Why it sucks to be a non-marathon running marathon runner during marathon season

Sooooo, it’s that time of year again.  London, Boston, Manchester, Paris, Brighton, Rome, Hamburg…  All the big cities are hosting their annual Spring marathons with hundreds of thousands of people putting months of hard graft to the test and crossing those finish lines with pride and glee.  Wonderful.

And it truly is a wonderful, magical and pretty remarkable thing.  But not being one of them? Without any particular good reason (I can’t blame a broken foot this year).  Well, that totally sucks.  It sucks on every level.

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1. You just can’t escape it

No matter how hard you try, if you have friends that are runners, it’s everywhere.  I even tried deleting my Facebook account.  But then there was Instagram…and Strava…and Twitter…and, well. the news and, errrm,, the actual outdoors.

I’ve already switched it back on again.  So that went well.

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2. The FOMO is real

It’s difficult to put into words, and to get any normal person to understand, why exactly it pains you so much to miss out on putting your body through the wars and your mind through hell just to run 26.2 miles.  For fun.  So just take my word for it.

There is no greater pain that being on the spectator side of those barriers.

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3. You feel like the laziest person on earth

It doesn’t really matter how much exercise you do, even if you workout out daily, if you’re not running 20 miles on a Sunday when everyone else in the whole world is, then you feel like the Mayor of Slobtown.

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4. It makes you grumpy and unreasonable

Yes, more grumpy than usual.  Yes more unreasonable than usual. No, I can’t control it.  Yes, I’m sorry.  No, I don’t wanna talk about it.

It’s best to just stay away from me really.

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5. You’re just another muggle

This one is probably the worst for me.  Marathon running is magical.  It’s magical because it’s made of a unique combination of a strong body, a strong(er) mind, and a lot of  bloody hard work that only comes with resilience, dedication and willpower .  It’s impossible to understand unless you’ve been there.  And when you’re not there, you’re just a regular ol nothing-special kinda muggle on the sidelines.  And that sucks.

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Putting my jealousy aside, I wish nothing but the best of luck and positive, strong thoughts to everyone running over the next few weeks and, if you’re running London, I’ll be in the usual Chaser spot with a can of cider throwing jelly babies at you.  You’re welcome.

I want to be special again by the end of the year.  And I’m going all out for Berlin in September because, this time, I do have something to prove.  In fact I have everything to prove.

But only to myself.

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Runners Connect: An online running coach

When I joined the Clapham Chasers five years ago, I quickly developed a network of friends who love running, and talking about running, as much as I do, and who know the science bit behind making you a faster and more efficient runner.  They also like a drink (or seven) so it worked out rather well really.

I’ve been lucky to have people around me who have been incredibly supportive through the highs and the lows, by putting training plans together for me and pacing me to PB’s.  However, I can’t help but feel like a burden and, more often than not, I feel like I let them down when I miss my goals (which happens A LOT).

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Recently, I’ve been introduced to Runners Connect who offer runners bespoke online coaching programmes within a community of people who simply love to run.  Based on the principle that runners tend to do their best when supported by others, they created a community that connects people with other runners across the globe, to motivate and inspire, however you may be feeling.

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How does it work?

Founded in 2011, Runners Connect have a team of expert coaches that help you to train smarter, stay healthy and run faster based on your current running ability and your goals.

There are three options you can choose to get you started:

  1. Just a schedule
    • This is the basic package that gives you a customised training schedule without the coaching support, or community access
  2. Team coaching
    • The next level up, this offers a custom training plan, plus access to a supportive community and team of coaches to get feedback, answer questions, and help you adjust your schedule
  3. 1 on 1 coaching
    • This is the premium and most comprehensive package that allows you to work exclusively with one of the coaches. Your coach will write your training plan in 3-4 week blocks which is adjusted based on your feedback

Once you’ve chosen your package, you’re asked to give as much information as possible about your running history, experience, current level of fitness and your goals.  The more you can tell them, the better your experience will be.  I’ve already learned it’s best to be honest about your current training if you want to get the most out of it, they really don’t judge you at all!

Basically, don’t claim to be like this…

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…if you’re currently running more like this….like me

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Your training plan is built around your preferences, lifestyle, and other commitments.  So, if you prefer your long run on a Friday, and you always do weight training on a Monday, your coach will build this into your plan.  This is my favourite aspect because my life doesn’t always work to a schedule and I really need that flexibility without feeling like I’m having to compromise.

