“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.

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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.
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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).

The Making of an Athlete

So, if you’re signed up to the Cambridge Half Marathon or are my Facebook friend or follower on Twitter, you may have seen that I am now the “sponsored athlete” for the Cambridge Half Marathon.

Oh sweet Barack on a Bicycle.

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I am seriously going to miss this guy. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.

I’ll  be honest. When I first saw the email I wasn’t sure whether or not to accept. It’s one thing to back out of a race because you’re not fully fit, are nervous about a recent injury or simply don’t fancy it. It’s another to back out when people have invested a lot of time and money in you and your race plan. In other words – you just don’t do that. So if I said yes, bar a serious injury, I would lose my get out of jail free card. But after having to back out of last year’s Cambridge Half, I realised that I would be crazy to pass up this opportunity to redeem myself. As part of the package I get the following from Progress:

1 x 60 min new physiotherapy assessment including run analysis
6 x 30 min follow-up physiotherapy sessions
8 x 30 min sport massage sessions
8 x 30 min AlterG sessions
Saucony Trainers, shorts and a t-shirt

Not to mention working with Lauren Bradshaw, a Specialist Sports Physiotherapist with a half marathon PB of 1:31. What kind of an idiot would say no to that?

When I told my friend Ally (theemiddlesis to the outside world) that I had accepted the prize but that I was somewhat nervous (read: bricking it) about losing the option to bail, she pointed out that that when I have had to bail in the past, I have absolutely hated it. She reminded me of last year’s tears on the finish line when all of my Ely Runner clubmates finished high on PBs, and I was like that tearful drunk at a party bringing everyone else down with them.

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Gif from Giphy

Blooming heck that girl knows how to give you some perspective.

Since agreeing to the role of “sponsored athlete” it has to be pointed out that my running hasn’t exactly been stress free. I have a mysterious recurring issue with my foot that despite physio and osteo appointments, rest and excessive amounts of yoga and foam rolling has failed to really disappear, and I also had a more than ropey result at my first ever Frostbite 5 miler on Sunday. I just got it a bit wrong and blew up in the last mile, my head giving up before my stomach for once (which I suppose makes a nice change) and the last 750 metres turned into an embarrassing walk/run mess. I was so disappointed with myself, but I have never managed to recover when I stop to walk. When my head gives up, that’s it, and it continues to do so for the rest of the run. I managed a time of 36:39, but I should be capable of something closer to 35.

But I know I need to be kinder to myself. I haven’t competed for a while due to this reason, my foot was still a bit grumbly and the terrain wasn’t an easy one. If I heard anyone else berating themselves after a race the way I did I would point out all of the positives and tell them that they were being really unfair on themselves. I suppose at least realising this is a step in the right direction? Right?

And then yesterday, Stacy and I were reunited on the track with the one and only Baldrick. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to have him with us on the track, and the last time Stacy and I trained together a fortnight ago we had an absolute shocker. I felt like it was the first time I had ever run, and I nearly stopped three times on a 400m rep. 400m for crying out loud! And it wasn’t just me – Stace had the exact same experience. But then yesterday, we both smashed the session (a mix of distances), and I ran my fastest ever 400m (although it is obviously a hell of a lot easier when you’re only doing one rep rather than 6). I feel like Alan is my lucky charm, and things are now on the up again. He’s going to get a training plan in place, and together with Progress (I had my first appointment with them this morning – I’ll post about that once my calves have recovered!) I’m going to do my utmost to wipe 2016 from the slate (aren’t we all really) and make 2017 my running year.

Wish me luck.

 

 

enCORE by Sweaty Betty and Getting a Glow with Madeleine Shaw and Origins

I was a lucky girl last week. Not only did I snag a place on the first class of Sweaty Betty’s latest #GetFit4Free class enCORE, but I also managed to get a ticket to Origins’ book signing with wellness blogger Madeleine Shaw.

