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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Running Happy

This seems like such a simplistic title for a blog post, but it needs no zhooshing up (yes, that IS how you spell it, I saw it on Pointless). For the last few months I have been running happy and it is an absolute revelation.

I love running, and I hope this comes across in this blog. But on the odd occasion (ahem) I’ve sucked the joy out of the thing I love by constantly pushing myself to my physical limits, dreading races and putting so much pressure on myself that I wondered whether or not running was the best thing for my mental health.

What a mess.

So for the last few races, I’ve taken the foot off the gas and slowed down so that I can enjoy the process of running, and it has been nothing short of joyful. I’ve run chatty half marathons with friends, paced some of the juniors I coach at 10ks, run with kids at parkrun and have looked like a giddy idiot in all of the photos:

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Grinning 2

As well as making me happy, this also enables me to encourage others, and as PBs start to become a bit of a rarity for me, helping someone else to achieve theirs gives me the exact same high.

I’ve also been doing more casual longer runs. In the past I’ve always pushed hard on longer runs (despite knowing that you shouldn’t hit race pace in training), but I’m adding more run commutes and runs to parkrun in to my schedule (around 5.5 miles along the riverside from Ely to Littleport), and took part in a steady 8-mile Ely Runners Sunday trail run yesterday, which had to have been one of the most gorgeous runs I’ve ever done:

Easter Trail Run

Photo courtesy of trail runner extraordinaire Kyle Armstrong

At the beauty of it all is, when I do feel like pushing myself, my speed isn’t suffering for this new attitude. I paced a junior at a 5k last week, and we crossed the line in 20:52, and I felt like I had a decent amount still left in the tank after encouraging her the whole way round. Perhaps (gasp!) this new, more relaxed attitude will actually help me?

I originally started long distance running to try something new and after a few weeks I realised I had found my sport, the one that makes me feel strong, that helps me clear my mind and one that I actually happen to be pretty good at. But most of all I did it because it made me feel happy. Now, by actually slowing it down from time to time, I’m allowing myself to be in the moment and marvel and this bloody brilliant thing that my body allows me to do. There will come a time (hopefully in the far, far distant future) when I won’t be able to run any more, so I intend to be grateful for the here and now  and continue to focus on the pure joy of running.

My 2018 Sporting Review

It’s really hard when your personal life gets in the way of your blog. I’ve had so much I’ve wanted to tell you about, including the St Neots half marathon and the Ely Runners Annual Christmas Run, but my personal life has just meant the blog posts haven’t been able to appear. But fear not, fair reader. Race/run reviews are just as valid a month or two after the event, so they’ll both be coming soon.

In the meantime, as it’s new year and I’m clearly not very imaginative, I thought I’d look back over 2018 and see what I achieved with my running and fitness. As it turns out, it was a pretty awesome year.

parkrun Love

2018 was the year that I well and truly threw myself into parkrun. I’ve always waxed lyrical on here about how brilliant it is and the importance of volunteering if you’re a regular runner at your local parkrun. But since one opened in Littleport, a mere 10 minute drive from me (or a 5.5 mile run on those mornings when I’m feeling super keen), it has become a humungous part of my life. I’ve hit the 25 volunteer credit milestone, and have even got my dad involved (he hit his 25th volunteer credit at Littleport’s New Year’s Day event)! I’ve done 36 parkruns in total since I joined in 2015, and 20 of those runs took place in 2018.

I’m so impressed with the work my friends James and Charlotte have put in to making Littleport parkrun happen, and to the amazing army of volunteers who step up to make sure it happens every week. A really lovely community has been built up, and I’m so proud to be a part of it. Being 1st lady at the New Year’s Day run was a nice bonus too, especially as I was 85% prosecco.

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A 5k PB

After starting 2018 slowly recovering from suspected posterior tibial tendonitis, I didn’t have high hopes for my Kevin Henry season this year. Dealing with the nerves is always hard work as it is, and I just didn’t feel like I was particularly fit.

Turns out I was wrong. I don’t know if it was the spinning that I did during my injury that kept me in good shape or my better mindset after working with Dan Regan. I suspect it was a combination of the two when on the 12th July I managed to knock a second off my 3 year old 5k PB, hitting 20:18. I still can’t quite believe I managed it, and just thinking about it makes a stupid grin break out on my face. Plus there’s the lovely symmetry of achieving 20:18 in 2018.

