Oh my giddy aunt I’m running the London Marathon

Well hello there! Remember me? Slightly overdramatic running type with a flair for longer than average blog posts?

What a five months it’s been. Lemme do a quick(ish) recap for you as to how I’ve got to actually looking like I might be running the London Marathon in less than 4 weeks (gulp) and why I’ve once again been MIA from this blog.

  • Enters London Marathon ballot in October 2020.
  • Actually gets a place to run in 2021. Panics slightly.
  • Defers to 2022 thanks to plantar fasciitis. Feels a little relieved.
  • 2022 comes at me full pelt. Suddenly sh*t gets real and I feel like I might actually be running London this year.
  • One of my best friends, Pete, gets a charity place to run so that he can be with me on the day as he knows how much marathons scare me. I both love and hate him for this. I have even more reason to do it now.
  • On very first interval training session for the marathon, something goes very wrong in my calf. I literally can’t run on it.
  • I cry. A lot. I can’t even think about running let alone write about it.
  • After 6 weeks of intense physiotherapy, osteopathy, acupuncture and an unhealthy attachment to my massage gun (don’t come at me if you don’t believe in this stuff. I do.) I’m able to run again, but I have a LOT of ground to cover. Literally. I need to get from 0 to marathon in just 10 weeks.
  • 6 weeks into training I finally accept I’m running London. Feel sick with nerves and excitement practically every hour.
How my face will probably look on marathon day

So there we have it. I’m actually running the London Marathon in less than four weeks and I currently feel like I’m in a cheese dream. I’m scared of marathons. Like properly sweaty palms as I’m typing, stomach-churningly scared. I’m a decent, experienced runner, but there is something about the longer stuff that I have always struggled with mentally. I just don’t believe that my 5k ability is going to translate to marathons and my brain likes to interrupt me at random, regular intervals across the day to scream “ARE YOU MAD? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE TRYING TO RUN A MARATHON?” before doing a fun little visual montage of chubby younger me coming 2nd to last in the 1500m at school and more recent me sitting down in a grassy field dotted with rabbit poop and bawling my eyes out after a particularly difficult 5k.

(And don’t even get me started on the IBS.)

I feel a bit silly feeling like this. I’m in a running club full of people who run marathons. Some have done loads, some only one. Some get GFA times, some take their time on trail marathons. Some have only been running for a year or two before taking on this monumental challenge. And I am in AWE of every single one of them. Marathon training is really not for wussies, and to all of you who ever done one, I take my hat off to you. It is a HELL of a challenge.

I think ultimately, I’m scared of messing it up in some way. I’m still worried that my leg will give up on me in the next 4 weeks. I’m worried that I’ll get the fuelling wrong on the day. I’m worried I’ll hate the experience and that my only ever marathon will be a negative memory.

I’m worried about letting Pete down.

I’m worried about letting myself down.

But a teeny, tiny part of me is starting to believe that I can do this.

Running buddy Rob

I’m writing this the day after doing my second 20 mile run of my training programme (huge thanks to Charlotte for writing it for me – I just wish I could have followed it to the letter and done it justice) and I’m now entering into tapering whilst trying not to eat everything I can get my greedy mitts on. I have literally done my longest EVER run (20.05 miles to be precise) and I’m about to experience something that many people would love to get the chance to do, and I get to do it one of my best friends, someone who knows exactly what to say and how to distract me when the going gets tough (Quigley Down Under for the win Pete)! Plus I have had the most amazing support from my running buddies, especially those who have joined me on long runs when Pete has had to travel for work. Thanks Justin and Rob – I genuinely could not have done those without you.

This makes me extremely fortunate. And the best part of all? Pete and I are going to have a bloody good laugh, because we’ve decided we’re doing it in costume to raise money for Blood Cancer UK and to celebrate the lives of two people who meant the world to us and who we miss terribly – Pete’s mum Diane and my father-in-law Tommy. Crikey it’s going to be an emotional day in so many ways. Not least because of my decidedly dodgy interpretation of Rogue from X-Men in costume form. And yes, I will be dying my ACTUAL hair.

So whilst normally I would have blogged my way through training, this is a whistle-stop tour of my London Marathon journey so far. It has been far from conventional, but I guess the destination is the thing that really matters. Past me would not have believed I would end up doing this. Not for even a second. But what’s life without challenges that take us out of our comfort zone?

If you’ve ever enjoyed reading this blog, and have even £1 spare, please do think about giving us a donation. I know these are difficult times for us all but they’re even more difficult for those currently undergoing treatment for cancer. If you don’t have a £1 spare, do please just send me your encouraging words. They will mean the world to me.

And did I mention that I will be dying my ACTUAL hair? You can see a photorealistic image of how Peter and I will look on the day below. You’re welcome.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/pete-and-lauren-2022

The Bonds we Make when Running

It’s been a while eh folks? I’ve had a pretty mad few months at work, and after a 10 hour working day the last thing I felt like doing was sitting back in front of a screen to type some more. Essentially, my creative mojo went MIA. But here we are, back on the blogging train and ready to keep this journey going.

Last night I had a brilliant time at the Night Trails Thetford Forest 10k. I’ve done so few events over the last two years but this is an event I’ve done in the past and LOVED, so it was a no-brainer to sign up again. It’s not a big event – 215 runners took part this time, alongside 26 canicross runners – so it felt like a good one to ease myself into. Plus it helped that I went with Justin and Jon, two Ely runners and brilliant friends.

