Lemsips and Race Disasters…

I’m sitting here in bed with a pile of soggy, discarded tissues to my left, and an empty paracetamol packet balancing perilously next to the remnants of a cup of tea and half a slice of sad old toast.

It’s day #3 of my battle with ‘Runner’s Flu’ (a worse version of the common cold, but not quite as bad as Man Flu) and I feel as far removed from ‘a runner’ as it is possible to be. I’ve done my best to stem my feelings of frustration, irritation and inconvenience at having the brakes put on my running (and on anything) by the bastard virus that is getting off on multiplying in my nasal cavities. But it doesn’t give a shit, and so is happily breeding away whilst I sit here, waiting for it to fuck off.

And it’s hard to feel bouncy and positive and motivated and all of those irritatingly mawkish sentiments us runners tend to generally be so able to muster. Commonly, I HAVE the motivation to train (see my previous post on ‘The Realities of Marathon Training’ for example); I WANT to challenge myself and push on with whatever the God-awful session of the day might be:

Speed? Short and painful;

Tempo? Usually chasing Dodd around some local bastard incline;

Distance? Usually Dodd chasing me around some LONGER local bastard incline.

 But right now, I couldn’t give a fat one.

And it got me thinking. Whilst wallowing in my pathetic, self-pitiful, Dutch oven of a bedroom with nothing even vaguely KICK ASS about my attitude, it got me thinking about some of my worst race disasters. And – unbelievably – it’s making me feel (marginally) better. Why? And how? You miserable excuse for a human virus-breeding machine? I hear you ask. Well, because if I can drag myself through the other side of those Races from Hell, and experience running euphoria on the other side, then I can sit out this pitiful, skanky virus and build myself up to be a positively saccharine running machine once more.

So, in a real treat for you, the reader (notice the ‘singular’ reference) I have put together an overview from a small selection of my Top Ten Race Disasters. So, in no particular order:

  • The Kilomathon, 2011 (‘The Pisser’)

I aptly refer to this one as ‘The Pisser’. It will become clear why. The race was 26.2km (16 odd miles) of meandering around some desperately dour industrial estates of Middle England. Endless, interwoven miles trudging around characterless factories, and what looked like 1980s corrugated metallic aircraft hangers. It was part of my build up for the London Marathon 2011, and my journey from the Delivery Room only six months earlier. I was still delicate, and I’d kicked my own arse since that time to prepare for my first ever marathon.

It was all wrong from the start. I wore running tights, and yet it was an unusually warm March day. The purposeless miles circling the ‘80s aircraft hangers seemed endless and lonely. Very rarely do I feel lonely on a run (let alone in a race!) but I did on this one.

Finally, on entering the final bastard lap of the track to the finish, I pissed in my tights. And I couldn’t care less. In fact, I almost felt defiant at my own rebellion as the warm urine trickled down my legs. ‘Fuck this’ I thought, as I limped over the finish line in my sodden lycra skins in an unholy time of 2:31. (Oh, and I’m quite sure Tilly then vomited over me. She was suffering with colic.)

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This is about the exact moment when I pissed in my trainers.

  • The Muddy Bottoms off-road 2012 (Garstang? Where the HELL is Garstang?)

‘Is this right? I’m sure this bloody Sat Nav is taking me the wrong way!’ I chuntered to myself as I drove deeper into the smallest, strangest village over on the wrong side of the Pennines. Garstang? Is this it? Really?

 Arriving at the tiniest village hall in a seemingly real-life Royston Vasey was not what I’d imagined. Neither was the fact that we had to collect a MAP from the registration table, upstairs. What? I can’t even READ a map! I panicked, taking a poorly-printed A5 sheet from a rickety pasting table in an otherwise empty hall.

We advise that you run in pairs or small groups,’ a wily old man said as I stood motionless and panicked staring at the meaningless document.

‘But I’m on my own. I don’t know anybody here!’ I gulped, and made an about-turn suddenly on a mission to Find a Friend. Luckily, I did exactly that, and managed to keep with them over the fields (we got lost within the first mile) and down the sides of shit-filled farm tracks.

‘Is that the child’s playground referred to here at point ‘X’ on the map, just near Mile 6?’

 ‘Nope. That’s a slide in someone’s back garden. Keep running.’

Anyway, I survived.

