Running to the Dark Side

As the hype of the London Marathon dominated my social media feeds I could not help but contemplate on the decision I made to defer my place to 2020.

Watching the stories of runners working their way around the course led me to reminiscing about my own race two years ago. Thoughts of those who came out to support me on the day (some no longer with us), the adrenaline on the day and the atmosphere created by the wonderful people of London cheering the runners on. There is a reason why they say the London Marathon is the greatest marathon in the world – the public coming together made for the most 26.2 enjoyable miles I have ever run.

It is no surprise that in watching this years race I decided to give myself a hard time. Yes, I had made the most sensible decision at the time, but I started to think maybe I gave in a little too easy.

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Hindsight is a wonderful thing and had I been feeling how I feel now, then, I would have been in a different position. But I wasn’t and instead I developed further issues beyond my physical injury that have kept me from running.

Since I developed the love for pounding the pavement and being outdoors, I have always been an advocate of the impact it has on my mental health. The more active I became, the more I was able to control my state of mind. If I had a good day, I ran to be free and active. If I had a bad day, I ran to shake it off. My mind could be controlled by the simplicity of running.

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But what happens when the one thing that keeps you balanced, becomes the one thing that makes you feel unstable?

My decision to defer came not only from the physical injury, but the anxiety I developed around running post diagnosis. I became paranoid. Paranoid that I would injure myself again, paranoid I was behind in training miles and paranoid that I would not be fit enough for the big day.

I believed in dialling back the pressure, in deferring my place, would enable me to ease back into a gentle running pattern. To learn to love running again.

Instead the anxiety became worse. A fear of running developed. My half marathon training races came and went without me attending, and my absence from running club continued. With the longer nights I promised myself I would get back to it, just starting with a short, solo run to remind myself I still can.

But I am still waiting for my moment.

 

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Everyone talks about the love of running, the mental and physical benefits. But no one mentions the dark place you can go to when your confidence is lost. I believed there must be something wrong with me. Despite some suggesting I should contact the running club for advice and some attempting to coax me out for a short run, I just wanted to retreat into the shadows.

Until one night several weeks ago I was contacted by a friend.

With a couple of weeks to go before the London Marathon, she was experiencing high levels of anxiety when faced with running. Especially the long runs. Like me, she was considering dropping out, with thoughts of the long runs and the missed miles, causing extreme levels of stress and doubt.

Despite being distressed that she felt this way, I was so relieved to find out I was not on my own. Weeks later, she made it to London and she crossed the finish line. Making me realise if she can get back out there and complete 26.2 miles feeling the way she did, then I can put one foot in front of the other to start again.

And that is what I intend to do. It may not be tomorrow, this week or next. But I will get back to running club, I will get to parkrun and I will learn to love running again.

With twelve months until the London Marathon 2020 I have a goal!

Adidas City Runs: Clapham

Sunday 16th September saw my return to Adidas City Runs, with the Clapham 10K route. After my pleasant run with them a year previously with the Shoreditch 10K I was looking forward to seeing what South London had to offer.

As with most race days, it started with a very early morning to ensure that I arrived in plenty of time to get myself sorted before the start: multiple toilet breaks, adjustment of kit and filling up my running bladder for the miles ahead.

There was not much time to hang around, as within 30 minutes of my arrival the first waves were being called to the start pens. My wave (wave C) was soon heading in the same direction. Very little time passed before the runners were off!

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Starting at Larkhall Park the route saw participants head north towards Vauxhall before turning back towards Clapham, along Wandsworth Road, skirting the east of Clapham Common before winding round the tree lined streets of Clapham Old town and North Clapham towards the finish line back at Larkhall Park.

The race started off well. Despite the recent balmy temperatures the morning was over cast, cool and saw a welcome gentle breeze – making running conditions seem perfect.

From the first to the third kilometre I found myself comfortable, setting a good pace (albeit, slightly faster than previous races due to my training with Harlow Running Club) and generally feeling rather relaxed after a recent break away in the sunshine.

