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Wednesday 24 July 2013

Run Motivation: Wine, Hat and a Nice Sit Down

I’d struggled with motivation for running recently, but had enjoyed the last run. It had been gentle and relaxed and maybe that was what was best in this warm weather. I needed a run at lunchtime and briefly considered doing my intervals at the gym, but the thought of running on a treadmill like a hamster running on a wheel was soul sapping, so I decided on a trail run. I’ve got a lovely one that loops around the golf course, down to Delapre Abbey, around a lake and under the trees and back into Brackmills.

I headed out in my shorts and vest top ... and immediately felt over-dressed.  The phone helpfully informed me that it was 30 degrees but I didn’t need to be told. I already knew that it was weather better suited to sitting in the garden with my feet up on a chair with a glass of wine in my hand and a floppy hat on my head. I consoled myself with t he thought that if I get this run done NOW then this evening I will have deserved my glass of wine and silly hat. Using alcohol and a ‘nice sit down’ as my motivation, I ran on.

I passed another runner who looked like he was struggling with the heat. He had a bit of a zombie shuffle going on and didn’t look entirely happy to be out in the sunshine. He managed a bit of a wave at me but it just intensified the ‘zombie in search of brains’ look. I waved back but kept my distance, consoled by the thought that he’d go hungry if he tried to eat my brains. I was quite sure after a couple of miles in this heat, I’d be perfecting my own zombie look.

I ran over the A45 – smug that I was running and the people below were stuck in cars - and up past the golf course, all in the hot sunshine. It was nice to be warm but the top of my head felt as though it was melting. However, the woods loomed in front of me – a deep, dark, shadowy haven. As soon as I got under the shade of the trees, it was easier to enjoy the run and I could appreciate the dim coolness.

This is one of my favourite sections to run. It’s all uphill, but the path is small and twisty and loops between towering trees. In Autumn the path is hidden beneath crunchy leaves, but today the sunlight slanted through the trees and the path was dry and smooth and good to run on. My Garmin gets very confused under all of these trees and it has given me a .31 mile distance differences the last 2 times I’ve run the route. This run is for fun though – it’s too hilly and bumpy and twisty to ever be a speedy route. As I move along the trail I startle a squirrel which runs across the path and up the trunk of a tree on my right.   

As I come out of the trees and onto the lane towards Delapre Abbey, I’m back in the hot sunshine so I distract myself by watching the tents and marquees being set up. It’s preparation for the Northampton music festival and people in hi-viz jackets are busy at work organising, directing and driving vehicles around. I run past, enjoying running in the sunshine rather than working hard and sweating in heavy clothes.

Past the Abbey, past the walled garden and under an avenue of trees. All of a sudden out into the sunshine and into the middle of a group of teenagers lying around the lake in swimming shorts and bikinis. The braver are swimming despite the blue-green algae warnings. I’m not sure what the effects of algae poisoning are. Maybe they’ll emerge like the 3 eyed fish in the Simpsons. A mutant super-teenager with zits the size of molehills and moods like thunderstorms. But with a cape.

 I like living in the midlands, but I miss the sea and being able to visit it whenever I want to like I could in Dorset where I grew up. It feels like I’m currently living in the belly button of England – as far from the sea as it’s possible to be. In this warm weather I miss the sea and all the nice things associated with it. Ice cream and sandy towels and relaxing with friends and a glass of wine on a warm evening in a pub beer garden, with the sound of the sea in the background.

Running around the cool water of the lake – the urge to jump in is almost irresistible. I feel so warm and the sunshine is so hot on my skin. I wonder if I was a Labrador in a previous life as the urge to stick my tongue out and pant is almost overwhelming. It would make sense. My love of running, having to have the windows down in the car and an inability to resist pinching a piece of whatever food is sitting on the kitchen top. I draw the line at eating Pedigree Chum though. Even if it will give me a glossy coat.

Electric blue dragonflies are hovering over the banks and the brown and orange butterflies flutter around dreamily. Everything seems prettier in the sunshine – even the parts of the trail which are all rutted and still slightly boggy aren’t the trainer sucking perils they are in the winter.

