Improving My Mental Running Fitness

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


Happy, chilly finishers

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

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

Keeping it in the Family

An awesome thing happened today! For the first time ever, I trained with my big sister (National Masters 400m Champion if you will) Stacy. Although I obviously went through my athletics “phase” as a kid (i.e. an opportunity to hang out with my cooler older sister with the odd stumble over a hurdle or belly flop over a high jump bar thrown in), this was the first time we had trained together as fully-fledged grown ups (give or take). I was almost as excited as this girl:

Happy Jumping Athlete
So I turned up at the track today at 1:15pm, and the weather was gorgeous except for the wind that was going to be driving us back on the last 100 metres of each 300 metre lap we’d be doing. We would be doing 6 of these with a 4 minute break in between each one, which meant we had to push ourselves pretty hard but make sure we had enough in the tank to do 6 reps. Pacing myself over shorter sprint-type distances is still something I’m learning, but I like to think I’m improving.

After a fairly lengthy warm up (Alan never approves of rushing this) Stacy and I were set up to do staggered starts with Stacy setting off first and then my following when she hit the halfway mark. I’ve never seen Stacy run so close up before and it was fascinating. As a middle distance runner she’s much bouncier than me as she runs on her toes (as opposed to my mid/heel striking depending on how tired I am) and it made her look really powerful on the track. She also drives back her arms SO far which gives her her extreme power. Just look at the photo in this article for evidence of this.

Now as any regular reader of this blog will know, my self doubt has been a real problem with my running. There must be times when Alan wants to do this to me:

Get Happy

But having Stacy there seemed to change something in me. I tried to explain my thoughts to Alan about this and not sure I was very articulate, but I’ll try and do it here. I think if I’m running with someone who is a similar runner to me, I’ll try and compete with them and run at their pace rather than at mine, burning out too soon and generally having a miserable time of it. But with Stacy, I know that trying to run at her pace is a fool’s errand. She has been at the top of her game for years, and probably has enough titles and medals to build a small house. I’m never going to be able to run at her pace over these distances. So instead I just tried to run at MY best, rather than at someone else’s.

And it worked. Alan expected me to run 300m laps at 58 or 59 seconds, and instead I was coming in at 55 or 56 seconds compared to Stacy’s 51 or 52. What was brilliant was talking to Stacy in between laps, and seeing that even someone at her level finds these sessions tough. We talked about how we both find lap 4 the worst one, knowing that it’s near the end but not quite near enough to push through the pain barrier as we still have 2 more after that to get through. She also told me about “Louis’ Last Lap”, so named after someone she knows who always thinks of the second to last lap as the last one so that he can drive through it and imagine he’s finishing his laps. Because after all, however hard you’ve found the session, you can always get through the last lap. And I got through it by digging deep and coming in a fraction over 54 seconds. Who wants to take anything left in the tank home with them eh?

Listening to the banter between Stacy and Alan all the way through the session kept my spirits high, and having Alan tell me at the end that he thought it was the best I’d ever run was an incredible feeling. He told me I looked like the “real deal”, which has to be one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. I had managed to do all 6 laps without slipping into a mental funk and without losing seconds off my time. I enjoyed the session SO much. There’s just one problem – I’m going to want to keep running with Stacy, so I really hope she doesn’t plan to change her workout routine any time soon! I suppose there’s a risk of her becoming my new dummy(!), but I think she just inspires me to be the best athletic version of myself I can be. Roll on the next session.

Throwing a Wobbly at Wandlebury

Today Alan said “what happens on Wandlebury stays on Wandlebury”, but I feel like you’re all part of my running journey now so I’m going to share what happened today. But good grief, I hardly know where to start. I had an absolute shocker of a training session. I mean I cried. A lot. Isn’t running meant to be fun?

It all started off ok. Alan drove me over to Wandlebury where we met Mary who was fresh from winning her category at the World Masters Championships Half Marathon in Lyon (she finished in a crazy time of 90:49)! I think this now puts her something insane like 4th in the world in her category.

We were set to do 12 sprints up a hill in 3 sets of 4. The recovery during sprints was just a jog down to the beginning, but we had a 5 minute recovery between each of the 3 sets.

