A Tale of Two Hilly Races

I know I need to do more races. The reason I get so het up on a start line is because I just don’t put myself in that position enough. Every race suddenly becomes this massive deal and I find that in the days leading up to it my sleep is disturbed and my temper easily frayed.

So to have two races in one week is not like me at all. Without realising it I had signed up to the Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog (purely because of the megalolz name, obviously) which ended up being the day after the penultimate Kevin Henry League race of the season, hosted by Haverhill Running Club.

Now the Haverhill KHL race is notorious because of the “f*cking great hill” (not my words, but the words of quite a few people I had spoken to about the run) that you have to run up for the first half of the race, before thankfully coming back down again. So I was feeling a wee bit nervous on the 45 minute drive from Cambridge, but I’d been working really hard on trying to keep those nerves in check, and so my distraction technique at the start of the race was mainly to make friends with every dog I found. I thought I was doing quite well for me, even though my usual stress symptoms were making themselves known, and I started the race in a reasonable frame of mind.

But boy oh boy it didn’t take long for the wheels to fall off. The first 2k or so were hard going, but I felt ok. It was when I got to what I thought was the top of the hill that I started to struggle. I’d been told that you had a 1km flat before the final 2km headed downhill but this wasn’t the case at all. The middle 1km was actually a slow steady incline before it dropped down, something I hadn’t mentally prepared for. I then found myself overtaken by 3 other female runners and that’s when the wheels really came off. My mental strength gave up entirely and I stopped to walk, something I’ve not done since I was injured back in May. And once I did that, I was simply unable to recover. I could not in any way get my racing head back on and I just wanted to sit on the grass on the side of the road and quit. By stopping to walk I felt like I’d let myself and my entire team down, and when other runners said to me “come on, you can do it!” I felt mortified, fighting the urge to shout – “I know I can, I just can’t bloody well do it today!”as I ran/walked to the finish line.

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Pain

I was crying as I crossed that finish line, the lovely marshals asking me if I was ok as I just sobbed about being disappointed before walking across the field to sit on my own. I’m blushing now just thinking about it. And that’s what bothered me more as I sit here and write about it. I should be beyond tantrums by now. I should be beyond walking three times in a race too. My time was 21:48 (at least 30 seconds off where I really should be for a race with such a tricky terrain) which put me as 17th woman (out of 111), and realistically even if I hadn’t walked I would have only come 2 or 3 places higher. I’m just so frustrated with how I dealt with a difficult race. Instead of gritting my teeth and fighting through, I mentally gave up.

My fellow runners were so lovely, and as Alan came to give me a cuddle, through my tears I said “I’m sorry for being a twat” to which he responded, “It’s ok, I like twats. Put this behind you and let’s move on.” I can always rely on my racing family to make me laugh (particularly through the use of Carry-On style innuendos on the car ride home).

So I have to say that on Friday morning the thought of another race just a few hours later did not fill me with glee. In fact I felt awful, my stomach wrecked due to the stress of the previous day, manifesting itself in some serious nausea that left me unable to really eat. It wasn’t until some fresh air on the bike ride home and a 20 minute power nap that I finally felt human and decided that sod it – I would do the Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog, and I would just treat it as a bit of fun. I was going to get right back on that horse.

On the drive to the High Lodge Forest Centre with fellow Ely Runners Lee and Andy I was feeling wary but determined to do the run. I knew my body was dehydrated and not fuelled as well as I would have liked, but I was going to just enjoy it. There was no pressure, no points riding on me, and Andy and I made a pact to run together, so I knew there would be someone there to mentally pull me along when I started flagging. I shoved some biscuits in my mouth, covered myself in bug spray, tied my chip to my laces, undid my laces when I realised I’d done it wrong, and joined the throng at the start line.

And oh my giddy aunt it was one of the best runs I’ve ever done. I loved (nearly) every second of it. The course twisted and turned (hence Wibbly Wobbly!) so much that I didn’t have time to think about whether or not it hurt. Dodging tree roots, trying to keep my ankles strong as they threatened to turn on a rogue stump and clambering up short but steep inclines I had an absolute blast. The marshals were also some of the best I’ve ever come across on a run, whooping and cheering at every turn. Andy and I worked as a tag team, overtaking runners when the opportunity arose (not often as the course is narrow, so you have to really grab your chances) and  checking in with each other over the five miles.

As I sprinted across the finish line – taking out one last runner in the process – I remembered why I love running – because those moments when you have a great run far outweigh those bloody awful ones. Even the fact I didn’t get a medal couldn’t take the shine off. Ok maybe it did a little bit. I flipping love a medal. Sad face.

