When the Anxious Athlete Takes Over

As it’s World Mental Health Day today, it seems like the best time for me to talk about my anxiety around running.

At least, it used to be just around running.

Earlier this year, I found that the sort of anxiety I used to have on start lines – you know, the fidgeting, wondering if I had time to make it to the toilet (AGAIN), generally being so tense I could have snapped, occasionally crying – had started to worm its way in to my every day life. I would go for a walk at lunch only to find that I would suddenly have to rush to the toilet (apologies to the person working in Paperchase who I literally ran away from as she tried to serve me). I started having panic attacks on the train which resulted in my holding up an entire 8-carriage to London. As someone who has to commute by train every day, the mere thought of simply getting to work would fill me with dread and I stopped wanting to leave the house.

I no longer felt like me.

I don’t really know what triggered this all. At the start of the year I had some stressful things going on and it’s possible that they just accumulated to breaking point, and I’ve always carried stress in my gut. But what I was certain of was that this situation couldn’t continue. I’m nothing if not proactive, so back in March I had some tests done at the doctors which all came back clear, and so reasoning that the problem was more mental than physical, I booked an appointment to see Dan Regan, who as well as being a fellow runner, is also a hypnotherapist. A friend had had a really positive experience with him and couldn’t recommend him enough, and his testimonial page was full of faces that I recognised from the sports scene in Ely. Thankfully Dan does free consultations so there was no massive upfront commitment, but as soon as we’d had that initial meeting I knew I wanted to work with him.

When it comes to picking a therapist of any kind, you have to be comfortable with them, and Dan and I got on immediately. Plus having shared knowledge of pre-race anxiety meant that he knew exactly where I was coming from. Over the course of 6 sessions he taught me coping mechanisms (some worked for me, some didn’t), gave me audio recordings to use at home and of course we had the hour long session to talk things through and do some hypnotherapy.

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Smiling when running!

And you know what? It really worked wonders for me. Don’t get me wrong, IBS is still a part of my life (I wasn’t expecting Dan to cure that!) and I still have situations that make me feel uncomfortable, but –  bar the odd wobble – the sheer panic I used to feel in that situation has gone. Instead I focus on my breathing, or tense the muscles in my legs or play word association games in my head. Even when it comes to races, even though I still get nervous (don’t we all, to some extent?), I don’t let it overwhelm me to the point of terror. If my stomach decides it’s not going to play ball I just accept it, and refuse to let myself despair over it. Instead, I focus on what I’m about to do and make sure I’m near those people who know what I’m dealing with and know how to help me through it.

And that’s where I need to say some thank yous. As well as to Dan, I need to thank my ever patient husband who went out of his way to try and minimise stressful situations for me, to Justin for being an epic sounding board on the way to races and to Pete who would try and distract me with games on the train and who was the one who purposefully blocked the train doors with my bike so that I wouldn’t get stuck and find myself going all the way to London.

Seriously Pete – who knew giraffes weighed that much?!

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I still consider my anxiety around my stomach issues to be a work in progress, but I have Dan’s audios to hand, an amazing support network around me and I’ve recently been enjoying pacing other people rather than putting myself under pressure to run super quickly. That’ll come back with time though. For now, it’s enough for me to be finishing a run with a massive smile on my face.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, you can find a number of resources available here.

That Time I did 5 Races in 16 Days

I love racing. I’m always SO chill on a start line, taking selfies, having a laugh and generally putting everyone around me at ease. I’m an utter delight to be around.

Are you laughing yet?

I am the absolute worst when it comes to races. I panic, I whinge and I infect everyone around me with a general air of dread. You know – the kind of feeling you get on a long haul flight and the person with questionable hygiene who you spotted eating cheese and onion crisps in the check-in queue heads down the aisle towards the empty seat next to you.

But for some unfathomable reason, I managed to find myself looking at my race calendar and working out that I had managed to somehow schedule 5 races across 16 days. During a heatwave. My days looked like this:

  • 28th June: Girton 5k
  • 1st July: Marcus Gynn 10k
  • 5th July: Ely Runners Mile Handicap
  • 12th July: Kevin Henry 5k League Race
  • 13th July: Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog

You know what it’s like. You see a race in February and you’re like, “ooh, that sounds fun!” So you check you’re free, and if you are you sign up and pop it in your diary. And if you’re an idiot like me, it doesn’t even occur to you to check if there are any races already in your diary, say, the day before…

But anywho, I was signed up and despite the heatwave that made me feel like my brain was expanding out of my ears, (see my thoughts on summer running here) I committed to each and every one of these blinking races. Here’s how I got on.

