental distance she was regularly covering (10 miles!), but never thinking it was something I would add into my routine. It was too difficult to organise, too hard for me to work out how to get kit to and from work, and too hard for me to downscale all that tat I shove into my bike pannier and take with me to work every day.

Oh how wrong I was.

I’m not even sure how it started. I know one day back in March my friend Pete decided to run from Cambridge to Waterbeach, which is around 10k along the river. He did it, and I happened to bump into him as he was jogging back home. He was full of the joys of his run, if feeling a little foolish at deciding to stick both a coat and an umbrella in his rucksack. I guess you never know right?

I started thinking seriously about giving it a go, chatting to some runners on Twitter, and seeing just how many people love choosing running as part of their commute to or from work. So I decided to get myself a running backpack (this Deuter Speed Lite was a steal back in April for £25), and managed to learn to pack light. For anyone who knows me well, this is nothing short of a miracle. I swapped my journey to work, leaving my bike at Ely station and walking the 1.3 miles to work from Cambridge station in my running gear, changing into my carefully chosen lightweight work outfit when I reached the office. At the end of the day, I then jogged half a mile to meet Pete outside the Scott Polar Research Institute and off we went, running a mile through the city until we hit the river path.

And blooming heck what a gorgeous run it is. It’s so easy to follow, nice and flat, not super busy with people (so long as you avoid The Bumps!) and flipping full of nature. On our first run together we saw herons, swans and deer. We time it so that there are two trains we can catch from Waterbeach 15 minutes apart (so if you miss the first train on the old cold day you don’t freeze waiting on a platform for ages as your sweat dries – attractive I know). We’ve only had one really buggy day (a miracle when you’re running alongside water) when we both landed beasties in the eyes, but that’s such a small issue to deal with. The best bit of all is that we’re both feeling faster when we run without rucksacks. I’m not sure if we actually are, but there’s a lot to be said about the mental boost of feeling like you’re flying just a little bit faster than normal.

The only problem now is I’m not sure what I’ll do when winter rolls back in. I know it’s ages off now, but the riverside isn’t lit at all, so running home after work simply won’t be an option. The only choice would be to switch the commute from evening to morning, and as someone who isn’t a morning person OR a morning exerciser, this doesn’t exactly appeal.

But six months without my weekly run commute? I feel bereft just thinking about it. You may well see me on that 7:30 train after all…

The Instant Camaraderie of Runners

I know you’ve all watched it by now. Or if you’re like me, you’ve watched it about 40 times. The moment Swansea Harriers’ Matt Rees stopped 200m from the end of the London Marathon to help David Wyeth from Chorlton Runners reach the finish line. David’s legs had gone to jelly, his body having run out of carbohydrate stores and he was in danger of not making it. He was agonisingly close to the finish line, waving past runners who were slowing down to check on him and claiming that he was ok. But Matt knew fully well that he wasn’t, and chucking his own time out of the window he helped get David to the finish.

Matthew Rees Credit London Marathon

Credit: London Marathon

Twitter went bonkers, and rightfully so. The London Marathon has the ability to bring grown adults to tears as they sit on the sofa, drinking tea and eating mint Oreos (just me?) whilst marvelling at people putting themselves through the most mentally tough thing some of them will ever do. Let’s face it, the world is a bit of a “funny” place right about now, and sometimes we all need to have our faith in humankind rekindled, and watching the way people help and support each other in feats of physical endurance (let’s not forget Alistair Brownlee helping Jonny across the finish line in the Triathlon World Series in Mexico – and letting him cross the line first no less) is a sure fire way to melt even the iciest of hearts.