The first set of 4 was OK. I was staying ahead of Mary on the final sprint but during the long recovery I realised I’d gone off too fast. AGAIN. Seriously, pigeons learn faster than me. I started to panic about the fact that I had 8 more sprints to go.


5 and 6 were passable, but at the end of sprint 7 I cracked. I just found myself doubled over, gulping for air in-between sobs. I felt utterly embarrassed and don’t know what it was about this session that was having such an extreme effect on me. I’ve struggled physically before but this was epic. Alan gave me a talking to (I can’t really remember what he said) and I took some deep breaths and jogged back down to the start, but sadly the worst was yet to come.

Halfway up lap 8 I buckled, sat down in the dirt and started sobbing AGAIN. I told Mary to go on but she came back, grabbed me by the wrist and hauled me to my feet, forcing me to finish the lap and set 2. It was not dissimilar to a toddler having a tantrum in Tesco before being dragged away by a frustrated adult.


By some miracle I got through the last set of 4 with Mary shouting encouragements over her shoulder. But it hurt and was miserable and I felt like I’d let Alan AND Mary down despite Mary trying to buoy my spirits by telling me it was nice to run against someone so fast. Ridiculously Alan even offered me his arm afterwards, making me wonder who it was who was less than three weeks out from a heart attack. FFS. I then trudged back to the car, my head pounding and generally feeling like I was a bit drunk.

After a super quick turnaround at the Sports Centre I bombed it back to the city centre on my bike to catch up with Theemiddlesis at Novi. This cheered me up no end as I managed to see the funny side (bolstered no doubt by my amazing rhubarb cocktail) of what was essentially a full-on emotional strop, something Ally could fully sympathise with after her (now infamous) ski-based tantrum.

When I got home I realised that I’m still just putting too much pressure on myself. I’ve been running for 5 years and only had serious training for 4 months, whereas Mary has been running for about 30 years and is quite honestly jaw-droppingly good. The fact that I can even come close to keeping up with her is incredible, but I always feel like I’m lacking.

Mary also made an interesting point when we walked back to the car. She said that part of my problem may be that I take my running for granted. What she meant by this was that she has had times where she couldn’t run, including a really rough 4 year period. This means that when she runs she enjoys every minute because she’s just so grateful she can. Although I did mess up my IT band which took me out of running for 8 months it happened when I was nowhere near as serious about my running. It’s a really interesting point and one I’m going to take on board while I try and sort my stupid, crazy head out.


Back on Track with the Coach – Literally

So last Thursday I was planning to drag myself down to the track for my first sprint session since Alan’s heart had done its little “cry for help” and given us all a stark reminder that regardless of how active you are, the fuel you take on board has got to be good too. Despite being in hospital Alan had been regularly texting me tips and training plans in between watching episodes of Emmerdale, so I knew I needed to do 300m sprints. I had brilliantly forgotten my Nike Sportswatch so it was going to be interesting measuring my times anyway, but I admit I was a bit taken aback when I got a text from Alan:

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-17-23-34-13-1.pngAlan then went quiet for an hour, so being the rational person I am (I once thought my mum had died when she didn’t answer the phone when in fact her phone line had gone down), I assumed texting me had taxed Alan so much he’d been carted back off to Papworth to have another stent put in. But then this happened:

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-17-23-35-23-1.pngFor those of you who know Alan, he’s a stubborn as anything, so if he’s decided he wants a coaching session, that’s what’s going to happen. But I have to admit that when I cycled into Wilberforce Road and saw him leaning against a steeplechase barrier, watching Goldie Sayers hurling javelins across the site in her last practice there before flying to Beijing for the IAAF World Championships, a big smile spread across my face. it was like he’d never been away. After a bear hug it was down to business as usual.

Sprinting sessions are never my favourite, as I’m simply not built for short bursts of extreme speeds, and five years of running long distances means my sprinting technique was non-existent before I met Alan. He told me he wanted me to aim for 62-63 seconds per 300m since I was at 65-66 the last time we did this (for context, the women’s record at this distance is 35.30 seconds, set by Ana Guevara in 2003), so it was a reasonable aim over such a short distance. So I did the first one in 56 seconds, leading Alan to say “Blimey girl, what’s got into you?”

