Chocolate cake and three and a half weeks to go

Things I have learnt since January:

  • When you get really, really sweaty, the salt can make your face really sore.
  • I often get a very bad headache after a long run, even though I drink lots of water during and after as well as rehydration salts.
  • When you run really fast down a hill, it can make you feel sick, and you can feel your ankle joints rattle.
  • If you live in England, you have to be able to run in all types of weather. I actually quite like running in light rain but hate running in the wind.
  • My running kagoul is not even slightly waterproof.
  • Strangers high five you as you run past them (this has happened twice in the past week).
  • For every d**k that shouts “run fatty run” at you, there are at least 20 lovely encouraging people in cars who slow down at junctions to let you run across rather than making you wait and run on the spot, looking slightly deranged. Most of them give you a smile and some give you a “thumbs up”.
  • When I finish a run, I need to eat something quickly else I feel incredibly nauseous. I’ve tried many different things but the most effective by far, is chocolate cake.
  • I’ve finally tipped the 2 and a half stone weight loss mark and I’m feeling positive.

Since the last blog I have run 6 times, totalling 33.68 kilometres. Some runs are faster than others but on the whole I am faster. Not fast (Paula Radcliffe need not be concerned just yet), but definitely faster and importantly,I do feel stronger. Average pace per kilometre now is 9.15 minutes, which is nearly a full minute per kilometre faster than in February so this encourages me.

I’m doing a few warm-ups now and as long as I don’t go off too fast, I no longer contemplate death for the entire duration of the run, although this is still a feature when I encounter a hill.

So following my triumphant 5k without walking at the Little Stoke Park Run a couple of weeks ago (it’s possible that you may have heard about Little Stoke Park Run on the news over the past couple of weeks….) when it came to my next run, I felt under huge pressure to recreate my success.

I set off at lunchtime and ran along the river. There were several times when I did feel like stopping but I kept going. I was very pleased and this now proved that it is indeed a case of mind over matter, as marathon sister has been telling me. So now, I simply had to keep it up. Running regularly and keep building on the 5k distance.

The problem with this as a plan however, is that as I am slow (I may have mentioned this before) by the time I have run 5k, it’s taken me three quarters of an hour, and whether you run fast or slow, running for 45 minutes, without stopping, is very tiring indeed. It’s great for fat burning, weight loss, general fitness, strengthening your heart, asthma etc, but it’s exhausting and also from a practical point of view, to do more than that on a normal work day, is difficult to schedule in.

So for the next 4 runs, I stagnated a bit and for each ran around the 5k distance mark. These runs included a lovely outing with the Red Lady when we took on the dreaded Brislington Hill again and I also ran up Allison Road (for those of you that are not familiar with my local terrain, think Park Street in Bristol or the hills in San Francisco). It’s steep. But I managed to get to the top utilising this bizarre powerwalk/shuffle run technique that I am thinking about patenting. It’s not elegant, but it is effective. It also makes me grunt which is an unfortunate side effect.

I have never been a morning person EVER. I hate getting up and I love sleeping. So it was surprising for everyone that on the Monday morning I was out, running, in torrential rain at 7.30am. We had been away to Woolacombe for the weekend and even though I had optimistically packed my running kit, I had not been able to squeeze a run in. We had managed a powerwalk up and down some hills to try and counteract the lager and chips, but no runs. I was anxious not to have too long a gap in between my runs and so was up and out first thing on the Monday, keen to get a run in before work. My fluorescent kagoul was pulled up over my baseball cap (I hate getting my face wet) and my lovely new trainers were getting wet as I splashed through puddles, hopefully not looking, but certainly feeling, like Peppa Pig. It felt good and I wasn’t too hot. I was however soaking wet as my kagoul might as well have been made of cotton for all the waterproofing it offered. I ran, but observed the distance on my watch like a hawk. As soon as I had travelled 2.5k I turned around and went home. I felt happy that I had been out, but again it was only another 5k. I knew that I needed to increase my distances and so far, this wasn’t happening.