The event started at 8pm when there was still some light, but the organisers requested that all torches were turned on from the start as it would be dark by the time we all finished. It was a tough course underfoot, with large sections of thick gravel, badly pot holed grass, forest trails with a lot of tree roots to hop over, and sandy paths. And I’ll be the first to admit that I got a bit swept up at the start and went out fast, on legs that had already taken a bit of a battering at a parkrun earlier that morning.

And it was at about the halfway mark that I fell in step with Chrissi Head from Team Dunerunner and Craig Skipper from Wymondham AC. And honestly, thank goodness for them. I was seriously flagging by about mile 4, but we kept chatting and kept encouraging each other, taking it in turns to drive the other two forward. Although I admit, the two of them were doing most of the driving until the final 800 metres or so, when it became abundantly clear that the course was going to be a decent chunk more than 6.2 miles, and we all had to dig desperately deep for the finish that seemed to take forever to arrive.

After 6.5 miles we all crossed the line within seconds of each other, and I couldn’t have been more grateful to the pair of them, going on to tell Chrissi that I would like her by my side at every race please. As we all posed for a photo together, I wondered if I would see either of them again. I hope we’ll run into each other at future races, but this shared experience will stay with me. For those 30 minutes or so, we bonded over the pain and love of running. And at least for now, we can follow each other’s running adventures on Strava.

Craig, sweaty red me, and Chrissi. Legends, the pair of them

This morning, as I basked in the glow of last night’s achievements (read: had a lie in and then moved around my house VERY slowly), I started thinking about the other bonds that I’ve made as a result of running. And when I look at my friendship groups, and especially those who have really held my hand (emotionally of course) over the last two years, so many of those people are in my lives as a result of running. Take Jon and Justin. If it wasn’t for Ely Runners, I wouldn’t know them the way that I do, and I wouldn’t have been crying with laughter 30 minutes before we all ran last night (rather than getting myself in an anxiety-addled tizz which is my usual pre-race MO). All of the group chats I’m in that have supported me through the pandemic – the Red Face Gang, the Hash Brown Appreciation Society, the Garden Appreciation Society, the Weds Bonkers Cycling Fun group (Justin is in all of them!) – these are all made up of people that I’ve met through running. I think that my life would be a lot quieter and arguably more lonely if running hadn’t become a part of it.

Me, Justin and Jon, ready to hit those night trails

Another example I have of a bond made through running is the friendship we’ve all made with Ryan, someone who only joined Ely Runners at the end of last year and who we met through Soham Village College parkrun. He quickly become a key part of our friendship group and we’ve enjoyed so many parkruns together since. It helps that we’re a similar pace so we can keep each other going in training and at races, and now we all have the privilege of being invited to Ryan’s wedding later this year (Ryan, we will do our very best not to disgrace ourselves). In such a short space of time we have all bonded with this ace runner (and he’ll be the first to admit – mega parkrun nerd) and our lives are better for it.

Ryan and I take parkrun VERY seriously

Finally, there is one other bond I made when running which will stay with me forever. A few years back, at a 5k league race in Newmarket, I had a shocker of a race. My pre-race anxiety was the worst it had ever been, and on a particularly hot summer evening I blew up spectacularly and was almost in tears as I desperately tried to hang on for the last 1.5km. At this point, a runner from Haverhill Running Club came up behind me and made sure I didn’t give up. He kept me going until the very end and made sure I crossed that finish line, and I’ll never forget his kindness, putting my race before his, as I have no doubt he would have finished well ahead of me otherwise. His name was Neil Mustoe, and I found out that at the start of this month Neil sadly passed away after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease back in 2020. I didn’t know Neil well, but when I read the tributes to him, I recognised the runner they all described immediately:

“One thing I always think of (about Neil), it was the willingness to assist others and sometimes to sacrifice his own running times for other people and generally just to help.”

This fleeting moment with Neil – we very occasionally bumped into each other at other races afterwards – has always stayed with me, as we shared a real bond for those 1500m. I felt such sadness at his passing and my thoughts are very much with his family, friends and running club. Needless to say, he’s not someone who will be forgotten, even by those he shared the briefest of moments with.

Those bonds we make when running really are something special, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them.

If you would like to donate to the Motor Neurone Disease Association, you can do so here.

Hitting the trails from Bury to Clare

This weekend, I did something very unlike me, and took on Positive Steps’ Bury to Clare challenge in aid of St Nicholas Hospice Care. It was a little over 18 miles of farms, forest trails, some road, hills and a whole lot of phlegm courtesy of yours truly.

Too much? You should know by now that I don’t hide stuff from you on this blog.

So how did I come to find myself standing in Nowton Park in Bury St Edmund’s at 9am on a misty Sunday morning, shivering so much that I struggled to fill in the emergency contact details on the back of my race number and cursing my life choices? Well where there’s a Lauren doing a run she would never normally do you can guarantee that there’s a Justin who made the madcap suggestion in the first place. Even he admitted that he got me at a weak moment, egging me on and betting that I would never run such a race at a time when I had just recovered from my latest bout of plantar fasciitis and was feeling all optimistic and upbeat about running again. Plus I’m exceptionally stubborn and someone saying “I bet you won’t…” is like a red flag to a bull. Not even the threat of soul-sapping boggy conditions put me off – I gleefully signed up and then did what I usually do. Completely forget about it and waited for the date to creep up on me.

This it did, and along the way we recruited our fellow Ely Runners Bethan and Janet, and then had to work out the logistics of getting one car to be at the finish line waiting for us in Clare, and then somehow make our way to the start in Bury. The legend that is my dad stepped up, picking me up at 7:15 on a Sunday morning and driving to Clare to meet the others before bombing us to the start line. Thankfully as a golfer he is at least used to early starts on a Sunday, but he saved us a huge amount of logistical stress by scuttling around Suffolk on our behalf.

