Thursday, 16 February 2017

How I Learned to Love Cross Country

A few months back, Advent Running founders Claudia and James announced that they were putting together a Cross Country team to compete in the Surrey League – who was in?

I registered immediately, not because I love Cross Country (I’d never done it before, despite having gone to middle school in the countryside), or because I’m an avid off road racer (never raced off road before and I live smack bang in the centre of London). All of the blogs I’ve read about XC made it sound really hard. All of the photos I’d seen made it look even harder.

So why bother?

Basically, I signed up because I’m a pretty shy and very bog standard runner who made a promise to be more involved with the social side of running (what’s more social than being part of a team?)and who is determined to get stronger and I'd heard many phrases based around marathon bodies being built at Cross Country.

I raced in three of the four fixtures available and went through an entire spectrum of experiences; possibly the best race of my life (Nonsuch Park), definitely the worst race of my life (Lloyd Park) and a race where the conditions were so awful I couldn’t believe it was actually happening (sideways snow and shoe-stealing mud at the perversely named Happy Valley Park).
Lulled into a false sense of security at fixture 1
And so I made it through my first XC season alive. It was truly some of the toughest running I’ve done so far but I’m already chomping at the bit for next season. Here are some of the things I loved and I’ve learned about XC. Maybe if you’re thinking about giving it a go but are a bit nervous, this will help you make up your mind.

Running off-road is amazing. 

As a pavement pounder by trade, I can’t fully describe the feeling of liberation you get running through mud and grass and snow. It really is like an adventure. In XC I let myself do something I don’t normally do, I trusted my footwear and let myself go on the downhills – wow! And although it feels ten times harder and my pace took a battering on some of the more challenging courses, the softer ground helped my legs recover faster than if I’d put in the same effort on road.
There WILL be mud
Being on a team pushes you in ways you never thought possible. 

When racing solo, it’s easy to forgive yourself for not pushing the pace. The monotony can take its toll and at the end of the day, you’re going to get your medal and goodie bag regardless. Running on a team, wanting to do your best for them and knowing other people have your back gave me such a push. It pushed me to a pace I’d never ventured near before in a race in the first fixture; it prevented me from DNFing for the first time ever at the second fixture and made the simple act of turning up to run in Narnia-esque conditions for the final race doable.

Cheering is a team task all on its own. 

     It’s fair to say that our team took its cheering very seriously indeed. Cowbells, triangles, maracas, vuvuzelas, yelling, clapping and even talk of a clarinet. We had it going on. I’m not usually someone who lets myself go but every time one of our guys flew past in the men’s races I went to I absolutely roared my head off. 

     And when you’re struggling through a hard patch there’s nothing quite like reaching the top of that hill or turning that corner and have familiar voices shouting your name and telling you to push because, when you thought there was no push left, man alive that helps you find it.


     I was quite worried that I’d be out of my depths, both in my own team and among the other club runners. I was never going to be bothering the super toned girls up front, wearing little more than knickers and crop top and it was unlikely that I was going to score for our team of boss ladies. I imagined that if you came a cropper in your race that you’d be left to fend for yourself as hordes of XC Valkyries went stampeding by. 

     What I didn’t expect was the warm welcome we received from the League organisers or from the other teams. I certainly hadn’t thought I’d be seeing people I knew and chatting with people I’d never met before. I cheered for and was encouraged along by people on other teams. When I was experiencing my lowest point in fixture three, lots of people asked if I was ok. Everyone is in the same boat. Everyone is on the same start line.

Cake. There is some unwritten law in Cross Country that no race can be left unaccompanied by cake. If there is no cake you will be escorted from the venue by armed police and instantly disqualified.*

After the third fixture my friend Ben said something I wish I had known before the first race “Cross Country is not something that’s supposed to be enjoyed until it’s over.” This may sound a bit arse about face but it’s absolutely true. It wasn’t easy but it has been an absolute blast and a huge learning curve. I sent my mum a photo to show her how tough Happy Valley Park looked and she replied “At least you look like you’re enjoying yourself”.

'Enjoying' myself with Claire W
Thank you James and Claudia for going out of your way to get this going and get us through it. Massive congrats to our boys for being promoted in their first season, and to all the ladies who ‘lurked menacingly’ in division 4. Taking fourth place among these other clubs is nothing to be scoffed at and I’m so proud of what we achieved together.

