Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas Everybody!

So here it is. Merry Christmas! Hope everybody's having fun. Before we look to the future, a quick look at the past...
It's been very different year to last year; there's been more heartache, fewer events, time has seemingly passed more quickly. But on balance it's definitely been a good year. The hard times have directly contributed to making the good parts better. I became part of Team Bear and am so grateful for the friends I've made through it. I've continued to achieve things I wasn't sure I could. I'm almost at the end of my studies (for now) and I'm thrilled with how RunFitUK is taking off in Bracknell. There are yet more opportunities on the horizon and very exciting times ahead with potentially some sizeable decisions to make. Things feel as though they're falling into place. More on that in the New Year.

I'll be taking a break from blogging over Christmas but the jury's still out on whether I will be taking a break from running. I'd quite like to do a Christmas Day parkrun with my mum but I'm not making any promises. You can check out if your local parkrun is going ahead on Christmas Day here.

For now I leave you with a photo of some baby reindeer...
Merry Christmas everyone. Thanks for a great year.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Event Review : Greenwich Park 10k

This was to be the last hurrah of 2014 in terms of official races for me; the Greenwich Park 10k organised by RunThrough. In actuality there was a choice of a 5k or 10k distance but I opted for the 10k at a cost of just £16 which included a pudding shaped medal for all finishers plus mince pies. Mince pies! It doesn't take a lot to convince me to sign up to a race it would seem.

It was a cold but bright morning as my parents and I strode across Blackheath to the park to collect my race number. We were somewhat early but it meant that after a hassle-free race pack pick up we could retire to the Pavillion cafe (where dad apparently worked in his youth) for warmth, loos and refreshments. Dad got his customary pre-race bacon nutty and there were lattes all round.
From our vantage point on the second level of the cafe we could see the start line and a stream of entrants, the majority in festive fancy dress, ranging from token santa hats to full elf and tree outfits. I was more at the token end of the spectrum, but I was planning to put in a fair bit of effort...

Seasonal songs blasted over the PA system and we were underway fairly promptly. I think there were some concerns that bags wouldn't be deposited in time but the organisers somehow managed to deal with it fairly swiftly. The 5k runners had one lap of the park and the 10k runners had two laps to complete, which meant we had to do The Hill twice. In all honesty I think the course had been planned rather well, with as much flat as possible. There weren't that many marshals but then it didn't feel as though many were required as the course was well sign posted and all on pathways. It was possible to get up a fair bit of speed and there was a considerable amount of "leapfrogging" on the hills. But that just added to the fun. There was water at the 5k point for those who wanted it and the second lap flew by. Due to the lay out of the route I got to wave at my parents a lot, always a joy.
One more stumble up the hill and suddenly it was round the corner to the finish line. I was delighted with my time of 58:31. I'd given it almost everything and still had a smile, something my dad always feels compelled to comment on these days. I availed myself of some mince pies, leaving the oranges and bananas to others. It seemed as though people got bags back quickly and there was plenty of chatter as everyone wound their way homewards or for lunches.
I thoroughly enjoyed the event for it's simplicity and friendly atmosphere; a great way to round off the year. RunThrough have a whole series of events in London next year and I'd recommend checking them out if you're in that sort of area.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Surely That's Not The Right Date?

I'm careering towards Christmas at the moment in a mildly out of control and slightly panicky fashion. Ordinarily by now I'd find things slowing down a little. All cards would be written and sent, presents would be sitting neatly wrapped under the tree and I'd be curled up on the sofa smugly drinking damson gin and finding daft Christmas songs to listen to. But no. Not this year. I'm still training five or six days a week. I've missed the posting deadline for some cards, my lounge is festooned with paper, ribbon and bows that haven't yet made it onto the gifts they're intended for and I'm consulting my diary every half hour to see what I'm meant to be doing next. I can't wait until the 24th when I travel back to my parents' for Christmas. Lots of eating and relaxing. No having to go anywhere or do much of anything. I'm looking forward to Christmas more this year than I think I have for some years, possibly just for the rest!

It's been a fun week overall though. I got a visit from Bear at the weekend which was ace. Can't remember the last time I spent so much time sat on my sofa, or ate so much brownie and ice cream. Of course we went for a run too, because that's the sort of thing that you have to do when in the presence of another runner, even if his HR zone 1-2 is your HR zone 4-5... but remarkably the majority of conversation was about music and I've been digging out long-forgotten albums to listen to ever since.
We had our last RunFitUK session before Christmas this week and it was arguably the best one yet. My confidence with planning sessions has increased so much in the last three weeks and as a result it was possibly the toughest session to date but everyone worked really hard and left with smiles.

