Swim, bike, run, medal

2 days ago I completed a Sprint Triathlon. If I had told myself this two and a half years ago, I would have wet my pants laughing at the prospect, but there we have it. It’s true. I have the medal (and it’s my favourite medal too).

I think it’s important to remember where I started before I recount Monday’s exploits because I really and completely truly believe that if I can achieve a Sprint Triathlon, then quite literally anyone can. You can do anything you put your mind to if you want to do it enough. The fact that the idea scares you is not a reason not to try because the more the idea scares you, the greater the sense of achievement and more alive you feel because of it. Two and half years ago, the idea of running terrified me but knew that I needed to do something drastic to improve my health. I wanted to be an active, not lumpy Mum and I needed to set my daughters a better example. So I downloaded the couch to 5k app and over the past 2 and half years have persevered with what has become the most complicated relationship of my entire life. Running. I am not fast. I am not a natural runner. Most of the time I actively hate it. It makes me swear and often cry……but it has also given me more than anyone could have ever predicted. Not only a 4 stone weightloss, healthier heart, longer life expectancy (we hope), lower cholestorol, peace of mind, better sleep and the ability to eat (within reason) whatever I like as well as a haul of medals, but most importantly it has given me good friends, my squad, my tribe. I am part of a family of women who all met through running. I would not have met these people if it wasn’t for running; Hattie, Curly Sue, Merida, Miss Fonda, Ariel, Ruby Red, Captain, LA Blond, the list goes on and on. Two and half years ago I didn’t know any of them, but now count some to be part of my “inner circle” of great friends.

So if you are about to start on a couch to 5k course using whatever means you have chosen (app or running group), don’t be afraid of being afraid. Embrace it and remember that you can do it if you really want to do it…and one day it might lead you to a triathlon medal!

So enough of the mushy stuff….let’s talk triathlon. There is more to triathlon than swimming, cycling and running. There is also the complicated lesson of logistics. In order to participate in a triathlon you have to transport your bike to the venue and this requires a bike rack. Now we have a bike rack, but it comes out maybe twice a year and we always need to watch a youtube video to remember how to rack the bikes onto it. The Red Lady and I were due to start our swim at 7.41am, which meant in order to have enough time to get everything sorted out before we started we would need to set off at 5.30am. Ugh. I am not a morning person and I believe that the only reason you should ever be up at 5am is to board a plane for a holiday….but at this time of the morning we needed to be ready to go and faffing about getting the bikes on a rack wasn’t an option. Therefore the Red Lady bought her bike round on Sunday evening and thank goodness she did. After 45 minutes of trying to get the bikes onto the rack during which we all got covered in oil, we finally got the bikes on to then discover that the car would not go in the garage with the bikes  on. Needless to say, there was swearing…..so the next morning, my very lovely Husband got up with me at 5am to help rack the bikes up and at 5.30am the Red Lady and I were away and off on our adventure. (Husband and daughters were to arrive later but in time to cheer me on for the run.)

When we arrived at Westonbirt House, the location of the Sprint Triathlon, we had to go and collect our race pack which had instructions for transition (the area where you go from swim to bike and then bike to run, essentially where you leave all your kit), lots and lots of stickers (to put on your bike and helmet) and race number tattoos. As I have already said, I am not good in the morning and nerves, coupled with my general ineptitude first thing in the morning resulted in my leg looking like this when I had finished.

race-tattoo.jpg

So now as I was clearly looking professional….the Red Lady and I headed off towards the swimming pool to await instructions. The swim leg was 400m and I had been allocated “lane 2, position 1” which meant I was given a red swimming hat. The Westonbirt Sprint Triathlon is put on by a company called DB Max and they are brilliant. I don’t know if all triathlons are like this, but every single Marshall on Monday was superb. The lady in the pool explained with expert clarity that red hats would go in first and that there would 5 swimmers per lane, each wearing a different coloured hat and we would be starting in 10 second intervals. We were each in charge of counting our own number of lengths but there was also a person counting at the end of each lane who would help. If you are tapped on the feet whilst swimming, you must let the tapper overtake you at the end of the length then when you’re done you jump out and then you’re off to transition. Pretty simple. I was off first (being a red hat) and I did feel the pressure as I knew everyone would be chasing me. The Red Lady and a TMR Mum Jemima, was also in the same wave but a different starting position. Despite having practiced my front crawl religiously since January, I am ashamed to say that as I sat listening to the Marshall, surrounded by other triathletes (some of which looked fairly experienced) I lost my bottle and at the last minute changed my plan of swimming all front crawl, to swimming alternate breaststroke then front crawl. I was tapped on the foot twice but on the whole I was pleased with my swim. I had set myself the target of completing the swim in less than 12 minutes and my chip time (which you wear on a strap around your ankle) registered 11.35. I marked it up as a success.

What I hadn’t practiced however, was getting out the pool and getting to my bike in a soaking wet trisuit. I had practiced getting off the bike into a run but not the swim to bike. Westonbirt is also slightly unusual in that there is a 600-700m run from the swimming pool to the transition area (where my bike was) and I was surprised by how weird it felt. I got out the pool and ran to my towel, quickly dried my feet and put my shoes and socks on and tried to run. It wasn’t easy. My legs were wobbly and I felt strangely self conscious as there were lots of spectators walking around, getting in my way too ( “please MOVE I am doing a triathlon” – I muttered inwardly to myself, or words to that effect…) as well as swimmers in later waves walking to the pool. Everyone was offering support but as most trisuits are black, it’s impossible to see who is wet and who is dry so it was a confusing run.

The rules of the transition are plentiful but they all follow a common sense theme. You are not allowed to touch the bike until you are wearing your helmet and this follows that when you come back in from the bike leg, you are not allowed to take your helmet off until you have parked your bike. Safety, safety and safety. I didn’t rush in transition (I should have been quicker really and I will be quicker on future triathlons) but I didn’t want to break any rules. The Red Lady caught me up and we had a little chat as we prepared ourselves. I am quintessentially British and spend a lot of my life worrying about being appropriately dressed for the weather. One of the things I was most worried about on Monday (other than getting up at 5am) was whether I would be cold on the cycle. I would be wet…and hopefully travelling quite quickly so in theory could get very cold. Therefore I decided to put a Tshirt on for the cycle, somehow rationalising that this would keep me warm over a soaking wet trisuit!

There is a “line” at the edge of transition and you cannot get onto your bike until you are over it and also you are not allowed to cross the line coming back from the cycle whilst on your bike. Again safety, safety, safety. You must not ride your bike in the transition zone in case you hurt someone. The DB Max Marshalls were all positioned perfectly – as you headed out to the run the Marshall here had a loud booming voice, full of encouragement and enthusiasm, calling everyone “Runner” and telling us we could all “do it” and we were “amazing”. By contrast, the Marshall situated by the transition line entering and leaving the bike area shouted instructions at us reminiscent of a Sargeant Major but he had clearly decided that not one triathlete would forget the rule and risk disqualification on his watch, so barked at us loudly. It was a bit scary coming in as he shouted at me to “remember the line and get off your bike” but it was invaluable as I had spotted my family and was more intent on waving at them than remembering to get off the bike before the transition line.

As the Red Lady and I headed out to embark on our 24k cycle I felt excited. Now as much as I struggle with running, the opposite is true of my bike. Prior to Monday, thanks to my UGIDA, I had only managed 3 rides on my bike but I had always felt that this would be the strongest section for me and I wasn’t wrong. I quickly sped away and really began to push the cycle. For much of the ride I was on my own, surrounded my beautiful countryside and I found myself nodding to early morning dog walkers and then talking to the horses that were watching from the fields. “Good Morning Mr Horse” I shouted to them, like a crazy woman, but smiling. I felt truly happy. Also mindful of the advice of a professional contact, Mr Lapin, who had advised that I needed to “not come last and overtake a man” I made sure that I overtook the first man I saw (I don’t think he was very happy) and I was not last. I was ecstatic. I love cycling. I sped down the hills so fast that I wanted to squeal and pushed up the hills, digging in, not wanting to slow down. It’s a slippery slope though as I am already eyeing up cleats, new pedals etc but I am confident that I can be good (or at least not completely rubbish) at cycling. I mean, my enormous glute muscles must be good for something!

