Runniversary and a new decade

2020 heralds the beginning of a new decade and a new year.

For me this is the perfect opportunity for a reset. The 3rd of January marked my runniversary (4 years since I downloaded the couch to 5k app and changed my life for ever) and I did spend quite a portion of the day mulling over the past 12 months.

It wasn’t a great year as you know and many awful things happened.

BUT, good things happened too and I need to keep reminding myself of this.

  • I learned to ride Shiny Sheena properly using all the gears. You may inwardly snigger at this, I mean, it’s just a bike isn’t it? but road bikes are complicated and you almost need to sit a test to understand how it all works. I finally understand the difference between the big ring and small ring on the gears and I’m not afraid to cycle in traffic. This last bit is HUGE as I have been terrified of this for years and as Bristol is a “cycle city” this is quite important. This culminated in completing the Tour de Bristol 100k bike ride up welsh mountains and back in April. It nearly broke me, but I did it.
  • I finally learned how to front crawl and found that I love open water swimming. I find the swimming pool quite dull now and the chlorine makes my nose itch for hours afterwards. At the swimming pool there is no-one to assist in or out of a wet suit (which happens regularly up at Mad Mike’s lake with people you may or may not know!) I love the camaraderie of the cup of tea afterwards in the club house where we all shiver and try and warm up after the swim wearing gloves, hats and Uggs in May. I even enjoy squeezing myself into my wetsuit like a sausage….I am convinced that this burns at least 100 calories before I even start the swim. My swimming bag contains small plastic bags (to go over my hands and feet which helps you to get then suit on) and lots of body glide to minimise the rubs. At least I look like I know what I am doing from the casual observer.
  • I completed a middle distance triathlon. I do need to keep reminding myself of this as it’s huge. 70.3 miles propelled forwards by my own body. Much of the run was miserable admittedly, but I still completed it and against all the odds. I am super proud of this. As my Mum was taken ill 4 days after the tri, I didn’t really have a chance to digest it at the time or even think about it really, but I need to remind myself. And often. I looked at the medal on the 3rd January and it’s a good one. It might be my favourite….but there are some other contenders there for that accolade also.
  • I ran the Great North Run, which whilst it was an emotional decision to even try it, was one of the greatest things I have ever done. I absolutely loved it and I smiled from start to finish (which was no mean feat in September, I can assure you). I am running it again this year but this year I am going to train properly for it so I can walk the next day, unlike last year. I’m also going to be officially part of “Team Brodie” and will be doing some fundraising for them throughout the year – more on this as the year goes on.
  • I met and was enormously welcomed by North Bristol Triathlon Club. What lovely people they are. It doesn’t matter that I am the slowest and least competent athletic member they have ever encountered, they only seem to care that I am trying my best. They cheered me on at the 113 and have offered advice, encouragement and care when I need it repeatedly over the past year. I even won an award at the Christmas party – the “smiling through adversity” award and it meant so much to me. (Although if there had been a “who drank the most fizz and remained upright” award, I may well have been successful in this category too although I would have faced plenty of stiff competition on the night. Triathletes certainly know how to party as my slightly dishevelled and drunken photo here demonstrates).

I had been so intimidated by a “triathlon” club in the beginning and never would have joined had Merida not encouraged me, but you would be hard pressed to find a more supportive collection of people. If you have any interest in any of the disciplines of triathlon (many members only do one or two of them so don’t let it put you off) do look them up and maybe I’ll see you at a training session soon. http://northbristoltri.co.uk/

So where to this year? And where to this decade? This are very good questions. I have some events lined up – some serious and some not so serious. I have days where I am full of enthusiasm and vigour and want to book BIG events and then some days when I struggle to do anything. But on the whole things are moving in the right direction and I am doing much more exercise than I was 6 weeks ago.

The main thing is I have started running again. The physio told me to go easy to start with and mentally I struggle anyway as running often brings the tears. It’s an emotional release (probably because I find it so incredibly hard) and so for the last 4 weeks of 2019 I ran/walked (3 minutes to 1 minute) just to try and get back into the habit of running again, often whilst crying a bit, but it has helped me enormously. Run/walking is much more enjoyable than properly running and so it’s felt more manageable. Anything “too hard” isn’t an option some days and I was of the opinion that something is better than nothing.

