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.

Ely Runners

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.

Yawn

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………..

Dear Cambridge Parkrun – it’s been a while…

I feel that now we’re getting to know each other a bit better, I should share with you the fact that I am NOT a morning person, let alone a morning exerciser. So while I think the nationwide Parkrun organisation is utterly brilliant, it’s a bit of battle for me to get up before 8am on a Saturday to drive 25 minutes to Milton and make my legs work properly for a start time of 9am. In fact the last time I did this was terrifyingly more than three years ago, where I got a time of 24:20. But inspired by my friend Pete (more about him in a minute) I got up, fed the cat, threw on some (bright, obvs) running gear and grabbed a banana and a pack of oat biscuits. When Pete arrived to pick me up I apologised for looking like a character from Fraggle Rock (I hadn’t even combed my hair) and to the dulcet tones of Taylor Swift we head off.

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Two slightly demented runners.

Now, the thing about Pete is that he’s like me – he also started running around the age-30 mark. In fact, when I did that first Parkrun in January 2012, Pete came with me and got a time of around 27 minutes. Fast forward to April 25th 2015, and he was psyching himself up to aim for a sub 20 minute 5km. Now to me, this is utterly immense. Pete’s natural talent for running is awesome, and he’s got some amazing expertise in the shape of his friends Nick and Claire Jellema (both elite runners) to call on for advice. This combined with his training efforts has clearly worked wonders, and he’s now a bit of a speed demon.

Another way Pete is like me, is with his pre-run jitters. Any time there’s any kind of race element (i.e. there are other people around and you’ll get an official time out of it) we both get stupidly nervous. For example, this morning I ummed and ahhed about whether or not to run with water (I sweat a lot (lovely) and dehydrate easily) and at about 8:56 am Pete patiently trotted back to the car with me so that I could take my water after all. It doesn’t matter that we’ve both run the distance dozens of times before – we both always want to perform well, and that pressure can make you nervous.

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Photo courtesy of the Cambridge Parkrun Facebook page

So I left Pete at the front of the group and settled myself in amongst the 23 minute hopefuls. Having only recently recovered from a strained tendon in my foot I thought that might have been a tad optimistic, but I figured I might as well try and push myself. I also happened to bump into Neil Costello, the Chair of Cambridge & Coleridge Athletic Club. I know Neil as he’s a member of the Sports Centre where I work, and we chatted a bit about my running future, with him telling me that he reckoned I had another 10 years in me before my speed would start to plateau and decline. He got a 17 minute-odd 5km in his early 40s, so that was really encouraging to hear. As we set off, he shouted “go on Lauren, get up in front!” as I scuttled my way past some people to find my comfortable pace.

The course itself is relatively twisty, and involves a loop off to the right of the park, followed by two loops to the left. Luckily it’s relatively flat with just a few small inclines to tackle, and the wet weather from the night before hadn’t churned up the course too much. I felt pretty good all the way around and even managed something of a sprint finish. I then met up with Pete at the finish line, and his watch showed he had comfortably beaten his PB by more than 20 seconds (ridiculous!), coming in at around 19:50. I thought I was around the 22:40 mark, so we both took our chips to be scanned alongside our printed personal barcodes (which you’re assigned when you sign up to the Parkrun online), and went for a swift post-run celebratory coffee.

As we enjoyed our drinks, we both pondered what might have been if we had both discovered long distance running a bit earlier in life. I’m not sure how receptive I would have been to being pushed into cross country at school when I was younger, but I don’t remember opportunities for long-distance running being that readily available either. I get the impression that Pete was always pretty sporty, but for whatever reason running just didn’t appeal to him either. But we’re both giving it a hell of a go now, and it feels awesome. Plus the good news – Pete got his PB of 19:51 confirmed, and was the 35th male (37th overall). I finished in 22:40 and was the 12th female (112th overall). Naturally I now want top 10 female and top 100 finisher next time.

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Two thumbs up for a sub 20 minute 5k!

The thing I love about the Parkrun, is that it’s completely free for anyone who wants to give it a go. It doesn’t matter how fit you think you are, anyone can give it a bash, and we saw runners of all levels today. It’s run by volunteers who willingly give up their Saturday lie-ins to cheer on people they don’t know, and it’s run so efficiently. I’m definitely going to add my name to the volunteer roster, and even though I can’t make the next two Saturdays, I’m going to make an effort to do a lot more of these. Now, who’s with me?