Learning to Love the Track

Ok, so last week’s blog post was a little bit “woe is me, this running malarkey is so hard!” First world problems right? But sometimes it is cathartic to get your thoughts out there and have people empathise with you and discuss how track running is a much greater mental challenge than trail or road running. I’m glad it’s not just me. Getting your pacing right over different distances takes practice and patience. Those who know me well know the latter is a really strong point of mine. Ahem.

But last night, something seemed to click in my mind. I knew I was meeting Alan for a session today and I wrote on Twitter “I’m actually looking forward to my track session tomorrow. Do you think this means the coach has finally taken full control of my brain?” I don’t know what the difference was (if only it were that simple), but I was relishing the challenge and being far more pragmatic about it. I can only ever do my best, and if a session is tough a) it would be pointless if it were easy and b) there will be many more sessions if for whatever reason this one doesn’t go to plan. Even the wind today didn’t break my spirit. It just wobbled it ever so slightly…

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For a little while I thought I might be facing the 4 x 1 mile session myself, but after doing my warm up a voice boomed across the track and there was Alan on his delivery bike (he’s working for the University Exams Syndicate at the moment). Although I was preparing to take on the session alone (I know he can’t always control his working schedule), I know that I’m not going to be as tough on myself as Alan will be so I was pretty pleased to see him.

It was going to be a challenge – only a minute rest between the first two miles, followed by a 6 minute “rest” (Alan’s rests aren’t exactly known for being relaxing) where I’d do 9 goblet squats with a 20KG KETTLEBELL and then the next two miles with only a 30 second rest in between.

Can I just take a moment to mention that I’m 53kg? Ok, carry on.

Clueless Bugging

As per usual I went off too fast, completing the first mile in 6:36. Not a mile PB, but I wanted to do each one anywhere from 6:30 – 7:00 minutes, while Alan was just after sub 7:00 for each one. At least we were on the same page. The second one came out as 6:43, and then after 6 minutes and the evil squats, I was back out there. I then did a 6:46, and finished on a 6:54, which I was a bit disappointed with, but I slightly blame the fly that decided to take a swim in my eye, and the wind had started to take its toll a little.

The most important thing of this session is the fact that I enjoyed it. Not the physical process which was tough and demanding, but the fact that I took control of the situation, kept my head up and used my arms better than I have done before. Alan said “you’re not doing much wrong Lauren.” RESULT.

Happy Tina Fey

It felt great, and I hope the track won’t hold quite as much fear now, although I’m aware there will be plenty of tough sessions ahead. I did my usual barefoot lap afterwards (apparently it massages the feet Maria!) and as I put my trainers back on, I got a ticking off and a 5 push-up punishment for not undoing the laces and crushing the backs of the heels. And it was all going so well………

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My Running Heroes

So after watching Paula Radcliffe run her final London Marathon last month (in a frankly ridiculous time after her foot surgery three years ago that had her in a mobility scooter worrying that she would never run again) I’ve been thinking about the people who inspire me in my running. It’s not easy for me to whittle it down to just five at this point in time, but that seems like a sensible number so let’s go with it for now.

PAULA RADCLIFFE

Since Paula is the inspiration behind this blog post it’s only right that I start with her. Chances are you know as much about Paula as I do, but the thing I love about her is that when you hear her in interviews she seems like the most unassuming, sweet, quiet person you could ever meet, but underneath it all this woman is pure steel and a running legend. How else could she do her London Marathon swansong amongst the muggles (deciding not to run with the “elite” athletes) at age 41 in 2:36:55, finishing in a time that was just 5 minutes slower than the leading British female runner Sonia Samuels? And she called herself “unprepared”. What an absolute machine.

Amazing PaulaPaula won the London Marathon in 2002, 2003 and 2005, and her 2003 winning time of 2:15:25 remains the world record. The 2015 winner, Tigist Tufa, finished in 2:23:22, 8 minutes off Paula’s record time. So 12 years later, and people still aren’t coming close to beating her. Astounding.

KATHRINE SWITZER

Now if you haven’t heard of the awesome Kathrine Switzer, I’m here to educate you on her brilliance, namely her being the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered runner in 1967, 5 years before women were officially allowed to run it. What a badass.

