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…

The Wings for Life World Run – A New Favourite

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

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

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

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

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

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

We flipping SMASHED it.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Instant Camaraderie of Runners

I know you’ve all watched it by now. Or if you’re like me, you’ve watched it about 40 times. The moment Swansea Harriers’ Matt Rees stopped 200m from the end of the London Marathon to help David Wyeth from Chorlton Runners reach the finish line. David’s legs had gone to jelly, his body having run out of carbohydrate stores and he was in danger of not making it. He was agonisingly close to the finish line, waving past runners who were slowing down to check on him and claiming that he was ok. But Matt knew fully well that he wasn’t, and chucking his own time out of the window he helped get David to the finish.

Matthew Rees Credit London Marathon

Credit: London Marathon

Twitter went bonkers, and rightfully so. The London Marathon has the ability to bring grown adults to tears as they sit on the sofa, drinking tea and eating mint Oreos (just me?) whilst marvelling at people putting themselves through the most mentally tough thing some of them will ever do. Let’s face it, the world is a bit of a “funny” place right about now, and sometimes we all need to have our faith in humankind rekindled, and watching the way people help and support each other in feats of physical endurance (let’s not forget Alistair Brownlee helping Jonny across the finish line in the Triathlon World Series in Mexico – and letting him cross the line first no less) is a sure fire way to melt even the iciest of hearts.

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But it doesn’t just happen on the world stage. At the 1st Kevin Henry League race of the season last week, I found myself struggling with about 1.5k to go. I wasn’t going easy on myself, and I was pretty cold after getting caught in a hailstorm on the way to the race. I also had a few people overtake me (including some ridiculously chirpy folk, Andrew and Lauren, I’m talking about you!), which doesn’t happen that often and made me panic that I had gone off too fast. At the 4k mark I knew I was going to make it to the finish ok, but I knew it was going to be ugly – when my breathing starts sounding like a dog who has inhaled a broken harmonica I know I’m in trouble. But then I realised that I was running side by side with a Haverhill Runner, and by some miracle I was managing to match my pace to his. I swore like an absolute trouper (but I did apologise after every verbal bomb, honest) and somehow this lovely man kept me going, offering encouragement and saying things like “come on, only 400m to go”. And then to top it all off, he let me cross the line first. What a blooming legend.

So the next day I tweeted that I owed this man a drink and copied in the Haverhill Running Club, and then a few days later another runner I follow on Twitter sent me this (someone from the Club had clearly mentioned me on their Facebook page):

Haverhill Neil

There I was thinking he had dragged me round, when really we had dragged each other round, and he got a PB to boot. We’re running for different clubs but we just desperately wanted to get each other across that finish line in one piece. I’ve since chatted to Neil on Facebook, and I’ve no doubt we’ll be running together again and who knows? Maybe we’ll both get a PB this season (but if we don’t, that’s ok too)! I love running for so many reasons, but the bond it can create between complete strangers is just awesome.

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

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

This epiphany stuff isn’t half bad.

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

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

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

Jo and I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same time next year?

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“Comparison is the Thief of Joy” – My Running Epiphany (featuring Raj Koothrappali)

Throughout this post, I am going to use Raj from The Big Bang Theory to illustrate my thoughts. Just because he articulates them so beautifully.

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Last year I fell out of love with running.

I’m not sure what the trigger was. It might have been the lack of consistent training due to my injuries and Alan being unwell at periods throughout the year. But more likely I think it’s the pressure I put on myself.

Why am I not as fast as last year?

Why am I not getting any PBs?

Why can’t I keep up with her?

WHY IS THIS IS SO HARD?

Good grief, how boring right? Imagine being in my head for all of 2016. It was exhausting and generally hideous and it made my hobby almost unbearable. I kept comparing myself to how I had run in 2015 and to other runners, and I kept telling myself I wasn’t doing well enough.

But compared to WHAT? It was all so utterly meaningless.

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My pre-race anxiety nearly obliterated my ability to run, especially during the Kevin Henry 5k series – I cried at at least two of them. I mean for goodness’ sake this was meant to be FUN. When did I turn into this stressed out athlete? When did running become something I had started to dread?

