The Bedford Half Twilight 10k – My Review

I’m sure I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I absolutely hate 10k as a distance. I find them so difficult to pace, often blowing up at around 6 or 7k, and as such I’ve avoided them like the plague in the last couple of years. But then I decided that this was the year to (occasionally) go out of my comfort zone, so I’ve so far done the Ely Runners 10k handicap race, and the Marcus Gynn 10k (which was surprisingly held on the surface of the sun). And then this weekend it was the turn of the Bedford Half Marathon Weekend‘s Twilight 10k.

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I’ll be honest – it was the photo of the medal that first convinced me to sign up for this race. It was obnoxiously huge and shiny, which appealed massively to my inner magpie. I keep all of my medals and am always pretty disappointed whenever I do a race and find my goodie bag only has a couple of flyers and a revolting gel in it. Plus one of my favourite running buddies was going along, and we decided (ok, I basically told him) that we would run it together.

When Chris, Sarah, Justin and I arrived at the running village after a bit of a schlep from the car (parking was a good mile and a half away but I didn’t mind this too much) the atmosphere was just brilliant. They had a massive welcome sign (perfect for a group photo!) a big stage with a DJ, lots of food stalls and a variety of pop up stalls including Up & Running and a local sports physio company offering massages (so I was a tad disappointed not to have any cash on me)! On Running were also there, and I visited them after I had finished the race only to find that I could have borrowed a pair of their Cloudflyers (which I’ve had my eye on for some time) to run the race in. I did do a little sprint in them (and they felt AMAZING) but it would have been great to trial an entire 10k in them, especially as they’re quite an investment pair of trainers. The event also had lots of hay bales dotted around for people to sit on, and most happily of all there were LOADS of toilets which made this nervous runner feel a bit calmer.

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Me, Justin, Sarah, Chris, Shaun and Emma – thanks to Chris and Sarah for the lift!

The start of the race was probably the only negative part of the whole thing (other than Emma and I not being able to locate halloumi fries). They had split the (potentially 3000 runners, but only 1846 completed the race) into 5 waves, and Justin and I were in Wave 1 which was due to start at 5:30. So we got there at around 5:25 only to find they had already sent Wave 1 to the start. Cue a mad dash with little or no direction to find our way to the start which ended up being where we had just come from! I think in future they should just start Wave 1 at the actual start and have the other 4 waves in the holding area. But still, at this point I got to meet the awesome Laura Brine who I’ve been following on Twitter for some time (but only realised it was her when searching for the race hashtag on Instagram on the way home!) as we all pegged it to the start.

The start of the race was a little congested, and at first I thought maybe the organisers had got their wave splits completely wrong. But as it turned out, they had it pretty spot on. The largest group was those who had put their finish time as 1:00 – 1:09 (553 finishers), and our group (sub 54 minutes) had 379 people finish in that time. Of course I can’t tell how many people may have started in the first wave but finished slower than they had expected, but overall the splits seemed fairly sensible. You just have to be like Justin and be willing to scuttle past people and overtake them when the opportunity presents itself, and after the first kilometre or so this becomes easier.

Bedford 10k Finish

Chris, Kojak/Justin and I

The course was gorgeous – there was woodland, lakes, bridges, the riverside – there was so much to look at which I found brilliantly distracting. Plus the course offered a variety of surfaces and the odd little incline which stopped my legs from getting too “bored”. The marshals were also brilliant, and I just thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. They also had a great goody bag – the medal of epicness, a technical t-shirt that doesn’t completely swamp me and snacks like bananas and biscuits. All of this for a race entry fee of around £25 for both the 10k and the half marathon which takes place on the Sunday.

I honestly don’t think I could recommend this race enough. I enjoyed it so much that I had already signed up for next year less than 24 hours later. I’m even contemplating making like Laura and signing up for both the 10k and the half in 2019, but I’ll see how my foot holds up to the St Neots half marathon later this year. So what are you waiting for? Get signed up for 2019 here – you won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aha! The Round Norfolk Relay – My Review

Ok, I’m three cups of coffee, one cup of tea, a load of sweets and a two hour power nap in.  I can do this.

This morning (or last night depending on your view of the world), I woke up at 4:10am to take part in the 198 mile Round Norfolk Relay for my awesome running club Ely Runners. For the uninitiated (as I was prior to my taking part in it) the RNR is a 17 stage mega relay that goes – yep, you guessed it – right the way round Norfolk, starting and ending at King’s Lynn. I was given stage 14, which is thankfully one of the shorter legs at 7.27 miles and goes from Feltwell to Wissington, and my faithful running buddy Pete took on the 10.59 mile stage 15 from Wissington to Downham Market, which meant that we could travel to the start together.

The thing with the RNR is that the organisation behind it is frankly insane. Our team of 5 must have worked their socks off working out everyone’s estimated start time based on the pace each runner thought they would run their leg in. And it’s so hard to know exactly how you’ll do on the day. if you end up being a bit slower than expected it’s not a disaster as the runner you’re handing the baton to should be there ready and waiting. However, if you run a blinder (as some of our runners did) and shave some time off, there’s a risk your runner might not be there waiting for you. It’s high stress stuff for those on the support crew, trying to make sure everything runs smoothly.

So at 4:15am, as I was putting my contact lenses in, I got a message saying my leg would be due to start no later than 5:30am. My previous start time had been 6:08am. And Pete and I had planned to be there 40 minutes in advance. So cue a somewhat, um, “energetic” rush round the house. Pete got to me at 4:48am, 12 minutes earlier than we’d originally planned, and we crossed our fingers and set off.

