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?

 

 

A Weekend of Firsts – Yoga at Ethos and the Wings for Life World Run

Blimey – last weekend was a bit of a scorcher wasn’t it? Just the ticket for a yoga class on the third floor of a building in the centre of Cambridge with no air con on Saturday and an endurance run at midday on the Sunday. Wait, what?

Yes, that’s how I spent the hottest weekend of the year so far. So let’s start with Ethos shall we? Based in St Andrew’s House right near Drummer Street, Ethos is tucked away in what at first glance looks like little more than an unremarkable building made up of small offices. As you walk up the stairs though (my sister doesn’t do lifts!) you start to feel a hum of activity and our first introduction to Ethos was a couple of people who had clearly worked up a sweat stretching against a wall in the corridor in a way that meant we had to squeeze past them.

Ethos-2

The interior reception area of Ethos

The reason why Stacy and I had rocked up at Ethos was for a free Myofascial Release class courtesy of – you guessed it – Sweaty Betty. They were hosting a takeover of the studios, securing free spaces for their customers in around 20 classes across the weekend. As a “fan” of the foam roller (we have a love/hate relationship), I was intrigued at the idea of a class dedicated to serious muscle massage. After paying £1 to rent a mat each, we both got changed in the curtained off changing area (if you like your privacy this set up may not be for you), left our less valuable belongings on the shelves (ditto if you’re hot on security and like a proper locker) and headed into the class with Ellie and Hannah from SB.

When I saw some class members in very little clothing lying down in awkward positions with bean bags on their eyes, I did wonder what I had gotten myself into. But as soon as our instructor Mark got going I quickly relaxed into the class. And boy did I learn a lot. I got tips on how to better foam roll my calves (sit on your knees and tuck the foam roller under your thighs with it resting on your calves and then lean back as much as you can bear. Inch the roller down and repeat), how to ease my hips (once I had finally jammed my thumb in the right place) and how to use tennis balls to seriously massage my spine. I admit that resting my forehead on a tennis ball at the end felt more than a little weird and left me with a hard to explain mark on my face, but on the whole this was a brilliant class.

If I’m completely honest, I’m not sure if I really gelled with the vibe of Ethos as a whole. I think my personality is generally a bit too highly strung (I like my sports places to have proper changing rooms and showers and can be a bit OCD on hygiene stuff) but it’s clear to me what the main draw of Ethos is – and that’s the instructors. Mark was absolutely brilliant, cracking jokes all through the class and putting everyone at ease, but also showing that he really knew his stuff. He took the time to make sure everyone was getting the most from each move, correcting and advising where necessary. Stacy and I both left the class armed with tips, raving about Mark, and feeling lighter in the legs. Which would bode well for the Wings for Life World Run which I was due to do at midday the following day…….

Official runs make me nervous. Everyone knows this. Running in the heat makes me even MORE nervous. So you can imagine what a mess I was in when I arrived at Parker’s Piece on Sunday morning at around 10:30am, ready to register before the race started at midday. The car had told us it was already 27 degrees, so with 90 minutes to go there was plenty of time for it to get even hotter. I’m really fair, so I had slathered myself in factor 50 ALL OVER (you can never be too sure!) before getting dressed, but as I queued twice (once to sign a disclaimer, again to get my race number) I could feel myself already starting to get a bit too much sun.

After bumping into my friend Jen (another fan of the legend that is Alan Baldock), I quickly lost her again when I went to The Regal pub to pee (much more sensible than joining an enormous queue for the portaloos which are less than pleasant in that heat).  As I started to panic that I would have to face this behemoth of a run on my own, I found Miranda and Ros from Ely Runners sensibly sitting in the shade, and from then on in I stuck to the poor sods like glue. I would like to say now that I owe the pair of them a debt of gratitude, from Ros making me feel ok to be a nervous run pee-er, to the pair of them deciding that I was in fact 12 years old and deploying a running theme of jokes around the subject for the duration of the run. They didn’t even rip into me too much when I walked into a pole. Yup.

Wings For Life 1

All smiles at the start. Thanks to Nigel for the photo! 

As we settled halfway into the crowd waiting at the start line, the nerves began to give way to excitement. The feeling for this race is SO different to say a half marathon, where I always think about my PB and whether or not I’m going to beat it. With this run, you don’t really know how far you’re going to get, and any plans I had (a half marathon would have been lovely) went out the window once the mercury started edging 30 degrees. So it was a case of just start running, and see what happens.

Wings For Life 2

And that’s just what we did. Setting off and weaving through the city, going past the colleges and being cheered on by the frankly awesome folk of Cambridge, we headed up and out towards Girton, hitting Oakington and finally Cottenham. I cannot begin to thank the brilliant people of these villages who handed out sweets, drinks and who hosed us down with water. Oh the blessed relief of those hosepipes. It really was the best thing ever. And the WFL organisers did an absolutely bang up job of making sure the refreshment stations were regular. I grabbed water at every one, and finished the bottle nearly every time, pouring it on my legs (a brilliant tip from Miranda) and gulping huge mouthfuls. Normally if someone was to chuck a load of water at my back I would be somewhat annoyed at them but when Ros did it I could have kissed her. I swear my skin sizzled.

When we got to around the 13k mark, we adopted something of a run/walk strategy, taking maybe 20 – 30 seconds to catch our breath before setting off again (a strategy even the male winner, Steve Way, had to adopt towards the end of his incredible 63.75km run – read his race report, it’s brilliant). The heat really had started to push our resilience by this point, but when we hit Cottenham and saw Miranda and Ros’ other halves it gave us such a boost to keep going, and we made it out of the village and into the next stretch of quiet farmland. Wilburton was never realistically on the cards for us, but when we heard that the catcher car was in the distance, we did our utmost to hit the 11 mile mark, finally making 11.12 (17.89km) before a grinning David Coulthard passed us by, waving as he went.

Wings For Life 3

Helloooooo Cottenham!

Suddenly it was over, and we had something like a 10 minute walk to reach the buses that were waiting every 5k to take runners back to Parker’s Piece. It was such a lovely walk, mooching through the quiet countryside as we reflected on what we’d achieved and chatting to our fellow runners. But then sitting on that bus, waiting for it to leave, was probably the hottest we’d been all day – it was like a sauna with lots of people who had been sweating for a copious amount of time. Imagine that if you’re so inclined. But when it set off and the breeze started coming through the window it was utter bliss.

Back on Parker’s Piece we picked up our frankly awesome goodie bags (containing our medal, a high vis technical tee, microfibre towel, sweatband, pack of nuts and a beer token),  grabbed our beers and headed over to Trumpington Road to meet our ride home (my OH). We couldn’t stop raving about what a brilliant race it had been and mild sunburn aside (only patches on my arm where the factor 50 had been hosed off – worth it!), I think this was the funnest race I’ve ever done. So much so that I’ve already signed up for next year, which is so unlike me.

So if you’re looking for a race with a twist, this is the one for you. 100% of the entry fee goes to spinal cord research and the current early bird price is only £25, which I think is a brilliant price now that I’ve seen just how much effort goes into this run. So what are you waiting for? Go sign up. I’m sure it’ll be cooler next year……