So, first up on Tuesday evening was the enCORE class, a ballet bootcamp class with a focus on – you got it – the core. This class was being taught by Jo Hopkins, one of my favourite local instructors and an SB Ambassador. I first met Jo when she taught the Fly, Flex, Flow class in January 2015, which is still my favourite #GetFit4Free class to date. She is one of those people who seems to be like Energiser Bunny hocked up on caffeine and sugar – pretty much a walking advert for the power of exercise induced endorphins. So I knew that if nothing else, this class was going to be a laugh.

At 39 minutes long (Jo was VERY precise!) the class is ideal if you don’t have bags of time (take a look at the video here). You  also don’t need loads of room so it’s perfect for trying out at home (or in a small store!). This workout is demanding on your core yes, but it also requires balance. Generally I consider my balance to be pretty good, but my coordination was severely lacking as I continued to go left as the rest of the class went right and then wondered why I was consistently on the wrong leg. I also found out that under pressure to attempt elegance I squeak like an irate mouse whose cheese has just been stolen, and I have hands like melted spatulas. Not pretty. Good to know those ballet classes when I was a kid weren’t wasted. Watch your back Darcy.

For me, it was when we got on to the mats that this class really came into its own. A glute bridge sequence had my legs seriously burning, and this alone would be enough to make me do this video regularly at home, as I’m always looking to find ways to strengthen my glutes. If I could I would go to all four of the classes at the SB store, but Tuesday night is my regular night with Ely Runners. However, if you fancy giving the class a go, bookings for next week will open at midnight tonight. As the name suggests it’s totally free. You’ll just need to set up an SB account if you don’t already have one and then book here. Oh, and top tip – it doesn’t hurt to give Jo a homemade cinnamon bun. The Energiser Bunny needs fuel you know.

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Photo courtesy of Sweaty Betty Cambridge

After my butt and quads had recovered from this class, I got up bright and early (for me anyway) on Saturday to head into Cambridge to the recently opened Origins store on Rose Crescent to meet Madeleine Shaw, get some healthy treats courtesy of Novi Cambridge and generally try lots of lovely products. I had actually changed my booking to the earlier time slot so that I could meet up with fellow Cambridge blogger Sophiekateblogs and I’m so glad I did – she’s an awesome bundle of enthusiastic energy with a gorgeous blog to boot. Go check her out (and watch her vlog of the event too).

Now I’ve been an Origins customer for some time, dipping into their serums and staying pretty loyal to the Vita Zing Energy Boosting Moisturiser, which is like a tinted moisturiser which gives every skin type a really lovely glow. So I was super pleased when I heard that they were opening a store in my favourite shopping area in the city (Rose Crescent and Trinity Street – SB is about a 5 second walk away). The store itself is stunning – really light and airy with a massive spa like sink in the middle to test their scrubs and masks and gorgeous views of the University buildings from the windows at the back of the store. It was a lovely place for a book signing with the company’s 2016 Glow Girl.

For those of you who don’t know much about Madeleine, she’s a a nutritional health coach, yoga instructor and bestselling cookery author, with a social media following of 55.5k followers on Twitter and 254k on Instagram. If I’m being honest, I didn’t know a huge amount about her before the event, other than that she has a really attractive Instagram profile. A look at her website tells me that she is currently studying Naturopathic Nutrition at CNM, but from what I could see the majority of her knowledge comes from her own personal experience of IBS and other health issues that forced her to take a look at her diet and to make lifestyle changes.

A lot of what Madeleine writes about is good old common sense and sensible eating (although despite what she says about beige food I’m still going to eat pizza and cake when I feel like it, but I may try this cake recipe of hers to mix things up a bit!). If nothing else she’s giving people attractive, healthy meal ideas without a plethora of insane ingredients (and if I’m honest I know I could do with adding some more vegetables into my diet). I also liked that she pressed home the point of how she chooses to have meat in her diet for the iron it gives her (18% of women between 16 and 64 years are iron deficient), and she also extolled the virtues of eggs. Like I said – sensible, but there will be people with more nutritional qualifications out there who don’t have the pull of a huge social media following who would also be worth listening to.It’s always a good idea to keep that in mind and to do your research if you’re looking to make changes to your diet.