But a few weeks ago, something happened. I decided to stop caring so much. My mantra is now – cover your ears if you’re not a fan of the swears (forgive me, I’m half Irish) is “F*CK IT”.

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I think this partly came about because I recently updated the “races” section of my blog, and when I saw how many races I actually ran last year, I was in shock. I had no idea I’d done so many. I think because the vast majority of them weren’t the kind of races that come with goodie bags and selfie-worthy bling I hadn’t actually “counted” them. But I really should have done. Because they were each in their own way a big deal. I even won two trophies last year for crying out loud.

So, I’ve decided to stop caring about times and what everyone else is doing, and to fall in love with running again. For the first time ever I’m more excited than nervous about the Cambridge Half Marathon (if you’re a long time reader of this blog you’ll remember the terrible head space I was in last year). I’ve even arranged to meet up post-run with Joanna and Pip, two awesome Twitter peeps who I’ve wanted to meet IRL for AGES. I’ll be the one with the pink hair girls.

From now on, if a race goes well, great. If it doesn’t, there’s always another. Above all else I want to finish every run having enjoyed it. I know that with social media it can be so easy to fall into the comparison trap, but everyone who is out there running is an awesome runner, regardless of how often they run, the distance they cover or the pace they run at. I include myself in that.

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Thank you Raj. All GIFs from Giphy.

My December 2016 Round Up – Three Very Different Races!

First of all, apologies for the 2017 silence so far. I’ve got plenty of posts waiting to be written, but other priorities (including training for the half marathon ironically!) have left little time for blogging. But I’ve been determined to get one post done for January, so at this moment I have 62 minutes left to go…

In the lead up to Christmas 2016 (how long ago does that feel now?) I was involved in three very different races, the first of which was the Arthur Rank Hospice Festive 5k in Ely on November 20th. This event is such a blast and sells out every year. It goes around the main city centre of Ely, ending with a blighter of a climb through Cherry Hill Park (thanks for lurking there Mr Photographer) and finishing on the market square.

This was the third year running that I’ve done this race. On my first attempt I somehow managed to be first woman in a time of 22:04 (it was really wet which I think kept the speedsters at home) and in 2015 the fastest woman smashed it in 19:45 (I did 20:37). As for 2016, it had been a long year, and I just didn’t fancy a hard run. I wanted to have fun, and this is an event known for runners in fancy dress (there’s a prize each year for best dressed) and luckily for me, Running Buddy Extraordinaire Pete decided he just wanted a laugh as well, after a hard racing year where he smashed pretty much all of his PBs.

So, we did what any sane people would do and dressed up. As Christmas trees. Complete with fairy lights. I was up to my eyeballs with a cold as well, and as my battery pack for my lights lodged itself in a really unhelpful position down the back of my shorts, I knew I was in for an uncomfortable run. The stitch hit in pretty quickly as I found myself unable to get my breathing into a decent rhythm, and Pete basically had to talk me through the damp 3 miles as I whinged my way round Ely. We finished in 22:41, and once I got home I found out that by some miracle I had been the fastest woman again. Arthur Rank accidentally gave the prize to another woman who crossed the line first but had actually been 4 seconds slower than me across the course, but to their credit they apologised for the mistake, sent me a prize in the post and told me that they are going to have plans in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again next year.

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Two soggy Christmas trees

This race is probably the loveliest one of the year. The support from the folk of Ely is awesome, the marshals are the BEST at cheering you on and it’s just such fun. Plus it’s all for a brilliant cause. Keep an eye on their website – they’re adding to their running events calendar all the time.

Then on the 18th December, I found myself on a coach at about 8am, ready to be driven out into the countryside just so I could run home again.

Sometimes I think past Lauren would be so flipping confused.

I had signed up for the Ely Runners Christmas run again, a social, untimed, cross country run. Last year I did the 7.5 mile leg and this year I signed up for 12.5 miles (the next option being 18.5). As per usual Pete was along for the ride, and complete with festive headgear, we set off from Woodditton at 9am, and precisely 60 seconds later our trainers were caked with mud and three times as heavy. Awesome.