GIRTON 5k

It was the Girton 5k that first introduced me to Ely Runners so it will always hold a special place in my heart. However, it was really toasty the first time I ran it in 2015 and 3 years later it was no different. I also didn’t learn from my previous experience and forgot to plonk myself at the front of the group, which meant that not only did I get tangled up in runners, I also got tangled up in the race markings when a larger chap in front of me swerved at the last minute and I ended up having a disagreement with a pole and some tape. Elegant. Throw in some narrow paths and runners who stopped dead mid-race due to the heat meant it wasn’t a speedy race, but it is an immensely fun one. I came in at 21:30 and was second in my age category so I was pretty pleased with that one. I’d recommend the Girton 5k to anyone looking for a fun, sociable 5k with some difficulty to it.

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MARCUS GYNN 10k

Now the Marcus Gynn 10k is an important race because it is named in memory of the wonderful Newmarket Jogger Marcus, who sadly passed away on the 11th February 2016. Marcus was a school friend of my husband’s and the original running blogger in my life, so I was damned if 30 degree heat was going to stop me from running for him. Had it been any other race I would have bailed without a second’s thought as I know how badly the heat affects me, but not this one. And it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I stopped at both water stations to properly take on fluid and found myself having to drop to a walk on the final hill but I still crossed the line as 7th woman in a decent time for me of 45:43, maybe 2 minutes over what I could manage on that course if it wasn’t being scorched by Satan himself. Most importantly of all I got to meet Marcus’ beautiful nephew, who was one of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen. This race is a seriously special one, and body willing I will do it every year.

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ELY RUNNERS MILE HANDICAP

Nothing instills fear in the Ely Runners gang like the mile handicap race. We’re all long(er) distance runners and rarely train for speed over such short distances. Pre-race we all cluster together beneath the trees on Amherst Field next to Ely Train Station like a bunch of meerkats under threat, wondering how we’ve managed to make such bad choices in our lives. I was especially irate when I realised I had been given the same handicap (6 minutes dead) as a fellow ER who had been a good 70 seconds faster than me at our 10k handicap back in June. Also, I found myself in the “fast” group for the first time (anyone with a handicap of 6 minutes or less) and this meant that I would be at the back of the group, watching everyone run away from me. As it turns out, I prefer this to being chased. If I know that statistically I should be at the back of the group then I won’t panic. If I know that statistically I should be at the front of the group and I falter, that’s guaranteed to make my mental strength wobble. I ended up managing 6:04, so although I missed my handicap, it was 1 second faster than last year. I’ll take it!

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KEVIN HENRY 5K LEAGUE RACE

Despite the nerves they produce, the Kevin Henry league races are my favourites. I’m much happier running in the evening than the morning, and the support from my teammates at these runs is incredible. Everyone is so pleased when you show up, as EVERY runner wins a point for their club, just by being there. It really is a race for everyone. I had planned to pace one of our juniors during this run, but 5 minutes before the start I found out she was ill and I found myself having to run my own race, which I really wasn’t prepared for. However, something magical happened that evening and I managed to beat my 2 year old 5k PB by one second, coming in in 20:18 (20:16 if Strava is to be believed)! It was just one of those runs where everything came together – the course is flat, the weather was good and I managed to settle in to my pace. Don’t get me wrong – it flipping HURT – but after thinking that 20:19 was the best I was ever going to achieve, there were some tears when my time was finally confirmed. Now I have decided that I’m going to try and push for a sub-20. I know it may not happen, and if it does it won’t be easy, but this run has set a fire in my belly and made me want to see if what I thought was impossible could in fact be a reality.

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WIBBLY WOBBLY LOG JOG

I’m not ashamed to say that the name of this race is the reason I first signed up to it in 2016.  I mean, how could you not? The first year I did it I LOVED it. It was my first proper trail run and the novelty of it meant I was so busy taking it all in that speed was secondary. The second year I did it on EXHAUSTED legs and tried to run it hard. I hated it so much that I was swearing at squirrels and trees. So I was slightly reticent turning up to this year’s run the day after my 5k PB race. And to be honest, it really was hard, and I was so incredibly tired by the time we hit the last mile. But Pete and Rob, my fellow Ely Runners, dragged me to the finish, and I managed my fastest time there by 5 seconds in 38:49. It also produced one of my favourite ever Ely Runners group photos.

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All in all, I am so, so proud of what I achieved in these 16 days. A 5k and 1 mile PB, and course PBs both at Girton and the WWLJ. Plus I got to run for Marcus, which is something I hope to do every year. I’m not sure I would recommend squeezing in so many races in such a short space of time, but who wants to bet I sign up to all of these again next year? Just please, PLEASE let it be cooler in the summer of 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

How I’m Coping with the Heat – A Runner’s Guide

Spoiler alert – that was a proper click-baity title. Because I’m not coping with the heat. At all. I am one of those British people who moans constantly as soon as it gets above 20 degrees. I need to move to Shetland.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a winter girl through and through. As well as being a Christmas monkey (yes I will share Elf memes from around September until you mute me), I love the feeling of icy air in my lungs when I run, not this hideous soup-like substance I’m having to breathe through every time I step outside. I’m the girl who went out when it was so cold that her eyelashes froze together, and when she warmed up resembled Alice Cooper as her mascara ran down her face. Plus I am incredibly fair. My version of a tan is looking ever so slightly less blue in the summer. I am losing hours of my life to applying factor 50 every day, and am sweating from my knees for crying out loud. And don’t even get me started on just how terrifyingly red my face is capable of going.