I'm squeezing in my own runs at lunch times, putting off swims because of a streaming nose and parading my RunFitUK t-shirt around in the gym on my cycle sessions. And thank goodness I am still training because the number of cakes, mince pies and chocolates in my presence has spiraled out of control and I only have so much will power.

If you're not yet feeling in the Christmas spirit might I suggest a trip to Kew Gardens? They have a Christmas trail at the moment with beautiful illuminations set to music, old fashioned rides, storytellers and marshmallow toasting opportunities for kids young and old alike. I went with mum and dad and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. I had my first mulled wine of the season and tried mulled sloe gin. I'm converted. We stopped in at the pub next to the station for drinks and nibbles before heading home. There are many reasons why it's a lovely pub but I discovered it serves beer bats and really after that nothing else mattered.
Toasted peppermint marshmallow!
Vikki + beer bat = Very Happy Vikki
This weekend I'll be continuing a Roberts' Christmas tradition of seeing Status Quo in concert with the added bonus of support from Chas & Dave (do not judge me!). I wear a sports bra when I go to a Quo gig because I jump around so much. Little insight for you there. I'll also be parkrunning and taking part in the Greenwich Park Christmas 10k. There may be tinsel, there will be mince pies. Lots to look forward to.

Oh yes and I'll also be starting another module, the final module, of my diploma - Exercise Referral for Health Management. I have seven weeks to read and learn the contents of a folder that is 7cm thick. Hahahahaha!

What are your weekend plans? In the Christmas spirit or sucking humbugs?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

My Year in Running

I've seen a few of these posts recently and enjoyed reading them a great deal. So I thought I'd write my own. It's a cool way to reflect on my year.

Best Race Experience
Equinox24. Hands down. Sure, Gatliff was awesome because it was my first ultra but Equinox24 was super special. A team cobbled together from Facebook and twitter met in a field at night in the rain and then proceeded to support each other while we ran day and night. The course was my favourite of any I've run. The race team were incredible. I've never experienced another atmosphere like it. I met Alexa, Sid and Marathon Man. I bumped into TC in our PJs while I was brushing my teeth. I ran 30 miles and clocked up my fasted ever unofficial 5k times. And there was lots of cake.
Best Run
A whole year of running, over 1000 miles and you want me to pick just one? The parkrun at which I got my first official sub 27-minute 5k was pretty special and I've adored every single run I did with Anita (how we managed to run that fast and still gossip remains a mystery) but I think my favourite run was with Bear last weekend. It was a beautiful sunny wintry morning and I got to run the footpath to the forest which I adore doing at the moment. Plus the forest is stunning. We stomped in muddy, icy puddles and got a little bit lost. First run I've ever enjoyed with a guy. Seriously.
My forest. I adore it.
Best New Piece of Gear
I have a top three. Is that allowed?
1) The new Garmin I got for my birthday that can find satellites in under a minute and lasts for 6 hours in the wilderness
2) My leggings from Crewroom. They are my go-to running leggings now it's colder. Stylish, comfy, warm and flattering.
3) My race vest that I used for Gatliff. Oh how I umm'ed and ah'ed over buying it. I even tried to cancel it after I placed the order. In the end it was exactly what I needed and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to use it more often.
Best Piece of Running Advice I Received
Walk the hills. That or keeping my forearms low. Both have made a remarkable difference to my running in very different ways.

Best Inspirational Runner
Oh lord there's a lot of them out there. There are a lot of my twitter running pals who I find incredibly inspirational and who either manage to coerce me into doing races or send me the most wonderful messages of support. Big shout out to all of you. But if I had to choose one person, while not strictly a runner per say, then I think it would have to be Sophie Radcliffe. She is a constant inspiration, for her achievements, outlook and sweet personality.

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be?
Beyond expectations.
2014 - what a year 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Vegetarian? Need a Quick Meal? Try Quorn.

Disclaimer: I was sent vouchers to try a selection of quorn products of my choosing for free in return for writing a review. All opinions are my own.

