“Leave nothing behind”…..

When I wrote my last blog post I was in panic mode. Writing does help me process things and you’ll be pleased to hear that I did calm down a bit. This was further helped by a couple of positive runs (one in a blizzard) in the final 10 days preceding the London Landmarks Half Marathon where I had set myself the target of running it in under 3 hours. As always, though, not everything was straight forward and so using the benefit of my most recent experiences, I hearby give you the list of things to avoid in the lead up to a big race:

  • Whilst worrying about “overdoing it” and getting a last minute injury, decide to go to the triathlon club swimming session instead of going for a run. All good in theory as it’s excellent cross training with no pressure on the joints and they are all really lovely supportive people….but not if you accidentally smash your hand into another swimmer (who happened to be Merida – you can’t make it up can you?!) and injure yourself so much that you have to go and have your fingers x-rayed the next day. Thankfully it wasn’t broken, but in case you’re interested, google says that you can run a half marathon if you have a broken finger.
  • Add to your growing stress levels by agreeing to go along to a running club AGM to talk about your book and running stories 4 nights before the race. Sole Sisters in North Bristol are a wonderful and inspiring bunch of ladies (full of lovely normal runners) who were extremely welcoming and found my stories funny (I think), but I was so worried about not doing a good job for them on the night (as I take my running responsibilities very seriously) that I hadn’t really slept much the night before the talk which wasn’t brilliant preparation for a 13 mile race.
  • When you arrive in London for the race, check your hotel booking before you go. Don’t arrive at the hotel and roll your eyes when the receptionist fails to find your booking and then say, “don’t worry I’ll find my confirmation” only to then discover that you must have price checked the hotel but then never actually got around to booking the hotel after all. We were lucky they had a room and I was lucky that I couldn’t read my husband’s mind as he looked at me from across the hotel reception in growing disbelief as the scene unravelled before his eyes….
  • Fail to book a table in a restaurant for the all important pre-race dinner. This is especially important if you are staying in the vicinity of a 65000 seater stadium which has a rugby match on the same day and so you find yourself in direct competition with all 65000 spectators as you try and find somewhere to eat….needless to say that this was unsuccessful and so we ended up back at the hotel for a bit of a lack lustre pizza.

So with all these challenges behind me, I woke up in the day of the race feeling remarkably relaxed. Husband (who was also running in the race) and I enjoyed a leisurely porridge pot and cereal bar, prepared our race bags and left for the tube station. The tubes were running as they should and as we got closer and closer to Charing Cross tube station, we collected more and more runners. I genuinely felt good and I was excited. Dare I say that I felt ready even and was sure that all my troubles were behind me, although as my preceding week shows, this was probably reckless.

Husband and I enjoyed the opportunity of an unusually quiet Trafalgar Square to get some “Lion Selfies” and catch up with my friend “Gordon” who, I know professionally and had also signed up to the race following one of our drunken nights out in London a few months previously when we decided it would be a great idea… Merida arrived carrying a bottle of champagne in her race bag for our post-race celebrations. Hattie was already there as she had travelled in with her sister (also running the race) and we met up with her soon after. Husband and Gordon disappeared to start in the first wave and Hattie, Merida and I slowly followed being careful to do a proper warm up. I was focussed and precise as we went through the warmups that Curly Sue has drilled into us over the past few months and knowing that Hattie sometimes suffers from a tight calf, we paid particular attention to this part of the warm up. We also saw some lovely Sole Sisters as we were joining the start queue who waved enthusiastically at us to say hello – love those ladies.

And then we were off. Merida, in her gold shorts (the Kylies) was in charge of pacing and so we tried to be obedient and keep our pace down, but it was hard. It was a glorious day and perfect for running. Overcast, no kryptonite-like sun sapping my energy, not too hot, not too cold and no wind. This combined with a fairly flat course and my confidence about any hills we would encounter due to the hard hill training we’ve been working on with Curly Sue added to my excitement.

