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.

13.1 miles

Yesterday I ran 13.1 miles. If someone had told me last year, on the day that I downloaded the couch to 5k app that I would go onto run 13.1 miles, I would laughed in their face. But there we are and honestly I can hardly believe it myself, but I have a medal that confirms it. A medal that I am still wearing it today and a medal that I also wore to bed last night.

The fortnight leading up the half marathon was a bit of a head scramble to say the least. Once you have completed your last “long run” a couple of weeks’ before the big day, you are supposed to “taper”. This means that you run much shorter distances to keep your legs moving but the aim is to preserve your energy ahead of the big day. This sounds good in theory, but the reality is that you exist in a state of continual panic that you are not doing enough and will arrive on the start line, not fit enough, not having run enough and basically unprepared.

Olympic Park...RUNIn the fortnight preceding the Half marathon, I found myself in London for work with an overnight stay. In 2012, as a family, we managed to get Olympics tickets but not to anything in the Olympic Park, which always disappointed me. So I was very excited to finally have the opportunity to run around the Park as I had booked a hotel near to it on purpose. I was only supposed to be running 5k but enjoyed a lovely 7.5k trundle, telling myself that by stopping for numerous selfie stops (the Velodrome, Aquatics Centre, Main Stadium and Hockey park) it was ok to go longer in distance. It was one of the most enjoyable runs I have done for a very long time and I partially wonder if this is because I didn’t try and run fast and just enjoyed the scenery as I peeked through the window of the velodrome and just generally took in the ambience of the arena. It was wonderful. Events are all well and good but it’s important to not fall out of love with the sport. It was important for me to remind myself that I enjoy running (sometimes!!) and that exploring is all part of that enjoyment. I made a mental note to do more of this once the half was completed.

The night before the half marathon I laid my kit out and tried to steady my nerves. I had a sensible tea (Spaghetti Bolognese, old faithful – carbs and protein), drank lots of water and tried to get an early night. Unfortunately, nerves and the combination of drinking too much water, meant that I was out of bed for much of the wee small hours so when the alarm went off at 7am and I crawled out of bed not feeling at all rested or ready to run 13 miles. Frankly I felt nauseous. I was terrified and wondering what on earth had possessed me to believe that I could run 13 miles? I had a little cry to Husband who as usual gave me a wonderfully reassuring pep talk and calmed me down a bit. I also knew I couldn’t let Hattie down whose entire family had travelled down for the weekend to be a loud and supportive cheerleading squad.

Husband was taking daughters to a School’s Orienteering fixture at Ashton Court that started at 10am and then would rush to get back in time to see Hattie and I as we arrived into town for the final 4 miles of the course. There is , at least, one advantage of not being a very fast runner!

As we arrived in the Athlete’s village, Hattie’s Mum accompanied us which meant that we could keep our hoodies on until the very last minute. The conditions were perfect for running being dry, no wind, slightly cloudy and importantly no bright, strength sapping sunshine. However, whilst we were waiting to start and join our pen, it was decidedly chilly so we were grateful for our extra layer. We met up with some other TMR Mums and we chatted and worried together, with the faster ladies going off earlier and then finally it was time to join our “pen”. I was very aware that Hattie had never run a large organised race before and so was careful to stay with her and we worked to keep each other calm. Our whole mental preparation had been around the plan that this was to be “just another training run” but the problem was that a few thousand people seemed to have turned up to accompany us for this training run and it was hard to pretend. However we did our best as we danced to “Sweet Caroline” that was pumped out over the speakers whilst we waited in the pen for the start. I love that song but it seemed slightly surreal to be dancing to it before we started a 13 mile run along with a few thousand other Neil Diamond fans.

The first couple of kilometres were difficult as we got swept along with the crowd and so we ended up going too fast with the first mile being the fastest of the whole run by some considerable margin. Dr Wellababy (a lovely TMR Mum) ran with us for the first 5k which was great and then she was off chasing her own times as it was her first half marathon too. Then it was just Hattie and I. I found the first 3k of the run yesterday quite tough and I still to this very moment, can’t really identify why. We went off very fast (as you always do at an event) and this meant that I couldn’t catch my breath and so chatting was out of the question. It took me quite a while to settle down and much longer than usual. The turn on the Portway also seemed to never arrive and whilst we were cheered and high fived by Marshalls and TMR Mamas who recognised one or both of us in equal measure, and it did help, I really only settled down once we turned to run back towards the City.

