Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014

As expected, this blogpost, written on the last day of 2013, is all about what I've achieved this year and looking ahead to 2014. A few years ago I stopped resolving to give something up and instead decided to start doing something new. One year I learnt to knit, another to bake my own bread. I have found it a much more positive way to make small improvements to my life rather than trying to cut things out.

Last year I used the same approach to set myself race time targets...here's how I got on:

5K - Target was sub-25 minutes
This was a tough one- despite parkrunning almost every week, my 5K speed has not been a strong point and I'd often rather have a relatively easy social run than go out and smash it. Back in September though, after a summer of lots of cycling and running, I ran naked (without my Garmin) and was amazed to clock 24 minutes dead. Boom!

10K - Target was sub-55 minutes
This one was hard fought! I ran lots of 10Ks in the first half of the year but it was the flattish Huntingdon 10K that saw me sneak under my target time with 54.55. Since then I've run 2 others in better shape and was on track to knock a chunk off that until I discovered that not one, but both courses were short. After 9.5K of hard effort I did not want to see the finish line- I wanted to carry on and claim a real PB! Turns out that I don't really mind a rubbish goodie bag, or dodgy toilets - I just want a course that's the length it's supposed to be (though toilets and goodie bag welcome too...). So, goal achieved, but still felt my time wasn't reflective of my form - step up the New Years Eve Ely 10K. I'm currently recovering on the sofa from this one (first half a dream of slight downhills and wind behind us, second half like trying to run in treacle whilst someone aimed a hair dryer full blast on cold mode at your face, with a hill for added pleasure. And a bagpiper) but with a shiny new PB of 52.31 - thank you Ely Runners, I loved it but maybe turn the hair dryers down for next year!

Half Marathon - Target was Sub-2 hours
The difficulty with this target was the lack of opportunities. I'd run my first half in November 2012 in 2.07 so decided sub-2 was a realistic target. Despite training hard, the snow at the Cambridge Half (in March) coupled with poor fuelling contributed to a big but disappointing PB of 20 seconds over 2 hours. The pressure was on for the Royal Parks but luckily as regular readers will know, this race more than delivered and I finished delighted with 1.57.35.

So all 3 targets smashed...time to relax? No, of course not - I'm a runner and therefore never satisfied! In 2014 my targets are as follows...

5K - 23 something - my focus for the year isn't on speed but I'd like to hope this is still realistic!

10K - 50 something - one day, I'll be aiming for sub-50 but not quite sure I'm ready for that yet!

Half - sub 1.55 - bring it on Cambridge!

Marathon (the new one!): 
A- Finish it 
B - Sub 4.30
C - Sub 4.15

Here's to 2014! 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

C&C - Becoming a Club Runner

Although Christmas and Carols might be on my mind at this time of year, in this case C&C actually refers to Cambridge and Coleridge – a local running club which as of last night I am now a paid-up member of. I’ve been weighing up whether to join a club for a while now - I used to attend free Monday night sessions with a coach from C&C but they started at 6pm and with an increase in workload over the summer it became impossible to make it on time. Since I stopped going to those, I have missed the experience of running in a group but have still been nervous about joining the club.

In local races and parkrun I’m a middle of the pack runner, but I know that club runners are usually thought to be speedier than that – I wasn’t sure whether my pace would be welcome at a club - after all I won’t be winning any trophies (unless I keep running this pace until I’m a pensioner and then I might get a decent age-grading!). However, I’ve gradually got to know lots of club runners and have realised that actually they aren’t actually all speed-demons and, regardless of their pace, they are generally a friendly bunch. In fact, they are not really any different to non-club-runners – they just like running and get to run together in the cold, dark evenings, rather than by themselves!
My other concern was that the coached sessions might not match what my marathon training plan said I should be doing each week. However, chatting this through with a friend (who managed the awesome time of exactly 4 hours dead for his first marathon a couple of months ago) he said that he just gave over responsibility for his speedwork to the club session regardless of what his training plan said. Basically, you just need to include some intervals/speedwork and exactly what that is each week doesn’t really matter. Speaking to him and to other friends along with my husband who joined C&C a few months ago persuaded me to head to the club last night.