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  • Chester 20 miler 2011 (Never underestimate the power of boredom)

The night before had been hellish. We’d stayed over in some nondescript Chester hotel, and battled for hours to put up the Krypton Factor Travel Cot. Even when we had, she squawked and protested to the point where my attempts at getting any sleep were rendered useless.

Tired – and accompanied by my (then) Running Widower partner, we headed off to yet another long training race in preparation for my first ever marathon.

It sounded pretty straightforward: 5 miles out; five miles back (x2) ‘That’s do-able’ I mused. ‘5+5+5+5 / out-back-out-back’ Simples.

I headed off along the dull cycle path for the first 5-miles ‘out’ of my long run. However, Krypton Factor Travel Cot-induced tiredness accompanied me. I felt shattered. What I hadn’t bargained for was the mental strength I’d need to finish this race. The boredom of and out/back route TWICE hadn’t even registered until I was out there, doing it. It was made infinitely worse being taken over by a Z-list Coronation Street star (he was the dozy one who used to work with Ashley in the butcher’s – I haven’t watched it since.)

We turned around at the five-mile point, and I knew I couldn’t come back.

And then, at the ten-mile turn around, there was a miraculous Get Out of Jail Free card:

‘Any runners who are just running the ten-mile race, go through this funnel. Those who are doing the full twenty, it’s around the cone and back out.’

‘Are you for the ten-miler?’ a vigilant marshall asked me, as I slipped through the funnel. I could see the door to the Sports Centre entrance. I knew there was a bacon sarnie and my baby girl on the other side.

‘Yes. Yes, I am.’ I replied.

*A few days later, once back home and just about over the mental trauma of the whole weekend, a letter arrived through the post. I’d won a fiver getting an age-related place… in the TEN MILE race. There IS a God…

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***

There are many more such delightful racing highlights I could share with you, but for now, I’m dosed up on Lemsip to the point where my wee is yellow for an entirely different reason to the usual dehydration. That, and I’m half pissed from the whiskey shots I keep adding to said Lemsips.

So, for now – my miserable work here is done.

 

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THE REALITIES OF MARATHON TRAINING

I rolled over and sleepily reached for my iPhone, but grabbed hold of a banana instead. It’s a sign, I said to myself, and set about eating the banana. When I DID eventually locate my phone, it informed me of the time. It was Tuesday, 10th Jan 6:15am. Shit.

The plan was this:

  • Creep about silently to avoid waking those in the house both under 7 yrs. and over 40 yrs. old;
  • Locate some training gear (in the dark) and put it on (also in the dark);
  • Drive to the gym, arriving at approx. 6:55am

[The gym opens at 7am. Max 5 mins allowed to walk from car to entrance, plus a further 3 mins to wait for shutters to lift, shuffle past early-bird pensioners, and get upstairs]

  • Arrive on the treadmill for 7.03am;
  • Execute speed set. This would be (ideally) 5 mins w/up, followed by 5 x 5 minutes @15kph (2 min rest in between)
  • Dive off treadmill
  • Race back home to:
    • get those under 7 ready for school;
    • allow those over 40 to go to work; and
    • try to make myself look like I hadn’t done any of the above, so I could glide into the office without resembling a panting dog.

That was my plan. It sounded semi feasible, until 6.15am on Tuesday morning when it needed to be translated into reality. Shit, shit shit.

With the under 7s and over 40s undisturbed, I crept downstairs and quietly clicked the front door shut behind me. I was on schedule: it was 6:45am.

Once parked up on the dark, dark street down the dark, dark hill* (is it too obvious that I’m both a parent and a geek?) I made a run for it out of the dismal, dreary rain and into the offensively bright CMBC leisure centre standard lighting.

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Down the dark, dark street in the dark, dark town was a… badly lit gym

Hang on – there’s a bloody queue! A group of mainly (nocturnal?) older folk were gathered around the gym entrance waiting for the shutters to lift. How long have they been here? And what the hell else are they busy doing for the REST of the day?! I wondered, as I took my place on a plastic seat near the vending machine and began eyeing-up the bags of Quavers.

We all scanned and bar-coded our way in, and most of the OAP Fitness Bus headed off to the pool, whilst I ventured up the stairs in hot pursuit of my treadmill (I have one treadmill I prefer to use in the gym, and can suffer from minor palpitations and awkward ticks if it’s taken.)