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However, perhaps due to my lack of training in the lead up owed to my holiday or my faster than normal pace, or perhaps a mixture of both, I started to find myself tiring rather quickly between the third and fourth kilometre. Add in a couple of unexpected hills around the “flat route,” slowing down my pace further, I found my spirit wavering slightly – stopping to walk the hills that I would not have caused issues previously. I also started to spend more time looking at my watch, trying to work out if a PB was on the cards. During the first and third kilometres this was looking likely. After four kilometres I started to give up on the PB yet again, deterred by my post holiday fitness level, and to simply use this race as a way to return back to training after a very inactive break away.

The route itself was not without challenges, as mentioned above there were a number of hills thrown into the mix that were completely un-expected, the twists and turns around the residential streets became tiring and to top it off, as with the Shoreditch 10K, residents ignored the signs about road closures and decided they were well within their rights to drive down the closed roads. I saw at least three drivers, with very little regard for the runners around them screaming at the marshalls, obviously putting both at danger with their stupidity to pay attention to the signs around them.

And the water stations? Where were they? There was nothing available until after the 6KM mark. Many runners were overheard asking the marshalls “where is the water station?” And on what transpired to be a rather muggy day once we got well under way, this was an error of judgement on the organisers part. Luckily, I always run with water so it did not cause an issue for me. But there were many participants clearly struggling with the lack of hydration.

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That did not put runners off enjoying the course, however. Many participants around me were clearly enjoying themselves (some more than others) and there were many smiling faces as we approached the final turns to the finish line.

Despite my lack enthusiasm throughout the route, I was undeterred as we came towards that final stretch. Any energy I had was used for a sprint finish, allowing me to come under my British 10K time from July (just).

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Was I bothered about failing to get a PB and a sub 60 minute time yet again? Not really. I had enjoyed my much needed time off, coming back feeling refreshed and ache free. I always say “next time.” And I will get there one day. With the ability I have gained training with Harlow Running club, teamed with regular Spinning classes – I have no doubt that I will eventually reach the goals I set for myself.

In the meantime, it’s time to head off to running club……….

Vitality London 10,000

Just a short week ago I participated in Vitality London 10,000 for the first time. The annual event has been running since 2008 and it was my first chance to take part.

Previous years have seen me out of the country over the bank holiday weekend (not that I am complaining), so this year I decided to organise my holiday around the race instead.

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And what a year to be joining thousands of runners through the capital.

The day started warm, muggy and with warnings from the organisers to take extra care in the heat, I knew from the get go I was not going to push for a PB. I had not run much of late, training for the Isle Of Wight Challenge meant that I had very little time to commit to running. So, my plan was to take in the event, enjoy the course and simply complete.

What a race it was. With thousands of runners ready in pens on the Mall between St James Park and Green Park, the atmosphere was filled with excitement and nerves. Not only were there many regular runners taking part, but also Sir Mo Farah.

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Due to the sheer volume of participants it took some time to reach the start line. The pens were evenly distributed to ensure safety on course. Though once there the legend that is Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill was sending runners on their merry way – high fiving them as they passed through, myself included.

The route saw us run from the Mall down the Strand, into the city following many of the same streets as those I pounded during the London Winter Run and London Landmarks Half Marathon.

Though I have run these streets of London on numerous occasions, each race never feels the same. The routes seem so much easier in the Winter Months, when the air is cooler and kinder for runners. On Bank Holiday Monday the temperature was so very different, with the city streets trapping any kind of breeze, very little air and providing the hot and muggy conditions we were promised.

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I took it easy. Stopping a lot more than I normally would; partly due to the heat and partly due to the fact that I had not completed that many training miles in the lead up to the event.

Despite the heat, the route was thoroughly enjoyable. Yet again the atmosphere on the streets of London was infectious. Spectators came out in their thousands, some cheering on loved ones and some just cheering on strangers. Each and every one of them encouraging those who were participating – something I always miss when running local races, where there is a lack of support throughout the routes.

It was not my best time for a 10K and it was not my worst either. What it was was a well organised, enjoyable event which saw runners take on the streets of London whilst passing iconic sights of our great city.

And the best part for me was running that final 800 metres, the same 800 metres I ran during the London Marathon, along Birdcage Walk and where my Uncle was cheering me on just over a year ago.

