The lonely road to the London Marathon

Saturday saw me hit a new milestone in training. Running further than I have ever done before (just), 14 miles.
I had planned this route long in advance. Parking my car at Harlow Mill Beefeater I would run along the river path all the way to Cheshunt. In recent weeks I have thoroughly enjoyed running south on this path, never northwards. For some reason running north on this path has a mental block for me – something I am going to have to overcome eventually as the routes become longer. The route was perfectly planned; I had researched it and checked it on numerous occasions. I was ready for it.

The run was going well. My mind was in good shape after the London Winter Run and I was steadily adopting the same mantra I had during the race the previous Sunday. I had planned to pause briefly at the seven mile mark to take on board my energy jelly that was tucked into my pocket. To be honest, I could have even pushed myself to the nine mile mark before taking this on. I was generally feeling rather good physically and mentally.

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Then I hit Dobbs Weir. Running along the river during this portion of the run was extremely difficult; pot holes the size of craters meant that I had to develop almost a skiing motion with my running. That said, I got through it and started to pick up my pace again until I passed Broxbourne station and remembered I hated this section of the river.

Back in October 2015 I ran my first Half Marathon through the Lea Valley. I also trained for it in the area too. What I did not realise when planning Saturday’s run was my brain seemed to have a problem running this part again. For what seems like miles the path is just straight ahead. I was running for what felt like hours along this long section and it felt like I was going no-where, like it was never ending. My mind went to a dark, dark place. With the snow blowing around me I suddenly felt so lonely and my brain clearly sent a message to my legs – as they just stopped just after 11 miles. I was determined for this not to be me hitting a wall. So I took a large swig of water and started moving again, quickly picking up the pace again but not the pace I had held for the first 11 miles.

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The same thing happened a few more times, with the last mile feeling so unbearably slow.

I crawled onto the train at Cheshunt, watching the path I had just run fly by, thinking “what the hell have I signed up for?”

The following morning, with my planned short run cancelled to rest my still aching legs, I was rather emotional. I had put my run up on Facebook and the support I received over the space of 24 hours broke me. Seeing all these people who have so much confidence in my ability to see this through, was overwhelming.

On top of this I kept thinking about the runs that are to come over the next few weeks, the 16, 18, 20 and 22 milers, and imagined the lonely road I have still to run over the next 9 and a bit weeks. I cannot even fathom how I can possibly get through those lonely miles. Many have said “join a running club” or “get a running buddy” – but at this point in my training I don’t think I would be able to have someone running the long runs with me. Shorter runs, yes, no problem. But my long runs have become a space in time when I don’t think about anyone else but me; my pace, my running, my heart rate. So it’s a catch twenty two situation; the lonely miles are torture but at the same time I don’t have it in me to run to someone else’s beat right now.

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After much digression I have found a lot of support in the online community. I am becoming more and more astonished with the amount of support you can receive from people. Complete strangers who are willing to listen to your training worries, give you advice and sometimes just say “I feel that too.” All these people rallying together, becoming an amazing support system to new and old runners alike. It is simply amazing.

I am no-where near the end of the road with training, there are many, many miles still to come. But when someone commented on one of my posts stating that the lonely miles of training is much harder than race day itself, I found myself comforted slightly.

As my training runs start to get longer, and I doubt myself that little bit more, I need to focus on the fact that although this is a lonely road I am travelling; Marathon day itself will be a different story.

66 days remaining – Sponsors welcome here 

London Winter Run 2017

Sunday 5th February saw me return to London Winter Run. After a poor run in 2016 I was rather apprehensive about running this race again.

However, with the London Marathon fast approaching it was the perfect opportunity to try out my training pace in a race atmosphere.

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Many people asked in the lead up “what is your estimated time?” “are you aiming for a sub 60 minute race?”. I am not sure If I am the only runner to feel this way, but there is far too much focus on time and chasing a personal best. Sometimes it is not about your time, but your journey.

In fact this time round I was 3 minutes slower than I was in 2016. This did not bother me. After ramping up the marathon training in recent weeks I have started to maintain a slower pace in order to cope with endurance and keep my heart rate steady whilst running. In doing so I am finding that its working – I am building up the endurance to keep running when I would have previously stopped and I feel stronger both in mind and body.

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Sunday was a clear indication of my progress. My mind was focused and in a good place, my body rested and, with the aid of my trusted Garmin, my pace remained steady – meaning not only did I feel great when running throughout but I completed the whole 6.2 miles without stopping and I even managed a sprint finish (and I never sprint).

