Spitfire Scramble 2017 – Saying Goodbye to my Comfort Zone

What would take you outside of your comfort zone? Wing walking? Swimming with sharks? Getting a hug off Donald Trump in your favourite white outfit?

Well for me, it’s camping. Yep, you heard that right. I am the sort of person who loves hot showers, clean toilets and my own bed. After a horrendous camping experience when I was 11 (freak Lauren out became everyone’s favourite activity on that trip), I had no inclination to do it again. EVER. My friend Lucy put it perfectly when she said “why would you choose to spend your free time living at a lower standard than you do normally?”. FYI that’s the clean version of what she actually said, but it summed up my feelings on the matter.

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My ever supportive friends and family.

So how exactly did I find myself camping in a field just outside Dagenham, losing punch-ups with poison-fanged insects and substituting showers with baby wipes? I honestly have no idea. I just know that in October last year my friend and all-round adventure-seeker Jen asked for runners to join her team of 8 people for the 24-hour Spitfire Scramble, and I put my name down. I’m assuming she caught me at a moment when both my caffeine and sugar levels had completely crashed and I was in the midst of some sort of hallucination where I thought I was Bear Grylls*. It’s the only thing I can think of.

But July flew round, and three days before we set off I realised I should probably order a sleeping bag, pillow and mat (I’m nailing this adulting malarkey). After a frustrating 2.5 drive from Cambridge, we were in a field on a Friday evening, and I was actually vaguely helping to pitch a tent whilst mildly panicking about what lay ahead. I also had to make the decision to take out my contact lenses and leave them out for the next 36 hours, reasoning that running slightly blind was preferable to an eye infection. That first night, I was so glad that I was in the company of Jen and Becky (later joined by Paula, Fiona, Ruth, Paul, Rachael and Chris, plus Rachael and Chris’ AMAZING dogs Yogi and Boo). They made me laugh non stop, sorted me out with food, and Becky gave me wine, which made her a demi-god in my eyes at that moment. I went to bed pretty early (party pooper), and actually managed a semi-decent 8.5 hours of sleep, only waking a couple of times when the temperature dipped.

The amazeballs Yogi and Boo. Boo ran 17 miles! 

On Saturday morning, Jen, Paul and Ruth made plans to go to Harrow Lodge parkrun just 2 miles down the road. Ruth and Paul had come camping with their incredibly cute 3 year old daughter Katie who wanted to be pushed around parkrun in her buggy, and if you met her you’d find it hard to say no to her too (especially when she talks about being a “hairy” princess and pronounces Essex “Eggets”). Then Jen checked the time of the 1st place woman the week before, and she had clocked 23:58. Obviously my competitive side kicked in instantly,  and knowing that even taking it easy I could do a 22 minute parkrun, I decided to go along. Of course, a SUPER speedy woman turned up and smashed it in 19:38, so I had to make do with 2nd place. It was a lovely course though, and a nice way to stretch my legs before the Spitfire Scramble got under way, and Ruth and I also took the opportunity to stuff our faces with a massive breakfast at the park cafe. I only got slightly worried when it started to rain…

When we got back to the campsite, our remaining team members John and Mel had arrived, and the 8 of us with our support team of Jen, Fiona and Becky were ready to go. With his trusty whiteboard in place Chris took charge of the running schedule, and my first 5.7 mile lap was due to start around 4:30pm.

Pretty sunset, tired and sweaty runner.

The way the Spitfire Scramble works is pretty simple. There are different categories, from solo runners up to a maximum of 8. We were obviously in the mixed 5-8 category, with 5 female and 3 male runners. We all had to estimate how quickly we would do our laps, and then the next runner in sequence went down to the changeover zone about 10 minutes before the next runner was due in. Initially I’d assumed we’d each do 3 laps, taking it nice and easy and coming in around the hour mark, with the chance that one or two of us might squeeze in a 4th lap.

MEGALOLZ.

It turned out pretty quickly that we were all being quite cagey with our estimates and were coming in quite a few minutes under (I estimated 55 minutes but came in at 44 for lap 1), so our runners’ schedule was continuously updated.  As I saw my next laps were scheduled for 10:15pm and 4:15am,  I felt myself starting to panic that I couldn’t even manage a second lap let alone a third, so I messaged my running friends Pete and Rach in a bit of a panic, but with the aid of some trusty GIFs they quickly talked some sense into me. I then saw that our three speedy speedsters John, Paul and Mel had all signed up for a double nighttime shift (just casually running 11.5 miles in the dead of night, no biggie) to ensure that their teammates could get as much rest as possible. So no way was I going to let them down.