The session was described as “Off-track: Aerobic, 6 x 4:00, 3:00 recovery, West Site” which quite frankly was a complete mystery to me. We started off with 2 laps of the track as a warm up and then continued with some drills including skipping, high knees and strides, before jogging to the ‘West Site’ to start the actual session. The session was led by Coach Rich, who blew the whistle to set us off and we had to run at about 5K pace for 4 minutes, when he would blow the whistle again. We then had 3 minutes recovery, before the whistle blew again and we had to aim to get back to the starting point in 4 minutes. We repeated that twice more, each time aiming for the same spot. It was a good workout and I’m sure I pushed myself more than I would have done had I been trying to do a similar session by myself – it was also good not having to think about anything or look at the time – I just had to listen for the whistle and then go!

One of my favourite things about running is the community aspect and I am looking forward to being part of C&C. It also makes me chuckle that I was considered to be pretty rubbish at PE at school and yet now I’ll be donning a club vest for races. My thoughts on PE in schools is a topic for a whole other blog post though…

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The pre-marathon-training-training week

As I mentioned in my last post, I am starting my official training plan for Brighton marathon shortly. This week has been all about trying to find out what works for me and what doesn’t, so I thought I’d write a little update before Week 1 starts on Monday!

I like…
• Running in the evenings, but in order to do that I have to be organised in the morning or ideally the night before.
• Running home from work, but I have to make sure I plan an easy dinner because by the time I’ve got home, stretched and showered I am ravenous and too tired to cook anything complicated!
• My regular pilates class and that is going to remain a priority.
• The new yoga class I tried at my gym – ideal for rest days (though I know I need to schedule some complete rest days in aswell).

I don’t like…
• Running on weekday mornings. I have tried twice this week and failed miserably to get out of bed. I have to leave at either 7.30 or 8am to get to work and trying to fit in a run before that just means getting up too early especially at this time of year. This test week has taught me that I need to schedule my runs in for the evening and stick to that schedule regardless of more exciting invitations that might come my way!
• Cold ears, so I’ve bought a hat that makes me look like an elf (it’s a bit big) but has a hi-viz pompom so I don’t care.

I’ve still got to figure out…
• How to go to Pilates on Wednesday evening but still fit in my Wednesday run – the things I like and things I don’t like aren’t currently compatible on this point! I’m considering Wednesday lunchtimes but not sure whether I’d need to shower and that’s not really an option with current work facilities (and the time available). Alternative suggestions on a postcard/tweet/blog comment please!

Has anyone else been finding out what works for them? It’s important to get it right if this is going to be my life until April…

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Marathon Motivation

As I have mentioned before, I am running Brighton Marathon on 6th April 2014. This will be my first marathon, having run 76 parkruns, numerous 10Ks and 3 half-marathons since I started running in summer 2011.  Like many would-be marathon runners I am feeling daunted by the challenge, but also excited. I am very aware that training over the winter will be tough – I do actually prefer training in the cold, but it is hard to remember that when it is dark, freezing and I’ve just done a long day at work.  

My training plan officially started yesterday (I have a 16 week Runners World schedule, but I’ve added in some additional weeks in case of injury or illness) but I’ve been looking ahead to January and February and thinking about how to ensure I stay motivated.  Luckily, I’m not the only runner facing the same challenges and one of my favourite podcasts, MarathonTalk, is running a challenge called Jantastic. I participated last year and found it really helped me to make sure I ticked off my weekly runs. You can sign up from December and basically you pledge the number of runs that you are going to do each week throughout the period. Last year I went for 4, which at the time was challenging but manageable and helped me to a good PB at the Cambridge Half Marathon (in March). This year, my marathon training plan requires 5 runs a week, so that is what I will be pledging. It already feels daunting, but I am sure that Jantastic will help me brave the wintry conditions and get out there.
My training plan doesn’t just include running. I’m lucky in that I have never had a serious injury, but I have, for want of a better word, dodgy knees. My right knee in particular tends to get stiff and occasionally painful. I’ve had it checked out by a physio who couldn’t see anything in particular wrong – it is likely to be weak, tight muscles rather than an issue with the joint itself. Over the summer I did a strength session at the gym every week (weighted lunges, squats etc) and did see some improvement.  Over Autumn I stopped doing the sessions as regularly but recently the knee pain is back, so the sessions are on the plan again – initially fortnightly to make it manageable, but I’ll see how that goes.
On top of the strength sessions, I know that I need to improve my flexibility. I already do a weekly Pilates class and I am hopeful that increased core strength will help support my body as the training runs get longer. However, I have been thinking for a while about adding in a yoga class to focus specifically on stretching rather than strength. Charlie from one of the other blogs that I follow, The Runner Beans is organising a 21 day Yoga Challenge for January and I have decided to join in. Charlie has kindly allowed me to bend the rules slightly by including Pilates as well as Yoga, but it will still be tricky to attempt to fit in 5 runs a week, a strength session and 21 yoga/Pilates sessions over the course of 31 days! I’m looking forward to embracing the increased exercise though (and the additional food and sleep that comes with that) and will be blogging my way through all aspects of marathon training.
Do let me know what you're training for and how it is going.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The trouble with the back-up plan