It’s getting warmer and I didn’t bring a water bottle with me, knowing that it’s only a 5 mile route but I’m getting thirsty now. I subdue my inner zombie and stick to the shadier sections and before I know it I’m back at work. I enjoy my shower and lunch, but can smile inwardly all afternoon as I know I’ve got a glass of wine, a floppy hat and a ‘nice sit down’ waiting for me at home. And I deserve them.

Friday 19 July 2013

Enough of Being a Cowbag

Enough was enough. I hadn’t run for almost a week. I couldn’t blame the weather – it had been perfect! Hot and still and beautiful. A combination of my car breaking down, lack of childcare for my daughrer and lots of work had combined to make it difficult to go out for a run. But the main reason I hadn’t was simple. Pure laziness.

I’m normally highly motivated. I look forward to my runs and enjoy them, but even if I’m not looking forward to the running itself, I look forward to being able to go outside and snatch an hour of peace for myself. I love my family and enjoy my work – most of the time – and I’m really lucky to have a relatively simple life but it’s still so nice to just leave it all behind for an hour or so a day and just be me. Listen to an audiobook or some music while I run or just enjoy the quiet and the pat-pat-pat of my feet on the trail.

But I had no excuses for not running. It was laziness pure and simple. Two weeks of a very lazy holiday – I ran only 5 times! – with too much food and lazing around by the pool and then coming back to warm sunshine meant I had trotted out all the excuses I could find so I wouldn’t have to run.

Enough! I was uncomfortable and felt bloated and miserable. I was irritable and grumpy. A run! I changed into my running clothes but it STILL took me another hour to move from the sofa. Do I want to turn into a fat, grumpy cowbag who lies around on the sofa in sportswear? Nope! Out the door!

It was a warm evening but I’d decided on my route. 9 miles around the perimeter of the town. Hilly, but with the benefit of the last 3 miles being almost all downhill. Best of all because I’d chosen a long route I could slow it all down. No time pressure, no trying-to-beat-my-PB and not struggling against the warmth of the evening.

By the time I got out of the door it was 9.30pm so the sky was light – just – and the air was still. Passing houses with all of the windows thrown open and the lights on as it was too hot for curtains to be drawn. The grass was yellow on the lawns and the pavements were dry and solid under my trainers.  

I didn’t see any other runners and not even a cat crossed in front of me. Everything was still and the people and animals were stretched out indoors trying to escape the heat. The sky was dark but the warmth still radiated from the houses and pavements.

Every time I felt the heat I slowed down further. Tonight’s run was just about getting out there and I wanted to make sure I enjoyed it. I had a good audiobook on and as I listened, I felt happy being outdoors and running. It’s amazing how running lifts my mood.

I finished the run in just over an hour and 20 mins and made a decision that I’d had enough sofa time this month to last me a year. No more lazing around, no more sitting on the sofa and no more being a cowbag.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Endure 24 Race Report - Lessons Learned: Chilli, werewolves & more poo

I’d decided that a speedy parkrun probably wasn’t the best plan before a 24hr running event but I wouldn’t have another chance at a time trial for at least another month. So I ended up running parkrun on the same day ... 3 hours before the start of Endure 24. It ended in a code brown but all was not lost. I still had my 24hr event to enjoy.

I followed the M40 and then the signs to Endure 24 and finally made it to a field in the middle of Berkshire just before 11am. My team mates being far more organised than me had pitched their tents the night before and settled in to make a dent in the beers. They’d also managed to save a nice big spot for my tent and knowing that the chances of me being on time were slimmer than juggernaut roadkill, had picked up the team packs for everyone.

More Endure 24: (l-r) Simon F, Me, Simon B, Aurian, Glyn, Cath, Simon T

I’d been nominated in my absence as the first to run so after a brief wrestle with the tent and getting it into some semblance of up-ness, I was standing on the start line. It was lucky that I was already in my running gear from my earlier parkrun as I think the serious runners might have frowned at me should I have attempted my first lap in a summer dress and strappy sandals. “It’s just not proper running clothes, is it Eric?”, “Do you think we should push her in the hedge before she embarrasses us all?” “Probably for the best ...”.