Westonbirt Sprint Tri – 28.5.18 – www.dbmax.co.uk

Finally, I got off the bike and almost into the arms of the enthusiastic Marshall as I set off on the run. My legs were wobbly and they felt very tired. I hadn’t been cold on the cycle as I had feared because it was warm and muggy and because I was peddling my little heart out. My average heartrate on the cycle was 150 beats per minute and I was hot when I got back. A trisuit is essentially a very large pair of spanx and it hides NOTHING. It is not an outfit for the body conscious but I think it says something about the atmosphere on Monday that in transition, I pulled my Tshirt off and ran in only my trisuit without really giving it too much thought. Westonbirt Sprint triathlon is an event for all types of athletes, all levels of fitness and all shapes and sizes, all doing their best and working towards that medal. I didn’t look out of place as I ran in my black lycra outfit. The run was nothing short of horrendous. It was here that the 5 weeks when I was unable to train properly due to UGIDA really showed. I had planned to run/walk the final 5k 3 minutes and 30 seconds, but this didn’t really happen. My legs didn’t seem to work properly at all but at the same time worked very fast. I couldn’t seem to take normal size strides…so was running in a fashion akin to someone in a Benny Hill sketch running to pat a bald man on the head with comedy music accompanying me. I was 5 minutes ahead of the Red Lady at the end of the cycle but she caught me up. We passed each other (the run was laps) before she caught me and she was clearly enjoying the run as much as I was as she shouted to me “I don’t like you very much at the moment”….. She didn’t mean it, I don’t think!!! 5 minutes later she had caught me and slowed down for a quick chat. I urged her on telling her not to wait and she was off. She was so strong on Monday and I am so proud of her.

On the final lap, I was really hurting but my cheer squad, Husband and Daughters, cheered me over the line and I was ecstatic. The finishers “high” was immense and I don’t think I have experienced a high as big since my very first 10k in 2016. I am a triathlete! I cannot believe it. I am very proud of myself.

Westonbirt Tri - RUN

There was 444 competitors on Monday and I came 380th in the swim, 385th on the bike and 434th in the run. I am always found out on the run.

Over a celebratory breakfast with Curly Sue this morning, we have formulated a plan which will hopefully help me to run faster (finally) and be stronger. I am going to redo couch to 5k but hopefully running faster and slow jogging the walking bits. I’m going to continue cycling (have I mentioned that I love it?!) and swimming but I’m also going to embark on serious strength training. I have ordered some weights and I will get strong. I want to do more triathlons and I’m also considering a wetsuit to try some lake swimming as I would like to do a longer Olympic Distance triathlon. But I don’t want my running to always undo all of the progress made by the swim and bike. I’m also entered for the Portishead Sprint Triathlon in early August so plenty to focus the mind.

So I enter a new phase….again! Get fast and get strong.  Arm wrestle anyone?….

 

Shorts, the sunshine and a 10k race

When I started running in 2016, the Bristol 10k was my first ever event and I completed it on a hot day, in 93 minutes of triumph.  Last year, the Bristol 10k became a bit of an obsession and I got a bee in my bonnet about achieving a fast time, which I did helped by Merida, who paced me to 78 minutes and 56 seconds on another overly warm day. There was press interest, interviews in the run up and whilst I should have felt elated upon achieving my goal, I didn’t as I suffered an emotional crash after having run on adrenaline for the preceding weeks running up to the race.

Each year, the Bristol 10k brings me a new challenge and this year was no different. After having not really run for the month preceding the race and deciding only 4 days before to even attempt the run, I was going for a different type of finish this year. I needed to relax my expectations to simply finish in one piece rather than achieve a faster time than last year and not to jeopardise the triathlon which is scheduled for the Bank Holiday weekend. This seems very sensible doesn’t it? Surely only a complete idiot would deviate from this plan……

The problem is that following my Landmarks victory (which is what I am calling it), I really believed that I had cracked the mental battle with running. I CAN run faster than I think and I only need to tell myself this and not walk and I would get faster and faster and one day, who knows, perhaps I could achieve a “fast” time. Husband, who is my most enthusiastic cheerleader, is convinced that I am capable of a sub 70 minute 10k and I began to believe it myself. Genuinely, I do think that one day I will run a sub 70 minute 10k, but let’s be realistic here, it’s not going to be following a month of no real exercise apart from walking and swimming. Only a complete idiot would attempt something like that…

So the morning of the race arrived and I was feeling remarkably relaxed as I had no real or public goal. I told myself that all I needed to do was finish. One of the lovely TMR ladies, MacStar had messaged me a couple of days before to say that she hadn’t done as much running as she’d have liked in the run up to the race either and perhaps we could “meander” (her words) together. I made it very clear that she was not to pace me and could leave me at any point, but she was happy for the company and so I joyously agreed.

Hattie has been preparing for the Bristol 10k like a woman possessed and has been training very hard indeed. We travelled into town together as usual, but we had decided (for the first time ever) NOT to run the race together. I didn’t want to do anything to stop her achieving her desired time and if I had to withdraw for any reason during the race due to UGIDA, then I know she would have stopped to stay with me. This was unthinkable for me and so we agreed that she would run her race (fast) and I would complete mine, hopefully in one piece.

Arriving in the Athletes’ Village on Millenium Square is always exciting and as Husband ran off to join the other speedies in his starters pen, I went to the Mothership that is the “This Mum Runs” stand to meet up with my squad. It was brilliant. There were absolutely hundreds of us and we all completed the warm up together, all wearing our team colours and I was able to help a couple of the first timers try to keep calm and convince them that they CAN run 10k and just enjoy the day. Macstar, Merida, RubyRed (my super glamorous friend who always runs in red lipstick), Captain, everyone was there and it felt a bit like a Christmas party. But then it was time to join our pen and await our start. I had been planning to chase the 75 minute pacer for as long as possible and then hopefully stay ahead of the 80 minute pacer. MacStar could possibly see my brain buzzing and so suggested that we run on our own, which I suspected she thought would help to keep my speed sensible. I happily obliged and we walked on towards the front of the pen, with me keeping half an eye on the 75 minute pacer who was now 20 feet behind me. And then we were off. The most consistent thing I can say about all three 10k races that I have run over the years, is that they have ALL been absolutely boiling. The portway part in particular felt like a volcano and the heat bounced off the tarmac and the sun beat down mercilessly. It was like running in an oven and I am never a very successful runner in the heat. As MacStar and I crossed the start line, I knew that the first kilometre would be faster than it should be as you get swept along with the crowd, but then you need to slow your pace down, especially in hot temperatures. But as I have stated a few times, I am an idiot and this is not what I did. Instead of slowing down, I ramped the pace up, even though MacStar was doing her utmost to reign me in pleading that “you need to slow down” but I couldn’t or at least, I didn’t. I have not got within 90 seconds of my 2017 10k time since last May and yet I ran the first 3k on Sunday this week at a sub 72 minute 10k pace and it was BOILING. This would have been a stretch if I was fully fit, but I was not and so, as you know, I confirm my status as “idiot” once more as at 3k I ran out of steam and also worryingly, began to overheat. My core inside was very, very hot and I felt a bit sick and we still had 2k before the water station. We stopped for a breather (3 minutes worth of a breather) and I instantly knew that my time was not going to happen. I felt ok about it to be honest and all the self imposed pressure instantly evaporated. Whilst I was stopped Hattie ran past me, smacking my bum as she passed! She looked fast and I shouted at her to carry on as she slowed down to see what I was doing and was I ok? I reassured her I was fine and Macstar was with me and then she was gone again. Hattie took 5 minutes off her previous fastest 10k time and she is delighted. She worked hard and deserves it. Well done Hattie.

Suspension Bridge High res

As we moved towards the 4k mark, I whispered to MacStar that I needed to walk (else I would have fallen over) and so the walking started. Run a bit, walk a bit which continued for the rest of the race. I stripped off my head buff and yellow sweatband as whilst they help mop up sweat, they were also contributing to my heat problem. At the water station, Curly Sue and the LA Blond were Marshalling and so hugs and high fives occurred as MacStar poured an entire bottle of water over my head and neck (I suspect that if you’d been close enough you would have heard a hissing sound much like steam) whilst I drank another bottle. Still I was hot but I was feeling better. We took a further 2 bottles with us and set off for the final 5k. I simply could not run without walking and the heat from the sun was relentless as we trundled through kilometres 5 to 8. Macstar was fantastic and we did finally have the meander and chat we had promised each other as the kilometres went by. I was feeling stupid as I knew that I had caused this situation but nonetheless determined to finish as I wanted the medal and knew that my daughters would be waiting to cheer me at kilometre 9.

As the kilometres passed by the crowd cheered loudly as I had hoped that they would, but I also received some unforeseen support from readers of this blog. 3 people over the course of the race (who all passed me running fast) shouted to say hello and that they were readers of this very blog and they enjoyed it and it had helped them. I loved saying hello to these people and your support really helped me over those final tough miles. Thank you.

