The Junior Parkrun Birthday Party – an antidote to Play Gyms

What on earth can we do for her birthday?” I asked Gav, willing for some flash of inspiration to help us avoid the dreaded Play Gym Party scenario.

Not being one for orchestrated, indoor fun courtesy of those expensive padded cells that have become commonplace amongst the Playground Mums, I was desperate for an alternative. “What’s more ‘us’?” I pondered? “What do we do together, with the girls, and how can we make that a part of Tilly’s birthday celebrations?

And then the lightning bolt struck me very late one night: THAT’S IT! WE’LL HAVE A JUNIOR PARKRUN PARTY!

It was a risky plan.

Many Sundays, Tills seems riddled with pre-parkrun apprehension. She puts undue pressure on herself to work hard and aim for a PB. We’ve spoken about that – I’ve bored her to death with “it’s the taking part and enjoying it that counts” reassuring blurb. Not to Tilly it isn’t – she’s one for self-imposed striving of a 6-year-old’s insanely high standards. Most weeks, I can see her push herself, and I know it hurts. The little lungs burn; the chicken drummer quads prickle with lactic. It’s the start of a long journey – those ‘hurts’ feel just the same in adult turkey thighs.

So, my plan to combine this ‘fun’ with her birthday party seemed at first insane. Would she be mortified at the prospect of propelling herself around the usual 2km of hard work in full view of her classmates? Would she secretly be hankering after the sugary-coated play gym party, with a rainbow of plastic climbing frames and ropes, in full view of the latte mums and reluctant corporate dads? Maybe she quite enjoyed the sickly pink slide and the wipe-clean climbing mats with just a hint of vomit on overly warm days. Perhaps it’s just me who struggles to know how we all came to fall in love with this as a concept.

And what about the other kids? Would they even want to come to a Junior Parkrun party? Would the playground parents really want to be up and off at 8.15am on a grumbling Sunday morning to head for a local park? The Plastic Slide parties are usually at a more forgiving Sunday morning hour: time enough to look beyond Saturday night’s wine splurge that was never meant to end in opening that third bottle…

Not to mention the weather. Last night, I was awoken with dread at 2:30am by the unwelcome rattle of swollen raindrops on our velux window. “Ahh shit. What do I do now? What if it’s like this in five hours time? Do I even have all the contact details for those parents who’ve been bothered to reply? How would it look if we bailed on our own child’s party due to British weather? The play gym would seem like a dream then, smart arse, wouldn’t it?” I berated myself for not having a Plan B.

I’d made a valiant attempt to cover most bases: We’d ordered a cake, complete with the Junior Parkrun logo. They’d missed the photo of Tills off it, but it looked great nonetheless *it should do at that price. I’d ordered some kids’ sandwich boxes from the Cafe at Greenhead Park. Knowing how ravenous most of them are on crossing the finish line, it was a no-brainer. If in doubt, feed them!

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And then there was the issue of presents. A second thunder bolt had struck and convinced me that there was an alternative to the reams of plastic tat suddenly needing a second home on the back end of a child’s birthday celebration. Without wanting to sound like a tight arse, or some holier-than-though tree-hugger whose daughter is made to do without ‘for the greater good’, I had a plan. Having an approximation of the levels of brick-a-brac already destined for residence with us, I decided we didn’t need any more encouragement for ingenious storage options – I hate IKEA at the best of times. And so I wrote to the parents and simply asked that instead of buying Tills a gift, we would greatly appreciate a small donation to our friend’s fund-raising efforts since losing their daughter last year – #FlyHighEdie. This seemed to hit a number of objectives, and we were over the moon that Cheryl, Tom and baby Annie were able to come over for the occasion, too.

And so, with the overnight downpour having just about abated, we headed off at 8am to see what this purportedly inspired Parkrun Party would deliver.

As we parked up, a couple of the Playground Mums meandered into Greenhead park, and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that at least some of her classmates had turned up to give this left-field party idea a try. Phew! A few more arrived in dribs and drabs, and before we knew it, we were hobnobbing with many familiar faces. It was exciting to be able to share a little bit of what our family likes to do. Some of the parents had never heard of Junior Parkrun before. This was their first introduction to the world of Alternative Sunday Mornings.

We moved outside to the start area, and all around us Tilly’s classmates and friends were dotted in amongst the regular runners. Tills got a lovely birthday shout out, and before long we were off. At full capacity with a child gripped firmly in either hand, I looked down to either side of me. I saw giggling faces, full of laughter as novelty combined with the excitement of suddenly legging it for no apparent reason washed over the pair of them. And I thought to myself, “You’ve pulled a blinder here, Rach. This is ace!”