However, whilst I was feeling great and Merida was practically floating along like a Glinda from The Wizard of Oz in gold hot pants (as a sub 3 hour half marathon is a largely enjoyable experience for someone who usually completes one in 2 hours) then unfortunately, poor Hattie was feeling the opposite. Hattie was struggling to breathe and was unusually quiet. I put this down to nerves initially and also the fact that Hattie always hates the first 5k of any race and so I regret to admit that I did what I have always done. We fell into our routine of me ignoring the complaints and willing her to keep going as I was confident that once we hit 5-6k, she would be off like a train chugging confidently towards the finish line and then she would repay the favour by ignoring me as I start to complain at 14k onwards. But the usual strategy didn’t seem to be working as effectively as usual and Hattie asked to walk for a bit. With my mind anxiously, and selfishly I am embarrassed to concede, thinking of the sub 3 goal I had set myself, I urged her on promising a walk at 10k. Hattie continued but somewhere between kilometre 9 and 10 suddenly ran to the side of the road and clung onto a railing, swaying dangerously. Merida and I ran to her side and were horrified to discover that Hattie was a white as a sheet and her legs were buckling beneath her. She was urging us to leave her….which was never going to happen and so I made my internal peace with my sub 3 hour target and tried to help my friend offerfing her dextrose tablets and pouring some water into her. A couple of other runners also stopped to help and one offered to walk with Hattie as “she was planning to largely walk the race anyway”. I declined as Merida and I decided very quickly that we weren’t leaving Hattie at all and certainly not with anyone unless she was related to them. But then Hattie rallied a bit, probably as the sugar hit her system and she seemed a bit better. The relief was palpable. Walking was possible and then she was able to slowly jog, albeit unsteadily. Hattie then declared that she was feeling better but wasn’t going to finish the race and again urged us to leave her. I forcefully informed her that this wasn’t happening (forcefully…read…told her to shut up) and we kept moving forward not really knowing what would happen. At the 6 mile marker (10k) we saw Hattie’s parents and cousin. I have never been so relieved to see anyone in my entire life. The sight of her Mother spurred Hattie to a near sprint but her legs buckled beneath her once more as she reached her, very confused looking, Mum. I quickly explained what had happened and her Mum gave me that “Mum” look that stated clearly that she was now in charge of the situation and Merida and I could go. I didn’t know what to do, but she urged us on and so we left, feeling worried about our friend but also confident that she was now safe and ok.

As we ran off, I looked at Merida and was almost too scared to ask the question I desperately needed to know the answer to.  “Can we still do this in less than 3 hours?” to which the answer was a fairly unconvincing “I’m not sure, it’s going to be very close and we probably don’t have time for any walk breaks”. I said I would give it all I had and we would make a call at 10 miles (16k) as to whether it was still possible as we were not quite yet at the half way point. So, like Forest Gump, I just started running. I put my head down and ran. There was no trundling. There was “grit your teeth and run” running. My average running pace is usually between 7.50 to 8.30 minutes to run a kilometre and I always get slower as the distance increases. On Sunday, I ran kilometre 12 (over the halfway point) in 6 minutes and 32 seconds. This is my second fastest kilometre EVER and kilometres 12 to 14 were all ludicrously speedy. It hurt, but not as much as I had feared it would. We came to the turn point on the embankment which was also the 10 mile point and Merida decided that she wanted to get a selfie. I genuinely couldn’t believe it. A Selfie?!!! But I gamely smiled and enjoyed the breather as I’d not had even a 10 step walk break for the past 45-50 minutes. Now I realise that Merida probably did it on purpose to allow me to catch my breath as we had also made up enough time by this point that the sub 3 goal was back on the table as long as I kept going.

The final 3 miles were horrendous and yet amazing. Merida patted me on the shoulder and told me I was doing well, but conversation was impossible. I gritted my teeth and ran. I really doubted that I would be able to keep going without a walk break, but I was game to try.