As we reached 9k I saw my daughters which always lifts me. Husband was with them and he asked if I was ok, knowing I was hot and almost certainly not, and then quickly communicated that he had been off his pace and had suffered with the heat too.

As we turned into the final straight, I quickly decided that I wanted this to be finished as quickly as possible and promised MacStar that we would go for a sprint finish which we did, but those final 600m were amongst the most painful and excruciating I have ever run.

Sprint finish HIGH res

My final time was 85 minutes, which does include 3 minutes of stopping at 3k so I guess I ran it in 82 minutes. Given that I hadn’t really trained properly and was reliant on my residual fitness built up over a couple of years now, I can’t really complain. I wasn’t sore the next day either which I am also taking as a big win. If I had gone off slower it might have been a different story, but I didn’t. I am an idiot, but an idiot that never stops trying. What I took from Sunday is that you can’t smash every race. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Sometimes there will be reasons for this (not properly training in the run up or a ludicrously hot day) and sometimes there won’t. But you must keep trying. Despite promising myself as I ran up the Cumberland basin that I was having next year off and MacStar and I laughing as we noted that the supporters looked like they were having a much better time than we were and promising each other that we wouldn’t torture ourselves like this again next year, within 24 hours of crossing the finish line, I had already signed up for next year and so had MacStar. Runners are all mad.

As we walked back to the TMR stand, which was where I was meeting Husband and daughters, my smile re-appeared as we were greeted by the TeamTMR. Some were ecstatic having got fast times and others were desolate and disappointed. I consoled and congratulated accordingly.

My most immediate feeling I had was not about my time, but of a more practical nature – I was soaking wet. Without even giving it a thought, I pulled my soaking wet T shirt off exposing my sports bra and put on the dry new T shirt that was in the finisher’s pack, which was slightly loose for the first time ever. I didn’t give any consideration to my tummy or bingo wings or being “beach body ready”. What a load of crap that is – if you’re on the beach and you have a body, then you ARE “beach body ready”! The more observant of you will also notice that I am wearing shorts for the first time. I have worried about wearing shorts in public to run in for some time now, but finally took the plunge after Perdita (she has dalmations) suggested that I try the Decathlon shorts as they are long, don’t ride up and so, hopefully, my thighs wouldn’t rub together resulting in the dreaded “chafing”. I don’t think any woman over the age of 13 actually has a real “thigh gap” and so the fear of chafing is a big problem for most normal sized women and is a reason why so many of us are scared to wear shorts. But I did try them and they worked and given the heat, I was very pleased I had freed my legs and was wearing shorts on Sunday. There is no going back for me now, I will be wearing shorts for evermore now. Don’t be afraid to join me.

Bank Holiday weekend I will be wearing a Tri Suit, which is essentially a skintight (genuinely, I can barely breathe in it) lycra all in one shorts and Tshirt suit that you swim, cycle and run in – so as you see, it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous!

I’m not really going to be “match fit” for the Tri either, but I will pace myself much better as this will be a completely different test. I have never cycled the full distance having I’ve only been out on my bike once for a proper ride and the only time I have ever transitioned (which is when you switch from one discipline to the next) from bike to run, my legs buckled underneath me, so it will be a challenge to say the least. But, I am looking forward to it, as ever.  I’m just hoping it won’t be too hot…..

Shiny Sheena and U.G.I.D.A

Following the Landmarks Half, I decided to treat myself to a week off as I was knackered and wanted a little break before Tri Training started. I ate what I wanted which seemed to include at least 4 pieces of congratulatory cake (any excuse) and relaxed. It was wonderful and just what I needed.

The following weekend, I went for an 8k running plod (just for fun with no mind of speed) and then the next day took “Shiny Sheena” (yes, I have named my road bike) out for a 13 mile spin. I had been so excited to get out and try my new bike for a couple of weeks and when I finally managed it, she didn’t disappoint. I really like cycling and was able to test the gear I had bought (“all the gear and no idea” describes me down to a tee!”). I went up the Bristol and Bath Cycle Path to the Warmley Tea rooms, (which has a toilet decorated to look like Doctor Who’s TARDIS), I had a cup of tea and then cycled back. Other cyclists waved to me and I felt like I was one of the gang.

Shiny Sheena

The “Tri Mums” (This Mum Runs ladies that do Triathlons) had been enormously supportive with my planned triathlon endeavours and were on hand to help offering advice on gear, outfits, shoes (hooray – yes we need new shoes) and training plans to myself and a couple of other newbie Triers. They recommended that to avoid “chafing” in the bottom area, it was best to wear no underwear under the cycle trousers at all.

Frankly I was horrified. Having just been through the whole underwear/runderwear debacle with the running, it seemed that underwear (or lack of) was now a new feature with cycling. It seems to exercise in 2018, one must be knickerless and enduring a cold tummy. But these ladies know more than me and so I trusted them and followed their advice for the bike ride. They were correct. The padded bum part of cycling trousers did not rub and so I was delighted. Unfortunately the razor like saddle did aggravate my bottom, significantly and I was uncomfortable for a few days.

I will stop now and tell you that my husband has begged me not to put the next bit in this blog as it’s a bit embarrassing and extremely personal. But my blog is a “warts and all” log of my exercise journal and so I must go against his wishes. (Sorry). On the Monday after the cycle, I was horrified to discover that I had an UGIDA . An “Uninvited Guest in the Downstairs Area” as my daughter named it, rather perfectly…..or a hemmaroid.  I was not happy and extremely uncomfortable. Over the counter medicine was doing nothing to rectify the situation and so after a week of panic about not being able to run (it was MUCH too painful) or cycle (absolutely unthinkable) I went to the Doctor. The Doctor was fantastic and, importantly, a runner. I was surprised to find myself in tears as I explained to her (and her two medical students in with her as they all had a good look at the “UGIDA”) that I was desperate to run as I had an upcoming triathlon and so my training plan demanded that I run. Let me tell you, I am not a fan of running, but not being able to run was absolutely hideous and I needed to get the “situation” sorted quickly. Unfortunately, the human body, and mine in particular, doesn’t give two hoots about triathlons or medals and so there was nothing to do but rest and try and recover. The Doctor impressed upon me, in earnest, the need for rest, stating that this is not uncommon in runners and athletes and she wished more people would go and get their “UGIDAs” checked etc.  So as I blinked back the tears, I tried to heed her words and resolved to rest in the hope that this would fix the problem. So I rested. And then rested a bit more. It didn’t get any worse and possibly improved a bit, but it was not happening quick enough for me. I am currently waiting for a referral to come through to have the little blighter removed. I resigned myself to not being able to do the triathlon or run the Bristol 10k, which as you may know, is what I refer to as my “Annual Nemesis” as I usually use this to test if I am improving as a runner. I was gutted about the triathlon but I think if I’d had a choice over which event I would do if I could only do one, I would have chosen the 10k. It’s been a dark couple of weeks and I have felt at times as though I should simply set up a direct debit from my own bank account to Boots as I have desperately tried numerous creams to try and alleviate the symptoms.

I have been very, very down. I have been surprised by how low I have felt to be honest. I have bored my Sisters with updates on “Asswatch” as they’ve tried to help and keep me sane, but not running has been hell.

Hattie has been training with Curly Sue without me and making fantastic progress but I have struggled to go along and watch as it made me feel quite upset not to be running alongside her, sweating as we run up hills or sprinting around Queens Square. One small glimmer of light however, has been that although you can’t run or cycle with an UGIDA, swimming is **virtually recommended** and so at least this was some form of a lifeline. I have practised my front crawl over and over again in the past few weeks and I am confident that it has improved. I can now swim 400m front crawl continously (at Christmas I couldn’t even swim two lengths), which is the required distance for the Sprint Tri, but I am significantly faster if I alternate breaststroke and front crawl. I’ve swum on average 2k a week and it has helped me a bit.

Then last week, in my desperation I went to Boots (again) to see if there was another type of cream that might offer some miracle. I was elated to discover that this new cream made an immediate difference and it was enough of an improvement that this last Wednesday (2 days ago) I felt ok to run home. I hadn’t run for 3 weeks and it felt AMAZING and more importantly, there was no pain. As I ran, the 10k flashed through my brain and so I decided to run for 60 minutes to see if I could. I could indeed run for an hour (imagine if I’d told myself that 2 and half years ago – that after a 3ish week break, I would be able to run for an hour!) and it was clear that although I wasn’t as fit as I had been after the half, (understatement) the swimming had preserved some of my fitness and so the 10k felt possible. I mean, it was going to hurt, but it was possible.