Roll on October 2017! I might even break out the short shorts...

*This ‘may’ not be true but, to be on the safe side, make sure there is cake.



Monday, 6 February 2017

Race Report: Cancer Research Winter Run 10km

Hi there! It has been a while...

The blog has been dormant for a long while now, simply because I have not had an awful lot to say. I was injured for ages and getting back into shape has been a patchy experience. Things do now seem to be on an even keel, thankfully, and after some rocky times I seem to have found some peace and happiness in running once more.

The reason for this particular post is that yesterday I had such a great experience at a race and I'm itching to share it. You may know that the company I work for has a running shop (The Running Works) in Houndsditch, London. We're the largest indie running store in London and three lunchtimes a week we take people out for group runs.

We'd been talking for some time about doing a race together and a few months ago we decided to take the plunge with the Cancer Research Winter Run 10k. Our reasons for choosing this race were that it was in central London and so easy for everyone to get to, there was plenty of time for everyone to get some decent training for the distance under their belts and a portion of the entry fee goes straight to Cancer Research UK so you can contribute to an amazing cause but not have the added stress of trying to fundraise in addition to getting race ready.

I haven't been doing any structured speed work and so decided to shelve my original plan of attempting the elusive sub-50 result and use the race instead as a fun recovery run for Saturday's 12 miler. Still a little lagged from the long run, I got up nice and early Sunday morning for my pre-race breakfast of bagel and coffee, put on the kit I'd laid out the night before, bundled up in the warmest clothes I had and set off on a two mile warm-up jog towards the race village in Trafalgar Square. 

Running in central London at the weekend is a heavenly experience, with the City pretty much deserted, but with all the roads from home to the race being part of the route and closed it was even more idyllic. It may seem a little daft to run to the race with the long one from the day before still in my legs but one thing that running with asthma has taught me is that for shorter, sharper races, I need all the help I can get to have my lungs in coordination with my legs. Especially today as the mild weather we'd been enjoying had given way again to frosty climes.

Under the foot of one of the giant lion statues I met up with Nadia (who would be running her first 10k race), Nichola, Neil and Yann who were all gunning for personal bests, and Spencer, a fellow asthma sufferer who I've had the pleasure of racing alongside at other 10ks. He had also decided to lay off going for sub-50 as he's had a bad chest since before Christmas. It was brilliant to bump into Gemma Hockett, fresh from her altitude training trip in Kenya, and Julia from my Cross Country team. I admire both of these women a great deal; they train for results and work really hard to achieve them. Gemma was going for a new best but Julia was wearing her festive jumper and planned to just enjoy the atmosphere.

I was quite apprehensive about this race in the lead-up; the idea of things like fake snow, penguin party area, husky zone and people dressed up like snowmen seemed a bit cheesy. Also, there was some real faff with the delivery of race packs and announcing start times that made me worry that the race wouldn't be very well organised. Come race day, I really had no cause for concern. The race village was spacious and there weren't any queues for the bag drop. You handed over your bag and the staff put a numbered sticker on it before giving you a wristband with a corresponding number. As race time neared we hugged Nadia and wished her good luck (she was in a later wave) and headed for the start pen. Race organisers, Human Race, had put together a fantastic bunch of volunteers who were all 100% clued up with everything we needed to know; they were clear, concise and SO very friendly. 

While we waited in the pen we took a few photos and chatted with a snowman/volunteer. I've never understood the point of attempting to warm up in start pens as it's so tightly packed that I can't follow what's going on but they played some brilliant tunes and the MC was really enthusiastic in a non-annoying way. Our wave got underway promptly at 9.38am and, soaking up the thrill you only get at the start of a race, I let myself be pulled across the timing mat and tried not to let the excitement dictate my pace. I really struggle with the shorter, faster race. My asthma doesn't help but I don't think I've ever really learned how to cope with the metal side of things. In my mind, though, I still wasn't racing this one so kept focus on my form and how strong and confident I wanted to feel crossing the finish line.