In person, Madeleine was incredibly friendly and smiley, and seemed genuinely interested in everyone who had turned out, asking questions in return and getting stuck into the conversation. She’s a good fit for the Origins brand, and talked about her favourite products including the Super Spot Remover (which her boyfriend also uses) and the GinZing Eye Cream. Her skin did look really good, and I especially noticed how the staff member who I spoke with, Jiayan, had the most amazing skin I have ever seen on a real human being, something she fully credited to Origins products. She was also extremely knowledgeable on the product range, despite having only worked for the company for 3 weeks, so it showed me how passionate she was about the brand. She was able to answer all of my questions and give advice, and I left with a RitualiTea Comforting Cleansing Body Mask with Rooibos Tea and Rose, and the much talked about GinZing Peel Off Mask (because I’m a sucker for anything that you can peel off!) plus a couple of samples. I’ve already tried both of them and they’re as good as I hoped, although each will need a few more uses before I get the full benefits.

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I like the Goldfinger vibe

So two thumbs up for Cambridge, continuing to provide loads of fitness and beauty opportunities out there to keep me busy! I love my city.

Guest Post -Girl Running Slowly: Finding my Feet After a Decade

My friend Maria started her wonderful “mysomethingnewblog” in February this year. It basically charts her attempts to try something new every day, and has led her on a brilliant journey of new foods, new activities and new friends. She has also gone on to inspire others to do the same, setting monthly challenges with themes such as culture, creativity and (wait for it…) fitness.

As part of this, she decided to try and pick up running again, and do some “new things” along the way. Here’s how she got on:

“I have wanted to get back into running for years but the barriers seemed overwhelming. I ran on a small scale for a couple of years and did a Race for Life 5k in 2003 but got out of the habit after moving house and away from my jogging buddy. Other than another half-hearted Race for Life in 2010, I haven’t really done any running since.

Suddenly the planets aligned and I found I’d signed up to do the British Heart Foundation MyMarathon – 26.2 miles of running during September at a pace of your choice. What had been stopping me, and what changed?

The Barriers

  • No trainers. I’d bought my existing pair in a rush, and – guess what – they were a rubbish fit. It’s amazing how something like this can put you off. Since over time I’ve developed a couple of niggly pains which I did not want to make worse, I knew I ought to get my gait analysed and choose some trainers properly to avoid falling at the first hurdle.
  • No running partner. I’m not very self-motivated or independent so I’d come to believe this was the only way I’d stick at it.
  • Weight. It’s horrible making yourself exercise in public when you know you need to be two-thirds the size you are. I have also never, ever lost weight through exercise but I always put weight on if I stop, so I was going to have to deal with this issue every time I went out, possibly FOREVER as I love food.
  • Fear of starting something and failing to stick at it – again. This is not a good time in my life to add to a catalogue of failures.

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New Trainers! 

The Perfect Conditions

  • A staycation – time to get organised and get started.
  • The weather and the season. I love the summer but autumn and spring give the opportunity to run in the dark, while it’s not too hot or cold or icy.
  • A decision to treat running as a hobby. No targets, no pressure, no over-thinking, no weight-loss targets – just see what happens and enjoy it for its own sake.
  • Enthusiasm of others, including my amazing host blogger and three separate recommendations for the gait analysis service at Advance Performance.
  • Getting used to going it alone – after the end of a very long relationship, this has been a recurrent theme this year, so if my choice from now on is either do things on my own or don’t do them, I’d better get on with it!
  • The pub. I’ve signed up for a few things this year after going to the pub. Beer brews bravery.

The Method

I vaguely started with the NHS Couch to 5k plan, planning to fast-forward it once I’d got to grips with things, to ensure I got my miles in during the month. I walk A LOT and was confident that I was fitter than I looked and felt, so as long as I was careful about stretching and injury, it seemed possible. I remember when I first began running, I could barely do 20 seconds straight but I never seem to have gone back to that point, even with the run-free years in between and even though I was thinner then. It’s as if your lungs and your subconscious remember how to handle it.