The route itself is always pleasant; starting at Trafalgar Square, running through the City to St Paul’s Cathedral then back into the centre; along the Strand and ending in Whitehall. With the roads closed, plenty of spectators and a generally flat route it is a perfect race to enter to aid training or just to have a little fun.

When I first started running the London races I was overwhelmed by the number of people running; with faster runners darting in and out and myself having to dodge the slower runners/ walkers around me. Now I welcome the runners around me and the complete strangers shouting my name. There is something spectacular about the spirit and atmosphere during these races. The feeling that you are not alone, that no matter where you are in the race you have someone nearby and encouragement in the crowd even though they are not there to cheer you on.

If have often heard the statement “if you are loosing faith in human nature, go out and watch a Marathon.” From my own experience I have come to realise it does not have to be a Marathon. Watch any race and you will find complete strangers chatting to help each other round or shouting out from the sidelines with words of encouragement.

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Roll on London Winter Run 2018.

10 weeks/69 days until London Marathon Sponsors welcome here.

London Marathon’s Meet the Experts

In 11 weeks time, if all goes to plan, I will be basking in the post marathon glow. That’s it 11 weeks. Something that was drummed into all who attended London Marathon’s Meet the Experts event yesterday.

Personally I did not quite realise how close we were to race day; but when the first speaker at the event told us there was a collective gasp from the audience. So not just me then?

Lately I have been asking myself many questions as I try to come to terms with scope of the challenge I have signed up for. It seems these questions are asked by thousands of runners.

The room was filled with people just like me, with 101 questions that just needed to be answered.

Meet the Experts provided the perfect arena for this. The day was filled with sessions that focused on every aspect you could possibly think of; from what to do on race day, to nutrition, to pacing, training your mind, nutrition, to name a few – the day was packed with all the information we could possibly need, from the Experts themselves.

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To help us “train our minds” we had a sports psychology consultant giving tips to get us thinking about the fears surrounding training and the race itself. And the clue is just there – its all psychological. The fears are just that, and if you train the mind well then you are capable of anything. Something I learnt today completing the London Winter Run (which I will write up at a later stage).

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Martin Yelling’s session did wonders for me. Recently I took time out due to a bad cold and I was giving myself a hard time – thinking it would hinder my training. Martin simply stated if you are ill, there is no point trying to push yourself. I know now I did the right thing, taking that time out to recover was the best decision I made. Taking this time out also made me think that I was behind in training – which is not the case at all. Looking at Martin’s time line from this point in training I should have reached an eight mile long run. Last weeks long run was 12 miles – so I am on course, and just need to keep that in mind.

Another sticking point for me from Martin Yelling’s session was the break down of the runners finish times. When I signed up for the London Marathon I said to myself I do not have a time in mind, I just want to get round. However, I am only human, so as i’m getting through my long runs I am starting to work out in my head what my possible finish time would be. Constantly thinking “please don’t let me be last”. Reassuringly, the vast majority of runners finish with a time above four hours. So it is unlikely I will finish last. That said, I’m pretty sure Spiderman, the giant dinosaur and the Teletubbies will pass me at some point – but that is okay.

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I could go on and on about the expert advice received at Meet the Experts – there was so much to take in. The science of nutrition just blew my mind. Thinking about getting the exact intake to sustain training and race day itself is something that requires such attention. That part is something I definitely need to focus more on in the coming weeks – testing everything out now so I have time to work out what works for me.

With a goody bag and a few bits of London Marathon merchandise in my hand (it is a once in a lifetime experience after all), I went away more focused, more determined and, unsurprisingly a hell of a lot more nervous.

77 days and counting……..

Sponsors always welcome here

#ReasonToRun – because there are some who can’t

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Lessons learned training.

The last two weeks have been particularly difficult. As I unexpectedly became bed-ridden with a bad cold, training went completely out of the window. But I still managed to get myself back up and get the long runs in – with 10 miles completed last Saturday, followed by a steady 12 miles yesterday morning. Training in between has been almost impossible – my body just simply did not allow it.

However, the two long runs I completed helped me learn valuable lessons about training that I just wanted to share.

It is okay to run at a slower pace. In order to complete the long runs I have had no choice but to adopt a slower pace whilst running. It has not been easy – stopping for several coughing fits en route. But there has been significant improvement week on week. By adopting the slower pace has meant that I am steadily running at a good pace for longer periods, stopping less, my heart rate is more controlled and I am generally building up the endurance needed for longer runs. So moving forward it makes sense to continue with this pace (around 11 minute/ mile) for my longer distances.