It was at this point the magnitude of what we had to do started to hit me. But it was also now that Hattie and I did slip into “training mode” and started to chat. We chatted about what fancy dress outfit we should wear for the 10k Christmas Cracker in December (we think mice from Cinderella, I’ve always fancied a Onesie), our families and how I was sad that Hockey Sister wasn’t able to come and cheer me on due to a prior engagement, all the food we would eat when we finished and how much champagne we would drink (this part of the discussion was long and detailed).  This carried us all the way to the end of the Portway and onto the Cumberland Road, which I had been dreading. But Hattie’s family cheer squad were positioned perfectly which spurred us on a bit more. As we crossed the swing bridge on Princes’ Street I started to anxiously look for Husband and Daughters. Not only because I wanted to see them (and I really, really did), but also because Husband was carrying a fresh headband so I could swap my now sweat-sodden and cold one for a fresh and dry one. But they weren’t there. Hattie tried to reassure me but I started to inwardly panic and this unhappily coincided with the worst part of the course. The final four miles were twisty turns in and around the centre which took you forward, then back on yourself, over cobbles which killed my feet, up hills which I had never realised existed before, then seemingly towards the finish, only to cruelly then send you away again in the opposite direction again. Over the main part of this section, there weren’t too many people watching and so apart from the Marshalls, we were largely on our own. We arrived at a jelly baby station, which Hattie had particularly been looking forward to, only to find that they had run out and additionally to rub salt into the wounds, we had to run through piles discarded jelly babies strewn all over the floor like confetti at a wedding. Unfortunately it seemed that the 3 second rule was probably un-useable and so we ploughed on. I was feeling a bit tearful at the thought of not seeing my family at all over this horrendous section of the run and then suddenly Husband was there. He started running in the opposite direction shouting into his phone “she’s here, I’m coming to you” like he was part of the Secret Service and then as we turned the corner not only were daughters there but Hockey Sister too, who’d been playing a joke on me as I’ve since learnt that she had always planned to come and watch as she’s been a solid supporter of my running efforts since day one. I simultaneously fought back tears of joy whilst as well as gratefully placing a dry headband on my head (which felt so good) I was so chuffed to see them all that suddenly I felt like I could keep going. I didn’t want to walk in front of my daughters and so Hattie and I chugged on.

During HM run photo

Unfortunately this positivity was short lived as although my head was once again enthusiastic, my legs were absolutely knackered and it was at this point that even though I had been effectively using the energy gels throughout the run, my stomach started to experience sharp stabbing pains. I could feel that I had a blister on my foot, my “hammer toe” was throbbing, my hips were aching and frankly I was wondering if the twisty turning streets of Bristol would ever take me to the finish line. As we turned near to Baldwin Street, we saw Husband and Daughters again who had now met up with Hattie’s family to make one enormous (and very loud, the Marshalls commented on the volume) big cheer squad but I was struggling BIG TIME. We were now into the last mile and I had had enough but Hattie told me to dig in as we were nearly there. As we hit the final straight there was a sign that said 400 metres to the finish…I was so relieved but it seemed MUCH longer until we could see the finish line. It felt like another kilometre at least. My legs were screaming at me but Hattie took my hand and we crossed the finish line together. I burst into uncontrollable tears as I was overcome with achievement by what we had both accomplished coupled with absolute relief that it was over. As in previous races a St John’s Ambulance Man approached quickly, but once he could see it was emotion rather than pain he wondered off again to leave me sobbing on Hattie’s shoulder.

Although I had only ever wanted to complete the race in one piece, I did have half an eye on completing it in under 3 hours (you know I can’t help myself). I had worked out the split times required and had the times for 5k, 10k and 16k (which is 10 miles) written in biro on my arm (very technical!) so if we got to 10 miles and were on schedule, we knew it was possible so could really give it a final big push over the final stretch. We were on track throughout the whole race right up to 18 kilometres. Yesterday I ran my second ever fastest 5k and 10k time (we were overtaken at about 3 miles the 2 hour and 30 minute pacer which was an indication that we were going MUCH too fast) and then my fastest ever 15k and 16k (which is 10 miles) but at 18 kilometres (11 and a bit miles) the wheels fell off a bit as the course looped back and forth and we seemed to encounter hill after hill and in the end I was glad simply to finish. My final time was 3 hours, 2 minutes and 11 seconds so as you can see, although we weren’t that far off, the last 3 kilometres were awful.

Hattie and I are both running another half marathon in March next year and so now our goal is to run it in less than 3 hours and that’s what we will work towards over the next 6 months. The cheer squad arrived at the end to see us cross the line (now en masse) and we started our party which included champagne in a hot tub, chocolate, and a barbeque in Hattie’s garden.

I’ve always said that my running is a team sport. I might put my feet in front one step at a time, but without the encouragement of my husband and daughters and then Hattie and her family (who were fantastic yesterday) it would never happen.

So what now for me? You’ve journeyed with me from couch to half marathon and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the support and encouragement that I have received since January last year. I never thought I would run a half marathon, in fact I never really believed that I would be able to run 5k when I started this and I still have days where I’m not sure I will be able to again when I lace my trainers up.

I wish I had started running before I did and I’m not someone who has regrets. Running has changed my entire outlook on life and it’s changed my family’s life too – all for the better. I was lucky enough to have a sister who believed in me enough to convince me to try to run (whilst feeding me cheese). In case you don’t have the same, I’m here to tell you that you can do it too, because genuinely, and I hope this blog adequately demonstrates that, if I can, anyone can. You’re never too old, unfit, overweight to try. It is hard but that’s no reason not to try it. Believe me. I’m constantly surprised by what my knackered old body can do and I intend to keep challenging it. I will keep running half marathons and 10ks, attending parkrun, leading the This Mum Runs 30 minute runs and will also probably always be near the back but it doesn’t matter.

I started this blog by asking if I would and could ever become a runner? Well the answer to that question is yes – not a fast or record breaking runner for certain, but a social, trundling, happy and occasionally competitive runner.

I definitely am a runner.

Runner T Shirt

Narcolepsy, Christian Grey and final preparations

The Bristol half marathon is 2 weeks tomorrow. In 15 days’ time, I will be running along the Portway.