The staycation allowed me to spend ages initially walking miles away from my house to run on a secluded riverbank. I could glow like a giant lobster, experiment with technology and adjust my clothing with only the herons and cows for company. In reality I crossed paths with lots of cyclists and walkers but there’s an automatic bond with anyone out enjoying the countryside – for whatever reason, you want to do your thing in that spot and you have that in common with these strangers, so somehow it doesn’t matter that you are pretending (for now) to be an actual runner.

Another reason to try something like this during time off is that you can adjust your plans more easily. Tell yourself you’re going to run three times this week when there are only three time slots when you COULD run makes your plans very vulnerable at a time when you don’t really know how you’re going to get on. If, like me, you’re prone to giving up on things in a strop, this could be fatal! With a week off, the only firm plan I had to make was the trainer purchasing – beyond that, I just knew that by the end of the week I would have taken some sort of leap forward in my quest.

The Starting Blocks

I felt ill and made of lead during my first run but this turned out to be the dreaded PMS – annoying but it feel good to have got it out of the way at this end of the month rather than having a spanner thrown into the works at the end. My second run was much better and I did a couple of extra minutes with no ill effects. I liked the very subtle shift into being someone who had run a couple of times that week rather than someone who hadn’t run for years.

Apart from my setback (more below), each run was better, longer, faster – I had forgotten how quickly you improve when you start out, and it’s very gratifying.

The Setback

Sadly, after a bit more progress, I had to accept that my shins were increasingly giving me grief, and I stopped for a week. It was a big setback in my mileage but I spent the time researching what I assumed was shin splints, getting my foam roller out, stretching, massaging, resting, and determined not to be gutted. On starting again, I was pleased that one leg seemed MUCH better, but the other was excruciating. I got the ice pack out this time, and the next day spent a very long time massaging my inner right calf, followed by practically a whole day resting in bed with some weird lurgy…and finally on 18 September managed 1.5 miles (in bits) with much less pain, much more enjoyment and actually not that much sweat. Hurrah! It seems very odd that you continue to get fitter while you’re having a break – how does that work? Partly psychological, maybe.

Failure or Success?

I failed to do a marathon in September, but I did half a marathon by 2 October. All of my runs were run/walk combos, and I stubbornly stuck to my initial pledge to only count the running segments, otherwise I would have easily completed it in the time. I walked many marathons during the month so no way can I ask people to sponsor me to walk.

New routes!

But so many little successes! I:

  • Raised some money for BHF. I wonder what the percentage of charitable funds raised comes from unsuccessful ventures? Keep sponsoring your unrealistic pals, people – medical research depends on it!
  • Didn’t give up, even once it was blindingly obvious I was going to fail. I’m very good at giving up. This is why sponsorship helps; I hate letting others down.
  • Got over some of my hang-ups.
  • Rediscovered my enjoyment of running. I’ve enjoyed every single run.
  • Learnt to enjoy running on my own – and got closer to being able to run with other people again.
  • Ran up the hill that is Ely. I don’t think I’ve ever run up a proper hill before.

New Things

My own blog is about my project to do something new each day in 2016 and while running is not new, I’ve discovered that any hobby generates a steady stream of opportunities to try new things, whether tiny or life-changing! (I declare both types to be important in life.)

This month I’ve:

  • Tried running apps – brilliant motivation for that extra award, burst of speed or minute on the clock; annoying when they just stop counting your mileage for no reason
  • Had my gait analysed and had my first go on a running machine
  • Run in new places
  • Got addicted to foam-rolling
  • Used an ice pack
  • Signed up for a new 5k.

Parting Thoughts 

I’m a runner – might never be a very good one, but I am one, and my message to anyone who used to run is that you are still a runner. I’m so happy to have started again and that I’m doing it in my own random way, and that a month has made so much difference to my attitude.

If you’ve always thought of yourself as not being a runner, ask yourself why you think that. Is it worth giving it another go? If you find it boring then what makes it boring to you and how can you change that? I’m lucky – I love being outdoors and walking and I’m happy in most weathers, so running just adds interest to this. I reckon I’d be bored out of my mind on a running machine and I wouldn’t look forward to it but I daresay I could find ways of improving that. And if running just feels wrong, why is that? Are you trying to go to fast? Do you need to try running in the middle of nowhere until you find your feet? And if you think you need company, have more faith in yourself – if I can go it alone, anyone can.