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The first 7.5 miles actually went better than expected. We were prepared for the very rural route after last year, we sang along to Christmas tunes that Pete played on his phone (thankfully we were pretty much running alone), and I got about 6 miles in before tripping and doing an epic combat role stopped only by my face (thankfully the fall looked more impressive than it was). It was ironically when we stopped at the first refuel station that I started to struggle. We just stopped for a little too long (mostly gawping at Stephen’s impressive cut on his leg which put my scratches to shame) and it turns out that eating something mid-run really doesn’t work for me. So we ended up run/walking the last 5 miles, partly due to not knowing where we were going and the terrain, but mostly due to my running out of steam.

I really enjoyed the run, even though our glorious sprint finish was scuppered by the terrain resembling the bog of eternal stench. I’m definitely going to do it again next year, and who knows? Maybe I’ll attempt the full 18 miles!

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The Bog of Eternal Stench. If you didn’t know this, FOR SHAME.

The last race wasn’t one that I ran. Instead, I was marshalling. Every year the Ely Runners host the NYE10k, and every year it sells out within about 24 hours. I didn’t know where I would be for NYE, so I didn’t sign up. But to be honest, this was a handy excuse. Because the truth is, I kind of hate the route. It’s exposed and a bit dull, (read: tough) and we have to run it for our 10k handicap. Once a year is enough for me.

It was so much fun to be able to enjoy the race from the other side (although my step count suggested that running it would have been the easier option). Watching our Race Director Charlotte run the whole thing like an epically well oiled machine was incredible, and cheering the runners over the finish line was an absolute blast. Everyone seemed to have had such a great time, and there is something special about ending your year with a race. And having an excuse to wear an awesome wig was the icing on the cake (even if it was a bit small for my weirdly massive head).

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So those were the races I ended a very odd 2016 on. And wouldn’t you know it? I’ve blogged in January with 6 minutes to spare. Hang on 2017 – my blog and I are coming for you.

A Runner’s Homework and Information Overload

I am not a happy bunny.

I have half a dozen blog post ideas rattling around in my head, but have I had time to write them? Have I hell. Someone has gone and done a runner with my last two weeks of November and now here I am on December 3rd – for crying out loud – wondering whether my blog should be taken out into a field and put out of its misery.

But fear not fair reader – I enjoy wanging on about my running far too much to give up that easily. I will just put aside watching Stranger Things until these thoughts have found their way onto the page (screen).

So, I am now three appointments in to my time as the sponsored athlete for the Cambridge Half Marathon in collaboration with Saucony, Progress and OSB Events. And boy oh boy have I been set some homework (you can see my first interview with Progress where I look about 60 with a double chin here).

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Gif from Giphy

So on my first appointment with Lauren over at Progress, she had me doing all kinds of squats, planks, intervals on the treadmill and lunges, all to get an indication of what she’s got to work with. The answer? Someone who is more than a bit wonky. Turns out that my left side is significantly weaker than my right, which goes some way to explaining why about 90% of my injuries have occurred on my left (except for the current weird grumbly foot). My calf strength is also at about 50% of what Lauren would expect to see in a runner. It’s a miracle that I manage to stay upright to be honest.

So I came away with a handful of exercises to do, including calf raises on each leg where I have to do them on a step, going right up on to the toes, and lowering my heel below the step as far as I can go, keeping my leg locked out the whole time. I should be able to do 30 on each leg, but I’m managing 16/17 max. I also have to do planks whilst lifting alternate legs off the ground for as long as possible, side planks and dorsiflexion lunge tests. And these are just the exercises Lauren has set me.

I then made an appointment to see Hannah for my first sports massage last week. While part of me wondered if perhaps I should save all of my appointments with her until closer to the race, I rationalised that I have a problem now that is impacting on my training, so I may as well take advantage of her expertise. Now I know Hannah socially as she’s the partner of my colleague Matt (the fitness industry is a small world in Cambridge) and she is one of life’s thoroughly lovely people, as well as being – like Lauren – exceptionally knowledgeable. After she gave my foot a thorough looking over she didn’t find anything to concern her, gave the inside of my right ankle a real hammering (my fascia there was “sticky”), told me to lay off the running for a week and ease myself back in with a steady flat run and then uttered the immortal words “ask Matt about some glute strengthening exercises”.

