Eye of the Tri-Ger: Thorpe Park Triathlon

It was 4:15am when the alarm went off on Sunday.  I ignored it.  The first thing you learn about triathlons is that they start early.  As in, you have to get up in the middle of the god damn night early.  It was the morning of the Thorpe Park Olympic Triathlon, our club champs, and I had decided I wanted to be part of a relay team.  At 4:15 in the morning I couldn’t tell you why.

By 4:38 I realised I absolutely had to get out of bed, throw on my race kit, get myself down to Thorpe Park for the briefing, and assure my teammates I was alive and kicking and ready to race.

The lake was ready and waiting

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I decided pretty late in the day I wanted to be part of the club champs, there were over 100 Chasers signed up and we were co-hosting with the Tri Project, so my FOMO got the better of me.  On the plus side, I figured if I managed to get in a team at this stage, I would be with other people late to the party so I would be in a ‘slower’ team.  Wrong. So very and frighteningly wrong.

When Rachael said she was looking for a cyclist and a runner to be part of a team I jumped at the chance.  The only problem is, Rachael is a very strong swimmer, she’s practically a fish. I tried not to worry about it.  Then Darren decided he wanted to join as the cyclist… I didn’t know how fast Darren was on the bike, but I knew how fast he was at running and given he’s spent the last year or so focusing mainly on the bike, I could only assume he was up there with the best.  Looks like I was the weakest link then.

We named ourselves the Eye of the Tri-Ger (see what we did there?!) and I quietly hoped they weren’t expecting us to win (OK, maybe not so quietly, in fact I was quite audible about it, especially as Darren had actually been in the winning relay team last year).

The swimmers are off

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It was 6:10 when I arrived, a little later than promised but I’ve never been a morning person (which may be why I’ve never got into this tri thing…) and it was heaving with friendly Chaser faces.  I found the team, we went to the race briefing and it was time to cheer on the swimmers.  Everyone was together, because there were so many of us, all Chasers, both solo and teams, were in Wave 1.  The water didn’t look as intimidating as I thought it might but we had been warned there were patches of weeds that could cause panic if you got caught up in them so I was glad I wasn’t in there.

After Rachael set off on the 1500m swim, the nerves kicked in.  There wasn’t anything left to do but hang around, go to the toilet 6 times and panic.  It wasn’t long before the swimmers came in, Rachael was, unsurprisingly, one of the first out, a little distressed from losing both her swim hats but otherwise OK, she had smashed it and Darren was off on the 40k cycle.

Darren and I hanging around in transition and Rachael coming back from the swim

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I still had about an hour to kill.  The swimmers were finished and chilling out whilst the runners were pacing around and wondering who would be back first.  We had a lot of quick cyclists out there so it could be a number of people.  The first was back in under an hour, it was one of our solo triathletes, quickly followed by 2 more.  It was really difficult to tell who was coming in off the bike because everyone was wearing Chaser kit, a helmet and sunnies.

The 4th cyclist came in.  It looked like Darren. Was it Darren?  Oh no, it was Darren, he was in 4th place and we were first in the relays!  After a brief helmet issue, the the timing chip was on my ankle and I was off on the 10k run…in 4th pace…whhhaaaaaa.

As I set off, with just 3 people in front of me, I tried to keep my cool and not panic.  I ran up the grass with cheers behind me and rounded the corner to a path.  It was empty.  How exactly do you set the pace on an empty road when you’re trying to race a 10k without burning out too early but still giving it your all?  I didn’t know.  I just ran.

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It was warm.  The sun was beaming down and bouncing off the ground creating a mugginess that’s unusual for 8:30 in the morning.  There wasn’t a breeze.  I tried to relax and enjoy the epic lead whilst it lasted.  The course was 3 laps so it wasn’t long before I saw the boys in front of me heading back in the opposite direction.  At 1k my watch beeped, I hadn’t started it properly, dammit!

On the switchback I saw Rich Bull from another relay team, he was about 1k behind so I knew he’d overtake me soon.  He did.  He flew past.  As did several more over the first lap.  I was expecting it to feel quite demoralising being overtaken at such speed, it was quite clear I had no business being in this end of the field, but it wasn’t, because I was surrounded by Chasers.

The course twisted round the park and past a few rollercoasters which was fun, or it would have been fun if my lungs weren’t burning and my legs were moving as quickly as I told them to.  Most of the marshalls were Chasers and at about 3k I saw one of my favourite Chasers (and running mentors) Mike.  He gave me a confidence boosting cheer and I was so happy to see him…I don’t think I smiled.

