That Time I did 5 Races in 16 Days

I love racing. I’m always SO chill on a start line, taking selfies, having a laugh and generally putting everyone around me at ease. I’m an utter delight to be around.

Are you laughing yet?

I am the absolute worst when it comes to races. I panic, I whinge and I infect everyone around me with a general air of dread. You know – the kind of feeling you get on a long haul flight and the person with questionable hygiene who you spotted eating cheese and onion crisps in the check-in queue heads down the aisle towards the empty seat next to you.

But for some unfathomable reason, I managed to find myself looking at my race calendar and working out that I had managed to somehow schedule 5 races across 16 days. During a heatwave. My days looked like this:

  • 28th June: Girton 5k
  • 1st July: Marcus Gynn 10k
  • 5th July: Ely Runners Mile Handicap
  • 12th July: Kevin Henry 5k League Race
  • 13th July: Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog

You know what it’s like. You see a race in February and you’re like, “ooh, that sounds fun!” So you check you’re free, and if you are you sign up and pop it in your diary. And if you’re an idiot like me, it doesn’t even occur to you to check if there are any races already in your diary, say, the day before…

But anywho, I was signed up and despite the heatwave that made me feel like my brain was expanding out of my ears, (see my thoughts on summer running here) I committed to each and every one of these blinking races. Here’s how I got on.

GIRTON 5k

It was the Girton 5k that first introduced me to Ely Runners so it will always hold a special place in my heart. However, it was really toasty the first time I ran it in 2015 and 3 years later it was no different. I also didn’t learn from my previous experience and forgot to plonk myself at the front of the group, which meant that not only did I get tangled up in runners, I also got tangled up in the race markings when a larger chap in front of me swerved at the last minute and I ended up having a disagreement with a pole and some tape. Elegant. Throw in some narrow paths and runners who stopped dead mid-race due to the heat meant it wasn’t a speedy race, but it is an immensely fun one. I came in at 21:30 and was second in my age category so I was pretty pleased with that one. I’d recommend the Girton 5k to anyone looking for a fun, sociable 5k with some difficulty to it.

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MARCUS GYNN 10k

Now the Marcus Gynn 10k is an important race because it is named in memory of the wonderful Newmarket Jogger Marcus, who sadly passed away on the 11th February 2016. Marcus was a school friend of my husband’s and the original running blogger in my life, so I was damned if 30 degree heat was going to stop me from running for him. Had it been any other race I would have bailed without a second’s thought as I know how badly the heat affects me, but not this one. And it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I stopped at both water stations to properly take on fluid and found myself having to drop to a walk on the final hill but I still crossed the line as 7th woman in a decent time for me of 45:43, maybe 2 minutes over what I could manage on that course if it wasn’t being scorched by Satan himself. Most importantly of all I got to meet Marcus’ beautiful nephew, who was one of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen. This race is a seriously special one, and body willing I will do it every year.

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ELY RUNNERS MILE HANDICAP

Nothing instills fear in the Ely Runners gang like the mile handicap race. We’re all long(er) distance runners and rarely train for speed over such short distances. Pre-race we all cluster together beneath the trees on Amherst Field next to Ely Train Station like a bunch of meerkats under threat, wondering how we’ve managed to make such bad choices in our lives. I was especially irate when I realised I had been given the same handicap (6 minutes dead) as a fellow ER who had been a good 70 seconds faster than me at our 10k handicap back in June. Also, I found myself in the “fast” group for the first time (anyone with a handicap of 6 minutes or less) and this meant that I would be at the back of the group, watching everyone run away from me. As it turns out, I prefer this to being chased. If I know that statistically I should be at the back of the group then I won’t panic. If I know that statistically I should be at the front of the group and I falter, that’s guaranteed to make my mental strength wobble. I ended up managing 6:04, so although I missed my handicap, it was 1 second faster than last year. I’ll take it!

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KEVIN HENRY 5K LEAGUE RACE

Despite the nerves they produce, the Kevin Henry league races are my favourites. I’m much happier running in the evening than the morning, and the support from my teammates at these runs is incredible. Everyone is so pleased when you show up, as EVERY runner wins a point for their club, just by being there. It really is a race for everyone. I had planned to pace one of our juniors during this run, but 5 minutes before the start I found out she was ill and I found myself having to run my own race, which I really wasn’t prepared for. However, something magical happened that evening and I managed to beat my 2 year old 5k PB by one second, coming in in 20:18 (20:16 if Strava is to be believed)! It was just one of those runs where everything came together – the course is flat, the weather was good and I managed to settle in to my pace. Don’t get me wrong – it flipping HURT – but after thinking that 20:19 was the best I was ever going to achieve, there were some tears when my time was finally confirmed. Now I have decided that I’m going to try and push for a sub-20. I know it may not happen, and if it does it won’t be easy, but this run has set a fire in my belly and made me want to see if what I thought was impossible could in fact be a reality.

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WIBBLY WOBBLY LOG JOG

I’m not ashamed to say that the name of this race is the reason I first signed up to it in 2016.  I mean, how could you not? The first year I did it I LOVED it. It was my first proper trail run and the novelty of it meant I was so busy taking it all in that speed was secondary. The second year I did it on EXHAUSTED legs and tried to run it hard. I hated it so much that I was swearing at squirrels and trees. So I was slightly reticent turning up to this year’s run the day after my 5k PB race. And to be honest, it really was hard, and I was so incredibly tired by the time we hit the last mile. But Pete and Rob, my fellow Ely Runners, dragged me to the finish, and I managed my fastest time there by 5 seconds in 38:49. It also produced one of my favourite ever Ely Runners group photos.