This morning I should be getting up to eat my porridge, putting on my favourite kit, applying Vaseline to my feet and heading off to a local town to run my second Autumn half-marathon. Instead I'm going to be eating a non-porridge breakfast, putting my jeans on and heading off to the local town to watch my husband run his second Autumn half-marathon. Why aren't I running? I'm not injured (bar a niggly knee that I need to keep an eye on) or unwell, I just made the decision a few weeks ago to record my first planned DNS.

This race was my back up plan, my B race - it was my second chance for sub-2 if the Royal Parks hadn't gone to plan. As it happens, it went very much to plan and I'm still chuffed with the PB I set there. That left me a bit confused about what to aim for in this race - did I attempt another PB (lots more hard training) or just enjoy the race (do you ever really enjoy 13.1 miles especially if there's no prospect of a PB?!). I decided that with the start of a 16 -18 week marathon plan looming at the beginning of December, the lots more hard training option wasn't actually a good idea especially as I wasn't feeling that motivated. Doubts started to creep in about whether I wanted to race. The final straw came a few weeks ago when I was ill on the weekend that I would have had to have run a long run to have had any chance of a decent race. The decision was made - I was dropping out. 

Since then I've felt much more relaxed -apart from the knee issue I feel ready to take on marathon training soon and I've given my body a rest. With hindsight I'd never have entered this race, but having it as a back up took the pressure off the Royal Parks, so in some small way it helped me get my PB!

Good luck to all those running today - I'll be cheering on everyone at St Neots,


Thursday, 31 October 2013

October running

October has almost come and gone without a single blog post. There are various reasons for that but I thought I would squeeze a post in with an update on the running I have been doing.

The month started with the Royal Parks Half Marathon. I went into this race aiming for both a PB and a sub-2 for the first time. It was my third half and I felt in better shape overall than I had previously but also a bit under-trained in terms of the long slow runs. Much as I had enjoyed running in the lovely weather, I actually found it harder to keep to my planned runs over the summer- I was busier with other things and I let training slip. I had done a 10 mile race in September and an 11 mile training run, but I had been aiming to get up to more like 14 miles so was a bit worried. I also felt under pressure because my 5K and 10K times had come down quite a lot since my previous half so on paper a sub-2 should have been achievable but I knew it wouldn't be that easy.

Neil and I stayed over in London the night before so that we could definitely make it to Hyde Park for the 9am start. There was the usual portaloo queue but I ended up with just enough time to spare to get to my start pen before the race got underway in a very smooth start. I'd ended up in the Green wave which I think was something like 1hr 40 to 1hr 55 - although that was slightly faster than my target time it was definitely the right wave for me - I felt like I was running at the same pace as people around me for the entire race and I kept seeing the same faces which was nice. The brilliant atmosphere and usual race day adrenaline powered me to a much too quick first mile but I was able to settle into a nice rhythm of just under 9 minute miles. It was an absolutely beautiful morning and London was just looking wonderful - we ran along the embankment, past Trafalgar Square, down the Mall and past Buckingham Palace before back into the parks. I couldn't believe how stunning the parks were - it was an ideal Autumn day (if I was being fussy it was possibly a bit too sunny for running, but I had my sunglasses and the trees provided plenty of shade) and I remembered how much I loved our seasons. Looking back on it now it was just one of those races where everything seemed perfect - I have blocked out the various aches and pains along with the stress of my Garmin splits not matching the mile markers (I was terrified that my sub-9 minute Garmin pace wasn't going to lead to a sub-2 if my Garmin was measuring wrongly) and can just remember feeling happy and lucky to be running in such a beautiful race!