Good luck!”

 

A Bitter Break for the Greater Good

I’ve not blogged for a few weeks. While this is mostly due to a lack of time (I’m hardly the sort who’s lost for words), it’s also due to the fact that now the Kevin Henry 5k series has finished, I’ve decided to make September a race free month.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best runner I can be. This is completely my own doing, and I don’t get pressure from anyone else (I surround myself with lovely, supportive people who do nothing but encourage me). So after the Kevin Henry series I decided to take stock and actually look at what I’d achieved. I had completed my first ever full season for Ely Runners competing in all 6 of the races. I was 1st woman for the club 4 times and 2nd woman twice. As someone who has chronic pre-race nerves, this is a big deal. And to come back from race number 5 (the hill of doom that resulted in a mid-race breakdown) and get a season’s best of 20:41 in race number 6 was something that I’ll forever be proud of.

But I’ve always hated walking away from races. I didn’t do the Greater Cambridge 10k on September 11th, which I was looking forward to since it was the inaugural race with my workplace as race HQ (the set up literally couldn’t have been better for me). I also couldn’t be part of the Ely Runners B team for the Round Norfolk Relay, something I would have loved to have done, especially after hearing about what an amazing experience it was from my clubmates (not to mention the INCREDIBLE medal). Feeling left out sucks, even more so when it’s somewhat out of your control.

So, what’s the reason for this self-enforced hiatus? I have a health problem that has been steadily getting worse over the last couple of months – most likely due to stress – so my body and mind need a break. I have the dreaded IBS, and as any fellow runner who also suffers from this knows, IBS and running are a hideous combo.

pug-bowl

I’ve always suffered from “pre-race nerves”, but this problem has started to appear on my training sessions too. Whenever I reach the 3 or 4 mile mark, my stomach just gives out. I used to be able to control this with tablets, but even these have stopped working like they used to, and I’m now having to plan my routes so that there are places I can stop, or take my bike to any training sessions that are more than a mile from Ely Runners’ base so that I can get back quickly. Not only is this embarrassing (although Twitter tells me that I am by no means alone), but it’s also starting to ruin the thing I love. If stress is causing this, I am stuck in a seriously vicious cycle right now.

But I’m trying to get some control back. I’m keeping a food diary to see if there are triggers (my stomach is cramping as I type – was it the wheat in my pretzel at lunchtime or the dairy in the cheese I had in my salad for dinner?) and I’m looking at some alternative therapies to see if they make a difference. And I think a trip to the doctors is in order – it has become significantly worse in the last 2 months, and there’s no obvious reason why  (although stress can be a sneaky little blighter, hiding beneath the surface).

Apologies if this is a little TMI for some of my readers, but I’ve only ever been completely honest with you. And running and stomach issues have a long and colourful history – the toilet queues at any big race are enough to tell you that! I’m hoping that I might stumble across a resolution for this that others may benefit from, and if you have any advice from your experiences, let me know. And if Immodium are looking for a poster girl, you know where to find me (usually behind a locked door).

shameAll gifs courtesy of Giphy

The EACH Colour Dash – My Review

As someone who is known for some seriously gaudy running gear, I’m sure you can imagine why a Colour Run has appealed to me for some time. All the ones I’d seen were taking place in London or Brighton or some other big city that just seemed too far to travel to for a 5k. So when I saw that one was happening on the grounds of King’s School in Ely (precisely where Ely Runners do some of their summer training sessions) I signed up in an absolute heartbeat, and rallied round a few others to join me.

It was a really decent day for a run – bit of sun but mostly cloud cover, not too warm but relatively windy (which would come back to bite the “paint pirates” on the arses later!). Thankfully there was no rain so the paint powders were safe to do their work. Pete, Rach and I walked to the race, and queued up for all of about 10 seconds to register and get our “race numbers” (a hand written sticker)! Although it may seem like a slightly amateurish setup to some, the Colour Dash isn’t really about racing (by all means beast it, but you’ll need to time yourself if you want something resembling an official time as there are no chips here). It’s about raising funds for a really fantastic charity (East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices) and giving people the opportunity to walk, jog or run a distance they might not have done before (even if a couple of folk did take a cheeky short cut)!