Now, anyone who knows Matt knows that his training is BRUTAL. His classes at the sports centre are legendary in their toughness and his MetCon class is the only one that I’ve come close to vomiting in (if that’s not a recommendation I don’t know what is). So when I told him that Hannah wanted him to come up with some exercises for me, his little face lit up, and a few days later I found myself in the Team Training Room with him, wondering what the hell I had let myself in for as he showed me my new S&C programme. It’s a crazy mix of a mini circuit of 5 exercises repeated 3 times round, 3 pairs of strength exercises again repeated 3 times round, and another mini circuit of 5 exercises repeated 3 times round. Confused? You bet your (weak) arse I was confused. I’ve got val slide leg curls, banded kettlebell swings, Romanian deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, pull ups, 20kg suitcase carries and a plethora of other exercises that I can only assume he extracted from the bowels of hell. FYI, I’ll be doing this twice a week. So far I’ve done the programme all the way through once, and I must have muttered “I’m going to bleeping kill him” more than a dozen times. Had I had enough strength left in my arms I might have managed it.

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Notice the evil in his eyes and the cry for help in mine.

I then saw Hannah again two days ago to report back on how my foot had coped after a slow steady 4 mile run and a 9 x 150m sprint session at the track. The answer is pretty well, but I’m now wondering whether the tweaks I’m feeling in my foot are “real” or whether I’m obsessing over the injury and creating a pain that doesn’t actually exist. When I explained this to Hannah I thought she might think I was mad, but she totally got it and started telling me about how the brain interprets pain, and is going to give me some reading recommendations on the subject. She then made me hold a squat for about half an hour (aka 60 seconds ish), watched me run on the treadmill and showed me a routine of foot/ankle strengthening exercises that she’d like me to do every day. Turns out my squat would be the envy of many, and my right foot is hyper mobile which although it not a bad thing, could go some way to explaining the current grumble (hence the need for foot and ankle strengthening).

Flipping heck. As I’ve been typing this I’ve been feeling myself getting slightly overwhelmed by how much information has been thrown at  me and the sheer volume of work I have to do. A daily foot and ankle routine, twice weekly S&C sessions and thrice weekly planks and calf raises, not to mention day to day foam rolling and actually getting out and, you know, running.

During my last appointment with Hannah I think she could tell that I was in the middle of information  overload and she said to me “there will come a point where you’ll want to tell us all to bugger off for a week, and that’s totally fine” and I could have kissed her. Not that I’m at that stage – far from it. But it’s nice to know when I really can’t face my homework I can just run off into the distance for a while (grumpy foot permitting).

The Making of an Athlete

So, if you’re signed up to the Cambridge Half Marathon or are my Facebook friend or follower on Twitter, you may have seen that I am now the “sponsored athlete” for the Cambridge Half Marathon.

Oh sweet Barack on a Bicycle.

Barak on a Bike.jpg

I am seriously going to miss this guy. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.

I’ll  be honest. When I first saw the email I wasn’t sure whether or not to accept. It’s one thing to back out of a race because you’re not fully fit, are nervous about a recent injury or simply don’t fancy it. It’s another to back out when people have invested a lot of time and money in you and your race plan. In other words – you just don’t do that. So if I said yes, bar a serious injury, I would lose my get out of jail free card. But after having to back out of last year’s Cambridge Half, I realised that I would be crazy to pass up this opportunity to redeem myself. As part of the package I get the following from Progress:

1 x 60 min new physiotherapy assessment including run analysis
6 x 30 min follow-up physiotherapy sessions
8 x 30 min sport massage sessions
8 x 30 min AlterG sessions
Saucony Trainers, shorts and a t-shirt

Not to mention working with Lauren Bradshaw, a Specialist Sports Physiotherapist with a half marathon PB of 1:31. What kind of an idiot would say no to that?