A smiley Mike

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Past a few more rollercaosters was another Chaser gem, Danny, he also gave me a big cheer…I don’t think I smiled.  Before I knew it I was running past the finish line and on lap 2.  By this point the course was busier as more people started the run leg.  I had no idea who was overtaking me and who was still on the first lap although Danny confirmed I was still 2nd woman.

It was still very warm.  On the 3rd lap I simply concentrated on reaching Mike.  He gave me another big cheer.  I still didn’t smile.  Then Danny.  He gave me a cheer.  May have managed a thumbs up.  I then started to speed up thinking the finish was round the corner, but my sense of distance was messed up after starting my watch late.  It went on. And on.  Finally I reached the finish line, a bit of a sweaty mess.

Eye of the Tri-Ger. 3rd place Chaser Relay Team

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I didn’t know what time I’d run but I knew it wasn’t very fast.  It turned out I’d started the run in 4th place and finished in 15th, of the Chasers at least, I’m not sure where we ended up when all the waves were accounted for (sorry guys!).  Only 2 women overtook me though so it could have been worse.

Chaser Domination

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Rachael and Darren found me, we got our medals and ate some cake.  It’s what all good Chasers do.  Despite my fear of letting the team down (completely unfounded fear, no one put any pressure on at all), I had a great time, it was fun to do something a bit different.

Huge thanks to my supportive teammates Rachael and Darren, it was a privilege to race with you, I enjoyed the feeling of being out there in the front for a change! Huge thanks to Mike and Danny, who I genuinely looked forward to seeing on every lap despite my poker face.  And huge thanks to everyone involved in organising such a logistically challenging event.  I may, very possibly, attempt to go solo next year.

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Chaser cakes!

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Confessions of a Runner

1.We’re obsessed with Strava

  • Who ran what, where, when and HOW fast?!  No way, the GPS must be wrong…oh yes, that complicated zig zag, that’s not right is it?
  • Errrr, excuse me, I’ve just run a Parkrun PB, why hasn’t the random-guy-I’ve-never-met-but-stalks-my-every-move given me kudos yet??
  • It really looks like that guy sprinted the last half mile of their run to improve their average pace.  That’s just silly.  I would never do that.

Yep, we spend much more time stalking Strava than any other social network. Because we have to. Kudos.

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2. When people ask us how far our next marathon is we want to jab them in the eye with a pencil

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  AAARRGHHHHHHHH.

When we don’t quite know someone well enough to poke them in the eye with a blunt object, and we have to smile politely and explain how marathons work, a little part of us dies inside.

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3. When we get drunk we sign up to all the races

Most people get drunk and do stupid things. But when we get drunk, our stupid thing is to sign up to all the races.  It doesn’t really matter what distance they are, or how far away they are, or if we have to race against wild horses, or trains, or jump into freezing bogs in the middle of them (all actual races by the way). No, one bottle of prosecco and we sign up to all the races that exist in the whole wide world.

Then we wake up and wonder why we’re poor.

THEN we realise what we’ve done and that we actually have to run the damn things.

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4. We Lie

Not all the time.  But sometimes.  You know when we tell you we can’t go for a drink on a Friday night because it’s our neighbours, cousin’s, best mates annual BBQ and we promised to look after their pet tortoise Jimmy?  Well, that’s not strictly true.  It’s actually because we know one drink leads to 16 and we can’t possibly risk having a Parkrun hangover.  In our defense, it’s not just Parkrun…there’s usually brunch and cake and stuff…

Sadly, little Jimmy the Tortoise does not exist in real life.  Well he might do, but we don’t care if he gets fed or not.

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5. We own more pairs of trainers than any other type of shoe

And we need all of them. Don’t ask questions.

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6. We suffer extraordinary things to make sure a run goes to plan

Not long ago I was getting ready to run to my tempo session from work when I realised I didn’t have any socks. None at all.  After begging everyone who was left in the office for the socks they were still wearing, I finally came up trumps with a pair of colleagues gym socks…that he had already worn to the gym earlier that day…and were still sweaty.

I see no problem with that.

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7. We don’t always have time to wash our hair

Running can take up a lot of time, what with having to do muggle activities like working and sleeping as well.  It  means we don’t always have time to partake in life’s little luxuries such as washing our hair.  Sometimes, just sometimes, we’ll take a hairdryer and just dry the sweat right out.

Ironically, these always seem to be the days when people politely comment ‘your hair looks good today, have you done something different?’ Yeah, it’s sweat mate, 8 miles of pure sweat.