This smile did NOT last

To add to the chilly conditions, I had started developing a cold mid-week and by Sunday morning I was at the really grim coughing up green goo stage. I’d also had a rubbish night’s sleep, overheating and waking up pretty much every hour, and I’d stupidly done a fast parkrun the day before (so much for a gentle one eh Justin?) so my legs were not as fresh as they could have been. Common sense would have said not to run, but then common sense might have also said that a 5k road runner might have a tough old time on an 18 mile trail run. As we waited for 30 minutes for the event to start, the others did at least keep my spirits up by generally being legends (see below). But even then I was struggling to get my head into the game. Probably because it was full of the aforementioned goo.

No Bethans were hurt during the making of this photo.

At 9:30am we were off, and early on Bethan set a strong pace and after a mile or so we managed to find our place in the group where we were no longer held up by runners in front of us or got in the way of those behind us. This is not a big event, and as it started in two waves there were maybe 40 or 50 of us who started at 9:30am so the runners spread out nicely quite early on. If I’m honest, those first 7 miles to the first aid station went by in a bit of a blur, and I can’t remember all that much about them other than remembering that at the briefing we were told the first aid station would be at a little over 6 miles, so I picked up the pace at mile 6 only for it to appear at almost bang on 7 miles. I would regret that later.

I’m not one to eat during runs as my stomach gets unsettled really easily, so I had borrowed a hydration vest from my friend Charlotte (this ACE Salomon Advance Skin 8) so that I could stay hydrated with an electrolyte drink on one side and water on the other. So this meant that I didn’t take anything from the first aid station, knowing that I had a couple of cereal bars in my vest as well should I need them. The next 5.5 miles went by pretty quickly as well, but I remember going a bit hazy on some of the field sections where you had to keep your eyes down to make sure you didn’t turn an ankle in the tread from the tractors. I also think the climbs were taking it out of me more than I realised (it was 270m of climb across the whole run, which is an awful lot when you’re from the Fens). So when we stopped at aid station number 2, a wave of exhaustion washed over me and I just burst into tears. I didn’t even see it coming. Yes it had been a hard run to that point on a poor night’s sleep and my breathing was a little laboured because of my cold, but I hadn’t even hit the half marathon distance yet! Why was I crying? Thankfully the others talked me off the ledge and told me that if I needed to walk, we would walk, and that we would make it to the finish come what may.

And that’s exactly what we did. We encountered some sticky trails that battered my exhausted legs even more, and some more inclines that I may have told to eff off (Justin commented that he had never seen me so grumpy) but that last downhill coast into Clare was one of the most glorious parts of any run I’ve ever done, and when Janet shouted that she’d seen a sign directing us to the finish I didn’t even dare to believe her. The run ends between the two platforms of the long disused Clare train station (closed in 1967 fact fans) and under the gaze of the ruins of Clare Castle. I’d like to say that I ended strong, but apparently I was pale(r than usual), I was shivering and I was 100% DONE IN. I also managed to burn my mouth on the coffee Justin bought me, and as we chatted with two other Ely Runners who had started in the earlier wave, Debbie and Ann, I started getting nasty cramps in my lower abdomen.

L-R Debbie, Ann, Justin, Janet and Bethan. Gollum like pale creature in the foreground – yours truly.

The car journey home was actually hilarious. Justin decided to beep and wave at every person we passed (you’d be amazed at how many smile and wave back), and then he started getting tremors in his legs as his fuelling during the run hadn’t quite gone as he’d hoped. I think we were all a little delirious and desperate for a shower and some food by the time we made it back to Ely. It was actually mid-shower that my hunger suddenly hit and I nearly ran downstairs, my head covered in suds, just to grab some crisps. I then ate for most of the rest of the day.

Was I happy with how I’d run? Originally I was in two minds really. I was disappointed that I mentally crumbled, but I was pleased that I still managed to finish (because honestly if there had been an option to quit and just go home at the second aid station I would have taken it). And then on Monday my period started (if this is TMI for you, you’re not reading the right blog) and suddenly the terrible hot night’s sleep, the cramps after the run and my heightened emotional state made sense. Normally I’m pretty hot at using Clue, my period tacking app, but a really busy week at work meant that I wasn’t on top of my cycle and it just didn’t occur to me that it would play its part on Sunday, and play its part it did (this is the reality of life as a female athlete). And I also found out on Monday that I had won my age category. I think I got super lucky that there weren’t many women aged 35-39 taking part, but it’s an achievement I never would have anticipated.

So you know what? I am happy with how I ran on the day. I kept going when everything was telling me not to. I managed to do this run after being injured for a good chunk of the year. And I got an absolute corker of a medal and helped to raise funds for a really good cause. One that you can donate to here if you’re so inclined. So I am really bloody proud of myself. Just don’t ask me about running a marathon any time soon eh?

A Welcome Return to the Round Norfolk Relay

There are some running events that you fall head over heels in love with. That you vow you will do again and again so long as the opportunity – and your body – allows. For me, the Round Norfolk Relay is one of those events.

I last ran the Round Norfolk Relay in person in 2017, which feels utterly impossible. In 2018 there was an admin error which meant we could only enter one team from my running club (and we decided to put forward the fastest team we possibly could – they won the open category!), and in 2019 I was injured. In 2020 the event unsurprisingly turned virtual so blink and you’ll miss it, here we are in 2021 and finally the event was happening in real life and I wasn’t injured. The stars – thankfully – aligned.