Starting and finishing where my London Marathon journey ended all that time ago was rather sensational. There is nothing like finishing a race outside Buckingham Palace and if I never have the opportunity to run the London Marathon again, at least I will be able to finish a race in the same spot.

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The Vitality London 10,000 has quickly become one of my favourite 10K races. The organisation, the start and finish on the Mall, the atmosphere and running the iconic streets of London is all second to none.

I have no doubt that it will quickly become a regular in my racing calendar.

 

 

 

Virgin Sport – British 10k

After my disappointment at Hackney, where the organisers at Virgin Sport refused to allow me to defer my place or refund me after a injury post London Marathon, I did not have high hopes about how the British 10k event would turn out.

Having run it in 2016, when it was organised by Vitality, I got one of my best times for a 10k race – getting closer to the sub 60 minutes I am constantly chasing.

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On arrival, it was very clear that the organisation had been stepped up a notch. With several different waves and what looked like many more runners than the previous year (though Virgin Sport are yet to confirm the total number of runners), the organisation was, in my eyes flawless, the finish, goody bag, medal and finishers t-shirt amazing. Last year I was very close to the start line from the get go, where as this time round my pen congregated on St James’s Street – which meant that it took me a good 20 minutes to cross the start line. This leads me to believe that there were, indeed, more runners than the previous event in 2016.

I am not going to lie – this event was a struggle for me. It was one of my worst 10k times to date – but none of it was down to the organisation and planning of the event itself.

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I was lost.

Lately I have let external factors into my running. Something that clearly showed on Sunday. Yes, the race was hot, there was little air and there were far too many bodies around me – but I have dealt with this before.

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My problem was that my mind would not remove itself from recent stresses and trauma – something that I had experienced throughout the week in the lead up to race day. My mind was heavy and where I would usually be able to de-stress through running – this time I couldn’t. I could not compartmentalise my problems and lock them away in a box like I usually do. As such, my running was an issue. My legs, my mind and my breathing became heavier with each step and I just wanted to give up – not the first time I have felt this way in the past few weeks.

But – like anyone with determination and a little grit – I had to come away with a medal. And with this in mind, along with the ever amazing spirit that surrounds road races in our glorious capital city – I kept on. I walked at times when my thoughts took over my mind, I ran and then when it came to that final corner I powered through to take out as many people I could towards the finish. Sprinting the last 500 meters like I did the previous year, over taking and over exerting myself in the last few steps.

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And then I wondered, will I ever find running easy? Will I ever be able to obtain the sub 60 minute goal? I have come very close at times, and with a little bit of a push I could beat my PB of 62 minutes.

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But, when push comes to shove, does it really matter if I don’t? Today something exceptional happened. I set my Garmin’s GPS running at the start of Harlow parkrun to discover it had very low battery. So I ran blind. It was recording my time, my distance and my pace – but I had no idea what they were. And in running blind, I went back to basics and finished with a time that was 45 seconds faster than my PB.

So it makes me wonder, as always, if we spend far too much time thinking about time.

Think about the journey. My journey during Virgin Sports British 10k was over cast with gloomy clouds – but I finished. My journey at Harlow parkrun today was blind, and I conquered more of the hills I hate, at the same time giving me a PB.

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Lesson learned? To take each day as it comes. The good days are fantastic, cherish them, build on them. But the bad days – cherish them too as you will remember these. You will remember the lowest moments and look back on how far you have come.

Bring on Virgin Sport’s British 10k, 2018!

Learning to run again.

Its it approaching eleven weeks since I crossed the finish line at the London Marathon and I my running could never be so far from form as it was back then.

On completing the race I was so sure that I would continue on, running long distances with ease and enthusiasm. Sadly that is far from the truth. Other runner friends said once completed my running will come to a halt and I struggled to believe them. I had high hopes that I would dust myself off after some time out, pick up the running and learn the joy again.

How wrong was I? I had my time out, I had my two week holiday (with short runs included) and then I returned to normal life with every intention to continue running and slip back into running long distances with ease.

It has not worked out that way.

I find myself struggling. Struggling, mainly with getting into the running mindset I had during the training and on race day itself. The days where my mind went to a different place enabling me to run for miles and miles on end are simply lost. I look back and wonder, how did I possibly get into this mindset? How did I manage to get through the miles without thinking about stopping? It just seems unobtainable to me right now.