 

Once all the newbies had come in to the finish, and had the ‘you can register your little Johnny online...’ spiel from the lady with the clipboard, we congregated in the cafe. Within minutes, all little bodies were happily ingesting jam sandwiches, Pom Bear crisps and a Penguin chocolate biscuit. Hungry chatter was soon replaced by contented munches, and a mini wave of smug, self-satisfaction washed over me, as I knew it had worked – my random party plan had actually come off!

The cake was done and dusted within a few minutes, and then all children exited stage left to go and throw themselves around the play area outside. Back to the fresh air which is – I believe – the antidote most of us need to the centrally-heated, plastic-seated, overly-orchestrated world in which we find ourselves looking for the nearest Emergency Exit sign, most days.

The kids loved it; “It’s the best party, EVER!” one little girl said to me. I asked her what she’d said, just to hear it again for my own egotistical purposes. Back of the net!

We got home, and I received a text from a previously unknown School Mum who’d turned up with her little boy AND a 3 week old baby (how did she even get out of bed?) It said “Thank you again for the great time Oliver had this morning.

Then – just when it couldn’t get any better – Cheryl sent me through a screen shot of the #FlyHighEdie donation page. She was made up with the few extra pounds adding to the impressive amount they’ve already raised to help Edinburgh Sick Kids.

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…And finally, although we couldn’t escape the plastic tat completely, it could have been a lot, lot worse.

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Thanks to all who donated to #FlyHighEdie, supporting Edinburgh Sick Kids. 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE 6TH BIRTHDAY AND THE PLAN

THE 6TH BIRTHDAY AND THE PLAN

Today is Tilly’s 6th birthday. It’s exactly six years since she was reluctantly hoiked from her peaceful cocoon and thrust unwillingly into the harsh reality of the antiseptic-scented Halifax maternity ward. On arrival, she looked like she’d done a round with Baby Eubank. I’d have screamed the place down, too.

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I think I’ve picked up heavier 6-inches from Subway.

We went downstairs and she hopped about like a frog on a hotplate as she eyed-up the small pile of presents that lay awaiting her approval / disappointment (remembering a previous ‘fake Barbie’ experience, and to never, EVER, expect a child to appreciate opening… new clothes, no matter how ‘comfy’ and ‘warm’ they look to me, as a Mother.)

As she ripped off the paper to reveal her new Pink Ladies jacket (we’re both immense Grease fans) I took to hopping about on the hot plate by proxy. They didn’t do them in my size.

We did the ‘cake’ thing with Gav recording it on his iphone, only to realise that the effect of turning lights out for candle-blowing actually resulted in a pitch black 45 second film with the dim flicker of one candle, accompanied by Gav’s dulcet tones as a soundtrack whilst he sings ‘Happy Birthday’ not only very badly, but also whilst still asleep. Delete.

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Yes, really.

This was my daughter’s birthday celebration. It was her day to open pressies, feel special, and to be giddy about the mere fact of turning ‘6’ for no other reason than it sounds far more impressive to her than being 5.

But, it was also my celebration, because, by virtue of having my daughter 6 years ago today – it marks the anniversary of My Plan.

MY PLAN was (I thought) well conceived, thoroughly researched, and foolproof. I would enter into the Virgin London Marathon for 2011 as a goal to greet me on the other side of motherhood.

I had just 6 and a half months to equip myself in being marathon-ready from the moment my spectacularly reluctant bun made an appearance out of my most accommodating oven.

In reality, My Plan wasn’t any of those things. It was utterly naïve, and blindly thrown together in some euphoric ‘I WON’T GO BACK ON PROZAC BY VIRTUE OF THIS PREGNANCY / I WON’T ALLOW MYSELF TO KICK MY TITS ALONG THE FLOOR AS A RESULT OF MY BODY BEING RAVAGED BY MY OFFSPRING, OR SOME ENDLESS ‘COFFEE & CAKES’ MERRY-GO-ROUND OF MUMS ‘N’ BABIES SUPPORT GROUPS’ desperation.

So, from a motivational perspective then – it worked.

What transpired from that moment was a journey that changed me. The goal, the sense of purpose; the quiet, lonely times when I couldn’t believe I’d ever get there; the incessant drive I had to reach the start line and prove to myself that I could do this; the story that emerged within me of a person I never believed I could be. It was through My Plan that I REALLY found running, and – actually – I found myself.

All the rest – as they say – is history.

*There is obviously far more to the story, but for that, you’ll have to wait for the book 😉

What a Difference a Decade Makes… The Great North Run 2016 – Part 2: The Race

What a difference a decade makes… The Great North Run 2016: Part 2

Once in the safety of my pen, I did my usual bit of pointless jiggling up and down, taken directly from the Ministry of Silly Warm-ups. A small, unassuming lady shot me a nervous smile, and we struck up an equally nervous conversation. “It’s horrible, this bit, isn’t it?” I ventured, sensing her angst.