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Now we hadn’t planned for mega thick fog, which scuppered all chances of putting our foot down, and messages between us and the support crew were intermittent at best due to the ropey Fenland signal. And then we got to a mist-filled Feltwell it looked more like something out of a horror movie than a place where a hundred or so runners and crew would be gathered. Thankfully Pete had been organised and knew where in Feltwell we needed to be, so we finally parked up at around 5:25am, panicking ever so slightly that I needed to be kitted up and raring to go in 5 minutes. But as it turned out, the cheeky little sausages on the support team had been erring on the side of caution due to the previous runner arriving late for their handover, so in order to be sure I’d be there in time they’d told me to be there a tad earlier than necessary. I may not have been overly impressed as I stood in the freezing fog, but with hindsight it gave me bags of time to prepare myself, get hydrated, use the portaloo (3 times -standard) and grab the baton from John at a couple of minutes to 6:00am.

The fog was still super thick but it wasn’t too cold out once I got moving. It was also just starting to lighten up when I set off. It was a weird experience. I haven’t run for a while because of a grumpy foot (suspected tendonitis) and I am SO not a morning person. So the entire run seemed to pass super quickly in a bit of a blur, and I really didn’t take much in. I think I just went on autopilot. The sun came up when I was running but the fog was so thick I could barely see more than a few metres ahead of me. And it’s such a weird sensation to hear cars crawling along just a few metres behind you (every nighttime runner needs a support vehicle driving behind them). The Ely Runners crew (we were on the club’s B team) were just awesome, checking I was ok, and the human megaphone James knew me well enough to know that I’d respond well to some banter (by that I mean giving him the finger when he told me to hurry up). And before I knew it, I was being told I was 500 yards away but a cycling marshal (I resisted to urge to ask him how far that actually flipping meant as I haven’t a scoobie about yards) and then I was passing the baton to Pete, who had driven to his start point with Andy from the support crew.

After a few minutes to gather myself and to crow over the frankly RIDICULOUS medal Andy gave to me, we then hopped in the car and drove towards Downham Market to meet Pete, honking the horn and whooping at him as we overtook him a mile or so down the road.

The organisation that goes behind the RNR, both by the support crews and the overall organisers is unreal. This was its 31st year, and they had over 1000 runners taking part. They had marshals positioned 500 metres or so from the start of each checkpoint, who would shout team numbers over their walkie talkies to their colleagues waiting at the check point so that they could make sure the next runner was ready to go (provided they had turned up on time – apparently the chap in front of me had no one waiting for him at Wissington). On paper it looks like an absolute nightmare, but from my point of view it was seamless. The support crew even turned up with a coffee for me as I waited for Pete arrive in Downham Market (the van had switched to cycle support by then).

Pete roared in to Downham Market at around 8:07am, and handed over to Anne who was running the penultimate leg. We also managed to catch up with some members of the A team, who had made up enough time to overtake the B team during stage 16 (the idea is faster teams start later so every team taking part finishes in around a 45 minute window from 10:15am – 11am). Pete and I then hopped in to the car to drive the 25 minutes home (the beauty of our stage of the race is that it’s the closest part of Norfolk to Ely) and at 9:30am went to Arbuckle’s with Rachel, her and Pete’s daughter Ellie and somewhat randomly my parents, niece and nephew. A great end to a great event.

On paper the RNR seems wildly complex, and in some ways it really is. But it’s also SO well done, and it’s an incredible event to be part of. Some people are doing epic feats of endurance (some legs, including one that falls in the early hours, are 19 miles long) and the atmosphere is great. If you’re thinking of entering a team I can’t recommend it enough, if only to go home with a medal that doubles up as a cake plate. I really hope I’m lucky enough to take part again next year. Huge thanks to our organisers Sarah, Steve Caroline, Andy and James. We could not have done this without you depriving yourselves of sleep for 30+ hours, not to mention the hours of organising in the run up to the event. And after all this, I might even wear that flipping hoodie again!

Aha!

The Wings for Life World Run – A New Favourite

I can’t believe that it’s already been four weeks since I did the Wings for Life World Run (and have done very little else other than the Ely hosted Kevin Henry 5k League Race and the usual training runs). Time is slipping away from me and there is a decent reason for this (I’m working on a new project) but I’ll explain more about that in another post another day.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I did the Wings for Life last year and loved it despite the bonkers blazing heat. I was lucky enough to hook up with two other awesome Ely Runners and loved it so much that I signed up for the 2017 run the next day. It’s amazing how quickly those sign ups roll around isn’t it?

The Wings for Life is unlike any other race I’ve ever done. The atmosphere is amazing, and yet weirdly so much more chilled out than any other big city centre race. Admittedly it’s only about 40% the size of the Cambridge Half Marathon (when you take into account drop outs) but it seems so much smaller. And when you have David Coulthard mooching about, taking photos with excitable runners and making jokes about dog’s bottoms, you know you’re on to something special.

I had originally arranged to run this with an old work colleague a while back, but due to unforeseen circumstances he could no longer do it, so a couple of weeks before the run I arranged to run it with Justin, a fellow Ely runner, who in bonkers fashion had only run his first ever marathon 6 days earlier. I know. The lovely thing about Justin is that he’s a much better runner than he thinks he is, but he also totally gets my running quirks and just lets them exist with no drama (which ironically makes them less likely to be an issue – it’s being around other highly strung runners that make my anxieties flare). So as we arrived in Cambridge stupidly early, I found myself really looking forward to it.

