London Marathon Diary 2017, Sunday 5th Feb 2017: Who am I when I can’t run?

London Marathon Diary 2017

Sunday, 5th Feb 2017

Who am I when I can’t run?

Today is Sunday, 5th Feb, and it’s exactly 11 weeks – or 77 days – until the 2017 London Marathon.

How’s my training going? It’s going shit. I’ve already vented my frustration at having two weeks’ worth of KFC family-bucket sized, ‘Do you wanna go large with that?’ flu rampaging through our house, knocking me sideways, off my feet and away from any semblance of ‘real’ marathon training (ref. ‘Lemsips and Race Disasters’ Blog post.)

And then. AND THEN it got worse. I kicked my own arse so hard on the bastard treadmill playing some misconceived game of ‘catch up’ that I brought on an injury to my lower calf/Achilles area. This caused me to go all E.T and Phone Home on Thursday morning, as I stood by a wet, lonely bench high on Norland Moor with wide, sad eyes waiting for my long-suffering Other Half to pick me up 3 miles from my own front door (ref. ‘Beware: The Dreaded Treadmill Overkill’ Blog post.)

It is now Sunday. By my basic calculations, that is a mere THREE DAYS after the E.T Phone Home incident, and subsequent emergency Physio appointment at which he (Magician Dave) said – and I quote – ‘So, you WON’T be racing on Sunday then, Rach, will you?’

I didn’t answer.

I did believe in miracles, and I did turn up to the start line of the Dewsbury 10k race this morning. I knew it was a gamble: my leg would either handle it, or it wouldn’t.

It wouldn’t.

I set off knowing the grumblings were still there, and by only ONE MILE into the race, the pain was intensifying. At 1.7 miles, there was nowhere to go, and so I limped off the course and made an about-turn, facing the Walk of Shame back to the start.

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Runners stared at me as though witnessing a resurrection, as I trudged slowly down the street in the wrong direction, back to the centre of the toilet bowl that is Dewsbury.

‘Are you OK?’ A kind marshall asked, as I hobbled by, pathetically.

‘Injured.’ I said, feigning a sorry smile, whilst hobbling and pointing to my leg.

A St. John’s Ambulance pulled up, and a kind chap shouted out of the window ‘Do you want a lift back to the start, love?’

‘Yes. Yes, please, I do’ I shouted back, as the prospect of a 1.7 mile shuffle back down the Dewsbury U-bend wasn’t altogether appealing – certainly not in (short) shorts and a thin running top. I hopped in the van and made polite chatter with the crew, who looked grateful to have something to do. I turned down their kind offer of emergency Lucozade, having barely broken a sweat, and confirmed that I didn’t need bandaging or carrying anywhere, which seemed to dampen the mood slightly.

Once safely dropped off back at the Dewsbury bidet, I conveniently bumped into Andy, a lovely runner also hampered by injury, and a true gentleman. I stood with Andy, still slightly stunned from the wilful disobedience of my left leg, whilst wrapped up in his warm, winter coat with the oversized arms hanging down around my knees like a homespun Mr Tickle costume. We chatted about our recent running experiences and respective misfortunes, whilst my very own Hero in Human Form Cheryl (#FlyHighEdie) and baby Annie joined us. She hugged me with a warmth to challenge Andy’s overcoat, and the world seemed just that little bit brighter.

We waited for our respective Running Other Halves to cross the finish line – which they did in 41 and 43 minutes respectively (well done Tom & Dodd) and hobbled off to Weatherspoons, where I dunked my emergency non-branded digestives into a refill coffee to ease my running sorrows (I brought them along from home… just in case.)

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It’s all smiles… then RICE

And once back at home, it got me thinking. Two things:

Firstly: Who am I if I can’t run? How does it make me feel? What is my state of mind? And how does it– and will it – impact on the rest of my days, until I am free to bounce around the hills and vales once more in serotonin-enhanced bliss?

This may seem a little melodramatic (it has been known to be a particular penchant of mine) and also rather hasty, as I don’t yet know the full extent of my lower limb’s blatant refusal to play along with my marathon hopes and aspirations.