Minehead Dec 2019Then a week ago, I ran 35 minutes without stopping. It felt great to know it’s still in there and I can do it if I need to. I didn’t start the run planning to see if I could run without walking, it just felt ok when I started, so I decided to keep going. Before I knew it, I had run the whole journey to work (I fit many of my runs in around my work commute) and I was elated. It also means that I am once again able to lead runs for This Mum Runs as a Run Angel. I didn’t do much of this last year due to injuries, not to mention the Dark Summer, so this very good news indeed. I love it. I love running with my friends and also love running with ladies at the beginning of their running journeys. It gives me genuine joy.

My big race and my big goal this year is going to be…yes you guessed it, the Bristol 10k. My old nemesis. 2018 and 2019 were blighted by injury (even though I managed to get round) but THIS IS THE YEAR. If I can keep my old knackered body going for 8 and a half hours to complete a triathlon, then I MUST be able to run the Bristol 10k in less than 75 minutes. I have already sought out a pacer for this event and Smiler has bravely (because I can be a bit grumpy in races if I’m trying to go fast, just ask Merida) offered to pace me to whatever time I want to go for. Already I want to go sub 75, but possibly, and hopefully, I will end up going for an even faster time. We’ll see as training progresses in the coming weeks.

In addition, lots of my close friends are doing marathons this year; Merida is running Manchester, Hattie and Smiler are both running the London Marathon.  It’s very hard not to get FOMO (fear of missing out), but I know I must be patient and take time over the course of 2020 to get strong again and most importantly, get my running back up to scratch after, essentially, having had a year out from it.

I have entered a couple of triathlons too – the 51Fiver, is an Olympic distance (1500m swim, 40k bike and 10k run – which is possibly what I should have done last year, but when do I ever take the simple route?!) and I’m also entered in the Long Course Weekend in July which is a 1.9k swim on Friday in the sea (with jellyfish I discovered last night – yikes), the 90k cycle on Saturday (it’s hilly, are there any flat parts of Wales?) and a 10k run on the Sunday. This is to keep my cycling and swimming ticking over as well as providing a good cross training programme for my running – which is my priority this year. I love cycling too and so I can’t give this up – it brings me too much joy. Life is short and we must do things that make us happy.

If all goes well and things are looking ok, I might enter the Weymouth 70.3 triathlon in September. I have a hotel room booked already (which can be cancelled up until the day before the event), and as I know it rarely sells out, I can make the decision a couple of weeks beforehand. It’s niggling away at me, because I was supposed to do it last year but I need to not suffer any injuries and rebuild my body before this can even be considered.

In fact, I think my greatest goal for 2020 will be to get to the end of it in one piece and strong.

I want to do a marathon in 2021 and so 2020 will be a year of foundation work, hopefully with some fun and events thrown in for good measure. For 2021, I have my eye on a bucket list marathon (which will be as serious as it gets) as well as a wine and cheese marathon in France (which will be decidedly less serious and will involve fancy dress) so plenty to motivate me to work hard this year and onwards, into the new decade.

It’s my birthday this week and I will be 45. No-one can tell what the future holds and if I’d told myself in 2009 (or even 2016 when I first dowloaded the couch to 5k app) that I would be a member of a triathlon club on 2019, I never would have believed it. So much has changed in the past decade and I wonder where the next decade will take me.

Let’s find out.

Decade to decade photo

Injuries, jiggles and a labrador….

Since my last blog, I’ve been sidelined from running due to an injury. This has been hideously annoying as I have really needed the time alone with my thoughts, but 2019 just hasn’t been my year and so it was not to be.

Following the 10k at Westonbirt, my right hamstring started to throb. Being a runner, I carefully ignored it but as I pottered along run/walking the following week, it progressively got worse until I could pretend no longer. As I stood making a cup of tea in my kitchen, my hamstring was screaming and I knew I had to take action.

A trip to the physio confirmed that I had torn my hamstring which required total rest – my body was broken after the triathlon, the stress of the “Dark Summer” (which is how I am referring to the Summer months of this year) a half marathon with no training and then finally winging a 10k the week after (which was probably the proverbial straw and my hamstring was the camel’s back). Some of my wise friends commented that this was my body’s way of finally forcing me to rest and they might have been right, but either way, it was extremely frustrating.

However, I concede that I was shattered – physically and emotionally and so I didn’t run and tried to rest as best I could.

I was finally given the all clear to re-start GENTLY running (and yes, the physio did almost shout it at me when he finally relented) in the second week of November. I was delighted but also terrified.