HOWEVER. I am still managing to run and there are a few tiny things that I am doing that are making life that little bit more bearable. For me at least. Sorry for my husband/officemate/friends/fellow train users/everyone I come to contact with who is having to deal with the worst version of me right now.

FIND A WHINGE BUDDY

When you find a fellow hater of heat it is a glorious thing. Take for example my running buddy Serena (check out her awesome blog here). We spent a lovely time on Saturday morning discussing the futility vs necessity of showering in this weather (shower, get sweaty dressing, repeat until the four horseman of the apocalypse turn up and ask if that thing they can smell is you) and how much we miss running in the cold. We knew we could offload on to each other without risk of a judgey eyeroll and someone saying “what do you mean? It’s lovely out there!”. Try telling that to the grass you lizard-human hybrid.

ARM  YOURSELF

Due to my dependence on our often lacklustre summers, I had (somewhat accidentally) found myself with 5 races in the calendar within 19 days during this heatwave (at time of writing I’m 3 down, 2 to go).  This has meant that I’ve had to arm myself mentally and physically for these challenges. Physically, my water intake has gone up, especially in advance of a race. I sweat A LOT in these conditions so I have to make sure I’m well hydrated. During my 10k last weekend I stopped at both water stations to properly drink and pour some water on my head. I’ve also dug out my O.R.S Electroylte Hydration Tablets, something I’ve only ever used during half marathon training before. In addition to this, I’ve been stocking up on Ronhill Visors from my local independent sports shop. These are super lightweight and have been an absolute game changer in this heat. If there are none left in Ely you know who to blame.

Mentally, I’m trying to make sure I back off slightly in races. This isn’t easy when you’re competitive, even less so when you’re racing against people with a much better tolerance of the high temperatures, but it’s an absolutely necessity. People have been collapsing on runs in this weather, and I don’t intend on being one of them. I’m finding that I’m coming in around 2 minutes over best race pace on a 10k, and around 40 odd seconds on a 5k. I can deal with that, mainly by reminding myself that this is excellent training for winter.

NAP LIKE A CHAMP

I’m usually a pretty sound sleeper. I can drop off quite easily, and generally if I wake up in the night I don’t tend to remember it. But in this weather I can find myself taking at least 30 minutes to drop off in my bedroom, which has been sitting at around the 26 degree mark since this heatwave hit. So I’m grabbing power naps when I can in an attempt to simply top up my energy levels which have really dipped over the last couple of weeks. I’m also a big fan of the Mama Mio Liquid Yoga Spray, which I use on my pillow to help me to try and relax.

ICE LOLLIES, CONSTANTLY

I’ve recently discovered Rowntree’s Watermelon Ice Lollies and the thing I never thought would happen has happened. They have knocked Twisters off their decades long spot as my favourite ice lolly. Get yourself down to your local supermarket and thank me later.

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The Addictive Pain of Spinning

When I was about 22 years old, I don’t think anyone would have described me as fit. I was a member of my local LA Fitness, but that usually involved maybe 30 minutes on a cross trainer once a week and the occasional Body Pump class to the strains of Car Wash (the Christina Aguilera version. This was 2004 after all).

But then one day, my gym buddy suggested we try a spin class. I was young and optimistic back then, so I said “Sure! What’s the worst that could happen?” It looked like quite good fun with the disco style lighting and easy on the eye instructor, plus it was just cycling right? At this point in my life I was getting the park and ride bus to work and probably hadn’t been on a bike for a good 6 years but you know what they say about learning to ride a bike…

Oh how wrong I was.

About 3 minutes into the class I knew I was in trouble. The instructor was like some kind of hyperactive giant toddler with rage issues who liked to go up to individuals in the class and scream at them in a faux American accent to “PUSH! PUSH!” like the worst birthing partner ever. The music was insanely loud but maybe it was trying to drown out the sound of my sobs. At about the 10 minute mark I was desperately trying to find a way to sneak out of the class unnoticed, but I knew that my legs were not going to support any attempts to extract myself from the devil machinery. I was stuck with it. And I hated every last miserable second of it. When I finally stumbled from the bike, sore in parts of myself that I didn’t even know existed, I vowed to NEVER spin again.

This vow held firm for 13 years (yes I’m 35 – you may gasp if you’re so inclined) until I joined Elyte Fitness to find new ways to stay active during my very stubborn bout of tendonitis. My husband basically made me promise that I would do some form of cardio, as I think he was genuinely concerned that I might eat his soul if I didn’t do something to replace running. So I reluctantly turned up for one of Elyte’s incredibly popular spin classes, and again I hated every last miserable second of it.