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8. Post long run pain is our favourite

When we’ve run a long way it hurts.  It hurts during the run, and it definitely hurts after.  We put our legs up against the wall, waddle up stairs, climb down them backwards and shuffle along the street. But we like that pain, it means we worked hard, and it will make us stronger.  In fact, that pain just means we’re winning at life.  So giggle all you want, we don’t care.

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9. Injuries make us angry. Like, really angry

You need to understand that, when we’re run-injured  and we can’t run, it is the end of the actual world.  And you can’t help in any way.  In fact, you can only really make it worse.

I know it was only a few days ago we were moaning about our training schedule and how tired we were.  But that was when we could run.  And now we can’t run.  So that means the only thing in the world we want to do is run.

No it’s not ‘nice to have a rest’, it’s not ‘good to take a break’, and it’s definitely not ‘fun to go for a swim instead’.  JUST. BACK. OFF.

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10. We don’t understand why you recoil in horror at our ‘easy 10 miler’

Because an easy 10 miler is simply that, we’re running 10 miles and we’re keeping it easy.  OK, maybe running 10 miles isn’t ‘easy’ but, what we mean is, we won’t be adding any strides, fartleks, tempo or MP (I know, I know, I lost you).

The problem is, our concept of distance is completely distorted, we think nothing of our 15 mile weekend run and, for that reason, it’s never wise to ask us if we think somewhere is close enough to walk.  We only know how long it takes to run there.  And therefore the answer is always yes.

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11. We don’t always WANT to go for a run

Despite everything I’ve said, we’re not always filled with joy at the prospect of going for another run.  Sometimes running is hard, and it hurts, and we would much rather sit on the sofa with a box of Lindt balls and watch back to back Friends episodes we’ve already seen 100 times.  But we run anyway. Because running is life.  And it’s the only life we know.  We don’t expect you to understand.

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When do you declare Game Over?

Katherine French. Liverpool Marathon. DNS.  That’s what it will say next to my name this weekend.  Another marathon, another fail.

After falling some way short of target in London, I wanted to give it another go whilst I was still marathon fit because, quite honestly, the thought of another season training for an Autumn marathon simply makes me want to throw allllll my trainers in the bin and swear a lot.  But it’s quite evident that I just don’t have that kind of speed in my legs at the moment.  Entering Liverpool and thinking I could smash it really wasn’t my brightest idea.

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It was all a bit too perfect.  5 weeks after London, a large UK marathon, a friend with a flat I could stay in, I’d even managed to wing a lift there and back.  But my heart and my body had a full blown argument that only my body could ever win.

I know exactly what would have happened.

  • Turn up at the start line
  • Full of hope, but knowing I probably wouldn’t make it
  • But maybe, just maybe I could make it?
  • Purposely set off just behind the 3:30 pacer and hang on for dear life
  • Curse the sodding hills that I was warned about
  • Fall off the pace
  • Get angry
  • Walk
  • Hate everyone overtaking me
  • Hate myself for being rubbish
  • Hate life
  • Be the the very last person to finish the Liverpool Marathon in the slowest time on record. Ever
  • Cry
  • Still not get into Boston
  • Hate running

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It might sound silly, but I know myself well enough to know that would be the most likely outcome right now.  It wasn’t worth it.

Last week someone said to me, in reference to London,

‘Remember when you spent 6 months training for a marathon and then jogged it?!’  

Whilst there was obviously an air of jest, it doesn’t change the fact that it is indeed true.  I trained really hard for London and still didn’t have what it takes to achieve what I wanted to.  I just can’t get that out of my head.  When it came to game time, the really serious-poker-face-hardcore bit, I jogged.

It’s definitely game over for this season.  But is it game over for good? I don’t know.  How do you know?  I’m not sure I have any coins left to play again.

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Annoyingly, I had cancelled all my fun weekend plans to go to Liverpool so I’m now plan-less for the Bank Holiday.  But instead of killing myself on the streets of Liverpool on Sunday, you’ll find me bumbling along the North Downs Way eating Jenn’s Jelly Babies (and other nutritional snacks), and talking to Barry about alarm clocks (and other important things).  I’m much happier about that.  I think.

When I finally made the decision to pull out I felt a huge sense of relief, I didn’t have to actually run another marathon!  But the dark cloud?  That hasn’t shifted yet.

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Green Belt Relay – Round 3!

Last weekend was the annual Green Belt Relay, it’s one of the Chasers favourite events of the year and never fails to be an awesome weekend away.

At the start line

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The Facts:

  • GBR is a 220 mile running relay around London’s scenic Green Belt
  • The race is made up of 22 stages over 2 days
  • Stages differ in length, terrain, elevation, and navigational difficulty to allow everyone to participate
  • Teams of 11 race 1 leg per day across the 2 days
  • A record 40 teams entered the GBR this year, Chasers made up 3 of them
  • Although the routes are marked, you are reliant on your own navigation to make sure you don’t get lost
  • The smooth running of the event relies on participation from all teams to help marshal each stage and provide water stations
  • It is not flat!