When you log into your account you’re taken to your dashboard where you’re given your training plan for the week and can upload your activity either manually, or by linking to Strava.  You also have the option to add comments if you were feeling good/tired/strong etc which gives the coaches some added insight into how your training is going.

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There’s clear guidance on the pace you should be targeting depending on what type of run is scheduled for the day such as ‘easy’ or general’, and why you should be running at that pace.  You also get regular contact from your coach and they soon get in touch if you haven’t been logging your runs to make sure everything is OK (so, no hiding…)

Depending on your membership, you also get access to a ‘newsfeed’ which allows you to see what your fellow runners are up to and what they’re thinking & feeling so you can share your experiences and support each other.

It’s worth having a good look round the site too as there are lots of blog articles and podcasts to listen to on all things running!

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If you’ve found yourself in a bit of a training rut, or are unsure as to how to get fitter or faster or achieve your goals, I can recommend giving this a try.  I always find that a good motivational technique for me is to tell other people what my goals are, that way I’m more accountable, and Runners Connect is a great way to do this within a supportive environment.

No matter what your current fitness level is or what you want to achieve, they have the right people to help you get there.  I’ve been impressed!

I was invited to try Runners Connect as a guest, as always, all views are my own.

London’s Big Half: The ‘time on feet’ one

In fact, we’ll call it the LOT of time on feet one.  But that’s OK.  It’s allllll just part of playing the long game….the really long game.

After the Beast from the East hit London last week it was touch and go whether the first ever Big Half would actually go ahead, but a combination of slick organisation and snow-thaw meant it was full steam ahead.

London a few days earlier

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Sunday morning was actually beautifully sunny when I headed to the start at Tower Hill, positively warm in fact after the arctic blast.  As the race is point to point, finishing in front of Cutty Sark in Greenwich, all baggage had to be dropped off by 8.25.  I was in a later start wave than usual which meant I had over an hour to wait in my race gear before running.  I took advantage of a sunny London whilst I waited, I mean, who would even know we were blanked in snow just a couple of days before?!

The Big Half is run by London Marathon Events, so organisation was pretty smooth with the 15,000 runners setting off across 8 waves at 5 minute intervals.  I started at around 9.30.

Tower of London

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I’ve had the Big Half in the diary for some time now, but I still managed to go into it undercooked (by which I actually mean totes raw…) with my longest run in preparation clocking in at 7.3 miles.  Not my usual preparation by a long shot.  However, the route looked awesome and I really wanted that medal to add to my collection so bowing out was never an option.

In stark contrast to my usual race day strategy (ie suicide pace until I vomit), I took the more sensible* approach of not really giving a damn.  Genuinely, I had no expectations other than to get to the finish and it was really refreshing.  I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t worried, and I didn’t have a target pace.

*As sensible as running a half marathon on no training can be.  Don’t try this at home kids.

Starting further back in the field meant I couldn’t start too fast even if I wanted to, so I just jogged, and looked around, and high-fived some kids, and jogged some more.  The only real plan I had was to switch a a purposeful run / walk strategy when I needed to.  And I was totally OK with that.

Cutty Sark

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The route is actually pretty cool and takes in a lot of the same roads as the London Marathon.  Running on closed roads, it starts near Tower Bridge by the Tower of London, and goes east to Canary Wharf before doubling back to cross Tower Bridge and follow the river and finish in Greenwich.

Given my lack of training, I only expected to get to about 5 miles before running out of run-love but I surprised myself by making it to nearer 9 (small wins right?!).  I learned a long time ago that the key to a run/walk strategy is to make a deal with yourself and stick to it, without that deal it all goes to s**t (trust me!).  My deal was to run for five minutes and walk for one, which I honoured until the last mile when I was struggling and all I really wanted was for it all to be over and a Lucozade.

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Running down the home straight did nothing but remind me why I love this stupid, wonderful, heart breaking, glouroius and painful hobby of mine.  With the crowds lining the street either side, the commentator cheering people by name, runners giving it their all in the final push and the finish line in sight, I was in a happy place.

There it was. The first race of 2018. Done and did.  And I had absolutely qualms about my time.

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Generally I though this was a well organised race with huge potential to become a solid fixture in the race calendar, attracting a strong field of all abilities.  Finishers got a fun medal, which I really like, a technical t-shirt, and a goody bag of drinks and snacks.  My only negative comment is that it was a nightmare to get on the DLR to get home because you had to cross the race course to get to it…maybe a consideration for next year.