If the 10k is possible then the triathlon should be too if I put my old bike saddle on Sheena, as Merida had suggested….. I’m massively undertrained on the bike now and running out of time so there will be an element of “winging it” but what else is new?!

Therefore, as long as my referral with the hospital doesn’t come through in the next two weeks (highly unlikely) and as long as I am not in pain (most importantly) I have decided that I am going to run the Bristol 10k on Sunday and attempt the Westonbirt Sprint Triathlon in 2 weeks time.

I say this knowing that I might have to withdraw from one or both mid-race if things go wrong or anything “appears”….. but I think for the sake of my sanity that it is worth the risk. Plus…I have already bought a trisuit (well 2 actually…it’s a long story and I couldn’t decide between them) and I NEED the 10k medal to keep my annual collection consistent.

There is a 75 minute pacer at the Bristol 10k (TMR are providing official pacers in the Duracell uniforms this year at 75, 80 and 90 minutes after “Pacergate” in 2017) and 4 weeks ago I would have felt confident at giving this a bash for a sub 75 minute 10k. Sadly I don’t think it’s realistic anymore and so I intend to follow the lovely 75 minute pacer for as long as I can and then try my best to stay ahead of the 80 minute pacer, but I also know that this might not happen. I’ll do my best though and will hopefully have a shiny medal by lunchtime on Sunday. Wish me luck.

 

Disclaimer **virtually recommended**– not really recommended, more that I bullied the Doctor into admitting that I could swim as long as it didn’t hurt but running and cycling were absolutely prohibited.

“Leave nothing behind”…..

When I wrote my last blog post I was in panic mode. Writing does help me process things and you’ll be pleased to hear that I did calm down a bit. This was further helped by a couple of positive runs (one in a blizzard) in the final 10 days preceding the London Landmarks Half Marathon where I had set myself the target of running it in under 3 hours. As always, though, not everything was straight forward and so using the benefit of my most recent experiences, I hearby give you the list of things to avoid in the lead up to a big race:

  • Whilst worrying about “overdoing it” and getting a last minute injury, decide to go to the triathlon club swimming session instead of going for a run. All good in theory as it’s excellent cross training with no pressure on the joints and they are all really lovely supportive people….but not if you accidentally smash your hand into another swimmer (who happened to be Merida – you can’t make it up can you?!) and injure yourself so much that you have to go and have your fingers x-rayed the next day. Thankfully it wasn’t broken, but in case you’re interested, google says that you can run a half marathon if you have a broken finger.
  • Add to your growing stress levels by agreeing to go along to a running club AGM to talk about your book and running stories 4 nights before the race. Sole Sisters in North Bristol are a wonderful and inspiring bunch of ladies (full of lovely normal runners) who were extremely welcoming and found my stories funny (I think), but I was so worried about not doing a good job for them on the night (as I take my running responsibilities very seriously) that I hadn’t really slept much the night before the talk which wasn’t brilliant preparation for a 13 mile race.
  • When you arrive in London for the race, check your hotel booking before you go. Don’t arrive at the hotel and roll your eyes when the receptionist fails to find your booking and then say, “don’t worry I’ll find my confirmation” only to then discover that you must have price checked the hotel but then never actually got around to booking the hotel after all. We were lucky they had a room and I was lucky that I couldn’t read my husband’s mind as he looked at me from across the hotel reception in growing disbelief as the scene unravelled before his eyes….
  • Fail to book a table in a restaurant for the all important pre-race dinner. This is especially important if you are staying in the vicinity of a 65000 seater stadium which has a rugby match on the same day and so you find yourself in direct competition with all 65000 spectators as you try and find somewhere to eat….needless to say that this was unsuccessful and so we ended up back at the hotel for a bit of a lack lustre pizza.

So with all these challenges behind me, I woke up in the day of the race feeling remarkably relaxed. Husband (who was also running in the race) and I enjoyed a leisurely porridge pot and cereal bar, prepared our race bags and left for the tube station. The tubes were running as they should and as we got closer and closer to Charing Cross tube station, we collected more and more runners. I genuinely felt good and I was excited. Dare I say that I felt ready even and was sure that all my troubles were behind me, although as my preceding week shows, this was probably reckless.

Husband and I enjoyed the opportunity of an unusually quiet Trafalgar Square to get some “Lion Selfies” and catch up with my friend “Gordon” who, I know professionally and had also signed up to the race following one of our drunken nights out in London a few months previously when we decided it would be a great idea… Merida arrived carrying a bottle of champagne in her race bag for our post-race celebrations. Hattie was already there as she had travelled in with her sister (also running the race) and we met up with her soon after. Husband and Gordon disappeared to start in the first wave and Hattie, Merida and I slowly followed being careful to do a proper warm up. I was focussed and precise as we went through the warmups that Curly Sue has drilled into us over the past few months and knowing that Hattie sometimes suffers from a tight calf, we paid particular attention to this part of the warm up. We also saw some lovely Sole Sisters as we were joining the start queue who waved enthusiastically at us to say hello – love those ladies.

And then we were off. Merida, in her gold shorts (the Kylies) was in charge of pacing and so we tried to be obedient and keep our pace down, but it was hard. It was a glorious day and perfect for running. Overcast, no kryptonite-like sun sapping my energy, not too hot, not too cold and no wind. This combined with a fairly flat course and my confidence about any hills we would encounter due to the hard hill training we’ve been working on with Curly Sue added to my excitement.

However, whilst I was feeling great and Merida was practically floating along like a Glinda from The Wizard of Oz in gold hot pants (as a sub 3 hour half marathon is a largely enjoyable experience for someone who usually completes one in 2 hours) then unfortunately, poor Hattie was feeling the opposite. Hattie was struggling to breathe and was unusually quiet. I put this down to nerves initially and also the fact that Hattie always hates the first 5k of any race and so I regret to admit that I did what I have always done. We fell into our routine of me ignoring the complaints and willing her to keep going as I was confident that once we hit 5-6k, she would be off like a train chugging confidently towards the finish line and then she would repay the favour by ignoring me as I start to complain at 14k onwards. But the usual strategy didn’t seem to be working as effectively as usual and Hattie asked to walk for a bit. With my mind anxiously, and selfishly I am embarrassed to concede, thinking of the sub 3 goal I had set myself, I urged her on promising a walk at 10k. Hattie continued but somewhere between kilometre 9 and 10 suddenly ran to the side of the road and clung onto a railing, swaying dangerously. Merida and I ran to her side and were horrified to discover that Hattie was a white as a sheet and her legs were buckling beneath her. She was urging us to leave her….which was never going to happen and so I made my internal peace with my sub 3 hour target and tried to help my friend offerfing her dextrose tablets and pouring some water into her. A couple of other runners also stopped to help and one offered to walk with Hattie as “she was planning to largely walk the race anyway”. I declined as Merida and I decided very quickly that we weren’t leaving Hattie at all and certainly not with anyone unless she was related to them. But then Hattie rallied a bit, probably as the sugar hit her system and she seemed a bit better. The relief was palpable. Walking was possible and then she was able to slowly jog, albeit unsteadily. Hattie then declared that she was feeling better but wasn’t going to finish the race and again urged us to leave her. I forcefully informed her that this wasn’t happening (forcefully…read…told her to shut up) and we kept moving forward not really knowing what would happen. At the 6 mile marker (10k) we saw Hattie’s parents and cousin. I have never been so relieved to see anyone in my entire life. The sight of her Mother spurred Hattie to a near sprint but her legs buckled beneath her once more as she reached her, very confused looking, Mum. I quickly explained what had happened and her Mum gave me that “Mum” look that stated clearly that she was now in charge of the situation and Merida and I could go. I didn’t know what to do, but she urged us on and so we left, feeling worried about our friend but also confident that she was now safe and ok.

As we ran off, I looked at Merida and was almost too scared to ask the question I desperately needed to know the answer to.  “Can we still do this in less than 3 hours?” to which the answer was a fairly unconvincing “I’m not sure, it’s going to be very close and we probably don’t have time for any walk breaks”. I said I would give it all I had and we would make a call at 10 miles (16k) as to whether it was still possible as we were not quite yet at the half way point. So, like Forest Gump, I just started running. I put my head down and ran. There was no trundling. There was “grit your teeth and run” running. My average running pace is usually between 7.50 to 8.30 minutes to run a kilometre and I always get slower as the distance increases. On Sunday, I ran kilometre 12 (over the halfway point) in 6 minutes and 32 seconds. This is my second fastest kilometre EVER and kilometres 12 to 14 were all ludicrously speedy. It hurt, but not as much as I had feared it would. We came to the turn point on the embankment which was also the 10 mile point and Merida decided that she wanted to get a selfie. I genuinely couldn’t believe it. A Selfie?!!! But I gamely smiled and enjoyed the breather as I’d not had even a 10 step walk break for the past 45-50 minutes. Now I realise that Merida probably did it on purpose to allow me to catch my breath as we had also made up enough time by this point that the sub 3 goal was back on the table as long as I kept going.