At about 11:40am, we all gathered on the start and Justin and I made sure we stood on the right of the pen to ensure a high five from Mr Coulthard (a lesson learned from the 2016 race). It was about then that I realised that I was actually blooming hungry, and scarfing my flapjack at 9:45am had been unwise. Fuelling for a midday run is NOT easy. But off we set at 12pm sharp, and high five secured Justin and I were off.

And boy did we run. The two of us decided we didn’t really care how far we got or how fast we ran, and we took full advantage of the water stations, making sure to stop and fuel properly without pressure. We settled into a really nice comfortable pace, and the weather was absolutely ideal, which was such a relief after last year. It wasn’t until about 15k that Justin’s marathon started to catch up with him and his foot started giving him some gyp, so we slowed down and decided to see if we could just manage to beat my distance from last year (17.89km).

We flipping SMASHED it.

Somehow, the two of us charged on to the half marathon mark, and with tears in my eyes as I realised that this was the furthest I had EVER run, we kept plugging away. It was at around 21.5k that we heard a rumble from the crowd behind us and knew that the catcher car was starting its final chase towards us. So we belted it, praying that we would make 22k. We did, and still the catcher car wasn’t on us, and 23k suddenly seemed possible. With Justin’s blessing I “took the bloody handbrake off” and belted for the 23k mark before finally watching the catcher car cruise past me at 23.25k. Weirdly enough I ended up outside the house of someone I knew (but had no idea they lived in Willingham) and chatted with them until Justin arrived and gratefully accepted a bit of cake (thanks Bex!) before we walked to the nearest bus stop.

The bus ride back was insane. It was FULL of runners (my heart went out to those who ended up standing, but not so much that I offered them my seat), and as we drove through all the villages (Willingham was about as far from the start as you can get on the route) we were waved at by hundreds of people. I think that’s as close as I’ll ever get to being part of something akin to an Olympics parade! It was the most amazing feeling, but the buzz was dulled slightly when we saw the queue for the bag collection.

Luckily I ADORE this run and won’t say a bad thing about it, but flipping heck that queue was insane. Memo to self – don’t use the bag drop next year unless you really, really have to. You’re better off convincing a friend to come to Cambridge with you and paying for them to stay in the Grain and Hop Store stuffing their face with sweet potato fries while you run. There was zero order to it, and Justin ended up having to find his bag himself after the WFL volunteer couldn’t locate it in the mess.

But this was such a small blip. This event is just my absolute favourite (sorry Cambridge half) and I’m praying that they keep it in Cambridge. I’m sure it will still be brilliant if they move it elsewhere, but the awesomeness of the race combined with the perfect location for me is what makes this race truly special.

And I have to say the biggest thank you to Justin – he’s INCREDIBLY TALENTED (!) and such an easy running companion. We talked when we felt like it and stayed quiet when we didn’t. It was effortless and I wouldn’t have done half as well without him. He is also a champion photographer spotter and I’ve never had such a great selection of race photos! Same time again next year turtleflea?

 

 

The Race of my Life – My Review of the 2017 Cambridge Half Marathon

So. The Cambridge Half Marathon has been and gone. And flipping heck, it turned out to be the race of my life.

This epiphany stuff isn’t half bad.

My other half may argue that this wasn’t the case, but in the lead up to this year’s Cambridge Half, I felt like a different person to previous years. Yes I was still nervous, but it wasn’t all consuming. I think there are a lot of reasons for this. Some of it is down to the support I received from Progress as part of the prize I won with Saucony and OSB Events. I was lucky enough to work with two awesome women (Lauren Bradshaw a Specialist Sports Physio, and Hannah Crighton a Massage Therapist) who have both competed and taken part in sport at a pretty high level. They totally got why I would be so nervous about my running, but they also got me to think about why I started running in the first place and to rediscover my love for it. So in addition to expert physio and massage, and a bundle of exercises that I can keep using to improve my strength, I also got a bit of emotional therapy on the side.

Another thing I’ve worked so hard on over the last 3 months or so, is my Strength and Conditioning with Matt Matcham, who works at both Progress and the University of Cambridge Sports Centre. He made sure to pick a selection of exercises that he knew would challenge me, but that I would also enjoy. He knows that I react well to seeing quick improvements so he always made sure there were exercises that would see a steady rate of increase (I went from 35kg to 60kg deadlifts pretty swiftly), and he kept switching them up so that I wouldn’t get bored. I know that being stronger has made me a better athlete. In addition to all of this fitness stuff I’ve been getting some alternative treatment on the side, but I think this deserves a separate blog post in a day or two.

I also – as you know – arranged on Twitter to meet two girls who I have been following on there for a long time, and this created excitement and gave me something to focus on other than the run. Of course I can run 13.1 miles if there’s the promise of brilliant conversation and a plate of chips afterwards. The fact that I ran into Joanna on Saturday night (ok, I pretty much chased her down the road, but she seemed ok with it. I knew we were destined to be IRL besties) made it even better.

Jo and I

And then of course, there was the shift in my mental focus. This particular change was 7 years coming, and so many people have been commenting on how I seem like a different person now. When I’m running, if I feel good I push myself, and if I don’t I pull it back. I’m listening to my body and letting it tell me what it’s capable of, rather than beating myself up in the past when I thought I wasn’t good enough.

On the morning of the race, I knew to do what works for me. I left it until as long as possible to get to the start, leaving my sister’s house at 9:10am, jogging to Jesus Green and using the (completely empty) public toilets there, and then spotting fellow Ely Runner Andy at the start line (we had arranged for him to wait on the right of the pens in the hope that I’d find him) and then leaping the barrier (apologies to the chap whose phone I nearly kicked out of his hand) and being in my pen at 9:25am. Crowds avoided, and waiting down to a minimum.

