What is a runner?

The definition of “runner”, according to the online dictionary, is a “person or animal that runs”.

That’s it. It’s that simple. There is no mention of speed or being a member of the sub 30 minute 5k or sub 60 minute 10k club. You don’t have to be a member of a specialist running club, have super cool trainers or outfits (although don’t get me started on the Wonder Woman running outfit I have seen), do interval sprints or fartleks (snigger), run a specific distance (half marathon, marathon or ultra – ULTRA? Seriously?!) It simply means that you run.

As runners, especially brand new and new(ish) runners, we are all guilty of trying to define ourselves by speed. If you are fast, you must be a better runner than someone who runs slowly? This simply isn’t true and the more you run, the more you understand this. Now I don’t want to be last in a race, as you know, but as long as I am improving that’s all that matters to me. Unless you really are Mo Farrah, then there is always someone out there faster than you. ALWAYS. It has to be about enjoyment too. Enjoyment and running are not words that I often like to put in the same sentence, but it’s true.

The other thing that I have noticed is, regardless of how fast anyone runs, they ALWAYS describe themselves as being “slow”. Why is that? Is it a British self-deprecating trait, or do runners from other countries do the same thing? I am member of a few running forums and pages, and if I had a pound for every post that mentions a “slow” run that the runner has just completed, well I would be treating myself to something hefty from Selfridges, every single month. Practically ALL of these runs are considerably faster than my top speed, downhill, with the wind behind me, being chased by an angry swarm of wasps. However, I also know that this is something I am also guilty of, so I am going to try to stop thinking of myself as a “slow” runner. Hopefully this will be more successful that my failed attempt to give up swearing for lent – I lasted less than an hour. (Yes, I know it’s not big or clever and demonstrates a staggering lack of vocabulary, before you tell me.)

So I think we need a new way to define it. Unfortunately, I have come upon this definition this week.

I believe that you are a runner, if you run (regardless of speed or distance as I have previously stated). But also, importantly, you are a runner if you NEED to run. This is frankly a new observation to me and one that I have sadly learnt this week, when I became ill. I was struck down with a particularly nasty, quite aggressive, sore throat, chesty, high temperature, snot ridden, flu-like virus which has gone onto my chest. I thought that I had run my asthma away, but it turns out that sadly this is not the case. It’s still in me and was waiting for an illness to come along to enable it to return. This got me on Sunday (Happy Mother’s Day to me) and so far has caused me to be off work for 2 days. Not the kind of ill, where you just don’t feel 100% so you work from home, no. This is the kind of ill where you sleep for 18 hours a day and exist on the sofa for the remaining 6 hours, re-watching the same episode of Homeland on a loop because you keep nodding off (I don’t know if you watch Homeland, but it requires your FULL attention), or watching old Hugh Grant films of Sky Movies, because if you do nod off, you will still be able to keep up as you’ve seen them all before.

I haven’t been ill at all since the beginning of my new (sorry, not new, 15 months and going strong) lifestyle. Not one sick day or even sniffle (other than hayfever) and so this was a bit of a pain. Not just because of having to stay off work, but even more surprisingly, because I was so annoyed at not being able to run. I had a BRILLIANT week running last week and began to feel like I was finally on track towards the Bristol 10k, and so being unable to run this week has been horrendous.

This brings me to the new definition of runner: a person or animal that runs, or gets extremely frustrated and *insert your favourite swearword in here* annoyed about not being able to run when they want to.

This further confirms what Running Sister told me all those months ago – you can run if you believe you can. It’s as much about the mind as about the body. Now I’ve reached the strange point where my brain needs me to run as much as my body does. I’m addicted. And not being able to run this week has been awful.

As I’ve said before running gives me time to think. I’ll let you into a secret because, well, what’s the point of having a blog if I’m not going to share my secrets with you, I really need to run at the moment. 2 weeks ago, the week I appeared on “The Crunch” you may have noticed a scab on my left cheek. This was because earlier that week, I had to have a mole removed as it had changed size and colour and the doctors were worried about it when I brought it to their attention. I am quite pragmatic about these things and so it was an easy decision to make to have it removed and then sent off for diagnosis (although the timing was hilarious, TV debut and all). I’ve also been advised that it’s probably just a warty mole (sorry if that made you do a bit of sick in your mouth then) and I have always called it my “wicked Aunty spot”, but as we approach the follow up consultation to get the results, I am feeling increasingly anxious and rattled. Not being able to run this week to be able reconcile these thoughts and give myself the usual required mental slap has been very tough.

Also, on a more practical fitness level, I had had quite a good week last week and so not being able to build on it this week is frustrating beyond belief. Last week I managed a fairly speedy run home on Tuesday which felt ok, although it was warm and made me realise that I need to drink more water.