I’m hooked.

Now let me explain. This isn’t a self-flagellation kind of deal. It’s just that an insanely tough spin session has the ability to give me the same high I get from a good run. Yes it hurts. Yes you’ll be sweatier than any human has any right to be. Yes you would throw your water bottle at the instructor whenever they tell you to add a gear on if only you had enough strength to lift the bloody thing. It hurts. A lot. But man alive has it kept me fit.

When I started running again I was genuinely concerned that my 5k times would have taken a huge battering. But somehow I’ve managed to come back just over the 21 minute mark, only ever so slightly slower than I’d been before. I’m gobsmacked.

Plus spin at Elyte is nothing like my experience from the early noughties. All of the instructors at Elyte (of which there are many, which means you get a lot of variety in teaching styles which keeps things interesting) are so very good at what they do. There’s no insane shouting that makes you feel like a fitness failure. Instead there’s encouragement to push yourself as you follow the Spivi interactive software they use in the studio. This adds a competitive edge as you cycle through simulations of snowy or sunny landscapes and try to edge out your classmates. It’s a welcome distraction from the pain in your legs. Plus if you’re really lucky, this will all be done to the soothing sounds of a Disney soundtrack…

Now I just have to deal with the fact that every time I go to a class my husband says “but I thought you hated spin?”

I do. It’s just that I love to hate it.

 

 

Mountains and Moire – A Review of Bump, Bike and Baby

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Recently I was contacted on Twitter by Moire O’Sullivan, who asked me if I’d like a copy of her new book, Bump, Bike and Baby to review on my blog. The 300 page publication charts her journey from mountain race runner to mother of two and back again, and after a very quick Google of Moire I rushed to say yes. I’m an avid reader anyway and am always on the lookout for kick-ass women who inspire me to push myself just that little bit harder.

Spoiler alert – I’m going to go a bit fan-girly.

To give you a bit of info, Moire is a bonkers tough mountain runner and adventure racer. As she brought up her two VERY young children, she went and won Ireland’s National Adventure Race Series. Three times. And that’s an adventure race series – not just a single race. I repeat – THREE TIMES.

Adventure racing isn’t something I’ve ever given much thought to. Being from the Fens mountains are few and far between. My legs nearly went into shock after doing the Parliament Hill Cross Country run. But Moire does events that involve cycling, running up a blinking great mountain and then back down again. Then cycling some more. Then a bit more running. Ooh and let’s throw in kayaking and then a swift 2k sprint to the finish. She’s usually moving for about four hours. Just thinking about it makes my palms sweaty, but this is Moire’s life blood, and her passion is more than just a little infectious.

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Her character comes across so strongly in this book and never wavers. Moire is unapologetically stubborn, determined and competitive. She is upfront about the fact that she was never especially maternal, and the desire to have children had mainly come from her husband Pete. As a result, she is completely committed to staying at the top of her racing game during and after pregnancy, whilst learning to become a mother to two boisterous and demanding boys. The book covers living in Cambodia, cycling with a 6 month bump, running with mastitis, Pete regularly having to travel with his work and hospital stays. Throw in Moire’s strict adherence to her training schedule and it’s a recipe that on paper shouldn’t work. But it does, and the resulting family dynamic is all kinds of wonderful. Plus they have a cute dog. What’s not to love?

Quest Glendalough Podium 2016

This is going to be one of those books that I can see myself recommending whenever anyone asks me about my favourite running books. Moire is a natural storyteller, and this is going to appeal to athletes and new parents alike. In the book she talks about thinking of her fellow mountain racers digging deep when things get tough, and I can see myself thinking of Moire’s mental toughness next time I find myself flagging on a run. She makes me want to be a better athlete.

Bump, Bike and Baby can be bought from Amazon amongst others, and you can follow Moire’s blog here. Thanks to Moire and Sandstone Press for asking me to be part of the Bump, Bike and Baby Blog Tour!

_Bump Bike and Baby Blog Tour

 

Was my Injury Actually a Good Thing?

Did I mention that I’ve been injured?

Megalolz. I’m only messing you with you. If you follow me on Twitter or you’ve been lucky enough to find yourself within earshot of me within the last four months you will have heard me banging on about my “posterior tibial tendonitis” (try saying that after a few drinks). This has been without doubt the most stubborn injury I’ve had in the last few years, and I’ve had some really low moments during the seemingly endless weeks of stretching, physio, osteopathy, acupuncture, yoga, foam rolling and self medicating with cake.

But now that I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe this happening was a good thing. Yes I may have missed some of my favourite races and my preferred running season (trust me to be fit and healthy in the summer when trying to run outdoors is akin to running in soup) but I’ve been forced to be more creative with my fitness and as a result have seen my perspective shift in some interesting ways.