Neil was a fantastic supporter and managed to see me about 5 times because of the way the course looped around. He'd worked out and told me in advance that every couple of miles there would either be a drinks station or I'd see him - that really helped with the mental side of things particularly at miles 10 to 12 where I did struggle a bit. I felt like I was getting slower and slower - looking at my splits this wasn't the case at all, I was actually remarkably consistent but maintaining that pace was clearly becoming increasingly difficult to the extent where I hadn't even realized that I was maintaining it! I only let myself relax when I could see the finish and knew I was going to do it - I came in at 1.57.35 and was chuffed to bits. I think it's the first race I've ever done that I was unconditionally pleased with - I knew I had pushed myself the whole way round and still managed to really enjoy it. I'm aware that this blog post already seems quite cheesy, but when I crossed the line all I kept thinking was "I've done it!". Running can be really great and that race for me just reminded me of that.

Immediately afterwards of course I couldn't really walk - I struggled to even sit down and I was very stiff for about 3 days. My increased fitness had got me round in my goal time, but my lack of distance training showed afterwards - my legs really punished me! More strength training and more long slow runs definitely on the cards...

Wednesday, 18 September 2013


After my slightly disastrous race last weekend I was planning on taking it a bit easier at parkrun this week. We were heading to the lovely Wimpole Estate parkrun to visit our friends there and tackle The Hill (we are edge of fen-dwellers; we don't see many hills...) but by midweek they were still short of volunteers, I love the fact that parkrun is run by volunteers and although it sometimes frustrates me that some runners don't pull their weight, I also love volunteering so offered to marshal rather than run. Cheering people on is as enjoyable as running and you still get cake so it's win win really. 

Marshalling at Wimpole also means setting up the part of the course nearest to your marshal point, so at about 8.30 I set off in the drizzle to my gate at between 1 & 2 K and was glad that the cows were grazing elsewhere!

Wimpole Estate is a National Trust property and is beautiful (even early on a grey Autumnal morning). I feel privileged to be able to take place in a parkrun there.

You can just make out the runners making their way along the first part of the course: 
I really enjoyed cheering them on and trying to motivate them to keep powering up the hill. It was great to hear stories of PBs in the cafe afterwards and the rest I gave my legs worked- on Sunday I ran 11 miles and maintained my target pace throughout.

Have you volunteered at parkrun or another event? When you're running what's your favourite marshal shout?

Sunday, 15 September 2013

A weekend of two halves

I realise the title of this post might sound misleading- I didn't run two half marathons last weekend, although I am in training for two (the big city Royal Parks half and the local St Neots half) but my weekend of running had two very different halves. 

On Saturday I got up for parkrun not sure how I was feeling - I contemplated trying to smash it, then I wondered about running my average time and then I thought about running with my friend Michaela who was pacing 30 minutes. In the end I ran naked (without my watch) and just went for it, trying to stay ahead of the 25 minute pacer. This resulted in a massive 21 second PB and an only very slightly frustrating time of 24 minutes dead. I spent the rest of the day feeling smug and like my training was paying off!

On Sunday I had a local 10 mile race planned- according to my plan I had to do 10 miles anyway so thought I may aswell use the race as a training run. 
(Testing out different fuels)

My legs felt a little heavy after the previous day's PB and it was warmer than I expected, but I started well - I maintained my target "race pace" of 9 minute miles (which would get me under 2 hours for a half) until about 6 miles, but suddenly the wheels fell off. I've never suffered quite so badly in a race before - the combination of a tough course, warm weather and tired legs plus messing up my fuelling strategy meant I ended up with stomach cramps wondering if I was even going to finish. Usually I love local races but this one ended up being quite lonely- it was clearly a popular club race and I was much further back than I usually am which meant that for most of the race I was on my own. I stopped at the water station at 8 miles and it was a real effort to get going again. I stopped at the bottom of a hill with the 9 mile marker at the top and leaned over with my hands on my knees wondering if I was going to be sick. Runners who had already finished started driving past me and I briefly considered flagging down the St Johns Ambulance that was driving the course. Ultimately however I dug in and kept moving. My 90 minute target was long gone but I stumbled across the line in 95 minutes. I felt awful but knew that I'd won the mental battle and that that would stand me in good stead for future races. 

