London Baby!

I don’t think it’s going to take a genius to realise what this post is about.

That’s right. Mrs “I’m probably never going to do a marathon” only went and got a ballot place for VLM 2021.

You know what it’s like. You watch the marathon, get sucked up in the emotion and enter the ballot with a tear in your eye after watching a man dressed like a camel tell his family he loves them at mile 21, knowing full well your chance of getting a place is something like 1/25. Even the weirdness of the 2020 marathon didn’t stop me as I watched all of those amazing runners take on the challenge virtually, without even the famous London crowds to cheer them on.

But then I forgot all about it, and when my email turned up last week I clicked the link with a wry smile fully expecting the usual “commiserations” message and preparing to go about my day. So when I saw the lovely red-headed lady’s face with the words “YOU’RE IN!” I did whatever anyone else would do. Started shaking and immediately went to the toilet. My body basically went straight into fight or flight mode, just like it always does on any event start line. Adrenaline is a bitch.

As I saw the disappointed posts start to come in on the Ely Runners Facebook page, without a single person saying they had been successful, something stopped me from getting involved in the chat. I think I needed to take the time to absorb the news and to accept the enormity of it for me as a runner. So many of my incredible clubmates have done multiple marathons, and although they all respect the distance, for a lot of them, it no longer holds any fear. But for me, I have a comfort zone, and it’s 5km.

But here I am, a week later, and I’m – dare I say it – a wee bit excited? I feel incredibly privileged to have something to train for in a time when few races and running events are taking place. And I have been utterly overwhelmed by the support I’ve received. I have a training plan coming my way courtesy of Charlotte. I have offers of running buddies on those long runs from Justin, Shaun, Pete and more. I have offers of dealing with the nutrition and mental side of things from Jo. And I have had nothing but messages of support from those I’ve told, all who have made me believe that yes – I can do this.

But I know I have a lot of work ahead of me, and it’s not just about getting the miles in. Anyone who knows me knows I’m going to want to do this to the best of my ability, and to do that I have things I need to work on. I need to work on my core and glute strength to manage my hyperlordosis which tends to make itself known around 10 miles into any longer run. I need to stay on top of my rehab and make sure I look after my calves which have a habit of tightening up thanks to my form which sees me running up on my toes (in a time when I can’t see my physio for my monthly MOT). I need to be more structured in my training instead of just running what I want when I want. But most importantly, I need to sort out my head. I need my brain to stop telling me that I’m not capable of such a long distance, that I’m simply not built for it. I need to believe in myself.

But the best bit of advice I’ve had so far has come from Charlotte, who immediately told me not to think about the time, and to instead treat London Marathon as the event it is. She told me to make sure I take everything in and be truly present, because London is an experience, and it might be a once in a lifetime one for me. If I enjoy the distance and decide I want to do other marathons, I can focus on the time then. London shouldn’t be about that. And in her words, “It’s about looking back and saying you did it and enjoyed it rather than ‘got through it’.” Amen sister.

So prepare yourself folks – I’m about to embark on a marathon journey, and I really hope you’ll come along for the ride.

The 2019 Running Awards

So last week I was lucky enough to attend the 2019 Running Awards, as thanks to the votes from you lovely lot I was shortlisted for best personal blog! I had such a great running -centered day meeting some of the awesome folk from the wider UK running community.

I arrived in London a little before midday, getting to my hotel near Tower Bridge in time to get changed for the Secret London Run that the Running Awards had put on in collaboration with the brilliant Runderwear. We had all been generously gifted with personalised kit from Runderwear, and I rocked up in my new gear to see a sea of recognisable faces including Emma from Lipstick & Trainers and Jordan from ProjectMarathonGirl.

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Photo credit to Runderwear

We all split into groups, and then Matt from Secret London Runs took our group on a journey across the Thames to discover the murky history of South London. During our run we took in sites including the remains of the Roman London Wall, St Dunstan’s, Winchester Palace, Cross Bones and the Guinness Partnership among others. It was such an inspired way to see our capital, and forced all us runners to actually pause and look up once in a while!

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After a fantastic 4-odd miles, we all rushed off to get ready for the awards, which would be taking place on board the wonderful Dixie Queen on the Thames. I was lucky enough to have my brilliant Aunt Kathleen as my date, and there was much excitement on board as we all waited for Tower Bridge to open so that we could get on our merry way for the next 5 hours. It was at this point that I met parkrun legend Paul Sinton-Hewitt, and nattered his ear off about the brilliant impact that Littleport parkrun has had on our local community.