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Hey, Warren!

Time check: 7:02. Jumper off, headphones on. PRESS ‘QUICK START’; begin warm up.

Time check: 7:07 GO, GO GO! INCREASE SPEED & RUN LIKE THE FUCKING CLAPPERS!

Time check: 7:12 Walk. Don’t die, just walk. It’ll be OK.

Time check: 7:14 GO, GO, GO! INCREASE SPEED & RUN LIKE THE FUCKING CLAPPERS AGAIN… But hang on. There’s an elderly chap from the OAP Fitness Bus standing & staring. HE’S FRICKIN PERVING AT ME WHILST I’M TRYING TO FOCUS ON MY SPEED SET! He walked over to the nearest treadmill and stood still. Watching me running like the fucking clappers on the treadmill. Off putting? Just a bit. He might have stood a chance if it were 1962.

Other than the ageing perv, this pattern continued right through until 7:40am when I cooled down for all of 20 seconds and dived into the disabled loos to put my dry kit back on.

I looked in the mirror. No. I haven’t just trained with my gear on inside out. Referring back to point (2) of my plan (locating training gear in the dark and putting it on in the dark) THIS was the result. Maybe Old Man Perv was reading the washing instructions on my shorts and NOT actually fancying a bit? I could have got him all wrong.

Heading out of the fluorescent CMBC leisure centre and back out into the dark, dark street, it was… still dark.

My wacky races drive back home up silly, spindly hill was frustrated by a White Van Man blocking the way. Move over! I’ve got a child to get dressed! I had uncomfortable visions of Gav still sleeping whilst Tilly wiped jam over the entire kitchen, having broken both the toaster and the kettle trying to make herself a cup of tea.

Time check: 8:02

Tilly was sitting in the kitchen happily tucking into a Pain Au Chocolat. (We’re not posh. It was a treat.) YEEAAAHHHH! I’VE DONE IT! PLAN WORKED! I gave myself a virtual fist-bump at arriving home on schedule, still having time to dress child and disguise the fact that I was melting.

‘Tills, let me have a look at that you’re eating,’ I said, suddenly concerned at the particularly anaemic-looking pastry. On closer inspection, it resembled a sodden panty liner from a Tena Lady advert.

‘Gav. This is raw. She’s eating raw (uncooked) pastry.’

‘Actually, it does taste a bit soggy, Mummy…’

***

My speed set was hard, but I nailed it. My plan wasn’t easy. It was a ball-ache, and depended on my eternally supportive Doddy to child-watch whilst I shoehorned myself out of the front door in the dark, with my Lycra washing instructions on clear view for the Fitness OAPs to see.

THIS is the reality of marathon training, whilst navigating the *other* demands of life. My speed set was done by 7:40am on Tuesday, 10th January. I was buzzing for the rest of the day. Partially because I’d kicked ass on that – my – treadmill, but mainly because I’d STILL managed to feed, dress, and sort out my child, wash away the sweaty salt marks from the sides of my scalp, and float into the office (on time) looking like I HADN’T DONE A THING. (I’d even straightened my hair. It’s a newfound girliness I’ve recently discovered.)

*For those wondering, reference to children’s book ‘Funnybones’ by the Ahlbergs.

** Also for info, I was in bed and fast asleep for 8.45pm that night. You can’t have it all.

2016 REVIEW PART DEUX: JUNE – SEPTEMBER 2016… AND A NEW YEAR’S DAY (AHEM) ‘FUN RUN’

I’m sitting here on New Year’s Day morning, 2017. I can’t stop eating Quality Street, and I’m already having nervous palpitations about a local NYD ‘Fun Run’ we’re taking part in later today. It’s the worst possible combination for me:

  • It’s local. Cue unsuccessfully trying to dodge the Playground Mum who makes a bee-line for me and commences at full throttle with pre-run chatter around ‘Did you have a good one, then?’ and ‘When are you back to work?’. Hmmmff.
  • It’s supposed to be ‘Fun’. This concerns me greatly, as most things in life that are promoted as being fun, in fact aren’t. Not at all. And vice-versa. Why can’t they call it a ‘turn up if you can be arsed, and you never know, you might even enjoy it’ run? Far more accurate.
  • On both previous occasions when I’ve done said (ahem) ‘Fun Run’, I’ve loathed it. In 2015, for example, it was blowing a gale so hard in weather so utterly vicious, that I couldn’t distinguish between my own (genuine) tears and those streaming from my eyes by the cutting, spiteful wind. That year, both children and adults wept in unison – I’m guessing for the same wind/self-induced misery combo.