Over the past couple of weeks and since my last blog post, I have undertaken lots of different activities, swimming, cycling, kettlebell sessions, another painful sports massage (why are my bum muscles so lazy) and most importantly 2 more very long runs as I try to be as prepared as possible.

Hattie and I are both working Mums and so we can’t run together all the time but we have managed to co-ordinate do all but one of our long runs together. It’s boring running for 3 hours on your own, and even I have limits as to how much Take That I can listen to and so we have endeavoured in our planning to manage our longer runs (10 miles plus) together.

I’m not going to miss having to get up at 5.57am in order to eat and be ready to leave at 7am as I am not exactly what you would call a lark. The only time getting up at this time is acceptable is if you’re going on holiday and a gin and tonic for breakfast is on the horizon (holiday rules).

Having said this, once I am out of bed which is always the most challenging part, the early morning part of the runs have been lovely, felt very invigorating and dare I say it, pleasant. I’m always amazed at how many people are up and about at this time, especially on a Saturday. There are many “larks” in Bristol including the chap who looks to be in his 70s that I have seen twice doing harbour loops on a Saturday morning before 8am. He is incredibly inspiring, friendly and always ready to wave at fellow runners up and about.

The longest distance I have run so far is 19k which is 11.9 miles. Frankly I am not running further than that unless there is a goodie bag and a really big medal at the end (as well as hopefully some champagne).

Apart from the running and the chatting that happens on our long runs, there is a series of strange things that have happened that I could not have predicted and had absolutely no knowledge of prior to running more than 10 miles.

Chafing. Yes this is a word that makes you wince as you read it, but trust me this is nothing compared to the reality of runner’s chafe. I am aware of runner’s nipple of course, as husband has taken steps to avoid this on his previous half marathons. This is where the running motion of your body creates friction as your skin connects relentlessly with your clothes and basically rubs your skin away – it’s especially a problem in men and their nipples (which stick out) as they don’t wear bras (well some do of course, but that’s probably a discussion point for a different type of blog!) But as I wear a bra when I run, I had thought that this wouldn’t be an issue.

Many running bras are made from “wick away” material which is supposed to keep the runner fresh and dry (i.e. not too sweaty). However, when you have boobs the size of mine (they have got smaller with weight loss but are still VERY present) all running bras that work (i.e. are strong enough to minimise the bounce) are essentially made from a tarpaulin-like material. By 10k, my running bras are always soaking wet and with the “bounce factor”, once the bra is wet and then starts to move a bit to accommodate the bounce, it inevitably rubs against your skin and then rubs your skin away. This doesn’t happen only under your boobs and on your ribcage, it happens on the shoulders and on my back too.

I look like I had been whipped and it really hurts. When I got into the shower after the run the pain was horrific, akin to getting under a shower is you are sunburnt. Yowch. It burnt and stung and was painful to endure. Paracetamol, sudocream and loose clothing came to my rescue. This is a photo taken 4 days after the long run (heavily cropped to preserve my modesty and not to give you nightmares).

Chafe marks

Running Sister suggested I apply “Bodyglide” to the affected areas before a run and promised that this would help. I was sceptical, not least because “Bodyglide” sounds like something that Christian Grey would have stashed in a drawer somewhere in his red room of pain, but she was right. It’s like an enormous lip balm and generous application before subsequent long runs has reduced the issue, but not completely eradicated it. I guess this is just part of the trials of a longer distance runner.

Other problems with 10 mile plus runs include (don’t read if you are eating):

  • Being so sweaty that you genuinely wonder if you might have wet yourself and not remembered, during the run. Dark coloured running leggings are important for modesty.
  • Being able to wring out my headband during and at the end of the run. (I’m trying to work out if I could be slick enough in my planning that I could swap my headband for a fresh one somewhere during the half itself as sweat running into the eyes is not helpful).
  • Having an itchy bottom (caused my sweat running down your bottom crack) and then trying to scratch your bottom as you run along, whilst attempting to look casual, trying to disguise the fact that you are indeed scratching your bottom in public. Casual comedy whistling is very hard when you are out breath.
  • Sore toes. Apparently in runners, it’s fairly common to lose toenails (yuk) as this is caused by the constant banging of your feet on the floor with each step you take. I haven’t suffered with this (thankfully) as I keep my toenails very short (and painted of course!) But my index toe (is that even a real thing? – I mean the toe next to your big toe) has been battered to bits. After every long run it goes red, the skin puffs up and often it “peels”. Basically it’s very, very bruised. For 3 days after the run, I can only wear flip flops (this will be an issue after Christmas when I start training again for the London Landmarks half in the Spring) to allow it time to recover.
  • Extreme tiredness akin to narcolepsy – for the 36 hours following the long run, I am shattered. I don’t mean, I’m feeling a bit lethargic – more, I need to lay on the sofa and do nothing, ideally watching a film with Benedict Cumberbatch or Ryan Reynolds in it. Unfortunately, having daughters, what happens is that I end up watching “The Next Step” which is a bit like Fame, except it is not as good. On the last but one long run, I came in, stretched and then fell asleep within 20 minutes. I literally couldn’t keep my eyes open and apparently nodded off mid-sentence whilst talking to my daughters. As you train for something like a half marathon, it’s easy to be a bit blasé (yes I ran 10 miles) but I’ve learned that you mustn’t underestimate the effect the exertion has on your body. Yes I can run (with a bit of walking, and it’s always at trundle speed) for a long time, but, I’m still heavier than is ideal for a longer distance runner and could always be a bit fitter.

