One Week: Two Races. The Ego vs The Flow

One Week: Two Races. The Ego vs The Flow

I love the word ‘juxtaposition.’ It keeps me on my toes, wondering what’s waiting around the next corner, ready to jump out and ambush me. Like the world famous ‘Bushman’ (Google him, seriously) who successfully added me to his list of conquests when he launched himself from behind his mobile bush along Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco ten years ago. I was a sitting (or walking) duck. Thankfully, Beadle never got hold of me. RIP.

Juxtaposition then. It seems to follow me around wherever I go.

This week was no exception.

Race 1: The Ego

Or, alternatively known as the Inter Financial Services Cross Country race, in Richmond Park, London.

Some background facts first of all:

  • I’m shit at Cross Country;
  • I’ve come home with TWO prizes (women’s winning team, and women’s VETS team) for the past two years. Surprising? Unlikely? Yes to both. But it happened. Twice.
  • It’s one of the hardest races I’ve done this year (and I’ve done a few)

There are a few other equally relevant facts at play here. Mini Me has been sneezing, coughing and spluttering over me for the past week. One night, I tucked her into bed and just before she sneezed right in my face for the final time that day, she said apologetically with heavy eyes, ‘It’s OK Mummy. You don’t have to get into bed with me and cuddle me tonight.’ I thought that was a very kind gesture, but the germ-infused damage was – no doubt – already done.

We headed down to London on Tuesday, and I felt terrified about the race. Enter Stage Left, The Ego. What if you’re shit this year, Rach? What if you don’t win ANY prizes? What if you crash & burn and make a complete arse of yourself? Hell, could my fragile, pathetic ego handle the prospect of coming away EMPTY HANDED? Surely not. DO YOU NOT KNOW WHO I AM? (please note the sense of irony, here.)

 We arrived at the Bank of England Sports Centre – just as we have for the past two years – and I STILL felt terrified. Terrified, and also a bit tight chested. I thought it was just sheer panic.

We mingled, chatted and guffawed with the rest of the Lloyds team as they arrived in dribbles, nobody looking any different from the last two years. A couple of wide-eyed, overly tanned new members, but generally speaking – it was business as usual.

‘That’s the girl who ALWAYS wins’ someone said, pointing out a kind-looking girl with a big swishy dark ponytail. It’s true: she does always win, and she does seem to be in a league of her own, but imagine the pressure? What if she just can’t be arsed one year, or has to put a child to bed the night before with snot-infused kisses, after the virus-filled sandwich she just about stomached for tea? (I doubt that either are a part of her reality, but you never know.)

 I did my usual John Cleese half-baked comedy warm-up routine – more for show than effect – and I still felt terrified. That and, well… just shit.

The gun went off and BANG! I shot off like a scared young kid who’d just been caught nicking penny sweets from Woolworths. I ran like hell. Why? Because my ego was running – not me; because I was stupid, and didn’t even consider pacing myself for the THREE AND A HALF MILES of the race. How hard can it be? It’s only three and a half miles! Well, I should know, because I’ve done it twice before and each time finished in disbelief at the level of nausea rising from the pit of my stomach, and the burning sensation settling nicely in the back of my throat. It’s ROCK hard!

The first mile is uphill. Off road and uphill, and this year, we had an entire herd of deer bolt across right in front of the female front runners (I was 4th at this point.) So, I killed myself on that first mile climb. Imagine then: you’ve just run as fast as you possibly can up a hilly, grass banking a mile long, and you get to the (kind of) summit. You want to stop, but you can’t because

  1. You’re being chased by the female Movers & Shakers of the Banking Fraternity. They are a ‘driven’ bunch. If you fall, they run over you. It’s like that;
  2. There’s another TWO AND A HALF DUCKING MILES still to go – and some of those are up even more friggin’ hills.

This was my predicament.

I began to wheeze heavily as I heard my Garmin ‘bing’ to signal the first mile. Jesus. I sound like a chain-smoker! I couldn’t help but worry as I heard my own breath sound laboured, crackly and painful. It was painful.

And then I felt sorry for me. My Ego had completely kiboshed my race (that, and Tilly’s sloppy virus kisses from the week before.) But mostly the ego. My first mile had been 7:05 m/m pace. To put this into some perspective, that would be a decent pace to set off on a flat road race. NOT off road, and up a steep, grassy hill.