Half Marathon

Back in March I had to transfer my place in the Cambridge Half Marathon due to the fact that my injury hadn’t recovered in time for me to get the training in. Because of this, I was so excited to get a shot at the St Neots half marathon when they opened up a number of places for those of us on the reserve list.

I have never done a big run on my own before. Usually with every big local race there are at least half a dozen other Ely Runners signed up, so I was spectacularly nervous when I realised that no one else I knew was going and I would have no one to hold my hand on the start line. But I got through the nerves, and I am so, so proud of my performance on the day. I’ll let you know how I got on in an upcoming blog post, but I know that St Neots 2018 is a race that’s going to stay with me.

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My Longest Run

Prior to 2018, the longest run I had ever done was around 14.25 miles at the 2017 Wings for Life World Run. But this year I took part in the Ely Runners Christmas Run and covered 18.5 miles with my running buddy Pete. It wasn’t quite the same as longer runs I’ve done before, as there were plenty of pauses, the pace was slower (it’s a cross-country route) and there were snacks including rolo vodka (!), but it was amazing to know that my body was capable of keeping going over that distance. Plus it was the first time Pete has ever run more than 13.1 miles and the world didn’t end. Good to know.

A Triple Trophy Win

I hadn’t even realised until I started writing this post, but I somehow managed to win three trophies in 2018. I was the first lady at the Waterbeach Running Festval 5k back in May, I won the Ely Runners Female Kevin Henry trophy in September, and I was also first (old!) lady at the Ely Festive 5k in November! Needless to say, if more races offered a 3 course roast dinner as a prize I reckon more people would get in to running.

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Coaching

I have thoroughly enjoy doing more coaching this year, both with the Ely Runners Beginners’ group and the juniors. Seeing people step up to running their first half marathon, or getting a crazy 5k PB at the age of 14 is mind-blowing. I look forward to them all pacing me in the very near future.

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Radio Chat

Towards the end of 2018 I was contacted by Richard who hosts the Richard ‘Spanners’ Ready radio show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. His show is a mix of chat about life, love, kids, music, cars and sport, and he was keen to feature local bloggers on the show and I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest twice. Richard’s show is so funny, and we’ve so far covered breathing techniques for running, the joy of parkrun and how to get in to climbing. I really hope he wants to keep these chats going into 2019, and I look forward to when we finally run a parkrun together. I’m not letting you off the hook on this one Richard.

What’s Next?

It’s easy to glance back at a year and feel like you’ve not achieved much, but taking the time to sit down and properly examine the time that’s passed can show that actually, in many ways, 2018 was a pretty good year.

So what’s next for 2019? I’d still love to get that sub-20 5k, and I’m hoping to do at least two half marathons this year (I’ve only ever done one a year before). I’m also hoping to get on to a CiRF course to take the next step in my coaching journey, as helping other people to achieve their goals is one of the best feelings in the world.

What are your fitness goals for 2019? Let me know in the comments below.

Was my Injury Actually a Good Thing?

Did I mention that I’ve been injured?

Megalolz. I’m only messing you with you. If you follow me on Twitter or you’ve been lucky enough to find yourself within earshot of me within the last four months you will have heard me banging on about my “posterior tibial tendonitis” (try saying that after a few drinks). This has been without doubt the most stubborn injury I’ve had in the last few years, and I’ve had some really low moments during the seemingly endless weeks of stretching, physio, osteopathy, acupuncture, yoga, foam rolling and self medicating with cake.

But now that I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe this happening was a good thing. Yes I may have missed some of my favourite races and my preferred running season (trust me to be fit and healthy in the summer when trying to run outdoors is akin to running in soup) but I’ve been forced to be more creative with my fitness and as a result have seen my perspective shift in some interesting ways.

First of all, there’s the bouldering. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know I’ve found a real affinity with clambering up walls (despite being sweaty of hand and afraid of heights – go figure). I’ve reconnected with friends over climbing, have seen my shoulders develop in a way that makes me want to flex like the hulk whenever I walk past a mirror, have spent time with my niece and nephew at the climbing centre and have enjoyed the encouraging vibe between other climbers. It gives me an adrenaline hit but in a more controlled way than the adrenaline I feel on a start line of a race in a sometimes unfamiliar environment. Having said all this though, being on the verge of tears, stuck at the top of a route with my feet on a hold that looked disturbingly like a large pair of testicles was not one of my finest moments. But the good of climbing massively outweighs the bad.