The final 3 miles were horrendous and yet amazing. Merida patted me on the shoulder and told me I was doing well, but conversation was impossible. I gritted my teeth and ran. I really doubted that I would be able to keep going without a walk break, but I was game to try.

The support from the crowds in a big race is so incredibly important over the final section of the route. Children were holding up their hands for high fives, offering jelly babies and cheering. Merida was high fiving for both of us as I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to remember to raise my knees, pump my arms and relax my shoulders as per Coach Curly Sue’s instructions which kept going round in my head.

I grimaced and gurned my way along the final three miles of the race and the spectators could see I was in pain and so were calling out my name to encourage me, but one lady helped me more than she will ever know. She looked into my eyes and shouted “LEAVE NOTHING BEHIND. Do not cross that finish line knowing your could have given any more. Leave nothing behind”. I promised myself right then that I wouldn’t leave anything behind. I repeated this over and over in my head over the final section and when Merida and I finally crossed the finish line, not having walked AT ALL over the final 3 miles, even having sprinted to the finish line, overtaking runner after runner, I knew that I truly and honestly had left nothing behind. If I met that lady today I would hug her. I think she was a runner and knew exactly what I needed to hear.

LLHM Finish with Paula

Hattie did not retire from the race at mile 6 where we left her safely with her parents. She had a rest, some water and then CARRIED ON AND FINISHED.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw her Mum around mile 9 and she told me. Hattie – you are amazing. Finishing a race when you felt as poorly as you did is nothing short of astonishing. You are a hardcore, rockstar runner and I am so proud of you.

Husband was his usual brilliant running self, nailing the race in a sub 1 hour 50 minute time.  We’ve become a couple who now have to run 13 miles in the middle of any weekend that we go away for….which is not something I would have ever predicted and we’re already thinking about our next destination/race.

I managed to get my sub 3 hour and I’m proud as punch with my time of 2 hours, 56 minutes and 42 seconds which takes 5 minutes and some change off my Bristol Half time last September. I ran my socks off in a way that I never thought was possible. I would have never believed before Sunday that I could run that fast or run for that length of time and yet I did. It hurt, but it didn’t kill me. The pain was manageable and now, two days later, I find that I am wanting to see if I can do it again, on my own without someone pacing me – I think this is what they call a runner’s high, or perhaps just insanity! The mind is an extremely powerful muscle and on Sunday it was the most important muscle in my body. Curly Sue, Hattie, Husband, Merida, Hockey Sister and many others were all confident that I could achieve the target I set myself, but I was not. However, something flicked in my brain on Sunday. People have been telling me I am a runner for a while now, and I sort of know they are right. I mean, I run (a lot), I am a Run Angel meaning that I lead other ladies on runs (which I derive enormous pleasure from), I write a blog about running which was then made into a book about running, but finally I think I am there. On Sunday, when I ran in tears between mile 11 and 12, really, really wanting to walk, feeling that I needed to walk but didn’t, I finally proved it to myself. I am a Runner.

So in the words of Jed Bartlett (The West Wing)…what’s next? Well, I’m going to allow myself a week off because I am knackered….ecstatic but knackered. But unlike after the 10k last year, I don’t feel deflated and sad now it’s all over. I feel completely the opposite. I am so very, very happy and proud.  I’m going to drink a little wine (possibly a lot of wine) and eat some chocolate and enjoy Easter. Merida and I polished off a bottle of champagne after crossing the finish line on Sunday, sitting on a steps of a Whitehall building opposite Downing Street, looking a bit like Patsy and Edina in lycra.            Merida – thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am so very lucky to have you as a friend.

Next week will start triathlon training and then in May my old nemesis, the Bristol 10k approaches, where this year there will be an official 75 minute pacer, which I mention for no particular reason at all…..so plenty to keep me occupied in the coming weeks.

But first….a short rest.

Happy Easter.

Finished with medals LLHM

 

 

 

 

The Taper and Fairy Godmothers

Blogs are a bit like buses…you wait for a long time for nothing and then a few come along at once.

My last blog was full of excitement as I looked forward to the big race. Unfortunately, since then, I have experienced what is technically known as a fit of the wobbles. 4 days is a long time in running.

Long runs are essential in a training plan as they prepare your legs for the inevitable long run and let’s be very clear about this, 13.1 miles is a VERY LONG RUN. I have followed my training plan and have done plenty of these over the past few weeks with my long suffering running wife Hattie and although we have managed them, there has always be a caveat which makes me doubt my strength for the task ahead. When Hattie and I set off for a long run, we do slip into a bit of a double act. It’s Hattie’s role to complain bitterly over the first 3k (and for any aspiring runners reading this, thinking about downloading the c25k app – DO IT – but let me tell you that the first 2 miles of any run will always be HIDEOUS and it never changes) and then she is fine. My role as “first 3k cheerleader to Hattie” distracts me from my own misery and so I manage this part of the run a bit better. However, when Hattie hits 8-10k (6 miles) and even 16k (10 miles), genuinely, she is like a train that could go on and on. She has been trying to talk me into a marathon for a while now (I am resisting) but I have no doubts that Hattie could do one and do one in style as she gets stronger the further she runs. However, as much as she starts to hit her groove at 8k, over the past few weeks, the opposite has been the case for me as I have felt neither fresh nor strong after 8 miles. This is alarming me enormously. Will I actually be able to pull an additional 5 miles out of the bag on the day – strongly? Now I know that I will complete the half, because if all else fails then I know I can walk 5 miles, but I want to complete it looking strong and looking like a runner rather than crawling over the finish line.

The second worrying fact is that although we have done quite a few long runs, we haven’t managed any of them without a break – and when I say break, I mean a 5 minute breather waiting for parkrun to start, then another mini-breather waiting to get my barcode scanned before setting off home again. There won’t be any breathers on the day and so I’m worried and feeling under-prepared.

I talked this through yesterday with Hattie and Curly Sue at our coached lunchtime running session through gritted teeth and on the brink of tears (or as much as I could speak in between running up a hill sprinting as fast as I could) and they both calmly reminded me that apparently I felt this way in the fortnight before the Bristol Half Marathon last year.

The two weeks before a half marathon or any longer race are called the “Taper”. This is essentially the “it’s too late to do anything useful now so just keep your legs moving” phase. It is absolutely terrifying and doubly so if you are a bit of a control freak like me. For the past 8 weeks my life has been about training and long runs and now, just as my brain is freaking out and wanting to do as much running as possible, the rules of the taper mean that you must not do a long run. You cannot pull the equivalent of a running “all nighter” to get you through the exam/race. There is nothing more you can do. The next 2 weeks will be about resting, massage, impersonating a camel on the hydration front and eating good food. I will run a 10k this coming weekend and then apart from short runs and a couple of 5ks here and there, there is nothing more to do.

Essentially it’s too late to do anything and I AM FREAKING OUT.

I really, really want to complete the run in less than 3 hours else I will feel like all the extra work I have been doing will be for nothing and as much as I want to enjoy the race, I want to feel like I am progressing. Not enough to try out for the Olympics or anything, but just to be moving along the improvement line in a positive manner. I also don’t want to let Hattie down as she can run faster than me and so I would be very cross with myself if she didn’t get a sub 3 because she was running with me. Additionally I also don’t want to disappoint Curly Sue who has worked so hard on getting us ready and prepared for the start line on the 25th March.

Husband is also running the London Landmarks Half and he is on for a very strong 13.1 miles indeed. His training has been more consistent that any race he has run previously and frankly some of his times over a 1 kilometre distance have been ridiculous. He is in the first wave and so will set off 40 minutes before I will and so will have quite a wait for me at the end.

So in the middle of my panic, a glimmer of hope. My Fairy Godmother, Merida, sent Hattie and I a message. If you recall, Merida paced me to my fastest ever 10k last year at the Bristol 10k last year and we’ve since become good friends as we discovered we have much in common: gin, champagne, running, children, stupidly busy jobs, and …er gin. (Never underestimate the bonding power of gin).