I died from there, and came over the finish line wheezing, panting and coughing as though air had recently been rationed, and I’d run out of tokens.

I didn’t win any prizes. My Ego was gutted, but it has itself to blame, so tough tits.

Race 2: The Flow

After the unabashed disaster of Richmond Park, my chest didn’t quite recover. I honked up a few undesirables for the next couple of days, and would text Gav intermittently saying,

‘I don’t think I’ll be doing Barnsley on Sunday. Still not right. Coughing up gunk.’

He would reply saying,

‘OK, just see how you feel. Don’t have to decide now.’

 I would text back saying,

‘But I should be OK. I really want to do it.’

 And he would text back saying,

‘OK. just see how you feel. Don’t have to decide now.’ (I think he’d copied & pasted his reply.)

Even up to last night we hadn’t decided. My coughing had all but gone, and I began to feel lighter in my chest and my breathing. Like a fog had lifted.

So, we enjoyed a beer.

And then this morning came. I made myself a Bailey’s coffee for the journey over (yes, I did) and I felt free, and happy. I didn’t care how my race went today. I just wanted to go and run and feel alive. I knew my Ego was no longer in the driving seat.


Duck off, Ego. Not today, thanks.

Gav was the opposite (it was his turn for the feeling dodgy / ‘should I / shouldn’t I race today?’ musings) but he dug in and raced – and he raced well, all things considered.

I set off and I felt light. Who knew that feeling burdensome with worry can actually make you feel a good few pounds heavier? I’d left my Rucksack of Pointless Worry Rocks at home, today. Thank God.

I aimed for consistency: Keep the miles tight – don’t go off too fast and die; tick over but work hard. That was my aim.

The hills made me work, but my head was up to the challenge. I saw a couple of females in the distance and picked them off in the last (uphill) mile. I didn’t let it go, and finished in a decent time for a hilly course. I may well have been in the top 5 for my F35 age category, am waiting to find out.

I beat my time from last year, and put my ego back in its box: a warning for it NEVER to try and take control of my races, again.

But more importantly than any of that, I BLOODY LOVED IT!



When Cully Met Doddy: The Story of Two Running Geeks

I was, at the time, designated Kit Queen for my (then) running club. Gav was a member of said running club.

This is how it all began…


From: Gavin Dodd
To: Rachel Cullen

Hi. I’d like to order a new club vest, please. Not sure whether I’m small or medium so will take both and bring one back. I work at the Lloyds Copley Data Centre and can collect from you when convenient.

Many thanks




From: Rachel Cullen
To: Gavin Dodd

Hi Gavin

Yes, sure, that’s fine. I live in Copley and you’re welcome to collect whenever convenient. I’ll have both sizes ready for you.

See you shortly,



I opened the door and he stood there smiling as though he’d just seen sunshine for the first time. ‘Crikey, he must REALLY need a new vest!‘ I thought to myself, as he bounced his way back down my garden path with his two new club vests in hand.

And then, he stopped and turned around. I knew then, and it’s since been confirmed: he didn’t in fact need a new club vest at all.



From: Gavin Dodd
To: Rachel Cullen

Hi Rachel

I just wondered if you fancied going for a run some time? I run along the canal from work most lunch times, and if you ever wanted to join me I could call for you on the way?

Thanks for the vests BTW. The small is fine, so I’ll call by and drop the medium one off when convenient.

Let me know about the run.

Thanks again,


That was late summer of 2013. It was the beginning of the most amazing friendship, and of our story: a real life love story.

We were nothing but a pair of running geeks on the cusp of forming a purely innocent friendship based on this fact alone.

I tried to put off going running with him for as long as I possibly could, being completely terrified that I’d simply embarrass myself, causing entirely avoidable personal humiliation. After all, I’d happily been running by myself for a long, long time. Although I’d enjoyed becoming a member of the running club and the social side I’d discovered, I wasn’t particularly looking for a ‘running buddy’ – least of all a married one.