2019 has been a terrible year for my running. I sprained my ankle in March which meant no running for 8 weeks meaning that I shuffled the half marathon of the 113 triathlon in June, woefully underprepared. 4 days after the triathlon, my Mother was taken ill and the Dark Summer followed. This then led to me running the Great North Run and subsequent 10k at Westonbirt with no real training either. So although I knew that I wouldn’t have to restart couch to 5k from scratch, I did need a strategy.

The other problem was nothing to do with my legs or fitness. My Mother’s death has affected every aspect of my life and I cannot handle too much stress at the moment. Having been distracted from my job over the Dark Summer meant that it now required 150% of my attention (and importantly, I was delighted to immerse myself back into the job I love) and so sport and exercise needed to fit in easily. I also needed to be careful not set myself up to fail as it doesn’t take much for the tears to start at the moment. As running is always something that I find difficult, I needed to keep it as easy and achievable as possible.

So my strategy was that I would keep to my 3/1, run/walk plan and get out 2-3 times a week. I was confident that by the beginning of December that I would be back up to 5k and then would be set for the 10k race I have in the diary for the 22 December at Westonbirt Arboretum. But it hasn’t happened that way and this morning I have officially downgraded the 10k to a 5k. Up until last week, I have managed to run twice a week it’s true, but the runs are dreadful. It’s like starting from scratch all over again. I’ve gained 4 kilos since June and whilst I couldn’t care less about the aesthetics of this, I can feel each extra kilo when I run. The heavier you are, the harder work it is to run and as I’m not in the right mental space to try and lose the weight at the moment either, so it’s going to be part of me for a while.

I’ve been re-reading the very first entries of this blog to try and help spur me on and I will keep going but it’s tough. I struggle to catch my breath, it’s really cold which means that my asthma is an issue – the asthma that pretty much disappeared when I was fit is back and it’s crippling my breathing. I’m a bit more “jiggly” than I was 6 months ago and whilst I’m not self-conscious enough about how I look in lycra to not wear it in public, I know that my legs are not as solid as they were. My left ankle aches sometimes after a run and my hamstring still grumbles a bit. So there is plenty to work on.

But I also recognise that this is not the time to do it or push myself too hard – I just need to keep moving and at some point in the future, I will feel ready to take things to the next level again – hopefully in the New Year as I have some races already booked in for 2020.

So far, I’m signed up for an Olympic triathlon in May, the Great North Run, the Great South Run and I have the Bristol 10k firmly in my sights after the last 2 have been blighted by injury.

But for now, I am pottering and trying to get my fitness back. So far, I have (unintentionally) run every day in December and whilst I don’t think my diary will allow a full “running streak” over the whole month, I’m going to try to get out for at least 1 mile as often as I can. Running helps me when I’m feeling down and it’s an effective anti-depressant. This is a very strong incentive at the moment to lace up my trainers and get out there at the moment, jiggly or not.

In April of this year, we got a puppy – a fox red Labrador called Bruce (he has his own Instagram account in case you are interested in following his adventures @brucethefoxredlab). He is now 9 months old and is a bit of a handful (this is an understatement) but we love him and I, in particular and much to my surprise, completely adore him. He has really helped me over the past couple of difficult months and whilst he is hard work, I am pleased we have him. When the family discussed getting a puppy, my only wish was that we got a dog capable of running with me on the trails at weekends. Now whilst Bruce isn’t old enough yet to start properly running with me, I have run on a couple of his dog walks (let’s be honest, I’m not that fast and I do stop and walk when I need to) and he loves running alongside me. Last weekend, we and my husband ran through Ashton Court and I got a glimpse of what a magnificent running and training buddy he will become in future years. I’ve already googled races that we can enter together and this will be something that I’ll be exploring as he gets bigger and older.

Bruce, Jeff and I Ashton Court

But for now, please let me be the first to wish you a Merry Christmas and thank you for all your support and good wishes this year.

I’ll be back with a more focussed training blog in January.

The Great North Run

This is not a blog about grief and it never will be, but it’s impossible to write this post without touching upon it a little bit. My Mother sadly passed away on the 6th August and the grief is heavy. It’s debilitating and it is physical. I am surprised by just how physical it is and I am exhausted. All of the time. Some days walking is difficult, but I have been forcing myself to run and then walk and then run a bit more as often as I can. The days when I run are really the only days when I manage to sleep at night too so there is added incentive.

The topic of the Great North Run was weighing heavy on my mind as Mum had told me to do it.