Much as I love cooking from scratch, which is what I do most nights even though it's just myself to feed, there are times when I need something quick. Something quick that isn't toast or cake or peanut butter from the jar. As a nice change from pasta and pesto I have found the Quorn Chef's Selection Thai Curry.
A pack claimed to serve two and take just eight minutes to cook from frozen. I was a bit dubious. How tasty would this really be? Surely it would be high cal? Half a pack contains just 253kcal and it really does take just eight minutes. All you need to add is a little water and fry it off on the hob. There was a good mix and amount of vegetables. A portion can be bulked out with some rice noodles or a microwavable pouch of rice for a decent size meal. 
Fresh from the packet
The end result looked perfectly appetising and yes it is very tasty. I've saved my other portion for lunch at work. I tried the Thai Green Curry but Quorn also do a Thai Red Curry. You'll find both in the freezer aisle of the bigger supermarkets and it's a better thing to have on stand by than a pizza.
I haven't used Quorn products regularly for a long time but I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the new products and ranges they have brought out recently.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Lights, Camera, Sneezing

As I write this I'm sat on my sofa in my pyjamas, box of tissues to hand trying to rest up rather than do a dozen odd jobs and errands I have listed out. I'm not sure whether I'm feeling rough because I started to slow down and my immune system let it's guard down or whether my body decided that making me poorly was the only way I'd recover properly. In either case, here I am; feeling fidgety.
Christmas Lights in Norwich - Hen Party location.
My weekend was a blur of driving, hen celebrations and training. I failed completely to make or find time to do my prescribed training. All good intentions but I failed to realise how much time travelling would take up and sleep between activities took priority. I've managed to hit all my workouts so far this week though (not counting today) and discovered how slow I have to run to maintain a zone 2 heart rate. I'm still not really enjoying my swimming but I'm feeling a little less daunted by it.

Suspension Equipment training with FutureFit was great fun. I'd never used suspension equipment before (TRX being just one brand amongst many) so it was very engaging. I was by far the least able of the group, but as we were a group of PTs and gym instructors I didn't feel too bad about it. We all have limits and strengths after all! I think I had DOMS for three days straight, particularly in my abs and back so I can attest to the fact it works!
One of the lads showing off his monkey bar skills 
I held the second Bracknell RunFitUK session on a very wet and blustery Tuesday night with three hardy souls who were game for a laugh and some fancy footwork to improve cadence. This side of Christmas I understand it's tricky to fit things like this in around celebrations but it would be fantastic to get more people along in the New Year, not least because it will give us more options with intervals and games.

Despite being under the weather there have been lots of old things about this week. The frosty mornings have made me feel a bit artistic in the photography stakes, I made a start on wrapping Christmas gifts and I've had my first mulled wine of the season... medicinal, of course. I also had a lovely surprise in the post of some wonderful RMR trainer tags, a gift from my parents as a "well done" for achievements of late. I am absolutely over the moon with these. I've already popped them on my laces and look forward to taking them out for a run soon.

I've got a visitor this weekend which I'm very excited about. Luckily this visitor is also a runner so I'm planning a run to the forest and back after which we'll be in need of a good lunch and some chill out time. Can. Not. Wait. But tonight I am babysitting and using the time to write Christmas cards. Not a bad way to spend a Friday.

Have you succumbed to a Christmas cold yet? What's the advice on swimming with a cold? 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Getting a Coach

Sometimes it's not easy to take the necessary steps back to be objective about your own abilities and your training, even if you have the necessary skills. I'm now a qualified PT and have successfully designed programmes for myself and friends to help us achieve race goals but despite this I've decided to take a step back from my own training and hand the responsibility of designing a training plan to a coach.

Why on earth would I do that? Well for a start I don't know everything; I am still learning, reading around different subjects and discovering different approaches to training. I have also traditionally focused on only training for the next race, rather than looking at my year as a whole. Finally when I'm programming for myself it's easy to get a bit too involved, to be easy on myself or not be completely honest about strengths and weaknesses.

So when I got the opportunity to try a month's coaching with Performance Coaching I decided to give it a go. I'd been intrigued to know what it would be like. It might not be for me but at least I would find out what it was like to have someone else do the thinking for me. Plus it made me feel like a pro, having a coach. This was serious stuff!

The upfront work was quite involved. After a chat on the phone about my goals and background I was asked to elaborate on this by completing a 50-odd page document with information on general health and fitness, training goals, previous race experience and outcomes, available time, current training and basic diet overviews. All of this influenced the designing of my plan which I can access online through the Training Peaks platform. I can log in online or via an app on my phone to see what I'm meant to be doing when then upload my Garmin data and add comments to sessions for review later.