Over the weekend I had time to digest what had happened on Thursday. Not only was it a tough course, I’d had a week of bad sleep and it soon became clear that hormones (“that ole performance killer” as my sister calls them) had clearly played their part too (although as a female athlete I need to learn to cope with the effects of them better). I also chatted to the running community on Twitter and got the most heartwarming couple of tweets from TrueStart Coffee that meant more than they probably realised:

TrueStart

The fact is, despite walking three times I still managed a sub 22 minute 5k on a tough course. But even more importantly, I shoved it to the back of my mind and raced the very next day, and found a new race that I loved and can’t wait to do next year. All in all, I call that a win.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety and Self-Sabotage -A Runner’s Curse

I am a good runner.

I am a good runner.

I am a good runner.

Seriously, if I say it enough do you think I might actually start to believe it? Because something has GOT to change. I am driving myself (and everyone around me) crazy each and every time I race because the nerves and self doubt flood my system and fill me to the absolute brim with IRRITATING SMALL PERSON JUICE. Honestly I cannot believe I haven’t been punched in the face yet. BY MYSELF.

Hit 1

Let me set the scene. On Thursday evening I arrived at the site of the Saffron Striders’ hosted Kevin Henry League race. Pete, Rach and I probably arrived at about 6:40 with a race start time of 7:30, so there was a decent amount of time to kill. Cue 45 minutes of peeing (three times), pacing, nail biting and being the most annoying person in a 20 mile radius (you can keep your “no change there then” jokes to yourself, smart arse). Phrases uttered to me over the course of the evening included:

“Get a grip Lauren!”

“You need to sort your f*cking head out.” (Thanks coach)

“What is wrong with you?”

Being like this is exhausting, and I dread to think how much energy I’m wasting that I could be putting to good use during the actual run. I’m actually embarrassed by my behaviour and after each run I go home and do an actual facepalm, vowing to change something, anything to stop myself from being such a fool, but inevitably this bad behaviour cycles round and presents itself again next time I find myself on a start line.

But something has to change. Despite everything I managed a 20:51 5k last week,just 3 seconds off my best time this season and this was after a self-enforced 2 week rest because of my confusingly grumpy leg. So I know that the sub 20 5k is in my grasp if only I could make my mind be quiet.

Crazy 3 Gif

I’ve tried the Headspace app but I’ve struggled to really get on with it. I tried to apply their breathing technique at the race last week but it kept slipping from my grasp, like that dream you try and remember as you start to wake up but which fades away as you gain full consciousness. Just as I thought my mind was starting to empty those thoughts began jostling their way in again, all elbows and negativity.

So I did what any rational person would do – I asked the brilliant ukrunchat community on Twitter for advice. A lot of them recommended yoga and meditation (yoga is a big part of my life already), and I’ve been given the opportunity to try a new app that applies different relaxation techniques to meditation. I was also given a new mantra to try, and gin was suggested. I think I’m going to start with that.

Something needs to change. I don’t like this version of myself when I run, and since running helps me deal with the stresses of my life, getting this wound up before a run is so counter productive and self-sabotaging. I never thought when I started running that so much of my ability would be affected by what was in my head rather that what was in my legs. Wish me luck.

Gin Please

All gifs from Giphy

 

 

Trying a Tri and Catching a Bug

There’s nothing quite like an epic panic to start off your first ever triathlon.

So in the lead up to the Ely Sprint Tri I’d been pretty blasé about the whole thing, leaving it until six weeks before the event before practising my swimming for the first time in two years (give or take the odd spa day splash around here and there) and I didn’t open the race guidelines email until two days before. I think it was two parts denial, one part trying to resist putting too much pressure on myself. Because let’s face it, I am hyper competitive, especially with myself, and if I read too much about the race I would start looking at ways to be THE BEST I CAN POSSIBLY BE which is fine with a bit of experience but I think a little unreasonable when I don’t even know how to transition efficiently. For crying out loud, I didn’t even know what a transition MEANT until about a month before the triathlon when my friend Helen (who lent me her race belt) filled me in.

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What the hell is a race belt?

Then two weeks before the triathlon, my amazing best friend Michelle piped up that she had a tri bike that had been sat in her shed for a couple of years, and that I was welcome to borrow it. She knew that the tyres were flat, but it turned out that it needed about four hours of serious TLC to get it in racing condition. But my brilliant husband worked flat out to get it race-ready, including one 90 minute period where the two of us had to both turn into The Hulk to get one of the pedals off (attempting clippy shoes was a new experience too far). On Friday it was ready, so I cycled around Ely on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon just to get used to it.