It wasn’t pretty (my run, not the course), it wasn’t fast, and it wasn’t even in the same league as my PB, but it was a half marathon.  And it was my first half marathon in 18 months.  And I loved it.  And, more importantly, I loved the people that were running around me, the people that got out there and did it, the people that were supporting each other on the way round, the people that reminded me that us runners stick together.  You guys are just brilliant.

Thanks Big Half, you were special.

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Review: Sole Footbeds

I’ve never worn insoles in my running shoes before, I’ve always been a bit wary of anything that interferes with the running shoes I know and love, but when I was given the opportunity to try out some Sole Footbeds (they’re a Canadian company, I think that’s what they call insoles…) I was intrigued to find out more.

Sole are a peformance footwear specialist and claim they can help minimise your risk of injury.  Given I’ve had a fair few injuries over the last 12 months, I thought they would definitely be worth trying out.

The footbeds I tried are the Active Medium, which is part of their signature range, and they’re quite unique in that they’re heat moulded to your feet to give a bespoke fit.   After trimming them to fit your trainers (which may not be needed as they come in standard shoe sizes), you pop them in the oven for a couple of minutes and then immediately position them in your trainers and put them on your feet.  It’s dead cosy!

In the oven!

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The science bit:

The mouldable base layer is orthopaedic and adapts to your foot to give a customised fit.  This means the foodbeds can:

  • Reduce plantar fascia strain
  • Encourage good alignment of the feet and lower legs
  • Improve balance and provide natural, shock-absorbing heel support (ideal for someone who literally falls over their own feet, ahem)
  • Gently lift your arch into its optimal position

These ones are perfect for active types because they have the added benefit of Polygiene odor control technology (no smelly feet), Softec shock-absorbing cushioning (a bouncy feel) and a moisture-wicking topsheet (dry tootsies).

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My thoughts:

So far I’ve been impressed with these insoles, my feet have quite high arches so I’ve really noticed the additional support and they’re really comfy.  There was a brief moment of panic when I realised I had the oven on wayyyyy too high (watch that cause it’s inadvisable to set your house on fire), but after successfully heating and installing them into my trainers they really do fit like a glove.  It’s a bit soon to tell if they will offer added protection against injury but I really them, they gave my trainers a new lease of life, and will be getting another pair when they wear out.

I was kindly given a pair of Sole Footbeds to try out, all views are my own

 

Cycling Skillz

I haven’t been on my bike since September.  I had full intentions of a leisurely New Years Eve ride with some of the Chaser girls but I discovered I had a puncture (I tried for an hour to get the bloody tyre off but it wouldn’t budge) so I didn’t make it.

The problem is, the more time I spend not riding, the more I find my confidence drops and my bike seems like a big scary monster.

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On Saturday, I went to a Surrey League ‘Race Preparation Training Session’.  In all honesty I had absolutely no idea what I was in for but it was positioned as being suitable for all levels and a session to improve group riding skills so I thought it would be perfect, especially as it took place on a circuit with no cars.  Despite being ‘suitable for all levels’, I was by far the most novice rider in our group as I made my way to Ardingly with some of the most speedy and experienced Chasers on earth.  The very thought of this made me so nervous that I almost didn’t turn up, but I reasoned with myself that the best way to gain cycling confidence is to surround myself with confident cyclists and, anyway, they’re all lovely people so there was nothing to be scared of.

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I almost fell at the first hurdle when I arrived at the train station and discovered I had another sodding puncture (and yes, I rode the 2 miles from home on a flat without noticing…)  I knew I couldn’t fix it on my own so was very grateful when Warbo said he would fix it on the train, it was as good as new by the time we got off (THANK YOU).

The next ‘hurdle’ was the 4 mile ride from the station to Ardingly showground.  How exactly do you keep up with the most experienced and speedy Chasers on earth when they’re riding at ‘an easy pace’, in the rain?  Well.  You don’t.  But, as I said, they’re a lovely bunch so they didn’t leave me behind (THANK YOU!)