Although my second lap was my slowest, it was also my most sociable. I teamed up with what turned out to be the Race Director of that morning’s parkrun, Mark, and when he stopped at 4 miles to get some water from his support crew, I then ran the final 1.7 miles with Shimpei from Guildford, who distracted me from the monster hill that loomed up just before mile 5. I also weirdly enjoyed the 4:30am lap, mainly because I got to watch the (only slightly blurry) sunrise.

When I got back from that lap around 5:15am, I saw that I had been put down for a 4th and final lap at around 9:45am. I cannot tell you how badly I didn’t want to run another lap. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t done any real training for this event. I’d told myself it would be 3 10ks spread over 24 hours, which seems weirdly manageable. Had I known I’d end up doing 26 miles in 26 hours, I would have bleeding well trained. As I got ready to snatch a couple of hours of sleep John assured me that they could cover me if I couldn’t do my 4th lap, which made me feel terrible when he’d already done a double and was down for a total of 5 laps. I went to sleep at around 6am, and told everyone I’d be up at 8am to see if I could manage my 4th lap, but I already knew I was going to do it.

To be honest, I don’t really remember much about that last lap. I’d had a total of around 5 hours of sleep (from around 12:30am-3:30am and 6am-8am), and I was definitely running on pure adrenalin. I thought I’d be lucky to come in under an hour, but I somehow managed 46 minutes, meaning all 4 of my laps had comfortably come in under 50 minutes. In total, our team managed 31 laps, and we came 5th out of 47 teams in our category. We all joined John as he crossed the line for the last time, and the medals we received were frankly awesome.  And then suddently it was all over. I was in complete awe of how quickly everyone managed to pack up their things, and we were on the road by 1pm and in contrast to our journey there were back in Cambridge in just over an hour.

Photo taken after lap1. Boo was the ultimate spirit lifter.

I can say without doubt that the Spitfire Scramble was the most mentally challenging event I’ve ever done, but also the one I’m most proud of. As for my thoughts on the actual event itself, the atmosphere is one of the best I’ve ever come across, with brilliant marshals and a lovely supportive atmosphere from all other runners. Although there were times at night when it felt like you were totally on your own, the event was well sign posted, Jen’s chest light was brilliant (you have to wear a light between 8pm and sunrise), and the mini glowsticks on the path were so useful. They had a water station halfway round the route which was manned throughout the 24 hours, and they had another self-serve one at the changeover area as well. The toilets were really well looked after and regularly cleaned, but you had to get a coach to be driven to a local school for showers, so we all decided wet wipes would be good enough for 36 hours! Needless to say that shower when I got home was the best one I have ever had. Ever ever. The medal is also an absolute BEAUT.

I think the only downside of the event is that they could have done with some more food trucks on site. They only had one, and people were queuing for up to half an hour just to get a coffee. A couple of extra hot drink vans might have been useful (I would have killed for Silver Oak Coffee and the Rural Coffee Project to have been there!), and all of our team agreed that an ice cream van would have been flipping awesome.

My recovery from the event was more intense than I expected. Although my legs felt fine, my back and left foot felt seriously fatigued, and I was mentally exhausted. I would say that I didn’t feel back to normal until the following Friday, and I pretty much ate whatever I could get my hands on for a good 5 or 6 days. The almond croissant market definitely saw a boost.

Would I do it again? If you’d asked me that last week it would have been an emphatic no, possibly accompanied by a headbutt. When Jen mentioned that some of the team were doing the Thunder Run just a week later I thought they were well and truly out of their trees (I still do to be honest). But as each day passes, a teeny tiny part of me is thinking “hmm….maybe…”. So ask me again in a couple of months. Maybe that sleeping bag will see the light of day again after all.

*Yes. To me 2 nights of camping is the equivalent of Bear Grylls living on an island for 60 days eating nothing but sand and raw fish and sleeping under a net of snakes whilst setting fire to himself. I’m a drama queen, ok?

 

 

 

 

The Simple Joy of the Running Commute

A while ago, a runner (and all round awesome person) I know was telling me about how much she loved her running commute. I nodded along, smiling at the thought of it, feeling slightly awestruck at the mental distance she was regularly covering (10 miles!), but never thinking it was something I would add into my routine. It was too difficult to organise, too hard for me to work out how to get kit to and from work, and too hard for me to downscale all that tat I shove into my bike pannier and take with me to work every day.

Oh how wrong I was.

I’m not even sure how it started. I know one day back in March my friend Pete decided to run from Cambridge to Waterbeach, which is around 10k along the river. He did it, and I happened to bump into him as he was jogging back home. He was full of the joys of his run, if feeling a little foolish at deciding to stick both a coat and an umbrella in his rucksack. I guess you never know right?