The final thing I have found, and I am sure this is why I haven’t lost any weight during the whole training process, is how hungry I get. I’m not talking about feeling a bit peckish so you might have an extra biscuit, I am talking about the fact that I am starving. For the 24 hours following a run, I could eat everything and anything. I try and be restrained but the genuine hunger, coupled with the little devil in my head saying “you burnt 2200 calories this morning, you DESERVE it” means that not only have I not lost any weight, over the Summer I have gained 4 pounds. Regular readers of this blog will know that over the past 19 months I have lost a lot of weight through running and lifestyle choices but not dieted. I do take measurements though and was very interested to know that although I have gained 4 pounds, I have lost 5 inches, predominantly around my middle, hips and thighs.

It’s a constant battle for me and most women I know have a complicated relationship with the scales. I try not care of course and kid myself that I’m not interested in what the scales tell me, and in the main part this is true. I do care more about being fit and strong and promote this thinking heavily in front of my daughters. However, if the numbers go down then I feel pleased. I am repeatedly told that muscle weighs more than fat, which I know to be true and I know I am getting smaller, but it’s a hard conundrum to mentally resolve.

What I do know is that you cannot eat WHATEVER you want, even if you do lots of exercise and lose weight. This is why I think my final preparations over the next fortnight need to be as sensible food wise as much as keeping my legs moving.

I’ve purchased my Runner T shirt and it fits (actually it’s a touch big at a size 16, which I think means that I am now the same size as when I was last 16 years old – cue celebrations) so as long as I can keep all my planning, training, eating on track for the next 15 days, hopefully I will be wearing it with pride having finished the half in one piece.

Picture with Half Marathon race numberThis is my race number and I will be wearing my trusty Trundler T shirt (always good to manage spectator expectations!)

If you see me, please shout, wave and say hello. I love high fives and as you know jelly babies are always appreciated. I am deliberately trying to not to have a “time” in mind and Hattie and I have resolved to try and treat the half like any other “run/chat” that we do. However, as you know me, of course I DO have a time in mind that I would like to achieve, but this time I am keeping it secret – but I’ll tell you on the next (and what will be my final) blog post what it was and whether I achieved it or not. Fingers crossed. However, times aside, I am going to do my best to enjoy the experience and get round in one piece.

We are nearly there……so far couch to 19k (which was never the plan when I started all those months ago) has worked. Can I make it Couch to 21.2k? Time will tell but whatever happens, finally, I know in my heart that I AM a runner and I never thought I would have said that.

Brie, Wine and 10 miles

The Bristol half marathon is in 5 and half weeks’ time and I am feeling the pressure. Training over the summer is hideous. I really should have re-read my blog from last summer before signing up as I had clearly documented how hard it is running in the heat. It’s been hard. Not simply because of the temperatures in late June/early July (I know it’s hard to remember heat given the Spring-like weather that we’ve been experiencing over more recent weeks….) but because of our busy social schedule that happens…every….single….year.

AS soon as our daughters break up from school we go to France for 2 weeks and I leave with the determination to run every other day and not spent the whole time away eating brie and drinking red wine. This year we had a new tent with steel poles and I managed to strain my back putting it up and was in pain for 3 days – seriously you can’t make it up. Already my planned training regime was behind and the longer you go without a run, the easier it is not to bother, especially when you’re on holiday. We had hired bikes and over the holiday managed 4 longish bikes rides down the coast, which were good (cross training in theory, although I’m not sure that “family bike ride speed” counts as a cross training session, but I was happy to pretend to myself!)

But I did manage 3 runs whilst I was there. On one morning I got up and put my running kit on, full of good intentions, but then spent all morning making excuses not to go…there were jobs to be done, I needed to drink my coffee, finish my book, handwash some Tshirts (I was getting desperate) and in the end Husband “suggested” that we drive to the Hypermarket as we needed supplies, and I could run back. It was a 5k distance and it seemed like a good idea. The area of France that we were in was riddled with cycle paths and it is very safe for runners and cyclists but as I was being dropped off, I did have a slight panic about getting lost. However, I set off and as usual had plans about majestically running back and hopefully bagging a new personal best time too. Unfortunately the reality of the situation was that after a week of eating and drinking too much, the run was terrible. I started running and then the sun came out. So I quickly bargained with myself that I would run a km and then walk a minute. This worked for 3 km and then I felt sick so walked a bit more. At this point a “hilarious” French cyclist went past and heckled me “allez maman allez” (I was wearing my This Mum Runs T shirt) and I had a little cry. However, just around the corner was a bunch of teenage French kids who cheered and high fibbed me which pepped me up and kept me going until I got back. However, my 5k time was it’s slowest for a year and I knew that when I got home from holiday, I would need to do better.

Once back in Blighty, I managed a couple of decent runs with Hattie which made me feel better. We did a couple more “exploring 10k runs” which were good and then we embarked on our longest run to date – We had planned a 14k run and another lady came with us, Scottie. She is a faster runner than Hattie and I but genuinely seemed happy for the company and although she clearly could have gone faster, was happy to trundle. I had plotted a large circular route but around 8k my hip became very sore and I was worried and so cut the run short to go home and torture my hip with a foam roller (which is where you literally “rolling pin” your legs – I don’t know what it does but it really, really hurts whilst you are doing it, but it feels better the next day so it’s worth it. But this had knocked my confidence and I started to worry – my body was weak and I clearly wasn’t strong enough.