Lately, I don’t seem to be able to get into a running mind, I find myself stopping consistently during a run and I am only running short distances – three miles at most.

I am not sure why; is it the training in Summer months, rather than Winter months that is causing my slump? Is my mind not here or have I simply lost it? If you loose it, how do you get it back?

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Today I had an aim. I had an aim to run from Harlow Mill to Dobbs Weir – seven miles – along the river. A lovely route I managed with ease during my Marathon training. Today it was pure torture. It started well, running faster than my usual pace but then I quickly realised seven miles was unobtainable, I would have to cut it down. It was hot, even along the river, I was constantly checking my watch and my quad was tight – most likely due to the over zealous high kicks during last nights Body Combat. So I managed a slow three miles with a three mile walk back the way I came – which with it being such a warm, sunny day was pure bliss.

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Having recently signed up for two further half marathons this year (Bedford Half and Hertfordshire Half) I need to learn how to run again. I need to find my running mojo. I need to learn to get back into the running mindset. And I need to do it soon.

However, with a little more time on my hands than usual to focus, several shorter races in the diary and with the aid of my new found love of parkrun I hope to start to rebuild and learn to run again.

Great Newham London Run

Sunday 2nd July saw me return to road racing, after a substantial break of eight weeks. I am not going to lie, I did not prepare myself for this one. I did not train and the week leading up to the race saw me go through some pretty stressful times. So it is safe to say I was extremely un-prepared. But I was not going to let the weeks events scupper my racing schedule. I just had to except that it was just going to be a “run” and I should not expect any PB’s.

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The day began with glorious sunshine, and on arrival at the Olympic Park Stadium organisers where already advising runners not to run for a PB. It was simply too hot!

Running in the green wave I watched the first few runners set off, including the visually impaired runners, with Jo Pavey signalling the start of the race. Then soon enough it was my wave.

I did not get my pacing right this time round. The first ten minutes saw me running faster than my training pace. Looking down at my Garmin I saw I was running a faster pace of 9 minutes per mile. Which I thought was fantastic – but with 6 miles to run and in higher than normal temperatures I had to think about regulating the pace to my normal speed to cope with the running conditions.

I eventually brought it back down before the second mile – steadily trotting along at 10:30 minutes/ per mile. Which is my standard comfortable training pace. Adjusting to the running conditions and getting my breathing under control was important to see the run through, even if it was just a 10k race.

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The course saw you run around some of the iconic landmarks in the Olympic Park; starting under the Arcelormittal Orbit, round the Copper Box, Velodrome and finishing in the Olympic Park Stadium itself. It was an amazing course, though rather undulating; giving me flash backs to the British Heat Foundation 10k of 2016, which gave me my fear of laps and due to a cold winters morning, pushed me into a poor state of health.

 

During the section of the course that saw me re-trace my steps of the one race that I look back on with dread, I had to fight my mind to push through, to forget that horrid day. It took some will power to do so, my pacing slowed and with the increasing temperature my body was severely over heating. But I pushed through. The hilly part of the course was less of a challenge that it was before, mainly due to participating in the Harlow park runs. Clearly the hills of Harlow Town Park had worked in my favour as when others were breaking into a walk up the hills, I was powering up to the top and ready to take on the next one.

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Soon enough the tough part was over, 7km marker passed followed quickly by the 8km marker. The heat of the day was increasing, so I wanted to finish as soon as possible. So water was thrown over my head and legs to cool myself down, to get me through to the finish. 9km passed, and I knew it was now flat to the end. So the speed picked up again, running around the track outside the stadium then running round the indoor tunnels of the stadium itself for the final 400 meters. 100 meters left and you entered the track inside the stadium. With my name popping up on the big screen, announcing my final steps, I channelled my inner Bolt (as if), and sprinted to the finish line.

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Job done. Another medal. Another stadium finish.

This is an event I would definitely want to run again. The organisation, planning and amazing finish was worth every penny. My only criticism, as with most races, the water stations are slightly lacking. Personally I was fine, I always carry my hydration pack, but there were many around me who were gasping for water. There just did not seem to be enough stations at the right time, especially given the hot weather.