It had been a bit of a mad dash to get here on time and I hadn’t had time for a loo stop. However, feeling smug that my body’s adrenaline response of Flight or Shite (or both on a parkrun day) had already been dealt with, I wasn’t too concerned. My running belt had the obligatory store of loo roll but I was most definitely not planning on using it. I didn’t want to desecrate the beautiful Berkshire woods and I felt that 200 runners thundering past while I cowered behind a tree might be a bit off-putting. Besides, I wanted nice consistent lap times and I didn’t feel that I’d be able to manage that if I stopped for a poo on lap 1.

I got behind the start line into the bumpy grass of the field. We were channelled between 2 metal fences and it was PACKED. I was a little concerned that I’d managed to position myself in exactly the wrong place as everywhere I looked I could see the yellow numbers of solo runners. So I had a nice steady WALKING start as I tried to battle my way as politely as possible (no elbows, please!) through the crowd of 200 runners all squished into a narrow pack. Despite the chaotic start, the atmosphere was amazing. I chatted to a runner who had on a Thames Path 100 t-shirt and we were all caught up in conversations on all sides. Brilliant.   

The changeover point behind the barrier

The weather was amazing. It was bright sunshine and there was no wind at all and the woods were green and verdant, with ferns, nettles and cow parsley all making up the banks and stones and grass making up the trails under my feet. Every now and then, when I go for a run I’m just overwhelmed with a sense of how lucky I am to have this. The Being-Able-To-Run-ness of it all and here, HERE on this gorgeous route with the sun shining and these massive, massive hills. Bugger. I’d forgotten about the massive hills. (Climbs hill and becomes sweaty mess) ... and these lovely DOWNhills, surrounded by all of these runners, friends I haven’t made yet but we’re united in our shared love for running the trails and putting in the miles.

I’d run at this event last year – again in a mixed team of 8 - so I had an idea of the route, although parts of it had changed as some of the land had been sold off prior to the race this year. Last year there had been 3 main hills, the first one out of the campsite ... slow ... scenic and strangely leg-sapping, a short sharp one up to the pine woods and then a massively, crazily steep one which felt as though it went on FOREVER .... but then a huge steep, whooping, cheering fast downhill with a field blurring past on one side. One of those downhills where it feels you’re going to overtake your legs and come tearing down on your face. But hell, you’ll still be having fun despite the bleeding.

It was great running in the sunshine with everyone else around, but I could feel in my chest that I’d raced a parkrun earlier – not a stitch quite, but the feeling that you’ve already run hard that day and it was quite sore. It was about 3 hours since I’d started the parkrun so expected to feel a bit uncomfortable but this was SORE. I’d read a couple of running books recently, one by Scott Jurek and one by Dean Karnazes. A phrase that had really struck home was “Is this pain significant?” In other words, is it going to kill me? Am I going to be maimed if I don’t stop? Just by thinking about this, it really helped me realise that actually I’m slightly uncomfortable. I’m not dying. I have a stitch and I need to stop being a whiny cow about it. Even if I AM only whining to myself.

At about the third mile, giant letters had been set up, Hollywood-style

E N D U R E 24

Brilliant. Even better, due to the route change the massive hill at mile 3.5 was no more. In its place a series of more gentle upward slopes ... and a looping mile of the campsite. I enjoyed this section as this was the last mile and I knew that I was on the home stretch. More importantly for me there were spectators. Pride would not let me slow down even though it was the final mile of 5 over pretty hard terrain. Sometimes bloodymindedness is handy. So managed to complete the first lap for Team More Endure 24 - with my final mile the fastest - in 36:35. Under the blow up arch to the cheers of my team. I handed over the wristband to my team mate who was waiting at the changeover point. We cheered him on his way and all went back to the tents.