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The guest speakers during the Bloggers Forum were brilliant. Led by Claire from Wild Ginger Runs, we had talks from World Marathon Challenge record holder Susannah Gill (7 marathons in 7 continents in 7 days – yes really), Eric Keeler who ran 3700 miles across the USA despite not liking running (yes really) and Mark Atkinson, author of Run Like Duck and winner of the Gold Award for Best Book at the awards. You can read about his blog of the blog awards here (a blog mentioning a blog about the blogging awards – that meta enough for you Mark?!). We also had a great demo from Enertor showing us just how amazing their innersoles (favoured by Usain Bolt) are at absorbing impact (we were gifted a pair of these and I can’t wait to try them!), and we heard all about how founders Jamie and Richard built Runderwear.

After a quick buffet meal, we then went on to the awards themselves, and those of us who had been shortlisted were invited upstairs to watch the ceremony and Kathleen and I managed to blag a space on the table with Mark and his lovely wife Cloë. I wasn’t remotely surprised when my name wasn’t announced as the winner of the personal blog award (that honour went to Running Mr Jones) but it was great to watch Mark go up and collect his award and have a  hold of his hefty trophy! I also saw some of those I had voted for winning their categories, including the awesome Running Shoes Guru and the brilliant Runderwear.

After disembarking from the Dixie Queen we all headed off across London and beyond, and I’m sure many of those who would be running the marathon just 36 hours later were enjoying the relatively peaceful streets ahead of the awesome madness that awaited them. I had such a brilliant time in London, and my place there wouldn’t have been possible without those of you who take the time to read my witterings. I am so incredibly grateful to all of you who took the time to vote for me. Same time next year?

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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.

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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.

An Evening with Mara Yamauchi

First of all, apologies that it’s taken me so long to write about the evening I spent with marathon runner and Olympian Mara Yamauchi at Anglia Ruskin University – I blame the death cold from hell that has taken over my life and left me mostly sofa bound for a good few days. Never a happy situation for an athlete who likes to be on the move.

So, on the 18th January I – along with a handful of Ely Runners – went to a free talk organised by the Greater Cambridge Athletics Network (GCAN). For those of you who don’t know her (and there are a depressingly large number of those who don’t, given her achievements), Mara Yamauchi is the second-fastest British woman to run a marathon (I don’t think I need to tell you who the fastest is) in a time of 2:23:12. She also came in 6th at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2nd in the 2009 London Marathon. That’s a snapshot of a pretty impressive running resume.

Mara Yamauchi BBC

Photo of Mara thanks to the BBC

As I settled into a jam-packed lecture hall, the first thing I noticed about Mara was how petite she is – powerhouses can come in deceptively small packages sometimes. The second thing was just how she clearly lived and breathed running. On her own website she says “My life’s passion is running. From a very early age, growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, I loved doing sports and being outdoors. At age 11, inspired by the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, I decided that I was going to be an Olympian.” Her passion for her sport filled the room extremely quickly, and she quickly made her audience warm to her by threatening latecomers with 50 push ups!

For those of us who were hoping that there was some simple formula to becoming a world class runner, we were left unsurprisingly disappointed. It takes commitment, serious hard work, S&C, good nutrition, good recovery and the ability to really listen to your body. Mara admitted that she was extremely lucky that running could be her full time job, and sympathised with those of us having to fit our training around family lives and working hours. But she still managed to give us some tips that we could all take away with us, regardless of whether we planned to run 5k, 10k, 21k or 42k and beyond:

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Mara charms her audience

TRAINING

  • You need to steadily increase your training. If you increase the FIT – frequency, intensity and time (length) of your runs all at once you’re more likely to get injured.
  • Your runs should consist of three key sessions – a long run, a threshold run and long intervals (more than 4 minutes).
  • Hill training is great for strength bio-mechanics – increasing the amount of blood per beat of your heart. But she did admit that hill training is tricky around here – she favours San Moritz!
  • Strength training is an important part of any runner’s training schedule. It’s essential for injury prevention and ensuring you hold your form over long distances. The priority with this is glutes – think the clam and leg raises (some helpful images can be found here).
  • The pulling back motion of the arm is extremely important and will help make your running more efficient – work on it.
  • Always try and refuel within 20 minutes of training. A protein milkshake is ideal.
  • An elliptical is good for cross training.

RACES:

  • If you’re planning to run a marathon, you should aim for a 2o mile run 4 weeks before.
  • Races are excellent as part of a training schedule (i.e. a 10k if you’re training for a half.
  • Before a race, check the course and consider your logistics i.e. how you’re getting there. This gives you less to worry about on race day.
  • Nerves are a natural part of racing, and the adrenaline is useful so try and work with it.