When I told my friend Ally (theemiddlesis to the outside world) that I had accepted the prize but that I was somewhat nervous (read: bricking it) about losing the option to bail, she pointed out that that when I have had to bail in the past, I have absolutely hated it. She reminded me of last year’s tears on the finish line when all of my Ely Runner clubmates finished high on PBs, and I was like that tearful drunk at a party bringing everyone else down with them.

drunkprincess

Gif from Giphy

Blooming heck that girl knows how to give you some perspective.

Since agreeing to the role of “sponsored athlete” it has to be pointed out that my running hasn’t exactly been stress free. I have a mysterious recurring issue with my foot that despite physio and osteo appointments, rest and excessive amounts of yoga and foam rolling has failed to really disappear, and I also had a more than ropey result at my first ever Frostbite 5 miler on Sunday. I just got it a bit wrong and blew up in the last mile, my head giving up before my stomach for once (which I suppose makes a nice change) and the last 750 metres turned into an embarrassing walk/run mess. I was so disappointed with myself, but I have never managed to recover when I stop to walk. When my head gives up, that’s it, and it continues to do so for the rest of the run. I managed a time of 36:39, but I should be capable of something closer to 35.

But I know I need to be kinder to myself. I haven’t competed for a while due to this reason, my foot was still a bit grumbly and the terrain wasn’t an easy one. If I heard anyone else berating themselves after a race the way I did I would point out all of the positives and tell them that they were being really unfair on themselves. I suppose at least realising this is a step in the right direction? Right?

And then yesterday, Stacy and I were reunited on the track with the one and only Baldrick. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to have him with us on the track, and the last time Stacy and I trained together a fortnight ago we had an absolute shocker. I felt like it was the first time I had ever run, and I nearly stopped three times on a 400m rep. 400m for crying out loud! And it wasn’t just me – Stace had the exact same experience. But then yesterday, we both smashed the session (a mix of distances), and I ran my fastest ever 400m (although it is obviously a hell of a lot easier when you’re only doing one rep rather than 6). I feel like Alan is my lucky charm, and things are now on the up again. He’s going to get a training plan in place, and together with Progress (I had my first appointment with them this morning – I’ll post about that once my calves have recovered!) I’m going to do my utmost to wipe 2016 from the slate (aren’t we all really) and make 2017 my running year.

Wish me luck.

 

 

Guest Post -Girl Running Slowly: Finding my Feet After a Decade

My friend Maria started her wonderful “mysomethingnewblog” in February this year. It basically charts her attempts to try something new every day, and has led her on a brilliant journey of new foods, new activities and new friends. She has also gone on to inspire others to do the same, setting monthly challenges with themes such as culture, creativity and (wait for it…) fitness.

As part of this, she decided to try and pick up running again, and do some “new things” along the way. Here’s how she got on:

“I have wanted to get back into running for years but the barriers seemed overwhelming. I ran on a small scale for a couple of years and did a Race for Life 5k in 2003 but got out of the habit after moving house and away from my jogging buddy. Other than another half-hearted Race for Life in 2010, I haven’t really done any running since.

Suddenly the planets aligned and I found I’d signed up to do the British Heart Foundation MyMarathon – 26.2 miles of running during September at a pace of your choice. What had been stopping me, and what changed?

The Barriers

  • No trainers. I’d bought my existing pair in a rush, and – guess what – they were a rubbish fit. It’s amazing how something like this can put you off. Since over time I’ve developed a couple of niggly pains which I did not want to make worse, I knew I ought to get my gait analysed and choose some trainers properly to avoid falling at the first hurdle.
  • No running partner. I’m not very self-motivated or independent so I’d come to believe this was the only way I’d stick at it.
  • Weight. It’s horrible making yourself exercise in public when you know you need to be two-thirds the size you are. I have also never, ever lost weight through exercise but I always put weight on if I stop, so I was going to have to deal with this issue every time I went out, possibly FOREVER as I love food.
  • Fear of starting something and failing to stick at it – again. This is not a good time in my life to add to a catalogue of failures.

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New Trainers! 