Merida is running London Landmarks Half for MacMillan Cancer and has raised £600 in sponsorship money. Unfortunately, thanks to a couple of bouts of proper flu (not a heavy cold or “man-flu”, but real “put you in bed for a week, oh my goodness I can’t believe I can be this ill and not be in hospital” flu) her training has not been what she had wanted it to be at all. So she messaged Hattie and I to ask if we would like to have another running buddy on the day? Also to say that if we wanted to run a specific time then she would gladly work out the pacings and run with us/shout at us/encourage us over the line too as she would like to help us achieve our goal. I was with Hattie when the message came in and I think we responded with a loud “WHOOP” and “YES PLEASE”.

So this gives me a very real glimmer of hope in an otherwise dark feeling week. Genuinely I don’t know if I can do a sub 3 hour half marathon and I am not someone who likes to contemplate failure, but I have the best friends and support network and so I will try my best. With both Hattie and Merida shouting at me (in an encouraging manner of course…at least I hope so!) I have the best chance, but ultimately I know it’s down to me. I have to pull it out of the bag on the day.

London Landmarks Half Marathon have released an app to allow participants to be tracked along the route. This is a photo of my race number.

Race Number LLHM

Should you wish to follow and send me telepathic cheers of “come on Claire, run faster” or “Merida, run in front of her holding up a can of premix gin and tonic” or “Hattie, just slap her”, this would all be welcomed.

I may or may not blog again before the big day – it largely depends on my state of mind, which as you can see, is up and down. Whatever happens, I will try to be pleased with my time whatever I get. I will try and I am nothing if not a trier.

 

 

Snow, chafing and pacing

February is the shortest month of the year and my goodness it has shot past quickly. We experienced all the seasons over the past 4 weeks: Sunshine, wind, rain and of course snow.

When I trained for the Bristol Half over Summer 2017, I found it hard to run in the heat and so most Saturdays was getting up at 5am to eat, to enable me to start running at 7am before it got too hot. The burny hot yellow thing in the sky has caused more than a few problems for me over the past two years whilst running as it seems to sap my powers.  But this is nothing compared to the problems that the Beast from the East caused.

When running in extreme weathers, the advice is always to layer up. Therefore, when it is cold I usually run in a long sleeved top (base layer), a T-shirt and then either a waterproof, reflective jacket or a zip up windproof jacket, a pair of running gloves, buff (which combines to keep my ears warm as well as keeping the sweat from my eyes), hat if it’s really cold and running tights. It therefore follows that my top half is usually toasty (often a bit sweaty…mmm) and warm but my legs are absolutely freezing.  Running tights, are essentially just that. TIGHTS! One layer of material and not wind or waterproof. This means that basically since the middle of November my bottom and outer thighs have been numb with the cold for 90% of any run and it’s hideous. So the jury is out….Spring or Autumn half marathons? It seems that both have their met office related training challenges.

As we moved towards the end of the month, I experienced all of the weathers on the same run. Last Sunday, Hattie and I set off for our long run (delayed from our usual Saturday by the snow) and I was wearing a base layer and T shirt, but  I was immediately too warm and wishing I had remembered my sunglasses. Within 2k, Hattie was helping to preserve my modesty as I quickly stripped off all layers (I was stood in my bra at the side of a main(ish) road as a women trying to park her car looked in in shock) and then replaced my T shirt, tying my base layer around my waist. Within 30 minutes, the sky was black and then we were caught in torrential rain which lasted a good 20 minutes. I was then cold and put my base layer back on. Unfortunately I was now soaked right through to my skin and undergarments and was absolutely freezing. Hattie really tried her best to keep my spirits up over the final 3k of the run but I was close to tears. When I finally got home and stripped off I was mortified to discover that the rain had caused horrific chafing around my knicker line. It was terrible. There is no photo you will pleased to read, but believe me when I say I screamed in the shower afterwards and was in terrible pain.

Cold runner picture HAT

A wise (very wise) running person has suggested to me that I try and run “Commando” ie without any pants on at all. The reasoning behind this makes sense, in that I don’t run in a cotton T shirt as it would retain moisture and rub, so the same theory should be applied to underwear. However……..the reality is very different. I have had two children and the prospect of doing ANYTHING commando, let alone running 10 miles (as I have to this coming Saturday) is not an option. CAN YOU IMAGINE? There is so much that could go wrong…But with the chafing still very fresh in my mind, I need an alternative and so I have purchased a pair of “Runderwear” Knickers (they sounds hilarious don’t they?) They are very expensive (hence only the one pair) but apparently they will work in the same way that a technical T shirt does. I am hoping they will be here in time for my final long run on Saturday. I will report back.

This run aside however, training on the whole over February hasn’t been too bad. Hattie and I have managed to get our long runs in together and to date the furthest we have run is 18k. We did this by way of a “Park Run Sandwich”. Our nearest Parkrun now is at Eastville Park where I have volunteered to Marshall on a couple of occasions, and so Saturday mornings have been a run to parkrun, a parkrun and then running home, often via the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path. It is no understatement to say that I LOVE the cycle path. There is no traffic and it’s fairly flat which is critical from the 10 mile onwards point. Cars can be hazardous not only for the obvious safety factor, but also as they provide opportunity for idiots to open their windows and shout “encouraging” (not) things as you run along.

The cycle path is awash with other runners who usually nod encouragement at you, families walking, dog walkers and MAMILS (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) zipping along on their bikes. 99% of these are very friendly and I love the Britishness of everyone wishing everyone that they meet a “Good Morning”.

Hattie and I are pondering a route for this weekend’s final long run before the taper starts and one consideration is to run 10 miles of the Cycle Path, ie running for 10 miles, then stopping and either finding a bus stop to get home or (my preference, calling an Uber). It will be like an exploring run PLUS. I’m looking forward to it, although at the moment rain is forecast and so I might be running in a bin bag…

The London Landmarks Half Marathon sent all runners an email yesterday with their start wave and times on. I am (obviously) in the last wave as I seek to run it in under 3 hours. Hattie and I have been working very hard with Curly Sue on this with hill sprints and intervals continuing and I am feeling quite fit. I have also lost 9 pounds since January 1st and I think, gained quite a lot of muscle (which is more important as it’s the muscles that carry you around).

Unexpectedly, LLHM have also decided that I should have the best chance to smash 3 hours too, as they are providing pacers up to 3 hours and 30 minutes as well as a pacer for people who want to run/walk the distance. This is AMAZING. If you’ve read my blog previously, or have my book, you will be aware of the Great Run debacle last year over only pacing the Bristol 10k up to 70 minutes and so I was paced by my (now) great friend Merida as I tried to run it in under 80 minutes.

By providing pacers for the slowest runners too it shows enormous inclusivity and understanding that we are all runners regardless of how fast we can go. I am so happy about this and so this fortifies my determination to get under 3 hours. I have also already pre-registered for next year’s race.

The next 2 and half weeks will be critical and I need to not get injured, eat healthily and drink lots of water. I am currently on a self imposed booze ban (which is always horrible, I am currently thinking about the gin and tonic I will drink after I finish) but if it works it will be worth it. Time will tell.

 

New Year and New Plans

Hmmm. It’s February. How on earth has that happened?

January, although for many is a long and gloomy month, for me is one of my favourites. For one thing, as much as I’m fed up with my busy, exhausting job by the beginning of December (I’m usually a bit burnt out by the end of the year truth be told) by the time January rolls around, I’ve usually had a bit of a rest and feeling ready for action again. I do love my job which is lucky when I also run my own business.

January is also both my and Youngest Daughter’s birthday month. There’s a lot of cake and celebrations in our house in January and this is always good.

January also marked the beginnings of “Half Marathon” training month again and for the first week of January, there was very much a “getting back to it” vibe for me.  As before, Hattie and I made a plan which had all of our long runs together – plotted out. As I am desperate to crack 3 hours for the London Landmarks, I suggested to Hattie that we engage a proper running coach to supervise one of our scheduled 3 sessions a week and that this session should be fartleks (I still snigger when I type that) or as they also known, the dreaded interval sprints. As for who we should engage to manage this, it was an absolute no brainer……enter Curly Sue, or Coach Curly Sue as she is now to be known.

So far we have had 3 coached sessions and I am already seeing improvements in my running and technique as I took 90 seconds off my previous best time at Ashton Court Park Run earlier this month. Queen’s Square in Bristol, *may well have been* designed by a runner wanting to improve his/her fitness and stamina for an upcoming race. (*pretty sure it wasn’t though*).  It is also very convenient for a lunchtime run. Over 3 sessions so far, we have walked, sprinted, tempo ran (this is a new one for me, it’s where you run faster than your usual pace, but not at a full sprint) and ran with raised knees, low shoulders (this is hard for me as my boobs bounce around like a couple of tiggers trying to escape 100 Acre Wood) and engaging your core. This is a lot to think about whilst trying to breathe, and it’s hard. This is why Coach supervises these sessions as when something is hard, it’s easier to bunk off or skip the session. This can’t happen now and both Hattie and I are delighted. These sessions will continue right up until the Half Marathon and maybe even beyond.

