Joining Harlow Running Club

For many years I have spent the majority of my running miles training alone, with the occasional running partner thrown in. And whilst it is always great to have a running partner, I often found pressured to run faster than I was capable – at the other person’s ability. Which can be rather stressful.

So when I trained for the London Marathon in 2017 I was not bothered about running alone. I could set my own pace and train as I wanted to.

It’s funny how that can change when you pick a new challenge. When I signed up for the Isle of Wight I could not even imagine getting through the long hours walking around the coastal path alone. So with others joining me on the challenge itself, I trained with them. And I was so grateful to have that company to get me through.

Once the event was over, however, I had to find a way to get back into training alone. The challenge was done, it was time to get back in to a normal routine. But I found it incredibly hard to do so – unless it was a group spinning class – it was difficult to get back into a schedule and motivate myself.

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So I started to toy with the idea of joining the local running club. Something I had always shied away from with the misconception that it would be to cliquey, that it is full elite runners and that I would embarrass myself with my mediocre “running.”

In the attempt to re-claim my love for running whilst the weather was on my side, I threw caution to the wind and contacted the club organisers who swiftly invited me along for a “taster” session.

I was duly impressed. On arrival I found that my idea of what the club would be was pure fabrication on my part. The group were not cliquey in the slightest – in fact several members came up to me straight away as I was clearly a “newbie.” Neither was the club full of elite runners. And I was not mediocre at all – I just was not elite.

In just a month I am starting to understand the benefits of joining a running club such as this one.

  1. I am in the right in environment. By surrounding myself with like minded people who enjoy running and show such enthusiasm will help me in the long term. Within the group you will find so much support – many members encouraging and motivating you.
  2. Running clubs encourage a range of training – something that you will be less likely to do alone. Harlow Running Club have a great mix of training: from track sessions, hills, long distance and speed. I find that if I am running alone it is easy to get into a rut of running the same routes and therefore becoming rather bored. In the month I have been running with a club I have seen a variety of routes, lots of hills and some speed work too. With them I have discovered some lovely country routes I would have never have known before.
  3. It’s a community. As with my boot camp days, I have quickly developed relationships with many of the club members who have encouraged me to test out different parkruns, races and generally inviting me along for a Sunday run. These people will no doubt be imperative to my motivation over the Winter months.
  4. The competitive streak will surface. I never thought of myself as competitive, but have often been told otherwise. In my month since joining I have noted that this competitive edge has been surfacing more often than not. Whether it be catching up with one person in front or over taking another runner in a sprint finish – there is definitely a competitive edge within me.
  5. Being a member of a running club will give you that psychological ability to call yourself a “runner.” I have always battled with the idea of calling myself a runner as my running at times feels more like a jog than a run – especially if I compare myself to those at the elite end of the spectrum. But now that I am an affiliated member of a running club and registered with England Athletics it feels like I can class myself completely as a runner.

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Within a month of joining the club I am already finding improvements with my running technique and abilities. This week saw me reach a PB for my 5K, I have seen my average min/miles drop, my fastest min/miles (for short bursts) improve, a greater ability to conquer hills and to top it all off I have met some wonderful people who encourage and support me every step of the way. And this is just within the first month.

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Joining Harlow Running Club was the best decision I have made for my training in such a long time. I am looking forward to seeing what it will bring over the next few months.

 

A Tuscan Adventure

There is nothing like getting away from it all, by taking a quick break and exploring a foreign city. I like to make a habit of picking a mix of sunny beach holidays and cultural city breaks.

This year I chose the area of Tuscany as one of my cultural adventures. Three days and three nights in the northern region of Italy. With so much to see and do I did not waste a minute – flying into Florence I had a jam packed few days to ensure I got to experience as much as possible.

DAY ONE – Wondering around Florence

A very early morning flight from London City meant that I arrived in Florence long before check in was allowed. The Hotel B&B, outside the city centre, were extremely accommodating – happily keeping my bags and directing me into the centre. Though I required very little direction. Drop me in any city, with a map, and I will very quickly find my feet. Florence was no exception.

I quickly found the centre, with the iconic Duomo taking my breath away as soon as I set my sights on it. The area around the attraction was buzzing, with it being the height of the tourist season queues to enter the impressive building were too long for me to entertain. So I simply found the best place to take it all in, from a nearby roof top bar. Robiglio provided the perfect escape from the growing crowds, enjoy a relaxing view whilst having a few refreshments. It was the perfect find. Plus a great place to meet friends (who happened to be in Tuscany at the same time).

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Down back on the Tuscan streets I wondered along with the crowds, across the famous Ponte Vecchio distracted by the numerous shops sparkling with stunning jewels. It is easy to get distracted by the beauty on this bridge, a bridge like no other I have seen before. Views along the river were not to shabby either.

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More wondering ensued to get the best view of the city – from Piazza Michelangelo. I could have happily sat here for hours with the Duomo so stunning in the skyline, the view down Ponte Vecchio, watching the sun go down. Like many areas of Florence in the height of the season, the area was thriving – with couples, friends, school groups galore. Everyone made the climb to get one of the best views the city had to offer.

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DAY TWO – Siena, San Gimignano, Monteriggioni and Chianti

With so much to see in the region I thought booking an excursion with Viator would be the perfect way to get around. Obviously if you were to hire a car all of these areas would be easily accessible. However, I did not want the stress of finding my way in a foreign country so a tour was a perfect option for me.

It was a long day, covering many beautiful locations, so if you do book this trip expect to be on and off the coach covering a lot of ground.

First stop, the medieval gem that is Monteriggioni. Built in 1203, the walled town offers fantastic views of Chianti from its castle walls.