First of all, there’s the bouldering. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know I’ve found a real affinity with clambering up walls (despite being sweaty of hand and afraid of heights – go figure). I’ve reconnected with friends over climbing, have seen my shoulders develop in a way that makes me want to flex like the hulk whenever I walk past a mirror, have spent time with my niece and nephew at the climbing centre and have enjoyed the encouraging vibe between other climbers. It gives me an adrenaline hit but in a more controlled way than the adrenaline I feel on a start line of a race in a sometimes unfamiliar environment. Having said all this though, being on the verge of tears, stuck at the top of a route with my feet on a hold that looked disturbingly like a large pair of testicles was not one of my finest moments. But the good of climbing massively outweighs the bad.

Look! I’m a GIF! Thanks Oli…

Secondly, when I was deciding how on earth to find something that would get my heart rate up as much as running and Zumba (another exercise form that seemed to be aggravating my injury), I decided to wander into Elyte Fitness and see if maybe they were the gym for me after feeling less than inspired by the other local facilities on offer. Within 10 minutes I was sold on the sheer passion of the owners Lewis and Dawn and I signed up on the spot. I’m so glad I made this decision, as they are full of ideas and plans for the gym, and they’ve built an amazing fitness community. Every time I go there I feel like I’m with old friends and I’ll be writing a separate post on my Elyte journey so far as there is so much I want to say about it.

Because I was finding myself feeling so down about the state of running, I also decided to fire up my Headspace app again.  I’ve flirted on and off with Headspace for some time, but never seemed to manage more than 5 days in a row. Even though they always say not to worry if you miss a day, I would always take that as a sign of failure (competitive, moi?) and end up walking away for another month or two. But I’m currently sitting at 21 days straight of at least 10 minutes of meditation a day, and I am feeling slightly calmer in a general kind of way. I’m not going to claim that I am in some kind of zen like chilled perfection of existence (no one would believe that), but I think the clearest sign that I’m more relaxed and able to see “the bigger picture”, is the fact that I decided to transfer my Cambridge Half place, and I felt completely ok about it. Even though missing races you love sucks, setting back a recovery that has taken 4 months for the sake of one medal is madness. I would have spent the next 6 weeks fretting about building up from 4 miles to 13 miles, constantly wondering if my tendon could take the strain and I would have become unpleasant to be around. So to me it just seemed like such an obvious thing to do.

Another positive to come out of all this is that I feel like I know my body better, and I have a new found respect for it. I’m still making time to stretch and foam roll, and I try and do a little yoga every day (I manage it about 80% of the time). And as a result of my injury I’ve been told by my physio and my osteo that my foot functionality and balance is the best they’ve ever seen (proof that putting the effort into your rehab works!). And really, I’m just so excited to be running again, and am looking forward to getting stronger and building up to my best again. I’ve done a parkrun and a track session and loved every minute as you can see my inane grinning face above. Feeling my lungs fill with that gorgeous icy air is the ultimate tonic to me, and I’m just so grateful to be out there again. It’s lovely to be back with my running family, and I’m going to take my time and build up my distance slowly, and maybe look to do an autumn half marathon. Then again – maybe not? Maybe I’ll just keep doing whatever I like whenever I like, with no pressure, and no expectations.

 

 

How to Cope when you’re a Running Blogger who can’t Run

You know all those times when I’ve complained about how hideous running is and how much it hurts and how it sometimes makes me feel like I might die as I throw a tantrum face down in the mud? You know, the subtle stuff?

I take it all back. I’m a running blogger who can’t run, and it’s awful.

So this foot niggle that flared up 3 months ago is still going strong, and the current thinking is that it’s posterior tibial tendonitis. Trips off the tongue doesn’t it? These two fun chaps can explain it for me because I think typing the symptoms out in a blog post might tip me over the edge. Upshot is that tendonitis is an absolute bugger, and so far mine is proving to be incredibly stubborn (I wonder where it gets that from)?

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Despite my best efforts to stretch, ice, strengthen, offer up my first born to the local witch… it feels better, I run a bit, and then it feels bad again. There seems to be so little progress and it’s driving me nuts. I will admit that maybe I’ve been trying too much too soon, but in my mind 3 miles with the juniors is not a lot of running. However, when my fabulously patient physio Megan saw me last, she explained that to go from nothing to 3 miles is a lot on a bad foot, and that I need to raise up my rehab efforts and bring down my running so that they can meet somewhere in the middle. In other words, I need to dig deep and find some patience. So my foot and leg exercises are now being done with a 7kg kettlebell, and this week I’ve run for 5 x 30 seconds twice. So in a week, I’ve done 5 whole minutes of running. Insert massive hurrumphy sigh here.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know that in the grand scheme of things I’m extremely lucky. I’ve met runners who have battled back from strokes and blood clots, and people who rock up to parkrun week in/week out and have to run/walk it in 50 minutes because they have an illness that prevents them from doing anything more. But running is a huge part of my identity, and after three months of this, I’ll admit that I’m struggling. On a Sunday I find being on Facebook and Twitter really difficult as I see friends celebrate great races, flash their medal bling and record PBs. I’ve had to miss out on two club runs already this season, as well as some of my favourite races like the Town and Gown 10k.