For those who don’t know, the Round Norfolk Relay is pretty much exactly as it sounds. It’s a 17-stage, 197 mile relay race around the outskirts of Norfolk with an actual baton and everything. The legs aren’t divided equally – the shortest is stage 16 which is 5.49 miles (from Downham Market to Stowbridge) and the longest is stage 12 which is 19.67 miles (from Scole to Thetford). In addition to the horrifically long legs, you also have the ones with what can only be described as an absurd terrain. Stage 5 is run on shingle, and stage 6 features a cliff with a climb of 75m. Stage 13 had a total climb of 100m over 13.25 miles.

The stage 4 to stage 5 handover – shingle!

So as you can imagine I felt extremely lucky to have been gifted with what I can only describe as “my” stage (not that I’m precious. Please don’t ever take it away from me. I’ll give you cake. Dammit I’ll give you money). It’s stage 14, from Feltwell to Wissington, and is a sociable 7.27 miles with just 25m of climb in total.

The only downside to this very pleasant run? I had to hit the road at around 4:30am.

When I ran it back in 2017, I travelled with one of my best buddies and regular GRL blog post star Pete. On that occasion, he ran the 10.59 mile leg after mine, which meant that based on the predicted pace of our team, we had to leave home around 5am to get me to Feltwell for my predicted start time. So plenty of time to get a good few hours of sleep in. This time however, Pete was running the 13.25 mile leg before mine, which meant a much, much earlier leaving time. Like, 3.5 hours earlier.

Yep, that’s right, after managing about 2 hours of fitful sleep, we were in the car by 1:30am, ready for Pete to hit the road at a predicted start time of 2:55am (20 minutes earlier than when we went to sleep thanks to Hannah absolutely beasting stage 11, but we had learned our lesson from the events of 2017 and given ourselves plenty of time to get there)! It’s fair to say that the two of us were slightly delirious on the drive over, raving to Kisstory (DJ Pied Piper and the Masters of Ceremonies being a real highlight) and marvelling at the extremely rural and really quite sinister route that Google Maps had taken us on. But before we knew it we were where we needed to be, anxiously waiting for our legs to start.

And honestly, that was one of the most stressful pre-race waits that I can remember having. I don’t know whether it was the lack of racing events in the last 18 months, the lack of sleep or the fact that the adrenaline had been building all day as we furiously kept up with our teammates via the WhatsApp group. It was probably all three. But as I nervously chatted to one of the brilliant marshals in an attempt to distract myself I was visibly shaking and my stomach was churning. It was really intense.

Spot the very calm runner.

Predictably, Pete absolutely bossed his stage, coming in at 1:39:00 on the nose, pretty much exactly at the pace he had predicted and before I knew it I was baton in hand, heading out into the darkness with no other runners in sight and just the noise of my support crew rumbling along in the van behind me, lighting my path, making sure I took the right turns and just calming me the eff down. And it worked. Within minutes I had found my groove and everything just felt meditative. There is something so eerily beautiful about running in the pitch black countryside in the wee small hours and the lack of sleep meant that the whole run took on this slightly dreamlike quality. It honestly seemed to pass within minutes, and before I knew it I was handing the baton to Jacob and wandering over to Pete in a bit of a daze. I had even managed to shave 3 seconds(!) off my 2017 time.

Now this is the time to talk about the support crew, because they are the real heroes in all of this. While yes, some of us were running on tough terrains or on little to no sleep, by the time they all got to me they had been up for 24 hours, and all bar one of them had run their own leg in surprisingly warm conditions for the time of year. And yet all they were worried about was me, making sure I was hydrated enough, making sure I wasn’t freaking out, and most importantly making sure I was safe. They had fostered the most incredible team atmosphere throughout the day, sending us all photos of our teammates on WhatsApp and bigging them up when they had beaten their predicted time or overtaken another runner. I felt like I was part of something really, really special, and this was all down to them. And this is just what happens on the day itself. The organisation behind the scenes for an event like this is HUGE, from arranging support cyclists and working out the start times for each runner based on the pace of the one before them (and making quick adjustments when someone drops out or gets injured), to making sure we all understood the rules around high vis and buying and giving every runner a lei to wear when they completed their stage. They were just incredible and I cannot thank them enough for giving me the chance to take part in this event that I LOVE. And a round of applause for their bladder control please.

The best of the best of the best.

As Pete and I drove home, Google Maps again decided to test us (or in our sleep-deprived state we missed a turning, far more likely) and we ended up taking a longer route which took us back on the leg I had just run. And here we witnessed this huge queue of runners which looked really spectacular as the sky slowly turned from black to inky blue. There had been hardly any runners on the road around us as Pete and I ran, but we had certainly found the majority of them as we drove home, all hurtling towards Wissington, the flashing lights from their support vehicles lighting up everything around us. We then continued to Ely and watched a misty sunrise, bleary eyed and looking forward to coffee. Those are the kind of memories that stick with you.

36 hours later I’m still on such a high from this event (but that might just be the lack of sleep really kicking in). There is nothing quite like it in the running calendar that creates such a sense of camaraderie and team spirit. While we might all do races for our club, wearing vests and earning points (in the races that do such a thing,) ultimately we are running for ourselves and perhaps chasing a PB. But in the RNR you are very much running for each other, and it’s an incredible feeling.

Same time next year folks?

Red. Sweaty. Delirious. Happy.

When you need your support crew

I’ve written on here before about how when I first started running, I saw myself very much as a lone runner who had no interest in competition (AH HA HA!), but that all changed when I joined Ely Runners in 2015. Now I really don’t enjoy running on my own, and never have I missed my fellow runners as much as I do now.