On the Wednesday evening, I decided to brave the This Mum Runs “conversational” 5k run again, with the intention of running on home straight away at the end which would have put my distance up to 6k. Brilliant in theory but those lovely ladies are so fast, I could barely walk the final 1k at the end, let alone run it home. They did look after me though and due to the “looping” system (where the front runners loop round from time to time and go behind the last runner and then slowly overtake again) I wasn’t always at the back. Both Football Mum (who is getting very fast and strong by the way) and Laura (who ran a 53 minute 10k at the weekend) both also ran with me for a while, which was nice and I appreciated enormously. But it was hard as it was one of those runs that just didn’t work. My shoulders were sore and niggly, my calves felt tight and I was 50/50 about even going when I got home from work, but I dragged myself out of the door. Laura had some advice about my shoulders and advised me to punch downwards every so often as I ran, in case it was to do with my hunched posture or possibly from getting wet on Monday from my Gene Kelly impression. So, looking a bit like a second rate cheer-leader, every 500m or so (or when I remembered) I punched towards the floor in a slightly drunk Toni Basil manner. My watch buzzed 5k at the bottom on Sandy Park Road (HILL) and I still had to run to the top. After trying to keep up with everyone, I just couldn’t do it and so I walked up the last hill. I was so cross with myself, but felt better as I realised that due to the speed we had run at I had shaved 42 seconds off my previous PB for 5k. 42 seconds?!!! I was shocked and elated. Well shocked, elated and completely and utterly shattered, but definitely elated. We stretched and I walked home, smiling.

This is the thing with running. It’s the thing that everyone and anyone who ever contemplates giving running a try should know – even if the run is bad (and as this blog demonstrates, some of them are horrendous) you are always glad you went. ALWAYS. Even when I arrived home, last Monday, so wet I was able to wring my undergarments out, I was still pleased I went. Whatever the reason is for not wanting to go – ignore it and always go if you can. It’s a strange thing. I can’t explain it, but as sure as I know that Hendricks Gin tastes amazing with cucumber, it is true.

Saturday is now Park Run day in our house. Husband LOVES Park Run. I think this is because he absolutely smashes his PB everytime he goes to one. Husband’s running by the way is going very well indeed. I am sure he will do a sub 60 minute 10k and will probably be showered by the time I cross the finish line. He has a running buddy now – who is also super quick. What is it with men? Is it genetic? Possibly not having to lug two undignified bouncing orbs on their front helps them?…

So as you have probably heard (unless you live on Mars) our local Park Run was the one in the news and was cancelled last week, therefore, homeless, we decided to try Ashton Court, which was also co-incidentally celebrating their 5th birthday on the same day. It was BUSY. Due to the extra publicity and Little Stoke refugees there were 561 people running. I met some lovely TMR (This Mum Runs) ladies and also met Melanie again who as you remember had promised to run with me at the back. The hill at Ashton Court is steep. It felt a bit like extreme mountaineering to be honest. I had to walk some of it, and let me tell you that even walking up it was hard, but I got to the flat on the top and made myself run the rest of the way. The AC course is 2.5k up (with 1 kilometre almost in need of grapple hooks in the middle) and then 2.5k down. Coming down I was very fast. It felt amazing, but I was also a bit scared to be running so fast – I could feel my ankle bones jarring with each step. BUT I WASN’T LAST. Now I suspect on a normal Park Run day (where the 200 extra people hadn’t turned up) I would have been last, but I don’t care. You learn when you start running to take your wins where you can get them. It was a shame not to be able to run with Melanie at the back but I’m sure there will be another opportunity in the future.

Yesterday, I took the plunge and ran 7.22k. This is the furthest I have run by some considerable distance. The first 4k were fine, almost enjoyable, but the final 1k was very hard indeed. It was very hot and very sweaty, but, I did it. I felt shattered afterwards and worryingly my back ached quite a lot for the rest of the day. I suspect that this is weight related, but apart from this, on the whole I felt ok. Tired and in need of chocolate cake (which I ate) but ok. My number for the 10k arrived this week (3.5 weeks until the race) and I know I have to keep pushing myself. I was still very slow, but my objective is not to try and get round in record time (luckily), it’s to get round the course in one piece, alive, with as little walking as possible. I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. Also, the Unofficial Trainer called this week to say that she has also entered the 10k so at least I know my warm up is in good hands.

This weekend I’m off with Fitbit Sister, the Red Lady and another friend to take part in the Colour Run Obstacle Course in Bath. It’s going to be BRILLIANT and hopefully a lot of fun. Running is fun….most of the time…….who would have thought I would have said that 3 months ago?

Batman T Shirt

Last but by no means least

Here we are in April. The clocks have changed meaning lighter evenings and everyone immediately feels happier. It also means that I no longer have to run in the dark, scared like a baby.