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When we arrived (soaking wet and freezing cold I might add) I was surprised at how few women there were, maybe about 8 of 45-ish, I always thought cycling was a much more mixed sport but it would appear not.   The first thing I learned was that there’s a difference between a cycling ‘sportive’ and ‘race’.  A sportive is a mass participation cycling event which, although use timing chips, is a non-competitive event and attracts riders of all levels.  A race on the other hand, is exactly that, a race, and requires you to be a member of the British Cycling Federation as well as attending two of these Race Preparation Sessions.  For the record, I have no intention of competing in a race anytime soon.

The session, which was run by cycling coach Paul Butler, was split into two sessions with an indoor theory bit and an outdoor practical bit.  It was still raining and it was still cold.  It did not being rainy or cold allllll day.  Luckily Anna gave me a spare pair of tootsie covers (is that what they’re called?) which kept my tootsies warm and my shoes clean (THANK YOU!)

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Cornering

After going through the basics and importance of a good warm up, we learnt about cornering, when to break, the correct position of your pedals and where your body weight should be.  Out on the road, we went in a rectangular circuit (well, a circle would be no good for cornering would it…) and practised taking the corners, more in the correct position that at any speed, on the drop bars (I rode the drop bars and didn’t fall off!)

One Handed Riding

I still haven’t mastered the art of drinking and cycling at the same time, and signalling right is somewhat an issue, so when we were told to pair up and ride with one hand on someone elses shoulder I wasn’t overjoyed.  Luckily Ruth was a rock and we got through it without me hurting anyone!

Peloton

Next we had to form a peloton and the rider at the back had to make their way through the middle of the group to the front, not round the outside, straight through the middle.  This was my least favourite bit of the day, shouting at people that I was coming through whilst trying not to knock myself or anyone else off their bike AND trying and ride fast enough to get to the front was a tad stressful.  I was happy when that bit was over.  Plus I could no longer feel my fingers.

Chain Gang & Paceline

After another short theory bit we were back out practising how to ride in chain gangs and pacelines in small groups.  After a few hiccups (such as Dude A who insisted we had the push the pace so the group fell apart, and Dude B who rode straight into a cone…) we totally nailed this part.

The Puncture Crew

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Despite the rain, the wet muddy lycra, the mud on my face, and the frozen limbs, I had a really good day out.  I learned A LOT, gained some confidence, and had fun.  Even though I have no intention of participating in a race, this is a really worthwhile session for anyone looking to improve their group riding skills, if nothing else it will make you safer.

Also, I don’t want to show off or anything, but I can pretty much ride like this now…but I wouldn’t…cause that would be silly…and the very opposite of safe.

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Reading Half Training Day

Saturday morning was COLD, the kind of cold that made me ignore the offensively early weekend alarm and roll over.  But it was also the morning of the Reading Half Training Day so I  HAD to get up.  Unfortunately my unscheduled alarm-ignoring meant I didn’t have time for porridge and had to make do with breakfast in the car…

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We started the morning off with an overview of the day ahead and the race itself, which will be on the 18th March.  The Reading Half has been going since 1983 and has since evolved to a rather prestigious race that attracts a wide field of athletes with a pretty magnificent finish in the Madejski Stadium.  I haven’t run this one before so I’m really excited to be part of it this year, especially now I know about the secret wine and beer  hydration’ station at 8.5 miles (unofficial, obvs).  Hey, I ran a marathon drunk so a swig or two of wine will do me no harm whatsoever!

Selfie with the Townsend Twins

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Then came the fun bit, a 30 minute strength and cardio workout with the Townsend Twins, who are the official warm up partners for the Reading Half.  After loosening up, we were put through our paces with several rounds of exercises including squat jumps, lunges, ski jumps, dead lifts, planks, V sit-ups (yes, ouch), glute bridges, cycle sit-ups and back extensions.  It actually got pretty sweaty…and we hadn’t even been for a run yet.

Glute Bridges

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After re-hydrating, we then had a session with Ali, one of the official Reading Half pacers, who took us through all the key elements of pacing your perfect race.  He had lots of top tips to remember on the day:

  • Plan ahead and be prepared, especially on race day.  You don’t want to turn up late and not know where the toilets are (for the record, it’s unacceptable to pee in the bushes…)
  • Don’t panic at the start off the race and let adrenaline take over, you’ll only bonk before you finish.  Easier said than done that one!
  • Don’t weave in and out of people, it just wastes energy.  I’m definitely guilty of this and it makes a real difference when I have the self control not to do it.
  • Break the race down into bite-size chunks, instead of thinking of it as one long 13.1 mile run, think of it in sections
    • Miles 1-3 – get yourself settled into the race
    • Miles 3-11 – keep checking in on yourself to see how you’re feeling and adjust your pace and/or goal accordingly
    • Miles 11-13.1 – take it home and bask in the glory

If you’re interested, Reading will be offering pacers at 5 minute intervals from 1:20 all the way up to 2:30 so make sure you latch on to one of them and let them do all the hard work for you (OK, almost all of the hard work, I mean, they don’t offer piggybacks).