I’ll be honest – I’ve really been struggling.

I was genuinely doing ok with lockdown to begin with. Not great obviously, because this SERIOUSLY sucks, but I got into an exercise routine thanks to the amazing array of online workouts available, I started running with the other half when he decided he wanted to take it up to stay fit while he could no longer play his beloved badminton, and I started picking up old hobbies again. But then I had to say goodbye to my darling cat and the wheels suddenly came off in spectacular fashion.

For those among you who aren’t really pet people, it might be hard for you to understand just how much my heart broke when the worst possible moment finally came. Without going into it too much, she was diagnosed with a rare, incurable cancer 6 months ago, so we knew our time with her was limited and we did our absolute best to make the most of the time we had with her, especially during lockdown. But to have to say goodbye to your companion for the last 12.5 years when you’re not even allowed to set foot inside the vets is agonising, and suddenly lockdown became this pressure cooker that threatened to suffocate me.

I couldn’t go for my solo, head-clearing runs because I couldn’t bear to be on my own (if I were to go for a run, I would have to be at home on my own when my husband went for his daily exercise). I wouldn’t even go upstairs to bed on my own so I would stay up until the early hours and skate by on 4 or 5 hours sleep a night (he’s a well-conditioned night owl). I cried every day because everything in the house reminded me of her. I felt like I was constantly on the verge of a panic attack (having had one once at University I recognised that jittery tightness in my chest and the shallow breathing) and I kept thinking how what I really needed was to go for one of those really long runs with one of my closest buddies and howl at the universe and what a crapstorm it could be sometimes.

And my word, the guilt. The guilt of not being able to go in to the vet. The guilt of making the decision in the first place. The guilt of my husband having to shoulder the job of getting me through this entirely on his own. The guilt of struggling with the loss of a pet when people are losing human loved ones by the hundreds in extreme conditions every single day. It was almost as consuming as the grief itself.

But thank goodness for the online world and for those who will be there in whatever ways they can despite the fact they are all currently dealing with all of their own new-world stresses. I had friends who let me ugly cry at them through a screen. Those who dropped off flowers, gin, chocolate and those who I don’t even know that well but who messaged me to check how I was doing and to assure me that in time, it would get better. And looking back I realised that almost all of these people are those who I’ve met through running or my gym.

I think that when you’ve beasted an epic run together that involved dodging cows, dodgy stomachs and bog-like conditions (Ely Runners Christmas run, I’m looking at you) or survived a fitness class together where you end it face-planted in a puddle of your own sweat, you can look at each other in a new light and feel able to open up to each other. You can let yourself be a little bit raw emotionally, having already done it physically.

And slowly but surely, thanks to my remote – but thankfully, still very much present – support crew, I’m starting to come out the other side. I’ve got friends to do online classes with, friends who send me stupid GIFs, friends who drop off a seemingly endless supply of cake and friends who I know I can call and who will answer straight away when I have a bad moment. I’ve picked up the yoga again after a 6-week hiatus, because for a while only cardio appealed as it forced me to only focus on the physical. Yoga felt like it would give my brain too much time to breathe and therefore too much time to think. I’ve started doing Headspace’s grief programme, am baking more and am occasionally able to think of Minnie with a smile instead of tears.

After reading all of this you might be wondering why I’m writing about this in a fitness blog, but to me, mental health and physical health are the same thing – health. And the mental aspect of my health picked up a serious injury and I had to work out how to deal with that. And quite honestly, I’d rather have plantar fasciitis. But thanks to my husband (who is nothing short of a hero for getting me through the last 4 weeks when he had his own grief to manage) and my amazing support crew, I feel like very slowly but definitely surely, I’m coming out of the other side. I would name them all but it would simply take too long. But you all know who you are, and when this is over I can’t wait to thank you all properly in person.

And bloody hell I can’t wait to go for a run with you.

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That time I represented my county

So, a few hours after representing Cambridgeshire for the first time at the Inter Regionals Cross Country event in Loughborough, I think my disappointment at my performance has finally settled enough for me to get my thoughts written down.

Holy mother forking shirtballs that was hard.

I knew stepping up to this level was going to be tough. I knew I would probably be near the back. I knew the terrain would be unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I knew, I knew, I knew. And yet I didn’t.

After a little over a 2-hour drive with my clubmate (and constant source of inspiration) Gemma, who would be running in the under 17s girls’ race, and her mum Sue, also an Ely Runner who is one of the most committed representatives (and cheerleaders!) for the club I know, we turned up about 90 minutes before my race and located the Cambridgeshire flag so that we could get our numbers. This was when the first disappointment struck – 2 of the women weren’t coming, which meant we didn’t have have enough senior women running to field a scoring team. We needed 6, but we only had 4. In some ways it felt like the pressure was off, but in another, I was so disappointed not to be able to score for my county. I had said to Gemma in the car that the worst thing that could happen was if someone bailed, as I was then travelling 80-odd miles each way, to do a race that was so far out of my comfort zone that it was practically a dot on the horizon, and for it not to make a difference.

But after chatting with my teammates Kayleigh, Elisabeth and Sarah, we all agreed that we could at least enjoy it and treat it as a training run. And I genuinely planned to do the former. Honestly. I really, truly wanted to.

But I hated nearly every second of it.