While this might sound like a good thing, I knew I had gone off too fast. It’s like I forget I have to do it 7 more times. Sprints 2 and 3 were ok (58 seconds ish), but on sprint 4 (60 seconds) my quads were burning and I was gasping “I’ve lost it!” as I went over the line. Way to keep a positive mental attitude there Thomas.

It was raining so Alan and I spent my recovery under the Pavilion balcony in the dry, and he did that infuriating (but also fair) thing of tapping his head and saying “it’s all up here”. And although there was no denying that my legs hurt, a 4 minute recovery should be more than enough for me. I don’t have to try and beat myself (or anyone else for that matter) on every lap. The whole point of this training is consistency and pacing. Alan also decided that now was the time to tell me that if he collapsed, I had to spray the drug he had in his pocket under his tongue. So it’s a good job he didn’t keel over at the start of the session then.

So somehow, I managed to get a hold of myself. I think it was partly managing to control my head and partly wanting to do Alan proud after everything that had happened over the last fortnight, to show him how much I appreciated his schlepping out to see me 6 days after his operation (not that I had much choice in the matter). I managed to do the last lap exactly how I’d started – in 56 seconds. Boom. Alan told me it was the best I’d ever run, which has got to be one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.

wpid-img_20150813_145212.jpgLook how dementedly pleased I am!

So all in all it was a fantastic session, and as we said goodbye to Goldie and wished her luck in Beijing, I felt like I’d left the last 2 weeks of stress pummeled into the track where it belongs. It felt flipping awesome. And then on Saturday I managed a new 5k PB at the Milton Parkrun:

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-18-11-54-24-1.pngAnd that’s what this is all about. Working hard and seeing the pay off. Come on sub-21.

Two New Running Experiences – A Training Partner and the Girton 5k

So this has been a week of firsts – my first time training with a partner, and my first time running the Girton 5k.

First of all, I’m going to get my excuses out of the way. I’ve just come back from 5 days in Germany for a flipping fantastic wedding, but it was hot. I’m talking seriously hot. As in didn’t get below 35 degrees and was 40 the day we left hot. Add a room on the third floor of a hotel with no air conditioning and you can imagine the sleep quality.

So on Wednesday, when Alan rocked up with Mary Twitchett to makes us do 10 x 100m sprints, I was a little nervous. Mary is without doubt one of the fittest women I’ve met in some time. Whilst I was drinking Prosecco in Wiesbaden, she was doing a half ironman. Just one glance at her athlete profile on Power of 10 was enough to make me start fan-girling a bit. Her 5k PB is 20:14, her 10k PB 42:20, and her half marathon PB is 89:03. That’s some serious stuff.

Mary Twitchett

Mary’s in the middle. Behind that smile is an endurance level set at STEEL.

So we warmed up together and ran the 100m on opposite sides of the path so that Alan could assess our techniques in turn. It started off well – I felt pretty strong, finishing maybe a second ahead of Mary and using my arms really well. After the 4th sprint my legs started feeling wobbly. And that’s when I started declining. Yet again my head took control of my body and I kept thinking about how I couldn’t possibly do 6 more, how Mary was now getting ahead of me and how I was letting her and Alan down by getting tired too quickly.

Here’s something you should know about Mary – her positive mental attitude is incredible. When she saw me flagging she shouted words of encouragement, trying to push me on. I didn’t really manage to step up to the plate, and after sprint number 8 Alan cut the session short because Mary had to get back to work and because I was quite frankly struggling. My tread had become so heavy you could have heard me pounding down the path from a mile off, let alone 100m.

I had mixed emotions after the session. I felt like I worked harder with Mary at my side but that I didn’t quite achieve what I could or perhaps should have done. I got lovely emails from her and Alan afterwards, with Alan saying that Mary and I could really complement each other, with her assisting me with her mental strength and me perhaps making her faster. I just hope he’s right because I really don’t want to be a hindrance to her. I had a long chat with my colleague Matt about it afterwards, telling him that my head always gets in the way, and his advice has led to my buying this:


Alan says it takes 5 years to get the mindset of a serious athlete. Hopefully this might make it happen a bit faster. Naturally I’ll let you know how I get on with it in another post later on. Mary and I are going to train together next Friday, which is exciting and nerve-inducing in equal measure.

