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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The Road to Brighton

With just 10 sleeps left until the Brighton Marathon I’m starting to get that familiar nervous, sickening, slightly uncontrollable panic that only the taper can bring.

How do you ever know if you’ve done enough?  People ask how you’re feeling, if you’re ready, whether you’ll hit your target…I genuinely don’t know what to say.  However, what I do know for sure is that the way I’m feeling now is worlds apart from how I was feeling this close to Amsterdam.

It’s fair to say my injury set me back more than I thought in October, foolishly I don’t think I ever really believed I was injured but, given it hurt to walk a lot of the time, I think it’s safe to say I was!  My runs were slow and laboured, my legs didn’t work and I just didn’t enjoy running.  Whilst Marathon day was nothing short of a disaster, it was a lesson well learned.

Coming out of Amsterdam my resolution was to remember why I love running and the most obvious way I could think of was to start running with my friends again.  Training for the last marathon involved a lot of long, slow, solo miles, I wasn’t going to track, I wasn’t going to tempo, I wasn’t having fun, and it clearly showed.

I went back to basics. My PB still stands in Frankfurt 2013 and that was the marathon I went into with no expectations.  It was the first time I had run 2 marathons in a year so I promised myself if I was going to do it I would only commit to 4 runs a week and I wouldn’t be a slave to the plan.

My approach to training for Brighton has followed these rules.  Of course there is a plan, it’s actually a very carefully structured and beautifully colour-coded spreadsheet (I love a good spreadsheet me) but it’s pretty fluid and flexible.

Sometimes, you really, really don’t feel like going for a run after back to back meetings, and other times you love nothing more than a stress busting 10 miler after work.  The body doesn’t always follow a plan, you have to roll with it.

Step 1: Get some speed back

The first thing I did was reinstate club track and tempo sessions into my training. I had become painfully slow, for me, and these sessions really work to improve your pace.

Hard, sweaty, lung busting speed sessions are tough, but meeting the club at track on a freezing night to chase them round a set of 800s, or having a gossip with Ruth and Laura before knocking out a few tempo laps of Battersea Park in the rain, is infinitely easier and more rewarding than plodding the dark streets of SW London on my own.

An Inviting Battersea Park: The Stomping Ground

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Step 2: Cross-Training

The next thing I did was commit to a yoga and spinning session each week.

I had forgotten how much I love spinning with it’s loud music and high energy.  Combining intervals and hills, spinning is great for some additional low impact training, and I’ve used this as a substitute for a 5th run.

Yoga has also become an important part of my plan to improve core stability, posture and muscle tone.  60 minutes of sun salutations, lunges, cobras, triangles, back bends, and even head stands, yoga has been more challenging than I thought it would be but I’m really starting to enjoy it.

I’m now one of those people that gets up at 5.50am on a Tuesday to get bendy on a mat in Waterloo. I don’t recognise myself.

Me: Being a Tree

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Step 3: Enjoying the LSR

Finally I wanted to start (sort of) enjoying the long runs again so, wherever possible, I’ve joined forces with some of the Chaser girls to tick off the miles together.  That’s what friends are for right?!

I genuinely have no idea how race day will go. I feel so much stronger than I did 6 months ago but I have an ongoing cramp in my calf and I’m still running slower than before Frankfurt…I don’t know.

To Brighton…

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