On Wednesday, I was leading the 30 minute local run for This Mum Runs. Our “Trundlers” group has moved from a Thursday and we are now a 30 minute run group on a Wednesday. Yes we feel very grown up and we’re official, and I lead it. Honestly I am so proud I could burst – who would have ever thought that I could lead a run when I started this quest at the beginning of last year, but I love being the enabler for other ladies to get out and run “at the speed of chat”. So if you can run for 30 minutes without stopping, regardless of speed (see above definition of a runner) please do come and join us.  Before the 30 minute run last week, Hattie and I decided to do some sprints along a flat road near the start point of the TMR runs. It was hard, but we know that sprints work to make you stronger and faster so they have to become part of our week. Now I know I keep saying it’s not about speed, and it absolutely isn’t – but I want to run as fast as I can, largely so the run is over as soon as possible – it’s confusing isn’t it?!- but also to get round without injury so I don’t have to stop running for a period (see new definition of runner) and sprints make you stronger, so you see it’s all connected.  Also, to put my fast running into context, Husband’s normal running speed is already MUCH faster than my top speed running full pelt down Ashton Court hill…..so there is always room for improvement.

On Thursday last week (work was busy so I had to run back to back for 3 days, which isn’t ideal I realise) I managed to get out on a lunchtime harbour loop with Curly Sue and it was glorious. She has now successfully completed her coaching course and is now focussing on the Brighton Marathon which is a couple of weeks away. However, she has been injured and so has been forced to rest over the past couple of weeks and so this was the first 5k we had run together for a little while and it was great. |I love running with her. I felt strong and was remarkably speedy and the times were improving and importantly, not just at the beginning of the run. Now they are beginning to be consistently at the same speed over the whole distance. I was delighted.

On Saturday morning, I went to the gym with the Red Lady who is back in the groove with her fitness again, and looking great, and I followed her instruction as we did interval sprints on the treadmill (I think I ran the fastest I have ever ran) for a minute then a short 30 second rest, then straight into weighted squats and lunges, then the same on the cross trainer and then we ended up with a stint of interval rowing. I LOVE rowing and I have to say it was the most enjoyable gym session I have ever attended. Of course, later on Saturday I came down with this hideous virus and so that was the last time I did any exercise, or even walked more than 300 steps in a day. I had sore muscles on Sunday as I had pounded them and worked so hard, and this made me feel great…sore but great.

So this week has derailed my plans. All of the press that I am getting (and hilariously it continues as I’m on The Crunch, Made in Bristol again this coming Friday 6-7pm) is all well and good if it helps someone to take the first steps towards putting on their trainers and becoming a runner – and I really hope it does do that for somebody – but I’m also feeling quite a lot of pressure to really improve my time from last year. Last year I ran the 10k in 93 minutes. I would really like to take 10 minutes off my time this year, but I don’t know if I can. All I can promise you is that I will try my very best and will hopefully find a way to jump over the hurdles that life keeps throwing at me. However, as discussed, I know that I am part way there already as I am a runner regardless of the time. My daughters have promised to have jelly babies for me as I pass them on the Bristol 10k and I want to look strong as I run past them. I am a runner. But as usual I want more…I want to be a strong runner and so the training continues.

March 2017 photo 10 k T shirt

Trail runs and TV

I have had a very busy couple of weeks since I last updated my blog.

Firstly work is “off the charts” busy. I like being busy and as I run my own business, it is definitely good to be very busy, but there are times when it doesn’t feel manageable or fun. This has definitely been the case over the past fortnight. Running over the past year or so has helped me to keep focus when life is like this but even getting out for a short run over the past couple of weeks, in the week, has been tough.

Although there hasn’t been as much running, I have still been pounding the pavement a bit and I have managed a couple of trail runs. Hattie, my brilliant new running buddy, and I, keep talking each other into new challenges.

A couple of Wednesdays ago, I was sitting at home when I got a message from Hattie with a link to a 6k trail run with a big question mark attached. I’d seen it on facebook previously but hadn’t really given it much of a second glance, but now I looked again. “Why not?” I thought and so we both signed up. There are three things I like about trail runs:

1) They are pretty and as much of my running takes place on the Feeder Road with White Van Men “encouraging” me as I run alongside traffic, the prospect of running through fields and along the riverbank is very inviting.

2) I feel less pressure to go fast – I don’t know why this is, but it’s true.

3) You get a medal.