Sitting in the sunshine

Brilliant. 4.5 hours to laze around in the sunshine, eat lots of food and sunbathe. Oh ... and find the portaloo. Judging by the noises currently being made by my dodgy tummy, the parkrun pitstop was just the start of this weekend’s loo-related adventures. Sigh. Luckily, this event really stands out as having outstanding portaloos. Clean, fully stocked with loo roll and non-stinky. Well ... all of the above BEFORE I visit, anyway ...

Next lap was at 4.30pm. I was overtaken by someone going faster than me at mile 3. Couldn’t have that so I sped up. To keep him company of course, not to overtake him. (Cough) Nice to have a bit of extra motivation to keep the speed up. This lap was faster than first lap as I knew I didn’t have to save anything for the massive hill I’d been expecting on lap one. The chest pain was less as it had been longer since I’d raced the parkrun although I could feel that I’d run a few miles on hard terrain in my legs now. A nice quick lap and a quick changeover to my team mate.

However, I had an unexpected muscle cramp. My butt started seizing up. Probably not something I’d feel comfortable about going to the massage tent and asking to have released. But talking about that sort of thing reminded the stomach ... back to the portaloo. Sigh. Come on, stomach. This isn’t fair. I have sunbathing and lying around to do.

One thing that I do find is really important at these events is making sure you do your stretches. It’s so easy to finish your race and then sit down for half an hour before scratching around for some food, but if you do this your muscles start getting stiff. Normally, this doesn’t matter too much, but if you’ve got 4 or 5 sets of 5 miles still to do then this could be quite painful. And if you don’t refuel quickly – the magic 45 minutes after your exercise is particularly important – then you’re going to hurt more on the next laps than you need to. I was glad that I’d decided at the last minute to throw the trusty foam roller into the car on top of the tent and sleeping bags.

I’d run this event last year with a slightly different team but this year there were a few changes. We had Simon F, Simon B and Simon T, Aurian, Sarah, Glyn, Catherine ... and a space! A last minute injury for Bertie had meant that we were a team of 7 with a quicker turnaround and less sleep! However, powered by Linda’s AMAZING fry ups – food of the Gods – we were fully fuelled with sausagey goodness. Plus the side effects of the baked beans would put off the competition.  

My stomach wasn’t happy whatever it was fed now. The combination of heat, running and lack of sleep meant that I was permanently on Red Alert – (cough) Brown Alert – for any tummy rumbles. I’m pretty sure I made up at least a couple more miles on the campsite sprinting to the portaloos. I was sure I was drinking enough water and fluids and was having a (previously tested) protein bar after each 5-mile loop as well as natural foods but sometimes it’s a case of This Is How Things Are. Have to manage it as can’t cure it. So long as I had plenty of loo roll and was within sprinting distance of the portaloos there wasn’t a problem.

My next lap was a night lap at 10pm. My headtorch had been well tested and was bright enough to illuminate the trail so I was confident that I’d be fine. What I didn’t expect was the strap to slip off of the torch housing just as my team member came in sight. Crap! CRAP!! Fumbling with the strap, I shoved it in place just as Simon T came up to the finish funnel. Whereupon the strap promptly fell off again. Muttering about crappy headtorches and fumbly fingers, I finally got the strap sorted and torch on my head as the wristband was put into my hands.   

The night laps always feel lonelier even with the occasional headtorch light you can see bobbing between the trees. I think maybe the solos and pairs often take this time to catch some sleep but there are definitely less people on the trail. It was still so warm that I ran this lap again in just vest and shorts – no warm top required. I could remember where the hills and holes and difficult parts were and my legs knew what was expected this time. It was the easiest lap yet and the chest pain from the earlier parkrun had completely vanished and I was running fresh again. I lost 30 seconds because of the dark but came in at 37:35 to hand over the band to my team mate after being overtaken by one person on this lap.    

We ended up with a random stranger joining us for a lap at this point. I wasn’t complaining at getting some extra sleep and race HQ ok’d it as we were down a team member so I crashed out in my tent. It’s amazing how comfortable a sleeping bag and a mat on the floor can feel when you’ve run 4 races that day. Well ... 3 hard laps and a parkrun.