When we started, I lost Andy fairly swiftly, purely because I’m a short arse, and it was so congested at the front that trying to get past slower runners was agonising unless you’re small enough to duck and weave. This didn’t really let up until we hit Trumpington Street, nearly 3 miles into the run. If I’m honest, I feel like the organisers have become a little greedy with their numbers. I got kicked in the shin turning the corner outside Jack Wills, and a fellow Ely Runner complained of being elbowed more than once. Of the 9000 spaces around 7000 ran (the weather was spectacularly horrible), and really it felt like too many, so I think they need to cap it at 7000 again (knowing that there is usually at least a 10% drop off in runs like this).

The conditions were tough. It was cold, wet and windy, but I felt pretty good for most of it. I was incredibly lucky to have support along the whole route. My mother in law was screaming her head off in Grantchester, I saw Mary at around the halfway mark, another friend’s mum and my amazing friends Ally and Chris were at mile 11 (when I hit the wall in epic fashion, so thank goodness for them. They were the only reason I didn’t stop to walk) and then my friends Pete, Rachel, Nick and Claire were waiting just before mile 12. Now Claire is an INCREDIBLE endurance runner, and when she screams at you to keep going, you bloody well do it. Although which evil sod put Elizabeth Way Bridge at Mile 12? At this point I was seriously in trouble, wheezing so loudly that I was apologising to the runners around me. Then I spotted Barry, another Ely Runner, around 20 metres in front of me, so I did everything I could to catch him up, knowing that he would be able to help me to the finish line, which the flipping legend of a man did.

I don’t think I have ever pushed my body so hard in a run, and when I saw that my time began with 1.3… I think I went a bit into shock. There’s nothing like a marshal putting out a hand and saying “are you ok?” to make you wonder just how blimmin’ awful you look. But with my toes burning from what would turn out to be some pretty epic blisters, I picked up my medal in a daze, caught up with Lauren at the Progress tent (who had smashed the 90 minute mark with 1:29:45) and then saw Ally and Chris running up to me, a box of brownies in their hands and the offer of a coffee, before they made me leave to go and get some warmer clothes from my sister’s house as my lips were turning blue. I feel at this point I should mention the mistake OSB made with the bag collection queues and lack of foils for runners. The conditions were pretty dangerous for people to be standing in the cold for that long, but they admitted the mistake really quickly, and are already looking at ways to improve it next year. And this was the only negative in what was a brilliant, brilliant race. The marshals and volunteers were the absolute best I have experienced, as were the people who came out to support runners. Doing that in such bleak weather made them all heroes in my eyes.

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When I got the text to say I had run 1:35:37, I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t to be honest. I never, ever imagined I could be that kind of runner, and I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve something like that again. And the best thing is, I don’t care. I didn’t run that race to achieve that time. It was just a brilliant side effect. I know I put in so much hard work over the last three months and set myself up as well as I can, but I also enjoyed the race (well, maybe not the last two miles), and that was my goal.

As for the pub trip afterwards, getting to know Joanna and Pip was just brilliant, and I convinced Ally and Chris to come along too, so I was surrounded by awesome, awesome people. Even though we came close to gnawing our own arms off thanks to an hour long wait for food, it was the best couple of hours I could have hoped for, and played a part in making March 5th 2017 a day I will never, ever forget.

Same time next year?

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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.

 

 

 

The Waterbeach Running Festival – My Review

A couple of weeks ago, a mere 6 days after the behemoth (well, for me anyway) run that was the Wings for Life World Run, I found myself heading to the old army barracks at Waterbeach to take part in the 10km race that was being held as part of the inaugural Waterbeach Running Festival. The festival was being held in aid of the Waterbeach Toddler Playgroup, and when my friends Pete and Rach told me that they had signed up, I thought I may as well give it a bash myself.

After the scorching heat of the previous weekend, it was a bit of a shock to the system when we arrived at the barracks to a leaden sky and temperatures that were seriously struggling to reach double figures, as well as a less than helpful wind. The barracks themselves are also a little spooky – a great setting for a horror film for any keen amateur film-makers out there. Despite this, the atmosphere was buzzy and everyone seemed genuinely excited to be the first to take part in a new addition to the Cambridgeshire running calendar.

The festival itself was made up of four events – a 100m toddle for under 5s, a 2km fun run for ages 4+, a 5km run for ages 11+ and then the 10km for ages 15+. I have to say that when I found myself having a major internal battle regarding whether I should run in capris or shorts I did ask the others why we hadn’t signed up for the 5km. Sadly none of us had a sensible answer for that.

After we had grabbed our race numbers (a flawless process), we then ventured outside to do a highly necessary warm up. I did feel a bit sorry for the vendors who had pitched up for the fair, including the awesome Sweet Ally Scoops, because the freezing cold weather meant that ice cream wasn’t high up on people’s snack agenda. I imagine that if the weather had been nicer the whole festival would have had an awesome party vibe.

Once we’d warmed up we headed to the race start, which was about a 2 minute jog from the sports hall where we’d registered (not “miles away” as some worried looking folk were telling us as the start time edged ever nearer)! The race itself was a 2-lap course, set to start 15 minutes after the 5km runners had started. This meant that some of the faster 10km runners would find themselves catching up the 5km tail runners, but the path was so wide that this wouldn’t be an issue. There were around 100 runners taking part in the 10km, and after we had the usual housekeeping chat from the organisers, we were off.