The first week was geared towards determining my HR zones and making adjustments and from then on it was simply a case of getting on with things. I've found I treat my workouts much more like appointments than I used to. My training tended to be a bit of a movable feast as no one was looking over my shoulder. Being accountable to someone really does make a world of difference, even more so when they're in control of the plan. And I'm continuing to learn.

My coach has been incredibly approachable and quickly got a feel for my attitude to training. At our check in after two weeks he was already correct in his assumption that a couple of sessions showing as missed on TP wasn't just due to me being sloppy with uploading.

As I near the end of my trial I am starting to consider whether I want to continue with my coach. We click and I am certainly more focused so I'd like to but there are finances to consider. I already pay for a gym membership, occasional classes elsewhere and want to take some swim lessons in the New Year. However Performance Coaching offer a number of levels of coaching which could make this affordable at a basic level. I know some people who pay for the top package and that would be amazing but it's unrealistic for me.

You don't have to be a pro to have a coach, and even on a short term basis it could be useful if you want more targeted training. Plus it's fun to feel like a pro!

Do you have a coach or would you ever consider it? If you're thinking about it, you may find this article an interesting read. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

RunFitUK : Up and Running

It's official, RunFitUK has landed in Bracknell! I was all a jitter last Tuesday in advance of the taster session that was planned. I knew I had six people signed up and just wanted to make sure everyone had a fun workout. I think I achieved that.

In case you're not in the know, RunFitUK is a running fitness club. The sessions are designed to complement any club/distance training that people may already be involved in by focusing on running specific strength, core and conditioning exercises, technique drills, interval training and stretching but without the distance running. It's suitable for all levels and we try to inject a healthy dose of fun too. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to become a coach.

Tuesday was a cold and windy night but that just meant we had to keep moving! We are very fortunate to have been given permission to use the car park belonging to Tool Station. It's a good sized space and well lit, very important in these dark months. The session started with the all important warm up and then some Indian File intervals. I was so impressed with the effort everyone put in. Each session will include an element of technique work and for the first session we tried to practice running tall and lightly, even when running fast.

Lunges, squats and balance exercises were interspersed with more laps to keep everyone warm but I think the highlight was the chocolate relay; teams were pitted against each other to see who could steal the most chocolates from the other in the time allowed. Chaos ensued but there was a lot of laughter and a lot of fast running. Like all good sessions should we ended with a warm down and stretches and as it's the Christmas season the chocolates were divvied up as reward for the hard work.

I had a lot of fun meeting everyone and finding out about their varied running backgrounds. I really hope I can help them all to improve their running in one way or another. This was, as I mentioned, a taster session with sessions officially meant to start in January, but there was a lot of enthusiasm for classes to continue up to Christmas so tomorrow it's likely you'll find me outside Tool Station again, in my RunFitUK t-shirt, all geared up and ready to put my RunFitters through their paces. Without giving too much away they're going to have to show some pretty nifty footwork.

If you'd like to join us, or know someone that might be interested, you can find all the information you need on the website here: RunFitUK. Book a wildcard for a one off session or dive in with a session pack. And if you can't join my group, perhaps one of our other coaches is nearer to you. We'd love to have you along for the ride!

Friday, 5 December 2014

Roll On Monday

Dear Reader,

Good grief, what a week! It feels as though I've only been at home for sleeping and changing clothes since last Friday. Madness!

Last Saturday I volunteered at my local parkrun instead of running it as I was saving my legs for Gatliff. I really enjoy volunteering; cheering everyone on and having a little chat during the scanning. As long as I'm wrapped up warm and have a flask of tea or coffee I'm sorted. From there I drove to Iver Heath to meet my friend Fi for a very long overdue catch up over lunch and a woodland wander. We met on a Core and Circuits workshop last year and it was fun to compare notes on where our studies are taking us. Then I headed back to my parents' for feeding and an early night before Gatliff, which I wrote all about the other day so I won't repeat myself here.