Park Run PB Jan 2018

At the beginning of the month I decided to ramp up everything as I also have a sprint triathlon to train for. So on top of 3 runs a week (one of which is a This Mum Runs Wednesday night run when we had 18 turn up on one week earlier in the month), I decided I should integrate a spin class (to cover the cycling element) into my training plan as a well as a swim. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have been perservering with my front crawl and I’m pleased to say that now I can now swim front crawl for 400m in one go. It’s exhausting but I can do it. Eldest daughter often accompanies me to the pool on a Friday evening and we’ve managed to go 3 out of the last 4 weeks and so it’s slowly becoming a habit. One the other week, I was unable to swim, go roller blading or ride a bike and I suspect 3 out of 4 weeks will be the normal cycle for swimming training going forward.

Under the support and encouragement of some of the “Uber Tri Mums” I am going to attend a trial session with North Bristol Triathlon Club next week. Honestly, I can’t believe that I just typed that! Now as much as I doubt I will ever feel able to run with them (but never say never), swim coaching and learning the rules of triathlon are all things I need. Plus, I am reliably informed by Merida, that they are all really lovely people and there is nothing to worry about. 2 years ago, I wouldn’t have believed this, but now knowing how lovely and encouraging sporting communities really are, I suspect (and hope) that they will be supportive as I try and learn their sport. I’m going for a swim coaching session next Thursday and I will report back afterwards.

Unfortunately, all of the extra cycling and sprinting impacted my right leg and something went “ping” 2 weeks ago and I had to see a physio. As usual, tight quads were diagnosed and I was told I was doing too much, needed to stretch more and probably needed to drop a cardio session in favour of weights. I was only out of action for a week and so have decided to put spin on hold until after the half marathon as I can’t really afford drop a run with that 13.1 miles closing in with every day. I only have so many hours I can dedicate to training and although in December my job is usually quiet, in January it is bonkers busy. This is one of the reasons why I didn’t manage to write a blog post. So I will continue swimming but spin and cycling will be left alone until the end of March.

At the end of December I was contacted by TMR HQ and asked if I would assist them with an empowerment campaign aimed at women who find it difficult to exercise for fear of judgement. I jumped at the chance as this is something I really believe in, having rambled on in this blog for more than 2 years now about the mental challenge about calling myself a “runner” when I’m so slow etc, I felt like it was designed for me. The Captain asked if I would attend and be filmed reciting a poem and recorded doing so and that it would be a proper video, with a director and camera crew. A couple of weeks later, they said the results were good, but they needed footage of me running to complete it. I am not going to lie, being filmed running (in lycra) was not mentioned at the beginning and possibly may have influenced my decision whether to participate or not, but I was in too deep now and so on Sunday 7 in January at 8am, I was running around a Bristol park, in the snow, being filmed. It was absolutely freezing but the Director and Cameraman were brilliant. A few days later the results were posted and dare I say it, I am quite proud of them. Hopefully, as this blog shows, you do not need to look like Paula Radcliffe to be a runner and that we all come in shapes and sizes. Here is a link to the video

http://www.thismumruns.co.uk/runnerfullstop

I have been told that the video has been viewed 103,000 times which absolutely terrifies and thrills me in equal measure. If it convinces one person to give running a try then that morning running in -2c will have been worth it.

On Friday evening last week, I was asked to speak at a Charity Scouts fundraising event called “RunFest”. As I sat listening to the lady who had run at least 5k a day since the 1970s, and the gentleman who trained Kenyan Athletes, the Ultra runner and many, many other amazing people, I did wonder what I was doing there?….but I went ahead all the same to tell my running story and really enjoyed the experience. I was asked afterwards if I had considered a career in “stand-up” as my stories were funny….but no, this really is my life!!  I also sold quite a few more books and raised some more money for MacMillan Cancer so it was all extremely worthwhile. I might have also agreed to do a 30 mile Ultra run (which I’m assured is a bit of running, a lot of walking and this will be fuelled by cake)..and so I’m sure there will be more on this as the year progresses.

 

Every penny of profit is being donated to Macmillan Cancer and so far we have raised £622 which I am absolutely delighted with. Thank you to everyone who has bought one.

Yesterday, I ran the London Winter 10k which was organised by Cancer Research UK. This was a 10k around the City of London and I ran it with my long time best mate Blanche. Blanche and I have enjoyed many weekends away over the years, but they have usually involved drinking and dancing so this was a new and unknown kind of weekend for us. It was the first time that Blanche had run more than 5.5k ever in one go and she was AMAZING, smashing 10k and amassing PBs throughout the run. I hope this will be a new thing that we can do together now. My google history this morning is a list of “10k races in….Barcelona/Paris/Amsterdam/Milan/New York/LasVegas” etc because after all, it is all about balance. I think I might have that phrase engraved on my headstone when the time comes. We celebrated in style yesterday afternoon with a pint of lager (with the TMR Captain and Mrs Womble, who is a TMR London Runner whom I have chatted with quite a bit on line and it was lovely to finally meet her) gin and tonic (obviously), crisps and then a meal out with red wine. It was brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and neither one of us would have ever predicted even 3 years ago that we would ever have had a weekend away together that would include a 10k race.

Before I finish I just want to give a little shout-out of support to my training partner Hattie, who is managing some very sad family stuff at the moment that is impacting every aspect of her life. Life can throw some horrid stuff at us sometimes for no reason at all but I hope that the running is helping with the headspace. I miss running with you and I’m sending love to your whole family.

Into February, I will try and blog a bit more regularly, not least because it helps focus my mind for training and the London Landmarks half marathon is really creeping up now. Time to properly get down to work and be a #runnerfullstop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December Struggles and Future Plans

Why is it so difficult in December to maintain a healthy approach to life?

Over the course of 2017, on average, I don’t really drink that much alcohol anymore – well not like I used to anyway. Those of you who have only got to know me more recently, won’t really be surprised by that statement, but those who have known me a long time, will probably be quite shocked, but it is true. I might have a bottle of beer on a Friday night and a couple of glasses of wine with Sunday lunch, but on the whole, I don’t really drink that much alcohol. I think that this coupled with all the running has definitely has made it easier to maintain the weight I originally lost when I originally decided to change my life in January 2016.

However, as much as I don’t really drink alcohol when I’m at home now, I definitely DO drink if I go out. But I don’t go out that much generally over the course of the year (sad but true). However, in December, I am out, (“Out Out”, if you’re a Mickey Flanagan fan) most of the month. I dread to think how many bottles of prosecco I have consumed since the 1st December. Actually, I don’t dread to think…I love it. All the dancing, eating, giggling, eating and drinking is lots of fun and although it’s a bit of a cliché, I love spending time with friends and family at this time of year.

However, all the calories add up and although for the rest of the year the running keeps everything in check, in December it requires a more focussed approach and so I elected to run more and often as well as do a couple of Joe Wicks HIITS (minus the mountain climbers). My running has been a bit hap hazard since the Bristol half marathon and although I have run at least once, usually (but not always) twice a week, this seemed like a good opportunity to re-discover my running “mojo” as well as mix my routine up a bit.

I have signed up for a Sprint triathlon in May next year (400m swim, 24k cycle and a 5k run) and so I need to incorporate some swimming and cycling into my training. I’ve been running now for nearly 2 years and as regular readers will know, I have a complicated relationship with it. I love and loathe it in equal measure and after training for the Bristol half marathon and undertaking a weekly “long” run, I did feel as though I was in danger of becoming bored with it. This was part of my rationale with signing up for a triathlon – it would give me different things to focus on in addition to the running. I’ve also been assured by Merida over a glass or 3 of prosecco, that cycling and swimming will help build general overall fitness and these sports are the natural companions to running. They will also help with the running and make me a better runner? Time will tell.

Not many people know this, but I LOVE swimming and also in a surprising twist to the story, I’m NOT terrible at it. I find it peaceful and I am quite at home in the water. I can swim 400m breaststroke in just under 13 minutes and although I have been assured that this would be a respectable time for the triathlon (and importantly I won’t embarrass myself), it also won’t surprise you to learn that I’m going to learn how to front crawl as it will apparently save my legs, according to Swim Dad. Why take the easy road when there is always a more complicated one to explore as is my motto?! But ultimately, as always, I want to do the best I can and so swimming front crawl is necessary.