Although it felt like a few minutes, it was 4 hours later that I was woken up by Simon T calling outside the tent that it was time to wake up. I crawled into my running gear and stumbled out of the tent. Realising I had 2 odd trainers on, I eventually located a matching pair and wandered to the changeover point. It was surreal with the dark campsite but the changeover point illuminated by the bright lights. Occasionally we’d see a headtorch bobbing across the field towards us and we squinted into the dark trying to work out whether it was a team mate or not. As it was basically just a dark blob against a field of dark blobs with a headtorch on, we could squint all we liked but it wasn’t until the final straight when we knew whether it was our turn to run yet. The squinting made us feel as though we were doing something though. Rather than just standing around in a dark field at 4am.

It dark when I started out but soon the sky lightened and the birds started muttering about having to get up and then suddenly I was greeted by the full dawn chorus. Glorious. I overtook a few people and we all had a nice word to say to each other as we passed. It was such a great time of the day to run. I had no aches and pains in my muscles but I was finding it more difficult to get any speed up.

It was difficult to estimate how you were doing on the course as there were so many different teams with different goals, so rather than pit myself against the clock, I counted how many people overtook me. I’d made a training mistake last year which was to assume that this sort of event was like a long training run where you paced yourself and slowed down for the hills. Nope. It’s basically 4 or 5 races of 5 miles as hard as you can without killing yourself for your next lap and as fast as your tired and sleep deprived body will take you.

I was enjoying running in the dim woods when all of a sudden I heard a noise. I couldn’t identify it but it was a sound like I’d imagine a hungry werewolf would make. Relieved that there were a few solos out on the trail now and they were all going slower than me should a hungry werewolf suddenly appear, I sped up a bit. I didn’t need to outrun the werewolf, I just needed to outrun a slower runner.

I chatted nervously to a fellow runner who reckoned it was a fox but to me foxes barks usually sound like screams. I wasn’t entirely convinced it was a fox unless it was one the size of a hippo and with a voice like a 60-a-day smoker. Amazing how much easier it was to get a bit of speed back into my legs when I thought there was something in search of blood around.

Came into the camping field for the last mile and saw a solo moving onwards relentlessly. What an amazing achievement – at this point she must have been on her feet for over 16 hours. This morning lap was a great run and I felt really positive afterwards. The first run of the new day and I’ve been serenaded the whole way by the dawn chorus. Plus I didn’t get eaten by a werewolf. Things were looking good. I handed over to my team mate in 38:05. 

Home for 24 hours ... Spot the trusty foam roller and piles of trainers ..!

I did my stretches and got changed and sat in the car to eat my protein bar and finish off the popcorn. Next thing I knew, it was full daylight and I was snoring and drooling against the steering wheel in what was basically a box of windows on wheels. People were walking past on the way to the portaloos and I’m not sure I was really the most attractive thing to see first thing in the morning. Unless you like sweaty, drooly, snorey runners that is. I woke up a bit more and decided to head off in search of sustenance.

I got to the food tent and something smelled AMAZING. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise, a jacket potato smothered in spicy vegetable chilli is an amazing breakfast. My mouth was in heaven – and on fire – but my tummy was NOT impressed and decided that this was the Final Injustice. Downing my cup of coffee, I sprinted off to find a clean portaloo ... and stay there.

I emerged a while later into bright sunlight and to panicked team mates. It was my turn to run! No time to get changed, Simon T was rounding the final corner and as he came under the changeover arch, he stumbled. Decisions. Catch Simon or take the wristband and peg it? Luckily he managed to stay upright and I grabbed the wristband and headed off for my final lap. It was bright sunshine now and the grass had been flattened into submission by the pounding of hundreds of pairs of feet. It was lovely to run the gorgeous course and know that I could just run. No more saving strength for future laps or worrying about twisted ankles or blisters. I came in at 36:28, my joint fastest lap of the weekend and 25 miles in total.