That said, roll on 2018 because I cannot wait to run this one again!

Falling in love with parkrun

Several years ago I registered for parkrun – a free, weekly 5k timed run available in numerous parks around the country. However, once I signed up I printed my barcode several times but always failed to use it. With other activities and events; from boot camp sessions, races and climbing mountains – there was always “something else” to do – so it never got used.

Signing up for the London Marathon saw me cancel my boot camp membership to concentrate solely on running and therefore Saturday mornings meant early starts with hours upon hours of running. I simply did not have time for such a short run of 5K. So the parkrun bar code went on to be a slip of paper I carried in my purse.

Marathon completed, with no plans to return to boot camp (due to location changes and needing more flexibility in my life), I needed something to keep me on the straight and narrow on a Saturday morning. Something to make sure I don’t spend my Saturday mornings in bed.

Enter the parkrun.

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There are several near me, some that are probably easier than the one I have been frequenting of late, but Harlow Town park is not only the closest but also a bit of a challenge. With a mixed course of hills, a mixture of grass and concrete path, plus laps to boot it is one that tests the most seasoned runner.

I went along to my first parkrun last week (10th June) with a goal of 35 minutes in mind. Giving myself a realistic goal but at the same time something I can work on, as not only do I hate hills but I have also developed a fear of laps of which Harlow town park had 2 and a half lap to finish. I ran and I walked a little (running uphill on grass is torture to me) and I finished in 34:20 according to my Garmin (parkrun had a slightly different time, so I am not sure how they work that out without a chip). So I set a goal in my mind and beat it. I was buzzing and ready to come back.

Today was my second attempt at the parkrun. With a forecast of scorching hot weather I did not imagine I would beat my previous weeks attempt. At 9am it was simply roasting. I don’t complain, I live for the hot weather, the sunshine and the opportunity to star fish in the garden. But when coupling this with running I turn into a melting, sweaty, heavy breathing mess. Today was no exception. I knew it would be hard. Waking up with scratchy eyes and sneezing consistently, due to hayfever kicking in, I had to make sure I didn’t go crazy. And I didn’t. I paced myself and if I felt the need to walk at times I did. Though, this week I walked less than the week before. There is part of the course where you have to run uphill on grass and for both weeks it has got me completely. This week, I had marker points in my mind and due to that I ended up finishing 8 seconds faster than last. Completing in 34:12 and not really having the energy to go out there with a sprint finish, I was buzzing. To have a better time than the week before with the heat we were facing was an amazing achievement. And I went away happy. Happy to be improving, no matter how many seconds and ready to come back next week and try again.

 

So I have fallen madly and deeply in love with the parkrun and everything it represents. I am in awe at the whole organisation and what it does to get people out there. To bring local communities together and simply bring goals to every day people.

Whether you want to run, walk or do a combination of the two, I thoroughly recommend you get involved. Get running, get walking, bring the kids, bring the dog. Everyone is welcome.

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I can’t wait to see how my performance takes shape over the next few weeks.

Bring on next Saturday!

 

 

 

Decathlon Sports Series – 5K

The first Sunday in June. It was a beautiful sunny morning and I had signed up for a free 5k run in my local park, run by Decathlon. The only problem being, I had lost my mojo. Not long returned from the USA, rather jet lagged and having not really trained for two weeks, I almost didn’t bother to show.

I am so glad I did. A maximum of 500 participants were able to sign up and on arrival I could see a fair amount of people had certainly done that. From all ages and abilities this race was put together by Decathlon to encourage people to participants to run and at the same time bring the community together. And they certainly had done that.

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It did not matter about your ability and that definitely showed. You had the fast runners, who you could not see for dust, the regular runners (I would like to say myself included), those who were probably less experienced in running and even whole families with children – who sprinted out at the beginning only to be advised by parents to pace themselves.