(Recovery time)

Once I'd recovered I vowed to do a few things differently, including not running hard at parkrun the day before a race!

Have you ever had a really bad race? What did you learn?

Monday, 19 August 2013

Inspire a Generation?

As anyone who knows me is aware, I love the Olympics. I was unrelentingly positive about London 2012 from years in advance (I think I still have my "I backed the bid" sticker somewhere), throughout and now looking back (I still get emotional watching montages). One of the taglines of the Games was Inspire a Generation and recently I've been thinking about that more. Since the Olympics I've become more serious about running, and both my husband and a mutual friend have taken it up. The three of us now regularly exchange tweets about running and our friend wondered recently whether we had all been inspired by the Olympics.

I have to be honest- I loved the slogan and thought that if I was a child or teenager I would have been so excited and definitely inspired. However until now I hadn't really considered that maybe I had been inspired to run more because of that Olympic legacy. I had originally taken it to mean that youngsters would be inspired to be the future TeamGB stars and although I am sure that that will be one of the effects, I've come to realise that a far bigger consequence will be the little inspiration filtering through communities and friendship groups. It doesn't matter that most of us are too old (in athlete terms) to even dream of competing - we can still be inspired.

These thoughts led me to ponder a little more about what inspires me. Staying on the Olympics theme, I love watching Mo, Jess and other champions, but I don't think they inspire me in terms of my own running. Ultimately they are professional athletes and they are working full-time at trying to be the best in the world. I'm working full-time at another job, trying to fit in running as a hobby so it is difficult to draw realistic comparisons. I'm more likely to be inspired by those athletes who are at the top of their game but not able to work solely on their sport. I listened to Marathon Talk this week and they interviewed marathon runner Susan Partridge. She finished 10th at the World Championships last week but by the time the interview was conducted she was back at work. I could not believe that! Tenth in the world but with another "real" job aswell! Definitely inspiring.

Of course I've written all of this without drawing attention to the obvious - I have neither the natural talent nor the dedication to ever be anywhere close to an Olympian. For this, and other reasons, I think that I draw on inspiration closer to home. I've already blogged about parkrun and that kind of "grass roots" running really appeals to me. Through parkrun I've been inspired by so many different kind of runners including these: Mary, a regular Cambridge parkrunner in the 75-79 age category who usually runs round in about 27 minutes; countless number of junior runners who turn up every week to try and beat their time but who also learn about volunteering and supporting others; my friend Michaela who ran at least 10K every day for 17 days straight (whilst also working) to raise money for charity, and lastly Neil who in running has found a focus away from work and become healthier and happier as a result.

Running and in particular parkrunning rocks.

Who or what inspires you? 

Sunday, 18 August 2013


I am a big fan of snacking. More often than I'd like this does mean chocolate but I'm trying more and more to choose healthier options. I find that running makes me want to look after my body and to fuel in a way that will help rather than hinder my performance. Regardless of the chocolate habit though, I do find that I need to eat little and often, rather than the more traditional 3 larger meals a day, to keep my blood sugar stable. I am lucky not to have any major health issues but I have fainted several times in the past as a result of blood sugar issues and healthy snacking has helped me to reduce the likelihood of that happening again.

As I'm sure many people will identify with, the time I'm at work is key and I need to make sure I go armed with healthy snacks to get me through the day. I thought I'd share some of my current favourites and see if any of you know of any others I might like.

Graze: I go through phases of ordering graze boxes but I just got one delivered and it's full of my favourites (tip- click "send soon" on your preferred snacks and it's likely that they will appear in your next box). The packaging has also been themed for summer- I love it! 