The three of us met up with my friend Naomi and her friend Sarah, as well as Naomi’s husband Neil who very kindly took on the role of bag monitor and photographer for the duration of the race! We also bumped into my friends Harriet and Tom and fellow Ely Runner Kim – it was so nice to be part of such a local affair. And as Naomi and Sarah got fully stuck in to the warm up, I of course went back and forth to the toilet 3 or 4 times. Old habits die hard, even during a fun run…

We all lined up at the start, fearing ever so slightly for the wellbeing of the mayor who had positioned himself unwisely in the middle of the start line, and as the klaxon went off (and the mayor scuttled out of the way), Pete blasted to the front alongside 6 or 7 little sprinters (this was very much a child – and dog – friendly race) and I did my best to keep pace.

For a fun run, this was actually a really tricky course. It’s almost all on grass, and there are two short sharp inclines that we know well from our Ely Runners interval training sessions. So I thought we’d be well set to take this on, but in order to make the course 5km, they made us wiggle around so that we actually had to go up 4 of those inclines per lap, which led to 8 in total. It’s one thing doing this during an interval session when you get slow recovery sections, but it’s another to do it on a fast steady run!

By the time we got about 2km in, all but one of the kids had dropped back. My 5k pacing has been off for a while, so yet again I found myself having to slow to a walk a couple of times. I did my best to avoid doing this when I ran past the “paint pirates” but they still got me with some serious orange paint, and I couldn’t help but laugh when at one point a gust of wind sent the powders flying back into their own faces! I had to close my eyes when I passed the paint stations (contact lenses and powder aren’t a good mix!) so all in all it was a bizarre and unusual running experience. Pete obliterated the competition and finished comfortably in first place, and I managed to find enough in my legs to come 2nd (but I was a solid minute behind him I think).  We were then gifted with some really lovely medals and we didn’t have to wait long for the others to cross the line, including Naomi who came in comfortably under her desired time, which was seriously impressive considering the course.

Pete, Rach and I didn’t hang around for the paint party (but we did of course make sure to visit Sweet Ally Scoops‘ ice cream van) and considering how hard it was to scrub the blue paint off my stomach that was probably a wise move. On the whole I was so impressed with the run. The route was well thought out (if a little mean!) and the atmosphere from start to finish was just brilliant. I think EACH should be proud of what they did and I really hope they make it an annual event. It’s just a shame that the King’s School Fields aren’t available all year round, as it would make a great parkrun venue!

If you’d like to try an EACH’s Colour Dash yourself it’s not too late! The King’s Lynn, Saffron Walden and Bury St Edmunds events are still open for registration. Find out more here.

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Hilly Races

I know I need to do more races. The reason I get so het up on a start line is because I just don’t put myself in that position enough. Every race suddenly becomes this massive deal and I find that in the days leading up to it my sleep is disturbed and my temper easily frayed.

So to have two races in one week is not like me at all. Without realising it I had signed up to the Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog (purely because of the megalolz name, obviously) which ended up being the day after the penultimate Kevin Henry League race of the season, hosted by Haverhill Running Club.

Now the Haverhill KHL race is notorious because of the “f*cking great hill” (not my words, but the words of quite a few people I had spoken to about the run) that you have to run up for the first half of the race, before thankfully coming back down again. So I was feeling a wee bit nervous on the 45 minute drive from Cambridge, but I’d been working really hard on trying to keep those nerves in check, and so my distraction technique at the start of the race was mainly to make friends with every dog I found. I thought I was doing quite well for me, even though my usual stress symptoms were making themselves known, and I started the race in a reasonable frame of mind.