But I’ll be back again this year, and will no doubt hob-nob with the fully made-up School Mum, and joke with Competitive Dad about how it’s ‘only a bit of fun’ … but he’ll be secretly hoping his Little Johnny kicks my ass up windy hill.

Anyway, back to my round-up of LAST year. Bloody hell, what a year it was. We’re up to early summer, so here goes.

JUNE – THE GOOLE RIVERBANK CHALLENGE & HELLO CROSS TRAINING

It’s the strangest race, over the oddest distance, in the most bizarre location: Goole. Hmmm… Yes, I know. It’s not quite 9 miles, so neither a 10k nor a 10 miler; and it’s along a riverbank. There’s a small section of road, but otherwise it’s grassy banking and (usually) at least half the course is against a headwind. You can rock up and pretty much guarantee yourself a PB. There are NO OTHER COMPARABLE RACES. ANYWHERE. It’s strange, and odd and a good hour’s drive away from home. But it’s also unique, intriguing, and under the radar. So, just my bag.

I found myself running neck & neck with a delightful, friendly lady who MADE me work for my 2nd place position right up to the finish line. I made a nemesis friend! Both of us would have been entirely happy with 2nd or 3rd place (1st was out of reach right from the off) but we pushed each other hard right to the finish. Lovely lady.

I escaped looking a twat in a Viking helmet – a fate suffered by both the male and female winners, and subsequently posted in the Goole Times (or its equivalent.) For that, I am eternally grateful.  Second place was still a lovely thing, and I beat my time from the previous year… without having to wear a nobber of a helmet. Result!

This was also the month I discovered cross-training. Static bike at the gym? What? Yes. I sat on it, and I peddled. Resigned to the notions of ‘running: perhaps less is more?’ and having danced with the devil of overtraining for too long, I decided that a change in tack were needed. And I’ve never sweated as much in my life, whilst realising that there may be something to be gained by partaking in training OTHER THAN running. YES! REALLY! (Do you hear the sound of the penny dropping?)

JULY – HILLS & WIND: THE HALIFAX HALF MARATHON & THE WINDMILL HALF.

The Halifax Half Marathon: I was shitting myself about this one. It’s a nightmare. A half marathon on my doorstep that is 80% up hill, with the last downhill 20% being run on legs so tired you can barely stand up. It is a BASTARD of a half marathon course (and this comes from someone who, over the years, has probably completed close to 80 half marathons in all possible locations and guises.) When I say it’s a bastard, I mean it’s a motherfucker of a route which only gets worse, and never quite manages to get any better. A hard, endless climb followed by… precious little downhill. It’s an uphill, gasping trek to the pub mid-summer, to find the pub closed.

But maybe that brings out the fight in me. I battled with the early, piss-taking hills and they annoyed me to such an extent that I was fired up for the remaining unappetising lumpy miles. I battled and fought with myself and every ounce of my being, and I came in 2nd place. WOO fucking HOO! I was elated. By virtue of the fact that I’d pulled something out of a course that was as likely to break me as any conceivably could.

We stood on a little crappy wooden podium, and – despite the shite medals and absolute lack of fanfare – it felt like a real, personal mini-victory.

The Windmill Half was a funny one. Only a fortnight after the beasting of the Halifax Half, and made infinitely worse by a training run only two days before leading to insanely tired legs. On the Thursday night before Sunday’s Half marathon we joined a Halifax Harriers group to see how we liked it. They shot off like bats out of merry hell, and myself & Gav hung on like limpets to a rock face in absolute shock at the pace and route of said ‘training run’. Whether this was entirely for our benefit, I’ve no idea. But either way, it completely fucked my legs two days before a half marathon. Not clever.

The price I paid? A not entirely disgraceful 1:35, but on fresher legs of course I could have done better. A great day out none-the-less, and I took home a prize in my age category. The prize? An XXXL (male) Slazenger white T-shirt. Possibly the worst prize in the entire world… for a small-framed female runner. Or just anyone, actually.