More Endure 24: (l-r back row) Cath, Glyn, Simon B, Aurian, Simon F, (front row l-r), Rob, Simon T, Me

I was pleased with how I’d performed but there was something ... a little something wrong. It seemed a little bit disappointing to be just short of marathon distance. Maybe, if I just did a short run around the campsite to make it up to marathon distance ... Great! Marathon distance done. Well maybe just keep going to make it over marathon distance. Well ... it seems a shame to be so close to 30 miles... 30 miles done. I reckoned I’d stop there. 30 miles in 24 hours sounded fine. And with the parkrun and the run around the park beforehand I reckoned I’d run about 35 miles.

Dropped 4 year old off at nursery on the Tuesday and one of the teachers told me I looked a bit tired. So I told them I'd run 35 miles over weekend. She didn’t raise an eyebrow and said “Oh yes, there are 2 girls here doing that.” I blinked at her. “Yes” She continued, “It’s the Race For Life, isn’t it? Is that the same thing?”

Lessons Learned:
  • ALWAYS know where the nearest portaloo is.
  • Don’t have chilli for breakfast no matter how tempting it smells.
  • Don’t believe that your body cannot produce more poo. Especially during a running event.
  • Don’t expect non runners to know how far 35 miles is.

Monday 1 July 2013

My Sub-20 5k Attempt (or Try Not to Crap Yourself)

After 4 weeks of intense speedwork I was super-prepared for my first proper attempt at a sub-20 parkrun.

I did a 1.5 mile warmup around the lake including the drills which always make me feel like I’m masquerading as a REAL runner: running backwards (not into the lake thankfully), high knees and kick backs. (I keep waiting for someone to come up to me and tell me off for doing these). I was physically prepared, I was mentally ready and I was raring to go. There was even a 20 minute pacer! Brilliant! Everything was looking perfect for my sub-20.

However, I’d forgotten 2 key things …

  1. Don’t rely on pacers - use your own judgement.
  1. I hadn’t been to Big Toilet that morning.
Draw your own conclusions on how this run will go … picture if you will the photo of that marathon runner who strives for the finish line with a look of disgust on his face and diarrhoea on his legs. Actually, it wasn’t anything like that but how’s that cup of coffee you’re drinking tasting NOW?

I set off behind the 20 minute pacer and quite early on realised he was doing about 6:05 – 6:10 min/miles rather than the 6:25 min/mile I’d need for a sub 20. Did I drop back and trust my own judgment? Or did I stay with him knowing that it would make the last mile more difficult? You guess. Stupid bloodymindedness …

I like the Swindon parkrun course. There’s a lot to be said for it. It’s only slightly undulating, it’s nice and wide so you can see the leaders at all times and the paths are gravelly and nice to run on. I knew that I had a few seconds per mile in the bank for when the last half a mile got tough and this week had been dry so not even the ankle-deep puddles to contend with. Perfect. Surely not even Ms. Fall-In-A-Ditch could mess this one up?

The pace was fine at the moment and I knew the final stretch was all downhill so this all was good. However something else was worrying me. I was getting a certain tummy rumbling that I’ve had before on runs. A CERTAIN distinctive tummy rumbling. The sort that usually has me frantically checking pockets for tissues.

Uh oh.

Not NOW? Decision time. Do I brave it out, knock in a sub-20 (or close as dammit) with the shame of leaving a brown trail and the certainty of never being welcome back at Swindon parkrun? Or do throw off my chances for a sub-20 after 4 weeks of hard speedwork and knowing that I’m off on a 2-week holiday where I’ll eat too much, do practically no running and maybe not have the chance of a sub-20 again for a very long time as I’ll be back in marathon training.

I swerve off to the loos at the next corner. There’s sub-20 and there’s shitting yourself in public. 

You’ll be pleased to know that I did still manage to embarrass myself in public though. As I swerved off, a friend shouted “Good luck! You’re doing great!” I bellowed back “Got to stop! Going for a POO!” What can I say. Modest AND ladylike. Sigh.