The first mile was, as you'd expect, fairly congested with runners trying to settle into their stride but after that the wide roads meant that it wasn't very often you couldn't move ahead of someone with ease. The first 'novelty' landmark we past was the husky zone; a group of people dressed up as dogs with speakers blaring out canine related rock / pop tunes. On the way out it was Duran Duran's Hungry Like the Wolf (TUNE!) which lifted me right up and I high fived every single one of those huskies. As the route turned up towards the Museum of London we were treated to a performance by the Rock Choir and they were just brilliant - another mood lifter. Although I was wearing my Garmin I was running to feel and knew that Spencer and I were keeping a pretty steady pace and it felt good. 

The route has a fair few twists and turns, including a couple of pretty tight u-turns, but there are plenty of marshals and signs letting you know to take care. Again, the volunteers around the course were amazing, all clapping and cheering and that was actually really important because, although it's a pretty big race with around 16,000 runners, apart from the start and finish area there wasn’t any crowd support. It being central London, there were a few numpties who slipped passed the course marshals to step out in front of you (or try and cycle into you) and one very unfortunate incident of a St John's Ambulance crew member walking in front of us and knocking into a lady beside Spencer (she took it well and joked that he must have been trying to drum up some business).

When my Garmin vibrated to alert me that we'd hit five miles, I sneaked a peek at the screen and was extremely surprised to see we'd gone through in 41 minutes, meaning we were on for a finish in the low 50s - not what I'd planned at all! I was fearful that having this knowledge would make my inner voice get louder and that I'd cave and have to slow right down just to be able to carry on but then we ran past the husky zone again (this time playing the Futureheads cover of Hounds of Love) and once more I got a much-needed boost and knew I was fine. The route got a bit narrower in the final kilometer but nothing too drastic and hearing 'Go Spencer! Go Nikki!' from a familiar voice was the final injection needed for a sprint finish (John from run club was in the area and decided to come and cheer us at the end).

Medal on - quality. Water in hand. Guy handing out red packets - free Lindor chocolate! Winter Run 10k - done. My watch tells me we went through the 10k mark in 50:19 but with a bit of bobbing and weaving away from the race line we finished in an official time of 51:20. Not bad for a recovery run! 

The others all did so well, all of them getting the PBs they'd hoped for. At this point in time Nadia is not convinced she'll do another 10k race but we'll see. Collecting my bag from the bag drop was totalpain-freeree and I already know that, universe permitting, I will sign up for the 2018 edition of this race. This is a really friendly event and the day seemed to go like clockwork. There's plenty of musical distraction dotted around the course (gospel, drums etc) and the course takes in some very cool landmarks. Highly recommend the Cancer Research Winter Run.

Next up for me is the fourth and final Surrey League Cross Country League fixture with my team Advent Running. Eep!

*I paid for my own entry to the race and wrote this of my own volition. 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Recipe: Long Run Cake

I love baking this cake as it's minimum effort for lots of taste. Porridge oats have slow-release energy making this a great cake to eat the night before a long run. With custard, natch.

Foofy photo courtesy of blokey

When my longer runs become even longer for ultra training I'm also going to try taking it along with me as an energy boost.

You will need:

A 6 inch cake tin, greased with butter then lined with baking parchment (bottom and sides).
Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C.


100g porridge oats
40g treacle
80g unsalted butter (salted butter will dry out your cake)
55g plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated or ground ginger
A pinch of ground cinnamon
100g light muscovado sugar
40g dark muscovado sugar
150ml whole milk

Because there are no eggs in this recipe it's important to use whole milk and not semi skimmed or otherwise. This is because the fat content in the milk will act as the agent that sets the air bubbles in the first 20 minutes of baking and prevent a collapsed cake.


Melt the butter and treacle in a pan with the milk on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Whilst your mixture is melting sift the flour, baking powder, ginger (if you're using the ground / powdered kind) and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl. If you're using grated ginger pop it into the sifted ingredients after sifting.

Add the sugars and porridge oats and mix well.

When your butter, treacle and milk have become liquid mix it into the flour / oats and mix together with a wooden spoon or spatula. Pour into your cake tin, put it straight into the centre of the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Don't be tempted to open the oven door until near the end of the bake as sudden lowering of the oven temperature before the fat has bound the cake will cause it to collapse.

At the 45 minute point, stick a skewer into the middle of the cake - if it comes out clean it's ready to take out. Pop the tin on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before removing the tin and the parchment.