Marshaling duties – Chasers this way, Serpies, errr, that way…image

The Highs:

  • Chasers took 9 stage wins in total
  • Bryn smashed the leg 17 course record by over 3 whole minutes!
  • Leg 3 and Leg 14 were lovely routes
  • There was a pub right next to where Graham and I were marshaling (phew)
  • We got to stay at the high class Miami hotel in Essex again
  • I got to spend the whole weekend with Gemma
  • I didn’t crash a minibus!
  • It was Nathalie’s 30th birthday so there was lots and lots of cake
  • We rescued 2 injured runners from leg 10 and safely got them back to their friends and relations

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The Lows:

  • I had a bit of a breakdown on not just one, but both of my stages
  • My legs didn’t work
  • My lungs didn’t work
  • I was a little bit sick in a bush near the River Lea
  • We accidentally forgot to pick up the leg 10 runners at the end of their run – sorry 😦
  • Sleep. There was none
  • A Serpie on leg 17 rudely told our helpful marshals to ‘get out the way, I know where I’m going’ – Simon Barrett, shameful & unnecessary, you give Serpies a bad name

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The Learnings:

  • There’s a possibility I still haven’t fully recovered from the London Marathon
  • It’s easier to write the route on your hand than look at a map
  • No matter how many times Gemma tells you how pathetic you are, it won’t make your legs move faster
  • No matter how pathetic you actually are, Gemma will never leave you
  • It’s much more fun to cartwheel and pirouette at the finish line than run sensibly
  • No one can beat Bryn
  • You can always count on Ross to run an extra leg if there’s an injury
  • You can also always count on Ross to wear very tight shorts
  • No one enjoys Ross’s very tight shorts as much as our Barry. He even has a special dance
  • You can’t wash your hair with a bar of soap no matter how hard you try (and Jenn really did try)
  • The Green Belt Relay was, as it always has been, a very well organised, fun and all-round brilliant event

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Huge thanks to the Stragglers, and everyone else involved in organising the GBR, and Bryn for organising the Chasers.  Until next year!

The Finish Line

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The only real trouble with the Green Belt Relay is that there is no down time, no time for a drink, and definitely no time to pop into a cactus fair…

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London Marathon #4: The One That Got Away

I got the feeling early on I wasn’t going to hold the pace.  I just knew it.  By the time mile 18 rolled around I had reduced myself to a walking break and everything felt a little fuzzy.  Despite Chris telling me we could still make it, and quite literally pushing me along, I could feel the A plan, the B plan and the C plan slowly slipping away.  The London Marathon dream was over and all I could do was simply finish.

The thing with the marathon is that it is unpredictable, and no matter how experienced you are, and how prepared you are for every eventuality you can control, there is still a lot you can’t control and you have to be a little lucky on the day for everything to go your way.

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I’m not sure I could have been much more prepared for my 4th attempt at the London Marathon.  I got a lot of things right, I felt good, and I knew I was in good shape, but something just didn’t quite go my way.  Instead of bringing home a new shiny PB to be proud of, and the BQ I desperately wanted, I trundled over the finish line in 3 hours 53.  Not a bad time I know, but it wasn’t the day I wanted and it wasn’t the race I’d trained for.  It was, however, the race I got.

I met some of the Chasers at the tube station bright & early on Sunday morning but it wasn’t long before Alex had to leg it back home again to pick up his forgotten timing chip (ohhhh, Alex!!).  We arrived in good time and I met Chris who had once again offered to pace me, despite having just run both Manchester and Brighton marathons in the last 2 weeks! Due to my poor pacing skills and self-doubt, I lept at this chance and was really pleased to be able to avoid the official pace groups (which get very busy) and have someone I knew by my side.

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It was a perfect day for running, cool, dry and not too sunny.  I had 4 plans, the A plan was to finish in under 3:35, the B plan was a guaranteed BQ and the C plan was a GFA, and the D plan was to never run a marathon ever again.

The start was crowded as usual but, as we were in a start pen further back than we wanted, there was a lot of weaving in and out of people and the first mile was slow. I tried not to panic and Chris stopped me tearing off at a silly pace to make up the difference. We soon settled into a good pace around 8mm, the crowds lined the streets, I saw Barry screaming at me at mile 6, and I remembered why I love the London Marathon so much!