Yeah – I know. I just want to get going now!” She replied, with another clear 45 minutes still to go. She was called Jean.

We discussed previous GNRs we’d taken part in, and mutually coached each other into somehow taming the inner chimp that whispered mockingly into our ears, “You can’t do this, you fool! Quick – make an about-turn and exit stage left.” As we spoke to each other and understood that our chimps were regurgitating exactly the same self-doubting mantra, it seemed to help.

We shuffled a bit further forward, having mustered up the confidence to inch that bit closer to the start line. Another petite, cheerful lady joined us in our pre-race polite chatter. She was chirpy – almost agitated with adrenaline as she matter-of-factly dropped into the conversation, “It’s my first GNR since the cancer. I couldn’t run it last year – I was having an emergency hysterectomy. They took out all my lymph glands too, just to make sure.

Myself and Unassuming Jean were momentarily silenced, whilst chirpy, agitated lady continued. “I was lucky, really. They found it (the cancer) when it was 1.8cm long. Any longer and I’d have had to go through endless rounds of radiotherapy and chemo. In fact, I’d still be going through all of that now!” she said, like it was the most normal conversation in the world. I’d only just noticed that she was wearing a Cancer Research vest.

Chirpy Lady was quite clearly beside herself with nerves, to the point where she admitted feeling entirely nauseous. Initially, I couldn’t understand why. “Bloody hell,” I said to her, making a gesture towards her Cancer Research vest, “You’ve just beaten cancer, you’re fit & well enough to be here and stand on the start line – in a fast pen – and yet you’re nervous about a half marathon? Surely you feel invincible!” I didn’t want to appear ignorant or stupid, but I no doubt managed both.

I know all that,” she replied, with a beaming, nervous smile. “But the truth of it is, I don’t want the cancer to have taken my running from me. I want to prove to myself that I’m at least as fast as I was before the cancer came. I was fast, then.” Suddenly, I got it. I understood.

I felt pathetic and scolded myself. What right have you got to indulge in any more ridiculous self-doubt? You haven’t had cancer. You haven’t lost a child. Your vest doesn’t have a picture of a deceased close relative on the back of it. My thought process continued, Whatever happens, I am so entirely and utterly thankful to be standing here in the sunshine, amidst the overly-serious Paddington Bears and the Chubby Fairies – and to simply be a part of this.

We said our ‘good lucks’ and before long, we were off.

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I’m the one in the orange hat. ;-D

The first mile I spent tripping up over misplaced, slower runners, in spite of being in a fast starting pen. Who are these people? How are they not further back? It worked in my favour though, as the skipping about slowed my early pace down. And anyway, someone may well have had exactly the same thoughts about me back in 2006.

In fact, the first few miles were a joy, my legs having forgotten entirely about the 20 mile race from the previous weekend. Ever since that pummeling, I’d questioned HOW. How on earth can my legs do this? How can they recover and run this thing, after last weekend almost broke me? I simply didn’t know. But, after my thrill of witnessing Paddington being interviewed, watching Mankini Man tweak the fluorescent strap from around his balls, and hearing Chirpy Lady’s victory over cancer, I couldn’t bring myself to care.

Mile 4 and I was happily trotting alongside the 1:35 pacer. He looked to be floating, hovering slightly off the ground, with a small gang of cling-ons working much harder just to hang on to the back of his shorts. I giggled to myself as one friendly guy who was running laboriously next to him asked, ‘So, what kind of time would you normally do a half in, then?‘ to which the answer came back ‘Oh, about 1:04.‘ That would explain things, then. Friendly Man shut up.

Mile 6 came and I’d already run through a couple of showers and thrown water over myself to try and cool down. I glanced at my watch, and the pace was good. Bloody Hell, Rach. You’re doing alright here! I even had the inclination to wave excitedly at the overhead cameras as I ran past, reveling in the GNR happy vibe. This is ACE!! I’d reluctantly overtaken 1:35 pacer guy, warning myself from getting too giddy – surely my already fatigued legs would protest at some point?

And then it happened. Somewhere between mile 8 and 9 my legs realised they’d had enough. They simply couldn’t be arsed to continue, and I quickly went from bouncing along to battling them within the space of a drinks station. How could the tide turn so quickly? My head dropped as I knew I’d entered the Battle Zone. And there I was, thinking I’d possibly got away with it. Nope – it’s game on. Head down; feel the pace slipping away; fight the constant nagging urge to stop; have conversations with some other mystical part of my psyche to try and stay positive and get through this.