Brownlees

But it doesn’t just happen on the world stage. At the 1st Kevin Henry League race of the season last week, I found myself struggling with about 1.5k to go. I wasn’t going easy on myself, and I was pretty cold after getting caught in a hailstorm on the way to the race. I also had a few people overtake me (including some ridiculously chirpy folk, Andrew and Lauren, I’m talking about you!), which doesn’t happen that often and made me panic that I had gone off too fast. At the 4k mark I knew I was going to make it to the finish ok, but I knew it was going to be ugly – when my breathing starts sounding like a dog who has inhaled a broken harmonica I know I’m in trouble. But then I realised that I was running side by side with a Haverhill Runner, and by some miracle I was managing to match my pace to his. I swore like an absolute trouper (but I did apologise after every verbal bomb, honest) and somehow this lovely man kept me going, offering encouragement and saying things like “come on, only 400m to go”. And then to top it all off, he let me cross the line first. What a blooming legend.

So the next day I tweeted that I owed this man a drink and copied in the Haverhill Running Club, and then a few days later another runner I follow on Twitter sent me this (someone from the Club had clearly mentioned me on their Facebook page):

Haverhill Neil

There I was thinking he had dragged me round, when really we had dragged each other round, and he got a PB to boot. We’re running for different clubs but we just desperately wanted to get each other across that finish line in one piece. I’ve since chatted to Neil on Facebook, and I’ve no doubt we’ll be running together again and who knows? Maybe we’ll both get a PB this season (but if we don’t, that’s ok too)! I love running for so many reasons, but the bond it can create between complete strangers is just awesome.

Acupuncture and I: A New Love Story

Regular readers of this blog will know that 2016 was a tough running year for me. I had so many injury niggles over the year, and my anxiety around my running got so bad that I had to step back from races and even longer runs because my IBS flare ups were making it impossible to run.

But then towards the end of last year, a friend reached out with the idea of an experiment of sorts, after reading my blog post about my IBS. This friend is an acupuncturist in Ely, and we know each other through a mutual friend. We actually ran Insane Terrain as part of a team of 4 back in 2014. So, he offered to give me a few free sessions of acupuncture, and if they went well I could tell you guys about it, and if they didn’t help me, we could just part ways and continue to meet up at the odd get together.

Now I’ve always been pretty open to the idea of “alternative therapies” (the category that acupuncture tends to get lumped into) so I was more than happy to give it a go. After an introduction session where Anthony spent about an hour learning about my medical background (reasonably complex) and commenting on my “slippery” pulse (that didn’t sound like a compliment), I then had a cluster of treatments over a 6 week period, before moving to a treatment every 4-6 weeks.

Insane Terrain

Insane Terrain. Yes those shorts were odd.

The good thing about Anthony is that although he is incredibly knowledgeable about what he does, he is in no way preachy about it, something I would struggle to get on board with. Instead he just drops into the conversation the fact that I have too much “Yang” (always go, go, go for me) in between the two of us putting the world to rights discussing everything from politics to reality TV. He is incredibly easy to talk to and is also a huge advocate of discussing the importance of mental health, a cause close to my heart (he highly recommends the Headspace app and is the brains behind Talking FreELY, a new Mental Health Awareness group in Ely). All of these things make a great practitioner.

As for the treatment itself, I do get a load of needles put into me (I think the most was maybe about 25) but they don’t hurt. Sometimes they cause a pins and needles sensation but it’s never uncomfortable. Anthony also uses moxa, a herb which he lights and allows to smoulder on my back which is then removed as soon as I start to feel the heat. It’s used to impact on the flow of “qi” in the area being treated, and I am obsessed with the smokey aroma it gives off. A nice side effect. He also often places ear seeds on my ear on trigger points where I can press on them whenever I feel my anxiety building.