Without Chris I most definitely would have ran the first few miles too fast so I just concentrated on following him.  The weather stayed perfect and, apart from a brief spot of hail, it was dry and the sun wasn’t too warm when it did come out.  Around mile 9/10 I had the distinct feeling I wasn’t going to keep up, I voiced my concerns but Chris wasn’t having any of it and we cracked on.

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I saw Mum & Dad on the opposite side of the road around the half way point and my friends Rick & Merissa cheering very loudly.  The Chasers were at mile 14.5, I was really looking forward to seeing them but for some reason I didn’t know they were there until we’d past.

By the time we were around mile 18 I had to stop and walk, I felt dizzy and all I remember was Chris saying ‘you’re better than this, come on’.  I tried to negotiate some walking breaks and we agreed we’d have one at 20 miles but I didn’t even make it that far until I was walking again.

After that, everything is a bit hazy and it became a cycle of me stopping to walk, Chris giving me some tough love and pushing me on, and each mile rolling by.  The Chasers were just after the 20 mile mark and there was no missing them this time, it was just what I needed!  Run Dem Crew were at mile 21, who always deliver on support, and Mum & Dad at 22.5.  I know there were other people out there shouting at me, sorry if I missed you!

I wasn’t feeling at all good, I felt sick and a bit out of it but I really couldn’t tell you why.  Chris dutifully picked up water whenever I wanted it and offered non-stop encouragement, but I knew I wasn’t getting a BQ and was increasingly unlikely to get a PB.  I tried to soak in the atmosphere that only the London Marathon offers, look at the sites and do as I was told, the miles were still ticking by.

With just 1km to go I still found myself walking and bumped into fellow Chaser Dorcas, she saw me walking and came back for me.  We finished the Frankfurt Marathon in exactly the same time so she said we would finish this one together too! Plodding down the home straight, it was a 3:53 finish, a comfortable sub-4, but no where near what it should have been.  I had executed a perfect D plan (no more marathons).

No BQ, no GFA and no PB. Gutted.

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All I really wanted was to sit down, but sitting down on the finish line is often frowned upon, so, with Chris holding me up, I shuffled, and shuffled, and eventually made it to my bag and my parents.

Chris was, yet again, a total star. He said all the right things, pushed me when I needed it and was even the water boy!  I think I would have easily come in a lot slower without him there, but he didn’t take any of my babbling, nonsensical crap and made sure I didn’t give up, I was all ready to have a little sit down on the side of the road at one point.  I’m just sorry I couldn’t quite achieve this time, or do what I said I was going to do, sorry Chris!

I’m obviously disappointed with my performance, but I’m not nearly as upset as I thought I would be.  Maybe it’s because I still got to run the London Marathon, and the London Marathon truly is the greatest marathon on earth, and I even got to run it with Chris.

I don’t know what went wrong, I was ready and I was prepared, I even had a personal pacer, but it just wasn’t to be.  Right now I’m completely torn between:

  • Flying to Latvia in a couple of weeks to try again (perfect timing but I don’t speak the language)
  • Heading to Liverpool at the end of May (much closer, but not so perfect timing and I don’t speak the language)
  • Heading to Estonia in September for the last chance before Boston opens (more time to recover, but the thought of  another marathon season makes me want to throw all my trainers away)
  • Honestly never running another marathon again (the best idea I’ve ever had but I’m going to need some new friends)

Even I don’t know what I’m going to do next but I’m definitely looking forward to a summer of shorter races and post run ciders in the sunshine!

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Hey London. I’m Ready!

On Saturday morning I smashed my Parkrun PB, knocking 19 seconds off my previous best and a whopping 1 minute 13 seconds of my PB this year!  My PB now stands at 21:50, it’s the confidence booster I desperately needed AND one of my 2016 goals achieved!

I didn’t do it alone though.  One of the best things about being a Chaser is the support you get from others and I was lucky to have not 1, but 2 Chasers pacing me round Dulwich Park.  I wanted a sub 22, but I didn’t know if I could do it, I really didn’t, and I was a bit worried Rob and Nick would be annoyed if they had gone out of my way to help me and I failed.  A sub 22 always seemed so out of reach.

With some strong words from Gemma beforehand, I set off determined to block out everything around me other than what the guys were telling me, they knew exactly which line to take, I drafted when it was breezy and I kept on their heels.  I always, always set off too fast so it felt surprisingly comfortable until the last half a mile or so…I thought I was slowing down a lot but I didn’t want to look at the pace.  When we hit the last 200m both Rob and Nick were shouting ‘come on, come on’ and I thought I’d missed it, I could barely believe it when I saw the time, it was a comfortable sub 22!