Around mile 10, Pacer Guy and his Minions cruised past me. Only ever so slightly ahead in terms of pace, but mentally some damage was done. Ahhh shit. There goes any chance of a 1:35 time, then. I adopted the role of cling-on to one of his minions.

The last three miles hurt, and the tiniest of inclines felt like mountains. Every time I checked out my Garmin in an attempt to wish the miles away, I only saw minuscule fractions pass by. But I know that place. I’ve been there so many times before. In that at least, there is some small comfort. To feel familiarity with an internal, invisible battle. Perhaps that sums up my running? No magic inspiration appeared, and the minuscule mile fractions willfully refused to gain any momentum.

Coming in to the last mile was the worst of all. So near the end, and yet the desire to stop was overwhelming. Normally, I would hope to have something left – if not a sprint finish, then at the very least not a limp finish. This one was an unequivocal limper.

I looked up at the clock as I approached the mats. No way! It’s showing 1:35! My clinging on to Mr Pacer’s minions must have had some of the desired effect.

My time: 1:35:17. Not a PB (that stands at 1:30) but considering that the last time I passed the finishing line in South Shields it was in a time of 2:14:07 – a decade ago – I’ll take that.

I wonder what difference another decade will make?

What a Difference a Decade Makes… The Great North Run 2016 – Part 1: The WHY.

What a Difference a Decade Makes… The Great North Run 2016 – Part 1: The WHY.

I last ran the GNR in 2006, when I was a very different person. I was in a legal career I hated, in a marriage that left me feeling like Dory, swimming around a fish bowl having forgotten what she was even looking for. I lived in a corporate suburb of Wakefield like one of those Aliens hiding out in underpants (parents of young children will get the reference.) Wakefield being the ‘pants’ and me being the ‘alien’ – obviously. Most of my days commenced with a daily dose of Prozac and ended in a blur of rose wine. In 2006, I limped over the GNR finish line in 2 hours 14 minutes and 17 seconds, and I was spent.

It’s now 2016, and I felt an urge to take part in this year’s GNR. Why? So many reasons. Because I wanted to remind myself what all the fuss was about; because I wanted my 2016 self to experience what my 2006 self had seen – only through new eyes. Cleaner, fresher, happier – hell, even honest eyes. Would I see things the same way? Would I still have to stop and walk at mile 6, unable to continue chugging my wine-fuelled, sluggish body along at a meagre ten-minute mile pace? I’m ten years older. What’s changed in that time?

So I made it my mission to secure a place this year. To cut an otherwise rambling tale short, I ended up running as Gav. He was injured – his continued run of race calamities putting an end to his GNR 2016.

With his number pinned firmly to my vest, having first removed the offensively large ‘GAVIN’ print so as to avoid any bemused ‘well, you can kind of see remnants of a tash, though, if you look closely,’ glances, I left Gav at the car park and headed off to the start line.

I stopped to cross the street just as two apprehensive, heavy fairies hopped out of a taxi. A couple walked towards me hand-in-hand, looking deadly serious in their mutual silence whilst wearing prominent pink kitten ears. I turned a corner and hit a sea of people, and all the memories came flooding back. THIS IS THE MAGIC. Just like ten years ago, this is it.

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was here and experiencing this for the first time. The sensory overload grabs me; the emotional assault and the battery of noise, movement and colour washes over me like a small child in a wave pool. I look to my left: there’s a guy naked other than a fluorescent green mankini. He’s stepping gingerly into a matching tutu; near to him are two identical, slightly chubby Elvis’s, bejewelled and dazzling in silent unison, contemplating their fate. I look up at the sky – it’s a perfect blue and it matches my shorts.

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‘Hang on, Kev. Something’s caught down here.’

 

As I’m following the crowd, I realise I’m walking behind two girls with long, furry kitten tails swinging from their synchronised Lycra pants. I suddenly stop and wonder, ‘Where the hell am I going?’

In front of me is a man chatting to his friend. He’s wearing a 1980s sweatband without any hint of irony. I glance down over the bridge and see the start line, with splatterings of colourful people barely moving. Just as I walk past, an interviewer looks to be engrossed in a heavy pre-race conversation with Paddington Bear. He’s come over from deepest Peru for the occasion.

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‘No, but seriously, Paddington. What has brought you over here from Peru for today’s race?’

 

I find a patch of sun-dried grass along the banking and I sit down. Batman and Robin are taking selfies to my right, whilst others like me are sitting and watching. We’re silenced by the human spectacle we are all a part of. I think back to that half marathon right here ten years ago, and being shocked at the fact that people were relieving themselves up and down the grass banking. “These people are PISSING in public! Without any attempt to hide the fact!” I get up and quickly scurry behind a thinly-branched tree and unashamedly pull down my pants for yet another nervous wee. When in Rome and all that…

Our friends are running today. Tom and Cheryl lost their daughter last year. Tom is running. They are heroes, although they don’t wear fluorescent mankinis or batman capes. They don’t run with white goods strapped to their back, and yet they have a dignified strength that wipes the floor with any of the caped crusaders in superhero films.