Look! I’m a GIF! Thanks Oli…

Secondly, when I was deciding how on earth to find something that would get my heart rate up as much as running and Zumba (another exercise form that seemed to be aggravating my injury), I decided to wander into Elyte Fitness and see if maybe they were the gym for me after feeling less than inspired by the other local facilities on offer. Within 10 minutes I was sold on the sheer passion of the owners Lewis and Dawn and I signed up on the spot. I’m so glad I made this decision, as they are full of ideas and plans for the gym, and they’ve built an amazing fitness community. Every time I go there I feel like I’m with old friends and I’ll be writing a separate post on my Elyte journey so far as there is so much I want to say about it.

Because I was finding myself feeling so down about the state of running, I also decided to fire up my Headspace app again.  I’ve flirted on and off with Headspace for some time, but never seemed to manage more than 5 days in a row. Even though they always say not to worry if you miss a day, I would always take that as a sign of failure (competitive, moi?) and end up walking away for another month or two. But I’m currently sitting at 21 days straight of at least 10 minutes of meditation a day, and I am feeling slightly calmer in a general kind of way. I’m not going to claim that I am in some kind of zen like chilled perfection of existence (no one would believe that), but I think the clearest sign that I’m more relaxed and able to see “the bigger picture”, is the fact that I decided to transfer my Cambridge Half place, and I felt completely ok about it. Even though missing races you love sucks, setting back a recovery that has taken 4 months for the sake of one medal is madness. I would have spent the next 6 weeks fretting about building up from 4 miles to 13 miles, constantly wondering if my tendon could take the strain and I would have become unpleasant to be around. So to me it just seemed like such an obvious thing to do.

Another positive to come out of all this is that I feel like I know my body better, and I have a new found respect for it. I’m still making time to stretch and foam roll, and I try and do a little yoga every day (I manage it about 80% of the time). And as a result of my injury I’ve been told by my physio and my osteo that my foot functionality and balance is the best they’ve ever seen (proof that putting the effort into your rehab works!). And really, I’m just so excited to be running again, and am looking forward to getting stronger and building up to my best again. I’ve done a parkrun and a track session and loved every minute as you can see my inane grinning face above. Feeling my lungs fill with that gorgeous icy air is the ultimate tonic to me, and I’m just so grateful to be out there again. It’s lovely to be back with my running family, and I’m going to take my time and build up my distance slowly, and maybe look to do an autumn half marathon. Then again – maybe not? Maybe I’ll just keep doing whatever I like whenever I like, with no pressure, and no expectations.

 

 

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)?

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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.

 

 

Spitfire Scramble 2017 – Saying Goodbye to my Comfort Zone

What would take you outside of your comfort zone? Wing walking? Swimming with sharks? Getting a hug off Donald Trump in your favourite white outfit?

Well for me, it’s camping. Yep, you heard that right. I am the sort of person who loves hot showers, clean toilets and my own bed. After a horrendous camping experience when I was 11 (freak Lauren out became everyone’s favourite activity on that trip), I had no inclination to do it again. EVER. My friend Lucy put it perfectly when she said “why would you choose to spend your free time living at a lower standard than you do normally?”. FYI that’s the clean version of what she actually said, but it summed up my feelings on the matter.

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My ever supportive friends and family.

So how exactly did I find myself camping in a field just outside Dagenham, losing punch-ups with poison-fanged insects and substituting showers with baby wipes? I honestly have no idea. I just know that in October last year my friend and all-round adventure-seeker Jen asked for runners to join her team of 8 people for the 24-hour Spitfire Scramble, and I put my name down. I’m assuming she caught me at a moment when both my caffeine and sugar levels had completely crashed and I was in the midst of some sort of hallucination where I thought I was Bear Grylls*. It’s the only thing I can think of.