Cold, cold cold!

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Then it was time to run!  After a warm up in the very chilly but sunny air, we were off on a 3 mile loop that took us through the start of the race course in Green Park, and round to the Madejski Stadium where we would be finishing on the track.  Unfortunately it was match day, so we couldn’t go in, but we could loiter suspiciously and peak through the gates imagining ourselves crossing the finish line to the roar of the crowds in the stadium!

Blue skies at the Madejski Stadium

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Back at base, it was onto the serious business of warm up exercises and post-run stretching.  You know, all the things we know we should do but tend to skimp on, or is that just me??  There were a few key things I took from this session:

Before you run:

  • Loosen tight hamstrings with The Slump Test (a new one on me!):
    • Sit on the edge of a table with your legs hanging off and hands behind your back
    • Slump your back so you fall slightly forwards with your head down
    • With a flexed foot, kick your leg vigorously upwards
    • Keep going until they feel looser!

Looks a little odd but it works!

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  • Another one for the hammys –  Heel Kicks.  A good way to do this is to stand arms length from a wall and kick vigourously towards the bum with your knees in line
  • Activate the glutes, yes, every time.  Donkey kicks are great for this

After you run:

  • Make sure you stretch the calves, hamstrings and quads!

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We finished with a Q&A and more info on the day itself.  In addition to the unofficial beer stop, there will be water stations supplied in pouches every 3 miles.  I LOVE the pouches because they are much easier to carry and are less of an injury risk if you accidentally step on one.

Green Park’s Foudry Brook

 

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I thought the Reading Half Training Day was brilliant for both new and experienced runners and I definitely learnt a thing or two about warming up properly!

The Reading Half Marathon is on 18th March and there are still spaces available here if you would like to come and join us.  There’s also a January competition to win some running goodies, including some wireless headphones, a foam roller, a Ron Hill LED light High 5 recovery pack, so make sure you enter!

Note: I will be taking part in the Reading Half as a race ambassador, all views are my own.

 

 

 

2018: Goals, Goals, Goals

Now we’re firmly on the wrong side of the silly season, it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and set some targets for the year ahead (I was going to put something self-depreciating here, but yesterday a friend  firmly challenged me not to say or think anything bad about myself…so I won’t).

1. The Big London Half – 4th March

The Big Half is organised by the London Marathon people and was created with the mission of demonstrating how sport and community can come together, inspiring people from all backgrounds to take part.  They wanted an event that mirrors the diverse demographics of London’s multi-cultural population, it’s new this year and I think it will be a big hit.

This one will be my biggest test in a while and the furthest I’ve really run since the London Marathon 2016 (ohhhhh god, it’s gonna be tough isn’t it?!).  However, I have a marathon to run and I need this to push me through the training. I’m sure it’ll be fine…just fine.

Race Goal: Not be last. Not be sick (that’s not negative, just realistic 🙂 )

2. Reading Half – 18th March

I’m super excited to be joining the Reading Half team as a race ambassador this year.  Reading has been on my list for a few years now, not least because it’s one of the largest and fastest half marathons in the UK, but also because of the incredible finish inside the Madejski Stadium.  Three weeks before Paris, this is good timing for me to practice an even marathon paced run, I can’t wait for this one!

There’s an exclusive training morning being held this Saturday (6th Jan) with an exciting line up of workouts, training advice and Q&A’s.  There’s still a few spots available here if you’d like to join in.

Race Goal: Run at an even pace. Don’t get too excited

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3. Paris Marathon – 8th April

All being well, Paris will be marathon number 14.  It was also my second marathon back in 2012 when I ran with my friend Porridge, and I have fond memories of the beautiful city (I say ran with, she beat me, but we drank champagne together at the end).

Porridge – this one’s for you xx

Race Goal: Get round. Don’t be a fool

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4. Poole 10k – 3rd June

This is one of my favourite races of the season.  Held in my home town of Poole in Dorset, the 10k is part of a Festival of Running that includes a series of minithons for children and a new half marathon this year.  The Poole 10k was my first ever 10k and I love it.