Monday. Oh Monday. My one semi-relaxed day this week. However, if I didn't move every 15 minutes I started to cease up. Poor sore legs. Climbing onto a chair to put the star on top of mum's Christmas tree was like climbing a mountain, and I didn't even manage to put it on straight. But dad did find my old Christmas LP that I used to listen to most years when I was little, which made me very happy indeed. He even transferred it to CD for me so I can listen to it at home :)
And that's exactly what I'll be doing later as I put up my decorations and hopefully writing some cards or wrapping gifts. It's the first opportunity I've had to do any Christmas prep in December and I'm really quite excited. I'm just a big kid. There have been some fun things keeping me from the tinsel though. Tuesday marked the first RunFitUK session in Bracknell and my first time coaching. It was bitterly cold but six brave souls turned up and let me put them through their paces. I must say I felt extremely smart in my RunFitUK t-shirt but I'll be snapping up a hoodie when they become available to keep me a bit toastier... four layers and I was still feeling the chill that night.
On Wednesday I went to see Imelda May supported by Big Boy Bloater, two fantastic artists that I was over joyed to see together, and then yesterday I dashed into London to be in the audience for the filming of tonight's Have I Got News For You. It'll be cool to see how they edit it together. As dinner was only a rather pale cheese pasty I decided to treat myself to a frothy coffee for the train journey home. Toffee Nut Latte now rivals Mint Hot Chocolate for my favourite festive drink.

So that's all the fun stuff that I've been up to this week. You might think I'd taken some time away from running but no, my coach had me back to running on Tuesday, so it was out at lunch for a slow 2.5 miles. My quads were sore but I managed it and felt pretty fantastic about that. I also ran for 40 minutes on Thursday and today I roused myself at 6:20am to go swimming then dragged myself out again at lunchtime for an hour's run, including 30 minutes at "race pace". I found a bit of speed and also my "quiet running" skills as I took a squirrel by surprise. Poor little blighter was about 6 inches to the side of me and decided to run in front of me rather than away from me. As I was in full flow he happened to run across my foot just as it was coming up, so I sort of kicked him into the air a little bit. I squealed, he appeared to land safely and I'm not sure which of us was more shocked. Squirrel football aside, my legs now feel as though Gatliff never happened. How amazing is that?

Just as well really because I'm down the gym bright and early for an hours cycling before heading up to Nottingham for my friend's hen do which involves cocktails and a treasure hunt around town. No chance for recovery on Sunday either as I head into London for a Suspension Training course... RunFitters watch out, I may come away with ideas! You won't often hear me say this but roll on Monday. I have a rest day and no evening plans and I intend to keep it that way.

Yours, exhaustedly, but excitedly, Vikki.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Event Review : Gatliff

Gatliff Marathon: a relatively little-known event (if the response to my mentioning it to acquaintances is anything to go by) open to walkers, joggers and runners that's been going for 31 years. It's not strictly a marathon. There are three distances to choose from (20, 35 or 50k) and the aim is to complete your chosen distance within 10 hours. A combination of an inspiring talk by Robbie Britton and a lovely race report last year lead to me signing up and so last Sunday I found myself collecting a checkpoint card at 7:40am and setting off on what would turn out to be at least a 32 mile adventure.