But I guess the question is, did acupuncture work for me? My IBS issues during training all but disappeared (apart from when I failed to avoid triggers, such as episodes of unusually high stress or a super strong coffee less than 2 hours before a 10 mile run – idiotic) and my general demeanour around races has been a lot calmer. But the real test was always going to be the Cambridge Half Marathon. A race with a capacity of 9000 runners is huge for me. I hate being in large crowds, and in previous years I would be unbearable to be around from about 2 weeks before the race. Usually I would be maybe 15% excited and 85% nervous about a race like this, but this year it was easily the other way around. I also planned my morning pretty carefully, hanging out at my sister’s until about 10 past 9, before running/jogging to Jesus Green, using the completely empty public toilets there (perhaps I shouldn’t be letting you lot in on this tip!) and then simply hopping the gate into my starting pen 4 minutes before the race was due to start. I avoided all of those stress triggers, and went on to do the race of my life. I firmly believe that the treatment Anthony has done on me has played a huge part in my running epiphany, and I’ve been a (paying) customer of his since the start of the year, and will continue to be from now on.

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.

Guest Post -Girl Running Slowly: Finding my Feet After a Decade

My friend Maria started her wonderful “mysomethingnewblog” in February this year. It basically charts her attempts to try something new every day, and has led her on a brilliant journey of new foods, new activities and new friends. She has also gone on to inspire others to do the same, setting monthly challenges with themes such as culture, creativity and (wait for it…) fitness.

As part of this, she decided to try and pick up running again, and do some “new things” along the way. Here’s how she got on:

“I have wanted to get back into running for years but the barriers seemed overwhelming. I ran on a small scale for a couple of years and did a Race for Life 5k in 2003 but got out of the habit after moving house and away from my jogging buddy. Other than another half-hearted Race for Life in 2010, I haven’t really done any running since.

Suddenly the planets aligned and I found I’d signed up to do the British Heart Foundation MyMarathon – 26.2 miles of running during September at a pace of your choice. What had been stopping me, and what changed?

The Barriers

  • No trainers. I’d bought my existing pair in a rush, and – guess what – they were a rubbish fit. It’s amazing how something like this can put you off. Since over time I’ve developed a couple of niggly pains which I did not want to make worse, I knew I ought to get my gait analysed and choose some trainers properly to avoid falling at the first hurdle.
  • No running partner. I’m not very self-motivated or independent so I’d come to believe this was the only way I’d stick at it.
  • Weight. It’s horrible making yourself exercise in public when you know you need to be two-thirds the size you are. I have also never, ever lost weight through exercise but I always put weight on if I stop, so I was going to have to deal with this issue every time I went out, possibly FOREVER as I love food.
  • Fear of starting something and failing to stick at it – again. This is not a good time in my life to add to a catalogue of failures.

maria-blog-1

New Trainers! 

The Perfect Conditions

  • A staycation – time to get organised and get started.
  • The weather and the season. I love the summer but autumn and spring give the opportunity to run in the dark, while it’s not too hot or cold or icy.
  • A decision to treat running as a hobby. No targets, no pressure, no over-thinking, no weight-loss targets – just see what happens and enjoy it for its own sake.
  • Enthusiasm of others, including my amazing host blogger and three separate recommendations for the gait analysis service at Advance Performance.
  • Getting used to going it alone – after the end of a very long relationship, this has been a recurrent theme this year, so if my choice from now on is either do things on my own or don’t do them, I’d better get on with it!
  • The pub. I’ve signed up for a few things this year after going to the pub. Beer brews bravery.

The Method

I vaguely started with the NHS Couch to 5k plan, planning to fast-forward it once I’d got to grips with things, to ensure I got my miles in during the month. I walk A LOT and was confident that I was fitter than I looked and felt, so as long as I was careful about stretching and injury, it seemed possible. I remember when I first began running, I could barely do 20 seconds straight but I never seem to have gone back to that point, even with the run-free years in between and even though I was thinner then. It’s as if your lungs and your subconscious remember how to handle it.

The staycation allowed me to spend ages initially walking miles away from my house to run on a secluded riverbank. I could glow like a giant lobster, experiment with technology and adjust my clothing with only the herons and cows for company. In reality I crossed paths with lots of cyclists and walkers but there’s an automatic bond with anyone out enjoying the countryside – for whatever reason, you want to do your thing in that spot and you have that in common with these strangers, so somehow it doesn’t matter that you are pretending (for now) to be an actual runner.

