That Time I did 5 Races in 16 Days

I love racing. I’m always SO chill on a start line, taking selfies, having a laugh and generally putting everyone around me at ease. I’m an utter delight to be around.

Are you laughing yet?

I am the absolute worst when it comes to races. I panic, I whinge and I infect everyone around me with a general air of dread. You know – the kind of feeling you get on a long haul flight and the person with questionable hygiene who you spotted eating cheese and onion crisps in the check-in queue heads down the aisle towards the empty seat next to you.

But for some unfathomable reason, I managed to find myself looking at my race calendar and working out that I had managed to somehow schedule 5 races across 16 days. During a heatwave. My days looked like this:

  • 28th June: Girton 5k
  • 1st July: Marcus Gynn 10k
  • 5th July: Ely Runners Mile Handicap
  • 12th July: Kevin Henry 5k League Race
  • 13th July: Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog

You know what it’s like. You see a race in February and you’re like, “ooh, that sounds fun!” So you check you’re free, and if you are you sign up and pop it in your diary. And if you’re an idiot like me, it doesn’t even occur to you to check if there are any races already in your diary, say, the day before…

But anywho, I was signed up and despite the heatwave that made me feel like my brain was expanding out of my ears, (see my thoughts on summer running here) I committed to each and every one of these blinking races. Here’s how I got on.

GIRTON 5k

It was the Girton 5k that first introduced me to Ely Runners so it will always hold a special place in my heart. However, it was really toasty the first time I ran it in 2015 and 3 years later it was no different. I also didn’t learn from my previous experience and forgot to plonk myself at the front of the group, which meant that not only did I get tangled up in runners, I also got tangled up in the race markings when a larger chap in front of me swerved at the last minute and I ended up having a disagreement with a pole and some tape. Elegant. Throw in some narrow paths and runners who stopped dead mid-race due to the heat meant it wasn’t a speedy race, but it is an immensely fun one. I came in at 21:30 and was second in my age category so I was pretty pleased with that one. I’d recommend the Girton 5k to anyone looking for a fun, sociable 5k with some difficulty to it.

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MARCUS GYNN 10k

Now the Marcus Gynn 10k is an important race because it is named in memory of the wonderful Newmarket Jogger Marcus, who sadly passed away on the 11th February 2016. Marcus was a school friend of my husband’s and the original running blogger in my life, so I was damned if 30 degree heat was going to stop me from running for him. Had it been any other race I would have bailed without a second’s thought as I know how badly the heat affects me, but not this one. And it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I stopped at both water stations to properly take on fluid and found myself having to drop to a walk on the final hill but I still crossed the line as 7th woman in a decent time for me of 45:43, maybe 2 minutes over what I could manage on that course if it wasn’t being scorched by Satan himself. Most importantly of all I got to meet Marcus’ beautiful nephew, who was one of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen. This race is a seriously special one, and body willing I will do it every year.

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ELY RUNNERS MILE HANDICAP

Nothing instills fear in the Ely Runners gang like the mile handicap race. We’re all long(er) distance runners and rarely train for speed over such short distances. Pre-race we all cluster together beneath the trees on Amherst Field next to Ely Train Station like a bunch of meerkats under threat, wondering how we’ve managed to make such bad choices in our lives. I was especially irate when I realised I had been given the same handicap (6 minutes dead) as a fellow ER who had been a good 70 seconds faster than me at our 10k handicap back in June. Also, I found myself in the “fast” group for the first time (anyone with a handicap of 6 minutes or less) and this meant that I would be at the back of the group, watching everyone run away from me. As it turns out, I prefer this to being chased. If I know that statistically I should be at the back of the group then I won’t panic. If I know that statistically I should be at the front of the group and I falter, that’s guaranteed to make my mental strength wobble. I ended up managing 6:04, so although I missed my handicap, it was 1 second faster than last year. I’ll take it!

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KEVIN HENRY 5K LEAGUE RACE

Despite the nerves they produce, the Kevin Henry league races are my favourites. I’m much happier running in the evening than the morning, and the support from my teammates at these runs is incredible. Everyone is so pleased when you show up, as EVERY runner wins a point for their club, just by being there. It really is a race for everyone. I had planned to pace one of our juniors during this run, but 5 minutes before the start I found out she was ill and I found myself having to run my own race, which I really wasn’t prepared for. However, something magical happened that evening and I managed to beat my 2 year old 5k PB by one second, coming in in 20:18 (20:16 if Strava is to be believed)! It was just one of those runs where everything came together – the course is flat, the weather was good and I managed to settle in to my pace. Don’t get me wrong – it flipping HURT – but after thinking that 20:19 was the best I was ever going to achieve, there were some tears when my time was finally confirmed. Now I have decided that I’m going to try and push for a sub-20. I know it may not happen, and if it does it won’t be easy, but this run has set a fire in my belly and made me want to see if what I thought was impossible could in fact be a reality.

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WIBBLY WOBBLY LOG JOG

I’m not ashamed to say that the name of this race is the reason I first signed up to it in 2016.  I mean, how could you not? The first year I did it I LOVED it. It was my first proper trail run and the novelty of it meant I was so busy taking it all in that speed was secondary. The second year I did it on EXHAUSTED legs and tried to run it hard. I hated it so much that I was swearing at squirrels and trees. So I was slightly reticent turning up to this year’s run the day after my 5k PB race. And to be honest, it really was hard, and I was so incredibly tired by the time we hit the last mile. But Pete and Rob, my fellow Ely Runners, dragged me to the finish, and I managed my fastest time there by 5 seconds in 38:49. It also produced one of my favourite ever Ely Runners group photos.

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All in all, I am so, so proud of what I achieved in these 16 days. A 5k and 1 mile PB, and course PBs both at Girton and the WWLJ. Plus I got to run for Marcus, which is something I hope to do every year. I’m not sure I would recommend squeezing in so many races in such a short space of time, but who wants to bet I sign up to all of these again next year? Just please, PLEASE let it be cooler in the summer of 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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:

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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.