But these are questions that I will ponder, as the coming days of cross-training, rehab and ‘rest’ (NO! NOT THAT WORD) are on the menu. It already makes me shrink and recoil in my own skin to think that I am ALREADY struggling with this as a concept, whilst there are

  1. a) PLENTY of other people who are experiencing similar minor irritations like warts on an otherwise peachy arse; and
  2. b) there REALLY ARE FAR bigger problems to be facing in the world (and I know plenty of lovely, incredible people personally who are having those daily battles right here, and right now.)

I will put some more thought to this, and to the glaring flaws this highlights in my own ability to handle even mild adversity (of which I have had a reasonably generous dollop across my 38 years of spinning around like some preoccupied Tasmanian Devil on this oversized revolving marble, I must confess.)

Secondly: This is the start of my NEW Virgin London Marathon 2017 journal. It came to me in a lightbulb moment. For the next 77 days, I will document the ups and downs, the triumphs and disasters and the bumps in the road that will see me to the start of the VLM 2017… or not. I last did this on the run up to the VLM 2015, and – hell – it ended up being the very first chapter of my book ‘Running For My Life’ (which will be published Jan ’18 by @BlinkPublishing with signed copies also available on the free table at Tesco’s shortly after.)

 So, on Instagram* (Cullen_Rachel) I will post a photo EVERY DAY for the next 77 days to document that journey. Some days, it might be a photo of a bar of Dairy Milk and a Foam Roller, but it will all be a part of my journey to VLM 2017.

The question is: Will I make it?

*I still don’t quite ‘get’ Instagram; the whole hashtag thing, or the fact that I only have about 7 followers (you know who you are, and I love every single one of you :-D)

But my Mum loves me.

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Instagram?? Hashtag? Mum – Are you there?

BEWARE: THE DREADED TREADMILL OVERKILL

Last month I was busy crowing about ‘the realities of marathon training’ and my virtuous early morning speed session. YAY ME! (I would have used ‘sessions’ in the plural, but it only happened the once.)

January was a bastard of a month. We all had flu, passing it around various family members like a gravy boat at Sunday lunch.

“Here you go, Mum”

 “Thanks, Till. Gav, it’s all yours…”

 “Cheers, Rach. You want a bit more? There’s plenty left.”

 “Yeah, why not. Pour it over the Yorkshires.”

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This was the best gravy boat I could find.

Once the gravy boat flu was well and truly exhausted, we tried to return to some kind of normality… and then mild panic set in.

 ALERT. BEGIN MARATHON TRAINING. ALERT. BEGIN MARATHON TRAINING.

After all, that’s what we DO in the New Year isn’t it? A spring marathon means only one thing – get all the bullshit of Christmas out of the way and it’s Game On… Or it should be, if you’re not treading water in some virus-infested quagmire, watching the rest of the Running World upping their mileage on Strava, that is.

A N Other Runner: “We’re upping our long run to 16 miles today”

 ME: “But it’s still twelve weeks to go to the marathon!”

 A N Other Runner: “Yeah, but we’re already ahead of the plan.”

 ME: “Oh. Right.” (I reply, thinking I’ll be lucky to get 16 fucking miles in THIS WEEK!)

 Once just about back in the land of the living, it’s return to normality. Work; kids; there’s even some evidence of a world outside the front door again, and it’s CATCH UP TIME.

MONDAY: school run / work / school run. I’m already behind schedule.

I KNOW! We’ve got a gym at work. I’ll jump onto the treadmill at lunch time, and I’ll do my speed sets then. Yep. I’ll get STRAIGHT back into it. Snooze, you lose, and all that!

 Job done; box ticked. Nice one, squirrel.

TUESDAY: Speed session done, and I’m virtuous again, but I feel like I’m still playing catch up. I’m down on my mileage and I’ve missed a week’s decent training whilst drowning in Bisto.

I KNOW! We’ve STILL got a gym at work. I’ll jump onto the treadmill at lunch time again and do a steady 10k. I was on it yesterday, but if I take it STEADY today, it’ll be fine.