But July flew round, and three days before we set off I realised I should probably order a sleeping bag, pillow and mat (I’m nailing this adulting malarkey). After a frustrating 2.5 drive from Cambridge, we were in a field on a Friday evening, and I was actually vaguely helping to pitch a tent whilst mildly panicking about what lay ahead. I also had to make the decision to take out my contact lenses and leave them out for the next 36 hours, reasoning that running slightly blind was preferable to an eye infection. That first night, I was so glad that I was in the company of Jen and Becky (later joined by Paula, Fiona, Ruth, Paul, Rachael and Chris, plus Rachael and Chris’ AMAZING dogs Yogi and Boo). They made me laugh non stop, sorted me out with food, and Becky gave me wine, which made her a demi-god in my eyes at that moment. I went to bed pretty early (party pooper), and actually managed a semi-decent 8.5 hours of sleep, only waking a couple of times when the temperature dipped.

The amazeballs Yogi and Boo. Boo ran 17 miles! 

On Saturday morning, Jen, Paul and Ruth made plans to go to Harrow Lodge parkrun just 2 miles down the road. Ruth and Paul had come camping with their incredibly cute 3 year old daughter Katie who wanted to be pushed around parkrun in her buggy, and if you met her you’d find it hard to say no to her too (especially when she talks about being a “hairy” princess and pronounces Essex “Eggets”). Then Jen checked the time of the 1st place woman the week before, and she had clocked 23:58. Obviously my competitive side kicked in instantly,  and knowing that even taking it easy I could do a 22 minute parkrun, I decided to go along. Of course, a SUPER speedy woman turned up and smashed it in 19:38, so I had to make do with 2nd place. It was a lovely course though, and a nice way to stretch my legs before the Spitfire Scramble got under way, and Ruth and I also took the opportunity to stuff our faces with a massive breakfast at the park cafe. I only got slightly worried when it started to rain…

When we got back to the campsite, our remaining team members John and Mel had arrived, and the 8 of us with our support team of Jen, Fiona and Becky were ready to go. With his trusty whiteboard in place Chris took charge of the running schedule, and my first 5.7 mile lap was due to start around 4:30pm.

Pretty sunset, tired and sweaty runner.

The way the Spitfire Scramble works is pretty simple. There are different categories, from solo runners up to a maximum of 8. We were obviously in the mixed 5-8 category, with 5 female and 3 male runners. We all had to estimate how quickly we would do our laps, and then the next runner in sequence went down to the changeover zone about 10 minutes before the next runner was due in. Initially I’d assumed we’d each do 3 laps, taking it nice and easy and coming in around the hour mark, with the chance that one or two of us might squeeze in a 4th lap.

MEGALOLZ.

It turned out pretty quickly that we were all being quite cagey with our estimates and were coming in quite a few minutes under (I estimated 55 minutes but came in at 44 for lap 1), so our runners’ schedule was continuously updated.  As I saw my next laps were scheduled for 10:15pm and 4:15am,  I felt myself starting to panic that I couldn’t even manage a second lap let alone a third, so I messaged my running friends Pete and Rach in a bit of a panic, but with the aid of some trusty GIFs they quickly talked some sense into me. I then saw that our three speedy speedsters John, Paul and Mel had all signed up for a double nighttime shift (just casually running 11.5 miles in the dead of night, no biggie) to ensure that their teammates could get as much rest as possible. So no way was I going to let them down.

Although my second lap was my slowest, it was also my most sociable. I teamed up with what turned out to be the Race Director of that morning’s parkrun, Mark, and when he stopped at 4 miles to get some water from his support crew, I then ran the final 1.7 miles with Shimpei from Guildford, who distracted me from the monster hill that loomed up just before mile 5. I also weirdly enjoyed the 4:30am lap, mainly because I got to watch the (only slightly blurry) sunrise.

When I got back from that lap around 5:15am, I saw that I had been put down for a 4th and final lap at around 9:45am. I cannot tell you how badly I didn’t want to run another lap. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t done any real training for this event. I’d told myself it would be 3 10ks spread over 24 hours, which seems weirdly manageable. Had I known I’d end up doing 26 miles in 26 hours, I would have bleeding well trained. As I got ready to snatch a couple of hours of sleep John assured me that they could cover me if I couldn’t do my 4th lap, which made me feel terrible when he’d already done a double and was down for a total of 5 laps. I went to sleep at around 6am, and told everyone I’d be up at 8am to see if I could manage my 4th lap, but I already knew I was going to do it.