I started thinking seriously about giving it a go, chatting to some runners on Twitter, and seeing just how many people love choosing running as part of their commute to or from work. So I decided to get myself a running backpack (this Deuter Speed Lite was a steal back in April for £25), and managed to learn to pack light. For anyone who knows me well, this is nothing short of a miracle. I swapped my journey to work, leaving my bike at Ely station and walking the 1.3 miles to work from Cambridge station in my running gear, changing into my carefully chosen lightweight work outfit when I reached the office. At the end of the day, I then jogged half a mile to meet Pete outside the Scott Polar Research Institute and off we went, running a mile through the city until we hit the river path.

And blooming heck what a gorgeous run it is. It’s so easy to follow, nice and flat, not super busy with people (so long as you avoid The Bumps!) and flipping full of nature. On our first run together we saw herons, swans and deer. We time it so that there are two trains we can catch from Waterbeach 15 minutes apart (so if you miss the first train on the old cold day you don’t freeze waiting on a platform for ages as your sweat dries – attractive I know). We’ve only had one really buggy day (a miracle when you’re running alongside water) when we both landed beasties in the eyes, but that’s such a small issue to deal with. The best bit of all is that we’re both feeling faster when we run without rucksacks. I’m not sure if we actually are, but there’s a lot to be said about the mental boost of feeling like you’re flying just a little bit faster than normal.

The only problem now is I’m not sure what I’ll do when winter rolls back in. I know it’s ages off now, but the riverside isn’t lit at all, so running home after work simply won’t be an option. The only choice would be to switch the commute from evening to morning, and as someone who isn’t a morning person OR a morning exerciser, this doesn’t exactly appeal.

But six months without my weekly run commute? I feel bereft just thinking about it. You may well see me on that 7:30 train after all…

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?

 

 

The Instant Camaraderie of Runners

I know you’ve all watched it by now. Or if you’re like me, you’ve watched it about 40 times. The moment Swansea Harriers’ Matt Rees stopped 200m from the end of the London Marathon to help David Wyeth from Chorlton Runners reach the finish line. David’s legs had gone to jelly, his body having run out of carbohydrate stores and he was in danger of not making it. He was agonisingly close to the finish line, waving past runners who were slowing down to check on him and claiming that he was ok. But Matt knew fully well that he wasn’t, and chucking his own time out of the window he helped get David to the finish.

Matthew Rees Credit London Marathon

Credit: London Marathon

Twitter went bonkers, and rightfully so. The London Marathon has the ability to bring grown adults to tears as they sit on the sofa, drinking tea and eating mint Oreos (just me?) whilst marvelling at people putting themselves through the most mentally tough thing some of them will ever do. Let’s face it, the world is a bit of a “funny” place right about now, and sometimes we all need to have our faith in humankind rekindled, and watching the way people help and support each other in feats of physical endurance (let’s not forget Alistair Brownlee helping Jonny across the finish line in the Triathlon World Series in Mexico – and letting him cross the line first no less) is a sure fire way to melt even the iciest of hearts.

Brownlees

But it doesn’t just happen on the world stage. At the 1st Kevin Henry League race of the season last week, I found myself struggling with about 1.5k to go. I wasn’t going easy on myself, and I was pretty cold after getting caught in a hailstorm on the way to the race. I also had a few people overtake me (including some ridiculously chirpy folk, Andrew and Lauren, I’m talking about you!), which doesn’t happen that often and made me panic that I had gone off too fast. At the 4k mark I knew I was going to make it to the finish ok, but I knew it was going to be ugly – when my breathing starts sounding like a dog who has inhaled a broken harmonica I know I’m in trouble. But then I realised that I was running side by side with a Haverhill Runner, and by some miracle I was managing to match my pace to his. I swore like an absolute trouper (but I did apologise after every verbal bomb, honest) and somehow this lovely man kept me going, offering encouragement and saying things like “come on, only 400m to go”. And then to top it all off, he let me cross the line first. What a blooming legend.

So the next day I tweeted that I owed this man a drink and copied in the Haverhill Running Club, and then a few days later another runner I follow on Twitter sent me this (someone from the Club had clearly mentioned me on their Facebook page):

Haverhill Neil

There I was thinking he had dragged me round, when really we had dragged each other round, and he got a PB to boot. We’re running for different clubs but we just desperately wanted to get each other across that finish line in one piece. I’ve since chatted to Neil on Facebook, and I’ve no doubt we’ll be running together again and who knows? Maybe we’ll both get a PB this season (but if we don’t, that’s ok too)! I love running for so many reasons, but the bond it can create between complete strangers is just awesome.

Acupuncture and I: A New Love Story

Regular readers of this blog will know that 2016 was a tough running year for me. I had so many injury niggles over the year, and my anxiety around my running got so bad that I had to step back from races and even longer runs because my IBS flare ups were making it impossible to run.