Nakd Bars: I think that these are relatively new but the range seems to be expanding all of the time and there is usually lots of choice at my local supermarket. The "gingerbread" bar got me round my first half-marathon without any gels/other fuel and a "chocolate orange" (no actual chocolate but tastes delicious) bar usually finds its way into my work bag. 

I also like fresh fruit, salted cashews, crackers and malt loaf. Are you a snacker or someone who doesn't eat between meals? Let me know if I've missed any good snacks, particularly savoury ones to try and balance out my sweet tooth! 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Running away from routine

It is August, a key holiday month for many people in the UK. It is also a key training month for any runner who is planning an Autumn distance race. I’m not going away this month so my training can be the focus and I can hopefully enjoy running on some sunny evenings. However, I did go away in May and was very conscious that although I wanted to relax and rest, I didn’t want to lose too much fitness over the fortnight. Here’s what I learned.

Fight the jetlag
According to one of my TV guilty pleasures, Biggest Loser, travelling is notorious for weight gain. Clearly this will have more of an impact for contestants of the show compared to traditional holidaymakers, but it is worth bearing in mind especially if you have had a long flight. I don’t run to lose weight but sitting on a plane for a long time in one position, getting dehydrated and eating rubbish food at strange times of the night isn’t going to help general health or fitness. You are also likely to spend the first few days of your holiday waking up at strange times and generally not feeling quite as rested as you had planned. On our holiday I dealt with the jet lag by running – by 7am on the second morning of our trip I was jogging down the Santa Monica beach path and in doing so got to experience a whole side of LA culture that I might not have otherwise done. Santa Monica was full of runners, roller-bladers, cyclists and people doing yoga in the park and as a runner I felt completely at home. I also took the opportunity to roll out my inappropriately short red shorts and pretend I was on Baywatch.

Sight-see on foot/by bike
The “hop on/hop off” bus is becoming ubiquitous in cities across the world. I have managed to shun it everywhere apart from Cape Town, where we were advised that walking wasn’t safe in all parts of the city. Generally I much prefer walking or cycling as a way to see a new place. Our holiday to California involved quite a lot of miles in the car as we drove up the coast, so we balanced this with choosing to cycle, rather than drive, the Golden Gate Bridge and cycling around the Napa Valley rather than taking the “Wine Train” or a tour. Both of these rides were easy and very tourist accessible – we weren’t by any means the only ones who had thought of them, but I can highly recommend this type of sight-seeing for anyone who is off on their holidays soon.

Choose your destination wisely
It really helped that California has a huge outdoor-living culture. Money has been spent on excellent cycle paths, dedicated running routes and fantastic trails through the many national parks. Running, cycling and generally hanging around in lycra was completely the norm and provided good motivation for avoiding lazing around. Next time I go on holiday I’ll definitely try and head somewhere with a similar culture – does anyone have any recommendations?

Monday, 5 August 2013

Plan A

With the Thunder Run out of the way, my thoughts have turned to the next goal...a sub-2 hour half-marathon. 

I have run 2 halves so far- my first was the lovely St Neots last November which I just wanted to complete and see how I found the longer distance. I stuck to a pace of just under 10 minute miles and was chuffed to finish in 2.07. Of course, being a runner, I was satisfied for approximately an hour before planning the next goal and seeing as 7 minutes over 13.1 miles didn't seem that many I decided to try to aim for sub-2 at my next race, the Cambridge Half. 

I had enjoyed the freedom of no specific goal at St Neots so I was a little worried that the pressure of having to work hard (the very idea!) would spoil Cambridge. However, the weather (snow on the ground, sleeting throughout- in March!) provided a "welcome" distraction and I prioritised regaining feeling in my feet rather than speed. The upshot was a frustrating 2 hours 20 seconds finish (Garmin time as chip failed) despite my best efforts at a sprint finish. 

Since the Cambridge Half I've been having fun with local 10K races and trying to get my parkrun time under 25 minutes (finally achieved a few weeks ago with only minor retching in the finish tunnel) but now it's time to get working on the distance again. I was lucky enough to get a place in the beautiful looking Royal Parks Half so I'll yet again be aiming for sub-2 in October. If that doesn't happen, or even if it does, I'll then be tackling the hills (hills for Cambridgeshire anyway) of St Neots again in November.