I set off into a mild and misty morning with John and Ali from Orpington Road Runners, leaving my parents with promises of texts from each checkpoint. It was our aim to stick together for as long as we could, at least until the first of the five checkpoints on your route. We each had a copy of the navigation notes for the course. This is an unmarked, un-marshaled route and we had to rely on our wits and ability to interpret 11 pages of abbreviated notes in order to get round. It was a bit like being on Krypton Factor.
It wasn't long before we were to be found stood on a golf course scratching our heads trying to figure out whether a particular gate was the one being referred to and looking out for others waving pink papers around in the hope that they knew something we didn't. At this point I should own up to not really being prepared for what lay ahead. I knew we had to navigate but had avoided reading up on the terrain for fear it would frighten me too much. So the three train track crossings came as a bit of a surprise...
Wending our way across golf courses, fields, train tracks and stiles meant it was pretty slow going, compared with what I was expecting or used to in races. In fact we barely encountered any "civilisation" all day. Most of the route was on public footpaths, across fields and on trails. The upside to this was that we got some beautiful scenery but it was wet, boggy, slippery and hard going. It was soon clear that this was no race, it was an event and by the time we reached the first checkpoint with soaked and muddy feet our goals had been revised from finishing in 7 or 8 hours to just finishing at all.
Obligatory selfie at CP1
A washing up bowl seems a suitable receptical size for biscuits.
Card stamped, snacks consumed, photos taken and texts sent; it was off to checkpoint two. By now we were getting used to the instructions and so found it easier to pick up a bit of speed over fields and trail. Getting to checkpoint two was fairly uneventful, we didn't get lost and we probably confused a few golfers on our second golf course traverse of the day. More squash, biscuits, selfies and card stamping. It was at this point that Ali parted company with John and myself due to an ankle injury slowing him up. John and I set off together but we soon parted company too as I decided that a "fast hike" was going to be my pace for a while. I could see other Gatliff participants so wasn't worried about getting lost. Famous last words...
I'm not sure this sign was referring to us...
Runners are impatient beings. We like to get places quickly. We have times to make and goals to reach. As such we sometimes don't read things properly and make wrong turns. This is precisely what happened to me and four other runners between CP2 and 3 whilst trying to find some steps and a foot bridge. None of us had maps. None of us had a clue. Thankfully walkers tend to be a bit more sensible, especially gentlemen walkers. One of these gentlemen had followed us to where we stood confused and helpless. He was armed with maps and a GPS device and was able to get us all back on track. Thank heavens for hikers!
Some of the easier trail.
The going was fairly hilly and slippery at this point, as I recall, so I continued to march rather than run and took comfort from the messages of support rolling in on twitter (thank you ALL). I could feel myself flagging so CP3 was a welcome sight, not least as it was the lunch stop. Sandwiches, crisps, fruit, cakes, hot and cold drinks and seats to rest... a chance to refuel, pause a while and refill water bottles.
A small part of a big spread
By now I was over half way and in good spirits. I was able to pick up my pace a little here and there although I was still walking for the most part. The world seemed a brighter place. I'll be honest, I don't remember an awful lot between CP3 and CP4 apart from that my Garmin ran out of battery and I started to develop a nervous twitch when I read the abbreviations FD and XST (field and cross stile, respectively). My legs were getting tired of climbing stiles and I've got a fairly bruised left knee to show for not lifting my leg high enough on a number of occasions. But I jogged into CP4 with a grin on my face, not least because it was the cheeriest one so far with bunting and ladies in hats. It also boasted a fine range of retro crisps (including frazzles and chip sticks) and Garibaldi biscuits. These things make an impression when you've spent over six hours on your feet.
COPSE and robbers...
By now I knew I was going to cover the distance. I had 7km to cover before CP5 and then another 7kn to the finish. Easy. Heh. I skirted the M25, passed under the M25 and embarked on an assault course of stiles. I somehow seemed to be keeping pace simultaneously with a walker and a fellow runner which would prove very useful later on. The sun started to go down sending red streaks across the sky. The head torch went on and we were treated to a bit of civilisation en route to CP5. I don't remember feeling especially tired still, just a bit sore around the tops of my legs and achy in my feet. I only stopped long enough at CP5 to get stamped, text my parents and scoff a bakewell slice before setting off into the darkness again. I wanted to get this over with.

The runner I'd been keeping pace with was called John. He wasn't my original John, but a very welcome one. He stuck with me for the rest of the distance, which I can't thank him enough for. We got a bit lost shortly after exiting CP5 which is when our walker came in handy. A local guy, he was familiar with the area and rescued us from the bottom of someone's drive to point us in the right direction after which we exhibited another bout of runner's impatience, running off and ending up in a bog while Mr Walker ambled past us again. Tired, muddy, sodden feet and a tiny bit scared of being in fields in the dark... I knew I'd get to the finish but it couldn't happen soon enough. As a result I think I ran more in the final section than I had in any other and poor John2 pushed through with me. I was fed up of fields. I was heaving myself over stiles and cursing them. Sheep watched us stumbling around with eyes that lit up green in the beams of our head torches. The sheep unnerved me but my sobbing when I realised we still had another half page on navigation to go probably unnerved him more.