To be honest, if you’re looking for a picturesque race, then this isn’t the one for you. It’s pretty barren, and the layout of the course means you can often see the runners who are way ahead of you, which has the potential to mess with your mojo. Plus I know runners have mixed feeling about 2-lap courses. Personally I don’t mind them (10km is 10km however you look at it), but I get that it can be mentally tough to finish 5km only to think “bloody hell I have to do that again?!” But the positive thing about this race is that it is flat. There is the occasional pothole and the surface is ever so slightly gravelly, but the upshot is that this is a course with serious PB potential.

When I started the race, I got ahead of the other handful of women at the start within about 100m. However, I regretted this pretty quickly as I started panicking that I had gone off too  quickly and I had no idea just how close to me these women were. Were they just drafting behind me, waiting for the perfect moment to strike and zoom past me? At about 7km in, my left leg started to grumble a bit. After the 11 miles in high temperatures from the previous weekend, my legs didn’t really know what had hit them. As someone who averages 10-15 miles a week, after this run I would be at 24 miles in 7 days. That’s a pretty serious increase, and I started to wonder if my leg would hold up. At 8km I had no choice but to walk for about 10 seconds, which annoyed me immensely as I hate it when I don’t manage to run an entire race. On the plus side however, I managed to look over my shoulder and see that there was no other woman in sight. This gave me the mental boost I needed, and I dug deep and completed the race as the first woman, something I’m still in shock about.

Waterbeach 10k Podium

I completed the race in 43:55, which is not a time I’m particularly proud of (my PB being 42:41) but which I suppose wasn’t bad on tired legs. In even more exciting news, both Pete and Rach managed PBs, which considering the windy conditions was blooming awesome. Hopefully these results will put as all in good stead for the season, and put Pete on his way to finally achieving his sub 1:30 half marathon.

Waterbeach 10k Medals

Unfortunately my leg has been grumpy ever since the race. Every time I run, I feel good during the session but the next day it completely seizes up. It’s my own silly fault for upping my mileage so much, but I don’t think it’s muscular as a physio appointment and some epic foam rolling and stretching hasn’t eased it much. I’m seeing my fab osteopath Melissa at Spritely Osteopathy at an ungodly hour on Tuesday morning, so fingers crossed she’ll be able to pinpoint the root cause of the problem. Wish me luck.

As far as the races goes, I can’t recommend the Waterbeach Running Festival enough. It was smoothly run, the organisers and marshals were friendly, encouraging and professional, and the course is ideal for anyone hoping to smash their 5km or 10km PB. Every runner gets a medal, and my trophy is so gorgeous. Fingers crossed this becomes an annual event, and that next year we get ice cream weather.

Waterbeach 10k Trophy

 

 

 

A Weekend of Firsts – Yoga at Ethos and the Wings for Life World Run

Blimey – last weekend was a bit of a scorcher wasn’t it? Just the ticket for a yoga class on the third floor of a building in the centre of Cambridge with no air con on Saturday and an endurance run at midday on the Sunday. Wait, what?

Yes, that’s how I spent the hottest weekend of the year so far. So let’s start with Ethos shall we? Based in St Andrew’s House right near Drummer Street, Ethos is tucked away in what at first glance looks like little more than an unremarkable building made up of small offices. As you walk up the stairs though (my sister doesn’t do lifts!) you start to feel a hum of activity and our first introduction to Ethos was a couple of people who had clearly worked up a sweat stretching against a wall in the corridor in a way that meant we had to squeeze past them.

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The interior reception area of Ethos

The reason why Stacy and I had rocked up at Ethos was for a free Myofascial Release class courtesy of – you guessed it – Sweaty Betty. They were hosting a takeover of the studios, securing free spaces for their customers in around 20 classes across the weekend. As a “fan” of the foam roller (we have a love/hate relationship), I was intrigued at the idea of a class dedicated to serious muscle massage. After paying £1 to rent a mat each, we both got changed in the curtained off changing area (if you like your privacy this set up may not be for you), left our less valuable belongings on the shelves (ditto if you’re hot on security and like a proper locker) and headed into the class with Ellie and Hannah from SB.

When I saw some class members in very little clothing lying down in awkward positions with bean bags on their eyes, I did wonder what I had gotten myself into. But as soon as our instructor Mark got going I quickly relaxed into the class. And boy did I learn a lot. I got tips on how to better foam roll my calves (sit on your knees and tuck the foam roller under your thighs with it resting on your calves and then lean back as much as you can bear. Inch the roller down and repeat), how to ease my hips (once I had finally jammed my thumb in the right place) and how to use tennis balls to seriously massage my spine. I admit that resting my forehead on a tennis ball at the end felt more than a little weird and left me with a hard to explain mark on my face, but on the whole this was a brilliant class.

If I’m completely honest, I’m not sure if I really gelled with the vibe of Ethos as a whole. I think my personality is generally a bit too highly strung (I like my sports places to have proper changing rooms and showers and can be a bit OCD on hygiene stuff) but it’s clear to me what the main draw of Ethos is – and that’s the instructors. Mark was absolutely brilliant, cracking jokes all through the class and putting everyone at ease, but also showing that he really knew his stuff. He took the time to make sure everyone was getting the most from each move, correcting and advising where necessary. Stacy and I both left the class armed with tips, raving about Mark, and feeling lighter in the legs. Which would bode well for the Wings for Life World Run which I was due to do at midday the following day…….

Official runs make me nervous. Everyone knows this. Running in the heat makes me even MORE nervous. So you can imagine what a mess I was in when I arrived at Parker’s Piece on Sunday morning at around 10:30am, ready to register before the race started at midday. The car had told us it was already 27 degrees, so with 90 minutes to go there was plenty of time for it to get even hotter. I’m really fair, so I had slathered myself in factor 50 ALL OVER (you can never be too sure!) before getting dressed, but as I queued twice (once to sign a disclaimer, again to get my race number) I could feel myself already starting to get a bit too much sun.

