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.

A Tale of Two Hilly Races

I know I need to do more races. The reason I get so het up on a start line is because I just don’t put myself in that position enough. Every race suddenly becomes this massive deal and I find that in the days leading up to it my sleep is disturbed and my temper easily frayed.

So to have two races in one week is not like me at all. Without realising it I had signed up to the Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog (purely because of the megalolz name, obviously) which ended up being the day after the penultimate Kevin Henry League race of the season, hosted by Haverhill Running Club.

Now the Haverhill KHL race is notorious because of the “f*cking great hill” (not my words, but the words of quite a few people I had spoken to about the run) that you have to run up for the first half of the race, before thankfully coming back down again. So I was feeling a wee bit nervous on the 45 minute drive from Cambridge, but I’d been working really hard on trying to keep those nerves in check, and so my distraction technique at the start of the race was mainly to make friends with every dog I found. I thought I was doing quite well for me, even though my usual stress symptoms were making themselves known, and I started the race in a reasonable frame of mind.

But boy oh boy it didn’t take long for the wheels to fall off. The first 2k or so were hard going, but I felt ok. It was when I got to what I thought was the top of the hill that I started to struggle. I’d been told that you had a 1km flat before the final 2km headed downhill but this wasn’t the case at all. The middle 1km was actually a slow steady incline before it dropped down, something I hadn’t mentally prepared for. I then found myself overtaken by 3 other female runners and that’s when the wheels really came off. My mental strength gave up entirely and I stopped to walk, something I’ve not done since I was injured back in May. And once I did that, I was simply unable to recover. I could not in any way get my racing head back on and I just wanted to sit on the grass on the side of the road and quit. By stopping to walk I felt like I’d let myself and my entire team down, and when other runners said to me “come on, you can do it!” I felt mortified, fighting the urge to shout – “I know I can, I just can’t bloody well do it today!”as I ran/walked to the finish line.

img_20160805_081841.jpg

Pain

I was crying as I crossed that finish line, the lovely marshals asking me if I was ok as I just sobbed about being disappointed before walking across the field to sit on my own. I’m blushing now just thinking about it. And that’s what bothered me more as I sit here and write about it. I should be beyond tantrums by now. I should be beyond walking three times in a race too. My time was 21:48 (at least 30 seconds off where I really should be for a race with such a tricky terrain) which put me as 17th woman (out of 111), and realistically even if I hadn’t walked I would have only come 2 or 3 places higher. I’m just so frustrated with how I dealt with a difficult race. Instead of gritting my teeth and fighting through, I mentally gave up.

My fellow runners were so lovely, and as Alan came to give me a cuddle, through my tears I said “I’m sorry for being a twat” to which he responded, “It’s ok, I like twats. Put this behind you and let’s move on.” I can always rely on my racing family to make me laugh (particularly through the use of Carry-On style innuendos on the car ride home).

So I have to say that on Friday morning the thought of another race just a few hours later did not fill me with glee. In fact I felt awful, my stomach wrecked due to the stress of the previous day, manifesting itself in some serious nausea that left me unable to really eat. It wasn’t until some fresh air on the bike ride home and a 20 minute power nap that I finally felt human and decided that sod it – I would do the Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog, and I would just treat it as a bit of fun. I was going to get right back on that horse.

On the drive to the High Lodge Forest Centre with fellow Ely Runners Lee and Andy I was feeling wary but determined to do the run. I knew my body was dehydrated and not fuelled as well as I would have liked, but I was going to just enjoy it. There was no pressure, no points riding on me, and Andy and I made a pact to run together, so I knew there would be someone there to mentally pull me along when I started flagging. I shoved some biscuits in my mouth, covered myself in bug spray, tied my chip to my laces, undid my laces when I realised I’d done it wrong, and joined the throng at the start line.

And oh my giddy aunt it was one of the best runs I’ve ever done. I loved (nearly) every second of it. The course twisted and turned (hence Wibbly Wobbly!) so much that I didn’t have time to think about whether or not it hurt. Dodging tree roots, trying to keep my ankles strong as they threatened to turn on a rogue stump and clambering up short but steep inclines I had an absolute blast. The marshals were also some of the best I’ve ever come across on a run, whooping and cheering at every turn. Andy and I worked as a tag team, overtaking runners when the opportunity arose (not often as the course is narrow, so you have to really grab your chances) and  checking in with each other over the five miles.

As I sprinted across the finish line – taking out one last runner in the process – I remembered why I love running – because those moments when you have a great run far outweigh those bloody awful ones. Even the fact I didn’t get a medal couldn’t take the shine off. Ok maybe it did a little bit. I flipping love a medal. Sad face.

Over the weekend I had time to digest what had happened on Thursday. Not only was it a tough course, I’d had a week of bad sleep and it soon became clear that hormones (“that ole performance killer” as my sister calls them) had clearly played their part too (although as a female athlete I need to learn to cope with the effects of them better). I also chatted to the running community on Twitter and got the most heartwarming couple of tweets from TrueStart Coffee that meant more than they probably realised:

TrueStart

The fact is, despite walking three times I still managed a sub 22 minute 5k on a tough course. But even more importantly, I shoved it to the back of my mind and raced the very next day, and found a new race that I loved and can’t wait to do next year. All in all, I call that a win.