So, on to Sunday morning, and I woke up at horrid o’clock (6:50am for all you early super-keen types) and got dressed in my lovely Zoot tri shorts and a Nike top (again borrowed from Michelle). I then unlocked the garage whilst my bagel cooked, and saw THE FRONT WHEEL WAS OFF THE BIKE. At first I wondered why on earth Ian would think that would be a funny joke, but then I realised that the flipping thing was flat. It turned out that there was a flaw in the inner tube by the valve, and despite a panic twitter plea for a spare racing inner tube, I knew in my heart that with only 15 minutes before I needed to leave the house all was lost. So I took the sticker off the tri bike and stuck it on to my twice-as-heavy hybrid instead. The 20km bike ride had just become a whole lot harder.

Cycling Raccoon

This was going to be interesting.

As I cycled from my house to the start at King’s School, I was upset about the bike but more because of all of the effort Ian had put in on a bike that I wouldn’t be able to use. But looking at the bigger picture, it’s lucky I had taken the tri bike out for about 5 miles on Saturday, because if I hadn’t that flat tyre would have hit around halfway through the 20km which would have ended my triathlon. So after stomping around and whinging for a bit and getting a pep talk from both my dad and Alan, I pushed the negative thoughts aside and decided to just enjoy it and give it the best shot I could.

Because I hadn’t swum for about two years when I signed up for the tri and can’t front crawl so have to rely on my (fairly decent) breaststroke, I vastly overestimated how long it would take me to do the swim. This meant that I was one of the earliest competitors amongst slower swimmers. As it turns out I can manage 300m in around 7 minutes, so I had added more than 50% on with my 11 minute guesstimate. Luckily it didn’t have too much of an impact on my time, as (most of) the swimmers around me were really considerate and allowed me to get past them at the end of the lane, so I exited the pool at 7:33.

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As predicted my transition out of the pool was not fast as I pulled on my socks, race belt, trainers and helmet, and lifted my heavier than planned bike off the rack before running out of the gate. 1:17 had been added on to my time (the guy who finished first was out in 29 seconds!), and I started the bike ride as I meant to go on – by BELTING it.

I overtook my first road bike cyclist halfway up St Mary’s Street before the A10 roundabout, and I overtook my 2nd one just before the turn to Coveney. I was then overtaken by someone else on a road bike before overtaking another one halfway to Coveney. I went past the next one at about mile 9, careful not to draft at all after a stern warning by the Race Director during the race briefing, and then to my (competitive) joy I got past the woman who had overtaken me, and stayed ahead of her for the rest of the bike ride. To say I was pleased to only be overtaken once during my entire bike ride in a field of serious road bikes is an understatement. Ending the bike ride up Back Hill was torture and my quads were starting to question my sanity, but having Alan cheering my name and then seeing my parents grinning at me as I dismounted from my bike and ran to rack it again was just awesome.

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After failing to find my bike space for a few seconds, I got told by an amazed marshal that “I did well on that!” with a nod towards my bike, before taking a swig of water and exiting the pen for the final 5km run, cheered on by my friend Matt. That transition was 57 seconds which seemed sloth-like but actually in comparison to others wasn’t all that bad.

The run was the weirdest and hardest part of all. I’m so used to feeling strong and fast on a 5km that this came as a bit of a shock. I knew it would be difficult, but the short sharp hills on King’s School’s fields were intense and I felt like I would be lucky to come in at 25 or 26 minutes. I felt SO slow and heavy-legged, and Alan’s yells of “head up!” and “use your arms!” were met with a one-fingered salute, much to the amusement of the crowds. But I finished without ever having to slow to a walk, and managed to actually spot the photographer at the finish line before collapsing in a heap at my parents’ feet and being congratulated by my awesome friends Pete, Rach and Diane who had come out to support me.

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As it turns out I completed the run in 23:33, making me the third fastest woman in the running leg of the triathlon, just 20 seconds behind the fastest. My complete time of 1:17:44 placed me as 6th woman, 5th in my age category, and the 37th competitor in a field of 101.

I thought that I would be pleased to complete the tri but have no desire to do another one. I was completely wrong on the second count. I LOVED it and am already looking for other ones to attempt. I have fully caught the tri bug. Unless I learn to front crawl my options for races may be somewhat limited, but I can’t wait to see what I could potentially achieve with a proper racing bike and a better understanding of the details such as transitions. As for the race itself, the Ely Sprint Tri is quite a small one, but despite this there were only some minor issues such as my getting the wrong stickers in my race pack so that I had to go back to the registration site to change them. I also would much rather get a medal for competing than a t-shirt, but then I am an epic medal tart and always want to add to my little plastic box of shiny discs. I’ll just have to work harder next year to get first place (ahem).