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Second stop was the beautiful town of Siena, distinguished by it’s medieval brick buildings. Here there is plenty to see and with the package with Viator you have the option to take the walking tour. I decided against doing so, the group was rather large (around 50 people on the bus itself) and I knew I would enjoy seeing the town alone, making my own way and wondering the beautiful streets of Siena.

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The first stop was Piazza del Campo – the square popular for public celebrations and known for hosting the Paliohorse race. Here I stopped and took stock with a little Pistachio Gelato, taking in the atmosphere and soaking in glorious sunshine.

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Just a few streets away you had the impressive Siena Cathedral, with its exterior an interior constructed of white and black marble in alternating stripes. Like the Duomo in Florence, the queues were exceptionally long. Rather disappointing for me, as this was one Cathedral I wanted to visit completely. Sadly, with booking the tour I was time restricted so I had to move along.

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After a spot of lunch, with wine (which was included in the tour price) we made our way to a local vineyard. Visiting the region of Chianti without doing so would be criminal. At Famiglia Mazzarrini we tasted a range of local products including Chianti Classico, Spumante, truffle oil and balsamic vinegar.

With the wine tasting leaving most travellers sleepy it was time to head to our final stop off – San Gimignano. Recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1990, the medieval town offers its visitors a chance to step back in time, to wonder its cobbled streets, soak up the views over the surrounding countryside and enjoy its local products – including its Gelato. Yes! I did have two helpings of Gelato on this trip, but you cannot help but taste the local produce on a hot, Summer’s day.

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The tour was due to end, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. The long day saw us cover some amazing sites and we were able to experience so much from the Tuscany region.

DAY THREE – Florence and Pisa

The final day saw me wonder the streets of Florence for a final time, eating a bit more Gelato and tasting more vino!

I took the time to visit the Boboli Gardens after reading some good reviews. If there was one entry fee I would advise not paying it is this one. Only ten euros, but with all the free views you can get in Florence, it was not even worth that.

Shortly after visiting the gardens I hopped on the train to Pisa. Just an hour from the centre of Florence, on a pleasant air conditioned train which runs through the Italian countryside.

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Pisa is a region of Tuscany that is better known for its Leaning Tower. The 56 meter tower is located in the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). It is a iconic site that I have wanted to visit since childhood. Seeing the landmark close up and climbing the spiral staircase was one of the highlights of my trip.

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Within the Square of Miracles you will also find Pisa Cathedral and the Battistero – all of which you can enter for a fee. My advice – pick the attraction that you most want to enter and stick to that. Unless you have the budget to visit all within the square of course. Personally – climbing the Leaning Tower was more up my street, so the rest I was happy to take in from the outside.

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Soon enough the whirlwind break was coming to a close. With my belly full of Gelato, Chianti and my fast growing affection for Italy trying to prevent me from returning home I was already thinking about my next trip.

Tuscany is by no means finished – there are many areas I am yet to explore – and there will be many more Italian regions to follow I’m sure.

Ride London: Volunteering

A little over two weeks ago I was privileged to take part in the greatest festival of cycling – Ride London. Though my participation was on the other side at this event, volunteering at the start line in Stratford.

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The event, which sees keen cyclists follow the legacy of many Olympic athletes from London 2012, ride along closed roads –  a gruelling 100 miles through the capital out through the suburbs in Surrey and back into London town, with an iconic finish along The Mall.

Some 30,000 cycling enthusiasts were taking part in the event in it’s sixth year. And this year I was able to experience the scale of the event first hand – by being a marshal.

With the first wave of participants due to set off very early on Sunday morning, it is safe to say those volunteering at the start line experienced a wake up call like no other. 02:30 am was a crazy way to start a Sunday. With many part animals heading home from a heavy night – I was heading in the opposite direction to start my shift at Stratford for 04:00.

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Before the crack of dawn I had collected my kit and details of my volunteer role – I was in the thick of it with many others – walking the waves of cyclists to the start line.

And it was a long agonising wait. In the many events I have taken part in, I have always found the wait in the pens the most tedious of all. Wanting to simply get started, but having to wait for thousands in front of you to pass go before it is your turn, when all you want to do is get going. This event was no exception. All the cyclists I was guiding to the start felt the same – they just wanted to go. However, unlike running events, due to the logistics of getting 30,000 cyclists through the wait was so much longer.

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Soon enough I had got the first of my waves through to the start line – without the threatened rain descending upon us.

My second wave, those who were riding the shorter 46 miles, were not as lucky.

The UK heat wave we had experienced for months on end was forecasted to change dramatically, and it did just that. Shortly after 7am thousands of cyclists and volunteers were succumbed to torrential downpours that continued throughout the morning.

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Despite the shivers of the waiting riders, the atmosphere was still high. All involved were kept entertained at the start with music and I found myself trying to keep the spirts of those taking part up and dancing along to keep warm, whilst being completely soaked through.

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As I finally waved my second group of riders through, wishing them well, I could not help but admire their determination and ability. 100 miles is no mean feat, especially with the weather conditions they were facing. I’m sure many of them wished for a cooler race day than that we had been experiencing, but at the same time no one expected such a dramatic change.

With my shift over at just 09:30 it felt like I had been up for days. Watching the sunrise as the cyclists arrived, getting them to the start and standing for hours in the rain – it definitely felt like a full days work.

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Unlike those taking part in the race itself I was home, showered and in warm clothes within an hour – eagerly waiting on results of those I knew taking part.

It was an absolute pleasure to take part as a volunteer, to experience the scale of the event and to help send the participants on their way.

I have nothing but admiration for all who took part, for the volunteers and spectators who continued to stand in the rain throughout the day to cheer them on and the team who put such an amazing event together.

Yet another fantastic event in our city, allowing all abilities to get out there, get active and take part.

Roll on to Prudential Ride London 2019 – I will be there wearing my volunteering cap again for sure.