To press the importance of this on you, did you know that as recently as the 1960s, it was claimed that women couldn’t run a distance of 26.2 miles because their uterus might fall out and their (gasp!) legs might get big? Anything over 800m was considered de-feminising, and this gives you an idea of the kind of crap women like Kathrine had to put up with. The women’s marathon didn’t even become part of the Olympic games until 1984, (the men’s featured in the first Olympic games in 1896).

For the 1967 Boston Marathon, the rulebook didn’t state “no women”; it was just assumed that no woman would want to run it. So she signed up as K.V. Switzer, and ran as number 261. As she was running, her “ruse” (if it can even be called that) was discovered, and race official Jock Semple tried to drag her off the course, allegedly shouting “get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!” Her boyfriend, Tom Miller, who was running with her, shoved Semple aside and sent him flying, allowing her to proceed. You can read her full account of the event here.

Switzer Warrior 1  Switzer Warrior 2

Kathrine went on to finish the race in 4:20 (her PB is 2:51:37), and spent the next five years alongside other runners convincing the Boston Athletic Association to allow women to participate in the marathon, succeeding in 1972. Most surprisingly, Semple (the angry bald fella in the dark clothing in the photos) had a change of heart, and was instrumental in this formal admission of female runners.

Kathrine published a book called Marathon Woman which went on to win the Billie Award for journalism for its inspiring portrayal of women in sports. She was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011 for creating a social revolution by empowering women around the world through running.

JO PAVEY

In my opinion, Jo is quite frankly the Queen of showing the kids how it’s done. After 26 years on the track and being an excellent athlete who never quite managed to get to the top of her game on an international stage (although with a hefty national medal haul under her belt), she is now bringing home Gold medals in her early forties, beating women who are literally half her age, at a time when plenty of other women would be winding down their exercise regime as their lives – and indeed their bodies – change.

Jo Pavey

In 2014, Jo unexpectedly (her words, not mine) won Gold in the 10,000m at the European championships, making her the oldest female European champion in history at the age of 40 years and 325 days. Writing for Runner’s World UK, she said “I now find myself looking ahead to 2015 with no thoughts of retirement. It’s pleasing, as I’m enjoying running and there are still things I would like to achieve.” And this is Jo in a nutshell. Humble but determined, knowing that there is a lot of hard work ahead of her but completely prepared for the challenge.  This is why I (and many others) voted for her in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. I never usually vote for things like that, but she inspired me into picking up the phone for her, and I was so delighted when she came third.

Plus I should add that she’s also a bit of a sugar junkie like me. Not something to be proud of (I’m working on reducing my intake!) but good to know I have something in common with her. Haribo anyone?

MO FARAH

Now I’m not going to waste your time or mine telling you about Mo’s amazing London 2012 Olympic successes as part of Super Saturday. That isn’t the reason Mo is on my list. The reason he’s here is because rather than resting on his laurels and saying “yup, I’m the best at the 5,000m and the 10,000, that’ll do” he instead went “NO! I WANT MORE!”. He’s basically the Veruca Salt of running.

Veruca Salt

So even though he had his naysayers who thought he should stick to what he knows best, Mo decided to focus more on half marathon and marathon distances. Along comes 2014 and in April he finished the London Marathon in eighth place in a time of 2:08.21, setting a new English national record, and then in August he successfully defended his 5,000m title and won a gold in the 10,000m in Zürich at the 2014 European Athletics Championships. Just another major championship double then. Then to cap it all off, in September he won the Great North Run in a personal best time of 1:00:00, exactly. What. A. Legend. I’ll even forgive him those Quorn ads because I like him and actually, I rather like Quorn too. Plus he has the best winning face ever. Fact.

Mo Farah Wins

STACY McGIVERN (AKA MY BIG SISTER)

First of all, she’s going to kill me for this, but I provide her with cake so I reckon I can placate her with a hefty wedge of tiffin.