Worcester sauce not included...
If you're baking two cakes at the same time, double up on all of the ingredients except the baking powder or you may get too much rise, causing a volcano-type effect, causing your cake to break open at the top. Also, heat the oven to 160 degrees for two cakes and bring down to 150 after half an hour.

Your cake should keep for a good 5 days in an airtight container or wrapped in cling film but let's be honest, it's small and it tastes nice so it won't make it that far.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Brighton Marathon 2014

So here it is. My post about the Brighton Marathon. A little later than I'd hoped but I experienced something after the race which prevented me from getting my thoughts on the whole thing out. I will try and put that into words later... I get mindful of rambling too much...

A couple of my friends from work were going to be at the race (one - Colin - as a pacer, the other - Tom - looking after lots of pacers and the athlete who would go on to finish second). I had to tell them that I was taking part in the race as there was no doubt I'd see them there.

I spent the Friday before the big day at work, completely unable to concentrate on anything. The feeling was very similar to how you feel pretty much all the live-long day on Christmas Eve when you're a kid, an excited and more than a little bit desperate churning inside. You know something big is coming, you can't wait to tear off the wrapping paper but you don't know if it's going to be the He-Man Snake Mountain with voice changing wolf head and working trap door that you wanted or just a poo in a box.
Best. Present. Ever
We set off early Saturday afternoon, arrived in a chilly and slightly blustery Brighton around 2pm and pegged it straight to the expo to collect our race numbers. There weren't really any bargains to be had at the expo but I did treat myself to a pair of hot pink calf guards.

Brighton is somewhere we really enjoy spending time. Mostly going to pubs, dribbling over the guitars in GAK, going to more pubs and spending far too much money in Dave's comics so it was very strange to be there and not have those things to do. We sat quietly in a cake shop scoffing carb loading with lemon sponge and milkshakes and watched it absolutely bucket down outside.

We both managed a pretty good night's sleep and woke on time to a very grey and overcast but thankfully dry sky. After a pre-race brekkie of peanut butter and honey bagels, his accompanied by a banana and mine by a nice healthy Mars Bar (I'm allergic to bananas, you know), it was race gear on and out the door. We followed the snake of people wearing running kit up to Preston Park, dropped our bag off at a truck, donned our bin bags and joined the queue for the loos. Someone had left an orange in the one I used. I did not take it with me.

Not entirely sure where time had gone, we had no time to take in the atmosphere (or get nervous) as it was coming up to 9:15am - showtime! As we walked up to the red start pen the gun went off and BAM we were running a marathon. Just like that. Blokey didn't even have time to get his Garmin going... We ran across the line past Paula Radcliffe (amazing hair) and within the first 150 meters or so found ourselves at a bottle neck, which forced everyone to stop and walk. This happened a couple of times but cleared up super quickly and we were on our way.

The route took us round some pleasant residential areas with some nice looking shops I'd never seen before (including a clothes shop selling 'road kill couture') with a couple of gentle inclines before guiding us towards town. The streets were lined with people and as we ran past the Pavillion I heard our names being hollered from a traffic island full. Tom from work was waving and shouting very energetically which gave us a lovely boost. He also very kindly took some pictures (blokey is the chap wearing yellow and a beard).

I can't remember an awful lot about the first 8 miles or so but as we ran up the seafront towards Ovingdean the elite men's field were already coming back towards us. I spotted Colin doing his thing, waved like a loon and he nodded and gave me a solemn fist pump. Past the marina, up a fairly long incline, past a boarding school that like more like a lair for spies and up to Ovingdean. Conversation between us died down so, to lift the mood, I recounted the thrilling tale of how someone had left an orange in the portaloo. He said I should have eaten it. I said I could have eaten it because the skin would have protected the fruit from the toilet germs. A man turned round and I thought he was going to tell us to be quiet but instead he explained how he ran his marathon PB after eating a banana he'd found on the floor in the race village...

We'd loosely planned to go through the halfway point in 1:55 and I decided to keep quiet that we were actually two minutes ahead of schedule. We were both doing really well and I decided not to ruin the atmosphere with facts. Instead we ear-wigged a conversation between three guys, one of whom was advising his friend to remember that either "Charlie might have sh*t the bed" OR "Charlie might be sh*t in bed". Either way I wasn't sure what comfort this guy's friend was supposed to be taking from this. Back towards the crowds and I felt very sorry for the owner of the dog that was nomming on a discarded packet of orange flavoured energy gel.