The lighter evenings have also made me reconsider my former cycling career. When I say career, I mean cycling the 3 kilometres to the office each day rather than walking or taking the bus. As I have alluded to previously, I have a history of failed attempts of getting fitter over the years and each has failed miserably (up to now of course). I had a spate, a couple of years ago, when I did cycle to and from work for a whole Summer. I grew up in a village and so never experienced cycling in proper traffic and frankly, the roads in Bristol terrify me. Yes there are plenty of cycle paths and there is improving infrastructure, but you do have to be confident on the road, else you will get squished. I did all the right things, completed a Bikeability course (with the Red Lady, who has been an avid supporter of my get fit attempts over the years), got a high viz jacket, helmet etc, but I was still scared. Husband of course, has been bombing around Bristol on his bike since he was 10 and literally nothing scares him on the road. I am terrified as I think of him cycling up and down the Gloucester Road and across the Centre, and he really only wears a helmet now as a compromise to me, but he is perfectly comfortable and so has been “seriously” cycling in Bristol now for 3-4 years.

I, however, reconciled myself to be a “cycle path” rider. I am fortunate in that my office is at the end of a cycle path that runs alongside the river so I was happy to cycle to work as there is minimal interaction cars and buses. Unfortunately a couple of summers ago, I fell off my bike into undergrowth whilst on the cycle path  (comedy style, I tipped sideways and the bike fell on top of me. I was stranded for about 5 minutes before I managed to crawl out and limp, in tears, to the office, where Hockey Sister patched up and sent me home). This meant that my limited cycling confidence had been knocked somewhat (as well as my pride) and I hadn’t been on my bike since.

On Easter Monday, Husband and I decided to make the most of the lovely sunshine and so I agreed to get the bikes out. Sporty Daughter, alarmingly, seems to have grown considerably over the winter and her bike is definitely too small. However, raising her seat seemed to help enough for one day and so we set off. We had promised the girls lunch at Frankie and Benny’s if we cycled there and the promise of chips is a strong incentive meaning it didn’t take long at all. It was great. We cycled mainly on the footpaths and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was enjoying it. I decided there and then that I would cycle to work a couple of times a week – ideally on days when I did not have a run scheduled. Of course, the excruciating pain in my buttocks that accompanied me everywhere for the next 3 days after the cycle ride made me question my enthusiasm. Oh my goodness. That pain is real but I knew that it would get worse before it got better again and the only way to fix it was to “get back on the horse” so to speak. I’ve cycled to and from work 3 times since Easter Monday and accompanied by my FitBit Surge (which can track cycling) I am already quicker than I was the first time. This evening I raced Husband home and although I had no chance of ever really beating him, he said that he was surprised by how quick I was. (Surprised or worried?…) My recovery times are also better and importantly I am experiencing elevated heartrate and ticking my “30 active minutes of exercise” box most days now. Also, the burning of an additional 200 calories each day that I cycle is important in “Easter Biscuit” season….

On Wednesday of last week, I decided to bite the bullet and finally agree to go out on one of the “This Mum Runs” social 5k runs. This is what they call them as you are supposed to be able to have a “social” chat whilst running. I try not to laugh out loud as I contemplate this. I had been building up to this for a while and although I was terrified, under the guidance of the Red Lady, I committed. I had responded on the Facebook page (which is the modern equivalent of signing in blood) and had managed expectations by stating that I was slow, but was encouraged along all the same. The Red Lady has been most insistent that at this point, the reason I wasn’t able to run 5k without stopping, wasn’t due to my legs, it was due to my head and self belief. So coupled with this sobering, but hopefully accurate advice, I set off on the Wednesday evening to meet the group.

As expected, they were all lovely and extremely welcoming. I wasn’t the only “first-timer” there on Wednesday and I felt really hopeful as we were led in our warm-up by an extremely positive and friendly “Run Maker” called Laura. Then we were off. Oh my goodness, they went off at velocity. I could feel the tears prickling in my eyes as they disappeared around the corner but then had a strong word with myself (the kind that Hockey Sister might deliver) and decided to slow down, not try to keep up with them and run my own race. However, I would say that any race I am keen to run, will never involve the Brislington Hill. Oh my days. I ran the fastest km I have ever run to date and I ran it up that hill. I could feel my heartbeat in my brain and as the stats showed later from my fitbit, my heartrate was definitely in “cardio” zone (understatement). Fairly soon, the group were off in the distance and out of sight, but Laura, wonderful Laura, ran the whole way with me. She was extremely encouraging. Asking about how long I had been running, why I had started etc and also gave some very valuable tips. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation with Laura and have now put her firmly in my mental list of “people I would like to drink gin with”. During this run, I also discovered that (if it’s possible) it’s actually more painful to run down a steep hill, than it is difficult to run up one. Had I not experienced it myself, I never would have believed it, but as I ran down Alison Road, I felt sick. We were nearly at the end and Laura coaxed me round the past 1km and then we were done. I had only walked a couple of minutes over the course of the run and had also ran faster than normal, but nevertheless I had walked. We did our warm down and then I jogged/walked home (this was another km). I was frustrated by the walking but overall really pleased and I was smiling when I arrived home.