The course was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Half the course was deep, boggy mud that gripped onto my ankles like a drowning man grabbing at a buoy, sucking at my shoes and succeeding in taking one off a couple of miles from the end (I wasn’t the only victim of this judging by the abandoned spikes littering the course), losing me valuable time as I battled to shove it back on. The gaps we had between the boggiest sections offered little in the way of respite, and knowing that I had to do two laps meant that I wanted to quit time and time again, certain I couldn’t possibly make my legs fight through that mire again.  And I barely could. I lost count of the number of times I had to stop to walk up the inclines, the fight to keep tears back as I felt like I was letting myself and the county down by losing the mental battle cross country represents.

The worst part was when my watch buzzed the 6 mile mark and I realised that the run was going to be significantly more than the 10km it was meant to be. This is when the need for the RunEqual campaign really hit home. It’s hard enough to qualify at 5.8km for a 10km race but for a 11.25km race? That’s nearly double. At least if we had qualified at 10km that extra 1.25km may not have been so daunting (although how British Athletics over-measured by that much I’ll never know). Come on Cambridgeshire – how can you expect to field a strong senior women team if the discrepancy between what we’re doing at a local level and the county level is so huge? THIS is why we need to be equalising our distances.

I did at least manage to finish strong, but that’s what desperation to end a nightmare will do to you. After a successful Frostbite XC at Huntingdon last week I had honestly thought I might be able to do something special, but instead I crossed the line in 56:41, 205th runner out of a field of 254, managing an average pace of around 8.07 per mile. I was devastated.

BUT – this isn’t all doom and gloom. It takes a chat with your best friends/sister/partner to give things a bit of context. Firstly – I’ve never run 10km (or 11.25km!) of cross country before. I’m a 5km road runner through and through. Also, I was only 4 minutes behind Kayleigh and 2 minutes behind Sarah, both senior women while I’m (ahem) a veteran. And I didn’t quit. Despite EVERYTHING in my body telling me to, I made it to the finish. Not everyone did. I think the thing I’m most gutted about is the fact I had to stop and walk numerous times. I lost the mental battle, and I need to work out what I can do to stop that from happening again.

I may never compete for Cambridgeshire again. Let’s face it – the older I get the less likely I am to be considered. So I’m disappointed that possibly the one time I don that blue vest the result is not what I wanted or what I believe I’m capable of. But at least I was there, and at least I have that vest and a story to tell. And perhaps more importantly, a few lessons learned.

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A Decade of Running

First of all, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but sometimes real life has to take priority so GirlRunningLate had to take a back seat while I dealt with what life decided to throw at me.

In the last couple of weeks lots of folk have been looking not only to a new year, but also a new decade. And of course with this comes the question – what have you done in the last ten years?

So I had a think and the first thing that I came up with was, I got married. Then I quickly realised that nope, that was the PREVIOUS decade, and I am quickly becoming ancient and I had a minor existential panic that I had achieved exactly sod all in the last ten years. But thankfully I soon realised that I kickstarted something brilliant in 2010.

I became a runner.

Now I know to some people that might not seem like much. So what? I pulled on some trainers and realised I could move my legs a little faster than a walk like hundreds of thousands of other people probably did in the same decade. But it has caused so many changes in my life. I’m going to try and break them down by year but let’s be honest – my memory isn’t what it used to be so you’ll have to excuse any gaps in the narrative…!

2010 – my first ever run outdoors

I started running on an absolute whim back in 2010 – a hotel gym, a treadmill, an awesome charity looking for runners for the 2011 Bath Half Marathon and my habit of signing up to things with little thought all combined to my becoming a runner nearly 10 years ago. You can read about my running beginnings in more detail here.

2011 – my first official event

11 months after I first started running I ran the Bath Half marathon for CoppaFeel! with my friend Hannah. Fearne Cotton was there, as were many, many boobs, and I remember it being so cold that I feared my legs would never get going. But I did, and I exceeded all of my expectations by finishing in 1:53:26. The feeling of crossing that finish line was unlike anything I had experienced before, and I was HOOKED. I used to think runners were bonkers, but I had truly embraced the madness.

Fearne Cotton, boobs, finish line elation.

2012 – my first ever parkrun

I ran my first ever parkrun on the 7th January 2012 at Milton Country Park. I came 115th overall and was 11th female in a time of 24:20. But then for some reason – and I don’t really know why – I didn’t do another parkrun for 3 years. Oh those wasted events. I could have had a green t-shirt by now. 2012 Lauren, ya big eejit.

2013 – began working in Sport and became a LiRF

In 2013, I finally left a job I hated to start work as a Sports Marketing Coordinator at the University of Cambridge, and I have no doubt that this role, and my boss Karen Pearce, really ignited my love of sport. It was Karen who encouraged me to do the England Athletics LiRF (Leader in Run Fitness) course so that I could help runners who joined the Sports Centre. I started trying new classes such as Metabolic Conditioning and Circuits, was lucky enough to have colleagues with a wealth of fitness expertise and I started to realise that feeling strong was seriously awesome. I think this simply continued to build in 2014, as nothing else of note happened that year (that I can remember…)

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Me outside CamUniSport. Such fun times. I still miss my officemates!

2015 – joined Ely Runners and started GirlRunningLate (busy year!)

I can’t quite believe this blog is nearly 5 years old, but I started it in April 2015. And it was the second best thing I did in 2015. The first was joining Ely Runners.

My friend Pete (regularly featured in this blog) had joined Ely Runners a couple of years earlier, and had benefitted so much from doing so. In separate conversations, he and Laura Hill (another ER) convinced me to try it out, and the rest is history. So much of my joyful running memories are thanks to ER and my clubmates, and I would be utterly lost without it/them. It’s hard to imagine that without ER I wouldn’t know people like Justin and his amazing frittata skills and constant supply of Double Deckers/Toffee Crisps*.