I booked a sports massage. I have never had a sports massage before and whilst I was aware that it wouldn’t be a relaxing experience with candles, nothing could prepare me for the pain that would follow. I really feel that it is not overplaying it to say that it was comparable with childbirth. I held my breath and then used shallow panting to try not to pass out as the sports therapist ground her elbow into my buttocks and seemed to try and poke my ovaries out (there were tight muscles BEHIND my pelvis that she was trying to get to). It hurt. But the day AFTER the NEXT day, it felt better. But as before, weak glutes (bum muscles)were the root of the problems and I needed to do something drastic to strengthen them before the half marathon. I’d heard good things about and so downloaded two apps to keep my focussed and try to build my body strength – 30 days plank and squat challenge.

I’ve never done anything like this before and husband is doing the plank challenge with me. Planks are hardcore. I’m up to being able to do 45 seconds twice, with a 45 second break in between. I’m also doing 50 squats a day. Hopefully it will help.

Last Saturday Hattie and I planned our longest ever run. According to our training plan, we needed to be up to a 16km or 10 mile run (I don’t know which sounds worse, 16k or 10 miles!) Lots of people, I am told, only train up to 10 miles prior to a half marathon any way so I was sure that this was a good milestone to aim for mentally as well as physically. I have also discovered, upon further analysis, that one of the reasons why some of my runs are really terrible is completely down to what I have eaten and drunk (or rather haven’t drunk) in the days running up to the run. You can’t rock up and run 10k + if you are dehydrated and I think I had become a little blasé in my preparation. So before last Saturday, I drank litres of water, didn’t eat any rubbish (well significantly less rubbish, it’s a work in progress) and also took a couple of rehydration drinks the day before so I was prepared. I also had ordered a new running belt which could accommodate some running gels (these are tubes of warm jelly – alas no vodka to be found inside – which give you energy during a longer run) and two small bottles to fill with water. I was ready.  We had plotted a route from my house to Ashton Court parkrun and Husband would collect us afterwards.

My alarm went off at 5.57am on Saturday morning to allow me time to eat and digest breakfast before I left the house at 6.56am. I managed to get out without waking anyone up and went to my running buddies, Hattie and a lady I had not met before who was doing a virtual half marathon and had asked to come along. Of course, we said yes as the rules are always “the more the merrier as long as you are happy to run at Trundle pace”. The first 7k felt ok. In fact, they felt great and I was so relieved and happy. Of course, runs are always better with company and I know this helps, but my hips weren’t hurting, I didn’t feel like I was thirsty and we were making good time. Our strategy was planned for a 5k run, followed by 11k of running 1km then walking a minute. I suspect that this will be the strategy I used for the half itself, followed by a final 5k of “oh my goodness, just keep going”. I used my gels and although they didn’t taste nice, I could tolerate them. The gels are a strange thing. I take one and it’s like someone has changed my batteries. Suddenly my energy levels are renewed, for a bit anyway! We hit Nightingale Valley (which is very steep) and I walked the whole thing, but I had planned for this so didn’t feel disheartened. We were at 12k at this point and this km took 14 minutes, but we did it and kept going. As we entered Ashton Court, I was shocked that I actually felt ok. At this point, although my legs were tired, the battle was more in my head. I told myself to just keep going, just keep putting one foot in front of the other. We hit the top of park run, (our route ended with the final 3.5k of park run, why wouldn’t we end our long run with people clapping and cheering?) and for a short time we were in the lead. Not for long of course as there are people who can run 5k in 18 minutes who attend this park run, but it was quite funny as I was spotted by people who I know who were clearly confused by how I had got ahead of them. We plodded on and then suddenly and shockingly, I had run 10 miles. It was amazing.

Running down AC Hill, 10milesWhat was most surprising was that I felt like I could had run further and the end of the run had felt easier than the beginning, which baffled me. As I laid down on the floor, I tried to process this. For the first time ever, I actually believed that I could run a half marathon. TMR have a T shirt that says “Runner” on the front, but I haven’t bought one because I don’t really feel like a runner. In fact, most of the time, even though I have written this diary blog for 18 months now, I feel like an imposter. But as I laid on the floor at Ashton Court, I made myself a promise that when I finish the half, I will order myself one. Surely, if I can run 13 miles, I have earned the right to wear a T shirt that says runner?

Collapsed on the floor after 10 miles

As I was leaving Ashton Court a lady called my name. It was Sue who was the tail runner at Little Stoke Parkrun, when I first ran 5k without walking for the first time EVER (documented in the entry entitled “Last but by no means least”). She recognised me and I was so pleased to see her that I gave her a hug. You meet people in your life and at the time, you don’t really realise the impact that they will have on you. That was the last time I ever ran Little Stoke Park Run before the evil council shut it down and so I never got a chance to thank Sue for her unerring belief in me and enthusiasm on that very important day. I was very pleased to be able to rectify this and thank her for all that she had given me, which was belief. I need belief more than ever at the moment so I feel like it was fate that I saw her. ParkRun is brilliant. If you’ve never been, go. Walk 5k, you don’t have to run. It might change your life.

So 5 and a half weeks to go and we’re on course. But now, I need to keep going and importantly, not get injured.