To be honest, I don’t really remember much about that last lap. I’d had a total of around 5 hours of sleep (from around 12:30am-3:30am and 6am-8am), and I was definitely running on pure adrenalin. I thought I’d be lucky to come in under an hour, but I somehow managed 46 minutes, meaning all 4 of my laps had comfortably come in under 50 minutes. In total, our team managed 31 laps, and we came 5th out of 47 teams in our category. We all joined John as he crossed the line for the last time, and the medals we received were frankly awesome.  And then suddently it was all over. I was in complete awe of how quickly everyone managed to pack up their things, and we were on the road by 1pm and in contrast to our journey there were back in Cambridge in just over an hour.

Photo taken after lap1. Boo was the ultimate spirit lifter.

I can say without doubt that the Spitfire Scramble was the most mentally challenging event I’ve ever done, but also the one I’m most proud of. As for my thoughts on the actual event itself, the atmosphere is one of the best I’ve ever come across, with brilliant marshals and a lovely supportive atmosphere from all other runners. Although there were times at night when it felt like you were totally on your own, the event was well sign posted, Jen’s chest light was brilliant (you have to wear a light between 8pm and sunrise), and the mini glowsticks on the path were so useful. They had a water station halfway round the route which was manned throughout the 24 hours, and they had another self-serve one at the changeover area as well. The toilets were really well looked after and regularly cleaned, but you had to get a coach to be driven to a local school for showers, so we all decided wet wipes would be good enough for 36 hours! Needless to say that shower when I got home was the best one I have ever had. Ever ever. The medal is also an absolute BEAUT.

I think the only downside of the event is that they could have done with some more food trucks on site. They only had one, and people were queuing for up to half an hour just to get a coffee. A couple of extra hot drink vans might have been useful (I would have killed for Silver Oak Coffee and the Rural Coffee Project to have been there!), and all of our team agreed that an ice cream van would have been flipping awesome.

My recovery from the event was more intense than I expected. Although my legs felt fine, my back and left foot felt seriously fatigued, and I was mentally exhausted. I would say that I didn’t feel back to normal until the following Friday, and I pretty much ate whatever I could get my hands on for a good 5 or 6 days. The almond croissant market definitely saw a boost.

Would I do it again? If you’d asked me that last week it would have been an emphatic no, possibly accompanied by a headbutt. When Jen mentioned that some of the team were doing the Thunder Run just a week later I thought they were well and truly out of their trees (I still do to be honest). But as each day passes, a teeny tiny part of me is thinking “hmm….maybe…”. So ask me again in a couple of months. Maybe that sleeping bag will see the light of day again after all.

*Yes. To me 2 nights of camping is the equivalent of Bear Grylls living on an island for 60 days eating nothing but sand and raw fish and sleeping under a net of snakes whilst setting fire to himself. I’m a drama queen, ok?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Why you should Volunteer at a Parkrun

If you’ve read some of my blog posts before, you’ll know I’m a big fan of the Parkrun movement. Anything that gives people the opportunity to get fit for free in a positive and welcoming environment gets a big thumbs up from me.

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See? Thumbs up!

But hang on a second. It’s not completely free is it? At each Milton Parkrun (the one I attend most often) a minimum of 22 volunteers are needed to ensure the that the run happens efficiently and – most importantly – safely. People are donating their time to make sure that 400+ people get to enjoy their timed 5k for free each Saturday morning.

Now I’ve only recently become a super keen Parkrunner after trying it once in 2012 and for reasons unknown to me only returning again in April this year. I think my dislike of early mornings (especially at the weekend) combined with the thought of having to schlep 14 miles for a run I could do around Ely just seemed like too much hassle. But after being drawn back in by Pete, I’ve now realised just what a fantastic concept Parkrun really is, and how great it is for measuring how much I’m improving at my running.

Parkrun MapJust look how many Parkruns there are! This makes me happy.

To give you some data on the Milton Parkrun, there have been 283 runs to date, and it celebrated it’s 5th birthday on the 31st January this year. On average it has 283 runners each week, but I suspect this number isn’t a fair representation of the “current” average as I usually see finishers in the low 400s each time I run. Last week saw 440 finishers cross the line (the highest ever has been 500).