After bumping into my friend Jen (another fan of the legend that is Alan Baldock), I quickly lost her again when I went to The Regal pub to pee (much more sensible than joining an enormous queue for the portaloos which are less than pleasant in that heat).  As I started to panic that I would have to face this behemoth of a run on my own, I found Miranda and Ros from Ely Runners sensibly sitting in the shade, and from then on in I stuck to the poor sods like glue. I would like to say now that I owe the pair of them a debt of gratitude, from Ros making me feel ok to be a nervous run pee-er, to the pair of them deciding that I was in fact 12 years old and deploying a running theme of jokes around the subject for the duration of the run. They didn’t even rip into me too much when I walked into a pole. Yup.

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All smiles at the start. Thanks to Nigel for the photo! 

As we settled halfway into the crowd waiting at the start line, the nerves began to give way to excitement. The feeling for this race is SO different to say a half marathon, where I always think about my PB and whether or not I’m going to beat it. With this run, you don’t really know how far you’re going to get, and any plans I had (a half marathon would have been lovely) went out the window once the mercury started edging 30 degrees. So it was a case of just start running, and see what happens.

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And that’s just what we did. Setting off and weaving through the city, going past the colleges and being cheered on by the frankly awesome folk of Cambridge, we headed up and out towards Girton, hitting Oakington and finally Cottenham. I cannot begin to thank the brilliant people of these villages who handed out sweets, drinks and who hosed us down with water. Oh the blessed relief of those hosepipes. It really was the best thing ever. And the WFL organisers did an absolutely bang up job of making sure the refreshment stations were regular. I grabbed water at every one, and finished the bottle nearly every time, pouring it on my legs (a brilliant tip from Miranda) and gulping huge mouthfuls. Normally if someone was to chuck a load of water at my back I would be somewhat annoyed at them but when Ros did it I could have kissed her. I swear my skin sizzled.

When we got to around the 13k mark, we adopted something of a run/walk strategy, taking maybe 20 – 30 seconds to catch our breath before setting off again (a strategy even the male winner, Steve Way, had to adopt towards the end of his incredible 63.75km run – read his race report, it’s brilliant). The heat really had started to push our resilience by this point, but when we hit Cottenham and saw Miranda and Ros’ other halves it gave us such a boost to keep going, and we made it out of the village and into the next stretch of quiet farmland. Wilburton was never realistically on the cards for us, but when we heard that the catcher car was in the distance, we did our utmost to hit the 11 mile mark, finally making 11.12 (17.89km) before a grinning David Coulthard passed us by, waving as he went.

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Helloooooo Cottenham!

Suddenly it was over, and we had something like a 10 minute walk to reach the buses that were waiting every 5k to take runners back to Parker’s Piece. It was such a lovely walk, mooching through the quiet countryside as we reflected on what we’d achieved and chatting to our fellow runners. But then sitting on that bus, waiting for it to leave, was probably the hottest we’d been all day – it was like a sauna with lots of people who had been sweating for a copious amount of time. Imagine that if you’re so inclined. But when it set off and the breeze started coming through the window it was utter bliss.

Back on Parker’s Piece we picked up our frankly awesome goodie bags (containing our medal, a high vis technical tee, microfibre towel, sweatband, pack of nuts and a beer token),  grabbed our beers and headed over to Trumpington Road to meet our ride home (my OH). We couldn’t stop raving about what a brilliant race it had been and mild sunburn aside (only patches on my arm where the factor 50 had been hosed off – worth it!), I think this was the funnest race I’ve ever done. So much so that I’ve already signed up for next year, which is so unlike me.

So if you’re looking for a race with a twist, this is the one for you. 100% of the entry fee goes to spinal cord research and the current early bird price is only £25, which I think is a brilliant price now that I’ve seen just how much effort goes into this run. So what are you waiting for? Go sign up. I’m sure it’ll be cooler next year……

Pilatesfit – A Haven in Our Busy City

When I was contacted by Rowan from Pilatesfit on Twitter with the opportunity to try one of their classes*, I leapt at the chance. Even though Vinery Road is a bit of a trek from where I work, it’s nice and close to Cambridge train station which is a bonus. As I’ve only done a handful of Pilates classes in my time (I’m more of a yoga girl generally) I booked in for a Beginner’s Class with Michelle Njagi on Friday 11th March at 6:15pm. It seemed like a good opportunity to end my stressful week on a relaxing high.

I have to say that a rather fraught journey up Mill Road meant that I wasn’t feeling especially chilled when I finally reached the Pilatesfit Studios. I thought everyone escaped early on a Friday but clearly no one has told the irate road users congregated in this part of Cambridge (slow hand clap to the cyclists who think it’s ok to mount the pavements and scatter pedestrians to get through it). And when I found the Studios I wasn’t completely convinced that I had actually found them, but the road numbering suggested I had.

When I first opened the gate and saw a large dog walking into a door on the left I was a bit worried I had walked into someone’s front garden (a common mistake on a first visit Rowan assured me) but to be fair, that kind of is what you’re doing (and signage outside is coming soon!). To give you a bit of background, the founder Rowan has worked as a Physiotherapist in Cambridge for about 17 years, and then started Pilatesfit about 2 years ago. After word of mouth meant that the popularity of her classes grew, she then opened the Vinery Road studio next to her home a year ago.

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The Studios themselves are stunning. They’re all white walls, high ceilings and gentle lighting, and you can tell they’ve been designed with serenity and simplicity in mind. The lovely thing about Pilatesfit is that their classes are for a maximum of 8 people at a time. This means that the instructor is able to check on each attendee individually during the class, advising on and correcting their form where necessary.