Tomorrow is a 60 second plank and then next week is a 90 second plank. I think I would rather run 10 miles again that have to do a 90 second plank and I never thought I would say that!

Highs and lows

One question that I get asked quite often is “how do you stay so motivated?” The answer is that I don’t really know but I know that I feel better and my life is better if I run, so I run. By and large this has been enough to keep me going.

However, since the Bristol 10k “race” I have really, really struggled. They say that every high is followed by a low but I was not prepared for how “low” the low would be. The emotional investment that the 10k took was far beyond anything I could have ever imagined not to mention the physical undertaking. I was absolutely shattered – emotionally and physically. Adrenalin is a very powerful thing and after it’s done it’s important job, it leaves you a whimpering shadow of your former self. I had never really experienced this before. I spent the week following the 10k bursting into tears for no reason whatsoever (I am not a weeper – not that crying is a bad thing, it’s just not something I really do) so this was difficult to manage. I looked dreadful and felt mentally broken.

I have an Instagram account which I mainly use to post running updates and photos of gin and tonic (it’s all about balance right?!) @ladyclaireabell in case you’re bored enough to take a look. Some of my “official” 10k photos were truly horrific. As proud as I was to complete the race in the time I did, let’s just say that the effort it took was visible for all to see in the photos! Gurning is a phrase that comes to mind. As transparency is key to everything I do related to running, I thought it was only fair that I post these terrible photos on Instagram in the same way that I would also post a more flattering photo. Dame Kelly Holmes (yes THE Dame Kelly Holmes) made a complimentary comment on my photo. I was awestruck! Now here is a true inspirational role model that girls can really aspire towards. You can keep your Little Mix (am I the only person who worries about them catching a cold as they don’t seem to wear enough clothes? Or does this mean I am getting old?….actually don’t answer that). Dame Kelly Holmes in the real deal. However, getting back to highs and lows, if the pride of having DKH comment was the high, a deep low was to follow. I was cyber trolled on Instagram. I know it’s hard to believe. You think cyberbullying is a thing that happens at school? Well I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. It was 2 direct messages from two different people saying “you think you’re all that” only not in a nice way (I’m paraphrasing) and using the words “still a fat cow” and some other expletives – at least I think this is what they were trying to imply…grammar and spelling didn’t seem to be high on their agenda.

I was shocked and quite upset. Actually I was much more upset about it that I could have aniticipated. It wasn’t what they had said so much as who had said it. Now I am aware that people aren’t always who they seem to be when you’re online (maybe it was a Russian called Boris?), but if the photos were to be believed, I had been trolled by teenage girls. This made me so sad inside. I started doing all this to be a good role model for my girls and yet here I seemed to be having the opposite effect on two teenage girls. I simply didn’t (and still don’t) know what to make of it. However, I blocked the perpetrators and moved on with my week. It did make me want to stop. Not running (I couldn’t stop running I don’t think), but being so open about my struggle and quest for health and balance and ultimately whether I should stop writing this blog. But in the end, I decided to ignore them and move on. As Taylor says…”haters gonna hate”.

The bizarre situation kept me awake for many nights and didn’t help my preparation for the Westonbirt 10k which was a couple of weeks after the 10k. It was another scorching evening and I ran with Hattie and Curly Sue. I really struggled all the way around as the heat sapped my strength. The sun is my kryptonite. TMR were out in force and it was good to catch up with the ladies. Although it was a proper trundle and significantly slower than the Bristol 10k, I still managed to get round in 89.29 seconds which is a 13 minute improvement on last year’s time. However, even though I was hurting, it was impossible not to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and running with my buddies Hattie and Curly Sue is always a treat.

Westonbirt 2017

After Westonbirt, I decided to give myself a week or so off from running and would have a rest before half marathon training was scheduled to officially start. I didn’t run, but thought about it often. It really is a love/hate relationship. When I run, I don’t enjoy it, but the second you don’t, you miss it.  It’s a real conundrum.

Hattie and I sat down with our calendars and planned out our runs for the month of June – working out how many/how long each run should be in order for us to be able to cross the finish line in one piece on September 17th. Our schedule was a work of art. It had runs together, runs alone, we’re both “Run Angels” so it incorporated our TMR runs that we lead (30 minutes long, fast or trundle paced, all are welcome), sprints/hill sessions. We have a plan for the whole Summer but are only plotting out a month at a time as my job is unpredictable and so “wiggle” room was built in.

Then life got a bit weird and the plan went to pot. We received some family news that rocked me to my core. I was shocked, upset, worried, grasping to understand and this is without the Terror Attacks and General Election. My world seemed to have turned on it’s head.  I didn’t run more than once a week which was stupid really as running gives me thinking time, but I just couldn’t get out there, which was compounding the problem. Then came the heatwave…..oh my days. Hattie and I kept pushing our run back further and further in the evening trying to wait until it was cool enough…but it didn’t so we didn’t go. My asthma was back and so was my hayfever. My chest rattled like I was smoking 40 cigarettes a day. The odd run I did manage was tough.

But then last Saturday morning, Hattie and I went our very early for a run. It was an exploring run and I haven’t done one of those for ages. I loved it. We ran down the chocolate path and I think I have finally sussed out how to get to Ashton Court from the Towpath. It was still warm but bearable. Everyone who was out said hello as we trundled past them and it was a heartwarming experience. Almost a recognition that we are all as mad as each other being out on a Saturday morning with a 7 in the hour, but I liked it. I remembered why I like running (because I do sometimes?!)