Paddington strolls past me, and I wonder if he wishes he’d chosen a cooler costume. A small ginger haired lad runs after him, hollering after the Peruvian bear. “Paddington, PADDINGTON!”  he screeches excitedly with his arms flailing, but Paddington walks on.

The heart-wrenching stories are being broadcast over the sound system, whilst the BFG-size TV screen spans the road as it show interviewers nodding patronisingly at Kelly who has lost six stone since she was inspired by another runner, another year. She’s still got a way to go, but she’s on the right track. I don’t know whether to feel inspired or just sad. Everyone’s got a story, but how much more can any of us take in of this plethora of juxtaposed, hopeful pain? I wonder where Tom is. I wonder what he’s feeling. He’s not on the rotating TV screen, or in a Paddington suit. He’s just thinking about how he’ll get through the next couple of hours knowing he’s doing it in the absence of his beautiful daughter.

A girl sitting by herself next to me tentatively asks, “Excuse me, but where do we go to find our starting pens?” I can’t help but wonder how she’s found herself here. The pens are directly in front of us, and we could roll down the banking into them. She goes on to ask what time we should head down. Inside, I weep a little, but at least she’s here and she’s doing this. It would be far easier not to.

I get up and have a final wee behind another sparse bush, and then I make a break for my pen…

To Be Continued…

The Unlikeliest Victory: The Golden Balls 20 mile race

The Unlikeliest Victory: The Golden Balls 20 mile race, Sunday 4th September 2016

I’m a wreck. I’ve got tummy ache, and I probably need to refuel but I can’t face eating. I’ve got two sores emerging just below my boobs where my sports bar has rubbed the damp, salty skin for all 20.1 miles of today’s race. I’m tired but I can’t rest. I’d make a good guess that’s one too many caffeine gels combined with pure adrenaline. I’ve got blood blisters peeking out from underneath ad hoc toenails – or at least where there were once things resembling toenails. I can’t get comfy, and generally speaking I’m just a derelict vessel having been washed up – ran aground.

Today was one of the toughest races I’ve done for a long, long time. Not because of the distance (well, kind of), or the terrain, or hills, or any of those things. It was tough because despite leading as 1st female for pretty much the entire race, my legs battled me for most of the last nine miles, and once they wanted to throw in the towel, my head joined in the party and tried to convince me to stop. Just stop running.

We arrived at the Salt Aire leisure centre a good hour before the start of the race. That’s our thing – it’s just what we do. Gav was nervous as we sat in the car, collectively dragging out otherwise minuscule tasks – did you know that if you fuck about for long enough it can take a good 15 mins to pin a number on a vest? I hoped to God that my breakfast would even pretend to digest. An 11am start time can really play havoc with your eating, and it’s a fine line between standing on the start line under fuelled, or as full as an egg.

Just like Gav, I was nervous. My legs didn’t feel fresh. We’ve had a good many weeks now of marathon training, and arguably ALL of our runs have been ‘quality’. For ‘quality’ substitute ‘bloody hard’ and you get the message. Speed work down at track; tempo runs with the Fast Pack at Harriers; looooonnngg weekend endurance runs. NONE of those are easy. Not any.

So, we mooched our way around the track of Salt Aire leisure centre in some pretend warm-up and I willed my hamstrings to chill out. Just relax! I messaged them. You’ve only got 20 miles to run, imminently. You may as well get used to the idea and we can be friends! I wasn’t convinced they wanted to listen to me, or to be my friend. Who can blame them?

The fleeting comedy turn of Barry, Lancaster Race Series’ Race Director was a mild diversion from the task ahead, and then we were off. ‘Don’t go off too fast, Rach. Do NOT go off like a bat out of hell. You will suffer later if you do.’ Fortunately, my hammies put an immediate ban on any land speed aspirations, and so we settled with a reasonably pacy but not outrageous start.

A scouse guy ran alongside me early doors. ‘What time you hoping for?’ He ventured. I didn’t have the heart to say ‘Oh just please fuck off – we’re not even 5 miles in and I don’t even know how I feel myself just yet.’ Instead, I murmured something inane and pleasant, hoping he would take the hint. He didn’t. ‘It’s just that I’ve forgotten my running watch and only have my regular watch with me!’ he replied, furnishing me with his predicament. ‘Ahh, that’s a shame. Have a good one, anyway!’ I kept up the polite pretence and put my foot down.