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Hills are not the enemy. Lets face it, everyone hates running up hills. Your legs burn, your heart beats faster and your lungs feel like they are on fire. But if you stick to a flat terrain throughout training, you are never going to get stronger. Don’t get me wrong – I still hate hills. However I am learning to embrace them a little more. Tackling them at a steady, consistent pace means that I get to the top without feeling like I am going to pass out.

Don’t be put off by what others are doing. Yes I am slightly behind. Being ill means I have lost out on several training runs. During this time I spent a lot of time stressing over what everyone else was doing, how far they were running, how many times they were running each week – which in turn stressed me out even more. So others are reaching longer distances than me already and at a faster pace. So what? The only person who is going to run this for me, is me – so I need to focus on me. Stick to the plan, stay focused.

You don’t need another bathroom break. Yesterday I was late starting my run due to the fact that I assumed I needed the bathroom for what seemed like the tenth time that morning. As soon as I got running I knew it was just my mind playing tricks on me. Nine times out of ten it is just my mind. When you start running you simply forget the need and concentrate on the task at hand – running.

Your legs will work on their own. Once your legs are warm and in a steady rhythm they will just keep going until you tell them otherwise. Yesterday was the first time I noticed this. Don’t get me wrong – I still took a pause every now and then. But I am starting to find that, if running on a flat, my legs will just keep moving. During the 12 miles, I found that I did not have to tell them to keep going from mile one to six, then again from mile 10 to 12. The miles in between still need work, in particular miles eight to ten. This is where I perhaps need to think about taking on my energy jellies sooner.

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My Camelbak is not big enough to get me through the London Marathon. During yesterdays 12 miles I discovered I had run out of water at mile 10. This is good to know now, rather than on the day itself. Therefore I have to ensure I factor this in for future training runs and Marathon day. I will have to take time to pause and re-fill the water supply and due to this carry some extra electrolyte tablets too.

So, as I enter week five of the training plan I am feeling more positive. I am happy with the progress made, even if I am not exactly where I wanted to be at this stage. The only way to get through is keep going, keep learning from my training sessions and keep focused.

Sponsor me here

Adventures of Gemma’s 1st Birthday

11141784_10155777756100604_236570875574431637_oA year ago, after signing up to several events, my colleagues suggested I should start my own blog. At the time I thought perhaps there were only so many times I could appear on the Red Letter Days blog or maybe I actually do have enough content and action in my life to engage the blogging world.

It turns out it was the latter. At first I thought who on earth would be interested in what I have to write out about. It turns out – quite a few. I have been overwhelmed by the number of people reading and commenting on my blog posts over the last year.

To be honest I did not think I would keep it up. But here we are 12 months on, going strong and as I continue to blog on I am constantly learning more. So I would though I would use this post to share what I have learned over the last year.

Blogging helps me gain inner peace. Much like running and training does, blogging allows me to reflect, de-stress and put my thoughts into perspective. All work hand in hand – when running I thinking about a way to document my feelings and when blogging I am thinking about the next week’s training plan.

The Blogging Community is full of amazing people. The majority of which are strangers, but extremely supportive. I feel connected to many people who I have never met simply by reading their blogs, them reading mine and sharing experiences.

I don’t care what people think. I used to be the kind of person who cares about how I am perceived. Whether that be in person or on social channels. I don’t know whether it is coming with age or a combination of other factors too – but I could not care less about what people think about me anymore. I am my own person, I love what I love, I have people who love me and who love me back – everything else means nothing.

I am constantly learning and with this blog it has been no exception. As my previous point mentioned, blogging opens up a world of like minded people who you can relate to and bounce ideas off. Every blog I write, get comments on or read has a little bit of advice or suggestions – therefore allowing me to become a little more wise and resourceful.

Frustrations in training are only minor set backs. I have had many frustrations over the last year. In the face of these, I have got back up and kept trying. This week has been a prime example. After missing out on 5 days worth of marathon training due to a nasty cold, I was stressed and frustrated. Was it easy getting up yesterday morning and attempting a 10 mile run – of course not. It hurt like hell. I stopped several times to allow for coughing fits – but after each I took a breath and trotted on my merry way.

Inspiring others is the most amazing feeling in the world. And it was one of my main purposes when starting this blog. I never thought I would be the kind of person who would influence another’s behaviour. However, when a close friend recently said I had inspired her to run after cheering me on at Hackney Half Marathon I thought my heart would burst. If I can get through one year inspiring just one person to get moving, get running, get active then at least I feel I am serving a purpose.