But then towards the end of last year, a friend reached out with the idea of an experiment of sorts, after reading my blog post about my IBS. This friend is an acupuncturist in Ely, and we know each other through a mutual friend. We actually ran Insane Terrain as part of a team of 4 back in 2014. So, he offered to give me a few free sessions of acupuncture, and if they went well I could tell you guys about it, and if they didn’t help me, we could just part ways and continue to meet up at the odd get together.

Now I’ve always been pretty open to the idea of “alternative therapies” (the category that acupuncture tends to get lumped into) so I was more than happy to give it a go. After an introduction session where Anthony spent about an hour learning about my medical background (reasonably complex) and commenting on my “slippery” pulse (that didn’t sound like a compliment), I then had a cluster of treatments over a 6 week period, before moving to a treatment every 4-6 weeks.

Insane Terrain

Insane Terrain. Yes those shorts were odd.

The good thing about Anthony is that although he is incredibly knowledgeable about what he does, he is in no way preachy about it, something I would struggle to get on board with. Instead he just drops into the conversation the fact that I have too much “Yang” (always go, go, go for me) in between the two of us putting the world to rights discussing everything from politics to reality TV. He is incredibly easy to talk to and is also a huge advocate of discussing the importance of mental health, a cause close to my heart (he highly recommends the Headspace app and is the brains behind Talking FreELY, a new Mental Health Awareness group in Ely). All of these things make a great practitioner.

As for the treatment itself, I do get a load of needles put into me (I think the most was maybe about 25) but they don’t hurt. Sometimes they cause a pins and needles sensation but it’s never uncomfortable. Anthony also uses moxa, a herb which he lights and allows to smoulder on my back which is then removed as soon as I start to feel the heat. It’s used to impact on the flow of “qi” in the area being treated, and I am obsessed with the smokey aroma it gives off. A nice side effect. He also often places ear seeds on my ear on trigger points where I can press on them whenever I feel my anxiety building.

But I guess the question is, did acupuncture work for me? My IBS issues during training all but disappeared (apart from when I failed to avoid triggers, such as episodes of unusually high stress or a super strong coffee less than 2 hours before a 10 mile run – idiotic) and my general demeanour around races has been a lot calmer. But the real test was always going to be the Cambridge Half Marathon. A race with a capacity of 9000 runners is huge for me. I hate being in large crowds, and in previous years I would be unbearable to be around from about 2 weeks before the race. Usually I would be maybe 15% excited and 85% nervous about a race like this, but this year it was easily the other way around. I also planned my morning pretty carefully, hanging out at my sister’s until about 10 past 9, before running/jogging to Jesus Green, using the completely empty public toilets there (perhaps I shouldn’t be letting you lot in on this tip!) and then simply hopping the gate into my starting pen 4 minutes before the race was due to start. I avoided all of those stress triggers, and went on to do the race of my life. I firmly believe that the treatment Anthony has done on me has played a huge part in my running epiphany, and I’ve been a (paying) customer of his since the start of the year, and will continue to be from now on.

The Race of my Life – My Review of the 2017 Cambridge Half Marathon

So. The Cambridge Half Marathon has been and gone. And flipping heck, it turned out to be the race of my life.

This epiphany stuff isn’t half bad.

My other half may argue that this wasn’t the case, but in the lead up to this year’s Cambridge Half, I felt like a different person to previous years. Yes I was still nervous, but it wasn’t all consuming. I think there are a lot of reasons for this. Some of it is down to the support I received from Progress as part of the prize I won with Saucony and OSB Events. I was lucky enough to work with two awesome women (Lauren Bradshaw a Specialist Sports Physio, and Hannah Crighton a Massage Therapist) who have both competed and taken part in sport at a pretty high level. They totally got why I would be so nervous about my running, but they also got me to think about why I started running in the first place and to rediscover my love for it. So in addition to expert physio and massage, and a bundle of exercises that I can keep using to improve my strength, I also got a bit of emotional therapy on the side.

Another thing I’ve worked so hard on over the last 3 months or so, is my Strength and Conditioning with Matt Matcham, who works at both Progress and the University of Cambridge Sports Centre. He made sure to pick a selection of exercises that he knew would challenge me, but that I would also enjoy. He knows that I react well to seeing quick improvements so he always made sure there were exercises that would see a steady rate of increase (I went from 35kg to 60kg deadlifts pretty swiftly), and he kept switching them up so that I wouldn’t get bored. I know that being stronger has made me a better athlete. In addition to all of this fitness stuff I’ve been getting some alternative treatment on the side, but I think this deserves a separate blog post in a day or two.

I also – as you know – arranged on Twitter to meet two girls who I have been following on there for a long time, and this created excitement and gave me something to focus on other than the run. Of course I can run 13.1 miles if there’s the promise of brilliant conversation and a plate of chips afterwards. The fact that I ran into Joanna on Saturday night (ok, I pretty much chased her down the road, but she seemed ok with it. I knew we were destined to be IRL besties) made it even better.