BUT. As difficult as I’m finding it, I’m not going to shut myself off from the world of running. I’ve been volunteering at parkrun, cycling whilst friends run, getting involved in ukrunchat on Twitter, organising my running club’s Christmas parties and congratulating friends on their achievements. I know I’ll be back there soon. I know I will. I just wish it could be sooner rather than later.

In the meantime I’m climbing more, doing yoga, and finding cardio alternatives to keep myself sane. Against my better judgement I’ve even promised my husband that I’ll try a spin class despite claiming that hell would have to freeze over before I would even consider it. He said “even if you hate it and least you’ll get a blog post out of it.”

How well he knows me.

 

 

Dear Running – I Have a Confession to Make…

I’m not quite sure how to say this, but here goes. I’ve been having an affair.

Please don’t get upset. It’s not you. I still love you running. I know we’ve had our ups and downs. You’ve hurt me and made me cry, and sometimes I’ve had to take a break from us when it has hurt just a little too much. And that’s when it came along, when I was at my weakest.

Bouldering.

I don’t know if it was the bright colours, the – ahem – unique smell of chalk mixed with sweaty climbing shoes or the soft “thwump” of people landing on crash mats, but I was instantly dazzled.

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On that first climb I felt scared and made it halfway up before I scuttled back down like a reticent cat. But the second time I went straight up, and for the briefest of moments, I felt invincible. I felt like if I – someone who once nearly fainted climbing up Ely Cathedral – could conquer this climbing wall and look down without passing out, I could conquer anything.

Don’t get me wrong, bouldering and I have had our arguments. I’ve left with callused hands, scraped knees and a bruised ego when I claimed that I was too short for a route only for a 9 year old to race up it as their warm up. I’ve missed a hold and fallen from a height that although doesn’t look that high from the ground, feels immense when you’re up there. I’ve landed awkwardly. But you know what? I find that heart-racing moment when you know you’re going to fall kind of exciting.

I’ve always liked feeling strong, and when I look in the mirror now I can see how much my arms and shoulders have developed. That’s down to bouldering. I like the easy camaraderie of climbers and how when you’re struggling on a route you know there will be someone to offer advice or calm you down when your hands become slick with sweat and you think you can’t hold on. With running those conversations are just that little bit harder when your lungs are being pushed to their limits. And I love the progression. That’s the thing running – we’ve been together for so long that we’ve kind of flatlined, found a steady pace together that works for us. But with bouldering, I’ve gone from climbing 3s to climbing 5+s, and even attempting 6s with a wry smile. I know it’s not always about PBs and winning, but when you’re having a bad day, that feeling you get when you finally grab that difficult hold is up there with a 5k PB, something I’ve not had for two years now.

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But don’t worry running. I have time for both of you in my life. As much as bouldering has given me a new spark, I still need you. Bouldering requires focus and puzzle solving skills, but it takes you for my mind to truly be free to go wherever it needs to as my feet make that beautiful rhythm on the pavement. I need you.

You are my first and strongest love. I just hope you don’t mind if I have a cheeky bit on the side.

Spitfire Scramble 2017 – Saying Goodbye to my Comfort Zone

What would take you outside of your comfort zone? Wing walking? Swimming with sharks? Getting a hug off Donald Trump in your favourite white outfit?

Well for me, it’s camping. Yep, you heard that right. I am the sort of person who loves hot showers, clean toilets and my own bed. After a horrendous camping experience when I was 11 (freak Lauren out became everyone’s favourite activity on that trip), I had no inclination to do it again. EVER. My friend Lucy put it perfectly when she said “why would you choose to spend your free time living at a lower standard than you do normally?”. FYI that’s the clean version of what she actually said, but it summed up my feelings on the matter.

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My ever supportive friends and family.

So how exactly did I find myself camping in a field just outside Dagenham, losing punch-ups with poison-fanged insects and substituting showers with baby wipes? I honestly have no idea. I just know that in October last year my friend and all-round adventure-seeker Jen asked for runners to join her team of 8 people for the 24-hour Spitfire Scramble, and I put my name down. I’m assuming she caught me at a moment when both my caffeine and sugar levels had completely crashed and I was in the midst of some sort of hallucination where I thought I was Bear Grylls*. It’s the only thing I can think of.