At the end of the day the goal is the finish! Its not about what the person next to you is doing, or how must faster they are than you. The distance is still the same. You still have to run the same race. Concentrate on you!

So with all the learning’s from the last 12 months I look towards the events, frustrations and fears to come, knowing that no matter what, I will get through all the challenges I have signed up for.

90 days and counting…….

London Marathon Sponsors welcome here.

 

Lucy Bee’s Sweet Potato & Spinach Frittata

In a continued attempt to ensure I don’t get bored with food I decided to include Lucy Bee’s Sweet Potato and Spinach Frittata with my weekly batch cooking this week, after spotting it on the Facebook page.

Ingredients:

  • Coconut Oil (1 tbsp)
  • 1 large white onion
  • Garlic
  • 5 medium sized sweet potatoes
  • 125g spinach
  • 8 eggs – beaten
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chilli flakes
  • Parmesan

Method:

Preheat oven to 180C

Line a baking tin with grease-proof paper.

Melt the coconut oil in a pan, adding the onions – cooking until soft.

Add the garlic, followed by the sweet potato. Stir together.

Reduce the heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes (or until the sweet potato is soft), turning in between.

Add the spinach and cover. Continue cooking for a further 5 minutes before transferring to the baking tin.

Whisk the eggs, adding the seasoning and chilli flakes. Pour over the top of the mixture. sprinkle with Parmesan and bake for 15-20 minutes.

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The recipe says to enjoy hot or cold. However, I much preferred it warm with a bit of salad myself.

This tasty gluten free, vegetarian recipe is perfect to make in batch, especially for lunch boxes.

Lucy Bee has some great recipes – with many being vegetarian and gluten free they are perfect for me. Her Halloumi burgers, from my previous post, were to die for.

I am currently scouting for another dish to try. Any suggestions?

 

 

The Willow Foundation

I first discovered the Willow Foundation when they became the partnered charity for my employers, Red Letter Days.

Willow is the only national charity currently working with seriously ill young adults, aged between 16-40, in order to offer special days away from the day-to-day life that a serious illness brings.

Set up in 1999 by Bob Wilson OBE, former Arsenal goal keeper, and his Wife Megs the charity has fulfilled over 13,000 special days. For those faced with life threatening illnesses such as cancer, motor neurone disease and Huntington’s disease (to name a few), a “special day” offers the opportunity to return some normality to their lives; lifting spirits, allowing family time away from hospitals and giving that much-needed source of strength to get through the dark days.

I started getting involved with the charity, representing Red Letter Days, back in 2013 running my first ever 10k run at Hatfield House and raising £120 for the charity.

The following year I came back to run the race again – raising a further £180.

Throughout 2015 and 2016 I set up a new fundraising page for Willow as I decided, thanks to a new level of fitness, to run several events over the two years – including OCR races, Half Marathons and a multitude of 10k races (including Willow Warrior). During this period I raised £380.50, which I was incredibly proud of.

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Then towards the end of 2016 I decided to enquire about charity spaces for the London Marathon. Having entered the ballot system I did not actually think anything would come of it. I received official notification in October that I did not get in from the London Marathon organisers and felt a sense of relief. Running a marathon is on the bucket list, however at the same time to train, run and complete it is something that is way beyond anything I could fathom. So for brief period the relief set in, until I got a call from Willow themselves a few days later. Happily informing me that I had received a charity place.

I have never felt more terrified in my life. Driving home that night I had mixed emotions; excited to be able to tick the London Marathon off my bucket list and fear. Fearing what was to come. The months of training and panicking about just one race. This is bigger than anything I have ever done before – and I have clocked up a lot of the last few years.

In the lead up to Christmas I kept telling myself the real works starts in January. And guess what – January is here and the Marathon consumes me. From food, to training, to fundraising – my thoughts throughout the day are mostly about the Marathon. These thoughts include “Am I running enough?” “How is ‘x’ running that many miles already?” “Why am I so tired?” “What should I be eating” and the most frequent thought – “How am I possibly going to run 26.2 miles.”

So, in the hope to raise more awareness for the charity and to help distract me from the thoughts going through my mind, I write this post as a plea.

A plea for all my friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances to dig deep. Sponsor me. Help me believe in myself and in doing so help me help make a difference.

I am running in memory of those who have been lost, for those who have lost loved ones and those who have battled or still battling at life threatening illness.

97 days and counting!

Sponsor me here

For Uncle “Rusty” – may you forever be with us.

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