Alan texted me afterwards to say “I think you’ve found your sport”, but I’m not sure about that just yet. One thing I know for sure is that I have never felt so exhausted after a race, so I can only assume that will get better with experience! That didn’t stop me from going on a shopping spree with my friend Elaine in Cambridge afterwards though. If I didn’t get a medal I was blooming well going to get a nice dress.

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

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

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

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

Mary Twitchett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girton 5k 2

Happy but knackered.

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

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

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

Girton 5k 3

Awe-inspiring stuff.

Running for Dummies – or should that be “with”?

I had a shocker of a session last week. I should have seen it coming really. I’d had a dreadful road-rage filled commute to work, I was running sans-coach and I seriously procrastinated before leaving the office to tackle the 6 x 800m session on the West Cambridge site. You know when newsreaders shuffle papers at the end of a broadcast while they wait for the cameras to turn off? It was like that. My desk had never looked neater.

But I trudged out there – see the choice of word there people – and surprise surprise it was awful. I had to stop on round three. I was forced to stop on round four when TWO FLIES went in my eye at once. I had to stop on round five and proceeded to kick a fence post. I then thought “no chuffing WAY am I ending the session like this”, so I forced the last 800m and didn’t stop. I didn’t feel good about it though. I felt like I had wasted an entire hour.

flop

The next day I complained about it to one of my colleagues who told me everyone has bad sessions. I do know this, and I know I can’t expect to always feel great, or to always get PBs when I do a Parkrun. But this felt like I was back to square one. I felt weak, a sensation I really, really hate, and one I generally don’t expect from myself unless I’m ill. He then said something else:

“I think you’re a bit hard on yourself.”

Like a sensible person I huffed a bit and stomped off to do my weights session, obviously handling all of this like a grown up PRO whilst continuing to mentally chew the whole thing over. The thing is, I have a habit of being hard on myself. I’ve always felt like I haven’t quite achieved what I could or should have done. And I get frustrated so easily. It’s a lethal combination.

So you can imagine my trepidation when this Tuesday and my next session with Alan rolled around. I had managed to tweak my back slightly on Monday so tackling Wandlebury with its hills and tree roots was out of the question (a reprieve!) so we settled on 200m instead. I thought we’d maybe do it 8 or at a push 12 times, but Alan announced it would be four sets of four off 30 seconds, with 4 minutes rest between each set.

That meant 16 reps of 200m. Oh dear.

ScreamSo I did my usual thing of going off too fast and by the end of the first four I was doubled over, my legs feeling like lead and wanging on about how much I was hating it. Basically I was having a hissy fit.

But Alan has seen all this before, and he watched me have my tantrum with a slight smile on his face before asking me what the problem was. I told him it felt like I was running through treacle.

“I wish I was this fast through treacle. Now shall we forget all this bollocks and carry on?”

And that, in a nutshell of a sentence, is why Alan is the perfect coach for me. If I’d been on my own I would have bailed halfway, but in just a few words he managed to compliment me, make me laugh and snap me out of my bratty mindset. And so I did carry on. I brought my arms up high, kept straight and stopped doubling over (thereby squashing my lungs) at the end of each sprint and instead walked around, taking deep, restorative breaths and sips of water. By the time I finished I felt like I had pushed myself as hard as I possibly could have done, and most importantly, I felt strong again. Plus I reminded myself – I’m not a sprinter, not by any stretch of the imagination, so what I had just achieved was pretty flipping awesome.

And why did it feel like I was running through treacle? Because I was, on average, 4 seconds faster per rep compared to the last time we did this session.

Better Run CelebrationIf I’m pushing myself that bit harder, of course – OF COURSE – it’s going to hurt more. And as I know I’ve said before, if these sessions were easy there would literally be no point to them.

After the session we had a little chat about how even though my running is coming along in leaps and bounds, my ability to control my head still has a seriously long way to go. I’m not sure how I’m going to tackle that just yet (answers in the comments section please!) but in the meantime, at least I’m not dreading next week’s session (even though he parted with his favourite sentence of “you’re not going to like it”).

The only problem now is, if I can’t have a successful session without Alan talking me off the ledge, has he become my new dummy, something I can’t successfully train without?