Almost every Marshall I passed, and even random couples out on bikes (no tandems, unfortunately) would shout ‘Yay! First Lady!’ Another hi-vis woman at a water station repeated it, shortly followed by a couple of dedicated spectators who’d been bothered to place themselves down a muddy track out in the middle of nowhere. I smiled and said ‘thanks’ at least seven times before it hit me. ‘Shit! I’m First Lady.’ And it was only relatively early in the race, 6 – maybe 7 miles in. There’s a hell of a long way to mess it up.

I kept checking on my pace, and it felt a bit all over the shop. Wavering from 7:10s to 7:50s. I couldn’t really find my rhythm, and wondered if it would feel so disjointed for the remaining 13 miles. It did.

I thought about Gav, and wondered how his race was going. I knew he’d set off far more conservatively than me, so I didn’t expect to see him on route. ‘Please let him have a good one today,’ I mused to myself, temporarily escaping from my otherwise self-absorbed little world.

‘Clip, clop. Clip, clop.’ On the narrow bridle way just ahead was a wide-arsed horse with an equally wide-arsed hi-vis rider. I was glad to make it past the beast, when I heard it’s bastard clipping and clopping approaching behind me. The narrow, muddy track was heavily puddled after yesterday’s downpour, and I hopped, skipped and jumped through the puddles in a bid to escape the tortuous stalking brute. ‘That’s just what I need, to be cajoled along by a frustrated bloody horse,’ I grumbled, before it finally clopped it’s way off into the distance.

In my head I turned mathematician, trying to carve up the miles to make them more manageable. ‘Chop it into quarters, Rach. That’s four lots of five miles. 5,10,15,20. Simple. You can do that.’

‘Nope. That’s too big. What about fifths? Five lots of four miles. That sounds better. Yeah.’

I was approaching ten miles at this point. ‘Well, that’s half done.’ My (very) basic fractions were helping as a distraction, if nothing else.

Mile 11 came and I started to suffer. ‘Ahhh shit. Any which way you carve it up there’s still nine bastard miles to run,’ I ruminated to myself, feeling the first wafts of defeat. ‘Fucking hell, Rach. Pull it together. You’re doing well here. You’re first bloody woman! That means all the other females are behind you! Give up with your negative self-chatter. If nothing else, it’s boring.

A guy I recognised for talking incessant bollocks to his reluctant pal at the start of the race passed me as I pulled over for a gel around mile 13. He gave me a smug, self-satisfied smirk as he did so. ‘Fuck you’ I thought as I willed him to trip over his laces.

We’d been warned of a hill around mile 14. I looked up at the endless, meandering road snaking ahead and I was momentarily broken. I stopped, berated myself, and messed around with my drinks bottle. Then I glanced back over my shoulder at the open, empty road. I wondered where Gav was. Should I wait for him? I’d have given anything for him to run around the corner and tell me it would be OK. But we’ve been here many times before. I had to run my own race and find the strength myself.

OK, OK. You can stop every mile. That’s the deal. That’s what we’ll do. Just know that if you lose out on 1st placed female, this is the moment it cost you.’ I bargained with myself, and ran on.

Mile 15 came and I reverted back to my fractions. ‘Come on you’re ¾ of the way through! That’s only one bloody quarter of it left.’ I pictured a cake with a quarter slice carved out, and thought ‘fair enough – it’s not as big as the other grotesque Bruce Bogtrotter slice, but it’s still a big old wedge of cake!’ Shit. The visualisation technique thing had also escaped me. I ran on.

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That’s a whole lotta cake…

At mile 16, I obsessed about the number ‘4’. ‘Four miles left. Four. It’s one more than three, one less than five. Four will soon be three. How long will it take to turn into three?’ I’d momentarily picked up my speed again, and was gaining on a fella who’d earlier left me for dead. As I ran past, I felt a wave of his tiredness wash over me. ‘Come on’ I turned to him briefly. ‘Don’t let me beat you now.’ He didn’t respond. Yup – that’s what being well and truly fucked does to you.

The surroundings began to feel familiar to me. I pictured the remaining mile markers in my head, and their approximate location. It helped me to just keep ticking over at a consistent, if not earth-shattering pace. ‘I can see the bridge’ I told my nagging ‘STOP NOW’ chimp. ‘I can see the bridge, and I know the 19 mile marker is at the other side.’ My chimp was temporarily silenced.

Remember smug bastard from Mile 13? I ran past him just shy of the 19 mile marker and almost shouted ‘Yeah! Fuck You!’ But stopped myself before realising that he may yet discover a final gear and put me in Check Mate. Plus it would be very rude of me to display my Tourette’s in public.