We ran some more, people cheered a lot and we were suprisingly on course for what my running maths were telling me could be a 3hr 45min finish. Through Hove, past a band of children (whose singer would no doubt soon find himself victim to puberty) playing 'Word Up' and that was when it hit me: we only have single figures left to go.

I had heard that the road leading up to the power station was pretty bleak but had no idea until we were running up it that it had been dubbed the Road to Hell. We ran towards a group playing some awesome tribal sounding drums but, as we went past, they went quiet and, in a strange turn of events, all us runners began shouting "keep going!!" to the drummers. As we ran around what I think was some kind of industrial estate blokey began to flag. I tried to cheer him up to keep him going but he doesn't really respond well to that kind of thing.

At around 22 miles the route starts to head back to the sea front and he took a short walk break but managed to start up again.Then he stopped again and told me to carry on without him. I made the mistake of telling him to dig deep, there was little more than 5k to go and it would all be over, he'd never have to run again if he didn't want to. He told me he'd been digging as deep as he could since half way and had nothing left. I managed to get him going once more but then he stopped a third time and I knew that was it, I was going to finish this thing by myself.

I was terrified.

Off I went; I couldn't look back because I knew that if I did that I would stop for good too and he would be really upset with me. I got back on pace (we'd been averaging 8.27 minute miles for almost the entire way), shut my emotions off and let my legs get on with it. 23 miles, 24, 25... Someone had told me that the pier was the finish line and as I rounded the corner at the 26 mile marker I was literally distraught that the finish was nowhere in sight. For some reason this infuriated me and out of nowhere my legs just took off, desperate to finish. I'd later learn that I ran my final mile at 7:31 pace. I've never done the 'picking people off' at the end of a race before but everyone in front of me I just wanted to take down.


I saw Tom waiting at the finish gantry and ran towards him, stopping my Garmin at 3:51:12. He surprised me by yelling "keep going you haven't crossed the finish line!" but by then I had lost 14 seconds, crossing the chip mat in 3:50:26.

Someone put a medal over my head, Tom put his arms around me said "you did it - you ran a marathon!" but all I could think about was blokey and worry about where he was and how I would find him. Two minutes later he ran across the finish and someone put a medal over his head. He promptly took it off. We were given some breakfast biscuits, said goodbye to Tom and made our way to the Beach Village to get a beer. I had to dunk my breakfast biscuits in my beer just to be able to chew them. Classy.


After at least three beers (each) and many, many tears (just mine) we walked up to cheer the last few runners home. We yelled for them, we clapped and shouted their names, told them they were nearly there (they really were) and then headed back to our hotel, packed up and went home and just like that, it was all over.

To be continued...

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Three more sleeps.

Three more sleeps.

That's all that's left between me, blokey and Brighton Marathon. I say 'all that's left' but in reality it feels as though this week is never going to end. Ever.

I can't say that I'm enjoying taper time. I've become used to running higher mileage and I feel a bit tubby and lethargic from running so much less and when I do run I'm finding it difficult to take it easy. But I haven't truly suffered from taper-madness which I feel truly lucky about and I think there are four reasons for this.

Tapier madness!
The first is that I know I have trained hard. I do think that I could have done some more and I'm sure that's natural but I was there for every single one of those tempo runs, all of those double run days, both of those 20 milers and most of the sessions on my training plan are ticked off. There is nothing left that can be done about the ones that aren't. I am at peace with that. Today.

I have had two episodes of bravery failure, both prompted by the fact that I read the marathon guide. Both times I had a marathon nightmare that night. In the first, the marathon was a three lap race in and around a huge stadium. When you completed a lap you had to do it again but backwards. It was dark by the time I finished and everyone had gone home. Then I dreamed that blokey won a spot prize and we were allowed to start in the elite pen. He went to the front and left me behind and I got trampled by the next wave. Make of that what you will.

Read at your peril!