The training plan has been written and Day 1 was successfully completed today (cross-training: cycle commute+ post work swim+ cycle home) and tomorrow I have to see if the legs still work after Thunder Run with a 5 mile tempo. Neil is also training for a half- he's doing the Great Eastern the week after I do the Royal Parks. Guess whose training plan is whose (tip- I love coloured pens, Neil loves over-complicated spreadsheets...)

How do you plan for races? 

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Maintaining a work/life/run balance

Today's post was supposed to be a review of my visit to a new parkrun. Instead, at 9am I was in bed and I still haven't run since my last lap of the Thunder Run last week. Why? Because I realised I needed a lie-in more than I wanted to go to parkrun. I've had a really busy few weeks at work and have also been lucky enough to have spent the last few weekends out and about meaning I haven't had as much rest as I'd like. This weekend I'm up in Manchester to watch the cricket and yesterday we worked out that it *should* just about be possible to make it to Worsley Woods parkrun and still make it to the cricket for 11...all it would involve would be a walk to the tram, a tram ride, a run to the start of parkrun, taxi back from parkrun, quick shower and then a 30 minute brisk walk...suddenly staying in bed and getting a much-needed lie in seemed a more sensible idea! 

I now feel rested enough to begin my half-marathon training plan on Monday so all in all leaving the kit in the suitcase has worked out fine.

How do you maintain a work/life/run balance? Do you ever feel like something has got to give?

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Thunder Run

I mentioned in my last post that I would be blogging about my preparations for the Adidas Thunder Run (a 24 hour cross country race) but it turned out that those preparations were rather time-consuming and I didn't have time before we left for the weekend. I'm aware that this has the danger of making me sound organised or even vaguely ready for the weekend but in reality the time was spent madly purchasing more snacks (it was foolishly optimistic of me to think that the first lot would last...) whilst trying to convince non-running friends that yes, a weekend that involved a kit list of Vaseline, Imodium and painkillers was indeed going to be fun!

We packed up the car on Friday and headed up North to Catton Park, Derbyshire at about 2pm. According to the website the campsite didn't open until 3pm so we thought we'd be fine especially as we had sent the advance party in the form of Michaela and Ben. However when we were about half an hour out we heard from Michaela that we would need to head for the "spare field" as the main campsites were full. By the time we arrived, spare field had been hastily designated "Campsite C" and even had its very own set of portaloos...we would be fine! In the end the field filled up and apart from a slightly long walk to the start/finish area it was fine. The rest of Friday was spent assembling the tents and chilling out as a team. We were a team of 6, called "parkrun Fresh" because we intended to run the local parkrun the following morning and then stay in our not-so-fresh running clothes for at least our first laps. The term was coined on my favourite podcast, the parkrun show which is well worth a listen if like me you like all things parkrun. 

Saturday morning dawned bright, early and sunny and after a rather dodgy attempt at porridge four of us headed to the lovely Conkers parkrun to start the weekend in style. Along with lots of other parkrun tourists also there for the Thunder Run we took it as slowly as possible and jogged around enjoying the scenery and the lovely atmosphere. parkrun royalty in the form of Tom Williams, parkrun MD, was there scanning barcodes and I stuttered something about loving parkrun...always the cool kid.

After parkrun we headed back to camp and got geared up for the race. Our superstar runner Mark was taking the first lap but we all headed over to the start for a briefing at 11.30am - we stood in the blazing sunshine to be warned that the weather was going to turn later and it would be up to us to decide whether to continue running...rather ominous but at the time I was more worried about sunburn! It was very odd to watch the start of a race that I was participating in, but I had a long wait for my first lap as I was last in our rotation. We spent the time in between laps sitting in camp and going to cheer on team mates and other runners at about 8.5km which was just near spare field  Campsite C. I love spectating/marshaling so this was a very enjoyable way to wile away a few hours - the atmosphere was fantastic with the majority of the runners lapping up the support and generally having fun. Special mention of course to the Solo runners, who were running by themselves rather than as part of a team...crazy yes but solos are our heroes :-)