Jo and I

And then of course, there was the shift in my mental focus. This particular change was 7 years coming, and so many people have been commenting on how I seem like a different person now. When I’m running, if I feel good I push myself, and if I don’t I pull it back. I’m listening to my body and letting it tell me what it’s capable of, rather than beating myself up in the past when I thought I wasn’t good enough.

On the morning of the race, I knew to do what works for me. I left it until as long as possible to get to the start, leaving my sister’s house at 9:10am, jogging to Jesus Green and using the (completely empty) public toilets there, and then spotting fellow Ely Runner Andy at the start line (we had arranged for him to wait on the right of the pens in the hope that I’d find him) and then leaping the barrier (apologies to the chap whose phone I nearly kicked out of his hand) and being in my pen at 9:25am. Crowds avoided, and waiting down to a minimum.

When we started, I lost Andy fairly swiftly, purely because I’m a short arse, and it was so congested at the front that trying to get past slower runners was agonising unless you’re small enough to duck and weave. This didn’t really let up until we hit Trumpington Street, nearly 3 miles into the run. If I’m honest, I feel like the organisers have become a little greedy with their numbers. I got kicked in the shin turning the corner outside Jack Wills, and a fellow Ely Runner complained of being elbowed more than once. Of the 9000 spaces around 7000 ran (the weather was spectacularly horrible), and really it felt like too many, so I think they need to cap it at 7000 again (knowing that there is usually at least a 10% drop off in runs like this).

The conditions were tough. It was cold, wet and windy, but I felt pretty good for most of it. I was incredibly lucky to have support along the whole route. My mother in law was screaming her head off in Grantchester, I saw Mary at around the halfway mark, another friend’s mum and my amazing friends Ally and Chris were at mile 11 (when I hit the wall in epic fashion, so thank goodness for them. They were the only reason I didn’t stop to walk) and then my friends Pete, Rachel, Nick and Claire were waiting just before mile 12. Now Claire is an INCREDIBLE endurance runner, and when she screams at you to keep going, you bloody well do it. Although which evil sod put Elizabeth Way Bridge at Mile 12? At this point I was seriously in trouble, wheezing so loudly that I was apologising to the runners around me. Then I spotted Barry, another Ely Runner, around 20 metres in front of me, so I did everything I could to catch him up, knowing that he would be able to help me to the finish line, which the flipping legend of a man did.

I don’t think I have ever pushed my body so hard in a run, and when I saw that my time began with 1.3… I think I went a bit into shock. There’s nothing like a marshal putting out a hand and saying “are you ok?” to make you wonder just how blimmin’ awful you look. But with my toes burning from what would turn out to be some pretty epic blisters, I picked up my medal in a daze, caught up with Lauren at the Progress tent (who had smashed the 90 minute mark with 1:29:45) and then saw Ally and Chris running up to me, a box of brownies in their hands and the offer of a coffee, before they made me leave to go and get some warmer clothes from my sister’s house as my lips were turning blue. I feel at this point I should mention the mistake OSB made with the bag collection queues and lack of foils for runners. The conditions were pretty dangerous for people to be standing in the cold for that long, but they admitted the mistake really quickly, and are already looking at ways to improve it next year. And this was the only negative in what was a brilliant, brilliant race. The marshals and volunteers were the absolute best I have experienced, as were the people who came out to support runners. Doing that in such bleak weather made them all heroes in my eyes.

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When I got the text to say I had run 1:35:37, I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t to be honest. I never, ever imagined I could be that kind of runner, and I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve something like that again. And the best thing is, I don’t care. I didn’t run that race to achieve that time. It was just a brilliant side effect. I know I put in so much hard work over the last three months and set myself up as well as I can, but I also enjoyed the race (well, maybe not the last two miles), and that was my goal.

As for the pub trip afterwards, getting to know Joanna and Pip was just brilliant, and I convinced Ally and Chris to come along too, so I was surrounded by awesome, awesome people. Even though we came close to gnawing our own arms off thanks to an hour long wait for food, it was the best couple of hours I could have hoped for, and played a part in making March 5th 2017 a day I will never, ever forget.

Same time next year?

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“Comparison is the Thief of Joy” – My Running Epiphany (featuring Raj Koothrappali)

Throughout this post, I am going to use Raj from The Big Bang Theory to illustrate my thoughts. Just because he articulates them so beautifully.

raj-wreck-gif

Last year I fell out of love with running.

I’m not sure what the trigger was. It might have been the lack of consistent training due to my injuries and Alan being unwell at periods throughout the year. But more likely I think it’s the pressure I put on myself.

