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.

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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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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.

MISSING: One Positive Mental Attitude

If I’m honest, I went into today’s session nervous. 6 x 1200m on a 400m track is a lot, and I struggle with the monotony of short laps. Plus I’m still getting used to pacing myself over shorter distances.

And therein lies the problem.

Rather than going into the session aggressively, I started off my first set wondering how on earth I was going to manage to do this six times. And then I got it completely wrong, went off too fast (finishing in 4:45) and after the second set my legs felt like everything had gone out of them and I was close to tears.

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Urgh

Now I know what you’re thinking – either it’s “aren’t you meant to be doing this for fun?” or it’s “WUSS!” But it is fun, and I do love it. Plus if it was easy, then quite honestly what would be the point? But I’m still learning. I’m learning how to pace myself, what my limits are and what I’m capable of. And at this stage, it’s not 6 x 1200m. It’s 4 x 1200m.

But Alan being Alan decided that if we were only doing 4 sets, I was only going to get a 20 second rest between sets 3 and 4. Now I know Alan tells me I recover quickly, but that was a shocker. But I remembered Alan’s infamous phrase about how there’s “no point taking anything home with you”, so I dug deep and did the last set bang on 5 minutes (which for future reference is how I needed to do every set).

Alan wasn’t going to let me leave without a pep talk, and he reminded me that we’ve only been working together for 6 weeks, and this is the first time I’ve ever tried to pace myself over 1200m. He said we got the set wrong, but this is all trial and error. And I know that without him I wouldn’t have attempted this session, and if by some miracle I had, I would have quit after the first set like my head was screaming at me to. Quite frankly, I would have bailed, and I would feel a lot worse about that than I do about struggling with the session. According to him, running is 80% in the mind, 20% in the legs. He’s right. Of course he is.

So after I did my customary barefoot lap around the track like he always makes me do after a session, he told me he wants a 21:5-something Parkrun out of me this Saturday or I have to give him a Mars Bar. He also told me not to run with any water as I’m treating it like a baby treats its dummy (harsh). I get a dry mouth quickly on a run, but it is a comfort blanket and I know it makes me run unevenly. I shouldn’t need water on a 20 minute run if I hydrate myself sufficiently beforehand. As per usual Alan is right (I’m sensing a pattern here), but I’m a little bit nervous…..

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Barefoot laps. They’re the future.

My super sporting Saturday

You know when you find yourself looking forward to the weekend but then remember that you’ve committed to about a gajillion things and you’re actually going to be working harder in 24 hours than you have done at actual work all week?

That.

Now don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t coerced into any of this stuff and it was all so much fun. There was just a LOT of it.

So to kick start Saturday morning I decided it was time to tackle the Parkrun again, three weeks after my 22:40 attempt. As ever, I went with my running buddy Pete, and when he arrived to pick me up it has to be said he looked about as sprightly as I felt (having celebrated my best friend’s birthday the night before), so I can’t say that I had particularly high hopes for either of us.

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Yawn

But as we turned into Milton Country Park and Pete’s American Anthems CD started playing Eye of the Tiger (yes, really!) we both perked up a bit, gave our thanks for the good conditions, and set off, with me deciding to be a bit ballsy and start near the front as per the coach’s advice.

It’s hard to explain how I felt during this particular 5km. It was pretty up and down, with my getting frustrated when stuck behind two older guys, elated when I overtook a woman at the 4km mark who had overtaken me at the 2km mark, and experiencing sheer dismay when a girl no higher than my hip overtook me about 800m from the end (seriously – she was a little powerhouse)! About halfway round I had turned my sportswatch off as it seemed to be all over the place and was really putting me off my game. To quote Alan I felt like I was running with the watch rather than my heart, but this did mean that when I crossed the finish line I had no idea how I had done. I felt a weird mixture of exhausted and strong, which I hoped meant I had pushed myself as hard as possible. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had managed to come in 83rd, an improvement on 112th from the last time (and meant I had achieved my goal to finish in the top 100), but it was a meaningless statistic without knowing the calibre of the runners around me. So I grabbed a kale, spinach and mango smoothie from the brilliant Milton Country Park cafe and Pete and I headed home.

Now I am massively impatient, so thank goodness the awesome Cambridge Parkrun had the results up by midday:

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Words cannot describe how happy I was with this time. It was 35 seconds quicker than last time, and placed me as 9th woman! Chatting to some fellow runners at the end, the overriding opinion is that you can probably knock off something like 30 seconds from a grass race to get an idea of how fast you could cover the same distance on tarmac. All I know is that I am seriously closing in on that sub-22 minute time, and I was completely thrilled. A huge thank you to all of the brilliant Parkrun volunteers again. I’m going to enjoy basking in my new PB before Alan sets me my next challenge.

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Parkrun PB! Whoop!

So after a quick lunch with my best friend at the legendary Peacocks Tearoom, I shot back into Cambridge, this time for the Cambridge vs. Oxford Athletics Varsity Match at Wilberforce Road. Now I love watching athletics (I enjoyed a bit of the Yokohama leg of the World Triathlon Series on TV this afternoon – what a finish in the men’s race!) and I know that Cambridge had an amazing team this year, particularly with its female athletes. It was a gorgeous day for it, and as I bench pressed my niece and watched her roll down the hill perilously close to the track (my sister naturally came to watch the action too), I got to see the men’s 400m, a bit of pole vault and the men’s and women’s 1500m. The atmosphere at an event like this, when so many people come together to unite in their passion for athletics, is just incredible. Brilliantly, Cambridge won the Varsity 4-0, and no doubt the athletes celebrated into the night. What Boat Race?!

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At 3:30pm I headed over to Churchill College for my 2 hour writing class, and after that I got picked up by my friends Tamsin, Elaine and Naomi, and we shot over to Shelford Rugby Club to join our friends Lucy, Emma and Sue for the Arthur Rank Hospice 10 mile Star Shine Stroll.

For those of you that don’t know, the Arthur Rank Hospice is an amazing local Cambridgeshire charity that provides life enhancing care to patients, as well as their family, friends and carers who are faced with the challenges presented by a life limiting illness. They arrange a lot of sporting events in Cambridge during the year, including the Bridge the Gap walk and the Ely Festive 5k (the only 5k I’ve ever won)! So with 394 other walkers, we left at 7pm to walk into Cambridge and back again.

Lucy, Elaine and I managed to be the first walkers back (although that last mile was hard work as our stride became shorter and our muscles got tighter!) in 2:20, and Naomi, Tamsin, Emma and Sue came in just a few minutes later. As we all sat down with a hard-earned hot drink, I found myself looking at the rotation of photos on the big screen in the Rugby Club, showing people who had been cared for by the Arthur Rank Hospice. It was a reminder of why we had all spent our Saturday evening trekking through Cambridge rather than singing karaoke at Tamsin’s House – it was because of the brilliant work the Hospice does to make a really difficult time in people’s lives a little bit easier.

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See? I’m not the only one who loves crazy sportsgear

I also have to say a huge thank you to everyone who sponsored us. You can still do so here, and even a £1 would make a big difference to this small but hugely important charity.

So after clocking up 31000 steps in total on Saturday and spending today falling asleep at random intervals, it goes without saying that I’m looking forward to a quiet one next weekend. Except for maybe another Parkrun………..