So, the day after sprintageddon, I found myself cycling the three miles from work to Girton for the Girton 5k. This event has been running since around 2009, and I just thought it would make a nice change to try a different race. I was sad that my friend Oli couldn’t make it because of work commitments, but my friend (and photographer for the day!) Andrew was happy to snap up his place. Alan was also meant to be running it, but changed his mind at the last minute. Wise considering he had a 3am start the next day for his holiday!

Girton 5k 1The coach knew at least 75% of the people running. Shocker. Such a socialite.

I was a ball of nervous energy before the race. It was around 23 degrees in the sun, and would be the first time I’d run in hot(ter) weather without a bottle of water, plus the sleep deprivation was really kicking in. So I drank lots before the race and annoyed everyone around me with my insane chatter.

The race itself ended up being challenging but fun. The terrain was really varied, with tight turns through gates around the fields. One section was pretty rough underfoot due to the dips where horses or similar had been in the mud and it had then dried, which meant that I found myself running a bit gingerly when I probably should have just gone for it. It was also pretty hard to overtake in sections where the path got really narrow. It has to be said though, that in the summer evening light it was one of the prettiest races I’ve done. Alan also managed to turn up twice on the course to cheer me on which was frankly lovely.

I had no idea what time I finished in, and sat down to enjoy a chat with some fellow runners in the lovely weather, gifting my free half pint to a grateful finisher who wasn’t willing to let it go to waste!

Girton 5k 2

Happy but knackered.

I felt certain that I wouldn’t have achieved a PB, but I hoped I wasn’t too far off. I also spent a lot of time that evening chatting to some members of Ely Runners. When I told her my PB, one girl from the club asked me why I wasn’t part of a club myself and I didn’t really have an answer for her other than worrying about the pressure of running and not being able to meet the expectations of others – in other words, my head was stopping me. Alan then said to me that maybe I should consider it, as he thought I could learn a lot from the Ely Runners I met. Something to think about.

The results came through this morning, and I ended up as 5th woman in 22:08. That’s 40 seconds away from my PB and at first I was disappointed, especially as the 4th woman came in at 21:59. However, when I spoke to Andrew (who came in at a STONKING 18:29), he told me that it wasn’t a PB course, and that he was 35 seconds off his PB. That made me feel a bit better, but did make me think that I could benefit from some more trail running practice.

So overall it’s been a serious week of running experiences that I can learn from. And after some rest this weekend, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next week. And can we please take a moment to appreciate the awesome girl highlighted in this photo, George Schwiening, who finished as first woman in 17:31. Woah.

Girton 5k 3

Awe-inspiring stuff.

Running for Dummies – or should that be “with”?

I had a shocker of a session last week. I should have seen it coming really. I’d had a dreadful road-rage filled commute to work, I was running sans-coach and I seriously procrastinated before leaving the office to tackle the 6 x 800m session on the West Cambridge site. You know when newsreaders shuffle papers at the end of a broadcast while they wait for the cameras to turn off? It was like that. My desk had never looked neater.

But I trudged out there – see the choice of word there people – and surprise surprise it was awful. I had to stop on round three. I was forced to stop on round four when TWO FLIES went in my eye at once. I had to stop on round five and proceeded to kick a fence post. I then thought “no chuffing WAY am I ending the session like this”, so I forced the last 800m and didn’t stop. I didn’t feel good about it though. I felt like I had wasted an entire hour.


The next day I complained about it to one of my colleagues who told me everyone has bad sessions. I do know this, and I know I can’t expect to always feel great, or to always get PBs when I do a Parkrun. But this felt like I was back to square one. I felt weak, a sensation I really, really hate, and one I generally don’t expect from myself unless I’m ill. He then said something else:

“I think you’re a bit hard on yourself.”

Like a sensible person I huffed a bit and stomped off to do my weights session, obviously handling all of this like a grown up PRO whilst continuing to mentally chew the whole thing over. The thing is, I have a habit of being hard on myself. I’ve always felt like I haven’t quite achieved what I could or should have done. And I get frustrated so easily. It’s a lethal combination.

So you can imagine my trepidation when this Tuesday and my next session with Alan rolled around. I had managed to tweak my back slightly on Monday so tackling Wandlebury with its hills and tree roots was out of the question (a reprieve!) so we settled on 200m instead. I thought we’d maybe do it 8 or at a push 12 times, but Alan announced it would be four sets of four off 30 seconds, with 4 minutes rest between each set.