In addition to this, as of today, 9994 unique people have run the Milton Parkrun, so how on earth should they ever find themselves in a position where they’re struggling for volunteers? Fiona English, who was Run Director last weekend, was the ONLY Run Director out of 7 on Cambridge Parkrun’s books who was available. Without her, the run simply wouldn’t have happened. Fiona is a keen runner who gives up her runs to allow others to enjoy theirs (and she’s already back on the roster for the run on the 4th September). Many people like Fiona are committed to playing their part in making Parkrun happen.

So I decided that after 8 runs (7 at Milton) it was my turn to do my bit, so I thought I would try to cycle from Waterbeach station (something I’ve been meaning to do for a while so that I know how to get to Parkrun should driving not be an option) and I opted for barcode scanning, so that if my train were badly delayed it wouldn’t be a major disaster as I wouldn’t really be needed until 9:15 at the earliest (to scan the super speedy runners).

wpid-img_20150822_110310.jpgLovely morning for a bike ride.

As I cycled along the river past Horningsea I realised that it was actually pretty flipping warm for 8:30am on a Saturday, so I was ever so slightly smug that I had picked this Saturday to volunteer. I hate running in the heat – I struggle MASSIVELY with it and generally avoid it whenever possible (roll on winter). When I arrived at Milton Country Park I realised I was on the opposite side to where the run starts, and the place is quite frankly a flipping maze, so I just belted around on my bike, imagining myself pelting into poor unsuspecting Parkrunners. Luckily I suddenly found myself by the 2k marker and finally arrived at the start with 8 minutes to spare, hot and just a little bit bothered.

Getting myself set up with what I needed to volunteer couldn’t have been easier. I just got my name ticked off the list and was handed a high vis vest, a barcode scanner and a print out of position barcodes for the odd few finish tokens that don’t have a barcode to scan. I then got to chat to a few other volunteers before Fiona conducted the usual pre-race briefing to all the runners, which this time included a pretty serious plea for volunteers for future runs.

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Next came the fun bit. As my volunteering role wouldn’t start for another fifteen minutes at least, I got to stand with many of the other volunteers to cheer on the runners. Watching people run is one of the best feelings, from seeing those who will be finishing in sub 20 minutes belting out from the trees after the first lap, to those with dogs and pushchairs and first timers pushing themselves through the heat. Whether they will be finishing in 16, 25 or 45 minutes, everyone seemed to enjoy hearing us whistle and clap and shout “well done!” or “keep going!”. Getting a smile or wave or even a return clap in acknowledgement was fully cockle-warming.

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The joy of Parkrun summed up by one runner.

After the majority of runners started hitting the 3k mark, I saw the front runners appear for their final 200m sprint to the finish and so took up my place at my little station ready to start scanning, muttering over and over to myself “person then position” in the hope that I wouldn’t actually muck it up and scan everyone’s barcodes in the wrong order. Getting to congratulate tired, hot and sweaty runners who were (mostly!) grinning ear to ear was so much fun, and it was utterly lovely when someone thanked me for volunteering. I got to see a few familiar faces too, scanning the codes of Ely Runners Rich and John and seeing my sister’s friend Anne who told me that Stacy was considering coming along to one (come on Stace)!

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By about 10:10 my work was done, and I handed over my kit before using the Google Maps on my phone (!) to navigate my way out of the park again. I had had such a brilliant time, and getting a text from Parkrun thanking me for volunteering in place of my usual results text was a really lovely touch. Not even my late train home could affect my mood.

So, if you’re someone who goes to Parkrun pretty much every week, you should be looking at volunteering every 15 runs or so. And if you’re unlucky enough to be injured, find the positive in the situation and use it as a reason to finally volunteer and keep connected to the running world. Parkrun is a community of utter awesomeness, but it needs people to be generous with their time. So don’t be that person who just takes but never gives anything back. No one likes that guy.

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Nice work everyone.