Why am I not as fast as last year?

Why am I not getting any PBs?

Why can’t I keep up with her?

WHY IS THIS IS SO HARD?

Good grief, how boring right? Imagine being in my head for all of 2016. It was exhausting and generally hideous and it made my hobby almost unbearable. I kept comparing myself to how I had run in 2015 and to other runners, and I kept telling myself I wasn’t doing well enough.

But compared to WHAT? It was all so utterly meaningless.

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My pre-race anxiety nearly obliterated my ability to run, especially during the Kevin Henry 5k series – I cried at at least two of them. I mean for goodness’ sake this was meant to be FUN. When did I turn into this stressed out athlete? When did running become something I had started to dread?

But a few weeks ago, something happened. I decided to stop caring so much. My mantra is now – cover your ears if you’re not a fan of the swears (forgive me, I’m half Irish) is “F*CK IT”.

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I think this partly came about because I recently updated the “races” section of my blog, and when I saw how many races I actually ran last year, I was in shock. I had no idea I’d done so many. I think because the vast majority of them weren’t the kind of races that come with goodie bags and selfie-worthy bling I hadn’t actually “counted” them. But I really should have done. Because they were each in their own way a big deal. I even won two trophies last year for crying out loud.

So, I’ve decided to stop caring about times and what everyone else is doing, and to fall in love with running again. For the first time ever I’m more excited than nervous about the Cambridge Half Marathon (if you’re a long time reader of this blog you’ll remember the terrible head space I was in last year). I’ve even arranged to meet up post-run with Joanna and Pip, two awesome Twitter peeps who I’ve wanted to meet IRL for AGES. I’ll be the one with the pink hair girls.

From now on, if a race goes well, great. If it doesn’t, there’s always another. Above all else I want to finish every run having enjoyed it. I know that with social media it can be so easy to fall into the comparison trap, but everyone who is out there running is an awesome runner, regardless of how often they run, the distance they cover or the pace they run at. I include myself in that.

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Thank you Raj. All GIFs from Giphy.

My December 2016 Round Up – Three Very Different Races!

First of all, apologies for the 2017 silence so far. I’ve got plenty of posts waiting to be written, but other priorities (including training for the half marathon ironically!) have left little time for blogging. But I’ve been determined to get one post done for January, so at this moment I have 62 minutes left to go…

In the lead up to Christmas 2016 (how long ago does that feel now?) I was involved in three very different races, the first of which was the Arthur Rank Hospice Festive 5k in Ely on November 20th. This event is such a blast and sells out every year. It goes around the main city centre of Ely, ending with a blighter of a climb through Cherry Hill Park (thanks for lurking there Mr Photographer) and finishing on the market square.

This was the third year running that I’ve done this race. On my first attempt I somehow managed to be first woman in a time of 22:04 (it was really wet which I think kept the speedsters at home) and in 2015 the fastest woman smashed it in 19:45 (I did 20:37). As for 2016, it had been a long year, and I just didn’t fancy a hard run. I wanted to have fun, and this is an event known for runners in fancy dress (there’s a prize each year for best dressed) and luckily for me, Running Buddy Extraordinaire Pete decided he just wanted a laugh as well, after a hard racing year where he smashed pretty much all of his PBs.

So, we did what any sane people would do and dressed up. As Christmas trees. Complete with fairy lights. I was up to my eyeballs with a cold as well, and as my battery pack for my lights lodged itself in a really unhelpful position down the back of my shorts, I knew I was in for an uncomfortable run. The stitch hit in pretty quickly as I found myself unable to get my breathing into a decent rhythm, and Pete basically had to talk me through the damp 3 miles as I whinged my way round Ely. We finished in 22:41, and once I got home I found out that by some miracle I had been the fastest woman again. Arthur Rank accidentally gave the prize to another woman who crossed the line first but had actually been 4 seconds slower than me across the course, but to their credit they apologised for the mistake, sent me a prize in the post and told me that they are going to have plans in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again next year.

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Two soggy Christmas trees

This race is probably the loveliest one of the year. The support from the folk of Ely is awesome, the marshals are the BEST at cheering you on and it’s just such fun. Plus it’s all for a brilliant cause. Keep an eye on their website – they’re adding to their running events calendar all the time.

Then on the 18th December, I found myself on a coach at about 8am, ready to be driven out into the countryside just so I could run home again.

Sometimes I think past Lauren would be so flipping confused.

I had signed up for the Ely Runners Christmas run again, a social, untimed, cross country run. Last year I did the 7.5 mile leg and this year I signed up for 12.5 miles (the next option being 18.5). As per usual Pete was along for the ride, and complete with festive headgear, we set off from Woodditton at 9am, and precisely 60 seconds later our trainers were caked with mud and three times as heavy. Awesome.