Stacy has been an athlete roughly since the age of 14 or so. I remember when I used to accompany her on Sunday evenings to Comberton Village College Sports Hall to train with George Hibberd, and I would have a bash at the hurdles whilst Stace would nail the high jump on the other side of the hall. She was always willing to have her annoying little sister tag along (basically I wanted to hang out with her and this was the best way despite the fact that I was utterly useless) whilst she did her serious training, becoming an expert across so many disciplines (Triple Jump being her speciality). Her medal haul is ridiculous, and now as a (cough) veteran woman, she is still at the top of her game. This is exhibited by her result in the Cambs County Championships on Saturday afternoon, where after joking that she would at least get a medal as there were only 3 athletes in her 400m race, she went on to beast her opponents, finishing in 61.97 (which was only 2.3 seconds behind the 18 year old won her race).

Stacy Power

If you Google Stacy’s name or check her out on the Power of 10 website, you’ll get an idea of how much she’s won over the years (and how many times they’ve spelt her name wrong – there’s no “e” FYI). Last year, she also won the Peterborough Athletic Club Senior Woman award for Field. And on a personal level, having tried 400m and 800m distances myself recently, my respect for Stacy has gone through the roof, because those distances are tough. I just wish I’d done a better job of supporting her in the past, but hopefully I can make up for it now, even if she did say “Oh for God’s sake!” when she saw me turn up to watch her this weekend. I’m going to assume it was a pleasant surprise.

Stacy is one of the most modest athletes you’ll ever meet, and she probably has no idea how much she inspires me (more so than the other four athletes on this list), but I hope I can continue to improve and to share those experiences with her, as we talk about our races, most likely over cake.

MISSING: One Positive Mental Attitude

If I’m honest, I went into today’s session nervous. 6 x 1200m on a 400m track is a lot, and I struggle with the monotony of short laps. Plus I’m still getting used to pacing myself over shorter distances.

And therein lies the problem.

Rather than going into the session aggressively, I started off my first set wondering how on earth I was going to manage to do this six times. And then I got it completely wrong, went off too fast (finishing in 4:45) and after the second set my legs felt like everything had gone out of them and I was close to tears.

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Urgh

Now I know what you’re thinking – either it’s “aren’t you meant to be doing this for fun?” or it’s “WUSS!” But it is fun, and I do love it. Plus if it was easy, then quite honestly what would be the point? But I’m still learning. I’m learning how to pace myself, what my limits are and what I’m capable of. And at this stage, it’s not 6 x 1200m. It’s 4 x 1200m.

But Alan being Alan decided that if we were only doing 4 sets, I was only going to get a 20 second rest between sets 3 and 4. Now I know Alan tells me I recover quickly, but that was a shocker. But I remembered Alan’s infamous phrase about how there’s “no point taking anything home with you”, so I dug deep and did the last set bang on 5 minutes (which for future reference is how I needed to do every set).

Alan wasn’t going to let me leave without a pep talk, and he reminded me that we’ve only been working together for 6 weeks, and this is the first time I’ve ever tried to pace myself over 1200m. He said we got the set wrong, but this is all trial and error. And I know that without him I wouldn’t have attempted this session, and if by some miracle I had, I would have quit after the first set like my head was screaming at me to. Quite frankly, I would have bailed, and I would feel a lot worse about that than I do about struggling with the session. According to him, running is 80% in the mind, 20% in the legs. He’s right. Of course he is.

So after I did my customary barefoot lap around the track like he always makes me do after a session, he told me he wants a 21:5-something Parkrun out of me this Saturday or I have to give him a Mars Bar. He also told me not to run with any water as I’m treating it like a baby treats its dummy (harsh). I get a dry mouth quickly on a run, but it is a comfort blanket and I know it makes me run unevenly. I shouldn’t need water on a 20 minute run if I hydrate myself sufficiently beforehand. As per usual Alan is right (I’m sensing a pattern here), but I’m a little bit nervous…..

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Barefoot laps. They’re the future.

My super sporting Saturday

You know when you find yourself looking forward to the weekend but then remember that you’ve committed to about a gajillion things and you’re actually going to be working harder in 24 hours than you have done at actual work all week?

That.

Now don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t coerced into any of this stuff and it was all so much fun. There was just a LOT of it.