A few people messaged me to say, “don’t do, it’s a terrible idea and you have enough on your plate” and they were absolutely right of course. Also a few people messaged me to say “do it. It’s a race unlike any other, but only do it if you can enjoy it”. I had no idea what to do. I decided to leave it and believed that the right answer would present itself, one way or another.

In the weeks after my Mum leaving us, I was lucky to have the support of family and very good friends. The Red Lady was always coming to support me running the Great North Run, if I did it, but she was never going to run it with me. She wasn’t trained for it, last having run a half marathon in 2016 and only running a couple of 10ks this year. One very good friend, I won’t embarrass her by naming her, has contacts at the Great North Run and over coffee when she was checking how I was, asked me if it would help me decide if the Red Lady could get a place to run it with me? I decided it would and she worked her magic and before I could even blink, the Red Lady had a place. The conversation when I spoke to the RL went a bit like this: “so, er, if I could get you a place on the GNR, do you fancy running it with me?”……….”what? that is INSANE! and yes, definitely!”.

So we were doing it.

GNR Celebrity busesWe arrived at the hotel the night before, following a 5 hour train ride, stiff, hungry and wondering what on earth we were playing at! An early night followed, during which I slept for about 45 minutes  and then a 6.45am alarm. At breakfast I was too nervous to eat but forced down some porridge and toast and then we went to wait for the bus and meet our “Team Bodie Hodges” team mates. What an absolutely lovely bunch of people they are. Many of them had run the GNR before and they were full of tales about how incredibly awesome it is. I was excited and nervous. The bus arrived to collect us and with a severe case of “imposter syndrome”, we boarded the bus.

We were deposited around 300 metres past the start line into a VIP area which had private toilets (I need about 74 pre race wees on average so this was magnificent news) and were able to watch the elite women and wheelchair athletes warming up. It was AMAZING.

GNR Nell and Gabby Logan

Dropping my bag off, I finally got to meet Nell McAndrew. What an absolutely lovely lady she is. Completely down to earth, friendly, and chatting like she was An old pal we’d met for a drink in the pub with even though this was the first time I had ever met her. We chat a bit on Instagram but we’d never met and I was so incredibly grateful that she had arranged this whole day for me. I tried to tell myself to stay cool, but I probably wasn’t! I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

We were able to mill around near the start line and watch the elite ladies go off. Being 10 metres away from Brigit Kosgei, Mary Keitany and Charlotte Purdue was an absolute highlight and privilege . They look so strong and fast. I could have started in the front row if I’d wanted to for the main race (and a couple of the Team Bodie Hodges did!) but I’m afraid that fear of being trampled to death got the better of me and so the RL and myself bid my team mates farewell and moved about 10 rows further back.

And then we were off.

With neither of us being even close to being half marathon fit, the Red Lady and myself had devised a strategy to get us round in one piece, and hopefully without injury. This was to run the first 3k in one go (in order to stop being crushed by the masses) and then run the rest of the race strictly adhering to run 3 minutes and then walk 1 minute and to keep to the left as much as possible to try and keep out of the way of the speedier runners. However, we needn’t have worried as the start of GNR is on two sides of a road. The elites were on one side and the celebrities and charity runners were on the other side so the first couple of kilometres were fine. Not one person was trampled and we were all smiling.

All was well until the runners came through who were chasing times. It became a bit “pointy elbowed” at this point and we did our best to keep out of their way as they speeded past us. We got into a habit of tucking in tight as soon as the red pacer flags ran past knowing that this was “peak” trample period. I understand what it’s like to go for a time if you’ve trained for long weeks to achieve one, but trampling over a middle aged trundler to achieve one is not ok and runner etiquette should be considered.

I have run quite a few races in my short running career, but I have never, ever, EVER run a race that is as noisy and well supported as the Great North Run. The crowds are SO LOUD that I found myself almost begging for some peace and quiet. Every third person had a tub of jelly babies, haribo or sweets, there were motivational signs, kids demanding high fives, spectators shouting our names, offering us ice-pops, setting us their own impromptu water stations, beer stops (yes at Mile 10 there was a chap filling up cups of Newcastle Brown and handing them out – obviously I had one), handing out cups of Lucozade that they had bought themselves, getting their garden hoses out to spray us and cool us down. It was AMAZING. It was not just for the beginning and end, pretty much the entire route was like this. It was hot and Newcastle was ready to party.

There were many highlights, too many to mention, but Elvis, singing karaoke in the middle of the road at mile 11(ish) was definitely one of them. The Red Lady and I danced past him and sang a bit too.