I am absolutely elated with my new PB and hugely grateful to Rob and Nick for helping me achieve it, thank you!

As an aside, I think it’s incredibly sad, and shameful, that Stoke council have voted to charge runners for Little Stoke Parkrun because, apparantly, they need to replace the path (a path that is no doubt used by a whole range of people throughout the week, not just Parkrunners).  In a society where we should be actively encouraging people to eat less and move move, Parkrun has been instrumental in getting a huge number of people off the sofa and into their trainers.  It really has revoluntioned Saturday mornings and this is a massive blow to the Parkrun community who’s ethos has always been about providing free, safe events that are accessible to all.

If you want to support Little Stoke, you can sign the petition here  #LoveParkrun

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Of course, I know that a 5k PB doesn’t mean a marathon PB, but it has made me realise I can achieve things I thought were beyond me, especially with a little help.

It’s the final few days before London and I’ve been testing the carb-depletion diet.  The science behind it is, by spending a few days eating a low carb diet, you deplete your muscles of their glycogen stores so when you begin the carb loading process they can store more glycogen than they could before, and more glycogen in the muscles means more fuel on race day.

I’ve read mixed reviews, and I don’t know if it will make a difference, but some people swear by it and I had nothing to lose by giving it a go, marginal gains and all that.  Honestly, I can’t wait for all the carbs on Thursday though, there’s only so much fish, chicken, avocado, eggs and courgettes you can eat and I’m not really a ‘no-bread sandwich and hold the fries’ kind of girl!

Looking back over my training plans I’ve had some really strong runs, I know I’m in good shape and I know I can do it.  I just have to actually do it.  Plus, if I needed any more motivation, I have a bet with my friend Martin that I can beat him with a 55 minute handicap.  Loser buys the drinks all night.  I don’t want to be the loser.

I’m ready for you London, I’m ready.

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When the taper brings nothing but self-doubt

There’s less than 2 weeks to go until the London Marathon.  The day when the last 18 weeks of training are put to the test, the day when you realise if all the hard work and sacrifice was worth it, the day when you bask in glory…or crash and burn in a devastating fall from grace, the day when everyone else knows whether you succeeded, or whether you failed…

There’s less than 2 weeks to go until the London Marathon and that means it’s time for the taper to slowly chip away at every ounce of confidence you ever had.

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The taper’s a funny thing, you spend all winter looking forward to those 2/3 weeks at the end of your plan when the intensity drops back and the long runs look easy, but when it gets here it’s not quite as much fun as you thought.  By the time the taper arrives you know it’s too late to change anything, there’s absolutely nothing more you can do to make yourself fitter, stronger, or faster except wind down, rest and eat well.  It’s terrifying!

On Saturday I went for a Parkrun PB, I actually wanted more than a PB, I wanted a confidence boosting 21:59.  Having gone to bed early, and dragging myself out in the pouring rain on a Saturday morning, I fell off the pace quickly and finished in a disappointing 22:23.  Rubbish.

However, it was my 2nd best Parkrun time ever, and this time last year I could only dream of anything starting with a 22, surely that’s a positive thing and a sign that the hard work is paying off?  So, this Saturday I’ll be trying again, one last shot at sub 22 before judgement day.

It’s difficult not to question every decision I’ve made over the last few weeks.  Should I have picked up the pace a bit more in my long runs?  Could I have tried just a bit harder in the Hampton Court half?  Should I have pushed through the last 2k at track last week when my legs didn’t work rather than bowing out?  Did I run too fast at tempo?  Was 3 x 20 milers enough?  Could I have done more, run further, tried harder???

Once you throw in the phantom injuries, imaginary niggles and overwhelming paranoia you realise the taper is anything but fun.  You’re convinced you’re going to get sick from the snotty nosed teenager that just sneezed on you, or you’re going to accidentally fall off a bridge into the Thames and break your leg, or Snoopy, the crazy dog who lives down the road, is going to bite your arm off and tear you limb from limb.  Convinced. (Snoopy really is a nutter you know).

I really don’t know what race day will bring this time.  I do know that I’ve run more miles (yes, I’ve counted), and put in more effort (yes, I’ve calculated) than I have for any other marathon, but I really don’t know if I’ve done enough.  I do know that I’m not ready for this taper, not ready at all.

And I don’t know if I can do it.

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Never be ashamed of a scar

I’ve never quite been brave enough to share this story before now, but finding the courage to do so makes me realise how far I’ve come, and how much running has made a difference to my life.  It’s scary to admit you had a problem, a problem where you were addicted to self destructive behaviour that led you down a dark path.  It’s scary, and a little bit embarrassing.  Despite being a problem that affects many people, particularly in the world of sport, it’s a topic that people just don’t talk about enough.  I’ve read many peoples stories that have helped me in the past, so if my story can help someone else then it’s worth sharing.  Please be aware this post discusses eating disorders.