As for my experience in the class, at first I thought “Pffft, this is easy. I am totally nailing this. I should have gone for the intermediate class.” This self-confidence lasted about 10 minutes, and was all but shattered by the time Michelle had me doing glute bridges on a foam roller.

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Michelle (on purple mat) in action. Photo from VineryRoadStudios on Instagram

Despite being in a fairly busy part of the city, what little noise from the outside world that managed to sneak in was quickly drowned out by the perfect background music to the class and Michelle’s gorgeous, soothing voice (she should do audio books on meditation. I would totally buy them). I found myself feeling so relaxed, which is not a state I’ve been in much recently. Don’t get me wrong – I worked hard, and my glutes and especially my hamstrings felt like they’d had a serious workout the next day, but I felt like I was able to drown out all of that outside crap that has been clamouring for attention in my head recently, and just be.

At the end of the class Michelle took her time to have a chat with me (despite having only 15 minutes before her next class started) and she also told me that I’d done really well and that she could tell I was strong. This girl had already sussed the way to my heart.

Now – down to the nitty gritty. Pilates classes at Pilatesfit are on the pricier end of the scale at £9 a pop. But you are getting more for your money compared to say a Pilates class that takes 20 people. You get one-on-one attention from the instructor during the class, and this is invaluable if you’re like me and struggle to get your ribs aligned properly or you find yourself holding your breath during more challenging poses, which makes them far more difficult. I suppose it depends on what you want from your Pilates class. They also let you pay as you go, which is a bonus when many Pilates classes in the city are based on a course of classes which you pay for in advance regardless of whether you can make every session.

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Would I pay for these classes? The answer is a resounding yes. While I can’t afford to go all the time (at least not without reining in my Sweaty Betty addiction), I’m going to treat myself to a class at least once a month, because I got so much more out of it than just an ab workout. It’s impossible not to relax and centre yourself in a class at the Pilatesfit studio. They’ve just done everything so well.

Rowan is also doing a great job of building a strong community around Pilatesfit, with a great social media presence, and a gorgeous Instagram feed. They also offer more than just the classes –  they do 1:1 Pilates and antenatal sessions, as well as offering private physiotherapy, including sports injury treatments such as kinesiotaping, ultrasound, acupuncture, massage and sports specific rehab. They are also the only Physiotherapy clinic in Cambridge where all the physiotherapists are also trained to teach Pilates. They have so much to offer, and I think they’re a really great addition to the Fitness scene in Cambridge.

* When offering me the free class, Rowan never asked me to blog about it, but I have chosen to do so.

Getting Ready to Rumble with Sweaty Betty

Any regular readers of this blog will know I’m a huge Sweaty Betty fan. It’s not unusual for me to basically be a walking billboard for the brand and I dread to think what percentage of my salary I’ve spent on their gear in the last 12 months.

So when Grazia magazine ran a competition to win a place at the launch of their latest #GetFit4Free campaign “Rumble” in London, of course I jumped at it. The spec for the class promised that “the 45-minute high-intensity calorie-burning workout combines shadow-boxing techniques, adrenaline-pumping cardio and core-sculpting conditioning”, which sounded like a pretty winning combination to me! I mean, just check out Sweaty Betty’s official video:

When I received the email saying I had won a place I was utterly giddy. That is until I realised that for a second weekend running there was a bus replacement service for the trains between Ely and Cambridge and engineering work happening on the London Liverpool Street line, which meant my relatively straightforward hop on the train had become a bus-train-tube scenario. I ummed and ahhed about whether or not I could face the hassle of the journey and decided it was just too good an opportunity to miss.

The journey was not without its stresses. An accident in Ely (where thankfully it seems everyone was ok) meant that we got stuck in the city and had to take a long detour to make our way to Cambridge. As the minutes ticked away it was looking less and less likely that I’d make my connecting train. The bus arrived with 90 seconds until the train was due to leave so I sprinted to the platform (NOT easy after an 8.2 mile half marathon training run that morning), and made it with about 5 seconds to go until they closed the doors. When I finally made it to London Liverpool St I used Google Maps on my phone to find my way to 1Rebel, triumphantly texting my other half to let him know I’d made it. Imagine my frustration when it turned out that there were TWO 1Rebel gyms about half a mile from each other, and of course I had gone to the wrong one. I then managed to get fantastically lost trying to find the other gym, meeting a sea of blank faces whenever I asked for directions and stressing out that I was going to fail to make the class at the last minute after a shocker of a journey. Finally a security guard in an office pointed me in the right direction and I arrived with 10 minutes to spare, out of breath and red-faced (a sign of things to come).

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The wrong 1Rebel

The words I would use to describe my first impression of 1Rebel are “urban hipster”. It was all exposed pipework and bricks, with glossy concrete floors and copper accents everywhere. However, it wasn’t remotely pretentious – just effortlessly cool and functional. I wish I could have had more time to look around, but I had to quickly get changed, get help with the lockers(!) and haul arse into their amazing boxing studio, filled with slimline boxing bags, nightclub lighting and an incredible sound system. And standing in the middle of it all, was our instructor for the next 45 minutes, Mila.