But July flew round, and three days before we set off I realised I should probably order a sleeping bag, pillow and mat (I’m nailing this adulting malarkey). After a frustrating 2.5 drive from Cambridge, we were in a field on a Friday evening, and I was actually vaguely helping to pitch a tent whilst mildly panicking about what lay ahead. I also had to make the decision to take out my contact lenses and leave them out for the next 36 hours, reasoning that running slightly blind was preferable to an eye infection. That first night, I was so glad that I was in the company of Jen and Becky (later joined by Paula, Fiona, Ruth, Paul, Rachael and Chris, plus Rachael and Chris’ AMAZING dogs Yogi and Boo). They made me laugh non stop, sorted me out with food, and Becky gave me wine, which made her a demi-god in my eyes at that moment. I went to bed pretty early (party pooper), and actually managed a semi-decent 8.5 hours of sleep, only waking a couple of times when the temperature dipped.

The amazeballs Yogi and Boo. Boo ran 17 miles! 

On Saturday morning, Jen, Paul and Ruth made plans to go to Harrow Lodge parkrun just 2 miles down the road. Ruth and Paul had come camping with their incredibly cute 3 year old daughter Katie who wanted to be pushed around parkrun in her buggy, and if you met her you’d find it hard to say no to her too (especially when she talks about being a “hairy” princess and pronounces Essex “Eggets”). Then Jen checked the time of the 1st place woman the week before, and she had clocked 23:58. Obviously my competitive side kicked in instantly,  and knowing that even taking it easy I could do a 22 minute parkrun, I decided to go along. Of course, a SUPER speedy woman turned up and smashed it in 19:38, so I had to make do with 2nd place. It was a lovely course though, and a nice way to stretch my legs before the Spitfire Scramble got under way, and Ruth and I also took the opportunity to stuff our faces with a massive breakfast at the park cafe. I only got slightly worried when it started to rain…

When we got back to the campsite, our remaining team members John and Mel had arrived, and the 8 of us with our support team of Jen, Fiona and Becky were ready to go. With his trusty whiteboard in place Chris took charge of the running schedule, and my first 5.7 mile lap was due to start around 4:30pm.

Pretty sunset, tired and sweaty runner.

The way the Spitfire Scramble works is pretty simple. There are different categories, from solo runners up to a maximum of 8. We were obviously in the mixed 5-8 category, with 5 female and 3 male runners. We all had to estimate how quickly we would do our laps, and then the next runner in sequence went down to the changeover zone about 10 minutes before the next runner was due in. Initially I’d assumed we’d each do 3 laps, taking it nice and easy and coming in around the hour mark, with the chance that one or two of us might squeeze in a 4th lap.

MEGALOLZ.

It turned out pretty quickly that we were all being quite cagey with our estimates and were coming in quite a few minutes under (I estimated 55 minutes but came in at 44 for lap 1), so our runners’ schedule was continuously updated.  As I saw my next laps were scheduled for 10:15pm and 4:15am,  I felt myself starting to panic that I couldn’t even manage a second lap let alone a third, so I messaged my running friends Pete and Rach in a bit of a panic, but with the aid of some trusty GIFs they quickly talked some sense into me. I then saw that our three speedy speedsters John, Paul and Mel had all signed up for a double nighttime shift (just casually running 11.5 miles in the dead of night, no biggie) to ensure that their teammates could get as much rest as possible. So no way was I going to let them down.

Although my second lap was my slowest, it was also my most sociable. I teamed up with what turned out to be the Race Director of that morning’s parkrun, Mark, and when he stopped at 4 miles to get some water from his support crew, I then ran the final 1.7 miles with Shimpei from Guildford, who distracted me from the monster hill that loomed up just before mile 5. I also weirdly enjoyed the 4:30am lap, mainly because I got to watch the (only slightly blurry) sunrise.

When I got back from that lap around 5:15am, I saw that I had been put down for a 4th and final lap at around 9:45am. I cannot tell you how badly I didn’t want to run another lap. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t done any real training for this event. I’d told myself it would be 3 10ks spread over 24 hours, which seems weirdly manageable. Had I known I’d end up doing 26 miles in 26 hours, I would have bleeding well trained. As I got ready to snatch a couple of hours of sleep John assured me that they could cover me if I couldn’t do my 4th lap, which made me feel terrible when he’d already done a double and was down for a total of 5 laps. I went to sleep at around 6am, and told everyone I’d be up at 8am to see if I could manage my 4th lap, but I already knew I was going to do it.

To be honest, I don’t really remember much about that last lap. I’d had a total of around 5 hours of sleep (from around 12:30am-3:30am and 6am-8am), and I was definitely running on pure adrenalin. I thought I’d be lucky to come in under an hour, but I somehow managed 46 minutes, meaning all 4 of my laps had comfortably come in under 50 minutes. In total, our team managed 31 laps, and we came 5th out of 47 teams in our category. We all joined John as he crossed the line for the last time, and the medals we received were frankly awesome.  And then suddently it was all over. I was in complete awe of how quickly everyone managed to pack up their things, and we were on the road by 1pm and in contrast to our journey there were back in Cambridge in just over an hour.

