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