Hattie and I ran together all the way around and we laughed and giggled. There was mud. Oh my goodness there was SO much mud. I wore my trail shoes, which are not as comfortable as my lovely running trainers, but they felt ok and at the end they were absolutely CAKED with mud. The mud make it completely impossible to run in places and so there was more walking than I would have liked but waiting for us at the end as a reward was a table of cakes and treats. The cakes and treats were so good that I know that I undid much of my good work with the run, but I wasn’t bothered. Running allows you to eat and this has been my mantra for the past 15 months.

The following week, Hattie sent me another link – this time for another run with the same company along the cycle path and then by the river. This time I was the one who suggested we go for 11k rather than 6k and Hattie agreed. You see? We are an appalling combination – one of us suggests something and the other agrees?!  My reasoning behind the 11k rather than 6k was due to it being better value for money (only £1 difference between the two distances) – anyone who knows my husband will know that he likes a bargain and after nearly 17 years, it seems to have rubbed off, but more importantly with the Bristol 10k looming, we needed to test our overall fitness. I hadn’t run more than 7.5k this year and Hattie hadn’t run further than 7k ever, so it seemed like a good idea.

The first loop of the course was ok. It wasn’t too muddy (apart from a couple of places) and the sun was shining. We had agreed before we started to run/walk – run a kilometre and walk a minute the whole way round. However, as usual we got swept along by the occasion and very quickly changed our minds to start with a 3k run before we started walking. In the main part the run was good. It was fairly flat and we ran further each time than 1 kilometre before walking which was good. We were caught up on kilometre 7 by Mr Sweep, the tail runner, who immediately recognised us from the previous week’s race (we are nothing if not consistent) and he was friendly, encouraging and very supportive as we ran the final couple of kilometres. The final kilometre hurt and it showed me I have much work to do if I am to get the time I want at the Bristol 10k. We finished with the bacon sandwich that we had spent the last 15 minutes talking about and I wore my medal ALL day, only taking it off to get into bed.

Over the course of these two trail races, I have managed to convince Hattie that she should accompany me for the Bristol half marathon and I am so pleased that she agreed and has now signed up too. A training partner that you like and can have a really good laugh (as we will need to laugh) with is going to be essential for both of us over the coming months.

Curly Sue is injured and on the advice of her physio is not allowed to run much at the moment (which she is not very happy about). With my work being so hectic, we’ve only managed one session over the past couple of weeks, so we made this an interval session around Queen’s Square. I really hope she gets better soon as it’s been ages since we had a harbour loop together and I certainly enjoy them more than the sprints. My fastest sprint speed is still slower than my husband’s normal running speed, but it’s the fastest I can go….at the moment anyway.

So with my 11k yesterday, today it was husband’s turn as he took on the Bath Half Marathon. He has been training well and had his eye on a fast time. He smashed it and finished it in 1.47.53. He did Bristol in 1.51.25 last September so has really improved. He mentioned the word “marathon” for the first time ever today too. I am so proud of him. He only restarted running to support me and it’s genuinely changed both ours and our daughters’ lives so much.

The atmosphere at Bath was fantastic today and although we were there to support Husband and his friend “Batman’s Buddy” (who also got a very fast time) it was brilliant to cheer, clap and encourage the less speedy runners too, especially as this is where I am likely to be in the field of any “event” I enter. Our jelly babies were very popular and daughter and her friends were handing out “high fives” by the dozen. We were all inspired by the mega effort that everyone was putting in.

Another future race buddy is my youngest sister “Queenie” who has recently been bitten by the running bug and is 4 weeks into couch to 5k. It’s so good to see her enthusiasm and she is doing really well. I am desperate to do a park run with her but with us both being Mums and having to negotiate children’s football matches and birthday parties on a Saturday morning, we’ve not managed it yet, but we will. In the meantime, Queenie is making enormous progress and importantly feeling better about life and enjoying the sanity that 30 minutes of headspace gives you. Keep going Queenie.

Finally, I have some very exciting and surprising news. Quite a few people read my blog now which I am so pleased and proud about. As you will have seen, it was recently picked up by the “Great Run” company, who manage the Bristol 10k, when it was profiled and shared on their website. Well this in turn has been picked up by a local TV channel. They have approached me and asked me to keep a video diary of my runs and then go in to be interviewed live on TV. Yes….you read that correctly… I am going to be on TV talking about running. As Hockey Sister quite accurately stated when I told her, “of all the things I thought you would ever be famous for, running wouldn’t even have made it onto the Top 50” and she is right. But here we are and it’s true. This coming Friday (17th March) I will be on Made in Bristol’s “The Crunch” between 6-8pm. Please tune in. I’ll let you into a secret – I’m absolutely terrified. It’s about as far away from my comfort zone as I could be, but as with most things running related, being terrified is no reason not to do it. Please tune in. Like Davina, I promise not to swear.

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