2 days before Christmas Eve, I took my daughters to the local swimming baths in an effort to burn off some pre-Christmas excitement. I went with the expectation that I would swim lengths and my girls would “play”, but I was wrong. My daughters spent 30 minutes coaching me and my haphazard front crawl. They sat either end of the swimming pool and explained what I should do in order to achieve good front crawl technique and I practiced swimming between them. They also swam and showed me too. The lifeguard seemed a bit confused and came over to ask what was going on and when I explained, he told me they were doing a good job as my “shark fin” had improved – er ok then?! I felt very proud of my girls and grateful. I managed 250m of front crawl (needing short breathers in between each length) and I was delighted. I’ll be adding this to my list of things to work on for 2018.

Swimming Photo with Lois and Rachel

But back to the running. I’ve run much more in December than I did in October or November as I have battled to still be able to fit into my Christmas Party dress.

These have included a very enjoyable Harbour Loop with Curly Sue and the LA Blond before we had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant (I’d never eaten in a vegetarian restaurant before – big thumbs up from me) and a This Mum Runs Christmas extravaganza that was planned as a usual Wednesday night run, running down the Bath Road in the rain and freezing cold that saw me hurdle a rat as it ran across the path in front of me (I didn’t know that I could jump that high!) that ended in the pub. I think more people might give running a try if there was a pub at the end of each effort. It would have definitely helped me in the early stages of couch to 5k! I can just hear the woman on the app saying, “well done on completing week 3, now get to the pub and drink a pint of lager…you’ve earnt it”.

However, the highlight of December running calendar (especially in the This Mum Runs annual calendar) is the Weston Super Mare Christmas Cracker. This is a 10k that takes place largely on the beach in Weston. It also happens in fancy dress…..now as a general rule, I am not a fan of fancy dress. In truth I despise it and yet I was doing a good impression of someone who was excited at the prospect of running 6 miles in the sand, dressed as a mouse. (TMR had entered the Group Fancy dress competition under the theme of “Cinderella the Panto” with Merida running as Cinderella, our Captain running as an Ugly Sister and Hattie and I running as mice which would become footmen. We won first prize which was exciting as I don’t usually come first at anything when I run in a race!) It was a very tough run as the sand was unforgiving and it was also very cold, but we giggled and sang carols on the way round. Hattie and I were accompanied by another lady on the run and we were privileged to run with her on her first ever 10k. She did brilliantly and I am sure that she will do more and I also know that she has signed up for the Bristol half marathon next year. She is a runner (even though she doesn’t believe me when I tell her that she is).

Today I ran my last 10k and got my final medal of the year at Westonbirt House. Husband was also competing and I ran with Curly Sue, who is back in full “coach mode” having agreed to train Hattie and I as we work towards the London Landmarks half marathon at the end of March. We survived the Bristol Half but now we want to improve.  The Westonbirt 10k was excellent. I’ve been struggling with a sore throat and chesty cough. I lost my voice for a couple of days this week and my asthma has been tricky so I knew that I wouldn’t get the time I wanted, but did work hard and enjoyed it, well I mostly enjoyed it, as with most runs. My final kilometre was the second fastest of the whole run and very fast for me, which shows me that I can push myself. Curly Sue is going to help me work on this over the next couple of months.

After existing on a diet of cheese and pringles over the last week or so, (what can you do? It’s Christmas after all!) I have elected to really sort my diet out over the next couple of months. If I am to improve as a runner, which I want to do, then I know I will need to try and lose some weight. This means I will need to pay more attention to what I eat. I’m not dieting and you know my feelings on them (they suck) but I’m going to try to eat better in order to build muscle and hopefully shed some fat.  Running is hard, but if you’re heavy, it’s harder and tougher on your joints, so I’m going to try and weigh less. The challenge with this is that long runs make me very hungry indeed so planning will be key. I am sure I will talk about this more as the weeks progress.

Next Wednesday it will be 2 years since I went on my first ever run. So much has changed in my life and so much if this is because I am now a runner. This word no longer scares me. I am a runner.

Next year, I have 1 half marathon in the diary already and I know Hattie and I will do another in the Autumn (we can’t quite decide which one yet) and there will be 10ks, probably quite a few. But also next year there will be a sprint triathlon, swimming (lots of swimming) as well as cycling. This will bring brand new challenges and although these challenges scare me enormously, I am also very excited about them. Being scared is no reason not to give things a go. Imagine if the fear had stopped me downloading that app 2 years ago – where would I be now? What would I look like? What state would my heart be in? But most importantly, I would never have met all my wonderful running friends and let me tell you, running friends are the BEST. If you’re already a runner, keep going – you are doing an awesome job. If you’re not……..come and join our gang. You won’t regret it I promise. I haven’t.

Christmas Party Dress

Happy New Year to you.

Chunky Runner 41….Volume 2

After I completed the Bristol Half Marathon in September 2017, I stated that I wouldn’t be writing this blog anymore and so it would be wrapped up. So as you are now reading my new blog post, I am sure you are asking yourself, “Why? What’s changed?”

Well….a couple of things.

When I started running in January 2016, it was because I wanted to lose weight and set my daughters a better example. I wanted to do it and knew I needed to do it, but I didn’t know HOW to do it or what to do. In fact I felt pretty hopeless. My sister gave me the confidence to try and gave me the tools to do it whilst supporting me.  This same sister was diagnosed with skin cancer last Summer and has undergone a fairly unpleasant second half to the year whilst she has been prodded and examined by many different doctors and nurses and undergone surgery to remove the cancer. The Macmillan Nurses in particular have been nothing short of spectacular as my sister has wrestled with all manner of things thrown at her.

Sadly I don’t know anyone who had not have their life rocked by cancer by one way or another. This horrifying disease has taken my Grandfather, my Aunt, my favourite Uncle, it’s threatened my cousin, my friend, my Mother in Law and now has my sister in its’ vicious grips. It sucks.

You will notice that the blog that you have read previously has disappeared. I’ve taken it down.

Chunky Runner 41 has been made into a book and will shortly be available to buy. Now I know this seems like a bonkers idea (I promise you, I have wrestled with this much over the past 6 weeks), but there have been nearly 1000 regular readers of this blog over the past 2 years (this has constantly surprised me) and so even if 5% of you decide you would like to buy the book in order to enjoy again and again my efforts as I tried and learned to run, this will raise some money. ALL profits from the book will be donated to MacMillan. This is not to fund my Superhero running leggings habit or gin collection, it is only to raise money so other people can be as well looked after as my sister has been and continues to be.

I have set up a facebook page called “Chunky Runner 41 – Claire Tiley”. If you would like to read my blog in future and/or buy the book, please can you find this page and “like” it as this will be the ONLY way that I will share my blog going forward and as soon as the books arrive from the printers, I will let you know (via the facebook page) when you will be able to buy them.        http://www.facebook.com/chunkyrunner41

It’s a gamble admittedly and I might end with a pile of books that nobody wants, but if the past 2 years of running have taught me anything, it’s that you’ve got to give these things a try. It would make a wonderful Christmas gift for someone who is perhaps thinking about giving running a go in the New Year, or it could be used as a  manual for someone who is training to break the “world’s slowest runner” record.

As well as this, there are a couple of other reasons why I have decided to continue writing:

  • Quite a few people have asked me to carry on (which is lovely)
  • I’ve missed writing it as I find it quite cathartic
  • In 2018, I will be :
    • running at last one (possibly two) more half marathons. The first one (London Landmarks is in March 2018)
    • Participating in a 54 mile bike ride (September 2018)
    • Taking part in a Sprint Triathlon. (May 2018). The triathlon is a 400 metre swim (16 lengths), a 24k bike ride (15 miles) and a 5k run at the end (3 miles).

I am very excited indeed about the triathlon, although slightly anxious about the outfits and extremely worried about the possibility of “doing a Brownlee” over the finish line – with me being the Brownlee about to pass out whilst being dragged over the line, rather than the strong one doing the dragging….

So as you can see, plenty there for me to get stuck into and talk about. I’m quite excited about my planned events for 2018.

But what about the rest of 2017? Well, I’m currently training for a 10k on the 17th December called the “Christmas Cracker” in Weston-Super-Mare and I’m doing it in fancy dress. I won’t say what the theme is as I’m entering as part of the “This Mum Runs” team and there is fancy dress competition which everyone is taking VERY seriously.  What I can say is that I am going to be running 10k, dressed as a mouse. Here is my outfit.

Mouse Suit

I don’t know how fast I can run 10k dressed as a mouse (that looks suspiciously like Bungle from Rainbow) but we’ll find out. Sometimes running is a serious business and sometimes it isn’t. Life has felt pretty serious over the past 6 months and so some light relief will be welcome. I’ll let you know how I get on.