These are just some of the tips I noted down in my slightly befuddled cold-y state, but hopefully you’ll find one or two of them useful. Mara also recommended a couple of books – Anatomy for Runners and Strength and Conditioning for Endurance Running – well worth a look if you’re a bookish type like me!

Also, if you get the chance, read up a bit more about Mara. She’s an inspirational lady who simply loves to run, but also isn’t afraid to speak her mind, especially on the recent scandals rocking athletics.

Sometimes it’s OK to Walk (or Run) Away

Some of you may have realised that I have a tendency to overcommit myself. Whether it’s making cakes at 10pm, leading running groups for beginners, volunteering at parkrun, hosting cake clubs, learning Italian, attempting to add a couple of hundred words to my novel in the evening, blogging(!), making cards/cross stitches/bauble wreaths/arm knitted scarves (yes, really) for people and probably more that I can’t remember as my brain is in a permanent low state of frazzlement (yes that’s now a word). I often get asked how I do as much as I do and sometimes I don’t really know. I guess some weeks some of these things take a back seat to others and I try my best to prioritise whilst still – most importantly – finding time for my family and friends.

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Standard Monday evening

I like to help people and I’m awful at saying no regardless of circumstances. And I really hate to let people down once I’ve committed to something.  But mostly I think I have quite a bad case of FOMO. I like to sign up to things and say yes to things that interest me because what if they’re brilliant and I’m not there? So earlier this year I signed up to the Great Eastern Run which took place on Sunday. But I didn’t run it.

If you’ve ever done a big-ish run before you’ll know that you have to sign up for these things pretty far in advance. For example, the Cambridge Half is at the end of February but entries open next week. And we all know about the London Marathon timings thanks to a recent influx of status updates and tweets of joy or frustration from those trying to get a place. And having that amount of time can be a really good thing as it gives you the chance to formulate a cracking training plan. But on the flip side you always sign up to these things knowing you may get injured during training or come down ill a few days beforehand. Those are the breaks. But I wasn’t ill or injured. I simply wasn’t in the right mental state or indeed the best physical state to run 13 miles, and that wasn’t an easy thing to accept.

London Marathon Tweets

Marathon disappointments from some awesome Twitter types I follow

Now I know I can run 13 miles. I’ve done it a few times and although it’s not easy I’m physically fit enough to do it. But I want to do every race to the best of my ability, and so much of my training recently has been on interval and speedwork, leaving distance training to take a back seat. About 6 weeks ago I was starting to get nervous about the run, and I decided to talk to Alan to see what he thought I should do. But he raised the subject before I had the chance. He told me he didn’t think I should do it because I wasn’t quite in the right head space, which would make me more likely to have a bad run which would set me back mentally and also put me at risk of picking up an injury. Naturally my competitive instinct at that moment was to protest, to claim that of course I could do it. I thought I was letting myself down by backing out, not to mention my friend Elaine who had also signed up for it with the understanding that we’d be emotionally supporting each other to the finish line. But so much of the relationship between a runner and their coach is based on trust. If Alan gave me some advice and I then ignored it, then why should he bother? Plus can you imagine how insufferable he would be if I did get an injury? So we made a deal – give this one a miss with the aim to smash the Cambridge Half in February. And let’s face it – Alan has been right about an awful lot recently.

So this weekend I went seriously easy on myself and did very little. On Saturday evening Pete and I went for a speedy run around Ely in frankly gorgeous weather,  managing a chatty 5.4 miles in 40:30 which would put me in a comfortable 10k PB position. And then on Sunday morning I did Zumba with Elaine, laughing most of the way through the class at her antics before going to coffee with her where we put the world to rights for over and hour.

Scrolling through Facebook and Twitter later that day I did feel a pang of envy at those who had done the run, but I knew I had made the right decision. Sometimes you have to walk (or indeed run) away from something because it’s the right thing to do at that moment, even if the competitive part of you is yelling at you to just do it anyway and sod the consequences. Plus I have the Town & Gown 10k in two weeks, and after my run with Pete I’m now looking forward to it, feeling strong and confident that my chances of a good run are high.

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Sometimes I have to admit that my coach knows better than I do and that it’s OK to have an incredibly lazy weekend where you leave an indentation in the armchair because you’ve read 150 pages of your book and not moved for two hours except to reach for another chocolate. Sometimes you just need to do nothing.

And ok, so I did bake biscuits on Sunday afternoon, but they were easy ones, honest!