The Perfect Conditions

  • A staycation – time to get organised and get started.
  • The weather and the season. I love the summer but autumn and spring give the opportunity to run in the dark, while it’s not too hot or cold or icy.
  • A decision to treat running as a hobby. No targets, no pressure, no over-thinking, no weight-loss targets – just see what happens and enjoy it for its own sake.
  • Enthusiasm of others, including my amazing host blogger and three separate recommendations for the gait analysis service at Advance Performance.
  • Getting used to going it alone – after the end of a very long relationship, this has been a recurrent theme this year, so if my choice from now on is either do things on my own or don’t do them, I’d better get on with it!
  • The pub. I’ve signed up for a few things this year after going to the pub. Beer brews bravery.

The Method

I vaguely started with the NHS Couch to 5k plan, planning to fast-forward it once I’d got to grips with things, to ensure I got my miles in during the month. I walk A LOT and was confident that I was fitter than I looked and felt, so as long as I was careful about stretching and injury, it seemed possible. I remember when I first began running, I could barely do 20 seconds straight but I never seem to have gone back to that point, even with the run-free years in between and even though I was thinner then. It’s as if your lungs and your subconscious remember how to handle it.

The staycation allowed me to spend ages initially walking miles away from my house to run on a secluded riverbank. I could glow like a giant lobster, experiment with technology and adjust my clothing with only the herons and cows for company. In reality I crossed paths with lots of cyclists and walkers but there’s an automatic bond with anyone out enjoying the countryside – for whatever reason, you want to do your thing in that spot and you have that in common with these strangers, so somehow it doesn’t matter that you are pretending (for now) to be an actual runner.

Another reason to try something like this during time off is that you can adjust your plans more easily. Tell yourself you’re going to run three times this week when there are only three time slots when you COULD run makes your plans very vulnerable at a time when you don’t really know how you’re going to get on. If, like me, you’re prone to giving up on things in a strop, this could be fatal! With a week off, the only firm plan I had to make was the trainer purchasing – beyond that, I just knew that by the end of the week I would have taken some sort of leap forward in my quest.

The Starting Blocks

I felt ill and made of lead during my first run but this turned out to be the dreaded PMS – annoying but it feel good to have got it out of the way at this end of the month rather than having a spanner thrown into the works at the end. My second run was much better and I did a couple of extra minutes with no ill effects. I liked the very subtle shift into being someone who had run a couple of times that week rather than someone who hadn’t run for years.

Apart from my setback (more below), each run was better, longer, faster – I had forgotten how quickly you improve when you start out, and it’s very gratifying.

The Setback

Sadly, after a bit more progress, I had to accept that my shins were increasingly giving me grief, and I stopped for a week. It was a big setback in my mileage but I spent the time researching what I assumed was shin splints, getting my foam roller out, stretching, massaging, resting, and determined not to be gutted. On starting again, I was pleased that one leg seemed MUCH better, but the other was excruciating. I got the ice pack out this time, and the next day spent a very long time massaging my inner right calf, followed by practically a whole day resting in bed with some weird lurgy…and finally on 18 September managed 1.5 miles (in bits) with much less pain, much more enjoyment and actually not that much sweat. Hurrah! It seems very odd that you continue to get fitter while you’re having a break – how does that work? Partly psychological, maybe.

Failure or Success?

I failed to do a marathon in September, but I did half a marathon by 2 October. All of my runs were run/walk combos, and I stubbornly stuck to my initial pledge to only count the running segments, otherwise I would have easily completed it in the time. I walked many marathons during the month so no way can I ask people to sponsor me to walk.

New routes!

But so many little successes! I:

  • Raised some money for BHF. I wonder what the percentage of charitable funds raised comes from unsuccessful ventures? Keep sponsoring your unrealistic pals, people – medical research depends on it!
  • Didn’t give up, even once it was blindingly obvious I was going to fail. I’m very good at giving up. This is why sponsorship helps; I hate letting others down.
  • Got over some of my hang-ups.
  • Rediscovered my enjoyment of running. I’ve enjoyed every single run.
  • Learnt to enjoy running on my own – and got closer to being able to run with other people again.
  • Ran up the hill that is Ely. I don’t think I’ve ever run up a proper hill before.

New Things

My own blog is about my project to do something new each day in 2016 and while running is not new, I’ve discovered that any hobby generates a steady stream of opportunities to try new things, whether tiny or life-changing! (I declare both types to be important in life.)