Keep going, Rach. Come on now. Just run. One foot, then another.’ I knew the finishing mile well, and I stuck to the very basic plan of ‘Just keep running’. One last bastard lap of the track, and I was done. I’VE HELD ON! I’VE BEATEN MY CHIMP! I’M FIRST LADY! OH GOOD GOD! And then I broke down and wept.

Before I could peel my banana, Barry the race director ushered me to a table just beyond the timing clock. ‘First Lady!’ He said, kindly as I tried to gather myself. ‘Pick one of these from the table’ he said, gesturing with his hands towards a coffee maker, a juicer and something else. Think mini Generation Game. ‘ And a bottle’ he continued. ‘White, red, or rose’.

Oh, erm – I’ll have the juicer and rose please’ I said, too exhausted to care what box I took home. ‘And I’m really sorry I’m emotional’ I explained. ‘It’s just that – excuse my French – but I’m fucked.’ He laughed and handed me my spoils.

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Come on down! The price is right (any 80s telly addicts will get the reference)

I sat down on the grass, and tried to compose myself. Second lady wasn’t far behind, and we spent a good ten minutes chewing the fat over marathon pacing, lessons we’d learned and self-congratulating on our victories (she seemed pleased with her coffee machine.)

And then my thoughts turned to Gav. Where was he? He wouldn’t be long. Nope – I’ll sit tight here on the grass. He won’t be long. I thought about going into the race HQ for a cup of tea, but didn’t want to miss him coming into sight for the last lap of the track. I waited, but he didn’t come.

I was getting cold. A lovely lady called Helen who was tasked with handing out t-shirts to finishing runners could see me sitting, and waiting. ‘Do you want to wear this jacket?’ She offered, kindly. ‘In fact’ she continued, ‘Go into the clubhouse, say Helen sent you in and ask for a big jacket like mine. You need to stay warm.’

She guarded my winning juicer and Blossom Hill as I followed her instructions and went inside for an oversize thermal-lined hi-vis with ‘MARSHALL’ in big black letters across the back. ‘Thanks so much’ I said as I returned to my spot on the grass with a cup of instant coffee which I was having some difficulty getting down.

Some more time passed, and I turned once again to Helen. ‘I’m getting worried about my other half, Helen,’ I said, getting flashbacks to Dubai Marathon. ‘He should have finished by now. He must have pulled out.’ She got out a mobile phone and called Barry, Race Director, who was out pedalling around the course keeping a general eye on proceedings. ‘What is he wearing? A Club vest?’ She asked. ‘No. A black vest and black shorts.’

I could hear her regurgitate the details to Barry. ‘It’s the First Lady – she’s worried about her partner!’ She said, kindly but with a comical tone as if there was some irony in the predicament. A few moments later, we had some news. ‘Barry thinks he’s just seen him approaching the bridge. He may be ten minutes or so.’ She informed me, reassuringly. ‘Ahh that’s good’ I said, and turned again to keep my eye on the entrance to the track.

Almost an hour had passed, and I started to cry. ‘Fucking hell Gav, where are you?’ I didn’t care any more about his race or his time. I just wanted him to be OK and to come round the corner. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I sat huddled my knees in the XXL hi-vis, surrounded by my spoils. I wasn’t bothered about my own race victory anymore, either.

And then he emerged. He walked round the corner and stepped over the tape barrier. I ran over to him. ‘Bloody hell, am I glad to see you!’ I said to him, still blubbing whilst checking him out for any obvious signs of distress. ‘I don’t even care what happened just yet,’ I told him. ‘Get a t-shirt and get warm. I’m just so relieved you’re back and you’re alright. It’s like Dubai all over a friggin gain!’

He’d been fine up to 15 miles, and then his legs had packed up. He didn’t know it, but his race was scarily similar to mine. The only difference was that my result flattered me, whereas his didn’t do him justice. There’s something so unfair about that.

Once he’d finished spluthering over how well I’d done (not that I cared by that point) I pointed to the grass. ‘At least we’ve got a new juicer’ I said, with a half-smile. It turns out he’d have preferred the coffee machine and the bottle of red.

Ah well, you can’t win ‘em all.

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Punching Above My Weight – The Training Run

PUNCHING ABOVE MY WEIGHT…

It was only a training run, but I was dreading it. ‘Shit, Gav – what are we doing here?’ I asked, posing the question as much to myself as I was to him. The deal was this: we would rock up to the Group 5 Halifax Harriers Thursday night training run which left at the slightly earlier time of 6pm. This would give us an additional hour on the back end of whatever torture may lie ahead to go home, eat our body weight in carbs and slowly die in a darkened corner.