 

AUGUST – Askern 10 mile and Arthur’s Seat

I was thick into marathon training now, and sandwiching races in between long weekend training runs. 16 miles; Race; 18 miles; Race. It was a pretty tough schedule starting in early August and it would remain tough until the Yorkshire Marathon in mid-October.

So, Askern 10. I ran hard, and I ran well. I’ve blogged about most of these races already so I won’t go into the weather conditions and other pedantics. I (just) managed to bag myself a 10 mile PB (71:12) and came away a happy girl.

Arthur’s Seat was a real treat (no rhyming intended). Piggy-backing Gav’s business trip to Edinburgh, I greedily helped myself to a double-lap of the famous landmark whilst he was busy being paid to impress some folk, somewhere. What a place; what a run! Thanks, Gav (and Lloyd’s bank) for the opportunity J

SEPTEMBER – GOLDEN BALLS AND GREAT NORTH RUN… AND BURNED OUT GREAT BALLS OF FIRE

Golden Balls 20 miler. This was a classic. It was legendary in the Cullo/Dodd book of racing adventures. It had everything: I could write a BOOK about this race, but a mere blog post had to do. I struggled, yet won; Gav struggled, and had to stop & walk. I cried waiting for him at the end, thinking Is it Dubai all over again? as I wept into my newly acquired smoothie maker and cheap bottle of Blossom Hill. But, I WON THE RACE! So what – there wasn’t a massive field, and so what – I didn’t get a 20 mile PB, and I was actually a couple of minutes outside of where I should have been. And yes – I’d struggled. I stopped at one point, thinking, ‘oh, fuck this’ but then somehow dug deep enough to get me through the final 6 miles. AND I BLOODY WON IT! This was a soap opera of a race for all of the above reasons, but (thankfully) had a happy ending.

It was always a big ask to run the Great North the following weekend. My legs were shot from the Golden Balls 20 miler, and I ran the risk of blowing up or pulling out. But, I desperately wanted to do this one. It was ten years since I’d taken part in the GNR, and I wanted to feel the magic of the race a decade on. I was a different runner; a different person.

I’ve already written blog posts about pretty much all of these races, so will spare those with more pressing things to do (like pretty much anything) the minutiae of my mile-by-mile recollections.

It is also with you – the lovely reader – in mind that I have pressed ‘pause’ on this 2016 recap, here. I could bleat on right through until the end of December, but why rush the job? If Back to The Future could stretch its plot so thinly, then I can surely spin out a Part Three to my yearly review.

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Besides, I wanted to update you on today’s ironically titled ‘Fun Run’ as I am now at the other side of said adventure. I know you’re willing for me to tell you of being cornered by the entirely unavoidable School Mum, and the tiresome Competitive Dad with Little Johnny; and the Kansas winds that blew not only my cobwebs away, but also my will to live in one endless onslaught. I know it would be FAR more joyous reading about the calamities of this local non-fun racing spectacular than the honest truth which is that… I LOVED IT.

OH BORE OFF!  – I’m sorry – I hear you. I feel in some small way disappointed that I can’t recount a horrific, saccharine fake-fun ‘family’ event with all the unfortunate trappings, as I, myself had predicted. It didn’t happen that way. Not today. My fear had taken a hold and tried to tell me it would be this horrible, painful, socially awkward experience to endure. But that’s what fear does. Even silly, daft irrational fears like those about A BLOODY 5K FUN RUN (FFS!)

We saw people up there who we really like (I know! Can you imagine?); Family came up to watch and cheer us on; Close friends (and heroes) turned up to both run and support; we chatted to new friends, and caught up with those whose paths we routinely cross on the running circuit, including those whose arses we dream of kicking on any given race day.

I ran hard, and I ran strong. Gav did the same. The Kansas winds stayed away, and we both raced our 5k Fun Run as if it were just that.

I’m so relieved I didn’t let my little Bastard Chimp convince me not to turn up today. But I still have an uncomfortable relationship with the notion of a ‘fun run’. Ask me after any race, and pretty much ten times out of ten I’m in an endorphin-fuelled happy place and would agree whole heartedly with this descriptive precursor.

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POST-RACE HAPPY FACE

Ask me beforehand, and it’s likely you’d be met with a couple of words. One of which rhymes with duck; the other one is ‘off’.