The route was not easy. Anyone who is familiar with Harlow Town park would know that. A hill start, on small park paths meant it took time for me to fall into my easier 10:30 min/mile pace. Though I did get there eventually, the hills that followed after pulled back my pacing and after running on flat, easy surfaces in San Diego the weeks prior I was rather unaccustomed to the inclines, the people and even the pot holes. That said, I finished in 35 minutes – which is still respectable – giving me the starting block to get back into a training routine. It also gave me the buzz of running again. That uphill start, became a down hill finish and I had the joy of a sprinting all the way to the end, passing many runners who over took me in the last mile.

A medal, of course, was available from the local Decathlon store along with a goody bag filled with treats, plus you get a free t-shirt too. As a marketer, I find that this was a clever tactic to get footfall in store after the race. After all if you are putting on a free race you want to encourage those people entering to spend a little money in store after.

Overall It was a well organised event by the team at Decathlon – plenty of people on course to keep the runners safe, great atmosphere and the most important thing – they got people running. Anyone that encourages people to get active deserves a gold star in my book.

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Would I run this again? Yes – definitely. I really hope my local store arranges another event like this. After running long distances over the last six months it was rather nice to run just a simple 5K. To know that it will be over in less than an hour, you don’t have to pack a running bag and probably don’t need to carry water (unless it is a hot day), was rather refreshing. No planning, just go.

And with this I want to continue with the 5k routes in Harlow Park. So with the “Park Run” membership that I signed up for years ago and never used – I am going to keep attacking the hills of the park in the hope to improve each week.

Stay tuned to see how I get on………

Active in San Diego

When I first booked a two week holiday to the golden state of California I imagined lots of down time. Time by the pool, book in hand and soaking up the glorious sun in San Diego.

With all holidays, I always have a list of sights and attractions I want to cross off the list – to break up the time spent on the sun lounger. And San Diego has been no exception. In fact we have spent more time racking up the miles – covering many areas of the city and even the North County – where views are simply devine.

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My expectations of having lots of rest and relaxation whilst here have been deminished- I am simply enjoying being on the move, soaking up the sights whilst shopping and drinking copious amounts of Savingon Blanc.

I made sure to pack my running gear – which has had a great amount of use. Where as previous holidays to Florida has seen the runners tucked firmly into the hotel room closet, this trip has been the complete opposite.

Staying in the picturesque Mission Bay means that I have been joining the early morning runners, walkers, cyclists and roller skaters for a gentle jog most mornings. Never going too far, 3 miles at most, but enjoying the freedom of running again. It’s not hard to enjoy running here – not only are the views stunning, the paths are flat and safe, and everyone is active. So it’s easy to get sucked in to the active community. Last weekend I even ran into the tail end of the “San Diego Beach to Bay Half Marathon” – which completely left me with race envy, especially as I caught eye of the amazing medal. If I thought to look ahead I would have so entered the race – just to have a bit of bling that people at home would not have.

To add to the day, we have easily racking up miles simply by shopping or taking in the sights. The first day alone saw us walk over 14 miles and we have not stopped since.

Usually, as a holiday approaches the end, I begin to feel somewhat guilty. However, this time round I will be coming home guilt free, relaxed, slightly tanned and ready to take on the next stage of training.

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Training with no agenda

Its been almost three weeks since I crossed the finish line at the London Marathon and I find myself in somewhat of a conundrum.

For months I had a training plan pinned to a wall; detailing mileage per day, spinning sessions and rest days – everything was planned out. I ticked off the day and looked to the next one. Weekend mornings were spent getting up at the crack of dawn, taking on extra fuel whilst memorising every mile of the running route.

Now, three weeks post marathon, I still seem to be finding my feet. Having no agenda and getting back into a routine is proving rather difficult. My mind seems to have shut down and if I don’t do any training one day, I simply don’t care.

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At the beginning it was okay. The week following the marathon I clearly needed the time to allow my body to recover, so I did not think much of of it – just tried to keep moving as much as possible. Week two saw me return to spinning, with the best session I had completed in months, then a few Yoga sessions and a unplanned run round one of my local parks. With the impending Rat Race Dirty Weekend I did not want to go too crazy and tire myself out – though the lack of training post marathon I found the race more difficult than usual. Now – week three started off with some spinning, a run and a couple of walks. Nothing major and probably more than the average person would do in a week – but for me, it feels like nothing.