Race Goal:  Dare I utter the phrase PB…? Sub 45 would be just super please

5. Canada Day 10k – 1st July

I’m heading over to Vancouver in July, which just so happens to co-inside with Canada Day, and they’ve thoughtfully put on a 10k in my honour.  It would be rude not to wouldn’t it?!

Race Goal: Earn the post race Canada Day cake (they said there would be cake…)

6. Great North Run – 9th September

Having tried for years to get into this, I finally succeeded in 2017 but, knowing I wouldn’t be able to run with any kind of conviction, I decided to defer.  This year Newcastle and I are going head to head.  I’ll be ready.

Race Goal: To smash it.  Sub 1:45 at least

7. Berlin Marathon – 16th September

Again, I was gutted to have to pull out of this last year, but I was lucky enough to get a ballot spot for 2018 so I’m taking it as a sign that it was meant to be.  Armed with a group of Chasers, this is the big one for me this year.

Race Goal: PB please

8. A sub 21 minute 5k

A tall ask? Maybe. But, if I can go sub 22, I can go sub 21.  Goal before the year is out.

9. Complete my first triathlon

I don’t know when or where, but I fear I can no longer get through another year without succumbing to peer pressure.  You’ll find me at Wednesday night swim sessions soon. Maybe…

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10.  Swim Serpentine – 2 miles

I’m adding this to the list for two reasons, firstly I can’t bring myself to leave the list at 9, and secondly, if I do this one I get a HUGE London Classics medal that’s awarded to people who have completed the London Marathon, Ride 100 and Swim Serpentine.  Call me shallow, but I want it.  The only caveat is that I can’t find a date for 2018 and it may clash with Berlin. Fingers crossed (although I’m not quite sure for which outcome).

Let’s get cracking then…

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Reflections on a challenging year

It’s been an unusual year for me.  Unusual in that I haven’t run a single marathon…or even a half.  I do realise that makes me sound a little unusual, the irony isn’t lost on me.

I tried.  I was full of good intentions, and training plans, and I had my sights set high for a post-foot-surgery comeback… but it wasn’t to be.  Instead I didn’t even start the last three marathons I entered.

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My running kinda went downhill after missing my goal in 2016’s London Marathon.  I lost faith.  Then I ended up having surgery to correct a painful ongoing foot problem which wiped me out.  It took longer to get back to running than anticipated and then I got the fear every time I put my trainers on.  You know, the fear that makes you want to do absolutely ANYTHING else other than what you’re supposed to do.

Track Fear

Sometimes I gave into the fear.  Sometimes I didn’t.  They say things fall apart so that better things can come together.  I guess we’ll see about that.  However, 2017 is coming to an end and it’s time to find some positivity in the things I have done rather than dwelling on those I haven’t, so I tried to find some.

1. I got back on my feet

OK, so I haven’t run all that much this year, but I have run.  I have picked myself up and started the journey back to my usual runner-bean self.  It’s been hard. It’s been physically hard because I felt like I had to teach myself how to run again and it’s been mentally hard because running scared me.  But I got back on my feet.

2. I bought me a bike and cycled almost 3 times as many miles as I ran this year

Yep, me, a bright new shiny pretty blue bike!  And I quickly had to learn how to ride it in cleats, on London roads, because I gave myself just two short months to prepare for Ride 100.

FYI, 2 months is probably, PROBABLY not long enough to go from semi-regular gym spinner to lycra clad 100 mile road cyclist…probably.

First time in cleats on Wimbledon Common

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3. I took that bike and rode 100 flippin’ miles

Which was HARD.  Why didn’t anyone tell me??  Why does everyone have to make cycling look so damn easy?!  Still, I completed my first ever cycling sportive in one piece, and I even started to enjoy it once I remembered to feed myself.  It actually turned out to be 120 miles after I had got myself there and back.  I did not leave my bed for the rest of the day (to be fair there wasn’t much day left by the time I’d finished…)

I cycled 100 miles to the Queens house…I went the long way

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4. I got stronger

Every time I gave into my running fear I found myself at the gym instead.  A lot.  And I had forgotten how much I loved it.  I swapped runs for sweaty spin sessions and went to classes called ‘Broken’ and ‘Insanity’ and ‘Core Wheel’ – you name it, I was there.