On Saturday, Husband and I attended Little Stoke Park Run again. There wasn’t the same anticipation as there had been the first time, as we knew the drill and what would be happening. Husband met his friend there (they had both chosen to carb up in the pub the night before…) and I had promised that I was happy to run alone. Another “This Mum Runs” lady was there and said hello (she recognised my “Buff”) and another different lady smiled and looked at me hopefully as we lined up to start, probably thinking, “she looks slow, I can run with her”. Sadly she was too quick for me. However, I wasn’t worried at all, as possibly the greatest thing about Park Run (other than it’s free and totally volunteer led) is that one of the Marshalls always runs with the person at the back. As the crowd pulled away from me, this is exactly what happened. A wonderful, sunny, smiling lady called Sue started to run with me. She asked if I was going for a time but my response was simple – I don’t care what the time is, I just don’t want to walk. So Sue and I set out together and I am proud to report to you that for the first time ever on a 5k run (actually any run) I did not walk. The first 4 kilometres were actually ok (yes you read that correctly) but the final lap of Little Stoke Park seemed never ending and the final 500m was nothing short of horrific. It hurt. It really hurt but Sue took it upon herself to chat away and I grunted and listened gratefully as she tried to distract me. As we crossed the finish line, I hugged her and thanked her from the bottom of my heart. It had taken me 3 months to run 5k without stopping and my time was 45.49. My sense of achievement was absolutely enormous and I am someone that delivered a 9 pound 4 baby without an epidural! I was ecstatic. I had the type of grin on my face that could not be extinguished and I can really only liken it to how I felt on my wedding day. I am not a fan of having my photo taken but on my wedding day, my smiles were genuine and not forced. It was the same on Saturday for the hour after I finished the run.

After arriving home, Husband took the daughters out and I was left on my own, shattered on the sofa. It’s hard to explain how I was feeling but I was definitely feeling emotional. In the shower I cried again (yes again!). It was partially exhaustion I am sure, but also due to the acheivement. I have come a long way in 3 months and this really has been a life changing experience. I now weigh less than 16 stone, have bought size 18 jeans and have given half my wardrobe to the charity shop. But more important than that, I feel better, sleep better, have more energy and critically, I am setting a good example to my daughters.

However, 5k is only 1 hurdle and there is the not too small matter of the 10k which is NEXT MONTH. So not too long to dwell on it, but time to acknowledge a smile for sure.

Sunday followed Saturday and Daughters were keen to try the Junior Park Run along with my God Daughter. Junior Park Run is simply genius. Lots of kids ready to run 2k. Laura (my running boss from Wednesday) was there with her little girl and one of the Marshals was also someone I recognised from the Facebook group, so I went to introduce myself. Again, Melanie was a joy to meet and she asked if I would do the Ashton Court Park run in a fortnight’s time as it is the 5th birthday of this particular Park Run and there would be a large picnic afterwards to celebrate. She also said that she is rota’d on to be the Tailrunning Marshal on the day, so I agreed. Always good to know who I will be running with at the back.

Back to the kids – if grownups go off fast, the kids are super-sonic. The girl who won, ran 2k in 6 minutes. 6 MINUTES!!!! Sporty Daughter and God Daughter put up a strong race which GodDaughter won and they both had very respectable times at 11 minutes and Younger Daughter (Husband ran with her) came in at 13 minutes. They loved it and want to go again.

They only want to run because I now run. This is amazing. I suppose I could stop now and say that my job is done, but of course I am not going to. The sense of pride I felt they hugged me after I told them about the 5k without walking was greater than anything I have ever experienced. I look forward to that hug as I cross the 10k finish line.

Of course, the next step is to find out if I am able to run 5k on my own. My next run is booked for tomorrow and so we will find out. I will do it. I am 41 and a runner,  a slow runner for sure, but still a runner.

5k no walking