Back on Track with the Coach – Literally

So last Thursday I was planning to drag myself down to the track for my first sprint session since Alan’s heart had done its little “cry for help” and given us all a stark reminder that regardless of how active you are, the fuel you take on board has got to be good too. Despite being in hospital Alan had been regularly texting me tips and training plans in between watching episodes of Emmerdale, so I knew I needed to do 300m sprints. I had brilliantly forgotten my Nike Sportswatch so it was going to be interesting measuring my times anyway, but I admit I was a bit taken aback when I got a text from Alan:

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-17-23-34-13-1.pngAlan then went quiet for an hour, so being the rational person I am (I once thought my mum had died when she didn’t answer the phone when in fact her phone line had gone down), I assumed texting me had taxed Alan so much he’d been carted back off to Papworth to have another stent put in. But then this happened:

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-17-23-35-23-1.pngFor those of you who know Alan, he’s a stubborn as anything, so if he’s decided he wants a coaching session, that’s what’s going to happen. But I have to admit that when I cycled into Wilberforce Road and saw him leaning against a steeplechase barrier, watching Goldie Sayers hurling javelins across the site in her last practice there before flying to Beijing for the IAAF World Championships, a big smile spread across my face. it was like he’d never been away. After a bear hug it was down to business as usual.

Sprinting sessions are never my favourite, as I’m simply not built for short bursts of extreme speeds, and five years of running long distances means my sprinting technique was non-existent before I met Alan. He told me he wanted me to aim for 62-63 seconds per 300m since I was at 65-66 the last time we did this (for context, the women’s record at this distance is 35.30 seconds, set by Ana Guevara in 2003), so it was a reasonable aim over such a short distance. So I did the first one in 56 seconds, leading Alan to say “Blimey girl, what’s got into you?”

While this might sound like a good thing, I knew I had gone off too fast. It’s like I forget I have to do it 7 more times. Sprints 2 and 3 were ok (58 seconds ish), but on sprint 4 (60 seconds) my quads were burning and I was gasping “I’ve lost it!” as I went over the line. Way to keep a positive mental attitude there Thomas.

It was raining so Alan and I spent my recovery under the Pavilion balcony in the dry, and he did that infuriating (but also fair) thing of tapping his head and saying “it’s all up here”. And although there was no denying that my legs hurt, a 4 minute recovery should be more than enough for me. I don’t have to try and beat myself (or anyone else for that matter) on every lap. The whole point of this training is consistency and pacing. Alan also decided that now was the time to tell me that if he collapsed, I had to spray the drug he had in his pocket under his tongue. So it’s a good job he didn’t keel over at the start of the session then.

So somehow, I managed to get a hold of myself. I think it was partly managing to control my head and partly wanting to do Alan proud after everything that had happened over the last fortnight, to show him how much I appreciated his schlepping out to see me 6 days after his operation (not that I had much choice in the matter). I managed to do the last lap exactly how I’d started – in 56 seconds. Boom. Alan told me it was the best I’d ever run, which has got to be one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.

wpid-img_20150813_145212.jpgLook how dementedly pleased I am!

So all in all it was a fantastic session, and as we said goodbye to Goldie and wished her luck in Beijing, I felt like I’d left the last 2 weeks of stress pummeled into the track where it belongs. It felt flipping awesome. And then on Saturday I managed a new 5k PB at the Milton Parkrun:

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-18-11-54-24-1.pngAnd that’s what this is all about. Working hard and seeing the pay off. Come on sub-21.

Kevin Henry League vs. Parkrun – the Ups and Downs of the Good Old 5k

So after I decided to sign up for the Ely Runners it came as a bit of a shock to find out that their next league race would be just 10 days later. Having taken 5 years to decide to join a club it’s pretty clear that it’s not in my nature to rush into anything running-wise. But I also know from Pete that as a small club ER need as many runners as they can to take part in these races.

The Kevin Henry league is made up of 6 nearby clubs: ER, the Saffron Striders, Haverhill Running Club, the Newmarket Joggers, Cambridge & Coleridge and the Cambridge Tri Club. Between April and September, each club hosts a Thursday night 5k run which is open to anyone aged 14 and over. Previously, ER had been part of the league as a guest club, but in order to continue participating in the league, they had to host their own race, the first of which was last Thursday.

Anyone who knows Ely will know that there is nowhere suitable to run a 5k that doesn’t either involve roads or mind-numbing multiple laps that can be difficult to monitor in a race situation, so we headed out to Witchford to run 5k on the disused WWII airfield concrete tracks.