I also started lifting/pushing/squatting heavy things again and fell in love with Body Pump once more.  It gives you a different kind of post-workout buzz – and a different type of post-workout ouch (big ouch).

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5. I officially became a Barre Babe (as Nesse calls us)

I’ve been a regular at my Monday night Barre class for about 18 months now and I’ve seen a real improvement in my strength.  Barre is a ballet inspired isometric strength class that works by holding your body still while you work a particular set of muscles to the point of exhaustion.  It hurts, but we do it to hardcore gangster rap (seriously), and have the occasional glass of prosecco after to numb the pain (also seriously).

I absolutely bloody love it and if you fancy it I can promise you that Nesse is the best (and most glamorous) Barre teacher in London – catch her on her website here or on Instagram here.

Nesse on the left…and us trying to be like Nesse on the right.  Photo credit: Instagram @nesseinlondon

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6. I went boxing at the Ministry of Sound

I mean, COME ON!

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So, it’s been an unusual year.  And I didn’t run a marathon. So what?

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Urban Cycling Club: The Next Generation Cycling Studio

This week I tried out Battersea’s brand new Urban Cycle Club and it’s unlike anything I’ve experienced before.  I quickly realised (just by walking through the door) was that it most definitely wasn’t a spin class.  I love a spin class, I really do, but spin is a general fitness class on sturdy, built-for-purpose bikes, rather than an actual cycling workout.

What Urban Cycling Club offer is a realistic cycling experience, on real road bikes, with real gearing systems that allow you to push yourself and hone your cycling specific fitness, without worrying about the London traffic and pollution and being sensible and stuff.  I know this because the workout left me with the same tired feeling I get after going out on my bike rather than a gym class… ie. ready for a long nap.

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The bikes themselves are fully adjustable and there are even some slightly smaller ones if you’re a bit shorter.  As the shortest member of our group I was on the smallest bike near the door, I wasn’t too keen on this at first but the cool night air turned out to be a winner because it got very sweaty very quickly.

The back wheel is attached to a turbo with some kind of top of the range computer system (very high techy-techy) that links to a computer screen directly in front of you. You can monitor your effort, RPM and heart rate (if you’re wearing a monitor) as well as watching your progress on the route.  It also allows you to see everyone elses stats so you can compare your performance.

The first thing we did was establish what our ‘Functional Threshold Power’ (FTP) was which we did by participating in a 15 minute race.  Your FTP is the highest average power you can sustain for an hour, measured in watts, and finding out what it is allows UCC to tailor the intensity of the ride to your individual bike based on your cycling level.  This means that, whilst everyone in the session is doing the same workout, the resistance on the bike is automatically programmed to your fitness level so everyone gets an equal workout.

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The races are fun!  Well, they probably would be if you didn’t come last (ahem) but the other people I was racing with were all super speedy professional-looking Chaser cyclists whilst I turned up post run in my running clothes (note: this was an error, padded shorts, ALWAYS wear padded shorts!) so I’m OK with finishing in a solid 7th place…

Anyway, during the races everyone is on equal ground, you cover the same course and control your own gears in the same way you would on the road, the idea is to simply get to the end first.  We then did a 25 minute interval session where the bikes were programmed to our personal FTP, we were all doing the same workout but the bike would adjust itself based on your fitness.  For example, if we went uphill, my bike would make it easier than Jack’s bike (race winner, didn’t like him) with the view that we were both putting in the same effort.  The screen infront of you told you what RPM you were aiming for and all you had to do was stick to it.  If you did you got a bloody good workout!

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What’s awesome about UCC?

  • There are only 8 bikes so it’s a small group that allows you to get a lot of personal attention from the instructors
  • They will help you establish your FTP
  • You will create your own personal profile with your height, weight, FTP and a history of your rides
  • You can literally race your friends
  • All the gory details of each session are emailed to you as soon as you finish
  • They use real road bikes with real gears
  • You don’t have to worry about falling off or getting into an argument with an idiot driver/other cyclist/small child/excitable puppy
  • It really is some top of the range technology
  • They play some banging tunes
  • There’s lockers, showers, sweat towels and even cycling shoes to hire if you don’t have your own
  • They’re super friendly and go out of their way to help you (useful if, like me, you’re not an experienced cyclist and have lots of questions)

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What’s not so awesome about UCC?