So this morning I ran to work. First time I have run on my own with music for a while and it felt good. I am back on track again…which is lucky because the half marathon isn’t going to run itself you know. Haters gonna hate but I’m just going to keep on trundling.

Trundler Top

10k races, pacers and pb chasers

As readers of this blog will know, the Bristol 10k that took place on Sunday is not the first time that I have run the distance. I have run it quite a few times previously including twice in the fortnight running up to Sunday. Why then, was I so nervous on Sunday morning? Because let me tell you, I was. I was terrified, borderline nausious and my palms were definitely sweating as I ate my porridge and forced down peanut butter on toast. I had had a very clear plan about what to eat and drink in the run up to the big day, but unfortunately, in my past life (ie non healthy and non-running) I ate when I was stressed. From Wednesday of last week I ate A LOT, almost constantly on Friday, but did finally reign it in on Saturday.  My only saving grace probably was that I drank almost as much water as I had eaten, which is critical in a lead up to a race.

Yes I was calling the Bristol 10k a race (not an event) because, for the first time ever, this was how I was viewing it.

I did enjoy being part of the Made in Bristol run up (even if it was very challenging to fit in around an already ridiculously busy job) and I hoped in part that seeing me and my non athletic body might inspire someone off the sofa to give it a go. Hopefully they would find the experience as positive and rewarding as I have, but of course the other thing that Made in Bristol did was that it made my time goals public.

Following “pacergate” (when the race sponsors were unable to provide official pacers for anyone seeking a personal best (PB) time above 70 minutes, and some AMAZING This Mum Runs runners selflessly put themselves forward to help us (me) achieve a faster time) I felt under unbelievable pressure to achieve my desired time of sub 80 minutes – even though the whole scenario was my fault and I had created it. Frankly I had just plucked this number out of the sky (80 minutes) and there was no science behind it’s choice and I really didn’t know if I could manage it, never having got within 90 seconds of it before. However, as always I resolved to do my best. Running Sister (currently out of action and not allowed to run on medical advice) called the day before to talk me down off of the metaphorical ledge that she knew I would be on (I was). Ie self doubt . She assured me that I was bound to run faster than last year and I should give myself a break if I didn’t manage sub 80. I listened, knowing she was right, but also knowing that I would be devastated if I didn’t achieve it.

Husband and I set off for the “Athlete’s Village” just the same as last year. But this year, lots of people greeted me by name as I was walking along, wishing me luck and patting me on the back. One lady shook my hand and wished me luck in getting my sub 80 as I waited to use the toilet for my “pre-race nervous visit” in Wetherspoons and another lady did the same as I left the building. I really berated myself. Why can’t I keep my mouth shut? What if I couldn’t do it?

Husband then had to go as he was in the Orange wave (ie very fast indeed) and so I headed over to the This Mum Runs gazebo. I was greeted like a war hero when I arrived. It was amazing. The encouragement and support from everyone was off the charts. I was nearly in tears already and we hadn’t even started running yet. Captain Mel Bound and her inspirational team scooped me up and I felt a bit better just being with them all. TMR launched in London a couple of weeks ago as Mel does her best to give ladies across the UK a chance of getting what we have already in Bristol and Bath and they had an official gazebo made. It’s quite bright so you can’t really miss it (I suspect it can be seen from space) I had no idea until the day it launched when somebody posted a photo, but something I once said, is on the side of the gazebo.

TMR Gazebo

This is true. Anyone can learn to run.  Anyone. To be a truly great runner (as in fast) I believe that you have to have some natural talent, but anyone can run.

Husband has natural ability in the running department and he himself will admit that he went off too fast on Sunday. His overall finish time was 48.26 but this included 90 seconds sitting on the floor by St Mary Redcliffe after he had pushed himself too far and vomited…more than once.  He realised he had got his race tactics wrong after reaching KM 6 and was overtaken by the 45 minute pacer, his initial plan having been to stay just in front of the 50 minute pacer. A really lovely lady from TMR who recognised him stopped to offer assistance (and contacted me via facebook afterwards to further enquire as to how he was – thank you – the running community is FANTASTIC) but he sat for a bit longer before running the last bit and then throwing up again after crossing the finish line. Frankly I didn’t know whether to be super impressed or horrified when he told me after the race! But he took almost 7 minutes off his time from last year, so it’s impressive. Can he go sub 45? He says he’s not bothered, but this sounds like something I would say too so we’ll see……!

So back to the TMR gazebo.  I had warmed up with Wonder Woman, (yes the real one – I’ll let that sink in a moment) and I had been introduced to the pacers – each adorned with a shiny helium balloon and we were ready to go off to our pen (where we wait to start). The lady that had offered to pace me initially had a gold balloon and she was very friendly, excited and lovely (they all were, just to be absolutely clear – all had paid to run the race themselves, and yet all 4 of them gave up any chance of chasing a PB when they offered to try and help us slower ladies achieve our speed driven goals too) but I did have a natural affection for “Merida” as I’ll call her. She was extremely supportive from the start to the very end and I felt a bit like a small child on a school trip following my teacher when we walked off the pen. The Earmuffed -Extraordinaire was also there and we ran together for the whole race.