The second reason is because I have managed to keep this endeavour under wraps. The lovely Katie of Splutter and Roll asked me on Twitter why I am doing this in secret and the question did make me wonder whether I just being a bit precious but my recent 'episodes' have cemented in my mind that I have done the right thing.

I work with some truly amazing honest-to-goodness athletes. The guy who sits opposite me at work is a 2:17 marathon runner. The guy who sits next to me may have retired from athletics now but still thinks, on the occasion that he does run, that 6 minute miles are a bit slow. Where I work, anything under 16 minutes for 5k is considered a bit slow.


Don't get me wrong, I don't think that if they knew what I was doing they would think I was stupid. I know they would be extremely supportive and would give me some wonderful advice. And therein lies the problem. Every time I give the marathon proper airtime I just go into meltdown. The reason I can cope with taper is that I don't have people constantly asking if I'm ready for Sunday, no one is telling me nightmare stories about their marathon and no one is being indifferent to what I'm trying to achieve. Quite simply: I don't have to deal with the fact that on Sunday I will attempt to run 26 uncharted miles.

Reason number three is this blog and the subsequent people I have encountered through it both in real life and on Twitter / The Running Bug / UK Runchat. Talk about the kindness of strangers! I was actually very lucky recently to meet ASD and Si from the 100km to Brighton blog. These guys are so full of enthusiasm for the task ahead and have thrown themselves into it so wholeheartedly that you would have to be made of stone not to take on some of their buzz. I'm sure that anyone who reads this (if anyone does at all) already knows of these guys but I urge you, if you can, to sponsor them as they are really earning every penny for their charity, Tree of Hope.

I was also completely rumbled by Tess 'FitBits' Langley. I do hope I get to meet her at the weekend.

The final reason is because ultimately, I know and accept that none of this adventure has really been about me. It's all about blokey. And I say with a heavy heart that I feel like I've failed him in some way. If not for an idea of mine in the pub to conquer his insomnia I wouldn't even be writing this now. Marathon training appears to have no positive effect on this part of his life, in fact the long run days have actually made it worse. Regardless, he has put so much effort into meeting the sessions on the training plan. He looks fit and healthy. He's been so tenacious throughout and has rarely complained about the process and it turns out he's really good at running. He seems quite unfazed about Sunday and if he's not worried then why should I be?

We will do this. We will do this together. It won't be easy but we will get it done, put our medals on and head to the pub. It's what we do.

Funny thing is that secrets must be my thing because he doesn't (to my knowledge) know that I'm even writing this blog...

Photo courtesy of Born to Plod

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Reading Half Marathon

Ah Reading. The one that was, but wasn't quite but still very much was.

In a bid to prevent blokey experiencing as little stress ahead of his first ever race as possible I booked us into the Reading Ibis Hotel. This meant not having to get up at a particularly ungodly hour and being able to get ourselves together at a leisurely pace. The pick up point to get us to the Madjeski Stadium was also only a few metres away so... happy days.

I love a list, me.

Having spent the day in Oxford (buying Primark hoodies to discard at the start line) we arrived in Reading fairly late. We were a bit worried when we arrived as the hotel was on the high street and Saturday night was in full swing in all it's youthful WKD-soaked glory. Thankfully, Ibis seems to take its double glazing duties very seriously and we had no noise from the street at all. We popped down to Jamie's Italian to load up on carbs and then headed back to our room, both very concerned that his insomnia would choose today to go utterly insane (my other half's insomnia that is, not Jamie Oliver's. I'm sure he sleeps very well). Alarm set. Lights out.

I won't say we leaped out of bed full of energy at 7am but get up we did, both having had some rest. It was mildly fitful, kind of Christmas eve style nervous rest, but it did the trick. I didn't quite plan how we were going to toast our tried and tested peanut butter bagel race breakfast so instead we scoffed a bag of pain aux chocolat - no complaints here, I tell ya!

Kit donned, pins attached, shoes on and we're out the door only to come face to face with the most gigantic queue for the race shuttle bus I have ever seen. It snaked around three entire streets and was growing rapidly. Oh dear.

Jumping forward in time slightly, I've read that lots of people had issues with the bag drop at the race. I wonder if we'd left our bags there and had to wait for ages my opinion of the race would've been lower. As it goes, from that giant snake of a bus queue I was bowled over by how well organised everything was. It only took us about 10 minutes to get on a bus (which might sound like a long time but you really had to see the queue) which left as soon as it was full and dropped us off at the stadium with loads of time to have a mooch. There were plenty of clean and well stocked portaloos and our only real worry at that point was that it was going to rain.