So to kick start Saturday morning I decided it was time to tackle the Parkrun again, three weeks after my 22:40 attempt. As ever, I went with my running buddy Pete, and when he arrived to pick me up it has to be said he looked about as sprightly as I felt (having celebrated my best friend’s birthday the night before), so I can’t say that I had particularly high hopes for either of us.

Yawn

Yawn

But as we turned into Milton Country Park and Pete’s American Anthems CD started playing Eye of the Tiger (yes, really!) we both perked up a bit, gave our thanks for the good conditions, and set off, with me deciding to be a bit ballsy and start near the front as per the coach’s advice.

It’s hard to explain how I felt during this particular 5km. It was pretty up and down, with my getting frustrated when stuck behind two older guys, elated when I overtook a woman at the 4km mark who had overtaken me at the 2km mark, and experiencing sheer dismay when a girl no higher than my hip overtook me about 800m from the end (seriously – she was a little powerhouse)! About halfway round I had turned my sportswatch off as it seemed to be all over the place and was really putting me off my game. To quote Alan I felt like I was running with the watch rather than my heart, but this did mean that when I crossed the finish line I had no idea how I had done. I felt a weird mixture of exhausted and strong, which I hoped meant I had pushed myself as hard as possible. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had managed to come in 83rd, an improvement on 112th from the last time (and meant I had achieved my goal to finish in the top 100), but it was a meaningless statistic without knowing the calibre of the runners around me. So I grabbed a kale, spinach and mango smoothie from the brilliant Milton Country Park cafe and Pete and I headed home.

Now I am massively impatient, so thank goodness the awesome Cambridge Parkrun had the results up by midday:

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Words cannot describe how happy I was with this time. It was 35 seconds quicker than last time, and placed me as 9th woman! Chatting to some fellow runners at the end, the overriding opinion is that you can probably knock off something like 30 seconds from a grass race to get an idea of how fast you could cover the same distance on tarmac. All I know is that I am seriously closing in on that sub-22 minute time, and I was completely thrilled. A huge thank you to all of the brilliant Parkrun volunteers again. I’m going to enjoy basking in my new PB before Alan sets me my next challenge.

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Parkrun PB! Whoop!

So after a quick lunch with my best friend at the legendary Peacocks Tearoom, I shot back into Cambridge, this time for the Cambridge vs. Oxford Athletics Varsity Match at Wilberforce Road. Now I love watching athletics (I enjoyed a bit of the Yokohama leg of the World Triathlon Series on TV this afternoon – what a finish in the men’s race!) and I know that Cambridge had an amazing team this year, particularly with its female athletes. It was a gorgeous day for it, and as I bench pressed my niece and watched her roll down the hill perilously close to the track (my sister naturally came to watch the action too), I got to see the men’s 400m, a bit of pole vault and the men’s and women’s 1500m. The atmosphere at an event like this, when so many people come together to unite in their passion for athletics, is just incredible. Brilliantly, Cambridge won the Varsity 4-0, and no doubt the athletes celebrated into the night. What Boat Race?!

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At 3:30pm I headed over to Churchill College for my 2 hour writing class, and after that I got picked up by my friends Tamsin, Elaine and Naomi, and we shot over to Shelford Rugby Club to join our friends Lucy, Emma and Sue for the Arthur Rank Hospice 10 mile Star Shine Stroll.

For those of you that don’t know, the Arthur Rank Hospice is an amazing local Cambridgeshire charity that provides life enhancing care to patients, as well as their family, friends and carers who are faced with the challenges presented by a life limiting illness. They arrange a lot of sporting events in Cambridge during the year, including the Bridge the Gap walk and the Ely Festive 5k (the only 5k I’ve ever won)! So with 394 other walkers, we left at 7pm to walk into Cambridge and back again.

Lucy, Elaine and I managed to be the first walkers back (although that last mile was hard work as our stride became shorter and our muscles got tighter!) in 2:20, and Naomi, Tamsin, Emma and Sue came in just a few minutes later. As we all sat down with a hard-earned hot drink, I found myself looking at the rotation of photos on the big screen in the Rugby Club, showing people who had been cared for by the Arthur Rank Hospice. It was a reminder of why we had all spent our Saturday evening trekking through Cambridge rather than singing karaoke at Tamsin’s House – it was because of the brilliant work the Hospice does to make a really difficult time in people’s lives a little bit easier.