Photo taken after lap1. Boo was the ultimate spirit lifter.

I can say without doubt that the Spitfire Scramble was the most mentally challenging event I’ve ever done, but also the one I’m most proud of. As for my thoughts on the actual event itself, the atmosphere is one of the best I’ve ever come across, with brilliant marshals and a lovely supportive atmosphere from all other runners. Although there were times at night when it felt like you were totally on your own, the event was well sign posted, Jen’s chest light was brilliant (you have to wear a light between 8pm and sunrise), and the mini glowsticks on the path were so useful. They had a water station halfway round the route which was manned throughout the 24 hours, and they had another self-serve one at the changeover area as well. The toilets were really well looked after and regularly cleaned, but you had to get a coach to be driven to a local school for showers, so we all decided wet wipes would be good enough for 36 hours! Needless to say that shower when I got home was the best one I have ever had. Ever ever. The medal is also an absolute BEAUT.

I think the only downside of the event is that they could have done with some more food trucks on site. They only had one, and people were queuing for up to half an hour just to get a coffee. A couple of extra hot drink vans might have been useful (I would have killed for Silver Oak Coffee and the Rural Coffee Project to have been there!), and all of our team agreed that an ice cream van would have been flipping awesome.

My recovery from the event was more intense than I expected. Although my legs felt fine, my back and left foot felt seriously fatigued, and I was mentally exhausted. I would say that I didn’t feel back to normal until the following Friday, and I pretty much ate whatever I could get my hands on for a good 5 or 6 days. The almond croissant market definitely saw a boost.

Would I do it again? If you’d asked me that last week it would have been an emphatic no, possibly accompanied by a headbutt. When Jen mentioned that some of the team were doing the Thunder Run just a week later I thought they were well and truly out of their trees (I still do to be honest). But as each day passes, a teeny tiny part of me is thinking “hmm….maybe…”. So ask me again in a couple of months. Maybe that sleeping bag will see the light of day again after all.

*Yes. To me 2 nights of camping is the equivalent of Bear Grylls living on an island for 60 days eating nothing but sand and raw fish and sleeping under a net of snakes whilst setting fire to himself. I’m a drama queen, ok?

 

 

 

 

The Simple Joy of the Running Commute

A while ago, a runner (and all round awesome person) I know was telling me about how much she loved her running commute. I nodded along, smiling at the thought of it, feeling slightly awestruck at the mental distance she was regularly covering (10 miles!), but never thinking it was something I would add into my routine. It was too difficult to organise, too hard for me to work out how to get kit to and from work, and too hard for me to downscale all that tat I shove into my bike pannier and take with me to work every day.

Oh how wrong I was.

I’m not even sure how it started. I know one day back in March my friend Pete decided to run from Cambridge to Waterbeach, which is around 10k along the river. He did it, and I happened to bump into him as he was jogging back home. He was full of the joys of his run, if feeling a little foolish at deciding to stick both a coat and an umbrella in his rucksack. I guess you never know right?

I started thinking seriously about giving it a go, chatting to some runners on Twitter, and seeing just how many people love choosing running as part of their commute to or from work. So I decided to get myself a running backpack (this Deuter Speed Lite was a steal back in April for £25), and managed to learn to pack light. For anyone who knows me well, this is nothing short of a miracle. I swapped my journey to work, leaving my bike at Ely station and walking the 1.3 miles to work from Cambridge station in my running gear, changing into my carefully chosen lightweight work outfit when I reached the office. At the end of the day, I then jogged half a mile to meet Pete outside the Scott Polar Research Institute and off we went, running a mile through the city until we hit the river path.

And blooming heck what a gorgeous run it is. It’s so easy to follow, nice and flat, not super busy with people (so long as you avoid The Bumps!) and flipping full of nature. On our first run together we saw herons, swans and deer. We time it so that there are two trains we can catch from Waterbeach 15 minutes apart (so if you miss the first train on the old cold day you don’t freeze waiting on a platform for ages as your sweat dries – attractive I know). We’ve only had one really buggy day (a miracle when you’re running alongside water) when we both landed beasties in the eyes, but that’s such a small issue to deal with. The best bit of all is that we’re both feeling faster when we run without rucksacks. I’m not sure if we actually are, but there’s a lot to be said about the mental boost of feeling like you’re flying just a little bit faster than normal.

The only problem now is I’m not sure what I’ll do when winter rolls back in. I know it’s ages off now, but the riverside isn’t lit at all, so running home after work simply won’t be an option. The only choice would be to switch the commute from evening to morning, and as someone who isn’t a morning person OR a morning exerciser, this doesn’t exactly appeal.

But six months without my weekly run commute? I feel bereft just thinking about it. You may well see me on that 7:30 train after all…