MDUK’s 2015 Cambridge Town and Gown 10k – My Review

Recently I’ve really been enjoying running 5ks. I think this is down to a mixture of knowing that I can beast myself but that it’ll all be over in around 21 minutes, and also the fact that I’ve been collecting PB after PB over this distance. That’s always good for a positive mindset.

But I know Alan wants me to do longer distances (secretly I think he wants me to do a marathon but I’m avoiding having that conversation wherever possible), so back on the 22nd June I signed up for Muscular Dystrophy UK‘s Cambridge Town and Gown 10k, which – if I went ahead with it – would make it the third time in a row that I had done this race.

Anyone who reads my blog with any regularity will know that my last 10k was a bit of a bust. I had a pretty nasty cold and so it was a stop and start affair that made me wang on about how much I HATED the 10k distance for a good few weeks afterwards. But an awful lot of my recent interval training with Ely Runners has been around the 10k mark, and Pete and I went on a 5.4 mile training run a couple of weeks ago which went really well. This all meant that I was actually feeling ok about the Town and Gown. Don’t get me wrong – the pre-race nerves were still fully present, but for once I didn’t have that anxiety dream about forgetting my race number that I pretty much always get. Plus Pete is always adamant that pre-race nerves are a good thing, and since he’s a speedy blighter I feel obliged to trust him on that one. I think my biggest concern was the fact that I’d be running it on my own, which is funny when I think about how I had always considered myself a lone runner until this year. Now I always have someone like Andy or Rich to run with at Ely Runners, and the last couple of big races I’ve done I’ve run with Elaine at her pace. I can’t keep up with Pete over such a long distance, so I knew I’d have to dig deep to push myself through this one on my own.

After some pretty shocking weather on Saturday, we were lucky to wake up to a cold but dry and bright Sunday morning, with the car thermometer putting the outside temperature at a brisk 5 degrees (making me doubt my choice of shorts over leggings). Ian and I picked up Pete and his wife Rach and the four of us headed into Cambridge to make sure Pete was there to pick up his race number before the registration cut off of 9:30am ready for the start of the race at 10am. While Pete and Rach headed to Midsummer Common I got to hang out with my sister, her partner Simon and my nephew Danny and niece Eloise for 40 minutes or so. The bonus of having a sister who lives near to the start of so many of the big races in Cambridge (and the provision of a non-Portaloo pit stop!) cannot be underestimated.

At about 9:20 I jogged to the start and caught up with Pete and Rach and after jogging around a bit more I finally plucked up the courage to give Rach my nice, warm Sweaty Betty top, before heading to the start line to begin the race with Pete.

I had absolutely zero intention of staying with Pete for anything longer than about 60 seconds, but by some miracle I stayed with him until around the 2k mark. We had blasted out the first mile in something ridiculous like 6:20, and when he peeled away by about 10 metres as we turned off Queen’s Road onto Silver Street I decided not to try and keep up with him. I know my limits pretty well, and I think if I’d tried to carry on matching him completing the 10k would have been difficult. But thanks to him I had gotten off to a cracking start.

Town and Gown 10k 2015Waving to Andrew at around the 3k mark.

I had already checked where the water stations were on the route, so I hadn’t taken my water bottle with me on the first 5k. But when I saw that they were handing out cups rather than small bottles or pouches I made the decision to grab my running bottle (I got a telling off for that later) from where I’d tucked it out of sight on the route. The thing is, sometimes I can’t drink a cup of tea on the sofa without choking on it, so trying to gulp from a cup of water mid run was not going to end well.

The second part of the 10k took us away from the city and out along the river, which is a lot quieter in terms of support but it’s flat and fast. The main issue is that it doubles back on itself, so the super fast runners come past you on their last 2k or so while you’re still fighting at the 6-7k mark. However, it was at this point that I saw Liz Fraser, a previous winner of the race, and I worked out that she could only have been a couple of minutes ahead of me. Naturally I assumed this meant that she was just having a bad race as opposed to my having a good one.