WEDNESDAY: I fucking hate the treadmill. I’m going to take my OUTDOOR running kit to work today, and I plan to run OUTSIDE in my lunch break. [At 12 noon, reality hits and it’s not pretty: not only is it pissing down but there’s a pea-souper out of my office window. With little/no visibility and nothing to be gained by running outdoors and falling down potholes and/or getting mugged by opportunistic weather-enthused petty criminals of North Halifax, I think again.]

…I KNOW! There’s a gym at work and I can do a few miles on the Dreadmill. What harm can it do?

 [Later]

 Work Mate Dave: ‘Rach, are you limping?’

 ME: ‘Yep. Yes I friggin am limping, Dave. It’s that bastard treadmill. I knew I’d done something to my leg earlier. It hurts to walk.’

 Work Mate Dave: ‘Bloody hell, it looks like you’ve crapped your pants.’

 ME: ‘Thanks, Dave.’

This is precisely what the first three days of my week have looked like. Other options for training quickly evaporated around school runs, pick-ups/drop offs, after school clubs and other activities, including an evening spent traipsing around Lidl’s whilst my child was busy having a life.

THURSDAY: I’M WORKING FROM HOME. YAYYYY! I WANTED to do a nine-miler from dropping Tills at school, but there’s fat chance of that. Shit. My leg still hurts when I walk. I’ll set off early doors and see how I go. I can ring Gav if I need to bail out.

 ME: ‘Gav. Please can you pick me up? I’ve done 3 miles and my leg’s killing me.’

 Gav: ‘We need to get you in with Dave (the Physio, not Work Mate Dave.)’

 And so, that very afternoon I am in with Dave (the Physio, not Work Mate Dave.)

In summary:

  • I have pushed myself to come back from the Sunday lunch family-bucket Flu too soon, being entirely panicked at ‘falling behind’ my purported marathon training schedule, and obsessing over how many miles Billy Bobbins has run in his Marathon Training Plan on Strava (I don’t even LIKE Billy Bobbins, so why am I even following him on Strava?)
  • I have – like some naïve fourteen-year-old cramming for pointless Economics mocks – tried to shoehorn miles in wherever the hell I could. The madness and logistics of the rest of my day/week thrown out the water, I’ve steam-rollered another layer of whoop-ass onto ALREADY dangerously high levels of cortisol. Any why? To keep up with Billy Bobbins on Strava?
  • Treadmill Dreadmill Overkill (which it will.) Once a week it’s a necessary evil. The greatly revered speed session is firmly on my ‘Must Do’ weekly task list. BUT some limp, half-arsed, dribbly-cocked, and ENTIRELY pointless 10k pounding on a revolving belt? Why? For what? Just to wreck my legs a bit more? Or to put something next to Billy Bobbins who’s been out for a sub-7 min/mile twenty-miler on Strava (the Wanker.)

And so it’s this. I am (only slightly) injured as a result of my own impatience / stupidity / inability to consider the full consequence and purpose of ALL my training, and select carefully. I have rehab exercises, I can do yoga (which I love, so this is one very positive thing) and I MIGHT miss out on a race this Sunday (which will upset me greatly because that is a part of my Marathon Training Plan and I want to be on the start line.)

I am avoiding treadmills like the plague, and if anyone locally spots me on one in the near future (unless I am quite clearly killing myself with speed sets which will be cruelly obvious) then please ask the nearest Gym Attendant to remove me immediately from the machine. Either that, or just go and pull the plug.

I’ll thank you for it, later.

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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.

 

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’.

 

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past… helped by a run in Storm Barbara

This year, I was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past.

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It was Christmas 1999. I stood and watched as my Mum collapsed into a heap onto our kitchen floor, her tiny body unable to carry the weight of her sadness anymore. It was the big build up to a new, exciting millennium, with talk of parties and possible technological meltdowns.  ‘… And tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999…’  blared out from every pseudo virtual-party radio station, and I wondered what all the excitement was about. My Mum was sad. She was infinitely worse than sad, and yet the whole of the rest of the world was ‘partying.’ Like it was 1999, apparently.