My first lap started well - I was handed the baton by Neil and set off with a big grin on my face. The first hill that I had heard so much about didn't seem too bad and I was keen to see the rest of the course. However after about 2 or 3K I started to suffer in the heat and struggled quite a bit. No one hill seemed that bad but the constant ups and downs were pretty draining and it became a bit of a mental battle. I also began to really worry about 
doing the course in the dark only a few hours later whereas with hindsight I should have just focused on the lap in hand. I started to rely on seeing the guys at the designated 
cheering spot and 8.5K and it was a big relief to spot them - they were fab and gave me loads of encouragement and motivation so I enjoyed the last 1.5K and handed over to Mark again with a smile on my face. Neil had come to meet me at the changeover area so we went to get some pasta to try and get my energy levels up and then headed back to see the others.

A few hours later and the sun had gone in and been replaced by rain - by the time Gavin was on his second lap this had turned into a massive thunderstorm and I started to get genuinely worried about the prospect of running up those hills, in the pitch black, in atrocious weather. Poor Michaela was the next to go and I was SO impressed that she summoned up the courage to head out - it was still a few hours to go for me and it suddenly felt a bit lonely sitting in the tent listening to the rain hammering down and worrying about heading out later. That was the low point for me but luckily each person who returned from their night laps came back raving about how much fun they had been. By the time my turn came around the thunder had stopped but it was still pouring down. This mean the course was becoming a bit treacherous but I absolutely loved it - it is hard to describe quite how fun charging through puddles and dodging tree roots is in the pitch black but everyone around me was having a whale of a time and I loved the camaraderie between the runners.  I arrived back at camp caked in mud but exhausted so did a wet wipe shower and crawled into my sleeping bag for a couple of hours rest before the morning lap.

The rain had continued all night but by morning it was dry and getting warmer all the time. The course however had suffered rather from the downpour coupled with thousands of runners trampling over it for hours on end, so my last lap was a somewhat slower plod interspersed with walking to try to avoid falling over. Despite this I still managed to skid 
and land on my bum, having also put my hands down, so I ended up with a very muddy 
bum and two muddy hands! It was a talking point at least and got me lots of attention!

By the last km or two the grin was back and I felt like I was flying along. My friend Richard was in another team but he was watching by the last hill and his shouting managed to power me to the top without walking despite that being the last km of 35 in the 24 hour period...cheers Rich!

The last few hours was spent napping and snacking (Stretch! Salt! Sugar!) before we headed over to collect our well-deserved medals. By this point the memories of the low points were already fading for me - I was tired but happy and I had had a fantastic weekend with a brilliant team. I would highly recommend the Thunder Run - it was a massive festival just for runners and I intend to be back next year.

Michaela's blog includes her version of events and lots of lovely pictures so do go check it out. I will leave you with just one photo...the medal, on Big Dog - he was quite impressed with it as it is yellow and spins round...

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Learning to blog

I have been thinking about starting to blog for a while but up until now several things have held me back; a lack of time, a consideration of whether anyone would actually be interested in what I had to write about and finally a fear that I might run out of things to say and end up with a half-hearted blog floating around cyberspace. I'm not sure that I have actually been able to resolve any of these things- I still don't feel like I have enough time, but a blog can be just another proverbial ball to juggle and I'm not sure whether anyone will be interested or how long it will last. However recently I find myself increasingly drawn to reading other blogs (over and above magazines) and have noticed a real sense of community amongst bloggers and I'd like to join in! 

Outside of work I am first and foremost a runner and stories of running are likely to dominate this blog (though I am likely to get sidetracked into writing about all sorts of other things). The name "BrandedRunner" was formed this afternoon as I cleaned my bike. I had spent the morning participating in the National Lottery Anniversary Run and when I looked down at my arms I realized that one hand was still "branded" with the letter denoting my baggage drop off. The other was covered in chain shaped oil marks from my bike. I chuckled to myself that a few years ago I might have spent a Sunday still branded with the stamp from a nightclub but now the idea of that seems so alien - I'm much happier getting up early to go out running than I would be staying up to a similar hour clubbing/ drinking! It struck me that I was almost branded as a runner and then the name  for the blog was born...

Coming up soon: my preparations for the Thunder Run