Another reason to try something like this during time off is that you can adjust your plans more easily. Tell yourself you’re going to run three times this week when there are only three time slots when you COULD run makes your plans very vulnerable at a time when you don’t really know how you’re going to get on. If, like me, you’re prone to giving up on things in a strop, this could be fatal! With a week off, the only firm plan I had to make was the trainer purchasing – beyond that, I just knew that by the end of the week I would have taken some sort of leap forward in my quest.

The Starting Blocks

I felt ill and made of lead during my first run but this turned out to be the dreaded PMS – annoying but it feel good to have got it out of the way at this end of the month rather than having a spanner thrown into the works at the end. My second run was much better and I did a couple of extra minutes with no ill effects. I liked the very subtle shift into being someone who had run a couple of times that week rather than someone who hadn’t run for years.

Apart from my setback (more below), each run was better, longer, faster – I had forgotten how quickly you improve when you start out, and it’s very gratifying.

The Setback

Sadly, after a bit more progress, I had to accept that my shins were increasingly giving me grief, and I stopped for a week. It was a big setback in my mileage but I spent the time researching what I assumed was shin splints, getting my foam roller out, stretching, massaging, resting, and determined not to be gutted. On starting again, I was pleased that one leg seemed MUCH better, but the other was excruciating. I got the ice pack out this time, and the next day spent a very long time massaging my inner right calf, followed by practically a whole day resting in bed with some weird lurgy…and finally on 18 September managed 1.5 miles (in bits) with much less pain, much more enjoyment and actually not that much sweat. Hurrah! It seems very odd that you continue to get fitter while you’re having a break – how does that work? Partly psychological, maybe.

Failure or Success?

I failed to do a marathon in September, but I did half a marathon by 2 October. All of my runs were run/walk combos, and I stubbornly stuck to my initial pledge to only count the running segments, otherwise I would have easily completed it in the time. I walked many marathons during the month so no way can I ask people to sponsor me to walk.

New routes!

But so many little successes! I:

  • Raised some money for BHF. I wonder what the percentage of charitable funds raised comes from unsuccessful ventures? Keep sponsoring your unrealistic pals, people – medical research depends on it!
  • Didn’t give up, even once it was blindingly obvious I was going to fail. I’m very good at giving up. This is why sponsorship helps; I hate letting others down.
  • Got over some of my hang-ups.
  • Rediscovered my enjoyment of running. I’ve enjoyed every single run.
  • Learnt to enjoy running on my own – and got closer to being able to run with other people again.
  • Ran up the hill that is Ely. I don’t think I’ve ever run up a proper hill before.

New Things

My own blog is about my project to do something new each day in 2016 and while running is not new, I’ve discovered that any hobby generates a steady stream of opportunities to try new things, whether tiny or life-changing! (I declare both types to be important in life.)

This month I’ve:

  • Tried running apps – brilliant motivation for that extra award, burst of speed or minute on the clock; annoying when they just stop counting your mileage for no reason
  • Had my gait analysed and had my first go on a running machine
  • Run in new places
  • Got addicted to foam-rolling
  • Used an ice pack
  • Signed up for a new 5k.

Parting Thoughts 

I’m a runner – might never be a very good one, but I am one, and my message to anyone who used to run is that you are still a runner. I’m so happy to have started again and that I’m doing it in my own random way, and that a month has made so much difference to my attitude.

If you’ve always thought of yourself as not being a runner, ask yourself why you think that. Is it worth giving it another go? If you find it boring then what makes it boring to you and how can you change that? I’m lucky – I love being outdoors and walking and I’m happy in most weathers, so running just adds interest to this. I reckon I’d be bored out of my mind on a running machine and I wouldn’t look forward to it but I daresay I could find ways of improving that. And if running just feels wrong, why is that? Are you trying to go to fast? Do you need to try running in the middle of nowhere until you find your feet? And if you think you need company, have more faith in yourself – if I can go it alone, anyone can.