John2 had done Gatliff before though and comforted me by pointing out the beacons that were set out marking gates and gaps in hedges. A sure sign were were closing in. Sure enough we came back to Edenbridge town, through the church yard, up the high street and rounded the corner to the sports pavilion that I'd left some 10 hours earlier. Finishers already on their way home offered words of encouragement. I saw my parents stood outside waiting for me and shouted at them "I see you, I love you, but I must get stamped!" as a barrelled past in the vague hope I was under the 10 hour mark. Ten hours and seven minutes. I had in mind that if I was over ten hours I wouldn't get a certificate. I think I would have burst into tears had that been the case but no, I have a lovely pink certificate proclaiming my achievement. And I was still able to smile.
John2 was under ten hours, having started later than me and I heard that John1 also came in well under ten hours. Ali, poor chap had to pull out after about 22 miles because of his ankle but was still in good spirits when he came to chat to me as I scoffed the jam sponge, fruit salad and custard that was on offer to participants (alongside soup and sausage or bacon rolls).
Relieved and hungry
Finishers enjoying a well deserved rest in the pavilion.
So there we have it. I covered well over 32 miles (including detours) in just over 10 hours (including rest stops). I walked more than I ran, climbed a total of 69 stiles, walked through 3 bogs and raised a little more money for Hospiscare. Given my speed (or lack there of) I'm not sure if I am able to call myself an ultra runner but I completed the distance with only one blister to speak of and just minor aches in my legs, the worst being behind my left knee.
PJs and compression... oh so attractive
At just £7 for entry to the 50km (entry was just £5 and £6 for the 20k and 35k respectively) I have no idea how they cover their costs. The aid stations were wonderfully stocked and hot food at the end was a joy. Ok there are no route marshals but the route is different each year so no insignificant effort goes into planning that and drawing up the instructions (which were excellent, despite my errors). It is probably the best value event I know of and one of three that COPSE put on each year. COPSE looks like a great club for outdoor enthusiasts if you're in the area and I would certainly enter one of their events again.
Abandoned muddy trainers outside the pavilion.
Thank you to everyone who sent me a message over the weekend with words of encouragement. It made such a difference to the day and cheered me up when I flagged.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Once Upon A Time...

…there was a girl. She liked helping people. She decided to raise some money for charity by running 5k. She found it a challenge but loved being part of something and doing her bit. In fact she got a bit of a buzz from it so she decided to do it again, this time by running a bit further. She started to enjoy running despite never really having enjoyed sports before. She liked the challenge and the way it made her feel. She also quite liked having clearer skin and a little more room in her jeans.

Eventually she ran her first half marathon… in a cotton t-shirt and thick jogging bottoms. She cried for the last 3 miles because it hurt so much but she finished anyway and resolved to do better next time. There were many more next times; many more challenges of all kinds. There were mountains and sky dives and fire walking and open water swims and obstacle races and triathlons. She did so much she couldn’t ask for sponsorship for everything so she just did the events for the love of them.
She started writing about her challenges, not because she thought many people would be interested enough to read but because she liked writing and it was like keeping a diary.

She started to follow other blogs and other runners on twitter. She took out a subscription to a running magazine. She admired athletes, adventurers and celebrities who ran. She read their autobiographies and watched their documentaries and was in awe of people who did crazy and amazing things. She found a whole community of people, some starting out, some doing things she had never contemplated. In time she started to not only contemplate but do these things too. She was able to help people by offering support.

She couldn’t sate her appetite for achievement and challenge, couldn’t see the changes in herself that others saw. She had feelings of inferiority and of not being good enough. She was on a path she’d never planned to travel and couldn’t see where it ended.

She kept on writing and started to contribute to other blogs and magazines. She started to learn formally about fitness and nutrition. She admired people like Greg Whyte and wanted to emulate him. She was able to help people by giving advice based on her study.

One day she found a photo that was taken after that first half marathon. She looked back at all she’d written, at the people she’d admired and the things she’d done. And she saw how far she’d come, all she’d achieved. And she was finally satisfied.

“Travelers, there is no path, paths are made by walking.” —Antonio Machado

Friday, 28 November 2014

This Is It...

This week's training:
Saturday: Rest day
Sunday: 10 mile run
Monday: 4 mile run
Tuesday: 3 mile run
Wednesday: 2 mile run
Thursday: Rest day
Friday: 1 hour swim session

This is it, it's finally here... G-Day. Gatliff weekend. My First Ultra. I couldn't have asked for a better week in the run up to this. It's been busy enough to keep my mind distracted from getting too anxious but one or two things got cancelled which gave me enough time to avoid panicking about all the things I had to do. 

After getting a bit of a boost from Ira  Rainey and Mark Kleanthous at the Running Show I went out in the pouring rain for a 10 mile easy trail run on Sunday and actually really enjoyed it. I even took some pictures! It helped me to make some kit decisions and gave me a real confidence boost. I had my friend's lad over for the afternoon for making and baking; the cheesecake and pizza tasted all the more delicious for those wet miles.