Gav wouldn’t let the matter lie, and his persistency eventually paid off. Our first ever run together was painless enough – for me, anyway. Unbeknownst to me, he was harboring an achilles injury, and although we only did a few short, steady miles, they caused him untold agony. He never uttered a word, and I wouldn’t have had a clue he was in pain. He smiled and bounced his way through it. NOTHING was going to ruin that first run for him…

Over the subsequent weeks, we arranged to meet up and run along the canal together. It was convenient for us both. Plus, with his regular lunchtime running route from work taking him virtually past my front door – combined with his semi-stalker tendencies – it was increasingly difficult to think of any viable excuses not to.

Our similar outlooks on life, attitudes, ideals, dreams – even mistakes – quickly became apparent. And we laughed at the same stuff. Belly laughed – a lot. I remember glancing over to see him laugh out loud at something daft I’d said, and noticing the creases in the corners of his eyes. I loved those creases. I still do.

Our runs together became more frequent, and before long we were constantly in touch. We missed each other within an hour of being apart: weekends lasted an age, and in the absence of a race, we would have no justifiable reason to meet up. So we did lots of races.

We had daughters of the same age. Another sliding doors coincidence: born just three weeks apart, we’d even gone through that journey in parallel.

We knew what lives we’d lived without the need for explanation. And so, when no other option seemed viable, we rode the storm, and eventually set up camp together. Many times were fraught with challenges and upset. But those creases in the corners of his eyes were omnipresent.


we were pathetically soppy, even then…


And so fast forward to November 2016.

I’d just finished hanging out the washing. Remembrance Day Songs of Praise was on TV in the background.

It feels like the right time, Rach.‘ he said, looking slightly ashen. I glanced down at my feet: Nora Batty crumpled up long socks with slippers combo. Even the patterns clashed. I’d missed my stop on Planet Sexy and orbited right through to Gimp World where I’d hopped off, recognising it as being comfortingly familiar.

Will you marry me, Rachel?‘ he asked, as he kneeled down even closer to my goofy footwear. The only thing in my favour was the fact I didn’t have curlers in and a tabard on.

After my initial shock, followed by the more egotistical ‘NOOO!’ Not when I’m dressed as Nora Batty!‘ concerns had abated; once he’d stopped trembling and shaking (no, really) and my head had stopped revolving around on it’s own axis – we both knew. It HAD to be like this; it was so PERFECTLY geeky and gimpy, and imperfect. It was ENTIRELY us.

Since that first run along the canal together, we have completed:
over 20 10ks
16 half marathons
5 full marathons
and any number of other races, from 5ks to 20 milers; cross countries to races across sand.

They are some of the happiest memories of my life.

[*And of course I said YES! We will get married in a way that typifies us: There will be a healthy dose of geekism; a good sprinkling of imperfection; and a very VERY large dose of laughter. Although I plan on leaving my Nora Batty footwear at home for the day, I won’t be out of it for very long.]

Who knows – there may be a book in this, somewhere.

To be continued…


What’s your dream?

Right at the end of Pretty Woman, when Julia Roberts is (ahem) rescued from the skanky down-town bedsit by her Knight in Shining Armour as he pansies his way up the fire escape, red rose gripped between his chattering teeth, the voice of a local vagrant can be heard, saying ‘Welcome to Hollywood. What’s your dream?’


Well, fortunately for me, I don’t need saving from a life of prostitution, and Gav’s really not good with horses, so I eliminated the need for him to gallop anywhere on his trusty white steed some while back.

Let’s also get the obvious Miss World responses out of the way for the sake of completeness:

  • World Peace;
  • Obama to remain as US president for an eternity, in the absence of any viable alternatives;
  • Anything at all relating to my daughter and her having a joyous, prosperous and pain-free future (including not ending up falling for an arsehole, avoiding a legal career, and generally deferring adulthood for as long as humanly possible);
  • A permanent end to the persistent problem of ‘roots’ for a pseudo-blonde (I actually gave this as a ‘serious’ answer during one Training Contract assessment day at a high profile City law firm in my mid-20s. I was unsuccessful.)

One Monday morning in May 2015, I walked into Waterstone’s bookshop on Princes St in Edinburgh. I gazed around at the thousands of titles lining the shelves, and felt mild panic at ever having to leave. ‘This is it,’ I remember thinking to myself. ‘This is my dream.’ I knew in that moment that one day, I would have my very own pristine, hard copy book for sale in that bookshop. Not in any bookshop: in THAT one.