Oh yeah, and the 13.1 miles waiting for us.

We went to our start pen (also resplendent with loos!) and listened to the lady giving the announcements, chuckling when she pronounced Mizuno 'Mizunu' and when she announced elite athlete Paul Martelletti as Paul Marlinelli (we were nervous so most things at this point were very funny). The pen got more and more full. The sky got pretty dark. We eventually took off the Primark hoodies we'd become strangely attached to and shuffled along to the warm up. The gun went off a little bit late and I hear the fateful words:

"I need a wee."

So off to the side we go as hundreds of people pour past. There goes the 1:50 pacer. Then the 1:55 pace flag goes by and we're still not running. He finally emerges from the portaloo and we jog to the gantry, fiddling with our Garmins and smirking at each other like idiots. The smirking does not last long for me. Within the first mile my leg starts to throb again. Following my trip to the physio the pain I've been having has been manageable but today my leg decides to be difficult. For the first thee miles I can feel myself limping and it's hard to get my pace where I need it. I finally find my stride and the mile markers seem to be flying by. Blokey is tearing it up and I am hanging on to his not-at-all-literal coat-tails.

Coming back into town centre was mental - people were actually in the road on the course cheering their nuts off, which was both exhilarating and nerve wracking. We pass our hotel and there's a brief moment off wanting to plough through the crowds and head back to bed. We run past the Nags Head Beer Station (right past it - drat!) and there really aren't that many miles to go. I knew it'd be a close call but I'd been monitoring mile splits pretty closely and knew that if I could push a bit harder there was every chance we could make the sub 1.50 time we'd set as the ultimate goal for the day. This seemed even more achievable when we caught up with and took over the 1.55 pacer.

Between mile 11 and 12 is a stretch of very bleak main road. Very bleak indeed. There is no protection from the wind, which by then had really picked up, and I started to flag. The difficulty of this seemingly endless stretch was made even harder by the lady supporting a runner in close proximity to me. She ran alongside me for about 1/2 mile literally screaming GO KATY at the top of her lungs, right into my ear. I started losing it in my head and I wanted to cry. I really hope it spurred Katy on, though. We made the out and back stretch that brings you to the home straight to the stadium, now passing the 1.50 pacer. Signs started to appear: 1800 metres to go, 1200, meters to go, 800... things started to get a bit crowded and I struggled to find that extra bit of zing that I normally feel towards the end of a race and then BANG - blokey dropped me and made for the sprint finish! This lit a rocket up my butt and my legs came back to life and I don't know if I've ever run so flat out. I would like to say how amazing it was to finish in the stadium but I have no real memory of that part...

He was waiting for me just over the line and we just burst out laughing! My watch said 1:51:22 and although I was kicking myself that we were so close to our target it was still a PB for me by almost 5 minutes and no lame effort for his first ever race. My leg exploded and I hobbled along to the goody bags / medals area. I asked him how he felt after his first race. "Well," he says "I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I felt pretty comfortable and I think I could have gone faster."

Medal and goody bag in hand we made our way back to the bus where my official finish time came through to my phone: 1:50:21. Blokey's was 1:50:14.

I won't lie, I was pretty proud of us both.

Now, I'm not sure I'd do Reading again. Not because there's anything wrong with the race, it was fantastic and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone, but there are so many races out there that I want to try. The medal was brilliant, very weighty, and the goody bag was bountiful with treats and a tiny pack of Worcestershire Sauce that I appreciated for its sheer randomness (and for it's use a few days later during what could have been a gravy-tastrophe).

All in all, not a bad day at the office.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Lessons in Love

Well smack me sideways and call me Judy - I have finally found a small window of time to update my little blog!

Sorry to have been so absent but juggling marathon training with work has left precious little time for anything else. But here we are in the days leading up to the Reading Half Marathon, aka Taper Week, aka A Week to Get Shiz Done.