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See? I’m not the only one who loves crazy sportsgear

I also have to say a huge thank you to everyone who sponsored us. You can still do so here, and even a £1 would make a big difference to this small but hugely important charity.

So after clocking up 31000 steps in total on Saturday and spending today falling asleep at random intervals, it goes without saying that I’m looking forward to a quiet one next weekend. Except for maybe another Parkrun………..

What I wish I knew when I started running

So this weekend I went to Germany for 24 hours to surprise one of my best friends for her Hen Party. It was an insane whistle-stop tour taking in Frankfurt, Viernheim and Mainz, and for anyone who knows me, this is a big deal, because I hate to fly. I mean REALLY hate to fly. And I hate to fly with a certain Irish airline most of all. I’m only a little bit ashamed to admit that there were tears during take off on the way out. They may have been exacerbated by the glass of champagne I had at the airport to “calm my nerves”.

Now I’m sure you’re all wondering “what’s this got to do with running? Are you going all travel blog on me?” No, wait – hear me out. It was the Mainz marathon this weekend…..

But that’s got nothing to do with it either. That was just a coincidence. Are you crazy? I don’t do marathons (yet).

No, the inspiration for this blog post comes from a fellow-passenger on the flight home, aka THE WORLD’S MOST CHATTY SLASH SOCIALLY INEPT MAN.

Bless his heart. There’s a possibility he was trying to distract me from my fear of flying, but after he told me how he’d “graffiti-ed the toilet” when he took a mid-flight comfort break (better core strength might have prevented that), I think he was just severely lacking in “social barriers”.

Edina Vid

Core strength is a runner’s friend

I mean at one point I turned my back to him and held my magazine right up to my face and he still kept on chatting. And I take after my dad – I’ll generally chat to everyone rather than offend them in any way, but I was seriously at the end of my tether when he asked me how I had found the pound versus the euro and then proceeded to complain about his onset of manboobs (his words, not mine).

And here’s the point of this blog post – we somehow got on to he subject of running and he started to ask my advice, which made me think I should share the three things I wish I’d known when I started running.

1. Breathing is EVERYTHING

When I first started running my breathing was all over the place. I would do anything just to get breath into my lungs, taking great erratic gulps until I got a stitch in my stomach that felt like it would split me in half and force me to stop. Then I got my hands on The Complete Book of Running for Women by Claire Kowalchik, and it changed everything. Even though the book was published in 1999, everything it says (with the exception of tape players – keep up kids – and the lack of fitness/tracking gadgets) is still completely relevant.

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Awesome shorts optional

The section on “rhythmic breathing” is what did it for me. This is where you coordinate your breathing with your stride in a 3:2 ratio (or 2:1 for faster runs), so this means you inhale for 3 steps and exhale for 2. The thinking behind this is that you hit the ground with the greatest force at the beginning of the exhalation, so by making sure this happens on alternate legs each time means the stress on your body is spread out, rather than only happening on one side, which is what is going to give you a stitch. It takes a little while to get used to it but I guarantee that in a couple of weeks it’ll be second nature, and you’ll never look back. Plus I know from my own experience that during long races, when I start “hitting the wall”, I simply forget about the pain I’m feeling and focus on my breathing. That soon gets me back on track.

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Order this immediately

2. Get Your Gait Analysed

This is one of the things “socially awkward man” asked me on the plane. Is getting your “feet looked at” worth it? My answer to this is always YES. For a long time I wore Asics as they had always been my preferred trainers mainly due to my liking the way they looked (vacuous, moi?). However they tend to be pretty narrow in the mid-section, and I found that on longer runs my feet were obviously swelling and had no room to fully expand. Then after I did my IT band in (more on that another time), I was advised to get my gait analysed. This involves running on a treadmill and watching the footage back in slow motion to see how you land on your foot, and whether you’re a neutral runner of whether you under or over-pronate and therefore need trainers that will correct this.