After jogging around the studio to warm up, Mila explained the structure of the class – we’d do a boxing section followed by a cardio section, repeated 3 times. We were taught a range of boxing combinations, including jabs, hooks and kicks, and other than the odd opportunity where I mis-timed my kicks and battered my shin, it was brilliant! The cardio sections involved star jumps, mountain climbers, burpees, press ups (why oh why did I decide to do an arms session the day before?!) and a killer abs section. My absolute favourite move was when we did side planks and kicked the bag with the top leg, although that may have been because I was just so grateful that I didn’t have to use my arms in that moment. Mila (the Machine) was a seriously hard task master, ploughing through the class with no breaks although I had to pause occasionally to use my sweat towel and have sips of water, neither of which were easy to do when wearing boxing gloves!

The 45 minutes absolutely flew by, and I had worked so incredibly hard. The endorphin rush was huge and at the end Mila talked about the mental health benefits of the class, discussing how good boxing is for relieving stress. I’m always so happy when people talk about that side of exercise, as all too often the focus is just on the physical benefits.

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Goody bag photo courtesy of Sweaty Betty’s Twitter account

After the class we were given an awesome goody bag, and I got to use 1Rebel’s great showers, all of which had fantastic quality shampoo, shower gels, cleansers and conditioners. They even had deodorants, hair straighteners and feminine hygiene products in the changing rooms, which made me think that 1Rebel have really thought about the whole customer experience when creating their gyms. They even had a flipping Smeg fridge for cold towels! Seriously, I need that in my life. How utterly BRILLIANT! On top of all of that their staff were really lovely and friendly too. If you’re lucky enough to live near a 1Rebel gym and are looking for a new place to work out they should be seriously considered.

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The right 1Rebel

I had such a brilliant time and if you get the opportunity to try this new class at your local Sweaty Betty boutique you should definitely sign up. The classes will be running every Tuesday from the 26th January to the 16th February. And best of all? They’re free of course!

Sweaty Betty – the epitome of fitness awesomeness. A huge thank you to them, Grazia and 1Rebel for making my 2 1/2 hour journey each way totally worth it.

Improving My Mental Running Fitness

It’s no secret that my physical fitness has been improving. Since I started training with Alan back in April my 5k PB has dropped from around 22:40 to 20:19. But I’ve still continued to struggle with the mental side of pushing myself to a reasonably high level of running. Sometimes I think my legs go into shock, like they’ve gone from my sedate 15 year old self, and have jumped forward 18 years to find themselves suddenly halfway through a 10k. I swear I can sometimes hear them screaming “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!”

So as you can imagine it was with some trepidation last Wednesday that I found myself heading back to Wandlebury with Alan and Stacy for the dreaded bench to bench session, aka the scene of my epic meltdown from a couple of months back. The weather was grey and the wind (the FLIPPING wind) had decided to hit its gusty peak at, ooh around 1pm, bang on time for our session. As we walked to the misery zone I did question the sanity of going to a large wood during some of the worst weather of the year that had FELLED TREES.

Beautiful Wandlebury photos courtesy of my talented friend theemiddlesis. I tried to take photos while I was there but the grey skies made it look miserable.

I needn’t have worried about the weather. The trees buffered us from the worst of it and what little did filter through was thankfully behind us. But I was nervous about my ability to complete the session, especially alongside a seasoned Wandlebury pro like Stacy. I nervously pointed out to her where I had sat in the mud and cried last time, and then just tried to focus on the logistics of what I had to do. Just 9 reps of around 200m up a rough, erratic incline. In total around 7 minutes of running. Easy peasy.

Of course it wasn’t easy. But I did it. Even better I managed to stay about the same distance behind Stacy – who is a ninja when it comes to consistent pacing – on every rep. I even went up on my toes on the slightly steeper sections, something that Alan is trying to encourage me to do thanks to some advice from up on high (!). I felt elated afterwards, and not even the utter DRENCHING I got on the cycle ride back to work could dampen (geddit?!) my spirits.

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This all set me in good stead ready for the Festive 5k in Ely this Sunday. By some fluke I was the winning woman last year, but I think the miserable weather put some strong runners off. This year I knew I could run it faster, but I had doubts that I would be able to hold on to the title. And it turns out the doubts were well founded. As soon as I saw Ruth Jones on the start line I knew she would storm it. She just had that look about her, and when she shot off at the start part of me felt a bit relieved. As lovely as it would have been to win again, it took some of the pressure off and allowed me to just enjoy the run.

My aim was to try and stay with my speedy friend Pete for as long as possible. He has a 5k PB of 19:40, so keeping him in my sights would mean a good time. He and I ended up in a cluster of 4 with two other female runners with Pete leading and me bringing up the rear. While I managed to catch up and lead all 4 of us down Lisle Lane to the 3k mark I knew I couldn’t sustain it and decided to let them get past me again and settle for keeping them all in my sights.

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They give you Santa hats, much needed in the cold weather!

The hill through Cherry Hill Park was a killer (Pete and I still can’t decide whether a hill is better at the beginning or the end of a race) and it took everything I had to make it to that finish, 4 seconds behind the 3rd place female and 9 seconds behind the 2nd. I came 10th overall out of 372 runners with a time of 20:37. I gave it absolutely everything I had, and finishing 15 seconds behind Pete is quite frankly insane for me. If he was 42 seconds off his PB, that means in the right conditions I could potentially just dip below the 20 minute mark. Flipping heck. Pete, can you pace me for every race please? Huge thanks to the Arthur Rank Hospice for arranging a fun and challenging race, which I know isn’t easy in a busy little city like Ely. Thanks also to all the drivers who stopped for us!

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Happy, chilly finishers

I was still a bit disappointed with my female placing on the day, but as Alan and my “always-been-wise-beyond-her-years” friend Lydia said, if I’ve given it everything, I can’t be disappointed. That was literally the best I could do, and I can’t ask for anything more than that.

Plus there’s always next year. Who knows how physically and mentally fit I could be by then?