The 4-3-2 mile taper runs have left my legs feeling fairly energetic. I know that by the time Sunday rolls around I'll be raring to go. All my kit is together ready for the journey to my parent's tomorrow (I've packed two of almost everything) and although I've got a proper race vest now I'm still taking my camelbak just in case I have a change of heart. I don't know why. There have been a few not-entirely-reassuring mentions of the quality of the route instructions but I figure I've got a compass, foil blanket, whistle and my phone and as long as I'm not on my own at any point I'll be fine... And of course the all important snacks have been purchased (pasties, satsumas, gels and bars).

As I'm saving my legs now I'm taking the opportunity to marshal at my local parkrun tomorrow and then to meet up with a friend for lunch and a gentle stroll. This marks the start of lots of lovely socialising in the next couple of weeks as the focus shifts from Gatliff-intensity training to being a bit more relaxed with time for Christmas outings and gigs. See how I'm still distracting myself from those 30 miles by the though of lovely things still to come?

In other news I did my first swim session in ages today. I've got the good vibes from having exercised before breakfast but it was pretty demanding and demoralising for someone who struggles to swim more than 2 lengths front crawl in one go. On a more positive note I got my current assignment done and dusted so that's another weight off my mind, all be it one that will be replaced by the prospect of leading my first RunFitUK session next week. Actually that's pretty exciting!

So I end this post with two requests. One: it's going to be a long day on Sunday so any texts or tweets to break things up would be fab, especially in the afternoon. Two: the reason I'm doing this in the first place is to raise money for charity so if you can spare a couple of quid please sponsor me at or by texting  VRUN86 £5 to70070. Thank you, you're all marvellous. 

Whatever your challenges are this weekend - go smash them!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Why I'm Proud To Be Part Of Team Bear

I’m part of a club, part of a team, a member of a group that goes by the name Team Bear. I used to be part of a “traditional” running club. A combination of reasons, which I’ve written about in the past, meant I left and never joined another club. Until now.

So why this one? Well it’s a bit different. Members of Team bear are not united by geography or particular sports. Although the trinity of running, cycling and swimming are core you aren’t required to practice all three and without the aid of some serious logistics we’re unlikely ever to all meet. Instead what unites us is our desire to push our limits. Rather than gunning for rankings on a leaderboard we share an ethos that it’s the effort you put in that counts, regardless of the outcome. 

We’re a mix of wannabe’s, try-harders and high-fliers. Our motto: “Suffer But NEVER Surrender”.
To make up for our lack of physical club HQ we have a strong presence on twitter and Facebook. We share our race plans online. We race together and support on the side-lines where possible. We have team kit, and like any club worth its colours, share a love of cake. The only other group of people I’ve come across that are quite as supportive, in all walks of life, are RMR.

Team Bear is the club I hoped I’d find and although sometimes I think it’s a shame it’s only a virtual, it doesn’t seem to matter. I have actually met a few other members in real life and plans to meet others in due course. The nugget that I keep coming back to is that I’ve never been given the impression that I’m not good enough to be part of this. Some of us are accomplished Ironmen or ultrarunners, some of us aren’t. As long as you’re challenging yourself you’ll be supported and encouraged and everyone's seen as an equal.

In these last couple of weeks leading up to the Gatliff I’ve voiced concerns. My training hasn’t gone to plan. I’m scared of the unknown. What if have to walk most of it or end up crying in a ditch somewhere? What if I’m not good enough? The response to this has been the equivalent of a gentle shake of the shoulders and a group hug. A Bear Hug if you will.

“You will be glorious. @TeamBear_Tri will be behind you.”

“The Fear is part of what makes it amazing. Pushing yourself is what makes YOU amazing.” @Rach_2_Oh
I’ve got a well-stocked 2015 race calendar having had my arm twisted by team mates to enter new and exciting events. I will be continuing to push myself thanks to in no small part to my team mates. I have a stronger belief in myself.

I had a conversation with one of our partners, Jason at PerformanceCoaching, the other day. He kept referring to me as an athlete. At the time I felt like pulling him up on that. I’m not a professional sportsperson, a member of Team GB. I don't compete for a running club or place in my events. I think of myself as pretty average by many standards. But then I had a realisation. I sort of do compete for a club; for Team Bear and against myself. I put the effort in to my training and I wear my kit with pride.