Group 5 is the ‘fast’ group. We’d tentatively tried our hand at a couple of Group 4 runs (still fast), both of which had kicked our backsides from here to the other end of Halifax – via at least one offensively long hill – and back again. And on both occasions we’d been shocked at the pace. These guys didn’t appear too fond of ‘hanging around’. In fact, they seemed in a mad rush to get somewhere. Perhaps they had more pressing things to do, other than crawl away and die somewhere, like me and Gav.

We’ve been homeless (i.e. without being members of a Running Club) for a good while now, and that’s suited us. The club thing wasn’t working around our continually evolving logistics; we’ve spent the last two years tag-teaming our respective parenting duties with non-running ex partners, who treat running with the disdain of a six-year-old girl who’s just received a fake Barbie for her birthday (we’ve tried it – we know.) Plus, it’s never easy having once been the Club Headline Breaking News. NEWSFLASH! GAV AND RACH HAVE GOT IT TOGETHER! WHO KNEW?! We never wanted to be the star turn – we only wanted to run.

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‘I said a Barbie, Mummy, and the head’s just come off this one.’

So we agreed a plan in advance. ‘If they go off like rockets, we’ll agree to bail Gav. Right?’ I suggested meekly, only verbalising what he was already thinking. ‘Yep, deal. We can always peel off if it’s getting silly, and as long as we stick together, we’ll be fine,’ he said, in his usual Gav-like reassuring way. We’d survive… or die together trying.

New faces eyed us up and down amidst the ‘Ahh, you’ll be fine!’ reassuring banter as we made an about turn and left the clubhouse. My inner mantra began a conversation: But will we be fine? How do you know? You don’t know me, or my fragile relationship with running. You can’t see that it’s taking me every ounce of faux confidence to even stand here amongst you ‘real runners’ and purport to be one of you. I’m not one of you. I’m an imposter, having strayed from the lowliest of running pedigrees to this place, and I’m faking it. I shouldn’t even be here.

 

Amongst the ‘pack’ were

  • Sarah Cumber – a local running legend who wins everything she touches, including coming 1st F40 at this year’s Virgin London Marathon in some ridiculous sub-3 hour time;
  • Wiggo – a guy who’s done more sub-3 marathons than I’ve had McFlurrys, along with multiple Iron Man events, and regularly overtakes most people at Halifax Parkrun whilst pushing a really heavy buggy up climbs that make the rest of us wince.
  • A lovely fella who just fancied a ‘steady few miles’ as he’s recovering from injury, but still floats along effortlessly like he’s solar-powered.

A friendly lady struck up a conversation with me as we settled into our first mile. I’d already heard lots about her following some amazing recent race results. To my relief, it felt like a reasonably steady start. The usual stuff cropped up – How long have you been running? What races have you done? What have you got coming up? I never know how to answer those quick-fire rounds mid-gasps, but I tried to be as polite and succinct as possible with my answers. All in the name of energy efficiency.

Alas, no sooner had we ventured past the initial ice-breaking pleasantries and the comfort of the first steady mile, than the real pace kicked in. It was fast. But Friendly Lady kept up her social chatter as she continued to bounce along effortlessly. How is she doing that? I tried to steer the conversation towards her and away from me. Could I get away without appearing rude? I telepathically messaged her: ‘I’m really sorry, but this pace is actually killing me, so I’m more than happy to have a Skype chat sometime about my previous race victories and disasters, but right now it might actually make me vomit.’ I think she understood, and kindly left me to do whatever I could not to publically disgrace myself.

After a fast canal section, we stopped briefly to regroup before heading for the off-road climb. Shit! I’m still with them! I’d kept up, I hadn’t pissed myself or vomited, or stopped and feigned a sudden-onset injury. I couldn’t believe I was still with The Pack.

The climb felt tough, but manageable. It was Gav’s time to shine as he came into his own and pushed past me for the first time since our arse-kicking along the canal, which had arguably hurt him more than it had me.

Once we began our descent of the slippy downhill moss-covered cobbles, the pair of us tip-toed and pansied our way down the treacherous injury-inviting route well behind the others. At least it was only a distinct lack of bollocks holding us back though, and not the mere refusal of our lungs to work hard enough.

We soon caught up again, and resumed our roles as Convincing Imposters within the pack. Before long, we arrived back at the Clubhouse and sheer relief engulfed my entire being.

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‘We survived, Gav!’ I said, squeezing his sweaty hand as we said our thanks to the group and made our way back to the Cullododd mobile. I’d even managed to convince myself that we would be back, and would run with them again sometime, after managing to temporarily silence the bastard inner chimp from his earlier relentless unhelpful chatter.

So, with a few weeks of tough races coming up, including the Great North Run and the Yorkshire Marathon, I’m thinking… Maybe I’ll just keep on punching above my weight until I get knocked out? It sounds like a plan to me.