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.

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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.

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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!

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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?

Trying a Tri and Catching a Bug

There’s nothing quite like an epic panic to start off your first ever triathlon.

So in the lead up to the Ely Sprint Tri I’d been pretty blasé about the whole thing, leaving it until six weeks before the event before practising my swimming for the first time in two years (give or take the odd spa day splash around here and there) and I didn’t open the race guidelines email until two days before. I think it was two parts denial, one part trying to resist putting too much pressure on myself. Because let’s face it, I am hyper competitive, especially with myself, and if I read too much about the race I would start looking at ways to be THE BEST I CAN POSSIBLY BE which is fine with a bit of experience but I think a little unreasonable when I don’t even know how to transition efficiently. For crying out loud, I didn’t even know what a transition MEANT until about a month before the triathlon when my friend Helen (who lent me her race belt) filled me in.

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What the hell is a race belt?

Then two weeks before the triathlon, my amazing best friend Michelle piped up that she had a tri bike that had been sat in her shed for a couple of years, and that I was welcome to borrow it. She knew that the tyres were flat, but it turned out that it needed about four hours of serious TLC to get it in racing condition. But my brilliant husband worked flat out to get it race-ready, including one 90 minute period where the two of us had to both turn into The Hulk to get one of the pedals off (attempting clippy shoes was a new experience too far). On Friday it was ready, so I cycled around Ely on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon just to get used to it.

So, on to Sunday morning, and I woke up at horrid o’clock (6:50am for all you early super-keen types) and got dressed in my lovely Zoot tri shorts and a Nike top (again borrowed from Michelle). I then unlocked the garage whilst my bagel cooked, and saw THE FRONT WHEEL WAS OFF THE BIKE. At first I wondered why on earth Ian would think that would be a funny joke, but then I realised that the flipping thing was flat. It turned out that there was a flaw in the inner tube by the valve, and despite a panic twitter plea for a spare racing inner tube, I knew in my heart that with only 15 minutes before I needed to leave the house all was lost. So I took the sticker off the tri bike and stuck it on to my twice-as-heavy hybrid instead. The 20km bike ride had just become a whole lot harder.

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This was going to be interesting.

As I cycled from my house to the start at King’s School, I was upset about the bike but more because of all of the effort Ian had put in on a bike that I wouldn’t be able to use. But looking at the bigger picture, it’s lucky I had taken the tri bike out for about 5 miles on Saturday, because if I hadn’t that flat tyre would have hit around halfway through the 20km which would have ended my triathlon. So after stomping around and whinging for a bit and getting a pep talk from both my dad and Alan, I pushed the negative thoughts aside and decided to just enjoy it and give it the best shot I could.

Because I hadn’t swum for about two years when I signed up for the tri and can’t front crawl so have to rely on my (fairly decent) breaststroke, I vastly overestimated how long it would take me to do the swim. This meant that I was one of the earliest competitors amongst slower swimmers. As it turns out I can manage 300m in around 7 minutes, so I had added more than 50% on with my 11 minute guesstimate. Luckily it didn’t have too much of an impact on my time, as (most of) the swimmers around me were really considerate and allowed me to get past them at the end of the lane, so I exited the pool at 7:33.

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As predicted my transition out of the pool was not fast as I pulled on my socks, race belt, trainers and helmet, and lifted my heavier than planned bike off the rack before running out of the gate. 1:17 had been added on to my time (the guy who finished first was out in 29 seconds!), and I started the bike ride as I meant to go on – by BELTING it.

I overtook my first road bike cyclist halfway up St Mary’s Street before the A10 roundabout, and I overtook my 2nd one just before the turn to Coveney. I was then overtaken by someone else on a road bike before overtaking another one halfway to Coveney. I went past the next one at about mile 9, careful not to draft at all after a stern warning by the Race Director during the race briefing, and then to my (competitive) joy I got past the woman who had overtaken me, and stayed ahead of her for the rest of the bike ride. To say I was pleased to only be overtaken once during my entire bike ride in a field of serious road bikes is an understatement. Ending the bike ride up Back Hill was torture and my quads were starting to question my sanity, but having Alan cheering my name and then seeing my parents grinning at me as I dismounted from my bike and ran to rack it again was just awesome.

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After failing to find my bike space for a few seconds, I got told by an amazed marshal that “I did well on that!” with a nod towards my bike, before taking a swig of water and exiting the pen for the final 5km run, cheered on by my friend Matt. That transition was 57 seconds which seemed sloth-like but actually in comparison to others wasn’t all that bad.

The run was the weirdest and hardest part of all. I’m so used to feeling strong and fast on a 5km that this came as a bit of a shock. I knew it would be difficult, but the short sharp hills on King’s School’s fields were intense and I felt like I would be lucky to come in at 25 or 26 minutes. I felt SO slow and heavy-legged, and Alan’s yells of “head up!” and “use your arms!” were met with a one-fingered salute, much to the amusement of the crowds. But I finished without ever having to slow to a walk, and managed to actually spot the photographer at the finish line before collapsing in a heap at my parents’ feet and being congratulated by my awesome friends Pete, Rach and Diane who had come out to support me.

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As it turns out I completed the run in 23:33, making me the third fastest woman in the running leg of the triathlon, just 20 seconds behind the fastest. My complete time of 1:17:44 placed me as 6th woman, 5th in my age category, and the 37th competitor in a field of 101.

I thought that I would be pleased to complete the tri but have no desire to do another one. I was completely wrong on the second count. I LOVED it and am already looking for other ones to attempt. I have fully caught the tri bug. Unless I learn to front crawl my options for races may be somewhat limited, but I can’t wait to see what I could potentially achieve with a proper racing bike and a better understanding of the details such as transitions. As for the race itself, the Ely Sprint Tri is quite a small one, but despite this there were only some minor issues such as my getting the wrong stickers in my race pack so that I had to go back to the registration site to change them. I also would much rather get a medal for competing than a t-shirt, but then I am an epic medal tart and always want to add to my little plastic box of shiny discs. I’ll just have to work harder next year to get first place (ahem).

Alan texted me afterwards to say “I think you’ve found your sport”, but I’m not sure about that just yet. One thing I know for sure is that I have never felt so exhausted after a race, so I can only assume that will get better with experience! That didn’t stop me from going on a shopping spree with my friend Elaine in Cambridge afterwards though. If I didn’t get a medal I was blooming well going to get a nice dress.

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.

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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.