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The first 7.5 miles actually went better than expected. We were prepared for the very rural route after last year, we sang along to Christmas tunes that Pete played on his phone (thankfully we were pretty much running alone), and I got about 6 miles in before tripping and doing an epic combat role stopped only by my face (thankfully the fall looked more impressive than it was). It was ironically when we stopped at the first refuel station that I started to struggle. We just stopped for a little too long (mostly gawping at Stephen’s impressive cut on his leg which put my scratches to shame) and it turns out that eating something mid-run really doesn’t work for me. So we ended up run/walking the last 5 miles, partly due to not knowing where we were going and the terrain, but mostly due to my running out of steam.

I really enjoyed the run, even though our glorious sprint finish was scuppered by the terrain resembling the bog of eternal stench. I’m definitely going to do it again next year, and who knows? Maybe I’ll attempt the full 18 miles!

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The Bog of Eternal Stench. If you didn’t know this, FOR SHAME.

The last race wasn’t one that I ran. Instead, I was marshalling. Every year the Ely Runners host the NYE10k, and every year it sells out within about 24 hours. I didn’t know where I would be for NYE, so I didn’t sign up. But to be honest, this was a handy excuse. Because the truth is, I kind of hate the route. It’s exposed and a bit dull, (read: tough) and we have to run it for our 10k handicap. Once a year is enough for me.

It was so much fun to be able to enjoy the race from the other side (although my step count suggested that running it would have been the easier option). Watching our Race Director Charlotte run the whole thing like an epically well oiled machine was incredible, and cheering the runners over the finish line was an absolute blast. Everyone seemed to have had such a great time, and there is something special about ending your year with a race. And having an excuse to wear an awesome wig was the icing on the cake (even if it was a bit small for my weirdly massive head).

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So those were the races I ended a very odd 2016 on. And wouldn’t you know it? I’ve blogged in January with 6 minutes to spare. Hang on 2017 – my blog and I are coming for you.

Sports Gear Sale Bargains

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Ok you lovely lot. I’ve spent about three hours trawling the web for a ton of sportswear bargains so that you don’t have to. You can thank me later. All of the items I’ve picked had multiple sizes available at time of writing, so fingers crossed this is still the case!

First up is my old reliable favourite, Sweaty Betty. You usually have to be pretty quick off the mark for their sale (I really wasn’t, much to the relief of my other half) but there are a couple of gems still tucked away on the site. I’m recommending their Triple Jump shorts because I swear by SB shorts for running. I just adore them. They have inner shorts which I always like and zips for your keys etc. and these are now £24 down from £60. I’m also recommending their Anna headband, which is now a steal. Great for keeping your hair off your face and your ears warm, this colourway is now just £3 (down from £10). Plus you can order items for delivery to the store for free.

Next up is ASOS which is actually teeming with sports gear so long as you’re happy to spend a bit of time browsing. A couple of standouts for me are the Nike Leg a See leggings in a bright punchy coral, down from £25 to £15, and a Reebok Metallic Print vest which would be ideal for chucking on for Yoga and Pilates, down from £23 to £13.50.

 

Another place that’s worth spending some time trawling is Wiggle. They’ve got a Shock Absorber run bra in a gorgeous bright pink for a steal down from £42  to £16.60 (I bought this one myself) and they’ve got a lovely Adidas Purple Tank down from £37 to £16.65. Plus they do free delivery and you get Haribo with every order. Their sale is always good and pretty huge, so it’s worth searching on your size.

 

Lastly, I found a couple of random gems. Active in Style‘s sale can be a bit hit and miss, and often they only offer 20% off. But I did stumble across these gorgeous Under Armour leggings which are £70 down to £30. John Lewis also has a good number of sportswear items, and I’d recommend popping into the store if you can. Otherwise, this nice bright pink Puma T-shirt, down from £28 to £16.50, is available on their website.

 

So that’s it for my sale round up. It’s also worth mentioning that Sportshoes have an epic sale on but there are usually only 1 or 2 sizes left in each item. In particular you can get some bargain trainers but you need to get a bit lucky. Also, the Outnet have a nice activewear section with some unique brands, such as these Lucas Hugh capris, but they are obviously on the pricier side. The last one deserving of a mention is the Ivy Park range on the Topshop site, but the selection of sizes on the real bargains is seriously diminished now.

Did you get any sportswear bargains in the sales? Let me know in the comments below! Disclaimer – as well as the Shock Absorber bra I did manage to get my mitts on this top from SB which had been on my wishlist since August…!

A Runner’s Homework and Information Overload

I am not a happy bunny.