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Not my legs. Someone else’s legs

If I’m honest I thought it was just a way for shops to sell you the most expensive pair of trainers on the shelf, but I figured I had nothing to lose so I gave it a go, and I’ve been a Brooks Adrenaline GTS girl ever since. And guess what? No more IT band issues (and they helpfully look AWESOME too). Plus you’re spoilt for choice in Cambridge with Hobbs Sports, Up & Running and Advance Performance all offering Gait Analysis (although when you go you should be intending to buy your trainers from them rather than just exploiting their service)! Just be prepared for the fact that you may catch a glimpse of your bum in slow motion. Rarely flattering.

3. Make the Foam Roller Your Best Friend

Ever since I did my IT band in, I’ve foam rolled it regularly to prevent it from getting too tight. However, I neglected the rest of my legs and when I strained a tendon and ligament in my foot after the Cambridge Half Marathon, my screamingly tight calves suggested that I needed to step up my foam rolling game, sharpish. So now I foam roll all of the muscles in each leg for 10-15 minutes every day, usually whilst watching cat videos on my tablet (don’t judge me).

Foam rolling is much like a sports massage, and every time you hit a sore spot you just have to toughen up and keep your weight on it for 30-60 seconds until you feel it easing up. There are loads of online tutorials for foam rolling specific muscles, and it’s a fairly inexpensive bit of kit, but trust me – it’s one of the best habits you could possibly get in to. I cannot recommend it enough.

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Awesome leggings optional

So there you go – my list of must-dos for those new to running. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my time but hopefully with this blog post I can stop one or two other newbies from making the same ones.

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.

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 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.

Flow and Glow at Sweaty Betty Cambridge

“All that really matters is the moment you’re in right now.”

When I heard yoga instructor Rachael Moore say that at the start of the Flow and Glow class I attended at the Cambridge Sweaty Betty store on Trinity Street this morning, I knew I was going to like her style of teaching.

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I didn’t quite look like this

For those of you who don’t know about the mighty Sweaty Betty, it’s a women’s activewear brand that was founded in 1998 by Tamara and Simon Hill-Norton, with the aim to “inspire women to find empowerment through fitness”. Now that’s a brand message that I can get on board with – take note Protein World. I’m a workout clothes junkie, but I go back to Sweaty Betty time and time again, stocking up on their longline athlete vests and swooning over their fabulous fabrics and flattering cuts. I would hazard a guess that 50% of my workout wardrobe carries the distinctive SB logo.

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Such a lovely location for a class

Now I know that SB is a higher-end activewear brand and that not everyone can afford to spend what I can on fitness gear (although their sales are always excellent), but the thing I love about Sweaty Betty more than anything else is the community they’ve created. They have developed a legion of dedicated followers not only because they sell lovely, fashionable fitness gear (something that was a rarity back in 1998) but also because they understand their customers and provide them with so much more than slightly pricier-than-average leggings. One brilliant example of this is their “Get Fit 4 Free” campaign.

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Those butterfly leggings. Those.

Every week SB holds over 70 classes in their boutiques around the world. In Cambridge alone they have weekly yoga and Pilates classes and a running club. In addition to this they have special events with guest instructors or their Sweaty Betty ambassadors, such as this morning’s Flow Glow yoga class. Earlier this year they launched Fly, Flex, Flow, an hour long class with their ambassador Jo Hopkins, an insane mix of 20 minutes of intense cardio (sprints, star jumps and skipping – fly) on the market square, 20 minutes of weights work back in the store (flex) followed by 20 minutes of yoga (flow). I thought it was complete and utter crazy genius and I loved it. And the best thing of all? These classes are all completely free. Did you get that? FREE. To me, any company that does that is pure awesomeness bottled.

So when I heard that they were doing a Bank Holiday Monday one-off Flow and Glow yoga class I signed up immediately (this can be done on their website if you have a SB account). The promise of a free raspberry, orange, purple kale and vanilla smoothie from the newly established Espresso Library also helped! As soon as Rachael started the “twisting-based” class I knew I would be challenged to push myself, and this was proven by a selection of chest-opening twists and one-legged balances. The good thing is, Rachael took the time to give helpful adjustments and also to give a range of options to suit different flexibility levels. As for one of the last poses where she somehow managed to make us untwist our legs and twist them the other way round in one quick turn – that was pure sorcery! It was a fantastic class, and I wish I could start every Monday like that.