Good luck!”

 

The EACH Colour Dash – My Review

As someone who is known for some seriously gaudy running gear, I’m sure you can imagine why a Colour Run has appealed to me for some time. All the ones I’d seen were taking place in London or Brighton or some other big city that just seemed too far to travel to for a 5k. So when I saw that one was happening on the grounds of King’s School in Ely (precisely where Ely Runners do some of their summer training sessions) I signed up in an absolute heartbeat, and rallied round a few others to join me.

It was a really decent day for a run – bit of sun but mostly cloud cover, not too warm but relatively windy (which would come back to bite the “paint pirates” on the arses later!). Thankfully there was no rain so the paint powders were safe to do their work. Pete, Rach and I walked to the race, and queued up for all of about 10 seconds to register and get our “race numbers” (a hand written sticker)! Although it may seem like a slightly amateurish setup to some, the Colour Dash isn’t really about racing (by all means beast it, but you’ll need to time yourself if you want something resembling an official time as there are no chips here). It’s about raising funds for a really fantastic charity (East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices) and giving people the opportunity to walk, jog or run a distance they might not have done before (even if a couple of folk did take a cheeky short cut)!

The three of us met up with my friend Naomi and her friend Sarah, as well as Naomi’s husband Neil who very kindly took on the role of bag monitor and photographer for the duration of the race! We also bumped into my friends Harriet and Tom and fellow Ely Runner Kim – it was so nice to be part of such a local affair. And as Naomi and Sarah got fully stuck in to the warm up, I of course went back and forth to the toilet 3 or 4 times. Old habits die hard, even during a fun run…

We all lined up at the start, fearing ever so slightly for the wellbeing of the mayor who had positioned himself unwisely in the middle of the start line, and as the klaxon went off (and the mayor scuttled out of the way), Pete blasted to the front alongside 6 or 7 little sprinters (this was very much a child – and dog – friendly race) and I did my best to keep pace.

For a fun run, this was actually a really tricky course. It’s almost all on grass, and there are two short sharp inclines that we know well from our Ely Runners interval training sessions. So I thought we’d be well set to take this on, but in order to make the course 5km, they made us wiggle around so that we actually had to go up 4 of those inclines per lap, which led to 8 in total. It’s one thing doing this during an interval session when you get slow recovery sections, but it’s another to do it on a fast steady run!

By the time we got about 2km in, all but one of the kids had dropped back. My 5k pacing has been off for a while, so yet again I found myself having to slow to a walk a couple of times. I did my best to avoid doing this when I ran past the “paint pirates” but they still got me with some serious orange paint, and I couldn’t help but laugh when at one point a gust of wind sent the powders flying back into their own faces! I had to close my eyes when I passed the paint stations (contact lenses and powder aren’t a good mix!) so all in all it was a bizarre and unusual running experience. Pete obliterated the competition and finished comfortably in first place, and I managed to find enough in my legs to come 2nd (but I was a solid minute behind him I think).  We were then gifted with some really lovely medals and we didn’t have to wait long for the others to cross the line, including Naomi who came in comfortably under her desired time, which was seriously impressive considering the course.

Pete, Rach and I didn’t hang around for the paint party (but we did of course make sure to visit Sweet Ally Scoops‘ ice cream van) and considering how hard it was to scrub the blue paint off my stomach that was probably a wise move. On the whole I was so impressed with the run. The route was well thought out (if a little mean!) and the atmosphere from start to finish was just brilliant. I think EACH should be proud of what they did and I really hope they make it an annual event. It’s just a shame that the King’s School Fields aren’t available all year round, as it would make a great parkrun venue!

If you’d like to try an EACH’s Colour Dash yourself it’s not too late! The King’s Lynn, Saffron Walden and Bury St Edmunds events are still open for registration. Find out more here.

 

 

 

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.