That meant 16 reps of 200m. Oh dear.

ScreamSo I did my usual thing of going off too fast and by the end of the first four I was doubled over, my legs feeling like lead and wanging on about how much I was hating it. Basically I was having a hissy fit.

But Alan has seen all this before, and he watched me have my tantrum with a slight smile on his face before asking me what the problem was. I told him it felt like I was running through treacle.

“I wish I was this fast through treacle. Now shall we forget all this bollocks and carry on?”

And that, in a nutshell of a sentence, is why Alan is the perfect coach for me. If I’d been on my own I would have bailed halfway, but in just a few words he managed to compliment me, make me laugh and snap me out of my bratty mindset. And so I did carry on. I brought my arms up high, kept straight and stopped doubling over (thereby squashing my lungs) at the end of each sprint and instead walked around, taking deep, restorative breaths and sips of water. By the time I finished I felt like I had pushed myself as hard as I possibly could have done, and most importantly, I felt strong again. Plus I reminded myself – I’m not a sprinter, not by any stretch of the imagination, so what I had just achieved was pretty flipping awesome.

And why did it feel like I was running through treacle? Because I was, on average, 4 seconds faster per rep compared to the last time we did this session.

Better Run CelebrationIf I’m pushing myself that bit harder, of course – OF COURSE – it’s going to hurt more. And as I know I’ve said before, if these sessions were easy there would literally be no point to them.

After the session we had a little chat about how even though my running is coming along in leaps and bounds, my ability to control my head still has a seriously long way to go. I’m not sure how I’m going to tackle that just yet (answers in the comments section please!) but in the meantime, at least I’m not dreading next week’s session (even though he parted with his favourite sentence of “you’re not going to like it”).

The only problem now is, if I can’t have a successful session without Alan talking me off the ledge, has he become my new dummy, something I can’t successfully train without?

Harnessing the power of the wind

Can you sing with all the voices of the mountain Can you paint with all the colours of the wind? Can you paint with all the colours of the wind?”

Seriously Pocahontas. Do one.

Pocahontas Vid

I always look like this when it’s windy out

I’ve spent the last two days getting into work on swear power alone as I toss curse words into the relentless, evil, gusting wind that always seems to be blowing me and my bike back up the one and only “hill” in the Fens. It has been flipping horrendous and I’ve hated every second of it. I’ve picked grit out of my eyes and had a massive bee barrel into my chest and have generally been a pink-haired fury.

Cow Vid

Actually, I look far more like this

So when my coach Alan cancelled our 6 x 1200m running session yesterday, I knew the weather must be bad, and to be honest I was grateful for the reprieve. We rescheduled for today as he uttered the immortal words “it’ll be much better tomorrow”. And it was. By maybe 2mph.

So come midday I texted him and asked him if I should do a pyramid session on a treadmill instead. In the past I’ve hated running in the wind, especially if I’m doing loops or track sessions. On a long distance run, I know not to fight the wind when it’s at my head, and to use it to my advantage when it’s behind me, so it feels more manageable. On the track however, every time you hit that part of the lap your stomach sinks as you know how hard it’s going to be. It’s so counter-productive as you start to dread that particular turn.

But Alan came up with a stellar plan. We postponed the 6 x 1200m, and instead he suggested 12 x 200m sprints with the wind behind me, followed by a “recovery” jog into the wind back to the start.


 The enticing view from my office window today

Now sprinting isn’t really my forte, and as the rain splattered my face I can’t say I was thrilled at the prospect of this session. But I trudged out on to the West Cambridge path on my own anyway, and as I waited for Alan to arrive I marked out around a 0.2 mile stretch nicely marked out by the paving slabs. A bit longer than 200m but it worked well.

Oh my giddy aunt it was incredible.

Although the recovery jogs were miserable and so NOT a recovery, the sprints were awesome. I felt so strong as I drove my arms back and my knees up, my chin parallel to the ground and focussing on a point ahead. My pace averaged around a 5:40 mile consistently through the session and I LOVED IT. Can I have the wind behind me on every run please?

So if you’re like me and the wind really puts you off getting out there, don’t let it. Just switch your session to take full advantage of it instead. You can thank me later once you’ve learnt to fly.