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2016 – Injuries, anxiety and self-belief

2016 was a tricky year. I had to drop out of the Cambridge Half Marathon, was injured on and off throughout the 12 months, and was finding the mental side of competition really tough to handle. But it had its highs too – I won first place in the Waterbeach Running Festival 10k, did the Wings for Life World Run in SCORCHING heat and loved it, and pushed myself way outside of my comfort zone. I think this was the year I really started to see myself as an athlete.

2017 – Cambridge Half Marathon sponsored athlete and a new PB

At the end of 2016 I found that I had won a prize to be the Saucony sponsored athlete for the Cambridge Half Marathon. I remember being SO scared about getting injured or my nerves getting to me so much that I would bail on the run and let everyone down, but working with physiotherapist Lauren at Progress as part of my prize was one of the BEST things that ever happened to me. As well as working on my strength and running technique she was just so no-nonsense about all the ridiculous thoughts that crowded my mind. She just told me to remember why I was doing this – because I love running. I ended up smashing that half marathon in a time of 135:37, 106th woman out of a field of 3163, and experiencing a moment that I will NEVER forget.

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2018 – peak parkrun obsession

Although I dipped in and out of parkrun between 2015 and 2017 (13 runs in total over the three years!) I became fully committed to the cause in 2018 when Littleport parkrun launched. Even though I always really enjoyed parkrun, driving for at least 30 minutes to run for around 22 minutes, and then driving another 30 minutes home just seemed like SUCH a waste of time. But being able to drive just 10 minutes down the road (or even cycling/running there!) meant that I became a fully fledged devotee, roped in my dad to volunteering duties and became a Run Director myself. I flipping love it.

2019 – CiRF and the elusive sub-20 5k

Ever since I joined Ely Runners I nursed a dream of the sub-20 5k. I had managed some low 20 minute ones – 20:19 and 20:18 – but they had nearly broken me and it just seemed like too much time to shave off. But at the Waterbeach Running Festival I didn’t so much as shave the seconds off as hacked off a chunk of them. I managed to run a 5k in 19:48. I just re-read my blog post about it and could feel the tears starting again. I am just so, so proud of myself.

I also completed my CiRF (Coach in Running Fitness) this year, and I’m so excited about where that’s going to take me. I want to become a really good coach, to learn from other coaches and to hopefully help more people to fall in love with running. I want to keep this mad and wonderful journey going.

When I started running I never imagined I would join a running club, or compete, or sometimes get first lady at a parkrun or win a handful of trophies. I’ve surprised myself in more ways than I ever dreamed I would.

I wonder what my blog post about the next decade of running will look like? Here’s hoping it includes a green t-shirt…

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My favourite running photo of the last 10 years. The finish straight of the Waterbeach 5k.

 

*I couldn’t do a write up of my decade of running without a mention of one of my running besties somewhere! I want to make sure I keep getting fed…

 

 

 

 

Are you in a state of MOBOI?

Everyone loves an acronym right? FOMO, YOLO, OMG or my personal favourite, FFS…

So I hereby bring you MOBOI – missing out because of injury. And it’s a real state of LOLs I can tell you.

Injuries are going to happen. I’ve had a few in my time – ITB syndrome, posterior tibial tendonitis, piriformis syndrome and now plantar fasciitis. Those are some fun party conversation starters right there. And while I’m getting better at listening to my body (and to the common sense instilled in me by the professionals that I see) and know that rest is key when the problem is at its most acute, that doesn’t stop me from raging at the world when an event I had signed up to rolls around. So far with my PF I’ve missed out the 5th Kevin Henry league race, the Ely Sprint Triathlon and this weekend the Bedford Running Festival double (10k Saturday evening and half marathon Sunday morning). And every single time it has sucked.

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Sad little unused race numbers

While it’s tempting to sit and wallow at home when you know your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram feed is going to be full of happy runners posing with their well-earned medals, I’ve been trying to focus on doing the things I usually complain that I don’t have time to do. I’ve gone back to Jesus Green Lido (whilst kicking myself for not making the most of it earlier in the season as it closes in 3 weeks), have caught up on my reading, have kickstarted this blog again (hooray!) and have acted as bike support for my running buddy Pete as he trains for his first marathon. I even went on a 16-mile bike ride today just for the “fun” of it, something I always swore I would never do because as someone who needs to commute by bike, voluntarily doing it at the weekend has never appealed, but I really appreciated the peace and quiet on the country roads and a burn in my legs that was very different from what I experience on a fast run.

And the best thing? Every injury I get makes me a better athlete as it gets me into good habits. I learn to listen to my body so that the niggle doesn’t become a chronic long-term problem (I’m 6 weeks into PF and am almost ready to run again). I learn specific strengthening and stretching techniques to add into my usual routine and I learn to appreciate and wonder at my body even more when I get back to running again.

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Around 15 miles into his 20 miler

Sadly I don’t have a cure-all solution for how to deal with MOBOI. I am constantly envious of everyone’s race bling and do sometimes find myself in a Strava spiral looking at folk racking up segment PBs, but I’m taking solace in the fact that I’m clearly growing as a runner by not attempting to come back from injury too quickly, and perspective is a useful thing. My injury is (hopefully) only temporary, and those events I’ve missed out on will come back round next year. Plus it’s great to support your friends either through marshalling at parkrun, liking their latest race selfie or singing “Dance Magic Dance” as they find themselves flagging on their 20 mile long steady run (you’re welcome Pete)!

Upshot is, MOBOI sucks, but take the opportunities it offers you and use them to come back stronger.