I wasn’t always as fit and strong as I appear to be now.  I say appear to be because, most of the time, I really don’t feel it.  But, despite this, I’m aware of my achievements and I’m aware that I couldn’t have achieved them without being fit and healthy and having a sensible approach to nutrition.  It’s something I have learned over many years.  Running has become so much more than a hobby to me, it literally keeps me sane and it’s showed me how strong I can really be.  When I can’t run, it’s fair to say I’m pretty unbearable to be around.

What most people don’t know about me is that I was bulimic.  Whilst I believe it’s a battle I’ve well and truly won, it will always be a part of me and I’m not sure I will ever have a ‘normal’ relationship with food.  My illness was characterised by a combination of restrictive eating, long periods without food, binging and purging, pretty text book you could say.

Eating Disorder charity, Beat, estimate more than 725k people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder, but the true number is likely to be much higher.  And it’s not just women, around 25% of those are men.  Eating disorders can be difficult to understand, they’re complex and built on distorted versions of reality and cycles of behaviour that are difficult to break.  They also carry a certain stigma that people need to ‘just get over it’ or ‘it’s a lifestyle choice’ that means it has become a taboo subject, it really needs to change.  No one with an eating disorder would ever choose to have one, it’s lonely & isolating and physically & mentally exhausting.

In a country where we now face an obesity crisis that is becoming a national health issue, and we’re bombarded with reams of airbrushed and photo shopped images throughout the media, as well as on social platforms, being more open and honest about eating disorders and food issues is more important now than it ever has been.  I worry about young people growing up in a world surrounded by social pressure and unrealistic expectations that dangerously blur the lines between fact and fiction.  There’s not enough transparency around the fact that a lot of what you see simply isn’t real.

Like a lot of people, I started running to lose weight, it’s the easiest way to drop the pounds, but I didn’t enjoy it.  Exercise was simply a way to burn calories, that’s all.  But as time went on I did start to enjoy it and it became something I wanted to get better at, setting my sights on longer distances and faster times.  Around about this time my relationship with food changed from being destructive to much more positive and shaped by smart choices.  You just can’t run on empty, or at least not very far, and I started to see food as a source of fuel.

On Sunday I ran a 20 mile race with my club, I don’t need to tell you that 20 miles is a long way, but in all honesty, I often forget to respect the long distance runs and the demands it places on the body.  Recently I’ve been feeling completely exhausted and I was determined last week to stick to all my sessions, knock out some big miles, take my iron supplements, eat well and sleep well.  I came away with a new 5k PB and a solid 20 mile training run.  On Saturday, I ate healthily and ate enough to fuel my run, I’m not saying that was the only factor, but I have never felt as strong over 20 miles as I did on Sunday.  I was delighted with my pace and the way I felt.  Eating like a marathon runner sometimes scares me, but I know it’s necessary and I know it makes a difference.

Not being able to run stresses me out more than I can put into words, I have been known to go into a frenzy worrying that I’m going to wake up 2 stone heavier.  Similarly, I can feel horrendously guilty if I don’t run as many miles as I planned because I don’t have the time, or don’t want to, or drank too much wine the night before.  It takes a lot of mental strength to cope with that.  I’m getting a lot better at it.

Bulimia no longer has any power over me, I don’t have room for that in my life anymore.  Running really changed my life, especially the commitment and dedication involved in marathon running, and, despite my ups and downs, it makes me happy.  Achievements make me happy.

I’m not sure if you ever fully recover from an eating disorder, it will always be a part of you, but it’s certainly not something that defines you and it’s definitely something you can shut the door on.

I will always be very conscious of what I eat and I will probably always struggle with body image, I accept that, but when I look back and see how far I’ve come, I realise that it’s no longer something that controls me.  I’m stronger now than I ever have been.

 

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Hampton Court Half & Project Boston

On Sunday I ran the Hampton Court Half Marathon.  I always think a half during marathon training gives you a real indication of how it’s going, it lets you know if you’re on track to hit your target, or if you need to re-evaluate your goal.  For this reason I was nervous, more nervous than I had been about a race for a while.