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All in all, I am so, so proud of what I achieved in these 16 days. A 5k and 1 mile PB, and course PBs both at Girton and the WWLJ. Plus I got to run for Marcus, which is something I hope to do every year. I’m not sure I would recommend squeezing in so many races in such a short space of time, but who wants to bet I sign up to all of these again next year? Just please, PLEASE let it be cooler in the summer of 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Two New Running Experiences – A Training Partner and the Girton 5k

So this has been a week of firsts – my first time training with a partner, and my first time running the Girton 5k.

First of all, I’m going to get my excuses out of the way. I’ve just come back from 5 days in Germany for a flipping fantastic wedding, but it was hot. I’m talking seriously hot. As in didn’t get below 35 degrees and was 40 the day we left hot. Add a room on the third floor of a hotel with no air conditioning and you can imagine the sleep quality.

So on Wednesday, when Alan rocked up with Mary Twitchett to makes us do 10 x 100m sprints, I was a little nervous. Mary is without doubt one of the fittest women I’ve met in some time. Whilst I was drinking Prosecco in Wiesbaden, she was doing a half ironman. Just one glance at her athlete profile on Power of 10 was enough to make me start fan-girling a bit. Her 5k PB is 20:14, her 10k PB 42:20, and her half marathon PB is 89:03. That’s some serious stuff.

Mary Twitchett

Mary’s in the middle. Behind that smile is an endurance level set at STEEL.

So we warmed up together and ran the 100m on opposite sides of the path so that Alan could assess our techniques in turn. It started off well – I felt pretty strong, finishing maybe a second ahead of Mary and using my arms really well. After the 4th sprint my legs started feeling wobbly. And that’s when I started declining. Yet again my head took control of my body and I kept thinking about how I couldn’t possibly do 6 more, how Mary was now getting ahead of me and how I was letting her and Alan down by getting tired too quickly.

Here’s something you should know about Mary – her positive mental attitude is incredible. When she saw me flagging she shouted words of encouragement, trying to push me on. I didn’t really manage to step up to the plate, and after sprint number 8 Alan cut the session short because Mary had to get back to work and because I was quite frankly struggling. My tread had become so heavy you could have heard me pounding down the path from a mile off, let alone 100m.

I had mixed emotions after the session. I felt like I worked harder with Mary at my side but that I didn’t quite achieve what I could or perhaps should have done. I got lovely emails from her and Alan afterwards, with Alan saying that Mary and I could really complement each other, with her assisting me with her mental strength and me perhaps making her faster. I just hope he’s right because I really don’t want to be a hindrance to her. I had a long chat with my colleague Matt about it afterwards, telling him that my head always gets in the way, and his advice has led to my buying this:

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Alan says it takes 5 years to get the mindset of a serious athlete. Hopefully this might make it happen a bit faster. Naturally I’ll let you know how I get on with it in another post later on. Mary and I are going to train together next Friday, which is exciting and nerve-inducing in equal measure.

So, the day after sprintageddon, I found myself cycling the three miles from work to Girton for the Girton 5k. This event has been running since around 2009, and I just thought it would make a nice change to try a different race. I was sad that my friend Oli couldn’t make it because of work commitments, but my friend (and photographer for the day!) Andrew was happy to snap up his place. Alan was also meant to be running it, but changed his mind at the last minute. Wise considering he had a 3am start the next day for his holiday!

Girton 5k 1The coach knew at least 75% of the people running. Shocker. Such a socialite.

I was a ball of nervous energy before the race. It was around 23 degrees in the sun, and would be the first time I’d run in hot(ter) weather without a bottle of water, plus the sleep deprivation was really kicking in. So I drank lots before the race and annoyed everyone around me with my insane chatter.

The race itself ended up being challenging but fun. The terrain was really varied, with tight turns through gates around the fields. One section was pretty rough underfoot due to the dips where horses or similar had been in the mud and it had then dried, which meant that I found myself running a bit gingerly when I probably should have just gone for it. It was also pretty hard to overtake in sections where the path got really narrow. It has to be said though, that in the summer evening light it was one of the prettiest races I’ve done. Alan also managed to turn up twice on the course to cheer me on which was frankly lovely.

I had no idea what time I finished in, and sat down to enjoy a chat with some fellow runners in the lovely weather, gifting my free half pint to a grateful finisher who wasn’t willing to let it go to waste!

Girton 5k 2

Happy but knackered.

I felt certain that I wouldn’t have achieved a PB, but I hoped I wasn’t too far off. I also spent a lot of time that evening chatting to some members of Ely Runners. When I told her my PB, one girl from the club asked me why I wasn’t part of a club myself and I didn’t really have an answer for her other than worrying about the pressure of running and not being able to meet the expectations of others – in other words, my head was stopping me. Alan then said to me that maybe I should consider it, as he thought I could learn a lot from the Ely Runners I met. Something to think about.

The results came through this morning, and I ended up as 5th woman in 22:08. That’s 40 seconds away from my PB and at first I was disappointed, especially as the 4th woman came in at 21:59. However, when I spoke to Andrew (who came in at a STONKING 18:29), he told me that it wasn’t a PB course, and that he was 35 seconds off his PB. That made me feel a bit better, but did make me think that I could benefit from some more trail running practice.

So overall it’s been a serious week of running experiences that I can learn from. And after some rest this weekend, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next week. And can we please take a moment to appreciate the awesome girl highlighted in this photo, George Schwiening, who finished as first woman in 17:31. Woah.

Girton 5k 3

Awe-inspiring stuff.