I put the blame onto my approaching holiday. My mind has shut down, it is preparing for sunshine and cocktails. And where I would usually just get back into picking up a routine – I am just being too relaxed. But with no agenda, the upcoming holiday and the fact that there is no race in the calendar until July I ask myself if it is such a bad thing to take time out and press the reset button? Surely taking time to relax is as much needed as putting in the hours of training? Rather than running round like a mad person, I have spent more time walking around the woods and fields behind my house, taking time thinking about how to improve and spending time with friends and family. All of which are equally as important as training itself.

I have been told this could happen. When you spend months putting all your time and energy into planning one race, your mind and body just refuses to play ball once it is over. When friends told me they went off running completely post marathon I didn’t quite believe it – until now. Four weeks ago I could easily run for ten miles without thinking about it, today running just three miles feels like running twenty. It is strange how the mind works and how, now post marathon, I am going to have to pick myself up and start again.

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For now, I am calling May a little bit of a training write off. I have all good intentions to get a few training runs in on holiday. Jetting off to San Diego, where there are plenty of sunny running routes, I have no excuse. However, if I get to the other end and decide all I want to do is spend time on the sun lounger sipping cocktails then that is okay. At the end of the day we all need a time out, and this will be mine.

It will be my time to refresh and re-set my mind, ready to get back into a routine and look forward to the next challenge.

Rat Race Dirty Weekend

I have never been one for camping. Don’t get me wrong I love being outdoors. I simply do not enjoy spending the night sleeping on the floor and in the cold.

However, when a group of my Boot Camp friends decided to sign up for Rat Race Dirty Weekend the plan was to camp for the two nights. Much preferring to book a hotel but not wanting to be a spoil sport – I signed up for the 13-20 mile obstacle course race, paying an additional £20 to sleep out doors for the night. Booked back in August, it was quickly put to the back of my mind, especially after receiving the news, in October, that I would be running the London Marathon.

To say I was under prepared for this event is an understatement. Months of training for the marathon meant that my strength training was put to the back burner. Every spare moment was spent racking up the mileage and endurance to run the 26.2 miles. I did not take a moment to think beyond the marathon itself and what I had booked in the weeks and months following. To be honest, it showed.

From the get go I was struggling, for a few reasons. Firstly – despite running over 20 miles a couple of weeks prior my body was tired, my legs were still suffering and I had tightness in my quad that simply would not shift. Secondly, I had been running on road surfaces, not fields, farmlands and woods – the kind of terrain that is expected at an OCR race. And finally, like I mentioned above, my strength training had been rather lacking and therefore hoisting myself over obstacles proved rather difficult.

That said, Rat Race Dirty Weekend is by far the best OCR race I have completed to date. Not just because of the race, but the whole weekend itself. Starting with a tame “school disco” in the festivals big blue tent, with the race following on the Saturday morning and a big messy party to follow. It was one of the most enjoyable events and one that I feel was worth every penny.

If you love a good obstacle race, then I would thoroughly recommend this. Boasting over 150 obstacles for those who want to run the 13 mile course, 200 obstacles for the 20 miles or if you were completely mad – 400 obstacles for the “Double Mucker” race – which involved two laps of the 20 mile course. Yikes!

Being of a sane mind, I decided to stick to the 13 miles. Not only did it have more than enough obstacles to appease the most seasoned OCR racer, but it had more enough running too.

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I have to give it to Rat Race – they certainly are experts in their field. Not only did they use the natural obstacles of the Burghley House estate, for lack of a better word every single obstacle was simply epic!

I tried my best at as many obstacles that came my way. Some required a friendly shove up the backside or a leg up, some were simply spot on. Some, simply terrified me to the point of a panic attack. The first of which came on a Fire Man’s pole – which thanks to being vertically challenged – I could not quite reach.

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The second panic attack, and one that set the mood for the rest of the course, came around mile 10. What I can only describe as a the biggest adult climbing frame – complete with cargo nets, tunnels and tyre climbs was swarming with OCR fanatics. Excited to get involved I tackled it – only to loose my footing from one cargo net and diving head first onto the cargo net below and getting kicked in the head by another runner. In true OCR spirit, there were plenty of racers (mainly muscly men – so I shall not complain too much) to lend a hand and get be back on my feet. Though as soon as I was on solid ground the panic started. And so the rest of the course was ruined for me.