Unfortunately I started to get a stitch just before 8k, but luckily I got a handle on it fairly quickly, forcing my breathing to become more regular as it had become a bit erratic as I started to get tired. The final kilometre and a half was nothing short of agonising, but I kept trying to tell myself that it was only 4 more times around the track, just three more times around the track, chipping away the metres in my mind and telling myself “you got this, you got this.” When Alan appeared near the end and said to me “Come on, sprint finish! Kick! KICK”! I gave those last couple of hundred metres EVERYTHING I had. I can’t even begin to explain how agonising it was to find out that the big flags I had seen didn’t actually mark the finish line and that I actually had another 20+ metres to stagger to the end. After tweeting the organisers about this they explained it was a mix up with Sussex Sports Photography – the flags were theirs but as a runner in the final throes of a 10k you assume that any flags in the final few metres are the finish line. After having a great chat with Annie from MDUK on the phone earlier (how awesome that she took the time to do that?) she told me they’d make sure that any flags by any of their supporters wouldn’t be put in that position again.

When I crossed the (real) finish line and saw Pete looking at me slightly agog I knew I had achieved a decent time. I never in a million years imagined that a time like that was something I could do though. I didn’t dare believe it until I saw my speedy text with my official time. For the number crunchers amongst you, here’s a breakdown of the previous three Town and Gowns. The route changed for the better in 2014 – clearly cow dodging in 2013 was seriously slowing people down! – and that was also the year I ran it with Elaine who was storming her first ever 10k:

Year No. Runners Winning Male Winning Female My Time Time Behind My Overall Position No. Female Runners My Gender Position Gender Position % Pace Per Mile
2013 560 36:01 39:50 49:59 10:09 137 256 21 Top 8.2% 08:03
2014 778 33:42 37:30 50:53 13:23 287 329 47 Top 14.3% 08:11
2015 1279 32:25 36:56 42:40 5:44 144 619 16 Top 2.6% 06:52

So as you can see my improvement over the last couple of years has been a bit nuts, and this is in no small part thanks to Alan. But back to that rollocking he gave me. His words after I finished were “Well done, but if I ever see you running with a water bottle again…..” My reasons for doing so fell on deaf ears but this is something we need to work towards together. This is only the 2nd 10k I’ve run since he started coaching me, and I planned to run without it until I saw the water station. I need to build towards this, and I am someone who sweats a lot so I need to be able to take on some fluid on longer races. He said we’d chat about it when we next train, but since that’s going to be at Wandlebury – and we all know what happened last time I was there – perhaps we’d be better off leaving that chat until next week.

Regarding the actual race itself, I think it’s an utterly brilliant 10k and would recommend it to everyone. It’s without doubt my favourite 10k in my racing calendar (sorry NYE 10k – those exposed fens are just evil). It’s a serious PB course especially when the conditions are as perfect as they were yesterday – everyone I know who ran it got a PB – and the support in the city is brilliant. It’s really scenic too, and almost completely flat (although the little incline at about 8.5k is a sod). I would say they could do with more toilets as they don’t seemed to have increased the number despite having around 500 more participants this year, and the medals were a real step down from previous years (I personally don’t mind too much when it’s a brilliant race for charity, but I think it’s worth mentioning). And as for that Cool Dawn Recovery drink that came in the goodie bag – revolting doesn’t cover it.

wpid-img_20151026_221808.jpgIf you enjoyed reading this blog, please send a pound or two to the brilliant charity who turned Cambridge orange for a day. You can do so here.

Body by Simone at Sweaty Betty Cambridge – My Review

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m a HUGE fan of any movement that allows people to experience exercise for free, whether it’s the awesome parkrun and Parktennis events taking over green space all over the country (and beyond) or whether it’s Sweaty Betty, continuing to expand their #GetFit4Free campaign with new and innovative workouts.

I’ve been to a few of Sweaty Betty’s free classes over the last year or so. Most recently I’ve enjoyed Flow and Glow with Rachael and Fly, Flex, Flow with Jo, and I loved both, so when I saw that they were bringing in “Body by Simone” for a four week period I knew I’d have to skip a Tuesday Ely Runners session (sorry guys!) to give the class a go.