As for Alan? He didn’t make it to the session. The wind got the better of him and his bike this time.

What it really means to have a running coach

I’m not really sure how I managed to get myself a running coach. I’ve known (the legendary) Alan Baldock for around 18 months now, ever since he became a member of the Sports Centre where I work. But his history with my family goes way back, as he’s known and trained with my sister Stacy for many, many years (more about her and her awe-inspiring athletic abilities another time). They take the mick out of each other endlessly, and Stacy never lets Alan slack off in her circuits class despite his being in his early 60s. Needless to say he’s taken this as free reign to take the mick out of me from time to time too. I still haven’t forgiven him for nagging me incessantly to sign up for the Ely Sprint Triathlon (my first ever Tri, this September) and when I finally caved he then chose to tell me he was doing it as a relay so he would only be doing the run section.

Alan knew that I was a keen runner, and seeing me on a treadmill one day he noticed that I have a habit of hunching my shoulders when I run. This is something I’ve done for years – I do it when I’m sat at a desk (I’ve literally just lowered them as I type this), when I’m stressed and when I’m cold. It’s a nasty habit for a runner, and he offered to take me on a running session one day (200m sprints – that was interesting for a short-arsed long distance runner) and he’s been my coach ever since. Just like that.


The man, the legend

Now if you’ve ever done a running event in Cambridge, whether it was a casual Parkrun or the Cambridge Half Marathon, chances are Alan would have been volunteering or marshalling, and cheering you on louder than anyone else. I’m beginning to think he might have cloned himself because seriously – he gets everywhere and he knows everyone. Whenever we’re at the track he seems to know everyone who turns up, and recently I was on Cambridge Market Square one early weekday morning when I heard a familiar voice booming around the quiet town centre – of course it was Alan, and of course he was good friends with one of the greengrocers. Despite all of his commitments and the fact that he’s also been helping people with their London Marathon training (cycling alongside them during 17 mile runs), he’s still managed to find time for me.

Last week Alan took me out on a training session – my first since I strained a tendon in my foot running the Cambridge Half Marathon for CoppaFeel! in one of their infamous boob costumes – and we did 10 x 400m runs. Now I’m not used to track running or at pushing myself over those kinds of distances, but it would seem that one thing I am good at is being consistent with my pacing. I managed just about every one at around 90 seconds, and the last one came in at 86 because like Alan says – “there’s no point in taking anything home with you, so you might as well give it everything you’ve got”.


My nemesis

Yesterday, Alan had me doing 6 x 800m with 90 second rests in between. My brilliant mathematical brain heard 6 and immediately thought “great! Less distance than last time!” until I realised it was actually 12 x 400m. Then when Stacy wrote on Facebook “He he he it’s your 800s tomorrow. I’m taking a rest day. Just remember that when you’ve just completed rep 4” I started to get a bit worried. And as I cycled to the track I realised that another thing I had to contend with was the horrendous wind, which would make the first straight of each lap a real killer. Awesome. Three reps in, and Alan told me I’d get a 4 minute rest. “Brilliant!” I thought. “Time for a sit down!” Turns out Alan’s idea of a rest is me in the sit-up position with my legs bent at a right angle so that he could then chuck a 3kg medicine ball at my feet to kick back at him. The noise he made when it nearly landed on my face was pretty amusing though.

The second set of 3 laps was a killer. I managed to keep my times consistent (they varied from 3:10 – 3:12 per lap) but I desperately wanted to push for a sub 3:10 on the final lap only to be destroyed by a huge gust of wind that took the last bit of fight out of me. I have even more respect for my sister now, who has a 2:25 PB on the 800m (I told you she was good).



First post-session Facebook status? “6 x 800m = closest I’ve come to vomming after running.” Staying classy.

The thing with Alan, is that he is giving up his time completely freely and willingly to work with me because he thinks I have real potential, and that is driving me to push myself to be the best I can be.  I would never be able to push myself like this on my own. He’s mentioned sub 20 minute 5km and sub 1:35 half marathon times, and I still have a really, really long way to go, but I can’t thank Alan enough for sharing with me his knowledge and the expertise he’s picked up from my sister and other brilliant coaches in the county. I feel very, very lucky right now. And a bit sore.

Alan’s parting words to me today were “you’re not going to like next week’s session”.

Oh dear lord.