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So flipping tasty.

So if you fancy trying one of SB’s classes, take a look at the availability here. In my experience the women who attend these classes are always so vibrant and friendly, and I have nothing but good things to say about the staff at SB – they always take their time to ask me how my running is going and to just chat about fitness and fashion in general. Plus if you’ve run a marathon this year, turn up with your medal and you’ll get an extra 20% off!

The only bad thing about all of this as far as my endlessly patient other half is concerned? My SB wishlist is now off the scale.

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The fabulous Rachael.

Thinking like an athlete

Today was tough.

I like to run at least twice a week. Now that I’m properly training, I asked Alan what I should do with my other running day when I’m not seeing him. I instantly regretted it when he suggested 6 x 1 mile off 2 1/2 minutes (which means a 2 1/2 minute rest between each mile). It would be by far the hardest running session I’ve ever done and I wouldn’t have Alan pushing me along the way. I was worried about it.

And therein lies the problem.

I doubt myself. A lot. I’ve gone from being a fairly decent plodder to someone who wants to push their body as far as it can go at this moment in time and it’s a big leap.

I’ve been fighting (and winning I hasten to add) a cold all week, and I have a few things diary-wise coming up that are preoccupying me. These things were on my mind as I plodded to the start of my mile lap around West Cambridge. I let the fact that it was going to be a hard session overwhelm me, rather than telling myself I’d give it my best shot even though I’m only feeling about 80%. Unsurprisingly Alan appeared at the top of the road on my first mile like some kind of coaching Dynamo and told me to stop looking at the floor. That’s when I know I’m in trouble. My head goes down when I think I can’t do it.

I managed that first mile in 6:26 which is pretty good for me, but after a quick chat with Alan he told me “everything you’ve just said is negative. You’re going to do four miles today because your body is telling you it hasn’t recovered yet. You need to start thinking like an athlete.” And the first thing that came into my head? “I’m not an athlete.”

For crying out loud. What does my stupid head think I’ve been doing for the last five years? Just walking a bit faster than normal?

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Bright but heavy legs

I did the next mile in 6:30 which I was happy with, but then the legs got heavy. I followed it with 6:39 and then 6:50. By this time Alan had had to shoot off to another commitment (see? HE GETS EVERYWHERE) and I dragged my tired self back into work.

Two things came into my head as I was recovering. I remembered a game of rounders when I was about 10. As I stepped up to bat one boy shouted “watch out for Lauren! She hit it out of the park last time!” Oh if only. He’d gotten me confused with someone else and I remember how the smiles turned to smirks and laughter as I missed every single ball. Another time, when I was about 13, we had a swimming gala at school. I’m sure the teachers meant well when they insisted everyone take part in a race but I was terrified. I’ve never been a strong swimmer, and my mum will tell stories of how as a child I tripped and fell into a pool and just lay face down until she rescued me. We’re talking ZERO survival instinct. Now I can do a passable breaststroke, but I’ll never forget struggling with a float in a relay while my teammates screamed at me to go faster even though the result was inevitable.

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A rubber ring – very wise

I don’t want you to think I had a childhood riddled with sporting failures and embarrassments. I was generally happy to give things a go even though I never came close to excelling at anything. It’s just hard to see that kid getting to where I am now. I literally would have laughed in your face if you’d told me ten years ago that I’d end up running half marathons.

But this evening I sat down and thought about my somewhat cheesy favourite positivity quote (fitspiration if you’re so inclined):

“Don’t look at how far you’ve got to go – look at how far you’ve come.”

Boom. Too flipping right. I’m literally on my second week of proper training with Alan. I’ve taken on distances (400m and 800m) that I’m not comfortable with. I’ve started using my arms efficiently and driving my knees up. I’m improving. I just need to work on my mind now.

Bring on next week. I’ll be the one running with my head up high.