This month I’ve:

  • Tried running apps – brilliant motivation for that extra award, burst of speed or minute on the clock; annoying when they just stop counting your mileage for no reason
  • Had my gait analysed and had my first go on a running machine
  • Run in new places
  • Got addicted to foam-rolling
  • Used an ice pack
  • Signed up for a new 5k.

Parting Thoughts 

I’m a runner – might never be a very good one, but I am one, and my message to anyone who used to run is that you are still a runner. I’m so happy to have started again and that I’m doing it in my own random way, and that a month has made so much difference to my attitude.

If you’ve always thought of yourself as not being a runner, ask yourself why you think that. Is it worth giving it another go? If you find it boring then what makes it boring to you and how can you change that? I’m lucky – I love being outdoors and walking and I’m happy in most weathers, so running just adds interest to this. I reckon I’d be bored out of my mind on a running machine and I wouldn’t look forward to it but I daresay I could find ways of improving that. And if running just feels wrong, why is that? Are you trying to go to fast? Do you need to try running in the middle of nowhere until you find your feet? And if you think you need company, have more faith in yourself – if I can go it alone, anyone can.

Good luck!”

 

A Bitter Break for the Greater Good

I’ve not blogged for a few weeks. While this is mostly due to a lack of time (I’m hardly the sort who’s lost for words), it’s also due to the fact that now the Kevin Henry 5k series has finished, I’ve decided to make September a race free month.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best runner I can be. This is completely my own doing, and I don’t get pressure from anyone else (I surround myself with lovely, supportive people who do nothing but encourage me). So after the Kevin Henry series I decided to take stock and actually look at what I’d achieved. I had completed my first ever full season for Ely Runners competing in all 6 of the races. I was 1st woman for the club 4 times and 2nd woman twice. As someone who has chronic pre-race nerves, this is a big deal. And to come back from race number 5 (the hill of doom that resulted in a mid-race breakdown) and get a season’s best of 20:41 in race number 6 was something that I’ll forever be proud of.

But I’ve always hated walking away from races. I didn’t do the Greater Cambridge 10k on September 11th, which I was looking forward to since it was the inaugural race with my workplace as race HQ (the set up literally couldn’t have been better for me). I also couldn’t be part of the Ely Runners B team for the Round Norfolk Relay, something I would have loved to have done, especially after hearing about what an amazing experience it was from my clubmates (not to mention the INCREDIBLE medal). Feeling left out sucks, even more so when it’s somewhat out of your control.

So, what’s the reason for this self-enforced hiatus? I have a health problem that has been steadily getting worse over the last couple of months – most likely due to stress – so my body and mind need a break. I have the dreaded IBS, and as any fellow runner who also suffers from this knows, IBS and running are a hideous combo.

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I’ve always suffered from “pre-race nerves”, but this problem has started to appear on my training sessions too. Whenever I reach the 3 or 4 mile mark, my stomach just gives out. I used to be able to control this with tablets, but even these have stopped working like they used to, and I’m now having to plan my routes so that there are places I can stop, or take my bike to any training sessions that are more than a mile from Ely Runners’ base so that I can get back quickly. Not only is this embarrassing (although Twitter tells me that I am by no means alone), but it’s also starting to ruin the thing I love. If stress is causing this, I am stuck in a seriously vicious cycle right now.

But I’m trying to get some control back. I’m keeping a food diary to see if there are triggers (my stomach is cramping as I type – was it the wheat in my pretzel at lunchtime or the dairy in the cheese I had in my salad for dinner?) and I’m looking at some alternative therapies to see if they make a difference. And I think a trip to the doctors is in order – it has become significantly worse in the last 2 months, and there’s no obvious reason why  (although stress can be a sneaky little blighter, hiding beneath the surface).

Apologies if this is a little TMI for some of my readers, but I’ve only ever been completely honest with you. And running and stomach issues have a long and colourful history – the toilet queues at any big race are enough to tell you that! I’m hoping that I might stumble across a resolution for this that others may benefit from, and if you have any advice from your experiences, let me know. And if Immodium are looking for a poster girl, you know where to find me (usually behind a locked door).

shameAll gifs courtesy of Giphy