But boy oh boy it didn’t take long for the wheels to fall off. The first 2k or so were hard going, but I felt ok. It was when I got to what I thought was the top of the hill that I started to struggle. I’d been told that you had a 1km flat before the final 2km headed downhill but this wasn’t the case at all. The middle 1km was actually a slow steady incline before it dropped down, something I hadn’t mentally prepared for. I then found myself overtaken by 3 other female runners and that’s when the wheels really came off. My mental strength gave up entirely and I stopped to walk, something I’ve not done since I was injured back in May. And once I did that, I was simply unable to recover. I could not in any way get my racing head back on and I just wanted to sit on the grass on the side of the road and quit. By stopping to walk I felt like I’d let myself and my entire team down, and when other runners said to me “come on, you can do it!” I felt mortified, fighting the urge to shout – “I know I can, I just can’t bloody well do it today!”as I ran/walked to the finish line.

img_20160805_081841.jpg

Pain

I was crying as I crossed that finish line, the lovely marshals asking me if I was ok as I just sobbed about being disappointed before walking across the field to sit on my own. I’m blushing now just thinking about it. And that’s what bothered me more as I sit here and write about it. I should be beyond tantrums by now. I should be beyond walking three times in a race too. My time was 21:48 (at least 30 seconds off where I really should be for a race with such a tricky terrain) which put me as 17th woman (out of 111), and realistically even if I hadn’t walked I would have only come 2 or 3 places higher. I’m just so frustrated with how I dealt with a difficult race. Instead of gritting my teeth and fighting through, I mentally gave up.

My fellow runners were so lovely, and as Alan came to give me a cuddle, through my tears I said “I’m sorry for being a twat” to which he responded, “It’s ok, I like twats. Put this behind you and let’s move on.” I can always rely on my racing family to make me laugh (particularly through the use of Carry-On style innuendos on the car ride home).

So I have to say that on Friday morning the thought of another race just a few hours later did not fill me with glee. In fact I felt awful, my stomach wrecked due to the stress of the previous day, manifesting itself in some serious nausea that left me unable to really eat. It wasn’t until some fresh air on the bike ride home and a 20 minute power nap that I finally felt human and decided that sod it – I would do the Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog, and I would just treat it as a bit of fun. I was going to get right back on that horse.

On the drive to the High Lodge Forest Centre with fellow Ely Runners Lee and Andy I was feeling wary but determined to do the run. I knew my body was dehydrated and not fuelled as well as I would have liked, but I was going to just enjoy it. There was no pressure, no points riding on me, and Andy and I made a pact to run together, so I knew there would be someone there to mentally pull me along when I started flagging. I shoved some biscuits in my mouth, covered myself in bug spray, tied my chip to my laces, undid my laces when I realised I’d done it wrong, and joined the throng at the start line.

And oh my giddy aunt it was one of the best runs I’ve ever done. I loved (nearly) every second of it. The course twisted and turned (hence Wibbly Wobbly!) so much that I didn’t have time to think about whether or not it hurt. Dodging tree roots, trying to keep my ankles strong as they threatened to turn on a rogue stump and clambering up short but steep inclines I had an absolute blast. The marshals were also some of the best I’ve ever come across on a run, whooping and cheering at every turn. Andy and I worked as a tag team, overtaking runners when the opportunity arose (not often as the course is narrow, so you have to really grab your chances) and  checking in with each other over the five miles.

As I sprinted across the finish line – taking out one last runner in the process – I remembered why I love running – because those moments when you have a great run far outweigh those bloody awful ones. Even the fact I didn’t get a medal couldn’t take the shine off. Ok maybe it did a little bit. I flipping love a medal. Sad face.

Over the weekend I had time to digest what had happened on Thursday. Not only was it a tough course, I’d had a week of bad sleep and it soon became clear that hormones (“that ole performance killer” as my sister calls them) had clearly played their part too (although as a female athlete I need to learn to cope with the effects of them better). I also chatted to the running community on Twitter and got the most heartwarming couple of tweets from TrueStart Coffee that meant more than they probably realised:

TrueStart

The fact is, despite walking three times I still managed a sub 22 minute 5k on a tough course. But even more importantly, I shoved it to the back of my mind and raced the very next day, and found a new race that I loved and can’t wait to do next year. All in all, I call that a win.