I have half a dozen blog post ideas rattling around in my head, but have I had time to write them? Have I hell. Someone has gone and done a runner with my last two weeks of November and now here I am on December 3rd – for crying out loud – wondering whether my blog should be taken out into a field and put out of its misery.

But fear not fair reader – I enjoy wanging on about my running far too much to give up that easily. I will just put aside watching Stranger Things until these thoughts have found their way onto the page (screen).

So, I am now three appointments in to my time as the sponsored athlete for the Cambridge Half Marathon in collaboration with Saucony, Progress and OSB Events. And boy oh boy have I been set some homework (you can see my first interview with Progress where I look about 60 with a double chin here).

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Gif from Giphy

So on my first appointment with Lauren over at Progress, she had me doing all kinds of squats, planks, intervals on the treadmill and lunges, all to get an indication of what she’s got to work with. The answer? Someone who is more than a bit wonky. Turns out that my left side is significantly weaker than my right, which goes some way to explaining why about 90% of my injuries have occurred on my left (except for the current weird grumbly foot). My calf strength is also at about 50% of what Lauren would expect to see in a runner. It’s a miracle that I manage to stay upright to be honest.

So I came away with a handful of exercises to do, including calf raises on each leg where I have to do them on a step, going right up on to the toes, and lowering my heel below the step as far as I can go, keeping my leg locked out the whole time. I should be able to do 30 on each leg, but I’m managing 16/17 max. I also have to do planks whilst lifting alternate legs off the ground for as long as possible, side planks and dorsiflexion lunge tests. And these are just the exercises Lauren has set me.

I then made an appointment to see Hannah for my first sports massage last week. While part of me wondered if perhaps I should save all of my appointments with her until closer to the race, I rationalised that I have a problem now that is impacting on my training, so I may as well take advantage of her expertise. Now I know Hannah socially as she’s the partner of my colleague Matt (the fitness industry is a small world in Cambridge) and she is one of life’s thoroughly lovely people, as well as being – like Lauren – exceptionally knowledgeable. After she gave my foot a thorough looking over she didn’t find anything to concern her, gave the inside of my right ankle a real hammering (my fascia there was “sticky”), told me to lay off the running for a week and ease myself back in with a steady flat run and then uttered the immortal words “ask Matt about some glute strengthening exercises”.

Now, anyone who knows Matt knows that his training is BRUTAL. His classes at the sports centre are legendary in their toughness and his MetCon class is the only one that I’ve come close to vomiting in (if that’s not a recommendation I don’t know what is). So when I told him that Hannah wanted him to come up with some exercises for me, his little face lit up, and a few days later I found myself in the Team Training Room with him, wondering what the hell I had let myself in for as he showed me my new S&C programme. It’s a crazy mix of a mini circuit of 5 exercises repeated 3 times round, 3 pairs of strength exercises again repeated 3 times round, and another mini circuit of 5 exercises repeated 3 times round. Confused? You bet your (weak) arse I was confused. I’ve got val slide leg curls, banded kettlebell swings, Romanian deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, pull ups, 20kg suitcase carries and a plethora of other exercises that I can only assume he extracted from the bowels of hell. FYI, I’ll be doing this twice a week. So far I’ve done the programme all the way through once, and I must have muttered “I’m going to bleeping kill him” more than a dozen times. Had I had enough strength left in my arms I might have managed it.

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Notice the evil in his eyes and the cry for help in mine.

I then saw Hannah again two days ago to report back on how my foot had coped after a slow steady 4 mile run and a 9 x 150m sprint session at the track. The answer is pretty well, but I’m now wondering whether the tweaks I’m feeling in my foot are “real” or whether I’m obsessing over the injury and creating a pain that doesn’t actually exist. When I explained this to Hannah I thought she might think I was mad, but she totally got it and started telling me about how the brain interprets pain, and is going to give me some reading recommendations on the subject. She then made me hold a squat for about half an hour (aka 60 seconds ish), watched me run on the treadmill and showed me a routine of foot/ankle strengthening exercises that she’d like me to do every day. Turns out my squat would be the envy of many, and my right foot is hyper mobile which although it not a bad thing, could go some way to explaining the current grumble (hence the need for foot and ankle strengthening).

Flipping heck. As I’ve been typing this I’ve been feeling myself getting slightly overwhelmed by how much information has been thrown at  me and the sheer volume of work I have to do. A daily foot and ankle routine, twice weekly S&C sessions and thrice weekly planks and calf raises, not to mention day to day foam rolling and actually getting out and, you know, running.

During my last appointment with Hannah I think she could tell that I was in the middle of information  overload and she said to me “there will come a point where you’ll want to tell us all to bugger off for a week, and that’s totally fine” and I could have kissed her. Not that I’m at that stage – far from it. But it’s nice to know when I really can’t face my homework I can just run off into the distance for a while (grumpy foot permitting).