But it wasn’t just the spectators having a great time, the runners were too. Newcastle has a lot of bridges and under passes and so everytime we went under one, it is apparently law that we all shout “Oggie oggie oggie…….”. After about 57 rounds of this, I was ready to hit the open roads.

Running over the Tyne Bridge was epic and it was then, for the first time, that I got a sense of just how many people there were running the race. We could see runners as far as the eye could see and for the first time on the race, I felt a bit emotional.

Our 3/1 strategy worked remarkably well, on the whole. We had promised each other that we would strictly stick to the gameplan, otherwise, we knew that we would end up walking more than we wanted. I kept an eye on my Garmin watch and was in charge of shouting run and walk. 3 minutes is not a long time to run and I quickly got into a routine. As we ran, by the time I first glanced at my watch, it was usually showing that we’d been running 90 seconds, then I would look again and we only had 20-30 seconds left. 60 seconds was enough time to recover and RL was very good at reigning me in when I would go off too quickly at the start of each 3 minute segment. I tried not to think about the distances only the next 3 minutes. 10k rolled around and I have to tell you that it was the best, easiest and most enjoyable 10k I have ever run (running is always more enjoyable when you don’t care how fast you are going). We didn’t chat much whilst running, but chatted plenty whilst walking, often laughing about something we had just seen. I knew that kilometres 10-16 would feel tough so just tried to focus and on the whole it was ok although clearly it wasn’t entirely comfortable.

GNR Mile 10 ALONE High Res

Around the 10-11 mile mark, I felt tearful suddenly and this threatened everything because 3/1 works because your breathing is regulated, but crying really messes up your breathing, and I could feel proper snotty, gut wrenching tears bubbling under the surface. I confided in my buddy what was happening and we decided to take a couple of longer walk breaks to get things back under control, which we did. 2 walk breaks of 2 minutes and we were back in business.

We were now into the final 3 miles and we were tired but could feel the end was close. At the end of the GNR, you see the sea, then go down a very steep hill (which hurt my knees, ankles and boobs as the bounce factor on a steep downward hill should not be underestimated) and then you turn onto the final stretch towards the finish line for the final mile. We cheered when we saw the sea. I could hardly believe that we were already nearly there, but the final mile felt long. My legs were tired and my feet were burning.

If the crowds along the route were loud, they were nothing compared with the final straight. I couldn’t hear anything that the RL was saying to me at all. They were 10 deep at the barrier and people were sat on a Grandstand clapping and cheering us in. We crossed the line and I absolutely sobbed my heart out. We completed the race in 3 hours, 6 minutes and 15 seconds. It was slow, but I genuinely didn’t care a jot. It was magnificent and I truly count the GNR as one of my greatest ever achievements.

GNR finishing on my own

It is now that I must pay tribute to the Red Lady. Not only for agreeing to run a race with me that she wasn’t trained for (she’s mad), but also for how incredibly happy and smiley she was throughout the entire race. As we chugged along, she practically skipped, almost dancing and grinned the whole way through the experience.

We both lost our Mums this year to cancer and so we both had moments of pain during the race but we got through it together.

After the race, being in the VIP pavilion, we had a shower (yes, a SHOWER) something to eat and then we were on a coach that was given a police escort back to the hotel afterwards (as the roads were all still closed!)

I bid my team mates farewell and we went back to the hotel to head to the airport.

It was the most enjoyable race I have ever run. More importantly, it has re-ignited my love affair with running which has been absent for many months now. The Red Lady has told me it had the same effect on her. Therefore, we are both signed up to run it again next year but have made each other the promise that the GNR will always be our “happy” race and we will never rush it. It will never be our PB course, because there are too many kids to high five and too many beers to drink en route…. I will also be running for Team Bodie Hodges next year again and intend to raise some money for them.

Fearless Westonbirt Sept 2019

For the rest of this year I have only one plan. Keep running. I’m not going to put myself under any pressure for times but I’m just going to take each day as it comes and hopefully complete a few races. Life is for living and it should be enjoyed. I ran a 10k at Westonbirt at the weekend (slowly using 3/1 again) and I also have a place for the Cardiff Half marathon at the beginning of October.

One day at a time and keep moving forward. There are times in life when training hard and pushing for fast times are right but there are also times when they are not.

I have some plans forming for next year already, but for now until Christmas, the only plan I have is to keep moving forward and try and smile as much as possible.