Improving My Mental Running Fitness

It’s no secret that my physical fitness has been improving. Since I started training with Alan back in April my 5k PB has dropped from around 22:40 to 20:19. But I’ve still continued to struggle with the mental side of pushing myself to a reasonably high level of running. Sometimes I think my legs go into shock, like they’ve gone from my sedate 15 year old self, and have jumped forward 18 years to find themselves suddenly halfway through a 10k. I swear I can sometimes hear them screaming “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!”

So as you can imagine it was with some trepidation last Wednesday that I found myself heading back to Wandlebury with Alan and Stacy for the dreaded bench to bench session, aka the scene of my epic meltdown from a couple of months back. The weather was grey and the wind (the FLIPPING wind) had decided to hit its gusty peak at, ooh around 1pm, bang on time for our session. As we walked to the misery zone I did question the sanity of going to a large wood during some of the worst weather of the year that had FELLED TREES.

Beautiful Wandlebury photos courtesy of my talented friend theemiddlesis. I tried to take photos while I was there but the grey skies made it look miserable.

I needn’t have worried about the weather. The trees buffered us from the worst of it and what little did filter through was thankfully behind us. But I was nervous about my ability to complete the session, especially alongside a seasoned Wandlebury pro like Stacy. I nervously pointed out to her where I had sat in the mud and cried last time, and then just tried to focus on the logistics of what I had to do. Just 9 reps of around 200m up a rough, erratic incline. In total around 7 minutes of running. Easy peasy.

Of course it wasn’t easy. But I did it. Even better I managed to stay about the same distance behind Stacy – who is a ninja when it comes to consistent pacing – on every rep. I even went up on my toes on the slightly steeper sections, something that Alan is trying to encourage me to do thanks to some advice from up on high (!). I felt elated afterwards, and not even the utter DRENCHING I got on the cycle ride back to work could dampen (geddit?!) my spirits.

wpid-fb_img_1448379886482.jpg

This all set me in good stead ready for the Festive 5k in Ely this Sunday. By some fluke I was the winning woman last year, but I think the miserable weather put some strong runners off. This year I knew I could run it faster, but I had doubts that I would be able to hold on to the title. And it turns out the doubts were well founded. As soon as I saw Ruth Jones on the start line I knew she would storm it. She just had that look about her, and when she shot off at the start part of me felt a bit relieved. As lovely as it would have been to win again, it took some of the pressure off and allowed me to just enjoy the run.

My aim was to try and stay with my speedy friend Pete for as long as possible. He has a 5k PB of 19:40, so keeping him in my sights would mean a good time. He and I ended up in a cluster of 4 with two other female runners with Pete leading and me bringing up the rear. While I managed to catch up and lead all 4 of us down Lisle Lane to the 3k mark I knew I couldn’t sustain it and decided to let them get past me again and settle for keeping them all in my sights.

wpid-20151122_105338.jpg

They give you Santa hats, much needed in the cold weather!

The hill through Cherry Hill Park was a killer (Pete and I still can’t decide whether a hill is better at the beginning or the end of a race) and it took everything I had to make it to that finish, 4 seconds behind the 3rd place female and 9 seconds behind the 2nd. I came 10th overall out of 372 runners with a time of 20:37. I gave it absolutely everything I had, and finishing 15 seconds behind Pete is quite frankly insane for me. If he was 42 seconds off his PB, that means in the right conditions I could potentially just dip below the 20 minute mark. Flipping heck. Pete, can you pace me for every race please? Huge thanks to the Arthur Rank Hospice for arranging a fun and challenging race, which I know isn’t easy in a busy little city like Ely. Thanks also to all the drivers who stopped for us!

wpid-20151122_113804.jpg

Happy, chilly finishers

I was still a bit disappointed with my female placing on the day, but as Alan and my “always-been-wise-beyond-her-years” friend Lydia said, if I’ve given it everything, I can’t be disappointed. That was literally the best I could do, and I can’t ask for anything more than that.

Plus there’s always next year. Who knows how physically and mentally fit I could be by then?