Traditionally, she hadn’t coped well with Christmas, albeit she’d put on a ‘good show’ for us – her sponge-like kids who would invariably soak up her sadness like an Amaretti biscuit floating in a flat white. Christmas parties didn’t exist in our world, because they couldn’t exist in hers. She was unable to be in that place, to laugh at a 1990s battery-operated Talking Santa or pose gormlessly in front of Dad’s Kodak camera wearing a party hat and a fake moustache from a cracker. She couldn’t do any of those things. Not because she didn’t want to (although I’m sure she made an active choice over the fake moustache), but because her mental health demons wouldn’t let her.

During my earlier childhood, we all knew of her Christmas Party Active Avoidance Zone, but we pretended otherwise. Even she pretended otherwise. We went to family parties and she sat in the quietest corner waiting… waiting for it all to end. A few of the perhaps more intuitive and sensitive family members would make gentle conversation with her. Nothing to force an Emergency Stop for her social anxiety internal warning system. Just enough for her to feel visible, included, and worthy of a conversation.

She showered us with gifts to try and mask her sadness. My little red 1980s Christmas Post Office set was my pride and joy (it had a counter that opened out to all of my teddy customers, and more stamps than I could ever dream of) but it was no substitute for my mum’s smile. I’d have given it back in a heartbeat.

This year, by virtue of my own family circumstances – both an imperfect and a perfect ‘Cut & Paste’ reworking of failed relationships – Tilly would spend Christmas Eve with her dad and his partner. She would wake up on Christmas morning in their house with their half-eaten mince pie and their talcum powder Santa footprints. I had no need to bother rushing around shortly before midnight to leave the necessary evidence of His visit, although I’ve done the talcum footprints for the previous five years.

I woke up on Christmas Day morning to no Tilly, no excited squeals of ‘He’s Been!!’ Just silence. Me, and Gav, and silence. And then Gav went out early to see his daughter open her presents, like he does every year. He waits outside her mum’s house until she’s awake, and he is there. Every year.

And as lovely as my silence was, it drew me back into my Mum’s muted Christmases gone by. Because they were my muted Christmases, too. Tilly would be back with us later on Christmas afternoon, and so I was left pacing around our house… waiting.

I made the mistake of picking up my phone and scrolling briefly through the Happy Family pages on social media. “Little bobby LOVES his new bike!” CLICK! “Here’s the recently extended Ned Flanders family enjoying a Christmas dinner together, wearing fake moustaches! HOW MUCH FUN!” CLICK! And it took me back to all those years I spent with the wrong people, in the wrong places trying to find my extended Ned Flanders family so I could share in their Christmases (complete with party hats and fake moustaches); and to all those years I spent searching for this elusive party I’d heard of that felt like it was 1999 (not my 1999, god forbid – someone else’s.) The Flanders family Christmas wasn’t mine, and neither was the party.

I put my phone down, and paced around our silent living room. My Mum had chosen to entirely avoid Christmas and go to the gym on Christmas Day this year, whilst I was left pacing up and down remembering the endless, searching Christmases gone by, and my daughter who was waking up with someone else’s fake Santa footprints. I picked my phone straight back up again.

I’m heading out for a run. I need to get out.’ Was the text I sent to Gav. He understood my need to run. Fuck it. I AM going to wear my Santa hat.

I set off out the door and within quarter of a mile, headed straight up a stinking  great hill. Why am I doing this? I almost shouted out loud as I tried to will my body forwards and upwards at the same time. Why am I out here and not at some Flanders family Christmas present opening session? I pulled over and almost threw my Santa hat over a wall.

Am I running away from my own Christmas Day, or my Ghosts of Christmas Past, or my lack of comprehension of any of it? I started chugging up the bastard hill again. Or am I running away from myself? Is that all I’ve ever been doing?

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The Bastard Hill

I wanted to turn around, and go home.

And then Gav texted me, and said ‘I’ve parked up by Sammomden dam. I’m coming to find you.’

He did, and we ran together around the dam, as Storm Barbara did her best to wrestle with us, and tossed us around like a couple of empty Seabrook crisp packets in her wrath. At times, we could barely move forward as her wall of wind stood in our way. The damp air then turned entirely sodden and the fur around my Santa hat dripped slowly down my ears.