Things have moved on in terms of bookshop layout and design, and boy, do these guys know their craft: Tables piled high with silky, smooth hard copies; crisp paperbacks stacked up like Jenga next to chalk boards displaying handwritten notes about The Author. A peace transcends the floors as bookworms and other general moochers peruse back covers, whilst the more focused muse over the self-helps (* the obvious exception to this being the Children’s Book section. I quick-stepped through this one, and hurdled at least two semi-abandoned toddlers.)

The day before, I’d completed the Edinburgh half marathon in a dream time of 1:30 (…and 45 seconds). I inched my way up the stairs (there are shit loads of them – especially on dead legs) thinking I couldn’t fall any more deeply in love with a bookshop.

And then I did.

I saw the coffee shop. Now, this really isn’t an advert for Waterstones, in Edinburgh. I am unashamedly a bookshop fanatic. I cried real, heartfelt tears when Borders closed through insolvency some years ago. ‘But how could it go bust? I spent a FORTUNE in there!’ my logical brain grappled to comprehend, but found no answer.

There was something special about that day, back in May 2015. I lined up and ordered my Extra Hot Skinny Mocha, and then took my seat at the one remaining table. It just so happened to be the two-seater with a perfectly unspoilt view of the castle.

I sat down, and began to write. I was writing the book that would sit stacked up – like perfect, polished Jenga blocks – on a table near the top of the stairs, enticing passing mocha-drinkers and rocky-road eaters on their way to the Café with a View. My chalk board would stand next to the table, with a short biography of The Author, Rachel Cullen. I saw it all: My Dream.

A year went by and I continued to write. Races came and went; chapters were written and rewritten; successes intermingled with disappointments, and life – as tends to happen – moved on.

August 2016 came around, and I somehow piggybacked a low cost return trip to Edinburgh by virtue of Gav’s business trip (he’d be lonely without me – for all of one night – I reasoned.)

As Gav left for the Edinburgh Office early next morning, I set off walking in search of my bookshop. I ignored silver-sprayed street entertainers mid-performance, and barely glanced at the kilted man giving his bagpipes CPR on the street corner; I weaved through bemused tourists and their oversized luggage, and hop-scotched small children in prams. I blanked dazzling SALE displays in otherwise debt-inducing dress shops, and I even walked straight past the latest running gear on show in a funky sports shop window. All to get to my literary spiritual home. Will MY table be free? The two-seater with a castle view? I wondered. What if someone else is sitting there? Do I politely ask them to leave? You can see this getting a little out of hand.

I saw the ‘W’ sign approaching in the distance and increased my pace. My bags felt heavy, weighted down with laptops and other apparently necessary plug-in devices, but once there, I didn’t plan on moving for quite some time.

Once up the stairs, I turned right. My table was taken, but I had a plan.

“Large Extra hot skinny mocha, please,” I said to the kind looking assistant who looked at me and smiled, as though she’d seen me before.  Telepathically, she knew I was in for the long haul.

I sat down to write. Only this time, I wasn’t writing my book. I was packaging it up to send out into the universe, to see if someone, somewhere would also share my vision – the hardback Jenga table display in Waterstones, Edinburgh with accompanying chalk board. I wrote for hours. I broke down my synopses to cover all of the possible why’s and how’s necessary to convince some invisible, unknown publisher that my book should be spared from the Slush Pile. I knew it wasn’t perfect; I knew it still needed work, but I believed it deserved the chance to stand shiny, polished and proud on that table.

The universe listened.

It’s now early November, 2016. And as things stand, my dream looks like it may well become a reality in January 2018.

*and again, for the purpose of concluding matters, my imminent and pending dream list also includes:

  • a sub-3:15 time at Virgin London Marathon 2017;
  • to run Boston marathon 2018 for my 40th birthday (I already have a qualifying time);
  • A vision relating to my work, which would be unfair to share at this moment in time;
  • A permanent end to the persistent problem of ‘roots’ for a pseudo-blond (Or even a semi-permanent one will do.)