When I arrived (courtesy of Ely Runner Andy who gave me a lift), there was a real buzz in the air amongst club members. But that did little to settle my nerves. Now anyone who knows me (hello Andrew Caines!) knows I am a NIGHTMARE pre-race, and that I find myself standing on the start line wondering why on EARTH I continue to do this to myself. The fact that I didn’t manage to locate Emily who had my club vest until about 5 minutes before the start (how we had managed to miss each other neither of us could work out) meant that I was panicking that I would run only to be disqualified at the end.

But I was mostly worried that I would embarrass myself and disgrace my newly acquired vest. I really just didn’t want to let anyone down.

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As it turns out I didn’t embarrass myself, but I was disappointed with how much I struggled. The trouble with running on an airfield is that there is no shade on a hot summer evening, and the track itself was somewhat uneven with tractor tyres leaving behind large grooves in the ground. By 2.5k my throat was completely dry, a sensation that always makes me slightly panicky. By 4k, after failing to raise even a hint of a smile for Andrew and his waiting camera, I was seriously contemplating walking. But I kept telling myself that I couldn’t do that on my first ever run for the club, and when I saw the finish line flags I don’t think I have ever been so relieved and sprinted to the end. At least I still had that left in the tank.

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Andrew caught my better running side anyway. Love the sun flare.

I ended up finishing in 21:49, which is a decent improvement on the last hot summer evening run I did (Girton 5k in 22:08). I was also the 2nd Ely female finisher, which I’m really proud of. I just hope I can try and get a handle on my nerves and fear of the heat in time for C&C’s race on the 10th September, the final one of the season.

Also this seems like a good moment to say huge thanks to the Ely Runners who sacrificed their run to marshal at this brilliant event.

Kevin Henry 5k LT 1

Both feet off the ground! Proof I actually run!

And so on to Saturday morning’s Milton Parkrun, where I quite frankly thought I would struggle to even get going thanks to a restless week that had affected my sleep and stress levels. I teamed up with Pete and Rich from ER, and after a cool Friday I was hacked off that it was warm again. But Pete is excellent at talking me off the proverbial ledge and told me to give it a go because – horror of horrors – I might actually enjoy it.

And you know what? I really did. When Rich had told me he had run his best Parkrun 2 days after a KH league race I thought it must have been a fluke. But as I did the first 1k, I realised Rich was just in front of me. Knowing that he can be a bit of a speedster, I decided to see if I could try and keep him in sight. And by some miracle, I did.

Then at about 3k, another girl overtook me, but didn’t pull away. I decided to just sit on her shoulder and use her as a pacer, enjoying letting someone else almost control my speed so that I didn’t have to think about it too much. And the genius thing is, she was wearing headphones, so I don’t think she realised that I stuck to her the whole way round. At 400m from the finish I thought “it’s hers. I’m going to have to let her take this.” At 300m I thought “Hmm, she’s still not pulling away.” At about 150m I thought “screw this I’m going to give it a shot”, so I heard Alan’s voice booming in my ears to bring my arms back and knees up and I SPRINTED. At the end she came up to me and congratulated me, saying she just didn’t have enough left to keep up.

Waiting for those results was agonising. According to Rich’s watch, I had a shout at a PB (even though in the last Milton Parkrun I did I placed 51st, and this time I was 75th, there were a lot of speedy juniors). The results usually come through around 11:30, but by 12:30 I was losing my mind. Then a text from Pete came:

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I have never been more giddy. Looks like Rich was on to something! After a physically and emotionally draining KH 5k, everything just went right on Saturday morning. I ended up beating that girl by 4 seconds, and I was 1st in my age category. What an amazing sensation.

Now without making a HUGE deal about this because he will kill me if I do, there is a reason why I wanted to give my all to these two runs. My awesome and inspiring coach Alan had a heart attack last weekend, and I quite simply wanted to do him proud. Before you all worry, he’s doing fine and is back home after having a procedure in Papworth and a telling off by just about everyone who knows him to stop doing so blinking much. But it might be a little while (try telling him that) before he’s making me swear/cry/nearly vomit again, so in the meantime I’m going to keep working my arse off and keep making the “old bastard very happy” (his words, not mine).

And before I go, can we all take a moment to appreciate the size of my new running vest? Beats a 4 year old’s dinosaur gilet I suppose.

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