As usual, my best laid plans went out the window when we set off and the EE and myself were ahead of the pacers by the turn on the portway. I have to say that we were running really fast but weirdly  it felt quite “trundle-esque” which as I look back on it, must have been adrenaline. All was going well as I knew the second half would be tougher and I thought if we can keep ahead of the pacers we should be ok for the sub 80 goal. But then disaster struck and the sun came out. I literally felt all of my energy melt away as the sun beat down. I had no sunglasses (I am very fair and the sun hurts my eyes) and it was HOT. I was wearing a vest (which is unusual for me) and one thing no-body tells you when you sign up for a running course, is that one day, you’ll find yourself running in the sun being able to smell your own armpits as a vest has no material to soak it up. Disgusting.

I now began to struggle. A LOT. It was here that  Merida really showed us the depths of her fabulousness. She was like Tigger as she bounced alongside, keeping me and the EE going, never once looking cross or disappointed as I chugged along. The Cumberland Road was very tough. I barely spoke on this section of the race for a few reasons.

  • I was in a lot of pain after having gone off so fast and I really had to dig in and frankly speaking was out of the question.
  • When I am in pain and running, I swear A LOT. Hattie, Curly Sue, the LA Blond, EE, and anyone I run with regularly is aware of this, but I didn’t want to create a bad impression on Merida and so thought it best to keep my toxic monologue, more inner than out.
  • Everything was a bit blurry on this section of the race. I mainly kept concentrating on the techniques that Curly Sue had taught me. There are definitely sections of the 10k that I felt I ran with my arms, more than my legs. I kept pumping them and just concentrated on moving forward – all the while Merida being the best cheer leader anyone had ever met.

I have run with Southville Running Club only once before and it was great and I’m sure I’ll go again (they do a run/walk group) and as we approached St Mary Redcliffe, we overtook the run leader. He messaged me afterwards to comment on how fast I was going – but I really feel at this point, I could have stopped had it not been for EE and Merida. I could also see shining balloons in the distance (other pacers) and this definitely gave me the strength to keep going, in the same way that the TMR official cheer station had helped me over the last few metres of the Cumberland Road.

If you’ve never run an official race before, it really is worth it just to experience the euphoria of the cheering crowds. I really felt like they were only cheering me (of course they weren’t) but when people shout out your name (names are on the race numbers), high five you, offer you jelly babies (which you take) there is nothing I can write that adequately describes the feeling accurately enough.

At kilometre 9 I knew I would see my sister and daughters. As we turned the corner, I saw them before they saw me. I was knackered. I could barely even smile but did high 5 youngest daughter and took the jelly baby that she had saved for me as promised. They cheered very loudly and I swelled with pride but I felt sick though at this point and was desperate for water. As I ran away from them, as soon as I was out of sight I had to throw the jelly baby on the floor. I couldn’t risk it. I felt like a terrible Mother though as I knew that Youngest daughter had been saving that jelly baby just for me.

As we turned into the final straight, Merida said we should “go for it”. I wanted to oblige and tried my best, but I had nothing left. We still stormed the finish line like women possessed as I knew that we were still on for sub 80 but Merida had been evasive about the specific details over the final kilometre.

20x30-BRIE5896

We crossed the line and Merida, EE and myself had the best hug ever and I burst into uncontrollable tears. I am actually crying as I type this now as the emotions still feel very raw and I had been in tears a lot of the last 72 hours. The sense of achievement was immense.

Last year I crossed the line in 93.26 and on Sunday 78.51, not only achieving my desired sub 80 but smashing it.

This blows my mind. I’ve worked hard it’s true, but I really feel it’s a team effort.

Curly Sue should definitely get thanks as she taught me many techniques that saw me survive Sunday, as should EE who danced and smiled her way around, emitting her natural sunshine rays everywhere she went and indeed goes.  Both helped me during dark times (and let me tell you that during some moments of the race I felt quite dark) but also of course to Merida. I know she found the experience emotional and enjoyed it too. But thank you all the same.

I have the Westonbirt 10k in a couple of weeks with Hattie and then long distance training begins ready for the Bristol half marathon later in the year. I’m not going to go for a specific time with this one as it’s my first half marathon. This will be more a “let’s just get round in one piece” race you will be relieved to hear and I am relieved to write.

I ran faster that I ever thought I could on Sunday, but deep down I know that I am a trundler. I love trundling and I love chatting whilst I run. I also like running with ladies who are slower than me or at the beginning of their running journey and encouraging them to keep trying and be the best that we can be. I love this and this is me 95% of the time. However, sometimes, you have to give yourself a target to see if you are progressing (not everyone I understand and to be honest, sometimes I really wish that I wasn’t built this way) and for me this is what the 2017 Bristol 10k became. It didn’t start that way of course. When I signed up after last year’s 10k (2016) I was hoping that having the 2017 race in the diary would be enough to keep me running and perhaps I would be a bit quicker? I never dreamed back then that it would turn into what it did turn into. But there we are…that’s life. You never know what is going to happen and all you can do is embrace it when it does.

Incidentally, yesterday I signed up for 2018 Bristol 10k and who knows what type of run that will be. Maybe I’ll be going for a sub 75 minutes or even 70? Or maybe I’ll be running with my sister Queenie and Hattie in their first Bristol 10k? Maybe I’ll have a shiny balloon myself and will be able to pay it forward? Time will tell, but God willing, I will be there again at the start line.