Simone in this context is Simone De La Rue, an LA based fitness guru with abs of actual steel if her photos are anything to go by. According to the SB website, the “Body by Simone” workout will make your heart rate soar, tone and strengthen your body and leave you feeling fabulously happy. Ultimately, it’s a dance cardio workout tailored to work the bum, legs, arms and abs with the aim to give you a body like a dancer.

Now I know it’s going to take more than a 50 minute workout to give me a dancer’s physique. I’d have to lay off the visits to Cherry Hill Chocolates in Ely for a start and we all know that’s not going to happen. But I can say that after one class, if you were to do this regularly enough, your body would reap the rewards.

The class itself took place at the Hidden Rooms in Cambridge, somewhere I’ve not been before and which were a bit too well hidden for me as I walked past the door a few times before someone gently pointed me in the right direction with a bemused smile on their face. Inside there are low ceilings (which may have caused some of the taller attendees some problems but which obviously didn’t impact on me in the slightest) and a very cool, only vaguely hipster-ish vibe to the whole place. Previous classes I’ve been too have been held outside or in the Sweaty Betty store, but because there were some large, dynamic movements in this class such as lateral lunges and star jumps, the store wouldn’t have worked, and as music is a key element to the class we needed somewhere inside to make sure we didn’t cause a public nuisance. So being just around the corner from the shop, The Hidden Rooms were ideal.

Around 15 of us had gathered for the class, and after a quick intro by our instructor Katie (who I recognised from the Cambridge store and from the many times I’ve spotted her power walking to the train station) we were led into a very dynamic warm up, which set the pace for the whole class. And I have to give out a shout out to the AMAZING music she was using. When did you last hear Ghetto Supastar by Pras for crying out loud?! Just. Awesome.

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The only kit required – a mat and some hand weights

Now I’ve never been the biggest fan of aerobics as I find it can be too “single-paced” for me. I like variety between high impact cardio, body weight movements and weights work, which meant that this class was a great fit for me. After a cardio song that involved pretending we had a ball in our hands (stick with me here, it makes perfect sense in the moment) we then went into weights work for the arms. Now I would normally scoff at 1.5kg weights (I do rows with 14kg dumbells at the moment), but after an entire song’s worth of tricep dips, flies, curls and more, it felt like I wouldn’t have been able to hold much more without sacrificing the quality of the movement. After another cardio track that involved a lot of squats and lunges, followed by another that involved lots of jumping, star jumps and deep squats to hit your palm on the floor (my personal favourite), we then did an abs section, which I think is the one I’m most likely to repeat regularly at home. I already have an ab workout that I do most evening (always to Naughty Boy’s La La La which my husband could not be more sick of) but this plank-focussed workout was a great alternative, incorporating mountain climbers and holding the plank position on our palms and then on our elbows. We then ended the class by combining three of the different cardio routines into one, so having a little bit of natural rhythm and the ability to follow dance-based moves will help, but isn’t essential.

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Myself and Katie, two very Sweaty Betties after the workout

All through the class our instructor Katie – who clearly had a dancer’s background as evidenced by her ridiculously elegant arm movements – was fun and full of energy, which is clearly standard protocol for SB staff and ambassadors. It’s not easy to teach to a class of mostly strangers (I suspect she’s not able to build up quite the same rapport in these situations as she can with people who attend the classes she teaches regularly outside of the #GetFit4Free movement) but she was relaxed which helped to put the class at ease. Plus she asked at the start if anyone had any injuries, which is always a massive plus sign for me.

I left the class feeling like I’d had a great workout, and most importantly that I had some elements that I could take home with me and do again in my own time. If you’re keen to try it yourself you can either access the workout online, or the last class with the Cambridge store will be happening next Tuesday and you should be able to book a spot here from Monday morning. I mean why wouldn’t you? It is free after all.

Unless of course you count the shorts that I bought in the sale. Those wily SB minxes. They know exactly what they’re doing.

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Wearing my new shorts that have all the colours

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.