  • There are only 8 bikes – I imagine sessions will get booked up very quickly
  • The seats! At least the seats on a non-padded bum.  Don’t be a fool and rock up in your running compression tights like I did, it will hurt!

If you’re a keen cyclist I really think you’re going to love it. However, don’t be scared if you’re not a super speedy ‘pro’ cyclist, I’m definitely not, but one of the things I loved most about this was that it allowed me to train on a real bike in a safe environment which I think is really important to help newer cyclists build their confidence.  Go along and give it ago, it’s a really unique set-up and a lot of fun!

*Sadly the Urban Cycle Club has now closed

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Fight Night at Ministry of Sound

Last Friday I went to Ministry of Sound.  However, in stark contrast to the days of the past where I would turn up to a nightclub in impossible-to-walk-in sky high heels and too-short miniskirt, I was comfortably in my favourite lycra and trainers.  That may have been the only thing that was comfortable about the evening however…

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One of the girls at work introduced me to Ministry does Fitness.  It used to be the club’s ‘hidden booze vault’ but has been transformed into a training studio where, as they say, you will sweat your arse off for results.  However, it wasn’t the reasonable sounding ‘cardio’, ‘core’ or ‘endurance’ classes she had in mind, no, it was Hiitbox Volume V.

What is Hiitbox?

“Sonja Moses and her team of Hiitbox Ninjas will deliver that fight night feeling, challenging you to unleash your inner badass and bring your A-game to this high energy HIIT boxing experience! 12 rounds of pads interspersed with high intensity fitness moves accompanied by a live DJ and MC”

Slightly different to the usual Ministry does Fitness classes, Hiitbox is a special event that takes place in the famous London nightclub itself and is all wrapped up by 9pm so the traditional revelers can take over.  I didn’t really know what to expect but, for £30, I was expecting something a little bit special.

Genna and I turned up to the club just before 18.30 where we wrapped our hands up and waited outside for the fun to begin.  I wasn’t overly impressed by this bit, we had already handed our bags over and had to wait outside for just a little too long, it was cold despite the heaters.

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Eventually we were invited inside, reds to the left, blues to the right, accompanied by some hooded Hiitbox Ninjas.  They didn’t look friendly.  It was dark, I was separated from Genna who was on the other side, and we were all lined up against a wall in a corridor.  It was a little eerie.

Before I knew it, there were 3 hooded ninjas jumping up and down and screaming in my face to squat, ‘lower, lower, f**king LOWER’.  It was still dark.  ‘On the floor, push ups, NOW’.  ‘Get up, knees up, higher, higher.’  And that was just the warm up.  Fast, intense and bloody exhausting.  The lead ninja then simply laughed and said ‘now you’re all gonna get f**ked up’.  He was right.

Inside the club I was reunited with Genna and the real fight started.  It’s difficult to describe the atmosphere but the lights were low, the lasers were on, the DJ was in full force and, in true boxing style, an MC was on stage to introduce each of the ninjas and our instructor, Sonja Moses (this is a lady who personifies badass).

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We were then put through 12 rounds of 4 minute high intensity boxing routines each taking it in turns on the pads and gloves.  Starting with some simple punch sequences, that began slowly with, a focus on technique, and finished fast, with a focus on trying not to be sick, these progressed into more complex routines including roundhouse kicks and knee strikes.  The final round consisted of 4 solid minutes of punches and burpees, it was a killer.  I hated it. I loved it. I didn’t know how I felt.  My whole body was shaking.

Hiitbox is more than just an exercise class, it’s an experience that’s geared up to create a proper ‘fight night’ feeling.  There are full on theatrics, fighting talk, and ring girls, with an electric, high energy atmosphere brought about through a live DJ and Sonja herself.  Each round left you gasping for breath, it was intense, sweaty, challenging and totally exhilarating.

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In hindsight, although £30 isn’t cheap, it’s in keeping with London’s boutique spinning studios and bootcamps that easily charge £20 an hour for a regular class, plus you were supplied with water throughout and drinks and snacks at the end.  I was promised “the freshest beats, biggest sound-system, legendary coaches and an epic full body workout” and that’s exactly what I got.

Be warned though, at some point in the middle of the night I woke up and realised I could barely move my entire body.  You will go hard and you will hurt, but if you like being pushed to your limits, you’re gonna love it.

Go with a friend, go with your hand wraps, go with an open mind and go with bags of energy.  But GO!

The Crew. Photo: Tom Webb @tomwebb_photographer

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