Training has been going pretty well for me and Him Indoors. Even though his sleep patterns are still all over the place we've managed to stick pretty closely to our training plan. We had a proper belter of a long run a few Sundays back, a good 17 miler at a steady pace which took in St. James's Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Regents Park. Tempo sessions have been going well and have become something I actually look forward to. He even did a ten mile run and came back with the words I never thought I'd hear: I quite enjoyed that.

A couple of Thursdays ago I had a really good fartlek (snigger) session. During the faster bits of running I felt strong and really confident that I'd made progress over the course of my training plan but when I hit my cool-down I noticed an odd sensation in my right leg, like someone really big had kicked me really hard wearing boots made of rocks. Friday was a scheduled rest day but this pain wouldn't go away.

Undaunted, on Saturday I treated to blokey to his first ever hill session. Eight lots of up-and-over Primrose Hill with a 30 second recovery in between.

Imagine it but more in focus and with a LOT more weather
Now the weather was not kind - it rained, it was freezing, it hailed and the wind was so strong that it almost took my legs out a couple of times - but he dropped me like a hot potato. If I didn't think so much of him I'm sure I'd have become sick of the site of the back of his head as he galloped, seemingly effortlessly, uphill.  After the session he landed another bomb on me: I think we should do more of those sessions.

Say whaaaaat?

Our long run the day after was not quite so joyous. I think I'd be generous to say that he had slept for around an hour on Saturday night but was still determined to bosh the three hour run on the plan. We set out at a pretty conservative pace and things were not going too badly. In fact we had a lovely surprise when we hit Green Park as we ran past the Run with Haile group, organised by Adidas. It was brilliant to see the man himself and a whole bunch of run-bloggers that I admire. We decided to pip in front of the group so as not to seem as though we were hitching a ride on someone else's star but every time we turned to look back there was a tide of blue t-shirted runners coming up behind us!

After about 1hr 45 blokey was showing signs that he was struggling but kept it to himself and managed to keep going. At just gone 2hrs 15 he had a small walk break but managed to carry on a bit further but I was a bit worried for him and myself. He couldn't breathe and every time we stopped it felt as though my leg was going to explode. We carried on with walk / run the rest of the way home and he was just in pieces, physically and mentally, in no way convinced that he will make the 26.2 miles we've committed to and it was hard work to try and help him understand that he'd still achieved so much that day. It was the longest and furthest he'd ever run and to do that when you're so barrel scrapingly tired is not a feat to be sniffed at. We all have bad days at the office and the best thing you can do after a bad run is just forget about it. Beating yourself up about is not going to change anything but it might just set you in the wrong frame of mind next time you're lacing up. Let go. Move on.

My leg pain forced me to take a week's enforced rest before I owned up to the fact that I might need some help. A very nice man at HFS physio gave me a thorough checking over and eased my fears that I'd have to drop out of my upcoming races, explaining that I'd tightened a muscle with my high mileage and that it was in a place that stretching just would reach. Cue some deep tissue massage and me trying my very best to man right up and not whimper too loud and Robert's your mother's brother* - woo hoo!

So why did I call this piece Lessons in Love? Yes, I may have seen the Level 42 video twice in the past week, but it's more than that. I certainly did not go into marathon training thinking that it would be a doddle. I love running and I don't regret a single moment of the journey so far but there have been down sides to the process:

  • I am tired a LOT of the time which makes me cry at dog food adverts on TV. After some sessions I can barely string more than two words together.
  • People keep telling me that I look tired. Even strangers.
  • I can't commit to any social engagements and am turning down friends left right and centre and because no-one knows that we're training this must be coming across as just plain rude.
  • People also tell me I've lost weight in a healthy looking way (which is good) but the downside is that I'm losing my boobs.
  • Hurting my leg and the pain required to get it fixed.
  • Etc etc
And that's the thing about marathon training. You've got to accept that for three or four months, this is your life and there are some tough balances to strike. As well as lots of positive things (and there are many) there is some pain and uncertainty but you have got to push through and you've got to REALLY want it.  I'm not sure why this has come as a surprise to me as I'm not new to running. It's been a hard lesson to accept to a certain extent but there it is.

I'll be running Reading Half Marathon this Sunday as prep for Brighton and I hope my legs and asthma both hold up to see me through to a sub 1:50 PB time. In the meantime, I'll leave you with this:

*Or Bob's your uncle.