The support from the crowds in a big race is so incredibly important over the final section of the route. Children were holding up their hands for high fives, offering jelly babies and cheering. Merida was high fiving for both of us as I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to remember to raise my knees, pump my arms and relax my shoulders as per Coach Curly Sue’s instructions which kept going round in my head.

I grimaced and gurned my way along the final three miles of the race and the spectators could see I was in pain and so were calling out my name to encourage me, but one lady helped me more than she will ever know. She looked into my eyes and shouted “LEAVE NOTHING BEHIND. Do not cross that finish line knowing your could have given any more. Leave nothing behind”. I promised myself right then that I wouldn’t leave anything behind. I repeated this over and over in my head over the final section and when Merida and I finally crossed the finish line, not having walked AT ALL over the final 3 miles, even having sprinted to the finish line, overtaking runner after runner, I knew that I truly and honestly had left nothing behind. If I met that lady today I would hug her. I think she was a runner and knew exactly what I needed to hear.

LLHM Finish with Paula

Hattie did not retire from the race at mile 6 where we left her safely with her parents. She had a rest, some water and then CARRIED ON AND FINISHED.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw her Mum around mile 9 and she told me. Hattie – you are amazing. Finishing a race when you felt as poorly as you did is nothing short of astonishing. You are a hardcore, rockstar runner and I am so proud of you.

Husband was his usual brilliant running self, nailing the race in a sub 1 hour 50 minute time.  We’ve become a couple who now have to run 13 miles in the middle of any weekend that we go away for….which is not something I would have ever predicted and we’re already thinking about our next destination/race.

I managed to get my sub 3 hour and I’m proud as punch with my time of 2 hours, 56 minutes and 42 seconds which takes 5 minutes and some change off my Bristol Half time last September. I ran my socks off in a way that I never thought was possible. I would have never believed before Sunday that I could run that fast or run for that length of time and yet I did. It hurt, but it didn’t kill me. The pain was manageable and now, two days later, I find that I am wanting to see if I can do it again, on my own without someone pacing me – I think this is what they call a runner’s high, or perhaps just insanity! The mind is an extremely powerful muscle and on Sunday it was the most important muscle in my body. Curly Sue, Hattie, Husband, Merida, Hockey Sister and many others were all confident that I could achieve the target I set myself, but I was not. However, something flicked in my brain on Sunday. People have been telling me I am a runner for a while now, and I sort of know they are right. I mean, I run (a lot), I am a Run Angel meaning that I lead other ladies on runs (which I derive enormous pleasure from), I write a blog about running which was then made into a book about running, but finally I think I am there. On Sunday, when I ran in tears between mile 11 and 12, really, really wanting to walk, feeling that I needed to walk but didn’t, I finally proved it to myself. I am a Runner.

So in the words of Jed Bartlett (The West Wing)…what’s next? Well, I’m going to allow myself a week off because I am knackered….ecstatic but knackered. But unlike after the 10k last year, I don’t feel deflated and sad now it’s all over. I feel completely the opposite. I am so very, very happy and proud.  I’m going to drink a little wine (possibly a lot of wine) and eat some chocolate and enjoy Easter. Merida and I polished off a bottle of champagne after crossing the finish line on Sunday, sitting on a steps of a Whitehall building opposite Downing Street, looking a bit like Patsy and Edina in lycra.            Merida – thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am so very lucky to have you as a friend.

Next week will start triathlon training and then in May my old nemesis, the Bristol 10k approaches, where this year there will be an official 75 minute pacer, which I mention for no particular reason at all…..so plenty to keep me occupied in the coming weeks.

But first….a short rest.

Happy Easter.

Finished with medals LLHM

 

 

 

 

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.

There are only 19 books remaining now and I don’t think we will be doing another print run, so if you would like one, please do order one.

Here is the link:

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=NLRRX5EZJB79Y

Or you can order through the facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/chunkyrunner41/

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.