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With a new found fear of cargo nets, heights and falling – most of the obstacles that followed were bypassed.

Although shaken and disappointed I did not let that deter me – after all this was one of the toughest obstacle races I had encountered to date. I did, however, have to get to the end.

So moving past obstacles that saw many runners shivering whilst they waited their turn, I kept moving forward to the one obstacle I was determined to conquer – the Travelator!

And I did it. I kept my legs moving and got to the top, elated!

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That was simply enough for me. 13 miles and nearly five hours out in the field, wet and cold, I was happy to get to the finish, get warm and have a well deserved drink!

I am gutted to have missed a large number of obstacles, including the epic slide finish, but I don’t regret doing so. Whatever challenge you are facing, you have to listen to your body and sometimes even your mind. On this day, my body was just not ready.

In hindsight, I probably should have deferred my entry. But after missing out on Hackney Half Marathon the week prior I was determined to get back out there.

However, with every race I learn a little bit more about my strengths and weaknesses. In this case I now know that I need to spend the next few months building up my upper body strength, so I can face further OCR races I have planned for the year with full gusto!

Nuclear Rush was the next race on my list, for this coming Saturday. However, the lovely people at Nuclear already advised I can move my entry to another race after I raised concerns a few days after the London Marathon.

So with that in mind, and a couple more OCR races planned in the diary, I shall be upping my strength training and returning to Fit4OCR (a OCR training facility) to make sure I come back ready to take them all on!

And maybe a return to Dirty Rat Race Weekend in 2018? Who’s going?

No Hackney for me.

Defer! The one word in any racers vocabulary that one never wants to hear and one that so far I have never had to use. However after last Sundays London Marathon, and the stress it has put on an old ankle injury, I have not run once this week and simply not in a position to complete the 13.1 miles tomorrow.

At the time of booking Hackney Half Marathon I was buzzing from my endurance for long runs increasing and I believed that I would be in a peak level of fitness to be able to take on this race for a second year running. And, fingers crossed, improve on my bad performance from the previous year.

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So, all with good intentions, I contacted the race organisers (now Virgin Sport) to explain my situation in the hope that they would be able to defer my entry to the following year or even offer me a spot in another race.

The response I got was rather unsympathetic. I was told that I was neither allowed to defer my entry nor move my place to another race. The only option, even though I had already paid a hefty sum of £49 to enter, was to volunteer as a Marshall to be given a free spot for another race. After complaining further to head office, I was promptly sent an email spouting the terms and conditions I agreed to when signing up for the race and, a rather patronising staff member asked if I would like to be sent a full copy of these terms!

Yes, I signed up to the terms and conditions at the time of booking. However, at that time I had no intention not to run. I had no idea that an old injury, that I had not suffered with once during my marathon training, would re-surface and cause me issues.

The fact that Virgin Sport have no policy in place for those suffering with an injury or have any empathy towards those racing is disgusting. Never before have I experienced races where you are simply told “sorry, tough luck. Come volunteer instead.” I have many friends who have had to pull out of races at the last minute and every time the race organisers have allowed them to defer or transfer their entry to another race that suits them.

It is downright rude and quite frankly shows very poor customer service on Virgin Sport’s part. I suppose it is also a great way to make extra profit. Rely on a percentage of drop outs or no shows and simply say “sorry, its in our terms and conditions.” In other words, give you the finger.

Sadly I have already booked another race with Virgin Sport in the Summer, previously Run London run by Vitality, so that’s more of my money in Virgin’s pocket. I will have to ensure I don’t do anything between now and then to jeopardise running this one – as that too came with a hefty entry fee.

After this, I am going to re-consider entering any Virgin Sport events, which saddens me. All the races they have taken over from Vitality are throughly enjoyable and always a great experience.

However, what I have learned over the last few weeks is there are plenty other 10k’s and Half Marathons out there, with new races such as London Landmarks Half and The Big Half both released for 2018. So, as Virgin Sport do not care enough to show empathy to their customers I will simply take my custom elsewhere!