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We got back to Gav’s car, and drove home. Barbara’s efforts had been spectacular. She had both beaten me and fixed me in some juxtaposed, therapeutic display of nature. As much as I’d battled and berated her, angrily yelling ‘I don’t want to fight this, today!’ whilst her wall of wind held me back, she also cleansed me. Blowing the cobwebs away: cobwebs hanging from the ghosts of Christmas past.

Back home, and the silence was no longer deafening. The turkey didn’t look over-facing, and the presents under the tree finally looked enticing. “It’s a chess set! Ace!”

We didn’t have a Flanders extended family Christmas dinner, but we loved our day, grateful for the absence of dreaded 1999 parties, or witnessing the social discomfort of my Mum as she once struggled to wrestle herself into a Christmas that wasn’t hers.

Tilly came home and she made the lights on our Christmas tree sparkle infinitely brighter. She got a bike, we played Pickin Chickens, and I went to bed knowing that next year, the only thing I’ll do differently is the talcum Santa footprints – regardless of where Tilly wakes up. They just make me smile.

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Happy Christmas, Mum! (And this card actually did make her laugh…)

2016 Review: The Revolving Door of Running

2016 Yearly review:

Having spun another 365 times around the revolving door of life, and now about to be propelled unceremoniously out into the pavement of a New Year (think Elf when he does this very thing, and then goes and vomits in the bin), we’ve all – just about – survived another entire Vista Print Family Photo Desk Calendar – don’t worry, you’ll be getting another one on Sunday.

 

It’s time to reflect on a year that has thrown insane highs, and some melodramatic ‘it doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things’ lows. And that’s just running.

But it’s more than that – running reflects life: running IS life! Running has all the emotional ups and downs of our daily vomit-inducing revolving door/rollercoaster ride, and perhaps it reflects it right back at us, if we let it. It shows us where we’re somehow out of balance, or not taking the hint. Do I need more rest? Running will tell me that. Am I stressed? It will mercilessly demonstrate that, too. Am I happy and burden-free? My body shows me what running ‘light’ really feels like, and it isn’t all down to the latest ‘improved bounce-mechanics’ footwear, either.

So, I’ve looked back at my year of running 2016. It looks a bit like this:

In summary:

According to our favourite data-gimp tool Strava, (as at today’s date – 21st Dec) I have:

Run 1,371 miles (this will be rounded up to 1400 before the New Year to satisfy my OCD compulsions);

Climbed 76,722 ft.

Clocked up 195 hours (and 4 minutes) running. Across all terrains, surfaces, countries, races, and treadmills.

And then there are the races. I have completed:

2 x full marathons (winter and autumn)

1 x 20 miler

4 x half marathons

3 x 10 milers (including a new PB of 71:12)

1 x 9 miler (odd distance alert)

2 x 10ks (including a new PB of 42:11)

4 x 5ks (excluding parkruns)

More importantly, I’ve looked closely at my year, and have tried to take from 2016 the necessary lessons. I’ve broken these down into convenient, Vista Print Desk Calendar-size bites. Taking one month at a time, here is how my running – and my life – have evolved over the last twelve months.

PART 1: JANUARY – MAY 2016

JANUARY – THE DUBAI MARATHON

Is that really only eleven months ago? And why? Just WHY? (I jest, of course.)

I wrote a couple of blogs about this madness at the time, (insert links) and so I won’t repeat what is already documented, but there are a few learning points I will take from one of the most amazing – and amazingly tough – experiences of the last year:

  • It is GOD AWFUL marathon training throughout the autumn and winter in the UK, and over the Christmas / New Year period… especially for a VERY HOT JANUARY MARATHON. Do I want to do yet another long training run on Boxing Day, during the worst floods the region has seen for decades? No. I don’t. I get that now.
  • The heat is unaccountable for. The marathon starts in the dark, but feels like a slow cooker warming up as the sun rises: you can’t believe the chicken will cook overnight ‘it’s not even warm!’, but don’t be fooled: by morning it’s bone dry and has stuck to the bottom, with a distinctly charred aroma. It’s like that, only you are the chicken.
  • I learned that I need MORE THAN 2 DAYS REST after a marathon. What a fool; a complete idiot. I’ve done marathons before. WHY DID I NEED TO LEARN THIS LESSON? It cost me my London Marathon as I fucked my legs up so much I couldn’t recover in the twelve weeks between the two. LESSON LEARNED.
  • Here, I began writing my blog. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I found my ‘flow’ and I’ve had so much joy writing about the ups and downs of my running journey throughout this year. And who’d have thought it would play a HUGE part in getting my book published? Yes, that. It began way before the Dubai marathon or the blog, but this opened up the door to creating my writing ‘voice’… long may it continue.