In October I ran a 1:50 and a 1:49 half but, according to the McMillan race calculator, I needed to be running 1:42:30 to get a comfortable BQ in the marathon.  It felt like a lot to shave off…

It was a pretty early start to get over to Esher for an 8:30am race start but I was pleased to bump into some other Chasers.  They operated a wave start system but, rather than using coloured zones and policing it, people could start where they wanted so it wasn’t ideal.  It also started late, 16 minutes late to be exact, which was quite frustrating when you’re stood in the cold in just a vest.  Apparently there were issues with the park & ride system where they wanted people to pay £6 and get on a bus to the start – I ignored this and parked near the start for free, looks like that was a good idea all round.  Definitely room for improvement on the organisational front.

I made the bold decision to start with the 1:40 pacer, or rather hang just behind the 1:40 pacer and see what happened.  The plan was to hang onto him for as long as I could, but I didn’t want to let go until at least 7 miles…ideally.

The route was on a lot of pavements along open roads which I think made it difficult for the pacer to keep an even pace, add in  weaving around people who had started in the wrong place and I felt like I was all over the place! Every time we sped up I thought I was going to lose him, then we settled down again and it felt comfortable.  This went on until around 6.5 miles when he started to disappear as we ran along the river.

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Annoyingly I had forgotten to turn the mile alerts back on my watch after my last track session so I didn’t really know how much time I was losing, but I felt like I was plodding.  Often during the back half of a race I mentally give up, I allow myself to slow down and tell myself I don’t care about the clock, but that didn’t happen, I just kept pushing as much as I could.

The last mile seemed to drag but eventually the crowds thickened and I crossed the line in 1:44:01…90 seconds off the pace but slightly better than I thought towards the end.  I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it, I’m still not.

The route itself wasn’t particularly scenic, apart from a small section where we ran past Hampton Court, it was quite dull.  It was fast and flat with great PB potential, but it took you on a lot of pavements along open roads which wasn’t ideal, together with the disappointing start I think the only reason I would do it again would be for convenience rather than anything else.  That said, you got a  great medal and the goody bag was well stocked!

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In summary

The Good:

  • I’m pretty sure Hampton Court was my second fastest half marathon ever
  • I finished in the top 8% of women
  • I couldn’t have given it anymore.  I honestly never stopped pushing which shows my mental strength is back on track
  • It was windy in the 2nd half…that may have made me a bit slower…
  • There are still 9 whole weeks until the London Marathon
  • My Run Britain handicap is heading in the right direction
  • I’m not giving up yet and, if all else fails, I’m bang on track for a PB

The Bad:

  • The splits aren’t great – I fell off the pace and it hurt
  • I was about 90 seconds away from where I needed to be to be on track for a BQ.  That’s actually quite a lot
  • It’s only 7 weeks until the taper…

The Ugly:

  • The outlook for project Boston is looking distinctly grey and cloudy
  • I know I won’t be happy simply with a PB in London

Project Boston – to be continued…

On the plus side, I think I made back my race entry fee in Vita Coco, my favourite!

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Only Human

This week my body gave up on me.  Easy jogs home from work not to anger my hamstring, emergency doctors appointments, and 2 days working from my bed was not what I had planned for this week.  My immune system appears to be punishing me.

I’ve been feeling exhausted over the last couple of weeks.  It’s probably not surprising considering I’ve been consistently running more miles than I ever have done, as well as regular spinning classes and yoga.  Throw in a busy job in advertising that doesn’t let me sit still for 5 minutes and seeing friends and I’ve been wiped out.

I’m pretty good at looking after myself, most of the time.  I eat a lot of fresh healthy food, my colleagues have stopped being surprised at the colour of my morning smoothies, I drink ridiculous amounts of water and I go to bed early when I’m tired.  But I’m also busy, and being busy can be exhausting.

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Over the last couple of weekends I’ve been really pleased with my long runs.  17-18 mile solo efforts with some faster paced miles and a strong finish, it’s been a refreshing change from last years laboured efforts.  However, my weekends have also been busy and I haven’t had the time to recover properly, like, erm eating actual food and resting.  Turns out not eating after 17 miles and rushing round London drinking all the prosecco until 3am isn’t ideal, especially when you don’t eat before your long runs either. Lesson learned.

Last week I promised myself I would eat more carbs, remember to take my iron supplements (despite peoples insistence that all I need is a big fat slab of blood-dripping cow flesh, it’s never going to happen) and get more sleep.  Despite keeping my promise I still couldn’t drag myself out of bed at 5.50am for my morning session and I still got poorly.  Blah blah blah.

This morning I was desperate to go to Parkrun.  Sadly, I didn’t make it.  But I’m listening to my body because, in the wise words of my fabulous friend Kate, it knows better than me.  I’m only human, it’s one of my biggest frustrations in life.

On the bright side, I did find the time to make these protein packed healthy Chickpea Blondies thanks to my friends at These Girls Do!

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