BRB.

 

Molton Brown Evening with Sweaty Betty plus Giveaway!

First of all, I’m being a crummy blogger this year aren’t I? One blog every 6 weeks is not what I hoped to achieve, but I’m injured and grumpy so writing about running hasn’t exactly appealed. But being injured is part and parcel of being an athlete, and I’m finally inching into the acceptance stage of my injury (denial was fun), so let’s kick things off with a write up of a Molton Brown bloggers evening that I was lucky enough to be invited to back in July.

Usually I go along to blogger events to network with others in the area, but I rarely write about them because I’m not a beauty/lifestyle blogger. However, when I heard that Sweaty Betty were going to be at Molton Brown’s, it meant that I could write about it as everyone knows that my Sweaty Betty habit is out of control. And it doesn’t hurt that I’m a Molton Brown mega fan as well…

When we turned up at the event – and there must have been about 20 bloggers there – we were treated to a personalised goodie bag that had been tailored to our own individual tastes based upon the character Sonny and his team had gleaned from our social media accounts. They got mine spot on, with some of my favourite fragrances included (hello rhubarb and rose)!

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We were also treated to gin cocktails from gorgeous local tapas bar La Raza, and hand and arm massages from Sonny and his team. After much deliberating, I chose the Caju and Lime fragrance, which was beautifully uplifting. I’ve been using Molton Brown hand lotions for years, and I’ve long been a bit fan of gifting Molton Brown products to friends and family, as people rarely treat themselves to luxury shower gels and body lotions. I picked up a bottle of the new Bushukan shower gel (citrus with a hit of black pepper) for the other half’s birthday, and a hand cream that I’m giving away to one lucky follower (see details at the end of this post)! I was devastated however to hear that my favourite fragrance, violet and vanilla, was limited edition! It’s still available on some sites but not easy to come by…

And now on to Sweaty Betty, who were showcasing their beautiful new AW collection. What’s fascinating about the fashion design world, is that they have to be predicting trends SO far in advance. I’ve been told that Sweaty Betty are looking ahead about 18 months, and so back in early 2018, they chose to be inspired by South Korea for AW 2019. They headed over to Seoul, where they were inspired by the “incredible juxtaposition of futuristic buildings and blazing neon alongside traditional architecture and old palaces”. In addition to this, they focused on women in South Korea who were “pushing against the norm. South Korea is very driven by a specific type of beauty, so [it was] amazing to see some really cool women rejecting labels, including the long boarder, Ko Hyojoo.”

Mary-Beth, the store manager at Cambridge, also told me about an underground tattoo scene in South Korea that inspired some of their new prints. Fascinatingly, although it’s not illegal to have tattoos in South Korea, it is illegal to be a tattoo artist if you’re not also a qualified medical practitioner, which is why the underground tattoo scene has grown. This inspired my favourite pair of leggings from the new collection, their new Super Sculpt 7/8 leggings in black cherry (a key colour in their AW collection) with a rose print “tattooed” mesh insert. Also, I couldn’t help but LOVE these retro 80s styling of these running shorts, inspired by the 1988 Olympics in Seoul:

And so on to the competition! As I MASSIVELY failed to celebrate my blog’s 4th birthday back in April, I’m doing a giveaway now instead! You can win this Sweaty Betty and Molton Brown bundle over on my Instagram and on my Twitter (yes you can enter via both to double your chances of winning)! Good luck!

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Running Happy

This seems like such a simplistic title for a blog post, but it needs no zhooshing up (yes, that IS how you spell it, I saw it on Pointless). For the last few months I have been running happy and it is an absolute revelation.

I love running, and I hope this comes across in this blog. But on the odd occasion (ahem) I’ve sucked the joy out of the thing I love by constantly pushing myself to my physical limits, dreading races and putting so much pressure on myself that I wondered whether or not running was the best thing for my mental health.

What a mess.

So for the last few races, I’ve taken the foot off the gas and slowed down so that I can enjoy the process of running, and it has been nothing short of joyful. I’ve run chatty half marathons with friends, paced some of the juniors I coach at 10ks, run with kids at parkrun and have looked like a giddy idiot in all of the photos:

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As well as making me happy, this also enables me to encourage others, and as PBs start to become a bit of a rarity for me, helping someone else to achieve theirs gives me the exact same high.

I’ve also been doing more casual longer runs. In the past I’ve always pushed hard on longer runs (despite knowing that you shouldn’t hit race pace in training), but I’m adding more run commutes and runs to parkrun in to my schedule (around 5.5 miles along the riverside from Ely to Littleport), and took part in a steady 8-mile Ely Runners Sunday trail run yesterday, which had to have been one of the most gorgeous runs I’ve ever done:

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Photo courtesy of trail runner extraordinaire Kyle Armstrong

At the beauty of it all is, when I do feel like pushing myself, my speed isn’t suffering for this new attitude. I paced a junior at a 5k last week, and we crossed the line in 20:52, and I felt like I had a decent amount still left in the tank after encouraging her the whole way round. Perhaps (gasp!) this new, more relaxed attitude will actually help me?

I originally started long distance running to try something new and after a few weeks I realised I had found my sport, the one that makes me feel strong, that helps me clear my mind and one that I actually happen to be pretty good at. But most of all I did it because it made me feel happy. Now, by actually slowing it down from time to time, I’m allowing myself to be in the moment and marvel and this bloody brilliant thing that my body allows me to do. There will come a time (hopefully in the far, far distant future) when I won’t be able to run any more, so I intend to be grateful for the here and now  and continue to focus on the pure joy of running.