 

FEBRUARY – THE VILLAGE BAKERY HALF

The Dubai marathon had virtually killed me (see point (3) above) but back then, I HADN’T learned my lesson.

‘Shall we do the village bakery half again, Gav?’ I stupidly asked.

When is it?’

                  ‘14th Feb’

                  ‘That’s only three weeks after Dubai, Rach. Are you sure?’

                  ‘Yeah. I’ll be fine. Oh, and happy Valentine’s Day!’

 Guess what? I wasn’t fine. My legs hadn’t recovered. They hurt throughout every bastard mile.

LESSON: I shouldn’t have done it. I shouldn’t have even considered running a half marathon so soon after the full, having failed miserably to rest. I was six minutes slower than my 2015 time, and every step felt to be damaging me even more.

MARCH – THE BLACK HOLE

Running ceased to be a joy to me. Nothing ‘flowed’; there was not one single bouncy step. I still ran, but it all fell apart. I picked up an injury, and spent more time doing yoga and Physio whilst berating myself for having fucked everything up.

I dreaded the London Marathon which loomed around the corner and hung over me like a dark fog. And then it dawned on me: I’d have to pull out. And I was gutted.

LESSON: There are consequences for failing to learn anything from the cock-ups during the months of January and February. This is one of those.

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BURNT. OUT. MAKE. IT. STOP.

APRIL – THE NON-VIRGIN LONDON MARATHON, and the VALE OF YORK TEN MILER

I had to pull out of VLM, and I was heartbroken. BUT I started to learn my lessons, and put in place the changes I SHOULD have made earlier in the year.

I found my balls and did the first race since the disaster that was the Village Bakery Half back in February, and I loved it. ‘I’m coming back!! Yayyyy!’ My confidence felt to be inching its way back in the right direction, and it was a glimmer of Rach the runner I knew I could be. I began to put the divorce papers away, and reconsider my future relationship with running: We can still make it work!

 

MAY – WEDNESDAY NIGHTS DRIVING THROUGH HELL, THE DISASTER OF THE LEEDS HALF AND THE JOY OF THE RIPON TEN MILER

Two weekends, two changes in fortune.

Leeds half was an unmitigated, egotistical disaster. I flunked it badly. Why? Because my ego got in the way. Setting off like a bat out of hell on the back of ONLY JUST getting my confidence (and fitness) back was a HUGE mistake. I died at mile four, having entirely run out of gas (oh, and I hadn’t eaten adequately before the race, just to add insult to injury.) This one hurt my pride, knocked my confidence and made me feel stupid. I WAS stupid!

LESSON: Pace myself!

Rational Mind: ‘Choose your pace, stick with it, and DON’T let your insecure, glory-seeking ego get in the way!’

Ego: ‘But I can run sub-7 minute miles in a half marathon! I’ve done it before.’

Rational Mind: ‘Yeah, when you’re on top form, fully fit, and well-fuelled. You were NONE of those things. Nob head.’

What a howler.

Ripon 10 miler – reminded me of the WHY. I LOVED that race. Setting off feeling bouncy and light, I got over the previous weekend’s disaster in style, and came away with a good time, beating my previous year’s performance. This was me on the way back. Me and Running no longer required Relate counselling. And we’d moved back into the same bed.

And the Wednesday nights driving through Hell?

The journey from home to the John Carr 5k Race Series in Eccup is like navigating through war-torn Beirut. In rush hour. After work. With the hassle of school pick-up child care madness. Nose to tail with pissed off, commuting Corporate Wankers all trying to escape from their own version of Merry Hell. Through the arse hole of West Yorkshire. For a 5k race. That no longer has a justifiable claim for a 5k PB potential.

LESSON: NEVER AGAIN. NOT EVER.

To be continued…

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