Nailing it and Bricking it – the DIY of Running

First of all, apologies for the slightly low-brow title of this blog, but it just worked too well to ignore don’t you think?

So after the shocker at Wandlebury a couple of weeks ago, Alan and I teamed up this lunchtime along with Mary for a 6 x 400m session. That number of laps is one that I find easy enough to consider in my mind without freaking out, which shows that Alan is getting extremely good at understanding my mental limitations. If he had told me 8 laps I would have started the session feeling a sense of panic and looking much like this:

Panic 1

There was a sense of foreboding over the track when I arrived thanks to an epic black cloud and a general feeling that my mojo was completely AWOL. But it’s extremely hard to be negative when you’re in the company of Alan and Mary, especially when Alan turns up in his neon green Hoohaah hoodie that he earned for doing all three of their 10ks this summer (BHA*).

After our usual long warm up (Alan is NOT a fan of rushing this) Mary and I tackled the laps with a 4 minute rest inbetween on a staggered basis with Mary shooting off first and me following when she hit the 200m mark. Thanks to Alan having an (ahem) senior moment with the tech, I don’t know how quickly I did the first lap but I managed the 2nd one in 79 seconds, and the next two in 78 seconds. I’ve never gone under 80 seconds before, and quite honestly I was gobsmacked. When Alan and I first started training together I was doing 400m in 88/89/90 seconds so to see an obvious improvement is SUCH a lift. I then got a bit of a bollocking when I said I was going to take the next one a bit easier so I could really smash out the 6th. Mary then came out with a slice of gold. Here’s how the conversation went:

Mary: Don’t think about the 6th lap, think about the one you’re doing now. Live in the moment.

Me: Really? Why?

Mary: Because you might die on the 5th one.

Seriously, I’m going to start a little notebook called Mary’s Mantras that I can refer to whenever I feel like I’m struggling with my mental toughness. She’s got a knack for saying the right thing to me at the right time (and I’m finally starting to listen).

I’m not sure what I ended up doing the 5th lap in but the last one was 80 seconds. Whilst it’s frustrating to have not managed that one in under 80 I feel like I truly gave that session everything I had and that my pacing was solid. My legs were absolutely toast, and even if the last one had come in at 85 seconds I still would have been so utterly delighted to have not let my head get the better of me this time. So whilst physically I felt like this:

Falling 1

Mentally I felt like this:

Fist Pump 2

Alan texted me afterwards and said “you’re learning to trust.” Whether me meant trusting him or trusting in my ability I’m not sure. I think probably both.

And now on to part two of the title of this blog post. I have my first ever sprint triathlon on Sunday, and today it properly hit me that it’s nearly here. Yes I cycle to work every day and can smash out a 5k in under 22 minutes, but I’ve never done them straight after the other and I certainly haven’t done a swim before either of them. As you’ll know from a previous post swimming has never been my forte but I suppose it’s a good thing that I get that bit out of the way first. And luckily, serial triathlon and duathlon warrior Mary gave me a few tips today which made me feel slightly more prepared, and my best friend Michelle is letting me borrow her insane tri bike which is equal parts awesome and terrifying.

Obviously I’ll post a blog after the event, but if you’re in Ely early on Sunday morning please come and cheer me on. I’ll be one with her number belt on backwards, wearing one trainer and looking like this:Scared 1*Before Heart Attack

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.